Category Archives: race and privilege

Humanitarian Photojournalism

About a month ago I attended a conversation about humanitarian journalism. Susan Meiselas was the headliner and, having seen her retrospective this summer, I was curious to hear both her thoughts and how the discussion potentially reframed her work.

It was indeed an interesting conversation which demonstrated exactly what makes photography so hard to pin down as a medium. As much as all the photojournalists claim to be interested in the image first and not actually photojournalists, it’s clear that they’re all aware of how photos in particular can have a life of their own.

Whether or not a photo becomes a true icon, because of its distribution and context—both the context of the image and the context of the distribution—the image is always subject to things out of the photographers’ control. It’s what’s so wonderful about the medium and what’s so scary about it. There’s immense power but it’s not clear who, if anyone, controls it.

As a result, much of the conversation wasn’t about photography at all but instead its context. Who’s taking the photos. How are they being distributed. What’s being shown. What’s being hidden. What’s the goal of the distribution. How successful is that goal. How appropriate is the goal.

It’s taken me a while to write this post since I’ve had to digest and think about many things and decide how far away from photography I want to go.

In many ways though, the most interesting frame on humanitarian photojournalism that came out of this discussion is aligning it with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian action.

Modern humanitarian action and modern photojournalism are both born of war. In particular modern war. Photos of atrocities, action, refugees, displacement, etc. are the language in which we understand war. They’re how we learn about things and how we expect to see them covered.

Heck most of the photos of famine and environmental disasters also qualify as war photographs. They’re two sides of the same coin as humanity fights over resources and control and leaves communities worldwide without basic human necessities. There’s always a war or colonial legacy lurking behind the curtain.

Photography has aligned itself with journalism but it’s really an independent contractor which attaches itself to whatever the distribution network is. The pictures don’t “matter,” the space for distribution does. As journalism has lost its funding, photography jumped from being the way that news sells itself to becoming the way that NGOs fundraise.

Which means that the question of whose agenda the photographs serve becomes more obvious. In the NGO space, photographs are requesting aid from the global West and selling an image of the global South is being inherently in-need of progress.

The action that photography is prompting from us is action that the West wants to perform in order to absolve itself of feeling guilty. This isn’t aid that poor people need, it’s aid that rich people want to provide.

We’d rather feed starving children than fix the system that’s causing famine. We’d rather aid displaced children than stop the war that displaced them. We want to donate money which changes something specific and concrete that we can point to instead of investing in long term changes. And an NGO would rather develop a sustainable donation base than solve the problem it’s trying to solve.

Yes this is colonialism. It also clearly paints photography’s previous use case as photojournalism as also being colonialism.* When we’re looking at the photography we have to ask what it’s asking us to do and for whom are we being asked to do it.

*A key note here is how photography functions as community memory yet most photo archives are inaccessible to many of the communities they depict.

It also makes me to want to dump the term “photojournalism” and instead just talk about the channels photographs are distributed in. Every year there’s controversy about photojournalism prizes and ethics in photojournalism and every year it’s increasingly obvious how bankrupt the term is.

We should be talking about the photos and how they relate to the cause they were attached to. How those causes got visibility and support and how well that support matched up with the actual humanitarian needs. Treat them as the advertising and propaganda they are and credit both the photographer and the network in creating the campaign.

This way, when something unethical comes up, we‘re at least being honest about how the issue is about how the lack of ethics reveals a desire to solicit money over anything else.

Notes

Quick notes on what each panelist said that caught my attention.

Gary Bass spoke about photography as way of breaking down barriers and showing how distance doesn’t matter—especially important with visceral evidence instead of  numbers-based arguments. I appreciated that he starts WW2 in 1931 when he showed an image of a baby in a bombed-out Chinese train station in 1937. Exploitative it is, this image was viewed by over 130 million people in a month yet ultimately didn’t work. While the distance is no longer important, the question of whose lives matter remains.

Sim Chi Yin spoke about her family history project in British Malaya from 1948–1960. In particular she’s focusing on happened to her leftist grandfather, how he’s been referred to as either a terrorist or a bandit, and how her family was deported to China based on genealogy lines. She’s accumulated an archive of objects and songs (including the Internacional in Chinese) in addition to the official British photographs. There’s an interesting frame shift in what it means to tell this story as a family story rather than the more traditional depiction of British “success” (especially in comparison to Vietnam) shown in the archives.

Virginie Troit, by being associated with the Red Cross had a very interesting perspective on who counts as a humanitarian photographer, how photography serves as interaction between different responding groups, and where images ultimately appear. Her most important observation was that NGOs had replaced the press as image producers and distributors and how the NGO apparatus itself paralleled photojournalism as organizations born of 20th century wars.

Troit compared Salgado in the 80s with Lewis Hine and the ways that Médecins Sans Frontières blurs the distinction between information and intent as the increased of professionalism in NGO branding means it has t also ask the hard questions about how the ethics of the image as it relates to tropes and consent.

Susan Meiselas spoke briefly about the Bangladesh factory collapse and how the embrace photo resulted in nearly instantaneous international agreement for improved working conditions and upgraded factories. Definitely a good thing but also nothing sustainable since labor rights did not improve.

Peter van Agtmael is interested in the nature of icon and the surreal nature of experiencing them, how we cling to them, their arbitrary nature, and what exactly they’re symbols of.

Susie Linfield spoke about Syria and the failure/inability of Syrians to assert/represent themselves. She wonders where the future of photojournalism lies when the perpetrators document and disseminate their own atrocities. Photos do not work by themselves but instead require an existing political consciousness and conviction—which The West currently lacks. Instead of compassion fatigue we have no clue what to do.

Katherine Bussard brought out a bunch of Life Magazine spreads covering Nazi atrocities (Life being the first publisher of the concentration camp images) and life in post-WW2 Germany. Interesting to compare the cover story showing Nazi sympathizers and few photos with the other story in the magazine showing the concentration camps through multiple photos, minimal captions, and the admonishment that “dead men die in vain if no one will look at them.”

Bussard also highlighted how photojournalism repeatedly uses  children for humanitarian concerns. Childhood hides the prejudice, is accessible to everyone, and helps eradicate difference because it’s not perceived as threatening.

Andrew S. Thompson followed up the childhood observation by contrasting a 1960 UN propaganda photo in Congo with a 1970 Biafra War photo. Both photos are from post-colonial wars. The Congo photo features a happy mother and child and hides UN atrocities. The Biafra photo has a starving child and confronts the (presumably Western) viewer’s complicity in the conflict. The question. Who is the photo for and is the aid that NGOs are requesting the aid that’s actually needed.

SFMOMA

Of course it wasn’t just Susan Meiselas that I saw at SFMOMA. As always I took a spin through the buildings and took not of what caught my eye.

There was a small gallery full of Stephen Frykholm’s Herman Miller Summer Picnic posters. These were a lot of fun in the way the abstracted food into graphic shapes and designs. Very colorful and appealing to me as a photographer. At the same time. Holy moly. This was a picnic with some peak whitey food to the point where I started imagining what posters for other demographics could look like.

Dora Maar. Double Portrait, 1930s.

Dora Maar.
Double Portrait, 1930s.

There was also a decent-sized exhibition looking at portrait photography. It’s one of those donor-centered shows which so I wasn’t inclined to spend a ton of time looking through it. But it’s doing some nice things in taking a dive through the collection and grouping things into themes—in this case various types of photographic portraits.

One of the big problems here is that there’s a bit of the mile-wide, inch-thick thing going on where a lot of the photos are a bit out of context and function as needle drops.* I know enough context to see an appreciate a lot of what’s going on but it’s not something that makes for the most enjoyable show.

*In which I realize that using “needle drop” as an analogy is something that will lose my kids completely.

Still, the self portraits were particularly fun. They sort of always are though. The Masquerade section though was less fun because projects like Cindy Sherman’s work really need enough context so they don’t look like one-off costumes.

The most interesting thing for me though was the comparison of Diane Arbus with Rineke Djikstra. Both of them work in portraiture but the portraits say as much, if not more, about the photographer than the sitter. It’s a good insight although I’d argue that it does a disservice to Arbus and the degree to which she finds sympathy with the subjects of her photographs.

Richard Artschwager. Triptych III, 1967.

Richard Artschwager.
Triptych III, 1967.

The gallery of Richard Artschwager art is a lot of fun as he just plays with our expectations for how objects should be finished. It verges on gimmickry but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. My favorite piece was Triptych III which treats Formica as a finished painting. And not just any Formica but a dark 1970s-textured one which looks either like imitation wood burl or leather which has gotten wet.

It’s the kind of thing that evokes immediate feelings of nostalgia for my friends’ parents homes before they updated their kitchens or various greasy spoon restaurants I’ve eaten a burger in while travelling someplace in California. Something super-familiar but which I never really paid attention to and looked at. Just putting it up on the wall and inviting me to really look is both hilarious and wonderful.

Pirkle Jones. Monticello Cemetery, from the series Death of a Valley, 1956, printed 1960.

Pirkle Jones.
Monticello Cemetery, from the series Death of a Valley, 1956, printed 1960.

It was wonderful to see Pirkle Jones and Dorothea Lange’s Death of a Valley photos. I don’t look enough at Pirkle Jones’s work but it’s fantastic. Very evocative of my sense of home as well as being beautifully sympathetic to the people and place he depicts. Lange of course is always excellent too.

Having just taken a trip to the Central Valley earlier this summer,* I had noticed that all the “Congress Created Dust Bowl” signs that lined I5 the previous half-dozen years had been replaced with complaints about how we didn’t have proper reservoirs to save all the water that fell on the state in 2017. It’s pretty clear that the corporate farms in the valley think that any water which reaches the ocean is wasted so now they want to build reservoirs all over.

*Featured in a few of the photos on this post.  

As I looked at the Jones and Lange photos I found myself ruefully laughing at the concept. The idea of displacing a community like this is something I can’t see anyone in the state feeling comfortable with and to see the evidence of what such a move entails reminds me of how demands for what we “should” do almost never come with any thought about how we should do it.

It’s also not lost on me how, despite the sacrifice made to build Lake Berryessa, the state still needs more water than nature can supply. Nor can I avoid thinking about how with the way things are going, we’re more likely to see scenes like this play out again as we retreat from the coasts and move uphill as sea levels rise.

Charles Wong. Year of the Dragon [page 20], 1952.

Charles Wong.
Year of the Dragon [page 20], 1952.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rooms of Charles Wong photos and Hung Liu prints. It’s always nice to see asian artists being treated as locals even though all the Liu prints weren’t of the Bay Area. Wong’s photos in particular are great since they show the life of San Francisco’s Chinatown and the uniqueness of Chinese-American culture.

It’s always great to see an insider view showing how people lived and how the culture is such a mix of influences. Having just watched Chan is Missing I loved seeing a similar slice through the culture form the generation before.

Donald Judd. Armchair, Designed 1984.

Donald Judd.
Armchair, Designed 1984.

The design gallery this time had an exhibition of Donald Judd’s furniture. I appreciate how it (and Judd) draws a direct line from the Arts and Crafts movement to Judd’s designs. The connection is not one that’s obvious to anyone whose familiarity with Judd is mostly limited to his sculptures of multiple boxes attached to the wall; it’s very tempting to see his furniture as working in that esthetic.

The arts and crafts framing is much much better. Taking clean lines to an extreme. Taking simple forms to an extreme. These aren’t arts and crafts any more but the rots are there and they work harmoniously with both older more decorative furniture as well as more-modern semi-industrial furniture.

This exhibition was also the rare design exhibition which provides samples for people to use. You can’t just look at design, you have to use it in order to fully appreciate it. So I got to sit in a few different chairs and see how they felt. The verdict? Kind of disappointing as chairs but they work fine as benches or stools.

Trevor Paglen. Autonomy Cube, 2014.

Trevor Paglen.
Autonomy Cube, 2014.

And on the to floor in the contemporary galleries was an exhibition looking at current events. Many of the pieces on display are artists and work—e.g. Tiffany Chung, An Te Liu, Taryn Simon, and Trevor Paglen—I’ve seen before in other exhibitions and museums in the Bay Area. It’s always nice to see them again and see how well their work has aged and how it interacts with a different set of artworks.

The works on display all touch on the pressing issues of today: security, our trust of government, racism, the imminent environmental collapse… It’s good to see all these things presented together since it’s increasingly obvious that they’re different faces of the same problem. It’s interesting to me to see how certain aspects such as the environment or technological issues are very comfortable for museum goers to deal with and others are much more difficult.

It’s no surprise which ones a lot of visitors are uncomfortable with. Something like Arthur Jafa’s work for example is much more foreign in San Francisco than anything involving data or technology. But it’s absolutely necessary to have it in the same space as work critiquing the news media or the government. Artists can point out the problems all they want but until there’s political will and coverage of that in the media ain’t nothing is going to get done and things will only get worse.

This Land is Whose Land

It’s kind of funny. I had to move away from the Bay Area in order to find the time to visit Pier 24. Before I moved I could never get into the city for a visit. Something about the weekday-only hours and having to reserve an appointment made it something that was just way too much work to fit into my schedule. Now that I live in New Jersey, it’s been relatively straightforward to include it on my itinerary when I return to California on a vacation. I’ve been three times in five years.

The current exhibition focuses on recent work documenting the United States. It’s not all photos of people but everything on display depicts elements of society and how it’s changed in the past decade. For me, as someone who’s spent the last decade paying a lot of attention to photography—especially new photography—many of these photos are not new to me. I’ve seen them online, in galleries, and at other museums. I haven’t seen them put together like this though as a depiction of, and conversation about, the current US social climate.

I got through two rooms before I had to stop and write down in my note book, “How white is this show going to be?”

This is not a dig at those two rooms* but rather a recognition that I had walked into the photoland equivalent of the endless media profiles of Trump Country which focus on “economic anxiety” and center the plight of poor white people.

*One was the entry room featuring photos by Katy Grannan and Richard Misrach. The other was a room of Alec Soth’s Songbook. Yes I’ve seen all of those before. Yes I even like many of them.

Bryan Schutmaat

Bryan Schutmaat

Heck, this is not a dig at any of the rooms. Rather it’s how Photoland missed—and misrepresented—the same things that the general media does. Any one of these photo projects is fine. Seeing them all together though just reinforces the tropes about who we consider to be American and who we’re expected to sympathize with.

It’s bad enough that I’m tempted to view a lot of this as Ruin Porn. It’s not the same as the luscious-surface-texture ruin porn that we saw in the beginning of the decade. In this case the themes and emotions represent the same easily-identifiable tropes of an alienated white middle and working class. We get that golden light of sunset and see the decline of towns and the isolation of the people who live there.

We don’t get a sense of why things are the way they are. We don’t get to see other communities and demographics. We don’t really get to learn anything from these. As well-crafted as these images are they also feel like the same story and same people over and over again. And as a result my brain just registers objections.

The Pier 24 no-context thing definitely hurts here too. Many of the images are ones where I want to know more about where they were taken and who used the structures. If the first round of ruin porn just involved us appreciating the way ruins look, this second round is about indulging in how the ruins represent people’s dreams. Not knowing whose dreams we’re looking at is a problem.

Highlights

Corine Vermeulen

Corine Vermeulen

Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey

It’s not all bad though. A few artists in particular stood out as saying something beyond just photographing the decay of white America.

Corine Vermeulen’s photos of Detroit are exceptional in how they celebrates perseverance and survival rather than limiting themselves to only portraying decline. Yes there are images in there of empty lots and abandoned buildings. But they’re outnumbered by images of life. Diverse images. All different ages. All different races. Individuals, couples, groups.

Have things sucked? Yes. Are things still hard? Also yes. Are things hopeless? No. Vermeulen’s work is optimistic and points at where we can go.

Dawoud Bey’s photographs of gentrifying Harlem meanwhile are wonderfully subtle—almost too subtle given the obviousness of the tropes at play in most of the other galleries. The images are often familiar but the focus is intentionally off from what I’d expect to be in focus.

The result is a set of images which is quietly about development and change. It turns the lens on the gentrifiers but in a way which never neglects to include an aspect of the old neighborhood also in the frame. Because of the focusing choices I was forced to really look at the photos and notice how details that are often used as background texture are in fact the lifeblood of the neighborhood being displaced.

An-My Lê’s photographs of New Orleans are another fabulously subtle collection* which gets into how history and myth interact—specifically in The South where the subtext of the Civil War and Slavery is everywhere. Her work feels especially relevant now as the whole country has had to grapple with these myths and where remembering history crosses over into glorifying atrocities.

*Yes I like subtle photographic themes in general but in this particular show where so many of the galleries are filled with unsubtle tropes I was particularly taken with the ones that encouraged me to stop and think.

The power of her photographs is such that when I can’t readily make the historical connection I find my brain suggesting plausible possibilities. Which means that her photo of that one solitary tree remains deeply disturbing to me weeks after I’ve seen it.

Lowlights

Paolo Pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin

As much as I found a lot of the rooms to be over-troped, very few of them were what I’d call outright bad either. Paolo Pellegrin’s Rochester photos though really bugged me. Aside from my remembering his captioning controversy, the whole set just rubbed me the wrong way with a grittiness that felt like I was looking at clickbait.

My biggest problem is that it feels like the entire set is pro-police propaganda which shows all the “low lifes” they have to deal with now. The way Pier 24 hung the images caused me to see all of them as through this perspective. Even the photos which weren’t actually police-related. The tropes are so strong and this gallery leans so strongly into them that just a photo of kids running through a field ends up feeling like a police chase.

Given how much we all know now about how police interact with black communities, seeing these photos displayed like this really gave me hives.

Notes

Brian Ulrich

Brian Ulrich

A few notes about specific projects that caught my eye. I enjoyed Alessandra Sanguibetti’s work as a window into how a foreigner perceives America. Also the concept of photography as pre-emptive preservation for eventual death is pretty cool.

I also love Brian Ulrich’s deserted malls. A little bit of Todd Hido’s House Hunting. A little bit of Lewis Baltz. A little bit of Camilo José Vergara. There’s the suggestion that all old industry models are now dead in these.

James Nares’s slow-motion movie is a very interesting concept that just didn’t work for me. The big thing is that I feel like it needs more depth of field since I couldn’t help but watch it for photographic moments—many of which occurred in the out of focus areas. It is nice that this was as diverse as it was but it’s also yet another New York street photography project.

Daniel Postaer’s photos of San Francisco are fun because they’re of San Francisco and I recognize the locations. They also point out one of the weaknesses of good photographic practice and searching for nice light. All that wonderful golden light not only makes everything look the same but is literally the least San Francisco looking light possible.

Rise Up!

I finally took my annual trip to the San José Museum of Art late last month. I’d like to go more often but I’m only in town in the summer. I’ve been very pleased though that amidst all the changes in the Bay Area over the five years since I’ve left that San José has kept the quality up and is still presenting art that is relevant to the Bay Area rather than falling into the trap of chasing those blockbuster traveling shows.

Robert Arneson. Five Times for Harvey, 1982.

Robert Arneson.
Five Times for Harvey, 1982.

The main show this time is Rise Up. It’s a collector-based show but rather than featuring the same name-brand artists, it features a collector who actually has his own taste and vision. He started collecting by acquiring Robert Arneson’s Five Times for Harvey and then just took off in acquiring art from all kinds of under-represented artists.

The Arneson origin story of the collection is why things are framed as “social justice.” Most of the rest of the works on display though are not about outright protest or responding to a current event. Instead the central theme is one of representation. That they’re so relevant to today’s issues is a demonstration of how rarely we see these voices in mass media.

In some ways I’m annoyed by this mischaracterization. In other ways I really like it. Arneson may be the only white male artist in the show but by using the protest art framing, San José avoids making this a Race™ exhibition. We should be used to galleries full of art by people who aren’t white men. These artworks should also be presented as universal. And that’s exactly what San José quietly does here.

This show also blows up the idea that the silver lining to Trump would be that “at least we’ll get some good art.” The pieces on display go back more than three decades and speak about the pride and perseverance it takes to survive in this country as an underrepresented group. It’s art that typically doesn’t make it into mainstream collections but the sentiments of life and survival are as appropriate now as they were then.

DSC_0001

Wangechi Mutu

Of special note in this exhibition is the wonderful selection of artwork by Black women. Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas, Sadie Barnette, Alison Saar, and Wangechi Mutu are all on display and their work in particular shows how limited the mainstream representations of black womanhood is.

The expressions of who they are, how society has treated them, how they feel about themselves. and what gives them strength confirm that the best way to break stereotypes and see people as human is to have a multitude of representations available. Not one artist on display or one character in a movie. Many of them, each with their own character and point of view.

The art is also frequently moving without the othering gaze that so-often occurs when I see these subjects in a museum. I just wish this were the standard for what art is without having to come up with some kind of hook for why it’s appropriate today.

Multiply, Identify, Her

After taking in ICP’s HCB and Erwitt rooms, I went downstairs to see the Multiply, Identify, Her portion of the museum. This exhibition featured around ten different women photographers—or artists working in photography/videography-related media—all working on various representative projects.

ICP’s write-up is mostly art-speak gobbledygook but the general theme of the rooms as being about representation and identity holds up. Yes I have problems with the way that museums tend to pigeonhole non-white and/or non-male photographers as working exclusively in the representation and identity realm. And yes it certainly feels like this exhibition is designed to counterbalance the “neutral” while maleness of the HCB and Erwitt rooms. But taking the show on its own terms works well enough.

The last couple decades of photography have been wonderful for increasing access to the ability to create photography* and with this increased access has been an increased awareness of representation. What the male gaze looks like. What the white gaze looks like. What it means to represent yourself and how that exists in conversation with the ways that viewers are conditioned to look at images.

*Reminding me of an old twitter debate about the Kodak 1 and whether consuming photography or creating photography is more important.

I’m very glad that so many of the photographers in this exhibition are non-white women as it allows for many many different approaches and actively discourages me from writing about the exhibition in a general way. Each artist is dealing with representation issues in her own way and so I can only touch on the pieces that really struck me.

Christina Fernandez. Untitled Multiple Exposure #7 (Bravo), 1999.

Christina Fernandez’s rephotography/reenactment project is interesting in how it addresses both the way that photographic representation often relies on tropes and how those tropes are part of our cultural literacy and baggage now. In this case the way that natives get used as unnamed models of some sort of “pure” past is a particularly insidious habit that repeats over photographic history. The way Fernandez embraces her own indigeneity and makes the statement that both she has a name and is still living in the present are important. It’s very easy to present Nativeness as a thing of the past.

That the resulting layered images don’t quite work is also something I really like about these. Reconciling the tropes as someone who’s subject to them is an impossible task which is also impossible to escape.

Lorna Simpson. Blue Wave, 2011.

Lorna Simpson’s hair pieces are a lot of fun in a provocative way. They remind me of Ellen Gallagher’s Wiglettes but rather than critiquing the beauty standards of the past there’s an element of looking forward and celebrating the possibilities of creating new standards.

Simpson’s work also does this thing where it simultaneously makes the hair the focus of the piece while drawing our attention to the models’ faces.

Roni Horn. This is me, This is you 1998-2000

My favorite piece is Roni Horn’s “This is me, This is you.” I love how it goes right at the ways family photography is its own difficult way genre where picking that one good photo is impossible. There are always multiple nice photos and they’re always somehow both indistinguishable from each other yet distinctly different.

Horn’s photos of her niece also capture that wonderfully awkward transition age between childhood and adolescence—an age my eldest is about to enter. It’s an age where everything is awkward but you’re just learning how society expects you to be. It’s an age where you’re still a kid but also trying to be “grown up.” It’s really the first time that concept of representation is something that begins to matter.

Gina Osterloh. Press and Outline, 2014.

And Gina Osterloh’s movie/dance with her shadow is one of those subtle things that I increasingly appreciate the more I think about it. At first it’s merely neat. But the way it touches on how so much of the way society pressures women comes down to literally their silhouettes is kind of genius. The dance and way that her shadow is distinct but also inescapable suggests the push-pull nature of trying to control her silhouette while also being beholden to its demands.

I also very much like the idea of including Osterloh’s film in an exhibition of photography. Not just because the way that film and photography are related but in how light and shadow are the basic ingredients of photography itself. All photography is the same dance between light and shadow and seeing which position within there works best.

Atlee surprise

One of the things I’ve especially enjoyed about Twitter is the way the multiracial community exists on there. While many of us, correctly, are leery of being lumped into a single box, there’s a lot of value in comparing experiences and seeing how so many of them feel familiar. I haven’t blogged a ton about this kind of thing except when it overlaps with my other interests like photography and baseball (and baseball cards) since it’s tough to do well.

Aside from being a level of personal exposure which is hard in and of itself to write, let alone share, one of the things I’ve taken to heart the most about being multiracial is that the stories I’m often most inspired by are stories where my reaction risks erasing someone else’s experience. All too often the safer thing is to be quiet and not pin my narrative to someone else’s.

The result of this is that I also never expect the things I do write about my multiracial experience to be commented on outside of people I know. The experiences are worth sharing but I suspect that we all feel similar levels of trepidation about recentering them to be about ourselves as well. That the multiracial community doesn’t overlap much with baseball card twitter meant that while I liked what I wrote about Atlee Hammaker, I certainly didn’t expect to find that it touched anyone else in card twitter.

And then Carl (@CeeMX97) started following me. He’s a Phillies fan about an hour south of me down I295 who’s similarly multiracial to me. Aside from talking baseball or cards we’ve also commiserated about things from the dire situation for Japanese and Korean food in New Jersey to how our Asian flush has gotten worse as we’ve aged. Needless to say, my Atlee post touched a nerve with him to the point where earlier this week I found a small envelope with a bunch of Atlee Hammaker cards inside.

Nothing fancy here but since most of my existing Atlee collection is tied up with my Giants collection it’s nice to have duplicates to flesh out the few non-Giants cards of his I’ve got (basically just his rookie card and his 1991 Studio card).

I’m no supercollector but I appreciate having a dedicated Atlee section in my binder. It’s a nice reminder of the ways that my new collection interacts with my childhood one and the difference in perspective that I have now.

Carl also included two signed cards in the package. He does a bit of through-the-mail (TTM) requesting and often includes duplicate cards in his requests for the players to keep. Often the players do keep the extras but other times, like in these cases, it seems that they signed and returned everything.

I’ve been toying with the idea of taking up TTM requests myself. It’s something I can see enjoying by sending to guys I grew up with. It’s also something I can see doing with my kids as a way of encouraging them to write letters and engage with this hobby more. Chris Speier is one of the guys at the top of my “to try” list for reasons I’ve already touched on on this blog so it’s very cool to have one before I even start considering TTMs seriously.

Don Robinson meanwhile is another favorite of mine. I’ve a few of his signatures already but this is the first one featuring him holding a bat. Pitchers with bats is a fun category of cards as it is. When it’s a pitcher like Caveman who we liked in part because of how he approached batting? Even better.

Thanks Carl for appreciating my blog and for the surprise Atlees and TTM duplicates. It looks like I have to start a Phillies pile now.

Black Aesthetics

A short post to wrap up my latest visit to the Princeton Art Museum where I also saw Michael Kenna and Clarence H. White. While Princeton’s Making History Visible show is still up, the museum has added a new, related show to the mix.

Where Making History Visible is about the erasure of blackness from how the US represents itself and transgressive it can feel to add Blackness back into the mythology, Black Aesthetics looks forward. Rather than operating in the realm of white comfort and subverting things, it’s about creating forms of expression and a mythology of blackness that don’t have to be concerned with white comfort.

It’s noteworthy how global this show is. There’s a common culture of forced detribalization and the resultant vacuum of mythology across the African diaspora which influences many of the works on display. So we have art from artists across the globe—the US, UK, Cuba, Bahamas, Kenya, etc.—all of which deal in various ways with creating their own identities on their own rather than letting the dominant white colonial cultures dictate that for them.

Seeing the two exhibitions together is informative since it makes the point that both approaches are both valid and necessary. Putting artists like Glenn Ligon in both exhibitions confirms this. There is great value in subverting expectations of white comfort. But it’s just as important to operate completely outside of the white comfort framing.