Series: They Made a Difference: Tony Gleaton

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Above:  Tony Gleaton’s Mexican photographs.  lower R, Tony Gleaton.

Photographer Tony Gleaton just died. He was 67.   He was born in 1948 in Detroit, served in Vietnam in the late 60s with the Marines, then took photography classes at UCLA.  He became a successful fashion photographer, but something was missing.  He was at a rodeo in Nevada where he came upon an African-American rodeo cowboy, who told him there were many people of African descent in Mexico.  He left everything behind, bought a one-way ticket on a Greyhound Bus, and headed south.  He lived simply and cheaply, picking up odd jobs to just keep going.  He cared about photographing this little-known population.

I didn’t know Africans went to Mexico, hadn’t head about African slaves being brought there, and never detected any Cuban clavé in Mexican music, or any attributes that characterize Afro-Latin music.  So seeing his catalogue came as news to me.

I had a catalogue of a traveling Smithsonian show in 1987, El Legado de Africa en Mexico (Africa’s Legacy in Mexico).  I think it was lost during a move.

In a recent obit in the New York Times, Gleaton was quoted talking about his Mexican photographs of Afro-Mexicans:

“What’s important about these photographs is that they gave a face to something that nobody had really thought about before.  And it’s a place to begin the discussion about what we suppose Mexico to be.  We have a stereotypical view of what Mexico is, and Mexico is many things.  You can have freckles and red hair and be Mexican—and you can have very black skin and be Mexican.

Tony Gleaton taught me something I was never aware of.  He made a difference.

Chris Burden 1946-2015 & The Other Vietnam Memorial

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I’m near Chris Burden’s age, so some of my life story aligns with his.  One of those intersections was the Vietnam War, or The American War, as it’s known in Vietnam and some other places.  I never wanted to serve in Vietnam, and moved to Paris to go to school and took my Army physical in Germany.  In Los Angeles you would be inducted no matter what. There was a big quota to fill.  I had high school chums who got killed there, and other friends who returned psychologically damaged.  As we know now, it was a trumped up war, as McNamara admitted later on;  we should have learned from the French debacle but didn’t.

Burden, who died yesterday at 69 of melanoma, lived in Los Angeles, had a studio in Topanga Canyon, and taught at UCLA, my alma mater.  Although he is best known for his extreme conceptual / performance piece, Shoot  (1971), a personal reaction to the Vietnam War and all the people being shot and killed there, and many of his shows in various LA galleries, the piece I most remember was at the Museum of Modern Art in 1992:  It was called The Other Vietnam Memorial, a counterpoint to Maya Lin’s huge Washington D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

It was an immense series of revolving copper plates, 13′ tall, and filled with etched names of the three million war dead, including the 57,939 American fatalities and the more than two and a half million Vietnamese dead, both military and civilian.  He gathered the names from Vietnames phone books.  You would move the huge heavy sheets around like you would in a poster shop with large posters.  It is one thing to think 3 million people;  it is another thing to behold and digest just how many human beings those names represent.

It was powerful and truth be told I just fell apart in the museum that day.  Seeing the enormity such loss was devastating.

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Hopi Masks Sold at French Auction Bring Up An Old Argument

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The Hopi nation of native Americans is outraged about a recent sale of Hopi masks whose sale was approved by a French court and sold at auction for $1.2 million.  The Hopis consider these masks sacred, unlike the art world which considers them mere cultural artifacts which can be bought and sold. Read More →

Tahiti: An Eden Despoiled

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I’m reading Robert Hughes’ masterful art history book, The Shock of the New.  It’s a dense, heavy, and amazing book. Reading about Gaughin’s Edenic paintings of Tahiti–which reminded me of French photographer Lucien Gauthier’s book Tahiti 1904-1921–I was sobered by Hughes’ assertion that Tahiti had already been ruined by alcoholism and venereal disease by the time the French painter arrived at the end of the 19th century. Read More →

Those Inscrutable Faces

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A friend of mine, Pat Darrin, whose famous car-designer father, Howard “Dutch” Darrin designed the iconic and long-lived Citroën Traction Avant (1934-1957)–made famous by the film Diva-recently loaned me a cool book called “La Grande Histoire de l’Automobile–Les Jours de Gloire 1950-1959.   Some of my favorite cars came out during that period, including some beauties my dad owned–Ferraris, Maseratis, a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, which my mother hated because it was so hard getting in and out of it.   They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m a car nut too. I’ve also had some great cars–a 1963 Citroën DS 19 (DS 19-23 were produced 1955-1975)  immortalized in Roland Barthes’ brilliant little book Mythologies, a 1959 Jaguar XK-150S among others.  My older brother Larry is indifferent about cars, though he did manage to strafe the gears of my old man’s Ferrari 250 GT as a teenager. I had less fun:  I had to clean and wax all of them, including the Borrani wire wheels.   I do remember, however, the thrill of riding in those fast cars when my father put the pedal to the metal and I felt the torque plus the whine of those great engines.   My twin sister doesn’t even drive and like my brother has no interest in such things.

So–in this French book there is a picture of the young, androgynous Françoise Sagan, already famous for her precocious novel Bonjour Tristesse, published in 1954 when she was only 17.  Successful writers are crowned superstars in France, and Sagan was no exception.  She also loved driving fast, exotic cars, and almost died when she crashed her Aston Martin DB 2.     Read More →

Sergio Pininfarina 1926-2012 RIP

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Sergio Pininfarina headed the Turin design studio that created the most beautiful sports cars in the world.   Alfa Romeos, Lancia, but especially Ferraris.   The elegance of Pininfarina’s designs reminds us that Italian design harkens back to the Renaissance, the timelessless of Michelangelo, Botticelli,  and Da Vinci.

True, there were other Italian designers:  Touring of Milan did graceful Aston Martins, Alfa Romeo’s and Maseratis.  Bertone did IMHO some ugly designs of the 1970s-1980s.  Scaglietti designed some bold and beautiful cars, like the 612 Ferrari and the 353 MM.   But Pininfarina was the biggest and the greatest of them all. Read More →

Our Rich Access to Knowledge

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The other night I read–well, actually just perused—Malinowski’s Kiriwina:  Fieldwork Photography 1915-1918–an amazing book about the Polish-born father of modern cultural anthropology’s stay in Papua and the Trobiand Islands.  He went to New Guinea and studied the inhabitants there with unprecedented rigor.  I also listened to an Argentine pianist named  Bruno Leonardo Gelber play Beethoven’s magnificent sonata #14, the Moonlight Sonata.  Then I turned to French photographer Robert Doisneau, looking at images he took of Les Halles, the famous French outdoor marketplace that dated back to the 14th century, only to be torn down in 1971 by President Pompidou to build the much-reviled Centre Pompidou / Beaubourg.  Some called it an oil refinery posing as a cultural center, and many Parisians lamented the loss of the famous market.   Read More →