Savage Harvest: Among the Cannibals

Carl Hoffman, author of Savage Harvest
Carl Hoffman, author of Savage Harvest

Humans were made to eat like Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, not farmers.
– Chris Kresser, Your Personal Paleo Code

Americans are in love with the Stone Age. They long for the nirvana of the Paleo era, when we ate nothing but free-range mammoths and were strong, healthy and free of neuroses. Chris Kresser claims that our health has declined since the Stone Age while doomster Jared Diamond has called agriculture “the worst mistake in human history.”

It’s the ultimate form of liberal guilt. Our civilization has ruined the land with freeways, processed food and vaccinations. And there’s far too many of us. Man is a plague on the earth, according to Sir David Attenborough.

If only we could go back to when we lived as hunter-gatherers and ate nothing but locally-sourced organic food.

You can. And it all takes is a trip to New Guinea.

Savage HarvestIn researching his book Savage Harvest, author Carl Hoffman spent months with the indigenous Asmat people of New Guinea in his quest to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller. When he vanished in 1961, Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in the world and was collecting primitive art for his new museum.

Hoffman told the fascinating story behind this mystery at Salon Contra, an arts salon sponsored by Philippa Hughes of the Pink Line Project. He spoke before an intimate audience of the culturally curious who sipped white wine and politely asked questions.

To understand what happened to Rockefeller, Hoffman realized he had to understand the Asmat people and their culture which, until recently, included head-hunting and cannibalism. Living in huts in a swamp, the Asmat subsist on the sago palm and small crabs. Hoffman said he didn’t see a green vegetable for months. (There’s some speculation that cannibalism is a necessity for hunter-gatherers who don’t get enough protein and fat.)

In the patriarchal Asmat culture, the women do all the work, traveling every morning to the sea to cast nets for crabs. Most children are unschooled. The men spend the day smoking, drumming and engaging in sex with each other.  While nominally Catholic, they believe that spirits cause people to die and that the world must be balanced between the living and the dead. This need for vengeance to balance out the world has had tragic consequences – the Asmat live in two feuding villages separated by a no-man’s land.

But they are also known for their beautiful woodcarvings, which is what drew Rockefeller to the region in 1961. In Savage Harvest, author Hoffman retraces the steps of Rockefeller in an attempt to solve the decades-old mystery of his disappearance. It’s a true journey into the heart of darkness, conducted by a man who immersed himself inthe spiritual world of the Asmat.

Before you seek nirvana in the Stone Age, check out Savage Harvest. Read this fascinating mystery from the comfort of your air-conditioned home, with a glass of clean water at your side, protected from cannibals, and ponder the benefits of civilization.

Friday Photo: Jaded Washingtonian Edition

Spotlight at the Portrait GalleryI’m a jaded Washingtonian. I’ve lived in DC for so long that I no longer notice things like the Washington Monument and the White House. They are just there, part of the scenery.

I had some time to kill before a happy hour downtown. I wandered into the Portrait Gallery, which is open until 7. While walking through the museum, I noticed that the lights had been turned down low in the courtyard. I had to investigate.

Museum staff were setting up for a dinner and adjusting the light levels. Spotlights were turned off and on, blue gels were placed over lights and the overhead lights were turned down and then back up.

That’s when I got this picture. In it you can see the silhouettes of museum-goers in a lone spotlight, the red tables set up for the dinner and the glimmer of the lights in the glass canopy, which look  a little like stars in the firmament. It’s an iPhone pic, one of the first with my new iPhone 5 – I was impressed that it could capture such a dark scene.

I literally saw the Portrait Gallery in a different light. The courtyard looked fresh and new in the darkness. One magical moment watching the lights wax and wane and I became de-jaded.

How to Lead a Fascinating Life but Make No Money: My Year in Writing

Lawless poster with Tom HardyThe more interesting the work, the less it pays – that’s the rule I uncovered in 2012. It’s the reason why technical writers are paid well (you want to write a help guide for Sharepoint?) while film reviewers are paid poorly (you get to see movies!).

However, it was a great learning experience to meet so many creative folks. Truly inspiring to meet people who had written books, made movies and created web sites.

The highlight of the year was the work I did for On Tap, the free monthly entertainment magazine in DC. There’s still a special thrill to see your name in print that no digital facsimile can replace. I wrote about Lawless, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, V/H/S, Mansome and The Sessions. Continue reading “How to Lead a Fascinating Life but Make No Money: My Year in Writing”

Surrendering to Serendipity: My Year in Photography

I like wandering the city taking photos. I’m a chronicler, a recorder, pursuing the things I am interested in – city life, the arts, travel and strong horizontal lines.

And in 2012, I got to do so much of what I love – taking boozy Instagram shots of art gallery shows, capturing photos of bike culture and recording life in this city, from protests to performance art.

Here are my favorites from 2012.

iPhone Impressionism

It was the year of iPhone impressionism, where I used Instagram, Flickr, Slow Shutter and other apps to capture the city around me. When I take photos, I’m not looking for realism – I’m looking for symmetry and beauty in the urban environment. I’m showing an idealized Washington, a place of warm tones, strong lines and order.

Taxis on 17th St

there is a light that never goes out

F St from above

Late in the year came the controversy over Instagram’s odious Terms of Service. That inspired me to check out the newly updated Flickr mobile app, which has great filters like Narwhal (seen below) and doesn’t shrink your pictures down to tiny squares.

performance art at the Hillyer

My New Year’s Resolution is to use Flickr more and Instagram less.

Continue reading “Surrendering to Serendipity: My Year in Photography”

DCist Exposed Wants Your Photos

media storm
Media storm - 2012 DCist Exposed Photography Show

DCist Exposed is looking for photos of our nation’s capital for their annual show at Long View Gallery. The deadline for submissions is January 9 and the show will be in March of next year.

If you’re a photographer, it’s a great event. I’ve had photos in the show twice. The opening night parties are always packed and it’s a thrill to see your work framed and hung in a gallery. Plus, you get to meet lots of other photographers and learn how they do things – that’s been the best part for me.

So, what is DCist Exposed looking for? Well, check out DCist to get an idea of what their photo editors like. I’d say that they look for gritty, non-touristy and unusual looks at DC.

The photo above was in the 2012 show. I think it got in because it’s a different look at a familiar landmark. I took it during the post-earthquake inspection of the Washington Monument. There’s a strange symmetry between the antennas of the TV trucks and this iconic structure. I made it black and white to make this obvious. And if you look carefully, you can see a figure at the top of the Monument, rappelling down as he checked for earthquake damage.

Below is my photo which was in the 2007 show. There’s a nice contrast between the playful girl and the graffiti. It’s innocence in an urban environment.

rose runs
Rose runs - 2007 DCist Exposed Photography Show

So pick out your best three photos and submit to DCist Exposed today!

The $100 Startup – Chapter Three: Follow Your Passion… Maybe

screenplay

Some books deserve a closer read. One of these is The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. Follow along as I delve into the book, chapter by chapter. I’ll breakdown each chapter, providing a sort of Cliff Notes summary. And I’ll include what you can’t find in the book, such as links to the businesses he discusses, ideas for additional reading and my own thoughts.

I’ll post my breakdown of each chapter every couple days. Get the book and follow me on Twitter at @joeflood as we read The $100 Startup.

I’m a writer. I’ve written screenplays, short stories and even two novels. Writing and (more recently) photography are my passions. I’ve followed my muse, as much as I could afford to.

But make a living at my passions? I had the dream of being a Hollywood screenwriter until I actually visited LA. And I’d love a book deal but the publishing world is in disarray these days. And the dream of being a professional photographer is undermined by countless photographers (including, at times, me) willing to work for free.

Besides, I really do like working on web sites. I love the immediacy and creativity of web publishing.

The idea that there must be some way to combine my writing, photography and web skills into some sort of coherent business is why I bought The $100 Startup.

In chapter three, Guillebeau addresses the artist within all of us, the countless people who have wanted to turn their hobbies into money-making operations.

$100 Dollar StartupThe key is to find the overlap between your passion and the what people will pay for. He puts it in this somewhat clunky formula:

(Passion + skill) -> (problem + marketplace) = opportunity.

The best example comes from Guillebeau’s own life. I first started reading his blog during his quest to visit every country in the world. Did he get paid for this? No. He gets paid through related services, like his books and guides. As Guillebeau expains:

…you don’t get paid for your hobby itself; you get paid for helping other people pursue the hobby or something indirectly related to it.

Another example is Benny Lewis. He loved learning new languages and discovered that total immersion was key to picking up a new tongue. He learned seven languages in just two years. Pushed by his friends, he developed Speak from Day One (check out the insane video).

But how do you determine what the market will pay for? A tough question, but Guillebeau offers a checklist. You need a hobby that you’re passionate about. And have other people asked you for help with this hobby? Are they willing to pay for your expertise? These questions will be explored in greater detail in chapter six.

Remember, too, the admonition from chapter two that business success comes from helping people. So, how do you use your skills in a way that helps people?

art jamzThis chapter has a lot of relevance for artists and other creative types. Not everyone wants to turn their art into a business, however. It’s one thing to take photos that you enjoy; quite another to try to sell them at a farmer’s market. Guillebeau underestimates the difficulties people may have in exposing their art to the cruelties of the marketplace.

If you decide to turn your passion into a business, choose wisely and have a thick skin.

Local Examples

I have a couple of inspiring examples of my own, people I know in Washington who have turned their passion into businesses.

  • Jon Gann created the DC Shorts Film Festival, with a desire to put on a show. Now in its ninth year, it was named as “one of 25 festivals worth an entry fee” by Moviemaker Magazine. Jon created DC Shorts because he believed that filmmakers deserved to be treated better.
  • Everyone loves stories about ex-lawyers doing something other than law, like Philippa Hughes of the Pink Line Project, a local web site covering the arts.
  • Julianne Brienza has the occasionally impossible task of running the Capital Fringe Festival every year. This Montanan has successfully brought oddball theater to serious Washington.

Full disclosure: I’ve worked with all of these people and they’re all awesome.

Bonus

Artists are at war with themselves. Creating art is making something imperfect, that’s not going to match the perfect vision in your head. On Writer’s Block is an excellent little book on overcoming this hurdle as is Do The Work.

Reading this chapter, I was reminded of Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow. Sounds like flippant advice in these dour economic times but the book’s message is that what you’re passionate about, you will do better than anyone else.

A nice companion to this chapter would be The Art of Possibility. It’s a beautiful little book about envisioning your future.

Next: Chapter Four – The Rise of the Roaming Entrepreneur

Art, Food and Protest: My Year in Photos

A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.
– John A. Shedd

2011 was the year I decided that a camera in a bag was a dead camera. Our photographic tools (DSLRs, point-and-shoots, iPhones) are designed to be used. That’s where they’re built for.

I’m also fortunate/cursed to live in interesting times, as protests descend upon Washington. I know the city well and can get just about anywhere quickly by walking or biking.

So, I decided that I would use my Canon T2i and iPhone 4 to document political protests, art events, food and just interesting things I saw in the city.

Protests

One of my favorite photos of the year was from an OccupyDC protest:

hippie star Continue reading “Art, Food and Protest: My Year in Photos”

New Article: Tips from Local Photographers

On Monday night, I attended a panel discussion by local photographers at vitaminwater uncapped live, a popup arts/dance/music party in DC.

Inspired by the stories of how these photogs got started, I wrote an article for the Pink Line Project on the talk. The photographers on the panel, who work for sites such as Brightest Young Things, DCist, Washingtonian and the Washington Post, all transitioned from amateurs to professionals. They did this not through traditional education but by following their passions. What started out as a hobby for them – taking pictures of things they loved – eventually became careers.

An Art Experiment Gone Wrong

Agnes in the structure

My good friend Philippa Hughes is hosting an artist in her home this week. It’s a project called Art is Fear.

Here’s the description:

This coming May 2011, for one week, the artist Agnes Bolt will move into the home of the very sociable and curious Philippa Hughes to playfully explore the dynamics between an artist and an art collector. With a naive optimism and subtle social critique the project will manifest itself with a large obtrusive structure situated within Philippa’s home in which the artist will live. The presence of the artist will be impossible to ignore. A series of rules, exercises, communication systems and bonding experiences will dictate the interactions between the two as will video cameras given to both parties. Both are required to follow the rules but mischief and expectations of an open spirited dynamic is highly encouraged.

A woman living in a bubble? I was intrigued. Continue reading “An Art Experiment Gone Wrong”