Put the blog down, Sir. Put the blog down…


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Creating art, and disseminating it through media, are never easy tasks, even in the best economic times. And in times like these, the job gets even harder. So the slightest additional obstacle can seem suddenly insurmountable.

So it can’t be easy for Radio Papesse, an independent Web radio emitter in Tuscany, to deal with what happened to them shortly after an assignment into the Appennine Mountains. Coming back home, as they stopped in a cafe for some panini, Coming back home, as they stopped in a cafe for some panini, much of their equipment was stolen from their car.

If you give Radio Papesse a listen, you’ll discover very quickly why they’re worth sustaining. Here’s who they are:

Radio Papesse is the first and only art and culture radio born within an Italian public Contemporary Art Center. … On the back of our past in a public institution, since January 2009 Radio Papesse has moved forward indipendently and it’s now a non-profit cultural association. What is going to be unchanged is our will to make you listen to the sounds, the voices and the news from the contemporary art world.

Stop by if you can, show them some support and listen to some of their excellent programming (it’s multilingual, there is English-language programming). My friend Cristiano Magi, a programmer on the show, assures me that every form of support, including simple word-of-mouth, makes a difference.

The human face was Richard Avedon’s medium. His subjects’ lines, curves and crags were the rhythm of his poetry, expressions subtle his tone, emotions blared and hinted his cadence.

Unabashedly capitalist with his art, unremittingly controlling of his (often very famous) subjects, Avedon is on a short list of the greatest photographers of other human beings.

I went to see Avedon’s exhibit today at Amsterdam’s FOAM museum. I know when art hits me in a special place, as it did in this exhibit, because I can’t stop moving. My skin stands up, my eyes twitch with emotion, and around Avedon’s work, I find myself stepping back and forth between the pictures, admiring new angles, scouring the surface of the grain wondering how he calculated each and every square inch – dodging, burning, developing final prints that, one after another, made their way into the pantheon of American celebrity.

I think my favorite image in the exhibition was the portrait of Buster Keaton. Avedon, using technique typical to his style, highly overexposes the image, blasting out the highlights enough to hide the top of Keaton’s hat – which he is holding arms-raised over his head – in a blinding bath of light.

Yet the clarity of Keaton’s face, and the rich depth of the conrasting shadows in his suit, cut a figure so vivid, Keaton really looks like he’s about to jump out of the image. That photograph evidences a master printer at work – Avedon dominated all aspects of the craft, from the ideas phase to the grimy darkroom chemicals.

Avedon had patience for the proper image, which arrives unnanounced at times – his iconic image of Charlie Chaplin on the day before the actor left America to escape Red Scare persecution – a picture Avedon called “a gift” from Chaplin – and his eyestopping frameup of Marilyn Monroe during a rare moment when the actress had dropped her act, are prime examples.

Avedon can claim so many of the images that have become iconic across the decades, pictures that sometimes reside in the collective memory as the definitive instances of some of our most important celebrities. He’s very much like Annie Leibovitz in that way, except he didn’t aim for an artistic pose of his subjects. He would stage an idea – I mean, obviously he had to, especially when he was working as a commercial photographer – but the setting was just a starting point. Avedon preferred a subject in action, in reaction, in unhedged mad-genius grotesque.

There were many wonderful and disturbing images among the more than 200 at FOAM. What I kept thinking about as I browsed through them was the depth and character that old-fashioned film photography allows the craftsman to elicit. The prints were a world away from – and Avedon’s 6×6 negs a world above – the edge-to-edge plastic perfection megapixels strive to achieve. Heavy grain marked many of the best images, and blur was used to effect. Further than that, each print bore the unmistakable and inevitable quirks of silver gelatin prints developed from a negative. My favorite example is this portrait of Bob Dylan in Central Park. It seems pretty obvious that the halo around the singer’s head came as a result of the printer’s dodging Dylan’s face to keep it light enough. The slight imperfection adds a distinct element – almost a message – to the photo. Had Photoshop been present at the time, the
inconvenience of imprecise dodging wouldn’t have been a “problem.”

I figured I should follow up my angsty return post with something ridiculous. Here it is.


I like t-shirts. More specifically I really enjoy The Names Brand. A sample:


Yes, that is the cast of The Cosby Show. These shirts are ridiculous, and completely live or die upon easily missed referents to popular media. But even that is a little too obvious for me, so I made a shirt in that style with the names of the five Cahiers filmmakers of the French New wave.  So why do I find it so appealing? What is it about obscuritanism that is so much fun?

This I think is much the essence of things I find interesting today. It’s somehow a holdover from the abject nerdom of my youth, I like things that people don’t know about. In 1997 it was weird Japanese animation and Hong Kong action flicks, today it is art cinema, world music and indie rock. There is certainly some fun in feeling like you are the only person that knows about something exciting, but that also goes against the inherent desire in the mind of the fan, that everyone should love this. I would love it if every new Jia Zhang Ke film were a major media event, even if that will never be the case. But then in a perverse way would that make the films less fun? Is it the mind of the fan for niche works that inherently limits their possible exposure?

So meanwhile I sit here and wait on my New German Cinema director shirt. It’ll be here next week.

I guess?

New York Times writer Tim Egan has fast become one of my favorite bloggers. He is tapped into the modern West in a way very few mainstream writers are. Today he logs a post about Native Americans’ views on incoming President Barack Obama. Well worth a read:

In less than a week’s time, the Great White Father will be black. Amidst the euphoria and stirring of fresh ideas, there remains some suspicion.

“He’s still a politician and I’m still an Indian,” said Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning writer, a Spokane and Coeur d’Alene native.

“They all look like treaty-makers to me,” said Alexie, paraphrasing the native musician, John Trudell. “I guess that’s the puzzling and I suppose lovely thing about Indians’ love of Obama. Many have suspended their natural suspicion of politicians for him.”

So often, they are invisible, these first Americans, or frozen in iconic images of the past. We see them in Curtis prints and Remington poses, or hear something attributed to them in New Age spiritual circles. Cool, Indians.

And then a new casino opens off the interstate or a pottery exhibit is unveiled, and we realize: ah yes, they’re with us still.

With Obama’s rise, Indians have allowed themselves to dream — some, even to fall in love. He was adopted into an Indian family in Montana last May, given the name “Barack Black Eagle” by the Crow Nation.

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