I made a book for Bernie Glassman’s 75th birthday.
berniebook  01 “The Thousand Armed Bodisahatvha”, or “Kannon” is a traditional Buddhist symbol. He/She symbolizes an enlightened being who chooses, rather than departing for Nirvana,  to remain on Earth until all “sentient beings” are also enlightened. In statuary she is often depicted as a sensuous female with a thousand arms indicating the myriad ways in which she is attempting to serve all human beings.  Assembling 33 years of photographs from my adventures with Bernie, I was struck with the incredible variety of skillful means this human from Brighton Beach has managed to embody, thus the title.

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Bernie sometimes works with people who feel discarded. The photograph on the cover of this book is scanned from a kodachrome slide I discovered under a leg of my desk where, covered with dust, it had molded for years. It was ruined, a piece of trash nearly tossed in the rubbish years ago. When assembling the pictures for this book, this old slide jumped to my attention and resurrected itself, and now, reimagined and repurposed, it’s become the cover of Bernie’s birthday book.

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When I thought of using this name for the book, I knew I wanted a photograph of a thousand arm statue, I visited both the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but I only found sitting Buddhas.  I finally used one from Bernie’s collection, but I realize that the idea of an enlightened being being socially active is relatively new in this country.  Western practice grew up with the idea that the enlightened state was to be symbolized by a figure sitting on a cushion (the eighth stage of the Ox Herding pictures), forgetting the last two Ox-herding pictures in which the man “returns to the marketplace” and looks like everyone else.  The Thousand Armed statue is a better symbol of the current wave of socially active Buddhist practice, the museums need to catch up!

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You can see a full preview of the book here; I recommend clicking the full screen button on the lower left.

Bernie’s Zen Peacemaker website

The biggest surprise about the K-5 classrooms in New York City is how damn excellent they are.  The general public has been sold the idea that the schools are a shambles, but I see a radically different evidence.  For many years I’ve been illustrating books for Lucy Calkins from Columbia Teachers’ College, so I’ve had the privilege of dipping into schools in all neighborhoods of the city as well as those in the wealthier suburbs.  Even in so-called “failing” schools in The Bronx I find a beautiful rainbow of students fully engaged in ideas and discussions.  By fifth grade the level of discussion is more sophisticated and animated than at most adult dinner parties!

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This year Lucy reorganized her books about teaching the art of writing, so there’s a series for each grade. I recommend them for curious people of all ages.  Heinemann Publishing just launched 32 different books for which I did all the covers and interior images, they gave me title page credit and they are national best sellers in the school market.

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There’s much debate about the competitiveness of American schools, but I can’t imagine any system in any country hosting healthier classrooms than these.  The kids know how to be observant, to THINK, and how to express what’s in their heads.  I’m proud of my association with this part of the American education system.

Notice the titles of the books.

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Heinemann Books:
The Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing Series

They even made MUGS:

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coverThese are the woods where Henry David Thoreau first wanted to build a cabin.  Ephraim Flint, owner of the land around Flints Pond in the mid 19th century and my classmate Ephraim’s ancestor, turned down his request.  Thoreau had a reputation for being a firebug.  He subsequently built his cabin a mile away on Walden Pond and drew his revenge ranting on for two pages about the “bourgeois skinflint farmers” who controlled the local land.  I believe that phrase pre-existed the incident, but what a  fortunate a coincidence of language for a creative writer!

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For twenty years they’ve been talking about building a road through this suburban wilderness in the town of Lincoln, 20 miles West of Boston.  It’s not a simple case. Safety, not greed is the motivation.  The East-West highway, Rt 2, runs just to the North of the house my father built by hand in 1948; he and others built driveways that flow into the big road.  That was ok in 1948, but now the cars are faster and the trucks are bigger, and it’s no longer a safe situation.

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The democratic process takes time, committees and town meetings, state rulings and national standards, but finally, last summer, final decisions were made and the old rumors turned to orange ribbons hanging from trees, stakes driven in the leaves, and spray paint to mark the ledges. I could only guess what the markers meant, but they certainly did go right across the ancient stone walls, the heritage of the colonial farmers who had cleared the land by hand and oxen, the stone walls I had come to think of as “American Ruins”.

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Is nothing sacred?

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Then, in snow, the machines, big astonishing machines swinging their hungry heads like giant dinasours, arrived in Thoreau’s woods, the woods I had been born into.  The woods where I had learned to herringbone and gotten lyme disease, where I walked with so many now dead ancestors, where I was first taken to the ground by a high school girl who knew desire before I did, these woods were about to change.

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It was to be neither for better nor for worse, it was just change.

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I will continue to follow this story as the new road grows into it’s place in the old woods, but you can see the current WILDERNESS ROAD pdf here.

(this pdf is designed to be viewed as a vertical ibook on an iPad, but any computer will serve)

I felt honored when Shambhala Sun asked me to create a cover photograph of  Two Dudes (Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman) at The Four Seasons in New York.
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The purpose of a cover picture is to sell magazines, the restriction is you have to leave room for the title and type.

DSC04395They also asked me to supply photographs of Bernie’s work over the years; they published pictures from his work in Auschwitz, his work founding the  Greyston childcare center, and from his formal Zen studies with Maezumi Roshi.

DSC04400 DSC04397Bernie and Jeff have just published a book entitled “The Zen Master and The Dude”, it’s drawn from conversations between these two friends.  Most of the talk was conducted face to face or walking side by side, but the last conversation was held over a skype connection between California and Massachusetts.

IMG_0005In addition to his skills as an actor, musician, and draftsman, Jeff is an accomplished photographer, he works on his movie sets with a widelux camera and currently has an exhibition at ICP in New York and a book of his photographs. In my best move of the session, I handed my camera to him:

P1000536IMG_5754I’ve been traveling with Bernie for over 30 years, I’m always the one behind the camera, so I’m pleased to have our first picture together. Thanks Jeff!

Richie Havens and George Jones, an unlikely pair, both gone in the same week. Their lives differed geographically, racially, and creatively, not to mention in their choice of intoxicants. They played for mostly different audiences, but play they did, for entire full lifetimes.  Both live on as Gods in the American Pantheon.

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I wonder if they ever met.

These are murals of The Great Mexican Immigration. Mission   7472

Painted on the walls of The Mission District of San Francisco, the best of them inhabit a vision of humanity not unlike the Christian-themed paintings byTitian in the churches of Venice.

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And like the relatively cartoonish iconography that evolved in American churches, the second generation murals in The Mission seem to lack the depth of their first generation ancestors.

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Style without soul, personal expressions of people without much personal experience outside of television and video games, without much to say. Like the art and literature of Jews who escaped Germany, the murals that are generated from direct personal experience  embody the horror of a repressive, corrupt, and violent heritage  as well as sweet nostalgia for a pure rural lifestyle.  The people I met who live on 24th Street, all immigrants, were proud of these painted expressions, which function as art should to integrate dreams (including nightmares) with daily reality. The city of San Francisco was wise to encourage and preserve this expression of it’s peoples’ history.  

MORE PICTURES

PDF for Ipad

Ten years ago today, the Bush-Cheney American government invaded Iraq.  Some believed Mr.Hussein was a threat to the American homeland, but the millions of people who marched in the streets that Fall and Winter disagreed. They believed they were being actively deceived by disinformation and manipulated by fear mongers.  Artists did their best to tell their version of truth.

These posters were drawn by Lisa Herman Cunningham and glued to popsicle sticks. I took them on my bicycle around New York matching them to backgrounds; I’d just hold the popsicle stick at arms length and make the picture with the other hand; we made postcards which were distributed around the country that winter as well as a website and a film.  I think our phrases stand up pretty well after ten years, but they failed to stop the invasion.

The night the bombs fell on Bagdad I kept repeating the phrase, “I really hope they know what they’re doing”.  They didn’t.  The fact that Mr.Bush, Mr.Cheney, and Mr.Rumsfeld didn’t even have a plan for the day after shock and awe was a criminal failure of leadership. I knew they were mendacious but still can’t conceive of how they could have been so incompetent.  I suspect they still have a psychological condition that robs them of the capacity for shame.

POSTER   Instructed to respect library silence, in seventh grade I learned to giggle in this building.  At age 18 I left Lincoln, and after college I picked up a camera, then I spent 40 eventful years in Manhattan as a professional photographer. With this playful exhibition I return to the place where I first learned to play.

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It began as a whim. Struck by the memories and the beauty I rediscovered in this library, I wondered what would happen if I presented a series of images that were all found within the building that housed the gallery where the prints were to be  shown. I’d call the show HERE to illustrate the basic principle that beauty is always ready to be discovered for those who can see under their feet and beyond their nose.  The secret, an open secret, one that we all know, is to consistently step into the ever-changing present with open eyes and a ready heart.lincoln library  7496

Over the years I’ve learned that seemingly simple ideas can invoke an arduous path to completion, so it was a surprise to me that this project seemed effortless: all the hours of creation, photographing, pairing, printing, framing, hanging, even writing this paragraph, went by naturally, like breathing in and breathing out.  That’s unusual, but is probably so because I had spent all those many years developing the skills of my profession;  now I could return home and what might have been perceived as hard work became, for me, carefree play.

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Please enjoy the pictures.  Those of you who are physically inside the library, see if you can find the spots where these  images were found, then see if you can find a few more that I’ve missed, I do that myself every time I return, it’s a quest without end.

lincoln library  7459lincoln library  7479More Photographs from the Exhibition here

YouTube video here

Press

Buy Prints here

Buy Book here

The Lincoln Academy Lecture

The United Nations

My father was a cloud physicist, he was excited by unusual weather patterns and always rooted for the oncoming storm.  Anton Seimon is like my father in that way, but as Sandy made it’s way across Haiti and as the Pacific jet stream ominously shifted, he was early to foresee what was about to develop and, to my surprise, expressed  fear for the humans waiting below.  As I write this, Sandy has passed, 30,000 people are without homes and winter cold is moving in. Compared to their suffering, my experience, plunged into the Dark Zone of lower Manhattan for four days and nights, was a mere inconvenience.  I did, however, become acutely aware of how all of us have come to depend upon a steady supply of electricity and gasoline, and also of how the continuous flow of information over our digital devices is not just an addictive social entertainment, but is essential to our safety in an emergency. We feel powerless without awareness. particularly when we are also without actual power!

I chose not to operate as a documentary photographer during the crisis days, I left that function to my professional colleagues, but I did go out in the street with my small camera and its expiring battery where I focussed on the shapes, colors, and emotions that were left in the wake of  wind and water.

Those of us still safe within our darkened houses were reminded of simple basic pleasures : silence, candles, walking; new shadows, old landlines, battery radio; ice-cream that must be eaten, a blessed internet sabbath, and being needed by neighbors.

WNYC radio was our only connection to community in that darkness, those of you who are grateful can thank them before they ask.  More pictures are here.

Note: The World Trade Center tragedy also occurred on an election day, a local primary which lead to the transition from Giuliani to Bloomberg; that election was postponed.

I have personally witnessed six generations come or go on Grand Manan, I’ve witnessed 19th century hymn-singing culture as it morphed into 21st century Facebook culture. I often catch myself dwelling on what has been lost, at the cost of not remembering the vibrant dramas that unfold every day on this constant, but ever-changing island.

Today my friends on Grand Manan are heading out to sea, planting potatoes, playing basketball, and freezing a hockey rink; preaching sermons, digging graves, and bearing children; they are building weir, making beds, running stores, hunting, dulsing, getting married or divorced; they are driving giant trucks and tiny tricycles, heading out to Alberta or returning home; dreaming and doing.

This place is going through hard times, but it’s still a place teeming with human life, a fact not to be missed by those of us who might get lost seeking answers in the fog of the future or the twilight of the past.

The preceding paragraph is the last (and most optimistic) of ten chapters in my  book&exhibition project, “Dead Reckoning: Stories from Grand Manan Island”, which is temporarily available in full preview.

In 1968, the year John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black power fists in Mexico City, I was only a foot away from making the American Olympic team. The joke is that in the hundred yard dash one foot would be very close, but in the HIGH JUMP it might as well have been a thousand miles!

Success and failure have contradicting yardsticks.  By Olympic standards, I was a failure, but by local standards I was a success: jumping four inches over my own height was enough to make me a state champion and the undefeated co-captain of my Wesleyan University track team with Bill Rogers.  There’s a photo of all the team captains smiling at the camera in coats and ties, except for me, the radical, who wore beads…. over his tie.  What can I say, it was 1968, neither one era nor the other, caught between, my favorite position.

Another measuring stick is psychological.  As a teenager I was very good at many things, but not the best at any one thing, I needed that, I needed to be best at one thing.  I have sympathy with current athletes who are tempted to take whatever substance will give them an edge; my version was to make a verbal deal with the devil, I said that if I can make the next height I’d be willing to give up 3 years at the end of my life – it seemed very far away at the time.  It worked, I got what I needed and my life unfolded in unexpectedly rich ways. I am very grateful, as I didn’t plan any of it.  Individuals’ paths actually work out unpredictably, one event bending into another, dreams shattered becoming a fine place to start dreaming, each corner revealing a new vista.  Advance plotting seems to function well for novelists, but a novelist plays the role of God in relation to the work, and when it comes to our personal destiny, we are not God.

For me, the devil now seems to be having his (or her) last laugh: 

At least I hope it’s her last laugh.  Life doesn’t go as we might will it, but it does seem to have a certain balance in the end.  I landed on hard sawdust many many times and there is a price to pay.  My hope is that this replaces the 3 year arrangement.

The days, they come one at a time, each beginning with banana and cereal, yet each evolving into an unplanned surprise.  Such was the last week in Grand Manan.

The lighthouse across Grand Harbour on Ross Island is fading fast, the entire back wall fell off this month, I walked over at low tide with Phil Ells, the undertaker, and his family:


I was invited to join three octogenarians on a trip to Kent Island to observe them  trapping muskrats, a dying tradition I’d never seen.  I have mixed feelings about the fact that I managed to leave before a single trap was sprung:

Warm April evenings, the evening light stretching itself across the sanded fiberglass sides of land-dry lobster boats

Andrew Russell building his own lobster traps, they wind up costing him just $15 each for materials; Andrew also rebuilds cars: 

Megan Ingalls did a telephone interview with The Toronto Sun about The Sardine Museum and Herring Hall of Fame; they needed a picture for the paper so I met her down in Seal Cove between a shift with her home health care client and her overnight job at the desk of the motel: 

On Wednesday Kirk Brooks’ father Richard was hit by a car blinded by the setting sun while he was feeding his beloved geese, on Friday many of us got on the ferry to White Head to attend the funeral

On Saturday I got a call from Nancy Ross while she was was driving a truckload of salmon to market in New York City, she said she was giving me as a wedding present to her friends who were getting married in the Baptist Community Life Church, so I showed up and found the church filled with friends: 

And finally I had to put off my departure for an extra day because I had to attend Adam Tate’s 37th birthday party with my Grand Manan nuclear family:

A week that really was.


I nearly forgot I was a dancer.  But I tell photography students that it’s best to make pictures with one’s feet, physically participating in the constant change that constitutes this moment; I say that a so-called “zen photographer” may look more like a dancer than like a stone statue. I say all that and I practice it some of the time, but I had forgotten where in my life it  had come from.  Certainly not from a book!

I forgot until this weekend when I met with the ancient people who had been my Wesleyan classmates in Martha Myers‘ Connecticut College experimental modern dance class.  Several of them had continued on to become professional dancers, a couple even forming their own companies, another was a diplomat, another a mediator, a singer-songwriter, a business-woman, an architect,  and one became a photographer. It was easy to pick up where we had left off decades ago, we were trained by Martha in how to be playful, spontaneous, sensitive, and responsive.

Martha’s body has begun to lose its sense of balance, she’s physically fragile, but her mind is agile. 
She asked us to engage in several exercises -“keep going in a straight line until you have to turn” – each an invitation to spontaneous interaction, each with a natural lifespan, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, then the energy turned formulaic or repetitive and died away.  She said that’s how it is with all energy, all relationships, that the energy comes and goes and comes and goes like the tide.  She implied that we’re happier when we recognize this pattern, stop fighting it, and just let it happen.

MORE HERE

“I want to give you a little head” is what Jeff Bridges says when he hands you a small ceramic sculpture, and then he laughs as he does, infectiously.  He recently spent a day with his Zendude buddy, Bernie Glassman touring the Greyston bakery, childcare center and Maitre aids facilities that Bernie founded 30 years ago.  

Jeff is an artist, he can’t stop himself, he works in many media including photography. When asked to simply sign his name on boxes of brownies for Greyston to auction off, he took time and drew complex original creations on each box. His primary social concern is childhood hunger which he thinks can realistically be eradicated.

In his studio, Jeff doodled in clay a series of small heads  including one named “Charlie” who travels and has a new blog; it is Jeff and Bernie’s idea that these “Heads for Peace” will be leased for a year at a time for $10,800. The owner will report online on their head’s adventures and then will pass the head along to a new head-keeper for the next year.

These little clay heads will be feeding children.

Seems like a creative seed to me, and it’s just germinating now.  Buy one: here’s the deal.

 Charlie is currently traveling with a clown in India.

more images NYC

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