Month: March 2015

The Sky Over The Harlem River

A rare moment where industry could not destroy natural beauty. 

 

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The season six cast of Glee.

Why Glee Matters

Glee was a musical television series that focused on the fictitious McKinley High School glee club, the New Directions. It was conceived in 2005 by Ian Brennan as a film and produced from 2009 to 2015 by prolific television producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Nip / Tuck, American Horror Story). I started brainstorming this blog entry on the same day that Leonard Nimoy passed away and realized that Glee actually has a lot in common with Star Trek. While Star Trek used science fiction to explore humanity, Glee used music.

One of the most common complaints about the show was that the cast “butchered” great songs. I agree with this, in part, but do not blame the cast; I blame the way they were recorded, with that oddly canned and sternly cleaned-up sound. However, if you watch Glee: The Concert Movie (2011), where the cast sings live, you will hear some really terrific vocals (perhaps it was too expensive to record them live as they acted). Glee excelled at introducing young people to the great songs from rock, pop, R&B, Soul and Broadway songbooks. The show also had some really stellar production numbers and choreography that included impressive re-stagings of Funny Girl and West Side Story.

Star Trek is noted for its progressive, civil rights era viewpoints and one of television’s first multiracial casts. Similarly, Glee should be noted for the way in which marginalized people and groups were given visibility and a voice. Glee portrayed characters with Down syndrome, OCD disorders, obesity and individuals who identified as LGBTQ. Glee also explored various important social issues like bullying, spirituality, racism, race relations, gay marriage and the quality of American education. Andrew Nietor, a former colleague of mine, who is now an immigration attorney, once wrote in his blog:

“When the choice is compassion vs. hatred, compassion will always win. It is also the side favored by history.”

Glee chose compassion and that is why, like Star Trek,  it will be favored by history.

http://www.fox.com/glee

Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Part Two of Three)

Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Part Two of Three)

Stereoscopic photography is a technique for creating the illusion of depth in an image via binocular vision. This three-part blog looks at the stereoscopic photographs taken during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Part one may be found here: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/stereoscopic-views-documenting-the-building-of-the-brooklyn-bridge-part-one-of-three/

Part Two: Stereoscopic Photography

The first line in the prologue of Alan Trachtenberg’s vivacious study on the Brooklyn Bridge states, “Brooklyn Bridge belongs first to the eye.” Trachtenberg further goes on to describe the experience of walking over the bridge; how the stone towers “seem to frame the irregular lines of Manhattan” and how the steel “cable compels the eye.”

The Brooklyn Bridge also belongs to, and is a colleague of, the camera: modern structural engineering and photography both evolved simultaneously and explored new ways of looking at the organization of space and visual representation. Equally significant is the role that both played in America’s industrial growth.

“As photography bespoke the influence of new technology-new ways of seeing and experiencing-its practitioners rushed to the nation’s burgeoning cities. From Albert S. Southworth and Josiah J. Hawes’s early daguerreotypes of Boston, through George R. Fardon and Eadweard Muybridge’s San Francisco panorama’s and Robert Newell and John Moran’s cityscapes, to the urban images of Henry R. Koopman in Chicago and George Francois Magnier in New Orleans, photographers strove to capture and present the new modern environment. Nowhere was this mission more keenly felt than in New York City. As the city marched uptown, as buildings and neighborhoods were created and demolished at a staggering rate, the camera was there to document every stage and each new detail.” – Richard Haw

Stereoscopic views were perhaps the most effectual method of documentation because of their three-dimensional quality. Stereoscopic photography began in England when Sir Charles Wheatstone published “Contributions to the physiology of Vision-on Some Remarkable, and Hitherto Unobserved, Phenomena of Binocular Vision,” a paper he presented to the British Royal Society in 1838. Wheatstone demonstrated that the mind perceives an object in three dimensions because each eye receives a somewhat different view. To define this phenomenon, he devised the word stereograph, from the Greek words stereo (solid) and graph (I look at). Wheatstone prepared drawings of single objects seen by each eye and devised a viewing instrument of angled mirrors called the stereoscope. After the announcement of Daguerre’s and Talbot’s photographic processes in 1839, Wheatstone commissioned Talbot and Henry Collen to make stereo daguerreotypes and calotypes. Research by Sir David Brewster resulted in the a stereoscope that duplicated the normal 2 ½ inch separation between the eyes by placing a pair of lenses side by side in a small box with a lid at the top to admit light and a slot at the opposite end for inserting the mounted pair of stereoscopic images. A version made by French optician Louis-Jules Duboscq was presented to Queen Victoria after she admired the invention at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

William and Frederick Langenheim introduced stereoscopic photography in America in 1854 and within four years, numerous local photographers and major publishers were creating scenes for a very enthusiastic public. Initially, most stereoscopic collectors were professional men who had returned from trips to Europe with groups of views. One of these men was poet and physician, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was fascinated with the new phenomena and saw infinite possibilities for its uses. Holmes’s zeal for the stereoscope’s possibilities surpassed mere praise for the stunning representation of the visible world. Through the means of the photograph and the stereograph, he explained, form had become an intellectual entity-distinct from physical objects-in the same way that the printing press had liberated thought. Holmes recognized the need for a more affordable stereoscope and created a hand-held stereoscope from scraps of wood and showed his design to several people in Boston. Holmes eventually met Joseph L. Bates, who had a small business selling stereoscopes and views. Bates refined the Holmes design by adding the sliding focus stage with wire holders for the view. The stereoscope was a success and the lower cost brought stereoscopic photographs to the masses.

Early stereoscopic photographers referred to themselves as artists. Like painters, stereoscopic photographers were equally concerned with composition, a factor crucial to producing a fine stereoscopic image. Equally critical was a print with rich, even tones much like mixing paint on a palette. And like the first time one views a stunning painting, the experience of looking at a stereoscopic view was unmistakable:

“Everyone who views a good stereoscopic image is immediately enthralled. I have noted a level of excitement and involvement unmatched by two-dimensional visuals, other factors being equal. The strong emotional and esthetic reaction observed and reported by many artists throughout the stereoscopy’s 130-year history raises the interesting speculation that we may be imprinted with specific responses to fundamental or archetypal spatial stimuli in our visual world, in addition to many shapes, patterns and colors.” -Robert Silverman

As a twenty-first century American living in the digital age, I did not expect to be very taken with stereoviews. The contrary proved to be true-I was nothing short of enthralled. I didn’t just see the tallest structure in New York; I stood on the tallest structure and concur with Holmes reaction to stereoscopic photography: “Every conceivable object of nature and art will soon scale off its surface for us.”Every angle, steel wire, and cut stone of the bridge was there for me to experience. The Dennis Collection of stereoviews at the New York Public Library allowed to me feel as if I was witness to the construction.

Sources:

McCullough, David. The Great Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972

Haw, Richard. The Brooklyn Bridge: a cultural history. New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 2005

Bowers, Brian, Wilson, Margaret. Sir Charles Wheatstone Frs 1802-1875 (I E E History of Technology Series). London: Institution of Electrical Engineer, 2001

Ferragallo, Roger. “On Stereoscopic Painting.” Leonardo. 7.2 (1974); 97-101.

Waldsmith, John. Stereo views: an illustrated history and price guide. Rador, PA: Wallace-Homestead Bk. Co., 1991

Silverman, Robert. “The Stereoscope and Photographic Depiction in the 19th Century.” Technology and Culture. 34.4 (1993); 729-756.

A page of stereoscopic parts in Wheatstone’s paper of 1838

A page of stereoscopic parts in Wheatstone’s paper of 1838

Brewster’s stereoscope

Brewster’s Stereoscope

Patent Drawing of the Holmes-Bates Stereoscope

Patent Drawing of the Holmes-Bates Stereoscope

Joshua Beal, “Panoramic View of NYC, Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Tower” 1876

Joshua Beal, “Panoramic View of NYC, Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Tower” 1876

View of the Footbridge from the Brooklyn Tower, created by Albert J. Fisher

View of the Footbridge from the Brooklyn Tower, created by Albert J. Fisher

Music Review: Madonna’s Rebel Heart

I have been a true blue Madonna fan for 30-plus years. Madonna’s initial appeal for me stemmed from the way she brought her East Village sensibility to the mainstream: as a native New Yorker, I totally grooved to this. Later, I would appreciate and identify with the way she let her love of classic music and cinema inspire her work. You can hear and see the influences that include Sly and the Family Stone, Marlene Dietrich, Frida Kahlo, Cabaret, Disco and Walt Whitman. Yes, Walt Whitman. On one of the songs from her 1994 album, Bedtime Stories, she quotes a line from Walt Whitman’s “Voices” from Leaves of Grass. If you had asked me in 1994 if I thought that Madonna would one day write and record a song called “Bitch I’m Madonna” I probably would have replied with a resounding no.

So what the hell happened? How did she go from being inspired by artists from Motown’s roster and Tamara de Lempicka, to being inspired by Nicki Minaj? And before you accuse me of ageism, the point I am trying to make is that her work lately has devolved and not evolved. Madonna is pushing sixty yet her earlier work was far more sophisticated. Using words like “fuck” is not necessarily excelling at songwriting or staying relevant. Is dumbing it down the only way to appeal to young people?

Rebel Heart is not a total loss. There are some good tracks and some really terrible ones. I read that she intended each song to stand-alone so that is how I am going to approach this review.

Living For Love: The best song on the album. An instant classic. Madonna at her best.

Devil Pray: The second track and the second best song. The song explores how people take drugs and religion to connect to a higher level of consciousness.

Ghosttown: The third track and the third best song. The song explores humanity connecting to one another in spite of the world’s insanity.

Unapologetic Bitch: Here is where the album starts to get shaky. The song is catchy, but sounds like something a younger and inexperienced recording artist would sing.

Illuminati: Beyonce meets Minaj.

Bitch I’m Madonna: Perhaps the worst song lyrically. The music is actually appealing, but those lyrics…

Hold Tight: Lyrically good, but overproduced musically.

Joan of Arc: For me, the most irritating song on the album. I find it absolutely ridiculous when she writes songs complaining about being famous (such as “Drowned World” from the brilliant Ray of Light). She sings, “Each time they write a hateful word, Dragging my soul into the dirt, I wanna die, Never admit it but it hurts.” Come on Madonna, you have never publicly uttered a hateful word at others? And what the hell does your fame have to do with Joan of Arc?

Iconic: A fun pop song that features Mike Tyson!

HeartBreakCity: The fourth best track on the album. It explores the aftermath of a relationship that has gone sour after putting your best foot forward. The track could have been better had it not been for the processed vocals.

Body Shop: A tongue-in-cheek song about the parallels between cars and sex.

Holy Water: A peculiar song about the miracles of oral sex. Okay Madonna, I guess eating your pussy is like holy water…? I cringed when I heard her sing, “Bitch get off my pole.” Where did you get the idea for that lyric, a reality show? She also sings, “Yeezus loves my pussy best.” I am pretty sure that she originally sang it as “Jesus”, but someone likely told her to tone it down because most of the world may not remember that she once had a boy toy named Jesus Luz (I could imagine her defending why she sang the lyric using him as the “inspiration”).

Inside Out: A great song about getting closer to someone by asking them to confess their deepest secrets. Another song where I wish she hadn’t over processed her vocals.

Wash All Over Me: A pretty good song that explores life’s uncertainties that could have been great, but again we have the over processed vocals.

Best Night: A boring song about having sex. Snooze.

Nas and Madonna

Nas gets licked by Madonna.

Veni Vidi Vici: This autobiographical song incorporates past song titles into the lyrics and features Queensbridge Rap Legend, Nas. Nas’ contribution was the best thing about this song.

S.E.X.: And yet another boring, and remarkably unimaginative song, about screwing. Yawn.

Messiah: A brilliant song about trying win over someone’s heart. I wish it were more acoustic because it had the potential to be an emotional and vocal tour de force.

Rebel Heart: The title track where Madonna finally showcases some vocals without that processing—which doesn’t translate well while listening with headphones. The track is a departure from many of the other overproduced tracks on this album.

If Madonna had cut songs like “Unapologetic Bitch” and “Bitch I’m Madonna” and brought a more acoustic feel to some of the vocals, this could have been a good album. A rebel is a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition. While I would certainly consider Madonna an artist with a rebel heart, by dumbing down lyrics to stay relevant and appeal to young people, what she is actually doing is simply marching in step with everyone else.