Two Sisters by Carolyn Leaf

This haunting film created by Caroline Leaf in 1991, is scratched directly onto the film celluloid itself — a masterful technical feat which adds to the power of the narrative.

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It’s always a good idea when you are feeling overwhelmed with your life or confused about issues or direction, to tackle the piles of clutter. Our garage has been storing items from our son as well as boxes of things we could never decide to throw out or keep. It’s also the place where stuff that was in the car gets tossed and stray boxes from school and finds from the alley get stored.

Today was the day. JB and I tackled the piles. And we were ruthless. There’s still a bit more to do, but the majority has been sorted, neatly stacked, but mostly trashed. One alley find, an old woven kid’s carriage (photo above), has been liberated to sit in the backyard eventually with a potted plant in its seat.

I’m not sure the physical act of organizing has deeply affected the piles inside, however it sure feels good having done this work. We all have to start somewhere.

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The lynching of Emmett Till

1393538790000-Emmett-Till59 years ago today, Emmett Till (1941-1955) was murdered in Money, Mississippi. From Chicago, Till was visiting family in the area. His supposed crime was that he had “flirted” with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, the wife of the owner of Bryant’s Grocery Store where Till and his friends were purchasing candy. Till’s murderers were the white woman’s husband, Roy Bryant and his brother, J.W. Millam. In the trial which followed, both Bryant and Millam were acquitted by the all-white jury and in an interview for Look magazine a few months after the verdict, both confessed to kidnapping, torturing, mutilating, and murdering Emmett Till.

Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, had a public funeral with an open-casket so the world could see the brutal treatment her son had suffered. This caused a great deal of world-wide support and anger and is often considered the important trigger of the civil rights movement. The outrage fostered by the murder of Emmett Till galvanized people across this country, white and black, to work to end Jim Crow, and to establish laws with real teeth that embraced people of color as genuine participants in this democracy. One result of this work was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed a year later by the Voters Rights Act (recently eviscerated by the Supreme Court).

The events in Ferguson earlier this month, along with the skewed incarceration rates of people of color, are more reminders of the equity, justice, and diversity work that still needs to be done. It is all of our responsibility to make sure that the civil rights of all people have constant vigilance and the laws which protect these rights are consistently enforced (the intention of the Fourteenth Amendment). This is the message of this anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till.

Below is the “Death of Emmett Till” (1963) sung by Bob Dylan (after the short introduction ends at 1:52).

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“When it’s my time…”

IMG_6440I took my mother to her doctor. Her weight exactly the same as mine. Congestive heart failure. Increasing and progressive Parkinson’s symptoms. Heart murmur. High blood pressure.

Then we went out for lunch, my mother napping on the ride to the restaurant. She devoured a vegetarian reuben sandwich with a house salad and a pile of yam fries. A big glass of iced tea. She asked me to put my hand up. She placed her hand, palm to palm, with mine. “I don’t remember that our hands are exactly the same size,” I said somewhat surprised.

“You know, that was bad news at the doctor’s, but I feel fine,” she said. “When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.” She pushed a few fries onto my plate.

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“Drugstore” by Carl Dennis

TARGET PHARMACY DRUG STORE Counter Aisles, Target Store Pharmacy Drug Department

Don’t be ashamed that your parents
Didn’t happen to meet at an art exhibit
Or at a protest against a foreign policy
Based on fear of negotiation,
But in an aisle of a discount drugstore,
Near the antihistamine section,
Seeking relief from the common cold.
You ought to be proud that even there,
Amid coughs and sneezes,
They were able to peer beneath
The veil of pointless happenstance.
Here is someone, each thought,
Able to laugh at the indignities
That flesh is heir to. Here
Is a person one might care about.
Not love at first sight, but the will
To be ready to endorse the feeling
Should it arise. Had they waited
For settings more promising,
You wouldn’t be here,
Wishing things were different.
Why not delight at how young they were
When they made the most of their chances,
How young still, a little later,
When they bought a double plot
At the cemetery. Look at you,
Twice as old now as they were
When they made arrangements,
And still you’re thinking of moving on,
Of finding a town with a climate
Friendlier to your many talents.
Don’t be ashamed of the homely thought
That whatever you might do elsewhere,
In the time remaining, you might do here
If you can resolve, at last, to pay attention.

“Drugstore” by Carl Dennis, from Callings. © Penguin Poets, 2010.

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Never knew travelling on West Estes Avenue…

…could be so macho.



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Vivian Maier’s Chicago


Maier’s Rolleiflex at the far left, as well as the contact strips on the wall

I finally made it to the Vivian Maier Exhibition at the Chicago History Museum. Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was a nanny in the northern suburbs of Chicago, who took photographs on her days off. Born in New York, she grew up for most of her youth in France, returning to New York in the early fifties with a brownie camera in hand. She nannied in New York, eventually coming to Chicago working for the Gensburg family, this time having purchased a Rolleiflex. Her work was discovered by John Maloof (who actually was looking for old photographs for an historical project), who purchased numerous rolls of her film and some prints at a thrift auction house after her storage locker went unpaid for several months where Maier had kept her rolls of film, prints, and other paraphernalia. Over the last few years Maloof has accumulated over 100,000-150,000 negatives and 3000 rolls of film (purchased from the other buyers at the auction). Another collector, able to gather 10,000 negatives, is Jeff Goldstein. It is from Goldstein’s collection that this exhibition draws.

Maier is a street photographer, much in the vein of Gary Winograd or even Diane Arbus. She is self-taught, no record or information of her ever taking any photography or art classes. Her raw talent which captures the essence, spirit, and core of humanity— working class, rich, poor, homeless, and even herself— is absolutely stunning.

The exhibition itself is actually quite small, but it is very compelling, designed by a friend of ours, Alan Teller, who is a photographer himself. A very meaningful part of the exhibit is a contact strip of 18 complete rolls of Maier’s photos which run around the perimeter walls of the exhibit. This is where one really gets a sense of what Maier was thinking, seeing, conceptualizing–the artist at work. Only another photographer would think to put these contact sheets on display as part of this exhibit. It’s a stunning and significant addition to the large format photo reproductions, adding an important layer to the overall body of her work. Because she was unable to afford developing so many of her photographs (at first she developed and printed them herself), it is hard to know what she might have selected as the choice photographs and this raises questions about what we see in her work and what she intended a viewer to see.

Maier died quietly (financially helped by the Gensburg children she took care of for so long) without anyone knowing the quality, depth, and singularity of her vision. I am glad we finally do.



The Gensburg Family photographed by Vivian Maier


Vivian Maier self-portrait


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