I could chatter on at great length about Brion Gysin, whose work I first encountered in my teenage years when I read the beat writers and in particular William Burroughs, who I was happy to discover utilised his warped talents in a variety of different media. Gysin was a profound influence on Burroughs creatively and personally. Actually, it turns out that Gysin was a profound influence on many people much more famous than himself, as it seems most people find out about him through their exploration of the work of others.
Anyway, earlier this summer I visited the New Museum exhibition of his work (which ends this week) and it prompted me to re-read Terry Wilson's book of 30 year old interviews conducted with Gysin entitled Here To Go. The title itself references Gysin's answer to the question "What are we here for?"
The answer is of course, "We are Here To Go."
There is a passage in this book that has always stuck with me since I first read it. I had to order a new copy as my original one was lent out and disappeared a long time ago. Having just finished the re-read I thought I'd share the passage in question. Still one of my favourites in the book.
TERRY WILSON - I see here an article about "Copier Art" in which you are quoted. What's that all about?
BRION GYSIN - About nothing at all. Even less than the "Emperor's New Clothes"... which have been hanging on the museum clotheslines for too long. All that shit was replaced by so-called Conceptual Art, which I call Deceptual Art. There is, literally, nothing to it but some cancerous growth out of the Me generation of Americans who were "Spocked" by the ideas of that dumb permissive addle-headed doctor Spock. As Warhol said, anybody can now be a genius for nearly five minutes and a superstar for 15 minutes of public exposure by the media. It will last a little longer if there's a mass product to sell. The trouble with Deceptual Art was that there was a very thin product and even that so ephemeral that no collector in his right mind would want to "invest" in it. All this technological rubbish that has been spewing up from video to polaroid to newly-dubbed "Electroworks" does sell the electronic equipment involved to an over-affluent society of idle housewives who need an "outlet" in programmed "creativity", a way of burning up the bread of the starving Third World and the Fourth and the Fifth on an electric toaster. All this decorative garbage they turn out is what they can pick and choose from as they rollerskate through the air-conditioned supermarket of the arts. It's like painting with numbers and it should stop at the kindergarten. It's not that these things make creation too easy - they have nothing to do with creativity. This is the ugly flab on a fatcat society that burns up everybody else's calories of psychic energy and leaves the whole world impoverished, not enriched.
TERRY WILSON - You have not only practiced photography and incorporated it into your paintings but written and published in french a long text about photography... That means you take it seriously-
BRION GYSIN - Of course I take it seriously. With photography began the whole insane proliferation of images. Previous the the 19th century, most people saw at most one image a week at church or once a year on a pilgrimage. Now images flow past us and through us by the multiple millions, daily. What does that mean and what has it done to us: none of us is quite sure, even now. we have seen revered objects and even whole countries fade under the assault of picture postcards and tourist cameras. in our day, things which had endured from all time have been burnt down, absorbed, obliterated as sure as the beaches of Bali have been overrun by hippies on motorbikes who pass out on speedballs in temples they burn down with an abandoned roach before they catch their cheap charter back home. Get it while it lasts. Use it all up.
And so it goes on.
The guy was clearly off his rocker, but goddamn it if he wasn't right about so many things so I'll have to put him in that raving genius category. He should be on the reading list of every creative arts college course but then if he was the students would probably realise how much of a sham the whole creative arts industry really is.
As he says, "This is the ugly flab on a fatcat society that burns up everybody else's calories of psychic energy and leaves the whole world impoverished, not enriched."
I urge you all to check out some Gysin. I can certainly guess what he would of made of the state of things today.
This Friday afternoon I dropped by my friend's studio to borrow some time on their scanner. While I scanned a few frames and drank a beer over a quick chat, frantic activity buzzed around this rather atmospheric studio space on the corner of Grand Street & Bowery in Lower Manhattan in preparation for a showcase exhibition featuring some incredibly talented people. The temperature was almost 90 degrees and humid. Wonder what it will be like tomorrow when the space is filled with bodies...
Curator's statement is as follows:
featuring: Emile Hyperion Dubuisson Wayne Liu Pax Paulele Gabriele Stabile Louise Ingalls Sturges Hidden in the flamboyant colors of Chinatown there’s a green stairs that leads to a green gate which finally conduct to a green, very narrow, hallway at the end of which two magnificent windows open up on a very unexpected scenario.
blinks to the famous novel by Andre Gide where a secret event was perceived by the back of a narrow door. This is the mood where the idea originated as well as running through a previous experience held in Rome in the nineties (Studio 14 was an open space where international artists, especially urban and street artists, used to meet and perform their works in complete freedom).
A studio space, in the heart of the Bowery, has become the sophisticated playground for artists and friends to meet up and mix images. Five artists, mainly photographers, used the space to change perspective on their work. The results of their long term projects and researches was here overturned, upset, reviewed and discussed. The usual set of photographic display (frame, white wall, right light) was here abandoned in honor of the images themselves. Beyond the power of their singular content, images were here used as pencils, colors, paint, frames. Disconnected from their structural logic they broke in a new passionate melody.
Pax, Emile Dubuisson, Louise Sturges, Gabriele Stabile, former students of ICP in New York, and Wayne Liu, by now brilliant artists and photographers committed to their personal career, let the people share for once the studio mood where everything, or almost, is allowed. Curator: Valentina Casacchia (text)
Ok. So can we all agree that photojournalism is not dead - As I've said before, if it's anything it's a movie zombie that just won't die!). So, what do we do with this undead creature. The defense for photojournalism seems to revolve around photographers who are working, creating new business strategies and ways of funding their work and paying the bills (many of these methods are not new, by the way - it's just that more people are utilising them).
The real question to me is Who is looking at this stuff?
I didn't go to Perpignon, or Arles, or any of the other photo festivals this year (except one, in New York, which is on my doorstep) but perhaps someone who did go can tell me how many non-photographers were there.
When you go to a music festival, is the entire crowd full of musicians?
I guess that may be a poor analogy, as music is often seen as entertainment and a lot of good visual journalism is shall we say, less than entertaining. In fact it is often the opposite of that. But seriously, is the average person that concerned about what journalists are reporting on? I really think that - I mean I hope that - there is more concern out there than it would sometimes seem. I'd like to think that those people who I see reading the celebrity gossip and articles on how best to pluck your eyebrows or sculpt your abs into a six pack also read in depth reports on the latest political and economic situation. I'd like to think they volunteer for a charity, talk to their neighbours, expand their knowledge of the world via photography, film, the written word, art, culture and - whenever possible - direct experience.
The truth is however, that a lot of them probably only care about how many distractions they can cram on their tablets or they are too busy reading articles on what Katie Perry is up to.
Seeing as I have occasionally had to do a google search to find out who I'm being sent to photograph, I probably should pay more attention to pop culture, like who's number 1 in the pop charts and how to get my abs nice and firm, but in this day and age, where pretty much everything I do has a knock on effect with results that ripple across the globe, I should really care about things that are a bit more important. And I'm trying to avoid sounding pompous and self important here, but the stuff in my house has been manufactured in god knows how many different countries, I have no idea what the living conditions are of the people who grew, harvested, packed, and shipped the food in my fridge. The electricity I consume as I write this probably comes from the huge coal fired power plant a few miles away and we (should) all know how much damage that is doing.
My point is that although photojournalism is not dead, what does it matter if the only audience for it is other photojournalists? If we regard our work as important, shouldn't we make sure that the audience is as wide as possible? I know there are plenty of photojournalists out there trying to do just that, trying to get their work seen by people who are not photographers, people who can use the information contained in the photographs, people who care about what is being depicted, people who are just simply curious minds. If the profession is to shake off the rumours of it's demise - which are often perpetrated by photojournalism professionals themselves - then it needs to show that it is relevant to our society. If we care about who or what we are photographing, if we think that it is worth sharing then it is part of our job to get that work seen. It doesn't even have to be sensationalist, big issue stuff. Sometimes the simplest story can speak volumes and have a reach beyond it's own confines, but it needs to fight against and hold it's own in the culture of celebrity, entertainment and distraction.
Now I'm not saying we shouldn't had fun. I like to be entertained. Who doesn't? but I also like to be informed.
So if the photojournalism zombie finally keels over, twitches and lays still, it'll be because we let it. And no-one else will even notice it's gone.