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Why do we often assume that art is not functional?  On the other hand, why do we rarely view the purely functional as a work of art?  Bayview artist Ian McDonald delves directly into the world of form and function in his bright and austere studio.  With ceramics as a current focus, McDonald also works with wood, textiles and various other materials that allow for direct manipulation.  When asked about his source of inspiration, McDonald revealed that it is the begun process of work itself that serves as his guide on where to go next.

Read an interesting interview and see more images of his beautiful artwork here.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Jeffery M. Levine was recently featured in the New York Times article, “The Elderly, Through the Eyes of a Geriatrician.” Levine (a liveBooks customer) discusses geriatrics and the combination of art and medicine on his healthcare blog,

As a young doctor starting out in my profession I wanted to stake a claim in academia – doing research and teaching about human aging.  What I achieved is something different from what I originally intended when I began my project of visually documenting the process of growing old.

Initially I tried to catalog the physical manifestations of aging.  Using Kodachrome slide film and flash, I captured changes of the skin and musculoskeletal system, supplementing my portfolio with x-rays that enhanced understanding of the physiology of growing old.  One day out of curiosity I switched to black and white film, turned off the flash, and stepped back to photograph my patients in their natural environment and captured the interactions between me and my subject.

More »

Carl Bower‘s Chica Barbie series won a Blue Earth Alliance prize for Best Project Photography and was a finalist for Photolucida’s 2009 Critical Mass Book Award. The project on Colombia’s obsession with beauty pageants is astute and multi-faceted, and Carl’s explanation of how he captured such a complicated phenomenon is powerful and eloquent. To see his work in person, check out the Select Gender show opening today at Farmani Gallery.

'Cat Walk' from 'Chica Barbie.' ©Carl Bower

Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about how you first found out about the beauty pageants of Colombia.

Carl Bower: I saw a small article in the New York Times that said there was a pageant there for practically anything imaginable — Miss Sun, Miss Sea, Miss Purity, Miss Pretty Legs, Miss Honey — the list went on. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of these contests with everything else I had been reading about Colombia: the cartels, the guerrillas, the bombings and kidnappings. I thought of how such parallel realities could coexist and the extent to which our popular conception of the country had been a caricature formed by stories of the drug trade.

At the time I came across the article, I was supporting a close friend in her battle with breast cancer. She had been a national champion ballroom dancer and a competitive bodybuilder. Her appearance was something that she took pride in and took pains to maintain even as she lost one breast, then another, and suffered the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Throughout her ordeal, I noticed how her sexuality seemed undiminished, if not stronger. I started to wonder, if a beautiful person gradually loses elements deemed to be part of that beauty, where is the tipping point at which they are no longer beautiful? Is there one?

In my anger and frustration with the cancer and growing obsession with the commoditization of beauty, the story of the pageants struck a nerve. Here was an environment where all the issues I was grappling with were stripped bare and distilled to the point that it might be possible to convey some of them on film.

At first I tried finding the pageants through government records, but most of the information was unreliable or outdated. Through a friend, I met a fashion designer commissioned to create the dresses for a candidate to the national pageant. I photographed her preparation and coaching, learned of regional pageants, and met with judges, organizers, parents of contestants. I visited modeling agencies and schools where girls were being trained to compete in the pageants from the age of four.

'Aguardiente' from 'Chica Barbie.' ©Carl Bower

When I learned of festivals occurring throughout the country, I went to various towns and introduced myself in their mayors’ offices. I went everywhere: to the national pageants, with their weeks-long round-the-clock media blitz, to high school pageants, to pageants with just three candidates.

I began to see how the pageants were one of the few unifying threads in a country compartmentalized by geography, politics, and social stratification. It seemed that everyone, regardless of social standing, had an opinion about them: not on whether they were good or bad, or whether they should exist, but on who should win. When I returned to the United States, I found that some of the complexity I experienced was missing from the photos, so I went back. I kept finding new layers of meaning, so I ended up going back again and again.

You said that as you’ve gotten deeper into the story it has gotten more complicated and you feel more ambivalent about the role of these pageants in the culture (something visible in the images). What were some of the contradictions you discovered?

CB: When I began photographing, I felt that the pageants were essentially meat markets. It wasn’t just that thousands of people were scrutinizing the contestants’ bodies; what struck me was the categorical, exhaustive, and unforgiving nature of it. Are her ankles thick? Who has breast implants? Who doesn’t but should? Whose ass is too small, too large, or shaped like melons when it should be like oranges? After the current Miss Colombia was crowned last November, there were months of public demands that she have her nose fixed to better compete in Miss World. More »

Every month on RESOLVE we ask a photographer to share a personal project they’re currently working on. We’re doubly happy to highlight Faces 4 Reform from Robert and Robbie Bailey, since it addresses a pressing issue for all Americans — the rising number of uninsured — and because the website liveBooks donated has helped bring extra attention to the project.

From the Faces 4 Reform project. ©Robert & Robbie Bailey

Name: Robert & Robbie Bailey
Age: 42  & 41
Location: New York
Kind of photography we specialize in: Portraiture

Personal project name and short description: Faces4Reform – Portraits of America’s Uninsured. According to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau, there were 46.3 million people living in the United State without health insurance.  This series of portraits gives you a close look at some of their faces.

When and why did you start it?
Towards the end of the summer, we began to pay close attention to the debate over health insurance reform.  As small business owners, we personally understand the plight of the uninsured.  For years, we worked 80 hour weeks but were still unable to afford the high premiums unfairly imposed on the self-employed.  We opted for a reasonable state subsidized insurance plan but that has increased by 65% in the last three years.  If something doesn’t change, we could be uninsured again in the very near future.

Aside from our own personal motivation, we felt compelled to respond to the misconceptions about the uninsured.  There are those that would like for you to believe that the majority are illegal immigrants or welfare recipients. In contrast, many of the uninsured people that we know are productive, hardworking individuals and families that are simply locked out of a broken system.

Sadly, political lines have been drawn, the spin-masters are hard at work, and the American public is once again at the mercy of entertainment journalism and those that specialize in misinformation. When that happens, those most affected get lost in the discussion and politics takes precedence over people. This series of portraits hopes to humanize the ongoing debate and encourage participation in the political process. As artists and small business owners, we obviously don’t have the money or influence to affect polices in Washington but we do possess a creative power that can be used to inform and inspire.

Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far?
The power in this particular body of work lies in seeing the images as a collective.

What has been the most challenging thing about the project?
Finding the time to do it.

What has been the most rewarding thing about it? More »


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