Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Camilo José Vergara

“Ghettos, as intrinsic to the identity of the United States as New England villages, vast national parks, and leafy suburbs, nevertheless remain unique in their social and physical isolation from the nation’s mainstream.” Camilo José Vergara
 Samuel A. Love asked me to talk to his Still Photography class on Camilo José Vergara, whom I met several times when he came to Gary to photograph buildings he revisited every year or so.  I’d point out places he didn’t know about, such as the Swedish cemetery in Miller, and in turn he’d take me to sites unfamiliar to me such as an old German cemetery in Tolleston.  Born in Chili, he attended Notre Dame in 1965 at age 21 and photographed poor neighborhoods in South Bend, Indiana.  A visit to Gary at this time left a lasting impression.  After college he survived as a New York City street photographer for three years before enrolling in a Columbia University grad program in Urban Sociology.  Photos of Gary appear in “The New American Ghetto” (1995), “American Ruins” (1999), and “How the Other Half Worships” (2005).  In “The New American Ghetto” he wrote:
  Close, sustained encounters with poverty has shaped my character and driven me, perhaps obsessively, to the ghetto.  I have never forgotten places of squalor I once seemed destined to inhabit – the dark, decrepit rooms housing entire families, the dirt-floor shacks built overnight, and the somewhat more affluent but tiny cottages in remote neighborhoods.  In the ghetto I saw the equivalent of houses I could have lived in, and I have examined them almost as part of my own life.”
MLK depicted murals photographed by Vergara in L.A. (above) and New York City
Two years ago, Vergara asked me to participate in a project involving posters of outdoor murals depicting Martin Luther King that he had photographed in a half-dozen cities, including Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  He wanted them displayed in places he had photographed in a dozen cities.  For Gary suggested the interior of City Methodist Church or the site where the Blackstone Hotel once stood.  I convinced him to approve a month-long traveling exhibit to various locations, including Wirt Emerson School, IUN, ARISE community center, a block party where Stewart Settlement House once stood, and 4 Brothers Market on Twenty-First Avenue, which Vergara has been re-photographing for 25 years in its various outdoor incarnations. French documentarians Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk filmed Samuel Love and me hanging posters there and included the shots in the 60-minute film “My Name Is Gary.”  At its screening during the 2014 International Black Film Festival Toni Lane took two photos that comprise the back cover of Steel Shavings, volume 44.
above, 1997 photo of Gary kids playing a abandoned gas station
"Survivor in a Tough City": Vergara 1993
4 Brothers Grocery," 1994 by Vergara
In class the excellent rapport between Samuel A. Love and the mostly young students was obvious.  He announced that it was his birthday (number 38) and that he was red-necked (sunburned) from setting up a beer garden at Saturday’s Lake Street block party in Miller.  He showed two brief YouTube features on Vergara plus a dozen storefront church depictions of Jesus from “How the Other Half Worships,” as well as the “Black Statue” at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.  During the 1967 riot three men painted the feet, face, and hands of a limestone statue black.  After this happened twice more, seminary officials decide the community would prefer a Black Jesus.  Sam introduced me as his mentor Jimbo.  I’d love him to be part of IUN’s History department.  On a travel drive I brought jpegs of my three favorite Vergara photos that Sam put on the screen.
Henri Cartier-Bressen and "Children Playing in Ruins," Seville 1933
Next time Sam will discuss the photography of Henri Cartier-Bressen, and he had the class repeaqt the name several times to begin familiarizing them with the Frenchman, who died in 2004 at age 96.  Sitting in on Sam’s class was Latrice Young, a Purdue Lafayette student who is teaching a morning workshop on Radio Broadcasting.  I had met Latrice two years ago when Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk were filming at Wirt Emerson High School.  She is mature beyond her years and an excellent public speaker.  Showing a selfie that Vergara took, Sam mentioned someone who has taken photos of himself every day for 24 years, staring when he was 16.  Latrice noted that she has begun doing the same thing.  After an hour in class the group went outside to take photographs.

When Duncan Keith and then Patrick Kane scored to enable the Blackhawks to win their third Stanley Cup in six years, I let out a hoot and a holler.  The next night I didn’t watch Golden State win the NBA title but was happy former 76er Andre Iguodala, one of my favorite players, was series MVP.  He hadn’t started a game all regular season but guarded LeBron James as well as anyone could stay with the best player in the world and contributed offensively as well.

The Nation printed Joan W. Scott’s “The New Thought Police: Why Are Campuses Administrators Invoking Civility to Silence Critical Speech,” an essay based on a speech delivered at the AAUP’s centennial conference.  Scott quoted an Inside Higher Ed survey indicating that provosts “believe that civility is a legitimate criterion in hiring and evaluating faculty members.”  In a statement germane to Anne Balay’s unjust treatment at IUN, Scott concluded: “The survey brought into the open what has perhaps long been an unarticulated requirement for promotion and tenure: a certain kind of deference to those in power.”
 Steve Spicer's Cara Mia rose

With all the rain we’ve had, it seems like lawns need mowing every couple days.  Steve Spicer wrote of thinking of two dear, departed people every time he mows:
The first is Nick Neagu. You see, when we bought this wreck of a house the driveway was gravel, weeds, and grass. It still mostly is. Nick must have passed by once when I was mowing it because he took me aside at one point and said, “Steve, over in Lake Station we generally don't mow our driveway.” I never mow the driveway without thinking of Nick and smiling.  The other, of course, is Cara. Not because it's her garden lawn, but because I hear her coming in the door after work after I've mowed. “The grass looks nice, honey.”  Rest in Peace Nick, the driveway is mowed.
Rest in Peace Cara, the lawn looks nice.

Melissa McCarthy was delightful in Spy, not only getting off here trademark insults (she told the villainess she dressed like “a slutty dolphin trainer”) but excelling in physical stunts as well.  Outfitted by her CIA boss for a surveillance mission, she said, “I look like someone’s homophobic aunt.”  A macho agent tells her she looks like Santa Claus’ wife.

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