Sunday, February 27, 2011

Franz Reichelt and His Flying Overcoat

(Above) Photo of Franz Reichelt, c. 1911-12. He was sure this bizarre set of clothes would allow him to fly safely to earth after jumping from the Eiffel Tower. It didn’t work. (I have no idea why, sure looks aerodynamic to me!)
(Above) A more modern day attempt at defying gravity. Using wings supplied by ACME, the attempts by Wile E Coyote always resulted in failure.

THIS FILM, MADE IN 1912 IN PARIS, depicts the first (and last) attempt to fly by a Frenchman named Franz Reichelt. Reichelt (c. 1870s - February 4, 1912), was known by the locals as the flying tailor. He used his skills as a tailor to create an overcoat that he was sure would allow him to fly, glide or float to the ground without harm. He demonstrated his invention with his infamous first and only jump of 60 meters from the first deck of the Eiffel Tower—at that time (1912) the tallest man-made structure in the world. The “flying coat” was a complete disaster, and Reichelt fell like a sack of rocks to his death. Fortunately, the jump was captured on film of the day— showing his death and the hole his body made in the ground upon impact. In the film, you can see him standing on the edge of the tower... contemplating and building up his nerve to jump. Then, he goes for it.

Only Wile E Coyote did similar things and lived to try again another day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Homeland Security, c. 1942

THE SECOND WORLD WAR, and the years leading up to it, was a time not unlike ours today. Just as our government today does it’s best to assure our safety from terrorists, the U.S. government 75 years ago was ever vigilant against Communist and German spies, or terrorist infiltrators trying to weasel their way into defense related businesses. So, they created these “100% foolproof” ID badges, for surely anyone with a camera, pair of scissors and glue could not have faked one of these babies. And, I am not going to even mention the overwhelming pride and individuality an employee would feel wearing one. ;-)

Actually, you can still find these on eBay and at flea markets and estate sales, but once they make it to those little locked cases you see at the antique stores, you can bet they are going to be pretty pricey. My friend Mark Michaelson, author of the book Least Wanted, has a fabulous photostream on Flickr with tons of vernacular photos—mugshots, ID badges, and other cool pics, so just click here to see it. These badges make a great, very visual and affordable collection if you want to start looking for them.

Mark’s book, Least Wanted, is available on Amazon. Check it out!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Melvin Way: Cryptic Messenger

An Accidental Mysteries Blast from the Past, from November 30, 2008.

MELVIN WAY, an African American man born in 1954 now living in NYC, began making drawings like these in the 1980s. Where these cryptic images come from is something of a mystery. Way did take music classes in high school, but soon after was diagnosed as schizophrenic. I have always loved his work. Each piece is small, obsessively drawn in ball point pen and covered in clear tape as if to hermetically seal the information inside. His work appears to be part musical score, part chemical equations, geometric shapes and a compilation of nonsensical doodles which create a wonderfully mysterious equational art form. His work is rare. To me, owning a piece is like holding a contemporary artifact—something I know is a manifestation of that thin boundary between madness and genius. I like to believe I am just not privy to the code.

His work, if available, can be found with an exceptional art dealer named Norman Brosterman (, or at Hospital Audiences, Inc. (HAI) in NYC.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Private Obsession of Miroslav Tichy

(Above) Tichy was known to sit for hours in wait of his unknowing subjects. The photo is in a handmade paper frame.
(Above) Two girls caught in conversation.
(Above) Two “secret” photos by Tichy, who often ran afoul of the law for taking photographs of women on the street.
(Above) A rare photograph, where the subject has actually posed for her photograph (or, at least it seems).
(Above) Processing the photos was also done by extremely primitive means—the result often having bad spots in the development.
(Above) An unknowing female subject gives subject matter for a beautiful picture.
(Above) Tichy, with his hand sewn clothes and his camera... which was made with sewing spools, a lens from found eyeglasses, rubber bands, toilet paper tubes and found cardboard/glue. The result: the oddest working camera you will ever see— something you might see in the movie Mad Max, or WaterWorld—where technology is lost and has to be re-invented.
(Above) A spooky photo of another female. This image is so odd it looks almost like a pre-natal sonogram.

An Accidental Mysteries “Blast from the Past” from January 17, 2009.

MIROSLAV TICHY HAS BECOME FAMOUS in spite of his need for privacy. Born in 1926 in what is now the Czech Republic, Tichy studied painting at the Academy of Art in Prague until the Communist takeover in April 1945. Arrested for being “odd,” therefor subversive, Tichy spent many years in jails and prisons, until he was released in the 1970s. Upon his release, he wandered his small town in rags, pursuing his occupation as an artist photographing the female form in the streets. He made his cameras from tin cans, childrens spectacle lens and other junk he found on the street. He would return home each day to make prints on equally primitive equipment, making only one print from the negative he selected. He stole intimate glimpses of his subjects through windows and the fences of swimming pools as well as in the streets, sometimes finding himself in trouble with the police.

The work, which might appear to the casual viewer to be intrusive voyeurism, takes on a melancholy and poetic quality. They are exquisitely produced small objects of obsession, which have no equal. He produced work, not for others, but for himself, with no regard for selling or exhibiting his pictures. Tichey’s photographs were known only to a few until July 2004, when he won the “New Discovery Award” at Arles. An exhibition of his work was also shown at Kunsthaus in Zurich in September 2005, and was one of the most curious and controversial photographic events of 2005.

Tichy’s work is now red hot. I first saw his work at the Outsider Art Fair in 2007, when it was exhibited by Galerie Susanne Zander, from Antwerp. His work is also exhibited by the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London.

One of the best Web sites on Tichy is the Foundation set up on his behalf: Tichy Ocean.

Some of the above text about Tichy is from the Michael Hoppen Gallery. Top two photos, from Galerie Susanne Zander.

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