Five Cool Things :: August 5, 2012

This weeks brew: A touch of nostalgia. And la, la, la, la, la.

A lot was made of Robert Frank’s The Americans. But his artist statement for the Guggenheim that made that book possible is something, too. Nico’s classic 60’s take on Jackson Browne’s tender-hearted teen lament. What is InstaCRT? Hip new photo app. Instagram goes to Syria and Amy waxes on AbEx. Will post my recent radio interview when it becomes available. Pema Chodron asked me to tell you. “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”


1. Shooter, Writer, Beat Poet | Robert Frank’s Artist Statement

detroit river rouge plant – photo by robert frank

From U.S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958 (Statement written by photographer Robert Frank, to the Guggehneim Foundation.)

“One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

– Robert Frank quoting Malraux. ‘To transform destiny into awareness.’

With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others—perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.

My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.

the americans

It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors’ minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines’ purposes.

I have a genuine distrust and “mefiance” toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the “smell” of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all—even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?” Let’s flip through The Americans together.


2. “I have not forgotten them” | Nico, These Days

So many covers of this beautiful song. None as gorgeous as this one. There’s a Wes Anderson soundtrack (The Royal Tannenbaums), a KMart commercial, Andy Warhol got his mitts on it, Greg Allman and on it goes.  By Jackson Browne — at a tender sixteen. Read more>>


3. iPhone Photo App | InstaCRT

instaCRT :: picture taking goodness

king street station, seattle, richard pelletier :: via InstaCRT

Cool new app that is essential for any serious iPhone shooter. You owe it to yourself to take a peek at how this analog-ish app works. You can do that here>>


4. Revolutionary App | Instagram on the Front Lines

syrian war captured via instagram

Instagram is a wildly popular photo app (unfortunately now owned by Facebook) that allows for social sharing and a way to “filter” images to create different looks and whatnot. As the Syrian war rages on, Syrians are taking to Instagram to document the hell that is raining down on them. More images here>>

This is the hashtag for this boys image: “#syrian #revolution #freedom #child #childhood #syria #Assad #killer #bombing #killed #guns #mortar #rocket #homs #hama #idlib #aleppo #dara #damascus #shaam #Suriye”


5. Amy Sillman | Painter, Writer

amy sillman

Such an abundance of talent. From a piece Amy wrote called AbEx and Disco Balls, In Defense of Abstract Expressionism II:

“I feel kind of bad for AB-EX. At sixty-something, the old bird’s gotten the gimlet eye from just about everybody: It’s vulgar, it’s the phallocracy, it’s nothing but an empty trophy, it celebrates bourgeois subjectivity, it’s a cold-war CIA front, and, well, basically, expression’s really embarrassing. A dandy wouldn’t be caught dead doing something as earnest as struggling, or channeling jazz with his arms.”

“So I don’t find it odd that AbEx practices have not been vitally reinvigorated by a queered connection of the vulgar and the camp. Many artists — not the least of them women and queers — are currently recomplicating the terrain of gestural, messy, physical, chromatic, embodied, handmade practices.”

Take in more of Amy here>>

Five Cool Things :: July 8, 2012 {Seattle, Wa.}

Five Cool Things has just completed a corporate move to Seattle, WA. You say you didn’t know? Alas, readers, its true. So this is an inaugural issue of sorts. And to celebrate this first-from-Seattle issue, we’re reviewing a gorgeous, hand bound, limited edition book of photographs — the real physical thing itself — by photographer Alen MacWeeney. (John Simmons you can jump right to No. 4.) In this July 2012 issue — Gertrude, a train journey into the human heart, pictures of Hong Kong, MacWeeney illustrates Yeats, and finally, John McPhee cusses. Salman Rushdie, “We are described into corners, and then we must describe ourselves out of corners.” That last is tricky, Salman.


1. Write Like a Cubist | Gertrude Being Gertrude

gertrude stein

Once upon a time, there lived a writer who was compelled to write about Henri Matisee and Pablo Picasso. Her name was Gertrude…And here’s a little of what Gertrude wrote.

“One whom some were certainly following was one who was completely charming. One whom some were certainly following was one who was charming. One whom some were following was one who was completely charming. One whom some were following was one who was certainly completely charming

Some were certainly following and were certain that the one they were then following was one working and was one bringing out of himself then something. Some were certainly following and were certain that the one they were then following was one bringing out of himself then something that was coming to be a heavy thing, a solid thing and a complete thing.”

“This one always had something being coming out of this one. This one was working. This one was working. The one always had been working. This one was always having something that was coming out of this one that was a solid thing, a charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing, a disconcerting thing…This one was one certainly being one having something coming out of him. This one was whom some were following. This one was one who was working.”

Want the book? This book is certainly being here>>

Ed. note: This one is always certain to being best read aloud to yourself. Or, always to one whom is unlucky enough to be near you. Try it.


2. “Taste the bitterness first.” |  Last Train Home

Last Train Home is a documentary film by director, Lixin Fan. Told through the story of one family, Last Train Home chronicles a grinding, urban worker-bee existence and the annual migration of 130 million Chinese migrant workers who return home to extended families and children, for Chinese New Year. A stunning film visually and emotionally. This very beautiful work of art will absolutely break your heart and who doesn’t need plenty more of that? Heartbreak or not, you must see it. Stream it on Netflix.

Zeitgeist films is here>>

Times review here>>

Ed note: Via James Fallows


3. Pick Up Some Democracy on Your Way Home | Picturing Hong Kong

Photo by Mark Leong | National Geographic

From the NY Times Lens Blogs — dated June 19, 2012 and posted at 5:00 a.m. The copy for this portfolio, Whimsy & Menace, says that photographer Mark Leong, in the spirit of Ridley Scott, went “looking for Hong Kong on a very bad day.” The street performer above, was part of a commemoration of the anniversary of the 1989 Tianneman Square protests. The Post-It Notes? All about freedom and democracy.

Photo by Mark Leong | Hong Kong candlelight memorial

See the slideshow here>>


4. Love’s Labors Found | Alen MacWeeney Shoots Yeats

title page from under the influence, alen macweeney | book photo by richard pelletier

Here’s Alen MacWeeney and his hand bound book. New York based Irish photographer Alen MacWeeney, (at 20 he was Avedon’s assistant in Paris) has paired some of his exquisite work to selected excerpts of W.B. Yeats’ poetry in a stunner of a hand-bound book called, Under the Influence. In his younger days, Alen had found his way to Robert Frank’s The Americans, which struck him like a thunderbolt as it did me and countless others. For that alone we give thanks. Alen was kind enough to ship a copy of his book to FCT for a hands on review.


Limited edition of 30 – 13 x 18 overall size.
27 black & white photographs of Ireland shot in 1965, the centenary of W. B. Yeats birth.
Photos are interleaved with a vellum sheet — printed with an excerpt of a Yeats poem.
Each book is signed, numbered, hand-bound and slip cased.
Photography and text: Alen MacWeeney
Book Design: Yolanda Cuomo
Associate Designer: Kristi Norgaard
Printing: Erin Mulvehill
Binding: Judith Ivry

The book is created in partnership with Hammond Editions in New York.

Contact Alen MacWeeney for purchase information.

Learn about the book making process here>>

There are multiple pleasures here. The pairing of word and image is really what this project is all about — and, of course, the tactile pleasure of a real book, with sumptuous paper, upon which are printed big, fat, gorgeous black and white photographs. Consider the two images below: one without Yeats and the next one with Yeats and you can see how language and image play off one another. So perfectly lovely. Only a romantically inclined Irishman could conjure this up. For collectors and arts libraries dedicated to book arts and photography, this book is a must have.


photo by alen macweeney

with vellum interleaving, photo by alen macweeney

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Photography by Alen MacWeeney, “Policeman, man and priest, Rathmines, Dublin” (1966); excerpt from Yeats’s “The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water.”

“I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’


If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.


The wind is old and still at play
While I must hurry upon my way,
For I am running to Paradise …


Photography by Alen MacWeeney, “Ruined house, Donegal” (1965); excerpt from Yeats’s “The Curse of Cromwell.”

I came on a great house in the middle of the night,
Its open lighted doorway and its windows all alight,
And all my friends were there and made me welcome too;
But I woke in an old ruin that the winds howled through..


under the influence, alen macsweeney | book photo richard pelletier


 5. New Yorker Chronicles | John McPhee, Fucker

Photo by Peter Cook U.S. MacMillan

John McPhee | photo by Peter Cook

It took years for the New Yorker to print “fuck” in the magazine and now John McPhee talks about it and makes up for lost time. Absolutely hilarious. And he looks like such a nice man. 

“Fuck, fucker, fuckest; fuckest, fucker, fuck. In all my days, I had found that four-letter word–with its silent “c” and its quartzite “k” — more shocking than a thunderclap. My parents thought it was a rhetorical crime. Mr. Shawn (longtime New Yorker editor, legend, prim) actually seemed philosophical about its presence in the language, but not in his periodical. My young daughters, evidently, were in no sense as burdened as he was. Or as I was. Or as their grandparents were. In the car in their middle-school years, they batted that word between the back and front seats as if they were playing Ping-Pong. Driving, and hearing those words reach critical mass, I once spontaneously bellowed (in an even-tempered, paternal way), Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck — I can say it too!”

– John McPhee, in the July 2, 2012 issue of the New Yorker (Subscribers only.)


Five Cool Things :: June 10, 2012

FCT Cafe

Just when you thought it was safe to go back outside here comes a summer issue of FCT. Apologies for the long absence. In this issue, Laetitia, Wislawa, Gill, Ida and Orhan. Speaking of Orhan Pamuk, this is what he wrote in Snow, “How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known?” Not nearly enough, Orhan.


1. Laetitia Sadier | Find Me the Pulse of the Universe

laetitia sadier ~ she is french.


iPad / iPhone users listen here>>

I found this music — 10 mp3s you need to download for free this week — here>>


2. Wislawa Szymborska | The End and the Beginning

scorched earth | richard pelletier

The End and the Beginning

Wislawa Szymborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska Do you not love her face?

The fct guy reads The End and the Beginning


3. Not Drawing a Blank | Gil Blank Photographer

photograph by gil blank

Meet New York City based Gil Blank — such an interesting photographer. This is as good place as any to start>>

Have a look at his photographic series based in Portland, Maine>>

Read into the wee hours — look at all these essays>>

From an interview with the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans:

WT: “I like the idea of the photograph as something that joins me to the world, that connects me to others, that I can share. I can get in touch with somebody when they recognize a feeling: “Oh, I felt like that before. I remember jeans hanging on the banister, even though I’ve never seen that exact pair. I’ve seen my oranges on a windowsill.” It’s the sense that “I’m not alone.” That’s the driving force behind sharing these things—that I want to find connections in people. I believe that every thought and idea has to be somehow rendered through personal experience, and then generalized.”


4. Orhan Pamuk | Paris Review

“We could die here and nobody would ever know.” That’s Orhan Pamuk in a lively Paris Review interview. Well worth your time.

Choice excerpt: Although I was raised in a crowded family and taught to cherish the community, I later acquired an impulse to break away. There is a self-
destructive side to me, and in bouts of fury and moments of anger I do things that cut me off from the pleasant company of the community. Early in life I realized that the community kills my imagination. I need the pain of loneliness to make my imagination work. And then I’m happy. But being a Turk, after a while I need the consoling tenderness of the community, which I may have destroyed. Istanbul destroyed my relationship with my mother—we don’t see each other anymore. And of course I hardly ever see my brother. My relationship with the Turkish public, because of my recent comments, is also difficult.

Read the entire interview here>>


5. Power & Imagination | Ida Applebroog

copyright ida applebroog

copyright ida applebroog

I want those shoes, that’s all I can say. Ms. Ida is a bit of a national treasure. Now please watch this. (This video won’t work on iPad/iPhone. Desktop only.)

Five Cool Things for 11.13.11

Coffee is for Dark Angels

From the sodden bogs of the great northwest in the near middle of November, I send you my greetings. Exfm is a new way to find, collect and share music on the web. Little tricky to grasp, but worth checking out. Nina Simone — wow, please take a listen to that big sound and those beautiful lyrics. Simon Armitage doesn’t seem to have very fond feelings for poet Ted Hughes so he pulls out his bag of metaphors and shoots Ted down. Onetime abstract painter, sometime cartoonist Philip Guston did have Richard Nixon to kick around and had a hell of a good time doing it. Spike Lee tweets — and FCT does not flinch. Always remember what Radio Raheem says, “TWO SLICES!”

a new way to find, share and listen to music

1. Turn on the Web | EX FM

From the not terribly clear exfm website: Exfm is a social music discovery platform —what the heck is a social music discovery platform?  By the way, dear exfm: contact me if you want some help with the language. Continued: “exfm turns the entire web into your personal music library. As you browse the web, exfm gathers every MP3 file you come across, building a music library for you. Exfm makes it incredibly simple to share your favorite music with all your friends.”

Much better description at TechCrunch: That’s why the geeky team at exfm (formerly Extension Entertainment) built a browser extension for Chrome that turns the Web into your music library by running silently in the background and indexing every MP3 file you stumble across. Exfm continues to check the sites you’ve visited, automatically building a library for you of songs you can throw away or turn into playlists. Full article here>>

Check out Charles Mingus doing Mood Indigo on exfm>>


2. Whoa | Feeling Good, Nina Simone

Lyrics to Feeling Good ~ Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

You Know How I Feel
Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree you know how I feel

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
That’s what I mean

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

More on Nina Simone here>>


3. It’s About Ted | Simon Armitage

Not The Furniture Game

His hair was a crow fished out of a blocked chimney
and his eyes were boiled eggs with the tops hammered in
and his blink was a cat flap
and his teeth were bluestones or the Easter Island statues
and his bite was a perfect horseshoe.
His nostrils were both barrels of a shotgun, loaded.
And his mouth was an oil exploration project gone bankrupt
and his smile was a caesarean section
and his tongue was an iguanodon
and his whistle was a laser beam
and his laugh was a bad case of kennel cough.
He coughed, and it was malt whisky.
And his headaches were Arson in Her Majesty’s Dockyards
and his arguments were outboard motors strangled with fishing line
and his neck was a bandstand
and his Adam’s apple was a ball cock
and his arms were milk running off from a broken bottle.
His elbows were boomerangs or pinking shears.
And his wrists were ankles
and his handshakes were puff adders in the bran tub
and his fingers were astronauts found dead in their spacesuits
and the palms of his hands were action paintings
and both thumbs were blue touchpaper.
And his shadow was an opencast mine.
And his dog was a sentry box with no-one in it
and his heart was a first world war grenade discovered by children
and his nipples were timers for incendary devices
and his shoulder blades were two butchers at the meat cleaving competition
and his belly button was the Falkland Islands
and his private parts were the Bermuda triangle
and his backside was a priest hole
and his stretchmarks were the tide going out.
The whole system of his blood was Dutch elm disease.
And his legs were depth charges
and his knees were fossils waiting to be tapped open
and his ligaments were rifles wrapped in oilcloth under the floorboards
and his calves were the undercarriages of Shackletons.
The balls of his feet were where meteorites had landed
and his toes were a nest of mice under the lawn mower.
And his footprints were Vietnam
and his promises were hot air balloons floating off over the trees
and his one-liners were footballs through other peoples’ windows
and his grin was the Great Wall of China as seen from the moon
and the last time they talked, it was apartheid.

She was a chair, tipped over backwards
with his donkey jacket on her shoulders.

They told him,
and his face was a hole
where the ice had not been thick enough to hold her.


Ted Hughes

Sylvia Plath


4. I am Not a Book | Philip Guston’s Poor Richard 

Intro to Philip Guston’s Poor Richard by Debra Bricker Balken

Mutt and Jeff and the Tartuffisms of a Presiding President

From Poor Richard

Poor Richard by Philip Guston

From Poor Richard

Sometime during the summer of 1971, Philip Guston (1913-1980) began a visual narrative of Richard Nixon’s life, a series of almost eighty drawings that caught one of America’s most maligned politicians in a depraved, monstrous state. Titled Poor Richard, these caricatures play on the brooding self-pitying character that Nixon exuded throughout his life. While much has been made in the ongoing interpretations of the radical content of Guston’s late work — of his brash betrayal of abstract painting and the New York School and his introduction of quirky, incongruous, cartoon – type figures and shapes around 1968  — nothing quite approximates the mocking and satiric nature of these renderings of an American President.

5. Spike! | Tweet of the Week

spike tweets

One Year Anniversary Issue :: Five Cool Things 3.20.11

We're one year old!

Of the few things of which we can be certain, certain death and taxes are said to be high on the list. But here’s my list; death certainly, taxes for sure and the mysteries of who we love. Paul Klee pulls a DaVinci and sort of imagines and draws the future. I’m hoping my friends in the UK, Jamie Jauncey and John Simmons will catch No. 3 – where an artist/activist (artivist?) in New Orleans has turned an old house into a document. When he first exploded onto the jazz scene, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, also this month’s birthday boy, was pretty much on the moon. And he’s gone further out from there. James Gulliver Hancock is in a New York state of mind meld. Let’s blow out the anniversary candles with Henny Youngman – “I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need, if I die by four o’clock.”

1. Surprise! | “Something Amazing About Harry”

Love in Disguise

Culled from the ‘so good it must be true’ department. Three years after their marriage, Annie  Birkett announced to a relative that she had discovered “something amazing about Harry.” (Annie had a gift for understatement.) Shortly thereafter, Annie Birkett disappeared. You have to read this story to believe it. It comes from a series of mug shots by the local police in Sydney, Australia from 1910-1930. NPR has the goods where you can get Harry’s secret and a whole lot more >>

ed update: This is from a group of thousands of photographs from the Forensic Photography Archive in Australia. There’s a book, Crooks Like Us, by curator, Peter Doyle.


2. Paul Klee Paints the Future | The Twittering Machine

Paul Klee and his Twittering Machine 1922

A MOMA description of Klee’s painting sounds to some like a description of Twitter itself.

The hand crank conjures up the idea that this “machine” is a music box, where the birds function as bait to lure victims to the pit over which the machine hovers. We can imagine the fiendish cacophony made by the shrieking birds, their legs drawn thin and taut as they strain against the machine to which they are fused.

Hat tip to:



But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
~William Shakespeare

Please have a look at the top of this page — find the navigation link, our friends. I’m posting a brief snippet and a link to the websites of people who are friends of mine and who are big fans and supporters of Five Cool Things. How to get listed on that page? Tell your friends. Spread the wonders of Five Cool Things and get your friends to sign on the line which is dotted. Sign ’em up!


3. Urban Writing Spaces | “Before I Die”

One person's abandoned house....

is another person's Moleskine.

The urge that human beings have to express themselves (for good and otherwise) can be found in the most amazing places. An abandoned house in New Orleans has become transformed. Through the creative agency of one Candy Chang, an empty, forlon home has become another sort of home — home to a collective, community-wide yearning.

....understand, beat sense into you, go to the Galapagos Islands, get rich and retire, be ok with not understanding, learn a second language, be completely myself....

This project is called Before I Die…In NOLA. You can visit the artist’s website here>>


4. Blowing Out More Than Candles | Happy Birthday Ornette Coleman

Jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman turned 81 years old on March 9, 2011

Fantastic new discovery for jazz music lovers. From the website: Welcome to LOST TONES, a series featuring tracks from hyper-rare recordings that aren’t available anywhere else on the web. These treasures are courtesy of George Scala, who runs the invaluable Free Jazz Research site. He’s generously shared them from his amazing archive so they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors. Scroll down for the music!

In 1969, Ornette released a single Man on the Moon, to commemorate the moon landing. It might have proved too much for Americans. It was released only in France.
Listen to Ornette play Man on the Moon


5. Draw Me In | All the Buildings in New York

The artist’s name is James Gulliver Hancock, which might have a lot to do with what our man is up to. You get yourself born with a name like that, and who knows what comes of it. Currently, JGH is trying to draw all the buildings in New York. He also cooks up fictional characters like the one below. You can check out his bio here>> His main illustration page is here>>

I've been thinking a lot about all the people on the street in New York, what there different lives are, and I started fictionalizing these characters I saw around. Pairing them up with buildings I draw. Here's two paintings I recently exhibited.