Fascinated by the Pump Me Up event last Friday, I attended the curator talk given by Roger Gastman. Before Roger took the stage, a Go-Go radio station did a live remote pumping music throughout the Corcoran auditorium to the sold-out crowd. During Roger’s presentation he shared the origins of his graffiti background, how long it took to gather the items and interviews he used in the exhibit and the inspiration for his movie ‘The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan’. Roger explained how “Disco” Dan rose to become a symbol of DC so large that he paralleled the monuments. He went on to say how murals of today were influenced by graffiti of the past and that the sense of community was at the heart of the era – it made graffiti and music thrive. After the talk, Roger signed copies of his book (a catalogue of the exhibition). I hung out with him for a bit and he graciously invited me to the screening of his movie Saturday evening. Movie review to follow…
I was lucky to attend the private advance opening of Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s at the Corcoran. The guest “DJ” for the event was punk rock legend Henry Rollins. In college I listened to Black Flag and the Rollins Band, so when I had an opportunity to meet and speak with Henry that evening I was very excited. I also met Roger Gastman, the curator of the event. I love the way Roger mixed print design, video, and music archives throughout the exhibit to tell the story of that decade. I enjoyed the show so much that I RSVP’d for the curator talk a few nights later. If you are in the DC area make sure to check out this exhibit — it runs until April 7. (Cool Fact: The title of the exhibit was inspired by Trouble Funk’s song “Pump Me Up”.)
I have been a photography enthusiastic ever since I was little and saved all my money and UPC labels to buy my first camera … a pocket camera that I cherished. Fast-forward many years. I read that Annie Leibovitz was coming to the Corcoran Gallery for a Graduate Symposium on Creativity. I tried to buy tickets, but the tickets available to the public were limited and sold out. I reached out to the event organizer and she told me if I showed up early that day I could put my name on a wait list and that I may have a chance of getting in. Two hours before the event I did exactly that. A minute before the event was to begin one of the women informed us there were openings and my friend and I could take a seat.
I bolted inside the Frances and Armand Hammer Auditorium. The 193-seat room was packed. Annie took the stage and was very soft-spoken. She went through images from her book ‘Pilgrimage’ and immediately captivated me with her behind-the-photos stories. She told tales of when she was at Graceland and how she would have liked access to the upstairs, but didn’t ask because she understood about privacy. She shared a story about how when she photographed Lady Gaga, Gaga entered the room and immediately got naked. Apparently, Gaga assumed celebrities commonly did this for Annie. She said that her crew and her were shocked at first and awkwardly didn’t know where to look. Annie also told us a story of when she was staying with one of Ansel Adams’ family members to photograph specific spots of Yosemite Valley and the challenges of capturing clouds as he had done. Annie said in his photographs, Ansel captured the beauty not in how the landscape appeared, but rather how he envisioned the beauty of the scene.
She spoke for an hour, but it went by so fast that it seemed like only minutes. Some valuable wisdom she shared with us on fostering and sustaining creativity included … Don’t lose your beginnings. Remember to look back from time to time. Be ready. Your studio is anywhere. I built my house for my children, but my home is on the road. I wouldn’t have the career I have if I had listened to what others thought I should do. Find your own way. Repetition is very important. I have taken photographs over and over again trying to improve them. (It inspired me to hear that even someone of her photography caliber does retakes and seeks improvement.)
Following her presentation was a panel discussion featuring five local professionals from a range of creative fields. Towards the end of the panel discussion I noticed a gentleman walking Annie out. (There was supposed to be a reception with Annie afterwards, but things ran late and she had to leave.) I got up quickly, hoping to catch her. Rain was pouring down. She was waiting in the doorway for her driver to pull up. I said hello and asked her if she would please sign my book. She graciously said yes. She didn’t write, but rather drew her signature beautifully on the page. I told her that it was an honor to meet her and how much I enjoyed and learned from her presentation. My brief encounter with her was a thrill — the day exceeded my expectations.
[NOTE: Annie Leibovitz was designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.]