Saturday, July 4, 2020

My Future


Why do people make art? What is art?

Broadly defined, art is human effort to create and perpetuate culture. What is culture? The aesthetic and intellectual achievements of humanity. They are an inheritance from our ancestors. And our obligation to future generations. Culture separates our species from other animals. "[C]ulture husbands its liveliness in its works of art, they are like storage barrels for" imagination (p. 253).

Should you or I make art? Yes, and we do it all the time, whether we realize it or not. Writing a personal letter, selecting pieces for a clothing outfit, crafting a pumpkin for Halloween -- these are all art. Art is not merely objects wealthy elites own; it is earnest effort by all of us in both exalted and pedestrian arenas.

I’ve spent much of my life admiring and learning about art. Art in galleries, art in the cinema, art in literature. Photography is one of my ways to create art. I search for visual imagery, grab it on film and present results to others. Photography, like other art media, is something you improve at with training and practice.

My plan for the future is to migrate from my law career (ending it when material needs are met) to a mélange of artistic activities. Most of those activities will not be offered for respect or money; they’ll be pursued for the intrinsic joys of creative life. In short, for my own benefit.

In anticipation of this shift, I’ve been studying. “When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear.” Friends of mine who are professional artists recommended an old book to me -- “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde, a poet. Written in 1983, the book examines the human impulse to create art and its role in the community. My mind consumed the book like ice cream -– it explores subjects I care deeply about and stimulates me toward future action.

I won’t try to describe the book to you, but will briefly mention its core lesson: the distinction between commerce and gifts. Hyde spends the first half of the book explaining this point and, in the second half, applies it to two poets (Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound) for illustration

In commercial transactions, strangers meet, exchange a commodity on agreed price and then leave. The transaction generates no personal connection between seller and buyer. Gifts, by contrast, are offered freely and create emotional bond. Gifts have a different purpose than commerce. Their offer and acceptance cause a variety of social effects which Hyde traces among several ancient and remote societies. The principles he outlines become suddenly clear while reading; once they do, you see the world differently.

It’s not an exaggeration to say this book is changing my life. It's altering how I view social interactions and teaching me what happens when art enters society. I plan to use that knowledge to steer my future life.

"The greatest art offers us images by which to imagine our lives. And once the imagination has been awakened, it is procreative: through it we can give more than we were given, say more than we had to say" (p. 251).

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Stayin' Alive


We'll remember this year, distinctly, as a time when our primary focus was "stayin' alive." Which led me to re-consider the lyrics of that classic song:

You're stayin' alive, stayin' alive
Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin'
And we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive

Life goin' nowhere, somebody help me
Somebody help me, yeah
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help me, yeah
I'm stayin' alive

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

New York

We here in New York are taking the coronavirus seriously.

This is a real, un-edited, photo of the New York Public Library.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

My Clown Days

When I was young, my family was so poor they hired me out as a clown for parties.

Here I am at age four, heading off to work. The year was 1961.


Seriously, it was Halloween. I'm swinging a candy bag and there are paper-decorations in our house's front window. My clown-costume was hand-made by my mother.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Dinner


Who says you have to go out to eat well?

My favorite appetizer, which I made and consumed tonight, is Smoked Salmon Caviar (from the terrific Salmon Sisters company) with capers and sour cream on Carr's crackers. It's a medley of intense flavors coming together in an orgasm of sensory delight.

Whew!





Monday, June 15, 2020

My First Car

Do you remember your first car? I do. It was a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle. A used VW Bug. Given to me when I got my driver's license at age 17 in 1974. I was a high school junior.

I loved that car and learned how to drive on it. It had a stick-shift (manual transmission) that taught me how to shift gears -- later useful for motorcycle-riding since almost all motorcycles have manual transmissions.

If you don't already know, I have a playful streak. Nobody could confuse an anemic VW Bug with a powerful race-car so I thought it'd be funny to pretend my Bug was a race-car. Toward that end, I added racing stripes, took off the exhaust pipes (making it loud), mounted a race-car steering wheel, and hand-stapled WHITE SHAG CARPETING to the interior sides and ceiling. Best of all, I installed a new horn that made the sound of a moo-ing cow. MOOO!! Hey, I was in high school.

To memorialize these modifications, I photographed the car -- with a fish-eye lens. I never do anything "normal." Here are some of those pictures which I just had printed from old negatives found in my basement. I plan to display these photos, along with the car's original ceramic gear-shift knob, in my future museum.

What was your first car?











Sunday, June 14, 2020

Old Film Cameras

Uh-oh... I have a new obsession -- old film cameras.

After marvelous experiences with my Holga and Brownie Starflex, I leapt at the opportunity to buy three old cameras this week in a thrift-store. They were ridiculously cheap which is a major attraction. Hobbies are fun when they don't cost much money.

I got an Imperial Mark XII (made in the 1960s), Brownie Starmite II (same era) and a much older Foth Derby (from the 1930s). All look terrific. The Imperial has super-cool retro styling from the Sixties and it's made from real Bakelite. The Starmite, to keep its cost down, was manufactured from cheap plastic. The Foth is very, very heavy metal; it feels like a barbell.

I'm learning the history of these cameras and how to use them. Some take 120-roll film which I have since it's what my Starflex uses. Some take 620 film which sadly isn't made anymore. The solution for that are workarounds where you load different sized film and make adjustments.

The Imperial and Brownies embody mid-century American life -- newly-ubiquitous use of plastic, hip designs, and emphasis on light weight and convenience. In deep contrast, Foth Derby reflects the ethos of Germany in 1930 -- primitive materials (steel and leather) and complicated analog design. It makes you feel like you're holding the Weimar Republic in your hands.

I'll give these beauties a go and show you photos later. Even if the cameras no longer work, they are tangible pieces of history that make great home decorations.










Saturday, June 13, 2020

Danger

Sharp knives are like motorcycles -- useful tools but inherently dangerous. They require full, constant attention.

My attention slipped this morning while making croutons, yielding a deep bloody cut. It'll be alright -- and taught me greater respect for danger. Which is particularly timely since I plan to ride my sportbike this afternoon at a spirited pace on challenging twisty roads. On the bright side, thank goodness it wasn't my throttle-hand!

Have fun today engaging in your dangerous hobbies.  :-)


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Summer

Nice weather has arrived. I rode to a park on a beach today which was mobbed with crowds of eager beach-goers, most of whom were not social distancing. People seem to think the virus is over. I hope that mistaken belief doesn't cause more illness.






































Friday, June 5, 2020

Seventies Fashion

When I was young, I was enamored by the clothes adult women wore. They entranced me. One example is a dress chosen then by hip females, like my high school English teacher. Wandering through a thrift-store last Winter, I saw that exact dress on display. And it was cheap.

I snapped the dress up. I had to wear it even though it's too short. My body doesn't match the shape most women's clothes are designed for: I'm taller than the average woman so the dress is short. But... I want to wear it!

So here it is. Ignore the shortness and simply savor the style, as I'm doing.



Thursday, June 4, 2020

Womanhood

I had an epiphany a few years back when I saw a European public service announcement. It was broadcast there on TV; I saw it on YouTube. The video depicted a trans-woman cowering in a bathroom stall as a group of confident, attractive cis-women chat at the sink. The trans-woman is afraid to leave the stall for fear she won't pass judgment from the cis-women. The video ends with a written message: "There's no wrong way to be a woman."

Wow. Such a powerful message for me and those like me.

Cis-gender women and transgender women are both female, but our life experiences differ radically. Cis-women take their gender for granted; being female to them is like breathing air, normal and unquestioned. In sharp contrast, trans-women worry deeply about "proving" our stated gender. We often feel like we have to be hyper-feminine and stereotypical in our presentation to establish a right to female-hood. We're anxious about being accused of being insufficiently feminine and, thus, not genuinely female. But, as you certainly know, all women are women no matter how feminine or unfeminine they are. A masculine woman is still a woman and every person has the right to choose where they exist on the spectrum of masculinity/femininity.

Having the freedom to make that choice without having your gender-identity challenged is vital. One can't live in fear of the judgment of others. And, honestly, our gender is what it is, independent of the opinions of strangers. Their view is based solely on the superficial criteria of physical appearance.

A few days ago The New York Times published an op-ed written by a woman who transitioned twenty years ago. She wrote some things that resonated with me. Like this...

"When I began transitioning, I perceived the reality of womanhood only from outside and felt the need to embody an idealized femininity to feel like a woman among women. But over time, I’ve come to realize that every woman — whether transgender or cisgender — evolves a unique perception of herself, one that need not conform to any specific model of what a woman should be. Whether I grow my hair or cut it short, wear makeup every day or none at all, it would be an expression of the specific woman I am at that point in time. Making those judgments for myself is at the core of why I transitioned to be a woman in the first place: to express my gender how I want to, regardless of society’s expectations."

Looking into a mirror, she makes the point with her final line -- "I was a woman no matter how I looked or acted, because as long as gender matters to the world, I will always be a woman to myself."

Yup. And when it comes to appearing in public, "there's no wrong way to be a woman."

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Back At Last

I used to post outfit pics every week or so. You may have noticed the absence of any since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. That hasn't been a coincidence.

There are several reasons, the primary being I haven't felt like doing them. Life suddenly seems too serious, too dangerous. I couldn't get in the mood for a photoshoot. These efforts take a lot of work and I wasn't up to the labor.

This week I finally felt differently. I broke out my camera and shot a new outfit. The impetus for the outfit are the pants which I found for $19 in a supermarket, of all places. There was a rack hidden in a corner that nobody was paying attention to. I love the bold graphic and the low price.

My goal is to have fun. To cast off the mental weight of the virus and just have fun. What are you doing to handle the pandemic?










Sunday, May 31, 2020

Steamer Trunk Project






































Remember that century-old steamer trunk I found in the basement? Well, I want to display it but when I found the trunk it was in very poor condition. So I decided to restore it -- a process I've never tried before. To accomplish this I researched a lot about restoring wood and metal. But before delving into that subject, let me report that I discovered the trunk's original owner -- and he has a fabulous name.

On top of the trunk are initials: "B.A.B." I learned they refer to Bernard Aloysius Beirne, an Irish immigrant. Aloysius! Government statistics say the name Aloysius is very rare, with babies getting it less than 0.001%. That's one in 100,000. Or about the chance of you being named in my Will.

Bernard Aloysius Beirne was born in 1886 and lived most of his life in New Jersey. He died in 1960. Bernard was Maura's grandfather. He owned the trunk in his youth, using it around 1905-1910. Remember, these trunks were popular from 1880-1920.

Back to the restoration. Restoration involves materials, techniques and physical labor. I researched how to remove rust and mildew, how to stain and finish wood, etc. Apart from picking the right materials, the process requires a lot of elbow-grease. I enjoyed doing it because you can visually see results of your effort. Here's what I did:

General:
- Clean dirt and dust
- Pull off frayed canvas and wood
- Scrape off inner lining (decayed paper)

Metal parts (clasps & hardware):
- Hammer in loose nails
- Replace some missing nails
- Re-attach lid hinge
- Lubricate closing latches with WD-40
- Lubricate metal wheels on bottom with WD-40

Rust:
- Scrub with wire brush
- Brush on vinegar and salt mixture; leave overnight; wash off
- Sandpaper metal to remove final bits of rust
- Sandpaper wood to smooth surface and remove aged surface

Finish:
- Stain wood with wood stain
- Apply wood lacquer to protect the wood and give it a glossy finish
- Apply second coat of lacquer

Here is the final result and the trunk's new resident who lives rent-free. The process took a full week because of its multiple steps.

What do you think? Have you ever restored anything?



Wednesday, May 27, 2020


One of the greatest movies of all times, "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), is about the struggle three soldiers have when then return home from war. It won 7 Oscars including Best Picture. If you haven't seen it, check it out. You'll be entertained and moved.

My favorite line is when an angelic young woman falls in love with one of the soldiers and believes she'd make a better wife than the one he has: "I've made up my mind....I'm going to break that marriage up!"

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Life With Holga

Having Holga at my side opens my eyes to new sights I'd otherwise overlook. Like these...





Friday, May 22, 2020

Old Treasures


Like many, I'm handling the pandemic by tackling old projects that have been on the back-burner for years. Like cleaning the basement. A chore I planned to do a decade ago but always found excuses to avoid. Sometimes, however, these projects turn out to be fun and not drudgery. While sorting through old things we can discover treasures. I did this morning.

Buried under piles of crap, there was an old steamer trunk. I wasn't sure where it came from or what, if anything, was in it. So I pulled it out and opened it up. Wow!

The trunk was full of vintage stuffed animals and toys from a half-century ago. They belong to Maura, my first girlfriend, who loved them when she was little. Pictures are below. I alerted Maura to the find and offered to send them to her. She replied I can continue to store them, which I will, only now I'll store them out in the open instead of hidden away. Since Maura is 63, these delightful items are at least a half-century old.

One that really appeals to me is a doll make of cloth attached to a round wooden box. Inside the doll is a wooden dowel which lets you raise the doll up and down -- including into the round box where it completely disappears as the cloth scrunches together. What a fun toy!

Also of note is the trunk itself. I asked Maura where it came from and she said it was her grandmother's. Which dates it accurately: steamer trunks were built and used from 1880 to 1920. Maura's mother was old when she got her (40-ish) so Maura's grandmother lived during that period. That makes the trunk over a century old.

The trunk, despite its age, is beautiful. It's made of pine wood with metal clasps and hardware. The wood was originally covered with canvas, some of which is still there as parts have fallen off. Most of the leather straps have disintegrated.

Steamer trunks were not just intended for travel, they were used as containers for objects after arrival. Given their decorative beauty, that makes sense. One reason I pulled this trunk out of storage was to consider displaying it prominently in my future playhouse. Now I certainly will.

What's in your basement?!

























Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hot Dogs Made In Beer


With pandemic restrictions, we're bored and need diversion. So I came up with an idea. It's actually an old idea which I transported into this new decade -- and it works.

Back in the Sixties and Seventies, there was a popular restaurant chain named Lum's. Their famous dish was hot dogs made in beer. They steamed frankfurters in the stuff. The beer's flavor infuses the franks. Memory of eating at Lum's with my parents put an idea in my head.

This week I made hot dogs and used beer instead of water. (I boiled 'em.) The process was easy and inexpensive. I recently bought a six-pack of German lager at LIDL at a very low price so using beer didn't cost much. And it enhances the flavor of the dogs and plumps them up. Of course you can dress your hot dog any way you like, such as adding mustard, onions, cheese and avocado.

What new ideas have you come up with during the pandemic?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Life


I just read a great story (here).

John Olson is a lobsterman in Maine. He's 97 years old. He's been catching lobsters since 1938. John still goes out on his boat every day; his only help is his son Sam who's 72. In terms of physical strength, John chops 100 cords of wood every Winter.

During WWII John's war-boat was blown up. He survived. In peacetime, John was close friends with famous painter Andrew Wyeth who's now buried in John's family cemetery. Wyeth's most famous painting -- which you've seen -- depicts John's aunt Christina in the field at John's house. The painting is called "Christina's World."

What a life!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

My Best Investment

I can't claim to be prescient, just lucky. Five years ago I identified Netflix as an investment likely to soar in the future. I bought its stock at $55/share.

Since then Netflix's business has grown rapidly. It is one of very few stocks to actually benefit from the pandemic since people have to stay home with little to do except watch television. In the first quarter of this year, Netflix gained twice as many new subscribers as Wall Street anticipated. Plus, Netflix has been expanding globally for the past two years; that growth is designed to offset the product's saturation in this country.

Netflix's stock value has moved accordingly. Today, it reached an all-time high of $450. $450! As I said, I got in at $55, which means my money has grown eight times its initial investment. And the crazy thing is everyone now believes Netflix will continue to go up.

I also believe that for multiple reasons: (1) global expansion still has room to grow; (2) streaming is replacing broadcast TV and the company is the streaming leader; (3) Netflix's investment in new content is deep and will pay future dividends (including now, when it has enough completed new shows to last through the year while other places have had to suspend production); (4) pricing for Netflix is still relatively low so the company can raise prices (and profits) in the future; (5) the company is now more valuable than Disney and all other competitors; (6) the company snagged the best talent in entertainment with long-term deals (promising the best show-creators with artistic freedom, unavailable from old media); and (7) the company is benefitting from "vertical integration" (the holy grail of the entertainment business which was previously illegal as antitrust violation).

I don't tell anyone what to do with their money; just saying where mine is. If you have any questions, contact me.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Looking Back

I've always wanted to organize my photos but there was never enough time. Now we all have spare time so I'm attacking the boxes.

Here are some photos from the Summer of 2000. My favorite annual motorcycle event is a two-day ride over challenging country roads in upstate New York. It's called "Ramapo 500" because you ride 500 miles and the event is sponsored by Ramapo motorcycle club. The location shown was a restaurant popular among bikers; sadly, it has since closed. It was the starting point for the run where you'd register, say hi to friends and head off on a fun weekend.

The bike shown is my second motorcycle, the touring Yamaha Venture Royale (1200cc). I loved that bike.









Thursday, May 7, 2020

Brownie Starflex Camera

This is a fun story about photography, history and art.

I used to assume one needed a fancy new camera to take good pictures. My Holga film camera has taught me otherwise. A cheap, plastic relic from the past offers unimagined artistic possibilities. The pictures it produces aren't shabby even if the camera is utterly basic.

A good deal of credit goes to its use of film. Photographic film was carefully developed over a century to optimize quality. Like vinyl records, film records reality accurately, surpassing digital reproduction. Two decades ago film photography was replaced by digital photography for commercial, not artistic reasons. Cheaper technology always wins the marketplace even when it's not as good because the majority of consumers value cost over quality.

A few years ago I picked up an old Brownie camera in a thrift store. I paid $5 for it. I bought it as a decoration and assumed it won't work because it's old.  Again, an assumption.

After discovering my first assumption wasn't true, I just decided to test this second assumption. Simply because a camera is old doesn't mean it doesn't work. In fact, it can produce attractive images on film when used with a good eye.

The first Brownie was made in 1900. Not only was it one of the first cameras used by ordinary people, it was the most popular. Kodak sold tens of millions of them during the middle of the last century. The original Brownie was simply a square cardboard box and glass lens. Later, the cardboard was replaced by Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic.

The model I found was made between 1952-1964. Back then it was inexpensive ($10) and intended for children and teens. The camera is very small and fits easily inside my hand. It has no battery or electric parts. The design couldn't be simpler: just a chassis for holding film tucked into a plastic box. You lift a metal hood on top of the camera and look down into the viewfinder to see a reflected image coming from the upper of two lenses. (The bottom lens takes the picture.) This kind of camera is called "twin-lens reflex" because of the two lenses; most other cameras (SLR; point-and-shoot) have only one lens. SLR actually stands for "single lens reflex."

The design of the Brownie is surprisingly simple and barely evolved from its 1900 predecessor. There's only one shutter-speed (1/50th second), one aperture (f/14) and one lens-length (51mm). There is no way to focus the lens. There's no hole to attach a tripod, no way to change lenses, and no place to add a filter. The camera was made to take basic "snapshots."

Researching the Brownie, I found its original instruction manual online. The camera uses a type of film I've never tried before -- "127 roll" which is larger than 35mm (SLR) and smaller than 120 roll (Holga). Kodak stopped making 127 roll film in 1996 but there's one company in Japan that still produces it. I just ordered two rolls online. I plan to load the Brownie up with film, shoot these rolls of 127 film and see what happens.

Part of the appeal of a project like this is you don't know how it'll turn out. I might get back a set of blank negatives (which happened to me last month with the Holga). Or a bunch of outstanding photos (another Holga experience). Or something else entirely. Who knows?

I can't wait to find out. I'm playing with history. :)