Friday, November 27, 2009

The New Necklace: Alix Smith's Portrait Photographs, Part II

(1) As preamble it is necessary to reference two previous entries on this journal; "Reception Theory," and Reception Theory Continued. The entries discuss Postmodern Reception Theory, and my own notion that the actual artwork is the toggle switch through which all three currents of reception; artist’s intent, viewer and cultural understanding flow.   Thus, the artwork itself is more important than the artist, culture, or viewer though its existence depends on the presence of all three.*
(2) Take note of the fact that the title above is linked to Paxton's original image at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Alix Smith especially likes the quality of light in Johannes Vermeer’s Baroque Dutch paintings, and Vermeer happens to be one of my all time favorites because of his Dutch nationality, passion for light and bright color. He was only moderately successful in his day, and forgotten for nearly two centuries after his death, though today he is considered one of the greatest Dutch painters. He painted many layered (literally and figuratively) formal portraits of middle class Dutch life. His probable use of the camera obscura (a camera box / projector) as an aid to composition provides an extra connection for Alix, I’m sure. A look at Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting” will provide additional evidence of the connection to Ms. Smith’s work.

The Netherlands map on the back wall of “The Art of Painting” has illustrations of the seats of power. Vermeer refers to the fact that the Dutch were the first wealthy middle class society and during the seventeenth century had achieved a maritime colonial power commensurate with Britain, Spain, and France. The map is, however, torn, symbolizing the separation between the Republic in the north, and Hapsburg controlled Flemish provinces to the south. Light flows through the studio from left to right picking out the figure of the girl, Clio muse of history, the artist and other objects.  The girl wears a laurel wreath, symbol of Clio, and carries a trumpet signifying fame.  I often wonder if Vermeer was looking at that brilliantly lit figure of Clio not only because of Dutch pride in accomplishment, but as a reminder to himself of the illusive quality of fame.   He had to know that he was an extremely talented, but under appreciated provincial artist.  The chandelier and marble tiled floor were things that Vermeer would not have been able to afford and would have been found only in the homes of the rich.  Thus they refer to the nation’s wealth and the wealth of the society in which he lived.  Vermeer’s signification continues, but I have demonstrated the connections to signification in Alix Smith’s portrait photography because it symbolizes a contemporary population in which wealth measures success and position in ways similar to the Dutch Republican colonial empire.

To be continued…


Kleiner, Fred S. and Mamiya, Christin J., Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 12th Ed., Florence:  Wadsworth (2005).

Wheelock Jr., Arthur K., “Johannes Vermeer, The Art of Painting” (Brochure), Exhibitions:  National Gallery of Art, Website,  Viewed 10:30 AM EDT, Wednesday, November 24, 2009.

* See Holly, Michael Ann, Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image. Cornell University Press, Ithaca (1996).

*   This image is in the public domain.  The painting is located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The New Necklace: Alix Smith's Portrait Photographs, Part I

(1) As preamble it is necessary to reference two previous entries on this journal; "Reception Theory," and Reception Theory Continued. The entries discuss Postmodern Reception Theory, and my own notion that the actual artwork is the toggle switch through which all three currents of reception; artist’s intent, viewer and cultural understanding flow.   Thus, the artwork itself is more important than the artist, culture, or viewer though its existence depends on the presence of all three.*
(2) Take note of the fact that the title above is linked to Paxton's original image at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Alix Smith’s Photographs of lesbian and gay families, are beautifully accomplished portraits in which each family and the photographer create an extremely formal tableau reminiscent of classical, neo-classical and most specifically in this article, the portraiture of Boston School artist William McGregor Paxton.  Her current project, “States of the Union,” was introduced in New York City with an exhibition at the Morgan-Lehman Gallery in September of this year.  However, that exhibit represents only the beginning of an ambitious project.  Alix Smith described the full extent of that project as follows.  “I hope to get 300-400 couples and families from across the United States to sit for the project. The finished project will be comprised of four different exhibitions touring simultaneously around the United States, a published book and a speaking tour to help educate the public on the issues addressed by the project.” *

I also found that each tableau is a parody of and comments on cultural stereotypes about lesbian and gay families.  Additionally, the photographs present a narrative to the viewer.  These narratives definitely indicate the artist’s intent through Alix’s reference to historical art works, as well as presenting a creative story-making opportunity to the viewer.

To be continued…


Holly, Michael Ann, Past Looking:  Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image. Cornell University Press (1996)

Smith Alix, "Dear Dr. Bittinger Klomp," E-mail dated and received November 9, 2009.

Other Sources:

Greenfield, Beth, "Straight Shots," Time Out:  New York, September 10-16, 2009, p. 109.

Scallywag, "Alix Smith: 'The Dislocation of Self.'" Scallywag and Vagabond,  May 25, 2009.  Viewed 9:30 AM, EDT, Saturday, November 21, 2009.

Smith, Alix, Website titled Alix Smith © 1997-2008 Alix Smith.  Viewed 9:00 AM, EDT, Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Classy Kitty Photo

We named our perfectly white cat, Princess Anna, and this photograph of her proves she’s a royal kitty-cat. Secretly, she believes we kidnapped her, and that, even though she loves us, she’s slightly disdainful of our commoner household. I know that she’s plain old “Americanus Domesticanus,” but I also know that a pure white cat is not supposed to exist, unless, of course, as the myth goes, the white cat is deaf.

Well, she’s not!  Deafness is not a characteristic of yellow-eyed white cats.

Anna jumps and twitches at the slightest sound just like all cats do. She answers to her name, and she knows many words, like din-din, out and in. She is a total love, and wants to be handled all the time, and she would much rather chase the yarn ball I made for her than her electronic mouse because she doesn’t like the squeak it makes.

Sometimes I get lucky with the camera and take a magnificent photograph without trying.  It is my practice to plan photographic composition, light source, shutter speed, all the variables.  However, sometimes all the planning in the world does not a perfect photograph make (to use my Pennsylvania Dutch).  That is why I carry the camera with me everywhere, and shoot photographs constantly.  I know  that one in several hundred will be better than perfect by accident. This photograph of Princess Anna proves the point.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Forever Nor’easter and Memories of a Warmer Sunnier Time

Nasty! Rain, chilly rain – wind – more rain – more wind = more wind and chilly rain! For three days, and that’s on top of the wettest summer and fall I can remember. We will have over 8 inches additional rainfall when it is all over. I’m hoping we don’t lose power. I was going to post a photograph from one of our past nor’easters, but I decided instead that I wanted to be reminded of warmer and more pleasant weather. So, I went back to a folder of photos I took last spring at Grassy Waters Preserve in Palm Beach County. Grassy Waters is actually where the city of West Palm Beach gets its city water supply, and it’s at the edge of the Florida Everglades.

It was late March, about 82 degrees with crystalline sunshine the day I took this photograph. Most of the camera enthusiasts at the preserve had monster telephoto lenses, some with little tripods to support the camera and lens. I, on the other hand, had only my trusty Sony Cyber-shot camera, and I took my usual several hundred photographs for morgue* and possible future use in drawing and other art works.

I’m not a waterfowl expert, but I believe this is a Wood Stork. I like the way his leg is motion-blurred slightly, and that stream of water trails behind his foot through the air. I feel warm and dry just looking at this sun warmed waterfowl because I remember the way I felt as I shot about 20 photographs of him/her walking through lily pads at water’s edge.

* morgue - a picture file an artist uses an aid to drawing and painting.  In my case, I take all my own pictures rather than using magazine clippings as many illustration artists do.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gay Marriage Outlawed in Maine: Heterosexist Hate is Alive and Extremely Well in America

"God has given us this victory,” Emrich continued, “and it is very important for us to recognize that he is the one who put the energy into this campaign. So let’s not be so arrogant to forget this. It’s very appropriate to pause for a moment of prayer.” * *2

Okay, now I’m angry! First, God has nothing to do with heterosexist hatred! Second, Not only am I disappointed in my fellow Americans (once again), but also, I’m furious! Thirty-one times in Thirty-one states the citizens of this country have seen fit to vote their own brothers, sisters, sons and daughter into second-class citizenship.

How is it possible for so many to consider their progeny and family to be unworthy!

Not only did these voters VOTE NO on same sex marriage, but also, by doing so they voted against all of our lesbian and gay families.  Thus, there are a host of problems that will continue to exist for lesbian and gay families that their heterosexual counterparts do not bear. For instance, in every lesbian and gay partnership, be there children or not, the death of one partner will lead directly to the other being taxed on 50% of his/her holdings. The huge tax bill is based on the assumption that since LGBT people cannot be married, 50% of all assets, property and accounts belonged to the deceased. Thus, In my own case, should I be the survivor in a 42 year – and hopefully much longer – relationship, I will  not be allowed to inherit my own property, assets, and accounts tax free.  However, at least one third of my partner's and my joint assets are based in my family’s financial history, and another half of our joint wealth is based on my earnings as an adult. That single consequence of not being married alone has generated horrible consequences for two of our close friends as our generation ages. In both cases, the death of one partner caused the surviving partner the necessity of selling the home the couple had lived in because of the tax bill. There are worse consequences for second-class lesbian and gay families. The worst being the denial of some to sit at their partner’s side as he/she dies in a hospital bed. And, second, a father or mother may not adopt his or her own children. Thus, the parent’s accumulated assets may not be passed on to the children as in a heterosexual marriage. The list of rights heterosexual couples take for granted that are not allowed to lesbian and gay families is extremely lengthy, and I will not continue with the details here.

However, it follows that the consequence of legalized heterosexist voting in this (democratic and free?) nation is the purposeful destruction of American LGBT families! I stop just short of describing it as genocide.

I have listened to conservative and evangelical Republicans tout their family values these many years, and now I respond, WHAT VALUES? You espouse the destruction of my people’s families because of your legalized heterosexism. Religious values, you say, and I respond, WHAT VALUES? In the New Testament Jesus Christ preached tolerance and love for all. In the Old Testament Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt for less than this!

So, in my anger and frustration, I thought, what can I do to try to change the heterosexist voter’s mind? I know that there are those 10 to 15 percent that are so anchored in their fear and hate that nothing short of death will move them. I put those bigots out of mind and heart because there is nothing to be done about them.  As to the rest, I assume that meeting and knowing lesbian and gay persons will help make a difference – there are probably one or two of us somewhere in each of their families.  However, I do not see - coming out to ones family - as the panacea that the LGBT movement has thought it to be these last forty years. The idea has been that making our heterosexual families aware of our homosexuality will automatically change their minds about LGBT people. And that, as it turns out, has its limits. In fact, we still have families disown their gay and lesbian progeny, consigning them to the street. We still have heterosexual parents who punish themselves because they believe it is their fault a son or daughter is gay, though the son or daughter doesn't blame Mom or Dad for his or her God given sexuality. We still have Christians who target gay men’s funerals with demonstrations of hate. We still have hate crimes and worse, murder of lesbian and gay people as a part of our American way of life. So, what can I do to try to change some of this fear, anger, and hate into if not love, at least tolerance and understanding?

I’d like to set up an on line journal where LGBT people tell their stories. I want to see published a lexicon of loss and degradation caused by this purposeful and hateful second-class citizenship imposed on part of the population because many Americans are unable and unwilling to share their constitutionally guaranteed rights with their own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. And yes, that will portray us as victims because WE ARE VICTIMS! And, as victims we should be collectively ANGRY AT OUR FAMILIES for victimizing us! Oh, and if your own heterosexual family members disclaim any responsibility in this national disaster for lesbian and gay people, saying things like – “I didn’t vote NO against lesbian and gay marriage” or “you should have equal rights, but not marriage” – they need to understand the simple truth that “separate but equal” didn’t work for black people here in the United States, nor in South Africa! It never has worked and it doesn’t work today. They need to understand that a vote “NO ON MARRIAGE” for lesbian and gay people is a heterosexist hate vote against their own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

I wish I could keep some of my normal relaxed and occasionally humorous approach to life for this entry about Heterosexist hate in America. I wish that were possible.

It isn’t!

Enough said, for now.

* Miller, Kevin, and Harrison, Judy. "Gay Marriage Repealed in Maine,"Bangor Daily News. November 4, 2009. Last update, 9:29 AM EST, Saturday November 7, 2009. Viewed 9:42 AM EST. The hate statement disguised as Christian zeal was made by the Reverend Bob Emrich of Palmyra, Maine about the "No on 1" victory.

*2 The following is Jesus Christ's comment about forgiveness of those who victimized him as he hung on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). I wish I were able to be as forgiving. Unfortunately this entry shows that I'm not as close to Jesus Christ as I would like to be.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sun, Sand & Water

I still marvel at having digital technology at my fingertips!  I shoot photos constantly; thousands instead of a few hundred a year.  I lug the camera with me everywhere because I need photos for my morgue (picture file for drawing and other art uses), and because I never know when a magnificent image (lighting, composition, subject) will conspire to present itself.  However, there are so many pictures that they end up accumulating in files unseen and unloved for months at a time.  Several times I have discovered special images a year or two after they were taken. 

Sun shimmering off water gives me a special sparkle, and there are hundreds of these kind of photos in my file folders.  In this particular photograph I was looking north into the Delaware Bay from the inside of Cape Henlopen.  I shot it on September nineteenth of this year, a chilly premature fall day.  The water temperature was still in the upper 70’s, and a few folks were out in the crystalline sun; shelling, fishing, crabbing, just walking.  There were no clouds in an intense almost indigo sky, the kind of conditions that crystallize everything into a moment of rare purity. 

I hope I did the light and subject proud.  Sometimes it is difficult to know these things, because my own delight in the moment clouds reason.