Richard Avedon wrote that the subject of a portrait must be willing to take part in a fiction he cannot possibly know about.” Through work commissioned for the magazine, seven photographers portray the painter Billy Sullivan. Through their diversity of approach and aesthetic sensibility, it elaborates upon the photographic portrait as an interpretive event and as the photographer as author; the portrayed as a supporting character in the narrative.
As the campaign for the White House advances inexorably, I am reminded of the often stealth presence of class and race in the United States, and its place in our collective strata. In a short essay on an atypical image by David LaChapelle, Lyle Rexer explicates race, rap, celebrity culture, the occasionally improbable arc of photographic history and how this image presciently transforms Tupac Shakur from an entertainment figure into a more provocative and profound symbol.
The genre of photographic still life has been resuscitated, given currency as a vehicle for theoretical inquiry. Joshua Citarella uses its tropes as an inquiry into its quaint historical vocabulary, to expose the often-cornball spatial illusions of the medium, and to reject technological virtuosity for the texture of improvisation.
In an obsessive and tenacious quest that has taken her to remote destinations, Rachel Sussman has been documenting “The Oldest Living Things in the World’ since 2005. While suggesting the epic sweep of time and the endurance of the primordial landscape, it is also a variation of the tradition of the landscape photograph to broach the sublime, and in the process, rearrange our human proportion.
Asger Carlson has created startling and blunt images that support the durable pleat of social satire and cultural production that challenges conventions of taste. Despite their potential offense, Seth Greenwald locates the work as a prism of broader cultural misgivings, phobias and insecurity, and as a legitimate rejection of a cultural involvement with physical perfection, genetic meddling, and other critical cultural conversations.
In lucid images from the ‘50s, Dirk Alvermann describes the face of the conflict and struggle for autonomy of the Algerians against the French, a resistance that is, perhaps, a historical harbinger of very recent events throughout the Arab world (and with the news today from Cairo and Benghazi, a bit of nostalgia). It is also a reminder of, despite pictorial and technological change, the function of the photograph to engage, inform and outrage.
I am optimistic.
With thanks and love,