Tag Archives: Atlantic Monthly

Greg Ruffing

OK, I admit it.  Exploring Greg Ruffing’s project on Yard Sales had me drooling over certain objects featured at some on the sales, and my first thought was: Where are these sales, and how fast can I get there?  I mean, who doesn’t want a set of owl lamps with crushed velvet shades?  My reaction is exactly what Greg is thinking about when he creates his work–our culture of consumption and the desire to have what we don’t need.

Greg Ruffing is a Chicago-based artist working in photography and mixed
media and often explores themes of consumption and the economy. His
works have been exhibited at the Annenberg Space for Photography
in Los Angeles, the New York Photo Festival, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the
Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado, and elsewhere. In addition, his photographs
have appeared in publications such as TIME
Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Mother
Jones
, Smithsonian, The Atlantic Monthly, and others. Greg also runs an online
photography project titled Self-Guided Tour, a series of writings
about photography, art, and contemporary issues.

Greg has created a book on his Yard Sale work that has been included in the DIY: Photographers & Books exhibition that is currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art until the end of 2012. The book is a precursor to a larger publication he hopes to publish in 2013.

My series Yard Sales is focused on the
complexities of consumption: the ubiquity and disposability of consumer goods
and their ever-shifting value and meaning. In a way, these photographs are an
attempt to document the cycle of our pursuits in accumulating “stuff” (and our
relationship to that “stuff”), in a way that reveals fundamental human habits
and behaviors and their link to socioeconomic circumstance.

I was first drawn to yard sales as a sort of grassroots marketplace defined by the seller’s curious efforts of display and advertising to attract shoppers, and the buyer’s hunt for prized items and bargain prices. I was also interested in how the yard sale, as an event, transforms the private domestic space of the seller’s residence into a public commercial space to facilitate purchasing goods.

I’m also intrigued by how yard sales illustrate a specific dyadic complex of consumerism: on the one hand, they speak to our somewhat insatiable compulsion to shop and hoard possessions, and perhaps a certain cognitive blurring of the distinction between needs and wants (related to the process by which consumers assess and impose value and meaning onto material items).

And yet, on the other hand, it seems that yard sales (and other forms of resale) serve as a crucial antidote to much of the disposability and wastefulness inherent in consumerism – sending unwanted objects into secondary cycles of consumption where they may find renewed value or purpose through subsequent buyers.

Furthermore, I’ve undertaken this project in the context of the American economic Recession that began in 2008. In those past four years photographing this project, I’ve met and talked to countless families who, in the aftermath of financial hardship nationwide, have sold off possessions just to help pay their bills. In addition, while photographing yard sales in southwest Florida (which has continually had some of the highest home foreclosure rates in the U.S.), I met people who were selling goods obtained from an underground network of scavengers who take discarded possessions from the littered front yards of foreclosed and evicted homes.

It would seem that the Recession has brought decades of unbridled consumer spending (especially its emphasis as an economic engine) into question. Some navel-gazers have even wondered if we actually shopped ourselves into the Recession by living beyond our means through cheap credit, and many have spoken of pursuing a more austere lifestyle. Its in this framework that I hope my Yard Sales project can contribute to a sincere dialogue on and modest reformulation of our relationship to the items we choose to buy.

150 Years Later: Picturing the Bloody Battle of Antietam

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the single bloodiest conflict ever witnessed on American soil. stevia . The Civil War’s Battle of Antietam, fought 60 miles outside of Washington D.C., resulted in 23,000 Union and Confederate casualties in just 12 hoursa statistical horror never replicated again in any conflict fought within the United States.

The Battle of Antietam marked the first time the Union substantially halted a string of Confederate advances into the North. Looking back, historians conclude the victory allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamationfundamentally altering the context of the nation’s conflict, and thus, our understanding of the battle’s importance.

Were a battle of this magnitude to erupt today, we would know about it within secondsbreaking news alerts would buzz in our pockets, anchors would interrupt our regularly scheduled programs and social media would drill down on the latest details of the rapidly evolving situation. Often, we intake news imagery before knowing all the details, and in the early hours following the conflict, we might not know the full meaning of what occurred, but we definitely know what it looked like.

One hundred and fifty years ago, on the other hand, the public viewed painfully explicit photographs with unconditioned eyesthe first time America visually confronted the carnage of its conflict.

After the Battle of Antietam, photographer Mathew Brady tacked a sign to the door of his New York City photo studio that read, simply, “The Dead of Antietam.” Inside, he exhibited the work that his assistant, Alexander Gardner, made in the aftermath of the inconceivably bloody fighting at Antietam Creek. The show drew a large crowd.

One particular viewer, Oliver Wendell Holmes, took notice of Gardner’s photographs, and in an 1863 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, penned his reaction. “It is not [for viewers] to bear witness to the fidelity of views which the truthful sunbeam has delineated in all their dread reality,” he writes. “The sight of these pictures is a commentary on civilization such as the savage might well triumph to show its missionaries.”

(Related:Bloodstains and Bullet Holes: Rare Civil War Artifacts)

Holmes writes of the dreadful accuracy with which Gardner’s photographs depict the gruesome casualties of war. Photography, less than 50 years old in 1862, was still understood by many as an extension of painting. Early critics were often split between a view of photography as objectively accurate or grossly inaccurate and incapable of matching the magnitude of the scenes it recorded (either for want of detail or of a ‘correct’ perspective).

Holmes, it seems, falls in the latter camp. As an eyewitness to the Battle of Antietam, he bristles at the idea that the public may, after viewing Gardner’s work, presume to understand the true nature of war. He mentions that the emotions came flooding back to him as a witness to the scenes captured by Gardneremotions that he would like to lock in the recesses of a far-off place. Holmes feels that this pictorial representation, while succeeding in capturing the physical setting of war, does nothing to convey the visceral nature of conflict among men that he witnessed. Yet he still acknowledges how the public is moved practically to tears as they realize the implicit significance of Gardner’s photos. Although they don’t understand what he feels as a witness, they are moved in ways they shouldn’t be afforded as mere casual viewers of recorded conflict.

The New York Times echoed Holmes’ chilly wonder at how captivating Gardner’s war photographs seemed. The paper noted that the public response to Gardner’s images was as if the photographer had “brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets.”

“You will see hushed, reverend groups standing around these weird copies of carnage…chained by the strange spell that dwells in dead men’s eyes,” they write.

Images of today’s conflicts still arrest us just as they did in 1862. We pause, marveling at their vibrancy, viciousness and pictorial excellence. The world of 2012 allows us to “like” them, “share” them, and “re-tweet” them, hoping to pass along to others the feelings they elicit in us.

Gardner’s pictures articulated a different utility. Depicting the dead fathers and sons of a generation, his plates represent one of the first times America was forced to confront its own tragedyemotionallyimmediately after the fact.

While today we perceive and employ the Antietam photographs as memory triggers and historical records, the public of 1862 confronted them with no expectations or precedent. Unconditioned (and perhaps not yet protected by) the daily and hourly cataract of imagery that we endure today, Civil War-era viewers recognized Gardner’s images for what they were: immediate reminders of the brutal nature of mankind. And thus, on the 150th anniversary of the bloody conflict at Antietam, it’s worth pause to consider how the modern image of conflict impacts us.

Vaughn Wallace is the staff producer of LightBox.

Sarah Wilson

Tonight I will be attending my high school reunion. It’s reluctantly that I go back in time, but I look forward to spending time with friends on the dance floor and I will surely enjoy one cocktail too many. Having this opportunity to think about a time in life when we stood on the threshold of possibility, I was reminded of Sarah Wilson’s poignant and wonderful series about blind teenagers at prom. This series has been well exposed, but it’s always a pleasure to revisit this work and share in the excitement and joy that her subjects are experiencing.

Sarah has returned to her hometown of Austin, Texas after spending almost a decade in New York city studying and working. She works as an editorial photographer for magazines such as The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Time, The Atlantic Monthly, Marie Claire, Texas Monthly, Mother Jones, and others. Her work his held in numerous museums and she has exhibited all over the globe.

In my recent series, BLIND PROM, I’ve had the opportunity to explore the lives of a group of teenagers attending the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I began photographing at the school in 2005 while working as as a stills photographer on the PBS-funded documentary, “The Eyes of Me”. Since then I have volunteered as the prom night photographer for the school each spring. I am to capture the entire prom ritual, starting with hair and makeup in the dorms, until the last dance at midnight.

Prom is an important rite of passage for the American teenager, and it is just as significant for these students. Not only do these images memorialize this special event for the attendees and their parents, but it is my intention that will will ultimately serve a larger audience as a medium for consideration of what life might be like as a blind teenager.