Fire Survivors

  • Anti-War Demonstrator, Bellingham, 1971
    These are some of the very few photographs that survived the 1983 fire that destroyed my life's work, not just most of my pictures but nearly all my writing including two books in progress and all the associated research. Some of these photos shown here escaped the flames because they were with me in my portfolio case; others were produced digitally from negatives dug out of the rubble a year later. The images of obvious print-quality were made on DuPont Varilure paper, which had the highest silver content of all commercial papers and thus produced such intense tonalities, they often seemed illuminated by their own internal light sources. But that sort of photographic quality is now forever beyond our common reach, either gone like Varilure or so prohibitively expensive it is available only to the obscenely pampered dilettantes who produce the aesthetic pabulum favored by the One Percent. Photography as I knew it is dead -- as dead as my career was after the fire and its ensuing clinical depression -- but this body of work provides a glimpse of what was lost and what might have been. All photos copyright Loren Bliss.

Sandwiches for Mind and Spirit

  • Goddess emergent (1), 1968 (blue variant c. 2009)
    In photography, a sandwich is a collage made by printing two or more negatives simultaneously. Collage is a medium that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember -- probably since I was a child experimenting with finger paints, glue and newspapers -- but I never took it seriously until, sometime in my early 20s and still thinking myself a painter-to-be, I discovered the works of Jasper Johns. Now it seems to me making sandwiches is to conventional photography what poetry is to prose: not just an intellectual exercise, but the opening of a doorway to the Mysterious Otherness I know as the Muse, from whom (sometimes in fulfilment of that McLuhanesque notion of art as prophecy) the currents of real creation invariably flow, whether swift and startling as a lightening strike or slow and soft as cottonwood seeds adrift on subtle summer air. (Collage and photographic sandwiches copyright Loren Bliss 2009-2012.)

Graffiti: a Sampler

  • Gun Graffiti
    When I returned to New York City in 1965 I was immediately impressed by the contrast between the graffiti I had encountered "out in America" -- the South and Middle West -- and what I saw in Manhattan. While the form and content of graffiti is sociologically important – possibly a semiotic indicator without peer -- I found the graffiti of Manhattan singularly appealing, the intellectual and aesthetic equivalents of a long-overdue breath of fresh air, and within a few days I had begun documenting it with 35mm and 120 film. (The opening photograph of this series was obviously made far from Manhattan, but I included it to establish an essential contrast.) Many more details about this particular body of work, which I briefly resumed when I went back to the City again in 1983, then abandoned after that year's career-terminating fire, are in my post of January 7, 2010. Yes I regard the best urban graffiti as genuine art, but too much of it, alas, is nothing more than a human variant on the mammalian practice of marking territory with spurts of urine: "I wuz here." All photos by Loren Bliss, copyright dates as noted.

Faces of the Fight

  • Health Care For All!
    Supporters of health care reform and a much smaller number of its opponents -- each faction identified by its picket-signs -- gathered for the "town hall" meeting called by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) in Lakewood on August 25, 2009. Originally set for Lakewood City Hall, the event was rescheduled and moved to Lang Stadium to accommodate an unprecedented mobilization of pro-reform people. Cops estimated the crowd at about 2500. Photos by Loren Bliss copyright 2009.

Outside Agitator's Notebook...

  • is a journal of life and death in the post-humanitarian United States of America. Its context is our subjugation by Ayn Rand capitalism -- infinite greed elevated to ultimate virtue -- the Bhopal-deadly dogma under which obscenely wealthy tyrants are imposing on our nation the paradigm of governance by which they typically rule abroad: absolute power and unlimited profit for themselves, bottomless poverty and zero-tolerance oppression for all the rest of us. Now -- exactly as Third World peoples have suffered for centuries -- we of the 99 Percent are being methodically reduced to serfdom, bankrupted by the outsourcing of our jobs. We are intellectually downsized by inferior schools and sensationalist media; we are psychologically terrorized by manufactured crises both foreign and domestic. The One Percent -- the Ruling Class -- knowingly destroys the environment upon which our lives depend and increasingly condemns us to the de facto slavery of sweatshop labor -- if indeed we are allowed to work at all. Where once we lived in a realm presumably founded on precepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, now the robber barons who have nullified our constitution and subverted our democratic processes declare our worth measured only by the extent to which we are exploitable for profit. Thus as soon as we become elderly, disabled or otherwise unprofitable, we are flung away like broken machines and condemned to slow extermination by deliberate neglect and abandonment. The One Percent perfected these measures and built its prototype Moron Nation -- the state of conditioned helplessness and hopelessness it now seeks to impose on us all -- in the post-Civil-War South. That is also where capitalism perfected Christian theocracy as its brain-police and organized the Ku Klux Klan -- colloquially known as “the Saturday Night Men’s Bible-Study Class”-- as its original death squad. Now as then, the Ruling Class belittles our demands for justice as the product of “Outside Agitators” but retaliates with job terminations, lockouts, mass arrests, torture and homicide whenever we resist. Though I was always a nonconformist, considered a “beatnik” even during my final high school years, my personal history of overt resistance did not begin until June 1963, when I was jailed in Knoxville, Tennessee for my public support of the Civil Rights Movement. Though the trumped-up charges against me were soon dismissed, the racist hatefulness continued unabated, provoking three retaliatory murder attempts I survived by a combination of exceptional handgun skill, superior driving ability and most of all the vigilant protection provided by a beloved German shepherd named Brunhilda. Infuriatingly, the last of these attacks, in August 1964, cost dear Brunhilda her life. It is in her memory I defiantly embrace the Outside Agitator label. It is a choice all the more appropriate given that art under patriarchy -- whether capitalist or socialist -- is always revolutionary agitation, and the artist whether male or female is therefore always an Outside Agitator.
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