March 8, 2013

Seeing the future in the rearview mirror

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:39 pm


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is featuring an exhibition of photographs by Garry Winogrand which will be on display until June 2 and will provide photographic critics with a basis for comparing and contrasting the featured artist with his contemporaries Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Robert Frank.  Ultimate it may even spawn arguments about Winogrand’s status compared to other practitioners of street photography such as Henri Cartier Bresson or the Los Angeles based Gary Leonard.

Old school reporters who got the opportunity to attend the show’s press preview were shocked and delighted to find that the Press Kit was delivered in the form of a computer memory stick.  Gadzooks!  In the old days, selling off the 8 X 10 glossies from a new movie’s press kit was a welcome source of additional money for unscrupulous hacks covering the Hollywood beat.  Will collectors of movie memorabilia be willing to pay top dollar for a memory stick?

The e-press kit contained a press release in adobe reader pdf file form that permitted columnists to copy and paste relevant sentences such as:  “The exhibition has been conceived and guest-curated by photographer and author Leo Rubinfien with Erin O’Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA, and Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art.”

We have invented the term e-tearsheet and will use it to designate sending people the URL where the exhibition is mentioned in a column.  Who says we are a Luddite?

Any political pundit who happens to stumble upon this display of approximately 100 photographs, which were produced from undeveloped film and therefore are previously unseen by the public and the artist himself, will be stung by the poignancy of the opportunity for seeing America in an earlier more innocent (?) time.

Beehive hairdos, cars with monstrous tail fins, and other subtle clues will evoke a sense of nostalgia but a closer look at that period of time will give commentators a chance to note that a look at America’s darker side is conspicuous by its absence.

In the 1960 Presidential election, one candidate evoked the phrases “animal magnetism” and “charisma,” while the other party’s candidate seemed to have mastered the challenging task of smiling and scowling simultaneously.  Are cynical pundits the only people concerned by the fact that elections in the land of the free are handled like a marketing challenge facing companies with competing products?

The show contains some feature shots from the Democratic Party’s 1960 Presidential Convention and one of Nixon campaigning in New York City.

Can an unbiased observer look at the photos of JFK and Nixon and not see the seeds for a very partisan culture in the future?  Fifty years later, some folks can castigate a President for exaggerating the impact of the sequester to make political points and denounce it as unacceptable lies while simultaneously giving lies (from a member of their party) that rationalized a new war, a dismissive shrug of the shoulders.

At the same time that John Kennedy was challenging Americans to ask themselves what they could do for their country, some of those same people were listening to items such as Lenny Bruce’s album that contained the cut “Non Skeddo Flies Again,” which is a comedy monologue about Jack G. Graham who blew up an airplane on November 1. 1955, to collect insurance on his mother’s life.

In it, Bruce says:  “He blew up a plane with forty people and his mother and for that the States sent him to the Gas Chamber proving, actually, that the American people are losing their sense of humor… You just think about it, anybody who blows up a plane with forty people and his mother can’t be all bad.”

Can you imagine what Bruce would have said about the Connecticut school shooting, if he had lived long enough to comment on that tragedy?  Could Jon Stewart or Bill Maher be that outrageous today?

While Winogrand was taking some of his best shots in the Sixties, a popular song was bragging “we don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco do.”

The symbolism of a photo of a young lady laying in the gutter of a street in Hollywood while a sports car drives past, taken in 1984, would not escape many observers.

The traveling exhibit will ultimately arrive in Paris in 2015.

Some things, of course, never change.  Some folks who have never heard a song with the lyrics “When you’re running down our coutry, hoss, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of me” agree with the sentiment 100%.

Some folks might wonder why a columnist would write about a photo exhibition during a week when the talk show radio was obsessing on drones.  For pragmatists, writing a column that might help publicize an exhibition at a museum and might help boost attendance seemed worth the effort but joining the discussion on drones at this point in history would be a total waste of time and effort with a fool’s errand level of appeal.  Don’t bother it won’t do a damn bit to change things.  A columnist who wants to produce an exorcise in futility might just as well make a video showing a fellow lighting his own farts and post it on Youtube.

The drone abides.  Dig it or don’t; just don’t expect the world’s laziest journalist to spend time and keystrokes thinking he can have an effect on a topic that is already a “done deal.”

Is it an example of irony to hear a Public Service Announcement urging parents to stop their kids from tolerating bullying on a conservative station that is endorsing the unfettered use of drone strikes?

President John F. Kennedy said (Bartlett’s page 892):  “Washington is a city of southern efficiency and northern charm.”

Now the disk jockey will play Merle Haggard’s “A working mman can’t get nowhere today,” Randy Newman’s “Please, Mr. President,” Hank Snow’s “Ninety miles an hour (down a dead end street)” and a memorial playing of “I’d love to change the world,” featuring the late Alvin Lee on guitar.  We have to go check on the medical condition of Just One Beaver (he must be a Native American, eh?).  Have a “silly un American filibuster” type week.

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