New York diary


At the Museum of Modern Art, I visited the photography exhibitions of Cindy Sherman, Sanja Ivekovic, and Eugene Atget. I was there for the Atget photographs, but the other two artists provided an unexpected context to understand Atget’s work. Cindy Sherman, in her photos of high-society women, lays bare an age of excess; Sanja Ivekovic, in her “Double Life” collection with parallels between media portraits and individual life, reveals to us the deep influence of media representations. Both these are acts of rebellion: an aspect of reality is taken and distorted or challenged in different ways. Like Mario Vargas Llosa’s concept of literature’s purpose (“This questioning of real life, which is the secret raison d’etre of literature – of literary vocation – ensures that literature offers a unique vision of a given period,” he writes, in his Letters to a young novelist), these artists have used photography to criticise or reject real life, and, in some cases, to imagine a different version of it.

Cindy Sherman

Double Life: Sanja Ivekovic

Atget had no such lofty aims. He simply wanted to document the landscape in and around Paris. Storefronts, courtyards, doors, facades, fountains, boulevards, trees, parks: these common objects are the motif of his photographs. His ambition was “to create images for other artists to use as source material,” and he was content capturing the texture of the city, its essence and moods, with no intention of challenging status quo or exposing its contradictions.

8 thoughts on “New York diary

  1. I think that in a busy, dynamic place like New York sometimes “the surrender to machines” represents an opportunity for escapism – I know that is part of the reason why my Kindle is always with me on public transport!

  2. “It was obscene. The world has too many books, too many published writers. We should stop publishing books for five years. Give the readers some time to catch up!”

    This is EXACTLY how I feel! I have roughly 100 unread books at home and I’ve just ordered 11 more and there are six others I want and I just feel breathless and STRESSED.

  3. This is so true. Writers, editors, publishers – all trying to sell sell sell! The best of books are lost in the midst of hundreds of average skill. One has to sift through heaps to find quality and all this arbit junk is just putting the overall intelligence of humankind down.

  4. You probably can’t know what a pleasure it is to look at this (to me most) extraordinary city through your eyes and head, especially since I know you’ve done the same through mine. It is overwhelming, sometimes, and frightening in its excess and instances of human isolation, self-imposed and not. I’m especially struck by your observations about Apple and the masters and slaves; by the photograph of the homeless man in that particular subway; by the $4.95 price of looking smart in the subway, reading Eliot: this week’s special, no doubt. And by the quiet I felt when you were in the museum, in contrast to the rest of this fine essay.

    In Montreal we too have our underground city – we even call it that – our “twin” to the city above, but it’s filled with shops and restaurants and brightly lit: just another mall that gives onto the clean, bright subway and its singing trains on rubber wheels. When I’m in New York I always think that subway is somehow more honest, as a dark reflection of the wealth and glitter above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s