Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I couldn't sleep at all last night


      I think my dyspeptic reaction to the Lou Reed “Romanticism” exhibition of photography, which I wrote about last night, had a great deal to do with the fact that I spent a few hours yesterday in rapt and concentrated enjoyment of photographs and paintings by the great American artist, Charles Sheeler. Viewed against the backdrop of Sheeler’s work, the Reed exhibition (and the expensive coffee table book that accompanies it; not the first in the artist's series of photography books and surely not the last), appears simply to be a gimmicky cheap shot celebrity-centric variation on the “blockbuster exhibition” gambit, so tired and in this case writ so small as to induce more than dismay, disgust even. What next for the artist who gave us “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, “Waiting For The Man”, “Heroin” and “White Light/White Heat”?  Am I the only one who recalls that the projected sunglass line, “Lou’s Views”, a sort of optical equivalent of the pocket protector, never got off the ground?  Seeing Lou Reed become Paris Hilton is depressing.

      Because Reed once commented convincingly about his work that: “the idea behind it was to try and bring a novelist’s eye to it ……..I don’t believe in dressing up reality;  I don’t believe in using make-up to make things look smoother” , learning that his “Romanticism” images were achieved through the use of a “special” new Schneider Optics lens, which captures some infrared light and achieves instant Caper David Friedrich effects, conferring the Friedrich mantle on the lens’s owner, was deeply disappointing.

      I mean, when Christopher Isherwood wrote in Goodbye To Berlin: "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking", that was obviously not the case or Isherwood's method. Ferdinand de Saussure’s statement: “Far from it being the object that antedates the viewpoint, it would seem that it is the viewpoint that creates the object”, is more on point.

      Therefore, to try to effect a sort of self-cure and move on, I am posting several pairs of photographs by some distinctive 19th and 20th century artists. In each pairing, I will include one non-figurative work and one portrait:

Charles Sheeler:


Man Ray:

Arthur Batut:

      I first saw the last Batut image, an early demonstration of deliberate double exposure for artistic effect, on the cover of the Penguin paperback edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  It was extremely effective and I was amazed to learn that Batut is considered the father of aerial photography.  The other Batut photo is an aerial shot (taken from a kite) of Labruguiere, the town where he lived. 
      All that being said, the view from my window last night over the back terrace, which was illuminated by a bulb I had just replaced following a long period of darkness, looked a lot like one of Lou Reed's "aura of strangeness, otherworldliness" photos.  So I guess that I just don't know, I guess that I just don't know.

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