Category Archives: Human Beings of Note

Electric Picasso.

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“When LIFE magazine’s Gjon Mili, a technical prodigy and lighting innovator, visited Pablo Picasso in the South of France in 1949, it was clear that the meeting of these two artists and craftsmen was bound to result in something extraordinary. Mili showed Picasso some of his photographs of ice skaters with tiny lights affixed to their skates, jumping in the dark — and the Spanish genius’s lively, ever-stirring mind began to race.
Picasso… gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment. He was so fascinated by the result that he posed for five sessions, projecting 30 drawings of centaurs, bulls, Greek profiles and his signature. Mili took his photographs in a darkened room, using two cameras, one for side view, another for front view. By leaving the shutters open, he caught the light streaks swirling through space.”

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I’m in love with these “light drawings,” drawn by Pablo Picasso and photographed by Gjon Mili, that were recently released by LIFE Magazine. They’re amazing! The photography technique is at once simplistic and mind-blowing, and I find these images particularly magical: the way they tangibly capture the nuanced and transient movements of light, the way they translate a fleeting, flourished motion into art and illustrate Picasso’s creative genius. It’s incredible.

You can see more of Picasso’s light drawings here.

Music Video Monday #54: Rihanna’s “Diamonds.”

It’s no secret that I’m a major Rihanna fangirl, but I think this video has taken me beyond normal fandom into the realm of pseudo-creepy infatuation. I’ve watched it about twenty times in the past couple days and it continues to, for lack of a better word, thrill me. There’s an unexpected beauty in the imagery–the tiny diamonds spilling out of a rolled joint, the pair of horses running free through a gorgeous valley, the ardent grip of tattooed hands slipping from each other–that belies the danger of love that feels like a drug. “Diamonds” reminds me of “We Found Love,” but where the latter seemed to acknowledge that such a love is a double-edged sword, the former seems to revel only in the beauty, the feeling in the moment that you’re alive and that nothing can surpass that high. I continued to be impressed by the trend of pop stars releasing music videos that are cinematic to the degree of high art, employing gorgeous cinematography and a focus on nuanced details that speak volumes without saying a word, and “Diamonds” is a great example of that.

Where Children Sleep.

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I stumbled across a photo essay on Mother Jones a couple days ago that took my breath away: photographs of children around the world and their bedrooms. James Mollison began this project as a way to engage the issue of children’s rights, and over the course of a few years, he had a collection of photographs of children, aged seven to fourteen, and their rooms that spanned 18 different countries and a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic statuses. His stunning and unsentimental photo series is now collected in a book titled “Where Children Sleep.” Of the project, Mollison says:

“I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was. It occurred to me that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances. From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background. My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances, the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other, while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals, just as children.”

As a child my bedroom was a personalized sanctuary to me, and even now as an adult, I continue to regard my bedroom as a space that represents who I am as an individual. I don’t have the same posters of Hanson that I had on my wall as a tween in Michigan, but every detail of my room has been carefully curated to reflect my personality and project an aesthetic that’s in keeping with my identity, or at least the identity that I choose to present. It’s fascinating and sobering to observe how much that is not the case for most children around the world, and to put the idea that, as Mother Jones puts it, “wherever a child lies down at night is not so much a retreat from as a reflection of the world outside” in perspective.

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To see more of James Mollison’s photos from “Where Children Sleep,” click here.

Interview: Kiersten Holine.

PhotobucketWith a huge internet following, a mention in Rolling Stone’s 2007 Hot Issue, and a gorgeous self-released album under her belt, Kiersten Holine’s musical resume is pretty impressive for someone so young. So it’s no surprise that the Minnesota native’s newest album, Candescent, is simply dazzling: it’s a quiet folk gem that can only be described as soul-warming, the kind of music that makes you want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea on a rainy day. I spoke to Kiersten over the phone about recording Candescent in her apartment, her YouTube success, the importance of inspiring locations, and what she’s got planned next.

How long it did it take you to write and record Candescent and what was that experience like?
I was writing that album for a couple years, actually. It was a really long process, a lot longer than I’m used to. My EP before that was so different in terms of writing, and I think it’s because Ignoble was about a specific event in my life and this new album is more about a life phase. And I would just have weeks, and sometimes months, where I had absolutely no inspiration and I had no idea what I wanted to write, which was frightening, and I just wasn’t sure if it was going to get done because of how long any period was where I wasn’t writing, but all of sudden, I would be walking down the sidewalk, or just in a coffee shop in line, and it would come to me. I would record it as quick as I could, go home and the song would come out of it, usually that night. So it was an interesting writing process that I hadn’t ever really done before. I used to just kind of craft songs really slowly, so this is totally new. So yeah, I think it took about two years total to write and record. And I did all the recording myself just in my apartment, so it was very DIY. It was really long and tedious, but worth it.

I’m really intrigued by the title of your album. I actually had to go to a dictionary to look up the definition of Candescent because I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, and the definition I found was “white hot” or “glowing with heat.” Why did you choose that for you album title?
I was hoping people would be turned on to this new word! I think this album is a lot about healing and growing and forming new ideals and just becoming myself, and since Ignoble, it’s just been sort of a process of moving on from that experience, and it made me feel like I was starting to have more light in my life and I was starting to just grow and find more light for myself. I wanted that to show and to be glowing, and I thought the title really reflected that.

You’re from Minnesota, and you’ve lived in Seattle for a time during college, and now you’re in Chicago. I read an article where you said you thought you would move back to the Twin Cities after college, so I’m interested why you chose to go to Chicago instead of back to Minnesota.
I think I just didn’t want to get trapped in the post-grad-living-at-or-near-home stage. It really made me nervous, and I was just afraid that I was not going to be productive at all and it was going to be hard to write an album there, like, with my parents home. I had friends who were moving to Chicago, and we all decided just to do it. I’m actually moving back to Seattle now because I miss it so much! But this was a really good post-grad, be-independent phase for a year for me, so it was worth it, for sure.

Can you talk about the Chicago music scene? I don’t know much about it, so I’m interested to hear what makes it distinct compared to a city like Seattle or the Twin Cities, and if you’ve been able to do live performances, what that experience is like in Chicago.
It is definitely different from Seattle, and truthfully, I don’t like it as much. Chicago is so big and so many people are trying to do different things that the music community doesn’t feel as closely knit as the Seattle music community. Which is a huge reason I’m moving back to Seattle, actually, because I really miss that community. It just feels very “each for himself” in Chicago, like you just gotta try to do what you’re doing and get out there by yourself. I have done open mics and smaller shows and stuff, and I was lucky enough to sing with William Fitzsimmons at Lincoln Hall, which was amazing, and me and my friend opened up for Rocky Votolato, which was amazing too. So I’ve had a couple big things, but it’s mostly been smaller stuff, but it just didn’t feel as warm or encouraging as the Seattle music scene. I know people really do like it but I think it just wasn’t exactly right for me because I love collaboration so much.

Having been a musician in three very different and distinct cities, do you feel like location has any influence or effect on your music or your creative process?
Totally. I’m really big on my environment, and if I’m not in a place where I’m feeling inspired and love my surroundings, it’s really hard for me to write. If I can’t find a good spot, I just can’t do it. I loved the environment in Seattle, and I would just go out to a park or sit in a coffee shop and write. I find it harder to write in Chicago, in this big city where it’s just concrete. And in Minneapolis, I just lived in the suburbs, so that wasn’t super inspiring either. I think it’s important to find an inspiring, good space where you have creative people around you who are able to inspire you. I definitely found that in Seattle.

What is your first musical memory? What’s the first moment relating to music you can remember having an emotional or physical response to the music you were hearing?
That’s a good question. Its hard to think back because I’ve been listening to and exploring music for so long, but when I started to get into Bob Dylan’s music in ninth grade, it was a pretty huge turning point. I felt like I’d found something I’d been looking for, and just reading his lyrics and being inspired to write my own stuff was really important for me. He’s still probably my biggest influence, lyrically and even melodically, and I think when I started liking his music it was a gateway into other music that really inspired me. I saw him live in ninth grade too, which was awesome and I was just blown away. It kind of made me want to start being a musician.

That’s a great segue way to my next question. I didn’t realize you started out on YouTube doing covers of songs and that’s how you started getting attention from people for your music. After playing so many covers of songs that other people have written, what was the transition into writing your own music like and how did you go about finding your own voice as a musician and a writer?
It was honestly a little bit terrifying because I’d been playing other people’s music for so long and it was music that I loved and felt like I could never measure up to. It was like, how am I going to even scratch the surface of making something people are going to enjoy as much as these covers? It was really slow. So I just started writing and writing and writing, and I mostly hated all of it, but I knew I just wanted to keep trying. And so I started putting it out there and I was terrified, but I just wanted to try it, and the more support I got, the easier it became to feel comfortable writing and releasing it, and now I feel really good about releasing stuff because I feel like I’ve kind of come into my own and have my own style and sound that I’m comfortable with. But it did take a long time to get there and I just really didn’t want to copy anyone, so I tried not to listen to people when I wrote at all, because I was so nervous about being called out on it from doing covers for so long. It was a process for sure.

Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re writing music?
Mostly from day-to-day life and experiences. I definitely get inspiration from songs, if I hear, like, a little melody I like, or even just one word that I like can start a little song for me. But just situations and experiences that have hit me a lot harder than other experiences have been huge inspiration for writing in general. If I go through something, and it’s just like “Wow, that was really intense,” I just have to write about it. I need to talk about it.

How do you think the trajectory of your music career would have been different if there was no such thing as YouTube? Do you think you would have still pursued music if you hadn’t had YouTube as an outlet when you were just starting out?
I’ve actually never been asked that before. It’s hard to say, because YouTube was a huge source of validation, and even confirmation, for me to be more comfortable in my music and my voice. I didn’t perform at all in high school, and I never thought about being serious about being a musician until I put my stuff on YouTube. So I don’t think I would be as serious about it now if I hadn’t gotten such amazing feedback. Part of me also wishes I didn’t have YouTube, because it was such an awesome response and I feel like most people just don’t have luck like that. I started YouTube when it was just starting out, so I feel like people just gravitated toward my channel and it just grew and grew and grew. And part of me wishes I had done it like other people, like Bob Dylan: playing shows wherever I could and whenever I could, and just work my way up, instead of this quick fan base on YouTube that has helped a lot. So I’m kind of back and forth about that.

I felt like there were some pretty big differences between Ignoble and Candescent, in subject matter and even the way your voice sounds and the song structures. What do you think is the biggest difference between those two albums in terms of your own artistic progression?
There’s been a ton of growth since then. That was 2009, so, it sounds stupid, but I still felt young, and I look back on that and am like “Oh man, I was so young!” I can’t listen to Ignoble anymore. It’s hard for me to listen to because it seems so immature to me. But I feel really good about the growth that has happened. I think I learned a lot in that time of my life from Ignoble to Candescent and I kind of became a lot more of an individual, which I think showed in my writing. I feel more experienced in my music because I’ve been practicing and working and writing so much, so I wanted it to show that I’ve been working hard and trying to grow as a musician. It’s been an adjustment.

What can we expect from Kiersten Holine in the remainder of 2012?
Well, I’m hoping to go on tour, that’s the hope right now. Possibly West Coast, so that could happen potentially fall or early winter. So, touring. And I’ll always be doing YouTube stuff. I really enjoy covers, just trying stuff out for fans, and I love the interaction there. I’ll still be writing, but it might be a couple more years before I come out with another album. And I definitely do want to play a lot more shows. So that’s the plan so far.

YouTube // Bandcamp // Twitter // Tumblr

[Note: this interview was conducted in July as part of my summer internship. It never got posted then, but Kiersten has graciously allowed me to share it here. She’s great.]

Dream Believe Do.

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I once took part in a ‘life coaching’ exercise that at first sounded rather macabre. It was this: write your own eulogy. Shocked? Don’t be. The point is to articulate how you would like to be remembered. And once you’ve done it, ask yourself if you are that person today. If not, then no better time to start than immediately. After all, it’s too easy to look across the tracks and see successful people (whatever form that ‘success’ might take to be relevant to you) and muse that they’ve only done it because they were born in the right month, to the right family or with an excess of luck on their side. It’s much harder to perceive your destiny as your own responsibility.

And yet, what is it that permits some to rise to fame, fortune or respect? I’ve been hugely privileged to interview many people I find inspiring over the years, from Mary Portas for this issue to film director Peter Greenaway, hotelier Ian Schrager and photographer Elliott Erwitt to name a handful. And it strikes me that there are common threads that have very little to do with background, providence or prosperity. And so I proffer my observations and my own life learnings thus far… To do anything well, you must first care. Passionately. And be enthusiastic. Be hungry. Stay hungry. Be proactive. Do more than your job description. In fact, create your own job. Understand that receiving criticism is the quickest way to improve. And that sometimes being fired, or not getting what you want, is absolutely the best thing that could happen. Be a team player. Give credit where credit is due; ‘we’ is always stronger than ‘I’. But if something goes wrong, take responsibility, stand up and be counted. Love your life outside work – it’s the only way to stay sane, and that’s more important the higher up you go. Know your physical limits, but never stop dreaming. Never mock another person’s dreams. Don’t be a quitter. If you believe you can do something, you’ve already done the hard part. Be curious. Stay curious. Rules are overrated but respect is everything. Play for win/win scenarios. Don’t ask permission to succeed, just get on with it. If something hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. In short, dream, believe, do! But be prepared to work bloody hard, over and above expectations. Never cheat. Don’t gossip. Have a moral code. Enjoy the ride. The aim is to screech to a halt when you finally get to those pearly gates and say wow, what a blast! Not oops, I forgot something.

-Michelle Ogundehin, Editor of Elle Decoration UK

Capitol Hill Block Party.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone AppMajor Lazer

Oh boy, I had a doozy of a weekend at Capitol Hill Block Party. For those who don’t live in Seattle, Capitol Hill is a super hip Seattle neighborhood just east of downtown, and Block Party is a weekend-long music festival in which the city closes Pike Street between 10th and 13th (much like SXSW, only on a smaller scale) to allow for some serious live music grooving to take place. In spite of my skinny pocketbook (does anyone even use the word ‘pocketbook’ un-ironically anymore?), I decided to buy a weekend pass because a) my good friends Hot Bodies in Motion were playing, b) small outdoor music festivals are awesome (see: Bumbershoot), and c) YOLO, my friends. YOLO trumps every excuse ever.

In hindsight, I definitely made the right decision… and we all know that hindsight is 20/20. It was awesome: good friends, great weather, lots of moderately priced beer, and Seattle dogs, the most divine of all dogs in all of America. My mom even came on Saturday (to see HBIM because she’s a total fan girl, bless her heart), which should give you an indication of how awesome it was. And of course, the music. I saw lots of big names like Major Lazer (overwhelming), Grimes (creepily enticing?), and Neko Case (surprisingly uninspiring), but CHBP, like most music festivals for me, was all about the underdogs.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone AppAllen Stone

First of all, Allen Stone. Good Lord, what a homecoming. After nearly a year of touring the globe and making some big appearances on television (he was on Letterman last night!), and after The Stranger gave him a recommendation in their CHBP preview that was lukewarm at best, he absolutely killed it. Nate was reminiscing about last year’s Block Party, and noted how impressive it was that Allen had accompanied him to CHBP last year as a mere pedestrian, and a short year later, Allen was playing the Main Stage and Nate couldn’t even get close to him because of the enormous crowd of people that came out to watch him perform. Go on, boy, you GROWN!

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone AppEl Ten Eleven

Two of the best performances I saw, however, were from two relatively unknown bands: St. Lucia and El Ten Eleven. St. Lucia played on the smaller outdoor stage on Saturday evening, and their set was nothing short of magical: their Caribbean-influenced dance pop was infectious and incited much happy dancing within the crowd, and there was a light breeze that was blowing through all of their hair and it was so picturesque, like a movie, and just perfect in every way. For El Ten Eleven on Sunday night, my friends and I decided to arrive early and stake out a front-row spot, which proved to be genius on our parts because they were mind-blowing. It was just two guys, one on drums and one on guitar (bass and double-headed!), and lots of loop pedals and INFINITE ROCK. I’m so glad that we were so close to the stage because from that short distance, you can really see the joy in the faces of the people performing, and how excited they get when people are grooving to their music and clapping and cheering for them. You could see how much it meant to them, and it was really inspiring and amazing.

Live music is truly one of the best things in the world. I’m convinced of it.

Self-Consciousness vs. Interestingness.

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Ever since reading What The Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell’s collection of essays, I’ve had a particular statement of his at the constant forefront of my thoughts. In his introduction, Gladwell talks about minor geniuses and why, when he’s writing an essay, he goes to the people in the middle, the people who do the actual work, instead of the people at the top. He explains that the people at the top are reticent to share information freely and are very careful about what they divulge because they have a lot more to lose, which leads Gladwell to conclude that “self-consciousness is the enemy of interestingness.”

SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE ENEMY OF INTERESTINGNESS. Does this statement resonate with anyone else as much as it does with me?

I’ve been ruminating for months on how this equation works, the equation being INTERESTINGNESS ≠ SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS. I totally get why Gladwell would draw this conclusion; I myself am very self-conscious when I talk to people I don’t know very well, and as a result, I feel the people often perceive me as boring. By that same token, I generally find myself enamored of people who seem to have a preponderance of self-consciousness, who immediately speak easily and freely about anything because they don’t give a damn if people find them impressive or not and who are always themselves regardless of who they meet or talk to; these are the type of people I want to know. There’s such a perpetuation of “political correctness,” of self-censorship so as not to offend, in American culture that makes dialogue so sterile and bland, and I think that has heightened the attractiveness and magnetism of people who don’t strictly adhere to decorum. I guess I can only speak for myself, but I think there’s a sort of exhilaration in experiencing the openness of a person that almost feels like breaking the rules, like I’m cheating the system by participating in a conversation that is unscripted and unguarded.

That said, there is also a fine line between openness and having no filter. I went to college with a great number of people who would pipe up during class discussions with whatever thought was floating around in their heads, regardless of whether or not it was fully-formed or even germane to the conversation, and their comments ended up being more disruptive than anything else. The need for gratification and affirmation is very prominent in people of my generation, I’ve noticed, and that inward focus paired with a lack of verbal filter makes people say some really stupid, and ultimately boring, things. That old adage “Do not say anything that does not improve upon silence,” comes to mind; it’s a sentiment that seems to have fallen on many a deaf ear.

So, if we’re solving for x (as in, INTERESTINGNESS=x), what is that secret sauce that we equate with interestingness? Does x=UNGUARDED? Does x=FILTER+INTELLIGENCE+OPENNESS? Or does x=SIMPLY NOT GIVING A DAMN? I’m not a mathematician, you guys, so I couldn’t say definitively. But I hope to figure it out eventually.

What do you think x equals? Do interestingness and self-consciousness necessarily have to be enemies?