Tag: photography

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

October 10th, 2014 — 11:50am

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.33.15 PMMary Coin by Marisa Silver– It is a safe assumption, that just about everyone reading this review is familiar with the iconic photograph which is the book cover of the novel being reviewed. You probably know it was taken in California during the Great Depression, It has become known as the “The Migrant Mother.” But who are these people? Where did they come from, what was their life like and what was it like to live in those times? Marisa Silver the author of this novel was not content with just wondering about these things. She wanted to really understand what was going on. She obviously studied the history of this time and place, She created a story that goes beyond the picture but attempts to tell us about Florence Owens Thompson whom she names Mary Coin. She also tells us about the real photographer Dorothy Lange whom she gives the alias Vera Dare. With this latter character there actually have been a couple of biographies written over past 75 years, which could have, provided some important details to draw upon. There are no tell tale remnants of the main subject of the photo other than a letter that she wrote to a magazine complaining that she didn’t think it was right that the photographer should benefit from a personal image of her and her family. There is a third character created in this novel, which as far as I know is totally fiction. That is Walker Dodge, a college professor who studies cultural history by trying to find evidence of what people’s lives were really like in various time periods. Perhaps he is a stalking horse for the author. She does however take an imaginative poetic license in some of the plot that she develops about him.

By following the life of Mary Coin we see what is was like in the Great Depression, especially among poor people but it is still difficult to get an emotional understanding of these times. How can a modern day reader empathize with a single mother of 3 children who working all day doing hard labor in a farm field, picking crops which requires that she be bent over most of the time? What if the jobs are scarce and she doesn’t get work? What kind of medicine is available for her kids at that time period and in the midst of poverty? How do you deal with pregnancy, childbirth or abortion in the 1930s in this setting? What do sexual favors mean if they help you get food for your children? How do relationships develop in this context?

The story also follows the life of Vera Dare. We meet her family, come to appreciate her life and childhood as well as the people in her life as an adult. Through the recounting of a speech that she made, we come to understand the early life of the photographer. We follow her to where she gets a job taking pictures for the government that would capture the life and poverty of that time. This is where she meets Mary Coin.

This book also deals with the question of what is a photograph? What does it mean to be the subject of the picture and is there really consent in such a setting? The picture we realize is one moment in time but in this situation it really does tell a deep meaningful story with just one click.

There is the unanswered question raised by the Florence Owens Thompson  in the one letter that exists of her actual words as she challenges the idea that the photographer might have benefited from her plight. Ms. Lange the real photographer was working for the government and did not benefit directly from taking the picture. She obviously did so indirectly and this is part of her great legacy.

The iconic photograph has captured and preserved a moment in time as all pictures do. But because this one has reached and impacted millions of people, it takes on a special significance. It makes the numerous viewers want to understand what the people in it were experiencing at the time. Ms. Silver, the author extends the value of the picture by creating a story so we can know the lives of people of the time and place of the photograph. Like so many other historical novels, by reading it we have gained an insight and empathy about the subjects who are part of our humanity. Thus we are all richer for reading this book.

1 comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

Just Kids by Patti Smith

September 18th, 2011 — 6:56pm

Buy now on Amazon: Just Kids

Just KidsIf you don’t know much about Patti Smith and you look her up you will see that she is a very accomplished poet, visual artist, song writer and performer.   Her music is of the punk rock variety. She even co-wrote a song with Bruce Springsteen that made it to #13 and she has received all kinds of recognition for her body of work including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This book touches upon some of the many things that she has done but it is really a story of  her relationship with a man who wasn’t her husband or the father of her children and wasn’t even a musician. The man however, was an artist and although I don’t believe she used the term about him, it is fair to say that he was her “soul mate.” The man is Robert Mapplethorpe and if by chance you don’t know much about him and look him up you will see that he was a preeminent photographer known best for mostly black and white photos, many Polaroid, and many  of flowers and nude men . His photos were frequently known for their homoerotism. He also took many portraits including  photos of Patti Smith and did the cover for many of her albums.

The both were born in 1946. Patti was born in Chicago and grew up in New Jersey in alower middle class religious family. At age 21 she left college and religion as she headed to New York City with  some vague ideas about being a writer and a poet.  Robert Mapplethorpe was born in Queens and went to Pratt College and studied drawing, painting and sculpture and then set about trying to figure out how to become the artist that he knew he was destined to be. Smith and Mapplethorpe literally ran into each other and became a struggling, symbiotic and literally a starving duo. They had no or little money, at times very little food but clearly had found each other. They shared whatever they had including their bed and themselves. They supported each other in every way. They understood each other and their aspirations. They both believed in each other’s art and destiny to be artists. One time they overhear an older couple talking about them in the park saying, “They are just kids.”

Although she barely mentioned it , Smith obviously kept a diary . She has written this book in a continuous flow as she tells about the everyday events of her life especially about the first several years of her relationship with “ Robert” During most of the book , Smith has not started to sing and is only writing mostly poetry. Similarly for  the majority of the narrative, Mapplethorpe has not picked up a camera yet  and is drawing, making collages and various complex pieces to express himself. We hear  of the names of the many people who were the underground artistic life in New York City. The reader is introduced to life at the Chelsea Hotel with all the great conversations at the big round table in the back room. Some people’s names are more recognizable than others at least to this writer, ie. Alan Ginsberg , Andy Warhol, Sam Shepherd but I am sure that many others would be recognized by the  aficionados of the poetry and art scene of that time  but such familiarity is not necessary to appreciate this story.

Things do happen, these people grow up, establish adult important meaningful connections, opportunities appear, but these two are also always there for each other. Robert begins to confront his own sexuality and establishes various relationships with men. His own art flourishes and he explores his expression through photography. Patti has success with her poetry, publishes, adds music to her work and eventually becomes an important singer. We watch them come into their own and by necessity drift apart but yet are always connected. It is Robert who can photograph Patti for the perfect picture for her latest album. When the deadly scourge of the 1980s especially for the gay community strikes Robert, he asks Patti to some day tell their story. It has taken Patti more than 20 years to be able to do it and we feel enriched by being allowed to share it.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Edward Bibring Photographs the Psychoanalysts of His Time

May 14th, 2010 — 2:40am

Edward Bibring Photographs the Psychoanalysts of His Time

Edited by Sanford Gifford, Daniel Jacobs & Vivian Goldman

Pub. by The Analytic Press, Psychosozial-Verlag ( 2005), 206 pp.


People who are interested in psychoanalytic theory are usually quite fascinated with the period of time in which these ideas emerged and the people who developed them. Therefore a book of photographs of these people taken by one of them should be a valued treasure. This must have been part of the impetus that led the editors to put together this book which is suppose to be the first of a series of publications by the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute based on material from their archives.

The photographs span the time period between 1932 and 1938. These are photographs taken by Edward Birbring at the 12th IPA Congress in Wiesbaden in 1932, the 13th IPA Congress in Lucerne in 1934, the 14th IPA Congress in Mariendbad in 1936, the Vierlandertagung (which was a meeting of analysts from the four Central European countries) in Budapest in 1937 and the 15th IPA Congress in Paris in 1938 as well as some miscellaneous photographs. Biebring used a Rolleiflex, which is a small camera that allowed candid pictures. It produced a nearly square format and the pictures in the book are all 4 x 4 ½ inches, in black and white of course.

Individual portraits were not the main theme of the book but there were some excellent head shots of Ernest Jones, Max Eitingon, Abraham A. Brill, Sandor Ferenczi and Sandor Rado at the beginning of the book. There also is a self portrait of Edward Bibring which appears on the cover of the book. It would be quite easy to obtain very good individual pictures of other subjects by editing the pictures where there was more than one person in the photograph.

Most of the photographs are groupings of people. While there are some in which all are smiling at the camera or eating food together, most show the subjects engaged in conversation with each other. Perhaps it is my imagination but it appears that they are intensely involved with their discussions. I wish I could know what Anna Freud and Melanie Klein were talking about (perhaps they were discussing their disagreements about psychoanalytic theory).

There were many excellent photographs of various people with Anna Freud and one of her brother Martin Freud, the eldest son, standing by himself. There were no pictures of Sigmund Freud and I can only assume that he did not attend these meetings although I do not know for sure.

Although I did not do a count, some people were in many more pictures than others. Max Eitingon, President of the 12th IPA Congress, and Ernest Jones, President of the 13th and 14th IPA, were in various photographs with many different people. Marie Bonaparte seemed to get around and was in many pictures. Understandably, Grete Bibring, wife of the photographer and also an analyst was amply represented. There were many other well known names and some of their spouses. They were all dressed in the fashion of the times with many of the men wearing vests and hats and the women in long dresses. There was a particularly endearing picture of Helene Deutsch sipping a tall drink with a straw while Heinz Hartmann sits next to her with his arm draped around her chair, smiling at her with a cigar in his hand.

The last 30 pages of the book were short biographical sketches of many of the subjects in the book. This gave the reader not only a thumbnail view of the individuals but reflected the professional interactions of the times. It was very interesting to also see how the spread of the Nazi regime impacted on the people involved in the psychoanalytic movement.

There were many photographs of a woman named Vilma Kovacs about whom I knew nothing and was not included in the biographical sketches. A good book will often stimulate further thinking and I became curious about the role she may have played. I could not find any reference to her in the Ernest Jones or the Peter Gray biography of Freud where just about everyone else in the analytic movement seems to be listed in the index. I did track down information about her with an Internet search that I will summarize below to give an example of the lives and contributions of the extraordinary people who were photographed in this book.

Vilma Kovács-Prosznitz, the Hungarian psychoanalyst, was born at Szeged in Hungary on October 13, 1883 and died in Budapest in May 1940. She was the third daughter of a provincial bourgeois family and her father died while she was still very young, less than six years old. The family found itself destitute, and Vilma was married at the age of fifteen and against her will to a cousin, Zsigmond Székely, who was 20 years older than she. By the age of 19 she was the mother of three children. Alice, the eldest, later married Michael Balint. Vilma contracted tuberculosis and had to spend prolonged periods in a sanatorium. It was there that she met Frédéric Kovács, an architect, whom she married after a difficult divorce that separated her from her children for several years. A serious case of agoraphobia led Vilma into analysis with Sándor Ferenczi. He was quick to spot his patient’s talents and during the 1920s he trained her as a psychoanalyst, making her one of his closest collaborators.

In 1925, Vilma Kovács became head of the training committee. A highly reputed training analyst, she organized the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Association’s clinical seminars and along with Sándor Ferenczi she elaborated the Hungarian training method: the candidate’s analyst supervises the candidate’s first case on the couch. Vilma Kovács’s work related almost totally to training. Practically every Hungarian analyst of her time frequented her clinical seminars at one time or another. More specifically, she analyzed Imre Hermann and Géza Róheim. She published only five articles, but one of them, Training Analysis and Control Analysis (1935), is a classic of psychoanalytic literature and has been translated into several languages. In another article, Examples of the Active Technique, dating from 1928, she provides a remarkably clear presentation of this technique that her mentor, Sándor Ferenczi, had just introduced, illustrating it with several examples. Through her clear-mindedness, her remarkable clinical sense, and her organizational skills, Vilma Kovács left a profound mark on the Hungarian school of psychoanalysis. – Summarized from the Psychoanalysis Dictionary

I have two suggestions for any future editions of this book or similar types of publications of historical photographs. It would be useful to have an index so that particular people of interest could be easily located. Also it would be helpful to have an accompanying DVD of digitalized photographs so that when we write about these people in the future we can to pull up these wonderful photographs and continue to share these images with future generations.

Comment » | HI - History, MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

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