Tag Daniel Blau

Art quote:: Why photograph dead people?

The morgue happened for me when the Vietnam War ended, a war which I saw as an obscenity. We were still watching stuff on television and listening to things like “We got 43 and a half of them and only two and a half of us!” That is weird, to watch dinner while you are watching people being blown away. I was fortunate to get out of the draft. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me and in 1972, when I decided to make the morgue pictures, it was a different world and Rhode Island was a small place. I went up to the Attorney General, who was probably the only honest politician around at the time, and told him about what I was interested in. His office was across the street from where I went to school, which at that point still had a good reputation, and we talked for an hour. Finally he said “I don’t see any problem with what you propose.  We are not the best department, but we don’t have anything to hide.” There was a little bit of delay in terms of formal letters, but then I was given permission over the telephone. His secretary shouted to him “It’s a photographer guy; he wants to know if he can go to the morgue?” And that was it!

You also went to some people’s homes?

Yes, there were pick-ups. Since I had clearance the police let me in.

From interview Jeffrey Silverthorne Live in London – part 1 – “I am speaking through hundreds of tongues”

 

©Jeffrey Silverthorne – Boy hit by car, 1972-74

 

 

Art quote:: Does commercial exposure have an impact on Silverthorne’s work?

What are your thoughts regarding the exhibition medium and does the fact that you are represented by commercial galleries have an impact on your work? 

“I always make pictures and I don’t consider the viewer, at all. While I am editing I am driven by the question “Was this getting what I want?”  “Was this getting what I am interested in?” Somewhere down the line, hopefully it is distant, I wonder “Gee! Maybe there is a sucker out there that would buy this stuff?” And then I send it off, or don’t. Preferably I let it wait a couple of years and see if it still has resonance. So you make things and you let go of some controls and it really is a kind of addiction of a microsecond. Although, for a while I made long exposures so I got more fulfillment. There is a thrill there.”

Jeffrey Silverthorne Live in London – part 1 – “I am speaking through hundreds of tongues”

©Jeffrey Silverthorne – Annunciation, 2006

Art quote:: Neal Fox (from Le Gun) on why he celebrates Burroughs, Bacon & Co.

How would you describe the impact these strong personalities have had on your life; did you ever inject bug powder or “sit in your house for days on end staring at the roses in the closet”?

No, not yet. I’ve never stared at the roses in my closet, but maybe I should! I have mainly been inspired by the strong integrity and self-belief in these iconoclasts; they did it their own way, completely untouched by present ideas, restrictions and beliefs. They broke new ground and although there is a small portion of irony in my exhibition of Stained Glass Windows, (a hint towards today’s celebrity culture) I feel that these are the people that deserve praise and honor for the impact they have had on writers, musicians and artists.

From Interview with Iconoclastic Artist Neal Fox

Art quote:: Jeffrey Silverthorne on teaching photography

You have been teaching at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island since 2002, becoming a full Professor in 2011. What methods are you teaching your students to guide them toward, I quote, “to convey the contradictory natures of making things”? (Quote from University website)

It is an interesting place to teach, but teaching photography is both simple and impossible. In the eighties I was teaching at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. At that time I was in frequent contact with the photographer Robert Frank and in one of our phone conversations I told him about one of my students. This young man’s work was sort of mediocre, but he told me about his father who was making weird and kinky films in his garden. I said to him: ‘That sounds great! Why don’t you bring them in and we will show them in class?’ I was discussing with Frank about how the kid brought in this borrowed courage into his own work. I think that people who are starting often need to borrow courage from some place, to be able to understand that they can do that and to start experimenting on their own. What is so great with photography is that on a 35mm roll of film you have 36 opportunities to fail; 36 opportunities to try something that you think you can’t do.

Read full interview – Jeffrey Silverthorne Interview Series Pt 2 – Desire, Struggle and Confusion

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Susan with a light bulb, 2006

Jeffrey Silverthorne Live in London – part 2 – Desire, Struggle and Confusion

6th September 2011

Live interview with Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau London
During exhibition Haunting the Chapel – Photography and Dissolution

© Jeffrey Silverthorne, From Boystown, The Perfume of Desire

 

“The land along the Texas-Mexico border, a borderland, is a place for a psychological or physical passage/transgression.

A Boystown is a group of bars or clubs that gringos and some Mexicans go to for entertainment, and or to have sex with a prostitute, usually a woman, sometimes a female impersonator. I did not see an openly gay or lesbian club, though I saw gays and lesbians. Boystowns are located on the Mexican side of the border, and traditionally are physically and medically much safer than having sex with a prostitute working on the US side.

To understand a Boystown it is necessary to appreciate that in the borderland there are a number of divides; geographic, economic, religious and cultural. In a maquilladoro, a factory on the Mexican side of the border often owned by an international business, a woman might earn eight dollars a day. Working as a prostitute she will earn $40 to $120 for thirty to forty five minutes. The client usually pays $10 to $20 to the club for the rental of the room. Two clients a night seems to be average. For the prostitute there is a performance in doing her job well and conforming to the expectations of the customer. In some clubs if the client does not have an orgasm he can demand his money back for services not successfully rendered. His payment will be refunded.

I began my Boystown work in Nuevo Laredo, and it was there, in various clubs, and in Ciudad Acuna that I made most of these pictures. My motivations for photographing are both specific and vague, honorable and defenseless. On a simplistic and juvenile level, a Boystown is a celebration of life, a candy store of flesh, with any psychological or medical consequences deferred. On an adult level, Boystown is a direct observation of a spiritual poverty and economic failure that both countries and cultures share.

Jeffrey Silverthorne”

(http://agencevu.eu/stories/index.php?id=787&p=213)

_______________________________________________________

Jeffrey Silverthorne Interview Series

Part 2 – Desire, Struggle and Confusion
6th September 2011

Live interview with Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau London
During exhibition Haunting the Chapel – Photography and Dissolution

© Jeffrey Silverthorne, From Boystown, The Perfume of Desire

What was your initial attraction towards the Texas-Mexico border?

I started going there with an older student and I didn’t even know that Boystowns existed; it was suggested to us by a taxi-driver. We were new to the territory and started walking around photographing. Later on the government gave me a grant to photograph prostitution in Mexico. Rather than commenting on the degree of humiliation, I was curious about the energy and the social friction. I was also spending time with the border patrol, who were tracking people and hunting for illegals. The Boystown series consists of many photos from the border control, more than the monograph is suggesting. I remember one of the agents saying: ‘These people leave their homes, travel for long distances with no money, risk their life crossing the river, because they can’t swim, to take jobs in places where people in the USA will not work and they send most of the money back home; and we call them lazy?’

The portrait German Man, 1994, is one of my personal favorites; it is a sort of anti-portrait, in the sense that it is portraying the photographer more so than the German Man himself.  This is where you are so unique; a, because you chose to go ahead and take that picture with his piercing eyes looking back at you, where most of us would’ve decided that it was ‘wrong’ to do so and b, because something about you seems to encourage people to be themselves; to not shy away from what they are feeling, despite the intrusive lens of your camera. Did you have many negatives of the German Man?

The photographer Peter Hujar, who made lots of wonderful pictures, used to work as a commercial photographer for the business magazine Fords. One time, I assume that this was in the early eighties, he went out take the portraits of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and during the break Cage sat down on a chair and fell asleep. I said to Peter ‘Did you photograph him?’ Peter looked at me as if I had said ‘You have just grown three extra penises.’ He said: ‘No, I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know him.’ It is interesting how different photographers respond to a situation. With the German Man I think I shot a roll of 35 and some of his wife. The two of them were standing there as if thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ and he was very keen on presenting himself. It was sort of a question of me being still and waiting to let them settle in to their presentation.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne German Man,1994

To me, with my vivid imagination, it looks like you were passing by and he happened to sit there so you asked him ‘May I take your picture?’ He looks at you as if wondering why on earth you would want to do that and the question resides within the image.

Mmm, but that is not what happened at all. I took the chair out of the kitchen to the backyard and said: ‘Sit here, let’s see how that works.’ But imagination is a wonderful thing. It is like photography, it tells the truth and it doesn’t, because of the information added by the viewer.

The photograph Coney Island, July 4, shot in 1990, is included in your book Directions for Leaving. It was taken on Independence Day and it is striking how unreal this ordinary photograph of an ordinary woman seems in comparison to the rest of the book.

It is accurate what you say. In the book it is one of its kind, but I have made many pictures with a similar flavor. Years ago, when I was an undergraduate somewhere around 1967, I was trying out street photography.  I really enjoyed photographing relaxed people on holiday and Independence Day gives people an extra excuse to go to Coney Island just to enjoy themselves. I realized at an early stage that street photography simply wasn’t one of my strengths. However, Susanna and the Elders expresses a similar kind of stillness.

You have been teaching at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island since 2002, becoming a full Professor in 2011. What methods are you teaching your students to guide them toward, I quote, “to convey the contradictory natures of making things”? (Quote from University website)

It is an interesting place to teach, but teaching photography is both simple and impossible. In the eighties I was teaching at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. At that time I was in frequent contact with the photographer Robert Frank and in one of our phone conversations I told him about one of my students. This young man’s work was sort of mediocre, but he told me about his father who was making weird and kinky films in his garden. I said to him: ‘That sounds great! Why don’t you bring them in and we will show them in class?’ I was discussing with Frank about how the kid brought in this borrowed courage into his own work. I think that people who are starting often need to borrow courage from some place, to be able to understand that they can do that and to start experimenting on their own. What is so great with photography is that on a 35mm roll of film you have 36 opportunities to fail; 36 opportunities to try something that you think you can’t do.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Susanna and The Elders, 2004

The two Elders, from the Hebrew Bible ‘Book of Daniel’, tried to force young beautiful Susanna into sexual intercourse. In your take on ‘Susanna and the Elders’ in 2004, we see a color photography with you laying down in a sort of tub dressed in drapery and a young woman pouring water over you from a watering can. It would be interesting to know why you have given Susanna the dominating position, since she is originally the one who is struggling against the dominating elders.

Mythology and religion are very potent influences on the culture that I live in. I was interested in getting the literal content matter dealing with the subject matter. I am wondering where some of the behaviors and body language come from and how images are constructed. That is some of the reasons to why I enjoy looking at Giotto and artists both before and after. I don’t think I would begin with Jeff Wall, and neither does Jeff Wall, there is a long range of references. To tap into what some of the positions meant socially, I wanted to take that and use it in these culture stories. I have been interested in working with these motivations or this impetus and putting it into some kind of frame work that momentarily makes sense to me.

In Susanna and the Elders there is a motivation from the Bible story, but I don’t feel that I have to follow it. I use the parts that I am interested in and make up other pieces. With the shutter in my hand, I am giving her permission to do my will. Water is both cleansing, used to ‘get the Devil out of people’, and used as a form of torture and killing. She is pouring it out of a watering-can; I get to be her garden. On a pedestal you have a piece of wood, which has been neatly cut; I am sure it is not a phallic symbol. It is some of this play that I was curious about.

One year later, you created the work ‘Betrayal, Susanna and the Elders’ where we see the betrayed middle-age woman curled up in bed staring into a void, with the man standing by the side of the bed fully dressed and we can only see the male figure from the shoulders down to the knees. With your attraction towards the mundane and how one persons’ Mon-Fri appears extravagant to others; is this your way of suggesting a new sort of every-day mythology with a narrative closer to contemporary household-complications?

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Betrayal, Susanna and The Elders, 2005

There is the idea of the bathing with stones and a sponge, as opposed to water. I responded to Rembrandt’s paintings Bathsheba and Susanna and the Elders much more strongly than others from the same time period. What the Biblical story offered the painters of that time was a justifiable way to paint naked women. What that offered the client was a justifiable way to have a picture of a naked woman in their house. We look at the figures of Rembrandt’s Bathsheba and Susanna today and their physical features correspond to the ideals of that time. So, it’s not just a rendering of a Biblical story, it also ties to the culture of beauty of that time. Susanna and The Elders was motivated as much by Harold Pinter. In one his writings he is talking about the making of a theater play which begins with one character on stage. As the second actor/actress enters the stage, the totality of the energy is shifted and the viewer is no longer feeding off the energy of that one person. There is also this impenetrable distance between the two of them that I was interested in and a lot of my work since the morgue work deals with not getting what you think you want.

In 2006, in the photograph ‘Staircase’ we see you naked touching a naked young woman with curling pins in a staircase. The same year you also shot an image of young ‘Lauren’ in the bathroom fiddling with her curl pins dressed in panties. These photographs are serene, yet problematic. In what way are these images communicating age and desire?

It is like a defeat of sexuality. It comments on what Kafka said, that many of those things you think you were going to do, many of those things you want to do; they are not going to happen. I was interested in that struggle.

Are we likely to find more mythological references in your work in the future?

I am sure there will be, but I am not working on anything directly.

Since you have begun to take part in front of the camera, it has sometimes been with the help of altered mythological stories, scenographic design, facial paint etc. Has it been necessary for you to do this in order to create a distance from yourself or is it unrelated to your participation?

It is to step into the world of an actor and author, and not to disguise who I am. Although it is difficult to interfere, I am willing to do it. I could probably find some old person to photograph, but I don’t think they would have the mental concentration that I am looking for. Certainly the self-portrait of the artist at work is not a new theme. Judith Leyster painted a wonderful portrait in 1609, where she is looking out at the viewer, whilst painting a fiddler. Max Beckmann did a wonderful self-portrait of himself in a tuxedo (Self-Portrait in Tuxedo, 1927), presenting himself as an author and a participant of a community. I find that positioning interesting and sometimes confusing.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Susan with a light bulb, 2006

Did you ever have an idea that was too controversial to execute?

Honestly, no. I was in Seville last year and I met some wonderful people who took me to a bullfight. I have seen bullfights before, but this time I was there photographing. I made some pictures which I think verge on a kind of ideal, which is the tourist post card and something that goes further into both the visual history and the culture specific to Seville, in my understanding. I am not Spanish, I am not trying to experience the world through Spanish eyes and I don’t understand their need to kill bulls, but they do have that need. In some versions of Peruvian bullfighting, they take an Andean Condor and they cut the back of the bull and they sew the condor into bull, so the bull comes out into the bullring with a bird on it and the bird pecks out the bull’s eyes while the matador fights it. I don’t know what to say other than that it is fucked. At the bullfight I came to think about blood, bodies, Diego Velàzquez, sacrifice, rituals, transgression, transformation and torture, while watching the banderilla men doing their dance. And then, linking all this back to modern life, I was thinking of women’s menstrual cycle and some of the taboos and sacrifices and of the idea of blood as transformation and I thought ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be neat to photograph menstrual cycles?’, but I haven’t gotten too far on that project yet.

Is it actually too controversial?

No, it is just bothersome. There is a crudity, I think, when you go out to make pictures. You take advantage of people. You don’t need to be mean about it, but you definitely impose yourself. None of my models would lie back like that, people don’t do that.

Thank you, Jeffrey. It has been a great pleasure and been an honour meeting you. 

 

 

Jeffrey Silverthorne is currently exhibiting at Daniel Blau in London (www.danielblau.com) and Galerie VU in Paris (www.galerievu.com)

 

Originally posted on www.contemporarytalks.com

 

Click to read Part 1 – “I am speaking through hundreds of tongues”

Readers’ favourite:: Jeffrey Silverthorne Live in London – part 1 – “I am speaking through hundreds of tongues”

 

Part 1 – “I am speaking through hundreds of tongues”
6th September 2011

Live interview with Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau London
During exhibition Haunting the ChapelPhotography and Dissolution

Introduction by Brad Feuerhelm, Gallery Director

Brad Feuerhelm: I’d like to introduce tonight a man who, for me personally, means a lot to have in the room. I came across Jeff’s work when I was investigating in my early days of photography and the image I ran into first was Woman who died in her sleep from The Morgue Series in 1972. For me it was quite immediate when I found this image, because you have arguably got some of the principal interests of surrealism, but I don’t think that was an intention, and the death of the image combined in one in such a powerful manifestation. The only time I have seen something that even hints at this image later on, was a work by a Mexican photographer named Enrique Metinides titled Adela Legeratta Rivas, struck by a Datsun, 1979. It depicts a beautiful blonde who has been hit by a car. Her body was flung towards a lamp post which her upper body ended up resting on and there is a man in the background in the process of covering her with a jacket.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne – Woman who died in her sleep, 1972

 

When I came across this uncomfortable beauty absorbed in death it was a game-changer for me personally and I started investigating photography. Not morgue photography per se, although there is history of that as well, but the image really stayed with me and I was lucky enough through the more recent years to strike up a correspondence with Jeff. We finally met a couple of years ago and it is hard to not get along with Jeff, he is such a likeable, lovely character. It was so interesting to meet him, because my preconceptions of who he might be and how he might act and behave were really up in the air – Jeff is probably the nicest guy I have met to this day. That is a bit reaching and wonderful, but I am very happy to have him here tonight for a conversational interview with Elin Henriksdotter, who runs a site called ContemporaryTalks.com, where she covers at length artists and does interviews quite nicely packaged. I definitely think you should all take a look at that.

What physically works for me with these images in the show is this idea of chemical dissolve in these unique prints. You can’t duplicate this chemical burn and it adds an overall feeling in particular which has a sort of double manifest of the idea of dissolve, whether it be of death or materially. What I would like to lead into, is if you (Jeffrey) can enlighten us a bit, quickly, about the process that you used to achieve the physical state of this print and with that initial question I will surrender to Elin.

 

©Jeffrey Silverthorne, currently on view at Daniel Blau London

 

Jeffrey Silverthorne: The process sets off with misjudgment or incorrect evaluation of how long the enlarging paper should be exposed, so if it is coming too quickly or not coming up, then I usually take it out of the developer, put it face down on some surface the darkroom could accommodate, like the floor, and I just let it stay there for a couple of months. In that sense, very similar to what Michael Grieve was discussing earlier, you don’t know what you are going to get. It has that element of chance.

So after you have developed the prints you throw them on the ground and the ambient light that travels through your darkroom effects the quality of the print and then you presumably redevelop the print a few months later?

It tends to be from two weeks to a month, or a month and a half.

Elin: I would like to talk about your Morgue Series. I remember reading a very strong comment from a woman, thanking you for the morgue series which had helped her to overcome the death of her husband, who was lost in the Vietnam War. And it is just such an amazing, important and life-changing experience that you led this woman towards. How did this happen?

This happened at a conference in California in a very pleasant environment with ideal California weather. I was walking back to the cabin where I was staying with a friend and this skinny little woman comes up and asks if I am Jeffrey Silverthorne. Usually when I am asked that question there is a problem that is about to come up, and I thought “Oh, shit. What have I done now? But then, I didn’t do it, whatever it was.” But I said “Yes” and she replied “I want to thank you for making the morgue pictures. I saw them at the San Francisco Art Institute and my husband had been reported missing in Vietnam. For many years I was always waiting for him to come back, but after I saw your pictures, I realized he wasn’t coming back. That helped me to bury him.”

How did you feel at that moment?

Well, I am not always that empathetic, so I thought “Oh, good. I didn’t do anything wrong.” I was happy that she had found that, I was much more used to people having an alternative response, such as “Why the hell did you make those pictures and who do you think you are?” It was good for her.

Was there was also an issue of someone wanting to burn down your house?

They didn’t say that, but in 1973, when the pictures were first shown at the Witkin’s gallery in New York City, I was invited to do a talk Amhurst College in Massachusetts, which is liberal, free-thinking and bla bla bla. The photography teacher, who invited me to do the talk, started asking me questions after my presentation, “Who do you think you are to take these pictures and to invade people’s lives?”  I wasn’t ready for it at that point, so that certainly took me by surprise.

Did this result in you being contacted by the government regarding your images?

No, we have 20-30 years in between. It is a strong content matter, it is a strong topic. I think that the culture of most people in the United States like things to be happy. We invented Disneyland, you didn’t – we like these nice things. But life is not a neat package, it is bloody, it is messy, being alive is uncertain and those are certain characteristics that really attract me. It is at those points where things meet and unexpected things happen, where I feel have an energy of uncertainty, a messyness, that birth can happen. I am not trying to be deep or suggest a metaphorical existentialist relationship here, it is just that things need to happen and when you let them happen (if you’re always in control, then what is going to happen?) then you get the smallest part of your imagination. If you want something different to happen you can’t keep applying the same rules.

You are saying you are not very emotional, but when you were there doing the Morgue Series, how did it effect you personally? Was it a difficult thing to do or where you more practical and thought “Ok, this is a dead body and now I am going to take a picture.”?

I think what I said is that I was not very empathetic. It is not that I didn’t care about her, we actually became friends, but the morgue was a very emotional place for me. It would be very difficult to not respond to these things, these entities, which surely before were living and often in good health and died in an accident or suicide and certainly sometimes of old age. But the bodies that had come to the morgue were the ones of people who in essence weren’t supposed to die.

The morgue happened for me when the Vietnam War ended, a war which I saw as an obscenity. We were still watching stuff on television and listening to things like “We got 43 and a half of them and only two and a half of us!” That is weird, to watch dinner while you are watching people being blown away. I was fortunate to get out of the draft. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me and in 1972, when I decided to make the morgue pictures, it was a different world and Rhode Island was a small place. I went up to the Attorney General, who was probably the only honest politician around at the time, and told him about what I was interested in. His office was across the street from where I went to school, which at that point still had a good reputation, and we talked for an hour. Finally he said “I don’t see any problem with what you propose.  We are not the best department, but we don’t have anything to hide.” There was a little bit of delay in terms of formal letters, but then I was given permission over the telephone. His secretary shouted to him “It’s a photographer guy; he wants to know if he can go to the morgue?” And that was it!

You also went to some people’s homes?

Yes, there were pick-ups. Since I had clearance the police let me in.

You mentioned that the Vietnam War was an obscenity to you. We have plenty of wars going on now and I wonder, do ever feel an urge to respond to them through your photography?

It is a natural part of life. I think that I sometimes respond to them, but not in content matter. The response might work out through Susanna and the Elders and The Bullfights or another project. I don’t feel any kind of obligations or an urgency to go to that content matter again. It is more interesting for me at this point to deal with the subject without that specific content.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne

In our previous conversation you were telling me about your productive years between 1971-1974, when you were photographing in the morgue, in massage parlors on 8th Avenue, in the slaughterhouse, female impersonators and portraits of your children. I wasn’t able to find The Slaughter House series on the Internet. Are they not published?

There are some published. There was one in a show recently that I had at Noorderlicht, but there are also quite a few up at VU,  and they took one of the horse pictures in which the horse’s head sort of back, because it’s neck is slit and there is this very nice pool of blood that reflected well with the flash. It was also in a show in Shuttgart in 1995 and in a telephone conversation with the German gallery they suggested that one of my pictures would go on the back of the monograph for the show. I said “Let’s put the horse picture there.” The gallerist, who was British but had lived in Germany for quite a while, stopped talking. There was a pause for about seven seconds and that is a long time in the middle of a conversation.  Finally he said “Oh, no. We can’t do that, the Germans love their horses.” I also did some photography in a pig slaughter house, which was much more controlled.

© Jeffrey Silverthorne – Demented Billy 

 

From looking at your work, I got the idea that you are the sort of person who goes on spontaneous trips to unknown destinations.

That’s not me. I go to a place and try to open up and not make the same picture I have made before. I try to listen to people, see what they are doing, watch them, pretend to be nice, you know. And if you ask, it is amazing what people will offer. If you don’t ask, most of the time people won’t offer. So it all depends on how you ask and how you present yourself as well. I don’t mean that I con people, but prior to Internet people were in general much more open to talking and engaging in conversations and being photographed.

Are people paranoid?

I don’t think they are paranoid, only much more guarded. It is not that I can make them relax, but I express my sincere desire to work with them and they either respond or don’t.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne – Annunciation, 2006

Your photography is always unconvential; you clearly always go your own way, and in 2004 your work took an abrupt turn. It takes a lot of courage for a photographer in your position to suddenly decide to a, position yourself in front of the camera and b,  move from black and white to color, sometimes with high a high level of saturation and one single light bulb as your source of light.

Where do you get this strength from; what has been your motivation for almost half a century?

I think that curiosity and some sort of wonder is very difficult to maintain and I don’t know, maybe because I took vitamins when I was a kid. Maybe because things don’t make sense to me most of the time, maybe because sometimes when I am really interested in something I want to make it a little more permanent, so that I can flick through a contact sheet and say “Oh, yeah, I remember this and I remember that.” I have recently been looking back at the last 40 years of work, trying to find some images to re-print and I come across pictures that I find much more interesting. I guess I look for things that I find really neat or really weird. Edward Curtis talked about the shadow catchers, and that is kind of what I do, visually. I dump my thoughts into it and then can I forget about it and move on to the next situation maybe a little more fresh.

What are your thoughts regarding the exhibition medium and does the fact that you are represented by commercial galleries have an impact on your work? 

I always make pictures and I don’t consider the viewer, at all. While I am editing I am driven by the question “Was this getting what I want?”  “Was this getting what I am interested in?” Somewhere down the line, hopefully it is distant, I wonder “Gee! Maybe there is a sucker out there that would buy this stuff?” And then I send it off, or don’t. Preferably I let it wait a couple of years and see if it still has resonance. So you make things and you let go of some controls and it really is a kind of addiction of a microsecond. Although, for a while I made long exposures so I got more fulfillment. There is a thrill there.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne – Making an offer, Series Silent Fires, 1982-1984, 2006

 

In an interview in connection with your exhibition at The BankRI Galleries in 2010 you mentioned the following: “What I am most interested in photographing are things that people feel strongly to do, whether they are socially acceptable or not, almost as if the thing had taken over the person and yet was an integral part of the person.” How does this relate to your own practice?

 

Most of the time I try to be fairly reasonable about making pictures and there have been some boundaries that have been suggested by people who I care about; they don’t want me to do anything too weird. I believe that I want to explore a wide range of things that I find curious and that I think are genuine and I have a great deal of difficulty with the word and the concept of authenticity, because I think that we are very socially constructed animals and we do these things and they seem genuine, because millions and millions of other people are doing the same thing. I do however believe that there is an authenticity to doing something that you really have to do. You really need to do this and you are putting at risk something. Now, that doesn’t mean you should do it and it certainly doesn’t mean it is going to be good, but I think that when you are doing that, and you are a little more savvy to ways things have been constructed, it might construct a design to ultimately come to a composition. When I do this I am speaking through many tongues, it is not just a fourth tongue. There are hundreds of tongues, and I think that as a maker you try to engage a lot of these tongues so that the image isn’t stuck in one moment, but both in the time and out of the time.

Now, whether this adds to or allows for the thing to last, who the hell knows, at that moment. Did Giotto really think people would still be paying attention to the Scrovegni Chapel after all these years? I don’t know, actually I don’t care, but I am glad that he made things and that people have preserved much of it to be able to look at the hands and how the hand gestures are used, as a part of the social history, as part of the social communication, because then I can steal from it and I can employ some of those devices. I think that there is a realness to the curiosity, to the desire to see something and the desire to make something. Then the work comes to be in a language that I feel uses as much as I can give to it. Whether you respond to it, that is out of my hands.

 

© 2009 Le photoblog de Renaud Monfourny

Jeffrey Silverthorne is currently exhibiting at Daniel Blau in London (www.danielblau.com) and Galerie VU in Paris (www.galerievu.com)

Click to read Part 2 – Desire, Struggle and Confusion

Live interview – Meet Jeffrey Silverthorne

Meet Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau
::6th September 7 pm::

Introduction Brad Feuerhelm, Director of Daniel Blau Gallery London
+ Photography slide show
+ Live interview with Elinros Henriksdotter

American photographer Jeffrey Silverthorne is visiting the gallery for a comprehensive live interview with Elinros Henriksdotter from ContemporaryTalks.com in connection with his participation in “Haunting the Chapel  – Photography and Dissolution” (1 Sept – 8 Oct 2011); an exhibition of vintage, anonymous, vernacular and spirit photography.

Jeffrey Silverthorne invites his audience to hidden worlds that are fully ignored by most –because of their danger, ugliness and difficult nature. He is an anonymous spectator, who instantly steps aside from his point of view and leave us alone with our experience.

What it is like to stand next to an unidentified dead person in the morgue? Do questions bombard your mind, and if, what are the answers sought for? Maybe it is a mind-numbing experience that silences you for days. Is it possible to go so far as to imagine oneself in that position; the body cold and stiff and everyone deprived of the last goodbye?

The slide show will take you on two rapid photographic journeys; first we will visit the morgue and secondly the borderland located on the Mexican side of the Texas-Mexico border, where prostitutes in high heels are seen on and off duty in bathrooms and bedrooms. Outside awaits guarding dogs, railroad tracks, illegals and newspaper editors.

Through Silverthorne’s photography we are presented reality’s inherent complexity via simplicity. The world might stop for a few seconds and take on a new significance.

 

Please RSVP to london@danielblau.com, £5 payable on arrival

The event incl: Michael Grieve in conversation with Aaron Schuman


Interview with Iconoclastic Artist Neal Fox

Today I met Iconoclastic Artist Neal Fox at Daniel Blau in Hoxton Square, where his ongoing exhibition ‘Beware of the God’ is situated. The exhibition consists of twelve 2,5 meter high Stained Glass Windows; twelve alternative apostles who aimed a firm kick towards Christianity and kicked hard. Next door, at the White Cube, the Chapman Brothers have carved away patches of skin in the face of both Jesus and Mary. The sculptures are numerous and very well made, but I doubt that “Jake or Dinos Chapman” are the sculptors. They are (probably) the messengers, which is fine, but it is more fascinating to see Neal Fox’s work next door because he is the creator – from sketch to final product. To create Stained Glass Windows is an intricate process with a thousand-year history.

Photo from www.danielblau.com – London / Neal Fox / 2 of 39 — Installation (Daytime) 12

It should have been expected: Neal Fox turned up an hour late for the interview with drowsy but sparkling eyes and invited me to a coffee in an apologetic manner. He fits perfectly into the artist stereotype – always slightly absent as if constructing intricate drawings in his mind as we speak. Neal is gifted with a great sense of humor and a sharp mind, no one else had pointed out to me with a smile on the lips that the recent rioters made sure to leave KFC in an impeccable state. Why would they demolish their favorite restaurant? This is exactly why we love Neal’s art; he looks at the world and goes ‘this is/was going on, whether we like it or not. To me it is comedy, because I want life to be fun.’ Then he adds eight more dimensions to the story to make it even more fun. Many times the world is based on his grandfather’s debauched life story, but there are also more recent characters depicted.

I understand that your grandfather, John Watson, who was a debauched Soho socialite, has had remarkable influence on your life, although he died when you were still very young. Who was Mr. Watson?

My grandfather was a bomber pilot in WW2, a writer, a TV-host and a heavy drinker. I grew up surrounded by my family’s memories of him. After WW2 he was tortured by awful dreams throughout his life, until he eventually died from his heavy whiskey sessions at a fairly early age. We can’t imagine what they all went through, back then there was no therapy for soldiers. The torturing nightmares with dead children and innocent civilians drove him to seek comfort in the bottoms of a thousand empty whiskey bottles. I read his auto-biographical book when I was 21, which is the same age that he was in at that time, up in the air, dropping bombs. It is strange to think about now, when young people are stuck in front of their PlayStation.

My grandfather also wrote American-style detective paperback books and he was the one to publish Burrough’s Naked Lunch in London. I have always been fascinated by his life and he has guided me through an imaginary world of excessive behavior; a world where I imagine them all to meet and there is always room for new characters to enter. Whenever I read a book, watch a movie or drink; it is research! My grandfather used to call it drinking research. It is all feeding my brain and my future drawings.

Who has told you the tales of your grandfather?

My grandmother, who is an amazing old lady, has told me everything about my grandfather. My grandmother is still going strong; always up for a laugh and drinking plenty of whiskey although she is 88 years old. She is in my grandfather’s Stained Glass Window at the exhibition, on the top; they are dancing. Hopefully my grandfather would have been proud to see himself there depicted like an alternative saint.

My father, who is a great painter although he is not commercially focused, has also told me endless stories and introduced me to many great authors. In fact, I am named after Neal Cassady who was Jack Kerouac’s friend and the inspiration for Dean in On the Road.

I can see the resemblance! Did your grandfather meet any of the others in person? 

I don’t know and that has always been a great source of inspiration for me; that question really fuels my imagination. Most of my work has been an investigation of the dark realm of my grandfather’s experiences, or that is at least where it all begins. Soho was very different back then and there are few places that have been left untouched. Most if it is gone now, but no-one can touch my inner world!

Installation(Daytime)1

Photo from www.danielblau.com – London / Neal Fox / 4 of 39 — Installation (Daytime) 1

I am sure you could have chosen to create the Stained Glass Windows without using as much color as you eventually did. Have you travelled somewhere recently that infused all those colors in you?

It is more likely to be related to an amazing psychedelic trip at the house of late Paulita Sedgwick, late cousin of Edie Sedgwick; one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. Paulita was a painter and her colorful, intense and magical paintings were all over the place; they came alive and served as windows to a different world. We ended up staying inside for several days, because we were too afraid to go outside. A bumper sticker on her front door said ‘Beware of the God’ and I decided to make it the title for my exhibition at Daniel Blau. Paulita was an extraordinary and generous woman, who suffered from brain cancer and tried to cure herself with magic.

I used to work mainly in black and white, but life has been more colorful since that experience. Also, working with stained glass as a medium sort of required it of me and it is still just a few but strong basic colors.

 

Jean Genet

Photo from www.danielblau.com – London / Neal Fox / 29 of 39

Jean Genet, Neal Fox, 2010-11, Leaded stained glass in steel frame

 

How would you describe the impact these strong personalities have had on your life; did you ever inject bug powder or “sit in your house for days on end staring at the roses in the closet”?

No, not yet. I’ve never stared at the roses in my closet, but maybe I should! I have mainly been inspired by the strong integrity and self-belief in these iconoclasts; they did it their own way, completely untouched by present ideas, restrictions and beliefs. They broke new ground and although there is a small portion of irony in my exhibition of Stained Glass Windows, (a hint towards today’s celebrity culture) I feel that these are the people that deserve praise and honor for the impact they have had on writers, musicians and artists.

In earlier exhibitions you have gone wild with the interiors; covering everything in patterns. I imagine that stepping inside must have been a real trip. The show you are having now at Daniel Blau is pretty straight forward in comparison. Was this your decision or did the gallery limit your expression?

Well, it is when we create shows as the Le Gun Collective that we tend to go outside the frames and all over the place, because we accelerate each other and improvise like musicians. But you are giving me ideas now!

Your big drawings suggest novel sized narratives; do you ever write stories connected to your drawings?

I write when I work on pieces, it is a part of the creative process, but I haven’t included any written narratives in my finished works so far. An image says a thousand words, as they say. The mind-map sort of drawings that I create suggest narratives, it is a crazy trip through my mind with references to pop culture; it is a mind within a mind within a mind! It all makes sense to me, but I’m not sure anyone else gets it. It could perhaps be interesting to write a novel.

That would be a mad, mad adventure. In the interview with Dazed and Confused you mention having strange dreams in the stained glass factory. Please tell me about those dreams!

I was staying in a flat above the stained glass factory, working at night all by myself in this huge space full of medieval Stained Glass Windows depicting angels and saints. I was told that there was a lady ghost haunting the factory, which kind of freaked me out. This one night when I was working on the Aleister Crowley-piece I was haunted by him in my dreams. Crowley was pissed off at me for doing this window and put a curse on me. Earlier that night when I was leaving the studio downstairs I heard a loud crash behind me; I turned back, but nothing had happened. I don’t know what that was all about.

There are many stories woven around Crowley’s persona involving ghosts, demons and curses. Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin used to live in the Boleskine House, Aleister Crowley’s old residence next to Loch Ness, and he said that the house was haunted by a decapitated head. There are also some who believe that the Loch Ness monster was created by demons summoned by Crowley during one of his seances. We don’t know what is real and what has been imagined in people’s heads, but no matter what; Crowley not the kind of person you want to piss off.

He should be proud if anything to be in there with the others, I understand that it was a delicate procedure to create the Stained Glass Windows.

Yes, I like to believe that he sees it as a compliment.

I came across James Unsworth’s Turtle Sex movie at the exhibition Parallel Connections at Wayward Gallery in June, curated by my friend John Angel. It is a truly mind-blowing piece of work and can easily be compared to your work. Have the two of you ever thought of collaborating? It would be an exponential equation.

That might be a good idea actually! We have never collaborated, but I do admire James’ work and he has been one of the contributing artists for Le Gun. We are both inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and communicate similar ideas; he goes all the way.

Since I am half Swedish I am really curious to know what “wishy washy Scandinavian” means?

Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean to insult all Scandinavians, but I just find that a lot of the art being created today is wishy washy, sort of IKEA-style. It is just made to be pretty on the wall; decorative stuff. I can’t stand it.

Can you tell me more about the Le Gun “theme park”-dream mentioned in the Crane.tv video? That would be amazing.

All journalists tend to ask ‘What are you doing next?’ and the Le Gun theme-park is our standard answer to that; a bit of a joke but not really. It is something we have been dreaming about.

(Details have been censored)

Do you think that the spirits of the dead linger around in our world on a different dimension?

I believe that all great personalities who break new ground by taking on the world in an unapologetic manner are a part of our collective memory; they break down frames of thought and extend the horizon.

After a couple of drinks it was time to leave, because of a rumor that the riots were approaching. Gallery Director Brad Feuerhelm was mildly impressed as he was forced to show an interested collector out the door.

Elinros Henriksdotter, 09.08.2011