Un moment commun

Marie visited a few days ago with her photos place-marked into How Many Roads? Not so many minutes after we started going over them we were laughing so hard we were almost crying. Our parents must have been so proud of us! Here she writes:

Nice corn, Marie.

Marie in her Québec garden, circa 1971

Pourquoi ai-je été aussi touchée en voyant les photos de Jonathan?
Elles m’ont ramenées directement vers les miennes de la même époque . J’ai eu un irrepressible besoin de fouiller dans mes vielles boîtes pour les retrouver, les comparer, les jumeler…
C’est un moment commun… même si c’est de part et d’autre de la frontière.
Avoir 20 ans dans les années 70, membre d’une cohorte très importante de jeunes en rupture avec un système politique et économique…la contre-culture!
Nous nous distinguions dramatiquement de nos parents qui avaient vécu la crise et la guerre, nous étions plus insouciants, plus libres, plus créatifs, prêts à prendre plus de risques…
Que sont nos amis devenus…que nous avions de si près tenus…et tant aimés… comme dans la complainte de Ruteboeuf
Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait de nos rêves… comme le chantait si justement Sylvain Lelièvre…
How many roads…
On se retrouve aujourd’hui…peut-être moins nombreux…plusieurs ont déserté vers un confort trop douillet…
Mais le désir d’un monde plus juste ne s’éteint pas


Posted in Québec
Tags: ,

Where there’s a crowd there’s a photo

Detail of street crowd, Mexico City, 2014 (click through for full photo)

Detail of street crowd, Mexico City, 2014 (click through for full photo)

I’ve always liked photographs of crowds. Cameras are great at recording a lot of detail quickly and for me they give a way of studying the people, and seeing how I do (or don’t) fit in. I remember when I first came to Quebec I took so many pictures of people on the street, just trying to understand about my new home. Unfortunately, one of the things I came to understand is that you don’t generally do that here! But it did help me to feel a connection and start to find my place.

New Haven Green looking south towards Federal Courthouse, March 1968

New Haven Green looking south towards Federal Courthouse, March 1968

Photos age well too. A picture taken now looks like, well, now. But a picture taken more than four decades ago records something that’s gone. That can be precious if it’s of one person. When the photo is of a lot of people it gives a feeling of the time, the place, and customs.

These are (mostly) Yale students, on the New Haven Green. It was one of the early large East Coast demonstrations against the Vietnam War and as such was covered by the international media and watched closely – by both friend and foe.

Posted in Mexico, Photography, Social Documentary
Tags: , ,

Minor White

South Pomfret, Vermont, 1970

South Pomfret, Vermont, 1970

From Fall, 1970 through the following June I was a student of Minor White’s. Though I was chronologically an undergraduate he placed me in his graduate program. It’s people from that class that you see in the circle above.

If history is written by victors it also contains a good measure of current social mores. I was pleased to be sent a link to this recent essay by Susan Stamberg. White died almost thirty years ago. The essay has candor and judgement in its measurement of the man, who I knew only in the context of school and a few extended workshops. But I think there is a poignancy in this photo that’s correct.

I’m also attached to the photo for a personal reason. If you look closely there is a hill hiding in the background fog. It is a small ski area in Vermont called “Suicide-Six”, which was the local ski hill when I was young. So seeing it always makes me smile.

Posted in Artists, Woodstock

The Other Hagop

About 1925. Hagop has his arms crossed, on the right.

About 1925. Hagop Topalian has his arms crossed, on the right.

I’ve been reading Paris 1919, a multi-threaded account of the six month period at the end of World War One when the French, British, and American leaders met in Paris to sort out the debris from the war and set the way forward. Nobody comes out looking too good. The author is a Canadian and the grand-daughter of Lloyd-George.

Embedded in the book are stories of many ethnic groups and how the Paris Conference attempted to deal with their claims. The Armenians were a medium-sized piece in this puzzle. What remained of them was a ragged, male-depleted group living outside the bounds of present-day Turkey. What supported them at the conference were the Americans, who actually had tried to help the Armenians as they were being slaughtered by their Ottoman tormentors.

Hagop Topalian – the other Hagop – had been lucky. His parents Kevork and Ardem lived in Cairo, where he was born in 1897. The family had a relatively safe place to grow up. At least it was safer than Konya, in the Anatolian highlands, where my mother’s family was from.

Some time soon after the remains of my maternal side of the family settled in Alexandria (about 1920) Hagop became a family friend, and remained one right up until his death in the late 1980s. The photo that you see him in here is a scan from an 8-10 silver contact print (it’s cropped in this blog version), shot complete with Somali camel guides.

Back to the book, though.

Perhaps if you identify yourself as long-generational from England, France, or the United States the experience of reading it is different, but I was quite aware of the different ethnic groups being discussed and found myself getting critical as I read about “my” tribes. The story of the Armenians was horrible, and told with details I had never read. I had a hard time stomaching that the author allows the Turkish side to even voice the argument that Armenians were traitors, but she does. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter. As the UK/FR/US leaders politicians shifted their view eastward (and past the Balkans, where they made enough of a hash) their objectives also shifted – from at least an attempt at power/economics balanced with societal/ethnic fairness to more obvious self-interest: mainly buffering the new Bolsheviks and the black stuff that pooled up on the ground around Mosul. They knew that a military based on a liquid petroleum had a big advantage over one burning coal, and Mosul looked like a good supply bet – especially for the British. Anyway, as was said, “who’s ever going to remember the Armenians?”



Posted in Middle East

Hagop the optician

Hagop the optician
A large number of Armenians lived in Damascus, including this man with his two sons. I felt a connection to Hagop because his family endured the same Turkish/Ottoman exodus that had engulfed my mother’s side of the family. Added to that connection was his name – Hagop. It was the same as an elderly man who had been a surrogate grandfather to me.

On this day Hagop was displeased. He complained to me (in English) that his sons were not as capable of running the store as he was. Here they don’t look happy either. He probably wasn’t an easy person to work for.

Posted in Middle East, Social Documentary
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How Many Roads? is a new book of photographs by Jonathan Sa'adah, is now available for order, offering an unglossy but deeply human view of the period from 1968 to 1975 in richly detailed, observant images that have poignant resonance with the present. Ninety-one sepia photographs reproduced with an introduction by Teju Cole, essays by Beth Adams, Hoyt Alverson, and Steven Tozer, and a preface by the photographer.
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