“I think that it’s the act of viewing and deciding to read pictures in a way where you’re really looking into and trying to pull meaning out of it. Reading is a creative act that requires a lot of filling in blanks.” From a recent conversation between artist Sam Margevicius and Beau Torres about ‘Twenty-six’, on display at the 128 Baxter St Project Space until April 11th. Head to our website for the rest of their discussion!
Installation Image by Olympia Shannon
#sammargevicius #beautorres #twentysix #baxterstccny #nyc #photography @sammargevicius @dotbeau
The following text comes from a conversation between Sam Margevicius and Beau Torres about the exhibition Twenty-six. They spoke over coffee at Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York on February 4th, 2019.
Sam Margevicius: I call this an installation piece because it’s not reproducible. When I show someone one of these pictures or even an installation shot, it really has very little relation to the renascence of actually being here because your body becomes this vessel for engaging with the work, and you create the meaning through the sequencing, through your own subjective sequencing and which images you encounter before and after every other image. So, you kind of are given this active role as a body that can walk around this space and so you build the narrative through that traveling.
The sequence of these images has been for the most part fixed—It’s still the same every time that you’ve seen it. What’s changed is that I’ve shown the piece on one long wall, two intersecting walls, and the current installation is spread across three walls.
SM: In many ways I think of this piece as a kind of film. A moving images film where you can, as the viewer, become enabled to move forward and backward within the film. It’s almost like you’re looking at the timeline, let’s say on Netflix, it says the film is two hours and you can just zip your mouse and go wherever you want. That’s how I sometimes imagine being here with these images.
That is really at the heart of what I wanted to do with this work, to somehow provide a way for other people to get in, to contextualize that situation without it being from a distance. I wanted to give the viewer an opportunity to go through that.
I think that it’s the act of viewing and deciding to read pictures in a way where you’re really looking into and trying to pull meaning out of it. Reading is a creative act that requires a lot of filling in blanks.
SM: I tend to lean more towards a structural model of making work. To think more intuitively with this piece you can start at the first picture and say “okay, those vessels are about the chemicals in the air in a darkroom,” then take that sentence and run with it, go to the next picture, fill in a couple more sentences, and keep going. But then you can step back and look at what’s happening with the whole structure and ask, “what are the factors that establish relationships between pictures here—there is a middle line and a then fluctuation above and below that.” I think I had to remain, in ways, more aware of that structure throughout the making of this piece.
As a viewer I appreciate moments when I discover something new or recognize a new version of something I already know. I enjoy when someone sees this piece and it reminds them of a walk they might have taken yesterday. I think that those moments reveal a chance circumstance within a sequence of so many decisions they have made and so many they have not intentionally made. That’s a very fortunate event, when a viewer can really relate—it’s rare. We might not even have these experiences every day. There has to be a balance of having lows and having highs and having in-betweens. So, when you get those moments of resonance, it’s this beautiful appearance and can seem as though everything led up to that momentary understanding.
Beau Torres: I think sometimes that looseness, letting go of structure is really the most helpful thing. Sometimes I’ll have three or four stacks of reference materials, where there’s this stack of books for this project and that stack is for that other one. I also have this one program, Papers, it’s essentially iTunes for PDFs, where I have a selection of readings for this project, and a selection for that project. I’m also adding to source imagery folders in Adobe Bridge. Everything’s constantly being sorted and everything’s ready for me to look at. And then I realize I’m spending all this time sorting and the project’s not even started—The project is all jumbled in my head and stored in piles and files. Sometimes we have to throw all that away and do the project. Actually start the project and then see where the next step goes. Once you let everything commence, you start to find what you’re looking for, and then you begin to make meaning. I think that’s the most important thing about meaning, and about this project—nothing has meaning. It’s not about a fascination with nihilism, it’s more about meaning not being inherent, but that it’s, in fact, made.
SM: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that!
BT: I was curious to know if you were thinking about cinema as film or cinema as a space; a place for meeting. And then I started thinking about the coffeehouse, and a nostalgia for this place as a beatnik environment for intellectual conversation. The same goes for the idea of the cinema of the past as this place where one would throw on a suit to have an experience. Even tonight when you go to Anthology Film Archives to see the Merce Cunningham films.
SM: Nathaniel Dorsky, whose book is on that shelf right there—Devotional Cinema, he’s talking about the cinema as a place. Essentially you’re in a large cavernous space that’s dark and you see at the edge of the room, illuminations. He describes that as a very good analog for our brains and the process of seeing through our eyeballs. Sitting in there having this experience where you’re totally focused and honed in on the screen. The other day I watched Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, it’s about a person who gets in an accident and is stuck severely in their body—“locked-in syndrome” it’s called. The character can think, hear, and see; he can move his eyeballs and blink, but he can’t control any other part of his body. I thought, wow, this is the perfect content for a film. It’s almost like every film should be about a person who can only see and not physically interact with the world, because that is the condition one is put in when watching a film. You get audio and visuals, and you can think but you cannot engage anything.
What initiated my real appreciation for going to the cinema was actually the space of getting out of the movie theater and walking home or walking to the train. That five, ten minutes, one hour, whatever that time is that elapses once the film has concluded lets you think of the work and kind of place it into your memory in a way that makes sense. It’s an important time and space to develop your interpretation and build it into your day-to-day life.
BT: What’s your impression of reading photography in a wider context? Is reading photography something that anyone can easily do? A couple of photographs that I’m looking at here have visual clues we as photographers would recognize. This one has bits of grain where I can tell it was taken with a film camera. And then you’ve got this other one that maybe was taken with an iPhone and it’s not digital or film grain, it’s concrete and that surface texture could be a nod to film grain. So how do we as photographers who do have a kind of photographic language bring that to an audience who might not be photographically trained? How can we make pictures, in a way, words?
SM: It’s hard work to sit in front of a photograph, and try to describe, or create some system of meaning for oneself. So, how do we contextualize that? Well, I like to remember that everyone has their own ways of trying to put meaning onto things.
I feel like I speak with people a lot who are really eager and open, they are confused and curious and want to understand an artwork. They want to know, “What does it mean?” and “What’s going on here?” and “Why have you done this?” But then sometimes people are inclined to say, “Hey, I don’t get this!” and are really critical right from the onset. I think that it’s the act of viewing and deciding to read pictures in a way where you’re really looking into and trying to pull meaning out of it. That is a creative act that requires a lot of filling in a lot of blanks.
Filmmakers and Directors of Photography take wonderful images, but I think it would be strange for them to pull one image out and say, “Oh yes, this is the best image,” because it has to work within that narrative. I think that’s one reason I don’t work so much with film, even though I’m really interested in all these ideas around motion picture film. One of the original media theorists, Marshall McLuhan, identifies motion pictures with sound as a hot medium. When you watch a film, it’s giving you the sound, and it’s giving you a ton of moving images, and you can sit there and not move at all, there are a lot of stimuli dropped into your lap. Painting, photography, music, and other mediums are seen as cool mediums because you come to the picture and it’s not giving you very much—it’s mute or it’s invisible. So you have to do the work and become an active interpreter.
So, that is something that I find daily in life. I think it’s good to be talking to you about this, because of apophenia and, When Things Come Together (referring to BT’s exhibition of the same name). The idea that sometimes everything is right and easy and flowing and seems magical, and you’re walking around, and because of something that you saw on the last block, then you see something on this block and you experience this moment of total awe and joy. This possibility of something that loosely resembled magic to me.
BT: It’s all magic.
“I became more interested in how we make our private lives public and how much of ourselves is influenced by public histories.” @elliottjeromebrownjr
From Muri Assunção’s critical essay “Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. and the Paradoxes of Representation”, now available on our website. @muriassuncao
#asimplesong #elliottjeromebrownjr #workspaceresident2018 #muriassuncao #representationmatters #photography #nyc #baxterstccny
Author Ralph Ellison prefaces his 1952 novel “Invisible Man” with a matter-of-fact explanation for the narrator’s invisibility: “I am an invisible man,” the story begins. Not in a literal way, as the Invisible Man from H.G. Wells’s 1897 sci-fi novella, or not due to a “bio-chemical accident to my epidermis,” either. His invisibility occurs, he writes, “simply because people refuse to see me.” As a young black man coming of age in early-twentieth century America, Ellison’s narrator – whose name is never disclosed – struggles to find his true identity living in a society where his individuality goes unrecognized because of the color of his skin. “When [people] approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Although this milestone of American literature was released over 60 years ago, the importance of a conversation about black representation today feels more urgent and pertinent than ever. As the duality of “how people perceive you vs. how you portray yourself” goes back to the cultural forefront, some artists use their personal stories to drive the narrative.
In a simple song, the photographer Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. builds upon Ellison’s invisibility concept, adding intimacy and the domestic space to ignite a conversation about contemporary black representation, queerness, and identity.
Brown drew inspiration for the show from Billy Preston’s 1971 album “I Wrote a Simple Song,” whose title song alludes to the perils of altering artistic expression to conform to an idea that’s expected from you. It describes a song that was originally conceived as a private conversation between songwriter and muse, but embellished for commercial use, and in the process, altering its true essence.
They took my simple song, yes, they did
They changed the words and the melody
Made it all sound wrong, yeah
Now it sounds like a symphony
Preston was a famed African-American musician who frequently collaborated with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He allegedly struggled to reconcile his homosexuality with his relationship to the church, and never came out publicly as a gay man; he was posthumously outed by Keith Richards in his 2010 autobiography “Life,” where he writes: “[Preston] was gay at a time when nobody could be openly gay, which added difficulties to his life.” The lyrics to “I Wrote a Simple Song” are directed towards a woman:
That song was personal
Because I wrote it for you
It’s yours and mine, girl.
Like the unnamed narrator in Ralph Ellison’s novel, whose attempts to define himself through the expectations imposed on him by others are rendered inauthentic, Preston talks about the compromise of artistic integrity in lieu of outside expectations with “I Wrote a Simple Song”.
The nine pieces Brown brought to a simple song speak to this tension between the public and the private, the intimate and the distant, the personal and the collective, the visible and the invisible. They portray intimate slices of black life – himself, family, friends – that contain elements which are often obstructed from the viewer. The faces in his photographs are rarely ever the focal point. The subjects are often distanced from the viewer: turned away from the camera, seen through a mirror reflection, or with their eyes closed. Some have their faces blocked by a visual element – either as part of the composition, or as an external sculptural artifice. There’s a palpable distance between sitter and viewer, and the narrative thread is left ambiguous on purpose.
Brown has always been interested in “how intimate experiences are revealed as both personal artifacts and sociopolitical stimulus.” In one of his earlier works, “The Ramble (2012),” a series he completed during his freshman year at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he references a well-known gay cruising area in New York’s Central Park. Exploring and exposing such an intimate detail of the gay experience allowed him to open up and feel more comfortable about sharing his sexuality with the world. “I became more interested in how we make our private lives public and how much of ourselves is influenced by public histories.” As a gay black man, the idea of identity and representation takes center-stage in his work, a concept that has permeated his images from the start, but flourished after he started using his own body to express the intersection of queerness and blackness.
A self-portrait from those earlier days, “Pendulum (2014)” speaks to that dynamic. In the image, his nude body is seen through a sliver in what appears to be a wardrobe or a closet. He has his back to the viewer, and he’s dangling from the ceiling, holding on to an object. The object can’t be seen in the picture, but the tightness of his muscles – from his shoulders all the way to the bottom of his thighs – gives away the tension. The work is emblematic of how he likes to tell a story, and it became a recurrent theme is his images: the sitter looks away, so that the viewer can look in. “That image blew me away in that I can still discuss whatever it is I want to discuss at that time and not necessarily have people preoccupied by my identity, or the identity of the sitter,” he said.
While it’s a known part of history that black representation in the arts has been overlooked in this country, addressing representation in black photography by African-American photographers has been especially abysmal. The first issue of Aperture dedicated exclusively to the “photography of the black experience,” for example, came out just a few months before President Barack Obama left the White House. Entitled “Vision & Justice,” the issue was inspired by an 1864 speech by Frederick Douglass, “Pictures and Progress,” where the abolitionist hero spoke about the transformative power of photography. Still in the dawn of the new medium, Douglass could already envision the tremendous role that photography would play in shifting people’s perception, as he underlined the importance of representation. He was “intent on the use of this visual image to erase the astonishingly large storehouse of racist stereotypes that had been accumulated in the American archive of anti-black imagery,” the historian Henry Louis Gates explains in the issue.
Brown takes this concept further. The biographical information in his photography is not usually what drives the image. “I’m interested in the residue of presence or activity, which encourages a slower, more ambiguous reading, versus an image that explicitly shows that action,” he says. In a way Brown plays up a paradox of sorts; he represents by not representing.
Today, long-time friend and member of Baxter St, @mariettepathyallenofficial’s retrospective opens at the @museumofsexnow. Congrats, Mariette! ‘Rites of Passage, 1978-2006’ will be on view until September 8th.
Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the transgender community for over 40 years. The selection largely highlights a time before the internet, when often hard-to-find newsletters and magazines were essential lifelines, and protests and in-person conferences were one of the few safe spaces to be ‘out.’ #ritesofpassage #mariettepathyallen #museumofsex #photography #nyc #baxterstccny
Happy 140th birthday to former Camera Club of New York member Edward Steichen! We’re proud to continue the legacy of this organization as a driving force in contemporary photography. “Five short years after picking up a camera for the first time, Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz at the New York Camera Club while stopping over on his way to Paris. Stieglitz was so impressed with Steichen’s work that he purchased three prints from him at their first meeting for five dollars a piece, a generous amount at the time, especially for Steichen, who had previously only sold his prints for fifty cents a piece.”-@austinnelsonphoto, from a 2012 Baxter St guest blog post.
Image: ‘Self-portrait with sister’, 1900. Courtesy of the Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
#edwardsteichen #camerawork #baxterstccny #colorphotograpy #innovation #nyc #photography
Tonight at 7pm, join artist @_matthewporter_ at @aperturefnd for a discussion on his forthcoming book, ‘The Heights’, a portfolio of twenty-five images of vintage cars, captured in midair as they careen over city streets and highway intersections.
#theheights #matthewporter #baxterstccny #aperture #photography #nyc #photobooks
Last month, we hosted a conversation between @elliotjeromebrownjr and the newest member of our Art Advisory Committee, @Isolde_Brielmaier. They discussed the difficulty of making intimate work for public consumption and the artist’s inclusion of sculptural elements, particularly how bringing the work into a three-dimensional space affects the viewing experience.
A full video of the conversation is now available on our website.
#elliottjeromebrownjr #isoldebrielmaier #asimplesong #workspaceresident2018 #inconversation #baxterstccny #photography #nyc
Former exhibiting artist and 2019 Stand With Us Honoree @jessechun just released her digital ‘WORKBOOK’ with @triple_canopy. Congrats Jesse! “‘WORKBOOK’ targets the mechanisms that uphold English as the world’s “common language.” In an attempt to unlearn, Chun edits, translates, and reinterprets ESL conversation books, online audio tutorials, and standardized tests.” #jessechun #guestcuratedshow #standwithushonoree2019 #baxterstccny #photography #nyc
Next week, to commemorate her first solo exhibition, we will be hosting a conversation between 2018 Workspace Resident Zalika Azim @26thletter and Deborah Willis on Wednesday, March 27th at 7pm.
The event is free to attend, but please RSVP via DM or firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve seating. Azim’s show, ‘in case you should forget to sweep before sunset’, is on view until April 13th, 2019.
#zalikaazim #deborahwillis #incaseyoushouldforgettosweepbeforesunset #workspaceresident2018 #inconversation #baxterstccny #photography #nyc