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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

fun in san francisco: sfmoma, fraenkel, rayko and fam

The highlights of my trip to the west coast included:


Lots of photos. One afternoon, my sister-in-law and I managed to take in the Katy Grannan exhibit at the Fraenkel Gallery, “Exposed” and the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as the unbelievable installation of photographic treasures at Pier 24. That day was topped off with the opening reception at the RayKo Photography Center.

Katy Grannan is a Yale MFA grad who lives in Berkeley. Her show “Boulevard” features large, crisp color portraits of San Francisco and Los Angeles street people. Grannan has assembled an eclectic array of anonymous passersby, each one more visually interesting than the next. She photographs with a digital Hasselblad, using the high contrast sun of midday to set a hyper-real tone. It is a striking portrayal of transvestites, motorcyclists, addicts, aging beauty queens, hustlers, etc. all posed in front of whitewashed stucco walls. The prints are gorgeously printed: saturated and precise. I found myself inspecting every sharp detail, trying to imagine the stories that accompany each subject.

Frish Brandt, an old friend and director of the gallery (and a wonderfully warm, engaging and smart woman), treated us to a special viewing of a few goodies, including a self-portrait Diane Arbus made for her husband, Alan, when she was 23 and pregnant. Frish also showed us “Two Girls in Identical Raincoats, Central Park, N.Y.C, 1969". The image had been included in the first edition of Arbus’ Aperture monograph and in her show at MOMA. The father of the young women insisted that the image be pulled from both, because he felt it was unflattering. Recently, the estate has begun making prints of it. It’s a powerful image, and it was a treat to get to see it.

Both installations at SFMOMA were incredible. “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century” surveys the photographer’s entire career, with a presentation of about three hundred photographs, arranged thematically and supplemented with periodicals and books. I only got a couple of pictures before I was reprimanded by a security guard, but trust me; it was a provocative, comprehensive, beautiful compilation of the work of the father of modern photojournalism. All the greatest hits were there, plus some obscure work I had never seen before.

“Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870”, also at SFMOMA, presents more than 200 photographs that investigate the ways artists (and everyday people) have addressed the voyeuristic nature of the medium. There are works by major artists, including Brassaï, Walker Evans, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Paul Strand and Weegee as well as photographs made by amateurs, professional journalists, paparazzi and governmental agencies. With the onslaught of cell phone cameras, You Tube videos, security cameras and satellite views, this show is particularly current and thought provoking.

The opening of “4xAfrica” at the RayKo Photography Center was a great way to finish the day. I was really pleased to be included in the show.

It was fun meeting folks from the SF photo community and checking out the all the cool stuff at RayKo (including a dizzying array of used cameras ranging from 35 mm to 4x5 plus every plastic one imaginable, a large traditional darkroom, a digital lab, a groovy “general” store, an art vending machine AND an old photo booth!) I really enjoyed getting to know RayKo's director Ann Jastrab, too.

While in the Bay Area I got to spend lots of time with my brother and sister-in-law and even got a surprise, last minute visit from my sonny boy Max, who drove up from LA with some of his friends. Icing on the cake.

In my next post, I’ll fill you in on Pier 24, which truly was the centerpiece of my photo viewing experience in SF.

photos by francis

I have been using my little Canon point and shoot while in San Francisco and, when downloading images today, I discovered pictures one of the kids at the orphanage had taken with my camera. I'd forgotten that I had let Francis use my camera one afternoon.

It was kind of amazing to find these.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

city by the bay

I am having an absolutely wonderful time in San Francisco. I've been to SFMOMA, Fraenkel Gallery and Pier 24 for huge, delicious doses of photography. My opening at RayKo was great fun. Being with family has made it all even better. More about the photo shows coming up soon.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

party pooper

What a contrast. Going from eating cake just for fun (and as a kick in the ass to the body image expectations imposed on us by pop culture) to just plain eating. Since my first trip to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in Uganda in 2006, I have been hyper aware of this contrast.

Eating to enjoy/eating to survive.

There is no cake at the orphanage except on Christmas Day. There is barely anything more than corn meal posho, potatoes, rice, porridge and beans. Thanks to Change the Truth there are three, rather than two, meals a day. And sometimes there are greens.

Here is what is involved in making a meal happen:

Firewood is gathered and chopped. It is not unusual to see barefoot twelve and thirteen-year-old boys swinging the axe.

Maize meal, which is purchased in huge bagfuls at the market, is mixed with water and a little sugar. Then a fire is built. The porridge (or firmer posho) is cooked over the fire. Usually this is done by the grown-ups, but sometimes it is done by the children (barefoot children). The meal (depending on its consistency) is scooped up and plopped or poured onto plates, bowls, buckets or mugs held by the children who patiently wait in line. The children eat the posho with their hands. They eat the runny porridge by raising the plate, bowl or mug to their mouths.

The food prep area is outside on the ground next to the wood chopping area. The kids usually help with this task - peeling potatoes, cutting meat (on special occasions) with large knives. The cooking is done in a partially enclosed structure. Two big vats are used. The vats fit into a metal stand that is poised over the fire pit. There is a lot of smoke involved in cooking these meals. So much smoke that I can only stay in that partially covered structure for five minutes before the tears running down my face and the fierce stinging in my eyes force me to go outside to catch my breath. (This occurs much to the amusement of the young kids who are waiting in line and the adults or older kids who are cooking and serving up the food.)

On special occasions goat, chicken, pig or cow meat is thrown on the fire.

And on the most special occasion, cake is served.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

cake! part 2

Here are the rest of the cake photos. And two anecdotes.

Little Hiru, who is in the last picture from yesterday's post, had never had cake before. Her mom decided this would be a good opportunity to give it a whirl. Hiru studied the piece of cake very carefully at first and took her time exploring it. She poked the icing, watch a sprinkle or two fall off, look up at her mom, glanced down at my dog Sam (who was hoping she'd toss it his way), and then finally she pinched off a bit and tucked it into those cute little lips. It did not take long before the next bite, which was, of course, slightly bigger. Hiru remained thoughtful and serious as she raised a few more morsels to her mouth. Her mom, Sam and I patiently waited for some kind of response. Suddenly, she grinned and (totally unprompted) started clapping her hands. Another bite: more applause, a huge smile and even some squealing. Another bite: applause, a bigger huge smile, squealing and a little bit of bouncing. She continued this process until her plate was clean. I told Hiru's mother the child will never be the same.

Seven-year-old Miranda is in the first picture here. She also came to the studio with her mom. She had eaten cake before, but she is a pretty sophisicated little eater (a vegetarian her whole life and a mom who knows her way around the kitchen). She actually wasn't too impressed with the sugary-grocery-store-style cake, but she had so much fun posing and then helping me set up and shoot her mother's picture (her mom is the lovely woman in the 1940's attire). Apparently on the way home from my studio, Miranda called her grandmother to tell her what fun the morning had been and that she and her mom had both "eaten the damn cake!" Miranda's mother took the phone and realized she had a little explaining to do.

I hope I get to do more projects like this for the writer Kate Fridkis. It was great fun! (And thanks to my friend Linda, I got a piece of cake and a photo, too.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


After reading a wonderful article by Kate Fridkis in the Huffington Post recently, I found my way to her blog, Eat the Damn Cake. Fridkis tackles issues concerning women and body image with poignancy, insight, quirkiness and humor. I have become a huge fan of her work. (She also writes a blog about home schooling and continues to write about various topics for HP.) At any rate, I emailed her to tell her I was captivated, and that I would love to collaborate with her by doing some photos. She was generous in her quick response, willing to give me a chance to do some visuals for use somewhere on the blog.

We decided to start with, what else? Pictures of girls and women eating the damn cake!

I put out a call on my facebook page. Within hours I was busy running back and forth to the bakery counter at my neighborhood grocery store, fielding emails and calls from hungry friends and hungry friends of those friends. Well, hungry is probably not an accurate word to use in this case - more like sweet-toothed and slightly crazed and irreverent.

The weekend turned out to be a total blast, needless to say. I am still finding icing in the crevices of my camera and crumbs on the studio floor. I have wonderful gal pals, and I thank them for volunteering to shove cake in their mouths for me.

I ended up doing 20 pictures in all. I have sent them to Kate and am eager to hear what she has to say. In the meantime, here's the first half of the eat the damn cake photos. I'll post the rest tomorrow. Don't you just want to run out and grab a slice?