(Click to Enlarge)
It is a very short walk from enhancement to deception. I suppose manipulating photographs (and by extension, the masses) is an art as old as photography. We often forget what happens after the shutter is snapped is really what photography is about. Even a monkey can take a picture, there must be a photo of a monkey operating a camera release on the web. (Note to self...commission a monkey to take some photos)
However, it is a serious subject, and I don't just mean the obvious historical examples we are all familiar with. Trimming the fat of supermodels for supermarket checkout lanes, eliminating Stalin's rivals with the stroke of a brush, etc. It is a serious ethical problem which is increasingly ignored. In 1982 the National Geographic moved no less than the pyramids closer together to fit them on their cover. It is insidious and shameful...but it isn't new at all. We've been had for centuries. If it weren't so widely practiced and so commonly accepted, it would be collectively known as the greatest and most pervasive hoax in history.
Paint Shop and Photoshop certainly made it easier. The programs have been around a long time now, and in an increasingly visual world where text is shortened to less than a caption, that we can not rely on what the eye sees is unfortunate and it could someday have tragic consequences. I guess. I have collected examples of the art of photo manipulation for a while now. It was the practice of the press to "highlight" or embellish photographs for publication. I find these examples striking and beautiful, if fraudulent, because they were all done by hand with a paintbrush. All were treated prior to publication and reproduction in a newspaper, where inadequate newsprint printing process made the craft necessary. But they never told us.
One from my collection, the firing squad here from 1927, was recently used in a small spread in Foam Magazine. Had the photo been taken moments later, the paint artist would have certainly wiped up the blood (or highlighted it I suppose, depending on intent) I reprint it here as an extreme example since virtually no photo remains, it is as much painting as picture. The other examples, none too nefarious that I can tell, but deceptive still, are shown more to illustrate a lost art. By the way...I have cropped some, but not "treated" in anyway. Like the press, I wouldn't tell you if I did. Being a music fan, Chuck Berry in the Clouds is a particular favorite, but then you can hardly beat a pipe which smokes "HEALTH."
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Group of Original painted, embellished and manipulated press photographs, 1920 - 1971 Collection Jim Linderman
(Quite a few folks have enjoyed this post on my Vintage Sleaze blog, so I am repeating it here. I've only watched the first two minutes of the video, truth be told...but those two are fantastic and not to be missed)
Lilly Christine isn't a bad stripper name, especially when your real handle is Martha Theresa Pompender. Known far and wide (at least from Bourbon Street to Dumaine) as the Cat Girl, she is shown here in an astounding video and the postcard which led me to it. Lilly was born in 1923 and lived only 42 years. It was rumored she committed suicide, but it was Peritonitis which killed the 37C-22-35 cat. Mike Todd's Peep Show and Prima's 500 club are joints the Cat performed her "voodoo love potion" dance. Lilly was by far one of the most photographed cover girls for sleazy pulps in the 1950's, despite her claims she was not a stripper...she was a belly dancer. That's her in red teaching young students how to "draw."
Guess what contributes to Peritonitis? Having a washboard stomach (diffuse abdominal rigidity) and excess flexing of one's hips. Clearly the Cat had some serious workplace disability. These moves do not come without flexing the abdominals. And that's what the Cat did.
Lilly Christine The Cat Girl Postcard, circa 1955 Collection Victor Minx
Okay, because of that warbling waif Joni Mitchell, once again the ridiculous claim that Bob Dylan is a plagiarist returns. Joni Mitchell...who I once saw stumble over her own feet and nearly fall to the ground in Central Park as she was lighting a smoke. Maybe she should have taken a big yellow taxi.
One last time, here we go. EVERY MUSICIAN CRIBS FROM THE PAST. It is what makes a song. More than anything, and believe me, after 40 years of listening, there is MORE than anything and much much more...Dylan is a blues based musician. He started out learning the chords to blues records, and in fact some of his very first recordings were playing harmonica with Big Joe Williams and Victoria Spivey. Yes, he is that old.
In blues music, there are floating verses. Hundreds of hundred-year old couplets which are reused, recycled and reapplied. In countless places and songs. Over and Over and Over again. Folk Music too...They're ancient. That's what makes them songs and that's what makes them folk. They're handed down, passed around and relearned by every single musician and singer.
One example here is Bob Dylan's "Where are You Tonight" an amazing song from 1978, one of his quote "low" points...Joni should have such low points. I count no less than three word for word cribs from Robert Johnson, bluesman extraordinaire, and I bet Greil Marcus or Michael Gray could find more. And you know what? Robert Johnson cribbed them TOO. The "juice runs down my leg" phrase was used most famously by Led Zeppelin. I guess they plagiarized as well.
Now Joni? Why don't you go write a fake Jazz album and put one of your paintings on the cover? You know...one of your original paintings of something no one has ever painted before.
Just for the record? The song is about Junk. And more. And one of the things about Dylan is that he throws out so many of his OWN ideas, nearly every sentence would equal a dozen songs from anyone else, Miss Mitchell included. And this album, one of 50 or so by Zimmerman, wasn't even a good one.
Want to know ONE musician who was original? Big Joe...He invented dissonance by hanging beer cans in front of his amplifier because he loved the buzz...and he also played a 9 string guitar.
There's a long-distance train rolling through the rain, tears on the letter I write.
There's a woman I long to touch and I'm missing her so much, but she's drifting like a satellite.
There's a neon light ablaze in a green smoky haze, and laughter down on
And a lonesome bell tone in that valley of stone where she bathed in a stream of pure heat.
Her father would emphasize you got to be more than street-wise but he practiced what he preached from the heart.
A full-blooded Cherokee, he predicted to me the time and the place that we'd part.
There's a babe in the arms of a woman in a rage
And a longtime golden-haired stripper onstage
As she winds back the clock and she turns back the page
Of a book that nobody can write.
Oh, where are you tonight?
The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it you have to explode.
In that last hour of need, we entirely agreed, sacrifice was the code of the road.
I left town at dawn, with Marcel and St. John, strong men belittled by doubt.
I couldn't tell her what my private thoughts were but she had some way of finding them out.
He took dead-center aim but he missed just the same, she was waiting,
putting flowers on the shelf.
She could feel my despair as I climbed up her hair and discovered her invisible self.
There's a lion in the room, there's a demon escaped,
There's a million dreams gone, there's a landscape being raped,
As her beauty fades and I watch her undrape,
But I won't, but then maybe again, I might.
Oh, if I could just find you tonight.
I fought with my twin, that enemy within, 'til both of us fell by the way.
Horseplay and disease is killing me by degrees while the law looks the other way.
Your partners in crime hit me up for nickels and dimes, the man you were lovin' could never get clean.
It felt outa place, my foot in his face, but he should have stayed where his money was green.
I bit into the root of forbidden fruit with the juice running down my leg.
Then I dealt with your boss, who'd never known about loss, who always was
too proud to beg.
There's a white diamond gloom on the dark side of this room and a pathway that leads up to the stars.
If you don't believe there's a price for this sweet paradise, just remind me to show you the scars.
There's a new day at dawn and I've finally arrived.
If I'm there in the morning, baby, you'll know I've survived.
I can't believe it, I can't believe I'm alive,
But without you it doesn't seem right.
Oh, where are you tonight?
A photograph of a wheelie dated 1936! Wiki dates the stunt to 1943 when members of the U.S. Motorized Calvary were shown in Life magazine performing same, but this fellow has them beat by 7 years. One day my obit will read "found earlier photograph of a wheelie." Pretty cool! See the attentive fellow standing left with his bicycle? I think he's getting ideas. Enlarge the picture and you'll see a fellow holding on to the rear bumper.
"American Legion in Cleveland" anonymous press photograph, 1936 Collection Jim Linderman
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Oh, the nights I woke at 4 am with one of these casting light over my eyelids. We are all now officially digital, I guess, having converted, installed, purchased, enrolled, connected, packaged and bundled. But there was a day when television (that is television, not "flat screen") was broadcast through the airwaves which we, as citizens of the United States, not only OWNED collectively, we shared equally. The only way to receive "higher definition" was to build your antenna taller than your neighbors. I am not complaining, even if companies can now tell exactly what you are watching and when...as the above was the previous situation. I don't really like spending $100 bucks a month for 75 channels of bilge, but then at least I can see it. That is unless you have Time Warner Cable.
Scratching Turntablist Grandmaster of them ALL Christian Marclay, the Scratch...and THIS Dude. HIp-Hop with a Comb Over in 1931!
Get me the Guinness World Record of Vinyl Records folks! Grandmaster Comb Over is in the house (and rocking the DOLL house)
William S. Burroughs was one of the first Hip-Hop artists I guess, as it appears he conjured up similar notions while junk sick one day and experimented with the technique in the 1950s. Another artist who scratched outside of the Hip-Hop Culture is Christian Marclay, who has done just about everything and anything one can imagine with a piece of vinyl and even the packages they came in, his early shows in Manhattan were wonderful events, part Hip-Hop, Part record collector and all fun. Even the late wanker Malcom McLaren figures in the mix, remember the single Buffalo Gals from 1983? But of course, it really all came from the Bronx. DJ Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore...Pure genius. I define genius as putting two things together in a new way. Like two turntables and a cross-fader. Cue it up and go backwards.
This enterprising fellow certainly beat them all to it. Most press photographs in my collection come with a caption or notes on the reverse. Sadly, it is missing from this one. All that remains to identify the photo is the date March 23, 1931. A tragedy, as we might just have here the very first Mix Master and turntablist. I'm not sure if he could Scribble, Chirp, Flare, Crab, Twiddle, Tweak, Orbit or Flare...but it sure looks like he was trying. This here is some serious scratching, but it don't look like the Bronx. The technique is the same though...a hunk of plywood with some turntables. I wonder if he ever tried to plug it into a city lamp pole?
Anonymous Press Photograph 1931 Collection Jim Linderman
John Foster edits one of the best art blogs in the country, Accidental Mysteries. He scours the world and uncovers some of the most unusual, superb and frequently jaw-dropping art being created today as well as similarly beautiful objects from the past. He must have wide open eyes, because the beauty in all manner of form, shape and material he finds is remarkable. I know how hard he works on it, and it shows. Others recognize it as well, he is approaching 1,000 followers on the site. A considerable number of important artists, collectors, writers and fans look forward to his daily discoveries and insight.
John is also well-known for his early work with vernacular photography, his collection and the accompanying catalog (which shares the name of his blog) has been exhibited in many museum shows. Additionally, John is a founder and past-president of ENVISION Folk Art of Missouri, where he also served as editor of the Journal that he produced for ten years. He is a member of the Advisory Board of The Folk Art Society of America. He is also one of the brothers I never had.
In a recent post, Foster himself is directly involved, along with art preservation organization the Kohler Foundation and Missouri State University, to save as many pieces as possible from the sculpture garden created by war hero and eccentric sculptor the late Ralph Lanning. I have cribbed only two pictures of Mr. Lanning's works, more are shown on John's site, and because many of the works were saved, hopefully one day we will be able to see many more.
Foster tells the story far better than I could. Not only were works saved from dispersal, many will be placed permanently in a sculpture garden at the university. I am sure Mr. Lanning and his wife, by John's account splendid folks indeed, would be pleased to see his inspired sculptures challenging young minds. It is a good story told by a good storyteller who excels at both finding and sharing. I suggest you add his site to your list of favorites.
A few years ago, there was a hit song by what appears to have been the last real country performers, Brooks and Dunn (shudder...even THEY would make Hank roll over in the grave, but in retrospect we didn't know how good we had it) called "Put a Girl in it" and it was great. Like all their songs, Honky Tonk enough, but pleasant and catchy so all the kids would enjoy it. The premise was that no matter what was wrong with your situation, if you put a girl in it, things would be much better. Not only were they right, I'll miss them. I suspect they are planning the first reunion tour, but i'll miss them until that. For my New York friends, Brooks and Dunn are a country duo who have sold so many records, Lady Gaga couldn't even lick their boot scootin' boots.
(A friend who sold tickets for Radio City Music Hall once told me "I can get you free tickets for ANY country act, but you'll have to pay full price for the others. At the time, NYC didn't even HAVE a country station)
When I worked in advertising (shudder again) there was seemingly a dictum that to make any ad work, all you had to do was put a monkey in it. That is, if Yogi Berra wasn't available, and HE was pretty much a monkey too now that I think about it.
"Monkey Business" original press photograph 1954 (Philadelphia) Collection Jim Linderman
Seen a picture of the Juice pretending to limp around a Florida golf course lately? NOPE! That's because he is finally in jail, serving time for trying to steal back his own autographs with a gun in the room. But at one time, he was the Bee's Knees, and I don't mean the ones he claimed he couldn't have murdered with while walking on.
Courtroom drawings are certainly the last refuge of a talented artist. No matter how great, no matter how accomplished, no matter how beautiful (like these) they will never transcend the category. They are works for hire. It is a good gig, and I am sure profitable as well. I for one abhor cameras in courtrooms, as it takes one's presumption of innocence and privacy rights and turns them into a Hollywood production. Hopefully the courtroom artist has a long, healthy career. After all, how can one be considered innocent until proven guilty if some sleazy cable network is focusing in on your sweaty upper lip and edits to show your most darting eyes and nervous tics?
Anyway, courtroom artists are indeed that, even if their talent rests somewhere between "Photo-fit facial feature" wanted posters and a sidewalk caricaturist (who'll make you look like one of the Beatles or Michael Jackson no matter what you really look like) I hope this art, however modest, avoids becoming a lost one.
Group of "Sports Memorabilia" (rather, Courtroom Drawings) Collection Jim Linderman
Suspected killer of 8 persons William E. Cook, captured in Santa Rosalia, Mexico and returned to San Diego Ca for a preliminary hearing. His tattooed hand, obviously dark enough to sufficiently startle readers, has been touched up by the photographer or photo editor prior to reproduction. An original press photograph from 1951.
"Hard Luck" Press Photograph, Anonymous, 1951 Collection Jim Linderman
Fatty Arbuckle had better watch his step. This good looking youngster from Hicksville, Ohio has a belt 6 feet long and weighs 447 pounds. Shown here at age 18, Keith Gorrell belies the notion that Americans have only gotten fat in the last few decades. From 1921, Keith was trying out for the movies but he must not have made the cut. The only article I can find on the fine fat fellow is paraphrased above, when it was big news in Hicksville. A camera crew was there to film him "lift the fore and aft of his flivver" but it looks to me like all Big Keith left behind are these three splendid portraits from the Elkhart Studios of Antwerp, Ohio.
Three original studio photographs of Keith Gorrell, 1921 Collection Jim Linderman
Watch me cram a ton of information into one post, both visual and textual! Some of you know I collect real photo postcards of folk artists at work or showing their wares, and in fact recently published a book with over a hundred illustrated. IN-SITU: American Folk Art in Place by Jim Linderman. Well, here is a splendid example of "Hand Scroll Work" by one W. H. Roach from Gretna, Virginia. I show it now for several reasons. One, the giant Fretwork prayer he carved, seen here on his right, is up for auction at the Slotin Folk Art Auction in Atlanta on May 1-2. I love Steve Slotin and his family, and am pleased to give them this little plug, as well as share the image. The actual piece is lot number 662, and a splendid item it is, especially now that I have identified the goofy maker for you all! I hope the winning bidder finds this post one day.
Secondly, I would like to point out many of the lots in the auction are incredible pieces donated by wonderful folks to benefit INTUIT, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. With an active membership and great programs, the organization deserves your support. They deserve mine too, but I'm lazy, shy and broke so this post will have to suffice. Secondly, There are also many items up for auction to benefit a scholarship in the name of the late Clay Morrison, a folk art collector and founding member of Intuit at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Both worthy causes! Slotin Auctions are fun, friendly, fast and furious...at least for the first 6 or 8 hours...and there is online bidding as well.
The First Lumberjack Festival was held in Edenville, Michigan in 1932. From the clothing and such, this photograph could be from that date or quite soon after. The event was immediately popular, attracting 10,000 folks the following year, and that's really a crowd in rural Michigan. An anonymous 8 x 10 photograph, it is one of my favorites. Imagine how the crowd sounded as these two gents, quite possibly the mayor, or some such stilted dignitary, ham it up for the crowd while the fiddlers play.
Untitled Anonymous Photograph, circa 1935 Collection Jim Linderman
Did young Lowell Root KNOW he was practicing Phillumeny? I think he was probably a Phillumenist without being aware of it. But something drew him to the graphics applied to small wooden boxes which held safety matches. Who can blame the boy? Colors, shapes, the allure of a phosphorus burst striking on the side of the box.
I found this amazing scrapbook of wooden match covers not long ago. Lowell carefully numbered each piece and stored them as well as he could. At one time, I have read, there were more match labels than there were postage stamps. Hard to believe, but then I guess you can consider which was more important in 1920, when this collection was put together...mail or fire? A toss-up.
I do not collect matchboxes. I also do not pass by an opportunity to own someone's collection of cool things. Only a few pages are shown...and some splendid individual examples I favor, including the robot, which is apparently rare and valuable enough for knock-offs to have been produced. Young Root got lucky there. As for "impregnated"...no, you can not fertilize a matchstick. The term refers to the chemicals applied to the tips. It was intended to prevent afterglow (hmm...another term which brings human relations to mind, strike a match indeed) and for some reason that was something to crow about.
The Granddaddy of all Phillumenist collections is, natch, in Japan. Take a Virtual trip through the museum HERE
Large collection of Wooden Matchbox covers, circa 1920-1930 Collection Jim Linderman
It appears Frank Wendt was originally brought in by Chas. Eisenmann as an assistant and business manager. Eventually Wendt not only took over the studio, changing times forced him to relocate to Boonton, New Jersey. He continued to photograph and produce hundreds of cabinet cards, but he was also known to reprint Eisenmann originals, on request, as customers replenished their stock. One such sitter was the beautiful young mystery actress shown here. The large portrait, by Wendt, also appears on an earlier Eisenmann card, as does the same girl in the garden pose. The third photo here, an Eisenmann photo, has not yet been found on a Wendt card, at least not by me.
A beautiful young actress...in fact possibly one of the most beautiful child actors of all, and it seems both photographers were able to capture her. But who is she?
I recently found out. Not that is helps much. On the reverse of the Eisenmann photo, a yellowed slip of paper reveals this is Edna Adams as "Little Meenie" in Rip Van Winkle. One would think a performer with the moxie to have sold at least three images of herself to admirers would be documented in the press.
What have I found? ONE lurid tale from a 1913 issue of the Pittsburgh Press. "Pretty Young Woman Says He Accused Her of Stealing Watch" which reveals the plaintiff in a lawsuit is one "highly indignant young woman, Rose Meyers, known to stageland as Edna Adams." While walking near her home, the young woman was accosted by one of three men who were standing on the corner, one of whom asked "Don't you want to go out with me" and when she paid no attention asked "Is money any object?" Miss Adams/Meyers continued walking and met her friend Walter Welfitt, also an actor, who protected her from the group. Not deterred, the crude man said "Come on, I'm on to you" and demanded the actress hand over her watch, chain and $20. Noble Mr. Welfitt "invited the stranger to remove his glasses" which resulted in an accusation that the actress had stolen his watch earlier. Apparently all charges were dropped. No row occurred...would YOU fight a man named Welfitt?
Is this the young beautiful Edna, some 15 years after these photos were taken? I believe it is. It would not be the first time a young child star falls upon hard times after growing up. I don't need to provide more contemporary examples, we've all seen them rise and fall on reality TV. More information is loaded on the web every day. We may one day know who this young woman was.
This Post also appears on the site "Wondrous World of Wendt"
Three Cabinet Cards by Frank Wendt and Charles Eisenmann, circa 1890 Collection Jim Linderman
NOTE: Our beautiful actress may have been running a scam in other places as well...a kind reader has taken the time to provide additional information:
Why would a gent load the roof of his buggy with weathervanes for the annual parade? Because he is an enterprising fellow. Even today, many of the floats in parades are supported by local business...and the Macy's day parade is such a load of corporate shill and swill, I can't even watch anymore. I suspect what we see here is an early example of a local salesman taking advantage of an opportunity to show his wares...weathervane wares. I think I see a lightning rod or two on there as well. Maybe he hoped it would make his auto faster than lightning. (Found after the book In-Situ: American Folk Art in Place was published, but it would have fit right in)
Original Snapshot, circa 1920? Collection Jim Linderman
Today's "book review from the past" is in fact an artist review and it isn't from the past, as David Bates is doing quite well. The first time I saw a David Bates painting was at the Whitney Biennial in 1987 where it stuck out from the conceptual art like a big red mistake-smashed thumb. I don't remember what it was called, but it depicted a HUGE square-jawed Goober in a red flannel shirt, a logger I think, or a fisherman, with giant gobs of oil paint slopped on actual canvas. He was holding a fish in each hand which looked like they came out of a radioactive pond, and Gomer seemed proud, curious, ashamed and, well...real all at the same time. I remember it making the whole place smell of paint. It was like painting had returned somehow to an art museum. In my mind still it sits between Marsden Hartley and Red Grooms and they are both looking up at it grinning. I show it here from a catalog I own, when I bailed out of my three-story walk-up, I wasn't feeling too well and left many of the books behind. But I did box up all my David Bates catalogs.
So among the new-wave and Guerrilla Girls and theorists and critics and Eurocentric noses hung this bigass chunk of solid Southern American Regional blurt. And I loved it.
I have followed his work ever since. I briefly owned a print he made from his early days in Texas, it was a splendid 6 color lithograph of his fishing guide or friend titled "Blue Heaven" and I wish I hadn't sold it two decades ago to meet a month's rent during the summer I was drying out. But things come and go.
David Bates is a long way from that show, but he hasn't changed much. There is a consistent body of goofy glorious work. He'll move from painting to wood to iron then back to canvas and they'll all look the same. He's done a ton of beautiful southern plants, each dripping sweet and fresh...his ham fists make an iris look clumsy and beautiful all at once. Who says painting should be delicate? His is honest, direct and bold as a fat loud neighbor but far from simple.
I have never figured out the relationship Bates has with folk art or primitives. The work is 100% sincere and faux nothing. While frontal and direct, it seems to come more from the type of person he is portraying than any strategy, technique or trick. Honest work by honest folks. And despite the often "over-friendly" simple things he paints, there is no satire or irony. Real is good, and for 25 years David Bates has painted real good.
It is a curious thing to stop one moment and realize you have had a "favorite artist" for two decades. It is also nice to have a small, tiny forum in which to share it. I once realized there were about only three things I have kept from my drunk days...Dylan, George Jones and David Bates. A back-handed compliment, but it is the truth. The gentleman above with the perfect guitar is a bonus, Johnny Shines, a blues singer who crooned and quivered like a bird. A few years ago I was able to go to an opening of his work and meet Bates briefly... he had moved uptown since I used to see his shows at Charles Cowles Gallery in Soho. He was kind and a gentleman but nervous in a suit. I think he would be more comfortable in a flannel shirt.
Dull Tool Dim Bulb BOOKS HERE