Highlights from the Collection (part 4)

Tintypes, also know as ferrotypes, were the snapshots of their day. With an amazingly long run in popularity, they were inexpensive, widely available and relatively "instantaneous" (exposures were probably seconds long rather than minutes) alternatives to the more rarefied daguerreotype. Beginning in 1856 or so they brought photographic portraiture to the middle and lower classes, soared in popularity during the Civil War and eventually found a permanent place at fairs, resorts, and carnivals well into the 20th century.

he daguerreotype was a single, very fragile (and costly) confection of glass, buffed copper and silver--the image produced was shimmering, luminous and mesmerizingly detailed. But what the stolid tintype (which was exposed onto a plate of iron, hence the ferr of ferrotype, not tin) lacked in refinement it more than made up for in its availability, and was often produced in multiples. The tintype allowed soldiers, sweethearts, friends, tourists, babies, couples, and even pets their moment in the spotlight.

Images from top: detail and full image of a young woman c. 1870s; a Gem tintype (approx 1.5" x 2") in handmade and decorated frame, inscription says, "Carrie Sherman 12 years old Feb 11 1896-- this picture taken March 28 1896"; mysterious woman in printed paper frame, tinted cheeks and ribbon, c late 1860s; floppy baby c 1870s; young couple
c late 1860s--the woman is almost smiling which is quite rare.



A small selection of Dutch and early Flemish portraits. Early on these sitters were often donors painted into the religious scenes they financed, in later images they might be prominent burghers paying for a formal portrait, the artists themselves, or bit players in a genre scene. They were nearly always rendered with details indicating status, piety, marriage status... I love the frankness, the improbable sense of intimacy (across centuries!) and quiet melancholy. From top: Jan Van Eyck, Gerrit Dou, Quentin Massys, Van Eyck self portrait, Franz Hals, and Petrus Christus' magnificent Portrait of a Carthusian which I discovered on my Museum Day several posts ago.

Below the portraits are images from a series called "The Regulars" by Sarah Stolfa, an MFA candidate in Photography at Yale. She shot them during her time (a couple years?) bartending at McGlinchey's, a tavern in Philadelphia. I discovered her work in a beautifully written review by Carlo Rotella in my alumni magazine:
There's a resonant lonely distance in these portraits, and mystery, but none of the anonymous noir romance of Edward Hopper's nighthawks... [they are] intimate but restrained-- rich but not overripe, realistic but not entirely natural.
I happened to read that the 15th century contemporary word for portrait was conterfeytsel-- the modern English equivalent being "counterfeit." Implying both extreme fidelity as well as falsity, it highlights the deceptive sense that the viewer can "know" anything about these sitters. A collection of props and shadows.

This image doesn't quite fit in with this series but in doing picture research for this post I was reminded of how much I'm drawn to this painting. It is thought to be a self-portrait by Michael Sweerts, around 1650s I believe. He seems to have been a troubled soul, dying from some sort of mania after having followed some Jesuit missionaries to Goa.
His dreamy melancholy, unguarded expression, and the ease with which he rests his head on his hand is,
to me, startlingly appealing...


Go on, try and date me

I don't typically use this space to disparage other people's personal essays (though there was that post about the peach and the old baby spoon last year...after which, hilarity ensued). But the "On Language" column a week ago in the Sunday NYTimes magazine written by one, Jaimie Epstein, a (clearly) young fill-in for Safire, just can't pass without remark from me. And after discovering a new language blog (wishydig) where I came upon some appealing snarkiness
Epstein laments that there is no "12-step program for usage addicts." So she's addicted to usage? Well who isn't. I find I can't get through a single conversation without using usage.
I was prompted to finally give my two cents.

relates the perils and pratfalls of internet dating when one has an "excess language-sensitivity gene" and describes herself as "someone whose ear is as tuned to the pitch of language as a cellist’s is to music." The girl is, as they say, just asking for it. She gallops breathlessly through shakily relevant anecdotes, hackneyed turns of phrase and, ironically, egregiously bad word choices and images:
"a dribble of luck but gallons of patience"
"soothing rock and roll of the ocean crashing and uncrashing"
"‘skillful verbage’? Maybe he liked the way I threw my verbs around, but my nose picked up a whiff of “garbage.”
"Gallons of patience"? What the hell is "crashing and uncrashing"? And what about the unfortunate adjacency of "nose picked"? How this got into the Times (and mentioned on A&L !) is utterly beyond me. Unless it was a delightfully Machiavellian strategy by someone on the Magazine staff: we mete you out the rope in coveted column inches, you go hang yourself.

And now for my story.

In the dim past when I actually went on internet
dates I scrutinized language skills, too.
  • One misspelling was forgivable, two put you on notice.
  • "Their", "they're" and "there" confusion was cause for serious concern.
  • In person, infractions were more blatant. Not knowing a word that I'd considered rather common (not what we used call an "SAT word") could be grounds for dismissal. I once gave someone pause with the word fallow. My interest in the poor fellow slid into "a period of dormancy and inactivity."
  • Misusing a word was a much more serious crime. If you're whipping around mortified or, heavens, machinations you'd better have a license.
I completely admit to going to absurd extremes back in the day. Three random terms gathered over the course of several long-ago dates became a sort of (joking) mental incantation to, well, keep suitors away. Each of these came up (don't ask me how, they just did) and was met with utter blankness:

Anatolia, Huguenot, Fragonard

Mind you, I wasn't seeking an official definition, just a flicker of recognition. Maybe, kinda having heard the term before. I'm fully aware of the irony of my "testing" guys with arguably meaningless terms like Huguenot when I could fail a good many tests myself– not really knowing my Illiad from my Odyssey, and having perhaps not a full enough grasp on my Rove or my Wolfowitz.

And so, with (relative!) age comes wisdom and I've decided to call a truce. Technical proficiency with English, if it's your first language, really is a must in my book... BUT I'll overlook your Anatolia if you give me some leeway with my familiarity with NAFTA.
Now I'm going to go do some research on NAFTA...

Addendum: it's been brought to my attention (with great tact and restraint by one Tayt Harlin) that the title of this post should be "Go on, try TO date me." Well, yes strictly speaking! But as I repeated the words to myself obsessively the "try AND" sounded less stilted. Sort of snappily Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." So I will stick with it, grammar be damned.


Disgust and its neighbors

I've been thinking about "disgust." Largely thats because it's something I feel rather frequently, especially in New York-- in summer. But I try not to dwell on my particular triggers. Instead I wanted to know more about the nature of disgust-- a visceral sensation, and a particularly loaded state of being. Its something that is felt bodily and mentally, and (dangerously) it can take on moral overtones. Luckily, I found the perfect primer on the subject, The Anatomy of Disgust by Michael Ian Miller (from which I took the title of this post; some of the "neighbors"being contempt, outrage, revulsion, indignation). He literally parses the term and shows why it is a surprisingly important albeit contentious concept. He says that while the content of the disgusting and the threshold of disgust varies across different societies, the concept of Culture,
"strikes us as inconceivable without disgust playing some role in its construction... To feel disgust is human and humanizing. [Those who are insensitive to disgust] belong to somewhat different categories: protohuman like children, subhuman like the mad, or suprahuman like saints."
Miller posits that disgust, rather than being anti-social, "has powerful communalizing capacities" and can help to build moral social community (grossly, 'us' versus 'them'). Intriguingly, though disgust can appear to come from a stance of superiority, it necessarily brings with it a fear and insecurity -- of contagion, of threat to order. Because of the strong feelings it elicits (mental threat and physical revulsion) it can provoke outsized reactions/retaliations that are in themselves "disgusting."

Miller also argues that a less volatile cousin of disgust, contempt, is a useful, even necessary, aspect in a democratic society-- as long as its reciprocal. (I really like this guy.) The notion is that the "lower classes" gained some kind of societal stance, some sense of 'power' when they were able to experience (and subtly express) a certain contempt toward the 'nobility' or their supposed superiors...

Addendum: etymology of "disgust": The word enters into English, from French, in the early 17th century--as Miller points out, Shakespeare had no such word. Its literal derivation means "distaste"–with regard to ingestion. He points out, though, that at the time the word appears, concern with taste–with regard to refinement and discernment-- is increasingly prevalent. Discernment and the ability to recognize and reject vulgarity is intertwined with the "civilizing process" and the contemporary rise of propriety and privacy. Then that brings about the exquisite proliferation of issues of embarrassment, guilt, and a whole psychological theater of darkness...

The two images at top are from Freaks, Geeks & Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway, neither of which I find disgusting in the least. But they do bring up this point: what happens when what at one time was considered freakish or disgusting or marginal becomes unremarkable? What happens when what is "normal" shifts–when the boundary that delineates "us" from "them" moves?


Iceland, one more thing

Once one gets over the initial shock of Iceland: that is--the outlandish cost of food ($15 for a bagel sandwich, $3+ for what was essentially a plastic Dixie cup of coffee) and alcohol (difficult to get drunk on $10 bottled beers) and shopping for clothes or "souvenirs" (I resorted to telling myself I was shopping at an outpost of Barney's), then its smooth sailing...

The landscape has a quasi-mythic,
ian quality. An "edge of the earth" sort of mysticism that kept making me think "Stairway to Heaven" should be playing as the soundtrack. (For those of you who do not like Led Zeppelin, don't worry, it was my imaginary soundtrack)

You begin to realize how it is that these Norse countries have elves and sprites and wood nymphs in all their folk lore. Its not just that they have quite the penchant for quaint fairy tales--the landscape really shapes that sensibility. Low clouds, mist, waterfalls cascading seemingly out of nowhere, the serrated mountains. Oh and rainbows too. All that was missing were the Unicorns.

Everything is much bigger, figuratively, than you are.
As opposed to New York, say, where the landscape is absent or accessible in small defined areas: a park, an angled view up to the sky ("is it going to rain?"), a fleeting glimpse of the river on a crosstown street. Without consciously realizing it I've been drawn to outsized landscapes as offering a kind of escape. Thunderstorms always thrilled me for the same reason: they were so much larger than (my) life. They hinted at larger, more universal things. They threw the small day-to-day boundaries of small day-to-day lives into highlight, and went beyond.


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