Kikuji Kawada is one of Japan’s most celebrated postwar photographers. In 1959, Kawada—along with Shomei Tomatsu, Eikoh Hosoe, Ikko Narahara, Akira Sato, and Akira Tanno—founded the influential VIVO cooperative, which championed an expressive approach to documentary photography. He is perhaps best known for his now-iconic 1965 book The Map(or Chizu in Japanese), a disquieting exploration of the trauma of World War II. The book, designed by Kohei Sugiura, features images of stains burnt into the walls of Hiroshima’s A-Bomb Dome (now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial), as well as images related to the iconography of the American occupation. Kawada’s subsequent projects continued his interest in connecting the present with historical touchstones, and shift between realism and abstraction. Kawada, now eighty-two, continues to attract a wide international audience. His photographs were featured in the 2014 exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography, curated by Simon Baker, for London’s Tate Modern, and MACK Books has recently released a volume of The Last Cosmology, Kawada’s project on astrological phenomena. This past January, at Aperture’s request, Kawada met with Ryuichi Kaneko, an influential historian and a major collector of Japanese photography books, at Tokyo’s Photo Gallery International. They discussed the arc of Kawada’s six-decade-long engagement with photography for the Summer 2015 “Tokyo” issue of Aperture magazine.
Photography by Jun Morinaga. Design by Kohei Sugiura and Hitoshi Suzuki
4to (300 × 270 mm), pp. (inc. 20 folding). 89 black-and-white photographs. Texts in Japanese and English by W. Eugene Smith, Miyabi Ichikawa, Koichi Tanigawa, Seigow Matsuoka, and Jun Morinaga. Design by Kohei Sugiura and Hitoshi Suzuki. Black endpapers. Grey cloth-covered boards, spine and sides lettered in white. Publisher’s black-and-white photo-illustrated paper-covered board slipcase; one spine edge bumped. Original shipping carton with title in pencil on one side; lightly worn. Signed by Morinaga in silver ink on first page. Fine in a close to fine slipcase with the original packaging.
First edition, signed copy. In 1960 Jun Morinaga graduated from the photography department at the Nihon University College of Art, and later that year he began photographing Tokyo rivers, continuing to work on the project over a period of three years. Shortly after beginning the series he met and showed his work to W. Eugene Smith. Smith was impressed and hired Morinaga to work as an assistant on a commission for Hitachi that would become Japan: Chapter of Image (1963).
The 1971 Japanese tour of Smith’s retrospective exhibition ‘Let Truth be the Prejudice’ had been produced by Kazuhiko Motomura, and it was Smith who introduced Motomura to Jun Morinaga’s work. The design of River, its shadow of shadows is by Kohei Sugiura, who was also responsible for some of the most striking Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s, including Eikoh Hosoe’s Barakei / Killed by Roses (1963), Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu / The Map (1965), Robert Frank’s The Lines of My Hand (1972), and Yutaka Takanashi’s Toshi-e / Toward the City(1974) amongst others. It is a lavish production with numerous folding pages which serve to slow the viewer’s progress through the book and force a more thorough reading of the work.
The life of Harvey Pekar
“Early morning in the universe...”
The Story Behind Devo’s Iconic Cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”
By Ray Padgett / The New Yorker
One afternoon in 1978, Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale—the two prime architects of the band Devo—were fidgeting in Peter Rudge’s office, near the Warwick Hotel, in Manhattan, with Mick Jagger. Rudge was the Rolling Stones’ manager, and Devo had recorded an odd cover of the band’s hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”—so odd that their label said they needed Jagger’s blessing to release it. Mothersbaugh put the tape in a boom box and pressed Play. As the sounds of the cover filled the room, Jagger sat stone-faced. What he was hearing didn’t sound much like the “Satisfaction” he’d written. Keith Richards’s iconic riff was gone, and the original melody was nowhere to be found. Was this a homage, Mick must have wondered, or were they mocking him? “He was just looking down at the floor swirling his glass of red wine,” Casale recently remembered, adding, “He didn’t even have shoes on, just socks and some velour pants. I don’t know what his habits were then, but this was early afternoon and it looked like he had just gotten up.”
For thirty seconds or so, the men sat in silence, listening to the weird robo-funk coming from the boom box. Then something changed. “He suddenly stood up and started dancing around on this Afghan rug in front of the fireplace,” Casale said, of Jagger, “the sort of rooster-man dance he used to do, and saying”—he impersonated Jagger’s accent—“‘I like it, I like it.’ Mark and I lit up, big smiles on our faces, like in ‘Wayne’s World’: ‘We’re not worthy!’ To see your icon that you grew up admiring, that you had seen in concert, dancing around like Mick Jagger being Mick Jagger. It was unbelievable.”
“We were less than nothing,” Mothersbaugh said. “We were just these artists that nobody had ever heard of, from Akron, Ohio.”
The description is an exaggeration, but only a small one. After forming, in 1972, Devo had spent the subsequent half decade building up a huge fan base in the Midwest, but had not made a dent beyond. To get gigs, they would lie to clubs and say they were a Top Forty covers band. Once promoters figured out that they were not, they were rarely invited back. One impediment to the band’s wider success was that, as far as Devo was concerned, Devo wasn’t a band at all but, rather, an art project, created to advance Casale’s theory of “de-evolution,” the concept that instead of evolving, society was in fact regressing (“de-evolving”) as humans embraced their baser instincts. Inspired by the Dadaists and the Italian Futurists, Devo’s members were also creating satirical visual art, writing treatises, and filming short videos. The first of those videos included the band’s first-ever cover, of Johnny Rivers’s spy-show hit “Secret Agent Man,” in which the band interspersed their grainy performance with decidedly odd footage of two people in monkey masks spanking a housewife. Devo’s version of that song provided a template for “Satisfaction.” It was a pop hit everyone knew, radically deconstructed. Devo’s secret agent was “more like a janitor than a gigolo,” as Mothersbaugh put it. They released their cover on a nine-minute film called “The Truth About De-Evolution,” which they would screen before gigs.
The band used to rehearse in their practice space outside of Akron, in an abandoned garage behind a car wash. They had no heat and would rehearse wearing winter coats and gloves with the fingers cut off, so that they could play their guitar strings. One January afternoon in 1977, Casale’s brother Bob came up with a guitar line, the robotic seven-note opening that would replace the original “Satisfaction” riff. The drummer Alan Myers joined in with a typically bizarre Devo beat. “It sounded like some kind of mutated devolved reggae,” Casale said, of the rhythm. “I started laughing, and I came up with a bass part that I thought was a conceptual reggae part. We just kept playing it, and Mark just started singing.” The song Mothersbaugh sang wasn’t “Satisfaction” but “Paint It Black.” (Mothersbaugh was a huge Stones fan.) But, as the band futzed around, they couldn’t get the lyrics to match their jerky rhythm. Then, Casale recalled, “Mark started singing ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ to our jam, and that did it.”
The band soon realized that “Satisfaction” offered an ideal vehicle to bring their de-evolution philosophy to the masses. They weren’t covering the song, they would say; they were “correcting” it. “I think those are some of the most amazing lyrics that were ever written in rock and roll,” Mothersbaugh said, “dealing with conspicuous consumption and the stupidity of capitalism and sexual frustration all in one song. It pretty much encapsulated what was going on with kids at that time, much more than any of the hippie songs, as far as I was concerned.”
The more Devo played the song, the more it evolved—or devolved. Early videos show a version much slower than it would become—a mid-tempo rumble that wore out its welcome by the end. It was interesting conceptually, and no doubt a fun surprise for concertgoers, but not necessarily something you’d want to listen to repeatedly. “The versions that we were doing of all our songs in the early days were very slow and more bluesy, like Captain Beefheart material,” Mothersbaugh recalled.
“We started off at Akron speed,” Casale joked. “But then, once we went to New York and saw the amazing energy of the Ramones and the Damned, it just put a fire under us.” The quintet started getting some music-industry interest. David Bowie even introduced the group onstage, at one of their 1977 New York shows, calling them “the band of the future.” Their first single, “Mongoloid,” released earlier that same year, had got little buzz; now, the band decided to capitalize on its momentum by recording “Satisfaction” as their second single, releasing it on their own label. Soon after, as labels were bidding over the Ohio eccentrics, the band decamped to Germany, to record their début album with the producer Brian Eno and with Bowie, who wanted to help. Warner Bros. signed the band.
From the start, there was tension during the recording sessions. “They were a terrifying group of people to work with because they were so unable to experiment,” Eno later said. “When they turned up to do this record in Germany, they brought a big chest of recordings they’d already done of these same songs. We’d be sitting there working, and suddenly Mark Mothersbaugh would be in the chest to retrieve some three-year-old tape, put it on, and say, ‘Right, we want the snare drum to sound like that.’ I hate that kind of work.”
“Our goal was to just try and make it as faithful to what we were doing as we could,” Mothersbaugh recalled. “But Brian and David added on extra harmony vocals, and they put in synth parts. When we weren’t in the studio, Eno would go in on his own and record extra parts over the top of our songs. Most always, we took all the stuff out that they did.” In the end, the song basically emerged unchanged from Devo’s prior recording.
It’s a little unclear why Warner, once they learned that Devo wanted to include “Satisfaction” on their début album, demanded that Devo get it approved by Jagger’s people. Cover songs don’t need anyone’s approval: you can cover anything you want as long as you pay the original copyright holder and don’t change the words. Casale thinks Warner may have been worried that their cover was so different that it might have been considered satire—a separate legal entity for which one needs permission. (Devo had run into a similar issue covering “Secret Agent Man,” and ended up using a sneaky runaround to get permission from his Japanese publisher since Rivers himself refused.)
Warner also mentioned in a meeting with Devo that they had a five-thousand-dollar promotional budget. When the band asked what that would go toward, Warner suggested cardboard cutouts of the band for record stores. Mothersbaugh and Casale had a counter-offer: that Warner give them the money to make a music video. At the time, the idea of using video as its own creative medium to promote music was novel. “They thought we were crazy,” Mothersbaugh recalled.
The first thing the band did with that five thousand dollars was get a wardrobe for the video. But they didn't want to look like rock stars—they wanted to look like anything but. “We didn’t want to be lumped in with rock and roll, and we thought the way people dressed in rock and roll was stupid,” Mothersbaugh said. “We were looking for something more interesting and more theatrical and more dramatic. What can we do to let people know we’re not the same?” For the better part of a year, Casale had worked by day designing a sales catalogue for a janitorial-supply company. Often, he would bring home the brochures for inspiration, searching for the ugliest janitorial outfits he could find. It was in one of these catalogues that he found the yellow waste-disposal suits that the band decided to wear in the video. “The yellow suits were great, because they had this look that was totally the opposite of something that hugged your balls or your butt, or showed off your physique in any way,” Mothersbaugh said. “It was kind of the opposite: they hid us.” Devo rented out an Akron theatre to perform the song in, filmed the video on the cheap, and got it ready for its big début.
When MTV launched, in 1981, very few bands had videos ready for the network to play. As a result, Devo’s “Satisfaction” video earned endless rotations. But the band’s big break came when they performed the song on “Saturday Night Live,” wearing the suits and pitch-black sunglasses, and doing the same jerky robo-motions, as in the video. (At the beginning of the performance, you can briefly hear Mothersbaugh play Keith Richards’s original “Satisfaction” riff, before segueing into his own.) A little-known band like Devo would not ordinarily merit consideration on “S.N.L.” but the band’s manager dangled the possibility of a performance by Neil Young, whom he also represented, over the television producers’ heads to persuade them to book Devo.
People at home watching weird comedy on a Saturday night were, as it turned out, exactly Devo’s target demographic. “Overnight, we went from being this little club band to having to rebook our upcoming tour to larger venues,” Casale said. Without “Satisfaction,” Devo might not have had a career. Four decades and many hits later, Mothersbaugh still calls it “the quintessential Devo tune” and says that none of that success would have happened without that meeting with Mick Jagger: “When I walk out in front of a car later today, not paying attention to traffic, and get squashed like a bug, and I’m watching all the good moments of my life zip by, I know that one will appear a couple of times.”
This piece was adapted from “Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time,” by Ray Padgett, which is out October 3rd from Sterling Publishing.
Often called the Godard of the East, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima was one of the most provocative film artists of the twentieth century, and his works challenged and shocked the cinematic world for decades. Following his rise to prominence at Shochiku, Oshima struck out to form his own production company, Sozo-sha, in the early sixties. That move ushered in the prolific period of his career that gave birth to the five films collected here. Unsurprisingly, this studio renegade was fascinated by stories of outsiders—serial killers, rabid hedonists, and stowaway misfits are just some of the social castoffs you’ll meet in these audacious, cerebral entries in the New Wave surge that made Japan a hub of truly daredevil moviemaking.
Misery loves company in this film by director Eric Weston. A black youth in Atlanta needs to steal in order to feed himself and his mother who earns money as a prostitute. When she dies suddenly, Tige Jackson (Gibran Brown) feels completely alone and is adamant about not wanting to go into foster care. Seeing no other way out, Tige is on the verge of attempting suicide when Marvin Stewart (John Cassavetes), an alcoholic whose substance abuse has led him down a similarly desperate path, interrupts the boy before he harms himself. The middle-aged man befriends the youngster and despite difference of race and age they become quite close. As their bond strengthens, they discover the identity of Tige’s father, a wealthy businessman named Richard Davis (Billy Dee Williams). Presented with his biological father, Tige must now decide who he wants to live with: a man he does not know but who has the means to provide for his future or the man who saved his life and who he has grown to love as a father.
Every city in America has them. There are a thousand in Seattle alone--homeless teenagers who use only their first names to hide their identities. And more alarming than that gun in Mike's hand is what these street kids represent today: a new generation of runaway and abandoned children struggling to survive on their own. Each year more than one million American youngsters between 11 and 17 run away. More than half are girls, and the majority are never reported missing by their apparently indifferent families. These kids aren't looking for '60s-style hippie adventure. Many leave home because living there has become impossible for them. Most are fleeing turbulent households racked by conflict, violence, neglect and--in a disturbingly high percentage of cases--sexual abuse. "Some of these kids are running for damn good reasons. The most logical option they have is to get out of there," says Gordon Raley, staff director of the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, which gathers data on runaways. But a growing number are casualties of the prolonged recession. "The economy has had a tremendous impact," Raley continues. "There are a hell of a lot of kids literally kicked out and thrown away." Each year some 5,000 unidentified teenagers end up in unmarked graves, according to federal records, and another 50,000 simply disappear. No one knows what happens to them. Too young to get jobs or to receive welfare, a significant majority resort to theft, peddling drugs, and prostitution to support themselves. Father Bruce Ritter, a Catholic priest, whose Covenant House crisis centers in New York, Toronto and Houston aid thousands of kids each year, believes that 80 percent of runaways use sex to survive. "Without dealing in myth or exaggeration, there are 500,000 kids younger than seventeen involved in prostitution," says Ritter. "Nobody will dispute that. They have nothing to sell but themselves." Government programs and privately funded centers like Ratter's shelter roughly 10 percent of the chronically homeless at any given time. In Seattle, where 6,000 runaways are reported each year, there are only a single eight-bed facility, The Shelter, and a few impoverished church-run programs like the St. Dismas Center to provide help. Fending for themselves, most street kids spend the nights in abandoned buildings, unlocked cars, steam-bath cubicles, under bridges and even in cemeteries. Some pool their cash to rent cheap motel rooms, with as many as 15 sleeping on the floor. To illuminate this growing national problem and encourage more effective solutions to it, LIFE here examines these children's dangerous and pitiful lot.
"Being on the streets is tough, but it's kind of a challenge," says Christy, 16, who left her suburban Seattle home five years ago when her mother moved in with a drug dealer. "Everybody here just goes day to day. A lot of us wonder where the next meal is going to come from, where we're going to sleep." To answer those needs, many of Seattle's street kids risk arrest--and worse--by becoming prostitutes, what they call "turning dates." Boys and girls, who stash their clothes in bus station lockers during the day, drift near the waterfront's Pike Street Market and wait for offers. "I've been raped eight times by dates. One held a gun on me and almost broke my arm," says Sam, 17, a professor's daughter from Idaho who ran away. "After a while, you can't handle it. I started crying all the time, having these really weird fits. I thought I was crazy. So I stopped, but then I had to start again." While boys operate independently, female prostitution is controlled by pimps, who use drugs, sex or threats to keep the girls in virtual bondage. "A girl doesn't think she can sneeze without her pimp," says Linda Reppond, executive director of the privately run Shelter. "He makes his girls dependent on drugs in order to control them. Boys do drugs to survive the humiliation of turning tricks, just to live with themselves." Tragically, trafficking in drugs is considered a step up-street kids find it less degrading than prostitution. Those are the only choices, they insist. None of these kids can go to schoo-l-even if they wanted to. They have no permanent address, and schools will not admit them. (One undersized 16-year-old, Itty Bitty, hasn't been to school since fourth grade.) Regulations ban those under 18 from adult shelters, but most of the street kids are too proud to sleep in a room full of alcoholics and bums anyway. Shadow tried it when he turned 18 this spring. "I'd rather sit in an all-night coffee shop," he says. "The government thinks if it makes it hard enough on the streets, we'll go home. But there's no place to go."
Il y avait encore un inédit de Witold Gombrowicz - et pas n’importe lequel. L’écrivain de l’immaturité, l’auteur de Ferdydurke et Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne (parus en Pologne avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale) avait indiqué dès 1957 (Gombrowicz est né en 1904 et mort en 1969), en tête de l’édition polonaise de son Journal, dans une phrase ignorée par l’édition française : «Il me reste encore en réserveun manuscrit - quelque chose de beaucoup plus privé - que je préfère ne pas publier. Je ne voudrais pas m’attirer des ennuis. Peut-être un jour… Plus tard.» Ce jour arrive en France, trois ans après qu’il est survenu en Pologne. Ce texte «beaucoup plus privé» que le Journal,c’est Kronos (1). En notations souvent ultrarapides éclairées dans l’édition par de nombreuses notes de bas de page, Gombrowicz retrace sa vie année par année à partir de 1922. Il semble qu’il a commencé à écrire ce texte vers 1952-1953, en Argentine. Il est arrivé dans le pays en 1939, fuyant la Pologne, y a sympathisé avec de nombreux écrivains dont Ernesto Sábato et Virgilio Piñera (et jouant aux échecs) et l’a quitté pour l’Europe, principalement la France, en 1963. Chaque année est divisée de I à XII et l’écrivain tire, à la fin de chaque décembre, un bilan financier, érotique et littéraire de ces douze mois écoulés. Ou, plutôt, fait un état des lieux, en particulier de son «prestige en hausse» sur les derniers temps. Sa réputation littéraire l’intéresse beaucoup : il sait ce que vaut son œuvre mais ignore quand le reste du monde l’apprendra. Il est tout à fait nobélisable selon lui. Octobre 1968. «Le 17, le Nobel : Kawakama ou quelque chose de ce genre.» Et vlan pour Yasunari Kawabata, ou plutôt pour les jurés suédois. Mai 1969. «J’ai oublié : De Gaulle a démissionné.» Gombrowicz vivait pourtant alors en France. Il n’est pas passionné par la politique.
«Revoici Gombrowicz. Non seulement en direct, mais en trois dimensions. Le voici, pour ainsi dire, sans littérature» : c’est ainsi que Yann Moix commence sa préface à Kronos, cette plongée dans la vie de son auteur. Il y a quelque chose de fascinant dans le texte qui est un mélange d’austérité et de volupté, c’est souvent écrit avec une telle économie de moyens que ce pourrait être mortellement ennuyeux - et c’est continûment passionnant. Rien n’en atteste mieux que les scrupules que Rita Gombrowicz, la veuve de l’écrivain née au Québec en 1935, qu’elle raconte dans son introduction qui en devient bouleversante. Elle n’apparaît pas comme une compagne idéale dans les notations. «Nos relations sont distantes», «De nouveau en froid avec Rita, pour cause d’hystérie», «Avec Rita, c’est une réussite, sauf…» La sexualité que Gombrowicz évoque dans Kronos, c’est plutôt celle avec de jeunes hommes. Rita Gombrowicz raconte donc avoir hésité à repousser à après sa propre mort la publication, à le censurer, le texte «représentait une telle mise à nu pour moi que je ne me résignais pas à le rendre public. […] J’étais mal à l’aise devant cette réduction de notre vie à des faits ou des humeurs. Où étaient nos jeux et nos aventures ? Où était son regard de poète ?» Mais il lui faut se résoudre à la publication. «Je compris que je m’étais simplement trouvée dans la ligne de mire de son étude de lui-même. Je faisais partie, comme beaucoup d’autres avant moi dans l’histoire littéraire, des dommages collatéraux de la vie d’un écrivain […]. J’ai compris que, morte ou vivante, ses mots ne changeraient jamais, qu’ils étaient écrits dans la pierre.»
Mathieu Lindon / Libération
Make room for Ray Johnson, whose place in history has been only vaguely defined. Johnson’s beguiling, challenging art has an exquisite clarity and emotional intensity that makes it much more than simply a remarkable mirror of its time, although it is that, too.
—Roberta Smith, The New York Times
Almost twenty years after his death, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) continues to be revealed as one of the most quietly consequential figures in American contemporary art. An influential pioneer of Pop art, Conceptual art and Mail art (though he eschewed all of these monikers), Johnson’s extrasensory perception and insatiable curiosity resulted in an immense body of work that spans collage, correspondence, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting and book arts. Johnson’s work operates in a space of void, fragmentation and dispersion; from his early geometric abstract paintings to the collage and text work he called “moticos”; from the dancing black glyphs and morphing animal signatures to the later dense silhouette collages; from his writings, artist’s books and correspondence art to the (non-) performances he called “Nothings.” Fully charged with negative capability, Johnson’s work in “nothingness” hinged on communication and relationships. His circle of friends, including Josef Albers, Ruth Asawa, George Brecht, John Cage, Christo, Chuck Close, Joseph Cornell, Albert M. Fine, Dick Higgins, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Richard Lippold, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, James Rosenquist, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, among others, reads like a Who’s Who of 1950s-70’s American art. Despite sharing major exhibitions between 1957-1978 (with the likes of Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Allan Kaprow and Andy Warhol, among others) as well as having important solo shows at major galleries and museums (such as at The Whitney in 1970), Johnson systematically refused or flouted most opportunities to popularize his work through mainstream art commerce. On January 13, 1995 Johnson leapt from the Sag Harbor bridge in Long Island in an apparent suicide.
Takei was born in Suwa, Nagano prefecture in 1894. After studying at the Hongo Yoga Kenkyujo (Hongo Research Institute for Western Art) he entered the Western-style art department of Tokyo Art School in 1919. He was an ardent admirer of illustrator Takehisa Yumeji and poet Kitahara Hakushu. After graduation from art school, he married in 1921 and to support his new family he began to produce illustrations for children for Kodomo no tomo [Child's Friend], a children's magazine published by Fujin no Tomo Sha. In 1922 he became one of the leading illustrators for Kodomo no kuni [Children's Land] from its inaugural issue. In 1923 he published Otogi no tamago [The Fairy's Egg], and in 1925 his first individual exhibition was held in Ginza in the heart of Tokyo. His Ramu-ramu O [King Ramu-ramu] came out in 1926. The following year, with Shimizu Yoshio, Okamoto Kiichi, Kawakami Shiro, and other illustrators contributing to the Kodomo no kuni, Takei formed the Nihon Doga Kyokai (Japan Association of Illustration for Children), as part of the effort to achieve artistic quality in illustrations for children. Following Okamoto's death, Takei succeeded him as critic and selector of illustrations submitted to Kodomo no kuni in 1931. In 1955, he became editorial adviser for the magazine Kinda bukku [Kinder Book].
And about the site that houses 9000 images from the almost 300 issues of Kodomo no kuni: "This program was created as part of the Picture Book Gallery project of the International Library of Children's Literature to introduce in digital form the story of the picture book genre from its beginnings until the present. The program was designed to reproduce the works contained in the journal Kodomo no kuni[Children's Land] and convert them to digital images, which have been edited and titled and made available to the public as a virtual exhibit."
Some of Takei's books have been reprinted and are available from amazon.co.jp.
Ken Graves’s idiosyncratic photographs capture the humour and pathos of America in the transitional era of the 1960s and 1970s. Looking in from the margins, Graves highlights the contradictions inherent in America and its culture moulded equally by idealism and decline. He simultaneously examines and dismantles those myths, and plays out the tension of the American dream against the backdrop of a gritty reality.
Graves uses photography as a tool to document everyday surrealism, the improbable episodes and happy accidents which unfold before the camera. Like Garry Winogrand, Graves is concerned with building a distinct photographic language – literary in tone, and always belied by a politics of vision. In searching out public displays of Americana, Graves focuses on the simultaneity of anticipation and collision, reaching beyond the hyperreal of the fairgrounds and the holiday occasions, revealing instead the wonder, humour and strangeness of the everyday.
Ken Graves was born in Oregon, US, in 1942. He is the coauthor of American Snapshots (Scrimshaw Press, 1971) with Mitchell Payne, and Ballroom with Eva Lipman (Milkweed Editions, 1989). His photographs appear in the collections of MoMA, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
Ron Jude is one of my new heroes. I am not above fawning or adulation when I find something that disrupts the usual tropes of my interests. Often these heroes are ones that I would not previously have explored or may have possibly even dismissed when looking at their work in haste. My compunction towards graphic “fast” images or images that have an extreme or obvious weight to them is one aspect of the incompetence I see in my own relationship with images. Perhaps I am getting older and perhaps images that take longer to percolate are becoming more relevant to me as I take more time with looking. That being said, very few “slow” photographs or bodies of work tend to hold my attention or the hunger for my eye and mind overall. I find Ron’s work, like Michael Schmidt’s “Lebensmittel” to be of a significant challenge to my previous modes of image consumption. I can’t immediately place what about the work sticks with me. It takes time, but the images somehow lodge themselves in my mind and usually come back to me long after viewing the work. This is the case with the work of Ron. I remember being affected by earlier images of his that I had seen and I began to really pay attention with his last book with MACK, “Lago”. After exploring that work then working backwards, I came to the conclusion that there was something amiss that functioned between the “fast” and “slow” intake of his images for me. I still cannot place the complete effect of his work on me, but it resonates, stays and informs my own system of thinking through photography and that is incredibly important to me even if I cannot succinctly point out the one single reason it accomplishes this.
Ron was nice enough to take time out to answer a few questions about his excellent new book “Nausea”. His answers, as to be expected are filled with insight, with detail and a great delineation of thoughtful examination of what I have termed the “sideways glance”.
Brad Feuerhelm: Nausea is an interesting topic as a word and an idea, but has largely, in linguistics, been co-opted certainly by existentialism, materialism and a philosophy of self that is governed by Jean-Paul Sartre, whose your body of work has put to interesting use reflecting on the public school system in America’s South. The qualifications of environment-learning environments and the parallax of knowledge systems being administered to youth are explored. I feel there is an uncanny parallel world happening in your images. Can you tell me what drove you to correlate the Sartre work to the institutionalization of learning?
Ron Jude: There were a number of reasons I decided to make pictures of the institutional architecture of public schools for this work, the simplest of which was that I wanted to look at something that a lot people have encountered and have some basic experience with. I liked the idea of moving through spaces that represent not only the premise of learning, but also its diametrical opposite—an amalgam of utter boredom and anxiety, brought on, to a large degree, by the spaces themselves.
In my mind, these pictures weren’t reflecting on the public school system per se, nor were they concerned with the particulars of schools in the south. My thinking at the time was that there was a ubiquitous sameness about these places. (The schools I attended in Idaho seemed aligned aesthetically and functionally with what I saw in Baton Rouge and Atlanta.) One of my motivations behind the somewhat mannered quality of these photographs was to diminish, in a clear, visual way, their documentary value. That being said, they are photographs, after all, and it’s hard to completely escape their connection to certain cultural realities.
Drawing reference to a renowned work of literature is probably not something I would recommend to younger artists. You run the risk of either having your work seem feeble and lightweight by comparison, or intellectually dubious through the forced connection. (You also have to assume the academically challenging responsibility of articulating the complexities of the thing to which you’ve tethered your work…) Regardless, it seemed important to me at the time to clearly establish how I was thinking about the things I was looking at, and what my intentions were for the use of photography.
By referencing Sartre’s Nausea, I hoped to echo Antoine Roquentin’s (Nausea’s protagonist) desire to write “Another kind of book,” one that rose above the historical articles he was accustomed to writing. I wanted to make another kind of photograph, one that moved beyond the literal and prosaic, yet didn’t abandon the essential, indexical qualities of the medium. I didn’t want to reduce what I could do with photographs to the equivalent of writing a term paper, engaging in the humanist, rational bent that runs deep in lens-based photography, yet I had no desire to make pictures for purely formal reasons, or abandon the camera and experiment in the darkroom. I was trying to visually articulate a particular way of seeing things and thinking about the world, one that recognized and drew from the documentary impulse, but denied any real documentary utility. I wanted to cut through to something essential, something fundamental about the things I was looking at. Through attempting to acknowledge simple Existence, I hoped to evoke the actual experience of inhabiting these spaces. So, the word “nausea” becomes relevant not just as a reference to Sartre’s book, but also to the spirit of how the word was used in the context of the book. The visceral jolt of raw sensation conjures Antoine’s fear of existence, which in turn triggers a feeling of nausea. I was trying to get to a similar place visually. Whether that’s even possible is debatable, but these pictures are what I came up with in the attempt.
Excerpt from a 2014 Hasselbad Award chat transcript
Question: Congratulations! You have been taking pictures of the American West for four decades now. Why is it important to you to keep working in the same area?
Robert Adams: I’ve found it’s best to work at home.
Question: Dear Bob, deep respect and hearty congratulations! While I suspect your answer to my question will be, a book yet to come, I would like to ask: if someone were to purchase only one book of yours, which would you want them to have, and why?
Robert Adams: Thank you Michelle. In answer I would say Turning Back because we worked five years on it and almost no one knows anything about it. It’s an important subject and we tried our very best.
Question: In the Foundation’s citation it says that photography has altered and fragmented, but you have refined and reaffirmed its inherent language, adapting the legacies of nineteenth century and modernist photography to your own very singular purpose. What would you say the legacies are, and what is your own singular purpose?
Robert Adams: Because I’ve written about what I think art is and does, and because I know many others who have bet their lives on a similar set of assumptions, I hope the award is another signal that the art world is less and less in thrall to aestheticism.
Question: Dear Robert Adams, congratulations on the award! It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of the process. Just a brief question on what you say about the social function of photography. Now when some critics talk about post-photography or photography’s death it seems that the idea of document in photography is in crisis. Do you think photography’s social function is related to the document idea? How would you define this documentary aspect and its social dimension? thanks!
Robert Adams: I recently tried to answer an inquiry like that from Belgian artists: First we have an obligation simply to be the citizens we want everyone to be – informed, engaged, reasonable, and compassionate. Then as artists we are called historically to a double mission, to instruct and delight, to tell the truth but also to find in it a basis for affirmation.
Question: Dear Mr. Adams, thank you for taking the time to answer questions. Having a background in literature and having used poems in your books could you elaborate on the relationship between picture and poems for you.
Robert Adams: Both poetry and photography tend toward metaphor.
Question: What other photographers has been an inspiration to you?
Robert Adams: Among those no longer living, O Sullivan, Atget, Stieglitz, Weston, Lange
Question: What do you think is the most serious threat facing the world?
Robert Adams: Overpopulation. Its the fundamental, lethal accelerant for most environmental and social problems.
Question: Where do you find your inspiration?
Robert Adams: Anywhere there s light. Photographers are open to gifts. As the poet John Clare wrote, “I found the poems in the fields / And only wrote them down.”
Question: Does art have any practical effect? Does it actually change anything?
Robert Adams: It does, but indirectly. By definition art is not propaganda; the goal is not to excite people to action but to help them find a sense of wholeness and thereby a sense of calm. But from that we take courage for a re-engagement with the specifics of life.
Question: Why did you choose photography as a way to express yourself?
Robert Adams: My hope is less to express myself than to acknowledge my place. Photography inherently looks outward, and is suited to that goal.
"The way to discover the truth about this life is to discover yourself". A.Martin