Dani Cattan (Uruguayan-American) received a Bachelors degree in Photography, Art Activism and Latin@ Studies from Hampshire College in 2012. In May 2012, she was a panelist for the Ninth Annual Humanities and Cultural Studies Conference as a David Smith Scholar recipient, presenting her thesis, “Latinidad in the Art World: A Visual Exploration of Belonging”. She has interned with En Foco since the summer of 2011, joining the staff as Program Associate in 2012, and becoming the Program Director in Fall 2013. She assumed the part-time role of Editorial Assistant/Copy Editor for En Foco’s Permanent Collection Catalogue, published 2013.
At En Foco, we believe that art should be available to everyone, which is why The Print Collectors Program offers original photographs by internationally recognized and emerging artists, at affordable prices. Every dollar of your print purchase helps underwrite an exhibition, publication or event – and the best part, a percentage is returned to the creator of the image.
As our collaboration and partnership has grown, we’d like to share a short story about the Brewery’s beginning adventures.
During the installation of all the tanks for the brewery, Damian and I [owners] decided to take care of the unloading and installation ourselves to save a little bit of money. We were unloading thefermentation tank from the delivery flatbed when all of a sudden the tank tipped and fell over, pinning me under the tank and the forklift! After some hurried yelling, the construction workers rushed over to help lift the tank off of my crushed body. Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe I’m a little crazy, or more likely, a combination of both – but I decided it was a good idea to just get up and keep working. Well, after a few minutes, the reality (and pain) of this near death experience kicked in. I decided I’d better go to the hospital – and only after some convincing, I let someone else drive me. Considering I had just been crushed by a huge fermentation tank, I had a great experience at Lincoln hospital. I met some wonderful bronx locals, and the service there was great; and best of all, I managed to escape this incident without any injures! Hey, nothing like a tank falling on you to commence the opening of a brewery.
– Chris Gallant, General Manager, The Bronx Brewery
Seems as though En Foco and the Bronx Brewery both share traits of resilience and strength – so join us as we celebrate!
Esteemed author and cultural critic Ilan Stavans, will be writing a series of ten essays specifically for our photographic journal,Nueva Luzand our blog. ‘The Democratic Eye’ is the first article in the ‘Picturing Diversity’ series, which will later become a book on photography. In discussing how the medium has changed, Stavans challenges assumptions on how society sees the world and how we view each other. It is a pleasure to be able to bring this exciting series to our readers.
In Rita Rivera’s photograph of the legendary baseball pitcher Mariano Rivera, a formerly exotic face is now graceful, classy. There is a severity to Rivera’s expression, a resignation. He poses in front of the photographer, not to be subdued, to be imprisoned, but to showcase his demeanor. There is no arrogance, no threat. If this is fame, he says, I’m undisturbed. What matters isn’t how I look but what I do. The player’s stoicism is a lesson. He is neither arrogant nor condescending. He simply affirms himself though his representation.
The democratic eye approaches its theme with decorum only when its subject demands it. For the most part, that eye is restless, mendacious, critical, even condescending. It stops at nothing. Its basic tenant is the demystification of reality. Look at Bradford Robotham’s marvelous image, The Kiss. The couple in it makes a fool of themselves. Isn’t that what people do before the camera nowadays? Happiness is skin-deep: everyone smiles, everyone kisses. These characters could be descendants of Diane Arbus’ circus: while they aren’t freaks, they are unrefined, trashy. This is how we live life today, they say, without etiquette. One might argue, of course, that a summer day on the beach is just an outlet for folks to relax, be silly, to let their hair down. And that if we don’t take context or the artist’s intent into account, aren’t we doing what we’re accusing condescending photographers of doing? Robotham doesn’t look down at his subjects. His eye is that of an anthropologist: he is objective, clear-minded, leaving it to the viewer to judge.
The effect is numbing. It implies a fostering of relativity. Truth is spelled with a lower-case t. Clarity has opened the door to the nuance of minorities, to complex degrees of shade. Everything is deemed notable. And memorable, too. People used to create albums of their lives with a set number of images. Today that effort is done less curatorialy, and more haphazardly. A sheer accumulation of images becomes a shareable past, one to be paraded on by friends. It is a selective pass, fluid, malleable. Plus, it is easy to manipulate that past. All it takes is manipulating the photographic content: the sunset might be presented in sharper tones, a person’s face less tragic, more upbeat. And, should the landscape be deemed inappropriate, it takes nothing to refurbish it. The world, as it is, only constitutes a draft.
What has all this democracy, this pluralism done to us? It has made us unruffled, relaxed, blasé to the point of ignorance. And it has brought down our defenses. The effect is a cheapening of experience. Timidity is seldom an issue anymore: to be on camera is to be real and to be left out of a photograph is to be ignored, to lack significance, to be as good as dead. Worse, pictures constantly stress the performative qualities of our social interaction, making us rude, aggressive, nervously flamboyant, uncontained.
Life is a party orchestrated so that photographs will be taken. It isn’t bad to be fake anymore, to become impostors, to exist in a permanent state of pretense. We are all actors. We are always being asked to be in shape, to display happiness, to joyful. Smile and hide your belly. To be depressed is to be non-photogenic.
In its egalitarianism, in its classlessness, photography makes us reflections of ourselves. It isn’t interested in eternity. Instead, it loves the normal, the average, the dull. We are all unique in our difference, it clamors.
Next Article, Picturing Diversity: I Am Stereotype (part 2-a).
Ilan Stavans, one of today’s preeminent essayists, cultural critics, and translators, is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College-Fortieth Anniversary Professor at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish (2003), Love and Language (2007), and Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years (2010), Return to Centro Histórico: A Mexican Jew Looks for His Roots (Rutgers, 2012), and the graphic novel El Iluminado (Basic, 2012, with Steve Sheinkin). He is the editor of The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (2003), the 3-volume set of Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (2004), Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (2009), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010), and The FSG Books of 20th-Century Latin American Poetry (2011), and a guest writer for Nueva Luz, volume 10#1 (2004).
Rita Rivera is a NY based photographer, photo editor and awardee of En Foco’s first New Works program in 2001. Her recent book with writer Rafael Hermoso is Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball, Kent State University Press, 2013.
Bradford Robotham has been photographing the Coney Island area since 1998, and featured that work in an En Foco Touring Gallery exhibition in 2013. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Robotham was an assistant to John Coplans for over eight years, and lives and works in NYC.
Esteemed author and cultural critic Ilan Stavans, will be writing a series of ten essays specifically for our photographic journal, Nueva Luzand our blog. ‘The Democratic Eye’ is the first article in the Picturing Diversity series, which will later become a book on photography. In discussing how the medium has changed, Stavans challenges assumptions on how society sees the world and how we view each other. It is a pleasure to be able to bring this exciting series to our readers.
Photography has become mundane. It is no longer an art. It has stopped delivering an aesthetic judgment. Instead, it stresses the banal. That banality is our joie de vivre: nothing is exceptional, everything is worth a picture. Ordinariness is cool.
There used to be a peculiar synergy between the “I” behind the camera and the camera’s eye. That synergy was a synonym of elitism. The photographer used to have a trained eye. The “I” made visual decisions and the eye was its conduit, its tool, its bridge. Sometimes the decisions were accidental. Click, click, click: one among the hundreds perhaps thousands of these reproductions, hold a secret. There is magic in that secret. It was a mysterious, an instinctual choice.
The camera lucida was an optic device invented by Johanness Kepler (Dioptrice, 1611) that allows artists to superimpose an image on a surface, thus having a better perspective on the object they sought to portray. The strategy serves as a metaphor: to photograph was to inject meaning, to superimpose a layer of meaning on reality. In 1980, French thinker Roland Barthes, in La chambre claire, eloquently meditated on what makes photography snap. A few years earlier, Susan Sontag, in her collection On Photography, released in 1977, established the parameters to rethink it in aesthetic, social, and ideological terms. To see an image is to set the mind in motion. It is our duty to trace that motion: Who are we when photographed? And how do photographs transform us?
Once upon a time, we left photographers to the task of patiently, selectively freezing the river of time, of isolating a sight, an emotion, of say that what matters is often beyond the surface, inscribed in the essence of things. Taking a picture was like crafting a narrative: it had depth, complexity. We trusted the craftsman’s choice, grateful for trumpeting a moment above others, for makings us differentiate between seeing and looking, between looking and observing, between observing and understanding. Truth in photography was about clarity, about light as well as lightness. Truth was spelled with a capital T.
Nothing like it remains. We have allowed ourselves to be bombarded with images. A succession of pictures overwhelms our consciousness. They come at all times, in all sorts of shapes, mercilessly, unimpeded. For non-artists, the use of technology makes them artistic, yet the images are sheer merchandise. The commitment to devote oneself to photography as a career, to make a successful profession out of it, is non-sustainable. Everyone is a photographer now. The camera’s eye has become ubiquitous. That eye is in phones today, in laptops, in iPads. It requires no formal education. My intent is not to diss but to describe: photography is more important than ever as well as more unrestricted, egalitarian, even uncensored. We all are guilty of trafficking with images, of abusing the “I.” The masses are in control and control is in the hands of the masses. There is no longer anything sacred, selective, or unique anymore about freezing time, about search for the essence of things. The medium has the message. Photography has finally become democratic.
And pluralistic, too. There used to be a relationship based on power between the professional photographer and that which was photographed. Perspectives meant control: to capture someone in a picture was also to arrest their self, to govern them, to control them. That control—that power—belongs to all. It isn’t centralized. It has no owner. Is such relationship still in place? The omnipresence of the camera today has reduced its sphere. Some photographers, whose commitment to the trade is unabated, proudly engage in it. And others abuse it. In either case, the relationship matters less than it used to because photography, in nature, has changed. The photographer is no longer a privileged conveyer of visual verity. That verity belongs to every Tom, Dick, Jane, and Alice.
A camera not only is a factory of mementos. It is also a weapon, a subversive tool because pictures are more dangerous than ever. They denounce atrocities, they embarrass governments, they foster revolutions. In the hands of the people, cameras are political instruments. They record, they confront, they reclaim. As a result, control has become uncontrollable. Movements spring around easy-to-send images. Those who once were subjects of photographic fetish have become manufacturers of their own profile.
Each nation has its photographic tradition, defined by its own motifs, its own obsessions. Photographing the nation has been a strategy to build consensus, to create a collective identity, to foster a sense of history. The result is a fracturing of the ancient order. It used to be that white faces projected panache, superiority, durability. They were the sources of beauty, of morality, of civilization. Non-white faces, in contrast, projected vulnerability, primitiveness, exoticism. Ethnographers photographed indigenous populations as a way to record their habits. That equation is no longer viable.
Next, Part 1-B of ‘The Democratic Eye’.
Ilan Stavans, one of today’s preeminent essayists, cultural critics, and translators is a Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five Colege-Fourtieth Anniversary Professor at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish (2003), Love and Language (2007) and Gabriel García Marquez: The Early Years (2010), Return to Centro Histórico: A Mexican Jew Looks for his Roots (Rutgers, 2012), and the graphic novel El Iluminado (Basic, 2012, with Steven Sheinkin). He is the editor of The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (2003) Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (2009), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010), and The FSG Books of 20th-Century Latin American Poetry (2011), and a guest writer for Nueva Luz, volume 10#1 (2004).