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  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    Where the Roads All End; Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari by Ilisa Barbash ’77. This book tells three stories. First is the story of Lisa Barbash, Curator of Visual Anthropology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, who sorted through 40,000 photographs taken during the course of eight excursions to Africa, went through all the notes and papers of the participants, interviewed those who were still around, and put it all together into this beautiful book, which memorializes the other two stories. The overriding narrative concerns the Marshall family, their travels and their efforts to keep a record of their interactions with the indigenous people they met and befriended. When the family began their adventures, Laurence and Lorna, the parents, were in their fifties and John and Elizabeth were teens. Laurence, an extremely successful businessman, could have rested on his laurels, but instead he wanted to bond his family by traveling deep into the Kalahari (where the roads all end) to see if there were really hunter-gatherers uncontaminated by modernity. The third story concerns the Ju/’hoansi (and to a lesser extent the /Gwi). When the Marshalls encountered these people, commonly called Bushmen, they were living in successful equilibrium with their environment, having enough to meet their needs. In the course of the 11 years of the expeditions, from 1950 until 1961, the Marshalls witnessed the encroachment of the surrounding world. They watched sadly and tried to help as events overtook Ju/’hoansi traditions and way of life. The Marshalls proved to be quick studies at the science of anthropology. Laurence organized, Lorna studied the children and kinship, John made several acclaimed films showing the people going about their lives, and Elizabeth wrote books including The Harmless People. They were guided by Margaret Mead; Lisa quotes her statement that the best way to understand ethos is through disciplined use of the observer’s own emotional response. With human beings, disinterested measuring and observing provide only shallow results. I think of John Barth’s line in Lost in the Funhouse : “the observer makes perfect observation impossible.” Heisenberg shows that this holds true even in the more pure sciences. Out on the Kalahari, the emotional bonds that form between scientists and their subjects is at the core of the story. At one point Lorna says that if she had it to do over again, she would not have come because the ruts carved out by their trucks led the way to the isolated people and hastened the end of their world. Africa was of course going through all manner of upheaval during those times. New nations were emerging as colonial powers lost their hold. White farmers, profiting from the chaotic times, sometimes captured Ju’/hoansi and made them slaves. In moves reminiscent of what native Americans endured, their land was taken over. Here we see the story first hand through the poignant and gorgeous photographic record.
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    Dance! Images of the Bates Dance Festival by Arthur Fink ’64. The cover photo with the dancer’s skirt puffed out like a pumpkin gives an idea of what catches Arthur Fink’s eye when he photographs dancers. He captures body parts when the dancer is either in motion, full of energy, or still, at times taut and ready for action or, at other times, plainly exhausted. Motion shots are sometimes crisp; the dancer is caught midair. Or they are blurred whirls as he leaves his lens open to capture the movement. His images portray the beauty of dance, not as a performance for an audience, but behind the scenes. Clearly he has developed a relationship of trust with the dancers as they seem comfortable with the wandering eye of his camera not invading, but rather being part of, their creative space.
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    The World of Bruegel c. 1525-1569 by Timothy Foote’45? and the Editors of Time-Life Books. I had always thought of Bruegel as an acolyte of Bosch, and in part he was; but I learned from this book that he was so much more. Timothy Foote says that Bruegel was not a revolutionary but rather a pioneer, building on what had come before and pushing it to new limits. Bosch died a few years before Bruegel was born, and the younger artist found inspiration and liberation in the fantastic images of his predecessor. Bruegel went on to create his own style where landscape, rustic life, small town and agrarian activity, homely proverbs and classic lore all came together to form what Timothy aptly calls “the World of Bruegel.” Timothy situates Bruegel in the roiling historical context of the Sixteenth Century during which the Reformation and Calvinism, its important offshoot especially in the Netherlands, came into conflict with the Counter Reformation Catholicism of Phillip II, the new and inept ruler who took power when his father, Charles V, abdicated in his favor. Where Bruegel stood in the conflict is not clear from his paintings. Timothy argues that in all likelihood he followed Erasmus and tried to stay out of the fray. Timothy also contrasts the Renaissance flowering in Italy with this very different northern development. Bruegel must have been fascinated by the work of his Italian counterparts as it is known that he made a trip to Italy. Though the historic and artistic circumstances are deftly presented, the main focus of the book is the work of Bruegel, his paintings and engravings, described and analyzed and also reproduced, often in color, with accompanying sections enlarged for more detailed scrutiny. This painting is called The Blue Robe. In the center foreground, a wife is putting it on her husband. We learn from the book that this gesture comes from an old proverb which means that she is being unfaithful to him – perhaps this expression is something like our “pulling the wool over someone’s eyes” or “hoodwinking” someone. We then discover that the painting is chock full of proverbs and expressions brought to life. In his chapter “A Panoply of Proverbs,” Timothy points out 78 such proverbs in this one painting! “Tarts on the roof,” for instance, means having plenty. Check out the roof. It would be worth a trip to Munich just to see this painting. Bruegel’s art lost favor for a few centuries and his paintings were not shown. Lucky for us, he’s back.