Neighborhood Walkabout – Graffiti

Another sign of change and transformation is the ebb and flow of graffiti. My latest find was this:

Any Make or Model (Black is Beautiful)
Any Make or Model (Black is Beautiful)

I loved the serendipitous juxtaposition of the advertisement wording for the cellphone repair shop and the graffiti – “Any Make, Any Model… Black is Beautiful”. There’s truth in accidents. Or maybe it wasn’t an accident.

A generic graffiti tag on a bricked-up window of a house. This is casual art, that has its own accidental grace and beauty despite not having any great aspiration beyond marking territory or gang initiation.

Window, Graffiti, 15thStreet
Window, Graffiti, 15thStreet

Then there’s graffiti that is transformed from simple defacement by virtue of adopting the form and structure of the object upon which it is inscribed, like this manhole cover.

Graffiti-inscribed Manhole Cover
Graffiti-inscribed Manhole Cover

Some street art I found in Toronto. There’s a point where graffiti transcends defacement of property and really does become art in itself.

Graffiti
Graffiti

More graffiti as street art. There is part of this wall that I intentionally cropped out as it makes a statement that I don’t know I’d want to make or pass on (decapitated nude female torso).

Graffiti, Chain Link Fence, Twilight
Graffiti, Chain Link Fence, Twilight

Back to simplicity, this bit speaks to collective identity questions – the figure transforms the Washington DC city flag of three stars over two bars into a humanoid with a hand for a head. Politics, ethnicity, religion, all rolled into a piece of temporary public art (the wall upon which this figure was painted has been gentrified into several very expensive restaurants).

Graffiti, DC Flag Design, 14th Street
Graffiti, DC Flag Design, 14th Street

The camera of record is a Rolleiflex 2.8E, and the films used are FP4+ for b/w and Kodak Ektar 100 and Portra 160 for color.

Neighborhood Walkabout – Surviving Gentrification

The signs of gentrification, both good and bad, abound in my area. Funky old shops in decrepit buildings are being forced out and razed to be replaced by condos and market-rate rentals at prices I don’t know how anyone can afford and being serviced by shops and restaurants worthy of being spoofed by AbFab. At the same time, the drugs, the street crime, and the random trash are all disappearing too.

SaintEx, 14th Street, from above
SaintEx, 14th Street, from above

I’m not sure Mitoni’s salon is still in business, or if it is, for how much longer. But I’ve not been sure if it is in business for the last decade, frankly. Regardless, it will shortly be going away to be replaced by an 8-10 story condo/retail complex.

Mitonis Salon, 14th Street
Mitonis Salon, 14th Street

You can very clearly see the layers of old and new, gentrified and recycled here. A former post office (that was once notorious for a rat infestation that destroyed tens of thousands of pieces of undelivered mail) is now a trendy taqueria. An old antiques store is now the Policy restaurant and bar with the roof deck you can see. In the upper left background is the old cold storage facility which oddly enough still rents out storage lockers. Behind the street-level buildings in the foreground is The Louis, a high-rise condo complex with swanky restaurants, coffee shops, and a Trader Joes (which is actually a welcome addition to the neighborhood). This shot was taken from the roof of Room and Board, an upscale furniture shop in what was a long-boarded-up former car dealership building.

T Street, From Room&Board's Roof
T Street, From Room&Board’s Roof

The dining room at Doi Moi, a new Thai/Vietnamese restaurant.

Tables, Doi Moi
Tables, Doi Moi

Transformer Gallery is one of the pre- to mid-gentrification vestiges. They’re a small space, and perhaps their saving grace is the fact that the space is too small for most developers’ interests. I don’t know how they survive as, from my perspective, a lot of the art they show is hard to sell.
When I took the photo, it was still August, so I thought the leaves made an interesting ironic statement about the nature of the changing neighborhood.

Transformer Gallery, Premature Fall
Transformer Gallery, Premature Fall

The Fabulous Vegas Lounge is another vestige of the old neighborhood. They must own their building to have outlasted the condo buildings that went up around them. It’s been a Jazz club since the 1970s at least.

Las Vegas Lounge
The Fabulous Vegas Lounge

As usual, all photos taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Ilford FP4+.

Neighborhood Wanderings – People

I went out on one of my neighborhood walkabouts and found these scenes. I’m still not good with getting people’s faces in street photos because when I try for a portrait, it inevitably becomes non-candid because I take too long trying to compose and focus, they see me, and at best the moment is lost. So I do photos of people from behind. Maybe I’ll work on making it into a thing.

Shopping Couple, U Street
Shopping Couple, U Street
Man With Bags, 14th & U Street
Man With Bags, 14th & U Street

Scenes with activity in them, though, work better. I guess because I’m standing off at an angle to the action and people can pass through without being aware, so they get included from a variety of angles.

Dolcezza Gelateria
Dolcezza Gelateria
Crown Pawn
Crown Pawn

And sometimes they get included because they’re completely unaware of the camera’s presence, like the worker inside Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Ben's Panda
Ben’s Panda

All shots taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E on Ilford FP4+. The Ilford FP4+ is part of a large stash of it that I bought more than a few years ago when there was a scare that Ilford would go out of business. I bought a box of 100 rolls (B&H was running a special on the bulk lot). Well, Ilford stayed in business (thank heavens!), and my use of medium format waned for a while (I sold off my Hasselblad outfit to finance a large format camera), so the bulk lot sat in my basement, going past its expiry date. Now that I’ve found and fallen in love with the Rollei, I’m finally making a dent in that box. It’s a great compliment to the quality of Ilford that I can still use this film this many years past the expiration and I have yet to need to tweak the chemistry to compensate for the film’s aging.

Portraits of Ordinary Objects

I was out doing some more street shooting in my neighborhood and found a couple more “ordinary objects” that cried out for portraits. I’ve included some of my past ones here to provide some context for the project idea.

Triple Meter, 14th Street
Triple Meter, 14th Street
Electrical Box, 13th & U Streets
Electrical Box, 13th & U Streets
Mailbox
Mailbox
Yellow Postbox, Paris
Yellow Postbox, Paris
Hydrant, Chalon
Hydrant, Chalon
Everyday Objects - Payphone
Everyday Objects – Payphone
Siamese Spigot
Siamese Spigot
Traffic Cone
Traffic Cone
Twin Parking Meters
Twin Parking Meters
Mueller Hydrant, K Street, DC
Mueller Hydrant, K Street, DC

These were shot on a mix of films – the black and white are either Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP4+, and the color shots were taken with Kodak Ektar 100, all using my Rolleiflex 2.8E.

Upcoming Course – The Narrative and the Male Figure

An introductory video discussion about my upcoming class at Glen Echo Photoworks. The course runs on Fridays, from September 19 to November 7, from 7-10pm. The concept of the course is to introduce students to the use of the human figure in narrative photography – telling a story with pictures whether it is a single image, a diptych or triptych, or a series. We will cover the historical use of male figures in narrative photography, from Hippolyte Bayard’s nude self-portrait as a drowned man in protest of having withheld his announcement of the photographic process he invented so that Daguerre could go first (and get all the credit and financial rewards that came from being first) to modern photographers like John Dugdale, Arthur Tress, and Duane Michals. We will also look at the use of the male figure in relation to questions of gender, sexuality, and identity. To register for the course, click here – The Narrative and the Male Figure

Seth Kinman’s Elkhorn Chair – by Brady

Ok- it looks like the elk horn chair Seth Kinman gave to President Lincoln made the photo studio rounds in 1864. I now have a copy of the Brady version of the chair’s portrait, along with the Alexander Gardner version. In perusing the Wikipedia article, there appears to be at least one other Brady version of the Kinman-Lincoln chair. I’m trying to find out the disposition of the chair today – it may be part of the White House collections, or it may belong to the Smithsonian. I’ll update when I find out.

According to Wikipedia, here is the story of this particular chair:

Kinman’s presentation of an elkhorn chair to President Abraham Lincoln at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 26, 1864 was recorded by artist Alfred Waud, the only known picture of Lincoln accepting a gift. The drawing shows Lincoln examining Kinman’s rifle, which he called “Ol’ Cottonblossum.” Kinman also presented a fiddle made from the skull and a rib of his favorite mule and played the instrument.

Much to the amusement of Lincoln and other spectators, he played ‘Essence of Old Virginia’ and ‘John Brown’ on the bones of the mule. Lincoln said that if he could play the fiddle he would ask him for it, but since he could not, the fiddle would be better off in Mr. Kinman’s hands.

Within three weeks, Lincoln stated that he would prefer to eat Kinman’s chair, antlers and all, than to appoint a certain office-seeker.

The following April, Kinman marched in President Lincoln’s funeral cortege in Washington.

Elkhorn Chair given to A. Lincoln by Seth Kinman, 1864
Elkhorn Chair given to A. Lincoln by Seth Kinman, 1864

Here is the Gardner CDV for comparison:

Seth Kinman's Elkhorn Chair, Presented to A. Lincoln, November 26, 1864
Seth Kinman’s Elkhorn Chair, Presented to A. Lincoln, November 26, 1864

To quote the Wikipedia page about Seth Kinman:

Seth Kinman (September 29, 1815 – February 24, 1888) was an early settler of Humboldt County, California, a hunter based in Fort Humboldt, a famous chair maker, and a nationally recognized entertainer. He stood over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall and was known for his hunting prowess and his brutality toward bears and Indians. Kinman claimed to have shot a total of over 800 grizzly bears, and, in a single month, over 50 elk. He was also a hotel keeper, barkeeper, and a musician who performed for President Lincoln on a fiddle made from the skull of a mule.

Known for his publicity seeking, Kinman appeared as a stereotypical mountain man dressed in buckskins on the U.S. east coast and selling cartes de visites of himself and his famous chairs. The chairs were made from elkhorns and grizzly bear skins and given to U.S. Presidents. Presidents so honored include James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes. He may have had a special relationship with President Lincoln, appearing in at least two of Lincoln’s funeral corteges, and claiming to have witnessed Lincoln’s assassination.

His autobiography, dictated to a scribe in 1876, was first published in 2010 and is noted for putting “the entertainment value of a story ahead of the strict facts.” His descriptions of events change with his retelling of them. Contemporary journalists and modern writers were clearly aware of the stories contained in the autobiography, “but each chooses which version to accept.

Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

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