Thursday, April 16, 2015

Salt Of The Earth: Epilogue

Finally, saw Salt Of The Earth. And what can I say... a better than expected film about a great photographer who has seen, experienced and documented many incredible, as well as horrendous things that life has created, and man has wrought. And as alluded to before, with all that said and done, with all the good he has (obviously) done in his life- why oh why, would he then so casually ally himself with an entity whose very existence threatens and belies everything he's ever stood for

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Call To The White Nation!

WOW!!! Must admit that upon reading the title, then seeing the face- expected yet another call to arms to defend the beleaguered White race (kinda like this) from the invading mongrel hordes of mud people and yada, yada, usual suspects...

So you can imagine my Surprise! when the man starts spewing all kinds of... (non) sense!?!? Dang, this man is out to make a mockery of my whole world view. God- I so do love it when I'm wrong!!!

PS- Of course, despite his well predicted plea to dispense with the immediate impulse to go on the defensive, the naysayers nevertheless raced to the rescue of White honor claiming that this is a "character," not a "real person." White, racist caricatures incapable of conscious thought and reason are a lot more real in their world than someone who looks just like them, and yet professes such thoroughly alien practices as rational thought and... understanding.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Belle de Costa Greene

Photo: Edward Curtis

One of the more intriguing figures in Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is none other than Belle de Costa Greene. In a book which chronicles the White witness extraordinaire of the vanishing culture(s) of the American Indian, here was a Black woman, passing for White, who was the guardian of JP Morgan's (the world's richest man) fortress of renowned artistic treasures. Edward Curtis had to first get through her, before having any chance of getting to the man who would become his number one patron.

Yeah, you heard right! This self professed librarian, this high society, New York celebrity and art world  juggernaut, this highest flying curator amongst curators was a woman of color gliding ever so discreetly under the most oppressive of racial radars... Her's was a world few White women could maneuver comfortably or successfully in- let alone someone who could ordinarily aspire to be little more than a domestic in a White household.

In response to her many, very wealthy suitors, she wrote a friend, "I sent word that all such proposals would be considered alphabetically after my 50th birthday."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Operation Tomodachi

The Fukushima catastrophe changed the world. Nuclear reactors melted down on live television and twice as much radioactive material was released as during the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The disaster drove 150,000 people from their towns and villages, poisoned entire landscapes for centuries and killed hundreds of thousands of farm animals.

There's an old Saturday Night skit in which a Black janitor (Garrett Morris) is ordered to get his mop and bucket and clean up... a radioactive spill at a nuclear power plant. It was one funny skit- it's also basically what  Navy Captain Thom Burke told his crew to do on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when they entered the radioactive plume dispersed by the critically damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. Not so funny...

 How much of this have you heard or read about on the news???

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Curtis Critique

Photo: Edward Curtis
Curtis has received considerable criticism from contemporary critics who object to the fact that he sometimes asked his subjects to dress in traditional clothing. He even had the audacity to retouch a clock out of a photograph! Seems he wasn't exactly being true to today's professional PJ standards- established several decades after the fact. So what on earth was he thinking!?

Curtis slowly came to the realization that traditional Indian life as practiced for centuries was coming to an end with the very generation at hand. After them, the centuries old tradition of Native American life would be forever broken. They would be the last to experience and actually live it in a personal, daily context. It was the foreign life and customs being forcibly imposed on them by Whites that were totally alien and disingenuous. In fact, had Curtis presented images of Indians in their then current state, as they were forced by Whites into a life of abject poverty and misery- those representations would have simply reinforced the prevailing attitude that Indians were lazy, slovenly beggars; regardless that they had been reduced into complete reliance and subserviance by the government for their food, livelihood and well being- and that none of those most basic of needs were sufficiently addressed in any humane or satisfactory manner whatsoever. Native Americans were legally prohibited from practicing their religion (in a country claiming freedom of religion as one of its founding principles), customs and traditions, including the potlatch- where notable families would give away their wordly possessions (smells like socialism!). They were not even allowed to speak in their native tongue! Did I mention that their White overseers also stole the overwhelmingly vast majority of their land?

Curtis was pretty emphatic in what he was trying to preserve in his photography- a way of life as practiced by those who would be the last to live it. His goal wasn't so much to idealize the American Indian, as to present them as a once independent people of a once independent culture. And he was most certainly not a working photojournalist bound by a code of ethics which had no relation to him or his work, and which for all practical purposes- did not even exist as of yet...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Picture That!

Woulda done anything to get a picture of this...

Wish the Right would question their leaders as directly... (see 13 min into video below)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Photo: Edward C. Curtis
Photo: Edward C. Curtis
Honestly, I don't know where people get the time to read books (no matter the medium) these days- I lead a boring, humble life and even I don't have the time. Anyway, I'm actually three quarters of the way through Timothy Egan's biography of Edward Curtis; not exactly a gripping page turner, mind you, but it does help if you're into: photography, history and the American Indian.

It's also interesting to see how a simple case of photographic curiosity, voyeurism and outright exploitation (sound familiar, anyone?) developed into a case of full blown obsession (sound familiar, anyone?), and he- into an outright genuine advocate. Curtis was a true American success story whose enduring artistic legacy was completely reliant on the precipitous decline and virtual demise of an entire race's way of life. And unlike so many of the viewers of his work, he became increasingly cognizant of that fact as he struggled to continue documenting their vanishing, centuries old culture(s) using the available technology of the day, including: language and music on wax cylinder, movie footage of customs and myths, and the plethora of still images which he would show in galleries, exquisitely bound books, and in concert halls with full orchestras and tinted slides projected by "magic lanterns."  .

Again, while somewhat plodding and tedious (at least for me), what helped retain my interest throughout Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher were the small human and historical details full of the irony that speak volumes in any era. Of these I will report in future posts...

Japan Camera Hunter- In My Bag

Always been a big fan of the In Your Bag section (live vicariously!) of Japan Camera Hunter, yesterday I was honored to be featured...

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Christian Capitalist

Remember how Christ always preached that charity began with Capitalism, how he lovingly reminded lepers to stop begging for entitlements and pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and commanded the dead to raise their own damn selves up without the aid of Big Government?

Well my friend, THIS traces the history of those classic Christian economic, self help favorites- and if you act now, we'll also throw in Christ's Twelve Easy Steps To Wealth and Prosperity at no extra charge (and that's one parable you won't find in your Bible)!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

John and Jane Doe's

Photo: Arne Svenson
Photo: Arne Svenson
I love portraiture and history, both are about trying to get something right that concerns a certain amount of mystery- whether real, or imagined. It's never all that easy, and usually considerably harder than it ever even suggests. How much is ever really known, how much can ever be revealed?

History tries to solve the enigma through exhaustive research, documentation, personal accounts. Portraiture purportedly ties to reveal an inner mystery through overt physical appearance and gesture. Of course, either method concerning either genre is limited in both its scope and its ability to divulge any definitive, meaningful truth. But that never does stop anyone from trying...

Arne Svenson attracted a lot of attention for his essay on anonymous people photographed through the windows of their homes. But he's a lot more than just some perv with a camera as some people would have you think, and once you see his Unspeaking Likeness series, you begin to see the common theme of identity that runs through much of his work. These portraits are more than mere conjecture, they are based on recreations from actual physical evidence- and are probably more accurate in capturing their physical likeness than any photographic portrait is capable of capturing any (living) subject's "inner self."

Painting: Sarah Honan

Sarah Honan's Blink explores much the same ground, except from a painterly perspective, again addressing the mystery of persons unknown- people whose lives and histories have been lost to us, a nameless representation of their likeness all that remains of their earthly wanderings...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

George Georgiou- Last Stop

Many of these photos from Last Stop lack the masterful compositions usually exhibited in a typical George Georgiou photograph, and for obvious reason- you can only compose so much from the vantage point of a moving bus. But what he does manage to capture is nevertheless testament to an unfailing eye which still devours all worth seeing despite the self imposed limitations.

Of course, he's far from the first to do such a bus assignment, Tom Wood's wonderful All Zones Off Peak being the first that comes to mind. But despite the firmly planted derriere, it's simply amazing just how many alluring dramas and curiosities he does manage to find out and about in the public commons. Did I mention I'm a sucker for accordion bound books?

Yet another this year on the if only I had money (book) list- we're only at the start of Spring, and they're already starting to pile up...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Water, $$$ & Western Civilization

A new brand of millionaires and generally Silicon Valley money moved into San Francisco with bags full of cash and no manners and very little education in the great culture of Western civilization,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

We're currently in one of the worst (if not THE WORST) droughts in California history. Many a Californian municipality has already begun imposing serious water restrictions on it populace. But drought minimization efforts here in San Francisco range from non existent to absolute minimal. Could it possibly have something to do with all the construction cranes that have become ubiquitous throughout the city the past couple of years? Could it be because there's just so much money pouring in from all these recent high tech firms (both start ups and established) that no one wants to rock the boat in whatever puddle is left to rock? Would this most recent wave of high end $$$ look elsewhere if they heard that water access would be cut several hours a day? Of course, it makes little difference either way to the scores of homeless that literally litter our streets despite this plethora of high tech income.

And for 1/2 hr every Friday at lunch hour, you can see a regular handful of these, start up, millionaire wannabes deftly maneuvering around the homeless on the streets as they pick up latte cups and napkins off the city streets with their mechanical grabbing sticks. This is their officially sanctioned method of "giving back" to the city they've invaded, in return for which, San Francisco has bequeathed them with millions in tax incentives as they price local, long time residents out of home and... city.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alec Soth's B&W Songbook Blast To The Past

Photo: Alec Soth

Most deja vu's seem unconsciously initiated, even though they are usually triggered by the most nuanced of external stimuli: a familiar scent or accent, a string of musical notes or peripheral sighting... Such was not the case upon seeing Alec Soth's prints from his latest book and endeavor named Songbook. It was as if I fell asleep in a Soho (NYC) photo gallery in the latter seventies, only to reawaken from my coma at The Fraenkel Gallery on the left coast in late winter 2015. The style, sensibility and content were definitely the most familiar of continuities, as if the color (let alone digital) revolution had never, ever taken place. Even some of the clothing styles in the photos (taken between 2012 and 2014) are eerily reminiscent of the seventies! The one thing that assured me that I had not entered some bizarre temporal rift were the post eighties, wall sized prints.

Photo: Alec Soth

Of course, Mr. Soth, who was born in '69, is a tad young to have experienced the gallery scene back in the day, though I'm sure he's familiar with the work produced then. I had seen, and was quite impressed, by some of his earlier B&W work, and his latest stuff most definitely does not disappoint. It has a primeval vitality that is absent in his color work (good as that is)- isn't it supposed to be the other way around? I find much of his color work more... contemplative. But his B&W stuff jumps! All sorts of things seem to be going on behind the scenes that we're not quite privy too: humor, confusion, spontaneity- life! In one shot a house seems about to be engulfed and devoured by massive, eerily advancing vegetation; in another, the most beautiful (and threatening) of billowing cloud banks is about to swallow an unsuspecting motel whole. There's a reason these photos celebrate the small time scenarios of daily life- everyday life is not always to be trusted.

Photo: Alec Soth

Addendum: With Mr. Soth being who he is in the great pantheon of all things current- could this, maybe, possibly be the unwitting harbinger of the ages that finally catapults The Great B&W Revival that never was and was always meant to be? Will a great legion of imitators and innovators alike finally rally to the hallowed silver halide round table of monochromatic imagery? Maybe, possibly (not)...

Sunday, March 22, 2015


One of the best "war is hell" flicks ever- and in my All Time Top 20 Movies. All traces of war rhetoric sentimentality are left at the Hollywood door; no right and wrong, no justice, truth or grand ideologies. Everyone gets turned into something they don't wanna be, save for those who already started as such. When everything around you is compromised, everyone on every side is expendable.

So we're left to deal with the uneasy realization that we create our own problems, and contrary to present day mythology- shooting our way out just prolongs and worsens them. Super heroes do not save the day, no miracle man vanquishes the evil doers with his magic gun. And we never do learn...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You Will Be (So) Missed...

Because what other journalist, news anchor, or reporter will ever rise (or even possibly ever aspire) to this level of humor, honesty and truth to power???

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Genesis- Erratum

It's been pointed out to me (see commentary) that Vale Mining Co did not fund Salgado during the shooting of his Genesis project (alas, my staff has failed me again). Obviously, I was in complete error in that assertion.  Vale helped fund his exhibit at The Natural History Museum.

So let's be clear...

Who owns and has ultimate control of his work? Who could have told the Natural History Museum to go screw themselves should they even consider accepting blood money from such an organization? And finally, who willingly gave his blessing to- and then defended Vale?

Here we have a major name artist and so called environmental activist openly embracing and further advancing and legitimizing this most brazen form of greenwashing. Imagine, had he said- "Not on my watch, not with my work!" His exhibition would have gone on regardless, smaller in size perhaps, or in another venue- but the publicity alone from his refusal to play along with those despoiling and poisoning our planet for greed and profit would have sent a resounding message reverberating worldwide on how individuals and institutions should lead, instead of falter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Salt Of The Earth vs. SebastiĆ£o Salgado

OK, OK! So I am no doubt at least partly to blame, I'm the one who put Salgado on the god like pedestal, for all that he has shown and taught us photographically, concerning not only the human condition, but the state of the entire planet. I'm the one old enough to know better; no one is perfect- we're all mortal and flawed and sinful and weak... And I was also wrong when I said that Burtynsky should have been more openly critical of the giants of industry and commerce that he so famously documented in Manufactured Landscapes. Truth is, had he been so, he would have never been granted the access necessary to photograph in the first place- and the resulting images would have never even seen the light of day, let alone spoken as loudly as they did. 

But goddang, SebastiĆ£o! Now, whenever I hear your hallowed name, think of the spectacular work you have produced, the eyes and minds you have awakened- the grand legacy you sought to so gloriously immortalize will forever be tainted and marred by the rationalizations of such lesser men. I don't know what the budget was for Genesis, but maybe if you had taken one less helicopter ride, had your book weighed one pound less- had your exhibition prints measured in feet, rather than... meters, maybe, just maybe, you wouldn't have had to accept money from Satan himself in the guise of Vale Mining ("a Brazilian mining corporation that in 2012 was voted the worst company for human rights and environmental credentials")! For in doing so, your work has not only documented what man has wrought upon this once great planet, it also explains how all of us, great and small, have contributed to that destruction- be it in full knowledge, sheer ignorance or absolute denial...   Update: Erratum...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Back In The Day...

A Boy and His Dog  (aka- Stan & Bob);  Photo: © S. Banos

One often looks back on one's youth through a nostalgic haze that conveniently filters out the negative- until you cut through the haze and start remembering in earnest. Moving into NYC (even from its outer boroughs) would mark a definitive milestone in anyone's life, it most definitely did in mine. It was 1980, the height of the Punk/New Wave scene, and New York still had a coupla remaining years before being meteorically launched into warp speed gentrification. 

The New Year's Eve photo that will never be surpassed, Studio 54- Photo: © Tod Papageorge

Thirteen in '69, I desperately craved to participate in my own version of The Sixties (which really started in '63 and ended in '72), but had well given up as the mid seventies devolved into a "modern" version of the '50s- the advent of disco pretty much signalling the final death knell. And then, a funny thing happened at the end of the decade, this thing called... Punk. And all of a sudden there was this crazy energy out on the streets again. No, it wasn't the unavoidable, universal sea change of the sixties; it was on a much smaller scale, but there nonetheless, if you chose to acknowledge it- in all its pre-digital, unconnected wonder!

New York was still in its post Gerald Ford, Drop Dead doldrums- ads in the Village Voice still advertised 3rm apts in Alphabet City/Loisaida renting for $650 (with the understood agreement that anything you were foolish enough to move in would be automatically removed free of charge), a heroin renaissance was still to occur, and crack had yet to be invented. Williamsburg was still Hasidic and/or Puerto Rican and nowhere near hipsterdom- in fact, anyone from the outlying boroughs was condescendingly referred to as "Bridge and Tunnel." This was also the time when you could walk out unto any East Village street on any given day and see the likes of Quentin Crisp, Afrika Bambaataa, The Beastie Boys or any of thousands of indie rock celebrities and wannabes. Robert Frank drunkenly burned original prints from The Americans in his loft on the Bowery, Alex Harsley held shop at The 4th St. Photo Gallery, and Hip Hop was about to spill from the Bronx and invade the the rest of NYC, the nation and the world.

Photo: © Ken Schles- who & where to go for more of a sense of the period...

Of course, this last ditch reverberation of The Sixties could not possibly endure unabated; it too would implode, and  by 1985- the tsunami called gentrification, fueled by unbridled greed, crack and mass Madonna commercialization inevitably dawned and triumphed. And just as jellyfish are now consuming the earth's vast oceans filling the void once occupied by fish- bodegas and local, centuries old Lower East Side storefronts were replaced, seemingly overnight, by a plague like torrent of small art galleries whose owners saw and promoted not art, but their own dreams of $$$ and art world stardom. Within a year, most would not even linger long enough to become memories, replaced by... upscale boutiques- it would never be quite like Paris.

The look Madonna popularized the world over... several years before she appropriated it; London,  Photo: © S. Banos

Youth would expend its final, semi-glorious gasp, my dog would soon depart- and New York, of course, has always had a way of cashing in on one's dreams, sweat and determination... and crushing them all the same. The photo biz (like everything else both seen and/or imagined in this town) was incredibly cut throat and competitive even then, I wanted no part of that hustle and would soon embark on a Special Ed career that would well occupy my time for years to come in Harlem and Oakland, CA when I made the move to the Left Coast. Marriage, a blog, pet cemeteries and the dawdling years of middle age awaited...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Everything You Know About Drugs Is Wrong...

Yeah, pretty much everything... from the way they affect our minds and bodies individually, to the way they affect society as a whole. We've created and perpetuated so many long standing myths about drugs, that we've come to believe them as basic truths. See how quickly they dissipate into disrepute when held to the light of the most basic of scrutiny...