Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Sacrifice of the Jaguar Baby

One of many astounding vases from the Mayan kingdom by an unknown but brilliant ancient artist. Recently, an exhibition of the Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya was held here in San Francisco. It was not widely publicized but I imagine that those who attended early soon whispered to their friends: "This is something you must see." The exhibition was crowded, people gathering around to see the masks of the old Mayan kings and queens.

One small cylinder in particular (second link in the link above) I loved. The scene shows a reclining king, indolent, with ghastly long fingernails. Surrounding him are his court attendants, painted dwarfs and hunchbacks whom the Mayan royalty had a fondness for. The scene is gorgeous and surreal, both a painting from a work of fantasy and yet a frozen looking-glass into the past. I also love how the small green dwarf seems to be holding up a huge mirror for the king. Mirrors were consulted as Oracles. The nearby pots are full of chocolate, the drink of the Mayan court (and one of many things then unavailable to the kings of Europe.)

There are more vase paintings here. Most are drawn from the larger Kerr collection here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Most people are surprised when they first see the photograph of Lee Miller taking a bath in Hitler's bathtub. It's an outstanding photo but whats going on here? Who exactly is Lee Miller?

Miller was born in Poughkeepsie New York and went on to become a well-known model for Vogue magazine. Here's some pictures of her and you can see that she was a classic beauty. Among many other firsts, she was the first woman to appear in a feminine hygiene ad.

Not content to be behind the camera, she next entered the world of photography. She lived with and collaborated with the more well-known photographer Man Ray. She entered the world of the Surrealists and was soon one of their Muses. Jean Cocteau was inspired by her and so was Duchamp. Picasso made a painting of her, the odd Portrait of Lee Miller

She became a wartime photographer for Life Magazine. She was the first photographer to document the use of napalm. She was in Europe when the Allies made their advance and entered Hitler's apartment. It is there that she disrobed and took a bath in Hitlers bathtub, photographed by one of her colleagues.

Later, she married the well-known Surrealist and art patron Roland Penrose and settled down in Britain. Her son later wrote a biography of her and has been exhibiting a collection of her works

She had two brothers, younger brother Erik and older brother John. John had independently made a name for himself as a pioneer aviator. He was a test pilot and the first man to fly an autogiro, preceding Amelia Earhart's flight. Here's an article about him in Aviation History magazine

I first heard the name Lee Miller when I was about eight years old. I was at the house of my childhood friend Matt (He and I are still close friends; My parents consider him an extra son) and I noticed black and white photographs of this striking woman on the wall.
"Who is she?" I asked.
"Oh, thats my great-aunt Lee. She's my Grandpa John's sister." He replied
I probably just absently nodded my head.

Friday, January 21, 2005


I've never been one to carry cameras around. If you know me then you also know that I do not like to have my picture taken. In family gatherings I will volunteer to be the picture-taker so that I can escape the eye of the camera.

A few weeks ago I got a kyocera, a tiny thing you can hold in one hand and shove into a pocket but which takes both pictures and movies. I think I was also enchanted with how the entire thing twists in half to position the lens. It reminds me at least of those transforming gadgets and toys.

Since then, I've taken it out only once in a while to snap a photo. I've posted a few above. From left to right, top to bottom, they are: A building on Market St, Odd people at a bus stop in the Mission, PapaToby's - a cafe I am often at, DJs Sensei and Phelan playing at a friend's birthday party, Me, My shoes, A couple shots of friends Pyotr and Lisa.

Sometimes, oddly enough, I'll just look through the lens at the world around me without ever pushing the button that captures the image. For a moment, I'm enjoying the world as it is seen through a lens without feeling the need to then take that image home with me. It is like leaning over on a beach to wonder at a shell without feeling you have to pocket it and later mount it on some shelf. Is it a theft? Is it a fight against the ephemeral?

Saturday, January 15, 2005


It is not uncommon of me not to hear from my friend Paul for stretches of time. He and I met in college and have stayed close friends, also living together in Manhattan for a while. Last year, he moved to Hong Kong and we dont keep in touch as much as we used to. When the Tsunami hit I didnt really think of checking up on him since I figured it was safe.

And just now, I learned that he was actually on the beach in Phuket when the Tsunami hit!! He and his girlfriend barely escaped with their lives, only through a series of miracles.

One of the difficult things for me during all the news stories about this has been how to make this all real. To hear 150,000 people died does not make it real and I have no way of feeling connected to the event. It seems too much like an abstraction.

Hearing that one of my closest friends barely escaped and hearing his story left me with a renewed sense of helplessnes but also gave me a small glimpse of the enormous and inhuman tragedy which just occured.

You cant take the story of two survivors and multiply it by thousands. You just can't. We were not meant for this. Our hearts would explode. Still, this has all really brought it home for me. finally.

Here's an excerpt:

it was hard to think to do anything. not that we could, except just hold tight and try to stay upright and not get sucked into the muck. and the waters were rising faster, we floating in it until our heads hit the ceiling, and we had 8 inches of air to breathe like the movies. it was getting darker, and i then started telling my girlfriend and myself, we're going to die here, we're going to die here. as if preparing ourselves for the inevitable as the waters were inching higher. i was trying to remember the orientation of where the glass doors had been so we could dive under the waters and try to get out. and then we were still there at 8 inches to the ceiling for what seemed a small eternity.


we limped up to the road, and then we could hear the screaming and wailing of people that had just made it, had just lost loved ones, were just starting to realize what had happened, and now were watching as other waves were approaching. small clumps of people by the road now started to panic and run up into the hills. we followed, barefoot, in our underwear, feeling like aboriginal natives running into the jungle. i could hardly put weight on my leg, and the blood was coming down in small spurts as my flesh split from my tourniquets with the movement.

You can read more here under "Personal Account" and also see photos of his hospital stay.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Instant Message

14:04:01 R.: She turned her sullen mouth now to the discussion of meaningless matters with Count Banubula, who bowed and swung as gallantly as Scobie's green parrot ducking on its perch.
14:04:12 Me: ;)
14:04:28 Me: l like that quote
14:04:42 R: i am making you re-read it a sentence at a time.
14:05:14 R: yes, it is poetry, Durrell's prose, rich and dense
14:05:30 Me: i think thats my new weblog tagline
14:06:04 Me: which book is that from?
14:06:15 R.: Balthazar
14:06:44 R.: page 49 of the Penguin paperback
14:07:18 R.: Clea gets some of the best lines.
14:09:46 R.: it is great to re-read the quartet. i dreamed it would be and it is. anticipating the overlapping meanings and with enough forgetten details keeping it fresh.
14:10:09 Me: its the kind of book that is better on a re-read
14:10:25 Me: the first time you are too consumed with trying to figure out what is going on
14:10:39 Me: the next times, you can just enjoy the words and descriptions
14:10:44 R.: although so beautiful

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Photos I'd like to take:

Walking into a theatre after a movie has started. The movie is brightly playing on the screen. Look back toward the audience and you can see that their faces are all lit up with a whitish glow. But, look at their expressions! If it is a comedy, they will have the same joy and laughter on their faces as if they were with close friends or as if they were children. Or, you will see the fear on their faces, the skepticism or the wide-eyed expression of enchanted belief. An entire sea of faces but each with private expressions. I saw this once when entering a theatre late and that is a picture I'd like to take.

You have been walking through a forest and twilight arrives. The earth and the trees are losing their outlines. In fact, the trees are becoming the earth, the earth becoming the trees. The world feels intangible. Colors have disappeared and the faint light only leaves patches of gray. Ideally, this would be a black and white photograph. I havent seen one yet that captures twilight close to how it is experienced or felt, as a dissolved world.

You are invited to a small party of friends and it has gone on late. People have made that movement from awkward small conversations to the private banter of isolated groups and now it has reached the moment where the entire party of people all feels connected but fluid. Every word spoken, step taken now happens within the context of the group and in any captured photograph during these moments it is apparent that what is happening is that everyone in the photo is in tune, as if they are all listening to the same music. Each element, each glance or laugh is a mirror, a reflection of a choreographed dance.