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Sugar Rush © Frances F. Denny

Article by Efrem Zelony-Mindell

Photographer Frances F. Denny wants you to know you can be an imperfect feminist. That's an OK thing to be. Ideals of 1920's feminism and femininity have changed. Denny's first solo show, currently at ClampArt in New York City, contemplates and questions ideals of being a woman. As one who grew up in the nineties, she may be the first to admit it was a rather glorious age of shiny stickers, glittery goo, pearly nail polish, balloons, and bright colors. Clouds, stars, ponies and the like! These things became cornerstone caricatures of girlhood. To a large extent, they still are. It seems poignant to point out that as a kid growing up in the nineties, identity seemed pretty amorphous for a good while there. There were odd edges around what cool was and I'm not sure we wanted it to be a specific thing. We grew up on a much different Nickelodeon, with an almost unrecognizable Britney Spears. We were cool with being totally quirky, maybe even okay with being completely poor. We weren't perfect, but we loved our bright colors and tons of sugar! And let's be honest, nineties kids were a little twisted. There was something in the air back then. Denny has put a good amount of this nurture into her photographs and exhibition, Pink Crush.

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Wicked Game

"How are we taught to be women? How are we taught to be feminine?" Denny is committed to a deep exploration of development; she's insightfully curious about experimenting. The work in Pink Crush explores the aesthetics of a woman who grows through a filter of pop culture and commercialism. Pinky and shimmery objects always seem to be the safe default to celebrate a woman's anything. Her works aren't a rebellion against this, but there is a desire to study and survey. The shape of the contemporary woman has become a strangely commodified landscape. 

"The work burst from my head, like the birth of Athena." She is matter-of-fact. "Books and stories are far more generative to me and the work I make." Denny has not trapped herself in a rebellion of gender or a crisis of identity. She is practically a scientist; she studies so as to further the language and form of what it means to be woman. Her results are the wonderfully cultivated photographs of Pink Crush.

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Butterfly Dream

Denny's work has sympathy with the intimate, ornate and inescapably recognizable. There is a deeply personal quality in the photographs; her subjects and objects become more figurative and less specific in identity. The ambiguity cultivates a universal sense of anyone and everyone. The photographs may make you feel uncomfortable at times in their obscurity, but it's that uncertainty that makes them so wonderful. The pictures are a way to grasp a sense of woman through iconography, but they nurture a virtue to which anyone can relate. The images are highly saturated appearing unnatural - even plastic - yet they have a familiarity and a common motif of mending. The compositions, in their duality, stimulate a wonderfully confusing sense of engagement, a desire. You can almost taste the photos - some are sweet, others are explosive and sour.

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Pink Lemonade

Beyond the work, "which at times I wanted to feel a bit like a regurgitation of the girly aisle in a party store," Pink Crush is being displayed in tandem with a show of work that is from her first printed book published by Radius Books, "Let Virtue Be Your Guide." Denny shares how lucky she feels to have a role in photography. "I am so grateful to Brian [Clamp of ClampArt] and David [Chickey, of Radius Books] for letting me have the chance to make and show work that is about women being women." Denny and her work never for a moment lose sight of the gratitude it takes to achieve equality. Equality is nothing if we aren't people first. The parts that make us who we are help us become more whole. Pink Crush does that. It embraces the stuffness of being woman. The photos make it possible to understand the self. They aren't for a moment ashamed of their identity. The colors, the kooky shapes, the dirty leftovers, the uneven edges and all that stuff in-between, make a woman. She is a whole person.  

Frances Denny's exhibitions have been extended - go see Pink Crush plus Let Virtue be Your Guide at ClampArt, Chelsea, NYC, through December 30th.

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Sheer Romance

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Birthday Bash

All images © Frances F. Denny

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Ayr, from Brighter Later © Brian David Stevens

"In his book The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald describes the sea anglers along the shore near Lowestoft; he writes: 'I do not believe that these men sit by the sea all day and all night so as not to miss the flounder rise or the cod come in to shallower waters, as they claim. They just want to be in a place where they have the world behind them, and before them nothing but emptiness.'" 

"This emptiness was what I set out to observe on my series Brighter Later; of course emptiness can mean many things, but to me it was a space wanting to be filled, a space of optimism and possibilities.  Looking out to sea you truly are looking into the future, seeing the weather and the waves that will at some point arrive at the shores of this island, you predict their inevitable, unstoppable approach." - Brian David Stevens


British photographer Brian David Stevens' beautiful project looks out, to the future, through a child's eyes - celebrating his joy at closing one eye and then the other as a kid, he made these coastline photos into diptychs. He talks of the emptiness but says "...to me it was a space wanting to be filled, a space of optimism and possibilities. Looking out to sea you truly are looking into the future, seeing the weather and the waves that will at some point arrive at the shores of this island, you predict their inevitable, unstoppable approach."

Be sure to check out some of BDS' other projects including the story Brian David Stevens Finds Billy Childish, Portraits, Notting Hill Sound Systems, and They That Are Left, Remembrance Day portraits.


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Joan Collins, 1956 © Yousuf Karsh

How sad I am reading about Joan's political proclivities, but we can enjoy this gorgeous portrait from 1956, aged just 23, and not least of all, let's appreciate the outfit. The photo was taken the same year Joan starred in "The Opposite Sex," based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce.

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Clare Boothe Luce, 1954 by Yousuf Karsh

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David Sarnoff, 1946 by Yousuf Karsh

Another cracking portrait by Mr. Karsh, which is not done any justice here in such a small size but is spectacular blown up!  

"Throughout most of his career he led the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in various capacities from shortly after its founding in 1919 until his retirement in 1970."

Detail - what is this he is holding? 

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Clover © Jesse Burke 

"Wild and Precious" is a series of photographs by Jesse Burke, recently exhibited at ClampArt in New York, and collected into a book published by Daylight

Efrem Zelony-Mindell reviews book and exhibition.  

A forest is many parts - the landscape, the creatures, the trees, all the wonderful dirty little pieces. There are ways of learning in this atmosphere; the lessons to take away are exciting and unusual. This education is something that can't be found in a book, it lays behind bark and experience. To watch a child grow in this wilderness is uncertain, touching, exhilarating. Jesse Burke's Wild & Precious is a collection of photographs he took of his daughter, Clover, over the course of five years and many trips out into wilderness. Through these trips, we watch Clover grow.
 
Burke's work upholds the sentiment of something Anaïs Nin once wrote: "We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations." These lessons are the hope Burke has for Clover by taking her out into nature. It is also this hope that reads in his images of her. She sleeps, she searches, she collects and studies, she is hurt, she is strong, she is inquisitive, and in all the images she reads as totally respectful to the earth around her. Clover hungers for a kind of learning: she wants more.

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The book is curated in a peculiar way. The photographs read more as a community than they do as a single sentence. They are lyrical and they penetrate. Black and white and color images coagulate - some big, others small. A narrative emerges and details entice, there's something tactile present in the surfaces of all the photos. It's hard to ignore this touch -maybe that's how Clover learns; maybe that's how anyone learns out in the wild. Feeling her way through she seems careful to leave only footprints.
 
"Oh, sweet child, I beg you to be wild, but stay precious," - caring words from a father to his daughter. The sentiment is beyond the bonds of blood. Burke has respect for his daughter; she is to come into her own. Clover will be a child, she will be a woman, and she will know how to be a person.

Text and edit by Efrem Zelony-Mindell.

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All images © Jesse Burke and courtesy of ClampArt.

I do wish someone had taught me to not be afraid of spiders... - ed.


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Albert Einstein, 1948 by Yousuf Karsh

It is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Yousuf Karsh photographed Einstein at Princeton in 1948.

"At Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, I found Einstein a simple, kindly, almost childlike man, too great for any of the postures of eminence. One did not have to understand his science to feel the power of his mind or the force of his personality. He spoke sadly, yet serenely, as one who had looked into the universe, far past mankind's small affairs. When I asked him what the world would be like were another atomic bomb to be dropped, he replied wearily, "Alas, we will no longer be able to hear the music of Mozart.""

The lovely Herman Leonard assisted Mr. Karsh on this photo shoot! Herman became one of the greatest jazz photographers of all time.

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Albert Einstein, 1948 by Yousuf Karsh

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© Ima Mfon

An image from recent graduate Ima Mfon's wonderful series graced the publicity for the School of Visual Arts 2015 Thesis Exhibition in New York, and his large print there was very impressive. Ima agreed to a feature and his photographs look spectacular in the magazine! 

"As an African living in America, I find that the line between celebrating and exoticizing African culture is increasingly blurry. To add some clarity to the current discourse, I photograph my subjects in an elegant and direct manner. It is my hope that this will create a connection between subject and viewer. It's also my way of challenging viewers to understand what it is like to be 'the other.' Above all else, it is a reminder that the culture and identity of a people should be always be appreciated, respected and honored."

View the full screen magazine photo feature.

Ima's full statement on the project: 
"Nigerian Identity is a series of photographic portraits of my fellow Nigerians in which all people are presented in a uniform manner: photographed on a white seamless background, looking directly into the lens, and enhanced so that their skin tones are virtually identical. The idea behind this discipline stems from my experiences living in America.

"Black" has always been used as a generic descriptive label. "The angry black guy", "The new black sitcom". I see myself as being more than just black. However that is usually not how I am perceived in America. Regardless of my unique heritage, I am reduced to being just black. The homogenization of the skin tones in my project is my commentary on the tendency to reduce people to just a color. In these images, the skin tones are rich, deep and beautiful to celebrate our beautiful skin, for which we are often oppressed and marginalized.

Drawing inspiration from photographers who have created typologies of their subjects, including the German August Sander, the American Richard Avedon, and the Nigerian photographer J.D 'Okhai Ojeikere, I use a plain background to eliminate any cultural or ethnic context, whether of urban disrepair or African wilderness. I want to contest the superficial travel or tourist photography approach to peoples who may be unfamiliar to the photographs' viewers. The square format and plain background allows the viewer to fully engage the subject with their gaze and all the emotions conveyed.

As an African living in America, I find that the line between celebrating and exoticizing African culture is increasingly blurry. To add some clarity to the current discourse, I photograph my subjects in an elegant and direct manner. It is my hope that this will create a connection between subject and viewer. It's also my way of challenging viewers to understand what it is like to be "the other." Above all else, it is a reminder that the culture and identity of a people should be always be appreciated, respected and honored."

Follow Ima on Instagram @ima_mfon

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From Playground: Growing Up in New York Underground, By Paul Zone, © 2014, published by Glitterati Incorporated

Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground, is a collection of never-before-published photos of the New York punk scene in the 1970s. We got this book in some time ago but never found the time to review it. But Efrem and I both love it so we figured better late than never.

Book review by Efrem Zelony-Mindell

Nestled in the pages of Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground are intoxicating snapshots of an oddball beginning. Photographer/musician Paul Zone, with the help of Jake Austen, has documented the birth of an influential era; names and faces that have become the building blocks of glam-punk and a whole new wave of rock. Eager and excited in their awkward uncertainty, the photos feel a bit like the bottom of a cab floor--boozed and chalky. But how else would you want to see the birth of punk and glam rock? Coupled with, well - for lack of a better term, a kick-ass design, publisher Glitterati Incorporated has cultivated a perfect platform for Zone's images and the story of these iconic rockers' starts.

"The club was packed with a dream team of incredible human beings . . ."

Enter the pages of the flawlessly printed and curated Playground.

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Johnny Ramone and Miki Zone, The Fast. CBGB 1976

Alas, if you Google "The Fast," to find what you're looking for, "band" is needed. It's significant to acknowledge The Fast, as this is who Zone was. He and his mates were there, with the likes of Blondie, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Kiss, Elton John, and other rock gods. We are talking royalty here, people! Zone was never without his camera! This is the stage, and the access he had, but in the pages of Playground, it's just another quiet night out with friends.

Beyond queer--here in ways beyond fabulous--in the pages of Playground we find fright and newness, something photographic, with a sense of family and kickass music. It's not pretty. But it's so damn good! Reading into Playground, it's easy to see an admission from Zone. The late 60's through the 70's weren't about just one thing--the influence of disco, dance, and glitter were present and meaningfully alive in rock. Rules had been made by the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It was time for those rules and expectations to be broken.

Beyond the music, history, friends, sex, confusion, drugs, alcohol, death, and rock 'n' roll, Zone shares an intimate moment after a flight--he happened to share with the Dalai Lama--to LAX. It encapsulates the spirit of Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground. Life is full of happiness and so many bad things. But those bad things have nothing to do with one's own happiness. "The sadness is outside of you. I can see in your eyes that you are a happy person." These are the words of the Dalai Lama to Zone - this is the spirit and memory of these great photos.

-Efrem Zelony-Mindell

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Debbie Harry, Arturo Vega's loft, 1975

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The Fast, Abbey Theater, 1973


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© Nanette Rae Freeman

Nanette Rae Freeman is an inspiration this week. She submitted this series of still life photographs of blown-out tires that she made, which helped deal with the death of her husband of 25 years in a road accident. Big respect to you, Nanette. 

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"My husband was killed on July 18, 2011, on a motorcycle speeding down the Dan Ryan Expressway on his way to work. In the wake of this unfathomable loss, I began to find fascination in the remains of blown out tires on the expressway. One day the violent energy of a blow out jolted me to the point that I felt compelled to stop and retrieve it. I finally had something tangible that evoked feelings of trauma, violence and even death. I found a surprising comfort in the physicality of the mangled tire. It connected me to my husband, Fred, whose body and mind I lost in this harrowing accident."

"For this body of work, I've been employing found blown-out tire shreds to document them as a photographic material. I photograph them in a way that exemplifies their physical features which helps me interpret and transform them. The rendering of rich textures aims to inspire memories of skin, hair and other humanizing elements - elements torn and obliterated from their former shape, which is very much like the relationship I now share with my husband."

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From "In the Vale of Cashmere," published by powerHouse Books, image © Thomas Roma

Thomas Roma's portraits and landscapes were made across four years in the gay cruising ground of Brooklyn's Prospect Park. These intimate photographs of men and the woods in which they cruise are surprisingly frank, given the fact that most of us (straight) people have no idea what goes on in certain areas of our local parks, and would imagine more furtive behaviour than posing. 

Roma's new book, "In the Vale of Cashmere" is out now from powerHouse Books. In the foreword, speaking in regard to the need during much of our history for gay men to meet in secret, G. Winston James ponders "...the question of whether it is necessary, possible, and valuable to have privacy in public."

"This book is not a review of architectural history and park design, but rather a photographic examination of this particular urban landscape and its function vis-à-vis gay (sub)culture and social and sexual desire. That is to say, this is not so much a book about a place in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, as it is about the Black, Latino, and other gay and bisexual men who frequent it at odd hours as a place."

An exhibition is showing now at Steven Kasher in New York, through December 19th, 2015.

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All images from "In the Vale of Cashmere," published by powerHouse Books, image © Thomas Roma

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