The Canadian Art Database

David Hlynsky

The New Photo Books — Part Two
A Conversation between Hermann Neutics [Charlie Huiskin], Vic d'Or,
Lorne Fromer, George and Miklos Legrady, George Whiteside, & Billy Piton.

Only Paper Today, Vol. 5 #5, June 1978
[ 4,190 words ]

(Still on Awakenings.)

George L.
I don't see how the kind of map and location effects the actual content of what they've done. It seems to be like a method they use to put the book together, but it doesn't really talk about the content as such.

Lorne It'd be interesting if they didn't have the map. It'd be just as interesting.

Hermann It doesn't have a real sense of locus, of location. There's a map and that's what gives the sense of location, well that's pretty arbitrary.

David Sort of hocus locus, huh?

Billy I think it's a good idea, but I didn't think the photographs were that strong.

Hermann They admit in the front something about that this could take place in any major city in any part of the world, that you're bound to find industrial sites and photograph them this way. So I can't figure out why bother having maps of King St., Esplanade...

George L. Well, it holds the book together, but it doesn't talk about the actual content as such. The nearest thing is the Becker's book of water towers where the actual subject matter of the photograph is what holds it together especially when it's done in a series.

Lorne Have you ever seen a book called God's Own Junkyard ? Just full of junkyard imagery.

Hermann I mean they wanted to be very light, but I think the N. E. Thing Co has done some lighter stuff that still has a sense of 'we were there'. Besides the 'lack', with not having people in the photographs; I don't get the sense of 'event'. I don't get that eventfulness.

George Well, it's a concern with the way things look in industries.       

Lorne   I think it's very passive.

Hermann Yeah, exactly. A friend of mine did a photo event in one of those same spots. What they said is they burned a house down and then phoned the fire dept. When the fire trucks came he ran up the fire ladder and photographed the fire from up above. And to me that's a little more engaging than standing back and...

David Arson and photography.

George Did he have insurance?

Hermann No, he was on drugs.

Miklos There's a relationship?

Hermann The motivation was just 'it's a trip', I guess. It was the late sixties, which is the date of this (Awakenings) stuff too, I think.

Miklos That's like the German who documented cutting off his cock.

Hermann Schwarzkogler.

George L. David, when you put an Image Nation together how do you go about choosing the work? Do you decide on a theme or the way the images look or...?

David No, actually my editorial 'frame' changes from one issue to the next. And I hope that they keep on getting better and better. I'm starting to do thematic things now. But in the beginning I made an all out call for people to submit photographs. And I found the administration was just too much work for the amount of money that I was getting out of it. I'm not very good at returning pictures and keeping up with the correspondence and answering phone calls.

George L. But how do you go about putting a body of work together? Do you pick certain topics or subject matter or the way images look or...?

Lorne   Probably very organic, eh?

David No, in the early days there were portions of large numbers of photographs so that the editorial connections happened from one spread of pictures to the next and sometimes only across the spread.

George Depending on what kind a pile of pictures came up with...?

David Depending on what kind of pile... They were juxtaposed in different ways.

Miklos It still shows the editing according to a certain mentality. .

David Yeah, well I wanted them to be light — like if you look at some of the old issues like Image Nation 15 , there were some pretty heavy images and some pretty light images in there too. That's the one with the bird smacked on an airplane wing on the cover: There's one picture of a guy who's pointing at his black eye. And there's some pretty light-weight ones too. I wouldn't do an issue that's that eclectic now. The issue on the press now ('Punk' issue) focuses only on four photographers and every photograph in the book is a portrait of some sort; portraits taken from different points of view. Some of them are staged as fashion photographs and others are photographed on the street. But as you look through it, they're all faces. Every picture has a face looking back at you. And the next issue with all landscapes where there are no faces.

George L. Is there any kind of a direction in the formal aspects of how the pictures look or just in terms of subject matter?

David I think if you're doing a magazine that's supposedly democratic — which it isn't, it can't be, but it at least has to have the pretence of being - you can only direct to a certain point. Like I can select pictures from people that I like, I can call up all the people that I know in town and say 'submit pictures'. Usually that doesn't work, the pictures aren't that great because people just submit what they're working on at the time and there's nothing that's aged. Or I could go through a more 'clandestine' collecting and every time I see something that's interesting put it in the file. Different issues arrive in different ways. The snapshot issue was all taken out of the garbage can, rejects from a photo lab.

George L. Oh, yeah?

Miklos But it propagates a certain idea...

David I think the technology I have access to is responsible for propagating the idea. I've never been able to reproduce high quality photographs.

Miklos I don't mean it that way. I mean the idea I saw propagated from all those Image Nations is that the image is light as you said, but it's a document of something that is put together in the mind and may be shown physically, but instead of being an image for itself, it's a document.

Lorne An 'image nation'!

Miklos I'm saying that it propagates David's understanding of a certain 'style' (?) Style is maybe the wrong word.

David It's hard to say. I hope that what I see or what I consider to be good pictures changes.

Lorne You can't help but reflect your own editorial style.

David Oh, for sure.

Billy (In Joe-Blow voice) That's why we buy the magazine, Dave! You know what I mean? Hey! You got something going there, you know?

Miklos It's not like OVO magazine's self-portraits, for example, where everybody just sends in and it's published. There's a definite choice being made.

George I was talking to David when Evidences came out and he pulled out this book called Roy Stryker: Humane Propagandist . He compared how much like editing... the differences in the final statement about the overall work that comes out of the book...

Lorne Sure, even with every photographer as individuals. It's a whole process that has nothing to do with the camera at that point.

David Yeah, but to imply that that process is entirely conscious is a little misleading.

George L. It's not conscious, but it's there.

David It has to reflect the personality of the editor, for sure, but whether the editor is self-conscious or not is another. story.

Lorne   'Self' conscious is interesting...

David Just by nature if each one of us edited — say each one of us looked at the same thousand pictures and pulled out fifty, each one of us would put them in a different sequence and pick out different ones, but to say that we were deliberately forcing an opinion into that is not exactly the case. I think that we sort of unconsciously force our personalities into it.

Miklos Maybe consciously would be better then. I always saw it as a conscious propagation of an idea.

David Oh, I think it does happen on that level. The nuance is there. But I think the conscious ideas that we have are really simple minded'. The unconscious ones are the ones that make the thing... that give it a lot of...

Miklos ...the power?  

Lorne That's why it's got a lot to do with this issue of Impulse and Impressions in which what happened was two people went through the files of the Canadian Press wire-photo services and literally there were thousands and thousands of images. And in fact they are anonymous images and just all the photo images coming up on the surface. And we pulled something together. And I don't know whether it's reflecting a 'self' conscious editorial statement.

George L. The editor ends up being like the author.

Lorne Especially in a book like this ( Impulse-Impressions ). But that becomes much different with less anonymous images.

George L. But like A.D. Coleman's book (The Grotesque in Photography) — in a sense he's working on that same level; but he ends up using either important names or very noticeable content. I think the interesting part of that work is the beginning part where he has the anonymous stuff.

Hermann The hangings and stuff like that...

George L. ...more interesting than the contemporary work he has in there.

David But don't you think that's a trend now in contemporary photography, that a lot of serious photographers are looking at anonymously-made photographs?

George L. Well, I think that what's happening is that people are finally developing a vocabulary of signs so they can read all this stuff. For instance, the snapshot book I was talking about (American Snapshots, Scrimshaw Press, $13.50) that just came out. They did the same thing. They went through all kinds of stuff and put together work that had a definite... it winds up being just 'snapshots'.

David The interesting thing that happened with our snapshot issue was that there were eight people editing. And I find out that as soon as you have two or three people...

George L. Were there fights?

David Yeah, well, there were fights. But the fights were really interesting because the things that... Even the Rolling Landscape Show [a satellit A Space photo exhibition on Toronto's subway system] was like that too, because Ben Holzberg and I did the editing on it. And some of the pictures that he was sensitive to were not the pictures that I was sensitive about at all. And vice versa. And if you have an editorial board with a lot of strong personalities, you can actually put those kinds of conflicts into the issue. And I think it makes it more interesting.

Lorne ...conflicts, and at the same time you can totally fictionalize. It can become very easy to grab one image from the series of 25 images in a portfolio and put it there beside another image from somebody else's portfolio, and you have a completely different statement come up on the page than what was intended by the individual two people. It just kind of tests that editorial power and what you can do with it. A.D. Coleman in a sense is very 'cold feet' about it. He never really stepped in and got grotesque.

David   He didn't go far enough.

Lorne That book could have been edited very grotesquely.

David No, I think the book really is grotesque. I think that he really missed it. I think 'grotesque' to me implies something that's just ugly and not interesting in an ugly way.

Hermann It's a really rich word that I think we're abusing too. 'Grotesque' can refer to a lot more than just — what? — deaths on the street and that kind of thing. I mean there's a whole style of lettering called 'grotesque'. And I think of — and Sontag refers to that too — the subtitle to Sherwood Anderson's book 'Winesberg, Ohio', a book about grotesques. And there's that kind of sensibility about it — something that's somehow fascinating, but it's not really understood exactly why, whether it's because of its ugliness or its pretensions to beauty.

George L. Maybe we all have certain sensibilities and it defies or goes beyond them.

Lorne I see it coming from two directions. One is our Peeping Tom... use that as a universal kind of metaphor, that there are certain things we all want to see that we don't get a chance to see in our own lives for whatever reason. And another thing, which is tangential in a way, is that royal courts would have freaks as part of the court. There'd be jesters and all these kinds of people.

Hermann Oh, yeah, midgets would have to come out and they'd have to bend down and they'd be the stools when the king got into the carriage or took table or whatever. Like Les Krims and his recording of little people, and Diane Arbus, it's post-humanistic for sure, but it's still coloured by the democratic, humanistic kind of thing. While the people in the middle-ages were very cruel to the freaks.

Billy (In British accent, Gothic voice) And so we just photograph them, that's all we do. We don't use them. We just photograph them and — publish books.

Hermann Gonna talk about White Trash (by Christopher Makos, Stonehill, $11.95)?

Billy White trash? Let's talk punk'. Come on (David), you first. You're the editor.

David   You're the photographer.

Hermann So (to Billy), how did you feel about that show here at A Space? You were in it.

Billy Oh, yeah; I had a great time.

Hermann But I mean as photography how did you feel about it?

Billy Well, I liked my stuff... moving right along... I liked the show because of its event aspect more than anything else.

Hermann Because it was timely. Like a year later it wouln't have mattered, to you.

Billy The thing that grabbed me about the whole thing was its immediacy and to sort of belabour over the photographs of it...

Herman O.K., but you use that word 'immediacy' and yet it was such a 'media' thing. It wasn't its 'immediacy'. It was its 'mediacy'.

Billy Oh yeah, well, when I talked to Isobel (Harry) — the reason we wanted to do it was simply because of the fact that we all seemed to find ourselves at the same place at the same time captivated by about the same thing. And so we said, 'we'll just go on'. But since that time we've never had a show. I mean I enjoyed it. I wanted to have a party. That's what it was all about. And we had a party. We ran out of beer far too soon. But that's O.K.

Vic It always happens here.

Billy The thing that I saw was that in so many ways a lot of people liked the same thing. There was a kind of 'sameness' to the exhibition. But that was the way it was. I like this (White Trash) simply because it was a great idea that one guy should have the opportunity to make one whole book and present not only straight-on images, but to put a couple of the others in of his own expression, of sort of setup shots and things like that. What do you think (David)? What would you have thought of that?

David I don't like it, especially the way the thing is produced. I don't like photo books that — well, this is kind of weird — that have pictures that go across the 'gutters'. I find that really disturbing. This one is interesting (an Andy Warhol portrait). I think that Andy probably paid him for that.

Hermann Well, that's true because Makos works for Interview magazine. That's his connection.

David I don't think it's 100% punk. I think it's maybe like 20% punk and then there's a lot of other stuff happening with it.

Billy I don't think it's a reflection of the scene or whatever.

Hermann Well, do some art history here. The guy studied with Man Ray. There are some Man Ray portraits in it. Do you see that kind of 'surrealist' stuff in it or Man Ray's influence at all? Or aren't you impressed by that?

David Oh, I don't think Man Ray's artistic influence or stylistic influence... But I think punk is probably inherently surreal anyhow. I think the subject matter dictated this as much as...

Hermann That's funny because in his FILE thing...

Vic There's as much Johnny Ray as Man Ray in there.

Hermann Johnny Ray? Johnny and the G—Rays. Good band!

Billy Yeah, they are!

Hermann What was I going to say? Anyway... AA Bronson says almost the opposite in that FILE punk thing — that 'new wave' is the death of surrealism — that kind of Jefferson Airplane surrealistic pillow — that this is the new resurgence of probably a hard-core Dadaism. The imagery is different. The image is now more of the machine as opposed to the surrealism of overgrowth, vegetation. You know, it's not psychedelic.

Billy No, I don't think any of the stuff that was here (Pics from Punk Press)... it wasn't psychedelic. It was all very 'real', documentary style photography. There was only one thing... The fella that has something to do with FILE Megazine... He has the same studio or is in the same building as Isobel... And it was the only impressionistic kind of setup. He shot the Viletones in the elevator.

Hermann Oh, yeah, Saia. Jorgé. He had that same thing in the Lamanna show as well.

Billy    And so that was the only piece of work that had been done sort of like 'let's get together' and where the photographer had directorial control of anything that was going on. The other stuff was all just shots without the participants knowledge or whether...

Lorne No, I got that feeling that in a lot of them there was directorial control. I think a lot of them were verging on publicity shots for fans.

Billy Well, Isobel's is very 'fashion' oriented. And all of mine were just... about 80% were 'do you mind if I take your photograph?' and so there was that point of departure. Them there were other people just shooting off the hip like a lot of live band shots.

Hermann I think that if we're talking about a time capsule, this kind of stuff and the stuff that magazines like Rock Scene and Creem... They make the time capsule. They definitely do.

Billy : And then there's the Punk Rock magazine.

George L.: I think the nearest thing that this thing compares to is Hollywood romance magazines and gossip things. And basically punk rock is just a vehicle to carry that format on.

Hermann : Listen, four or five years ago Patti Smith was doing an Edith Piaf act in New York City in feather boas and heavy-duty eye makeup. And she was singing Frank Sinatra tunes and making announcements like 'this is a special tribute to Blue-eyes; he is the Pablo Picasso of North America.' Well, that's good. That's a very rich 'act'.

George L. But I think the content in there is basically irrelevant. It'll be...

Billy I think Image Nation will be better.

David Yeah? Yeah, I hope so.

Billy In terms of 'punkoid' I think that Isobel and myself and Jeremiah... I think that the Image Nation touches on more... Punk is a true media... figment of our imagination, that's it. It's what we wanna make it. I mean it's like anything else — I would almost like it to sort of fade away so the media doesn't get that much hold of it. But it has.

George L. Yeah, but it's basically made for the media. That's what it's worth so...

Billy There wouldn't be any of this stuff without Weegee and stuff like that, which makes it so we can all be part of the limelight. It's the greater struggle to 'be' I think that is noticed. Which has always been, hasn't it? It's more selective now.

Hermann (David), you're not agreeing with any of this?

David Oh, I'm just taking it in.

Lorne There's a very real crossover in this A.D. (Coleman) book with the punk thing Even Weston. These kinds of things become 'highbrow-punk'.

Hermann I think that White Trash is a hybrid. It's very eclectic. And maybe that's why it looks a little too thin for people like yourself (David), who are editing a book of, you know, very 'artistic' photographic portfolios.

David No, I don't think that Image Nation is going to have a stronger statement about punk than this. I think it's going to be easier to see, that's all.

Lorne One thing about the White Trash book is the design of it and how you can't relate to it as 'precious'. It's designed so rawly.

Hermann It's rude. It is rude.

Lorne And it offends in the same way that punk offends. Whereas taking a punk image and putting it in a very large mat with a silver frame and glass over it — it's going the opposite way from the ideals of punk.

Hermann Do you (George L.) have something to say about this kind of stuff or...

George L. I said it: Hollywood romance, media hype. It works with that format'. The pictures as such aren't very interesting to me. Also the whole event seems like a media event. I remember like eight years ago I used to go to New York City and go to Max's Kansas City bar. Or ten years ago. Basically all it was since it had the reputation; people flocked there like crazy. The myth created the place. I think the myth can exist beside the book.

Vic The whole idea of mythmaking is that you need as much support as you can get to give it credibility. Photography is the one advancement in image technology that's allowed the myth to become contemporaneous with reality.

George L. But I'd rather buy the Interview tabloid than buy the book. It's also such a fast-paced myth thing that a monthly tabloid will give me more information on it.

Hermann Same thing we were saying about last fall's out of date, maybe a bit boring. Some of those bands don't exist anymore. Their amps have been traded in for — what? — pogo sticks?

David Winnebagoes.

George L. So what about Avedon? Is that the last one?

Billy We have to do this and Weegee. I think Weegee's great. Everybody should have a copy.

David Yeah, I think Weegee's great too.

Vic Yeah.

Billy I think everybody should have it.

Hermann I think we should 'dedicate our lives to Weegee'.

Billy Simply because of his name.

David But one difference between the Weegee and Avedon books and all of the others is that these people are much older. They have a bigger background to draw from. You have 30 or 40 years of work to look at.

Vic Weegee never set himself up as an artist though. He was always a journalist.

David I think toward the end he got pretty weird with his manipulated images.

Vic Well, yeah, toward the end, when his stuff started to be retrieved. But I think somebody else had to take the initiative to retrieve the stuff before...

Lorne   I think he was an uncredited artist.

Billy It's only been in the last few years that he's started to blossom forth, hasn't it?

Vic He was retrieved in the fifties. There was a book published in the fifties of his photos and remaindered in the sixties at Cole's.

David By U.S. Camera, Popular Photography and those people.

George L. There's a very good catalogue of his work from ICP. He had a show there last fall. This book seems to be packaged for coffee tables. But the other book has non-cropped kind of images and talks more about his sense of defying sensibilities, how he always picked the most degrading moment to document stuff.

Lorne There's some very human, compassionate stuff as well.

Only Paper Today, Vol. 5 #5, June 1978

Text: © David Hlynsky et al. All rights reserved.

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