When you’ve spent almost your entire life working out of your house, days merge. So much so that I often have no idea which day of the week it is. And am slightly jarred when I hear someone say they can’t wait for the weekend. For me, there’s not much difference between Thursday and Monday or Saturday and Sunday because I’m usually in my office every day.
Even when I worked in law, if I wasn’t at trial, my work life was the same. Upstairs in my office editing briefs, writing voir dire questions for the next jury, on the phone planning trial or legal strategies, practicing the sax.
This week was different. Sue had run into a friend, a photography curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a current exhibit of Edward Weston pictures that were commissioned for a special edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. After Sue’s shameless request for a personal tour (she had done this for us for a major Ansel Adams show), K. invited us to come on Thursday.
Now I’ve been to different exhibitions at different museums with terrific docents (am thinking especially of one at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida) who taught me a ton about what I was looking at. But that’s nothing compared to learning about an artist’s work from a curator. Not only did she know what was special about each of Weston’s pictures, K. could tell us about every leg of the ten-month road trip across America that he took with his wife, Charis, to gather the shots for the book.
Which was a pretty incredible story since the publisher initially demanded that Weston’s pictures were to illustrate Whitman’s words pretty literally. Something Weston was loathe to do so he decided to shoot what he wanted and, as he sent his pictures back to the increasingly anxious publisher, he (or usually his wife, Charis) would explain how each specific shot related to Whitman’s words, sometimes quoting “chapter and verse.”
An interesting aside. Although these “special editions” sound like rare collector items (which they are now), in their time, they were a somewhat higher class version of a Book of the Month Club type arrangement. Another tidbit was how much Weston hated the book’s graphic design after it was published.
The room’s photo arrangement replicated their trip’s route. (Weston didn’t drive so his wife had that on her shoulders. He wasn’t particularly social so if he wanted to photograph someone, it was often Charis who made it happen and made the person comfortable. In fact, as driver she often was the one who stopped at a “Weston” image.) Although amazingly beautiful pictures came out of that trip, so did a divorce. Not simply due to the stress of traveling, she was also thirty years his junior and wanted children. (If you’re interested in knowing a little more about Charis, as I was when I got home, here’s a link to a short interview:
The stories were great but the real payoff was the curator’s knowledge of each individual picture and what made it special. She showed us how his use of darkness was like a moment of silence in music. Or, how certain pictures seemed to shimmer, and why that was so. We also began to understand what Weston was seeing in Whitman and how Weston saw America. Wasn’t like riding in the back seat but it was a hell of a lot more comfortable. This was a great experience from a great teacher about a great photographer I had known little about.
It doesn’t get any better than that. Except that it did. Friends had given me four birthday tickets so we could all go out to dinner and hear jazz. Our Thursday wasn’t over.
Casablanca, a famous Harvard Square restaurant, is closing after 40-some years so we decided to say goodbye. Always thought they made the best burgers in town and after supper still did. They aren’t closing until the end of August so you still have time if you’re in the Boston/Cambridge area.
If you check out this link and click on the album cover it explains the project that musicians Paul Lieberman and Joel Martin have been working on. Believing that jazz has two branches that emerged from their African musical roots-one here, one in Brazil, they create a vibrant Brazilian sound to American music, and a swing/bop intensity to Brazilian standards. (There is something mind blowing listening to a multi-national band trade fours on a South American tune that had been transformed into hard bop.) I’m not a big fan of avant garde jazz (I’ve been accused of not liking any jazz after the early 60s) but Lieberman and co-composer Martin were also able to fashion an upside down mix of both “branches” to create a unique third sound. Excellent musicians making new music.
Now, I could say our entire Thursday was a long and interesting learning moment, but the day and night were just too much fun to call it anything but playin’ hooky.
We judge an artist in his lifetime by batting average; afterward, only by home runs.