Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tears of a Photo Nerd

It is amazing what some people will do to see art. And by some people I mean me.

Last Saturday, the Park Avenue Armory held the AIPAD (Association of International Photographic Art Dealers) show. Eighty photography galleries from across the world set up booths inside the massive space, and though I didn’t get to go last year, I made a point of it this time. I carved out time in my weekend for the jaunt through 80 mini-galleries because it’s important to create work, but it’s also important to view what others are doing and have done. It’s like when people say good writers read. I believe good photographers also look at photography. So I set out to educate myself, to continue to understand what I was drawn to and how to harness those ideas or topics in my own work. On the way, I saw new photographs that I will never forget and some which I had always loved and finally had the privilege to see in person. Seeing a work you love in person is like seeing it for the first time.

Larry Clark’s (in)famously graphic cover of his 1983 book Teenage Lust, a teenage couple in the backseat of a car. Brilliant portraitist Irving Penn’s photograph of model Dorian Leigh in an evening gown and actor Ray Bolger in a Santa suit that was on the December 1946 cover of Vogue: only one of two prints ever made of the photograph, one for Leigh and one for Bolger. This one was signed to Bolger from Penn himself. “Medusa,” a George Krause photograph taken of a ladyfriend in the bath, her hair strewn snake-like on the tub behind her head, his naked leg standing on the tub baring the secret of how he snapped the picture. Vera Lutter’s elegant, hyperdetailed, black and white phases of the moon. Alec Soth’s vibrant “Angela, Los Angeles,” featuring the back of a woman’s body adorned by a parakeet on her shoulder. Incredible moments—some raw, some elegant, all captivating.

It’s times like these, today at AIPAD, when I understand more how we can educate ourselves. Not everything you can learn from a book—sometimes you just have to see it.

The same goes for the second part of my day, which I spent partly at Cinema Village near Union Square. The theatre has been around since 1963 and is housed in a converted fire station. It shows documentaries, classic films, cult favorites, and independent movies. Every week the theatre shows different films; unless a particular film does well and it sticks around to the next week and the next.

At 7pm, I was in my seat ready to view the documentary Bert Stern: Original MadMan by Shannah Laumeister. The film chronicles the life of fashion photographer Bert Stern, known among many other things for the intimate final portrait session of Marilyn Monroe. Laumeister’s film shares the stunning highs and lows of Stern’s life as well as her own unique relationship with Stern. As someone who has repeatedly looked to his work for inspiration, it was exciting to hear his thoughts on photography so closely matched my own—like Stern, I also believe photography is about capturing moments and that if you’re photographing something you love the work will be that much better. I almost cried multiple times throughout the film; it’s as if he was saying, “You’re on the right track with your work! Keep going!” Sometimes I guess the best “pats on the back” as it were come from people who don’t even know they’re giving it to you. I can only hope that one day my own work will so beautifully capture a person’s essence the way his does.

Stern at Cinema Village
I was pleasantly surprised to find that after the movie there was a question and answer session with Stern and Laumeister. I was dumbfounded to see this legendary artist in front of me, but somehow found the nerve after the session to meet the man and shake his hand. “Thank you for your work,” I said. That’s all I could muster. I left the theatre and cried for real this time, walking east on 12th Street toward the brighter lights of Union Square, utterly inspired, overcome with positive emotion and those oh-so-cliché photo nerd tears of joy.