Down on the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

Down on the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Some people feel that The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever, and not just one of the best, but a gorgeous song no matter why or how you observe Christmas. Fairytale of New York isn’t exactly the epitome of restraint, with Shane MacGowan and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl singing all over each other, slurring words and tossing all kinds of insults at each other.

The song starts out tenderly, with MacGowan recounting Christmas Eve spent in a Bowery drunk tank, but also his recent gambling win and dreams for the future. MacColl lets us know, as the tempo picks up, that they met on a Christmas Eve, and after some light banter they really get into it, blaming each other for anything they can get their hands on, MacColl ending with “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last.

But then they sing the chorus again, and a string section that actually sounds like it belongs in a Christmas song begins to take over. And it all feels, in spite of itself, grand and sweeping and even a little touching. They squabble a little more, the same as every Christmas, but they’re losing steam; finally MacColl accuses MacGowan of stealing her dreams when they met. This is a terribly poetic way to depict the deadening of expectations in terrible lives. But MacGowan’s voice turns gentle, even though it’s still rough, and he responds: “I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own, Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.”

It’s a tough old life, and Fairytale of New York practically oozes with the gritty spirit of urban decay, poverty, alcoholism and general dysfunction. But as the sounds of those strings float off and out of sight, it doesn’t seem to matter. Not to them and not to us, because it’s the day to sigh and give in to our better inclinations and hold each other and admit there’s still something there. Christmas is the arbitrary day of the year that purely through willpower and tradition we’ve turned into the day where we all try just a little bit harder at being better than we thought we could be.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Slide Show: Down on the Bowery

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Parigot: The Royal Servant’s Epic Battle Against A Homeless Hobo

Parigot: The Royal Servant’s Epic Battle Against A Homeless Hobo

Parigot (The Course) is an action-packed, comical five-minute animated short film by created by Mehdi Alavi, Loic Bramoulle, Axel Digoix, Geoffrey Lerus, and Alexandre Wolfromm at the French animation school Georges Méliès. In the streets of a Paris that is starkly divided between outrageosly fashionable and wealthy aristocrats versus crowds of poverty-stricken homeless people, the film depicts the mortal struggle of two characters from those wildly different worlds. A handsome-looking royal servant is forced to engage in a city-wide battle against a filthy homeless man helped by a large flock of determined pigeons. The ultimate stake? A deliciously appetizing gourmet supper. Drawn by those whom they serve into a conflict that is no longer theirs, under the mirthful spectators’ eyes of a merciless metropolis, who will end up triumphant in this epic battle? The rich, the poor…or maybe neither?

Parigot: The Royal Servant’s Epic Battle Against A Homeless Hobo

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Case History: Behold the Anonymous Homeless, Downtrodden, Insulted and Injured

Photography by: Boris Mikhailov

Case History: Behold the Anonymous Homeless, Downtrodden, Insulted and Injured

Ukrainian-born Boris Mikhailov is one of the leading photographers from the former Soviet Union. For over 30 years, he has explored the place of the individual within the historical mechanisms of public ideology, touching on such subjects as the Ukraine under Soviet rule, the living conditions in post-communist Eastern Europe and the fallen ideals of the Soviet Union. Although deeply rooted in a historical context, Mikhailov’s work also presents profoundly engaging and personal narratives of humor, lust, vulnerability, aging and death.

Case History is a study of the homeless, a collection of photographs by Mikhailov of homeless people in the Ukraine. His raw images of the homeless are sometimes intensely painful and not for the squeamish; they are hard to look at, but also hard to look away from and hard to forget. The photographs from Case History are currently on exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, the first in-depth presentation of Mikhailov’s seminal series (1997-98) at an American museum. The photographs portray people who are far from conventionally attractive in grungy rooms or in wintry outdoor sites, naked or pulling aside their clothes to expose parts of their bodies ordinarily hidden from view.

Mr. Mikhailov began making photographs in the 1960s, but he was arrested and interrogated twice by the K.G.B. In 1996, five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he began making portraits of people who had been disenfranchised and left homeless by the rise of a new capitalist oligarchy in his hometown of Kharkov, Ukraine, where he was born in 1938. He published 400 of them in his book Case History, from which the photographs here were selected.

What does it mean to present images like these as art in a museum? In one respect, they carry on the tradition of picturing the downtrodden exemplified in photographs by countless artists from Walker Evans to Andres Serrano. Works like those tell us that, whatever their outward appearances and circumstances, the poor have souls that are worthy of respect. However, Mr. Mikhailov’s photographs are not so ennobling. They render their subjects as exotic and even demonic. Like specimens in a freak show, they elicit sympathy, revulsion or amazement, but not admiration or empathy. Because there are no titles or captions, you don’t know who the people are or anything about their lives. Maybe some were research scientists, or university professors fired for not toeing party lines or for crossing paths with a ruthless plutocrat at the wrong place and time; maybe they were all rounded up from an insane asylum, or from detox center for alcoholics.

All of his subjects seem to belong to a tribe or extended family of outcasts. But “the homeless,” one might object, is not composed of a homogeneous population. The homeless include alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals, prostitutes, con artists, people with mental illnesses and hard-working citizens going through rough times. But Mr. Mikhailov is not concerned with personal particulars. In his enterprise, the subjects are, above all, actors who function mainly as allegorical symbols. They stand as expressions for the underbelly of society, and their challenging revelations of their own usually hidden body parts is a metaphor for the whole project of exposing what polite society would prefer to keep under wraps. To the extent that they appear everywhere around the world, including in New York City, they are universal signs of capitalism’s failure to care for the less fortunate.

Viewers can read more about Mr. Mikhailov’s work in The New York Times here

Boris Mikhailov: Photographs from “Case History” (1999)

Slide Show: Case History/Behold the Homeless, Downtrodden, Insulted and Injured

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Sermon on the Mound: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mound: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mound is an inspirational three-minute documentary short film directed by Eliot Rausch. The deeply personal documentary was shot over a period of 36 hours in Los Angeles and is  stunningly filmed and edited. The documentary short expresses a tone of unconditional love and support for the poor in spirit, the impoverished, the homeless and the persecuted. Previously, Rausch was the director of Last Minutes with Oden, which was named the Best Documentary and Overall Best Video at the 2010 Vimeo Awards in New York City.

Sermon on the Mound: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

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The Sun City Picture House: Hollywood Comes to Haiti

The Sun City Picture House: Hollywood Comes to Haiti

Sun City Picture House is a very engaging documentary short film by David Darg and Bryn Mooser.  After the devastating earthquake rocked Haiti last year, food and medical aid poured into the island country, but in the months that followed a pair of Hollywood actresses and their friends had another idea.  They wanted to build a movie theater.  Maria Bello, who starred in the Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups, and Tron actress Olivia Wilde, have documented the efforts of the group of people that brought the theater to life in this new, documentary short.

The documentary, Sun City Picture House, focuses on Haitian aid worker Raphael Louigene, whose dream was to build a movie theater, and the two American aid workers who helped him realize that dream by constructing it in just four days: Bryn Mooser from Artists for Peace and Justice, and Dave Darg, who works for Operation Blessing.  Mario Bello stated, “The thing that’s needed most in Haiti right now, besides the immediate relief efforts, is joy.  And that’s what this movie is about.”

This piece also includes a slide show of stunning photographs of life in Haiti’s tent cities by New York photographer Wyatt Gallery.

The Sun City Picture House: Hollywood Comes to Haiti

Tent Life in Haiti: Portraits of Dignity in the Wake of Devastation

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Tent Life in Haiti: Portraits of Profound Dignity in the Wake of Devastation

Tent Life in Haiti: Portraits of Profound Dignity in the Wake of Devastation

Photography by:  Wyatt Gallery, NYC

January 12, 2011, will mark one year to the day that the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, resulting in what is arguably the worst natural disaster in modern history.  Of the 1.5 million Haitian people who lost their homes in the earthquake, the majority are still living in makeshift tent cities, and the promised billions of dollars in foreign aid have yet to materialize.  While financial donors and peacekeepers have resources that vastly overshadow those of the Haitian government, a lack of coordination in their endeavors has hampered the country’s efforts to recover.

Tent Life: Haiti is a very timely collection of stunning portraits of dignity, hope and joy by New York photographer Wyatt Gallery, inspirational photographs that show the reality of Haitian lives a year after the earthquake’s destruction and its aftermath.  Gallery’s photographs present an artful and unselfconscious study of the resilience of an irrepressible people.  They are beautiful narrative illustrations of the lives of a people experiencing a painfully arduous process of recovery, but they don’t romanticize the tent cities or the desperate living conditions of the Haitians who were rendered homeless by the earthquake.

Rather than using the medium of photography mainly as an attempt to understand what has happened in Haiti, Gallery’s portraits reveal a sense of intimacy and closeness with the Haitian survivors, as well as a genuine wish to be helpful.  His work stands as a tender expression of the unexpected and unlikely sense of hope that he discovered in the residents of the Haitian tent cities.

A collection of photographs from Gallery’s Tent Life: Haiti is currently on exhibition at the Umbrage Gallery in Downtown Brooklyn, and will be on display until March 31, 2011.  In addition, Tent Life: Haiti has just been published as a fine art photography book, and 100% of the proceeds will go to four charitable relief organizations: J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Healing Haiti, the Global Syndicate and the Cine Institute.

Tent Life in Haiti: A Documentary Video Journal

We Are The World 25 For Haiti (Official Video)

Tent Life in Haiti: Portraits of Profound Dignity in the Wake of Devastation

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On the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

On the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Some people feel that The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever, and not just one of the best, but a gorgeous song no matter why or how you observe Christmas. Fairytale of New York isn’t exactly the epitome of restraint, with Shane MacGowan and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl singing all over each other, slurring words and tossing all kinds of insults at each other.

The song starts out tenderly, with MacGowan recounting Christmas Eve spent in a Bowery drunk tank, but also his recent gambling win and dreams for the future.  MacColl lets us know, as the tempo picks up, that they met on a Christmas Eve, and after some light banter they really get into it, blaming each other for anything they can get their hands on, MacColl ending with “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last.

But then they sing the chorus again, and a string section that actually sounds like it belongs in a Christmas song begins to take over.  And it all feels, in spite of itself, grand and sweeping and even a little touching.  They squabble a little more, the same as every Christmas, but they’re losing steam; finally MacColl accuses MacGowan of stealing her dreams when they met.  This is a terribly poetic way to depict the deadening of expectations in terrible lives.  But MacGowan’s voice turns gentle, even though it’s still rough, and he responds:  “I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own, Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.”

It’s a tough old life, and Fairytale of New York practically oozes with the gritty spirit of urban decay, poverty, alcoholism and general dysfunction.  But as the sounds of those strings float off and out of sight, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Not to them and not to us, because it’s the day to sigh and give in to our better inclinations and hold each other and admit there’s still something there.   Christmas is the arbitrary day of the year that purely through willpower and tradition we’ve turned into the day where we all try just a little bit harder at being better than we thought we could be.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Slide Show: On the Bowery

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