Thursday, February 20, 2020

GHOST WALTZ, Volume 1: NYC, Acquainted With the Night, Photo essay by Diana Rivera

Photo Essay. I love photography that begins where words
 leave off. This work is visual poetry, evoking feelings and sight 
below the surface of consciousnes, while showing what we think
we know in one moment of time. Begin this walk. This
is an excerpt of a longer series to be savored some night.

On a Darkened Night, SoHo 2018

GHOST WALTZ, Volume 1: "Acquainted With the Night" by Diana A. Rivera

New York City's architecture is full of layers of history. Rabid development continues to destroy historical buildings at an unprecedented rate. My current urban photography series Ghost Waltz was born from searching for New York City's past eras before they vanish. This series explores different neighborhoods and their singular atmospheres; Downtown’s gritty patrician buildings; Midtown’s unearthly heights; Uptown’s broad swathes of recognizable yet hidden historical elegance. With influences such as Brassaï, silent films and spirituality, I photograph the city in a manner that recalls modernist, early 20th century photography. The view is familiar and otherworldly, as layers of the past come forward; the present recedes in an insubstantial instant.

Toward the Light, 8th Ave., 2018

With Volume 1, I examine the overwhelming psychic effect of being inside “the belly of the beast” through the juxtaposition of shadows with light, movement with static, and silhouette with semblance. Shot on 35mm monochrome film. the grain reflects the grittiness of the urban landscape and the resulting existential crisis one may encounter in such a mystifying environment. Silhouettes walk towards city lights; lone figures that whose alienation emphasizes the dissonance of city life as they walk amid historical structures whose decorative elements seem alien in a modern world built of cold glass and hard steel. Through this lens I analyze the theory that human beings are in their essence living spirits — ephemera within the continuum of time and space.

Silhouette, Irving Place, Union Square 2018

The title of Volume 1 is taken by a poem from Robert Frost, which best encapsulates the atmosphere of this work:

“Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.”

Under the Neon Light, 9th Street 2018

Beyond the Smoke, Washington Square 2018

Diana A. Rivera is an American photographer whose distinctive imagery explores the existential concepts of isolation, dislocation, and mortality in the modern world. Born in 1981, Diana is a self-taught photographer whose original academic discipline was fashion design and illustration. Inspired by her late father, Sucre, she picked up the camera in 2011. This interest led her to a business in event photography, where she spent 8 years observing and capturing intimate moments at high energy events. Her switch to artistic photography began in 2017 with her inaugural work Catharsis: She Moon. In Catharsis, Diana documents performance artists in a rehearsal for a one night only show that tells the feminist tale of society's persecution of queer people using magic and paganism. This body of work remains resonant with the current zeitgeist.

Branching from digital, Diana has embraced traditional 35mm and medium format photography, along with traditional and alternative darkroom processes. Influenced by the New York School photographers of the mid-20th century,  she embarked on her ongoing project Ghost Waltz in 2018; a work on 35mm film that searches for the atmosphere of the past within the rapidly changing metropolis. Capturing haunting night-time scenes that are at once arresting and disorienting, her photographs reveal the many historic layers of the urban landscape, reminding us that existence is ephemera within the dimension of time and space. She is currently working on a series of Requiems as part of Ghost Waltz; homages to immortal men and women who have left an eternal imprint on the historical psyche of New York City and its inhabitants.

Diana still lives and works in New York City. Her work can be found on her website and LensCulture.

Pulitzer Winner, THE SHADOW BOX by Michael Cristofer, a triumph at Regeneration Theatre

THE SHADOW BOX by Michael Cristofer is a Pulitzer-winning play and justifiably so, since it takes on content as difficult as any life lived. This play's focus is on people preparing for the moment when death, abstraction and certainty, will arrive.  Not with the medieval figure in a black cloak carrying a sycthe but in a mythical enclave in California's poconos in the 1970s.

In Regeneration Theatre's wonderful restaging, the scene's a mythic "summer camp" with cabins indicated by roofs of wooden triangles and walls with Birchwood branches (set Samantha Cancellarich). Random furniture fleshes out interiors, though it's dwarfed by the heavenly feel of the invisible Poconos (Lighting Domino Mannheim). Hikers exclaim about the clean air and difficulty finding the place, as they catch their breath in the clearing. Spirits are high, they might be on holiday but for the travelers they seek, who have already arrived. These loved ones have been told this is the end of the Journey.

The why of death for Joe (Jon Spano), Brian (Robert Maisonette), Felicity (Jenne Vath) is without debate, though unlike Sartre's"No Exit" or  Beckett's "Endgame," they do have interrogators. Unseen voices from above inquire about patients' "progress," psychological-physical states. Clinical yet intrusive, are they archangels as clinicians, reviewing  earthly existence pre-death, spurring realizations before the event? All we ever know is the clinical final intrusions are the price for this idyllic retreat. But when interrogators interview caretakers, such as Felicity's daughter, Agnes (Anita Daswani), they seem to be enabling catharsis.

Facing mortality is the subject of this brave play, and Cristofer 's compassion toward his doomed characters is a significant contrast to the Interrogators, as each of the three "families" play out their stories. Though souls may be debriefed after they enter the Afterlife, here they resolve issues before  and loved ones are willing participants. For the devoted couple Joe and Maggie, Jon Spano and Nikole Marone, there's is a duet of habit, need, love, with a fierce undercurrent--her defiance of his death. A large vibrant woman full of life, she is especially poignant hauling out favorite foods and memories to entice him home to their life. She refuses to enter the cabin.

It is up to Spano's Joe to convince her otherwise. He's a brilliantly understated ordinary guy, to her high emotionalism. Yet his understated performance is heart-tugging, as he clashes with her profound denial. Marone's Maggie fights for her happiness. Their son Steven (Leonard W. Rose) is cannily played as a cipher, since we know he hasn't been told about his dad's demise. Though he wants to play his guitar, he's continually interrupted by his mother. Only at the end is the guitar's balm his answer.

Brian's cabin was funny, sad and full of secrets. Maisonette's Brian is an intellectual, a guy who finds fascinating ideas everywhere. His search for truths is a preoccupation, profession, passion and way of life. But this Brian  also has a glint in his eye. He's a fine dancer and lover, busily filling his last . days writing endless intricate books, enjoying natural beauty and taking orders from his devoted caregiver Mark, Cameron Tharma.  Yet Brian yearns for romance. Abandoned by his wild wife, Beverly (Nicole Greevey), a lustful party girl and self confessed man trap, he fondly reminisces before she shows up.  Mark's virtuous indignation at Beverly's antics, sets up a harsh rhythm.

This cabin has a kind of cha-cha dance, as Beverly strips off her "Medals," trinkets from her ex-boyfriends, and sets about rekindling Brian's spark. Greevy's Beverly is a fabulous sensualist, drinking and dancing to arouse romance and life. She is outrageous in her bodily seductions, spilling out of a hilarious dress, sliding her limbs to more sensuous display. And she succeeds in a slow dance with Brian of perfect romance. In that moment, she compensates him for love lost (and regretted) by her catch- as-can existence. Greevey seamlessly switches from wild  to  serious Beverly, who wants to protect Brian from his unknown caretaker. Since he is also fiercely protective, Greevy and Tharma's chacha, taking each other's true measure, is fabulously revealing.

The Mother daughter pair had a mysterious missing sister to make up a third occupant. Their story is a disconnect, the mother, Felicity, is aged, seeming the resident closest to death and the one with the most visible scars of surgical battle against it. Jennie Vath plays Felicity's rants, knowing jokes and  grotesque quips with perfect comic timing. Why Felicity is alive is a mystery to her, and to Agnes, her long-suffering daughter played by Anita Daswani.  Daswani's Agnes well reveals the torturous poignancy of wanting death to finally take Felicity, yet holding her back--in her case without know it.

The cast of Regeneration Theatre was so  attuned to the music in Christofer's words, it was a pleasure to watch. I attribute their success in this soul-searing work to director Marcus Gualberto, who well choreographed the ebb and flow of human emotion. The audience was very moved. My friend, along with others, experienced a personal catharsis. They stood with "bravos" which I offer to Regeneration for having the courage to revive this play.

While moving and humane, I admire the production and the play though it didn't "speak" to me. I am more familiar with the extreme solitude of individuals coming to terms with death. In my experience loved ones have already, in some highly private way, made peace with the "maker," most often the deity within themselves. This private reconciliation I have heard articulated more in Samuel Beckett's "Oh Happy Day, "where an old woman on a mound lives her "happy" days in reminescence and as the days move on, she is gradually buried in a mountain of sand.  It is more true to me about death. For the existential state we live in, I like Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit" and Beckett's "End Game." Both may be considered emotionally astringent but the pathos is profound. .


Tuesday, February 11, 2020 publishes short stories about extraordinary everyday exchanges

I have a story on this site, Caroline Leavitt has one featured that's very good.
Site is a small way to counter all the reportage focussed on the reverse of kindness.
Adds an experience people might not think about a lot, the exchange of
small or large kindness. What does it mean? Anyway here's mine.
Leavitt's worth reading on site.


A guy sits in a folding chair that's chained to a traffic sign, reading. His gloved hands hold a shallow cardboard box containing a book. His hooded face leans down, totally concentrated; a private act on this popular downtown corner. His battered sign says he's in the beginning stages of a debilitating disease. Yet he has good color. His clothes look okay, his eyes sparkle behind thick glasses when he talks about books.

A couple feet from his chair is a food wagon. Construction workers, arrayed on the sidewalk, wait for coffee, Danish, egg sandwich on a bagel.  I break the line with my water purchase, though resentful looks disappear as I say, "Just the water." The lady in the wagon takes my dollar. (Everyone knows you don't have to wait for water.)

The homeless guy's still fixed on his pages. He's got thinning reddish hair, late 40's maybe, too alert for a junkie or a guy on a permanent bender. Perhaps a working man down on his luck, if not part of a Dickensian homeless ring, an urban legend of a Fagin character who divvies up misery signs and street corners for a percentage. But I suspect no nights on grates for this guy. There's no patina of dirt or smell. Certainly not a con person with a glint in his eyes, grabbing purses or even finagling for money.  He's hardly paying attention to the paper cup between his ankles.

I put a dollar in the cup. Don't think well of me. I am not a generous individual who feels for the homeless, except in passing. Yet sometimes, in my heart of hearts, I, who have spent decades worried about rent, truly feel ‘there but for the grace of G-d go I.’ I'm superstitious. My dollar is to buy off misfortune, reinforce the strange grace that allows me to survive in this city. Even now, growing old with a mate in a decent apartment, we struggle.

Can I spare the dollar I spend on water? No, but the one toward a brownie can go. He says "thank you," makes eye contact. Before he can go back to his reading, I ask what he likes. "Whatever I can find." "But what's your choice?" "Spy books, true stories, conspiracy, adventure." Hunger there. I can relate. I came to this city as a young playwright, worked in the publishing industry, beginning with a test, a press release on a biography of Jim Morrison. I was thrilled to write materials for a department, paid to be a writer. Despite years of plugging books (my own work on the side)--I still loved them, though publishing had proved a one-sided affair.  

Once a professional reviewer, now I was sent books by publishers to r
eview for free. A stack was next to my desk. First I gave him a thriller, then a book about disinformation and a history of the Cold War.  Each time I put a dollar in his cup, though we both knew his 'thank you' was perfunctory before his one-line spot-on reviews. Curious, I gave him my own dystopian novel.

A week later, as I bought my water, he stopped me to say thanks for all the books and especially the future world one.  He said he had never read a book like that and liked it so much, he would keep it on his shelf (he lives somewhere?). I said I was glad, that the book was my own. He said, “I thought that.” (What? Was I so transparent?).  As one writer to another, he told me about ‘a guy who works for a publisher’ who stops by. This person is interested in a book he's writing.

He confides he needs a cable for his computer to finish but is almost done. I am delighted for him. He also confides he's been in prison. I let him know prison chronicles always have an audience. He says the publishing guy also told him that. I encourage him to finish. He says again that my novel was like nothing he had ever read. I glowed from the admiration of a fan (colleague?).

Is the dollar my price of entry? I test that with a hardcover bestseller about an infamous American spy--a true story. He's excited it's a prize winner but then asks if I want it back. I assure him, no, that I got it for free. So amazing he counts the book, I didn’t finish, a treasure!

When next I stop to talk books, I don't hand him a dollar (I am short that day) and apologize. He brushes that off and asks if I can find some Nietzsche and Jung.  He’s intense, like asking for a serious drug.  I am surprised by a request and say I might have some at home. I talk about Jung's Universal consciousness and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, sharing that my grandfather showed me that book in high school, said it was important.  He nodded before returning to his latest read.

I return to my desk to plug other peoples’ books for my dollars, thinking about a person who wants to read everything. In Borges’ fiction, there’s a library containing every book ever to be written and a librarian outracing mortality. But my guy is not about quantity. Perhaps to find “truth” not the plural?  To me, who’s lost the quest, that's beyond value AND he was kind about my own book. 

He asked again about Nietzsche. I was sorry I couldn't find it but said I would look for my Jung. He said he had read ALL of Nietzsche  ,just wanted to own a copy but  could probably get it free online. I nod. The truth is I won’t look for my copy of Jung. I don’t know where it is but am fiercely affectionate about the content. It’s mine.

I am back to giving him my dollar, when I can. What value I get for it!