Monday, March 31, 2014


In all reality there were only two things that made me want to become a botanist. The first reason, plain and simple, in the long months of Desert Storm, all I really wanted to see was plants. The second reason, when I returned to Ansbach, Germany in May of 1991, it was springtime and there were plants everywhere. One day in the first spring after the war, I was running along an access road on the outskirts of town looking at the gardens when I saw her. I don't know who she was, or what kind of grapes she was tending to. I do not know why she was doing it naked. The naked woman tending grapes was really the reason why I wanted to become a botanist.

Late the other night, I sat at the bar at Atticus and casually mentioned that my life's ambition was to become a botanist. The conversation was about Warehouses and Rusted Angels which will be my third novel. I had just signed the contract. And I concluded it by saying: “And I wanted to be a botanist.” It solicited a laugh for some reason. I stared. Well, why didn't you? Why? Because I became a writer instead.

Monday, March 24, 2014

You don't have to read past the first paragraph

It occurred to me tonight to look through old essays. It occurred to me only because I have not written any content for my blog. It's time to talk about my winter reading list, which is as follows: I read several Philip K. Dick short stories, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, L. Baum Frank's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Dale Bridges's Justice Inc. Enough said. It's hardly worth discussing, and I thought an old essay might be fun to post.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Can a photograph define a time?

I'm going through the interview process at Devry University for a teaching gig. It's been an interesting process if for no other reason than I have not been through such a process before. Anyhow, I had to give 20 minute teaching demonstration. I choice the Roy Strykers photographers and the impact of such photography. The follow was my demonstration's lesson plan.


I'm Anthony ILacqua. Thanks for this opportunity and thank you for being here. I have a BA of English from Metropolitan State College of Denver. Metro is a University now, but at the time I graduated it was still a state school. I hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. As you can tell, I do have a liberal arts background. I'm the editor in chief of Umbrella Factory Magazine which is a small literary magazine. I have two novels, Dysphoric Notions and Undertakers of Rain, both published with Ring of Fire Publishing. Although I would love to talk books for this teaching demonstration/interview, that would be an easy escape. And rather than analysis heavy subjects, ancient tomes, or the pieces of archaic thought we have all studied and perhaps forgotten, I choose to open a dialogue about something we can readily share today. As I said, I have a liberal arts background, how do you think the liberal arts can shape history? Do you think it can influence society, or the future for that matter?

The Preface: Who has a camera on them right now? How many people have snapped a “picture” today? And do we still call them “pictures”? I feel like they are often referred to as an image, a pic or a “selfie” if the subject is a self portrait. With this proliferation of small, easily accessible cameras, I have to ask:

Can a Photograph define a time? We'll look at one time specifically.

Question engagement: Can someone define photograph? The Oxford Dictionary of American English defines it this way: “A picture made using a camera, in which an image is focused onto film or other light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment.” This definition is perhaps a little dated because it alludes to silver compounds decomposing to metallic silver when exposed to light, with light sensitive salts held in an emulsion on transparent film. But that's all yesterday's chemistry.

Question engagement: Who is this man? Roy Stryker. What did he do? Believe it or not, you know this man, or at least you have seen the products of this man.

Question engagement: Who is this man? FDR.

The New Deal was a series of domestic programs enacted in the United States between 1933 and 1938. They involved laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the "3 Rs": Relief, Recovery, and Reform. That is Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.

The Resettlement Administration (RA) was a New Deal U.S. federal agency that, between April 1935 and December 1936, relocated struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government.

Question engagement: Who is this man? John Steinbeck.

Question engagement: Who is this woman? It shows Florence
Thompson embracing her children as she looks off into the distance. While Thompson was only in her 30s when the picture was taken, she looks haggard. Steinbeck would have known Miss Thompson, and if not by name, then at least by thousands of others who looked like her. Does anyone know who took this photograph? Dorothea Lange. Many of us have a very accurate idea of what the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl looked like because of photographers like Dorothea Lange.

Slide: This is my favorite, White Angel Breadline. Dorothea Lange came from San Francisco, which is where this photograph was taken: One Nation, Indivisible. What do we see here? School children. For many of us, we see nothing more than school children. What do you think about this: these are American children of Japanese decent and the year is 1942?
Question engagement: This brings up our point, Dorothea Lange, John Steinbeck and FDR. What's the common thread? This is a brief history lesson from a very brief time of history than none of us have any intimate knowledge. Steinbeck is the easy one here. He chronicled the Great Depression is The Grapes of Wrath in 1937. He gives us a great account of the Joad family and the migrant workers who flocked from Oklahoma to California. We know Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the 32nd president, 1933-1945. What did he and Dorothea Lange have in common?

Point #1: Return to Roy Stryker: The collection encompasses the approximately 77,000 images made by photographers working in Stryker's unit as it existed in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (RA, 1935-37), the Farm Security Administration (FSA, 1937-42), and the Office of War Information (OWI, 1942-44). Under Roy Stryker's direction, twenty-two photographers captured images of Americans, American culture, and American landscape. 22 photographers documented the entire state of the country from 1935 to 1944. Dorothea Lange was only one. And for those of you who have ever taken a “selfie” here's one of Dorothea Lange.

First: Do you think the program was one of humanist or idealist purpose or was it propaganda?
Second: Would it be possible today for a group like this to be as influential as the FSA were?

Question engagement: Why do you suspect that this Information Division was assembled? What was the purpose? Can something like this exist today? If 22 photographers can make such an impact, is there something lost with the millions of camera phone users?

Question engagement: We've talked about FSA, Dorothea Lange, specifically, what about photographs or photojournalism that stick out in your mind. They don't have to be from this time. It's okay if your images are a little dated, after all, we've seen the death of the newspaper in recent years, the decline of the print medium... what images remain in your mind?

Here are some of mine:

What do you think about objectivity? Is the camera objective? Is a photographer objective? W. Eugene Smith was famous for his photo essays: Country Doctor and Albert Schweitzer. What do you think of this image? Who thinks this is an objective image? Obviously, we cannot, absolutely cannot look at this image and not feel something, notably distaste, anger, rage. We may try to rationalize this now by saying that that's just the way things were back then. W. Eugene Smith wasn't buying it. This is not an objective photographer. 1951 he gained trust with the KKK. HIS STATEMENT: Dear _______________ (an editor); P.S. In printing the photographs of the white-gowned Klan members I ran into considerable difficulty. There were several with uncovered faces and these faces were vividly dark in comparison to the white-white of the gowns that it was almost impossible to keep them from appearing black. I am terribly sorry.

Ask anyone from the baby-boomer generation or older where they were when... and they can tell you. Here is Dan Farrell's 1963 photograph of John Jr.

Bill Ander's 1968 Earthrise taken from the Apollo 8: "We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth"

Who can give me the definition of the word: hero? From her book Woe Is I, this is Patricia T. O'Conner definition of hero: There was a time when this word was reserved for people who were...well..heroic. People who performed great acts of bravery or valor, often facing danger, even death. But lately, hero has started losing its luster. We hear it applied indiscriminately to professional athletes, lottery winners and kids who clean up at spelling bees. There is no other word quite like hero, so let's not bestow it too freely. It would be a pity to lose it. Jeff Widener of the Associated Press took this one in June of 1989: Tank Man or the Unknown protester. Who is the hero in this photograph? In 1989, I thought it was the protester. If you know anything about this photograph, the driver of the tank was unable to run the protester down and drove around him. Today, I lean more to the thought that the tank driver is the hero. Interesting photo.
Jean-Claude Coutausse's A West-Berliner hitting the wall next to the Brandenburg Gate on November 10, 1989.

Taslima Akhter's A Final Embrace, Bangladesh in May of 2013. What do you notice about this photograph? What's the difference between this photo and all the others we've seen? This this is the only current photograph. What happened to photography between say, the fall of the Berlin wall, 1989, and this photograph? Digital photography. In this photograph, I notice the hair, the arm and the foreground clothe. I cannot help but think that this image has been altered somehow. What I say will not lessen the photo's impact, or how compelling it is. I wonder if someone didn't alter the subjects themselves, or perhaps enhanced the image digitally. It doesn't lessen the impact of it.

Question engagement: Who has Facebook? Instagram? Flickr? Here we have a great way to share photos, right? Everyone has a camera and now, a way to share them instantly and free of cost.

Group Activity: Contrast the FSA task force to the photo campaigns today: Instagram, Flickr, Facebook.

I'll leave you with an image I like.
Who is this man? David Bowie from the Heroes record cover, 1977.

Any questions? Well, I thank you for your time.
The Farm Security Administration (FSA), created in 1937 under the Department of Agriculture, helped with rural rehabilitation, farm loans, and subsistence homestead programs. The FSA was not a relief agency, but instead it relied on a network of cooperation between states and county offices to determine which clients needed loans that could not get this credit somewhere else. Farmers could use these loans to buy land, equipment, livestock, or seeds. Additionally, the FSA assisted families by providing healthcare, education, and training programs for participating families. The goal of these measures was to help families become self-sustaining.

The RA was the brainchild of Rexford G. Tugwell, an economics professor at Columbia University who became an advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt during the latter's successful campaign for the presidency in 1932 and then held positions in the United States Department of Agriculture However, Tugwell's goal of moving 650,000 people from 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km2) of agriculturally exhausted, worn-out land was unpopular among the majority in Congress. This goal seemed socialistic to some and threatened to deprive influential farm owners of their tenant workforce. The RA was thus left with enough resources to relocate only a few thousand people from 9,000,000 acres (36,000 km2) and build several greenbelt cities, which planners admired as models for a cooperative future that never arrived.

Works cited: Digital Public Library of America Magnum Photos
W. Eugene Smith Masters of Photography. Aperture: New York, 1999.
W. Eugene Smith An Aperture Monograph. Aperture Foundation: New York, 1969.
Walker Evans, Photographs for the Farm Security Administration. Library of Congress, 1976.
Dorthea Lange. Phaidon: London, 2011.
Chase, Jarvis. The Best Camera is the One That's With You. New Riders: Berkeley, CA, 2010.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Brief Interlude on a March Night

It was done on a cold March night in another place and in another life. It was a cold March night, chilling, wet, slightly suspect. Tonight? Another March night, three years later. It seems like an entire life time ago, March 2011. In the of my young son, the difference between then and now is exactly twice his lifetime ago. It's a testament to how swiftly time moves and the vast amount of life than can happen in such a short span. I have no perspective on March 2014, I'm still living it. I do, however, have some perspective on March 2011.

Before I bore you to death, I will tell you that this is not a piece of memoir. This is not a piece of sentimental drivel. This is not really even about me. This is about a few things I know about. First, I could say it is about the bar. Truth be known, I lived the bar life a few times: The Green Goose in the summer of 1991. I lived The Thin Man from 2001 to 2004. I sat with my elbows at bars in the interceding years, Cafe Netherworld in 1998, The Gypsy in 1999 and 2000. Che's in 2005. The PS Lounge from 2007 to 2010. The Commodore from 2011 to 2013. And for a few brief meetings, The Lovecraft Bar in 2013. As it stands, The Lovecraft is the last love affair I had with a bar, and I would still be seeing it if I weren't here and it weren't there. The punchline here: I've spent a great deal of my time in bars, both as a worker and as a patron.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Better Days conclusion: Telling a story to the biggest audience possible

I think any project that involves more than one person, and possibly many one person projects take on a life of their own. I also think that everyone has been part of something that has suddenly become to important to not complete to the highest value. A project becomes the sum of all the smaller pieces added to the possibility that the project itself has manifested.

I think this is especially true with film. A film started with a concept, then a script, then a direction crew, then a set crew, then a cast, then a musical composer then a post-production staff then an audience. It's big, even when we're talking about a short film like “Better Days.”

For those who are just now hearing about “Better Days,” let me give you a little insight. “Better Days” is a short film by Rocket House Pictures produced in early 2014. It's comprised of 5 smaller scenes that tell a story of two old friends. The story is, unrequited love, reconnection, adultery and murder. In many ways, the themes in this short film are cliché, but the treatment of these themes are softly understated and often embedded in negative space. These are the fancy words to describe a short, small budget, independent film. And we all love short, small budget, independent films.

Rocket House Pictures is a small film and media company located in Denver. There are four members on staff at Rocket House Pictures. There is no payroll department. The crew for “Better Days” was the above mention four member staff and four additional crew members. The cast of the film is a startling five members.

We spent four days shooting this five scene short film. Our locations: a taxi, a outside bench, Kilgore Books, a patio and a hotel room. We paid nothing for sets.

When I say that a project becomes an entity into itself I'm not kidding. As you may or may not know, I did write this screenplay, and I got the opportunity to direct it. I met many people, actors, photographers and people at the locations. I learned about actors' processes, I learned about sound recording. I learned about the taxi driver industry. These things don't seem so great, but added together and learned about in such a short period of time, it really is fantastic.

As I said, a project gets bigger than its parts.

On the surface, I may seemed like another writer/director for a small arthouse film. And I think there is some truth in that. I would never ask for support, either financially or of viewers if this film were just my own. Hell, I have two novels out that are just my own and my sales will prove that I don't ask for support. Working in film, this one particularly, I feel inclined to ask for support on behalf of everyone involved.

I feel a certain level of commitment to the film itself. We've made this movie from page to screen. Any film that gets made deserves an audience if only to witness the miracle that a film can be completed. I believe in Gio Toninelo as cinematographer, and I believe that he has created a visually stunning movie. He and I have worked together for years and, all willing, we will continue to work together for many more.

Passed commitment, I feel a very resounding responsibility to the cast of this film. I have every intention to further the careers of each and every one of the actors of “Better Days.” I think Andrew Katers is one of the most talented and professional actors a director can find. He worked tireless on character development, he choreographed the fight scene, he helped rewrite bad parts of the script. Anyone who needs a leading man, a handsome devil, dedicated worker, an insightful actor and a martial arts fighter, give Andrew Katers a job. And Aeon Cruz. Aeon Cruz is enigma. Aeon is a musician, actor, model, and artist. Aeon is a quick study. She gains a quick master of character and scene. She's the kind of person to simply “own it.” Aside from all professional attributes I can give about Aeon, let me just say, she's a joy to be around. She's funny, she's considerate and she's quick to laughter. Of the other three actors: Alicia Barreti, Alfred Ferraris and Mathias Leppistch, I hope to work with them again, and in the meantime, I hope they find more work too.

This sense of responsibility to the cast and the crew, comes to this: gaining the widest audience as possible.

Here we go. Most production teams will do their best to campaign for money before they even begin. I understand this. This means that the production company needs money for equipment or equipment rental. They may have to pay some of their staff. They may need money for locations, and all the other unforeseeable items. There are plenty of unforeseeable items. For instance, on the first day of shooting “Better Days,” we had an outside scene and the temperature that day was in the single digits. The way we had the whole thing blocked, we would not have been able to shoot on any other day. I would imagine a reschedule would kill most of the budget for a small production. Most films need money at the onset, and if the money does not arrive, no film gets shot.

Rocket House Pictures does it differently. We are blessed to have most of the equipment. We are blessed to know just about everyone in town. Gio's friend Vyron drives a cab, my friend Richard does special effect make-up. Gio's better half, Jenna runs a craft service company. Travis knows everyone else in town, he got the Ramada and the bookstore where we filmed. I must say, it is nice to have a big network of people who are willing and have the ability to help for favors rather than money.

We're about to ask for money. Funny thing about us, our movie is already shot, edited and otherwise complete. It begs the question, doesn't it? Why does a completed film need money? Well, remember all the favors we owe? Remember all the actors' careers we want to further? It comes down to one thing: getting our film in front of as many people as we possibly can. It means getting as many audiences as we possibly can. And since we're talking about a short film, we're talking about the film festival circuit.

Film festivals are wonderful place to meet other filmmakers, actors and production people. They are also a place to meet future investors, business partners and future collaborators. And they are great places to find distribution. And these are just for the filmmakers. For our actors, a film festival means the potential for more gigs, and perhaps even some paying gigs. The film festival is the goal. And this means we need money. It costs anywhere from $15 to $200 just to submit to a festival. Let's assume the average entry is $50.00, and the average acceptance rate is ten percent. In this scenario we'd need a minimum of $500 just to get one audience. You see where I'm going with this.

Giving to a film, giving to filmmakers or giving to art or an artist is the best thing you can possibly do. It will keep these people off the street and busy creating art. Think of it like this: “Better Days” had an average daily cast and crew of 10 people. If you give to us, that means there are ten more people making art and ten less stealing your hubcaps. And I thank you for your support.