Never knew travelling on West Estes Avenue…

…could be so macho.

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Vivian Maier’s Chicago

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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.

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The Gensburg Family photographed by Vivian Maier

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Vivian Maier self-portrait

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Botanic Gardens

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Boyhood

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I won’t be adding much to all the praise that has been heaped upon Boyhood. Indeed, it is a remarkable film. A fictional film that feels like a documentary. It was filmed over a 12 year period so you actually see the real actors aging over this period of time. Of course it is most striking in the young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane, pictured above) who ages from 6 to 18 as well as his sister in the film played by Lorelei Linklater, the daughter of the movie’s director, Richard Linklater. Linklatter was extremely lucky to have found young actors who mature so well into their roles and can really act. This gamble could have failed miserably. Perhaps the success of the film also has to do with the main actors (including the divorced parents played brilliantly by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) helping to shape the script itself over the 12 year period, sometimes not finishing it until the night before the shoot.

There is no real plot. This is a coming of age saga with all the blemishes and stumblings, bad choices and good, redemption and heart of growing up, parenting, and relationship. It is a series of events and passages, mostly ordinary some insignificant, yet within this intimate context, we watch the young boy evolve emotionally into a young man. And this movie works, all three hours, because it is so intimate, so very real.  Its proportions, in fact, feel epic. It’s a journey we all travel. Linklater has made the ordinary extraordinary.

 

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“One Hundred Foot Journey” as comfort food

This is one more for the food movie list–The One Hundred Foot Journey. Though entirely predictable, this movie felt great to watch with its visual lingerings on fabulous Indian and French cuisine and on the gorgeous produce in the French market of a small village in the Pyrennes. Leaving India after their restaurant was burned down in a political riot, the Kadam family (minus the mother who died in the fire), find themselves in southern France and decide to open an Indian restaurant, right across the road from a one star Michelin classic French restaurant run by the hard-edged, perfection-focused Helen Mirren. This inspires some mean-spirited competition.

As the predictable (and almost corny) plot unfolded, somehow the movie evolved for me into comfort food. Yes, the young talented Indian chef (Manish Dayal) falls for the sous chef (Charlotte Le Bon) at the fancy French restaurant. Yes the talented Indian chef goes to Paris and becomes famous. Yes he returns to run the fancy French restaurant in the small french village with the lovely sous chef as business (and romantic) partner. Yes the obstinate Helen Mirren and the stubborn patriarch of the Kadam family (played by the marvelous Om Puri) have a romance. And yes, it felt so good to watch.  Not intellectually or emotionally challenging, but delicious nonetheless. Comfort food for the soul.

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Unexpected gifts are always the most savory

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Over the last quarter century we have composted our food scraps, raising the soil in the backyard nearly 5 inches. Occasionally the compost doesn’t get hot enough so when we place the fresh soil out in the spring we get volunteers, seeds that sprout in random places. Sometimes these volunteers provide extra harvest, sometimes they don’t provide any fruit or vegetable due to being a hybrid or if fruit is produced it is not always good tasting. In the past we have had an avocado grow out of a drain hole in the compost container itself. Tomato plant volunteers are fairly regular. This year it is delicata squash which has spontaneously flourished in the herb garden, where the beans and cucumbers grow as well. Flourish is way too weak a word for its exuberance. (The photo above shows a young squash on a portion of the volunteer delicata, which criss-crosses the herb garden path three or four times.)

Our first volunteer delicata (shown below) was the star of tonight’s stir fry. Unexpected gifts are always the most savory.

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For no apparent reason

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For no apparent reason, today I am feeling especially centered, open, compassionate. All my demons are quiet.

Maybe it was the T’ai Chi at the lake that got the day rolling. Or my son finally resolving some difficult and thorny issues. Maybe it was finally getting a batch of letters off to my new students (which required an overview of my gentle and uncomplicated summer) or the delicious bowl of fresh tomatoes from the garden I had for lunch. Maybe it was the mango and coconut bubble tea from Joy Yee’s, or the sincere and generous text I received from a friend, or the warm hug I got from JB just a few minutes ago.

Or maybe it is—because it is. Reason enough for gratitude.

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