Conceptual Art


Alfredo Jaar’s “Power of Words”; and images from Wendy Ewald’s “Towards a Promised Land.”

ABSTRACTIONS From “Framing and Being Framed: The Uses of Documentary Photography,” from left: Alfredo Jaar’s “Power of Words”; images from Wendy Ewald’s “Towards a Promised Land.”



October 12, 2008

Not Quite Documentary Art


Despite its title — “Framing and Being Framed: The Uses of Documentary Photography” — the exhibition at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University contains many artworks that are not, strictly speaking, documentary photographs. Some of them are not even documentary in nature. They are more conceptual projects that employ photographic material ranging from snapshots of everyday life to portraits and conventional documentary imagery.

But this in no way negates the show’s powerful premise, which is to encourage viewers to think about the ways in which artists and photographers use and abuse documentary principles. Nina Felshin, the gallery’s curator, has done a terrific job assembling interesting and provocative work in this vein, the best of which invite viewers to consider issues of agency, context and interpretation in documentary-based art.

Take, for instance, Wendy Ewald’s “Towards a Promised Land” (2004-2006), a collaborative conceptual project comprising photographs, banners and sound recordings. For 30 years, the artist has put cameras in the hands of children all over the world to record their impressions of life and the world around them. The present installation documents her work with 22 children living in the English seaside town of Margate, all of whom are asylum seekers and refugees.

Ms. Ewald spent 18 months interviewing children in Margate, taking their photographs and teaching them to use a camera. Showing here are installation shots of her photographs of the children, displayed as public banners around the streets of Margate, along with the project’s 2006 book, “Towards a Promised Land.” There is also an audiotape including snippets of the children’s personal accounts of their experiences. It is quite moving.

Employing elements of self-representation, participation and collaboration, Ms. Ewald departs from standard documentary conventions in which the artist is at arm’s length from the subject. Her project is less a documentary than a kind of testimonial. The same goes for Eric Gottesman’s “Sudden Flowers,” an ongoing installation of photographs and video made in collaboration with children in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in an effort to improve the public image of Ethiopia abroad. Here the participants are openly trying to reshape an image of themselves.

Much of this work illustrates a simple point: The way in which subjects are perceived depends on the lens through which they are viewed. Emily Jacir toys with this idea in her photographs of the annual Israeli Day Parade in New York. On the one hand, several images emphasize bonds of friendship between the United States and Israel, with parade participants carrying flags from both countries and wearing T-shirts with pro-United States slogans emblazoned across them. On the other hand, other images contain nasty anti-Arab references.

Artists also complicate traditional assumptions about documentary imagery by restaging, rehearsing, or simply evoking past events for the camera. Matthew Buckingham’s “Will Someone Please Explain It to Me, I’ve Just Become a Radical” (2008), consists of 12 photographs of the interior of a building at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where in 1967 a sit-in against recruitment on the campus by Dow Chemical, manufactures of napalm, used in bombs during the Vietnam War, ended in a violent police action against the protesters. The artist invites us to project our own thoughts onto these now empty interiors.

By contrast, An-My Le is a more conventional documentary photographer, using a large format camera to create richly detailed black-and-white photographs of young American marines doing training exercises for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at a military base in the Mohave Desert in California. Her accurate and engaging rendering of simulated battlefields evokes the harsh reality of soldiering in desert conditions, but also, in a quite profound way, brings the war home.

Also bringing the past back to the present is Kota Ezawa’s “Simpson Verdict” (2002), an animated projection based on the actual courtroom footage of one of the most widely publicized legal cases in history, O.J. Simpson’s 1997 murder trial. Focusing on the emotionally-charged final minutes, as the defendant and his legal team awaited the jury verdict, the footage is simplified and abstracted to focus on Mr. Simpson’s movements and gestures. The result is a case study in body language.

“Framing and Being Framed: The
Uses of Documentary Photography,”
Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, Center
for the Arts, Wesleyan University, 283
Washington Terrace, Middletown, through Dec. 7. Information: (860)
685-3355 or


This trailer for Guy Ben Ner’s family sitcom was shot in Ikea during regular store hours.   Customers enter the living space to examine items for sale.  Sometimes the customers pay attention to the domestic family values drama being played out, while at other times they seem oblivious.


T.S.A. Communication is an interesting counter-surveillance project that Evan Roth, a recent Parsons MFA graduate, is developing. His project questions the widespread use of x-ray scanners to examine the contents of personal bags in airports and other high security locations.  Roth’s work reminds me of the Surveillance Camera Players, a group formed in New York City in 1996 to protest the expanding use of surveillance cameras in public spaces.  The following information on T.S.A. Communication comes from Rhizome


Project Description:

T.S.A. Communication is a project that alters the airport security experience and allows the government to learn more about you then just what’s in your backpack. Thin 8.5 x 11 inch laser-cut sheets of stainless steel comfortably fit in your carry on bag, simultaneously obscuring the contents you don’t want the TSA to see while highlighting ideas you do want them to see. Change your role as air traveler from passive to active.


"Mind Your Own Business"


Initial research into airport security X-Ray machines shows that metallic and organic substances are represented as different colors. Further testing is required to determine how the thickness and makeup of various materials alter the resulting visual image from the X-Ray process.

The examples below are only preliminary designs. More time and research will be devoted to creating prototypes optimized for communicating with the T.S.A. work force.

Ideally the backpack inserts would be possible to produce in the home with readily available tools. If this is not possible, however, manufacturers will need to be identified and priced. Initial quotes for laser cutting one sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch steel come in at roughly $300. The majority of the Rhizome grant would be used to manufacture as many different designs as possible.

Documentation is going to be tricky. A system will need to be devised for capturing photos and video from the T.S.A. scanning process. I would like to be able to capture video reactions from the scanning agents, as well as photos of the X-Ray screens.


How To / Workshop:

At the end of the project I will open up the process to anyone interested in communicating with the T.S.A. At a minimum this would take the form of an online tutorial explaining how to create your own back pack inserts. Depending on the method of manufacturing, workshops could be run where participants create their own backpack inserts.

"Nothing To See Here"

Work Samples:

– Graffiti Research Lab (co-founder)
– Light Criticism (w/ Steve Lambert, the Anti-Advertising Agency, and the G.R.L.)
– Public Domain Donar
– Skymall Liberation
– Postal Labels Against Bush

About Me:
– Resume
– Bio
– Wikipedia

Bill Max - Civil War Reenactor (4th US Regular Infantry) 

Bill Max - Civil War Reenactor (4th US Regular Infantry)


Allison Smith, whose historically based installations I have followed for a while, is showing the photograph above in Ethnographies of the Future at the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in New York City (Sept. 10th through November 24th).  The exhibition was curated by Sara Reisman.  Viewing is by appointment only – details below.


From the press release:  


Ethnographies of the Future takes into account the vast geographies impacted by colonial rule by bringing together artists whose works present a critical relationship to postcolonial identity politics. The artists in the exhibition, with their diverse historical reference points, make clear that the terms of cultural identification are unstable. In installations, videos, and mixed-media works, they suggest an ever-shifting discursive field where the possibilities for defining ethnography are unending. Drawing on histories of the Caribbean, South Asia, Israel, China, Korea and Japan, the South Pacific, Europe, and the Americas, the exhibition addresses colonial rule from a contemporary, global perspective.


                                            September 10 – November 24, 2008
                                            Ethnographies of the Future
                                            Starry Night Fund of the Tides Foundation
                                            Thoreau Center for Sustainability, New York
                                            55 Exchange Place, Suite 406, New York, NY 10005
                                            (between Broad Street & William Street)


Viewing of exhibition is by appointment only between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm Monday through Friday. Please call 646.747.2053 or 646.747.2248 to schedule your visit. 


Flux Factory is a non-profit organization in Long Island City (Queens), which produces some very interesting collaborative projects.  Living Room is the latest and opens next week in locations across New York City.  From the press release:



Flux Factory has invited ten artists to transform strangers’ homes into sites for interactive works. Domestic or historic locations throughout New York City will become arenas for exploring what it means to inhabit a space, to make it one’s own. In conjunction with openhousenewyork, “Living Room” locations range from private living rooms to historical sites throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Explore a wall of secrets, a room-cum-optical-device, and go rooftop camping, and other exciting projects!

“Living Room” is a continuation of Flux Factory’s interest in the urban experience, in New York history, and in the overlap between private and public space. As a live/work collective, we are fascinated by what it means to make a space one’s own. While satisfying our voyeur desires, this project is also an opportunity for the public to peek into private sites normally off limits.

Works will be on view throughout the 6th Annual OHNY Weekend on October 4 & 5, 2008 from 11:00 – 6:00 unless otherwise noted.

A free, 20 person shuttle will leave the Center for Architecture on Saturday and Sunday at 12pm to transport visitors to the sites.
Please email to RSVP for the bus tour.

openhousenewyork is a non-profit organization celebrating New York City’s architecture and design, culminating in America’s largest event of its kind, the annual OHNY Weekend.

Participating Artists: Emily Clark, Rodney Dickson, Kim Holleman, Prem Krishnamurthy, John Monteith, Jo Q. Nelson, Trong Gia Nguyen, Douglas Paulson, Tattfoo Tan, Lauren Wilcox

Curated by Chen Tamir

For more info and to view artist maps, go to: Flux Factory


Emily Clark
Teacher’s Lounge at P35M–Manhattan High School
317 W. 52nd Street between 9th and 10th Aves, Hell’s Kitchen
In the mind of every kid in school is a secret place sparking rumors and gossip. Clark has turned the abandoned teacher’s lounge at P35M into a functioning one, playing on the tropes of its assumed uses: relaxation, anger, frustration, gossip, lunchtime, union meetings, refrigerators, and (at one time) smoking.

Rodney Dickson
Romper Room
Public Toilets, 2nd floor of the Crane Street Studios, 46-23 Crane Street, LIC, Queens
Romper Room evokes a torture chamber, in which victims are held hostage, tortured, interrogated, and often brutally killed. This work alludes also to methods of interrogation currently used by the US government in the War on Terror. The title was taken from a popular children’s’ TV program in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, which terrorists adopted as a name for a room in which they tortured and executed victims during the worst days of conflict in Ireland.

Prem Krishnamurthy
Berlin/New York
772 Washington Ave, Apt #2, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
This projected slide installation concerns doppelganger cities, parallel interiors, and the unreliability of travel narrative.

John Monteith
Hide and Go Seek
The Arsenal, 830 Fifth Ave/ E 64th St, New York (Entrance on Central Park)
Sat – Sun, 2:45 pm
Participants will play “Hide and Go Seek” as a way of exploring the Arsenal and experimenting in new social settings. To participate, please RSVP to John Monteith at

Jo Q. Nelson
38-09 43rd Ave 3rd Floor, Sunnyside, Queens
Softbox is a completely malleable space where rooms are on wheels and entire environments can be changed around. The flexibility of this live/work warehouse space is due to its role as a testing ground for sculptural and interior architecture projects by Nelson and visiting artists. Focused on “hosting,” Softbox is both a laboratory and a social space where interactive programming takes place including screenings and performances. This will be its inaugural open house.

Trong Gia Nguyen
“The DUMBO Debates”
(formerly known as “A View to a Thrill”)

Barrack Obama and John McCain spend a weekend together on a secret
roof deck Garden of Eden in DUMBO. They talk taboo politics, drink
Bloody Marys, eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and
leave all inhibitions behind.

Douglas Paulson
Urban Examination Initiative, Roofs Department
Locations TBA
Saturday night
This project is an open invitation to engage the city and OHNY from the outside. You are invited to join a group that will travel through sites by day, and camp on a rooftop by night. Participants are invited to join or leave at anytime. For more information and to RSVP to this urban adventure please RSVP to

Tattfoo Tan
Open Secret
393 17th Street #2A, Brooklyn
Open Secret is an intervention between the artist, Tattfoo Tan, a home owner, and the public. Open Secret investigates the junction between private and public by using invisible paint and black lights to reveal secrets in the privacy of a home.

Lauren Wilcox
An Instrument for Viewing the Contents of a Room
213 Montrose Apt 2 (2nd floor) Brooklyn, 11206 (Crossstreet Bushwick Ave.)
Sat 11 am – 6 pm, Sun 11 – 4pm
To paint perspective during the Renaissance artists used Alberti’s Grid, a device which projects a scene onto a flat screen. This installation is a version of that device, a box that captures a room’s elements, both actual and unseen, and translates them, inside, into objects both literal and abstract.

Kim Holleman
Trailer Park
Foley Square Sat and Sun: 10-8pm
This mobile living park, converted from a 14′ x 8′ x 7′ standard aluminum trailer, is an oasis surrounded by the bustling sights and sounds of the city.
“Living Room” is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and Queens Council on the Arts,
as well as generous support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and Carnegie Corporation of New York.

For further information:
Phone: 718-707-3362

In the Flatfiles at Pierogi 2000, which include a portfolio of my photographs, I came across a color image, entitled Bloody Lane, by Lee Etheredge IV.  The image was taken at the National Military Park in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the Civil War battle of Antietam occurred in September of 1862.  Etheredge combines the image with repetitive text in a manner that might signify the quickening thoughts of a soldier marching to battle or, alternatively,  the breakdown of historical narrative and the reliance on one vivid incident to define a complex sequence of events.
Bloody Lane by Lee Etheridge, IV.  C-print 18.5 x 19 (2002) Bloody Lane by Lee Etheredge, IV. C-print 18.5 x 19 (2002)

Description of Lee Etheredge’s Work from Pierogi 2000

Etheredge continues his investigations in breaking down language from a practical perspective and reformulating it through conceptual and visual experimentation using a typewriter.

At times Etheredge develops the work as concrete poetry but more often than not he uses the 26 letters of the alphabet as elements in subtle drawn patterns. In this exhibition, in addition to the typewriter marks, he incorporates photography referencing history and place to create an historic narrative element.

Taking the Roman alphabet as his raw material and the IBM Wheelwriter as his fundamental tool, Etheredge teases out spirals of signification that range from a mathematical or “chilly” fascination with pure order to a “warm” or sensual tang that clings to language as a matrix of human thought. Arrays of letters chosen for their ink-density or curvilinear shape determine certain images. But others are constructed around text fragments drawn from specific sources and connoting quite particular narratives. (Frances Richard, 2002)


Historical Note

On the fields surrounding Sharpsburg, the single costliest day of fighting in the Civil War occurred on September 17, 1862.  Bloody Lane was the location of some of the most intense fighting of that day.  By nightfall across the entire battlefield, there were more than 23,000 combined Union and Confederate casualties (dead, wounded and missing).  The battle became known as Antietam, which refers to a creek flowing near the town of Sharpsburg.  Abraham Lincoln used the repulse of the Southern invasion of the North to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Alexander Gardner and his assistants arrived at Sharpsburg shortly after the end of fighting to begin photographing the carnage. He used the wet plate collodion process to make glass negatives from which he later produced albumen prints.  During this period, Gardner was employed by Mathew Brady, who held an exhibition of images from Antietam in his New York gallery in October 1862.  The exhibition, entitled The Dead of Antietam, shocked the American public, which had never before seen war depicted in such a graphic manner.  Reproductions of artists’ renderings had always been the primary visual means by which the public formed impressions of battles.  The immediacy and accuracy of the Gardner’s images would forever change the public discourse on war.

Bryan Hiott

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner (1862)

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner (1862)

I’ve been catching up on posting about some of the excellent exhibitions in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during the last few months. Kim Holleman’s The Law of the Land, which was up at Black and White Gallery through June 30th, was one one of them.


Post-Apocalyptic Parking Lot by Kim Holleman

Post-Apocalyptic Parking Lot by Kim Holleman



From The Law of the Land Press Release

Black and White Gallery (March 14 – June 30, 2008)


Are we living on the cusp of an Age of Extinction or an Age of Restoration?  Are there sophisticated ways of designing aspects of the human enterprise – buildings, vehicles, technologies, cities, parks, etc.  so that they intelligently interact with living systems?  The works of Kim Holleman reveal an interest in the following natures operating instructions to build environmental scenarios that can lead to healing the earth and supporting all beings in asymbiotic harmony, while also investigating where we have gone wrong.  In this site-specific multi-media exhibition occupying both the interior and exterior spaces, such conceptions are put under scrutiny and given visual representation.

Law of the Land is structured in three ‘acts’.  The first act, Trailer Park installed on the street in front of the gallery and open to the public, examines the paradox of inner/outer space by sheltering the completely functional real park from environmental dmage by placing the park inside a mobile Coachman Travel Trailer.  


Trailer Park by Kim Holleman

Trailer Park by Kim Holleman


Trailer Park (Interior) by Kim Holleman

Trailer Park (Interior) by Kim Holleman


In the second act, Playing, God, installed in the indoor space, Holleman simulates natural environments to question humans’ attempts to dominate the earth and play at being gods.  Detailed miniature landscapes that are playable vinyl records spinning and stopping, atop turntables standing in the space, reinforce the playing God theme.  In the pastoral landscape wall-mural entitled The Layers, Holleman rises to the challenge of establishing a human connection to the earth’s most interior and vulnerable layers. This work  draws on the analogies of various soil substrates to the emotions of human psychology, suggesting an allegorical Earth-Body interface to help bridge the human-soil divide.  Creation myths and origin of life theories aside, it is obvius that our own fertility, and indeed survival, is inextricably connected to the fertility of the soils we live upon and how we treat them.  Creating life is a provocative series of glass microscopy slides.  When shown blown up, the look unmistakably like the beautiful micoscopic imagery we have seen of living organisms:  protozoa, bacteria, blood cells, spores, mold, ice crystals, etc,, but are all created out of artificial substances.  Holleman is asking how far we want to go in creating a better life.


Playable Landscapes (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

Playable Landscapes (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman


Crash (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

Crash (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman


Playing God (Installation View) by Kim Holleman

Playing God (Installation View) by Kim Holleman


In the third act, Future Mountain, Holleman appropriates the monumental format typical of earlier earth works to reclaim the outdoor space.  Sculpting with chicken wire and colorful, yet ubiquitous and un-recyclable plastic bags, the artist constructs a startling 360-degree mountain range foliated as a life-like landscape.  Future Mountain does not offer solutions to difficult environmental dilemmas.   It communicates and connects environmental realities to a social and cultural context.


Yellow and Blue Landscape (from Future Mountain) by Kim Holleman

Yellow and Blue Landscape (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman


Future Mountain by Kim Holleman

Future Mountain by Kim Holleman


Bio:  Kim Holleman was born in Tampa, Florida in 1973 and raised in the suburban area of Palm Beach Gardens.  She attended The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York and The Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Holland.

Visiting the Glyndor Gallery at Wave Hill the other day reminded me of another exhibition there last fall that I really liked:  Poe and Twain Projects, curated by Jennifer McGregor.  That exhibition featured the work of Simon Leong, Allison Smith and Amy Yoes.  Of the three artists, Allison Smith was the most engaging for me with her installation By the by and by.  She used the installation to reinterpret the forms of 19th and 20th century military encampment, communication and weaponry, investing them with a symbolism of her own that was at once familiar and disorienting.


By the by and by (Wood, paint, textiles and mixed media)

Allison Smith: By the by and by (2007)


From the Exhibition Catalogue:  


Poe and Twain are seldom mentioned in the same breath, but toward the end of their lives they both lived in what is known today as the Bronx. Samuel Clemons resided in Wave Hill House from 1901 to 1903. Edgar Allan Poe lived in a small farmhouse, from 1846 to 1849, that is now located in Poe Park on East Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. As part of our series to explore 19th-century American writing through the lens of contemporary art, three artists were invited to develop projects based on contemporary readings of these masters’ work. In each writer’s vast oeuvre, the artists have discovered writings that speak to their own concerns as artists. Collectively, these projects play with ideas of site-specificity and expectations about what might be found in this Georgian Revival house.


By the by and by (2007)

Allison Smith: By the by and by (2007)


By the by and by (2007)

Allison Smith: By the by and by (2007)


From the Exhibition Catalogue:


Allison Smith is interested in Twain’s use of time-travel as a way of holding up the past to the present. Her reading and research drew on novels, stories and sketches such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and “The Tournament in A.D. 1870,” “Prince and the Pauper,” “Joan of Arc,” and “The Private History of a Campaign that Failed.” She has created a group of sculptures based on useful objects and presents them together in the form of a period room. In creating this arrangement she was guided by the care Twain gives to the description of clothing, costumes, props, interiors, and detailed settings. Like Twain, Smith is interested in forms of performance that elucidate deeper concerns, such as walking in the shoes of others in order to understand injustice, or exploring feelings toward war and the role one plays in it. The objects that she has created are drawn from historic forms and employ age-old craft techniques but offer a springboard for time-travel through subtle references. The linen rag rug employs a target pattern, a woven coverlet uses a pattern called “Lee’s Surrender” with a field of proliferating oil barrels, some of the hand sewn hats, hoods and masks are based on gas masks from The Great War; provisional camp furniture and the standing rifles are inspired by those used in the Civil War.

Allison Smith has developed elaborate projects that explore craft traditions, living history and social activism. Her work has been exhibited extensively including recent solo exhibitions at UC Berkeley Art Museum/MATRIX Program; Artpace, San Antonio, TX; Bellwether Gallery, New York, NY; and Studio Voltaire, London, England. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA; and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, NY. Her interactive Muster project posed the question “What are you fighting for?” Participants responded to her call on Governor’s Island in 2005 that is documented by a book produced by the Public Art Fund. She earned an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from Parsons School of Design and a BA from the New School for Social research. She participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.


Paul Miller, also known as DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, internationally recognized musician, writer, and conceptual artist, recently performed at the Dallas Museum of Art in celebration of the exhibition Societe Anonyme: Modernism for America. Before his performance, he spoke with Museum staff about the influence of artist Marcel Duchamp on his work and career.


Additional information on DJ Spooky’s interpretation of “Erratum Musical” can be found in:

On The Record: Notes for the “Errata Erratum” Duchamp Remix Project at LA MOCA

Missing Hero Monument, Gettysburg, PA

Missing Hero Monument, Gettysburg, PA.  Image by Bryan Hiott (2006).

The pedestal of the Missing Hero Monument, located in a parking lot adjacent to the Travelodge at 613 Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, PA, was poured in 1968 to honor all potential heros of American wars, who refused military service on the basis of pacifist philosophy.

In an effort to increase tourism revenue, the Missing Hero Association, which maintains the pedestal, recently voted to commission a bronze statue of a current pacifist to be erected on the site.  The statue will be cast in the likeness of one individual chosen through an open audition process (Oct. 15 – 31) that includes a YouTube video essay and phone interview.

Three finalists in the comptition will be invited to Gettysburg on on the 154th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address:  November 19, 2017.  There each will complete the final requirement of the selection process:  standing atop the pedestal to deliver a three-minute monologue outlining his/her belief in peace and the futility of war.  The length of the monologue corresponds to the length of the Gettysburg Address.  Finalists must arrange for their own travel, meals and accommodations.

Those interested in entering the competition should contact The Missing Hero Memorial Association by email:



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).

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.

In the Flatfiles at Pierogi 2000 in Brooklyn, I found an Art Haiku matchbook by Ryan McGinness.  Much in the spirit of Ray Johnson’s mail art, the matchbook was free and was added to the Flatfiles long before McGinness became an art world star.  Irony is not dead after all.  His Art Haikus bash the likes of Julian Schnabel, Matthew Barney and Damien Hirst for the sort of insider art culture knowledge that he is pretending not to have.  Priceless indeed.  The Images below are about three times the matchbook size.  The text would have been difficult to read otherwise.






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