A Brief Anthology of ‘Quotations’ – An Homage to the Final Chapter of Susan Sontag’s On Photography
Susan Sontag closes her seminal book On Photography with a “brief anthology of quotations”—compiling remarks from various brilliant people on the topic. Sontag writes:
The final reason for the need to photograph everything lies in the very logic of consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up—and, therefore, to need to be replenished.
There’s always a new thing to look at, the same way there’s always a new way to say that. The following statements are a variation on Sontag’s original collection of quotes—misheard, translated, or reimagined for the year 2014 and for replenishment’s sake. This isn’t what they said, but it’s what they meant.
Beauty, you’re under arrest. I have a camera, and I’m not afraid to use it.
—Julia Margaret Cameron
I love looking at famous people. Because of the way they look. Because of the way photography makes them look famous.
I can only see beautiful things when I’m fucked up.
If you can take photographs with language, I’m taking one right now.
From the 2014 VICE Photo Issue: Cindy Sherman, Cover Girl (Vogue)
While an art student at Buffalo State College in 1975, Cindy Sherman photographed herself on the cover of Vogue as Jerry Hall, the supermodel girlfriend of Mick Jagger. The first photograph in this triptych is the original cover with Hall, photographed in black-and-white. In the second photograph we see Sherman’s face, which suddenly looks a lot like Hall’s. In the third photograph, Sherman winks playfully back at the camera, spoiling any illusion of resemblance. We include this work here as a note of encouragement to young photographers everywhere: Fake it till you make it.
Weegee’s Pre-Photoshop Darkroom Distortions, from the VICE 2014 Photo Issue
An off-beat and beguiling journey into the dark corners of the mind, Go Down Death is something you haven’t seen before. It was shot on black-and-white Super 16mm and filmed in 14 days in an old abandoned paint factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The film feels like it was beamed from another plane of existence. It’s an ensemble piece that takes place entirely on constructed sets of decaying buildings that are inhabited by amputated soldiers, tone-deaf bar singers, child gravediggers, and shape-shifting doctors, all surrounded by an unseen, foreboding presence existing outside the frame.
It’s also the kind of rare filmmaking that sticks with you. I found myself recalling moments from the film—like the howling sound of the wind or a character muttering the line “Ghost haunt me, but I’ll haunt no one”—days after I’d seen it. Perhaps the film’s lasting quality can be attributed to its grim subject matter. There’s a lot of talk of death, disease, and the breakdown of the body. It’s all very exposed and vulnerable. You’ll probably find yourself feeling those qualities after the credits roll.
Do you remember when we interviewed the filmmaker behind Go Down Death a few months back? The film’s now out on iTunes. Check it out!
Barbershops of Brooklyn
Photos by Ol’ Skool Sean
Garry Winogrand’s American Epic
Winogrand was a photographer of people, from rodeo performers in Texas to socialites in Manhattan to the regulars at Venice Beach. Humanity—or perhaps American humanity—in all its iterations and range of expression, was his subject matter.
Surveying Garry Winogrand’s American Epic
Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984). Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952. Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz. © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
In order to enter the Garry Winogrand retrospective that opened last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you exit the main auditorium into the south wing, where you are greeted by a long corridor of Greek art from the sixth through fourth centuries BC. It mostly consists of statues in various poses—some at war, some lost in thought, some proclaiming, some brooding. By the time you reach the Winogrand show on the second floor and begin to survey the work, it may occur to you that the Greek gallery provided something of an anachronistic prologue. Known for his routine of tirelessly walking the streets candidly photographing city life, Winogrand was a photographer of people, from rodeo performers in Texas to socialites in Manhattan to the regulars at Venice Beach. Humanity—or perhaps American humanity—in all its iterations and range of expression, was his subject matter.
Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984). New York, 1950. Gelatin silver print. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Fractional and promised gift of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
The Met is the third stop of the exhibition’s tour, originating at San Francisco MoMA. The project began when gallerist Jeffrey Fraenkel asked photographer Leo Rubinfien to help compile a large retrospective book of Winogrand’s work. Rubinfien agreed, but in his own words, “it was immediately clear you needed a museum.” So Rubinfien approached San Francisco MoMA Curator of Photography Sandy Phillips, who jumped at the idea of doing an exhibition, in which Rubinfien, who is not a curator by trade, would act as such. This iteration at the Met was reduced from the original SF MoMA show by Jeff Rosenheim, curator in charge of the Department of Photographs at the Met. It is the first Winogrand retrospective in 25 years, a virtual eternity for an artist of Winogrand’s renown, let alone an artist no longer living.
In Randal Levenson’s practice, insiders and outsiders become one. His series In Search of the Monkey Girl comprises photographs of enigmatic freaks, pictures of carnies, and sideshow scenes taken from his travels across North America in the 70s. His subjects included such illustrious figures as the Man with Two Faces, the World’s Smallest Mother, Penguin Boy, Willie “Popeye” Ingram, and the iconic Artoria Gibbons. In 1982, Aperture published In Search of the Monkey Girl as a book, which featured an essay by Spalding Gray titled Stories From the 1981 Tennessee State Fair.
The pictures are now on view at La Petite Mort Gallery
, Ottawa, Canada, so we sat down with Levenson to talk about his days on the road, getting to know sideshow freaks, and being able to photograph who people really are inside.
VICE: What motivates your practice?
Randal Levenson: I am interested in how people work to solve or adapt to life’s problems. The camera has provided me with a means to enter environments where it might otherwise be difficult or impossible to interact.
When did you begin In Search of the Monkey Girl?
In 1971, I traveled from Ottawa to visit a friend who lived in Fryeburg, Maine, at the time of the Fryeburg fair. I spent the eight days of the fair photographing both the agricultural and carnival side—that is, both the livestock arenas as well as the carnies brought in to operate the independent midway. I traveled to the next fair, the last of the season, in Topsham, Maine, living in and working out of an old Sears canvas tent I set up in the woods adjacent to the fairgrounds.
From that initial encounter with fairs, I determined to work toward a book that would document the people and places I encountered while traveling from fair to fair. I soon gravitated toward the carnies and especially the sideshow part of the business. My last was the Tennessee Sate Fair in 1981. The bulk of the work was done from 1974 to 1978, when I was able to be on the road nearly full time, thanks in part to a couple of grants.
How would you describe your experience of the circus or carnival subculture?
There is no “circus” in the carnival, and carnies are generally looked down upon by circus folk. Carnies do not have much use for circus people, either. It’s a different culture entirely. In a circus, everybody is on a payroll, and most carnies except, for the roustabouts, get paid from their own independent arrangements with the main show promoter.