Voice-over narration for a film of that name, dated 1/8/71.
Blows into microphone: (1, 2......3) Is it all right?
Voice off mike: It's all right.
Reads: These are recollections Of a dozen still photographs I made several years ago.
Pause. Blows into microphone: (l-------; 2) Pause. Does it sound
Voice off mike: Yes, yes, perfectly. It's fine.
Reads: This is the first photograph I ever made with the direct intention of making art.
I had bought myself a camera for Christmas in 1958. One day early in January of 1959, I photographed several drawings by Carl Andre, with whom I shared a cheap apartment on Mulberry Street. One frame of film was left over, and I suggested to Carl that he sit, or rather, squat, for a portrait.
He insisted that the photograph must incorporate a handsome small picture frame that had been given him a year or so before by a girl named North.
How the metronome entered the scheme I don't recall, but it must have been deliberately.
The picture frame re-appears in a photograph dated March, 1963, but there isn't time to show you that one now. I discarded the metronome eventually, after tolerating its syncopation for
Carl Andre is twelve years older and more active than he was then. I see less of him nowadays than I should like; but then there are other people of whom I see more than I care to.
I despised this photograph for several years. But I could never bring myself to destroy a negative so incriminating.
I made this photograph on March 11, 1959. The face is my own, or rather, it was my own. As you see, I was thoroughly Pleased with myself at the time, presumably for having survived to such ripeness and wisdom, since it was my twenty-third birthday.
I focussed the camera, sat on a stool in front of it, and
made the exposures by squeezing a rubber bulb with my right foot.
There are eleven more photographs on the roll of film, all of comparable grandeur. Some of them exhibit my features in more sensitive or imposing .
One exposure records what now looks to me like a leer.
I sent that one to a very pretty and sensible girl on the occasion
of the vernal equinox, a holiday I held in some esteem. I think I wrote her some sort of cryptic note on the back of it. I never heard from her again.
Anyhow, photography had obviously caught my fancy. This photograph was made in the studio where I worked. It belonged to the wife of a friend. I daresay they are still married, but he has not been my friend for nearly ten years. We became estranged on account of an obscure mutual embarrassment that involved a third party, and three dozen eggs.
I take some comfort in realizing that my entire physical body has been replaced more than once since it made this portrait of its face. However, I understand that my central nervous system is an exception.
This photograph was made in September of 1960. The window is that of a dusty cabinetmaker's shop, on the west side of West Broadway, somewhere between Spring Street and West Houston.
I first photographed it more than a year earlier, as part of a series, but rejected it for reasons having to do with its tastefulness and illusion of deep space.
Then, in the course of two years, I made a half-dozen more negatives. Each time, I found some reason to feel dissatisfied.
The negative was too flat, or too harsh; or the framing was too tight. Once a horse was reflected in the glass, although I don't recall seeing that horse. Once, I found myself reflected, with my camera and tripod.
Finally, the cabinetmaker closed up shop and moved away.
I can't even remember exactly where he was, anymore.
But a year after that, I happened to compare the prints I made from the six negatives. I was astonished! In the midst of my concern for the flaws in my method, the window itself had changed, from season to season, far more than my photographs had!
I had thought ray subject changeless, and my own sensibility pliable But I was wrong about that.
So I chose the one photograph that pleased me most after all
and destroyed the rest. That was years ago. Now I'm sorry.
I only wish you could have seen them!
In 1961, for six or eight months, I lived in a borrowed loft on Bond Street, near the Bowery.
A young painter, who lived on the floor above me, wanted to be an Old Master. He talked a great deal about gums and varnishes; he was on his way to impastoes of record thickness.
The Spring of that year was sunny, and I spent a month photographing junk and rubble, in imitation of action painting.
My neighbor saw my new work, and he was not especially pleased.
His opinion upset me...and for good reason. He lived with a woman (I believe her father was a Brazilian economist) who seemed to stay with him out of inertia. She was monumentally fair, and succulent, and indifferent. In the warm weather, she went about nearly naked, and I would invent excuses to visit upstairs, in
order to stare at her.
My photographs failing as an excuse, I decided to ingratiate myself in the household by making a realistic work of art. I carved the numerals you see out of modelling clay, and then cast them in plaster.
The piece is called "A Cast of Thousands". The numbers are reversed in the cast, of course, but I have reversed them again in printing, to enhance their intelligibility.
Anyway, I finally unveiled the piece one evening. I suppose the painter was properly horrified. But the girl, who had never said a dozen words to me, laughed, and then laughed outrageously, and then, outrageously, kissed me.
Early in 1963, Frank Stella asked me to make a portrait.
He needed it for some casual business use: a show announcement, or maybe a passport. Something like that. I only recall that it needed to be done quickly. A likeness would do.
I made a dozen likenesses and he chose one. His dealer paid me for the job.
Most of those dozen faces seem resigned, or melancholy.
This one amuses me because Frank looks so entirely self-possessed.
I suppose blowing smoke rings admits of little feeling beyond that.
Looking at the photograph recently, it reminded me, unaccountably, of a photograph of another artist squirting water out of his mouth, which is undoubtedly art. Blowing smoke rings seems more of a craft.
Ordinarily, only opera singers make art with their mouths.
I made this photograph of James Rosenquist the first day we met. That was on Palm Sunday in 1963, when he lived in a red brick building at number 5 Coenties Slip. I went there to photograph him, in his studio, for a fashion magazine. The job was a washout, but Rosenquist and I remained friends for years afterward.
He rented two floor in the building. The lower floor, where he lived with his wife Mary Lou, was cool, neat and pleasant. Mary Lou was relaxed, cool, neat, very tall, and extremely pleasant. Rosenquist was calm. It was a lovely, soft, quiet Sunday.
We talked for awhile and then went upstairs to his workroom. I made 96 negatives in about two hours. This was the last. It is unrelated to the others.
Rosenquist is holding open a copy of an old magazine. A map of the United States shows the distribution of our typical songbirds. I admire this photograph for its internal geometry, the expression of its subject, its virtually perfect mapping of tonal values on the grey scale. It pleases me as much as anything I did.
James Rosenquist and I live far apart now, and we seldom meet. But I cannot recall one moment spent in his company that
I didn't completely enjoy.
This photograph was made at about 3:00 o'clock on the morning of June 6, 1963, in lower Manhattan. It may even have been Wall Street.
It is seen from the sidewalk, through the window of a large bank that had been closed for renovation and partially demolished inside. A big crystal chandelier is draped in a dusty, translucent membrane thatrecalls the tents of caterpillars. Someone has written with a forefinger, on the dusty pane, the words "Ilike my new name".
This seemed mysterious to me. At that time, I was much taken with the photographs of Lartigue, and I wanted to make photographs as mysterious as his, without, however, attempting to comprehend his wit.
All I learned was that the two were somehow bound together. Anyway my eye for mystery is defective, and so this may be the only example I'll ever produce.
Nevertheless, because it is a very difficult negative to print, I find that I do so less and less often.
This photograph of two toilets was made in February of 1964, with a new view camera I had just got at that time.
As you can see, it is an imitation of a painted renaissance crucifixion.
The outline of the Cross is quite clear. At its foot, the closed bowl on the right represents the Blessed Virgin.
On the left is St Mary Magdalen: a bowl with its lid raised.
The roll of toilet paper stands for the skull of Adam, whose sin is conventionally washed away by the blood the crucified Savior sheds. The stairs leading up to the two booths symbolize Calvary.
I'm not completely certain of the iconograpiiic significance of the light bulbs, but the haloes that surround them are more than suggestive.
Late in the Fall of 1964, a painter friend asked me to make a photographic document of spaghetti, an image that he wanted to incorporate into a work of his own.
I set up my camera above an empty darkroom tray, opened a Number 2 can of Franco-American Spaghetti, and poured it out. Then I stirred it around until I saw a suitably random
arrangement of pasta strands, and finished the photograph in short order.
Then, instead of disposing of the spaghetti, I left it there,and made one photograph every day. This was the eighteenth such photograph.
The spaghetti has dried without rotting. The sauce is a kind of pink varnish on the yellow strings. The entirety is covered in attractive mature colonies of mold in three colors: black, green and white.
I continued the series until no further change appeared to be taking place: about two months altogether. The spaghetti was never entirely consumed, but the mold eventually disappeared.
This photograph was made in Michael Snow's studio, sometime in 1965. It was made into a poster announcing a show of his Walking Woman works at the Poindexter Gallery in that year.
As many as possible of the pieces are seen, by reflection or transmission, in a transparent sheet of acrylic plastic which is itself part of a piece. The result is probably confusing, but no more so than the show apparently was, since it seems to have been studiously ignored.
If you look closely, you can see Michael Snow himself, on the left, by transmission, and my camera, on the right, by reflection.
I recall that we worked half a day for two or three exposures.
I believe that Snow was pleased with the photograph itself, as I was. But he disliked the poster intensely. He said I had chosen a type face that looked like an invitation to a church social.
I regret to say that he was right. But it was too late. There was nothing to do about it. The whole business still troubles me. I wish I could apologize to him.
This posed photograph of Larry Poons reclining on his bed was made early in 1966, for Vogue Magazine.
I was ecstatically happy that afternoon, for entirely personal reasons. I set up my camera quickly, made a single exposure, and left.
Later on, I was sent a check for the photograph that I thought inadequate by half.- I returned it to the magazine with a letter of explanation. They sent me another check for the amount I asked for: 75 dollars.
Months later, the photograph was published. I was working in a color film laboratory at the time. My boss saw the photograph, and I nearly lost my job.
I decided to stop doing this sort of thing.
I did not make this photograph, nor do I know who did. canIrecall precisely when it was made. It was printed in a newspaper, so I suppose that any patient person with an interest in this sort of thing could satisfy himself entirely as to its origins.
The image is slightly indistinct. A stubby, middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap looks back in matter-of-fact dismay or disgruntlement at the camera. It has caught him in the midst of
a display of spheres, each about the size of a grapefruit, and of some nondescript light color. He holds four of them in his * cupped hands. The rest seem half-submerged in water, or else lying in something like mud. A vague, mottled mass behind the crouching man suggests foliage.
I am as puzzled and mildly distressed by the sight of this photograph, as its protagonist seems to be with the spheres. They seem absolutely alien, and yet not very forbidding, after all.
What does it mean?
I am uncertain, but perfectly willing to offer a plausible explanation. The man is a Texas fruit-grower. His orchards lie near the Gulf of Mexico. The spheres are grapefruit. As they neared maturity, a hurricane flooded the orchard and knocked down the fruit. The man is stunned by his commercial loss, and a little resentful of the photographer who intrudes upon his attempt to assess it.
On the other hand, were photography of greater antiquity, then this image might date from the time of, let us say, Pascal; and I suppose he would have understood it quite differently.
Since 1966 I have made few photographs. This has been partly through design, and partly through laziness. I think I expose fewer than fifty negatives a year now. Of course I work more deliberately than I once did, and that counts for something. But I must confess that I have largely given up still photography.
So it is all the more surprising that I felt again, a few weeks ago, a vagrant urge that would have seemed familiar a few years ago:' the urge to take ray camera out of doors and make a photograph. It was a quite simple, obtrusive need. So I obeyed it.
I wandered around for hours, unsatisfied, and finally turned towards home in the afternoon. Half a block from my front door, the receding perspective of an alley caught my eye...a dark tunnel with the cross-street beyond brightly lit. As I focussed and composed the image, a truck turned into the alley. The driver stopped it, got out, and walked away. He left his cab door open.
My composition was spoiled, but I felt a perverse impulse to make the exposure anyway. I did so, and then went home to develop ray single negative.
When I came to print the negative, an odd thing struck my eye. Something, standing in the cross-street and invisible to me, was reflected in a factory window, and then reflected once more in the rear-view mirror attached to the truck door. It
was only a tiny detail. / ,,
Since then, I have enlarged this/section of my negative enormously. The grain of the film all but obliterates the features of the image. It is obscure; by any possible reckoning, it is hopelessly ambiguous.
Nevertheless, what I believe I see recorded, in that speck of film, fills me with such fear, such utter dread and loathing, that I think I shall never dare to make another photograph
Here it is!
Look at it!
Do you see what I see?