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“The Gay Essay is comparable in magnitude to Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’…the exhibit in its entirety is amazingly strong. And for the most part the photographs are singularly beautiful in execution.”
San Francisco Art Week, 1973
This weekend is Pride and today (Sunday) the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; an event generally regarded as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. To mark the occasion DRKRM Gallery in Los Angeles is exhibiting Anthony Friedkin’s Gay, A Photographic Essay 1969 – 1972.
Friedkin isn’t your run of the mill photographer. He’d likely balk at the top-heavy marketing necessary by the individual photographer to survive in today’s game. He doesn’t seem to have searched out publicity or reviews and never chased the recognition of the fine art world. There’s next to nothing written about him on the internet which supports my theory that he is of a different generation and different ethos.
He is a name not commonly known. This, of course, is our loss and not his.
Friedkin is as “California” as Henry Wessel. He is as culturally vital to the West Coast gay communities as Leigh Bowery was to London’s. Friedkin’s fascination with the couture and characters of subculture in the American West is on a par with that of Richard Avedon.
Friedkin was a one man Hamburger Eyes long before the zygote of Hamburger Eyes’ uncowed lens fell down the photo community fallopian tube.
A native of Los Angeles, Anthony Friedkin began photographing as a child. He started working in the darkroom at age eleven, processing and printing his own images. Since the early 1960’s, he has accomplished a significant body of work.
Friedkin’s projects include The Gay Essay done in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1969 and 1970; The Beverly Hills Essay shot in 1975; The Hollywood Series began in 1978 continues to this day; and The Ocean-Surfing Essay which explores Friedkin’s intimate, intensely personal relationship with the surf and waves. For most of his life he has been photographing Los Angeles creating an unparalleled body of work informed by his love of the diverse conurbation.
Of all his major photographic series, only one documents life outside the Golden State (New York City Brothels).
Prison Photography is particularly interested in Friedkin’s photographic record of California Prisons and their inmates. The only image I have to present here is Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA (1991) [bottom].
California Prisons includes sensitive portrait shots of incarcerated teenagers, as well as the many typical representations of machismo and gang affiliated men.
I do not know if the series includes photographs of female prisoners, but this and many other unanswered questions now await a curious future…
I’d be very interested to hear from readers who’ve attended exhibition of the work and have any lasting impressions.
It is Friedkin’s devotion to the unexpected that distinguishes his work. He disarms the extraordinary and educates his audience. Friedkin presents outlying cultures without a second thought; he surrounded himself with these people and paid them total respect.
“They were defining their sense of freedom and individuality,” says Friedkin, who choose at the time to portray Gay people who refused to conform to society’s values. “I wanted to depict their struggles, humiliations, and their triumphs.”
As objective as the camera can be, it was so when in Friedkin’s hands and directed at people. Particularly, in documenting Gay culture, Friedkin was never reductive; he photographed the ‘wide-ranging composite … young hustlers, drag queens, transsexuals, San Francisco entertainers; a Gay Liberation parade in Hollywood; two lesbian women very much in love; effeminate boys growing up in an environment of machismo and the religious subculture typical of East Los Angeles.’
Friedkin’s close tie to California, and especially Los Angeles, is conspicuous in his work as a still photographer for the movie industry. He makes the distinction himself between the circles of Hollywood and the tradition gallery circuit as evidenced by his use of ‘Tony’ Friedkin for movie credit-lines. Work on Crips and Bloods: Made in America and an appearance as himself in Dog Town & Z-Boys tie Friedkin indelibly to the California cultures of today and yesteryear.
Anthony Friedkin has over forty years experience as a professional photographer. He started out as a photojournalist working as a stringer for Magnum photos in Los Angeles. For the past twenty-five years Anthony Friedkin has lived and worked out of his apartment studio in Santa Monica. Currently, he is preparing a book of his Ocean-Wave photographs. Friedkin’s photographs are included in major Museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco MoMA and The J. Paul Getty Museum. His work has been published in Japan, Russia, Europe, in many Fine Art publications in America and in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Newsweek, French Zoom and Malibu Magazine. For a full resume click here.
We are all agreed: Michael Jackson’s death is a sad event. Firstly because he was young, secondly because he runs through our cultural DNA and thirdly because we never really managed to fully understand him.
Jackson’s life and work were wrapped up in the confuddling of race and the obliteration of its prerequisites for discussion. I am not talking only about his self-manipulated skin colour. I am talking about the fact he was accused of antisemitism for contested lyrics in the 1996 release They Don’t Really Care About Us and the fact he was accused of exploiting the poor of Rio de Janeiro for its music video.
This song is only one time Jackson was simultaneously cast as victim and perpetrator by the media and public all making use of his eccentricity to grind their own agendas.
The controversy led Jackson (for the only time in his career) to film a second video for one of his songs, taking his crotch grabs off the favela streets and into the prison chow hall. One or both of the versions was banned by MTV – I am not quite sure, but it doesn’t matter.
Jackson threw enough contorted imagery at these two videos to satisfy a life’s worth of political action. The prison version is a montage of famous photojournalist and media images; death, natural disaster, street brutality, Vietnam napalm, hate crimes, Rodney King, African pestilence, riots, nuclear detonation and the Ku Klux Klan?
I am undecided as to how Jackson’s convolution of imagery helps an informed debate on inequality in society. How much does a famine of the 80s in an unnamed African nation have to do with US urban riots?
It should be said, that for his manic prison tableaux, Jackson did accurately reflect reality in the casting of a disproportion number of men of colour.
Lee Grant contacted me a few months ago to tell me of her project Belco Pride – an institutional portrait of the now empty Belconnen Remand Centre. ‘Belco’ was a small facility designed for 17 people, but according to Lee housing approximately 70 toward the end. Officially, the capacity is/was “under revision”.
The remand prisoners have since been relocated to the Alexander Maconochie Centre, which is talked up as Australia’s first prison built in accordance with the Geneva Convention (more on that in a later post).
After inmate rehousing, but before total closure, Grant took another opportunity to tour the facility, “thanks to an open day … billed, believe it or not, as a family event. And the families were out in force …”
Therefore, I was happy to see Lee post a few of her images from the ongoing series. I particularly liked these two pairings which are a wry juxtaposition.
Shortly thereafter my enjoyment turned to bafflement.
In Lee’s description of the open day she mentioned that the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” was clearly visible to all arriving visitors. This flat out shocked me. On Lee’s blog, I commented,
There is no correlation between Nazi concentration camps and modern Australian prisons. The inclusion of the phrase is confusing and offensive.
I had originally mistaken the facility, thinking the quote was on view at an opening for the new prison and not, as the case was, a closing of the old. Still, wonder remains at this crude and ill-advised allusion.
It may well be possible that the quote was already there from when detainees were being held (it was one of the first things you see on a whiteboard as you walk into the processing area of the facility). Though this is no excuse, it may partially explain why it wasn’t removed and as you stated, it is to some extent an indictment of the culture and thinking of some people who work in the prison system.
Interestingly I vaguely remember the local paper referring to the quote though I don’t recall the reporter making any association to Nazi concentration camps. I shall let you know if I find any more answers but I hope this helps a little bit.
[I will be sure to post any developments - be they images or elaborations on this peculiar alignment of geography, phrase and history.]
Like Lee, I do not want to judge individuals working in Corrective Services. Instead, I’ll simply say that systems in which workers operate along lines of strict procedure are likely to harbour casual and offensive attitudes. Workers are as disciplined as inmates in all prisons. So when individuals are subject to a system – relieved of actual decision making – there is no incentive to challenge objectionable attitudes.
For the best of the rest, check out Lee Grant’s Op Shop series, which proves that you can change the country and you can change the moniker (charity shop, UK; thrift store, USA) but the look, personnel, wares and atmosphere remain the same.
Masumi Hayashi visited every permanent site of Japanese American internment; such was her dedication to its historical truth and visual legacy. I’d like to pay tribute to Hayashi’s artistic rigour, the project and above all her life.
This post is not only a celebration of meaningful photography but also of a life cut short in tragic circumstances.
Prison Photography has needed to limit itself in discussion, so rich and extensive was Hayashi’s oeuvre. I recommend that you spend a long time meditating her Prison series, Salt Mine series and a spectacular EPA Superfund Sites series.
Let us focus, for now, on the issue at hand – Japanese American Internment.
Professor Hayashi photographed all 10 internment camps on American soil. She also documented the 4 Canadian internment sites. It was a subject close to her heart — she was born at the Gila River Relocation camp in Arizona in 1945.
In most cases, Hayashi photographed a full 360 degrees. The gradient of exposure in her photo montages and her extruded viewpoint lent visual richness, height and vertigo to otherwise mundane landscapes. Hayashi’s indelible presence in the works is a reminder of the former human presence in inhumane environments.
Hayashi’s composite tactic solves the problematic banality of many of the sites. She describes here and here that many of the sites as barren and sun bleached (Manzanar, CA has been well-preserved as a memorial and state park, but it is the exception). The most common denominator among the sites was the concrete sewage system. The large peripheral tanks always remained long after the sheds and tended plots had decayed. A brick structure was a treat, and wooden barns, anomalies.
Hayashi’s endeavours cannot be underestimated. As Candida Hofer noted;
If you consider that each individual photograph has four sides (trust me) then multiply by two decisions for each side—where to cut the edge, where to place in relation to the adjacent photo—that’s eight decisions right there. Then multiply that by say 45 photos (the number in ‘Jain Temple’ for example). That’s 360 decisions! When was the last time you did anything that required 360 of anything?
For those of you sitting there thinking, “Oh, yeah, I could take a bunch of little pictures of something too.” No, you couldn’t. Not like this. Her style is built on solid conventional photographic methods (each picture must itself be a very good picture).
In addition to her photographic work, Hayashi conducted audio interviews of former internees to develop a complete sense of experience across the American internment archipelago.
In August 2006, Hayashi along with her neighbour John Jackson, knocked at the door of the apartment of another neighbour Jacob Cifelli to complain oncemore about his high volume music. It was the last of many noise complaints. Cifelli shot them both to death in the stairwell.
The story has added tragedy as Hayashi had recently reunited with her biological daughter, Lisa Takata, after 39 years of estrangement. Hayashi gave Takata up for adoption within a few days after her birth in the midst of the Watts Riots in 1965.
Photographer, artist and fellow Cleveland resident, Norm Roulet summed up the loss of Hayashi;
I am saddened and horrified to now recognize Masumi Hayashi as the finest photographer and one of the greatest artists Northeast Ohio has ever know, as she was murdered last night in her studio. All local arts lovers and artists certainly knew Masumi and her remarkable work, and of the great value she brought to CSU as a professor there. Her loss to Northeast Ohio as an arts community cannot be overstated. Now, every time I paste together my collages I’ll think of Masumi in fond remembrance. Rest in peace, Masumi Hayashi – I apologize to you for the insanity that is Cleveland today.
Rest in peace, indeed.
Masumi Hayashi’s work has been exhibited in internationally respected museums and galleries, including the International Center for Photography in New York, the L.A. County Art Museum, the Japanese American National Museum (L.A.), the Tokyo Museum of Photography, the Ludwig Museum of Art in Germany, and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Photography in London, England. In 2003, she had a retrospective one-person exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Professor Hayashi taught photography for 24 years at Cleveland State University, Ohio.