Friday, May 17, 2019

That's All, Folks!

Now that I've finished serializing my novel Lucid I think this is as good a time as any to call it quits to my blogging career.  I'll  leave both Central Park Blues as well as my other blog The Aesthetic Adventure online, at least for the time being, but I don't intend adding any new posts.  Instead, I'll be devoting myself entirely to my photography and creative writing.

A big shout out to all those who've followed my posts.  I really appreciate your loyalty and wish you all the best.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Thirty-Four (Final Chapter)

Once the two detectives had left, Connor rose to his feet and began pacing back and forth.  He tried not to panic.
He thought first of his roommates.  They’d be returning to the apartment as soon as they’d finished work.  Connor had absolutely no desire to meet either one of them at the moment.  He realized how lucky he’d been that neither had been home when the police had arrived.  If they had been there, he knew, they’d have immediately insisted he move out.  They would have been polite about it, of course, but still adamant.  Connor couldn’t blame them.  No one wanted to return home to find two policemen sitting at the kitchen table.
The room in which Connor stood seemed to be inexorably closing in on him.  It was strange, he thought, that he had never before noticed how small and confining a space it actually was.  Without waiting any longer, he grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.
It was only when he was on the street that Connor realized he had nowhere to go.  Marguerite and Gallagher, either of whom he might once have called, were now both gone.  He thought how ironic it was that in a city the size of New York there was no one he could turn to for help.  He was on his own.
Without any clear idea where he was headed, Connor boarded a Manhattan-bound L train.  He rode it into the city and got off at 14th Street.  From there, he began walking south through the Village.  As he passed block after block, he couldn’t help noticing how completely the neighborhood had changed from that which he’d visited in his dreams.  The fun loving partygoers of the 1960’s had given way to middle aged real estate investors.  Funky clothing stores had long ago been replaced by upscale boutiques that peddled designer merchandise at exorbitant prices.  The old ethnic neighborhoods had been destroyed by gentrification and their residents scattered.  Connor might just as well have been in a different city – wealthy, sanitized and utterly soulless – than that which had existed forty years before. 
It was past midnight by the time Connor finally returned to his apartment in Brooklyn.  He paused at the building’s entrance to check discreetly for any police surveillance that might have him under watch.  There was nothing to be seen.  “I’m getting paranoid,” he told himself.  “They’re not going to bother keeping an eye on some small time loser like me.  Not yet anyway.”  
When Connor got upstairs he found that both his roommates had already turned in for the night and he decided he might as well do the same.  He wasn’t able to fall asleep at once though.  Instead he lay on his bed for a long while staring at the ceiling as he came to a decision.  He felt a good deal more at peace once it had been made.  A few moments later he nodded off and soon was dreaming.
Deirdre was waiting for him beneath the arch at Washington Square Park.  Connor wasn’t surprised to see her; somehow he had known all along that she’d be there.  “Hey, stranger,” she greeted him.
Connor took a good look at the party going on all around him.  A group of long haired revelers drank from bottles in brown paper bags as they held hands and danced unsteadily in a circle.  “The park a looks a lot more fun tonight than it ever does in my own time,” he observed.  “These days it isn’t even any longer an outdoor lounge for N.Y.U. students, though God knows that was bad enough; now it’s just a playground for rich little kids to visit with their nannies.  The cops are all over the place 24/7 hassling whomever they find.   They’ll bust you just for trying to walk across the lawn once it gets dark.”
“Everything changes,” said Deirdre.  “You can’t hold onto the past.”
“Why can’t I?” Connor demanded angrily.  He kicked away an empty bottle.  It shattered when it hit the curb.  “Who says I have to wake up and go back to living in my own time?  I never belonged there in the first place.”
“You’d better think about what you’re saying.  Things were never perfect in this city.  Look what happened to poor Donny.  Sometimes it’s only our nostalgia that makes the old days seem so wonderful.”
“I know that.  But I’m sick and tired of being alone and not fitting in anywhere.  I can’t take it any longer.”  His voice was almost pleading as he turned to her.
Deirdre knew what he was asking.  “You won’t be able to go back again if you ever change your mind,” she warned him.
“That doesn’t matter to me,” said Connor.  “There’s nothing to go back to anyway.  I don’t have anyone waiting for me – no family, no friends, just a pair of cops living for the day they can put me away.”
Deirdre didn’t argue but only smiled instead.  “Ok, then.  If that’s the way you feel about it, let’s get going.”  She started walking east with Connor right beside her.
“Hey, look who’s here,” Donny greeted Connor when he and Deirdre walked through the door of Intergalactic.  “I’m sure glad you decided to come back.  I was beginning to think we’d never see you again.”
“I’m really glad to be here too,” Connor said and meant it.  “Hey, do you know if there are any stores in the neighborhood looking to hire some help?  A bookstore would be fantastic.  I could put my English lit background to good use there.”
“I’m sure we can find something without too much trouble,” Donny said.  “People come and go so often in this neighborhood that there are always some jobs available.  As long as you don’t need to make a lot of money that is.  Those jobs are for the suits down on Wall Street.  Here you’ll make enough to pay the rent and get high, but that’s about it.”
“No, I’m not looking to get rich.  I’d just like to be happy for a change.”
“Then you’re in the right place.  I was just about ready to close up shop here for the night.  Why don’t we take a walk around the corner to McSorley’s and talk about it over a few glasses of porter?”
“That sounds great,” Deirdre chimed in.  “They allow women inside now, so I finally get to hang out with the guys.”  She whooped her delight.
“There goes the neighborhood,” joked Donny.  “Next thing you know, they’ll be putting in a ladies’ room.”  As he spoke, he switched off the lights and locked the door behind him.
The three friends walked arm in arm to 7th Street.  They smiled and laughed with everyone they passed on the way.

The only epitaph Connor received was that written in Detective Stone’s report:
Following our initial interview with Michael Connor, Detective Klinger and I returned to his Brooklyn residence one week later to continue our investigation.  Upon arrival, we were informed by subject’s roommates that he had been discovered unresponsive in his room on the morning following our first visit.  After all immediate attempts to revive him had failed, an ambulance was summoned and subject was conveyed to the nearest hospital emergency room.  There he was pronounced dead on arrival.  An autopsy was subsequently performed but failed to disclose any apparent cause of death.  As there was no evidence linking Michael Connor to either the disappearance of Marguerite Zilander or to the murder of Richard Gallagher, the file was marked closed and forwarded to the Records Department for storage.

Connor’s remains were buried in a shallow plot dug by convicts on Hart Island in New York harbor.  No headstone was placed on the grave.

The End

Monday, May 13, 2019

Photo Book Review: Brassaï: The Monograph


Several years ago, I reviewed Brassaï: The Eye of Paris and was quite dissatisfied by its treatment of the famous Hungarian photographer.  I felt it failed to do an adequate job of representing the chronicler of nighttime Paris and provided only an incomplete and distorted portrait.  In contrast, Brassaï: The Monograph by Alain Sayag and Annick Lionel-Marie is superior in almost every respect.  This is a work that places Brassaï in the context of his times and gives the reader a better understanding of the photographer's motivations in undertaking his documentary projects.  

Although Brassaï was born in Transylvania and died on the French Riviera, the city with which he will always be associated is Paris. Living and working there had been his dream ever since he had first lived there as a child while his father taught at the Sorbonne.  I think it was that early sojourn that originally fired Brassaï's imagination and filled his mind with the romantic images he was later to capture on film.  But it took him a long while to return.  Even though he left Hungary for good in 1920, as a former enemy combatant he was unwelcome in France following the end of World War I and was instead forced to first live in Berlin where he remained for four years.  There he became acquainted with several other Hungarian exiles and built a base among them that would prove invaluable when he and they eventually relocated to France.  In fact, it was Brassaï's Hungarian contacts who later paved the way for his acceptance by the Parisian social and intellectual elite.  It was the painter Lajos Tihanyi, for example, who introduced Brassaï to Henry Miller who in turn gave the photographer his nickname "the eye of Paris" and became his lifelong friend.

Brassaï did not at first take up photography on his arrival in Paris.  He instead used the friendships with his countrymen to procure journalism assignments on a variety of subjects.  In 1926 he accompanied his fellow Hungarian, the photographer André Kertész, on several assignments.  It was Kertész who first recommended to Brassaï that he take up photography.  Years later, a bitter feud would develop between the two men over the extent to which Kertész provided guidance and inspiration to the younger man.  If the present monograph has any flaw, it is in not discussing or even mentioning this falling out between two of the century's greatest photographers. 

Once Brassaï had mastered the mechanics of the camera, it was only natural that he should begin photographing Paris.  He had already formed the habit of wandering the city's streets late at night as he sought to recapture the enthusiasm he had felt for it as a child.  He was also influenced by a meeting with Eugène Atget who had already spent years documenting the various Parisian neighborhoods in his own singular style.  Brassaï turned out to have a genius for nighttime and low light photography and quickly produced the classic book that made his reputation, Paris de Nuit.

Fascinating a character as Brassaï himself was, he is also remembered for his wide circle of friends. The most noteworthy of these were Henri Michaux and Pablo Picasso.  To its credit, the monograph goes into a great deal of detail regarding both these relationships.

The book contains a wide selection of Brassaï's photographs and artwork, all of which are well reproduced.  Of these, the most intriguing by far are the nighttime shots of Paris taken in the 1930's. Later representations of the city, shot in daylight in 1949, are not nearly so interesting.  The photographs of Parisian graffiti are fascinating in themselves as ethnological studies.  In addition, there are several well written essays, including a reprint of one written by Henry Miller in 1933, as well as an interview with the photographer's widow and excerpts from Brassaï's own writings.  The chronology at the end of the book is a useful outline of the photographer's life; the bibliography serves as a comprehensive guide to further reading.

This monograph is an excellent introduction to those not already familiar with Brassaï's work and a good resource for those who already admire the photographer.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Photo Book Review: Edgar Degas, Photographer

The Metropolitan Museum's monograph Edgar Degas, Photographer was published to accompany an exhibit held in 1998 that put on display for the first time the famous artist's surviving photos.  It offered a surprising glimpse into the world of a painter whose accomplishments had for many years been considered fully known and documented.  I attended the exhibit myself and was fascinated by the manner in which Degas brought his aesthetic sensibilities to bear on a medium that was new to him and that he had only begun to explore when already in his sixties.

The full extent of Degas's activity as a photographer is not fully known and most likely never will be.  It was only after his death that the photographs were found in the studio.  At the time, they were given no value.  If any attention at all were paid to them, it was only to view them as studies for works in other media.  In contrast, Degas's forays into sculpture had also been largely unknown during his lifetime (only one had been publicly exhibited) and these pieces too were only discovered in the posthumous inventory of his studio.  But the worth of the sculptures was immediately recognized.  It was at once acknowledged that these crumbling clay figures represented an important new dimension in analyzing the artist's entire oeuvre.  Bronze castings were quickly made of those that could be salvaged and a major exhibit was held in 1918.  The photographs, on the other hand, were put aside.  Their worth unrecognized, they were widely scattered and many may have been discarded outright.  The Met exhibit represented a milestone in correcting this oversight.

The eccentric Degas was a difficult character to like.  A lifelong bachelor, he was a reactionary in his political views and in his opposition to social reform.  Most disturbing was his deep seated anti-Semitism which became particularly pronounced during the Dreyfus affair.  By the time he took up photography, his eyesight had begun to fail and he had grown increasingly isolated from those former friends and fellow artists who held much more liberal views and were appalled by his bigotry.  But whatever his personal faults, Degas was a consummate artist and was continually in search of new media with which to express his vision.  Though he had begun as a fairly traditional historical painter, he continually experimented over the course of his career not only with photography and sculpture but also with etching, lithography and the monotype.

The volume contains three informative essays.  The first, by Malcolm Daniel, is the most comprehensive and gives as full an account as possible of the history of Degas's photographic endeavors over the course of several years near the end of the nineteenth century.  The story is necessarily incomplete as so little is known of this period.  The information that is available comes primarily from the correspondence of his friend Daniel Halévy who, along with members of his family, provided the artist with his most often portrayed subjects.  Here is detailed Degas's strong predilection for low light photography as well as the tyrannical methods he used to pose his subjects for the great lengths of time needed for his long exposures.  The second essay, by Eugenia Parry, is more limited in scope and details the relationship of the photographic tableaux in which Degas posed his subjects to the larger world of theater and Parisian society itself.  (Many of Degas's acquaintances, such as Charles Haas, were later to provide Proust with models for the characters he was to describe in his great novel.)  The third essay, by Theodore Reff, is a brief account of the artist's friendship with his supplier of photographic materials, Guillaume Tasset, whose shop also processed and enlarged Degas's work.  The essay is anecdotal in style and provides a charming portrait of the forgotten art dealer who was himself an accomplished painter.

The book contains 39 plates, all of which are of excellent quality.  These include reproductions of three large format negatives which, because they were improperly processed, have grown so "colorized" over time that they have become works of art in themselves.  There is also a catalogue raisonné that details all Degas's known photographs, not just those included in the exhibit, as well as those of more uncertain provenance that have been provisionally attributed to him.  The catalogue provides what little technical data is available regarding both negatives and prints.

If the book has a major fault, it's the omission of more detailed information describing the equipment used by Degas and the materials he purchased from Tasset and used in his photographic work.  At a time when Kodak was making the snapshot a popular form among amateurs, Degas approached the medium as a professional and carefully composed all his photos.  To do this, he would necessarily have had to use a tripod-mounted view camera (the book does mention that Degas requested Tasset to cut down standard size 9x12cm Lumière panchromatic plates to 8x10cm for use in his own camera).  There is no mention, though, of the lenses or other paraphernalia  Degas had available for use.  This information would have been of great assistance to photographers seeking to better appreciate Degas's accomplishments.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Thirty-Three

After having heard nothing from Marguerite for more than a week, Connor had tried calling her.  There had been no answer, only a phone company recording that stated the number dialed was no longer in service.
Connor could think of nothing else to do but to travel to Marguerite’s apartment downtown and ring the doorbell.  Again there was no answer. 
It took Connor almost half an hour to locate the building’s super, a middle aged Russian in torn overalls, who obviously didn’t want anything to do with someone who wasn’t even a tenant.  The man seemed determined to be of as little help as possible and only grew more stubborn as Connor continued to question him.  “Zilander, the woman in 5C?  She’s gone.  And no, I don’t know where.  If she owes you money, that’s not my problem.”
Connor reluctantly handed the man a $20 bill he couldn’t really afford to spend, but not even that was of much use.  The super stuffed the bribe in his overalls before giving Connor an appraising look.  “Are you her boyfriend?  That’s always the way it is, isn’t it?  When a woman wants to get rid of a guy, she never tells him that she’s moving.  He always has to find out the hard way.”
“She didn’t leave any forwarding address then?”
The super snorted in amusement.  “A forwarding address?  Are you kidding me?  She didn’t even take her clothes or furniture with her.  Left everything behind.  Even her cell phone and wallet were still in the apartment when I went to clean the place out.  No cash in the wallet though – you can be damned sure I checked that first thing – so maybe she at least took her money with her.”
“No note saying where she was going?  Maybe you missed it.”
The super shook his head.  “Not a chance.  Who would know better than me what was there?  I went over every inch of that apartment.  I was hoping maybe your girlfriend had left something valuable hidden away, a bottle or two at least, but no such luck.”
Connor felt himself growing increasingly alarmed.  “Didn’t anyone think it was suspicious that she just disappeared into thin air?”
“The landlord, he didn’t know what to make of it.  He didn’t want to get in any trouble, so he called the police first thing.  They took their sweet time getting here and then did nothing once they’d finished looking around.  She was paid up on her rent, and there’s no law against moving away without telling anyone.  Happens all the time, they said.”
“Does it?” asked Connor, “No one I knew ever did such a thing.”
“Then maybe you don’t know the right people.”  With that, the super slammed the door shut in his face.
Connor didn’t know where to go from there.  He didn’t see any point in contacting the hospitals or looking through the emergency rooms.  If the landlord had already called the police, they would have checked out those places as a matter of routine.  As for talking to the authorities themselves, Connor already knew that the less he saw of law enforcement the better off he would be.
As it turned out, Connor needn’t have worried about getting in touch with the police.  They soon enough came looking for him.
He had just finished eating dinner when the knock came at the door.  It was a loud insistent rap.  Connor didn’t have to ask who was there.  There’s something in a policeman’s knock that an ex-con recognizes at once, though how he comes by that knowledge not even he can say. 
There were two of them, both detectives in plain clothes, standing in the hallway when Connor opened the door.
“Michael Connor?” one of them inquired perfunctorily.  There wasn’t any doubt in his voice as he asked.  He and his partner had probably taken a long look Connor’s rap sheet and mugshot before leaving the station.
Connor went through the formalities.  “Do you have I.D.?” he asked.
The second cop took out his gold shield and shoved it in front of Connor’s face.
Connor stepped back and allowed the pair to enter.  Though he knew that technically he didn’t have to permit them inside his residence unless they had a warrant, he didn’t have anything to hide and saw no reason to antagonize them unnecessarily.  The police could always make things harder for him than he could for them, he reasoned.
The three walked together into the kitchen and, without saying a word, sat down at the same time at the table.  The two detectives looked about the room carefully.  There was nothing of interest to be seen, though, but a pile of dirty dishes in the sink.
“Would you like some coffee?” Connor asked.
The older detective shook his head.  “I’m Detective Stone and this is my partner, Detective Klinger,” he said by way of introduction.
Connor nodded his head.
“Know why we’re here?” the detective asked.
“No, sir,” answered Connor in his most polite tone of voice.
“How long have you been out now?” asked Klinger.
“A few months.”
“Keeping yourself out of trouble?”  Even as he asked the question, Klinger made a face as much as to say he knew such a thing were clearly impossible.
“I did my time,” replied Connor quietly.  “I don’t want to go back.”
“Good you feel that way,” said Stone.  “But I’ve got to tell you, the way you’re headed you’ll be back on Rikers soon enough.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means things keep happening,” interjected Klinger, “the nasty sorts of things we police take an interest in.  And as soon as we start looking into these things, who do we find there but you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Connor tried to keep his voice steady.  “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You know Marguerite Zilander,” said Stone.  It wasn’t a question.
“Yes, I know her.  We were working together on the same project at the university.  It was an experiment involving dream research.”
“You two were lovers.  At least that’s what you told Casper Elicott, the faculty coordinator for the project.”
“If we were, there’s no crime in that.”
“Are you aware that this woman has gone missing?”
Connor didn’t like where this was leading.  “Yes, I went over to her apartment earlier today and talked to the super.  He told me she’d left without a trace and that the landlord had already called the police.”
“Where’d she go?” asked Klinger.
“I’ve no idea.  If I did know, there wouldn’t have been any reason for me to slip the super a twenty to try to get that information from him.”
“People don’t usually walk off and leave everything they own behind them.  It’s not natural.”
“I realize that,” said Connor.  “That’s why I was concerned.”
“Maybe she was anxious to give you the slip,” Stone suggested.
“She had no reason to want to get away from me.  We were on good terms the last time we saw one another.”  Connor looked up.  “I’ll save you the trouble of asking when that was.  It was a week ago last Thursday.  We spent the night together.  She was fine when I left the next morning.  I haven’t heard from her since.”
Stone pulled a spiral bound notebook from his jacket pocket and jotted a few notes with a silver ballpoint that had a Yankees logo engraved on its side.  He turned to Connor when he had finished writing.  “There’s no evidence of a crime having been committed.  Still, you realize the circumstances of your friend’s disappearance are a bit unusual.”  He leaned forward.  He still held the pen in his hand and pointed it now in Connor’s direction.  “Are you sure there’s nothing else you’d like to tell us?”
“I can’t tell you what I don’t know.  If I had any more information, I’d be happy to share it with you.  That’s the truth.”
“Ok, so let’s forget about your missing girlfriend for a minute and move on.” Klinger was speaking now.  “There’s another police matter you’re involved in.”
Connor had no idea what the detective was referring to.  His ignorance must have shown in his expression.
“Don’t play dumb, Connor.  We know you were friends with Richie Gallagher.”
Connor, who hadn’t yet heard anything of Gallagher’s death, was surprised at the mention of his name but tried not to show it.  “I might have been friends with him once, but I haven’t had much to do with him lately.” 
“Then why did you kill him?”
“What?”  Connor was so shocked by the accusation that he involuntarily jumped up from his chair.  “Gallagher is dead?”
“Dead as a doornail,” said Stone.  “Shot through the heart with a .22.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it.”  Connor was sweating.  “You’ve got to believe me.  This is the first I’m hearing of it.”
“Relax,” said Klinger.  “We already know you weren’t there.  Good old Professor Elicott confirmed to us that at the time the murder was committed you were at the university engaged in conversation with him and one Dr. Reicha.  The three of you were together for several hours.  A very convenient alibi, if you ask me.”
Connor felt some of the tension leave his body.  “I didn’t even know he was dead until you told me just now.  Since you already know I’m not the killer, do you have any idea who might be?”
“That’s what we were hoping you could tell us,” said Klinger.
“We thought we had something,” admitted Stone.  “The weapon was recovered at the scene and ballistics came up with a match.  The same gun was used in the murder of a small time dealer, one Johnny Hastings, in the East Village back in ’72.  When we found the gun lying beside Gallagher’s body, it had clean sets of prints all over it.  We ran them and found out they belonged to a woman named Deirdre Watkins who’d been busted for public indecency around the time of the first murder.  Apparently she’d been working as a stripper at some joint on 3rd Street.  There’s a fancy nightclub now at the address where it was located.”
“Deirdre wouldn’t…” Connor started to say and then bit his lip.
Stone looked at him quizzically.
“I was just going to say I’d never heard the name.”
“I’d be surprised if you had.  She’s been dead and gone forty years or more.  Hit by a bus on Third Avenue in 1974 and died instantly.  At the time, the investigating officers suspected it might have been suicide.  No, no way you could have known her.”
Though Connors’ mind was reeling, he remained silent and tried to keep his expression blank.  It was difficult for him to imagine either Gallagher or Deirdre dead after he’d seen each of them so recently.
“It’s possible Gallagher was the victim of a hit,” Klinger said.  “We have reason to believe he may have stolen drugs that were originally the property of a Chinatown gang.  Those guys don’t allow themselves to be insulted that way.  It would hurt their reputation if they let it go.  Rival gangs might get the idea the Pale Horsemen were going soft and try to move in on their turf.  No, they’d have to find the guy who did them dirt and then kill him before word got out what he’d pulled.  Otherwise, we’d have a gang war on our hands.”
Connor remained poker faced.  “I get the idea.”
Stone and Klinger stood up at the same time.  “We’ll be going now,” said Stone.
“You’re not taking me in?”  Connor couldn’t really believe they were allowing him to remain free.
Klinger looked at him with an expression of disgust and then rapped his knuckles on the tabletop.  “Believe me when I tell you we’d collar you now if we could.  It’s just we don’t have enough on you.  Not yet anyway.”
“That’s because I haven’t done anything,” Connor couldn’t help reminding him.
“You know what they say though,” continued Klinger, “about how where there’s smoke there’s fire.”
“What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“That’s my partner’s way of saying we’re going to be keeping tabs on you,” replied Stone in an indifferent tone.  “We’ll be stopping by to see you again sometime soon.  We’re going to have plenty more talks.”
“Plenty more,” announced Klinger.  He didn’t bother trying to hide the truculence in his voice.  “Until we finally do have something on you, something that will put you away for a good long stretch.  And once we’ve got it, you’re going down.  Hard.”
“You don’t have to see us out,” said Stone.  “We’ll find our own way.”
Connor watched their backs until the two detectives had left the apartment.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Photo Book Review: Paul Outerbridge

If ever there were an artist in need of a good biographer, it's the photographer Paul Outerbridge.  A perfectionist who excelled in the creation of black & white platinum prints, he was also a pioneer in the evolution of color photography.  Prior to the advent of Kodachrome, Outerbridge's remarkable Carbro-color prints provided the most accurate and practical means of color representation then possible.  But it was hardly a simple process.  As Elaine Dines-Cox has written in this volume, one of the few monographs of Outerbridge's work to have been published:
"Several laborious hours of concentrated effort and financial investment went into making a single Carbro-color print.  It is unique among photographic processes because the pigments used are the same as in oil paint.  Not only are the pigments unusually permanent, but the exhibit an extra-dimensional quality, the shadows perceptibly deeper in their glossy appearance and the highlights finely graded in their matte surface."
Outerbridge was not only a consummate craftsman, however, but an important modern artist as well.  In 1921, he enrolled at Clarence White's photography school in New York where he was taught by Max Weber.  The influence of the latter was most apparent in his "consideration of two-dimensional Cubist abstract theory in relation to photographing three-dimensional objects."  This proved inspirational to the young Outerbridge who thereafter ingeniously incorporated Cubist design in his early black & white photography through the use of form, pattern and shadow.  His success can clearly be seen in such works as Saltine Box and Ide Collar (both from 1922).  

In 1925, Outerbridge traveled to Paris where he met Man Ray and Berenice Abbott who in turn introduced him to such luminaries as DuchampPicassoPicabia and Brâncusi.  Following his divorce from wife Paula, Outerbridge relocated to Berlin in 1928 where he studied cinema with the director G.W. Pabst, who was at this time working on his most famous film, Pandora's Box.

Aside from his work in fine arts, Outerbridge was also a highly successful commercial photographer, especially following his return to America in 1929, and his work was regularly published in many prominent periodicals, including Vogue and Vanity Fair

Given the quality and importance of Outerbridge's work, one might wonder why he is not better known today.  The answer to this may lie at least partly in the reception given the highly erotic body of work he created in the 1930's and 1940's.  While Outerbridge had often photographed classical black & white nudes in his earlier years, the later work was much more sexualized and often crossed the border into fetish.  The fact that these were shot in color added to their graphic nature and made them that much more disturbing to conservative American viewers.  If the photos had been published in Europe, they might not have elicited such heated response.  In America, on the contrary, the introduction of such themes could well have ended a photographer's career and consigned his reputation to oblivion. 

Paul Outerbridge is a valuable book if only because there are so few devoted to the photographer and his oeuvre.  It opens with a intriguing 1931 essay by Condé Nast art director M.F. Agha that introduces us to the artist at the height of his fame.  This is followed by an all too short biographical essay by Elaine Dines-Cox that never reveals anything of the inner man and leaves the reader wishing for much more information and insight than is here provided.  One invaluable addition to the book for anyone still practicing traditional photography is Outerbridge's own detailed instructions for using the Carbro process.  As for the reproductions, there is a wide selection representing all phases of the photographer's career.  They are of excellent quality though they can, of course, only approximate the tonal values of Outerbridge's original prints.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Big Price Drop on Panasonic Lumix G9

The Lumix G9 which only recently was selling for $1.700 has now dropped a huge $500 in price to only $1,200, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's soon discontinued.  Although it's a truly excellent camera as evidenced by the specs and description given on the B&H website, one can see in hindsight that the camera really never made sense for Panasonic.  The big draw of the mirrorless four-thirds Lumix GH line was always the superb video it offered at an extremely reasonable price.  But the G9 was instead designed for still photographers rather than video enthusiasts.  As such, at least at its original price, it was directly competing with with such highly rated full frame cameras as the Sony Alpha a7 III in a battle Panasonic really couldn't hope to win.

In spite of the above, the G9 worked really well for me at its reduced price.  I had been a big fan of the GH line for years and had owned both a GH2 and a GH4 even though I never had any real interest in shooting video.  For a still photographer such as myself the G9 offered substantial improvements over the GH4 with no real drawbacks, especially since I could still use the same lenses, memory cards, and even batteries as on the older camera.  (I should mention here that my professional camera is the full frame Nikon Df; the much smaller and lighter Panasonic is primarily for travel and street shooting.)  Yesterday morning I accordingly hopped on the subway to the B&H store on 34th Street and traded in my GH4 for the G9 while the camera was still in stock.  I'm very, very happy with the deal I got.  Even in the brief time I've had to work with it, the G9 has so far met all my expectations.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Thirty-Two

He was not himself.  The thought flashed through Connor’s mind as he realized he was once again dreaming.  There was, however, something radically different about the sensations he was now experiencing even though he couldn’t have said for the life of him exactly what it was that had changed.  Still, whatever transformation had taken place, it had been so pervasive that he could feel its effects throughout every part of his body.
“Strange, isn’t it?” asked the figure seated beside him.  Though he had no difficulty making out the words, Connor somehow understood that the language he hearing was a form of Japanese so ancient it hadn’t been spoken aloud for centuries.
Connor turned and saw that the individual who had addressed him was a handsome young Japanese man wearing a simple monk’s robe.
“Who are you?” Connor asked. 
The monk laughed heartily at his confusion.  “Don’t you recognize me?  You knew me well enough when I took the form of Deirdre.” 
“But you’re a man,” exclaimed Connor in astonishment.  Even as he uttered the words, he thought how ridiculous they must sound.
“Obviously so.  And you?  Are you enjoying the experience of being a woman for once?  And a very beautiful woman at that.”
Connor ran his hands hurriedly over his body.  It was true.  Somehow he had managed to change gender and was now in fact an elegantly dressed young woman.
“Your name is Kazura,” continued the monk, “and my own is Suzaku.”
“But how is this even possible?” asked Connor.  His mind reeled as he tried to fight off the panic threatening to envelop him. 
“In dreams everything is possible.  You should know that by now better than anyone.”  The monk held up his hand as if to ward off any hysterics to which Connor might give way.  “You needn’t be so upset.  When you awake, you’ll once again be the same old Connor and will take up your present existence precisely where you left off.”
“Are you certain?” Connor couldn’t help asking.
“Yes, absolutely.  Physically, you’ll be the same man you were when you went to sleep.”  Deirdre paused before observing wryly, “You may find your attitudes toward gender are a bit different, of course, but that’s only to be expected.”
“And where are we?  Are we back in Japan again?”  Connor glanced about the tiny room in which he now found himself.  It was illuminated only by the flame of a single candle.  The walls were made up of stone tiles and the floor was no more than packed earth.  The only furnishings he could make out were a simple straw pallet laid directly on the hard ground and beside it the small three-legged stool on which he found himself seated.
“Yes, we are,” Deirdre confirmed.  “But we are now much further back in time.  It’s more than a thousand years in the past, and we are in my cell at a Buddhist temple – its name is Ishiyama-dera – at the southern end of Lake Biwa.”
“And why are we here?” asked Connor as he once again looked about the room.  “I’ve never heard of any such place.  And it’s so quiet here.  I’ve never before been anywhere as peaceful as this.  Not even Walden Pond was so tranquil.”
“You are the maidservant of Lady Murasaki who has only just now begun writing the Genji monogatari, the most beautiful novel ever composed.  And I am a novice monk who isn’t even supposed to look upon a woman, let alone fall in love.  This is the lifetime in which you and I first met.  It’s the very beginning of our story together.  Everything that comes after – me, you, Donny – is only a continuation of what we are now experiencing.”
Connor realized then how much it meant to him to be with Deirdre in this place.  It was as though she had for the first time become part of him.  “What happens to a Buddhist monk who falls in love?  Isn’t it a crime?”
“Not so much a crime as simply being human.”  Deirdre exhaled slowly.  “When I first came here, I’d hoped to attain enlightenment and escape the wheel of rebirth once and for all.  But I wasn’t strong enough to overcome my attachment to this life and instead fell madly in love the moment I saw you.”
“I’m sorry if I ruined things for you,” said Connor.
“Don’t feel bad.  It was my karma and there was nothing that could be done about it.  Your father was a great scholar who had spent his whole life contemplating the mysteries of the I Ching.  When you were born, he looked into the oracle and foresaw our meeting here long before you ever came to this place.  He was a very wise old man, and he was able not only to see what would befall us in this life but he was also able to see all the lives we would live after this, always finding one another again only to once more be forced apart.  He told you the whole story over and over, but you weren’t yet wise enough to understand.”
“And so, thanks to my father, we knew all about those lives that were to come even before we’d lived them?”
“But in each incarnation we had to start out fresh and learn everything all over again.  Still, no matter what the time or place, we were able to find each other and live out our shared destiny.”
“And now what?”
“There’s nothing more to tell.  You’ve seen everything I set out to show you when I first encountered you on the university campus, and now you know as much about our fates as I do myself.”  The monk gave a gentle smile and in it Connor saw his old friend Deirdre gazing out at him with a heart filled with love.
“I’ll never see you again after this, will I?” Connor asked.
“You’ve had your dreams.  Most people never learn in a lifetime what you’ve discovered in them.  It’s up to you now to use that knowledge to create your own happiness and to fulfill your destiny.”
“And what about you?”
“I belong with Donny.  It’s been a wonderful trip traveling with you through time and space, but I’m not part of your world.  It’s time for me to leave you and head back to the East Village.”
“Do you have to leave this minute?”  Connor realized how much he wanted Deirdre to stay.  He couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye.
“No, I don’t have to go just yet.  And it would be a shame not to share this moment as long as we can, especially when outside the summer night is so beautiful.  There’s no one else here in this dream but ourselves.  The monastery is empty and there’s no one about the grounds.  It’s almost dawn, but we still have time to take a short walk together.”
The two friends took each other’s hand.  They walked through the temple’s silent corridors and then passed through the main entrance where the two statues of the guardian spirits stood alert and watchful.  Behind them, within the temple pavilion, the paper lanterns still shone.  The sky had not yet grown light.
Without speaking, they walked to the moon-viewing pavilion where many years later a famous Japanese emperor would sit and watch the same moon that now hovered as a ghostly silver crescent above them.  The two stayed there for a long while as they took in the beauty that stretched all about them.  Finally, as the dawn broke in flaming shades of rose across the eastern sky, they left the solitary place and entered a garden where carefully arranged flowers bloomed brightly before them in the year 1004.
“I wish I could stay here forever,” murmured Connor as gazed about the grounds.
“Every dream has to end sometime,” answered Deirdre gently.  “I’m going to miss you a great deal when this one is finished.”

Monday, April 29, 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Thirty-One

Gallagher sat at the table in the kitchen of his Williamsburg apartment.  In front of him were three grams of cocaine he had carefully laid out in rows and was now busily chopping with a razor blade.  “This will do the trick,” he muttered to himself.  “Why waste any more on that fool than I need to?” 
He reached into his billfold, pulled out a dollar and carefully rolled the single into a tight tube.  Then he bent over the coke and snorted two long lines of white powder.  He looked at what remained and smiled.  “Still more than enough to get the job done.”
“You always talk to yourself, Gallagher?” a voice asked.  “You should be careful about that.  It might mean something’s gone really wrong with your mind.”
Gallagher jerked his head up.  “What the fuck?”  A beautiful blue-eyed blonde was sitting on the other side of the table and studying him dispassionately.  She was wearing a white peasant blouse and blue jeans.  At her side she held a khaki shoulder bag with the legend “All You Need Is Love” emblazoned upon it.  “Where the hell did you come from?” Gallagher asked in confusion.  “I know you weren’t sitting in that chair a minute ago.”  He pointed to the coke.  “This shit is good, but it’s not that good.”
“What’s the matter?” asked the woman.  “You’re always talking about what a ladies’ man you are, aren’t you?  To hear you tell it, you’re God’s gift to women.  Now you’ve finally managed to get one in your apartment and all of a sudden you’ve got a problem with my being here?  Is that what I’m hearing?”  Her voice was filled with contempt.
Seeing no obvious threat from the attractive woman, Gallagher relaxed a little and recovered something of his composure.  “Oh, no.  You’ve got it all wrong.  I’m always happy to welcome a pretty woman into my humble home.  I’m totally honored to have you here.”
“I bet you are.”
“Now what did you say your name was, sweetness?” Gallagher continued in the same honeyed tone of voice.
“I didn’t say, and it surely isn’t sweetness.”
“You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve in any way offended you,” Gallagher put on what he’d always considered his most dazzling smile.  “It was no doubt the abrupt appearance of such a vision of loveliness that momentarily caused me to forget my manners.  I completely failed to remember I was expecting company today.”
“You weren’t, but I’m here anyway.  And my name is Deirdre if that means anything at all to you.”
Gallagher pretended to search his memory.  “Deirdre, Deirdre.  Why no, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.” 
The woman paid no attention to Gallagher’s flattery but instead studied the neatly laid out lines that stretched before him.  “That’s certainly a lot of coke you’ve got there,” she remarked.
“I’ve plenty to share with a beautiful woman if that’s why you’ve come knocking.”  Gallagher reached across the tabletop to offer his guest the still rolled dollar bill.
“No thanks.  And I don’t think you should be giving it away like that.  You want to make sure you’ve got enough left to take care of Connor, don’t you?”
“Say what?”  Gallagher put the dollar back down and gave Deirdre a hard look.  “You know Connor?  What makes you think I’m going to share anything with that S.O.B.?”
“No, you’re not planning on sharing it with him.  What you want to do is plant it on him when he isn’t looking.”  Deirdre’s voice was even and almost unconcerned.  “Then you call the police with an anonymous tip and the next thing you know Connor is back in prison again.  That would make you so happy, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, bitch.”  Gallagher’ voice had lost its sugared tone.  His mouth tightened and his eyes grew hard.
“Oh, come on, playboy,” taunted Deirdre.  “You don’t want to ruin this for yourself, do you?  This is the big chance you’ve been waiting for.”
Gallagher was instantly suspicious.  “What shit are you talking now?”
“You’re always telling everyone who’ll listen what a big man you are with the women.”  Deirdre laughed in the man’s face.  “The truth, though, is that you couldn’t get laid in a five-dollar whorehouse.  Even that dummy Jocelyn has finally gotten wise.  There isn’t a woman in Brooklyn, or anywhere else in the city, that wants anything to do with a pissant like you.  All your talk about how well you do is just that – nothing but hot air.”
“I don’t need to listen to this.”  Gallagher slammed his fist down on the tabletop, not paying any attention to the loose cocaine that rose up in a cloud.  “You shut up right now and get the hell out of here.  I look again, I don’t want to see you sitting there.”
“Sure.  I’ll leave if that’s what you want.”  Deirdre paused.  “But if I go away now, you’ll never know how I learned you were planning to set up Connor.  Aren’t you even a little bit curious?”
“Was it Connor who put you up to this?” Gallagher demanded.  “Did he send you over here to shake me down?  Just wait till I get my hands on that bastard.”
Deirdre shook her head.  “Connor has no idea I’m here.  Right now he’s at the university talking to the staff and collecting his back pay for the time he put in on the experiment.  No, being here is all my own idea.”  Deirdre’s tone sharpened.  “Now, once more, do you want to know how I figured out what you were up to, or not?”
Gallagher sat back in his chair.   His expression slowly morphed into an evil grin as he regarded the woman opposite him.  He licked his lips.  “Ok, bitch, I’ll bite.  How did you find out what I was planning for my good buddy?”
Deidre looked across the room to where the TV sat.  As her eyes rested on it, the screen abruptly flickered on.  A grainy black & white video appeared onscreen.  It showed two men sitting alone talking in the back room of a rundown bar.  There was a pitcher of beer and two glasses on the wooden table at which they sat.
“Hey, neat trick.  How’d you do that?”    Gallagher forgot his anger as he picked up the remote and clicked it in the direction of the television set.  The cable box on top showed the channels changing but the picture remained the same.  “What show are we watching?”
“No use doing that,” said Deirdre as Gallagher continued to click the remote.  “It’s the same whichever way you turn.”
“So what are we looking at then?  Some new reality series?”
Deirdre laughed mirthlessly.  “You don’t know how right you are.  Except it’s a reality show from forty years ago.  Don’t you recognize the Rose of Shannon where you like to hang?  It looked just the same back then.  Even had the same bartender Igor working there.”
“Bullshit.  All they had on TV in those days were reruns of Star Trek and The Odd Couple.  They didn’t have any videocams back then.”
“This wasn’t shot with any movie camera.  It’s what you might want to call a ghostly manifestation.”  Deirdre pursed her lips and gave her best imitation of a child trick or treating on Halloween.  “Wooooooooooo.”
“Very funny.”  Gallagher sat back as he focused his attention on what he was seeing on the television screen.  “Your big problem there is that I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“That doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that we believe in you.”
Onscreen, the two men could be heard talking.  “Are you sure it’s pure?” asked one of them in an easygoing manner.  He was a big bear of a man with dark curly hair.
“Pure as snow,” replied the other smoothly.  He had an army-style crewcut and was wearing a sweat stained white tanktop that stretched obscenely over the paunch of his belly.  Despite the poor quality of the video, there was no hiding how repulsive the man’s face and body were.  His features were coarse and twisted, and his blotchy skin was everywhere discolored and covered with patches of dark hair.
“Does that ape look familiar to you?” Deirdre asked Gallagher.
 “Never saw him before.  And I’d remember if I had.”  Gallagher gave an exaggerated shiver.  “Man, what an ugly mother that guy is.”
“Take a closer look at him,” Deirdre urged.  “And yes, he certainly is one disgusting looking individual.  I agree with you there.”
Gallagher looked again at the TV and this time froze in his seat as recognition set in.  His face went white and his hands started to tremble.  “Oh, no, no.  It can’t be.”
“Oh, yes it is.  You know who he is now, don’t you?” Deirdre prompted him.
“This is some sort of trick you’re trying to pull, isn’t it?”
“It’s no trick, Gallagher.  That’s you in a prior life you’re looking at.  Yes, you.”
“In a prior life?  What the hell?  You’re trying to tell me I’m the… the reincarnation of that freaking horror?”  A touch of awe had entered Gallagher’s voice.  “But how is such a thing possible?  That damn gorilla doesn’t look like me.  He doesn’t even look human.”
“What difference does that make?  Johnny’s been dead a long time, may he rot in hell, but he’s you all right.  And on the inside, where it counts, you’re every bit as ugly as he is.”
“I still don’t understand what this is all about.  What’s going on here?”
“Like I told you, his name’s Johnny Hastings.  He was a two-bit drug dealer who sold bad shit all over the city.  And beyond.   Remember that brown acid they were warning everyone about in the Woodstock movie?  That was this monster’s work.”
“So what’s he doing here then?  It looks like he’s still dealing.”
“Yep.  He never learns; he’s pulling the same exact thing all over again.  Selling bad acid to my boyfriend Donny.  Just sit back and watch the creep at work.”
Back onscreen, the two waited until the much younger Igor had served them another pitcher of beer and returned to the bar.  Then Donny took out his wallet and counted out a few bills.  After handing them to Hastings, he received in return a small glassine envelope containing several tiny round pills.
“Those are supposed to be barrels of sunshine.  Unknown to my poor trusting Donny, though, this asshole cut them with strychnine so his customers would think they were getting off on tabs that had hardly any psychedelics in them at all.”
“That’s some screwed up shit all right,” said Gallagher, obviously impressed with Hastings’s idea.
“Yeah, that’s what he thought too.  Except he didn’t realize – or maybe he just didn’t care – that this time he’d put in so much strychnine that it made for a lethal dose.”
“You mean…?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Deirdre.  “What you’re watching here is an actual murder taking place right in front of your eyes.  That was the end of poor Donny, the love of my life.  He died the next day in agony in the emergency room.  I should know because I was sitting there at his side when he passed.”
“And this Hastings guy, did the cops ever nail him on a murder charge for the shit he pulled?”  Gallagher was still trying to make sense of what he’d seen.
“Let’s just say justice caught up with him in the end,” Deirdre said with grim finality.
The television screen suddenly went dark.
Gallagher wiped his brow.  “That’s some story,” he said.  “But what’s it got to do with me?  You don’t think you can have me put away for what that guy Hastings did to your boyfriend all those years ago, do you?  Just try it and watch the cops laugh at you.”
“The same cops who told the Pale Horsemen where to find the jerk who stole their cocaine?  Those gangbangers are awfully upset.  They’re out on the street looking for you.”
Gallagher jumped up.  “How do you know about that?”
“It doesn’t matter.  You were right the first time.  The police won’t be able to help me now any more than they could then.”  Deirdre gave a long drawn sigh and then turned serious.  “But something has got to be done before you hurt Connor.”
“Oh, you can forget about that.”  Gallagher, trying hard to get his nerve back, gave a weak laugh and sat back down.  “Connor is my buddy.  He and I, we’re thick as thieves.  This was a just a joke I was going to pull on him.”
“You put him in jail once, and now you’re set to do it again.  That’s no joke.”  Deirdre turned toward Gallagher.  “Something has got to be done,” she repeated.
Gallagher attempted to take control of the situation.  “Who the hell are you to come into my home and threaten me?  I don’t have to sit here listen to this for one more minute.  I watched your trick video stunt just to be polite, but I’m not falling for it.  I’m not that stupid.  That guy on the video wasn’t me no matter what you say.  You must have had me hypnotized to have got me believing something so ridiculous even for a minute.”
“No, there’s no mistake.  You’re Johnny come back again.  I checked the Health Department records to be certain.  You were born the same day he died in 1972.”
“So the ugly fucker is dead.  You said that before.  What happened to him?  Did he O.D. on his own bad shit?  Or did he just look in the mirror and die of fright when he saw that deformed face of his?”
Deirdre shook her head.
“Then one of his other customers must have done a number on him,” Gallagher guessed.  “A guy like that isn’t going to have many friends.”
Deirdre shook her head again.  “No, it wasn’t one of his customers who shot him.  Shot him once.  Straight through the heart.”
Gallagher tried to fight down the panic he felt building within him.  “Yeah?  For real?  Did they ever catch the guy who did it?”
“No.  I got away all right.”  Deirdre reached into her bag and pulled out a .22 revolver.  “I still have the gun.”
Gallagher began to rise from his seat, but Deirdre shot him before he was able to get to his feet.  The gun gave a sharp crack as it went off.
“Oh, shit,” said Gallagher.  He looked down in disbelief at the red stain spreading across the front of his shirt and then slumped to the floor.  Blood began to bubble from his mouth. 
Deirdre stood watching over Gallagher’s body until she was sure he was dead.  She put the gun on the table, turned, and walked out the front door without bothering to close it behind her.