boogie

Originally published in full over at Don’t Panic Online, and all images are Boogie’s.

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Born in Serbia but often based in NYC, Boogie is a seasoned photograper with an acute eye. His work tends to focus on urban lifestyles and social tension. Through his lens images of gang initiation, drug abuse, poverty and isolation are imbued with a gracefulness and humanity. Sharp details and blurred edges combine to create an almost-tangible atmosphere for the viewer. Equal turns raw and refined, Boogie’s work is undeniably captivating. That he’s prolific is an added bonus. Boogie doesn’t ask questions, he just shoots.

Istanbul, Turkey, 2007

Your work walks a beautiful, curious line between documentary and portraiture. It that boundary line important to the ideas you’re communicating? 

I don’t really think when I shoot, I just do it. For me, photography is similar to martial arts, to fighting. If you practice certain move million times, when the time comes to use it, your body will just react. Same goes for photography. Thinking is the enemy. I don’t have intellectual ideas about what I’m trying to communicate, I just follow my gut.

Most of your work focuses on the urban landscape and environment. Why? Do you handle the people in the urban environments differently than the things? 

I love concrete. I’m a city kid, streets are where I feel at home, what I’ve always been around. Although I have different phases of shooting different things, different environments. From time to time I get obsessed with birds, flowers etc. About people: lately I’m not that much after them. Before I thought that you have to have a human being in the photo in order for it to be good. But now I catch myself waiting for people to leave the frame.

Bangkok, Thailand, June 2011

When you share your work, what images do you find that viewers gravitate more towards?  

I think people gravitate more toward rough images, more shocking, whether they have people in them or not. People are drawn to things and situations that they don’t encounter in their daily life. But I don’t think about that, somehow those situations just come up.

Some of your pictures have really shocking, disturbing subject matter, but it’s still relatively simple for a viewer to experience those. What’s going through your head as you’re recording those moments, behind the lens but so close to tragedy?

When I’m shooting some emotionally heavy situations, I automatically detach myself somehow. At that moment I don’t think I feel anything, but it always comes to me later. Sometimes it can hit you years later. Everyone will tell you there are lines that are not supposed to be crossed, but those lines can easily get blurred, and the deeper you go, the more interesting it gets, and the better pictures you take.

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laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

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there and back again

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Rolling verdant hills pulsed against rocky coastline. I’m intrigued by interesting boundary lines/compatibilities, and Cornwall is a collection of visible paradoxes. I loved it as I love all raw edges.

The urban pastoral ideal.

Cornwall is a region of the UK which includes the farthest-most penninsula of the island-country. There, the weather changes faster than the dialect. Locals say with relish that in Cornwall you get all seasons in a day, “r”s rolling like the oncoming storm. When the sun does shine there, the light glows with a purity, a clarity, an effervescence that I’ve only experienced one other time- in Venice. And if you like your landscapes rural and rugged, your air frothy and salt-tinged, and your people friendly and generous, I can’t think of a better place to go. Getting there is a bit of work, but then, isn’t the journey to anything great? And it doesn’t hurt that the landscape bears a striking resemblance to the Shire.

You can’t quite make out the badger holes, but they’re there.

While in Cornwall, I visited St. Austell, St. Ives, Land’s End, the Minack Theater near Porthcurno, Land’s End, and the Eden Project near Boldelva. I recommend them all, but so enamored was I of the light and the look of that land, I have a suspicion that I would’ve loved anywhere in the region.

We’re being closely watched.

I stayed with friends at an organic farm near St. Austell, where bellowing cows and newborn calves followed us up and down the hillsides. It was perfection, a delicious reprieve from London that I didn’t know I needed but nevertheless loved. That night we spent in the only local pub was one of my favorites. We played trivial pursuit, charmed the bartender into letting us stay late, and talked of small-scale revolution. The walk there, down a mile of winding country roads in the sunset, caught and kept our affections for the place. But the walk back, fueled by wine and some unlikely tequila shots courtesy of Mr. H.N., was even better. When we returned to the farm, we rested on the sundial, in the middle of the night, talking forever about nothingness.

St. Ives from the hilltop.

By the next morning, we were eating pancakes and soon venturing down toward the coast at St. Ives. Go there. Now if you can. Old men sit with old men outside tiny tea shops on the coastline, watching the boats come in and eating scones. A Tate museum anchors itself to the cliffs around the bend. Rowdy, crowds fill the picnic benches outside the pub, and an old dog watches. The pace here is almost continental, but the feel is distinctly its own; to me, there seems to be an unpredictable edge to “Englishness,” and I felt it here. Maybe invigorated is a better word.

During low tide, the water drops so far that the entire floor of the inlet is exposed and boats rest on the sandy ground. Standing down on that beach is a fantastic feeling. Three hours later, and you’d be submerged. Here the dogs play with abandon, and here, I touched the Atlantic again for the first time in months.

While in St. Ives, I’d recommend visiting a pub- any will do, according to your preference- and find the little bakeshop that sits on the corner on the second block from the ocean. It has little carrot cake muffins and pixie Cornish pasties to die for. And you’ve got to try the ice cream made with Cornish cream at Mermaid & Zennor by the water.

Tiny mollusks, attached to the concrete walls of the harbor, click and spit, but you’ve got to get close for it to be audible. Bess, being from the ocean, knew to listen for it. For a while, four of us stood there, noses almost touching the wall, facing away from the ostensible focal point. As we looked down the wall, more and more people started getting close, turning ears toward the chatter.

Crater.

Far out, that iconic lighthouse stands as an impossibly small, white sentry.

Those are all the true blues.

Though I’m a vegetarian, I do make exceptions for critical moments, unique opportunities, new experiences. Fish and chips in St. Ives was an absolute must. We went to a little shop on a secondary street called The Dolphin. I can’t speak to the relative good of them, since I’ve only had fish and chips very few times, but we enjoyed them. We also enjoyed this Boilers cornish ale with them.

St. Ives, land of plenty.

After lunch, we’d decided to split up. I think we were all pretty anxious to get a bit of free time, a bit of alone time, to explore. I wound my way up the hill to the highest, furthest outpost. It had once been a Royal Navy site but is now just a picnicking place. Leaning against the stone wall, watching the waves below, I was feeling a bit too much like an introspective movie loner. When I heard a familiar voice hollering out my name, I was happily surprised to see Bess further down the same wall. Turns out, we’d split, both gotten dessert and then walked up to this farthest outcropping.

“What’re your plans next?” she asked.

“I don’t know, maybe go look at that church and then go to a pub.”

“Glad to hear we’re on the same page. Why’d we split up again?”

St. Nicholas’ Chapel, St. Ives.

The little church drawn on the peak of that hillside on the beer label looks even more remarkably perched in person. Walking up to it feels almost surreal. The wind rips around the hills, crying through the crevasses, pulling froth from the crests of waves and twisting hair into knots. It’s a beautiful, immense place.

The chapel is just a small, stone room with a hearth and a pleasant man sitting at a writing desk. Presumably, he was a volunteer for the Chapel to help visitors or pilgrims.

Time immemorial.

Dandelions and daffodils.

As Bess and I were making our way down the hillside, we heard a brief peal of laughter. Looking up, we saw two local teenagers flying a kite from the cliff top. They hollered something at us but I’m not sure what it was.

Let’s go fly a kite.

We were visiting Cornwall over Easter break, which just happened to be the same weekend as the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. In honor of the event, we had plans to see a play about the Titanic at the legendary Minack Theater. But we had a few hours before that happened, and decided to make a detour to Land’s End.

Land’s End is the farthest westward point of England. It’s a small length of coastline with a cheap strip mall and a strange miniature village. But it embodies that rugged aesthetic.

Land’s End.

Lastly, the prettiest view of the ocean was at Minack Theater. The Theater was built in the early half of the 1900s by a local woman. She constructed it by hand, in an effort to provide a place for students and the community to experience art. She also created an arena to view the scenery.

On the precarious road up to the theater.

A similar view, from the theater itself.

Though it was one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

The last stop in Cornwall, before we made the five hour train ride back to London, was the Eden Project. The Eden Project is a giant biosphere nestled in a valley. There’s a tropical jungle and a mediterranean grove inside the domes, and a rustic cafe between them. If you like the pictures, you’d like visiting the Eden Project. But I’m not sure it’s for everyone.

Gone to the birds.

Tulips.

The terrace.

The ride home was long, and felt too slow. We rode by the stony towers of Bath, and through the suburbs of London back to St. Pancras station. Walking home, back through Russell Square with my dear friends and planning our upcoming days, I was infected with the spirit of the place left behind. Still am.

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Laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

picasso: contextualizing art and artists

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Orson Welles, in his movie F is for Fake, in which Picasso figures prominently.

Approaching Picasso is a daunting task, simply because he is so famous and his work so highly-regarded. It’s almost easier to discuss Picasso in relation to other artists and other artwork, simply because it provides an anchoring point. Otherwise, a person could get lost and wander forever in a discussion of his work and his life. Maybe Tate Britain also felt that way, and so decided to approach his work through comparison with other artists in their Picasso & Modern British Art exhibit.

Comparative literature and art hope to achieve greater truths and more perceptive insights by comparing and contrasting art and artists. But comparisons threaten to diminish the artists individually, and may over-define, over-contextualize the artwork. With that in mind, I found Tate Britain’s goal of showing not only Picasso’s work but his influence admirable, but not effective. In some cases,  the connection was tenuous and sometimes irrelevant. In others, the parallels reduced the importance and skill of the British artists, like Duncan Grant. Alone, Grant is impressive, but when compared with Picasso, he seems unremarkable. Also, some of these individually remarkable works, like Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, were diminished by being so heavily contextualized. Lastly, I’m not sure if a show dealing with Picasso’s influence is even necessary, since it’s so widely appreciated. Further to that point, I’m not convinced discussing his influence via Modern British Art is effective. Though it occurred, there are more salient points of that art period and these artists to discuss. It was certainly an effort by art historians, where the analysis came first and the art second.

From beginning to end, it seemed to me that the discussion of Picasso’s influence was often more a discussion of imitation, though it ended on a high note with Hockney. But Duncan Grant and Graham Sutherland’s artwork, specifically, seemed too directly defined by Picasso’s. Their inclusion didn’t give any more depth to our understanding of Picasso, but did decrease my appreciation for their artistry.

This is especially true for Duncan Grant’ 1913 piece, The Tub. This piece was considered part of the modern, “primitivist” movement, of which Picasso was a major figure. In this context, Grant lost his individuality and his artistic individuality – as an artist, he played with trends, but in the context, he looked like a copycat. I looked up his other work, though, and found that he seemed to be heavily influenced by all kinds of artists, including Seurat. Even recognizing his individual merit artistically, his work doesn’t seem to be more influenced by Picasso than any other prominent artist. In such a large show, the inclusion of an artist like Grant, and later Sutherland, was unnecessary clutter.

I felt immediately an attraction to Henry Moore’s sculptures later in the exhibit, and could track the influence by the juxtaposition of the two artists’ work. The linkage in this portion of the exhibit was particularly strong and one of the most effective portions of the exhibit. In both Picasso and Moore’s work, the human form was heavily simplified and distorting, owing debts to what the referred to as “primitive” traditions. I so badly wanted to be able to touch Moore’s work, because the lines were so fluid and the form so intriguing. It reminded me strongly of Picasso’s Head of a Woman, in that it made me want to touch it and let me around the form with its curves. Those pieces were both such striking testaments to physicality, and both felt feminine and intimate.

The choice to include Francis Bacon’s work was a bold and effective one for this collection. He’s one of the small set of artist included whose presence enhanced both the overall exhibit and the impression of his work individually. His work, gruesome and grotesque, shared some of the drama which make Freud’s and Picasso’s work so compelling. Even though Picasso’s approach to emotional turmoil was less overt than Bacon’s, both dealt with that in their work. The most eye-catching piece of Bacon’s, for me, was his Study for Three Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, 1944. I  was interested in the simplification of their faces to gaping mouths, and in the treatment of extreme agony. The emotion, so wrought and raw against a swathe of orange, caught my imagination and meant that I couldn’t look away. Picasso also dealt with crucifixion, but I think the connection between the artists is less concrete here than that. It seems to me that Bacon was inspired by Picasso’s approach to art, and the themes in Picasso’s art, more than Picasso’s style or subject matter. I noticed little overlap in subject matter and very few similarities in style, though Bacon’s exposure to Picasso was definitely influential to his career. It’s said that Bacon began to pursue visual art seriously after seeing an exhibit of Picasso’s work.

An individual’s evaluation of Picasso is almost like a litmus test of insight and intelligence. Work that really grabs hold of my attention does so without my conscious consent, and I didn’t feel that way very often about Picasso’s work. I hesitate to admit this, but I’m not sure I’m qualified to evaluate Picasso simply because I’m not sure I “get it.” I can appreciate academically his importance in art’s progression, and understand why people are so attracted to him, but I don’t personally feel that way very often about his work. I enjoy it, but that attraction is more academic than instinctive. At the end of the day, I’m not much for Modernist art in general, and that may be the problem.

As always, laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

N.B. I hyperlinked most of the images, rather than posting them, for licensing reasons.

freud takes london, kind of

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Recently, I made it over to the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square to see the Freud exhibit, a retrospective of Lucien Freud’s artwork, and was reluctantly impressed. Though the subject matter was sometimes perverse, demanding, and grotesque, the craft of his portraiture held me spellbound. For me, the intense physicality of Freud’s work was the most impressive. Like Egon Schiele, an Austrian painter prolific in the early 1900s, the curves of the body and the twisting of the muscles underneath the skin, emphasized the psychological and emotional intensity. I so dearly love both of those artists’ treatments of the planes of the body. I don’t love that both of them play with perversions of sexuality. Schiele’s work is a less fraught, more peep-show, than Freud’s invasions and possessions of his subjects. But sensuality is critical for both artists.

In the earlier portraits, it was the quality of lines that conveyed the combination of scientific attention and emotionality. Many of these paintings, for their emotional distance and emphasis on isolation, reminded me of Edward Hopper’s work. The people in both artists work exist in close proximity to one another, but don’t make eye contact and rarely touch. Freud’s Father and Daughter, 1949, is one of the only portraits that includes people in contact with one another. 1954’s Hotel Bedroom is a monument to emotional isolation amid physical proximity. So much in that image is broken and breaking, and the treatment of the subverted, melancholic turmoil with color and style is just gorgeous.

Freud habitually exaggerated the size of the hands, eyes and lips of his subjects, especially in his earlier work. This intrigued me, since those are generally considered sexual attributes, and important to human evaluations of each other’s attractiveness. I wondered whether he consciously emphasized these aspects of his models, and if so, why. It was also interesting given the public’s awareness of Freud’s promiscuity.

Of the entire exhibit, I was most disturbed by his treatment of women and children, especially in his early paintings. Often he painted women and children naked or partially naked, acutely and sometime uncomfortably observed. This intimacy didn’t seem particularly invited or welcome. Of all the uncomfortable moments during the Freud exhibit, viewing Large Interior, Paddington, 1968-9, was the most disconcerting. It seemed an almost total exploitation of this young girl, lying exposed and vulnerable on the barren floor in the fetal position. Only after reading the label did I learn that the child was, in fact, his daughter. The refusal to acknowledge the identity of women and children in these early paintings was, I thought, derogatory. He seemed to use them but not to honor them, almost rejecting their value as individuals because they were women and children. His gaze fell especially harshly upon children. I cannot pretend to understand what might have provoked that perspective, but that the museum’s treatment of the collection barely mentioned it.

As his style evolved, the application of the paint and the treatment of edges became thicker, more worked. By the end of the retrospective, it was clear that Freud thought of himself as an artist. As his public reputation grew, so did the scale of his portraits, his demands on his models, and the texture of his paint. It was around these that Freud lost me; he became more of a persona than an artist. Though I was still fascinated by his work, it was morbidly so and his motivations seemed more superficial. His work became less complex, for me, because it seemed more actively driven by external forces. In general, I felt that his persona as an artist swamped and overpowered the quality of his artwork.

This exhibit was both interesting and worth being seen, but I think the art would be more impressive if viewed apart from Freud’s name. Seen on a wall, hung discretely in the National Portrait Gallery, viewers would inevitably be drawn to the work, drawn to the drama and the tension. In that context, viewers would be allowed to experience the power and skill of the work before they evaluated it through the lens of public perception of Freud. He’s such a complex and demanding artist that the art should be contextualized within his life only after after the art has stood alone.

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laissez les bon temps rouler,

the girl

sci-fi vs. scientists

Originally published in full at Don’t Panic Online, along with loads of other stellar writing, though mostly not mine.
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Predicting the Future: Scientists vs SciFi

Inspired by a collection of images NASA created in the 1970s detailing how to live in space, we decided to dive into the whole issue of space colonies and technology.

The concepts for the colonies were designed by Princeton physicist George O’Neill with help from researchers at Stanford and NASA’s Ames Research Center, which researches human life on earth and in space. Created as part of an initiative for imagining living in space, the images are simultaneously quaint and inspiring. They include drafts for the interior and exterior of the colonies, and designed space for approximately 10,000 people.

The above images are exterior and interior views of O’Neill cylinders, one of the most common type of space colonies described by science fiction writers. O’Neill’s cyclinders rotate, which creates an artificial gravity on their inner surface. O’Neill cylinders feature prominently in Gundam anime series, a few of the Star Trek novels, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, among others. The drawing of an O’Neill cylinder features alternating columns of land and windows, which simulate life on Earth by allowing light and heat from a star into the colony.

This image depicts the interior of a different style of colony, the Bernal Sphere, which is a spherical living area. It also includes a human-driven airplane (the little orange hankerchief floating near the top of the picture).

Looking at these drawings, we couldn’t help but be reminded of Iain M. Banks’ The Culture novels. The series, which includes nine novels so far, describes living in structures known as orbitals. Orbitals are ring-shaped habitats which orbit stars, rotate about once every 24 hours, and usually have about the same gravitational pull as Earth. In a 1994 essay, Banks described orbitals thus:

“For one planet the size of Earth (population 6 billion at the moment; mass 6×1024 kg), it would be possible, using the same amount of matter, to build 1,500 full orbitals, each one boasting a surface area twenty times that of Earth and eventually holding a maximum population of perhaps 50 billion people (the Culture would regard Earth at present as over-crowded by a factor of about two, though it would consider the land-to-water ratio about right).”

He also imagined other space structures like “ringworlds,” also ring-shaped but smaller. These NASA designs have something of that sense of elegance and efficiency. This begs the question: what other correlations exist between science fiction novels and scientific research?

Interplanetary travel in Frank Herbert’s Dune vs. Interplanetary travel, space tourism and generation ships

In Herbert’s Dune, passenger interstellar travel is one of the most important infrastructure developments. It’s only with the ability to travel between planets that Herbert could create the rich political, social, economic and environmental dramas which define the novel. He describes Heighliner starships, operated by the melange-addicted Spacing Guild, which allow people to voyage between systems almost instantaneously using the Holtzman drive (which folds space, allowing the ships to travel quickly and directly). They can’t land, instead resting in planetary orbitals, while passengers and products are transported to the planet itself using ferries. These ships are critical to Dune, and allow the society described the novel to function.

Efforts to colonise other planets would rely on the ability for vast amounts of passengers and goods to travel through space. Space tourism is one of the first initiatives aimed at allowing average citizens to travel into outer space. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic project includes plans for passenger space ships, and the world’s first commercial space station in New Mexico.

Currently, Space Adventures is the only company to have sent paying tourists to space. Betwen 1998 and 2009, seven passengers have participated. However, while these remarkable developments allow passengers to orbit Earth, and the industry is expanding, there aren’t yet have provisions for travelling between stars.

Barriers to interstellar travel are huge, the first being that there is no known available destination. Other difficulties with interstellar travel include the cost of transporting people and things into space, the time required to travel between such distant points, and life support for extended durations of time. Without the ability to travel faster than the speed of light, it would take thousands of years to travel to stars and other galaxies. As that’s longer than most people’s life span, generation ships are often the solution. Passengers on a generation ship would know that they’d die on the ship when boarding, hoping only that their children or children’s children would reach the destination. The ability for passengers to reach space settlements or other planets would be critical to colonising space. But without an actual destination, anything beyond novelty passenger Earth orbitals are nowhere near possibility.

Space elevators in Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise vs. Space elevators now

Arthur C. Clarke, one of science fiction’s most influential writers (partially because one of his inventions, the geosynchronous satellite – and thus satellite TV and GPS – became reality), imagined a new way to access outer space. In his 1979 novel, The Fountains of Paradise, Clarke describes the construction of a huge column which allowed the cost-effective transport of goods to space. In the novel, an almost-40,000 km glorified elevator rises to a satellite in geostationary orbit with Earth. Such a geosynchronous satellite as Clarke envisioned was created just 18 years after Clarke’s prediction. Because the imagined space elevator wouldn’t use rocket propulsion it would be an energy and cost-efficient solution.

The invention of carbon nanotubes in the 1990s made the construction of space elevators seem almost within sight. Since then, many organisations claiming to be working on a space elevator, including Google at its X lab, and Japanese construction firm Obayashi Corporation. When designing a space elevator, engineers need to consider navigational, environmental, and structural challeges. First, some provisions would need to be made so that aircraft spacecraft and satellites didn’t fly into it, and a method to deflect space debris would also be necessary. Also, there isn’t currently a material with the tensile strength or corrosion resistance necessary for the elevator cord. Though material technology is advancing, (the development of graphene, perfectly flat sheets of carbon with high breaking links, for example) the danger of unknown structural limitations and risks associated with failure is high. Though everything at this point is theoretical, some scientists claim we could have a space elevator within 40 years. Bravo to that!

Settlement on Mars in novels vs. Settlement on Mars IRL

Settlement of Mars has been described in a variety of science fiction novels, from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. In many of them, Mars is transformed to look more like earth, rather than humans adapting to the planet’s environment. Many of these theorised settlements require variations of “terraforming”, or restructuring the natural environment, an idea which has a long history in popular culture. Robinson details the terraformation of Mars extensively, including details about melting the polar ice cap, creating volcanoes, and adjusting the atmospheric pressure so that oceans can exist. While all of this sounds far-fetched, NASA’s scientists believe that Mars has the highest capacity for terraformation.

Plans include the releasing of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and raising the temperature to melt the poles. Russia were the first to land on Mars in 1971, after many failures (as detailed in our previous Mars article) and the exploration of Mars is in full swing. Though terraforming on Mars is currently the most feasible option, it’s still many years away from possibility.

So what can we look forward to in the future? A space colony designed by primary school children? NASA is currently running a competition geared towards young students to design a space colony. NASA believes that building space colonies “will be an evolutionary event in magnitude similar to, if not greater than, ocean-based life’s colonisation of land half a billion years ago.” For NASA, space colonization is still an active initiative, though it requires so many technological advancements that it probably won’t happen for many years. They estimate that it’s reasonable to expect the first space colony in 50 years. As they say on their space settlement site:

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that new ideas pass through three periods:

  • It can’t be done.
  • It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing.
  • I knew it was a good idea all along!”
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laissez les bon temps rouler, space cadets,
the girl