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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

His hand trembled. He knew that once he started this immense project, he could never go back.

Pertinent & Impertinent 
Running the Numbers
For Roman Opalka, counting was living.

Not that which is in the mind, but in which the mind is.
(Written in Greek on the dedication page of Everything and More by David Foster Wallace, translated by Morgan Meis)
In 1965, while waiting in a cafe, Roman Opalka decided to paint time. He didn’t paint the counters of time — clocks and watches and calendars and such. He didn’t paint people waiting for the bus or racing to the finish line. Roman Opalka painted time itself. He called this project, his life’s work, “OPALKA 1965 / 1 — ∞.” The title might be read as this: (Roman) Opalka (the artist begins in) 1965 (painting numbers from) one to infinity.

Having decided to paint time, the French-Polish conceptual artist went to his Warsaw studio and prepared a canvas. He sat before it. His hand trembled. He knew that once he started this immense project, he could never go back. Armed with a size 0 brush, and still shaking, Opalka painted in white a little “1” on the upper left-hand corner of a gray canvas. He then made his way horizontally across the canvas, number by number—2…3…4…5 — until he had a row of numbers, then two rows of numbers, then three. When Opalka ran out of room, when the last number was painted in the bottom right-hand corner, he stopped. Later, the artist made another painting, and another, each one picking up numerically where the last painting left off. He called the paintings “Details.” The canvas was always the same size: 196 centimeters by 135 centimeters. The numbers were always painted in white. When Opalka made a Detail, he recorded himself speaking the numbers as he painted. When a painting session was finished, Opalka would take a photograph of his face in front of his work, the numbers stopping when he did. Opalka devoted himself to this project alone, painting time. “All my work is a single thing,” he once wrote, “the description from number one to infinity.”

There is obsession in the Details. Opalka painted millions of numbers for more than 45 years, stroke by stroke, and took hundreds of self-portraits — same lighting, same position, same purpose. You would think that this formality would make Opalka’s paintings uniform, cold. But a single Detail is dizzying to behold. At first glance you can’t really see that you are looking at numbers. Because Opalka was committed to the hand-painted gesture, the digits are all uneven, both in size and weight. Before you can get a good look at the content, Opalka’s paintings feel as though they are moving around as the numbers get heavier and lighter, like the disappearing cloud of dust that follows the Roadrunner as he zips offscreen.

Roman Opalka painted time, and he painted it moving forward — 1, 2, 3, etc…. He could have painted time counting backward, and his project would have still moved in the direction of infinity. But even though Roman Opalka painted toward infinity, he wasn’t trying to paint infinity itself. Opalka painted time moving forward for one reason: death. “Time as we live it and as we create it embodies our progressive disappearance;” Opalka wrote, “we are at the same time alive and in the face of death — that is the mystery of all living beings.” Meaning, the very fact of our living is to embody our own disappearance. At first, the Details were painted on a dark background, the numbers in white. But in 1972, Opalka began lightening the background of each canvas by one percent. In 2008, the artist started painting white on white, calling the color blanc mérité(well-earned white). As the numbers he painted grew in size, as the canvases grew lighter, Opalka’s face — documented before a Detail at the end of each work session — grew lighter, too. His face lost structure, his hair grew whiter. In a symbolic way, to look at the Details is to watch Opalka die. Opalka’s concern with the infinite future, with death, is the great concern of us all. Which is why the infinity in front of one’s life looms much larger than the infinity behind, for Opalka and for all of us. We are mostly beings toward death, disappearing with each breath in the face of a progression of time that is utterly indifferent to us.

All of this makes Opalka’s work sound mortifyingly bleak. Only a person this simultaneously Polish and French, you are thinking, could concoct for himself such a godforsaken, death-obsessed gesamtkunstwerk. To be clear, when Opalka began “OPALKA 1965 / 1 — ∞,” he wasn’t interested in the mystical or “esoteric” aspect of numbers. “I wanted to be as rational a painter as I possibly could,” he wrote. Opalka wanted the act of painting numbers to be as methodical as possible, to weave it into his daily practice as completely as eating or sleeping. But something happened to Opalka as he continued his project over the years; he “chanced upon a mysterious potential in the logic of numbers.” Namely, he stopped thinking about the slow, bleak, methodical progression of time and realized that, as he painted, he felt himself to be inside a continuum of time, “the dynamic unity of a spacetime structure.” Time, as he painted, was not just moving forward but all around him. And as it did, Opalka realized that painting time wasn’t just documenting his life; it was his life. Speaking in a television interview for France 3 in 1994, Opalka said:
I took my body, my length, my existence as I have often said, as a sort of pictorial sacrifice and the essence, the embodiment of this procedure, creates a work much the same as we all create works with our lives. Every time that I add a number, everything changes. It is a sort of journey, if you will, where the steps are conscious each and every time, each step adds to the others, the weight of the duration of all these steps that you have lived. I even use death as a tool for a work. To finish, in order to complete a work, I use death as a tool.

In the sentence “Roman Opalka painted time,” the word “painted” is just as important as “time.” Opalka was an artist, after all. He felt that it wasn’t enough to just think about time, he had to create something out of it, “define” it. Opalka painted time slouching toward infinity, but what he painted was the condition of finitude. Opalka knew that, even as beings toward death, what we are really obsessed with is not death, but life. It is living with the knowledge of death, which always happens in the future, that makes it hard to experience our lives as something happening in the present. We are always looking toward this most future of future events. Possessing both the knowledge that we are alive and the knowledge that we will die somehow can make us feel part dead. But Roman Opalka thought that if you really got in there with time, got down and dirty, you could experience living in the moment. I would guess that, as Opalka painted time, he forgot about infinity. He just painted. And painted and painted and painted. And so, what looks like a project about man’s disappearance in the face of time became, as well, the expression of a life as it was lived. “All my work is a single thing, the description from one to infinity,” Roman Opalka said. “A single thing, a single life.”

There is joy in Opalka’s work, and, dare I say, optimism. Roman Opalka made time into his own time. As he painted, Opalka was able to feel, as much as any individual probably can, that he was living inside of time, rather than merely looking to the future, to what would happen tomorrow, or when he died, or after he died. It’s a bit of a cliché that all artists are obsessed with impermanencethat they create with the goal that their art will outlive them. But imagining the future of his art was not what interested Opalka, which is why he created an endless artwork. What mattered most to Opalka was that he paint time TODAY, that he create TODAY, that he live today. Painting infinity kept Opalka alive now. Opalka knew that, in painting time so diligently, so methodically, for decades, he had sacrificed a part of himself to it. But in embracing time, rather than fighting it, or ignoring it, Opalka was able to use his own life, and the knowledge of his own death, as a tool for creation.
In his book on infinity, Everything and More, David Foster Wallace discussed the weirdness of concepts, of the human mind’s ability to “conceive of things that we cannot, strictly speaking, conceive of.” Omnipotence was a good example of this. As soon as any schoolboy learns the concept of omnipotence, Wallace wrote, he immediately starts asking questions like, “Can an omnipotent being make something too heavy for him to lift?” There is a serious rift, Wallace was saying, between what we experience (really powerful guy) and what we can conceive of (all-powerful guy). And there are few occasions when this rift is more apparent than when we think about infinity and our place within it. We ‘know’ that we will die and yet being dead is something we can never experience. Opalka’s art was partly an attempt to bridge this gap between what we can conceive about time, and our actual experience living in time. To say that Roman Opalka was a conceptual artist shouldn’t diminish either the accessibility or the emotion in his work, nor should it make his work feel pessimistic. Consciousness of time is the mystery of life, Opalka wrote. Realizing this can be a source of joy for the single reason that it is universally shared. “This essence of reality…is not only mine but can be commonly shared in our unus mundus.” Just that we can conceive of something bigger than ourselves, and that it includes our individual existence — well, Opalka thought, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s what makes us human.
In artist statements and gallery brochures, “OPALKA 1965 / 1 — ∞” is usually described as a work that would be completed only when the artist died. But if you take the title seriously, “OPALKA 1965 / 1 — ∞” can also be thought of as an artwork that is never done, that conceptually can never be done, and therefore can never die, even in the event of Opalka’s death. “OPALKA 1965 / 1 — ∞” cannot die simply because the numbers Opalka was painting can never end. It’s pretty brilliant. Theoretically, what’s to prevent the Details from being picked up and continued by another artist, and another, and another, ad infinitum? With each new artist, the Details could continue their creep toward infinity. And yet, of course, with each new artist, the Details would change — the gestures would be different, the faces, the colors even. It’s a slap in the face to our notions of individual artistic genius to suggest such a thing, but I happen to think that continuing the Details after Opalka’s death would be a tribute to its most profound message — the boundlessness of creation. In consciousness, we understand concepts. In experience, we embody concepts. But creation is likely the best remedy to the gaping incomprehensibleness of infinity, because it is creation that inhabits the space between experience and understanding. It is in creation where the infinite and the finite can feel momentarily resolved. When we are creating — creating art or babies or laws or whatever — we are, as best we can, inhabiting finitude. When we create we can feel whole, present. We can inhabit the unus mundus , and forget death for maybe, mercifully, an instant.

On August 6, Roman Opalka died. It is rumored that the final digit Opalka painted was “8.” • 19 August 2011

Stefany Anne Golberg is an artist, writer, musician, and professional dilettante. She's a founding member of the art collective Flux Factory and lives in New York City. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

Image via Getty Images.

Frans Hals is often described as a "loose" painter.

Oh My God
Frans Hals' non-religious religious art.

Frans Hals is often described as a "loose" painter. You can see what that means in one of Hals' great paintings currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting is called "The Smoker," from 1625. You wouldn't be surprised, though, if someone told you it was painted 250 years later than that. The face of the young man smoking a pipe at the center of the painting is rendered in almost impressionistic strokes. A dab of red here, a curve of yellow there. The collar of the man's shirt is created with a rough stab of white down the middle of the canvas. The painstaking brushwork of other Dutch masters from the Golden Age is notably absent. That is not to say Hals was sloppy, a crime for which he has sometimes been accused. Hals labored at his chosen craft all life long. It is just that he worked very hard to achieve a looser style. You can see it even in his formal portraits, in works such as "Portrait of a Man" from 1636-8. The face of the man in that painting is rendered with all the precision you might find in a Rubens of roughly the same era. And the expressiveness of the man's face is reminiscent of Rembrandt. But if you look at the man's left arm, the one cocked at his hip, you notice that the style devolves (or evolves?) into that of the loose Hals again. The elbow — and the folds of garment around the elbow — are painted with the same rough gestures and impressionistic swaths of color that are so startling in "The Smoker."

It is sometimes thought that Hals was a man ahead of his time. He never commanded much of a price for his paintings, though he was respected well enough during a life spent in the Dutch town of Haarlem. Hals’ paintings were to fall out of what modest fashion they had enjoyed already near the end of his life, when he was left a ward of the state due to his inability to pay his bills. For a century or so, no one wanted his paintings and they could be had at auction for a pittance. It wasn't until the mid-19th-century and the birth of Modernism in painting that people really began to appreciate Hals. The Impressionists were excited about his work, particularly that characteristic loose style. Van Gogh was famously amazed by Hals' usage of 27 varieties of the color black.

Still, I would say that it was his timeliness rather than his timelessness that made Hals a great painter. You see, Frans Hals was born of a generation of painters that had been stripped of their subject matter. It is hard, today, to fully understand the significance of that fact, since we take for granted that paintings can depict anything and that painters are free to explore any subject matter they like.

Frans Hals was born in the late 16th century in Antwerp. Strange and dangerous things were happening in Flanders during those days. A few years before Hals was born, Spanish troops had gone on a rampage through Antwerp killing thousands of citizens in the streets and burning down large chunks of the city. The event has since become known as the Spanish Fury. These were terrible and extraordinary times. The religious wars, kicked off by the Protestant Reformation, were ravaging these lands. The Hapsburg Empire was attempting to hold on to power in the Lowlands. A group of Dutchmen led initially by William of Orange were in open revolt against the Hapsburgs and the Pope.

Frans Hals' father was a Catholic living in Antwerp. A few years after the birth of Frans, and with the upheaval of the ongoing siege of Antwerp, the whole family had moved to Haarlem and become Protestants. They had chosen sides. Frans Hals' more than 80-year lifespan corresponds very closely to that of the Eighty Years War, a war in which the nascent Dutch Republic struggled to hold its own against the forces of Phillip II and the Counter-Reformation. In short, most of Frans Hals' life was spent under the sign of a giant question mark. It was a time of war, the conclusion of which could easily have meant utter destruction for the Dutch cities in revolt. It was a time of revolution in religion, a wholesale remaking of the relationship between man and God. It was a time in which people were forced to question all of their beliefs and allegiances and, in many cases, to begin life anew under circumstances utterly transformed by history. Such was the case for the Hals family.

The Protestant Netherlands where Frans Hals found himself living at the end of the 16th century, as he was just learning about art and painting, was a society that had recently seen the destruction of many statues and paintings depicting religious subject matter. This is known as the Beeldenstorm in Dutch (literally the "statue storm"). In English we call it the Iconoclastic Fury. It was inspired by the back-to-basics standpoint of Northern European Protestantism, which had become disgusted with the decadence and "worldliness" of the Catholic Church. The iconoclasts were looking back to the Ten Commandments. The Second Commandment, after all, proclaims, "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them." Many Protestants were suddenly moved to take this Commandment quite seriously. Antwerp’s main church became a notable victim of the Fury when a mob destroyed much of the interior of the church along with all the art displayed there. People were killed, too.

Suffice it to say that if you were making art in the immediate aftermath of theBeeldenstorm, you were doing so with a refreshed understanding of what art can and cannot be about. On one reading of the Second Commandment, there should not be art that contains any images at all. According to more lenient interpretations, the Second Commandment was thought to apply only to works that treated religious matters in such a way as to promote idolatry. Art of a secular nature would be acceptable since non-religious art didn't require that anyone bow down to it or serve it. You could say, then, that it was precisely because of the religious piety of men like Frans Hals that a fully secular art was born.

The art of Frans Hals is something of a grand experiment in non-religious art, though in no way was it an anti-religious art. It is an art that takes the Second Commandment seriously and that, thusly, pays tribute to God and to the religion of Hals' Protestant contemporaries precisely in what it does not depict. There are no saints or martyrs or direct portrayals of biblical scenes in the art of Frans Hals. He was pious by remaining silent, by withholding his brush from such potentially idolatrous subject matter. If he was going to address religious themes, he was going to have to do so in an entirely new way.

But what, then, does a painter paint, and how does he go about painting it? That, I think, was the question Frans Hals was trying to answer in his body of work. It is a question that only makes sense when you see it in the proper context. It has sometimes been suggested, for instance, that Hals was a lover of pubs and prostitutes and debauched living, since he often portrayed such things, especially in his earlier paintings. Frans Hals, so the modern viewer of his work might think, glorified the secular world. He was a kind of painterly polemicist for the separation of Church and State. In fact, no such thing is the case. Hals was trying to bring moral arguments into his depiction of secular scenes just as any religious painter would. The problem was that he had to be careful about using explicitly religious imagery and iconography in order to do so. He had to come up with a new language. He had to come up with new symbols. Also, he was addressing a new kind of audience. His paintings would not be objects of prayer and adoration for a large congregation meeting together in a church. The era of church painting and commissions from Rome was over for painters like Hals. His paintings were going to be viewed by individuals. They were going to address single human beings who were, themselves, now engaged in a far more one-on-one relationship with their God, and their art.

For Hals, all the old rules were out the window. Nobody had sufficiently established the new ones yet. I think you can even understand something about his loose style when you think of it that way. It is as if he was breaking things down, all the way to the level of the individual brushstroke, in order to build it all back up again. It isn't so much that he was painting without rules as that he was painting in search of new rules.

One of the paintings at the Met exhibit is often referred to by the title "Yonker Ramp and his Sweetheart" (1623).

A young man in high spirits, clearly tipsy, is cavorting about with a lady of questionable repute. Her face is red and flushed and she paws at the young fellow in immodest fashion. Let’s think of her as a prostitute. Yonker Ramp is raising a toast to God-knows-what with one hand and cradling a dog's snout with the other. Is Yonker Ramp a contemporary version of the prodigal son? Are we being shown a scene in which the prodigal son is in the midst of wasting his money and reputation in dissolute living before his eventual return to an all-forgiving father? We can't be sure. Some scholars seem to think so, comparing the actions and poses in the painting with other works from the time.

One thing is certain: If the painting refers to the story of the prodigal son, it does so without actually depicting the prodigal son. More intriguingly, it suggests that we don't need to depict the prodigal son of the Bible since we can go out and see the prodigal son right there in our local pub, down the street in Haarlem. And that matches up nicely with a bit of Protestant theology — namely, the idea that we do not need much mediation between ourselves and the truths of the Bible. The prohibition on the kind of religious painting that could be adored (the religious painting of the medieval church) practically forced painters like Hals into the everyday street scenes of his time. Rubens, a painter of the Counter-Reformation, could, and did, work out the imagery of the Prodigal Son in direct depiction of the passages from Luke. Frans Hals had to work out similar themes as he was to find them in the actual experiences of contemporary 17th-century Dutch life. Moreover, he was compelled, theologically speaking, to experiment in this direction. The Protestant teachings with which he was constantly surrounded admonished him to treat creation as he found it. "God," taught Martin Luther, "writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars." Marrying that thought with the iconoclastic impulses of Dutch Protestantism led to an almost inexorable conclusion for Frans Hals: He would paint the stories, morals, and lessons of religion into the immediacy of the world as it was presenting itself right there in front of him.

The last thing we should probably note is the shock effect in many of Hals' paintings. The exhibition at the Met gives us, for instance, "Malle Babbe" — Hals' portrait of a demented woman confined to a local workhouse. It is a disturbing painting of a disturbed woman made all the more disturbing by the knowledge that she actually existed and lived in the same workhouse as one of Hals' less-than-well sons. The shock effect of this painting is not, I think, to be taken as Hals' attempt to be lurid for the sake of it, or to shake up the mores of his contemporaries. That is a 20th-century impulse. The shock effect within this work and other paintings by Hals — the leering faces, the intense expressions — is a reflection of the shock that Hals himself was experiencing. It is the theological shock of finding sin right there, redemption right there, blessedness and fallenness right there. It is a new language of painting made possible by the circumstances in which Frans Hals found himself: a Protestant man in a new theological landscape that needed, like all landscapes, someone to paint it. • 22 August 2011

Morgan Meis is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. Hehas written for The BelieverHarper’s, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.

Images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

The researchers say the rise of cooking likely occurred more than 1.9 million years ago and bestowed on human ancestors a gift of time.

The efficient caveman cook

Preparing food allowed ancestors to reduce chewing time

By Alvin Powell
Harvard Staff Writer
Monday, August 22, 2011
Harvard researchers have found new evidence on the importance of cooking to humans in an unlikely area: the amount of time freed from eating every day.
The research found that processing food through cooking freed up literally hours each day not spent “feeding,” which includes ingesting, chewing, and swallowing food. That newfound time could be spent on other pursuits, such as hunting to procure higher-quality foods, creating tools, and socializing.
The researchers also tracked anatomical changes in ancient human ancestors through time, looking for clues to when cooking might have arisen. They found that the practice was likely invented not by modern humans, but rather by an early ancestor who passed the practice down from its roots more than 1.9 million years ago.
The research, detailed in the Aug. 22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used statistical analysis and evolutionary trees to estimate how long people should spend feeding each day, based on body size and the evolutionary relationship to modern noncooking relatives, such as chimpanzees.
The researchers found that people in theory should spend almost half of their total activity time, 48 percent, feeding. Instead, they spend just about a tenth of that, 4.7 percent of activity time — a dramatic difference that presented at least some early ancestors with a gift of time. Zarin Machanda, one of the paper’s authors and a lecturer on human evolutionary biology, said the rewards from the advent of cooking weren’t shared equally, however. While men were likely freed up to hunt and pursue other activities, an increased burden of food gathering and preparation was placed on women that equaled the time freed up from chewing.
Richard Wrangham, Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, who has long championed the idea that cooking was not merely a way to prepare better-tasting food, but rather was an important development in human evolution, led the research. File photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Among the researchers was Richard Wrangham, Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, who has long championed the idea that cooking was not merely a way to prepare better-tasting food, but rather was an important evolutionary adaptation in humans. Cooking, he argues, not only increased the calories available to ancestors and gave them more time for other activities, but it also sparked physical changes such as a bigger brain and a smaller gut, and social changes centered around the home and hearth.
The research team also included Chris Organ, a research associate in theDepartment of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; Machanda; andCharles Nunn, associate professor of human evolutionary biology. To answer the question of when cooking arose in human history, they tracked a physical characteristic likely tied to the advent of cooking and eating softer food — molar size — through the remains of 14 human ancestors.
Researchers confirmed earlier work, which showed that the drop in molar size that occurred in Homo erectus, in Neanderthals, and in Homo sapiens far outstripped what would be expected by comparing it with other evolutionary changes going in the body. The team found that Homo erectus and Neanderthals spent the same amount of time each day eating as do modern humans. That likely means cooking arose before Homo erectus evolved, 1.9 million years ago.
“It is not just that we feed differently from other primate species, but that changes in the time we spend feeding have been important to our evolution,” Organ said.

Chippy and a coffee mug...

It’s no secret that Brooklyn teams with writers of every stripe.

Brooklyn Goes Literary: 5 True Stories from Its Famous Authors
11:01 am Thursday Aug 25, 2011 by 
It’s no secret that Brooklyn teams with writers of every stripe. In fact, it’s almost become so cliche that Colson Whitehead found the need to defend the phenomenon in his essay, “I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over it.” In Evan Hughes’ legacy-filled Literary Brooklyn, we see that the borough has long been home to writer types, from “The Grandfather,” Walt Whitman, through Henry Miller, Richard Wright, William Styron and Norman Mailer, to Paul Auster, Paula Fox and Jonathan Lethem. As you might suspect, the lives of those literary minds are filled with all kinds of juicy anecdotes. Here, after the jump, lies five of them.
Walt Whitman
Once Whitman was fired as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Hughes writes, “after clashing with his boss over politics… he took on the look of a social dropout, with shaggy hair, gray beard and overalls.” He also “began composing a series of very long, unstructured poems, of a kind not yet seen in the world.” Every day Whitman “took [those poems] into the Rome Brothers print shop on the corner of Cranberry and Fulton, where he and the owners set them into type during off-hours.” Hughes writes that this move was “the 19th century equivalent of self-publishing out of Kinko’s.” The result, of course, was Leaves of Grass. Whitman was raised in Brooklyn, and lived all over the then city; unfortunately the only remaining residence is at 91½ Classon Avenue in Fort Greene. (No, he had nothing to do with Walt Whitman Houses.)
Henry Miller
Miller spent his early years in Williamsburg on 662 Driggs Avenue and in Bushwick on 1062 Decatur Street — which he would continually refer to as “the street of early sorrows.” His first digs as a married adult were on 244 Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, but after ditching his wife for a dancer named June, Henry became a man of many residences. Among those was an apartment on Henry Street near the corner of Love Lane (really), where he, June, and her lover Jean Kronski all lived together. After June and Jean sailed for Paris, Henry “broke every piece of furniture in the apartment,” then he started writing in earnest. Miller penned three novels during those early years in Brooklyn, including Crazy Cock (first called Lovely Lesbians). But it wasn’t until June sent him off to Paris, alone, and he struck up an affair with Anais Nin, that he came up with something someone would publish. That book was Tropic of Cancer. In 1935 Miller returned to Brooklyn and took Nin on snowy night tour of his now “tremendously” changed Fourteenth Ward. He would rarely visit again.
Thomas Wolfe
Wolfe, author of the story “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” lived first in a ground floor apartment at 40 Verandah Place in Cobble Hill, then in a succession of rooms on and around Columbia Heights. And though “the quaint old town of Brooklyn” was “closer to Manhattan’s ‘little sneering Futility People’ than was ideal,” Wolfe believed “[y]ou couldn’t find a better place to work.” And work he did, delivering the two-million-plus words that would become Of Time and the River, as well as the posthumous The Web and the RockYou Can’t Go Home Again, and The Hills Beyond. Many of his neighbors remember seeing a bear of a man, “six feet six, ‘or maybe a little more’ in his estimation, and no dieter either… sweat[ing] the days away half-dressed” and “standing up, using the top of an old Frigidaire as a desk.”
Hart Crane
Crane’s relationship with merchant seaman Emil Oppfer, Jr., “the great affair of his life,” led him to Columbia Heights, where Oppfer, Sr. owned three adjacent buildings. In one of those buildings lived John Dos Passos; in another once lived Washington Roebling, the engineer behind the Brooklyn Bridge. Crane “eventually took over the same room Roebling had occupied, positioning his writing desk beside the very same window Roebling had positioned his telescope [so he could supervise the Bridge’s building] forty-odd years before.” It was there where Crane began work on his own epic, entitled simply The Bridge. While Emil was away at sea however, Crane also cruised the saloons along Sands Street, in what was then called “Hell’s Half Acre.” And “[m]ore than once he came home beaten and bloodied.”
Carson McCullers
McCullers lived at 7 Middagh Street, in “a strange, old three-story house whose wedding cake architecture resembled nothing else on the short narrow lane.” Named February House for the predominance of its residents’ birthdays and rented out by flamboyant Harper’s Bazaar editor George Davis, McCullers was but the first of a long list of the era’s infamous to live in “the kooky commune.” Others included W.H. Auden, who “liked to stick to routines” and pretty much kept the House in order, and Gypsy Rose Lee, “a whirlwind of laughter and sex.” One Thanksgiving night, at the end of a boisterous dinner party, “the sound of sirens came from a fire station, and Gypsy and McCullers ran shrieking outside, hand in hand, to chase the bright red trucks.” Then at once “[s]omething broke free inside McCullers, who had been struggling with her work, and she grabbed Gypsy’s arm and, out of breath, said, ‘Frankie is in love with her brother and his bride and wants to become a member of the wedding!’” The rest, as they say, is literary history.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

iLibya: Uprising by iPhone intentionally connects with today’s visually demanding public

iLibya: Striking iPhone Photos of the Libyan Uprising
3:00 pm Wednesday Aug 24, 2011 by 
Professional photojournalist Benjamin Lowy was in Libya on assignment for three weeks in March, at the front lines of the Rebel and Gadaffi Loyalist battle and amidst the wreckage of Libyan towns. Between shooting a reportage with a DSLR, he used his iPhone for shooting these intimate, meticulously framed and automatically stylized images. Captured: a mushroom cloud from an exploding tank, uninformed Rebel soldiers praying after retreat, demonstrations in the public square, bodies torched in motor fire and smoldering shells of cars… all with the faux-Holga aesthetic. Thus, iLibya: Uprising by iPhone intentionally connects with today’s visually demanding public and Lowry believes that these images will keep “important stories” from “getting lost in the fray.” See them in our gallery. Warning: Some are quite graphic.
©Benjamin Lowy/Reportage by Getty Images

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