The Red Electric Bicycle

January 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

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so much depends
upon

a red electric
bicycle

parked for lunch
deliveries

beside the green
shed.

Written with deference to William Carlos Williams. (I took this photo last year in Shanghai.)

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Sites of New York

January 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

New York. The City that Never Sleeps. The Big Apple. The Melting Pot. The Capitol of the World. The Center of the Universe.

I’ve never been there, but it’s on my bucket list. I want to see first-hand the diversity, the culture, and the people.

Until then, I’ve got the Internet.

Most of you have heard of Humans of New York, the wildly popular photoblog and book created by Brandon Stanton. It’s a captivating collection of portraits and stories. In the video below, Stanton talks about the appeal of his work:

I think, you know, we walk down the street and we see all these people and we kind of wonder about their stories, the celebrations and the victories, and that’s what people are engaging with.

Humans of New York got me thinking. What other of-New-Yorks are there out there?

Here’s what I came up with:

Voices of New York (CUNY)
“The best journalistic work being produced by scores of community and ethnic publications,” curated by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. It currently is featuring such stories as “Diversity in Korean Language Schools,” “Remembering the Earthquake in Haiti,” and “Guyanese Artist Tells an Immigrant’s Story.”

Voices of New York (NYU)
This site, from New York University, is an archive of findings from the Fall 2001 students of the class The Language of America’s Ethnic Minorities. It’s a look at how distinct language groups in New York are being maintained or being lost. From “The Irish,” here are Nicole Feder and Chiene Joy Jones:

Coming off the train in Woodside, we had all kinds of fixed notions of what a typical Irish person would look like and how they would act. While sitting in the subway car Chiene turned to Nicole and said, “I bet he’s Irish, lets ask him if he is going to Woodside.” We played into those stereotypes of pale skin, reddish hair, light eyes, and drinking all the time. Feeling ridiculous for making such speculations, we decided not to ask and eventually reached our destination. While in Woodside we met several people fitting into various categories of the stereotypes. It wasn’t until we walked into an Indian owned Deli that I realized how easy it would be to categorize people. When we asked the owner why he had so many Irish products in his store, he replied, “You should know better than I, you’re Irish. . . .”

The Many Languages of New York City
In 2012, Arun Venugopal of WNYC reported that only 51% of New Yorkers are English-only speakers at home. A graph in the article shows the languages that are spoken. Another set of graphics, from Andy Keirsz at Business Insider last year, shows a map of the most-spoken languages in New York (“Here’s the Most Commonly Spoken Language in Every New York Neighborhood that Isn’t English or Spanish“).

Endangered Languages of New York
The New York based Endangered Language Alliance is “the only organization in the world focused on the immense linguistic diversity of urban areas,” including the 800 spoken in New York, many of which are at risk of extinction.

Bookstores of New York
Last Year cartoonist Bob Eckstein of The New Yorker shared his drawings of his favorite bookstores in the city, along with anecdotes from store keepers. Of Three Lives & Company he writes, “Any time a book is bought, the entire shelf must be reordered, since no books of the same colored spine may be adjacent, lest they appear erroneously as a set.” And just as New York has its endangered languages, so it has its threatened bookstores. “The Endangered Bookstores of New York,” is the title of Eckstein’s followup collection.

Museums of New York
From ny.com, here’s a long, though probably not exhaustive, list of the city’s museums. But if you want THE Museum of New York, you’ll need to go the Museum of the City of New York, where you can see exhibits such as Péter Forgács’ Letters to Afar, an art installation made from home movies filmed by Jewish immigrants who traveled back to Poland in the years preceding the Holocaust.

Loneliness of New York
In a city of 8,336,615 people, you can be “lonely, but never alone.”

Doors of New York
Graphic designer Allan Markan has collected images of doorways in the city and published them in the book Door Jams: Amazing Doors of New York City. You can see samples of his images at his website. They are pretty amazing.

Windows of New York
Another graphic designer, Jose Guizar, has put together his illustrations of windows in the city that have caught his attention. Colorful and creative.

Parades of New York
Here’s a list of NYC parades arranged by month, from MustSeeNewYork. Coming up next on the calendar, The Lunar New Year Parade.

And last, but not least . . .

Streets of New York
I thought this was just a movie, like Gangs of New York, but it’s a pizza, pasta, and sub restaurant. Mmmmmmm. I can already taste those authentic flavors of NYC, located a convenient 2,400 or so miles from Times Square . . . in Arizona and Nevada. (It took me a while to figure out the location. The fact that they serve “the official pizza of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns” was my first clue.)

Two Ladies Step into the Slums of India . . . and Find Stories to Tell

October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Here’s my entry for the “first-world problems” meme: I accidentally left my copy of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers outside overnight. The next morning the pages were swollen from getting wet and I had to throw the dust jacket away.

Woe is me.

If you’ve read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, you’d recognize the irony.

Katherine Boo

Boo’s National Book Award-winning work, published in 2012, is the true story of the people of Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, India, where ruined dust jackets are the least of their worries. Most of the characters barely scratch out their livings, many by sorting through trash and selling what they can. All are struggling against the surroundings they’ve inherited. There’s Abdul, a teenage garbage picker who supports his family. There’s Asha, who aspires to be a slumlord, and her daughter, Manju, who hopes to become Annawadi’s first female to graduate from college. There’s Abdul’s neighbor, Fatima, a one-legged woman who sets herself on fire, blaming Abdul and his family for her pain. Abdul, his father, and sister are arrested.

Sometimes trying to scratch out a living isn’t enough. Fatima dies from her injuries. Kalu, a young scrap-metal thief is murdered. And Meena, the first girl born in the slum, commits suicide by drinking rat poison.

Boo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her work in the Washington Post, was introduced to India by her Indian husband. As she writes in her “Author’s Note,” “I fell in love with an Indian man and gained a country. He urged me not to take it at face value.”

That she did not do. Instead, she moved to India and chose to dive into the gritty life of Anawadi, asking questions of what and why and how and what now . . . and listening to the many answers.

Before her move, she wondered if she could handle life in India, particularly spending time in the slums. During one night alone in Washington, D.C., she made up her mind:

Tripping over an unabridged dictionary, I found myself on the floor with a punctured lung and three broken ribs in a spreading pool of Diet Dr Pepper, unable to slither to a phone. In the hours that passed, I arrived at a certain clarity. Having proved myself ill-suited to safe cohabitation with an unabridged dictionary, I had little to lose by pursuing my interests in another quarter—a place beyond my so-called expertise, where the risk of failure would be great but the interactions somewhat more meaningful.

Listen to how she begins the story of what she found in Annawadi:

Lana Šlezić

Lana Šlezić is an award-winning freelance photographer who was born in Canada to Croatian parents. For two years she lived in Afghanistan, documenting with her camera the abuse of women there. The result is the book, Forsaken: Afghan Women.

But, she writes at lanaslezic.com, living in Afghanistan “was peanuts compared to raising kids.”

She says the birth of her first child brought an “emotional upheaval” that was “extraordinary.” When her son was just six weeks old, mom, dad, and baby boy moved to New Delhi. Then, less than two years later, their daughter arrived.

[E]very time I left our home in Delhi to drive across the city—my own children singing or crying or screaming in the back seat—without fail, I would see street kids while waiting at a traffic light. They were everywhere on every street corner and in every neighbourhood. At car windows they knocked relentlessly and if not asking directly for money then offering something in exchange—a dance, balloons, matches, plastic flowers, inflated airplanes, anything for a few rupees. It nagged at me but I had not the emotional nor physical energy to do anything but sigh and lean back into my seat. An inexplicable feeling of impossibility sat like vinegar in my stomach and started to turn me inside out so that my heart actually became visible. Friends told me I was grumpy.

So in December 2011 when I was wandering around Old Delhi—eyes wide open, conflicted heart in hand, mother of two with all the love that brings and a little less exhausted—I walked through a gate and onto a dirt field. It was a park, though not like any park I had known as a child. . . .

Šlezić was captured by what she experienced . . . children playing in the dirt, children showing her their homes amid the squalor, children talking about life and death. She returned again and again, listening to their stories, playing with them, and taking photos, lots of photos. Out of this she produced “A Walk in the Park,” a collection of striking documentary-style photographs as well as portraits of the children. You can see a gallery of her photos online, and you can view a set of nine portraits as well, each accompanied by a short story told in the child’s own words.

You can also watch the two videos below, which serve as sort of “trailers” for her project. As you can see, because of privacy settings, you’ll have to click the image and then click again to start them on Vimeo. What a bummer. That’s two clicks when one really should be enough.

Woe is me.

(Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Random House, 2012; Lana Slezic, “A Walk in the Park: Artist’s Statement,” lanaslezic.com)
[photo: “Pipe Play 2,” by Meena Kadri, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Vibrant Palette of Our World

February 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

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For those of you caught in the whites and greys of a brutal winter, know that the bright colors of spring will be here soon.

But until then, just to tide you over, here are two reminders of how colorful our world can be.

If Your City Were Covered by Post-it Notes

When I use a Post-it Note—usually canary yellow—it’s most often to remind me about something I need to do, such as make a phone call, pick up a gallon of milk, or schedule a doctor’s appointment. But with the introduction of its “Colors of the World” collection, 3M wants to remind us of places we’d like to be.

Each grouping of five complementary colors—sort of like those chips from the paint store—represents one of four cities from around the globe: Bangkok, Mykonos, New York City, and Rio de Janeiro.

As reported in a 3M press release, fashion stylist Brad Goreski, serving as Post-it Brand’s “color ambassador,” says,

Trends in fashion, design and pop culture are taking on more global influence, and of course, one thing that’s always in style is color. I am consistently inspired whenever I travel, and I love seeing how the Post-it Brand Colors of the World collection brings the hues from four very chic destinations to life, offering a color scheme inspired by the energy of these places.

It’s an interesting idea: What colors would your city be?

For a chance to win a trip to New York, enter Post-it’s City Escape Sweepstakes. Just create a name for one of the colors in the collection and write a short essay telling what it means to you in relation to the city it represents (or you can submit a photo or video instead). If I’m reading the rules correctly, the trips will be awarded by a random drawing, but the best entries can also be used in future promotions.

If Color Grabs Your Camera Lens

For another colors-based contest, go to Project World Colors. It’s a photo blog started and curated by world travelers and bloggers Naomi Hattaway and Anne Lowrey. Each month they announce a new color, share their own images, and invite other bloggers to craft their own posts based on that hue. Then, near the end of the month, they pick a blogger to feature (that’s the prize—sorry, no trip), and they also share a post from a guest contributor.

For instance, this month the color is red. The post from the featured blogger is at “Project #Worldcolors 2014, a Red February” at It’s Lynny Kansas. The guest contributor is Annie Griffiths, award-winning photojournalist and founder of Ripple Effect Images, which “document[s] the plight of poor women and girls around the world and highlight[s] the programs that are helping to empower them.”

PWC offers guidelines for participation and shares the following enthusiastic invitation:

We invite you to participate in a photo blogging collaboration that celebrates the places that color shows up in our lives and across the web. . . . The goal is to delve into the texture, the beauty and the diversity that color can bring in different parts of the world. Come play with us!

[photo: “Textiles in Souq,” by Katie and Michael, used under a Creative Commons license]

Eyes: LensCrafters Commercial Gives Us a Closer Look

February 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

It didn’t cause quite the stir that Coke’s “America the Beautiful” in eight languages did, but LensCrafter’s new-this-week “Anthem” commercial also represents the mosaic of humanity. Instead of using voices, the eye-care company (as you might expect) uses eyes.

All people should have somebody who will, at some time or another, look deeply into their eyes.

While we’re on the subject of eyes . . .

Award-winning photojournalist Steve McCurry posts photos, grouped by theme, at his blog. For a collection of amazing photographs of eyes, interspersed with quotations and comments, go to his post from last July, “Eloquence of the Eye.”

You probably didn’t know . . .

  • The human eye is less than one inch in diameter and weighs only around 1/4 ounce.
  • Each blink closes the eye for 0.3 seconds. That totals about 30 minutes a day.
  • An eye has over 100 million photoreceptors (rods and cones).
  • 285 million people in the world are visually impaired, meaning they are blind or have moderate or severe impairment.
  • Blind people in the world number 39 million. 82% of them are over the age of 50.
  • The visually impaired in developing countries account for about 90% of the world’s total.
  • Preventions and cures are possible for 80% of visual impairment in the world.

(“NEI Calendar,” National Eye Institute; “Visual Impairment and Blindness, Fact Sheet No. 282,” World Health Organization, October 2013)

Hyper Realism: A Russian Farmer Lands an Esquire Cover and a Trip to New York

October 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

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Evan Penny’s Old Self, Variation #2, an example of hyper-realistic art

Ever since, as a child, I saw Duane Hanson’s lifelike sculpture Janitor at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I’ve loved hyper-realistic art. Then last month, when I visited Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art, in Bentonville, Arkansas, I was surprised to see another Hanson work, Man on a Bench. (I really was surprised, since it looked for all the world like a museum visitor taking a break from his tour.) And in a room close by, there was an oversized bust by Evan Penny, Old Self, Variation #2. Unlike with Hanson’s pieces, no one will mistake Old Self for an actual person—it’s only a head with shoulders, and it’s way too big. But still, it just looks so real.

Martin Schoeller is another artist in the same vein, except he doesn’t exactly create hyper realism, he captures it—with a camera. Born in Germany, but now based out of New York, Schoeller is best known for his “hyper-detailed” large-scale portraits of celebrities, which have appeared in magazines such as GQ, The New Yorker, and Entertainment Weekly.

But his photographic subjects also include common people, like you and me. In fact, if you’d like to see what you’d look like in a Schoeller portrait, next time you’re in Bed Bath & Beyond, do like I did and take a look at yourself in the 10x-magnification of the Zadro Dimmable Florescent Dual-Sided Mirror. (That’s hyper realism.)

Schoeller recently took a cover photo for Esquire Russia of Vasiliy Ilyn, a retired farmer from Russia, who’s featured in this month’s magazine. Ilyn is one of Schoeller’s non-celebrity subjects, as the September Esquire is devoted to the rules that govern the lives of ordinary Russians.

For three days, Ilyn was something more than ordinary, as he was flown to New York for the photo shoot. His encounter with the city is chronicled in the 20-minute film Vasily, from Stereotactic. (Thanks to Carla Williams for telling me about the video.)

The film shows Ilyn’s first trip outside the Kursk region of Russia, his first time to see the ocean, and, of course, his first visit to America. As he looks around New York, he’s a fish out of water, but he’s an ordinary fish. And I’m not sure that his reactions are much different from those many retired farmers in the flyover portions of the US would have.

Ilyn narrates the documentary, and he has a lot to say about Russia, the US, and life in general. He thinks of himself as a joker, but much of what he says shows a solemn acceptance of the way things are. He’s pretty straightforward and plain spoken. At one point, while talking about his disdain for past Russian leaders, Ilyn drops an F-bomb. Actually, it’s more of an F-hand grenade since we read it in the subtitles.

When he gets back to his home, he tells a woman about the 80,000 Russians who live in New York. “I wish a flood would come and they would die,” she says. “Let the locals survive, but these traitors should die.”

Ilyn replies, “They were just looking for a better life. . . . Let them go.”

Shoeller’s type of hyper-realism doesn’t come from a lack of preparation and artistic manipulation. The lighting and focus has to be just right, and there’s a lot of time spent on Ilyn’s makeup. But the result is striking for its unglamorized detail.

That’s the way the documentary looks to me, too. I can tell a lot of work went into the making of Vasily, but it’s that work—the shot selection, the editing, the scoring of the music—that makes it feel more real . . . much more real than what usually passes for “reality” on TV today.

(“Russian Farmer Lands in Esquire and NYC,” Voices of NY, October 15, 2013)

[photo: “Old Self, Variation #2” by Nils Gore, used under a Creative Commons license]

Slavery Didn’t End with the Civil War

May 17, 2013 § 4 Comments

7946241182_2eddb17379_mThere are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history. In fact, estimated at 20-30 million, the current number of people enslaved in forced labor is well more than the 13.5 million people taken from Africa during the 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

The ballooning numbers of human trafficking is the subject of J. J. Gould’s article, “Slavery’s Global Comeback,” published in The Atlantic this past December. Gould not only covers the statistics but looks at the definitions and perceptions concerning slavery as well as abolitionist movements throughout history.

While, on the one hand, the numbers are worse than they’ve ever been, Gould also sees a reason for muted optimism: Because of the increase in the world’s overall population, the percentage of people currently enslaved is at an all-time low, and the $30-45 million generated by slavery annually is the smallest-ever portion of the global economy. This, along with a growing global intolerance for human trafficking, makes Gould wonder if the current situation is nearing a tipping point for a new abolition movement.

The Faces of Slavery
Slavery takes many forms around the globe, and photographer Lisa Kristine has spent the past two years documenting them with her camera. Kristine first became aware of the scope of human trafficking when, at an exhibit, she met a representative of Free the Slaves. Since then, her subjects have included slaves in the brick kilns of Nepal and India who carry bricks on their heads for 16 to 17 hours every day; children hauling sheets of slate from quarries in the Himalayas; sex slaves in Kathmandu; families in Uttar Pradesh enslaved coloring silk in vats of toxic dye; an estimated 4,000 children forced into fishing on Lake Volta in Ghana; and people forced to pan for gold in water poisoned with mercury, as well as miners and those who crush the stones from the mines, looking for gold, also in Ghana.

You can see her photos and hear her stories in the following TEDtalk. She ends her presentation by showing photographs she took of slaves holding candles she had given them, symbolically “shining a light” on their tragic circumstances. She says,

They knew their image would be seen by you out in the world. I wanted them to know that we will be bearing witness to them. And that we will do whatever we can to help make a difference in their lives. I truly believe, if we can see one another as fellow human beings, then it becomes very difficult to tolerate atrocities like slavery.

Not Just “Over There”
For those of us in the West, we need to realize that forced labor is not a problem limited only to the rest of the world. As present-day abolitionists are quick to point out, while slavery is illegal all over the world, it is also present all over the world. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 1.5 million people in forced labor in “Developed Economies” (including the United States) and the European Union.

The movie, I Am Slave, gives a glimpse of the kind of slavery that is hidden in plain sight in the West. Inspired by the real-life story of Mende Nazer, it tells of a girl, Malia, stolen from her home in Sudan and forced to work for a family in London. The deeply moving film is advertised as a thriller, but it is less thrilling than it is frightening—frightening for “Malia Al-Noor, daughter of Bah Al-Noor, champion wrestler” . . . in her tribe, a princess . . . in London, a slave—and frightening for us all, as well.

Produced by Altered Image FilmsI Am Slave aired on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2010. It is available online in the UK at 4oD and can be rented for streaming at Netflix (viewer discretion, for “violence and some strong language”).

(J. J. Gould, “Slavery’s Global ComebackThe Atlantic, December 19, 2012; “ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour,” International Labour Organization, June 1, 20102)

[photo: “Yr hudol eiliad olaf—Ynys-las,” by Rhisiart Hincks, used under a Creative Commons license]

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