Archive for March, 2011

Tennessee Williams Through the Eyes of Gene Smith

Sam Stephenson’s latest Paris Review Daily post is up.

-JLP Staff

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JLP at Durham Public Library this Sunday at 3pm

I’m looking forward to this event.

-S.S.

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The Bad Plus: On Sacred Ground

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Rather than write my own take on the remarkable concert Saturday night in Reynolds Theater at Duke, I offer a link to Ethan Iverson’s blog, which has additional pertinent links to follow.  The consensus among a group of specialized folks that I’ve polled informally (such as TBP this past weekend) is that nobody in the U.S. of A is presenting performing arts with more vision, creativity, and thorough care than Duke Performances director Aaron Greenwald.  We all knew this.  But to hear it from the artists who work all over the map is something else.  Duke, the City of Durham, and all of us in the Triangle (including Raleigh and Chapel Hill) are indebted.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. You can hear TBP talking about the show before it happened on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

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“Pittsburgh Forges Ahead” – Washington Post

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Here’s a new article by Rebecca Bengal in the Washington Post, with W. Eugene Smith references and quotes from Sam Stephenson.

-JLP Staff

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Letter from Guam – Paris Review

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THE SEVERAL VOICES OF W. EUGENE SMITH: A Lecture by William S. Johnson

Thursday, March 31, 7 p.m. | Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, North Carolina

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In 1978, photographer W. Eugene Smith moved his archive—filling two 18-wheel trucks with 22 tons of material—from New York City to the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona. To assist Smith in sorting out his collection, CCP hired William S. Johnson, who worked with the famed photographer until Smith had a fatal stroke in the winter of 1978, before he had accomplished any of the goals he had set for himself.

Johnson then spent two years sorting, identifying, and roughly organizing the 44,000 pounds of Smith’s materials: photographs, equipment, books, records, etc., which had been left in a state of chaos by his untimely death. During this time, he also organized two exhibitions of Smith’s work, wrote two monographs on Smith, and compiled an exhaustive bibliography. Subsequently, Johnson authored W. Eugene Smith: Master of the Photographic Essay and assembled the preliminary layouts for the book Let Truth Be the Prejudice: W. Eugene Smith, His Life and Photographs, both published by Aperture. He also organized or assisted in several other exhibitions and books, and a film, about W. Eugene Smith over the next few years.

Now a part-time reference librarian in Rochester, New York, Johnson has been a photographic historian and a professional librarian for more than forty years. He has been the editor of two photographic journals; authored more than a hundred published essays, reviews, interviews, and articles; curated more than thirty exhibitions; and published numerous bibliographies and reference volumes on photographers and the history of photography.

Johnson’s talk is being held in conjunction with the exhibition The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in New York City, 1957-1965, organized by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, where the larger Jazz Loft Project is based; the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona; and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

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Caffe Lena History Project

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Here is a new website dedicated to Caffe Lena History Project, a documentary effort concerning a legendary folk music cafe in upstate New York.  The project is run with dedication and integrity by JLP friend, Jocelyn Arem, and the builder of her website, The Splinter Group of Carrboro, N.C., also built the JLP site.

-JLP Staff

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A few final scenes from the Northern Mariana Islands

View from the top of Mt. Tagpocha, Saipan, looking toward one of the beaches where U.S. troops came ashore.

View from the top of Mt. Tagpocha, Saipan, looking toward one of the beaches where U.S. troops came ashore.

View up into 'Paradise Valley,' facetiously named, Saipan.

View up into 'Paradise Valley,' Saipan - facetiously named by soldiers, apparently.

View from the top of "suicide cliffs" at the north end of Saipan island, where Japanese civilians, including women and children, jumped to their deaths to avoid capture.

View from the top of "suicide cliffs" at the north end of Saipan island, where Japanese civilians, including women and children, jumped to their deaths to avoid capture.

Japanese memorials at the top of the 'suicide cliffs.'

Japanese memorials at the top of the 'suicide cliffs.'

Looking up at Mt. Tagpochau from the side.  Many scenes from the Northern Mariana Islands made me think of Terrence Malick's film "The Thin Red Line."

Looking up at Mt. Tagpochau from the side. Many scenes from the Northern Mariana Islands made me think of Terrence Malick's film "The Thin Red Line."

Scene from town on Saipan. The mix of native Chamorran, Spanish, Japanese, and American cultures on an island of 50,000 people was unique.

Scene from town on Saipan. The mix of native Chamorran, Spanish, Japanese, and American cultures on an island of 50,000 people was unique.

Scene from the 'invasion beach.'

Scene from the 'invasion beach,' Saipan. Some of the best swimming I've enjoyed.

Guam

Guam, the most 'American' place I visited, indicating the influence of the large and growing Andersen Air Force Base on the island, but in all the islands most of the tourists are Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Russian.

Saipan is the island that leaves me with an itch to return.  I’m working on a new Paris Review post which I think will focus on Saipan.

-S.S.

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Guam

My internet connection has been erratic since leaving Japan for Saipan a week ago.  I’m behind on posts.  Other setbacks have been the demoralizing disaster in Japan, after having just spent 18 wonderful days there and making new friends there, and the resulting cancellation of the Iwo Jima segment of my trip by the American and Japanese embassies.  Iwo Jima, which measures 4.5 miles from one tip to the other and 2.5 miles at its widest point (8 square miles), is only open to civilians one day per year.  This year that day won’t happen.  The embassies felt it would be a misuse of resources given the tragedy in Japan.  I’m in a group with some veterans of Iwo and when they heard the news they were devastated.  One veteran brought 7 family members with him.  They understood the reasoning, and agreed with it, but that understanding didn’t ease the pain.

With Iwo Jima out of reach, I’m heading home from Guam tomorrow, a few days short of my original plan.  26 days on the road is plenty, though.

One quick point:  I come away from the last week of hanging out with Pacific war experts and enthusiasts with a newfound belief in the importance of Smith’s war photographs.  First of all, like many fields, our appreciation and understanding of visuals isn’t very high; Charlie Chaplin said they invented talkies too early and the potential of silent films was never reached.  I saw an outstanding 2-hour presentation on Iwo Jima today by a man whose full-time job it is to an expert on the Pacific war and his visuals – drawn from extensive military archives – weren’t very strong.  They were filler for the words spoken and presented on Powerpoint charts and diagrams.  It’s not his fault – his overall presentation was exemplary; it’s a cultural problem.  Words dominate.  In the past week I’ve met dozens of war experts and aficionados and only one recognized W. Eugene Smith’s name, and that recognition was slight.  When I’ve shown Smith’s pictures here – some never published – eyes were opened.

Speaking of words dominating, I just tried to upload a few photos from Guam and it was taking forever (internet connection again).  This is indicative of the ghetto in which photography has existed all these years.  It’s too hard to present photos well (even though it’s easier now than ever).  Words are more convenient.  I’ll post some more photos when I’m back home in about 36 hours.

-Sam Stephenson

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Quote of the Day

“You are one of the few writers and East Coasters who is willing to come out here and get a sunburn and walk in the jungle.  Writers never come out here.  It’s total $%@&*~<&@#!” – Don Farrell, historian and 35-year resident of the Northern Mariana Islands, to me in Guam, 3/13/11.

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