Archive for Washington

Grappling With P.J. Harvey’s Windshield Tour Of My City

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 16, 2016 by johnbuckley100

You’ve probably heard about P.J. Harvey’s new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project.  If you live in D.C., as I do, and haven’t paid attention, you may not know that over the past two decades she’s created at least two of the best albums in the history of rock’n’roll.  Yeah, a little obscure on this side of the pond, but a major artist. Her drive-by songwriting about some of Washington’s bleakest neighborhoods has caused a bit of a stir, and we admit that, based only on one of the early songs released, “The Community of Hope,” we were concerned.  Now that the entire album’s out in full, it’s easier to understand, and admire.  And yes, The Hope Six Demolition Project ranks with those two aforementioned masterpieces, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000) and Let England Shake (2011).

In this morning’s Washington Post, Chris Richards does a nice job of defining Harvey’s work as observational journalism.  On at least those songs emanating from a trip here in 2014, Polly’s artistic process seems to have been opening her eyes and her notebook, recording what she saw, and in a reportorial fashion, putting it to music.  And what she saw and reports on was, if not original — many artists, not to mention journalists and propagandists, have made comment on the disparities between Washington’s power and wealth and our disastrously neglected neighborhoods —  then it’s at least heartfelt and unique to her sensibility.  She serves up an unflattering slice of the city I live in, it may come from a “windshield tour”narrated by a D.C. reporter who didn’t even know the slight woman in the backseat of his car was one of the world’s most important rock stars, but because of her sensibility, she serves it up as art.  And make no mistake about it, it may be tonally flat, but it is art, and put your fears aside, it is real rock’n’roll.

Musically, this is pretty similar to Let England Shake, her award-winning album that focused on, of all things, the consequences of World War I on Britain.  Yeah, she’s never been content with “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” There’s the same martial drumming, the Greek chorus adding folk textures to her and John Parish’s guitar.  It is beautiful music, a complex and tonally gorgeous collection of songs.

And the thing you have to realize, also, is that The Hope Six Demonstration Project is an art project within an art project.  P.J. Harvey traveled with photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy to Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as Anacostia and Ward 7 here in D.C., emerging not only with this album, but also a series of films (Murphy), and a book of photography (Murphy) and poetry (Harvey), entitled The Hollow Of The Hand.  And not only did this evolve into her new album, she recorded the album in a studio under observation, with fans able to purchase tickets to watch the creative process unspool.  This may seem like she simply spilled her notebook onto vinyl, but Harvey’s not an artist to do things simply.

We admire and empathize with what Harvey’s tried to pull off here, mostly successfully.  Yes, she was a “poverty tourist” when she came to Ward 7 D.C.  But at least she came.  She saw it from behind the safety of a windshield, but at least she came.  And when she adds the spiritual “Wade In The Water” to her take on the filthy Anacostia River, it’s powerful.  And when she captures the ironic poetry of liberal dreams cratering by the government having to destroy what HUD called Hope Six housing in order to improve the lives of poor people here, she’s merely revealing she has a very good ear.  (“The Hope Six Demolition Project” is an irresistible string of words, but you had to be there, as she was, to capture it.) And when she creates an album this beautiful, and this powerful, she’s revealing, once again, that Polly Jean Harvey is one of the very few artists in 2016 using rock’n’roll to grapple with the world at this level.

What We Learned From Bruce Davidson’s Lecture At The Phillips Collection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 12, 2015 by johnbuckley100

When you see a photograph taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the sound you hear is of the shutter closing at 1/125th of a second.  When you see any of the photographs Bruce Davidson has taken over his long, distinguished career, the soundtrack is musical — for the pictures from his 1959 Brooklyn Gangs project, we hear Dion singing “A Teenager In Love;” Miles Davis’ trumpet haunts the pictures taken for the East 100th Street series; The Clash’s Sandanista, or maybe Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” accompany the images taken in 1980 deep in the New York subway system.  For Davidson is not merely a photographer whose lyrical, softly dramatic work lives in individual photographs.  He is a cinematic storyteller who emerges from deep within an atmosphere he’s inhabited with poignant, touching pictures that, yes, swirl with their own soundtrack.

Last night at the Phillips Collection, the 81-year old Davidson provided commentary on many of the pictures from his most celebrated series of images, stretching all the way back to the ’50s.  It was part of the Phillips Collection’s “American Moments” show, which for the first time displays works from the plucky little museum’s permanent collection of photography.  If the pictures in the show are any indication of what the Phillips Collection has in store for us as their focus on photography becomes more ambitious, Washingtonians are in for a delightful ride.  And if their choice of photographers to invite to speak is any indication, the Phillips Collection is intent on making a mark.

Bruce Davidson

Davidson is not a household name, even in households that care about photography; he’s an American master, a photographer’s photographer, less famous than contemporaries like Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz, but a giant in the world of 20th Century photography.  What was clear last night is that his humanity and commitment run deep: he could cite, by name, what has happened to members of that Brooklyn Gang 60 years after the pictures came out, knew what kind of life the children of sharecroppers he’d photographed in the 1960s ended up having once some of the barriers to their integration in American life had toppled.  He spoke with just a touch of pride about the impact his photographs had had, in knocking down racial barriers, in helping people in an impoverished community in Spanish Harlem be recognized for their dignity — and the intolerable housing conditions they lived in.

Meyerowitz used to talk about “tough pictures,” photographs that showed how real were the dangers the photographer used to put himself in to come back with an image.  And Davidson took his share.  But mostly his images reflect the degree of intimacy he had with his subjects, showing the people on East 100th Street what the work would look like, so they’d trust him.  He repeated the famous story of persuading a fellow with a scarred face who sat across from him on the subway and threatened to smash his camera, to let him take his picture.  He did it by engaging him, talking to him, showing him his work.  Getting street subjects to sit for a photograph is an act of seduction, he said.

He told us there are three things you can do to get a picture of someone.  You can sneak the photo, take it and run, or you can ask them.  This is a man who has made a career, for the most part, asking people and being told yes, because with his direct Midwestern sensibility and occasionally impish twinkle in his eye, he was jovially seductive.

Asked whether he could undertake multiple projects simultaneously, he said no, and likened his work to a “bullfighter getting in rhythm with the bull.”  This is not someone who shows up on a street, takes a snapshot and walks away.  He said he had patience, and surely he must have, and ingenuity in spades: he told the story of advancing a beach in Brooklyn where the gang said they would hang out the next night, and bringing a light bulb to screw into a socket he’d identified, knowing it would illuminate his subjects.

Immersing ourselves, as we have over the past few weeks, in the great Steidl three-volume collection, we found ourselves thinking of another photographer whose work would not automatically be compared to Davidson’s.  Sebastiao Salgado also tells stories in great project arcs, deeply immersing himself in the lives of his subjects, his individual photos amazing, his series even greater than the sum of the parts.  Growing up in Illinois, Davidson’s immersed himself in subcultures perhaps less exotic than Salgado’s, which isn’t surprising given the latter’s growing up in a remote Brazilian agricultural community right out of Garcia Marquez.  But there is the same sensibility, the same commitment, the humanity, and the turn, in his career’s last innings, to nature and more lyrical images.  He’s a hell of a photographer, and we are so glad to have heard him.

And This Is What They Fought For

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Memorial Day’s eve, Washington, D.C., May 24th, 2015

Memorial Day Color Speed Racer Crop

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Memorial Day Color kayaks

Reflections On The D.C. Funk Parade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 3, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Funk Parade 7-4 We couldn’t help thinking, as we got to the corner of 14th and U, that the street fair preceding it and the route to be taken by the D.C. Funk Parade was exactly where, in 1968, the riots that gutted Washington’s interior all began.  Even as our nearby neighbor Baltimore was bracing for more disturbances in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder by police, D.C. was fixing to throw a party, a parade. Funk Parade 7-2 14th and U: exactly the street corner where, on the Thursday night in April 1968 when word of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination reached the streets, the Nation’s Capital began to burn, with key commercial corridors — the heart of Black D.C. in particular — not recovering for thirty or more years. Funk Parade 7-14 That the Funk Parade would travel from the Howard Theater at one end of U Street, to the Lincoln Theater at the other end, made sense symbolically.  Washington is far from a perfect city.  If you created a histogram of its population, you would still see the zone to the left completely black and the zone to the right completely white.  But especially along this commercial entertainment zone, so filled with history from the Duke Ellington era to the time that began, for some of us, when the 930 Club moved nearby and rock bands began playing in a neighborhood white kids might previously have feared to tread, D.C. has become a city where whites and blacks mix more freely than most others in the U.S. Funk Parade 7-7 And so the D.C. Funk Parade was preceded by a street fair in the U Street Corridor, as it is called, with every alley booming with music. Funk Parade 7-6 Kids were there with parents, old folks mixed with the young, and for a few hours, the city shined. Funk Parade 7 We could not help thinking also about how history was everywhere around us, and the hero of the past might now loom with irony in the present. Funk Parade 5 But as the parade time came closer, this was a city ready to get its funk on. Funk Parade 7-9 People were out in their celebration finery. Funk Parade 7-8 And the parade itself — which for some weird reason had been forced to go along a different path last year, until this year a Change.org petition and a new mayor restored it to its rightful route — was finally almost here. Funk Parade 7-10 The streets filled and people took their places, even as clouds gathered behind us. Funk Parade 3 Until finally the Funk Parade arrived, and it was a joyous event. Funk Parade 7-13 Everyone clamored to see it.  And we were again left reflecting on what a remarkable city our home of more than 30 years really is, its problems notwithstanding.  What was destroyed by civil disturbances 47 years ago has in many ways come back, with a changed, multiracial population.  The very streets that were destroyed by rioting — 14th Street, the U Street Corridor, 7th Street, the H Street Corridor — being the places that today have been restored as the most vibrant sections of a city that is livelier than ever.  It made us hope that nearby Baltimore can have the same rejuvenation, but in much, much less time. Funk Parade 7-19 We know there is much to think of, to reflect on, if the progress that D.C. has made is to continue in the future. All images Leica M (typ-240) and 35mm Summilux.

The High Heel Race In The Nation’s Capital

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 29, 2014 by johnbuckley100

High Heel Race

Since the first running of The High Heel Race in 1986, it has become for Washington something like what the Mardi Gras is for New Orleans — a joyous evening of revelry.  Drag queens as serious about this year’s get up as homeowners in Dallas’s Highland Park are about their Christmas lights, mingle — wobble may be more like it, as they’re not usually wearing heels — with frat boys who get into the spirit for a once-a-year, possibly once-a-lifetime, walk on the wild side.

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Between the intersection of 17th and New Hampshire, almost all the way down to the Australian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, queens reign supreme as diners at the bars and restaurants spill out onto the well-organized sidewalks.

High Heel Race Supplement

Washington is not believed to be a place where people let their hair down.  It famously was declared a city “with no Left Bank.” And yet the real Washington — D.C., as it is called by its denizens — is of course a city of tremendous creativity, in no small part driven by a large and friendly gay community.  The High Heel Race, though on a weeknight, was as notable for the families that attended as for the swell of straight couples who saw it as an extension of the Halloween partying season.  Again, DC’s Mardi Gras.

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The marriage theme was ever-present, whether by those who might actually have walked down the aisle…

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Or those simply auditioning for a Crocodiles’ video.

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The cops got into the spirit of things, even when propositioned by Brunhilda and her girlfriend.

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And as the evening swirled…

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A Venice Carnivale of sorts materialized…

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And even those who weren’t quite ready for Halloween donned their gay apparel.  But the delight of those stars who welcomed the arrival of paparazzi made this annual running of the high-heeled women a sight to behold.

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All images Leica Monochrom, 35mm Summilux Asph FLE.

Memorial Day In The Nation’s Capital

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Memorial Day 4

 

Leica M9, 50mm Noctilux

Going down to the Vietnam Memorial on Memorial Day stirs up emotions for many, though for others it takes on the feeling of a reunion, or a street fair.

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Leica M9, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Old friends gather, while others view the assemblage as an opportunity to sell goods or services.

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Leica M9, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

But the principal reason for being there is to commemorate the lives of those who sacrificed for their family and their country.

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Leica M9, 50mm Noctilux

There are still unhealed wounds and bitterness, arguments unfinished after 40 years.

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Leica M9, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Happily, for many this is a holiday to celebrate the nation, and the beginning of summer.

Stars and Stripes

 

Leica M9, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Cherry Blossom Time As En Plein Air Portrait Studio

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 10, 2013 by johnbuckley100

All pictures Leica M-240 with 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph.  Click on picture for detailed viewing.

It’s Cherry Blossom Time in Washington, D.C. and everyone is enjoying the nice weather.

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It’s a time for relaxation in the suddenly gorgeous spring, which given how consistently cold the winter was, provides immediate happiness.

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But it’s also a time in which people come to the Mall to have their picture taken, and everyone is either posing for a picture…

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taking a picture…

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Or reviewing a picture.

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The mass  phenomenon of people taking pictures of themselves is a byproduct of the Smartphone Revolution.

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But everyone loves getting their picture taken during Cherry Blossom Time, even if it’s not by the person to whom they thought they’d given the assignment.

Dual Photographers

It can all be a bit much.  Until you see how happy it makes everyone.

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