Source: Douglas Wilson’s Flickr set, Hand dryers from around the world.
Source: Douglas Wilson’s Flickr set, Hand dryers from around the world.
This piece, entitled “Full Financial Disclosure,” is from a collection of Chris Burden TV commercials that aired during the wee small hours of the morning, mixed in with those delightful Cal Worthington Ford and Zachary All spots on various Los Angeles television stations, from 1973 to 1977. Burden explains: “During the early seventies I conceived a way to break the omnipotent stranglehold of the airwaves that broadcast television had. The solution was to simply purchase commercial advertising time and have the stations play my tapes along with their other commercials.” The entire series can be viewed at UbuWeb.
Two significant artifacts or two-lane blacktop events that came to mind immediately after posting our piece, Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip”: Plotting a motorized city, paper route style the other day was the similarity between Jack Kerouac’s (1951) 120-foot-long rant, Robert Rauschenberg’s (1953) 23-foot-long tire track, and Ed Ruscha’s (1966) 25-foot-long survey.
First a brief history of the Kerouac manuscript for On the Road. Kerouac produced the single-spaced text without commas or paragraph breaks on one massive continuous scroll in only three weeks. The 120-foot-long player-piano-like (Jelly) roll (Morton) was created by taping semi-translucent paper together and feeding it through his “That’s not writing, it’s typing” 1928 Underwood Portable typewriter. But oh what a typist he was; according to legend (or Allen Ginsberg), Kerouac was clocked at speeds approaching 110-120 words per minute on the straightaways and perhaps those speeds can be attributed to the “nearness” of Kerouac to the subject matter.
“His subject was himself and his method was to write as spontaneously as possible…What resulted he would later transcribe for forwarding to his publisher, but never revise, in principle he regarded revision as a form of lying.”
~The New York Times
“I’m just reading what I wrote all night. There are better things coming than what I wrote all night. Straight from the mind to the voice”.
~An excerpt from On The Road, Jack Kerouac Reads On the Road, Rykodisc (1999)
Straight from the mind to the voice. This desire or act of accepting /embracing things for what they are, flaws, flies in the ointment, warts and all, is a reoccurring aspect to Robert Rauschenberg’s work as well. Rauschenberg is perhaps best known for his late 1950s, early 1960s Combines. But for me Rauschenberg’s most significant work besides Erased de Kooning (1953), is his 1953 collaboration with his ‘printer and press’ John Cage entitled “Automobile Tire Print. This 23-foot-long “print” was executed with black house paint, twenty sheets of typewriter paper, and a Model A Ford one weekend on a semi-deserted street in in Lower Manhattan.
Unfortunately it rained. Fortunately it rained. Thankfully it rained. Just by chance it rained and everything was salvaged. Or as Rauschenberg explains in this wonderful 1999 interview at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: ‘And I just poured the paint on the… it rained… and the paste didn’t really hold up too well… yeah I salvaged it all, but anyway it didn’t have to rain… and so I pored it in front and I told John to really… I poured it in front and I told John to drive just as straight as he could you know, be careful, keep going straight you know and John was fascinated by the fact we were doing this and he did a good job.’ Yes a lovely effort indeed.
Unrolling the On The Road scroll:
“On the Road Again with Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank”
Indianapolis Museum of Art – IMA
Jack Kerouac’s Famous Scroll, ‘On the Road’ Again
National Public Radio: All Things Considered
by Andrea Shea
July 5, 2007
See also: “Tire,” by Roy Lichtenstein, which arrived in 1962, nine years after the Rauschenberg/Cage tire track print.
As a follow-up to our recent posts, Sightseeing with Garry Winogrand and On the Road with Garry Winograd, we present the following collective Garry Winogrand interview, Monkeys Make the Problem More Difficult, excerpted from American Suburb X. Originally Published in Image Magazine by George Eastman House – Vol. 15, No. 2, July, 1972. Yes, monkeys DO make the problem more difficult. Especially if, as in the photograph above, they are chimpanzees.
Monkeys Make the Problem More Difficult
A Collective Interview with Garry Winogrand
Rochester Institute of Technology, October 9, 1970.
Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) spent two days in Rochester, New York, in October, 1970. On Friday, the 9th, he was the guest of the Rochester Institute of Technology. On Saturday, the 10th, he visited the Visual Studies Workshop, also in Rochester. The format was identical on both occasions: Winogrand, without comment, showed slides of his latest work and then answered questions from the student audiences. All in all, he talked for over five hours. The following transcript, edited from a tape recording of the proceedings, represents but one idea among the many ideas that were touched on.
STUDENT: I saw a photograph that—there’s a photograph that had “Kodak” and there’s a kid holding a dog—
STUDENT: —and the people kind of wandering in and out. Now, it might be due to my own ignorance or something, but could you give me like a straight answer as to what you’re trying to say in that photograph?
GW: I have nothing to say.
STUDENT: Nothing to say? Then why do you print it?
GW: I don’t have anything to say in any picture.
STUDENT: Why do you print it if it has no meaning?
GW: With that particular picture—ah, I’m interested in the space and I maybe can learn something about photography. That’s what I get from photographs; if I’m lucky, I can learn something.
STUDENT: Then you’re trying to reveal something about space?
GW: I’m not revealing anything.
STUDENT: Then what do you think is the purpose of the photograph if you’re not revealing anything.
GW: My education.
STUDENT: Then what’s the purpose of that? That’s what I’m trying to find out.
GW: That’s the answer. That’s really the answer…
The discussion continued the next day.
STUDENT: Yesterday at R.I.T. somebody asked you what are you trying to say in a certain picture and you said you weren’t trying to say anything. He jumped to the conclusion that it was meaningless and if it was meaningless why did you bother to print it and they seemed very confused about this. Could you tell me what—I think I know what you’re saying and I like it but I—
GW: Tell me.
STUDENT: I can’t tell you, but if you’d do it again I might get a closer idea.
GW: My only interest in photographing is photography. That’s really the answer.
STUDENT: In other words it isn’t social comment, it isn’t ah—
GW: When you photograph—there’s [sic] things in a photograph. Right?
GW: So this can’t help but be a document or whatever you want to call it. It’s automatic. I mean if you photograph a cake of soap, in the package or out of it, it goes without saying—
STUDENT: But that’s not what you’re concerned about. I mean, your concern is photography.
GW: That’s it. And I have to photograph where I am.
STUDENT: If you were somewhere else—if for some reason you went to Arizona or Alaska, would you photograph—
GW: Then that’s what the pictures would look like, whatever those places look like.
STUDENT: Is your choice of subject matter just limited by where you are, by the fact that you live in New York?
GW: Yeah, I mean there are pictures in here from California and some other places, too.
STUDENT: Yeah. But you return to certain things, though, which have more to do than just with place. Like you’ve got a thing about dogs no matter where they are.
GW: Dogs are everyplace.
STUDENT: You’ve got a thing about, say, personal injury.
GW: That has to do with photography—I’m not interested in injuries. Believe me I’m not.
STUDENT: What about the reoccurrence of, say, oh, monkeys which goes back—
GW: Listen, it’s interesting; but it’s interesting for photographic reasons, really.
STUDENT: What are photographic reasons?
GW: Basically, I mean, ah—well, let’s say that for me anyway when a photograph is interesting, it’s interesting because of the kind of photographic problem it states—which has to do with the . . . contest between content and form. And, you know, in terms of content, you can make a problem for yourself, I mean, make the contest difficult, let’s say, with certain subject matter that is inherently dramatic. An injury could be, a dwarf can be, a monkey—if you run into a monkey in some idiot context, automatically you’ve got a very real problem taking place in the photograph. I mean, how do you beat it?
STUDENT: Are you saying then that your primary concern is a kind of formal one?
GW: Of course.
STUDENT: In what sense “formal?” Getting things on the page? Filling up the space?
GW: You can’t help doing that either; I mean, it just automatically happens when you make an exposure.
STUDENT: Well, then I don’t understand what the “formal” problem is.
GW: It’s, ah—
STUDENT: to make it not look formal.
GW: No, sorry. . . . You’ve got a number of things that take place that are peculiar to still photography. One: how a picture looks—what you photograph is responsible for how a photograph looks. In other words, it’s responsible for the form.
STUDENT: It, or are you?
GW: What you photograph is responsible for how a photograph looks —the form, the design, whatever word you want to use. Because of that there’s no way a photograph has to look … in a sense. There are no formal rules of design that can apply. In other words, a photograph can look anyway. It just depends basically on what you photograph.
STUDENT: Well, the choice of the 28 mm. lens over a 50 mm. is going to give you a different looking photograph.
GW: It makes the problem—it ups the ante in a way, if you want to put it that way. You have more to contend with. Maybe it makes the problem a little bit more interesting.
STUDENT: I always feel very precarious when I look at your images. I feel like I’m falling over. Is that because you’re not—you don’t use a view-finder?
GW: I don’t know why you feel the way you feel. . . . What are you asking?
STUDENT: Actually, what I’m asking is do you often shoot without using your viewfinder?
GW: I never shoot without using the viewfinder—Oh, yes, there’ll be a few times,—I may have to hold the camera up over my head because for just physical reasons, but very rarely does that ever work.
STUDENT: Are you conscious of that?
GW: Of what?
STUDENT: Of sort of an off-kilter thing happening?
GW: Oh, yeah, sure. I pretty much know what I’m doing.
STUDENT: Is that an attempt to solve a photographic problem?
GW: Generally it’s to make one. Another reason can be just because physically I might have trouble to get what I want to include in [the frame] in, you know, just physically. And that’s a good reason.
STUDENT: I’m wondering what, like, your concern with this is. Why photography?
GW: I told you before. It’s, ah—the thing itself is fascinating. The game, let’s say, of trying to state photographic problems is, for me, absolutely fascinating.
STUDENT: You keep trying to know more and more about the game?
GW: I’m trying to learn more and more about what’s possible, you know—really, I am answering your question.
GW: I’m not dissembling.
STUDENT: Any change in your work you would attribute to somehow learning—the learning process?
GW: Yeah. I think if I did a tight editing, let’s say, of this bunch [of photographs], I’d say I’m a different photographer here than from those animals or whatever.
STUDENT: Were the animals done in a concentrated period of time or did they just kind of pop up as you—
GW: Basically, they were done in a relatively concentrated period of time. I mean, I wasn’t just working on them. But, I’d say I can safely say over a year’s—about a year I went on—yeah, when I knew I had a game to play there. . . .
STUDENT: Do you look at a lot of other people’s photographs?
GW: Sure. I look at photographs.
STUDENT: Whose photographs do you find interesting?
GW: Quickly, off the top of my head: Atget, Brassai, Kertesz, Weston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Bresson.
STUDENT: Do you like them for different reasons or do you find a reason?
GW: I learn from them. I can learn from them.
STUDENT: On the problem level, do you feel they’ve solved a problem and you think, “Thank God, I don’t have to do that?”
GW: It’s not a question of solving. It’s a question of stating.
GW: Yeah. You don’t solve anything ever, really. You simply state a problem which, when you’re lucky, gives you some idea of what possible problems you can—it indicates, you know, your future headaches.
STUDENT: But that’s all related to the idea of the “game”—it’s being a “game”?
GW: Whatever word you want to use—you want to use “work”? Use the word “work.”
GW: I use the word “play”; but you understand the word “play”—if you ever watch children play—what do you observe when you watch children play? You know, they’re dead serious. They’re not on vacation.
STUDENT: If the problem you’re working on now is the contest between form and content, what was the problem before?
GW: It’s always—every photograph, every—somehow bang of the shutter—basically, I’m playing the “game” in a way.
STUDENT: When you first started photographing what was your, like primary interest in picking up the camera? Did you like people?
GW: No, the process, really. I really liked—it was a very crazy thing to me, I mean, this business of being uncertain that it would come out. I still enjoy—I still don’t understand why when you put a piece of paper in a tray with solution in it, it comes up. It’s still, in a sense, magic to me. It’s a funny thing, you know. I’ve got two kids, and when they were very young, they used to come in the darkroom and I thought they’d be astounded by that. Nothing. When they got a little older, then they got astounded by it. . . .
STUDENT: Is it relevant to ask what you were doing before you began to take pictures?
GW: I don’t know. … I had a camera but I had no darkroom facilities, nothing like that was available. And so, you know, I shot a roll of film, I sent it in, and stuff like that. And I was painting. I was studying painting which is not valid because it’s ridiculous to talk about it. But I was at Columbia [University] and they had a camera club. I think I registered there for the fall term. And so I found out about this camera club and they told me they had this darkroom available twenty-four hours a day. And I’d never done any darkroom work, so I went down. It must have been two weeks after I started there and, I’d say, give it another week and I never went back to class. I’m telling you, it was basically the process. . . .
STUDENT: Well, like let’s say, [Robert] Frank’s book of photographs—
GW: What about it?
STUDENT: You talked about learning from—
STUDENT: —his stuff—
GW: I hope I did. I learned—
STUDENT: I’m interested to learn, like, when you looked in the book, like, do you think there’s anything you can say afterwards what, you know, “I learned” or what might be different in your work afterward?
GW: Well, let’s put it—you have to talk, speak about photographs, specific photographs. . . . Let’s say, primarily—let’s say Walker Evans in a general sense was maybe the first man who, in his book, states that you could—or rather the work states that America was a place to photograph in. Just on that level. Of course, there’s much more about those photographs; they’re astounding.
STUDENT: You think you can get different things from a specific photograph?
GW: Yeah, you can go into your own mumbo-jumbo.
STUDENT: Would you go into a mumbo-jumbo about [Robert] Frank’s photograph of the flag or would you just look at it?
GW: That photograph doesn’t interest me that much. There are photographs in there far more interesting. The gasoline station photograph would be.
STUDENT: Would you go into a mumbo-jumbo or would you just look at it?
GW: That [the gasoline station] photograph, in the first place, is an exercise in, ah—it’s a lesson, number one, in just camera operation, in a sense. It’s a lesson in how responsible that machine is for how photographs can look. Begin with that. To me that was one of the most important pictures in the book. It’s also a photograph of nothing, there’s nothing happening there. I mean, the subject matter has no dramatic ability of its own whatsoever and yet somehow it looks, what it is, it’s the most mundane—and there’s nothing happening, there’s no physical action.
STUDENT: You get the feeling that he played the game very well?
GW: Extremely well. That he could conceive of that being a photograph in the first place, is, ah—I don’t know if he, on any conscious level, thinks in terms of this “game” or whatever. And I certainly don’t really, in a conscious way, worry about it when I’m working. The contest between form and content is what, is what art is about—it’s art history. That’s what basically everybody has ever contended with. The problem is uniquely complex in still photography.
STUDENT: How so?
GW: Well, in terms of what a camera does. Again, you go back to that original idea that what you photograph is responsible for how it [the photograph] looks. And it’s not plastic, in a way. The problem is unique in photographic terms.
STUDENT: Well, if what you photograph is responsible for what it looks like, what if ten people take a photograph of the same thing?
GW: The same way? If they’re standing in the same place, the same kind of lens on the camera, the same film, the right exposure and their cameras are in the same position? It would be the same picture—The camera’s dumb, it don’t [sic] care who’s pushing the button. It doesn’t know—
STUDENT: What is it, say, in a picture that makes it interesting instead of dead; what makes it alive instead of dead?
GW: Well, let’s say—let’s go back to that gasoline picture. . . . Let’s say, [it’s] the photographer’s understanding of possibilities. Let me say something else. When he [Robert Frank] took that photograph he couldn’t possibly know—he just could not know that it would work, that it would be a photograph. He knew he probably had a chance. In other words, he cannot know what that’s going to look like as a photograph. I mean, understanding fully that he’s going to render what he sees, he still does not know what it’s going to look like as a photograph. Something, the fact of photographing something changes—I mean, when you photograph—if I photograph you I don’t have you, I have a photograph of you. It’s got its own thing. That’s really what photography, still photography, is about. In the simplest sentence, I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. Basically, that’s why I photograph, in the simplest language. That’s the beginning of it and then we get to play the games.
STUDENT: But the thing that’s intriguing is not really knowing what the result is going to be like.
GW: Of course. What I know bores me. You know, you get into the business of commercial photography, and that’s all you do is photograph what you know. That’s what you’re hired for. And it’s very easy to make successful photographs—-it’s very easy. I’m a good craftsman and I can have this particular intention: let’s say, I want a photograph that’s going to push a certain button in an audience, to make them laugh or love, feel warm or hate or what—I know how to do this. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do that, to make successful photographs. It’s a bore. I certainly never wanted to be a photographer to bore myself. It’s no fun—life is too short. . . .
STUDENT: Do you shoot pool?
STUDENT: Do you shoot pool?
GW: I have, yeah. I was good. Ah, yeah, why?
STUDENT: I shoot pool, I don’t know— [tape unclear]
GW: There was a time in my life when I lived in one [a pool room?], you know when I was a kid. Once in a while I get a chance—
STUDENT: I feel the same thing, like how you’re talking about photography— I don’t know— I can’t—
GW: All right.
STUDENT: You feel you’ve been hustled in a pool room. . . . Are there any other things that relate photographically that are not necessarily other photographs? By this I mean, do you ever get ideas—not ideas—is your education ever expanded by an interest in something else other than photography?
GW: I would think so. A heck of a lot. Reading and music and painting and sculpture and other stuff. Basketball, baseball, hockey, etc. Certainly, you know, you can always learn from some—from somebody else’s—from some intelligence. I think. I hope. Nobody exists in a vacuum. Where do you come from? The first time I really got out of New York as a photographer was in 1955 and I wanted to go around the country photographing. And a friend of mine at that time, I was talking to him about it—a guy named Dan Weiner. I don’t know if you know his name. He’s dead now. [He] asked me if I had ever seen Walker Evans’ book and I said, no. I had never heard of Walker Evans. He said, if you’re going around the country, take a look at the book. And he did me a big fat favor.
And then it’s funny, I forget what year when Robert Frank’s book came out. He was working pretty much around that time, ’55 or whenever it was. And there were photographs in there, particularly that gas station photograph, that I learned an immense amount from. I mean, I hope I learned. At least, I feel very responsible . . . [tape unclear].
STUDENT: What you’re responding to, is it the quality of the intelligence that states the problem?
GW: Yeah, I don’t give a rap about gasoline stations. . .
Source: Excerpted from American Suburb X / ASX, Monkeys Make the Problem More Difficult. Originally Published in Image Magazine by George Eastman House – Vol. 15, No. 2, July, 1972. Transcribed and Edited by Dennis Longwell
Click the image to enlarge. It is an excerpt from the 1966 Ed Ruscha book of photographs, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a continuous folded print of exactly what the title says it is, over 296 inches long when unfolded (seen here in a slideshow).
From the Modernism 101 page for the book:
Starting in 1963, with the publication of Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Ruscha began a series of photographic art books that documented ordinary aspects of life in Los Angeles. For Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Ruscha mounted a motorized Nikon to the back of a pick-up truck and photographed every building he passed. The resulting book, with the pictures printed in order and labeled with their street numbers, achieved an effective non-judgemental and almost anthropological record of previously unexplored details and aspects of the urban experience. Ruscha exercised control over each step of the bookmaking process and with the use of inexpensive offset printing, standard paper, and simple, paperback bindings, he created a new genre of art book designed for commercial distributors rather than art galleries. Ruscha’s books, which became a staple of Conceptualism, were extremely influential to younger generations of artists.
… “The Sunset Strip satisfied one of Ruscha’s early ambitions: ‘In Oklahoma City, I delivered newspapers riding along on my bicycle with my dog. I dreamed about making a model of all the houses on that route, a tiny but detailed model that I could study like an architect standing over a table and plotting a city.’ As a result of his subsequent fascination with the Sunset Strip, this unrealized youthful idea resurfaced in a different form. Ruscha reportedly photographed the Sunset Strip with a motorized camera in a pickup truck in the time that it took to drive the two miles and back, but the piecing together of the photographs and the folding and gluing of the printed sheets by hand took more than nine months. Moreover, this was not a one-time photo shoot, for in 1979 Ruscha said that he had photographed all of the Sunset Strip in each of the previous five years. ‘I begin early on a Sunday morning when no one is around. I use a 250 Nikon, change the film real fast, and just go along and document [it].’ Indeed, the artist has continued to document the street to the present.”
Photographing an entire street from a pickup truck, using a motorized camera, also anticipates Google Street View, by forty-one years! Life imitates art imitates life. And Ruscha continues to re-photograph the Sunset Strip, as noted in an interview with the artist Richard Prince for the article, “Ed Ruscha: the original master of California cool has never been hotter,” in Interview magazine, July, 2005:
Richard Prince: “I hear you’re doing Every Building on the Sunset Strip again [published by Steidl as Then & Now]. What’s there right now?”
Ed Ruscha: “I photograph it every year or so. Anytime I get up to the Strip I’m confronted by two things: How many buildings still do exist, and how much things have changed. But they will soon be doing plenty of Rambo-Vegas-style projects that will span Sunset Boulevard with skywalk bridges and mirrored escalator malls that will be cruel to the eyes. It’s cancerous and ultimately fatal. I wish time would stand still.”
The art critic Dave Hickey writes in a January, 1997 ArtForum article about Ruscha’s earlier book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, and the process of “reading” the book as analogous to reading a map or going on a journey, “speaking to us in some odd language of analogue and incarnation.” Hickey continues,
In that moment, I became an art critic – or, more precisely, an art dealer, since I bought all five books. Because it wasn’t just personal. Ruscha’s book nailed something that, for my generation, needed to be nailed: the Pop-Minimalist vision of the Road. Jack Kerouac had nailed the ecstatic, beatnik Road. Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady were, at that moment, nailing the acid-hippie Road, and now Ruscha had nailed the road through realms of absence – that exquisite, iterative progress through the domain of names and places, through vacant landscapes of windblown, ephemeral language.
Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1963
Various Small Fires, 1964
Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965
Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
Thirtyfour Parking Lots, 1967
Royal Road Test, 1967 (with Mason Williams and Patrick Blackwell)
Business Cards, 1968 (with Billy Al Bengston)
Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968
Crackers, 1969 (with Mason Williams)
Real Estate Opportunities, 1970
Babycakes with Weights, 1970
A Few Palm Trees, 1971
Dutch Details, 1971
Colored People, 1972
Hard Light, 1978 (with Lawrence Weiner)
Country Cityscapes, 2001
ME and THE, 2002
Ed Ruscha and Photography, 2004 (with Sylvia Wolf)
OH / NO, 2008
Dirty Baby, 2010 (with Nels Cline and David Breskin)
As a follow-up to Sightseeing with Garry Winogrand, we uncovered an image of a late Winogrand contact sheet of Los Angeles photos (see below) on a 2007 blog post by a blogger named “J.T.”, who offers his own take on Winogrand’s late work. J.T. begins by ruminating on “Figments of the Real World, Winogrand’s massive, out of print 1988 MOMA monograph,” from which he quotes several passages, interspersed with his own commentary. The first thing he mentions from the catalog are more exact numbers for Winogrand’s unseen output near the end of his life: “At the time of his death, it was discovered that Winogrand had been sitting on 2,500 rolls of exposed, but undeveloped film, and an additional 6,500 rolls of developed, but unproofed, film. That’s 9,000 rolls of film that he shot but never bothered to look at.”
The thing we found most interesting, however, is that J.T. came to a similar conclusion as us, that Winogrand, in the end, had become more of a conceptual artist than the “street photographer” he had been and is known for: “Could it be possible that, through these tectonic shifts in methodology, Winogrand was undergoing an honest-to-god sea change in his approach to his medium (a change that privileged the act, not the results?) Is it an accident that the late contact sheets bear more than a passing resemblance to the medium-subverting projects of John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha? Was Garry Winogrand becoming–in his own stubborn, round-about, contrarian way–a conceptual artist?”
A change that privileged the act, not the results. Whether Winogrand “lost his mind” or “evolved his thinking” is a moot point. We have to take what he left the world and make of it what we will. And if most of the images are more interesting as part of a conceptual idea than as individual images, then so be it, because the idea is really interesting, a gift to the future from a dying artist who remains a force to be reckoned with.
I should start by saying that the following reflection on Garry Winogrand is based mostly on my memory, so when you see a question mark it’s because I am uncertain as to the specifics. I have chosen not to Google or fact-check any details besides the year of his death, 1984. It was important to me to verify that single solitary fact for several reasons, the first being that it was the year George Orwell’s 1984 was released as a film; the second because after several years of trudging through life on the RTD (Los Angeles Rapid Transit District), I purchased my first Los Angeles automobile; thirdly, having secured said wheels, this native Detroiter mutated into a fully semi-functional Angeleno.
And so this is where it gets fuzzy. I recall seeing Winogrand’s work first in a photo magazine called Picture(?) several years earlier and was immediately attracted, fascinated, enchanted, dazzled, charmed, enthralled, captivated, beguiled, mesmerized, hypnotized, and spellbound by his “road” images – cruel and inhumane rodeos, cruel and inhumane suburbs, cruel and inhumane airport terminals, cruel and inhumane roadside attractions.
The first time I encountered Winogrand’s work in an exhibition was what I assume was a posthumous retrospective(?) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles(?) in 1984(?). Much of Winogrand’s more studied New York City street photography – “Black Eyed Mobster Driving Away In Sports Car With Kidnapped Girlfriend”(Title?), “Interracial Couple With Chimp In Central Park”(Title?), “Mildly Amused Mobsters at Copacabana Supper Club”(Title?) – were included. And believe me I love and admire this body of work along with other street photographers such as Weegee, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, and particularly Robert Frank.
But what impressed me most was Winogrand’s last body of work, which he executed while living with his daughter in Los Angles. Legend (or my fading Rashomon manufactured memory / imagination) has it that the photographer had his daughter drive him aimlessly around the same very streets I was simultaneous discovering in my brand new 1984 Nissan Sentra. (White, base model, no factory installed radio. Why? A twin-cassette mix-tape-loaded boom-box works just as well, and at a fraction of the cost.) Winogrand rode shotgun armed with a 35mm single-lens-reflex motor-drive camera and a couple 10-blocks of Tri-X film(?), while I was struggling just to get my bearings in this land of perpetual double decker strip malls.
The result of this restless and relentless shooting regiment was evident in the last room of the exhibition. In this space three Kodak carousel slide projectors sat abreast of each other on a central pedestal, spewing a constant barrage of images upon the wall. This visual assault from the trio of World War One machine gunners flashed on the wall like a flip-book animation. Random, accidental, haphazard, drifting, messy, willy-nilly, scattershot, potshot visual rants of nearly ever street corner in Hollywood, El Monte, Rampart, West Covina, Vernon, Commerce, Bell, Bell Gardens, Maywood, Rosemead, Whittier, Florence, Pico Rivera, Downey, Duarte, and Inglewood. Or so it seemed.
What I was most impressed with was the reckless abandon of his “drive-by” shooting style, the unedited display of the mass of images coming from the slide projectors, and finally a trio of large, clear garbage bags stuffed with countless rolls of exposed but undeveloped film. At the end of his life, Winogrand had transformed into the pure essence of a photographer, a seer, a witness, unencumbered by the desire to produce a visual record of what he was participating in: driving ’round and around with his daughter, camera pressed to his face. The pure act of seeing was all he needed in the end, and as a seer he was prolific.
See also: On the Road with Garry Winogrand
Here is the complete list if you care to sing along with John or perform your own version of “Sentences on Conceptual Art” by Sol Le Witt:
First published in 0-9 ( New York ), 1969, and Art-Language ( England ), May 1969.
Google has its eyes on you. Notes Wikipedia: “Google Street View is a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from various positions along many streets in the world. It was launched on May 25, 2007, originally only in several cities in the United States, and has since gradually expanded to include more cities and rural areas worldwide.”
Google must employ an army of Street View photographers worldwide, and they drive seemingly everywhere on earth taking pictures of anything and everything that appears in front of their nine-lensed cameras. Artist Jon Rafman has posted a selection of amazing Google Street View photographs on his Tumblr site 9-eyes. The collage below is just a taste — visit Rafman’s site to see them in all their glory.
A few months ago I blogged about Flavorwire’s previous collection of Stanley Kubrick photos from Chicago, circa 1949. Now they’re at it again, having posted a new group of 15 Kubrick photographs from New York City in the 1940s.
…Stanley Kubrick was a poor kid from the Bronx who worked as a photojournalist for Look magazine. (He was their youngest staff photographer on record.) Kubrick’s striking black and white images of 1940s New York City — which were often shot on the sly, his camera concealed in a paper bag with a hole in it — hint at the dark beauty and psychological drama of his later creative output.
They also note that Kubrick took some 10,000 photographs, most never before seen. Check out the 15 Kubric NYC photos on view, and watch the future director training his eye and learning the craft of visual narrative.
About ten or so years ago I snapped the recently re-discovered photograph below through the window of a closed art gallery in Pt. Reyes Station, California. I shot it using black and white film (i.e. analog). The text is a framed story hanging on the gallery wall near the window, which I noticed as I walked by. Reflected in the window glass is a handrail, the street, the house across the street and some trees. The story on the wall is by a four year old named Trae, and I can’t remember if this story was a caption for the framed artwork hanging directly above it, the bottom of which you can see in the photograph, or if the story stood on its own, framed as a work of art, because that’s exactly what it is:
This is a compelling, very well-written story, and if it really is by a four year old (which I believe and desperately want to believe), it is truly amazing. As I said, the gallery was closed at the time, so I couldn’t find out any details, and I’ve never seen this online. Trae writes like Samuel Beckett, and this little story has great depth and mystery. Here is the full text of Trae’s story, taken directly from the photograph:
“When they came home their tree was gone. They called the police. There was gold on the tree. The robber went inside and stole everything. They went upstairs and took the blankets off the child’s bed. Then they went to the mother’s room and took her jewelry. They stole everything. They had no clothes to wear. They stole the couch and the table. They stole everything from the house. There was nothing in the house. It was all gone. They thought it was in the closet. They thought it was in the drawers, but it was all gone. Even the house was stolen and then they had to live outside in the rain. When they went home, they didn’t see the house or nothing. They thought maybe the house had gone down the road to the bridge and maybe they had gone to the wrong house, but they didn’t. They didn’t know where anything was because all the houses were there except their house.”
–Trae, age 4
I love the ambiguity of “they,” which keeps shifting back and forth between referencing the “family” that has just returned home to no home, and the “robbers” who apparently stole everything this family owned, even their tree. The tree itself had gold “on” it, though we cannot know for sure if that was before or after it was stolen (“golden” before, or only “golden” now that it’s missing, like a precious memory?). Finding the “golden” tree missing, the family calls the police, only to have the story flashback to describe the “robber” (singular), systematically going through the house and stealing everything the family owned, beginning with the blankets from the “child’s” bed. It’s like the theft of all presents and decorations in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, though here it’s more sinister — all identity is being systematically erased. [Read more…] about When they came home their tree was gone
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