Saturday, November 12, 2011

confessions of a stevedore v (unedited text)

the fourth and last defining moment in my life:  horton hears a who, and i don't think i'm alone on this.  if i only had a nickel for all those boiled dustspecks…  horton is a sad bloated pachaderm fixit forever extolling the virtures of an alternate universe within the confines of an insignificant dustspeck.  (notice to vendors: some dustspecks are better off boiled)

i saw kathy hale at the starbucks on the corner of (prominent midtown new york locale, near biz center or journalistic center etc) hocking her photos online to some (relevant news organziation), gesticulating like elektra on the patio with white apple earbuds strangling down her neck.  it was the plight of this or that underprivileged minority, these or those recent immigrants, political exiles or just plain migrant workers or some 70s famous plight du jour.  by her fits and hysterical (hand waving) i could tell the rag was having none of it.  i know the feeling, sadly, from both ends.  one man's (cross to bear, spanish inquisition, trial of sisyphus, irrelevant fixit political exiles dujour…another man's yesterday's news, unclicked links sequestered in an online news archive awaiting some home schooled fourth grader doing a report on (unrelevant geological event that affects some remote and unimportant land mass).  she is chicken little shaking her little crab claw, ratso rizzo caught in the middle of the crosswalk, that lunatic at the junction of the santa monica freeway and pch, proselytizing on 2012 and the evils of hydrogenated soybean…

you should hear the eggheads debating the relevance of ron galella, his sometimes inclusion in famed art galleries throughout the world.  i tell you pictures are either good or bad, they either work or they don't.  i don't care what they're about or who's in them.  i know this conjures up a host of incongruities fixit that would make susan sontag turn in her grave (no disrespect)…behold:  queen victoria on a horse...  the horse rearing?  no, the incongruity fixit of the scene, the contrast; this curdmugeon fixit roosting over the world's largest empire, victoria fat, uhealthy, the stagedness of the photograph.  is she led around like some child on a pony, with a drewl cup and dunce hat, has she ever been on a horse before, why does she need it stayed. the picture reeks of revolution, romanovs on lonely railroad cars on vacated tracks, trotsky sipping tea with frida kahlo fixit, louis the XVI and his collection of locks.   what does this picture signify, a link to the past, her english roots, their connection with nature, why do we need to see queen vic on a  horse and what does it signify.

i want you to consider two famous photographs.  hugh diamond's picture of a patient at the surrey county lunatic asylum, the picture generally associated with him.  diamond thought he could document a patient's disorder through photography.  he thought that a person's condition would be manifested through the objectivity of the camera lens.  a direct quote:  a photograph "catches in a moment the permanent cloud, or the passing storm or sunshine of the soul, and thus enables the metaphysician to witness and trace out the connexion between the visible and the invisible." we know this going in.  the photograph contains a caption.  the woman's cloud or passing storm is indeed visible in the caption but not necessarily in the photograph itself, which could be a depiction of any typical commoner working in any textile factory of any suburb of london…  but the caption reminds us that she is not just any worker in a factory; she is in fact a mentally ill person.  this fact alters our perception of the photograph immensely.  at once she becomes the very eptiome of the dispossed fixit, this "passing storm."  her seemingly calm demeanor shadows a myriad of psychosomatic conditions, her unkempt hair, not just the  result of a days hard work but her inabilty to sit still, her likely violent and insidious outbursts, her sound and fury…

the second photo (name photo) shows a girl with an obviously retarded child.  no caption is required.  yet, like the previous photograph of the asulym patient, there is nothing particularly artistic about either of these photos, not in the lighting or compostion.  both photographs entice us along a kind of photographic sixth sense, a condition or an element known to us, the viewer, but not included in the photographs themselves.  of course, the child's condition is visible in the photo but his retardation is not significant in any kind of "photographic" sense.  unless we were apprised fixit of the notion of retardation and its visible attributes, this photograph would be quite meanglingless, possibly a family photo, nicely shot but insignificant.  yet we have been apprised the visible signs of mental retardation so this photo becomes significant, to more or less a certain degree, along this so-called sixth sense.  diane arbus does this to us.  it's not that pictures of freaks are in and of themselves significant or visually interesting, it's that they become interesting within the context of the photo, within the juxtopostion of their compostion; a freak family unit, a decidedly unnatractive transvestite in curlers (as if curled hair will aide in his appearance), the waifish child with an impish grin and handgrenade etc etc…  i give arbus credit for knowing how to take reasonably well-photographed images but above all, for knowing how to manipulate our photographic sixth sense, or more specifically, our sense of personnal comfort.  none of these photographs would be interesting in any kind of photographic sense unless we were possessed of this so-called photographic sixth sense, that of knowing that these people are in fact freaks and are not normally photographed in such dispossessing conditions.

the question regarding galella is whether or not his photographs are interesting beyond the fact they are of well-known celebrities.  do these photographs contain interest beyond the photographic sixth sense.  i would say yes, most emphatically they do.  of course there are exections, as there are to any photographers ouvre fixit (jackie o being a decided exception, in fact, i can barely think of one photograph of her that merits any attention at all(-)perhaps possibly the one of her in the limo with arie fixit).  but galella's photograph of travolta on the streets, presley in a car, mcqueen drinking coffee, sophia loren, robert redford, andy wharhol or edward the VII and wallace simpson(-)all these shots would exist outside the confines of the photographic sixth sense.  

 i shudder to think what kind of pictures galella would have taken if he had shot on the streets.  gary winogrand can place his mouth precariously close to ron galella's crotch any day!  i usually stear clear of arguments about what art is or isn't.  they usually degenerate into a reading of bartlett's quotations, napoleon bonaparte; "a picture is worth a thousdand words…" etc.  but for the record; most self-respecting photographers want beautiful subjects, well lit and candid.  at the very least, you have to give galella credit for getting close to these celebrities and still manage to catch them off guard, though of course he was shooting in a day when journalists/photojournalists still had something of a code of ethics.  to be fair, celebrities back then didn't have radar in the back of their heads like sean penn or lindsay lohan.

okay, if you want a quote i'll give you one:  "barthes:  camera lucida...a photograph is never anything but an antiphon of look, a child gesturing "that, there it is, lo!
you won't find this in bartlett's and you won't find this carved as an ephitaph on the gravestone of ron galella (if he ever dies, the old buzzard).  of course, the image or scene must merit your attention or it's not worth looking at let alone photographing.  now, to sit around and debate the criteria required to make an image worth looking at is an excersize in futility i'm not willing to undertake.  suffice to say that given the current state of affairs in photojournalism and photography in general, beauty is is in the eye of the beholder.

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