Last week, I was nominated by my pal, artist Alan Belcher to post five black and white photos from five different artists in five days. I’m not sure how far back this exercise goes, in terms of who started it but here are my 5+ pictures along with some explanation of the work:
DAY ONE: David Wojnarowicz
I designed the 40th anniversary issue of Aperture magazine in 1992 (when its art director Yolanda Cuomo briefly handed me the reins.) The work, including this photo, in the issue was not chosen by me but rather my the magazine editor’s who wrote this…
“The process of bringing together a “forty years” celebration forces one to see photographs as, among other things, indicators of their time. Several photographers address AIDS in their text or images; the brutality of this devastating epidemic became all the more jolting when David Wojnarowicz died of AIDS during the preparation of this issue, having selected his photograph, but without having had the time to write his text.”
They chose these words by David to accompany this incredible image…
“All behind me are the friends that died; I’m breathing this air that they can’t breathe; I’m seeing this ratty monkey in a cheap Mexican circus wearing a red and blue embroidered jacket and it’s collecting coins and I can reach out and touch it like they can’t. And time is now compressed; I joke and say that I feel I’ve taken out another six month lease on this body of mine; on this vehicle of sound and motion, and every painting or photograph or film I make I make with the sense that it may be the last thing I do and so I try to pull everything in to the surface of that action. I work quickly now and feel there is no time for bullshit; cut straight to the heart of the senses and map it out as clearly as tools and growth allow….I see myself seeing death; it’s like a transparent celluloid image of myself is accompanying myself everywhere I go.” –David Wojnarowicz (died of AIDS, July 22, 1992)
DAY TWO: Helmut Newton
This picture was a “shot” heard round the world. It might look tame today, but this was a different kind of fashion, feminism and photo. There’s another frame with a nude woman next to Le Smoking and together they say volumes about the time…(but what do I know, I was 15 living in Houston?) One of THE most imitated photographs of the past 50 years.
“I want to do everything forbidden, everything you don’t do.” – Helmut Newton
DAY THREE: Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier’s photographs remained totally unknown until after her death in 2009. Many of her films remained undeveloped, until her boxes of possessions were purchased at auction by collector, John Maloof. Now she’s been exhibited throughout the world and has been the subject of books and documentary films. She worked as a nanny and took photos everywhere she went, without showing them to anyone. In her lifetime, she was completely unknown and today she is one of the 20th century greats, in the pantheon with the likes of Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank.
See the fascinating documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier. You can see more of her work here.
DAY FOUR: Philippe Halsman
I know it’s cheating somewhat to show a dozen pictures but it was too difficult to pick a single image…
“Starting in the early 1950s I asked every famous or important person I photographed to jump for me. I was motivated by a genuine curiosity. After all, life has taught us to control and disguise our facial expressions, but it has not taught us to control our jumps. I wanted to see famous people reveal in a jump their ambition or their lack of it, their self-importance or their insecurity, and many other traits.” –Philippe Halsman
DAY FIVE: Cindy Sherman
In December 1995, The Museum of Modern Art acquired all sixty-nine black-and-white photographs in Cindy Sherman‘s Untitled Film Stills series insuring that this landmark body of work was preserved in its entirety in a single public collection. Sherman began making these pictures in 1977, when she was twenty-three. Although most of the characters are invented, we sense right away that we already know them. That twinge of instant recognition is what makes the series tick, and it arises from Cindy Sherman’s uncanny poise. There is no wink at the viewer, no open irony, no real camp. It’s been almost 40 years but this series changed photography and contemporary art in ways that are hard to quantify. And as Andy Warhol said;
“She’s good enough to be a real actress.”