On Pictures & Writings
I worked as an artist and eked out a living as a photographer until 1991, working with R/Greenberg Associates, M&Co., and various small companies, and publishing in Interview, GQ, Backstage, Variety, and a few other probably long-gone corporate and other magazines. “Until 1991”: let’s just say I sucked at business. And a lot of other things were going on.
The way I remember the end of my commercial photography career, GQ was not amused by my answer to a food assignment for which I photographed focaccia with mozzarella, tomato, arugula, and oil and, I’m just remembering, a few artfully placed sprigs of rosemary—just like any guy could make—arranged on a plate and placed on top of a TV set displaying the tightly cropped picture (in a prerecorded video frame) of some baseball players patting each others’ butts. This was 1991; I went on a vacation and when I returned I saw the magazine, and that they’d replaced the image of the ball players with that of the head of a football player growling, unambiguously, through the face guard of his helmet.
Shortly after that the inimitable art director Tibor Kalman, never one to skirt controversy, said he couldn’t run my picture of some Isaac Mizrahi sunglasses he asked me to photograph for Interview, glasses which I placed on my friend’s penis, you know, to make a penis face. I was disheartened; from then on had a hard time believing I could survive as a commercial photographer.
I also sucked in business, let’s just say.
So there was that. And, with a lot of really bad things around that I realized I wanted to survive, I went back to school to study writing, and wrote a few books.
I should have said that I worked as a conceptual artist. Or more accurately—this was the 80s—as a Neo-Conceptual artist. Probably the last Conceptual piece I did was a photobook called A is for Adorno. Around that time, against the conceptual, I was working through a different kind of photographic experience exploring the abject and rejected: burnt objects, cut hair, stains, and spit—the kinds of things I’ve returned to again and again (for example in Ideologies I, Ideologies II, & Ideologies III). And since that time another persistent interest of mine has been in pictures without center, without subject or object (like those in Technical Pictures and Zapopan Color), without meaning (not least of all as a liberation from the imposition of meaning).
Aside from a couple of group exhibitions in the 1980s and small circulation photobooks, my pictures haven’t been exhibited; I threw out all my commercial work one day while walking along Avenue A in 1992.
In April 2009, after returning from a brief life in Mexico, I discovered that all of my artwork, as well as everything I had collected from other artists, had been stolen from a storage space I had put the stuff in for safekeeping in Farmingdale, Long Island. The cop who arrived on the scene said several times, Well you left your stuff here for three years and didn't come back. I left before—I left before I would have been arrested.
In 2012, after a series of burglaries culminating in the theft of my point-and-shoot Leica, a camera that had given me a lot of joy in making pictures in those few years, I decided that all this had been a sign: to stop focusing on the darkness behind me (Heisenberg), and photograph the light (Strindberg).
And I’m not done with books.
* * *
August 2013, May 2014, October 2014: Greenpoint, NY.