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My father reads my column every week. Without fail. Recently, he took exception to the fact that I labeled my writing “nonsense.” Thank goodness for encouraging parents.
I try to keep these articles entertaining, and have found that a little self-deprecation goes a long way. Occasionally, I revel in it, because I used to have very thin skin, as a youth. I’d fall to pieces if anyone made fun of me. (As Dad can attest.)
That’s why I love to start these travel pieces and festival reviews with a funny story, making me look foolish. Like the time I set off the fire alarm at the NY Times review. Or the time a heavy door at Gagosian hit me in the stomach, right in front of a gorgeous gallerina.
Eventually, though, I was bound to run out of embarrassing incidents. It was inevitable.
And here we are.
Nothing funny happened to me at Review Santa Fe this past June. I was invited as a roving reviewer, and as the guy who announces their raffle at the Saturday night party. (Yes, I broke into Spanglish, but it was more ha-ha funny than Ricky Gervais cringe-worthy. So not relevant here.)
I had a very nice time, as it was my sixth consecutive trip to the review. Good food, good weather, lots of nice people from around the world. I think I’ll even skip the part where I defend the review process from those who get upset about having to pay for meetings.
Overall, I saw the best work of any review I’ve yet attended. Polished, relevant, accomplished projects, professionally presented.
So if nothing bad happened, nor anything eventful to recount here…let’s get on to showing the best work I saw at the RSF ’14.
Qian Ma is a photographer based in Brooklyn, who recently finished a degree at ICP. In a perfectly strange coincidence, he just finished studying with my former professor, the great Allen Frame. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, as Allen is adept at pushing young artists to dig into a practice that allows their personal aesthetic to shine.
Qian’s black and white prints were totally gorgeous, and admittedly, the jpegs don’t do them justice. People literally lined up to see this work. I loved the otherworldly, odd, metaphysical qualities. How a simple cell phone can make you think of a parallel universe. So of course I asked him if he read Haruki Murakami, and of course he said, “Yes. Everything he’s written.” The project is called “Luminance,” and if you happen to see a sheep man lurking in a corner, at least you were warned.
I met Julia Cybularz within seconds of walking into the open portfolio viewing at the Santa Fe Farmer’s market. Normally, you wander around such events, looking for the juicy bits. Not that night. Hers was the first work I saw, and I loved it.
She’s photographed her niece, who has horrible scoliosis. Debilitating stuff. The photos were elegant, razor sharp, and visceral. Apparently, Ms. Cybularz suffered from the same affliction, which adds to the resonance. She also had a concurrent project which featured her cousin, who has schizophrenia and is mentally challenged. And he has scoliosis as well. It made for a fascinating mix of family, malady, and personal connection.
Meike Nixdorf is an artist who was visiting from Germany. Again with the Japanese references, she was showing a project that was inspired by Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji.” She was looking for a mountain that she could photograph from many different angles, that would allow the structure of the pictures to change radically.
She found one, El Teide, in the Canary Islands. I asked her why there, as it seemed so random, and she told me she visited the mountain many times, flying over it in a virtual flight simulator. If that’s not updating Hokusai’s vision to the 21st Century, I’m not sitting at my kitchen table on a rainy day in the mountains. (In fact, I am.)
I also met Miki Hasegawa that night. (Two women with different spellings of the same name?) Miki had a series of images that she photographed from the vantage point of her young daughter.
As we all know, life is lived at eye level. We grownups make the world in our image, but our offspring are always looking up at a reality they must grow into. Terrific color palette as well, and the prints managed to capture the wonder and curiosity of childhood. I loved them immediately.
I had a long, rambling, roving review with the Denver-based photographer Benjamin Rasmussen, who’s originally from the Faroe Islands. (They’re in-between Norway and Iceland, so you don’t have to Google it.) He’s interested in issues of identity and displacement, and his project “By the Olive Trees” focuses on both.
He photographed Syrian refugees in Jordan. And he was apparently in Ferguson, MO, last week, so you can check his website to see what’s going on in America’s homegrown war-zone. (Hands up, Don’t shoot.)
According to Twitter, Russia invaded Ukraine today. Is that news? Haven’t they invaded several times already, including when they swiped Crimea? Hard to imagine a more topical project than one which examines the cross-cultural divide between the two countries. (Soon to be re-united?)
Sasha Rudensky was born in Russia, and studied in the famed Yale program. With her project, “Brightness, she has given us some seriously strange pictures that do just that. She photographed in both places, and the image of the thugs holding a giant snake was my favorite single picture at RSF. (Unfortunately, she isn’t ready to publish it yet.)
Finally, I got to see the work of Jeanine Michna-Bales, who was one of Center’s Prize winners. I’d seen a couple of her prints on the wall of the Center for Contemporary Arts, and was transfixed. You won’t believe the premise.
Ms. Bales was interested in understanding the reality of the underground railroad, that patchwork network that led escaped slaves to freedom. A beacon of light in America’s bleak past.
So, she recreated it herself.
She stopped every 20 miles or so, between Louisiana and Canada, which was the supposed average distance an escaped slave could have covered. Then, she made pictures at night. It was so sketchy that she had to hire bodyguards to protect her, out in the middle of nowhere, under black skies.
Obviously, the premise is terrific. But the pictures are every bit as good.
[by Charles Gupton]
“It’s a miracle she’s alive.”
The surgeon was reporting on the success of removing my wife’s burst appendix and the tumor she’d found while doing the procedure. Linda had miraculously walked around for two weeks feeling bad but having no idea her body was harboring a life-threatening medical condition.
Like most of the small business owners I’m aware of, I put in far more hours at my desk – productive or not – than the standard 40 hour workweek calls for. We both – and me in particular – stay focused on business development far more than on a life balanced with adequate time off to unwind and re-nourish our minds as well as our bodies.
We hardly ever get sick and have taken our good health for granted. This procedure saved her life and caused me to stop and reconsider what I really valued in my own. I made a covenant that morning to make a series of changes to re-infuse my work with aspects that I love, reduce the tedium where possible, and most importantly, to take some time away from the process so that I could return with a fresh and energized perspective.
Since Linda’s surgery, I’ve taken several partial weekdays off and we’ve added additional days for personal time away on two separate trips with the sole purpose of letting our minds wander and bodies rest.
In my quest for efficiency and effectiveness in most activities, it’s difficult for me to not try to apply metrics to taking leisure time. I want to measure how much more effective I am after I’ve rested, but of course it doesn’t play out that way.
But I have noticed that my perspective is undergoing change. I’m narrowing my focus on the types of projects as well as the qualities I look for in the people we’ll be working with before we commit to a project.
And I’ve come back with less envy for people who are wise enough to mark time on their calendars for renewal. Envy is a thief of creativity, I’ve found.
The biggest upside to my productivity is that since I’ve started scheduling rejuvenation breaks, my focus and efficiency have greatly improved.
In his book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown writes, “Play can change your life. Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival.
There is a kind of magic in play. What might seem like a frivolous or even a childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of ‘nonproductive’ activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.”
Excuse me, I believe I need to take a book out to the hammock and hold it down for a bit so the afternoon breeze doesn’t blow it away….
Based in Raleigh, N.C., Charles uncovers stories that resonate, then tells them in three-minute films to engage clients for business on the web. You can connect with him at:
The hectic life of a working photographer leaves little time for the relaxation, rejuvenation and play needed for true innovation and creativity. This week, our contributors explore the challenge of balancing labor with leisure and how photographers can get the most out of both.
I was watching “The Lone Ranger” on TV yesterday. It’s possible I’m the only person in America who saw the whole damn thing. Major bomb, it was. (Who knew Jerry Bruckheimer could fail at anything?)
The movie wasn’t half as bad as I expected. (And boy, is that Armie Hammer a handsome man.) It was clear they spent more money filming than Roman Abramovich drops on soccer talent. Wow, did Disney waste some cash on that ridiculous runaway train sequence.
I wasn’t surprised at the movie’s lack of mass appeal, though. They focused on the dark underbelly of American history: the theft of Native American land in the name of progress. (Sorry, I meant greed.) In particular, they made sure to demonstrate that treaties were made, and then broken, under dubious circumstances.
Does anyone really think that’s a good idea to hammer home, in the name of mass-market-summertainment? Who green-lit that premise, Noam Chomsky?
They even had poor Barry Pepper dressed up like George Custer, playing a military sap who unwittingly massacred a heap Comanche for the RailRoad Conglomerate, and then went full-scale denial when he learned the truth. Wonder who that little metaphor might be referencing? Oh. That’s right.
On Twitter, I was recently accused of being a closeted Englishman. But of course that’s not true. I love my FREEDOM/DEMOCRACY/FOOTBALL/BLACK PRESIDENT as much as anyone.
I just had the good fortune to learn the truth about our past from some stellar teachers in High School and College. And it is far easier to pretend our wealth was not built up on stolen land, resource annihilation, and free slave labor.
I think that’s the main reason Americans are so ahistorical. It’s not that we’re stupider than the rest of the world. Just that we function better as a forward-looking society. (Land ho.)
That’s why so many artists love to mine history. To spend days in dusty archives, combing through crusty books to find out who said what to whom. We love us some primary sources. (Wait. You mean George Washington wasn’t really named George Washington Blaustein, as my young son suggested this week? Quelle Surprise.)
The other method is to get out on the road and see what things look like now. Is there really a Plymouth rock? And why did they name it after Plymouth, from whence those grouchy Puritans came?
I can answer in the affirmative, that such a piece of stone exists, having just seen it in Colombian artist Oscar Palacio’s new book, “American Places.” (Published by the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.)
The book is fascinating, in that it mashes up the historically important with the constructedly banal. What could be more American than that?
Gettysburg battlefields, Underground railroad sites, the Lower 9th Ward, Manzanar, the Wounded Knee Memorial, and chopped trees protruding through fences. Concrete covered with grass. White banisters, defenestrated, rotting in the dirt.
The book is quiet the way a library is quiet. It helps to focus the mind. BTW, you know I’m going to respect anyone who goes to Mt. Rushmore and comes back with a photo that blocks the money shot. That takes guts.
Perhaps it’s easier for an outsider to admit that our society is built upon shaky foundations, like the Sunset district in San Francisco. (Sand dunes sit beneath the sleepy beach community.)
I love this country. We’ve given the world airplanes, cars, and the Internet. But also nuclear bombs, NSA spy software, and a legacy of misery that is felt in Native American and African-American communities to this day.
This book manages to blend the poignantly beautiful and the boringly sublime. Which are both stand-ins for the the glory and gore we’ve managed to produce since the Pilgrims landed more than 400 years ago.
Long may we prosper.
Bottom Line: Surprising, quiet, classy book that reminds us of a history we’d rather forget
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