Digital Project

Picture Logic

okay the pictures that’s what people want to know what happened how did we let Jimmy ruin them as if there was some action we should have taken some kind of warning or intervention look questions like that are hostile also misdirected

Jimmy believed in a concept called picture logic which means the way a picture makes sense how it unfolds across the image plane for example a picture of a lady it has a top and a bottom the lady has her head at the top of the frame and her feet at the bottom that’s what’s right that’s how the image of the lady makes sense and the people who look at that picture use that they use position orientation composition all the fundamentals to connect with the lady and to transfer memory emotion and experience from themselves to that picture and then back to themselves again

for instance the lake series let’s say you’re no longer able to understand the decision-making process or the aesthetic frame through which these photographs were created you’re no longer able to associate that type of blue with the sky water women children let’s say it’s twenty years later and that blue sky strikes you as false sentimental somewhat untrustworthy you don’t respond to that blue anymore it’s just pigment a color and because of that the image refuses to organize won’t make sense

I’ve seen Jimmy slide across a picture I’ve seen him mentally choose some object in the foreground and let that object block his descent into the frame stop any kind of motion inward so that he moves toward flatness surface anti-image

one day I’m sitting in the kitchen not even thinking about photography when Jimmy comes in through the doorway and says I’ve got a job for you he did he had a complete description of what I was supposed to do get a truck just drop everything just like that drive to the city go to some warehouse in Queens announce myself at the desk he says which is all set they’ll be expecting me go to the client room get his pictures which Jimmy describes as consisting of a couple hundred boxes of stuff put those boxes on the truck drive the truck back Upstate back up there to him at the house and that’s it I’m done

by pictures he meant everything the whole catalogue all the frames he’d shot from January of ’67 to December of ’72 which is like asking for every picture from let’s say the year Star Trek first aired to the year A Clockwork Orange was released a lot of pictures literally thousands and thousands of photographs boxes and boxes of stuff

keep in mind Jimmy wasn’t shooting then he hadn’t made a picture for five or six years unusual you know photographers they don’t normally stop like that they’re more stubborn anyway he had left the city for good he and the collective or what was left of the collective none of them doing much of anything but hanging around getting older rationalizing hiding out in the woods

I said Jimmy it’s a lot to do a lot of material a lot of driving why don’t we get some movers to do this professionally but of course that was the last thing he wanted no strangers he said you me Ed and the rest of us that’s enough we can do this ourselves

we rented a truck one of those eight wheelers but I agreed with Carolyn I didn’t think any of us could drive it so we put our foot down made Jimmy hire a driver

other than that a straightforward move get in the truck drive down to the city go over to the warehouse collect the boxes put the boxes on the truck drive everything back Upstate take the boxes off the truck put the boxes in the house

it was February no heat in the warehouse because of the artwork it was freezing

I’m sure we raised eyebrows when we showed up at that place which of course looked like a museum only with everything in boxes or wrapped in paper or nailed into a crate of some sort no heat no moisture no dirt a degree of organization that is unfathomable I think their managers were horrified I mean let’s face it whoever they were expecting or were used to trusting with outgoing inventory it wasn’t people like us

I guess there had been some back and forth over the phone but when we got there I didn’t feel any tension or resistance it wasn’t confrontational they were courteous we were courteous like this was a chore we needed to accomplish

there was a kind resignation which maybe felt like obstinacy concrete floors uniforms overhead lights attendants in white coats as if they were scientists or technicians listening without any kind of reaction ignoring questions looking away never allowing themselves to be rushed or questioned or irritated that kind of opaque methodical caution requiring multiple levels of permission to touch something or be near something and at the same time a bit exaggerated self-important demonstrative showing their ability to label identify categorize they could retrieve whatever was needed in minutes the monstrous the trivial the picturesque all they needed was a date and number

I was glad to get out of there a few days to load the boxes then a little driving then back into the woods

Jimmy had never paved the driveway and with all the ice and snow that winter we couldn’t get the truck up the second hill so we stopped about a thousand feet before the front door

he was waiting for us as soon as we got close he came out of the house walked up to the truck and started taking boxes up the driveway

not a word I guess if you want to be dramatic you would say that the moment we got back we were already starting to lose them not that I believe Jimmy had at that point decided anything or felt anything but the whole time we were unloading the truck he was off in his own thoughts no questions no conversation just moving boxes expecting the rest of us to figure it out fall into step behind him

boxes in the living room in the dining room in the back bedrooms on the first floor in the barn anybody who was still at the house was living like that walls of boxes hundreds of them like a fortress

the boxes were everywhere as soon as we got them inside Jimmy moved into the upstairs bedroom that big room above the kitchen

and right away he put us all to work we started going through the catalogue opening a box lifting the prints out of their paper liners laying them out on a table or a countertop arranging them on some surface a desk the floor whatever was in the room

get everything out of the box lay it on the table

then he would come by and look at what was there just stand over the pictures looking

that look I remember it stooping forward bent over getting close to the image very close

they felt big really immense I had seen these pictures for years in books and magazines but to see them for real with my own eyes in real life just laid out in front of me

the little girl in the sailor hat holding her dog up to the camera the one of the kids standing in the driveway in front of their dad’s garage the two boys jumping on the picnic table in the Little League field the woman in the blue dress she’s got those pearls on she’s reaching out to her kid happy smiling the kid euphoric joyful reaching up to her

they were beautiful yes I mean sure for a few weeks the whole house was beautiful

beautiful I don’t know after everything that had been said about them written about them it was different it was maybe not what we had expected finding them again exactly as they had been before

he just looked for a few days

moving from room to room standing looking getting up in the morning going to the photographs eating breakfast with the photographs sitting with the photographs no breaks no walks

he could spend hours he would stand over a photograph lose all sense of time

everything’s important that sensibility that tended to valorize his compulsion for detail not asters by the mailbox but Montauk daisies not planted in pairs but planted in groups of three the shape of their leaves echoed in the green to blue-green gradient in the variegated leaves stamped around the borders of the placemats in the dining room the moiré pattern in the nylon curtains hanging in the sidelight windows by the front door somehow repeated in the diamond-ridged latticework of the lace sewn to the edge of the little girl’s white ankle socks

looking then looking again positioning then repositioning then looking again

a standard visual exploit juxtaposition writers do it too you don’t see a clear next decision so you try re-envisioning what you already have moving an image from here to there putting this next to that recasting rethinking trying to wake yourself up make your ideas new again

did he know what he was doing I’m not sure there was no method to any of this

I went in one afternoon and he seemed to have no idea who I was or what I wanted or what day of the week it was

this is precisely my point why does everyone assume the goal was preservation when there is so much evidence to the contrary why does no one address that particular aspect of this whole mania

we don’t usually discard we usually default to conservation we know how to do that there are rules for cataloguing rules of preservation guidelines for putting objects into boxes and for removing them maybe that’s mindless a habit learned by rote the result of training

do you mean make something disappear or literally obliterate an image because there are several approaches

the surface of the paper that’s resin a film of plastic protecting the emulsion once it sustains a number of small scratches the image beneath becomes less visible more exposed on the other hand with water it’s a little tougher since these papers were meant to be wet processed there are a couple layers of plastic around the print one on each side of the image both intended to keep the paper flat during development

I don’t think any of us at that point understood what Jimmy was thinking beyond his desire to engage in this endlessly repetitive futile erosion of order taking boxes apart staring at pictures talking to himself

pictures are tricky aren’t they for years they look exactly the way they’re supposed to then one day there’s something different

how did he destroy them I would say deliberately methodically in such a way that there was no chance of retrieval how would you erase yourself

a rag and a little water this is a wool rag so it’s already pretty rough with one hand holding the photograph down on a surface a counter a tabletop and the other hand holding the rag you move the rag across the surface of the print scraping across the emulsion use small circles do this over and over

it’s not such a tragedy honestly anybody who looks at pictures or most people who look at pictures we do it a little carelessly it’s a skill people take for granted you look you see something you feel you understand but what is it you’re seeing a beautiful lady with a bowl of flowers good you were able to make sense of it the picture means something it gives you pleasure if you study it further you might ask why what makes this picture beautiful is it the lady is it the bowl of flowers is it the arrangement of the lady with the flowers what a good question you get closer you look more carefully there’s a lady there are some flowers what are you seeing a beautiful picture a group of photographic principles a set of aesthetic assertions is the lady’s smile slightly more forced than it needs to be is the bowl of white chrysanthemums slightly distorted is this perhaps several photographs stripped together is this an instance of a photograph that was once highly valued but has more recently been discredited these small aberrations are they apparent to everyone are you alone aware of them do these flaws exist in the world or are they an instance of some other kind of phenomenon some failing on the part of the photographer some error against which the mind collides

he had no right to do it people loved those pictures now they don’t exist anymore if we could ask Jimmy what’d happened he’d say something mysterious and annoying such as a photographer can’t destroy an image once everyone’s seen it