February 2, 2009

looking back is what we do

Melissa Gordon, Dear Donna, 2007

* From a 2004 profile of Robert Frank, whose photographs are currently on display at the National Gallery of Art. excerpt:

"Now 80, the visual poet who defined America like no one before or since, has become as mythic as his iconic images. As I approach his studio-come-apartment on Bleeker Street in New York, two young men are standing on the pavement outside, one posing against his door as the other snaps him. Steve Pyke, the photographer who has cancelled a day's appointments in the slim hope that Frank will agree to have his picture taken, recalls that he too photographed this same door many years ago. The door, for the most part, remains firmly closed to visitors.

"Robert Frank has agreed to a rare interview to coincide with a major retrospective of his work that opens at Tate Modern next week. He is palpably uncomfortable, though. 'I find this kind of thing so hard,' he says, collapsing into a wicker chair in the first-floor kitchen, which, like the rooms that disappear off it, is old-school bohemian, with old junk shop paintings, prints and postcards sharing wall space with small strange metal sculptures made by his second wife, the artist, June Leaf. She is nowhere to be seen today, but he proudly shows us a catalogue for a current retrospective of her work in Basle. They are kindred spirits, artists from another era when the work was everything, when the art took precedence over the individuals who created it. 'I envy her freedom', he says, 'to sit down in front of a blank page with no machine to get in the way. That is freedom. Photography is not freedom'."
"Robert Frank has been fleeing fame, and all attempts to pin him down, since The Americans thrust him into a brief notoriety in the mid-Fifties when many critics saw his images as anti-American. A decade later as the world caught up with his vision, he had already left photography behind for film, determined never to repeat himself creatively. He shot Ginsberg goofing off to a soundtrack of Kerouac in full verbal flow in Pull My Daisy (1959), caught the Rolling Stones at their most glamorously wasted in the little-seen Cocksucker Blues (1972), which the band did their best to suppress so accurate was its evocation of the drudgery and decadence of their nomadic lifestyle.

"'They sent lawyers, they sent planes, they sent the sheriff,' he laughs. 'It was out of proportion, like everything they did. Keith was having difficulties with the authorities at that time with the drugs and so on, and Mick thought he didn't look as good on film as Keith. It was comical really. I fled to Nova Scotia. I just wanted to be left alone.'

"Since then, the less Robert Frank has worked, the more his legend has grown, and the more he has retreated from it. 'The kind of photography I did is gone,' he says. 'It's old. There's no point in it anymore for me, and I get no satisfaction from trying to do it.' He says this without bitterness or regret, but with a sad matter-of-factness as ingrained as the lines on his face. 'There are too many pictures now. It's overwhelming. A flood of images that passes by, and says, "why should we remember anything?'There is too much to remember now, too much to take in.'"
"Robert Frank had captured an everyday America, shrouded in an epic sense of loneliness, a sadness that Diane Arbus called 'a hollowness'. Some of that sadness was quintessentially American, to do with the vastness of the continent and the struggle to survive that many of its ordinary citizens engaged in, and some of it was to do with Robert Frank, his outsider's gaze. 'I think I always had a cold eye', he says, 'I always saw things realistically. But, it's also easier to show the darkness than the joy of life. Life is not beautiful all the time. Life can be good, then you lie down, and stare up at the ceiling, and the sadness falls on you. Things move on, time passes, people go away, and sometimes they don't come back.'"

* Celebrate the Steelers win with this song --Off-White Noise, by one of Pittsburgh's best new bands Mariage Blanc.

* Michael Phelps quits..... smoking pot.

* "Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag." -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn


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