Whether his subject be barely clad heavy metal groupies, bloody wrestlers, flaming haired psychos, 50 Cent, or Barbara Walters, photographer David Yellen (www.davidyellen.com) is uncompromising in his devotion to the hard, jagged, sometimes hyperextended essence of real. His photos have appeared in such diverse publications as Details, Spin, Time, Forbes, Life & Cosmosgirl. Gothamist spoke with David recently about a few of his favorite and not so favorite things spanning underweared parents in Queens, tornadoes and bare-titted chicks in Indiana, and soon-to-be-puking Gotham marathoners.
What do you like most about what you do?
I like that I have a lot of freedom. People usually only hire me for what I do, so I can take on my [commercial] subjects like I would any of my personal work. That’s the most exciting thing.
If you weren’t a photographer, what do you think you would be doing instead?
I’d probably either be working for my family, doing some weird fashion job, or – how’s this for a bold statement? – I might be dead. Because at the point where I discovered photography was during a very bad rough time. I was at a crossroads. And photography just pulled me right out of it. It saved my life and soul.
Speaking of your parents, is it true you photographed them in their underwear?
Not only did I photograph them in their bedroom in their underwear, I’ve also photographed them in their bathroom. Hanging out, putting on makeup, sitting on the toilet…
Don’t you think people might think that’s, like, maybe a little bit… weird?
It’s not work I show everybody. But it’s part of the whole story. I started photographing my family as a way of being able to be around them. Because at the time I started photography I didn’t have the greatest relationship with them. So it was a middle ground where once or twice a week I would come over and take photos and we would be able to be around each other. It put me in a position of power over them in a way that levelled the playing field.
You’ve been photographing them for a while now…
More than ten years. Over time they’ve become convinced that they’ll become famous from the photographs. Now they pretty much do anything I say. I went so far as to interrupt Thanksgiving dinner last year by doing super close head shots of everyone as soon as they finished their meals. So, they’re all a little queasy and a little spaced out. And here I am five inches away from their faces with giant flashes and big cameras telling them not to move.
Planning Warhol in Prague: Part I
Rewind memory back to Winter and Spring 1993 and fast forward the mind’s eye across the wintry waves of the Atlantic, the snow covered slopes of the Alps and the viscous chilling pour of the Rhine. Keep right on going until you spot in the distance the brown coal smoke hovering lazily above the gently rolling landscape. A hundred or so miles into the haze the shimmering outlines of a thousand Gothic and Baroque spires emerge slowly into view. Pass above the ankle deep shattered New Year’s champagne glass and spent bottle rockets coating the main square and circle around to make a final sweeping approach from the North, following the twisting, turning banks of the Vltava River and come to rest in the heart of the sodden gray but always Golden City of Prague, capital of the newly established Czech Republic.
There, behind an unassuming black door, a mere stone’s throw away from one of Europe’s oldest bridges, Karluv Most, built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357, you will find Asylum, a collectively run squat theater, café and art gallery that arose Phoenix-like from the ashen cinders of a dead totalitarian state betwixt and between the crumbling concrete and brick facings of a long abandoned Salvation Army outpost.
In it’s mission to “provide space to disenfranchised groups” Asylum was perhaps the one English-language theatrical organization in Prague during the 1990’s that fits the definition of “Community Theatre” by Jacquweline Lo and Helen Gilbert:
Community theatre is characterized by social engagement; it is theatre primarily committed to bringing about actual change in specific communities… The constitution of the performance group and the subject matter may be organized around common interests (such as gender, ethnicity, or shared social experience) or defined in terms of geographical location. Multicultural community theatre generally incorporates a range of languages and cultural resources, including performing traditions, drwn from the community.
From PERFORMING CULTURES: ENGLISH-LANGUAGE THEATRES IN POST-COMMUNIST PRAGUE by Dr. Gwen Orel (AB English, AB Classics, 1987, AM English 1987 from Stanford University; Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, 2005)
As far as I know, this dissertation is the most comprehensive history of English Language Theatre in Prague during the 1990’s, representing literally thousands of hours of writing, research, fact checking and cross verification. While it needs a bit of fine-tuning before entering final book form, you heard it here first that this will be THE history of the time that will be referenced for generations to come…
The New York Times today had a special section entitiles “Giving.” Major changes, it seems, are afoot in the philanthropic world. Call it “Neo-New Dealism.” Here are a couple excerpts from the article…
THIS year, as never before, the line between philanthropy and business is blurring. A new generation of philanthropists has stepped forward, for the most part young billionaires who have reaped the benefits of capitalism and believe that it can be applied in the service of charity. They are “philanthropreneurs,” driven to do good and have their profit, too.
If the buck doesn’t stop THERE, many Web 2.0 kingpins seem to be saying, it stops HERE.
“More and more people are asking who else is going to finance doing good if government isn’t,” said Alan Abramson, director of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy program at the Aspen Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington. “These guys have firsthand knowledge of the market’s power, and they’re asking themselves why they can’t make money and tackle some of the problems once addressed primarily by government at the same time.”
It sounds simple, but the idea of such hybrid philanthropy is upsetting long-held conventions. These new philanthropists view the current foundation model, built on the fortunes of earlier industrial titans like Carnegie and Rockefeller, as hidebound and often ineffective. They have an urge to change the world, and argue that in some cases only the speed of capitalism is fast enough.
Said Apple founder, Stephen M. Case to a group of foundation executives this past January: “We need to be open to bigger, bolder reform because the hard truth is Philanthropy 1.0 hasn’t worked well enough… If you’ll forgive the computer metaphors, our system needs an upgrade.”
The articles goes on to profile some of the more prominent “philanthropreneurs,” including Case, eBay’s Jeffrey S. Skoll, Pierre Omidyar, founder of the Omidyar Network, and Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson.
Like a Rolling Stone, Snipes, Logomancy and So So Psychosis can only hope that this trend, if the reader will forgive the mixed metaphors. will pick up steam and gather no moss along the way…
Read the full article on the NYT website
A Fresh Approach: What’s Wrong With Profit?
By STEPHANIE STROM
Rebuilding: A Scarred Region Mends, With Help From Many Friends
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Flexible Hours, Using Your PC and Never Leaving Home
By PAMELA LiCALZI O’CONNELL
Reaching Out Over There
By SUZANNE MacNEILLE
Wanderlust: For Those Who Aid Others, ‘Tourist’ Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
By SUZANNE MacNEILLE
PLANTING THE SEEDS: For an 11-Year-Old, Learning by Doing Good
By JOHN HANC
A Family Experience
By JOHN HANC
Time Is Money: Younger Generations Lend a Hand in Their Own Way
By LEE ROBERTS
Starting from scratch: A Doctor, a Pastor and a Will of Steel
By JUDITH BERCK
Learning: Not Just Peeling Potatoes
By LAURA NOVAK
They Do It for the Rush, as Well as the Money
By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D.
Step by Step: The Walk Is Fun, Raising the Money Isn’t
By FRAN HAWTHORNE
Preservation Trusts: Keeping the Battlefields From Becoming Parking Lots
By JOHN HANC
Wireless Technology to Bind an African Village
By MATT VILLANO
Shopping: Candles, Jeans, Lipsticks: Products With Ulterior Motives
By MICHAEL BARBARO
Hurting for Dollars: Without Popular Appeal, a Hospital Program Can Suffer
By REED ABELSON
Aspirations Beyond Guard Duty
By REED ABELSON
Friendly Helpers: The Emotional Path From Puppy to Guide Dog
By KAREN JONES
Environment: Donors With Roots in the Community, and Plenty of Green
By BONNIE DeSIMONE
Paying the Freight, and Relishing the Ride
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
The Troops: A Tangible Thank-You for Wartime Sacrifice
By PATRICIA R. OLSEN
How to Stuff a Stocking for a Soldier
By LIA MILLER
Creating Bonds to Home While Far Away at War
By STEFANI JACKENTHAL
The Right Thing: Athletes Practice the Giveback
By LYNN ZINSER
Corporate Counsel: Lessons in Management From the For-Profit World
By CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH
Resale: Vintage Fashions Lure Shoppers and Charities Alike
By SUSAN SAITER
New Models: A Charity With an Unusual Interest in the Bottom Line
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Community Investing: Putting Your Money Where Your Heart Lies
By KELLI B. GRANT
Giving Circles: Putting Their Heads Together, Then Their Cash
By CHRISTIAN L. WRIGHT
Bankruptcy Law: Lost in the Fine Print, Protection for Tithing
By NOAM COHEN
The Arts: Cultural Giving by Companies: a Two-Way Street
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Taxes: The Ins and Outs of Charitable Deductions
By JAN M. ROSEN
Aiding the Schools That Gave Them a Chance
By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
Development: Growing a City, From the Roots Up
By KEITH SCHNEIDER
The Foundations: Big Givers Turn to Poorly Financed Community Colleges
By KAREN W. ARENSON
So Many Causes, So Little Time for the Hollywood Do-Gooder
By SHARON WAXMAN
Megamoney: A Hedge Fund With High Returns and High-Reaching Goals
By JENNY ANDERSON
Bono, Trying to Throw His Arms Around the World
By TOM ZELLER Jr.