May 29, 2006

Cruelty In Color

by Jerome du Bois

[What follows is a review of a review, but I have seen a representative sample of Michael Eastman's Havana work, though not at Mesa Arts Center. Catherine and I saw four large prints out at the ArtsScottsdale thingerdoo in late March.]

Another instance of The Rebarb. Another happy stab at the heart of civilized life, followed by a stream of stinging salt for the fresh red wound.

I don't know what's worse, a blind fool or a sighted one, but worse than both is the person who knowingly perpetuates human suffering for the sake of transient pleasures --and money.

Photographer Michael Eastman is one of these people. And so is local art reviewer Lilia Menconi. Neither one can justifiably plead ignorance of the average Cuban's daily hell --nobody can anymore-- but they do plead such ignorance. Or they simply don't want to know. And then they blithely turn away from this hell to talk about the pretty things. This is deeply disingenuous.

But Eastman says he tries to avoid making any political comment in his work because, as he puts it, he doesn't know enough about the politics of Cuba to do so.

I cannot forgive this vampire. The simple fact of his continuing presence on the island, over four years of visits, perpetuates the horror. Everywhere he puts his feet he steps on some Cuban's back. Every dollar he spends feeds a Cuban prison guard. He must know these things. If he claims ignorance, he's a damned liar. He doesn't talk about the politics because he wants to maintain access. He doesn't want to queer his deal.

The politics of Cuba are simple. An entire island of people has been held hostage for almost fifty years by an extended crime family I call the eFe, complete with bonebreaker protection rackets, contacts with other international gangsters, the protracted squeezing of a disarmed population, and the ideological sideshow called the Revolution, brainwashing the children with newspeak: "To die for The Revolution is to live." The eFe will keep trying to turn the people into toys for tourists, and against each other, until Cuba is just North Korea minus the special meat. It's an old scenario, Mr. Eastman, and you're a willing player on the side of evil. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should burn your Cuba series, and you should never return to the Island until the people are free. Yes, I'm preaching here, but not to the choir, liar.

Now on to fisking this dishonest review.

Lilia Menconi's review begins:

This guy knows how to take a photo.

This woman knows how to write a sentence.

That was my first thought--

--this is gonna be deep--

--when I entered the gallery space at Mesa Arts Center. Fine-art photographer Michael Eastman's interiors of crumbling Cuban mansions are breathtaking --and they're enormous, about 5x4 feet on average.

That word crumbling, with its whiff of quiet decay . . . In Cuba, the word is derrumbe, and it means collapse. Not gently flaking away in the salmon-pink evening while you raise your mojito when struck with one of life's little vagaries. No. It means KABOOM the whole fucking building has fallen in on your family, killing them all, and taking their breath, indeed.

Each work, with its large scale and intricate detail, is designed to be experienced like the grand paintings of the old masters. The large prints invite the viewer to step into the photograph and visually "walk around" the space. The exhibition "Cuba -- Havana Interiors" was created over a period of four years, as Eastman traveled to Cuba and explored the dilapidated architecture of Havana's Ambassador Row.

As I wandered the old mansions, I learned more about Cuba than I could from any textbook.

Bullshit. What she learned wouldn't fill a teaspoon.

Fidel's Stairway offers the ghost of a grand aristocratic estate. This photo captures the ascending architecture of the elite --only now it is cracked, moldy and broken. The stained, crumbling wall frames each stair step. The partial handrail ends at an elaborate pedestal, supporting a statue --a classically draped female figure-- with no head.

I can provide an alternate stairway photo which more accurately reflects the bizarre disparities of Cuban reality, complete with one of the "elite." Here it is:

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This is Kcho, a rich Cuban artist, having fun in his own mansion, reportedly a gift from eFe himself. I wrote about it here. Maybe if Ms. Menconi read it, she would learn something worthwhile.

Dining Room makes me thankful for the invention of color photography. From a sunlit window off-frame, the sea-foam-green walls bounce off one another and create an incredible glow. It is easy to imagine that Eastman's skin looked green as he took the photo. He showcases his skill by capturing the light --anyone who has snapped a photo of an Arizona sunset knows how challenging it is.

After the novelty of the outrageous color wears off, the curious facets of the space come to light. Again, each splinter, water streak, and structural bruise is captured in such fine detail that you can almost smell the dank atmosphere. But each surface is freshly dusted. White, unfaded paperwork is neatly stacked on the table, and --is that a bag of takeout in the background? And yet, the racks of books under the archway are riddled with curling covers and browned pages.

Each splinter, water streak and structural bruise is there because nobody can afford to repair them. And the surfaces are dusted because people live there. How do you keep your house, Ms. Menconi? The "bag of takeout" is a jaba vinyl, the plastic bag ordinary Cubans carry everywhere in their daily scavenging for food. Often they have to scavenge for the plastic bags themselves, and use them over and over and over.

Notice she doesn't mention the television in the lower right corner. Why should she? She sees them everywhere she goes, here in the States. But in Cuba televisions cost more than they do here, and in dollars. While people in the free world vie with each other to show off the biggest plasma screen, Cubans must pay more for a little old Sony than they earn in three years. And then most of what they get to see is the Dictator droning on and on and on.

As for the books, you can be sure they are State-approved and harmless. Dozens of imprisoned independent librarians could testify to that fact. Look around at your own books, Ms. Menconi, and realize that even one of them could land you in a filthy hole for years.

The photographs in this exhibition are amazing, but left me wanting. The decaying interiors sprinkled with evidence of habitation create a mystery, and I wanted to know more, to know the stories behind the people living between [?] them.

So she got on the internet and went to The Real Cuba, right? Then Val Prieto's Babalu Blog, or any of the Cuba blogs on his sidebar? No. That's reality. That's the truth. The inconvenient truth. Instead, she went to the horse's ass's mouth.

So I called Eastman. I found out that, yes, people live in these spaces --with much love and care. I also learned that Eastman does not change a thing when he takes a photograph. His background is in landscape and architecture photography, and with this work, he emphasizes the "pride in poverty" that he noticed during his time in Cuba --creating a portrait of the people by photographing their homes.

Here's the salt in the wound. "Pride in poverty." He casually trashes the ragged dignity of people who are among the most inventive and resourceful in the world. They are not proud of being poor. They are proud despite being made poor by a filthy murderer who has stolen more than half a billion dollars from them. And then Eastman comes along and tries to steal their very souls.

He met Cubans who were both pro-American and pro-Castro, obviously a curious contradiction.

That's because somebody's always listening, either electronically or undercover. And what Cubans did he meet, anyway? Contact with all non-Cubans is strictly regulated by the government. I doubt he met with any real dissidents; they would give him a wide berth, since their very lives are in daily danger, and they don't need his kind of light on them.

But Eastman says he tries to avoid making any political comments in his work because, as he puts it, he doesn't know enough about the politics of Cuba to do so. Eastman wanted to simply present a moment --the place in which the Cuban citizens were during the time of his visit.

Which Cuban citizens? At this moment, thousands of Cuban citizens languish in one of 300+ prisons in La Isla Cárcel.

He does it successfully. His technical skill allows him to capture visual moments that are usually only seen firsthand. The light and colors are so brilliant, it's almost as if you're seeing these images through his eyeball instead of his camera.

"I believe in honesty," Eastman says. "I never set up a photograph. I just try to record the subject in a documentary style."

I must say, I've never seen a documentary look so good.

I must say, Ms. Menconi, I've often seen writing as lazy and pedestrian as yours, reflecting your unreflective mind.

People are so easily impressed. The guy can set up a tripod, frame an obvious static scene, choose a lens, focus, and read numbers on a light meter. Technical skills from a six-week community college course. I'm referring to the Havana series, remember. Time, and light, and the ghostly imprints of real people's lives, do all the work. Cuba does all the work here--with no reward. Michael Eastman goes click, click, click, gears up the artmachine, and cranks 'em out in three sizes.

And steals some more of Cuba's soul in the process. He is dishonest and dishonorable.

A succe$$ful photographer who really cared about Cuba would be willing to burn his ticket there forever if he could bring back images of truth. He would ignore the picturesque irrelevancies of Ambassador Row. He would invest in several of the latest high-tech, hi-res miniaturized cameras, along with the accessories and software to connect to the internet. Then he would do as Ben Corbett did, and slip into the real Cuba. He would have guides take him as close as they could to attacks by the Rapid Response Brigades, or the walls and barbed wire of hellholes like Red Ceramic and Kilo18, or the blatant hypocrisies of Omnipotent Tourists. He would then send this electronic samizdat out anonymously into the world. He would keep working like this until the heat was just around the corner, and then he would entrust his equipment to the next brave photographer, and go back to the States with MININT none the wiser.

But that would have to be a different Michael Eastman than the safe, smug one we have now.

CODA: Minor technical note about color. One of Eastman's galleries rhapsodizes about how Eastman is so good at color that color is the true subject of his work. I don't think so. If he really valued color quality (and print longevity), he wouldn't use the cheapest method of photographic printing, the C-Type print; not when Cibachrome and Fuji Color Crystal Archive are available. It's just that Eastman and his gallerists are cheap.

Posted by Jerome at 06:50 AM | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

Rational Hostility Is Not Islamophobia

by Jerome du Bois

While updating our moribund blogroll, I dropped Dean's World, and here's why.

Dean Esmay has blinders on when it comes to Islam. When I read his recent "Fisking The Islamophobes" piece, I was appalled at the lowball. He chose some bozo from Pluto to go after. Dean Esmay, binary genius, picks on a guy even Keith Olberman could handle. When I was done reading it I asked myself, Hasn't this guy ever heard of Robert Spencer?

Bingo. Not long after that Spencer posted a response, and Spencer whupped him. Then it went back and forth in a typical blogospheric roundelay, and readers may follow the links at their leisure; but let me get back to that first posting.

Out of all the postings by all the anti-Islam commenters in all the world, including me, he picks the easiest target of them all.

Them's some cojones, Dean Esmay. And that's a tell.

Sad to say, I think he's afraid of Muslims. Afraid of misunderstanding them. Afraid of offending them.

They have a word for that nowadays, don't they? Islamophobia. Fear of Islam. Oh, wait, Dean Esmay wants to slap that label on people like me.

Let me be clear. I am not afraid of Islam or any Muslim. After watching thousands of my fellow innocent Americans murdered on live television by Muslims --after much reading and research and study --and beheadings-- I rationally concluded that this religion and millions of its adherents hate every way of life which is not theirs, and theirs is anti-freedom, anti-life, and dreadfully misogynistic. These true believers are strangers to reason. So it is rational, in the name of free life, to hate them right back. And I do.

And, Dean Esmay? There's nowhere to run to, baby, no place to hide.

Ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Then ask Theo van Gogh.

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May 16, 2006

DEPART!

depart.jpg

Captured by Catherine King. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form.

by Catherine King

"... depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire..."
-Matthew 25:4

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May 14, 2006

HOUSEFULL OF PHANTOMS

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Captured May 14, 2006. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form.

by Catherine King

On July 4th, 2003, I explained to you in "Roomfull of Phantoms" that "I could no longer compartmentalize in my life and mind between my personal space and my paranormal laboratory. But I was sure not to begin the photographic series that was to become Roomfull of Phantoms until I could handle the breaking of that boundary.

Almost three years has gone by, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, and I have a different home now. I'm using a different camera from the one I used back then and there, in the Haunted Apartment.

Much has changed with this series I bring you now-- my Housefull of Phantoms. A different era, a new phase begins...

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May 12, 2006

UPDATED SPOOK TREE

spooktree

Captured by Catherine King, early May 12, 2006. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form.

Here is a larger version.

Actually, the little mango tree was behaving rather spookily, as well, this morning.

Spook Tree by evening, May 12, 2006.

Spook Tree early May 13, 2006.

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May 07, 2006

Gothic Formality

by Jerome du Bois

Browsing through the sitemeter spanning the last week or so, I noticed an unusual amount of interest --from Addison (IL), Agincourt (Ontario), Amsterdam, Budapest, Brussels, Burgas (Belgium), Copenhagen, Corpus Christi, Don Mills (Ontario), Elmhurst (IL), Granby (Quebec), Graz (Austria), Hampton (NH), Istanbul, Kortenberg (Belgium), Kristianstad (Sweden), Lelystad (Netherlands), Levittown (PA), Libya, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Muscat (Oman), Newmarket (Queensland, AUS), New York City, Penonom (Panama), Procoio Nuovo (Italy), Rabat (Morocco), Riyadh (?!), Rome, Ryde (NSW), San Leandro (CA), Santander (Spain), Seacroft (Leeds, UK), Stockholm, Tehran (!), Tividar (Hungary), Toronto, and Vilnius (Lithuania)-- in the two Portraits of Catherine below.

newformalpair2.jpg
Secret-Keepers (l.) and Better 'N Bets

Curious. Why these two for a microblogburst? So I decided to set them up side by side and try to figure it out. (By the way, note the far-flung locations on the list, most from overseas, and the dearth of locals on it as well. Nobody from our own backyard. I'm not surprised; we're talking about Beauty and Haute Couture here.)

The general look of both of Catherine's concepts here is New Formality: fine fabrics, dark colors, real tailoring, elegance over busyness, use of vintage clothing or pattern, and unique but tasteful accents and accessories: lace, fans, fingerless gloves, cameo.

Looking longer, a darker, Gothic chord begins to sound. Note that neither ensemble would look out of place at a funeral (with a black jacket or cape for Catherine in Better 'N Bets).

Secret-Keepers contains three women, not one, in a reference to the classic pagan theme of the three stages marking the arc of a woman's lifespan: maiden (cameo), mother (Catherine), crone (Korean woman on small fan). Every object in the ensemble, including the exquisite jacket --made of heavy black pique with ivory damask panels, with crisp black lace trim-- came from a dead woman. Each is memento mori. Each is haunted.

(By the way, the front of the jacket, like the Betsey Johnson below, fell a little short in the finishing. Only five buttons held it together, which wasn't trim enough for Catherine. So she added five snaps and eight hooks and eyes.)

What, you think fashion plus art plus photography isn't serious?

In her posting on Better 'N Bets --the first piece of Upgraded Couture from The House of Note For Sale--Catherine wrote:

The silk is a very deep wine-colored very small plaid. I feel I remember it from the Nineteenth Century. It's so evocative it makes me want to play some Civil War music and cry. . .

That's the mood exactly.

But what could be the meaning or meanings behind the positions of her hands? On first reading, they refer to the focus of Catherine's upgrading, the lace additions top and bottom. But because I know Catherine never works on one level, and using her statements above as clues, I am free to search for deeper interpretations. Such as:

It's a short drop from life to death. With her head shrouded, she draws the viewer's attention to the figure's torso. As we all know, Anatomy is Destiny-- especially for a woman. Any Woman, all Women. Look further than the personal. She is pointing to a universal Truth. Do not focus on Catherine's finger. Instead, follow in the direction to which she points.

Her delicate wrists, encased in the dead woman's gloves, echo the tender torso sheathed in the bones of Betsey's corset. Her wrists bend both forward and backward-- this woman is bound, and determined, to use her hands to death. They must express that which she requires, as an artist, as an actress. After all, her time in this body is limited, as well she knows.

Finally, why the proponderance of visits from Europe, by far the majority? I think it's because they recognize style better than Americans do, but also because Europeans have a lot longer history than we do of mourning, and of living with the innocent dead.

CODA: A couple of notes about why Catherine keeps custody of her features in these portraits. First I have to share the unwitting paradoxical irony of a comment I ran across somewhere: "I thought I saw Catherine King at the supermarket, but I couldn't be sure because she didn't have anything covering her face." Good. She has local enemies, and she wants to stay safe. But the practice is also consistent with these photographs, which she designs. They are not about her, herself --they are about Woman.

Posted by Jerome at 08:35 PM | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

Las Cabezas Estàn Mas Grandes

by Jerome du Bois

Hundreds.

Not thousands, and not hundreds of thousands. Here in Phoenix, illegal immigrants and their supporters "marshalled" a few "human chains" at three or four scattered locations across the Valley. I wondered why cable news basically skipped over Phoenix in its "coast-to-coast" coverage, and why the local coverage was so spotty. There was nothing much happening, apparently. (The best local shot was of some dipstick reporter interviewing an illegal under the Do Not Pick Up Day Workers sign at the Home Depot.)

The human chain fell short a few links, too. According to one report, before the Big Day,

In Phoenix, organizers hope to form a 25-mile long human chain.

It turned out to be more like .25 miles, if you put the scattered links together.

Methinks tienen las cabezas mas grandes, no? And grand ambitions. Como se dice "hot air" in Spanish?

And this adds a layer of prophecy to the photo in this posting. I now add the caption:

La Fiesta es finito, and it's not even Cinco de Mayo.

Despite the fact that Roberto Reveles, head of a "nationwide" group with the lying name of We Are America (Somos America), is based here, and despite the fact that supposedly 100,000 illegals and their tearjerkers marched in Phoenix less than a month ago, and despite the huge nationwide turnout elsewhere, people in Phoenix stayed away yesterday. I wonder why. A local restaurant manager has an explanation:

At Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill in Chandler, general manager Bill Hovey said "it really didn't affect us today." "All the guys that participated on April 10 felt that was enough for them."

Now, I know Mr. Hovey can't really speak for "all the guys," but if he's interpreting their behavior correctly, they sure don't appear to be men of principle, do they? Willing to risk a lot to make a stand? Willing to sacrifice for a greater good? No, one day's enough. What does that say about their character, their integrity? Not much.

By the way, if Mr. Hovey is knowingly employing illegals, as he seems to be implying here, shouldn't somebody be looking into that?

A local hotel exec had a different experience:

But Ben Bethel, partner of the Clarendon Hotel + Suites in Phoenix, found himself cleaning rooms when half his housekeeping staff didn't show up. He supported his employees' participation in the April 10 rally because they gave him notice. Monday's absences were a surprise.

"They didn't even call," he said.

Bethel said he would not fire the six employees because their jobs are hard to fill, though the absences could factor into who is let go in the slow summer months.

Well, that accounts for six of them. And maybe their jobs are hard to fill because he pays them peanuts for a job "Americans won't do."

On that subject, Rich Lowry demolished that inflated argument back on March 14th in "Jobs Americans Won't Do?" He writes:

President George Bush, a strong supporter of the guest-worker program, has long said that "family values don't stop at the Rio Grande." We are supposed to believe, however, that the work ethic does stop there it is only south of it that people can be found who are willing to work in construction, landscaping and agricultural jobs. So, without importing those people into our labor market, these jobs would go unfilled, disrupting the economy (and creating an epidemic of unkempt lawns in Southern California).

This is sheer nonsense. According to a new survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, illegals make up 24 percent of workers in agriculture, 17 percent in cleaning, 14 percent in construction, and 12 percent in food production. So 86 percent of construction workers, for instance, are either legal immigrants or Americans, despite the fact that this is one of the alleged categories of untouchable jobs.

(About the lawns: the average American, unlike the average national and state lawmaker, TV talking head, or mayor, or governor, does not employ a gardener --or a nanny, or a housekeeper, or a cook. We do it ourselves.)

Read it all for many more details, such as this one:

The average "consumer unit" in the U.S. spends $7 a week on fresh fruit and vegetables, less than is spent on alcohol, according to Martin. On a $1 head of lettuce, the farm worker gets about 6 or 7 cents, roughly 1/15th of the retail price. Even a big run-up in the cost of labor can't hit the consumer very hard.

Mr. Reveles should get some of this simple math into his head, edging out the visions of new voters dancing there.

Although I'm glad the Big Anti-American Walkoutpalooza fizzled in Phoenix, I can't help but think that there's something screwy here.

Let me begin with an anecdote. There's an Asian food market a few miles from my home. I've been going there once or twice a month for a couple of years, for soup ingredients. Up until recently I used a major thoroughfare, and so I was able to notice the changes over the months, the Mexification of the street. I won't go into details, but it looks like at least one huge sweatshop operates just behind a major intersection; and there's a corner house --again, fronting the major thoroughfare-- which is alternately deserted or jammed with all types of vehicles, which constantly change. A few months ago I decided to go two miles out of my way to avoid that street. Too dangerous. I didn't want to be part of a staged accident, or the victim of an uninsured drunk driver, or have to dodge whole families on foot trying to cross five lanes without bothering to go down to the intersection.

Oh, but they couldn't all be illegal, could they? No --but one is too many. And they couldn't all be legal, either; the scene grew too fast. And here are some other facts to consider:

Arizona is the key state in the whole illegal immigration drama. More illegals come up from the Arizona border than anywhere else. All the moves are being made here. The Minutemen are based here. The waterjug people are based here. Loudmouth Salvador Reza is based here. The Governor has declared a state of emergency. Yesterday, the very Dia Sin, Republican state legislators introduced a very strong anti-illegal immigration measure, "a $100 million package that would deploy National Guard troops to the desert border with Mexico and use radar to track anyone trying to sneak across the border." The Governor is expected to veto it, but the Republicans are ready and determined. The national congressional delegations are split on the issue. If ever there was a time and place for the biggest showpiece, it was in Phoenix yesterday.

And it flopped. Nobody even showed up at the Capitol to protest the Republican move --an obvious location and built-in TV spot. Why? Two quick theories: blowback from the big local march three weeks ago, with the message going out to let the other cities take the weight, we'll keep our heads down.

Maybe, but I don't buy it. My other theory is much darker, and it's based on the premise that these people are illegal. In other words, they view the law with contempt; the law is just something to either avoid or use, but never honor or obey. There's a hell of a lot of shady operators who feel just this way servicing that flood of criminal fools pouring endlessly up from the border.

And I think they're making so much money --from check-washing, chop-shopping, drug-dealing, false-document-preparing, and human smuggling-- that they've sent the word out --filtered through ever-cleaner channels-- to not queer the deal.

And the local political activists seem to be going along with it, floating down the rio --just like they sold us.

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