Libraries – read, dream and become

By Nicosia Smith

For some it is their favorite place, where words and images spring off sheets of paper and tug at the heart.

Inspiring and giving reasons to change.

It is where the international and local meet and communities are invited to join in.

And kids can dream.

There are very few places where you can get this escapism for free. But I am grateful for this mostly publicly funded oasis – the library.

I have personally discovered societies the world over through the library. Even though, television has played its part in my discoveries.

But at the library I could feel and touch a book. There, I am much closer to Europe, Africa and North America. And I love it.

At  the Library I dreamt about the places I would visit, before stepping unto dusty and unpaved streets in my small town.

The Public Library – A Photographic Essay,” by Robert Dawson published in April brought back all my early library memories.

This book tells the importance of libraries across America, from the smallest to the largest of them. It took 18 years to complete and involves Dawson’s, immediate family, that is, his wife and son. So in the rare book room of the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street, I listen to Dawson tell the back-story behind his book.

I wanted very much to know what was new on the public library scene. And more importantly the similarities and differences of the library experience.

“We have a lot that we share…that was one of the surprising things,” Dawson said he found. And I agreed when he said that libraries were more about communities and less about the books themselves. But he also warned that it is not to be taken for granted, because there are no guarantees we can keep the current library structure.

In this technological age, it is places like the library that one can still go for a human touch.

That is, speaking to a librarian or an assistant and most of all, engaging with another mind. In contrast, different from having our fingers clued on our cell-phones with our eyes firmly fixed in the same direction.

I hope that libraries remain for a long time, to remind us why meeting, reading and conversing is so important.

 

 

 

A Facebook post or Wall Art?

What is your social media wall saying about you?

Is it a chart of how you are to be remembered?

And there is no shame in thinking about it while you post on Twitter or Facebook.

And look at it this way – you may not be consciously pondering it, but you are posting it.

Think about it.

All those dinner outings, evening sessions, birthday parties, vacations and upset moments posted for all.

A memento in your online album. Of your feelings and thoughts to be liked or disliked.

All saying these are things to remember me by.  A very interactive way.

If you happen to get famous over night, yes that too can happen. The first place the media is likely to look for information about you is on social media.

And all of your post and bantering becomes who you are. Even that one post you hope would disappear over time.

No they do not.

But for those of us looking for a more subdued  and less interactive way.

Well, there is always the services of a painter. That is one that can paint a portrait.

The artist can make you look the part whatever part that is.

Fit for a fireplace mantle or for a living room wall.

So while your post will be a little more off the wall or unpredictable, your portrait is not expected to be.

Unless the artist is told otherwise.

Curators are always preoccupied with this question, because it is a part of their jobs.

That is, how to best present a subject or someone.

So as you come across your next post-able moment, remember, that’s your art on the wall.

Rubin Museum explores photo alterations of the past

Rajasahib of Dhrangadhara, the then ruler of a princely state in present day Gujarat (India), photographer and painter unknown ca 1930. Gelatin silver print and oil paint. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Rajasahib of Dhrangadhara, the then ruler of a princely state in present day Gujarat (India), photographer and painter unknown ca 1930. Gelatin silver print and oil paint. (Nicosia Smith photo)

For those of us who practice photo shop there is a sense of gratification when we finally get the image we desire.

So what if you were royal. What would those alterations be?

The Rubin Museum of Art in its Allegory and Illusion – Early Portrait Photography from South Asia, showcased a delectable example of early photo alterations.

Images from South Asia in the 1800’s, showed photos of Royals being retouch with color, silk and whatever else they desired, as a statement of their authority.

This is the Portrait of a Royal, from the Photo art Studio Rajkot ca. 1900-1930. Gelatin silver print, oil paint, silk cloth,velvet cloth, sequins and gold-colored wire were added to his image. (Nicosia Smith photo)

This is the Portrait of a Royal, from the Photo art Studio Rajkot ca. 1900-1930. Gelatin silver print, oil paint, silk cloth,velvet cloth, sequins and gold-colored wire were added to his image. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Now of course, the changes being made for the Royals were approved before hand, I would imagine.

This was done by either putting the additions on a portrait photo (as seen left) or using the photo as a model to paint a portrait and adding the enhancements (as seen below).

So a painter would then add for example color, sparkles, silk and gold. Power and stature played a big roll in what was added.

This, it seem was quite common during those days.

A portrait painter, image taken at the Rubin Museum. (Nicosia Smith photo)

A portrait painter, image taken at the Rubin Museum. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Allegory and Illusion explores early portrait photography from India, Nepal, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Burma (Myanmar)  from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century.While there are many images of Royals and high-ranking members of society, there are also images of the ordinary, whose portraits have no alterations.

This exhibition goes through February 10.

BPL exhibit says learn from the art around you

Elizabeth Felicella photo

Elizabeth Felicella photo

By Nicosia Smith

Art is everywhere and in especially places where you think not to look or consider, for that matter.

Case in point. Now and through February at the Brooklyn Public Library central branch, there is a photo exhibit that includes the library’s common areas.

Most times we go into the library and other places and rush through. Our environment, a second thought. Often too busy to observe what is around us.

The photo exhibit by Elizabeth Felicella, Brooklyn Public Library’s first artist-in-residence, is asking us to notice our surroundings. On 4×5 inch film inkjet print or digitally captured prints and through archival photos we get a look into the library’s surroundings. Stairs, the lobby, reading rooms, photos and maps of the present and the pass from the library’s Brooklyn collection.

“…It cast an eye on Central Library’s tumultuous past as well as its exciting future,” says Felicella.

Around 18 pictures are mounted in the lobby gallery and more in the Foyer Cases and the Balcony Cases on the second floor.

Elizabeth Felicella Photo

Elizabeth Felicella Photo

The exhibit educates passersby and encourage them to stop, look and observe what they have just moved across. The stairs they climb, the catalog they may flip through, or the lobby they have walked across. The lessons to be learnt from this exhibit are, take advantage of those moments around to learn. That is, we can take time to inquire about the origins and reasons behind otherwise, everyday displays.

Remember the things that surround you, helps to shape you.

Tobagoian Lord Nelson to receive honor during Carnival season

By Nicosia Smith

Its Carnival season again.

And like the Caribbean community loves to note, the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is the high point of them all.

Not that the other island states do not put on a performance, it is just that T&T takes it to another level. The country literally comes to a halt for the final days of carnival. Carnival activities begins this month in T&T and ends with the road march on March 3rd and 4th.

And as the season heats up, awards and honors for musicians that makes the season so special becomes the rage. Apart from the Soca and Calypso Monarch titles, those legends from the past are honored. This carnival season Lord Nelson born Robert Nelson will be awarded, for his decades of contribution to Calypso. Calypso, West Indian music (made popular by T&T) are songs in  syncopated African rhythm expressing topical issues or themes. The singers even make the songs hilarious. Caribbean politicians sometimes bear the brunt of their humor.

Calypsonian Lord Nelson (Nicosia Smith photo)

Calypsonian Lord Nelson
(Nicosia Smith photo)

I met Lord Nelson at JFK International Airport recently on his way to Tobago with T&T national carrier Caribbean Airlines.

Lord Nelson told me that he still performs and the music he recorded decades ago are now being discovered. This, he told me was due to the fact that the singles released from some albums got more play than the other songs on the album – not released as singles. Now Lord Nelson is being discovered by a new generation of Calypso lovers. He made popular “La La” and “King Liar,” Caribbean favorites. Lord Nelson moved to the United States in 1972 and continued his music career, and at 82 he still has the fire in him for the art.

This legend has sung with equals like Mighty Sparrow (born Slinger Francisco), recovering in a Queens rehabilitation center after health troubles and Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), now deceased. A close friend of Sparrow, he told me the calypsonian crooner was doing much better.

And off goes the race to March, the road march that is.

Amyas Naegele and other collectors court Madison Avenue

A collection of the art  displayed at 1016 Madison Avenue.

A collection of the art displayed at 1016 Madison Avenue.

By Nicosia Smith

Believe it or not.

It is not only for business meetings, silverware or designer clothing that the crème de la crème goes to Madison Avenue.

Beyond the retail blitz and high-end café establishments, tucked away in town houses are Madison’s galleries. Some permanent and others a passing exhibit, for a day or two.

Sometimes, you are alerted to them in a New York Times cluster advertisement. Or it may simply be a sign on the sidewalk.

Like the sign outside the 1016 Madison Avenue town house last month; boldly announcing an African and Oceanic art exhibit.

As you peered through the glass doors at 1016 Madison Avenue, a curious look of – ‘I want to get in,’ led to a ‘buzzzzz’ – and an unlocked door.

True to the poster on the sidewalk – amid tall potted green plants and under just bright enough lights, walking into the foyer you come face to face with: carved masks, headrests, figures, pottery, weapons, seats and textiles. Ancient art from New Guinea, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Congo and Guinea-Bissau lining the walls, sitting on metal stands or were encased in glass showcases. The detailed and intricate works mesmerized and spiked the curiosity.

The art work grabs you in. While the welcoming faces and eager eyes of the organizers and exhibitors, bid you to go further in and up, that is, to the second floor. And we did just that, the executives and passersby alike.

In this multifaceted art environment, one still felt connected to the single theme, which lend itself to an easy flow.

Stretched out in his chair and at times hunched over a computer is co- organizer Amyas Naegele, of Amyas Naegele Fine Art Bases Ltd. An art restorer and private collector, he is among the over ten exhibitors at this Madison town house.

Naegele reference the scene to a coming together of, “What we call like-minded dealers…whose work, whose collections complement each other.” We wanted to be able to exhibit art from the Americas, Africa and Oceana – non-European ethnic art, Naegele said. Currently there are no members exhibiting pre-Columbian art or ancient American art. “Maybe someone will come along showing pre-Columbian art in the future,” he says.

These dealers last year became MATA, Madison Ancient and Tribal Art, but they have not developed to the point where there is a solid membership. MATA’s dealers include private collectors buying over several months, or others with weekly clientage looking for and trading art or have fulltime jobs.

In the upper and lower floors of the town house, these exhibitors were verbal encyclopedias, telling the background stories behind the pieces.

Holding up a wooden miniature doll towards the light, with an examiners’ eye, one exhibitor exclaimed, “Isn’t she beautiful,” as if confirming a known fact.

Looking at the miniature wooden fertility doll with piercings on her chest, face and back that resembled a cross, which I was told was not and protruding naked breast, you may not know what to think.  Solution, ask. And since the exhibitors were so familiar with their pieces background information was plentiful. The one on one conversation with the exhibitors added an extra meaningfulness to the art displayed.

“This is our third session here. And this is the first time we have done a show in the autumn but we will see how it goes.”

So next May, at 1016 Madison Avenue, take a journey through ancient Africa with MATA.

Book of photography captures Guyanese narrative

IMG_5761-001.JPG 

                   

(Fenton B. Sands photo)

By Nicosia Smith

Call it the proverbial ‘bird’s eye view’ or ‘being in the center of it all’.

Fenton B. Sands, an economic development specialist, has let his lens tell the complex stories of the multi-cultural Guyana. Sands, a former USAID Mission Director to Guyana, spent a little more than two years in the country and his personal photos are the basis of Reflections of Guyana – The Quintessential Book. The book (52 pages over 100 pictures) available for sale December 15, is a juxtaposition of religion, architecture, natural and cultural themes. The following is an edited Q &A of Sands’ journey towards publication.

How did you come to the decision to publish a book on Guyana?

I came to the decision in stages.  But let me pick it up from the fact, that I took a lot of pictures in Guyana, thousands of pictures.

When I got to Guyana, I was immediately struck by the vibrant, clear images I saw, that were different from the other places I have lived and traveled as a foreign-service officer.  For one thing, the environment made the pictures clear, crisp, and sharp.  This was a different country, culturally, socially and somewhat geographically too – which also drew my attention.  Eventually I had quite a catalogue of pictures, which I showed people in Guyana; family; and friends that had also traveled a lot in the foreign-service.  Many of them liked my pictures.

Several Guyanese friends kept telling me I should put my pictures together in a book – and one friend in particular kept pressing me to do that.  So when I had the time, I self-publish a small book titled, “Among my Best Pictures of Guyana”.  I learned a lot about how to do page layouts, pick good pictures, and prepare images for top quality printing. Again, people kept saying they liked what they saw and encouraged me to publish a bigger table-top picture book.

Therefore, with this encouragement and after doing a lot of research on publishing, I got the courage and felt confident enough to publish a nice book on Guyana.

What were some of your other influences for this book?

The answer to this is tied to the background on how I got into photography.  It all goes back to my father, who had an illustrative career as an agricultural expert. He lived and travelled all over the world, but mainly in Africa.  I remember the excitement of my extended family in the States, when we returned from countries like Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, etc. and my father showed them pictures from these places.  This inspired me to do the same thing, when I followed pretty much the same career path as my father, working and traveling overseas, mainly in Africa.

However, about eight years prior to coming to Guyana, I had literally put down my camera, because there wasn’t much that interested me (photographically). Except on some occasions, when I got to witness and take pictures of great cultural events in Ghana, where I had been living and working for five of those eight years.  At the same time, I was forced to make the transition from using a film-based 35 mm camera to using a digital 35 mm camera (which is another story). And I also began learning about and using computer software to manage and modify digital images – something I had done before in a darkroom.

So as I mentioned above, I have lots of good pictures of Guyana and I felt like sharing my impressions of this beautiful, interesting country.  I also felt like providing a positive image of Guyana with good quality images. Despite some of the not-so-nice things people see and hear about the country – including Guyanese themselves.  I often got a kick out of people wondering where I took a certain picture, sometimes from people living in Guyana or elsewhere.

 Were there pictures you wanted to include but did not get a chance to?

Yes indeed!  Culling and selecting pictures was one of the toughest jobs.  So I have hundreds of other pictures I left out.  Part of the reason for leaving some pictures out, had to do with the number of pages in the book.  I didn’t want to invest too much time and effort (plus money) in having a book printed that in the end, people weren’t that interested in.

Explain your selection process, was it agonizing, knowing you could not include all the photos you took?

I wanted the pictures to flow. So that affected my selection process, as well as, wanting to pick good quality images.  I thought it important to have informative captions for the pictures, which is one thing people said that they would appreciate, after seeing the prototype of the earlier self-published book. I wanted to have more architectural pictures with interesting descriptions, but couldn’t get a lot of information. It was disappointing and I left many of those pictures out.  In general, I thought it important to have input from Guyanese for the captions, but to my surprise, very few people were forthcoming with help on this – except for one great friend.  He is an authority on Guyana’s landscape and geography.

What themes if any, you wanted to base this book on?

I based the book on several themes – and that’s what you would see.  Since Guyana is a country of six races, I naturally focused on people to show the variety of the country’s ethnic makeup.  Guyanese cultural events and a mixture of religious practices are related themes in the book as well; followed by images of the country’s fantastic natural and geographical features and its architecture, such as houses on stilts.

 What were some of your concerns if any, publishing a book about Guyana, having lived in the country only two years?

Well, I certainly didn’t want to come across as pretending I know everything about the country, or that I have pictures that cover every aspect of Guyana; especially having been there for only two years.  I am a serious non-professional photographer.  So, often, I could only take pictures within the context of doing my job as an economic development specialist (the reason why I was in Guyana) and I didn’t always have the opportunity to move freely about to take pictures.   Yet on occasions, I did get around and specifically try to capture scenes like the awesome colorful sunsets or the vibrant cultural kite flying scenes on Easter Sunday that is quite a sight.

How is this different from your other works?

I’m new at this so I don’t have a lot of other books.  As I mentioned above, I have self-published a few smaller books entitled “Among My Best Pictures of Guyana”, and “Among My Best Pictures” (that includes pictures of Guyana and Ghana).  Those works are very similar to this book.

However, I also recently self-published a book with pictures and commentary about my father entitled: “A Tuskegee Airman and More”. He led an extraordinary life.  Growing up a poor city-boy in Harlem, New York, he became one of the elite pioneering black men known as the Tuskegee Airmen.  After this experience he became a top-flight expert in tropical agriculture and traveled around the developing world. Starting first in Liberia, where he went in the 1940s with my mother and where I was born.

Say how buyers will get to know Guyana from this book?

Following the many photographic themes in the book, people will get a glimpse of the different features of Guyana.  I hope that people of Guyanese decent, primarily those who have either never been to the country, or haven’t been there in many years, will be impressed with how nice the country is.  I know, from the reaction I’ve gotten from people who don’t know about Guyana, some pictures will surprise and maybe even awe them (the Guyanese Diaspora). And perhaps make them want to visit this country, with such a natural environment and Caribbean culture, full of interesting, friendly, and attractive people.