Badge of Honor: Wyatt Neumann

I discovered the incredible story of photographer Wyatt Neumann I felt had to be shared to expose the ignorant nature of an uninformed and, frankly, brainwashed populace who would verbally condemn a father for images he shared online of his young daughter.  Even more noteworthy is Mr. Neumann’s response to his attackers—fighting back with grace and facts and with the very images he was so maligned for posting.

The Safari, NYC - (untitled) (2014)

The Safari, NYC – (untitled) (2014)

“These compelling images of children, taken by their father, have been scrutinized and censored by conservatives who deemed them pornography. Along with the images will be the statements made by these people, people who hide behind the cloak of Internet, attacking real people from a veil of anonymity. This work unintentionally documents censorship in the Information Age, an issue we are just beginning to understand.”  -KP Lawless, Safari Gallery

“In my photographs, some people see innocence and beauty, while others see only sexual victimization and violence. It’s an interesting lesson in the power of fear and fundamentalism, and the aggression that it can spawn. It’s also a mirror that we can look at and see ourselves looking back. It’s a chance to decide how we want to view the world, and to decide what kind of world we want to create. For ourselves, our futures, and the future we leave for our children.”  -Wyatt Neumann

Wyatt Neumann, (Untitled) (2014)

Wyatt Neumann, (Untitled) (2014)

Learn more about this story in this Huffington Post article and from The Safari Gallery in New York which exhibited his work using one of the narrow-minded comments he received as a badge of honor: “I feel sorry for your children.”

Particularly moving is a short video on YouTube about Mr. Neumann, the knee-jerk hysteria that ensued and the support which came from other families with children.

[September 23, 2014] A number of readers expressed an interest in seeing more of the Neumann images and another was kind enough to offer a selection from the book.  With each image I will state Neumann’s comment, then the rude comment published in the book, then mine.  Neumann’s handle is #dadlife.  -Ron

Neumann: here you go: a not-so-rare sighting of not-so-elusive wild stella in her not-so-natural habitat. (at Navajo Nation, AZ)

Commenter: One photo where his daughter was crouched naked on the highway in the middle of the desert, looking like a feral cat.  The look on her face is disturbing.

Me: What I find disturbing (and I think I can speak for Rousseau as well) is that some grown-ups are so spiritually bereft that they cannot enjoy and appreciate the animal spirits of very young children.

Wyatt Neumann - from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (1)

Wyatt Neumann – from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (1)

Neumann: Swan Song.

Commenter: It’s not just his daughter he’s exploiting, either. He has one of his son where he’s throwing him up in the air, naked, with his penis flying.

Me: Unmitigated Joy. (and a great shot to boot!)

Wyatt Neumann - from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (2)

Wyatt Neumann – from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (2)

Neumann: everything good in the world lives within the eyes of my children.

Commenter: Every good thing you are and every good thing you do is cancelled out by the fact that you exploit your children.  You truly have no right to do this to them.

Me: Every good parent should be lucky enough to have such a tender and candid shot of their child.

Wyatt Neumann - from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (3)

Wyatt Neumann – from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (3)

Neumann: definition of true happiness: driving down the highway with all the windows rolled down, cranking “out of the blue” by julian casablancas and singing at the top of my lungs to my screaming and giggling baby girl… ❤❤❤

Commenter: He’s such a passive aggressive little diva.  #dadlife? More like #douchelife

Me: It’s called being irreverent (and more unmitigated self-expression on Stella’s part).  We could use a little more of that in our society.  Shouldn’t he at least be given credit for securing her properly in a child seat?

Wyatt Neumann - from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (4)

Wyatt Neumann – from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (4)

This image appears with no text and falls on the copyright page.  I’m surprised there was not some comment condemning this community for allowing a half-naked child to be in their midst.

Wyatt Neumann - from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (5)

Wyatt Neumann – from I Feel Sorry for your Children (2014) (5)

Puberty Trumps Propaganda?

One nondescript summer as a latchkey kid, I discovered a kitschy but somewhat charming PBS television program after boredom had set in from too much Atari. Flipping through the sparse VHF and UHF stations available at the time, I had settled on something fresh and coincidentally seasonal: a fictitious show centering on eight kids away at summer camp. Four teenage boys and four girls of mixed races and backgrounds with their personal trials and tribulations (with some deep lessons galore) broadcast for the whole watching world to see. I genuinely found it quite entertaining; the stories were interesting and realistic and stood to teach a thing or two about a variety of topics deemed important at the time. The topic of nutrition (a major theme) and a myriad of interrelated connections such as farming, diabetes, obesity and exercise permeated the program’s underlying message, running in tandem with the superficial entertainment aspects.  The series ran for a total of ten episodes, each thirty minutes long. However, as with most things, there was something more that had really caught my attention and that was one of the program’s young leading ladies, a spunky, athletic, bright and somewhat tomboyish, 13-year-old named Suzanne Freestone (Cindy O’Neal). I was totally in love, or so I thought—give me a break, I was only 12!

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Swifty (1980) (1)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Swifty (1980) (1)

Seemed I might as well get used to setting my digital wristwatch by the local PBS schedule and spending the remainder of my summer break hunkered down on the floor with my favorite giraffe-patterned TV pillow. Some days during the doldrums of that hot and humid summer, there was a clearly delineated indention in the high-pile carpet formed in my likeness where I had vegged out for hours, entranced by endless banal commercials and cartoon reruns, David Carradine’s Kung Fu and my new favorite TV show of all time, High Feather.

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Welcome to Camp (1980) (1)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Welcome to Camp (1980) (1)

While this post is not meant to be an exhaustive descriptor and/or history of the High Feather series legacy (not much can be found online, honestly), it hopefully will prove to facilitate interest in a fleeting “gem” which defines a period in time when tall tube socks and short shorts ruled, a lengthy summer bridged the gap between schoolgrades (none of this track-out stuff and year-round school) and kids did not yet have their faces incessantly buried in laptops and cell phones.  Although few of the cast were professional actors and actresses, one cast member, Emily Wagner (Cathy), went on to stardom on the hit TV series ER, as well as featuring in a variety of films. Here Emily Wagner (left) along with Cindy O’Neal discuss with the program’s lead males the nomination of team captain for an upcoming “Camp Olympics” based on merit and not sexist-instilled attitudes.

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Swifty (1980) (2)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Swifty (1980) (2)

A source of amusement and accessibility, the first-time acting performances were obvious yet easily forgivable.  The “healthy” lifestyle theme was not without a little bit of friendly competition, as pictured in this scene where Suzanne handily beats an overly boastful boy in a camp-sanctioned competitive dash.  Here actress and heartbreaker Cindy O’Neal is a cut above the young Emma Watson in this author’s opinion.

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Swifty (1980) (3)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Swifty (1980) (3)

Said co-creator Terence Taylor, “High Feather was funded by the New York State Education department, as was the first series I worked on, Vegetable Soup, which was all about ‘multiculturalism’, long before it became a buzzword decades later. We cared about our audiences and what we told them about the world and our mission was to raise them well if busy parents were handing them over to us by the millions.”

And whatever became of Cindy O’Neal, my crush?  Well, I am pleased to report she is alive and well, married with three children. How’s that for a happy ending?

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor - High Feather Welcome to Camp (1980) (2)

Yanna Kroyt Brandt, Judy Seeger and Terence Taylor – High Feather: Welcome to Camp (1980) (2)

More about High Feather here.

Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)

Although producing Pigtails can be hard work and a hassle, one of the things that keeps us going is the support of our fans. This post was researched and written by one of our readers named RJ who is a photographer himself and has commented on our site many times. Given that Pip and I cannot be expert on everything, it is a pleasure to have the input of guest writers to round out our content. Thank you, RJ. – Ron


When it comes to creativity, my impetus for output often borders on the nearly unexplainable (think Faulkner’s attempt at stream-of-consciousness prose in The Sound and the Fury). Often two or more disparate thoughts, experiences, ideas, etc. come together haphazardly and a sort-of “Frankenstein’s monster” is wrought (hopefully fairing better than Victor’s poor creature). Thus, it is with a pop song, two photographers and a handful of images I stand before you at the precipice and ask humbly for a liberal and lenient audience.

Recently, I have been on a Neil Young kick, with my headphones at work streaming Crazy Horse and CSN&Y, as well as a peppering of solo work interspersed. One of my favorite off-the-radar Young tunes is “Country Girl” or formally, “Country Girl (Whiskey Boot Hill/Down Down Down/Country Girl I Think You’re Pretty)” which appeared on the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album, Déjà Vu back in 1970. It is with this very tune I had subconsciously taken lyrical liberty one evening while browsing my love-worn paperback copy of Roger Minick’s underrated photography book, Hills of Home: The Rural Ozarks (1975). What I was conscious of was Young’s brooding chorus playing softly while viewing images of the people and landscapes of rural Arkansas, and then I found my eyes fixated upon images of “regular” folks only slightly posed, if at all. This is just what I needed that evening, a reality check away from all that is over-produced and gussied-up in my world; the bare-bones world is still a very attractive place indeed! Well, one thing led to another—as so often is the case—and I soon was revisiting another photographer’s similar images, this time online, taken in rural eastern Kentucky circa 1964-65. Pure documentary overall, photographer William Gedney’s images still strikes a chord within me since I first discovered them some ten years ago. Gedney seemed to have a knack for photographing the grace, dignity and strength of people living on the edges of society, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in his Kentucky images, a fitting final addition to my picturesque melodic meanderings.

Artist/photographer Roger Minick was born in 1944 and has been photographing seriously for nearly fifty years. He is a teacher, painter, documentary photographer, fine art photographer, book designer and more; Minick has done it all and is still active. A multiple NEA awardee and a Guggenheim fellow to boot (the latter of which was used to assist with work published in Hills of Home), Minick thrives in setting his images to the printed page, especially the well-crafted fine-art book format. Basically a tome describing the rural Ozarks (where Minick lived as a child), Hills of Home is part photographic record fortified with writings penned via his father, Bob Minick, along with folksy accompanying illustrations by Leonard Sussman. As a whole, the book works wonderfully in creating a voluminous setting of realness in which the reader can deeply explore quietly and at leisure. Of particular interest here are Minick’s images of one family, the Stilleys, to whom the book is dedicated. A rural farm family, the Stilleys exemplify hard work while living in somewhat impoverished conditions and yet can be seen contently smiling in several images (unsolicited smiling in this author’s opinion). The two Stilley daughters, Martha and Janie (from left to right), are shown in their natural setting of work and farm animals, still beaming with youth’s freshness, especially in contrast to other images within the book’s folds of their proud parents, worn with work’s wages. A third image is included herein which beautifully highlights garb long-dismissed on what appears to be a blustery day. The three foreground figures are seen mostly in profile against a somewhat somber-looking crowd, only further accentuating the bright and curious demeanor of these young rural ladies.

Roger Minick - Three young girls at farm sale (c1975)

Roger Minick – Three young girls at farm sale (c. 1975)

Roger Minick - Martha Stilley with favorite animals (c1975)

Roger Minick – Martha Stilley with favorite animals (c. 1975)

Roger Minick - Janie Stilley (c1975)

Roger Minick – Janie Stilley (c. 1975)

Photographer William Gedney, born in 1932, was unknown to a wide audience until after his untimely death of AIDS at the age of 56. While his subject matter included photographs of rural New York, Manhattan, hippies in San Francisco, photographs taken during travels in India, England, France and Ireland among others, it was during his 1964 and 1972 trips to eastern Kentucky depicting the simple, hardscrabble existence of two families that Gedney made some of his most memorable images. It was there that Gedney met Willie Cornett (who was recently laid off from the mines) and stayed with him, his wife Vivian and their twelve children. Twenty-two of the photographs from Gedney’s visit to Kentucky were included in his one-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (not all featured the Cornetts). William Gedney was a National Endowment for the Arts Grant recipient, a Guggenheim Fellow and received a Fulbright Fellowship to go to India. Duke University’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library houses Gedney’s photographic archive as well as many writings, correspondence, sketch books, etc.

Three girls in kitchen is arguably William Gedney’s best-known image. There is a fantastic story describing how Gedney sold this image years after it was taken and split the proceeds with the Cornetts (sending $35 to Vivian Cornett) as he promised on any sale of images from their time together. Also, upon closer inspection, there is a fourth figure deep within the image (see if you can find him or her). The interplay of light, fabric, texture and patterns, the echoes of the skirts, the similar standing position of the three sisters and the bare feet; all work harmoniously and provide the viewer with so much more than just a well-documented moment of their surroundings and leisurely work. Fortunately, I live within fifty miles of the Duke University campus, and therefore visiting the William Gedney archive is high on this author’s bucket list. There is simply no replacement for seeing an artist’s oeuvre in the flesh. In the interim, I highly recommend the superb hardcover book: What Was True, the Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney (1999).

William Gedney - Portrait of a girl (c1965)

William Gedney – Portrait of a girl (c. 1965)

William Gedney - Three girls in kitchen (1964)

William Gedney – Three girls in kitchen (1964)

William Gedney - Two girls with dirty clothes holding hands (c1965)

William Gedney – Two girls with dirty clothes holding hands (c. 1965)

William Gedney - Older couple sitting in chairs with a young girl standing in between them holding a doll (c1965)

William Gedney – Older couple sitting in chairs
with a young girl standing in between them holding a doll (c. 1965)

William Gedney - Children by washtub; oldest girl washing her hair (c1965)

William Gedney – Children by washtub; oldest girl washing her hair (c. 1965)

Duke University Archive of Cornett Family Photographs (here)