Memphis

February 20, 2018

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Tail end of my trip to the Delta was a short visit to Memphis, and the first stop was the National Civil Rights Museum, which incorporates the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered while he was there on a visit to support a strike by the Memphis sanitation workers.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the exceptionally high quality of the place:  I had expected a more standard, triumphalist, and celebratory exhibition that focused heavily on MLK, but instead I found a rich, creatively arranged multi-media exhibit that described the huge effort by many actors that made the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.  The museum did not shy from presenting information on the divisions that existed in the movement, and MLK, although clearly the great leader the movement needed, was not alone in his work.

Of course, since MLK stayed there, that area of South Memphis was the black side of town in those days.  Subsequently, it seems to have declined quite a bit, and today, in the numbing and depressing development cycle we call gentrification, it is being given new life.  The old buildings have coffee bars, galleries, and not-to-cheap condos, and some new building are plopped into spaces where old ones have been demolished.  The developers, having ignored the area for generations, are swooping in to make their kill as the grand march of capital moves into another “virgin” territory.  But as with the Spanish conquistadors, there were people there already, but now they are being squeezed out.  As it happens, on the drive up to Memphis, we heard this fantastic, but very depressing report on part of how this all happens today.

The pictures below were all taken in South Memphis, along the river, or Main Street.

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Condos, wine bar…gentrification

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Mural recalling the sanitation workers’ march down the street from the Civil Rights Museum

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As in so many cities, highway construction blighted the waterfront.

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The old riverbank in Memphis

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The so-called record flood of 2011 doesn’t seem all that high right here! 🙂

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Beautiful terra cotta work on this structure on Main Street, now largely a pedestrian mall.

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The oldest operating restaurant in Memphis

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An old fashioned storefront, c. 1940 I would guess, now defunct.

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That’s a flood wall!

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Highway 61, Visited

February 19, 2018

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Since I love The Blues, and have always wanted to make a visit to the American South, and since I also find rivers and floods fascinating, it was time to finally make a trip to The Delta of Mississippi.  That’s not the Mississippi River delta, which is south of New Orleans, where the mighty river debouches into the Gulf of Mexico, but the oval-shaped region just south of Memphis, TN, alongside of Arkansas, with the Mississippi River separating them.
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The region is pancake-flat, and is bordered on the east by hills, on the west by the river.  The Mississippi has changed course over and inundated the region for millennia, and it is intensely fertile.  After the American Revolution, it became the site of some scandalous criminal land speculations, e.g. the Yazoo Strip Affair, and after the Civil War, clearing the hardwood forests and converting it to cotton farming proceeded at a rapid clip, with the support of Uncle Sam in the form of massive flood control works to protect the farming operations.  So much for Southern states’ resentment of federal intervention:  as long as the pork rolled in and nobody interfered with their “peculiar” institutions, e.g. slavery, and then Jim Crow, Washington D.C. was fine in their books.  You can read more about the how the river and the people interacted with the land in this interesting treatment.

Furthermore, I don’t just love The Blues:  I am very partial to the old fashioned, traditional, Delta Blues, the acoustic music that travelled north in the Great Migration, with people such as Muddy Waters, where it landed in Chicago and got electrified, eventually winning a huge audience in the UK, whose rock and roll invaders brought it back to us making it wildly popular among white audiences here too, at least for a while.  When The Beatles were interviewed at an airport upon their first arrival in the USA, a reporter asked who were their favorite American musicians, and among those volunteered by Lennon was Muddy Waters, unknown to the reporters.  “You don’t know who your famous people are,” quipped Lennon.

The two pictures below are from Stovall’s Farm, a plantation where McKinley Morganfield lived, worked, and played, before he got the confidence to up and leave for the North, as so many other black people had done.  His cabin stood on this site, but has been moved to a local museum:  ZZ Top (I don’t know their music, but they know their Blues61revisited!) made an electric guitar out of one of its planks, and used it to raise funds for the restoration of the cabin.  The state of Mississippi eventually got on board the Blues Train, and set up a Blues Trail, with historical markers up and down the region, especially along Highway 61, which Dylan “revisited” in his smash hit record.  (Highway 61 figures in quite a number of Blues songs, as it runs the length of the Delta, and beyond.)

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This cabin below is just next to the Muddy Waters site:  it wasn’t his cabin, but it looks as if it could have been!  As my wife remarked, it looks like “it’s right out of central casting!”IMG_0039

We based our visit to the Delta in Clarksdale, where there are lots of places to eat and hear music, great music, and in a relaxed, laid back environment that is wonderful.  We stayed in the very nice Delta Bohemian Guest House, where our comfortable room had a tub, plumbing fixtures, and tiled floor, that thrilled me.  (I understand that not everyone shares my enthusiasms.) IMG_0045

Needless to say, it is Mississippi after all, the area is rather economically depressed.  These shots in Shaw, MS, where I stumbled on the Blues Trail marker for Honeyboy Edwards, a favorite of mine, capture the atmosphere nicely.

 

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Further south is the not particularly interesting town of Greenville, MS, which was the center of a lot of literary activity as well as a devastated area during the momentous flood of 1927, the relief effort for which, incidentally, catapulted Herbert Hoover to the presidency.  The museum about the flood, the greatest natural disaster in US history, I believe, was closed, but I did manage a brief rain soaked stroll along the top of the levee.

 


Concrete and Reliquaries

January 16, 2018

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I have been reading this book because I am fascinated by medieval art, and I see a lot of reliquaries.  The book is sort of rambling, and it jumps around thematically, but it has focused my attention on these objects lately, so I took another trip to The Cloisters to see a few.  I drove in, and decided to park and walk around Washington Heights with my camera a bit before going to the museum.

First off, again, the Port Authority Bus Terminal with that fantastic reinforced concrete roof by Pier Luigi Nervi.  I was struck by this view from my car, and walked back to capture it.  It conveys, for me, the creepily attractive monumental and oppressive nature of some modernist architecture.  The tower in the background, one of four known to traffic alert listeners simply as “The Towers,” gives the view a Futurist look.

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Once in the museum, I went to see the three little ladies, reliquaries purportedly containing the skulls of martyred women, three of the 11,000 killed with Saint Ursula.

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Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but it made me think of this final scene from Mystery of the Organism.vlcsnap-694373


Lower Manhattan Jaunt

January 8, 2018

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On my Lower Manhattan jaunt I took two pinhole cameras:  a coffee can model; and a rectangular box type.  My photo journey began uptown, of course, at the 178th Street Port Authority Bus Terminal.  The building’s roof was designed by Nervi was designed in the early 1960s, and I just love the trapezoidal-shaped columns resting on a massive steel rocker.  This was shot with a rectangular box pinhole.

As usual  with my interior pinhole shots, I had trouble getting the exposure right.  Actually, getting the exposure right is always a problem, but it’s harder indoors.  Considering the overcast skies, this one came out pretty well, but I have been finding that my low-light outdoor shots are often over exposed because I have been relying on an iPad light meter app.  According to the reciprocity law rigmarole, long exposures calculated “by hand” are too low and need to be increased.  I don’t know what the “rule” is for light meters that include very large f-stops, or maybe there isn’t one.   I should probably rely on rule of thumb and experience and dump the meter!

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This coffee can shot of the plaza outside of the $4 billion luxury shopping mall otherwise known at The Oculus or Transit Hub by Calatrava shows the exposure problems.  It is also a roughed up image, showing the effects of my clumsy field handling of the cameras in my darkroom bag.  Haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.

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This interior shot of the structure was also taken with a coffee can pinhole, and it turned out pretty well.  The building is more impressive in this image that it is in fact, but I could go on about this for a long time…

I found relief from the contemplation of the Port Authority’s pharaonic waste at The Rubin Museum on 17th Street which contains fantastic collections of Tibetan art.6961121A-0102-4239-8DC0-1C428BC2955B

After my visit, on my way to the subway to get back to Nervi’s place, I captured this little scene, so typical of Manhattan, with my coffee can pinhole.

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Upper Manhattan Jaunt

January 7, 2018

I revisited one of my favorite buildings in Manhattan; the multi-storey sub-basement of an old apartment building in Washington Heights, amidst the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Complex.

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It really does seem like a dungeon to me.

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It’s barely visible from this perspective amidst the hospital behemoths that recall to my mind the fantasies of Saint Elia.

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Manhattan Schist, so it’s called, is prominent up here, and from such soil, great structures grow.

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Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, we had barely two seasons:  I love the winter!love winter II

After all this gawking at icy splendor, I retreated to The Cloisters.

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Son of Clovis?

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Saint Lawrence Being Roasted:  The story goes that after grilling for a while, he declared, “I’m well-done, turn me over!”  Thus, he is the patron saint of cooks.

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Taste Sensation

January 5, 2018

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…but the coffee merits special mention.

Limpid it was, scented and wondrous hot; but above all, it was served, not in those degenerate vessels which they dare, on the banks of the Seine to call cups, but in fair, deep bowls wherein the worthy fathers plunged their thick lips with a will, and sucked up the life-giving liquid with a noise that would have done credit to two sperm whales fleeing before a storm.

from The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin


First

December 30, 2017

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Painted by the artist known as Duccio about seven hundred years ago, this could be considered the “Ur image” of Renaissance art: Vasari recognized it as such centuries later. I always visit it when I go to the Met.

I rather like this snap of the picture; very meta 🤓.  Picture of a picture that initiated the Western preoccupation with illusionary pictorial space. The parapet at the bottom edge is key, nicely heightened here, strangely, by the photograph’s flattening of the whole image.  Other pictures intrude into the picture of the picture.

The original frame is burned along the bottom by generations of devotional candles.