Saturday, March 27, 2010

How Conservatives See Our President

But not how I see him.

The Future Isn't Now!

Back on December 31st, I wrote a blog titled "The Future Is Now", which you can see by clicking the title of this entry, above.

Today I discovered Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House. The house, conceived around 1929 but not acrtually realized until the'40's is a metal structure, designed to be cheap, portable (!) and liveable, at least for a family of four. I had never heard of the dymaxion concept, reputedly a word made up by Buckminster Fuller from his three favorite words: dynamic, maximum and ion. I didn't think anybody's favorite word could be ion, but apparently it could.

Behold, the Dymaxion House, photo courtesy Shorpy:

This one was located in Kansas City, on the corner of Louisiana and California Streets.
The idea was that it could be packed into a large tube, and easily carried to a new location.

A completed, furnished Dymaxion house still stands in Henry Ford's Village, Dearborn, Michigan.

And how do you get to your Dymaxion House of the Future? Why, you drive your Dymaxion Car!

Hey! Are these cool or what? "What" is right! As in what happened to the future? It's as if the future was here for a little while: we walked on the moon, Buckminster Fuller invented portable houses and cars to go with them, not to mention geodesic domes, and I honestly remember seeing footage of soldiers wearing experimental anti- gravity rocket packs.

Now the closest we come is that bubble outfit of Lady Gaga's.

I want my future back!

Friday, March 26, 2010

RIP Jim Marshall 1936- 2010

Jim Marshall (Feb. 3, 1936- March 23, 2010) combined the professionalism of the best of the post- war photojournalists with an insider's feel for the changing culture that became the '60's.

He created an entire genre of photography: music photography. Before that, there were jazz photographers, and glamour photographers, all masters (and mistresses) of their craft. The work of Herman Leonard stands out because of his staged lighting and classical composition, as well as his access. Leonard, in his pictures, is present: backlit flash, smoke, slight fill- there's got to be at least two strobes, or more likely flashes in all of those beautiful iconic pictures. A more organic jazz photographer, William Claxton used mostly available light, but he too is in control. Used to photographing jazz musicians, these photographers plied their trade respectfully, carefully. Most were clearly in awe of the talent in front of their lenses.

Not Jim Marshall. Jim shot rock and roll like Eugene Smith shot war. He took no prisoners.

Irascible, cantankerous, abusive- these were the adjectives most used to describe Marshall. He carried a gun. He yelled at people. He held grudges for years. He could get away with this because he was a genius, not just as a photographer, but he also possessed an uncanny instinct for being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

The Beatles' last concert, Monterrey Pop Festival, Woodstock, San Francisco's coming of age as the flower of the Hippie culture. He was right there. That great picture of Hendrix with his arm outstretched- that's Jim's. Eventually, that's how we're going to know Hendrix- from that picture. Johnny Cash giving the finger to the camera, Bob Dylan rolling the tire, Janis Joplin on the hood of her psychedelic Porsche- all Jim's.

He didn't light, he didn't contrive, he shot what he saw. His method was so dangerous, in terms of deadlines and publishable pictures that Annie Leibowitz constructed an entirely new approach based on safety and concepts refined in an editor's office, as in, "Well, since they're the Blues Brothers, let's paint their faces blue!" None of that was acceptable to Jim.

What he asked for, demanded really, was total access. Complete and total freedom to go wherever he wanted and shoot whatever he wanted. This is not possible today. Rock stars, indeed all figures in their world of entertainment are rendered inaccesible by their management. Jim stopped shooting rock because of this. On the other hand, since he had already made the greatest shots of the greatest talents at the greatest time, he didn't get too upset.

Out of respect for Jim, I'm reproducing them exactly the way they're reproduced on his website: small, cropped and generally non- reproduceable. These images are all for sale. Checkout the link at the top of the blog.

Jim Marshall, unlike many of the iconic performers he photographed, made it to 2010. He was 74 years old, older than anyone who knew him thought he'd get to be, but young enough to think, too soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

She Got My Irish Up

In the last post I mentioned Irish McCalla, TV's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

Well, for anyone curious about Irish, or Sheena, this is for you:

Irish (December 25, 1928 – February 1, 2002), real name Nellie Elizabeth McCalla, hit her show biz zenith as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a short- lived TV series in the 1950's. Despite the fact that the show only ran one season, 26 episodes, '55- '56, she managed to imprint herself onto the erotic consciousness of every boy who ever saw even one scene of the show, which was, of course, terrible. Except that you got to look at Irish McCalla.

A former Varga (or Vargas) model, she embodied the perfect 1950's ideal of the sex goddess- big breasts, long legs, blonde hair and full lips. What's not to like?

As the '60's took hold, women like Irish began to seem almost cartoon-ish, and even magazines like Playboy began to realize that the feminine ideal was changing.

But at this point, hey- who cares? Here she is as we remember her- the beautiful Irish McCalla.

RIP Peter Gowland: April 3, 1916 - March 17, 2010

Peter Gowland, like Forrest J. Ackerman or Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, was someone I discovered by reading magazines I was not allowed to read, for different reasons. I wasn't allowed to read Famous Monsters of Filmland because it was characterized as "trash" and kept me from doing my homework. I wasn't allowed to read Hot Rod Magazine because it was trash and a waste of money, and I wasn't allowed to read girlie magazines like Cavalier, Dude or Nugget because they were trash and, well... you know. So I guess the reasons weren't all that different, come to think of it.

Peter Gowland's work wasn't really featured in Nugget, etc. He was no Irving Klaw, for instance. Peter's flamboyant, hyper- color images of incredibly built Amazonian women were mostly published in Camera 35 or Popular Photography or even the early issues of Playboy.

Much like his colleague Bunny Yeager (still with us at this writing), Peter's work could be characterized as soft core, very soft core, technically excellent, garish and trashy/ tasteless. It was also, to the twelve- year I was, incredibly sexy.

You didn't have to be a photographer to know that there was a big difference between the Gowland nude and a nude by, let's say, Edward Weston. I knew it the first time I ever saw a Gowland. Like the folks mentioned earlier, his pictures were of an era- the fifties/ early sixties when women looked more like Mamie Van Doren or Jayne Mansfield than Jane Fonda.

It was a natural progression from watching Irish McCalla as Sheena to looking at a Gowland photograph of Mara Corday. They were both enticingly and shamefully (to me) erotic.

He photographed Henry Miller, evidently a family friend, and Suzi Quatro (remember her?) for the cover of Rolling Stone.

He made it look easy, but it was really, like all successful undertakings, incredibly hard work. He and his wife, Alice, worked incessantly building Peter's business, his reputation and his image.

He invented and built a series of different sized view cameras, which still sell, especially on Ebay. They're collector's items. His books on Glamour photography and Pin-up photography were best- sellers of the genre.

And, as befits someone who knew himself and his work, he lived to be 91 years old. Good life, Peter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Interesting Time of It

I don't like blogs that are about the person who writes the blog. Like, I don't like blogs about people's kids' achievements, or their personal successes or failures, or their comments re: Kendra's new baby or Ellen's role on American Idol.

This stems from an earlier dislike of those Christmas messages people send out about what happened in the last year, like "Billy's got two new teeth, and Lollie won the spelling bee, etc". Okay, there are some of those I like (you know who you are, Bellweather family), but mostly, I think those folks are lying about their excrutiatingly dull lives, sometimes at my expense, as in, no new teeth here. 

That said, I'm now going to tell you all about a strange 24 hours I just had. So be forewarned.

I've been juggling the photography career and the music career a lot lately, ever since the win in Memphis. (See "Memphis Blues Again" for more info.) The music stuff is hot right now, but, believe it or not, doesn't generate a huge amount of money. The photography, on the other hand, is not exactly cool, but is, let's say, lukewarm. However, when I do work, I make a living wage. So I have to keep both on an even keel.

To me, it's all a series of creative outlets, which I allow myself only because they generate income. No hobbies for me!

I've also been struggling w/ minor health issues, so I've been more than usually health conscious, having begun regular exercise, new diet and generally depriving myself of the pleasures of over- indulgence.

So I was unhappy when I noticed a cystic lump on my chest. I went to the doctor, got it diagnosed (sebaceous cyst), tended to (course of antibiotics), and put it out of my mind.

Until it burst.

At the same time, the Big Boy Little Band was scheduled to go into the Sirius/ XM studios and record for three hours. Six originals, one cover. Forty years in the making.

Today is Wednesday. The recording date was for yesterday, Tuesday. Monday afternoon, my horror- struck doctor sent me to the emergency room  to have the cyst, now dangerously infected, ahem, drained. Draining is a medical euphemism for torturing.

Because of the proximity of the infection to my heart, the procedure was truly an emergency. And because of the same proximity, they couldn't fully anesthetize me, so I felt everything. Okay, that's enough. On doctor's orders, I postponed photoshoots and music practices. Told to rest Tuesday and Wednesday, I went home Monday night dejected and in huge pain, but alive.

But a forty year dream doesn't rest just because of a stupid medical condition, folks. That's right- I went to the XM Studios yesterday and we recorded nine songs, and, let me tell you, in all honesty, they sound really good. Bill Wax, the head of the Blues channel (XM 74) will be playing our songs to a national audience as soon as they are mixed. Wow. Thanks again, Bill!

At this point, I should probably show you my wound, or play one of the songs. But the wound is way too gross and the songs are still unmixed, so, instead, here's a picture of me in my X- ray Gogs, the Chinese equivalent of X-ray specs. Unlike the Specs, the Gogs actually work. I can't wear them for long because they send intense amounts of radiation directly to my brain and, as I said before, I'm watching my health these days.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lewis Hine


This is one of my favorite photographs ever. Long before I even knew I was going to become a photographer, I loved this photograph. The composition, the clarity, the overall technical excellence of the shot, not to mention the "Men at Work" subject matter, has influenced countless photographs of mine throughout my thirty year career.

The picture is by Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940), who did not take pictures because he was an artist or because he was even a professional photographer. He took them because he wanted to change the world for the better. And so great was his passion to do good that he became one of the greatest photographers in the history of the form.

Hine was a schoolteacher appalled by the conditions under which children were forced to work in the early part of the 20th century. He was particularly incensed by the fact that the laws offered no protection to children, and generations were growing up exploited, unschooled and illiterate, if they were able to grow up at all.
He felt that if he could show these conditions to the people of the United States, steps would be taken to protect children from this kind of life. As it turned out, after years of straightforward unblinking photography, he was correct. In 1916 Congress passed the Keating- Owens Act which placed enormous restrictions on the use of children under the age of fourteen in the workplace.

After that he worked the Red Cross during World War I, and subsequenty undertook his next great project, a photographic document of the construction of the Empire State Building, published eventually as "Men at Work."

Sadly, Hine died in extreme poverty in 1940 after losing his home to a mortgage company. The great documentarian was unable to find work as a photographer.
Here's a selection of my favorites of Lewis Hine's breathtaking work. Somehow it resonates today more than ever as the middle class in America struggles to get their voices heard during these economically stressful times.