December 31, 2008

Laura Louie & Woody Harrelson

We were happy to hear that Laura Louie and Woody Harrelson were married this past week at their remote home on the island of Maui, Hawaii. They are good people. According to the papers, guests at the small wedding included Sean Penn, Willie Nelson, and Owen Wilson. Alanis Morissette joyfully sang at the ceremony.

Anna and I were married ourselves in a low-key and peaceful ceremony years ago in the same off-the-beaten-path area of Maui.
This news story brings back so many good thoughts and happy memories.

Laura and Woody are an environmentally conscious couple who created an important website titled VoiceYourself that we have followed for several years now. Their mission statement reads "We believe all life on earth is sacred. VoiceYourself promotes and inspires individual action to create global momentum towards simple organic living and to restore balance and harmony to our planet."

There is an insightful video and poem on the website titled "Thoughts From Within" by Woody Harrelson that is recommended viewing for everyone. Woody's words challenge viewers by asking "Do you dare to feel responsible for every dollar you lay down...are you going to make the rich man richer...or are you going to stand your ground...You say you want a revolution...a communal be a part of the solution...maybe I'll be seeing you around".

Update as of December 2009: Voiceyourself has closed down as a day-to-day operation. You can follow this link to watch the video "Thoughts From Within" as posted on YouTube by impete82.

December 25, 2008


The unmistakable look of fear from a vintage 
department store Santa photo. Happy holidays!

December 19, 2008

Robert Frank

On December 12, 2008, Philip Gefter wrote about the Swiss-born photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank for the New York Times. Mr. Frank, now 84, is of course well-known for the classic photography book "The Americans", originally published by Robert Delpire, Paris, 1958, and by Grove Press, New York, 1959.

Earlier this decade, as a staff member of the Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY, I was fortunate to have crossed paths with the artist on occasion. Those who know Mr. Frank will agree when I say that it is indeed refreshing to meet someone who's a true romantic...someone who cuts through the bullshit and wears his heart on his sleeve. You want to know Robert Frank on a personal level? Just look at his photographs. The tales of heartache, loneliness, and life's difficulties are all there in black and white.

I love the painter Ad Reinhardt, but I have always thought he was wrong to write "art is art and life is life, that art is not life and that life is not art." In Mr. Frank's case, he separated from his first love, the sculptor and painter Mary Frank, in 1969. In 1974, the artist's daughter, Andrea, died in a plane crash. His son Pablo, long afflicted with mental illness, took his own life in 1994. When I look at Robert Frank's photographs such as "Blind/Love/Faith", 1981 and "Sick of Goodby's", 1978, I am touched. I am human again.

And so it is that I say a big thank you to Robert Frank. You've passed on the spiritual gift that only one artist can give to another - that of hope and encouragement. Tabula rasa. The unfailing belief in being free and creative. - PS

December 12, 2008

Revolutionary Road

With the holiday season comes the annual Hollywood lineup of Oscar contenders. The soon to be released Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes certainly seems like the proper dose of medicine during this time of manufactured cheer. The film is based upon Richard Yates' critically acclaimed novel, first published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1961. It was subsequently selected as one of Time Magazine's 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

Revolutionary Road follows the lives of Frank and April Wheeler, an outspoken married couple (with two children) entering their thirties who have taken the well-traveled route of slowly transforming themselves from aspiring bohemians in New York City to living what seems in their minds to be a spirit-crushing existence in suburban Connecticut. The characters speak often of fighting conformity and living a meaningful existence of art and intellectual pursuit, but talk as they say is cheap. Near the end of the book, a shocking act by April Wheeler jolts readers to attention. Alas, it was already too late to rescue Frank from his chosen path of "mediocrity".

Here are a few passages:

"Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were."

"The point is it wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so typical. It isn't only the Donaldsons - it's the Cramers too, and the whaddyacallits, the Wingates, and a million others. It's all the idiots I ride with on the train every day. It's a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity."

"... Look at it this way. I need a job; okay. Is that any reason why the job I get has to louse me up? Look. All I want is to get enough dough coming in to keep us solvent for the next year or so, till I can figure things out; meanwhile I want to retain my own identity. Therefore the thing I'm most anxious to avoid is any kind of work that can be considered 'interesting' in its own right. I want something that can't possibly touch me. I want some big, swollen old corporation that's been bumbling along making money in its sleep for a hundred years, where they have to hire eight guys for every one job because none of them can be expected to care about whatever boring thing it is they're supposed to be doing. I want to go into that kind of place and say, Look. You can have my body and my nice college-boy smile for so many hours a day, in exchange for so many dollars, and beyond that we'll leave each other strictly alone. Get the picture?"

"Wow," he said. "Now you've said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that's all we ever talked about. We'd sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said 'hopeless,' though; that's where we'd all chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that's when there's nothing to do but take off. If you can."

Mr. Yates' characters in Revolutionary Road certainly ring true and over the years, I feel that I have met a thousand other discontented Frank and April Wheelers in real life. What do you see when you look into a mirror? Whether you want to be a writer, a dancer, an actor, or a painter...ask yourself, do you have the strength and courage to see it through? Talk, romance, and even money carries you only so far. LIFE is known to field a hell of an opposing team. - PS

December 1, 2008

Double Take

Seen in NYC. Playground camel at First Park, Houston Street.

Stone camel statue, carved in the year 1435. Located on the Sacred Way to the Ming Tombs near Beijing, China. That's quite a lineage, isn't it?

November 24, 2008

The End

The front cover of the December 2008 issue of Conde Nast Portfolio magazine shows a different view of Arturo Di Modica's bronze sculpture "Charging Bull" than what New York City's tourists are used to seeing. Photo-illustrator Ji Lee reinterprets the normally aggressive bull figure, a popular attraction in Manhattan's Financial District, for the magazine as being outright dead. The copy on the cover reads "After the Fall - Greed, stupidity, and really bad luck: How Wall Street did itself in" by Michael Lewis.        

Author Michael Lewis is known for writing the scandalous "Liar's Poker" a thought-provoking insider's account of his four year work experience with the Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers (published by Penguin, 1990). In the Portfolio magazine article titled "The End", Mr. Lewis lays out (with help from Meredith Whitney and Steve Eisman) the eye-opening details of the current financial crisis for readers to digest. It isn't pretty and listed below are several excerpts.

"To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital - to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn't the first clue."

"Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people's money, would be expelled from finance."

"In the two decades since then, I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents' world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces?"

"I did subprime first. I lived with the worst first. These guys lied to infinity. What I learned from that experience was that Wall Street didn't give a shit what it sold."

"The juiciest shorts - the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default - had several characteristics. They'd be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking homeowners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000."

"The one thing Steve always says," Daniel explains, "is you must assume they are lying to you. They will always lie to you."

He had tried a thousand times in a thousand ways to explain how screwed up the business was, and no one wanted to hear it. "That Wall Street has gone down because of this is justice," he says. "They fucked people. They built a castle to rip people off. Not once in all these years have I come across a person inside a big Wall Street firm who was having a crisis of conscience."

Trickle-Down Economics

I first became aware of Ai's writings in the early 90s when I stumbled across a volume of her poetry in my university's library. The strength and forcefulness of the author's writing in poems such as "The Kid" literally slapped me awake from the everyday workings of academia. (see "Vice - New and Selected Poems" by Ai, published 1999 by W.W. Norton & Company, author photograph by Heather Conley)  

Speaking of being slapped awake, it seems appropriate to mention at this time of economic turmoil, that the beast known as America's middle class (consumption or die!) might finally get an inkling that it was just playing the part of obedient sheep all along. As is often the case, the misinformed of America's middle and lower classes were fooled by a dangling carrot. The sad truth is that the idea behind the building and distribution of wealth, and a fair shake at life has always been and continues to be a major problem in our country of stars and stripes       

It is said that in the United States alone, the top 5 percent of the wealthy controls nearly 50 percent of the nation's wealth. How do you suppose this imbalance affects the lives of just one group in our great society, that of black men for instance? An article written by Erik Eckholm for the New York Times on March 20, 2006 notes that "The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless - that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000."

The article continues "Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990's and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30's, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison."

An so it is that in these troubled economic times, I ask everyone to think back to April 29, 1992 and reflect. Who or what is the real enemy? On that day, the acquittals on the main charges of the four accused Los Angeles Police Department officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King sparked a series of riots across Los Angeles. Having grown up in the inner city, I remember being shocked at the time that many of my middle-class classmates and coworkers could only focus on the "horrifying" news images of looting, fires, and street violence across L.A. Somehow we're trained to look at the aftermath, but not at how we got there in the first place.  

In her poem "Riot Act, April 29, 1992", the poet Ai saw so much more. The issues of excessive force, pent-up anger, racial profiling, rampant unemployment, and the inaccessible American Dream were finally on view for all to see on prime time television! This is what happened to society's carefully orchestrated house of cards on "the day the wealth finally trickled down to the rest of us." - PS

November 18, 2008

Freddie Mercury Lives!

Seen in NYC. Channel your inner Rollie Fingers or Freddie Mercury!

Sardines Never Change

A story in today's New York Daily News (November 18, 2008) speaks of the MTA's emergency plans due to the current "weak economy and dramatically declining tax revenues." The "doomsday budget" plans include raising fares, shutting down the W and Z subway lines, decreasing service, and cutting staff positions. Subway riders will of course pay the price not only in higher fares, but also with longer waits for trains, and increasingly crowded rides. Notice the headline "You'll Feel Even More Like Packed Sardines!" 

Wouldn't you know it, earlier this summer I received the mailer illustrated above from a local realtor showing a NY Times ad from September 1928. The ad promotes the joy of living in Tudor City on the east side of Manhattan and being able to walk to work, shops and entertainment (and thereby avoiding the unpleasantness of the daily subway commute). The headline reads "Poor fish" and the first sentence begins "Packed like sardines, they stand for thirty minutes every morning and evening in badly ventilated discomfort..." Well, I guess sardines...or rather some things unfortunately never change.

November 9, 2008

L. Parker Stephenson Photographs

Anna Tan Graphic Design has just completed the design of an elegant website for L. Parker Stephenson Photographs. Ms. Stephenson is a private photography dealer in New York who carries artwork by classic photographers such as Paul Strand, William Klein, and W. Eugene Smith. As well, she represents the work of imaginative contemporary artists such as Yuichi Hibi and Gregori Maiofis. Please visit to learn more about the art of collecting fine art photography.  

He's A Gun-Snatcher

A New York Times article by Kirk Johnson reported that "Sales of handguns, rifles and ammunition have surged in the last week, according to gun store owners around the nation who describe a wave of buyers concerned that an Obama administration will curtail their right to bear arms." Just a day later, a horrifying article detailed how an 8-year old boy killed his father and another man with a .22-caliber rifle in Arizona.

The haunting (and seemingly everyday) image above, from Bill Owens' telling photo essay "Suburbia" published by Straight Arrow Books in 1972, immediately crept into mind.

A caption for the photograph reads: I don't feel that Richie playing with guns will have a negative effect on his personality. (He already wants to be a policeman). His childhood gun-playing won't make him into a cop-shooter. By playing with guns he learns to socialize with other children. I find the neighbors who are offended by Richie's gun, either the father hunts or their kids are the first to take Richie's gun and go off and play with it. 

Nice, Nicer, Nicest

Seen in NYC.

November 2, 2008

Let My People Go Surfing

We have been fans of the clothing & equipment company Patagonia for quite some time now. Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's founder has instilled in the company a measurable sense of cultural and environmental values. It also doesn't hurt that Patagonia combines great art & design with all-important functionality. As you can see, we have amassed a small collection of Patagonia's socially conscious t-shirts.

Design without content (like many other aspects of life) often becomes just eye candy. The "Live Simply" t-shirts above, designed by Geoff McFetridge, gently gets across a large and important message using the simplest of mediums.  

Geoff McFetridge of course is the L.A. based artist and graphic designer who is known for paring big ideas down to a reductive visual core. His early "I'm Rocking On Your Dime" t-shirt is still an eye-catcher.

Yvon Chouinard shared his thoughts and philosophy on responsible business in "Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman", published by Penguin, 2006.

We think the message on this last t-shirt says it all. - AT & PS

October 30, 2008

The Great Pumpkin!

Seen in NYC: Beautiful Frida Kahlo. Where's our friend Diego hiding?

Seen in Lahaina, Maui: Extraterrestrials and icy treats! 

Spider-Man looking to net his Mary Jane.

Please have a safe Halloween everyone.
In memory of Yoshihiro Hattori.

October 26, 2008

Weegee The Famous

I recently came across an image by the hard-boiled artist and photojournalist Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig) that was unfamiliar to me. The photograph has to rank up there as one of the strangest yet most romantic pictures I've ever come across. A couple of space cadets, lost in love, probably at a loft party in the Greenwich Village of yesteryear. Good for them! The image can be found in the book titled "Unknown Weegee", published by ICP/Steidl, 2006.        

Weegee of course came to national prominence with the publication of "Naked City" in 1945 by Essential Books.  His gritty, after-midnight documentary photographs of New York City murders, nightlife, oddball citizens, social strata, and even romance inspired the 1948 film noir movie of the same name.   

Among Weegee's most famous photographs are "The Critic", "Crowd at Coney Island", and "Their First Murder". But for me, Weegee really nails the human condition in "Life Saving Attempt", 1940. On a crowded Brooklyn beach, during a highly charged moment of life and death, a young lady takes the time to pose and smile for posterity. - PS

Hats Off to You

Wandering around Stanton Street on the Lower East Side, Pak and I came across a beautifully efficient sign for the Hat Restaurant aka El Sombrero. The food's supposed to be average at this New York Mexican standby, but the sign is fuel for a graphic designer.

It made me think of and pull out The Hat Book from my personal library. With photos by Rodney Smith and design by Leslie Smolan and Jennifer Domer of Carbone Smolan Associates, this whimsical publication is a winning example of classic 90s design. 

Stylish hats have made a comeback in the fashion world in recent years. But seriously, can anyone rock a hat like the "Citizen in Downtown Havana", 1932 by American photographer Walker Evans? - AT

October 25, 2008


We officially begin our blog with a photograph of the Imagine mosaic (dedicated to John Lennon) at Strawberry Fields in New York City's Central Park. Although similar images are ubiquitous among the city's vendors and gift shops, it is still an important snapshot of the city to share. John Lennon wrote "Imagine all the people, living life in peace". But here we are, reflecting almost 30 years after John's death and well into the 21st century. For a multitude of questionable reasons, people and countries continue to become embroiled in war after endless war.     

Here it is, for the record. It is estimated that well over 20 million people died as a direct result of World War I. An estimated 60-70 million people lost their lives as a direct result of the conflicts of World War II. Overall, it is estimated that over 160 million people died due to the destructive wars of the twentieth century. Where are we headed now? Who or what are you fighting for?