MY THOUGHTS ON PHOTOGRAPHY, CAPTURED FOREVER IN 19 SNAPSHOTS
I confess to being an image collector. I have postcards from Asia, orange wrappers from Italy, orange crate labels from 1930s California, textile labels from Africa, packaging from Thailand, stamps from Canada, books and magazine articles about Tibet (preferably pre-1960), and more. I have books of image collections: old record albums, matchbooks, typography, signs, Japanese graphic design, “famous” photographs, corporate logos, award-winning posters, visual puns and more. In addition to my own collections, I have many virtual collections – which is to say I have been a voracious consumer on a temporary basis of images I did not own. I have collections of my own photographs and collections of photographs of me by others. But more on that later. For now, let’s open the album…
We are all vampires, drinking the lives of others. We feast on magazines, television, film, the web. We surreptitiously watch others in public. Some say the photographer steals the soul. I say we eat the ghosts. We gnaw on the bones of culture. Porn is bigger than Hollywood. For those who find porn distasteful, there’s fashion porn, gadget porn, “been there, done that” porn, and so on. Everyone is free to be a culture vulture.
I spy, with my little icon
Nothing can compare to the rush of vision. Sound takes too long. Smell is too narrow. Touch is too intimate. Taste is too ephemeral. Up until recently there was nothing that could replace the primacy of sight. Seeing is an orgasm of ephemera. But that’s the old paradigm. Now we are avatars of the virtual world. In my online life I can be as well as see. Gaming is bigger than porn.
Let us now praise famous photographers
Diane Arbus, André Kertesz, Edward Weston, Edward Curtis, Edward Steichen, Imogen Cunningham, Arnaud Maggs, Shin Sugino, Yuri Dojc, Alfred Eisenstadt, Anne Geddes, Annie Leibowitz, Ansel Adams, Christopher Burkett, Dorothea Lange, Bill Brandt, Man Ray, Eadweard Muybridge, Galen Rowell, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, Irving Penn, Margaret Bourke-White, Louis Daguerre, Julie Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Helmut Lang, Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Brassai, Weegee.
Let us now praise infamous photographers
Diana is dead! Exclusive photos; film at 11. Paris gets dirty! Click here for full video. Maria Menounos thinks a little volume in her hair is sexy! Because you’re worth it.
The Family of Man
This exhibit, curated by Edward Steichen, was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955. It revolutionized the acceptance of photography as fine art. My father brought home the catalogue; it shaped my aesthetic sensibilities – that’s for sure!
Antonioni’s movie, starring David Hemmings, brilliantly deconstructed of the line between voyeur and accomplice. It explored the shift of gray matter into the gray zone between black and white. What was the responsibility of the photographer to the subject? And the film-maker, once removed? I loved that movie when I saw it in 1969. Being a photographer never looked so sexy. It was like being a spy.
Albert Einstein sticks out his tongue
Outrageous fun from the father of modern physics. How random is that photo? I had it on a poster on my bedroom wall as a teen-ager. It cost me $1.00. Instead of homo sapiens, call me homo imagiensis.
Some see the photographer as predator. Ask Susan Sontag. She wrote about it in her 1977 ground-breaker – “On Photography.” If there is thrill in the hunt, it may have nothing to do with what is hunted. Capitalism glorifies the ritual of the transaction. Collecting is something other than creating. It glorifies the Sherlock Holmes in each of us.
Guatemalan campesinos do not collect photographs
That’s because they’re too busy staying alive. Collecting photographs is a bourgeois conceit. We decorate our houses like externalized jewellery celebrating our prowess: trophies from the hunt. The frame may well cost more than the object displayed. It’s not the photograph on display, it’s our “skill” as a decorator – our success at life.
Wait, maybe they do
I remember seeing photos repeatedly in the Guatemalan papers during Efraim Rios Mont’s regime in the 1980s – close-up facial shots of murdered union activists who had been disappeared, tortured and dumped by the road as a lesson to others. Perhaps their families kept photos of them from happier times. Lest they forget.
Time, under glass
From my past, time conquered. Fixed. From the past of others, a vicarious second life. Either way, I appropriate a golden past – cleansed, purified and magnified. This is nostalgia for what was and what never was. Yet my ironic reflection upon it frees me from being its captive. I am in control. Perfect!
When Imogen Cunningham got old, she only photographed her friends, who were all over 90. She published the photos in a book, which I gave to my mother when she turned 80. She lived to 96. I would often look at the book when I visited her apartment in Montreal. I hoped (and still do) that I get that old, without losing my mind first. I appropriate a golden future.
Another accidental tourist
OK, I’m not rich. I can’t afford to own the model, only the series. I can collect marginal items that reflect back on society in an ironic commentary, like Fuchs. That is the democratization of art. Art is anywhere I choose. I photograph icicles, pop bottles, bad type. But who was that famous photographer who photographed cigarette butts, blown up to huge sizes? He must have had a great publicist as well as a great eye for detail. Now it is impossible to find him – snuffed out by thousands of royalty-free digital stock photographs of cigarette butts, available at Google: 219,000 hits.
Lost and found
There are pictures on my shrine. They remind me of my heroes.
From Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, America’s Funniest Home Videos, and an endless stream of competitors, comes the death of the pleasure of photography. This is the negative mirror image of the end of exclusivity. Paul Simon sang, “Momma don’t take my Kodachrome away.” But they already have.
Across the digital divide
I gave my (very) expensive film SLR to my daughter. I bought a digital point-and-shoot. I use the camera in my cell phone more. I bought a digital palmcorder and used it once. Now it is obsolete technology. I transferred many of my own photographs to PhotoCD. Now it too is obsolete technology and I can’t access them. So I bought a new digital SLR and downloaded a free file conversion program for my previously-digitized PhotoCD images.
I loved the feel of photo paper. I loved the date stamp and the red shift from early colour. I loved the way Fujichrome brings up the greens. I loved the granularity and the tonal range of black-and-white – how it elevates the image out of reality. I loved the arcana of aperture, speed and ISO. But now it like the girl I loved and photographed so long ago in high school. I just wish I could kiss her again.
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