Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier, MacArthur Fellowship Recipient, 2015

Growing up just outside of Pittsburgh in Braddock, Pa, that former steel town in seemingly perpetual decline, served to form and inform Frazier's photography.  A 2015 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient, Frazier's work is unerringly clear and powerful in its representation of both people and place.  Namely, her family and Braddock.  As a photographer myself, but not of this caliber, I can attest to the difficulty in mastering clarity in meaning.
Frazier is young, just 33 years old, and I look forward to seeing where she takes her vision next.

Spring Fling In Autumn

Artist:  Nicole Eisenman, 'Spring Fling', 1996

Congratulations to one of my favorite artists, Nicole Eisenman, on being awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.  Commonly referred to as a 'genius grant', the foundation awards $625,000 to each recipient over the course of 5 years.
I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I, Witness

Artist: CM, Zelienople, PA, 2015

A few days ago I was in Dollar Tree picking up the early edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday newspaper, when I remembered that I needed rubber gloves for a particularly nasty cleaning project.  As I walked back the aisle toward the cleaning supplies I observed a man, seemingly around my age (middle-aged), putting food stuffs (spaghetti, spaghetti sauce) into his backpack.  He eyed me nervously, but I just continued on.
Later, when I was relating the  incident to my wife, I asked her if she thought I should've done something.  What?  She asked. 
Should I have offered to buy the man food.  This is what's been needling me since that morning.  The trials of Jean Valjean,   harshly imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, resonates too strongly for me to even think of turning the man in to store staff.  My only two alternatives were to ignore him, which is what I did, or to offer my assistance, which I did not.  I don't feel a responsibility to the store, to any chain store, to guard against shoplifting, or to ensure that they throttle every single penny of profit from their inventory.  I'm not an employee.
But I am a human being, and I feel sure that this was a fellow human being in need, and instead of reaching out to him, I brushed passed him and continued on.
Why?  Partly because I felt uncomfortable even acknowledging what he was doing, and that I had seen him, because he seemed ashamed - or was he not ashamed, and I was merely  projecting this onto him?  Am I so mired in conventionalism that whatever societal norms I prescribe to, the whole of  the world must as well?   I might be over-thinking this event because I'm ashamed that I didn't offer to buy his food.  I'm foisting my shame on him, because I can't and don't know what he was feeling/thinking.
Now I only wonder what I would do if confronted by the same scenario again. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Vergiss Mein Nicht

Forget-Me-Not, The Summer Is Gone, Pittsburgh, 2015

There were some forget-me-nots growing in a patch of lemon balm.  I wanted to get some photos of the flowers, but nothing turned out that didn't seem trite - or worse yet, just plain hacky.  So, I dug up the plant and attempted to do a botanical study of it.  The results of that were pedestrian at best.  I tossed the plant then in a bucket of rain water and stared at it for a long time.  After awhile I took some shots of the flower moving through the water.  This is a shot with the color inverted.  I have to say that I'm pleased for a change.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A 57 Year Window Into Cause of Death

Eleanora Duse's Death Certificate

An odd little genealogical tidbit I found while yet again toiling on my family tree, Pennsylvania has available online death certificates for anyone who died in the state between 1906 and 1963.  Why they offer that 57 year window I have no clue.  You have to be a resident of PA to utilize this, but I think that if you simply type in a valid zip code in the prompt box (for instance, 15213, which is a Pittsburgh zip), you should be able to access the archives.
Here I've posted Eleanora Duse's death certificate, God bless her.  What a talent, and how tragic that she died in this then smoky city.  I've blogged about Duse before, which you can read here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Barbie And The Butterfly

Barbie and Great Spangled Fritillary, with Milkweed, 2015

I am playing about with the digital equivalent of a double exposure:  Printing one image atop another.  This turned out better than most, and overall I'd say that usually the result is a hot mess of overlapping imagery.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Little Free Library

Little Free Library, Pittsburgh, 2015

My favorite website is probably  I can spend all day there if I'm not careful.  They cover science, science fiction, fantasy, books, movies, tv, art, history, just about anything that can tickle your (my) fancy.  Today I came across a piece by Charlie Jane Anders about how a few communities have gone after the Little Free Library. 
Why, America, why do we persist in wasting time, effort, and tax dollars railing against shadow enemies?  Books and the Little Free Library pose no threat to the community in which they are located, unless you fear books, the exchange of ideas, an open mind.
All Hail the Little Free Library!  May she reign forever!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pastoral Dreamer In Two parts

Martha's Vineyard, 2015

First installed in 2012, David Phelps sculpture, Pastoral Dreamer, remains in the square outside of Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.  It is for sale, so just a heads up. 
While I appreciate the whimsy of the piece(s), I wouldn't even have stopped to consider it further had my mother not insisted that I take some pictures of it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Best Summer Read

With Labor Day in the rear view mirror, summer, if not officially, technically, has drawn to a close.  Adieu, summer of 2015, like always, your lazy days were too fleeting and few.
As I reflect upon what recently was, the best book, by far, that I read this summer was Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer prize winning novel, "All The Light We Cannot See".  While it begins a bit clunky, where to me the narrative felt forced, but by page 24 the writing became fluid, a slip-stream into another era, with characters I cared deeply for, and I was transported.  Sometimes I think that no one can write another thing about about World War II that is in the least bit original, wave a light in some unexplored recess of that horror, but Doerr did just that.  And now, damn him, I'll have to check out the rest of his works because a book this good isn't an anomaly, I'm sure.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Former Book And Then Some

Last Sunday Eileen Weiner reviewed the new Jonathan Franzen novel, "Purity", in the books section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
I read the review, probably because I read all of the book reviews, even for books I don't ever plan on reading.  Sometimes a review changes my mind and I do pick up something I normally wouldn't have.  In the case of Jonathan Franzen, though, I doubt that will happen.  See, I don't hate on him quite like some people do, especially women (and I am a woman).  No, I just don't see what all the fuss is about where his writing is concerned.  All of this colossal and storied talent, the greatest writer maybe EVER.  My God, I tried three times to slog through his 2001 novel, "The Corrections" and I just couldn't manage to not set it down at some point and then not pick it back up.  It didn't anger me, in fact it didn't elicit much a response at all beyond a pervasive sense of ennui.  Since I didn't want that to morph into a full-blown malaise, I sold the book on and was done with it.
But, of course, you are never done with Franzen, are you?  Every so often he emerges from his writer's cocoon with some bit of offensive brilliance and the whole literary world is literally on fire!  The supporters and detractors line up, face off, each side completely unmovable in their thinking....and on and on it goes.  It's tedium wed to madness, which isn't that far removed from an apt description of Franzen as a whole.
I must say that I enjoy the dust up at first, but then, since I don't read his work anyway, and don't know him personally, it's becoming old hat.  This tiresome dance, the Franzen box-step, is not worth the bother anymore.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Ancestors, 1897, Beaver County, Pennsylvania

Last Christmas my wife gifted me with a DNA test through  So many things that I'd taken for granted all of my life about my heritage proved to not be irrefutable.  All of the anecdotal 'evidence' gathered from older relatives when I would periodically take up working on the family tree was much more slippery than what I'd been led to believe.
My family influences were primarily guided by the German side and the Italian side.  The Germans, typically, were extremely strident in their identity, holding on to their language for generations, and never letting you forget that they were GERMAN and proud of it.  Afterall, who gave us the Brothers Grimm?  The Italians, on the other hand, gave up their language in the first generation, extolled the benefits of being an American (even after my great-grandfather was forced by the feds to blow up his still during prohibition), and made the most delicious food this side of Tuscany.
What I seldom thought about, or considered in my ancestry, despite having a very Welsh last name, was the British end of things.
Then I got the results back on the DNA test.
37% British and Irish
29% Italian/Greek
21% German/French
4% Finnish
3%Eastern European
4% Asian
1% Middle Eastern
1% Scandinavian
Where before I thought that I was a third German, I found that I was little more than a fifth.  And when I did some research into the German ancestors, I discovered that all but one (he came from Bavaria) came from the Alsace-Lorraine  region of France, and indeed on their immigration papers it lists their home country as France.  The Alsace-Lorraine area is on the border between France and Germany, and its inhabitants do speak German, but, but, but all of those Germans in the family I'd listened to my whole life proudly declaring their nationality were really French!  Oh how I wish my 'German' grandmother was still around.  She used to say, no German would marry nothing but another German, even though she herself married a Brit.  She also would say, no German would adopt a baby that wasn't German.  That was in reference to her own maternal grandfather who'd been adopted.  Well, given my low percentage of German/French ancestry, I'd say that old Jake Burkhardt didn't have a drop of German/French blood in him. 
As time has gone by since I got the results, I've had a bit of an identity crisis at the hands of all that British ancestry.  It's foolish, I know, but I've never, ever, thought about how British I might be genetically.  I'm not an anglophile, though I am married to one, and this turn of circumstances seems so impossible.  And yet, it is what it is regardless of what I think of it.
Of course the big shock was the Asian and Middle Eastern link.  I have no idea where they came from or when, but I'm glad to have that diversity in the mix.  If nothing else it explains my sister's incredible cheekbones and all-around beauty.
Well, maybe now that I've written everything down I'll be able to let go of this bit of identity/misidentity existential crisis.  It's useless, I know, to get hung up on such things because I have no say in any of it.  I am, and that is all I am.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Papilio Polyxenes Astrius

Papilio  polyxenes asterius, Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar, Pittsburgh, 2015

While working in the garden yesterday, I discovered several caterpillars eating the carrot greens.  After a bit of googling, I learned that this is a preferred food for the mature larvae of the Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  Since I admire the beauty of that butterfly, I snipped off the greens and left them in the garden when I pulled the carrots out (they will be part of this evening's supper).
I hope to see them fluttering around the yard next summer, even if it means that the carrot greens have to feed the next generation.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Surrealist Barbie

Surrealist Barbie, Laura Anderson, Artist

I recently fell down the rabbit hole that is the Zymoglyphic Museum website.  If nothing else, I discovered that someone other than me is also tinkering with Barbie in unusual and representative ways.  Unmatched in its versatility, the Barbie can become almost anything.