Photographs at
St. Lawrence

Catherine Tedford,
Gary D. Sampson, Editors

(St. Lawrence University)
It runs over 200 pages, with 41 plates plus Figs. 1 - 29, and another 200 photographs tacked on to the reference section. The difference between the three categories is negligible. The total collection at St. Lawrence University includes 1,000 or so photographs; the artists represented range from the very famous to the unknown: George Hurrell, Henri Cartier Bresson, Mallon Sheffield, Thomas P. Shaver, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Ansel Adams, James A. Glenn, Paul Strand, and W. Eugene Smith. Many of the unknowns are or were students at the university. The layout is excellent.

There's a Foreword, an Introduction, and ten essays. I can't figure out why they are there, what they are to prove; I suspect you you can ignore most of them because when you have great photographs --- and most included here are great --- words come to be superfluous. Editor Tedford writes about "The Poetry and Politics of Juxtaposition" and you and I know why people use words like "juxtaposition." Mark C. Klett titles his essay "A Universe in a Fruit Bowl," but ignores the fruit bowl and talks mostly of how he became a photographer. He also tells of his affection for one of the all-time Ansel Adams' favorites, "Moonrise over Hernandez."

Thomas W. Southall rumbles, "What is Photography? Exploring the Question in a Liberal Arts Environment?" I dunno: in or out of a liberal (or illiberal) environment, what is photography? Maybe it's those black and white things stuck here so generously between the pages, complete with faces, objects, people, structure, contrast, a sense of art and, most of all, a story to tell or a question to ask: like who in hell is this French boy, and why does he stare at the camera (and us) so?

Bill Gaskins rumbles on for several pages about "representations of race" which, in the context of the whole folio, seems rather meaningless. The only soulful writing, as far as we were able to determine, comes in an interview with Robert Carter. It has little or nothing to do with a collection of photographs at St. Lawrence University, but it's fascinating and not a little disturbing on its own. Carter and his army platoon witnessed what the AEC merrily called "Operation Plumbbob" --- where do they get these ratty names? --- an atomic device set off in 1957, in Nevada:

    I was happy, full of life before I saw that bomb, but then I understood evil and was never the same. I was sick inside and it stayed with me for a year after. I seen how the world can end. This world is a really thin sheet of ice between death and this happiness I had known all my life. There's a thin line between total destruction and peace and quiet and happiness.

[Pointing to photograph of his platoon of soldiers just before the explosion]:

    It just blew me forty feet into the mountainside and all these men with me. I felt elbows, I felt knees, I felt heads banging, I felt my head hit the ground, I felt dirt in my ears, my nose, it went down my throat. I had a bloody nose. I felt all these terrible things that you don't want to go though in your whole life. I remember the ground so hot that I couldn't stand on it, and I was just burning alive. I felt like I was being cooked.

Many of the soldiers suffered from radiation burns which came from advancing, after the explosion, on ground zero. They also passed cages with animals, burned beyond recognition, and a chain link fence and people in a stockade: "Their hair was falling out and their skin seemed to be peeling off. They were wearing blue denim trousers but no shirts." Later, in San Diego, he was debriefed at Balboa Naval Hospital: "I told the story of the people behind the chain-link fence. They told me I imagined I saw those people ... The day I left to return to my unit a doctor told me not to repeat the 'bizarre' story about the people I had seen. He said if I did, he's see to it that I was thrown out of the Corps."

--- Hazel J. Watters

New Mexico

Sarah Bennett Alley
(Globe Pequot Press)
A few weeks ago my bike had a flat in front of the local high school. Within ten minutes I was visited and questioned by two security guards, who then inspected my front tire to determine if I was lying. Deciding that the geez-lady on the recumbent bike was not an immediate security threat, they moseyed on to prevent other crimes. Thus the War on Terrorism is advanced.

You won't have this problem if you follow the routes in Sarah Bennett Alley's book, Mountain Biking New Mexico. She steers you to seventy-eight trails in this fifth largest state, more than you and I will ever ride. At first I doubted her ability to visit all these places, since she doesn't even live in New Mexico, but doubt changed to pure envy as I read her detailed descriptions of the routes.

She describes rides to ghost towns, wildlife refuges and mountaintops. Imagine cruising through the majestic ruins of Chaco Canyon, or to the top of Mount Taylor, the 11,000-foot collapsed volcanic cone (one of the Four Holy Mountains of the Navajo people).

You can explore the lunar landscapes of El Malpais National Monument, past cinder cones and lava tubes laid down a thousand years ago. You can bike over Costilla Pass to Valle Vidal, a ten-thousand-acre wilderness tract where you might ride among the two thousand elk who make Valle Vidal their home. (Until recently it was a private hunting preserve for the very wealthy.)

Ms. Alley has presented this intriguing material in a comprehensive format. The book is divided into ten sections, each section describing in some detail the history, geology and wildlife of a particular area of the state. Considering the necessarily limited space, it's a damn fine job. There follows a trial description, a summary of each ride, the trail's location, the distance and estimated time of the ride, and, finally, the road surface and the level of skill required.

She gives you the highlights of each trek, including historical and seasonal attractions and she includes a valuable elevation profile, showing the ups and downs to be encountered. She points out special hazards, and gives a rescue index --- telling how far the biker is from help. Finally, she provides maps and information on how to reach the trailhead and where to park. She does everything except pack your lunch and ride along with you. It is a very thorough book.

Though Albuquerque is a city of over a half-million, Alley has found some of the secret and unique places. She describes trails through the wild cottonwood forest that lines the Rio Grande --- the wilderness jewel running through the center of the city. She takes us through the petroglyphs that adorn the field of volcanoes visible from all over town, as well as rides into the Sandia Mountains, rising 10,678 feet. Even the Santa Fe and Taos areas, chronically overexposed, yield up hidden paths.

Few modern people, however, have traveled most of these routes. They are isolated trails in an isolated state. If you feel like backing away from civilization for a few days, it might be just what you need, and this book is your guide to the treasures of solitude.

--- Granny Low


Black Images in
The White Mind

Robbin Henderson,
David Miller

(Berkeley Art Center)
Those of us who grew up in the south fifty or sixty years ago remember the casual racism of those days, and it was not just represented by the "colored" and "white" signs on the water-fountains, on the buses and the bathroom doors.

There was in the kitchen a stickboard with a representation of a black mammy saying "We needs..." and peg spaces for "Apples Bacon Coffee Lard Milk Sugar" and "Tomatoes." For breakfast, we ate Aunt Jemima's Pancakes ("I'se in town, honey!") with a box that offered "Aunt Jemima's Family,"

    The funny rag dolls, Aunty and Uncle, each 15 inches high, and two comical pickaninnies each 12 inches high.

For those of us who went boating, there was a special tie-up on the fore-deck known as a "niggerhead winch." The common insult whites used on those who appeared too fancied up for the school dance was, "How far did you have to chase that nigger to get that tie?" When something was amiss, we'd usually say, "There's a nigger in the woodpile."

All were casual insults, bandied about thoughtlessly --- and like most thoughtless insults, they created shame, hurt, and sometimes ill-concealed rage for the blacks who worked for and around us. It took years and a conscious reframing of language, attitude, and our day-to-day surroundings to wean us of such casual cruelty.

Sufficient time has now passed so that the Berkeley Museum can offer up a collection of "comic" artifacts from those years. Almost fifty are presented here, including an Amos 'n' Andy toy taxi, sheet music ("I Don't Care If Yo' Nebber Comes Back"), black-face coin banks, Aunt Jemima tea-pots, Uncle Remus Brand Syrup, Black Beauty Tobacco, Mammy Yams Sweet Potatoes packing label, and the "Sambo Special" Walking Toy.

In Ethnic notions, Alice Walker tells us,

    These caricatures and stereotypes were really intended as prisons...prisons of image. Inside each desperately grinning "sambo" and each placid 300-pound "mammy" lamp there is imprisoned a real person, someone we know.

Speaking specifically about this show, first mounted twenty years ago, she suggests,

    If you look hard at this collection and don't will begin to really see the eyes and then the hearts of these despised relatives of ours, who have been forced to lock their true spirits away from themselves and away from us...

She concludes, "I see our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, captured and forced into images they did not devise, doing hard time for all of us. We can liberate them by understanding this. And free ourselves."

§     §     §

A show such as this, a book such as this, are both riding a fine edge. If a display of Nazi medals, Lugars, uniforms, and pennants appear at a tawdry storefront in Bozeman, Montana under the aegis of the Aryan Brotherhood, it has a different cachet than the same artifacts featured in the History of War Museum in Washington, D. C.

In the same way, the objects to be found in Ethnic Notions would be troubling if they were part of an exhibition put on by the White Citizens Council at the Elks Lodge in Greenwood, Mississippi. The charge flows from the careful distance imposed by time, history, and a gestalt born of fifty years of change. A child's bank made up of a black face, a wide mouth and watermelon has thus moved from being cute, to being reprehensible to, now, being an interesting representation of a cultural and historical mind-set of another era. We are thus permitted to view these astonishing items because we assume a new-found wisdom overriding the not-so-subtle mindblocks of another day and age.

--- George W. Winters

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