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Posts Tagged ‘black and white’

Shanghai 1962

August 18, 2016 | by

How my mother’s accordion led to a chance encounter in Mao’s China.

wei-tchou

For years my parents have told me about a photograph that shows my mother shaking hands with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of China under Mao Zedong. The photograph was taken in 1962, four years before the Cultural Revolution began, but it was lost until a few weeks ago, when a barrage of Instagram notifications, texts, e-mails, and WeChat messages alerted me that the picture had been found. It had turned up on Facebook, of all places, in a post detailing the history of my mother’s grade school in Shanghai. (A point of recent pride: Yao Ming, the basketball player, was a student at the same school, albeit decades later). An aunt of mine who lives in Hong Kong forwarded the picture to my father, who then distributed it across the Internet.

In the picture, my mother is fourteen. Her hair is in a low ponytail and she has an accordion strapped over her shoulders. She wears a checked knee-length skirt, a white blouse, white ankle socks, and Mary Janes. Several rows of Chinese flags fly in the background; in front of these stand many smiling girls holding bouquets of flowers. All eyes in the picture are on Zhou Enlai as he grips my mother’s hand. He’s tall and handsome, in a Mao suit and strappy sandals. Her smile is easy and uncalculated, bordering on surprise.Read More »

No More Good Time in the World For Me

August 10, 2016 | by

The “unlove and unfreedom” in Johnnie B. Smith’s work songs.

All photos: Bruce Jackson.

All photos by Bruce Jackson, brucejacksonphotography.us.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature.

During the thirteen years he spent jailed for murder on a Texas prison farm, Johnnie B. Smith sang work songs. In 1964, the ethnomusicologist Bruce Jackson met Smith during a trip through the state prison system to document the dwindling number of older, black prisoners who still knew the sorts of songs Smith led. He taped Smith’s renditions of a handful of standards: “Drop ’Em Down Together,” “Sure Make a Man Feel Bad,” “Poor Boy.” But Smith, Jackson soon learned, also sang songs of his own writing, stranger and more private than the ones he’d heard passed down.

These songs share a structure and melody, but they allow for a nearly limitless range of embellishments and improvisations. Their stanzas, for the most part, have four lines each—a single couplet sung in two variations. Their melody, which Smith adjusts verse by verse and song by song, is more difficult to describe. Its tempo accelerates and slows downs unexpectedly; its volume swells and falls; it changes gears rattlingly; it’s marked by disquieting pockets of silence. The shortest of these songs is over six minutes long; the longest, more than twenty-three. 

At the time Jackson conducted his fieldwork, Ramsey—where Smith was held—was one of fourteen prisons in the Texas Correctional System. It comprised a sprawling farm property produced by combining five former plantations. Inmates felled trees, picked cotton, and worked the fields; the resulting products were either used within the prison or sold to cover the cost of housing the prisoners themselves. (As late as the early 1960s, the work teams were entirely segregated.) Ramsey’s inmates were, in effect, funding their own imprisonment, and for many decades black prisoners did so under conditions not much different from those of chattel slavery. The “riders” and “captains” Smith addresses across his songs were horse-mounted bosses whose brutality toward the work crews was widely known and feared. Read More »

Dear Bill Cunningham

July 1, 2016 | by

bill cunninghamHEADER

At an auction in December 2010, I acquired a double-breasted men’s mink stroller coat owned by Edward Gorey. It was an unlikely purchase: I hadn’t intended to bid on anything, had never been to a proper auction before, and had very little money to my name.

I was there to write something about the once-in-a-lifetime auction of Gorey’s personal hoard of fur coats—twenty-one in all. I was a Gorey fan, not, outside a first edition or two, a collector. But that morning, I had deposited a meager paycheck from adjunct professing, and I began to feel the emergence of a dream. I could own the coat. Why couldn’t I at least try? I could at least pretend to be that person who wins precious objects at auction. Read More »

A Taste of The Photographer’s Cookbook

May 3, 2016 | by

Stephen Shore, New York City, New York, September–October 1972. © Stephen Shore, Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery, New York.

Our dual subscription deal with Lucky Peach technically ended last week, but we’re extending it because we’ve still got food and drink on the mind—especially after flipping through The Photographer’s Cookbook, out next month from Aperture and the George Eastman Museum. Commissioned by the latter in the late seventies, the book showcases recipes and pictures from the era’s leading photographers; it was never published before now. Below are five of our favorite photo/recipe combos, including Stephen Shore’s Key lime pie supreme, Imogen Cunningham’s borscht, and a classic down-South dish from the master of seventies color photography himself: William Eggleston’s cheese-grits casserole. —Caitlin LoveRead More »

In Bamako

March 17, 2016 | by

Malick Sidibé, Le Faux Musicien Derriere sa Voiture, 1971/2008, silver gelatin print, 20 7/8" x 14".

The Malian photographer Malick Sidibé’s latest exhibition opens tonight at Jack Shainman Gallery. Sidibé, who’s seventy-nine or eighty, lives in Bamako, where he’s worked as a photographer since the fifties; he’s known for his vivacious black-and-white studies of the city’s youth culture. “You go to someone’s wedding, someone’s christening,” he told LensCulture in 2008, speaking of the renown he gained as a party photographer:

I was lucky enough at that time to be the intellectual young photographer with a small camera who could move around. The early photographers like Seydou Keïta worked with plate cameras and were not able to get out and use a flash. So I was much in demand by the local youth. Everywhere … in town, everywhere! Whenever there was a dance, I was invited … At night, from midnight to four A.M. or six A.M., I went from one party to another. I could go to four different parties. If there were only two, it was like having a rest. But if there were four, you couldn’t miss any. If you were given four invitations, you had to go. You couldn’t miss them. I’d leave one place, I’d take thirty-six shots here, thirty-six shots there, and then thirty-six somewhere else, until the morning.

His new show spans the whole of his career; it’s up through April 23. Read More »

Eyeballs Left Standing

November 5, 2012 | by

The Alligator People (1959).

The Invisible Man, neat freak by design, was known to fuss over the grit beneath his fingernails. According to British horror historian Denis Gifford, dirt threatened transparency. In A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Gifford sees “a pair of disembodied trousers skipping down the lane to ‘Here We Come Gathering Nuts in May.’” The hands are clean.

For Gifford, the devil was in the details, if not in all of us: “We who came to stare only see ourselves.” Or through ourselves. He notes the shabbiness of Mr. Hyde’s tailcoat, and the yak-hair transplants on the Wolfman’s face. Also important: “a sinister sofa,” controlled by an underground switchboard operated by a man in a wig. And Frankenstein’s homunculus, taken out by a falling crossbeam no fewer than four times in his film career.

These images were filtered through words I’d just discovered. Until last week, I had never actually read the most important book of my childhood. The text had gone unseen. My mother had given A Pictorial History of Horror Movies to my brothers as a Christmas gift in 1973. She still cheerily refers to it as “that book with the girl with the hatchet in her head.” I was forbidden to read it but was never told I couldn’t look at it. Read More »

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