Thursday, March 26, 2015

Behind “Behind Photographs”

Some photographs still strike us, years after they were taken. The photograph called “Afghan Girl,” published in National Geographic in 1985, is considered the magazine’s most famous image. The photos taken by John Lennon’s personal photographer, including the iconic image of the Beatle wearing a New York City t-shirt, “present a kaleidoscope of John Lennon's New York Period” that is “beautiful, clear and truthful,” according to Yoko Ono.

But how often does the layperson think about the photographer rather than the person in some of these famous photos?
Steve McCurry holds his photograph, "Afghan Girl."
"I looked for this girl for 17 years and finally found her in 2002. Her name is Sharbat Gula."
Bob Gruen holds his iconic photograph of John Lennon against the NYC skyline.
"John Lennon asked me to come to his penthouse apt [sic] on the east side of New York to take pictures for the cover of his 'Walls + Bridges' album. After we took a series of portraits for the record cover we took some informal shots to use for publicity. I asked him if he still had the New York City t-shirt I had given him a year earlier and he went and put it on and we made this photo."
Photographer Tim Mantoani’s mission is to give a voice to “each face, in each place,” including those normally behind the lens. From 2006 to 2011, Mantoani traveled across the United States to capture images of photographers. He rented a rare 20x24 Polaroid camera and a 20x24 Wisner camera with a Polaroid back to take the photographs. In each Polaroid, the photographer is holding his or her most famous or favorite image. Over 5 years, Mantoani took pictures of more than 150 photographers, published in the book “Behind Photographs” in 2012.

At the bottom of each Polaroid, Mantoani had the photographer write a short paragraph about the image he or she chose. Some photographers wrote simple descriptions, such as Douglas Kirkland’s “This is from my evening with Marilyn.”

Others, like Mary Ellen Mark, wrote more detailed paragraphs:

I am holding my photograph of Ram Prakash Singh with his beloved elephant Shyama—taken in 1990. Ram Prakash Singh was the ringmaster of the “The Great Golden Circus”—The photograph was done in Ahmedabad India—This was part of my Indian Circus Project—I love India and I love the circus so photographing eighteen circuses all around India was an incredible experience—Unfortunately Shyama died a few months after this photograph was taken—supposedly he succumbed to a poisoned chapatti—Ram Prakash Singh was heartbroken—me also.

With these Polaroids, Mantoani has managed to preserve the stories behind these images. The photographers cannot live forever, but their work can. Life magazine photographer John Dominis died in December 2013. Thanks to Mantoani’s project, the story behind his photograph of two resting lions will remain for generations to come.
John Dominis holds his photograph of two resting lions.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Selfie Museum

The "selfie" is now so popular that the term has even been added to the dictionary, and there are tools available to improve your "selfie game," such as the selfie stick. Many museums and tourist attractions worldwide have banned selfie sticks in order to protect paintings, individual privacy and overall visitor experience (for example, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Palace of Versailles, the Colosseum in Rome, the Smithsonian Museums and many more). 

One museum in Manila, Philippines, is approaching the selfie stick differently. Art in Island lets visitors interact with the art by touching it and taking as many pictures as they want. As its Facebook page says, "Whenever you visit an art museum, you are always expected to just look around quietly.  You are not allowed to touch anything nor take pictures. You don't even have a single proof of being there. Art in Island allows visitors to interact and have fun with the art pieces. You can take as much pictures and videos you want! Here in Art in Island, we want you to BE PART OF THE ART." As this museum is the first of its kind, it is being called the "world's first selfie museum."

Here are some examples of the visitors' pictures.

Photo by: Art in Island
Photo by: Art in Island
Photo by: Art in Island
Photo by: Art in Island 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nellie Mae Rowe: Making Something Out of Nothing

Photo Credit: Souls Grow Deep Foundation
Nellie Mae Rowe was known for creating imaginative works of art. Her sculptures made of found objects and drawings were inspired by her faith in God, by current events and by African American narrative traditions.

Rowe was born in 1900 in Fayetteville, Ga., but lived in Vinings. Her father had previously been enslaved, and her mother was born after emancipation. Both of Rowe’s parents were creative. Her mother was an expert quilter, and her father was a basket weaver. They both encouraged Rowe in her art. When she was a child, she would lie down on the floor and draw every chance she got.

She did not always have supporters as encouraging as her parents. After her second husband died, in 1948, people would tear Rowe’s fence down, throw things at her house and destroy her property. She told Maude Wahlman and Judith Alexander in the early 1980s that she would make “old weavings . . . make the eyes on them, make the big popeyes. They thought I was a hoodoo or something like that. I put up wig heads. I put the wig on them and sometimes have a shawl hanging on it. From here look like a person sit up in the tree.”

After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1981, Rowe increased her art output. She believed that she had been given this artistic talent by God, and she wanted to prove to Jesus that she was worthy of it. She considered her art to be a connection to and a way to honor God. She would draw people and ask the Lord to help them. Drawing, for her, was almost akin to praying.

Rowe was also inspired by current events. Between 1979 and 1981, more than 20 Atlanta-area children were sexually molested and murdered, allegedly by Wayne Williams. Rowe created several drawings on the subject because she believed they would protect the children. Her 1981 work “Atlanta’s Missing Children” features five charms and the color blue, traditionally used to ward off evil spirits in the homes of southern African Americans.

Her work was featured in a gallery for the first time in 1976, in the Atlanta History Center’s exhibition “Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art 1770–1976.” Her first solo exhibition was held two years later at the Alexander Gallery in Atlanta. She quickly garnered national recognition. Her first exhibition outside of Georgia was at the Parsons/Dreyfuss Gallery in New York City.

Rowe primarily used simple materials to create her art, like crayons and found objects. She told Wahlman and Alexander that she “[took] nothing, you know, [took] nothing and [made] something out of it.”

Rowe’s drawing “Foot with Deer” is part of the Georgia Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The museum also owns “Flower,” a crayon piece, and “Doll,” which is made from cloth, thread and found objects.

Currently, these works are not on display in the museum’s permanent collection galleries, partially because their fragile materials cannot be exposed to light for long periods. Many of Rowe’s works can also be found at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which owns more than 100 of her drawings.

Friday, March 06, 2015

1WTC Art

One hundred and seven floors may be empty right now at One World Trade Center, but that doesn't include the walls already filled with art. After the 13-year construction, it's no surprise that the featured art would be carefully considered.  The five American artists were only given one guideline: that the work must be unifying. The artists were picked by consultant Asher Edelman, who said, "The mission was to get people to turn their phones off and look up. It had to be a wake-up call. But not about the building; about itself."

The showpiece is a massive 14.5-by-90-foot mural titled "Union of the Senses" created by Jose Parla.  
Jose Parla 
Below are the other works displayed that provide a playful counterbalance to the building's light-filled spaces, high ceilings and white marble. With the observation deck opening this spring, it is expected that 20,000 people will see the art daily. That's more visitors than the Metropolitan Museum of Art receives. 

Bryan Hunt, "Axis Mundi"
Fritz Bultman, "Gravity of Nightfall"
Fritz Bultman, "Intrusion into the Blue"
Greg Goldberg, "One World Trade Center Series"
Doug Argue, "Isotopic"
Doug Argue, "Randomly Placed Exact Percentages"

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tibetan Mandala Sand Painting

If you’ve been binge-watching season three Netflix’s original series “House of Cards” like I have, you may have seen a really cool work of art in one of the episodes of this highly anticipated season. In episode seven, “Chapter 33,” the White House is participating in a cultural exchange with Tibet. Four Tibetan monks are working on a month-long sand painting using colored sand to create a detailed, intricate work of art. Later in the episode, when the monks are finished, they hold a ceremony. They chant and play special instruments, then brush all the sand together and put it in a container. They then take the sand to a river and pour it into the water.
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) observes the Tibetan monks at work.
This art process is not something the creators of the show made up for our viewing pleasure. Mandala sand painting is a Tibetan Buddhist art form that has been practiced for thousands of years. In Tibetan, this art form is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which means “mandala of colored powders.” “Mandala” is Sanskrit for “world in harmony.”

Mandalas can have different meanings. They are meant to guide an individual down the path to enlightenment. Each mandala teaches a different lesson and offers a different blessing. When monks meditate upon a mandala, they imagine it as a three-dimensional palace. Each object in the palace represents a guiding principle or aspect of wisdom.

The colored sand used in the creation of these mandalas is usually ground from colored stone. Sometimes, flowers, grains or herbs are used. In ancient times, monks would sometimes use precious gems, such as rubies for red powder.

The first step in the creation of the mandala is an opening ceremony. Monks chant, play music and recite mantras for 30 minutes. This ceremony is usually open to outsiders. For the ceremony the monks need:

  • Mandala base (5 x 5 foot plywood board no less than 1 inch thick and painted dark blue),
  • One table for the altar that is the standard height of about 49 ¾ inches and a minimum length of 3 feet,
  • Two bouquets of flowers,
  • A pitcher with water,
  • Seven pieces of fruit: apples and/or oranges,
  • One pound of uncooked rice, and
  • Nine pillows and one comfortable chair.

Next, the monks draw the outline of the mandala on the base. A teacher chooses the design, and the monks draw the outline from memory. They use a ruler, compass and ink pen, and the process takes about three hours to complete.

The mandala is then ready to be filled in. The monks use metal funnels called chak-pur to lay the millions of grains of sand within the outline. The monks hold the chak-pur in one hand and rub a metal rod over the funnel’s grated surface. This process causes the sand to trickle out of the funnel like water onto the mandala base. During the laying of the sand, the monks also chant to invoke the energies of the divine beings that reside inside the mandala and ask that the deities bestow healing blessings.

Monks at The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Huffington Post.
Once the mandala is completed, the monks host a closing ceremony that, once again, outsiders are welcome to attend. The sand is swept up to symbolize the impermanence of existence. Half of the sand is placed into an urn and the other half is distributed among the audience as a blessing for personal health and healing. The half in the urn is taken to the nearest body of water and poured in to symbolize the spread of the mandala’s healing energies.

Although it is sad to see such a beautiful work of art destroyed, the symbolism of all parts of the mandala’s construction and deconstruction is harmonious and peaceful. The sand mandala is meant to generate compassion, recognition of the impermanence of existence and environmental healing. In today’s world, these are three things that we could certainly use a reminder of.

Watch the video below from The Crow Collection of Asian Art to see a time-lapse video of the making of a mandala.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, Photographer

Seth Kaye
Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role as Spock on the beloved series Star Trek, passed away Friday at the age of 83.

Many might not know that he was also a photographer and art collector aside from acting. In the 1970s, he began studying photography at UCLA with photographer, Robert Heinecken. In 2003, he formally announced that he would focus on being a full-time photographer. His photography has been presented in exhibition at the Los Angles Country Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bakersfield Museum, the Jewish Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.  He also published two photography books, "Shekhina" (2005) and "The Full Body Project" (2007).

Early Works (1970s)
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Hand Series (1980s-early 2000s)
Inspired by Spock's Vulcan hand signature, Nimoy became fascinated with the natural form of hands.

Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

Secret Selves (2010) 
His most recent and first solo exhibition was inspired by Nimoy's fascination with alternative identities after being associated as Spock for so long. The volunteers would reveal their "secret selves" to the camera.

Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy

Nimoy once said, "The camera can capture thought in a way that's quite surprising and shocking.  You can become very simple and minimal in your work and communicate a lot with just a finger or an eyebrow, or a look, or a glance."