UNMASKED & ANONYMOUS (Shimon and Lindemann Consider Portraiture)

I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum on Wednesday for the press preview of UNMASKED & ANONYMOUS: Shimon and Lindemann Consider Portraiture. For some reason the good people at MAM keep confusing me for someone with journalistic talents.

In any event, more about that experience in a moment, but first something important about my life. It's all about me, you know.

I bought a camera on Tuesday. A Canon PowerShot SX100 IS that I decided was the thing for me and my family after some "Consumer Reports" deliberation and hand testing to see if it felt good in my paw. It was time to replace my old Olympus after dropping it on concrete and watching it shatter into a few pieces. The stares of the onlookers who witnessed my gaffe as I was taking photos of my daughter completing a kids' triathlon (I know, madness that a five-year-old participates in something like this, but tear inducing nonetheless) seemed to say, "You poor dumb bastard. That's gonna cost you."

It did cost me. No doubt. A couple hundred bucks. But more than that, it cost me a heap of time worrying anxiously over whether or not I could retrieve the final photos I had taken from my old battered camera. Irreplaceable moments in time were locked on that camera and I was bound to feel like a real asshole if I was responsible for ruining that record of historic achievement for a five-year-old athlete.

The good news was, I did get the pictures out the camera. I was able to download a final shot of my kid being a tough triathlete. Forever, I will have an image of my girlie girl child snarling like a bad ass, and that makes me happy.

But now, it's all about the new camera. I can take movies with the thing. Photograph the tip of a pencil with razor sharp accuracy or take a snapshot of my entire South Side white trash city block with the panoramic view function. The possibilities are endless.

And this is what I was thinking about when I got to MAM to meet Johnie and Julie, as everyone calls them. That and the fact that my new camera wasn't working.

Yep. My new camera was jammed. Busted it seemed. The lens had some error, and try as I might, I couldn't get the damn thing to take a picture. And there I was in the midst of an exhibit all about photography and camera work. It was like being artistically waterboarded.

But I go with the flow. I needed to clear all that personal crap away so I could be free to start my art education. It is my professed goal to learn more about how to look at art, and here was a perfect opportunity to self educate alongside two artists in an intimate setting giving me and a group of media types inside info on their exhibit. I keep telling everyone that I want to be a sponge for art learning. The responsible thing to do in a situation like that is to focus. Focus on learning about art.

So I was forced to obsess instead. Learning schmearning. Obsession grabs me by the lapels, says, "Look at me!" and there ain't nothing I can do about it. There were two things I chose to obsess about during my time with Johnie and Julie. The first obsession du jour was their faces.

That's a photo I've grafted from their Flickr page. Okay, I'm not obsessing so much about their faces, as I am about the frames around their eyes. My hard crush on Johnny and Julie began the moment I saw those glasses. Bold, impenetrable frames that told me immediately that these two artists were life lovers. I know what it takes to wear eyeglasses like the ones the Johnie and Julie sport. You gotta love looking at life to carry something as heavy and prominent as that on your nose.

Yes, I was listening to Johnny and Julie as they talked about photos in the exhibit. And, yes, I was looking at and loving their photos and the ones that they had decided should be showcased in this exhibit from others artists in the MAM's collection. But those glasses were doing me in. I wondered to myself if Johnie and Julie were as obsessive and protective of their glasses as I am of mine. I wondered if they could tell you the brand name of their glasses like I can (I sport the SRO 145's, if you were wondering). I wondered if they too sometimes feel like wearing the glasses that they wear is a way to tell the world, "I'm here in front of you, but my glasses make it easy for me to daydream myself away to another time and place."

The second obsession that was playing on my mind during the gallery talk was the request I had from the MAM management to remove my backpack when I entered the gallery. It was no little thing, this momentary obsession. I start from a place of feeling completely out of place at any media event (Don't these people know I'm nothing but a hack writer!), so anything that draws attention to me, like the request to basically disrobe by taking off my backpack, sets me off on a hyper kinetic anxiety attack. I felt like I was a black teenager driving through a rich suburb pulled over by a middle aged white cop because I just didn't look like I belonged.

That was me at the Johnie and Julie show. I came in wanting to fill a notebook with ideas on how to view art, but instead I obsessed over eyewear and the lack of my security clutch. And I didn't even carry a notebook, so obsessed was I. But, at least obsessing over a couple of new things let me take a break from obsessing over my new camera's broke down status. Well, for 45 minutes at least.

As soon as I got out of the museum, I seemed to go back to my old place of worrying about the new camera. I had just shelled out what I consider a lot of dough for a piece of electronic gadgetry. And the damn thing wouldn't work.

Fuck. That's all I could think, was fuck.

I scrambled home and thought I'd try the camera again. I braced myself for the worst. I just knew, hope against hope, that when that camera hit my hands, malfunction was bound to be the order of business for the rest of the day.

But, no. I popped the power button and the lens slide in to position and a pleasing chime piped out to the camera body. And I was ready to document the world around me. And something possessed me to do that right away.

People and time. I remembered immediately that was what Johnie and Julie had been talking about during our short walk through their work. Their love of portraiture was all about capturing people in time. In a particular time with all the stories of the world around them projected on a photo frozen face.

Simple. My art education has begun. Look at life. Put your image out there for the rest of the world to see. Duh. The simplicity of this idea embarrasses me, but it's also kind of beautiful, don't you think?

My first shots on my new camera weren't of flowers in a vase. They weren't of squirrels cracking nuts in my backyard. They were of the people in my life. Portraits of my family. I look at the shots of Carmela...

And Dorothea...

And Paula...

And I don't just see my family. I see the story of my day. Of their day. Of the days of all the men and women they came into contact with during the course of their travels to get in front of my digital camera lens.

You probably want to know what I think of Johnie and Julie's show, right? There's a lot to like. A lot. I don't think it's because they know how to hold a camera. I think it's more about their love of people and time. They have their own obsessions, and taking a look at them hanging on the wall's of MAM makes you love everything they see.

UNMASKED & ANONYMOUS: Shimon and Lindemann Consider Portraiture
is worth a closer look if you ask me. And if you need to borrow my glasses to see what I'm talking about, too bad. Take your own set of eyes. Johnie and Julie would have it that way.