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

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.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Louise Sacco on the Museum of Bad Art

Louise gives lots of things to  think about in terms of "What is Bad Art?"

Louise Sacco at Gel 2010 (Museum Of Bad Art - MOBA) from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Carte de Visite: Little Women

BUTLER, Artist & Photogrpher
No. 9, St. Mary's Butts
Reading [England]

I bought the carte de visite specifically because it seemed to echo Louisa May Alcott's Little Women which was published in 1868, shortly after the War. The women, actually British, wear crinolines and loose outer coats of the 1860s. Someone--either photographer or owner--has tinted the picture.

Ten Interesting Things of the Day

Here's a variety of interesting web sites found today:
  • To 10 USB Thumb Drive Tricks. Learn some things you can do with just a few gigabites and a USB port.
  • Fold a teeshirt in just two seconds. Amazing.
  • Five artists who work with corrugated cardboard. Some sophisticated examples here. There are also some links to additional cardboard artists who "think out of the box."
  • Learn about Oscar, a 13 year old English ginger tabby who steals up to 10 socks, gloves, even ladies' underwear, and brings them home as presents.
  • Feel uncreative with your status reports to Facebook or Twitter. Check out Generatus which will suggest creative posts, such as "David is a Tsunami Tsurvivor" or "Linda says if you can read this you are not the president of the United States." [This last intended for the last president not the current one.]
  • Pictures of the Day from the Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2010.
  • Check out these 110 year old Levi's jeans which sold on Ebay for $36,099.
  • Top 100 Funniest Google Street View Pictures may prompt me to check out what's there.
  • A fascinating page on the Digital Michelangelo Project where a team of faculty and students from Stanford University and the University of Washington scanned Michelangelo's David.
  • Finally, looking for something stylish to wear from 1919? Check out some pages of The Delineator from my Picasa file: Period for Theatre Designers.

What's On My Kindle

I love my Kindle.

Each morning it goes with me to Starbucks, where I try to find some time to read the day’s New York Times on it. It also goes with me during the day so I can steal reading time any chance I can get.

One of the interesting things about owning a Kindle is how it leads to all kinds of discussions with other Kindle users and those who seem pro or con without one. Today one of my Starbucks acquaintances proudly announced that she had also bought one and showed me how to arrange the books into various categories. [Check under settings and it is simple to do.]

I also have Kindle for PC, so if I don’t want to leave the computer but do want to read, I can do that while the program syncs with my Kindle.

I am carrying about forty books on my Kindle right now. One of my habits is to read the New York Times Book reviews and if I like how the book sounds, I download it right then. About half are classics or books I needed for school. Some of those on my current “To Read” list include the following:

What’s on your Kindle?