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BROOKE SHIELDS (SPIRITUAL AMERICA), 1983
Ektacolor print, 24 by 20 inches (after an original by commercial photographer Garry Gross) edition of 10 + 1 AP, executed in 1983
By Richard Prince
Transcript from the ICP Lecture Series, Wednesday, April 2, 7:00pm
School at ICP, Shooting Studio, 1114 Avenue of the Americas
That’s a one-word text I received from my friend Collier Schorr just a moment ago when she found out I was “kicked off” Instagram for posting the original photograph of Spiritual America forty-eight hours ago. I forgot that Collier once lived in the apartment where the original photograph once hung. This was back in ’85; the apartment was one of those “railroad” apartments on 12th and Ave. A… In the same building where Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Richard Hell, Rene Ricard, and Luc Sante lived. I had been living there since 1978. I forgot that Collier was “house sitting” and that Spiritual America was hanging in the middle of the long corridor that connected the hallway of the building to the kitchen. The kitchen had a big ass cast iron tub that took up most of the tiny two and half room space. I guess if you wanted to be kind about describing the apartment you might call it “cozy.”
I’ve been “negotiating” with social media for about a year and half. I hooked into Instagram after joining Twitter and found that the platform was mainly good for putting out images that I took with my new iphone. The camera in the phone is pretty easy to use and the store and send options turned the phone into a portable “ready to go” studio. Twitter reminded me of my Birdtalk that I had done back in the early nineties for Purple Magazine. I used to send them two or three pages of “sentences” that were around 140 characters long. A lot of “blabber mouth” I remember. Lyrics, blurbs, ad copy, obits…explanatory text that would accompany magazine photographs. Sometimes I would mix in a joke but mostly the sentences were lifted from books. (The first sentence from a novel was always a favorite). I would just “stack” the sentences. Send in two or three pages of “stacks.” There was no effort to form a narrative. They read like starts and stops off of a ticker tape. Pure “bits” of information. “Headlines” might be an accurate way to describe the quotes. It was a kind of writing that fit my attention span. Abbreviated conversation. The concept wasn’t much different from Twitter. The execution though, the way I would have to communicate with Purple… typing on paper on a typewriter and sending it through the mail? Old hat. Dinosaur. Dark Ages.
Instagram reminded me of the “gang” photos that I did in the mid-eighties. It was like revisiting an older system that I was already familiar with. There was no need to learn a new language. The new transition was seamless and I enjoyed exchanging images with an audience that was both private and public (strangers on a train). What used to take days to accomplish was now fast and immediate. And easy too. You could connect to friends and get instant feedback on what you exchanged. The “friending,” the “likes,” the “comments” were part of a built in process I found, at times, useful. The back and forth speed at which you could send and delete was all about the last ten minutes. The gridding of the images on Instagram was especially satisfying. My “page” really did look like The Velvet Well. Live Free Or Die. Tell Me Everything. Bitches and Bastards. Criminals and Celebrities. These were “titles” to photo “gangs” that I did in 1986 where I would organize nine photos on one huge piece of photo paper. Usually 86 x 48”. I’d cannibalize a life-style magazine… some surfer or motorcycle or heavy metal or hotrod mag and re-photograph the contents… I’d boil “the life and its style” down to a grid of nine images and frame it up and hang the choices on a wall. The “gangs” were like having a whole show of images in one frame. I pretty much found that I could do the same on Instagram… except… the photo paper was an electronic page, the source material was Google, and the re-photography was a screen-save.
This way of “continuing” to deal with all kinds of images (the bombardment)… was right up my alley. I felt like the pioneer that suddenly discovered old time religion… out behind my house, in my own backyard. Mary Baker Eddy? John Smith? L. Ron Hubbard? Maybe. Sort of. Maybe my “page” could be a new religion.
Walt Disney Vs. Mark Zuckerberg.
Zip A Dee Do Da.
The whole Instagram experience felt friendly. All I needed to exercise its “gospel” was my thin pocket size phone. And… and this is the best part… I could do it anywhere, any time, and under any circumstances.
Getting kicked off Instagram for posting Spiritual America was strange and confusing. I felt betrayed. I know there was nothing promised, but I felt cheated. I was happy sharing my work, my snaps, my pics. I enjoyed posting pictures of my own artwork and artworks by other artists. At times it felt like curating. Other times it felt like consulting (The offices of Holzer, Prince, Fend, Fitzgibbons, Nadin and Winters). Other times it felt like a journey, where one image led to another. Once when I was “surfing” Google and typed in the word “maps”… I received images of the Bermuda triangle (a place that’s been described as a giant whirlpool). It wasn’t what I asked for and it wasn’t what I expected. But this unexpected “gift” was something that I recognized and picked up on and “filed” away. I received all kinds of variations of the “area.” Some simply a colored triangle with three points covering the territory, others, just a geometric abstract shape. I felt like Christopher Columbus (“sailed around a sea without a compass”). None of this would of ever happened in 1985. There was no magazine out there called The Bermuda Triangle. Google is a complete set of encyclopedias from A to Z. (Two questions: where do they get all this information? And who provides it all?) Google is Good Revolution.
It seemed to me too, that no one owned any of this information (Or even cared for that matter, who it belonged to). It was all there for the taking. And whatever you wanted to organize or filter, was yours for free, (for all). Maybe this excitement was just me experiencing what I used to feel back in the late seventies. (Pirating). Or maybe it was me keeping up to date… going with what I thought was the beat of the times. Asking permission has always been an interruption. Waiting for a green light, always a hassle…
Old dog. New tricks.
My new “shingle” might change from wood to pixels but it’s still going to say, “practicing without a license.”
Spiritual America… a brief background… or maybe not so brief…
The image started out as a news story in the New York Post. This was spring 1983. For a week a story appeared in the Post about how Brooke Shields’s mother didn’t want certain images of her daughter coming out, published in the form of posters. The “posters” in question were being put out by a photographer, Gary Gross, and Shields’s mother had hired powerful lawyers and sent Gross cease and desist orders and threaten to sue him if he tried to “cash in” on her daughter’s “new found fame.” The posters were shots of Brooke Shields semi-naked when she was ten, maybe eleven years old. (Shields was now a freshman, eighteen, and enrolled in Princeton). Gross had taken the shots of Brooke when she was a young unknown child model and had included a couple of the photographs from the “session” in a self-published “brochure” titled “Little Women” that he put out to promote his business. The brochure had been around for eight years and included other “young” models… and it occurred to Gross, that now that Shields had become well-known… maybe he could make a bit of cash off the photographs.
Cut to the chase…
(And it’s literally a chase).
I GOT TO THINKING…
That the photographs the POST was talking about might be the most expensive photographs in the world. (Yes, I know… it was strange thing have entered my head). But what with the lawsuit and the fact that Gross had already paid for the production of the posters and that maybe he was thinking he was sitting on some kind of “gold mine”… I don’t know, the idea of “expensive” was what came to mind. What can I say? It was my first thought about the whole “argument.” And the funny thing was, there were no “pictures” of what they were arguing about. The Post wasn’t publishing any of Gross’s photos of the ten year old Brooke so it was impossible for an interested party like myself to really know what they were fighting over.
This “story” went on for two weeks.
Page two, sometimes page three.
The next step, for me at least, was “to see” what all the fuss was about. Without a visual reference I had no way of telling who was right, who was wrong. Money? Reputation? Who knows what the fuck the “pie” and all it’s “slices” were about. (“Slice of pie” is a quote from one of the stories).
Up to now everything seemed clandestine. Cold war. Paranoid. Skeletons in a closet. Bad penny. I needed a picture instead of words. I needed visual proof.
I needed the pudding.
I called a friend who worked at Art & Commerce, a photo based business that repped commercial and fashion photographers, and asked her if she could get me access to Grosse’s photographs.
She said, “yes… but you can only hold onto the material for eight hours. Meet me at the corner of Prince and West Broadway this evening and get what I’m going to give you back in the morning. And under no circumstances tell anyone who you got this stuff from.”
I followed her instructions.
Front of Spiritual America, by Richard Prince. New York, Kim Fine, 1983.
Front of Spiritual America, by Richard Prince. New York, Kim Fine, 1983.
The meeting on the corner of West Broadway and Prince, under the streetlight, felt a little like a scene out of the Third Man. I felt like Harry Lime. Instead of dealing penicillin I was dealing black-market photographs.
My friend handed me a small publication.
She said that in the “booklet,” were two “examples” of the photographs that Brooke’s mother had put a “gag order” on.
“Sorry there’s not more…it’s all I could get a hold of.”
“You’re the best,” I said.
I went back to my apartment on E.12th St. and hurriedly opened the envelope. The small publication was in fact called… Little Women. And in it, contained several images of young girls made up to look older. (All of the girls were around nine, ten and dressed and styled to look around eighteen). Some of them looked like “tarts.” I didn’t really have much of a reaction paging thru the book. I didn’t understand why Gross would think that these kinds of images would help promote his business. (Then again I didn’t know what business Gross was promoting). I turned the pages and there it was on the second to the last page. There was Brooke standing in a tub completely naked with her arms outstretched like she was Jesus on the cross… her boy body oiled and shiny, with just the tinniest bit of make-up on her cheeks and rouge on her lips. The image hit me. It was “alive.” Where did it come from? Who was its maker? It wasn’t born. It was fully formed. There was no history to the image, no future. Independent and on its own… free from any and all authorship. It was as if the “look” on Brooke’s face knew secrets I would never begin to understand. She knew. What did she know? It didn’t matter. It was enough to know that this photograph knew everything.
She was standing in what looked to be steam. The steam surrounded the lower parts of her body and almost functioned as some kind of airbrush below her navel. There were a couple of Erte sculptures next to the tub. (I would find out later that the gallery that had already published Gross’s posters and wanted to promote and sell the posters, represented by Erte’s estate. And that Brooke’s mother was a customer of this gallery and collected Erte. The connections were getting a little tricky, tangled, and hard to believe).
So this was what they were talking about. That was my second reaction to the photograph. This was what all the “hub-bub” was about. I got it. And of course I agreed. This was a “complicated” photograph. This no longer had anything to do with money or censorship or even embarrassment. For me this photograph had to do with the medium and how the medium can get out of hand. How it can flip-out. Get strange and weird and crazy and exciting. How it can satisfy and become something desired. How an image can take on a life of its own and start to make up its own story.
I re-photographed the image that evening. I opened the “pamphlet,” spread the pages and pinned them to a box that I had built which hung on a wall, and positioned my two forty watt light bulbs on either side of the box and put a roll of tungsten color slide film in my 35mm camera and put the camera on my tri-pod and shot away.
Looking thru the lens, the viewfinder, and cropping out everything but the image is what re-photography is all about. It’s hard to explain the sensation of what you see thru the camera when your looking at another photograph or a flat two-dimensional image that’s on its own page. The camera wraps around what you’re looking at. You almost feel the camera become animated. Like a cartoon. The hardware starts to breathe and think. It’s no longer made out of metal. It’s as if the hardness turns to tissue. Instead of you, it’s the camera that’s alive. The wrapping of the camera OWNS what you’re looking at. I guess I could talk about how the camera, the apparatus, sexualizes what you’re looking at… but even then, it wouldn’t begin to explain the relationship between the eye and what the eye is “covering.” COVERING. That’s the best I can come up with. The best way to describe the process. You start to stare. You get sucked in and have an unlimited amount of time to be “present.” The fact that the image you’re re-photographing is still and sits there silently and doesn’t move gives you the opportunity to stare as long as you like. You can even walk away and come back an hour later and what you see thru the lens is exactly the same as what you saw earlier the first time you looked. There’s no “moment” with re-photography. There’s only focus and what you focus on is guaranteed.
Unlike now, with the iPhone, I re-wound the roll of slide film and sent it to my lab the next morning and waited till the afternoon to have the film “developed.” In the mean time I returned Gross’s brochure back to Art & Commerce and thanked my friend. “Did you get what you were looking for?” she asked. “Did I get what I was looking for?”, I asked right back… I said, “Yes, I got it”… not wanting to let on exactly what I got… then added almost involuntarily… “And then some.”
The next afternoon…
Removing the slides from their plastic container and spreading them out on the light box is the best part. Re-photography removes the surprise from the equation but there’s always something unexpected, “exciting” about seeing the 35mm chrome in its cardboard mount… it’s like crossing a finishing line or getting to cut a ceremonial ribbon. (It’s the beginning and the end in the same moment). Moving them around on the box with the light underneath the transparency never gets tired and putting them into piles of goods, almosts and exactlys is something I’ve always felt good at doing. (I have to add… I never throw out a slide. I keep every single one. The in and out of focus, the overexposed, the total blur… the ones where only half the image is in the frame, the ones where you say… ahh fuck… that sucks. The ones covered with dust and hairs. The ones that are almost all black and have what looks to be yellow burn at the edge. I keep them all).
I edit pretty quickly and usually arrive at picking the best of the bunch without much of a problem.
The next step is to look at the choice thru a loop… kind of like examining a diamond. I choose what I think will transfer to paper and frame “flawlessly” and slip the slide into tissue and the put the tissue into a plastic sleeve.
I’ve already decided that “this image” of Brooke Shields has to go back to the lab immediately, to be proofed and blown up. I want an 8 x 10” print as soon as possible. (Of course if it was today I’d put “the image” on my computer and I would send it directly to my own ink jet printer and print it immediately).
(But this isn’t Superfly… this is the Flintstones).
As soon as I get the 8 x 10 back, (usually takes at least forty-eight hours depending on how busy the lab is), I live with the proof for a week and decide… THIS IS THE IMAGE I WANT FOR MY NEXT SHOW. I know it’s the one. The one image I can truly say that I’ve never seen before.
“It’s art instead of nature”
It’s the first thing I say to them after I unwrap the package that’s holding Brooke.
They look confused.
The “they” are the owners of Metro Pictures.
I’m represented by Metro Pictures and have been since they first opened up in 1980. They’ve just moved to a giant space on Greene St. Five times as big as the their first gallery on Mercer. (Five times more overhead). And when I show them the image and explain my idea of showing just this… the 8 x 10” photograph of Brooke Shields on one of their walls of their giant new gallery they look at each other and tell me… well… let’s just say they say, “impossible.”
(I don’t blame them. It’s what I expected. Rejection. I’m actually kind of relieved).
So what do I do now?
The only thing I can do is leave the gallery.
And I mean LEAVE.
I tell them I no longer want to be in the gallery and they agree. (I don’t think it’s a big disappointment for them. At the time nothing was going on for me. And what the art world was into I wasn’t exactly in).
It’s not my time. Wait your turn. That’s what I try telling myself. But of course this doesn’t help. It never does. Waiting around for other people to catch up isn’t something I need or can control. I’m like every other artist. Now is what I want.
Obscurity isn’t something I’m prepared for.
What am I supposed to do?
Get back in line?
Maybe I’m in the wrong line.
I go back to my apartment and pin the photograph of Brooke to the wall. It belongs to me. I’ve claimed it and as long as it’s on my wall I call it mine.
A late Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
I run into a girl on the street who’s with my friend Robin Winters. (Robin being the reluctant good king artist). Her name is Kimberly Fine. She’s with Robin and her mother and she’s been in town exactly four days. She’s from the mid-west and how she hooked up with Robin I don’t know. But she’s one of those girls. The kind they used to call an “it” girl. She has whatever an “it” girl is supposed to have. That intangible persona of “not minding what is false but missing what is true.” I don’t know… it’s not like she needed to audition. The catbird seat? She kind of was already sitting in it.
She was dressed in an “outfit” that looked like she had worn it from the night before. Hard to describe, but it was like something out of a “wardrobe,” a one time movie dress specifically made for Grace Kelly. (Except for my mother, I don’t think I’d ever been next to a girl who wore a slip).
She’s come to New York to zero in on the art world and by the end of the week she’s added it all up. She’s made the scene. She was already past Patty Astor, Gracie Mansion, Tina L’Hotsky.
We get to know each other.
We hang out.
We visit the Met.
We stand in front of a photograph by Stieglitz.
It’s a photograph of a crotch of a gelded horse.
The horse is harnessed.
The crotch of the horse is cropped tight so that the only thing you see is what used to be the “privates” of the horse. I look at the explanation next to the photo and see that the title says “Spiritual America.”
That’s pretty “heavy.”
That’s my initial reaction.
An additional reaction is “come on”… or… REALLY?…“Your kidding, right?”.
No, the title wasn’t kidding.
It says it right there on the wall.
It means SOMETHING.
The title isn’t poetry or drift. It wasn’t “made up” by some wordsmith trying get inside your head, making you feel dumb and unfounded.
Stieglitz wouldn’t do that.
Spiritual America sounds PROFOUND.
It also sounds PERFECT.
“That’s what I want to title my new photograph,” I tell Kimberly.
She’s seen the photo of Brooke and agrees.
She tells me the body of the girl in the photograph, (she’s quick to start referring to Brooke as the “girl in the photo”)… is like the beauty of the horse. Her sexuality is “either, or.” She’s “not girl, not boy not child, not adult.” “She’s everything.”
Who do you love?
I ask Kimberly for a favor.
Can I show “the girl” in your apartment and can you act like you’re running a gallery?
Kimberly was subletting a storefront space on Rivington St. just off the Bowery, and when I visited her, I immediately thought that the place would make a good gallery.
“We’ll call the place Spiritual America too.”
The whole thing… the photograph, the gallery, it will all be Spiritual America. (As far as “bearding” for the gallery, Kimberly’s “persona” lit up. After I asked she said, “not only will I front, but I’ll play it like a pro”).
Rivington St. was full of junkies.
It was “even lower” Manhattan.
There were NO galleries around. No hot or cool spots to sit and have a coffee or a beer.
This was the other side of the Bowery.
The east side.
It was dark, dirty, dangerous.
(I would find out three years later, after I left Rivington, that Colin De Land lived right next door. He was squatting in a tenement).
We cleaned up the front of the store… fresh coat of paint, a few more lights, blacked out the windows and printed up an invitation which said… By Richard Prince A Photograph of Brooke Shields by Gary Gross.
(I thought about the wording a lot. I wanted to describe exactly what I was showing).
We printed the description with white letters on a black background. (The card was postcard size). One the back of the card in the upper left hand corner we added the name of the gallery and its address.
We set an opening date in early September. (‘83)
I decided to present the 8 x 10” of Brooke in an oversize matte with a “gold” frame and attach one of those museum lights to the top of the frame. (This light would be the only source of light when the piece went on display. The rest of the gallery would remain dark). I wanted the photograph to look normal. I wanted the presentation to be normal. (Like I said before in a short story… “Normality as the next special effect”). I didn’t think I had to add whistles and bells to the image. The “normalization” would settle down some of the craziness of the subject. It would help guide the image thru some of its initial shock and instead, help plug-in some of that “perfect stuff” I wanted people to see.
We drew up two guests lists. (I still have them). I’m not sure why there were two. Friends? Enemies? I don’t remember. Our “tactics” were partly based on how Malcolm McLaren handled the publicity for the Sex Pistols. Not caring who showed up, or for that matter, if anybody showed up… was right out of the punk impresario’s playbook. We printed up two invitations. We sent out the first invitation with a “wrong” opening date. This first invitation, the one that we sent out to most our “guests,” was dated the night before the show opened. When these guests showed up, the doors were closed. The second invitation, the one with the “right” date, we never sent. So at the real opening, nobody showed up. Or, just as our inspiration (from Malcolm) figured, hardly anybody showed up.
Word of mouth?
If anybody stopped by during the run of the exhibit we gave the invitation away after they stopped. A keepsake. A token. A coupon. Our gratitude. Maybe this is why, even now, I’ve never seen these “invitations” floating out there in the world of collectibles. . It’s ephemera. A throw-a-way. I have one. And I’ve seen another.
We ignored all press requests, (not that there were many to ignore). And we didn’t allow anybody who worked for art magazines to come by and check the show out. (I’m not sure how we recognized these magazine people but mostly we sussed out anybody who had pen and paper and looked like they’d never been below 14th St.) It was a stupid “point of view”… this “attitude” about publicity… but we thought that art was done in private for the private. The truth? I was a snob.
We had a slight problem with lawyers.
Richard Golub, who represented Brooke’s mother, threatened us with a cease and desist order. I didn’t pay much attention to the order. What was he going to sue me for? In 1983 I owned half a stereo.
There was a rumor that Brooke’s mother pulled up to one of the openings in a limo but I can’t say she did. I wasn’t at either opening.
We left the “installation” up for seven, eight weeks?
There wasn’t a single mention of what we did in any newspaper or magazine. (Our sussing worked).
And to my knowledge there’s never been a single photograph of Spiritual America, the space… the opening, the outside, the inside… nothing. I don’t think it occurred to me or Kimberly to “document” the event. I’m not sure why. We just didn’t think about adding another layer.
The lack of documentation is like a joke that keeps on getting told. And in the telling, it changes. I’ve never seen any photo of anything to do with the space and that creates a kind of rarity for me. I have the memory… that’s what I have. Usually I wouldn’t ask, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Spiritual America didn’t sell.
After the show I hung the photo back at my apartment.
What really happened as a result of showing the image was fallout.
I was no longer welcome.
The image created tension.
Lines were drawn… over what it meant, what it suggested, what it might or might not represent.
One woman critic who had been a supporter and friend stopped talking to me. She had written an essay for me when I had shown in Lyon at Le Nouveau Musee and told me that showing this image was wrong and that I should take it down and apologize. (I asked her to whom, but like I say, she stopped talking to me). What this image “imagined”… fucked up.
For me, the image was about what photography was about. How the medium functioned. What could happen after you take it, shoot it, make an exposure. How you really couldn’t control what a photograph was capable of doing. It wasn’t a painting. It wasn’t an impression. Photography had built in codes, factors. It was, for the most part, non-fiction. It was evidence. You BELIEVED a photograph.
Under An Assumed Name.
This image… this naked girl/boy/woman had all the necessary ingredients to live inside a new world. It was “psychologically hopped up.” It came into this life fully formed. On its own. It didn’t have an author and it didn’t belong to anybody. This one image satisfied all that I had been looking for. It was on a cliff. Existing in a grey dream. It could go either way. It was fluid. It wasn’t part of any group. It didn’t have any affiliation. There was no “school” you could slot it into. An image like this wasn’t supposed to exist.
I think too, the naming it helped define it. Put it in a context and created a circumstance around it, and change it from what it had been in the first place. The name put it in a “second place.” I mean, what was it supposed to be? A poster? And what did I do with it?
I WENT ALL THE WAY.
I eventually gave the 8×10” of Spiritual America to Myer Viceman. Frame and all.
In 1987, after I joined up with Barbara Gladstone, I editioned it. Ten copies and two APs. I had my lab print it on ektacolor paper at 20 x 24”. The first one I sold, was to Stephan, my plumber friend and drummer for the Glenn Branca band. I sold it to him for a hundred dollars and some plumbing work. A couple of years later, I heard he sold that copy to Jay Gorney for four grand. Ten years after that Myer Viceman sold the original 8 x 10” back to Barbara Gladstone for two hundred thousand dollars. Then the 8 x 10” sold to Per Skarsted and later he made a special room for it, (all alone… painted the walls red) and showed it at Art Basel and sold it to Michael Ringier for one million dollars. A couple of years ago Michael lent it to the Tate Modern for some POP show organized by Alison Gingeras and Jack Bankowsky and it was “confiscated” by the London police. The Tate didn’t do much protesting… they caved in to the “authorities” and let them cart it away. It was never re-hung at the Tate and it was eventually returned to Michael Ringier. (Last I heard, Michael lives with Spiritual America in his home outside of Zurich).
About twenty minutes ago my friend Bill Powers sent me the link to a New York magazine story that just came out about my getting kicked off Instagram because I posted the original Spiritual America. I haven’t read the story but no matter how hard I try, I can’t get back on Instagram. I’ve spent the afternoon trying to get back but after a couple of hours of noodling the keys and not remembering passwords, I give up. I’ve heard once they kick you off it’s impossible to get back on. They cut you off. Erase you. You’re gone. Banished. Out of the club. For good.
Three Days Of The Condor.
(For those that aren’t familiar with this movie… its hero survives because he reads books for the CIA. In other words, the hero lives because he has book knowledge).
Three days after I’m sacked, I’m back on Instagram.
I’m not sure.
I heard the reporter from New York Magazine called Instagram and asked for “a comment” about why they kicked me off. I’m not sure what they told him.
All I know…
I received an email thru my assistant Jane from Instagram and it said:
It has come to our attention that your account on Instagram has violated our Community Guidelines, which can be found here: http://j.mp/rswUWS
In short, we ask that you:
Don’t share photos that aren’t yours.
Don’t share photos that show nudity or mature content.
Don’t share photos of illegal content.
We value these guidelines, and believe that they will help keep Instagram a safe & fun place for everyone. It is important to note that continuing to violate them may result in a disabled account, or discontinued access to Instagram without warning.
The Instagram Team
The day after receiving the above notice I received an additional notice.
You may have recently had trouble accessing your Instagram account. We’re sorry for the inconvenience, and you should be able to log in now. The issue we were having hasn’:t affected your photos.
The Instagram Team
(All rights reserved. Text and images @ Richard Prince courtesy of Fulton Ryder.)
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The post REVIEW: Michael Schmelling – “Land Line” (2014) appeared first on AMERICAN SUBURB X.]]>
By Ellen Wallenstein, review of Land Line for ASX, April 2014
Land Line by Michael Schmelling is the photographer’s third volume published by J&L Books. Jason Fulford, the principal of J&L, is a quirky, brilliant man. His choice of artists, books and publications is very particular and peculiar. In his own and others’ work, his forte is gathering groups of photographs that by themselves could be considered meaningless, but when cobbled together and paginated become wry commentary. This is certainly the case in this latest venture, which was designed by both photographer and publisher.
The title might refer to our atavistic telephone system or some sort of rescue equipment. Or, as Wikipedia puts it “a connection between two or more points… (with) survivability and security”.
This book is about memory and cognition, with a large measure of visual humor that threads its way through the chapters. Schmelling took photographs at two USA Memory Championships in New York; at the International Olympiad for Informatics in Ontario; at a barbershop in Atlanta; aboard a federal prisoners’ transport plane; at a Medical Marijuana Business Seminar, an ESL School, and of a famous Hollywood actor. A lot of these photographs are of people thinking, trying to remember, memorizing, forgetting, questioning and interpreting. Many of the subjects seem unaware of the camera.
Reading Land Line is like solving a crossword puzzle- it needs to be perused, looked at again and again as mental connections are made. As in a crossword puzzle the answers to the clues don’t come all at once- only after several passes do we associate and re-member and re-connect and fill in the blanks. And like a crossword puzzle the answers connect to form an interlocking grid with spaces in between. There are several blank pages in the book, pauses that separate images and sections and give one a chance to reflect on what was just seen. The sum is greater than its parts.
Schmelling begins and ends the book with the USA Memory Championships, where people memorize and spit back random sequences of numbers, words and cards. This first series of pictures are one to a page, beginning with an image of a man who is a doppelganger of the publisher himself. This same man appears near the end in the last sequence of photographs, taken at the earlier convention; he appears four times in both sequences. (I enjoy the joke here, if I’ve gotten it, as well as the portrait of the Hollywood actor, who is none other than Kevin Bacon, of “Six-Degrees-Of” fame).
These first USA Memory Championships photographs are followed by images from the International Olympiad for Informatics, in Ontario. This contest has to do with code and coalescence. The sequence starts with full-page vertical portraits of various teenagers with all but two concentrating on something outside of the frame, and ends with two horizontal photographs of groups of teenage boys of varying ethnicities. These are good portraits.
Next there’s an interlude –an uninteresting still life – a chess board, cigarettes, potato chips in a ziplock bag, a beige plastic bag and a newspaper. It looks like it could have been made in some sort of waiting room. (I think this image is from Atlanta, but it’s hard to tell.)
Then, we find ourselves on a transport plane with prisoners, where we are shown various details (ankle and wrist shackles) but no specific faces. There are, however, close-ups of the backs of heads, with obvious scars and tattoos. In comparison there is a similar photo in the next section of the book, which features people at medical marijuana business seminar. In that sequence we see a similar view of the back of a man’s head but his crew-cut looks soft, smooth and innocent.
The people seeming to have the most fun are those at the marijuana convention (not known for good memory skills). This event is an exchange rather than a competition; they wear nametags and look to be to enjoying interacting. One of the salesmen (who appears twice) is William Loman (Get it?). The last photo from this sequence features a shiny red attaché case, which we assume is filled with Product.
From the marijuana convention we go to a section of quite wonderful portraits of teenagers at an ESL School. These vertical ¾ views feature boys and girls dressed up in costumes seemingly chosen from a box of unusual clothing and props. A crown is used in different ways by four of the teenagers; a few pose in the same cape and jacket, in different configurations. The oddest figure here is a black boy wearing a fluffy white beard holding a picture of the Mona Lisa; equally eccentric is a boy in a blue jacket and a cardboard hat, channeling his Inner Napoleon.
Following these kids is the portrait of Kevin Bacon (the 7th section!). He is wearing a black leather jacket, hair askew, looking calmly at the camera. This image appears to be the punchline before the Coda, the second group of photos from an earlier Memory Championship. This time the photographs are presented two to a page, forming interlocking grids of four. The last photo is a small rather blurry photo of the winner of that championship, holding his trophy and wiping his forehead while the three surrounding judges ignore him.
Memory flows back and forth as references are made. Remembering is not always a narrative process, though separate sequences read coherently. How are the expressions of concentration on the faces of the people at the marijuana convention similar to or different from those at the memory contests? How are the faces of the teens at the International Olympiad in Informatics similar or different from their counterparts at the Memory Olympics or the ESL kids? Everyone appears intent on remembering, or at least not forgetting.
Photographs that at first glance seemed banal, in combination and with repetition become fascinating. Continual readings heighten this sensation. There is a sense of accomplishment in solving the riddles and puzzles and getting the jokes. Pieced together in the mind, the photographs are humorous and compelling, but not really remarkable.
Ellen Wallenstein is a photographer, writer and Professor of Art. She teaches at Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts, in NYC.
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Profile of acclaimed photographer Tom Wood. Tom has taken photographs almost every day for the past 40 years, mainly around the streets, workplaces and nightspots of Merseyside. Hugely respected in the photography world, his work is a unique record of British working class life and in recent years he has gained increasing recognition. In summer 2013 Tom visited Mayo in the west of Ireland, where he was born, and the film documents his encounters whilst photographing the landscape and the people for a new book.
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