February 2012

Posted by Ellen

It was a way to spend a summer afternoon in South Philly in 2001, doing flips off a pile of discarded old mattresses. The photographer who happened by, Zoe Strauss, originally stopped to caution the boys: Don't do that. You're gonna kill yourselves. They told her not to worry and offered to do even more daredevilish stunts for her camera. She snapped a few pictures and then took off, anxious, perhaps, that her picture-taking might be upping the danger level.

The boy in the back in this photo, Lawrence Edward Rose, Jr., has his hand in front of his face, as if in astonishment at what the other boy, his cousin Botie, was up to. Actually, his fist was at his mouth because he was sucking his thumb; he was thirteen years old that summer, but he was a shy, quiet boy who continued to suck his thumb till he was seventeen.

The summer he turned nineteen, six years almost to the day after the mattress flipping, he died from complications of gunshot wounds suffered in a gang fight at a corner store a few blocks from where those mattresses had been piled. His mother had feared for her timid boy who smiled at everybody and still sucked his thumb as a teenager; to keep him off the streets, she had enrolled him in every program she could find, even sending him to two different boarding schools. But it seemed he was a homebody who wasn't comfortable away from his family and his neighborhood, and in July 2007, the street claimed him.

The photo had a life of its own. Zoe Strauss made several prints, which she exhibited at a show she mounted every year underneath an I-95 interchange in South Philly. Under the highway, the prints sold for $5. Later, she printed larger versions on fancy paper for a New York gallery that sold them for $3,000. More recently, a billboard-sized print of the mattress flip has hung over the main entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, announcing a mid-career retrospective show of Strauss's work.

It's also part of the cover design of an ABC picture book published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is how librarian Sa'ddiya Suku came across it last year at a branch library in West Philly. She didn't know the children in the scene, but she had grown up at the corner where the picture was shot, and she recognized the red-painted brick wall behind the mattresses. And then she recognized the thumb-sucking child standing near the wall, from pictures she'd seen and stories she'd heard after his death.

Suku showed the picture to Rose's family; they were thrilled, she said, to learn that the boy was part of history. He's gone, but he lives on; the photo is about nothing so much as the joy of being young and alive.

Posted by Ellen

That's a pretty nice t-shirt that the guy in white shorts is wearing on this Havana street.

Posted by Ellen

Between these two western Minnesota lakes is a little stretch of land called Traverse Gap or Brown's Valley. Although it's obviously not a mountain range, or even really a hill, it is nonetheless a continental divide: raindrops falling near the lake at the top of this picture eventually drain into Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean, while raindrops falling near the lower lake drain into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. In between, the land rises barely perceptibly; it's still part of the valley, really, almost but not quite as low and flat as the rest of the valley.

We can blame global warming after the Ice Ages for this oddness. As the glaciers began to melt about 14,000 years ago, huge quantities of meltwater pooled hereabouts, forming a vast outlet lake referred to as Glacial Lake Agassiz. The bottom of the glacial lake was extremely flat, mile after mile, silted over with sediment that settled out of the meltwater. The modern-day lake near the top of this picture, Lake Traverse, forms the headwaters of the Red River, which more or less drains this vast flatland as it flows northward, frequently flooding because the land is just too flat to allow for efficient drainage.

The lake near the righthand edge of the picture, Big Stone Lake, forms headwaters for the Minnesota River, which developed late during the post-Ice Age warmup. As the remnants of glacial ice weakened and collapsed, huge boulders that had been trapped within worked loose from the body of the old ice sheet and washed along underneath, scraping through the sediment of the outlet lake bottom and gouging a channel down through bedrock.

This new river channel eventually captured much of the outflow from Glacial Lake Agassiz and drained it southward into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. It might have claimed all the drainage except for the post-glacial rebound: land that had long been compressed beneath the weight of thousands of feet of ice began to rise a bit once the glaciers were gone, rebounding first around the periphery of the old ice sheets, where melting came soonest. Here in Brown's Valley, in this gap between two headwater lakes, the rebound was almost invisible but not insignificant; the land rose just enough to shed raindrops in the direction of different oceans.

Posted by Ellen

Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is also a noted still photographer. His recent works, such as this one, are panoramas of everyday scenes in cities and villages across Turkey. This street is in Istanbul.