lundi 10 septembre 2012

Robert Frank

MARLAINE GLICKSMAN: How did Candy Mountain come about, and why, after all these years, did you decide to do a scripted film?
ROBERT FRANK: Rudy (Wurlitzer) and I, we’ve been friends for quite a while. We’re sort of neighbors up there in Canada. We made two films together. And then the idea was that I would like to make another film, a very simple film, which is based in part on some biographical facts of my life and so on. That was about four years ago or so. So I asked Rudy to write something in that respect, some simple story, you know, of living here and going up to Canada, that has a connection with me. And actually, that was used as a text for that photographv book {Pantheon Photo Library}. And that was the beginning of the film, really; that was the basic idea.

MG: The text that said you wanted to make a film that was a journey from the center of one culture to the margins of another?
RF: Yeah. So it had to do with living in two places. So it came out of that, and at that time I also worked on a video called Home Improvements, which also had elements of what is happening in my life. So the idea was just to make a short, simple film. But then it developed. Rudy wrote more about it, it became a regular script, and then we met some Swiss people by accident – Ruth Walburger, a producer, whom we met in Zurich. It was a total acci­dent. She had a friend who wanted Rudy to write a script, and then Rudy said, “Well, I’m working with Robert on this… ,” and she knew about my being Swiss, so that’s how it came about.

MG: What were the other two films that you worked on with Rudy?
RF: I worked with him on Keep Busy and Energy How to Get It.

MG: You directed those films and Rudy wrote them?
RF: Keep Busy, I probably had more to do with directing that. And the other, Energy and How to Get It, was a cooperation between three people, Gary Hill and myself and Rudy, and we sort of split it up. Keep Busy was an almost unscripted film – not much of a script – but Energy and How to Get It had documentary footage in it. We started to make a documentary on a guy who was interested in electrical storms to harness lightning and produce electricity. It’s called ball lightning. We found this guy in Nevada somewhere and started to make a documentary on him, and then lat­er Rudy submitted more of a script; it could be done as a bigger film. We got money from PBS to do it.

MG: How did you feel about working on a more scripted film?
RF: It’s, like, if you work on a scripted film like this, you move in heavy anillery, you know. To kill it. I mean, you have a target
and you’re nor going ro run around with this little air gun. You really move in with this heavy equipment. And you kill it. I mean, you hit it, you know. You are going to be on target. You know what you have ro do with that heavy equipment. So I think the most difficult thing was to realize that there could be very little improvisa­ tion. I mean, you have to stick ro the shooting schedule, you had so much time, you couldn’t change the camera angles. After a while, I settled for it, and it’s one of the things that I don’t know… I wouldn’t do it like this again. I would refuse to settle for it that way.

MG: What would you do differently?
RF: I would try not ro move in that heavy machinery; I would like to limit it. It could have been more limited in this film. Bur somehow, it got bigger and bigger all the time, and there was no way to stop it. And I think it was detrimental to the film. It also came about because of the music; it made it even bigger, the fact that there were a lot of musicians involved, and mu­ sic. So the machinery became even heavi­ er, with all this sound equipment. And I think it would nor have had to be like this. That’s my strongest feelings toward the film-that it was like a hype.

MG: Did that come from the business? Or did the script warrant it?
RF: It came from raising money, you know. You have to say there’s going to be a rec­ord, there’s going to be .. . In order to raise money, you have to say what you do, and you have to say, ‘”They are the musi­cians, and they’re going to play, and we’re going to have a lot of music and we’re go­ ing to do it right. We’re going to have it recorded right.” And so it gets bigger and bigger. And actually, most of all that big sound stuff that was used in the film, you have to pay a lot of money for. In the end it didn’t get in the film. It was cut out.

MG: You co-directed with Rudy. What was that like? Who did what?
RF: That’s very difficult. That’s like mak­ ing a baby, two people making a baby. You can imagine. Actually, I think that is a very good comparison. I mean, a film is a little bit like making a baby. You know, the film is made and it’s lying there, and you say, hey, it’s got red hair, or it’s fat, or whatever. But you’re happy it’s there. It’s alive. It talks. You know, it’s got color. So co-directing was a little bit like, you know, you make the baby together. And that doesn’t really work that well.

MG: Why?
RF: Well, I think that Rudy was very good at the content of a scene, and the lines and what’s behind the scene. And there was no rehearsal. I came in front of the camera and decided we shoot the scene in a cer­ tain way, you know, these three camera angles and that’s what I want. And then I would watch them [the actors], how they move, and I would say, “Do it differently.” Sometimes I would say something about the words, but most often it was mainly a thing about how to deliver them or how to space it, the spaces in between. It was a thing of movements.

MG: Why did you choose to make a film that was autobiographical?
RF: Well, it’s all fictional. It just has mo­ments that I knew very well, what it meant to me, so that I could tell the actor more, how I thought about it, how I felt about it, having gone through the situation, thinking back about people from New York who want to hold on to me, who I’m a valuable property to, you know, make money from. So I could explain to an actor the feeling that I had about that­ what I felt. I felt very secure in that. So when these moments come about in the film, I feel good about it. I feel there’s like a little glimmer of the truth there, you know?

MG: Why did you portray America with the oil fields and the women in housecoats, and the television game shows?
RF: The industrial landscape of New Jersey? Well, I think because it’s a road mov­ie and it starts out in New York, it moves you out of the city, through the industrial part, toward the Canadian border, where things get quiet and the landscape would become more empty till we’re in Canada, where it becomes very peaceful and emp­ty, and slow. That was the idea.

MG: You first became interested in America through country music – and music is so much a part of Candy Mountain. Why?
RF: Music is very interesting. Music is also very entertaining. Music is powerful in films. I don’t think that’s what makes America interesting, though. But I think that if you can use it right and use it right in the film, it will help the film a great deal. It really makes it go, moves the film.

MG: In The Americans, there were several pictures of jukeboxes, and this is a film about musicians. What role does music fill for you?
RF: I don’t see any connection between my photographs of jukeboxes and the music in this film. I made another film a long time ago, A Musical About Me, and I used a lot of music in that. You know, sometimes I get very tired of words. Words get kind of boring. Music is more uplifting. It’s lighter, it’s easier, it’s
faster. Sometimes it’s wonderful to have music, and then silence, and then words. I think it’s a good combination. So the idea in this film was to use musicians more as actors. You know, they act, but they’re musicians. So we have Dr. John – he doesn’t appear at all as a musician. In the final scene, we had a big number where he plays music. And we didn’t use it. So it was interesting to see how musicians­ like Buster Poindexter (David Johan­sen) – how they were as actors. Or Tom Waits, acting. And then we had a little bit of music with them in it.

MG: What did musicians as actors bring to the film?
RF: Well, first of all, when they play music, they’re musicians, they don’t have to act. I think it’s more interesting than the other way around, where you use an actor, and he’s not a musician. So I think that was very valuable, although that wasn’t as complete as we hoped it would be.

MG: And why Joe Strummer, a musician on the outskirts of British culture, and Tom Waits, a musician on the outskirts of American culture?
RF: Well, we knew them. I knew Tom Waits, and I had a connection with Joe Strummer and, you know, these are people who are sympathetic to the project and who wouldn’t want to do it just for big money. They liked the project.

MG: In the film, there is a lot of swapping cars.
RF: Well, because [Julius] gradually, as he sets out on the trip, has a girlfriend, loses the girlfriend, loses his car, and gets an­ other car. He ends up getting there and finding the guy, and has nothing in the end.

MG: The Americans in the film always wanted to make the deal where they come out on top. The closer he got to Elmore, the more Julius had to trade down.
RF: Well, it’s son of a metaphor for how, in America, money is very important. Like Dr. John [Elmore's son-in-law], his fury is that he lost out [on the possibility of making money on his father-in-law's gui­tars] – that he had nothing. I think that’s very American. To be left out of a big deal. Julius’ fantasy of making this big deal, coming back with this suitcase full of money. You know, it’s that kind of dream. The closer he gets to it, the less likely it is. Or the more he loses and the more he sees that it’s really not going to happen.

MG: Why did you choose to make a road pic­ture?
RF: Well, I think that’s very simple. It started out from this little plan to make this lit­tle film which goes from New York to Canada. So how do you get there? The first version of the script, [Julius] even went to Europe, to Berlin, to look for [Elmore], and then back to Canada. Well, the fact that you move in a moving picture is very good, you know. You keep going. And I think one of the good parts in the film is [its editing]. It continuously moves. Once he leaves New York, Julius is really on the road and doesn’t stop until he gets up there. And then he’s up there and he goes right back again…
I liked the Wenders film a lot, the one in Germany he made, which was, you know, a road picture, with the repairmen of the projectors, Kings of the Road. Well, that has a son of connection to it. This is an American story. I think Rudy likes [the genre] a lot. He did Two Lane Blacktop, which is a road picture.
“In making films I continue to look around me ; but I am no longer the solitary observer , turning away after the click of the shutter. Instead!’ m trying to recapture what I saw, what I heard, and what I feel. What I know!”
-Robert Frank, Pantheon Photo Library, 1983

MG: You went from a still photographer to a filmmaker. It seemed so easy for you.
RF: It’s easy? It’s not easy at all. It’s a strug­gle. I think it’s very different to be a pho­tographer. Because in photography you are alone. You don’t need anyone else. Whereas in film, there are a lot of people around you. You have to explain what you do. The other films I did, most of them were really not very well planned – often without a script – which is the hardest way you can make a movie. It has its wonderful moments, but as a whole it’s much more difficult than to do a scripted film.

MG: Did you have specific ideas in mind be­ fore you started, or did you construct your films in the editing?
RF: Well, like Me and My Brother was something that just went along, that changed as I went along. I started out to do a film about a poem of Ginsberg’s, and it ended up to be a film about Peter Orlovsky’s brother, whose name was Julius. So it continuously changed. Then you sort of focus on this person. And by what happens to him over a longer period of time, the film changes. Or in this case, he disappeared, and you find something else to take his place. But it’s made like that. And then, you see, it didn’t succeed, when you see the footage, and then you try in the editing to put something together. And I think that was a mistake. I edited for a long time on Me and My Brother. And I should have just accepted what was there and not try to make it into something else. I think that’s what I learned from that film. I really tried to twist it into a shape that I felt the film needed in order to be a full­ length film. And now, if I was to re-edit the film or redo it, I would let it be the way the footage came out and not try to over­ edit it or force it into telling a a specific sto­ry. I mean, I would have more confidence in the material that I had.

MG: Did Julius in Me and My Brother have any connection to Julius in Candy Moun­tain?
RF: No. No connection.

MG: You worked with Sam Shepard on Me and My Brother?
RF: Well, Sam Shepard wrote just one little scene, and then Antonioni asked him to do Zabriskie Point. Sam Shepard left for the glory of the glory.

MG: Why did you choose to become a filmmaker when there were other media you could have chosen?
RF: If you are a photographer for that long…. You have film, which is a negative, so you find there’s a kinship there. I can’t paint, I don’t want to write poetry, I’m not a writer. So you just continue mak­e images.

MG: Your newer stills contain serial images.
RF: That’s a direct influence, I think, from the movies, once I started to make mov­ies. I certainly didn’t rhink about the sin­gle photographs anymore. Not very much.

MG: And how about using words with the photographs?
RF: That also comes from film. Well, it’s a combination, but it all comes from being forced to explain somerhing, being forced to communicate your ideas to the people you work with in films. So when, when I went back to photographing with the Polaroid camera, it didn’t leave me. I wanted to communicate something else – not necessarily to explain it, but to communi­cate something else with the photographs. The picture in itself didn’t mean that much to me anymore.

MG: Why a Polaroid as opposed to 35mm?
RF: Because a Polaroid was immediate. You had, just like in any other photograph, a negative. And then I could immediately put on the negative forever – I mean, scratch in, in a way, to destroy the im­age – writing something over it that would be spontaneous, and that would be an expression of what I felt, the moment or the time I took these pictures. Usually I take eight pictures together on a cassette. It was always between two and eight. Never more. And very seldom one. And if it was one, then it had words in it.

MG: Do you think Polaroids, which are so immediate, also came out of your interest in film?
RF: No. Film is not at all instantaneous be­ cause you have to bring it to the lab, it has to come back. And it’s not the same as video. In video you also get it back right away, but you can’t do anything with it. I mean, it’s electronic. But here the beauty was that you had a negative, just like any other negative -immediately – and you could see it and then you could print it much later. Then you could change again. But the most important thing was to be able to express right away, on the film, on the print, how you wanted it. And later on you went to the darkroom and sometimes it didn’t work. But sometimes it worked, that spontaneity of expressing your feel­ings.

MG: Which of your films has been the closest to you?
RF: Well, I like Life Dances On in a way, because it deals with three people I knew, and I like each one. And it talked about the friends I had, and my daughter. That was the most personal to me, but it was very simple. And it had a certain truth. Reality.

MG: It was about Danny Seymour and Andrea…
RF: Yeah, it was sort of dedicated to rhem. But also the film took three characters then – my son Pablo, who lived in Vermont at that time, and Marty Greenbaum, who was an old friend who was struggling to be an artist and Billy, a bum I got to know on the street. And I felt that each one of rhese three people was walking on the edge. And that’s what made the film. And it also had these references to my daughter, and I was always in it. It was al­ways me who forced these people to talk, who made them talk about themselves or expose themselves in a way, I didn’t hide that interference and that brutality that pushes a filmmaker to get something out of people…
Probably I didn’t know then how I fit into this, how I found myself in the center of these three people with whom I had different relations. I never said that before, but I think that’s what interested me­ – pure intuition, I didn’t plan on this. I didn’t make a point of this in the film. But it comes out sometimes stronger than at other times. I think now if I would make a film, I would be much too conscious of it.
Me and My Brother had similar ele­ments in it, but I think it’s trying too hard, you know, to be a real film. It was also in part because I was given money by some people who then immediately demanded that I do it in color. But I liked to work with Joe Chaiken. That was a very good experience. And I learned on each film. I mean, that’s a very wonderful thing, in films, if you are really almost obsessed by making a film. You know, as soon as the film is finished, that it isn’t made accord­ing to a scheme or to a formula. I can see what is wrong, or what I could have done better, or what I should have done better.
How I don’t wa nt to make a film like this anymore, but change. That’s very interesting. It doesn’t happen like this in photography. It just doesn’t come up for me. It just doesn’t have that challenge.

MG: Is that what keeps you going?
RF: Absolutely.

MG: The photography at one point was much more certain. You had a reputation, and you could have kept on going – which most people would choose to do. You chose to do something that was less cer­tain. It’s much harder to succeed in film.
RF: Well, that also gave me the impetus. I want to risk things in film. I don’t want to go middle of the road. I’m not interested in making a safe film. That’s not the point anymore for me. I don’t even want to make money in films. I mean, I’d like to get paid, I’d like to be able to live. But I want to make a film that really rakes risks, that expresses some of my lifestyle and some of my experience.

MG: How have your films and your ideas about film changed since Pull My Daisy?
RF: On each film you say, I’m never going to edit two years on a film, I’m never going to work without a script… After this film, I’m never going to work with the heavy machinery like that. I’m not going to have 25 people around me when I make a film. It’s not necessary. You can do it with less. We were really very careful to keep the dialogue, to really stick with the script; it was the schedule, it was like an airline schedule, the plane leaves and you’ve got to make the plane, make the connection! would not be so slavish about this anymore. I would risk more, to throw the schedule away, to depart from it.

MG: You stayed away from structure for a long time in your work. Was that to take those kinds of risks?
RF: Yeah. And here I felt everything be­came secondary to the structure of the film. No spontaneity. You preserve that structure. You absolutely don’t want to d­stroy it. Now I would feel, well, fuck it. I don’t have to. You try to shoot the film in sequence, which we mostly did. We wanted it, and I thought it was very good and much easier. But in a strange way, it made you really more a slave to the struc­ture. If we had not shot it in sequence, it would have been easier to say, well, we don’t need this, we can do it differently.

MG: Why did you choose to shoot the film in sequence?
RF: Well, because it’s a road picture. It had to start here; because here it’s fall and up there it was winter.

MG: Do you see any parallels between the social scene at the time of Pull My Daisy and the downtown New York scene today?
RF: No. Unfortunately, I don’t see any. Be­cause in New York, it becomes more diffi­cult to operate, to be free, because of the tremendous amount of money that you need to exist in New York. And I think it’s not that open. People know too much now. You know, they really want to be sure to succeed somehow.

MG: And back in 1959 it was much freer?
RF: It was much more open. Everything was possible, everything was new. But now that spirit doesn’t exist. Things are not that new. If they make new galleries on Avenue C, that’s a new location. But it’s a similar game. But in the late Fifties, early Sixties, there was a tremendous opti­mism to bring in something new, to make it different. People are much more careful today. They go to school for many years, they prepare everything very carefully. They know exactly what they want and how they want it. Because it must fit into this category, and this is where they have to fit in. Because if they don’t fit in, they don’t make it. They’re left lying down the road. And I think that’s a very strong feel­ing today, also with younger people, that they have to fit. None of us had that feeling. You didn’t have to fit. It was okay.

MG: Why did you leave Switzerland and why did you say it was difficult to be Swiss?
RF: Well, I think what I meant probably was, it’s a small country. And to stay in Switzerland as a Swiss, you know, you really are in an orbit that you can’t get out of. I think I meant it that way. And if you leave the country, you go to America. I don’t know what other country I would go to. Still, I think the U.S. is the best country for me.

MG: In what respect?
RF: It’s free. People let you do whatever you want to do. You can live your life any way you want to. Especially in New York. I really talk about New York. I talk more about New York than America. But it’s also the bigness of America. You can leave. You can go to Montana. Here, nobody gives a fuck what you do. It’s wonderful in New York in the subway. There’s solidarity in some ways. And I also feel that in a way, it’s more democratic. It’s depressing to see how many people are poor. And everyone seems to get more and more so. I really have become an American in that way.

MG: Why did you leave for Canada?
RF: I didn’t want to die in New York.

MG: Why not?
RF: It’s pretty horrible. It’s a very depressing place to get sick. Actually, one morn­ ing I woke up in the loft and I said, “Jesus Christ, I could die here in this loft, you know.” I always lived near the Bowery.

MG: But I’m still curious why you didn’t want to die in New York, what was it about New York?
RF: Well, you pay a high price to live in the city. It wears you out, it wears you down. So after living here 30 years, you get to know it, it gets in your system. And you know that there is something else.
You can go back to Europe. But you can also go to a peaceful country that’s vast, and you can go back to nature. I never liked to go in the middle of the road, and so you go to the edge of the continent. I liked the cold and the winter. I liked the people there. They have roots, and they are very simple people. And very decent people. And they also leave you alone. There’s so much space there, and you come and they watch you. They know that you’re going away, you can’t stand it after a while. And so it’s quite wonderful. It’s so beautiful. The landscape. It’s so quiet.

MG: How are the Canadians different from the Americans?
RF: How are they different? Well, they are much less aggressive. They are calmer. They’re not afraid to be run over, there’s not so much pressure there. I’m talking from New York to Mabou. I’m sure there’s somewhere – Duluth, for in­stance – where it’s very different. But also I went to Canada not so much because I loved Canada, but because I simply could not afford to buy land near the water in America. I didn’t have that kind of mon­ey.

MG: I’ve read a lot about the importance of spirituality to your work.
RF: Spirituality? I can’t answer that. You have to be religious? I don’t know. I think in New York it is really important for you to believe in yourself, for you never to give up this belief. And in New York it’s sort of easy to reinforce that, because artists are egotistical people. They really have to look out for themselves, always. They really think about their work, their imagination, their dreams. They put it down; they are able to show that. So New York is very strong; it’s very powerful to reinforce that feeling and to make it even stronger. And I think, when you go to a place like Canada, where all of a sudden it’s empty and there’s nobody standing behind you, nobody standing in front of you, and no feedback, then you’re alone. Then you begin to watch nature, to watch… You watch something else, and you become a better human being.
Well, after making films here when I go to Canada, I feel much better. I look at myself as almost a better person. I’m the same person there as I am here, it’s just that this is an inhuman place.

MG: Why do you feel an affinity for the odd man out?
RF: I think it was my choice not to want to belong to any group, be connected with any group.

MG: How do you feel about getting older, and how has that affected your work?
RF: I’m 62. And I’m very concerned with getting old gracefully. My main concern now [laughs]… Now, as you get older, it’s a more peaceful feeling, because you know that it’s going to be over in the next ten years or so. It’s okay. You just try to get your stuff in order. That will take a long time. You don’t have to climb up the ladder any­ more. It’s an awkward feeling, but you don’t have to do things anymore the way you did before. It’s a more peaceful feel­ing.

MG: Any ideas for another film?
RF: No. No ideas. I don’t have any ideas. But I’d like to find them, I’d like to go to a place where I can have a choice. It’s not like going shopping, you know.

MG: You have a book of photographs com­ing out.
RF: I’m going to be republishing a book called The Lines of My Hand, in which I will add all the other stuff that I’ve done. Which is sort of the only other book I want to do. I don’t want to do more books.

MG: That’s it.
RF: Yeah. Well, that’s a lot of words here.

 “Highway ’61 Revisited”, entretien avec Robert Frank publié par Film Comment, August 1987. Réalisé par Marlaine Glicksman, trouvé ici.


Robert Frank - London
Robert Frank - London

Robert Frank

Jack Kerouac. «Le film Pull My Daisy s'est d'abord appelé The Beat Generation, et puis, comme la Metro Goldwin Mayer avait protégé ce nom, j'ai dû changer de titre. En ce temps-là, on ne luttait pas contre les géants de l'industrie du cinéma; aujourd'hui, oui, je pousse de faibles cris (rires). Quelle surprise qu'il devienne un succès commercial, et maintenant c'est un film historique, les gens n'existent plus. J'aimais Kerouac, même s'il était destructif" Je regrette de lui avoir interdit de venir sur le tournage, là, on aurait pu le voir sur l'écran, il serait encore vivant" C'est un film tout à fait moral, poétique, surréel" On a filmé des heures et des heures, il y avait peu de scènes prévues, parfois on a fait plusieurs prises, c'était au feeling" A l'époque, il a coûté à peu près 10 000 dollars. Après Pull My Daisy, j'ai essayé de faire un film en 35 mm, mais j'ai tout de suite vu que j'aurais des difficultés avec les acteurs, et que je ne savais pas écrire une histoire avec début, milieu, fin. C'est comme ça que j'ai décidé de filmer ma vie. La machine du cinéma est trop forte pour moi, il faut rester sur la petite route et éviter l'autoroute, sinon on doit payer (rires).»

Le mouvement. «C'est bien les photographies parce qu'elles ne bougent pas. L'image du film, on peut la contrôler et c'est aussi le spectateur qui doit suivre l'image, c'est à lui de faire l'histoire. Moi, quand je prends la caméra, je ne pense pas à la composition, c'est un réflexe naturel; ce qui m'intéresse, c'est le mouvement" Avec chaque nouveau film, j'apprends; avec la photographie, ça n'existe plus pour moi cette chance d'apprendre quelque chose. J'ai envie de brûler mes photos, enough is enough" La manipulation commerciale qui règne sur la photographie depuis quinze ans, ça me permet de vivre mieux et de m'acheter une voiture" Je ne veux plus voir mes photographies d'avant, elles sont rangées à la National Gallery of Art de Washington" Je pourrais brûler les négatifs, ça serait moral et courageux de le faire. Vous me conseillez de le faire?»

L'intuition. «Ce film-là, The Present (où il parle de ses enfants, ndlr), c'est un film qui a une certaine honnêteté, une spontanéité" Les mots et les images" Je ne pourrais pas refaire un film comme ça. Mes films sont guidés par l'intuition, pas par un concept ou un script" Moi, je travaille entouré de tout ce que vous avez vu dans The Present, une sorte de chaos" I'm A Lucky Man" Il y a des moments douloureux, alors, filmer ces moments, c'est comme se déshabiller en public" L'artiste, qu'est-ce qu'il fait? Il pense avec son oeuvre. Il fait ce qu'il peut.»

La mémoire. «J'avais un ami, il est mort il y a presque quarante ans. Je l'ai appris par la concierge quand je suis venu à Paris, elle m'a dit: "Il n'est plus là" C'était un peintre chinois, San Yu, il est devenu célèbre depuis, ses tableaux se vendent cher. Je fais un film sur la mémoire de mon ami, entre Taiwan, New York et Paris. A Paris, il y aura des comédiens et une caméra 16 mm, ça m'intéresse la différence entre le flot de la vidéo et les images faites en 16 mm. Le son ne sera pas synchronisé, on est fatigué de voir des gens parler, on sait que les gens parlent" Je vais essayer de faire le plus avec ce qui n'est plus là, to do the most with what is no more" Parfois, je suis capable de faire de bonnes choses, c'est le hasard" Impossible d'effacer la mémoire. Moi, je fais un grand effort, je réinvente la mémoire, peut-être c'est mieux que de se souvenir, la mémoire est plus vivante" C'est difficile de faire un film sur un artiste, c'est le dernier effort.» 

Le hasard. «C'est prétentieux, mais j'utilise le hasard. Je l'attends. Il ne faut pas oublier le hasard. Qu'est-ce que vous pensez du hasard, vous? Qu'est-ce que vous pensez du titre Au hasard Balthazar" C'est un beau titre" Mais il n'y a pas que le hasard" La colère aide beaucoup, parfois plus que le hasard. L'impatience aussi, ou l'égoïsme. Peut-être qu'on pourrait définir les nouveaux dix commandements? (rires).»

Les corbeaux. «Il ne faut pas avoir peur pour faire des films. Si c'est un travail de commande, tu le fais, tu as ta place qui est définie" Mais, si tu n'as plus le désir, pourquoi faire une autre photo, un autre film? Quand cette question arrive, c'est mauvais signe, les corbeaux vont te manger. Le désir, ça arrête le "pourquoi.» 

La culpabilité. «Je ne suis pas moraliste, mais souvent je ne peux pas rester longtemps sur les visages que je ne connais pas. C'était ça dans la photographie, on prenait la photo, vite, vite, mais moi, quand je regarde dans le viseur de la caméra, ça fait un effet un peu coupable, c'est pour ça qu'on prend des comédiens, on les paye! Faire un film avec des amis, c'est le mieux. Ce serait drôle de refaire Pull My Daisy, non, ce serait trop triste. Depuis 1970, je fais des polaroïds, je ne peux pas tout expliquer, mais je fais des photographies où rien n'est caché"»

L'amour. «Je m'en fous de ce qui se passe quand je ne serai plus là. Ma première femme était une artiste, ma deuxième, June, aussi" Elles m'ont influencées dans la photographie, vous avez vu un peu d'elles dans ces films. C'est important d'être influencé par l'amour" Je ne sais pas ce que June apprend de moi, elle est encore là, dans la salle? Elle est partie, ah, ah, ah, elle devait s'ennuyer"»

Extraits d'une leçon de cinéma, de photographie et d'amour, offerte par Robert Frank, le vendredi 13 avril 1999, à Nyon. Trouvé ici.

The Americans

Robert Frank - The Americans

Robert Frank

I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for their confidence and the provisions they made for me to work freely in my medium over a protracted period. When I applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, I wrote: “To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation”
With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.
I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others—perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.
My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.
It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors’ minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines’ purposes.
I have a genuine distrust and “mefiance” toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the “smell” of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.
I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all—even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.
The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?

Robert Frank, U.S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958 trouvé ici.

The Americans

Robert Frank - The Americans

Robert Frank

RJ: How did you start to have that idea of traveling around the United States and doing this project of The Americans?
RF: I had been in the States for 8 or 9 years already and then I had never seen much other than one day trip to New Jersey and one trip to St. Louis. So I was naturally curious about the country, knowing how big it was, one ocean to the other. It was the curiosity and the energy I had then to just go and get into the car and drive across the country. I did it in two parts, I think the first part was to Detroit, and came back to New York. And then I went with my family to Texas from New York. And from Texas I went on alone to go to San Francisco and to Los Angeles.

RJ: Walker Evans has been regarded by some people as your mentor. And he also helped you apply for Guggenheim grant for doing this project. We all know that back in 1938, he published this seminal book “American Photographs”. So to what extent Walker Evans has influenced you, especially in doing this project “The Americans”?
RF: I think, he was certainly an inspiration. But the trip didn’t have much to do with Walker Evans. It was simply to produce memorable photographs like the ones that I have seen of Walker Evans. So the trip across the country really has nothing to do with Walker Evans. It has to do with my curiosity. But it was the way he photographed people that influenced me, because I did work with Walker Evans. Sometimes I helped him make some images near New York or mills. I still remember certain mills he photographed. I was really impressed by the way he worked and the results of his works. That was the inspiration.

RJ: As you know, Walker Evans explored the possibilities of how ordinary things or vernacular things like a car, a barbershop and a sharecropper’s rural house can provide authentic images. You also said in 1961, “You can photograph anything now.” What did you mean by that?
RF: At that time, I meant in 1960s, there was real freedom and new people came on the scene, including new painters, new writers and new poets. Also, you could make new films. There was more freedom. So I felt the same applied to photography. And I felt it was up to me to be true to whatever I saw. I felt it was important that other people see it.

RJ: Of course, your way of taking photos is different from Walker Evans, mostly he used large-format camera while you used Leica, 35mm camera. And your photographic style is more spontaneous while his photos are more formal. And some of your photos are even out of focus. Technically speaking, some people think your photos are badly framed. But I think in a way you purposely wanted to do that to break away from the formalities and the conventions of the traditional way of taking photos. So what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to taking photos?
RF: You are free and you risk something by taking a photograph. It’s not taking a snapshot of your sister. You risk because this is maybe not the way people think one should photograph. So you go out on a more different road. There is a risk involved in that. And I think if an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.

RJ: In think every generation in this country had someone who would go on a trip across the country. Back in the 1930s, it was Walker Evens. In the 1950s, it was you. And in the 1970s, it was Stephen Shore. And of course, some other photographers also did the same, like Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer and some young American photographers. What do you think of Stephen Shore’s photos? He also went to Texas and Detroit. But his photos are very different from yours and he mostly focused on places or street scenes without people in them. Of course, he used color films to take his photos.
RF: Well, I don’t know that much of his works. Whenever I see it, it’s a very clear work and very clean. And he seems to be very sure of what he photographs and what is published by him.

RJ: You once said, “There is no decisive moment. You have to create it.” But I also think that in your photos of “The Americans”, I could also see a lot of important moments. I don’t call it “decisive moment”. I would rather call it “off moment”, because they are more like the moments before or after the so-called decisive moment by Cartier-Bresson. I think Cartier-Bresson’s moment is more about the geometrical precision of a moment while yours is more about capturing a stance, or an alienated and empty expression on the faces of the people you take photos of. So how do you define the moments in your photos?
RF: I simply think I have better moments than Cartier-Bresson or anybody else. You put together your photographs in a book. They may be 8 or 10 photos or more. So it makes an impression on you to look at this book full of pictures. You don’t think so much about the moments. You think of what this photographer feels about what he sees. It’s less an aesthetic look of something that is well-composed and well-lit. It doesn’t go about that. I think in a way Walker’s photographs always have that built in. It’s a perfect look of having taken it at the right time, straight on and sharp. For me, I worked much quicker and less reflected on what is a possible perfection of a photograph.

RJ: You participated in the curatorial team headed by Edward Steichen of the show “The Family of Man”, but you left the team well before the show opened. You started out doing your own project of “The Americans” in the same year of 1955 when the show was opened in MOMA, New York. And why did you decide to leave that curatorial team that you were involved originally?
RF: Because I didn’t want any sentimentality.

RJ: The book “The Family of Man” has been reprinted many times until today. It has been regarded as one of the most popular photo books in the world so far. Do you think that photographs have to be beautiful in a conventional sense or morally uplifting to have values?
RF: Not at all. They have to make an impression on the on-looker, and if possible, stay in his memory longer than a newspaper photograph or an image coming on TV would have.

RJ: It has been said that your book “The Americans” is like a parody of Edward Steichen’s 1955 catalogue for the exhibition “The Family of Man”. They say there are clear parallels between these two books, including the introduction of your book by Jack Kerouac, which has been said to mock Carl Sandburg’s introduction to “The Family of Man”. Do you agree with this assessment?
RF: I never made that comparison to Sandburg. “The Family of Man” was published in a different time. It came out in 1955, I think. It’s true. I was on a different track. I was interested in a different light shining on the country or in the absence of the light of “the Family of Man”.

RJ: You have often been regarded as belonging to the “Beat Generation”. And your book “The Americans” has been seen as a visual expression or text of the values promoted by the “Beat Generation”. But you said before that you were different from them, because you had family responsibilities. You had kids and you didn’t share their way of life. Did you know any of the “Beat Generation” before doing this project of “The Americans”?
RF: I had a group of friends in New York that I knew. I don’t know to what group they belonged. They were simply poets, painters and photographers. You know, later on, the word “Beat” came up. I don’t know who invented it or how it came about. But to me, it was just a group that had similar interests and enjoyed each other. Maybe in a way, they were against the general rules of that time. And they felt that they could differ and do it differently. And they didn’t have to work on a job necessarily to be a member of society. At that time, it was like you didn’t have to work like other people. There were other possibilities. Dreams were possible.

RJ:You met Jack Kerouac in 1957 and you asked him to write an introduction for your book. You also made a trip with him to go to Florida. When was that trip made?
RF: I don’t remember exactly when, but it was made after I met him. He wanted to take his mother back from Florida to a house he bought in Long Island at that time.

RJ: You also said that you liked Albert Camus’ books and Bob Dylan’s songs and poems. Do you think existentialist philosophy was also expressed in your photos? And in what way Bob Dylan has influenced your works?
RF: I think certainly so in my personal works, especially when I used words in my photographs or scratched words into negatives. There was a try and attempt to make them more direct. And maybe it is an influence of Dylan’s songs and voices that make me feel more sure to do something like that.

RJ: It is also said that because of the way you took this series of works called “The Americans”, you have changed the aesthetics of photography and you have changed the way people look at photos. When it comes to designing your book, it is also very unique that you didn’t put the captions next to the photos when you published “The Americans” in this country back in 1959. You put all the captions at the back of the book. This was also an innovation.
RF: There are two things you have talked about that changed the way people would look at photograph. I didn’t change it. But I think I set out other possibilities of making reportage or talking about a trip. You don’t have to follow a journalistic prescription to do something right. And it all comes down to a young photographer taking a risk to say that I want this book to consist of 83 pictures of my choice. And they are not the editor’s choice. And they are not the choice because I wanted to be in line with Walker Evans or the book they have made of “The Family of Man”. I mean it’s just an individual’s statement.

RJ: Some people think that you are “a Swiss photographer, but an American poet”. In other words, you took your photos from European point of view rather than from a traditional American point of view. But you had also been living in this country for 8 or 9 years, as you said earlier, before doing this project “The Americans”. So do you think that when you took the photos of “The Americans”, you used more European perspective?
RF: If you come from Europe and you come as a young man, and you see America, slowly you would become an American. It’s a good way to travel across the country and to photograph and tell the people this is America and this is what I feel about it and this is what the country has done to me.

RJ: So you do think as a young man who just came to America, you still had some influence of a European perspective. But since you had been living in this country for a while, you also tried to adapt to the American way of looking at things.
RF: I think my European education or ways of seeing have nothing to do with it, because I adopted this country very quickly. My background never came into play. It was the uniqueness of America that came into play, including many cars, many people, terrifying cities, hard-working people and this big country where all speak in one language. It seems to be the uniqueness in the country that I think it’s just the intuition that made me concentrate on that aspect of America. It’s a kind of ordinariness.

RJ: Also, your photos have been regarded to be very narrative, just like movies. And after you have done your project “The Americans”, right away you started to literally reinvent yourself. You started making movies. And in 1959, you made, together with others, this important movie called “Pull My Daisy”, which is still being regarded as one of the classics of independent film. Why did you want to start making movies?
RF: It is a logical step. When you have been taking still images and looking through viewfinder and choose moments to make a picture, then you think that there is more to a picture both before and after. So you do think of a movie right away. And also you can express more, because there can be a voice in a movie.

RJ: In 1970s, while continuing to be interested in making movies and videos, you also returned to still images. In 1972, you published your second photo book called “The Lines of My Hand”. What is the meaning of “The Lines of My Hand”?
RF: You could compare to it when you look at a human face and you could see the lines in a face. Then you sort of could feel what life has done to that person over the years. “The Lines of My Hand” is an easy metaphor.

RJ: Why did you decide to go back to still images in 1970s?
RF: If you have made a real effort to make movies and you may be disappointed in making movie after ten years, and you said, well, it’s time to return to something simpler.

RJ: When you started to do still images again, this time your images were really different from what you used to do in your project “The Americans”. I think you called that project “the last project in photography you would ever do.” As for the later works you have done starting from the 1970s, they are more constructed images, as you said, with words inscribed or scratched on a negative. For example, like “Tired of Goodbyes” and many others.
RF: They have to do with changing formats. I didn’t repeat the use of 35mm camera. I chose to use a bigger camera, a Polaroid camera. I used a 5×7 camera. I wanted to be very careful not to repeat myself and used a camera that would certainly put a break to my 35mm images.

RJ: And you also started to use several images and put them together. It’s more like an art work rather than straight photography. You also used paint to write words on your photos. And the words would drip down. This is a very contemporary way of doing art work. Even nowadays people are still using it. Do you think they could be regarded more as art works rather than photos?
RF: I just wanted to change my way of working. It didn’t matter to me whether it was art work or it is called collage or graphic. I just wanted to change my way of creating images.

RJ: Your later works have been very personal with intense and painful emotions and feelings. On a more personal and private note, I venture to ask you whether it has something to do with the untimely and tragic death of your daughter.
RF: You don’t have to ask very specific questions. If you want to talk about your life you have gone through, you can do it with writing or with photographs. Maybe you can do it. Some people cannot do it, whether with the one or the other. For me, I could do it with certain photographs and with some writing. If I had been a writer, I would have probably written a story or a book. Photography allows you in a relatively short time to say what you have to say and then go on with your life.

RJ: Going on with your life seems to be a major theme in your later photos, because you have these titles of “Moving Out”, and “Holding Still, Going On”. So is moving forward one of the major goals you want to achieve in your photos?
RF: Well, I think life moves on. So if you stand still, you sort of can afford it by standing still and just continuing on the works you have been doing and making it more perfect and making it bigger, that, for me, is a dangerous situation, because you loose the energy to create something new.

RJ: In 1971, you moved to Nova Scotia and wanted to be left alone. Most of the times, you have refused to be interviewed. You don’t want to be in the limelight. You also said in the past that to be a creative photographer, you have to be able to work alone. So do you think that being alone is so important for an artist?
RF: Well, when I left New York, I put a sign out. “Back in ten minutes”. Yes, it’s good to be alone. It can help sometimes. You know.

RJ: You also said before, you always look outside to be able to look inside. So I understand that for you, you basically try to express yourself and your inner feelings by capturing what is going on in the world. Looking back on more than 60 years of creating art works and taking photos, what would you want to share with younger generation of artists? What do you think is the most important thing an artist should try to do?
RF: (A long pause of more than ten seconds) I think you should all have the courage to go on and to go further. To go further!

By Jiang Rong, An Exclusive Interview with Robert Frank, Robert Frank’s Studio, New York, July 22, 2007 trouvé ici.

Stephen Shore - Uncommon Places

Stephen Shore - Uncommon Places

Stephen Shore

Noah Sheldon: I heard a lecture once where you said that when you teach, you try to think about how you felt when you were the student’s age.
Stephen Shore: Or at that place.

Sheldon: Right.
Shore: I see myself in the role of a guide. I remember when Ginger and I first moved to California we took a pack trip in the Sierras. And we hired a guide. It wasn’t that he was a better person than we were, but he had been up the trail before, and so we didn’t get lost. So I see myself in that kind of role. There are some things I know I can make easier for them. I can keep them from getting lost. But it’s not just that, it’s also giving them direction. Some teachers are maybe more passive than I am, and just encouraging. But I wouldn’t hesitate to give someone a specific direction to go in. But then, there are other things I know that they need to discover for themselves, and that if I said, “This is a dead end,” they wouldn’t believe it. But that in two weeks they’d understand it.

Sheldon: What I remember most from the semester I studied with you was your interest in perception, and the thought that goes along with the picture, the pre-visualization…
Shore: I think people have an image in their head when they see a picture. And they can use the camera as the tool to fill that image. It makes a difference if you are aware that you have an image in your head. I guess it’s pre-visualization, but I kind of avoid that term, because there are too many associations with Ansel Adams. And I don’t mean it the way he does, or I want to avoid it, those associations. I think this goes on all the time. I think we have the mental image of what we’re photographing but we have more control over it by simply being aware that it’s a mental image.

Sheldon: Right. And there were some other things about perception, I remember you showing us some of your pictures of the horizon.
Shore: Yeah.

Sheldon: Photographs of a hill and the sky, in Texas, or Scotland. And you were really interested in the optical reaction in our eyes?
Shore: Just as I was talking about having a mental image when you’re looking at the world, when you look at a photograph you also have a mental image. Because that’s all we can see, that’s all we have. There’s an illusion that there are these little guys in our heads who are looking out these windows, but that’s not how it works at all. Our eyes are very much like a digital camera. There’s an array, a sensory array that converts the light to an electrical signal. And in our brain our mind creates a mental image. Some photographs can give signals to the mind about how to create that image. And some can tell the mind to give a more convincing illusion of three-dimensional space than others. Some can be very flat and the mental image is right on the picture plane, and others can be very deep or have a tension, you know those gestalt diagrams that you can read one way or the other way. Your mind can see it as flat and three-dimensional at the same time. If a photograph is convincingly telling your mind to create a three-dimensional image, there’s a sensation as you’re looking at it of your eyes re-focusing, as though they were actually looking at something further away.

Sheldon: Even though you’re looking at a flat object.
Shore: Right. And this is an illusion, because the muscles in your eyes that control the lens aren’t changing, because you’re looking at something flat.

Sheldon: And that’s what those pictures were about?
Shore: Yeah, I wanted to figure out how to create that. How do you go about creating a picture that does that?

Sheldon: When were those pictures taken?
Shore: In the “80s. I’m always interested in how space is seen in a picture. In the “70′s I approached it more in formal terms, using one point perspective or diagonal lines receding to a horizon, or diagonals coming into the corner of the frame, or little things jutting in from the side of the frame. Little formal devices. In the “80′s I became interested in something else: what if I was photographing the desert? I wouldn’t have streets and telephone poles and sidewalks, just this flat piece of land, but could I still depict space? And the answer is yes, I could. But I don’t know if I would have been able to learn how to do that if I hadn’t gone through eight years of trying to figure these things out formally. That work gave me the tools that I could rely on to do this in a different situation.

Roger White: So if you realize you have an image in your head before you go to take a picture, the picture is going to be more considered. As you take more pictures does your way of formulating mental images change?
Shore: Yes. It can even change on the spot. This gets to something that may actually relate more to what we can call pre-visualization. If you go back in photographic literature past Ansel Adams and Minor White to Edward Weston, who gave them those terms, what he describes is something very similar to what in sports coaching is called imaging. And the idea behind it is: I’m a basketball player, and can spend hours a day practicing free throws, and at some point my muscles develop a kind of intelligence. They know the feel of the ball. But there’s so many muscles from my feet to the tips of my fingers involved in shooting a free-throw, if I tried to consciously control each of those muscles I couldn’t do it. But if I’d spent hours every day practicing so that I’d developed a kind of muscular knowledge, then if I had an image in my mind of the ball going through the hoop, that image will be a coordinating factor, it will coordinate all the muscular decisions. So in photography there’s a kind of visual education that’s gone on for years, seeing the world and taking a picture as a result. And doing this in different situations over and over again. Your visual muscles become educated and then the mental image you have of the picture will control your formal decisions, and that will create the result.
For example look at me now, and try to be aware of the space that exists between us. And that I’m not quite as close as you may have thought I was. You can see your perceptions shift. Your sense of space shifts. And if you were to take a picture at that point, that picture might be slightly different. The framing might be slightly different. You might move back a bit. Or you might not even move back, you might move to the side. Who knows what it is, but you might do something slightly different that will reflect the difference in your mental image. So this is where the awareness of that mental image comes in. Just then you are aware of your mental image, so that you can see the difference in your perception as you became aware of space in a different way.

Sheldon: When I was teaching I was always interested in how two people could use the same film and the same camera and their colors would be so different. Do you have any thoughts about that? As far as it relates to the way people think?
Shore: I do. I think it’s similar to why some people’s pictures seem clearer than others. Take two people using an 8×10 camera shooting color film. You have to make a distinction between clarity and sharpness, sharpness is a technical thing. If it’s in focus, and you have a good lens, it’s sharp, But in two sharp pictures, one can have a sense of clarity that the other one doesn’t have. And it actually will look more vivid. This is simply an extension of what I was saying about space. If you become aware of the sounds in the room and the person walking on the floor above us, the other little electrical buzzes, your sense of space changes, and again you take a picture and it will feel different. I’m not saying that anyone looking at a picture will hear any of the sounds, but because your perception changes, your awareness can come through in the photograph. Now what if there was something different, and it wasn’t spatial? What if it was one of those days when your mind is particularly still and textures are more palpable and colors are more vivid, and the experience itself feels more vivid? The photograph will also reflect that. You will take pictures differently.

White: Do you find that with people who are starting out taking pictures, they encounter the same kinds of conceptual difficulties? Whenever I take a picture I go right for the central object and it ends up looking bad.
Shore: I guess that’s a very common thing. I make a distinction between pointing and framing. So the picture can still have a central image, but you can be aware of the framing of it. But that is still different from the non-central picture, which is about allowing you to wander. But I could take a 35 mm and take a picture of this microphone, and for me the most natural way of photographing it is to put it in the center. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of the framing. But I think what you’re talking about is actually one of the bigger problems of people starting photography, which is that they’re thinking of photography as pointing and not framing so they’re looking at an object and their field of perception kind of dissipates as it gets to the edge, like the way a rock song fades out … (laughter). It’s avoiding the decisiveness of saying “Here’s the last note” In a photograph, there is always a last note.

White: Right, you’re going to have to come to the edge.
Shore: There’s an interesting piece on this written by John Szarkowski in one of the four volumes he did on Atget, I think it’s in the first one, where he talks about photography as being an art of pointing. He says, what if you had a guide through the world, silently pointing at things. You can imagine some people pointing with keener observation and greater wit than others. Then after going through all these descriptions, he says photography isn’t really pointing, it’s framing. There’s something about it that’s like pointing, but it’s pointing with a frame.
One image I have in my mind is, what if I was to go into a blackened room, no lights on, with a flashlight that projected a rectangular beam. Everything in that beam is equally illuminated, so I’m pointing with it and exploring with it, but it’s not the flashlight where there’s a hot spot in the center and then it peters out, it’s this rectangle of light, all equally illuminated.

Sheldon: That makes me think of your iPhoto book of the Merced river. On the cover is a really famous image of yours from Uncommon Places, of the river, and as you leaf through the book it’s all composed of crops. And each image is amazing on it’s own. There’s this beautiful image of reflections that ripple on water in this river, there’s this beautiful picture of shoes on the beach, a mother and child wadeing in the water, and it’s these relations, I don’t know if you could do that with a smaller format picture from American Surfaces.
Shore: No.

Sheldon: I thought that was really amazing. There are a million great pictures in that one photograph. I’m thinking about the way Ken Burns treats pictures, he shows archival stills where they’re moving across the screen slowly, your could create a whole movie, a whole feature film from these pictures.
Sheldon: All of your work seems to be sharp, there’s no shallow depth of field.

Shore: There are a couple of pictures, but not many. There’s one in Uncommon Places of a silver mailbox in Florida and the background is out of focus, still readable but slightly out of focus, and then a few years earlier there’s the green car in upstate NY and again the background is this funky town out of focus. As far as I recall in the book those are the only two. That goes back to the beginning and what you were saying about a picture being read, and having a picture with a great depth of field and lots of points of interest. My tendency is, if I see something interesting, to not take a picture of it, but to take a picture of something else and have that in it so that you can move your attention around, like this is a little world that you can examine, and for those kinds of pictures it simply makes more sense for everything to be sharp.

White: Noah and I were talking earlier about the iPhoto books, with respect to the idea of the way an image or an artifact ages. You talked about American Surfaces that way in an interview I read. You said that you were aware of how the photo would look after a certain period of time, given the changes in the landscape. The first time I saw the iPhoto books I thought about that, about how contemporary they are in design, and the decision on your part to embrace that. Then I thought of looking at them in 20 years. How do you think they’ll be different?
Shore: With some of them I’m actually thinking explicitly about that. One series of books I started a couple of months ago. I think of them as time capsules, and I do them on days when the New York Times has deemed it worthy to have an eight-column headline. You can go a year and not have one, or you can have two in a couple of months. So last week it was when Scooter Libby was indicted, and the last time was when the levy broke in New Orleans. And so on those days I start with a picture of the front page of the New York Times, with the headline, and then I go around and take pictures of what’s going on that day. Suddenly I’m thinking about style, and what clothes look like, or cars, or the prices of things. But I’m also interested in what ordinary life is on that day.
In the “60s I was spending a lot of time in Europe, and I was in Europe in ’68, when a lot of shit was going down, as they say in the States, including the Kent State shootings. I remember reading the Herald Tribune every day, and it just seemed that the country was falling apart. But a year or so later I was in Europe again, and it didn’t seem like there was anything as dramatic going on, but again I had the feeling of things falling apart. And I realized that it was because all I was getting was the news. And the news wasn’t reporting that bees were pollinating flowers in Dutchess County today, and the sun rose at 6:51 just as predicted, and that the law of gravity held today as one would hope. If all you’re getting are these points of news, you’re missing the fact that the world’s not falling apart. It’s the real stuff, the stable stuff, that doesn’t get reported. And so the books, my time capsules, have some of that in them too. So there are things that are very specific to a period in time, what movies are playing, but also just what ordinary things look like.

Sheldon: People are looking at your work from the seventies now more than they were then. I was recently looking through some un-published stuff from Las Vegas, in ’73 or “74, and it’s incredible. Las Vegas was tiny! To me it was incredible to look at this place that I know well. I think photography generally gets better with time, do you think about that?
Shore: I was to some extent aware of that. I remember thinking that it’s important to put cars in photographs because they are like time seeds. And I learned this from looking at Evans. I can go to New York and find a building that was built a hundred years ago. I can take a black and white picture of that building and it would be hard to know when it was taken. But you put a modern car in front of it and it dates it. That’s what I saw in Evans’s work, though Evans would sometimes put an old car in the picture. I’m interested in that dating, like styles of renovation in buildings. I was thinking about that then. But I guess you’re asking why is there a resurgence of interest in my work? (laughter) I think there are certain questions that are more right for you as a critic to answer than for me to answer. But I’ll give you mine, which is not meant to be exhaustive, but maybe somewhat cynical and humorous. I like to think there is something intrinsically strong about the pictures and that’s why they survive, but on top of that I’ll tell you that the interest began in the 90′s when people saw a connection between my work and the Becher students. They started working backward and looking at my work again, which had not been looked at for a few years. But I think there’s something else that is more related to what you’ve been asking about, and it’s this. I was interested, particularly in the series American Surfaces, in taking pictures that felt natural, so they didn’t look artified. It looked like looking at something. I was interested in what the world looked like.
There’s a phrase in Shakespeare that meant a lot to me. Hamlet is telling the meaning of acting and ends by saying it’s “to show the very age and body of the time its form and pressure.” And that was a phrase that was in my mind when I was doing some of this work. And the work was shown a lot, so I’m not saying it wasn’t popular or well received in the “70′s. There was a lot of negative stuff being written about, but it was being shown. But something else happens when time passes. If I’m being successful at showing what the modern age is, people may not have enough distance from it to appreciate it.

Sheldon: Exactly!
Shore: You know? It’s like, this is just what life is! Why photograph it, if this is just what life is? And then maybe 30 years later they can talk about “Oh it looks like the “70′s,” but I’m sure this is what today looks like.

White: I thought it was really wonderful at the show a few years ago at the 303 Gallery, to see the work from the “70′s and along with the books from the past few years. It brought up the big artistic problem of the invisibility of the present, of the style of the present. Which is, I don’t notice how my jeans look right now because they just look … normal … but in ten years, you notice.
Shore: And that was sort of the trick of the work. Trying to look at the present world with a bit of distance so that there’s an amazement at…you know…this is how our jeans look.

White: I’d be interested to hear you talk about your commercial work from the past few years, and just how different it is to work in that situation, with a client and an art director and all that. Is it that different?
Shore: The one big campaign I did was that different. The art director was in London. He’s sitting in an office in London with a drawing of an airport, what he wants the picture to look like, and it’s not based on anything but his imagination. And then we get location scouts and find some place where that can be made and go ahead and make it. And it’s a kind of visual problem solving that’s fascinating, but very different than my going out with a camera to take pictures. It’s fascinating: here’s what we want it to look like and then we go out and do it, but the whole thing is fun and you have a producer and the assistants are incredible and it’s just a lot of fun to do. And I’m being hired for my ability to visually organize space. We had to find an airport that would fit with the art director’s drawing and we had scouts in about six or seven cities in the United States and a couple of places in Europe to find an airport where we could do this one particular shot. I actually picked an airport, but they didn’t like it, but I said I knew that I could make it look like the picture. We actually went to the airport and they thought this isn’t quite right, and I said this is going to be right because I could understand how the camera was going to see it. They could see it with their eyes, but they couldn’t understand how it was going be transformed into a picture.

White: Has the commercial work impacted your other work?
Shore: I haven’t seen an impact. One thing that was interesting doing the commercial stuff is that you go in knowing what can be done in post-production, and you just take that into account.

Sheldon: With the iPhoto books, do you think of those images strictly in a book form?
Shore: After the fact I’ve thought that I could do something else with some of them. With a lot of them I’m using tiny little cameras that you can’t make a big enough print to do anything with. But really the answer to the question is while I’m shooting I’m only thinking about it as a book. They’re all done in one day and so it’s all meant to be one work that I’m thinking about during the day. I’m thinking about how they’re going to relate to each other in a book. It’s not like at the end of the day I collect my pictures and make a book, the idea for the book is happening as the pictures are being made.
Sheldon: In a lot of your work there’s this layer of humor, which is very important. There’s one iPhoto book that kind of looks like the Italian Riviera,

Shore: The French Riviera.
Sheldon: There are these two great pictures where Ginger’s lying down sunning, with basically identical framing. Ginger’s face on the bottom and then there’s a beach scene. In one picture there’s a young, very beautiful woman in a bathing suit walking by, and then you turn the page and there’s an older guy in the same exact place, and the picture is the same. (laughter) Brilliant! There’s a lot of slapstick.

White: It seems like the book format lends itself to game playing on some level.
Shore: That’s exactly right. And I feel like it’s open to playing with all those opportunities. And so I’m not even thinking about how the different books look with each other, really. I can see someone coming in and thinking that it’s the work of six different people. It could be a class assignment, and that kind of interests me. I could have an idea that I want to pursue for a day, but I’m not interested in beating it to death and doing the same thing over and over again for a year.

White: So over your career we have your mental evolution, your development as someone who takes pictures. But I was also thinking about our collective evolution, as people who look at pictures. It must be different for us now to look at photographs from the “70s because our culture of looking has changed.
Shore: Well, I’ll pick two specific things particularly related to American Surfaces. I got a good bit of recognition in the 70′s for Uncommon Places. Not for American Surfaces. No one liked American Surfaces, except for two people: the gallery director who put it on and Weston Naef, who is now the head of photography at the Getty. But at that time he was at the Met, and he bought the entire show, which is now in the collection of the Met. Years later I ran into Nan Goldin, who told me that she liked the show a lot. But no one else has ever said a kind thing about it! (laughter)
I think first of all it was about color. People just weren’t accepting color then. Again, I’m not talking about general ways that human perception has changed over 30 years. I’m talking about something very specific, the attitude towards color has completely changed. The other thing was that American Surfaces was presented as a grid. I don’t think people could look at grids then. My sense was that it was viewed as a kind of wallpaper, as a bunch of color around a room, and it was very hard for people to focus on the pictures, and think about the relationship of the pictures, and penetrate it
The reason I’m thinking this is that there were a few people who worked at the gallery, the show was up for about three months, who after a month or so said, “You know, it kind of grows on you.” This is something that was one my mind doing the current hanging, which I wanted to make reminiscent of the original hanging. The original prints were un-matted and un-framed and closer together and I think by framing them and matting them individually it separates them, and makes it so you have the sense of the grid but also makes it easier for people to look at individual pictures. But I think also something else has simply changed: people are now used to seeing pictures presented in a grid. And simply the reaction to color is completely different, it’s just not an issue, but then it was absolutely an issue.

Sheldon: How did you imagine selling that work? Did you perceive selling it as one body of work?
Shore: Yes.

Sheldon: Besides the person at the Met did any one else bite?
Shore: No.

Sheldon: I saw some black and white pictures you did in the late “90′s, the large inkjet prints of forests and trees. This was the first time I know of that you worked in black and white after your early work from the Factory. It was at a time when art photography was mostly in color, and I think some people couldn’t access the work because the black and white put them off.
Shore: I’m interested in conventions. Why are there certain conventions? What happens if you don’t follow a certain convention? Sometimes my reactions are not a radical departure, but a reactionary departure. So if everyone is doing color I think there’s nothing wrong with black and white, you know?

Sheldon: Could you talk about what you were interested in with the baseball photographs?
Shore: It could not be simpler. I love baseball. When Ginger and I were dating and first living together in “77 and “78 we were probably averaging 30 games a year, and in those years we went to every home game that Ron Guidry pitched. He was at the peak of his form and it was amazing to watch him. This was a large part of my life and some of those people were my absolute heroes. The third baseman for the Yankees, Graig Nettles, was one the most eloquent baseball players I’ve ever seen play. It’s the simplest thing. I like posing problems for myself. The idea of photographing a sport with an 8×10 camera, it’s interesting.

Sheldon: The idea of finding those exposures, 1/8th of a second, 1/15th of a second.
Shore: Some are faster, but part of it is that in a number of different motions there are often moments of rest, so if a batter is waiting for a pitch and is going like this (gestures) the moment that the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand he goes (make a gesture) but only for a fraction of a second before he starts to swing. But if my timing is right I get him like that, there’s all this kinetic energy but he’s absolutely still. There’s this one point of balance or transition of energy that, if your timing is right, you can stop the action with a view camera.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of the black and white New York street pictures I’ve done. The idea of doing Winnogradesque street photography with an 8×10 camera, I thought, this would be interesting to do.

Sheldon: What year were you doing those?
Shore: 2000 to 2002. You may not have seen them, because the only place they were published was in Tate magazine. I was using a Deerdorf 8×10. Deerdorf made a wooden slide that popped into the back that covered up half the frame so you could do a 4×10 inch negative and then you can slide it and on the same sheet of film do another 4×10. These are long thin pictures that I’m making 40×100 inch inkjet prints from. My thought was that you could take a Leica around New York with you and wait to pounce on something, or you could set up a 4″x10″ on 57th street and stand there and in a couple of minutes something is going to happen! (laughter) What I found is that I’ve never been more invisible on a New York City street. The only time anyone ever said anything is when a woman told her young son, “that’s what old cameras used to look like.” (laughter)
The only time someone really had a conversation with me about it was when a policeman came up to me on 57th street between 5th and 6th. He told me he used a 4×5, so we started talking and at one point he asks my name, and I tell him, and he says, “I have your book. I show it to my family and they think your pictures are boring, but I tell them they don’t understand.” (laughter) So where I’m photographing the people walking by, there’s a car that’s double parked at a slight angle. While we’re talking the guy is about to get in the car and the policeman says, “Do you want me to stop him?” He’s not even thinking about ticketing the guy! He just knows the car fulfills a structural need in the frame! (laughter)

“Stephen Shore with Noah Sheldon and Roger White” (2005), touvé ici.