Christopher Bollen

on David Armstrong

An excerpt from DEAR DAVE, 25

The photograph is by my friend, the late David Armstrong, called George in the water, and it was shot during one of the many summers in the late ’70s when David and his friends would escape the heat of Manhattan and drive up to Provincetown to crash at the beach house of an older friend from Boston and generally run amok—an East Village caravan grafted on New England sand. For those of us who knew him later, David was a sort of wise, benevolent fairy-godmother figure with a crackling wit and a predilection for quoting old movies and Emily Dickinson poems while puffing on a Newport Menthol Gold; to me, his brain worked more like a writer’s than a photographer’s in that he knew the ingredients to cooking a perfectly shocking story. He told me many stories of the subjects of his photographs and how they came to pose in front of his camera—David is often bundled with his lifelong friend Nan Goldin as part of “the Boston School”—and he often held forth on his aesthetic direction (“I don’t like shooting nudes, doll; the mystery dies when everything’s out in the open and there’s nothing to imagine”). And yet, for the life of me, I cannot remember the story of the young man, George, floating in the water off the coast of Provincetown in the summer of 1977. I have no memory of David talking about George, even though he does appear in another of his photographs taken that summer, alongside a man named Bruce, both dressed in t-shirts and jeans and nestled against floral wallpaper.