Sunday, January 25, 2015

Life Photographers What They Saw by John Loengard

John Loengard was a photographer for Life magazine back in the sixties.  In the nineties he sought out every living photogapher that was ever on staff at Life.  This could not have been easy since the magazine was discontinued in 1972.  In his introduction, Loengard states that was able to interview half of the 88 photographers that had worked for Life.  

In his book he asks each photographer why they chose their profession, how they got started, their philosophy on taking photos and their most interesting moments.

While the questions are largely repetitive the stories are completely unique.  Each photographer has their own history, what drove them to photograph historical moments even at the risk of their own lives.  Loengrad includes some of the photographers' most famous photographs, many of which the reader will recognize.

Some of the photographs are interesting because they are of famous people such as Harry Benson's photos of The Beatles pillow fighting on a bed or Loomis Dean's portrait of Noel Coward in a full dress suit calmly smoking a filtered cigarette  in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Others are poignant like the Navy chief petty officer playing the accordion with tears streaming down his face as President Roosevelt's casket passed by. Some are horrific, such as the photos of skeletal prisoners of war.  

Famous moments in time are included:  Bill Eppridge's photograph of Robert Kennedy lying on the ground his final life seconds quickly ebbing and Carl Mydans' of General MacArthur landing on Luzon.

The photographers explain their photos and the story behind their most famous ones. This is a good book for any lover of documentary photography and useful for those interested in becoming an amateur or professional photographer.

If you'd like to see a lot of these photographs in addition to the latest Time/Life photos you can click on the link below:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Witchcraft by Charles Williams


Charles Williams was one of the Inklings and good friends of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Although his works are less known, perhaps due to his untimely death at forty-five, they have their own attraction.  

Witchcraft is a study of the art of sorcery through the ages.  It does not give a glamorous description or any salaciousness that seem to be hallmarks of contemporary studies on the subject. In his own words:

These pages must stand for what they are -a brief account of the history in Christian times of that perverted way of the soul which we call magic, or (on a lower level) witchcraft, and with the reaction against it.  That they tend to deal more with the lower level than with any nobler dream is inevitable. ...No one will derive any knowledge of initiation from this book; if he wishes to meet 'the tall, black man' or to find the proper method of using the Reversed Pentagram, he must rely on his own heart, which will, no doubt, be one way or other sufficient.  I have not wished to titillate or to thrill; so far as I can manage it, this is history, and...accurate history.

Williams begins with pagan times and records the acts of witchcraft in ancient Greek and Roman times.  He quickly moves on to the middle ages when there was a great conflict with the practitioners of Witchcraft and authority.

Interestingly, it was not the Church-inquisition notwithstanding- that diligently sought out and persecuted those convicted of witchcraft, it was the secular court.  However, it is important to remember that "secular" did not hold the connotations that it does now.  The court still grounded itself in religious principals.

Something else to understand:  The culture of that time produced different motives than they do now.  Today we have serial killers or societal deviants that engage in criminal activity and we say they have a chemical imbalance or some type of psychosis.  They didn't view things that way hundreds of years ago.  Things were seen on a spiritual level.  Not only were serial killers, perverts- what have you, accused of witchcraft, the perpetrators of certain crimes committed them believing themselves to be practicing witchcraft.

The crimes these criminals committed in order to attain supernatural power for themselves and over others were sordid indeed and if you read them you wouldn't protest the punishment that was meted out to the people who engaged in such horrible acts.

But this isn't to say that people weren't falsely accused.  Throughout Europe there seemed to be a hysteria against witchcraft that caused persecution far greater than there could have been witches.  After all, all one had to do was accuse someone, then the accused was tortured until they confessed.  If they did confess they received absolution, thus saving their soul from damnation.  They were still executed, but with the blessings of the Church bestowed upon them.

I thought about this from a Christian perspective.  In Roman times, Christians were compelled to renounce their "pagan, atheistic faith" or be tortured and killed. In this past century in Communist countries being a Christian prevented one from getting an education, owning land or getting a job.  A friend of mine from Hungary shared with me that her grandmother was a member of the Communist party.  On joining she had to agree that no living relative went to church or professed the Christian belief in any way. (Interestingly, on her death bed she told her children to baptize the grand children).

 In modern times, throughout Asia and Africa, Christians are persecuted for their beliefs.  Converting from Islam to Christianity brings the death penalty.  

So here comes the Middle Ages.  Europe is owned by the "Holy Roman" Church.  If I were Satan and I wanted to force people to renounce Christ how would I do it?  How about torture people until they confess to being witches?  Because if you're admitting to being a witch what are you also doing?  Renouncing your faith in Christ.  What does John 16:2 say? fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

The strangest part I found was the involvement of children and how many accused others, including their own family members of being witches. Why would a child do that?

Williams devotes whole chapters to different countries:  England, Spain, Germany.  There's some bizarre tales of the court of France prior to the French revolution.  Apparently the king's mistress practiced "Black Sabbath's" to maintain her hold over the king as well as killing off any potential threats to her position.

The last chapter is left for America and the Salem witch trials.  It all started with hysterical children.  Why did they do it?  Did they understand what they were doing?  And why did adults give them any credence?  It's easy to believe that a malevolent Spirit simply possessed a whole community-all believing they were serving God.  Satan must have been laughing his head off.

On record the pastors and judges who were involved later recanted and asked pardon for the offenses they committed against innocent people.  Not that that brought anyone back to life but at least they lived to regret their actions.

This book is strange, horrific and utterly fascinating.  If you would like greater insight into the psychic of the mind and how it operated throughout history, this is a good book for it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Blood and The Shroud by Ian Wilson

The mystery of the Shroud of Turin has always been a source of fascination for me.  Is it really the imprint of the crucified Christ?  Is it a medieval hoax?  How did the imprint come to be manifested on this ancient sheet?  How can we tell how old the sheet really is?

Ian Wilson intends to answer these questions in his book The Blood and The Shroud.  Personally, I don't have a dog in this fight because it's not important to me whether the shroud is authentic or not, but I do consider it a significant piece of history, even if it does only date back to the Middle Ages.

According to a scientific team headed by British Museum scientific director, Michael Tate, radiocarbon 14 testing resulted in the shroud being dated to the years of the 13th century.  This also corroborates with a letter by a Bishop of that time who insisted that the shroud was a hoax.  It is also true that the 13th century was the height of relics of all sorts being peddled and revered.

Wilson attempts to debunk this claim in his book as well as other arguments:  that the shroud image is a painting, medieval photograph -perhaps even a self portrait made by Leonardo da Vinci- or simply a blood image made by someone wrapping a dead person, albeit crucified, in the shroud, just not Christ.

Frankly, Wilson writes as though he does have a dog in this fight.  Like many scientists I believe that he became enamored with his project and is not being perfectly objective.  While I found his arguments interesting, he seemed to make quite a few leaps from fact to fact, inserting formulations and speculations that I did not find altogether persuasive.

I will admit that I thought the biggest argument against the shroud's authenticity was the simple act of wrapping a crucified body in a sheet and making the same imprints.  Of all of his explanations, his reason for why this can't have happened seems plausible.  He asserts that the distribution of blood and how it was imprinted onto the sheet could not be contrived to such a degree of accuracy.  This gives me pause to think.

Another persuasive argument comes from another source.  In 1978 a team of American scientists known as STURPA made a 3D image of the shroud as well as conducted a number of tests on the matter that was on the shroud.  Their final conclusion was that they could not trace the photographic image to human origins-even though they are quick to point out that they don't know what caused it.

None of that really matters to me because it is still an excellently written book and Wilson is exhaustive in his background research, tracing the shroud as far back as possible and giving an interesting and informative history of the families and leaders who owned the shroud all the way back to the middle ages, which is as far back as it can be traced. 

Not that Wilson doesn't try to reach farther back in time.  We receive a good historical account of the times between Christ's time and the 13th century and how it was possible for the shroud to survive all those years as well as who might have been holding onto it during that time. It's just by this time, Wilson is purely speculating as even he admits.

The shroud will be on exhibit next year.  It is only allowed out of its vault every so many years.  I wish I could be in Turin to see it.  Not because I know for a fact it is the shroud of Jesus Christ but because it is still an ancient relic of bygone days.  Even the 13th century is a long time ago.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Bean Bread Book: A Completely Different Way to Make Bread by Anna Purdum

To say I fly by the seat of my pants in the kitchen is a bit of an understatement.  I've always been pretty good at making something out of whatever is there, but it's hard for me to envision and plan for what I'm making ahead of time.

Our family became gluten free and dairy free nine years ago when my husband was diagnosed with various food intolernaces.  At that point I had to relearn everything I ever "knew" about cooking.  My skill in "making something out of whatever is there" proved useful with our dietary restrictions.  I became very creative because there were so many things that we couldn't eat.  

This book grew out of pressure from friends and family to codify my recipes....From the introduction.

For the very first time I am reviewing something I rarely ever use or read:  a cookbook!  Why, you may ask, am I treading strange waters?  Because this is a unique cookbook that fulfills a demand for an ever growing population that has special dietary needs.  Anna Purdum has compiled a plethora of recipes all of which are gluten and dairy free and devoid of processed sugar.  

The bean bread book, as the subtitle states, is a completely different way to make bread. Her first chapter makes the case for bean bread.  The incentives are that it is quick, easy, inexpensive, nutritious and-most important of all-completely yummy!  I can vouch for this because I have had the muffins.

Her next chapter explains the equipment, such as a blender not a mixer, a microwave not an oven and ingredients needed (cooked beans, not flour) as well as the procedure (add beans slowly).  Chapter 3 explains how to use a conventional oven if you need to,  as well as the sort of beans and sugar substitutes.

Then we get to the heart of the matter.  How to make everything from fluffy white bread, waffles, pancakes to pizza crust.

I found the most interesting recipes in the cake section:  Hummingbird Cake, Lemmon Poppy seed, and my second favorite was Chocolate Fondue and Orange Essence Chocolate.  

She has a chapter listing the different beans one can use like black, great northern, kidney, lima navy and white.

If you need a wider variety of interesting and tasty recipes to include in your gluten free diet, I recommend Ms. Purdum's book as a valuable addition to any cookbook collection.

Go to Ms. Purdum's website to see a short video of her making a bean loaf. 

Anna is also a songwriter.  You can check out her face book page:

You can also join Bean Bread on Facebook. 
Bean Bread on facebook