Tag Archives: art

The Girl in the Gallery

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A few months ago, I walked into the Steven Kasher Gallery to catch the exhibition of Vivian Maier: Unseen Images. I had been following the story of Vivian Maier, who spent 40 years of her life working as a nanny in both Chicago and New York. On her days off, she wandered the streets of these cities accompanied only by her Rolleiflex camera. She shot people and store windows, streetscapes, and captured tiny moments we often overlook in our quest to get from point A to point B. Despite this, she never set up a shot. She simply looked through her viewfinder, clicked once, and kept walking. That confidence and boldness comes across in all of her images — though Vivian Maier probably did not know this herself, since most of her rolls of film remained undeveloped or only existed in negative form. She was never discovered or lauded for her work. She died quietly in Chicago in 2009. A few years earlier, 100,000 of Ms. Maier’s negatives, 2,000 undeveloped rolls of film, were discovered in a commercial storage unit . 30,000 of those negatives were auctioned off for $400 to a man named John Maloof. He then found other buyers to acquire the remainder of the negatives. Maloof didn’t know what he had until he began scanning the images and posting them to Flickr, where people started to comment. Then, this news story on Maloof’s find went viral, and the rest became internet history.

As someone who spent high school behind a camera or in my school’s dark room, I was drawn to this story. In college, I had put down my camera and pursued fleshing out my images through words and sentences. It wasn’t until I got an iPhone in 2009 that I remembered how much I loved taking pictures. Once I started clicking, I never stopped. My style is similar to Maier’s in that I click once and move on. If I get it, great. If I don’t, the image stays burned on my brain and eventually finds its way into words on a page. Where we differ is that I will process my photo through different filter styles before settling on one fixed image. Then, I upload it to my photo Tumblr. Everything I shoot passes by my eyes more than once. But, in this digital world, rarely do I print my images. They never get the opportunity to breath beyond the pixels of a computer screen.

All of these reasons sent me into the Kasher gallery that day, where one of the other buyers of Maier’s negatives, Jeff Goldstein, had put together a show of Vivian’s work. I walked past the Weegee photographs and into the corner where Maier’s work was displayed. I took my time in front of each image. There was humor, life, sadness, and utter realness. I stood there alone for a long time before an older man came into the gallery and joined my viewing party. He also took his time examining each photograph. I sensed something different about the way he looked, with an intense personal connection. We struck up a conversation and I learned his name is Ron Gordon and he is the person responsible for printing Vivian’s images. He got to see what she did not, that magical moment when chemicals react and an image begins to appear, ghost-like at first, and then solid and sharp in the chemical bath. He toured me through each image, talking about the framing, shading, and how he decided on the printing process, as each was unique. He used the best phrase to describe Vivian’s style of capturing her subjects: “She was out so much, the moments started to find her. She wore her camera around her neck like jewelry.” We stood in front of the last image, one I kept coming back to, lingering over. I felt like I could have a conversation with the photograph forever. Endless stories were housed in this 20 x 20 image and I wanted to know them all.

It never occurred to me, walking into that gallery, into any gallery, that I could afford to buy something on its walls. Not that I had any business buying something, being a freelancer with a meager savings account. But I looked in the book, saw the price and thought, I could do this. And, after some additional homework, I did. I was taken to a back room, shown the remainder of the prints that were left (only 15 are printed from each negative) and chose one. I put down a deposit. The print was sent to the framer and three weeks and a few more payments later, the photograph is now mine.

I still marvel at the fact that, by owning this photograph, I become a part of Vivian Maier’s story, of a moment she captured with her Rolleiflex, of the street hustler gazing directly at her, with a face as storied as they come.

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Life List #58 – Part II

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the second post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here. On this trip, life and fate pulled out all the stops. Witness below, Vineyard karma.

This month at the Vineyard, I check out Zach Helm’s production of “Interviewing The Audience.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Zach comes out in the beginning of the production and introduces himself, explaining we will hear the stories of three audience members, who he will pick to come on stage, one at a time, and talk to him for 20 minutes. The show was originally created by Spalding Gray.

Zach Helm wrote about seeing “Interviewing The Audience” for the first time and why he wanted to revive it:

I saw him [Spalding Gray] do it as a freshly graduated theatre student at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 1997. Of note that evening, Mr. Gray interviewed a young girl from the South Side who had never been to the theater before, and who had only attended that evening because her school was working on a project that required the students to “go see theater or dance” and his show was the only one the girl’s mother could get tickets to see. The interview played out as a mix of Art Linklater and WAITING FOR GADOT, and when it concluded, Mr. Gray noted that the girl had not only fulfilled the requirement of seeing theater, but had become theater. The girl responded incredulously: “That’s weird. I could’ve been anybody.”

Three of my close theatre/college friends joined me for “Interviewing,” so the night was already meaningful, but I had no idea it was about to go to a whole new level.

Zach came out on stage, introduced himself and began to scan the audience. Then, he started walking up towards our section. I suddenly felt it in the pit of my stomach, he’s going to ask me. Sure enough, we locked eyes and he invited me up on stage.

After I got miked and settled, he asked me the first question he asks of everyone: “What brought you to the theatre tonight?” I answered, Spalding Gray. I told Zach I had a few brief conversations with Spalding, but I never really knew who he was until after he died. He asked me if I would have done or said anything different if I knew who Spalding was during those phone conversations. Only one thing came to mind: I wish I had listened harder.

The next questions he asked was if I was ambitious. I answered “yes” and, apparently, smiled, which lead to talking about what ambition means and how I’m ambitious. I explained my feeling about ambition was that it only felt true and real if accompanied by passion. It’s important to have both.

From there, the questions turned more into a conversation between myself and Zach, punctuated by occasional laughter from the audience. I sometimes forgot they were there until they laughed. We talked about how my sister and I shared a 500 sq foot studio apt, then how we moved to another building where we lived directly above/below each other. Then, we talked about everything from how I was raised macrobiotic to my history with the Vineyard Theatre; and how important it is to always know every job you can within your industry — knowing who does what and  learning as much as possible for the next step, because you never know what/when it’s going to happen.

At the end of our 20 minutes, as I left the stage, Zach told a fable about knowing when a person is a leader because they know all the jobs involved from the bottom up. He gestured toward me when he said “a leader.”

When returned to my seat in the audience, every feeling hit me at once. I was buzzing with energy, but also very overwhelmed. I had just been sitting on a stage in a theater where, 15 years (nearly to the day) earlier I had made the decision to pursue a career in the arts. And, here I was, on that stage, talking about how I fulfilled that goal and continue to reach for a higher bar every day. I had good friends sitting beside me, who were excited and proud of me, hugging me as I made my way back to my seat. I had come full circle. My eyes welled with the tears of every emotion I felt at that moment, but the crazy karma of the evening wasn’t quite over yet.

The second person Zach picked was sitting in the same row as me, opposite end of the aisle. He had come to with a friend. His friend was none other than my editor at TDF. We had no idea we were seeing the show on the same night. The third person picked (I later learned) was a business partner of a friend of mine.

At the close of the show, Zach invites the audience to stay after and talk to each other because, we all experienced a show that will never ever happen again. This is the nature of live theater. We are all people with stories to tell; with stories worth sharing. We are all living art.

When I asked Zach how he had picked us. He told us the following: “I get handed a slip of paper on which an arbitrary letter of the alphabet is written. I use that as a sort of mnemonic. Tonight’s letter was ‘S.’ I looked out on stage and the first word I thought was “smile.” That’s when I saw was you, Ashley, you were the only one sitting there, smiling.”

After each show, Zach does a post-show “Top Three Moments” video. I’ve been watching them faithfully, but it was extra entertaining to see mine. Out of all the things we talked about, I had a feeling he was going to pick this particular moment.

“Interviewing The Audience” has a home at the Vineyard Theatre through February 27th. You have four days. Run!

Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

An ongoing series where I share what I’m watching, listening to, and reading. Here are this Monday’s picks:

Watch

Do you love costume dramas/comedies? Ditto for British accents and Maggie Smith? Then you should be watching Downton Abbey on PBS. Don’t have a TV? No excuse because here’s a link to watch free full episodes, in their entirety (for a limited time! Act now!)

Listen

Nichols & May … is there anything better? Take a listen. It still holds up today. Every writer, comedian, actor, improv artist, general funny person should hear this. I wish I could have a kernel of their brilliance.

I remember the first time I saw Mike Nichols in person.  It was during a screening of a movie I had worked on. One of our actors had invited him. He came into the small screening room and sat right in front of me (Mike Nichols! Half of Nichols & May, sitting right there!) He was taller than I expected. I think I spent the entire movie staring at his broad back and trying to guess (based on the occasional tilt of his head) his reaction to every scene. I remember how he laughed loudly at one particular scene. His laugh was booming, even the sound-proofed walls of the screening room couldn’t quite contain it.

Read

I came across this blog post via a retweet from this fine playwright. It was one of those things that came along exactly when I needed it. It calmed a bit of my daily writing anxiety and confirmed that I’m not alone in feeling like a bit of a jester when I’m writing things that are fiction or deeply personal. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the post “Dare to Be Foolish” by Terri Windling:

“The simple truth is that being a creative artist takes courage; it’s not a job for the faint of heart. It takes courage each and every time you put a book or poem or painting before the public, because it is, in fact, enormously revealing … Worse yet, what our work often reveals is not the beautifully-lit, carefully-presented surface of our creativity, but the darker shadow-play at its interior. That can’t be helped. But the good news is: that’s precisely where the best art comes from.”