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In a photograph titled “Ward 81”, a woman sits on a bed. She is young, a teenager. She sits cross-legged and wears her clothes and hair like a teenager would. The wall behind this teenage girl is covered in pictures. The pictures, magazine cutouts, are taped to the wall and some of the edges have been carefully rounded with scissors. There are pictures of animals and a picture of a tree. Below a picture of the Mona Lisa the name BRENDA is written in marker. In this room that could belong to any teenager, the walls are strangely close. The bed is pushed up to the radiator and the metal headboard is too white and plain. The young woman’s eyes are blank—one eye tilts toward her nose. Her left arm is outstretched bearing the evidence of self-inflicted wounds and on the wall above the radiator, also written in marker, are the words, “I wish to die.”

This photograph was taken by Mary Ellen Mark, who died on May 25. Mark was adamant that her work be called documentary photography. “I’m a documentary photographer,” she told Bomb magazine in 1989. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to be; that’s where my heart and soul is.” The word “document,” when applied to photographs, conveys the sense of proof, evidence, testimony. A document is an affirmation of the subject being documented — a proof of that subject’s existence, if nothing else. A documentary photograph says, “here is the object or person that existed when this photograph was taken.”
More… “Monsters and Men”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

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In 1952, a local salesman named Ted Rogich decided that Las Vegas needed a roadside sign that would welcome visitors to the city. In the postwar years of the American Southwest, highways plowed through long open stretches of sand. You could drive right past a town, even Las Vegas, and not know it. Las Vegas had a sign heralding everything, Rogich said. Everything except itself.

When Rogich approached designer Betty Willis with his idea, she was a rare woman in the new industry of neon. The two agreed — a Welcome sign for Las Vegas had to be flashy, glitzy, something that really proclaimed “Vegas.” The eventual design for what would become the city’s great landmark is well known: a 25-foot-high “Googie”-style sign covered in blinking silver dollars and mismatched fonts, lined with yellow lightbulbs that chased each other around, topped with an exploding atomic star that cried out to every car passing north along Highway 91, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.”
More… “Leaving, and Entering, and Leaving, and Entering Las Vegas”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

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First Bones died, then Scotty, now Spock. That is, DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. McCoy (“Bones”) in the original Star Trek cast, died in 1999, then James Doohan, who played the ship’s engineer with a Scottish brogue (“Scotty”), died in 2005. In 2008, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who played many parts in various incarnations of Star Trek but was perhaps best known as the voice of the US Starship Enterprise’s computer, passed away. Now, on February 27th, 2015, Leonard Simon Nimoy, who played the half-human, half-Vulcan second in command (“Spock”), has died at the age of 83.
More… “The Undiscovered Country”

Donald Riggs is a Teaching Professor of English at Drexel University.

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I never thought I’d watch it after Joan was gone. I’m talking Fashion Police — a show on E! whose raison d’etre is to extol and goof on gowns at red carpet events — after the death of its presiding spirit, Joan Rivers. Truly, a profoundly shallow and frivolous entertainment, but one that I acknowledge I became modestly addicted to.

   

I hereby confess that I like looking at gowns. The only thing that gets me to go to the supermarket is the chance to peruse In Style magazine for the line-up of Gwyneth, Julia, and Jennifer (several of them) in gowns split up from or down to the navel, and to study the comparative pix of Kim Kardashian and Gwen Stefani in the same outfit, accompanied by reader-response percentages as to who wore it best. This interests me… More…

The traditional obituary is an exercise in curtness. It is an art form nasty, brutish, and short, taking the scrambled up, complicated thing that is a human life and smashing it into a tidy, coherent narrative. Take, for example, the 1897 obituary of Margie Zellner in the Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call:

Margie, the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Rupp. She died of typhoid fever. She was ill over a week. Daughter of James F. ZELLNER and Daniella ZELLNER and at the death of her Mother, which occurred when the deceased was a babe, she was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Rupp. Burial at West End Cemetery, Allentown, Pa. On Friday, January 8, 1897. She was 12 years, 11 months and 24 days of age.  She lived with the Rupps at 524 Walnut Street.

And that’s the story of Margie. She was born, she was adopted, she got typhoid,… More…