Ted Spagna :: Sleep

September 17, 2013

"Ann" 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

“Ann” 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

"Ann" 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

“Ann” 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

"Ann" 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

“Ann” 1980 by Ted Spagna. Images courtesy of George Eastman House and © The Ted Spagna Project 2013

Sleep. It is the portal into another world, a shadow self, a space that exists inside the mind, so far beyond any dimension we’ve known before or may known since, for it is in this way that we take flight inside out bodies, leaving them aside as we explore new and fertile earth. And here upon this plane they lay, not simply inert, but in their own passages through time and space, telling their very own story.

And because we are inside, we cannot see, sleep is like our face, our visage for all to see but we to whom it belongs. We never quite know until we stand before the evidence of who we are when we are both in and outside of this world. It is then that a work like Sleep by Ted Spagna, Edited by Delia Bonfilio and Ron Eldridge with Martynka Wawrzyniak (Rizzoli New York) comes to the fore, to show us how it is, how we live, how similar and dissimilar, how familiar and foreign.

Here we see sleep through stop motion photography, which reminds me of how I light I sleep, awakening to every change in my space. The other night I lay in bed frequently awoken by a snore that was not my own and when I opened my eyes, we had both moved. New positions, over and over again. The choreography of the unconscious in continuous motion, and me, I’m taking note and smiling at how right before the sun arises, he has the covers gathered up under his chin.

And in these positions, he tells stories, stories I don’t know, in the very same way Spagna photographs capture a plot as it unfolds. It is said that gesture does not lie, and so when we look at each and every frame we find the mind in body as it responds to the travels of the mind and wherefore it goes, we can only imagine for the land of the unconscious is more a poem than an essay or a speech. It is both linear and not in that rhythm follows measure and time, just like music and dance.

Sleep then becomes a performance of sorts, private dancer to no one and nothing except the Lord up above. Or not. Hard to know, until gazing upon these grids, frame after frame after frame, each one a slight variation on a theme, a gesture that is created out of biological necessity. When looking at the body in this way, we see a kind if floating, a swimming, a movement through space that has nothing whatsoever to do with our upright nature.

As Dr. Allan Hobson writes in “The Influence of Science,” an essay which appears in the book, “Ted Spagna’s photographs have done more than any other medium to make sleep science visible and, hence, directly understandable to the general public…. Whether or not Spagna’s sleep portraits capture a hidden self, they are unquestionably surprising in their revelations of sleep as behavior—especially the tenderness of sleeping couples—and they are unquestionably visually rich, owing to Spagna’s meticulous concern with photographic technique.”

Spagna’s photographs reveal sleep as nothing so much as an adventure we barely fathom, as memories of out time in the shadow world fade int the light of day. Yet we engage, night after night after night, and for some, it is never not enough. And for others, it has become far too much. But there it is.

Sleep is that which we do in ways we do not know, until we reflect and study ourselves, investigate a world we all go, a world we all know, a world we can but barely begin to describe and it is in this way that Spagna’s photographs contribute to the vocabulary of sleep and build a dialogue, giving us a new means upon which to reflect and consider this world in which we live.

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It was a dark and stormy night. The rain came tumbling down and from where I sat before the open door and the windows ajar, I could feel a gust of calm, cool, and collected air steal across my skin. Maybe it was the weed or maybe it was the wine or maybe it was that I did not eat, but whatever it was, it invited the heavens through my crown chakra and my eyes lit up in flame as a light flickered in the candle of my brain.

We were speaking of spirits and ghosts, I mean, mostly it was me speaking, most people don’t speak on it so much. So it’s just me adrift in the ether, trying to find the words for the ineffable. And that’s when I understood, it was so much bigger than this. I thought about humans, about how we are the only creatures with two hemispheres to the brain, how evolution has produced this left hemisphere that goes against Nature itself. Ahh, the left brain, home to sequential thinking and language and meaning. The left brain, the thing upon which all of civilization was founded. All thought, all interpretation, all rules, all punishment, all ways in which we structure our very lives are created by, umm, well, some freak mutation in evolution.

The left brain, the thing that allows us to conceptualize Armageddon, is the thing which makes it possible for us to live into the actualization of total annihilation. But annihilation of ourselves and our world and our dreams, for how else will Nature regulate the species that has climbed its way to the top of the food chain except to program it to finish itself off, because that is poetic justice for all we have wrought? But that’s not my point. My point is this: all the Universe is right brain, because everywhere else the left does not exist.

Everything is space and time in its purest sense, and not an interpretation of things. It is shapes, colors, sounds, vibrations, energies, frequencies, things we are attuned to, so more that most, some taking things to the next level. To hear symphonies clear and take note, to transcribe them onto a scale so that when hands play and splay the piano, your energy is felt as though you never died but are alive each and every time your song is played. That it is in these energies that we become eternal, and this is why we seek legacy. To exist long after life is gone and be one with the Universe through its continuity of form. To understand the greatest questions of all: What is the meaning of life? What is life itself?

I never bothered to ask, until I did not know. I just went on autopilot until the engines blew. And then I had to start again. Because I never asked myself the question: What’s it all about?

So many possibilities occurred but the first one was not reality. I had hit the age where my body overrides, and neon signs started flashing. Last. Chance. Motel. (ohh myy). There was a moment that fluttered haplessly by, a moment where I considered the possibility of a child but yea. No. Lies. But! I figured, Children. That’s what Nature wants. Couldn’t be more clear about it, only me…

I’m more Mannered than Natural, which might explain why I think of Freud’s theory of sublimation, explaining the male impulse to create, to make something out of nothing using only his mind, his mouth, and his hands. It’s like Zeus giving birth to Athena. It’s clean, uncomplicated. It has it’s own complexities but all told, it’s a narcissistic impulse. Life, like art, requires balance, and it requires intention, otherwise it’s for its own sake. Art, like life, requires activism to be a force of transformation in the world.

“Everything is art. Everything is politics,” said Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist imprisoned by authorities for speaking freely. Let’s bring it back to this. The freedom of speech is the freedom of thought, the freedom of the individual to fully assert his and her view upon the world (cause it’s all interpretative left brain thinking, in the end). The simple act of blogging, so banal in its ubiquity yet so entrancing in its success, is an act of declaration, an intention set upon the world. In our every word, act, and thought we are forever answering the question: What’s it all about?

For me, it is communication. It is the image and the word. It is the force of personality that allows their creation to change our perception of reality. It is to collaborate, contribute, and to tell the untold. It is to shine the brightest light in the darkest corners, or to take that light and diffuse it with a veil and to cast a muted shadow across a sparkling netherworld. It is feeling, it is a current to sweep away, not only myself but everyone who reads my words and fill them with the spirit that holds me captive in its ethereal embrace and whispers secrets in my ear it knows that I will tell, ohh yess ..

I believe Life Is Predetermined in Retrospect. The illusion of choice is a psychological necessity, but it was only ever going to be exactly what it was. Enlightenment is seeing where we are going years, decades, centuries ahead of the world. Enlightenment is finding the light inside the shines bright, intense, the flame that flickers and burns through and beyond day. It is knowing that meaning is an illusion cast by the machinations of the left brain. Nature gave us this blessing, this curse, this Pandora’s box of words, words, more words to be spoken, told, written and read. Words, we think and speak and breathe in words, symbols, copies of the original idea we can never fully create.

But we strive, we desire, we admire, we pursue, because we are creatures of mind, heart, body, and soul, and it is with out full being that we evolve and grow. We live into the very possibility we imagine in the deepest, darkest aspects of existence we can barely name, and from this nothing comes everything because they are one and the same.

1=0

This is my math. But first we must be whole, fully realized, integrated from the fragments that have accrued throughout our lives. Broken, shattered, scattered shards, slivers, and splinters, held together, falling apart, forever moving forward and looking backward. We are ten thousand things, and then we are one, and when we are whole again, we go through the looking glass to where nothingness is everything it is—

The ether. Michael Jackson said, “People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.” And I think about that a lot, how when I stop my mind from chattering I can hear the words. Like, Take this down, on some dictation ishh, and then I realize the cosmic joke of saying, I am a writer, because I ain’t writing ishh.

I’m listening. It’s always being told. We are like dogs—or like Beethoven, if you prefer—we can hear things other creatures don’t. We are given messages, and they are always coming. When resistance ends acceptance begins and the feeling of everything shifts. It’s quite simple to understand, but difficult to master. That’s part of the path, it seems, learning how to walk with grace. But it is to each their own that the answers come, and sometimes it is not the answer so much as the questioning of it. Because it isn’t ever what we think it is. That’s why the question is never answered.

Meaning is but a dream, but meaning is what we love, what we create, intentionally or not, we are forever creatures of the Word. The left brain, the groundskeeper, creating a fine garden of organized chaos, a Dadaist score, a dalliance in a mid-day dream, a Shakespearean sonnet gone wrong. Because…What’s it all about? How does it go down for you? What is the meaning of life? Does it need a meaning or can we say Fuck The Word? Are we called to a higher purpose? What are we doing this for? Do we really need a reason? What is your heart’s true dream for you, the stardust of ten thousand things blown up billions of years ago…

(Originally published on All The Right Questions, March 15, 2013. Much love to T.Q. Fuego and Witty Pseudonym)

 IC-1396 by Andre van Zegveld

IC-1396 by Andre van Zegveld

Dwell on the beauty of life.
Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.
—Marcus Aurelius

August Day

August 10, 2013

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press PLAY

René Gruau

René Gruau

Chemistry is you touching my arm and it setting fire to my mind.
—nayyirah waheed, flood

(( awaiting release ))

August 3, 2013

Presented here is a new color image of the southwest region of the Andromeda Galaxy taken with Subaru’s prime focus camera “Suprime-Cam".

Presented here is a new color image of the southwest region of the Andromeda Galaxy taken with Subaru’s prime focus camera “Suprime-Cam”.

Life is energy, and energy is creativity.
And even when we as individuals pass on,
the energy is retained in the work of art,
locked in it and awaiting release
if only someone will take the time and the care to unlock it.
—Joyce Carol Oates

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Bubbele
. A Yiddish word I hear in my ear, my grandmothers and their words of love for me, children just lavish in the energies, imprinted like birthday cake in my memory bank, all these great loving vibes that grandmothers bring everywhere they go. And I am reminded of this every time I connect with the inimitable Paola Gianturco. Her book, Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon, has touched hearts around the world, won awards, and introduced the world to an incredible array of powerful women who have single-handedly made the world a better place.

Miss Gianturco is not only a colleague and a friend, she is an inspiration. A source of light and love, of warmth that flows through vibrations. She brings a dynamic mix of verve and intellect to all she encounters with a full and open heart, and she is granted access into countless worlds to share stories of tragedy and triumph, of courage against the odds, of a path to truth and justice, a woman who lights the way.

(smile)

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak at length with Miss Gianturco, to reflect on her path, and to share of herself once more. It is, it was, and it shall always be that the Universe has graced us with a presence spiritual, uplifting, and enlivening. Cheers to Paola, my comrade in photography books ~*~

Please talk about the grandmother as archetype, as what she represents and carries forth as the matriarch of her tribe.

The loving, beloved, respected, matriarch grandmother still exists in some cultures. In Dubai, every family, every Friday, shares a meal at grandmother’s house. In Peru’s Altiplano, grandmothers are the keepers of weaving traditions, revered I was told, as “the only ones who understand the vocabulary, the patterns, processes and meaning. They are the book.

But worldwide, grandmothers’ roles are changing. There are more grandmothers alive today than at any other time in the history of the planet. They are living longer, healthier lives. In the Global North, they are better educated and many are professionally experienced.

Some different kinds of contemporary grandmothers:

*Many American grandmothers don’t live near their grandchildren, which alone transforms their roles. Gaga Sisterhood and Conscious Grandmothering groups are redefining what long distance grandmothering can mean in the United States.

*Grandmothers are parenting. Throughout the African continent, grandmothers may each be raising as many as 10 or 15 grief-stricken grandchildren orphaned by Aids. In the US, grandmothers bringing up grandchildren are learning to be good parents in a time when technology, sex, drugs, alcohol and violence make the world a different place for raising children.

*In parts of Ghana and Mauritania, grandmothers are reviled as witches and forced to live in isolated compounds. When hundreds of grandmothers gathered in Swaziland in 2010, a crucial issue was violence against grandmothers all over the continent.

All over the world, contemporary grandmothers are making news by defining what it means to be a grandmother.

I like the description that the Canadian and African grandmothers wrote for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s 2006 Toronto Statement:  “We have within us everything needed to surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  We are strong, we are determined, we are resourceful, we are creative, we are resilient, and we have the wisdom that comes with age and experience.”

You are a grandmother. Please talk about how the birth of your grandchild transformed your relationship to family, and to your understanding of womanhood. (oo I love this question !)

I flew to my son’s house the morning he took his wife to the hospital. By evening, it was raining so hard that the freeways were closed, mud was sliding down the hillsides and my charge, the horse-sized family dog, was trembling at the thunder and lightening. Five inches of rain fell; it was the third wettest day in the city’s history. Finally the phone rang: my first grand girl had arrived!

The next day the December sky was still dark, drenching. Yet three times the indomitable sun blazed. Three times, luminous rainbows arched over the city. The baby’s mother’s family is Chinese and the rainbows seemed auspicious. We considered naming the baby with the Chinese word for rainbow. But ultimately we called her Alexandra.

By the time Alex was two, I was shocked to recognize myself as a little girl, mysteriously reflected in this beautiful AmerAsian child. I never expected to experience myself as a little girl again, much less in such a glorious disguise. Something was familiar about her shining eyes. I told no one what I saw, but secretly, I searched for old pictures of me as a toddler, wanting evidence, wondering if I were just wishing. I knew something linked us: something inexplicable and miraculous.

Until Alex was born, I had focused almost exclusively on the present. As a photojournalist, I documented “the moment,” always watching for news, for stories, for ways to show others what I saw. I reacted by clicking, quite literally, the very second something happened.

The birth of my first grandchild shifted my reality fast: a switch flipped. My exclusive preoccupation with the present was over. I began anticipating the future. Specifically, Alex’s future, and now my second grand girl, Avery’s, future.

Their world will be increasingly global, connected, borderless. I yearn for there to be hope and possibility but I fear there will be, instead, environmental degradation, disease, poverty, injustice, and violence.

I used to be a Mother Bear, but now I am a Grandmother Bear. I rage, “Not good enough! Our troubled world is not good enough for my grandchildren—and not good enough for yours!”

I am in good company. Grandmothers around the world are collaborating so their grandchildren can have more secure, healthy, happy lives. I documented those grandmothers in GRANDMOTHER POWER. And then I joined them.

What was the inspiration for Grandmother Power? Where did it begin, and what kinds of gifts has it revealed as you traveled this path through life?

Interviewing women in Kenya, Cameroun, Senegal, Swaziland and South Africa, I was shocked to meet so many African grandmothers who were raising their grandchildren because their adult children had died of Aids. It seemed that the future of the continent rested in the hands of the grandmothers! That insight compelled me to explore what grandmothers were doing other places.

Here are some gifts given by the grandmothers I interviewed and photographed:

1) Experience becomes wisdom. As a photojournalist, I had centered my attention on documenting experience. But experience is just the beginning, as I learned from the Jewish Israeli grandmothers of Machsom Watch, whose families experienced Hitler’s brutality. Those grandmothers are doing something courageous and controversial: monitoring Israeli checkpoints to protect Palestinian’s human rights. That is wisdom.

2) Long term work works. Americans are renowned for expecting instant gratification. For 30 years, the Argentine Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have searched for their grandchildren who were abducted by the military dictatorship. Lolas (grandmothers) in the Philippines are still seeking compensation, apology and a place in the history books, having been forced into sex slavery during World War II. Both groups are demonstrating that patience and perseverance ultimately bring results, and that fighting for justice is worth doing for as long as it takes.

3) There is no time for lollygagging. Big problems can paralyze us, so I learned a good lesson from the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. When they first met, they were appalled by the world’s dire condition: violence, war, hunger, poverty, spiritual disconnection, corruption, pollution, materialism and loss of human rights. Big issues. Many people might have given up before they began. But the 13 Grandmothers’ reactions? “We are in the 11th hour.” “We must move as quickly as the light.” “We better hurry up.”

4) Grandmothers have power.  Stereotypical grandmothers are powerless: disenfranchised by being women and doubly so, by being old. People assume they are incapable of agency: of disrupting, innovating, and having impact. That stereotype is just plain wrong. Discovering that fact was a gift for me but also for young women who read GRANDMOTHER POWER; they say, “Thank goodness. Now I have something to look forward to.”

5) Collaboration magnifies that power. When grandmothers from Canada and 11 African countries co-invented the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign—across borders, across oceans, across hemispheres—they decided to work in groups.  Today, 8000 Canadian grandmothers in 240 groups…and 300 grandmother groups in 15 African countries…are standing in solidarity on behalf of 15 million African children orphaned by Aids.

 The reception to the book has been magnificent. It is a beautiful thing, to see the power of the photography book touch so many lives. Please talk about the medium of the book itself and how you think it transfers these energies from one heart to the next.

First, I want to talk about photographs as a way to connect hearts. Today, virtually everyone takes pictures: check the sea of cell phones at Buckingham Palace yesterday, all raised to record the sign (!) that said the royal baby had arrived. Now ubiquitous, pictures could have been drastically devalued. But I am relieved that good images still communicate clearly, instantly, powerfully, seemingly skipping past the screen of the mind straight to the heart.

Books: I love the luminosity of seeing images on my computer screen; I revel in doing things never done before; I had long wished my books could be price-accessible everywhere in the world. So as soon as the iPad was announced (not yet introduced, and way before it had competitors that could display color images) I began lobbying powerHouse Books to release GRANDMOTHER POWER in electronic as well as hardcover format. I was wrong. Only a tiny fraction of my readers have bought e-books. They are glad to invest in a well printed, beautifully produced, color photography book that they can hold in their hands. Since I have loved doing exactly that ever since I was a child, their preference (which seems almost quaint, come to think of it) pleases me very much.

Perhaps you might share a memory of a moment, or words of wisdom, your grandmothers shared with you …

One New Years Eve I stayed at my grandparents’ house while my parents went to a “grown up party.” Granny and Pop, wanting to share the fun with me, created a ceremony around opening the New Year’s wall calendar.

I was two and had never heard of a New Year. It sounded so apocalyptic that at first I was frantic and very soon, hysterical. “I don’t want a new year. I like the old year! Stop the old year from leaving us!” I howled.

“The only difference between last year and the new year is one page,” said Granny pleasantly. “Otherwise, they are the same. You’ll see!” She opened up January and I prepared to die.

My grandmother taught me to welcome the future.  Other grandmothers taught me that I could—and should—help shape it.

Photographs by Paola Gianturco

:: see more at ::
GRANDMOTHER POWER

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Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there
without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.

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You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.

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We don’t set out to save the world;
we set out to wonder how other people are doing and
to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.

chalkgeese
When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent,
dynamic nature of your own being and of reality,
you increase your capacity to love and care about other people
and your capacity to not be afraid.
You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open.

sleepinglion
Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both.

deadracoon
To live is to be willing to die over and over again.

amishhorses
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.
It’s a relationship between equals.Only when we know our own darkness well
can we be present with the darkness of others.
Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

~*~
Photographs by Colleen Plumb
(from Animals Are Outside Today, Radius Books)

Quotes by Pema Chödrön

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Untitled (Black Skull), 1982

Jean-Michel Basquiat – Untitled (Black Skull), 1982

The trees stand without leaves, gathered close and deep. Their branches bare, shake, forsaken and angered. The wind whips through their spidery limbs like a lash coming down hard against the penitent’s back. The winds warn of the coming storm, howling in the night as they rush along. Hovering impossibly low, the clouds begin to mourn and a wail of torment sounds as the trees nod and groan. Small branches snap under pressure and are suddenly sailing free through the gales with no destination at hand, no thought or concern to where they may land.

Nino looks to the sky and sees nothing there as an eerie silence stills the air. His fists clench at his side, fingernails biting into his palms, as his jaw grinds forth, jutting out in determination. Taking one step forth, his boot casts upon a fallen limb and as his weight shifts, the twig splits angrily. He feels the earth give way under his foot as a bellow sounds. Slow. Low. Uncomfortable. His hands are damp and his throat begins to close.

It is cold, the kind of cold that is felt far below, deep inside the hollow of bone. It is the kind of cold that rattles and roars and sobs and moans. Nino begins to shiver until the shiver becomes a shake and then it is like the tremors of withdrawal. THe ait carries a woman’s laugh as the wind rumbles into a thunderous rage. Frozen in place, he is unable to escape as he feels something prickly brush against his face.

His hands tremble, agitated and afraid as he feels something within him start to break. It is deep in his chest, buried below the ribs, inside the center of his being that pumps life into his body. It is here in the seat of his heart that his body and soul finally split apart. He can feel the tearing of organ, the breaking of bone, the ripping of flesh as his spirit leaves his body, flees even.

A flash of white light strikes, illuminating a silhouette. Ling black hair sails through the air, spreading wide like a net. The net expands into a web, stick and sweet, and at the center of this trap is a woman he knows, the woman he hates. She is young and slim, almost starved, and her scarlet eyes feast upon Nino’s tremulous form. Ven aqui. Come to me, she calls softly, her voice as seductive as the sirens of The Odyssey.

A wave of desire sweeps through Nino’s spirit, suffusing him with warmth and where the sky was dark and foreboding, it becomes something succulent and soft, and he can taste this craving on his tongue and it tastes like a life that was never his. She calls to him again, this time silently, speaking the words he has longed to hear. He feels his spirit relax and release as she summons him forth, and he moves faster and faster now, flying to her side at once.

He lands in the web with deeply beating heart and he looks at her and she looks at him and he sees her eyes are voracious and dark. The sweet scent of innocence fills her with an excitement she can barely contain. Her mouth is wet, so wet that she can taste his flesh and as her pink lips spread slowly they reveal teeth of jagged edge.

She smiles in delight as Nino’s eyes widen in horror and she moves closer to him, closer and closer. She reaches for a little hand, a pale and delicate paw with sharp red talons on the end of each fingertip, talons sharp as claws as saws all the better to cut you in half and she carefully draws her nail across the side of his face.

A trickle of blood rises to the surface as a torrent of fear washes over him and in an instant it is over just as quickly as it began. His spirit is driven back into the body it had left behind, returning to the womb of his heart and crawling all the way inside. There is a pain, a kind of pain he knows too well and though he normally pushes it back down, this time, it is too much and he has lost control.

His mouth opens wide and a strangled gasp breaks from his lips and it is in this moment that a shadow rushes out of his chest. It is a small shadow, dark but not opaque, and it knows not except it must return to the universe from whence it first came. And as the shadow disappears in the darkness of light, Nino is empty and exhausted, wavering in the wind.

Stand! he commands, knees locking in place as his feet sink deeper into the earth. He feels himself sinking and looks down to discover his boots are submerged in a thick and viscous substance. The more he pulls against it, the tighter it hold until he realizes what is happening. He is standing in quicksand and it’s only a matter of time. If he could release himself from the boots that hold his feet… If he could just grab that branch over there and pull himself to safety… If there were someone, anyone, nearby who would hear his scream… But there is nothing, no one, not even She.

A panic rises in Nino’s chest as he realizes that not even he can help himself. He is now knee deep in the cold and clammy muck and he realizes that time, time is all he has left and time is running out. He looks to the sky and sees nothing there. The storm as passed and silence fills the air.

Nino feels himself sinking as the world rises up. Resolute, he knows the truth. He is trapped, held captive, abandoned and alone. Failure burns his flesh, his aching bones. His cheeks are aflame, ashamed, debased once more. Rage boils and bubbles and foams on his tongue. With the venom of the Furies, he cries out—

 ~*~

(this passage, since deleted, once began my novel)
The Kingdom of Eternal Night

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Summer is just about here. I know this because as soon as I publish this post, I’m going to hit tar beach, lay out in the sun, and soak up that good old Vitamin D. I’ve been thinking of summer as the full flush of rebirth, of a kind of freedom that comes from the completion of a cycle when it hits its heights. It is a time when we can be most alive, as Nature and the Universe intend us to be. It is a an energy that we feel when open the window and let the sun shine in. I was reminded of all of this as I perused Angela Boatwright’s website, newly relaunched and conceptualized as chapters from the pages of her life.

Miss Boatwright has graciously agreed to vibe with me on the work she has created for the pages of Summer, a few photographs featured here—and you best believe there is more where this came from!

Summer. It’s the season of full bloom, of when life is at its most alive, and the re is a freedom we feel to live out loud. Please talk about what summer means to you, about how it makes you feel…

I love the ability to go anywhere without a jacket, honestly.  When I lived in NYC it would get so incredibly humid – you would go outside and see people barely wearing anything at all.  I loved it.  And everyone from everywhere would come to NYC in the summertime to visit.  New York is the absolute best in the summer. The best.

Your Summer series is captivating. There is a feeling of energy, a vibrancy, a luxuriousness that I cannot fully articulate. Please talk about your inspiration to shoot this series. Where did it come from? What moves you to pursue it as a subject? How do you articulate this with these images?

The images were taken over a period of about 3 years.  During that time I was honestly just hellbent on hanging out with my friends.  I was working a lot but my friends were my priority, hands down.  I would follow them around and do whatever they did, it was almost co-dependent.  I absolutely adore every single person in those images.  And we partied quite a bit and then at some point I quit drinking so the camera became my vice. 

Miss Rosen: Where and when were these images shot? How does the time and place speak to your idea of Summer itself ?

Angela Boatwright: They were photographed between 2005 and 2008, mostly.  A few shots were taken in 2011 and 2012. As for locations, I’ll flip through them right now – let’s see…  ahh, there’s a lot of NYC/ Brooklyn and Rhode Island.  There’s also Los Angeles, Connecticut, Albany and one shot taken in Orlando, Florida.

Summer to me is fairly obvious – swimming, camping, hanging out.  Beer, too.  Cigarettes and weed for some.  I went to Rhode Island so, so many times during those years.  And all those Rhode Island kids, they’re water babies so there was a lot of swimming and cliff jumping.  And skateboarders are always free-spirited, photographing them is just so easy and fun.  I can dissect it all in hindsight but again at the time I was just following my friends.  I used the camera as a way to get to know them better.  Everyone I photographed – I thought they were so incredibly cool in one way or another.  I still do.

The photographs in this series appear to be of teens and young adults, those who have perhaps the greatest freedom of summer—two months off ! Please speak to this age, about how you were drawn to it, and how do you think it, itself, is a manifestation of Summer’s energy.

I didn’t come up with the idea to photograph summertime beforehand.  It was simply what I was doing at the time.  When I was putting together images for my website I came up with the title ‘Summer’ to showcase all of that particular work.  And it’s very appropriate!

If I were to analyze it now I would say that I desperately needed to understand the concept of ‘freedom’ and was therefore attracted to the people in my life that could afford it.  I was having a hard time un-crossing all the live wires left over from my adolescence.  And while I was photographing the ‘Summer’ series I was also documenting heavy metal bands on tour, all over the world. It’s only in the past year or so that I’ve started to settle down, so to speak.

I love talking about photography, about the ephemeral made eternal, about three dimensions flattened into two, about how we are becoming an increasingly visually literate society. Please talk about the way in which the photograph preserves the moment, perhaps not only preserving it but translating it into something that is at once a mirror of the world and a new means to consider it.

Personally, it’s hard for me to actively think about my work while I’m creating it, it’s probably that way for many artists, so I need to trust my gut.  Preparation is key but once I begin I get completely k-holed into my experience.  You do need perspective and a general understanding of what’s happening around you.  If you can combine raw emotion with that perspective and a basic understanding of your surroundings then you’re really onto something.

Visit ANGELA BOATWRIGHT

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Photograph by Eric Johnson

Photograph by Eric Johnson

It was two summers ago: 2011, to be exact, when I first saw the photograph. It was an image of an older woman laying in bed, her hand reaching forward and clasping the hand of the photographer.

With one hand he managed to take the photograph while being in part of the image itself. The intensity of the image, the skill it took, to the power that transcends the moment, it drew me close. I could feel her hand clasping my own and somehow I was drawn into the photograph like Alice through the looking glass.

And so it began. But I did not know. Where it would go, for the circle has no beginning or no end once we set forth. The photograph remained in my memory. It’s effect could not be forgotten, undone. Months later that I re-approached photographer Eric Johnson about writing a story about his grandmother, Mrs. Idell Marshall, for Le Journal de la Photographie.

I didn’t know what or why; I just needed to know more. My curiosity can be insatiable and journalism is nothing if not a license to ask questions that polite society might otherwise ignore. To ask questions is to express interest. To listen and to learn and to consider from where the fascination stems and what truths can be discerned.

And so it was that we began to talk, and as we spoke, stories began to surface. From the depths, they came alive. Little by little, from memories that had receded into the distance, things untold. Justice to be served. Truth to be spoke. It began in death, as so many things do, only this was not death as I had thought death was, but a revolution too.

The completion of a circle as it spins round, the snake eating its tail, no beginning and no ending but it is here that I entered and I—

—saw it. Heard it. And I knew.

“Pull up a chair and sit down,” the voice told me as I looked through the doorway at the kitchen table. I was inside the photograph, here, in this space. I was returning to from whence I came: Books. That’s all it has ever been.

It had been years, long enough to forget. Long enough to remember that I never thought of making a book again. Never thought of it until it called to me: “Pull up a chair and sit down.”

“Eric! This is a book!” I gasped through a hazy glow of rose.

Eric is cool. He smiled and said, “Okay.”

And so it began.

Just like that. In his grandmother’s last days, Eric stood before her with a camera. She, who never liked being photographed, became so powerful she transcended the planes of reality. Three dimensions into two and then back into three. Through time and space, she called to me. Maybe not to me, specifically, but I cannot help but listen when I hear things.

I believe.

It began a year ago. Photographs and stories and stories and photographs were like puzzle pieces without a cover image. It began because it never ended and there was work to be done. And there was no intention, except love and respect, patience and trust. Patience as I have never known. Trust in being able to not know, being able to listen.. to the space in between the words.. so that I could begin to write them down. And, now, one year later, the circle turns once more.

We come to this. By way of faith. By way of belief. By way of an understanding for which there are no words but in the photograph, the spirit remains. Forever eternal. Forevermore. Grandmother Power. Power as the dictionary defines it first and foremost: the ability to act or to produce an effect.

Transcendence is beyond the rational, as well it should be. Transcendence is not a thing of the mind but the connection to a higher plane. It speaks through the soul, and it is heard in the heart, and finally, ohh finally, it reverberates in words that give it physical form. But it is not physical, nor rational; it is beyond our ability to comprehend through logic. It is meaning without reason and it calls to me and to it I answer and dedicate my life to it.

To this. To something I cannot full express. But it begins with gratitude for each and every breath. For the darkness that has brought me into the light. For Eric Johnson, Mrs. Idell Marshall, and the entire clan.

And for Paola Gianturco whose commitment to the magnificence of the female spirit I honor with these words. Grandmother Power. I thank you.

Read Eric Johnson’s Story at
Le Journal de la Photographie

More about Grandmother Power,
the inspiration for this post

Daniele Tamagni, 'Gentlemen of Bacongo' poster

Daniele Tamagni, ‘Gentlemen of Bacongo’ poster

A month ago I was asked to write a small piece, a tribute to the great Gigi Giannuzzi on the occasion of the forthcoming publication of TROLLEYOLOGY, a ten year retrospective of one of the greatest illustrated book publishing houses to ever exist. I won’t look back, I won’t re-read what I wrote. I shall begin again, speaking from my heart.

Gigi is dead. Long live Gigi. His spirit is eternal. I knew this, as I know so many things that are without words and yet I am charged to find a way to express the ineffable. Gigi is (not was) a force of Nature, a triumph of the will, a prince among men. He walks the earth with the express purpose of bringing light into the dark.

He does this, as only he can. He produces books, book unlike anything the world has seen before. Books that take on some of the most difficult stories to tell, the beautiful dreams and horrific nightmares that cannot be erased when we close our eyes. We cannot and will not look away. Gigi understands the photograph, the heart of the photographer, the witness who bears evidence, proof, and testimony of the ephemeral made eternal. Gigi makes us look. He makes us understand. We are all complicit in the damnation of the world, and we are all charged with its salvation.

Though Gigi has passed from the mortal plane into the spirit world, he is still here and his legacy carries forth, not only in what he has achieved but in how we carry on. And it is here the opportunity arrives to show heart. TROLLEYOLOGY is on Kickstarter. It doesn’t ask for much, just for each one of us to do our part. And what that is, you may discover when you step into a world, a world that lies right outside your door, when you open your eyes and see it anew.

Please Support

Philip Jones Griffiths, Gigi in Venice whilst making the book Agent Orange, 2003

Philip Jones Griffiths, Gigi in Venice whilst making the book Agent Orange, 2003

Brandt Nudes

May 3, 2013

Nude, London, 1951, February ©The Bill Brandt Archive

Nude, London, 1951, February ©The Bill Brandt Archive

The body as landscape, object, sculpture, and form, as costume, architecture, or anything else you could imagine it to become in all of its glory. It is both positive and negative, being and nothingness. It is present and absent, past and future, paradoxes intertwined and connected as one. In a state of simultaneity that is impossible to recognize fully but at the same time it is the thing in which we are forever traveling, consciously and unconsciously.

The body is both object and symbol of the object itself, and the female form most of all assumes the passive role of being that which we act upon, as we exalt its beingness into an abstract meditation on life itself. It is a thing of beauty to behold and perhaps no one does it quite like Bill Brandt whose female nudes have been collected in two volumes twice in his lifetime. The first in Perspective of Nudes (1961) and again in Bill Brandt: Nudes 1945–1980. Now, the oeuvre is brought together in a single volume, Brandt Nudes (Thames & Hudson), which includes a preface by Lawrence Durrell and commentaries by Mark Haworth-Booth. It is here, in Brandt Nudes, that we can consider Brandt’s relationship to the female form throughout the course of his esteemed career.

As Brandt recalls in quoted text from a piece first published in 1933, “It was after the war, when I was busy photographing London celebrities for English and American magazines, that I began to feel irritated by the limitations imposed by such jobs. I was taking portraits of politicians, artists writers, actors, in their own surrounding, but there was never enough time for me to do what I wanted. My sitters were always in a hurry. Their rooms were rarely inspiring backgrounds, and I felt the need for exciting backgrounds to make pictures of the portraits. I wanted more say in the pictures; I wanted rooms of my own choice. And so I came to the nudes. Nudes, at that time, were photographed in studios. I thought of photographing them in real rooms…”

And so it began. Brandt took the nude out of the artist’s studio and set her free in the world. His photographs from this period have a tension inherent to this, a surreal feeling of being in a place they do not quite belong but making the most of it. Brandt’s women are never come hither so much as they are lost in their own worlds, even when they look at the camera they are no more aware of their nudity than they are of the curtains open in the window behind the bed. There is a mannered naturalism that is pervasive in these images, a sense of the female embodying her femininity without using it in a vulgarly eroticized manner.

AS Brandt continued working, his nudes began to take shape, not as women themselves but as larger more luxurious landscapes. They slowly become a form unto themselves, sculptural masses of bone, muscle, and flesh, or personalities somewhere inside, sometimes alluringly coming to the surface in frozen glimpses of a fiery soul. But for the better part Brandt’s nudes are forever in a state of monumental repose. They are languid fields of flesh, sometimes nothing more than a part that takes on a stately shape unto itself. Consider the feet crossed, seen only from the sole, slowly becoming a kind of creature that is both foreign and familiar. The nudes transition into graphic expressions of positive and negative space, and offers a peaceful mediation between the organic form of the body and the constructed form of the human landscape of the interior room and its insistent regularities that make it comfortable and confining at the same time.

It is Brandt’s nude that reminds us of a life spirit that pervades the body itself, that makes it more than just a mass of flesh but the vehicle for a spirit that is luminous on the page, a play of light and shadow, motion and stasis. As Brandt continues his explorations, his images become more intense in the contrasts between black and white on the page itself. The body is cropped into sharp angles and soft folds, curves and forms that echo each other as you move about the woman herself.

As John Szarkowski noted of Brandt’s word in 1970: “These pictures—at first viewing, strange and contorted—reveal themselves as supremely posed and untroubled works. It has been said that these pictures concern the world of pure form and space, but surely they also concern the bodies of women… not abstract but depersonalized, their content is I think after all a transcendent eroticism—a suspended, euphoric celebration of the flesh. In photograph only Edward Weston has made nudes of equal power.”

Nude, Baie des Anges, France, 1959, October ©The Bill Brandt Archive

Nude, Baie des Anges, France, 1959, October ©The Bill Brandt Archive

This Is The Re-Launch

April 3, 2013

One Night in Beverly Hills, photograph by Charles Peterson

One Night in Beverly Hills. Photograph by Charles Peterson

It’s been a long time… I shouldn’t have left you. Not that you’d know it since I’ve been posting on the regular here for four years but—

Four years is a long time to be lost. Lost and found and back to the beginning that never ended and the end that never began as the ouroburo spins like Dead or Alive, round and round.

I ramble, I often do. I’ll make it short and sweet, cause I gotta go. Today I am pleased to announce the re-launch of my website, MissRosen.us

I created the site when I set forth on my own back in summer 2009, thinking I knew which end was up. I didn’t, but you couldn’t tell me ishh. I was no longer listening. I had long since gone deaf.

But, the Universe being what it is, made sure I got my come-uppance and undoubtedly, yes. It was a mess—chaos in it’s most glorious sense. The other day, Mr. Brown mentioned The Sublime. Then DJ Disco Wiz tweeted, “Know how sublime a thing it is To suffer and be strong..”

That’s how it went down. And down it went. Now I’m on the upswing and I begin where I am, starting fresh. I re-launch, remix, rebrand, release, refresh, renew, regenerate, do-re-mi e.t.c.

I thank each and every one who has stood by me through .. this (smile). The clouds are gone. Let the sun shine again.

Peace.

MissRosen.us

Photograph by Jenn Ackerman

Photograph by Jenn Ackerman

Please welcome Adriana Teresa,
my dear friend and colleague,
as she introduces Visura Magazine: Special Issue

~*~

In 2008, my life changed when I married my husband Graham. Together, we began to grow our own garden of dreams. Our first seed was Visura Magazine, which features personal projects by individuals worldwide, mostly photographers. Visura became a product of love at a time when the world was facing an economic crash and a war. As a result, we received hundreds of emails from students, alumni, and emerging photographers and individuals from all professions, who were just like us, seeking inspiration, opportunity, and a sign of hope.

These messages motivated us to plant our second seed, FotoVisura.com—a self publishing community and resource center for art and documentary photography; a platform for those who believe in being a part of and supporting the power of the visual voice. In two years, our dreams of creating a family without cultural boundaries became a reality. During this time, our work was our life and life was our work. And we were very happy.

Then one day, like any spirits in search of an ever evolving and changing life that could lead to fulfillment, or a least a sense of belonging in this world, Graham and I realized that there was a missing piece to our lives. This missing piece had nothing to do with what we had built. We realized that we really wanted to become parents.

Art has been a canvas to materialize our ideas, values, vision and dreams with the hope that we could share them with others. And we have done so with millions of unique individuals worldwide, most of whom we have never met and will never meet in person.

The reality is, this online phenomenon only furthers my need for human warmth and interaction. In the same way, these stories that all of you contributors have shared about life enrich me intellectually, they inspire me to be a better and more honest human being. You inspire me to live with purpose and to keep moving forward.

This experience has filled our life with so much love, that it has given us wings. FotoVisura is a big part of my life—I wake up every morning to work with enthusiasm; I want to fight with and for it, regardless of any obstacles around me. To be completely honest, in the past two years, as we struggled to have a child of our own, it was you—the photographers, editors, and readers—who many times gave me strength when I was down.

As I witness injustice, inequalities, separation, divisions, and hideous acts in this world, this is the shelter, the source, this is an extended family that I turn to find courage and strength. I do not give up on FotoVisura because you have not given up on me. And for that I am so grateful.

Recently, my father reminded me of something he once told me during my rebellious years: exclusion is the main reason for error. Feeling left out is the main reason why many of us live with pain, and the best way to heal and move forward is to create something you truly believe in, where you can include others. This is what FotoVisura represents to us: a model where people can join and contribute on their own terms. In January 15, 2009, Graham and I launched our first issue of Visura Magazine, a few months after we co-founded FotoVisura Inc, a company we truly believe in. On January 19, 2013—4 years and 4 days later—Graham and I learned that we were expecting our first child.

So, I decided to publish a special issue to celebrate family, connection, unity, inclusion, and rebirth. I dedicate this issue to all of you who believe in love above all else.

To my father, thank you for never giving up on me; and, to my co-mom, Laura, thank you for loving me and treating me as an equal. I love you.

Poco a poco y sin nada de alboroto.

VISURA MAGAZINE
Special Issue
~*~

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