Monday, May 31, 2010

soba gone

Nara Temple Offering

We went to Nara during the New Year, which everyone told us not to do. It would be too crowded, they predicted, with people attending to the last rites of the dying year, and it was.

Which is not to say we were sorry we went.

Nara is a great Shinto center, and we fell directly in with the crowds as they worked their way up the mountain, passing shrines and countless lanterns, pushing through people who were pressing against others. Near the top we broke away and wandered the trails, pausing to peer at the faithful in their administrations before the colorful Kagami Mochi -- rice cake and tangerine treats offered up to the gods in exchange for divine favor.

The farther we pressed into the forest the thinner the crowds became until at last we were walking alone -- and feared we might we lost.

As we debated whether we should double back the trees thinned and the trail descended to a public road. There was nothing to the left or to the right, but directly before us there was a small restaurant, with a sign scratched out in English, for lost English speaking tourists like ourselves.

We stepped out of the January chill and into the warmth. I sat on a cushion before the low tea table and ordered cold soba, which I suspect I had had before and knew to be delicious, or else I wouldn’t have ordered cold food on a cold day after a long walk.

The buckwheat noodles were served on a bamboo matt suspended over a plate. The boiled soba had been shocked in a cold water bath just prior to serving, and the design was meant to allow the last of the water to drain off. I dunked the noodles bite by bite into the fish-rich sauce, and knew to wait once the soba was gone for the waitress to come with the cooking water, which she poured into the remnants of the sauce and expected me to drink.

I can’t recall if I did, but I do remember that chocolate cake and the coffee came next. Incongruous, all of it, and absolutely perfect.

speaking of Kansas (before the Twister hit)

longing for kodachrome

This really would have been a lovely shot if I had had color film loaded.

Austin, TX

Sunday, May 30, 2010

a real truly live place

There’s so much that is not quite right about the Wizard of Oz.

The farm girl whose aunt chides her to stay out of the way because she’s worthless on the farm and yet knows instinctively how to vamp when the Twister hits or the camera strays to her sparkly heels.

The middle-aged men who cozy up to our 12 year old heroine and accompany her on her travels in a way that the creep factor would prohibit in any film made today.

And finally this: the idea that a girl who longs to be anywhere besides Kansas, and then finds herself at last over the rainbow in a “real truly live place” where “most of it was beautiful” would spend the whole of her marvelous adventure wanting only to be home, like some ugly American, and to decide after all that wonder, once she returns again to Kansas, that “I’m not going to leave here ever ever again.”

Really? That’s our moral lesson? Not: Travel has opened my eyes and expanded my mind to make room for new people and new experiences entirely foreign to my own?

(Maybe my bafflement is especially keen because of the unhappy hours I spent in Kansas this last week.)

And yet: It’s a magnificent film, which I was reminded of on Friday when I saw it on the big screen, digitally remastered with the full orchestration of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra behind it and cried -- yes cried -- when Dorothy sang of melting lemon drops away above the chimney tops.

That’s where you’ll find me.

Bonus material, aka "Only bad witches are ugly." -- Glinda the Good Witch

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Port of Seattle.

fried rice is nice

Quite possibly the best mix tape ever created. Courtesy of @yourperil circa 1995. Recently resurrected.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

inconvenienced by the president

It's not every day that the President's weekend plans mean I get to spend a couple more hours than I planned nestled between a gentleman with a nasty, wet respiratory infection who keeps kicking my seat and a couple who touch each other in ways that are not suitable for public display.

Thanks, man.

Posting by cameraphone from the tarmac at O'Hare. Just in from Wichita. Waiting for an available gate.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25th is Towel Day

bringing my towel along
Originally uploaded by hufse

(And to think I almost forgot.)
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Photo: Julius Shulman

This was a happy house.

Cil Rockwell, earlier today, signing my copy of Gary Gand’s Julius Shulman: Chicago Mid-Century Modernism.

Mrs. Rockwell was referring to the home we were standing in; the one her husband, Deever Rockwell, designed and built; the one they shared together with their four children ("a symmetrical family") before the children grew up and moved away and they sold it to the nice couple from LA who own it today.

We were there at the invitation of Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond for the release party of the above mentioned book, and we spent our afternoon collecting signatures of the owners of several other Chicago Mid-Century Modern homes, who were also there, whose homes were also photographed by Julius Shulman near the end of his life.

Photographed. Not shot.

Julius Shulman, we learned today, didn’t shoot photography. “No guns,” he would say. He made an image, painstakingly, using a 4x5 view camera, taking on average two hours per frame.

Gary Gand and his wife Joan were friends of Shulman, and we have them to thank for coaxing the master into capturing what may be the only photographic collection of Mid-Century Modern Residential Architecture in Chicago. The story of how they did that is in the book.

Mr. Rockwell was there today too, and kindly signed my book when I offered it to him as though at a yearbook signing party. He also answered my star struck question about what it was like to study under Mies at IIT. (As you may have guessed, it was “extraordinary”, but he made more time for the grad students than the undergrads.)

The home Rockwell built on the bluff alludes fondly to his professor’s Farnsworth House, but unlike the unrelenting steel frame of the house on the Fox River, this one is anchored to the earth through an extraordinary application of red flint. The small vibrant stones run through the concrete forms that anchor the corners of the glass box, and chisel out the terraces against the steep wooded bluff that leads into the ravine at the back of the house. The same red flint runs through the polished floors of the home, and transitions effortlessly to the aggregate walk and the loose pebbles of the courtyard.

About those loose stones: Mrs. Rockwell told us that one winter a gentleman was using a snow blower in the courtyard when he kicked up some pebbles and sent them shattering against one of the large glass panes. The entire wall rained down in cold, brittle shards. They patched it up with neoprene and duct tape while they organized a repair.

I asked the new owner if she had heard the story of the pebbles in the winter. She had. “The first thing we did was get rid of the snow blower,” she said. “We shovel our snow.”

Another cold winter story: the glass walls aren’t Thermopaned – “We didn’t even think of it,” said Mrs. Rockwell. “Oil was so cheap.” So in the winter time when the frost moved in they would move the mattress to the living room and sleep in front of the fire.

“That was nice,” she said, her smiling eyes deep pools of memory.

A happy house.

julius shulman: chicago mid-century modernism (book signing)

Gary Gand signs the book: Julius Shulman's last book, really. Story to follow soon.

Posting by cameraphone from Rockwell's House on the Bluff in Olympia Fields, Illinois.

Update: Here's the story »

Saturday, May 22, 2010

ride the divide

ride the divide
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Riding it, like the sign says.

Posting by cameraphone
from Boulder, CO

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


"Lightning Fields 013" (2006).
Gelatin silver print, 59 x 47 in.
Hiroshi Sugimoto

In 1831, Michael Faraday’s formulation of the law of electromagnetic induction led to the invention of electric generators and transformers, which dramatically changed the quality of human life.

Far less well-known is that Faraday’s colleague, William Fox Talbot, was the father of calotype photography. Fox Talbot’s momentous discovery of the photosensitive properties of silver alloys led to the development of positive-negative photographic imaging.

The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.

From Hiroshi Sugimoto's artist statement regarding his Lightening Fields.

Related: hiroshi sugimoto at sydney art biennale 2010 »

Monday, May 17, 2010

small thing. big world.

Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
The artist Magdalena Abakanowicz requested permission to use my shot of her Agora installation, which I snapped the night of Obama's acceptance speech in Grant Park.

A small thing, but it threw open a window that let fresh air and sunlight into a day that has been crowded with frustrations and concerns.

Big beautiful world.

An update -- the plot thickens: looks like it may hang in an exhibit at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Poland.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the wait

the wait
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Shot at Pier 52 in the Ferry Terminal
waiting room earlier today. Posting by from SeaTac
where I'm waiting to board my flight home.

See ya, Seattle.
Miss you. But miss Chicago more.

Friday, May 14, 2010

pass for new

pass for new
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Wherever I go I find something in this new world I am acquainted with; it is all as I imagined -- and yet new.

And the same can be said of my observations, my thoughts. I have had no entirely new thought, have found nothing entirely unfamiliar, but the old thoughts have become so precise, so alive, so coherent that they can pass for new.

Goethe, Italian Journey

Halfway into a travel bender that will touch Boston, D.C., Seattle, Wichita, Ann Arbor, Boulder, Fort Wayne and Boston again within the span of a month.

Some work, some fun, some new horizons.

Trying to stay open to the road.

Posting by cameraphone enroute to Seattle.
Image from some time back -- Detroit, I think.

Monday, May 10, 2010

monument by moonlight

monument by moonlight
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Thanks, George.

Posting by cameraphone from D.C.


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
National Portrait Gallery.
Dinner across the street at Proof.

Vina Boscania Rioja
& catching up.

Posting by cameraphone from
Washington D.C.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

strange fruit

Photo via Law & Disorder Radio

Willie McGee and the Traveling Electric Chair, a Radio Diaries Production »

Willie McGee's story, as told by his granddaughter Bridgette McGee-Robinson, is worth a sit down and a listen, in the same way Jacqueline Goldsby's A spectacular secret: lynching in American life and literature is worth a difficult, heart-wrenching review.

Because this is the America that we have to make sense of somehow. Or better: struggle to redeem.


Saturday around 3.

We can call the circles nodes, and the arrows links.

In providing a system for manipulating this sort of information, the hope would be to allow a pool of information to develop which could grow and evolve with the organisation and the projects it describes. For this to be possible, the method of storage must not place its own restraints on the information.

This is why a "web" of notes with links (like references) between them is far more useful than a fixed hierarchical system. When describing a complex system, many people resort to diagrams with circles and arrows. Circles and arrows leave one free to describe the interrelationships between things in a way that tables, for example, do not. The system we need is like a diagram of circles and arrows, where circles and arrows can stand for anything.

We can call the circles nodes, and the arrows links.

Tim Berners-Lee of CERN in Information Management: A Proposal, March 1989, May 1990

This is the paper credited with laying a conceptual foundation for the World Wide Web.

I find it interesting that in this early approach Berners-Lee is confronting hierarchies, especially since early expressions of the Web were slavishly hierarchical (Yahoo's endless list of links, anyone?). It's only in the last few years that social architectures like those behind Facebook and Twitter have threatened to unseat the chain of command (although, even in these contexts, the corporate sponsor lives behind the curtain).

Computer scientists Eric Freeman and David Gelernter also dismissed hierarchies as inefficient in their seminal lifestreams work -- work that I believe deserves more credit for informing the social architecture of the information streams that lie behind so much of the social web.

Reading Berners-Lee's paper this morning, it struck me that so much of political history has been about this same confrontation -- the enforcement of hierarchy by folks who have skin in the game, and the challenge of the same by people being served the crumbs.

And even though today's Internet has not succeeded in dissolving hierarchies (and perhaps would be less useful if it had), it did leave me to wonder how this conceptual model, which now informs the lives of so many of us, will shape the political leanings of future generations, simply by being the primordial soup of known experience.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

the comfort of things

George’s flat was disorienting not because of anything that was in it, but precisely because it contained nothing at all, beyond the most basic carpet and furniture. Absence of a degree doesn’t particularly disturb. A place can be minimalist, or there can be a single plant or poster that gathers presence precisely through contrast with the lack of any other resting place for the eye. But there is always something: a little china ornament, a postcard from a trip somewhere, an image of a friend or relative, even an old ticket stub or label. What I can barely ever remember encountering is a habitation entirely devoid of any form of decoration.

There is a violence to such emptiness.

Faced with nothing, one’s gaze is not returned, attention is not circumscribed. There is a loss of shape, discernment and integrity. There is no sense of the person as the other, who defines one’s own boundary and extent. I was trying to concentrate on what he was saying, but I was disturbed by the sheer completeness of this void. I began to feel we simply had to visit the other rooms in his house, his bedroom and his bathroom, in the hope that they would not replicate this chilling absence. But when, during a subsequent visit we did take opportunities to glance around these other rooms, they proved just as empty.

Daniel Miller in The Comfort of Things.

This is the same fellow who wrote Stuff (also loaded with brilliant, tender insights into how we express ourselves and arrive at self through material culture).

Monday, May 03, 2010


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
I love flying at this time of day, nose pointed West, just as the sun's going down. With a good tailwind you can ride the sunset for hours.

Or three, like we did tonight.

Posting by cameraphone on the descent into O'Hare.

no coffee; pepsi.

no coffee; pepsi.
no coffee; pepsi.
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Congratulations, Boston: You've joined the percentage of the world's population without reasonable access to clean drinking water.

It's not the exclusive group you might think »

Posting by cameraphone from Logan International Airport, Boston.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Browsing used bookshops in Boston leaves me wanting nothing more for all the rest of my days than to find a good spot in a quiet corner where I can settle in and read.

Nearly had a fit at Commonwealth Books on 2 Milk Street when I found a copy of the book I've always wanted to read but didn't know existed: Malvina Hoffman's Heads and Tales. First edition. Signed by the author.

And even though I couldn't bluff my way through my excitement well enough to ask the shop clerk (the owner?) to knock the price down a little she did, without my asking, and said how glad she was to see someone excited over a book; said most folks only want to buy what they can plug in.

I'm afraid I'm complicit in, I told her. It's what I do for a living; and she startled before going on, full of hurt and forgiveness, like a grandmother who only receives visits on far distant holidays.

Well, that's all right, she said. At least you stop by when you can.

Posting by cameraphone from Boston.

he of the paul newman baby blues

Making ready in the Dickins Room.

Posting by cameraphone from
Boston, Mass.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


Photo: Arts & Architecture

I’ve seen all the wild rivers I ever want to see.

Floyd E. Dominy in 1966. Dominy, who served as the commissioner of the federal Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 to 1969, passed away on April 20 at the age of 100.

According to the New York Times, Dominy was responsible for the “Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge and Navajo Dams in the upper Colorado River basin, and the Trinity River part of California’s Central Valley Project, among many others.”

I don’t think I would have gotten along with Dominy (may he RIP), even though there's every reason to believe that he did what he did out of a humanitarian impulse to help the farmer and rancher of the American West.

Unfortunately, he overdid it.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is more my style. He recently did a spot for American Express in which he talked about his dam busting.

Video: Yvon Chouinard and the American Express Members Project Commercial

The July / August 1967 (and final) issue of Arts & Architecture was dedicated to the architecture of North American dams. The photograph above was taken from that issue, as was this excerpt:

It could be said that water is one of the most potent forces employed by Nature in shaping the animate and inanimate world, and as a form creator is thus within our province.


It is of importance to note just how far man has progressed in his ability to form and deform his environment. Like water, he is both form giver and destroyer, but until quite recently man was one of Nature’s relatively minor and inefficient tools and weapons.

By his inventiveness and increase in numbers, however, he has become capable of changing the face and fortune of the world beyond the capacity of any other natural force. An indication of his increased capability is the catastrophic affect man has had on water in the U.S. It is estimated, for example, that is he were to disappear tomorrow, it would take a generation for the waters of even our largest rivers and lakes (e.g. the Hudson River, Lake Erie) to regenerate and become fresh again.

Water Resources in North America, Arts & Architecture, July / August 1967

Update: NPR reported on Dominy on May 4th »
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