Secret Pop

Mar 21, 2004

Jewish giant at home with parents in Bronx.

I went to the Diane Arbus Revelations exhibit at LACMA today. It was much more extensive than I realized. I wish I'd had more time to linger. But Adam had a plane to catch. I really feel grateful for people who had the desire to photograph the mundane and the quirky and the bizarre back when photography wasn't nearly as accessible a practice. Otherwise, how would we know what a living room in Long Island looked like on Christmas morning in the 1960s? Today, with digital cameras everywhere and the freedom to take pictures of nearly everything you see, I'm saddened by how few interesting pictures get taken. When I go to the place where I get my 35mm film developed, the board that displays the kinds of finishes you can choose shows them to you by way of graduation photos and wedding photos and smiling snapshots of children in little plastic pools. And that's the kind of pictures most people take. The "say 'cheese'" variety. The one friend who likes to make silly faces when the shutter opens. The rabbit ears. The winning smile. The proud displaying of trophies. The "get in close so that we can all prove that we were here together" kind of portraits that end up on people's refrigerators or in the large collage of photos they hang in their bathroom. My mother always used to shake her head at me when I took pictures of strangers on trains in Japan. "Why do you want a picture of that girl? She has such bad skin." And she is even less moved by the pictures I take of shop signs and glassware and forks and knives and mannequins. But most people share her idea of what photography is for. For memory-making, I suppose. As opposed to art-making. Or for hoping that the thing you see in your brain can be transfered to the emulsion somehow.

But I did used to love to go on photo outings. To get on the train and ride to Tokyo with the hopes that I could take a photo without offending anyone. Maybe the problem these days is that you have to worry if people will LET you take their picture. With a big 35mm SLR camera in front of my face, I suppose I look a bit like an insect. People don't always know how to take it. But back then, I usually took the risk. And Japanese people were too polite to object. And I was too art-hungry to worry that they were saying mean things about me in their heads. And I developed my own film and printed and printed like a mad printing person. I spent hours in the darkroom. And it was always cool in there.

I'm buzzing with the desire to take my Canon A-1 back out and capture all the lame, the luxurious, the dirty, the gritty, the lurid things I can find. I am weary of all the pictures I take of myself. There was a time when I felt a little bit like a pioneer in that. And I have a few photos I've taken of myself that people have found interesting or inspired. But there's also just a great heaping lot of them that are from the inside of my apartment day after day after day. Or from the benches at LACMA. Or from the front seat of my car. I'm not entirely resentful. I'm glad I have some of my history captured. I'm glad I can remember what I looked like from month to month. And I recognize that the days when I don't take any pictures of myself are the days when there just doesn't seem to be anything new or interesting to see. And that makes me sad. I would take pictures of other people if they were nearby and willing. But that isn't always the case. And I fear the getting-fed-up that inevitably happens. When a friend or family member gives me that look and says, "Mary, enough!"

My friend Simon is also an avid shutterbug. I like that about him. I also like that he says such hilarious things. The latest was this:

I heard a good pickup line the other day: "Does this rag smell like ether to you?"

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