Balthus’s painting The Street (1933) represents a cross-section of humanity that we could meet in the heart of any city. A small girl plays, the tradesman bears a plank, a child is carried, and an erotic encounter is enacted. The sense of location is emphasized by the shop signs, lamps, and details of the Paris street.
Often it is in dreams that we communicate.... I am on a familiar street searching for a particular house. The moment I set foot in this street my heart beats wildly. Though I have never seen the street it is more familiar to me, more intimate, more significant, than any street I have known.
MH: The subjects of your photographs, your friends, are legends. The exhibition of your photographs at Holly Solomon’s gallery in New York this year involved the perpetuation of certain myths. How do you feel when people you know are transformed in the public eye by cinema, magazines, or even exhibitions of photographs?
A fissured, empty, almost lunar landscape—seen from a bird’s-eye view. The camera hovers over it. In the distance, a lone man appears; he is crossing this desert. A hawk lands on a boulder. The man stops, looks at the bird. Then he drinks the last drops of water from a large plastic bottle. He is wearing a cheap Mexican suit, a red baseball cap and sandals with bandages around them.
We Japanese are very Americanized. Wherever you go, even just to have tea, you see "America." People want to go there and see what America is like, and everybody wants to go to New York. I was greatly impressed with New York from seeing Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver, and reading James Baldwin’s novel Another Country.
Mapplethorpe’s Human Geometry: A Whole Other Realm
To begin with two images, both low-angled shots of the larynx: In the first, Larry Desmedt 1978 (fig. 1), the man’s head is thrown back in ecstasy. We are told that an uncropped version shows that the man is experiencing the painful joys of masturbation—as if this were the true meaning of the picture.1
In Eric Fischl’s first important paintings, Bad Boy (1981) and Birthday Boy (1983), the psyche of a child is stretched by the adult sexual world; women lie exposed before adolescent eyes. Fischl’s paintings are narratives, fraught with erotic tension.
The French Surrealists were the first self-styled moderns to find in the photographs of Eugène Atget their dreams, their world, their language; as the recent series of exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the accompanying four-volume catalogue make clear, they were by no means the last.
Now take a stack of photographs ... you are looking for a point where inner and outer reality intersect... Now you don’t know what intersections the photographer experienced, but if he is as good as Walker is, you know he was experiencing something quite definite.
Photographers today have become more conscious than ever before of the history of their medium. A project initiated recently in France, the Mission Photographique of the DATAR (Délégation à l’Aménagement du Territoire et à l’Action Régionale [French Industrial Development Board]), was inspired in great part by earlier collaborations between photographers and government agencies, most notably the Mission Héliographique of 1851.
There is no telling what photographic treasures the past hides from the future. In the years before Alfred Stieglitz and his collaborators transformed photography into a legitimate artistic pursuit, the medium’s enormous and unregulated popular appeal encouraged the execution, far from the capitals of the art world, of much valuable and eccentric work.
RICHARD AVEDON’s new book In the American West was published last September by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. The publication took place simultaneously with the opening of the traveling exhibition In the American West: Photographs by Richard Avedon.
Cover photograph by Jack Delano, Farm Security Administration, Street Scene (Christiansted, St. Croix Island, Virgin Islands, December 1941), courtesy of Light Gallery, New York. P. 1 painting by Balthus—The Street, 1933, oil on canvas (6ft 43/4in x 7ft 10½in) (195cm x 240cm), courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York; James Thrall Soby Bequest.