An Interview with Chris and Jack

In preparation for this month looking at Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’, I revisited the 2009 Steidl publication ‘New Topographics‘ (a great representation of the 1975 exhibition, or as much as I can imagine without having been there). Just after the director’s preface is a great little interview with two viewers at the exhibition; A man (Jack) and his wife or girlfriend (Chris).

Jack’s comments sort of some up my own feelings on the work featured in the exhibition, and in particular of Shore’s images, it’s also a lovely little interview with great characters itself and so I hope you enjoy it here:

– Matt

CHRIS: I just don’t like this at all; [I prefer] people, pictures, something that tells a story. Route 66, big deal, it doesn’t mean anything.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the photographer had any intent?

CHRIS: He must have, for a layout like this. He couldn’t have been doing this for his enjoyment, because they are very dull pictures in my opinion. Jack, what do you think?

JACK: They mean something to me because I’ve never seen them before. I think he’s trying to get at…I’m still working on it…

INTERVIEWER: Do you think these pictures really capture the feeling of the places?

JACK: They really do, very much so. At first they’re really stark nothing, but then you really look at it and it’s just about the way things are. This is interesting, it really is.

CHRIS: Look at this picture. I just…why? What is he trying to show?

JACK: You said there are no people here, but there are people, all over the place. Everywhere you look there’s people.

CHRIS: Okay, you look at this you can imagine somebody checking out of the hotel, but it’s gone, there’s nothing for you to identify with except, what, dirty sheets? I don’t like it. I’m sorry! I don’t care for that kind of…Are you a photography student? What kind do you prefer?

INTERVIEWER: Do you think there’s any difference between the [photographers] in the show and what they were doing? Do you like anyone better than the others?

CHRIS: I really can’t comment because we’ve only been in just this one area [Shore, Schott], looking at just these, so I can’t say as to what I prefer.

JACK: I found my truck. I can’t believe it, it’s my truck, right there.

INTERVIEWER: Robert Adams, got your truck.

JACK: Just interesting. You know I think there’s a lot of people, I really do, there’s people, it’s a way of life. It’s how it is. It’s interesting.

CHRIS: I don’t like them. They’re dull and flat. There’s no people, no involvement, nothing. Why do you like them?

JACK: Because I’ve been there. This is what people have done. [The pictures are saying] ‘This is it, kid—take it for its beauty and its ugliness.’

CHRIS: I don’t like to think that there are ugly streets in America…but when it’s shown to you, without beautification, maybe it tells you how much more we need here. What do you think, Jack?

JACK: Try not to, it hurts.

CHRIS: You’re the one who enjoyed them.

JACK: I enjoy everything.

Havn’t seen ‘Uncommon Places’ yet? Have a look…

Nobuyoshi Araki, Video Documentary and Interview

Below is a video exploring Araki’s contemporary practice as part of the video series ‘Contacts’ by Studio ARTE.
And as a bonus – below that is an interview between last month’s featured artist Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki!

Thanks to those who have submitted personal reflections, we will post these soon, and if you would like to comment, do so in comments section.

INTERVIEW: “Naked City: An Interview with Nobuyoshi Araki by Nan Goldin” (1995)

By Nan Goldin, ArtForum, January, 1995

In 1992, the editors of the Japanese Magazine Deja-Vu invited me to Tokyo to meet Nobuyoshi Araki. I’d already heard about this wild man of Japanese photography and of his diaristic, intensely sexual work. Araki had procured a copy of my Ballad of Sexual Dependency, though it’s unavailable in Japan due to stringent censorship laws. I was astounded to find a man on the other side of the planet who was working the same obsessions I was.

We met for the first time at Dug, his regular jazz bar in Shinjuku, where he presented me with a bottle of I.W. Harper Bourbon (his favorite drink) with my name on it. Now it’s stored there next to Robert Frank’s. He showed me his Tokyo that night; we went to the back-alley bars on the Golden Gai, bars that used to be brothels, and that seat about six people each. It’s said that no one can really translate Araki because he speaks in puns and jokes.

Most Japanese women are too shy to translate his endless sexual allusions, so when the women in his entourage blushed furiously, I’d say “Is he talking about his penis again?”

Araki is a superstar in Japan. You realize this if you chart his wake through the streets of Shinjuku–young girls screeching, yakuza gangsters pointing, salary men stopping dead in their tracks. No photographer in the West has this kind of public visibility. The people of Tokyo love Araki–he’s one of their own, a homeboy, and he loves them back: his work has been one long poem to his city of birth and of choice.

Araki has published almost a hundred books. He once told me he’d spent years as a commercial photographer making other people famous, and now he’s an artist making himself famous. Though he’s long been celebrated in Japan, his work has only recently been exported to the West, through the word of mouth of Western artists like Robert Frank, Jim Jarmusch, and myself. In the past few years he’s had retrospectives in Graz, Austria, and in Frankfurt, and gallery shows in London, Cologne, and New York.

As Araki’s work starts to spread, I’m sure some will find it misogynist. I don’t, but perhaps that’s because I know the man: I’ve seen and known his generosity and curiosity about people and about life, his love for and appreciation of women, his naughty-boy attitude toward what is taboo or revered or overserious. Much of his recurring imagery–girls in school uniforms, girls in complicated rope tricks, girls in love hotels–is popular in Japanese pornography; but Araki crosses the line between pornography and art. His work is colored by love, and meant as homage–to women and to beauty and to his own desires. In Japan, where women’s roles are in a period of flux and the idea of female identity in the Western sense is a new one, many young women find Araki’s images liberating. To show their bodies, to flaunt their sexuality, feels to them like freedom; teenagers flock to Araki to be photographed by him.

Since I first met Araki we’ve collaborated occasionally, and recently we published a book together, Tokyo Love. I believe he has attained greatness a number of times–in Araki’s Tokyo Erotomania Diary, and in Sentimental na Tabi/Fuyu no Tabi (Sentimental journey/winter journey, 1991), which he calls his “purest” book, a deeply moving record of his honeymoon with his wife, Yoko, in 1971, and then of her death from cancer in 1990. Araki is a driven man. On the day of our interview he’d done a long shoot at a rented studio in the afternoon. As usual, he had an entourage in tow, and we all headed for a Spanish restaurant to talk over squid-ink pasta eaten with chopsticks. Then we returned to the studio, where Araki held a workshop on photographing the female nude. Some of Tokyo’s leading directors, designers, editors, and actors were in attendance, and he kept them going till midnight.

NAN GOLDIN: One of the things Westerners feel about Japan is that it’s a very conformist society–as in that Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks out must get hammered down.” Are you a nail sticking out?

NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: No, I’m not the nail that sticks out, probably because of my in-born vitue. I’m more like a naughty boy.

NG: In the text you wrote for our book together, Tokyo Love, you say you now only want to photograph happiness.

NA: Yes, but happiness always contains a mixture of something like unhappiness. When I photograph unhappiness I only capture unhappiness, but when I photograph happiness, life, death, and everything else comes through. Unhappiness seems grave and heavy; happiness is light, but happiness has its own heaviness, a looming sense of death.

NG: Why do you always say that photography itself has a smell of death?

NA: To make what is dynamic static is a kind of death. The camera itself, the photograph itself, calls up death. Also, I think about death when I photograph, which comes out in the print. Perhaps that’s an Oriental, Buddhist perception. To me, photography is an act in which my “self” is pulled out via the subject. Photography was destined to be involved with death. Reality is in color, but at its beginnings photography always discolored reality and turned it into black and white. Color is life, black and white is death. A ghost was hiding in the invention of photography.

NG: A lot of master photographers who have been working for a long time, like Robert Frank, Larry Clark, and William Klein, have become frustrated by still photography and have started making films.

NA: I resolve that feeling by working on the Arakinema show. It’s not the artistic process of shifting to another kind of expression that attracts me, it’s something more emotional–the biological impulse to bring the dead to life. I want to revive what photography has killed. Every photograph kills sound and words, reducing them to a flat print. I want to add sound and words. Films come close, but films by a photographer are usually another way of showing photographs. The photographer is just using movies to enhance the photo’s liveliness. Even if Frank, Clark, and Klein try filmmaking, I would doubt they become cineasts. They’d always remain photographers–just photographers presenting their photographs as films.

NG: What is the Arakinema–a movie? Stills shot on video?

NA: Arakinema is slides shown simultaneously on two slide projectors, so that the photographs overlap. What makes Arakinema compelling is that there’s a sort of sensuality of vision when photographs intertwine. My relationship with my subject is extremely important to me–I value that time and space of communication between myself and the subject when I’m working–so the more sensual the photograph is, the better. And if I mix old photographs with new ones in Arakinema, something I hadn’t noticed may come out. When I take photographs I collaborate with the subject; when I show photographs they collaborate with each other. And the relationship with the audience comes on top of that.

ara 746 08 INTERVIEW: Naked City: An Interview with Nobuyoshi Araki by Nan Goldin (1995)

NG: Have you ever made films?

NA: Around 1963, I made a 16-mm. film with a Bolex. It was like John Cassavetes. Back then, I was looking at Italian Neorealist films by Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio de Sica; I liked their documentary touch with boys and girls on the street, and their use of ordinary people as actors. I found an old prewar apartment in my neighborhood, and I followed the life of the boy who lived there, as if I was seeing myself in him. I was shooting 16-mm. film and at the same time taking still photographs of the same subjects. I collected the photographs in the book Satchin [the name of the boy Araki photographed], which was just published. So really l started with movies–I made three altogether.

NG: You were young then–20 or something.

NA: In 1964 I was 24. Perhaps my desire to show photos in series comes from my experience making 16-mm. films. Banmei Takahashi’s recent film The New World of Love contains a number of my photographs. That link with cinema has always been there.

NG: When did you start taking photographs?

NA: I was taking photographs before I made any films, but it was around the time I was making films that I got serious about taking photographs. I took my first photo at elementary school, on a school trip in the early ’50s. My father, who was an amateur photographer, had given me a camera called a Baby Pearl, and I brought it with me on the trip. I began by taking pictures of a classmate I liked, and of the Ise Shrine.

NG: A “Baby Pearl”?

NA: The Baby Pearl was a camera with a bellows, made in Germany or Japan, I’m not sure which. I began by taking pictures not only of girls but of scenery. More recently Tokyo Nude, for instance, has both nudes and scenery. So I’ve always been doing the same thing! I’ve made no progress.

NG: Your father was a shoemaker?

NA: My father owned a geta [wooden clog] shop in Tokyo. He took photos when he wasn’t working, and he was good at it–ordinary scenic photos. Typical, stereotype-Japanese photos with a field in the front and Mount Fuji in the back.

NG: Was he still living when you got famous?

NA: He was still alive when I won the Taiyo Award, in 1964, and the Taiyo Award was a prize for young photographers then. But my father came from the Shitamachi, which is a traditional working-class neighborhood, and he was also very shy, so he didn’t show he was happy. After he died, though, people told me he’d boasted about me and the prize to everyone. If he were still alive, and saw me with this foreign photographer called Nan Goldin, he would have been thrilled. I wish I could have shown him myself the way I am now.

NG: In Japan, people recognize you in the street. You’re a superstar. Are any other Japanese photographers as famous?

NA: I don’t think so. But most of the famous people in Japan travel in their cars, and I still ride the subway. I like to be out on the streets among the people.

NG: Given the sexual obsession in your work, and the strict obscenity laws in Japan, have you had trouble with the authorities?

NA: Yes, but with the police only, not with the people. The police once came to an exhibition of mine, but by chance I wasn’t there, which was kind of lucky because I would have been arrested on the spot. The gallery people were taken away. This was the “Photomania Diary” show, in April 1992. We had set up a huge light box with about 1,500 35-mm. slides, so they were really small; eight of them showed sexual organs. The cops looked at every single one with a magnifying glass.

NG: Are the “Obscenities” and “Bokuju-kitan” series a reaction to that?

NA: Yes. During the inquiry they gave me this simple rule that no photograph could show a sexual organ. So I had the idea of scratching the genitalia in the photographs to hide and erase them. In part, I had to teach people that genitalia are not obscene in themselves; it’s the act of hiding them that’s obscene.

During the war, whatever didn’t pass the censors in Japan was painted over with bokuju, or Chinese ink. So in my new book, Bokuju-kitan, I hid the genitals with Chinese ink, just to show the police that was more obscene. [Bkuju, Chinese ink, kitan, strange stories; Araki in punning on the title Bokuto-kitan, “Strange stories from east of the river,” a famous novel by Kafu Nagai.] But I wasn’t doing it just as resistance to censorship, or as a joke: I was creating another form of art. If obscenity laws can be used to create new art, maybe it’s ok to have a certain number of restrictions.

Since I began photographing genitalia, there’s been a trend toward allowing pubic hair to be shown in photos. When I was told I couldn’t show genitalia, I thought it might be acceptable to hide them by inserting what’s called an “adult’s toy” [a vibrator] in them, or some other foreign object. They said no. Maybe they realized that there’s essentially no eroticism in nudes; the body only becomes erotic when there’s some action or relationship. What I do with obscenity is in the tradition of the Edo period’s “spring pictures” [pornographic woodblock prints], which expose only the genitalia and the face and leave the rest of the body clothed. Maybe the future trend is not for “spring pictures” but for “spring photos”–that’s it!

ara 747 08 INTERVIEW: Naked City: An Interview with Nobuyoshi Araki by Nan Goldin (1995)

NG: What about women in Japan–some people in the U.S. will want to know whether you’ve had any complaints from them.

NA: Never at all. As far as I know, all women love me.

NG: What photographers have influenced you?

NA: I like photography so I like all the photographers before me, even if they’re lousy or not my style. But among foreign photographers, Frank, Klein, Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Ed van der Elsken, and Brassai were the ones who stood out when I was young. I was working in advertising, at Dentsu, so I had access to foreign magazines and plenty of information. I remember seeing work by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

NG: I’ve always had the impression you particularly admire Frank. How did you meet him?

NA: Someone from Japan gave him my book Araki’s Tokyo Erotomania Diary. Later, when he was asked what Japanese photographers interested him, he said “Araki.” We met when he came to Tokyo. I think of him as an older brother. But he’s more serious than I am.

NG: Are you interested in American artists using photography, like Cindy Sherman?

NA: I like Cindy Sherman’s work, which isn’t that far from photography.

NG: What about Japanese photographers?

NA: When I started photographing, Ihei Kimura and Ken Domon were active, but they were completely different from me. The photographers I associated with and liked included Shomei Tohmatsu, Daido Moriyama, and, among the less-known ones, Takuma Nakahira. But Japanese photography was itself influenced by Europe in the ’20s and ’30s and then by America. In the ’60s and ’70s we all looked at Frank and Klein, and at the catalogue of the U.S. exhibition “Contemporary Photographers–Towards a Social Landscape” [at the George Eastman House, Rochester, in 1966]. I might have been influenced by those photos. I don’t want to see it as “influence,” though: I am more influenced by my subjects, women and the streets, than by other photographers. People abroad are interested in my photographs now because I’ve always worked in Tokyo. My work has nothing to do with influence from the West; it’s based on my relationship with my subject.

NG: Does success in Europe or America interest you?

NA: Not much. I don’t travel abroad. I don’t have much of a desire to have everyone around the world see my stuff. My new book, Bokuju-kitan, has only a thousand copies, but that’s all right.

NG: You wouldn’t just travel for pleasure, or to visit me?

NA: If it’s going to be just the two of us, Nan, I’ll start English classes tomorrow.

NG: But you wouldn’t travel to take photographs?

NA: I did photograph in New York once, in 1979, and it was really exciting. But I use words in the process of photographing, so its difficult taking pictures overseas. I usually talk to the model as I’m shooting–it’s a “word event.” Words wouldn’t be necessary if I were looking at the subject as a “thing,” an object, but I want to capture my relationship with the subject, the action between us, the flow of time and mood. If I were photographing foreigners I’d really have to study the language.

NG: What about the lexicon [Arakeywords: The Araki Lexicon]?

NA: The book is in progress, with a Japanese writer. It will be like a dictionary of me. The writer has already put together nearly 500 words I invented–my keywords.

NG: How many books have you published?

NA: About a hundred.

NG: In Europe and America, if you have more than five or six books, they start to think you’re getting too popular–that you’re overexposed. Do other Japanese photographers publish so much?

NA: No, but I’m a kind of photo-play-aholic. People say I’ve published a lot, but essentially I think photographs should be taken and published fast. The nature of the medium doesn’t require you to consider everything and work it out thoroughly.

NG: How long does it take you to plan a book?

NA: There’s no specific rule–sometimes a month, sometimes a year. It depends on how I feel.

NG: Have you ever collaborated with any other photographer on a book, as you did with me?

NA: Collaboration is a kind of love affair. No, I’ve never collaborated with any other photographer.

NG: Do you have any favorite among your books?

NA: Sentimental na Tabi/Fuyu no Tabi (Sentimental journey/winter journey). I have to pick that book, because it marked the start of a new phase of my work. What I said earlier about my desire to shoot happiness and the joy of living has to do with the fact that I showed death in that book. I’ve taken a variety of photographs since then, but eventually they boil down to the idea of photography being simply a diary, a record of what happens day to day.

NG: What’s your latest obsession, your latest body of work?

NA: I have an obsessional subject: “From death toward life.” And I’m working on a diaristic work–a book of photos all taken with a compact camera, to be published in the spring.

NG: For me, the fact you’ve done so many books is one of the things that’s inspiring about your work. Another is that you’re the only photographer I know who uses whatever format you want.

NA: Photography is a collaboration with the camera, and every camera is unique; our time can’t be captured by a single camera. Using one camera is like being confined to a fixed idea. If I photograph a woman with a six-by-seven, medium-sized camera and then fast with a compact camera, the photo will be different. If you take the camera as “man,” it’s as if I throw four or five men at a woman. Obviously her response differs depending on who he is. There’s also a difference depending on whether it’s a camera I have a lot of experience with, one I’m using for the first time, or one that’s hard to use.

NG: An old lover and a new lover.

NA: Love too depends on the kind of person you’re dealing with.

NG: Do you ever photograph men or boys?

NA: Only a few, but I’d like to photograph more. I photograph because of my relationship with the subject. I’m a late bloomer, and am immature when it comes to relationships with men. Perhaps I should start.

NG: Aren’t you going to Osaka to photograph a boxer?

NA: Yes, his name is Tatsuyoshi Joichiro. Someone asked me to a fight; I’m very interested to go. What I want to photograph, though, is not the match itself but the training, in the small space that is his world. He’s on the brink of his career, he’s insecure, he’s not sure he’ll win. I’m interested in men’s weakness.

NG: Do you ever have sex with your models?

NA: Almost always. A photo shoot is very erotic; it’s part of the atmosphere.

Ken Schles’ ‘Invisible City’ Lecture Notes from 1990

I received an email this morning from Ken with the following message regarding his lecture notes form 1990. The notes can be enlarged by clicking on the images. Thanks again to Ken for openly sharing this with the Photo Book Club.

Dear Matt,

Just wanted to send this. I found my original lecture notes for IC for a talk that I gave in April, 1990 at The International Center of Photography—over twenty years ago. I was 29 then. Now I am 51. Reading it, I feel it still rings true. I think other people might be curious to read and I am happy to share it.

Ken

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Extract from 'Blood and guts in High School' ©KATHY ACKER


 

 

Cafe Lehmitz – Key Editions and other publications by Anders Petersen

As we have pointed out before, and 5b4 books has commented on, there have been a variety of different editions that form a history of ‘Cafe Lehmitz’ from initial publication in 1979, to it’s latest incarnation from Schirmer/Mosel in 2009. It’s 32 year history marked by a total of 10 editions all listed below.

Key editions of Cafe Lehmitz:

Café Lehmitz; Prestel, 2009
Café Lehmitz; Schirmer/Mosel, 2009
Café Lehmitz; Rat Hole, 2007
Café Lehmitz; Schirmer/Mosel, 2004
Café Lehmitz; Fischer, 2003
Café Lehmitz; Schirmer/Mosel, 1985
Café Lehmitz; Fischer Taschenbuch, 1985
Café Lehmitz; Schirmer/Mosel, 1985 (French edition)
Café Lehmitz; ETC Förlags AB, 1982
Le bistrot dʼHamburg; Contrejour, 1979

As well as Cafe Lehmitz, Petersen has published numerous other successful books, listed below with, wherever possible current links to Amazon or other sources of information have been provided

Gröna Lund; Aman Iman, 2009
Dear Diary; Gun Gallery, 2009
Sète #8; Images En Manoeuvres, 2008
French Kiss; Dewi Lewis, 2008
Roma: A Diary; Zone Attive Edizioni, 2005
Ich Dich Iieben, Du mich auch?; Fotomuseum Winterhur, 2003
Du mich auch; Journal, 2002
Nära avstå/Close Distance, Journal Fölag, 2002
Indicier; Journal Fölag, 1996
Fotografier/Photographs 1966-1996; Journal Fölag, 1997
Ingen har sett alit; Legus Fölag, 1995
Karnevalen i Venedig; ETC Fölag, 1991
Rågång till Kärleken; Norstedts Fölag, 1991
I Mörkrummet; Fyra Förläggare, 1984
Brottsoffer; Pockettidningen R, 1977
En Dag På Cirkus; Bo Cavefors Bokförlang, 1976

Gröna Lund; Fyra Förläggare, 1973

John Edwin Mason on ‘Coke and Controversy’

The following is John Edwin Mason’s response to the post ‘Controversy: Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’

I’m generally sympathetic to Brent Staple’s critique of “Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue” (now, as I was in 1994). He’s right to insist that the book can’t be properly evaluated without situating it within a society and culture that has been shaped, consciously and unconsciously, by racist ideologies and practices. It does seem to me, however, that the general thrust of his argument misses the most essential point.

Yes, it’s a problem that the faces in the book are overwhelmingly black and brown, although the cocaine problem — contra Richard’s self-defense — wasn’t confined to African-American and Latino communities. Drug use by whites may have been hidden — harder to see and to photograph because of the defenses that social class and racial privilege can erect — but it was a major element in the crisis of the mid-90s. Richards (and the writer Edward Barnes, with whom he worked) certainly should have foregrounded this fact. Not to do so was to reinforce ever-prevalent racist stereotypes about who uses illegal drugs and who doesn’t.

©EUGENE RICHARDS

Staples alludes to, but does not develop, a much more important critique when he says that “Photographs can shock and dismay, but are useless to explain such complicated matters as economic decline [which underpinned the demand for drugs].” This is the heart of the matter.

Photographs, as every theorist and most photographers will tell you, are very good at showing us how things look, but very bad at explaining why they look that way. Documentary work, however, must be as much about the “why” as the “how.” Pretty pictures, scorching pictures, gut-wrenching pictures aren’t enough. Context and analysis are just as important. And this is where Richards fails utterly. Or, perhaps, “fails” is the wrong word. He doesn’t even try.

I’m tempted to say that it was rashly irresponsible for Richards to have published the book without attempting to explain the crisis he captured in his images. This was not, after all, an exercise in fine art photography. It’s documentary, and its purpose is to help us to understand the world in which we live.

©EUGENE RICHARDS

Instead, I fear, many readers came (and come) away knowing less about the drug crisis, rather than more. In the absence of analysis and explanation from Richards, many people would have fallen back on ideas already circulating in the culture. A great many — not all — of those notions would have been deeply racist.

It’s not so much that Richards’ images are decontextualized, it’s that their context would too often have been America’s reflexively racist culture, rather than its history and political-economy. As a result, the photos reinforce, rather than undermine, stereotypes of black and Latino depravity and criminality.

– John Edwin Mason

Controversy: ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’

It is fair to say that upon it’s release, Eugene Richards’ ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’ had a mixed reception from both the public and critics. Richards’ depiction of a predominantly black, poor, deprived community was seen by some to ignore the bigger issue of drug use in 90’s America, which was not exclusive to any class, or race.

Those who argued that Richards’ portrayal was biased, and that he was using sensationalism to sell photojournalism cited Richards’ use of cocaine as well as the fact that he had reportedly provided one subject with clean syringes as reason to doubt the validity of the images.

The arguments of bias, drug use and sensationalism in ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’ are best represented in two NY Times articles, along with both a letter from Richards to the article author, and one in reply to Richards.

Links to these articles and letters can be seen below, along with select quotes from each piece of text

– Matt Johnston

Coke Wars
The original article from the New York Times, By Brent Staples
Published: February 06, 1994

‘Like most of his kind, Mr. Richards is a voyeur, obsessed with the grisly. He is a master of the brutal image, though his is a cold, distant brutality that whispers instead of shouting.’

‘Take note of the needle; it could well be one of those that Mr. Richards says he bought Mariella because the ones she owned were too dull for proper use. Note also that Mr. Richards smoked his share of crack to get a feel for the subject.’

‘Reading and looking, I couldn’t help wonder: why are nearly all of the people in these photographs black? The vast majority of drug addicts in America are white. This could be said of any phenomenon in the United States, of course, but why is the white aspect of drug addiction so consistently invisible?’

©EUGENE RICHARDS

Richards to Staples – Letter to editor
Eugene Richards responds to Staples original article, addressing his use of cocaine, the clean syringes and his choice of subjects to document


‘Brent Staples’s review of “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue” (Feb. 6), my book on hard-core drug addiction, is a continuation of the ancient tradition of trying to kill the bearer of bad news. Mr. Staples’s weapon of choice here is the charge of bias.’

‘when I had completed my photographs, I delivered disposable syringes from a diabetic friend to Mariella. I did so after witnessing her jamming a bent needle first into her arm, then her neck. I knew that this woman I cared for would soon be using the syringes of others in that AIDS-plagued neighborhood.’

‘I did indeed reveal to Richard B. Woodward, the author of that article, that I had tried crack back in 1986, long before working on “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue,” but never again.’

‘Look, “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue” is quite obviously not a treatise on all drugs and drug users in America. It is not about a monthly snort of coke or casual marijuana use. From cover picture and title to the final paragraph, it is concerned with family- and neighborhood-destroying, racism-engendering, hard-core cocaine addiction.’

©EUGENE RICHARDS

Staples to Richards
At the end of Eugene Richards letter to Staples, you can find Staples’ response

‘I share Mr. Richards’ horror at the drug-related carnage in our streets. But he misstates the case when he says I accused him of “bias.” My review contained no such accusation; I worked especially hard to avoid that.’

‘I regret causing Eugene Richards the anguish and ill feeling represented in his letter. I respect his photographic eye and his considerable skills as a journalist. As my review said: “His works cannot be called picture books. He arranges his images to make what amount to visual novels, which he augments with pungent stretches of reflection, dialogue or description.”’

©EUGENE RICHARDS

Review/Photography; ‘Cocaine True’: Art or Sensationalism? By Charles Hagen
Published: March 11, 1994

‘Mr. Richards presents his powerful study with the impassioned anger of a biblical prophet. Many of his pictures seem intended to shock his audience out of any complacency it may feel about the scope or severity of the drug plague.’

‘But the real problem with Mr. Richards’s project is not the story it tells, but the ones it doesn’t tell. The pictures fit within the traditional functions of photojournalism, in which photographers, as surrogates for a middle-class audience, look at the problems of the poor.’

‘That may be too much to ask from any group of photographs. And despite the project’s limited scope, Mr. Richards’s pictures throw a harsh light on a world that is usually hidden from public view and give voices and faces to some people trapped there.’

©EUGENE RICHARDS

The arguments raised by these articles is just as prevalent with the role photojournalism plays in today’s fast paced, seen-it-all-before media audience. If you have anything to add to this discussion of Richards work, or the modern equivalents, drop us an email or leave a comment below.


– Matt Johnston

Robert Frank and Hugh Edwards correspondance

The following was added by William Allen, highlighting the correspondence between Robert Frank and Hugh Edwards following ‘The Americans’ (Curator of Prints, Drawing, and Photographs at the Art Institute of Chicago)

Robert Frank:

“It seems I made these photographs. I’m happy that they mean so much to you.”

“N.Y.C. May 1969 For Hugh Edwards  First with gratitude and respect to help + encourage when it mattered (1958) and now with regrets not to see in print your thoughts long before they became fashionable Your friend Robert.”

Those are inscriptions/dedications in The Americans, from Robert Frank to Hugh Edwards. Edwards was the Curator of Prints, Drawing, and Photographs at the Art Institute of Chicago. He gave quiet but effective support to emerging photographers, including Robert Frank. As Randy Kennedy put in the Times, Edwards was “a pioneering but still underappreciated curator.”

Frank had his first one-person show in a major venue at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961. That was Robert Frank: Photographer and Hugh Edwards arranged the show. Here is the 1960 letter from Edwards inviting Frank to exhibit.

Hugh Edwards:

May 23, 1960
Mr. Robert Frank,
34 Third Avenue,
New York City, New York.

Dear Mr. Frank: It seems so long since I was in New York and talked with you on the telephone that I am afraid you have forgotten the conversations we had in regard to an exhibition. Since I came back to Chicago, I have been very busy and knew you had little time to be bothered with correspondence. However, I have not forgotten that you said you might be interested in a show and my experience with The Americans have been so many since my return that I am writing you at last, still with the hope that we may have an exhibition here.

In the last week I have completed an exhibition schedule so that I am able to give you, if you are still interested, some idea of when the show would take place. How would the period of April 28 through June 11 of next year suit you? I remember you said you would like to have some delay and although these dates-almost a year in the future-may seem distant, the time will pass much faster than we think.

I have had the museum store stock the American edition of your book. They have sold a number of copies and there is steady demand for it. We have both the French and American editions in the print room and they have been enthusiastically received by many young photographers who come here to look at the prints in our collection. This pleases me a great deal because no other book, except Walker Evans’ American Photographs, has given me so much stimulation and reassurance as to what I feel the camera was created for. I hope this does not have too pompous a sound for I feel your work is the most sincere and truthful attention paid to the American people for a long time. Although so different and not stemming from them, it may be kept in the company of Frank Norris, Sherwood Anderson, Hart Crane, Jon Dos Passos and Walker Evans and these are the best in American expression in the time I can remember. It is a real privilege to have known your pictures in their first freshness and newness. Someday they will spread to everyone and even the most sterile and analytical of intellectuals will except them at last.

I should greatly appreciate hearing from you as soon as possible in regard to what you think about the exhibition so that I may put it definitely in the schedule of exhibitions.

I hope to be in New York again, at least in the early fall, and talk with you again. As typewriters and telephones are instruments of inhibition for me, I regret I could not arrange a meeting during those days I was there this spring.

Yours sincerely,
Hugh Edwards, Curator of Photography.

The letter appears at http://bleakbeauty.com/edwards_letters.html . It is the second item, following an appreciation by Danny Lyon.

I want to thank David Travis, retired Head and Curator of the Department
of Photography at The Art Institute of Chicago, for sharing with me his
first-hand knowledge of the inscriptions of Robert Frank to Hugh
Edwards.
– William Allen

The Americans – A Summary

A huge thank you to all who have dropped by and especially those who have contributed in the first month of the Photo Book Club, looking at Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’. We have compiled an archive of the posts below for future reference and will also be listed under the reading list page.

Please continue to share any links and further chatter around Frank’s masterpiece as we will keep updating the blog to provide an even better archive of information for future reference.

Editions and History: Robert Frank – Les Américains/The Americans

The History

In June, 1955, Robert Frank purchased a five year-old Ford Business Coupe in New York, this purchase would signal the start of a road trip, that would first see the Swiss-born photographer drive alone to Detroit, then in late Summer south to Savannah and Miami Beach, before heading to St. Petersburg, and New Orleans, an then on to Houston, for a rendezvous with his wife Mary, and their two children, Pablo and Andrea. Together, they would drive west arriving in Los Angeles shortly before Christmas. They remained on the Pacific coast until May 1956, when Mary and the children returned to New York, leaving Frank to continue his 10,000 mile trip alone. His route took him via Reno to Salt Lake City, before joining U.S. 91 to Butte, Montana, then through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, before arriving in Chicago, where he turned south, arriving back in New York in July.

In just over a year, Frank exposed more than 760 rolls of film, producing some 27,000 photographs, and on his return to New York, he began the mammoth task of editing his work. Over the next few months he selected and printed 1000 work prints, which he pinned to the wall of his Third Avenue apartment, or laid on the floor, slowly editing these prints to just 100, and then the 83 that would make up the final sequence of Les Américains (Robert Delpire, 1958).

Frank received an advance of $200 for The Americans (by the end of the year the was book out of print, and this sum had risen to $817), the road trip itself had been financed by a Guggenheim  Fellowship. His application to the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in the autumn of 1954 listed five supporters, including the legendary art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971), who had hired Frank as an assistant photographer, when he first arrived in New York from Switzerland in 1947, and the great photographers Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Edward Steichen (1879-1973).

Frank’s application stated his aim was to record ‘what one naturalised American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere.’ It is worth remember that at this point Frank was not yet a naturalised citizen of the United States (he was awarded US citizenship in 1963, to which he remarked ‘Ich bin ein Amerikaner’), and Evans had a hand a significant hand in drafting the written application.

Like many great works, the initial reaction to The Americans was scathing, with condemnation coming think and fast, ‘A Degradation of a Nation!’; ‘a sad poem for sick people,’ the editors of Popular Photography where so incensed they published no fewer than seven reviews in the May 1959 issue, with just one proving ‘unreservedly admiring,’ in short The Americans, was viewed as un-American. But this was short lived, with more editions and reprints of this book being published than possibly any other photobook, reflecting the significance and influence of Frank’s seminal work.

Key Editions

•    Les Américains, Robert Delpire, 1958
•    Gli Americani, Il Saggiatore, 1959 (Italian edition)
•    The Americans, Grove, 1959 (Introduction by Jack Kerouac)
•    The Americans, Aperture, 1968
•    The Americans, Aperture, 1969
•    The Americans, Aperture, 1978
•    Les Américains, Robert Delpire, 1985 (French translation of Kerouac’s introduction)
•    The Americans, Pantheon, 1986
•    Die Amerikaner, Christian Verlag, 1986 (German edition)
•    Amerikanzu: Robato Furanku shashinshu, Takara-jimasha, 1993 (Japanese edition)
•    The Americans, Cornerhouse, 1993
•    The Americans, Scalo, 1993
•    The Americans, Scalo, 1998
•    The Americans, Steidl, 2008 (50th anniversary edition)
•    Die Amerikaner, Steidl, 2008 (German edition)
•    The Americans, Steidl, 2008 (First Mandarin edition)

Other books by Robert Frank

Where possible, Amazon links have been provided

•    Hold Still – Keep Going, Steidl, 2011
•    Tal uf Tal Ab, Steidl, 2010
•    Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946,  Steidl, 2009
•    Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank, Steidl, 2009
•    Seven Stories, Steidl, 2009
•    Black White and Things, Steidl, 2009 (re-issue)
•    Paris, Steidl, 2008
•    Zero Mostel Reads a Book, Steidl, 2008
•    Pull My Daisy, Steidl, 2008
•    Peru, Steidl, 2008
•    Me and My Brother, Steidl, 2007
•    One Hour, Steidl, 2007
•    Come Again, Steidl, 2006
•    New York to Nova Scotia, Steidl, 2005
•    Storylines, Steidl, 2004
•    Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank, Scalo, 2004
•    London/Wales, Scalo, 2003
•    Hold Still – Keep Going, Scalo, 2001
•    One Hour, Hanuman Books, 1998
•    Flamingo, Scalo, 1997
•    Thank You, Scalo, 1996
•    Black White and Things, Scalo, 1995 (Facsimilie of 1952 edition)
•    Robert Frank: Moving Out, Scalo, 1995
•    The Lines of My Hand, Distributed Art Partners, 1995
•    Black White and Things, 3Nishen Publishing, 1991
•    The Lines of My Hand, Parkett/Der Alltag, 1989 (revised edition)
•    The Lines of My Hand, Random House, 1989
•    Flower is…, Yugensha, Kazuhiko Motomura (Tokyo, limited edition of 500)
•    Thats Life, self-published, 1980
•    The Lines of My Hand, Lustrum Press, 1972 (condensed edition)
•    The Lines of My Hand, Yugensha, Kazuhiko Motomura, 1972 (Tokyo)
•    Me and My Brother, a handmade/promotional book for film of same name, 1965
•    Zero Mostel Reads a Book, New York Times, 1963
•    Pull My Daisy, Grove Press, 1961

Wayne Ford

Further reading

Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, Expanded Edition, Steidl, 2008.