wonderlust photoworks – [↑] After Walker Evans’ Main Street Ossining, New York, 1932 (2018); [↖] After Joel Meyerowitz’s Movie Theater Booth, Times Square, New York City, 1963 (2018); [↗] After Bruce Davidson’s People Sunbathing in Central Park, New York City, USA 1992 (2018); [+] After Lee Friedlander’s New York, 1966 (2018); [↙] After Garry Winogrand’s Untitled from Women are Beautiful, 1971 (2018); [↘] After Robert Franks’ Elevator, Miami Beach, 1955 {commonly referred to by both the artist and the art world as ‘Elevator Girl’} (2018)

I was already souring on street photography in general but with the reality of a sexual predator being elected president of the US, the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, I’ve been thinking a lot about why street photography (in generally) and men who take creepy photos of women without their informed, verbal consent (specifically) are not something we should continue to accept uncritically.

With the recent life-time SCOTUS appointment of a mediocre white man, who continues to face credible allegations of sexual predation, this project has been my way of coping with a lot of complicated emotions–both as a femme person and the survivor of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Another precipitating factor was having someone in my program (a white, cis-het dude) surreptitiously taking photos of me without asking for and receiving my consent to do so. (This is also the same fucker who contextualized his own work along the trajectory from Walker Evans to William Eggleston to Alec Soth and mentioned Dorothea Lange as nothing more than a footnotes to his revered Evans.)

(Further: in the process of making this work, I’ve realized through extensive self-reflection that my own experience is that men take photos of me assuming permission, whereas women always ask first.)

In the tradition of feminist appropriation art (esp. Sherrie Levine), I’ve incorporated aspects from Jenny Holzer aphoristic work and the Guerrilla Girls protest art and applied feminist slogans as text interventions to sacrosanct, iconic examples of creepy, entitled work made by men that continues to be widely praised but really should not be.

This project is aware of the current conversations surrounding controversial historical monuments and the complicated discourse surrounding problematic works and makers embodied with greater or lesser success of the symbolic ‘cancellation’ of Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs by the Manchester Art Gallery as well as Emma Sulkawicz’s recent performances questioning how to deal with problematic men in art.

Not included in this post but included in the upcoming exhibition will be a critique of my own admittedly limited street photographic practice.

And to avoid being a lazy progressive, I will also suggest options for respecting consent and personal autonomy that could perhaps still fit within the street photographic tradition in ways which minimize objectification and exploitation.

This project is titled Let Us Never Again Praise Exploitative Men. It is dedicated to Artemesia Gentileschi.

Nicola BensleyLeap, Amanda Dufour in Westbourne Grove (2016)

I really, really effing adore this image.

Upon first glance, it sends my brain skittering in two diametrically opposed direction. On the one hand, it’s obviously a work of pastiche–riffing on both Klein’s infamous Le Saut dans le vide and HC-B’s hyper-stylized staging as a form of invoking a sense of unmediated immediacy a la Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare.

Yet, what’s notable is that the viewer doesn’t have to be even passingly familiar with either image to fundamentally appreciate the dynamic and compelling sense of physicality captured in the scene. (One of the things I feel that capital A Art has lost is a certain baseline accessibility. Recall Renaissance oil painting: there were intensely rigorous examinations of perspective, implicit critiques of religion and sexuality, double-edged political satire but also the work centered around themes and/or narratives that could be immediately apprehended by any one of the populace that encountered them–regardless of education or lack thereof. In other words, ‘high art’ was codified as emerging from something not entirely unlike the lingua franca.

That’s not to say there aren’t small criticisms to be lobbed at this image. The contrast has been dialed up a bit but in the process there’s this sort of weird juxtaposition between expansion and compression of space–the shadowed traffic signals pop out against the white facade behind them, creating a sense of distance between the two things. Yet, the dark pants of the two men standing in front of the dark van waiting for the signal to safely cross the street are compressed.

Dufour’s right hip and leg also lack separation from the background, yet the limited brightness on the back of her leg creates this strange push and pull, which contributes a further surreal effect to her levitation.

In truth, this image teeters precariously on not working. The reason it does hinges partly on the relationship between Dufour and her shadow.

The other, arguably bigger part is the way the up tilt of the camera exaggerates the sense of Dufour levitating instead of jumping at the perfect moment.

I have some additional thoughts that I can’t quite fit to words just now. But I really like the uptilt of the camera in this. I am usual very much a stickler for squaring verticals with the frame edge; however, there is a compositional justification for the decision here which demonstrates a ridiculously incisive understanding of the dynamics of framing a scene in order to parse visual information in such a way to convey a specific sense to the viewer.

It’s unfortunate that Bensley website is so horridly constructed–’cause her work is actually sterling and she’s doing so excellent and exciting analog photographic work.

Vivian MaierUntitled (1971)

Finding Vivian Maier isn’t just enthralling, it’s an exceptionally well-orchestrated documentary that is crucial viewing for anyone who is passionate about photography. (If you haven’t seen it already, please do.)

After watching it I was left with a number of questions: was Maier perhaps on the autism spectrum? To what extent is her work improved by Maloof’s posthumous curation? How did this woman who was–by all accounts absolutely awful at dealing with other people–produces such luminous and humane images?

But this image makes me drop those questions in favor of an imaginative flight of fancy:

A year before this image of was made, William Eggleston captured an image of a very similar looking young woman. Recently, Bryan Schumaat produced an image clearly intended to mirror Eggleston’s but that draws Maier’s image into more intimate dialogue with the other two.

It’s clearly not the same person–just a reflection of similar trends in fashion, similar predilections in image makers. (Although the same woman never aging and being photographed throughout the ages would make a wonderful premise for a sci-fi/fantasy story, no?)

I recently received a comment from an anon claiming that I was entirely too ‘self-satisfied’ considering the effect of prevailing intellectual trends in forming my notions. Generally, I do my damnedest not to feed trolls. And in spite of the fact that the fair response would’ve been have you bothered to read anything I’ve written? I’m pretty upfront about the deleterious effect of academnification on my brain. I call myself on it regularly.

I think less the question and more the statement these images make–whether they meant to or not–about the objective limits of originality in creative expression. Meaning and understanding function as a result of convention, after all.

Garry WinograndNew York 1969

I would never dispute Al Pacino’s skill as an actor; I just don’t really ever respond to his performances– perhaps that’s the virtue. (Bear with me; I promise this comes back around to the image.)

Pacino is one of those actor’s actors–a notion I find intolerably snobbish, as if someone were saying you need to know something about what it takes to be an actor in order to understand.

Something not unlike being a photographer’s photographer–minus the snobbery–is true of Winogrand.

Saying I was initially nonplussed by his work would be putting it nicely. It seemed too random, chaotic and unpolished. I remember thinking anyone could have shot these.

For nothing else than my perpetual tossing around of that famous Picasso quote in defense of the modernists, this sentiment should have set off alarms.

Alas, I remained off put by Winogrand until a dear friend showed me this image recently.

I’d never delved deeply enough to have encountered it. The precise composition– the couple kissing, the smoldering cigarette pinched between fingers, the Tortilla Factory sign, the what-are-you-looking-at-motherfucker glare and the go-ahead-and-watch-you-motherfucker glance–made my head explode a little. The image appears almost accidental, unmediated.

You know that moment when you glance at something and look away without really seeing it? And suddenly, the scene registers and you have to do a double take to make sure you saw what you thought you did. This photo is a photographic approximation of that first seeing but unseeing glance. It inspires an instinct to look back at the image again to see if what you think you saw is what you really saw. 

That is really what makes this image so extraordinary. The skill of the photographer is on display only to the extent that the camera is no longer an extension of the eye but the eye itself. It’s all so vital, so gleefully transgressive.

Clearly, my initial estimation of Winogrand was wrong. I don’t necessarily like all his work. But I can appreciate it and I do get what all the fuss is about now.

I don’t like being wrong. But the wonderful thing about admitting your mistakes is that little else motivates learning and growth quite as effectively.