Category Archives: Men

Dominic Mercier: Fleeing Opression, Finding Creative Freedom

Milt Ward. Circa 1960’s

Text by Dominic Mercier, Copyright 2020

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Fleeing Oppression, Finding Creative Freedom

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When Milt Ward arrived in Philadelphia in the late 1930s, he was fleeing the oppressive and segregated south. But what he found in his new home was a welcoming, creative community that would bolster his artistic skills and shape his distinguished career as a graphic artist.

Born and raised in Savannah, Ward, as a teenager, was captivated by the hand-lettered signage and point-of-purchase displays that local merchants used in their shops. He set himself to hours and hours of practice in pursuit of perfecting the art of hand lettering, which would later become the hallmark of his career, and found a way to support himself and his family by selling his services to local business owners.

When he arrived in Philadelphia in search of freedom and opportunities with his mother, Eva, and younger brother, Bennie, Ward sought to further his artistic training by enrolling in drawing classes at the Graphic Sketch Club, now better known as Fleisher. It was in the club’s studios, his son, Tony, says, that he connected with members of Philadelphia’s Jewish community and, quite possibly, our founder, Samuel S. Fleisher. Ward’s relationship with members of that community, built on a shared understanding of the perils of persecution and oppression, opened the door to his fruitful career.

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Milt Ward at work. Philadelphia 1950’s.

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“A lot of Jewish merchants at the time were looking out for Black folks. Throughout his entire career he worked almost exclusively for Jewish-owned businesses,” Tony Ward says. “There’s no question that they looked out for my dad. But it wasn’t just because he was African American. He had real talent and they weren’t prejudiced.”

For much of his career, Ward worked for the Roxborough-based Diversified Marketing Group, led by Stanley Ginsberg, with whom Ward shared both a collegial and professional relationship for much of his life. He also was one of the first Black members of the Philadelphia Art Directors Club, a venue in which he formed a lasting friendships with other like-minded artists. From his home office, Ward churned out work for freelance clients, chief among them the Mel Richman Advertising Group, and, after retiring at the age of 65, a significant number of paintings. His talent and dedication allowed him to establish himself firmly in the middle class, Tony says, a rarity for a Black artist at the time.

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“I knew being an artist would be an interesting career, because my dad worked days shifts and then at night on his freelance projects. That’s a sign that someone loves what they’re doing.” – Tony Ward

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While Tony says his father never really spoke of his youth, he did share with him his love of the arts. Tony is a widely-recognized photographer and visiting professor of fine arts at Haverford College and his work, which often explores the intersection of fashion and erotic photography, has been exhibited widely in Philadelphia and in galleries across the world. As a young man, Tony recalls spending hours sitting with his father, learning how to draw and letter. When she was younger, Tony enrolled his own daughter, Chanel, in Fleisher’s Saturday Young Artists Program. Chanel is now an educator and guides Fleisher’s programs as a member of the Programs Impact Committee.

“When I got to college, I realized I wasn’t going to be a hand-lettering specialist like him, I didn’t have the eye. But I pivoted to photography, which was really the right move for me,” Tony says. “I knew being an artist would be an interesting career, because my dad worked days shifts and then at night on his freelance projects. That’s a sign that someone loves what they’re doing.”

AV. From the Alphabet Series. Milt Ward. Copyright 1989

 

Today, Tony keeps his father’s legacy alive online. His website contains a gallery of paintings Ward produced between 1989 and 1993. Called the Alphabet Series, the bold paintings combine Ward’s two loves: painting and bold lettering. Tony’s home houses much of his father’s artwork, as well as a number of his brushes and the drawing table where his father honed his craft.

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About The Author: Dominic Mercier is the Communications Director at the Fleisher Art Memorial. To access the Fleisher web site, click here: https://fleisher.org

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, News, Popular Culture, Portraits, Travel

Leif Skoogfors: Interview

 

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LEIF SKOOGFORS INTERVIEW:

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TW: When did you first realize your vocation would be to become a photojournalist? Who or what influences in your life early on led you down this path?

LS:  The weekly arrival of LIFE magazine, in those days a respected and worldly periodical showed me the world. I saved up to buy a 1958 book on LIFE’s photo staff and was fascinated by the adventures the men and women who worked for LIFE were.

Politics and world events were part of my blood; my father, a Swedish engineer, had worked for a time in Germany. He was in Prussia as Hitler tried his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After he returned to Sweden, he was consumed by news about the Finish-Soviet Winter War of 1939, and my father, who had worked in the US, decided his family was best raised there. Three months after the German invasion of Poland, he packed us up, and we emigrated to the US, so current events were subject to daily analysis.

My interest in world events and politics was consuming, and photojournalism combined all of this with art. It was the ultimate answer for me.

TW: What impact did studying with Alex Brodovitch have on your approach to photography and photojournalism in particular?

LS: I’m not sure I fully understood Brodovitch at first. He said to the twenty-plus students who met in Richard Avedon’s studio, he would only talk about photographs that were new to him; or were so terrible as to raise his anger. He ignored the mediocre. And most of my work was mediocre. It led to a healthy self-criticism. There is a push to go beyond, even in the most ordinary projects. And that is an invaluable lesson!

TW: As I reviewed the breadth of your work for this interview, it became readily apparent that the themes you addressed in your visual reporting from 40 years ago are very relevant to the types of demonstrations, marches and protests we see currently on the American streets and throughout the world. What are your thoughts about the Trump administration and the propaganda the white house espouses these days?


LS:
I photographed Donal Trump once, at first as other journalists have written about, he pretended to be his own press agent under another name. I arrived at his Atlantic City casino and asked for the press agent by name, John Miller. A tall blond haired man came down the stairs and I said,”Hi John, good to meet you”. The man scowled and said, “I’m Donald Trump.” We didn’t get along well since I didn’t really know who Donald Trump was. An ego jolt?

More eloquent folks have analyzed The Trump White House. It is clear it sucks. And it is incredibly sad that the current demonstrations must go on to force more change. I’m sorry that my current situation won’t allow me to be out there still.

TW: What was the most exciting assignment you worked on where you believe your photographs may have influenced public opinion for the good of mankind?

LS: I’m not sure my photographs influenced people; I know I tried in my book, “The Most Natural Thing in the World,” done a long time ago. I tried to show the situation there, and the poor folks caught in the middle of a bitter war. Recently a journalist said that the essay in the book, text by friends John and Lenore Cooney, was the most accurate depiction” of “The Troubles” he’d ever seen.

 Just two years ago, I had an appointment with a doctor who had emigrated from Bosnia. When I told her of my time there, she was effusive in thanking me. She said that it was the journalists who covered that terrible war, influencing the US and NATO to come in and enforce a Peace. It made me realize how important the work we do is, helping end a war with the highest mass killings of civilians in Europe since WW2 .

TW:  You have spent a significant amount of your time working with the DART Society and the effects of war and its aftermath. How has seeing so much death and destruction impacted your life and well being?

LS: One of the most severe problems facing any journalist covering current events; from a war zone or a local car crash is Post Traumatic Stress. Estimates range from 15 to 30 percent of photographers who face horrific situations will have to deal with these issues. If not treated, the photographer may experience a lifetime of problems.

I suffered from a severe attack years after covering the irregular war, known as “The Troubles,” in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, I’d also attended a workshop on Post Traumatic Stress given by the Dart Center and found treatment.

I’ve volunteered with this and other groups to raise funds for groups helping journalists both to understand PTSD or receive counseling.

TW: What advice can you offer the young photojournalist who has the compassion to document tragedy?

LS: I would advise any young photojournalist always to be prepared to offer compassion or help when covering traumatic events. Often, just letting a subject you know the pain they may be suffering will help. And never be afraid to ask for help yourself.

TW: If you were to start your career over again, what would you do differently if anything?

LS: If I was starting my career over, what fun would that be! I’d wish for the opportunity for an excellent liberal arts education and add another language and some decent art courses. Drawing is a fast way to learn about two-dimensional work, and that’s what a photograph is all about.

TW:  Now that you are retired from the grind of day to day photojournalism, what is a typical day like for you since you had the recent health challenge?

LS: Unfortunately, I’ve suffered some health challenges, not to mention the infuriating limitations of advancing age. But I try to spend as much time going over my archive in anticipation of placing it with the University of Texas. I love finding a beautiful photo I’d overlooked in the past, something that surprises me. I also realize that my work covers history and I’m proud to have worked during the “golden age of journalism.”

TW:  Who is your favorite photographer and why?

LS: Too many, I fear. Among them, Cartier-Bresson for his “Decisive Moment,” Gene Smith for his passion, and Jacques Henri Lartigue for his sense of humor. Ed van der Elsken also influenced me, perhaps with the romanticism of his book “Love on the Left Bank.” I still have the first edition of that work from 1954.

TW:  How would you like to be remembered?

As one of the hardest working photojournalists!

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Portrait of Leif Skoogfors with Special Warfare unit.

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About The Photographer: Leif Skoogfors (born 1940 in Wilmington, Delaware) is a documentary photographer and educator. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware, one month after his family, including brothers Olaf and Eric, fled Sweden as World War II broke out. His family crossed the North Atlantic in December 1939 on a neutral Norwegian ship.

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Editor’s Note: Licensing of photographs available through Getty Images. Leif Skoogfors, Copyright 2020.

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Film, interview, News, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, Portraits, Travel

Bob Shell: Civil War?

Civil War

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Civil War?

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I decided to write about a touchy topic this time, the American “Civil War.”. Why do I put that in quotation marks? Because there never was a civil war within the United States. A civil war is, by definition, a war between different factions within one sovereign nation.

Let me point out some uncomfortable facts.

First, Virginia, my home, when she joined the United States, reserved the right to leave it at any time, that was in writing. Choosing to leave the Union was Virginia’s right. This was no different than Britain’s current decision to leave the European Union. You don’t see the European Union threatening to attack and invade Britain, do you? And if they did, would it be a civil war? Hardly.

Virginia chose to sever her ties to the United States of America and, instead, join the Confederate States of America. That was her right, and in doing so she broke no law or treaty.

The CSA was recognized by many countries, European and elsewhere, and had a binding peace treaty with the USA. Although not well known, one of the CSA’s allies was Russia, which sent warships to break the USA’s blockade of crucial ports, and deliver supplies.

But northern business interests wanted to prohibit the CSA from buying cheaper goods from elsewhere, so they started their blockade, and ultimately strangled the CSA. Before the separation they had been charging Southerners ridiculous prices for their goods while buying southern goods, primarily cotton, at very low prices that they dictated. High tariffs discouraged importation of goods from Europe, Russia, and others.

You’re probably asking, what about slavery? Wasn’t that the reason for the war? Not really. Slaves were expensive to buy, house, feed. The great majority of southerners could not afford them. My own ancestors were poor farmers and couldn’t have afforded slaves, even if they’d wanted them. And if southern states hadn’t left the Union, slavery probably would have continued, simply to hold down the cost of southern cotton and other agricultural goods. But the big plantations with hundreds of slaves were not the norm for the average southern tenant farmer, who was little more than a slave himself to the land owners. At the surrender, General Lee asked for only one concession, that his men be allowed to keep their mules. They were all poor farmers and without their mules they could not plow their land. Lee kept his men’s welfare ahead of all else.

Lincoln’s vaunted Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves, only those in. the southern states. Slaves in northern states remained in bondage. That’s a fact.

Lincoln was not much concerned with the slaves. He was concerned with preserving the Union. He famously said that if he could save the Union by freeing all of the slaves he would do that, but if he could preserve it by freeing only some of the slaves he would do that, and if he could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves he would do that. He didn’t care about the slaves, only his precious Union.

Certainly slavery is a despicable evil, and I’m not defending it in any way, but it was not the cause of the war. The 13th Amendment to our Constitution outlawed slavery, right? Wrong! The Amendment contains an exception. Slavery is allowed as punishment for crime. So, slavery is alive and well in America today. I know; I’m legally a slave.

The formation of the CSA allowed southerners to ship their goods overseas where they got better prices, and to import cheaper manufactured goods. And that was the problem. Northern industrialists wanted to keep the South captive to supply them raw materials cheaply and buy their manufactured goods at higher prices than a global free market would have allowed.

People who don’t know history don’t know that my namesake and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee, was offered command of the Union army by Lincoln. After some soul searching, he turned it down. His loyalty was to Virginia, he said. He could not betray his Commonwealth.

After the war Mark Twain approached Lee with a publisher’s high offer to co-author Lee’s memoirs. Lee turned down the offer, saying it would not be right to make money from the blood of his men. Twain then went to Grant, who accepted the offer. That shows the difference between the two men.

It was Lee who brought black men to worship with him in his church in Lexington, Virginia, where he settled after the war to head up Washington College; which is now Washington and Lee University, where he lies entombed in Lee Chapel.

My several times great grandfather, Hugh McCracken, joined the Virginia army and fought under Lee. He survived the war and went home to his farm, where he raised his family. I’ve read his war diary, and it is pretty graphic. He speaks of having to get water from a stream with dead men and horses upstream because it was the only water to be had. Amazingly, he was never wounded or contracted disease, even though he saw action in several major battles.

So I am proud of my simple southern farmer heritage, and refuse to be intimidated by the PC fools who besmirch the memory of good men who fought to save their country from an invading foreign army.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonyward.com/wuhan-virus/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Blog, News, Politics, Popular Culture

A.H. Scott: The Bridesmaid Question

Mike Pence: The Bridesmaid Question

 

Text by A.H. Scott, Copyright 2020

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The Bridesmaid Question
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Maybe it’s the question spoken in hushed tones. Or, just the obvious one which has some wondering out loud.
 
 
Why isn’t Mike Pence good enough to be the President of the United States of America?
 
 
Mike Pence can save America and put this country out of its’ misery right now, if he steps up to marry himself to a certain amendment and not a snotty brat with a constant pout.
 
 
 
After all, he’s a conservative’s conservative. Upright, uptight and potently pious is he. So, the question of him being the bridesmaid to a bride ever so shameless is an obvious one to take a peek under the tarnished, silken slip of this administration at hand.
 
 
An Evangelical base is more aligned with the life traveled by Mr. Pence. But, then again, it seems he is not the beloved one to stand in first place at the electoral altar.
 
 
Never the bride, but always the bridesmaid is Mike Pence.
 
 
Second-hand Mike!
Second-hand Mike!
 
 
Exactly what is it about you that people really don’t like?
Second-hand Mike is sanctimonious beyond anyone else on par
Yet, the one they love more is the boorish reality television star
Second-hand Mike wonders with stoic stare over why isn’t he worthy enough?
Amendment 25 is chiseled there in concrete
But, nobody’s calling in that bluff
Jobs may come
And, positions may transform
But, a certain bridesmaid sheds a tear when knowing that brass pinnacle is so near
Seems no matter how sincere you apply your gaze
Or, how earnest to the ideology you praise
Second banana is your finality of place
Choirboy or fornicator is the choice on the evangelical’s silver plate
Which will they cling to when the sins hit the fan?
The good boy who abides by all the perceived rules
Or, the problem child who kicks the golden can?
The answer is clear and Second-hand Mike weeps on his Missus’ shoulder
One spouse limit is his, as the bride’s been in triple-wedded bliss
At the head of the aisle one hand brushing another is a pliable second-hand job
Oh, Mother – clutch your pearls, if that be true
Let them pearls of fallacy scatter
When you couldn’t have that proclaimed Christian fortitude of humanity to say Black Lives Matter
Lacking a pair of spheres and absent a clue
You will never be the cream on top, because being the bride is just not you
Mike Pence is a bridesmaid, through and through
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About The Author: A.H. Scott is a poet based in New York City and frequent contributor to Tony Ward Studio. To read additional articles by Ms. Scott, go here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bare/
 
Also posted in Blog, News, Politics, Portraits, Women

Bob Shell: Wuhan Virus & UFO’s

Covid-19

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Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Wuhan Virus

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I usually like to be proved right in my predictions, but this time is an exception. I wrote most of my book COSMIC DANCE in 2018 and published it in March of 2019. In it (page 90), I predicted a plague caused by GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) that would disrupt worldwide civilization. Now it has happened.

Luc Montagnier, the virologist who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the HIV virus, has examined the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease, and stated that it was genetically modified by splicing genetic material from the HIV virus into a bat coronavirus using genetic manipulation tools found only in labs. He speculates that this may have been part of an effort to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine.

The virology lab in Wuhan had already been criticized for poor containment procedures, and was known to be collecting and working with bat coronaviruses. Coincidence? I don’t really believe in coincidence most of the time, but especially this time.

THE LANCET, the world’s oldest and most respected medical journal, says that the evidence that the virus came from the Huanan Seafood Market just isn’t there, and points out that the first cases in Wuhan had no connection to that market whatsoever. One of their contributors speculates that it escaped the virology lab either through poor waste disposal techniques or in the body of a lab worker who became infected.

These are facts, contradicting the propaganda spewed out by the Chinese government, which has tried to divert the world’s attention from their lab. The whole world is suffering from incompetent lab workers in that virology lab. It will be a long time before we see the end of this plague from a virus specifically created to infect humans.

Many, for political reasons, have attacked President Trump for casting the blame for this nightmare on China. I am emphatically not a Trump supporter. I think both major political parties are fucked-up disasters just waiting to implode our country, and, in fact, I think Mr. Trump just isn’t up to the job of President of the United States, but this time he’s right. China was at fault for operating a virology lab that could not contain the viral material it was experimenting on, and should be held accountable for this global catastrophe..

I’ve been concerned that we’d face a plague like this since genetic engineering tools like CRISP-R and others have been developed and unleashed with little or no control. Genetic engineering tools able to tamper with the DNA/RNA of organisms are available to anyone able to master the basics of their use. This is a ticking time bomb, just as if tactical nuclear weapons were sold openly on eBay. In fact, it’s probably far more dangerous.

Nature is a highly complex set of interrelated systems, all kept in balance by natural checks developed over millions of years. Creating GMOs and taking even a small risk that they will escape the lab is foolhardy and exceedingly dangerous. It’s happening today, worldwide, and it was just a matter of time before a plague was unleashed.

As we’ve begun to learn, putting the genie back into the bottle once its escaped is damned near impossible.

Sloppy lab work in China has already killed far more Americans than the entire Vietnam war!

And, news reports tell us that people are terrified. In states with newly reopened businesses, there was sparse turnout. Bar Axe in Atlanta reopened but there were only two customers all weekend. Shopping malls in Georgia and Texas reopened, but were nearly empty. A clothing store clerk at a mall in Austin said, “There’s absolutely no one coming around here!” Polls show that four out of five people won’t go to restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, or other businesses, even when those reopen. (Source THE WEEK magazine, May 15, 2020)

On another topic, in COSMIC DANCE I also talked about the “Tic-Tac” UFO videos unofficially released by the US Air Force. On April 27, 2020, the Department of Defense issued a press release laying to rest claims of fakery. The videos, one taken in November 2004 and the other two taken in January 2015 are authentic, according to the DOD. The officially released videos can be found at the Naval Air Systems Command FOIA Reading Room at:

https://www.navair.navy.mil/foia/documents

The press release states: “After thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena. DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public as to whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there was more to the videos. The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remains classified as ‘unidentified.'”

I’m only sorry that my friend Stan Friedman didn’t live long enough to see the cause he devoted his life to acknowledged as real by the Department of Defense. And, as the press release reveals, that investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena continues, in spite of previous official denials. “The truth is out there,” as Fox Mulder told us.

Meanwhile, my personal legal battles are still all on hold, with the courts shut down except for emergency hearings. Until our law library reopens and I can get back in there, there’s very little I can do. It’s very frustrating to be so close to regaining my freedom and to be stymied by this damnable Chinese virus.

Stay well everyone!

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Portrait of Bob Shell, May of 2020. Pocahontas State Prison

About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/meditations-pandemics/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Blog, News, Politics, Popular Culture, Portraits, Travel