16 February 2012

Billie "Lady Day" Holiday by William P. Gottlieb and Charles Caldwell

In Passing | Lady Day by George Slade link to post on Instagram

Cross over Interstate 94 on Broadway, heading west, and you move from Northeast Minneapolis to North Minneapolis. One of the first things you see along the street is Charles Caldwell's massive mural ornamenting one side of the 4th Street Saloon. It features a portrait of Billie Holiday, an iconic rendering of this quintessential jazz vocalist.

Billie Holiday by William P. Gottlieb link

The painting is based on a photograph made by William P. Gottlieb in 1948 or 1949; on his web site, Gottlieb observes that around that time "I took a photograph often cited as the most widely used picture ever taken of a jazz person. Whether or not so, I believe it captured the beauty of her face and the anguish of her voice."

I believe it may be one of the greatest images ever made of a person in the rapturous moment of creation. When I saw it glowing in the morning sun today, I had to pull over and record it. Thank you Charles, William, and Billie.

For more information about muralist Charles Caldwell, a longtime resident of North Minneapolis, please see the profile here.

For the 2005 New York Times obituary for Gottlieb, see it here on the photographer's web site.

05 February 2012

Grace Before Dying | Lori Waselchuk on Daylight

I have been fortunate to know Lori and see this work evolve over the past several years. It was a special pleasure to have had the chance to exhibit the traveling set of framed photographs at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston earlier this year (link). Grace Before Dying addresses an intensely fascinating phenomenon--a hospice program designed and carried out by inmates at Angola state prison in Louisiana that has transformed both inmates and correctional staff. The benefits of caring are clearly drawn in Lori's distinctive work.

Lori Waselchuk's site for Grace Before Dying (including information about the book)

03 February 2012

Albania in Transition 1991- | Hans Peter Jost + Christina Kleineidam (Benteli, 2011)

My initial response to this book was to channel Robert Frank in the spirit of ethno-cultural awareness. I felt handicapped by not knowing much of anything about Albania. I wondered how contemporary Albanians might respond to this depiction of their country transforming over the two decades since the fall of Communism. Would it be like late 1950s Americans responses to Frank's photographs (which were, on the whole, strongly negative)? Or does the effect of photographing change over time (almost twenty years in Jost's case) mitigate the "snapshot in time" quality that was such a shock to most initial readers of The Americans?

Perhaps the Albanians depicted in Jost's two time-frames were less self-conscious than the Americans who strutted and posed throughout Frank's images. Certainly the residents of Tirana, Korca, Elbasan, and other Albanian cities and villages were, given the evidence, fairly underdeveloped. That is, sort of agrarian, unworldly, simple. By 2010, however, Jost's record evinces a slide toward the commercial. Its borders opened to global capitalism, Albania has accrued ATMs, Coca-Cola, mobile phones, satellite dishes, and, in tribute to burgeoning ownership of private vehicles, roadside memorials to individuals killed in car wrecks.

One must look closely, though, to ascertain the vintage. Conventional indicators, like b&w versus color, or donkey carts versus limousines, are in short supply. Don't be surprised to be surprised if you play the "spot the old and new" game and lose. Especially in sections addressing religion, politics, gypsies, the military, and international relief efforts; Jost gives special attention to the efforts of a group of Swiss Franciscan nuns who seem to echo Jost's own concerns for the survival of this tenuous new democracy.

BTW, lest I forget to mention, Jost was born in 1953, in Zurich. Where, 29 years earlier, Robert Frank was born. Although using the elder Swiss as a model may not have been apt, my intuition wasn't totally off the mark. Perhaps the Swiss, in their professed and time-honored neutrality, are among the world's empaths when it comes to observing other cultures.

Hans Peter Jost

Link here to a review I wrote of Jost's 2009 publication (also with text by Christina Kleineidam), Cotton Worldwide.