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 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.
September 17, 2013
Rumi said, “Be the change you want to see in this world.” This is where it all begins. The power to create the world in which we want to live, to exact a future that is happening now, today, using all that exists at our fingertips. Exactly, it is this, I type as my fingers fly free across the keyboard. The Universe conspires to remind us of this. D.I.Y. Do It Yourself.
It’s like the 70s all over again. A return to the era when the artist represents the underground and brings new worlds to light through the publication of their vision in print form. It is this space, this world at our fingertips, a world we unconsciously read as our hands traverse the page. We feel the image, we let it sink in, we read the words as the pages turn. We see it unfold, with our eyes and our hands, the stories touching us as they rest in our laps. It is the book made manifest that reminds us of the beauty of physical life.
Bruno Ceschel knows this, though it came to him by way of seeming happenstance. After curating an exhibitions of self-published artist books for A The Photographer’s Gallery in London in 2010, the digital response was large enough to propel the website into ongoing curatorial project for artists and authors alike [we don’t really distribute books, we feature them, showcase them] and from this Self Publish, Be Happy was born.
Ceschel observes, “Digital has caused a renaissance of printed matter. Self-publishing is not a way to make money. That is a burden. Self-publishing requires you to spend money which paradoxically free you from being concerned about profits. That is the restriction of the traditional publishing house. The people who do it today are very young. They are born into the digital generation. They are used to the computer and the online world. Self-publishing is their response to it. They are finding a complement to it in book form; they now have a physical object in reality and can share it with people. Books give them a different way to communicate.”
And this idea inspires and uplifts print more than anything ever could. Because it is not simply a matter of marketability, of consumer appeal, but of a need to tell stories, produce objects, create content the enlivens, inspires, and elucidates all sorts of spaces in the Universe we would never otherwise know, were the author not driven to make manifest that which holds them captive. And it is in this same way that the publisher operates.
Ceschel’s background is in magazines. He began working as a journalist for Colors in 2001. He then joined Chris Boot in 2013 where he learned the process of publishing and saw the tyranny of the trade firsthand. Most books are simply not economically viable, and an industry built on this offers a tightrope held at great heights. It’s a challenging business model from any angle you look. Self Publish, Be Happy avoids this by forgoing the model itself. It exists on its own terms, as defined by Ceschel. It is less a company and more a curated space, a digital doorway that transports us into another world of books and art as they are being lived today. Liberated from the burden of profits, the artist is free to do as they wish.
And it is here that Ceschel reveals his own love, establishing the SPBH Book Club that funds the production SPBH Editions. These are books that Ceschel selected, chosen from love. “It’s a small enterprise that’s very personal. I went to my people: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Brad Feuerhelm, Christina de Middel.”
And it is here that we come full circle, back to a love of books that is without beginning or end, but born of a desire to see in print our vision of the world and the way in which we want to live. As both publisher and a curator of the self published illustrated book, Ceschel has found himself in a new and dynamic world that combines tradition and experiment, classic and avant garde to sublime effect. Self Publish, Be Happy is more than a name, it is an ethos, a call to action, and way of being that speak to people from all walks of life, the single common denominator being a wish, want, desire, and need to produce a book.
Many are called, few are chosen. Come see why. Self Publish, Be Happy will be exhibiting at the New York Art Book Fair from September 19-22 at P.S. 1 in Queens, New York.
September 1, 2013
As I’ve said all along,
a good idea attempted is still better that a bad idea perfected
and I’m still turning my problems into my assets.
August 31, 2013
I think when I first started out, I was very, very nervous and scared to even ask to sit at the table. A lot of times, to be quite honest, when I first started, I was just so picked apart and ridiculed even by my own people.
Sometimes I would say, `OK, I’m just going to stand here on the corner, I’m good. Go ahead, sit.’ And that didn’t sit well with me. And after a while, I just started pushing my way through and saying, you know, `There is nothing wrong with the way I look, there is nothing wrong with the way I speak. You guys are the ones with the problem. So move over ‘cause my seat is right here, right next to you. And I’m not going to change to fit into your sense of what is norm. That should only occur in the roles that I play. The only time that I should change who I am is when I’m playing a specific character. Outside of that, I am who I am, thank you. Now let’s eat.’
And I think that if more people took that approach, we would have much more success and we would have much more of a volume of us, if you will, at the table. But we have to find some type of strength within ourselves to say, `I am beautiful, I do deserve to sit here, thank you very much.’ And that going full circle has definitely come from being from Brooklyn, just because you know who you are. When you’re on your block, you know who you are and you feel good about it.
August 30, 2013
I did not know until it began and then and only then it began to expand, this desire and will for all things photography, for publishing, for books, for essays poems odes sonnets everlasting of stories told, for the people who lived and live forevermore captured on the page where the photograph is born.
It had been since 1999 that I found myself captivated by the spell of the photography book, page after page after page of lives unfolding, one page after another. It had found me, this thing I had been living unconsciously, and it has been to this I have given myself completely, with everything I possess, a true believer driven to act upon the printed page, with words, photographs, stories being told in complete and utter silence.
I beheld, held these things to be sacred, though I didn’t know the hows or the why of it at all, and I still don’t. But I do know it is fate for in my life it transforms…
I began as a publicist, a publisher, and I became a journalist, a book reviewer. It was Jean Jacques Naudet at Le Journal de la Photographie who made this possible, with a daily newsletter detailing the international photography world, documenting an expansive array of festivals, fairs, exhibitions, events, and industry moves. It also features notable profiles and interviews, as well as archival stories and weekend portfolios. I was given the freedom to cover anything I’d like, anything that sparked my interest and fanned the flames of curiosity and wonder, anything that inspired tribute and reverence, consideration of ideas that exist only in pictorial form.
I had never thought, until I had to, of the nature of the photograph and how it held me spellbound like Ingrid Bergman in the Hitchcock classic. And as I began to write, it came to me, that it was the photography book that is my destiny. And that is a beautiful thing, the freedom to create the world in which I wish to live. I was given cause to speak with artists, publishers, visionaries, to peruse these very powerful pages of their lives, to share in ideas and wisdom, to listen to the words and the silence and the stillness of the single image…
and then to return to the world with this new found knowledge, to share of these photographs and books. I remember standing outside Bookmarc on Bleecker Street as a cop on horseback watched the scene. Old punks gathered thick and deep to celebrate “Just Chaos,” curated by Roberta Bayley. And it was at that moment that I knew punks were the last of the hippies. Never sell out, never say die, just keep on keepinn onn, because art is life. Life is art. The Art of Living, like Epictetus wrote.
And so we gather here today to salute Le Journal de la Photographie, which bids us adieu after three years sailing the uncharted waters of digital publishing. Of communications, community, and communion; we stand here today in honor of the photograph, of what it is, what it was, what it shall be, for we know, without words, we know in our souls these things. Cheers to Le Journal for making this possible, for giving writers like myself the opportunity to discover our Truth in photography.
August 29, 2013
I love doubt in a woman.
It’s almost as sexy as determination.
—Irvine Welsh, Filth
August 28, 2013
…and still the chills come as the words reverberate in the ear, Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice as clear as the call of the clarion. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heart of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.
“I have a dream today!”
King first spoke these unforgettable words on August 28, 1963, at the historic March on Washington, where he stood at the Lincoln Memorial before 250,000 people gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to mount a peaceful protest demanding Civil Rights, justice, and equality for African Americans nearly one hundred years after slavery was abolished in the United States.
In tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of one of the proudest days in this country’s history, Getty Publications has just released This Is The Day: The March on Washington by Leonard Freed, with texts by Julian Bond, Michael Eric Dyson, and Paul Farber. Most of the seventy-five photographs featured here have never been published before, and taken as a whole they offer a compelling, powerful, and uplifting vision of the day itself—before, during, and after the march.
As Dyson writes, “The moral beauty of Freed’s photographs bathes the aesthetics that guides his flow of images. The folk here are neat, dignified, well-dressed—in a word, sharp, with all the surplus meaning the word summons, since black dress can never be divorced from political consequence…. Freed captures the simple dignity and the protocols of cool—the ethics of decorum—that characterizes large swaths of black life. And when his camera swings wide to include a vision of America too rarely noticed in the mainstream press at the time, and in some cases even now, he records almost mundanely, and hence rather heroically, the everydayness of the encounters between white and black. He allows the images to steep in the crucible for American race. One can almost catch the subliminal suggestion: This is what it should always be like.”
Indeed, the legacy of this historic day is that it offered to not only America but to the world a vision of the power that healing brings. We return again and again to the day, not only for what King verbalized for us but for what Freed’s images say. We see in these images the American ideal: all power to the people, and for that we reflect with a quiet reverence and hopeful spirit that the dream shall be fulfilled.
August 25, 2013
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.
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)