Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Woman's Touch: The National Museum of Women

Watch more free documentariesWhen I taught History and Thought of Western Man, I always thought it important that part of the Art Recognition tests included major women artists throughout history. Here's a museum that supports that view. Anyone who took HTWM will recognize many of the names.

For more information on women artists in history, check out the following books.

50 Women Artists You Should Know (50 You Should Know) (50 You Should Know)Women Artists: An Illustrated HistoryWomen Artists in the 20th and 21st CenturyWomen Artists in History: From Antiquity to the Present

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sing Me a Story

I'm continuing on a unit about storytelling and tomorrow we're going to look at what happens when stories are collected into songs.

We've already talked some about storytelling. An NPR report on storytellig suggests that part of what draws us to stories is that we analyze our own lives in the stories we hear. For me, the combination of music and a strong story can be a powerful work.

Here's the list I plan to work from tomorrow. [Obviously won't be able to play them all during the period.) Once they listen to these, they'll write an essay telling the story and then reflect on what moved them.

  • Jeannie C. Riley - Harper Valley P.T.A.

  • Ethel Waters - Miss Otis Regrets

  • Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (6:33)

  • Shel Silverstein – The Hills of Shiloh (3:56)

  • The Weavers - Fi-li-mi-oo-re-ay (2:23)

  • Finbar Wright - Danny Boy

  • Bette Midler - Art or Bust with Delores DeLago

  • The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby

  • Kenny Rogers – The Gambler

  • Charlene - I’ve Never Been to Me

  • Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe (3:40)

  • Les Miserable – I Dreamed a Dream (4:29)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Inception Cat

Sculpting Demo by Philippe Faraut

Museum Sightings

I love visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Yes, but is it Art?"

Banksy's Bristol: Home Sweet HomeBanksy's on his way to America.

Check out http://www.banksy.info/.

Carte de Visites: Three English Portraits, ca. 1865.

Carte de visite.
Printed on back: "WE Dibenham, 158 Regent St. W.,
[London, England]
Looking at large groups of carte de visite, it is usually easy to tell which were taken at more exclusive photographic galleries. Often the accessories used speak volumes.

The beautifully tailored silk dress of the lady in the photograph speaks to her wealth, but so also do the elaborate side table with equestrian figurine, fake window and draperies, and elegant carpet. Her education is symbolized by the book she reads.

Staining and aging of the photograph has been cleaned up with Photoshop CS5.

Middle picture, a Victorian Teen from York, ca. 1865. This well-dressed young man lounges in an unusually casual pose on a fake stone ballister and pedestal. In the back is an elaborately painted background with lake and building.

Bottom picture, Victorian Woman, ca. 1865. Her plain features belie her elaborate clothing. The lady wears a smaller crinoline as the top woman, but her silk dress has complicated sleeves. She wears a snood on her hair and a large jewelled brooch. Her belt is wide with jewelled buckle.

Beside the woman is a pedestal on which appears to be a parian bowl with three-dimensional birds. A painted open doorway looks out on a two-dimensional garden setting.

Carte de Visite
Printed on back: "Photographed by W.T. & R. Gowland.
14, Ogleforth. (Near the Chapter House of the Minister), York."

Carte de Visite.
Printed on the back: "Photographed by C. Cross
2, Grove Place, Brixton Road, [London, England]."

Sebastian's Voodoo

Here's a rather strange, but haunting and poignant tale of a voodoo doll who has to save his fellow voodoo dolls from the pins of death.

Sebastian's Voodoo from Joaquin Baldwin on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Vintage Photograph: Cabinet Card of Young Man, ca 1876-1880.

Cabinet cards are larger than carte de visites. Whereas the carte de visite is on fairly lightweight card stock, the cabinet card is on heavier stock and has a print on heavier paper.

This cabinet card shows a handsome young Pennsylvania man in sack coat suit with vest and cravat, ca. 1876-1880. The suitcoat is shorter than the longer ones of the 1860-1870 period, but is made of an interesting homespun appearing fabric. The card measures 6-1/2 inches tall by 4-1/4 inches wide.

The back of the card has a design that suggests the Aesthetic Movement popularized by Oscar Wilde, from the late 1870s into the early 1880s. The sunflower became one of its dominate motifs.

More information on cabinet cards can be found here.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cartes de Visite: Civil War Children

Ca 1864, the original Jersey City Boys. Carte de visite.

J.T. Green's Union Gallery.
36 Montgomery St. Corn. Greene St.
Jersey City, [NJ].

The card has a George Washington 2 cent stamp making the date between 1864-

Civil War Cincinnati Sisters, ca 1864.
Carte de visite.

Winder's Cartes de Visite Photograph Gallery
No. 373 Central Ave, opp Court,
Cincinnati, O.

The girl at right wears a crinoline frame under her skirt.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vintage Collection: Ambrotype, ca 1880?

While I really like the images of the carte de visite and very clear images of the daguerreotype, occasionally the ambrotype (called more commonly the "tintype") can be surprisingly clear. This image of two satorially stunning males from about 1880 shows how modern the ambrotype and its occupants can look. A study of the picture can even show the weave and pattern of the pants and sack coat at left.

Carte de Visite: New York Scene, 1867

It has proven unusual to find carte de visite for sale. This one I acquired on Ebay recently. I love the view it gives of post-war New York state--clothing, housing, family structure (parents, two daughters and three sons). Click on the picture to see it closeup.

Jonathan Harris Tells Stories

What is a story? Over the past 40 plus years of teaching English, that always seemed like an easy answer. It’s a work that has a plot, characters, maybe a theme, setting—and action done by someone in the work. But over the last couple of years I’ve wondered if perhaps I am too limited in my definition.

Two summers ago, I went to a Creativity workshop in New York which focused many things, including “telling stories and writing memoirs.” Together we sat and told vignettes from life based on pictures or objects we had brought. At another point, we took things we had written and worked with partners revising and then reshaping them. Some things involved taking pictures and basing ideas from them.

When I came across the work of storyteller, part conceptual artist, and amazing computer programmer Jonathan Harris, I was delighted to find someone asking some of the same questions I have had. In two lectures from 2007 on TED and with three programs that he has posted online, I think he nudges us to think more creatively about the term “story.”

In the first lecture, Harris explains three projects.

The first, We Feel Fine, looks at what I would call story vignettes, one sentence really quick suggests much longer ideas and forces the viewer into an interactive process of analysis and storytelling.

The second project, The Whale Hunt, deals with his experience whale hunting in northern Alaska and culminated in over a thousand photographs of the experience, taken every five minutes while he lived the experience (or as the action got more intense he did as many as 37 a minute.

The final project deal with interviews in Bhutan, high in the Himalayans, where he interviewed over 100 people there, photographed everyone—a portrait, their hands, them with balloons representing their happiness and wishes, and them making a funny face.

According to Harris, stories have characters, concepts, locations (contexts), color, time, dates and excitement levels (heart-beats).

One of the ideas he feels is that stories do not need a narrator, that that is something we add. Having recently read a chapter on the use of point-of-view and how it shapes a written work, I don’t know if I quite agree with that.

In Harris’ second lecture, he talks about our need to express ourselves and how these small views of one’s life have moved onto the internet. The first example is another explanation of “We Feel Fine,” a program “passively observes” that searches the internet for statement “I feel …,” which are then translated into a moving colored dot, that gives not just the sentence, but also connects to photos from the original blogs, becomes part of a visual montage. Then using various constructs such as mobs, metrics, and mounds, he tries to understand the individual data about the sentence.

The Yahoo Time Capsule (2006) came from one month online and culminated in a light show which dynamically shows the power of the visual images he had collected.

From images of the light show in the sky, he moves on to his next question: What new pictures in the sky would we see? His project result is called Universe, which deals with our modern personal mythologies. Each dot represents a quote from a person taken from global news. Snapshots are connected also.

Other works online that Harris has helped create include the following

In our discussion of Harris’ ideas, my English classes were asked the question we started with: What is a story? The definition we settled on for the moment is that stories are windows into the lives of people. I project that they are glimpses at people’s soul seen through their actions. But when we will talk about it again, I’m going to ask about where such things as photographs [records without words or perhaps even links to the people portrayed] or scrapbooks, Facebook and Tweet entries all fit within the context of telling stories.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Who is Marty Graw? A paper doll series

Back in 1991, I created this series based on fun times at New Orleans Mardi Gras. The title comes from a question written on a bathroom stall.

Sissy Bounce in NOLA

Today's fascinating read in the New York Times Magazine was about Big Freedia and "Sissy Bounce" from New Orleans. Now I love anything NOLA, having gone seven years in a row for Mardi Gras with friends who lived in NOLA. The world of "bounce" is uniquely New Orleans--a type of gay rap from a culture which accepts the diversity. It was only through the video, however, that I really got a feel for the power of the phenomenom. Take time to read the well-written article and then enjoy the video.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vintage collection: A 1944 Flier in Military Slicker

A Flier in Military Slicker

ca1944 Patriotic Photobooth Picture

Inception Redux

The Lathe Of Heaven: A Novel
If you haven't read this,
 For 25 years I taught a course called History and Thought of Western Man. The unit I enjoyed teaching the most was the last one which revolved around the questions: Who are you? How do you know who you are? I covered the 20th century art movements of Dadaism and Surrealism [which emphasized the importance of the dream in our world], Sartre and Camus’s concepts of existentialism [where our actions define the world we live in], No Exit, Cocteau’s Le Belle et la bĂȘte, and ended with a modern work, such as What Dreams May Come?, Big Fish, or (perhaps my favorite) The Lathe of Heaven.

Urusula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven  (1971) deals with George Orr who suddenly finds he has effective dreams—whatever he dreams changes the world that he lives in and no one remembers it any different. Plagued with a desire to commit suicide, George is sent to an oncologist—a dream doctor—who realizes George’s gift. Dr. Haber decides that he can change the world through George, so he begins suggesting dreams: creating a Haber Institute to study dreams, curing the world’s population problem [by wiping out 2/3 of the people with a plague], solving the race problem [everyone turns grey], and eventually taking the ability to dream away from George. The only thing Haber doesn’t know is that George began dreaming when the world was blown up in a nuclear war and all his dreaming, in fact all of reality, is only happening in the few moments before the world ends. As long as George can dream, the world will continue.

LeGuin’s work prompted many questions among my students: How do we know what reality is? What if the problems of the world aren’t really problems but rather the way the world is? How might our individual actions save the world?

Seeing Christopher Nolan’s Inception again tonight, I’m struck by how his work fits into the world of surrealism and dreams. [From here on out, I’m going to give some spoilers, so if you don’t want what to know what happens in the film, stop reading.]

Inception’s world begins with Dom Cobb, the main character, in the water by a beach where he sees two children playing. I’m reminded immediately of Odysseus arriving on the shores of Phaeacia. He dreams of Penelope and home; Dom dreams of his children and home. This beach, which we see several times in the film, is limbo—an unstructured dream world where one could be trapped for eternity. He is taken to an oriental building where an old man sits, asking if he has come to kill him.

Jump cut to the much younger Saito in an elegant hideout where Cobb, his sidekick Arthur and dream architect Nash are trying to steal Saito’s secrets. But the trick here is that it is only a dream, and not Cobb’s or Saito’s, but Nash’s, the dreamer and architect of two dreams.

We learn several things about dreaming, however, in Christopher Nolan’s world.
  • People can share dreams.
  • People’s hidden ideas can be stolen in dreams.
  • People who die in the dream wake up [although later this changes if the dreamer is on an opiate—then they end up in limbo forever].
  • People can feel pain.
  • The dreamers require some kind of kick to jolt them from their dream—music, being thrown into water, knocking a chair over.
  • Another thing we learn later is that the dreamers must carry a totem with them—an object which reminds them that they are not in someone else’s world. Cobb, for example, carries a small gyroscope top which was his wife’s. When it stops spinning, it convinces him he is not in someone else’s dream. That image of the totem spinning ends the film and establishes one of the major mysteries. [In fact, that image is available as a screensaver from the Inception website.] 
Let’s leave the plot for the moment. A very complete plot description can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inception_(film).

My take on the film is that the entire thing is a dream, much like George Orr’s rebuilding the world every night. Ah, but if Cobb is trapped in someone else’s dream, whose is it? If I were teaching this film—something I would definitely enjoy—I have a list of questions. The first two were suggested by Richard McDuffie:
  • Who is the dreamer of the film?
  • Who is the architect?
  • Why is Cobb never able to see his children’s faces until he has finally confronted Mal and gone beyond his guilt?
  • Ariadne has a specific place in Greek mythology. Why evoke her name for this character? In what way does Nolan play with that idea?
  • Cobb says, “Positive emotion trumps negative. We all seek reconciliation.” How does that play out in terms of his character? How does that play out in your own life?
  • Many 20th century philosophers suggest that time is only a man-made construct. What point does Cobb make when Mal says, “You promised we would grow old together”? Describe the ways that the film proves time is only a man-made idea.
  •  What does Mal as a suffix mean? Why is it appropriate for the character’s name?
  • For me, one of the best dreamworld images in the film is Arthur ferrying the team to the elevator in a weightless world. Compare that scene to Belle’s traveling to her room in the Beast’s castle, from Cocteau’s La Belle et le bĂȘte.
  • Cobb says that in a dream we often don’t know how we got there… and it’s only at the end of the dream that we realize things were strange. Give examples from the film which show how that is true.
  •  Why do Cobb and Ariadne feel that memories have no place in the dream world?
  •  If every dreamer must carry their own totem, one constructed or found by themselves, what does it mean that Cobb carries Mal’s totem as his own?
  • Justify that the entire film is or is not ultimately only another dream layer.
Surrealism grew out the 1930s-1940s as a reaction to the irrational world of Nazism. The advertising world commandeered much of the same visual language of the Ernsts and Dalis and others.

Our world is just as absurd as that of 70 years ago. We see all too often common, ordinary people who strap bombs onto their bodies and blow themselves up for political and religious causes; we are wrecking our environment daily; our economic system has toppled through our own greed; our political figures continue to prove to us that power corrupts; and two airplanes have proven that the stability of skyscrapers was always only a myth.

Why not escape into a fantasy dream world where we can safely confront those fears we all have? With luck George Orr can continue to dream us alive and Dom Cobb can force us to go deeper into ourselves.

Great literature and film should prompt us to think about our lives. Inception does that.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Carte de Visite: A Young Brit

This British carte de visite, from around 1855, reminds me of the Prince of Wales in his younger days.

Adam Savage's Obsessions

Adam Savage gives a fascinating lecture on his dual obessions of the dodo bird and the Maltese Falcon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Carte de Visite: Carlisle obtained many army secrets when he borrowed Lavinia's dress.

Photographed by
E.L. Mowry,
Lewisburg, PA.

I am prompted to flights of fantasy about  this belle of Pennsylvannia. Her rather mannish demeanor suggests a cross-dressing spy.

Vintage Collection: Eight People in an Photographer's Studio

Eight People in an Photographer's Studio
Ca 1866.

It's unusual to see the full photographer's studio. Here the large group [perhaps the cast of a play] forces him to show the whole studio.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception Trailer # 3


Vladmir: Tomorrow when I wake, or think I do, what will I say of today. That with Estragon my friend I waited for Godot… but in all that, what truth will there be?

So speaks a main character of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

The discussion of how we perceive our reality is fascinating, and Inception gives us much to ponder.

Our dreams often feel as real as reality. "Dreams feel real while we are in them," says DiCaprio's character. "It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." How often have I awoken from a dream and had to remind myself that it was only a dream. I have been told that the Native Americans believed that the dream world was the real world; this was the illusion.

In Christopher Nolan’s Inception, much is said and shown about dreams. In fact the world of the film moves from layer to layer as dreams unfold within dreams within dreams—challenging the viewer every moment into questioning what is real and what is dream. Mind blowing images test the viewer's sense of perception constantly: A city literally blows up section by section, the same city folds up onto itself, mirrors suddenly reflect the world the characters move in, people in freefall float through corridors as the viewer loses their sense of what is up. At one point three different realities of time build to an ultimate climax.

The premise is anything but simple. Says the main character: “There’s something you should know about me. I specialize in a very specific type of security… subconscious security.” “You’re talking about dreams,” responds his victim. The main characters’ assignment [which some critics compare to Mission Impossible] is not to steal something from the victim’s subconscious, but rather to plant an idea that he will assume is his own. That’s inception. Going into the dream requires three levels of dreams and in each level the victim’s subconscious phantom security attack the invaders who are distorting his dreams.

The film has been compared to The Matrix, and there are many similiarities. Unlike the world of the Matrix, however, where if one dies in the imaginary world, one dies forever, Inception operates on the idea that killing oneself in the dream world would allow the ultimate jolt needed for one to wake up—but when they get within the dream they realize that if one dies, they would instead end up in a limbo that would trap them and could allow them to age endlessly.

The film is built on suspense. For the whole final quarter of this film, a woman seated near me sat literally on the edge of her chair totally into the film.

I saw it on a large screen with great sound. Now I’m ready to see it at an IMAX.

This was a great experience, and one I want to repeat.

Visit the Inception website here.

Carte de Visite: 1860s man in striped bow tie and long hair

He reminds me of pictures of Nataniel Hawthorne from the same 1860s period. No information as to location or photographer on the card.

Sit by the Fire with Me

Talk to me. Tell me about your day. Wait, turn the music on first, and then sit here and let's dream.

Note, although it says Enya sings "We Are Free Now," it is Lisa Gerrard. The images are from "Final Fantasy X."

Or click here and listen to Enigma and Enya do "Return to Innocence." I first heard this on an episode of "My So Called Life" and loved the song and the idea.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Aging a Photograph

While I spend a lot of time cleaning up the phtographs that I collect, sometimes an artist wants to age the photograph to look period. Check out Vintage and Aging Photo Effect Tutorials - The Ultimate Round Up.

Here is an original and then one which I used Filter Forge on it to age it.

If I were doing a website that needed period pictures and I only had modern, this might come in handy.

Carte de Visite: Mrs. Hills

Handwritten: "Mrs. Hills"

Mrs. Hills sits in her luxurious velvet crinoline gown with a paisley shawl and elaborate lace bonnet (and elaborate curls), doesn't look too happy. She reminds me of Miss Haversham from Dickens Great Expectations, forever waiting for her groom to come. Of course, if it is Mrs. Hills he has, but perhaps by the 1860s he was gone again.

Robot Teachers

Recently my friend Carrie and I discussed Students, Meet Your Teacher, Mr. Robot from Sunday's New York Times about the use of robots to teach various kinds of students. One of the first was an autisitic child and then later they talk about using the robots to teach such things as language.

Carrie's reaction was that it seems too close to the darker aspects of Steven Spielberg's A..I.: Artificial Intelligence. As one of the characters in the film asks, "Can you get a human to love a machine?" (I am paraphrasing here). But it doesn't seem that far fetched that young students who bond with hugs and trust with their early school teachers might develop the same kind of attachments for the machine. Do any of you remember a 1982 production called "The Electric Grandmother" with Maureen Stapleton based on Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric"? In it human children deal with the death of their mother through interacting with a robot. I remember it a very touching story.

What struck me about the article was the idea that the less the robot looked human, the more the kids could relate to it. Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics talks about how we as humans look at anything picture that approximates the human face and see ourselves. The less detailed the features--think Charlie Brown as opposed to Brenda Starr--the more people can identify. Perhaps that is the same reason that we find Wall-E so appealing (or E.T. for that matter). He is humanlike but not totally.

I covered some of the current robotic additions in my entry Welcome to the Future and the more I read the more I realize it is here.

P.S. Found this very funny view of some of the latest robots.