Monthly Archives: October 2016

How Does Christoph Niemann Make Art Look Effortless? With A Lot Of Work


In his regular work, Christoph Niemann starts with a punch line and works backwards. But in his Sunday Sketching series, he does the opposite: “I begin by picking a starting position — a random object and the limits of a brush-and-ink drawing — and see where the story takes me,” he writes.

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams


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Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

In his regular work, Christoph Niemann starts with a punch line and works backwards. But in his Sunday Sketching series, he does the opposite: “I begin by picking a starting position — a random object and the limits of a brush-and-ink drawing — and see where the story takes me,” he writes.

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

A couple years ago, artist and illustrator Christoph Niemann felt like he needed to shake things up. “When you do any kind of creative job for a while, you become better …” he says, “but I think you always become a little bit more predictable.”

Niemann was plenty successful — his work appears in the New Yorker and he had a regular Sunday column in The New York Times Magazine. But he wanted to get out of his routine, so he decided to start a project called Sunday Sketching. Each week he took an object — say, a paperclip or a bunch of bananas — set that object on a sheet of paper and incorporated it into a sketch.

The bananas became the hindquarters of a horse. The paperclip became a beach chair. Half an avocado became a baseball glove at the end of an outstretched arm, with the pit landing in the center as the ball.

These drawings are whimsical and surprising, and Niemann has collected them along with more of his work in a new book called Sunday Sketching.

In one drawing, Niemann turns a tangled pair of Apple headphones into a mosquito. Inspiration for that one didn’t come easily: “They’re just like weird random white wires … they looked like nothing,” he tells NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

Because Niemann usually knows where he’s going with a drawing, he rarely laughs at his own visual jokes. But this sketch was different: “In this case it was like: Oh, wow, this actually looks like a mosquito,” he recalls. “And that moment was fun.”

Sunday Sketching is “an exercise in seeing,” Niemann writes. “The greatest challenge is freeing myself from the actual function of the object.”

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams


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Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

Sunday Sketching is “an exercise in seeing,” Niemann writes. “The greatest challenge is freeing myself from the actual function of the object.”

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

Interview Highlights

On his wife’s wedding shoe, which he turned into a shark, reminiscent of the famous Jaws poster

The way I’ve been doing these is: I always started with an object with absolutely no idea of what the outcome would be. And so, in retrospect, I hope the drawing makes sense and might even look somewhat inevitable. But the actual genesis of an image like that is: I stare at a shoe and hope that something happens.

Niemann borrowed the shoes his wife wore at their wedding for one Sunday Sketch.

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams


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Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

Niemann borrowed the shoes his wife wore at their wedding for one Sunday Sketch.

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

On the unsexy part of the process

The bolt of inspiration is what the reader is supposed to feel when they look at the drawing. What creates that moment is 100 very boring, unsexy steps — you know, move the line a little further to the left; draw a dog instead of a cat; … draw a chair instead of a table.

On how inspiration is not linear

I sometimes get from clients: Oh, can we just see sketches? We just want to follow your process. This implies you start at zero, and let’s say an idea is 100. This implies that halfway through you would be at 50. In reality, you go from zero to minus 250 and then you go to 17,000 and then you go to R. And then you end at 100. If you would have shared it with people they would be utterly confused. I think it’s very important to accept that this is not a linear process.

Niemann says that he prides himself on having “a high threshold when it comes to creative pain.”

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams


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Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

Niemann says that he prides himself on having “a high threshold when it comes to creative pain.”

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

On learning to embrace creative discomfort

Often I find to get to an interesting point with the work you need friction. You need this moment of unease, of like, emotional dissatisfaction. By default this is a moment of discomfort. …

When you [go for a] run, you know that you’ll be sweating and you’ll be exhausted. And once you accept that, there’s other parts that you can enjoy. And what I found with these drawings is when you accept that when you give up control and you really throw yourself into the uncertainty there’s actually another level of work that can be very satisfying.

Niemann created this image for the cover of the 20th issue of American Illustration in 2001.

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams


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Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

Niemann created this image for the cover of the 20th issue of American Illustration in 2001.

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

On why he tries not to let social media dictate his work

The whole algorithm is really geared to a certain kind of quick: “Ha ha ha ha.” So it’s like an endless two-second joke. It’s … like a bag of Pringles which would taste great and … after you’ve eaten two packs you just feel terrible. And then, of course, you have the vanity. You want people to like something. And I think it’s so important to fight that impulse and to not let the number of likes and followers dictate where you’re going.

On how people who see his visual puns may not appreciate the hours that went into creating them

You can’t have people like the work that you create and also be in awe of how hard it is to do it. The one thing that I sometimes take somewhat offense to — and I know it’s a figure of speech but — this idea of talent. When people say: Oh, you’re so talented. I could never do that.

I always feel like: No. When you listen to a pianist playing a Beethoven sonata … you would never say: Oh, I couldn’t do that [because of talent. It’s] because, well, you didn’t sit down for 10,000 hours and practice. It’s all about sitting down and the time you spend at your desk.

Niemann writes that when he looks at the work he’s currently doing, it’s rooted in previous silly experiments from the past. That made him think: “Wouldn’t it be prudent to set aside a sizable chunk of quality time to experiment today?”

Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams


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Christoph Niemann/Sunday Sketching/Courtesy of Abrams

With GPS And Graph Paper, Farmers Find A-maze-ing Ways To Bring In Cash


The theme of Mike’s Maze this year is “See America,” which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Will Sillin/NPR


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Will Sillin/NPR

The theme of Mike’s Maze this year is “See America,” which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Will Sillin/NPR

In the small town of Sunderland, Mass., is a 300-year-old, family-run plot of land that fuses fine art and farming.

Mike Wissemann’s 8-acre corn field maze is a feat of ingenuity, with carefully planned and executed stalk-formed replicas of the Mona Lisa, Albert Einstein or Salvador Dali.

But how do those pictures come to life? Maybe you remember Skill-o-Gram puzzles, in which the clues are squares that have labels like A-4 or F-5, each one holding part of the design. When those parts are copied into a blank grid, they create a whole picture.

Corn is also planted on a grid. By breaking the field into squares on paper or computer, each one holding a piece of the picture, and scaling up, you’ve got a blueprint. But in a corn field, the picture is pixelated, so it’s kind of like creating a giant half-tone photo, using the density of the corn to make the image darker or lighter.

Charles Darwin and his evolutionary finches were the theme of Mike’s Maze from 2009.

Will Sillin


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Will Sillin

Charles Darwin and his evolutionary finches were the theme of Mike’s Maze from 2009.

Will Sillin

For the past 17 years, Wissemann’s family and landscape artist Will Sillin have used arithmetic as well as the tools and technology available to them. In 2000, that was graph paper and an ATV equipped with a GPS that was not very accurate. But now, a GPS-equipped mower can zoom in on a single stalk within an inch. Add in a drone and you’ve got yourself an elaborate maze.

Wissemann’s daughter-in-law, Jess, has designed the maze for the past two years. She studied art history in college and likes to use that background when she creates her designs in Adobe Illustrator. She sends that design, scaled to the Wissemann’s corn field, to Rob Stouffer, who owns “Precision Mazes,” based in Missouri. Stouffer cuts mazes all over America.

“He plots it in his tractor’s GPS system. The design is overlaid on his screen. So as he moves through the field, the cutters can track where he is,” says Jess. “It doesn’t actually guide him, though. He still has to navigate to make sure he’s really precise.”

The tractor has reduced the time it takes to cut a maze from a month to a single day. But even new, high-tech equipment has its limits, the biggest one being that the mower can cut no narrower than 5 feet.

“If I want to do any really detailed areas, I have to keep in mind that I’m the one that’s going to have to go out there and cut down the stalks by hand,” says Jess.

Mike’s Maze from 2005 was an homage to Albert Einstein and his spiral galaxy.

Will Sillin


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Will Sillin

Mike’s Maze from 2005 was an homage to Albert Einstein and his spiral galaxy.

Will Sillin

Which she does. She grabs hold of a stalk and starts shaking. A drone sends that video to her on the ground in real time, so she can zero in on which stalks need cutting to form the most accurate picture. This technique allows her to use special fonts or to hone in on the pupil of an eye.

Even one stalk can make a difference. “The mazes that have lettering in them, if you take out a stalk, there’s going to be a gap,” Jess says. “So I go stalk by stalk: Is this the right one to pull out?”

The Wissemanns use non-GMO seed corn, which is used to feed animals. When the field is harvested in November, the family also uses their crop to feed the corn furnace that heats their farm’s greenhouse.

During harvest, the maze gets chewed up by the combine, which separates the ears of corn from the stalks.

Isn’t it painful to watch such a masterpiece get razed? “I don’t worry about it too much,” says Jess. “If I were worried, I wouldn’t want anyone to walk through it, because we have more than 25,000 people every year, and they are really the ones that destroy it.”

But they sure have fun when they do. The maze supplies about a third of the farm’s income.

Inspired by cute images on the Internet, Angie Treinen designed a maze full of unicorns, kittens, narwhals and rainbows.

Courtesy of Treinen Farm


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Courtesy of Treinen Farm

Inspired by cute images on the Internet, Angie Treinen designed a maze full of unicorns, kittens, narwhals and rainbows.

Courtesy of Treinen Farm

“We farm 150 acres, and the maze is only 8 acres. So the return per acre of the maze is pretty phenomenal,” Jess says. “It’s been a crucial way to diversify our farm.”

This year’s maze is called “See America” and commemorates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The image shows water and steam bursting from Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser and morphing into the face of Teddy Roosevelt, who created five national parks. The design is based on Works Progress Administration posters from the 1930s and ’40s.

At Treinen farm in Lodi, Wisc., the maze’s theme and method is much different. Designer Angie Treinen was inspired this year by all of the cute things she found on the Internet: ninja kittens, cupcakes with faces, unicorns, narwhals and rainbows. Her style is based on the Japanese art style known as “Kawaii,” which means “cute.”

Treinen’s is a century-old, family-run farm. About 15 of the farm’s 20 acres are devoted to the corn maze. Here, maze cutting is still designed and executed the old-fashioned way, by using a lot of graph paper and elbow grease.

The Treinens do not use GPS or a professional maze cutter.

Treinen Farm brought Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” to life in its 2012 corn maze.

Courtesy of Treinen Farm


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Courtesy of Treinen Farm

Treinen Farm brought Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” to life in its 2012 corn maze.

Courtesy of Treinen Farm

“We’re always afraid that if we made the jump to using GPS technology, that our complex designs would not be as accurate as we wanted them to be,” says Treinen. “And like many small businesses, we can only afford to do everything ourselves,” she adds.

The Treinens enlist the help of family and hire kids from the local high school to carve about 5 miles of trails into the corn. The process takes about three days, usually during the hottest part of June.

Treinen’s husband, Alan, plants the corn in rows about 30 inches apart in both directions to make a grid. “I put a grid overlay on the design that corresponds to the field,” says Treinen, who creates her images on the computer. “Each square on my plan is 15 feet in the field.”

The cutting crew then stakes the field. “Once it’s ready, you can count the stakes and flags and rows, and find where you are in the field relative to the design on the page at any point. It’s really just counting: I’m this many rows in and I’m this many feet in … so I must be at this point,” Trienen says.

The maze can be cut as soon as the corn plants are visible, even if they’re only 3-inches high. Corn grows fast in June, and by the time it’s knee-high, the leaves have spread out so much that the rows are covered. When the corn is short, the cutters are able to look across the field like a surveyor.

“They’re literally marking with spray paint on the dirt or the corn plant,” Trienen says. “They’re not even cutting the actual stalks of the corn, they’re marking a trail. We till that corn out. Then the maze just grows up.”

The maze-cutting in Lodi has become a tradition in the community.

Treinen Farm’s 2013 Kraken maze was full of lots of “tenterrific” places to get lost.

Courtesy of Treinen Farm


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Courtesy of Treinen Farm

Treinen Farm’s 2013 Kraken maze was full of lots of “tenterrific” places to get lost.

Courtesy of Treinen Farm

“This year, the maze was cut mostly by teenagers, and some kids as young as 12 or 13. The lead cutter is a little bit older; it’s his responsibility to make sure each trail is where it needs to be. I’m amazed at how good a job these really young people do,” Treinen says.

Unlike the Wissemanns, the Treinens use genetically modified corn. “It reduces the amount of pesticides that we would need to spray to keep the corn healthy,” Treinen says. “And we need corn that is not going to fall down. We’re using a variety of corn that has really good stalk strength and standing power, and that comes from the genes that it has in it.” The Treinens also like the corn to stay green for as long as possible, because they feel the bushiness contributes to a good maze.

In November, they harvest the corn and sell it to local farmers or on the commodities market.

The Treinens farm makes 90 percent of its income from agro-tourism: the maze, the pumpkin patch and hay rides. It is a working farm, but a small one that grows just corn, soybeans and hay.

“The land we have is not nearly enough to support a family on if we were just growing crops,” Treinen says. “Agro-tourism has allowed us to keep the farm viable.”

Mazes, first called labyrinths, date back 4,000 years and were used for rituals and processions instead of entertainment. Throughout the centuries, mazes began to appear in gardens of castles and wealthy estates. They evolved into a game in which people would try to find their way into the center and back out again.

It was only a matter of time before someone thought of adapting that idea to a corn field. That person was Don Frantz. On a cross-country flight, he looked down over the farms of the Midwest and saw crops planted in perfect, amazing contoured lines. What would it take to transfer the concept of an English garden maze into something uniquely American, using a field of corn?

In 1993, Frantz launched the first modern corn maze, designed just for fun: the dinosaur-shaped “Amazing Maize Maze,” in Annville, Penn. His concept was successful.

And while technology continues to transform the art of maze-cutting, the idea itself remains firmly planted: Wandering through a corn maze has become one of America’s favorite autumn rituals.

3 Romances To Light Up Your Diwali


If you’re wondering why holiday lights have already gone up in some of the homes in your neighborhood, the answer is probably Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Like all holidays, it’s a time of love, family, and food. A time when the Indian American community comes together to satisfy all the stereotypes in one fell swoop — sparkly silks and heirloom jewelry, syrupy sweets and deep-fried savories, all that decadence only a tad bit heavier than our nostalgia.

When I decided that this post had to be about Indian romance novels — because ’tis the season and all that — I was, in equal parts, eager for and terrified of all the usual trappings that go with fiction populated by immigrants. I’m happy to report that none of the protagonists I encountered were in the least bit concerned with immigrant angst, an overwhelmingly popular theme in Indian-American fiction.

What I was gratified to find instead were characters who struggled with familial expectation, in my opinion a much more universal concern in a community that puts family above almost everything else.

In Alisha Rai’s Serving Pleasure, Rana Malik is the oldest of three sisters tasked with running their family’s Indian restaurant. Despite the fact that Rana has worked hard since her father’s death to help her mother run the business, she sees herself as the errant daughter and struggles to become the kind of woman her mother could be proud of. Her sense of failure comes from two things: Rana isn’t interested in academic success, and Rana enjoys her sexuality. A lot.

I don’t read much erotic romance, not because I don’t enjoy it but because I really love it when it’s done well and I believe it is one of the harder (ahem) subgenres to do well. To me, all romance is about vulnerability — about characters who lay themselves bare until they have nowhere to hide from the things that keep them from happiness. The sex is really an exploration into self. Erotic romance gets to do this without curtains and veils, which makes it trickier to keep the self intertwined with the body and to keep the emotions buzzing as much as the arousal.

Serving Pleasure is exactly everything erotic romance should be — intensely sensual, achingly emotional, and firmly rooted in character. As Rana is endeavoring to smother her inner bad girl and find herself a suitable man who will finally make her worthy of her mother’s approval, along comes Micah Hale, an English artist unable to move on after a violent attack. The nakedness of his pain stirs a deep attraction within her, throwing a serious wrench in her plans to reinvent herself to fit her family’s expectations.

Spice and Secrets

Bollywood Confidential, Book 2

by Suleikha Snyder

Digital Download, 137 pp. |

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Everything about this book feels deeply personal. Rai lets herself inside the places she’s exploring. She pushes at what an artist does when creating art. She weighs why we create what we do and what our choices make us, not only because of what we choose but because of why, and she places it all in the context of family which is the blueprint of our capacity for love. For all its sensual power, this is an utterly sweet and smart book.

Suleikha Snyder’s Spice and Secrets also explores the good girl/bad girl dichotomy that despite its universality seems to find an overt form in Indian culture. Spice and Secrets is set in Mumbai, my hometown, and it captures the texture of the city’s showbiz culture with all its glamorous sense of privilege. Priya Roy is an outsider to the Bollywood scene who is trying to break in for the second time. Despite a successful debut as a leading lady six years ago, she was forced to return to her own hometown of Calcutta, because listening to her heart didn’t work out too well for her. Now she’s back, all her good girl softness replaced with the “rocking body” of the vampy bad girl. How hard Priya works for her second chance, for the hard body that will hide her vulnerability, makes for delicious metaphor.

Ironically enough, the man who caused her downfall all those years ago still sees her the way she has always wanted to be seen, as the woman inside the body. But too many misunderstandings, secrets, and betrayals stand in their way. For a shorter book, this is a complex story with several stories intertwining; Snyder manages to make all the characters feel remarkably well fleshed out. The story has the texture of a Hindi TV serial (the Bollywood version of a telenovela) and it gave me a sense of flipping through the pages of the movie magazines I grew up reading.

The Second Wife


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Kishan Paul’s The Second Wife is more suspense-thriller than romance: Philadelphia therapist Alisha Dimarchi and her husband David have worked hard for their idyllic marriage and their beautiful life. Then one day, Alisha is kidnapped by a madman and taken to Pakistan. For two years she is imprisoned in the monster’s home as the “second wife” of the title, and subjected to unspeakable horrors; meanwhile David struggles to accept her disappearance and move on. When she finally gets a message to him, he enlists the help of a mercenary and goes to Pakistan to rescue her — as she fights the circumstances that slowly and brutally chip away not just her strength, but her very humanity.

Paul places the violence in direct contrast to Alisha’s Indian family, who have taken David deeply into their hearts, and who serve as his strength while he copes with her disappearance. This book goes to dark places but the healing interactions between all the people who love Alisha are achingly tender and the heart of the story.

In the end all three books are firmly rooted in culture, but not in conflict with it — and feature women who are concerned with growth and survival and sexuality, all narratives I will gladly take. Because the stereotypes, I’ll save those for my Diwali celebrations.

Award winning author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after. Visit her at sonalidev.com.

Photography Writ Large: The Monumental Art Of Thomas Struth


Thomas Struth is known for large photographs of people looking at paintings, sculptures and art in museums. In Museo del Prado 7, Madrid 2005, a school group sketches Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas.

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker


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Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

Thomas Struth is known for large photographs of people looking at paintings, sculptures and art in museums. In Museo del Prado 7, Madrid 2005, a school group sketches Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas.

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

A big blue rooster has appeared on top of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It’s part of the museum’s renovated East Building, which recently opened to the public with several new exhibitions — including a handful of pictures by the highly regarded German art photographer Thomas Struth.

The pictures belong to Robert Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, a couple who began collecting photographs nine years ago. Their very first purchase — Struth’s Alte Pinakothek, Self-Portrait, Munich 2000 — is now hanging in an East Building gallery. In it, Struth is seen out of focus and from behind, inspecting a self-portrait by German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer. Struth shot the photo so that Dürer’s painting looks life-size.

Albrecht Durer painted his self-portrait in 1500, so Struth’s Alte Pinakothek, Self-Portrait, Munich 2000 feels like a conversation between artists across 500 years.

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker


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Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

Albrecht Durer painted his self-portrait in 1500, so Struth’s Alte Pinakothek, Self-Portrait, Munich 2000 feels like a conversation between artists across 500 years.

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

Becker always loved Dürer’s self-portrait. She says that when she saw Struth’s double self-portrait, “I was so fascinated by the idea that someone was doing what I had just done. This wasn’t a photograph of the Dürer; it was a photograph of … someone looking at a great work of art.”

She shared the experience with Meyerhoff, who was already a major collector. As Becker remembers it, “[He] was the one who said, ‘It would be fun to see if we could get that.’ “

Struth is known for large pictures of people looking at paintings, sculptures and art in museums. He also makes massive architectural images. His photo of the facade of Notre Dame — part of the Meyerhoff-Becker collection — is 6 feet by 8 feet, the largest photographic paper Kodak makes. In it, the looming cathedral fills the photo space, and visitors below are as small as the sculptures that adorn it. It’s as if the photo was taken from the high window of a tall building across the way — but there’s no tall building there. For the elevated, head-on perspective he wanted, the photographer needed a place to stand with his big, 8-by-10-view camera. So he ordered a very tall, moveable platform. “It came on a gigantic truck on a Saturday morning at 7 o’clock,” Struth says.

He had to remove the platform every evening, and take it back to the front of the cathedral every morning. He also had to ask a souvenir hawker to move his wares so as not to get in the picture. “He said, ‘Well that makes like 500 euros less profit on one day,’ ” Struth remembers. “So we paid him some money to move it.”

Tourists appear to be the same size as the sculptures that adorn the cathedral in Struth’s Notre Dame, Paris 2000.

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker


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Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

Tourists appear to be the same size as the sculptures that adorn the cathedral in Struth’s Notre Dame, Paris 2000.

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

The photographer then waited for just the right number of tourists to walk by. In the enormous photo, not one tourist is blurred. It took two days to get the image he wanted — some 120 shots.

Struth spent considerably less time making another photo in the Meyerhoff-Becker collection. It’s very different from his architectural and museum work, and much less dramatic. A curator at the National Gallery in London wanted to commission him to photograph Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It wasn’t exactly his style, so the photographer spent days making pro and con lists. Con: He could fail, and that would be bad. Pro (but also sort of con): “If it succeeds, then I have to talk about it all the time,” he says.

So Struth set some conditions. First, he would pick the dress — nothing fancy, no fur-trimmed robe, no crown. He chose a simple pale blue, silk dress, a small pin on the shoulder and black patent pumps. Three weeks before the shoot, he scoped out Windsor Castle and picked a room with gold trim, chandeliers and a rich green brocaded love seat that he angled back so a bright natural light made the queen more prominent.

Struth photographed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 2011. “They were actually quite nice together,” he says of the experience. (Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh, Windsor Castle 2011)

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker


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Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

Struth photographed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 2011. “They were actually quite nice together,” he says of the experience. (Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh, Windsor Castle 2011)

Thomas Struth/Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art from the Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

The royals sit facing the camera. Her expression is pleasant; his stare is intent. “He’s like an old eagle,” Struth says of Prince Philip. Struth took 17 photographs in 25 minutes.

“They were actually quite nice together,” the photographer recalls. “While I was dealing with the camera and stuff like that in between, they were talking to one another and I thought, They’re great. I like them.

To collectors Meyerhoff and Becker, they look like a fairly ordinary suburban couple in a fancy room — the kind of couple you could have “over for a Johnny Walker Black.”

In addition to Struth’s work, Rheda Becker and Robert Meyerhoff’s photography collection includes pieces by Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Catherine Opie and John Baldessari. All those contemporary photographers, and more, are on display in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art until early March.

Director Werner Herzog: ‘You Can Throw Anything At Me’




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, it’s time for another installment in our series My Big Break. That’s where we hear about pivotal moments in the lives of accomplished people. And normally when we say that we mean some chance meeting or opportunity that led to a breakthrough. But when we ask German filmmaker Werner Herzog about his big break, he took it in a direction all his own.

WERNER HERZOG: I do not break. You can throw anything at me and the worse it gets, the more instantaneously I will tackle the problem.

MARTIN: Which isn’t to say that he hasn’t had defining moments on the path to international renown. We’ll get to some of those in a minute. But he credits his success to the way he’s lived his life following his curiosity.

HERZOG: Truth is I never had a career so to speak. I was just always somehow fascinated or haunted by ideas that are ferociously swinging at me like burglars in the night.

MARTIN: That may be how Herzog has been able to work at such a feverish pace for more than five decades to translate those ideas coming at him onto the screen, often releasing two or three movies a year that on the surface seemed to have little in common, such as the feature film “Aguirre, Wrath Of God” about a power hungry conquistador or the documentary “Grizzly Man” about a bear enthusiast who lived among the bears of Alaska until he was mauled to death. And Herzog’s latest film out this week on Netflix is a documentary called “Into The Inferno.” It’s about volcanoes around the world, but as with any Herzog film, it’s really about much more than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “INTO THE INFERNO”)

HERZOG: It is hard to take your eyes off the fire that burns deep under our feet. It is a fire that wants to burst forth and it could not care less about what we are doing up here.

MARTIN: While Herzog maintains he’s not defined by any one moment, the road to his incredible resume of more than 70 films was set in motion decades ago. As a Bavarian schoolboy in the 1950s, he had no idea what a movie even was.

HERZOG: I grew up in a very remote mountain village in the Bavarian Alps. My first contact with the cinema came when I was 11 at this little schoolhouse. It was actually one classroom. And one day a traveling projectionist arrived and put up a screen and showed two films.

They didn’t impress me at all. They were pretty lousy, but later when I moved to the big city to Munich for high school, I would see “Tarzan” and “Zorro.”

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “ZORRO”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) Out of the night when the full moon is bright comes a horse known as Zorro.

HERZOG: And “Dr. Fu Manchu.”

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DR. FU MANCHU”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Dr. Fu Manchu.

HERZOG: And there was a moment where I saw that a shot of a gun battle was recycled. Somebody shot down from a rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DR. FU MANCHU”)

HERZOG: Ten minutes later in the same film, I see the same three-second shot again.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DR. FU MANCHU”)

HERZOG: And nobody of my friends had seen that and understood that it was recycled, and that’s how I started to look at cinema in a different way. How do they create a story? How do they create suspense? And that was a moment where I started to look deeper and differently.

MARTIN: Werner Herzog had found his medium. But before he could put those insights into practice, he needed to get his hands on the tools of the trade. He tried to get a hold of a rental camera from the Munich film school to no avail, until one day he happened to find himself unattended in the school’s equipment room with a shelf full of 35-millimeter cameras.

HERZOG: I just took one and walked out with it and started filming. I had the intention to return it which I kind of failed later. But I had never felt it was theft. It was something I needed to have, and I had a natural right to have a camera. At the time when I started to develop movie projects, nobody would take my films so I knew I had to be my own producer, and I worked the night shift in a steel factory as a welder. And I had a sense fairly early on it was not going to be easy what I was doing. My life would be difficult and I said to myself, yes, I’m going to shoulder it no matter what.

MARTIN: Indeed, there were many difficulties along the way. Herzog’s productions have been notoriously beset by adversity from plane crashes and border wars to malaria outbreaks. Somebody even made a movie about Herzog’s effort to drag a 350-ton steam boat over a mountain in the Amazon for one of his films.

HERZOG: In doing all these things, of course, there were breaking points every 10 minutes. Every single day in making a film is an array of compromises, but it shouldn’t break you. It should improve the quality of your film. You have to know that you have it in you to continue to endure the almost unendurable.

MARTIN: That’s filmmaker Werner Herzog on his big break or lack thereof. His latest film “Into The Inferno” started streaming on Netflix this week.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Director Werner Herzog: ‘You Can Throw Anything At Me’




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, it’s time for another installment in our series My Big Break. That’s where we hear about pivotal moments in the lives of accomplished people. And normally when we say that we mean some chance meeting or opportunity that led to a breakthrough. But when we ask German filmmaker Werner Herzog about his big break, he took it in a direction all his own.

WERNER HERZOG: I do not break. You can throw anything at me and the worse it gets, the more instantaneously I will tackle the problem.

MARTIN: Which isn’t to say that he hasn’t had defining moments on the path to international renown. We’ll get to some of those in a minute. But he credits his success to the way he’s lived his life following his curiosity.

HERZOG: Truth is I never had a career so to speak. I was just always somehow fascinated or haunted by ideas that are ferociously swinging at me like burglars in the night.

MARTIN: That may be how Herzog has been able to work at such a feverish pace for more than five decades to translate those ideas coming at him onto the screen, often releasing two or three movies a year that on the surface seemed to have little in common, such as the feature film “Aguirre, Wrath Of God” about a power hungry conquistador or the documentary “Grizzly Man” about a bear enthusiast who lived among the bears of Alaska until he was mauled to death. And Herzog’s latest film out this week on Netflix is a documentary called “Into The Inferno.” It’s about volcanoes around the world, but as with any Herzog film, it’s really about much more than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “INTO THE INFERNO”)

HERZOG: It is hard to take your eyes off the fire that burns deep under our feet. It is a fire that wants to burst forth and it could not care less about what we are doing up here.

MARTIN: While Herzog maintains he’s not defined by any one moment, the road to his incredible resume of more than 70 films was set in motion decades ago. As a Bavarian schoolboy in the 1950s, he had no idea what a movie even was.

HERZOG: I grew up in a very remote mountain village in the Bavarian Alps. My first contact with the cinema came when I was 11 at this little schoolhouse. It was actually one classroom. And one day a traveling projectionist arrived and put up a screen and showed two films.

They didn’t impress me at all. They were pretty lousy, but later when I moved to the big city to Munich for high school, I would see “Tarzan” and “Zorro.”

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “ZORRO”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) Out of the night when the full moon is bright comes a horse known as Zorro.

HERZOG: And “Dr. Fu Manchu.”

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DR. FU MANCHU”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Dr. Fu Manchu.

HERZOG: And there was a moment where I saw that a shot of a gun battle was recycled. Somebody shot down from a rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DR. FU MANCHU”)

HERZOG: Ten minutes later in the same film, I see the same three-second shot again.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “DR. FU MANCHU”)

HERZOG: And nobody of my friends had seen that and understood that it was recycled, and that’s how I started to look at cinema in a different way. How do they create a story? How do they create suspense? And that was a moment where I started to look deeper and differently.

MARTIN: Werner Herzog had found his medium. But before he could put those insights into practice, he needed to get his hands on the tools of the trade. He tried to get a hold of a rental camera from the Munich film school to no avail, until one day he happened to find himself unattended in the school’s equipment room with a shelf full of 35-millimeter cameras.

HERZOG: I just took one and walked out with it and started filming. I had the intention to return it which I kind of failed later. But I had never felt it was theft. It was something I needed to have, and I had a natural right to have a camera. At the time when I started to develop movie projects, nobody would take my films so I knew I had to be my own producer, and I worked the night shift in a steel factory as a welder. And I had a sense fairly early on it was not going to be easy what I was doing. My life would be difficult and I said to myself, yes, I’m going to shoulder it no matter what.

MARTIN: Indeed, there were many difficulties along the way. Herzog’s productions have been notoriously beset by adversity from plane crashes and border wars to malaria outbreaks. Somebody even made a movie about Herzog’s effort to drag a 350-ton steam boat over a mountain in the Amazon for one of his films.

HERZOG: In doing all these things, of course, there were breaking points every 10 minutes. Every single day in making a film is an array of compromises, but it shouldn’t break you. It should improve the quality of your film. You have to know that you have it in you to continue to endure the almost unendurable.

MARTIN: That’s filmmaker Werner Herzog on his big break or lack thereof. His latest film “Into The Inferno” started streaming on Netflix this week.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Debbie Allen’s ‘Weapons’ To Stop Gun Violence Are Dance And Music


Debbie Allen’s FREEZE FRAME…Stop the Madness is a musical featuring dance, video and visual art that explores gun violence in cities.

Lee Tonks/Courtesy of Debbie Allen Dance Academy


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Lee Tonks/Courtesy of Debbie Allen Dance Academy

Debbie Allen’s FREEZE FRAME…Stop the Madness is a musical featuring dance, video and visual art that explores gun violence in cities.

Lee Tonks/Courtesy of Debbie Allen Dance Academy

Debbie Allen is a big name in television. She played the tough but tender dance instructor Lydia Grant on the 1980s show Fame. She was a producer on The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, about life on a historically black college campus. Currently she is the executive producer for Grey’s Anatomy. She’s won numerous awards for acting and choreography.

Her latest project is a multimedia production of dance, video, music and visual art called FREEZE FRAME…Stop the Madness. It wraps up a brief run at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center Sunday. The musical deals specifically with the topic of gun violence and police shootings in cities, providing audiences with “an inward look into the challenging experiences of young, disenfranchised African Americans and Latinos growing up in the inner city challenged with education, religion, police, gangs, and trying to make a living,” as the producers’ website describes.

Allen is the writer, choreographer and director of the production. She wants the show’s characters to help demonstrate “how young people are marginalized by their ethnicity and their ZIP code.”

Allen spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about how she prepared for the show, what she hopes to achieve, and her interaction with a young student who saw it.

Interview Highlights contain extended Web-only answers.

Interview Highlights

On why she made Freeze Frame after thinking about it for many years

As an artist, that’s what we do. We respond to things that we feel, that we care about, that give us great sorrow, great joy. That is something that you express in the arts. I think the performing arts is one of the best ways to communicate and to bring people together.

And I’m from Texas — Houston, Texas. And gun culture is big, always has been, always will be.

And as a young person growing up in the divide — the racial divide — of civil rights in the ’60s, I saw a lot more than any young child should see. I saw some acts of violence that no child should see.

So when I moved to LA in the height of the gang wars in Los Angeles in the ’80s, I just was never desensitized to the violence and the ugliness. And I was trying to produce a movie about [the] Amistad, about us becoming who we are as a people, us being acknowledged as being human, my god. And there we are killing one another. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

So I had to get busy. I had to throw my hat in the ring and use every weapon I had — my weapons are dance and music and film and art. I majored in acting and drama and I minored in classics. And so classical literature’s a big part of my upbringing. I was very well-vested in The Oresteia, The Iliad and Odyssey.

On the song sung by a police officer who asks, “What am I supposed to do?”

You have to face it, there’s so many really great policemen in our world, that are there wearing that badge of honor and courage as they should to protect and defend. And there are a lot of — there are some bad ones. There’s some people that should not be there. There’s some great doctors. There’s some bad ones that should not be practicing. There’s some wonderful teachers. There’s some bad ones. There’s some great priests; there’s some priests that should not be anywhere around children. I mean, you could go on and on and on and just divide us up into sections: the good, the bad and the ugly. …

I did a lot of homework on all of the ideas that I’m creating. I did a lot of interviewing with the police. … Extended conversations with law enforcement officers — chief of police, a lot of different people. Extended conversations with gang members. And the one that I portray in this one, Jimmy, I met the guy. I know him. I know him and he’s a kid that you would hope would never do the things that he’s done, but he has. It’s how he’s grown up.

On how people are responding to the show, which strives for a nuanced portrayal of police relations

People are responding well because it allows them to go in without preconceived notions and experience it. To see something happen in a likely way that it could happen, in a likely way that it has happened, and experience it and its theater. So it allows them to digest it — feel the anger, the pain, the joy, whatever they feel. And sit in that seat and get up and know that they gotta go do something about it.

So my responses have been great. I had a school show this morning, filled — packed with kids. And I went to the cafeteria to get a little sandwich and these kids circled me up and one of them just started weeping. Weeping, weeping, because it meant that much to her. And I said, “Well what did the play do for you? What might you do differently now?” She says, “I’m really going to think twice about the people that I hang out with, Ms. Allen. I’m going to look at who I’m with. And where I’m putting myself in harm’s way. And start to talk to my family more.”

If I did that for one person, that might just save that child’s life. I don’t know her circumstance, but I know that was an honest moment between us.

On what she hopes to achieve

I hope that I will open people’s minds and touch their hearts and get them to have real conversation. And to start to — just very slowly, in little one-on-one increments — start to talk to people. Start to get to know people. Start to do what that is that they know they could do — they could make a difference. …

We’ve got to stop this, this toxicity of the divisiveness of race and the idea of what’s happening in our legal system. You know, who are the elected officials that won’t even go and put laws on the floor that would protect our children. Who are they representing? What is that? That is something that we have got to stop and consider. I don’t care about [political] parties. … I want people to stand up for people. So it’s gotta stop. All of this partisan politics has got to shut down.

On not being able to fix systemic problems in the country

The nature of my personality is that I won’t accept that, and that I have to light a fire — a fuse, a match — under people that we can do something.

I’m a mother. I’m part of the strongest gang on this planet, the mommy gang. Mess with the kids — I’m sorry, you’re going down, that’s it. I don’t care what it is.

I’m part of that culture. The culture of nurturing, raising, teaching. And hoping. And giving. That is who I am. Hopelessness is not a factor on my math sheet — it’s not there.

In ‘Thanks For The Money,’ Comedian Joel McHale Lampoons Celebrity Memoirs


Actor/comic Joel McHale speaks at a Los Angeles event in 2015.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Trevor Project


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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Trevor Project

Actor/comic Joel McHale speaks at a Los Angeles event in 2015.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Trevor Project

Joel McHale made a name for himself by skewering celebrities and the world they live in on E! Network’s The Soup. Then he became a celebrity in his own right: He was in the hit NBC show Community and now he stars in the new CBS comedy The Great Indoors.

Thanks for the Money

How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be

by Joel McHale

Hardcover, 303 pages |

purchase

In a new memoir, McHale again takes aim at the nature of celebrity — by making fun of celebrity memoirs. It’s called Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be, and it’s full of anecdotes from McHale’s life that are both real and imagined.

The actor tells NPR’s Rachel Martin that he wrote the book, in part, as a reaction to performers who take themselves too seriously. “We dreamt about doing something as a kid and we actually get to do it,” he says. “So when I see actors complaining about hours or material or things like that — how many other people’s jobs have catering? How many people’s jobs have a person who will park your car? I mean it’s all silly when you begin to look at it.”

Interview Highlights

On how he feels about celebrity memoirs

I read Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill and that is a great book. But then there are slews and slews of celebrity memoirs that I don’t necessarily think that they had enough information or story to last an entire book. My life certainly didn’t. And then also there’s so many self-help books that I thought that, well, a lot of that seems to be pretty smoke and mirrors so why not just use my life story to show you how to become a celebrity and then get free stuff.

On how hard it is to read from a teleprompter when you have dyslexia

I cannot read well. I’ve gotten a lot better at it since I’ve been reading teleprompters, for about 13 years now. But when I first started, it took me four hours to get through 22 minutes of jokes. … When The Soup started it was just put on the air at 10 p.m., which was a desert on Fridays, so there was no pressure on us at all to deliver a quality product. So it allowed me to sit and get better at this teleprompter, which was a horrible thorn in my side. I don’t read books to this day; I just listen to everything on Audible.

On what it was like to headline the 2014 White House Correspondents Association dinner

It was one of those things where I don’t know if people climbing Everest thought it’s fun at the time — that they can’t breath and their muscles are screaming at them and a storm is coming in — but they definitely made the choice to be there. So it was a very stressful event for me. I’ve never worked harder on a set of 15 minutes of jokes. It is tons of pressure, but I would do it in a heartbeat again. So, yes, ultimately I very much enjoyed it.