Unreal Nature

April 12, 2017

In the Crowds

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… “I live in the crowds of jollity, not so much to enjoy company as to shun myself.”

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… It’s appropriate to have mixed feelings about the moral stance of much New York photography of the 1960s and 1970s. Ambivalence, in fact, is a legitimate response to photographic aesthetics ridden with inner conflict. To people acculturated to the absurdist fiction of Terry Southern and Joseph Heller, or the poker-faced decadence of Andy Warhol, the steeliness and grotesquerie of Diane Arbus’s images appeared as a parallel shock.

[line break added] But fiction and painting are not arts comparable to photography, where the relations between subject and object take place in the real world. If you snap pictures in a madhouse, for instance, you must exploit inmates (even those enjoying your attention) who cannot react to your presence with any social understanding. Quite often — too often — the outlook of the photographic campaign is quasi-anthropological, which implies condescension.

[line break added] However, when you’re out on the streets, and at your own risk, among people in possession of their wits, power relations are more equitable. We often have the impression that “power” (the power of looking) is placed at the service of the subject, who is then shown to exercise another power — the power of presence and fascination.

… when he was asked why he photographed, Winogrand said, “I get totally out of myself. It’s the closest I come to not existing, I think, which is the best — which to me is attractive.”

… Long before psychoanalysis, Dr. Johnson expressed a kindred thought: “I live in the crowds of jollity, not so much to enjoy company as to shun myself.”

In the Gotham of the 1960s and 1970s, the almost feverish jollity of the times masked a fear of solitude. It was an era that saw a spectacular rise in urban crime, a breakdown of communal values, the faltering of the nuclear family, domestic conflict over the Vietnam War, and the burning of the South Bronx.

… In these photographs, the old civic issue of racial or ethnic differences, still unassimilated, takes second place to the more painful recognition that a society such as New York’s is everywhere composed of flawed human beings — they are us, and we are not yet naturalized to our condition.

My most recent previous post from Kozloff’s book is here.

-Julie

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