Tag Archives: social history

What makes a Jewish photographer Jewish?

The question is explored in the following book, which I’ve reviewed for Jewish Book World.

AFTER WEEGEE: ESSAYS ON CONTEMPORARY JEWISH AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHERS, by Daniel Morris. Syracuse University Press, 2011.

Professor Morris provides significant insights into and detailed, provocative readings of the photographic art and documentary projects of the imposing photographers discussed in his ten essays. He is sure-handed in surveying their technical and thematic range, keeping his critical language accessible even while projecting an authoritative, scholarly voice. However, the effort of dealing with the Jewish factor is strained and oddly reductive.

Morris notes, over and over again, the social consciousness of these image makers and their concern with the human condition at the margins. The homeless, the dispossessed, the marginalized subjects of their documentary projects are relentlessly tied to the ostensible outsider identity of the photographers, a status that is a consequence of their Jewishness – by definition. (Annie Liebovitz’s celebrity gallery is an exception here, although the show business world her best-known work explores is also considered a Jewish cultural product.)

It could just as well be that people on one side of a camera are almost invariably outsiders to the subject communities they approach and record.

Morris’s study, then, succeeds best as a series of essays and not so well as a thesis-mongering whole. Aside from Liebovits, Arthur Fellig (Weegee), Bruce Davidson, Jim Goldberg, Mel Rosenthal, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Allen Ginsberg, Tyagan Miller, Marc Asnin, and Mary Ellen Mark are at the center of these passionately wrought essays.

 Illustrations, index, introduction, works cited. PKJ

NOTE: The Jewish Book Council has enhanced its web site and is now a most attractive and useful place to explore.  I’m attaching the link to my review, and you can find others by me by clicking on my name.  After Weegee

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Maurice Fatio’s Architectural Legacy

 by Philip K. Jason                              Special to Florida Weekly

“Maurice Fatio: Palm Beach Architect,” by Kim I. Mockler. Acanthus Press. 256 pages. $65.

Kim Mockler’s study of Maurice Fatio’s contributions to the way of life among the powerful and wealthy denizens of Palm Beach is a treatise on American taste and splendor in the years leading up to the Great Depression and the decade that followed it. The descriptive text is crisp and clear, the presentation of architectural detail is at once knowledgeable, lucid, and accessible to novices. “Maurice Fatio” is lavishly illustrated with a generous assortment of period photographs and new ones, as well as floor plans rendered especially for this gorgeously produced volume.   

In presenting 26 representative examples of Fatio’s designs, Mr. Mockler incidentally provides us with a who’s who in American society and culture. If homes reflect their inhabitants and owners, Kim Mockler’s presentation of Maurice Fatio’s Palm Beach achievement reflects the inspiration and aspiration of the American Dream. However, this landscape of material culture never forgets its European heritage.

Maurice Fatio’s designs are characterized by a variety of European influences, from Mediterranean palaces to British Colonial mansions and even homes with modernist influences. He made extensive use of quarry key stone mined in Florida, and his plans typically included a central courtyard which provided wind-sheltered outdoor entertainment space.

Kim Mockler’s descriptive narratives include intriguing biographies and family histories; vivid word portraits of the residences; details about ornamentation, interior design, and furnishings; information about additions, renovations, and successive – including current – owners. We learn about where stones were quarried, which local artisans (wrought iron craftsmen, etc.) made contributions to Fatio’s vision, and how the various residences were situated with respect to the ocean and to Lake Worth.

For whom did Maurice Fatio design his Palm Beach estates? Joseph E. Widener, the art collector who donated his family’s famous collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., is also known as the man who brought Hialeah Park to prominence as a world class horseracing track.  E. F. Hutton, founder of the famous brokerage house that bears his name, built his first Fatio house with wife Marjorie Merriweather Post and his second with his next wife, Dorothy Dear Metzger. Fatio designed several homes for members of the Vanderbilt family. The list of Maurice Fatio’s clients is a who’s who of American and international affluence and influence.

To read the full review (plus interview with Kim Mockler) as it appears in the Fort Myers Florida Weekly for October 13-19, 2010 and the Palm Beach Gardens and Naples editions for October 14-20, click here: Florida Weekly – Kim Mockler pdf

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BOOK BEAT 69 – Dudley Clendinen

See this moving essay by Dudley Clendinen:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/opinion/sunday/10als.html?_r=2

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   May 29, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

Florida is not the fountain of youth; rather, it is the fountain of extended old age. It is home to many retirement communities, as well as facilities designed to meet the needs of those elders who can live independently and those who no longer can do so. Dudley Clendinen, who provides a close, compassionate look at one such enterprise, presents in microcosm a portrait of what he calls “the New Old Age in America.” His book, “A Place Called Canterbury,” is at once a biography of his mother, a family history, and a history of Tampa. It is also a probing examination of the meaning and texture of extended old age.  Beautifully written, it recounts the closing decade of a remarkable generation whose lives spanned most of the 20th century and, in diminishing numbers, a bit of the 21st

When it was time for Clendinen’s mother to give up the family home, to scale down her responsibilities and activities, and to enjoy the virtues of communal dining and a range of professional services, she joined many of her long-time friends in Canterbury Towers, a geriatric apartment building constructed in the 1970s. In her apartment, she reproduced the ambience of her home as best she could. She maintained her habits of personal grooming and social intercourse. And she involved herself in a larger community of people, many of them strangers, who had come from elsewhere to enjoy similar benefits. Each had all made a deal with the devil of reality, giving up some aspects of their complex identities to maintain and even enhance others.

Her son, Dudley, had assumed many of her decision-making powers. Over the many years of Mrs. Clendinen’s residence at Canterbury, Dudley visited frequently and sometimes for extended intervals. His visits added up to something just short of 400 days. Over that period, this reporter, editorial writer, and columnist exercised his curiosity and skills as well as his heart-felt familial responsibilities. He came to know the residents and staff members of the Canterbury community intimately, and he came to know what a lot of middle-aged children come to know about their parents; that is, how little the children actually know.  

 Clendinen explores the structured relationships between parents and children in his own family. Sharing insights with members of his own generation, he finds his observations reinforced: locked in roles, parents and children often have surface relationships, and, as the children become adults – eventually with their own retirement years in view – they miss opportunities to ask the important questions, to hold the potentially revealing, intimate conversations. And then, too soon, it is too late.

The author interviewed and re-interviewed his mother’s core group as well as many fascinating new acquaintances. He left between the covers of this book a memorial of their fight for dignity and of their quest for the redemption of all those extra, unexpected years.

We read of their love lives, past and present. We receive glimpses of their childhoods and their wartime experiences. We see them at play: dancing and putting on entertainments, as well as extending their sex lives. We are witness to the steady and often embarrassing breakdown of their bodies. We marvel at their resilience and at their mutual support for one another. We discover all the ways that they find reasons to be alive while choices, appetites, and mental faculties are taken away by time.

We also get to meet a handful of skilled and dedicated caretakers.

Yes, the book has streaks of melancholy and nostalgia – and even heartbreak as Mr. Clendinen’s mother, a stroke victim, is relocated from her apartment in the towers to the nursing wing. She gradually loses her mind, and even more gradually – perhaps too gradually – loses her life. 

Dudley Clendinen’s mix of exposition and story-telling is just right. His descriptions of place, his handling of dialogue (especially the capturing of southern dialect), and his personality portraits are masterful. One might not expect it, but humor is abundant through this book. Clendinen allows the natural humor hovering around solemn situations to manifest itself. This humor is never disparaging, but rather bracing and respectful.

“A Place Called Canterbury” is a glorious piece of wisdom literature without the preaching. It is clearly one of 2008’s nonfiction masterpieces, a marvelous evocation of a new frontier – the “New Old Age.” You might find a signed copy at the Naples Borders, where Clendinen had a book signing on May 18.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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