September 2008


 

Yes, this video is admittedly campy and slap stick; but I just find the whimsy of it funny. Superkunk portrays history the way John Waters might.

Dr. Fred Burnham, former director of Trinity Institute in lower Manhattan, recalls his experiences of September 11, 2001 alongside Rowan Williams, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.  This interview excerpt is from a 9/11 digital video project that I worked on in Hans Dudelheim’s documentary course at The New School in 2002.  

Trinity Institute is a program for the continuing theological education of Episcopal clergy and laity sponsored by the Parish of Trinity Church, New York City.

Burnham was educated at Harvard, the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge University, England, and The Johns Hopkins University, where he received a Ph.D. in the History of Science. He also holds an honorary degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He writes and lectures on the relationship between science and religion.

 

Listening to the Gettysburg Address in gibberish makes perfect sense when you pair that activity with looking at a recent image from the town of Gettysburg itself.  Below is a view from the parking lot of May’s Buffet, one of a series of such all you can eat establishments within 100 yards of the site of Lincoln’s historic address.

Just beyond May’s Buffet is KFC (the restaurant formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) and Gen. Pickett’s Buffet, which overlooks the terrain of Pickett’s Charge.  I doubt that the gluttonous consumption of greasy, fried food in air conditioned comfort, amid a landscape of asphalt and concrete, was what Lincoln had in mind when referring to a “new birth of freedom” for our nation.  His words in this context seemed somewhat less intelligible for me and partly inspired my line of Historical Amnesia Post Cards.    

 

View From May's Buffet Parking Lot (Gettysburg, PA) by Bryan Hiott.

Near the site of the Gettysburg Address. Image by Bryan Hiott (2006).

Alumitype by Bryan Hiott (2007).  Pool filtration system, East Hampton, NY.

Alumitype by Bryan Hiott. Pool filtration system, East Hampton, NY.

 

An alumitype is a sheet of trophy aluminum used in the wet plate collodion process to make a positive image.  It is distinct from a true tintype (also called ferrotype) which is made from a sheet of enameled or japanned iron.  Coloring was done in Photoshop CS3 using the lasso tool to select specific areas and the hue/saturation tool to adjust color.  The original size of the alumitype was 3.5 in. x 4.5 in. (quarter plate).

For your viewing pleasure, I have presented an image of a pool filtration system in posh East Hampton, NY.  Why have I lavished such attention on such banal subject matter?  Good question.  This was shot during Eric Taubman’s workshop through the Center for Alternative Photography.  While the other participants were busy trying to recreate the look of a Mathew Brady or Julia Margaret Cameron portrait, I went off and photographed what William Eggleston might have if he were using the wet plate process.  I suppose I was just being contrary or, as Eggleston would say, “democratic” in my image selection.

From the UK Guardian:

In 1979, a young New York film student called Jamie Livingston decided to take one Polaroid image every day of his life. The resulting album is archived on a fascinating and deeply moving website. Johnny Dee introduces the images:

 

Jamie Livingston marries his partner shortly before his death.

Jamie Livingston marries his partner shortly before his death.

 

I was idly flicking through blogs when I stumbled upon an intriguing website. It was a collection of polaroid photographs and gradually I began to realise that there was one for every day between March 1979 and October 1997. There was no way of telling who they belonged to, no commentary or captions, just the photos, arranged month by month like contact sheets. There was a sense, too, that I was not supposed to be there, browsing through these snaps of friends and family, of baseball games and picnics, but they were funny and moving. There were pictures of things that didn’t exist any more – the World Trade Centre, graffiti and Day-glo disco pants – as well as mountains, beaches, car parks and swimming pools.

Slowly it became apparent whose collection it was – friends would come and go but one man regularly popped up over the 18 years documented by the pictures, doing ordinary stuff like eating dinner or unusual things in faraway countries. In one picture he’s proudly holding a skinned goat, in another he’s on stilts. A lot of the time he looks serious while doing ridiculous things. During the 80s there are lots of pictures of him playing music with an avant-garde street performance outfit called Janus Circus. There are pictures of TV screens – ball games, Frank Zappa’s death, presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton.

Then, in 1997, events take a dark turn. There are pictures of the photographer in hospital, then with a long scar across his head. It’s obvious he is gravely ill. For a short while his health appears to improve and he returns home. In October there is a picture of a ring, then two days later a wedding ceremony. But just a few weeks after that he’s back in hospital with some of the friends from the early photos around his bedside. On October 25 the series ends. The photographer has died.

Of course I wasn’t alone in discovering this remarkable site. Since the end of May it has been passed from blog to blog across America. “The first I knew about it was when all my other websites started closing down under the strain,” says New Yorker Hugh Crawford, who was responsible for putting his friend’s pictures online after his death. “Initially it wasn’t meant to be looked at by anyone. A group of us were putting on an exhibition of the photos and the site was a place where we could look at the pictures while we talked on the phone.”

The photographer’s name was Jamie Livingston. He was a filmmaker and editor who worked on public information films, adverts and promo videos for MTV. Taking a single photo every day began by accident when he was 22 and studying film with Crawford at Bard College, in upstate New York. “He’d been doing it for about a month before he realised he’d been taking about one picture a day, and then he made a commitment to keep doing that,” says Crawford. “That’s what he was like. There are some people who have flashes of brilliance and do things in a huge rush or creative bursts but he was more of a steady, keeps-at-it kind of guy and he did amazing stuff. Part of the appeal of the site is that Jamie wasn’t this amazing-looking guy. He led an incredible life, but there’s an everyman quality to the photographs.”

There are a lot of visual jokes, fuzzy shots and fluffed self-portraits, but the plan was to take one picture and keep it no matter how it turned out. Once they found themselves walking with circus elephants through the heart of New York, late at night. Crawford turned to his friend and suggested this could be the picture of the day. “He was like, ‘No, I took a picture of my lunch, it’s already been taken,'” laughs Crawford.

Over the years it occurred to Livingston that he would have to continue with his pictures either for the rest of his life or until they stopped making Polaroid film (which eventually came to pass in February this year). The collection itself features in a number of the photographs and in the late 80s was nearly lost entirely when he was evicted from his apartment and the refuse collectors mistakenly took all his belongings – he got them back but had to sort through the whole truck to find them.

For first-time visitors to the website, Livingston’s death, from a brain tumour on his 41st birthday, comes as a dramatic shock, but clues of his poor health lurk within all those thousands of shots and several pictures of a malignant mole in 1989. His friends have long regarded the collection – which went on display at his old college on what would have been his 50th birthday – as his legacy and a reminder of thousands of tiny details that would otherwise have gone forgotten.

Only one mystery remains about Livingston’s life: “There’s one woman who appears a lot [in the earlier photographs] who seems to have been a girlfriend but no one knows who she is,” says Crawford, much of whose own life story is told within the pictures as well. The more famous the pictures become, the more likely it is that one day he’ll find out.

photooftheday.hughcrawford.com

Yesterday, I got a call from Steve Silipigni, an excellent wood craftsman and wet plate photographer from Rochester, whom I’d met at John Coffer’s Jamboree.  Steve is making my darkbox for wet plate collodion field use; and he wanted to let me know that it was ready to be shipped.  I’m so eager to begin working with it.  After seeing several of Steve’s darkboxes at Jamboree, two of his own and one that he had made for  Todd Harrington, I was convinced that they were well-constructed and would provide maximum convenience in the field.    

My darkbox and accesories are really beautiful pieces. The pegged box is pine, supporting table top is pine with an oak edge (legs are oak), while the sunken silver nitrate bath is made of walnut. Each component is finished with an English chestnut stain. There are cast iron handles on each long side of the box and one on top for easy portability. Weighing in at 44lbs., the box will accomodate plate sizes up to 8 x 10. However, Steve does make a smaller box for up to whole plate, which is somewhat lighter. The box opens by a small latch on the side; and there are removable supports to hold the red shroud securely in place when working with plates inside. In addition to the darkbox and table, I ordered a fixer bath, drying rack and storage box for whole plate – all walnut.  Steve made the jpegs below prior to shipping.


 

 

 


Thomas Easterly (1809-1882) was one of the early daguerrians in the United States.  Born in Vermont, Easterly began learning the daguerrotype process in 1841.  Seven years later he moved to St. Louis where he ran a successful portrait studio.  However, his interest in making landscape images set him apart from many of his contemporaries, who considered fieldwork with daguerrotypes to be technically daunting and not financially profitable. Easterly’s plates are not only a significant record of the changes taking place as St. Louis became a prosperous city; but also the work of a man with a unique vision for documentary as art.  In the 1860s, when ambrotypes and tintypes had become more popular with the public, Easterly stubbornly refused – on aesthetic grounds – to adopt the other processes and suffered financial ruin as a result.  

 

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