Sunday, July 18, 2010

That Moves As You Play

Double Portrait Of Berdie, 1955 by Larry Rivers

Any photographer shooting their kids...or really their own family, is now aware of the NY Times story about the controversy surrounding the work of Larry Rivers and his daughters. Rather than quote it all, jump in and read it HERE. Photo bloggers are on it HERE. Bad vibes all around, with his daughter Emma Tamburlini essentially stating that it contributed to her anorexia and "wrecked her life". I'm not doubting it, just quoting it. Above is a celebrated painting by Rivers of his Mother-In-Law, naked.

Terry Gross interviewed Rivers in 1992. They discuss a controversy that occured when a nude painting of his son was exhibited:

Gross: Your son was very embarrassed. He was relieved when the police removed the painting. He says, to this day, he has a twinge of embarrassment when he sees it. Did you realize that at the age of fourteen it would be so embarrassing for him to have his nude portrait publicly displayed?

Rivers: No, no. He may have felt that way, and maybe I even thought about it, but I didn't think it was too much to ask of a child, truthfully speaking. And, you know, he did it. He knew I was a painter, that's what I do, and that he would be useful. If he was embarrassed, I'm sorry. You know, so what? his attitude is harsh and uncaring and doesn't help things....but I suspect he enjoyed courting controversy. I feel that having kids is this thing that affects any artist who finds themselves in that situation. Making art about that experience is just a natural extension of what they are up to. Alot of times showing this work out of context, showing it before it is complete really throws people off to what it is all about. What are our obligations? I guess it depends on whom you are trying to the art more important than the relationship? Did the subject have a voice in the process? I have no answers, but really anyone who has shot their kids has asked these questions of themselves and their work.

Here, I've got ECHOLILIA. It's in a physical book and I'm selling it and it's filled with images of my son...the whole project hinged on his involvement. There he is on the cover, head in a trash can. I must admit, I was a little gun shy when the book came in to the house. What if he has some negative reaction? Is he gonna appreciate this and still think it's cool? Is he going to care either way? And if he digs it, will that change as he gets older? The access one has to family is unlimited, but the power of the relationship is the thing that carries the price for all of this access. What's all good now might not really be that way at another time. There was a song by the band "X" that had the chorus This is the game that moves as you play. That line always pops in my head as I try to get a handle on these things.


max s. gerber said...

one thing i've wondered about the whole echolilia project, tim. . . what about wilson? were you concerned that he might feel left out at all? i know it's this examination of the particular relationship you have with eli, and an examination of the relationship eli has with the world around himself, but just speaking from a sibling rivalry perspective, was that ever an issue?

Timothy Archibald said...

Why would I need to do a project on both kids? That's for Sally Mann to do, or someone who is trying to talk about what its like to have kids. I wanted to look at one relationship- the one that had the complexity, questions and fuel that would allow interesting images to surface. But I do understand where you are coming from.

In this case, I think the kids get attention in different ways, and want it in different ways. Not every kids wants to be in a photo project, you know?

I think Wilson would rather I help him build something with Legos or climb a tree or chase him around the park...he doesn't want to be in this posing photo thing, operate a hassleblad, use a light meter, etc... or so it seems.

But maybe that is the thing that will come out...years from now...and maybe I am wrong!

max s. gerber said...

sorry, i didn't mean to say that you should do a photo project on both kids. i just wondered if you saw any curiosity/fallout from the unphotographed brother potentially feeling left out. but of course, you're right - not everyone wants to be involved in a photo project. i know i certainly didn't as a kid!

one of the wonderful aspects of your echolilia project is that seems as much about the unusual and interesting relationship eli has with the world in general as it does the relationship between father and son.

i was only thinking that focusing so intently on one kid in this way may leave the other feeling left out on the fun. sibling rivalry has a way of sneaking up on you. my siblings have issues that never would've occurred to me!

of course, that doesn't take into account any of the non-photo-related family life over there at the archibald household, and i certainly don't mean to imply that wilson should feel left out or neglected. i only thought of it in the vein of one kid getting a toy (i.e., getting to play with a hasselblad) and the other kid not getting the toy.

my brother went through a duran duran phase (including a dyed blonde streak) and thankfully i never felt the least bit left out on that. when my mother took him to a duran duran concert i felt relieved not to be invited.

Timothy Archibald said...

Oh...I knew what you meant, and it is valid. For me, it was important to make a clear cut between someone who is photographing "their kids" , where the project is about having kids, vs. just photographing a specific relationship. are right. Maybe years from now Wilson will be telling someone that his dad was always doing all this elaborate photo stuff with his older brother and all he did is help him climb a tree...or you never really know what will be an issue. But you try!

Alisha Stamper | Photographer said...

thanks for the heads up. Good to read the article and the comments over on B. Blows my mind a bit that anyone could think this was/is ok. Glad to see NYU's consensus is that it is not.