Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Art of the American Snapshot

One of the weirder issues of living in NYC (at least for me) is a sense of confinement, of not getting out of the perimeters of daily life, unless accessible by subway. One of my great regrets of the past year, in terms of NOT doing something, was NOT going to DC to the National Gallery for the exhibition The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978.

The catalogue, mercifully, is a marvelous alternative to "being there." Following shows such as The Snapshot at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Other Pictures at the Metropolitan Museum, and Closer to Home at the Getty Museum, The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978 is a comprehensive survey of snapshots, as historical forms, from the collection of Robert Jackson. Jackson's collection has great aesthetic appeal, but its assiduous cataloging of the various permutations of snapshots over a 90 year span, gives it a historical resonance in tandem with any visual pleasure. In short, it is a very rich experience.

In the Summer 08 issue of Art Journal there is a trenchant criticism by Catherine Zuromskis about the collecting & exhibition of vernacular photography in art museums - that the snapshot is forced into a new role as "art" & as such is re-evaluated in modernist, formal, artistic terms, unconnected to its origins or histories. This is an echo of the essays of a generation ago now by Rosalind Krauss & Abigail Solomon-Godeau, among others, about the re-writing of photography into the museum ("Photography's Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View," "Calotypomania: The Gourmet Guide to Nineteenth Century Photography").

In discussions about the exhibition of snapshots, I would also cite exhibitions/catalogs which explore vernacular forms explicitly, such as The Art of the American Snapshot, Barbara Levine's Snapshot Chronicles, "African American Vernacular Photography: Selections of the Daniel Cowin Collection" at the International Center of Photography. Or to cite another kind of history "re-written", the exhibition/catalog Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits, curated by Deborah Willis utilized commercial portraiture of public figures to create a revisionist "Gallery of Illustrious Americans" a la Matthew Brady, as a visual history for a disenfranchised but not unremarkable community. & also David Deitcher's exploration of gay desire in the show/catalog Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together 1840-1918. This is not to contest the points made by Zuromskis, but to tease out alternatives to the hegemony of the art museum, as described.

The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978 is the fullest exploration of snapshots I know of to date. Its attention to forms, time periods, & historical circumstances illuminates what has been all to easy to overlook in our scraps of the everyday. This is a very exploratory & educational collection.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

a partial bibliography/filmography regarding Los Angeles

James Abbe, Photographer, Chrysler Museum of Art, 2000
Robert Adams, California, Fraenkel Gallery, 2001
Robert Adams, Eden, Roth Horowitz, 1999
Robert Adams, The New West, Walther Konig, 2001
Robert Adams, Residential/Commercial, Roth Horowitz, 2003
Robert Adams, What We Bought: The New World, Sprengel Museum, 1996
Gregory Ain, The Architecture of Gregory Ain, Hennessey & Ingalls, 1997
Kenneth Anger, Hollywood Babylon, Straight Arrow Books, 1975
Kenneth Anger, Hollywood Babylon II, E.P. Dutton, 1984
J.G. Ballard, Crash, FSG, 1973
J.G. Ballard, High Rise, Holt Rinehart Winston, 1975
Reyner Banham, Los Angeles – The City of Four Ecologies, U of California, 2001
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Hill & Wang, 1982
Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Hill & Wang, 1972
Jonathan Bell, ed., Carchitecture – When the Car and the City Collide, Birkhauser, 2001
John Belton, Widescreen Cinema, Harvard, 1992
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Harvard, 1999
Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 3, 1935-1938, Belknap Press, 2002
Peter Biskind, Easy Riders & Raging Bulls – How Sex & Drugs Saved Hollywood, Simon & Schuster, 1999
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, Harvard, 1987
Pierre Bourdieu, Photography – A Middlebrow Art, Stanford, 1996
AnnMarie Brennan, ed., Cold War Hot Houses – Inventing Postwar Culture from Cockpit to Playboy, Princeton Architectural Press, 2004
Jeff Burton, Untitled, Composite Press, 1999
Eduardo Cadava, Words of Light – Theses on the Photography of History, Princeton, 1998
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, HBJ, 1978
John Carter, Sex and Rockets – The Occult World of Jack Parsons, Feral House, 2005
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, Library of America, 1995
Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, Library of America, 1995
Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister, Library of America, 1995
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, Library of America, 1995
Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity – Architecture as Mass Media, MIT, 1996
Bruce Conner, 2000 BC – The Bruce Conner Story Part 2, Walker Art Center, 2000
Julian Cox, Spirit into Matter – The Photographs of Edmund Teske, Getty Center, 2004
Thomas Crow, ed., Gordon Matta-Clark, Phaidon, 2003
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, 1995
Philip-Lorca diCorcia, A Storybook Life, Twin Palms, 2003
Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Contemporaries, MOMA, 1995
Joe Deal, Southern California Photographs, 1976-1986, U of New Mexico, 1992
Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, FSG, 1968
Joan Didion, Where I Was From, Vintage, 2003
Joan Didion, The White Album, Simon & Schuster, 1979
Ed Dimendberg, Film Noir & the Spaces of Modernity, Harvard, 2004
John Divola, Continuity, Smart Art Press, 1997
Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, HBJ, 1986
John Entenza, ed., Arts + Architecture – The Entenza Years, Hennessey & Ingalls, 1998
James J. Flink, The Automobile Age, MIT Press, 1990
Lee Friedlander, The Desert Seen, DAP, 1996
Otto Friedrich, City of Nets, U of California, 1997
David Gebhard, Los Angeles Architecture – a Guide, Gibbs Smith, 2003
David Gebhard, Rudolph Schindler, Peregrine Smith, 1980
Getty Center, Pictorialism in California, Getty Center, 1994
John Gilmore, Severed – the True Story of the Black Dahlia, Amok, 1998
John Gilmore, The Garbage People, Amok, 1996
John Gilmore, Laid Bare, Amok, 1997
Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Vintage, 1992
Mike Davis, The Ecology of Disaster, Metropolitan Books, 1998
Russell Ferguson, ed., At the End of the Century – One Hundred Years of Architecture, MOCA, 2000
Herve Guibert, Ghost Image, Green Integer, 1998
John Halliday, Sirk on Sirk, Faber & Faber, 1997
Jim Heimann, Sins of the City – The Real Los Angeles Noir, Chronicle, 1999
Alan Hess, Googie Redux – Ultramodern Roadside Architecture, Chronicle, 2004
J. Hoberman, The Dream Life – Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the 60s, New Press, 2003
Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger – The True Story, Arcade, 2003
Alice L. Hutchison, Kenneth Anger, Black Dog, 2004
Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Chatto & Windus, 1939
Wendy Elliott Hyland, Samson – A Personal Perception, Univ. Editions, 1997
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke, 1992
Paul Jasmin, Lost Angeles, Steidl, 2004
Charles Jencks, Daydream Houses of Los Angeles, Rizzoli, 1978
Steven Jenkins, ed., City Slivers and Fresh Kills: The Films of Gordon Matta-Clark, SF Cinemateque, 2004
Diane Keaton, Local News – Tabloid Pictures from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Bianco & Cucco, 1999
Mike Kelley, The Uncanny, Sonsbeek, 1993
Joe Kerr & Peter Wollen, eds., Autopia – Cars & Culture, Reaktion, 2004
Norman M. Klein, Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, Verso 1997
Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament – Weimar Essays, Harvard, 2005
LACMA, Made in California – Art, Image & Identity 1900-2000, U of California, 2000
LA’s Early Moderns: Art, Architecture, Photography, Princeton Architectural Press, 2004
Bill Landis, Anger – The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger, Ravenoir, 1995
Maud Lavin, Clean New World – Culture, Politics and Graphic Design, MIT, 2002
Sylvia Lavin, Form Follows Libido – Richard Neutra and Architecture in a Psychoanalytic Culture, MIT, 2005
Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 60s, MIT, 2004
Pamela M. Lee, Object To Be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark, MIT, 2001
Thomas Y. Levin, CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother, MIT, 2002
Chester Liebs, Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture, Johns Hopkins, 1995
Harold Lloyd, 3-D Hollywood, Simon & Schuster, 1992
Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death, Simon & Schuster, 1963
Bob Mizer, The Complete Physique Pictorial, Taschen, 1997
Michael Morris, Madam Valentino – The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova, Abbeville, 1991
Karin Apollonia Muller, Angels in Fall, Kruse Verlag, 2001
Douglas R. Nickel, The Snapshot, SFMOMA, 1998
Anais Nin, Diaries, Vol. 5 & 6, HBJ, 1975, 1977
Celeste Olalquiaga, Magical Kingdoms, Pantheon, 1998
Merry Ovnick, Los Angeles – The End of the Rainbow, Balcony Press, 1994
Jack Pierson & Jim Lewis, Real Gone, Artspace Books, 1993
John Rechy, Numbers, Grove Press, 1967
Liz Renay, My Face for the World to See, Barricade Books, 2002
Laurence Rickels, The Case of California, U of Minnesota, 2001
David Rieff, Los Angeles – Capitol of the Third World, Touchstone, 1992
Joseph Rodriguez, East Side Stories – Gang Life in East LA, powerhouse, 2000
Martha Rosler, Positions in the Life World, MIT, 1999
Martha Rosler, Service, Printed Matter, 1978
Barbara Rubin, Forest Lawn (LA in Installments), Hennessey & Ingalls, 1979
Ralph Rugoff, Eye of the Needle: The Unique World of Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjian, Museum of Jurassic Technology, 1996
Ed Ruscha, Every Building on Sunset Strip, self-published
Ed Ruscha, Gasoline Stations, self-published
Ed Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal, MIT, 2002
Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles Apartments, self-published
Ed Ruscha, Real Estate Opportunities, self-published
Charles Salas, ed., Looking for Los Angeles, Getty Center, 2001
Ed Sanders, The Family, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002
Judith Sheine, R.M. Schindler, Phaidon, 2001
Elizabeth A.T. Smith, The Architecture of Rudolph Schindler, MOCA, 2001
Elizabeth A.T. Smith, Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses, MIT, 1999
Robert Smithson, Collected Writings, U of California, 1995
Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home, Abrams, 1992
Larry Sultan, The Valley, Scalo, 2004
Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel, Evidence, DAP, 2003
Jim Thompson, The Alcoholics, Vintage, 1993
Eugenia Tsai, ed., Robert Smithson, U of California, 2004
David Ulin, ed., Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, Library of America, 2002
Tom Vanderbilt, Survival City, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002
Mark Viera, Sin in Soft Focus – Pre-Code Hollywood, Abrams, 2003
Beth Gates Warren, Edward Weston & Margarethe Mather, A Passionate Collaboration, W.W. Norton, 2001
Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon – A History of the Mystics, Mediums and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America, Schocken, 1996
Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One, Back Bay Books, 2003
Thomas Waugh, Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall, Columbia U, 1996
Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust, Signet Classics, 1983
Garry Winogrand, Arrivals and Departures – The Airport Pictures of Garry Winogrand, Charles Rivers, 2004
Robin Wood, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, A.S. Barnes, 1969


Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly, 1955
The Legend of Lylah Clare, 1968
Robert Altman, California Split, 1974
The Long Goodbye, 1973
O.C. & Stiggs, 1987
The Player, 1992
Short Cuts, 1993
Three Women, 1977
Thom Andersen, Los Angeles Plays Itself, 2003
Kenneth Anger, Fireworks, 1947
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954
Puce Moment, 1949
Michelangelo Antonioni, Zabriskie Point, 1970
Jack Arnold, The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1957
William Castle, The House on Haunted Hill, 1959
Roger Corman, The Wild Angels, 1966
Michael Curtiz, Mildred Pierce, 1945
Jules Dassin, Thieves’ Highway, 1949
Jan de Bont, Speed, 1994
Jacques Demy, Model Shop, 1969
Maya Deren, Meshes of the Afternoon. 1943
Clint Eastwood, High Plains Drifter, 1973
William Friedkin, To Live and Die in LA, 1985
Jean-Luc Godard, Alphaville, 1965
Le Mepris, 1963
Pierrot Le Fou, 1965
Week End, 1967
Curtis Harrington, Nightide, 1960
Howard Hawks, The Big Sleep, 1946
Todd Haynes, Safe, 1995
Superstar – The Karen Carpenter Story, 1987
Amy Heckerling, Clueless, 1995
Jack Hill, Coffy, 1973
Spider Baby, 1968
Stanley Kubrick, The Killing. 1956
Danny Leiner, Dude, Where’s My Car?, 2000
Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968
Joseph Losey, The Prowler, 1951
David Lynch, Lost Highway, 1997
Mulholland Drive, 2001
Rudolph Mate, D.O.A., 1950
Vicente Minnelli, Tea and Sympathy, 1956
Tracey Moffatt, Love, 2002
Pat O’Neill, The Decay of Fiction, 2002
Sam Peckinpah, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, 1973
Roman Polanski, Chinatown, 1974
Richard Quine, Strangers When We Meet, 1960
Nicholas Ray, Bigger Than Life, 1956
In A Lonely Place, 1950
Rebel Without a Cause, 1955
Boris Sagal, The Omega Man, 1971
Werner Schroeter, Willow Springs, 1973
Ridley Scott, Blade Runner, 1982
Douglas Sirk, All That Heaven Allows, 1955
Imitation of Life, 1959
There’s Always Tomorrow, 1956
Phil Tucker, Robot Monster, 1953
Jack Webb, Dragnet, 1951-1957, 1966-1970 (tv series)
Wim Wenders, The Million Dollar Hotel, 2000
The State of Things, 1982
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity, 1944
Kiss Me, Stupid, 1964
Sunset Boulevard, 1950

This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in Los Angeles Photographs

This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in Los Angeles Photographs is an ambitious photography exhibition and catalogue from the Huntington Library in San Marino, of images of the city of Los Angeles.

Curated by Jennifer A. Watts & Claudia Bohn-Spector, the exhibition is culled from archives kept at the Huntington, such as from the Southern California Edison archive, the Maynard L. Parker Architectural and Garden archive, the “Dick” Whittington Studio archive, and the Verner Panoramic Negative archive, as well as an array of artistic imagery, from early 20th century pictorialism, such as early work by Edward Weston, then working in what is now Glendale, as well as Arthur Kales and Edmund Teske; followed by great modernist photographers like Max Yavno and Julius Shulman, up to contemporary artists - Lewis Baltz, Ed Ruscha, Lee Friedlander, John Baldessari, Robbert Flick, Tony Hernandez, Catherine Opie, Larry Sultan, Karin Apollonia Muller.

Last night on the L train I ran into B., who when I mentioned I would be going to Los Angeles next month for a visit said simply, "I never got LA - do you like it?" This reminded me that growing up in the Midwest, one would eventually go either East or West. I think if I had gone directly west to LA from MI I would have found it noxious, a weird sunny pleasure-dome of the same world I was leaving, a car culture, living in a kind of eternal present moment. LA had seemed too easy to disparage - where one lived on the surface, through creature comforts & luxury items; one lived through things, most notably the automobile.

After 27 years in NYC, such an artificial paradise now seems much more desirable. Is it not just the difference, but the distance? A question for me would be: where do I want to grow old? But also, my youthful indifference to Los Angeles has been transformed into a much stranger, more complicated fascination.

A great source of pictorialist imagery of Los Angeles was in Touring Tropics, a magazine published by the Automobile Club of Southern California. Advertisement & Art have many correspondences in LA. If one were to cite film as "THE art of the 20th century" one can see a perfect synthesis. Image becomes an industry. Los Angeles exists in its sprawling glory as speculations on various dreams made manifest.

Los Angeles is a huge city, pulled out of desert sands, like a mirage. Along with its boosters, its civic fathers, its exploiters, there has been a remarkable literature by an oppositional chorus, as it were - Louis Adamic, Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler, Joan Didion, Mike Davis, Norman Klein - to cite only a very few. Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology (Library of America)is a great introduction. & I can't recommend enough, as a source of ideas about Los Angeles, as well as about film Los Angeles Plays Itself by Thom Andersen. The Andersen film mixes forms - fiction, documentary, high, low - a strength which can be also be seen in the show at the Huntington. "Los Angeles" was not necessarily the ostensible subject of most of the films cited by Andersen; yet he examines all for a kind of documentary of the imaginary.

Looking at the catalogue I might cite some personal misses - more pictorialism, or something more directly about John Entenza's Arts & Architecture magazine - but this is a minor not quite issue, given what I think is the erudition of the show. A more tangible critique would be with the poor quality of the printing of the book - but given the texts & the images, we still get the idea(s).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Black, White + Gray

Black, White + Graydirected by James Crump is a feature length documentary about the late curator and photography collector Sam Wagstaff. Wagstaff began collecting photographs in the early 1970s, in tandem with his relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe - the collection was sold to the Getty Museum in 1984. The Getty's amassing of photography collections at that time, as well as its public announcement that the museum would not collect any other art of the 20th century, could be said to mark an important institutional shift in the acquisition of photography as art, by art museums, when it had hitherto been seen primarily as historical support material, without aesthetic weight. An exception to this was the Museum of Modern Art which had a separate photography department (and a highly influential role in establishing a distinct if possibly narrow canon of modernist art photography).

Wagstaff's collection, which had been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery, and subsequently published in Book of Photographs, was of much wider "catholic" taste, with a plurality of styles, authors, epochs. Unlike a museum with a defined collections policy, Wagstaff's collection was distinguished by a much more avid enthusiasm and refined aestheticism which could be extravagantly inclusive as opposed to more distanced, rationalized institutional practices. Such deep curiosity and obsessive fascination were brought to materials long considered worthless scraps, bits of commercial vulgarity, flotsam well below aesthetic merit. Such a visionary state is a great example of the psyche of a collector - that the collector in a sense creates the work by fascinations, attentions - that that is what gives order & importance. In the case of Wagstaff, he & other contemporaneous collectors such as Arnold Crane and Andre Jammes, discovered a brave new world of images in looking at what had been otherwise overlooked.

The literature on Wagstaff's collection is scant, and like many collectors and curators, his name tends to vanish except as a footnote. Wagstaff had been a curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and at the Detroit Institute of Arts, before coming into an inheritance which facilitated his remarkable collection. Wagstaff came to collecting after an advanced degree in art history, and a brief, notable career as an "art professional." Wagstaff is also overshadowed by his patronage of and relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, for whom Wagstaff offered very exclusive social connections as well as a truly aristocratic tutorial in the arts, far beyond Mapplethorpe's art school degree from Pratt. The ranks of high society & lowdown sexual practices tend to drive any narratives about either, which is truly unfortunate. As fun as any lurid tale can be, it doesn't really tell us much other than what we would know and expect, in the lowest common denominator. Seeing the film Black, White + Gray compelled me to reread Patricia Morrisroe's biography of Mapplethorpe, which is basically a tabloid profile extended to hundreds of pages. All characters emerge in the book as monsters of ambition & lust: How easy it is to forget these were also creative individuals who were able to create images, collections. What Mapplethorpe & Wagstaff did outside their private lives is hidden in melodramas of betrayal & depravity. There is a cheapness about such narratives: What do they reveal, other than our own tastes for the lowdown?

Crump's film skirts similar narrative emphases - focusing on Wagstaff's social connections, his good looks - & it includes characters directly from the pages of Vanity Fair. It is narrated by Joan Juliet Buck (who has a wonderful speaking voice), & it includes an interview with Dominick Dunne. Still, it is relieved by archival photographs, snapshots of and by Wagstaff, and a first, and last I know of for network TV, Wagstaff speaking about his collection, discussing photography on the Dick Cavett show, and glimpses of curators & historians such as Pierre Apraxine and Eugenia Parry (who seems rather wired & vociferously "anti" Mapplethorpe). The interviews tend to betray very hierarchical social standards - Mapplethorpe is spoken about as low class & uneducated, also a social hustler - a kind of irritant to the dominant class. Patti Smith, also from "the wrong side of the tracks," speaks quite a bit, & given the excerpts of her memories, she seems quite oblivious of class differences, which leads me to wonder about the barely concealed class hostilities in evidence, by the others.

I am not convinced a documentary film is an effective way of profile a person & that person's accomplishments - too much has to be left out, so little seems to be said, ultimately. Still, Black, White + Gray is a bright little glimpse into worlds so recently lost to us.