Please visit my new and much more functional website at: www.mhtedford.com
What: Writer and editor focused on culture, politics, history, and design.
Where: Art Practical, Huffington Post, Wilder Quarterly, DailyServing, and others.
Why: Élan vitalMiscellaneous: I'm currently working on a new, more readable website. Look for it soon. I can be reached here: mhtedford [at] gmail [dot] com
Please visit my new and much more functional website at: www.mhtedford.com
The Massachusetts-based photographer and videographer Eric Gottesman has traveled from Labrador to Lebanon, but his work in Ethiopia is among his most compelling and touching. From 1999 to 2000, Gottesman spent time in Ethiopia as a fellow for the American non-governmental organization Save the Children. Focusing on photography and representation, he worked with local HIV/AIDS organizations. In 2001, Save the Children published Gottesman’s first monograph.
More than 5 percent of Ethiopians live with HIV or AIDS, and that number is doubled for urban women.1 Though the disease ravages the country, prejudice against the millions who suffer from it is high: In a recent report from the Ethiopian government, only 17 percent of female respondents and 27 percent of male respondents expressed acceptance toward people living with HIV—and only slightly more said they would buy fresh vegetables from an HIV-positive food vendor.2 This stigma can make it difficult for photographers like Gottesman to document the lives of Ethiopia’s HIV/AIDS victims. Gottesman found that patients at counseling centers would only consent to being photographed if they were rendered unidentifiable.
When I was seven, my parents bought me a globe, and my life was never the same. I religiously studied every longitude and latitude on that magical orb and soon had every country memorized. I spent weekends poring over the maps in back issues of National Geographic at the public library. Living in a wasteland populated mostly by coyotes and tumbleweeds, I embraced maps as my portals to the world beyond.
Because maps served as some of my most important educations, it’s no wonder that I am drawn to the photographer Doug Rickard’s recent body of work, A New American Picture (2009-2011). The project stems from the artist’s fascination with the world as accessed through Google Street View, a map much more visually rich than the forms that I grew up with. Rickard spent countless hours culling screenshots from his “Google road trips” (the kind of trips that many of us have taken at the computer). He then photographed these images, giving them an eerie and muted veneer. The images in A New American Picture are blurry and low-resolution photographs of photographs that were such to begin with.
Matthew Harrison Tedford
Finding My Place in History
Growing up in suburban Southern California I developed a rather indirect relationship with history. Except for the occasional Franciscan mission or Mexican rancho, I rarely experienced history firsthand. I felt like Indiana Jones if I was in a building constructed before World War II, and there were certainly no plaques or statues commemorating important events. Many suburbs exist as ahistorical landscapes with scant acknowledgment of what preceded the latest development project. Because of this, I learned to access history through books and photographs, rarely looking for it in my daily life. History was something to be found in texts, but not something to live.
After moving to San Francisco, I began experiencing history differently — I inhabited history. The things I’ve read about happened in the buildings I see all day, every day. Relics of the Gold Rush and the Gilded Age populate the city. I walk past a building as old as the State of California every morning on my way to get coffee. The transition from suburbia to history left me searching for the notable everywhere I walk, but it has also left me looking for the familiar in historical texts or photographs. When accessing my old modes of history I now try and find my place in San Franciscan antiquity.
In February 1948, the artist Hung Liu was born in Changchun, in the far north of China. Only months later, the city was the site of a major siege by the People’s Liberation Army. More than one-hundred-sixty thousand civilians starved to death in what was one of several battles marking the end of the decades-long Chinese civil war. The newly established People’s Republic would play a profound role in the development of Liu’s art practice. After completing high school, she was forced to defer her art career to participate in the Cultural Revolution’s agrarian re-education curriculum. During the four years she toiled in the fields, she often photographed the villagers she worked among. “I was like a journalist who went to their door, took their pictures, and gave the photos to them,” she says of the experience.1 But photography was not always a safe pastime, as many families, including Liu’s, burned photographs to hide their bourgeois origins.
Following her labor detail in Changchun, Liu continued her education at the Beijing Teaching College, where she was allowed to pursue her art career because, in a twist of fate, she had worked as a peasant; later, she enrolled at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Though she studied Soviet Socialist Realism, she secretly sketched in a more Western style. She applied for and was accepted to the University of California, San Diego, but her enrollment was delayed while she sought permission from the Chinese government to leave the country. During this time, Liu studied calligraphy, stamp making, and ceramic painting in an effort to augment her art education with traditional Chinese practices. After nearly four years, Liu was allowed to leave for the United States in 1984. In San Diego, she was introduced to Allan Kaprow, David Antin, and Moira Roth (who was the first person to visit her studio).
Claudia Joskowicz, who is an artist based in New York and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, creates videos that reawaken violent events and their residue from Bolivian history. Often filmed in very slow motion, these works allow viewers to focus on the intense emotions or complicated scenarios they document. Oscillating between serenity and suspense, Joskowicz’s videos first create points of entry and then confront viewers with the trauma and anguish of the videos’ subjects.
Sympathy for the Devil (2011) is a haunting peek at a commonplace interaction between two unassuming neighbors in a La Paz high-rise. The opening scene shows two elderly men passing each other, as one enters and another leaves an elevator. The man facing the camera holds his head high, averting the gaze of the other, who looks down. The former represents K. Altmann, the alias of Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, the German Nazi officer who earned the nickname “Butcher of Lyon” due to his torture of Jews and Resistance leaders in Vichy France. In the video, the second man represents an unnamed Polish Jew who immigrated to Bolivia during World War II and was allegedly Barbie’s neighbor, living on the floor below. The scene progresses like molasses, with almost indiscernible movement—as one might imagine feeling the time passing during such an uncomfortable situation. Did each of these men know the history of the other? Is Barbie’s distant glare evidence of hubris or humiliation?
The political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term “smart power” to refer to an international diplomatic approach that balances and appreciates the use of military or economic might with more benevolent relationship building. The term rose to prominence when Hillary Clinton used it thirteen times in her 2009 Secretary of State confirmation hearing. “Smart power,” she explained, “requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries to bolster old alliances and to forge new ones.”1 During Clinton’s tenure, the United States’s smart-power approach has encompassed tactics ranging from a commitment to distributing one hundred million clean and efficient cookstoves throughout the developing world to the execution of hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan alone, killing thousands, including nearly one hundred children.
One of the softer, even idealistic, sides of this approach is the cleverly titled smARTpower program. In collaboration with the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs so far has sent fifteen American artists abroad for up to forty-five days with the objective of creating community art projects with local partners. The first cohort was deployed across the globe from Nepal to Nigeria in 2012. Selected participants included the installation artist Pepón Osorio, the painter Rochelle Feinstein, the social-practice artist Caroline Woolard, and several others, running the gamut of art practitioners across the United States from recent graduates to established professionals.
Critic and gallerist Mat Gleason recently penned a Huffington Post blog comparing art galleries and labor unions. His argument misrepresents the role of each in their respective industries, and in doing so he commits a disservice to artists.
Gleason’s argument goes something like this: Labor unions negotiate with management in order to ensure the best possible wages and conditions for workers; similarly, gallerists negotiate with collectors to ensure the highest prices for works of art, which benefits artists. He then explicitly compares the Teamsters and Gagosian.
The fatal flaw in this reasoning is its faulty metaphor. Artists and laborers are analogous; but Gleason and Gagosian are management, not labor unions. Collectors are customers, not managers. Consider a member of the United Auto Workers union. He or she sells labor to Ford (what we will call management), who in turns sells the fruit of that labor to customers. The UAW does not negotiate with you when you go to purchase a car. Artists also sell their labor to a middleman who then markets and sells that product to a customer for a profit, this is called a gallery.
The field of journalism has been subject to a lot of critique in recent years for doctored photographs, opinions serving as news, poor or no fact-checking, and about as many controversies as news stories. While the twenty-first century has presented several existential obstacles to the profession, there are still many journalists producing quality work. New York–based Italian photojournalist Gabriele Stabile—who has shot for the New Yorker, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal—is among these professionals.
In March 2009, just two months after Israeli troops withdrew following the Gaza War, Stabile traveled to the Gaza Strip to chronicle the aftermat.1 While in the territory, Stabile staged himself at Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital, photographing the hospital’s patients and the surrounding environs. His photographs from the series appear a bit aged, though they possess none of the conspicuous qualities of an Instagram nostalgia filter. These photos humanize their subjects. Stabile documents lives, not events. Instead of just seeing news items in the sleek images of a theatrical photojournalist, I see individuals.
The Walls of Hope project in progress in Monthey, Switzerland
Claudia Bernardi (today a professor in CCA’s Community Arts Program, but who also teaches in a wide range of disciplines, including Diversity Studies, Fine Arts, and Visual and Critical Studies programs) was a student at the university of art in Buenos Aires in 1976, the year the military dictatorship took power in Argentina.
"Those were very dark years — very tragic, painful, and violent. The ones who survived learned to look at life, history, and art quite differently."
Later, in 1992, Bernardi accompanied the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team in the investigation of a 1981 massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador. The team found remains of 143 people, 136 of whom were children under the age of 12. Ballistic evidence proved that at least 27 shooters had been operating at the same time.
Amanda Marsalis's (Photography 2001) photographs appear regularly on glossy pages across international newsstands. She shoots both editorial and advertising photography, and her clients have included Apple, FedEx, GQ, the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and many other household names.
It is global in reach, but she describes her style as Californian, owing much to her home state.
Marsalis always wanted to be a photographer. Born in San Francisco, she began shooting at age 14 and steadily built her portfolio. She had her first picture published when she was in high school; it was of the band Joan of Arc, and it appeared in Transworld Skateboarding. “It was super exciting to see my work in print!” she recalls.
She enrolled at CCA in 1996. She studied with Jim Goldberg and the late Larry Sultan. At the time she was focused on fine art photography, but as it became increasingly acceptable to simultaneously work in the fine art and commercial realms, she expanded her subject matter. Her first working gig was with Todd Hido (MFA 1996), now a faculty member at CCA.
The multimedia artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen has spent his life navigating the gulf between his home culture and his adopted culture. Born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1976, Nguyen left Vietnam when he was only two years old. In a story familiar to many, Nguyen and his parents escaped the country on a boat before staying in a refugee camp for six months. His family eventually found sponsors in the United States, and they moved physically and culturally across the planet, spending time in both Oklahoma and Texas. Nguyen did not return to Vietnam until 2004. But as many immigrants can attest, the decades spent away did not diminish Nguyen’s connection to his home culture.
Utilizing American hip-hop and rap, Nguyen’s 2008 Hip-hop History Sampling Hip-hop History: The Red Remix looks closely at an unexpected connection between the two cultures he inhabits. The approximately nine-minute sound piece is a remix of more than sixty American rap songs and their varied lyrical mentions of Vietnam. The piece is neither homage nor critique. The samples are a motley crew, offering no easy narrative: rapper Bizarre makes light of the war that killed millions (“I drop bombs like I was in Vietnam”); Immortal Technique and Jedi Mind Tricks do the opposite (“Like government officials trying to justify Vietnam” and “They sent me here to Vietnam to kill innocent people”). The volume of references clearly illustrates the lasting impact of the United States’s foray into Vietnam on America’s collective psyche.
Headlands Celebrates 30 Years & a Long Love Affair With CCA; available in the Fall 2012 issue of Glance and online here.
The Cast of La Bamba 2: Hell Is a Drag
"I wrote a sequel to From Dusk Till Dawn when I was in seventh grade.”
So began the filmmaking career ofRob Fatal (MFA 2012). His obsession with film proceeded apace, but it took him a surprisingly long time, he says, to realize that there was a person called a director — that movies didn’t just spring into existence like Athena from Zeus’s head.
Inspired by Quentin Tarantino, Mel Brooks, and Robert Rodriguez, Fatal began writing screenplays at age 12. “I loved camp and sci-fi films before I even knew they were genres.” At 19 he borrowed his father’s camcorder and made a 30-minute film about DJs with magical turntables. “It was accidentally campy. It was accidentally bad. But it had a lot of sincerity.” Much to his surprise, it did well, even getting into a couple of festivals.
A little over three millennia ago, Homer’s Odysseus embarked on a now-famous ten-year journey from Troy to Ithaca. In the original story, the Cyclops and Sirens suggest a homecoming of uniquely Greek proportions, but over the centuries the tale has been the basis of everything from James Joyce’s Ulysses to the Coen brothers’ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Homer’s epic also provided the conceptual framework for the photographer Zoe Strauss’s recent mid-career retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Zoe Strauss: Ten Years.