Richard Avedon sat with a beer at the horseshoe shaped bar of the Black Forest Inn, on what is now known as Eat Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Avedon was a relatively well known and ascending photographer, producing work for Vogue, Life, and Harper’s Bazaar. He was an unusual photographer, or at least, his photographs were unusual. Or maybe better put, the expressions and emotions, or lack thereof, of the subjects of his photographs, combined with his particular art and a certain kind of color scheme, or lack thereof, were in combination unusual.
The year was 1970, and his decades long career was well underway, but something was wrong. Not with his career, or with the photographs he had been finalizing and hanging for an exhibit at the nearby Minneapolis Museum of Art. What was wrong was the wall he was staring at, across this horseshoe shaped bar, in the Black Forest Inn. Over the weeks, working on his exhibit, he had become a regular, befriending the owner, settling in. But that wall… something was missing from that wall.
Back at the museum, Avedon came to a minor realization. A mural portrait he had prepared for the exhibit, titled “Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution,” was the wrong size for the exhibit. So, he made plans to re-print the life size image. It then occurred to him that the first print, while wrong for the Museum exhibition, would be perfect for that wall back at the Black Forest Inn.
And so it came to pass that a major mural of the ascending but not nearly apexed photographer, who would ultimately redefine the very nature of photography as his talent became something other than unusual, and eventually, a sort of gold standard, ended up hanging in a very pedestrian German restaurant on Eat Street, Minneapolis.
Fifteen years after the installation of the Daughters on the wall, about the time this book by Avedon was published, a gentleman who at that time frequented the Black Forest and still frequents the neighborhood pulled a .357 magnum pistol out of his pistol-hiding place and put one bullet into the forehead of one of the ladies and another bullet into another lady’s chest. Bam. Bam. He double tapped the Avedon. The owners got really mad at that dude, and he is no longer allowed in the restaurant. I hear tell Avedon was not too happy about this either. The bullet holes are still quite visible, no repairs having been effected.
If you look at a chart of mass shootings in America, you’ll see that while they’ve always happened, they are a thing of the 21st century, taking off around 2005 and peaking recently. The dude with the .357 shot the Avedon mural in about 1985 (no one I’ve spoken to remembers the exact year). In those days, there were few mass shootings. Taking out a pistol in South Minneapolis and plugging a wall mural was not a common event, but it would not have been translated as a frightening act of terrorism. That sort of attitude about firing off guns in public places would not really mature until after the first major post office shooting, Columbine, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Virginia Tech, and so on. Also, the guy wasn’t actually shooting at anyone.
But this event does serve to vaguely link the Avedon Name to somebody shooting off a gun in a public place where they should not have been doing that, or at least it did in my mind when I watched the interview taped last night of Michael Avedon, grandson of Richard, on Lawrence O’Donnel’s “The Last Word.”
There is a connection between O’Donnell and Michael Avedon. It happens that Lawrence knew Richard, but also, Lawrence O’Donnell worked for Danial Patrick Moynihan, Senator from New York (and my Senator for a while). Michael Avedon’s middle name is Patrick, and he takes that name from his maternal Grandfather, the Senator. Small world.
The interview was about a very interesting project by Michael, done for New York Magazine. The cover story is called “The Class of 1946-2018: Twenty-seven school-shooting survivors bear their scars, and bear witness,” by Jared Soule, Amellia Schonbek, and Michael Avedon. Journalism, interviews, photographs, combine powerfully in this compelling piece that you can see on line. It reminds us of the fact that for every mass shooting, in-school or otherwise, there are usually multiple individuals who survived, but were physically wounded and who may bear for a lifetime those scars, mutilations or permanent damage. I recently did a quick study of mass shootings since and including Red Lake, Minnesota, in 2005. Those events, more than 50 of them, led to 515 dead and 948 physically injured as part of the shooting. In some cases, there are dozens of other injuries due to panic or other factors. And this says absolutely nothing about those injured psychologically. There are probably well over 1,000 people walking around today (or wheelchair bound in some case) in the United States who survived, but with injury, a mass shooting in a school, workplace, or public event. There are probably tens of thousands who were present and terrorized, and a couple of hundred thousand who are their immediate families and friends. Small world with a lot of damaged people in it.
We live in a small world, in a small space, and too many of us are armed with deadly weapons. We live in a world that has no room for systematic government sponsored hate. The most dangerous professions in America include fishing, logging, roofing, and flight crews on airplanes. A high death rate for those in that range may be close to 140 per 100,000, or about one or two tenths of a percent. But those are professions widely participated in. Not counted on lists of most dangerous jobs is the job of POTUS. The chance of a President of the United States being killed in office is, over the entire time this job has existed, close to 10%. This rate is probably suppressed recently, even as the danger goes up because of better weapons and more hate, because of herculean efforts by the Secret Service.
But over the last two years, some other ways of life have become increasingly dangerous, because of POTUS. Being a journalist is more likely to get you beat up or even killed than ever before in the US. Being a refugee seeking asylum seems to have suddenly become very dangerous, what with the US Army closing in on the southern border. Being a student has been more and more dangerous every year, even as we teach our first and second graders to serpentine in the event they are being shot at.
It has always been dangerous to be a Jew in a world where antisemitism always lurks, even if for large areas of geography and for long stretches of time complacency is allowed. But suddenly, active violent antisemitism is ramped up because of the Republican conspiracy theory mill, and even being a Democrat or a critic of Donald Trump can get you bombed.
The most significant emerging source of mortality or morbidity in the US right now is not some novel disease or unexpected feature of a widely distributed toy or model of motor vehicle. It is the president of the United States and his loosely affiliated gang of Republican thugs and faux news commentators. When 11 were killed and six injured in Pittsburgh, that was an explicit attempt to address a non existent problem cooked up by the lying right wing, and for his part Donald Trump first ignored the event, then decried it as a distraction from his winning big, then blamed the victims, then offended the community by arriving unwelcome to pay lip service. At the same time, over a dozen individuals, legally and justifiably publicly critical of Trump and his administration, were sent pipe bombs in an explicit effort to suppress that criticism and support Donald Trump.
Donald Trump and the Republicans have become a danger to the citizens of the United States. Our solution must be to vote them out of office. We must vote Republican members of Congress out of office next Tuesday so there can be checks and oversight. We must turn state legislatures and governorships over to Democrats so there will be the necessary number of Democratic states to pass Constitutional changes such as ridding us of the Electoral College and Citizens United. We must have a Democratic Senate for at least a dozen years to right the wrongs that have been done to our federal judiciary. We must never again allow a Republican to be in charge of elections. In two states right now, Republican Secretaries of State (that’s the person in charge of a state’s electoral process) are running for governor and using their job as SOS to cheat. We must increase the number of Democratic Attorneys General, in order to protect citizens from oppression by the federal government.
Some will split hairs. The Tree of Life killer is said to have not liked Trump. Doesn’t matter. Conspiracy theorists, supported by and supportive of Trump, laid out the problem. Jews of means were funding a caravan of killer migrants who would swarm over the Mexican border at any time. That killer went after a special group of Jews, those most closely involved with helping immigrants. That was a call for active hate by Trump converted to a hail of bullets from an assault rifle available due to the incessant activities of the Republican NRA.
Some will spit hairs. The bombs never exploded, these men were crazy, the white supremacist who helped orchestrate the deadly Charlottesville protest just arrested was an odd ball.
To the hairsplitters, I say this: You are part of the problem, time for you to step aside.
Any American who can vote who chooses for any reason not to is carrying out an immoral act, and there is no excuse for it. I’ve seen young people claim that we should not ask young voters to come to the polls, because this country was ruined by baby boomers. That is absurd. Yes, of course, this country was ruined by baby boomers, as well as the generation before them, and the Xers haven’t helped. But if the so called Millennials can recognize the ruin and its cause, that is even more reason for them to show up in numbers greater than the usual 50% and do something about it. Jewish Americans tend to vote about 3:1 Democratic. That seems like a large percentage for the Democratic party, but it is pitiful. Why does any jew vote for a Republican? I hope that changes this year. The gender gap is pitifully small. No woman should vote for any Republican, yet many will. But maybe that will shift as well next Tuesday.
My own analysis suggests that Congress will remain in Republican hands for the next two years. A large part of the potential electorate will likely spend the next two years blaming the losers for their loss. We will then likely see Trump re-elected. It is quite possible that we will are now two years into an 8 to 12 year reign of hate, and dismantling democracy. It is quite likely that the levels of Trump-ed up violence we see today is small compared to what will be happening as our first graders, serpentine trained, the ones that survive school, grow to voting age. If voting is still a thing, maybe they will save us. Or maybe they will be indoctrinated to love the new regime and its senior officers, in the name of their founder Trump.
Do you think my pessimism is wrong? Prove it.