Unreal Nature

April 14, 2017

An Outdoor Composition

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… Musicians dress like various birds, use assorted bird whistles, sit in trees.

This is ‘The Backs of All the Trucks Passed While Driving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday Jan 20.’ (1963) found in More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari Vol. 1 (2013):

I was intrigued by how much the backs of trucks resembled paintings I had done — basically a rectangle broken up into an infinite variety of possibilities, that is, variety within a standard shape in dialogue with the edge. My painting investigation was merging with my work in photography.

Next is ‘Fifteen Musical Projects: An Exchange with Pauline Oliveros’ (1970):

  1. What are all the possible sounds from a paper box? From all the objects in a room? From a still life?
  2. One hundred people say UMBRELLA.
  3. Hot and cold showers (on stage) or other various stimuli to affect behavioral forms of performers.
  4. Fix word fragments and musical notes in box, make collage score and play.
  5. If musical scores look good to artists, can paintings be played?
  6. Musicians dress like various birds, use assorted bird whistles, sit in trees. An outdoor composition.
  7. Play notes in essay written by musical critic of choice.
  8. An entire workshop on stage replete with operators that are not musicians, i.e. a woodshop, cabinet shop, etc. Composer-conductor would operate console of switches that control all machines. When machine is on, operator performs, drills, saws, planes, etc.
  9. Prior idea can be extended with using a farm, all animals wearing contact mikes.
  10. Or a recorder shop on stage, with several players in booths. Members of audience are invited to come onto stage and sample records. Composer-conductor orchestrates sounds by opening and closing booth doors partially, completely, and in various combinations.
  11. Violinist imitates human voice, human voice imitates violin. A duet.
  12. Films and sounds of botanical growth orchestrated.
  13. Alternate seating in hall — musician, audience member, musician, etc. Musicians should not look like musicians and vice versa.
  14. Members of quartet are located about city by dropping knotted string on city map. They are separately televised playing separate parts of single piece. Random member of audience orchestrates piece by controlling switches to four TV sets on stage.
  15. Orchestra improvises upon any sound member of audience gives.




April 13, 2017

The Impact of Idea Upon Material

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… so that meanings will not depart fitfully as they do from the mind, so that thinking and belief and attitudes may endure as actual things.

This is from the title essay found in The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn (1957; 1985):

… Form arises in many ways. Form in nature emerges from the impact of order upon order, of element upon element, as of the forms of lightning or ocean waves. Or forms may emerge from the impact of elements upon materials, as of wind-carved rocks and dunes. Form in living things too is the impinging of order upon order — the slow evolving of shapes according to function and drift and need. And other shapes — the ear, the hand — what mind could devise such shapes! The veining of leaves, of nerves, of roots; the unimaginable varieties of shape of aquatic things.

Forms of artifacts grow out of use too, and out of the accidental meetings of materials. Who again could dream of or devise a form so elegant as that of the chemical retort, except that need and use, and glass and glass-blowing all met to create form? Or the forms of houses, the Greek, the Roman, the extremely modern, or the gingerbread house; these the creations out of different materials and tools and crafts and needs — the needs of living and of imagining.

a chemical retort [image from Wikipedia]

Forms in art arise from the impact of idea upon material, or the impinging of mind upon material. They stem out of the human wish to formulate ideas, to recreate them into entities, so that meanings will not depart fitfully as they do from the mind, so that thinking and belief and attitudes may endure as actual things.

I do not at all hold that the mere presence of content, of subject matter, the intention to say something, will magically guarantee the emergence of such content into successful form. Not at all! How often indeed does the intended bellow of industrial power turn to a falsetto on the savings bank walls! How often does the intended lofty angels choir for the downtown church come off resembling somehow a sorority pillow fight!

For form is not just the intention of content; it is the embodiment of content. Form is based, first, upon a supposition, a theme. Form is, second, a marshaling of materials, the inert matter in which the theme is to be cast. Form is, third, a setting of boundaries, of limits, the whole extent of idea, but no more, an outer shape of idea. Form is, next, the relating of inner shapes to the outer limits of the theme. It is the abolishing of excessive materials, whatever material is extraneous to inner harmony, to the order of shapes now established. Form is thus a discipline, an ordering, according to the needs of content.

… We have seen so often in past instances how content that was thought unworthy for art has risen to the very heights. Almost every great artist from Cimabue to Picasso has broken down some pre-existing canon of what was proper material for painting. Perhaps it is the fullness of feeling with which the artist addresses himself to his theme that will determine, finally, its stature or its seriousness. But I think that it could be said with certainty that the form which does emerge cannot be greater than the content which went into it. For form is only the manifestation, the shape of content.

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




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.




April 11, 2017

Soft Surfaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… It invites us into it, yields itself up, envelops us, makes us part of it.

This is from ‘De Kooning II’ (1993) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Woman I is not meant to be a resolved work, as Mark Stevens has emphasized: “Modernists had long appreciated the open-ended quality of unfinished art. The purposefully not-finished, however, is not the same thing as the unfinished. Woman I was not unresolved out of indecision or weakness, but out of strength: it was left to its imperfections by the aggressive decision of a great artist, in order to increase the work’s disruptive, expressive power. In the rapid succession of Woman paintings that followed, de Kooning was becoming more interested in loosening the compositional joints of painting than in bringing them together.”

Willem de Kooning, Woman I

Woman I could be compared to certain of Monet’s façades of Rouen Cathedral. (I am not bringing in Monet because I think he has any special relevance to de Kooning but to exemplify a way of handling pictorial space.) The rectangle of the canvas is filled with highly charged brushmarks presenting a certain amount of tonal variation but little emphatic contrast; the rectangle of the image is almost entirely filled by the mass of the compact motif. Between this and ourselves there is a very limited space into which we can move before we come up against the looming wall which has certain shallow recesses but nonetheless confronts us with an impenetrable barrier which there is no way through and no way round.

[By contrast] In a typical Monet of the following decade, one of the Water Gardens, with the motif, a pond and the sky reflected in it, inevitably filling the rectangle of the canvas, the space before us offers no resistance. It invites us into it, yields itself up, envelops us, makes us part of it. An analogous enveloping space appears in de Kooning’s Women of the decade after that of Woman I. In, for example, Woman in Landscape III of 1968 we too are in the landscape, in it, not looking at it, and we are enveloped, moreover, not only by the landscape but by the figure of the woman.

[line break added] (This receptivity of the space, as with the Monet, is achieved without any sacrifice of the integrity of the picture-plane.) All this is typical of de Kooning’s later paintings of Women, paintings which, by the way, are usually much warmer in palette, as in, say Amityville of 1971. There was a vivid sentence about them by Marla Prather in a wall notice at the Washington showing of the current exhibition. “At times the figure seems virtually formless, engulfed by the wet, slippery medium of oil paint de Kooning has developed.”

I take this to be a metaphor as well as a description. These close-ups of the female body are marvelous in their evocation of soft surfaces and entrances and liquid desires, their intimation of fusion, tender and violent, with another body. Their meaning is not at all elusive or ambiguous, and what they so palpably signify throws light on the problem of the unconscious meanings of Woman I. Seen in that light, Woman I can only be what Elaine de Kooning famously said it was. “That ferocious woman he painted didn’t come from living with me. It began when he was three years old.”

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




April 10, 2017

Work Emerging

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… ‘I’m doing something’ versus ‘what am I doing?’

This is from Liam Gillick’s chapter in Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life (2015):

It is necessary to consider:
The gap between rhetoric and practice. Contradictions between behavior/appearance and practice. Mode of refusal. Levels of natural talent (can these factors be recognized and analyzed?). Incompatibility with the rest of the school/art context in general. Studio conditions. Continuity of form/practice media. The extent to which the artist appears incapable of anything other than what they do. The productivity level of the artist.

[line break added] The completion percentage. Levels of commodification of the practice. What is perceived as idiosyncratic and what is pan-culturally recognizable. Withholding of trajectory and veiling of the future path of the work. The extent to which not knowing is potentially an asset to the practice. The degree to which the artist self-consciously mines historical reference points.

… The doubled quality of aesthetic experience. A developed self-conscious relation to the mainstream formal context. Taste: on the edge? Fast/utterly tasteful? Outsiding (moving from in to out and back again). Constant self-consciousness in the social landscape. Painting as a highly artificial act. Expressive translation of the excessively known. Claiming of the postmodern dilemma as a starting point. False dilemmas. Insolent historicism versus the street.

… The specifics of the work are crucial despite non-profound starting point. Potential of refusal to control the space around the work. Things are always assumed to be the way the artist intended them even if the artist did not intend them to be understood that way. Lack of room for speculation in art provokes anxiety. The sense of shutting down meaning production. No recognition of intention within the work or attempt to draw you in or trick you but a constant pushing back to exteriority.

… Bypassing what it looks like in favor of what it is. Reactions feeding the very status/conditions of the work. Indexical responsibility of the artist. Responsibility is the choosing of things by the artist. Self-consciousness of transmission in neo-conceptual practice. The notion of a better way. Finding a ‘way that works.’ Studio as laboratory. Critique of the laboratory. Importance of the kind of place of work and the products of that specific place. Creation of scenarios where the work itself only just happens to exist. Unstable state of the work.

… The value will also be determined by people other than the artist anyway. Space of expectation as an artist’s territory. Being conscious of avoiding the processes of recent art history. Delay in recognition — art out of sync with perception. Time shifts in the moment of comprehension. Element of surprise for oneself and the viewer.

… Making meaning and description, thereby avoiding problems of representation. Creating a theory trap. The thing that appears to be the subject is not the focus or the heart of the work.

… ‘I’m doing something’ versus ‘what am I doing?’ Moral/ethical component of doing something from yourself in order to find out something. Process versus theory.

… Shift of focus rather than big moves, sense in which merely shifting focus is viewed as a paradigm shift in over-reaching analysis. The rift between an idea and how it gets displayed (rather than how it gets constructed). Work emerging from problems within the work alone (art as a feedback loop self-generator).

My previous post from this book is here.




April 9, 2017

To Fill His Exterior with Content and Give It Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… it is only on the boundaries of two consciousnesses, on the boundaries of the body, that an encounter is actually realized and the artistic gift of form is bestowed.

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… To what extent does verbal art have to do with the spatial form of the hero and his world? There can be no doubt, of course, that verbal art deals with the hero’s exterior and with the spatial world in which the event of his life unfolds. What gives rise to considerable doubts, however, is the question of whether verbal art has to do with the spatial form of the hero as an artistic form; in most cases, the problem is resolved in a negative sense. To resolve the problem correctly, it is necessary to take into account the twofold sense of aesthetic form.

… Man’s outer body is given; his outer boundaries and those of his world are given (given in the extra-aesthetic givenness of life). This is a necessary and inalienable moment of being as a given. Consequently, they need to be aesthetically received, recreated, fashioned, and justified. And this is precisely what is accomplished by art with all the means at its disposal — with colors, lines, masses, words, sounds.

[line break added] Inasmuch as the artist has to do with man’s existence and with his world, he has also to do with the givenness of man in space as a necessary constituent of human existence. And in transposing this existence of man to the aesthetic plane, the artist must transpose to this plane man’s exterior as well, within the bounds which are determined by the type of material he utilizes (e.g. colors, sounds, etc.).

… it is necessary to emphasize especially that both content (i.e. what is put into the hero — his life from within) and form are unjustified and unexplainable on the plane of a single consciousness; that it is only on the boundaries of two consciousnesses, on the boundaries of the body, that an encounter is actually realized and the artistic gift of form is bestowed.

[line break added] Without this essentially necessary reference to the other, i.e. as a gift to the other that justifies and consummates him (through an immanent-aesthetic justification), form fails to find any inner foundation and validation from within the author/contemplator’s self-activity and inevitably degenerates into something that simply affords pleasure, into something “pretty,” something I find immediately agreeable, the way I find myself feeling immediately cold or warm. By using a certain technique, the author produces an object of pleasure, and the contemplator passively affords himself this pleasure.

Without the application of the mediating value-category of the other, the author’s emotional-volitional tones that actively constitute and produce the hero’s exterior as an artistic value cannot be brought into immediate accord with the hero’s own directedness from within his own lived life. It is only thanks to this category of the other that it becomes possible to transform the hero’s exterior into an exterior that encompasses and consummates him totally, that is: to fit the hero’s own directedness to meaning in living his life into his exterior as into a form; to fill his exterior with content and give it life; to create a whole human being as a unitary value.

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




April 8, 2017

Changing a World Based on Prejudice and Passion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… if you can make people miserable enough, you can eventually induce them to think about the causes of their misery.

Continuing through the essay ‘Hunting the Highbrow’ by Leonard Woolf found in The Hogarth Essays (1928):

Altifrons altifrontissimus,* or the highbrow intellectual, is an animal in whom this faculty for enjoying the use of his intellect is abnormally developed. Sometimes he is content to confine the exercise of his intellect to safe subjects, and then, if his mind be of a very high order, you get a chess champion like Dr. Lasker, or a mathematician like Newton, or a philosopher like Aristotle. But there have always been a certain number of highbrows who insist upon applying the intellect to all subjects and all departments of life — and then the trouble begins.

[line break added] If you begin to think about religion, or the relation of the sexes, or the party system, or education, or patriotism, you are lost, but, what is much more serious, they are lost too. They are the superstructures of illusions and prejudices, and as soon as reason is applied to their foundations they come down with a crash.

Hence the real intellectual is deservedly one of the most unpopular animals in the world. And he is, as I said, unlike the aesthetic highbrow — a poor, soft, gentle, long-haired creature — a dangerous and savage beast. In ordinary times, it is true, we usually succeed in cutting his claws and in making him harmless. We do this by the simple method of making him ridiculous. It is not difficult to do.

… But if you can make people miserable enough, you can eventually induce them to think about the causes of their misery. The whole of history shows both that you have to make people in large bodies extraordinarily miserable before this happens and that if communal misery gets beyond a certain point it does happen. But nothing is so dangerous as thought applied to the structure of society, for once people begin to think, you let in the highbrow, and anything may happen.

It is at such periods that the intellectual highbrow becomes a powerful and dangerous animal. At the end of the eighteenth century, and again during the Great War, the sum of human misery reached the point at which quite a large number of people began to think about the causes of their misery and the political and social structure. Naturally that was the opportunity for the intellectual highbrow, who had never been doing anything else and had made himself ridiculous by doing it.

[line break added] The hunted suddenly became the hunter, and President Wilson and Lenin, two magnificent specimens of altifrons altifrontissimus, were, for the moment at least, as powerful as the Tsar, the Kaiser, M. Clemenceau, Mr. Lloyd George, or Mr. Bottomley. It is true that the moment is never a very long one. The difficulty of suddenly changing a world based on prejudice and passion into a world based on reason, the vested interests in unreason, the weight of tradition against reason and the enormous mass of people who have grown up in that tradition — all these things make it inevitable that there is a pretty rapid return to what a famous statesman called a healthy state of affairs — every one for himself and God for us all.

… One’s judgment of the intellectual highbrow must depend, I think, very much upon one’s estimate of how far and how widely it is possible that mankind may be induced to apply reason to the arrangement of their communal affairs. If human psychology is such that men in groups will never act rationally towards one another, and will allow no permanent place to reason and intellect in the practical organization of society, then the sooner altifrons altifrontissimus is exterminated the better for the world. For under such circumstances he is usually a nuisance and at times a positive curse.

[line break added] It is much better that a man be drunk all the time than that he should be sober for only a few hours once every six months, for during those few hours he will probably behave like a suicidal and homicidal maniac, whereas, if he is perpetually drunk, he will merely be asleep or soddenly stupid. So with society, the administration of minute doses of reason into its constitution is only a useless irritant, and the sudden injection every century or two of large doses completely upsets its balance. On the other hand, if there be any real possibility that man may become a rational, political, and social animal, I should be in favor of preserving and even encouraging the intellectual highbrow.

*From the first part of Woolf’s essay, in last week’s post:

1. Altifrons altifrontissimus, the original, primitive, and real highbrow or intellectual who, as Mr. Magill puts it, prefers the appeal to his intellect rather than that solely to his senses.

2. Altifrons aestheticus var. severus, the man who only likes what is best in literature, art and music, or, as Mr. Magill puts it, good stuff.




April 7, 2017

In Some Rubied Darkness of the Human Imagination

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… imagination is part of life, it must have its moments of awkwardness and naïveté, and must seek out forms in which it may move and breathe easily …

This is from ‘Wallace Stevens: The Auroras of Autumn ‘ found in A Poet’s Prose: Selected Writings of Louise Bogan edited by Mary Kinzie (2005):

… The title of his latest volume, The Auroras of Autumn, indicates that his powers of language have not declined; here is one of those endlessly provocative, “inevitable” phrases that seem to have existed forever in some rubied darkness of the human imagination — that imagination with whose authority and importance Stevens has been continually occupied in his later period.

[line break added] This preoccupation was once implicit in what he wrote; his images performed their work by direct impact. Stevens’s later explicit, logical, and rather word-spinning defense of the role of the imagination has weakened or destroyed a good deal of his original “magic.” The whole texture and coloration of his later verse is more austere; his subjects are less eccentric; even his titles have quieted down.

[line break added] What has always been true of him is now more apparent: that no one can describe the simplicities of the natural world with more direct skill. It is a natural world strangely empty of human beings, however; Stevens’s men and women are bloodless symbols. And there is something theatrical in much of his writing; his emotions seem to be transfixed, rather than released and projected, by his extraordinary verbal improvisations.

[line break added] Now that he is so widely imitated, it is important to remember that his method is a special one; that modern poetry has developed transparent, overflowing, and spontaneous qualities that Stevens ignores. It is also useful to remember (as Apollinaire knew) that since the imagination is part of life, it must have its moments of awkwardness and naïveté, and must seek out forms in which it may move and breathe easily, in order that it may escape both strain and artificiality.

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




April 6, 2017

The Painted Idea

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… Out of a chain of connective ideas, responding to paint and color, rises the image, the painted idea.

This is from the essay ‘The Biography of a Painting’ found in The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn (1957; 1985):

… During the early French-influenced part of my artistic career, I painted landscapes in a Post-Impressionist vein, pleasantly peopled with bathers, or I painted nudes, or studies of my friends. The work had a nice professional look about it, and it rested, I think, on a fairly solid academic training. It was during those years that the inner critic first began to play hara-kiri with my insides. With such ironic words as, “It has a nice professional look about it,” my inward demon was prone to ridicule or tear down my work in just those terms in which I was wont to admire it.

The questions, “Is that enough? Is that all?” began to plague me. Or, “This may be art, but is it my own art?” And then I began to realize that however professional my work might appear, even however original it might be, it still did not contain the central person which, for good or ill, was myself. The whole stream of events and of thinking and changing thinking; the childhood influences that were still strong in me; my rigorous college years with the strong intention to become a biologist;

[line break added] summers at Woods Hole, the probing of the wonders of marine forms; all my views and notions of life and politics, all this material and much more which must constitute the substance of whatever person I was, lay outside the scope of my own painting. Yes, it was art that I was producing, perfectly competent, but foreign to me, and the inner critic was rising up against it.

… From the moment at which a painter begins to strike figures of color upon a surface he must become acutely sensitive to the feel, the textures, the light, the relationships which arise before him. At one point he will mold the material according to an intention. At another he may yield intention — perhaps his whole concept — to emerging forms, to new implications within the painted surface. Idea itself — ideas, many ideas move back and forth across his mind as a constant traffic, dominated perhaps by larger currents and directions, by what he wants to think. Thus idea rises to the surface, grows, changes as a painting grows and develops.

… I have spoken of the tug of war between idea and image which at an earlier time in my painting had plagued me so greatly. I could not reconcile that conflict by simply abandoning idea, as so many artists had done. Such an approach may indeed simplify painting, but it also removes it from the arena of challenging, adult, fully intellectual and mature practice. For me, there would be little reason for painting if idea were not to emerge from the work. I cannot look upon myself or upon man generally as a merely behaving species. If there is value it rests upon the human ability to have idea, and indeed upon the stature of the idea itself.

Ben Shahn, Allegory, 1948

The painting of the Red Beast, “Allegory,” is an idea painting. It is a highly emotional painting, and I hope that it is still primarily an image, a paint image. I began the painting, as I have said, with no established idea, only the sense of a debt to be paid and with a clamoring of images, many of them. But as to the fire itself, as to fires, I had many ideas, a whole sub-continent of ideas, none of which would be executed to measure, but any one of which might rise to become the dominating force in painting.

… Out of a chain of connective ideas, responding to paint and color, rises the image, the painted idea.

My previous post from Shahn’s book is here.




April 5, 2017

Nothing Personal

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… the days of the immersed, self-reflexive picture maker were gone.

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

… Starting roughly with the 1960s, Manhattan photographers, with increasing frequency, notice presences that are enough outside the usual traffic as to suggest bogeys on a radar screen.

… Long before, in the 1930s, photographers had sallied forth on activist campaigns, drawing attention to the plight of derelicts, ghetto dwellers, and other unfortunates who had slipped through the cracks of societal concern. Images of the distressed were meant to arouse the will to rehabilitate them through city legislation. Now, people like these, low on the food chain, and others sometimes very unlike them — but always curious — were photographed for aesthetic reasons. This shift in attitude, though gradual, gathered unmistakable strength from the 1960s through the 1980s.

It was not mere eccentricity that attracted the picture maker. “Curious” subjects, rather, were defined more broadly by their often unknowing incongruity of display in the civic space, their presumption that they blend in, against odds that are conspicuous to viewers. The presentation of self had somehow backfired and had come to seem disfavored.

Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1964

… Aside from their gamy subjects, these photographers also evolved a generic form, distinctive of the time. The style of the 1950s had been, on the whole, rather smudgy: in bad weather and low light, New York looked like a busy, indistinct wilderness of neon signs and glass reflections, fretted with querulous faces. Thereafter, an unequivocally hard-edged description enters into and takes over the frame. This explicitness is often linear and quite detailed: serviceably realist, yet without making a fuss about realism.

… What took place in New York photography of the past thirty years is inconceivable without its earlier, historical context, most certainly the heritage of engagement with minority cultures, the melancholy view, and political dissidence. Younger photographers knew of Lisette Model, and some had heard of William Klein. The new school stood on photographic ceremony no more than its prototypes. But the days of the immersed, self-reflexive picture maker were gone.

… The commanding photographers of this period act as if their material is so pungent it speaks for itself. Whatever their contest of wills, the acerbic spirit of the seer wins out over — or deceives — the seen.

Avedon’s celebrity sitters were at his unkind disposal, but he titled the book in which some of them appear Nothing Personal (1964).

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




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