Archive for August, 2010

“Freedom Riders” in NY & LA
August 18, 2010

If you haven’t seen it yet, there are two days left to see Stanley Nelson’s magnificent documentary, Freedom Riders. The official Sundance selection has been screening in New York City and Los Angeles during DocuWeeks in order to qualify for the Oscars (fingers crossed!)  The film is scheduled to air on PBS’ acclaimed American Experience series in May 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the seminal 1961 Freedom Rides.

Friend the film on facebook.

See it in New York at the IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street today at 1:45pm and 7:30pm and tomorrow at 3:30pm and 9:30pm.  My friend, Lewis Erskine, one of the film’s editors, will along with Producer Laurens Grant speak after the 9:35 showing.

In Los Angeles, catch it at ArcLight Hollywood, 6360 West Sunset Boulevard today at 1:40pm and 7:35pm and tomorrow at 5:20pm and 9:50pm.

The Trove: Henry Adebonojo
August 12, 2010

With the same great love for capturing the moment through the moving image as for distilling the essence in a single frame, cinematographer/ photographer Henry Adebonojo is “happiest when I am making pictures.” I met the courteous and quiet Henry in passing many moons ago as he, fan of foreign cinema, was headed to Tower Records on 66th Street, home of “the best collection of foreign films in NYC hands down,” as his colleague in the film biz (my then-beau) and I left the self-same place in a round of music shopping.   Our paths would cross here and there but it would be years later before Henry and I had a “real” conversation and his other “twin” emerged in Gemini glory: erudite and given to animated conversation about literature, music, film, politics and racing.

Henry spent his Lagosian adolescence during the rise of Afrobeat, leaving in 1978 to complete his A-Levels (college qualification exams) and continue on to university in Great Britain, where his interest in photography was sparked in earnest. He completed his undergraduate degree in Law at the University of Buckingham and went on to study International Law at the graduate level at University College, London.

Returning to the city of his birth in 1984, he entered the film business the following year with a production assistant gig.  Working his way up the through the ranks, he became a cinematographer in 1993. He has enjoyed a career which has taken him across the United States and as far away as Mozambique, South Africa, post-genocide Rwanda and Italy, where he traveled with Spike Lee to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for the film, Miracle at St. Anna. Poignantly, James McBride’s fictionalized account of the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre in World War II Tuscany and the sacrifice of African-American Buffalo Soldiers brought Henry to the hilltop village of Sommocolonia, the very place, he’d learn that his own uncle, the 21-year-old PFC Macleon Johnson, gave his life in service of the US Army in December 1944. Visit his blog, Fewer Words, for the moving account.

Henry Adebonojo and the Uncle he never knew, the heroic Buffalo Soldier, Macleon Johnson

Shooting the likes of the late Gordon Parks, (for his Emmy-nominated work on Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks) George Clooney, Chuck D, Marisa Tomei, Dave Chappelle and the POTUS, Barack Obama, he’s cut a wide swath across the mediums of music videos, commercials, promos, documentaries and short films. The one position which has remained elusive is the Director of Photography spot on a feature film, but he’s up for the challenge, and looks forward to its inevitable occurence.

Though motion pictures are his bread and butter, he is making a concerted effort to shoot the still photos that he too loves.  His images, even those which depict atrocity, reflect his inherent empathy. He brings a tender humanity even to inanimate objects.

A glimpse of the sacred amid the rubble of the most unholy, the skulls of the murdered faithful in a Rwandan church, 2004.

“Esperanza Spalding,” May 2009. A quiet moment for the jazz bassist.

“Waiting for Wesley,” Ilha de Mozambique, 2005.  On a location scouting trip in Africa for Danny Glover’s intended feature, “Toussaint,” star Wesley Snipes “was like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Wherever we went a crowd formed and people followed on foot behind the car that carried him around.”

View his work, both moving images and still photography at his website,

Because I’ve rolled with Henry to some wonderful jazz performances (such as the Heath Brothers at Birdland and Sir Ron Carter with his Juilliard colleagues, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Carl Allen, Ron Blake and Benny Green in a super-tight set at Dizzy’s), it comes as no surprise that Jazz should figure prominently in the aficionado’s trove.  Read on to discover his other treasures.

1. The Masters of Jazz. Henry has completely immersed himself in the world of Jazz and though he is well-versed in the music of many artists, two stand out for their bodies of work: Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. “Any thing those men produced is a soul-stirring emotional ride for me.  I recommend the lesser known Milestones as a landmark album for Miles.  And for Sir Duke, I recommend one of his later works from 1967, Far East Suite, which is rich in the complex orchestration for which he is famously known.  I especially love Ad Lib on Nippon.”  The bibliophile adores Geoff Dyer’s self-labeled work of “imaginative criticism,” But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz.  “It merges beautifully my love of Jazz music and stories with my tendency to daydream.” As for jazz films, the 1988 documentary, Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser is it. “There is a moment in the film where Monk is at an airport in Europe and he is briefly separated from Nellie [his wife] as she is handling passport stuff.  He stands staring at people to-ing and fro-ing through the airport and in his typical mad mathematician methodology he breaks out in a spin and a brief jig – the kind he is wont to do on stage. It’s a personal moment, a moment of release.  When I am in a particularly stressful moment or situation, my mind wanders to Thelonious.” (Skippy and Crepuscule with Nellie are favorites.)

“Epistrophy,” sets up the airport scene about seven minutes into this clip. It is the perfect composition for Monk’s ecstatic whirl.

2. Compact Cameras. “I’ve been enjoying the miniaturization of my personal visual tool kit.  Sometimes I don’t feel like lugging around big cameras and dealing with the attendant attention.” He purchased an Olympus EP2 in January. “It has a lower profile than my Canon camera and accepts a plethora of lenses via adapters.  It is more discrete than the beloved Leica of many a photographer and the image quality while not quite up to the Canon, serves my purposes very well.  I love to use my Voigtlander 58mm 1.4 lens on it.  Great resolution on that lens and tack sharp.” A birthday gift from his “beloved friend, Kevin Ladson,” Henry’s Flip video cam, with its diminutive size allows him to “enjoy shooting those candid moments that a larger camera would destroy.  I don’t have to worry about things like focus and exposure. I just shoot and have fun with it.”

Mighty minis: Olympus PEN EP2 and the Ultra Flip HD video camera.

3. Auto Racing. “Nothing provides the kind of adrenaline kick for me like I get when I am behind the wheel of a fast car.  That car may be a Go Kart or a race car, but the feeling is the same.  The purposeful direction of aggression with a host of other people who are guided by the same principle and all happen to be heading in the same direction.  I don’t get that feeling from anything else I do.  For Go Karting I head up to Mount Kisco to GPNY (a modestly priced experience). For race cars I go to Skip Barber Racing School (a ruinously expensive experience).  I plan to do Skip Barber before the year is out.”

H.O.A. in the driver’s seat.

4. Wrist Watches. He owns several and keeps them in rotation. “They are my jewelry and change with my moods.  I love all my watches, but I have two ‘favourites,’ both have black dials and were bought to mark trips abroad.”  An aviation chronograph from Russian watchmaker Poljot “is the only manual winding watch I own.  I love having to wind it the way I used to do the watches I had as a kid.”

Henry was drawn to the “interesting combination” of steel case and gold numerals and hands in the square-faced watch from the La Carrée collection of French watchmaker Louis Erard.

5. Fountain Pens. “I enjoy process and although I don’t use them often, I love to fill a fountain pen with ink, write on some fine absorbent paper and watch the ink settle in the way my mood or emotion might do on a particular writing.  I occasionally pop into the Fountain Pen Hospital in downtown Manhattan to see what’s on offer.  I have a Parker I love and a Conklin that I picked up there.  I’d love a Namiki-Pilot, but the ones I like are too rich for my blood.”


6. Francis Coppola Claret. Though he claims “an unsophisticated palette,” he knows what he likes in wine: good, red and affordable. Until he celebrates an Academy Award or Grand Prix win, the $20 range suits him fine. “I find I cannot go wrong with the Coppola Claret.  I can only imagine his wines are made with the same attention to detail as his classic films.”

“Never had a bad bottle of the stuff and it does not break my bank.”

7. Busboys and Poets. “In our fast changing world where process and tactile experience is being steadily replaced by a virtual one, I hold on for dear life to those of my past.  I miss record stores – even the ones that sell CDs.  Bookstores are going the same way.”  The D.C. cafe and bookseller,  “Busboys is a reminder of what it really is like to sit back and smell the rose or coffee depending on your preferred metaphor. In the case of Busboys, it’s more like smell food and touch books.”

The Busboys and Poets Bookstore is run by Teaching for Change.  Photo, Susanna Raab for the New York Times.

8. Contemporary Nigerian Authors. “Emerging Nigerian Writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) and Chris Abani (GraceLand) are rocking my world right now.  They are brilliant story tellers who owe a great deal to the writers who came before – Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe – but have an up-to-the-minute, romantic, free style of writing.  They are essential to an understanding of Nigeria’s past, present and future.”

Exceptional prose from two of Nigeria’s finest contemporary writers.

9. Fela Ransome Kuti and the Koola Lobitos “are important to me because of the well deserved popularity of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, but they are equally important.  The two are inseparable.  I urge anyone interested in the latter to acquaint themselves with the former. I was a kid growing up in Lagos when Hi Life music was all the rage and distinctly remember the transformation Fela went through and the long journey to embrace he endured (especially by the class from which he came – little known but he was seen as a kind of class traitor because of his embrace of common folk).  It’s a more profound story than the musical could ever encompass.”

Soundtrack to a Nigerian childhood.

10. Passing Strange. The musical, the film, the cast recording have particular resonance to his life.  “I lost my mother when I was 14 years old.  My life has had a certain un-balance to it ever since.  I have not begun to reckon with that until fairly recently, to grasp some of the dimensions of altered states resulting there from.  I think boys who lose their mothers at a young age have particular stories, unique stories.  Passing Strange also resonates because of the awkwardness of career choices that remain unsettled in us and the ways we are required to embrace that in order to move forward.”

Henry was overjoyed to serve as camera operator on the Spike Lee-helmed, filmed version of the Tony-award winning musical.

The Trove: Franchell Mack Brown
August 5, 2010

One of the brightest smiles around.

Preamble to a lasting friendship:  Newlywed receives panicked phone call from the mother of one of his best high school friends.  Said friend is “in jail, in JAPAN!” Fast forward a few weeks. Finally back in the states, said friend needs a place to stay.  Newlywed asks wife if friend can stay with them during the getting-on-one’s-feet process.  Against the advice of all around wife says yes.  You just got married and you’re gonna let your husband’s friend come live with you?  Your husband’s female friend?  Are you crazy?

Am I crazy?  Maybe. But opening my home to Fran Mack all those years ago opened me to a friendship which has lasted longer than did my marriage. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. So who is she?  Franchell, like me, grew up in Washington, DC surrounded by creative people.  Though her father was a cop, he was also both artist and artisan, a painter and leather craftsman of handbags, wallets and belts.  When standard belts of the 1970’s created bunching in the back of then-popular hip-huggers, he created one that dipped so that it would lie flat on the hip line. Fran still has one today. The women in her family were creative as well. “My Grandma was a fabulous seamstress,” she says. “And my Aunt Jannie who celebrates her 100th birthday next week. I remember going to school one morning and when we got home that afternoon, the curtains that had hung were now a fitted chair cover, remarkable!  We were like Is she a leprechaun?”

Fran too spent hours creating. “I always made things.” She jumped at the chance to attend Duke Ellington School of the Arts and upon graduation embarked on two valuable apprenticeships: costuming with esteemed costume designer/instructor Reggie Ray and goldsmithing with Salim Shakur. Fellow Ellington alum, Adrienne McDonald, was attending the Art Institute of Chicago and convinced her to give Chi-town a try.  “It was beautiful in June.” She and Adrienne collaborated on incredible wearable art, but six months later, “it was too doggone cold when winter hit and I couldn’t handle it,” she says. Next stop, Brooklyn and enrollment at Pratt for jewelry design. Early on she realized that she was ahead of the curve having apprenticed Salim and that “this is a really expensive refresher course.”  So she left Pratt for a string of retail jobs until another Ellington classmate, stylist Johnetta Hamilton suggested Soho shop, Artwear. Fran was aware of designer Robert Lee Morris’ gallery of jewelry artists from reading magazine credits.  “I loved Soho then, it was fabulous!”

The good old days. The talented trio of Johnetta Hamilton, (now Boone) Fran and the late Adrienne McDonald.

Robert took to her and she to him. “He’s a very nice guy. I learned a lot from him… to be generous and humble.” She realized “that jewelry can be art. Robert taught me that loud and clear. In the Artwear stable of artists there were many varied expressions.” She was stunned when Robert started selling strands of beads. She was of the school of thought that “like a Ted Muehling, you make a wax, you cast it and then you’ve created something.” But Robert was “just putting beads together on string and charging $400,” she thought at the time. Robert gently explained that yes he was stringing beads together, beads he’d carefully selected, beads he’d painstakingly ordered to create a specific design, and yes it is thus, art.  Her perception was forever changed, broadened.

Fran.Mack signature: hand-cut, formed and wrapped wire, pearls and gemstones (here faceted blue topaz accents a bib necklace.) “Like” her on Facebook. Photo: Alex Crookshanks.

Wanting to expand her horizons further, she who had never been out of the country, decided to “push myself out of my shell. When I was invited to join my new boyfriend in Japan with the assurance of a cheap ticket and free housing, I felt compelled to accept, risk and all. I pay my own way, no return ticket, not knowing the language, and not knowing anyone else.”  She took some of her artwork with her and was encouraged by the sale of a big piece soon after.  Still creating, she hoped to take advantage of her height and slender frame to get work as a model.  Though her agency sent her on go-sees, she never booked a job.

About 45 days into her Far East adventure, the beau had a change of heart and free housing was no longer part of the program. So how does a black girl from the states who speaks no Japanese make a living in Tokyo?  By teaching English. The beloved gaijin (foreigner) lived in the house with the students, was paired with a tomin (Tokyo native) roommate and had a blast.  “There was no strenuous curriculum, it was like a party, very fun.”  But then, she was deported.

Without a visa, a U.S. citizen may spend 90 continuous days in the island nation. Fran intended to make a jaunt to Thailand, then  return to Tokyo to begin another 90-day cycle in a city she’d grown to love. As the ninetieth day approached, “I allowed the pain of my failed relationship to spiral me,” thus she missed the last ferry to Thailand. “With no plan I jumped on the first bullet train and landed in Beppu on Kyushu Island. I decided I would enjoy the beaches of southern Japan then hitchhike my way back to Tokyo, gather my belongings, say my goodbyes and head back to the States.”

“My second hitched ride ended abruptly on a dirt road in a one-stoplight town at dusk when I fiercely rejected the trucker’s sexual request. I walked to the nearest hotel for help. The well-intentioned manager directed the police to me.”  In a “Mayberry RFD” setting, they vigorously interrogated her and instructed her to sleep on “a little bench in a room with oddly bright colors for confinement.”  She was transferred to the deportation office the next day.

“An expired passport stamp brought me a strip search and a surreal stay in a deportation center for several weeks.”  Her accommodations? One toilet per room of 8-10 bunks; communal showers every other day.  She connected with several of the women, teaching them hopscotch and other games to wile away the hours during their once-a-day outdoor time.  She bartered for snacks, toiletries, even a facial with her drawings and portraits. Though she’d been in touch with the American Embassy and her family had sent the necessary monies for her release on the first day, she was detained day-after-day.

Eventually she rebelled at roll call, turning her back to the guards and saying, “I’m not doing it.  You see I’m here, just mark me present.  I don’t even belong here, you have the money and you need to send me home.”  An additional call to the embassy secured her release. Though harrowing, “I learned that I am brave, resourceful, an idealist, spiritual, and resilient. I will cherish those experiences for the rest of my life.”

So upon her return to Brooklyn, Fran stayed with the hubby and me for bit until she re-situated herself in the New York scene.  It was during this time that we bonded and I advocated for her work by bringing her jewelry pieces on every photo shoot I did and by wearing them frequently so they could be seen.  Donning one of her own pieces, she caught the eye of a curator who introduced her to Philadelphia’s The Works Gallery, where she was a featured artist from 1994-2004.


Mr. & Mrs. Brown.

Marriage in 2002 to handsome, U.S. Naval careerist, Bobby Brown took this city girl to Virginia, where she now resides in rural Radford.  Sassing detention center guards now a thing of the past, the wife and mother of two young children continues to create from her home “in the sticks.”

Recurrent in her work is the bubble, the enveloping circle; no beginning, no end…the continuous loop. Left,”Beautiful Bubble,” marker on watercolor paper.  Right, “Full Circle VI,” 10″ x 10″ Agate, crocheted cotton yarns and ribbon embroidered on cotton batik. 

“Bubble Limnings,” whimsical portraits from “The Village.”

Her exhibition of affordable works on paper, “Beautiful Bubble,” opens tomorrow at the Gallery at Mish Mish in Blacksburg, VA.

Her exhibition, “The Village,” a mixed media installation of embroidered fiber art, works on paper and jewelry is up until August 12 at the Gallery at Glencoe Museum in Radford, VA and will open at Red Creative on September 10 during the Atlanta ArtCrawl.

Moved by gorgeousness, from the sublime simplicity of nature to the exquisite beauty of hand-wrought work, here are some of the things that take Franchell’s breath away…

1. Time With my Kids.  “I love their laughter. Our little dance parties are the funniest thing.”

Fran with 4-year-old daughter, Mason and 3-year-old son, Jamison.

2. Santorini, Greece.  All through high school she’d gaze longingly at the posters of Santorini at the diner across the street from Ellington.  In 2000, she jumped on an opportunity to go to Athens with a friend and was delighted to learn that she could take a ferry to Santorini.  “It had been a dream for so many years, to see the view that I’d seen on the posters: the white houses, the blue domes was fabulous!”  She loves a good beach and was blown away by the black sand. She raves about the amazing food.

3. Genmai-cha. A centuries-old Japanese beverage blends roasted brown rice with green tea. She and her best friend, Oi Yin enjoy sitting and talking over a cup.  They swear by Hana Brand, Genmai Cha Tokuyo, imported by Rhee Bros., Inc. has a recipe for making your own Genmai-cha — just in case Hana is not available.

4. Pearls. Lots and lots of them.  She often uses them in her work and is partial to black and “odd-colored” varieties. “I love them because each one is different…that it starts as an irritant, a speck and eventually turns out to be this beautiful gem.”

Pearl assortment from

5. Tone Vigeland.  “She’s my favorite artist ever.”  Fran discovered the Norwegian artist’s work at Artwear.   She comes from a lineage of visual artists, “but she expresses herself through jewelry,” Fran says.  “She’s so incredible, she made chain mail by hand, of oxidized silver, one jump ring at a time, she’d pull the wire…just phenomenal.”  On the selling floor at Artwear Fran would “wear Tone’s pieces and push, push, push to move her.”

Detail of a bracelet. Vigeland’s labor intensive process included coiling silver wire by hand, soldering the coils together and attaching them to the hand-wrought chainmail base. Bracelet photo:  Z. Peckler.

6. Long Walks.  She enjoys strolling the verdant arbor that is her neighborhood. “It’s so peaceful, the birds are chirping and I feel like I am right next to God…I often pray while I walk.”


Serene woods provide sanctuary.

7. Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer.  “It smells amazing, it feels good and it makes my lips so soft.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s also yummy.”  In the tube or slim stick, it moisturizes, protects and gives a tint of sheer color with a hint of shimmer.

Her kids like Burt’s Bees, too!

8. The Moon. As a child she’d talk to the moon. “I love that no matter where you go in the world you can look up and see the same moon…I’m nocturnal, so I look for it, love that it changes daily.”  With awe she recalls being awakened by a low, full moon illuminating her Tokyo bedroom, “it was incredible, it filled the entire window frame, like I could reach out and touch it!”

From the slender sliver of a crescent moon to the rotund glory of a full or new moon, Fran enjoys each transformative phase.

9. J.Crew Shoes.  For someone who was wearing size 10 at age 13 (she now wears 11-12), they are like manna from heaven.  “They come in my size and they’re cute. It’s a beautiful thing.”

On sale now at, the Regina metallic flat, a Franchell fave.

10. Joan Armatrading. “My favorite recording artist of all time.  I saw her on Saturday Night Live in 1977.  She sang Love and Affection and I was like ‘Oh my word, who is that?’ I went out and bought every album.” Even now Fran sings the classic, Willow, to her son before he goes to sleep at night.

Jamison’s lullaby.