Thursday, April 23, 2009

Work by David La Spina; Birdbox Archives


Recently I've been taken by Yale MFA student David La Spina's use of color and light. Check out History of a Village: Mamaroneck. I should also mention that La Spina's Bird Box Archives has published David's first monograph, as well as "Old Cape Cod," a book of photographs by Dan Larkin, chair of the Fine Art Photography Department at RIT. Here is the Birdbox Lulu storefront.

Battling The Hard Man: Notes on Addiction to the Pornography of Violence by Benjamin Demott


Benjamin Demott is one of my favorite American cultural critics and writers, and before his death a few years ago, he had been writing for Harper's since the 1960's and teaching at Amherst College for much of that time. Always a fastidious and delicately detailed writer and thinker, he occupied territories of critical analysis that, by their incisive manner, evade any disciplinary description that you might want to tack onto them. The most haunting and perceptive essay that he has ever written in my opinion, was written during a battle with an illness that ended his life in cardiac arrest. He worked on the essay "Battling the Hard Man," throughout the illness, and I continue to return to it when personally haunted by the rote, habitual ritualization of non-responses to suffering, death, and other evils which we encounter daily, as the growth of technology and an ocularcentric culture continue to dissolve the boundaries between reality and illusion, between mimesis and actuality.

Here is a PDF of Benajamin Demott's essay, "Battling The Hard Man: Notes on Addiction to the Pornography of Violence"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Hand Drawn Map Association


It's true. There really is a Hand Drawn Map Association that has maps for viewing online. Princeton's Architectural Press will publish a book of hand drawn maps from The Hand Drawn Map Association's archives sometime in the near future. What will we humans decide to archive next?

The above map was created by a Minneapolis man to designate different possible routes to his parent's home in the city. By the way, former RIT student, Dan Boardman, now a resident of Minneapolis, still has some prints for sale at Jen Bekman's 20x200. Support Dan if you have some extra money from your tax return.

Essays: Michael More on Phillip Perkis, Hollis Frampton on Paul Strand, and Joel Sternfeld on Robert Frank

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Helen Levitt's delicate photographic work since her death a few weeks ago at the age of 95. Stumbling upon a few interviews with Helen recently, I've come to find that one of Helen's favorite photographers was Phillip Perkis. Perkis is a well-respected photographer and photographic educator known for his nontraditional methods of encouraging students to develop their own ways of seeing and thinking. He studied with Dorothea Lange and Minor White, has received numerous fellowships and grants, and is a Guggenheim fellow. In 2001, Owen Butler, a professor of mine at RIT, published a book of some of Perkis' interrelated musings on teaching the art of photography, including many of Perkis' famed dictums and visual exercises. As one of a small class of well-respected photographers of his time period, he is still virtually unknown outside of the realm of his contemporaries, many receiving a notoriety in the world of photographic history today that has never found a place for Perkis.

This past week I've been pouring over Perkis' book, "The Sadness of Men." Here is a short essay on Perkis, his work, and the book. (*Open or Save as a PDF)


One of my new obsessions in the realm of artists and thinkers on the verge of madness and unintelligibility as a result of the unhindered and unquestionable otherness of their originality and unpredictability of thought is Hollis Frampton. Frampton taught at SUNY Buffalo for decades without ever graduating from high school. He was an experimental filmmaker, photographer, and critic of the media arts. Not suprisingly, Frampton wrote an acute elaboration on Paul Strand and his work. You can read his "Meditations Around Paul Strand," in PDF form here.


Joel Sternfeld, from what I've read and what I've been told, is one of the kindest and most supporting educators that exists in the small (but oftentimes tediously disconsolate and brazen) world of photographic education. He has a head of chaotic, disheveled hair, his office is a disaster, but somehow he still finds it his first priority to weave a cocoon of security, trust, and encouragement for all his students at Sarah Lawrence, regardless of skill. Sternfeld, miraculously, was able to be with Robert Frank as Steidl was publishing a "final edition" of Frank's "The Americans," the most iconic and most praised book of photographs that exists in all space and time. Sternfeld's essay on being with Frank during the publishing of this final edition of the Americans is one of the most enjoyable essays I've ever read in my twenty-two years. The marriage of humanity, gentleness, understanding, and a simultaneous commitment to photographic perfection within these two men is astounding and humbling.

Here is Sternfeld on his mythical, yet wholly human encounter with the miracle of Robert Frank.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nietzsche's Synthesis of Aesthetic Reason

I've been thinking a bit about Nietzsche's dictum that art stems from a nihilistic paralysis that develops from a sense of the tragic. For Nietzsche the artist synthesizes what he calls aesthetic reason, instead of analyzing it. Aesthetic reason validates the right to make value judgments upon "what things we accept and how we accept them." For Nietzsche, an aversion in regards to perception (whether visual or ethical) is a challenge for the will to cleanse and overcome itself, to eventually render the aversion a joyful sensation. The joy beauty gives us is intensified by the "pleasure taken within the ugly."

Is this pleasure experienced within the ugly the same pleasure involved in sadism or masochism? To engulf oneself in the tragic, to experience tragedy within perception, and to elevate it to pleasure for the sake of the will to overcome that tragedy seems to me to be so far removed from wisdom that many of the mystics and the desert fathers seem to go beyond Nietzsche in this one, seem to judge less than him! To abandon the illusion of the right for moral or aesthetic judgment and replace it with an absorption in the origins of the art or action, seems to me to be the only way that makes a movement towards the other, in an equally volatile and difficult act of the will. It is the will to empathy, understanding, and however impractical in the organizational structures presiding over institutions, the will to the power of weakness in disappearing through the empathetic imagination into the other.

And within that vacuum of space and silence, the germination of love is possible, if only momentarily before it is co-opted by the will, selfishness, or pride once again.