Friday, July 30, 2010

Fatherhood Friday: My kids, my muses

The past few weeks have had me busy getting ready for my part in a show opening a week from today. The details are driving me nuts and are making my decision to teach art rather that show art as my primary occupation a wise one. However, the gallery release a press release today regarding the show, so I thought I would share it with you all. If you are in the area, please consider this your invitation to the opening.

(Carson G: Monster Killer, Thomas McMillen-Oakley 2008, altered photo, 20" x 30")



(Plymouth Township, Mich.) With a nod to the Social Realism art movement of the 1930s, Art & Ideas presents three artist-photographers whose contemporary views of “reality” incorporate irony, wit, and ambiguity. This exhibition of photography, called “Social Realism 2010,” officially opens August 7, 2010, at Art & Ideas Contemporary Art Gallery & Studio (a.k.a. “Art & Ideas Gallery”).

The show features the work of three southeastern/central Michigan artists: Thomas McMillen-Oakley of Jackson, Julia DeClerck of Metamora (in Lapeer County), and Shaqe Kalaj of Livonia, who’s also the gallery’s artist-in-residence and curator of the show. For the exhibition, Kalaj sought photographers whose work tried to communicate compelling social truths, as many Depression-era artists tried to do. “But in our case, we were also looking for humor and irony depicted about our current situation in the USA and Southeast Michigan.”

Thomas McMillen-Oakley, professor of studio art at Jackson Community College, fulfills this goal by focusing on children as subjects. He's showing a series of photos that depict children in various and seemingly typical settings and situations, but with a layer of ambiguity added via his photographic technique. Much of McMillen-Oakley's photography plays with viewers' perceptions on the relative "normalcy" of family life and children.

He says his interest in using domestic settings in his work increased after adopting a child with his same-sex partner. Throughout the adoption process, the couple faced extreme demands from our legal system, overcoming major obstacles that male couples face when trying to adopt. The emotional demands are reflected in his photography, adding intensity to each shot.

“My kids are my muses, and I find a great deal of wonder and fun in their daily lives,” he says. “While some of the photos I take are staged, many of the images in this collection are spontaneous and a reaction to the current situation and environment. How my kids respond is what makes these images so much fun to view.”

“The title of this collection (“The Dangerous Lives of Children”) is my reaction to the constant onslaught of potential dangers and lurking boogey men propagated by the media (and by two very doting grandmothers). Childhood is a dangerous place, but it’s also a lot of fun, and my hope is that the joy of being a kid is what the viewer will take from this show.”

McMillen-Oakley’s irony and wit make these domestic scenes anything but banal. For example, one photo ("Story time: Mr. Mapplethorpe's Neighborhood") shows a pleasant scene of father-figure reading a book to two young children -- although careful inspection reveals it is a book about the work of controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Meanwhile, the artist's image-altering practice helps accent the idea that something unexpected is going on here. In this way, the artist negates misguided notions about same-sex-partner families by using irony to turn these notions against themselves.

He creates ambiguous moods in other, action-based photos as well. In "Colton Dropping By," a child is being thrown playfully into the air by his uncle, with the picture freezing exactly when the boy is at his highest point -- strangely making it appear that the child has just been launched into heaven -- or just fallen from there -- or perhaps is floating…. (McMillen-Oakley blogs about his life as a parent and an artist at

Julia DeClerck’s photos also use children as subjects, but in a very different way. She uses standard, unmanipulated film photography to capture children in spontaneous, unexpected poses that reflect each child’s immediate mood, economic conditions, or playful creativity. A range of children’s moods are captured – real displays of joy, anger, or sadness that for children are typically fleeting, lasting only moments in real time, outside the frozen world of photography.

Shaqe Kalaj’s photos depict diverse adults from urban and small-town environments. She captures the direct gaze of each subject, a gaze that is strangely similar for each subject, but also different – usually honest, though sometimes elusive and manipulative. Kalaj chose her subjects from the streets of Albuquerque (New Mexico) and from Plymouth and Northville in Michigan, emphasizing how her subjects’ personal choices in dress and appearance defines (or is defined by) the unique identity of each city – a concept she refers to as “cityology.”

The opening reception for “Social Realism 2010” will be on Saturday, August 7, from 6-10pm, with short talks by the artists at 6:45, followed by live music. The show runs through Sept. 18. Regular summer gallery hours are Tues.-Thurs., 5-7pm; and Friday & Saturday, 1-8pm; or by appointment.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Family Week update

For those of you new to my blog, please see this link to reference the previous year’s posts.

Not much else to say, time goes by so quick.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fatherhood Friday: A turd in the pool

Contrary to the name of the show I am putting on in August (The Dangerous Lives of Children) I do all I can to keep my kids safe and sound on a daily basis. We live on a busy street, so since day one, I have pounded (gently) into the kid’s heads that they can’t play near the street. Once a year we allow them to frolic in the street, and that’s only when the annual Rose Parade makes its ponderous trek down our street towards the park for its finale. We have talked about stranger danger and all the other biggies, and we avoid places that might put them in danger on a regular basis (strip clubs, motorcycle gangs, tattoo parlors etc.). So imagine my surprise when we go to Nixon Park and try to cool off in their pool/water park and there is a guy there with an electronic tether on his leg.


Tod pointed him out first and it wasn’t long before Anna noticed it and asked what it was. I stammered for a minute and told her that it was a radio as I didn’t want to scare her. Oh sure, I know that we need to live and let live in our world, as that is what the good book teaches us, but there are some areas in life where I don’t want to have to worry and I want to be able to enjoy myself with my family. I don’t know what this guy did, and I don’t want to know. What bothers me is the fact that he was there and is still under supervision by the Michigan Department of Corrections. Sure, he might not be dangerous, but we don’t know what he did to deserve this punishment so the mind reels. Perhaps if the Michigan Department of Corrections could come up with some color coded lettering system, it might all work out in the end.

There is a scene in Todd Field’s 2006 movie “Little Children” that shows Jackie Earle Haley’s character, a convicted sex offender (who is key to the plot) diving into a crowded public pool with a mask and snorkel. An observant parent recognizes him, sounds the alarm, and the pool is cleared quicker than a shark warning on a beach. The camera catches him swimming around underwater, oblivious (or not) to the commotion he is causing on deck. That scene flashed in my mind as I watched this guy float around the pool taking pictures with his camera (why he was taking pictures, I don’t know, it just added to the ick factor).

My heavily sun-blocked skin crawled in the staggering heat.

I posted this lovely tidbit of my life on Facebook and for the most part, the responses from my 400 + friends were all supporting my WTF questioning of this guy being in a public space under police surveillance. There were however, some detractors who felt I wasn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt and thought that I was being too harsh on him and my judgment. I stood firm though and pointed out that there are some places where criminals shouldn’t go… including public pools with an emphasis on kids and toddlers. The rest of my short list would be petting zoos, the kid’s area at any amusement park, the juvenile books department of any public library and any Toddlers and Tiaras contests in the area.

My favorite quote from the bible (the one that I like to toss around to all the fundies in my life) is Matthew 7, “Judge not, that you be not judged. But when it comes to my kids and their safety, I will judge you, and I will watch you, and you are guilty in my book until you are proven innocent or you can prove to me that you are only doing time for check fraud.

Until then, watch your back and stay away from my kids.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


We head west tomorrow for our annual trek to Saugatuck for Family Week. Rainbow Families Great Lakes hosts this amazing event each year and it is a not to be missed event. There will be some business and mostly pleasure as we relax and hang out with the kids. There is a sitter coming in today to watch the kids as we prepare the car for the big journey. Our first year with only Anna as our charge had the Kia packed to the gills. Now we have a roof top carrier and a hitch tray to hold our camping stuff. We will look like the Joads as we head out tomorrow, but being away for over a week with two kids requires some major supplies. Not to mention the house we rented comes with very little supplied. Bedding, pillows, towels are all packed as well as games, books, art supplies and plenty of sun block.

We’re sharing the house with Rob and Mike and Rob’s nephew Harper. He and Anna bonded this winter and had a great time over the long weekend they were with us. We can only imagine the chaos that will come from a whole week together. There will be side trips to Michigan’s Adventure, dune rides, and plenty of nights spent looking at the big lava light that are the sunsets over Lake Michigan. I shared my love of the west side of the state with a friend and they remained resolute in their love of the east side of the state and how wonderful sunrises were. Honestly, who gets up that early to sit on a beach and watch the sun come up? It’s way too early and sipping wine at that hour is usually frowned upon.

For more information on Family Week, check out RFGL’s website

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer rules

New house rule for summer:
You cannot wake up Daddy or Papa unless you are bleeding or the house is on fire.

Note to Anna:
Wanting to tell us you love us at 6:30 am is cute, but not one of the two posted reasons.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fatherhood Friday: Holiday weekend delay post

So the week was crazy with appointments and other drama. I am busy getting ready for the upcoming show at Arts and Ideas Gallery next month, and the details are killing me. More on the show later.
We had a great day on Friday, hauled all our crap to the driveway and sold a ton of stuff. The kid stuff that we have accumulated over the past four years has multiplied by 1000. What we didn't sell we donated to the church next door for their resale shop. We had planned on a sale last summer, but with the arrival of Eil, things like that got pushed aside.
Yesterday we packed a picnic and biked (with Anna on her bike) to Ella Sharp Park for a great afternoon playing and hanging out at Carter's Corners play area. The heat was pretty intense, so in lieu of a pool, I brought out the water toys and sprinkler. We were soaked, but had fun.
The evening last night was spent hanging out in the backyard "relaxing" and enjoying the great weather in anticipation of the fireworks later in the evening.
S'mores were made and beer was consumed.
All in all a great day.