Category Archives: Visual Sources

SPIKE LEE VISITS FIT TO DISCUSS DO THE RIGHT THING

Director Spike Lee visited FIT recently for an interview following a screening of his 1989 film Do the Right Thing. A frigid February night proved the perfect time to watch a movie that takes place on a scorching-hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Lee said he was inspired to write the script in part because “I noticed that in New York, when it gets above 95 degrees, people lose their minds.”

spikelee

One student said she was impressed with Lee’s stylish UGGs. (He wore them to stay warm in the stadium during the Super Bowl). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, holds the microphone.

The college’s Black Student Union organized the event as part of Black History Month (“the shortest month of the year,” Lee wryly noted). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, greeted a packed house in the Haft Auditorium with the observation, “Black history is everybody’s history in America.”

From a show of hands, a sizable portion of the packed house in the Haft Auditorium had never seen the movie, which has held up beautifully over 25 years. The characters’ artfully crafted hairstyles, eyewear, and Day-Glo-colored outfits (for which Lee credited his costume designer, Ruth Carter) were redolent of the 80s. Still, some current students came similarly attired—and looked pretty chic.

At the climax of the film, a riot erupts. After the screening, one audience member asked whether Lee intended to stir up trouble. Lee answered, unequivocally, no. “That was a criticism of the film—that it was going to incite riots. There was a fear that you’d see the movie and run out and start smashing things. I don’t think Chuck D [of the band Public Enemy] who wrote the song ‘Fight the Power’ for me [it opens the film] was talking about taking up arms. It was more like mental stuff.”

Toward the end of the night, Lee invited students in the audience to talk about the obstacles they faced as they trained for creative careers. Many described their parents’ objections. “My father went to Harvard and my mother went to Columbia, and there’s no way they’ll pay my tuition to study fashion,” a student said. Lee counseled everyone to stick with it. “Parents,” he said, “kill more dreams than anybody.”

Lee revealed that the “Love and hate” speech given by the character Radio Raheem (above) was inspired by a scene in Charles Laughton’s 1955 suspense classic “Night of the Hunter”:

The manager of films for FIT’s student association also helped organize the event.

ARTIST WILLIAM WEGMAN VISITS FIT, UNLEASHES HIS IDEAS

The artist William Wegman came to FIT last night, bringing engaging slides of his work but, alas, none of the Weimaraner dogs he’s so famous for photographing. Wegman visited as part of a series organized by the college’s photography department, and presented the very image of a working artist, with rumpled gray hair and a blue checked shirt.

Wegman loves to create, and his work fits generally into the category of surrealism, though he said, surprisingly, that Norman Rockwell was an early influence. Wegman paints and makes sculpture and videos, but he’s most famous for his dog pictures:

Like so much of his career, as Wegman tells it, the discovery of photography was fortuitous, almost an accident.  In the mid-’60s he took his first photograph. It was of salami. “That’s still my best photo,” he said, with evident irony.

Painters Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha collected his early photographs, which Wegman initially used to document his performance art.  An early series of photos featuring the Weimaraner Man Ray, Wegman said, “is kind of like a Sol LeWitt painting, but with a dog.” By the late ’70s, he said, “my photography began to be dominated by Man Ray, who loved to work.” A few years after Man Ray died, Wegman got another dog, Fay Wray. “She almost demanded to work,” he said. “She looked right into the lens.” He later made videos of the dogs for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street. Here’s one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_IFN4lh59Y

 

A surprising sense of playfulness, of low-key spontaneity and experimentation, characterized the talk. “I would never think these pictures through beforehand,” he said. “They weren’t planned.” At one point, a student asked what lens he used to photograph the dogs. “I don’t know,” Wegman replied. “I’m not a photographer.”

Wegman with FIT Photography faculty Jessica Wynne, who organizes the Photo Talks series.