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Miley Twerk

I never expected to make comment on the career of Miley Cyrus here on the blog, but then again, I never expected to come across the greatest sketch of Miley Cyrus ever made.

The drawing, titled Miley Twerking, was made by my friend Christian Nagler. It originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of Actually People Quarterly (APQ), an indie print publication based in San Francisco. APQ and Nagler kindly provided permission to share the picture.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see a thumbnail image of Miley Cyrus in the sidebar of some website. Collections of Cyrus-resembling pixels are ubiquitous. In terms of describing Miley-Cyrus-the-person, a photograph is almost meaningless. In terms of describing Miley Cyrus-the-product, a photograph is the perfect hype-spinning money-making tool.

The reason I like Nagler’s sketch so much is that skewers the ridiculous theatre of her MTV Awards twerking AND undermines the grotesque image-driven publicity machine that surrounds her. It lays bare what she is and discards the useless debate of who she is.

Cyrus is, as with all celebrities, almost unknowable. She is not a person, but a product. She is no longer a who, but a what. Photography when it encounters celebrity elevates and promotes the what. Photography may purport to depict the who, but it does not.

This is my reading and not necessarily Nagler’s intent. I think he is genuinely interested in Cyrus; perplexed by the who, the what, and the gap between.

“The reason I think Christian’s picture is amazing is because it leaves space left open,” says APQ founder and editor, Sarah Fontaine. “It doesn’t totally proscribe an opinion on her. There’s a level of investment. A drawing takes time but a photo takes an instant.”

If I could even know Cyrus, I don’t think I’d dislike her. Everyone wants to have an opinion about Cyrus’ conduct. Some think her various states of undress hinder the movement of our culture toward one of gender equality. Often Cyrus is the focus of vitriol and frustration, but perhaps we should be looking at society as a whole? I’ll defer to Gloria Steinem and suggest we hate the game, not the player.

“I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists,” said Steinem.

Photography upholds, forwards and fortifies the game. Nagler’s sketch respectfully questions the game. My thoughts on photographing Miley Cyrus? Don’t.

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Kansas, MO and Brooklyn, NY based artist Jaimie Warren is the recipient of the 2014 Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer. This is a curious selection for many reasons — all of them good.

Firstly, I wasn’t aware of Warren’s practice; even though she has a Wikipedia page and a long history with VICE, I had not come across Warren’s work before. I am glad I did.

Secondly, her work is wacky. The meanings of her images are elusive and you’ve got work hard with them. As many photographic artists do, Warren plays with ideas of fantasy, fun, performance and artifice, but she does so in much more aggressive, brazen way. These are not the cool, clinical images of studio assemblages we see from many young (MFA-bearing) image-makers.

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I really, really enjoy Warren’s disfigured portraits and tableaus. They’re pop, they’re a bit grotesque, they cinch perfectly into the shock-visuals of audiences habituated to the  Tumblr-driven flow of images. Warren’s work is Peewee Herman meets Carnivale meets that bonkers Halloween party you went to in 1997.

Thirdly, it is great to see an award go to a photographer who isn’t just a photographer. For all the intelligent image detournement in her work, Warren is not operating from a fine art ivory tower. Quite the opposite. Central to Warren’s work is constant collaboration with communities. Her main vehicle for making art is the non-profit community arts initiative Whoop Dee Doo.

Whoop Dee Doo works with communities “to create unique and memorable events that challenge the everyday art venue or community event.” Everything from concept to end product is intended to fit the needs of host communities, and all acts are “truly inclusive endeavors that celebrate differences and unabashed self-expression.”

Probably the best and quickest way to get a handle on the art and performances is to view the Whoop Dee Doo Vimeo Channel.

Whoop Dee Doo has worked with youth programs including Caldera Arts (Portland/Sisters, OR), Operation Breakthrough (Kansas City), the Boys & Girls Club (Kansas City), Big Brother/Big Sister (Kansas City), Girls, Inc. (Omaha, NE), Experimental Station’s Blackstone Bicycle youth Program (Chicago, IL), Urgent, Inc. and the Rites of Passage Program (Miami, FL), Muse 360 and 901 arts (Baltimore, MD), as well as college interns at the University of Central Missouri, Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, the University of Chicago, Maryland Institute College of Art, Rockhurst University, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Impressive.

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Jaimie Warren, Self-portrait as Bulls fan in La Jeunesse de Bacchus by William-Adolphe Bouguereau/Michael Jordan basketball painting by dosysod of the Independents, 2012.

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Jaimie Warren, Self-portrait as Nun with some of my Mother’s Favorite Famous People in the Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs of the Fiesole San Domenico Altarpiece by Fra Angelic, 2014.

From looking over the portfolios, I reckon the folky-rainbow-eclecticism of Warren and her collaborators’ work reflects something close to common feeling. What else could there by except fun, wild variance and complexity when the hands of dozens go into making something?

Breaking down stereotypes and barriers between age, gender, culture and sub-culture is one of Whoop Dee Doo‘s main objectives. The group is open to designing performances and workshops “between unlikely pairings of community members that ultimately blossom into exceptional and meaningful interactions.”

A lot of the time, the use and outcomes of awards can be hard to pin down, but I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before Warren is putting the $10,000 to use making more happenings with communities. Because she always has. Let the merriment continue.

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BAUM AWARD

The Baum Award for An Emerging American Photographer is a project established out of the conviction that photography is a powerfully influential medium with the capacity to emotionally connect with audiences in ways that words cannot. This ability to reach people on a visceral level can transform awareness to understanding and lead interest into action – fundamental aspects of a healthy and vital society.

Click here to see previous Baum Award winners.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

Andres Serrano has just released Sign Of The Times a new body of work for which he bought signs from the homeless in New York at $20 a pop. Over 200 signs in total.

I’m not sure about the sound track to the video, but Serrano’s words are worth a read on the Creative Time Reports website. He doesn’t breaking any new rhetorical ground but he does make a good case for this work being a timely statement to coincide with the end of Bloomberg’s stint as city mayor. New York has a problem with homelessness.

Just once, Serrano’s words veer dangerously close to over-analysis and sentimentality:

“What struck me about the people who sold me their signs was their willingness to let go of them. It was as if they had little attachment to them even though some signs had been with them for a long time. Of course, they needed the money. Many people would tell me they had made nothing that day. But I also think that those who possess little have less attachment to material things. They know what it’s like to live with less.” [My bolding.]

But, ultimately, he grounds the work where it should be — in an it-is-what-it-is conclusion about art, and in an it-is-an-outrage statement about society:

“Although the homeless are at the bottom of the economic ladder, many Americans are not far from it. They may not be homeless, but they’re poor. Fifty million or more Americans live at or below the poverty line.”

You’ll recognise the name. Serrano brought us the *controversial* Piss Christ and in doing so exposed the small-minded vitriol of the culture wars in eighties America, that set the tone for the rightwing unthink so common today.

Despite their wildly different methodologies, Piss Christ and Sign Of The Times have a lot in common. The former magnifies the cultural differences and the latter magnifies our economic differences. Cultural and economic capital are related. Both works ask audiences about how far they, we, are willing to go to manage perspective and to get out of ones own head. Both artworks create, very efficiently, the parameters to those urgent discussions.

Sign Of The Times is a very simple project. It’s not a subversion of capitalism; in fact barter-and-trade might be one of capitalism’s purest forms!? Regardless, Serrano made small but significant one-off contributions to the lives of hundreds of homeless during the making of the work. Hopefully, the presentation of Sign Of The Times will shape public and political opinion to improve the lot for many more homeless folk?

Delivered with some gusto, Cornell West explains why the use of Martin Luther King’s bible during President Obama’s inauguration was ill-advised.

Obama might be trying to fix economic inequality in free society, but West brings up at the half way point the role that the prison industrial complex has in punishing the poor.

Furthermore, the Obama administrations expanding drone program and the crimes against humanity in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo means Obama can not legitimately claim to be a righteous inheritor of MLK’s non-violent message.

What do you think? Was the use of MLK’s bible clumsy? Worse? Conceited? Obama has always been cast as a sharp-minded fellow, able to see beyond platitudes and any entourage of yes-men, but perhaps Obama and his inner-circle have started to believe their own hype?

What would people have said if George W. Bush had asked to lay his hand on MLK’s bible during his inauguration? He and Obama fought and are fighting the same wars abroad.

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As you know, I’m a great admirer of photography programs and mentorships for youth. Expression in the arts gives children their voice. I’ve even wondered if the empowerment provided through self-representation could benefit prisoners.

There exist dozens of important non-profits and volunteer programs helping youth of all backgrounds, including at-risk youth, to tell their stories through photography.

Organisations such as Youth in Focus, Seattle; AS220 Youth Photography Program, Providence, RI; New Urban Arts, Providence; First Exposures by SF Camerawork in San Francisco; The In-Sight Photography Project, Vermont; Leave Out ViolencE (LOVE), Nova Scotia; Inner City Light, Chicago; Focus on Youth and My Story in Portland, OR; Picture Me at the MoCP, Chicago; Eye on the Third Ward, Houston; The Bridge, Charlottesville, VA; the Red Hook Photography Project, New York; and Emily Schiffer’s My Viewpoint Photo Initiative are exemplars of youth empowerment through photography.

One of the leading participatory photography bodies is Photovoice in the UK. It has 50 programs in 23 countries.

This holiday season, Critical Exposure in Washington DC, a youth photo workshop organisation is raising money.

Simply and brilliantly, Critical Exposure – which was founded in 2004 - gives centre stage to Samera, one of the students. Watch it and celebrate the resilience and thoughtfulness of youth. It’s uncomplicated and effective storytelling, and you will be convinced of the undoubted value of these photography programs.

Samera is a compelling voice. After describing her own situation, she makes quite a simple request. She asks that schools within the same metropolitan area have better communication. She identified a fault in the system and she asked that it be fixed so others wouldn’t have to go through the same clumsy and disappointing mal-communications between Washington school district and a charter school. It’s a fair request.

Communities we shape for better, engender growth. Youths’ enthusiasm to be raised in an encouraging environment should not be neglected.

The Critical Exposure Holiday Giving 2012 page.

Through a website, positive networks, karma in the plus column, and not a small amount of effort, Kevin Miyazaki‘s Collect.Give has steadily been making the world a better place. It’s ridiculous that I’ve not sung the praises of Collect.Give‘s work here on PP before.

In just a few years, Collect.Give has raised tens of thousands of dollars through print sales for worthy charities hand-picked by the photographers themselves.

The latest offering is Love You by Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman. It is from their project Geolocation that, according to Larson, “tracks geotag coordinates associated with Twitter tweets and pairs the text with a photograph of the originating site to mark the virtual information in the real world.”

I’m still undecided about the merits of Geolocation. I saw it at Blue Sky Gallery recently. The images are well made and the concept is stronger than most, but I’m still not sure. Then again, I recently, I big-upped the work of Dan Gluibizzi because he has managed to find a constructive use of – and end point to – Tumblr, so I should be big-upping Larson and Shindelman’s Geolocation because they have managed to step back, find a constructive use of  - and an end point to – Twitter.

What really gets me excited, right now though, is the fact that all profits from the sales of Love You go to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The SPLC is an incredibly effective and committed advocacy group of lawyers, researchers and paralegals based in Atlanta, Georgia. The SPLC “fights hate and bigotry and seeks justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.” Often this means providing legal assistance and representation to poor prisoners denied basic human rights during their incarceration, trial hearings and appeals.

I met with several staffers at the SPLC last year and was deeply impressed by SPLC’s work and deeply, deeply effected when I learnt about the inequalities of Southern states’ criminal justice systems. The SPLC mounts lawsuits within the states of Georgia and Alabama (two of the poorest states in the union) against inadequate medical care, prosecutorial misconduct and institutional abuse. Never before have I seen so clearly the link between the prison system and the social inequalities that feed it.

SPLC gives the voiceless the possibility of a voice, despite the obstacles.

Please support SPLC’s work.

© Nina Berman, from the series Homeland

Often the problems associated with large institutions is that they muster their own internal logic. Kathie Arseno’s account below describes a series of ridiculous actions, for which no single person in authority would surely want to take responsibility.

This account was sent to me by Nina Berman, with whom I spoke about Stop & Frisk. Astoundingly, Arseno’s account shows that the NYPD’s invasive policing commonly seen on the streets (Stop & Frisk) extends to the harassment of people in their homes (Arseno).

So, if you’re in NYC and are free in the morning head down to Bronx Criminal Court.

Dear Friends,

On September 3, 2011 I was arrested in the lower east side (Manhattan) for graffiti.  I made a plea.  I had to pay a fine of $145 and one day community service.  Manhattan criminal court lowered my charges from graffiti to disorderly conduct. I have not done graffiti since my first arrest.

I do not have the approximate date but late in January I was arrested a second time. It was around 10pm and I was sleeping in my home.  My son was with me. I get woken up by loud banging on the door. I wake up to four male officers at my door. I did open the door but just enough for them to see my face. Officer Pomrade stepped his foot into my apartment and I told him he is not allowed to do that, I did not invite him in and they did not have a warrant for my arrest. The officer became very aggressive and his supervisor told him to calm down. One officer was calling the precinct to see if I have any warrants. At this point I did let them into my home because I felt they were definitely not going to leave me alone. And the more I resisted they became visibly more agitated with me. The officer found out that I did have a bench warrant. My arresting officer said this automatically gives them the grounds to arrest me. They told me that I am being arrested for the graffiti I have done around the Bronx. I informed them that I have already been arrested and charged for graffiti in Manhattan. They said I am now being arrested and charged for the graffiti I have done in the Bronx prior to my first arrest. I began to cry because I was about to get arrested and my son was in the home.  They let me call his father so he can be picked up. His father was on his way after I called.

When I got off the phone the officers asked me to come in the next day after work to the precinct so we can straighten everything out. They did not want to disrupt my family or my work. This will allow me to make arrangements to make sure my son was taken care of. I walked into the precinct the next day and was handcuffed as soon as I entered. I asked if this is going to happen anytime someone sees my tag. They said since my name and tags are in the system I can be charged for the graffiti I have done in that particular area. The officer told me not to worry, that I should not get arrested again as long as I stop doing graffiti.

I met with Vandal Squad police officers Zimmerman, Dwyer, and Ogilus.  They said that I am not an artist they want to make an example out of.  They were pressing me for information on other graffiti writers. They also charged me and stated that from now on I shouldn’t be arrested anymore unless I am caught red handed in the streets. They said in the rare case the police come to my home again to give them a call and they will help the situation. I was arrested on Wednesday early in the afternoon and did not see the judge until 8pm Friday night. I missed too many days of work. My next scheduled court date was for April 25, 2012.

On March 31, 2012 as I was soaking in the bath and baking cupcakes with a friend for a party I was going to have that evening, at approximately 9PM my son runs into the bathroom to tell me the police are at the door. I quickly jump out the bathtub and put only a t-shirt and basketball shorts. I step out my home to speak to the officers. My arresting officer asked if I was Kathie Arseno and when I responded yes he grabbed my wrist and stated to me that I am being arrested. In handcuffs I asked if they had a warrant and they did not answer. I asked why I was being arrested and he said “You know why you are being arrested.”  Once in the precinct I was told the reason for my arrest. I was once again getting arrested for graffiti in the neighborhood.  I became very upset and started protesting. I asked that they call Officer Zimmerman from Vandal Squad and to let me call my lawyer.  I was never allowed to make a phone call.  The officer was going to release me.  I was having a conversation with another officer and he became highly upset stating that I think I can fool him. He threatened to have my son removed from me and actually called 911 and told them a crazy woman is having a breakdown when I refused to get up from my seat to walk into my jail cell.  I asked for water but they refused to bring me any. I was interrogated for about an hour by a female police officer who was pressing me to share information on other writers if I want to be let out. I remained silent and they sent me to central bookings around 6am Sunday morning.

I was seen by the judge early afternoon on Sunday. My lawyer claimed double jeopardy and my case was dismissed without any charges.

On April 25, 2012 I went to court and the sentences they were trying to give me ranged from 5 to 90 days in jail with probation and community service.  I did not accept any of the offers and my court date was adjourned for July 25, 2012.  It still boggles me that I was caught red handed in Manhattan and was not charged with a crime but the Bronx has no evidence against me other than my prior arrest in Manhattan and I am facing these harsh sentences.

On May 18, 2012 around 10:15PM I had two police officers from the 44th precinct come to my apartment and try to arrest me for graffiti, again. I asked if they had a search warrant or a warrant for my arrest. They did not have any warrants so I did not agree to accompany them to the precinct. They told me I have two options, I can either voluntary go to their precinct or they will make a report to vandal squad and they will come to my home at anytime. I told them I will get in contact with my lawyer. And they left. I quickly emailed and left a message with my lawyer who advised me to remain silent at all times because they cannot keep arresting me for the same crime. She said she will get in contact with the A/DA assigned to my case to advise police officers to quit arresting me for the same crime. I have not had an officer come to my home since then.

On July 25, 2012 is my next court case at 9:30am. I am asking you to come to Bronx Criminal Court and show some support.  My life has never been the same since my second arrest. Having officers come to my home three times to arrest you for the same crime has disrupted my family’s life completely. I even had to take a week off work after my last arrest because I could not sit through a  meeting at work without breaking down in tears because of all the harassment and verbal abuse I had experienced. I literally had all my rights taken away from me in seconds. One minute I am home with my son and the next I am in a jail cell for a crime I already paid for. I know for a fact I am not the only one dealing with this type of harassment and I think its important for our community to make a stand and let them know that this is unacceptable.

Please forward this to any people or organizations who will like to show support.

Peace and Love, Kathie Arseno

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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