I will describe the new show, which we were preparing to be shown downtown in NYC in 2002, that is until September's attacks...Now, who knows...Food for thought here: what happens to images that people don't want to see, about subjects they don't want to contemplate...like death, for instance. Not gratuitous imagery, just designed to shock or titillate, but imagery that raises questions about how we think or live or our preconceptions..Dangerous art which can be dangerous for its maker(s)....however well intended intellectually.
This new show is the most ambitious project I've ever undertaken, both conceptually and physically. For one thing, it's large, in 5 parts: 2 large rooms, a third chapel-like room, and the last room which houses part 4 &5 (Antietam and the virtrine). It obviously requires a museum-sized space.
Conceptually, it contemplates two questions: How does the earth change the dead and how does death change the landscape, or our perception of the landscape.
The first section is imagery of the remains of Eva, my dog, (and, perhaps my favorite, an image of her alive)--they are wet plate, some contact prints and some ambrotypes ( positives on glass..)--bones, skin, adipocera, hair, teeth, and so forth. They are very beautiful
and poetic but they are, after all, *remains*.
The second section is human remains, images, also all wet plate collodion , of human bodies laid out to decompose. These images are not unlike the Gardiner imagery, or the Fenton work in the
Crimean--certainly the wet plate process removes them from the contemporary somewhat...they are quite different from, say Witken or Serrano--I think more "intimate" if that is a possibility in this
situation. I spent many days there, worked with at least 20 bodies in all stages of decomposition, dress, exposure, etc... I think this room of the show will, however, be limited to less than a dozen images, 30x40 silver.
The third section introduces the idea that death, occuring on a piece of land, ineluctably changes that piece of land--perhaps sanctifies it, unquestionably alters it. These images, the only regular film
imagery in the show, are taken of a small copse of trees in my front yard in which last winter an escaped convict was run to ground and, in a shoot-out, died...these are 8x10 contact prints, very like Robert Adams' astonishing work, though I will never achieve his level of sublimity and grace --very simple, striking in their ordinariness--as if to say "what's so special about *this* place" and
the answer is, of course, this is where the man died...I will never look out of my window and see that view without it being changed by death.
And the fourth section is that concept taken to the next level, writ large in every respect--wet plate images from Antietam ( now the most over-used word on every pundit's lips). I went there to see if there is some frisson that occurs at the site of so many deaths, some universally experienced sanctification---and, all I found was a cornfield. But, in a strangely Proustian way, I came back with
imagery of Antietam that amazed me-- tenebrous, caligious, like the field was just clearing of the smoke and screams, dark, brooding, as if all the emotion I was supposed to have felt, standing on those fields, was channeled in some way onto the film. ..These images are probably the strongest landscapes I've ever made, the culmination of the last 8 years of work. The prints are 40x50, waxed, unglazed, and not unlike the paintings of Gerhardt Richter, or the ( seldom seen)
black etchings of Rembrandt .
In the center of this 4th room is a vitrine, lined in black, waist-level, in which float about 40 ambrotypes of my children's faces, up very, very close, almost indistinguishable one from the
other..it's a bizaare and unsettling thing to see. They look like they are emerging from black water. A little Pollyannish to suggest, after so much death, that we should embrace the living, but I will
admit the preceeding 4 rooms almost require it--- That's it. It's huge. It's complicated. It is, as Peter MacGill remarked, Theatre.
And it's theatre that no living soul in New York wants to see right now, though I think it may be asking some very germane questions. Any opinions ?
Could always go for the safe option and show domestic imagery of happy farm life..."