Via AMERICANSUBURBX, "American photographer Paul Schiek weaves
a tale of glass, fabric, suffocation, flash bulbs and fragile human threads. The viewer's head (and heart) are held underwater by force as a feeling of organic claustraphobia and
a slight tinge of a smothering madness rush through.
How an American soldier is made: The Denver Post followed high school graduate Ian Fisher as he enlisted in the Army, engaged and disengaged to get married, went
through training, left for Iraq, and returned home.
The ink-and-wash drawings in June Glasson's The Foulest of Shapes explore the power - and limits - of outré female behavior.
Outside magazine shared 16 hard-working photographers & their toughest assignments. Philipp Engelhorn set out across the frozen countryside of
northern Xinjiang, China in a horse-drawn sleigh to photograph the eagle hunter above.
Seed Magazine, always dependable for ambitious & conceptual scientific think-pieces,
with a lovely (if brief) photojournal of flight patterns.
Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky's early studies of silver bromide - and his brilliant use of blue, red and greeen filters - gave the world its first "natural color" photographs -
landscapes of his native Russia or portraits like that of Tolstoy (above) that seem for all of their vividity entirely out of time.
More photos here.
John G. Moebes, a photo- journalist for Greensboro, North Carolina's News and Record, may be better known for more dramatic sit-in and stand-up photographs taken
during the Civil Rights movement, but his filler work throughout the year was just as telling of time and place.
Slinkachu'sLittle People finds his remodeled, repainted model train set characters resituated
throughout all such crevaces and corners of the city you're not likely to have noticed.
The 50 States Project asked a photographer in each state to act as a documentarian-in-brief, responding, over the course of a year, to calls for photos of
Habitat," "Landscape," Industry and a forthcoming assignment later this year.
Above: Juliana Beasley's New Jersey.
Good Places to Leave and What That Means: Dan Boardman's Home Project finds more stillness than desolation in the vast, open spaces around his Minnesota home.
(Via Wesley Yendrys)
Gwen Roland and Calvin Voisin left civilization in the turmoil of the early 1970s for the unspoiled beauty of the nation’s largest river swamp, Louisiana’s
Atchafalaya Basin. Quilting their underwears, netting crawfish, fashioning a bed from twine, pulleys, and mosquito netting, they wouldn't return to the grid for six years.
C.C. Lockwood, a friend and photographer they met along the way,
provided the camera which brought the couple to the nation's attention.
Thank you, Christa Mangini.
Acknowledgement as a practice unto itself has to be shoehorned somehow between detached objectivity and the more charitable, humanistic impulse to help. It's probably
the first respect a documentarian can pay to her subject. Jessica Dimmock's
The Ninth Floor was a three-year exercise in
subordinating judgement and pity to respect, an incredible discipline rewarded by an incredible series of photographs.
Accursed Shares: Josh Keyes paints nature running hard up against the unnatural ornaments we've left lying about the place. But rather than settle for low-hanging
juxtapositions, Keyes's paintings are short stories told with an intelligent poignancy that feels no need to point.
For 15 years, Mr. English, 55, has been growing neatly planted rows of vegetables in a public housing project in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Another from the NYT's "One in 8 Million" series: "Buster English: The Green Thumb."
Chad States photographs his subjects in the poses and settings they find most masculine, making portraits of masculinity that broaden our
ideas of what it means to be a man today. So says The Morning News.
But are any new questions suggested by the photos and the answers offered by his subjects? If so, they're where you're willing to find them.
What We Did: In a pile of trash a man discovers measures of the immeasurable, 701 photos of what could be abstracted, but never truly mediated.
Where Will Steacy's "Down These Mean Streets" (top) tries to find a stoic, bruised dignity in urban decay, Stephen Tamiesie's "Places" (bottom) looks for
the peacefulness in the banal.
There is being in being a bridge: In the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built - they're grown.
Neither waving nor drowning: Asako Narahashi's half awake and half asleep in the water.
In the first, naturalness stripped of nature, the archetype reduced to an abstraction. In the second, a reflection nearly returning the abstraction to the real
simply by acknowledging artifice. If we're to go by this journal, however, the second photo preceded the first, the art which suggested the archetype.
(Via), and with a nod to Charles Mudede.
A photograph cannot free itself of pretension, the photographer - as the writer, musician, or painter - from being pretensious. There is the pretense or presumption
that the particular does - that it can, that it must - contain the universal, that the real can be signified, reflected or referred to. The bolder that pretense,
the greater that experience or history we can feel is shared, the greater that sense of individual reality we can believe credible.
Brian Ferry's photos contain
only that pretense, and very softly, at that: They're photos of days in a life, and a very particular one at that, and they humbly submit the following for your
consideration, maybe your appreciation, maybe even your relation. He takes beautiful photos.
Our newborn empire born on those Josephine curls, world peace borne on those leonine locks: Laura Jacobs wonders whether a first lady’s coiffure has
less to do with hair than it does the state of the unions - hers and ours.
The Boys & Girls of Modern Days Rail Ways: "The Polaroid Kidd's" snapshots of friends in transition - in grain cars and jug shacks,
squatting in solitude or plural celebration - center the margins and those-wouldn't-be-marginalized, folks who might prefer to see their
lives as paradigmatically particular, rather than fodder for photo-documentarians. Perhaps.
Human likeness can be captured in photography. Whether we get the ones we're after is the question. Bill Jacobson's shadowy,
pale portraits deny us the presumption of possession, presenting us with stand-ins beckoning us even further yet from that
which we'd yearned to hold, grasp and understand.
What I do at work when I'm supposed to be working: When working wage comes hard up against our limited capacity for mundanity.
Six months’ worth of household waste, a pair of dead seagulls, and a flood light on the floor: The sculpted shadowworks of Tim Noble and Sue Webster.
Todd Hido's "Ohio" frames a childhood within a fiction, or at least disguises the borders, pairing snapshots taken from within with current works
using the same camera. "Homes at Night" wonders at the same borders, seen from without, a series that suggests more than it purports to answer.
Via AmericanSuburbX, which featured Hido this
Layers of Voyeurism: Kohei Yoshiyuki spent six months in Chuo Park, gawking with the other gawkers gawking on the young lovers,
before returning with a camera and a flashbulb.
Showing in Individual Demographics at Seattle's Greg
The Boston Globe's having enough trouble selling paper editions these days, but its Big Picture is consistently one of the better and more vibrant photojournalism collections out there. With Iran's clampdown on
foreign media coverage this past week, The Big Picture - with
has been closing as much of the distance or dark as technology seems able to.
Another from the NYT's lovely "One in 8 Million" series: "Steve Marmo, the bar fighter."
With the bleak prospects of Tony Scott's Pelham 123 promising all-the-same a new season of
nostalgia for 1970s New York, a round
correctives must also be in order. Camilo Jose Vergara's photographs don't fixate on the "gritty", romanticizing the rubble, but neither do
they shy from the lives lived creatively or vibrantly within the semi-decay.
Pairing teen girls with adult male-to-female transsexuals, Charlie White's Study shows each blossoming into womanhood, though along entirely different paths.
"Sans manquer de naturel, manquent de nature." Without lacking naturalness, they lack nature.
Winkler + Noah's children are arrested between impulse and form, what would be a wilder nature and what becomes of our self-mediation.
Ryan McGinley's upcoming show at Art Basel Switzerland has youth caught
at a moment somewhere between nature and occupation, sexuality and individualized desire.
Toward a great number of discussions: In 1805 the news of the Battle of Trafalgar took 17 days to travel the 1100 miles to London, a speed of 2.7 mph. News of the 1891
Nobi earthquake in Japan took just a single day to travel 5916 miles, some 246 mph. With the greased-wheels of Twitter, we're seeing events like the 2008 Sichuan earthquake
find their way to England in under 8 minutes, at 38,250 mph. 204,000 mph, had the twitterer been quicker.
Via Michael Stillwell, via
A Farewell to Alms.
And then Google as a tracker: Re-calibrating Google's fancy Pageranking algorithms to sort complex webs of ecological processes and relationships, a few clever computational
biologists are slouching toward a more dialectical understanding of species extinctions and their reverberations.
The Wonder Killer: Google - as the web-at-large - may flatter an aptitude for research and analysis, but it pays few favors to the balance of our general knowledge. "Even if
he is tone deaf," had Robert Conquest, "an educated man must know something
about Debussy." But search engines and their proximity as fostered by Blackberries and iPhones have facts and the very ideal of
Cultural Literacy on the run.
As for Cultural Literacy...
The North Pacific Gyre - bka The Great Pacific Garbage Dump - is somewhere between 700,000 km² and 15 million km² in size, though it can't be located precisely on
any map. The doldrums or horse latitudes whose calm sailors once mortally feared, are feared now for the mass of plastic bags, sneakers, vials and drift nets more
twice the size of Texas.
Composer George Russell threw the chord-based compass out the window - "It is for the musician to sing his own song, really" - and let Miles Davis go on from there. This
was a radical notion, and the modal revolution of Kind of Blue, released 50 years ago last week, a radical departure for modern music.
Phoning Home: Could a woman's avoidance of her father and gesture for her mother be predictable around her menstrual cycle?
Google's Street View is treated less as an intrusion or violation of privacy than the prudent extension of the public's domain and its Right to Know, one more
tribute paid to the vast entitlement of the multitude and its modernized Manifest Destiny. As our elective affinities mature into bottomless avidities, discretion
is decried as counter to the commonweal while indiscrections like Street View's are defensively rationalized by an alleged greater good. Perhaps, in this respect,
this blog's as guilty as this article
[as this downloader of music here as this Gawker there] in justifying such appropriation. But where should the new lines be drawn? What "new" rights should be newly billed?
Are gays the new niggers, and who's allowed to say so? Bayard Rustin thought he'd earned the right. Nobody, says Rev. Irene Monroe, and that kind of relativism is an
insult and danger to the lot of us. Where can the debate go from here?
Whether empathy is an approach or obstacle to reform: Like Atticus Finch, Alabama Governor Jim Folsom made an effort to understand the fundamental goodness and
perspective of each of his constituents, black or white, Christian or Jewish, and like Atticus Finch, his humanizing forestalled reform as often as it
sought redress. Craigslist's Missed Connections attempt to fix mistakes made in one’s offline existence. Where much of the web succeeds in enticing us from the
commons, circumscribing the peculiarities, pains and pleasures of our private experiences and nurturing our indifference to those of others, the
I Saw You has the connection of the unconnected at heart, the re-embodying of
what had circumstance had left to idea alone.
Seven lies about lying: An Errol Morris and Ricky Jay dialogue.
Always imperfect, always perfectible: Before the media come mothers when it comes to teaching young girls about body image.
Terisa Greenan started dating Scott, who introduced her to Larry (with whom she fell in love), and then Matt, and Matt's wife Vera. "Polyamory scares
people—it shakes up their world view," by allowing for that same pluralism of interest, appreciation and attention we'd prefer to envision over engender.
Yes, our greater artists are driven by questions of the human condition, decorum and the sublime, but the prevailing market's another not-always-silent
partner in those decisions. Your economy of scale over here will give you a culture of scale over there.
applaud one another for each enthusiastic and slavish embrace of technology, study after study find students most engaged by direct discussion.
The writer "will have to play the role that is not a role; to be the living man, the one left alone at three o’clock in the morning,
when it’s always the dark night of the soul; He has to see the light and the truth that can be seen even in our phony and artificial age.”
The failure of Isaac Rosenfeld's writing was the failure of his life, and back again, his earnesty (sic) and his keen intelligence never in
Via the ever-reliable McLemee, and
We'll gladly pay you in muffins today for a bushel of berries tomorrow: The
Thoughtful Bread Company's embrace of
bartering is ideal-in-ideal with the
owners' eco-fundamental- ism. It also gets their "ana- chronistic," artisinal bread in more hands, at much lower prices.
The infinite in the infinitisemal: For Bachelard, the miniature is not a copy, but a conduit of its own - an awkward extension of the mind
engendering reverie, re-envisioning and, finally, possibilities.
Can our letterpressers get us nearer, our God, to thee? Can the tacit language of design talk us through the last mile? Can a typography 'redeem a nation from shame?'
The Tenses of Fidelity: After each successive motherland had fallen and memory's biases made suspect, the word still remained: Luan Starova's beautiful
piece on the library of his father and citizenship of his family, on narrative and memory as the last estate. From
Words Without Borders's "Memory and Lies" issue.
"Now let's talk about something more cheerful" - Sholem Aleichem discovered in Yiddish and its speakers habits of faith that were transferable
from religious into national identity.
"With the power of the wind, a knitting machine knits from the outside towards the inside of the building." For
Salvific secularism: Reason need not be an antagonist to faith, our self-satisfying humanism allergic to mystery. Maybe faith v. reason
is an ultimatum built on a false premise, arguments ad ignorantiam. Maybe, what our "crisis of meaning" calls for is the sounding of each
note together, a notion once more widely-embraced.
"I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe. In fact, if you can become aware of the
miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing."
We sign ourselves into a civil contract whenever we take or view a photo, make ourselves as complicit in the violation and consequent voyeurism as we
are in the commiserating and memorializing. "Controversies," a recent exhibit at Paris's Bibliothèque Nationale, questioned these moral dimensions while
playing with and challenging them.
Harry Fisk's maps of the Mississippi for the Army Corps of Engineers show the Mississippis that were beside the Mississippi that [was],
in all cases a powerfully restless, wandering river forever angling and readjusting to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest
Between thought & expression: "Reading, study, silence, thought are a bad introduction to loquacity," and our best writers are too
often terrible conversationalists. Why so?
Inside the pre-internet office: Ed Park, novelist and eventual co-founder of The Believer on vast lulls,
copy queues, and change-by-degrees.
But where they saw garbage: William Kamkwamba's first windmill, DIY industrial design and the transformation of Africa.
“What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what is wrong. We have robbed man of his liberty. We have imprisoned him behind the iron bars of bureaucratic persecution. But this is a day
to return to the high road, to the main road that leads to the preservation of our democracy, and to the traditions of our republic.” Scott McLemee - a house favorite -
looks back to Lowenthal and Guterman's Prophets of Deceit.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Raymond Carver: How Lish’s pencil created Carver's literary style – and how the author’s wife is undoing it.
Ruthless opportunist and an outspoken anti-Semite, but Wagner understood the human voice. In that regard, if no other, he may stand alone among composers, as three Welsh
physicists recently discovered.
Why the argument between conservative and progressive Jews over Israel sounds a lot like the African-American 'house negro' debate.
A 25-cent word when a dime word would do: The New York Times data miners identify the words readers find most abstruse. How imprecise is laconic? How
suspect is louche? How attractive (to a columnist) is fecklessness? And what more their lists tell us about edifying linguistic challenges and
What a Strange Creature You Are: Women at their monthly peak of fertility will prefer creative over wealthy men; pubic hair may be for chafe protection; your
altruism may also be longview avarice. Things to consider in a new special from New Scientist.
When does a Prius have the same environmental impact as a Hummer? The 95 percent of the time it’s parked.
What makes us happy? How universal are the criteria? Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 42 years,
the psychiatrist George Vaillant has been the chief curator of one of the longest-running, most exhaustive, longitudinal studies of mental and physical
well-being in history, as literary as it is scientific.
The importance of signaling: How a once-ridiculed theory of communication between plants challenged our notions of language and its receptors. From Ken Weiss and Anne
Buchanan's "conversation about the nature of genetic causation."
"How're you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" No, wrote Wendell Berry, "How are you going to shut up that voice
that's now in every American mind, "I'm too good for this kind of work'? That is the most insidious voice of all." Berry yearned for that
"language that can make us
whole, though mortal, ignorant, and small" and he stood his own purpose on its every expression, choosing at each turn the longer way home, finding in
each labored way what was to be his own."
Places that could be anywhere and everywhere, but are actually nowhere - Marc Augé's seminal Non-Places looked ahead to the time, "not far off,
when there will be no remoteness: nowhere to become lost, nothing to be discovered, no escape, no palpable concept of distance" (in
the words of Paul Theroux).
-photo by Alec Soth.
"When people say 'New York is hard,' it becomes 'My life is hard'. So what should we think when people cry people cry 'New York is dying...'"
Whether we are stewards of our environment or its conquerers, our stories do eventually come to rhyme, if not exactly repeat. Three new books on
New York look at the city's ecosystem in adjustment.
The prices we pay for the chains that we refuse: Once we're done fixating on the hows and And Hows of memory or impulse or laughter at their
most organic levels, we might consider the answering-for science still owes to human experience.
What We Do When We Believe: Errol Morris's new series on the Vermeer forgeries of Han van Meegeren, the Dutch
painter whose masterful and masterfully-inspired works question our own notions of truth as much they do on our concept of merit and genius.
Somber City Journal is an experiment in collecting and sharing such articles and essays and ideas and songs as might interest a particular web-based omphaloskeptic or
idealogue errant. Updated several times on the week, the journal tries to archive in almost-real time such healthy mental foodstuffs as we're like to fill our heads with over
on this Far Western Front.
See anything here you might like? Write us. Have something you'd
like to share? Write us. Care to introduce yourself?
Write us. We'd love to hear from you.
Produced by Sam T. Schick and the design team at
Wandering Works, Somber City is rather open to your suggestions, impressions, recommendations and possible collaborations. You need only
speak up and
November 14, 2009 "The film you have just seen was an improvisation"
John Cassavetes's Shadows didn't just anticipate American independent film, it helped will it into being. Its debut 50 years ago this week gave that nascent genre both a mandate
and an immediate precedent: an uninhibited, tense and kenetic study that still surprises, still dares.
Like "Barcelona 1908," Claude Friese-Greene's London can seem of a kind with the many other captivating-but-anachronistic silent documentaries from the early-
20th Century. Like Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky's early colour photographs, however, Friese-Greene's "biocolour" cine-logues reveal the likeness to our own times that
black-and-white film can do so much to obscure. Aside from the vintage film titles, London 1927 looks and feels remarkably like it would today, a seemingly unnecessary revelation - the
old times would have felt just like our own; these are the times they'll sentimentalize later - only implied.
October 9, 2009 Is philosophy getting its "virtual Socrates"?
Is torture ever justified? Would you steal a drug that your child needs to survive? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Michael Sandel's "Justice" course at Harvard were
of a legend long before they were of the internet, but their recent offerings among the other online-university courses raises the bar quite a bit.
More from The Chronicle of Higher Educationhere, and from the folks at
October 8, 2009 "Charlie Rose' by Samuel Beckett"
Something has happened to PBS favorite "Charlie Rose." The erudite conversations and sober intellectualism have been replaced by an absurd world where illogic, inane dialogues,
and open hostility rule. Filmmaker Andrew Filippone Jr.'s "Charlie Rose' by Samuel Beckett" is both disturbing and farcical, but in its deconstructed feedback loop it manages to
call to a nature barely suggested in the more-easily affected "naturalness" of the regular sit-down interview.
September 28, 2009 Love T.K.O.
Re-posted at the express request of Miss Meghan Melloy, Teddy Pendergrass's "Love T.K.O." (in performance
here) off 1980's TP, and Lambchop's entirely surpassing cover. September 28, 2009 Just Waiting Until Something Strikes Me
Imogen Cunningham's looks - the glances and peerings into and documents she made of the world about her - were much more than nearly tactile or merely evocative, and
had much more to their merit than a near-lack of affect. "Too aesthetic to be anything other than old-fashioned," she recorded in passing her own passing world, in its own
fashion, a respect that came to be seen as a style.
September 28, 2009
The Wide Salton Sea: On lightning, dove-hunting, miniaturizing and aggrandizing (Salvation Mountain.)
(Thank you, Meredith Hope.) July 25, 2009 The Kuroshio Sea: The main tank at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan holds
7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water
and features the world's second largest acrylic glass panel. It can hold four whale sharks amongst more than eighty other fishes (and other species)
of the sea. July 17, 2009 A Hot Day Getting Hotter
And variations on that heat: With the smell of granola oven-ing in the oven, the nearer smell of some basil simple-syruping for an evening julep on the
porch, and a sun climbing indefatiguably o'er head, a few songs walking us along toward evening. Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band put considerably
more fire behind their tell of Pharoah's Army than the sweet Swan Silvertones felt to; and Jole Blon...
On April 18, 1929, The Breaux Freres - Amédée Breaux on accordion with his brother Ophé on guitar and Cléopha on the fiddle, along with their sister,
Cleoma Breaux, on guitar and vocals - recorded "Ma blonde est partie," thought to be the earliest recording of the cajun standard "Jolie Blonde." A
1958 take by the 21-year old Waylon Jennings, sung in French and accompanied by Buddy Holly on guitar, made his introduction to the AM world, while an
English-language, Tex-Mex take from the Flatlander's first record made an ethereal waltz of the "cajun national anthem," replete with singing saw and Jimmie
Dale Gilmour's incomparable voice. There are many songs to drink your sun tea to, but these are doing just fine today. July 2, 2009
Paul Robeson wasn't the only one spotting Joe Hill back of the picket lines or strike meetings in the days and then decades after the
organizer's assasination. Fourteen years after Phil Ochs's death, Billy Bragg began hearing similar whispers, the same calls to carry the
struggle on. Another decade on yet and Will Oldham too was dreaming that dream, carrying on that same song.
Bob Dylan's dream of St. Augustine would have come much later in the night than had Robeson's or Bragg's and shares with them no more of
a form than that which one can take with through those gates of ivory or horn. Augustine had himself been many years in the dark before setting down his Confessions,
before making his first tender and tremulous movements toward what was higher in him. Turning toward Augustine in 1967, following a near-fatal crash which
laid-him up for several months, Dylan was turning from the gate which had delivered him to so many others, if not himself.
April 16, 2009 Beached from Keith Loutit on
Keith Loutit's tilt-shift motion pictures show us our world miniaturized but teeming, a scale model allowed to assume its own life. March 26, 2009 They Were All Rank Strangers to Me...
Sometime in the middle of the night - maybe twenty minutes shy of Devils Lake, ND - I awoke from another dream of Rank Strangers to a landscape that
seemed to be only of ice extending toward each horizon, a sense that the train was in the clouds or on the water, but not on land. Almost whole, the
moon's opaque double, reflected against the window's glass, floated adjacent to/overlapping the original like an unexplained venn diagram. Structures
began appearing on the ice sheets like meek punctuations- a 15'x15' hut, grain silos, a gate without a road - inserted into a dark that afterward went
on without further interruption.
Five months before, aboard an Empire Builder making the opposite way, I woke from the same dream, the same song haunting me afterward. After so many
ways across this continent and others, and so many of those ways made in the fashion of much larger transitions, I've developed my own relationships to
these songs of wayfaring, of being a stranger myself and of finding strangers when I mean to be dreaming into my home.
A small collection, then, from a much larger collection of 'stranger' songs: The dreams of Ralph Stanley and Vic Chesnutt, the wayfaring of Almeda
Riddle and Neko Case, and the hopefulness of the Kinks - that maybe after so hard a way as we've come and maybe many miles more yet, we might find
something of a way together. March 28, 2009
I might suggest turning down the sound on the video, playing something along the lines of the track above.
March 4, 2009 I wish I was a mole in the ground...
Known almost as well by "Tempie," "Darling, Where Have You Been So Long," "I Don't Like No Railroad Man," "I Wish I Was a Little Bar of Soap," "Alberta,
Let Your Hair Hang Low," and "Skipping Through the Frost and Snow," not to mention those versions heard above, Bascom Lamar Lunsford's original 1924
take on "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" has never hurt for acknowledgement. Covered well over 100 times, in fact, the song he first collected in
the hills of his own Western North Carolina has been all but canonized, as these things go.