Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sacred Cod Gurgling Jugs and Carbide Cannons

I'm still thinking how to parlay a stack of old Yankee magazines into a cash donation to the Kampala Junior Team. Actually I'm thinking about how to get serious about cash in general, for me and a few other people who are in desperate need of a cash infusion. I'm happy a friend from Kampala chimed in on the comments to say the Yankee Magazine idea is not half baked.

Leafing through the old magazines some of the ads stand out. One of them for "sacred cod gurgling jugs" and another for "old fashioned carbide cannons" made me think that you probably don't see them around anymore. Searching on the Internet, I find I'm wrong. Shreve, Crump & Low the company offering the cod jugs is still in business. In fact Shreve, Crump & Low is apparently the oldest jeweler in North America. And they still offer the jugs for sale in a variety of sizes and glazes. Hard to pick my favorite, but the pink one pictured is a limited edition with part of the proceeds from the sales going to Breast Cancer Services, Sagoff Breast Center at Faulkner Hospital. So if I were in the market for a sacred cod gurgling jug, I feel sure I'd buy the pink one.

The ad for the cannon made me laugh because what's considered an appropriate toy for children has changed over the last forty years or so. I don't remember ever begging for such a cannon as a boy, but I'm sure it would have attracted me. The ad says: Sounds like Dynamite! Brilliant Flash! It also says: Completely Safe, no matches or gunpowder used. That last bit is what I'd have emphasised were I to have pitched the toy to my folks, although I probably wouldn't have bothered as even back then they wouldn't have bought it for me. My mother did buy me a lead soldier making kit when I was only eight or so. Imagine nowadays parents thinking playing with molten lead was child's play. That surely was one of my favorite toys and I remember at least two years after first receiving the gift an excursion to purchase more lead. What we found was lead ingots at a plumbing company. The problem was that it was tedious cutting the lead with a cold chisel and hammer into small enough bits to melt in the little smelting pot.

I can't find any listings online for the company advertising the cannons in 1968, nevertheless the cannons are still available. The 60MM cannon at that site seems exactly like the one pictured in the 1968 ad for $4.95. Today's price is $69.95.

Part of the charm of the old magazines are the wonderful photographs. I'm particularly enchanted by pictures of ordinary Yankees. It's been a long time, but I read a wonderful book Another Way of Telling which was a collaboration of Swiss photographer Jean Mohr and art theorist John Berger.
There are no photographs which can be denied. All photographs have the status of fact. What is to be examined is in what way photography can and cannot give meaning to facts.
I wish now I'd not given the book away because with exposure to so many images now by way of the Internet it is more important than ever to consider how I make meaning from them.

Alex de Waal addresses the issue of making meaning from photographs in a recent essay What Matters. The same day of de Waal's essay November's Harpers arrived in the mail with an article about de Waal along with a photo essay from the Sudan by Lynsey Addario.

Reporter and photojournalist Glenna Gordon has an important post up at her blog Uganda Scarlet Lion entitled Celebrity Photographers in Congo: Kivus are THE Place To Be!. I'm afraid I often don't understand things quite right, but what I take from Gordon's post is the need for sustained attention. She cautions against drive-by observations and quick glances at realities more nuanced and complicated than we imagine. Gordon does engage. Here's a link to a recent report of hers at IRIN she mentions in her post. I commend Gordon for blogging as well, a blog that allows comment. Journalists who also blog is a new development and one which offers the possibility for deeper understandings both for journalists and readers alike.

Barack Obama's grandmother is ailing. Later this week Obama will break off campaigning for a couple of days to visit her. This morning Ta-Nehisi Coates posted about this development, a post inspired in part by a photograph of Obama's grandparents as young adults. It's a moving piece. Coates writes: I
was looking at this picture of Obama's grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what.
Looking for family resemblances is one of my favorite things. My family is spread out across the land and I don't often my nieces and nephews and grand nieces and grand nephews. Photographs are a way in which I connect myself to them. In the photos of the youngest ones my memories of their parents are recalled.

BAGnews Notes is a blog "dedicated to visual politics, the analysis of news images and the support of 'concerned' photojournalism." Yesterday BAGnews posted a newswire picture from earlier in the summer of Obama casting a lei into the ocean from the site where his mother's ashes were scattered. Both Coates' piece and the post at BAGnews use photographs to help form meanings about Barack Obama. Such photographs are part of a mosaic. The photographs fact in and of themselves, but the meanings are in their place in context and to place them in context require a sort of dialog.

Photographs bring much to our understanding, but there is work we must do to enable them to do so. The meaning must be examined and blogs provide one way that together people can engage in this work.

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