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Archive for May, 2010

Arthur Mole Photo- Marine Corps Insignia

On this Memorial Day, I thought I would show some patriotic images photographed in the first part of the 20th century by Arthur Mole.  Mole made a name for himself at the time by assembling large groups of people in formations and photographing them from a specially constructed 80-foot tower.  He started at church conventions and later did the same for a number of universities but was probably best known for his symbols of the US and its military. 

 Needing large groups for his intricate compositions, military bases seemed like the perfect place to find massed groups of people to use as the paints on his palette.  For instance, the Marine Corps insignia shown here was shot at Paris Island and took 100 officers and 5000 troops in order to fill out all the details in the composition. 

Athur Mole Photo- Shield of the United States

It took  quite a few more people to fill out the upper details in his compositions as, in order to maintain perspective from the perch where he shot, these areas were considerably larger in size than the than those nearer the camera.  Take this US Shield shot in Battle Creek, Michigan  for example.  It took 30,000 troops to complete this but most of these troops were used in the area above the first row of stars. 

The varying shades were achieved by having the troops wear different clothes obviously.  For the light areas, they simply wore t-shirts and for the dark areas they wore their uniforms.  In the shield photo, those in the dark areas also wore their hats to make the tone more uniform on film.  No shining faces breaking up the dark shades.
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Arthur Mole= Liberty Bell

These are pretty amazing photos when you consider that they were taken in world long before Photoshop or any type of computer generation.  It must have taken a tremendous amount of planning and effort to pull off these shoots, from the building of the tower to the precise placement of each soldier.  For that alone they deserve a tip of the hat.
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And on this Memorial Day, the sight of troops who sacrificed in some way for our country standing side-by-side to create the symbols tht embody our nation is a  fine way to remember them outside of the battles they fought and the blood and lives they gave. 

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The mythology in your mind is always subject to correction.

As I was growing up there were names that were always bandied around with my dad and brother, goofy names that were a part of playful banter.  Many were pure nonsense, like Chick Chickee, and some were real people.  Some, like Leonard Box, I have no clue where they came from.  There are some that have faded from my memory long ago.  But one that always brings back those days is the name Steve Brodie.

It was always used to fill in when we didn’t know who did something.  “Bet it was Steve Brodie…” Or if we were driving over one of the bridges in town and there was someone on the sidewalk, one of us would ask, “Was that Steve Brodie?”

It was always thought that Brodie was a real person  but there was nothing certain.  Our mythology also  held that he was the first man to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge sometime in the 1930’s.  So for all of my life I held on to this bit of trivia and believed it.

Until this morning when the name just popped into my head.  I decide I could finally look up Steve Brodie and discover who he really was.  Turns out, we were partly correct.  He did jump off a bridge.  In fact, he claimed to be the first to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge, back in 1886.  And he survived and turned his claim to fame to his advantage as publicity for the successful  tavern he subsequently opened in New York.  I imagine the image shown above was used as advertising of sorts for his establishment.  His name also became part of the popular lexicon of  the early 20th century which is how we latched on to it.

So the mythology behind my memory is corrected.  We were off by 50 years and   about 3000 miles.  But we had the right guy nonetheless.  Now I have a face to put with the name.

Have a great day!

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Harold Russell in “The Best Years of Our Lives”

It’s Memorial Day weekend and every year at this time, TCM shows films with  military themes as a way of honoring the holiday.  I see that tonight they’re showing The Best Years of Our Lives from 1946.  It’s a movie I have watched a number of times and am always reminded of one of its stars, Harold Russell.

Harold Russell was not an actor.  He had been an Army instructor during World War II when he lost both hands in an accident while handling explosives.  Near the war’s end, he was the focus of a film about the rehabilitation of disabled vets which is where director William Wyler first saw him and decided to cast him as Homer Parrish, a sailor who loses both hands in the war.

Though not a trained actor, Russell gives a spectacular performance as Homer.  There are many memorable scenes with Homer that linger with you long after the film ends.  One that stands out for me is one in which Homer is in the garage and his young sister and a friend are watching from outside and Homer, tired and frustrated at the stares and pointed fingers from the curious, smashes his hooks through the window at the girls.  The visual impact of the scene is brilliant.

There are many other scenes  that shine as well and they came together to bring Russell the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the film.  He holds a unique distinction as the only actor to have two Oscars for the same performance.  You see, the Oscar board thought Russell had no chance at winning and wanted to honor his performance for bringing attention to the plight of disabled vets so they chose to honor him with a special Oscar.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a compelling film.  Sure, there are moments of sentimentality.  How could there not be?  But this is no rosy view of the world in any way.  It has a dark grim tone and shows the damage the war has inflicted on the returning vets, both physically and emotionally.  It has an honesty about the subject of the effects of war that you didn’t often see in contemporary films of the time.  The vets returned to a world that was changed from that which they remembered and they were often forced to deal with indifference and sometimes scorn from a public that soon forgot their sacrifice.   It seems to me to be the jumping off point for the dark realism of  many films from the next decade.

So, if you get a chance tonight take a look.  It’s a great film and you’ll be reminded why we honor the sacrifice of those who served.  Here’s a great scene with Harold Russell as Homer and his girlfriend, who he has felt alienated from because of his disability. He’s trying to show her what she will face in the reality of  a life with him.

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I’ve been hearing the term worst case scenario  an awful lot lately, certainly in conjunction with the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  We always profess to be prepared and at the ready should the worse happen.  But like so many things, this show of confidence is usually unjustified.  We rarely are able to visualize the worse that could happen in any situation, unable to calculate all the details and factors that might send us careening in directions we never envisioned. 

With this in mind, when I looked  at this painting the first thing that jumped to mind was something quite the opposite.  

It is full of possibility and an idealized optimism.  There is no trace of darkness or hardship on the path in this landscape.  The horizon promises a bright future and seems close and reachable as the red tree urges you to come further along the path.  And even when the path might dip below the next small hiil and the horizon leaves your sight, it is still all light with clear skies above.  No need to fret.

It’s a Best Case Scenario

From the moment this painting, which is a 4″ wide by 14″ tall image on paper, began to take shape, it possessed this very positive feel.  Much of my work has an optimistic lean but it usually has a hint of darkness, a reminder of the malevolence that persists in our world.  Maybe this painting’s unfiltered positivism was created out of my own need for refuge and hope after being buffeted by recent news from around the world.   Perhaps its purpose was to remind me that there are best case scenarios out there to counter all the worst cases.  That there are positive goals to which we can aspire.  That there is light.

 If so, it does it job well for me.

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You come across some goofy stuff when you’re looking up things.  I was looking up some info on screen icon Robert Mitchum, for instance, and ran into some really interesting nuggets that surprised me.  I’ve always been a fan of Mitchum and his distinct brand of movie masculinity, the sort of which is absent in today’s cinema.  He looked like a man, not a movie star.  Moral ambiguity was not present in his screen portrayals.  The good guys he played were good guys and the bad guys bad.  Really bad. 

He was the first Max Cady, the evil ex-con intent on destroying his prosecutor ,  in Cape Fear and brought new meaning to the word menace without the embellishments that Robert DeNiro needed in his portrayal.  Then there was his lead in the beautifully creepy The Night of the Hunter as Reverend Harry Powell, the serial killing minister with the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles.  He brought a realism to these parts that took away all implausibility.  I saw both of these films as a kid and they scared the hell out of me because, unlike horror films where you could rationalize away the fear, the evil in these films could be right outside your door with a smile on his face.

Okay, he was a great actor.  But it was some of the other details of his life that caught my eye.  I discovered he was one of the “wild boys of the road” during the Great Depression, young men and women, often no more than 15 or 16 years old, who were cut loose from their families during those dire times, told that they were a burden on the family and that they must go out on their own.  It was estimated that during the peak years of the Depression, when unemployment was over 25%, that there were over 250, 000 of these wild boys riding the railroad boxcars and hitchhiking around the US seeking work and a better life.  It was a life of violence, depravation and hardship, one that is a little known footnote to the history of that time. 

After leaving this life as a hobo (the term is supposedly derived from hoe boy when migrant workers followed the crops by riding the boxcars) Mitchum found himself in the world of movies and never looked back.  He was a star of the highest magnitude for many decades until his death in 1997.  Part of his legacy are a few albums he recorded of  songs from his films,  including the title song from  Thunder Road, which was a country hit for him in the 50’s.  And no, it’s not the same song as the Springsteen song.  But my favorite album of his has to be Calypso- Is Like So…

Mitchum came to know and love the music of the Caribbean  while filming there in the 50’s.  Whether this love required him to make such an album is questionable but the fact remains, he did.  It may not be your taste but credit the guy for not giving a damn what you might  think and just doing it.

Give a listen…

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I’ve been featuring a number of new paintings lately that will be showing at my upcoming exhibit, Facets, at the Principle Gallery.  In this show, there is a wide variety of the motifs that I’ve used over the years and today’s piece is an example of a subject that I’ve revisited many times. 

The simple shape and grace of the blowing tree give it such a symbolic sense and power that it always draws me back, often when I have no intention of revisiting it.  This painting, In the Freeflow, is a 12″ by 17″ image on paper and is a great example of why this tree stays with me. 

The tree takes a very bold stance in the picture plane, dominating the foreground on its mound, giving no evidence of its locale or environment.   The whole narrative of the piece is told in its lines and movement and their relationship with the color and texture of the sky behind and even in the spew lines at the top of the image where the paint breaks free in rivulets going outward.

To me, this piece is about calling on one’s inner grace and strength to survive and ultimately overcome the forces that place seemingly endless obstacles before you.  In the bends of the tree,  I see  the adaptive qualities that allow us to change and grow in different ways so that we might endure our travails.  In the red flowing leaves, I see the unquenchable spirit of those who persevere, bending to the winds that push them in many directions but always rooted in knowing who they are.  And in the bit of yellow in the sky at what seems to be the horizon, I see the hope and potential of a future worth the effort of this act of endurance.

Or maybe it’s just a little tree in the wind.  Sometimes, as they say, a cigar is just a cigar…

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There’s a lot to do this morning so I’m a little distracted by my work.  So I’ll quickly make quick work of something I meant to mention earlier,  last week’s reissue of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 classic LP, Exile on Main Street.  I grew up with the Rolling Stones’ early albums and over the years my appreciation for this album has grown time I hear it.  Love or hate the Stones, this is great stuff.  And it has a great album cover, to boot.

So, even though this is not off this LP, I’m playing their earlier Get Off My Cloud,  mainly hoping that that infectious guitar line and defiant chorus will  keep me away from simply railing against all the crap that is going on in this world.

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