Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hauntingly Revealing Children’s Portraits in Galina Kurlat’s Tintypes

The children in Galina Kurlat’s latest photo exhibit, Shadow Play, stare out with an almost unanimous intensity. “We have subjectivity,” their faces tell us. “Take us seriously – and don’t disrespect our private worlds,” is a more common, unspoken theme. These almost shockingly intimate, black-and-white portraits, a characteristically diverse New York bunch ranging in age from three to fourteen and captured on tintype from the shoulders up, are on display at Peter Halpert Fine Art‘s new gallery space at 547 W 27th St. in Chelsea through Dec 1.

To what degree does Kurlat’s medium define or underscore the message here? Her sense of light and shadow is most strikingly evident in the grey areas, in every sense of the word. To call these pictures haunting and enigmatic is an understatement. On the surface, their rustic quality has a gothic sensibility enhanced by the fact that none of these kids are smiling (for the record, Kurlat only had to admonish one of the kids not to). But what’s most revealing about these shots is their depth.

Obviously, the greatest challenge in taking pictures of kids is simply to get them to sit still. Compounding that is the way we typically shoot children – on the fly, with goofy faces on both sides of the lens. Kurlat’s chosen medium here – a nineteenth century process – raises the difficulty another notch. With a tintype, you only get one shot. Your eye has to be attuned to catch a particular expression or pose in a fraction of a second. And if you don’t, there’s no handy filter or clever post-production technique available as a quick fix.

Many children inhabit extremely rich worlds of imagination, places that adults so often lose the ability to access. There’s reverie, even occasional fatigue in the kids’ expressions here, but the prevalent pose is pensiveness. There are even a couple of fleetingly stricken, “Damn, I forgot to  close the door to my imagination,” moments, most notably with a pair of siblings who appear to be about six and eight. As is the case occasionally here, their gender isn’t immediately apparent, adding to the otherworldly effect.

Much as Kurlat’s medium looks back to the past, these portraits project the kids into the future. It hardly takes imagination to see these faces as future college students, parents, businesspeople, athletes or artists themselves. It’s as if they’re telling us, “This is one possible thing I can be if I put my mind to it.” That’s something we should all take just as seriously – and it’s a good thing that Kurlat’s work is there to remind us.

November 2, 2018 Posted by | photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philip Grossman Risks His Life to Document the Second Worst Disaster in Human History

Over the past several years, photographer/filmmaker Philip Grossman made several trips to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in Pripyat, Ukraine. Notwithstanding the Soviet Union’s bungling attempts to downplay the disaster and evacuate the area during the crucial first few hours of the April 26, 1986 meltdown at Reactor #4 there, considerable documentation of the disaster’s aftermath exists. Filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko took a camera into the disaster site in the days afterward: he was dead within the year. One hopes that Grossman either used an unmanned drone (as film footage he’s taken there seems to indicate), or that he at least had sufficient protective gear, if such a thing even exists. To say that the matter-of-factly haunting and foreboding full-color images he’s assembled are a heroic achievement is an understatement. Many of them, as well as a film of the area as it looked in the spring of 2011, are currently on display at the Wald and Kim Gallery, 417 Lafayette Street, 4th Floor through June 28. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 AM to 6 PM; ring the fourth-floor buzzer.

Grossman’s photos both underscore a familiar narrative and open frightening new ones. The army of half a million “liquidators” enlisted by the Soviets to secure the area and clean up the worst of the toxic wreckage may have actually amplified the disaster’s effects many times over by stripping metal from abandoned buildings and vehicles and selling it for scrap, effectively poisoning an unknown and probably significant amount of the Soviet steel and aluminum supply. Grossman’s shots, particularly of the interior of homes and municipal buildings in the area, reconfirm this deadly harvest. The same applies to the random bundles of metal beams and building materials lying around, seemingly for the taking (let’s hope that a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand years from now, when all this material is practically still as deadly as it is today, that people will know to leave it where it is).

But that’s been documented elsewhere. What Grossman has to offer that’s new is the disaster site as it exists today. The concrete “sarcophagus” built to contain the most toxic part of the reactor complex looks like a crack house, as if a good snowstorm would be enough to cave it in. Grossman’s shots of the skeleton structure for a fifth reactor, abandoned in the wake of the meltdown, are chillingly ironic. Even more chilling is a look at what’s left of the control room for Reactor #4, juxtaposed against another control room at the site that wasn’t consumed in the initial blaze. Cheapness and a cynical disregard for maintenance leap from the dust and fading plastic: how many other reactors like this are there in the world, and why haven’t they been shut down yet?

Grossman’s photos of the surrounding area show a ghost town. There are a couple of low-rent memorials; homes where the only things left are old shoes and beer bottles; a preschool full of decaying, murderously radioactive stuffed toys; an abandoned hospital, a recreation center and sleepaway camp for children. The implications are extreme: perish the thought that this could have happened in the summer and subjected even more children to the consequences. The official Soviet report of the health effects of the disaster mirrors the coverup of the early days: we’ll probably never know the full amount of casualties. The World Health Organization estimates that cancers caused by radioactive poisons released at Chernobyl killed a million people worldwide, a shocking number tempered by the WHO’s notoriously alarmist predictions. And yet, for the reliably pro-industry WHO to come up with such a staggering estimate could well indicate that the death toll so far may be even higher.

And will be in the decades and centuries to come. There are two “sons of Chernobyl,” as they’re called in Russia, on the way. The contaminants in the water table inching toward the Black Sea are expected to reach there in thirty years or so. There’s also the threat of forest fires in the area. Over the past decades, fire crews have routinely been sent into the forest there to hose down the soil to help prevent the kind of conflagration that could literally rekindle the catastrophe. Almost thirty years after Chernobyl, more than half of all wild mushrooms in Germany, thousands of miles away, remain too contaminated with nuclear toxins for human consumption. At least the Germans had the sense to make it illegal to harvest those mushrooms, or, for that matter, to sell wild game meat.

Meanwhile, the United States and other nations continue to allow the importation of vehicles and products from Japan. What’s even more troubling, of course, is that the Fukushima disaster released more lethal radioactive contaminants than every previous nuclear meltdown – Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, LP-1 in Idaho and Oak Ridge in Tennesee – plus the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs, plus every atom bomb test and nuclear leak in history, COMBINED. In simpler terms, the world became more than twice as deadly on March 11, 2011. Levels of nuclear contamination in Tokyo, a hundred miles from the Fukushima disaster site, are so high that if that the city was in the United States, it would be off limits not only to human habitation but also to human traffic: the danger of spreading those toxins via car and truck tires is considered too high to risk in this country.

The Japanese response to Fukushima in many ways was the same as the Soviets’ was to Chernobyl. According to an official Japanese government website that was abruptly taken down about a week after the Fukushima calamity, only forty people were killed by the meltdowns there. But while high levels of toxins as deadly as those released at Chernobyl continue to drain into the Pacific – whether the result of leakage, deliberate dumping, or both – the carnage left in the wake of Chernobyl may only be a small fraction of the toll Fukushima may ultimately claim. Can anybody say “global extinction event?”

June 11, 2014 Posted by | Art, Film, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lourdes Delgado’s Photos Reveal an Intimate Side of the NYC Jazz World

This is how the other half lives. Lourdes Delgado’s photographs currently on display at the Instituto Cervantes document numerous New York jazz luminaries in their own homes from 2002 to 2008. From a New York perspective, it’s vicarious to the extreme, considering that space is the most sought-after status commodity in the five boroughs: “”Oooh, Kenny Barron’s got a house!” – in Brooklyn, of course. In addition to their historical value, Delgado’s black-and-white shots often vividly illustrate their subjects’ personalities, intentionally or not (she allowed those photographed to choose their spots, and what they wore). Paradigm-shifter Matana Roberts, always the free spirit, cheery in her vinyl clutter; the late Dewey Redman, regal in his African costume beneath framed posters from innumerable obscure European festivals; legendary drummer Chico Hamilton on his couch with his plants, warm and welcoming; conduction maestro Butch Morris exuding a stern zen calm, notwithstanding the wine stains on the couch; guitarists Mike and Leni Stern relaxed in their hippie pad with their Abyssinian cat, keyb guys Craig Taborn wary in his impeccable, OCD-neat space and Robert Glasper sleepy in his messy crash pad with just a futon and headphones. Pianist Joanne Brackeen has wall-to-wall mirrors and a big stuffed giraffe; rising star vocalist Gretchen Parlato sleeps on her couch with her furry friends. Sax titan Benny Golson has Ikea furniture; trumpeter Jack Walrath and first-call drummer Kenny Washington each surround themselves with a museum’s worth of vinyl records.

Ironies abound here, as does a resolute joie de vivre and ability to get the most out of spaces that non-urban dwellers would find ridiculously small. First place for resourcefulness goes to drummer Sylvia Cuenca, who hides a full kit beneath her loft bed, her Rhodes piano just inches away. Tuba player Marcus Rojas manages to fit two kids (one wearing a Shostakovich t-shirt), his tubas and bass, among other things, into a cramped Manhattan apartment. One of the most offhandedly striking shots depicts a young Marcus and EJ Strickland, saxophonist and drummer looking tough in their dreads in what looks like mom’s crib circa 2002. As expected, the promoters have more space than the musicians, notably George Wein, looking small and distant in the back of his rather palatial digs past the piano and the Persian rugs. Other small details, such as the instruments and albums favored by the artists, appear everywhere, often very surprisingly. Many musicians are so accustomed to being photographed that they typically put on a “photo face;” that Delgado captures so many of them here so candidly is no small achievement. The exhibit runs through July 29, free and open to the public, at the Instituto Cervantes, 211 E 49th St. Hours are 1-9 PM Mon-Fri, Sat 10:30 AM – 3 PM, closed Sundays.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, jazz, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lilian Caruana Captures the Vulnerable Side of the Punk Esthetic

What is most stunning about Lilian Caruana’s photographs of punk rock kids in New York from 1984 to 1987, now on display through January 7, 2011 at the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute, is how much space they have. As anyone who lived in New York, or who came here at the time can attest, it was a vastly more spacious place, offering freedom to pretty much anyone who sought it. Caruana, an Italian immigrant, draws on the populism of legendary Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith in an engaging series of black-and-white portraits offering a compassionate view of life as an outsider.

Caruana’s intent was to capture her subjects’ individuality, and it was fortuitous that she took these pictures when she did, when individuality of expression among young New York immigrants was not only not forbidden but actually pretty much de rigeur. Even then, the punk scene was not necessarily a nonconformists’s club: there were Nazi and racist elements, especially among the hardcore kids. But many of the people who came here did so not necessarily because they wanted to, but because there was nowhere else to go, and because they had the option of being pretty much by themselves if they felt like it. And because they could afford it. How times have changed. These East Village shots could be from another universe. There’s not a single $500 bedhead haircut, posse of overdressed, tiara-wearing suburban girls or their Humvee stretch limo, or for that matter, anyone, anywhere, except the subjects of the photos themselves.

Several capture squatters in their lowlit afternoon hovels: a scruffy but seemingly cheerful couple reclining by the window on a mattress; a young guy with a Simply Red haircut enjoying a smoke while playing with a trio of kittens who seemingly could have run off into the adjacent hole in the apartment wall if they felt like it; a girl on her bed, leaning on a Bellevue Hospital pillow and watching a war movie on an old portable tv at 4:35 in the morning, her wall decor limited to the label off a Budweiser torpedo bottle (those were the days before the forty-ounce) and what might be a bloody handprint. The multi-racialism and inclusiveness of the era is evident in the diversity of Caruana’s subjects, especially in her portraits of mixed-race couples. One of them playfully does the bump in front of a gated storefront, the guy holding one of those big Bud bottles – young people drinking on the street in broad daylight were not typically subjected to police persecution in those days. Another pose on their rooftop, the street below them empty save for a battered Chevy Monte Carlo and a shiny new Mazda coupe passing by. As is the case with an Iron Cross-wearing, heavily tattooed guy – his face out of the frame – down the block from an independently owned diner long since vanished from the neighborhood. The shot most likely to be destined for iconic mall-store t-shirt status depicts a father and toddler son with identical mohawks – again, this was from an era fifteen years before the hairstyle became popular with members of the military and the police force. The tattoos are homemade; expressions of peace, freedom and nonviolence predominate among the t-shirts and graffiti; and perhaps most obviously, none of these people seem the least bit threatening.

The John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute is located at 25 W 43rd St. (5th/6th Ave.), on the 17th floor. Gallery hours aren’t listed at their site: you may wish to call before visiting, (212) 642-2094.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Art, Culture, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Photo Review: David Lynch at Morrison Hotel Gallery, NYC

“I’ve got to learn more about this guy!” the college-age girl in the expensive dress exclaimed from behind her bangs.

“You know, if I was seeing this exhibit and I didn’t know who the photographer was, I would say that he was ripping off David Lynch,” the guy with the backpack to her right grinned. “I wasn’t aware that he also did photography.”

The girl looked at him quizzically.

“A lot of these look like movie stills, don’t you think?” the guy asked.

The girl looked confused. “I’ve never heard of him,” she explained.

The guy leaned in gently: maybe there was some confusion. “Blue Velvet? Did you ever see that? Wild at Heart?” He reached for an obscure one: “The Straight Story?”

No reaction.

“Eraserhead?”

The girl shook her head. “I really like his stuff, though.”

Which in a way perfectly crystallizes everything that’s wrong with the art scene in New York, 2010. The one college sophomore in town with zero awareness of who David Lynch might be, and she’s one of the few who actually had the fortune to get into last night’s invite-only opening of his photo show at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery Space at Bowery and Bleecker. Ten thousand film students from throughout the five boroughs would have enthusiastically paid good money to take her place.

The exhibit collects fifty characteristically stylized, noir photos – both color and black-and-white – that Lynch contributed to the new album Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, a.k.a. Sparklehorse. In a way, it makes sense that Lynch would find himself at home with Linkous’ sad, bucolic, Big Star-inflected Americana rock songs: behind the violence and the menace, Lynch’s characters long for a safe haven amid comfortable surroundings. There are plenty of both on display here. While the show is an absolute must-see for dedicated Lynch fans, it also doesn’t break any new ground: Lynch the filmmaker and Lynch the photographer are one and the same.

All the shots come in sets of three or four. The black-and-whites have an expectedly grainy Eraserhead feel. Aside from a couple of predictable down-and-out portraits, the best of these seems to be an overhead shot of a homeless woman’s shopping cart, her shadow juxtaposed with a lurid poster of a woman’s face staring to the side atop it.

The most indelibly Lynchian of these is a set of four that could have been Wild at Heart stills. Its centerpiece depicts a quartet of uniformed policemen ineptly trying to hose down a man whose lower extremities are dripping some ominous blue-green substance. A couple of neighborhood middleschool kids look on, puzzled, in the background. A close-up of the two kids adds detail, as does an absolutely classic shot of a girl flipping the bird from the backseat of a two-toned, half primer-painted 1972 Nova sedan.

Lynch indulges his lightning-in-the-eyes fixation in another foursome: headshots of a screaming man, shaking and blurry, with the last in the series being a shot of railroad cars passing in the night. His iconic child/demon creature makes an appearance, in the form of what looks like a cross between a patched-together Mayan sculpture and a twistedly cartoonish, reassembled pinata. Meanwhile, a child plays in the dirt behind it, oblivious.

Another series of four features a smiling man in what looks to be a trance amidst a shower of Christmas ornaments and then shards of glass; almost predictably, there’s also a frame of an emergency services Econoline van speeding beneath a billboard of the guy suspended in midair, blissed out as everywhere else.

Which perfectly captures the show’s appeal. The master noir filmmaker of this era (and the one before that, for that matter), Lynch’s images provoke, intrigue and induce the occasional gruesome smile. Most of these also have all the subtlety of that Econoline van – or the flying man – hitting a grimy brick wall. After dark, of course, under flickering neon light. The gallery has advertised limited edition prints of all of the photos on display here, which at their typically surprisingly affordable prices have most likely been snapped up already. But you can still look. Hours at the Bowery gallery are noon to 7 PM Tuesday through Sunday.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | Art, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo Review: Traces and Avenues – Photos from Moment: Une Revue de Photo

Curator Cecilia Muhlstein has pulled together some terrific shots from the well-liked art photo journal, making it well worth a trip to the Safe-T Gallery, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, i.e. in DUMBO this weekend before the exhibit closes on February 3. Galina Kurlat steals the show: as usual, her photos literally reach out and grab you. Her current focus is the traces of experience (translation: trauma) left on skin. There are sepia-toned close-ups of a woman reaching around and violently grabbing herself from behind; a hard-to-identify, grotesque shot of folds of flesh, and what appears to be a scar on the bottom of someone’s foot. Intense, to say the least.

Leo Theinert really has a handle on the irony of American iconography. On display here are his black-and-white images of a downtrodden old guy wearing an American flag shirt, forlornly pedaling an adult-size tricycle, as well as a rundown Old West-style single-story house, a horse (or is it a cow? the angle makes it hard to tell) chasing a cow around to the front.

Joanna Tam also has two captivating black-and-whites on display, the first a view seemingly taken while running through a graveyard, shot at a low angle as if seen through a child’s completely spooked eyes, as well as an interior shot of empty chairs inside a wood shack that gives the viewer a queasy sense of being in motion.

Kelly Anderson-Staley makes authentic ambrotypes using an 19th century wet-plate process. Her completely candid, rustic-looking contemporary portraits here are styled darkly in sepia; the best shows a woman with a completely perplexed, somewhat vexed expression.

Angel Amy Moreno’s lone contribution here is a subtly mysterious view of a woman taken from behind as she makes her way out from under a walkway into the light, toward a bus stop. It wasn’t taken in America – Mexico City? Italy? – and resonates with the energy of Moreno’s subject’s resolute path out of the darkness.

There are also photos which appear in Peter Lucas’ forthcoming book The Last Hour of Summer: Found Photographs from Rio de Janeiro, 1962/3, taken by an amateur photographer, Orizon Carneiro Muniz in the last days before the military coup. They’re casual and somewhat lo-fi, as one would expect, yet a vivid look at the last sunny days there before the regime of terror took over. Carneiro Muniz died shortly after taking the photos; the book will cover the provenance of the photos and Lucas’ detective work to discover who took them.

The gallery also has a collection of politically conscious, deviously witty, square and rectangular shellacked pendants by Maureen Kelleher for sale. The best has rubberstamps from the Louisiana State Penitentiary superimposed on New Jersey lottery tickets.

[Editor’s note – The Safe-T-Gallery closed its doors in the summer of 2009]

February 1, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment