May 25, 2011 § 8 Comments

Today, I have no words.



Her Hidden Self

May 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

In 2007, a box of negatives purchased at a real estate auction turned out to hold the work of one of the finest street photographers in mid-twentieth century America. Vivian Maier was a nanny in Chicago who–on her weekly day off–would take her Rolleiflex camera into the streets. Her work captured her travels (as poor as she sometimes was), the evolution of black and white to color photography, women and children, and Chicago urban life from the 1950s-1990s.

She captured both wealth...

...and images of poverty.

Her discoverer, John Maloof, began researching her life and collecting as many boxes of her work as he could find, with over 100,000 negatives gathered. Not much is known about her personally as she was very private. I’m intrigued by what she would think of her work being revealed now, when she never sought to publicize it during her lifetime. This self-imposed obscurity seems to show up in her actual photos as well, in the many sly and clever self-portraits she’s taken.

I’m also struck by her passion for the art of photography alone, devoid of any need to show other people, be recognized, or make money off of it. Maloof found hundreds of rolls of film from times when she was too poor to develop them. Much of her own work, she never even saw. But the continuous taking of pictures–that was the important part.

I’m equally struck by John Maloof’s role in all of this. He discovered her work while writing a historical book about the neighborhood, so he had some artistic outlet already. But he hasn’t just invested a bit of his own money and time into making her work public. He’s devoted all his energy to this: scanning, archiving and publishing her work, researching her life, showing her work in exhibitions, and starting a documentary.

His creative project has become highlighting  her creative work. I suppose it could be seen as simply marketing, but I think it’s an interesting type of artistic collaboration, taking on someone else’s lifework and adding to it, making it your own. Like a translator navigating English speakers through the beauty of a Spanish poem, Maloof guides Vivian Maier’s hidden photos into the public eye.

Weekend do: Up edition

May 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

1. Do live it up-literally. I like to imagine what it might be like to daily wake up among tree branches.

A blue treehouse in a willow tree is almost perfect. Gordon Brown, Collins Design.

2. Do listen to Givers. Paste describes their sound as “sort of psychedelic buoyancy, homegrown exoticism…and rattling optimism/joy.”  Watch for their debut album to release on June 7th by Glassnote. Their song “Up Up Up” definitely is a musical illustration of goodness that will reel you into their interesting, uplifting, and captivating sound.

3. Do stargaze. One of my favorite things to do is lay on my back, free of city lights, and look up at the night sky. Grab some blankets to lay on or cover up with, friends, and find an open space to find those constellations and maybe a shooting star. Click here for this week’s sky news.

In the fields of stars - Jessica's Pinterest

Happy Weekend!

We the Consumers

May 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

I seem to keep stumbling across articles on our attitude as consumers and creators of art and thought I’d share a few.

1. I like Alyssa Rosenburg’s tongue-in-cheek comment about our incomprehension that Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) hasn’t written anything else or even tried to. It challenges our perception of artists, whom we see as toiling away until their ‘breakthrough’ to fame or discovery and then continuing to pump out their creative wares. But artists, like any other person, have their ups and downs, their cycles of productivity, their limits to what they want (and have) to say. The artist who knows when he or she has finished and steps back should be applauded, not lamented.

2. Sufjan Stevens’ latest album The Age of Adz has gotten quite a bit of flak for the electronic deviation from his folk sound, but every time I hear about the life experience and creative process that led to it, I like the album more. It’s the story of a burned out musician relearning the basics of sound, meaning, and self, and I appreciate the honesty of that journey. (Thanks for sharing this, Laura! It’s a lovely piece of nonfiction as well.)

3. Our relationship to art–new or old–changes as we change. Martin Anderson writes how viewing the same movie twice isn’t a static experience. Our response to movies we revisit is different coming from a different time in life. On another note, Steven Hyden and Noel Murray tackle why aging music consumers tend to be resistant to the latest music scene–the sense of what’s good, innovative, and how we consume music versus other media all up for debate.

The White Stripes disbanded early this year.

4. Matt Satterfield lists the The White Stripes as one of the 10 most important artists of the last decade for pursuing and then becoming a part of timeless Americana (another two artists who, like Harper Lee, had their say, played their music, and quietly moved on).

5. This Japanese cafe completely messes with our expectations of restaurants and the way we engage with food. I’d love to see this tried in the U.S., though I wonder if, after the novelty wears off, we’re generous enough to enjoy it longterm.

6. And finally, graphic artist James Sturm experimented cutting off his internet access for several weeks while he worked offline and undistracted, forcing readers who wished to comment to join him in his experience by sending handwritten letters. Here he illustrates some of those letters and their own responses to productivity and the internet.

Giving within our stories

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

In four weeks I’ll be living and working in Uganda (be prepared for some guests posts) as I partner with Invisible Children. My story with Invisible Children began 5 years ago when I saw the documentary “Rough Cut.” Three young filmmakers captured the images of the night commuters and child soldiers’ stories. The story compelled me to give my time, energy, and resources. There are so many others who are also giving because of the stories they have heard.

With my windows down and sun beaming on me, I grooved to a new song the local radio showcased. I soon learned the song was by Brett Dennen, who is partnering with Invisible Children in an effort to end Africa’s longest war. All of the profits (all 100%) from his new album Lover Boy are being donated to Invisible Children. This man has soul in his music.  I’m sharing three videos because I couldn’t just share one.

Brett’s “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)” was the song I heard on that sunny day driving with the windows down.

This raw version (using only a single microphone) of “Walk Away Watch Me Burn” is so beautiful.

“Queen of the Westside” will definitely get you groovin’ and bumpin’ your head. I dare you to stay still.

A nod to Brett who is choosing to invest on the behalf of another.

Movement Fraught With Meaning

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

The past few days, I keep coming back to the pleasant surprise of Google’s logo on Wednesday, an animated dance in celebration of  the modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.

A still from Google's animated logo

Widely considered the Picasso of the dance world, Graham’s innovative work in the 1920s and 30s focused on the independent spirit and the meaning of movement itself. The doodle features several iconic poses from her various pieces, which The Martha Graham Center of Dance breaks down.

Martha Graham, photographed by Barbara Morgan

From dancing out lamentation, partying, springtime, and women on the frontier, you can see how varied and particular each movement is. She said, “All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.”

How important those individual moments of movement become for the animator! Done by motionographer Ryan Woodward, the animation is modeled after a dancer performing the same phrase of movement.

Watching the crafting of this doodle, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite animations, a dance set to the song, “World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies. I love how the form and movement of a real dance take on a surreal-like aspect when the animation is added. The woman becomes imagined, dreamed for most of the song. Her sudden sprouting of wings and his overlarge and tangled limbs beautifully illustrate the complicated emotions of relationships, matching the movement.

When I went looking for this film again, I saw it was done by none other than Woodward himself. Though he has worked on several big name projects (think Spiderman and Where the Wild Things Are), he found himself wanting to do something simple, hand-drawn, with more freedom for interpretation. The behind-the-scenes video below is long, but interesting to watch the collaboration of choreographer, dancer, and animator, as well as a bit about the art of animation.

I like his choice to refrain from cinematic tricks and techniques to tell the story, wanting the emotion to be genuine rather than triggered, and allowing mistakes to be part of the piece itself, as it is part of the humanness of relationships. Woodward’s animation adds to and defines the meaning of the dancer’s movement rather than simply imitating it. A nod to Graham and Woodward.

A conglomerate of amazingness

May 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

How are Nutella, Agnes Obel, and Kelly Kapoor related? Read on and the clarity of these three entities will be revealed.

In 1951, Pietro Ferrero, an Italian owner of a patisserie, developed a creamy mixture of hazelnut/almond paste and chocolate call Supercreama. In 1964, Ferrero’s son, Michele, modified the recipe into Nutella and the first jars went out of the Ferrero factory. My first experience with Nutella was with an old roommate who would sit in the kitchen and eat it right out of the jar. I always wondered why she couldn’t get enough of it. Years later, the 13 ounce jar of hazelnut spread is now a staple on my grocery list. Well, I just purchased a 26.5 ounce jar.


A Danish songbird has been streaming through my apartment for months. I can’t decide if Agnes Obel is a pianist who sings or a songwriter who plays piano. Either way her debut album Philharmonics has me tip toeing whimsically around my kitchen floor, swaying as I sew stitches on a summer dress, and singing along as I write letters.

Kelly Kapoor is the Indian American bubbly, talkative, and boy-crushing character on The Office played by Mindy Kaling. Kelly can be quite extreme in her affection towards others or desire to attain superficial goals; however, she continues to make me laugh until I’m gasping between words for air due to laughing so hard. Below is a clip of her attempts at a cleansing diet.

Still wondering how all of these three are related? Well…they’re all imported and amazing.

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