New Series: La Mar

Mother and Child, Agua Dulce, Lima © Susana Raab 2008

Most of this series I can’t show till it’s published in Italy later this year, but this is an outtake from a project I shot while in Peru on a few beaches. It’s called La Mar, which is also the name of one of my favorite restaurants in Lima. Yeah, I’m working on the old website update and scanning a bunch of film. Good times.

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New Work

Trompe L’Oeil © Susana Raab 2008

Sometimes I think life is just one big trompe l’oeil.

Greed & Avarice

I’ve been a bit stymied this week by bad news – didn’t want to cloud this blog with my brown study. I just want to say briefly that news that the Palm Beach Post, an entity owned by the Cox family (net worth 12 billion) of Cox communications ( an entity that netted 15 billion dollars by the year) is closing down half its newsroom. I’m sure father Cox is turning over in his grave at the mendacity of his children (how much money do you really need????) who are forcing people out of work on the cusp of their retirement years, 29 years of service – two months away from full health benefits, sorry!!! I interned there while in grad school, I wanted to have the experience of working for a good photo paper that covered it’s local community. It was a great family. I’m really sorry to see it go. Thanks Cox Corporation. Hope you’re investors enjoy their fat dividends while your employees sweat the next 10 years before they are eligible for medicare. America thanks you for your dedication to public service (why did we ever think that newsgathering being profitable was a good idea?) and your commitment to the great American way.

On a tangential but positive note, I was reading in the fabulous Sun magazine, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, an interview with novelist, poet, essayist, teacher, and family farmer, Wendell Berry. I’ve heard his name bandied about from time to time, but I’ve never read any of his work. This is crazy because he really epitomizes an ideology to which I struggle to subscribe. About the importance of community, communication, landscape, identity, food production, and ecology. I’m checking some of his work out of the library and going to pursue his as a subject for the next installment of the A Sense of Place series. Here’s some quotes from the article of his I found meaningful:

To make yourself a passive receptacle for information, or whatever anybody wants to pour into you [advertising? my q] is a bad idea. To be informed used to be a  meaningful experience; it meant “to be informed from within.” But information now is just a bunch of disconnected data or entertainment and, as such, may be worthless, perhaps harmful. As T.S. Eliot wrote a long time ago, information is different from knowledge, and it has nothing at all to do with wisdom.

Greed is a part of human nature, and greed is the root cause of these disasters. Once you have greed and the means of exploitation, the high-toned rationalizations – in other words, the excuses – folow as a matter of course. A real culture functions to limit greed. Our culture functions to increase it, because, as we are repeatedly tod, it’s profitable to do so, though the majority of the profits go to only a few people.

Real reading, of course, is a kind of work. But it’s lovely work. To read well, you have to respond activelyt o what the writer’s saying. You can’t just lie there on the couch and let it pour over you. . . . The poet John Milton understood that the best readers are rare. He prayed to his muse that he might a “fit audience find, though few.”

It’s awfully hard to have an idea that somebody else hasn’t already had, you know. The French writer Andre Gide worried that he wasn’t original enough, and then he finally consoled himself by realizing that the same things need to be said over and over again, because the times change, and the context shifts, and the language changes, and the ideas need to be expressed again in new ways, to be submitted anew to the test of sentences.

When I figured out I could be perfectly happy and not be a writer, I became a better writer. . . . The unhappiest people in the world may be the ones who think their happiness depends on artistic success of some kind.

Thank you Wendell Berry.

Nourishment from the Sky

NPR has a really nice post related to a study of 213 aging visual artists, a demographic to which, I believe most of the readers of this blog belong, at least the aging part. What struck me the most was the positivism of this group, use of words like “nourishment” and “good” in conjunction with intangible and therefore priceless things. It really made me feel good about my path, and extraordinarily rich. You can check it out here.

Food for Thought: A Visual Gourmet

Nathalie Belayche, a seemingly indefatigable French curator organizes regular slideshows to present work of internationally known and unknown photographers to an international community. I’m pleased to have my work shown with these great photographers in the next “visual gourmet” on June 24. If you’re going to be in Paris then, consider yourself invited!

National Gallery: The Runner Stumbles

© Richard Misrach

It had to happen sometime, nobody is perfect. And so the National Gallery which has stunned me with back to back photo exhibitions of Foto Modernity in Central Europe, the Art of the American Snapshot, Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, follows up this impressive trilogy with the very contrived and pedestrian “On the Beach” photographs by Richard Misrach meant to show the lingering terror and malaise in a post 9/11 society. The photographs themselves are beautiful large format large scale 10×6 ft; 10×8 ft photographs of people on a Hawaiian beach taken from Mr. Misrach’s hotel room where he returned year after year to pursue this series (I’m totally hip to not suffering for your art – I myself like a good road trip to Kissimmee when the weather gets blustery in the mid-Atlantic).

But the work itself leaves me cold. In part because of the willingness of the docent giving the tour to swallow Mr. Misrach’s statement, hook line and sinker “The people on the beach covering themselves in towels are they not akin to someone wearing a straight-jacket?” Of course! Abu Ghraib! How sublime! “The people in the ocean, alone, isolated [sometimes thanks to the prudent use of the photoshop erase feature] are they not showing fear? angst?” Right! Just like we all did when our skies filled with supersonic bombers in the days following 9/11. I tried to sell the well-healed docent some property in Iowa City (she collects Misrach too!), there is plenty of water there in which to isolate yourself, and is not the rising water like the wrath of the terrorist networks??  Perhaps she did not fall for my spin as I, unlike Mr. Misrach, did not arrive “all California surfer in jeans and a t-shirt.”  Apparently this really impressed her as well.  First impressions, and all that.

Taking me completely by surprise is a review by the WAPosts Blake Gopnik that was very simpatico with my feelings. This is a first! You can read it here.

The work is beautiful. Like a postcard from the beach or a Thomas Kinkade beach scene. The only one that interested me slightly was a picture showing a large group of people on the beach and thanks to the 8×10 negative and the large print you could really examine the details of everyone on the beach. He’s reading the Home Section! She uses Tropicana spf 8! But it’s just like solving a jigsaw puzzle and admiring your work. It’s sort of the mindless suck of the large-format, large-scale photograph.

Full disclosure: I am lamenting the lack of interest in what I call moments in well-known contemporary photography. The waiting for the unscripted that captured within a rectangle resonates in the viewer as a moment of captured history, mundane or not. It seems to me that a lot of tastemakers do not care one whit for this, but prefers static landscapes sexied up under the nomer of new topographics. This is my bias. I like this stuff too, just not so much all the time.

It’s as if the steady stream of imagery as inured us to all but the simplest tableaux, the chaos of the un-orchestrated natural moment gets left behind as our 10 second attention spans fail to grasp it as a cohesive whole. The other thing I take umbrage with is this appropriation of the hot button topics of the day (and I do not mean to diminish their importance by the usage of the term hot button) into art work that bears not even the slightest tangential relationship. I think you can guess how I feel about work derived from taking candy from a baby and then slugged with sexy headlines of the day. I completely appreciate being inspired from our modern malaise and how that can translate into image making – there are many degrees to this-

The fact remains that “On the Beach” is no Guernica.

Lend a Hand for Arts Funding

For those of you not already on the Americans for the Arts action alert list, here’s a message that may interest you. My support hardly counts, as I only have one non-voting delegate representing my interests in Congress, but those of you from actual states could do some good. Here’s the 411:

This afternoon in Congress, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which sets the initial funding level for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), approved a $15.3 million increase for the NEA in its FY 2009 spending bill. Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA) has once again proposed an increase in funding for arts and culture in the face of a dramatic cut proposed by the president’s recent budget. Please click here to send a message to your Members of Congress telling them to support this important funding increase!

Currently funded at $144.7 million, this increase would bring the agency’s budget to $160 million. President Bush requested a cut to $128 million for the NEA for FY09 from the current $144.7 million level. On Arts Advocacy Day, Americans for the Arts presented a panel of witnesses before Chairman Dicks’ Appropriations Subcommittee calling for a significant increase in funding for the NEA. Witnesses included actor/director Robert Redford, musician John Legend, and actor Kerry Washington. Video of the hearing and further details including the witnesses’ testimony are available online here.

Thanks to all of the grassroots advocates for your letters and calls to Congress and for attending Arts Advocacy Day. We’re seeing the results!