Unhealthy Obsessions

October 22, 2006

Here's how you know what kind of collector you are: Most collectors at some point in their childhoods go through a rock faze. The garden variety collector will put together a broad selection of rocks, the usual stuff—feldspar, Mexican pyrite, sulfur, sandstone, maybe even a meteorite fragment... but the serious collector after putting together a rock grouping will fix one one specific rock and devote his time to finding all the variations of that particular rock searching out the rare and exotic examples.

My thing was geodes. My collection never got as big as I wanted but the thrill of cracking those mysterious round rocks open in the hopes of finding one full of rare black calcite or red amethyst never got old. For a time I could hardly have a conversation without throwing in a few good geode facts. That collection was lost at some point, but many others have taken its place.

Here is a list of things I don't currently collect but wish I did.

geodes
18th century volcano paintings
acupuncture practice models
wooden Tibetan butter molds
1960's Polish and Czech posters for American westerns
promotional photos of of 18th century morality plays
vintage Vietnamese desk fans
painted sideshow announcements for knife throwers and fire eaters
wooden artist model figurines
wooden radios
beheaded saint retablos
19th century dog portraits (must have the name of the dog as part of the painting)
World War II era military themed paint-by-number kits
pojagis
World War I pierced case watches
constructivist architectural drawings
19th century hand painted lotaria boards
1920's era unicycle promotional paintings
world maps from African public schools
taxidermied beetles and parrots
vintage English walking sticks
North Korean propaganda posters
1920's Japanese children's books
1950's Russian children's books
Soviet era tractor toys
Venezuelan figurines of Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez
Mongolian dice
partitioned letterpress typecases
and so on...

What do you wish you collected?

Last week for Travels Without Maps

October 21, 2006


This is the last week my show Travels Without Maps will be up at the Nelson Hancock Gallery... The show has led to more good things than I ever could have imagined and has been great fun. Please stop by if you happen to be in the Dumbo vicinity.

111 Front St. #204 (Dumbo)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Gallery Open Wednesday-Saturday 11-6

**Update, the show was extended a week and now runs through Nov. 4th.

A life of letters

October 19, 2006

Sometime last week in Brookline Massachusetts Alan Gagne died alone in his room of a heart attack. He was a mailman, a social misfit, virtually without friends and his death would have gone unnoticed, not even meriting an obituary, had his house not been found full of 20 years of undelivered mail. His kitchen cabinets were stuffed with junk mail, circulars mainly, his drawers were overflowing with letters, and under his bed they pulled boxes and boxes of postcards. Entire closets had been stuffed as had the extra bathtub. Virtually all the pilfered mail was undeliverable for the usual reasons—address changes, deaths, bad handwriting, that sort of thing. None of it was opened. Five mailtrucks were required to haul it all away.

The New York times titled the story "In Postman’s Death, a Mystery of Mail Left Behind", another newspaper said the death was "shrouded in mystery", but the story doesn't seem the least bit mysterious to me. I once asked my mailman in Santa Monica, an odd character himself, if he ever got tired of delivering mail, he answered something like this, "I carry invitations to weddings, birth announcements, death announcements, letters from girlfriends, bankruptcy papers, checks from grandma, you name it. People send postcards from vacations all over the world. They put them in a mailbox in Japan or Africa and they end up in my mail bag. Nobody ever writes to me, but it doesn't matter, I get mail every day." I imagine Gagne kept all the undeliverable mail because he felt it was safer with him, because it connected him to the river of life outside his door which he apparently found impossible to enter. Maybe in odd hours he would imagine the mail was for him, waiting to be opened. No longer would he be a living illustration of Thoreau's quiet desperation, but a man with friends near and far, a man with a place in the world beyond the neighborhood he walked every day in sun and rain and snow. Maybe, just maybe, those letters allowed him to feel something which was sorely lacking in his life, maybe in them his empty house felt full of love.

October Rain

October 18, 2006


When you grow up in a hot sunny place, you dream of rainy cold days like today. Days like this make the city feel like the city. It is always this way I think. One of the greatest things I have ever seen was a group of Indian honeymooners from a small village on the Arabian Sea in the south arrive to a snowy mountain near Kulu Manali in the north. They had traveled for days first by bus and then by train and then by bus again. Upon arrival they all piled out into the snow without coats like excited schoolchildren. They threw vermillion powder on the brides, flowers at the grooms, made snow angels, and rolled around until everyone was thoroughly wet and freezing. But even so there were only smiles. On days like today with the tight scrums of black umbrellas and the rain and the wind I am like that—like someone from Pondicherry seeing snow for the first time.

Pekka Turunen

October 16, 2006


I've only spent a very short time in Finland, but I found the place and it's people to have that rare quality of simutaneous seriousness and silliness. Pekka Turunen's photography catches a bit of that. The online galleries available don't show his work well (there are some bad scans, odd edits), but some of his images can be seen here and here.

I was reminded of Turunen by this post on fellow Finn, Tiina Itkonen today.

Related: Tiina Itkonen

#2

October 16, 2006

....is a boy if sonograms are to be believed. The lady technician didn't announce the news but rather typed it on the monitor over a shadowy picture of a gently rolling fetus dropping the letters one by one, "i t ' s a . . .", and then a dramatic pause. I looked up and noticed the technician studying my wife's face before typing the next letter, perhaps she was looking for tale-tell signs of joy, or disappointment or even grief knowing our reality would turn on it's axis at that moment. For a few seconds she held the secret of our future life in limbo. A lifetime with 2 boys is so different from that with a boy and a girl. I noticed my wife literally holding her breath. The technician takes 15 sonograms a day so this was a practiced flourish. She half-smiled, typed a "b", and my wife exhaled. Jenn had sort of been hoping for a girl. Her reaction was not disappointment exactly but was not what she had imagined. Perhaps our last experience of being told we were having a girl, expecting a girl, and then having a boy, made her feel we were owed a girl. That girl lived in our imagination for so many months she become real to us. But just as our reality shifted the moment Raul Andres was born when our shocked doctor exclaimed, "it's a...boy? a very big boy," by the time the technician had finished typing "oy!!!" those exclamation points were justified... as for the girl... well, perhaps she will be #3.

Video here.

Belgium, 1993

October 13, 2006


I was standing at a gas station on German autobahn at 2am holding up a sign that said 'Belgium' not expecting anyone to stop. But this guy in a floppy beret filling up the tank of his Citroën told me he would be happy to take someone away from Germany and back to his country. His English had been influenced by summers in Scotland and a year spent doing graduate work in Alabama. The resulting accent was absurd, but his utter seriousness made laugher impossible.

He was s supervisor in an industrial plastics in a factory and talked about his work with gentle enthusiasm. He talked about his Flemish wife's fish stew—"I dream of her visbouillon." He talked about his tulips. He smoked. I tried to imagine a house smelling of fish and cigarettes surrounded by gardens.

When we reached Luxembourg he breathed a sigh of relief, "I hate Germany. The language, the people, the landscape. Irrational. Racist probably, but there it is. Soon we'll be home." He smiled to himself and threw the cigarette out the window. The car accelerated. He turned the radio on, and turned the radio off. I tried to sleep.

I was woken with a nudge. "Here we are," he whispered. It didn't look any different to me except for the huge streetlights which line all the major roadways in Belgium. In the morning dim they lit the road with blue clarity. He noticed me noticing the light. "You know the astronauts can see Belgium from the space shuttle at night. The lights make it look like map. They say it is beautiful." He looked over at me. "Some day, I'd like to go up there."

He turned on the radio again. It was a someone with a slightly nasal voice giving a speech on the independence of the Congo. "Our king," he explained. Then the radio announcer said that the king was dead. That speech was the most important one he had ever given. The driver shut off the radio. "My god," he murmured, "Queen Fabiola will be devastated."

We drove in silence, but I noticed him tearing up. "I'm glad I heard it Belgium," he said. After that we didn't talk any more.

News from home

October 12, 2006

I got word today that a childhood friend has a terrible stomach cancer. He's my age and has a three year old. We haven't had more than 4 or 5 conversations since high school and yet he's someone I've known since I was 5 when we were in kindergarten together. When you grow up in a small town you know everyone's stories; there is a shorthand you have when you run into people—you say hello, exchange pleasantries, give updates. It is a way of being friendly without keeping up a friendship. The last time I saw him he had been recently married and his wife was pregnant.

They say all the surgeries that can be done have been done and he's now just waiting to die. Someone close to him says he has accepted his fate and is peaceful. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. He was the the tennis star, the prom king, and the hometown guy who made good. He left for school but returned home and became a huge success.

When I was a kid I imagined adult life would be a kind of paradise. At age 10 I wrote, "When I'm 30 it will be 1997 (almost 2000!), I'm going to do all the astronomy I want and stay up as late as I want every single night. I'll eat watermelon every day and eat hamburgers cooked on a grill. After work I'll shoot model rockets and on weekends I'll take trips in my hovercar like in Star Wars. I'll probably have a wife who will let me see her boobs whenever I want. We'll read together and go camping and skinny dipping for fun. She'll probably have long hair and a good personality. I'm pretty sure we'll crack each other up. My friends will come over all the time to use the trampolines and the pools in the back." What I couldn't have imagined back then was by age 30 I wouldn't be in regular contact with a single of my childhood friends I had imagined on my trampolines and that by the age of 39 tragedy would have touched so many of them. Still I do stay up rather late, I eat an awful lot of watermelon, and my wife usually has long hair and always has a good personality. We do indeed crack each other up. It is news from home like this that puts all those things in high relief and forces us to pray for small miracles.

Update: Nine days after I wrote this my childhood friend slipped away. I was told he was surrounded by his family and had found some peace with his fate. Although I know his wife and child are well cared for this news has left me with a heavy heart.

1984

October 12, 2006

I discovered about 150 pages of negatives from my days as high school yearbook photographer today. Most of it is awful stuff, but even so, at least for me, the images bring back the era full force. The pictures posted were from the first three pages and were dated 1984. They are of a homecoming dance, a football player, and double exposure of a prom...



Richard Benson on SX-70 prints

October 8, 2006

"The final small color Polaroid camera of any distinction was the SX-70. The company got into the practice of giving film and cameras to well-known photographers, who would repay the gift by the donation of some pictures made with the materials. Toward the end of his life Walker Evans could be found with multiple cameras, and a case or two of SX-70 film. When he found a suitable subject, Evans would expose a case or two of SX-70 film. When he found a suitable subject, Evans would expose a full pack of eight sheets of the same thing, stuffing each successive exposure in his jacket pocket while they were developing themselves. ... Evans tended to find a young man to drive the car, make the tea, and carry the packages, so he could keep working even as he became more and more frail with advancing age. He had the habit of collecting old signs and detritus from the roadsides, and those of us who traveled with him were often pressed into service to steal the old advertising signs or even, on some occasions, actual road signs."

excerpt from The Physical Print

As an aside: I'm sad to report that my beloved SX-70 with sonar autofocus has died. 20 years of rough handling and several trips around the world have left the plastic body cracked. A few shots from this camera can be found here.

related: The Polaroid Collective

The Tall Book of Make Believe

October 7, 2006


One of my favorite childhood books was a hand me down from my mom titled the 'Tall Book of Make Believe'. The inscription on the front page read "Greetings from Santa Claus, 1951" followed by mom mom's name written in her 6 year old hand. My guess is she wrote her name on that very Christmas day — her 'e's are rendered backwards. I knew the book was something special even as a kid. The worn corners of the cardboard cover and taped up back gave it the patina of love and I always kept it in a place of importance by my bed. When she died it was one of the first things I took from the house.

The text, mainly poetry, was a bit archaic even in 1955 with lines like "Their wings were blue and they sang 'Tilly-hoo!' Till away they flew." There are poems by well known authors like Robert Lewis Stevenson and Carl Sandberg as well as authors you've probably never heard of like Midred Plew Meigs, but the reason I loved the book (and the reason my mom loved it) were the illustrations by Garth Williams.

You might know Williams from his illustrations of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, or Little House on the Prairie but the illustrations in the Tall Book of Make Believe are dreamier and occasionally scarier than anything you would find in those other books. Here the man in the moon looks like a sorcerer pulling clouds through the sky, rogue shadows follow wary bunnies through the fields, bad elephants are forced to eat coal, and teddy bears come to life to make mischief. This is just-about-to-fall-asleep—flashlight-under-the-covers reading at it's best. Today's children's books are too often filled with practical lessons about sharing, or diversity, or going to the potty. I prefer tales of an uninvited lions who lives under the table and out of control lollipop growth any day.

--
The Tall Book of Make Believe is highly sought after by collectors. There was a short run reissue in the early 90's but otherwise the only copies to be had are vintage and are hard to find at a reasonable price. The best place to look is Amazon where sellers will occasionally post copies in the $80 range (mint copies fetch up to $600). Less hard to find, but another great book for toddlers is The Tall Book of Nursery Tales".

Blind Leading the Blind

October 6, 2006

On 7th Avenue at 18th Street today I ran into a group of 7 or 8 blind men teaching two blind teenagers, a boy who looked to be about 14 and a girl who was little older, to navigate the city. The men walked in a huddle around the kids, explaining their navigation techniques step by step. It was late afternoon and all the men and canes made long shadows. Most of the men wore dark glasses. Both the boy and the girl were newly blind and moved awkwardly. The girl's face was burned; the boy's eyes were clouded. They reached out for steadying hands every few steps, but the men kept saying, 'Nobody is going to hold your hand out here, you have to see with your ears and your stick." The sidewalks were full of obstacles- construction, uneven concrete, street vendors, and of course people in a hurry. Every few steps brought a new crisis. The boy got turned around. The girl stumbled. A dog on a long leash got caught up in the group. But everyone kept moving. Near the corner of 19th Street one of the older men detected a construction barrier with his cane. He stopped and waited, listening to hear if his charges would navigate it, but both slammed straight in. The girl fell again this time in a muddy puddle. The man helped her up, took her hand and demonstrated how she had missed the sawhorse. He repeated this with the boy. The girl was on the verge of tears. She was silent, but you could see all the frustration and fear well up on her face. Somehow the boy knew what was happening. He took her hand, "You'll get it, don't worry you're already better than me." The men in the protective circle moved in a bit tighter. Everyone patted the kids on the back murmuring encouragement; one squeezed the girl's shoulders and you could see her relax. "I'm ok. It's ok. Let's go." Then they all continued moving ever so slowly down the avenue.

The Mark of the Beast

October 4, 2006


A sweet looking little Korean lady in Times Square game me this pamphlet warning me that if I receive the mark of the beast on my right hand or forehead I will go to hell. It went on to explain that the mark would be delivered as a bar code in an injectable RFID chip and that the program has already been started on dogs and cats. The end-of-worlders seem to be all over the place these days. Project anyone?

related: recent photo by eliot, Mrs. Yunnisms

PhotoNY

October 4, 2006

PhotoNY opens this weekend with about 40 galleries showing photographs. Several prints from my current show will be on display at the Nelson Hancock Gallery's booth. Please stop by.

PhotoNY
Metropolitan Pavilion
125 West 18th Street
New York, New York 10011
Friday & Saturday Noon-7. Sunday Noon-6.

Night Sounds

October 3, 2006

My son doesn't talk in his sleep, he makes siren sounds.They always startle me awake-the imitation is getting good. Sirens are his shorthand for ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. My wife rarely sleep-talks but through the baby monitor I swear I just heard her sigh and say, "No joy for the scullery maid."

Related: Dark Waters, River of Sleep

Man Ray's Home Movies

October 2, 2006

In case you haven't discovered it, UbuWeb is an archive of avant-garde and outsider arts, a rich repository of films, mp3s, papers, and images. The ubu film archive is a particular favorite with films by everyone from Duchamp to Leger to Rauschenberg.... My only complaint is that films are sometimes presented very small and in mac-unfriendly formats. Avant-garde film not your thing? Head over to the 365 days project which includes 365 outsider mp3s. There is bound to be something that delights. Start with Muhammad Ali singing Ali's Historical Theme Song (download songs by clicking the mp3 document icon).

The Physical Print

September 29, 2006


I was hanging out with my friend and printer Gabe Greenberg (pictured above taking a break on the fire escape) last night and found a copy of Richard Benson's "The Physical Print - A Brief Survey of the Photographic Process" in his studio. This is an super little book detailing in concise clear language (and with beautiful illustrations) the history of photographic printing methods. It seems to be an exhibition catalog for this show. I can't find a copy for sale anywhere online (Gabe received his as a gift). Any ideas?

Update: I called the Yale art department and they sent me a copy... so excellent.

related: interviews with Benson and other artists

The Science of Sleep

September 28, 2006

Most people are terrible at recounting their dreams ("I was an artichoke but I could dance like a mo-fo." - actual quote), and because most dreams lack narrative we listeners quickly grow bored. But Michael Gondry has made a career of telling us his dreams and what lovely dreams they are. Watching The Science of Sleep last Saturday at the Angelica I could literally feel our audience floating along for the ride. But the movie isn't good because it's fantastical (there are plenty of films that manage to be fantastical and dreadful) or because it does a good job recounting dreams, but because it taps into that feeling of falling for someone both physically close and emotionally far away. It's a painful/delicious/crazymaking feeling most of us can relate to. The movie ultimately falls a bit short because it tells us Stephane is in love with Stephanie without letting us fall in love with her ourselves (Stephane explains he falls for her because she 'makes things' which is fine for his character but perhaps not enough for the audience...or at least it's not enough for me). But this small criticism aside, it's the most fun and transporting picture I've seen in a long while and I might just have to sneak out to see it again.

Related: Gondry's "creepy" gifts, submit your dreams

Now speaking of sleep. To bed I must go.

The Midwest Photographer's Project

September 27, 2006


Photo by Mike Sinclair

I was about to publish the following blog entry, "It seems to me that some of the most interesting contemporary American photography is coming out of the Midwest. The Museum of Contemporary Photography in has put together collection of work from 75 photographers living out there in the middle of the country and has titled it the Midwest Photographer's Project," when I noticed this Gallery Hopper entry in my RSS reader saying virtually the same thing and adding information about a talk this Thursday by three of the photographers at Aperture. Can't wait to pick up the book.

The Beastly Bombing

September 27, 2006

My friend Julien is an equal opportunity offender and one of my favorite people on the planet. His play THE BEASTLY BOMBING
or A Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by the Tangles of True Love
opens September 29 for an eight week run at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. From the title you've probably guessed it's a terrorist farce told in the manner of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Several songs from the production are available on the website. I suggest you start with The House of Saud. If you are in LA don't miss this show.

Dilemma

September 27, 2006

A friend of mine is a successful photographer known for doing a certain kind of work... large format cameras, spectacular handmade black and white prints using obscure processes, etc... He's an obsessive photographer who shoots in other styles, but his other work some digital, some shot on 35 clashes in theme and style with his classy 'brand.' To avoid sullying his good name he created an alternate persona and started showing the alternate work under that name. All contact with the outside world is through associates in on the joke. As part of the joke he invited several other photographers to shoot in the style of the alternate persona to create a body of work. The problem is the alternate persona has been successful. The work has sold, been in shows, etc. Dealers and collectors want to meet the artist. The artist always refuses and the refusals of course serve to enhance his popularity. Now an important magazine has asked to interview the artist. The question is what to do. Do the interview and risk a slip up, continue to be mysteriously unavailable and continue the joke, or spill the beans and risk lonelygirl15 type resentment?

Aesthetics of Being the Youngest of Four Sisters

September 26, 2006

Take a day off
While your sisters are working
Work on a day
When your sisters are taking off
Be bright in the kitchen
Be sullen in the pantry
Whey they listen to music, cough
Whey go to their lovers, be sultry
There is no solution
To being the youngest sister
The hottest summer day
To you is the most wintry
Take your shirt off
And read a while.

-Kenneth Koch

related: Maria Del Mar

John Hodgman on home towns

September 25, 2006

"Well, to some degree I was speaking of all home towns. In that, to the person who comes from a particular place — let us call it "Town X" — it is the most unique and interesting and important place in the world. It’s where you first experience most of the common stories that we all experience in life. So it has something of a mythic, novelistic quality to it. But then as you get older, you realize that you share experiences with a lot of older people. You also appreciate that every town is not only the most interesting place on earth, but also the most banal place on earth. Because everyone, more or less, has shared experiences that they go through that make a town seem important."

The full Phoenix interview, Radar Interview
Related: Daily Show Correspondents on the web, Mongolian Death Worms

Lady in the hat

September 25, 2006

You know those Mead Composition books? There is a fragile almost birdlike lady who scribbles in them, literally scribbles round and round, with worn colored pencils on page after page. Over the last 15 or so years I've seen her a couple of times. Once in Room 117 at the New York Public Library. Once on the L train and once sitting at the bar at the Viand on 61st & Madison. I've always wanted to take a closer look at the notebooks, but when she catches me peeking she always closes them a bit and brings them tight to her chest. She wears dark catlike sunglasses so you never see her eyes and bright red lipstick. I passed her on the street today near Church and Leonard, two composition books under her right arm, pencils in hand, walking like she had somewhere important to go.

Pieter Hugo

September 22, 2006


The Michael Stevenson Gallery has posted a number of galleries of Pieter Hugo's work. I hung out with Pieter a few months ago here in New York. He perfectly embodies the image of the brash hard drinking photographer. In conversation he is often dismissive of the art world and indeed of photography itself, but his work speaks for itself. Powerful stuff.

I look forward to his upcoming book.

Wild Honey Collectors, Techiman District, Ghana
Boy Scouts, Monrovia, Liberia.


Related Post: Hyena Men

Letter from New Orleans

September 21, 2006

April 14, 1986

R,

Went to the beauty parlor today and cut off all my hair. Well not all of it, but it sure is shorter than it's ever been before. My head feels about 20 pounds lighter and I find sleep difficult. You wouldn't like it so I won't send a picture. My dad would kill me. He would say I look like a boy. Not that he ever visits.

My Linguistic Field Methods is interesting. I will subject you to an elicitation session and study your syntactic tree structure some day.

I still dream of Nebraska, the wide empty landscapes, away from all of this.

L

Writing

September 21, 2006

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return.

- Octovio Paz

First Haircut

September 19, 2006


After 22 months, finally a haircut. He wasn't happy about it at first, but a gummy bear made things better. Afterwards.


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