Visually Telling Their Story

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Although I have been home for a month, I continue to think about the Acholi people, the red dirt roads, and the beautiful simplicity of life in Uganda. I have not shared many photos from my time in Gulu and thought I would share some here. All photos belong to me unless otherwise stated.

Their smiles are so beautiful to me.

Tree photo taken by Christina Schenauer

Elephant photo taken by Justine Rutigliano

Gulu High School

To learn more about Invisible Children’s effort to bring peace to this part of the world, visit their page here. My students, friends, and colleagues asked me not to forget about them. I have not.


The Golden Snail and Late Bloomers

August 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

The Golden Snail is the nickname for Russian animator Yuri Norstein, though as far as I know, he’s never drawn a golden snail. The name comes from that the fact that this internationally acclaimed, award-winning animator is in his 70s and has only published 85 minutes of work.

For 30 years, he’s worked on a feature film called “The Overcoat,” based on Nikolai Gogol’s famous short story of the same name. He takes decades to work on projects, but his attention to each detail creates a mood, a tone that is complete. He eschews the help of a computer, preferring imperfect, ‘non-ironed’ drawings, and his short films use a multiplane camera to add the illusion of three-dimensional depth, as you can see below in his 1975 short film, “The Hedgehog in the Fog.”

Norstein’s work has been compared to lyrical poetry, focusing more on evoking an emotion or memory than drawing out a plot. But I love the loose storyline going on here too: the hedgehog’s sweet friendship with the bear, his dismal acceptance when he falls into the water, and his mystical awe concerning the white horse in the fog. It includes the unexpected adventure of getting lost and the relief of once more being known and found among friends. “Who other than you knows how to count the stars?” asks Bear, when he thinks that Hedgehog has abandoned him. Who, indeed?

I’m impressed by Norstein’s storytelling and dedication to his craft, rivaling J.K. Rowling’s 17 years writing Harry Potter and Tolkien’s 30 years immersed in Middle Earth and its tales. Such artists are an encouragement to keep plugging away. Quality takes time, years even. There will always be the Mozart child prodigies, the Jimi Hendrix geniuses who explode onto the scene, but more frequent is the slow and diligent crafting of those like Norstein. In his essay “Late Bloomers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes:

Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.

A nod to Norstein’s kitchen-table working.

Weekend Do: Last Summer Weekend Edition

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

The last weekend of the summer has arrived. Starting next week I will rise early with the sun to go to school. My days will be filled with students coming and leaving my room as I try to fix erroneous articulation patterns, encourage smooth speech fluency, encourage use of correct language structure, and role-play appropriate social interactions. I am very excited to be with the students again, but I still have one more summer weekend to enjoy and savor.

1. Do be a good neighbor and join in on some community. This weekend my roommate and I are participating in the community garden clean up. We are new in the neighborhood and excited to build relationships with the neighbors.

Community Chorus by Hollie Chastain

2. Do finish the small projects around the home. The recent move into a new house has created many home projects. This last move made me realize that I do not like packing and moving, but I do love to set up a home. A couple of my favorite things about the new home is the backyard, the guest room to host loved ones, and the space holding my sewing and craft materials. One of the hardest parts of setting up home is hanging things on the wall. I am not very good with a hammer and planning always takes longer than I want, but I have the weekend. I will try my darn best to hang some art, photos, and other beautiful items. I am currently inspired by the photos below.


3. Do soak in the good weather. Summer days are perfect for a bike ride to the farmer’s market or to take a canoe adventure down the river. The cool summer nights are great to join friends for an outdoor music concert with a nice cold beer in hand. Tonight I will be doing just that with Peter Bjorn and John. They are a Swedish rock band that will definitely get us dancing and singing along. Listen to their song Second Chance below.

What are you doing this summer weekend?

The Question of Identity

August 24, 2011 § 7 Comments

Whether it’s candid or posed, Polaroid or Photoshopped, photographs have a way of telling the truth about us. They get our split-second expressions and our body language. They reveal things we don’t even know about ourselves. And talented photographers know how to tease this out.

Los Angeles photographer and filmmaker Judy Starkman did a series called “The Secret Life of Swimmers.” During her time swimming at the Culver City Plunge pool, she was struck by people who swam half-naked in the pool with strangers, the people dressed in work clothes who walked to their cars to go to some other life, and the transformation in between. So she took photos of her fellow swimmers and then visited them in their workplace, in their “secret life” and second identity.

Photography by Judy Starkman

Starkman says that the pool is “an equalizer.” Everyone is in the same situation; little remains of a carefully constructed identity. It reminds me of a woman who grew up under Taliban rule saying she preferred wearing a burqa because then the young and old, the beautiful and ugly, the rich and poor were on equal footing. See more swimmer photos here. 

Sacha Goldberger (remember his superhero grandma project?) does a similar project featuring joggers in all their disheveled sweatiness after they’ve just run and a week later when they’ve showered, spruced up, and posed in the same position.

Photography by Sacha Goldberger

Goldberger tells My Modern Met that he “wanted to show the difference between our natural and brute side versus how we represent ourselves to society.” It’s interesting to think which reflects us more: the natural working out state or the fashion-based state that expresses our creativity and taste. Personally, this project only reinforces my aversion to running–I’ve never seen a runner look like they’re having fun. See more before and after photos here.

In her series and book 2nd: The Face of Defeat, Sandy Nicholson captures the people we never hear about — those second place winners who were close, but not enough, and thus forgettable. From Canada’s spelling bees to air guitar finals to ballroom dance, she lets those who’ve lost take the spotlight.

Photography by Sandy Nicholson

It’s an emotional moment, to be good but not first place good. Often the 2nd place people want to be a good sport, acknowledge the ecstatic winner, and hold their head up high (after all, 2nd place is still quite the achievement), but struggling with disappointment brings the mask down and we see their true selves. See more sad photos here.

Philippe Halsman found a way to capture people’s true identity through his “jumpology” series in the 1940s and 50s. He said, “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping, and the mask falls, so that the real person appears.” The New York Times says the act of jumping “requires giving in to something like  joy,” clearly evident in Halsman’s photo of Audrey Hepburn below.

Photography by Philippe Halsman

See more mid-air photos here.

I think I’ve always been aware of this ability photographs have and as an introvert have gone a bit camera shy as much as I love being behind the camera. In my reluctance to join the Facebook crowd years ago, I began choosing profile pictures that didn’t quite share all of me with the mass public. Here are some of my past favorites in which I refuse to reveal my identity.

On the other hand, maybe they say quite a bit about me.

Meet the Artist: Brian Hofmeister

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Brian Hofmeister is an oil painter living in southeastern Wisconsin. He has captured many streets, parks, and homes in his impressionist work (some of his work is below).


Memories On Newbury Street

Aldephi Hotel

We are excited to have him share his voice on art in this space.

I recently participated as an exhibiting artist at the second Annual Milwaukee Domes Art Fair, and had the opportunity to reflect on how visual artists can best contribute to and capture the attention of the surrounding culture.

Patience would be an asset to visual artists and their influence on culture. The Domes put on a good show.  Viewers commented on the growth and improvements since last year.  However, a number of artists expected the show to achieve greatness overnight.  Some hoped for greater attendance, other hoped for greater sales.  Whatever the hope may be, the visual artist loses influence when their unfulfilled hopes are redirected toward sour feelings against the general public, or arts advocates.

The right to influence is never handed to us.  Whatever influence we presently have, whether big or small, must be nurtured to earn more.

A nod to Brian Hofmeister.

Weekend Do: Words Edition

August 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

The author Thomas Mann once wrote, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Yeah, I hear you, Thomas. If words were dishes, the wall would receive a lot of them. And on such days, I need to step back and remind myself why I like working with words in the first place–how they change, where they come from, how we play with them, and why we relate to them. So today, in celebration of words, consider these activities:

1. Do use culturally appropriate words to show your gratitude and hospitality. When linguist Deborah Fallows lived in China, she learned that among friends, the Chinese strip away words which Americans find polite. For the Chinese, using words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ actually create formality, a distance that is easily offensive among those you consider good friends.

Listen to her NPR interview on speaking and dreaming in Chinese here (about 8 min).

2. Do create your own alphabet. For the 100th anniversary of Mitchell Library in New South Wales, Australia, librarians created an entire alphabet compiled of images of books, maps, photographs, paintings and other objects in the library’s collection. Letter A is created from a 15th century ivory book cover, a painting of a church, and a drum from the Tonga.

3. Do consider your word choice. In the short film below, the message and the medium are the same, but the words make all the difference.

4. Do read good words–at any time and any place. Steve McCurry (best known for“Afghan Girl”) photographed readers of all ages and ethnicities and of both rich and poor who were enjoying a good book. He writes, “People read while they do just about everything else.”

(photo by Steve McCurry via his blog)

See more photos here and here.

5. Do sneak words into unexpected places. The Argentine artist and “poetry bomber” Agustina Woodgate sews short poems into thrift store clothes in Miami, Florida, “so that poems can be in every day life.”

6. Do share your favorite words in the comments below. Recently, I’ve been intrigued by OK after reading of its mangled history (and its “entire philosophy in two letters” – Allan Metcalf).

Fun Theory

August 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. That is the simple definition of the Fun Theory. To prove this theory Volkswagen hosted a competition to encourage individuals to present an idea that will change people, the environment, or anything for the better.

Kevin Richardson’s idea won the competition. He encouraged people to play the lottery in order to obey the speed limit.

One of my personal favorite entries encourages people to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Add some tunes and taking the stairs is not so bad.

Flashmobs may be the most secretive way to put the Fun Theory in action. Who will pick up the plastic bottle and recycle it? Watch on.

I certainly believe in the Fun Theory – add a little fun and who wants to refuse?

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