Susan Sontag. Photo: New York Times Co./Archive Photos/Getty/Courtesy of HBO
What has happened to the public intellectual? When Susan Sontag died in 2004, after losing her third battle with cancer, it seemed as though not only a majestic woman but a twentieth century tradition had died. Who in public life now has Sontag’s uncompromising verve, her endless curiosity, her willingness to plunge headlong into both intellectual theory and artistic practice?
Granted, during her lifetime Sontag could be the butt of jokes—and she could also be a bit of a pain. Her name was often invoked as a byword for “something intellectual you probably don’t understand,” used in movies from Bull Durham to Gremlins 2. She was tone-deaf after 9/11, insisting the hijackers had legitimate cause. Even the writer Wayne Koestenbaum, one of her most ardent fans, admits that “she represents grandiosity, I think, and it is a little comic…because it seems a bit of a pose.”
That quote, and many other revealing ones about Sontag, occur in Nancy Kates’ fascinating HBO documentary Regarding Susan Sontag (debuting Monday December 8), where we find out a lot about Sontag as both public figure and private individual. We learn about her huge intellectual appetite, her ambivalence about being gay and Jewish, and the beauty that made everyone from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Andy Warhol want to photograph her.
For those of us not directly caught up in war, it’s easy to think it as something distant and isolated, an abstraction of bomb blasts, tanks and tents. Of course, though, war is anything but impersonal. Especially in our new century, it often takes place in populated areas and involves substantial collateral damage. Towns are razed, innocents killed, and survivors left with a burden of trauma and guilt.
Knowing this, the best photographers approach war as a human-interest story. It’s an uncomfortable truth that war photography has flourished in the last two decades, with a generation of sensitive young photographers taking the baton from their celebrated predecessors. Among the best are people like Marcus Bleasdale, Paolo Pellegrin, Peter van Agtmael and Tim Hetherington—all of whose work is featured in the moving new book and exhibition, A Form of Love.
The title comes from a quote by writer Sebastian Junger, known for his collaborations with Tim Hetherington. “The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly,” Junger writes. Indeed, in these images we see evidence of soldiers’ love, both in quiet moments and at tragic junctions where they’re trying to save each others’ lives.
Vivian Maier’s photography has had a seismic effect on the art world since it was discovered a few years ago. The poignant story behind the work enhances its appeal: Maier was one of the finest street photographers of the mid-twentieth century, yet she kept her work hidden and died in poverty. In fact, she worked as a nanny for her entire career, living with a succession of suburban families and becoming increasingly eccentric. Her employers knew her as a shutterbug, but it was only after her death that the amazing quality and breadth of her work was discovered.
Maier’s photography, and her fascinating story, would never have come to light if not for John Maloof, a young Chicagoan who happened across a trunk of her negatives at a local auction house. In the absorbing new documentary Finding Vivian Maier, Maloof traces the story of his find, and the obsessive quest he went on to solve the mystery behind the treasure trove of images Maier left behind.
The film, which is both unsettling and delightful, offers a compelling, bittersweet portrait of a very complicated woman. A veritable Mary Poppins figure to some of the children she worked with, Maier was abusive to others. She was extremely wary of men, in a way that suggested she might have been abused herself. Often she refused to give her name and occupation to people, referring to herself as “the mystery woman” or “a kind of spy.”
From Godfrey Reggio’s VISITORS. Courtesy of: Cinedigm
Featuring a stream of up-close human faces (and one preternaturally inquisitive gorilla), against a stark black backdrop, Godfrey Reggio’s striking, trancelike new feature is in some sense a continuation of his Qatsi
(1988) and Naqoyqatsi
(2002). Spearheaded by Reggio, an indisputable cine-poet, in collaboration with the venerable avant-garde composer Philip Glass, it brings to mind the undeniable power of an unremitting gaze.
Glass’s unmistakable score serves as something far beyond the emotional punctuation we’ve come to expect from film music, instead providing a sparring partner to the images that Reggio describes as a kind of dance. “He’s writing a full symphonic score that covers the entire length and breadth of the film; Philip in effect provides the emotive narrative. His music doesn’t illustrate the image while its proceeding on a separate track – its like a dance partner, each partner has to create their own individuality, but together they make the trot, you can’t do one without the other.”
Their collaboration dates back to late-seventies, when Reggio was intent on pursuing the then little-known Glass to score his debut feature, Koyaanisqatsi
. “He was a genius in my opinion, but he wasn’t acknowledged or accepted at that point. His music is polyrhythmic, it doesn’t illustrate anything, and it’s totally cinematic, you almost can’t miss how to edit it.
James Hansen in 2012 by Josh Lopez / Bill McKibben by Steve Liptay
If any individual deserves credit above all others for raising public awareness about the dangers of fossil fuel reliance, it might be Dr. James Hansen, who has been studying the issue intensely since the mid-seventies. He became the first scientist to testify about global warming in front of Congress 25 summers ago. And if there’s anyone who has taken bold steps in response to such warnings, it is the writer/activist Bill McKibben, who has helped organize a global network to rally support for addressing the problem.
Both men have the arrest records to prove their dedication to the climate fight, so PLANET was interested in gaining their personal reactions to the summer that has so far seen boldface climate-related developments on a number of fronts. The season began with the first measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide in excess of 400 parts per million, as recorded by NOAA researchers stationed in Hawaii. It also brought perhaps the most concrete plan of action yet by a sitting U.S. president to address the issue. Whether you’ve spent this summer of 400 ppm in the tornado-afflicted Great Plains, the fire-ravaged West, the rain-soaked Southeast, or under the oppressive heat dome that has covered much of the rest of the country, the news is bound to resonate.
Roeder House, Fire Island Pines, NY, 1969. Architect Horace Gifford.
Between 1962, just a few years after he left school, and 1992, when he died, architect Horace Gifford built forty modern houses on Fire Island, the sandy sliver of land that buffers Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean. A new book by Christopher Bascom Rawlins, Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction, recognizes his legacy.
Fire Island, a 31-mile long stretch of ungroomed white beaches and wild grasses that, at its widest points, is not even three miles wide, is a fragile landscape, vulnerable to storms and erosion, with minimal infrastructure. Most areas are connected with boardwalks and have no roads, and are reached from the mainland most easily by ferry. This unique geography fosters tight, intimate communities, and over the decades the island has been a vibrant haven for artists and for gay men and women. In the summer its population swells with day-trippers and revelers.
Gifford’s houses, modestly scaled and terrifically stylish, suit both the place and the people. They’re constructed from the same mundane materials that suburban wood frame houses are, but rendered in sophisticated modern forms.
click for slideshow
“Photography invaded my life,” Sebastião Salgado says during a TED speech on Genesis
. An activist and former economist, Salgado’s demeanor is telling of the forty years he’s dedicated to capturing and witnessing the world’s most devastating tragedies. In 1994, Salgado was in Rwanda, documenting the genocide of the Tutsi, which would later be published in Migrations
(2000). It was this that led Salgado to crave a project where his focus was not the tragedy of humanity, but instead, the beauty of this planet. The result is Genesis
, his most recent and, he says, final project as a photographer.
Published by Taschen, Genesis is the result of approximately thirty trips on foot, light aircraft, boats, canoes, and hot air balloons over almost a decade. Some may view Genesis as a tangent to Salgado’s previous work, however, Salgado states that his mission has not varied and is instead simply approaching the same message from the opposite end.
It is a remarkably positive statement for a photographer who has spent his life following devastation. Biblical landscapes and portraits of those unadulterated by modern society span a mammoth 520 pages, voicing the beauty that still exists on our planet. According to Salgado, “Forty-six percent of the planet is still as it was in the time of genesis”.
Nathan and Robyn, 2012, Provincetown, MA
PLANET previously introduced Bus Travelers
by Richard Renaldi, a series of work that encapsulates Renaldi’s fascination with people and their idiosyncrasies. Taking this fascination further, Renaldi has been working on a project since 2007 that explores what would happen if two complete strangers were asked to physically interact with each other for a portrait. Taking the subjects out of their comfort zone, the strangers would stand intimately, while Renaldi disappeared behind an 8 x 10 large format camera. Thus began, Touching Strangers
, Renaldi’s newest body of work.
Photography is often seen as a one man show but in Renaldi’s case, this is hardly true. The series is yet to be finished however, and relies on backers like yourself to publish the book via the Aperture Foundation. From now till August 5th, 2013, Touching Strangers can be pre-ordered on Kickstarter, which is scheduled to be released spring of 2014.
Those who support the campaign, will receive a special Kickstarter edition of the book, bound in cloth with special design and production features separate from those that will be distributed in stores. Signed and edition prints of his work are also available.
Entree Alpine Panoramic Structure, Alice Studio/Atelier de la Conception de L'Espace, Valais, Switzerland.
In the same way that we need a vacation to rest after a vacation, we might need a home where we can chill out after spending time at home. Even modest houses and apartments today are so richly furnished and plugged-in that we can barely rest when we’re inside: we’re streaming TV shows and music, working remotely, and connecting electronically with loved ones around the world. Home can be as demanding and draining as the workplace.
Perhaps the answer really is another home, a small shed in a quiet, out-of-the-way place, where we can retreat from both professional and personal demands. There are some spectacular options inside the book Rock the Shack: The Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-Outs. These refuges are, for the most part, small, freestanding structures on rural sites, most of them located so remotely that there are few other structures, or even roads or walkways, in sight. But unlike typical country homes these places aren’t programmed for leisure: they don’t have great rooms, tennis courts, patios and pools. Instead they offer spare interior spaces for living, windows to stare out of, and immersion in a powerful landscape.
The most dramatic homes have been designed to support one single activity. Some are studios for painting or writing, some are playhouses, and some aren’t much more than elaborate sleeping chambers.
© Roberta Ridolfi
Like memories suddenly resurfacing, Italian photographer Roberta Ridolfi shares rediscovered images from a trip to Andalusia last September. “It’s amazing how editing can change the meaning of an edit,” she says. The edit indeed has a lighter mood compared to the original. Ridolfi finds inspiration from classic cinema, as if foretelling of her chosen title for the original series, Texas Hollywood
. As if to emphasize this natural psyche, the way she describes how she became a photographer, is like reading the opening of a story: “My uncle had an old Nikon he bought in the 70’s he hardly ever used. For some reason he thought I could do something with it. Next thing I knew, I quit university and enrolled myself in a photography course. One thing led to another.”
Roberta currently lives and works in London as a fashion photographer.