Gitta Seiler

Gitta Seiler

On the cover of Gitta Seiler’s About Girls (Kehrer Verlag) is a beautiful teenager carefully applying mascara to her lashes as she gazes in a compact. Her skin glows with the porcelain finish that youth possesses in droves, and she reclines comfortably as she makes herself beautiful. This image, one of pure repose, is soon revealed in a chapter headed by a single word: Aborted.

It is in this chapter that Seiler visits an abortion clinic for underage women, taking casually composed photographs that belie the pathos of the moment. There is something horrific about these images in that they are understated glimpses into a moment the turning point in many a girl’s life. We may debate the idea that pregnancy is ever unplanned, we may consider that every boy and girl knows the consequences for their actions and are tempting Fate for reasons we cannot understand, but we can consider this: once conception occurs, all preconceived notions are meaningless in the face of this decision. Life or death is controlled for the first time by women, very young women.

Seiler writes, “…I wait with mothers at bed who comfort, and concerned father. I wait for girlfriends who accompany their girlfriends. I wait for a very small ray of happiness. And there: The only boy on the bench serves the hopes of all. There are still people like this, if you’re lucky, people who stay, people who come with you, people who are there. I am stuck in the girl’s soul and I weep. I wipe away my tears and look in them mirror. Like the laughing girl in the mirror who says: it’s over, it’s better than yesterday, things will go on, things will happen. It is a passing misfortune.”

But is it?

Seiler’s photographs are distinctly unsentimental, quiet yet emotionally charged challenges to our assumptions about and understanding of girls. This challenge is issued to both men and women, for in looking at her photographs I find myself reconsidering everything.

Jailed is the single word of another chapter. Seiler takes what has become a fetish and shows us the dirty underbelly; reform school girls are not sexy. Skin is littered with self-inflicted cuts, with self-made tattoos, ad aged by stress. Does it matter what they did to get here, or should we consider who failed them first and led them to act out crimes as a way to release their pain?

There is something taboo about females committing crimes, if only because most shut down and quietly punish themselves. But here we see the girls whose aggression is so extreme, they decided to punish society instead. Like the girls in the abortion clinic, we can never know what lurks deep within their heart, what remorse they may feel (if any) for betraying themselves in this way.

Prison is a lonely place, a place where one is not just locked away from the world, but locked within themselves, forced to deal with or avoid the real issue. That recidivism is high is understandable; nothing about this space creates a feeling of trust, respect, or human potential.

Unwanted is a terror, a living nightmare. It is the story of some girls who did not have the abortion. It begs the question that we can never know; is it better to take a life or to bring it into this world under these conditions? I would hazard to say, there is no answer to this question, for no matter how you try to slice it, abortion is a horrific act. But so to is bringing a child into this world that you deeply resent.

And yet it is all too common for people to just this, not stopping to consider that not one person on this earth ever asked to be born. How it has come to pass that sex has become a thing that we so easily disrespect, so much so that lives can be destroyed by one of Nature’s greatest gifts is evidenced in Seiler’s photographs. There is no love; there is resentment and disgust, there is despair and despondency, there is a much bigger problem waiting to grow up and act out these emotions, emotions passed from by a dark spirit across generations.

Lastly, there is Ran Away, the first chapter of the book. Maybe these girls were unwanted, unloved once. Like all of Seiler’s photographs, it is impossible to know what has brought these girls to this point, what it takes to break them down into nothing but crumbs. About Girls is one of the most powerful and provocative portrait of girls that I have ever seen, taking on some of the darkest aspects of humanity without offering reprieve. But more than that it offers no answers at all but it offers a question mark, a call to rethink what we know.

First Published 28 October 2011
Le Journal de la Photographie

Gitta Seiler

Gitta Seiler

Photograph: REVS / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com

Photograph: REVS / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com

Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo are Brooklyn Street Art (BSA), one of the most successful and influential websites dedicated to the underground ART scene that has taken the world by storm. Since 2008, BSA has been documenting the creative energies that take root and flourish in the street, like an insistent flower spouting through slabs of concrete.

Street Art is public art, usually unsanctioned work, which is executed outside of traditional art venues. Because much of it is posted illegally, it exists as a conversation between artist and audience independent of traditional realms for making, selling, and displaying art. With Street Art, there is no product. There is simply the idea made visual and expressed in physical form for all the world to observe.

Today, artists who choose the streets as their gallery are sharing their work in every corner of the globe, which makes BSA one of the most important hubs in the publishing world. BSA documents the trends in Street Art, covering the new hybrids, new techniques, and new mediums as they continue to expand our understanding of public art, speaking at length with The Click about the way in which photography and publishing preserve what is amongst the most ephemeral of all the arts.

Mr. Harrington and Mr. Rojo recall, “BSA started as an abbreviation for our first book Brooklyn Street Art (Prestel/Random House) and a way for people to quickly refer to us. The site initially was a simply page to give people an online location to learn more about the book with additional information about the scene on the street. We didn’t have any idea that it would grow into a clearinghouse for a global scene—in fact our first month we got 53 visits.”

Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.

Photograph by Guzman

Photograph by Guzman

“We thrive on confusion, on not being pinned down. You should not have to be the same person you were five minutes ago,” Connie Hanson says, sharing of a point of view that has endowed Guzman with a wit and a joie de vivre. Guzman itself embodies the Dada charm of the absurd, as the husband/wife team of Russell Peacock and Ms. Hanson let it be known that Guzman had a back story. He was a fifty-five year old Czech man with a grey Mercedes. Guzman had also lived in various hotels throughout Paris. And perhaps this is because Guzman is a spirit that inhabits the space between the photographer, the subject, and the stage.

Shoots will have unlikely things, like bouquets of bok choy. Or they will unfold as happenings, a way of art and life that was of a place and a time that defined New York as a bohemia and into this personalities appear. It is just this ability to create alternate universes that makes a Guzman photograph a complete affair. Whether constructing suits of various checked patterns to be born alongside Louis Vuitton accessories (because the brand did not yet have apparel lines), Guzman came along with a complete vision of how Vuitton appears in our lives. It is in this same way that they fully inhabit fashion as a way of life that Geoffrey Beene collaborated with Guzman throughout his career.

The quintessential outsider, Mr. Beene had his own way of doing things. He created Summer/Winter, just because he could. He broke every rule and created another in its place, and in his indomitable way, he was decades ahead of the curve. It was this vision of design that Mr. Beene brought to Guzman, and together they created a series of images that blur the boundaries, as we see not only a dress and a design, but the very idea of the way in which fashion can make us feel. It appears as architecture for the body. It lays between us and the world itself, and it is this which appears as the metaphor dancing across the photograph. It is both object and idea at the same time, and in this space Guzman plays with dark and light, with a blur of boundaries and the transformation of space, as the garment slips from three dimensions into two, and what remains is a beautifully selected collection of images that take us back into time to the glamorous life that New Yorkers do so well.

Guzman shares stories of Geoffrey Beene with THE CHIC.

Juergen Teller: The Face, 1989

Juergen Teller: The Face, 1989

For the past three decades, Ziggi Golding has set the bar for a standard of originality and creativity in the fine art and commercial photography worlds. She is devoted to cultivating talent and style within her roster of artists. As she notes, “I’m an enabler. I like to help people develop and realize their dreams.”

Since first becoming an agent in 1983, Ms. Golding has developed the careers of many of the top talents in the art, photographic, fashion, film, and music industries today. She sits down with The Click to discuss a life in photography.

Ms. Golding remembers, “Growing up in Jamaica, my mom always had a Roliflex. It was the one you looked down in. It was unusual then. It’s interesting that photography wasn’t my love. It was painting and drawing, art in its trues form. But I got interested in photography when I fell int modelling at the end of the 70s.

“As a job, I didn’t find modeling that interesting. I was more into the process of photography itself. After about six years in the industry, I started my own agency, the Z Agency. I wanted to protect models, as they were young and put in compromising positions. I also thought modeling was what you do when you didn’t know what to do with your life.

“I chose interesting people with a good look, amazingly talented people, and I started representing photographers early on like Andrew McPherson, and Geoff Stern, who had made the film, ‘Underground.’ It was part of my role to make things happen on a bigger level. For the ‘Underground’ I helped make a deal with Palace Pictures and Collin Callender, who went on to be the President of HBO Films. I made an early point of generating original work, in addition to booking people.

“With i-D and The Face, all through the 80s, two thirds of the content was connected with Z Agency, whether it was the photographers, models, stylists, make-up or hair. However I was not fulfilled by the modeling side of the industry. I was more interested in being the master of the project.”

Read the full story at THE CLICK.

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We have a disturbing relationship with animals, perhaps founded in the idea that we are not one of them. As humans, we enjoy creating hierarchies where there may be done, consistently creating artificial tests of intelligence that elevate us above the animal kingdom. Does anyone think it strange that we would suggest a hypothesis like “A dog has the IQ of a three year old child”? What does that really prove except mankind is arrogant to a fault?

By presenting and reinforcing false walls between ourselves and the natural world, we forever doom ourselves to an arrogance born of ignorance, one that does more harm than good for both ourselves and all those inhabiting the planet today. We live at a time when we have altered the environment in such a powerful way that it is not just mankind who suffers from our hubris. Animals are the creatures Nature put forth to create balance in the cycle of life. Yet we have upset this balance in a myriad of disturbing ways.

Colleen Plumb’s new monograph, Animals Are Outside Today (Radius) is a powerful look at the way in which we have fetishized, capitalized, ostracized, appropriated, incarcerated, ignored, and observed the Others of the animal world in which we live. As Lisa Hostetler writes in the introduction, “Plumb’s photographs are not those of an animal-rights activist, wildlife photographer, or social documentarian…. If art is a form of philosophy, Animals Are Outside Today is less a manifesto and more a thought poem.”

Indeed, taken individually or as a group, Plumb’s photographs are a meditation on the way in which we have so consumed animals that, if not for her questioning eye, we might not notice at all. Most provocatively, the way in which animals have become a source of food is a questionable subject, for we know now full well that the cause of so many degenerative diseases is their regular consumption. Yet we choose to ignore this, placing pleasure over respect for both bodies—theirs and ours. Plumb’s image of the pigs hanging from meat hooks is incredibly powerful, perhaps because they look more like corpses than anything else. In a later image one such carcass is roasted up for the enjoyment of a group at the barbecue.

Another way in which our relationship appears as questionable is in the images taken at zoos, the cruelest prisons on earth. As animals are not afforded the same rights to which we give our prisoners, which is to say, no inhumane treatment, they are kept in false environments forever on public display. Do we think animals are unaware of their captivity and the way in which they are being treated as circus freaks for our amusement? Maybe the polar bear in Central Park has limited intelligence on the human scale, but it seems highly likely that it understand who the real fools are.

In that same way we may wish to consider house pets, animals confined to our domestic arrangements. Plumb includes an image of four birds in a cage hung beside a clothes dryer, creating an image of nightmarish possibility. The birds, no longer able to fly must now also contend with living besides a monstrous machine that reinforces a lack of concern about their welfare.

On the other side of this equation are the images of animals appropriated into our visual landscape. From posters and paintings to rugs and sculptures, from museum fossils and taxidermied examples to feather hats and lawn flamingos, Plumb offers a gentle look at the way in which we have appropriated animals into our landscape, making them objects of contemplation, enjoyment, and mystical beings. No longer are animals real but rather they are symbolic, standing for what we want them to mean rather than what we are. Compare the photograph of the sculpture of an elephant to the photograph of the elephant working in the circus tent—which one has it better? Perhaps the one that never lived.

Lastly, Plumb provides us with the most distressing of all images: the animal who have died free and independent. Their decomposing bodies, shot at the site of their death, are humbling images of the way in which life is never ever sentimental. Taken as a whole, this best represents the lack of romanticism of these images, yet something sacred remains, powerful and emotional, in each of these pictures. In Animals Are Outside Today, Plumbs images suggest (to me) that we question our assumptions and our position out of respect to all creatures on earth.

Original published October 2011 in
Le Journal de la Photographie

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Douglas Mayhew

Douglas Mayhew

The world is a ghetto. We of the first world forget this but it is everywhere, more common than not, people living below the poverty line in conditions too raw for us to fully comprehend. When we do consider it, we vilify or romanticize; we imagine it not as it is, for rarely do we venture into the world of the underclass. Yet artists venture forth, exploring lands unexamined and unexplored, discovering stories waiting to be told. Douglas Mayhew does just this in his first monograph, Inside the Favelas: Rio de Janeiro (Glitterati Incorporated).

Mr. Mayhew observes, “The World Cup is a diversion driven by politics to keep people in line. Just like soap operas and Carnaval, they are a form of control—powerful tools the government has always used to take people’s minds off their problems and those of the country. And so, the climate of public dissidence that occurred prior to the start of the games is remarkable. Given the country’s colonial origins, public demonstrations as a form of social protest are shocking and the government hasn’t a clue of how to deal with angry citizens who are rising up, crossing class barriers, and fomenting against one of the basic tenants of Brazilian culture – corruption. The government’s reaction has been to increase police presence on the streets, ease regulatory restraints on the use of force, use increasingly confrontational forms of crowd control, and to restrict, in an informal way, access by journalists and photo journalists to protest events. Once the games are over, the elation of winning the right to host the games will quickly fade in light of their cost.”

Douglas Mayhew speaks with THE CLICK, taking us inside the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Read the full story at THE CLICK.

Ominta / Barn / Tara 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Ominta / Barn / Tara 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

The Republic of Niger, the largest nation in West Africa, ranked 186 of 187 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index for 2011. With over 80 percent of its land covered by the Sahara desert, the country’s predominantly Islamic population of 15 million is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the nation. The capital city of Niamey is located here, situated on the Niger River, the third longest river in all of Africa.

As photographer Nicola Lo Calzo writes in the afterword of his book Inside Niger (Kehrer Verlag), “The origin of the name Niger has proved enigmatic among modern researchers, and thus cannot be traced with certainty. The most accepted hypothesis is that the name derives from the Tuareg word: ‘gber-n-igheren’ or ‘river of all rivers’…. Since time immemorial, the Niger River has been a meeting point and a place of exchange among various ethnic groups. A genius loci, the river has served as a depository of myths and legends, as well as being the abode of great deities like Ba Faro (mother of humanity) and the all-important Noun. The Niger River is a fountain of living waters and a breath of life.” And so it was that Lo Calzo began to photograph the people of Niger as he followed the river some five hundred kilometers through the land.

Lo Calzo photographed people that work and live on the river, where most of the commercial activities take place, such as universities, public works, markets, fishing, slaughterhouses, vegetable gardens, and tanneries. The portraits show us people who are employed in a nation known by its high rates of unemployment, thus giving us a glimpse at the haves in a world of have nots, ensuring we understand how vital work itself is to the pride and identity of (wo)man.

The result is at once powerful and provocative, challenging any and all assumptions about Africa as anything other than a majestic world. As Laura Serani notes in her introduction to the book, “Lo Calzo’s empathy and respect towards his portrait models transforms them into heroes; a transformation that echoes the words of the Italian journalist Pietro Veronese: ‘No, all men are not equal; yes, races do exist and are divided between inferior and superior. Superior to all is the African.’”

Lo Calzo’s photographs reveal the heroism of a people living on the brink, caught in a web of poverty and environmental degradation that keeps them in harms way. Yet despite a quality of life that is virtually unfathomable to all in the first world, the people photographed by Lo Calzo maintain a dignity that belies their circumstances. Each portrait reveals only the subject’s first name and their location, bringing us face to face with the people who defy all odds by simply surviving in a nation facing constant hardship.

Most of Lo Calzo’s subjects are men of various age, and as they stand before his camera we witness a pride of being that challenges commonly-held Western perceptions of gender, class, and race as it pertains to the African man. Whether a ractor of the Catholic Church, clothed in the finery begetting his position, or workers in a slaughterhouse, covered in layers of blood, the men stand before Lo Calzo as they are, with a strong, silent, and somber masculinity that demands our attention.

Respect comes when respect is earned, and when it is given it is returned ten thousand fold. The men who stand before Lo Calzo like a mirror facing itself, and the honor and prestige bestowed upon the most common of men resonates like nothing else. His portraits recall nothing so much as the Biblical passage Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few are chosen.”

Lo Calzo portraits show us that though we can never fully know what fortune has bestowed upon us, when we look into the eyes of his subjects we can see all that we have been given—and all that has been lost.

First published 25 Janiary 2013 in
Le Journal de la Photographie

Assada / Tannery / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Assada / Tannery / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Azize / Vegetable garden / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Azize / Vegetable garden / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies

Photographer and subject have a distinct relationship that is based on the sharing of ideas in mutual exploration of that which does not yet exist until the two come together to bring forth the work, the image that holds the wall or rests, nestled inside the book. The photograph is the space where two become one and what we see is the way in which they create something the world has never seen before.

“Every hat I have ever made has begun in my mind as a photograph. I can see it on the model, at the right angle, before I even begin. I can see what the girl’s going to look like and how it’s going to be worn. But it’s something that’s just for me,” writes celebrated milliner Philip Treacy at the introduction to Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies (Phaidon), an intimate and breathtaking retrospective of Mr. Treacy and Mt. Davies’ two decade-long partnership.

Mr. Treacy continues, “Photography, like design, is an obsession: an obsession with the final image. And most photographers, like most designers, are control freaks, because they care so much that it all looks incredible in the end. We believe in it. Whether you’re a make-up artist, stylist, designer, architect, photographer or anyone working in the creative industries, your work is a point of view. It’s your point of view.”

Mr. Treacy’s hats recall nothing so much as a time long gone, a time when men and women dressed head-to-toe before stepping out of the house. Hats are the last hurrah of a bygone era, a time when attention to detail was as important as expression of self. Mr. Treacy’s hats remind us that glamour is a state of mind, for to carry off one of his superb chapeaus one must have presence, power, and fearlessness.

Kevin Davies’ photographs of the hats themselves are a spectacle of the simplest effect. Set upon a faceless mannequin head, set against a white backdrop, there is nothing to see except the hats themselves. Photography is a comfortable reminder that this is likely as close as we shall ever get, but this closeness will set your heart aflame. That the hats can be worn seems almost too grand. To simply gaze upon their eloquent and effortless form would be enough.

Mr. Davies speaks with THE CHIC about his partnership with Philip Treacy as it developed throughout the years. Read the full story at THE CHIC.

Nick Knight: Flora

July 2, 2014

LILIACEAE Gloriosa verschuurii

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PASSIFLORACEAE Passiflora alato-caerulea

PASSIFLORACEAE
Passiflora alato-caerulea

Passion is a flower, a strange and exotic thing, an energy that burns deep within and underneath and through it all, the candle that lights the dark, the darkness forevermore vanquished, vanished, or at least it seems to be, for once we can see, we believe we know.

The photograph does this, reminds us time and again. The more passionate the photograph the more we return to it. And so it is that a specimen arrived the other day, between two long slips of hardboard were pages sewn together at the spine, and between these two large slips of board the pages turned. Long white layers upon which a flower appeared, not just any flower but dozens I had never seen until I laid my eyes upon Flora by Nick Knight (Schirmer/Mosel).

Flora is a garden of earthly delights, an archive of pressed flowers, each photographed like a portrait. Each plant is from the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London, a collection which contains more than six million plants from all corners of the world. The book, first published in 1997. is being reissued on the occasion of the publisher’s 40 anniversary. And rightfully so, for Flora is a treasure trove, a magical portal, a veritable repository of soul.

In the book’s preface Mr. Knight observes, “I was struck by the fact that these plants didn’t look dead. Life was very apparent. I could see the movement of the wind blowing through their leaves ad petals. Sense the water flowing through their vessels and their flowers straining to turn and open into the suns’ rays. But these plants had one important difference—the fragility, the tragic urgency that had gone and they had taken on a new certainty of being; a statement like boldness. They have escaped their fate.

“There are few things that make me happier than discovering a new way of seeing the familiar. Seeing in a way I could not have imagined. It is a very liberating seeing and one that makes me feel very optimistic.”

Indeed, for a photographer, the act of seeing is the act itself. To be able to see anew, again and again, to take it all in, to set it down, on paper slipped between boards, to edit from a collection of hundreds until the final 46 came forth. Forty-fix flora taken at full size, collected in this bouquet unlike any other. To see is to believe is to know that we need to feed our eyes to serve the soul. We consume, effortlessly, endlessly in all that exists, but to charge one’s self with looking—that is the next level. Mr. Knight knows life, and now he knows death. The flora here are eternal, preserved forever more as we peruse the pages of Flora.

SCHIZAEACEAE Lygodium palmatum

SCHIZAEACEAE
Lygodium palmatum

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Valentina Ilardi Martin, portrait courtesy of Citizen Couture

Valentina Ilardi Martin, portrait courtesy of Citizen Couture

Valentina Ilardi Martin is the Editor in Chief of GREY Magazine, a sumptuous compendium of fashion photography, fiction and poetry that has been published in a hardcover periodical every spring and every fall since 2009 featuring photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki, William Eggleston, Nan Goldin, Sarah Moon, Martin Parr, Robert Polidori, and Ellen von Unwerth among many more.

The photograph comes first for Ms. Ilardi Martin, whose native Roman passion for the grandeur of everyday beauty belies each story produced in the book. She is nothing if not a womanist by nature, honoring the power and influence of the female mind, body, and heart.

GREY maintains a structural integrity to the construction of the photographs, collaborating in the creation of a shared reality that integrates the clothing into the photograph as though it were not so much a matter of fashion as it were the architecture of the life of the body. How we sheath and clothe, hide and seek, play dress up, how we dress to express, to impress, to pretend, to reveal who we see ourselves as.

Ms. Ilardi Martin recalls, “When I was young, I was illustrating, then I decided to become a painter. My parents were both more structured people; they woke up every morning at 7 a.m. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be an artist because I thought they could do whatever they want, whenever they want.

“Then I moved forward. (Laughs). I followed my parents’ advice and went to business school. Then I had a really big accident with a motorbike. I was in a coma for two days. When I came out of it, I said to my father, ‘I’m leaving business school and I am going to art school instead.’ They said yes.”

“I have always had a visual life. I feed myself with my eyes. When I am in places where I cannot feed my eyes, I feel really sick. I would not be able to work in an office which does not have a view,” Ms. Ilardi Martin mentions as the breeze wafts through the window of her ninth-floor home.

Read the Full Story at THE CHIC.

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Photo by Marcia Wilson/Widevision Photography

When I began my career as a book publicist, Calvin Reid was the first journalist I met in person. His warmth and wit, his disarming charm, and his knowledge of the book publishing industry cannot be underestimated. As Senior News Editor of Publishers Weekly, the premier trade publication, Mr. Reid has been at the forefront of the major changes in book publishing for the past thirty years.

More than a reporter, Mr. Reid is a businessman. He understands the nature of the medium to the point that he has been a central figure in the rise and success of graphic novels as a genre of publishing. But more than that Mr. Reid is an artist himself, which came as a wonderful surprise to me as we spoke at length for The Click.

Mr. Reid observes, “I always loved books as a kid. As a job, it was a pure accident. They used to call book publishing, ‘The Accidental Profession.’ A lot of people entered the profession from very disparate fields. Often they started in business, and couldn’t bear it any longer. They made career turns and lucked into publishing. I came about it the same way.

“My background is as an artist. I have a BFA in Art Education with a minor in Photography from Howard University, and an MFA in Printmaking from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. I came to New York to be an artist. I arrived June 7, 1981. I continued to produce etchings and lithographs as well as drawings after I moved to New York and I have exhibited widely in New York and in shows around the country. Moving to New York and meeting and marrying my wife were the two best decisions of my life. My plan was to find a way to work and to do the artist thing. I got a job as a temp; I was a “Kelly Girl” (laughs). I worked for Kelly Services in different places including Matthew Bender, which is a legal publisher. Later I switched jobs and became a typist at Library Journal, which eventually led to me becoming a journalist.”

Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.

PUNK: An Aesthetic

June 25, 2014

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Do It Yourself. The ethos of the punk movement that began in the 1970s with a kind of we-ain’t-got-no-money joie de vivre. Style is using what you have at your disposal and putting it to work; being crafty, creative, criminal if need be. Turning everything on end to what end? Perhaps just notoriety. But is that such a bad thing? Asking questions, turning heads, upsetting applecarts—in many ways the punk aesthetic forever altered our assumptions about progress by taking back the means of production and giving it to the artist themselves. Whether music, fashion, graphic design, photography, typology, illustration—so many categories revitalized by the outpouring of art students in our brave new world.

Punk: An Aesthetic, edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage (Rizzoli International Publications) is a beautifully produced collection showcasing the development of a visual language that has become a lexicon of street style that has been standardized by youth culture around the globe. Here, Kugelberg and Savage present some of the most famous and infamous examples of the punk aesthetic. It is all here: the record covers, posters, newspapers & magazines, flyers, t-shirts, comic strips, collages, and all sorts of ephemera of the era, including a manuscript page from The Great Rock & Roll Swindle screenplay (1977). Here, page after page features photographs of all sorts: concerts, promos, portraits, and snapshots, energies filled with casual glamour and teen angst, a theatrical display of sight and sound that, when it first appeared, shocked polite society.

As Kugelberg writes in the book’s introduction, “Punk, like hip hop, in an odd way was about performance—about Saturday night, getting loaded, elegant swagger, and the unfiltered nihilism of romance.…. The legacy of punk is simple: the immediate implementation of D.I.Y. grassroots culture among the young. No distance. Form a band, start a blog, become an artist, a DJ, a guitar player, and editor. There is no meaning stemming from authenticity: an authentic experience occurs, regardless of whether or not the art produced id authentic.”

The photographs featured in Punk: An Aesthetic reveal an exciting dialogue between design, type, and imagery that is one of the hallmarks of the movement’s style. Among the most notorious images is Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols poster for God Save the Queen: here Queen Elizabeth II’s face is covered by text and set against the Union Jack, at once exalting her, defacing her, and questioning our assumptions about the monarchy. In this image we see the royal portrait subverted in the service of a greater purpose and here punk shows its true colors. Punk: An Aesthetic reminds us that creativity is heightened when economy is bad because we must look inside ourselves in order to speak truth to power about the times in which we live.

In Jamie Reid’s “Death Culture Stalks the Suburbs” we see the style at its height, appropriating the 1950s happy home and turning it on its head, literally, with a skull at the center of the sunken living room, where a coffee table should be. And the couple speaks to each other, in comic book bubbles, with words written on a typewriter in capital letters, and then at the bottom, a summary of the story of Nigel and Cecilia and the skull, which had first appeared as, “a blurred image on the thick pile carpet, but as the weeks progressed it materialized and solidified behind the crushed velvet pouffe.”

Heavenly creatures, each of these pieces turns out to be, each with its own story and style, taking on the here and now, the supernatural, the unnatural, the years of past, present, and future. Punk is the liberation of imagination, the independence from becoming a market acquisition, by becoming the object itself and thus it must be experienced—rather than consumed, as a capitalist market would demand.

Here, as with the performance of music, experience of dance, and the appearance of style and fashion, we give of our time and energies to be part of the scene, to connect with the people and the art being produced in the most intimate of manners. Punk breaks down the barrier between audience and art, and encourages the audience to participate so that everywhere we turn, everyone and everything becomes a part of the greater whole. Punk is art in its purest sense; it is about taking what you already have and fashioning it into an expression of self.

First Published 19 October 2012
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

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Janette Beckman and I meet Dapper Dan in his brownstone in Harlem on a sunny day in April. We are in the sitting room; the wood is dark, the ceilings are tall, the art is African. On a bench laid before us is a child’s suit in red and white leather, boasting the name ERIKA. Beside it, red and gold cap is perched, with the double FF logo of the great Italian fashion house Fendi prominently displayed. The cap is an inverted trapezoid, in the style made famous by 80s emcee Just-Ice. The gold F shines bright, catching my eye over and over again, until Dapper Dan enters the room and commands my full attention. Dap wears a long sleeve shirt, vest, and slacks with spats all in shades of cream and brown; against a skin of rich mahogany, Dap carries the look effortlessly, befitting a man of his stature and renown.

For those in the know, Dapper Dan is a name of distinction. It stands for quality and style. It stands for a way of living that is equal parts art and business. It is the name that defined the sartorial style of uptown in the 1980s. Dapper Dan is Harlem, from his cap to his spats to the way he stands straight. Dapper Dan is the man who Africanized Europe’s luxury brands. Gucci. MCM. Louis Vuitton. These were the logos and insignias he silkscreened on skins in the studio above his shop, which was open 24/7 on 125 Street for ten years.

After printing the skins himself, Dapper Dan employed a team of Senegalese to create custom apparel for the body, as well as for the car. A haberdasher to the stars of Harlem World, everyone from the streets came calling, whether hustlers, gangsters, Hip Hop artists, athletes, or simply those with an eye for the flyest, freshest, most cutting-edge styles. Dapper Dan’s work was worn by everyone from Mike Tyson, Run-DMC, and Bobby Brown to LL Cool J, Salt N’ Pepa, and Eric B. & Rakim. Paid in Full, indeed, ‘cause Dap gave no discounts whatsoever on the merchandise.

Dapper Dan’s pieces were as original as his techniques. His most famous piece, a parka known as the Alpo Coat, was made for Alberto Martinez, one of the most famous drug dealers of the era. It featured double pockets in the front, all the better to hide or dispose of something, like a gun. Violent crime in New York was skyrocketing, with the murder rate hitting an all-time high in 1991. Crack was the nexus between money and murder in those days, and as a result, some customers had special needs. Kevlar lining was added to the lining of coats at a client’s request.

As Fat Joe recalled in The New Yorker, “I remember going to a club in Manhattan and walking in with my Dapper Dan suit, the red-and-white Gucci, with my jewelry. They were looking at me, like, ‘Who is this? He gotta be somebody.’ And I wasn’t famous—I was just a nigga with a Dapper Dan suit. And that suit made me famous.”

Mark Twain memorably said, “Clothes make the man,” and if there was one man who defined the styles of the times, that man was Dapper Dan. I asked Dap about how Twain’s words made him feel, to which he replied with great heart, “Yo! That’s my thing. You hit it right on the head now! To make people. They knew that. To create something that’s going to make you. You see it every day in Hollywood. They looking for that thing that’s going to make them. You see that Busta Rhymes come here, and Puff Daddy come here, and they say, “I want that 80s look!’ They are looking for that sensation, that crack. They are looking for that crack. I want to give them that crack and they feel like, ‘Whoa, I am here.” Like that Cadillac.”….

The full story appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Jocks & Nerds.

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Photograph by Anne Menke

Anne Menke first began taking photographs at the age of 8, using her father’s cameras to take pictures. She recalls, “By the time I was 12, I decided I wanted to be a photographer. My Dad got me my own camera.”

Ms. Menke’s mother and grandmother owned a boutique. Their sense of fashion, style, and panache definitely rubbed off, as Ms. Menke went on to shoot for Vogue, ELLE, and Marie Claire, while her sister became a stylist. For Ms. Menke, chic is more than a word; it is a way of life.

Ms. Menke recalls her first job in photography was at 16 years old, apprentice in a wedding studio: “It’s not what I wanted in the long run. But every day, I would be in the waiting room, paging through copies of Vogue, and it was then that I decided, ‘I will work for Vogue.’

“I am from a small town in Germany. I left middle school at 16 and went on to get my degree at 19. I moved to Dusseldorf, where I assisted fashion photographers for two years. Then I started out on my own .I began by testing models and I showed these tests to an advertising agency. The gave me a job, and a year later, I decided to move to Paris. I realized that was the next step, and I lived there for five years. Then I went to New York. And now, I am in Mexico. I have a passion for traveling and for reportage.

“When I was younger, I studied photographers like Alfred Eisenstadt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. These are the books that I would but and look at when I was16, 18, 20 years old. My ideas about fashion came from that sense. I looked up to photographers like Peter Lindbergh. I saw where I wanted to go. I stopped copying and developed my own style.”

That style, one that is as vivid and lush as a rose garden flushing with blossoms and blooms, is exquisitely captured in Ms. Menke’s first monograph, See the World Beautiful (Glitterati Incorporated). Her photographs taken on location while traveling the globe while on assignment are what could best be described as fashion photojournalism. Ms. Menke’s eye is our guide as she takes us to the four corners of the world, showcasing the glorious sensibilities of native dress in its element.

Read the Full Story at THE CHIC.

Edie Sedgwick & Nat Finkelstein © Stephen Shore

Edie Sedgwick & Nat Finkelstein © Stephen Shore

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:

A NOTICE

WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
HEREBY EMPOWER YOU TO BRING BACK THE BODY
OF
NATHAN LOUIS FINKELSTEIN
CLASSIFIED ARMED AND DANGEROUS
NONSUICIDAL

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

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