The Eye of Bamako

Posing in the Studio, 1975

Cousins, 1975
My new dress, 1975

Flowers and a Motorcycle, 1975

Malick Sidibé is an exuberant photographer who captured the spirit of a generation of young Malians in the euphoric decades following the country's independence from France in 1960. Born in the mid 30s in what was then French Sudan, Sidibé did not go to school until the age of 10 but showed such promise that he was ordered by the colonial governor to attend the prestigious Écoles des Artisans Soudanais. He opened his Studio Malick in 1962, capturing the buoyant young Malians in lush black and white portraits. In an interview with the Guardian recently, Sidibé recalled, "The studio was like no other. It was...relaxed. I did formal family shots, too, but often it was like a party. People would drop by, stay, eat. I slept in the developing room. They'd pose on their Vespas, show off their new hats and trousers and jewels and sunglasses. Looking beautiful was everything. Everyone had to have the latest Paris style. We had never really worn socks, and suddenly people were so proud of theirs, straight from Saint Germain des Prés!"

Sidibé still takes photographs occasionally. "I stick with black and white, and film." In his opinion, in order to be a good photographer, you have to have "a talent to observe, and to know what you want. You have to choose the shapes and the movements that please you, that look beautiful...It's a world, someone's face. When I capture it. I see the future of the world."

Looking at these wonderful photographs (all of which were taken in 1975, the year the Vietnam War ended with the disastrous defeat of South Vietnam, forcing us to become refugees in the United States), I can't help but make the connection to what I know of Vietnam and its own tangled history with colonial France. Political and economic independence was hard won, but the cultural influence of France lived on in these people's lives, much like in Vietnam. My father spent his entire youth fighting for the independence that came with the decisive defeat of the French in 1954. Yet French culture remained a lasting influence in Vietnam. As children, we were sent to the Centre Culturel Français and learned to speak French. We listened to French music and read French novels, and like the subjects of Sidibé's photographs, relished French fashion. My cousins went to university in Paris. In a final ironic twist of fate, my father lay on his deathbed in California dreaming of his homeland, whose image he expressed to me in French.



The Eyewriter from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

Members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks, the Graffiti Research Lab, and The Ebeling Group communities have teamed-up with a legendary LA graffiti writer, publisher and activist, named Tony Quan, aka TEMPTONE. Tony was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, a disease which has left him almost completely physically paralyzed… except for his eyes. This international team is working together to create a low-cost, open source eye-tracking system that will allow ALS patients to draw using just their eyes. The long-term goal is to create a professional/social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists and ALS patients from around the world who are using local materials and open source research to creatively connect and make eye art.

I saw Sam Jacob from FAT speak last night at the Pecha Kucha NY Day for Haiti and was very moved and inspired by this. Amazing technology, fantastic work, and all so positive.



It's snowing again today. The whole Columbia campus has turned white. The trees are breathtakingly beautiful, all laden with snow, standing quietly like giant mythical jewels reclaiming their place on the landscape. They dwarf over the tiny figures of students rushing into buildings. I imagine how beautiful it would be to see such trees in an empty landscape, devoid of any human presence. Meanwhile, the campus is magical and I wish I had something better than my iPhone camera to record this very moment.


Happy (lunar) New Year

Today is the first day of the New Year on the lunar calendar. When I was a child in Vietnam, this was always my favorite holiday, marked by one of my favorite flowers, the flowering quince. It was a tradition to bring in your home branches of flowering quince in the hope that the buds will open precisely on New Year's day, bearing hope and prosperity for the coming year.

I have always loved these exquisite blossoms, painted pale pink against the dark leafless branch. The sense of anticipation of that most important day of the year when we got to eat special treats, have new clothes and stay up late, accompanied the opening of those tiny buds. Bound up in the delicate petals, whose beauty was as fragile and fleeting as a whisper, was the all the hope and optimism that always comes at the beginning of a journey, the fresh start of the new year.

This morning my brother emailed me to tell me that my father had always brought him branches of flowering quince for his house every year of the last decades of his life. So now I have a beautiful image of my father cutting branches of flowering quince for his son, something I am sure to think of every lunar New Year in the future.


Snow Day

Yesterday we had one of the best snow days in a while. Lily went sledding in Prospect Park, where the park rangers had put up a big banner proclaiming "SNOW DAY." By early afternoon, I looked out the window and our whole neighborhood had turned into a giant crystal palace, all the trees glimmering like jewels in their thick snowy coats. We gathered around the fire at Melissa and Nelson's, along with her father and neighbor Flavio, warming ourselves with hot soup and quiet talk. On our way home in the evening, we tread gingerly on the soft powdery white snow, reluctant to make our marks on its pristine surface. On Smith street, there was no traffic and the cars were buried deep in snow, and all was white under a inky sky. Today the clouds parted, and the sun came back, melting all the snow from the branches. The light shone so brilliantly I walked around with the feeling as if I had just awoken from a dream.


Pothole Gardens

Photos by Pete Gunney

Cyclist Pete Gunny has been filling up potholes around Oxford with tiny primrose gardens. "It began as part of a project called 'subvert the familiar'. I wanted to do something that would grab attention but also raise awareness of an issue, and so the project was born," says the graphic design student. Beautiful idea.


Ethereal Creatures

My friend Tamar Mogendorff is an incredibly talented artist who makes these ethereal creatures using hand-dyed linen, vintage fabrics, and hand stitching. I got to spend a lovely day photographing them for her. I love it when I get to collaborate with friends who do such amazing work.

The F train

Since moving to Brooklyn, I spend a fair amount of time on public transport, particularly the F train. It's something of a sport for New Yorkers to complain about the subway, but for a couple of occasions, the F train has gotten me where I needed to go without much trouble. The F line also holds the reputation of having the most readers, and I have gotten into a habit of counting the number of serious readers (ie not those reading People or InTouch magazines) whenever I board the train. Inevitably, there always seem to be a few. Above is my favorite view from the F train. It makes the city look so timeless. Looking at it, I could imagine the city as it was a century ago when subway was first built.