From a roll I shot in April and developed yesterday.
From a roll I shot in April and developed yesterday.
I plan to continue my portrait project at transitional housing facilities. But scheduling those shoots is slow. Meanwhile, I need new pictures for the classes I'm taking, so I photographed some strangers in the East Village.
I notice more than ever, in this set, how much I'm influenced by Hiroh Kikai's Asakusa Portraits. Of course I'm not a fraction of the photographer he is. But like the poet Kenneth Koch said, I "like to be influenced."
Two weeks ago the Village Zendo completed a week-long urban sesshin focused on our awareness of disabilities. We were blindfolded for part of one day, and wore earplugs for part of another. The retreat ended with the Shuso Hossen ceremony, in which R. Liam Oshin Jennings gave his first dharma talk.
Today I saw the International Center of Photography's big retrospective, "Roman Vishniac Rediscovered". The show opens with Vishniac's Berlin street photography from the 1920s and 30s, in which he concentrates on form: shafts of light in a train station; a workman on a diagonal ladder amid diagonal shadows; four boys admiring a motorcycle, all dressed alike. The beauty and the visual coincidences he catches are delightful. The scene darkens as the Nazis rise to power, and the impact of the photos, unfortunately, wanes. Vishniac's photo of his daughter wearing a cute beret, standing in front of a Hitler poster, is ominous, but not particularly good.
Vishniac's most prominent achievement is his photographs of Eastern European Jews in the late 1930s. The project was commissioned by an American Jewish relief fund to highlight the poverty of Jews in Eastern Europe, much in the same way (and at the same time) as the FSA commissioned Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to photograph the Dust Bowl. ICP displays the work in fine new inkjet prints from Vishniac's negatives, and sometimes shows images Vishniac had originally edited out: Jewish women in secular dress, for example, or a prosperous-looking Jewish shop. The exhibit demonstrates how Vishniac selected his photos to accomplish a narrow view of Jewish life: poor, religious, medieval. When this world was wiped out by the Nazis a few years later, Vishniac's record of it became a twilit elegy, but the work as we've known it is not the whole scene Vishniac saw.
Propagandistic, too, are Vishniac's 1939 photographs of a Dutch "agrarian training camp" that prepared Zionist youth for emigration to Palestine. The images are posed, with clear inspiration from Socialist Realism. They're of their time: the age of statism, when individuals everywhere were subsumed in one ideology or another.
It makes one nostalgic for the pictures made before all the polemics, when Vishniac was satisfied just to photograph stylish figures in slashing light. Unburdened by any message, these images are light, and the best in the show.
I'm starting to use color; here's some shots from 10gen's annual meeting, which was in Miami this year.
This is on Kodak Portra 400, with a Norita 66. Mistakes were made: Photographing from my hotel balcony, I didn't notice that the railing's edge was in the frame. And I shot 7 rolls but my flash only synced on a handful of photos. I'll reread the manual before I use the Norita again.
I'm in a group photo show at the Village Zendo in lower Manhattan, Saturday March 9. The show is open 11am to 6pm and I plan to hang out there all day, except lunch time, so you're welcome to stop by and say hello. There's a panel discussion 7:30-8:30pm, in which the curator and the other photographers will say smart things and I would be wise to stay silent. The exhibitors are:
Here's my selection, unless I change my mind:
Here's a series I did in the fall of 2011 called "Ordinary Zen." I photographed my friends from the Zendo meditating at home, and interviewed them about their practice.
I used to occasionally spend a weekend not talking. I’d get together with one of my friends, someone I felt comfortable with, and I’d say, let’s do something this weekend, let’s not talk. We’ll have a slumber party, and we’re not going to speak. So when I heard about a silent month retreat with the Village Zendo, I thought that sounded weird and funky and I’d love to try that.
I took beginning meditation instruction at the Village Zendo in 2002. I had no problem sitting on the floor. The instructor said, let’s do this for five minutes, just count your breath up to ten and then start over. I got up to thirteen before I remembered to go back to one!
I’ve been dancing Tango for six years. At the first lesson, you stand really straight, put your hands on your stomach, breath so that you can feel your stomach—it’s this whole physical thing. Tango is really Zen. You have to be in the moment, right there with the person you’re dancing with. Your awareness goes, not just to your center of gravity, but to the center of gravity you’re creating together. And when you connect like that, that’s Tango. The feeling is like nothing else.
I’m one of the most un-Zen people on the planet. No one would ascribe Zen to me. It’s because they misunderstand what Zen is. They think Zen is the buddha sitting strong—and that’s true. But there’s also the Buddha having a screaming fit at the dog for peeing on the rug. What elevates it is that you try to be aware of it at every moment. That’s the hardest thing.
I got into Zen through Enkyo Roshi. Roshi was my professor, and one day after I graduated I saw her on the street, and her head was shaved. I thought, I hope she’s ok. She said, we’re meditating at my apartment. I’ve become a Zen priest.
That was the early 90s. I was working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and at ACT UP. The people I was close to started to die, and there was a period of time for about a year when I didn’t want to go out. I just stayed home. And the meditation helped me recover some kind of savoring of life.
I got into Zen because my mom was into Zen. I was 23. I went to the zendo and got very formal instruction. It felt like hell. I thought, my mom obviously wants to kill me. When is it going to be over?
I can’t remember which came first, my art or Zen. I’m becoming comfortable taking longer with my work, and as a consequence the paintings are getting better. And that comes from sitting. Slowing down. People are not into that—they appreciate it, but they’re not into it.
I’d just had a really bad breakup with a girl and I was moping around, and my roommate said, “Read this. It’ll make you feel better.” It was Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen. When I read it I said to myself, I have no idea what this is, but this is the truth. I started reading a lot of books about Zen. I didn’t start sitting, but I read a lot of books for the next seven or eight years.
I finally did begin my practice in 1989, and for years I was in intense pain. My body is the kind of body that doesn’t like to do that sort of thing. If someone had worked with me on the physical side of it that might have helped but no one did. After three periods of meditation I was scraping myself off the floor.
Some time in my 30s I became a therapist. Because I come from a Zen perspective I’m not interested in curing people. I just let them sit with their hellish problems. I’m fine if there’s no progress at all, because I firmly believe that it’s by going into the problem that you begin to untangle the knot.
I spent Christmas Eve with my girlfriend's family in Chicago this winter.
A few weeks ago I photographed the amaryllis my mom gave me. It's been wilting ever since, and last night it abruptly ceded the battle to stay upright.
The shape it's in now is even more dynamic than when it was in blossom.