The Photographer of New York

One of the benefits of having a blog is that you can use it to introduce your readers to interesting people whom they might not have known about previously. Today it is Berenice Abbott, an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography, born on July 17, 1898. She learned photography from Man Ray in Paris during the 1920s, returned to American to become the photographer of New York City according to some folks,and taught at the New School for Social Research for over 20 years. She died at the age of 93 in 1991.

Read more about this strong-willed, independent, pioneer of modern photography here, while this site claims to be the official Berenice Abbott archive.

Does not the very word ‘creative’ mean to build, to initiate, to give out, to act – rather than to be acted upon, to be subjective? Living photography is positive in its approach, it sings a song of life – not death.”

– Berenice Abbott

Whether it is a photograph or on film, I’m a sucker for black and white. For certain subjects, the stark images are more compelling, and without the color to distract, it is easier to concentrate on the image. Orson Welles once called B&W “the actor’s best friend” because he felt actors gave better performances in black and white, for it allowed more focus on the actor’s expressions as he or she emoted.

Today, several of Berenice Abbott’s most notable photos:

Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan - 1935
Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan – 1935
Brooklyn Bridge 1933
Brooklyn Bridge 1933
Children at a fair 1967
Children at a fair 1967
Jean Cocteau with a gun 1926
Jean Cocteau with a gun 1926

The Good, the Bad, and Four Guys from Jersey

A number of interesting birthdays today: Ann Wilson, of the rock group Heart, in 1951; actresses Kathleen Turner (1949) and Phylicia Rashad (1948); Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses, 1947.

Also born on this day, in 1935, Tommy Devito, guitarist with the Four Seasons. I see where the film version of the play Jersey Boys, based on the story of the Four Seasons, one of the great 60s groups, is hitting the theaters this weekend. One of the big problems with movies about rock and roll is that the vast majority have been made by people who don’t understand rock and roll. The Jersey Boys book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and the music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and they’re all rock and roll guys, but the director is Clint Eastwood, more of a jazz guy.  Now maybe back in the early 6os when he was playing Rowdy on Rawhide, Eastwood really dug the Four Seasons, who knows? Jon Favreau was to direct the movie originally . . . that I could see. Unfortunately, I’m not holding out much hope for this film.  I have liked a few of Eastwood’s directorial efforts, but I think he makes too many of them just for the money.

Other birthdays include, in 1903, Lou Gehrig aka “The Iron Horse,” immortal first baseman for the New York Yankees, and in 1897, Moe Howard, and I shouldn’t have to tell you what group he was in . . . but just in case, here’s a clue: “Oh, a wise guy, eh?”

Last but not least: Aung San Suu Kyi was born June 19th, 1945. She has taken some flak lately about the situation in Burma. Some feel she should be more outspoken. I shared my opinion about that here.

In an interview last March at the Irrawaddy Literary Festival she was asked, “I’ve learned to understand Buddhism is a peaceful and serene religion. But how does Buddhism play out politically?”

Suu Kyi gave this response:

Reuters photo

I don’t think Christians are quite Christian in their political lives. So Buddhists are not necessarily Buddhist in their political life, or even in social life. People ask me, ‘Are you a Buddhist?’ My answer would be I’m studying to be one, to be a better Buddhist. I’d like to say I’m a good Buddhist, but I’m not in a position to say I’m a good Buddhist as I’m trying to learn to be one . . .

Meditation has taught me tremendous awareness of getting annoyed, getting tired and feeling better. I meditate unless I’m lazy or tired, mostly once a week . . .

I was born into a Buddhist family. Buddhism is rooted in a practical cause. It’s about the discovery of what the human mind and human beings are like. The more I meditated, the more I learned of how true to life Buddhist teachings were.

For example, I’m very fond of the teaching that explains how to distinguish a good man from a bad man. A bad man always exaggerates his good points and minimizes the good points of others. A good man does it the other way around. And a bad man will always exaggerate everything people say to him in gratitude. It’s a very simple bit of teaching. I’ve found that very human. And believe me, I can tell a good man from a bad man.”

Here is the full article.

Finally, this song is sung by the guy who plays Frankie Valli on the soundtrack of Jersey Boys, but there is no substitute for the original:


James Dean’s Poetry + A Favorite Song

Today happens to be the birthday of three rebels without a pause: Actor Nick Nolte in 1934, iconic actor, James Dean in 1931, and iconic Beat Generation anti-hero, Neal Cassady in 1926.

Nick Nolte, by the way, played Neal Cassady in the 1980 film, Heartbeat.

Something that many folks may not know about James Dean is that he dabbled in poetry. There’s a collection of his poems available, Rebel with a Pen: The Poetry of James Dean. I don’t have it but I do have The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, which includes the following poem. Supposedly, it was written during the filming of Rebel Without A Cause, at a time when Dean was frustrated dealing with his estranged father. I suspect the story behind how Dean ended up in a Tijuana toilet is far more interesting than the poem itself. I don’t normally include language that some people may find offensive. But, considering that Cee Lo Green (Gnarls Barkley) is nominated for four Grammy awards for his song “F*** You”, I figure what the hell: 

Ode to a Tijuana Toilet
(or the famous Fuck You Prosaic Principle)

Portrait of Jim & naked ass
in the mirror (from backstage
it issaid: IT IS “MORBID!”
Is it MORIBUND it is asked,
Oh Great Crusty bowel of no end
Is it Sebastian
yanking arrows out of his butt
Or the brave matador’s shadow
the last moment in the/mirror
who cries it is the “MORBID SON”
Fuck dad, dear dead, fuck you.
The lonely man who can’t
get out from the back of the mirror
Great puppet of the Other
O breathing life
to the dead on the sand
Dried sea weed that speaks
singing Italian Songs
on Patchen Place
to the caged girl
The body in a tin can
empty of the soul
The crow is crowing
and two becomes one
The pen is set aside,
the moving finger wrote
and now he takes a shit.

© 1955 James Dean

It’s also the birthday of legendary American blues and jazz singer/guitarist and songwriter, Lonnie Johnson (1894). Do yourself a favor, while you are reading the birthday list, listen to Lonnie perform, “Tomorrow Night”. You can thank me later.