Monday, January 26, 2009

Can the "arts" survive the recession?

The economic landscape is becoming more desolate day by day. Across all continents, political boundaries, business sectors, and down to the personal level the recession deepens. Jobs are being lost, 75,000 announced in the past few days. The impact is being felt in every facet of daily life and hard choices confront us all.

The "arts" communities in many major U.S. cities are struggling to survive as patrons stop attending music, theatre and dance performances. Half of the theaters on Broadway in New York City have gone dark. In Sacramento, the Sacramento Ballet has cancelled the remainder of their performances at the Community Center and the Sacramento Theatre Company's Main stage.

The dancers in the company are still rehearsing for the performances that can be held at the company's studio and they have taken their plight to the streets and to the internet to help with fundraising.

Lt. Col.,Ret. Fred Shadle who has attended every performance since 1962 summarizes the situation precisely. “In my view, we have three major-league teams in this city: the Kings, the Monarchs and the Sacramento Ballet. The ballet is the only one that wins all the time. The only time the ballet loses is when people aren’t there to keep it together."

I have worked with the ballet since 1996 when my daughter was taking ballet lessons and got a role as a "cherub" in the annual Nutcracker performance. She had other roles, Mother Ginger kid, a soldier battling the Mouse King and then moved on to soccer and school activities; I stayed with the ballet to photograph every production until I moved to Oregon in 2007.

Two dancers were always there. Kirsten Bloom and Jack Hansen. Their work ethic was incredible. Though injuries and fatigue were common factors, lack of passion was not. Carinne Binda and Ron Cunningham, the artistic directors of the company always managed to hire a corps of dancers who had passion and the desire to become better ever day. The Sacramento Ballet has always been a place where a dancer could come for a few years, train with Ron and Carinne and then move on to greater professional challenges. So many have. Jared Nelson, Amy Seiwert, Bobby Briscoe, Charlie Hodges, Easton Smith, Colby Damon to name only a few.

In my layman's view this is Ron and Carinne's greatest achievement, why the Sacramento Ballet is one of the finest companies in the country, and one of the great Sacramento community losses should the company not stay afloat.

Everyone has basic needs: food, affordable housing, clothing, education. Add to that insurance for health and property to keep the wolves from your door. Whats' left then, "discretionary income," gets parceled out until the well is dry.

What seems to me to be missing from the equation is food for the soul that comes from appreciating the cultural opportunities that exist in most communities. Why is it that in tough times, the soul seems to be neglected when the arts can bring a bit of joy and hope for a better tomorrow?

Dancers, musicians, actors, painters, ceramists, photographers are workers as well as artists. They have jobs just like Home Depot clerks, GM auto workers, Microsoft programmers, waiters, waitresses, cooks, plumbers and carpenters. One man or woman's job loss in one sector is no different than a loss in another. When a company's survival is on the line, however, the loss can mean a part of a community's identity is also gone.

I think back to early 2007 when things seemed better (we all know now that storm was already brewing in the financial oceans and heading straight for land). The Sacramento Ballet was eagerly planning and rehearsing for it's first-ever foreign tour, a two-week tour to Shanghai and Beijing, China. Ron and Carinne, Tim Orr, the company manager, twenty-three dancers, a lighting specialist, a stage manager, a newly retired photojournalist, i.e. me, and a group of ballet aficionados had a fantastic experience on the trip.

This was the Sacramento Ballet becoming a world-class company. It was their Super Bowl, Masters, Stanley Cup, Wimbledon, and Daytona 500. Enjoy the show and if you can spare a few dollars, send them to the Sacramento Ballet or to an arts organization in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching the President Obama inauguration

Like millions of Americans who couldn't be in Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, Diane and I joined a group of friends for a celebration brunch. Everyone watched intently and was moved by the pomp
and ceremony, the size of the crowd on the Mall and at the Capitol, and the words President Obama spoke during his address. It was also memorable for the psychological emancipation that was felt all of us witnessing the inauguration. What a great way to start a day and that hopefully will result a redirection for our country. Hope lives. Dreams live.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Archiving history

Thirty years ago the Amtrak Floridian passenger train that ran between Chicago and Miami was in it's final months of operation. Louisville, where I worked at the time for the Courier-Journal, would loose passenger train service.

I began a project to document the Floridian and over a few months in early 1979 I spent days in the Chicago train yards, riding the train and photographing the passengers, crew and an engineer, W.C. Roddy who drove the train between Louisville and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

There was also Henry LaSane, the porter who had worked for years on the railroad and was not sure he'd find another job. He met his daughter at a stop in Wildwood, Florida who came to see him. A sweet kiss from dad and he was back on board for the remainder of the trip.

The Floridian did cease operation later in 1979 due to budget cuts in the President Carter administration.

The black and white negatives have been stored away until recently when I bought a film scanner to begin another project, archiving the photographs I've made over the past 40 years. "Living the Cambodian Nightmare," the Floridian, "Yosemite, A Landscape of Life," The Sierra in Peril, Hunger in California, twelve years of performances by the Sacramento Ballet, and hundreds of family photographs, on and on...

State and local historical societies, university library archives, and many other repositories have been archiving material for many years. The Center For Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona houses the works of Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith for instance. The University of Louisville Special Collections has the 1.5 million images and was one of the first collections of documentary photographic history in the nation.

Newspapers have always had libraries and collections of photos and copies of past issues. Some newspapers hold on to photographers' negatives, some release them back to the photographer after a span of time, five years or so. Digital photography has changed everything in terms of archiving. Essentially that is great. Keeping track of digital images is a far more organized affair than film ever was and takes up a lot less space in doing so. But what of all the pre-digital age film of a community's history? What will become of that material as newspapers simply try to stay in business and produce a daily product?

I fear that many news organizations will not even know what they have and will have even less interest and resources to convert even a fraction of it to digital files.

Perhaps the saddest story is of the fate of the 40,000 negatives of the John F. Kennedy era shot by Jacques Lowe. He had them stored in a fireproof safe in a vault beneath the World Trade Center. He died a few months prior to September 11, 2001 so he will never know that the inferno following the terrorist attacks literally vaporized everything.

His daughter writes about the loss:

I'm really excited about Pete Souza who has been selected to be President Barack Obama's presidential photographer. He's absolutely the right man for the job of documenting the daily events in the Obama administration which will be historical in every sense of the word. This is his second tour in the White House; the first was during the Ronald Reagan years. He and his staff will be shooting digital and in fact, he made the official Obama portrait using digital, the first ever. You'll see it soon in a post office near you. He will not have the archiving issues Jacques Lowe had.

One of the keys to archiving digital photography is redundancy. Multiple copies stored in different locations. Hard drives fail. CD's get corrupted.

My intentions for my work is to scan, upload to sites out of my home, burn archival DVD's and store on good hard drives. I also have the opportunity to turn over film, transparencies, prints, and notes to some permanent archives. All of the Cambodia material is going to the CCP in Tucson and the Yosemite body of work will be housed in the Yosemite National Park's permanent archive.

Newspapers print the first draft of history, as the saying goes. Photojournalists show what was happening while that history was unfolding. We don't get the luxury of rewrite. The way we saw it is the way it will always be. I just hope that in the future there is that visual history to see.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Farewell to another little friend

By Diane: Today is a sad day in our home. We lost Puss, one of our feline family members to cancer. The disease seemed to come on quickly so we had less than a week to have our last kitty time with her. Puss came into our lives when Allison’s piano teacher got another dog and the combination of two dogs to one cat just did not work. Puss had a great deal of energy and for a time we called her
Jackie Joyner Puss Kitty because she would jump over Noire and race through the house. With age and thyroid pills she settled down. Our cats, Gracie, Puss, and Noire moved with us to Oregon. Now only Noire is left. Although our cats are usually wherever we are, we would call “Pussy Puss-Puss and she would come. She was an affectionate lap cat and always took her fair share of the bed at night. We are grateful to have had the time with her and all the love she gave us. We loved her
right back and she will be missed.

Friday, January 02, 2009