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Acclaimed Photographer Stephen Shore Celebrates Retrospective

Stephen Shore: Survey (Aperture, 2014)

By Robert Burke Warren

If you want to know what chutzpah looks like, you should be at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck this Sunday. Acclaimed photographer and longtime Bard faculty member Stephen Shore, celebrating the publication of photo book Stephen Shore: Survey, will talk about his remarkable career, give a presentation, conduct a Q & A and sign books.

His story begins with an audacity only a teenager could pull off. In 1962, at the age of 14, after teaching himself to shoot a 35 mm camera and develop film, he cold-called Edward Steichen, the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, and asked for an appointment. Amazingly, he got one. Still more astounding: Steichen purchased three of the bold teen’s photographs. The next year, MOMA purchased a couple more. With that as his entrée to the art world, he became the boy photographer of Andy Warhol’s factory, assisting on Warhol’s films, documenting the seismic scene, and capturing in gorgeous black and white the highly influential rock band The Velvet Underground. In 1971, at just 24, he enjoyed the honor of being the second living artist to have a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Over the ensuing years, Shore has made good on that initial promise, creating a vast body of distinctive photographic work in both black and white and color, receiving numerous grants, and showing solo from Manhattan to Rome to Vienna to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and beyond, influencing two generations of photographers along the way. He is renowned for elevating otherwise “mundane” subjects to a level of fascination and artistic beauty, and for pioneering the use of color film. Prior to Shore’s groundbreaking early 70s work “American Surfaces,” many had thought color was suited only to advertising. Shore knew better. He captured the charged atmosphere of ordinary moments, and presented his vision in defiantly exuberant hues. Countless acolytes followed suit.

Stephen Shore, July 22nd, 1969, from Stephen Shore: Survey (Aperture, 2014) © Stephen Shore, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

Stephen Shore: A Survey is a 250-image companion to the first museum retrospective of Shore’s work, currently showing at Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid. (Aperture and Fundación MAPFRE published the book.) At Oblong, Shore will give what he calls a 30-minute PowerPoint “preface” to the Q & A session. This must-see presentation will cover his history as well as a selection of the work in the book, which ranges from 1960, when he was 12, through conceptual work in the late 60s and early 70s, to recent work heretofore unpublished. “It’s not going to cover my whole life,” he says, laughing. “I’ve only got 30 minutes.”

Indeed, Shore’s life and career have been deep, varied and rich, and Survey reflects it all, with panoramas of New York alongside landscapes of the Arizona desert, Walker Evans-inspired portraits of humble country folk, archeological photos, and tableaux of our own Hudson Valley, to name but a few subjects. (Shore, who has directed Bard’s photography program since 1982, lives in Tivoli.)

Although the book and show are a retrospective culled from over a half-century of work, Shore isn’t slowing down. Declining to choose a particular subject that stands out from his impressively broad oeuvre, he says, “Artists always like to talk about what they’re working on at the moment. I’ve been shooting in Ukraine, and it is the most moving place I’ve ever been. The land is resonant with emotion; the people, the buildings, everything.”

In other words, more stunning photos to come, in which Stephen Shore will bring to life sights not yet seen, and seen through his own distinctive lens.

Stephen Shore, Photographer
Presentation, Q & A, and Book Signing

Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 6 p.m.
Oblong Books & Music
6422 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck
(845) 876-0500

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Posted by Lisa Green on 12/02/14 at 09:07 AM • Permalink

From China To Chatham: The Marvelous Mystique Of Mah Jongg

By Lisa Green

Not long ago, I was asked 1) if I wanted to join a Hadassah group, and 2) would I like to play Mah Jongg with a group of ladies. Right there, right then, I knew I’d passed some sort of demographic milestone. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago these same ladies were wanting to fix me up with their grandsons?

I politely declined, but now I’m reconsidering the Mah Jongg offer, thanks to Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game, an elegant new coffee table book written and photographed by three people with Columbia County connections. For many players, there’s a social ritual to the whole game experience. For the authors and photographer of the book, however, it’s so much more. It’s about the art of the Mah Jongg tiles and sets: their histories, their design, the materials used, the varied symbols and scenes depicted on the tiles.

The passion for Mah Jongg took hold of co-author Ann Israel about five years ago after visiting the Project Mah Jongg exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

“A group of us took lessons four years ago, and started playing every Wednesday. We call ourselves the Mahjettes. Whoever is hosting prepares lunch and we have a great time,” she says.

Beyond the social aspect, however, the game “hit me like a thunderbolt,” she continues. “I’ve always been interested in art and art history. I look at this as a brilliant art form. The carvers were such artisans — unnamed heroes, really.”

Co-author Gregg Swain, one of the original Mahjettes, continues the story. “Ann got a vintage set, and then I got one. We discovered that although there are how-to books for Mah Jongg, nothing had been written on the art of the tiles, so we came up with the idea of putting a book together.” A few more Columbia County part-timers boarded the Mah Jongg train. Israel called on her longtime friend, East Chatham photographer Michel Arnaud (he’s worked for Vogue, House & Garden, and Architectural Digest, among many other publications, and has photographed lifestyle and design books) who agreed to participate. His literary-agent wife, Jane Creech, found a publisher for the book. Gregg Swain’s husband, Woody Swain, art directed.

By this time, both authors were heavily invested in acquiring antique sets, and knew who the great collectors and historians were. The first shoot — photographing Israel’s and Swain’s collection, of course — took place at Arnaud’s East Chatham studio, but then Arnaud traveled across North American and Europe to photograph other collectors’ sets. Prepping the tiles for their closeups was a challenge.

“I had to work out a technique,” Arnaud says. “As soon as you touch one, every tile moves. But all of the tiles have stories, and come in amazing boxes.”

The tiles, boxes, and their stories are comprehensively covered in the book, which chronicles the early beginnings of the game. But chiefly, the book showcases the beauty and artistic nature of the different kinds of tiles. The photos are sumptuous and remind me of how I used to love the slippery smoothness of the tiles in my mother’s set.

I hadn’t heard much about Mah Jongg after my mother stopped playing, aside from my invitation to join a group. But Mah Jongg is alive and well. Both authors now blog about the subject, Israel at mahjonggandme, and Swain at majhongtreasures. The Chatham Library hosts players on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Google Mah Jongg and you’ll find a whole world devoted to the game.

In advance of the official book release on November 18, Ann Israel and Michel Arnaud will be signing books at The Chatham Bookstore on November 15 at 5 p.m. Israel has invited local residents to give a Mah Jongg demonstration, and refreshments for this event — essential for any Mah Jongg gathering — will be provided by the Old Chatham Country Store.

“We’re trying to celebrate the craftsmanship and art form that’s been completely overlooked, and hoping people will take out their grandmothers’ sets,” says Swain. “Those tiles should get restored and into the light.”

Guess it’s time to dust off my mother’s set.

Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game
A Collector’s Guide to Mah Jongg Tiles and Sets
(Tuttle Publishing)
Booksigning and demonstration Saturday, November 15, 5 p.m.

The Chatham Bookstore
27 Main Street, Chatham, NY 127 Main Street, Chatham, NY 12037
518-392-3005

 

 

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/09/14 at 05:22 PM • Permalink

To Tell The Truth: Speak Up Storytelling Comes To The Mount

By Amy Krzanik

“My friends have always said that I’ve lived one of the most unfortunate lives (including surviving homelessness and an armed robbery), so I’ve got a lot of material for stories,” says Matthew Dicks [left] who will be at The Mount in Lenox with his Hartford-based storytelling group Speak Up on Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19. Saturday night’s show will feature true stories based around the theme of “Love and Marriage” and told by five performers including Dicks and NPR’s Ophira Eisenberg. The Speak Up competition is similar to the Moth’s StorySLAM (which Dicks has won a whopping 14 times). On Sunday, Dicks will lead an intro-to-storytelling workshop for folks looking to perfect their gift of gab.

After the success of last fall’s Literary Death Match, The Mount’s Communications Director, Rebecka McDougall, knew there was a hunger for this type of event in the region that wasn’t being met. “It’s an accessible way to bring the written word to audiences. Storytelling and the oral tradition have an even longer history that text does. Plus audiences really enjoy the interactions and being a part of the event.”

Kelsey Mullen, Director of Public Programs and Education at The Mount, agrees. “Audiences want to engage with the authors and vice versa. When you attend an event like this, you never know what will happen; it’s spontaneous and dynamic. You go home and talk about it with friends, so the conversation continues after the show is over.” The appeal of a storytelling event is widespread, as speakers don’t have to be published authors to participate. “Everybody has a story and storytelling is an important skill,” she says.

In Hartford, Dicks and his wife Elysha [right] co-produce a Speak Up show every other month that features both beginners and seasoned locals, along with NYC StorySLAM veterans. “We like to bring in one or two professionals from the city for every show since there are a lot of first timers who come to the events and I want them to be able to experience great storytelling,” he says.

The combination must be working because the group sells out every show. Dicks says a lot of the credit for that goes to Elysha, whom he calls “the perfect host, because she knows everyone and everyone loves her.” The Monterey, Mass. native emcees each show and tells a story of her own. “She’s really the face of Speak Up!” says Dicks. “I’ll see people on the street and they’ll say ‘you’re married to the Speak Up girl’ and I’m like hey, I’m a part of this, too!”

The couple chooses a theme for each show and coaches participants before the big night. Dicks is uniquely qualified to train budding storytellers, as he’s been in 26 SLAMs and won more than half of them. “I won the first storySLAM I entered, in 2011, and figured I got lucky and found something I was good at. But my wife said ‘you’re such an idiot; you’ve been DJing for 17 years, speaking in front of 200 people at a time.’ I also teach my students through stories, so really I’ve been in training for 20 years.”

Besides running Speak Up and raising two children with his wife, Dicks teaches fifth grade and has penned three novels and two musicals. Does he ever sleep? “Not much, about five hours a night,” he says. “Most of my stories are from my childhood, ages 0 to 28, but I also do an exercise every night where I say to myself, ‘if you had to write a story about something that happened today, what would you pick?’’

Dicks figures he has around 172 stories stored away. “I always think I’m going to die, so I’m constantly afraid at all times, and I want to use every second possible,” he laughs.

Love and Marriage: Storytelling at the Mount
October 18, 2014 @ 8 p.m.; $15
Speaking Your Mind: An Introduction to Storytelling
October 19, 2014 @ 9 a.m.; $25
The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA
(413) 551-5111

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/13/14 at 03:24 PM • Permalink

Chef Michael Ballon: 25 Years Of A Chef’s Life In The Berkshires

By Lisa Green

When Chef Michael Ballon, a regional pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, first opened the Castle Street Café in Great Barrington 25 years ago, he had to import goat cheese from California. But he soon learned that excellent versions of it were being produced in our area, and over the years, the creamy, tangy cheese has appeared prominently on Castle Street’s menu.

It’s kind of him to keep it there; in his new memoir, A Chef’s Life: Farm-to Table Cooking in the Berkshires, he admits he pretty much can’t stand the stuff.

But, Ballon says, “I wouldn’t deprive my diners of the opportunity to eat it, and I recognize that many others enjoy it. It’s all in a chef’s work.”

Ballon, one of the Berkshires’ most beloved chefs and author of The Castle Street Café Cookbook published in 2010, is commemorating his quarter-century of pleasing palates with the new book, a series of essays (many with his favorite recipes) about being a chef, food trends, running a restaurant, and profiles of the farmers who have supplied the restaurant with food over all these years.

Filled with confessions (see: goat cheese, above) , memories (pianist Emanual Ax practicing at the café’s piano as astonished diners ate their meals) and quiet criticism of certain food trends (“Run fast when you see the word deconstruction applied to food”). A Chef’s Life lets us in on the why’s and wherefore’s behind his menus and management. As the book’s subtitle suggests, there is his take on the locavore revolution, which, for him, developed in part simply by virtue of being a chef in the country.

“You get to know the farms here,” he says. “We’re just buying from local farms and purveyors to provide ingredients that make great food.” The restaurant’s first menu, from the spring of 1989, is reproduced in the book. One side listed the items, the other listed the local suppliers — pretty rad back then. (The menu has entertainment value just from the prices alone; remember when an espresso cost $1.50?)

Aside from enjoying the contact with farmers, Ballon clearly cares about his customers, even going as far as calling a loyal customer in concern when didn’t show up on his regular night. “I always wanted to make Castle Street an accessible, affordable place that people feel comfortable in. Restaurants have an obligation to give back to the community.”

The community will have a chance to thank Ballon for his community involvement and 25 years at the helm of Castle Street at a special book launch event (including a food demonstration) at the Café on Saturday, September 13 at 3 p.m.

Twenty-five years is a good run for any business, but for a restaurant, it’s particularly impressive.

“Eighty percent of all restaurants fail within 5 years,” Ballon says. “This has proved to be a fertile place for chefs to ply their wares.”

A Chef’s Life: Farm-to-Table Cooking in the Berkshires
By Michael Ballon
Book launch at Castle Street Café on Saturday, September 13 at 3 p.m.
Reading and signing at The Bookstore in Lenox on Sunday, September 21 at 4 p.m. and at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Stockbridge on Sunday, September 28 at 4 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/06/14 at 08:25 PM • Permalink

Q&A With Author Courtney Maum

Author photo by Colin Lane.

Berkshire County resident Courtney Maum is a corporate namer, celebrity book reviewer, advice columnist for Tin House and now a first-time author. After showing up on countless “best summer reads” lists (Oprah, People, Glamour and Vogue just for starters) her debut novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, will have a proper RI region book launch at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge on Sunday, July 13. The book, set in Paris in 2002 at the very beginning of the U.S. and England’s involvement in the Iraq War, follows British expatriate Richard Haddon as he wittingly destroys his marriage by cheating on his (much) better half. His attempt to win back his French wife, and simultaneously regain his reputation as a cutting-edge, politically minded artist, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. On Sunday, Maum will be “live interviewing” two local couples (including Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year) with a question that is posed in the book. We recently caught up with Maum to ask her some interview questions of our own.

Rural Intelligence: I read that you live part time in France and NYC, so what lead you to buy a home in the Berkshires?
Courtney Maum: I lived in Paris for five years in my early twenties. Three years in, I met my husband, a French film director named Diego Ongaro. He’d never lived anywhere other than Paris, and I’d started to miss my friends and family back home, so we moved to Brooklyn, thinking we’d do the glamorous “struggling artist” thing. Except that it was all struggle, and no glamour. We worked from home as freelancers, and we were too broke to take advantage of all that New York has to offer in terms of culture. Heck, we were too broke to even join our friends for drinks! So much of our creative energy was being spent in negative ways—we were both feeling inadequate, cynical, envious, depressed. So we got the heck out of dodge. We figured that if we were working from home we might as well be doing so in an inspiring place. We didn’t have any friends or family in the Berkshires, but we fell in love with a fixer-upper and the landscape of the region. It’s been almost eight years and we haven’t looked back!

RI: You’re a corporate namer. What does that entail?
CM: I work for several different branding agencies, mostly in New York—and when a company wants to launch a new product, a new company division, or re-brand their corporate image, we’ll generate hundreds of names in order to present a client with twenty or so names that are legally viable for their new product. It’s a fantastic job—naming helps keep my mind sharp, and I like working outside of academia because I think the writer’s world can be a little claustrophobic at times.

RI: You write in a wide variety of voices – John Mayer, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Joan Didion just for starters—and your novel is told in the first person by a British man. How do you prepare yourself to write in another’s voice? And has anyone you’ve imitated contacted you?
CM: For my “Celebrity Book Review” column in the literary magazine, Electric Literature, (for which I review a newly released book from the point of view of a celebrity), I watch videos and read essays and interviews of the person I’m trying to imitate in order to get their voice and cadence down. And then I’ll do research about their life and career to find common points of interest that will tie into the book I’m going to review. For example, when I wrote a review of Steve Jobs’ biography from Michael Dell’s point of view, I read Michael Dell’s autobiography after Jobs’, watched some of his industry speeches, and looked at Dell’s advertising to see how they were keeping up with Apple’s. I was proud of that review—I was contacted by some higher-ups at Dell who said I’d gotten Michael’s voice right. But often the people that contact me—or my editor at Electric Literature, rather—are people who are angry, either with the celebrity in question (and they think they’re writing that person), or because they’re angry to find out that the point of view was faked. I had one really fanatic Sinead O’Connor fan who was positively irate to hear that the piece wasn’t written by Sinead. She went all over the Internet trying to apprise people to that fact. And for my most recent review, I impersonated Hillary Rodham Clinton, and we’ve got quite a few emails from people angry at her for one thing or another—none of these emails, of course, have anything to do with the book that was reviewed!

RI: You seem like an avid reader—is that true and how do you find the time? Do you prefer books or an eReader?
CM: I read at night, mostly, before I go to bed. This has been an ongoing ritual for me since I was a little girl. I struggle with insomnia and reading helps calm me down. I’m a book girl through and through, though—I’ve never read an ebook in my life. Of course, I understand and respect their popularity, but I’m a bit of a luddite myself—I like to turn the pages, feel the pages, smell them. And there is nothing better than curling up in a hammock during the summer with a fresh, hardcover book!

RI: It seems that in some European countries (France in particular in your novel) the people have a more “laissez-faire” view of adultery than do Americans. If true, to what do you attribute that?  
CM: I can only speak about France, because I lived there—but one major difference is that there are far less marriages to begin with than we have in the United States. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but most of my French friends are in serious relationships, they have children with their partners, but no plans to marry. My own husband’s parents were never married either. There’s just more legal protection in France for common law marriages than here. So it’s possible that because marriage isn’t a given for some French people that they’re approaching the idea of what it means to be in a relationship with more flexibility. In America, in terms of matrimony, I feel like we set ourselves up to fail. When I was engaged, for example, a lot of my American friends asked, “What does it feel like to think you’ll only sleep with one man for the rest of your life?!” That’s a terrible mindset going into a marriage! Marriage is so much more than monogamy, you know? Obviously, you want to aim for monogamy—it’s a goal, but I do think that French people are a little bit more realistic and forgiving about the fact that mistakes might happen. That if you’re going to spend the next fifty years with someone, yes, there might come a moment when you get bored, restless, where you might make a mistake. But that that doesn’t mean that you don’t love them anymore.

Courtney Maum @ No. Six Depot
Sunday, July 13 from 1-3 p.m.
6 Depot Street, West Stockbridge, MA

Courtney Maum @ Spotty Dog Books & Ale
Saturday, July 19 at 7 p.m.
440 Warren Street, Hudson, NY

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 07/07/14 at 11:18 AM • Permalink