Tag Archives: history

Black and White World in Color

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Life magazine published quite a few color photos in the thirties. This one brings out the kitsch of Nazi German uniforms in a way black and white cannot.

All of us are used to thinking of the distant past in black and white. So much so that it comes as a shock when we suddenly see the world as it was, in color. This has become a bit of a fetish with me, I especially like recovering the color in washed out color photos from many decades ago. It is also a thrill to come across color video from a time we are accustomed to thinking of as black and white. Not long ago I harvested a batch of old color photos from the thirties. I was especially interested in the color photos from the Third Reich. We all have such an emotional reaction to that horrendous regime, and yet, if you are like me, you are also fascinated by it. The kitsch of the Third Reich, it’s overstated visual element is especially apparent when viewed in color. Black and white photos and movies place a distant between us and that time, whereas color helps to place us in that time. Color helps to bring out the gaudiness and kitsch of the Nazi era in the above photo. In the short film promoting the 1936 Olympics we obtain a glimpse in color of what the Third Reich truly looked like. Of course it is propaganda, and I am not promoting Nazism by posting this material. My point is to show the past in color instead of black and white in order to give the viewer a clearer view of how the past actually looked. Next I will show a less controversial choice, life in the good old USA in the thirties.

A Vermont family at the state fair in the 1930's

Shifting our attention to the United States, I have included a fascinating photo taken a the state fair in Vermont in the thirties. The Depression in particular is thought of in black and white terms and here we can get an idea of how the thirties looked. Take a look at the matching pink dresses, undoubtedly home made.

Here is a farm scene from the Great Depression in the thirties

This serves as a reminder that the past is but a continuation of the present, instead of a strange black and white world of it’s own. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 deserves it’s own post, but here is a short color film which takes you back to that time in a way black and white could never do, and then another video of that fair and other events in the US in the thirties, in color.

I am fairly certain that all of this material is in the public domain, except for the Life magazine photo.

The SF Armory

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From sfarmory.com The Armory as it appeared in the 1920's

In keeping with the post on the Golden Gate Bridge, I am posting about the SF Armory in light of the fact that I applied for a job as a tour guide. The Armory cannot and does not escape your attention as you walk down Mission or Valencia Streets. It is huge! It is a fortress out of a fairy tale. It looks dark and forbidding. You can only guess at the dark goings-on within those walls.  It was built in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, as a home for the National Guard. Not only was this a place to keep the massive naval guns, horses, and other ordinance, it had a splendid drill court where the men could practice close-order drill. But times changed and the needs for the armory changed with it. It became a place for the guard to relax, use the swimming pool. This huge, well equipped facility was an excellent recruiting tool for the Guard. In the thirties and forties it was used for dances and prize fights. It was even regarded as the Madison Square Garden of the West. However, after the Second World War and Korean conflicts, the National Guard saw a need for a modern armory, with more parking and a more suitable design for modern needs. However, plans to tear down the structure were fiercely resisted by the local people of the Mission. They succeeded in having the Armory granted landmark status in 1978. Although George Lucas used the drill court for some scenes in the first Star Wars movie, plans to convert the armory into a film studio fell through.  It seemed that no one could think of a good use for the massive structure, and in 1980 it was declared surplus property by San Francisco, and put up for sale. However various ideas over the years fell through. The cost of seismic refitting, and other renovations needed to bring the building up to code was too formidable for prospective buyers. At one point, someone considered using the building to house servers for the internet. There is a vision of Big Brother for you, computer servers buzzing away within a dark forbidding fortress. But that didn’t happen. Instead the building remained unused until 2007 when Armory Studios, LLC purchased the armory. It became the film studio, and office space for Kink.com, where the work is literally cutting edge. This website offers very high quality, high definition, video of some the most extreme sadomasochistic sexual fantasies you can find on the net. Needless to say, this has been the source of controversy. The armory was picketed by those who opposed this use, and didn’t want a porno film studio in their neighborhood. However, unlike the Power Exchange, which had operated at a location not far away from the armory for many years, this was not a sex club with patrons hanging about the entrance late at night. This was a professional studio and not a magnet for crime of any sort. Unless of course you consider the creation of pornography a crime in itself. Which I don’t. The Armory has had a colorful, eventful history. Personally, I would love to see it used for public events as well as a studio. I suspect Kink.com could find a way to do this if it so desired.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (taken from Wikipedia)

 The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of painters, poets, and critics formed in 1848. They wished to restore art and literature to a more spiritual form of expression, instead of the rather formal constraints of academic art. Certain simple conventions prevailed in art beginning with Raphael. There was a tendency to avoid ostentation or excessive realism in any form. The Pre-Raphaelite wanted to return to a style that sought to depict nature as accurately as possible with extreme detail, realism, and spectacular color. All of this was in the service of a more spiritual result. They were in the vanguard of the Romantic movement in the arts. The Brotherhood didn’t last that long, by the end of the 1860’s they had more or less gone their separate ways, but their work inspired the later Symbolists and eventually the Decadence movement. The primary artists within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Daniel Gabriel Rossetti. What I really like about these artists are how they depict the female form. They conveyed the magical quality of a woman’s face. There is a rich sensuality to their works due to the hyperrealism (my term. they were HD before the term existed). and vivid use of beautiful sexy colors. Beauty and sex are so closely related it is hard to separate the two. Sex is the desire to become one with the beautiful beloved, to merge together forming a new, uniquely beautiful and sexy being, and on it goes. From my perspective, art can serve a magical purpose, allowing the viewer to access parts of his or her self in ways not possible in any other way. Besides, it is awkward and rude to stare at a beautiful woman, however a painting of a beautiful woman can be stared at with delight, with no ill consequences. Alas, in some respects, all realistic art is pornographic. This is why realistic art was banned in the middle ages. I used to think they just didn’t have the skills, but no, the simple unrealistic forms are deliberate. Notice Rossetti’s use of the pomegranite (at least, I think that is what she’s holding). An unconscious association is made with the vagina. In the world of the pre-Raphaelite and even more so, the Symbolists and Decadents, objects and settings are symbols of other things or ideas. The paintings are a way of pointing to experiences that cannot be shown or heard, the spiritual realm if you will. It appeals to both my spiritual and perverse imaginations. There are many artists which have been considered Pre-Raphaelite who actually painted much later, such as John William Waterhouse, Gustave Moreau, These painters often used ancient myths and medieval tales as source material. Carl Jung would have said they were giving form to the universal archetypes of the collective unconscious. Freud would have said these paintings were a way of giving expression to their overflowing libido. They could both be right. All I know is that I can stare at these paintings for hours, lost in a reverie. For me, the experience is akin to the transformation of the senses which takes place when you fall in love. Everything becomes transformed, there is a special quality to the light, and the colors are magnificent when you are in love. I think that experience lies at the heart of pre-Raphaelite paintings. Then add a little Lord Byron, Shelley, or Yeats, and it is a veritable orgy of Romanticism. Perfect for young lovers!

Millais "Autumn Leaves" 1856

 Check out Proserpine by Rossetti above, do you see the hair? Rossetti could depict such rich, lush, hair better than anyone! You feel as though you could reach out and stroke her thick lovely hair. And the look within those dark eyes cannot be fully expressed. It depicts someone in deep thought, tinged with melancholy, and yet it is relatively subtle compared to the melodramatic style of the Symbolists. That is a useful distinction between the pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist. The Symbolist creates pure icons, divorced from that super realistic style of the pre-Raphaelite. The pre-Raphaelite uses nature itself to create that spiritual tipping point into blissful or perhaps mournful reverie. We have all had those pre-Raphaelite moments if you will, within our daily lives. Moments which are indelibly pressed into our consciousness. John Everett Millais, on the left, depicts what is for me an incredibly poignant scene, but not maudlin such as you might find in a Norman Rockwell print of the same kind of scene. Once again the effect is subtle but powerful. The light in this painting evokes autumn perfectly, and the expressions on the girl’s faces evoke a slight melancholy, but also pleasure. There is a hint of sadness even in the landscape. This is how autumn feels. Millais is a bit more conventional, not resorting to the hyper realism of Rossetti. You might say Millais preferred using more of a soft focus in his work. But I still can’t get over the exquisite use of color! One good thing about the internet age is the fact that you have entire art galleries at your fingertips. Of course it isn’t the same as having the paintings right in front of you, but at least you can access vast archives of paintings. I would encourage you to google these artists and see what you can find. Your computer monitor can serve as an imaginary light table bringing those paintings to life!

William Holman Hunt: Isabella and the pot of basil 1868

 Finally, for this post, I include one of the many wonderful paintings by William Holman Hunt. Look at the richness of detail and the sensual colors. It convinces me that ancient light was filled with delight. The face is a real face. This could easily be a HD digital photograph, the attention to strict realism is that good. Hunt’s women are voluptuous and invite lust as well as intellectual appreciation, Pre-Raphaelites delighted in the senses. They wanted us to see what they saw, touch what they touched, and feel what they felt. You feel as though you could reach out and hold that tablecloth in your hands! The pre-Raphaelites were not appreciated in their own time. They became very popular in the nineteen sixties drug culture because this kind of vivid realism and rich sensuality matches well the kind of languid eroticism produced by the ingestion of the best cannabis. I think the hippie subculture could also relate to the spirituality of these paintings. Spiritual eroticism! I suppose that could describe many of the pre-Raphaelite paintings. I will try to post more about the later Symbolist and Decadent schools of painting that owe a substantial debt to the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Golden Gate

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My City of Dreams Beckons Beyond The Golden Gate

Tomorrow I have a job interview with the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy. They need someone to manage their gift shop, where they sell hats, coffee mugs, books, posters, you name it, all in celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary. A new refurbished gift shop will be opening in April, and so they are in the process of hiring. For now, all these gift items can be purchased online, at http://www.goldengatebridgestore.org/store/ I have a strong retail background, but also know there will be considerable competition. Such is life. It would be fun to work there, though. The Golden Gate Bridge was one of the first things I checked out when I came here many years ago, and it did not disappoint. It stood there, in the bright sunshine, like a lady in red inviting us all into her boudoir. It is ironic that this magnificent bridge, which always lifts my spirits any time I glimpse it from a distance as I move about San Francisco, is also one of the primary places to commit suicide. Given that it feels like a portal to another world, I guess that’s appropriate.

She stands there like a lady in red inviting us into her boudoir

Construction began on January 5, 1933. Herbert Hoover was finishing out his last days in office. Automobiles had become the primary mode of transportation in America, and Highway 1 could promise breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. However, the route was interrupted in San Francisco. Clearly bridges were needed on both sides of the bay. And so both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges were built. They were a symbol of the modern era of freeways and a sign that San Francisco was no longer the rough and ready home of pirates and prospectors, but a modern, hip city, festooned in fancy Art Deco skyscrapers. The Golden Gate Bridge was the ultimate Art Deco icon. The people of San Francisco persuaded the architect, Irving Morrow, to leave the International Orange color of the sealant he had been using, and paint the entire bridge that color. It actually seems more red than orange to my eyes, and what could be more appropriate for San Francisco? Brazen. Bold. and Sexy. The bridge was completed in April 1937. Franklin Roosevelt was busy trying to lift us out of the Great Depression, Adolf Hitler had come to power and was rearming Germany at a breakneck pace. A civil war had begun in Spain. Japan was on the move in Manchuria and was at war with China. The bridge came into being in a dark time, as a beacon of better times ahead.

The Golden Gate Bridge sported the latest in suspension technology, enabling it to withstand strong winds. At 4,200 feet, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, until 1964. Today eight other bridges are longer. However, it still remains the second longest in the US, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City being the longest. I recall with pleasure the several times I walked the length of the bridge, gazing at San Francisco to my right, and the endless Pacific to my left. San Francisco, from a distance, appears like a imaginary city in a child’s book. A place where wonderful things happen. Is it really a coincidence that both Dorothy’s slippers and the Golden Gate are red? I am sure that I saw the Bridge with a child’s eyes on that sunny day so long ago, when San Francisco was an adventure, instead of a familiar and rather unadventurous home.

The Golden Gate Bridge has had more suicides than any other bridge in the world. Eric Steel captured 23 of them for his documentary The Bridge. We know the statistics, but it doesn’t really tell the story. San Francisco has a harsh beauty, unforgiving. The wild waves crashing along the ragged coastline speaks of a natural world filled with violence. A human being can seem very small. The views are awe-inspiring and beautiful but it has a bit of an edge to it. Another reason the bridge is red. It feels right somehow to leap to your death from the symbol of dreams, when your own dreams have been dashed. But this is sheer speculation. I do not encourage anyone to take that step. It is not a quick and easy death. Those who survived the leap can tell you about the agony and the cold and the fear. This is not a fun, romantic way to die. And so the Golden Gate frightens and thrills me at the same time.

Blogs are antiquated

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That was what I heard tonight at a meeting at the San Francisco Library regarding blogs, social media, and our communities. It was very poorly attended which surprised me. There were a lot of chairs and only about an eighth of them were filled, about 15 people. I’m not sure if this reflects a lack of interest in blogs, social media, or the local community. Some guy in the audience observed that blogs are going out of style, that the future belongs to Facebook. Who bothers with blogs anymore? Well, I do, and I am not particularly fond of Facebook, in spite of the fact that I am on it. I think that is true of a lot of people that are on Facebook. So I think that guy has it wrong. Facebook is antiquated. It is a totally profit driven, ad driven machine which intrudes into our lives, whereas blogs are an opportunity to express ourselves more fully, and honestly, than Facebook can easily facilitate. Facebook is People magazine, blogs are The New Yorker. At least that is how I see it. I wish I had said it at the meeting. Only myself and another person, from the audience, stepped up to the microphone to say what we were doing blogwise in our community. I was enthusiastic and ignored the strong wind and sagebrush rolling through the room. I mentioned that it felt very strange to be having more of a conversation with somebody in Wales than the people living across the hall from me.  But the friend I went with commented on the walk home, that it didn’t bother him at all that our most significant relationships in the future will likely be online. I imagine myself lying in a tube, hooked up to a machine, experiencing everything virtually, like in the Matrix. No thanks.

The meeting was interesting otherwise. Some people who had nonprofit blogs related to San Francisco were there. One was http://www.outsidelands.org which compiles photos and video about San Francisco history. It looked like a very fun website, fulfilling a good purpose. These guys did all this work getting this archival material on the web, without getting paid for their efforts. So much for my hope that I might get a job doing this sort of thing. I see a tremendous need to get the mountain of historical material sitting in people’s attics onto the web. This is a window onto the past which remains unmined, and we may lose it forever. I would like to see a linkup between cities, towns, and even countries to make this material easily available. Given that I love history, it would be an exciting project. But I need an income at the moment. I don’t really want to be a homeless volunteer. The other website represented on the panel was richmondsfblog.com which focuses on the San Francisco Richmond District, it’s history and it’s present. They talked about how they use Facebook and Twitter to increase traffic to their sites. I was still wondering how the organizers of this event could have increased the traffic to this physical in-the-real-world site. I was honestly surprised that in a major city like SF a meeting about blogs and social media would have such a low turnout. Are these topics that boring? Maybe if they had advertised that there would be cute kittens at the meeting, it would have made a difference.

There are all kinds of ways that bloggers can bring the events of their community to the attention of the world, or at least to the members of their community. But nobody seems to care all that much. I would like to find ways to connect with the people in my own neighborhood. There are times when we might just need one another and some guy on the web living half way around the world isn’t going to be able to check on you after you have gotten home from the hospital, or let you know there is a help wanted sign in the window of a local business. I eagerly offered some suggestions at the meeting, but afterward no one approached me about anything. Of course, as anti-social as I am, I mingled for about three seconds before leaving. I am not a mingler. I know that is very ironic, I knock myself out online sharing myself and can’t have a conversation in the flesh. What is wrong with me????

Nevertheless, there are all kinds of opportunies with blogs and social media which haven’t been explored. So, let’s brainstorm people!! We can do better than Facebook if we put our minds to it. And let’s see if we can leave our computers long enough to actually meet some flesh and blood people and engage in some 3-D social media, otherwise called ‘real life’.

In parting, I would like to share some interesting media regarding San Francisco history, as an adjunct to the previous post on the city. This is color footage of SF in 1940 courtesy of glbthistory.org

The Truth About Evil

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This post is an extension of the previous post about Hitler. I sat here and thought about how many other examples of genocide there are in recent history. Just today, I read about how Turkey is upset over a French law. That law makes it a crime to doubt that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians. One nation’s genocide is another’s political necessity. I do not for a moment justify what Turkey did, but they are not alone. How can we look at what the United States did to the native American population, and not consider it genocide? Were we fully justified in what we did to the Vietnamese people? Were the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki necessary? Or the bombing of Dresden? These are sticky questions. While many would consider these actions as acts of war, can we apply a different morality when fighting a war? Doesn’t the degradation of Afghans and Iraqis remind you a little of the Nazi attitude towards Jews and Slavs?

It seems to me that Nazi Germany has been set aside as especially evil. That special status serves as a smoke screen obscuring the horrific behavior of other, supposedly more civilized nations. Why is it that we hear so much about the Holocaust, and so little about the slaughter of the Armenians, or Stalin’s mass killing of his own people? We don’t hear as much about Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the systematic slaughter of the black Sudanese. While we do hear about it, it isn’t given the moral urgency of the Nazi Holocaust. The truth of the matter is that holocaust’s occur far too often, and evil by no means ended with the death of Adolf Hitler. Rather than isolating Hitler and the Nazi regime as somehow unique, we need to see how it typifies the arrogant disregard for all human values, when it serves the ‘national interest’. Perhaps Hitler pervades our consciousness even today, because he is us. He is the dark mirror revealing our shadow selves.

The lesson of Nazi Germany is how easily a nation can blind itself into believing the most outrageous nonsense. It is important to remember that the Nazis saw themselves as victims, rather than aggressors. They believed Germany was being enslaved by an international Jewish conspiracy, and that they had to strike out in order to defeat that conspiracy, and even just to survive. This seems crazy to us, but is it any less crazy than the rationales used by the Soviet Union to justify genocide, or the motivations of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban? Or even the motivations which led us to invade Iraq?  It is uncertain how much of the Nazi propaganda Hitler actually believed, but by the end of his life, he believed most of it. Not that I am comparing Hitler to Newt Gingrich, Gingrich is not a mass-murderer, at least not yet. But, like Hitler, I don’t think Newt Gingrich believes his own propaganda, but if he becomes more powerful he may begin to believe. That would not be a good thing for America. Nazi Germany was not more evil than many other nations in history who slaughtered with impunity.

As bad as Hitler?

Hitler haunts us

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He haunts us still

On this dreary, drizzly, day in San Francisco, as I contemplate not meeting my rent, my thoughts turn to Hitler. Hitler spent about ten years as a homeless, or nearly homeless young man, in the slums of Vienna. While I do not identify with Hitler, I have nevertheless been fascinated by this horrible man. I am not alone. Sixty seven years after his suicide, he can be seen in movies, on tv, in books and magazines, and on youTube ranting about any topic you desire. Like Elvis, Hitler is everywhere, and in everything. He cast a horrible spell over mankind which has yet to dissipate, hard times attract his vengeful ghost, for he was shaped by harsh circumstances. He was able to place his mark upon the world, by sheer force of will. Unlike Hitler, I do not blame anyone for my circumstances, except perhaps myself. Historians have speculated that Hitler’s years as a tramp gave rise to his anti-Semitism. Is it true that extreme conditions can lead to extreme thinking? Yet I feel that historians have yet to get a grasp on Adolf Hitler. Even though there have been an enormous library of books about Hitler, the Nazis, or the Third Reich. In many respects, Hitler remains an enigma.

Hitler played the German people like a violin. He understood the yearning for a perfect state, with a perfect people. No more immorality, no more sickness, no more ugliness. A nation superior to all others, destined to rule over all others. Germany had descended into an ugly hellhole. Almost everyone was destitute, sick, and doing whatever they could to survive. Criminal behavior ran rampant in the urban areas. Hitler stood for a spiritual cleansing of society. He would create a sparkling clean, strong, vibrant Germany. Whereas the Nazis celebrated a supreme intolerance, the Jews had a more accepting, forgiving, tolerant attitude. The Jews understood human nature. Hitler despised human nature, and wished to create a new human. This human would be cruel, unforgiving, and the master of the universe. We are still mesmerized by that vision. It is appealing at times, to be uncaring. It is so much simpler, tidier, cleaner, than the messy business of loving each other and accepting our flawed humanity.

Yet Hitler stands apart from the nightmare he created. It is puzzling and disturbing that he characterized his role in history as that of a sleepwalker. He went about his horrific destiny with a strange detachment, claiming he only wanted to be a painter. Of course, I wonder how much of that is propaganda. He did not agree with the Nordic fantasies of Heinrich Himmler and the SS. He purposely modeled the Nazi party after the Catholic Church and the Masons. The Nazis tried to put an end to smoking, at least among their own ranks, to no avail. They championed a holistic lifestyle, filled with wholesome exercise and herbs. They gave us the Volkswagen. And the Holocaust. It is impossible to really get my head around what happened. I can react in revulsion to the meaningless death of an innocent Jew, but when it becomes millions, it becomes statistical. I suspect the same may have been true for Hitler as well. When a female admirer, visiting Berchtesgaden mentioned the treatment of the Jews to Hitler, he stormed out of the room, refusing to speak about it. He undoubtedly dealt with it in the abstract. But it is impossible to know. He declared in a speech in 1939, that he would eliminate the Jews if Germany went to war again. He referred back to that speech several times in meetings. So it is clear that he approved. The extent of his involvement beyond that approval is unclear.

In any case, the swastika still flies, in every bookstore, video store, comic book stand, and on the internet. It seems larger than history. We need to free ourselves of this dark enchantment, in order to become fully compassionate, and fully human. Ironically, the constant reminder of what happened, also keeps that dark dream alive. While we must not forget, we must also refuse to be tantalized and enchanted.