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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

The Language of Dogs

August 11, 2016 | by

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Now that dogs have acquired the ability to speak, what are we to make of their discourse? Previously we might have expected them to be simple in both their desires and their expressions, limiting themselves to requests for food and play. While those concerns certainly loom large in their conversation, it is clear that all along we had been underestimating their perspicacity, their nuance, their humor, their judgment, and most surprisingly their pedantry.

The subject shown above, known as Pierre, was the first recorded example of a speaking dog. Last April he startled his host family, the Van Munchings of Bedburg, New York, by pointing out, apropos of nothing, that it was high time they cleaned the filter in their dehumidifier, adding for good measure that the tires on their Armada were badly in need of rotation. Pierre broached the subject in the mild and apologetic fashion that would come to be known as his hallmark, but that did not prevent Ethel Van Munching from dropping the dishes she was carrying to the kitchen table. Pierre, naturally, gobbled the eggs and bacon the instant they hit the floor, so that the family briefly thought they had simply experienced a collective hallucination. Moments later, however, Pierre was reminding them that their quarterly homeowner insurance payment was past due. It has still not been determined whether Pierre can actually read. 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 »

#ReadEverywhere, Even Upside-Down

August 8, 2016 | by

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Just three weeks left, folks: until the end of August, we’re offering a joint subscription to The Paris Review and the London Review of Books for just $70 U.S. Already a Paris Review subscriber? Not a problem: we’ll extend your subscription to The Paris Review for another year, and your LRB subscription will begin immediately.

We’re also in the thick of the third edition of our popular #ReadEverywhere contest. The rules: post a photo or video of yourself (or your friends, children, or pets) reading The Paris Review or the London Review of Books on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest and use the #ReadEverywhere hashtag and one of our magazines’ handles. There are no wrong ways to read, as the two young readers above demonstrate. 

The winner of the contest will receive a wide selection of Aēsop products. For inspiration, take a look at last year’s winners, or see what this year’s competition has already cooked up.

Now get yourself a joint subscription, head outdoors, and hashtag your way to victory.

So You’re Adapting a Philip Roth Novel, and Other News

August 2, 2016 | by

From the Indignation poster.

  • Don’t learn this the hard way: it’s likely impossible to wrest a good screenplay from the pages of a Philip Roth novel. Many (okay, like, eight) have tried, the latest being James Schamus, with Indignation. All have struggled and gnashed their teeth. Leo Robson has some thoughts on why, and also some thoughts on the most singularly unfilmable Roth novels: “Sabbath’s Theater might be read as Roth’s ultimate piece of literary one-upmanship over the movies. You can picture Roth at his desk in rural Connecticut, far from the fluorescent, multiplex-ridden metropolis, writing the scenes in which Mickey communes with his lover’s ghost, yelling, ‘You filthy, wonderful Drenka cunt! Marry me! Marry me!,’ and ejaculating over her grave—and then saying to himself, with a vindicated smile, ‘Try filming that.’ ”
  • Rarely do I use this space to bring you practical advice or instruction—but you might want to know how to read a book and walk at the same time. It’s a skill I’ve tried to master for years, and I’m sick of causing traffic accidents in my pathetic efforts at “learning.” Nell Beram tells us that “it’s actually easier than it looks”: “First (and I really shouldn’t have to tell you this), stop reading when you cross the street. Second, forgo magazines. The columns are too narrow, forcing the eyes to skid to a stop at the end of a line as soon as they’ve gotten going. Plus, magazines are floppy, and the wind gets grope-y with the broad pages. So go with a book, ideally a hardback that you can hold comfortably in one hand … Your book cannot exceed fourteen ounces or it will murder your wrist.”

Photograph in C#, and Other News

July 25, 2016 | by

Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown, Photograph in C#, 48" x 48". Image via Nautilus

  • Wherever there are Freudian dynamics afoot—whenever latent sexual tension and homosocial tendencies take the national stage—there you’ll find our country’s fan-fiction writers doing their best work. You can only imagine, then, the hay they’ve made of the 2016 election. Talia Lavin spoke to one especially fecund writer who goes by Chuck Tingle: “After the Brexit vote, Tingle published ‘Pounded by the Pound: Turned Gay by the Socioeconomic Implications of Britain Leaving the European Union.’ Another recent Tingle story is about a character he calls Domald Tromp. In Tingle’s fictional universe, Tromp is the presumptive Republican nominee—although, unlike Donald J. Trump, Tromp has faked his birth certificate and is really a native of Scotland. More specifically, he is the Loch Ness monster in disguise. (‘There is something incredible about being taken by such a strong, patriotic beast, even if he is really from Scotland,’ the narrator, a twenty-two-year-old journalist, thinks at one point.)”
  • When politicians aren’t behaving like fictional characters or remaking the world in a kind of proto-fictional mold, they do, unfortunately, attempt to write nonfiction. Here, too, they are often thwarted. Take the case of Boris Johnson, Brexit architect and all-around turd—the Guardian reports that his “widely anticipated biography of Shakespeare is on ice, indefinitely. Originally scheduled for release this October—rather late for the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death back in April—Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius ‘will not be published for the foreseeable future,’ says its publisher, Hodder & Stoughton … Among professional Shakespeareans—think the conspirators in Julius Caesar, only with sharper daggers—there has been a mixture of glee and remorse. On the one hand, many thought the biography wasn’t likely to be very good. On the other, everyone would have had a great deal of fun saying so. Even before the announcement, speculation was rife that not a word had actually been written, and that several prominent academics had been begged for last-minute assistance.”
  • Now that I’ve got you in a pessimistic frame of mind: the early photos in a new survey at the Whitney Museum, “Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” remind of all varieties of sociopolitical turmoil. As Max Nelson writes, “Lyon has always taken risks to earn the status of sympathetic insider in the communities he shoots. The photographs he took across the South in his early twenties were forceful enough visions of outrage and disgust—a group of young black women languishing in the Leesburg stockade; a protestor splayed out in midair as the object of a violent tug-of-war contest between an onlooker and a pack of riot police—that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) soon made Lyon their staff photographer … Lyon would never align himself so completely with another group’s mission and goals, but most of his subsequent projects have involved a similar degree of intense, life-consuming commitment. To make The Bikeriders (1968), the first book of photographs for which he had sole credit, he spent a year as a member of the Chicago Outlaws; for Conversations with the Dead (1971), his third book, he lived in Texas for still longer taking pictures in the state’s prisons.”
  • Maybe the only solace is in art without people. Resonantia, a series of portraits last year by the artists Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown, finds beauty in cymatics—the patterns produced by sound waves in physical objects. “Louviere was struck by the idea that each note produces a particular shape in liquid. To investigate these patterns, he rigged up a contraption involving a frequency generator on his laptop, a rebuilt amp with a speaker pointing upward into a plastic vitrine filled with ink-black water, and a guitar tuner. Louviere vibrated the water with the amp by adjusting the generator’s frequency … He used his tuner to seek out the frequency of each of the twelve notes—A, B, C through G, plus the five halftones. While Louviere dialed the knobs, Brown stood on a ladder above the contraption illuminating the water with a ring light, her camera in hand. When the tuner registered a note—reading 220 hertz, the frequency that produces an A, for instance—Louviere stopped adjusting. As each note’s unique vibration induced its characteristic pattern into the water, Brown captured it with her camera. The pair worked together to obtain a ‘portrait’ of each of the twelve notes.”

Staff Picks: Fever Dreams, Tragic Spells, and In-betweens

July 22, 2016 | by

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Detail from the cover of Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why.

Carole Firstman’s ambitiously titled debut, Origins of the Universe and What It All Means, is an essayistic memoir about her relationship with her estranged, eccentric (read: undiagnosed Asperger’s) scientist father, but it’s really a thumbed nose at binary argument and an objective romp through subjectivity’s headspace. Throughout the book, Firstman sets up oppositional arguments in order to force them apart and marinate in the liminal in-between. Is her chauvinistic, mostly absent father good or bad? Firstman thinks it’s hard to say, but it doesn’t stop her from examining the relationship through myriad philosophic and scientific lenses. (I doubt there has ever been a book about family in which one learns more about science and the history of thought.) Though the father does and says things that would make even the least feminist, or simply decent, among us cringe, Firstman’s characterization of family dynamics is pitch-perfect: her own impatience and frustrations with her father balance his foibles and thoughtlessness—and her humor softens the lot. This is a very endearing book, a summer read for the curious mind. —Jeffery Gleaves

The Guggenheim’s recent exhibition “Photo-Poetics: An Anthology” made a huge impression on me; the show featured works by ten photographers—nine women, including Erica Baum—who all work closely, sometimes exclusively, with the printed page. So I was delighted to discover Dog Ear, a book of twenty-five exquisite photographs by Baum. For the series, she dog-eared pages in mass-market paperbacks, then photographed the intersection of words at each fold to create a text of her own. In each tiny piece, bits of sentences read horizontally (“skirts, bee-stung lips,” “It’s a funny thing”) and vertically (“made up her face,” “itchiest dresses”). Part photo, part poem, the results vary in tone, from longing to manic, minimal to marvelous. In “Bear,” which feels like a Tomi Ungerer picture book, where animals scheme and smoke cigars, a polar bear is drunk on schnapps and “pawing” “the birds.” A new, limited edition of Dog Ear comes courtesy of Ugly Duckling Presse. Fittingly, the book jacket doubles as a poster. —Jessica Calderon

It may be based on a British procedural, but the new HBO series The Night Of is unmistakably shot in New York and, just as unmistakably, written by Richard Price. The premise: a studious Pakistani American kid sneaks out of the house with the keys to his father’s cab, then ill-advisedly picks up a passenger, a distraught beauty headed to the Upper West Side. It’s classic noir, with John Turturro as the boy's schlubby but dedicated defense attorney; and because it’s a Richard Price script, even a desk sergeant (the excellent Ben Shenkman) can steal a scene. Two episodes in, it’s the best TV I’ve seen this summer. —Lorin Stein  Read More »