The Demons Stir
Sunday. A good long morning shooting the San Francisco Carnaval parade as it formed up along Bryant and 24th. Breakfast at the usual place in Oakland just after they opened at 7:00, parking near the BART entrance by the office just before 8:00, arriving at 24th and Mission around 8:30 and on the ground shooting from 8:45 to 11:00. My first parade shooting exclusively digital: five hundred photographs. And I felt better after shooting this year than I did last. The walk back to BART allowed an easy comparison, remembering, as I walked, how tired I'd been then, how less tired I was today. Still dragging ass, of course, but dragging it with panache.
There was one glitch. I'm not sure I got very many decent photographs. My initial reaction was “hmmm”, one or two good images, maybe, the photograph at the top, for example, not standing out.
You probably shouldn't have read Mailer's “Portrait of Picasso as a Young Artist” before going out.
Maybe. I went by Walden Pond, the local used book store on Saturday, when I noticed two hardback copies of “Portrait of Picasso as a Young Artist” by Norman Mailer. I was unfamiliar with the book, published in 1995. Still, Mailer, Picasso. I know little of Picasso (and, I figured, I probably wouldn't know much more about Picasso after I'd finished, but I'd probably know more about Mailer and his own imaginative interpretation of what made Picasso tick and, well, that should be enough). So I bought it.
The book, by the way, was autographed by Mailer. There was a Grove/Atlantic business card tucked inside with “Signed Copy” printed on it and sure enough, there was Mailer's autograph on the third page. I'd thought it was printed except (after checking) it wasn't.
I figured the gods had sent a message I was supposed to read this book. One ignores such messages at one's peril, so I read.
Mailer is suggesting Picasso experienced a world in which shape and form and color, specifically the shape of “things” had relevance to him in very concrete terms. Similar shapes had a direct psychological connection: the curve of a curtain, the shape of a breast. Whatever psychological fires he had burning inside, whatever it was that made him afraid, was directly tied to his sense of shape and form and color and it was through his working with shape and form and color that he constructed a dam against the darkness. Picasso, from what Mailer is saying, had more than his rightful share of darkness.
I've wondered about this “darkness inside” business. It's all well and fine to write and fiddle with pictures, but eventually you get to a point, do you not, where you want to shoot or say something relevant? Relevant to yourself? My assumption is we all have the same underlying psychological forces that express themselves if they're strong enough in words or pictures or stone or music or dance. How might I tap one or two for purposes of exhibition? You know, just a sliver. Just a crack in the door. A slight twist of the faucet. Turn it off when it gets too hot. Maybe mine are too well hidden, maybe I'm too content, too far asleep, too afraid to look (or too damned lucky) not fully understanding the concept.
You're complaining about not being tormented enough, not having, as it were, a better connection to things that go bump in the night?
No. An idle thought. An idle dream. Fat, dumb and happy: I understand there are worse epitaphs.
Mailer talks in the same section about the narcissist, suggesting most artists are narcissists; narcissists in the sense they are content to have an ongoing conversation with their inner “self” and don't find a need to search out another person for completion. He says two narcissists can come together in fascinating ways perhaps giving himself an out. How was Mailer in his own relationships? I'm not sure any of this struck a fundamental chord, but at least he tackles the interesting subjects for someone who lives alone in what he grudging understands to be relative comfort, keeping a journal and shooting photographs. A glimpse of a shadow of a shadow of a shadow on a wall, perhaps, but you kid yourself you perceive something moving in the light.
Which brings me back to the photographs. There is something I see, there is something I look for when I shoot. In a Picasso (or a Mailer) it seems to blow them right off the street. In me it's a slight puff of air, a whisper I'm not sure I hear. Or why would I carry these damned cameras around and spend so much time bitching about it? Maybe, like Turner in Performance, I don't want to know lest I look it in the eye and it disappears.
Well then you could sell all your camera crap and buy a swell place with a flamingo on the lawn in Florida!
Ah, the demons stir, here in Oakland.