September 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
For a few titles the photographers were also the contributing poets or writers.
Sally Mann, authored entirely by Sally Mann, includes her provocative introduction, early poetry and photographs which were made prior to the many published books that follow her career. A livre d’artiste first from the 21st Editions Collection.
Measurement has become useless
there in the peak, lush summer.
The winds call out the distances
and the fast clouds sound out the heights,
dive for the great, rolling dark
of the hills, weigh with the balance
and pull of the water, condense
on the wineglass perfection of elm.
A rare look into a piece of Louisiana history. Metoyer’s poetry and photographs are autobiographical and show an unusual blend of talents by one artist. Metoyer not only conceptualized the images that reflect his history and creative mind, he too wrote the poetry and printed four different processes for this book: platinum, palladium, cyanotype, and kalitype. Celebrated in 2008 as our 10th anniversary title for 21st Editions, it was acquired and resides in 13 collecting institutions in the U.S
Augured by the planets’ gravitational whirl,
Madame Zuzuska spoke to him of omens.
She ciphered his numbers,
whispered he was born
on the cusp of a fateful day.
“Decline, my child. Anguish and decline.”
Then the blackened cloud of prophecy
loomed in the pupils of her apostle’s eyes
as Zuzuska warned of his life’s maddening gyre
and the destructive seduction
of a swelling lunar cycle.
Now, every stubbed toe,
every unanswered call,
every initial sliver
of the phosphorescent moon
transforms to premonitions
of grisly things to come.
Jamie Baldridge’s unique talent marries a short story and fictional journal entries from a character whose artistry as an image maker is unlike his peers. Authored and printed by the artist, academics and historians focused on this for their collections as a piece of great inventive literature, new technology image making, and binding made from patina’d brass.
“Sometime around noon, for I still had not the capacity for counting the Gear Shifts to tell time, I found myself hopelessly lost in the candle lit warrens below the Arcadian Convent. After what felt like hours of switchbacks and dead ends, I began to panic and surrendering to my fears fell into the first open door I found, unintentionally interrupting the work of a lovely scribe occupied with quite the longest scroll I had ever seen. I vainly attempted to salvage what was left of my pride, and after dusting myself off politely asked where I might find the Mother Superior’s offices. The girl continued to work as if I were not there. Before I could make my inquiry again, this time perhaps in a more desperate timbre, a gentle, but firm hand grasped my shoulder and a voice somewhere near my navel said, “We really shouldn’t disturb her.”
Each of the 16 artist printed silver prints in Crowd (comes as a two-book set with Shadows of the Dream) is accompanied by a poem by Latvian artist Misha Gordin. Each book in the set is bound with multiple leather in-lays that echo back to early European livre d’artiste design.
In a unity of dream and reality
From the darkest corners of the heart
Like a shadow from the murky past
Emerges a call for a lonely prayer.
August 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
John Wood in his introduction to The New City stated: “…Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. Along with Hart Crane they were the great epic rhapsodists of America and the American experience, and MacLean Gander is one with them within that same tradition.” We were fortunate to publish two great epic poems: Hart Crane’s The Bridge, with Sheila Metzner, and MacLean Gander’s The New City, with Jefferson Hayman.
Coda: The New City
BY MACLEAN GANDER
This new city is so perfectly described it ends the past,
Not like a death but like the end of a story
That you remember always, in the fondest way, without regret.
This new city holds a lantern against the moon & illuminates it.
The walkways share a fragrance of undiscovered flowers,
Children carry balloons like talismans as they play their games,
Invented & forgotten each day, like rumors of forgiveness.
This new city is a firefly—one of the fireflies that return each summer
So that fireflies come back even though each one dies.
This new city is a place without you, a place where I knew you
But now you are gone. My hands hold a river. If you were water
I would drink you so deeply my thirst would be endless, to drink you.
In this new city we watch the sun rise & set, golden claims
On the sky, indifferent to anything but its endlessness & perfection.
BY HART CRANE
As John Wood wrote in his introduction: We look at the gothic arch, that high window of the American cathedral, at those steel, harp-string cable wires, and we see the spiritual side of the vision that Crane addressed in “To Brooklyn Bridge,” the opening poem of his epic. Here the altar of heaven and the music of angels are conjoined:
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
. . . we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
August 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
John Wood continues to discover exciting new poets: Ana Cristina Rudholm y Balmaceda and Keagan LeJeune offered two unique voices for different titles with Josephine Sacabo (of which one, Gilded Circles and Sure Trouble, is available). Daniel Westover was an early discovery published in our silver series title, Toward Omega, with Vincent Serbin.
Trinidad del Cielo at a Train Station
BY ANA CRISTINA RUDHOLM Y BALMACEDA
Death flashes me a thin-lipped grin
behind arched windows where I wait
with desert lilies and songs.
In the cantina, promises spill from goblets
and will soon be forgotten-
or remembered forever.
Ghosts open satchels seeking letters and tickets
lost among blue paper birds.
I wait for love sunk long in silver-hewed marbled caves
beneath the river where I hear your cries
lying beautiful and broken-
like tiny, discarded thorns.
You never arrive
so I drain my heart of blood
and offer it to the wind-
who claims it with long fingers
burning in gossamer gloves.
BY KEAGAN LEJEUNE
The food all gone, the dishes cleared,
the table’s centerpiece is all that’s left:
a rosewood bowl with a clutch of eggs,
each a marbled shade of brown or red
and too beautiful to be what they are.
All fact grown fragile as a finger bone,
we ponder them-half in awe, half in dread-
and ache to hold such oddness against our palms.
In the hand, their weight says they are not eggs.
Stones? If so, all rocks are jewels; all earth’s a prize.
Awe and wonder number as pebbles on a shore.
No, we realize the truth rests hidden in the grain.
The showpiece is nothing but a woodwright’s trick:
the spheres aren’t eggs, the eggs aren’t stone,
merely copies spun from a craftsman’s wrist
and lathed with skill enough to dupe the brain.
The carpenter knows best the curse of wood.
His chair never comes out quite the way he’s planned,
and though the board shapes when carved or bent,
what he has made will never stay made for good.
For a moment, though, beauty gathers in that curve,
and there, we hear the whir of his machine,
smell the pine, feel the thatched nest of a bird,
see a host of gilded feathers upon a golden bough.
From the introduction by John Wood
Daniel Westover, a poet as brilliant in his art as Vincent Serbin is in his, had long admired Serbin’s work and shares a similar vast and evolutionary vision. In “The Physics of Angels,” the best poem about angels since Rilke’s Duino Elegies, written to accompany Serbin’s Earth Angel, Westover writes,
They travel fast as photons,
having long ago eclipsed terrestrial speeds
though they once tread on the ground,
wingless as you.
But now they have “broken clear of fettering flesh” and “realized the spirit’s relativity.” Westover tells us they were once like us. They learned “that suns explode and fizzle, that starlight / can lie, concealing a burnt-out source.” Like us
. . . they learned equations, formulae—
mechanics to explain a cosmic clock
and numb them to the gravity of faith.
But when they swiveled skyward,
reason fled beneath that astral tapestry,
for spirit knew what calculus could not:
the universe is more than lifeless flames
and dusty nebulae; it is an orchestra
of life, an iridescent possibility.
And finally in a stanza of intense poetic beauty Westover, like Serbin, weaves physics and metaphysics into one as he writes,
They orbit us, unbound now
by the mind’s lust for quanta, untroubled
by the frequencies of unbelief.
They navigate by their imagination,
and what they see is instant fact.
For time dissolves at light speed,
and fruits of faith are ever-ripe, ever consumed.
Each glimpsed omega is their now,
is wrapped within their wings’ geometries,
and heaven burns with angel lights,
becomes an ever-breathing hymn,
a universe of singing, silent fire.
August 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
Moving from the classics to prize-winning contemporary poets: Morri Creech & Steven Brown.
We first published Morri Creech in The Journal of Contemporary Photography. John Wood then invited him to create a collection of poems for two books to be published with the work of Robert ParkeHarrison, Listening to the Earth and The Book of Life (with Shana Parkeharrison). This collection of 20 poems were subsequently published in Field Knowledge (Waywiser Press, 2006), which won the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. In 2014, Creech was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
The Music of Farewell
BY MORRI CREECH
Descending for the last time to the underworld, The soul of Orpheus addresses the audience.
What sense in listening to the sun-shot wind
croon through the autumn branches, once the song
behind the song is finished? Always you listened
with your heads tilted toward the absolute
as if the gods would sing to you, while the long
phrase of my sorrow held your world together,
your world of stripped fields and the ripening fruit
that weighs each thick bough earthward. Everywhere
you turned, the lavish music of farewell
lent consequence to things, so that desire
itself became fulfillment to your ear.
And though the mist that swept the cold laurel
was neither Apollo stroking Daphne’s hair
nor Ceres weeping at the doors of hell,
though nothing I sang could raise Eurydice
up from the mute depths again, note by note,
it makes no difference now for me to say
the gods are silent, or that the world seems less
for what the hours and seasons claim from us.
More than the sounds that set the stones and trees
in place, and that arrange both shade and light,
a sad music ripens in the heart; caught
between oblivion and paradise,
it enters the world as loss, though in such ways
that the cadences of grief resound as praise.
And so God spun the wind to tick time forward.
It teased gold from the leaf, flung spores and seeds.
The beasts’ fur billowed; long-legged shore birds
swung their hunger above a froth of reeds.
The restless trees leaned, bent, all pitch and wring.
Not yet the serpent’s tryst in the grass; not yet
Abel slain in the field, the Lord’s voice calling.
Still, the earth toiled toward its purposes:
and seethe of larvae started in the mud.
Rain scoured the stone to spill its mineral dust.
Straight rivers cut their convoluted maze.
And as the mouse twitched in the owl’s long gaze
God wept, and wept for the mosquito’s lust
as it rose up toward the heaven of the blood.
Steven Brown is a poet (finalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize), photography critic, and utopian scholar who writes for some of the world’s leading photographic publishers, including multiple titles for 21st Editions. He was selected as one of the Best New Poets of 2010 and is currently working on his doctoral dissertation at Harvard University.
BY STEVEN BROWN
Tongue, you’ve loosened up the cry
in my head like a bird’s, or like a bird
you’ve tried the touch that a sky
and breath can melody with Xesh.
Bone, it has been worth it, yes?-the breaks
that as a boy reversed the music
of our motion, and taught our body
sincerity of awe with every step
against the universe of fated falls.
Eyes, what have we seen
that wouldn’t stir or bend the brain
of The Architect’s mother,
whose tooth Wrst struck the egg,
the egg that still feels
like wonder in our hands?
let us raise the egg to our lips,
kiss its shell until we’ve broken through
to kiss her wings, her face. Nothing
is exempt from our embrace.
The Angel Oaks
Our fathers called it Heaven. Their fathers,
the Vault. Whatever the vernacular,
all chambers have one. And so the heart?
And so the heart. Our fathers called it
Temple of the Faithful Bones. Their fathers,
Dwelling Place of the Lord.
We call it, ungracefully, the cardiac arrest.
The atrophy and stress of the valves,
the veins’ limp pump and stoppage, or else,
an attack. Our fathers called it failure.
Their fathers, the Fall. Whatever it is,
it breaks apart the wall and vault together.
A thousand thousand bloodless branches
reach but cannot reach. It never was their fault.
Born without simple skin to keep pace
with loneliness and pain, love’s sudden rush,
their end was written from the start.
August 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
BY GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE
Oh! The tops of pines crack in colliding
And one hears so much of their lamenting
And from the river a voice thick and loud
Elves laugh at the wind or at gusts blare out
Attys Attys Attys disheveled with charm
It is the elves at night that mock your name
One of your pines falls to the gothic wind
The forest flees like an ancient army
Whose lances Oh pines are stirred in turning
The faded villages are now planning
Like the virgins the old men and poets
And wake to the feet of no one coming
Even when vultures descend on pigeons
From the Introduction for Flowers of Evil
BY JOHN WOOD
After reading Les Fleurs du mal Victor Hugo wrote Charles Baudelaire, “Vous dotez le ciel de l’art d’un rayon macabre, vous créez un frisson nouveau” (You endow the sky of art with a macabre gleam, you create a new shiver). Some Victor Hugo of photography could easily have written those same words to Eikoh Hosoe a little over a century later when he began publishing his equally radical books of photographs, especially since frisson also implies both shudder and thrill.
The Death of Artists
BY CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
(Translated by John Wood)
How often must I play the sad jester
And kiss the low, dull brow of travesty?
Or spend arrows in wasted archery
To strike the mystic mark of Nature?
We’ll break or crack our heavy armature
And wear our souls out in conspiracies
Before we gaze upon that grand Creature
Whose hell-made desires are our misery.
But some have never known their Idol:
The cursed artist branded with disgrace
Who beats his chest and tears his face
Has but one hope, O strange, dark Capitol,
That Death rising like a new star
Will flame his mind into flower.
The Odes of Pindar
from OLYMPIAN 1
Olympic fame gleams from far away,
when swiftness of foot and strength’s vigor
boldly strive in the races of Pelops.
The victor finds surrounding him
honey-sweet peace all of his days-
at least as much as victory can bring.
But man’s best blessing is daily fortune.
Now I must crown him with Aeolian song,
as the horseman is honored.
There is no better host, I’m sure,
no one more worthy to adorn
with glorious song, intricate hymns,
no king more worthy of power,
more familiar with beauty. . . .
July 15, 2015 § Leave a comment
Our first monograph New York, with poems by Walt Whitman. We followed this classic with another, William Blake’s Songs of Experience & Songs of Innocence. And later on the interest in Blake continued with The Prophecies of William Blake, wonderfully paired with Mitch Dobrowner’s storms.
BY WALT WHITMAN
WHAT hurrying human tides, or day or night!
What passions, winnings, losses, ardors, swim thy waters!
What whirls of evil, bliss and sorrow, stem thee!
What curious questioning glances-glints of love!
Leer, envy, scorn, contempt, hope, aspiration!
Thou portal-thou arena-thou of the myriad long-drawn lines and groups!
(Could but thy flagstones, curbs, faÇades, tell their inimitable tales;
Thy windows rich, and huge hotels-thy side-walks wide;)
Thou of the endless sliding, mincing, shuffling feet!
Thou, like the parti-colored world itself-like infinite, teeming, mocking life!
Thou visor’d, vast, unspeakable show and lesson!
From the Introduction for
Songs of Innocence and Experience
BY JOHN WOOD
The Songs of Innocence and of Experience are the most well-known works of William Blake, the greatest mystical writer in the English language. They were his only poems that had even a limited popularity in his lifetime because they were far more accessible than his “prophetic books,” several of which are epic, both in length and in the complexities of his unusual narratives. The majority of the individual Songs are, indeed, quite accessible. Many of them, especially in Innocence, are straightforward, simple even; however, Blake’s notions of innocence and experience are anything but simple…
There was certainly no other artist in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries like William Blake, and there has been no other artist in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries like Joel-Peter Witkin, whose prophetic claims are similar to Blake’s. “Christ is my life,” he has written. “I photograph the living and the dead. My work is a prayer. Photographing makes me the possessor of sanctified and secret wisdom. And for that, I will be judged, not by man-but by God.” Both Blake and Witkin are unique to their own times, yet there is a similarity within their visions because sacred knowledge such as theirs can only come from an intimate dialogue with the boundless, non-corporeal part of the soul.
The Little Boy Lost
BY WILLIAM BLAKE
Father, father, where are you going
O do not walk so fast.
Speak, father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost,
The night was dark no father was there
The child was wet with dew.
The mire was deep, & the child did weep
And away the vapour flew.
The Little Boy Found
The little boy lost in the lonely fen,
Led by the wand’ring light,
Began to cry, but God ever nigh,
Appeared like his father in white.
He kissed the child & by the hand led
And to his mother brought,
Who in sorrow pale, thro’ the lonely dale
Her little boy weeping sought.
from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
BY WILLIAM BLAKE
Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burden’d air;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
Once meek, and in a perilous path,
The just man kept his course along
The vale of death.
Roses are planted where thorns grow,
And on the barren heath
Sing the honey bees.
Then the perilous path was planted:
And a river and a spring
On every cliff and tomb:
And on the bleached bones
Red clay brought forth.
Till the villain left the paths of ease,
To walk in perilous paths, and drive
The just man into barren climes.
Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility,
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam.
Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burden’d air;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
Highlights from Volumes 5 and 6 of The Journal of Contemporary Photography. Volumes 1, 2, 5, and 6 represent the complete anthology set which is available online here.
BY PAUL ZIMMER
Macku circles himself
explodes his own head
blowing himself into
a dozen supplications
Macku grapples with Macku
tears his own face away
hurling himself against
his cornered shadow
medieval and naked
bounding for the Lord
THE AURA OF RELIC:
Stephen Berkman and John Metoyer
BY PAUL LAROSA
The vanguard of photography is sometimes rooted in the past. A growing number of contemporary photographers have turned to early processes in recent years: calotype, tintype, cyanotype, daguerreotype. What these “types” represent, besides formal challenge and an opportunity to extend one’s technical mastery, is essentially a lure of experimentation within tradition, as well as a sense of homage and respect for the artform. And one suspects even more than the technical is at play: perhaps a longing for antiquated forms that exist outside the digital domain, and for a spirit of individualism – perhaps even a kind of sentimentalism, a nostalgic yearning for a simplicity of approach harmonized with a simplicity of form: the exquisite floral study, the painterly still life, the academic nude. For some the results are wan and predictable, too mimetic and derivative, not elevating the possibilities of the form; they succeed only as authentic flatteries, flirtations with the archaic. Those who overcome imitation seem to follow Rimbaud’s edict that “one must be absolutely modern,” by working within the form as well as with it, returning not only to recreate but to re-embark. Within that group we find the distinctive work of Stephen Berkman and John Metoyer…
Carol Munder’s Voiceless Tales
BY ANNIE DILLARD
“I look for the figure,” Carol Munder says.
“I look for images to represent mankind.”
Here they most existentially are: two assemblages of small Etruscan bronzes, one other not Etruscan, and two big, damaged male and female Greeks.
The feet of Dionysos have come a long way. They are paralyzed nubs of the human journey. What a pity the journey counts so much more than the humans. The photograph is a tour de force of middle tones.
The bashed woman whose fingers curve is what you might call a knockout, with or without her story. The life-sized hollow bronze sculpture depicts Julia Manaeo, an upper-class woman of Alexandria. The sculptor is unknown. After Julia Manaeo died, a ruler, for reasons now lost, declared her “damned in death.” Someone obligingly smashed the sculpture’s face. Those elegant fingers could not fend off the blow. The sculpture’s beauty remains, and perhaps deepens, alongside her disfigurement. Neither rage nor damnation disrupts her calm.
The Art of Don Hong-Oai
BY FANG JING PEI
Connoisseurship in Chinese art is as complex a subject as the understanding of Chinese art in and of itself, the most complex of all, in my estimation, being that of Chinese painting. To the Westerner much of Chinese art is defined by the limiting but unsubstantiated words… beautiful, watercolor, repetitious, old master, Ming, Song, etc. Not to fault the use of such terms and certainly not to fault the lack of understanding of Chinese art by Westerners, it is only within the past half century that Chinese art has been truly studied with attempts at understanding its meaning, style and, yes, its connoisseurship. There are those who would argue that this is not true and that Chinese art was collected and appreciated in the West since the eighteenth Century; however, one need only look at the appreciation of Chinese paintings during the past fifty years by the major museums to see the change in its appreciation, both monetarily and substantive quality not to mention the highly influential auction market. But even today, a master painting by a Western artist of, for example, the sixteenth Century would command a much higher value than a master Ming artist of the same period. There are those who would counter that Chinese paintings are unappreciated in the West because of “forgeries,” copies and the fact that the now famous deceased artist Zhang Daqian deliberately reproduced paintings signing the signatures of the old masters only to foist them upon Western museums and collectors thereby, in part, destroying the market for such works in the West. While there is some truth to all these statements, an underlying truth also is present in the fact that Chinese paintings remain misunderstood by many in the West. The similarities between Western and Eastern art have roots which are distinctly different. These are but a few . . .
Contributors in Volume 5:
Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Neil Connelly, Morri Creech, Paul Larosa, Susan Ludvigson, Gerard Melanga, Raul Peschiera, Lance Speer, John Wood, and Paul Zimmer.
Contributors in Volume 6:
Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Pierre Borhan, Robert Olen Butler, Morri Creech, Annie Dillard, Fang Jing Pei, Lee Fontanella, Brad Goins, Paul Larosa, Susan Ludvigson, John Metoyer, Ann Patchett, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, Daniel Westover, Edmund White, Dafydd Wood, and John Wood.
June 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Highlights from monograph Volumes 3 (John Dugdale) and 4 (Cy DeCosse) of The Journal of Contemporary Photography.
The Pilgrimage of Lazarus
(After the photographs of John Dugdale)
BY MORRI CREECH
A blackbird skimmed the weeds at the field’s edge,
Dragging its shadow. But Lazarus saw beyond
Mustard and witchgrass, beyond the tattered hedge
To those shadeless, gilt-edged petals and the fronds
Of perfect palms, saw even the saxifrage
Leave heaven’s shale unbroken – then he turned
For one more look behind him. From its thicket
The blackbird sounded a last, imperfect note.
If heaven is fulfillment, think of Lazarus,
The knowledge of that blackbird in his head,
Walking the well-made fields of paradise
Where birds no longer ravish the ripe seed
Nor wasps plunder the lilac, where an gels drowse
In the languor of perfection , and discord
Is the longing for that flawed syllable
At the field ‘s edge, which no heaven can fulfill.
like a black feather dropped in a field of white
Flowers, that syllable still haunted him,
Vexing the pure petals, fierce as appetite –
So Lazarus turned away from the seraphim,
From those blossoms and the untasted fruit
That decked each gilded bough, and traced the psalm
Of the blackbird raging through the flawless air,
Backward, toward the kingdom of desire.
A Prayer for John Dugdale
BY ROBERT OLEN BUTLER
Saint Ludwig, pray for me. I am going blind. Just as you went deaf. Even as the light fades around me, I see you as if for the first time. You move along a street in Bonn and it is easy for those who do not understand to say that it was all inside your head anyway, that you could hear the soaring of voices in your Ninth Symphony just as surely as if the universe had not laid this sensual martyrdom upon you. But I know that what you lost was precious and it was irreplaceable. Surely you listened with a fierce keenness to all the seemingly irrelevant sounds about you. The scuffle of hooves in the street, the barking of a dog, voices down a passageway, the turning of a wheel, the whisper of the clothes of people passing. You did not stand beneath the heavens and catch your music whole. Saint Ludwig, forgive this presumption, for my own art uses sight, not sound, but as I go blind I understand that you found your cosmic voice in the semiquavers of the commonplace. Which is never common at all. Not when we have these fierce senses. Another saint said that God is in the details. I know this is true. The whisper of the clothes: perhaps that is my own sound. Much of what I know of things resides beneath that sound. The body. These are the details of God through the eyes he gave me to see: a. naked man blurred in desire holding a flower; another holding his own arms, cut by a still expanse of water; on a wood-plank table a water glass, a scattering of cards, the sweet dimpling of deltoids; a bed in a soft chaos of covers, empty as the pictureless frame, empty from a death whose blue grace lingers here. Did you hear the body, Saint Ludwig? I think so. The music you created but never heard, the voices that rise together in joy: they sing of the body, of one body leaning gently over another and offering a hand. Touch. Like God and Adam on the ceiling. Touch. We were once one and we can be so again. I saw the visible world with a ravishing clarity. I can create images still. But now I wait upon the details again, the connection. Touch. I would touch you, Saint Ludwig. Reach to me. My fingertips await. I can see you clearly.
Flowers, Fruit, Music, and the Mystery of Beauty
BY CAROL WOOD
Why do we love flowers? Why do they look beautiful to us? What is it that makes certain photographs of them – Cy DeCosse’s Queen of the Night, for example…For that matter, what makes a beautiful woman beautiful, and why can a song by Richard Strauss make some of us cry or the Dies Irae of Mozart’s Requiem make us shiver? (I bring music into the discussion for two reasons: first because Cy DeCosse is a passionate and accomplished musician himself, a flautist, and because the response to music seems the most enigmatic yet the most powerful of all our human responses to art and beauty.)
It is perhaps impossible to understand what we clumsily call our “aesthetic response” to the things that move us because they are beautiful; the response is certainly elicited by many different things for different people and is impossible to measure or predict. Maybe that is why, in this age of the quantifiable, it is suspect or even incorrect in critical circles to mention the beauty of a work of art. And yet I believe that our response to beauty is one of the most important qualities that we humans can have – not very far below loving kindness – in terms of the joy and meaning it can bring to our lives, so it is worthwhile to consider some of the possible or likely reasons that things might seem beautiful to us.
Perhaps at its deepest level, the appreciation of beauty is biological, something that is built into us as a species – an attraction to the things that we need to stay alive or to perpetuate the species. This is currently a very popular kind of explanation for many human tastes, and it can be quite convincing…
Addressing the idea of beauty more directly, it is quite easy to argue that certain qualities of feminine beauty – smooth, unblemished skin, glossy hair, the full and tender lips of youth – are universally admired (at least by human males) because they signal (to the males) a female who is at an optimum age and level of health for bearing children. All this possibly seems very far from the question of why flowers seem beautiful to humans, but I think that even flowers can be shown to satisfy a deep biological need…
June 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
A Series of Highlights from the Contributors of 21st Editions
Highlights from the first two volumes of The Journal of Contemporary Photography.
BY RICHARD WILBUR
They are one answer to the human need
For a second life, and they exist for us
In the secular heaven of photography,
Safe in emulsion’s cloud
Through which we glimpse them, knowing them as we know
The angels, by report and parched surmise.
Like Milton’s seraphim who veil their gaze
Against the beams of God,
Often we see them handsomely asquint
When captured by a bursting photoflash,
Or dazzling and bedazzled on that beach
Where currently they sun;
And yet perhaps they seem most brilliant when,
Putting away all glamor, they appear
In their old clothes at home, with dog and child,
Projecting toward the lens
From a couch not unlike our own, a smile
Sublimely confident of mattering.
They smile, too, when we spot their avatars
Upon the actual street,
Sharing with u s the little joke that we
Have known them in a different dimension;
But since they strike u s then as subtly changed-
Pale, short, a trifle older-
It is not hard to yield them back to dream,
From which their images immutably
Bestow a flourish on our muted lives,
Even though death betray them.
Still, there are fewer sightings year by year
Of the trenchcoat carried niftily over the shoulder,
The innocent sultry look, the heaved guitar,
The charming pillbox hat,
And fewer of their dreamers left to grieve
As all those glossy selves, transcendent still,
Slip unaccountably into the morgues
And archives of this world.
A Note on the Earliest Photographs
BY LEONARD BASKIN
To what unknown penetrable depths do the earliest photographs probe? The driving intensity of their actuality, the brooding textures of their scrutinizing black & whiteness, the near-hallucinatory super-reality of their stillness; one is overcome by their revelatory honesty, the stark rigidity of the sitters pushed into monumentality by the long exposures. The light seems strained, an all-revealing, irrelevancy-draining, pervading luminosity that clothes the photographed figures in an aura of obsidian-like solidity. And from their submersion in immobile daylight, the portrayed are depicted in a variety of puissant attitudes. The truculent stare of Nadar’s bewigged George Sand or the passionately self-embracing Eugene Delacroix, the stony lyricism of David Octavius Hill. The unassailability of Biow’s Alexander von Humboldt, Cameron’s remote & astral Herschel & Southworth & Hawes’ truculent Lemuel Shaw, [Melville’s father-in-law.] The near-endless gallery is wondrous, directing our eyes along the camera lens ‘s path into the hidden modalities of the time, exposing the obscured personalities & drawing the veil of nineteenth century prudery & formality.
I Awaken from the Lillies
BY SUSAN LUDVIGSON
And when did I decide to enter it,
the lily that is my name?
When I first learned it, as a child:
(Susan-Heb. a lily)
I knew only the kind that grows in water,
floats on the surface white
as a gown.
Each year in my back yard they make
a fiery circle. They are like the ones
a girl wore in my dream,
her headdress of cannas enormous,
taller than she was. Eve in the garden,
the garden already polluted.
Nearly fifteen years since we lived
in the land where weeks ago
a physician’s fingers were sliced off,
then his hand, then his arm,
for treating the wrong clan.
We were innocent.
Love was innocent,
if love is ever innocent.
All night I lay
inside a fluted blossom,
lay in a silken bunting,
in a white cradle.
I napped there,
I swayed in the lightest wind.
Contributors in Volume 1:
Leonard Baskin, Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Robert Olen Butler, Denise Bethel, A.D. Coleman, Morri Creech, Dana Gioia, Amy Fleury, Daile Kaplan, Christopher Mahony, Kevin Meaux, Duane Michels, Raul Peschiera, Rixon Reed, Thomas Southall, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, John Stevenson, John Stilgoe, R.S. Thomas, Anne Tucker, Frederick Turner, Richard Wilbur, John Wood, and Paul Zimmer.
Contributors in Volume 2:
Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Morri Creech, Rachel Morris, Elizabeth Dewberry, Lee Fontanella, Susan Ludvigson, Raul Peschiera, Rixon Reed, Josh Russell, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, John Stevenson, Michel Tournier, Frederick Turner, Scott Whiddon, and John Wood.
May 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Greenwich Arts Council
Bendheim Gallery, Greenwich, CT
In 1999, the Wall Street Journal described 21st Editions as following “in Alfred Stieglitz’s footsteps.” Stieglitz’s groundbreaking journal, Camera Work (1903-17) elevated photography to a fine art, an equal of painting and sculpture. 21st Editions (1999-present) picked up where Stieglitz had left off and indeed surpassed it in developing the art of the book.
Now, for the first time, 21st Editions will showcase its Master Collection of Image, Word, and Artisan Bindings.
This unprecedented exhibition features the some of the world’s greatest living art photographers, along with such seminal figures as Imogen Cunningham and Todd Webb, in exquisite books constructed by hand from New England artists.
John Wood, 21st Editions editor from 1998-2014, indelibly shaped this collection of images, poetry and prose. The writers he selected to illuminate and engage the images include the Pulitzer-Prize winning Edward Albee, Robert Olen Butler, Annie Dillard, and Adam Johnson, as well as U.S. Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur and many others. Harvard’s John Stauffer, another contributor, is the newly appointed editor.
In its art, 21st Editions pays homage to William Morris, who founded the Arts and Crafts Movement and Kelmscott Press, widely recognized as the beginning of the fine-press book movement.
Each of the fifty-six 21st Editions productions is a work of art, a performance piece, and in presentation and content a center of conversation and interactive treasure.
During the exhibition, founder and publisher Steve Albahari will offer for sale one of only ten complete sets of 21st Editions, comprising 56 books, 539 bound prints, and 244 loose prints, each one signed by the artists.