356 posts by matthew

In Thomas M. Johnson’s Lakewood: Portraits of a Sacred American Suburb, he pays homage, in part, to William Levitt’s idyllic vision for planned living in postwar America. Introduced by a passage from D.J. Waldie, author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, Johnson’s take on the suburban dream is quickly boiled down: “He’s picturing the place where stories of working-class aspirations…

During the research for a new essay I’m writing on the role of identity in Appalachia, I revisited Calvin Trillin’s 1969 New Yorker piece on the death of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O’Connor  at the hands of Hobart Ison. The case of O’Connor represents an extreme example of the public’s distrust of the media:

Over at Texas Monthly, John Spong writes about about photographer Roberta Bayley’s experience covering the Sex Pistols’ ill-conceived 1978 tour of the United States. Never much a fan of Johnny Rotten and company, reading about the culture clash — which was purposely engineered by Malcolm McLaren (e.g., “His goal was conflict and the free press it would generate”) — is…

It’s freezing in Pittsburgh. This morning, when I was overjoyed to learn that the temperature had climbed to 0 degrees, I knew the edges of reality had started to split apart. Between long days and the total absence of sunlight, living in Pittsburgh’s negative zone has left me disoriented and disinterested in most everything. No reasonable person would choose to…

It turns out not all stories of shuttered mom and pop businesses need to end in heartbreak, which surprises me as much as I’m sure it surprises you. Case in point: Jerry Delakas’ newsstand in Astor Place. Last month New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs shut Delakas down for not having an operator license for his shop. Delakas didn’t have…

In a recent photo essay for Pittsburgh magazine titled “The Way We Were,” former Pittsburgh City Council member and longtime community activist Sala Udin captioned a selection of photographs by Teenie Harris that span from the early 1940s to the late 1970s. As was Harris’ trademark, the photographs are stark, beautiful, and often harrowing. One image, however, was particularly resonant,…

On December 21, 1964, nearly a year after Lyndon Johnson visited Inez, Kentucky to declare his War on Poverty, CBS News aired Christmas in Appalachia, a special report focused on poverty in eastern Kentucky. What reporter Charles Kuralt showed American audiences — just four days before Christmas — was a region beset by economic hardship, and families struggling to stay…

In the early 1980s, Pittsburgh’s punk rock scene emerged just as the steel industry was collapsing. According to the documentary Give Us A Chance: Pittsburgh Punk, “the shifting regional landscape, with its mill closings, historic employment loss, and eventual population flight into the suburbs, altered generations of individual families and communities, while creating new opportunities in its wake…

In 1987, Manny Crisostoma, a photographer for the Detroit Free Press at the time, began documenting the students at Southwestern High School in Detroit. The students were a racially diverse group and hailed from an inner city school that was just five miles from the Detroit Free Press newsroom. His close proximity to the school allowed Crisostoma to follow the…

There’s a fascinating story by Corey Kilgannon in today’s issue of The New York Times. It follows the exploits of the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society, or R.A.T.S., a group of dog owners who take their pets to downtown Manhattan to hunt and kill rats: “The dogs raced toward a pile of trash bags in the middle of the alley,…

This coming January marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, a milestone pointed out to me by photographer Stacy Kranitz in an interview that I’m currently working on. Kranitz’ work, which is particularly focused on photographing the people of Appalachia, is threaded with the omnipresence of poverty in her subjects’ lives. What’s perhaps most striking about poverty in…

Found photographs fascinate me because they tell a truncated story. The images represent a single moment pulled from a larger, real-world narrative. But without any context aside from the information embedded in the image itself, or sometimes a handwritten caption on the back, the photograph almost always tells an unresolved story. This photograph of a young bride’s wedding day, pictured…

On Saturday, I discovered a copy of William A. Haviland’s Cultural Anthropology and a chapter from the book centered on the formation of groups in various cultures. As I was leafing through the pages, the way I often do, I waited for some aspect of the book to catch my attention as I read passages, chapter titles, and photograph captions.…

In “Closed,” artist Andy Leipzig takes Edward Hopper’s iconic “Nighthawks” painting from 1942 and bathes it in the reality of post-recession America. Gone are the nighthawks themselves — the solitary man with his back to the window, the man and woman sitting side by side, and the busy soda jerk behind the counter — and in their place an empty restaurant…

Late last month I came across a copy of The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and conservationist whose writing is often credited with advancing the modern environmental movement. What’s refreshing about this edition, however, is that Carson’s words appear alongside a collection of photographs, most notably the work of Charles Pratt, a photographer known for his…

Of the thousands of photographs that Charles “Teenie” Harris took in his lifetime — from candid portraits of Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and George Benson to his documentation of the Civil Rights movement and his work for the Pittsburgh Courier — this image of children in Bedford Dwellings getting ready to go trick-or-treating is by far one of my favorites.…

When I started dating my wife back in the mid-1990s, we used to go with her grandma on Sunday nights to a bingo hall run by the Sons of Italy in Arnold, Pennsylvania. It was always fun, and often a spectacle. Men and women were seated at long banquet tables throughout the hall, a dozen bingo sheets laid out before…

Last Thursday photographer Bill Eppridge, who was 75, died in a hospital near his home in Danbury, Connecticut after a short illness. Eppridge, who took countless memorable photographs during his decades-long career, was widely known for his image of a slain Robert F. Kennedy lying on the kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, with busboy Juan Romero…

On September 29, 1984, photographer Greg Blair saw Black Flag play at the Lawrence Opera House in Lawrence, Kansas. It was his first time attending a hardcore show, so as Blair recounts, he was taking it all in as he walked around the venue that night. As one of the opening bands played, he ran into a young Henry Rollins,…

Excerpt from “Ghetto Exodus,” a chapter from No Place for Disgrace — a memoir about mental illness, teenage love, and tragic consequences, set in the American suburbs in the waning days of the twentieth century.

The sky that day was rippled in black clouds that intermittently exploded with rainfall, expelling pounding sheets of rain occasionally broken by a gray and…