rear view: pickups: a valley love story, at spitzer art center.

burgIMG_3615When I arrived at Spitzer Art Center last Friday, I parked near an interesting-looking pickup truck. An old, classic Chevy — teal, or maybe sea foam green. Its hood was open, and when I peered underneath, I saw a bottle of Crown Royal somehow rigged to the engine.

burgIMG_3623I thought, “This is gonna be a fun art exhibit.” Yes, you’d expect an art exhibit on First Friday at Spitzer Art Center, but this one sorta changed my expectation of art itself. This was art about art. It was, like, meta art or something. A new level.

On this Friday, you could view photographs from Howard Zehr’s new book Pickups: A Valley Love Story. The photos show pickup trucks with their proud owners. And not only are Mr. Zehr’s photographs beautiful, but the trucks themselves stand as gorgeous, gleaming sculptures of time and memory and grit and spirit.

burgIMG_3599 burgIMG_3587Mr. Zehr spent numberless hours interviewing truck owners, hearing their stories… of how they came to own their trucks, of harrowing and hilarious experiences with their trucks… of why their trucks mean so much to them, then published it all in his book. And so that sunny evening, the walls of Spitzer shone with images of much-loved trucks and the words of their adoring owners.

burgIMG_3609bw burgIMG_3583bwSome owners, like Lois Brown, appreciate practicality in a vehicle: “It’s not what I call pretty, but it sure is comfortable,” she says of her brown and beige Ford. Actually, I saw several of those two-tone trucks that night. I probably never noticed before, but they are pretty. I saw photos of trucks for hunting and hauling and just rolling over stuff. Even for selling coffee, like Tom Hayman of Grains of Sense. Some owners use their trucks as other vehicles, like Josh Bacon: “The kids like to pretend it’s a boat and fish off the back.” A practical solution for imaginative youngsters. And Corey Oomps — he loves his truck because “I like horsepower.” Fair enough.

Yes, trucks have lots of practical uses, but some owners even feel like their trucks make them better people. Like Matthew “Goosey” Dolemar, who says, “Without the truck, I’d probably just be mean!” And Shannon Pollock has realized that “each thing that’s wrong with it means it’s something else I get to learn.” A kinder, smarter nation… one truck at a time.

burgIMG_3596Some owners love their trucks for purely sentimental reasons. Richard Randolph’s truck is “a real joy, that it can be as old as it is and still be useful.” And some keep their trucks as a reminder of days long gone, like Bill Goldberg: “It’s one of the last links to my long hair, Grateful Dead, hippie days.”

However, the most touching element that seemed to pervade the entire exhibit was devotion. Everyone’s got that one true truck love. According to Eric Beck, any new truck is just a “rebound” truck — acquired to ease the pain of losing a former truck love. You can literally see the commitment people have for their trucks, some with mismatched parts… evidence of owners desperate to repair and preserve their trucks, whatever it takes. No matter what kind of patchwork quilt it ends up looking like, that truck you fell in love with is still in there, dang it. Nancy Slye possibly relocated here from New York just to use her truck more: “Running around in a pickup in New York — that was not a cool thing to do.” You know it’s serious when you actually move to another state for the one you love.

burgIMG_3570You can see the exhibit all month at Spitzer Art Center on 33 West just a block or two from downtown. Of course, you don’t get to see all of Mr. Zehr’s photos or read any of his stories (including the one about that Crown Royal truck!) unless you get the book itself. You can find it at Barnes and Noble, or from the publisher, or you can get a signed copy through his web site.

In our next post, we’ll tell you, and show you, a little more about Spitzer Art Center and our visit there. And, of course, several more megabytes of photos. Stay tuned!

burgIMG_3683Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

MISSleading media: women in focus at court square theater.

womeninfocus8The saga continues…

Here we are, at the third installment of this series about Miss Representation, a documentary which explores the effects of various media on women. Tonight I’m writing about mixed messages—mixed messages the media sends to women of all ages, and mixed messages in the documentary itself. For example, there’s a part of the film where Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda (two separate interviews) rail against the unfair, unrealistic expectations that women must be young and beautiful and sexy and physically perfect in order to be valued… yet these two women are caked in makeup and hair spray. Again with the makeup thing… really? I know, I know… but I couldn’t help notice that two well-known and highly respected women who have, their whole lives, supported the ideas of equal rights, feminism, and self-expression, are worried about looking their age. ??? Have they, too, fallen under the same spell they’re criticizing? And if Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda can be duped, is there any hope for the rest of us? Ugh.

I’m sure I’m remembering the segments of the documentary out of order, but I recall a part where a series of images is projected—images of Bratz dolls and Sarah Palin, of Paris Hilton and Florence Nightingale, of Barbie and Daisy Duke and Hillary Clinton. There are also photos from various fashion magazines, and a demonstration of how photo editors digitally “enhance” (manipulate) the faces and bodies of the models. Why do we even need real-life models anymore, now that we have this technology? How has the modeling industry survived the advent of Photoshop? I mean, the models’ eyes get enlarged and widened, their cheekbones defined, their noses straightened, their waists whittled, their breasts lifted, their thighs thinned… all with a few clicks of the mouse. In the end, the images look only remotely like the original models. Sorry, viewers, but what you see is a carefully crafted illusion… not a real human being.

The dolls, sexy movie stars, and Photoshopped models send an immediate and lasting visual message, that’s, for some, more influential than a speech by Margaret Thatcher or an interview with Georgia O’Keefe. And while we know commercials are inherently deceptive and manipulative, even “reputable” news channels like to report on our female leaders’ appearance much more frequently than they would a man’s. So even female politicians, artists, doctors, scientists, humanitarians are reduced to their physicality, rather than elevated to their intellectual capacity. Why would a young woman aspire to become a leader if even the news doesn’t acknowledge female leadership? This leads me to what I think is the most disturbing portion of the film: “news leaders” like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck calling women (like Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and others) “b*tches.” In one clip a news anchor asks if Sarah Palin had breast implants! I mean, I made fun of (then) Governor Palin’s “Russia” comment, but I didn’t call her a b*tch and question the authenticity of her body parts. I also remember an image of Hillary Clinton wearing something that revealed about a centimeter of cleavage. Like Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” this incident was quickly dubbed the “Cleavage Controversy.” Can you imagine hearing about Bill O’Reilly’s “Bulge Controversy”? Never. And have you SEEN Rush Limbaugh? How he could ever remark about someone’s looks is beyond me. Can someone Photoshop him?

I’m sorry – was that b*tchy?

The point is, women have bodies, and whether they dress themselves in business suits or bathing suits, someone will criticize their appearance and ignore the rest. And THAT is a mixed message. What’s worse is the effect this constant negativity has on the relationships among women. Women question each others’ ability to lead, because we believe women lack the emotional fortitude to be tough, firm, consistent, rational, logical. (I’m laughing now, thinking of my mom and how strong she is, in so many ways. Really, you have no idea.) The constant focus on female appearance has created a habit of unhealthy comparison. This “beauty competition” causes jealousy, which causes hatred, which is really just self-hatred. Do men have this dilemma? I’m asking sincerely, because I truly don’t know.

And so we’ve ingested the poison. We’ve been conditioned to hate each other. A common compliment among women is to say, “You’re so pretty. You make me sick.” That is self-loathing wrapped in flattery—another mixed message—kinda like a cockroach wrapped in bacon. Goes down so smoothly you don’t know what you’ve consumed.

All this, unfortunately, has a lasting effect. One that can be overcome with awareness, yes… but it’s hard to “un-ring the bell,” so to speak. Once an idea is firmly planted and grows into an ideal, it’s hard to uproot it. If I had to give a name to this burden, I would call it unworthiness – a sense that no matter what one does, it’ll never be enough. As one high school student says in the documentary – her name is Maria – “When is it going to be enough? How long is it going to be for someone to take a stand?” I’m sad that she feels so defeated at such a young age, and that she doesn’t see herself as someone who can take a stand.

womeninfocus9I’ve always been tall and slender, just like my parents. Yes, I used to run a lot and completed a couple of marathons, but no matter my current level of fitness or what I eat, I stay pretty scrawny. I’ve gotten some flack from other women about this… I’ve been on the receiving end of “you make me sick.” Many people think that because I’m an ectomorph, I’ve had it easy. I haven’t. Like the film explains, women of all shapes and sizes will be judged for their shape and size until… until it’s no longer a value, I guess. So I’ve been judged, too.

Let me paint you a picture, lol: In ninth grade, I was 5’11” (like I am now) with a size ten shoe, and thirty pounds lighter with red, frizzy hair. I was Ronald McDonald. My two best friends in high school were David and Austin, because to the girls, I was that “weird girl,” quiet and awkward and lanky and bookish. I didn’t wear a bra until I was fourteen, and that was only because kids made fun of me for not wearing one. I didn’t need one, and I still don’t. I remember my friend Shannon in seventh grade coming to my defense, telling other girls that my bra was invisible… the latest thing! While other girls/women hated me for my thin frame, I coveted their curves and long straight hair. I would wear leggings under my jeans in hopes of filling them out just a little more. I never went so far as to stuff my bra because I would have been mortified if the sock had somehow moved to a strange position or, God help me, fallen out. But I certainly considered it. On the flip side, no men ever say to me, “Hey, baby! Nice protruding hip bones!” or “Look at the rib cage on her!” A mixed message: women seem jealous of my body type, but men seem disinterested in it.

Okay, my face is starting to flush because I’ve revealed A LOT in this post. I will add this: my body has served me well, and it continues to serve me well. There’s really nothing I can do to change what I have (or don’t have), and that’s fine. My short hair doesn’t get many whistles either, but I like it. I think it suits me.

But I’m still not leaving the house without makeup on.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.