by Alan Trachtenberg
Last year, as The New York Times has reported, a young couple from Heber Springs, Arkansas offered a collector 50 family photographs, unassuming black-and-white studio portraits dating from the mid-twentieth century. That quiet sale, which raised the possibility that there were other vintage prints of Mike Disfarmerís work in area family albums, set off a competitive buying frenzy that had collectors going door to door through rural Arkansas, spending more than a million dollars on several thousand prints. Disfarmer's work had originally been discovered in crates of glass-plate negatives, found by the speculator who purchased his estate. It was brought to light decades later in a series of books and exhibitions that set off consistent, continuing critical acclaim, but known only in posthumous reprints. Original Disfarmer Photographs is the first publication to present these vintage prints, made by Disfarmer's own hand at the time the pictures were taken--at once family mementos and the original work of one of Americaís greatest portraitists. Disfarmer spent half a century making studio portraits at pennies a picture to satisfy his rural clients, and creating a style of portraiture all his own. As one subject describes its genesis, "There wasn't much of a greeting when you walked in, I'll tell you that. Instead of telling you to smile, he just took the picture. No cheese or anything."
There is something surreal about spending more than a million dollars for a bunch of postcard sized contact prints that the photographer sold for pennies a piece. At least there is a posthumous recognition and a chance to see these remarkable portraits. I bought this book off a member of Rangefinder Forum and it's not available at my library but they had another Disfarmer book, Disfarmer: the vintage prints
In the small mountain town of Heber Springs, the Arkansas artist known as Disfarmer captured the lives and emotions of the people of rural America between 1939-1945. Critics have hailed Disfarmer's remarkable black and white portraits as "a work of artistic genius" and "a classical episode in the history of American photography."
THE DISFARMER PROJECT
The Disfarmer Project is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the great American portrait photographer Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959). Please browse our website for news and information about Disfarmer, and visit our store to purchase Disfarmer prints and books. A portion of the profits from the sales of prints will be donated to non-profit organizations in Cleburne County.
From a Studio in Arkansas, a Portrait of America
Dead for half a century, Mike Disfarmer, the eccentric portrait photographer from Heber Springs, Ark., has drawn modest yet respectful attention in recent decades. From the 1920's to the 50's, he photographed a steady stream of townspeople in his Main Street studio in an American Gothic style of portraiture that was singularly his own.
He was a small Southern town’s resident photographer. But there was nothing ordinary about Mike Disfarmer’s work.
Mike Disfarmer was the local photographer in Heber Springs, Ark. (pop. 3,800), from 1915 until he died in 1959. In his studio, he shot baby pictures, couples, families, young men going off to war, a hunter with the deer he'd shot, a fisherman holding up a catfish about half his size. There was nothing out of the ordinary about his subjects (well, there was the one man with a wooden leg). He shot ordinary people in their everyday clothes: overalls, leather jackets, fedoras, cotton print dresses. But that's as far as normality goes in Disfarmer's case. His photographs don't look anything like most family photos that ride around in wallets or gather dust in the good living room where no one goes unless there's company that you don't know real well.
How the Saudis stole a march on the U.S.
Palestinian Authority advisers Saeb Erakat and Yasser Abed Rabbo arrived in Washington at the beginning of February confused and uncertain. Their mandate from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, was to talk to State Department officials about US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s upcoming visit to Ramallah, where she was planning to hold a three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian president about restarting the peace process.
But beyond that, neither Erakat nor Abed Rabbo had a clue about why Abu Mazen had insisted they travel to Washington. They weren’t alone. In the immediate wake of their visit, State Department officials wondered aloud why the two had even bothered to come: “The real question for both men was the same,” an official familiar with the Erakat-Abed Rabbo meetings remarked, “and that was - what the hell are you doing here?”
The same confusion was apparent at the White House, where National Security Council (NSC) official Elliott Abrams - the architect of US policy in the Middle East - was growing increasingly irritated with Rice’s attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. Abrams, supported by officials in the Office of the Vice President, had consistently argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a morass better left in the hands of the Israelis. That viewpoint was clear from the first days of the administration of President George W Bush, when Vice President Dick Cheney knocked down any attempt to re-engage with Israelis and Palestinians.
A Republican Party stalwart describes Cheney’s views in blunt terms: “People would come to Bush and say we have to get focused on the peace process, and Cheney would sit there and say, ‘Mr President, don’t do it. These people have been fighting for 50 years. To hell with them. And look at what happened to [former president Bill] Clinton when he tried. It just got worse.’ And Bush would nod his head and that would be the end of the discussion.”
How to Live With Hunger
When I was a child, a popular argument in favor of the Israeli "liberation," i.e., occupation, of the Palestinian territories was its being a blessing for the Palestinians themselves. "When we took it over," I was told at school, "there were just a couple of cars in the entire West Bank. And look how many they have now!" Indeed, in the first decades of the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian standard of living was on the rise – not because of Israeli investments (Israel never invested a cent in Palestinian welfare or infrastructure), but mainly because Israel exploited the Palestinians as a cheap labor force, and even a cheap labor force gets paid.
The welfare argument cannot be heard anymore, now that one in two Gaza and West Bank households is "food insecure" or in danger of becoming so, as a UN report recently revealed. Not that it changed anything for the Israeli expansionists: once that colonialist argument became obsolete, the supporters of the occupation switched to other excuses. That's the nice thing about the politics of the occupation: the support for it is based on excuses, not reasons. Whenever one excuse fails, Israel's propaganda machine offers another.
It's interesting to observe, however, how Israelis nowadays cope with what used to be such a popular excuse. Having claimed the occupation ameliorated Palestinian life, Israelis now have to face hunger and starvation at their doorstep. How do they live with it?
From Esther to AIPAC
Jewishness is a rather broad term. It refers to a culture with many faces, varied distinctive groups, different beliefs, opposing political camps, different classes and diversified ethnicity. Nevertheless, the connection between those very many people who happen to identify themselves as Jews is rather intriguing. In the paragraphs that follow, I will try to further the search into the notion of Jewishness. I will make an attempt to trace the intellectual, spiritual and mythological collective bond that makes Jewishness into a powerful identity.
Clearly, Jewishness is neither a racial nor an ethnic category. Though Jewish identity is racially and ethnically orientated, the Jewish people do not form a homogenous group. There is no racial or ethnic continuum. Jewishness may be seen by some as a continuation of Judaism. I would maintain that this is not necessarily the case either. Though Jewishness borrows some fundamental Judaic elements, Jewishness is not Judaism and it is even categorically different from Judaism. Furthermore, as we know, more than a few of those who proudly define themselves as Jews have very little knowledge of Judaism, many of them are atheists, non-religious and even overtly oppose Judaism or any other religion. Many of those Jews who happen to oppose Judaism happen to maintain their Jewish identity and to be extremely proud about it. This opposition to Judaism obviously includes Zionism (at least the early version) but it also is the basis of much of Jewish socialist anti-Zionism.
Though Jewishness is different from Judaism one may still wonder just what constitutes Jewishness: whether it is a new form of religion an ideology or if it is just a 'state of mind'.
Growing Up Jewdy
Each day, I read stories about Jewish cults and customs, corrupt Jewish leaders and the heinous activities of the Zionist elite. Each day I read about the brutality in the Middle East, the plight of the Palestinians, and the culpable Jewish leaders in America. And each day, as I think back on my personal history, my coming of age in an average American Jewish family, I wonder, "where do I fit in?"
I am prompted to write this essay because stories like mine rarely get told. It is the story of an ordinary Jewish family, my family.
The Nietzsche Family Circus
thanks to The Online Photographer
Risky Side of Sears: Retailer Is Recast As a Hedge Fund
Over its 121-year history, Sears has been a watch seller, a giant mail-order business, a home builder and the nation's favorite retailer. And now, in 2007, it is becoming . . . a hedge fund?
As strange as it sounds, this transformation of Sears is now in force. Its retail sales have dropped for five straight years, and managers complain about deteriorating stores. Meanwhile, Sears is pouring its money into risky, esoteric investments to generate huge returns for shareholders.
thanks to Culture of Life News
Juicing the Stock Market
The secret maneuverings of the Plunge Protection Team
The precariousness of our present economic situation has caused these dramatic changes and strengthened the conjugal relationship between the privately-owned Central Bank, major corporations and the state. The market is more vulnerable now than anytime since the late 1920s, a fact that was emphasized in a statement by the IMF just 2 months ago:
“Financial markets have failed to price in the risk that any one of a host of threats to economic security could materialize and deliver a massive shock to the world economy. It is clear that risks are on the downside of a sharper than expected slowdown in house prices that would produce weaker-than-expected growth that would have implications for global growth and financial markets.” (“IMF: Risk of global crash is increasing” UK Independent)
Risk, over-exposure, cheap money, shaky loans, a falling dollar, low reserves and a confidence deficit; these are the crumbling cinder-blocks upon which America’s Empire of Debt currently rests. The possibility of a major disruption grows more likely by the day. Consider the world's 8,000 unregulated hedge funds with $1.3trillion at their disposal or the wobbly derivatives market and the effects that a sudden downturn might have. Kenneth J. Gerbino put it like this in his recent article “The Big Sell Off” on kitco.com:
“With a global market panic starting in a low interest rate and, so far, low inflation environment, one has to be wonder about the real reason for (Tuesday’s) sell-off. Easy money almost everywhere leads to leverage and speculation. No where is this more prevalent than in the global derivatives market. It is not out of the question that third party defaults and risk aversion designed instruments that collapse and go sour may someday overwhelm the financial markets. Latest figures from the Bank of International Settlements: $8.3 trillion of real money is controlling $313 trillion in derivatives. That’s 38 to 1 leverage. These figures are just for the over - the - counter derivatives and do not include the global exchange traded derivatives in currencies, stocks and commodities which are another $75 trillion.”
“$8.3 trillion of real money is controlling $313 trillion in derivatives!”
This illustrates the sheer magnitude of the problem and the economy-busting potential of a miscalculation. That’s why Warren Buffett calls derivatives “weapons of mass destruction”. If there’s a fire-sale in hedge funds or derivatives, there’s nothing the Plunge Protection Team or the Federal Reserve will be able to do to stop a meltdown. The market will crash leaving nothing behind.
We are reaping the rewards of a lawless, deregulated system which has removed all the safeguards for protecting the small investor. There is no government oversight; it’s a joke. The stock market is a crap-shoot that serves the sole interests of establishment elites, corporate plutocrats, and banking giants. The small investor is trapped beneath the wheel and getting squeezed more and more every day. He has no way to fix the markets like the big guys and no lobby to promote his interests. He must arrive at his decisions by researching publicly available information and then plunking down his money. That’s it. He’d be better off in a casino; the odds are about the same.
thanks to The Online Photographer
Slaves to Free Market Fundamentalism: Telecom Companies and the Lost Future
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” - John Maynard Keynes
Keynes was half right. It's not so much that practical men are the slaves of some defunct economist or philosopher's ideas - it's that they are the slaves to the only-half understood idea of some dead economist. Adam Smith, who also wrote about how tradesmen constantly conspired against the public good and who wrote an entire book on morals, would have been horrified by the way his passage on the invisible hand has been used to justify never interfering in markets, for example. And Marx, perhaps most succinctly, once said "I am not a Marxist".
Every era is subject to a number of bad ideas, born of badly understood philosophy (in the larger sense, where all the sciences are but offspring of the first discipline, that of the philosopher). In our era one of the worst is what has come to be known as "free market fundamentalism".
The New Color: The Return of Black-and-White
I am sure I'm not alone in beginning to think that the more complex, messy, unfashionable, and broad territory of black-and-white photography is where we are going to find some of the grist to the mill in photography's substantive and longer-term positioning within art. Established, darkroom-trial-and-error-loving photographers are stockpiling their preferred papers and film, and younger practitioners are beginning the experimentation of finding digital alternatives, replete with all the inherent irony of converting chromatic digital to monochrome. In and of itself, this kind of contradictory momentum will create important discourse, while also continuing to link the various value systems for photography (including amateur and professional practice) with artists' critique. Outside of the most financially and technologically privileged families and high schools, analog black-and-white photography is still a key access route into seeing and thinking photographically. While we had the hiatus in the early 2000s for the "give the (poor) kids disposable (analog) cameras" projects, black-and-white photography still looks like the most cost-effective method for an inspirational teacher to make visual literacy a necessary part of a child's expression and education. The techno-friendly, leisure time-rich amateur photographer successfully crafts the ever-nostalgic, formally perfected, black-and-white masterwork, by digital means. Epson and other manufacturers are on the verge of effectively (if not sentimentally) replacing Ilford and other favored gelatin-silver papers by offering highly technical alternatives that have a rich black-and-white tonality and even mimic the surfaces of gelatin-silver papers. We have also seen the refreshed relevance of monochrome digital fashion and lifestyle photography, something that had been a big commercial no-no in the 1990s. Perhaps the pungent and effective double act of sex and violence that had been slickly conveyed by the heavily retouched fashion imagery of the late 1990s was more dangerous, unpalatable and un-commissionable in post-9/11 austerity. The classic, neo-conservative production values of recent studio-based monochrome might actually be another point where black-and-white's reprieve from potential cultural extinction seems to be felt. It's here in this mix of agendas and uses of black-and-white photography that I think we have the ingredients for cognizant, challenging photography.
thanks to Conscientious