November 1, 2013
If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that.
You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.
You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.
Photographs by Dave Schubert
Quotes by Charles Bukwoski
November 1, 2013
I been fanning Peter Beste since when ? I can’t even remember how we met, but I remember the day we sat at a cafe on Prince Street, me paging through his luscious prints. Page after page after page of madness. I was home as my fingers swept across the protective plastic and my eyes bulged out my head and my heart did a little dance, as each turn of the page took me somewhere else.
And so it has come, as the inevitable does, Houston Rap is now a book from Sinecure and an exhibition at Boo Hooray Gallery, New York, opening November 7. I like it like this. Peter graciously agreed to an interview, and to let me share of his work. These are a few of my favorite things. Enjoy ~
From Norwegian Black Metal to Houston Rap, you are bringing North & South together again. I am struck by your taste in scenes. Tell me about what brought you down to Texas, to document the Hip Hop community ? When did you begin ? How did you get down ? How did the project develop into a book over the years you worked on it ?
Peter Beste: Since I was a young kid in the early 90s, I have been strongly intrigued by Houston’s rap underworld. My interest began in 1991 with the vivid and visceral rhymes of the Geto Boys and Gangsta N-I-P. Many years later while studying photography in college, I realized that documenting both the history of Houston rap and the neighborhoods that spawned these characters would make a perfect documentary photography project.
A few years later in 2004, I reached out to K-Rino, Street Military and others, and told them about my idea. Some of these guys were a bit hesitant a first. Obviously a white guy in the hood with a camera raises many eyebrows. It took a little time to get past their skepticism and for me to gain their trust. I did this by publishing some photos here and there in international magazines and by getting to know many of these guys on a personal level over time, which eventually convinced most of them that my motives were pure. In 2005 I brought writer Lance Scott Walker into the project to conduct interviews so the book would have more information and context.
The Willie D quote is killing me: “People ain’t been educated on fightin’ back unless it’s some street shit, like fighting your neighbors or beating up… fighting your family members, killing your best friend. And nobody like… fightin’ the government, the city. “What you mean, fight the city? You mean like… Houston against me?” What was it like meeting Bun B, Lil’ Troy, K-Rino, Paul Wall, (he died before I started this), Pimp C, Street Military, and Big Hawk ? What kind of perspective do they bring to the rap game ?
What differentiates these guys from the average American rapper, and what makes me respect them is their underdog status and drive to succeed on their own terms. For decades, it was extremely hard to make it in the rap game if you weren’t from New York or LA. Because of this lack of support from the mainstream, Houston rappers developed their own sound, became their own CEOs, and in the process they cut out the major label middlemen, built their own business model, and made a lot of money.
You got some ill shots, everything from the New Black Panther Party, the strip clubs, the cats hanging on the street, the dudes in the car sippinn syrup, all the grimy glamour captured on film in luscious color… What did you find most exciting about Houston as a photographer ? What qualities of the people you met were you most attracted to ?
One thing that really drew me to this project that went beyond the rappers themselves was the opportunity to document many of the changing neighborhoods. Houston has very few zoning laws, so huge portions of the city are torn down and rebuilt on a regular basis, especially the “economically challenged” areas. As a photographer and someone who is extremely skeptical about the motivations behind gentrification, I was drawn into the unique personality of the neighborhoods of South Park, Third, Fourth and Fifth Wards, their colorful hand painted store signs, their lack of chain corporate stores and general independence from the “white man’s world.”
One example of this is Fourth Ward, which was a beautiful historic neighborhood in the shadow of downtown that was filled with pre-WWII row houses, mom & pop shops, and BBQ joints where families had lived for generations. In the years since we started this project, it has been renamed “Midtown” and is now filled with high-rise condos, trendy restaurants, and a whole new set of residents. One of our goals with this book was to document these historical sites, many of which have since been demolished with few objections and little fanfare by the city at large.
I love that this is a photo book. It’s got so much energy. What’s been the best part of this project ? What has surprised you the most ? What would you like to see this book do ? Where can people pick it up ?
One of the most rewarding parts of this project for me was to gain access to this talented and dynamic group of self-made individuals that I otherwise would never have connected with. This experience has given me some dear friends who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and has made me grow as an individual in the process.
As you can see from the book, we didn’t dwell too much on the typical topics that the mainstream press endlessly promotes, like over-the-top materialism, the glorification of drug dealing and prison life, and the objectification of women. While these elements are part of the music and the book to a degree, we wanted to present a bigger picture to try to empower people and educate them through the words of people like K-Rino, Willie D, Brother Robert Muhammad, Justice Allah, Wickett Crickett, and others.
One of the most important topics covered by these community leaders was how “the powers that be” have deliberately targeted and taken advantage of most of these communities by creating an unfair playing field by filling their neighborhoods with with unhealthy food, liquor stores on every other corner, poor education, government drug dealing, dirty vaccines, and overall lousy city services. These controversial topics are discussed directly by those interviewed rather than the authors in an effort to enlighten folks and hopefully keep them out of the vicious cycles of addiction, poverty and the prison-industrial complex. That is my number one goal with this book.
Houston Rap will be available in quality books stores on November 25, and a pre-order is now available at sincecurebooks.com for the special edition which comes with a Fat Pat/DJ Screw 7″ record, a double DJ Screw 12″ (first time on vinyl) and several other goodies. This version will not be available in stores.
October 28, 2013
War is organized brutality; the politicization of violence to achieve power, to dominate by any means. To kill, main, destroy, rape, pillage, conquer—to fully inhabit the beast, the monster that lives deep below the surface of things. The creature that can be called to action to serve a power structure that few know, for the soldiers on the ground are not the generals calling the moves. Those who die are sacrificed, and sacrifice of themselves to become pawns in a power play, the truth behind which is often too dark and disturbing to truly say. So we say, “War is hell,” and we try to give way, to allow those four little letters to explain the unexplainable.
This is where the photograph speaks in ways that words cannot; it provides the visceral, the viscera, blood, and guts that lives deep inside, that which is spilled by countless men who have come before, men whose names we may never know, as we gaze upon their decaying flesh.
War, as we have been taught, proceeds for the greater good, to right a wrong, to defy those who have corrupted the populace. But when it reaches the level where it becomes a conflict that seems without beginning and most certainly without end, then what is war but a profitable industry. This is the Drug War, as it is played today, a way that takes place across the globe, with the United States leading the way. As the primary consumer of narcotics in the Western hemisphere, the United States leans on countries like Colombia and Mexico to fight those who lead the organized criminal underworld.
But that underworld is not so nearly underground, not in these countries where who is on what side is more often than not obscured. Not in these countries, which celebrate the outlaw, which honor the legacy of the revolutionary, after they were colonized by European imperialists. For it is here, in these countries, that a war continues, just as it has never ended. And as crime pays, the political, the economic, and the criminal mix and mingle at every level, despite the propaganda that would have us believe otherwise.
Narco Estado: Drug Violence in Mexico by Teun Voeten (Lannoo) takes us inside a war that has claimed 55,000 lives in just seven years. Since 2006, when President Calderon declared war on the cartels running the drug trade, blood has been spilled, graves have been filled, and for what? The criminals continue to ply their trade. It is not possible to know the truth. Too much is being obscured, but with books like there we get a glimpse into a horrific level of violence that few have endured.
As Voeten writes in the book’s introduction, “The violence in Mexico has passed a threshold and has become a war. A new kind of war. Traditionally, wars were waged between states with organized professional armies. The outcome was decided during confrontations on well-circumscribed battlefields. To quote Von Clausewitz, ‘War was a continuation of diplomacy by other means.’ In the early nineties, a new form of warfare emerged: prolonged, low intensity conflicts, where ideology seemed lost…. War was no longer a means to an end. Rather the state of lawlessness, chaos and anarchy had become a goal in itself, a necessary precondition for warlords to exploit local resources—drugs, minerals—and exchange in black marketeering. Political scientists like Kaldor and Münkler call these conflicts ‘New Wars.’ Typically, they are not financed through taxation by a central government, but by shady deals that the warring factions make with criminal elements. In Mexico, the concept of this New War has gone far beyond that point. No need for warring factions to develop liaisons with international crime, simply because they are the criminals themselves.”
In Narco Estado: Drug Violence in Mexico, Voeten brings us along the edge of the abyss, providing a wide array of images, still moments, taken in what is a war zone unlike any you have ever seen. It looks more like life, as we know it, life as it is lived. Yet it is a testament to the level of terror that war brings that the very battlefield is one and the same as the place in which we live. Tens of thousands slaughtered, and no one is brought to justice. Most of the murders will never be solved, simply classified as “Drug Related” and left uninvestigated. There’s really nowhere to go with this when the military and city police are hitmen for hire, working with the cartels. If journalists investigate these relationships, they are treated like enemy combatants, and murdered just the same.
The Drug War in Mexico isn’t like anything we have ever known, and as so much of the story will never be told, it is a tribute to artists like Voeten who take to the streets in order to acquire bits and pieces of the puzzle. For all we see in his pictures is the very tip of a deadly iceberg.
October 23, 2013
The photography book occupies its own realm in modern life. It is both an object of art as well as a repository of knowledge, of spirit, and feeling. It is a record of the world as it is seen through the lens. It is a telling of tales real and surreal, documents of our time and place that are captured in inks lavished in images spreads across the page. The photography book delights in a world of mass production, in the way that it is at once the world of an artisan and a machine, of a world of reproduction in the grandest scheme. All to tell a story, to record a moment in time that accumulates in images that bring us far and wide.
Prestel Publishing understands this. As leader in the industry, they have developed a photography list that is brilliantly situated among a larger program that includes art, architecture, design, fashion, and children’s books produced with an eye for the extraordinary. They understand the book as an object of contemplation and study, and the way in which the medium it showcases defines the parameters of its presentation. This is a tribute to a refined vision of publishing that meets market needs. Featuring a list that includes monographs by Roger Ballen, Pieter Hugo, and Horst Friedrichs, as well as collections of work by Robert Mapplethrope, David Seymour (Chim), and Magnum Photos, Prestel’s list is a distinctive mix of the classic and the cutting-edge, brought together by a commitment to high-production values, elegant design, and consumer demand.
Founded in 1924 with over 500 English titles, Prestel is based in Munich, where it is a division of Random House Germany. Yet the company maintains an international flair, with offices in New York and London, and international distribution for their list. The success of the photography list can be attributed to the work of Curt Holtz, Commissioning Editor for Photography and Architecture Books. Holtz’s understanding of the artist as author, and the story that is to be told as it is laid across the pages of each book allows him to explore fascinating subjects that command the interest of the photography world, and beyond. The appeal of the monographs on the Prestel list is their ability to transgress cultural boundaries and to bring us inside new worlds.
Holtz observes, “It comes from a gut-level response when looking at the images, at the book dummy, meeting someone, you know, there’s something here. This can work. You understand the work in its context. You know if it will fly in London and New York, and how much can move on a local level. Perhaps it is niche but it has a universal appeal. You look at how this can translate, and what makes it have popular appeal. Of course there is the materiality, the paper, the inks, the production values, but there are many beautiful books that do not move. The spirit needs to be there, in the pictures.”
Consider the works of Pieter Hugo, which as distinct as they are extraordinary. From The Hyena and Other Men and Nollywood to Permanent Error, Hugo’s monographs sweep us in a whirlwind of the foreign and the familiar. His images heighten our senses, sharpen our eyes, make our hearts beat fast then slow then gasp. It’s flow, page after page after page. The elegance of their construction adds to the intensity of the photographs, as the physical weight of the book holds together the world inside Pandora’s Box, and what we are left after we close the covers is the feeling of magic which is the photography book.
It is this feeling for books that allows Prestel to execute the exquisite precision necessary to publish the work of Elinor Carucci. Mother, which is set for release in October 2013 and was edited by Karen Levine, Prestel’s New York-based Executive Editor, follows the birth of the artist’s twins. She photographed them as babies, as toddlers, as children, exploring the complexity of the relationship between mother and child. Such a tender, sensitive, highly personal and nuanced series such as this requires a delicacy of touch and of vision, as well as an inner strength. As Holtz describes the process of the creation of this book, the very metaphor of motherhood comes into its own.
There is a passion and an understanding that allows great books to be born, stories that peel back the layers of our daily lives, stories that take us into spaces we would never otherwise be and allow us to join in as witness and audience to a wide array of themes. “We’re in a bit of a privileged position,” Holtz notes of photography and book publishing. “This is a fantastic, small community who care about producing books, who care very deeply about making work that matters.”
October 17, 2013
We ask, “What is love?” because we don’t actually know. We feel this power, this pull, this powerful undertow, this energy that unites us in spirit and flesh, this bond between beings living and dead. We ask, “What is love?” so we can begin to understand. All the right questions offer many paths to the same place. Love. It flows from within, overtaking us, with a passion to connect in the most profound sense. Yet we seek definitions, words to frame and make manifest that which is ineffable, that for which words will only ever be the emissary of an essence so joyous and transformative that so many lives are defined as a response to it
It is this response that envelops us, not just the love we hold but the love we share with condition or recourse. Our identities develop in response to love given and love denied, love received and love lost. We cannot always fathom what is happening to us, the way in which love heals ancient wounds and unifies our splintered selves into Oneness. So we look to artists, poets, mystics, people whose sensitivities are finely tuned to nuance. To a means of expression that liberates us from the desire to use words to shape experience.
We Used to Talk About Love, edited by Natasha Bullock (Art Gallery NSW) explores the areas in which photography becomes our language of expression. Featuring the work of eleven Australian artists, this intimate volume includes an array of essays, photographs, videos, multimedia installations, collage, and sculpture, which was curated for exhibition by the Balnaves Foundation. Featured artists include Polly Borland. Paul Knight, Angelica Mesiti, Darren Sylvester, David Rsoetzky, David Noonan, Eliza Huchison, Justene Williams, Glenn Sloggett, Grant Stevens, and Tim Silver. The book also includes a short story by Gail Jones and Lily Hibbert’s essay on two pieces by Roland Barthes: “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments” and “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.”
Brought together in a series of images and text, We Used to Talk About Love is a book of quiet provocation, taking us into the complexities of the relationship between art and idea, allowing us to see how each artist uses photography to explore the rich tapestry of love’s siren song. “How can pictures convey a sense of this complexity, of the cyclic tendencies of love’s repetition and transformation through time and space?” Bullock asks in the book’s introduction. The book organizes itself into four visual sections to examine this question. “To Begin With the Flesh” offers a selection of figurative and representational works that explore sexuality, adoration, and eroticism; “Expressive Abstractions” addresses the realms of solitude and togetherness in social relations; “An Archive of Feeling” looks at the relationship between reality and fiction as they inform our understanding of longing, nostalgia, and memory; and “Filthy, Crushing, Ending” takes on the romantic notion of absence, disintegration, and sentiment.
Bullock beautifully creates context for each visual meditation, providing us with not only the ideologies of each artist, but also within a larger framework to consider not only their relationships but our own. Bullock offers ideas but more than ideas, she questions assumptions and allows us to reconsider how we approach love in our own lives. Everything is at once simple and complex, knowably unknowable, familiar and foreign, sacred and profane. Nothing is as you might expect, except for the very real possibility that you may discover chambers of the heart beating in time to the turning of the page.
We may never have the words to speak, but we will know love by the feeling it creates in our being. A pure flame that ignites our being, not quite the fires of passion not the burns of pain but rather a smokeless flame that burns eternally, that allows us to see the divine spark that exists in all we encounter. We may speak of We Used to Talk About Love with question, concern, and care. We may peruse its pages time and again, always sinking deeper in. We may not know until we know and then we do not have the words, but we may see in our mind’s eye these metaphors as they come undone, as art acts as the emissary for experiences that we may never be able to translate into any other form.
As Bullock concludes, “These pictures speak of tenderness, longing, confusion, elation, and sadness in sophisticated ways that are not easily categorized by a single adjective. Did we used to talk about love more? Or do we talk about it differently now? Love connects words with their effects. For the artists discussed pictures connect with a realm of feelings. Here, in flesh and fragments, is an atmospheric and contradictory journey through the language of love and all of its expressive emotional ambivalence.”
October 1, 2013
A cat like Nat Finkelstein had nine lives before he died in 2009. A photographer, journalist, world traveler, animal smuggler, gun runner, drug dealer, ex-convict, revolutionary, and only God (and Nat) knows what else. Born in 1933 in Coney Island, Finkelstein studied with Alexey Brodovich at Brooklyn College before joining Pix and Black Star agencies before leaving the United States in 1969 to escape the Feds.
Possessed with blessings and curses in equal measure, Nat was drawn to the underground—and the underworld. As his memoirs recollect, “I am an anarchist and believe in the overthrow of Capitalism. I am studied and trained. I know that revolutionary victories are achieved through preparation, organization, stealth, and subterfuge, followed by violence only when victory is assured. I also believe in Lenin’s dictum that the problem with the bourgeois revolutionary is that the bourgeois revolutionary always believes that the STAGE of revolution in which they are participating is The Revolution. This accounts for my antipathy to certain insurrectionists (Hoffman, Ginsberg, et al) of the late 60s and early 70s.”
Never a follower, Nat set his own path, with New York City as his base of operations. His iconoclastic disposition landed him at Andy Warhol’s Factory in 1964 while on assignment from Black Star. With unfettered access to the creation of art, film, and Superstars, his documentation of the earliest years of the Factory reveal a scene that has influenced New York’s downtown identity ever since. The glamour of Hollywood with the grittiness of New York conspired to create Pop Art as a way of life.
In his superb book, Andy Warhol: The Factory Years, 1964-1967, Nat recalled, “Andy Warhol’s greatest work of art was Andy Warhol. Other artists first make their art and then celebrity comes from it. Andy reversed this. For me the Factory was a place of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, for some of the others it was: from ferment comes art.
“Andy’s strategy was organized like an air-raid though radar-protected territory. He would drop these showers of silver foil out of the plane to deflect the radar. Behind this screen of smoke and mirrors, there was Andy at work. That was the real function of the entourage. It was a way to get the attention away from Andy, while he hid behind them, doing his number. The entourage was there to distract the attention, to titillate and amuse the public, while Andy was doing his very serious work. Andy was a very hard-working artist, a working man. He hid this very carefully, creating the myth that his products just kinda appeared. I’m probably one of the very few photographers who actually has pictures of Andy with his hands on a paintbrush and the paintbrush touching the painting. He didn’t want to get paint on his hands. So like any great artist, he had an atelier. He manipulated people to do things for him. It was a very studied casual act, ‘Hey, you do it.’ While he was working, he also had others work for him… Well, what else is a Factory? It was a brilliant scam.”
Older than everyone (except Warhol), Nat was a macho from Brooklyn, the straight guy in a sea of Superstars and Pop Art, with a camera, a sharp tongue, and no time for most men. He called the Velvet Underground, “The Psychopath’s Rolling Stones.” Lou Reed’s response? “The three worst people in the world are Nat Finkelstein and two speed dealers.”
At a time when drugs became part of America’s identity, Nat knew the score, always able to access the counterculture’s inner core. In his memoirs, he recounts, “The C.I.A utilized psychomemetics in the MK-ULTRA Project, a secret experiment in mind control, AKA ‘Brain Washing,’ often on unwitting subjects, several of whom would kill themselves. Time-Life publicized and popularized LSD in a stream of articles and pretty (although bogus) pictures. And then, in 1964, the mainstream media appointed an academic mercenary, ex-West Point, ex-Harvard Professor Timothy Leary as their ‘New World’ poster child. Leary—sponsored, financed and supported by a group of old wealth American industrialists—peddled ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ from a 4,000-acre estate in Millbrook, New York. Buttressed by the intellectual cachet of Aldous Huxley, plus the financial backing of the Mellon family and the CIA, Timothy Leary founded an organization called IFIF (International Foundation for Internal Freedom) and recruited a coterie of academics with a mystical bent, who forgot that after Brave New World came 1984.”
Nat was invited to Millbrook, and the meeting with Leary was less than successful. For even a drug dealer as successful as Finkelstein was leery of the relationship between the government, the media, the figureheads that brought LSD and amphetamines into American popular culture. He eventually retreated to his home in upset New York, where journalist Al Aronowitz (who introduced the Beatles to Bob Dylan in 1964) described him as, “Nat Finkelstein, Kokaine King of Woodstock.” Nat reigned supreme for a moment or two, and then, as is the case in the underworld, the cover blew.
In 1969, his lawyer called him to New York and revealed a document from the FBI that stated:
WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
HEREBY EMPOWER YOU TO BRING BACK THE BODY
NATHAN LOUIS FINKELSTEIN
CLASSIFIED ARMED AND DANGEROUS
In fear for his life, Nat Finkelstein left the United States. He traveled the Silk Route in the 1970s, appearing in the most unlikely places, eventually sentenced to four years in prison in France for possession of hashish. Nat’s memoirs revealed, “While in prison, I petitioned the United States government, the CIA, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the Freedom of Information Act. Both the FBI and the CIA to this day have refused to release my records. However, the DEA records stated that in 1973, while I was still a fugitive, all charges against me were dismissed upon judicial review by a Judge Hector (Lopez or Gomez), with an extreme castigation of the Federal government for illegal actions against me. However, the government not only did not inform myself, my family, my in-laws, or my attorney that these charges were dropped, but forced me to live the life of a fugitive until 1978. Further, my agencies, my publishers, my family, et cetera, had been informed that if they were to publish any work done by me, prior to this dismissal, that they would be arrested for aiding and abetting a fugitive. My voice had been effectively silenced.”
When Nat returned to America in 1982, a free citizen, he inquired to Black Star agency and Life magazine about the whereabouts of his negatives. He notes in his memoirs, “Previously, Howard Chapnick of Black Star had told my ex-wife Jill that a woman purporting to be my wife, with a supposed letter from me, had come to the agency demanding that all my negatives be turned over to her. The only thing remaining of my work, aside from my Warhol series, were four or five prints which were made during various assignments.”
While many photographs remain lost, other come to light. In 1995, a collection of 170 color transparencies from The Factory was discovered to be misfiled under the wrong name at a London photo agency. Among the images are Warhol eating pizza, John Cale dozing off, Nico reading the paper, Edie Sedwick applying lipstick—the intimate moments Nat shared through the years.
His time at The Factory was but a chapter in one of those rare lives that crisscross the world at length, as photographs continue to emerge from the recesses of the earth. Photographs shot on August 8, 1965 at a civil rights protest in Washington D.C. came forth from the archives of Life magazine in 2004. As Nat recalled in an essay for The Blacklisted Journalist, there were members of, “The DuBois Society, CORE (Congress Of Racial Equality), SNCC (Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee). Fresh from voter registration drives in Mississippi, militants from Newark and Harlem were joining up with kids from Y.A.W.F. (Youth Against War and Fascism). White middle class kids and black militants coming together in an uneasy alliance. Together with the various Pacifist societies, as well as the followers of Martin Luther King, who previously had eschewed the anti war movement, they joined to form an Assembly of Unrepresented People, determined to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right of free assembly in order to petition their government and declare the war in Vietnam to be a racist war.”
Then things got ugly. As Nat wrote, “The first people to be accosted and intimidated by the police were the Afro-Americans. During the march, an apparently late Nazi threw some of his own paint, and was also roughed up by the police. However, he was not arrested. At this point, the police forces were led and instructed by a non-uniformed, unidentified man, who apparently commanded the police to be rough. In fact, you can see this man in the pictures. Who he was, no one may ever know. As you can see from the photographs, the other photographers stayed at a short distance from this action, whereas I was fully involved, as you can see one picture, to the point of being punched in the stomach by a policeman during the melee, even though I was wearing official press credentials identifying me as a photographer from Life magazine. I did my job recording the information before me; the brutality, the obvious concentration on people of color, the fingernails crunching nerve endings, the faces squeezed, the glee of the oppressors, the courage of the kids.
“As you’ll notice from these photographs, there were no “long-haired freaks?: no Abbie Hoffman, no Jerry Rubin, no Allen Ginsberg. No pot, no gratuitous violence on the part of the protestors. This came later. It is my firm belief this was done by the so-called capitalist “Free Press.” The mainstream media that appointed theatrical clowns such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, and Timothy Leary, as representative of the antiwar movement. When actually, the antiwar movement consisted of the students and the ordinary American working class.”
Throughout his years on this earth, Nat was a champion for the underdog, defying the corrupt system through his art, words, and actions. His actions—while not always legal—held to another ethic; that integrity means holding firm in a raging storm. A typhoon like Nat Finkelstein may have left this earth, but his legacy is a life that challenged and ran counter to the hypocrisy of the world.
Originally published in
Le Journal de la Photographie
18 March 2011
September 26, 2013
Commitment is a crazy thang,
take you by the hand and be like, “Step right this way.”
And you go, down the rabbit hole
but you know it’s not a hole, it’s just The Way.
Like a supernova thas gonna explode I guess,
time is here and now and also past and future
spiraling over again and again…
it gets to the point that there is no point
good luck with that.
Yesterday I was up then right back down,
flat on my back, could not sleep;
it was gruesome in the strangest possible way.
It was like, drained, every last drop, and all that was left
was me swimming in thought.
to keep from sinking…
Go, where would I go? What’s left?
Nothing is my everything, yes ~
So this is me looking at the phone ringing,
smiling wanly like, No fuhhckinn way. I’m paper thin.
But I notice there’s also this feeling in my heart,
this low beat like,
Wow what would it feel like if I were alive?
And then I think this is one of two and
what’s up on the other side.
But I can’t feel anything,
I’m barely alive.
I miss the point.
This happens all the time.
I’m thinking one thing because I’m stuck in my mind.
And I’m thinking wait, what
and I actually ask.
And then I get it.
And then I Get IT.
And then everything shifts and I finally understand.
I mean, I have no idea what I understand.
This post isn’t meant to be read at all.
How do you hope to help your fellow writers—now or in the future?
I just want to read your words.
September 24, 2013
Man and Woman. Husband and Wife. Artist and Muse. It’s a path few travel because it demands. A kind of commitment to creativity unparalleled, as standard of excellence, an ability to balance the personal and the professional, the private and the public, a kind of elasticity and mutability that comes from years past, experiences shared, mysteries unfolding, new opportunities revealed, the moment made eternal. The photograph, the space where the two meet, where time stops and what once was shall now and forever be.
Fat Girl by Carlos Batts (Barnacle Books) is a love story. It is a story of love that begins with a knowledge of self, a fearless acceptance of truth, of a way of being that is deeply one’s own, so FTW if they complain. April Flores found her happiness in the body voluptuous, the body scorned by society as this, that, and the third thing because they won’t let a woman live.
April Flores does not just live. She flourishes. She is not but a flower but a field, a meadow, a deep luscious jungle, for she is not merely muse and model, she is a feminist porn icon to (knee-high) boot. This is her body—and this is her world. And it began with her first encounter with Batts, when he suggested she put on a bikini, and after a moment’s hesitation, Flores freed herself, and she stepped before the camera, and the love affair began.
Fat Girl is a tribute to the beauty of woman as she is, as she discovers herself in all her glory, as goddess, siren, and beauty. The photograph is the space where artist and muse meet, each enchanted with the other in the self, enacting Nature’s math of one plus one equals three. The photograph lives in our world, now a thing to contemplate as a reflection of both Flores and Batts and the space in between, where all are invited to meet.
The book is an invitation into their world, and a celebration of all the spirit made flesh, manifest in each photograph, for Miss Flores is an energy, radiating fire, light, flame. She changes her image but never her identity, like a diamond revealing facets of herself, as she grows, blossoming like the flora for which her name stands.
Flores writes, “It is hard for women of all sizes to feel confident because, from the time we are young girls, we are bombarded with messages and images in the media and other places that make us feel like we can never be too thin, too young, or too successful. It is even harder for plus size women to feel good about themselves because rarely are plus sized women represented in a completely positive way. The book is my answer to that problem. This book is an exhibition of my confidence and happiness as a plus size woman.”
Indeed it is, a beautifully, thoughtfully, tastefully curated collection of Batts’ deliciously vivid celebration of his wife, the yin to his yang, the fusion of seeming opposites. Through his photographs, we come to see his vision of a world where women are creatures of completeness, knowing themselves better than anyone else. No longer do we ask, “What do women want?” so much as we say, “Yes, more please.”
Flores is more than a sex symbol, she is a symbol of the sex that inspires the act of creation, be it in life and in art, in the way that the book becomes a treasure chest to be perused at leisure. Fat Girl is one woman’s path through this world, one that is exquisitely pleasurable, risqué and erotic, an adventure in art and style, a tongue planted firmly in chic. Batts’ photographs of Flores naked but for red stilettos and a Miss Piggy mask, remind us that the truest icon of womanhood begins with the Venus of Willendorf.
Fat Girl is deeply personal, yet splendidly friendly, just like Flores and Batts themselves, their lives an open book, a collaboration of kindred spirits now pressed in inks on paper and tucked between the covers. Fat Girl reminds us that she is we and we are she is beauty is deep. It is of the skin, muscle, flesh, bone, soul, and spirit. We are lucky to witness and share it.
September 22, 2013
Many people see their lives as worthy of books, of stories and histories, of memories repeating themselves over and over again with every turn of the page, memories of a time and a place that was once not too long ago but with every passing moment it slips further away. It is the ether to which we return and we hold to its shores, as the river sweeps through. We see and we smile and we think and we know that it comes and it goes.
The book then sets forth to stop time, time capsule, treasure chest of a world that will live on. In ink printed on pages in images and in words and the book speaks to us from the past in the present for the future and we hold it close. We clasp it in our hands, we cradle it to our chest, and our eyes feast upon its contents, devouring every last bit. This is life in print.
And so it is to the book that we return to celebrate the great Gigi Giannuzzi. Trolleyology: The First Ten Years of Trolley Books is a delightfully bright mango number, all board debossed with the simplest boldface, and I’m thinking of that Classic A B C D F U C K t-shirt from back in the days. I love it, this little brick of a book, a marvel of engineering that needs no refinement whatsoever. Form follows function, like Le Corbusier said, and it is here that Trolleyology sets forth.
“Trolley is ten. We would like to thank, from the bottom of our hearts, all those that have helped us reach this milestone, the artists and the people that always believed in us, from our resolute supporters to our very patient printers. Glimpsing at the world as it appears now we little anticipated then, at the outset of this journey, what we have witnessed in those ten years. Wars waged on the precepts of lies, the dramatic effects of collateral damage on millions of innocent people, Geneva Convention rules ignored by ‘First World’ countries, the resurrection and proliferation of torture as a normal means to obtain information. Above all, we have witnessed the rise of fear, the emergence of a new breed of global authoritarianism and corresponding brutal methods of repression, from Burma to the UK, from France to Zimbabwe. At the same time there has been a dramatic fall in the sales of informative books. At Trolley we still believe in the power of information and the people’s undeniable right to know what is happening in their name. We shall continue to promote and support our authors in the next ten years, as we have done since Trolley first began a decade ago.”
Gigi penned these words, before his death. And like Biggie Smalls said, this is Life After Death, for in the circle spinning around in full, a revolution has been completed. Gigi stands for revolution, for things coming around again, and the legacy of Trolley can be found in all that have stood at his side, aligning themselves with Truth, Justice, and the Integrity of the Soul.
Trolleyology reveals it as this, and so it is here that we set forth, looking to what was done, how it was built by the mind of a most swashbuckling lunatic, who possessed a passion that could not be denied. It is a passion for speaking truth to power, for creating art, for using the book as the medium to bring us together, to marry the sacred and the profane, the book is art in the age of mass reproduction and it lives and it breathes in a new milennia where it has a new kind of weight. The book exists. It cannot be erased. And it is the job of the publisher to tell stories worthy of the ages. Stories that command attention and respect, stories that force us out of our comfort zones, into the world outside the known, to a place that calls to our deepest humanity and asks us to be the change we want to see in the world.
Trolleyology offers up chapters from The Book of Life, each chapter dedicated to telling the story of a book on the Trolley list. Consider just a few and you’ll understand the depth, breadth, courage, and strength it takes to publish stories of this caliber:
Chernobyl: The Hidden Legacy by Pierpaolo Mittica
Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq by Nina Berman
Open Wound: Chechnya 1994-2003 by Stanley Greene
A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia by Alixandra Fazzina
Say Yes to a Rosy Future: Nicolas Righetti
Double Blund: War in Lebanon 2006 by Paolo Pellgrin
Crosses: Portraits of Clergy Abuse by Carmine Gallasso
Taliban: Thomas Dworzak
The list goes on and on, each chapter a rabbit hole into another world, each book a portal into a truth on earth. Gigi’s gift was his passion, and it was this passion that he brought where ever he went, and it was this passion that changed our lives, with each and every book. It is this passion that we see in the pictures and read in the words, in the stories of how each book came to be, and the lives Gigi touched with love.
Trolleyology sits behind my desk on a narrow ledge, a shelf that is home to the books that shape my inner and outer worlds, from The Rumi Collection and The Way of Chuang Tzu to I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell. And it is that image of the tramp that stays with me, the tramp whose heart is huge, whose spirit is luminous, and whose legend lives on in eternity. It is that trap that is Gigi and his trolley of books, his curiosity lit like a fire, like a flame, whose soul radiates with each and every turn of the page.
The book is the mirror into which we look, not just at ourselves, but a reflection of those who bring it into existence. The book as object, idea, invention, inspiration. The book that calls to a higher self. The book as created by Gigi Giannuzzi. Visionary. Activist. Artist. Emissary. Gentleman. Madman. Publisher. God Bless.
September 22, 2013
WE LOVE ROLL CALL, Y’ALL!
Ray Charles, EPMD, EU, Alberta Hunter, Run-D.M.C., Stetsasonic, Sugar Bear,
John Coltrane, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-n-Pepa, Luther Vandross, McCoy Tyner,
Biz Markie, New Edition, Otis Redding, Anita Baker, Thelonious Monk, Marcus Miller,
Branford Marsalis, James Brown, Wayne Shorter, Tracy Chapman, Miles Davis,
Force MDs, Oliver Nelson, Fred Wesley, Maceo, Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, George Clinton, Count Basie, Mtume,
Stevie Wonder, Bobby McFerrin, Dexter Gordon, Sam Cooke, Parliament-Funkadelic,
Al Jarreau, Teddy Pendergrass, Joe Williams, Wynton Marsalis, Phyllis Hyman, Sade,
Sarah Vaughn, Roland Kirk, Keith Sweat, Kool Moe Dee, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald,
Dianne Reeves, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Bessie Smith, Whitney Houston,
Dionne Warwick, Steel Pulse, Little Richard, Mahalia Jackson, Jackie Wilson,
Cannonball AND Nat Adderley, Quincy Jones Marvin Gaye,
Charles Mingus AND Marion Williams.
for makin’ our lives just a little brighter
here on We Love Radio!
Do The Right Thing
September 20, 2013
September 19, 2013
We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines –
we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company,
we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time –
but essentially, and finally, alone.
This is what makes your self-respect so important,
and I don’t see how you can respect yourself
if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention
of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up,
totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
Photographs by Dave Schubert
Quotes by Hunter S. Thompson
September 19, 2013
Joie Iacono is a diamond, polished to shine, reflecting, refracting, and bending light at she desires. A photographer, painter, designer, director, stylist, actor, DJ, and collaborator, Iacono is a many-faceted gem who best embodies the phrase, “I am every woman.” She first picked up a camera at the age of eight and turned the lens upon herself, becoming both artist and model in each frame.
“My work is diaristic; I am always pulling elements from what is going on in my life, to re-enact and perform these moments for the camera. I am an artist, a business woman, a wife, a homemaker, and a world traveler—yet I’ve been an outsider all of my life. As humans, we are such chameleons. I believe in making the world what I want it to be. My birthday is December 31; according to astrocartography, that’s the Day of the Joker. The Joker is no card and yet it is all the cards in the deck at the same time. I experience nothing and everything. In my art I am capturing the experiences I am having from a tertiary place. I am observing the changes and allowing the process to take place. My mantra for the last couple of years has been to let experiences pass through myself, rather than carry them with me. I am being a receptor, a channel, a path for these ideas.”
It is through these channels that Iacono’s imagery travels, finding its form as it makes its way through time and space. In 2003, Iacono debuted her photographs in “To Drown a Rose,” a solo exhibition in New York’s Chelsea Gallery District. Her work was met with great acclaim. She recalls, “After my success, I got shy about being so open with my life. It took me a long time to begin working intuitively again. I could hear the voices of critics in my head, or wondered what buzz words gallerists might use to pigeonhole my work, and that made me scared of success. Working on commissions for other artists such as Antony and the Johnsons helped. I could put things forward for other people, and explore where my vision and their vision would intersect. That really helped on a personal level. It got me back to myself. My work became about exploring insecurities, narcissism, vanity, beauty, self hatred and self love.”
It is now, ten years later that Iacono returns to the world stage in “J.O.I.E.”, a collaboration with Cédrix Crespel opening September 19 at AD Galerie in Montpellier. The exhibition, which features Crespel’s paintings of Iacono’s photographs, runs through October 19. Crespel’s press materials describe an admiration that borders on idolatry, a love and affection that elevates Iacono to kitten on a pedestal status. The text notes, “From this exchange emanate the grandiose portraits of J.O.I.E., with their fluorescent lipstick traces that illuminate the penetrating and piercing tints, their fluttering black satin sheaths and their cracking garters. The artist does not center sexuality in the glimpse of a thigh, an erect nipple or a moist mouth, but in these stretched forms, gloved in black, playing striptease with the arms and the hands of the model. Joie is depicted as dressed, and her finery, though light, seems like a substitutive virginity. She is passionate about her role, and she photographs herself in the poses the artist will later reproduce in paint.”
Iacono embraces all of the luxuriousness a sex kitten promises. “These works show how I see myself, and then how Cédrix sees me. They place importance on the object and this gives me the opportunity to perform, to act, to be Bardot. I didn’t have to overthink a thing. I just put on a little make up, locked myself in, and I took pictures of myself. It was a great way to blow off some steam!”
Iacono then references a Buddha quote: “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Her portraiture reflects her profound respect for her being, and the photograph becomes a marriage of inside and out, of soul and visage, of director and star, of bridges across seemingly opposite sides of life, each image Iacono creates is a collaboration between artist and muse. Two equals one in this duet that celebrates the feminine, the goddess, the siren song that calls to all in the mortal realm.
“Being human you can affect change. I’d much rather be a dolphin but they can’t effect change in the same way. That’s part of the burden. The human condition is heaven and hell. The cycles of beginning and ending, light and dark, spring and fall, death and rebirth, they are universal principles. This is a space of discovery, and of meditation. Think of crying and laughing; the place where they meet is rapturous. When we love ourselves as much as we love others, we allow ourselves to be open and let it pass through you. That’s a huge driving force in my work right now.” Which makes Iacono ripe, vibrant, and alive, her vision of self is strong and passionate enough to capture Crespel’s imagination this Fall.
September 17, 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.