Sunday, June 24, 2007

Il Messaggio Dalla Camera Oscura - Carlo Mollino

In a world of ambitions and public lives, the discovery of work never intended for public life, private, secret or unknown, for whatever reason, can give us room to contemplate the capriciousness of fate.

The history of photography is full of previously unknown bodies of work that have been brought forth at later dates. The most notable example may be the retrieval of the work of Eugene Atget by the Surrealists, and the purchase of his estate by Berenice Abbott and Julien Levy, which was subsequently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Also MoMA exhibited and published photos of E.J. Bellocq, the negatives discovered by Lee Friedlander & modern prints were made on printing-out paper by Friedlander. Or almost contemporaneous with Bellocq is the publication and re-printing of the work of Mike Disfarmer, a commercial photographer in Heber Springs, Arkansas. The initial book of Disfarmer began as a state project tied to the US bicentennial in 1976. Modern prints are currently for sale at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York. It was only recently that vintage prints by Disfarmer appeared on the market (at remarkable prices). Atget, Bellocq, and Disfarmer were all commercial photographers, just working outside of the scope of the art world in their time.

What I would like to present here are some examples of polaroids by the architect Carlo Mollino. Mollino was famous in his time for architecture, furniture, work in fashion & film, photography. He published a book in 1949 Il Messagio Dalla Camera Oscura, which featured his very elegant black-&-white photography. Mollino was also known for his athleticism: skiing, stunt flying, car racing. Before Playboy Magazine he was a playboy. His photographs are mostly of beautiful women, arranged carefully, juxtaposed with enigmatic objects, in fashionable clothes. The image exists as an imaginary, highly stylized, artificial. The architectural spaces correspond equally to the figures and objects, like emblems illustrating desire(s).

After Mollino's death in 1973 more than 2000 polaroids were discovered, which were more directly erotic in their execution. Mollino would hire women to pose undressed or with fetishistic items such as garter belts, corsets, velvet ribbons. This is essentially the same boudoir photography that camera clubs to this day still execute. What does separate the polaroids from banality is their darkness, their details, and a fetishism which borders on religiosity. The models could illustrate a book like Barbey D'Aurevilly's Les Diaboliques (Barbey D'Aurevilly also wrote Du Dandyisme - Mollino is a great dandy of our time - his entire oeuvre could be read as a kind of dandyism, a dandyism which could incorporate technology & media). The private nature of the polaroid, its self-development, made it a bedroom toy along with the scenarios imagined in lace, silk, velvet & leather.

Mollino's work also shares some similarities with the photographs of Pierre Molinier, which like Mollino were first shown after Molinier's death, in the early 1970s, and constituted a series of erotic tableaux. In Molinier's case the work also involved a great deal of collage work as well as couplings of figures. In Molinier's work the artist himself was the model(s). The interiors and lighting of Mollino's polaroids show very exquisite modernist interiors although with hints of decadence in fragments of baroque and Victorian forms. For both photographers the element of time is no where in evidence in the erotic: it is a voluptuous stasis, which can look backward a bit but is otherwise sealed in its tabernacle of desires, the perimeters of which are the small polaroid print.

Mollino's polaroids are now circulating in fine art galleries. While Mollino's activity indicates his own epicurean appetites for collecting and hoarding, I can't help but think of the collections the images are now moving to - from bedroom to polite museum.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

US time capsule yields rusty car

A car buried in Oklahoma in 1957 as a time capsule to mark the US state's 50th anniversary has caused some dismay after being finally unearthed.

The 1957 Plymouth Belvedere car was part of a competition.

Though encased in a concrete vault said to be strong enough to withstand nuclear attack, the Plymouth Belvedere was waterlogged and covered in rust.

Air was pumped into the tyres but mechanics could not get it started.

The car was exhumed from its vault near Tulsa's courthouse as part of Oklahoma's centenary celebrations.

"I'll tell you what, she's a mess - look at her," said legendary US car builder Boyd Coddington, who had been hoping to start the car at an event attended by thousands of people.

Items pulled from the car's trunk include a petrol can and some cans of Schlitz beer.

But what was supposed to be the typical woman's handbag of the times, containing lipstick and tranquillisers, was said to resemble a lump of rotten leather, the Associated Press news agency reports.

A capsule buried separately fared better, yielding an American flag and postcards and maps in good condition.

The car is being searched for a microfilm containing the names of entrants in a contest.

They had been asked to guess the population of Tulsa in 2007 and the entrant with the closest estimate, or their heirs, would win the car.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

films about photographers - The Eyes of Laura Mars

Ostensibly a low-budget policier, a search for a serial killer in a sordid city, The Eyes of Laura Mars, also uses the supernatural in the plotting of the story: Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway), a famous fashion photographer, can envision the murders as they are happening, in fact it is the people with whom she works - her gallerist, a model, her agent - who are being murdered. The agent in fact is dressed as Laura, when he is killed, which indicates that the murders are all a path to the true object of the murderer's desires, Laura. Laura goes to the police and with the assistance of the detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) an investigation is begun.

What interests me about the film has very little to do with the plotting, which is fairly intricate, and which has reversals in terms of the viewer's understanding of the characters. There are also inconsistencies in the plot. Does this diminish the quality of the film? I would suggest it adds to a fable-like atmosphere of the film, giving it a more magical aspect, outside of a linear narrative. Laura can see through the eyes of the killer but she does not realize the killer is the detective who seems almost randomly to be assigned to her case. Laura states that her visions began a few years back & that that is how she began to create the fashion tableaux which have made her notorious with their narrative morbidity - allusions to crime and death. This would indicate that the "psycho killer" & she are linked inexorably. Laura functions as a Medium: these are all visions which transpose over the everyday & to which she gives utterance. Laura further embodies a diabolism by being a photographer, an artist, a success. Laura's directorial bravura with a phallic camera, her tableaux of violence and sexuality, are what taint her and mark her to be "punished" by the killer, who, it turns out, loves her as well. If Laura were strictly channeling her visions, in a sense she would have no culpability; but as an artist, someone who interprets her second sight, and gives it form, she attains a level of power which becomes a threat.

The film opens with a gala opening in a gallery in Soho for Laura. The images used for the exhibit were by Helmut Newton. The images are barely discernible, but recognizable. The opening is more a fashion event than an actual art opening. While Soho galleries were distinguished by their large size, at the time, they did not have the boutique grandiosity that distinguishes Laura's opening with packed crowds & loud music, like a club. Poor Laura, a nervous diva, is dogged by a crass (female) reporter asking if Laura thinks the images are demeaning to women. I find Helmut Newton's photos slightly off as a choice in the selection: one could very easily say his work is demeaning to women, as per the simplistic & emphatic journalist, but his work seems very much out of a men's magazine, soft-core sensibility - staged decadence, but almost hygienic in its prurience. In the same period the film was made (1978) the work of Guy Bourdin, for example, might seem more directly appropriate as a stand-in for Laura's art. Although like Newton, there is almost a cheeriness to his scenes that suggest death & destruction. Also from that period, I think of one of the more disturbingly misogynistic fashion images is by Chris von Wangenheim of a model & a daring doberman. None of these 3 photographers seem entirely appropriate to what would be Laura's psychic disturbances: all of them, Newton, Bourdin, von Wangenheim, do not seem provocative enough to me - a little baroque perhaps in their fetishism, but it's still not that far from the suburban male fantasies of Playboy or Penthouse, zestily commercial & consumable. I'm guessing that that is exactly what the filmmakers had in mind, but could it be otherwise? Rebecca Blake worked on the film as well: her sort of frou-frou "decadence" (with the emphasis on the parentheses) is maybe a bit closer to the Laura I am trying to understand, but when is Rebecca Blake's work disturbing? How silly is that? The images that would perhaps validate Laura as a provocateur would perhaps be more along the lines of Deborah Turbeville, or outside of fashion, Francesca Woodman, images which indicate withdrawal and mortality, as opposed to quasi-pornographic scenarios. Wallflower as opposed to Sleepless Nights. Although Deborah Turbeville's work has a neurasthenic aspect, whereas the hypothetical Laura Mars is much more film noir.

Besides Laura's mediumship and the fashion photography of the time, the film also offers glimpses of a New York that is unrecognizable to the city I live in now. I could be overstating the case, but in the 1970s New York City represented, on a national scale, an urban environment gone wrong, & as the largest city in the USA it became a textbook example for all urban settings - it was dirty, dangerous, and offered an amazing panorama of vices. The Eyes of Laura Mars is contemporaneous with films such as Klute or Looking for Mr Goodbar - cautionary tales for the woman seeking independence and control of her body. In Looking for Mr Goodbar the tall, dark, handsome psycho is Richard Gere, as opposed to Tommy Lee Jones. It was a period when the city had declared bankruptcy, there were bombings in Manhattan by the FALN, the modern gay rights movement had begun with the Stonewall riots in 1969 - NYC was a heterogeneous chaos on display for a whitebread middle America. & what were the rents like? One could read the killings of the model & the agent in the film as punishments for their polymorphous sexualities, besides Laura's sexualized vision being the primary invitation to damnation. Although presented without fanfare & not lasting long at all, a scene at the agent's birthday party, an all-male party, with showtunes sung at a piano, would be a radical incision in the social mores of a white, heterosexual, bourgeois culture - even if the participants were just as white & bourgeois. The city was for Others. Also, on a more grassroots level, in this period there was the rise of disco culture, which signified overtly in its fashions and habits, an attempt at urbanity, an imaginary of sophistication, which had its own oppositional aspects in terms of navigating the quotidian: it's primary audience was gay & that was how it read, in general, with its emphasis on dandyism, its very recognizable fashions and music, and the boldness with which it made itself visible. The polymorphous worlds of fashion, seen in the back pages of Andy Warhol's Interview, along with the illustrations of Antonio Lopez, could act as codes, as passwords, for those entering or dreaming of the big bad city. Laura Mars' studio is in one of the now closed piers on the Hudson, then mostly abandoned, which were settings of anonymous sexual assignations as well an improvised studio for Gordon Matta-Clark, in which he made a large cutting in the end of an abandoned pier wall, which was done independently and resulted in a warrant being place for his arrest. Laura Mars' pier studio, makes me think of Gordon Matta-Clark's improvised pier studio: too bad the 2 never could meet. A NYC that is dark, in ruins, illegal, racy (& with affordable rents) - it is almost inconceivable to see it in the same city that exists now. Even a psychological nightmare and B movie such as The Eyes of Laura Mars attains a patina of nostalgia in contrast to our present expensive, franchised, monotonous city.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Pornography Threatens a Marriage

A Minister Admits His Addiction to His Wife

Sheryl and Paul Giesbrect are preparing to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary. The sweethearts cherish their life together, which began when they met while attending a Christian university.

It's where they found religion and each other. Today, Paul is a minister in California and Sheryl broadcasts spiritual messages. Both counsel troubled couples, but now they find themselves in need of counseling. Their marriage holds a secret, one the 50-year-old parents of two say rattled their union.

For 10 years, Paul kept the fact that he was addicted to Internet pornography a secret from Sheryl.

"The temptation will be with me until the day I die," Paul said.

Sheryl was shocked by the revelation. "I said something like, 'Well, that's just disgusting.'"

Wife Obsessed About Husband's Addiction

To help themselves and their marriage, the Giesbrects met with psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall. They allowed ABC's "Good Morning America" to watch them for their first time on the opposite side of the couch.

The sessions yielded surprises from the start, like how often Sheryl dwells on her husband's obsession.

She said she spent two hours a day thinking about it.

"I thought you were going to say five minutes a week," her husband said.

When Marshall questioned Sheryl on what she thought about specifically, she admitted wondering about how often her husband was tempted.

"She questions whether their lovemaking will be enough," said Marshall.

"I feel angry about it. I can't say, 'Well, this is your problem. Do something about it,'" Sheryl said.

Marshall said Sheryl couldn't hold other people responsible to fix her marriage problems, "because you're not healing him. You're feeding into the addiction."

Thrill of Getting Caught

Sheryl said her husband was great at sneaking around and wondered whether the rush of it had something to do with the situation.

"I thought her comment was interesting, kind of  her part of the game is, 'I'm going to catch him, and he's going to sneak around,'" Paul said. "I think, definitely, on the Internet, is how close you get to someone walking in."

Paul said part of the thrill came from wondering how quickly he could change the screen before almost getting caught.

"Well, that was within, you know, a millisecond, and you know, you get kind of a rush off of that."

Paul was sometimes caught up in viewing Internet porn for hours at a time, even though, he said, on average it was an hour a week. Now, he insists he never looks at pornography. In fact, his laptop is equipped with software that alerts his church pastor if he surfs porn sites.

Despite his problem, Paul has been open, even discussing it with his congregation. But Marshall is concerned that spreading the word isn't helping Paul, but hindering him by indulging his obsession.

"When people have serious addictions, they enjoy talking about them," Marshall said. "You are struggling with an addiction and you're getting everyone else to think about it."

"But what's happening is, now, Sheryl is accommodating to you, instead of YOU accommodating to her  you're the one with the addiction," Marshall told Paul.

She said addiction was what's afflicting the marriage. "It's not just the sex addiction, it's the accommodations."