Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Photography

Searching terms that might lead to images of places

Watts, Los Angeles. From Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture. Image via Cool Hunting.

I think I found an apartment in L. A. Because this apartment is across the country in a city I’ve spent approximately one week in, ever, there is a lot of speculation happening. It’s in a neighborhood I’ve never been to. A neighborhood that is on the bleeding edge of the Angeleno version of gentrification, maybe safe and wonderful and full of colorful local culture, or maybe a godforsaken blighted hellhole.

I’m spending a lot of time looking at the building, the block, and the neighborhood on Google Street View. Does it look OK? Does it look terrible? Does it look like someplace I could live? Street View is like a magic eight ball in photographic form. It all feels a little like a nineteenth century immigrant contemplating the photo of his picture bride.

I’m not the only one who gazes deeply into the magic looking glass of Street View. There have been piles of online features highlighting the beautiful and surprising American landscapes compiled at random by Google. Most interestingly, photographer Doug Rickard used the images in his series A New American Picture. These are images of American desolation, places we sweep under the rug, revealed by the all-seeing internet eye.

Hopefully none of them are pictures of my new apartment.

An exhibition of these photographs will be on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York from October 18 through November 24, 2012. There’s an opening reception and book signing (yes, you can also buy the book) this Thursday, October 18. You should go!

Chicago. Doug Rickard, from A New American Picture. Image via Cool Hunting.

Detroit. Doug Rickard, from A New American Picture. Image via Yossi Milo Gallery.

What it meant to be young

Photo by Jim Jocoy.

As a Mad Men fan, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the moment that a new kind of zeitgeist begins. In its first three seasons, the aesthetic of the show (true to the period, of course) felt really fifties. Season four, which takes place in 1964 and ’65, suddenly starts to feel like the sixties. Right now — 1966 in series time — suddenly, the sixties are happening!

In the late 70’s, Jim Jocoy had a day job in a copy shop. By night, he wandered the San Francisco punk scene, shooting portraits of his fellow club kids. It was the beginning of a new aesthetic.The eighties were being born, just like the sixties are finally being born on Mad Men right now.

It’s interesting to see what people are wearing in these portraits. Suddenly, the jeans are skinnier. The shoulders are boxier. There’s no more avocado green and burnt orange: it’s all black and white and red and neon

In 2002, Jocoy’s photos were collected in a book called We’re Desperate, which includes essays by Thurston Moore and Exene Cervenka. I highly recommend that you search it out. If you can’t track down the book, you can find more photos from the West Coast punk scene at Wine & Bowties.

My space plans will surely be carried out.

The Afronauts. All photographs by Cristina De Middel.

It was 1964, and Zambian schoolteacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso had a dream.

Mr. Nkoloso dreamed that his newly independent country would make its mark on the rest of the world in a way that could never be forgotten.

Three years before, the Soviets had put a man in space. A week after that, the American President Kennedy promised that the USA would be the first to set foot on the moon.

Zambia would do the world powers one better. The Zambians were going to Mars.

Nkoloso took the first step without consulting his government — which was busy planning Independence festivities — and created the National Academy of Science, Space Research, and Philosophy (NASSRP?). He recruited astronauts and began weightlessness training by hurling them down hillsides in an empty oil drum.

This may seem primitive, but if you look at footage of NASA and the Apollo program from the same era, things aren’t a whole lot more advanced. There’s an element of the Cargo Cult in Nkoloso’s editorials from the period, but if you think about it, there’s an element of the Cargo Cult in the early Space Age as a whole. The US could never have won the space race without German scientists who brought rocket technology to the table in exchange for having their Nazi connections erased from history. Seen with 21st century eyes, we got to the moon on firecrackers and tin foil.

What America had that Zambia didn’t was aesthetics: Tang, aerosol cans, go-go boots, and the bee-hive hairdo. I’m not even sure the Soviets had that much. If it looks like you can do something, then people will believe you can do it. The funding comes rolling in. Next thing you know, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are on prime time TV, in color. You’ve sold your mission to the stars like a sweat-shop designer handbag. One small step. One giant leap.

But Zambia didn’t have silver lamé miniskirts or a Space Western in the network TV lineup. Nobody was going to be fooled. And so, when the world reported on Edward Nkolosa’s astronaut training regimen, it did so in the form of a colonialist joke.

More than fifty years later, Spanish artist Cristina De Middel isn’t laughing. After discovering the Zambian space program through old British news footage (what can’t you find in old BBC documentaries?), she has created a series of photographs that explore ideas of the future, the past, stereotype, and image, all surrounding the aesthetic of the Zambian Astronaut.

The Afronaut series, which De Middel hopes to publish as a book, seems on the surface to participate in the joke of the Zambian on Mars. Black men wear space suits accessorized with raffia, pose with elephants, and stride through tall grasses bathed in bright sunlight. Afro hairstyles poke out of the front of their helmets.

But looking deeper, it’s obvious that De Middel is in on it. The poses are too reminiscent of Keith Haring’s cartoon space men not to be a reference to the astronaut as visual code for Infinity And Beyond. The elephant photos are juxtaposed with shots of an alien autopsy. The astronauts’ gloved hands probe; what is this strange creature? What is this bizarre sun-baked moonscape?

After all, what’s more primitive than a man being shot into the sky on the back of a giant bomb?

Note: I absolutely could not have written this piece without the inspiration of Wired Magazine and Laughing Squid.

How to learn another alphabet

Communist graffiti in Kolkata, India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

People say I’m good with languages. On a family trip to Italy when I was in college, I somehow became the de facto group translator even though I do not speak Italian. I was vice-president of the Spanish club in high school despite a total lack of passion for the language of burritos. I have this uncanny ability to say two or three words just well enough to be mistaken for fluent in any language. Me and talking just click, I guess.

I'm so gifted with languages that I managed to decipher this sign after spending all night on an Indian train. Photo by Sara Clarke.

Similarly, I’ve always been big into the written word. I taught myself to read by the time I was four. I have amazing handwriting. The books in my apartment multiply like roaches. I spend an inordinate amount of time working on this here blog.

And yet.

I have never been able to learn to read any alphabet other than the Latin one. I sort get how Greek is supposed to work, and I can grok Cyrillic if it’s a word I already know, like Starbucks or Moscow. That’s the limit of my ability to comprehend other writing systems. This is really embarrassing. In fact, I consider it one of my great failings as a human being. There are people in India who use 4 or 5 different writing systems on a daily basis, and yet here I am with my puny repertoire of one.

The work of a genius, I tell you. Photo/illustration by Ryan Estrada.

Because of this, I’m wildly impressed with the work of illustrator Ryan Estrada. Estrada managed to explain the Korean alphabet in the form of a web comic. An entire writing system in eight panels. And one of those panels is just a big header that says LEARN TO READ KOREAN IN FIFTEEN MINUTES. This guy. I just don’t even. I think I want to marry this dude.

Planned to take advantage of a long haul flight

How could I not post this?

Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portraits in Fifteenth Century Flemish Style.

“While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror.”

The rest is (art) history.

On view at San Francisco’s Catharine Clark Gallery from April 14 through May 26.

But wait. There’s more!

Wednesday Round Up.

Screenshot diptych from Pollock. Via Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge did a Living In post on Pollock. I remember disliking this movie when I first saw it, but damn, it really gets the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic right. I think the main reason I wish I were an artist is the idea of having a ramshackle old studio-slash-house out somewhere nobody else wants to live. In the 50’s that was eastern Long Island. Which is funny because now the Hamptons is the land of spray-tan and appletinis, a place the least imaginative people in the world want to be. I think now you’d have to be in Detroit or a ghost town in the rust belt. Will those places be the hot vacation spots of 2062?

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

The Film On The Rocks Yao Noi Festival — curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton —  created a floating island cinema for screenings.

La Guardia Airport, 1961. Via Retronaut.

Just in time for the new season of Mad Men, Retronaut has a photo series on flying into La Guardia airport in 1961.

This picture of Clarissa Darling wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt brought to you by the fact that I can't get any good MTV Art Break video clips to embed properly. Image blatantly stolen from Flavorwire.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned that Keith Haring did stuff for MTV in the 80’s? Well it turns out MTV is bringing back the Art Break. Too bad nobody cool watches MTV anymore. Also, too bad I suck at embedding video. Click the link, I guess.

In Which I attempt to connect all my crushes to Portland, Oregon

Robert Mapplethorpe has nothing to do with Portland. I just love this photograph more than everything in the world. Photo by Mapplethorpe, of course, via the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

I’ve had a crush on Portland for a long time. Thanks to its use as the setting for the Ramona books, it wouldn’t be hyperbolizing to say I’ve always wanted to go to Portland. After reading this Cool Hunting feature on Ampersand Gallery, Portland is back at the top of my list not just because it’s the dream of the nineties, but also as a place to look at art.

Ampersand Gallery, Portland, OR. Image yanked from coolhunting.com.

Sorry, guys. I have to post this. It’s a credit to Carrie Brownstein that this song is not just funny and true, but actually good:

 

In other art and video news, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about art collectors lately. Who even knew there were multiple docs about art collectors?

The classic choice is Herb & Dorothy, the story of a postal worker and a librarian who became major collectors of minimalist art in the 60’s. In addition to the powerful narrative, there are interviews with art world megastars like Donald Judd and Chuck Close.

And then, suddenly, Netflix was recommending arts documentaries right and left. Due to my obsession with Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the downtown scenes of New York in the 1970’s, I had to watch Black White + Gray, a doc biography of Sam Wagstaff, who was an important photography collector and Mapplethorpe’s lover. In addition to scratching my Just Kids itch, I was fascinated by the way that people from different parts of Wagstaff’s life had such oppositional views of who he was. There were homophobic Society types, art historians who thought Mapplethorpe was a total gold digger, and Patti Smith being her usual awesome self. It’s rare that docs about relatively uncontroversial figures like Wagstaff convey conflict that way, so I thought that was an interesting approach.

Both of the above films — and many more arts documentaries! — are available streaming on Netflix.

P.S. In researching this post, I discovered the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which has a website full of beautiful images.

Other People’s Travel Snaps

Woman at a bus stop. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

It started when I worked in the art department.

We did a lot of photoshopping on the TV series I worked for, and as an art department PA, photo research was a large part of my job.

New Zealand. Photo by trailofants, via Instagram.

It was the early days of Flickr. People would upload just about anything, unwatermarked and in huge resolutions. And thus I discovered that other people’s vacation photos (the less interesting, the better) made great backdrops for times when the script called for our actors to be photoshopped into Beijing, Washington, or Key West.  This is terrible karma, I know.

Woman on bridge. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

Even though I don’t get paid to peruse travel snaps on Flickr all day anymore, I still love them. Sometimes when I’m bored and feel like I’ve come to the end of the internet, I’ll run a Flickr search on places that top my bucket list. Instagram and Pinterest are making this odd form of armchair wanderlust even easier.

The best random travel photos, however, are the ones that trickle down from another era, shot on Brownies and Polaroids, printed on actual photo paper, and stuck into albums with those neat little corners. I try not to buy too many; it seems creepy to have an apartment full of photos of other people’s relatives. But I love to dig in the piles of snapshots at flea markets, and every once in a while if I find a really perfect one, I’ll take it home.

Mumbai cityscape. Photo by jimeryjem, via Instagram.

 

Mexican souvenirs. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

 

Tip of the sombrero to Jaunted, where I discovered the Instagram travel photos that inspired this post. Hours of vintage photo browsing (and shopping!) are on the agenda over at House Of Mirth.

Sixteen tons, and whaddya get?


Shoeshine stand, Galata. Photo by Sara Clarke.

 

A couple more photos from my Istanbul Working series.

 

Kofte sellers, Beyoglu. Photo by Sara Clarke

Chthonic is a nice word.

Basilica Cistern engraving by Thomas Allom. Featured in Robert Walsh's book Constantinople, published in 1839.

Did you ever think, “I want to go to there!” and then realize that you’d already been there? And that it was every bit as amazing as it looked in the picture?

This is the Basilica Cistern, in Istanbul (which was Constantinople when this engraving was made!). It’s an underground water… uh, cistern… that was created so that Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul would be impervious to siege tactics. Seriously, the city stored years worth of food and water and encouraged all Constantinopelians* to do the same, so that if there were ever attacks on the city, they could simply outlast their attackers. This actually worked, and is part of why Istanbul is such an old city that it’s had three different names so far.

Photo by Sara Clarke

No longer used to store water, the cistern is so impressive that it’s become a tourist trap very popular with visitors to Istanbul. Which is fine, because seriously, this place is Creepy Looking. There are crazy medusa heads, huge ghostly fish, and the lighting is super eerie. You should go.

You should also go check out Old Book Illustrations, which is where I found the engraving above. They have a bunch of interesting Orientalist engravings of Turkey on their blog today.

Bonus photo:

This is possibly my favorite picture that I took in Istanbul. Inside the Basilica Cistern, for reasons that I hope are obvious to everyone, there’s a spot where you can dress up in Byzantine costume and be photographed by this dude. For money, I imagine. Anyway, I snapped a picture of these people in the process of negotiating their Old Timey photo. Which was probably wrong, especially since now I’m putting it on my blog, and for all I know they’re nice middle class folks from Bursa who totally read traveling artsy fartsy blogs just like this one every day (Hey guys!).

Seriously, that emo girl is definitely in my key demographic. Photo by Sara Clarke.

*I fully just made this up. I have no idea what demonym is appropriate to describe people living in Constantinople before they became known as Istanbullus like they are today.

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