Month: April 2018

Lecture Review – “19th Century New Jersey Photographers” by Gary D. Saretzky

The Historical Society of Moorestown’s members kept Gary D. Saretzky in “continuous focus” this April 4th. He delivered a “RAW” lecture on the Garden State’s first photographers. Mr. Saretzky opted to “focus” his comments on those who lived in Burlington County in the nineteenth century. The audience listened with rapt attention, making no “noise.” The New Jersey Council for the Humanities sponsored this event. The Moorestown Library hosted.

According to his website, Mr. Saretzsky describes himself as an: “Achivist * Photographer * Educator.” He first took an interest in photography in 1972. Five years later, he accepted a position teaching photography at Mercer County College. Mr. Saretzky also exhibits his own photographic work. In recent years, he’s concentrated his work on blues musicians.

Mr. Saretzky currently serves as the Chief Archivist of Monmouth County. He’s also a professional photographer. He melded these two interests and became a historian of photography; a topic upon which he frequently lectures. I attended one titled “19th Century New Jersey Photographers: Burlington County.”

The speaker knew his subject matter. He began his remarks with the very advent of photography. He talked about how a French photographer, Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre, developed the first photographs in 1839. The resulting product, the “daguerreotype”, bore his name. Seth Boyden, Sr. made the first such photos in New Jersey during the same year.

The following decades saw many innovations in the photographic process. The man who invented the Dixon Pencil contributed to advancements in the photographic field as well. Joseph Dixon helped develop the Collodion Process. It led to glass plate negatives, ambrotypes and tintypes.

The cartes-de-visite photograph became popular in the 1850s. These photos were printed on paper as opposed to the copper plates of the daguerreotypes. They were also more common. During the 1860s, the abundance of carte-de-viste photo albums led to the standardization of photo sizes.

Photographers who took cartes-de-visite photos placed their names on the backs of them. During the daguerreotype era, most didn’t identify themselves on their work. For that reason, many early picture takers remain unknown.

Photography was not a popular profession through the late 19th century. Mr. Saretzky reported that in 1870 only 149 photographers lived in New Jersey. In 1900 approximately 700 people worked in the field. 22 per cent of these were German immigrants.

A photographer needed 7,000 customers in order to earn a living. To supplement their incomes, many found employment in a range of other fields. Many worked as jewelers or performed watch repairs. Mount Holly’s Benjamin F. Lee served as Sheriff of Burlington County for a time. New Egypt resident Edward Blake pursued a career path on the other side of the law. As a result of that endeavor, he received a ten year sentence for counterfeiting. The speaker didn’t say whether or not authorities allowed Mr. Blake to take his own mugshot.

Between 1842 and 1900 about 100 active photographers resided in Burlington County. Riverton’s Bertha M. Lothrup was one of the earliest users of flash photography. Mount Holly’s Peter Walker added coloring to a photo the speaker displayed. He did so in order to match the print on the back. Another Mount Holly denizen, James R. Applegate claimed to be the biggest producer of tintypes in the United States. He also developed photo improvements, patented a new type of merry-go-round featuring mirrors and built a pier in Atlantic City.

At the conclusion of his prepared remarks, the speaker took questions from the audience. Someone asked the one most people inquire about: “Why did so few people smile in old photographs?” While nobody has ever provided a definitive answer, the speaker shared a few theories.

In most portrait paintings, the subject didn’t smile. People adopted the same posture during the early days of photography. They did so in order to appear serious and dignified.

The standards of 19th century dentistry weren’t the same as those of the modern era. Most people either had bad teeth or no teeth.

The final potential explanation came from the photographic process. Exposures could take several minutes. It was difficult to hold a smile for that period of time.

When the lecture reached its “resolution” the “time lapse” during this event made me “shutter.” During my “post processing” of his speech, the “depth of field” Mr. Saretzky covered amazed me. While I reflected on the speech’s “afterimage” I couldn’t think of any “blown highlights”, either. What a “positive” event.

 

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True West at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

There’s a saying in sports that, “you don’t see a lot of big plays involving two rookies.” After Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage production of Sam Shepard’s True West no one can apply that expression to theatre. It featured the debut of both a director (Edwin Howard) and a leading man (Darin DeVivo) when I attended the opening night performance on April 13th.

The show featured a creative script. Screenwriter Austin (played by Kevin Roberts) house sat for his mother (Regina Deavitt Beaucheane) during her sojourn to Alaska. His hermetic brother Lee (Darin DeVivo) ended up visiting. Austin worked on a story that he’d been pitching to a Hollywood producer. Lee discussed his travels. During the course of their conversation, Austin agreed to help Lee write a story he had in his head. Complications ensued when the producer, Saul (played by Chuck Klotz), arrived. He decided that he liked Lee’s story more than Austin’s. He wanted Austin to abandon the one he’d been working on and help his brother with his.  Perhaps as a bit of homage to Eugene O’Neil’s Beyond the Horizon, the brothers came to realize they’d been living each other’s dreams.

Edwin Howard did a superb job with Sam Shepard’s material. He ensured True West hooked the audience’s attention from the moment the lights went up.

Most theatrical shows focus on visual elements. This one placed much more emphasis on sound. It opened with an unconventional scene. Mr. Roberts sat at a kitchen table clacking on an old typewriter. Crickets chirped in the background. Mr. DeVivo walked about the stage. He used a gait that allowed his boots to tap percussively against the floor.

I first thought it brave of both the playwright and the director to begin a show with neither character speaking for several minutes. Then I realized the various sounds compensated for the silence. The performers established the mood through their actions.

Mr. DeVivo and Mr. Roberts displayed extraordinary chemistry working together. During the first act Austin’s dialog contained a lot of questions. This writing approach could have made the story drag. These two performers ensured that it stayed interesting.

Mr. Roberts looked the part of an intellectual. I thought it clever how he kept his collar buttoned through most of the show. His choice of voice sounded like that of an erudite Ivy League educated intellectual. When his character became intoxicated, he adjusted his delivery and played the scene convincingly.

Mr. DeVivo made his stage debut at Lee. He delivered such a strong performance that I have to believe the playbill contained a misprint. One has to respect his selection of such a demanding role to begin his career. He brought the character to life through both his dialog and mannerisms.

The character experienced a range of emotions during the play; the most memorable of which was anger. Mr. DeVivo portrayed the character’s temper so realistically that I flinched whenever he raised his voice. Whenever he became upset I felt uncomfortable watching him. In perhaps a theatre first, he hit a plate loaded with toast so hard that he sent the bread several feet into the air.

As memorable as I found the toast toss, my favorite scene was much more low- keyed. During one discussion, the two men stood across from one another. They each placed their hands on their hips and struck the same pose. While showing the characters’ similarity as brothers, they drew attention to the physical contrasts between them.

Chuck Klotz portrayed, Saul, the Hollywood producer. He selected the perfect voice for the role. He attempted to persuade Austin into working with Lee like a true Tinsletown dealmaker.

Even with the limited stage time afforded her, Regina Deavitt Beaucheane turned in a fine performance as the mother. The laid back approach she took towards the role contrasted well with the tension occurring on stage.

Both Edwin Howard and Jim Frazer played multiple roles behind the scenes. Mr. Howard worked with Mr. Frazer on the set design. Mr. Frazer and Tim Sagges teamed up to handle the lighting and sound.

Earlier in this review I mentioned the importance sound played in True West. Those with sensitive hearing should be aware that the show contained a lot of noise. Aside from Mr. DeVivo’s hollering, it included pots and pans getting tossed onto the floor, aluminum cans either getting thrown into a sink or being hit with a golf club and pounding on a table.

Those with an aversion to getting hit by toast may not want to sit in the front row, either.

To see newcomers perform so well with material this challenging, one wonders what kind of show would suit them for their sophomore efforts. Just a thought: are Mr. Howard and Mr. DeVivo familiar with Buried Child? Until then, True West runs through April 21st at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage.

 

 

 

Book Review – The Bow and the Lyre by Octavio Paz

Poetry is knowledge, salvation, power, abandonment. An operation capable of changing the world, poetic activity is revolutionary by nature; a spiritual exercise, it is a means of interior liberation. Poetry reveals this world, it creates another. (Location 70)

As one can discern from the quote above, Octavio Paz held poetry in pretty high regard. In his explication on the nature of the poetic, the author presented a high-minded analysis of the reasons why:

…the struggle between prose and poetry, consecration and analysis, song and criticism, latent since the birth of modern society is resolved by the triumph of poetry. (Location 3404)

A heady analysis bracketed these citations.

It is somewhat unusual for a literary figure to write an intellectual tome on his/her field. As Mr. Paz was a poet of great renown, I wanted to explore his take on the topic. Since this April 19th marks the twentieth anniversary of his passing, this month seemed a good time to do so.

The author derived the title from a quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. He wrote, “The universe is in tension, like the bowstrings or the strings of the lyre. The world ‘changing, rests.’” (Location 2932) That seemed a solid choice. It referenced the bow and the lyre that poets used to accompany their work during ancient times. It also gave an indication of the book’s heavy philosophical leanings.

Some of author’s more thought provoking observations included:

By means of the word, man is a metaphor of himself. (Location 361)

…–the poem is something that is beyond language. But that thing that is beyond language can only be reached through language. A painting will be a poem if it is something more than pictorial language. (Location 229)

The myth is a past that is a future ready to be realized in the present. (Location 804)

Are you still with me, reader? Okay. I’ll continue.

As indicated in the opening, Mr. Paz had a very high opinion of poetry.  He reasoned:

The spoken language is closer to poetry than to prose; it is less reflective and more natural, and that’s why is easier to be a poet without knowing it than a prose writer. (Location 207) … The poet sets his matter free. The prose writer imprisons his. (Location 212)

He added, “When a poet acquires a style, a manner, he stops being a poet and becomes a constructor of literary artifacts.” (Location 140)

Mr. Paz didn’t just like poetry; he used this book as its apotheosis. He believed poetry played a vital role in any community. This is where I found the author drifting from adoration into pretention. He wrote:

Without an epic no society is possible, because there is no society without heroes in whom it can recognize itself. (Location 3302)

At one point, he even suggested the poem on a superior plane to the person who created it.

The poem is not a literary form, but a meeting place between poetry and man. A poem is a verbal organism that contains, stimulates or emits poetry. The form and the substance are the same. (Location 97)

He later wrote:

Poetry is not the sum of all poems, Each poetic creation is a self-sufficient unit. The part is the whole. (Location 114)

I also thought one of Mr. Paz’s observations odd. He noted: “Poetry is the hunger for reality.” (Location 859) That seemed a strange statement as the author wrote surrealist poetry himself.

Mr. Paz displayed both practical and intellectual proficiency in the topic he presented. I still found The Bow and the Lyre a very difficult read. The complexity of thought and amount of information would benefit academics. I wouldn’t suggest this book to people with a general interest in poetry, however. For those readers, I’d advise them to check out a volume of the author’s own poetry. Mr. Paz just may have agreed with that. As he explained:

The poem is a work that is always unfinished, always ready to be completed and lived by a new reader. (Location 2964)…A poem is fully realized only in participation: without a reader, it is only half a work. (Location 437)