dragon face

@Large leap of faith: will justice prevail?

dragon faceThe misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill. – Ai Weiwei

First comes the dragon, a Chinese funeral march, exploding with vibrant colors in intricate and uplifting patterns, celebrating the cycle of life and death, creation visible in the generations gathered, surrounding the passage of the beloved. This one is festooned with quotes like “privacy is a function of liberty” by Edward Snowden, “this thought itself can change the world” by Wei Jingsheng, star of david“I prefer to go to jail” by William Tonet, and “Ze Du out disgusting dictator” by Nito Alvez. Zooming around the room are insectoid dragon offspring, butterfly kites floating to peripheral safety. One is a Star of David.

Next comes the memorial wall, in this case the floor, made of common Legos, depicting prisoners of conscience throughout the world. They are comically pixelated and posterized, their names emblazoned like brands or autographs. The names are more legible in digital pictures than in real life. Binders placed throughout the room allow viewers to locate their favorites, Nelson Mandela, Manning (no first name), Snowden (interesting that he’s @large), Martin Luther King Jr. Most of these portraits are in prison as we speak, and all the American audience can think of is media icons. We have some vague idea that people are being secreted away by our government, but we have never heard of Shaker Aamer. Continue reading

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Sochi opening ceremony: when Goebbels and Reifenstahl met Cirque du Soleil

Alexander Putin may not be preparing to invade Europe, but he understands the value of spectacle in establishing a nation’s place in the world.

Sports_OlympicsThe Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Sochi may have been the grandest show in history. It may also have been the grandest propaganda spectacle in history. It’s easy to get caught up in an artistic endeavor of that magnitude – I sat here with my jaw hanging open for a couple of hours – and the fluency with which President Putin’s creative department embedded a boldly geo-political program within some of the most breathtaking artistry we’ve ever seen. Continue reading

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ArtSunday: Doors Open Denver

Good morning, everyone. Here’s hoping your ArtSunday is off to a sunny start.

A couple of us with strong S&R ties are entered in the Doors Open Denver photo contest and would really appreciate your support. In order to convince you that we’re worthy, we’re even going to give you some pretty shots to look at.

Up first, me! I have four shots entered (two in the Exteriors category, one in Interiors and one in Building Details). This is “Butterfly,” which probably represents my best chance.

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My first exterior is “Janus”…

…and the second is “Treble.”

Finally, my Building Details entry is “Footwork.”

Registration is required to vote, but it’s quick and painless. You can register and view all the entries here.

Vote for my shots at these page links (or simply scroll down on the page linked above and click as you go).

Up next, Greg Thow. Greg is a mainstay at S&R’s sister site, 5280 Lens Mafia, and we’ve also featured his work here a few times, so regular readers are hopefully familiar with him. My assessment of Greg’s entries is fairly simple: the rest of us are playing for second. I’d ask you to throw some stars his way, as well.

The first shot to note is “Red Dawn,” which I expect to win every prize they have.

This is called “To the Heavens.”

And finally, “Taking the Fifth.”

To vote:

We’re grateful for any and all support, and we’d be even more grateful if you’d pass this link along to your friends who appreciate photography.

Happy Sunday.

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See more of Greg Thow’s photography at Denver Digital Photography.

More of my work can be found at Samuel Smith Photography.

CATEGORY: Celebrities

Is the Danny Evans/Planet Hiltron celebrity make under project promoting classism or combating it?

When I first saw this story on NY artist Danny Evans’s Celebrities Make Under project, my first reaction was…well, let me quote my Facebook comment directly:

Oh, this…I mean…gods, no. They…WTF?!

To summarize, Evans has used the magic of Photoshop to “normalize” (my word, not his) some of our artificially beautiful celebrities. “It was a reaction to the insanely over-retouched photos of celebrities that are everywhere,” he says, and if you live in the US, it’s impossible for you not to recognize what he’s talking about.

I did a little analysis on this phenomenon back in 2008, so once I stopped laughing at the pictures, I got to thinking that maybe this is a wonderful way to perhaps make people more aware of the ways in which technology and media are messing with their minds.

I figured out a long time ago, even before I began encountering grad-level feminist critiques, that our media’s stylized construction and portrayal of female beauty was problematic. It’s bad enough that unattractive people don’t appear in movies, on TV or in magazines unless the narrative expressly requires someone unattractive, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. I mean, the star of Ugly Betty isn’t really ugly.

But it goes beyond this. It’s not just that we’re only shown pretty people. It’s not just that we fetishize youth and beauty in all things. It’s that we have now passed the point when natural beauty suffices.

My initial take on Evans was that his celebrity makeunder was interesting and potentially useful culturally.

Then a couple of friends raised an issue in a Facebook exchange. The first was Rori Black, who was one of the co-founders here at S&R, and the second was Kelly Bearden, a colleague over at 5280 Lens Mafia. Both are as sharp as they come, and their reaction to the project went to the core of how we treat and read class.

Rori’s comment suggested that adding some sweat stains and a few extra pounds tells us more about the artist’s view of “normal” than it does anything. Kelly agreed. While this is certainly a valid observation, I wondered if maybe it missed the artist’s intent.

I see it as a bit of cultural warfare. Technology is so routinely used to transform normal looking people into something so perfect that it can’t really exist. Even better than the real thing, if you’re a U2 fan, and more human than human if you prefer White Zombie. It has a nasty, corrosive effect on society, especially where women’s self-image is concerned (to say nothing of what it does to men’s expectations of female appearance). So in this light, I think what is going on is an artist using technology in the reverse direction, seeking to “take back” some normalcy. Yes, he’s gone downscale, from a socioeconomic perspective, so I guess you’d characterize it as exaggerating to make a point.

If you read my 2008 article, you’ll see that I’m very sensitive to the gender image issue, both as it affects women and men.

Kelly’s reply got to the heart of the matter:

i know where you are coming from with this, and that the artist has stated that this was his intention, but there is something still rubbing me the wrong way about making everyone look like they came out of an ’80s trailer park and calling that ordinary. it seems very classist. but maybe that’s just me.

Absolutely. In the Evans vision, normal tends to look pretty downscale, socioeconomically speaking.

But… The thing is that with a number of these celebs, I responded, he’s not taking them to the trailer park so much as he’s taking them BACK to the trailer park. If I were his publicity hack, I’d be saying that Evans is actually removing the classism, because the original use of the imaging technology to artificially beautify these folks stripped their class from the picture. That was a large part of the point, in fact – to make them look less trailer park or ‘hood, depending on their race. I’d argue that the celebs and their handlers were the ones being classist by denying who they are, implicitly validating the idea that one can’t be beautiful and appropriately famous until the working class has been hidden. In that context, what the artist is doing is actually combating classism.

I know, this is a subtle, nuanced double-reverse point, but there is no argument that the engines of fame and beauty are using Photoshop to upscale their subjects.

Kelly doesn’t think Evans pulls it off, though.

ok – i see that, and again, i get it. i just think that the artist in question did not fulfill the promise of this concept. this is great in concept, but the execution of the idea is not fulfilled to the extent that i would have hoped it would have been. because all i see is photoshopped attempts to lower the status of someone famous, and to make that lowering = trailer park, lower socioeconomic status, etc, all i get from this is a exploitative “look at what i did to these people who think they are so much better than us because they are famous!” vibe. if the artist was better at this, i wouldn’t that this was a smug sneering way of sticking it to the rich and famous as well as the lower socioeconomic classes. honestly, i think the artist was lazy and let the concept get way ahead of the execution.

I’m sympathetic to her argument. Evans uses working class tropes to haul people off their pedestals, and if anybody is sensitive to class issues, it’s me. I grew up in the rural working class South and was writing just last week about the challenges you face trying to make a better life for yourself if you grew up on the wrong side of the cultural tracks.

It’s a fascinating question, and one that runs much deeper than I imagine a lot of people reading the article today realize.

Thanks to Kelly and Rori for raising the issue and insisting on a little deeper consideration.

Unsolicited movie review: "Liberal Arts"

Our oldest daughter went to Kenyon College in Ohio, and we’ve always loved the place. Its campus is one of the most beautiful spots on the face of the earth, especially early on a summer morning with the morning mist burning off, which is what it was like the first time we visited. We’ve always had warm feelings about the place, and about the importance of the kind of liberal arts education it offers. So, apparently, does Kenyon alum Josh Radnor, whose movie, “Liberal Arts,” is a love letter to Kenyon, to this education, and, more broadly, to the arts themselves. Especially books. This is a movie about books, of all things, about the transformative power of literature, a love letter to books. How on earth did this move even get made?
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The rose garden


By Greg Stene

As a long-time shooter and advertising copywriter, I really do not like visual cliches. Everything in me says I should look to create something new. And photos of flowers are not new. But in looking at the shots I took recently at Portland’s Rose Garden and viewing them at 100% for editing purposes, I saw that smaller sections of the whole became something completely different. Viewing the flower was transformed into another kind of experience. And that change in meaning is what these images are about.  They have little to do with flowers anymore.

The Journey

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: photographer seeks support in fundraising efforts

Editor’s Note: S&R recently published a photoessay from Sarah Allegra, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Allegra’s struggle with this condition is ongoing, obviously, and she recently contacted us about her efforts on behalf of the CFIDS Association of America. We’re pleased to provide her the space to share this initiative with our readers and we encourage you to help out however you can.
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by Sarah Allegra

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an illness which is still an enigma. This sly disease is characterized by a persistent, heavy fatigue which rest does not lift, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, migraines along with a scattering of other hanger-on physical symptoms. Continue reading

The new Amethyst Arsenic is out (a wee bit of self-promotion)

The Summer 2012 issue of Amethyst Arsenic, a great online poetry and art journal, is now available, featuring poetry from Cassandra de Alba, Mary Kovaleski Byrnes, James Caroline, Meaghan Ford, Hannah Galvin, Casey Rocheteau, Rene Schwiesow, Steve Subrizi and many more. Plus, art from Pauline Lim, Ivan de Monbrison and Jessica Pinsky. Also, yes, I have three pieces in it: “1638,” “Wedding Song,” and “Meditation: Monarch Mountain.” Here’s a taste:

Meditation: Monarch Mountain

Aspens white-barked, gold.
Winter is coming, early
snow on Monarch Pass.

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Denver Chalk Art Festival 2012: color, perspective, history, and coolness as far as the eye can see

I’m a sucker for chalk art, so I always look forward to the Denver Chalk Art Festival. I’m apparently not the only one, either, as the crowd shot below suggests. The crowds seem to be getting larger each year, too, and I suppose it’s easy to understand why. June in Denver, Larimer Square, fantastic artists – what’s not to love, right?

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Kara is self-aware: technology is climbing out of the uncanny valley, but toward what?


The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotic and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.

This, from the folks at game developer Quantic Dream, is simply remarkable.

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Nota Bene #124: I'm a Doctor, Not an Engineer

“I don’t believe in this fairy tale of staying together for ever. Ten years with somebody is enough.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading