The Sun Sets in Tucson, Arizona

“I hold on to my adopted shore, chanting private vows: wherever I am, let me never forget to distinguish want from need. Let me be a good animal today. Let me dance in the waves of my private tide, the habits of survival and love.”
Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never

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Social Media: The Winogrand Effect

I read an interesting article in New York magazine by Jerry Saltz titled, “Photographing Through The Cracks: Garry Winogrand captured America as it split wide open.” It discusses an exhibition of the street photographer’s work currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The last paragraph stood out because it made me think about the future of art; the formal study of photography; the role of curator; and social media’s role in propelling a new generation of self-taught photographers. Here’s the quote:

“The whole world is now filled with incredible images–especially on Instagram and other social networks–that owe something to Winogrand’s, documenting life, change, and all the rest. Yet the art world and museums are not. Instead they tend to show oversize, very still pictures or images that investigate formal properties and ideas of display and presentation. I love many of those pictures, but what’s happening online on social media deserves far more serious scrutiny than it’s getting. If the art world doesn’t admit more of this sort of deceptively casual-seeming work, the outside world will reject more so-called art photography than it already does. That’s a divide that we don’t need to reestablish and widen.”

Thoughts?

St. Isaac's Cathedral, photographed in July during a trip to St Petersburg (with a Nikon)

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, photographed in July during a trip to St Petersburg (on an angle with a Nikon and prime lens. I should add that my sister took amazing photos of the same cupola with an iPhone.).

Wanderlust — by Richard Avedon

Avedon was a poet and we didn’t know it?

Reading photographer Richard Avedon’s 1941 Scholastic Art & Writing award-winning poem Wanderlust on the back page of this month’s Harpers Bazaar was an apropos finale to a marathon magazine-reading session on an overcast Saturday in L.A.

WANDERLUST

You must not think because my glance is quick

To shift from this to that, from here to there,

Because I am most usually where

The way is strangest and the wonders thick,

Because when wind is wildest and the bay

Swoops madly upward and the gulls are few

And I am doing as I want to do,

Leaving the town to go my aimless way;

You must not think because I am the kind

Who always shunned security and such

As bother the responsible of mind

That I shall never total up to much;

I know my drifting will not prove a loss,

For mine is a rolling stone that has gathered moss.

Richard Avedon via npr.org

Richard Avedon via npr.org

Happy Birthday to a Legend ~ Ms Hepburn

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Happy Birthday to a Legend ~ Ms Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn, who was born on this date in 1929, won her best actress Oscar for the enchanting 1953’s “Roman Holiday,” starring opposite Gregory Peck. And here’s a photo from the film courtesy of AMC. (via Los Angeles Times)

Lost In Translation: Sergey Esenin

The Russian-to-English translator’s job is a tough one. They face a constant dilemma in transforming  melodic Russian verse into rigid English. It’s unfortunate, but many times a bad translation will make the most evocative Russian sentence sound flat and dull.

In my research of Russian literature, I have been reading about Sergey Esenin — one of the country’s most-loved lyrical poets. Born in the country, he moved to the city — Moscow, then Petrograd — and in 1918, formed the Imagist poetry group.The Revolution had an impact on Esenin; he found it hard to adjust to the new way of life, and alcohol and drugs furthered his disillusionment. Over the course of 30 years, Esenin wed four times (American dancer Isadora Duncan was his third wife), becoming a father through marriage and a romantic liaison. All this made for  moving and emotive verse that, while poignant, thrives on masterful composition.

So, what does this have to do with translation? While combing through copious amount of information, I came across a number of English translations of Esenin’s final poem. Stumped, I searched for the original and found no translation to be a match. They were all either too wordy, exaggerated, and/or neglected to honour the poet’s words. I ended up translating the eight lines myself and believe me, it’s hard to balance the literal and the melodious, yet that shouldn’t compromise the poem’s integrity.

THE FINAL POEM

Apparently, this final untitled poem was written in blood. Esenin, who was staying at the Hotel Angleterre in Leningrad, could not find any ink and used his lifeblood to complete the piece. The poem became public around the same time he was found in his hotel room, hanging from a radiator pipe. Whether Esenin committed suicide or not is undetermined. He had been mentally unstable and suffered from a drug addiction, though some attribute his death to the hands of the secret police. Politically, Esenin was out of favour as his “village” poetry clashed with the industrial theories of the Revolution.

Esenin left his legacy in the most beautiful of poetic works that continue to be devoured. I checked Twitter and found that the Russians love nothing more than to share a cup of coffee with Esenin in the spring.

Here’s my translation of this final poem. The original is below if you want to have a go of translating it yourself, or to at least compare with Google translate. If you come across wildly varied versions in either case, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye.

My dear, you are in my heart.

This predestined parting

Promises a meeting in time to come.

 

Goodbye, my friend, without a hand, without a word,

Don’t be sad and furrow your brow in sorrow, –

To die in this life is not new,

But to live, of course, is not newer.

(1925)

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Милый мой, ты у меня в груди.
Предназначенное расставанье
Обещает встречу впереди.

До свиданья, друг мой, без руки, без слова,
Не грусти и не печаль бровей, —
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.

(1925)

Esenin and Duncan

Esenin and Duncan

 

 

April 14: Remembering Mayakovsky

Our brains were numb; our fingertips, blue. It was past 4pm and getting dark — not unusual for winter in Moscow. Under the bleak sky and nearing the end of our tethers, mum and I were fast losing our sense of direction. We must have shuffled by Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, and Nikolai Tchaikovsky a dozen times each while navigating pathways slicked with ice and snow. We weren’t about to give up though — we’re steadfast and pretty determined. Map or no map, eyes tearing from the cold, we sloughed through the freeze. Until finally — FINALLY! — we spotted it. The Cyrillic writing etched across the top of a red-faced tombstone that read: Vladimir Mayakovsky.

DSC_0186PSI don’t usually spend so much time in cemeteries but this day was different — I was on assignment to find the famous writer, playwright, and poet — Mayakovsky. The Novodevichy Cemetery is the resting place of many literary, cultural, and political figures including Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, Soviet actress Marina Ladynina, and the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yelstin. Located adjacent to the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, the grave site is one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

DSC_0177PSThe large red-and-black tombstone that forever honours Mayakovsky is deceptive, not only for its camouflaging abilities but because it stands for the Futurist artist who was ultimately shunned by a cause he was so vested in.

As a boy, Mayakovsky acted revolutionary: at 12, he led his classmates in a demonstration; by 15, he’d landed in jail from his association with an underground Bolshevik group, which is where he started to read widely, and write.

At the time of the Russian Revolution, Mayakovsky showed a lack of interest in the classics by Pushkin and Tolstoy, instead dedicating his efforts towards the creation of a New World. He found a voice through theatre, poetry, propaganda, and radio jingles, and went on to be celebrated as “the greatest poet of the Soviet era.” Yet, a decade later, his works seemed to polarize. Reviewers criticised his play, The Bath House, for its (humorous) critique of Soviet bureaucrats, while his artistic retrospective was avoided altogether by the intelligentsia. He feared arrest.

DSC_0189PSOn April 9, “Just five days before his death, Mayakovsky was condemned at a Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) meeting at which his critics demanded proof that he would still be read in 20 years.”* A year later, in 1931, writer Maxim Gorky would head the Writer’s Union, abolish the RAPP, and, with Stalin, formulate the doctrine of Socialist Realism, which embraced an old-world literary aesthetic. To add further fuel, it’s been speculated that Mayakovsky’s lover, Lily Brik, was an agent of Stalin’s secret police — the NKVD.

Mum and I stood shivering in our  boots at the foot of Mayakovsky’s grave, blanketed in snow and surrounded by plastic flowers and a wreath of blood-red roses. We admired Mayakovsky’s profile for a time. I wondered how such a head-strong, intelligent 36-year-old could terminate his life with a bullet? Didn’t he have more to say? Then again, perhaps he foresaw his fate.

Below is the reported suicide note, taken from an unfinished work, probably written in 1929:

As they say,

                     a bungled story.

Love’s boat

                   smashed

                  against existence.

And we are quits

                 with life.

                So why should we

idly reproach each other

              with pain and insults?

To those who remain — I wish happiness.

DSC_0193PSHere are pictures of the site in spring: http://novodevichye.com/mayakovsky/5/

*Natasha’s Dance, by Orlando Figes