Feminist Stories From Women’s Liberation: 1963-1970

Feminist Stories From Women’s Liberation: 1963-1970

Lee’s film yields a “complex and multilayered” account which she hopes will instruct her daughter, and future generations of girls, about the struggle that preceded them.

March 26, 2014 | 1 comment | Read More »

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

In the book, “Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning,” Lange’s photography is presented with equal weight given to Lange’s intuitive eye for structure and composition, as well as to her burning commitment to social justice.

February 10, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

In the key role of supporting actor is climate-denier, Sen. James Inhofe, 80, who has landed the part of a lifetime.

February 24, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

In the key role of supporting actor is climate-denier, Sen. James Inhofe, 80, who has landed the part of a lifetime.

February 24, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

Spotlight

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

Shades of NayWhile the public is coming off the Oscars, and a fascination with the new movie Fifty Shades of Grey, I have been focusing on a different story. It’s called Fifty Days of Nay. It’s the sad narrative of the first weeks of the new 114th Congress.

It may not be sexy, but it has a lot of the same elements you would expect in a less than savory tale. There’s big money, men who wield their power to bend others into submission, and plenty of questions about denial and morality.

Needless to say, Sen. Mitch McConnell is not going to get the leading role in any film, but he is a star player in this script. He has been practicing his lines of dialogue since the November election, with rhetoric about pushing through the Keystone Pipeline and vowing to deadlock any advancement in the regulation of coal. Backing moves to reduce the carbon pollution emanating from power plants is not in his screenplay—no way, no how.

However, McConnell has creatively managed to construct a scenario for undoing two decades of environmental legislation. In his rewrite, there will be no going back to the days when safeguarding the environment and health of Americans were embraced by both parties—and were not a mater of partisan politics.

In the key role of supporting actor is climate-denier, Sen. James Inhofe, 80, who has landed the part of a lifetime. He is now the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW). As the protagonist character, despite being “cast against type,” Inhofe will have dialogue coaches reeling as he delivers many of the off-the-cuff, improvisational remarks that have won him renown. (“Man can’t change climate.”)

Ironically, there is one scientist who Inhofe does put his faith in. His name is Wei-Hock Soon, and he is currently in the middle of a paparazzi media storm. Soon is a researcher affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He has testified in front of Congress to dispute the findings of 97 percent of his colleagues. Soon elucidated upon his doubts on the connection between the actions of humans and the causes of global warming.

Last week, Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, which got hold of records through the Freedom of Information Act, released documentation showing that Hock had received in excess of $1.2 million from those in the fossil-fuel industries throughout the past decade. Hock neglected to mention the fact of his funding in his published papers and findings on climate change. It’s possible that the additional $230,000 bestowed upon him from the Charles G. Koch Foundation made his memory foggy.

Over in the House of Representatives there is some encouraging news. The Safe Climate Caucus is up and running under the new leadership of Rep. Alan Lowenthal. He wrote in a mid-February blog, “This caucus aims to speak the truth, even in the face of denial.”

I’m hopeful. Maybe this story will have a happy ending.

 

Image: Courtesy of RVR Associates

This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force

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Feb 24, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

Birds Tell an Urgent Climate Change Message

2012_Rufous_Hummingbird_Helena_Reynolds_AudubonPhotographyAwards“The canary in the coal mine.” That phrase has become part of the lexicon as a warning for danger.

Now birds are cautioning humans about the imminent threat of climate change—and the news is not good. This from a report based on seven years of research by the National Audubon Society. I checked out their website, which featured material on environmental events—both national and international. I learned that the Baltimore Oriole may no longer be in Maryland by the end of the century and that coastal species, like the sandpiper, were imperiled by rising sea levels.

I reached out to Gary Langham, Audubon’s “chief scientist,” to learn more. Langham has a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. We discussed a wide range of topics, and he passionately delivered his insights and concerns.

Langham explained that at Audubon, “Activism is part of the story.” The organization was founded 105 years ago by people alarmed by the slaughter of egrets being killed in order to supply women’s hats with “plumes.” Audubon spearheaded the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the first American law to protect birds from indiscriminate hunting. “Concerned citizen interface has always be part of the Audubon agenda,” Langham related. “All our conservation work to protect birds and nature is based on science, policy, advocacy, and education.” He paused, “So is standing up and doing the right thing.”

Walking me through the top points of the study, Langham detailed that 588 species were examined within the context of how climate change would impact them in 2020, 2050, and 2080. Taking into account the consequences of greenhouse gases, 314 species are going to be highly impacted unless, as Langham emphasized, “we recalibrate how we consume and generate energy.”

Having the longest running animal census in the world (since 1900), Audubon is strategically positioned to contribute to the conversation. Langham discussed “habitat shifts” that evolved as a result of a changed landscape over the past century and a half—an outcome of humans “converting land use to their own ends.” Alarmingly, in the past forty years, “even common birds have declined by 40 to 70 percent due to habitat shift.”

Langham underscored, “Birds have an urgent message.” The reason they are on the move is due to climate change. In the past two decades, more than 200 species of birds have moved their “habitat range” substantially north in order to achieve comparable living conditions. This migration then impacts the ecosystem where they resettle. Langham stressed, “All this disruption is not good. Birds are an excellent indicator of nature overall. What impacts them will impact us. As the birds go, so do we.”

On the bright side Langham assured me, “When you give nature half a chance, it can respond in a positive way.” The bottom line is, “Restorative measures are the key. If we take concerted actions, the birds can recover.” He gave the example of the country’s national emblem, the Bald Eagle, which was brought back from the brink after being devastated by the effects of DDT.

Commenting on the newly elected representatives in Congress, Langham observed that the “fingerprints of big oil and gas” were clearly evident. “Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he insisted. “It’s about doing the right thing for future generations. It’s about protecting nature and our children.”

When I asked Langham about the XL Pipeline, he was unequivocal in his response. Audubon is officially opposed to it because of the inherent risks and disruptions from spills. Regarding fracking, Langham pointed to the challenges facing birds that nest in the Bakken Shale area of North Dakota. He said succinctly, “Unregulated chemicals used in fracking are the wild card. What’s being pumped into the ground cannot be good for birds or people.”

Langham was clear. “Most of the opposition comes from the extractive industries. They just use nature for their own purposes. They cut it, burn it, or extract it. They want the fewest regulations with the most profits.” For Audubon, supporting renewable energy is a core belief, as is reducing emissions via legislation and public policy.

On how he would convey his concern to the average citizen, Langham said, “Birds often represent or symbolize places in ways that are meaningful to people. The Common Loon is a familiar bird for people out fishing or swimming in the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota. Our Climate Report suggests that loons may no longer be in Minnesota by the end of the century. The idea that one cannot share the call of the loon with kids or grandkids is troubling because it foreshadows not just the loss of the loon, but of one’s sense of place.”

Langham concluded, “Climate change threatens everyone’s sense of place by introducing ecological disruption on a scale never seen before.”

Photo: Helena Reynolds/Audubon Photography Awards

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.

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Feb 15, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Dorothea Lange coverOne of America’s foremost photographers, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), has too often been viewed through the narrow prism of her best-known work. The groundbreaking photos that she took during the Great Depression of breadlines, and the despair she recorded of those forced to migrate in response to the Dust Bowl, are permanent fixtures in the pictorial history of the United States. However, the depth and range of her photography extend far beyond those iconic depictions.

In the book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, Lange’s “lifetime in photography” is presented with equal weight given to Lange’s  intuitive eye for structure and composition, as well as to her burning commitment to social justice.

Author Elizabeth Partridge is uniquely positioned to deliver the 192-page monograph. The goddaughter of Lange and granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, Partridge has captured the essence of Lange’s work and heart. With over one hundred photographs, Partridge traces the themes and world events that shaped Lange’s persona and oeuvre.

I spoke with Partridge to discuss her vision for the book and how she chose which prints would be included. She explained that she wanted to present the “narrative arc” of Lange’s output, and was extremely conscious of the “layout.”  Lange regularly used the spoken words of her subjects paired with their photographs, and Partridge pulls from that precedent in the text she has chosen to feature.

In a discussion of Lange’s reticence to identify as “an artist,” Partridge emphasized that at the high point of “social ferment” in the nation, documentary photographers did not want to be considered fine artists. Partridge said, “That was considered a diminishment.”

It wasn’t until late in her life, when Lange was traveling with her second husband, Paul Taylor, that she truly connected to herself as an artist. Her thirty-year partnership with Taylor had originated in their shared experiences recording on the ground conditions around the country for the Farm Security Administration. When Lange voyaged overseas with Taylor, in his capacity as a land reform expert for the United Nations, she was free to operate as a photographer without an assignment. It was at this time Lange said, “I believe that I can see. That I can see straight and true and fast.”

In her essay, Partridge breaks down the periods of Lange’s life and career into sections: Childhood; Apprenticeship; The Trade; To the Streets; To the Fields and Camps; World Traveler. The culmination is the genesis of Lange’s one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1966—which opened three months after Lange’s death. While organizing her photos, Lange pushed past ill health, arranging and rearranging prints on a wall as she culled from thousands of negatives. Lange had a vision of what she aimed to accomplish with the exhibit. Partridge quotes her saying, “The time for me is past to do what is called the ‘documentary’ thing. I have done that. But out of those materials, I want to extract the things that are the universality of the situation, not the circumstance.”

Like the MoMA exhibit, the book contextualizes Lange’s pictorial journey, but most importantly, allows the photos to stand as individual pieces. Even when an adjacent page has comments by Lange, as with Man Beside Wheelbarrow, it is still the visual components that make the portrait so visceral.

Man Beside Wheelbarrow
San Francisco, California, 1934

The man’s cap, reminiscent of the one worn by Henry Fonda in his portrayal of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, echoes the shape of the wheel. The creases in the hat mimic the spokes. The darkest area is the abstracted shape of the coat, which gives rise to pant legs that blend with the shadows. Making contact with the earth are scuffed and worn shoes, similar in tonalities to the body of the wheelbarrow. The pockmarked brick wall bears the white graffiti markings of some individual who needed to be heard. It could be a war-torn area rather than San Francisco in the late thirties.

In the 1920s, Lange spent a period of time in the Southwest with her first husband, artist Maynard Dixon. Here she experienced the wide-open spaces and the majesty of nature. She photographed the Native Americans of the region. It was a precursor to her interest in the stories of those who had been oppressed, beaten down, or ostracized by mainstream culture.

HOPI MAN WEBHopi Indian During Snake Dance
Walpi, Arizona, 1926

Lange detailed the lives of black denizens in the south during the late 1930s. From North Carolina to Mississippi and Alabama, Lange observed moments from their daily routines. The pictures serve as archives of those who hoed the cotton, children of sharecroppers, and the hierarchy of power between the races, seen clearly on a country store’s porch. Ex-Slave with a Long Memory captures an elderly woman whose lifetime has straddled two eras. Her walking staff imbues her with a Biblical presence—a prophet with an oral history full of untold narratives.

WEB Ex-Slave With Long Memory1937Ex-Slave with a Long Memory
Alabama, 1937

Type of Hay Derrick Characteristic of Oregon Landscape is a piece of documentation that works exquisitely as a study in line and composition. Although it records a farming tool, it could be a shot of an outdoor sculpture—each component interactive and balanced between the tensile strength of wood, chain and wire.

Hay Derrick1939Type of Hay Derrick Characteristic of Oregon Landscape
Irrigon, Morrow County, Oregon, 1939

During the 1950s, Lange tackled environmental issues in the series “Death of a Valley.” It was a prescient examination of the human impact upon the land. Witnessing a valley north of San Francisco being flooded to create a dam, Lange depicted the destruction of a habitat, as opposed to what at the time was seen as “progress.” Unlike the hay derrick, this piece of modern machinery looks like an iron monster with curved teeth poised to attack the earth. Lange renders an interplay of rhythms. Two types of mesh grating in the back, and the diagonal structures that comprise part of the tractor’s design, interact with the darkened wheel at the center of the photograph. Diminished by the massive equipment, is the young man operating it.

Bulldozer, 1956Bulldozer
Berryessa, California, 1956

Perhaps the event that devastated and impacted Lange the most was the internment at the beginning of World War II (by Executive Order) of Japanese-American citizens. Tapped by the government, who knew her abilities from the Farm Security Administration, the War Relocation Authority wanted visual proof that the evacuation and prison camps were humane and warranted, a necessity for national security. Lange viewed the actions as impingements upon civil and human rights, and subverted her assignment with photographs that turned the government’s premise upside down. Lange demonstrated the shortcomings of America without flinching. She said, “The deeper I got into it, the bigger it became.” She chose her subjects with specificity: children with identification tags, conditions at Manzanar, and a shot of the American flag waving in the wind, framed by mountains, sky, and barracks. The subtext was clear. Much of Lange’s work was impounded and remained unavailable to the public until 2006. A simple visual of two items of clothing drying on a wash line captured it all. One has a traditional Japanese design; the other has gingham checks—as American as apple pie.

Wash 40 yoursWash-Day 40 Hours Before Evacuation of Persons of Japanese Ancestry
from this Farming Community

Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California, 1942

In Lange’s travels with Taylor, “field work” was no longer the motivation. However,  whether Lange was taking pictures in Ireland, Korea, Vietnam, Ecuador or Egypt, the priority was always the people, their lives, and their struggles.

Having faced the challenges of functioning in a man’s world in the early 20th century, Lange’s camera was always attuned to the circumstances of women—and their station in life. Her representation of a woman in Pakistan from 1958 resonates as strongly today. It is both frightening and riveting to contemplate the life of the person beneath the article of clothing. The texture of the cotton, the design in the crown, the dark holes poked out for her eyes, the stitching mending a rip—they all add to the ghostlike appearance of an individual who has been instructed by her culture not to exist openly. Upon closer examination, an arm comes into view with a hand upraised in a supplicating pose. Rather than framing the figure centrally, Lange has placed her off to the side.

Pakistan1958Pakistan
1958

Lange contracted polio when she was seven. The illness left her with a withered foot and a limp. It also imbued her with a great sense of empathy towards others. The displaced, disenfranchised, and discarded—Lange gave them all a voice.

Lange’s search for truth yielded political and philosophical understanding, while remaining a timeless testament to the human spirit.

 

All photos: Courtesy of Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning
Published by Chronicle Books

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