When the Biblioteca Nacional de Cuba asked for a copy of YONKEROS, I offered to deliver it in person. When I arrived at the library it turned out that a foreigner can only visit passport in hand and with a written permit. Being that I had a book to deliver it only took an hour to find an acceptable compromise. And not only was I escorted to the right department office but I was given a grand tour of the premises, which are filled with a wonderful collection of art. Many of the furnishings there date back to the Batista regime and are inspired by those of the New York Public Library.
While photography is my first love, academia is a close second. One of my favorite mornings in Cuba was spent striking up random conversations with students and faculty at the University of Havana.
Oh... and I was also rebuked by an aging curmudgeon of a professor who was upset when I photographed him admonishing a truant student without asking for permission. The truth is the light was beautiful inside the auditorium and class was not in session yet. I dutifully apologized and his tone somewhat softened when I replied that I photograph because I have the misfortune of being born a photographer. His eyes seemed to consider my words and then he said to me with some conviction: I am not sure one can all that a misfortune.
For many years I've dreamt about Havana and today I finally get a chance to travel there. Not as a tourist but as a presenter in la Fototeca de Cuba's Month of Photography. I am thrilled to offer an Artist Talk and a Book Signing for YONKEROS.
I remain grateful to the Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography at SVA for generously sponsoring my presentation.
Visit to Willets Point -
My friend Anne Mette W. Nielsen is in town leading a group of young students from Denmark and Norway in an exploration of the inner workings of this city. Although reluctant at first, I agreed to take the group on a site visit to Willets Point. I say reluctantly but I actually mean with great trepidation. The reason being that it is so painful to witness the gradual demise of a place that meant so much to me. These days a full 60% of the businesses are shuttered down and the place has an air of abandonment like the ghost towns of cowboy westerns. Almost all of my good friends are gone from there.
Our visit was far from depressing however. Youth is charming after all. And our small and unexpected parade of blondness brought some smiles to the worried faces of the mechanics. Most importantly we had ample time to discuss the changing character of New York City and other large metropolis and to dwell on the nature of documentary work. Our friend Robert Schweitzer was also present and his questions and observations were penetrating and inspiring.
Making our way back to Manhattan on the 7 train, three of the girls asked to see my copy of YONKEROS again. I loved the way they lingered on each image and discussed it at length. Something of Willets Point will live on in their spirits too.
“El Sistema” is particularly interested in how the turbulent political life of Guatemala collides with the didactic project and impacts the country’s youth. However, it is also a testament to the spiritual force of music and how its practice helps elevate humanity above its sometimes desperate condition, bringing hope and light to a broken-down society.
This work received its premiere in the 2014 edition of BAVIC the Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (Guatemala) and will be on view until August 24. The installation features four photographic prints and one multimedia piece, which you can see below.
There are millions upon millions of photographs in the vaults of the Smithsonian. This week however, I'm expanding my search to the National Archives in Maryland. Counterintuitive? Perhaps. I mean, I could spend the next year researching and never leave DC! But as an artist you gotta trust your instincts.
One thing is for sure: my Fellowship at SI is as complex, fascinating and challenging as I hoped it would be.
What's in a little black box?
When I returned from Guatemala in mid-March, I had 5000+ new images on my hard drive. After seven weeks of daily editing (5AM to 9AM) I've pared down that number to just under 300 images.
Printed 4x6 inches, the stack fills the box to the brim.
My hope is that I will return from my Artist Residence at FotoVisura with a new edit of 100 shining photographs. Then, I can begin to lay out the book.
The wildlife at Serengeti Tea as captured by Richard Bram on a recent afternoon in Harlem.
For the series "Mexican Notebook" on fototazo, Tom Griggs, Hannah Frieser and I are curating an in-depth look at the contemporary photography scene in that country. Today's installment is my interview with César Rodríguez a talented young photographer from Tepic, Nayarit who is starting to make a name for himself on the international stage.
Next week Friday, my wife, Hye-Ryoung Min and I are packing matching bags for our twin Artist Residencies at the Foto Visura Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Can't wait to work closely with the expert eyes of Adriana Teresa Letorney and Graham Letorney! Posting a recent landscape from each of us: on the left side a Korean landscape by HRM and on the right one of mine from my most recent trip to Guatemala.
I am thrilled to announce that I have been awarded a 2014 Smithsonian Artist Fellowship.
As an Artist-in-Residence, I will be creating a new project in collaboration with the Anacostia
and American History Museums.
Also, I'm honored to be nominated to a United States Artists Fellowship for 2014.
Artists who are awarded receive a $50,000 prize.
Wish me luck!
While in Madrid, my friend and colleague Irina Rozovsky spotted YONKEROS in La Fábrica's book store. She was kind enough to send me this snap.
When I left the house that morning, my wife said to me: think of Saul Leiter when you shoot today.
Photo by Saul Leiter
When I first came to New York, I took a paid internship at Howard Greenberg Gallery. Among my duties were tracking down and organizing images which were being pulled for collectors or considered for upcoming exhibitions. This meant spending hours going through the archival boxes where the prints were stored. It was a quiet and intimate way to discover the New York School photographers, which I hadn’t known about until then. This was my first encounter with photographers like Sid Grossman, Louis Faurer, Leon Levenstein, Ted Croner and Saul Leiter. There were also wonderful works by William Klein, Diane Arbus and Lisette Model.
Although Leiter walked the same streets as the rest of his generation, his work seemed to operate on an altogether different register. For one thing, his images of city life seemed more abstract, oblique and intensely private than others. For another, they were in color. Where his contemporaries brought so much of the sound and fury of the city into their photographs, looking at an image by Saul was like suddenly catching hold of an errant string of piano chords drifting out of an open window high above the street’s heavy traffic. His work elevated the experience of living in New York City and educated me to its subtle charms and revelations.
Many years later, when I enrolled at SVA for a Masters in Digital Photography, one of my instructors Amy Stein asked us to buy a photography book we admired. We would then share the books in class, with each student making a short presentation. When it was Hye-Ryoung Min’s turn to present, she brought out a copy of Steidl’s Saul Leiter monograph and with great composure and eloquence she proceeded to talk about the work. My heart skipped a beat. It was like a secret handshake in a crowded room; a moment of shared complicity. Three years later we would be married.
The rest is history.
Saul Leiter, rest in peace.
I arrived back in NYC yesterday after a wonderful week in Mexico City. The sprawling, beautiful monster of a city is one of my favorite places in the world. While I was there, I was thrilled to present YONKEROS to a local audience. The Book Signing was hosted by the very hip photography space Gimnasio de Arte, where I also taught a three-day intensive workshop in Project Management for photographers. Here's a few snaps from the event.
This work, which was originally exhibited at MASS MoCA in the context of the exhibition "An Exchange with Sol Lewitt" (2011) is now in the collection of Fondazione Benetton.
"Early Works is an exhibition that examines the naive imagery made by contemporary photographers when they were children. These early images often reveal surprising talent, visual intuition, and honesty. Kept for many decades in shoeboxes and faded albums, the images are often cherished belongings that play a key role in defining the self as artist."
Proud to have a piece in it:
Next month I will have an Artist Talk and Book Signing for YONKEROS at Gimanasio de Arte in Mexico City, where I will also be conducting a three-day instensive workshop in Project Management for Photographers.
is life playing for an audience of one.