The Musings of a Boho Girl

bōˈhēmēən (noun) 1. a free spirit ; 2. a writer; 3. an explorer of the Avant-Garde.

Tag: Photography

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

“The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read.”

–Nan Goldin

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I sat in a dark room at the MoMA and watched a slideshow of nearly 700 snapshots. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a visual diary that chronicles Nan Goldin’s and her friends bohemian lives. Goldin moved to the Bowery after earning a degree in fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. In New York, she began documenting herself and those around her. Many of Goldin’s friends died of overdoses and AIDS. What’s striking about Goldin’s slideshow is how the music encapsulated every image.

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Out of Print Books

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These objects are nearly impossible to find, and if found, they are almost always financially out of reach for the average customer; out of print books hinder numerous possibilities. Discovering an artist’s work is a journey, one wants to start at the beginning and follow his or her entire body of work; seeing how the artist has evolved is an essential part of understanding him or her. When a photographer’s first book is out of print, his or her audience is left with a fragmented history of their work.

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Peter Hujar’s Portraits in Life and Death was published in 1976, that’s well before his current audience was born. Consider how Hujar’s photography influenced the field, his stark black and white portraits admired for their intimate style. Portraits in Life and Death is the only book Hujar was alive to oversee, we can see each image in the order that he intended. Isn’t that how we should see art? Shouldn’t we have the chance to look at a time that doesn’t belong to us and see the world through the artist’s eyes?

In this case, the photographer has not been forgotten; in fact Peter Hujar’s Night is being exhibited in Cologne, Germany right now. My friend travelled from Amsterdam to see it. There are retrospectives in New York, San Francisco and across Europe. Hujar’s work is revered all over the world. Portraits in Life and Death is in demand, so why not reprint it? Seeing Hujar’s work is possible but visiting galleries in New York City and San Francisco isn’t a possibility for everyone, some of his audience will have to be content with his books. Shouldn’t those people have an opportunity to trace the haunting themes of time and death that permeate through Hujar’s work?

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Arts education is severely underfunded, especially in the public education system and most students are only taught an overview, they are left to explore artists on their own time. Photographers like Peter Hujar and Diane Arbus are routinely overlooked in curriculums; those students eager to learn more may not have access to Hujar’s book. Portraits in Life and Death is one book that would provide a more comprehensive examination of Hujar’s photography.

I learned of Hujar as a teenager and then in greater depth at university while studying cityscapes photography. They told a complicated story…a story of a city decaying… a disappearing landscape. Maybe I saw traces of sadness, but I couldn’t fully see Hujar. I wanted to. I’ve been chasing Hujar’s ghost for years, always wanting to see more of his work. This search led me to The Stedelijk in Amsterdam just to see Divine from Portraits in Life and Death.

Time and place: those ephemeral qualities that Peter Hujar captures in his work should reach audiences in the smallest corners of the world. One way to make that possible is keeping his books in print. It’s my hope that Stephen Koch considers reprinting Hujar’s first book. Portraits in Life and Death could find a second home with a publisher. Almost four decades have passed and there are at least two generations who never experienced Hujar’s first book. Shouldn’t we have a chance to see the world as Hujar saw it?

Time Remembered: My 5 Loves for August

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Looking back always stirs nostalgia. Several years ago in August, I was at a market looking around when I came across a beautiful cameo, Leda and the Swan. My haggling skills are lacking so I ended up walking away from the vintage pendant. Sometimes I regret it, but was it worth the €350? This month my five obsessions are from the past.

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May: My Five Obsessions

I have fond memories of May, it’s the month of ballet recitals and theatre performances. There were dress rehearsals, performances and then it was all over. If you were critical, you thought about every step and what you could have done better; if you were content, you went on to enjoy the summer. I was critical so I spent most of May re-thinking my performance until my Summer Intensive began. Times have changed, I don’t attend student productions at NYU anymore, now there are weddings and baptisms. Before I get too nostalgic, here are the five things that I love right now.

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Why I’m Looking Forward to Sontag on Film

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“Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” – Susan Sontag

A few days ago I came across my old copy of On Photography, it’s slightly worn: the cover has faded and the spine is cracked; but this book changed how I saw the world. Weren’t photographs proof of genocides? After the Holocaust people looked at images of bodies piled upon each other; they promised it would never happen again. Sontag writes “photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it.” Perhaps those words and the Life magazine photo of David Kirby changed my perception of illness, it was 1990 and I was still too young to contextualize AIDS. I barely glimpsed the image of Kirby before the school librarian took the magazine away, she said it was for older students. His eyes haunted me, I wanted to know why he was sick. So I used my allowance to buy Life magazine from a drugstore. I couldn’t stop staring at his emaciated body, none of it made sense. He had AIDS, but I didn’t know what that was. It was a disease that hadn’t reached the suburbs. No one could explain it so I stored the magazine and didn’t look at those pictures again until I read Sontag’s On Photography. Two years later the story Kirby’s pictures told made sense. Read the rest of this entry »