on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

 

 

The following is an exchange of emails I had within the past day with my friend Ewa from the Bronx. Her email from yesterday evening contained what I regard as very insightful comments.

 

 

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May 29, 2019

 

Dear Roger,

I appreciate all the pictures you send me. Sometimes I have no time to give them the right amount of attention, but when I do, I go over all of them carefully.

They are very nice and show different and sometimes surprising City views.

It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures, making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th). I sometimes get surprised by unusual framing like with the photo where the Statue of Liberty peaks from between the trunks, or fronds of greens in the park. Frozen crowds and some of the places that I have never been to make the pictures distant, but knowing the fact that I could experience them on my day off makes looking at them like at goods at the store that I could afford.

I don’t have time to walk around the city, but it gives me an insight into New York City’s architecture and landscapes and life of the city in general.

I admire the style and cropping. Once again, thank you, Roger.

 

 

 

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May 30, 2019

 

Thanks for your emails from last night, Ewa.

Thanks for complimenting my photos

I have never been good at hardly any technical, hands on skill. I never seemed to have any aptitude for photography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that several people seem to like my photos a lot.

I have gotten a little bit adept at things like cropping and tweaking photos, but I am far from being a pro.

I appreciated your email because it showed an awareness of certain key things.

My photos are a sort of paean to Manhattan, my city. My feelings about it are similar to what Walt Whitman’s were.

Your comment “It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th)” is very much on target. I find that a photo of, say, Central Park or Fifth Avenue is enhanced by having people in it.

I have acquaintances who have much more expertise in photography than I do and who own expensive cameras. Often their photos do not engage me. A splendid photo of the Taj Mahal in the evening; a photo of whales taken from a whale watching expedition or of a moose in a national park often leave me sort of detached. I feel that if I wanted to see such photos, I could find them on an internet site for tourists or in National Geographic.

A further thought: A relative of mine, noticing that I not infrequently include photos of myself (on my City walks) in Facebook posts, posted a critical comment about this on Facebook a while ago. When I complained to the relative, the relative replied: “Don’t understand why you post a picture of yourself almost every day in the same pose.”

Well, my hero Walt Whitman loved to have his photo taken — he was fascinated by the new invention of photography — often in a photo studio on lower Broadway. Posting pictures of myself may be a form of self-flattery, but the intent is also to show myself as being part of the scene: that I was at such and such a spot in the City on a particular date and time. In different parks, on the Brooklyn Bridge, on the steps of the New York Public Library, in front of some famous Manhattan building, and so on. I think it adds verisimilitude to a sort of photographic travelogue or diary of a City walker (me).

 

Roger

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 30, 2019

 

 

 

Central Park 2-47 p.m. 5-19-2019

Central Park, May 19, 2019; photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Walt Whitman (3)

Walt Whitman

It’s gone.

 

It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.

 

 

 

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My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.

 

 

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This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019

“Let it stand.” (an exchange of emails about James Joyce)

 
Once or twice [Joyce] dictated a bit of Finnegans Wake to [Samuel] Beckett, though dictation did not work very well for him; in the middle of one such session there was a knock at the door which Beckett didn’t hear. Joyce said, ‘Come in,’ and Beckett wrote it down. Afterwards he read back what he had written and Joyce said, ‘What’s that “Come in”?’ ‘Yes, you said that,’ said Beckett. Joyce thought for a moment, then said, ‘Let it stand.’ He was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator. Beckett was fascinated and thwarted by Joyce’s singular method.

 

— Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford University Press, 1965), pg. 662

 

 

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I had the following exchange of emails with my brother the other day. We were discussing certain aspects of writing.

 

 

 

May 8, 2019

 
ROGER

 

Writing shouldn’t amount to an incoherent, rambling screed; a sort of data dump of the brain. But sometimes thoughts creep in and occur that don’t have to be excised.

P.S. There is an interesting passage in Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce describing how in Paris Joyce was dictating a passage from either Ulysses or Finnegans Wake (I don’t recall which) to his amanuensis, Samuel Becket. There was an interruption such as someone knocking on the door and Joyce said something which Becket wrote down. Then, Becket asked, was that supposed to be included? Joyce mulled it over and said leave it in. It was words such as “Come in.”

 

 

 

PETE SMITH

 

Agree.

But leaving “come in” in text when it was just a remark that happened while writing and when it has nothing to do with the subject about which is being written is absurd. Joyce’s ego must have been enormous by then.

 

 

 

ROGER

 

Joyce was a genius. Us mere mortals can’t carp or judge.

Yes, a bit nutty at times.

Dr. Colp [my former psychiatrist] and I talked quite a bit about Joyce from time to time. Dr. Colp once said to me: “What would I do with a genius like Joyce for a patient?”

 

 

 

PETE SMITH

Yes, a genius, but clearly his self-importance was out of control if he had become arrogant enough to leave something in that made no sense.

 

 

ROGER

I wouldn’t argue the point. When I read this (years ago), it made me wonder.

 

 

 

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I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce when I was in my twenties.

I don’t think it will be surpassed.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    May 12, 2019

how could she omit the dates? (Whitman scholars won’t be happy)

 

 

 

 

'Walt Whitman Speaks' -book cover

 

 

I purchased yesterday at the Stand Bookstore the following slim book:

 

Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America

as told to Horace Traubel

edited and with an introduction by Brenda Wineapple

New York: Library of America, 2019

 

 

Whitman’s remarks are grouped, arranged, by topic.

They are all taken from With Walt Whitman in Camden by Whitman’s friend and acolyte Horace Traubel. Nowhere in the present volume is there any indication of on what DATE the conversation with Traubel occurred (all of which is fully indicted in the nine volumes of Traubel’s).

In James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the date on which a conversation with Johnson occurred is an important consideration, and was duly noted by Boswell. Same thing here (regarding the importance of dating when the remark was made).

What was Brenda Wineapple thinking? She is an accomplished and well known American literary scholar. I blame her, and also the Library of America.

Whitman scholars will be disappointed.

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

May 2019

Schubert (specifically, his last sonata), Mitsuko Uchida, and my mother

 

 

Schubert piano sonata in B-flat Minor, D. 960

his last piano sonata

not published

he died two months later

 

 

Mitsuko Uchida

flawless performance at Carnegie Hall on May 4, 2019

 

 

I have criticized her (perhaps unfairly) with reference to Schubert performances.

I saw her a couple of times performing at Carnegie Hall within the past year. A Schubert performance last year left me feeling lukewarm about her, despite the fact that the audience — she has a following — loves her.

But I shouldn’t jump to conclusions or “give up” on her too easily, I thought. It may be that I have been lacking in discernment and, consequently, appreciation for her playing.

She certainly confounded my expectations, and my prior less-than-enthusiastic opinions, on Saturday evening.

I realize that the three last Schubert piano sonatas are all great, just about equally. I have had a sentimental preference for the next to last sonata, D. 959. But I fully felt and experienced the greatness of the sonata D. 960 tonight. Mitsuko Uchida made me feel that.

And, I realized, as an auditor, why she is regarded, probably, as the foremost Schubert interpreter of our time.

So, from her hands, I heard Schubert and felt what makes his music unique and special. And so lyrical in a deeply affecting way. Note I said lyrical, by which I don’t mean to neglect what I would call complexity yoked to powerful, direct expression — a quality preeminent, unmistakably so, in Beethoven. It’s not quite the same thing, but — as to what makes Schubert great – in the program notes from last night’s concert, reference is made to Schubert’s “seemingly bottomless stockpile of melody, his ability to invest the simplest of musical phrases with dramatic significance.” (italics added)

Schubert sounds like no one else. His sound — if I were a musicologist, I could probably elucidate the distinguishing features; chords, for example (the program notes refer to “quicksilver changes of keys and moods”) — is sui generis. He is almost immediately recognizable. Perhaps this is a truism that applies to practically all great artists: the Handel of Messiah and Samson; the Haydn of the masses and The Seven Last Words of Christ; the Mozart of the Ave verum corpus and Masonic Funeral Music … the Melville of Moby-Dick; the Tolstoy of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection; the Joyce of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

But– I’ll say it– I prefer Schubert to Chopin (with respect to the former’s compositions for piano).

 

 

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What is it about Schubert?

I would say that he is incredibly self-contained — his music is sufficient unto itself. By which I mean that his music holds, fulfills, and enraptures the listener without anything in it that was intended necessarily to impress or astonish. The music seems to bubble up like a spring. There is nothing imitative or referential. No other composer could write such music. There is was only one Schubert. Self-evident? Yes, admittedly. But I got to thinking about this at the concert, and my mind wandered without my losing focus on the music. (This has happened to me at other concerts, as I have noted in previous blogs.)
How could I express these feelings or opinions of mine about Schubert? In my mind, I strained to think of a way to put or couch it. I thought of my mother. Yes, my mother.

My mother was a remarkable person. People almost always seemed to notice her special personal qualities, and to speak about them. There was something “self-contained” about her too. The good things were just there, inherent, unchanging; sort of wafted out of her; were effused into the atmosphere, so to speak, to those around her. The good things, the remarkable things — her particular way of seeing things and relating to people and her milieu — seemed to have always been part of her.

She wasn’t trying to impress others (though she was self-conscious, naturally, about the impression she made and eager to be thought well of). She was, to the extent she was admired for her good qualities, just that way. One felt that one would never meet such a person ever again, which is not to say that she was a perfect person or deserved veneration. It’s just that what was good about her was constant; distinctive in her; treasured and consistently welcome for the sense of emotional satisfaction that came from being privileged to be related to or know her. By which I don’t mean that she was like a therapist, healer, or do-gooder (though she was kind and thoughtful), she was someone whom people wanted to know and associate with because of who she was.

 

 

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Like Schubert? Meaning one wants to listen to him. Not because one should (because someone told you you must, because of his musical standing or stature as a composer). Not because he is the best composer in this or that medium, or was important as a composer in the transition from classicism to romanticism. But because he’s Schubert . And, with my mother, people wanted to know and talk with Elinor.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 6. 2019

 

 

 

IMG_4547 (2)

my mother and I in Danvers, Massachusetts

 

 

May 6, 2019

another Manhattan jaunt

 

 

“A City Walk-Just a list of all that is seen in a walk through the streets of Brooklyn and New York and crossing the Ferry.”

 

— Walt Whitman, idea for a poem (published in Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, Volume IV: Notes, edited by Edward F. Grier, New York University Press 1984, pg. 1292)

 

 

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On Friday, April 12, I walked from one end of Manhattan to the another — from bottom to top — and another five miles back downtown before getting tired and giving up.

The photos below were taken by me during different stages of my walk, beginning in Battery Park in the early morning, continuing to 218 Street at midday, and ending in the Columbia University neighborhood in the early evening.

I would like to make a few points about walking that have occurred to me from time to time, and which seemed to be confirmed by this long walk of between twenty and twenty-five miles.

 

 
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First, contrary to what one might expect, walking, counterintuitively, seems to decrease appetite. I had eaten very lightly the day before; I woke up hungry. I walked about three miles before having a light breakfast at around 8:30 a.m., two and a half hours after I had started.

At around five-thirty, I stopped to eat a late afternoon, early evening lunch/dinner. I felt very hungry. But I quickly got filled up and couldn’t finish.

Secondly, walking seems (as I have stated before) to be a perfect form of exercise which does not unduly tax the body while contributing to wellbeing. I have not walked as much as usual lately — this was true in the winter months. Yet, on Sunday, April 7, I walked something like fifteen or sixteen miles, and on April 12, as noted above, I walked another eight miles or so further than on my previous jaunt. I experienced little tiredness at different stages of my walk, did not need to warm up or feel the need to take breaks.

Without being an expert, I would be inclined to say that we are made for walking, evolutionarily speaking. For most of human existence, until recently, people were accustomed to walk constantly, and it is undoubtable that they walked on average a lot more than we do now.

Thirdly, I have noticed that, when I start walking frequently, my “brother body” (a term used by the sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin, apparently adopting the phrase from words of St. Francis) seems to want more and more of the same. I will wake up a day or two later feeling, I want to do that again. Today!

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

 

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Battery Park 6-11 a.m. 4-12-2019

Battery Park, 6:11 a.m.

 

 

New York Harbor 6-39 a.m. 4-12-2019

New York Harbor viewed from Hudson River Park, 6:39 a.m.

 

 

 

Hudson River Park 8-12 a.m. 4-12-2019

Hudson River Park, 8:12 a.m.

 

 

coffee shop.jpg

coffeehouse, Ninth Avenue and 44th Street, 8:51 a.m.

 

 

Broadway and 103rd St 10-55 a.m. 4-12-2019

Broadway and 103rd Street, 10:55 a.m.

 

 

IMG_3667.JPG

Broadway near 155th Street, 11:52 a.m.

 

 

 

Broadway near 195 St 12-48 p.m. 4-12-2019

Broadway near 195th Street, 12:48 p.m.

 

 

 

IMG_3736.JPG

Inwood Hill Park, 2:08 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Inwood Hill Park 2-23 p.m. 4-12-2019.JPG

Inwood Hil Park, 2:23 p.m.

 

 

 

218th Street and Broadway.JPG

218 Street (the last in Manhattan) and Broadway

 

 

 

 

IMG_3815.JPG

Broadway, Inwood, 3:15 p.m.

 

 

 

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See also my posts:

 

on walking (and exercise)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/02/26/on-walking-and-exercise-2/

 

Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/07/22/manhattan-island-from-bottom-to-top-walking-as-exercise/

a Sunday jaunt; Hudson Yards and the City

 

 

On Sunday, April 7, I walked from Battery Park in Manhattan to Dyckman Street (200th Street; the last Manhattan street is 218th Street). The walk took me all day. With zigzagging, I probably walked sixteen miles.

I walked uptown from Battery Park along the so-called Hudson River Park until I reached the 30’s, when I decided to take a look at the New Hudson Yards development. Hudson Yards has just opened. It was built over a railroad yard on the Far West Side.

 

 

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Hudson Yards has not been getting good press from architectural critics.
from The Washington Post:

“Architecture critics have been almost unanimous in their hatred of New York ’s new Hudson Yards development, a generic pop-up landscape of soulless glass towers and high-end retail built over the wasteland of midtown Manhattan’s west-side rail yard. Longtime New Yorkers, and transplants with taste, are inclined to agree: It’s as ugly as Dubai, it reeks of greed and mammon, and it only exacerbates the worst tendencies of a city that seems hellbent on erasing anything distinctive or humane in its built environment.”

— “The Shed is the only reason to go to Hudson Yards, New York’s most hated new development.”, By Philip Kennicott, Art and architecture critic, The Washington Post, April 3, 2019

from The New York Times:

The first massive tower emerged at the apex of the High Line, looming over it, a shingled, spiky, reflective blue-glass behemoth [The Vessel], shaped by eccentric cuts and angles, as if sheared by a giant Ginsu knife.

The largest mixed-use private real estate venture in American history. …, it is called Hudson Yards. … at jaw-dropping magnitudes you can’t begin to grasp until you are actually standing there, Hudson Yards has sprouted a seven-story, 720,000-square-foot shopping mall. There are also four more supertall skyscrapers as well as a $500 million city-sponsored arts center called the Shed.

… [The Vessel, a climbable 15-story sculpture which stands out as a defining architectural symbol/motif is] a 50-foot-high, $200 million, latticed, waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere, sheathed in a gaudy, copper-cladded steel. …

For its advocates, the $25 billion development is a shining new city ex nihilo, a wellspring of future tax revenues and evidence of a miraculous, post-9/11 civic volte-face. …

It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.

A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid.

It offers 14 acres of public open space in return for privatizing the last precious undeveloped parcel of significant size in Manhattan. But the open space looks like it may end up being mostly a fancy drive-through drop-off for the shopping mall, a landscaped plaza overshadowed by office towers and, for the coming western yards, a scattering of high-rise apartment buildings around a lawn — in effect, a version of a 1950s towers-in-the-park housing complex, except designed by big-name architects. … the whole site lacks any semblance of human scale. With its focus on the buildings’ shiny envelopes, on the monotony of reflective blue glass and the sheen of polished wood, brass, leather, marble and stone, Hudson Yards glorifies a kind of surface spectacle — as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism. …

Over all, Hudson Yards epitomizes a skin-deep view of architecture as luxury branding. Each building exists to act like a logo for itself. The assortment suggests so many crowded perfume bottles vying for attention in a department store window display.

— “Hudson Yards Is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community: Is This the Neighborhood New York Deserves?” By Michael Kimmelman, Architecture critic, The New York Times, March 14, 2019

Kimmelman goes on to say, perceptively:

The obvious precedent here is Rockefeller Center, completed during the 1930s, the last comparable development in Midtown Manhattan. … [It was] an object lesson in urban design and a landmark of modern art and architecture, a development ingeniously, democratically woven into the fabric of the street grid.”

At a glance, Rockefeller Center looks unified because of all the masonry construction and Art Deco details. But the real source of its coherence is its plan. … All the parts work in harmony to create a singular place inseparable from the rest of the city.” [Raymond] Hood [Rockefeller Center’s chief architect] grasped the difference between scale and size — how a site with multiple entrances needs to be orchestrated from many angles, how architecture without urban design is just sculpture, how true art enhances the dignity of a place, and how the success of a neighborhood and its retail businesses come down to what’s happening at street level.

Hudson Yards barely acknowledges any of these things.

 

 

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The sage observations of one Roger W. Smith (while walking on Sunday):

 

Hudson Yards deserves the criticisms it’s getting. From critics who know a lot more about architecture and cityscapes than I ever will.

Its stores are for rich people and tourists. The new concert hall/arts venue (The Shed) does not look appealing or inviting.

But the place is thronged (was thronged when I went there on Sunday).

With ordinary people. Congregating, milling about. Mingling. Gawking.

Sitting on benches on a spring day.

Because it’s a place to go. In what was a storage yard for railroad cars. The number 7 subway line has been extended to go there. A new urban space has been created ex nihilo.

People like to be in the midst of other people. People hate isolation, hate to be cooped up. (Pity the poor, inhumanely and cruelly treated inmates in our prisons.) This is very true of New Yorkers.

NYC invites its apartment dwellers OUTDOORS. On a beautiful early spring day in April. Streets and thoroughfares for walkers and bicyclists everywhere. People out on Sunday. Congregating in parks seemingly everywhere. Walkers predominating and defining the streetscape (on a lazy non-business day), like you see nowhere else in America.

Many interesting looking people. Snatches of conservation overheard. Attractive young women. Attractive young couples. People sunbathing themselves on the grass. People in crowded bars and cafes, jammed with customers.

Young ladies walking dogs. Parents with kids. A father free from work for the day taking his son or daughter for a walk, presumably heading to the park, or in the park. Mothers with strollers. Kids frolicking and kicking a soccer ball in the park, with the utter abandonment characteristic of kids at a play.

New York is wonderful.

Rockefeller Center is accessible in a way that Hudson Yards isn’t. Michael Kimmelman makes an excellent point. But Hudson Yards is another place to go. New York keeps changing, sometimes not for the better, but it’s hard to destroy its vitality and appeal to common humanity, despite cement and steel.

 

– Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

 
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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

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The Vessel, Hudson Yards; an ugly, monolithic “artwork”

 

 

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Hudson Yards, April 7, 2019

 

 

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Hudson Yards, April 7, 2019

 

 

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Hudson Yards, April 7, 2019

 

 

park at West and West 11th Streets 12-53 p.m. 4-7-2019

Hudson River Park at West and West Eleventh Streets, April 7, 2019

 

 

Rockefeller Center 4-01 p.m.-9-26-2017

Rockefeller Center on a weekday afternoon; September 26, 2017