Flashback May 2012 – I’m installing “Defying Devastation Bushwick in the ‘80s”, my collaborative exhibit with the writer Vanessa Mártir soon to open at The Living Gallery during Bushwick Open Studios. In walks a handsome young man with tall lanky legs like Tommy Tune, eyes as large as Betty Boop’s and the sweet sincere charm of a boy raised on a pig farm in Wisconsin who had recently “come out” in Milwaukee, moved to NYC to pursue his dreams. Scott Dennis,, friend and neighbor of the Living Gallery’s owner Nyssa Frank, was excited about to begin his new job as an assistant to a renown Broadway producer. We shared Wisconsin roots (my paternal grandmother Elizabeth Suplinsky Meisler grew up in Marinette, WI and I got my Masters degree at UW Madison), love of musical theatre, connection to Nyssa and intrigue with Bushwick. We hit it off immediately and have been friends ever since. Scott went in drag to the first incarnation of Bushwig 2012 and by the fall evolved into the persona of Madame Vivien V. I was enamored witnessing her first performance at Metropolitan Club, hosted by Merrie Cherry.
June 2014, Bizarre is launching my exhibit and book A Tale of Two Cities Disco Era Bushwick. I asked Madam Vivien V if she would consider volunteering as a hostess/performer at the huge Disco Party. Madame Vivien V was so vivacious and charming, Bizarre offered her a monthly show. Madame Vivien V’s BORDELLO opened it’s monthly magical world.
Entering BORDELLO the first time, I was shocked to discover that in addition to being a sultry, funny, lip-synching and dancing performer, the Madame played with fire! Every BORDELLO incarnation introduced a new mix of drag, burlesque, comic, dance, circus and fire performers. The evenings were always fired up and unpredictable. Madame Vivien V was the charming hostess of ceremonies for the launch of Purgatory & Paradise SASSY ‘70s Suburbia & The City at Bizarre during BOS 15.
Flash forward BORDELLO: CLIMAX- March 23, 2017.
In Madame Vivien V’s invitation she writes:
The Final Experience
Two and a half years have built up to this moment. The last Bordello. It has been one wild ride so we are giving you the most satisfying, in your face bang we can conjure. You’ve earned it! Come live the cluster-fucked fantasy one last time as nearly 40 of New York’s most spectacular creatures of the night come together to give you a show to end all shows. A one night only, once in a life time experience just for you.
BORDELLO CLIMAX was dedicated to VATO (Ulysses Calixto) , a beloved member of the Bizarre and Bushwick creative community who had a fatal heart attack, at the age of 26, the night before. Between tears and laughter, the room was packed at Bizarre with those who came together to mourn and celebrate the life of VATO and participate as a patron or performer in the ultimate BORDELLO.
It was a love fest in honor of Madame Vivien Vand VATO.
PERFORMERS: Amazing Amy, Ballerina Bizet, Bobby Fishnets, Brie YOB, Clara Beaux, Crimson Kitty, Elle Emenopé, Doll Body, Erika Rosel, Iffy Roma & Disco Monk, Jellyboy The Clown & Fibi, John O’Mahoney, Kinga, Lee VaLone Drag, Matt Knife, Matt Phillips, Michael, Leu Becker. Miss Stella Fae, Miz Jade, Nina La Pêche, Reverend Arlowe Price, Roy Davis & Joy Fully, Sage Sovereign, The Human Carpet, Vic Sin, Zalika Parsons LIVE MUSIC: Felt Bottom Boys, Amber&TheWolf HOSTS:Dominic,Malestia Child Rose, Suzie Hart
FOR YOUR PLEASURE: “Maestro de la Battre” – DJ Penny Lane, “Tip Queen” – Amber Von Toxn, “Door Doll” – Yasmine Shilha Benjelloun
Photos by Dmitri Wildfong-Nishman, Videos by Cameron Cole (Brooklyn Nightlife Awards, BIZARRE BOSS: Gregory Baubeau
Madame Vivien V shared a life lesson near the end of the evening- “You can choose to be a hero”. The room was silent as Madame told the story. A few weeks ago, while in her “boy form” walking alone at night near the McKibben Lofts of Bushwick, Scott was jumped by two men. The attackers took all possessions of value, and then continued to beat and stomp on his bloodied face. Madame Vivien V /Scott gathered the strength throw their body in front of a passing car and pleading for help. The man in the car said “call 911” and drove off. The beating continued, Madame Vivien V /Scott thought they were were going to die. Madame Vivien V told the stunned crowd the beating continued until another stranger drove up, and opened her car doors, no questions asked grabbed Scott and took him to safety and a hospital. As she continued, you could hear a pin drop:
Ladies and gentleman, at some point in your life you will be given the opportunity to choose to be a hero and help a stranger. That person who drove away chose to be a coward. That woman who took a stranger, no questions asked, to safety chose to be a hero. There will come a time when you have to choose, choose to be a hero.
The assailants used Scott’s credit card to order in food to their apartment, creating a trail for the detectives. One of the suspects was arrested and is on trial; the other suspect at large. Scott/Madame V, an innocent victim suffers the PTSD pain while testifying at the court and day to day life.
Madame Vivien V’s shares a hard learned message to the friends of Vato and her fans at Bordello- Life is precious, live it. Never walk alone, even close to home. Take care of yourself and others. Choose to be a hero.
Thank you for your friendship and words of wisdom Madame Vivien V.
Go from strength to strength. Continue to ignite hearts, minds and imaginations.
Auspicious Bizarre “Nightgowns” to Drag Race: Sasha Velour!
March 2017 was the 18th iteration of “Nightgowns”, the intimate monthly drag event at Bizarre, Bushwick created by and starring Sasha Velour. I had to go knowing this would be an auspicious occasion. It would be the last “Nightgowns” before Sasha makes her debut to millions as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 9) along with Aja, both representing the fabulous Drag community from Brooklyn.
The first time I saw Sasha Velour’s “Nightgowns” was September 2015. I was blown away by the multi-talented erudite performance with twists of laughter swirled with political and gender identity inspiration. For the finale, Sasha shared that she wore her mother Jane’s “power dress” in a tribute to the love and mutual respect from her mom who had passed recently. I cried and went up afterwards to introduce myself and let Sasha know that if she was looking for a welcome LGBTQ synagogue to say kaddish for her mom during the High Holidays, come to CBST. Little did I know a few days later our family would lose my beloved nephew and our hearts would shatter. Mourning is real. Compounded with the horrid election of 45th administration, it’s been difficult for me to go out and truly laugh these past 18 months. I needed to go to “Nightgowns”.
The Drag and Burlesque shows I’ve seen in the Bushwick vicinity are inclusive and open to people of all gender identities- in the performers and audience alike. The Johnny Velour, Sasha’s business and life partner, introduced “Nightgowns” 18 featuring an incredible ensemble of Drag Queens, Drag Kings and Burlesque artists: Olive d’Nightlife (monthly Nightgown co-hostess), Chris of Hur, Davina GranSparkle, Ben of Heather, Pattie Spliff, Seedy Edie, Untitled Queen and Vigor Mortis. Sasha opened with “Did I Stay Too Long at The Fair?”, sharing with the audience her grandma Dina would be so happy she was doing some Barbra Streisand. The evening was complete with an awesome array of songs from many eras, laughter, statements by each artist of what Drag meant to them personally, and a reminder that we must be loud, proud, welcoming and caring of own and diverse communities in defiance of politics and policies of hatred.
Ruth Gruber is a remarkable trailblazing woman who stood up for righteousness and refugees. Ruth made it her business, at the age of 105, to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election. Her daughter Celia Michaels flew in from London to join Ruth in this historic occasion. I was honored to be able to accompany Ruth and Celia.
Ruth is my “ganza mishpacha”. Ruth married Henry J. Rosner, my paternal grandmother Elizabeth Rosner Suplinsky’s first cousin. Go figure the relationship, our family loves to. I met Ruth in 1975 when I moved into NYC into the home of her step-daughter Elaine Rosner-Jeria, Henry and Ruth lived a block away. Ruth has always been gracious, warm, encouraging, giving, and a beautiful role model.
Professional Women Photographers
Professional Women Photographers (PWP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women photographers. Through exhibitions, workshops and networking opportunities, PWP creates a dynamic and inspiring environment that encourages individual growth and promotes public interest in photography. The monthly lecture series combines social networking with the opportunity to meet successful photographers and industry leaders who discuss their careers, artistic inspiration, and technical choices.
Art and Science Collaborations (ASCI)
Nurturing the intersection of art, science, technology, and the humanities
Basic Troubleshooting steps to fix most issues
Migrating from Apple Aperture to Adobe Lightroom
Here are some resources to help you keep your images organized and transition from Aperture to Lightroom:
Photoshop at 25: A Thriving Chameleon Adapts to an Instagram World
New York Times – Farhad Manjoo, February 18, 2015
Flo Fox’s 69th birthday surprise party was at the The New Venus Restaurant in NYC.
Why The New Venus? First and foremost, Flo is a Goddess of Love. Second, that is where she gathers her photography-obsessed friends every 2nd Monday of each month.
Why the phallus piñata, balloons and stick-ums party decorations and goodies? The first time I went to Flo’s studio in the early 80s she showed me her growing collection of Polaroid Penis Portraits. That might give you an idea.
Flo epitomizes positivity and vision. Physical set backs? Hoo-hah! Multiple Sclerosis and legally blind cancer survivor, Flo overpowers illness with infectious joy, wisdom, wit and vision.
If you don’t know about Flo Fox’s photography and life force, here is a must do crash course:
Flo Fox & Joan Rivers (excerpt from the documentary “A Piece of Work”)
Flo: Portrait of a Street Photographer, Riley Cooper, New York Times
Happy birthday Flo– you foxy lady!
I met Madame V back in May 2012, while installing “Defying Devastation: Bushwick In The 80s”, my exhibit with Vanessa Mártir at The Living Gallery. A tall handsome man, who resembled a young Tommy Tune from my perspective as a short person, introduced himself as Scott Dennis. He heard about my work from Nyssa Frank, the gallerist and would stop in from time to time while I was hanging to be friendly. Scott, the son of a pig farmer, recently moved from Milwaukee, came out, and was pursuing his dream to work with Broadway producers. Scott’s persona evolved into Madame Vivienne V.
“A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick” is on exhibit downstairs at The Black Box Gallery and the book is literally bolted to Bizarre’s bar. Some patrons recognized me from self-portraits in the book and show, introduced themselves, asked questions and sought advice.
Q What kind of camera and film did you use (for the disco and Bushwick series)?
A At the discos I carried a medium format 2 ¼ SLR Norita Graflex with slightly wide angle prime 55 mm lens and Vivitar 283 flash. It was usually loaded with 400 or 100 ASA Kodak B&W negative Film. When the camera was in for repair (as it sometimes was when dropped while dancing) or over loaded with developing film, I used a Minolta SRT101 with prime 35mm lens, and Kodachrome 64 color slide film. For the Bushwick series, I packed a small Canon point and shoot with 35 mm color slide film- Fuji, Agfa, Kodachrome or Ektachrome. I can attest that the Kodachrome held up best through the years- the images are still stunning. The other film developed color shifts or pits in the emulsion over time.
Q Do you miss working with film?
A Well, actually I do and I am going back! I just took the Norita Graphlex and Pentax 6 x 7 out of shelf storage. The flash hot shoes no longer work so I need new/used synch cords. Next task is to test both cameras with TMAX 100 and 400 film.
I am so excited with anticipation. I love the split image, the weight and field of vision, and the fact that each image takes much more thought, intention and instinct than with the limitless digital camera. I even checked out where to develop the film myself. Can’t wait to say- Hello old friend, we are back!
Q What advice do you have- for art, photography, teaching, life?
(Oh, that is a good one and such a compliment to be asked. What words of wisdom can I share?)
A Everyone you meet is important.
Whenever I see a proposal call for “emerging artists”, the small voice screams out “that’s me, that’s me.” I am just emerging and still fear being remembered as “artist unknown”.
The Vivien Maier story hit a deep chord. Seeing her photographs and stories emerge over the last few years was a jolt. Viewing her exhibits in NYC, at both Howard Greenberg and Steve Kasher galleries, it reminded me of the first time viewing Arbus at MoMA. I rarely watch movies but had to see both documentaries: The Vivian Maier Mystery on pay per view and then, sitting by myself at The Tinker Theatre eating popcorn, riveted by Finding Vivian Maier. She was so busy photographing, there was no time to stop. It was an act of breathing, a necessity of life. Vivian was not only a great photographer whose day job took her on adventures and enabled the expensive habit; she possessed unique beauty and was extremely organized.
Patricia O’Brien and I went to see a marvelous exhibit “The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator”, a special exhibit focusing on a little-known period of a The Realist Master’s Career at The Norman Rockwell Museum. As a former illustrator, who could no longer wait for the sporadic checks to arrive in the mail and chose become a schoolteacher; I felt little pity for his unhappiness as an illustrator. It was the awe of his elegant drawings and ability to tell a narrative story so beautifully that blew me over in this incredibly well curated exhibit. I loved the wealth of history about his peers and mentors, and the time. Hopper left little writing about his work, no wonder- he was so busy unwrapping and sharing his gift.
The Unknown and under known, the anxiety of being remembered as unknown artist, are all driving forces. Okay Meryl, focus on your book presentation. You are emerging. Get to work.
I am a printer’s daughter.
My dad Jack Meisler was a printer; he owned and operated Excel Printing Company. The sweet smell of printing ink is like a good home cooked meal to me. It enveloped the air at my dad’s factory at 409 Pearl Street and later when it moved to 418 W. 25 St., NYC.
My dad epitomized the qualities of integrity, honesty, and hard work. He treated everyone as his equal, and had an amazing eagle eye. As a kid, I was warmly called Jack Jr. How fitting it is that on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 15, 2014 the New York Times print edition of “Stayin’ Alive” came out in the Metropolitan section of The New York Times. Both my parents, Sunny and Jack are in heaven, but surely they are smiling and kvelling.
As a printer’s daughter, I am thrilled beyond words to have “A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick” and Stayin’ Alive printed with ink on paper. Fond memories of sweet smelling printer’s ink fill my senses with joy.