look at the pictures!

The other night I had the evening to myself and was searching various streaming services for something to watch.  On HBO I found the Robert Mapplethorpe documentary, “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures.”

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It caught my attention because a fellow photographer had recommended it to me just the day before.  I was also interested in it because I had recently learned in a New York Times article that his brother Edward was also a photographer and I heard that Edward appeared throughout the documentary.

If you’re aware of Robert’s work, you might feel some apprehension in watching the film.  If you’re not, I will offer the caveat that there is a lot of imagery that is NSFW.   To put it mildly, Mapplethorpe explored a lot of taboos in his work.

I was expecting the documentary to talk about those taboos and the body of work that is known as the X Portfolio.  It did, but it’s really a biography of Mapplethorpe’s whole life, starting with his Catholic upbringing in Queens and ending a year after his death at the age of 42 when his work faced protest and censorship in the famous case of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center being charged with obscenity after hosting an exhibition of his photographs.

In the years between, he went to Pratt, he dated Patti Smith, he lived in the Chelsea hotel, he was a regular at Max’s Kansas City, and he built a huge archive of incredible photographs.  I hadn’t known all those things and I was really impressed by the range of images he produced that I had never been aware of.  Some of them are achingly beautiful.

The documentary does a great job of not sensationalizing the more sensational aspects of Mapplethorpe’s story, and the through-line that brings us into the present day is the preparation being made by curators at the Getty and at LACMA during the course of filming.  Simultaneous exhibitions are on at both institutions through July 31, 2016.  If I were in California, I would make sure to get to both museums.  Since it seems like I won’t get to do that, I’ll have to be satisfied to perhaps rewatch the doc…or just look at the pictures (online).

j’adore doré

Every time I need a little beauty, a little celebration of women, a little taste of the world, a little style inspiration I turn to Garance Doré’s lifestyle blog.  Not only does she (along with her team) introduce readers to interesting women from all over the world and offer all sorts of informative and engaging posts that run the gamut from career talk to skincare advice, but she is also a richly talented artist, producing tons of beautiful illustrations, lots of which can be bought as posters, calendars and notecards on her site.

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon these drawings, but ever since I did, from time to time, I have turned them into wallpapers for my digital devices, to delight and inspire me with every screen.

Currently on my phone:glove-it-or-shove-it_garance-dore-770x559

All illustrations in this post by Garance Doré

can’t stop listening to ___________

#lemonade.

No matter what you make of the real story behind the album, I think it’s undeniable that Lemonade is an incredibly moving piece of work.

I hadn’t been a big follower of Beyoncé’s music before.  Of course I knew some songs–has anyone not heard Single Ladies??  But then the Super Bowl halftime show happened and Formation came out and I was totally smitten.  The visuals are so exciting I was immediately enthralled.  I love the settings, the fashion, the shooting style…and then on top of that it’s a really great, catchy, multi-layered song.  (Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation!)  I watched it 3 times immediately and then shared it with others later that week and have probably gone back and watched it 10 more times since.

Formation got me interested in Beyoncé’s creative team and how she puts her videos together because it’s so varied in its styles–from the hair to the makeup to the outfits to the settings…  There’s a great BTS video for the making of 2009’s Sweet Dreams that shows every outfit, including how she got to use a vintage Thierry Mugler gold body suit that had been on display at the Met.  If you’re Beyoncé you get to wear that.  If you’re anyone else, you get to be inspired by it.

One of my favorite looks from the Formation video is the red dress she’s wearing while sitting atop the sinking police car, shown here in The Guardian’s coverage of Formation fashion.  Turns out it’s a blouse and skirt from Gucci’s 2016 Spring line–which is amazing and images from the ad campaign became my phone wallpaper all during SXSW.

So then, 10 days ago, after the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones, there was Lemonade, begging to be watched.

Before midnight I had watched it all the way through and some parts 2 or 3 times.  I tweeted with friends about it after it was gone.  And the next day I bought it on iTunes and started listening to the music.  I had my immediate favorites as one does with any new album but in the following days of listening and taking a break from listening, and watching again and listening again, and reading about it and listening to podcasts about it, there’s not one song on there that hasn’t gotten its hooks in me (har har).

I woke up this morning with “pray you catch me listening” running through my head. Fitting, because I still am.

 

#sxsw2016: i heart ira

sxsw 2016 has been officially over for a little while now and in that time i managed to drop my iphone in water. not sure yet whether the data that was on that phone will be recoverable, and one of the biggest losses i’m feeling is my notepad where i was jotting down all the wise words and hot tips and fun anecdotes my favorite panelists were sharing during the film and interactive festivals. thank god the good folks at sxsw taped a lot of the sessions, including the ira glass conversation that mark olsen led.

so much great stuff happened at that talk.

first things first: ira glass is a dreamboat. as with lots of the folks on NPR whose voices i recognize, i didn’t know what he looked like. and then he walked out in all his tall, lanky glory, with wavy, dark hair, silver at the temples, bold, dark-rimmed glasses that didn’t hide the twinkle in his eye, and a sharp-looking blazer with a button-down and slim jeans. i attended the talk with a girlfriend of mine who was completely atwitter before the talk even began. as the hour went on, her crush became our crush.

his easy-going demeanor, constant grin, and earnest desire to answer his interviewer’s questions well were totally charming.

he discussed topics like his start in radio, his evolution as a journalist, this american life, of course, and he mused on the success of serial, praising julie snyder and the folks who produce the show and believed in the concept when he was skeptical. he had some interesting insights into the boon to shows like his that came with the emergence of podcasting technology and itunes as a distribution platform. and he shared about getting into filmmaking, producing 2 films with mike birbiglia.

toward the end of the hour the questions from the audience started, and 2 awesome things happened.

  1. he got a request to make a balloon animal. the woman asking had seen him speak in austin on a prior occasion and he had made one then. drawing a balloon from his bag, he began to make a blue poodle for her, explaining that he had done magic tricks at parties as a kid and that he always carries balloons with him for occasions such as these…and when he was a guest on ask a grown man. this segment alone is worth watching in the video of the talk–it starts around 52:20.
  2. and then the director of “thank you, del,” who was a fan of ira’s famous thoughts on taste and talent, asked if there was any follow-up ira wanted to offer. his response: do it now; don’t wait.

if you ever get a chance to hear ira glass speak, do it now; don’t wait.

and don’t ask him for a selfie; ask him for a balloon animal.

#sxsw2016: broad city, branding and brené brown

depending on whom you ask, south by southwest is either one of the best things about living in austin or one of the worst.  on the bright side, the town is flooded with (even more)  inspiring and creative people, amazing bands, and the streets downtown burst with interesting things to do and see.  on the other hand, the traffic goes from terrible to nightmarish all around the heart of the city and normal life for permanent residents is totally disrupted.

in the past i have always approached it like this: avoid downtown for the interactive and film portion and then pick a day or two during the music festival to wander around the east side during the day, checking out various free showcases and just seeing what i can see.

this year, for the first time since i moved to austin 7 years ago, i’m attending SXSW all proper like.  got a gold badge which gives me access to interactive and film events, so i’m taking advantage of it…and getting up early in order to do so.

 

saturday was the first day i got into it full swing.  my alarm went off at 7:10AM–unheard of for me on a saturday.  all so that i could have time to get coffee, get downtown, and get in line for the broad city talk, moderated by anne fulenwider, editor-in-chief of marie claire magazine, set to start at 9:30.

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broad city: abbi jacobson and ilana glazer

i got to the large hall at the austin convention center about an hour early, posted up in the 3rd row, and settled in to re-read the new yorker article from 2014 that had introduced me to abbi and ilana in the first place.  during that time the room got packed until, right on time, they strolled on stage, looking amazing–ilana in a flowy cream-colored shirt dress and abbi in chic black stilettos and her hair all sleek and enviably glossy.

it was completely worth the painful wake up.  IRL they were fun, charming, unpretentious, and endearing.  like total pros, they were very unassuming and open in talking about their inspiration to move from UCB into making the web series that opened the door to their huge success in the comedy central line-up and about their unflagging drive to be connected to the material and the direction of the show.

highlights of the talk included hearing about upcoming cameos (the HRC episode is happening this coming wednesday, apparently!), musings by both ilana and abbi about modern feminism and the comedic tools that help them take fractions of themselves to the nth degree to make comedy gold, and an awesome moment when a woman from Bed, Bath & Beyond got up to tell abbi she loved her.

after lots of adoring questions (and one super awkward one) and big applause, the standing-room-only crowd began filing out and it was time to move on.

 

for the 12:30 slot i trotted across the street to attend a panel called, “launching a brand.”  this was an appealing topic to me as i teach my students about the importance of having a brand as photographers, but i haven’t really studied brand marketing and wanted to learn more.  and i totally lucked out.

not only were the panelists in this talk super articulate, knowledgeable, and extraordinarily qualified, but the moderator, natalie cofield, was also outstandingly poised and prepared.  she asked terrific questions and they gave terrific answers.  while sat between 2 women on macbook airs, gently clicking away as they took down kernel after kernel of branding wisdom, i took copious notes in my moleskine, quickly running out of room on the page.

perhaps the best nuggets i came away with are these:

  • your brand is the idea of your company or services that exists in the mind of your customer
  • a brand represents a relationship in which customers’ expectations and needs are (hopefully) met consistently in a way that resonates with them and their values
  • 3 basic questions that can help start-ups and entrepreneurs hone their business models:
    1. what do customers want or need?
    2. what are my (company’s) core competencies?
    3. what’s already happening in the space where i want to be?

while, as a freelance photographer, there are much smaller scales on which this is directly applicable for yours truly, i think these bits of advice can help anyone seeking to establish a clearer sense of oneself or one’s business and to define how one can fit into a given market.  big thanks to therese hayes, rob malcolm, and rick sharga for all the information so generously offered!

 

after that inspiring experience, i tagged along with a friend to hear dr. brené brown, a keynote speaker on the sxsw schedule who drew an enormous crowd.  yet again, i was not disappointed.

having run out of space in my notebook, i turned to taking notes on my phone, filling the screen over and over again with phrases and impressions from the talk.  for an hour straight dr. brown shared fascinating insights from her research into vulnerability, courage, and the coping mechanisms of highly resilient people.

among the stream of notes i took a few things stand out.

  • firstly, she encouraged identifying specific people in one’s life whose opinions matter.  because in this day and age one is likely to get unsolicited opinions from a wide range of sources, many of whom have never met you and you’ve never met them.
  • secondly, she acknowledged that with creativity and innovation come failure.*  trying new things pretty much demands it.  the important thing is getting back up once you’ve fallen down.
  • finally, with much humor, she gave the crowd a lesson in “tactical breathing,” known as “box breathing” among yogis.**  it’s a technique to be paired with mindfulness (aka paying attention to one’s thoughts and feelings) when a stressful, painful, or scary moment pushes us into heightened emotional states.

by the time she had ended her talk i think everyone in that room was feeling empowered and inspired.  if there’s a podcast or a video of the talk out there, i would track it down.  in the meantime, toby shapshak covered the talk for forbes very well.

 

*interestingly enough, failure seems to be a theme at sxsw which leads me to believe that, among these lauded and influential people being celebrated for their creative and innovative work, failures have been plenty and these are the folks who have worked through them and come out on top.

** basically, breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4.  and be sure to draw a box in the air with your hand whilst doing this.  jk.  instead, i think i’ll just sing to myself 4 and 3 and 2 and 1 ;)

favorite #autoside of 2015

this 1959 ford pickup truck belonged to the current owner’s grandmother–bought new and in the family all these years.

i photographed it with a 4×5 camera, using a lateral shift movement and 2 sheets of film to create a diptych in which the front and back of the truck overlap.  you can see that the light changed a bit between the 2 shots–there was cloud cover in one and bright sunlight in the other.

autoside_pickup_gary_diptych_online