Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for October, 2009

Insight Photography Project

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Photo © David Kennedy • www.davidmichaelkennedy.com

I recent­ly joined the board of InSight Photography Project based here in Brattleboro, Vermont. It’s mis­sion: “to pro­vide local youth with a cre­ative out­let away from school to devel­op a  visu­al lan­guage that will pro­vide them tools to com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers while dis­cov­er­ing some­thing about them­selves.”

Why did I join the board? Well, I keep telling myself that I want to do things, con­crete things, for the com­mu­ni­ty I live in. So, when this pre­sent­ed itself I had to pony up or start shut­ting up.

Okay, so why pho­tog­ra­phy of all things?

Well, I remem­ber a very long time ago in the 80s when I was in Junior High School in a town small­er than the small town I now call home, a teacher had a fledg­ling after school pho­tog­ra­phy project. He gath­ered togeth­er some used cam­eras and made a dark room of an unused clean­ing clos­et at the school. We bought some very cheap film and pro­ceed­ed to take bizarre and, for my part, bizarrely awful pho­tos. I was hor­ri­ble at it. I didn’t get the f-stop thing at all. Focusing was a chal­lenge because the cam­era I inher­it­ed wouldn’t adjust. I sim­ply couldn’t get things in focus or out of focus the way I want­ed. I tied my first two rib­bons of film into knots try­ing to load the devel­op­er can­is­ter thing. I opened my first pack of paper out­side to check it out. I tried print­ing to the wrong side of the paper. I was a dis­as­ter. But I couldn’t quit…

Old school pho­to devel­op­ment pro­cess­ing trumps any sort of dig­i­tal mag­ic you ever hope to tease me with. It involves strange poi­so­nous chem­i­cals, light machines, a room lit red, and hours of fid­dling. They had me at the chem­i­cals.

I final­ly got some film devel­oped by my 4th roll and I actu­al­ly made my own pho­to. I think it was a pic­ture of a trash­can, a dog, and someone’s bro­ken cru­ci­fix shot through a chain link fence. The teacher was mys­ti­fied — no peo­ple, no trees, no friends, just stray bits of dis­pos­able California through a wire bar­ri­er. “They’ll nev­er run in it the paper, Dan,” was his review. I didn’t care. I’d made my own pic­ture cap­tur­ing a moment in time that would nev­er be news, but would nev­er slip away quite like all my oth­er moments either.

Fast for­ward to my first year of col­lege and my first (and last) formal(ish) pho­tog­ra­phy class in the UC Davis Art Department. I bor­rowed a roommate’s cam­era with a faulty lens hous­ing that leaked light across all but the most gin­ger­ly held shots (again with the f-stop prob­lems) and pro­ceed­ed to make art! All the tech­ni­cal stuff was sec­ondary. The teacher would tell us about it if we begged, but what he want­ed was some­thing cre­ative that com­mu­ni­cat­ed some­thing per­son­al visu­al­ly.


Photo ©1998 by Elijah Gowin • www.elijahgowin.com Snake Legs, 15˝x15˝ • Image cour­tesy of artist and Robert Mann Gallery

One stu­dent mount­ed postage size prints on stan­dard size mat­te board. All the shots were of long, wide views she saw on her dri­ves through the cen­tral val­ley. Brilliant.

Another stu­dent deliv­ered smears of human action all below the knee and all out­side of a sports con­text. The ath­leti­cism of every­day life. We were enthralled.

I made shots of the kind of peo­ple and things I always want­ed to write about. The stuff most fic­tion and sto­ries pre­tends nev­er hap­pens. Street musi­cians that are sim­ply too nor­mal to stop for. Boxes of dull library pen­cils. Stacks of game pieces that lost their game.

I knew I wouldn’t go on with visu­al art, but I did learn some things about myself. I learned to trust my whims and dis­trust my attempts to legit­imize them. I learned that what we see is in a big way a reflec­tion of what we are. So, I moved on to the­atre (Greek for ‘the see­ing place’).

Insight Photography helps kids in Brattleboro not only see their own world bet­ter but to become aware of the way they see that world. The project should be three times as big and every town should have one.

Visit the Vermont Center of Photography in per­son or the auc­tion web site and help some­one learn to see their world anoth­er way!

The Skinny

Vermont Center for Photography

49 Flat Street | Brattleboro, Vermont
Oct. 2 through Nov. 1, 2009
Gallery Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 1–6:00 pm; Fri. 2–7:00 pm; Sat. and Sun., 12:00–5:00 pm

Closing Reception: Sunday, November 1, 3:00–6:00 pm

View prints and bid online at: www.auction.insight-photography.org

Fred Friendly: Television God?

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

If you’ve seen the George Clooney flick Good Night and Good Luck then you already know some­thing about Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow’s co-cre­ator of the 1950s CBS news show See It Now (George Clooney played Friendly). While in real­i­ty not quite a Clooney-esque heart throb, Friendly made his last­ing impres­sion on our cul­ture car­ry­ing the torch of truth rather than Hollywood beau­ty (though to be fair, Clooney seems to be doing his part in favor of truth too).

What prompts my sud­den inter­est in Mr. Friendly? The answer is that he is behind one of my favorite odd hour PBS shows, the Fred Friendly Seminars. Over the years I’ve caught this show on late week nights, ear­ly week­end morn­ings, and rid­ing the wave of mid-sick-day chan­nel surf­ing. Every time I pause won­der­ing if I’ll be bored by all these talk­ing heads gath­ered around to jaw about the grey areas of our col­lec­tive attempts to solve social ills. And I am nev­er bored. In fact, I am most often rapt.

Last night I caught the lat­est edi­tion, Minds on the Edge. It is an inves­ti­ga­tion via mod­er­at­ed dis­cus­sion of the ways our legal and social ser­vices sys­tems attempt and, more often than not, fail to address the needs of the severe­ly men­tal­ly ill in these United States. For this sem­i­nar, the pro­duc­ers assem­bled a pan­el con­sist­ing of a Nobel Laureate, a Supreme Court Justice, psy­chi­a­trists, lawyers, men­tal health advo­cates, social work­ers, an expert in bioethics, and a jour­nal­ist. The pan­el includ­ed two pro­fes­sion­als with per­son­al his­to­ries of severe men­tal ill­ness as well as at least one par­ent of a child who fell through the cracks of the sys­tem.

While the show left me prac­ti­cal­ly despair­ing that any­thing could ever be done to improve things, it also offered some rays of hope and lots of sources for fur­ther research and fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing includ­ing Pete Earley’s book Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.

The cen­tral legal and moral ques­tions we’re fac­ing (yes, we, this is our soci­ety) here are at what point and how do we com­pel an indi­vid­ual to seek men­tal ser­vices assis­tance? And once we as a soci­ety do demand that some­one receive help what kind of help do we offer them, who pays for it, and how do they get it?  The issue is not such an easy thing to nav­i­gate. It’s a health issue, a civ­il lib­er­ties issue, and an issue of social respon­si­bil­i­ty too.

I am, as always, inter­est­ed in your thoughts on the sub­ject both before and after watch­ing the show. Check it out. I doubt you’ll regret it.

What Festival Are You?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Brecht’s Galileo at the National

Every autumn a great thing hap­pens in Brattleboro Vermont: just as the leaves change, as if on cue, there is the Brattleboro Literary Festival. Through the com­mit­ted and and ardent work of a small group of devot­ed local literati,writers, and book fanat­ics, world class authors of every stripe descend on our small south­ern Vermont town for a week of read­ings, dis­cus­sions, work­shops, and ink stained elbow rub­bing.

I have lived here 5 autumns and final­ly (if some­what inad­ver­tent­ly) attend­ed my first Lit Fest event this week­end.

If you know me, you know I’m a book guy. I read lit­er­ary fic­tion, a smat­ter­ing of poet­ry, and some pop crime and sci­fi, but lit books fill most of my book­shelf square footage and my head space. Sure, I’m par­tial to long wind­ed 19th cen­tu­ry ego­ists, 20th & 21st cen­tu­ry hyper-lan­guage-acro­bats, and tough guy Americana (to give the whole mix the kick to keep me fight­ing), but all of that is to be found in the Lit sec­tion of your library/lit anthol­o­gy/­book­store/web-shop/what-have-you as much as Maeve Binchy, Wally Lamb, and E. L. Doctorow.

Why have I skipped the Lit Fest? Why did you, if you did? Or why didn’t you make it to the Montreal Jazz Fest this year? Why did you skip your local street fair or that small town [insert agri­cul­tur­al item here] fest your friend invit­ed you to? What about that Ukulele fes­ti­val? Or how about that beer fes­ti­val?

Some peo­ple hate crowds. That’s not it for me and I think it’s just an excuse for most of us. We all have some­thing we like, but not so well as to go out of our way to cel­e­brate it. Maybe we just get burned out on stuff or are afraid we will get burned out?

For a time, while I lived in New York, the whole city was one con­tin­u­ous lit fest. Staged read­ings. Poetry read­ings. Readings of new work by nov­el­ists and non-fic­tion prose styl­ists. Near con­stant per­son­al dis­cus­sions of lit-stuff. An MFA in Playwriting. After a time though, I stopped going to lit­er­ary events and devot­ed myself to see­ing movies and actu­al­ly, well, er, read­ing and writ­ing.

No mat­ter how great, I don’t think I can get quite drunk on a lit fest in the way I feel one ought to and the way our Belle of the Brattleboro Lit Fest Ball Suzanne Kingsbury does each and every year. I admit that I am envi­ous of the sense of joy and plea­sure she gets from the whole thing. May Buddha (and all the rest) bless her.

After my chance atten­dance this week­end, I began won­der­ing what kind of fes­ti­val I could get jacked up about.

Music? Some.

Film? Definitely, but just to a point.

Theatre? Well, yeah, actu­al­ly. Now.

I was the defin­i­tive dra­ma geek in col­lege. Grad school was total the­atre for me. Eventually I did burn out, but I nev­er real­ly tired from see­ing good or great the­atre, it just seemed impos­si­ble to find and I was utter­ly heart­bro­ken at how hard it seemed to get my way into the­atre solid­ly enough to make a liv­ing at cre­at­ing (read: writ­ing) it. I stepped away into non-the­atri­cal life and thought I might just be done with the whole thing for good.

But then some­thing hap­pened (as it always does) and I found myself sit­ting in the National Theatre in London watch­ing Brecht’s Galileo and abso-freak­ing-lute­ly lov­ing it. Wondering why I wasn’t doing this all the time. Wondering why I ever left it. Despairing that I had thrown a promis­ing begin­ning to a the­atri­cal career out with the bath water of mediocre under­fund­ed ama­teur-infest­ed after-school-pro­gram qual­i­ty dreck that has become the unavoid­able thing that most peo­ple expect from an evening in the the­atre.

That said, after see­ing Galileo, I would attend a the­atre fes­ti­val. Edinburgh sounds inter­est­ing. Ashland is always a treat. Stratford seems a bit much, but prob­a­bly worth the effort. Williamstown is an old haunt of mine. And New England is lit­tered with oth­er sum­mer the­atre fests cer­tain­ly worth the effort I neglect­ed to make this sum­mer.

Next year…

Hope to see you there or here, unless you hap­pen to know some­thing bet­ter?