Namaste, Bobby McFerrin. A Photograph.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Producing for this public radio program definitely has its memory perks, indelible moments that make one pause and smile, or contemplate and squint. This photo is one of those sacred moments for me, ten seconds or so in which I witnessed an artist prepare in his own way for another interview.
Just after Bobby McFerrin sat down — right before he ran back to his dressing room to fetch Krista some fresh-baked ginger snaps — he began stretching in the most relaxed and expansive way, fully aware of his breathing and his body. His movement was more of a pose, really, with a glacial, measured pace of extension. Ample in its nature, lacking nervousness. The nature of it gracious and enduring, with intention.
This is as good as it gets.
By the way, the man is 61 years old. I gotta start improvising more.
Style & Lived Tradition
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
This photo comes from Hijabs High, a blog inspired by the on-the-street fashion photographer The Sartorialist. However, Hijabs High has a more specific mission; collecting photos of women sporting the Islamic hijab (head scarf), and showcasing “international street style from fabulous hijabistas.”
It’s a refreshing image when so much of what we hear about the hijab, or the burqa and niqab, is steeped in politics and ideology — a more recent example being the emergence of the head scarf as a political symbol in the Indonesian presidential election. What seems to get lost in these stories is the day-to-day experience of women who wear a hijab not as a symbol or political statement, but as an expression of their personal faith.
This is what I love about the image above; it seems to give us a glimpse of that lived faith. What I see in this photo is a young woman balancing different cultural pressures and expectations — and doing it with style and personality.
This fall we plan to produce a program about “expressions of Muslim identity,” modeled on last year’s program “The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic.” Like the Catholic program, we’ve put a call out to Muslims to lend their perspective — and I think the above photo offers one impression of the type of story we’re looking for:
If you are Muslim, we’d like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of “the Muslim world,” as it is often called. What does “being Muslim” mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam, and how does it find expression in your daily life? What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
Sifting Through Screens
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
The image above is a photo of artist Nam June Paik’s video installation “TV Buddha.” It’s always been a favorite of mine for its clever take on the practice of meditation — a Buddha statue “contemplating” a live video image of itself. This picture is one of the photos that we considered for our recent program, “TV and Parables of Our Time,” but it didn’t end up making the final cut.
Choosing images for our programs is one of my favorite parts of this job, but it’s not always easy. The best image usually contains some mix of aesthetic appeal, editorial relevance, and that slippery, hard to pin-down thing we call “sensibility.”
“TV and Parables of Our Time” was no exception. I initially proposed to Trent (SOF’s online editor) using images from the TV shows Krista and Diane Winston discussed (much like our Web site for “A Return to the Mystery”). After talking it over a bit, we decided this conversation deserved a different approach — so it was off to Flickr, Getty, or any other place I might be able to find the right image.
I struggled to figure out where to start searching for an image with this program. The most obvious starting point was to start with an image search for “television,” but that seemed a little too easy. I came back to Trent with a set of images (included above), pushing the one you see on top with the young girl facing sideways. Unable to find something directly related to the program (other than the presence of a television), I had mostly gone for images I found visually interesting. Trent’s advice: keep looking.
I find that there’s no sure-fire way to accomplish this task, but it often helps to have more than one set of eyes looking to get it right. It’s real easy to get attached to one element of the program — in this case, the image of a television — and lose track of the larger message. On my second round of searching, I encountered photos of “TV Buddha” and got excited to have found something I already loved — hoping I might be able to make it work for the show. Talking it over with Trent — someone a little less infatuated with the image’s content — helped me realized that, while it may have been a cool image, it wasn’t the right fit for the program.
(photo: Andrea Volpini/Flickr)
I finally came back with one last set of images (above), which included the photo we ended up using, on top. Not only did I like the image, I also appreciated the quote that the photographer included on the photo’s Flickr page. From the Egyptian screenwriter Mohammed Amer, on the subject of Egyptian musalsalat (TV series): “One of the most important things soap operas have done is encourage the public to condemn terrorism.”
I liked that it kept with one of the themes of the program — the power of televised storytelling to help us cope with contemporary issues — but came from a different cultural perspective: Egyptian television rather than the American-made shows discussed in the program. My one concern was that the image seemed a little grainy, but Trent’s input was that the image quality didn’t make it less compelling.
Oh yeah, and I did manage to sneak Nam June Paik into the Web site. Another image I’d found on the last round of searching included Paik’s large installation “Megatron/Matrix,” which we ended up using for the site’s secondary pages.
(photo: Garrett Miller/Flickr)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
This photo [see here] by Marc Asnin has intrigued me for years now, long before I began this gig at SOF. The sheer density and composition of the image feels almost painterly, and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much — not to mention the wealth of characters. The scene is also a reminder that this boy from NoDak (short hand for North Dakota) must constantly seek out new worlds of thinking and ways of living and discussing.
This crowded room of Lubavitcher men in the heart of Brooklyn are fully engaged and attentive to the words of their leader, the late Rabbi Schneerson. I see them listening to him with the utmost reverence, but as discerning believers who are not passive, but questioning and challenging. What a different world than the prairie Catholic one I grew up in!
I think about this photo every so often when I start resigning myself to another place — particularly today during our staff meeting. I reminded myself to tune in, listen to my colleagues respectfully, engage, and then remind myself of Edward Tufte’s (the guru of information design) call to action, “If you don’t fight for your content, who will.”
Chilkoot Lake, Alaska
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
With summer comes travel, and the SOF staff is on the move. The beauty of Kate having an iPhone is that she occasionally sends the staff photos she’s taken from her travels. I find these shared gems give an insight into what she sees at a book event, an awards ceremony, or when she’s on vacation.
With a breathtaking backdrop like this, how can one not be inspired to come back and look for the story in other connected landscapes — which reminds me of our looking into Belgian bloembinder Daniel Ost and his sense that flowers and trees are not merely decorations but are a way for him to convey a sense of meaning through his work. From a piece in The New York Times Magazine:
“…flowers are connected with spirituality. In the West we use them in a purely decorative way, but in Japan they work with the flower’s soul to express not just beauty but ideas like death. … I’ve always wanted to show flowers in their optimum moment, but now that I’m older, I also want to explore the beauty of dying.”
(photo: Kate Moos)
“Buddhists Never Die”
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
From a photoblog I subscribe to, FILE Magazine, comes this intriguing photo by Michael Matlach. Check out his site for more great pics from South and Southeast Asia. Michael, I’d be interested to know more about this pic, if you make your way here.