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Report

Brazil’s Destroyed Museum And Burning Questions Beyond

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September 2, 2018 - Rio De Janeiro, Brazil - General view of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, one of the oldest in Brazil, while it is consumed by flames due to a major fire. (Credit Image: © Uanderson Fernandes/O Globo/GDA via ZUMA Wire)

Published by Worldcrunch.com on September 4th, 2018

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The Doe Fund and Recidivism

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Project for my Video 1 Class. I have a long way to go:

Bosnia’s Next Generation, Wary of Limited Job Opportunity and Gridlock Politics, But Still Hopeful

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***Rough Draft In Progress, Come Back Later

 

Before the elections in Bosnia this past October, the capital of Sarajevo was full of hundreds of billboards advertising politicians who were running for office. These politicians were running for three presidential seats in what is, arguably, the world’s most complicated democracy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a country that is struggling economically, that experienced the worst genocide since World War II twenty years ago, politics is one of the only place where people can find jobs and security.

“The most secure job is with the government,” says Danijela Mehic, who was born and raised in Sarajevo and gives tours to foreigners, “The only way to make a change in life is to join a political party.”

But despite the political power and gridlock, the city is attempting to become a tourist destination and to is trying to improve economically, moving on from the ethnic-cleansing nightmare of the Bosnia War.

“Last year we had four times more visitors than ever,” says Danijela Mehic, “This year there’s even more. And every year we put out the red carpet for the Sarajevo film festival.”

In Sarajevo today, contrary to the lingering worn-torn perspectives of most Westerners, you can find Irish pubs, luxury brand stores, outdoor cafes, a Vapiano, virtual reality booths, bustling restaurants, etc.:

 


 

Youth (teenagers born after The Bosnian war) in a Sarajevo hookah cafe, smoking and drinking Coca Cola.

“In school we go on friend trips to the Catholic Church, to the Synagogue, and to the Mosque. We study different religions,” says Emina Ivazouié

“In school we study the dates of the war, the governmental system, but not the details of the war itself. Because there are three different opinions.” says Dledina Ivazouié

*Emina and Deledia are muslim sisters (mother is a muslim) who don’t wear the hijab because “We like our hair.”

“Our parents say we’re lucky. But if you’re young or under 18, it is difficult to find a job.” says Ali Ljuštaku, who plays guitar in his father’s band.

“Most families here are mixed.” -Ali

*

R (Melika Borovina): The only thing missing here is jobs. We’re not that developed compared to the rest of the world.”

W: (Amna Maudžo) “I think there’s still a lot of tension because of the war. I want to go abroad after school.”

R: I’m okay with being friends from different groups. But parents still say things like, “Serbs cannot be trusted,” and I’m sure they think the same thing about us.

R: Culture here is like a a meeting of cultures. It’s mixed here. You can really see everything.

[In Sarajevo it is possible to stand in one place and see a Roman Catholic Church, a mosque, and an Orthodox Church…I have pics]

R: We don’t express our nationality on the streets, but we hear it on the news, and see it in the papers.

R: I love this country. But I don’t think change will happen anytime soon. We get promises, but nothing in return.

R: The Dayton agreement causes a lot of things not to be changed.


 

Lana Prlić, youngest member of Bosnian Parliament, born during the war, mother is Muslim and father is Catholic (they raised me in the way to have knowledge about each religion and tradition and to choose by myself what I what to be. And I choose to respect everything and everyone and to be atheist.”) —-perhaps Q and A?

I became political active when I was 17 and still in high school. Why?
Because I wanted to change something, I wanted to make society in my
town Mostar more healthy without borders that are made by those who
enjoy luxurious life for over two decades based on divided society. Because
Mostar and Bosnia and Herzegovina are multicultural. SDP was my
choice [political party] because tradition, history, program of this party had the most
similarities to the way I was raised, to respect everyone, do not judge and
divide people only on the criteria are the good or bad ones. I did not want
to give up my country, because that is the country where my parents are,
my friends and all memories. I want to fight for next generations, because
generations of my grandparents barely survive due to low pensions (cca. 100
euros minimum), generations of my parents lost their youth in the war, and
my generation lost childhood explaining ourselves are we bosniaks, serbs, or
croats why today my generation is leaving. For the record, in the last 4
years 5% (80,000) of population of B&H left this country.

A:The biggest issue is that youth do not vote and if we add to it fact that elders
mostly vote we can conclude that this country is ran by older generations.
Youths have a power to change power every elections and they do not use it
because of the complicated system and political culture that presented politics
to youths in B&H as something non changeable. But they can change it, SDP is an example how youths can change help and recover party, I am sure that they
can do it with the country as well but they need opportunity. At the other
hand, youths today are involve in many NGOs, and others but unfortunately
mainly they see political party as the way of employment, and again for it
political culture is the main cause.

 

Obviously Bosnia is the phenomena country where with the less of 4 million people
we do have three presidents, of each ethnic group and mostly they represent
party interests not state interest. From 2014-2018 we had 3 presidents and non
of them made decisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the Presidents on his
meeting do not even play on hymn of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I will repeat
again you cannot represent country which you do not feel yours. We need
people in Presidency which will represent every each citizen of Bosnia and
Herzegovina no matter their ethnic group, because Presidency is the mirror of
our country and clearly in the last 4 years it was broken.

Dayton Agreement had a goal to establish peace here, and that is the most
important thing. But DPA put this country in the hands of few families which
run nationalists parties, this country cannot function and cannot be healthy if
people here are divided in the constitution in the core of political and social
system. Bosnia and Herzegovina should be country of all its citizens no matter
where they live. DPA is discriminatory, by that education system as well,
electoral system as well. What we can expect from the country in which
constitution is discriminatory? How to develop? How to solve life issues, when
on every issue which is not in interest of nationalist parties they have right on
national vital interest or ethnical veto? It is clear that DPA was an experiment
and it failed together with the holders of its, OHR.

This country should be country of all its citizens led by
those who feel this country as its own, by those who listen people and do have
responsibility towards them, led by people who found life issues way ahead
national issues. Nationalist’s countries are mostly poor countries, and
unfortunately Bosnia is every year on the bottom of every list. This country
need rehab and I hope at Sunday my party will get a chance to make B&H
country for all together with our candidate for the presidency Denis Becirovic
who we represent every each people in this country no matter its name,
religion or ethnicity. My biggest wish is to make country where people will
come and youths return from Western countries, so parents do not longer speak
with their kids by Skype or see them only during the holidays.


Boriša Falatar….ran for president, but lost. Waiting on his response to my second email…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His father died when he was 8, his grandfather was in the concentration camps. When Borisa was 16 the Bosnian War started on April 5th, he was at a sleepover with a friend when his friend’s father woke him up and said, “Sarajevo is occupied.” They went to the protests. 

“At first, the war was super boring.” But nobody could go out. Everybody was in shelters. He was watching movies. No electricity. “You don’t think it’s dangerous.”

Danijeja (tour guide) spent 3 months underground. She can’t go to the Bosnian War museum because it fills her with pain. She married during the war and had a child…”a way to have something behind yourself.”

Boris’s paternal grandfather is Croatian. His paternal grandmother is Serbian. His mother is muslim. He grew up in a Jewish community. The war for me was: what the hell is happening? Different parts of my family are being blamed. Who am I?

Mother was shot and killed during the war when he was 18.

Worked for the U.N. as an interpreter.

I never settled in one place in my life. Bosnia is my home. Lost 5% of the population in the last 4 years. People live with photos of their children.

1.5 years ago he traveled around Bosnia, spoke to activists. There’s not unifying force.

All the presidents here are like Trump. Bt they never achieve anything. We have three Trumps.

It’s difficult to get media attention. Peace-loving Ghandi doesn’t make headlines. “Love each other,” isn’t clickable.

“Screw you assholes!” that is clickable.

My mission isn’t all about getting elected. It’s about healing the wounds of this country.

No country is as diverse as Bosnia.

When Europe was killing itself 500 years ago, we were living together.

Politicians here scare you with the worst possible option. Entrench yourself in a political party or the other will win.

Despite Bosnia’s difficulties and political in-fighting, there are those who are working towards a better future, and a youth that is open to acceptance and moving forward.

 

 

 

 

Louvre Pyramid Turns 30

Last week I wrote an article for Agence France-Presse, which was published 4 days ago as “From outrage to icon: Paris marks 30 years of Louvre’s pyramid.” Below is the original article, before the editors changed it. 1 minute read:


Thirty years ago the Louvre Pyramid was called a cultural desecration, with journalists and the Parisian public calling for an insurrection against the structure, but today the monument is celebrated as a resounding success.


The initial hate for the Louvre Pyramid has been transformed so completely into iconic admiration that the Parisian street artist, JR, has created his second exhibit involving the pyramid. The exhibit was revealed last Friday and has been subsequently shredded by tourists.


The idea for renovating the Louvre came from the charismatic Jack Lang, who in 1981 wrote President François Mitterrand saying, “It would be a good idea to start recreating the Grand Louvre by allocating all the buildings to museums.” Mitterrand scribbled back in a letter, “Good idea, but it’s difficult to realize good ideas.”


Jack Lang continued to push for a renovation, writing that, “The Napoleon courtyard was a terrible parking lot. The museum was handicapped by the lack of a central entrance.” Mitterrand gave in to the requests and hired the architect, Ieo Ming Pei. Mitterrand had always admired Pei’s work in the United States, which included Pei’s modernist extension to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Dallas City Hall. 


When I.M. Pei’s model of the pyramid was revealed to the French public in 1984, Jack Lang remembers “an explosion of screams.” The journalist André Fermigier called the design “a house of death.” The academician Jean Dutourd wrote that “uncle wants to be the first pharaoh in our history.” And three historians, Antioine Schnapper, Sébastien Loste, and Bruno Foucart published a book of essays entitled, “Mystified Paris. The great illusion of the Great Louvre.”


The criticisms were focused less on the enlargement of the Louvre as about the aesthetics of the contemporary architecture clashing with the Napoleon III setting. I.M. Pei had never worked on a historic building before.
Pei remembers one architectural meeting that was “a terrible session,” where an expert shouted at him, “You are not in Dallas now!” His critics didn’t seem to care that he had won the Prtizker Prize in 1983, the “Nobel of architecture.”


“I received many angry glances in the streets of Paris,” Pei later said, confessing that “after the Louvre I thought no project would be too difficult.”


Pei’s genius was to link the three wings of the world’s most visited museum with vast underground galleries bathed in light from his glass and steel pyramid.


For its current Chairman and CEO Jean-Luc Martinez, the pyramid is a masterpiece that helped turned the museum around. “The Louvre is the only museum in the world whose entrance is a work of art,” he said “and the pyramid has become the symbol of a museum resolutely turned towards the future.”


Pei’s original design was intended for two million annual visitors. Last year 10.2 million people visited the Louvre. This year I.M. Pei is 102 years old, and continues to enjoy the success of his work, which is admired for its beautiful modernity as much as the ancient art it introduces.


The Louvre was not the first museum in Paris to experience hate that was turned to love. The Arche de la Défense, the Centre Pompidou, and the Eiffel Tower all experienced lashing disapproval at the time of their births. In 1887, the Eiffel Tower was attacked by a group of intellectuals (including Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant) who published a letter in the newspaper Le Temps protesting against the building, calling it “Useless…monstrous…and an odious column of sheet metal with bolts.” And like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre would survive the barrage of criticism to become one of the most popular structures in the world and a shining symbol of Paris.


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UDSM and the Mentally Handicapped in France

J’ai travaillé sur ce project avec Brant DeBoer et Tanguy Garrel-Jaffrelot.


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A Dog Walk Encounter

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Flash Nonfiction: 1 minute read:

 

This morning at 7:45am while walking my bulldog, Hank, I saw a young man playing with his puppy in an open field. The puppy was teasing the man, running away with that awkward puppy gait. I smiled to myself, remembering Hank doing the same thing five years ago.

When the man caught up to the puppy he grabbed its collar, shoved it to the ground, and began smacking the puppy across the face.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” I yelled. “YOU MOTHERFUCKER! DON’T HIT YOUR DOG YOU-“

“FUCK YOU ASSHOLE. LEAVE ME ALONE. THIS DOG IS GONNA BE A FIGHTER.” He scooped up his puppy and started to walk out of the field. I ran after him, blind with rage and yelling, uncertain of how to handle the situation. The man climbed some stairs, and while we shouted back and forth I heard him yell, “I’M TIRED OF WHITE PEOPLE TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!”

“IT’S NOT ABOUT RACE. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU AND ME. IT’S ABOUT YOUR DOG.”

“FUCK YOU. I’M GONNA RAISE MY DOG HOW I-” Then something inside of me cracked. I realized the situation at this moment was futile. My anger was for myself. Even if I could get this puppy away from this man, he’d find another one to beat. And the more I lashed out at this man, the more he would hurt his dog.

“Please. It’s not about you and me. It’s about your dog.”

“I WILL DO WHATEVER I FUCKING-” I started to beg with him.

“Please. Beat the shit out of me. Come over here and punch me in the face. I won’t fight back. I don’t care. Just don’t hurt your dog. Please. Don’t hurt your dog.” The man was at the top of the stairs.

“Just don’t hurt your dog. Hurt me. Not the dog.” He started to walk away. Then I found myself saying something I had never said before.

“Please. Don’t hurt your dog. God Bless.” The man paused, turned, then yelled back in an awkward, cracking tone, “THANK YOU,” and walked away. At the bottom of the stairs I realized I was shaking. This man would most likely keep beating his dog. There was nothing more I could do. There was such cruelty in the world. I felt fed up and finished with the world. I looked down at Hank, who was licking my leg and looking forward to the rest of his walk. “C’mon Hank, let’s go home.” I burst into tears. I wept for the next fifteen minutes on the walk back, letting Hank leisurely sniff wherever he wanted. In my apartment I wrote down what I remembered. Writing was something I could do.

 


 

Author’s Notes: A 311 service request has been filled out and the N.Y.P.D. has been contacted.

 

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He Didn’t Con Her

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This story has been published in a book called Not Who I Pictured: Sixteen Photographs Sixteen Stories, which you can buy here for $9.99

Below is the first half of the story (2 minute read). If you’re still uncertain about buying the book, I’ve also posted two passages from other stories, below mine. I hope you enjoy them.

If you don’t have cash to spare, but still want to read my story to the end, contact me directly. I’ll send you the whole piece.

 


 

 

When Tino DeAngelis died, my grandmother called my mother and mentioned his death, and that there wasn’t a funeral or a wake for him. My grandmother was always private about her relationship with Tino. But my mother went to her house anyway after the phone call, without telling her she was coming. When my mother arrived, my grandmother cried, saying,

“You came.”

Tino was seventy one when he met my grandmother. He was renting her sister’s house. My grandfather died a few weeks after he moved in. Tino sent an extravagant bouquet of flowers to my grandfather’s wake. Then he began taking my grandmother out to dinner.

Tino and my grandmother kept seeing each other. She retired after working for forty years at a mental hospital. Tino liked to drive and took my grandmother on many trips. They took me on a trip to Canada when I was two years old. Tino must have been a wonderful person to spend time with for my grandmother who was, after all, a widow living in the town of Ovid, in upstate New York, where there was not a lot of adventure. Tino was full of adventure. He took my grandmother to Rome, Paris, Colorado, and bought her jewelry. They read books and planted flowers together.

My family doesn’t know the details of how their relationship began. But when my parents met Tino for the first time, he pulled them aside and said, “There are some things you should know about me…about my past.”

My earliest memories of Tino are seeing him with my grandmother on Christmas Eve, when my family would always go to my grandmother’s house. He was a short, stocky man with bulging eyes and a wide smile who was always shuffling around the kitchen. He would cook steak sandwiches, make my uncle champagne cocktails, shake my hand with a vice-like grip, and tell stories. He would call me a champion. He bought me my first racing bike with my named engraved on it, played handball with me when I was eight, and wrote me twenty five letters.

In one he wrote,

Dear Pal Jack,

God Bless You, young man. I hope this note finds you doing well in every way possible. Grandpa thinks of you every day and I just want you to know that I cannot wait until the day you reach the age where you have a driver’s license; I am going to get you a new Honda.

 

Despite writing in an informal contract: “Guarantee: I agree to deliver to Jack Knych one new Honda Civic model LX the day he reaches his 16thbirthday,” I never saw the car. But I loved Tino nonetheless, and I didn’t mind when he called himself Grandpa Tino. My family loved Tino as well.

But my grandmother’s relationship with Tino would be tested in 1992, when the F.B.I. invaded her home to arrest Tino for using $660,000 of forged letters from the Savings Bank of the Finger Lakes to purchase more than $1 million of pork from a Canadian firm. He would be convicted and sent to prison for the third time.

*

In 2010, a year after Tino’s death, I was in college pulling an all-nighter for my Financial Economics class. I was reading a book on the history of the stock market, when I came across a chapter on Tino. I almost fell out of my chair. I learned that he had almost caused the stock market to crash in 1963 by committing the most notorious white-collar crime in American history at the time, and that he had been a millionaire in the 1950s and 1960s. I remember thinking, “Was this really the same man who had been in love with my grandmother? Was this the same man who I had a picture of on my dorm room wall, posing ridiculously on an old-fashioned bicycle? And if so, who was he?”

The next day I called my father and had the truth of Tino’s crimes confirmed. When my father met Tino in 1985, he had been uncertain whether Tino was telling the truth concerning his criminal past, so my father went to the Bird Library at Syracuse University to check the newspaper archives to verify Tino’s story. Sure enough, Tino had been on the front of page of The New York Times for what called the “Salad Oil Swindle.” He had served seven years in federal prison for defrauding his clients for over $150 million (equivalent to $1.2 billion in 2018). For the next eight years I would intermittently research Tino’s life, to try and learn more about the man who tried to marry my grandmother.

*

Anthony “Tino” DeAngelis was born in 1915 in the Bronx, the oldest son of Italian immigrants. “Tino” translates to “endearing little fellow of the angels.” He grew up in poverty in a cold-water flat with four younger siblings. When interviewed by journalists later in life, Tino would reflect upon his childhood and say, ‘I wanted to do one thing in life – make a success. Even as a little kid, I partook very little of the gay life.”

Tino quit school at sixteen. Soon after, he borrowed $500 from his father, which he invested in a candy store. The candy store failed.

After the candy store went under, Tino would begin working as a helper at a meat market. One of the stories he would tell my family on Christmas Eve was about when he first saw a bicycle in a store. He told his mother,

“Let’s buy it,” and convinced the man behind the counter to give him the bike. “My father has a dependable job on the railroad,” he told the man. “We’ll pay through installments.” When Tino left the store with his mother and the bike, his mother said,

“Jesus Christ, Tino, your father is gonna kill me.” But Tino paid off the bike.

Within three years of working at the meat market, Tino had risen from helper to manager. By the age of twenty, he was managing two hundred employees.

When asked about being a manager at the age of twenty, Tino would reply, “There were always jealousies and stubbornness. But nothing deterred me. I’ve always had a brilliant and productive mind.”

*


 

Pragya Krishna wrote about her parents’ arranged marriage. Here’s an excerpt:

She [Pragya’s mother] had three older sisters, who’d all been married off, but she hadn’t really thought about the possibility that she was next.

When her brother’s wife saw she’d come home, she said, “Pinky,” (my mom’s nickname), “Take an hour to rest and then get dressed-up. There’s a boy coming to see you.”

“And I was so angry,” my mother recalls. “I said I don’t want to meet anyone. I had no decent clothes, I’d put on weight because I’d been binge-eating parathas because of the stress from studying. I was like, my hair’s like this, I don’t want to meet anyone.” But after her outburst, she calmed down as she always does, and obeyed, because that was what she did, especially if her parents had told her to do something. And these were her parents’ directions by proxy. “I said fine, and we started looking through my wardrobe. I found an old dhoti-type suit and I said, I’ll wear this.”

The boy arrived soon after and sat down in the living room. He had come with a friend. “I didn’t even know which one of them was the boy in question,” my mother says. She went into autopilot. Guests are supposed to be treated with courtesy, so she acted accordingly.

“Someone’s come to the house, I’m supposed to be an attentive hostess and be nice. ‘Please, have these rasgullas. I insist.’

“The young man in question, she says, had thought he didn’t want to marry a doctor. His friend, who is known to be tactless, said to her, “What if you were asked to forget you’re a doctor after marriage?”

She bristled.

The young man, however, intervened and said to his friend, “What kind of question is that? How would you feel if you were asked to forget you’re a scientist?”

“So then I thought, alright,” she says. “The guy has good sense.”

The rest of the conversation was just small talk, and when it was done my mom went back to her room and forgot about the whole thing. The young man came back later and picked up some pictures of her — a common practice during the arranged marriage process. “I didn’t know about it at the time,” my mother told me. “I was back to studying again. I paid no attention.”

But then, she says, “Exams were done, and my brother was like, okay, now you’re getting married.”

*


Chloe Picchio wrote about her grandfather, who grew up in a Pennsylvania mining town, became a soldier in hopes of experiencing adventure, then had his life shattered by the horrors of WWII:

 

Scranton, the county seat, soon became a symbol of the early 20th century’s hunger for wealth, like a character from the Great Gatsby who couldn’t spend their riches quickly enough. It was known as the “Electric City,” earning its nickname through the first-ever electric streetcars rolling down the avenues leading to an exotic menagerie of elephants and tigers at the local zoo. Five miles away, in Olyphant, those luxuries seemed like distant fantasies. Mining, even a generation removed from the underage breaker boys crushed to death under their coal carts, was dangerous and deadly. Anthracite mining required more blasting and deeper tunnels than those for bituminous coal, creating fragile coal seams where any small mistake became amplified with grave consequences. Explosions happened regularly, ignited by the little spark from a miner’s lamp or pipe. Hundreds of men died the year of my grandfather’s birth, their deaths by suffocation and gas explosion distilled into insurance company columns focusing on issues of liability and fault. This was all for $7.53 a day. The miners existed precariously at the bottom rung of the middle class, one workplace injury away from financial ruin. Still, it was enough to feed a family in the midst of the Depression, and the abundance of the coal fields was an exception in a country filled with homelessness and dust storms. Everyone in town worked in the mines whether they liked it or not. The earth underneath Olyphant’s main streets would occasionally buckle, the reverberations of a mining accident bubbling towards the surface, engulfing a home, a car, or a dream. My grandfather refused to be pulled underground with them. He wanted more…

…I always felt like my grandfather’s military service was an enigma. Throughout my childhood, it came in flashes, a brief viewing of his Purple Heart on Veteran’s Day or in the expensive patriotic floral arrangements my grandmother ordered without fail for his shelf in the mausoleum each Memorial Day. No one ever talked about what he actually saw because he rarely spoke about anything. Information dripped out like a leaky faucet, the discoveries infrequent but telling. Homemade jug wine prompted my great uncles to divulge that my grandfather had been in D-Day, painting a dramatic picture of how he stormed the beaches of Normandy, rivaling the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. That glory was tainted with awkwardness as they chuckled about how my grandfather had lied about his age, was caught, sent back to finish high school, and promptly returned to the army. Yet no one questioned his choice. Anyone who witnessed my grandfather’s decision is now either dead or ill. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what he saw and could never unsee….

*

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Margaret Bourke-White: Pioneer Photojournalist

According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report, in 2014 people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every single day. To put this in perspective, every two minutes humans took more photos than existed in total 150 years prior. GOD DAMN. No doubt this number has increased substantially in 2018…as more people have phones with cameras and meals that must be posted on Instagram. With such quantity, such instantaneous feedback, and such convenience, has the quality of photographs improved or suffered? What are the ingredients of a quality photograph? Perhaps the clarity and shock-value of particular photographs have improved, but has something subtle been lost when you don’t have to stay up all night developing a photograph in a dark room, but instead can press a few buttons and upload the image on to social media? Does the search for meaningful subjects become compromised when you can instantaneously capture and develop/add a filter to an image? How much can someone’s character be judged by the photographs they choose to take? I don’t know. But by looking at the past work of Margaret Bourke-White, a photojournalist between 1925-1960, answers to these questions may be reached. Because Bourke-White was, interestingly, both a first and a last artist, meaning one of the first photojournalists to make a career out of taking photos, but also one of the last journalists who had risen to success through the old fashioned way of photography. Whether she created timeless art is for you to judge. But her art aside, she was also a powerful woman who lived on the edge…here is her life:

Margaret Bourke-White was born on June 14th, 1904. As a child she showed a sense of adventure and a curiosity for life, as one summer she raised two hundred caterpillars under rows of upside-down glasses on a dining room windowsill.

Margaret at 11, feeding robins. Animals are fun.

She was very close with her father, Joseph White. He’d take her on walks outdoors, teaching her how to decipher between harmless and dangerous snakes, and how to pick them up without fear. With her father’s introduction to the world of snakes, Margaret decided to become a herpetologist. Her motivation to study snakes was fueled by a desire to travel and a desire to do “things that women never do,” (MBW, 14). Her father encouraged her herpetology by constructing wire cages to house her growing collection of snakes and turtles. Margaret would major in herpetology when she enrolled at Columbia University at the age of seventeen.

Joseph White was an amateur, though passionate, photographer. He was a stern, silent man who was not to be disturbed in the house while he was “thinking.” Joseph was an inventor who worked with printing presses, earning numerous patents such as the first printing press for Braille. During his life he would dedicate his “heart and mind to a tangled love affair with the rotary press,” but due to failed investments would never become wealthy (G, 101). He was, “Always tinkering with lenses and working on devices to make exposure settings simpler for the amateur [photographer]…” (MBW, 20). He would take Margaret on trips to factories where he was supervising the setting up of presses. On one of these trips, Margaret witnessed the flowing of metal and flying sparks in a foundry, and would write about the experience later in life: “To me at that age, a foundry represented the beginning and end of all beauty.”

Pouring the Heat, Detroit, 1929

Her father instilled in her a love for industry and work. On industry, Margaret would write:

“Ore boats, bridges, cranes, engines – all are giant creatures with steel hearts. They all have an unconscious beauty that is dynamic, because they are designed for a purpose. There is nothing wasted, nothing superficial. The realization of this idea will grow. It reflects the modern spirit of the world,” (G, 112).

Bayonne Bridge, 1933

And on her father instilling a work ethic, Margaret would write:

“His [Joseph White] positive contribution was to build in me the deepest respect for work. Work is a religion to me, the only religion I have. Work is something you can count on, a trusted, life-long friend who never deserts you.”

While a freshman at Columbia University in 1921, Margaret’s mother bought her a camera, a 3¼ x 4¼ Ica Reflex. It cost $20 and had a crack in the lens. At Columbia, even though she majored in herpetology, Margaret would also study art. She’d hear a lecture by the artist Arthur Wesley Dow, who was teaching at Columbia University Teachers College, and would later use his Orientalizing design principles in her photographs of gardens and estates in Cleveland (G, 68). In addition, the teachings of Arthur Wesley Dow grounded her thoroughly in the potential of abstraction from realistic observation (G, 111).

Early photograph…place unknown

Then, by lucky chance (according to Margaret) she took a two-hours-a-week course in photography under the late Clarence H. White, “…not because I wanted to take photographs but because the course dealt with design and composition as applied to photography.” But in her notes later in life she also reflected, “I think my great love for my father and the fact that he was so much interested in photography was a strong added incentive when I began work at the Clarence H. White School,” (G, 24).

Margaret wrote in her autobiography that, “…Clarence H. White was a great teacher and the [photography] seed was planted.” One of her classmates, Ralph Steiner, would become a colleague for life, giving her technical advice on photography over the years. In their first class together, Ralph said Margaret had, “Terrible, intense, staring eyes that didn’t blink,” like the cold-bloodied animals she studied. When Margaret would study at Cornell, she would describe Steiner as a “superbly sharp honest craftsman,” who “caustically talked me into a fierce reversal of the viewpoint that a photograph should imitate a painting,” (MBW, 30). He would take photos of Margaret later in life:

After a disastrous marriage and attending numerous universities after Columbia University, Margaret would move to Cleveland into a tiny apartment by herself. She’d develop films in her kitchen sink, rinsing them in the bathtub. The first photograph she would sell commercially would be a picture of preacher and pigeons, which she sold to the magazine of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce for ten dollars:

In 1927, Margaret was constantly visiting industrial sites, saying, “I can’t describe the feeling of rapture and real ecstasy that I had when I got to all that industrial activity,” (G, 74). The majority of her photographs around this time concentrated on dynamism, movement, construction, process, teeming steel, the pouring of metal, and coke being quenched. She began to realize the democratic power of photographs, as, “Even in its most complex combinations, anyone can understand most photographs.”

The same year a friend of Margaret’s suggested that she bring her industrial pictures to the Union Trust Company. The Union Trust Company was desperate for covers for their monthly magazine called Trade Winds. After they saw Margaret’s portfolio, they agreed to give her $50 for its cover, a picture of the High Level Bridge. They would continue with this monthly payment contract for the next five years. As Margaret began to receive more money for her work, her certainty in her path grew:

“…I didn’t know exactly what direction I was headed except that it was upward. I didn’t know exactly what my goal was. I didn’t see a fixed goal but I knew that I was progressing and that I would succeed,” (G, 78).

Terminal Tower, Cleveland, 1928

In 1927 American industry was reaching a peak of profits and productivity. The respect for business was reaching a kind of national reverence. The time was ripe for someone like Margaret to inform the capitalist that in the means of production lay the sparks of high art. Between 1921-1929, industrial production in the United States nearly doubled. President Calvin Coolidge would say, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple, the man who works there worships there.” And Henry Ford believed that “machinery is the new Messiah.” Margaret’s timing was perfect, and her pictures of dynamo in the Niagara Falls Power Plan in 1928, taken for the state set of Eugen O’Neill’s Dynamo, earned Margaret the reputation of “The girl who discovered the dynamo,” (G, 81).

 

But her breakthrough would come when she went to the Otis Steel plant to take photographs. When she arrived, the pouring of the metal gave off more heat than light, and Margaret would end up improvising with flares to achieve better lighting. In addition, a few days after she started work, a corporate publicist named John Hill wrote, “I had a call from the night superintendent of the mill. He demanded that I keep ‘that girl out of the plant,’ he said. ‘She’s crawling all over the place, and the men are stumbling around gawking at her. Someone is going to get hurt, and besides, they’re not getting any work done.’” Margaret replied, “I’ll wear blue jeans,” and returned to the mill. This would be one of many examples of Margaret experiencing backlash in a male dominated industry. The picture of the mill’s two hundred-ton ladle would win her the first prize at the Cleveland Museum of Art show in May of 1928. She would later write, “I feel that my experimental work at Otis Steel was more important to me than any other single thing in my photographic development.”

Work was becoming the main focus of her life. She would write Nikolai Sokoloff, one of her many lovers:

“You have never seen me at work. You cannot know how my work has been all of me, and how unwilling I have been to let anything outside of my work seem important to me – Everyone here knows how independent I am and how unapproachable I am. I made up my mind that I would not allow myself to get fond of anyone until I am over thirty. I shall abide by that, because nothing is so important to me just now as to do something in pictures in black and white with the romance and beauty of industry that has never been done before…I have made up mind quite definitely that I cannot fall in love with anyone until I am thirty…” (G, 90).

Even though Margaret was not the first woman to take industrial photographs, she was the first woman who was commercially successful in the field. She was a pioneer for bringing the image of industry to the attention of the American public and giving it a glamour and power it had not had before (G, 90).

In early 1929, Henry Luce saw her Otis Steel pictures in the rotogravure section of a mid-western newspaper. He sent a cable to Margaret which read:

“HAROLD WENGLER HAS SHOWN ME YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS STOP WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU STOP COULD YOU COME TO NEW YORK WITHIN A WEEK AT OUR EXPENSE PLEASE TELEGRAPH WHEN – HENRY R LUCE PUBLISHER TIME THE WEEKLY NEWS MAGAZINE.” Margaret raced to New York to meet him.

Henry Luce told her that he wanted her to be the first photographer for Fortune (which had initially been planned to be called Power), his new magazine. In the magazine “pictures and words should be conscious partners,” and “the camera would act as interpreter.” He wanted the magazine to have “the most dramatic photographs of industry that had ever ben taken.”

Luce knew that his magazine Fortune and eventually his other magazine, Life, were new means of communication and would change the very nature of reporting. In the past, a magazine would write a story, then a staff would look through an index of important images. Now, the magazine often had the story written, not before, but after the photographs came in (G, 109).

Fortune’s popular appeal was its illustrations, and Bourke-White was the force behind this appeal. She would make industry a theatre (G, 110). In addition, Fortune would feature pictures of politicians caught in mid-gesture, or of statesmen seen through half-opened doors, and these un-posed photographs were revolutionary. The public had never seen this new form before and it was a breakthrough for the press (G, 110).

Throughout this revolution, Margaret was on the center stage. And being a woman enhanced the spotlight. Margaret didn’t play the game the way that women were expected to, with a “sweet and retiring demeanor,” (G, 150). Her famous, often repeated line was, “Nothing attracts me like a closed door. I cannot let my camera rest until I have pried it open, and I wanted to be first,” (G, 125). When asked why she was often single, Margaret would reply, “I don’t need someone else to cling to and I don’t have the need of security that a lot of women do. First of all, not financial security, but even more important, emotional security,” (G, 321). A man told her once she had a lens for a heart. She took it as a compliment and happily repeated it (G, 273).

In 1936 Henry Luce received a telegram from Archibald MacLeish:

“The great revolutions of journalism are not revolutions in public opinion, but revolutions in the way in which public opinion is formed. The greatest of these, a revolution greater even than the revolution of the printing press…is the revolution of the camera…The camera shall take its place as the greatest and by all measurements the most convincing reporter of contemporary life,” (G, 172).

Today, as photographs are so integrated into our daily lives and culture, it’s difficult to comprehend the revolution of photographs becoming a part of the news.

In 1936, Luce decided the world needed a picture magazine, and came up with the idea for Life magazine. He wrote in the first draft of the prospectus: “We have got to educate people to take pictures seriously, and to respect pictures as they do not now do…While people love pictures, they do not respect them,” (G, 174). He hired Margaret two months before publication. Margaret was the only woman and the only big-camera photographer for Life. Her first assignment was the chain of dams that the Public Works Administration was constructing in the Columbia River Basin to control flooding, which would go on the cover of the first issue.

Before Life, no other illustrated periodicals in the world gave the news (or any other kind of story) principally and coherently in photographs. In Life Margaret would pioneer the picture essay, as in the first issue the lead story was about what normal, useful, pleasant behavior was like out West, which was the first true photographic essay in America, (G, 181). Margaret would say, “One of the things I really care about is being given credit for having this essay style,” (G, 180).

In comparing Life to new forms of media and news today, it’s interesting to note that Life didn’t turn a profit until 1939, three years after the first issue. And, the editor at Life had to teach his staff to read pictures, with captions at first being written to help teach the public how to read evidence. People were concerned that the picture magazine would kill off reading.

But reading was not killed off, and photos in Life were seen as the great equalizer, as an ad in Life in December of 1936 wrote:

“The appeal of pictures is universal…the cook and taxi-driver, then may find something in LIFE as interesting as you do,” (G, 183).

Henry Luce saw photography as a kind of remedy for the disheartening effects of the news. In 1952, Life reminded its readers that, “Back in 1937…Henry R. Luce…predicted that photography could be useful in correcting that really inherent evil of journalism which is its imbalance between the good news and bad,” (G, 187).

While working for Life, Margaret would engage in other projects, such as the collaborative book, You Have Seen Their Faces, with her famous novelist husband: Erskine Caldwell. The book, a 1937 report on sharecropping and an indictment of the practice, would influence the country’s legislation and establish a new genre: a book in which photographs and text have equal weight. A New York Times reviewer of the book wrote, “The pictures produce such as an effect, indeed, that it is no exaggeration to say that the text serves principally to illustrate them,” (G, 194).

*

Margaret Bourke-White’s life, as she rode on top of the wave of photojournalism and the first successful photographic magazines in the United States, would be full of adventure.  She captured the Dust Bowl, the Soviet Union’s five year plan, she was the only photographer who captured Stalin smiling, she was in a submarine in the Mediterranean that was torpedoed and had to abandon ship, she went on a bombing mission attack on Tunis as the first woman to accompany a U.S. Air Force on a combat mission, she would be in Moscow during the bombing in July of 1942…

Village school, Volga Region, 1932

…she flew with Hamp Atkinson and Paul Tibbetts (Tibbets would, two years later, drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima), she liberated Buchenwald concentration camp…

Buchenwald Inmates, Germany 1945

Leipzig-Mochau, 1945, German guards had thrown flaming acetate into the mess hall. Some inmates, clothing on fire, were able to flee the building, but upon reaching the fence they were machine-gunned.

…she photographed the iconic image of Mahatma Gandhi sitting behind his spinning wheel…

The Spinner, India, 1946

…then interviewed him the day he was assassinated, and she covered the Korean War.

The head of a North Korea guerrilla, South Korea 1952

So it seems a cruel twist of fate that a life of such action would be crippled by Parkinson’s Disease in the last eighteen years of her life. As Margaret developed Parkinson’s (she wouldn’t tell friends or co-workers for years after showing symptoms), she would say to a friend, “I feel like a prison in my own self,” (G, 343). She would write, “Parkinsonism is a strange malady…it works into all paths of life, into all that is graceful and human and outgiving in our lives, and poisons it all.” But despite the inner torment, Margaret never claimed that life had treated her unfairly, as her friend Jack Hofkosh noted, “She never asked the one question everyone asks without fail: “Why me?’ The question forced itself on her mind, but she adamantly refused to give it space,” (G, 351).

Starting off daily walk with cat named Sita.

In fact, in 1955, two years after experiencing Parkinson symptoms, Margaret asked Henry Luce to promise her the assignment for the first trip to the moon. Luce gave her his blessing (G, 347). To the end, Margaret loved life and adventure, overcoming obstacles in stride, even when they seemed unexplainable, as she would write near the end of the life:

“…from whence come the trials by fire. Seems so purposeless, so underserved. Undeserved is something we cannot judge and the very word had to be exiled outside of our consciousness or we could waste what little life we have ahead by complaining that we don’t deserve such fate.” (G, 351).

 

View of Ithaca’s west hill, one of the first photographs Margaret ever took of herself.

 

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The Importance of Failure

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“The Importance of Failure”

Co-authored piece published in The Freeman Magazine then re-published in FEE (Foundation for Economic Freedom) October 26th, 2011. Presented at APEE (Association of Private Enterprise Education) in spring of 2012 at “Best of the Freeman” panel.

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