Thursday, September 20, 2012

Capturing Social and Environmental Issues - Misrach's Cancer Alley Photos

If you live in the Atlanta area you have a few more days to head down to the High Museum of Art to view Robert Misrach's photography exhibit titled "Revisiting the South:  Richard Misrach's Cancer Alley" through October 7, 2012.

The images with this post are from Misrach's High Museum exhibit.

Most people associate the Mississippi River with of nature and beauty built by man including grand homes and landscapes, but Misrach reminds us that the river has a dark side due to man as well. 

The stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is known as Cancer Alley.  The area has earned the nickname because there are at least 150 industrial plants along the river as well as high members of cancer patients....some with very rare forms of cancer.   

While there has been no peer reviewed scientific study of the area.......which really amazes me....the numbers ARE alarming.   In one town along the river there are fifteen cases in a two-block stretch...another block has sever cancer victims.  

WIkipedia quotes an article that states in 2002, Louisiana had the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States.  Although the national average is 206 deaths per 100,000, Louisiana's rate is 237.3  deaths per 100,000.  At the same time, the death rate from cancer in the area dubbed cancer alley was lower than the rest of Louisiana, as well as the national average.


This website discusses the cancer victims in Cancer Alley:

Those most often at risk are citizens living in small, low-income, predominantly African-American communities.  Residents in these areas suffer disproportionate exposure to the environmental hazards that come with living near chemical waste.  Cases of rare cancers are reported in these communities in numbers far above the national area.  For example, in the town of Gonzales, Louisiana (population 18,000), 3 cases of rhabdomyosarcoma, an extremely rare and devestating childhood cancer, were reported in a 14 month period.  The US national average of rhabdomyosarcoma cases is one child out of a million.  In addition to cancer, residents suffer increased health problems including asthma, neurological disease and stillbirths.  There is also the discomfort of living near towering flare vents which are noisy and occaisionally explode.  

....In the past several decades, an 'Enviromental Justice' movement has arisen to respond to problems such as these.  This is an area of environmental concern which many mainstream environmental organizations fail to deal with, since in these cases the victims are human beings rather than endangered wildlife.  Organizations including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (which provides threatened residents with equipment for taking air samples) have been formed to help communities defend themselves against becoming victims of industry.  The recent success of the residents of Convent, Louisiana in preventing the building of a Shintech polyvinyl plant gives some hope.   Coinciding with this victory, however, was the company's announcement of plans to build a smaller plant 25 miles away, near the town of Plaquemine. 

So, how does Robert Misrach's photography exhibit figure into the discussion regarding Cancer Alley?

This Time magazine article states:

Richard Misrach first traveled to Cancer Alley in 1998, producing a series of images that were exhibited as part of a "Picturing the South" series at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.  "I'd never heard of this area," Misrach recalls.   "And when I finally saw the landscape, I was shocked.  It was really extreme - the amount of industry along the river and the poor communities living there - I couldn't believe it actually existed.  

In February, May and November of 2010, Misrach returned to the region, only to discover that little had changed.  "It was impossible to tell if it'd gotten worse or better," the photographer says, "It looks the same.  It feels the same.  The roads are still below par, and the schools are as well."   Misrach's photographs from his latest trip - along with some of his 1998 originals - are again on display at the High Museum of Art......

The photographs show a bleak, desolate region, and one in which factories and plants are almost always present in the background.

I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibit....

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Frozen - Yet Human Planet

Aesthetic Realism...ever hear of it?  Basically it is a philosophy founded by Eli Siegel.  First, it refers to the deepest desire of every person to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.  Second, the greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it, and third....the belief that all beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites in what we are going after in ourselves. 

One painting that can be used to explore aesthetic realism is The Hunters in the Snow by Peter Bruegel...painted in the Sixteenth Century....a fine example of the Northern Renaissance movement.  

Take a look at it.....

This painting was part of a series of six...five survive today including this painting.  During the Sixteenth Century the Netherlands was undergoing a religious revolution and many state this painting is a statement regarding what country life use to be or what they wished it could be.

Though the landscape looks harsh notice for every sharp mountain peak and for every dark and bleak tree there is also a human moving skating, etc.    Even though things are cold and bare you can also see examples of fun and games.  There is human warmth and a sense of community.    

This website gives a good discussion regarding Bruegel and his painting in relation to aesthetic realism.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Baptism of Pocahontas

This painting by John Gadsby Chapman was painted in 1839 and hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.   More than likely Chapman used Pocahontas as his subject because he had already used her as a subject in 1836.

The year was 1613 or 1614 and Pocahontas, the daughter of Algonkian chief Powhatan was baptized  and given the Anglican name Rebecca.

The painting marks two significant events……it might possibly a depiction of the earliest or least one of the earliest conversion to Christianity and along with Pocahontas’ marriage to John Rolfe created a time of peace between the colonists and the tribes of the Tidewater region.

Look behind Pocahontas……John Rolfe is standing behind her.   Notice the various faces in the groupings.

The painting was installed in the Rotunda in 1840 which might seem strange since the Indian Removals were underway during that period, but this website explains the painting highlights the lofty intentions of the Jamestown settlers and condemns the obstinacy of those who can be understood as ignoble savages.  It propagates the idea of the  the noble savage in Pocahontas, one who is said repeatedly in the literature of the 19th century to have embodied Christian virtues even before she was converted.  The painting also appears to make a case for the harsh treatment of antagonistic, unassimilated Indians.  The policy of “removal” had begun seven years earlier, and it was apparent at the time Chapman’s work appeared that the entire continent would soon be invaded by ambitious American settlers.

The painting appeared on the reverse of the First Charter $20 National Bank notes in 1863 and 1875.

Chapman created the painting in the loft of a barn on G Street in Washington D.C. and endured several tragedies while the work was ongoing.   His son died in 1838 and his daughter only survived ten days after being born premature.   His financial situation was terrible and was plagued by several debts.    He worked on the painting quickly so he could be paid, however, Chapman noted on his daybook that the fee hardly covered his expenses.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Famous Art Thefts: The Amber Room

The Nazis took possession of many works of art as they marched across Europe during World War II.   It's estimated they looted twenty percent of the world's art.

Hitler had grand plans to fill his Fuhrer's Museum with stolen art.

One of the stolen treasures was the contents of the Amber Room from Catherine's Palace near Saint Petersburg.  The Germans dismantled the room and took it.

Unfortunately, the contents were never returned.  Many think the amber room was destroyed by bombs, lost in a sunken submarine or still hidden away in some forgotten place.  

You can find an article regarding the Amber Room at Smithsonian Online.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Photography of Henry Cartier Bresson

One thing I can say with certainty…Henry Cartier Bresson led an interesting life.   Most folks in the know consider him to be the father of modern photojournalism, but his creative life began as a painter….later he switched to photography….and even later in life returned to the canvas.
He made the switch to photography when he came upon the realization during his 30s that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant.  He began traveling the world to take pictures.

His first photojournalism job was to cover the coronation of King George VI.    His pictures cover a unique perspective since his photos show the people along the King’s coronation route…..and none of the King.

During World War II Cartier Breeson joned the French army and in June, 1940 during the Battle of France he was captured by the Germans and held as a POW.   All total he spent 35 months as a prisoner, but on this third try was able to escape.  He spent the remainder of the war documenting the Occupation and the Liberation of France through photographs along with other scenes from the war.

After the war he formed Magnum Photos with Robert Capa, David Seymour, William Vandivert and George Rodger.  Their cooperative picture agency split up photo assignments throughout the world.   Cartier-Breeson covered China and India, and his partners covered other areas.

During his career with Magnum Cartier-Breeson covered Gandhi’s funeral in India in 1948 and the last stage of the Chinese Civil War.

In 1952, Cartier-Breeson published his book, The Decisive Moment…..a book of 125 photos from the east and west.   Cartier-Breeson stated, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.”  The cover was drawn by Henry Matisse.

In 1957, Cartier-Breeson told the Washington Post….”There is a creative faction of a second when you are taking a picture.  Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.   That is the moment the photographer is creative.”He became the first Western photographer to work “freely” in the post-war Soviet Union.

By 1966, he left Magnum to concentrate solely on portraiture and landscapes.  By 1968, Cartier-Breeson turned back to drawing and painting admitting that had said all he could through his photography.   He married Magnum photographer, Martine Franck, thirty years younger than himself and had a daughter with her.

Photographs of Cartier-Breeson are scarce….but they do exist like this one.  

He didn’t like having his picture made.  In 1975 when he received an honorary degree from Oxford University he held a paper in front of his face.

Imagine all of the history this artist witnessed!!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulip

This painting completed by Rembrandt in 1632 when he was just 26 has an interesting story.  The painting is titled Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulip and it happened to be Rembrandt’s first important commission. 

Dr. Tulip was a real person…..not only was he involved in medicine he was also involved in Amsterdam’s government.  It was Dr. Tulip’s signature found on the fitness reports for the first Dutch settlers on the island of Manhattan.

Not only did the medical students in the picture pay to witness Dr. Tulip’s dissection they also paid a fee to be featured in the painting.  Dr. Tulip is seen showing the muscles of the arm.
Notice they all appear to be wearing warm clothing because the dissection theater would have been kept as cold as possible to keep the body from deteriorating.

Also notice there are no cutting instruments.   Someone as important as Dr. Tulip would not have participated in the actual cutting of the body.   That role would have gone to the Preparator….it was his task to prepare the body for the lesson, and he is missing from Rembrandt’s picture.

And the body?    He was the criminal Aris Kindt who was convicted for armed robbery and sentenced to death by hanging. 

Art historians can actually pinpoint this painting to January 16, 1632….since the guild of surgeons was permitted one public dissection a year, and the body had to be that of a convicted criminal.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Woman With Hat

This painting was completed by Henri Matisse in 1905 and depicts Matisse's wife....Amelie. 

 Gertrude Stein bought the painting along with her brother Leo.

They bought it in order to lift Matisse’s spirits after the show this painting was included was panned by the critics.  One critic said the paintings looked like a pot had been flung in the face of the public. 

The painting ended up being a bone of contention with the Stein family.   Gertrude and Leo’s brother’s wife claimed she actually bought the painting, and she may be right.   Photographs of her Paris and California homes clearly show the painting.