Friday, October 19, 2007

Photography as art. Or not.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer, Cumberland Island, Georgia, 1990. chromogenic print. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz.

Annie Leibovitz Gets Personal at the Corcoran; Amateur Hour at the National Gallery

If anything can steal the thunder of Ansel Adams’s iconic American landscapes, it might be Annie Leibovitz’s portraits. Leave it to the Corcoran to stage a photo frenzy, opening Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 within days of debuting an Adams retrospective.

The Leibovitz feature is two shows in one, combining her personal snapshots and professional portraits. Or three, if you count the super-size nature shots that compete for your gaze in the finale-gallery.

Black and white, color; formal commissions and family snapshots; pleasure, power and pain ... the disparate works harmonize in the context of this exhibition. One reason: the unfussy wall choreography directed by Corcoran curator Paul Roth, which earned praise from the artist herself. (The traveling exhibition opened at the Brooklyn Museum last year.)

Also harmonizing the portraits are Leibovitz’s supreme ability to capture simultaneously the person and personality, stripping away the veneer of celebrity and dispersing the smog of self-consciousness, freeing the subjects to express their individuality. “This is how I want you to know me.” And perhaps “This is how I want to be remembered.” That is what went through my mind as I became acquainted through via photos with the artist’s father and her companion Susan Sontag, both of whom recently joined the departed.

Throughout the exhibition, eyes anticipate and seek out the viewer. Called them staged, but the portraits engage so fully that sometimes it’s a struggle to withdraw your attention do you can move on to the next print.

Arts writers had the pleasure of a tour guided by Leibovitz herself. She is a professional who found her calling early in life and wasted no time in embracing it. Her work for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Vogue and other forums reflects a sensitive eye, keen mind and rock-solid work ethnic; patience, foresight and assertiveness culminate in unforgettable shots. From Queen to cleaning lady to Sarajevo casualty’s grounded bicycle and blood stains, each shot compels you to stop, look and virtually make acquaintance with the subject.

The show also offers a rare glimpse of the photographer’s family – we see her young children romping and her mother – to whom Leibovitz credits the intimacy of her work – frollicking at the beach. Leibovitz, who grew up in Silver Spring, reveals some of herself as she illuminates her subjects..

Leibovitz recalled early dance training, memories and moves that manifest themselves in the motion pent up in so many of her pictures.

Three March 2007 portraits of the Queen, seamlessly shoehorned into the Corcoran stop on the show’s circuit, include one that will probably displace any previous images you had of Queen Elizabeth II.

Same goes for an ecstasy-inducing glimpse of Mikhail Baryshnikov held aloft by Rob Besserer.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery of Art entertains with The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978. If you’re trying to convince someone that photography is art, don’t use this show as an example. That’s not to say that the dozens of anonymous snaps collected by Robert E. Jackson don’t rate a viewing. Fun shots from the early decades of the 20th century include crazy stunts such as a man hanging upside-down from a telephone pole, wacky experiments with perspective, and all manner of mugging for the camera. Un-self-conscious subjects snooze, slouch, pout, skinny dip, disrobe, vogue, clown around, and express themselves in ways inspired by the presence of a camera lens.

With its wealth of exhibitions and powerhouse status, the National Gallery can let its hair down once in awhile. It’s amusing to ponder how these unknown snapsters would react to the news that their casual clicks ended up not in the trash but in a national repository for fine art just steps from world masters and under the watchful eye of security guards.

These artifacts offer a stark contrast to the art of Annie Leibovitz. But both collections affirm the power of photography in immortalizing men, women and moments. With this assist from the National Gallery, the folks populating collector Jackson’s found treasures will be goofing off for eternity. For my piece on the American Snapshot in the Examiner, go to .

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005
Through Jan 13
Corcoran Gallery of Art
500 17th St., NW
Admission fee varies

The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978
Through December 31
National Gallery of Art, West Building

Ansel Adams exhibiton review – use this link:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Junk Mail Diet

Opt Off of Unwanted Catalog Mail Lists....

courtesy of enviro group-sponsored new, free service, Catalog Choice. The goals: help consumers reduce the amount of unwanted mail they receive – and to ultimately reduce the waste of paper, natural resources, and the overflowing demand on municipal waste systems. Sponsoring organizations: National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ecology Center. Unlike other do-not-mail services, Catalog Choice is free.

Each year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to U.S. consumers. The costs:
* 53 million trees
* 3.6 million tons on paper used
* 38 trillion BTUs of energy used, enough to power 1.2 million homes per year
* 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the annual emissions of two million cars
* 53 billion gallons of waste water discharges from this volume of paper, enough to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools

To sign up for the service, visit

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eco Extravaganza

Green Festival
Oct. 6-7, 2007
Washington DC Convention Center

Attendance: Standing room only for this 2-day eco-extravaganza

Ideas and Insights:

Greener than thou?

It’s not a’s about personal decisions. Everyone can make a difference even if not ready to change your whole lifestyle. Do can you can. And realize that we all vote with our dollars. Start by thinking about each purchase; it can be a chance to change without pain.

And those who aren’t ready to trade in their gas-guzzlers, take heart. And all others, take note: gas-chugging lawn care equipment does more environmental damage than cars. And chew on this: changing to a vegetarian diet would reduce several times the carbon emissions of ditching an SUV. Yes, really. Livestock raising, feeding, handling, transporting in the factory farm mode is one of the biggest drains on the environment and energy reserves.

New(ish) foods:

* Hemp milk – richer and reputedly twice as nutritious as soy milk, which is twice as nutritious as animal-derived milk.

* Acai – juices and other foods containing this berry bursting with exotic sweetness, vitamins and antioxidants.

* Clif Bars and Lara Bars – some new flavors, and all good...and good for you.

* Can a tea be luscious? Try Numi’s luscious new flavors. And Traditional Medicinals has brought out a whole line of healing teas to fight colds, stomach aches, flu and other maladies.

* Soul vegetarian...and vegan? Yes, and D.C. is one place where you’ll find some great places for it. Soul Vegetarian on Georgia Ave. near Euclid St. near Howard University in N.W. And Vita’s in Anacostia – perhaps you saw Vita’s recipes for all vegan/no animal products cornbread, pumpkin bread and barbecue (yes, BBQ!) in the Washington Post after she won over the editors.

* Healthy cakes for any taste. OK, they still have calories, but they’re all flavor, and no dairy products. Lines formed for slices of cake and pies from a booth set up by the new Sweet N Natural caterers (their shop’s in the Maryland suburbs). No animal byproducts, so the treats are naturally lactose and cholesterol-free, with no hydrogenated oils. 301-805-0007.

Building tech tidbits:

* Solar panels are getting better, and are expected to come down in price. Big tip: A common mistake is to lay them flush or flat on a roof/surface, but they ned to be elevated of a surface and tilted to allow air to circulate. This is necessary to optimize their ability to absorb and retain sun energy.

* Helpful websites for building green include

* Adding insulation makes a huge difference in home comfort and energy bills. An easy place to start: the attic. Also, around cracks; use spray foam said Jason Holstine of Maryland-based Amicus Green Building Center. New products include eco-friendly soy-based insulation.

* Solar hot water systems are big hits, and while costly, pay for themselves within 7 years and usually quality for tax credits. On-demand tankless heaters are also a very smart move. Appx 13% of home energy is consumed by hot water heaters. Don’t forget to use low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, which use tiny air-jets to push the water. Unlike old-school models, newer ones don’t sacrifice pressure.

* Easy greening and money savings move: replace standard light bulbs with CFLs, or compact fluorescents. They last longer and now many styles cast a lovely tone of light. Disposal is a little different; since they contain a bit of mercury, don’t just toss them in the trash. More and more places for recycling CFLs are popping up. Next-generation LED (light emitting diodes) lights are even more efficient and consume less energy, but they are still expensive and not easy to find. Per Amicus, LEDs, which come in recessed, pendant, under counter and cover versions, use 80% less energy than regular incandescent lights and 40% less than CFLs. They’ll last appx 50,000 hours and throw off no heat.

* Paint progress: Today’s low- and no-VOC paints (better for the environment and your health) now come in hundreds of great colors.

* The most efficient light: the sun. Maximize home design with windows, clerestories (those skinny high-up windows), solar tubes (skylights are so 1990s), glass doors and overhangs, window glazings and other features to strategically balance light and heat gain.

* E-plus building and remodeling: Per, ask for products made from recycled content and /or rapidly renewable materials, are recyclable, and don’t have formaldehyde and other offgassing chemicals. Choosing wood? Look for “FSC” certification that indicates environmentally appropriate management and harvesting.

* Magnetic cooking: Induction stove tops use magnets to heat pots and pans. No heat means money savings and greater safety.

* “Stone” from paper and eco-friendly recycled plastic: Now ready for exterior finishing, countertops and other parts of your home.

* Dirt works: John Spears, president of the nonprofit International Center for Sustainable Development in Gaithersburg, Maryland, discussed energy self-sufficient homes. Earth built, he says, is cooler in summer, warmer in winter, storing passive solar energy in its walls. And construction costs are 30% less than wood homes. He also described creative building materials made of recycled materials, such as insulation from old soda bottles.

Animal testing:

Wonder why so many people have fallen ill, and some have even died, as a result of taking drugs that were tested on animals? Because animal testing results don’t reflect the realities of drug effects on humans. The explanation is too long for this forum, but the proof is in from many sources. Which, like the animals exploited for profits, can’t garner the microphones and media that the drug industry (and the researchers and politicians in the pocket of deep-pocketed Big Pharma) can.

If animals would talk, it would change the face of medical testing – and lead to better outcomes for humans as well as nonhuman animals. Interesting aside: A team of respected medical researchers wrote in the Sept. 21, 2007 (vol. 317) issues of SCIENCE magazine that “Scientists and journals could and should do more to secure the ethical standards of animal use in biomedical research.” They noted the ethical erosion of compromising animal welfare. They also noted the need to use “earlier, less severe clinical signs [in the animals used in research studies] as endpoint parameters rather than awaiting spontaneous death.” Animals are suffering unnecessarily to a degree that appalls even researchers engaged in such studies.

I donate only to cruelty-free charities, and recommend that others consider more fully before making donation decisions.

Find out why the leading scientists and doctors advocate non-animal medical research ... the facts behind various health-related charities (beyond the marketing brochures and press releases) ... the realities of animal testing ... and all-around better alternatives to testing on animals ...

Fun fact:

96% of all materials used at last year’s Green Festival, including the various sample cups, were recycled.

Not so fun fact:

The MSM/mainstream media has continued to lag at best, in coverage of green issues, from energy efficient technologies to organic foods to healthy eating to medical testing. It is important to remember that MSM and even many blog writers rely on corporate-generated information, and profits. Industry leaders from big pharma to factory farms to corporate-industrial food and vehicle manufacturers are able to outspend and outshout nonprofit sources and researchers. Reporters and editors are not only on tight deadlines but have aligned with big business, and many mistakes have been made in the reports you see.

For example, if you are seeking accurate information about health and medical topics, we highly recommend sources such as and