Sunday, May 16, 2010

the good critic

For several weeks I've been trying to write a blog entry about criticism, criticality, what it means to be a critic. As final reviews approached at architecture programs around the country in the beginning of May, and I prepared for the last visit as the outside thesis critic for the graduate students in the school of architecture at UNCC, I was considering both my responsibilities as a critic and the students' responsibilities to be critical -- or, more broadly, architectural criticism and critical architecture.

The first delay in writing this piece came from a possibly misguided attempt to combine concepts that may or may not actually fall under the same umbrella. Early research for the piece led me to Reinhold Martin and George Baird's published cry and response circa 2005 on what was identified at the time as a disciplinary movement into a post-critical era.[1] Referencing primarily the texts of Peter Eisenman (the poster child for critical architecture), Michael Hayes, and Rem Koolhaas (the self-proclaimed poster child for post-critical architecture), their arguments seemed to me to intentionally obscure the delineation. This quote from Koolhaas supports that notion: "The problem with the prevailing discourse of architectural criticism is [the] inability to recognize there is in the deepest motivations of architecture something that cannot be critical..." And to continue, "if it turns out that 'criticality' constrains efficacy, then to that extent 'criticality' must give way."[2] Koolhaas, arguing for an architecture that is first and foremost an effective product, can still hardly be identified as an acritical producer either in his weighty (literally) books or his influential constructions. In the end, the divide between the Martin/Baird argument that resides in the realms of high academic discourse and top tier critical architectural production (if that's not an oxymoron in itself) and grad student end of year design reviews seemed vast and unbridgeable -- perhaps even unrelated -- so I let it slide. Sort of.

At the reviews, an energetic and rigorous faculty member referred to me at some point as the 'thesis police'. My job throughout the course of the semester had been to remind the students that these are not simply design projects -- which certainly have their own degrees of complexity and demands -- but are thesis projects which should be, by definition, critical. A thesis, unlike a project, asks a larger question which must then be interrogated, tested, and substantiated. In the case of the UNCC program, the given structure of the thesis year demands that the student first produce a text that outlines the theoretical framework of the 'hypothesis', research relevant precedents, initiate a quick 'test' case, develop longer partial 'experiments', and then frame a larger and more extensive test case that can lead to some set of conclusions. Spelling this out, it sounds rather social sciencey, but in reality the hypothesis, experiments, tests, and conclusions range from the rather empirically (and sometimes quantitatively) based acoustic, light, or material experiments, to very abstract, even experiential, 'experiments' in drawing, design charrettes, site research, cultural explorations, etc etc etc.

My use of the terms question, hypothesis, test, and experiment are in no way literal or rigid, but are broad methodological categories of interrogation. For example, one of the more fascinating projects of this year studied the spatial relationships of break dancers and break dancing, using youtube videos as 'data' for design research, analyzed through diagrams and models. Her final 'test' was to interrogate the relationship between such radical street use and sites of resistance by designing a break dancing space, based on her extensive research, at the site of a Harlem Starbucks. Design, in this case, remains the strategy by which the hypothesis of a relationship is tested. For another thesis, three personas -- archeologist, architect, and artist -- were adopted for experiments in site analysis. The methods utilized were the multi-disciplinary tools of the accumulated trades -- collecting, categorizing, archiving, measuring, mapping, photographing, filming, drawing. The final test case was an ensemble site analysis of a particular location in southend Charlotte. These kinds of theses are not about proof per se, but about critical interrogation and response, with rigorous analysis, that is not limited in applicability to a single set of site and programmatic parameters the way a design project typically is. The 'hypothesis' may fail if the tested strategies and experiments are unable to be applied to a larger test case or if no conclusions are able to be drawn, but the thesis student only fails, in my mind, if he or she fails to push the design question to its larger potential ramifications. One way to fail is a lack of rigor, another is to allow the thesis to revert to a project. If we expect architecture to be possible as a form of critical practice, then some combination of rigor and knowledge must be leveraged for deep inquiry.

Yet architecture as a critical practice and architecture as a form of criticism are not inherently equivalent. As an organizer of the WPA 2.0 competition, those projects overwhelmingly related data to design solutions. The flexibility of the competition -- no given site or program -- demanded that each team substantiate their problem statement before they could even begin to solve it. The best projects developed a clear response to a data-supported, often environmental, need, yet in no way did the solutions come across as inevitable or predetermined. In other words, between the data and the solution was our disciplinary expertise -- design. And design, I believe, is never quantifiable. Even in this age of supposedly technologically-generated answers (parametrics, mass customization, infinite degrees of measurability), someone is making informed decisions behind the curtain and someone, if an effort is being made for good design rather than merely efficient solution-making, is still transforming the mechanical to the meaningful. This is probably why the most empirical theses are the least successful -- they often rely on data for solutions, when data are actually most useful in the defining of the question. The tricky -- and interesting -- part of the Border Wall as Infrastructure project, one of the WPA 2.0 finalists, was its conflicted relationship with its own proposition. The project was both a form of research about energy use, habitat, water, risk and culture and a conflicted need to be critical of the border and the building of the wall. What the Border Wall team came up against, as Koolhaas identified, is the difficulty in being simultaneously critical and productive. This difficulty, I would argue, is exactly where the firm of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro find themselves today.

In the above mentioned George Baird article, "'Criticality' and Its Discontents', he identifies Diller and Scofidio (before Renfro was added) as "a 'late' triumph of 'criticality'". Their early work, which dominated the Whitney retrospective of the firm (2003) that Baird refers to in the article, landed heavily in the blurry space between art and architecture, between exhibition and commentary. Their 42nd Street installation, where they placed enticing videos in the windows of old Times Square movie theaters, was a commentary both on the gentrification (truly a Disneyfication) of an area previously known for its edgy, semi-lovable grunge and issues of buying and selling as related to gender and power. Baird wonders in his essay if their built work (just beginning to be substantial at that time) will "meet the more difficult test of being critical 'in the street'."

And now we have the lovely, poetic, scenic, peaceful and spotless High Line, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro's (along with Field Operations) renovation project of the previously abandoned elevated rail in Manhattan's meat packing district into a linear urban park. Is the High Line critical architecture? Does the High Line, as Koolhaas called for, prioritize its own efficacy over its potential for commentary? Is that a good thing, a bad thing, does it matter? It's hard to not notice the controlled and limited messiness of the place preserved originally for its beautiful roughness and miraculous urban wilderness. Aesthetically, they have recreated both Joel Sternfeld's phenomenal photos and their exact competition-winning renderings, which makes the High Line a kind of themetazation as art and a simulacrum all at the same time. Yet, in humble Liz Diller fashion, it is done with not a trace of irony. In that sense, it may be post-critical, but it is also post-pessimistic, which is something else entirely. Landscape urbanism, the emerging field of design (born from the cross-breeding of landscape architecture, urban design, ecology, and architecture), is also a self-proclaimed response to the pessimism of postmodernism -- both the regressive period of architectural design and the militaristic and privatized period of urbanism. The other irony, then, is the boon to economic development the High Line has since generated. Started as a preservation movement by a couple of guys who saw the value in the history and beauty of the relic, that has long been overshadowed by the uber-expensive peep show that is The Standard Hotel, the explosion of architectural icons along the path of the old rail, and the hours-long wait at the bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity.

The icing on this ironic cake, though, is the restaging of Mr. Brainwash's 2006 LA show, Life Is Beautiful, just about to open in the shadow of the new High Line. If you have no idea what I'm referring to, don't worry. I didn't either. And then I saw Banksy's new movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Life is Beautiful was a 500 piece extravaganza of works produced by Mr. Brainwash, the obsessive filmmaker, adoring fan, and accidental protégé of the mega and anonymous British graffiti artist, Banksy. Mr. Brainwash, a kind of modern day Andy Warhol, is an appropriator, an opportunist, and an accidental artist with a payroll of graphic designers, production assistants, and promoters. The 2010 Life Is Beautiful -- which was closed for mid-run enhancements while I was in New York -- is the gentrified graffiti show, a cleaner, tidier, giganticer, mass-produced art monolith retransplanted back into New York from Los Angeles via the renewed fame of the big screen.

According to the film, Mr. Brainwash learned everything he knows from Banksy and Shepard Fairey (the other graffiti artist who became pop culture famous when his Obama HOPE poster hit it big). Yet even though Banksy is often accused of selling out for fame and fortune, he is critical in a way Mr. Brainwash will never be -- precise, surprising, unique, disciplined, smart and skilled. As proof, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a master work of criticality, a film that is both a highly successful product and a compelling argument that leads the viewer through history, precedent, experiment, test, appropriation, and commentary. What it leaves for the viewer is conclusions. What exactly is being critiqued here, and by whom? Fairey calls the film Banksy's latest 'exploit'; one of the interviewees in the film calls the whole thing a complicated joke, with an uncertain victim and uncertain punch line. Yet, it's more complicated than both of those. I see it as a kind of graffiti thesis project, packed full of data, experiments, and analysis, yet left open for participant interpretation, for experiential conclusions, for intelligent debate not just on the film, but on the state of art, capitalism, cities, interdependency, production, beauty, and criticism itself. In that way, it is what critical architecture might strive to be -- not obtuse or compromised, but full scale intellectual proactivity, produced through a highly refined skill set as an act of social participation.

How is this entry a cause? Well, it started out in an effort to define what a good critic might be in an attempt to be a student advocate. Over the years, I had witnessed so many critics that were not operating in the service of the students, but were grandstanding, self-promoting, or ego-boosting, using the jury format as a platform for their own positions. Happily, though, at least where I've been in the last few years, the necessity for student advocating seems to have dissipated. The reviews I participated in this year and in the last few years have been fully critical, in the best sense -- intelligent, attentive, respectful, informative, and informed. They have not been easy; they have been demanding, but in the best interest of the students -- and of the participating faculty -- in an effort to promote not a thicker skin, but a stronger mind. In that regard, I don't see a post-critical era so much as a post-cynical era. Yippee.

In that spirit, I used my time on the High Line to talk politics, government spending, and the state of architecture education with a former student and to look out at the fabulous view of the river. I call that a pretty good project, one that provides a platform for criticality and plenty of blank surfaces for Banksy-like exploits.

[1] George Baird, "'Criticality' and Its Discontents", Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 2004/Winter 2005, Number 21.

Reinhold Martin, "On Theory: Critical of What? Toward a Utopian Realism", Harvard Design Magazine, Spring/Summer 2005, Number 22.

[2] As quoted in Baird, 2-3.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

iLove, iAct, iDo

Dear Google

I love you. I have loved you from the beginning. You have given without me asking. You have fulfilled my dreams before I dreamt. You are everything I've ever wanted, and everything I did not know I wanted.

Our nation has arrived at a historic moment, where we are reaffirmed as equals, two persons. Now it is time for me to give to you.

Google, will you marry me? For all that you have done for me, please accept my vow to be your loving, faithful and sincere wife.

Forever yours,


On February 4th Xárene, a Los Angeles-based media artist, delivered the above marriage proposal to Google. Using "the best of paper from France, black ink from Italy, luscious silk ribbon from India and perfumed wax from England" to craft her written proposal, she created a video reading of it, dressed in all white, her hair adorned with a perfect, giant orchid, then hand-delivered the original artifact to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. The sealed letter was addressed to the Board of Directors with a carbon copy sent to Mr. Kent Walker, Vice President and General Counsel of Google. As of today, Valentine's Day, lovesick Xárene still awaits a response.

Xárene's piece is simple and beautiful with powerful and complicated implications. Her first real piece of activist art, she describes its intent as follows:

The proposal, sincere in its message of love and commitment, is also a statement on personhood in the United States of America. Will marriage equality extend to legal persons (corporations with personhood)? Can a natural person and a legal person of opposite sexual identities carry the same rights as heterosexual persons?

Ideally, Xárene was seeking a response from Google -- hopefully a YES -- that could then instigate a larger public (perhaps legal) debate on the definition of personhood and the rights afforded individuals within our society. If, after all, the recent ruling by the Supreme Court rolling back hard-won, bi-partisan campaign finance reform grants freedom of speech rights to corporations as if they are individuals under protection of the constitution, then why would we not treat them as individuals in other aspects of law? If corporations are protected by the constitution as equals, then why are homosexuals not? Is it as simple -- and as simply tragic -- as coming down to money and power? Those who have the most have the most rights, and those with less suffer.

The 5-4 decision is full of shocking arguments that attempt to frame corporations as victims of mass silencing, invoking censorship arguments and condemning the McCain-Feingold law of restricting "persons" from "the freedom to think for ourselves." Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion says "Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy -- it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people -- political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence." In many of the excerpts I have read of this majority opinion, it is "the people's" free speech that demands protection. But who is it, exactly, that our Supreme Court is out to protect? Who are they calling "the people"?

The response has been well-deserved outraged. Said Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, as quoted in The Huffington Post, "We are moving to an age where we won't have the senator from Arkansas or the congressman from North Carolina, but the senator from Wal-Mart and the congressman from Bank of America." In defense of the real "people", Anna Burger, treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, was quoted as saying, "Unlimited corporate spending in federal elections threatens to drown out the voices of the people who should really be at the center of the political process, i.e., voters and candidates. Unleashing corporate spending will only serve to distort and ultimately delegitimize the electoral process."

I'm certainly not a legal expert and when I did just the tiniest bit of digging on what I think to be a move of artistic brilliance, my budding lawyer friend explained that Kennedy's argument was based on corporations being considered "associations of individuals". However, according to him, this very premise is false: corporations are actually fictional legal entities with more power than mere individuals or an association of individuals, alternatively generating -- quite the opposite of the ruling -- a public interest to limit free speech of corporations because of their very ability to drown out the voices of the rest of us.

David Corn highlights a few excerpts from Justice John Paul Stevens' dissent:

* Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters.

* The Courts ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.

* The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Courts disposition of this case.

Xárene's proposal impresses me in so many ways. First, it ignores the convoluted legal logic and deals directly with common sense and human emotion. Through that common sense, it points to the idiocy of the current high court to interpret the law blatantly in favor of big business and against the rights of individuals. In light of that, the ripples of her artwork bring into question the definition of personhood, the rights of individuals. By this I mean not only the rights of marriage and the protection of freedoms, but also harkening back to the very basic rights of all individuals to exist, in essence bringing in public space rights and, by extension, the rights of the homeless. If taken to fruition, art becomes activism, and what starts as poetic, beautiful and instigative might actually impact social change.

In an opportunity to provide a greater platform for her proposal, I asked Xárene to expand on her intentions. As a guest on cause of the week, here is Xárene's more elaborated explanation of personhood and how she was compelled to become Mrs. Google.

The idea came from a series of snide remarks my boyfriend and I exchanged regarding the Supreme Court ruling, one which was that 'corporations would probably have the right to marry before gays'. My first reaction was "Wow. I can finally marry Google." I have a history of "falling in love" with Google and had written previously about humans falling in love with companies -- basically an exaggerated form of brand loyalty. I tend to find exaggeration an interesting way to get a message across, so I combined my corporate devotion with this strategy of exaggeration as a way to expose the slew of problems emerging from corporations gaining human rights. Why not exaggerate the ramifications of rulings like this and actually prepare a marriage proposal to see what questions then arise?

I took the marriage proposal seriously. In an ideal situation, Google would say 'Yes' and we would begin a battle alongside gays and lesbians for marriage equality. Then it is a race to see who gets a ruling first: human + human or human + thing. Just the absurdity of it all was a good enough place to start.

In doing all this, I did not expect to get a response from Google. The larger problem is not about corporations gaining rights, but about humans being denied their rights. There are numerous historical documents to begin describing the situation at hand. By situation I refer to this: Corporations are persons and citizens, and as "legal persons" they are granted human rights, such as--gasp--freedom of speech. The first is the United States Constitution of 1787, which opens up the problem of property as person. Because slavery was banned in England, America's founders avoided using the term 'slave', and defined, instead, 'slaves' as owned persons--in effect, turning property into person. Second, is the U.S. Bill of Rights, specifically the first amendment -- Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion, and Petition -- meant to protect us from the potential oppressiveness of our Government. Third, is the 14th amendment, which fixes the 'slave' problem by formally defining citizenship and protecting a person's civil and political rights. In reality, as shown in the current case, it becomes a tool for corporations to assert their position as persons.

At the core of this situation is the question: what is a human? What are the "human rights" and "civil liberties" we've shed blood for and, in many cases, are still fighting for? The latest right currently garnering activity and debate is the right to marry whom you love. While gay and lesbian rights advocates are gathering signatures in California to abolish Prop 8 which approved an amendment to the State's constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the Supreme Court re-affirms the personhood of corporations and the extension of their rights to a right at one time reserved for humans. (Corporations were originally granted free speech rights in 1947. The latest January ruling extends their right to free speech in elections.) It does not matter what that right is or does, what matters is that the corporation has been given a "human" right. A non-living entity, a thing, is given a human right, while concurrently, citizens of this nation, humans by birth, are denied human rights.

Human rights are the qualitative measure of living which human beings carry to the full extent upon their birth (refer to the UN Declaration of Human Rights). These rights are not something bestowed upon a newborn, but come into existence with the birth of that child. However, human-ness is also quantitative, meaning that sadly one person has more, or less, rights than another person because some State has decided to "grant" or "repeal" a portion of their rights. When new definitions of 'person' are introduced, misused and intentionally misinterpreted, this quantitative aspect of carrying rights becomes an issue we need to address. If a slave can go from 'thing' to 'person', is it true in reverse, that a 'person' can become a 'thing' when stripped of rights? If a homosexual person does not carry the same rights as a heterosexual person, does that therefore expel the homosexual person from being a human being? Is s/he in effect an entity of no life value?

The issue of right granting/repealing is a deep problem that goes beyond fearing corporations gaining more rights (or the dilemma of a human marrying a corporation). It is indeed about the larger persecution of the human being, about the limit to which the body is extended or compressed by law. Freedom of reproductive choice is another such question of rights and laws. My fear, if our highest courts continue on such a path of disregard for the rights of select individuals, is that of the unborn fetus gaining personhood separate from the body who produced it. Then my own body could turn against me and perhaps have the law on its side.

For the press release, go here.

To see the marriage proposal video, go here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

WPA 2.0 -- design for the public realm

"What is remarkable about this moment, and exemplified by the WPA 2.0 work, is the momentum from within the design disciplines and the federal government to begin to challenge the last half of that argument, [that the road is our most extensive and most under-used public space]. Our communication with government officials as both citizens and professionals needs to push forward an agenda for visionary, legacy-building public works...The current crises — economic and infrastructural — together provide a rare opportunity; as the Obama administration continues to invest in infrastructure as a form of financial stimulus and urban recovery, we designers need to be not just creative but also creatively loud."

Read my full reflections on the WPA 2.0 competition and symposium here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Two Women in Little Rock, 1957-2007

"We must come to see that the society we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."[i]

The 170 images in the current Skirball exhibit, Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968 range from images I had never seen before, like the discovery of the bodies of the Mississippi three -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, one black and two white voting rights volunteers murdered by the KKK, to quintessential images of MLK in Washington, DC and the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Bruce Davidson, who I had always associated with a gritty, subway-riding New York gang culture, was there when Viola Liuzzo's car was discovered on the side of US-80 and made a riveting image of her blood-stained seat and discarded shoes.[ii] It's the James 'Spider' Martin image, also in the exhibition, of the standoff at the base of the Edmund Pettis Bridge between marchers led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis in suits and overcoats on one side and troopers in riot gear on the other that has repeatedly reinforced my long-held position on the road's significance as a critical public space ripe for the contestation of civil rights. That moment before the countdown began, before its premature abandonment that resulted in the chasing and beatings now known as Bloody Sunday, seems almost civil.[iii]

These images undoubtedly bear the burden of documentation. Some, particularly those with visible historical notations typed or handwritten across the top or bottom of the image, are more journalistic than artistic, yet are nonetheless driven by the infinite, if nearly immediate, decision-making of the creative eye and mind. I had seen an image before of the first day of desegregation at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. We visited the site on the second Mobile Studio trip where the long sidewalk and imposing steps seem more powerful reminders of the risky distance between segregation and equality than the immobilized commemorative statues of the Little Rock Nine. The picture in Road to Freedom, though, is from a different angle. In the more famous version, Will Counts' image, where the photographer stands to Elizabeth Eckford's right (she's the first of the nine black teens to arrive for class), there is a semi-circle of space between her and the aggressive resistors. Beyond that spatial cushion she is visually connected, almost along a line from waistband to waistband of their slightly cinched dresses, to the vitriolic Hazel Bryan, directly behind Elizabeth, sneering, yelling, virtually spewing racist hatred. In the image in the exhibition taken from Elizabeth's other side, Hazel's mouth is wide open, almost as if she could be singing, and the right arm of the girl behind Eckford is swinging just a bit forward, with a look of determination, as if, perhaps, she's trying to catch up. There is no more than a centimeter in the image between the sunny white arm of that woman and Eckford's smooth black left arm, holding a single notebook, connected to an upright silent body, looking composed, proud, and stylish in comparison.

What if, I thought while standing there, that ring of women in the new image, instead of hurling venomous hatred at an innocent and brave teenager in many ways their peer, were actually stepping forward, grabbing Elizabeth Eckford's arm, and then walking her into her first day at Little Rock Central High School. What if Hazel Bryan, Mary Ann Burleson (carrying a purse to Hazel's left) and Sammie Dean Parker (wearing the dark dress to Hazel's right) had decided that day to be proactive agents of change, leaders in a call to civil action, role models for their peers. I thought this knowing little about those three girls other than feeling the embarrassment of their harassment. Sammie Dean, it turns out, was "one of the ringleaders of the segregationist students" while Mary Ann was "largely along for the ride." In Counts' image, the one that flooded newspapers and archives, Sammie Dean has turned back towards the crowd, thereby granting herself a kind of anonymity and invisibility, and Mary Ann looks forward rather blankly. It is Hazel who stands as a symbol of hatred, anger, and bitterness. Will Counts' image -- quite accurate of the day -- shows a hopeless division between black and white, a segregationist moat bridged only by the acerbic language stabbing Elizabeth Eckford in the back again and again and again like the shove of an unrelenting hand. The other image opens the door to a new possibility, an alternative action, a road that in the end was untaken.

Searching for these images on line I came across a Vanity Fair article that traces the fascinating fifty year history of these inextricably linked protagonists. Hazel Bryan, many years later, tracked down Elizabeth Eckford to apologize for her actions on September 4th, 1957. Both had struggled over the years with the way that single image had defined them -- as individuals and as symbols. In some ways, Eckford felt used by the civil rights movement and spent years dealing with depression. Her high school experience had been an abusive test of endurance, isolated from potentially supportive peers and hiding the extent of the abuse from her mother for fear she would be forced to give up her role in the fight for integration. For years Hazel and Elizabeth became friends. Though trying to make amends, Hazel was also condemned for that image and the role she played in perpetuating the racist stereotypes of the south. It was President Clinton's reference to the inspiration the Little Rock Nine had provided him that encouraged Eckford to begin speaking to school groups about desegregation and equality and when Clinton awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal, both Hazel and Elizabeth were in attendance. By then, though, their friendship had waned, each beginning to accuse the other of various falsities and disingenuousness.

The cover of Will Counts’ book on the Little Rock Central High desegregation is this image of Hazel and Elizabeth from that first day of school in 1957. Its title -- A Life is More Than a Moment. Though that is certainly true, we each have moments that define us and we hope those moments are representative of who we choose to be, what we choose to make of ourselves and our world, and how we choose to be influential. It is unfortunate to be caught at our worst and often a long battle to combat those errant moments. Like that first tattoo, we are often scared that if we commit to something permanent and risky, we may regret it later. I seem to have that fear with my dissertation topic. Is it big enough, bold enough, important enough? I know I am not Hazel in a vitriolic state, but I don't want to be anyone at all in that crowd, trapped behind the moat of even a hint of indifference. We may not be defined by a single moment, but we have only so many moments at our disposal, moments where we can choose action over inaction, right over complacency, and risk over comfort. Yet we are also pawns in the photographer's game, where one image may show us in light, another may show us in shadow, and the best we can do is be poised and ready.

Any exhibit, any single photograph, that can stir such grand emotions is worth a short trip and even a small exhibition price. Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968 runs through March 7, 2010 at the Skirball. More information can be found at their website.

[i] The museum was closing, it was nearly 5:00, so I typed this quote quickly into my phone as the guards checked their watches. I missed recording the credit, but I'm pretty sure it was Martin Luther King Jr.

[ii] Viola Liuzzo was shot by four men driving alongside her as she and another volunteer, a young African-American man named Leroy Moton, were shuttling marchers back to Selma after the completion of the march to Montgomery. One of the men in the vehicle that shot her was an undercover FBI agent.

[iii] The marchers were given a two minute warning by the troopers to abandon their march and disassemble. Roughly a minute and a half into the warning, the troopers began chasing, beating, and spraying the marchers with tear gas.