Philadelphia

Donell Nixon 1989 Score I mentioned previously that my first big autograph experience in Philadelphia was mainly about cards. And sure there are lots of stories from that trip like Kevin Mitchell, Will Clark, Orlando Cepeda, Hank Aaron, and the Old Timers. But most of the experiences, while I’m glad I had them, kind of blend together into a whirlwind of a weekend.

My childhood autograph binder was roughly organized by event. This wasn’t because of any conscious effort to organize things autobiographically, it’s just that, as I acquired new signatures, they went into the back of the album. I’m trying to figure out how I want to reorganize things now. It’s nice to have the events but it’s also not the best way to present things.

Before I reorganize though, in much the same way that I felt obliged to scan my childhood collection of “old” cards before incorporating them into my current acquisitions, I’m going to post my autographs by event (where appropriate) so I can remember when and where I got them once they’ve been reorganized.

Kevin Mitchell 1987 Topps Will Clark 1987 Topps Brett Butler 1987 Topps Scott Garrelts 1987 Topps Pat Sheridan 1987 Topps Robby Thompson 1987 Topps Kevin Mitchell 1989 Score Brett Butler 1989 Score Scott Garrelts 1989 Score Craig Lefferts 1989 Score Candy Maldonado 1989 Score Kirt Manwaring 1989 Score Don Robinson 1989 Score Robby Thompson 1989 Score Jose Uribe 1989 Score Matt Williams 1988 Topps Don Robinson 1989 DonrussEarnie Riles 1986 Topps

I travelled with 1987 Topps and 1989 Score. I’m not sure why I chose 1987 Topps except that it was my oldest set and I’m pretty sure I liked the idea of getting the oldest cards I had signed. I have no idea why I didn’t take the 1987 Topps Don Robinson although I do like how the 1991 Donruss looks.

I chose the 1986 Earnie Riles instead of 1987 because the 86 was his rookie card. Similarly, the 1988 Matt Williams is his rookie card (I only started getting the Topps Traded set in 1988 so I didn’t have his 1987 Traded card either).

1989 Score on the other hand was a set which I just loved the look of. The action photos were great and the white card stock and semi-gloss finish were a welcome contrast to Topps. It manages to be both photo-centric and colorful and they all look great signed.

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Crater Lake

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After lunch in Redding we arrived in Medford. We spent a few nights there and took the opportunity to visit Crater Lake. Our timing was pretty good in that we managed to sneak in after one batch of fires had been contained but before the next batch erupted.

The lake, despite all the haze from the still smoldering fires, is still breathtaking. The water is an unbelievable blue color and the sheer cliffs of the caldera provide a certain giddy thrill to looking out, over, and down upon the lake. Driving around, with the absence of any guard rails along the road, is also an experience.

This was the boy’s first national park and their first opportunity to become junior rangers. They enjoyed the activities and learning about other elements in the park besides just the obvious spectacle of the lake.

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Rouge: Michael Kenna

When I first encountered Micheal Kenna’s work I was struck by how beautiful it was. Wonderfully elegant and serene, they were photos the likes of which I could see myself aspiring to. Then I kept seeing his work come across my Tumblr dashboard and found myself getting kind of bored. The images began feeling too perfect and almost sterile. They’re still beautiful but they’re begging for a story or some context.

So I was a little wary when I went to see Princeton’s exhibition of his Rouge series and found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The photos are all still very much the Kenna™ brand but rather than idealizing nature we’re seeing the elegant beauty of the man-made industrial forms.

Kenna is at his best as a photographer of atmosphere and silhouettes. He’s able to find the bare minimum of a form and abstract it in ways where it becomes two-dimensional at some points. He has a very graphic sensibility which, when applied to industrial objects, turns them into found art.

If his landscape photos are initially appealing in that they’re pretty photos of pretty things, Rouge operates in that wonderful transformative way that the best photography does. The photos are still beautiful, but the beauty is tougher to see and the photos help us recognize it.

The silhouettes of the factory buildings. The way those elements interact with each other visually whether in their repeated forms or how they overlap and intersect. How massive solid shapes disappear in the mist and how their reflected forms disappear in the moving water. The way light gleams when it reflects off well-worn patches of metal. How imposed on the land everything feels—especially when it snows—yet there’s a beauty in how the clean lines of the factory contrasts with the texture of the earth.

I just really enjoyed looking at these.

The exhibition also frames Kenna’s work as a dialog with the earlier photographs—especially Charles Sheeler—and paintings both of Ford’s Rouge plant and with respect to America’s view of industry. Technological utopia versus dystopia is a fine line. Many of Kenna’s compositions directly reference earlier works which show gleaming sunlit structures embracing the power and promise of industry. Kenna though shoots them at night or in the fog, with long exposures that create otherworldly smoke and lighting effects.

The result is a sense of foreboding. The end is coming and the promises of 90 years ago didn’t pan out the way we desired. It’s not going to blow up, it’s just going to gradually wind down and become deserted. We see the echoes of industry in the photos and can picture the ruins that’ll remain once these jobs no longer exist.

That Kenna erases the labor aspect in his photos helps our sense of seeing these as being deserted. There’s still smoke belching from the powerhouse cloud factory but we don’t see the factory workers themselves. At most we get the sense that people have worked here in the past. Machinery is worn, and surfaces are no longer shiny and new.

This is more of a human touch than I’m used to in Kenna’s landscape photos but it’s still in keeping with his standard operating procedure for landscapes. And I found myself questioning the ethics of it. Yes it helps these photos work as elegies to American industrial production but with the times being what they are, I find myself wondering how many people are working and how many of them will be out of work soon.

I also don’t usually do a comparison of the catalog with the exhibition but this shows is the first time I’ve picked up a gallery copy of the catalog and directly compared it to the prints on the wall. My initial interest was print size. Kenna’s prints are all pretty small—around eight inches square*—and I was curious if the book printed them the same size as the prints.

*I’m increasingly used to art photography being printed huge.

I was pleased to see that they are the same size in the catalog and on the wall. I was surprised however to see such a huge difference in contrast. Kenna’s prints are very high contrast with crushed shadows that emphasize the bulk of the factory and the silhouettes of the equipment. The catalog on the other hand has way more shadow detail which suggests that they either come from a different set of prints or that they’re new scans from the negatives.

Neither version looks bad. I feel like the higher contrast look helps set the mood better however.

Will Clark

Will Clark 1987 Topps

While Will Clark was overshadowed by Kevin Mitchell at the time, this is now my favorite signed card from my Philadephia trip. Yes I have a good story with the Mitchell card, but the Will Clark experience is funnier.

Well, funnier in hindsight. Of all the players whose autographs I was trying to get that trip, Clark was probably the most intimidating. As intense as he was on the field, he kind of gave off that intensity off the field too. In short, he was an asshole. But he was my team’s asshole.

So it’s funny now picturing the kid all kitted up in Mets gear who Clark met with an “I don’t like the Mets” comment.* Poor guy visibly blanched and panicked. And it’s funny thinking about the poor lobby clerk who didn’t recognize him so instead of showing his ID he brusquely called a kid over to the desk, curtly held the baseball card up, signed it and gave it back to the nervous but jubilant kid.

*Note, Clark still signed for him.

I took that he smiled at me because I was kitted up in Giants gear* as a sign that I was doing everything right.

*Knowing what I know about Philadelphia fans now I should probably have a conversation with my mom about this.

 

Will Clark

It also helps that I never got another Clark signature over years of effort. The more I tried for another card or ball the more I appreciated the one I had. Still, I did get the ball as a gift years later. No idea from where or who actually but I’m reasonably sure it’s legit.

The further I’ve aged away from my childhood collecting days the more I’ve realized that I’m a Will Clark fan. He was the guy for all the teams of my youth. My first game was on 1986 when he’d burst onto the scene. And the 1994 strike means that my last true childhood season was that wonderful 1993 season with its heartbreaking pennant race. By the time I returned to the game the Giants were Barry Bonds’s team and, while I was still a fan my feelings are much more complicated about those seasons.

But with Will every card or bit of memorabilia reminds me of being a kid. I love that I have had* a 1989 Mitchell and Ness Clark jersey. And I love that I have a burgeoning Will Clark player collection of baseball cards. It’s not a comprehensive gotta-have-them-all collection but I’m adding to it as I come across issues I’ve not seen or heard of.

*Between the date I wrote this post and the day I actually published it my Will Clark jersey got stolen.

Sundial Bridge

We ended our summer by taking a massive road trip to Boise to see the eclipse. The boys are old enough to handle the car trip and we figured we should take the opportunity to stop at some cool places along the way.

The first leg of the trip was going from the Bay Area to Medford. We stopped in Redding for lunch because I figured the Sundial Bridge would be of interest. I haven’t seen it since 2009. It’s not aged particularly well. Still pretty neat but it’s getting kind of grungy in places where—and underneath where—the birds have decided to nest  or where the the water drains.

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Orlando Cepeda

Orlando Cepeda

That new ball I got for Hank Aaron but never got signed? I shouldn’t have gotten upset about wasting it either. I was winding down my autograph hunting as I had nothing new for many of the players to sign* when who should I see in the lobby again but Orlando Cepeda. He’d already signed the team ball but he was also a player who was totally worthy of a single ball.

*This gets filed under “signs of a successful trip” and “good problems to have.”

Cepeda was wonderful and gracious and I’m happy that his autograph is my first “big” signature on a ball all by itself. I passed up many additional opportunities to get his signature over the years. He was always signing for fans but I didn’t need another ball of his nor did I have any cards I was willing to get signed.* But he was a great guy who the fans loved and I was thrilled when he finally made it into the Hall of Fame.

*My treasured 1960 card was too special for me to risk something happening to it during travel or the scrum of an autograph session.

Bart Giamatti

I also love that my Cepeda ball is on a Bart Giamatti National League ball as it both dates when I got it and reminds me who my favorite Commisioner of baseball was. Most of my autographs are on Bill White baseballs and I’m both jealous of kids now who only have to deal with one official baseball for autographs and happy that I never had to deal with a Bud Selig ball.

Hearst Castle

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Since Highway 1 was closed at Big Sur we couldn’t make the drive up the Central Coast. Instead we used Morro Bay as a base/hub for driving up 1 and then coming back.

Our main stop was Hearst Castle—another place I hadn’t been to since I was in 4th grade. We just did the standard tour since it was kind of our first time and we felt that seeing the main rooms and getting the official introduction made the most sense. The quality of the tour seems to depend a lot on the guide, thankfully Carson, our guide, was great. Just the right level of detail into how things were collected and manufactured while maintaining the humor and interest that’s naturally part of the celebrity nature of the place.

Against my expectations I really liked it. Heart Castle hits a lot of art stuff I’m typically allergic to. Rich collectors with a collection which is branded by the collectors’ names. Collections displayed as per the collector’s wishes yet masquerading as a museum. Mixing and matching things from all to create a generic sense of culture. But it works here.

This is partly because Hearst’s collecting is very much specific to his taste and doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen. Especially his fascination with ceilings and choir lofts and the way that he reuses and repurposes them. That the lofts become wainscotting or panelling and the ceilings are reengineered so they both fit rooms and have the structural strength to support chandeliers turns everything into something new.

Hearst uses his collection so rather than being museum pieces for display only, they have an additional life with how they functioned in the castle. Wonderful furniture pieces are repurposed as storage for cigarettes or condiments and while the new function is different, the object has a different life to it. Even the “fakery” works. It’s not exactly making replicas or faking the original objects but rather creating brand new things out of the replicas.

Nothing’s trying to be “authentic.” It’s all just raw material to be remixed into something new and inspired by the originals. This is fun to see and it’s enjoyable to see it as a result of raiding Europe for a change.

A lot of times—specifically with orientalism and primitivism—we see artwork or ideas get raided from non-white countries and turned into Western, “high” art which conjures up an all-look-same myth about the non-Western source cultures. In situations where the audience doesn’t know better that appropriation is indeed something I’m allergic to. Here though, where we know the cultures that are being sampled, the appropriation and remixing is actually fun to see and, rather than being annoyed at the lack of context, I can enjoy seeing the shoe be on the other foot.

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But we also drove a bit further and checked out some of the coast. And took a walk to see the Elephant Seals.

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