October 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
Not only was John Wood our editor for more than 15 years, he is a brilliant and established poet
from Cracked: The Art of Charles Grogg
Though I am a photographic historian and critic, I am primarily a poet; however, except for writing a few Japanese waka in homage to my friend Masao Yamamoto, I have never written poems inspired by the work of any of the photographers whose work I have written essays about. The photographs, though wonderful, never suggested subjects to me-until I encountered Charles Grogg’s work. It would be improper of me to write about the poetic aspects of my own work, but I can say something about their content as it refers to Grogg’s art.
The fence-mender of the poem “Fence” is, of course, Grogg, and fence-mending is a metaphor for his art making. The poem makes clear that it is his “chosen profession” but also makes clear that he has not chosen it but that it chose him and that his re-shaping, re-forming art is to my eye a profound expression and act of love…
The fence mender’s dilemma is
how to proceed. There’s always
such hostility on either side.
Being in between contorted faces
is distracting, as is avoiding
the flying spittle, the occasional stone.
Rain coats and shields are useful,
especially when he becomes the target,
which is more often than not.
But who would give up a chosen profession?
And for what: becoming a snail driver,
a semaphore man, a town crier,
a berry buster? Certainly not for one
whose profession had chosen him.
There is no choice in spite of rocks and spit,
the cumbersome garb he must wear. And so
he continues buying the costliest needles,
gold-tipped, of course, and iron-strong thread
spun from the silk of golden orb weavers.
His hands dance along the sad shatters
with the confidence of a cosmetic surgeon
re-forming the destines of the unloved and ugly.
Such mending mastery as his is love’s
most profound, best, and final act.
from The Symmetry of Endeavor
When we look at images as radiant as his wide Calla 3, his tall lean Calla on Black, his Sunflower Rising, which looks like the sun itself aflame, the Nile Lily Bud or his Melinthus in the Rain, as perfect a wet leaf as I have ever seen in any photograph, we see exactly how a master artist manipulates craft to the higher service of his art, how he makes craft the vehicle and servant of his art. His Luminescent Datura seduced me from the first moment I saw it. Besides being a beautiful flower datura, of course, is also a powerful drug, a sexual stimulant, and has been associated with women called witches since the Middle Ages. However, without thinking of any of those things, when I first saw this amazing image, I did not see the flower at all. I saw a lady with a slim neck in an Art Deco gown, her face cropped from the photograph, a curl from her head falling on her shoulder, her right arm bent at the elbow and resting on a piece of furniture, obviously by Ruhlmann, and her hand, though out of sight, holding either a martini or a cigarette. I saw Paris in the Twenties when I would have loved to live there. Such imaginative leaps are the leaps that art graciously allowsand which inspired the poem that follows, even thoughI am certain my lady or thoughts of Mistinguett, the great chanteuse of that time, or the famous club Le Boeuf sur le Toit was nowhere in Rondal Partridge’s mind when he made this work. His thoughts were on capturing a flower. My thoughts were on sex. But great art always transcends the intentions of the artist. That is its blessing and occasionally the artist’s curse.
LADY IN A FLORAL DRESS
A curl cascades, reclines upon her neck.
She stands against a lacquered cabinet.
One hidden hand holds her drink,
the other, a Turkish cigarette.
This Deco dame is surely French
and probably knows Mistinguett.
Would she accept a little pinch,
then smile and say with no regret,
“Was it Le Boeuf sur le Toit where we met?
We danced. You held me in a clench
and called me mon petit pet.
Men like you I never forget.”
He wondered what could be her game.
His, of course, was exactly the same.
from The Imponderable Heart of Meaning
As we approached our sixteenth year of publication, Steve had the happy idea of our doing a book together-his photographs and poems of mine inspired by them. Though I have been writing poetry for over half a century, I cannot say I know where poetry comes from, but I know it is very hard to make a poem from a work of visual art. I said I’d try and with a great box of Steve’s prints before me, I was surprised to see how words quickly started to appear and shape themselves into lines and eventually poems. In every case it was his visual magic that inspired the poem. So these poems are a real monument to our years of friendship and work together.
I had hoped that this volume would be entitled In the Face of the Electron because that is the title of a poem I wrote for one of Steve’s most amazing and brilliant photographs-an abstract image of the most intense power, an image that allowed me to look into the face or heart of the electron… I’d hoped we would use the photograph because I love it but also because of the poem it led me to. My own work, though sometimes comic, tends to be dark, somber, occasionally even savage. But what Steve’s photograph allowed me see was something rich and affirmative…
IN THE FACE OF THE ELECTRON
In the unstopping spin and swirl
of matter’s uncertainty, it can
sometimes be caught unaware
and resting for a short fraction
just as the more common birds
are often caught, and so
the Nature artist must be quick
and snap it before it flies off
as the fastest light excels,
to snap it before the electron’s
huge and fluffy wings again
begin to beat, driving matter
mad in its motions, and before
its beak begins again to peck
at the atomic shell, and before
its maddening dance must begin
again to hold everything together,
secured in the electron’s hold,
its wide-wings’ generous, spinning embrace,
succoring with no knowledge of its doing so
the imponderable heart of meaning.
September 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
Jefferson Hayman is the modern-day Alvin Langdon Coburn. Ever since I saw Jeff’s work I knew I was looking at a future entry into the history of photography. After having known Jeff coming up on a decade, I am sure that Jeff’s vision was and is his own. This question begs to be asked because his style is so very akin to the work of Stieglitz, Steichen, and most of all, Coburn. As Coburn may have only enjoyed having an upstage position for about 15 years, I would bet that Hayman is going to be around for the long haul. What he has that is unique to the others is his presentation. That in itself, is as much about his art as is the photograph. Jeff is a conceptualist, a sculptor, and a photographer. All of these reasons are why we published him in “The New City.” If anyone goes to see the upcoming exhibition at the Eastman House (www.eastmanhouse.org) on Coburn, you might want to keep in mind the quiet artist who is making his way in the U.S. and overseas in a deliberate and focused attempt to merely do what he does. The fact that he is doing it very well and that there is no one like him, might give us pause to think what his show will look like when he is long gone. I am certain it will be astounding.
Publisher, 21st Editions
March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
21st Editions is now celebrating sixteen years of The Art of the Book! In this series of sixteen posts we are sharing with you a chronology of highlights, events and stories from the beginning of our unique publishing endeavor up until now. We hope you enjoy it.
Our humble beginnings started in 1998 in my half garage (shown below), not enough room to put a car in, but enough room to start a press unique to the history of photography, that has since published 50 titles, including some 150 world-class contributors and artists. We didn’t have any capital, whatsoever, and many in the industry thought we wouldn’t last. I asked my wife Janet, and she said: “What have we got to loose?” So, we mortgaged the house. That was sixteen years ago.
It all got started in 1998 at a round-table at a Chelsea restaurant, just doors away from the Chelsea Hotel. Present were John Stevenson, John Wood, Denise Bethel, Duane Michals, Ernestine Ruben, A.D. Coleman, and I (Steven Albahari, Publisher). I made it clear that I wanted to pick up where Stieglitz left off, but go several steps further. We discussed names for the journal and the press. I think John Wood suggested 21st. John Stevenson hosted, Duane brought his trademark humor, John Wood was the exemplary Southern gentleman, Denise was delightful and smart, Ernestine charmed, and A.D. was like a proud father, since it was he who got me started in college giving me the job of bibliographer of his first ten years of photographic criticism.
And so began The Journal of Contemporary Photography.
In our next post: How we came to work with Joel-Peter Witkin, what transpired over the next decade, and the man behind the brilliance.