An invitation to meet LaToya Ruby Frazier

I am an independent political activist and community organizer in the community of independent voters, now 45% of Americans. I am the Vice President for National Development with Independent Voting.  Several years ago I founded a book club for independent minded Americans, Politics for the People.  It is an unusual book club in several ways: we have members from all over the U.S.; we meet via conference call and read a wide range of selections and talk about them on the blog.  Best of all, each book club selection culminates with the author joining us on the call for an in-depth conversation.

Our current selection is The Notion Of Family, the gut wrenching, achingly beautiful and evocative photobook by LaToya Ruby Frazier.  I am a passionate lover of the photobook as a way to tell stories, give the viewer a new set of eyes, an entry to a new world or a look at something that is hard to comprehend and this book is among the very best!

I first met LaToya Ruby Frazier when I was taking a class at the International Center for Photography.  My professor, Carrie Schneider brought the class to a group exhibit where LaToya had several pieces in her Braddock, PA series. We spoke briefly, I loved her images for their intimacy and their demand that we own Braddock and see what has happened to the African American community.

When I saw The Notion Of Family, I knew that I wanted to share this book with the Politics for the People membership.  For 12 years, LaToya worked on this project, bringing the camera into her family and hometown of Braddock.  What was once a beacon of hope and a thriving milltown…now is yet another city of economic decline and abandonment of the African American community.  In her images, LaToya not only asks the viewer to see Braddock and the impact of environmental racism, poverty and the lack of health care; she also gives us her family, and the beauty of forbearance and creativity.

It is also the story of LaToya, her mother and grandmother.  Her mother became her collborator in making many of the photographs in the book.  There is a daring honesty in their work together.  And they played, they created together, they told stories.  I fell in love with them, could not wait to turn the page to see where next they would take us. I can’t wait to talk with LaToya on our Dec 6th conference call about how this process changed and impacted on their relationship.

The images below, Momme Silhouettes are among my favorite in the book.  They are a break from the harshness of poverty and the slow abandonment of Braddock…LaToya and her mother create a beautiful play for us, asking questions, showing attitude, grace, longing and all behind the sheet.

Hope you will join me in conversation with LaToya this Sunday at 7 pm EST.  And I hope that you will visit the Politics for the People blog and read what our members have written about the book.

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 129: Momme Silhouettes, 2010

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 C ALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

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Kismet in Hanoi

    On our last day in Hanoi, we headed out to the Art Vietnam Gallery to see Catherine Karnow’s show, Vietnam: 25 Years Documenting a Changing Country. I had read Andrew Lam’s review of the show in the Huffington … Continue reading

In No Great Hurry

To kick off the New Year, I went to see In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter, by filmmaker Tomas Leach at the Film Society at Lincoln Center.

Saul Leiter is one of my favorite photographer poets. I was first introduced to Saul by Palmer Davis and I have been entranced, intrigued and in awe of his work ever since. He was shooting color in the early 50’s. You can often find a worn copy of the Photofile paperback, Saul Leiter in my bag.  There are two other volumes on my bookshelf of Saul’s work including the aptly named, Saul Leiter: Here’s More, Why Not which has 34 previously unpublished photos chosen by Saul.  They never fail to inspire.

Saul shot the streets of NYC for six decades especially the area around his studio on East 10th Street.  He was also a painter, and his photographs reflect his painter’s eye: often abstract, often composed off center, often in the vertical, always asking you to see the beauty in the everyday.  I find his work filled with a tenderness and quite haunting.  They are photos that force you to slow down, let the image emerge, they are meditative, poetic.  Saul died in November, which made the movie all that more poignant to watch.

In No Great Hurry is a wonderful gem—an opportunity to spend time with Saul and hear him speak of his work, his first camera (a Detrola from his mother), and to meander with him, his assistant Margit and the camera through the contents of a life lived creating photos, paintings and memories in his studio.  Saul has a wonderful humor, he is inquisitive, mischievous and  lived a rich life.  What could be better than watching him walk the neighborhood shooting, rummaging his crowded studio or pouring over a print!  The film captures his gentleness and a melancholy as Saul reflects.  One of my favorite sections of the film is when Saul uncovers packages he sent to his companion of decades, Soames Bandry–package he painted.   The film is intimate and ordinary.  I hope you will see it.

Of his photos, Saul says, “My photographs are meant to tickle your left ear…lightly.”   

Snow, 1960

Reflection 1958

Harlem, 1960

Postmen, 1952

Lanesville, 1958

Foot on El, 1954

At one point in the documentary, Saul says with a chuckle that he was hoping to be forgotten. Lucky for us all that he has not and will.

Saul Leiter is represented by the Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Photography as language

Joel Meyerowitz is one of my favorite artists.  His book, Cape Light, was the first photography book I ever owned.  I lived on the Cape at the time and he captured the lower Cape magnificently.  Magic and mystery.

Here is a great quote from Joel on photography:

“In the larger sense, if you think of photography as a language, it’s now a language that billions of people around the world speak. It used to be much more secretive. You might have a camera you used for family outings and holidays, but there wasn’t the number of people who bought a camera to make art that we have today. There’s this vast international explosion of people communicating through images that show us a commonality across the world in the way we live our lives, the things that are meaningful to us. So I see it as a tool for disseminating a kind of humanistic expression that makes us all closer to each other. We feel each other’s pain in a more continuous way. So I see it as an incredible leap forward for human communication.” – Joel Meyerowitz

From Cape Light
Joel Meyerowitz

Paul Graham on Photography

For my current class at ICP (Photography as Practise: The Daily Blog), Lauren Silberman asked us to read two essays by Paul Graham.  Graham is a British photographer whose work explores “… the fertile territory where the descriptive and artistic aspects of photography coalesce, often tackling difficult subject matter for a medium that engages with the observable world.” (Gallery Press Release, 2008).

We read The Unreasonable Apple from February 2010 and Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult, his Yale MFA Photography Graduation speech from February 2009.

Here are several quotes that are thought provoking, inspiring and challenging…interspersed with several of Graham’s images from different projects.

“…there remains a sizeable part of the art world that simply does not get photography.  They get artists who use photography to illustrate their ideas, installations, performances and concepts, who ‘deploy’ the medium as one of a range of artistic strategies to complete their work.  But photography for and of itself–photographs taken from the world as it is–are misunderstood as a collection of random observations and lucky moments, or muddled up with photojournalism, or tarred with a semi-derogatory ‘documentary’ tag.”  (The Unreasonable Apple)

“…how do you explain what Garry Winogrand did on a real New York street when he ‘just’ took the picture?  Or for that matter what Stephen Shore created with his deadpan image of a crossroads in El Paso?  Anyone with an ounce of sensitivity knows they did something there, and something utterly remarkable at that, but…what?  How do we articulate this uniquely photographic creative act, and express what it amounts to….?” (The Unreasonable Apple)

Television Portraits, Paul Graham

on the nature of photography of a certain kind:

“…the nature of the creative act when you dance with life itself–when you form the meaningless world into photographs, then form those photographs into a meaningful world.” (The Unreasonable Apple)

Paul Graham

From Empty Heaven, Paul Graham, 1989-1995

“…artists strive to pierce the opaque thershold of the now, to express something of the thus and so of life at the point they recognised it.  They struggle through photography to to define these moments and bring them forward in time to us, to the here and now, so that with the clarity of hindsight, we may glimpse something of what it was they perceived.  Perhaps here we have stumbled upon a partial, but nonetheless astonishing description of the creative act at the heart of serious photography: nothing less than the measuring and folding of the cloth of time itself.”

From Toubled Land by Paul Graham, 1984-86

In an interview with Graham in June of 2007, Richard Woodward asked him about the appeal of photography books.  As someone who LOVES and spends way too much money on photography books, I just had to share Graham’s response.

“John Gossage made a great comment that his books are the original work. It’s the summation of one’s endeavors—the book is the work. Now, a painter or a sculptor can have a catalogue of their work but… it’s completely different in photography. It is the exact thing—maybe a little smaller scale—but with a one-on-one dialogue when you read it. Looking at a Nan Goldin book is quite different from viewing her photographs on the wall with other people around you. The book is personal and direct, from the artist to you, complete and faithful.”

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective

The Guggenheim has an extensive exhibit of  Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs and video work.  I love her work, the subtleness, the painterly quality, intimacy, dignity and details of the images.  She has several series of images shot of the same people over many years or through major life transitions, like entering the Foreign Legion, being a refugee, or doing your service in the Israeli army.

Here is a highlight from the Guggenhiem’s press release about the exhibit:

“Since the early 1990s, Rineke Dijkstra has produced a complex body of photographic and video work that offers a contemporary take on the genre of portraiture. Her large-scale color photographs of young, typically adolescent subjects recall 17th-century Dutch painting in their scale and visual acuity. The minimal contextual details present in her photographs and videos encourage us to focus on the exchange between photographer and subject and the relationship between viewer and viewed.

Dijkstra works in series, creating groups of photographs and videos around a specific typology or theme. In 1992, she started making portraits of adolescents posed on beaches from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Poland and Ukraine. Shot from a low perspective, the subjects of the Beach Portraits(1992–2002), poised on the brink of adulthood, take on a monumental presence. In contemporaneous works, including portraits of new mothers after giving birth and photographs of bullfighters immediately after leaving the ring, Dijkstra sought subjects whose physical exhaustion diminished the likelihood of an artificial pose.”

This is a stunning exhibit of Rineke Dijkstra’s work, with over 70 photographs and five video installations  spread out over multiple floors.    It is an exhibit to be savored.

Rineke Dijkstra

Beach Portraits

Beach Portraits

“What I like about photography is that it is always a direct response to reality.  I like to photograph people: the camera is a way to connect with people and to find out who they are and how I relate to them.  In the end it’s all about recognition and reflection.”  Rineke Dijkstra in the exhibition catalog.

Rineke Dijkstra

Self Portrait, Marnixbad, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 19, 1991

In an interview with Kyle Chayka from Blouin Artinfo, Rineke talked about her self portrait:

“I was working for magazines and newspapers, and at a certain point I felt that I was an artist… I felt more like an art photographer. I thought maybe I should take a couple months off to think about a project for myself. The last day of the two months that I gave myself to think about everything, I broke my hip in a bike accident. So then I had a lot of time to think [laughs].

And I think that that moment I realized how vulnerable you could be, that something can just happen. My whole perspective changed. I had to recover, and I was really afraid… The doctor said, “well, maybe your hip is going to die, and you’ll need a hip replacement.” I didn’t want that to happen. And they told me the only thing I can do is swim every day. Exercise, exercise, exercise! So that’s why I started to swim every day. And then one day I came out of the swimming pool and looked in the mirror and I took my goggles off, and it looked like I was crying. I thought, maybe I should make a self-portrait. I wanted to capture a moment you don’t normally think about.”

Vondelpark, Amsterdam, June 19, 2005

The exhibit runs through October 8th.