“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance”*…
The first monograph by the New York-based photographer Meryl Meisler, published last year, included rambunctious scenes from Manhattan’s disco scene, taken in Meisler’s club-hopping youth, alongside images of a crumbling, pre-gentrifying Bushwick, shot when Meisler was teaching art at a local public school, in the early eighties. But, before she began documenting urban life in New York, Meisler trained her eye outside of the city, photographing her own Jewish extended family on Long Island’s South Shore. In the early seventies, while home on winter break from studying illustration at the University of Wisconsin, Meisler began experimenting with deadpan self-portraiture, donning the Girl Scouts uniforms and the ballet and tap costumes of her childhood. Soon she was photographing her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—the whole mishpocha—finding loopy antics and exaggerated period detail in holiday gatherings and daily ritual. The result is a delightfully outlandish family photo album, and a capsule of seventies suburbia crackling with humor and mischief. In the Meisler-clan milieu, kitsch bedspreads match kitsch wallpaper, hairdressers blow chewing-gum bubbles the size of their clients’ bouffants, Hustler is the beach reading of choice, and everyone is a character or a ham…
See it all at “Seventies Long Island: The Whole Mishpocha.”
* George Bernard Shaw, Immaturity
As we prepare to reune, we might spare a utilitarian thought for Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer died on this date in 1832. Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.
Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief. On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will. Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes. Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life. But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull. So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.
It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College. The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.