Frank Horvat: New York

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new York
Franck Horvat

New York from top to bottom was the third project of what I like to call my triptych. For starters, it just meant that the three are almost contemporary: both Very Similar and New York up and down were started in 1982 and concluded in 1986, Portraits of Trees was a bit earlier. But choosing this word was also a kind of challenge: because, contrary to what the term triptych suggests, the three projects do not have much in common, to the point that some find it difficult to believe that they are the same. author. , and most have a preference (or dislike) for at least one of them, as if – from whatever perspective you look at them – there is always one that doesn’t quite match to others. I must admit that I took a certain pride in what was for others an incongruity, especially since the mandarins and the apparatchiks of the photographic establishment seemed to resent my eclecticism, as if the sorrow they had to integrate me into one of their cases was a deliberate insult to their authority.

Of course, Portraits of Trees is not quite “nature photography”, Very Similar not quite “portrait”, and New York from top to bottom is not quite “photography. of street “. But other descriptions may apply: Very Similar can certainly be considered a directive photograph, and the other two are strictly non-directive. On the other hand, Portraits of trees could be described as “classic” (at least according to my own use of the word, that is to say in the sense that my approach was more objective than subjective), while New York from high at the bottom is “romantic” (because I felt involved, as if with every shot I was throwing myself into the subject – even if it was just a puddle on the tarmac). In Very Similar, there can be a bit of both, or at least an ambiguity, a back-and-forth between them. Anyway, moving from one project to another stimulated me, as is always the case with a change of language, climate or perspective. I might add that, for me, New York as a city has always been ‘romantic’, because I’ve always associated it with some emotional involvement (or rather, over the decades, a series of implications). . But then this is something that my work on New York has in common with Very Similar and Portraits of Trees, and which on its own could justify considering them as a triptych… I went there for the first time in 1959, to meet the artistic directors of Glamor and Harper’s Bazar, but also to visit a woman I loved. Her descriptions of Times Square, 42nd Street or the Lower East Side had filled my imagination f, I had dreamed of this trip a long time before the night she met me at JFK (which at the time was called Idlewild Airport ), and to take me, still groggy from the journey and excitement of our meeting again, straight to those places that to me were both unknown and legendary.

Between that night in 1959 and the start of my project in 1982, I came back to New York over a hundred times, mostly to take fashion photos, but in most cases only for two or three. weeks. I still calculated that these trips, put together, would represent a stay of about two years, which is equivalent to the periods of my adult life that I spent in Switzerland, Italy, India or in England. But if we measured them by their emotional intensity, the years in New York would count twice as much… That’s what I tried to translate by the words “up and down”. The ups and downs of New York City aren’t just transitions from Uptown to Downtown, from the darkness of the subway to the view from the upper floors of the skyscrapers, from January to July temperatures. But also the passages, from one day to another and sometimes from one minute to another, from drunkenness to disappointment, from triumph to failure, from accomplishment to defeat.

To be honest, I didn’t suffer too much from these ups and downs – unlike some people I have known who stayed there longer and ended up being crushed by them and in some cases reduced to poverty, isolation, drug addiction or suicide. My immunity to this danger was the silver lining of my status as an outsider: I always had a return ticket in my pocket, a family waiting for me on the other side of the pond, customers in Paris for whom my prestige was enhanced by the fact that my work was published in the United States. And in New York, after a studio session, or an evening at the lab leafing through my contact files, or a meeting with publishers to present my latest work or discuss the next one, I came back to the street, which had me there. the air just as I remembered them from my first night, and the euphoria I had felt then was still in the air.

Like certain moments that at the time I didn’t even think of filming, but which remain etched in my memory. Chess players at their improvised tables on a Broadway sidewalk, surrounded by an audience of kibitzers of all races, amid the stream of passers-by and the roar of horns. Or the guy who delivers hot food, whose van is stuck in a traffic jam on a side street, and finds that his delivery will be hopelessly late and his meals destined for the trash, so he decides to distribute them to other drivers in the jam, to any pedestrian who wants it and even to the shopkeepers at their door, in the midst of a lot of slaps on the back and general hilarity. Or the gogo-girl, kneeling on her counter, spreading her thighs and stroking her nipples for the thrill of the client sipping her beer a few inches from her crotch and slipping dollar bills into her thong (all other physical contact being Strictly Prohibited), while at head level the two have an innocuous conversation about the last baseball game, the weather of the weekend or the price of used cars. Because New York is the opposite of the inhuman metropolis, imagined by those who have never set foot there. On the contrary, it is one of the few places on earth – and perhaps the only one – where homo sapiens seem to have succeeded in mutating into homo urbanus. With rituals, reflexes and unwritten laws, allowing fifteen million people, coming from all corners of the planet (or whose parents or grandparents have come) to live together in a small space, in often uncomfortable conditions, but without becoming overly inclined to tear your guts out – and sometimes even to share a joke, a small gesture of support, or the hint of not necessarily licentious physical contact.

The excerpts which I reproduce below are not taken from an ordinary journal (like the Weston’s Daybook), but from a bundle of notes, started the day I embarked on this project and for the sole purpose of keeping a trace of his advancement. I knew from the start that it would be just as important to me as the trees and women, because New York was taking up so much space in my imagination. But I had no idea it would become – on top of that – color research. And I even less suspected that during this one I would be able to feel the ups and downs of New York in my own body, or to be more precise in the anatomy and physiology of my cornea and my skin. retina.

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