More Cars

My post on Cars could have been much much longer. I tried to keep it on-topic, or as on-topic as possible, with my photo/art point of view. Other random directions it could have taken me.

Which would be an expansion on my asterisked aside about how women and minorities have not had the same liberty to travel throughout the country without issue that white men have had.

The Cars universe suggests that you’re born to be a specific kind of car and do a specific kind of job. Which is an interesting concept to build a kids movie upon.

The treatment of minority characters in Cars is interesting to me. Especially since they do exist within a specific white-centered world. I already mentioned the romance of white privilege and travel. Couple that with the NASCAR thing and yeah. Not a lot of minority characters.

It should be noted though that Ramón and Flo are well-chosen stereotypes. It’s impressive to pick stereotyped characters but then do them in a way which doesn’t give people hives. Not all stereotypes are necessarily bad. Ramón in particular fits in perfectly with the existing latino car culture and the way it’s embraced.

And if Cars passes the minority Bechdel test, it’s only because it hearks back to a time period when Italians were considered non-white.

These are just off the top of my head. I’m sure more will occur to me.

Towards the 21st Century—Addendum

I have to admit that I was thinking about this as I filled out my contribution but did absolutely nothing to address it. This is mainly because I’m not that into the bleeding edge of photography and tend to glean what others come across. So since everyone I follow tends to promote western photographers, that’s all I really see.

I also don’t make a habit of checking a photographer’s background. I know, I know. I’m on record as saying that the identity of the photographer matters. But it’s not a race thing I’m talking about. All I’m interested in is whether the photographer is an insider or an outsider with regard to the subject matter being depicted.

And besides, given how I interpreted the challenge, I was moving away from subject matter which implied a specific background and into conceptual items where I truly don’t care who the photographer is.

In any case, I’ve gone back and thought about it a bit more and picked two non-white photographers who I’m familiar with but who don’t seem to be part of the larger photographic discussion. Neither made my top-five list but they’re both doing work which is relevant moving forward.

Kip Fulbeck
Fine. Sort of non-white. Fulbeck is responsible for the Hapa Project and for the book Mixed Kids.* He plays with the concept of race itself and looks towards our racially mixed and ambiguous future. I don’t find the individual portraits to be that noteworthy by themselves. But taken as a group, the projects are very noteworthy and manage to tread the fine line between how mixed-race people tend to take pride in forging their unique identity while feeling somewhat isolated and not part of any specific ethnic group.

*The first artbook in my three-year-old son’s collection.

We* all have our different stories of passing for various things but not necessarily feeling 100% part of any of them. So it’s nice to have company and see how other people are doing the same thing.

*I’m Japanese, Chinese, German, and Irish. My sons are all that plus Mexican. 

The projects, while nice for us, are also doing a great job at questioning what race is and, more importantly, what race will be. We’re all citizens of the world. In the 21st century, more and more of us will look like citizens of the world too.

Binh Danh
This appears to be a very local choice. I’ve seen his work all over locally but never beyond that. And I’ve yet to see anyone play with the photographic process the way Danh has with his leaf prints. The concept is interesting enough that it could appear to be a gimmick. But he uses the right leaves and right images and is able to evoke a sense of history and loss and memory about Vietnam and the Vietnam War which makes his work quite powerful.

He’s moved on to taking daguerreotypes and developing them in his van—resulting in images which we’re not used to seeing as daguerreotypes since they’re recorded in the field. I’ve seen a resurgence in tintypes and mobile tintype studios. Daguerreotypes up the ante though. Again, this could be a gimmick but Danh knows what he’s doing. The high reflectivity of a new daguerreotype is not something we’re used to. So he takes photos and presents them knowing and intending that the viewers will see themselves as they view the pieces. The resulting photos are a combination of something old and something very new—making us rethink what we’re seeing.

1968

During my visit to the Oakland Museum where I saw Daniel Clowes and the Social Justice Posters, I spent most of my time in the 1968 exhibition. It’s an ambitious project and one which I’m not entirely sure works on its own—too much to cover and too many things to tie into it. At the same time, it’s a great first step and start of discussion which will make a big impression on most visitors. It’s well worth the trip to see it.

The biggest impression it made on me was how much it helped me understand where my parents came from. It’s not like I didn’t know about any of the stuff which was on display. It’s just that the examples and stories reminded me of items I was already personally familiar with and so my parents’ stories fit into the bigger context in a way I had not fully understood previously. As someone who felt reasonably versed in the events of the 1960s, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned.

This is definitely an exhibit worth attending as a family with the intent of telling stories, discussing what happened, and relearning the past.

Where it fails is that it never really steps out from the past and into the present. There’s no sense of current-day applicability to the events. No references to how things turned out and no questions about whether the fuss was worth it. This was most apparent to me when I was watching the Chicago Convention footage. I don’t think anyone protesting the Democratic platform wanted Nixon to win the election. But look what happened. Nixon won. The war got worse. It’s still not clear that the Democrats have recovered.

I also can’t watch scenes of the riot in Grant Park without thinking about Obama’s victory speech in 2008. I think it’s important to remind viewers what happened to these places and what they’re like now. The Ambassador Hotel is demolished now but Grant Park still exists as an important gathering point where the world still watches.

The concept of “where are we now?” is also completely relevant to the portions on the Women’s Movement. There are some tremendously good accomplishments which are noted* but other things like the concept of throwing away bras, girdles, heels, etc. tell a different story than they’re meant to. The story is always how throwing those away was empowering. Yet today we have cosmetic surgery which accomplishes the same thing. Is it really an improvement to go from an age where everyone knew what was accomplished by shaping undergarments to one where your body is supposed to be perfect before you put your clothes on?**

*Especially the increase in college attendance.

**This realization came to me while I was in a Vivienne Westwood exhibition. There’s a reason why almost every woman now chooses a wedding dress with a corset in it. It’s not the corset which is the problem.

Which brings me to the other big impression I got in this exhibition. I was very stuck by how simple the issues appeared and the ease of achieving protest action. It was almost quaint. Today, we seem to get sidetracked by the complexity of things. It’s hard to focus on a complex issue yet at the same time, people who focus too much on simple issues are now perceived to be missing the point. Movements today—assuming they get off of Facebook and into the streets—are criticized for either being too narrow-minded or too unfocused.

Other thoughts as I wandered through the displays:

War has changed an awful lot since Vietnam. It’s news now when one soldier dies. It’s also completely okay now to be both anti-war and supportive of the troops. I think those are both positive developments.

It’s nice to see César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers included. All too often the 60s are portrayed as white/black/women issues and the rise of the UFW is hugely important to note.

The treatment of black rights and black power is interesting. The exhibition marks the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the foundering of the Poor People’s Campaign but doesn’t really call out anything else. You have to be alert to see things like Aretha Franklin on the cover of Time or Arthur Ashe winning the US Open woven into the general timeline.

The only other time black issues are explicitly featured is Tommie Smith and John Carlos* at the 1968 Olympics. Which brings up another interesting point. The 1968 games are not just about the black power salute. I saw no mention of Bob Beamon or Dick Fosbury or the phenomenal legacy each of them left on the games and sport in general. Nor was it mentioned that the games arguably shouldn’t even have been held at all—Tlateloco** shows up in the timeline but is never tied to the Olympics.

*I also always feel bad that Peter Norman always seems to get overlooked.

**What is it with museums assuming Americans know about Tlateloco? SFMoMA did the same thing.

There is also a silent majority section. Which is great. We do often get the sense that 1968 is full of conflict and that everyone was involved. Yet there was also a constituency which was powerful enough to elect Nixon.

I would like to see more about the presidential campaigns. The McCarthy to RFK to Humphrey transition is presented as something which just happened (well, besides the assassination thing) rather than an evolution in support. And Nixon’s campaign isn’t covered much at all.

I’d also like to see more about sports. Felt kind of like an afterthought. Sports is a different kind of common-culture which runs orthogonal to the rest of the movements on display. If anything, it’s the closest Americans have to an agreed-upon shared history which cuts across the rest of the divisions.

The comparison of television to movies is shocking. TV in 1968 is horrible and only worth watching today for kitsch sentimentality. The movies meanwhile represent the beginning of New Hollywood and are as important and impressive today as they were then. From what I can tell, the most important show on TV was the news.

The music, clothing, or industrial design displays are all very very familiar. The items are either still cool* or completely in-keeping with the myth of the 60s.

*Especially with the retro-cool trends we’re in the midst of right now where anything 1950s–1970s is cool.

I love the amount of ashtrays that they had scattered around. It’s going to be very weird explaining the omnipresence of cigarette smoke to my son.

And the glass grape sculptures. Total flashback to grandma’s house.

Ending the show with Apollo 8 and Earthrise. It still blows my mind that we hadn’t known the Earth that way until then. And the poignancy of seeing the hope for the moon during that time while we’re shipping the space shuttles to drydock now wasn’t lost on me.

Mexicanismo

Betsabeé Romero
Espiral sin Fin por Betsabeé Romero

This past weekend, I finally used my San José Museum of Art membership card in San José* and took in their Mexicanismo show. It’s almost always a joy to visit this museum since they seem to both have my number and to really really get it when it comes to picking and exhibiting art which is relevant locally.

*I usually use the reciprocal benefits for admission to SFMoMA. I figure that San José needs the money more and that I usually end up buying a catalog from SFMoMA anyway.

While this exhibition in particular is very interesting to see and compare to SFMoMA’s Photography in Mexico, it really deserves to be evaluated on its own. Throwing the comparison in this post risks making it a rehash of my review of the SFMoMA show. And that’s not fair to a show this good.

To attend this show is to get a sense of how Mexico sees itself. There is respect for the past and its traditions and crafts. But not so much respect that you can’t make fun of it at the same time. There is tremendous creativity in the use and appropriation of anything and everything. The results are a tremendous mashup of traditions, cultures, crafts, and materials. Often funny. Often serious. Often both at the same time.

Installation by Natalia Anciso
Installation by Natalia Anciso

Most of these pieces also invite and reward extra inspection. They have that immediate impact—either graphically or emotionally—but they pull you in and make you look more closely. God is in the detail.

Jamex and Einar de la Torre’s glass work. It’s not just what these pieces look like, it’s what they’re made of. The more you look, the more you recognize the components—crystal virgens, bottle caps, lotería, pinto beans, etc. The more components you discover, the more the humor and intelligence of the pieces come through. Mexican pop iconography made of mexican material goods.

Máximo González’s woven currency. Or, in this case, the trimmed edges of banknotes woven together. This appeals to me as a printing nerd. But it also takes trash and turns it into something beautiful. That it does so by referencing one of the most-traditional of mexican crafts is the icing on the cake.

The same goes with Gabriel Kuri’s woven receipt rugs. Traditional weavings of untraditional subjects—in this case supermarket receipts—result in giant enlargements of objects which most of us take for granted and throw away. Oldenburg crossed with Droog, then gentefied. Very cool.

Betsabeé Romero’s Espiral sin Fin takes a similar approach. The idigenismo is clear in the imagery. But by making the carvings out of automobile tires, we have a fantastic mashup which also references the car culture of modern Mexico. Old and new together. Highbrow and lowbrow together.

Seeing Natalia Anciso’s installation immediately felt familiar and comfortable. It’s Lita’s casa, time for pancakes, but in a museum. And then you look closer and see that the huipil embroidery has paño figures mixed in among the flowers. Not as comforting any more. But definitely a reminder how those two very different traditions are both very familiar to the culture.

I could go on since the whole exhibition is like this. Look, see. Look closer, see differently. That there’s no catalog available is deeply frustrating. There’s no way to spend as much time looking at these as I’d like to and much of the art isn’t even visible online. I’m just going to have to drag as many people as I can to the museum.

Un surtido de fotos mexicanos

Another day off, another trip to SFMoMA. This time to see the newly-opened Photography In Mexico exhibition. It’s interesting and worth seeing. I had almost the opposite reaction to my reaction to Dijkstra. Rather than really enjoying the exhibition but not being grabbed by the photos, I found myself really liking a lot of the photos but not feeling it with the exhibition as a whole.

Granted, part of this was by design. The exhibition is meant to be a survey of Mexican photographers over the past century with a specific slant toward political work. This is a huge topic and the result feels thin. Can you really synthesize a century of a county’s history and politics without lumping things into really big buckets and oversimplifying the results? Probably not.

It’s interesting to compare this approach with the approach the Whitney took in its Visions From America exhibition a decade ago. The Whitney show featured American photography as being the vanguard of Modern Art—not merely an integral part of art movements; photography and photographic reproduction can be seen as the leading edge in introducing pop, conceptual, and post-modern art.

Politics doesn’t enter the discussion at all and the focus is art. So to have politics be featured as the common thread is a very different way of seeing things. It’s an ambitious approach, even if we accept the limitations of presenting just a high-level survey of the century.*

*SFMoMA’s Provoke exhibition took a similar point of view with post-war Japan. But that exhibition covered a much smaller time period (~25 years) and involved images which skewed away from (rather than toward) the documentary.

I don’t think they quite pulled it off. I left the exhibition feeling bothered by something in the curation and thinking about what exactly bugged me. At first it felt like the curator stretching too far—a critique which quickly broke down since the exhibition did fit together well. The main categories all make sense and serve as very good mini exhibitions. It took me a while to figure it out but what rubbed me the wrong way was that I didn’t get a sense of Mexico from the exhibition.

I was seeing what liberal Americans think of Mexico.

It’s a question of point of view. The exhibition comes across as an American view of what we think Mexican politics are. Photography in Mexico* is almost the best standard example of the insider vs. outsider dilemma since almost every photographer of note seems to have spent time traveling in Mexico with a camera. Many of these photos come across as treating Mexico as sort of a human zoo.** This exhibition avoids getting too sidetracked into the issue from the photographer point of view***—the photos of Mexico are definitely taken by Mexicans—but proceeds to fall into that trap with the curation.

*The practice, not this exhibition.

**Sort of the National Geographic effect on travel photography. As much as National Geographic has been a fantastic proponent of good photography to everyone, its photojournalistic travel photos have inspired too many travelers who think that travel photography is all about taking photos of the locals without regard to them as humans.

***This is not to say that an exhibition of insider vs outsider views of Mexico from the same time period would not be interesting. If it were done correctly, such an exhibition would be very interesting since it would actually critique both the photos and the photographer. And the audience.

At the same time, despite my issues with the way the photos are presented, the photos themselves are worth seeing. I just feel like the context provided has to be either adjusted or ignored.

Taking the buckets and mini exhibitions one by one:

Manuel Álvarez Bravo: Los agachados

Bucket One
Intellectual interchange and the beginning of photography in Mexico
Weston, Modotti, and the Álvarez Bravos

The bucket I have the least problem with because it’s the most like standard art exhibitions. The interchange of ideas is very interesting and, like most things photographic before World War 2, the act of just documenting is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. Many of the photos displayed would work just as well in comparison with the photos of the dust bowl or poor south from the same time periods. There is also a lot of architecture, signage, pattern, texture, etc. going on with these photos. Nothing too political, just straight photos* displayed as art.

*Paul Strand is also featured here.

In the greater context of this exhibition, a lot of the photos—including all of Weston’s—don’t seem to fit since they’re not making a political point (another reason why I have the fewest issues with this section). In the context of this subsection, everything holds together. I get an especially good sense of Mexico in the first half of the century with Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s work too.

Manuel Carrillo: Pescador envuelto en redes

Bucket Two
Poor Mexicans deserve our sympathy

Specifically, Mexico’s poor people work hard and don’t deserve this lot in life. These photos are just begging for backstory. Not all are as clear as the fisherman with the nets and since they’re presented as being empathetic portraits of the working class or photo-essays by photojournalists, without knowing the context, it’s hard to truly empathize.

The exhibition even references things like the Tlatelolco massacre and general upheaval in Mexico contributing to the desire to document and investigate Mexican culture. But there’s never any explanation about what these events are and why they matter.

As a result, it’s difficult not to view these photos as going for cheap emotional responses* rather than actually telling us anything. Not everything in a museum requires tons of context in order to properly understand it, but documentary work presented as political art is an area which absolutely does. All I’m left with is some nice-looking photos which make me feel a little guilty about my situation in life.

*Akin to the all-to-familiar trope of “street photographers” photographing homeless people without making any point beyond “this person is homeless.”

Graciela Iturbide: Mujer ángel, Desierto de Sonora, México

Bucket Three
Anthropological studies of specific subcultures
Indios, Lucha Libre, y los super-ricos

These photos, despite being presented as Mexican, are all also outsider studies of subcultures in Mexico. Many of them fall into the category of cataloging Mexico’s native people before they disappear. There is no mention of indígenismo here. The photos portray Indian culture either as something to be documented before it disappears or as just a strange melding of the modern and the past. In both cases, these images come across as images of non-Mexican culture.

This is a shame since there’s no reason the images can’t relate to Mexico and its trend toward increased pride and self-identification with its indigenous roots. From a political standpoint, the point that things like western beauty ideals and cultural norms are not always worth emulating is hugely important. As is the pride and increased presence of Indian imagery into the general culture.

Yvonne Venegas: M. E. de Henk

The Lucha Libre photos by Lourdes Grobet and studies of the super rich by Yvonne Venegas and Daniela Rossell had me comparing the presentation with Colors Magazine’s Telenovela Issue. Mexican popular culture contains a strange duality where the super rich are part of Mexico’s problem but their lives are practically the definition of Mexican television. As the flip side of the aspirational images seen on Mexican TV, the images of the super rich, real-life novelas have a lot to do with the gritty images of Lucha Libre. Little boys aspire to be luchadors. Little girls aspire to be princesas. Yet those kids lucky enough to have their wishes come true end up isolated and lonely despite the privileges of the position.

The connection between popular aspiration and its less-rosy reality though is not made in this exhibition. The luchador photos aren’t presented with any political edge and the photos of the rich are provided as counterpoint to the images of the poor. The implication is that the rich need to be taken down a peg, but there is a lot more at stake culturally than just gross inequality.

Pablo López Luz: Mexico D.F.

Bucket Four
Mexico’s built environment is dehumanizing and unsustainable

This section is presented as a departure from “traditional picturesque views” and stands on its own despite those picturesque views not being presented anywhere. But then I’m a bit of a built-environment junkie. The political point of view is debatable.* I love Pablo López Luz’s aerial views and Alejandro Cartagena’s suburban photography. I can see how the images can be used politically. I’m not convinced that they are inherently political though.

*Are Lewis Baltz, Todd Hido, and Ed Ruscha political?

Those photos dovetail nicely with detail shots of city moments—whether they’re Oscar Fernando Gómez’s whimsical shots from a moving car* or Pablo Ortiz Monasterio’s dystopian view of Mexico City. The combination of details with high-level landscape views is the portion of the exhibition which came closest to giving me insights into the Mexican experience.

*A very Mexican way to see the city.

High level views have me asking, “How does one live there?”

Detail views answer the question, “Not easily. Keep a sense of humor.”

Yet even despite my appreciation for this section, by leaving out the picturesque views, the point that Mexico has transitioned from being a rural country to an urban one is completely missed. A large portion of Mexican history over the time period presented can be seen as the rural to urban transition. All we see on display though is urban life.

Geoffrey James: Looking North Toward San Diego at the Second Border Marker, from the series Running Fence

Bucket Five
The Mexico-US border

Not the border in cities, the border as metaphor for American perceptions of Mexicans and the extent we have marked the landscape with a giant “you people are not welcome here” sign. The photos of the border, and its strange artificial arbitrary imposition on a giant tract of inhospitable land is Christo’s Running Fence taken to extremes of scale and industry.

It’s inherently political. It’s inherently absurd.

And it’s inherently impersonal. So it’s nice to see it personalized by Elsa Medina’s photos of the migrations and Susan Mieselas’s and Mark Ruwedel’s photographs of what migrants leave behind. Ruwedal’s work in particular captures the combination of personal details fitting into a larger-scale story by focusing on individually-abandoned possessions while making it clear that the trail those possessions are found next to is part of a larger narrative. Not trains this time but foot-traffic. Though the motivation remains the same.

At the same time, the border crossing is one of the last steps of the migration yet there is nothing on display to suggest this. Focusing just on the border misses the greater issue of migration from other regions of Mexico or the fact that many migrants come from Central America through Mexico to reach the border. The border, as displayed here, is how we think of it as Americans and how it has become politicized in the US.

Katya Brailovsky: Garibaldi, Ciudad de México

Despite my reservations about the presentation, this exhibition has a lot of stuff to think about and a lot of good images to see. It’s very much worth going to. I’d like to see more stuff like Oscar Fernando Gómez’s or Katya Brailovsky’s work since they are more personal reflections of how they see their environment.

I’m also more underwhelmed than upset about the curation. It’s a very ambitious point of view which SFMoMa almost pulls off. So the result feels a little thin and wanting rather than being obviously upsetting. It took me a long time to figure out what bugged me and even longer to be able to articulate it. I can also see why a lot of people really like this exhibit. The photos themselves are very good and worth seeing.

Insider vs. Outsider

A joke I once made. It’s funny because it’s true—most of the time.

From my post on female photographers:

We tend to approach women artists the same way we treat other non-white artists—as representative of, and speaking for, their minority group.

It’s not true when we’re looking at work which appears to be an inside job.

As much as I get annoyed when just authorship matters, it does matter. A lot. I only get annoyed when the name of the artist is most important. What matters is who the artist is in relation to the subject and how the access to the subject is obtained.

Since there is something inherently intrusive and voyeuristic about photography,* whether the photographer is an insider or an outsider** to the subject matter makes a huge difference to the way we view the image. And it will often influence the image itself.

*Which SFMoMA tried to cover with mixed results with its Exposed show.

**I’m using “outsider” in a tribal way rather than in a outsider art way

An outsider cannot cover a subject the same way as an insider. The results have completely different contexts. And context matters.

One of the best examples of this is Laura Heyman’s Pa Bouje Ankò: Don’t Move Again project where she set out with the intent of not making “souvenirs” and instead discovered that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle—and specifically the observer effect—also applies to photography. Her presence as an observer changes the context of her observations.

What I did not realize at the time was that this very idea – that the context of the images was something I could designate or control – was exactly what I sought to avoid. It was, in fact, both colonial and paternalistic. The context of any artwork is constantly shifting, and the context of these particular images has now shifted again.

There is no way that her work can truly be like Seydou Keïta’s* because she brings a different context to her images.** Keïta’s work is an inside job where he took portraits of his own people over 50+ years. Heyman traveled to Haiti and photographed for a year.

*Not to be confused with the criminally under-appreciated FC Barcelona soccer player Seydou Keita.

**A related phenomenon is photography using out-dated techniques and technologies. I can’t help but approach these photographs as if I were reviewing Pierre Menard.

To be clear, I don’t think that either insider or outsider photography is superior to the other. Taking two similar-looking examples from the same time period: Robert Frank’s The Americans is a fantastic example of travel photography since it treats the first world with the same critical outsider’s eye which is normally reserved for the third world. While Roy DeCarava’s The Sound I Saw is an invitation to share in the experiences of American life within a racist society. There’s a place for both views and it important to see and understand each of them.

With insiders, we’re often looking in on unguarded moments from people who are comfortable with the photographer—whether it’s Linda McCartney’s photos of the Rolling Stones and other rock legends she had access to as a result of her place in that world, various family photographs, or Naomi Harris photographing swingers. Or we’ll be looking at people taking photos of what they know and what they’re surrounded by. It’s this second portion which makes it easy for us to assume that any minority photographer is making insider photographs.

Outsider photographs are tougher to spot. They’re not all as obvious as Marc Garanger’s Femmes Algériennes but there is often an external context created by the photographer’s presence.* This context can often just be the photographer’s point of view—for example, the Yvonne Venegas work referenced in the original tweet which begins this post.

*Something I noted when viewing Walker Evans’s work.

And a single photographer can do both. Cartier-Bresson’s work in Europe feels insider to me. But his work from Mexico feels outsider. Again, it’s not about which is better, it’s just being aware of the context.

Mark Bradford

As I mentioned in my prize-unboxing post, part of the reason I went to SFMoMA was to see the Mark Bradford exhibition. I didn’t really know what to expect since it’s impossible to really understand this work until you see it. But it was supposed to be good. And it was. Huge collages with lots of texture which both invite and reward inspection at a number of viewing distances.

I wish I could touch them.

Bradford’s work definitely falls into the category of artwork which is compelling enough on its own that it doesn’t need a lot of explanatory text. Information on media and method is nice to learn but the concepts are also simple enough that I can see Bradford-like art projects* being a great activity to do with kids.

*Using Elmers glue, found paper, and twine.

It’s also interesting to see this exhibition so soon after seeing Walker Evans. Evans has a number of photos of advertising posters which are layered upon years of accumulated advertising. As new images are added and as things age and weather, the textures and unexpected combinations of images which develop present found art to someone with Evans’s eye. Bradford takes this concept a step further by provoking the textures and combinations intentionally through layering printed material on top of printed material and then sanding away portions to reveal the layers.

Because he works with the materials of his community, he ends up creating collages which draw upon and comment on his experiences. I’m not sure I agree with the way that he’s presented as a black artist since his work isn’t as overtly black as say Kara Walker’s, Chris Ofili’s,* or Fred Wilson’s is. While he references black themes in his titles, I get a much more Los Angeles ghetto vibe from him in a way which makes his art speak for any non-white lower-class group in the West Coast.

*Yes, I know that Chris Ofili isn’t American. There’s a reason I said “black” instead of “African American.”

Heck, his art is pretty Los Angeles just in general. LA is a weird weird place were anyone and everyone can reinvent themselves. There is history there. But it’s papered over with fake history* which has taken on a life of its own to the point where the fake history is legitimately historical too. This rewriting of history is embedded in the geography of the street grid and highway right of ways as neighborhoods are redeveloped/destroyed.**

*Olvera Street.

**Chavez Ravine and South Central.

That much of Bradford’s work references the city grid only confirms my sense of his work as belonging to LA. To be fair, he is able to reference other places—I really liked his Katrina/New Orleans piece in particular. But to drive through LA is to see fragments of past versions of the city peeking through the latest veneer—mini Ruwedels glimpsed from a Gohlke point of view, maybe at 70mph if you’re lucky, but more likely through the frustration of stop-and-go traffic.

I don’t know whether LA is gigantic Bradford collage or if Bradford’s collages just happen to encapsulate my sense of what Los Angeles is. But his work has me wanting to read City of Quartz now.

Gorilla Girls II

It’s difficult for people to name female artists. In general. Which is why the challenge to name three female artists is still disturbingly difficult for many people. One of the fantastic things about photography is that it’s much more balanced in terms of presenting women as accomplished artists in the medium—to the point that most female artists people think of now happen to be photographers.

At the same time, all is not well. While I was viewing the Francesca Woodman exhibition and thinking about how her work should be required viewing for any teen girl taking self portraits and posting them to flickr/facebook, it occurred to me that every female photographer that I could think of is most-noted for taking photos of people.* And this is certainly true for every female photographer whose work I’ve seen featured in a museum.

*I’d say portraiture but some people define this term to be strictly posed photos. What I’m really talking about are portraits, candids, and street portraits. Obviously, when we get into the street, there’s a huge continuum from posing strangers on the street to just using people as a compositional element. The dividing line for me is probably Garry Winogrand’s Women are Beautiful.

I’ve been thinking about this even more since Eve Arnold’s passing when I noticed that the resulting obits talked about how she was one of the few female photojournalists but noted her most-notable work to be her portraits of Marilyn Monroe.

After further deliberation, I’ve got the following list of art-museum-worthy (as deemed by museums) photographers whose notable work includes a large portion of photos which aren’t about people. I’ve gone ahead and listed what areas they specialize in too.

It’s a small list.* I cannot help but wonder why this is. Whatever the reason is, it certainly isn’t a good one.

*If anyone has suggestions for someone I missed, please let me know.

My gut reaction is that we tend to approach women artists the same way we treat other non-white artists—as representative of, and speaking for, their minority group. So, as a result, the work which gains the most acceptance in museums is that which explicitly offers—or which can be framed to offer—a different, female, perspective. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging this perspective* but the idea that it’s the main way for women artists to be presented is completely wrong.

*God knows we need it.

That kind of thinking is not only insulting and pandering but it trivializes artists whose work isn’t about their minority perspective.* Either they get shoehorned into a group to which they do not belong or the get saddled with the “token” label.

*Bringing to mind the Ruth Asawa exhibition at the De Young which kept trying to make it about her being asian and/or female when her work has nothing to do with any of that—unless you think the beautiful mathyness of it all is because she’s asian.

Minority

It’s been one week since the Gold Cup Final and the stories have, thankfully, reverted to questioning what’s wrong with the USA National Team and projecting how good the Mexico team could become. For a few days, it seemed possible for the event to be used by nativist or conservative commentators to make a political point.* While it wouldn’t be to the extreme that occurred in France after a “friendly” with Algeria, a great post on the Soccer Politics blog makes the connection and sounds the warning about extrapolating too much from a single event and small subset of the fans in attendance.

*That such a point would involve admitting to watching soccer is probably why it did not get made.

At the same time, another post on the same blog, casts the entire rivalry into the politics of decolonization and immigration. I don’t quite buy this either. If anything, the USA-Mexico rivalry is about minority identity rather than politics.

Identity question #1: To whom does soccer “belong”?

The USA is a great at absorbing and sanitizing other cultures—think Mexican food (Chevys, Taco Bell, Chipotle), Cinco de Mayo, and the most interesting man in the world. We haven’t taken soccer. Yet. But we’re trying.

That soccer is identifiably non-American makes it something which minorities in this country can use as shorthand for their culture. A large part of the USA-Mexico soccer rivalry stands in for the struggle over American appropriation of Mexican culture to the point where it almost seems like there’s been a line drawn in the sand: “Hands off our fútbol you pinche gringos.”

Identity question #2: Which team does a Mexican-American support?

To-date, most of them support Mexico. Even my 3rd-generation wife supports Mexico.* The typical American thing to do is to support Team USA first, ethnic background second, then the big-name team of your choosing third. Sometimes the second two are switched** but, except in the case of Mexico, it’s almost always USA first.

*Somewhat to her surprise. We were watching the Gold Cup Final and she just found herself rooting for Mexico.

**I support Spain over any of my ethnicities. Though, in my defence, I am part German.

I suspect that a large reason why Mexican-Americans tend to support Mexico is because of the answer to question one. Soccer is currently part of Mexican culture and so, enjoying soccer is an exercise in enjoying being Mexican.

However, another reason is that the US team does a horrible job at getting Mexican-American players (or, really, latinos of any sort) into the system. I think Jose Torres is the only one right now. It’s not like those players are playing for Mexico either, there’s just a huge untapped player pool and a huger untapped market for new fans. When the US national team has a Mexican-American star who my wife’s generation can identify with, I suspect a huge number of them will start supporting the US team instead.

Identity question #3: What does it mean to be a USA soccer fan?

It’s not enough for most US soccer fans to root for victories. It’s all about playing the game correctly, behaving correctly, and not letting down the rest of the group by dong something stupid. Games always have a bigger picture issue about dictating the place of the game in US society. Since rivalry games bring out the worst in everyone, the US-Mexico game is probably the most stressful.

On the field, it’s important to show that the US is not a joke of a team. If the team is competitive, it’s easy to explain to non-fans why we watch and helps to grow the sport.* If the team sucks, our sanity is questioned by everyone and there’s an existential crisis regarding the future of soccer in America.

*It’s not clear how much many of us want to actually see the sport become popular here. There’s a certain hipster vibe where we enjoy the exclusivity by obscurity and complain when things become mainstream during the World Cup.

Off the field, it’s even stranger. We feel like we have the responsibility to show that we’re not stupid Americans and that we actually understand world soccer. We have to simultaneously embrace the passion of the game without fully succumbing to it lest we become the bullies that we are in other fields. And we have to accept and enjoy (and even prefer) Spanish-language broadcasts and majority-Mexican crowds because, without them, there would be no market at all for soccer in America.

Gorilla girls

The original question is very close to the one I keep at hand for whenever I hear someone suggesting that the art world isn’t sexist. I challenge people to name three non-photographer female artists since most of the famous female artists people know of are photographers and I want to force them into the other arts.

When I first came up with the question, I was shocked to realize that the three most-famous female artists were all married to famous men. I suppose it’s at least refreshing that none of them changed their names.

My answer, while flip, does have a point beyond the wise-assery. Are those three women famous because of their art, or did they get a boost from their famous partners? And does it matter?