Archive for the ‘Photo Essay’ Category

Signs of Life in New Orleans

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Pictured below and on this Flickr stream: incredible shots of signs taken from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

The sum total is a self-published book by Eric Harvey Brown and Lori Baker, Signs of Life, and one of our favorite modern mashups. It goes something like this: Someone, or many people, picks up a camera, OurHouse.jpg

finds a thread and through-line, uploads to Flickr, creates a book using a one-stop publishing shop like Lulu, sells it online to whoever’s interested, donates the proceeds to the source of the images when such a donation is appropriate, and gives out food and drink at a party to promote the book and/or cause where real people meet face to face. What’s better than that?Santa_NOLA.jpg

For our many readers in the tri-state area, that party is tonight, in Jersey City, at Bar Majestic, 6-8pm. More receptions follow later this fall. Click here for deets.

Strong Women

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

Words and images from an awesome world of female muscle
by Kristen Kaye

Iron Maidens: The Celebration of the Most Awesome Female Muscle in the World chronicles my real-life exploits plunging into the world of women’s bodybuilding as the playwright and director of a theatrical extravaganza featuring 25 of the world’s strongest and most muscular women at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom. My job was to turn the one-night-only “Celebration of the Most Awesome Female Muscle in the World” into a high art happening that exalted women’s strength in both the physical and intellectual realms.

Although I was too naïve and young (23) to worry that I had only six weeks, little budget, and wouldn’t see the performers until two days before the show, I did start to get a bit concerned when I realized that my adaptations of writers like Alice Walker were going to follow skits like the “White Lace Affair,” featuring a smoke machine and a bodybuilder in a white lace thong bikini. I also began to wonder what, exactly, was the nature of female strength anyway? Could Alice Walker and the “White Lace Affair” come one right after the other? We would soon find out.

There was so much I didn’t know: for instance, the controversy over judging women’s bodies that threatens to split the sport in two (is it better to have muscles big and hard, or soft and feminine?); the effects of steroids (not good!); and what it’s like to wrestle men for a living (more common than you might think-and so readily available on video). But with performance night fast approaching there was no time to reconcile the tangle of contradictions-the show must go on. And on it went, evolving into the most complex, unbelievable expression of female strength I’d ever seen. Here are some excerpts from the book and images from the night of the show.

All photos by Bjorg Magnea. Captions by Kristin Kaye.

Linda Wood-Hoyte as Cleopatra posing with Marc Antony
On trying to plan the show:
“I lay back on my bed trying to imagine how the whole thing would turn out. I pictured a single spotlight on a black-clad actress reciting an Alice Walker poem. Then I saw Norman Rockwell’s poster of that scrawny little boy standing before a Mr. Atlas poster and wondered what image we could use for a girl. Was there one? A nice little homey scene, a bedroom, cozy lighting, a girl longing to have muscles, in front of her mirror? Should we start the show with that?”

Christa Bauch as the “Ice Princess”
On finding the essence of female bodybuilders:
“If I had to help these women offer the essence of their being and express the true voice of female power, then I first had to find it. Without actually seeing them until just before the show, I had to get each interviewee to reveal an aspect of herself that even she rarely glimpsed over the phone. I’d gotten the idea for the question I asked them from my conversation with [the show's producer] when she explained that I had to help the women transmit the magic of their femaleness. The question: ‘What is your femaleness?’ ”

Paula Suzuki in “Control”
Bodybuilder Dawn Whitham on “femaleness”:
“Everyone thinks having muscles destroys your femininity. My muscles make me hot. But femaleness and strength is not just a physical thing. It’s a combination. Mostly it’s just something you are. I’m very independent, smart, and business-like. I have a career. I’m a personal trainer. I can bench 400 pounds and fix my own car. I also ride a Harley. Sexy things and the mind can go together too.”

Hannie Van Aken as a “Biker”
On an oft-heard performance theme:
“Hot. She wanted to be hot. Who was I to say that wasn’t her true inner nature? What was I supposed to do as a director? Make her hotter? Advise for red lighting rather than pink? I didn’t know what to do. Wasn’t I supposed to come up with new images of female strength?”

Karla Nelson as “Miss America”
On the dilemma of the perfect female muscular physique:
“One hundred pounds and 500 cc breast implants later (giving her about a D-cup), Dawn found herself placing well in competitions, but outside the Top 5. Judges told her that her look was perfect, but her breasts were too big. She would fight with them about what the right size of breasts was, exactly, and found that flat-chested and big-breasted women alike were not considered winning material. Neither was considered an example of perfect symmetry.”

Doughdee Marie and Fritz perform a duet
On trying to plan the show:
“Standing before my show chart with 20 spots empty and five filled-White Lace Affair, Red Riding Hood, Biker Chick, Stripping Miss America, Lifter-I began to wonder was this really the voice of female power? Did stripping constitute strength? Could men be in the show, even if they did get beat up?”

Thea Bennington as “The Godfather”
Bodybuilder Dawn Whitham on reactions from others:
“A part of her got off on the attention-whether positive or negative-because at the end of the day she never wanted to be the person in the crowd whom nobody noticed. Most of the time she could hack it, but there were days when, say, she just wanted to go to the Stop ‘n’ Shop and get some half-and-half for her coffee, when a person with an ‘Oh my god, look at her!’ would tick her off. ‘I don’t get pissed about what I’ve done to my body. I get pissed about how unintelligent people can be reacting to it. You’d think by now the world could accept that everybody is different, but people are afraid to be different. At least allow others the freedom to push their own boundaries.’ ”

Colleene Colley setting a national lifting record at the show
On what it was like competing as a girl:
“Colleene had been a pioneer competing against boys at the age of 15 in 1980 in Georgia. She beat them, but felt guilty because she knew they were humiliated to be beaten by a girl. She started training with weights to make herself stronger for basketball, but found she had a natural gift for lifting, a gift that wasn’t nurtured at her own school. She had to go to a gym 23 miles away to train because when she went into the weight room at her high school, the boys’ weightlifting coach eyed her and warned, ‘I hope you don’t plan on lifting any weight.’ By 1993, Colleene had already won ten national titles and three world championships.’ ”

Paula Suzuki in “Control”
On seeing a group of female bodybuilders:
“One look at the group and you saw people reveling in being reunited. A second look, and you saw mythic images of strength. Literally larger than life, they seemed untouchable, powerful in being exceptions to the rule. Yet look again, and you saw the hint of nervous girlishness that lingered in their ever-ready smiles and eyes that quickly scanned each other’s bodies; you could have mistaken the scene for a high school bathroom on prom night.”

Millie Carter as herself
On industry reaction to female bodybuilders:
“To say female bodybuilders have “enjoyed” exposure might not be exactly accurate. Industry magazines and webzines have had a history of confusing female muscle with sexuality. In the August 2002 issue of the prominent bodybuilding magazine Muscular Development, Colette Nelson, the then two-time U.S. champion, was featured in an article called ‘Extreme Sex.’ The writer wanted to know what her favorite position was and whether anything was ‘off limits, like her ass.’ He also confirmed that Colette had a ‘hot, phat body primed for either pumping up or porking or both.’ Not all articles have such a provocative slant, but when journalists aren’t extolling the virtues of female muscle, they tend to debate its value.”

Paula Suzuki in “Control”
On fans at competitions:
“Crowds gather at bodybuilding competitions for the same reason that crowds gather at any other kind of event where something unique is on display: to view fine specimens that have been cultivated to rarefied levels. At the National Physique Committee Nationals in Miami in 2003, competitors could just as easily have been a fine porcelain dish at an antique auction or a cat in a cat show or a horse at the track. The crowd exhibited the same zeal for competition, obsession with sporting details, and passion for judging fairness. But instead of shiny, fluffy coats on cats with a refined skeletal structure or one-of-a-kind pieces of old china from a special collection with only a few remaining pieces in the world, bodybuilding fans happen to think perfectly proportioned bodies with exquisitely large and delineated muscles are next to godliness.”

Gabriella Szikszay as the “Egyptian Princess”
On female bodybuilding bonding:
“They were no longer anomalies toiling away alone in the world. Instead, there was a palpable sense of relief and jubilation in being united with others like themselves—and not under the mantle of a competition. Together, they were celebratory victors of their daily small battles with dieting and lifting that weight one more time, while wondering if they look like what the judges want and suffering people’s stares and remarks. Together, these women were a mighty clan.”

The Bryant Park Portrait Project

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Go figure. I was talking about how hard it can be to define “personal media” with SMITH writer and newest blogger Kathy Ritchie in NYC’s Bryant Park. I was saying something like, “I know it when I see it,” when personal media came to us in the form of a guy asking if he could take our picture. If you’re Kathy who has heard, “Did anyone every tell you you look like Angelina Jolie,” so often it makes her lips burn, this is not an unusual occurrence. If you’re me, unless I happen to be getting, say, married, the camera does not find its way to me with such enthusiasm.Bryant_Park_photo.jpg

Shoot away, dude, we said, and wondered: What’s your story?

Meet David Zimand, a working portrait and fashion photographer and creator of a Flickr stream featuring portraits of people he spots in Bryant Park. Every day, he explained, he takes intimate photos of people in Bryant Park and posts them here. So far, a little more than 70 people have clicked through to see the photo of the striking blond women who leads his photo set. To find Kathy and I—we need more clickthroughs immediately, friends!—scroll over to page 4 of his set of what’s now about 200 shots. Hint: Kathy’s the one who defies Dorothy Parker’s maxim that “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

FOUND photos in Laporte, Indiana

Friday, March 24th, 2006

Jason Bitner is the co-creator of Found, the on and offline show-and-tell project of lost and tossed items. He also edits Dirty Found, the X-rated version of the project.

Click here to go straight to the photos.
Click here to buy the book.

“The collection reads like an incredibly beautiful census, with expertly lit faces replacing biographical data.”

The highway from my home in Chicago to LaPorte, Indiana, hugs the southeastern edge of Lake Michigan. Heading away from Chicago’s landmark skyscrapers, you soon pass the rundown high-rises of the South Side, bypass the smokestacks and casinos of Hammond and Gary, Indiana, and exit near the scenic Michigan City, Indiana.


The roads become smaller and more affected by the quiet rolls of pastureland and the out-of-place vineyard. You’ll pass a small airport, some garage sales and cigarette stores, and a few horses. You’ll cross the train tracks, which supplied this former vacation destination with visitors from Chicago. And before long, Lake Michigan and her surrounding sandy dunes will be left in the rearview mirror, and a smallish Midwestern town will appear near the edge of South Pine Lake.

A few years back, I got wind of the LaPorte County Fair and its legendary demolition derby. Legendary like your ears will ring until Monday and you might get lucky and see a super-sized man booty-dancing on the roof of his broke-down station wagon. Not to mention this very fair has brought people together each year since 1836-before radio, before my grandparents were born, and even before the California Gold Rush. With this in mind, a friend and I drove out toward the fairgrounds early on a beautiful Saturday morning to guarantee some tickets for the evening’s show.

When heading to LaPorte, you use the monstrous overpass (built to ensure that 18 wheelers would have an efficient in-and-out of the city), and drive by the monumental courthouse designed by Chicago’s acclaimed city planner, Daniel Burnham, in 1894. If you stop by the local historical society situated behind the courthouse, you might learn about the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, the local munitions factory, which produced a huge number of shells for World War II. You might come across early farming equipment and the re-creation of a settler’s parlor room, and you might learn that LaPorte, “the door,” was so named because its prairie land allowed an easy passage to the new frontier, the West.

Traveling into town on the sleepy thoroughfare, we decided to stop for a quick bite at B & J’s American Café, a classic old diner complete with an enormous counter, local gossip and friendly teens taking orders. Checking the menu, I noticed the cinnamon roll requires an extra fifteen minutes, and if a menu item asks for additional time, it must be a specialty. We ordered three and spent a few minutes watching people come and go.

As we sipped coffee at the counter and reviewed the LaPorte Herald-Argus, I noticed a couple of beautiful 5″ x 7″ black and white photos taped to the pie case. The paper was slightly yellowed and showing a few signs of wear, but these amazing portraits were from an entirely different era.

A couple years back, I helped create a show-and-tell project of discovered notes and photographs called Found Magazine. People from around the world sent us their discoveries, from lost and forgotten love letters to extensive and exhausting lists, from Polaroids to classroom notes-anything that gives a peek into another person’s life.

Sometimes a find comes as a loaded 20-word missive and other times we’ll receive an entire journal detailing an extended family’s history. Our intention is to see how people’s worlds are often very different in specifics-race and class and ability to spell-but also how we share similar emotions and difficulties and joys. Oftentimes all we know is our own world, and we can easily forget about lives that don’t directly impact our own.

After tens of thousands of submissions, I’ve grown accustomed to receiving these wonderful and unexpected finds in my mailbox, and every once in a while there’s a treasure in the alley behind my apartment. As the project brings dozens of to-do lists, missives from angry neighbors, and break-up notes to us each week, I’ve learned where to look for the prized keepers.

Nothing I’ve seen since the project began, however, could match the scale of what I was about to happen upon in the diner.

I asked the waitress about the photos and she pointed toward a door leading to an unused dining area. The near side of the room was reserved for rolling silverware into paper napkins, while the back of the room housed two large metal shelving units holding 22 cardboard boxes. These boxes were stuffed with stacks and stacks of photos, all with remarkably similar characteristics. Initially, I guessed we were looking at 2000-3,000 photos, though I’d later hand count nearly 18,000 of these beauties.

“Find a family member! Photos $.50 each-or-$5.00 for a packet,” stated a small sign to the right of the shelves. Before us stood a nearly complete archive documenting the townspeople of mid-century LaPorte for sale-cheap!-in a quiet room of a local eatery. We rifled through an entire town’s population, as if it were a card catalog, a huge visual archive of Midwestern faces that were being unloaded two-for-a-dollar.

Diner owner John Pappas grew up in the building; he and his wife Billie passed along the details.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, the building’s second floor was home to Muralcraft Studios. Frank and Gladys Pease made their living by crafting kid’s photos, anniversary shots, senior portraits, engagement announcement pictures, and portraits for any event that called for a formal sitting. Frank photographed, while Gladys took care of the administrative end of the business and helped clients look their best for this special occasion.

A typical client would climb a long set of stairs, enter a small waiting area and be greeted by Gladys. After taking their coats, she would lead the subjects to either the men’s or women’s dressing room, and sit them before a mirror. Makeup might be applied, hair combed, ties adjusted, teeth checked for spinach. When everything looked satisfactory, they would head down a short hallway to greet Frank.

The back half of the space housed the studio, darkroom, and a storage area for props and the especially large lighting equipment. Pease shot with a medium-format camera (a few of the negatives still exist) and once he established his technique, he never wavered from the look; sitters’ hair and clothing styles changed over time, though the art direction never budged. This was not ego-driven work-Pease simply offered himself as a skilled photographer for hire and put clients’ needs before his own. Clearly he viewed his photography as a trade or a craft instead of an art form.

The photos that follow were never intended as final prints; rather these are proofs that were shipped to clients so they could determine which shot was most becoming, would look best on the mantle, or would be the most flattering to send to loved ones across the country. As clients were offered black and white or hand-colored final images, handwritten notes detailing the color of eyes, hair, and clothing mark the backs of these proofs to ensure eyes weren’t mistakenly tinted blue rather than hazel.

After running Muralcraft for decades, Frank Pease passed away in the early 1970s. Prior to his death, Pease kindly donated his photo equipment to the local high school (and it’s likely that some of the younger subjects honed their darkroom skills on the very enlarger of their first portrait) and the proofs were all left in the studio. These photos sat in storage for over 20 years, until Billie and John opened their restaurant in the early nineties. For the past decade, these photos have been quietly sitting for sale in their back room, along with a few remainders of the lighting setup, while the Muralcraft studio has been renovated into a spacious apartment.

So we hunkered down on the floor, picked up a few stacks of photos and were instantly transfixed. Flipping through the pictures, we discovered an enormous visual survey of the Midwest a generation back. These faces staring back conjured family members, close friends, distant acquaintances-even Hollywood glamour shots. The collection reads like an incredibly beautiful census, with expertly lit faces replacing biographical data. By carrying on with his commercial photo business practice, Pease unwittingly created an enormous and compelling historical document. He became an accidental historian.

We ordered our second meal and kept digging. Halfway through the first box, I’d already committed to somehow taking in each of the 18,000 photos. It’s addicting, and overwhelming, and you don’t just come across something this incredible and soon forget about it. Three boxes into the process, I decided to spend a week straight in the back room of B & J’s, sipping coffee, reading the local paper, and selecting a couple hundred of my favorites to share.

I discovered it’s real easy to become image-fatigued when handling hundreds of photos each day; this kind of repetition leads to excitement for oddballs and more peculiar photos. I tried to steer clear of this kind of sensationalism when choosing photos for this book. The pictures that follow are organized and ordered, though the themes may not always be obvious.

Pease became a stenographer of LaPorte. He surely didn’t intend on a life as a cultural secretary, but his career and his work have gained an importance beyond that of each individual image. For a single anniversary photo holds a little historical value, but a collection this vast, spanning over a generation will certainly hold greater cultural value.

And that the collection should come from LaPorte-the door, the entryway-well, the metaphor is almost embarrassingly obvious. Come take a peek at the Midwest in the 1950s and 60s.

Reprinted with permission from LaPorte, Indiana (Princeton Architectural Press).

Kathy and Hugh Tonagel posing for their engagement photo. Photographer Frank Pease reminded the young couple that the portrait would visually represent their engagement, which may account for their intense eye-lock. He tried to impress up them the gravity of the situation-and take the moment seriously. The Tonagels are still married and have four children, great basketball players, we hear. Hugh works at the 4-H, while Kathy works at the local hospital and is a great cook.

This one’s such sweet and intimate portrait, and one of the few truly candid moments found in the Pease archive. I love the distant gaze coupled with the bad toupee. We’ve heard rumors that the man on the left headed off to join the circus-no kidding-but we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of this one.

Patty Sallwasser still lives in LaPorte and works as a mortgage officer When she saw her photo, she exclaimed, “That’s my purple polka-dot dress, that’s me! My mom cut my hair; she made the dress. I remember that I chose the fabric.”

Garry Lenard lives and works in LaPorte as a dental supply salesman. His signature buzzcut earned him the nickname “Burrhead,” which he still answers to around town. “I’ve always had short hair. Maybe in college [it was longer]. I think all of us went through a phase with the Beatles. That was the big thing. And now if you look at the Beatles, they never even really had long hair.” He is now married with three kids.

David VanSchoyck’s brother Dewayne tells us David died at age 9. “We used to have our photos taken every year,” Dewayne said.

Matching outfits sometimes aren’t a great idea, but these twins pull off the look in a warm and charming fashion. There’s something so sweet about older twins who still match. This is Lily (Ahlgrim) Baker and Rose (Ahlgrim) Scherer-twin sisters who lived on Weller Avenue; Lily had one son, Billy, and Rose had one daughter, Jeanette.

Robert Charles Ewald graduated LaPorte High in 1952, where he was a member of the band; he later formed the Bobby Charles Band, and now lives in Minnesota.

Pease captures this LaPortean’s cosmopolitan style, somewhere between a flight attendant and a Bond Girl. This is Dale (Horne) Lehner who graduated LaPorte High in 1971; Her father managed the local JC Penny, and is remembered as a “a very good student and a very happy, kind, friendly classmate.” She now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What’s this big guy’s story? No one knows. But each week I hear from more and more folks from LaPorte, Indiana who see themselves in the pages of this book, get in touch, and fill in the blanks of the past 50 years. And when that happens this story of LaPorte, Indiana-a story I so randomly stumbled upon a few years ago-becomes just a little be better told.

Beautiful Pregnant Women

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

Part I: The Photos of Jennifer Maya Luz Pliego
Part II: My photos: It’s Not a Preggers Fetish, I Swear
Contest: Do you have a memorable pregnancy story? SMITH and the delicious pickle maker Rick’s Picks invite you to share your tale of this time in your life in 100 words or less. You don’t need a bun in the oven at this moment, just at some point in your life (and a photo to prove it). Three grand prize winners will be featured on a nationally distributed line of pickles, the aptly named Slices of Life—“the pickle of pregnancy.” Seven runners-up will win a Rick’s Picks Pregnancy Pack and a copy of our new book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. Enter here!

Jennifer Maya Luz Pliego is a half Mexican, half Jewish, fully lovely New York City-based photographer. She is a contributor to Heyoka magazine.

For seven years, Jennifer Maya Luz Pliego has been photographing women in various stages of pregnancy. As both a mid-wife and massage therapist, Jennifer’s view of the female body is intimate, unique and engaged. Here she presents her photos and her own subjects’ words from a series she calls “Dar a Luz,” or “Bring to Light.”

Aline and Sergio, 2004
This time has been about me, but also about my family. In so many ways it is about them: my parents and Ricardo’s parents. They are overwhelmingly happy, so it makes whatever discomforts I feel, whatever fears that I harbor or whatever insecurities I have, fade.

Of course, we are happy too, but for us it is more complicated — for our parents it is just this big party and that helps us to stay strong as we step up and into our new role as parents.

Birgit and Maxine, 2001
Every time I think about motherhood I have a different thought. There are so many levels. It is so simple and so complex. It is both the hardest, most underpaid job I’ve ever had and the most wonderful job I’ve ever had.

Pregnancy is just the beginning of the experience. In a sense, it is the closest I will ever be with my child and yet I can’t wait to meet her and watch her be an individual. I await all the changes that come with that: her needing me and not needing me and letting that be a part of the job.

Diana, Canyon and Skylar, 2001
I am having problems with my husband. He has not been present at all during the pregnancy. He had strong feelings about it and so did I. I don’t know what will happen with him, but I am determined to have a good life — with or without him.

I am in school and will continue part time even after the baby is born. I am lucky, Skylar has been great. She is so grown up for her age. I sometimes feel badly for this; she has so much responsibility for such a young person. I try to be there for her and will continue to after Canyon is born, but there is only so much a child can handle, so I hope things stabilize soon.

Delphin, Tom and Daniel, 2003
I can’t believe I am carrying a child. The events that have happened since I came to the US from France have happened so quickly. I was working as a nanny in Westchester and I met Danny at a party there. He wasn’t looking for love and neither was I, but when we met….

I feel so fortunate. Sometimes, I think it is a dream; this can’t be my life. I have such a wonderful husband and we are both so happy to have this child. I’ve been lucky, we’ve been lucky, to find each other and to begin this life together. It is a new life for both of us. A life that neither one of us ever thought that we would have.

Hilde and Paris, 2003
The feeling of life kicking inside of me put so many things into perspective. I learned about a new kind of love; it is a love and a bond with something that is not fully formed.

As my body changed, I was surprised how good I felt about those changes. I had anticipated feeling restrained, heavy and confined — in a state of inertia. I had prepared myself for that space, so when it wasn’t like that, it was so easy — pure gravy!

I am able to listen to my body in a new way and accept the changes that occurred as a natural part of the process. I get new cues from my baby every day. You have to be flexible; the process can’t be changed. It is happening in my body. It is a mind-boggling miracle.

Kate and Gareth, 2004
Pregnancy is fascinating, but it is almost impossible to describe. I can explain it through sensation—like the memory of the skin over my belly stretching in the third trimester or how good and how strange it feels when Matt touches my belly, especially now that I’m so close to term. When he touches me and the baby, several things come to mind: it is like through his touch, I can be more aware of our child, too, and I love that feeling of closeness, and then that it is a transition that will be finished soon. We will move into another kind of life together.

I love my belly now—I never thought I would feel this way. It has always been a source of anxiety, a measure of my beauty, a reference to my weight, etc…. Now, as I gaze at my navel, it is not about me any more. There is a whole other presence developing inside. I’ve learned to love my stomach. It is a source of joy.

Rachel and Henry, 2003
Whatever job I had before, even though I enjoyed what I was doing, I could never really commit to it because I knew that I wanted to be a mother. Now that I am a mother, I feel complete. I am totally fulfilled. I am even happier that I get to share parenthood with a partner that I love.

Pregnancy for me is an incredibly personal experience. I don’t share that with my husband even though he is every involved. I am aware that this is happening inside of my body and that gives me a unique experience. This part is insular. I feel that it is private. I have always taken good care of myself and felt like I was important, but in pregnancy this is vital. I am important in a different way. I am the vessel for this child.