Sunday, January 24, 2016

After the Blizzard

Everything was pretty much back to normal on the West Side following yesterday's storm.  NYC Sanitation crews did a great job keeping the streets plowed.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Photo Book Review: Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror

Until I had read Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror by Anne Baldassari, curator of the photographic archives at the Musee Picasso in Paris, I had not realized the extent of the artist's involvement with the medium. I had over the years seen some of his self-portraits, which seemed extremely self-conscious, and a few photos of sitters from which the artist had worked while creating their portraits, but I had not appreciated the significance of these as they related to Picasso's work methods. In her study, though, Ms. Baldassari painstakingly chronicles Picasso's use of photography throughout his career and demonstrates that black & white photography was essential to his artistic vision.

If there was any doubt regarding the extent of the importance which Picasso attached to photography, it is dispelled by the following quote from the book's Introduction:
"Sometime around 1910, Picasso reported declared, under the influence of hashish, 'I've discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I've nothing else to learn.'"
It should come as no surprise that an artist of Picasso's genius should prove an excellent photographer. If nothing else, The Dark Mirror would be worth acquiring simply for its wealth of imagery. I know of no other publication where such a comprehensive collection of the artist's photography has been gathered together, let alone placed side by side with the artworks with which they correspond. Particularly revealing is Picasso's photo of the Spanish village Horta de Ebro placed side by side with his 1909 cubist painting of the same subject.

Many of the photos shown in The Dark Mirror were not taken by Picasso himself. He had a huge collection of souvenir postcards which he used as sources. The most controversial of these are a series of semi-nude photos of African women which today would be regarded as clearly exploitative. Baldassari's attempt to link these to the famous 1907 Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is intriguing if not entirely convincing.

At the heart of Baldassari's thesis is the belief that the use of monochromatic images served as a reductive agent that permitted Picasso to better visualize the components of his work without the distractions the use of color otherwise entailed. This is particularly true of a series of photos from 1912 documenting wall arrangements of papiers colles in his Boulevard Raspail studio. 

Coincidentally attesting to the importance of the monochromatic to Picasso's vision is a recently closed exhibit at the Guggenheim aptly entitled Picasso Black & White. Significantly, the description of the exhibit on the museum's website states:
"Claiming that color weakens, Pablo Picasso purged it from his work in order to highlight the formal structure and autonomy of form inherent in his art. His repeated minimal palette correlates to his obsessive interest in line and form, drawing, and monochromatic and tonal values, while developing a complex language of pictorial and sculptural signs."
As Baldassari notes repeatedly, photography was to Picasso a "dark mirror" in the sense that he was able, through its use, to see more clearly the form underlying his work.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Censorship and Creativity: NYPL's Collection of Erotica

One thinks of the censorship of books as a thing of the past, a draconian measure once practiced by dictatorships in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.  Or else in fictional accounts of authoritarian regimes as in Orwell's 1984.  Recently, however, I came across a fascinating article in The New York Times, accompanied by a two-minute video, that reveals that the venerable New York Public Library has also indulged in the suppression of reading material it deemed hazardous to the moral health of readers.

According to the article, a symbol consisting of three asterisks (***) was handwritten on books and periodicals in the permanent collection to indicate that "supervision" was required, i.e., a reader needed a librarian's permission to view the forbidden material.  The heinous works themselves were kept safely locked away in "cages" and, even with permission granted, could only be viewed in specified areas in the main library building on Fifth Avenue.

And exactly which works were so categorized?  As one would expect, the list included a wide range of erotica.
"Playboy was once classified with a triple star. So were raunchy pulp novels, fliers for Times Square massage parlors, business cards offering phone sex for $2 a minute, even playing cards with illustrations of naked women..."
More disturbingly, legitimate artwork was also placed on the proscribed list if it contained any erotic content. This included a book of shunga prints from the nineteenth century by the artist Utagawa Kunisada, described in his Wikipedia biography as "the most popular, prolific and financially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan."  Other examples included the erotic drawings of William Faulkner, in which he portrayed himself having sex with his mistress Meta Carpenter Wilde, as well as "a rare collection of Man Ray erotic photographs, with poems by Benjamin PĂ©ret, that was published in Brussels in 1929 in the form of a calendar or almanac, its pages still uncut."

Even worse was that a selection of literary works by some of the twentieth century's greatest authors and poets was also arbitrarily put under quarantine:
"Henry Miller’s typewritten manuscript for 'Tropic of Capricorn,' with his handwritten edits; a 1947 humorous, pornographic cartoon by the novelist Jack Kerouac; a first edition of a pornographic poem by W. H. Auden; a first edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s English-language novel 'Lolita,' published in Paris in 1955 [by Olympia Press] after Nabokov failed to find a publisher in the United States."
The NYT article tried to end on a positive note by stating: "More recently, hundreds of works that make up the triple-star collection have been liberated from the restricted controls. An adult with a library card can simply fill out a request and peruse the material on the premises."  The implication here, though, is that many more works still remain locked away.  Not to mention the fact that access to erotic works available online is controlled by the library's "filter system."

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to offer my best wishes for 2016 to all my readers.  I hope you have great happiness and good health all through the year.  As for me, I'm looking forward in the coming year to working on both my photography and my creative writing and then sharing my thoughts on my endeavors here in my blog posts.

In an effort to promote my novels, I've finally given in to social media and have set up a profile on Facebook.  If anyone has time to spare and wishes to look, the link is below.  Feel free to send me a friend request when visiting.