Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

I’m Old Fashioned

Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Metropolitan Baseball Nine Team in 1882

Metropolitan Baseball Nine Team in 1882

I have a saying about students who refuse to listen to any criticism or advice, either from myself or other students, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t beat it to death once it’s there.” Unfortunately, like many of my sayings, this is out of date. I asked Nathan in my office if the tires on his car, which are very thin, make it seem like riding in a horse-drawn buggy. Noreen suggested that few people spend time riding in a buggy, that I was again, out of touch.

I was pleased that many of you, and a nice article for Fast Company liked my Complaint poster for the Wolfsonian, or as I prefer to call it, Hate in Salmon Pink. If you look closely, you’ll find several cameo appearances in here: Kim Novak in Vertigo, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Truman Capote, the flight attendant from 2001, even some of my trendy neighbors in Los Feliz, or as I now call it, “BBB: Beards, Bangs, and Beanies.”  Here again, I was told my cultural references were out of date.

Recently, however, I found some wonderful images of baseball teams for my guest bathroom. Yes, wrong time frame.

University of Michigan, baseball team, 1888

University of Michigan, baseball team, 1888

University of Michigan, baseball team, 1886

University of Michigan, baseball team, 1886

The Accidental Totem

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
Slide 22

Slide 22


Before people could take hundreds go photos a day without a care in the world, there was a time when every image counted. The prints and slides cost money. Each one, really. Consequently, people kept every print or slide, regardless of the quality. I recently converted a batch of family slides to a digital format. When I began to organize them, I found that my favorites were the odd photos that seemed to have no purpose. These were the accidents. Either the camera moved, or the subjects didn’t cooperate, or they simply seem to be of odd things like a bush. But, they were costly, so nobody threw any out. And now, I find that I cannot put them in the trash either.



box-2-slide-56 slide-026box-2-slide-21 box-2-slide-69 423-b 5b

Sweeter than Sweet

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Conniff Up_Up_And_Away

I truly think I’m losing my mind. Yesterday, I stumbled across the Ray Conniff Singers. Of course, I have a few Ray Conniff albums. Who doesn’t? But I never knew about the singers. First, the album covers are a symphony of blurry women. Each cover employees the lovely gauze filter that was popular for high school senior portraits when I was eighteen. I think it’s time this style returns to fashion. I don’t know why everyone is blurry. I understand watching Dynasty and the screen goes extremely soft when Joan Collins appears. The blurry effect is a good way to hide old age. Nobody would guess she isn’t twenty-two. The Ray Conniff album women are young, so that doesn’t apply. Perhaps they were embarrassed and requested a soft focus for recognition issues.

Second, the music. I thought I knew sweet and saccharine. I consider myself rather an aficionado of square and unhip, but this music transcends even my expertise. Their rendition of Up, Up, and Away is alarmingly nice and happy. It’s truly sickening and could drive sane people to torture. It is, however, a wonderful tool with teenagers. If you have one, or two, play this in the car when driving them around. Insist on singing along if friends are there also. This is a sure fire way to help any teen step away from the dark side and become pleasant.




The Still Room of Quiet

Monday, August 6th, 2012

I'm going to the bathroom to slit my wrists for some excitement

I like to think of the 1950s and early 60s as some kind of wonderful “Pleasantville” experience. I imagine I’d wear my letterman’s jacket, do well in school, and come home in time for cookies, milk, and an early bedtime. It would all be so well ordered and clear. Recently, I found a box of slides at my grandparents’ house. I sent it out to be digitized and was rather alarmed when I looked at them on screen. They must have been taken around 1963. There is an image of President Kennedy’s funeral on the television. Some of the photos are at my great grandparents’ anniversary party. Others are at an unknown social event.

The upside is the television tray usage. I still have those TV trays. I use them at home with family, but didn’t realize they were appropriate for a party. Now I see how handy they can be. The downside is the subtext in every image of restrained frustration. Nobody looks comfortable. Everyone looks like they could use a stiff martini. I imagine the polite chatter, “Bob, how’s your golf game these days,” “Betty, I loved the coffee cake,” “Could you be more proud of Sherman, valedictorian?” But I’ve seen enough movies to know that everyone goes home drinks too much, cries, and screams. I hope. Otherwise there’s a whole lot o’ suppressed issues here.

This is a glimpse into the reality of the late 1950s. There was no room for differences or individuality. God forbid someone was African-American, Asian, gay, or just a little odd. Somehow this seems obvious on an episode of American Experience, but these slides made it real for me. It clarified why, several years later, my parents dropped out and moved to the Haight. And why there was so much tension between my parents and my grandparents, and I was somewhere in the middle.

Russell and LaPrele Adams, 1962

Good TV tray use, 1962

This party is out of control!

Adams and Jeffs family, 1960

My Jeffs cousins, 1960

More bored and uptight white people, 1959

JFK funeral on TV, 1963

The Third Act

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Cecil Beaton, Truman Capote in Morocco, 1947

My first job was as a designer at The New York Public Library. Beside a major screw up when I handled a business card run for the executive team containing a misspelling, The New York Pubic Library, I had a wonderful time. In 1987, I designed the materials for an exhibition of Truman Capote artifacts. I asked the print and photograph division head for an image of Capote for the poster. He gave me a telephone number and suggested Dick might have a photo. Surprisingly, Richard Avedon answered the phone and asked me to come over to see a photo he took of Capote during the filming of In Cold Blood in Kansas.

I won’t go into Capote’s entire biography. In brief, Capote grew up in a chaotic environment, moving between relatives, an alcoholic mother, and stepfather. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms was a critical success and bestseller in 1948. Over the next decade, he became one of America’s most celebrated authors.

Part of Capote’s success was his genius at self-promotion. He used his sexuality as a counterpoint to the accepted idea of macho masculinity in post-war America. His portraits are clearly gay, often seductive, and always flamboyant. He tackled subjects that challenged polite society. In his short story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly is clearly a prostitute.

In 1966, Random House published Capote’s book In Cold Blood. The book is based on the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. During the writing, Capote developed a close relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith. After Smith’s execution, Capote changed. It was as though his childhood terrors caught up with him.

In the 1960s, Capote’s friends were New York society, upper class women who shopped and gossiped. His black and white ball in 1966 was the party of the decade. In 1975 Esquire magazine published excerpts from his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers. He based the short story, “La Côte Basque 1965,” on the secrets of his society friends. In turn, they rejected him. This led to years of alcoholism, drug use, and endless parties at Studio 54. Capote died in 1984 at 59.

What I find remarkable is the split between Capote’s life pre and post In Cold Blood. The ability to overcome a tragic childhood was lost. We are taught to expect stories of a hard childhood, incredible struggle, success, and a happy ending. In this instance, the narrative took a turn toward tragedy. It was as if his psyche was a sweater, and one thread began to unravel it.

For further reading: Capote: A Biography.

Sean Adams, Truman Capote poster, Richard Avedon photo, 1987

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Truman Capote, 1947

Carl Van Vechten, Truman Capote, 1948

Jerry Cooke, Truman Capote, 1947

Irving Penn, Truman Capote, 1948

Cecil Beaton, Jane Bowles and Truman Capote, 1947

Richard Avedon, Truman Capote, 1955

Neil Fujita, In Cold Blood, 1966

Richard Avedon, Perry Smith and Truman Capote

Irving Penn, Truman Capote, 1965

Robert Mapplethorpe, Truman Capote, 1981

Richard Avedon, Truman Capote, 1974