Friday, October 22, 2010

Who Killed Amanda Palmer

While this week's blog is not about cemetery photography per se, it is about death and photography.

This past month I had two photographs accepted in the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s annual "PHOTOgraphy" competition. While not as big a distinction as my rejection letter from The Weston Gallery in Carmel, CA, it’s a distinction nonetheless. The Sketch Club is America’s oldest continuously operating club for professional artists (since 1860).

The Philadelphia arts community as a whole seems to more accepting of, and even amicable toward photography as an art form than it was, say, a decade ago. The weak economy bodes well for photography too—it’s usually less expensive to buy a photograph than a painting or piece of sculpture! The Sketch Club and various art galleries often have mixed media shows, where photography is hung side-by-side with “real” art (as some might say). Still, Philadelphia is light years away from having a “Photo District” of photography-only galleries, as one finds in the Chelsea area of Manhattan.

The point of the story is that one of the two PHOTOgraphy exhibit judges (it was a juried show), Kyle Cassidy, is a notable photographer whose work I admire. So it was a bit of a thrill to have my photographs chosen, with the possibility of meeting Mr. Cassidy. Perhaps surprisingly, neither of the two pieces I entered in the show were photographs of cemeteries, but both had to do with death. My fellow members of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia are always good-naturedly trying to get me to expand my horizons! The image at the top is a (very Weston-like) film image of dead poinsettia leaves and the other the near-death experience of a skateboarder dropping into a bowl. (The skateboarder image sold.)

I have a couple odd connections to Kyle Cassidy through his two books, “Armed America” and “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.” Aside from the fact that both books have obvious connections with death and that would interest me anyway, I happen to have met the armed guy on the cover of the first book on a pirate cruise a few years ago (his little son’s name is “Uzi”). As for the other book, I’m a fan of both Amanda Palmer and fantasy writer/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, who is Palmer’s fiancĂ© and penned the book’s text.

Half of the gothic cabaret rock band The Dresden Dolls (remember the hit song, “Coin-Operated Boy” from 2004?), lead singer, pianist, and lyricist/composer Amanda Palmer is an American performer who has since been enjoying a solo career. I saw The Dresden Dolls perform as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails back in 2005. Hard to believe anyone could adequately fill that bill, but The Dresden Dolls were a perfect choice. The book, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” has a companion musical score by Palmer.

The book, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer – a Collection of Photographic Evidence” is about death, or more specifically, about the many gruesome yet theatrical ways one can die. The book is full of photographs Kyle Cassidy made of Palmer’s “corpse” stuffed in a shopping cart, hanging from a swing set, floating in a lake, stuffed in an oven. Each of the many images is accompanied by a different narrative by Gaiman. My wife Jill bought this for me for Christmas last year.

Although the book is rather on the grim side, Mr. Cassidy was quite good-humored about it when I discussed it with him at the PHOTOgraphy show’s awards reception at the Sketch club last week. We discussed photographic techniques, my work in the exhibit, and his professional association with Palmer and Gaiman. He showed me some of his latest portraiture work on his iPhone, and told me he is working with Palmer on her next project. I wondered if he did this professionally and what he photographed in his spare time. We both laughed as he said, "Old buildings and stuff..." Being a fan of both Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman--and like a true nerd--I brought my (book) copy of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” and asked the photographer if he would sign it. This he graciously did, after which he took the iPhone picture you see here of himself, me, and my daughter Olivia.

If I were to make an attempt to summarize my ramblings here, I would have to say that no matter what your artistic specialty, it’s healthy to keep your eyes open to other art forms. They can often influence your own cozy little artistic sphere in ways that might surprise you.

Check the links below for sights and sounds related to this article:

Who Killed Amanda Palmer Website

Kyle Cassidy Website

The Dresden Dolls Website

Neil Gaiman Website

The Philadelphia Sketch Club Website