You could call photography the most democratic artistic medium. It certainly has many more practitioners, professional and amateur, than landscape painting or scoring for a symphony. Moreover, since it’s a portable, point-and-shoot art where serendipity and luck can matter as much as intention and technical smarts, a hobbyist photographer has the potential at least to fumble into an image worthy of a Henri Cartier-Bresson.
The latest American Photo devotes more than 12 pages to a photographer who, until less than two years ago, virtually nobody knew anything about. Now the name of Vivian Maier is appearing in sentences that also include the names of camera legends such as Diane Arbus and Berenice Abbott. Certainly the samples of Maier’s black-and-white work here make a strong case for the acclaim she’s enjoying. Enjoying, that is, posthumously: “a fiercely private individual,” seemingly self-taught, Maier died in 2009 shortly before an amateur historian in Chicago stumbled upon some of her unidentified negatives in a storage locker being auctioned for nonpayment.
It’s impossible to take a bad picture of Keith Richards. Cigarettes, booze, sleepless nights and wasted days, heroin, gravity and accidents involving coconut trees have all combined to make his 67-year-old mug into something beyond the conventions of the beautiful and the ugly. As Mark Seliger’s photos of Keef demonstrate here, in an issue dedicated to celebrating the “survivors” of rock – guys like Lou Reed, Nick Lowe and Eminem and women like Debbie Harry – his is a face that tests the descriptive powers of even the most observant and precise writer. Dickens could probably have done a good, albeit long-winded, job.
So what’s the Rolling Stone been up to since his memoir, Life, became a bestseller? Not that much, according to Chris Heath, whose mini-interview is wrapped around Seliger’s pictures. Playing the guitar, getting the grandkids to empty his ashtray, working up a few songs. Next year, however, could be different. Keith’s talking of (yikes!) another Stones tour: “If I can pull them together, I’m there; it’ll be 50 years.”
Comic books used to be just for kids, cheap, puerile thrills on pulpy paper that parents couldn’t wait to put in the trash. But, as Carolina Miranda writes here, “the boundary between fine art and comics has grown increasingly porous” over the last decade. Indeed, a little over four years ago, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles collaborated with the Museum of Contemporary Art there on a well-received exhibition titled Masters of American Comics. Next spring, the Oakland Museum of California is hosting a retrospective of the work of Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes, who’s in Toronto this weekend as a participant in the International Festival of Authors.
We all know Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein appropriated comic-book imagery and techniques for their art in the early sixties. What’s different now is that the comic book (or, as some prefer, the graphic novel) has become a medium of significance in and of itself. Miranda thinks this is the result, in part, of the education levels and visual sophistication of some of the artists. Clowes, for instance, attended New York’s Pratt Institute, Chris Ware, of Jimmy Corrigan fame, went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Others point to comics’ versatility – “They’re an empty frame you can fill with anything: a narrative, a character, something abstract.”