I know John Milisenda through incredible photographer (and wonderful human being) Flo Flo. His subtle B&W prints of the train yards of Pennsylvania, the streets of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1950s, and of his family, particularly his developmentally disabled brother Dennis, speak in quiet poetry. This short narrated slide show of this work was first shown on a TV show I produced at the MNN network, and was posted on the blog of Professional Women Photographers. The images are beautiful and subtle. As you watch, remember that at the time these were taken–the 1960s, 70s and 80s–B&W film and gelatin silver prints were the technology used by most serious photographers. As you look at magazines and visit galleries today, think about how things have changed: many prints are large-scale and often in vibrant color on a multitude of surfaces as new technologies have permitted. Slide show direct: Dennis, by John Milisenda. Blog post with background on John.
I am delighted to be part of the guest artist installation We, Au Natural at Soho Photo Gallery. Organized by Professional Women Photographers, it is comprised of 122 8×8″ square images by women photographers who take an unvarnished look at women’s bodies. Usually images of women in ads, videos and film are Photoshopped, idealized, and unrealistic. There is a hunger among women, as with all people everywhere, to be accepted for who and what they are. I felt this accutely growing up, and imagine it is even tougher for girls today as images splash in on everything from all directions. It takes a long time to “woman up” (not a pejorative!) and take control of your life. Believe me, I know. Sometimes it takes years to say, “this is who I am, take it or leave it.” And really mean it, be prepared to walk away. The world puts a lot of pressures on us. It takes a lot of guts to say “no,” and walk another, often very lonely road.
But at the end of the day, at the end of your life, you have to own up to some things, and who you are, who you have made yourself to be, what you have become do matter. Intent matters, as does the will to keep walking, even if you have to make the road by doing so. Artists don’t walk beaten paths. But they walk good ones, and should be proud.
FYI, “Legendary Bushwick Photographer” (I didn’t make that one up!) and buddy Meryl Meisler is also in the installation.
The exhibition is at Soho Photo Gallery, 15 White Street, and will run though January 31st. It can be viewed from Wednesday to Sunday 1:00 to 6 PM, and by appointment.
I was delighted to learn that one of my pieces, Still Life, Brooklyn, recently sold at the Atlantic Gallery in Chelsea. I’ve been working on this series for a while. They started off as a way to understand and learn about light, then became about arranging compositions and color, then got darker, which is what I wanted them to be all along. A way to talk about how art traditions of the past intersect with making art the present time.
Working in an old industrial building gives me access to a number of micro environments filled with clouded windows, layers and layers of peeling paint, stained wood and crumbling brick. It is a photographer’s paradise. I feel I never walk the same way twice, and am constantly inspired. So much in fact, that I am way behind on processing all the photographs I’ve taken.
I usually go very early when the light is just coming up over the rooftops of Brooklyn, and there is a sense of quiet peace before the day begins. Though I don’t spend that much time there, like an actor stepping on stage for a performance, I feel very focused, in the moment, and alive. A total creative high.
Another photographer approached me for a print trade of this image, which is great because while it’s wonderful to acquire someone’s work, it’s even better to really understand the circumstances of the piece, and how it fits into the rest of their ouevre.
I will also be included in an installation, We Au Natural, opening January 6th at Manhattan’s Soho Photo Gallery. Stop by if you have a chance.
I’m delighted to have an article on the very talented Kyle Mumford published by Arts in Bushwick. I am really a fan of these folks. They organize the huge Bushwick Open Studios event every year, run numerous community activities, and publish a classy blog that showcases the art and creative ferment of the area (recently named the 7th hottest neighborhood in the world by Vogue Magazine*). So it’s an honor. Special shout out to Willow Goldstein and Veronica Dakota, the smart, creative, really-great-at-handling-people ladies who make the blog what it is.
*So what are the 6 hot neighborhoods that came before Bushwick? Who the heck cares!
Took some pictures this morning. If I go early, the building is dark and has a late night feel, so you lose track of what’s going on outside. It’s like a dark corner of your mind where strange things happen.
The little doggies next door stopped by and had a look and a sniff. Not too interesting in the smell department, though last week I busted a tomato (in a plastic bag), and Bubba got all excited. Owner less so.
So it goes.
A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick, Amazon, Authors United, Brooklyn Book Festival, catherine kirkpatrick, catherinekirkpatrick.org, Doug Preston, Friends of Authors United, Hachette, Meryl Meisler, Photospire.org
It’s been a very bookish year. In the spring, Meryl Meisler came calling. First I was asked to edit a piece for her book A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick. Then I was asked to contribute the introduction, then edit another piece. There was a quick turnaround for Meryl and everyone involved (including yours truly). Everyone was so busy churning stuff out they didn’t have time to think about what it all meant.
Her show of these historic Bushwick/disco images opened at the Black Box Gallery during Bushwick Open Studios 2014. There were parties, celebrations and fun, then the media storm hit. There were articles in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Oui Magazine (I think that one’s a little racy), and The New Yorker (more sedate), where yours truly was quoted. I also had the privilege of writing about her for the Arts in Bushwick blog.
In September we participated in the Brooklyn Book Festival, Meryl as herself, me with my newly formed org, the New York Book Society. We had a great day (it didn’t rain), made new friends and contacts, and got high on the fumes of literature and culture. It was fun. The thing that impressed me most were the independents: individual poets, authors, small presses and enterprises that represent literature and books. Very refreshing, what America is all about.
I also support the efforts of Authors United, the group of 1,000 plus writers that has banded together to protest Amazon’s tactics of sanctioning individual authors in their price dispute with publisher Hachette. No one is going to roll back the digital onslaught (thank God, because I am a digital girl), but many people would like to see the collisions handled in a kinder, better way, especially in the field of books. Books are special. They are the key to education, learning and self-improvement. They uplift and console us; they make us who we are–as individuals, as a species.
So if you are in favor of a diverse book environment, please follow us on Twitter at FansAuthUnited, or like us on Facebook (okay, I need to update) or trace the thread of the story at FriendsOfAuthorsUnited.org (has links to various stories, and yes, needs to be updated too).
Till we chat again, happy reading! Because books count.
Here’s the story. It was a beautiful day out–bright sun, not too hot. I was going to the TV studio to take pictures of Ron B on the set of his show. Singer/songwriter Aaron Paul was going to appear, and showed up in a worn black leather vest with a bunch of colorful braids around his wrist. There was something just right about the look. The leather was faded just enough to be cool, the bands added a touch of color, and Aaron, being Aaron, had enough natural style to carry the whole thing off. Anybody else would have looked like they were trying too hard and seemed silly.
There have been some unusual guests on Ron’s show. One time a tall performer came in off the street wearing a white cape with antelope skulls attached to his shoulders. He was very nice and reminded us all of a slightly pale Elvis, but you don’t often see that look on the same block with John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Law enforcement folks don’t dress like that. Flashy to them is a big important-looking hat.
Back to Aaron and the vest. I thought it was a great look for him. We had done a shoot in July out in East Williamsburg and he had showed up looking like the epitome of an urban hipster. He had a cocky hat, horn-rimmed sunglasses, crisp shirt and vest. We started out on the train tracks that run across Morgan Avenue, then ventured out over the rickety (okay, in my mind it was rickety) bridge over the polluted waters of Newtown Creek. The bridge was see-through. It was made of crisscrossed metal grating, with a railing that seemed awfully open to me. Aaron wanted to go into the train yard and take a picture on the engine car, but they waved us off.
We survived. We didn’t get run over and we didn’t fall in. It was a fun shoot, and we got some great shots, but the pictures seemed a little clean. I thought Aaron had darker stuff in him, so while on break at the studio, we stepped out onto 59th Street and went up the block to a white wall that looked like a great open background.
We took some pictures there, then went up the block and grabbed some shots in front of an iron fence, then in front of a chain fence. The whole thing took about 15 minutes, but it had a good feel. Sometimes that happens. You put in long hours on a project, you sweat it, then you do something else twice as good in half the time. Maybe the first go was practice, sort of a dry run.
Later, as I was leaving the studio, I said, “don’t pick anything for the cover till I send you these.” I sent contacts the next day, and a shot was chosen. I wasn’t quite sure why they chose the one they did, but the designer had a vision for it and did a good job. Here is the image they used:
As Emerson said, chance favors the prepared mind…and the very well-dressed.
All photographs ©Catherine Kirkpatrick, Album cover art @Reginald Todd
I came home today tired and a little shaky from the heat. Okay, I swam too much and ate funny, but hey, it’s summer. Sat down to eat more bad food, catch up on email, and what did I see? A Google alert that led me to a New Yorker article on the wonderful Meryl Meisler book A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick…where I had been quoted. Am happy and thrilled. (Here’s the New Yorker link again, just in case you didn’t get it the first time).
Seriously, writing is really hard. First you have a vague idea which is fun because it’s new and exciting. Maybe you jot some notes, maybe you let it swirl around a bit more. At this point, it doesn’t hurt. Then you start fleshing out the story, plot, outline, whatever, and suddenly it gets hard and it gets very stubborn. There’s something in there and it wants to come out a certain way, like a baby with a very decided personality. And you want it to come out a certain way–good! There’s this terrible struggle to honor the jagged idea and smooth it out some. It has to be right, ride the edge between being imaginative and free, and cohesive and smooth enough for others to get. Even for short pieces, there’s always a massive struggle and pain in the ass because you sit on the chair so long. You put in so much time, so much lonely effort. Sometimes things don’t even see the light of day. There are huge projects you work on in secret, and short projects like blogs that seem to pass away in the blink of an eye. You get discouraged and wonder why you began in the first place.
Then you see something on a page or screen and it works. The words flow, they mesh with the pictures, they communicate and tell a story. And all the angst and fear are forgotten and for a moment you are proud. Then you get down off your high horse and go on because that’s what you do. What we all do. Every day, every moment, every life.
And now I must go see if there’s anything left in the refrigerator….
A few years back, a transgender friend invited me to her performance at NYC’s GLBT Expo. Wandering around, I was struck by the number of blue chip companies, including the New York Times and Morgan Stanley, that had taken booths and were pitching services. It was clear times had changed, that the once overlooked LGBT community was regarded as a significant market by major corporations.
A subset of that market is the estimated $1.5 billion dollars spent on gay weddings and related services, including photography. While you might think photography is just pointing a lens, it is a whole lot more, especially when you are charged with capturing someone’s biggest day and most personal feelings.
Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dobbs knew the gay wedding market was underserved. For Hamm, the “aha” moment came when she realized that images submitted to GayWeddings.com (of which she is president) were good, but rarely great; that some indefinable quality was lacking. Thea Dobbs, a photographer, felt photo education needed to reflect new social mores (and opportunity). Together they created The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography.
It is an excellent book: a good reference, an enjoyable read. There is a quick review of photography basics (rule of thirds, lighting, unique perspective), but photo competency is presumed, and it quickly moves to the human side of things, talking frankly about the subtle issues a photographer may face with a same-sex couple.
First and foremost is a heightened and specific sensitivity. As the authors point out, many same-sex couples “have an entirely different timeline and set of experiences” than traditional couples, with “expectations, joys and fears that are related to the development of their identities as members of a marginalized group.” Their families may not support them, and in some states their unions may not be legal. They are also more inclined to opt for unusual and personal ceremonies rather than the traditional kind, reflecting their unique, often fraught journeys. A photographer who tries to force straight wedding customs upon them may lose their trust and get less than stellar pictures.
In addition to psychological differences, there are real in-front-of-the-lens differences (and similarities) to be dealt with. How do you arrange a shot with two women both in wedding gowns? A male couple wearing similar suits? How do you coax people who have learned to be very careful about displays of affection, to relax in public for great candid shots?
Hamm and Dobbs provide a lot of solid, specific advice about posing, choosing locations, and establishing mood, but like all good teachers, they work through guidance and suggestion, and inspire by showing. The book is lavishly illustrated by work from thirty-eight photographers that shows a wide range of creativity and technique. There are indoor and outdoor shots, long shots and close ups, relaxed informal images, as well as some with a more traditional feel. Tech specs are provided with each image, but are secondary to the short caption describing the setting and mood the photographer was trying to establish and capture.
The book gives photographers permission to think and see in a new way. Which is good artistically, and also smart business. In recent years, photography had taken a hit as amateurs with high-quality, easy to use digital SLR’s ate into the bread-and-butter jobs professionals once relied on. With same-sex weddings an estimated $1.5 billion market, it makes good financial sense to pay attention.
Same-sex couples are increasingly particular about choosing a photographer. Being “gay-friendly” isn’t enough anymore. A strong portfolio of same-sex engagement and wedding images is a must. The bar is moving higher and photographers need to be prepared.
The New Art of Capturing Love is a wonderful place to start. With thoughtful text and beautiful pictures of loving souls, it serves as great introduction and reference for anyone looking to tap into the burgeoning gay wedding market. And really for anyone seeking to take better pictures of people–whatever the occasion, whatever their orientation.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. (But I liked it anyway)