Pete Seeger, Clearwater, and a couple of friends

In 1966 Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. This is an organization located in Beacon NY that works to protect the Hudson River and surrounding wetlands through education and advocacy.The organization is known for its sailing vessel the Clearwater as well as its annual music festival. Pete Seeger worked tirelessly through Clearwater promoting the Clean Water Act. Once passed he continued to promote it and made it into one of the most successful environmental laws. The sloop Clearwater was launched on June 27, 1969. It was 106 feet (32 meter) long with a 108 foot (33 meter) mast. In August, 1969,the sloop pulled into the East River in New York City on its way to the Hudson River. Seeger also formed the Clearwater organization, an environmental group dedicated to advances in sewer treatment, industrial waste disposal, and the discharge of major pollutants into the Hudson.

Seeger who was a controversial character most of his life was also concerned with the environment, and became more so as became older. He was decidedly to the left in his politics, was indicted and imprisoned by the HUAC for his association with Communists. He remained committed to Social Democracy and a better environment throughout his life. He died yesterday at age 94.He was a worker most of his life and used his music to accomplish much.

I made these pictures of the Clearwater while visiting the BWAC (Brooklyn Waterfront Art Center) down in Red Hook one cloudy day. Ira had photos on display, and Jessie was just visiting with us.

Looking out from BWAC

Looking out from BWAC


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Cuba’s Aging Population Presents a Problem-and Perhaps a Solution

There are a lot of older people living in Cuba. This is obvious as one travels about. It makes little difference whether  you are in  Havana or in the countryside, a lot of elderly people are there. I can say this because I too am elderly, these people are my peers. It is estimated that 20 per cent of the population is “older”, not sure what the age cut off is, but it is at least in the mid to late 60s.

There was an interesting article in the Havana Times today detailing the issues that now face Cuba in dealing with this aging group and how they will only increase with time as the population ages even more. The growth of this age group is attributed to 1) the low birth rate, less than 2 per family; and 2) the emigration of younger Cubans.  I recall Roberto Salas telling me that the US policy encouraging young people to leave by any means for the US was “genocidal!”

The facilities available for the care of the elderly in Cuba are limited. Two years ago while visiting Havana we went to an elder day care home in Regla. It was a nice spacious home right off the street. Inside there was a large sitting room accommodating 15-20 people. Some were a bit demented, others were engaged in animated conversations or were quietly reading. These people were thrilled to meet the young students with me and wanted to talk with them as best they could. Unfortunately many of the students were intimidated by  the people and were reluctant to ask for photos. I had no trouble with this since some of the clientele were younger than I was. Here was an ideal place -families brought their elderly parent or other relative in the morning, they were cared for until evening and were picked up by a family member after work. During the day they each got a good hot meal. This is not a solution to those who need nursing home care, but certainly is a decent solution for those who have supportive families and only require minor assistance with their daily life.

I also began to pay attention to those older citizens in their doorways or sitting out in front of their homes. Many were still working. Certainly there seemed to be no more older people sitting around idle than there were younger (less than 40 years) folks. Caring for the older citizenry is a problem the world over it seems, one I find more familiar year by year. This is a problem that both the US and Cuba have in common, hopefully we can learn from one another as this works itself out. The ready availability of elder day cafe and respite care seems like a good place to start in this day of all able family members needing to work.


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What Is a Giclée? or How Do You Do It?

tree_WEBThe image below left is an older analog darkroom print. The one on the right is a digital print processed in Silver Effects. If anything the antique toned digital print is more attractive to me than the other one. Mind you many years exist between them, and I would now be better in the darkroom if I still had one.

What to say? The eternal problem – what does one call the process of digital printing? I recall a comely young woman in a gallery in Barcelona telling me that the process by which the artist made their images was a very well kept secret-(it was ink jet on p3palms04WEBaper made to resemble canvas.) We had a lot of fun making up secrets for our work over lunch. I have a few photos going up next week and in making labels I faced this quandary. I have friends-both painters and photographers- who refer to their digital creations as giclée prints. This term was made up in the 1990s by Jack Duganne who thought it sounded more artsy than digital print, or inkjet print. Those latter terms were thought to be too technical and non-artistic than this elegant French word sounded. Looking up the meaning all I could find was that it was the past participle of gicler – to squirt. Thus a giclée print is a squirted print. That is a very accurate term for the process of having tiny print heads squirting equally tiny droplets of ink onto the paper. This word however is a common slang word for other acts of squirting, especially that practiced by coming of age French jeunes hommes. I recall that in medical school there was a group who pronounced centimeter as sahn-ti-mee-tur trying to put a sort of nasal accent on the first syllable. I asked a trusted professor about this and he told me, “Oh, ignore them, they are just trying to show off. There’s no such word, they’re making fools of themselves.”

There is such a word as giclée though, it has been give a definition and it works to resolve the dilemma. There is an interesting discussion of digital printing, the early story of Nash editions, and the creation of this word and meaning written by Harald Johnson well known printer, teacher, and writer. You can read it if you  Click Here.

I am a somewhat shy person. I labelled my prints as Digital Image/Archival Inkjet Print. I did this because that is in fact what they were.

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Why I Bagged Facebook

I picked up this card at a cafe in Soho one evening in the mid 1990s. It was an invitation to a show called “Get a Life!” I have kept it above my desk or nearby ever since. Every time I clicked onto Facebook and found out what so many acquaintances were thinking or doing I would lean back in my chair and my eyes would rest on this postcard. There were some people I enjoyed hearing from, there were so many more that I hardly knew. Were they actually my “Friends?” I could not honestly say yes to this question. Some were, some were the best friends of my life. I realized that Facebook was actually a barrier between us. It occurred to me that I would rather write a newsy letter about every six weeks. Then I thought how about those people who are really interesting? How would I keep up with them? I had been neglecting Feedly and wasting time on Facebook I concluded. Those whom I was interested in following all had websites or blogs. I made the decision that if they had something really interesting or newsy to report it would find its way to their site. So, please to all my friends, make a blog or web site and send me your url. I really want to keep up. Check your real email and you might find a note from me some time. Also, check your real mail, when I can afford stamps I might write you a letter. Written in real ink, I got a real fountain pen for Christmas.

I now have time to relax and think about what I read, time to actually be involved with people, and time to try to write something at least a little bit meaningful. I realized that a lot of FB communication is like what transpired between Native Americans and the settlers of the west. That did not work out very well in the long run for at least one of the parties involved. I also realized that if I felt the need to include a good ole Fuck or Fucking in my post to get attention, then it was overwhelmingly unlikely that I really had anything meaningful to contribute. I am not at all put off by words; I was an English major as an undergraduate, and spent much time on the History of Language and on grammar. I suspect learned more about these words than anyone actually needs. One of my writing heroes, Harry Crews, rarely used these type words in his novels, and he was a great teller of stories. Words were my friends, I just realize that like everything else in life all words have their time and place.

I am happy for Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues, what they have created is an act of genius. Still, when I read Facebook I am made keenly aware of the quote by Albert Einstein, “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits.”

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I Think I Taught It Wrong!

This a heavily retouched version of the “first photograph from nature” by Niecéphore Niépce. There is a very nice article and series of related pictures at an ad for Red River Paper (which is as very good paper for digital printing). Titled My search for the World’s Oldest Photograph the article is written by Harrald Johnson, a very good photographer, writer, teacher and digital printer. It’s now been a year since I quite teaching photography as an adjunct. The courses I taught included  History of Photography which I started doing to  fill a gap in the full time faculty. I was dubious at first, then I found it fascinating. The first year I had little concept of what I needed to be doing so I taught in a  didactic fashion  presenting a chronological litany of relevant photographers and a few of the historical movements or genres. It took me several years to begin to understand pictorialism, and I am not certain that I have a full grasp of it even now. I am also not sure if at this point it makes any significant difference.

I had full classes, usually 45 students or so. It was a required course for those majoring in Technical Photography, the official name of the major and the department. I soon learned that most of the students were not in the class willingly, but were there to fulfill the requirement. The size militated against much in the way of discussion.  I also eventually learned that the students who were genuinely interested sat in the first 3-4 rows of seats in the auditorium while the rest scattered out in the mid and rear seats. Over time I realized that I was teaching the course in an irrelevant manner. If people were interested in a particular photographer, they could find more on the internet than I could ever teach them.

In the early years I required  a research paper on topics selected by the students but  approved by me. I made the students submit the titles, then a one paragraph summary, then a bibliography – all at various points throughout the semester. I thought this sort of organization would be good for them. It was awful! They did it, but the effort was poor, the work sloppy, and yet their final papers were generally good. I found that I needed to have the papers submitted several weeks before the end of the semester so that the students with limited writing skill could take their efforts to the university’s writing center and get help. Some would do this, others just accepted the low grades. I eventually realized that most of these students were in a technical, read vocational, photography program, not an art/esthetics based curriculum. Further, they were visual people, not so much verbal. The research paper came to a well deserved end. I still felt they needed to be made to write and form some ideas regarding photography, so I started a series of assignments that each contained some  degree of writing. The most any assignment would require was two pages, about 500 typewritten words. Some were group projects, these had all sorts of problems. I finally made the groups report their work to the class and then let the class grade them using a simple rubric based scale. The peer teaching was met with general success and approval. The only change I needed to incorporate was the concept and ability to divorce a group member who was not contributing. I had to hold court perhaps once or twice a year.

The main advantage of this approach was my ability to intermingle cultural. political, and social history with its relevant photography. Instead of three lectures on the invention of photography, I covered that topic in one lecture called Great Discoveries. The students were immediately attracted when they came into the first class and Crosby, Stills, and Nash were singing “Marrakesh Express” on the audio. When they heard about  role of Graham Nash in the development of digital printing it was relevant to them. A lot more than me talking about John Herschel or Thomas Wedgewood! I told them that I doubted that Thomas and John Knoll were hiding in their family’s basement listening to rock music and smoking dope in the 80s, but the brothers did go down their regularly and use their dad’s computer to produce the basics of what became Photoshop! I probably went overboard with some assignments such as the one in which I asked them to compare and contrast Lou Reed’s “Venus in Furs” with several of Lee Friedlander’s images. They just could not get the music!

Throughout all of this I began to understand the reason we need to study history. History is so much more than a series of events or dates. It is a rich story of people and their ideas. It considers the successes and the failures, hopefully with equal emphasis. It does incorporate the events that occur throughout the world and the lessons to be taken from them. In a description of a conference regarding photographic research and history I found a very meaningful statement: “Dominant histories of photography, with their attention on individual photographers have poignantly concealed much of the interpersonal, cross-cultural and collaborative relationships that have been at the core of the development of photographic technologies and processes, photographic images and objects, knowledge and education, as well as of the making of the hegemonic history of photography itself.” As I began to understand the dominance that image making has in present society I realized that as in most professions understanding how things came to be the way they presently are would always be a huge challenge for both teachers and students. I think my experience if nothing more taught me how studying history works; now that I am retired I could be a damn good teacher.


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