Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Birds, Dogs, and the Photographs of Alec Soth

Two reasons I’ve been drawn to the photographs of Alec Soth:

1. Iowa

Call me a sentimentalist. When I saw that the photos Soth took for the NYT‘s Continental Picture Show series were based in Iowa–my home state–I was hooked. “Iowa Bird Story” is a video of Soth’s journey to photograph Neva Morris, the oldest woman in the U.S. at 114 years of age, unfolds like a picture book. Short, declarative sentences explain the photographer’s actions. Video and still photos capture Soth’s persistence in discovering the real narrative: How does a 114 year-old woman view her world?

2. Dogs

I’d seen Soth’s work at the MassArt galleries last fall, and also solicited work from the gifted photographer for the magazine that I edit. Soth graciously agreed to provide the cover for our upcoming issue from his series, “Dog Days, Bogota.” I love the clarity and composition of his photographs; in the photo that will become our next cover, Soth captures a Colombian family of mother, father, and toddler–parents standing in an embrace beside their child in a stroller. The image is both familiar (it has all of the elements of middle-class America) and subversive (the couple are dressed in leather jacket, piercings, with coiffed hair).

The dog of his title is a sad, likely wild, dog seated calmly on a forbidding cliff overlooking Bogota. Again, the juxtaposition of the domestic and the urban is what grabs your attention. Who wants to consider a dog without a human home?

Filed under: age, animals, art, photography, , , , , , , , ,

A Photograph, a Poem, an Essay to New York

I. A Photograph

If you had to choose four images to capture New York, what would they be? Photojournalist Hiroyuki Ito presents variations on this theme in his new exhibition, “Transfer of Guilt.” The idea for his series of four images, each arranged without context in a grid, came from a surprising place:

The idea of making grids came from visiting a video booth in Times Square, where the viewer watches four porn movies simultaneously on a split screen…Looking at four sad human dramas unfolding in front of my eyes was at least intellectually stimulating. Upon closer inspection, the random movies started to create rhythm of their own both visually and emotionally, as if John Cage was at work behind the screen.

II. A Poem

Actually, only a section of a poem. Part Six of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry“:

I too lived—Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine; 60
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution; 65
I too had receiv’d identity by my Body;
That I was, I knew was of my body—and what I should be, I knew I should be of my body.

III. An Essay

Finally, from a wholly engrossing, unsentimental, thoughtful collection of essays I read this weekend by Eula Biss, entitled Notes from No Man’s Land, an essay about leaving New York:

I often woke before dawn and could not fall back to sleep. I lay there listening to car alarms cycle through all their different sounds while my heart raced for no reason. It is hard for me to separate my experience of living in New York from the sensation of reaching the limits of my own independence. I was excruciatingly lonely, and everything was unfamiliar and diffficult. But, in a way, I was living my dream.

Biss’ refusal to admire the New York in everyone else’s imagination is in contrast to Joan Didion’s essay of the same title, “Goodbye to All That.” Biss cringes from the sentimental Manhattan of the “I Heart NY” crowd. Instead, she writes about the small moments of defeat, like her run-in (literally) with a pedestrian on a street corner in Chinatown. Or the negotiation of so many young people who come to the city (myself included), trying to negotiate independence and solitude.

Filed under: new york, , , , , , , ,

DADT Images, in Shadow and Light

A man in uniform, seated on a bed, his body turned away. His face hidden by a white windowpane.

Jeff Sheng’s photographs of gay and lesbian servicepeople are based on a simple premise: like our faulty “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the photographs focus on appearances: women and men in uniform, not being asked about their sexual orientation, and by hiding this part of their identity, safely secure in their military positions. The visual imagery, however, belies, comfort in a secure job: in one of the first images Sheng took, a hand covers one soldier’s face. In another, shadows hide two women in a kiss.

For Sheng’s subjects, the choice to participate was a complex, personal decision. Just being photographed, despite the fact that faces would not be shown, was to risk dismissal. One of the soldiers, Jess, describes the feeling of always asking whether to come out or stay closeted:

After serving in Afghanistan, Jess was moved from what he called a “more liberal” unit to one where he was “pushed back in the closet.” He finds his situation difficult. “You can’t get to know people,” he said. “You can’t develop bonds with the people you’re fighting with day in and day out. I can’t talk about myself. I’m afraid I’ll reveal something. I’m constantly on guard.”

Sheng’s image of two women is particularly striking. Facing each other, one woman in her navy uniform, her partner in a red dress with tightly coiffed hair, evokes 50’s glamour and style; it’s ironic to apply the secrecy and shame of a bygone era to an ostensibly more progressive 2010.

Though President Obama and legislative leaders seem to be crawling in the repeal process of DADT, the conclusion that DADT will be repealed is certain. It’s just a matter of time.

Filed under: art, gay rights, military, , , , , , , ,

Slideshow: Obama’s First 100 Days

slide_1500_21170_large1The White House released a photostream of President Obama’s first 100 days in office. It’s a delight to see images of the President both at home in his job–and, in some of the photos, seemingly in awe.

The photos include everything from meeting with Secretary Gaithner (one can only assume they’re trying to unravel the knots) to greeting everyday visitors inside the White House to glimpses of his love for his family and the First Lady.

Interestingly enough, alongside the photos of the Cabinet meetings and press conferences, there’s photos of the women and men who cook in the White House kitchen, who polish the White House floors, and who open the grand double doors for President Obama to walk through. 

One can’t help but feel a bit optimistic at our President’s youthfulness and energy.

Filed under: government, , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
July 2017
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Pics from Africa 2010

About Me

https://rsiasoco.wordpress.com/about/

About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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