Très Très Beau

by moods & appetites
August 24th, 2014 be first to respond »

I first came across Jacques Henri Lartigue in Muse Magazine, the one with Kokopelli dancing in the margins, when I was around ten. There were his siblings — lined up in funny masks; pretending to be acrobats; organizing auto races with crates on wheels; waging naval combat in the pond-turned-pool near their chateau. My favorite was his borther Zissou  floating in a tire-boat of his own invention wearing a suit, sunglasses, and moustache. The article mentioned that Lartigue picked up a camera at the age of seven in 1903 and didn’t stop for the next eighty years, and I thought — I better get started.

Jacques Henri Lartigue, Zissou in his tire boat, 1911

One thing I could never repeat was his diligent diary keeping. Every day he would make little sketches of what he had photographed (in case they didn’t come out right) and wrote at the top the initials B., T.B., or T.T.B. (Beau, Tres, Beau, or Tres Tres Beau). It was always a good day, except when his camera broke.

More recently, I got his book — Diary of a Century — with photographs and excerpts from his diary. I never get tired of flipping through pages of fashionable women strolling down the Avenue des Acacias with their plumed hats and little dogs. They really do resemble elusive birds from a different age, but, as Lartigue writes:

“Happiness is not an elusive bird, perched high near the ceiling, which, with the help of more or less complicated ladders, you have to work to catch. Happiness is an element, which, like air, is everywhere. Provided you don’t run after it too hard and too long, you’ll find it’s right there, within reach, all the time…waiting for you to take it.”

Yesterday I was making a plum cake, which I’m not particularly fond of — I’d rather eat the plums fresh. I had a few left over so I made a little pot of jam, which, again, I’m not wild about. But there’s plenty of plums in late August and I didn’t want any to go to waste. Later that evening, I stumbled on a documentary about Lartigue with footage of him comparing photography to making jam. He says he’s a cook who prefers to eat fresh fruit but makes jam because he hates for it to go to waste.

His enthusiasm is not nostalgic or sentimental. He doesn’t look through his albums or read his journals to reminisce. Just the process of taking the picture satisfies, for a moment, the obsession to catch time as it passes.

Now it’s time for some tea and fresh plums. Or the jam (if only I had a madeleine!). Either way they’ll be très très bien.

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Harpies at the Met

by moods & appetites
August 23rd, 2014 be first to respond »

A review of the Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Met, through Sept. 21

Garry Winogrand; El Morocco, New York; 1955

I’d like to think that I would have been a good ‘60s child, but the truth is that I would skip Woodstock for a chance to mingle with the midtown Manhattan middle classes a decade earlier. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the hazy air and free love. On second thought, if I’m being really honest, I would have hated it. I would much rather spend an evening at a supper club listening to conversations over the quick tempos and bouncy two-steps of society dance bands. I’ll take classic negroni and fox-trot with a man in a suit. Flower children hold little appeal for me.

The retrospective of Garry Winogrand’s work at the Met confirmed my suspicions. The first thing you see is a blown-up image of a couple dancing at El Morocco, an exclusive club on East 54th. By exclusive I mean that Carino, the head waiter, could turn you down for lack of fame, connections, or charm. Winogrand’s photograph shows a woman laughing with hysteric, almost malicious enthusiasm while digging clawed fingernails into her partner’s suit. And I thought — I would have made a great harpy that night in 1955. I would put on a show for Garry.

And that’s what everyone did in the ‘50s — put on a show. Winogrand’s work plays into the veneer of glamour we now associate with the decade, but rather than portraying a world stifled by suits, coiffs, and furs, he shows us quirks made all the more delightful by their rarity. There’s a strong currant of savagery and predation that runs through the civilized streets, like that screeching monkey in the back of a convertible on Park Avenue.

Maybe the ‘60s and ‘70s are best viewed in color. Maybe the buzz didn’t translate frame-by-frame, or people couldn’t be bothered to put on a show anymore. But Winogrand’s photographs lose their spark after the first half of the ‘60s. You can detect disillusionment creeping into his views of California and Texas, where the open streets fail to set up a stage for his subjects. Obviously a street photographer can only work with what he’s given and Garry had a lot more to play with in the beginning of his career.

You could say that midtown Manhattan in the ‘50s was a little too stilted, a little too fake. A veneer ready to crack. But that’s what makes it so appealing, even if you know it’s a trap. For those of us who have sharpened our enthusiasm into a weapon subtle enough to pass for the real thing, the zebra striped banquettes in El Morocco seem like the perfect place to play our games.

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Plastic Auguries

by moods & appetites
June 30th, 2014 be first to respond »

Photography by Lost Meridiem Productions

At precisely 8:10 every morning the pigeons settle on a branch overlooking the corner of 92nd and Madison Avenue, where a flock of women wait in line outside a coffee shop. The pigeons are not particularly interested in conversations about children just dropped off for school, or yoga classes yet to be attended, or husbands too old to care.

No, the pidgeons study the complex system of ritualized postures and displays of affection — tousling blonde feathers, standing on one leg, squeezing clear containers of milky-brown liquid — within the group they’ve come to know as the plastic flamingoes.

Like the augurs of ancient Rome, this eminent group of pigeons selects a spot of high ground and uses their nuanced understanding of the flamingoes’ habits to determine the right course of action — usually regarding the correct time to defile a public monument.

With his eyes fixed on the exit door of the coffee shop, the senior auspex poses a straightforward — “do you approve?” — to the higher powers and finds the answer in the direction the flamingoes take once they disperse in clusters, drinks in hand.

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The Department of Lost Dreams

by moods & appetites
June 25th, 2014 be first to respond »

Photography by Lost Meridiem Productions

You would think that a department responsible for recovering readers from falling into the illusory realities of their books would merit an office in a less obvious state of disrepair. The exterior gives all the appearance of abandonment — letters disintegrating into nonsense, glass so hazy with grime that the more respectable brownstones across the street bear the smudged edges of a charcoal sketch.

If reading is a collective experience, there are some who pass through stories and others who get stuck in them, unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. It happens gradually, through no fault of their own except perhaps an unusually strong attachment to a word or phrase which steers them along a narrative thread too plausible not to explore.

Let them get lost, you might say, but the department would point out cases when the reader becomes a victim of his own curiosity. Just yesterday they had to clean up the mess of a man who got so absorbed in a murder mystery that he failed to anticipate, turning the last page, the knife in his back.

As you can imagine, these kinds of situations require discretion, so, in a way, it’s convenient that no one in the department wants to bother with window cleaners and sign painters. Like many non-profits, the hierarchy is tangled at best and remains stuck in a strange loop of its own; those that seek a higher position inevitably end up where they started.

So how does department avoid the fate of their clients? It’s the details — the peeling “R”, the clouds of mud encrusted on the glass — that lead them back, nine to five, until the weekend loosens their grip on reality in favor of more devious pursuits.

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Origami Greenhouse

by moods & appetites
May 31st, 2014 be first to respond »

Little Roses Kusudama by Maria Sinayskaya; Lizard by Jason Ku, folded by Matthieu Georger; Constrained Bowl by Linda Smith; Dragonfly by Shuki Kato; Flying Hercules Beetle by Shuki Kato; Snail by Nguyen Hung Cuong; Eupatorus Beetle by Shuki Kato
Handmade items to buy: Paper Bowl by Ruti’s Roots; Coastal Collection of Flat Origami Flowers by Paper Bird Co.; Bellflower Earrings by Sarigami; Origami Hair Pin by Dana Dellus

I once heard a story about a nobleman in Edo Japan with an unusual hobby. While idle warriors strolled through his gardens and floated on pleasure boats over his pond, the man himself spent most of his time in a greenhouse filled with plants made from folded paper. Sliding glass doors, framed by simple wood paneling, opened into a greenhouse independent of the seasons and forms illustrated in botanical encyclopedias.

The greenhouse bloomed by the hands of one man, the gardener, who entertained the nobleman with his skill at transforming pieces of paper into leaves, vines, and petals so complex, so life-like, that they began to emit a fragrance all their own. The nobleman’s sleeves would absorb traces of these scents, which, at formal events, would attract the attention of fellow members of court. The ladies forced their attendants to send him notes, asking in roundabout phrases to invite them to his greenhouse.

But it remained closed to curious visitors, fueling speculation that withered into envy among those who resented any pleasure that remained inaccessible to them. To preserve his reputation at court, the nobleman closed the greenhouse and sold its contents to Dutch traders at the port of Dejima. We can only speculate about the fate of the gardener’s work. Perhaps some of it crossed the seas and found its place alongside other ageless blooms in the homes decorated with vanitas still lifes.

Surface to Structure, an exhibition of origami works will be on view at the Cooper Union from June 19th until July 4th. 

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