Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Duane Michals - Empty New York

On Thursday, November 8, I went to see photographer Duane Michals speak at 192 Books on 10th Avenue about his new book, Empty New York. Michals began making photographs in 1963-64 after falling deeply in love with Eugène Atget’s documentation of the streets and architecture of Paris. Atget was relatively unknown at the time; most of his work was published posthumously by Berenice Abbott. Michals wanted to see the environment of New York City without people. He said that when you peer into a room with even one person inside, you see that person, not the room itself. He began photographing early in the morning and pressed his camera lens against the windows of empty shops and restaurants. Michals said he saw these places like stage sets, waiting for the cast to arrive. Everything is a performance: a barber in his barbershop is doing the barbershop act, the bookseller in the bookshop is doing the bookshop act. Little dramas.

Going off on so many tangents throughout his talk, I made note of some of Michals’ most interesting points. He learned everything he knows about photography on the job. He said going to school for photography is a waste of time, and that anyone interested in pursing the art should just “go out on the street and take pictures.” He believes that if you do attend university, you should leave school asking more questions than when you arrived. This particular point resonated with me, because school tends to drain artists of their creativity when we’re forced to learn and follow so many rules – something I experienced – and for most of us, the only question we were asking when we graduated was “what the hell am I doing?” (I’ve been incredibly lucky to have overcome that.) Michals said that those constraints stopper creativity and it’s much harder to unlearn the rules than it is to learn them in the first place.

He hates MoMA because he thinks of it like a factory in both design and content, which I found ironic due to his connection to Andy Warhol. I wrote a piece on Michals in August of 2016, detailing my introduction to his work and about finding an issue of GROUND Mag with his photograph of Andy Warhol covering his face with his hands, and the subsequent cover story. While Michals was speaking, he brought up Warhol, and described him as “one of the most boring people” he’s ever met. I couldn’t help but laugh, given my [unfortunate] attraction to anything Warhol-related, which is initially what lead me to discover Michals’ connection to him.

He mentioned Ralph Eugene Meatyard, a photographer whose work has always made me uncomfortable, and said, “We should not be surprised that an optician became a photographic seer.” He also had a lot to say about portraiture, declaring, “Most portraits are lies,” and, “The biggest con men are the big smilers.” This reminded me of what he said in the GROUND Mag article about selfies, and how much us heading in that direction photographically troubles him.

He called himself the “antichrist photographer,” because of his love for digital, even throwing out, “Fuck film! I love digital!” He tore down everything a purist photographer would believe, though at 86 years old with a massive body of work, it seems he’s earned the right to be called an authority on the subject and no longer worry about the purity of the art form.

When he was finished speaking, those of us who wanted our copies of the monograph signed queued up. I was first in line and had a chance to tell him that the quote I loved from his article in GROUND Mag has been hanging on my mirror in my apartment for the last four years. He asked me to recite the quote, and actually spoke aloud about that idea momentarily.
He signed my book: “Hello Chelsea…. Goodbye. Duane Michals

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Searching For Soul

Last July, Jeremiah Moss's book 'Vanishing New York: How A Great City Lost Its Soul' hit bookstores. Last Thursday, I attended a panel at the Museum of the City of New York, where Moss and three others had a discussion about the impact of hyper-gentrification on the city. It was thrilling to be in a room full of other people as passionate about this subject as I am, as I'm the only person across all of my groups of friends who cares about this at all.

I read (almost) exclusively historical non-fiction about the city these days, and the list of books I've devoured is growing. This is a subject I've been passionate about for a couple of years, and Moss's book helped to clarify exactly what is going on in New York; from the High Line's massive impact on the west side, to mail-order services killing the local shops, to the "glass monstrosities" built on the rubble of entire city blocks, razed for the elite to move in.

During the panel, Moss elaborated on a point he made in the book: the people who are moving into the city now, into areas steeped in historical and cultural significance, don't have a shred of nostalgia for the neighborhood in which they've chosen to reside. For example, folks my age move into the East Village on the wings of trust funds, spend $4,000/month on studio apartments in glass boxes, and turn a blind, ignorant eye to how that section of the city came to be trendy in the first place. Moss said, "Nostalgia gets a bad rap in our current culture," and I couldn't agree more: that's exactly why the soul of this city is slipping away. In this age of instant-gratification and Instagram stories, most millennials won't care if a historic corner store is bulldozed, as long as a shiny new restaurant rises in its place.

However, after the four speakers on the panel had brought their conversation to a close, and opened up a Q & A with the [at capacity] audience, one person made a comment that has stuck with me. Susan Mayer is a 74-year old graphic design teacher who moved into a tenement building on the Lower East Side in her late teens/early twenties. It was the kind of space where the bathtub was in the kitchen, a cubicle in the corner that looked like a phone booth held the toilet, and two faux fireplaces did nothing to heat the $65/month apartment, and it was the kind of place where the whole building was a community, everyone knew their neighbors, and people would stop to say hello.
Susan said, "The soul of the city resides in the lived-in spaces."

From the outside, it's getting harder to see the remains of the old New York, the cultural beacons in the form of bars, restaurants, and event spaces that were the hangouts of so many influential artists, writers, and taste-makers of past eras. I make it my business when reading about any particular area of the city to frequent the neighborhood as often as possible, and to look for remnants of the past. Right now, I'm reading John Strausbaugh's 'The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village,' and I've been hopping off the train at West 4th with my camera every chance I get. My Roaming project has always been about New York from my perspective, and there's been a subconscious shift toward the more historically significant areas within the last year. It's much more difficult to access those lived-in spaces, but I'm hopeful they still exist.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Stephen Shore: Retrospective

On November 19, 2017, the Stephen Shore Retrospective opened to the public at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Mr. Shore's unique perspective has been a source of inspiration since college, when I was handed his "Uncommon Places" by my professor, after a successful critique of a series I'd been working on. Since that day, he's become my favorite photographer and his work has had a profound influence on my own. Seeing his massive body of work renewed my enthusiasm, and reminded me just how much I love documenting the world in my view.

Two weeks later, the Strand Bookstore was holding a book signing for the monograph from the Retrospective. I was so excited to meet Mr. Shore and have him sign my copy that I could barely contain myself. I never know what to say when meeting anyone remotely noteworthy, but Mr. Shore holds idol status for me. When it was my turn, I managed to utter a compliment and asked for a photo with him.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Governors Island

When my parents visited in mid-July, we made the long train ride and surprisingly quick ferry voyage to Governors Island, New York City’s little oasis. As it turns out, the island is my little oasis as well.

Manhattan Skyline from the Governors Island Ferry - Chelsea Pathiakis

We spent a few hours walking around the island. My favorite area is Colonel’s Row – eight very old brick buildings once home to military officers and currently used as studio space for local artists. Since there was no one telling me I couldn’t, I spent some time in two of the houses photographing the empty upper floors. This was the first time I felt photographically inspired in months. The sweltering, stagnant heat inside normally would have been unbearable but my mind was whirring and I barely noticed. 
Chelsea Pathiakis

I returned two weeks later on my own to discover we had missed an entire half of the island. I found Nolan Park and the Admiral’s House, where I camped out in a rocking chair on the porch for a couple of hours writing. It was a blissful day of self-reflection.

Chelsea Pathiakis

This past weekend I took the ferry with a friend, from Long Island City all the way down the coast of Brooklyn, to the island once more. The ferry ride gave me a chance to view Manhattan and Brooklyn from a distinct perspective, and I have added a few places to my list of areas to see. It was a gorgeous, cool Labor Day weekend and we laid in the grass in front of Colonel’s Row. The annual art fair was going on, with some unusual pieces on display. 

Chelsea Pathiakis

Art Fair Installation - Chelsea Pathiakis

I hope to return in late October to see the Night of 1,000 Jack-O’-Lanterns.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Central Park Conservatory Garden

Saturday I visited the breathtakingly beautiful Conservatory Garden at the top of Central Park. Prior to this weekend, I had only visited the more popular southern parts of the Park: Sheep Meadow, the Lake, Belvedere Castle, and was once helplessly lost in the Bramble. The Conservatory Garden felt like it didn't belong in the same park; it was quiet and relatively free of tourists.

Chelsea Pathiakis, Conservatory Garden, 2017 

There were several fountains in the Garden, and a wedding taking place around the most gorgeous one, surrounded by willows and rows of flowers in every color. A cellist was playing as we walked through, and I found myself absolutely content in that moment. I plan to return soon.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Irving Penn: Centennial

In the nearly debilitating humidity of this weekend, I made my way over to The Met to view the Irving Penn: Centennial, on display through July 30. Penn's work was a staple in lessons throughout art school: as a pioneer in studio portraiture, an example of medium format mastery, and a precedent for composition. I have always admired his work, especially his "Small Trades" series, and his still life work. 

Irving Penn, Small Trades, 1950-1951

Irving Penn, Small Trades, Chamois Seller, London, 1950

Irving Penn, Still Life with Watermelon, 1947

When I turned the corner into one of the last exhibition rooms, I was pleasantly surprised to see a portrait of Joan Didion. I've been reading her "White Album" over the past few weeks, and while I'm no stranger to her appearance, it's always interesting to be reminded of the wide scope of her impact.

Irving Penn, Joan Didion, New York, 1996

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Julia Hetta, Part II

Further inspiration courtesy of Julia Hetta. Her work is currently on view at the Grundemark Nilsson Gallery in Stockholm, Sweden

Anyone want to send me a ticket?

Julia Hetta, The Sealed Room, Rodeo Magazine, Fall 2011 

I recently learned her brother, Hannes Hetta, is a stylist, also represented by Art + Commerce. The siblings have collaborated on several editorials.

Julia Hetta, Between the Folds, Dazed and Confused Magazine, March 2016
Styled by Hannes Hetta