Donna Conlon: Video Artist

I don’t usually post on self-identified experimental artists since being treated for PTSD following the public circumcision and crucifixion of Adrian Parson’s foreskin.  But, I was in Panama last week and met up with Donna Conlon, whom I first met when we were both @FotoForum in Brazil – which was probably the most interesting photography event I had ever been to and which allows me to country drop  in this run-on sentence like I’m a flight attendant on a double-shift.

Donna’s work is completely club top-drawer. As I may have mentioned, she lives in Panama, where her husband works at STRI, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

You can find more of her work here. Please do watch this fabulous video about Panamian/US Sovereign Nation status told fabulously through beer bottles and Francis Scott Key?

Because of privacy settings, can’t embed here. Here’s the link and a screen grab:

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 8.17.34 PM

Highlights from the Collection: the Sullivan Family Papers

One of the fun things about my part-time gig at the Anacostia Community Museum is being the first to be alerted about new items added to the online collection by archivist Jennifer Morris.  These photographs are from the collection of a Boston, Massachusetts family from World War One – the 1970s.  Not all of the collection has been processed yet but I am looking forward to seeing the rest.  You can see the rest of the collection for yourself online here.
All photographs: The Sullivan Family papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Savina Martin, Dominga Martin and Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper.
Theodore M Sullivan in Army uniform
Young Lillian Mendez on porch holding a doll, Sullivan Family Papers

American Legion Group Photo c. 1940s

Francis and Theodore Sullivan with a family friend.

Dave Jordano: A Prairie Wanderer

© Dave Jordano

Got the opportunity to write about one of my favorite Chicago area photogs, Dave Jordano on NYT Lens blog today. You can read it here.

The Idiosyncratic Eye

West Palm Beach Airport, Florida © Stephen Crowley

Lens published a nice piece on Stephen, which I almost missed, as he is the master of subtlety.  It’s nice because it shows a range of work, that reveals his real eye and not just the incredibly watered down stuff one often finds in the paper.

Rosalind Solomon on the NY Times Lens Blog

Catalin Valentine's Lamb, Ancash, Peru, 1981

© Rosalind Solomon 2010/Courtesy Bruce Silverstein

Lens, has kindly published a small feature I’ve written about Rosalind Solomon here.  David Dunlap brilliantly edits the piece, curbing my verbosity and making it much more concise.  However, I add the unedited version below, both for some sweet Solomon quotes, and also, for some explicable reason the NYT slideshow does not contain the photograph I cite in the first paragraph, so this is an excuse to post the image above.  However, you should still check out her work here or on the slideshow here.

HERE is the original text (I especially like the quote “I was 42, Cindy Sherman was 17”):

Rosalind Solomon may be one of the most interesting late twentieth century photographers still working of whom you’ve never heard.

Hers is a bold, humanistic and highly personal view of the world deftly executed in square format using black and white film. With images like, Catalín Valentine’s Lamb, Ancash, Peru, 1981, Solomon confronts our pre-existing ideas of motherhood. She challenges us with a subversion of the Madonna archetype that is simultaneously nurturing and for some, macabre. We glean as much about ourselves through our interpretation of the spectacle, and about the relationship of subsistence laborers to their livestock, in this case an orphaned lamb, and every reading is resonant with Solomon’s clear photographic timbre.

I first discovered her work on the blog, Too Much Chocolate, which featured 10 of her images.  One person commented on posting wrote, “Genius. How is it possible she’s so unknown? or have i been in a hole somewhere?”  Indeed.  This is exactly how I felt after looking at the images featured, all culled from Solomon’s monograph, Chapalingas (Steidl, 2003), which was published in conjunction with her retrospective at Photographische Sammlung in Cologne.

Chapalingas represents thirty years of Solomon’s images, dating from the 1970s and some dozen countries. The framework of the book (the title taken from the bastardized lexicon of a childhood song sung in Spanish) was conceived, formatted and sequenced by Solomon. The careful execution reflects the three years Ms. Solomon spent preparing the work with the help of multiple artist residencies at places like Yaddo and the Macdowell Colony.

Pulling haiku-like bits of prose from her journals to play off each sections heading, themes emerge: food, wheels, water, splits, seats, etc. And like her images, they are only categorized by this unifying aesthetic – an archetypical but enigmatic portrait of humanity and by extension of Solomon. The prose offer tantalizing clues into the turmoil running concurrently in her life even as she travels far away: to Peru and India with three trunks full of Hasselblads, Super 8s, and tape recorders.

Born in 1930 in Highland Park, Illinois to prosperous but distant parents, Rosalind Fox married a Chattanooga businessman at 24 and gratefully relocated to Chattanooga.  Soon a mother of two, Solomon volunteered in various roles for The Experiment in International Living, an exchange program, ultimately traveling to Japan, where she began making photographs that showed her it’s potential for her own work.  Solomon was 38 when she began making images and the ensuing decades marked a personal photographic odyssey exploring and discarding the person she had been whilst discovering the person she truly was through the making of her photographs, recordings, and the connections she made with people along the way.

She famously studied with Lisette Model during her husband’s business trips to New York, and it was Ms. Model who asserted Solomon as an artist with a right and need to claim time and space for her work. Solomon recalls Model’s advice to her in an interview on the blog 2.8 While Seated:

“The essence of what she said is: You are an artist. You must be selfish and not give too much time to others. Marriage is a problem for photographers because they need to be free. Your children are almost grown. Your civic work is done. Your husband needs to spend some time alone. You must have the freedom to create your pictures.”

Solomon focused on dolls as the subject of one of her first series. The dolls become a symbol for identities, hidden and masked, and show how Solomon simultaneously deconstructs her own experience through the examination of a subject outside of herself.  She acknowledges a debt to Diane Arbus, who “was very brave” and showed Solomon the virtues of the square format and use of strobe to capture moments which otherwise would be lost.  Both produced body of works that are humanistic and devoid of nostalgia and cliché.  But it is too reductive not to consider Solomon’s work within its own context.

Acknowledging Margaret Meade as an influence, Solomon pursues her subject with the focus of a global visual anthropologist.  Finding common threads, her images remain inscrutable even as they resonate, and thus are open to the viewer’s interpretation.  Some are wildly daring, and one wonders about this fearless fifty-year old woman vagabonding around Peru during its time of terrorism.  During these years Shining Path guerrillas based themselves in places like Ancash, where Solomon did a great deal of her work.

She told me recently, “When I flew away, I was on my own. And that was part of the lure.  I left behind my daily life and I landed wherever I landed.  The risks that I took led me into the most amazing experiences of my life and gave me freedom to photograph whatever attracted me.”

By 1986 she was divorced, basing herself outside of a loft across from Washington Square Park in New York and where she still resides.  She had had a solo show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship, supporting her work in Brazil and Peru.  Two more solo shows followed, Ritual, at MOMA, and Earthrites, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. Yet, during this time Solomon asserts, “Sunshine and lollipops it was not. I completely changed my life in my early fifties to live the life of an artist focused totally on my creative work. That was a wrenching time.”

“Early on, I had a hard time with people’s responses to my photographs.  I was in the audience when Alice Walker read her poems at the University of the South. She was a part-time editor at Ms Magazine then and I asked if I could show her some of my work. She looked at a box of my doll pictures and did not consider publishing a one. Instead she gasped and said, ‘These pictures remind me of the murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi.’

It was 1972. I was 42 and Cindy Sherman was 17. It took me a while to realize that Alice Walker’s gasp acknowledged the power of the pictures.”

Curator response to Solomon’s work at this time was also mixed.  While John Szarkowski, the legendary Director of Photography at MOMA, found her work intriguing, collecting and showing a few pieces, he encouraged her not to show her work too soon for fear of comparisons to Diane Arbus (Arbus had killed herself in 1971).  One notable magazine publisher told her that her work appeared to be taken by someone under the influence of drugs (it was the 1970s) and then proceeded to offer her a book project if she could offer up twenty five thousand dollars (begging the question, And who is under the influence of drugs?), and barring that, then a spread in the next publication.  Neither materialized.  “I am not a fundraiser,” Solomon said.

“How did negative responses inform my process? I gradually learned to treasure the power of my work and to value my own voice. I accept myself and realize that being an outsider is part of my strength. That’s why you have to ignore these things even when they hurt and stay on your path.”

Along the way she kept making photographs, some autobiographical films, and a few artist books: hand-made journals with pieces from the road incorporated into the process.  She’s even had two albums put out by Folkways, the Smithsonian Institution’s record label. The first, Corazon, was made in Peru, the second, Indian Love Rites, takes place in an ashram and on the streets of Kolkata during the festival season in 1983.

Today her work is held in over fifty collections, and while she has succeeded in her role as an artist, the institutional recognition that is part and parcel with major career retrospectives has thus far eluded her in the U.S.  But Rosalind Solomon is not sitting around waiting for it to happen.  She just finished a Junot Diaz novel, attended opening night of “The Oath” and then went back the next night for a repeat performance with Q & A.  This week she has a solo show opening at her New York gallery, Bruce Silverstein, and is part of another at MOMA. She writes to me:

“I am not a spring chicken, but Louise Bourgeois is my role model. I choose to continue my journey as an artist. It’s a good and productive life.”


Those in New York will have the opportunity to see more of Ms. Solomon’s work this month in two shows.  Her solo show, Rosalind Solomon: Rituals opens at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery Thursday, May 13th, accompanied by Saturday screenings of her film, “A Woman I Once Knew.”  Over at MOMA, four of her images are featured as part of an exhibit on new additions to the permanent collection and which opened on May 9.

A Woman I Once Knew (8 min film)

Directed by Rosalind Solomon

Screening at Bruce Silverstein / 20

Dates: May 15, 22, 29; June 5, 12, 19, 26

Bruce Silverstein Gallery

535 West 24th Street

New York, NY 10011

[P] 212-627-3930

Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography

May 7, 2010–March 21, 2011

The Museum of Modern Art

11 West 53 Street  New York, NY 10019

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

Urban Nature Magazine

© Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee

© Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee

Straight from Chicago, photographer Ryan Hogdson-Rigsbee (say that ten times fast), is debuting the fourth issue of Urban Nature Magazine. Ryan was that undergrad kid in all my grad classes who was kicking all our old cynical asses. The last class we took together had him work on a long-term project about the closing down of the projects in Chicago. I’m glad to see he is still working it there – and staying true to himself. Check it out – what one man and an idea can do.

Issue #4 contains four stories:

-The Return: Looks at the transformation of Winter to Spring in Chicago
-Urban Characters: A collection of photos from the past year of urban objects that have all the character of an urbanite.
-Music Festival Season: Looks at past covered music festival in anticipation of the start of 2009’s festival season.
-From the River (sneak peak): A glimpse into next issue’s story on Chicago from the river.

Urban Nature Magazine looks to explore the merging point between nature and urban man in the hopes of cultivating new appreciation and insight into our relationship with the everyday and each other.

A Photographer of Whom You May Not be Aware: Tom Leininger


© Tom Leininger

I had the fortunate experience of connecting with a few internet friends at last month’s Society for Photographic Education national conference in Dallas. One of those was Tom Leininger, who also has the dubious distinction of being, I believe, the first person to purchase my Rank Strangers ‘zine (copies still available, hint, hint).

Like me, Tom is a recovering photojournalist pursuing a hybrid career, and he recently finished his MFA in Texas. He showed me his thesis work, Sidelines, about public personas on display at parades, which is quite nice. And then hidden under the box I found another project, one that resonated with me about the sale of his grandfather’s sewing machine repair shop in Pennsylvania, Sale Day. For many of us the photographs that touch us are the ones that trigger our own memories and nostalgia. While glancing through these photographs I had vivid recollections of summers spent examining the treasure trove of my grandmother’s attic, where I discovered 1940’s era toys, and 50’s prom dresses. It is a place I still visit happily in dreams.

Yes, Virginia, there was a time when people named their towns Intercourse and there was no pun intended. This was a time long, long ago, before Martin Parr was born.


© Tom Leininger

Wallpaper, I fetishize, it’s true.  Another memory the pictures evoke is of my grandmother painting over the beloved fecund strawberry vine wallpaper in the room I occupied in her house.  She was surprised to learn of my disappointment over the loss, but again my childhood dreams had been filled with secret gardens filled with strawberry vines covering stone walls.  It was only later, reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, that I learned that wallpaper could present itself in more nefarious ways.

© Tom Leininger

© Tom Leininger

So poignant for me are the traces of time, toil, productivity and endurance left in the worn heel mark of the carpet where Tom’s grandfather faithfully pushed his machine’s treadle.

© Tom Leininger

© Tom Leininger

But I am still me after all, and I can only indulge in nostalgia and weepiness for so long, the project will run you through the gamut of emotions and I always like to end with a smile.

© Tom Leininger

© Tom Leininger

Yep, I know this post is as much about ME and my feelings as it is about Tom and his work.  But I would argue isn’t that what art is supposed to be about? How it touches you?  There are different ways to navigate this, sometimes we mediate through humor and wit, sometimes by accessing our remembrance of things past as in above, and countless other modalities.  For me they are all good and valid as long as I feel that the source comes from something true in the creator.  This project for me is that.  Oh yeah, and Tom also received recognition from Center’s Singular Image contest Curator’s Choice with the first image (handily beating me, I might add, thanks a pantload!).  Well done Tom Leininger!