Harry Gruyaert – Title Unknown (1966)
My dalliances with photography began out of a certain degree of misdirection.
Long story short: I took a film-making course in college to see if I could successfully complete a film that was (by some miracle) not unwatchable. Next I knew: I was a film-making kid.
Initially, my interest was directing. However, increasingly, I gravitated towards the cinematography side of things. (If you’ve ever questioned why I am so vehemently anti-digital, I learned both platforms side-by-side and was thus able to experience first hand the possibilities/limitations of either–digital is just awful if/when analog is an option.)
The reason I ended up shooting still images was less my being proactive due to the cost of shooting 24 frames per second on film and truthfully more to do with the fact that I have an outsize problem with authority and I repeatedly ran afoul of The Powers That Be™ in my film program/institution.
Cut off from access to school equipment, I purchased a Nikon 8008s and a circa 1960s Nikkor 50mm f1.4 lens.
I mention all of this to illustrate a point. Yes, I have absolutely benefited from an albeit short-lived but thoroughly academic indoctrination to so-called fine art photography. But that arrived subsequent to a period of autodidactic exploration.
Often folks find my ideas and approach to be heavily skewed in favor of underground/outsider work. Such is not a rebellion against my late-in-the-day academnification (or not only that); I spent those first two or three years trying to find stuff I thought was cool on Flickr.
The flip side of that background is there are still large swaths of historically significant photographers that I know seriously fuck all about.
I’d never heard of Gruyaert until early this week. His work is effing stunnning. I could follow the thread of his work down the line to Storm Thorgerson and Monika Bulaj; but, what I feel is more interesting is to compare his work–entirely contemporaneous with William Eggleston’s first divergences in color.
As fond as I am of Eggleston, I realized–and this is entirely in keeping with a theory I have regarding Eggleston; namely he was a Balthus level pervert (and pervert is a word like ‘slut’ that I think needs to be reclaimed already) who never managed to figure out how to make peace with who he was–his work fetishizes color; his dye transfer prints are fetish objects.
Gruyaert, on the other hand, uses color to abstract, highlight shape and/or form.
As great as the work is, it seemed like something I’d never get to showcase here. Then this afternoon I stumbled on the above image. It was featured in a showcase of 14 Magnum Photographers explaining what image of their own making proved to be the A-ha! moment that propelled them to the next level.
Here’s Gruyaert on the above image:
In 1966, I was losing my girlfriend, to her new lover. So, I decided
to make a movie about her and him, hoping that, when she would see the
result, she would understand how much I loved her. Filming her, I was
able to create distance. I became less vulnerable. I understood her and
myself better. I was able to let her go.This became an important thing
in my photography, to be less there and more there at the same time.