On the eve of the 1976 election, William Eggleston traveled to Plains, Georgia, to photograph the hometown of Jimmy Carter. The landscapes he captured were overgrown yet restrained, rusting shacks and crooked tombstones. As he travels along the road from Mississippi to Georgia, the quiet buzz of anticipation grows. In Sumter, a car driving down the highway emerges from behind a small shack with advertisements painted on the side. In front, stalks of ryegrass bend with the wind. Every piece of the landscape, from its residents to the trees, is both fluid and static. The photographs in Election Eve emit an eerie quiet—a town on the precipice of transforming from a provincial backcountry to a presidential hometown.
“We are the subject,” the title of the show currently on view at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery, cites Lisette Model’s notion of the photographer’s subject matter: “We are the subject,” she writes in one of her teaching notebooks, “the object is the world around us.”
There are nearly forty images—dense, intense, almost claustrophobic—included in the show, which brings together the work of Model and two photographers who had once been her pupils, Diane Arbus and Rosalind Fox Solomon. (The three women were first—and last—shown together in 1977 at the Galerie Zabriskie in Paris.) “Photograph from your guts,” Model advised her students, an injunction to harness instinct, to channel, through the camera, anything—everything—with its pains and its triumphs. The camera was a conduit, a channel connecting the heart to the stomach to the brain and then short-circuiting the whole setup. The camera was also, Model said, a detection device. “We are the subject” makes a compelling argument for the camera as Geiger counter, picking up and making visible the atmosphere’s radioactivity, the nuclear fields we carry around and travel through in our banal daily lives, the toxicities that make us human in the first place. Read More
“America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” John Updike wrote. Forty-six years later, the first half of the sentence holds. The line is from his 1972 story “How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time,” which begins with a vacationing family choosing a motel. At the top of the list for the kids is “a pool (essential).”
In the new book The Swimming Pool in Photography, published by Hatje Cantz, Francis Hodgson includes iconic and obscure images of sanitarium-style public baths, backyard basins, fascist Olympians, face-lifted starlets, and the odd waterslide. Yet it wasn’t the kidney curves of Beverly Hills that brought back the burn of chlorine to my eyes, nor the steam off an Alpine sauna. It was a handful of photographs showing vacationers at motel pools. Shot on color-drenched Kodachrome and semistaged, these mostly anonymous photographs advertise a seasonal, obtainable version of the good life. The pools, many of which exist within the same space as the parking lot and the row of numbered doors, speak to a moment in America when average people had the resources to travel and relax—and to the temporary communities set up around these roadside oases.
Those who know the tedium of the summer road trip—the nausea, the sweat behind the knees—also know the specific joy of a motel marquee, backlit by the evening sun, bearing those four closely kerned letters. Some say the journey is the destination. I’d trade both journey and destination for the motel pool—not too chilly, not too crowded, within walking distance of a Golden Corral.
Hodgson’s book is a demonstration of how swimming pools are genetically photogenic. Perhaps it’s that a pool somewhat resembles a photograph: a field of glittering action, bordered by white. Or that before digital cameras, to develop a photograph meant to submerge it in a series of three pools—developer, stop bath, fixer. Or that both center around the joys of seeing—light dancing on water, bodies glowing in the sun. Photography might as well have been invented for swimming pools. Read More
My friend sent me an article about a young Danish photographer, Marie Hyld, who takes photos of herself with strangers she meets on Tinder, attractive men and women approximately her own age. Each photograph is staged to look like a candid moment of intimacy caught within an established romantic relationship and, as with many long-term relationships, reflects a range of shifting moods: sexy, playful, sleepy, bored. At first, I was drawn to one of the sexy ones—Hyld and her partner standing in a green-tiled shower, embracing under the spray. Although the man’s face is partially concealed by Hyld’s head, her cheek pressed into the curve of his neck, from what I could discern of his profile and body, he so closely resembles a former lover of mine that for a few minutes I was nearly certain it was him. That man was an aesthete; he was handsome and vain and seemed to love feeling desired, but avoided attachments. It was not difficult to imagine him volunteering for a project like Hyld’s, an artistic inquiry into make-believe intimacy. (This was before I learned that the photographer finds her collaborators in Denmark, a place I’ve never been.) The resemblance also probably had to do with the photograph being staged in the shower. The man I knew would get up in the morning and take lengthy luxuriant showers while I lay in bed, showers that went on so long I’d sometimes wonder if he’d passed out or left the building with the water still running. Invariably, I’d grow bored and climb out of bed to wander through his rooms, taking inventory of his things: his books and paintings, his soft dark sweaters folded on the shelf, his pile of boots behind the bedroom door, his stacks of mail and his blender and the bowl of tangerines on the kitchen counter. I never touched anything, except once his phone, to check what time it was and also to see if other women had called him in the night. But mostly to check the time. I would’ve liked to shower with him, but he never invited me, and I was too shy to ask. I thought it might be time and space he needed for himself. I’d picture him in there, raking his fingers through his wet hair, with his eyes closed as steam lifted off his skin. I wondered if he ever thought of me while he was in the shower—the woman he’d left in bed, now creeping around his apartment in her underwear. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. Read More
The tension between trees and female disobedience is biblical. After succumbing to the snake’s suggestion and partaking of an apple from a tree, Eve gets some bad news: her body will bring her shame and pain. She is not meant to reach into trees or climb them; she should quietly remain on the ground and bear new life. Get down, history has said to the grown woman brazen enough to take even a brief arboreal leave from her earthly duties. Once a woman is off the ground, it may occur to her to keep on climbing. A man might find himself standing beneath her, subject to the sight of her womanly behind on a branch above his head.
To defy history and climb a tree as an adult woman is exhilarating. The German photographer Jochen Raiß discovered, through old photos he found at flea markets and in junk shops, that primly dressed women all over Germany, from the twenties to the fifties, posed in trees during Sunday strolls. His first volume of these found photographs, Women in Trees, became a best seller in 2016 and led to the recent sequel, the aptly titled More Women in Trees. Together, the two volumes contain nearly two hundred of Raiß’s amateur finds, all roughly dating from that time period when he estimates the phenomenon of German women posing in trees for their male companions was most popular. Cameras during this period, Raiß writes, were considered complicated machines best handled by men. And the mischievous smiles the women display in the photographs were most likely for their male companions behind the camera. Their expressions are often coy; there is a canned mischievousness to them—young women performing for boyfriends on a leisurely walk. Read More
I spent my first twenty-three years on this planet living in the same apartment building in the Bronx. I felt ownership over those gum-stained concrete blocks. I dreamed of scattering my ashes on them when I died, like Miguel Piñero scattered his around the Lower East Side. (I still might.)
Then, two years ago, when I was twenty-five, I left New York. I left because I was tired. I started working at thirteen to contribute to my household. I busted my ass in public schools, got a scholarship to a Catholic high school, and graduated college with an Ivy League degree. Despite all this, I still lived check to check, just like everyone else I knew. I wanted to do the things my single mom had never had the chance to, like own property or save for retirement. But I saw the money flowing into New York City. I saw neglected neighborhoods regurgitate cocktail bars and cycling studios. I saw the rents skyrocket as fast as the property values. I knew, at best, I could only hope to maintain. I was fucking tired of maintaining. Read More