Tag Archives: Chicago

But What About Vivian Maier?

My post this week for Role/Reboot about not taking pictures of strangers is getting some traction. I’m always grateful for that kind of attention not only because it stokes my ego (stoked!) but because the more people who read something, the more likely it is that I get asked some tough, interesting questions. Shocking, I know, that I didn’t think of everything.

To refresh your memory, on the off chance that my words are not indelibly etched in your brain, I argued that the modern habit of snapping photos of strangers in public (at the beach, on the train, behaving badly, etc) and posting them online to mock is tantamount to bullying. I hinged my argument on permission (as always, consent is sexy), suggesting that if what you’re doing is complimentary (i.e. street style galleries, etc), you’d be comfortable asking permission of your subject. If you wouldn’t be comfortable asking, you’re probably being a creep. Note: Not a criminal, but a creep; this is an ethical argument, not a legal one.

So what’s the counter argument?

BUT WHAT ABOUT ART????? 

1954, New York, NYWhat about art? What about photography like that of Vivian Maier, the little known, recently discovered photographer who left her nannying job in Oak Park every weekend to come into the city and take photographs? Many of her photos are of average citizens waiting for stoplights, smoking on corners, or, like Instagrams of today, dozing on  buses. Some are head-on portraits that imply willing participation of her subjects, but many are clearly not.

December 2, 1954, New York, NY

Why is Vivian Maier’s “art” more valid than the ‘grammer on the train capturing the guy picking his nose and hashtagging it #digdeep? Can we call one nonconsensual stranger photo art and another harassment? Aren’t both equal invasions of privacy? Our modern age gives us tools to share our invasive “art”, whereas Vivian’s photography lay dormant in boxes for decades. But don’t we think that had Vivian been alive in 2014, she’d be Instagramming along with the rest of us?

In my post, I made a blanket rule “Don’t take pictures of strangers without their permission,” and many people pushed back that, if obeyed, my rule would eliminate the work of artists like Maier.

Yes, it might.

April 7, 1960. FloridaBefore we continue down this path, let’s weed out the dickwads who are straight-up bullying on purpose; we can all agree that their intent is to mock.

But many of us fancy ourselves capturers of beauty or longing or the human experience or whatever; we don’t think we’re bullies, we think we’re artists. The only way to justify our invasion of someone else’s space is to convince ourselves that the thing we’re producing is more valuable than that person’s comfort.

Let me give you an example: I just got back from Chile. In the many hundreds of photos I took, there are a few in which I am intentionally taking pictures of strangers without their permission. A handful are of performers, people on stages or performing in parades; though I’m still a little uncomfortable with that, let’s even discount those as potentially justifiable. But what about this one:

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This guy is just hanging out, watching the parade from his house. He didn’t wave at me, we didn’t acknowledge each other, he in no way, shape, or form gave an OK for me to take his photo, much less post it on FB*. Which I did. Without even thinking twice. Am I mocking? Teasing? Shaming? Not intentionally, no. But, as we discuss all the time, I don’t get to decideMy intention taking this photo is not what makes it ethically sound or not; his perception of me is. Does he feel like the gringa is abusing her privilege? Does he feel patronized or reduced or mocked? Does he feel like he’s being treated as a Chilean prop I’m using to commemorate my travels? I don’t know, I didn’t ask. Although I didn’t intend the photo to be any of those things, in this case I’m equivalent to the cat-caller/harasser/privacy-invader/slur-slinger who “didn’t mean it that way.”

So what now? Let’s say you believe that the world is better with Vivian Maier’s photography in it. I sure appreciate it. I’m pretty uncomfortable with how we got it, but let’s say there actually is small portion of art for which we are willing to make ethical compromises. We do it all the time, right R. Kelly fans?  Picasso fans? Hemingway fans? Roman Polanski fans? We separate our appreciation for art from how it was made or the crimes of the people who made it, especially when those crimes contribute to how it was made (you think when R. Kelly sings about panties and pussy he’s always talking about women over 18? Really?).

What percent of nonconsensual pictures of strangers are worth the ethical compromise? A very, very, very, almost microscopically small percentage. Which ones? Whose bar are we using? Well, obviously, I don’t get to decide, and neither do you. The question is, is the photo you’re about to take one of them? Is the photo I took of the Chilean man in that microscopically small slice of pictures worth the queasy feeling that someone’s privacy is being invaded? Hell no.

The question is, do you think you’re Vivian Maier? If not, then knock it off.

*I’ve since taken it down, ditto any other non-performance pictures of strangers. 

Related Post: My memoir will be called “Is My Optimism Really Just White Privilege?”

Related Post: When you’re feeling attacked, you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.

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Filed under Art, Gender, Media

Solo in the City

A few months ago I moved into my first solo apartment. From parent house one to parent house two to dorm, dorm, roommates, roommates, roommates, I am now all by my lonesome in my little rickety, high-ceilinged, ancient-refrigeratored one-bedroom. After Sara Eckel wrote a modern love column about moving in with her boyfriend after 20 years of living solo, I decided to reflect on the beginning of that journey. So, 159 days into solo-living, here’s where I’m at:

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Related Post: The break-up museum, and relics of exes that we cart from place to place.

Related Post: That time the roof caught on fire.

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Filed under Chicago, Family, Republished!

A Few of My Favorite Things from 2013 (Part 1)

The time-honored tradition of end of year lists must be… er… honored (must it?), so here we go. These are a few of my favorite things to read/watch/listen to/cry at/laugh at/bemoan/enjoy from 2013. 

  • Radio: The two-part series on Harper High School from This American Life. Who knew radio could do that to a person?
  • Editorials: Tim Krieder’s NYT editorial about the power of “I don’t know” in a world full of people who claim to know for certain all kinds of things one can not really know for certain. “I’m always ill at ease when I find myself conscripted by the media into the role of Expert on some subject about which I have rashly written. I felt like the explanatory caption beneath my name on-screen ought to be: PERSON IN WORLD.”

ADTWO6

Related Post: A few of my favorite things from 2012.

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Filed under Really Good Writing by Other People

Dating like a feminist

Last week I joined Molly and Brian on Vocalo’s Feminist Wednesdays to talk about dating while feminist. As usual, it was a blast and a half. What part should gender roles play in modern dating? How much should we rely on traditional who-does-what? Should we just mimic the gays? They seem able to figure this out without pointing at genitalia as the reason one person should or shouldn’t buy the other person dinner…

Listen away!

Related Post: Dating should not be a meal ticket.

Related Post: Why online dating is hard for guys.

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Filed under Gender

S(Monday) Scraps 108

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1. THIRD COAST: Tom Dyja, author of The Third Coast, is interviewed about the Midwest, Chicago, hot dogs, etc on the Freakonomics podcast.

2. COMICS: Bill Watterson, genius behind Calvin and Hobbes, has beautifully illustrated a little life philosophy for all those twenty-somethings (or forty-somethings) trying to figure it out.

3. YEAR25: The blog Wait But Why explains with hand charts, graphs, and cartoons why we millennials are chronically dissatisfied. Yes, it’s talking about you.

4. AUTHORS: What if famous authors had instagram? #malaise #misunderstood (BuzzFeed).

5. BEYONCE: Todrick Hall has created an incredibly elaborate Cinderella parody exclusively set to Beyonce songs. It’s called…wait for it… Cinderonce.

6. CELEBS: Just for kicks, a gallery of celebrity photos from back in the day. Damn, Stephen Colbert, you were fiiiiiine.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Amanda Palmer in the nude, mermaids and workplace discrimination

Related Post: Sunday 106: Hoffman, Delaney, sex ed in Ireland

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Filed under Books, Chicago, Hollywood, Media

S(Monday) Scraps 105

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1. TEXAS: This is a long and beautiful piece by Amy Gentry for The Rumpus about abortion, body politics, and who we’re really protecting.

2. BADASS: Senator Claire McCaskill replies to James Taranto’s horrifying essay about how the fight against sexual assault in the military is actually a “war on men” and male sexuality. Taranto: 0, McCaskill: ALL OF THE POINTS.

3. TRAVEL: Fascinating essay by travel writer Simon Winchester about a tiny island of 300 people, Tristan de Cunha, and how he got banned from visiting for violating local customs.

4. HISTORY: In the wake of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Slate has an example of the dizzyingly confusing literacy tests that were used in the 50s and 60s to prevent black people from voting.

5. PLANNED PARENTHOOD: In case you ever forget what Planned Parenthood provides, a lovely essay from the blog What Are You Doing Here, Are You Lost?

6. CITIES: Chicago Magazine has an awesome series of panoramic shots of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, pre- and during industrial development.

Related Post: Sunday 104 – Books in pie-chart form, awesome ASL translators, what is a bro?

Related Post: Sunday 103 – Awesome people reading, pin-up presidents, Rich Kids of Instagram

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Filed under Art, Body Image, Chicago, Gender, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People

Is This How Riots Happen?

hawksChicago won the Stanley Cup last night. If I hadn’t been watching the game (pure accident, as the concert I was supposed to be at got rained out), I would have known of the victory by the non-stop honking/shouting/whooping/chest-thumping racket that continued well into the middle of the night a few stories below my  bedroom window.

But I did watch, and n the way home, right after the final buzzer, the red line was packed with Hawks fans dancing and flapping their “wings” and congratulating each other. When the doors parted, an older gentleman (portly, bespectacled, balding) couldn’t get past the wall of teenagers. After shouting “Back off! Back the fuck off!” they let him through onto the platform, but started chanting “Bruins Fan!” at him as he exited. From there, he turned on the crowd, pointed finger shoving into Blackhawk-jerseyed chests and starting yelling at them. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of his tirade went like this,

I AM a Hawks fan, I’m just not insane like you lunatics! There’s more to the world than hockey, you know? Read a book every once in a while. Pay attention to the world. Care about something other than sports for fuck’s sake! It’s just a game!”

The crowd, for obvious reasons, didn’t like his message or his tone. As the doors closed, he kept shouting through the glass, his adult-to-bad-child tsk-tsk finger-point reflected back in dozens of college students flipping him the bird. “Go read a book or something!” I was just glad that the opposing forces were separated by panes of something solid. The fury on both sides seemed so primal (and inebriated) and it was easy to imagine a drunk kid taking a swing at him and chaos erupting. So this is how riots start, I thought.

The truth is, while I would have claimed to not “get” hockey, last night was probably more combined minutes of hockey-watching than I’ve done in the last ten years, and it was actually super fun. We conveniently had a dad on hand who was thrilled to explain some of the nuance, and as many people have unsuccessfully tried to persuade me over the years, it is an extremely graceful game if you look past the brawling.

The part I still don’t understand (about all sports, not just hockey) is the whole hog, blood-runs-insert-color-here investment that people have in the records of their teams. I get the momentary excitement, the palpable energy during the game itself, feeling like if you hold your breath maybe the shot will go where you’re willing it to go, like your viewership affects the outcome. I can cheer with the best of them, hoot and holler, etc, but when the game ends, win or lose, it occupies no further brain space. I don’t dwell on it, and neither the joy of victory nor the agony of defeat linger past the last buzzer. That was fun, I think, moving on!

So Sports People, help me out here; I’m clearly missing something, a vein that millions of people worldwide are willing and able to tap into. To my mind, most of these Hawks aren’t from Chicago, and it’s not like they picked us for any special reason. They’re contracted to wear this particular jersey vs. that particular jersey, so where does the loyalty come from? What is it about a team or the community around the team that allows the outcome of a game (because the man on the train was right, it is just a game) to determine your mood for the next week?

Related Post: The best things I read in 2012 about sports.

Related Post: Why you should be reading Grantland.

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Filed under Chicago, Sports