Archive for November, 2007

Be Your Own Superhero

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

JahFurryLogo.jpgHere’s what I’d get SMITH’s comics editor Jeff Newelt, aka JahFurry, for the holidays if I were a rich man: a personalized superhero story for his apartment wall, which would have to be called “The Adventures of JahFurry.” According to a story in T Magazine, the artist Loren Kreiss has started a hyper-cool business aimed at the lux, geek set (JahFurry and I have the “geek” part down). Kreiss does extensive interviews with his subject, writes a narrative story about that person’s life, and then tells the story in larger-than-life comic form (or has another artist illustrate it if Kreiss feels his style isn’t right for the subject). The result is a comic starring you on your very own wall. Total time: about six months. Total bill: $10,000 and up. But man would you have a super story to tell.

This Quarter Life

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

The simultaneous debut of a social networking site and fictional MySpace-broadcast show, quarterlife, is a funny moment in the personal media space. The show’s a soap opera, much like a lot of social networking, and at once a genius and appalling idea. The L.A. Times is disappointed so far in how the creators have explored the medium. “Apart from and the already hoary dodge of creating MySpace profiles for their fictional characters (all of whom sadly have kept ‘Tom’ as their top friend),” writes Robert Lloyd, [the creators] have done nothing to explore or exploit the peculiarities of their new-media medium.” In the first episode, a raven-haired thing named Dylan (shocking name choice, we know) offers her thoughts on blogging. “What is a blog?” she asks rhetorically. “Why do we blog? We blog to exist. Therefore we …. we are idiots.” Well put.

What’s your quarter-life crisis? Does it look anything like this video below?

Inside, Out: The Self-Portraits of Guillermo Riveros

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Go to the Photos

Guillermo Riveros isn’t afraid of a little T and A—especially if it’s his A. His series Corrupta is an examination of gender identity with Guillermo as the star of every shot. The images are jarring, even disturbing—seemingly shot with zero hesitation. Images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ can be found in Corrupta and throughout his other work, which is often intensely sexual and occasionally quite violent. But don’t get the wrong idea. Guillermo, a 25-year-old illustration student at Manhattan’s Parsons The New School for Design and transplant from Bogota, Columbia, isn’t some sexually repressed kid who was raised by his overly strict Catholic mother (though he does concede that his time at a parochial high school might have pushed him to work in more aggressive ways, and that may explain his interpretation of these beloved childhood characters). What fascinates this rising star is the relationships and perceptions that exist between what he calls subcultures (a la drag queens) and the more “moderate” culture.

Corrupta is currently on display at Bogota’s Museum of Modern Art and the Santa Fe Gallery, which is part of the Bogota Planetarium. Guillermo talked to SMITH about body fluids, changing perceptions, and his mini-celeb status back home. —Kathy Ritchie

When did you start taking pictures?
I began taking pictures when I was in my second year in college—that was back in 2001. I graduated from an art school in Bogota and then I came here to study illustration.

What kind of camera are you using?

I use a Kodak P880. It’s a professional digital camera.

How’s photography going so far as a career?
I think its very interesting. I have a very specific subject mater, which limits me in terms of commercial work. But I think it’s great. I walk through the city looking for more opportunities to show my work. I’ve done well in my city, but there’s not a lot of public for this kind of work, this subject matter.

What is Corrupta all about?

The series was made for an event that is currently going on in Bogota. I was invited to participate in this event at the beginning of year, and began working on the series in March. It’s a take on a previous work—I was working with body fluids. I tried to take some of those ideas and [incorporate them into] the photographs.

The series is quite jarring. It’s very sexual, very violent—what’s the reaction you’re trying to elicit?
I’m always looking for various reactions. I like when people are shocked by my work, then discovering the aesthetic values in an image they see, and hopefully they change their mind. It has happened before, and I really love when they have that kind of reaction. At first, they might feel threatened by the image; when they get closer to it, they start liking it.

You call yourself the “protagonist” in your own photographs. So what story are you trying to tell?
I’m putting myself in these photographs as an anonymous body and every time I recreate these kind of characters, I’m making myself the star of each story—it resembles in a miniature way how this whole dynamic of gender identity construction happens; so it’s about the conflicts, what’s going on around [the characters], the way they are dressed. In Corrupta, especially, I constructed symbols around them because I wanted to use the body fluid as the symbol.

What are the fluids symbolic of?
They’re symbolic of what the body rejects. The body fluids are symbolic of what the body needs to release, what’s disposable. They also become a metaphor for people who feel outside of society, who are kind of disposable—or not quite disposable, but rejected outsiders.

Since you’re the star of your own photographs, who’s taking the pictures?
For most pictures, I set up camera and use the timer.

Wow, you’re good.
I’ve been practicing for a long time. I’ve been working on a series of self-portraits, just building up everything so far for sometime; I trained myself to do it. But in some cases it’s too difficult, like for example the vomit pictures; I needed help, so my boyfriend helped me take the picture. That one, and the one on the grass (Orines).

What’s the funniest or strangest thing that’s happened to you while you were working?

Orines is the first exterior I had ever done. I always shot inside a house or a room or a set that I built. This one I was outside in the field and it was really hard because I was just wearing a thong and high heels and wig, and my boyfriend was helping me take the pictures and there were people moving around us, there were people staring, and the grass was filled with ants and they were biting my feet. And every time my boyfriend was taking the picture, I still have to go back to the camera and see how it’s looking—I have full control of everything. It was funny, I got my heels stuck on the grass, almost fell. I had to run back and forth and we had very strict time restriction because I wanted a very high yellow sunset sun, it gives you less than an hour to work. We were laughing the whole time.

What makes a good image to you?
I would say something that makes you have a reaction and gives you thoughts after. I think that’s basically what you want in an image.

Your work is incredibly provocative. That being said, what do you consider off-limits?
I don’t think I have anything that’s off limits. I tend not to be politically correct in that sense. I don’t censor myself at all.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Pierre et Gilles; David LaChapelle; John Waters; Pedro Almodovar; James Bidgood; Cindy Sherman; Yasumasa Morimura; Anthony Goicolea; Austin Young

What’s your six-word memoir?
Quiero ser el rey de todo. Which translates to: I want to be the king of everything.

Click on photos to enlarge; mouseover for previous and next.

Back Home From Iraq: Soldiers’ Stories

Monday, November 12th, 2007

vet_cartoonjpg.jpgIn honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I’d mention some highlights from some of the work I’m most proud of at SMITH, Michael Slenske’s outstanding Back Home From Iraq series. For the past 18 months, Slenske has engaged some of the United States’ most controversial, interesting, and intense vets in long conversations about their time serving in Iraq—and their life back home. In his most recent interview, Slenske talks to Cpl. Jacob Schick, a 24-year-old machine gunner who served with the 1/23rd Marines, Bravo Company, and one of the soldiers profiled in HBO’s Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq. (A soldier’s “alive day” is the day they barely escaped death on the battlefield.). Earlier this year, Slenske’s talked to Todd Bowers, a Marine reservist whose slideshow, Iraqi Graffiti, is a look at the war unlike any I bet you’ve seen, John Bruhns, the winner of a MoveOn video contest, and soldier-turned-playwright Sean Huze. They are just of few among many other colorful characters with personal, unpredictable war stories to tell, all of whom SMITH has been honored to showcase.

Vet cartoon via Flickr user goeatsmsht.

To Do

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Well, it’s Monday again. Here are some things on my week’s To Do List: 1) Blog on SMITH (check). 2) Turn in three articles by Wednesday. 3)Have friends over for Project Runway. Usually my list stays privately scrawled in my notebook, but when I post it online instead, it tells a little story about my life. Already we’ve learned that I’m a writer, a procrastinator, and a geek. Riveting stuff, eh?

Sasha “Quirkyalone” Cagen has gathered hundreds of lists far more fascinating than mine into a fun little book that tells personal stories in bite-size bits of information. What could be SMITHier?

Here’s a video about her process:

And here are some things to add to your to-do list, if you happen to be both a New Yorker and a memoir fiend like me:

1) The Best Memoirists Pageant Ever will take place at The Bowery Poetry Club, NYC on Saturday, November 24th, starting at 3:00 PM. Come on out and hear true stories by writers with recently completed memoirs or memoirs-in-progress including Memoirville’s own fabulous Kim Brittingham.

2) What’s True, What’s Not? Redefining the Memoir, A Panel Discussion Sponsored by Women’s National Book Association, NYC Chapter on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 from 6-8pm at the Center for Independent Publishing; 20 West 44th Street.

Naturally Disasterous

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

This week’s question:

Floods, fires, tornadoes—ever have a run-in with a natural disaster?

Next week’s question:
Giving thanks can give you an ulcer. What was your worst experience at the family holiday table?

Meta, Money and Michael Scott

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Gosh, isn’t alliteration fun? I think so.

Anyway, if you’re into Internet video, there’s really only one news story that mattered this week, the Hollywood writer’s strike, because a lot of the issues that led to the strike come down to the Internet and the question of how studios and networks will use the series of tubes to make money — and how they will not pay the writers any of said money. And of course the ironic thing is that the writers have then been putting videos of themselves striking up on the Internet. For free. (Writers are a weird bunch.) Here’s one of those videos, with some of the writers/cast of The Office talking about their experiences creating Internet-only content for NBC.

Family secrets

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Most families have secrets. Mine is certainly no exception. Of course, secrets are hard to keep. You hear bits and pieces—gossip, fragmented memories from a long time ago, whispers—and then you’re left to fill in the blanks, ultimately coming up with your own (often misinformed) version of events.

Such was the case here—sort of, but this story has a happy ending and I just love that.

More than a decade ago, author Bliss Broyard learned her father, New York Times book critic and essayist Anatole Broyard, harbored a secret:

“Your father is part black,” her mother, Alexandra, blurted out to Ms. Broyard and her brother, Todd, when their father couldn’t muster the words.

Broyard tells The New York Times that she thought she was like every other WASP living a posh life in a posh part of Connecticut. She says that she attributed her father’s olive complexion and dark hair color to his French ancestry (an earlier Times article about the book states that Broyard had a feeling that there was more to her father’s story). Although his secret hardly seems like a big deal today, it certainly was when Mr. Broyard decided to keep the fact that his parents were Creoles on the DL.

His secret also meant something else that went beyond skin color: Family, alive and well, living in New Orleans. In the early 90’s, Broyard, the daughter, decided to write her family’s story (now titled, “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets.”) so she packed up and moved down to The Big Easy where she found other Broyards in the phone book.

In fact, many cousins who convened at the family get-together last month had known about Ms. Broyard and her father long before she contacted them. Even though they kept his secret, they talked about him among themselves. Anatole Broyard had been their high-achieving superstar. Occasionally, a Broyard aunt would clip one of his reviews and pass it around town.

Ms. Broyard learned the Creole word for the way her father had lived: passablanc. To this day virtually all Creoles are related to or at least know people who have tried to better their prospects by abandoning family and denying any black heritage to pass as white.

“‘That’s my cousin’ was something you often said in a whisper,” Jennifer Broyard, 51, a Creole audiologist, said.

You can read the entire Times piece here or you can dish your family’s secrets.

Is There a Nurse in the House?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

189816757_ff0520bb94_m.jpgI’ve got a thing for this nurse. Nope, she’s not one of the many “sexy nurses” who paraded through my neighborhood this past Halloween, but the real deal—and since September she’s been blogging at My Midlife Nursing School Adventures, the tales of a 46-year-old nursing student. This sharp and funny nurse-in-training mixes insider stories about brain surgery with revealing details of day-to-day life (yeah, you do get used to the smell of pee), with a few shots of old-fashioned school girl gossip. All of it from the perspective of a brassy woman who’s seen more in life than most of her much younger classmates, yet is still seeing nursing school through the same virgin eyes as her peers. Her most recent post includes a list of medical terms that describe everyday events and situations. Such as:

bezoar - I have a hair ball
dysgeusia - everything tastes funny
dysmenorrhea - My periods are horrible
epistaxis - My nose is bleeding. AAAAHHH! MY NOSE IS BLEEDING!!
hematuria - there’s blood in my pee
hirsutism - I am a woman with a moustache
menometrorrhagia - I bleed like a stockyard hog
pectus excavatum - I’m a dude who’s chest is caved in instead of out and therefore I never take my shirt off in public
piloerection - I’m so scared that my hair is standing on end

As a blogger, she’s a natural, mixing her personal experience with the macro world of nursing school, and peppering her posts with playful photos and comics. Here’s hoping she turns into an RN who’s just as good. And if you like stories about people in wild professions and/or unusual situations in life, check out the SMITH Diaries, currently featuring the diary of a working dominatrix in New York City.

Classic nurse from Flickr user kafkan.

Break it Down: The World in 100 Words or Less

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

snacks.jpg Sad but probably true: if you wanted to launch The New Yorker today, you probably couldn’t get it funded. So we’re in a bit of a pickle. Long-form storytelling is a tough proposition online, and magazines are increasingly in trouble in a culture where information wants to move fast and the notion of waiting 30 days for the new issue of Esquire to arrive seems more and more antiquated each month.

I’m not sure if a new web site called Brijit is good or bad for storytelling. Something like The Week meets DIGG, the site boils down best long-form content (magazine, TV, radio) into abstracts of 100 words or less, “providing busy, omnivorous, and increasingly mobile readers with rich, qualitative summaries as well as better guideposts for what to read, watch or listen to now.” And, naturally, the abstracts are done by a community of freelancers who earn between $5-$8 per entry. So then what? Will these 100-word dangles delight us to read the whole piece? Or will readers be satiated with a series of 100-word snacks?

Photo credit: Flickr user M0les

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