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Photo: Michał Iwanowski
Michał Iwanowski came across graffiti in Wales that said: ‘Go home, Polish.’ Eventually he did. The
Guardian writes that his 105-day slog restored his faith in the people of a volatile, fractured Europe.

Today’s divisiveness is exaggerated. There are certainly times I chide myself for naïveté, for believing that divisiveness is exaggerated only because I want to. Maybe it isn’t true. Then I read an article like this one about a photographer in Wales who, buffeted by Brexit xenophobia, decided on an experiment.

Sean O’Hagan writes at the Guardian. “On 27 April this year, Michał Iwanowski left his house in Cardiff to walk to his home village of Mokrzeszów in Poland. Carrying British and Polish passports and wearing a T-shirt bearing the word ‘Polska,’ he began his 1,200-mile journey east, sticking as closely as possible to a straight line he had drawn on a map. Over 105 days, it would take him through Wales, England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. Along the way, Iwanowski posted a [diary] on Instagram,. …

“ ‘I saw the project as a way of thinking about the idea of home,’ he says, ‘not least because it would take me from the place I have lived in for 18 years to the place I come from. And I would be doing it at a time when Brexit had made the idea of home, identity and belonging a very politicised subject.’

“Iwanowski had been thinking about walking to Poland for several years, after being confronted in 2008 by graffiti scrawled on a wall in the Roath area of Cardiff, where he lives. ‘Go Home, Polish,’ it read. …

“He often appears in the images, sometimes as himself, sometimes as a generic wanderer lost in an unfamiliar landscape. In one self-portrait, he clings to a tree as if in danger from a threat just out of the frame. In another, he tries in vain to squeeze between two concrete posts – the immigrant’s experience distilled.

“Central to the project was his desire to meet people. It was not always easy. In France, he did not really connect with anyone. In Germany, an enraged local chased him off an allotment he had wandered on to to ask for directions.

“Most of the time, though, it was the sheer energy-sapping doggedness of the undertaking – ‘the drudgery and sweat’ – that tested him as he trudged wearily through often empty, unchanging landscapes. On 8 July, his Instagram post read: ‘On Wednesday I crashed and decided to throw in the towel.’ For a few hours, he sat at the side of a road, dehydrated and exhausted, having thrown his rucksack into the bushes in a tantrum. ‘It lasted a few hours,’ he wrote. ‘I got back up.’ …

“Iwanowski’s long walk ultimately proved both cathartic and life-affirming. … ‘I had become more cynical of late. The experience has banished that cynicism. People are OK. In fact, they are often gloriously generous.’ …

“ ‘Look, I know I am a white male and that I passed quickly through towns and villages, where I was not perceived as a threat. But my experience was so overwhelmingly positive that it has made me question everything I read in the media about the hardening of attitudes that Brexit has supposedly provoked.

I think that a few loud, extreme voices dominate the debate, but ordinary people are stoical or confused – and perhaps a little angry. But they are also decent.’ …

“Has this odyssey changed his way of thinking about home? ‘It confirmed something. I feel utterly at home walking in the landscape, wherever that landscape is. I don’t need to be told by a government, “This is your home.” The ground beneath my feet sanctifies my belonging in this world – not the passport given to me by a country.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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If you live anywhere near Worcester, Mass., try to get to a unique photography exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum by February 25.

Asakiyume and I meet up about once a year, often in a museum, and we saw three interesting shows at the Worcester Art Museum over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.

First, we checked out a small exhibit on antique Japanese metalwork from the Higgins Armory collection. I thought Asakiyume would be interested because of her many ties to Japan. We especially liked a tiny metal dragon and a lifelike lobster — beautiful.

We appreciated the museum’s main event, too, a show featuring art Winslow Homer created while living in England. Related work by J.M.W. Turner and other artists who influenced Homer filled out the exhibit, here.

But it was the collection of William Bullard‘s recently discovered photos of an early 20th century mixed-race Worcester community that had us riveted. Asakiyume wrote about it on her own blog, here.

What was the most remarkable aspect? That there was a mixed-race community at all in Massachusetts at that time? That the photographer whose photos were mostly of African Americans was white? That his subjects looked so relaxed, as opposed to the stiff people seen in most portrait photography of the time? That the works were lost for decades? That they were recovered in the form of glass slides and were printed for the first time for the show?

No, I think what touched us the most were quotations in certain wall texts. Amazingly, the photographer kept detailed notes on who everyone was, so stunned descendants of many subjects got to see their ancestors for the first time or to learn that a family legend was true.

The photographer was poor and couldn’t afford handsome settings. Some subjects had to pose in front of a worn sheet. Bullard lived with his mother and earned little money or recognition from his avocation. He died by his own hand.

How I wish he could have seen what his art meant to people! It wasn’t until the purchaser of the slides remembered he had also bought Bullard’s logs that two and two made four.

Reports the Daily Mail, “In January 2014 [purchaser Frank J. Morrill] and Clark University history professor Janette Thomas Greenwood and her class began researching the stories behind Bullard’s subjects, constructing rich individual narratives and community history. ” (Asakiyume found the Daily Mail article. Read it here and enjoy the array of pictures.)

The Worcester Art Museum adds, “A comprehensive website hosted by Clark University (www.bullardphotos.org) offers teaching resources for educators, all of the photographs and sitters featured in Rediscovering an American Community of Color, a map of the Beaver Brook neighborhood (circa 1911), and additional research written by the Clark students who participated in a seminar related to the exhibition.”

Asakiyume took this photo of Bullard’s photo because she loved sweet-faced Luvenia Ward (right), shown here with her sisters. The photo was printed in 2016 from recently discovered glass slides of Worcester, Mass., photographer William Bullard (1876-1918).

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Photo: Chuck Wolfe
Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Photographic urban diaries can help residents absorb what there are seeing and can ultimately influence city planning.

Cities are organic, changing, blossoming, decaying amalgams of individuals, buildings, dumps, businesses, trees, animals — so many elements that it is impossible to put your finger on what makes a great city great. It is even hard to get agreement on whether or not a particular city is great.

Seattle is a city that is very conscious of its idealistic character. And it’s one that keeps reaching higher.

Knute Berger at Crosscut writes, “No one wants a ‘better city’ more than Seattleites. … If anything is in our civic DNA, it is the drive of commerce and the determination to build not just a better city, but the ideal one: prosperous, just, beautiful.

“Tall order, and one around which there is much dispute. Charles Wolfe, a local land-use lawyer, author and urban observer has a suggestion to help us sort through some of our conflicts. He touts the personal documentation of the city we live in, urging us to create urban ‘diaries.’

“This isn’t self-indulgent ‘journaling’ but a thoughtful process of observing and recording a city — what works, where human activities thrive and what evokes our emotional responses.

“Wolfe’s latest book is Seeing the Better City (Island Press, $30), which is described as a tool kit for ‘how to explore, observe, and improve urban space.’ Wolfe — who has written for Crosscut and who is a friend — says the answer to a better city doesn’t start with a white board, an attitude or a bushel of land-use ordinances; it begins at the level of human experience and how we train ourselves to see it and understand it.

“Wolfe’s main medium is photography, aided by technology — geo-mapping, social media — to record his impressions and observations, which might range from how bikes, trains and pedestrians share space in Nice, France, to a homeless person’s tent with a grand view of Elliott Bay. …

“Why is keeping an urban diary worthwhile? Wolfe argues that it trains us to be better citizens, to care more and understand more about where we live. Therefore, we might be more motivated to attend meetings or offer insights and solutions into the planning process. …

“Wolfe’s book tells us urban diarists can also be useful to planners and policymakers. An urban diary ‘walk and talk’ workshop in Redmond created diaries of the town’s historic core — and that then informed the planning process. … When we all act like flâneurs, ‘trickle up’ urban planning can result. …

We don’t need to travel the world to be an urban diarist. Our own stomping grounds offer an infinite opportunity to feel and observe.”

More here.

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Back in the day, a regular on the kids’ television show Howdy Doody was a putative Indian called Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring. The last two seasons in her name were run together as if they were one word.

Lately, “WinterSpring” seems to be the right name for what we’re experiencing in New England. Here are a few pictures from my confused season.

There are four photos of the beautiful Boston Public Library. The hardest shot to get was a lion not surrounded by photographers and visitors posing for their picture. While I was at the library, I was delighted to hear the retired Massachusetts chief justice being interviewed by Boston Public Radio, which sometimes broadcasts from there. Margaret Marshall is perhaps best known for her reasoning in the case to make gay marriage legal in Massachusetts. My photo of her friendly wave did not come out.

The ornate clock suddenly appeared on Washington Street. I don’t recall seeing it in all the years I took walks in that neighborhood.

The 5-lb coffee bag will get us through any kind of WinterSpring.

Finally, I include a couple indoor shots of my living room in a welcome shower of sunlight and a couple pictures of grandchildren managing just fine in WinterSpring.

Caroline is fine and let me know what flavor you want there is vanilla, chocolate, coffee, pineapple, and I expect your response many thanks Caroline

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Pat Zacks at the Camera Werks in Providence feels compassion for inner-city kids whose schools can’t offer many enrichment activities. That’s why she volunteers every year to mount and hang 500+ juried photos by Pawtucket, Rhode Island, fifth graders (and a few grownups).

On Wednesday I stopped off at the gallery where the “Calling All Cameras” photos are on display until the end of September. The theme this year,  submitted by Linda C. Dugas, is “Pawtucket’s Color Palette.” Winners of this, the 18th, annual photo contest also get their work featured in the city calendar.

An impressive slate of judges are responsible for choosing this year’s winning photos (Butch Adams, Richard Benjamin, Christy Christopoulos, Jesse Nemerofsky, and Aaron Usher). Winners will be announced September 25.

I wish my photo of a child’s box turtle entry had turned out well enough to post, but I’m sharing a couple other favorites here.

Stop by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor visitor center, just off Interstate 95 in downtown Pawtucket, to find the box turtle. The visitor center is opposite the historic Slater Mill, birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.

And if you are ever in Providence, please check out the Camera Werks on Hope Street. Pat’s Facebook page, here, has more information on the photo exhibit.

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In order to get down to the beach for a good shot of the structures I’ll call “War of the Worlds,” I had to negotiate a very steep, very slippery path that reminded me of my age at every step.

 

You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.” …

I thought of The War of the Worlds when I took the photo of this, the first, deep-water windmill in America and its giant parent, which is assembling the next four windmills.

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The beach on the south side of the island is beautiful, and since I don’t often scramble down there, I took photos of the tide pools and one of the many towers people build with smooth beach stones.

Moving right along, there’s a mobile of sea creatures that I made in an art class with my oldest grandchild. He made one, too: a jellyfish, a shark, a whale (he chose to make an orca) and a sea turtle.

I also have shots of a quiet “tug hole” (a peat bog), reflections of houses on the far side of Fresh Pond, a lotus, flowers against a stone wall, a box of pink impatiens by the outdoor shower, a monster crane getting delivered to Paradise, and magnificent city shadows.

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There’s just one thing you probably can’t figure out from this picture story: what the guys are singing …

“All my exes live in Texas/ It’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee.”

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Providence has to be the New England capital of playful graffiti. After PVD Fest a week ago, I caught three new bits of cheerful vandalism around town — new to me anyway.

Pasted on a wall near my office was a duck in a suit, which a younger friend informs me should be understood as “ducktales” because the suit has tails.

I especially love graffiti sayings, like the one about being blessed where you stand and the one about explaining to a friend that you are not a Virgo.

Artistic adventurism is not new for Providence. Take a look at the exotic Fleur-de-lis Studio, for example, on Angell Street.

In other Rhode Island photos, we have the playhouse that Farmor gave her Providence grandchildren. Erik put it together, with help from Suzanne and the kids. The 18-month-old now thinks she’s in charge of screwdrivers.

The picture of berries has a robin eating them. You may have to take my word on that. And if you walk around looking up all the time, you’re sure to see interesting tops of buildings.

I’m winding up this photographic array in Massachusetts, with the herb garden behind the church, the sexton’s bonsai trees, and another tree that reminds me of a line from a hymn: “roots, hold me close.”

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Here are some recent Rhode Island and Massachusetts photos. (Connecticut is also considered Southern New England, but I haven’t been there in ages.)

I wonder if other people have preferences for seeing certain kinds of photos on certain kinds of social media. For example, unless it’s a picture of one of my grandchildren, I really don’t like seeing people pictures on Instagram, but on Facebook, people pictures are the only kinds of photos I want to see. I’m still figuring out Ello, which is more likely to have art or gifs. I like almost any kind of photo on twitter or on blogs.

My own pictures are mostly from my walks. I’m starting off here with the plant sale at the New Shoreham library fundraiser and a typically short-lived scene on the island’s famed painted rock. Also in Rhode Island, an intensely serious heavy-equipment operator in a sandbox, the alley beside the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, fancy church architecture, and a plaque commemorating H.P. Lovecraft, a popular Providence-based horror writer with some regrettable character flaws.

From Massachusetts, yellow iris in a meadow that is more often than not under water — or ice. Also a clematis, a remnant of a once-spectacular garden at a house that got sold. (Too spectacular for the new owners to live up to. Kind of like the garden in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.)

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Are you familiar with the “Lens” blog at the NY Times? It focuses on “photography, video and visual journalism.” Here David Gonzalez writes about the photos of Putu Sayoga.

[Hat tip: Asakiyume on twitter.]

“If you live in a far-off place, a library may be something you’d only read about in books. That is, if you had books to begin with.

“That became the mission of Ridwan Sururi, an Indonesian man with a plan — and a horse. Several days a week, he loads books onto makeshift shelves he drapes over his steed, taking them to eager schoolchildren in the remote village of Serang, in central Java. ..

“Mr. Sayoga, a co-founder of the collective Arka Project, had seen something about the equine library on a friend’s Facebook page. It reminded him of his own childhood, where his school had only out-of-date books. Intrigued, he reached out to Mr. Sururi, who offered to put Mr. Sayoga up in his home while he spent time photographing Mr. Sururi on his rounds. …

“Mr. Sururi made a living caring for horses, as well as giving scenic tours on horseback. One of his clients, Nirwan Arsuka, came up with the book idea as a way of doing something to benefit the community, specifically a mobile library. He gave Mr. Sururi 138 books for starters. Most were in Indonesian, and the books included a lot with drawings.

“Children at the schools he visits can borrow the books for three days, and demand has been so great that he now has thousands of books.” More here. Check out the slide show.

Photo: Putu Sayoga

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Recently I read that there is a 5,000-year-old tree at a location in the United States that rangers won’t reveal for fear of too many curiosity seekers. Is that even possible to know — 5,000 years?

At National Geographic, Beth Moon has published photographs of other trees that are old, if not quite that old, and they look amazing.

Becky Harlan provides some background.

“Over three trillion trees live on planet Earth, and yet we know so few of their stories. Of course all trees play an important role—purifying the air, hosting the feathered and the furry, teaching kids (and kids at heart) how to climb—but some have spent more time doing these things than others. Quiver trees, for example, can live up to 300 years, oaks can live a thousand years, and bristlecone pines and yews can survive for millennia.

“In 1999, photographer Beth Moon took it upon herself to begin documenting some of these more seasoned trees. Specifically, she sought out aged subjects that were ‘unique in their exceptional size, heredity, or folklore.’ …

” ‘I am always amazed at the way trees have the ability to endure and adapt to severe conditions. Some ancient trees hollow out as they age as a survival technique. The tree will send an aerial root down the center of the trunk, which will continue to grow from the inside out.’

“In her book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, she explains that these ancient individuals ‘contain superior genes that have enabled them to survive through the ages, resistant to disease and other uncertainties.’ …

“Many of the real trees represented, however, face hard times ahead. ‘Quiver trees are dying from lack of water in Namibia. Dragon’s blood trees are in decline and on the endangered list, and three species of baobab trees are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List,’ says Moon. …

“She hopes sharing her wonder will begin a conversation about the conservation of these arboreal treasures.”

Click here to read more and see magical photographs of ancient trees in Cambodia, Wales, Yemen, England, Madagascar, Florida, and Namibia.

Photo: Beth Moon
Rilke’s Bayon,
Tetrameles nudiflora, in Ta Prohm, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

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Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers! This mother is indulging her interest in photography today (the simple kind: pointing and shooting with a phone). So here are a few recent pictures and explanations for the less obvious.

For example: I went out for a walk one evening and was surprised to encounter Morris Dancers on the steps of the library. They seemed to be practicing, not performing. Where would Morris dancers be performing in late April, after Patriots Day? That was a mystery. Another mystery to me was how young men and boys get drawn into performing Morris Dance. I’m sure it’s good exercise, but …

I include shots of a clay bird’s shadow on my wall and hedge shadows on a sidewalk. The fence with the stage coach and other old timey images painted along the railings is in Providence — easy to overlook when walking past.

Providence plaques and memorials. The one of Martin Luther King Jr. is on a bridge with a view of Water Place. The monument to an event Rhode Island celebrates as the real first engagement of the American Revolution — the colonists’  clash with Brits on the HMS Gaspee — is partly obscured by bushes.

Little old Rhode Island gets no respect. It was also the first colony to sign on for independence, May 4, 1776. Who knew?

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I love thinking about sunlight and shadow. Dickens uses them a lot for Richard and Ada’s story in Bleak House — maybe my favorite book of all time.

“So young, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise, they went on lightly through the sunlight … So they passed away into the shadow, and were gone.”

Many of you know what the decades-long case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce did to Richard and Ada’s bright hopes. I’ve come to think that it was not so much Richard’s fevered expectations of an inheritance that brought the most sorrow, but his need to fix blame. Blame is corrosive.

When I interviewed a formerly homeless Marine last week and he started telling me about how upset he was that something bad had just happened with his benefits, I was touched by how he kept reminding himself how to cope, saying, “I believe in fixing the problem — not the blame.” Words to live by.

The first three photos were taken early Saturday morning, when the effects of sunlight and shadow were especially breathtaking. (I can never resist that old graveyard. You’ve seen it here in all weathers.)

The next three were taken at the playground near John’s house. Every few months, new creatures appear on that tall tree stump. (You’ve seen previous creature photos, too, on this blog.)

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This batch is all Rhode Island. First I have a couple pictures from the mall. If you don’t call the mall Providence Place, people aren’t sure if you mean the Arcade. I’m having a hard time keeping track of the local names. You have the Rhode Island Convention Center, which is not the same as the Civic Center (is that the Dunkin Donuts Center?), which is totally not the same as the same as P-PAC (Providence Performing Arts Center), which is not the same as the Veterans Memorial Auditorium …

Back to the photos. Lady Godiva hangs out in Providence Place, as does PF Chang restaurant’s fine-looking Tian horse. Next, I’m posting a glimpse of  some old brick buildings that were merged and renovated to house my new workplace. I love the view out this conference room window.

The archway is from a different renovated building, the historic Heating & Cowling Mill, which has beautifully repurposed to house formerly homeless veterans.

Several homeless people were watching me from the steps of the cathedral early one morning like wary deer. I took an unobtrusive picture around the corner, where the sun was warming a quiet nook.

The Modern Diner is in Pawtucket and serves breakfast all day, but not breakfast only. It was recently featured on the Food Network show and made a list of top diners in New England. Check out the Providence Journal report.

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A couple years ago, I was taken with a newspaper photograph of pink and blue buildings in a lonely North Korean square. So foreign. So melancholy.

I tried to get in touch with the photographer, David Guttenfelder, to see if I could buy a print. That didn’t work out, but I learned quite a bit about him and his special status as an approved photographer for Western outlets in North Korea. I became a follower on twitter and instagram, where I discovered that his photos of everyday life in the isolated country had inspired other Westerners living there. Now I follow posts on instagram by a group of people calling themselves everydaydpk.

So I was intrigued when Studio 360 also took an interest in photographs from North Korea.

Khrista Rypl posts on the radio show’s website, “North Korea’s seclusion makes pictures from inside the country irresistible novelties. But while the country’s borders are tightly controlled, visiting isn’t as difficult as you might expect. Almost anyone with enough cash can book a tour (although the US State Department advises against it) and people even travel there to run in an annual marathon. Officially, North Korea says it hopes to attract two million visitors by 2020.

“One of the tours available is an architectural survey of the nation’s capital, Pyongyang. Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic for The Guardian, recently visited the country with that itinerary. He’s been posting photos of interiors of the city’s buildings, and wrote a nice piece about his visit. It’s a fascinating glimpse inside a closed society. The empty interiors look like they’re part of an abandoned theme park from the 1980s.

“Wainwright notes that pastel colors appear everywhere in the city and calls the aesthetic ‘kindergarten kitsch’ — ‘the logical next step for a regime intent on projecting an image of carefree prosperity.’ …

” ‘In every refurbished building we visit, there is a peculiarly consistent style of preschool colour schemes and shiny synthetic surfaces, the pastel palettes and axial symmetry giving an eerie feeling of walking into a Wes Anderson film set, or a life-size Polly Pocket toy,’ [he adds].

“The decor certainly has a child-like quality, both in the color palate as well as in how each room has been pared down to a few essential elements, like a dollhouse.”

See if you agree, here.

Photos: Oliver Wainwright/Tumblr
The National Drama Theater in Pyongyang

Below, a rendering of an architectural project from the Paektusan Academy of Architecture in Pyongyang 

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