I/Eye: On Photography

Dax and The Museum Proper

Posted in portraits by Sheila Newbery on July 2, 2010
Dax Tran-Caffee and friends (Santa Clara, 2010) © Sheila Newbery

Dax Tran-Caffee and friends (Santa Clara, 2010) © Sheila Newbery

I packed up my wooden field camera and drove down to Santa Clara last week to visit Dax Tran-Caffee in his studio. Dax is both musician (accordionist with the band Corpus Callosum) and puppeteer: during the 3rd annual indie arts subZERO Festival (June 4, 2010, San Jose), he and his troupe, The Museum Proper, staged a rough-and-tumble “bandersnatch” hunt involving a 12-foot-long puppet (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky). Built by Dax, the puppet requires several people to animate it and is an impressive spectacle in motion.

When I first learned that Dax made puppets, I asked him if he’d sit for a portrait with his creations — and he agreed. I like magic — not the Harry Potter kind, not the slick Las Vegas stuff, but the kind that, from simple parts or unextraordinary means, can kindle something truly haunting, funny, tender, frightening, mischievous or endearing. Dax’s work is like that.

For the portrait, he sat with some of the puppets who’d appeared at subZERO on that (raucous) festival day — and with his accordion. The instrument is a beauty, and I asked him to tell me about it:

The accordion is a Wogtlander manufactured in East Germany in the 80s. I picked it up from an accordion dealer in Oakland in 2004 or so. It’s called a “button box accordion”, which is an accordion specifically designed to play diatonic folk music. The sweeter sound that we all like it for is from a special musette tuning, meaning that it has two reeds for each note that are placed slightly out of tune with each other.

Dax’s troupe performs regularly in Northern California and he spent part of last year on an extended solo tour through the US. If you live in the Bay Area, be sure to go see one of his shows. For a taste of magic that you can enjoy right now, watch a video of Corpus Callosum’s haunting Lullaby #2.

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