Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Mexican Suitcase at ICP

I'm not sure why looking at black and white pictures of Spanish Civil War soldiers sitting casually against the landscape of their homeland is so poignant to me. They're laughing and smoking, or looking vacant, or marching, all with the distinctive barren and rocky backdrop of Spain (or how I imagine it beyond Madrid, the only part of the country I've ever seen with my own eyes). The photographers who captured these images are Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Chim, all Magnum war photographers who put their lives in danger to show the world what Franco was up to during the 1930s. The show is "The Mexican Suitcase" which is running at the International Center of Photography through January 9, 2011.

The epic story of the "Mexican Suitcase" is a long and confusing yarn. Three small cardboard boxes that disappeared from Paris shortly after World War II, and which contained 126 rolls of film taken by the three photographers, resurfaced after decades in Mexico. Robert Capa's brother, Cornell, was able to see greet the finale of his long quest in 2007 when he was 89 years old and rapidly nearing the end of his own life.

The result of his dogged search for the negatives is an exhibit chock-full of evocative old photo ephemera: worn rectangular manilla envelopes, labeled by Capa in pencil: "Taro: Sierra" and old notebooks filled with tiny developed contact sheet images, arranged by the photographers to tell the story of which images were used in which publication. There's Capa's 1939 Press Card. Old covers of yellowed magazines splashed with the confidence of handsome Spanish generals. Even a haunting film shot by Henri Cartier Bresson, a founding member of Magnum, of American volunteers in Spain.

My favorite images were the ones where civilians are living their lives with the war falling naturally into the backdrop: life goes on with an old woman selling sardines straight from the ocean's edge. We're also given the choice, for the first time, to examine the published prints against the surrounding images on the contact sheets. Take, for example, the picture of a little girl with saucer brown eyes, a refugee who sits on a bed clutching her toy bears staring off into space. Now you can see that in the surrounding images she looks more like a child than a shell-shocked war veteran, her eyes actually engaging with the camera. Those pictures, in the end, didn't make the cut.

Bonus: Take a minute to soak in the only known photograph from the show, shown above, of Capa and Taro together in the first blushes of their tragic romance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Interview With Emmy Winning Cartoonist, Dean Haspiel

In today's Publishing Perspectives, I interview my friend Dean Haspiel, the comic book artist who's illustrated the new book Cuba: My Revolution. It's a collaboration between himself and his old family friend, Inverna Lopez, who lived through the idealism and the horror that followed. Here's the beginning of the piece, with a link at the bottom to the rest (check me out in the panels above, linked here for a larger, more readable version. Thanks for the flattering portrayal, Dean!)...

Some 20 years ago, Eisner prize-nominated and Emmy-winning comic book artist Dean Haspiel heard about a family friend, Inverna Lockpez, who escaped from Fidel Castro’s revolution-era Cuba and began documenting her story. Now comes, Cuba: My Revolution, a graphic novel published by Vertigo, a division of DC Comics in New York, that tells the story of a young revolutionary named Sonya who struck out from the beliefs of her family and friends for a greater ideal — it just didn’t turn out the way she thought it would.

Here, Haspiel has offered a visual interpretation of his interview with our writer Rachel Aydt and discusses the challenges taking a friend’s delicate story and giving it a fictional and visual voice:

Publishing Perspectives: How long have you known your collaborator, Inverna Lockpez?

Dean Haspiel: I met Inverna Lockpez through my mother and have known her for over 25 years. She’s a longtime friend, an extension of my family, and has become like a second mother to me. The whole time I’ve known her, she’s been this gregarious, amazing person and painter. She’s an artist and curator, and organized INTAR, a Spanish arts gallery in Manhattan. I always knew her in this context, and thought she was a very interesting, albeit, mysterious woman. Over the years she would reveal stories about Cuba, the things that happened to her.

PP: How did you and she settle on turning this into a graphic novel?

DH: I became fascinated with the fragments of her story as I would hear them, and began knitting a narrative together from the pieces that had drifted out of her. I’d illustrated The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames, and I’d worked with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor, and The Quitter, and Inverna became fascinated with the power of the medium. In our discussions, I said to her, ‘I feel like there’s a full narrative here that we should explore.’ She hesitated because she’d been burying information and keeping it back for so many years. It must have been extremely difficult for her to leave Cuba and to find a new home. I imagine her coping mechanism was to block it out until I encouraged her to open that door.

PP: It must have been difficult to illustrate the more nightmarish parts of her story… click here to read on....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Seek and Ye Shall Find More, and More, and More

Yesterday, a friend of mine, Ellen Seidman, posted a piece from NBC on her Twitter feed about how to help kids with sensory issues have a better Halloween. Some of the advice was to get them get used to wearing their costumes before the big day, avoid making them stick their hands in squishy pumpkins (which can make some kids with sensory issues feel nauseous), and for God's sake, cut the tags out of the costumes. I would also add that it might be helpful to find a quieter trick or trick stomping ground than the loudest one in your neighborhood, which in my case is the symbol of chaos itself, the Annual Halloween Parade which rolls through the West Village every year.

This piece was sensitive and helpful, but I'm always left scratching my head after reading advice regarding sensory issues. They always, nearly 100% of the time, fail to mention the other type of child with sensory issues, the one who literally needs more to feel; the "sensory seeker." My 7-year-old son has struggled with this going back to nursery school (which he was booted from for being the Hitter, though the professionals failed to note that he was also the Hugger). He struggles with boundary issues to this day, though he's becoming less impulsive by leaps and bounds. I remember him screaming as a baby whenever we'd unroll packing tape, because the loud noise frightened him, but for the most part his responses have beckoned more input. This is a kid who needs tight, tight bear hugs, and stomps his way through life asking for more hot peppers at our local Ramen house. The technical function of the stomping and squeezing is that it gives him the necessary joint compression he needs; the social result is that when he's not getting the input, he drifts when he's not finding his sensorial equilibrium. For these children, there's a fine line between finding this balance and becoming over-stimulated. In the classroom this means he needs to sit up front and be called on often. Weighted vests have, on occasion, given him extra input so he can feel good in his skin and focus on the task at hand. Squeeze balls, sugar free gum, and a whole host of sensory toys have allowed him to do everything from walk in a straight line down the street to endure a long car ride.

We're fortunate to live in a place and time where Early Intervention has given him a hand up in educational settings. He now understands, thanks to untolled hours of sessions with patient Occupational Therapists, when he needs sensory breaks, and he'll ask for them. Stomping up a staircase or two before settling into his arithmetic seems to do the trick. We're finding our way through these challenges, yet reading articles like the one my friend posted make me wonder how many other parents of kids with sensory issues feel that they're not reading tips that are applicable to them?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

That Little Anita Hill Thing

The absurdity of the Virginia Thomas phone call to Anita Hill this week has had me recalling many of the times I was harassed in the workplace, or witnessed harassment, mainly during my restaurant years. It's quite possible that Ginnie Thomas has never been sexually harassed, but for a good number of my friends this isn't the reality. My own experience of being harassed nearly twenty years ago left me having an uncomfortable conversation with the owner of the restaurant I worked in; I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt I should tell him that his manager had informed me he wanted to -- well, let's take one of those "dime store donkeys" and leave the rest to your imagination. I had just moved to New York, and was mortified, poor, and felt powerless. It was probably thanks to Anita Hill that I had the courage to speak up about it and a) be left alone, and b) keep my job. It didn't hurt that the owner was Geraldine Ferraro's husband, and when I told him what had happened he slammed his fist into his wooden desk and hollered something along the lines of, "That sunofabitch, it's a good thing for him Gerry's in Geneva!" I knew I'd be okay, then (even though I was making roughly $2 an afternoon in tips for awhile working the least lucrative shifts; hmmm...).

In an earlier job, a friend was informed (in front of me) that our boss had had a dream about her nether regions, and that she'd resembled Rapunzel (I understand that years later, said boss was sued by a group of brave waitresses who banded together after they couldn't take it anymore). Others have been groped in the walk-in. Others have had affairs with their married bosses, and I've wondered what their lives were like leading up to these arrangements.

Naturally, there's a difference between a sexually-charged environment and a hostile one where power is systematically chipped away in the form of undesirable daily nuances. We're human, and I've also witnessed relationships blossom in the workplace that are completely successful and healthy. These situations shouldn't be a part of the harassment conversation, because there's a difference between love and violence. I think it was Andrea Dworkin who referred to these little jabs as "the little rapes." You're victimized, and in order to not make it worse you keep your head to the ground and move along. You don't create a scene; you don't make it worse. Apparently, in Ginnie Thomas's world, you even have to apologize.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Bullies

Lately, I've been remembering my experiences of being bullied when I was growing up in Santa Fe. It's a blight on my memory, but these days the dark smudge is receding , revealing feelings that are surprisingly raw due to the recent swarm of hi-profile teen suicides in the news. I'm disgusted when I open the paper, an abhorrent laundry list of cruelty that should be unimaginable outside the realm of a horrific C.S.I. episode.

I wish I could go back in time and talk to myself at 9 years old. I'd pick up that pigeon-toed girl out of the Wood Gormley Elementary school yard and tell her it would get better. I was a latch key kid who wore tube socks with dresses to school once in a blue moon, and walked funny with my toes pointed in and my butt sticking out. Day after day, plenty of mean girls in their tight Jordache Jeans would imitate me during recess. The same girls also targeted Lisa S. and Allison G. We weren't allowed to forget that we were ugly, or poor, or fat. The worst it got was one day when the ringleader (she knows who she is) wouldn't let me go to the bathroom. I had to pee, and she (were there others?) held the metal stall door closed until I had to leave. I don't know what I did; I can't remember; I can't remember a lot of those times. This was in the 3rd grade; I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I hadn't switched schools, getting a blessed fresh start. For awhile, anyway.

The poverty issue got me a few years later when I was accused of stealing $20 from another (wealthy) member of my J.V. volleyball team. I hadn't. An apology was eventually coaxed out of my accuser in our school principal's office, but when you move through those channels it only makes it worse behind the scenes.

My younger brother is a whole different story. For years and years he caught even more crap than I did. Being one of the only blond kids in his class garnered him the nickname Hillbilly; Hillbilly was chased and hit, and once, to my horror, even had his shoes lit on fire with gasoline after school one day. Maybe my proudest moment is breaking a glass bottle and holding it to the throat of "Eddie Spaghetti" after he chased my brother down for the millionth time, threatening to slice his neck open if he didn't leave him the hell alone. When C. tells this story he likes to punctuate the ending: I'm his knight in shining armor, standing in front of our bathroom mirror pulling a shard of glass out of my eye. And I'd do it again.

Now I watch my own son, not much younger than my little brother was during some of the worst of it, grow up in a world that's far more heinous, cruel and dangerous than the one we struggled to navigate. I hope he doesn't have to experience the loneliness and fear of being singled out, and I hope that if he sees cruelty being pointed toward someone else, he'll have the courage to do something about it.

As an aside, I was at an exhibit today that transformed a parochial school into a three story gallery stuffed with paintings and installations about education, with the aim to revamp the entire national school system. It was there that I learned it's still legal in 20 states to beat children in school as a punishment. You know, with a belt. Apparently this happens every 4 seconds; and every 4 minutes a student is hurt so badly by their "educator" that they seek medical help. Doesn't violence beget violence?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Notorious and Notable Women

I took my Parsons students to see the Notorious & Notable: 20th Century Women of Style exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York on Tuesday morning. I love visiting museums at the top of the day; you have the place nearly to yourself, similar to catching an 11 a.m. movie. The items on show appear to wake up alongside the rest of us, particularly when they're mannequins donning clothing worn by the likes of 'Was she, or was she not killed by her husband Sunny von Bulow' (pink mini dress, circa 1968) and 'the brunette Buster Brown, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' Anita Loos (pink tea dress, circa 1930s).

The show features jewelry and clothing owned by eighty women who were, at one time or another, active socialites on the New York scene. The intention was to highlight the relationship between the media and the women (hence the "Notorious" in the title). This aspect of the show wasn't as in depth as I would have liked; generally there was just one descriptive quote pulled from a newspaper or magazine of the person's era, mainly directed at their personal style rather than the very things that gave them notoriety, implied riches aside. Some of the lifted quotes described cheeky traits (apparently Hilary Geary Ross has an embroidered pillow that says "Eat, Drink, and Remarry"), but none were doggedly mean like the tabloids of today. Joan Crawford is lauded for her charity work; not her alleged parenting shortfalls (to put it mildly). The exhibit would have benefitted greatly, in my opinion, from a smattering of framed relevant newspapers and magazines.

The jewelry that was captured two-dimensionally in newsprint, dangling on their owners during benefits and parties, perches in cases under flattering light. The irony of the tidy presentation of a pendant owned by one of the two Edie Bouviers of Grey Gardens fame didn't elude me. A giant calla lilly broach shares the spotlight with a pure gold clutch, clutched by Jackie O (earrings to match).

The dresses were magnificent, and varied wildly from a custom made Oscar de la Renta caftan worn by Jayne Wrightsman, to a stripper costume worn by Gypsy Rose Lee. There was an emblematic flapper-era Poiret worn by Isadora Duncan, and other gowns worn by the likes of Mrs. J.P. Morgan, Jesse Norman, and Lauren Bacall. I was particularly moved by two items that appeared worn with age. One brick-red Geoffrey Beene jersey gown was pilled through the bodice, and Alice Tully's blue and white-floral silk coat still needed a good pressing. These are the details though that remind us that breathing, blood flowing women wore them, usually to their advantage.