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folkphotography-wwib

Sante? He was just a five letter word in the headlines to me. I vaguely knew he’d done some things— maybe even great things— but not until an hour ago did I know realize was a poet too. But, lo and behold, here I am, house sitting in Gowanus and there it is, snug between Edward Sanders and Edith Sitwell, Luc Sante, My Life In Poetry: 1970-1981— an orgy of sibilants! (Sappho, in this home, resides in the Greek and Latin collection; Friedrich Schiller in the German, etc.) Reading it, I was inspired to listen to the music of Erik Satie, specifically Aldo Ciccolini’s 1965  recording of Sports et divertissements. Luc Sante in “Le Water-Chute”? If only Captain Boynton were alive to see it.

Poetry, of course, was not Sante’s true wheel. His latest book, Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905-1930, most certainly is, however, and it’s further evidence a proper poetic inheritance (Homer, Jean de Bosschère, H.D., Dave Van Ronk) is a thing of louche beauty. Sante— dare I say the Sepia Sante?— recently explained his project in Art Forum. Fellow postcard collector Jim Lindeman, author and editor of the astounding Take Me To The Water: Immersion Baptism In Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 (for which Sante wrote an introduction) gives Folk Photography a couple deep dunks himself: rejoice!

A good cook needs a new chopper
Once a year— he cuts
A poor cook needs a new one
Every month—he hacks!
—Thomas Merton, from The Way of Chuang Tzu

Berger found four postcards and two stereopticons “down south”; his questions were composed overlooking the Nantahala mountains. Sante wrote his answers by hand, not far from the Catskills. They play all the notes Bird missed.
— Beadel Debevoise

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Monument and Tomb of Wm. McKinley, Canton, Ohio

Brian Berger: Who would you rather have seen lecture, Emma Goldman or Carry Nation? Neither mourned the assassination of President William McKinley, shot by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901.

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Luc Sante: Carry A. Nation must have been a hoot to see and hear, but I’d rather have witnessed Emma Goldman. She talked sense. Somewhere I have a fragment of a speech by her on tape– she is clipped, sensible, and to the point. She would have made a great president, even if that’s a bit like saying that Ravachol would have been a great military architect.

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Castillo De San Marcos, St. Augustine, Florida

Brian: Some believe Arthur “Blind” Blake, the brilliant ragtime guitarist and blues singer (more a songster, really), was from Jacksonville, Florida, about forty miles south of St. Augustine, although there’s little about Blake’s life we can state with surety. What does “Diddie Wah Diddie” mean to you?

Diddie Wah Diddie No. 2

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Luc: Ah, Blind Blake! He probably didn’t freeze to death in a Chicago blizzard. Also not to be confused with the 1950s, Bahamaian singer who went by the same handle. “Champagne Charlie is my name,” says the real Blind Blake, and for all we know, he’s right.

“Diddie Wah Diddie” is made to rhyme with “going to the city” as well as “wah.” The permanent association in my mind is with Captain Beefheart’s first 45 (1966?) of course. That’s the purest pipeline to the Delta blues available on Top 40 radio back then, short of Slim Harpo anyway.

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Tacony-Palmyra Bridge Over Delaware River, Philadelphia, PA.

Brian: I’ve not been to the Tacony-Palmyra Flea Market in New Jersey—perhaps if I make a Horace Traubel in Camden pilgrimage sometime—but I’ve recently hit the gigantic J&J Flea Market outside of Athens, Georgia; the modest Rabun County Flea Market in Rabun Gap, Georgia; and the massive Tri-Cities Flea Market in Bluff City, Tennessee. A few hours of wandering later, I had a  jar of homemade bbq sauce and a $1 hardcover (no dustjacket) of Fish Preferred by P.G. Wodehouse, published by A.L. Burt in 1929, “by arrangement of Doubleday & Doran Inc.” There were many other interesting things to purchase—live roosters, old tools, swell Mexican food, gospel music, even a haircut— but few, if any, photo postcards. What gives?

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Luc: Flea markets up to ten years ago or so were lousy with postcards, including the photo kind. Then eBay happened, and shortly thereafter the astronomical rise in prices. So pickers have cleaned those places out. It’s too bad, even if eBay is kinda convenient.

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Cohocksink M.E. Church, Philadelphia (interior)

Brian: I don’t know Philadelphia well but I imagine David Goodis masturbating furiously here, a quiet pew in Cohocksink Methodist Episcopal Church— lust cuts frustration, a breakfast zep not for victory but enough to absorb the detritus of another failed drunk fuck. There was room elsewhere in the bar, he recalled, but he preferred to squeeze beside the ample blonde smoking Chesterfields and still wearing her Lehigh Valley Transit Company trolley driver uniform. He’d always wanted to visit Norristown.

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Luc: As concerns Norristown, please consult Mimi Lipson’s story, “Tomack” (in Food And Beverage)— it’s the last word on the place. Norristown was just made for Goodis, who appreciated him a good dead end. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is a top contender for the great lost American city. It’s like a collision of the 18th and 20th centuries (respectively: grand and noble and scholarly, and rough and tumble and beached) that’s been hung out to dry in the 21st. I love Philly. But I have a major soft spot for inhabited ruins.

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Cohocksink M.E. Church, Philadelphia (exterior)

Brian: Up from Methodism? By god yes, but to where? I’ll never go back to Norristown.

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Luc: The Methodists still exist, although I don’t know any, personally. But I keep coming across shards of the former Methodist empire: the holy city of Ocean Grove, NJ; the erstwhile colony of Westport, Mass.; quondam Epworth League camps up in the Catskills, near where I live. They must have been a force to contend with a century ago, before the Pentecostals stole their thunder.

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Blarney Castle, Co. Cork

Brian: This is the story of LeGrange M. Brown of Brooklyn, an electrician by trade and also a talented amateur photographer. In 1889, Brown’s artistic specialty was unusual, and perhaps unique: he took published portraits of Brooklyn society women, placed their heads upon the photos of European nudes— presumably French— and rephotographed the resulting montage. Brown would show sample prints in local saloons, which was always good for a laugh, and sometimes sales too. Eventually, however, Brown found the wrong man. This ogler wasn’t  amused; indeed, he recognized a certain young lady’s visage and thus roused, he contacted Anthony Comstock of the Society of the Suppression of Vice. Comstock, slick and unyielding like the walls of Blarney Castle, was thrilled and soon enlisted Detective Sergeant Rorke of Brooklyn’s Third Precinct to go undercover, earn Brown’s confidence and purchase the sinful images. This Rorke did, their transaction consummated at Brown’s Hicks Street apartment cum studio, followed immediately by the photographer’s arrest.

Is there such a thing “real-photo erotica” and if so, where can we I get that book? Don’t worry, pops, this is just between you and me.

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Luc: Geez, wish I could see some of LeGrange Brown’s works. Do any still exist? Of course the faces wouldn’t mean anything to us anymore. I guess his pix were a forerunner of the Tijuana bible, among other things— although these of course hand drawn comics imagining movie stars etc. in porn scnenarios. Comstock was a case— read his bio by Haywood Brown.

Folk Photography: The American Real Photo Postcard, 1905-1930 is published by Verse Chorus Press. For more blues, rags and hollers, see Luc Sante: Walloon For The Hell Of It.

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Beadel Debevoise is a poet, editor and translator. Her most recent collection of verse, Thinking About Your Cock Thick And Unyielding Like The Walls Of Blarney Castle (Gowanus Dog Press) won the National Book Award in 2008.

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