Daily Archives: February 18, 2010

Photographic evidence

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Allie Mae Burroughs

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The New York State Museum is currently holding two excellent photographic exhibits. The larger of the two is “This Great Nation Will Endure,” Photographs of the Great Depression. Many of these creations of the photographic unit of the Farm Security Administration are familiar, iconic images – Bourke-White’s “At the Time of the Louisville Flood,” several of Dorothea Lange’s controversial photos of Frances Thompson (“Migrant Mother”). But many of them are unfamiliar works by the talented photographers of the FSA, including Ben Shahn, Walker Evans and John Vachon. Well worth the visit, but it’s only open until March 14.

More interesting and varied is “Seeing Ourselves: Masterpieces of American Photography from the George Eastman House Collection.” A few photographs are in both exhibits, but this one features not only the documentary power of Lewis Wickes Hine and Dorothea Lange, but also features images created for commercial, artistic, and personal reasons. There is less that is familiar here, and some genuine surprises – an 1857 daguerrotype of a beautifully dressed African-American girl, and a revelatory photograph from 1983 by Mary Ellen Mark, “Tiny in her Halloween Costume,” that touched me more than any photograph has in ages. This show will be on through May 9, and I’m sure to go back at least once more.

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A tip o’ the hat

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The myth of the magical efficiency of the marketplace can generally be discredited with two words: “customer service.” As our retailers have combined, merged and globalized, as fewer and fewer people in the retail world have any reason to care whether or not you are satisfied with a product or service, customer service has become a thing of the past. We buy into this by shopping at the big boxes, which not only take no responsibility for the products they sell but likely won’t be selling the same “brands” next year as they did this year – and I put “brands” in quotes because they have become truly meaningless marks, no longer representing a particular company or factory, but simply a stamp put on something sourced from anonymous (and interchangeable) vendors in China. And we buy into this by buying only on price, putting the local stores that provided customer service out of business. And while some large retailers (Target and Amazon.com, in my experience) are generous on returns, too many others hide behind barely expired warranties and fine print and fail to show any concern for the customer’s experience at all.

So it’s refreshing to have had a series of very satisfying experiences with customer service over the past few months where companies actually lived up to warranties, provided new or repaired merchandise, or generally acted in ways that used to be commonplace, way back in the dark ages when people who lived in your communities ran your stores.

So click to find out who made me happy . . . .

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