August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Personal history can mean beauty, and just as human beings wear their histories on their faces, buildings retain their own stories on their walls and furnishings. Photographer Michael Eastman seeks to allow these spaces to present their own stories, apart from whoever might inhabit them.
Eastman — who lives in St. Louis, Mo. — says that the word “decay” coincides with his visual concern, but it’s not at the center of it — age is more to the point.
“They can be the same thing,” Eastman said. “I’ve always been interested in surfaces and color in my work and, to me, the most interesting are the ones that have a kind of narrative. By narrative, I mean an urban surface that I’m attracted to, that usually has been altered or changed by all kinds of factors.”
Eastman is particularly interested in the hint of human presence that lingers in his chosen subjects. Scratches, nail holes, peeling paint, they all give the scenes a sense of history and the feeling that their story continues.
“Patina only comes with age and the patina is what I’m usually mostly interested in — the way things stain,” said Eastman. “I have been in interiors where I’ve said ‘this is too far gone,’ whereas someone else would say ‘this is perfect.’ ” Eastman isn’t interested in photographing a scene that is too far gone, a practice that is enjoying a certain vogue that leads photographers to ruins in places like Detroit. Eastman prefers order — he describes his approach as very formal — and finds he can’t organize chaos in a way that works for him. These decrepit sites also imply to the viewer that no one has stepped in them for years and, for Eastman, that means the story is over.
“I like people to feel a presence, like somebody’s left a room or just about to enter,” said Eastman.
Eastman looks back to the 1970s as the point where he fixed on his real point of photographic interest. He had done a series of portraits of people in their homes that resemble his current work, if you take the people out of the end product. The person, he found, short-circuited the exploration of the room, and it was that action which appealed to him.
“You look at the person, you look at the eyes, you think about what the person is, who he is, who she is, and you don’t really look at all the clues that are on the wall that tell the story,” Eastman said.
Eastman sees the photographs as containing an integral collaborative aspect that is wiped away with the inclusion of a human subject at their center. As a portrait of a room or a structure, his images beg interpretation through the experiences a viewer brings to the photo. There are clues embedded on the walls, as part of the furniture and any objects placed on them, within the very condition of the room. Each detail reveals something about the person who inhabits the space — each viewer brings their own history and experience to that revelation.
To Eastman, having a person in the setting ends the exploration that should be just beginning upon seeing his work.
“It’s like having a mystery where you read the ending first, the last page first,” he said. “I’d rather it always be a mystery, something you can’t quite answer.”
A chunk of Eastman’s work involves travel, which allows him his own form of discovery. He might be out in the world, but he’s not outside of his creative space. “When I travel it’s my studio,” said Eastman. “It’s never travel photography. I don’t think of traveling in the way most people do. I think of it as an opportunity to make. That’s all I’m there for. Whereas people will go to museums and go to sites, I’m looking for things very differently and I work harder on vacation than I ever work in St. Louis in my studio.” Finding the exact places that appeal to him visually is hard work for Eastman — it requires devoting a lot of time to just walking around and searching — and that has set up his own internal debate about whether he should research sites before or leave it entirely to chance.
Eastman does use some of his resources for the occasional advanced scout on location and makes use of Internet resources, but views his work as the result of realizations arrived at through a new intimacy that can far transcend what he already knows about a place. He might come to see a structure because it is architecturally grand, but then fixate on a little doorway that he’s chanced upon.
“The connection between me and the subject matter, it’s not always research,” Eastman said. “Sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s just how I started working, which is either dragging the camera around on my back or driving hundreds of miles and looking at things as I drive by slowly.”
Eastman qualifies the thread through all his photography as the acknowledgment that there is something extraordinary in the ordinary, and that his purpose is to capture that and sometimes engineer the actual transformation.
“It’s like being an urban alchemist,” he said. “It’s getting these basic surfaces and subjects and structures that people walk by all the time and don’t see, but you recognize something there that makes you an artist.”
The proof is in the locations — compare and contrast the original sites to his photographs and his interests andmethods become apparent.
“If we went to all the places that I photographed and I could show them to you, I think that you would be underwhelmed,” said Eastman, “because I think that it’s how you see it, when you see it, what the time of day is, what the light is, what the condition of the place is, and the frame around it, what you’ve included or haven’t included. Those are the things that are really making it.”
Eastman has woven his interest through scenes in Cuba and rural America. He’s also focused on brightly lit urban sites that might initially speak to a sparkly new-ness, but are utilized for abstractions that reveal their own stories through textures and patterns isolated.
In this way, Eastman does not see himself as dependent on the subject matter at — his photographs exist as a dialogue between himself and his subjects, as well the effect of the world around them.
“It’s not that I’m making photographs of something, I’m making photographs from something,” he said.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
One-man British band Rob Jones returns for a second album that utilizes a form of lo-fi pop that references some diverse bands that you wouldn’t expect to pop up together in song. Alternately channeling the sound of Yes and The Real Tuesday Weld throughout, as well as the Art of Noise on “Satisfactory Substitution” and The Magnetic Fields on “Manuals,” Jones infuses his songs with vocal stylings that hearken back to Buddy Holly, though with instrumentation that doesn’t shy away from modern dance affectations.
As such, it’s a bold audio experiment that wraps itself around some sprightly realized songs that drip with the songwriting talent that might be somewhat hidden in the layers. That’s not a bad thing at all, it just adds to the eclectic charm and, in a way, seems like a nose-thumbingly delicious move — it’s obvious that Jones could write circles around most hitmakers, with a song sense that reveals not only a penchant for tunes that stay in your brain, but ones that draw their influence from decades past.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
If you’re a fan of wunderkammers, then Taschen has released has released the bible of these curiosity cabinets — and if you know nothing about them, then this is a good place to start.
“Cabinet of Natural Curiosities” consists of the entire collection of natural specimens belonging to Albertus Seba and as realized through the artists hired to compile his treasures into encyclopedic form.
Seba was an apothecary in 17th and 18th century Amsterdam and owner of a wunderkammer — that is, cabinet of wonder or curiosity — which were the rage back then. The idea was that the owners would collect and compile strange specimens to be placed on the shelves for display — a kind of personal natural history museum with a scope that stretched far beyond the ordinary. Any given wunderkammer might contain typical specimens, but were often peppered with unusual items that we would now equate with Ripley’s Believe It Or Not more than any other institution.
Seba’s Thesaurus began its conception in 1734, the year of publication for the first volume, with three more to follow over the next three decades (Seba survived long enough to see two of them released). For the time and even still, these were monumental works of scientific categorization, as well as high achievements in the areas of art, illustration and printing, that called for multiple collaborators over the various aspects of the book.
Taschen’s version works on multiple levels, not the least of which involves the included essays that cast a light on Seba’s life, the world he lived in and the history of scientific inquiry. This is all borne out visually by the contents of the sprawling book. A page of snakes might offer something of scientific interest, as well as visual one. Common cobras, for instance, are as much a triumph of swirly design work as they are biological inquiry, and don’t miss the rolling beauty of king cobras placed whimsically next to a scarlet ibis.
Equally the juxtaposition of various sea creatures next to each other creates some chaotic eye candy, as well as a few mysteries to be solved — why is that balistes at the center of Tabula 23 upside down anyhow? Dead or just contrary?
Through the scope of 18th century painters, sloths and spider monkeys become entirely alien creatures, like little gnomes spotting the landscape, while butterflies begin to represent the infinite quality of diversity in nature. Meanwhile, Tabula 45’s two-headed African deer reveals that even those devoted to cataloging are still fascinated by the occasional outside-the-box existence.
“Cabinet of Natural Curiosities” is a testament to the everlasting devotion of human beings to the notion of inquiry and interpretation, of compilation as a way of getting to the truth. Though it’s seldom sold this way, the compulsion to scientific investigation is just as old and ingrained as the need for supernatural explanations of the universe through religious fancies, and Seba’s collection in print form shows just how grand this tradition is.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Jon Fratelli — “Psycho Jukebox” (Island) The ex-Fratellis front man delivers a 16-point argument for why he should be a superstar on this solo debut. Fratelli has two albums by his former band — one brilliant, one tolerable — behind him, as well as his wild ride of a boy/girl duet album with burlesque performer Lou Hickey under the name Codeine Velvet Club, which ushered in plenty of revelations about the stylistic turns Fratelli is capable of.
With “Psycho Jukebox,” Fratelli is once again jumping styles and genres, all of them with a feeling of impending hugeness.
Fratelli is one for bombast and drama, as well as raunch, and he can channel his inner Gene Pitney via surf rumba stylings on “Give My Heart Back Macguire” as easily as he can Marc Bolan, as he does on “She’s My Shaker.” And there’s plenty more in between, from the ‘60s jive of the opener “Tell Me Honey” to “Oh, Shangri La” — which is not unlike an Abba rave-up — Fratelli has crafted a work designed to show off his strengths in a sprawl that ends up seeming remarkably cohesive by the end.
Thus is his musical arsenal — an energetic mix of showmanship and sincerity that coalesces in an album that feels more like a full-blown stage revue. He’s eclectic and accessible all at the same time, and he should conquer an America desperate to remember what it’s like to actually rock.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“Queen To Play” (Zeitgeist Video) Chess as a metaphor is not so obscure, and in cinema it always goes straight back to “The Seventh Seal” as a struggle for mortality, as a microcosm of the highest stakes.
In “Queen To Play,” chess instead stands for more intimate concerns like empowerment, the ability to control all the parts of one’s own life, as well as some middle ground issues on the cosmic stage, like a woman’s place in a family.
Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a housekeeper and hotel maid who becomes obsessed with not just learning, but mastering the game of chess after witnessing a flirty match during her job. At first making overtures to her oafish husband — aren’t they always — she stumbles into an extracurricular opportunity with an secretive and abruptly mannered doctor (Kevin Kline) who begins to see the appeal of playing a chessmaster Obi-Wan Kenobi to Bonnaire’s appealing Luke Skywalker as French cleaning lady.
With the conflicts set up — both dramatic and metaphorical — the audience watches Helene fight the adversity of small minds in order to master the game of chess, which is treated almost like dancing is in “Footloose.” And that makes for some very bizarre undercurrents in the film, revealing it as a bit of unpretentious French cheese with such an odd core that it can’t help but be appealing.
“Queen To Play” uses the quintessential “underdog triumphs against adversity” trope that makes it seem almost American, and that may be the key to its likability. Even as a look into French sentimentality in regard to empowerment, and a self-examination of societal chauvinism, “Queen To Play” comes off as a hybrid film meant to portray this dialogue to Americans. It is a foreign film that seems to have been made as an explanation of culture to its potential viewers across the sea, and therein lies the secrets of its allure.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Photography is the result of combing light and time into one singular moment, but Cynthia Lawson has turned that inside out by creating images that show all moments at once, collapsing the law of physics on the gallery wall.
Two of the works to be displayed are “The Shops, 96 Seconds” and “Beaubourg, 36 Seconds #1 and #2,” both of which use layering techniques to highlight patterns of movement through time that are impossible for human eyes to decipher without help. That is where the similarities end, with Lawson using different technologies to achieve similar results.
In “The Shops, 96 Seconds” Lawson captures an area filled with people by taking 42 photographs in 96 seconds and then spending hours photofinishing digitally for the final image. Lawson begins by creating a blank slate, digitally removing all the people in the images to provide a base layer from which to build.
“I identify the various characters that I’m interested in extracting,” Lawson said. “The characters were never digitally drawn to be in a place where they were in the photos. I go through the photos, it’s a very meticulous process of extracting each character from each one of the photos in which they were walking.”
“There are more people that I extracted that I ended up not including in the work, and there are more people that were in this shot that I just never paid attention to. But I’m interested in extracting the ones that seem so performative for the viewer of the artwork.” For her “Beaubourg, 36 Seconds #1 and #2” series, which presents the resulting images in a grouping of lightboxes, Lawson takes a physical approach for the visual layering by printing her images on transparencies and then creating the layered image within the lightbox itself.
Lawson doesn’t shoot with a tripod — she strives for spontaneity, which requires people to not notice that they are being photographed. Digitally, Lawson might adjust the layers to match architecturally, and then she prints them. Once the layers are printed on transparencies, Lawson begins to play with the quantities she will use to craft the image.
“If I print too many, the piece can get very, very dark,” she said. “If I print too few, it loses the effect of having a three-dimensional depth, so part of that is also being able to manipulate them once they are physically printed.”
Lawson’s photo are taken at regular intervals and, when arranging the transparencies, she keeps this in mind, making sure that the duration between the layers are consistent.
“I’m pretty anal about making sure that I’m snapping it almost the exact same time,” Lawson said, “so at half-second intervals I take every photograph, and then, let’s say I have six photos, I will either print all six consecutively or print two, four and six — I never print one and two and six.”
Lawson’s process is comparative to that of the Hubble Telescope, in which different black-and-white images that capture various colors are combined and applied to a color processing system to fashion something that can’t be seen by the naked eye. As with the Hubble, the human limitations of time and space perception require the presentation of such facsimiles to perceive the imperceptible — and physical labor on the pieces add to that.
“Between each print there’s a sheet of acrylic,” Lawson said. “The thickness of that acrylic is thin enough so you can still see the next layer, but thick enough that you get a sense of physical depth that represents time passing.”
Each photo represents one moment in time with many people, but the work is part of a larger body, called “Hidden Choreographies,” in which Lawson attempts to uncover the unnoticed patterns and movements of a city that exist consistently due to the urban design. Her work has an aspect of time-lapse photography, but she also exacts control that is not allowed for in that form “I’m creating a manipulation — not so much digitally manipulating the scene, but manipulating the viewer and questioning what is it I’m looking at,” she said. “So my favorite question is, what is real, and what is digitally created in these? The taxis in the background never move, but, of course, they were moving through the time I was standing there.”
Lawson began this work on a visit to Tokyo — it wasn’t the plan, but a result of her making the most of the materials she had at hand.
“I took a bunch of photographs in a train station, and it was so chaotic. It was really amazing, that the density of people walking in front of me,” said Lawson. “When I got back, I had all these photos and wished I could capture it on video and started playing around with how these could potentially become longer durations of time than just one photo itself, and that’s what lead me to creating these light boxes and the layering and all of those ideas. “ The work proved to be a perfect way to capture the individual pulses of cities she had visited throughout her life, including in childhood.
“I was very interested in how I could, through photography, start to share the time of a city in some way,” Lawson said. “I guess I’ve been looking more at readings in urbanism, so one particular reading that I love is this idea that the city is in constant motion because people are always moving through it and that’s the motion that I’m trying to capture and share.”
This was combined with a larger desire to add something to photography by acknowledging other medias that had cropped up in our technological era and might lend themselves to capturing such intangibles as the flow of time in a new ways.
“I wanted to push back on what I mostly see in photography, which is one photograph,” said Lawson. “I think that with current technologies, almost anyone can take and print and frame a beautiful photograph. I felt that as an artist working in a variety of media, I really wanted to bring something new to photography. That’s the impetus behind the work.”
Though Lawson paints in time and uses the moments to find patterns while looking at all moments at once, she doesn’t come to that with a scientific outlook despite the similarities. She feels it might be interesting to move in that direction — her background is in electrical engineering.
“Some people have related my work to quantum physics, the idea that we can be in two places at the same time,” she said. “The question is always how I did this —what am I seeing — and people often think that I am digitally producing new people where there weren’t any, but it is just collapsing time and space in different ways.”
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Is the end of the world ending or has it just begun?
You can’t blame anyone for asking, particularly given the riots in the streets of London — shades of 1977, just without the musical innovation — and the financial freefall of the United States — shades of the 1930s, just without the impeccable sense of style.
With regard to London, among the career thugs that I have noticed arrested for rioting in London are a scaffolder, a school worker, a postman, a call center worker, a biscuit factory worker, a chef, a hairdresser and plenty of students, at least one of whom was given a six month sentence for stealing a bottle of water.
British tabloids exhibit outrage that the rioters aren’t just poor minorities — as if that’s what is required to explode with anger in the modern world — and are instead ordinary people reacting with extraordinary explosiveness.
In our own society, rage seems only allowed if expressed after rational decision-making and without opportunism. No stealing booze or baked goods or television sets allowed, but dressing up like Indians and dumping tea into the Boston Harbor is the stuff of legends.
Destroying private property, inciting violence, disobedience and arrests, these are all central to the birth of the United States, though it’s hard to imagine anyone looking kindly at the role of colonists in the Boston Massacre — known by the other side as the Boston Riot.
The idea that you can be pushed to the brink, and that pushing back somewhat recklessly to force a reaction from authorities, is an understandable human reaction to political and social helplessness doesn’t fly these days — unless it’s done by people in the Middle East, I guess.
I think most of us can agree that peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience are preferable to untamed violence. You’re wearing blinders if you can’t admit that violence is an understandable — if not supportable — political reaction in some situations.
The difference between the violence in London and violence in colonial America is that we had wealthy landowners engineering the aggression — ours was not anarchy, but authoritative dissent. Nothing lets the public and the pundits stamp violence as legitimate as an acceptable authority figure at the center of it.
Rage is rage, though, and it’s going to happen on all sides of the political spectrum. If we could all calm down for a moment — all of us, whether peaceful or explosive, from Wisconsin and Egypt and Jordan and London and Tunisia and Belarus and Yemen and Spain and Saudi Arabia and anywhere else dissent has taken place in 2011 — we’d take note of a big truth.
Whether conservative, liberal, progressive, authoritarian, Tea Party, Coffee Party, green, communist, socialist, anarchist, libertarian, whatever, our common ground is our anger.
Something has not gone quite right with our countries, our world, and we’re all pretty worked up about it.
From the ridiculous violent Republican posturing in Florida during the 2000 election to the London free-for-all this year, I don’t see that any side has the moral high ground.
Leaders both conservative and liberal have teamed up to destroy ordinary people’s property in Iraq and Afghanistan in poorly planned wars, to shield banking criminals who destroyed the world’s economy — and, by proxy, people’s lives — and exhibit little shame while arresting, detaining and torturing innocent people in the name of fear.
Do they really think they have the right to judge the angry citizens of London?
Why are ordinary citizens required to act with decency when leaders are not held to the same standard?
It would be wonderful if the rioters of London could take the higher road of peaceful protest, but I refuse to hold their mistake as exceptional.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The genre of Time Lord Rock has probably been missed by many — and I can’t blame anyone for that — but it’s part of the latest iteration of an old format — fan music. Back in the 1970s, you could wander into a Star Trek convention and always find some room with bad folk music inspired by the show. This tradition has continued on, but boomed thanks to the Internet, and buoyed by the sometimes immensely enjoyable Wizard Rock — that is, music inspired by the Harry Potter books.
Time Lord Rocks pulls from the long-running British kids series “Doctor Who” for its inspiration, with a focus on the recent revival version, and manages to mix both the sights and sounds of the show with a likable power pop sound.
The band wears its pedigree on its licks with the opener “Regenerate Me,” which builds from the classic Doctor Who bass riff and transforms it into a feel good acoustic strum, utilizing a variation on the synth portion of the theme and combining it with some sincere and sweetly overwrought lyrics about the character. Most songs follow in kind, a mix of ballads and fist clenching self-realizing power pop that will be agreeable to any teenager.
When they veer off that standard formula is when they really shine — “Big Bang,” a variation of actual soundtrack music transformed into a rousing ramble that does its best to explain storylines, and “Eleven,” a pseudo prog-rock adaptation of the same music, are peeks into what could be achieved here with the proper bravura.
August 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
One bit of more recent cartoon advertising ephemera that pops up online are the timeless Hostess ads of the 1970s that feature characters like Batman and Robin in crime fighting situations involving snack cakes. The typical one might feature The Joker in a grand heist of Twinkies or fruit pies or whatever, and the Dynamic Duo foiling his plan.
These are treated somewhat as anomalies, but a book like “Drawing Power” exists to remind us that cartoons were very early in equal partnership with advertising, and the two criss-crossed throughout the early 20th century, providing some real seasoning to the desperate times of the Great Depression.
Well-researched and richly illustrated, “Drawing Power” pulls together a comprehensive timeline that takes from the days of Puck Magazine and its cartoon ads for Hungarian wines and hilarious dome-like sun bonnets on through to Amos and Andy cartoons selling Pepsodent.
Between those you will find cartoons created solely for advertising — check out Dr. Seuss’ wild Esso Marine Products stylings —as well as those with their own fame utilized to sell, like Little Nemo and Popeye.
Movie stars also got their own cartoons — Andy Devine sold Cheerioats in his, Charlie McCarthy shilled Chase and Sanborn brand coffee and Jimmy Durante stuck his “schnozzle” into Royal Gelatin comic strips. Sports figures got into that action as well — witness Bucky Walters’ assertion that Camel Cigarettes helped his game as much as insider pitching tips.
And cartoonists were celebrities as well — at least their creations and recognizable signatures could be called upon for a good endorsement. Mutt and Jeff creator Bud Fisher took time to look away from the drawing table in order to get excited about Goodrich tires.
The history of advertising is the history of 20th century America, for better or for worse, and it was only in the latter part that mixing advertising with art and entertainment really fell into disfavor. Recently Morgan Spurlock’s “Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Story Ever Sold” purported to blow the lid of this hidden arrangement as if it were something new. “Drawing Power” proves it’s just a cultural tradition that has provided its own follies, amusements and appeal.
Never forget that the Yellow Kid — that critique of dishonest journalism in the late 1800s — shilled for biscuits, cigarettes, chewing gum, soap, you name it. Same as it ever was.