Archive for category: News Outta My Control

The Two Faces of John Boehner

08 Nov 2010
November 8, 2010
John Boehner

John Boehner on the cover of Time. Click image for detail.

When the mailman handed me this week’s Time magazine I was immediately drawn to the cover photograph of John Boehner, the presumptive Speaker of the House. But I couldn’t figure out why. There is something very odd about it (see detail). It’s not an attractive portrait. The shallow depth-of-field forces us to confront his face. His eyes are bloodshot and his expression is inscrutable, like Da Vinci’s portrait of Mona Lisa. Boehner looks a little goofy. Is his grin comical, magnified by the soft shadow of his Perot moustache-shaped philtrum? Or are his lips simply pursed. Everyone has had informal pictures like this taken, catching us at particularly odd points in time. Usually, we toss these. So why did Time decide to run this on its cover?

Boehner’s photo in the opening spread of the article seems much more cover-worthy. The Congressman in this image seems more in control, contemplating the opportunities that await him and the GOP. These two images are a study in contrasts.

The accompanying article reinforces Boehner’s extremes: the bar-loving, “dandy” on Capitol Hill who “can’t resist making fun of just about anyone with a bad haircut or too-short tie” (I can see that in his cover persona) verses the astute politician. Throw in the unknown power of the Tea Party on his right I start to feel nervous, wondering just how he’ll handle the next two years. Progress or more gridlock?

A lot of hopes, both from the Left and Right, are pinned to John Boehner. But politics is no longer usual. We don’t feel in control and there is a jittery edge across the political spectrum. How will this play out? Will this be another two years of political games? The people aren’t sure and the Congressman on Time’s cover doesn’t seem quite sure himself. It seems like a big gamble. Perhaps that’s why this photo got top billing.

Related Article: Do You Trust This Man? Look at the Details.

The Rally for Sanity? It Was Insane!

31 Oct 2010
October 31, 2010
Standing at the rally with my poster

I positioned us at the Rally for a good photo op of the Capitol.

At the last minute I decided to bring one of my Chamomile Tea Party posters to the Rally for Sanity here on the National Mall yesterday. So Friday afternoon I got it printed BIG. You might wonder why this wasn’t on my radar weeks ago. After all, procrastination is not my usual style. Let’s see, there’s work, soccer games, work, grocery shopping, exhaustion, and work –well, you get the picture. The Chamomile Tea Party is my “side” biz. Promotion is key to any success but my methodology doesn’t normally include rallies. And my volunteer base is, shall we say, minimal. All I needed, though, was a kick in the pants. And that came from a coworker.

On Friday she said “favorited” my latest poster on Flickr. And when I wrote to thank her she said “You’re bringing it to the rally, right?” And, suddenly, my über promotional skills kicked in (I knew they were in there somewhere). I downloaded the poster from my own Flickr stream, had someone print it 30″ x 40″, rolled it up and brought it home. When I arrived at the house my chief volunteer (my wife) greeted me at the door with a huge piece of Foam Core and double-sided tape. Team Chamomile mounted it to the board and I was set.

As a rally veteran of the National Mall (you might remember my sojourn to the Inauguration) I like to have a plan. I survey the details of the event and then decide which stop on the Metro to exit and just where to find the choicest place to stand. But I have to balance that with realities: did I want to get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to rouse my 14 year old (she’s a veteran too but needs her sleep)? A balanced approach is key. Staking out a spot in the front row is usually not part of my strategy.

The Rally began at noon but we got there at 10. My sign was a bit unwieldy but light. My first reaction to the poster came as we sat down in the subway car. A smile and then “Great poster!” from the family sitting across from us. The day was beginning just right. As we exited the Metro I headed towards a meet up with The Coffee Party, a large group whose “dial-it-down” philosophy matches my own. Along the way, I wanted to stop off at the meeting area for GovLoop, a social media site for local, state, and federal government workers I’ve contributed to. As I walked down the street, I held my sign facing forward and the poster love really commenced. Knowing smiles and pointing as we passed. I felt like I was on stage. No longer the behind-the-scenes creative I was walking my walk.

When my daughter and I got to the Coffee Party meet up point no one was to be found. And, suddenly, I could see why. There were people who DID get up at 5 a.m. to get to the Mall. Thousands of them. And if we didn’t get our place soon, we would be pushed to the hinterlands. The Coffee Party must have staked out their spot and we needed to do the same. So we got as close to the stage as we could and I positioned us as close to the middle of the Mall to get the Capitol centered in any pic I took (what I lack in organizational skills I make up for in photographic composition). Yet, I realized as we watched the large video screens on the sides that the organizers had roving cameras looking for interesting signs and costumes and we were too far away for any of that free publicity.

And this brings me to the root of my dilemma. I think hard and I work hard –even on these posters. I love getting my work out there. But there was part of me that just wanted to enjoy the day with my daughter and the hundreds of thousands of others who were tired of the political positioning, the elections, and the dogma. Promotion of my posters –yes I did some of that. People all around me wanted to take a photo of it. And I always “pressed the flesh” with my signature “You can download them yourself at” During the rally, I would often hold it up high and make a 360. And when the rally was over, I held it above my head on the slow trek out of the area. But I didn’t want to forget why we were there in the first place.

The front page of the Huffington Post

Others had brought their Chamomile Tea Party posters to the Rally! Click on image for larger view.

This morning, as I surveyed the online world, I suddenly discovered that I had more volunteers at the Rally than I thought. This photo of some of my other posters made it to the front page of the Huffington Post! I’d been promoting my “download and bring to the rally” approach for weeks. And some good people actually did it. It’s gratifying to see others take up your efforts and turn it into their own.

The best part of the day? On a packed subway ride home, my daughter and I finally got a seat near the end of the line. It was the first time we had sat down all day. I put my arm around her and said “What’cha think?” “I liked it,” she said, “but I didn’t understand all the words they used.” “Like what?” I asked. “Like liberal. I know I should know that but I don’t.” “Well, you see,” I replied, “there are liberals and conservatives. Sort of like Democrats and Republicans but a bit different…”

The Genesis of a Message

26 Sep 2010
September 26, 2010
Careless Talk

The latest poster by the Chamomile Tea Party (click image for larger view).

Posters distill the essence of ideas or messages to their most economical form. You glance at a poster as you walk by the wood barricades of a construction site or, these days, as you peruse the walls of the Internet. When remixing someone else’s poster as I’ve been doing with World War II-era propaganda posters for the Chamomile Tea Party, I’m initially attracted to the design and then to its message. Simple and direct is best. Then the real thinking begins.

What do I want to say? What’s my message? In order to recontextualize the image I need to break the poster down and look at each element to see how it functions. In the original 1944 poster by Stevan Dohanos, there is the award –the medal, what this medal was being given for (Careless Talk) and why. And, finally, who was awarding this “honor” (in Dohanos’ design it was the Nazis as evidenced by the ring on the hand of the person holding the medal). I would have to consider each of these parts in order to rework the image and its message.

The keystone in this poster was “For Careless Talk.” That drew me in. While the original poster referred to divulging sensitive data on troop movements and other war efforts, I immediately connected it to the rhetoric we were hearing in contemporary political discourse today. Healthy and respectable debate is good but it’s clear the “talk” has gone way beyond that. Inciting spin has taken precedence over insightful information and discussion. So who deserved to be given a medal for this most egregious tactic and who would this honor come from?

My initial thought was the American people should award this medal to Fox News. The ring would sport an American flag and in an early version of the poster the medallion was the Fox News logo. “For Careless Talk” would remain and underneath I listed all of the issues I felt Fox News was guilty of skewing. But after some vigorous discussion with friends I realized those who believed in Fox would be more than honored to receive that award. And that wasn’t my intent at all. I returned to the drawing board.

I changed the list of issues to a group of Fox commentators who should rightfully be awarded this medal. And I tried on a few different medallions to replace the Fox logo. The most interesting was a picture of a wind-up toy of chattering false teeth. I was getting closer (the medal was becoming a source of biting commentary) but it still wasn’t quite right. I created a drop shadow underneath “For Careless Talk” that was an amorphous “Fair and Balanced,” the tagline for Fox News. Underneath that notion of irresponsibility was the idea that the deeds of these commentators were being touted in just the opposite fashion.

It took me a while but I finally made the connection to the Tea Party and placed a tea bag in the role of the medallion. But it still came across as an award Glenn Beck and company would be proud to wear. The original tea bag image I used had a big drip at the bottom. And that led me on the right path: turn the tea bag symbol “upside down” by making it a sopping wet mess. I made a bigger drip in Photoshop and then showed its effects on the commentators’ names below. Stains and drips turned the tea bag and all it’s come to stand for into a symbol of something gone awry. My commentary was complete.

Related: See all the posters from the Chamomile Tea Party and friend us on Facebook.

The Real Reason AT&T Has Exclusive Rights to the iPhone

25 Jun 2010
June 25, 2010
Western Electric Picturephone

A recently discovered magazine ad fuels speculation that Steve Jobs can time travel.

This morning, in an old dusty box hidden in the corner of my attic I unearthed some old magazines. I can’t remember why I kept them. But thumbing through their pages I came across this 1960s ad for Western Electric’s Picturephone ® and something in the shadows caught my eye.

Steve Jobs knew Marty McFly. But more importantly, proof positive why AT&T, the descendant of Western Electric, is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone.

I Hate Late Winter and I Hate Late Abstract Expressionism

10 Feb 2010
February 10, 2010
Scene of a snow covered car with text: When I turned 35 I could say two things: I hate late winter and I hate late Abstract Expressionism.

Jeff Gates, From a Series of One Acts… #7, 1987. Click on image for larger view.

Before moving to the DC area I spent a year teaching art in Minnesota. I learned to drive in the snow that winter and am proud to have survived a week of -90F (-68C) windchill. But that pales by comparison to what the Mid Atlantic is going through right now (okay, what I’m going through right now). It’s a blizzard out there and believe it or not, I think this storm is worse than the snowpocalypse that inundated us this past weekend.

We’ve been off of work since Friday afternoon. As managing editor of our museum’s blog, Eye Level it’s my job to keep the blog posts on schedule. But, like everything DC, all activity has come to a standstill. So this morning I decided it was time for an art-related snow story. I did a search of our collection and found a beautiful image from Robert Singletary called Snow on the Chesapeake Bay and wrote a post on it. But in looking through the 196 search results for “snow,” I suddenly came upon the photograph above. I’d forgotten it was in American Art’s collection. And how appropriate for today. More importantly it still resonated for me.

I hate late winter. And, actually, after this season I think I’m on pretty solid ground when I say I just hate winter altogether. As for late Abstract Expressionism, the energy of its predecessor was no longer there. Like late winter it had lost its attraction.

I was young when I made that image. Thirty-five to be exact. So it’s nice to see I still feel strongly about the weather. Oh, and about my art too.

Did Somebody Say Snow?

08 Feb 2010
February 8, 2010

blizzard 2

Top: Panorama of the entrance to the park across the street from our house taken during the blizzard (part of a series of photographs I’ve been taking). Bottom: Our street as I struggled to get back inside (our house is at the extreme left). Click on either image for a larger view.

We knew it was coming. They had been warning us for days. The good people of the nation’s capital thought we were seasoned winter citizens after the last big snow in December. But at the last minute we all panicked and cleared grocery stores of anything that was edible (it was good to hear the veggie and fruit aisles were barren for even when we panic we seem to be a healthy lot).

I don’t mind being snowed in, but only if I’m comfortably ensconced in a Swiss chalet with waiters to bring me food and drink and resort tractors to clear the walks for my afternoon stroll. Yes, it’s nice to look out my window at the gently falling stuff. But I can never forget what I am about to face once the precipitation ends. Waiter, would you be so kind and bring me my ergonomic snow shovel?

The snow started Friday evening. And by Saturday morning it was once again a winter wonderland. Of course, it was my artistic duty to immediately go outside to take a few photographs. I bundled up, put on my heavy duty snow boots and brought a soft wipe to gently clear my lens of the morning’s cold dew. It was coming down pretty heavy and when I took my first step off our porch and I immediately sunk to my knees in that dew. For a moment I felt like I was going to drown. It was a funny reaction don’t you think?

I had to first get to what I thought might be the street. It was hard to tell where our property ended and the road began. I waded through the snow, thinking this must be what wading through molasses was like –or better yet, the La Brea Tar Pits. I could feel that mammoth’s fear of entrapment. I slowly made my way to the park’s entrance about 50 feet away. Once I got there I decided I’d make a panorama rather than the single shots I had been taking on previous sessions. Using a stitching software I’d come back to the warmth of my computer monitor and put them together. It was cold and the wind was starting to pick up. I took my photos, doing a few additional exposures for good measure and started my trek back.

My survival instinct under control, as I got closer to the house I looked down the street and saw the second scene. Brown and white all over, with just a touch of bright yellow. Perfect.

Creative energy expended, I opened the front door with my photographic booty where my daughters were waiting with a nice hot cup of coffee. Who needs a Swiss chalet?

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