memorial day, maxwell

I only know a few veterans who give much attention to Memorial Day. I generally don’t. Don’t get me wrong — the concept of Memorial Day is beautiful. Honoring the men and women who’ve died while serving in the military is a worthy idea. But let’s face it, there’s not a lot of actual honoring going on these days. In practice, Memorial Day has become a cheap-ass way for people to ‘support the troops’ without actually having to do anything. It’s a form of emotional absolution; people wave the flag a couple times a year and say ‘Thanks for your service’ to a few folks in uniform, then they’ve done their duty and can go about their lives.

It’s not their fault. Most folks simply don’t have any skin in the game. Since we have a volunteer military, relatively few people have family serving in the armed forces. In fact, I’d suggest most people don’t even know anybody currently serving in uniform. We now have a military force comprised almost entirely of strangers. So it’s understandable that we don’t really care too much about what happens to them.

It saddens me. It annoys me. But it no longer angers me. I totally understand and I can’t really blame anybody for only paying lip service to the troops.

cemetery, maxwell

So in order to avoid becoming annoyed with people, I prefer to spend Memorial Day doing something non-Memorial Dayish. But yesterday, on the way from one place to another, I happened to drive through the small town of Maxwell, Iowa. And I mean small town. Population of 920, according to the last census. That’s 920 people total, living in 349 households, and belonging to 242 families.

The main road through Maxwell passes by a cemetery. And there were flags. So I made a U-turn and stopped.

I didn’t even attempt to count them. Let’s just say there were a lot of flags. Not tiny flags, like the ones they hand out at parades or most often seen in cemeteries. These were full-sized flags.

And I was moved, almost to tears. Not because of the flags themselves; the U.S. flag may be a marvel of graphic design, but it’s increasingly being used primarily as a prop. No, I was moved by the effort.

These 920 people went to a great deal of bother to put up those flags. They likely spent a sizable chunk of the town’s tiny budget to buy them. This had to involve a very real sacrifice of time and money on the part of the citizens of Maxwell. A town that small, you know most of the people living there are farmers or have farm-related jobs. I don’t know anything about farming, but it seems like this is a busy time of year for folks who do farm stuff.

memorial day, maxwell

But they somehow found the time — no, they made the time — to put up all those flags. Why? Because they thought Memorial Day was worth it. Because they thought we were worth it, all of us who’ve spent time in military harness. Because they think the troops are still worth it.

For the first time in years, Memorial Day meant something to me. It meant something to me because it meant something to the 920 people of Maxwell, Iowa.

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things on a table — knuckles dobrovic

Back in January I wrote about my reluctant conversion to Instagram. I was one of those people who mocked and jeered the app. I was one of those folks who used a camera to shoot photos — not a telephone with integrated camera-like technology. I considered Instagram to be a platform for cheesy photographers to display cheesy snapshots of their feet, or drunken snapshots of their drunken friends at parties, or sappy snapshots of sappy sunsets.

And hey, there really is a LOT of that stuff to be found in Instagram. But when I started to noodle around looking at photos on Instagram, I discovered there was also a surprising amount of really good work. It was because of that work (along with the purchase of a phone with a moderately decent camera) that I decided to dip my toe into the Instagram stream.

22 July, 2013

22 July, 2013

So in July of last year, I created an Instagram account. I was shy about it. I didn’t want something that could be publicly associated with me, so I used an alias for my account: Knuckles Dobrovic. I conceived a really simple (and let’s face it, really contrived) idea for some Instagram-ish photos: I would put something on a glass patio table, and I’d photograph it.

It was intended to be a lighthearted experiment. I was just going to noodle around and see what the cellphone camera could do, and get some idea of how Instagram worked. I wanted it to be something I could delete without hesitation or regret if/when it became too embarrassing or too dull.

August 3, 2013

August 3, 2013

What I’d actually done, of course, was unconsciously sabotage the experiment. I didn’t want to like Instagram. And in the earliest photographs, that really showed. I just put any damned thing near to hand on the table — some ears of corn, a baseball, a beer bottle,  a random collection of old eyeglasses — and photographed it without much care or concern about the final image.

Sure, there was some minimal attempt at composition, but it remained basically a fairly lackadaisical exercise.

September 19, 2013

September 19, 2013

At some point, however, the experiment took hold of me. I found myself being more thoughtful and deliberate about the photos. I began to look around to find things that would be more photogenic on the table. I began to compose the shots more carefully. When I was out and about, I began collecting things specifically for the table. I talked about the project to friends and family. I actually began to care about the photographs.

November 4, 2013

November 4, 2013

Things on a Table became an actual project. Almost every day, I put something on the table and photographed it. I began to vary the time of day I shot the photo so I could use different light and catch different shadows. I photographed things on the table in all sorts of weather. I’d shift the table to different spots on the deck to get different patterns of line, light and shadow.

I even considered taking the table to different locations — out into the country, onto the sidewalk, into the city. That idea got tossed fairly quickly, mainly because it would have been a massive pain in the ass. But the important thing was that I’d begun to set specific parameters for limits on the project.

November 22, 2013

November 22, 2013

Winter came and snow covered the table, and I still put a thing on it and took a photo. I even began to create ice-things for the table. I’d find a thing, put it in a container, fill the container with water, set it outside and photograph the frozen result. I’d stuff things inside balloons, then fill the balloons with water and let them freeze. I’d shoot the photo, then leave the frozen things on the table and let the snow cover them. Over time the heat of the sun or the force of the wind would gradually reveal them, and I’d photograph them again.

January 9, 2014

January 9, 2014

To my surprise, friends and family members began gathering assorted bits and bobs of stuff they thought might appeal to me or look good on the table. An odd rock, plastic bubble wrap from a toner cartridge, an interesting weed, a hubcap found along the road. Eventually, people I know only through social media began to mail me things to put on the table.

I began to re-use some of the things — a piece of driftwood, a half a brick, some dead flower blossoms, an ornamental magnifier — partly because I like their shape or texture, and partly because the idea of continuity of things appealed to me.

March 15, 2014

March 15, 2014

Like any project, this one occasionally feels like a chore. I’ve considered abandoning it two or three times. But each time I’d spot something that might be interesting on the table, and I’d find myself out on the deck trying to find an angle that worked.

At this point I figure I’ll finish out the year. I’ll continue to photograph things on the table into July. Then I’ll probably come up with some other sort of project, simply because I’ve grown fond of the name Knuckles Dobrovic.

April 29, 2014

April 29, 2014

I realize that’s a stupid reason. I don’t care. I’ve no objection to doing things for stupid reasons. I mean, I’m the guy who came up with the name Knuckles Dobrovic just to photograph random things on a table. Stupid is where I live.

May 23, 2014

May 23, 2014

it’s american spring, bitches

You know what day today is? Okay, yeah, it’s Friday, but that’s not what I meant. I meant do you know what day today is? Yeah yeah, it’s the 16th of May, but that’s not what I meant either. I meant do you know what DAY it…okay, Jeebus on an ant hill, never mind, I’ll just tell you.

american spring

Today is the first day of Operation American Spring, bitches. I already told you about this. How could you forget that this is the day American Patriots will gather in the millions and shut down the nation’s capital? Gathering in the goddamn millions, people. Gathering in Washington, District of Communists, and they intend to stay and occupy the city until the Tyrant Baraq Hussein ‘The Bamz’ Obama is forced out of office.

The organizer of Operation American Spring, Colonel Harry Riley (Commander, Planet Skaro Expeditionary Force, Ret.), had predicted thirty million people would show up in the District of Constipation today. That’s a lot of people. All of whom are totally dedicated to kicking the Bamz’s black ass restoring decency and honor to Our Government of These United States.

american spring harry riley

However, many Patriots have been called to defend freedom elsewhere. There are SO many places in America where freedom is in danger from gun-hating gay atheists and other hybrid-driving traitors. It keeps Patriots busy. For example, Captain Karl’s many Operation Bundy Freedom units will be unable to lend their manly support to Operation American Spring, because they need to be deployed

…to BUNKERVILLE to execute THE BUNKERVILLE PLAN, so that all Washington D.C. usurpations and spending are restored to the States and the people, all Federal Agencies are kicked out of our home Countries and so that our American Middle Class family weekly paychecks are DOUBLED in size, restoring our local home town and city economies.

So there’s four or five fat white guys several thousand Patriots who’ll be unable to assist Col. Riley in his occupation of Washington, District of Corruption.

These brave Patriots are well aware of the risks they’re taking. Terry Trussell, Chief of Staff for Operation American Spring, has alerted the Patriot Nation that at the very least they’ll be facing “people from the liberal-left-progressive side, the Marxists, the anti-freedom and liberty people.” Worst case scenario, according to Trussell, would involve a drone strike. But Trussell is pretty sure that a drone strike would backfire (so to speak):

“[T]hey can pull in drones, but when the government destroys the capital just to get rid of us, I think it’s going to work to their discredit.”

He has a point. Destroying the entire District of Colonoscopies would likely discredit the Bamz Regime. Of course, the Gaystream Media would probably cover it up.

drone strike

“Take that, Patriots of Operation American Spring!” said Bamz

Still, despite these unavoidable setbacks, Col. Riley fully expects enough Patriots to face the risks and challenges. He’s confident they’ll occupy the capital.

“We are intending to field about 10-20 million people in Washington, D.C. and we’re going to close it down. We are going to circulate, clear out into Maryland and Virginia. We will have a gigantic, massive rally on May 16. Then some of those people will have to go home, they have to work.”

So the number of Patriots may dwindle somewhat after this weekend, because, you know…somebody’s got to pay the rent. But there will still be millions of Prayer Warriors lending invisible spiritual support to ensure the Usurper-in-Chief will be evicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced for his unconstitutional Muslim Treason. Operation American Spring is…

“…bathed in prayer. We’ve got a tab on our website where we’ve got a list of prayer warriors that are working every day in prayer for us. We’re bathed—it’s under God and we’re going to move up there and trust Him that it will work out because we believe it’s noble, it’s an honorable effort.”

So there’s that. They have a tab on their website. If it appears that there are somewhat fewer that 20,000,000 Patriots in Washington, District of Castration, just know that all those Prayer Warriors are there in spirit, singing the Operation American Spring jingle.

All the best revolutions have a jingle. The French have La Marseillaise. During the Spanish Civil War they sang A las Barricadas. And the Maoists sang that catchy little tune, The Sky Above the Liberated Zone.

Years from now, when you’re old and weary, wearing a diaper and sitting on the porch, watching to your snot-nosed grandchildren play ‘Patriots and Negro Traitors’ on the lawn during the May 16th Day of Independence Celebration, you’ll be quietly humming the Operation American Spring Jingle, and wishing you’d been there, in Washington, DC, the day Bamz Was Booted from America.

the war on religious liberty (also, the speed on the outside)

Shhh…listen. Listen carefully. Can you hear that? No? No, of course you can’t. But that sound you don’t hear — it’s war, you guys. A silent war.

Bobby Jindal, Republican Governor of Louisiana

Bobby Jindal, Republican Governor of Louisiana

It’s so silent you probably didn’t know about it. So it’s a good thing Bobby Jindal, pencil salesman Republican Governor of Louisiana, whispered about it to a capacity crowd during his commencement address to the graduates of Liberty University. He told them:

Today the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war…. It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty.”

Mired, you guys! You’d think if you were mired in something, you’d know it. But no! See, that’s how tricky a silent war is. We are SO mired in this totally Silent War Against Religious Liberty (SWARL).

Jeebus and random minorities in a boat in outer space

Jeebus, some white folks, and random minorities in a boat in outer space

Well, mostly silent. I mean, it’s not a War Against Religious Liberty in Space (where nobody can hear you scream). Every so often you can hear the SWARL squeak a little. A tiny squeak. Hardly noticeable. Like if, say, Jiminy Cricket had a sore throat. Teensy little squeak. But other than that,pretty much totally silent, this War on Religious Liberty.

Well, yeah, okay, there are people giving speeches about the SWARL. And they have demonstrations and protests. And sure, they wave signs and put up billboards. And open business meeting with prayers. Business meetings and Congress. And occasionally somebody will talk about SWARL on the radio. Or television. On one of the half-dozen non-commercial television networks exclusively devoted to Christian broadcasting.

But mostly, the WARL is S.

Jason and David Benham (allegedly not clones)

Jason and David Benham (allegedly not clones)

Just as in every war, there are innocent victims. The most recent victims of (S)WARL are the Benhams, cloned from stormtrooper DNA in secret underground laboratories hidden beneath Liberty University twin brothers who graduated from Liberty University. The Benhams (David and Jason — or maybe the other way around — who can tell, they’re fucking clones twins) were supposed to be the stars of a new show on the Home and Garden Television network.

But no! You guys, the network stopped production of the show. Why? Because the Benham brothers love Jeebus SO MUCH. We know they love Jeebus on account of they occasionally stand outside of mosques and shout “Jesus hates Muslims.” The Benham clones twins objected to the interfaith memorial service for the Sandy Hook shooting victims because it didn’t mention Jeebus enough — that’s how much they love Jeebus (hint: you cannot ever mention Jeebus enough). Also? Just like Jeebus, the Benhams love the gays. They just don’t think gays folks should get married. Or have jobs that allow them to come into contact with normal people. Or show any icky gay affection in public.

christians silenced

And because of how much they love Jeebus, the Benham brothers have been denied their First Amendment right to host a television show about flipping foreclosed houses. That’s tyranny. And discrimination against Christians. Also too? Bullying.

But those plucky Benham clones twins will not be bullied or silenced. No sir, they are warriors in the Silent War Against Religious Liberty. They will not be collateral damage in (S)WARL. They will continue to flip foreclosed houses for Jeebus, even if HGTV won’t let them do it on television. Their courage and conviction are evident in their motto:

If the speed on the outside is greater than the speed on the inside, the end is soon near.

I have no idea what that means. None at all. But I’m pretty sure Jeebus does.

the vivian maier problem

Everybody loves a mystery — and right there, that’s the beginning of the problem. Who is Vivian Maier? And everybody loves a success story — and there you have the middle of the problem. Vivian Maier is now famous, and the people who ‘discovered’ her have become important. And finally, everybody loves to see the high brought low — the tag end of the problem. Vivian Maier was just an amateur and the people who’ve made her famous are vultures picking off her bones.

maier2

I suspect everybody who pays attention to photography knows the basic outline of the Vivian Maier story. Photographer/local historian John Maloof attends an auction and buys a storage locker full of old photographic prints and negatives. The photos, which are quite striking, turn out to be the work of a reclusive nanny. Maloof publicizes the photos, the nanny is hailed as a naïve genius at street photography, a new star is created in the photographic firmament, the entire combustible photographic world is agog and everybody is completely charmed.

Predictably, the initial delight at the discovery is followed by the Vivian Maier backlash. This response seems to be driven in large measure by the extravagance of the early hype about Maier’s work, and is peppered with a large dose of cynicism.

“[I]t’s way too early to declare Vivian ‘great’ or to appraise her place or status in any way”

“Maier is a good enough photographer, I certainly don’t think she’s one of the greats”

“I can find no steady thread of consistency in her style”

“[S]omebody (or somebodies) smell an art gold mine with Maier’s work and are doing a fantastic job of building buzz that will pay off for them in the long run”

“[G]reatness and fame are two very different things”

“Maier can never be recognized (or collected) at the same level as, say, Winogrand, Arbus, or Frank mainly because she worked in utter isolation and influenced nothing in her time”

The backlash has been as bombastic as the hype. The result is two highly polarized camps; one of which believes Maier was a gifted but unschooled master of photography, and one which sees her at best a prolific but lucky amateur and at worst as a hack. Thanks to the Internet, those two camps formed with astonishing speed, and they’ve informed the Vivian Maier narrative so thoroughly that at this point it’s difficult for anybody to look at her work with an unjaundiced eye.

maier4

I was a quiet observer at the beginning of the Vivian Maier problem, before the hype. In October of 2009, John Maloof posted the following in a Flickr discussion forum:

I purchased a giant lot of negatives from a small auction house here in Chicago. It is the work of Vivian Maier, a French born photographer who recently past away in April of 2009 in Chicago, where she resided.

I have a ton of her work (about 30-40,000 negatives) which ranges in dates from the 1950’s-1970’s. I guess my question is, what do I do with this stuff? Check out the blog. Is this type of work worthy of exhibitions, a book? Or do bodies of work like this come up often?

Any direction would be great.

It’s clear Maloof believed the work was solid (though he was uncertain whether others would share his view). It’s equally clear the participants in the discussion largely agreed with him. It’s also obvious, though, that while Maloof was soon trying to promote the photography, he wasn’t making any exaggerated claims about Maier’s talent. He was genuinely intrigued by her work and her story.

maier1

It seems to me (and I’m sure other will disagree) that the hype didn’t originate with Maloof, though he was willing to feed it. So then, where did it come from?

I’m inclined to think it grew organically out of the situation. Vivian Maier really was a very odd woman. She really was an extremely talented photographer. She was almost certainly aware of what was going on in the world of photography, but it appears she really was essentially self-taught. Her photos and negatives really were a completely random, lucky find by John Maloof, who recognized he’d found something potentially extraordinary.

The situation sounds more like the plot of a novel or a screenplay than real life. Because of that, the narrative almost demands that Vivian Maier be an unrecognized genius or an over-promoted hack. It also requires that Maloof be either a savior who rescued her work or a villain who has taken advantage of another person’s talent. It has nothing to do with what actually happened; it has everything to do with what makes a better story.

maier3

In fact, it seems to me that the Vivian Maier Problem has relatively little to do with Vivian Maier or her photography. Rather, it’s grounded in the narrative imposed on her work by folks who spend their time thinking about photography (which isn’t a complaint, by the way; thinking about photography is a very fine thing to do — I do it myself).

I’ve spent some time over the last couple of weeks looking closely at the photographs in Maloof’s book Vivian Maier Street Photographer. Some of the photographs are unremarkable and a tad trite, even for the era in which they were shot. But others are absolutely stunning. Since the book was edited by Maloof (and, presumably, he also chose the photographs), there’s no way to tell if the photos are representative of Maier’s work or of Maloof’s editorial viewpoint.

maier6

In many ways, it doesn’t matter. There’s good work in the book. That’s what matters.

Does Vivian Maier deserve all the hype she’s received? No, of course not. She was not Mary Poppins with a Rolleiflex. She was not Cartier-Bresson in a dress and gloves. How could anybody possibly deserve all that hype?

But she deserves a great deal of it.