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Monsters of the Gilded Age: The Photographs of Chas. Eisenmann Book Review from the Past #2







I am not going to open a debate on the appropriateness of circus sideshow freak photographs. To be sure they are among the most striking of images and these photos were taken so the performers could sell them for a dime each to the audience...so who can begrudge the process? 100 years later Diane Arbus took similar photographs, but rather than being used as souvenirs or trade cards, they made her career. Never one to shy from the disturbing, overlooked or neglected, I am attracted by the taboo of these images, and they still manage to make the desperate attempts of contemporary artists to "shock" pale by comparison.

Continuing to review books which have been forgotten or deserve another look, this is the fairly obscure "Monsters of the Gilded Age: The Photographs of Chas. Eisenmann" by Michael Mitchell. Published in Canada in 1979, and likely a small edition, it is expensive today on the used book market but available.


Despite the author's intensive research, more is known about the performers shown than the photographer. Eisenmann worked with his wife on the Bowery in New York City for ten years and specialized in theatrical portraits. He then turned the studio over to Frank Wendt, (a photographer I am profiling and intend to publish a book on before long) then vanished. By 1904 he was gone. What IS known remains in the photographs, sharp, crisp, perfectly posed and lit pictures of some of the most remarkable humans ever captured by camera.
Mitchell describes the environment of the working portrait photographer in the Cartes de visite and Cabinet Card era (Eisenmann worked in both) and produces a 110 page book with an example of the artist's work on nearly every page. Each performer is identified and discussed thoroughly, and while it might not be a book you will leave on the coffee table, it certainly will attract interest if you choose to share it.

The book is out of print unfortunately, and though it was reprinted with a slightly different title in 2003, I can only find used copies for sale. Images by Eisenmann turn up on ebay frequently and many have been reproduced on the web.

At the Circus in Black and White #16


Untitled (Clown at Clyde Beatty Circus) Original Snapshot 1962 Collection Jim Linderman

The Haiti Box The Alan Lomax Library of Congress Recordings



Details on how to purchase AND have a portion of price donated HERE

HOT SNAPSHOT


Summer is just around the corner!
Amateur Vernacular Photograph circa 1955 Collection Jim Linderman

Big Fish, Big Fella and the Quileute of La Push Washington?


Said to be a snapshot of La Push, Washington, which would indicate the pieces may have been carved by members of the Quileute Native American tribe. If so, I would love to hear from anyone who can identify the location or provide information on the carvings. The tribe has a fascinating history, which includes the breeding of special woolly-haired dogs in order to make blankets of their coats(!) I would also like the sculptures moved to my front yard, but that seems unlikely.

Untitled Snapshot, circa 1950? Collection Jim Linderman

Jim Linderman Interview 2010



Grand Haven Collector Nominated for Grammy for Historical Album
John Sinkevics, Grand Rapids Press January 31, 2010


GRAND HAVEN -- Jim Linderman jokes that the historical compilation of gospel songs and yellowed photographs probably ranks as one of the worst-selling Grammy-nominated albums ever.

But the Grand Haven collector, who worked 10 years as a CBS News researcher, also credits his peculiar fascination with old photos and roots music for producing something truly Grammy-worthy, because it preserves a rarely documented slice of American history.

"I guess I'm a popular-culture historian. I've always found a niche that no one else had paid attention to," he says, sipping coffee at his dining room table. "I just know no one had ever done a book on it before.As a result, "Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950" is up for a Grammy tonight for best historical album, with Linderman listed as a "compilation engineer."

Linderman, who will attend the ceremonies in Los Angeles, spent more than a decade buying old pictures of river baptisms from around the United States. He then teamed up with Atlanta's Dust-to-Digital record label, which paired 75 of those photos with vintage recordings of baptism-related gospel songs and sermons. Linderman also wrote an introduction for the book.

"These pictures convinced me there is an art to photography. What they depict is so striking," Linderman, 56, says. "I knew I had something important, and I knew (Dust-to-Digital producers) would do a good job. ... Everybody who sees it, loves it."

A 1971 graduate of Grand Haven High School who moved back to West Michigan from New York in 2008, Linderman freely admits he's a bit of an eccentric. He describes himself as an "Americana iconoclast" who takes a non-traditional approach to collecting historical photos, music and objects.

"I'm a historian. I'm interested in the arts and how they relate to other cultural experiences. For me, it's all about authenticity," he says of his obsessive collecting. "I'm interested in obscure things. ... I'm interested in getting way down deep. That's where the contributions are made."

When Linderman decides to collect something, he goes all out. Over the years, he's collected ice-fishing decoys, delved into the seminal recordings of punk, jazz, blues, country and gospel music, and self-published a book based on a collection of photos of nude women whose faces are hidden from the camera.

"I'm constantly torn between Sunday morning and Saturday night," he quips.

He's compiling photos of circus-sideshow freaks as well as antique tintypes, small metal sheets containing photographic images. These tintypes feature portraits of people in front of elaborately painted backdrops that became popular more than a century ago. Linderman said no one's ever explored the art of these backdrops, which could be the subject of another book.

"If it wasn't for collectors, this stuff would be gone," Linderman says. "I just like doing things that aren't normal. I've never been interested in the mainstream."

It's an unconventional streak that extends to Linderman's teen years. That's when he'd sneak out of a window at home to watch then-fledgling punk icon and Muskegon native Iggy Pop and his band, the Stooges, play the Grand Haven Roller Rink. That's also where he saw early shows by rock bands MC5 and Alice Cooper.

It continued after he graduated from Central Michigan University and earned a library science degree from Western Michigan University. After working five years for Upjohn pharmaceutical company in Kalamazoo, he headed for New York City, mostly because he wanted to explore the punk-rock music scene at clubs such as CBGB's and the Mudd Club.He worked as a researcher for CBS News for 10 years and later as a librarian for a major advertising agency. Suffering from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, he left New York for health reasons a little more than a year ago, returning to Michigan with his actress wife, Janna, to be closer to his parents, Craig and Beverly Linderman.

The idea behind his Grammy-nominated project was born when he spotted a photo of a river baptism in a book on African-American art about 15 years ago.

Intrigued by the human emotions and spiritual power displayed in the faded, wrinkled and scratched photos, Linderman began collecting them "because you can feel something going on in the pictures and because images are reflected in the water. As an artist, they're striking. The people (are) nervous. They're cold. They're wet. They're literally being saved. It's not just a picture, it's an event that's been captured."

At first, he pored over photos at yard and garage sales. Later, he scanned auctions on e-Bay, snapping up every baptismal photo he found.

With about 120 photos in hand, he contacted Dust-to-Digital, because the label specializes in historical compilations and reissues of rare gospel, blues, folk and country recordings. The label liked the idea and tracked down a host of historical 78 rpm recordings of baptismal services and related gospel songs by performers ranging from The Carter Family to The Southern Wonders Quartet.

Linderman concedes the project is "a break-even" proposition financially, because it targets a small niche audience. "They're not pop songs, so I knew (the album) wouldn't be a financial success, but I knew it would be an artistic success," he says.

Still, the rare photos will get more exposure come the spring: Linderman sold his collection to New York's International Center of Photography, which plans to open an exhibit of the photos in May.

While Linderman says fewer than 2,000 copies of "Take Me to the Water" had been sold as of early January, Dust-to-Digital's Steven Lance Ledbetter notes "sales have been steady. ... We hope the Grammy nomination and forthcoming exhibition at ICP in May will help the book and CD reach a wider audience."

("Take Me to the Water" is available online at amazon.com and dust-digital.com; Linderman also sells other books on his Web site.)

Linderman concedes "Take Me to the Water" faces stiff competition in the Grammy's historical album category from "The Complete Chess Masters" (a Little Walter compilation), "My Dusty Road" (a Woody Guthrie collection), "Origins of the Red Hot Mama" (a Sophie Tucker tribute) and "Woodstock -- 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm." Regardless, he's "thrilled" to be nominated for his "labor of love."

And after returning from Los Angeles, he'll hunker back down in the office of his Grand Haven home, tracking down more obscure, historical photos while listening to post-war blues music.

"I'm an artist. I do consider what I do the art of collecting," he says. "I have no shortage of ideas."

G0121Grammy river baptism.jpg


Take Me to the Water Immersion Baptism Grammy?


This weekend, Lance Ledbetter, Co-Producer and I find out if we win a Grammy for our Book/CD release Take Me to the Water Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography in the Best Historical Release category. The competition is stiff, the other nominees deserving... but we are proud of the contribution we've made and can hope for the best! Copies of the book are avaliable from the publisher Dust-to-Digital and Amazon.

In the meantime, one the last photographs I have of a water immersion baptism. A mass-baptizing of Jehovah Witnesses on Long Island taken in 1946. It is not in the book, but maybe I'll be able to get it into the show! The Original photographs I collected were donated to the International Center of Photography in New York City and they will be exhibited there this year. Stay Tuned for updates. WISH US LUCK.

Anonymous Press Photograph, 1946 "Group Baptism of Jehovah Witnesses" Collection Jim Linderman

Revolutionary Shoes of Che Guevara Post Mortem Photograph


Having just watched the epic, 4 hour Che film now showing on your DVD in a two part rental, I can assure you there are better films, but scarcely better performances (and channeling) than Benicio Del Torro's uncanny portrayal of Che Guevara. He even captured his asthma. The silkscreen of Che has been called the most recognizable image in the world, so it was certainly a challenging task...and watching the performance convinced me Benicio is our greatest actor working today. (Even Sean Penn, who won the Academy Award last year for Harvey Milk was surprised he won instead) But how many are familiar with THIS image, taken by an operative on the US payroll in 1967. Che's homemade shoes he was wearing the day he was killed in a shooting in Bolivia arranged by our guys. In fact, one of his last raids was to obtain asthma medicine. More information on the good doctor and intellectual Ernesto Guevara HERE. The photo is there too, but you have to dig for it. In a remarkable, unfortunate (but typical) irony of capitalistic greed, Che's image is one of the most marketable properties in the world. There are even Che SHOES for sale, but they do not look like these. At all.

Che's Shoes (Post-Mortem) 1967 Photo courtesy (and collection) of the American Taxpayer

Folk Erotica Milt Simpson Book Review from the Past #1






Since no one reads blog posts, they only look at the pictures, I've decided from now on to review books only for myself, and only those which have meant something over the years. The physical book seems to be a glut on the market, so everything will be readily available used and affordable, another bonus! Like puppys at the shelter, good books deserving a home, and wherever possible I will link to the books for purchase. You will regret none. Where possible, I will link to the publisher or vendor of new copies. When out of print, as with this title, Amazon.

I met Milt Simpson 20 years ago, he was a neighbor in Hell's Kitchen and just delightful. His first book helped to create a whole new genre of collecting, the windmill weight, and with Milt's graphic and designing skills, it was a handsome book indeed. Beautiful things. (But to my eyes, not as beautiful as an effigy of a naked woman) So I bring you Folk Erotica. With text by Jennifer Borum, a fierce and informed art scholar. Milt assembled a survey of mostly eccentric and curious erotic folk art objects created over the centuries. It is a small, modest, and now inexpensive book with 140 pages of the most splendid pieces of canes, cans and carvings, all portraying that which makes men take notice. Heavy coverage of the late 20th century as well, which reflects the recent interest in outsider artists. As you can see, many collectors were happy to take some of their favorite pieces out of the closet (and off a pedestal) for Mr. Simpson. I have seen (and owned) some of the pieces in this book over the years, and while many are whimsical and lack the profundity of a tribal fetish object, all are splendid.

Folk Erotica was published in 1994 by Harper Collins and is highly recommended.

Chalk Talk The Forgotten Art of Chalk Talking!








A little project I am working on. Stay Tuned.

All Books Collection Jim Linderman

Vanessa Davis Comic Artist Interview





Vanessa Davis is a successful Comic Artist with an honest, authentic narrative in her work. I met Vanessa and her drawings when we both lived in New York City several years ago. It is no small thing for an artist (or fan of art) to leave New York, and now that we have both managed to relocate successfully, it's time to catch up and see how things on the West Coast have influenced her work.

When I was young, "Marvel or DC" was a relevant question. Is it still?

I have no idea! I think it might be. To a segment of the comics-reading population, I'm sure it is. I did read comics growing up, but with little concern who drew or published them. The closest I got was knowing Dan DeCarlo drew for Archie. And I recognized my favorite "Archie eras" by how tightly Betty's ponytail was pulled. I think there was a sloppy, unfashionable time in the 80s when her hair sloped over her ears. There are many kinds of comics consumers and producers now. One can't just differentiate between "superhero" and "non-superhero." At even the smallest independent comics show you will see work appealing to wildly different sensibilities. Today comics are "post-medium" or something--an inarticulate way to say that they used to conjure up one or two particular things in people's minds but now it's much more panoramic.

Do you see yourself and your work fitting into a tradition? Whose work do you admire? There is a list of young artists and illustrators on your web page, do you consider yourself part of a movement or school?

I thought I was approaching comics based on things purely from my own experience but then saw many cartoonists, both past and present, work in a similar way. Obviously, as I became more entrenched in comic-making, I learned more about them and met more cartoonists. As I get older I recognize things that have been influencing me throughout my entire life. The diary form came from one of my favorite painting teachers, but I've always worked autobiographically. Apparently I'm part of a burst of diaristic autobio comics, which is probably due to something timely and cultural, but I'm not going to attempt to get into that. I was given the "Twisted Sisters 2" anthology of female cartoonists in the mid-90s, and a lot of the work there had a lasting affect on me. Even now I recognize a drawing I did last week looks like one in the Debbie Drechsler story there. Also I'd learned about Julie Doucet from Sassy magazine. She wrote about her own life and I loved it, way before I ever thought I'd do comics myself. I've met a LOT of cartoonists around my age since starting 7 years ago, and that's been one of the greatest rewards of getting into this field. There has been a wave of comics-related activity in the last decade and it has been extremely exciting. So even though I say I got into comics with my own idiosyncratic intentions, I'd be deluded to not say I wasn't part of something larger. The list of people on my website is somewhat arbitrary and grossly incomplete, but it does include people around my age I admire. I feel like I've been working with them since I got started. They have influenced me along the way. I wouldn't say that all of the people on my list work just like me, as there is a lot of different work represented by that list.

Did you study illustration or art? Are you a commercial artist or a fine artist? Is it a line you are aware of, or balance?

I went to an arts magnet school from seventh grade onwards, and was exposed early to a lot of cool, crazy art and ideas. I don't know how things are going now at that school, but when I was 13 they tried to veer our attention away from drawing Betty and Veronica, Ferraris, or Animaniacs and to focus on brainy, idealistic artists instead. My friends and I were more obsessed with the idea of being arty bohemians than making a living. I did always have an illustrative streak and was devastated when the representative from Cooper Union thought I intended on majoring in illustration, which they don't provide. I was totally offended! Did I want to dig holes in the ground and line them with silk and lay eggs or something feminist-earthworksy like that? Now of course I think I'm a combination of commercial and fine artist. In this day and age those lines are blurred. As I continued my fine art education, the insular fine art world seemed more and more irrelevant. In fact bullshit. I think that art has been about ideas and making collective mental innovations. I don't think in this day and age a gallery is the best showcase for that, and I question the fine art world's cultural magnanimity. It seems the commercial world might be the more appropriate climate for my thoughts and ideas but I haven't really figured it out.

Where do you see your work and your career going?

Ooh. That's the topic of the day for me lately! I'm not sure. There's a LOT I want to do. I have more stories to draw, I want to paint big paintings, design fabric and wallpaper, partner with a ceramicist to decorate pots and have a breakfast nook and some babies! It's all a mishmash. I still have a lot to learn about what's the best direction for me, career-wise.

Comic books and graphic novels seem to have avoided the decline of the book in the digital age, at least for the time being. How do you see the format evolving or fitting into media trends? You write for a webmag. How does that differ from print?

This debate affects the comics world in a big way. Many cartoonists are freaked by the computer thing but just as many embrace it. Some tout the internets ability to expose their work to a wide audience, they find it liberating to be able to publish without the constraints of the publishing industry. I don't really know where I am on it. I haven't benefited as much as others from opportunities on the web mostly due to my own inexperience with computers and site-building. But it's a bad time for publishing, both in paper and on the web. I was very lucky to have my column at Tablet, that was a rare experience, unfortunately. I hear more and more from older and more experienced cartoonists, writers and illustrators that "content" is not that financially valuable anymore, and that's obviously crappy...so I don't know. I think it would be a shame for any one media or format to overthrow the another. Some work belongs on a blog, some should be in a magazine, some a book, some on a wall. Hopefully the money will come to pay for it all.

You ink, color and caption. Will you always? Is it tedious or a joy.

As long as I do comics, I am sure I will do it all. I'm into the handmade nature of it, so it is fun AND tedious. Usually I have some deadline and think about how nice it would be not to... but then I wouldn't be working if I wasn't on deadline.

Do you sell original work or editions?

I've sold a few things here and there and it is always a bit confusing. I want to do prints, I just haven't gotten around to it. I did a series of paintings of women that I think would make a cool calendar.

You have a regular column in a contemporary Jewish publication. How prominent is your "ishness" in your work?
I don't know whether it was working for Tablet or something else that brought the Jewish stuff out in my recent comics. I had to talk about Jewishness in the column, and sometimes it was over deliberate. I never would have considered doing comics about Judaism earlier in my life. Since moving to California and seriously dating someone non-Jewish, I think about it a lot more, just because it's not as much of a given as it is in New York or in South Florida where I grew up. I do think my own particular Jewish experience has helped me embrace comics and see them for all of the possibilities they hold, because I've been able to be Jewish on my own terms. I'm into the aspects of Judaism that are about being an individual, seeing things out of context. So obviously that's helped me with comics, since I've approached comics separately from a lot of the stuff associated with comics.

Your work is all autobiographical, often painfully so. It is also entirely narrative. Do you ever think in terms of "a gag" or "a joke".

I think of jokes all the time, but I don't know that I'm that good at gags. There are lots of circumstances surrounding things I think are funny, and they are best explained in some kind of context. I did this one comic about looking at a pretty college girl, from head to toe, she was all blond and skinny and stuff. But then her toenails were like 3 inches long and curly and brown and just insane. So stuff like that, even things less outrageous, are constantly making me laugh, but they're not really "gags" I guess. Most of the editing and criticism I've received has been about explaining things even MORE, so I think my strength just doesn't really lie in the overt, one-panel format.

Have you ever submitted a panel to the New Yorker?

No!

You have no square panels, the drawings float and quiver. Is that more natural to you?


I started using panels in the last few months of my Tablet strip because it helped me organize the stories quickly and coherently. I didn't have time to artfully dovetail images together in visual witty ways, and because it was for a wider audience I wanted the narration to be straightforward. In the past I enjoyed that organic layout because of the visual opportunities, and because I didn't like the constraints of the panels. I wanted to be able to bend the perspective as needed and the panel was just an arbitrary obstruction that affected things.

Do you Miss New York? Has leaving the city changed your drawings?

I miss New York a lot! I talk about it all the time. I miss my family and the hustle and bustle. I miss the "biz" aspect of New York. Here when people see me drawing, they ask me if I'm doing it for a class. In New York, people assumed I was a professional. Obviously that's a nice feeling. I don't miss the discomfort and I don't miss trudging around. I never felt "liberated" by the subway. I literally felt desperate for nature. I hated going home for my mother's birthday, because it fell during the nicest 2 weeks of the year in the city, at the end of April. Florida is beautiful then too, but I was angry and resentful about what I'd been through over the winter and to miss a minute of New York spring was annoying. But the longer I lived in the city, there were fewer and fewer places I really enjoyed being. Soho felt like the mall, the East Village felt like Long Island, Midtown felt like the Midwest. Because Manhattan and now Brooklyn is so punishingly expensive, I found by leaving I could devote an appropriate amount of time to my own work. I loved my job in New York, but I was torn between work and drawing. In a smaller town I can afford to actually BE a professional. I always thought those starry-eyed suburban kids who couldn't WAIT to move to New York were so dorky. Then I moved there (from the suburbs) and had an amazing "only-in-New-York" dream experience despite my cynicism. But then I started to feel like a sucker, thinking I HAD to be in the city. Putting up with so much bullshit just to be there felt kind of degrading. I wondered if maybe it was MORE of a "New York thing" to move away, like I don't need it.

Does your mother see all your work before it is published?

Ha ha, no! With these Tablet comics, I used my mom and other family and friends so much, I did try to take their feelings into consideration. Sometimes I'll offend my mom, and she won't say anything. She doesn't want me to feel self-conscious. But she WILL tell my sister, who will tell me, and she knows it!

See MORE about Vanessa Davis on DRAWN and QUARTERLY and SPANIEL RAGE

Horrors in Wax #15 The Dangling Dudes


AIEEE! Most wax "chambers of horrors" are hardly that...a few familiar Hollywood villains to scare the kids and a damsel in distress for Dad. This setup, however, would warp a kid for a decade. What demented wax sculptor dreamed this up? Vintage grain rake hangs in the back to add a pointy "what is THAT" object to further scare the kids, and a few presumably wax chickens scratch around the "barn of death" floor. A question? Who would SEND this?
From the Dull Tool Dim Bulb "Horrors in Wax" series. Collect them all.

Horrors in Wax #15 Postcard c. 1965. Collection Jim Linderman

At the Circus in Black and White Dull Tool Dim Bulb #14 of a Series


Circus Performers Anonymous Snapshot circa 1960 Jim Linderman Collection

Absentee Cards...Not so Gentle Reminders







Did you even know there was an "America's Largest Line of Absentee Cards?" There was at one time, and now you know. Absentee cards are gentle (or not so) reminders to get your butt off the couch and into the pew. Personally, I think we all have enough guilt in our lives that we don't need a postcard to remind us, but they did probably work. Looking for a niche to collect with no competition? Here you go.

Salesman Sample and group of Absentee Cards, circa 1950.
Collection Jim Linderman

Teeny Tiny Grauman's Chinese Theater and Big Hand


Model of Grauman's Chinese Theater, complete with tiny hand-prints of the stars.
Original Press Photograph 1946 Collection Jim Linderman

Photo-Eye Magazine: Take Me to the Water "The Best Books of 2009"

"Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography" makes Melanie McWhorter, Photo-eye bookstore manager's list as one of the Best Books of 2009. She writes "It is a humble and beautiful book."
Link HERE

Untitled Nudes by Rudolph Rossi Hand-Painted Photograph c. 1950



Three large (11" x 14") Original Hand-tinted Photographs by Rudolph Rossi circa 1950. Rossi was a member of an informal camera club in New York City where he took photographs of Bettie Page and other amateur models, then meticulously painted each black and white photograph by hand to create the illusion of color photography.  The models for the camera club shootings (including Bettie Page) were found from all over New York City.  While the three models here are all seemingly posing alone, it is possible Rossi "painted out" other participants after making large prints in his home studio.  
Note gold tint he applied to the jewelry on the blond!  
Three original prints by Rudolph Rossi, circa 1950 Collection Jim Linderman

Objects to Paint (Do Not put Brush in the Mouth)



Painting Instruction Book 1910 Saalfield Publishing Company Collection Jim Linderman