Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Out of the Shadows

I wrote way back in 2011 about the photographer Vivian Maier.

To refresh your memory, In 2007 26-year-old real estate agent John Maloof walked into an auction house and bid on a box of 30,000 prints and negatives from an unknown photographer. Realizing the street photographs of Chicago and New York were of unusually high quality he purchased another lot of the photographer’s work totaling some 100,000 negatives, thousands of prints, 700 rolls of undeveloped color film, home movies, audio tape interviews, and original cameras.

Over time it became clear the photos belonged to a Chicago nanny who had photographed prolifically for nearly 40 years, but who never shared her work during her lifetime. Since the discovery Maier’s photographs have received international attention with collections touring in cities around the world as well as the publication of a book. Finally, a show of Maier's work has come to Seattle, open now at the Photo Center NW, and running through the end of March. See it!

Additionally, a documentary called Finding Vivian Maier is nearing completion and looks to be a fascinating film. Can't wait.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Drop the Beet

Very important: A cover of Massive Attack's Teardrop using vegetables connected to MIDI triggers. By Brooklyn musician j.viewz.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Emotional Baggage

In the early 1980's photographer Jon Crispin first came across Willard lunatic asylum, in upstate New York. Crispin immediately wanted to photograph the abandoned 19th-century building and worked for a long time to gain lawful access. Eventually he was allowed to tour the building accompanied; he took a friend along to distract the security guards while he poked around.

Willard was one of several asylums built in response to the campaigning of Dorothea Dix who, in 1841 began a self-funded investigation into treatment of the insane poor. Her efforts forced 20 states nationwide to provide funded care for the mentally ill. Willard was the first to be built for the chronically insane. If you came here, you were unlikely to leave.

Willard’s intake came chiefly from New York City, via a specially built train line. Others arrived by boat from all over the country, docking on Seneca Lake. Patients were kept clean, fed and exercised.
Within eight years, its inmate count of 1,550 made Willard the largest asylum in the country. At its height, this figure reached 4,000.

In 1995, as the building was being prepared for demolition, a local preservationist discovered hundreds of suitcases embalmed in dust and cobwebs in the attic space. The suitcases had belonged to patients who had lived and died there, and were filled with the items each had chosen, or had had chosen for them, when first admitted. 

Acquired by New York State, they were moved into storage and catalogued. Two years ago Crispin was invited to photograph the suitcases and their contents. To date he has photographer around 100, with more than 300 to go. His photographs, along with some of the objects, are embarking on a small museum tour, currently on display at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The best place to see a large array of these gorgeous and haunting images is on Crispin's website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I was reading online about a fascinating workshop help in Delhi, India on bicycle commerce. The UnBox Festival focused on the incredible variety of goods being sold from bicycles in Delhi, and hoe the City can remove the obstacles that prevent even more widespread bike commerce.

UnBox was organized in part by Avinash Kumar, the mastermind behind the 2008 multi-media project Velowala.org, which strived to show a European audience that bike-based commerce is neither backward nor predictable. To that end, Kumar created this amazing website that shares images of bike-based salesmen all across India. The site, which is still live and still attracts participation from international photographers is a marvel. Well worth the time of anyone interested in the amazing environmental and social gains that follow when services are bike-based rather than dependent on motor vehicles and costly buildings.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered

Roman Vishniac was a Jewish photographer who was born in Russian and died in New York in 1990, aged 92. The International Center for Photography in New York recently became the repository of the Vishniac archive of some 30,000 objects: negatives, prints, film footage, memorabilia and correspondence.

This trove has resulted in a well-deserved retrospective at the ICP, and has stimulated new research into his work and life. The scope of his photographic accomplishments has proven to be even greater than was previously thought - the show of photographs and objects has been widely praised as magnificent and revelatory.

Vishniac fled Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and settled in Berlin, where he studied to be a biologist. Nazi restrictions on Jews prevented him from completing his scientific education, so from 1935 to 1938 he traveled on assignment for a Jewish relief organization as a photographer, documenting the lives of poor Jews in eastern Europe. The charity sought photographic evidence of desperate need, hoping this would help raise money for these doomed villages. Instead, these images became a rare record of an extinguished way of life.

In 1940 Vishniac, his wife and their two children arrived in New York and settled on the Upper West Side, where he opened a photo studio. His subjects ranged widely from portraits of Marc Chagall to images of a single pine needle. Eventually his haunting, beautiful photographs of Eastern Europe were published as a book, “A Vanished World”, in 1983. These images are well represented in the retrospective, as are many images never before seen, including his photos of a thriving Nazi-era Berlin, images of happier Jewish communities in the Netherlands, and photos of the Jews who survived the war.

The exemplary Travel and history blog Poemas del rio Wang recently posted an appreciation of Vishniac.

The show "Roman Vishniac Rediscovered" is on view at the International Centre for Photography until May 5th 2013.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Castles in the Sky

The Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli was founded in 1983 by animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Ghibli produces films that are a wonderful antidote to American commercial animation - featuring genuine originality, dazzling animation and true storytelling weirdness. With baffling images and strange and subtle themes, many of their best works are truly not suitable for children.

SIFF Cinema is producing a second annual retrospective of Studio Ghibli’s films with glorious new 35mm prints of both the studio's biggest hits and some films that are rarely shown in the U.S., with most films presented in both English and in their original Japanese language with subtitles.

Wonderful stuff, and a great opportunity to see this gorgeous and unusual imagery on a big screen. Starting tonight at the SIFF Cinema downtown, and running until February 21. Tickets available here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Today, February 14th, is the start of the ancient festivals Februa (from which this month gets its name) and Lupercalia, both dedicated to renewal and cleansing, averting evil spirits and purification.

Lupercalia, or "Wolf Festival," was partly held in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Lupercus, who's feast day is held at the same time, is the god of shepherds. During the Lupercalia celebration, young people would run up and down through ancient Rome naked, striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. Pregnant women would deliberately get in their way in the belief that being struck would be helped in delivery.

The Gurldoggie, something of a she-wolf herself, wishes you all a Happy Lupercalia.

The Wolf's Postscript to 'Little Red Riding Hood'

by Agha Shahid Ali

First, grant me my sense of history: I did it for posterity, for kindergarten teachers and a clear moral: Little girls shouldn't wander off in search of strange flowers, and they mustn't speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot: Couldn't I have gobbled her up right there in the jungle? Why did I ask her where her grandma lived? As if I, a forest-dweller, didn't know of the cottage under the three oak trees and the old woman lived there all alone? As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf, now my only reputation. But I was no child-molester though you'll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman: Was I sleeping while he snipped my thick black fur and filled me with garbage and stones? I ran with that weight and fell down, simply so children could laugh at the noise of the stones cutting through my belly, at the garbage spilling out with a perfect sense of timing, just when the tale should have come to an end.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Crankie Young People

A "crankie" is an old-timey American art form in which an evolving panoramic scene is rolled up inside a box, then hand-cranked so that it scrolls across a viewing screen. Often presented with music or spoken story-telling, a crankie is an inexpensive and often highly personal way of creating a kind of primitive animation for an intimate audience.

On Valentine's Day, Seattle is playing host to her first ever Crankie Festival. Produced with the help of the Carter Family Marionettes, a half dozen musicians, story tellers and puppeteers will showcase their scrolling stories for a single night. At the Northwest Puppet Center, 9123 15th Ave NE, Seattle on Thursday, Feb 14th. Tickets are just $15 and available right here.

Here's an exceptionally pretty example of the art form, by puppeteer Katherine Fahey.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

We Buy White Albums

Rutherford Chang's new store is open for business. The store stocks exactly one thing: copies of the Beatles' White Album. Chang has so far collected over 650 first-pressings of the iconic records, an edition which runs in excess of 3 million. He aims to amass as many copies as possible, in the process creating an archive, listening library, and anti-store to house and grow his collection. Rather than selling the albums, he will buy more from anyone willing to part with an original pressing in any condition.

"Shoppers" are invited to browse the collection and listen to the records. In the process, Chang will digitally record every scratched and warped album, and will document each gatefold cover and disc label, which are weathered and worn, often carrying marks or writing from previous owners. Chang's project aims to celebrate this beautiful technology skating on the edge of extinction. More info, including details on selling your copy, over here. And check out some photos of the shop, which actually exists, over here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chamber Music

Seattle's Frye Art Museum is unveiling a new and extremely local exhibit this Friday night. Titled "Chamber Music," The Frye has commissioned thirty-six Seattle artists to create new work based on James Joyce’s volume of poetry of the same name.

The list of artists involved is long and impressive and includes Byron Au Yong, Jaq Chartier, Klara Glosova, Greg Lundgren, NKO, DK Pan, Sierra Stinson and many many more.

In addition to the thirty-six new works, the exhibition includes a library archiving the artists' many works alone and as part of groups, with documents and ephemera from such watershed projects as and/or, 911 Media Arts Center, and CoCA, as well as more recent initiatives toward community-building like NEPO House, Free Sheep Foundation, and The New Mystics.

The opening ceremony, complete with music, drinks and lots to talk about is on this Friday, February 8th, from 6:30 to 9.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pierre Étaix

Pierre Étaix, now 83, was a French clown, magician, illustrator and cabaret artist whose films are rumoured to be among the most perfect physical comedies ever created, mentioned in the same breath as those of Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati’s. Sadly, his cinematic legacy had been caught up in copyright battles for forty years, and never re-released in any form since the early 1960's. Finally released due to an international petition that collected 56,000 signatures, including those of Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch and Woody Allen, Pierre Étaix’s films are finally being shown in a long overdue retrospective.

Starting TONIGHT and running for 2 weeks, the Northwest Film Forum is projecting 5 new or lovingly restored prints of this master's seminal work. Tickets and more information right here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bob Gasoi

Robert Gasoi was a product of the last great time. Born in 1932 and raised in Brooklyn, the son of an immigrant milkman, his drawing and painting skills led him to the Cooper Union School of Art, to the Korean war, and then to Oxford University, Rome, Upstate New York, and his final home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Though Gasoi only managed to scrape a meager living out of his art work, he never stopped painting, leaving a large legacy of paintings, drawings, murals and illustrations. When he died in 1997, his daughter Emily traveled to Mexico to collect his few belongings, which included the many paintings, drawings, photos, newspaper clippings, and other detritus that documented his incessantly creative life. After years of work, Emily recently published a lovely tribute to her father on the web, rich with images that convey the love she felt for her Dad, and the wonder he found in the world.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bonobo by Cyriak

Hypnotic new music video by illustrator and design wizard Cyriak Harris for Bonobo that re-purposes mid 20th-century stock footage to create landscapes, machines, and, um... just watch the thing. Scored via Colossal.

Friday, February 1, 2013


George Saunders is everywhere these days. By all reports his new book of short stories, Tenth of December, is terrific, and as a result Saunders has been interviewed and profiled by just about everyone. An interview was published in the New Yorker (!) and he was profiled in a recent New York Times Magazine cover story (!!).

I must say, I was reading his work long before he reached this level of renown. He and I were both living in Rochester when his first book, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, was published. I picked it up in paperback at the local Wegman's store, where it was displayed with a hand-drawn sign declaring him a "local author." I loved it, and I've read everything he's written since then.

In fact, I wrote about Saunders in the very first week of Gurldoggie's existence, way back in October 2007, posting a short short story in its entirety. I'm reprising that story down below because it's worth it.

George Saunders is reading from his new book at Seattle Town Hall this Monday, February 4. Tickets are just $5 and available right here.

Sticks by George Saunders.

Every year on Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he'd built out of metal pole in the yard. Super Bowl week the pole was dressed in a jersey and Rod's helmet and Rod had to clear it with Dad if he wanted to take the helmet off. On the Fourth of July the pole was Uncle Sam, on Veterans Day a soldier, on Halloween a ghost. The pole was Dad's only concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. One Christmas Eve he shrieked at Kimmie for wasting an apple slice. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first time I brought a date over she said: what's with your dad and that pole? and I sat there blinking.

We left home, married, had children of our own, found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us. Dad began dressing the pole with more complexity and less discernible logic. He draped some kind of fur over it on Groundhog Day and lugged out a floodlight to ensure a shadow. When an earthquake struck Chile he lay the pole on its side and spray painted a rift in the earth. Mom died and he dressed the pole as Death and hung from the crossbar photos of Mom as a baby. We'd stop by and find odd talismans from his youth arranged around the base: army medals, theater tickets, old sweatshirts, tubes of Mom's makeup. One autumn he painted the pole bright yellow. He covered it with cotton swabs that winter for warmth and provided offspring by hammering in six crossed sticks around the yard. He ran lengths of string between the pole and the sticks, and taped to the string letters of apology, admissions of error, pleas for understanding, all written in a frantic hand on index cards. He painted a sign saying LOVE and hung it from the pole and another that said FORGIVE? and then he died in the hall with the radio on and we sold the house to a young couple who yanked out the pole and the sticks and left them by the road on garbage day.