"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Saturday, September 29, 2007

survivors, part 2

The house where Sigmund Mandelbaum (of blessed memory) lived in Dzialoszyce, Poland is still standing, but it is locked and empty. Once, 5600 Jews lived in Dzialoszyce, more than 75 percent of the town’s population. In 1942, the Nazis took the elderly Jews of the town, including Sigmund’s father and stepmother, to a pit and shot them. The rest – Sigmund, his sister and brother-in-law and their children among them – were marched to trains and sent to concentration camps. Only Sigmund survived. He spent three years in the camps – Auschwitz, Stuttgart, Stutthof, Buchenwald and finally Theresienstadt, from which he was liberated. Sigmund came to Kansas City in 1946. Within two years, he married Helen and owned a grocery store. “I didn’t know the language; I didn’t know the goods,” he said, “but Helen told me: ‘Honey, I trust you. You’ll make it.’”

After the war began, Molly Nagel was in the synagogue with her family as the Nazis were searching for Jews. Her father covered everyone with a prayer shawl, preparing to die martyrs’ deaths for the sanctification of God’s name. Instead, a bomb exploded at a door near Molly, injuring her leg. The family was able to flee to Bialystock. So hungry that she ate grass, Molly was fortunate to eventually find a job sorting potatoes. She met and married her husband, Sam, in Siberia. “We put up a chuppah [bridal canopy],” she recalls. “My husband brought me two eggs, and I got a bit of flour and made cookies.” Released from Siberia, the Nagels returned to Poland, only to have rocks thrown at them. From there, they stayed in a displaced persons camp in Germany. They immigrated to Kansas City in 1949. Sam earned $40 a week, saving enough in 18 months to buy a house. Molly took a job with a toy company and later worked as a salesperson in Sam’s shoe shop. They have two children and three grandchildren.

Iser Cukier (of blessed memory) was born in Czestochowa, Poland. His parents employed eight people to run a bakery that produced pretzels and crackers. The bakery occupied the same building as the Cukier’s apartment. A live-in maid made it possible for Iser’s parents to work together. Iser was the seventh and youngest child. Iser became a men’s tailor. He had his own shop in Zawiercie and employed ten people. He married and took his new wife on a six-week honeymoon skiing. The Nazis appreciated Iser’s skills enough to let him live and supervise 300 people making uniforms. His wife and 18-month old child, having no such value to the Nazis, were murdered, as was the rest of his family except for two brothers. After liberation, Iser went to Paris. He worked for a designer and married Tola Gottlieb. They stayed in Paris for seven years; Iser taught design at the university. In 1952 they immigrated to the U.S. Iser thinks everything is relative. He didn’t suffer as much as his first wife, as Tola, or as his family, so in some ways he feels fortunate. Nevertheless, he says, “This is in our heart and mind. We live with it, we sleep with it, we think of it, and we pray that it won’t happen again.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007


As you know, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University the other day. In his introduction of Ahmadinejad, University President Bollinger reminded the audience that the Iranian has called the Holocaust a “fabricated legend.” (It’s worth seven minutes of your time to watch/listen to the introduction.) Click here.

In 2000, I participated in a project, which resulted in a book called From the Heart, Life Before and After the Holocaust – a Mosaic of Memories. The focus of the book is the “before and after the war” stories of fifty Kansas City area Holocaust survivors. It is not a book about the horrors these people endured at the hands of the Nazis; rather, it is filled with sweet remembrances of their families and their lives before the nightmare began, as well as the rebuilding of their lives after liberation. The book is a celebration of these fifty lives.

Thinking about the survivors I befriended during these photo sessions, has brought me great comfort as I try to digest the whole concept of Holocaust denial.

I’d like to honor a few of them by posting their portraits, as well as excerpts of their stories here on the blog – some today, more to follow.

Gene Lebovitz believes he survived the Holocaust for two reasons: luck and youth. He spent 1941 through 1944 in forced labor battalions. In the Budapest ghetto, Gene met Kate Stern, who worked for the Swedish Red Cross under Raoul Wallenberg. They married in 1944, before Gene was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. At liberation, Gene weighed 104 pounds. He and Kate were smuggled to Italy by the Palestine Brigade. They arrived in the U.S. in 1946. Within four days, Gene found work in a New York garment factory. He has spoken to groups about the Holocaust for more than thirty years. He and Kate have four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Ann Federman grew up in Bedzin, Poland with eight brothers and sisters. They were strictly observant Jews and a close-knit family. In 1942, all of Bedzin’s Jews were ordered to report to a football field for deportation. She was moved from camp to camp for the next three years. Ann doesn’t dwell on the war, except for what happened to her little sister, Laika, who made it to the Czech labor camp from which Ann and her older sister were liberated. When Laika became ill, Ann and Gutcha sent her to the camp sanitarium, which had always been safe. Laika was taken away on a surprise raid by the SS. Ann and Gutcha made their way back to Bedzin after liberation (Ann was 20 years old), then to the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen. That is where she met Isak. Ann and Isak have been married for sixty-one years. They have three children and five grandchildren.

Sam Nussbaum (of blessed memory) became a plumber at the age of fifteen. His father wanted him to learn a trade so he could leave Poland and go to Israel. He never made it to Isarel, but plumbing did save his life. In September 1939, the Gestapo came to his home town, took 500 children to a cemetery and shot them. Hitler turned that part of Poland over to Stalin, according to a Soviet-German pact signed a month earlier. When the Nazis returned, they made Sam their plumber. He tried to escape by volunteering for a transport – he thought – to work in Germany. A Gestapo agent who appreciated Sam’s work had him taken off. The other 8,000 Jews on the transport went to the gas chambers. He didn’t talk much about his war years until 1992, when he traveled to Stuttgart to testify against Nazi Josef Schwammberger. “It was worth surviving for my children, he says proudly, adding, “I’m protected! I got David, a rabbi, Larry, a doctor, Bonnie, a lawyer and Mel, a plumber. And I got 19 grandchildren.” In 1973 Sam and his wife bought an apartment in Israel. They also bought 10,000 trees in a Jerusalem forest and built a monument to their lost family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

a pocket camera, the holocaust, a hero and the democracy of photography

Among a battalion of American soldiers who stumbled upon and helped liberate the survivors of a concentration camp in Germany, was a guy who happened to have a camera in his pocket. Please take some time to read this story. I heard it today on NPR.

Vernon Tott quit high school and snuck into the military so he could fight for his country. Like many soldiers, Tott learned to accept the realities of war. His 84th Infantry Division fought in the Battle of the Bulge and lost a third of its troops. But, when Tott's battalion headed toward the city of Hannover, Germany, in April 1945, members of the 84th were totally unprepared for their next encounter.

"There was a road," says concentration camp survivor Ben Sieradzki. "And we saw soldiers. One of them brought out a ... baseball."

The barely alive survivors of the Ahlem slave labor camp realized the soldiers must be Americans. "We started screaming, 'Come on up here, come on up here,' and some of them were just bewildered. They didn't know it was a concentration camp," Sieradzki said.

Tott, who died in 2005 from cancer, said he and the other soldiers were unaware of the existence of the camps and were shocked at what they saw. "We were witnessing hell on earth," Tott said at an 84th Infantry reunion. "Piles of dead bodies. Men in ragged clothing that were just skin and bones ... Me and the soldiers with me, it made us sick to your stomachs and even cried what we seen there."

What the soldiers saw were wraithlike prisoners, some near death lying in their own urine, ravaged by dysentery, typhus and other diseases. A few days before, German guards marched hundreds of able-bodied prisoners to the Bergen-Belsen death camp. They left those too sick, like Sieradzki, to die.

Not quite believing what he saw and wanting to share his horrified disbelief with family back in Sioux City, Iowa, Tott pulled out his pocket camera. "Actually, the infantrymen weren't supposed to carry cameras, but a lot of them did, so I got a lot of pictures during the war," he said.

After the war, Tott stashed his photographs from Ahlem in a shoebox on a shelf in his basement in Sioux City. He put the war behind him. "I think so many people put away that stuff on a shelf and wanted to forget," said his stepdaughter, Donna Jensen. "I think our whole country's put it on a shelf." Stepson Jon Sadler remembers rummaging through the basement with his friends and sneaking peeks at the photos. "In junior high, we'd open up the box and think, boy, this is terrible," Sadler said. "Look what my dad saw in the war. We just always assumed nobody ... in those pictures [survived]. They looked so horrible and sick."

For 50 years, Tott held the same assumption. Then, in his army newsletter in 1995, Tott spotted an inquiry from Sieradzki, a retired engineer in Berkeley, Calif. Sieradzki was searching for whoever took photographs of himself and other prisoners when Ahlem was liberated.

Tott went into his basement and found his old shoebox. He called Sieradzki, who remembers, "The telephone rang. 'My name is Vernon Tott and I think you're looking for me.' And I said, 'Are you still a tall blonde fellow?' And he said, 'Not any longer.'"
The two men talked many times that day. Tott made copies of his black-and-white snapshots and sent them to Sieradzki. In one of the photos, Sieradzki saw dead bodies piled on the ground in front of some barracks. In the foreground, was a huddle of skeletal prisoners. On the extreme left he saw himself.

Just hours before that picture was taken, the prisoners were handed some civilian clothes. Sieradzki changed out of his striped, ragged uniform into a "funny looking" jacket, hat and pants, which were too long, so he stuck them in his socks. This is the only known photograph of Sieradzki at liberation.

Sieradzki was 18 years old and weighed less than 80 pounds. He had endured more than five years of unimagined misery. It started in 1939, when his family was forced to live in a rundown slum district in Lodz, Poland, with 200,000 other Jews, called the Lodz Ghetto.

During this time, Sieradzki's parents and one sister were taken away and killed. His other sister died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Sieradzki survived three concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and eventually ended up in the slave labor camp called Ahlem, near Hannover, Germany. Near the end, his worsening health confined him to the barracks.
"They called people like me musselmen — goners," he writes in a short story about the war years. "Other prisoners started to steal my ration of food. There was no use to waste food on the likes of me."

An older cousin of Sieradzki's arrived as a new prisoner to the camp and urged him to eat. He says his cousin, a man who already lost his wife and young children in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, gave him hope.

When Sieradzki saw Tott's pictures of the Ahlem camp 50 years later, he was angry at first. The photographs released a flood of dark memories. But then Sieradzki was grateful, he said, "because I had no record of that horrible time, and here I am."
There were other official photographs taken at Ahlem. The Red Cross filmed the camp, but Sieradzki describes Tott as his true witness — and not because he helped liberate the camp. It's for what he did later with his photographs.

Tott realized there might be other survivors, like Sieradzki. And perhaps, he could provide them a piece of their past. So, he launched a quest to track them down.

Eventually, Tott located nearly 30 Ahlem survivors, across the United States and in Canada, Sweden and Israel. More than 16 are in his photographs. In 2001, he returned to Hannover with three of those survivors to help dedicate a memorial at Ahlem. And he traveled to Poland for the 60th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto.

In 2003, Tott's name was inscribed on a wall of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. "To Vernon W. Tott, My Liberator and Hero," Ahlem survivor Jack Tramiel had engraved on the wall. Tramiel, founder of Commodore Computer, is also a founder of the Holocaust Museum. "I have to make sure that this man is going to be remembered for what he has done," Tramiel said. "His family should know that he is to us, a hero. He's my angel."

Earlier this year, Tott's hometown, Sioux City, hosted the premiere of a documentary about him, called Angel of Ahlem, produced by the University of Florida's Documentary Institute. More than 1,000 people came to see the film at the historic downtown Orpheum Theatre, including some survivors. They also had the chance to walk through the first public exhibit of Tott's photographs.

In May, Angel of Ahlem was shown at New York City's Lincoln Center. Nearly a dozen survivors were there — reunited because of Tott, his pocket camera and his unwavering determination. The documentary was introduced by another member of the 84th Infantry, who helped liberate Ahlem, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. "There's nothing I'm more proud of, of my service to this country than having been one of those who had the honor of liberating the Ahlem concentration camp," Kissinger told the audience.

Kissinger grew up in Germany and became a U.S. citizen in 1943. He said many articles have described him as being traumatized during his childhood in Nazi Germany."That's nonsense," he said, "They were not yet killing people. A traumatic event was to see Ahlem. "It was the single most shocking experience I have ever had."

And then Kissinger made a special request. He invited the survivors to come up on the stage and have a picture taken with him.

Slowly, deliberately, the white-haired survivors — who'd been brutalized, then rescued from desperate circumstances, so many years before — made their way to the Lincoln Center stage. As they gathered, it was clear that the most important person missing from this one last photograph was Vernon Tott.

-Story produced by NPR's Cindy Carpien with help from the University of Florida's Documentary Institute, Duane Kraayenbrink and Gretchen Gondek of member station KWIT in Sioux City, Iowa, Brian Bull of Wisconsin Public Radio, and producer Kara Oehler

Monday, September 24, 2007

is it the tool or the person using it?

A few years ago a friend sent me this email:

“SUBJECT: Compliments to the…

A photographer was invited to a dinner and took along a few photos. The hostess looked at his work and said, ‘these are very good. You must have an excellent camera.’ After the meal, the man said to the hostess, ‘that was delicious. You must have some excellent pots and pans.’”

One of the things I have always truly adored about photography is its democratic nature; that is, just about anyone can pick up a camera, figure out what to do with it and then take pictures! Unlike painting or ceramics or glass blowing, it’s a relatively simple medium to learn. Back when I had my gallery, I would often hear comments like, “Oh, you know, Uncle Harry took pictures just like these!” or “My kids can make pictures like these.” I loved that, and I hated that, too.

I loved that people felt photography was so accessible. I hated that viewers discounted the years of study, the completed bodies of work, the nature of the creative process itself, the endeavor on the part of the artist to look beyond mere reproduction, the various movements in the history of the medium and the consistency of success from one piece to the next when surveying images by any given photographer.

“As early as 1888 George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, was promoting the notion that taking a picture was an utterly straightforward task. When he invented the Kodak towards the end of the nineteenth century, a small, easy-to-use camera, which contained one hundred pictures on a dry gelatin roll, the advertising slogan read, ‘You push a button and we do the rest.’ With that, Eastman lay down the foundation for making photography available to everyone.

As cameras have become ever smaller and easier to use in the wake of the digital revolution, we have perhaps reached an apex of effortlessness when it comes to taking pictures. Due to the immediacy of the medium, and its automatic qualities, the element at the heart of photography – light – has for the most part been forgotten.

Hence the message of the Kodak slogan, even if we were unaware of it, is now most certainly instilled in us. Moreover, in an era of endless print media, on-demand TV viewing and mobile-phone photography, our eyes have become so accustomed to the daily onslaught of images, that we are no longer able to look at them with a discerning eye.” – Anne-Celine Jaeger from Image Makers. Image Takers

Ansel Adams was known for saying, “You don’t take a photograph. You make it.”

“Photography and seeing has evolved tremendously since its birth. Nevertheless, the notion of an instamatic image seems to be stuck in our collective consciousness. No matter how well versed we think we are in photography, no matter how talented, we should always strive for a deeper level of understanding. Because unlike Kodak’s 1888 catch-phrase suggested, great photography is anything but straightforward. Perhaps a better slogan would be: ‘It’s not what you click, but how you tick.’” – Anne-Celine Jaeger

Sunday, September 23, 2007

happy new year!

For some odd reason, I decided to wade through the archives of this blog to see when I made my very first post. Bring up the twilight zone music… it was one year ago today!

So much has happened in one year. Four distinct seasons have rolled through their cycles, my mother-in-law passed away, Eddie broke his arm and went through months of physical therapy, Max left for college, I got hearing aids, I reconnected with a college friend I hadn’t spoken to in almost two decades, I reconnected with a high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in over three decades, Change the Truth was born after a life-changing journey to Africa, I went parasailing for the first time ever, finally saw Dylan in concert, I used digital more than film and I became a blogger.

For me, Fall (the best season, in my humble opinion) has always been the start of the New Year, much more so than January 1st. For one thing, we Jews follow the Hebrew calendar and note the year change with two of our most important holidays, both of which occur in the fall. Since I was a little girl, observing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has always signaled the end of one thing and the start of something new. Then, of course, there was the beginning of school – fresh text books with that new book smell, sharpened pencils lined up in a brand new pencil box, spanking new school clothes and that chance to redeem oneself after performing not so well in a particular class or two the previous year. And finally, my birthday is in the fall, too – always a new beginning and a fresh start.

Jews don’t make New Years resolutions per se. What happens is this:

By Yom Kippur the forty days of repentance that began with the first of Elul, have passed. On Rosh Hashanah God has judged most of humankind and has recorded this judgment in the Book of Life. But God grants a ten- day reprieve. This is the period between the two holidays. On Yom Kippur the Book of Life is closed and sealed. Those who have repented for their sins are granted a good and happy New Year. Since Yom Kippur is the day to ask forgiveness for promises broken to God, the days before are reserved for asking forgiveness for broken promises between people.

Ideally, we are to spend this time asking those around us for forgiveness – for anything we said that may have seemed malicious, for anything we did that may have been hurtful, for the time we promised to spend together and didn’t and so on. It’s a wonderful exercise. You simply turn to a loved one, a friend, a neighbor or someone with whom you do business and say, “Remember those times I screwed up this year? Well, I am truly sorry.” You clean the slate, you consider how you might do things differently the next time, you cut yourself some slack, and the opportunity for a fresh new beginning suddenly presents itself.

We also fast. “What’s the big deal about not eating and drinking? Actually, it’s a very big deal. Yom Kippur is God’s designated annual day of total spirituality. On Yom Kippur, we get into things that make us like angels, and out of things that make us like animals: we spend the whole day in prayer and reflection, and we put our bodily cravings on the back burner. Prayer and reflection is what makes us most like angels, and eating/drinking is what makes us most like animals. On Yom Kippur, we try to soar as high as we can. Not worrying about what’s to eat helps keep that in focus.” - askmoses.com

The whole process is exhilarating, really.

So, today is the anniversary of my blog, the first day of my favorite season and one of the first days of the Jewish New Year. The coincidences makes me feel brand new all over again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

change the truth update

As our trip to Uganda draws closer, preparations are well under way to make it a successful one. I am pleased to announce that Lonnie Powell, an extraordinary painter from Kansas City, plans to accompany us. He will team up with Jane Voorhees to give art classes to the children at St. Mary Kevin’s. I feel so honored that these two successful and highly regarded artists are going to be making the trip with us.

I’d like to share a couple of letters I have received recently from Rosemary (founder/director of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood):

“Dear gloria,

i don’t know how to thank you and your group. all i have to say is that much as you can not stop the truth of African children, you have changed the truth by all your endeavors. bravo to change the truth foundation. the money you sent for the project material was used and the profits gotten have been invested in the expansion of the piggery project. you will see it when you come. we all invested some in the
gardening project of simple foods for the children and vegetables and buying food for the children.

thanks a lot.
kind regards
Rose Mary"

"Dear Gloria,

i have seen the plan for your coming. It’s very exciting and the children and teachers will benefit and like every thing you have planned. the translators will be there, the class rooms for art will also be organized. you can come with the materials. it will be very good.

thanks a lot and God bless you and change the truth.
kind regards
Rose Mary”

If you have been a supporter of Change the Truth in any way, please accept my sincere thanks. Rest assured that Rose Mary and the children are forever expressing their profound gratitude, and it is my pleasure to pass this along to you. The readership of this blog is made up of people who were initially interested in my trip to Africa last October and who have patiently and graciously continued to follow it. Others have stumbled upon it more recently. It would be wonderful if each of you found a way, large or small, to get involved in the work being done by Change the Truth. If you are not familiar with the foundation, please visit the website at changethetruth.org. If you would like to find a way to contribute, here are some suggestions:

-Make a donation. This can be done by credit card or check. Both options are explained at the website.

-Purchase jewelry, T-shirts, CDs or handmade toy balls. Every bit from each sale goes directly to the kids. Again, you can access the store at the website.

-Spread the word. Tell your pals and family members about the orphanage and encourage them to become friends of Change the Truth.

-Arrange for a presentation about Change the Truth at your child’s school, at your church or synagogue.

-Look around the house for unused art supplies that we can take to the children when we go in December.

-Make plans to attend our very first fund raising event, which will take place next spring. Details to follow.

Perhaps some of you have read about the recent flooding in Uganda. It seems the struggling villagers, the poor, the ill and the orphaned can’t catch a break. Please join me in helping make a difference in the way things turn out for these one hundred fifty children, who, when it’s all said and done, could represent and reflect the good that is in each and every one of us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

whatever happened to boone's farm apple wine?

“Kentucky has ideal temperatures and climate for growing well-balanced grapes like those grown in the noble regions of France and Italy. The region's early settlers knew this. In 1798, a European settler named Jean Jacques du Four planted the first Kentucky Vineyard. Many European immigrants planted extensive vineyards in Kentucky. In fact, the first commercial vineyard was started in Kentucky, and backed by money from several prominent statesmen, including Henry Clay. By 1870, Kentucky was a leading wine producer, producing more than half the nation's output at that time. Unfortunately, prohibition came in the 1920's and all the vines were ripped out. Kentucky has never fully recovered. But today, the grape industry in Kentucky is experiencing a renaissance.” -Centuryhouse.net

My Aunt Barbara, at age 84, still loves guiding tourists to all the hot spots in the Lexington area. When she's not working at the Kentucky Horse Park, needlepointing, running errands, baking beaten biscuits or making dinner for Uncle Gene (who at 97 still happens to drive himself to work everyday) she volunteers at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. She flies the state flag from the roof of her car. Yesterday she took my father and me to a great winery for lunch. We sat outside for lunch at the bistro there, did a wine tasting and enjoyed the view – the vineyards, and stretching out past those, barns and tobacco fields. I kept feeling confused – was I in Kentucky or Tuscany??

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

twelve year old blogger

I am in Kentucky visiting my father.

My sixth grade diary sits in the drawer by the bed. I’ve been thumbing through it. Seems I was into boys, boys, playing basketball, figuring out how to get out of practicing piano, shopping for clothes and um... boys. Here are some excerpts:

January 7, 1966

Dancing school was tonight. Doug danced with me two times. I think Tobey doesn’t like Headley as much as she used to, but I still like Doug, and I hope he still likes me. I hope he’ll never ask for the football back, but I know that day will come!

January 13, 1966

Dancing school tomorrow. I always hate it when she says, “Boys, excuse yourselves” because I know some night Doug will ask Tobey. He asks me all the time, but I know he wants to ask Tobey. What went wrong?

January 17, 1966

Well, today has passed and another is in store. I guess Doug and I are at the end of our rope, and it’s starting all over again with Chris! I think I like Chris better anyway.

August 20, 1966

Well, Ken gave me his ring the first of June. I still have it, but I hate him. For one thing, his hair is way too long. For another, he doesn’t really treat me like a girl, but as an animal. It’s true. I’m after Chris again. I’m not sure if he likes me, but I’m dying for him! His hair isn’t long and bushy like Ken’s, he’s so nice and I love his freckles and I love him!

August 22, 1966

Oh! Guess what happened? Ken called and asked for his ring back. I will gladly return it. Chris gave me a little note last night. I wrote back. I think that he might give me a ring (according to Frances.) Well, see ya soon!

Monday, September 17, 2007


I just had to include this series to complement the previous post.

Part of this little girl’s birthday celebration each year is a trip to my studio. Not only am I honored that she and her mom spend part of the actual birthday with me, I am lucky to have gotten to know both of them pretty well. I now consider them friends, and I look forward to each October when I know it’s time for the next birthday!

When Libby was one, her mom had taught her to hold up one finger. By two, she had it mastered.

So… we just kept going.

Her little sister has started a series of her own now. For now, though, here's Libby:

Saturday, September 15, 2007

time marches on

Yesterday I made a portrait of a striking and gracious young woman.

Years ago I took her picture, too. Back then she was wearing her first communion dress.

Now she’s a senior in high school.

The experience reminded me how fortunate I have been to be in the portrait business over these past ten years. I have been granted the privilege of watching kids grow up before my very eyes! Many of my clients have stuck with me; as a result, I have had the opportunity to chronicle their children’s growth over the years. It’s fascinating to look back at the earlier pictures and recall who they were then, who I was then.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

gift idea for the person who has everything

You may recall my post about the balls that the kids in Uganda make. Rosemary sent me a bunch of them, and I have now gotten them all boxed up. For a donation of $25 to Change the Truth, you can have one. It comes with a card that contains the following message:

“There are over two million orphans living in Uganda. One hundred and fifty of them live at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood, a special home and school just outside of the capital city of Kampala. These children don’t have much – no IPODS, no computers, no fancy gym shoes, not even toys. They make their own balls out of the plastic bags they find on the ground. They wrap the bags tightly into a round shape, then cover the sphere with banana fiber that they get from nearby trees. Sometimes they attach a short string so that the ball can be held in front of them and kicked about. Otherwise, the children simply toss the balls back and forth amongst themselves. They derive immense joy from such simple play!

A donation in your honor has been made to Change the Truth, a non-profit organization that provides educational opportunities, as well as funds for food, clothing and medicine to the children at St. Mary Kevin’s. This ball was made by one of the kids there. Hopefully, it will serve as a reminder to you that beauty, joy and friendship can be experienced on the simplest of levels.”

Several friends of Change the Truth have already decided these will make great gifts for kids who can’t possibly have room in their lives for one more toy, electronic or otherwise!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

photography: a "reminder of appearance"

A good friend of mine, who is a nurse, told me that the Arbus picture of Anderson Cooper as a very young baby really disturbed her. For her it called to mind the Polaroid snapshots nurses often take for parents whose babies have died in childbirth or shortly thereafter.

There has, of course, been a long tradition of photographing people/babies who have died. This daguerreotype of a mother and her deceased child, for example, was made in the 1850’s. The practice has fallen in and out of favor over time and definitely varies with different cultures/traditions. I found this article recently written by journalist Maura McDermott, who writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.

“Not long ago, families of stillborn or terminally ill newborns were urged to ‘move on’ and squelch their grief, says Gerald Koocher, a pediatric psychologist who spent 30 years working at Children's Hospital Boston and counseled many grieving families.

A gradual change began in the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps due to the influence of the women's movement and mothers feeling more comfortable insisting that their grief should not be tucked away, he says.

Now, it's more commonly accepted that families must grieve for infants as much as for any loved one, he says. Reminders, such as photos, also might help siblings take part in the family's mourning instead of feeling isolated.”

About a year ago, I began volunteering for an national organization that provides, free of charge, the services of portrait photographers for families who have lost an infant. Shortly after I signed on, I began to get phone calls - usually in the middle if the night - from nurses in area hospitals saying there had been a death and could I come over right away to make portraits?

It was heart-wrenching work, needless to say.

I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t cut out for it. Unfortunately, each time I was called, the deceased was only twenty-some-odd weeks along. This was difficult, to say the least. I also finally ran into one nurse who suggested and “set up” some arguably questionable/distasteful shots, and the vulnerable, grieving parents had no choice but to go along with her plan. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable, even though the young and completely devastated couple was grateful beyond words for the pictures I later gave them.

Again, from McDermott’s’ article:

‘Mainly, it's been about finding a proper and effective way to grieve,’ Gary Laderman, a professor of religious history at Emory University says, ‘and some kind of reminder of appearance is a very potent means of grieving and mourning and being able to live with death.’

Monday, September 10, 2007

new york city, october, 2001

These are pictures I made in New York a few weeks after 9-11.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

nina berman

This is especially for you, Linda and David. Photographer Nina Berman’s project PURPLE HEARTS is currently on view at the Jen Bekman Gallery in NYC. It’s powerful work. Please check out the link.

From a recent NYT online article:

"One of the more shocking photographs to emerge from the current Iraq war was taken last year in a rural farm town in the American Midwest. It’s a studio portrait by the New York photographer Nina Berman of a young Illinois couple on their wedding day.

The bride, Renee Kline, 21, is dressed in a traditional white gown and holds a bouquet of scarlet flowers. The groom, Ty Ziegel, 24, a former Marine sergeant, wears his dress uniform, decorated with combat medals, including a Purple Heart. Her expression is unsmiling, maybe grave. His, as he looks toward her, is hard to read: his dead-white face is all but featureless, with no nose and no chin, as blank as a pullover mask.

Two years earlier, while in Iraq as a Marine Corps reservist, Mr. Ziegel had been trapped in a burning truck after a suicide bomber’s attack. The heat melted the flesh from his face. At Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas he underwent 19 rounds of surgery. His shattered skull was replaced by a plastic dome, and a face was constructed more or less from scratch with salvaged tissue, holes left where his ears and nose had been.

Ms. Berman took this picture, which is in the solo show at Jen Bekman Gallery, on assignment for People magazine. It was meant to accompany an article that documented Mr. Ziegel’s recovery, culminating in his marriage to his childhood sweetheart. But the published portrait was a convivial shot of the whole wedding party. Maybe the image of the couple alone was judged to be too stark, the emotional interchange too ambiguous. Maybe they looked, separately and together, too alone.

'Marine Wedding,' the portrait’s title, was not Ms. Berman’s first encounter with wounded Iraq war veterans. She photographed several others beginning in 2003, and 20 of her portraits were published as a book, 'Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq' (Trolley Books, 2004), with an introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times. These pictures, accompanied by printed interviews with the sitters, have been traveling the country, and 10 are now at Bekman.

None are as startling as 'Marine Wedding,' even when the disability recorded is more extensive. Former Spc. Luis Calderon, 22, of Puerto Rico, had his spinal cord severed when a concrete wall he was ordered to pull down — it was painted with a mural of Saddam Hussein — fell on him. He is now a quadriplegic, though this is not immediately evident from his portrait. Nor can we see from the photograph of Spc. Sam Ross, 20, of Pennsylvania, that he lost a leg in a bomb blast, which also caused permanent brain damage.

Almost all the veterans in Ms. Berman’s pictures look isolated, even if someone else is present. And a sense of loneliness comes through in their brief interviews. Mr. Ross, separated from his family, lives by himself in a trailer. Mr. Calderon, who waited months for veterans’ benefits, says he feels abandoned by the military; because he was not wounded in combat, he has not been awarded a Purple Heart.

Spc. Robert Acosta, 20, a Californian who lost a hand in a grenade attack, says he is psychologically unable to resume his former social life: 'I don’t like dealing with the questions. Like, ‘Was it hot?’ ‘Did you shoot anybody?’ They want me to glorify the war and say it was so cool.'

Mr. Acosta’s interview has the only overt anti-war sentiment in the Bekman show, and there are few words of bitterness or recrimination. Mr. Ross calls combat in Iraq the best time of his life. Randall Clunen of Ohio remembers the excitement of search missions in Iraqi homes as a peak experience. Sgt. Joseph Mosner, at 35 the oldest in this group, was 19 when he enlisted. 'There was no good jobs,' he said, 'so I figured this would have been a good thing.' He still thinks so, despite his severe facial scarring from a bomb explosion.

Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, left brain-damaged and blind by an artillery attack, once had plans for medical school. but says: 'I don’t have any regrets. I had some fun over there. I don’t want to talk about the military anymore.' He claims, as do others, that he has no political opinions.

Ms. Berman adds no direct editorial comment to the presentation. She has said in interviews that she started photographing disabled veterans soon after the war began mainly because she didn’t see anyone else doing so. In what may be the most intensively photographed war in history, the visual documentation has been selective. The fate of the injured veterans was not a public issue until news reports about substandard treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

This background provides the context for Ms. Berman’s photographs, which are themselves tip-of-the-iceberg images. No matter what the viewer’s political position, the images add up to a complex and desolating anti-war statement. Mr. Acosta makes that statement outright: 'Yeah, I got a Purple Heart. I don’t care. I don’t need anything to prove I was there. I know I was there. I got a constant reminder. I mean like all the reasons we went to war, it just seems like they’re not legit enough for people to lose their lives for and for me to lose my hand and use of my legs and for my buddies to lose their limbs.'

And 'Marine Wedding' speaks, as powerfully as a picture can, for itself."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

arbus again... and anderson cooper

This portrait, shot for Harper’s Bazaar, is described in Patricia Bosworth’s Arbus biography:

“To dispel the growing myth that [Arbus] only took pictures of freaks, she made up a list of elegant people she wanted to photograph…As if to prove her point, she took a remarkable portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt’s sleeping baby son, Anderson Hays Cooper, for a Harper’s Bazaar Valentine issue. In this truly astonishing picture, the infant resembles a flat white death’s head — eyes sealed shut, mouth pursed and moist with saliva. When Gloria Vanderbilt saw the photograph, she forbade Bazaar to publish it, but eventually she changed her mind and this stunning image opened Diane’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1972.”

"I have it in my bedroom," Cooper has said. "I think it's great."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Today is my birthday. Eddie asked me, as he has for the past twenty-five or so birthdays, “Gloria, what do you want for your birthday – the twins?” There was a time when he could have possibly afforded that gift for me. Not any more. A print of “Identical Twins” by Diane Arbus sold at auction recently for close to $500,000.

“Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967” is pretty much my favorite photograph of all time. Arbus made the picture at a Christmas party for local twins and triplets. No one is quite sure how she heard about the gathering, but a few parents agreed to let their children pose for her. She only shot six frames of these seven year old girls, whose names are Cathleen and Colleen.

"Somebody called me and told me the twins were on the cover of the Village Voice," their father Bob Wade said in an interview in 1972. "I told my wife, 'I didn't sign anything.' She said, 'Uh, I did.' "

"We thought it was the worst likeness of the twins we'd ever seen. I mean it resembles them, but we've always been baffled that she made them look ghostly. None of the other pictures we have of them looks anything like this."

The picture inspired me to make my own attempt at photographing identical twins. Ironically, one of the sets who answered my call for the project consisted of young women named Cathleen and Colleen, who are pictured below. You can see the rest of the project here.

Fun facts about Arbus’ “Identical Twins”:

-Their mother made the corduroy dresses they are wearing, which are actually green, not black.

-When Arbus mailed the family the release form, she also included an original print of the photo, which Bob Wade now refers to as the girls’ “401(k).”

-Arbus made a note about the photograph which suggested she thought the girls resembled her own sister, Renee.

-The photo is echoed in Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining, which features twins in an identical pose.

-The girls grew up living rather conventional lives. Today they are both married, both working mothers and are still very close.

-It will always be that one birthday gift Eddie’s been meaning to get for me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

you are kindly welcome

In the fall of 1975, I began a photographic project about Appalachian musicians. It was the beginning of my senior year of college, I was a newlywed, and I was turning all of twenty-one years old.

I made several trips to eastern Kentucky, sometimes crossing over into Virginia and Tennessee to seek out musicians – not ones who had established names for themselves; rather, those who had played at family gatherings, at the corner stores or at VFW halls for years - quietly and consistently preserving the traditions of Bluegrass music.

I would pull into small towns (most of them in coal mining areas) and asked whomever I saw if they knew of any pickers, singers or fiddlers. I was hardly ever disappointed; perfect strangers would point the way up this hollow or that, where I would then find myself in the company of a welcoming banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, mandolin or guitar player.

I lugged my own banjo around on those trips, as well as my Hasselblad camera.

By the spring, I had enough photos to make a limited edition book, which I printed on an old Vandercook letterpress printing press. A woman I met along the way made quilted covers for these hardbound books; I made an edition of twenty, each of which had silver gelatin prints tipped into beveled pages.

A few years ago, my mother ran across one of the books, entitled “You are Kindly Welcome” at a rare bookstore in Lexington. Turns out the University of Kentucky bought it for their book collection. (We were floored when we heard what they paid for it!) Anyhow, to this day, I do not have even one copy of that, my first completed hand made photo book. I wish I did.

I do have the negatives, however. Here is one of the images from the book. It’s a portrait I made of W.R. and Dahlia who lived just outside of Hazard, Kentucky.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

teaching the next generation to give

I discovered today that Max’s girlfriend, Becca, had a surprise for me. Over the summer she has been working and studying and accumulating money (with help and encouragement from her mom, Petey) to donate to Change the Truth! The two of them presented me with a very handsome check today over lunch. They both feel very strongly about helping out the kids at St. Mary Kevin’s and even hope someday to make the trip to Uganda to meet them. I learned that Becca’s little sister has even gotten in on the act by having a lemonade stand to raise money.

Thank you, Becca, Caroline and Petey!