Saturday, April 26, 2008



This theoretical examination focuses on the idea that recombinatory practices commonly found in new media constitute a challenge to traditional author/viewer conventions. Placing this view in both a historical perspective and in relation to the suggestion advanced by Umberto Eco that these works assume a principle of “variation to infinity”, it is possible to recognize that instead of challenging or critiquing traditional author/viewer conventions, recombinatory practices serve to reify those positions and assert an authoritarian role for the original source material. The idea that these practices challenge authorship is thus a form of false consciousness.


There is an approach to making “new” art that begins by taking existing reproductions of other art—whether images, sounds, movies or text—and then recombines these in some fashion, using this pre-existing material as the source for a new work. This action has been called by various names—sampling/appropriation/cut-up/mash-up/remix/collage/montage—and each of these names refers to one of its many historical incarnations. Without the associated technologies of distribution, reproduction and mass marketing, the recombinatory work as it emerged in the twentieth century would be unimaginable. It is an aesthetic form that has recurred almost identically with each ‘new' technology becoming readily available. This reassembly from reproductions is characteristic of artistic responses to the emergence of technological reproduction over the course of the twentieth century and extends into present uses of digital technologies without any sign of abatement.

While recombination of existing works into new ones has origins in folk art and elsewhere before the twentieth century, historical discussions of this approach often begin with Pablo Picasso who combined reproductions with his cubist paintings in the 1910s; the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov who experimented with wax recordings to make “remixes” in the late 1910s and early 1920s 1 . Soviet montage itself owes its existence to experiments with the reassembly of existing film materials. Surrealist Max Ernst cut up engravings to make “novels”, and Joseph Cornell re-edited Hollywood films with other movies to create his own work Rose Hobart . The author William Burroughs created “cut ups” with audio tape.... As new technologies of reproduction became available, new artists performed some kind of recombination of those materials. The listing of these artists and their works could easily continue. This approach is so common it could be called “typical” when artists confront a new technology.

But what is most striking about the repeating pattern of artistic reuse is the increasingly strident claim that this approach constitutes a “questioning of authorship,” especially evident in the later forms that appear at the end of the century around the idea of “appropriation art.” 2 It is against this background that the reappearance of these forms (with new names like “mashup” and “sampling” and “database”) in computer based media art— new media —should be considered.

Their historical continuity with work by the historical avant-garde suggests these approaches (whatever their name) have become banal rather than disruptive since popular entertainment can successfully redeploy these approaches. Acknowledging this fact raises a basic question about how these recombinatory practices challenge traditional author/viewer conventions, as well as why this approach continues to make fundamentally the same claim that these actions constitute a “questioning of authorship.”

By examining the belief that recombination “questions authorship,” it becomes apparent that these approaches constitute a means to avoid the potential shocks each new technology implies by an assertion of traditional roles for audience and viewer. Thus, their repetition takes on a dual character: at the level praxis where it appears through the reuse of reproductions (the “raw” material of the work), and at the conceptual level as the specific procedure of adoption and reassembly.

These repetitions, instead of disrupting conceptions of authorship, (and originality, etc.) serve as a means to assert these values through the principle of “variation.” Umberto Eco has noted that viewers, aware of the rupture in appropriated or quotational works (and sampling cannot be anything but quotational) is aware of their nature as a repetition. What is of interest to the viewer is the way the new work reconfigures the old:

The real problem is that what is of interest is not so much the single variation as “variability” as a formal principle, the fact that one can make variations to infinity. Variability to infinity has all the characteristics of repetition, and very little of innovation. But it is the “infinity” of the process that gives a new sense to the device of variation. What must be enjoyed—suggests the postmodern aesthetics—is the fact that a series of possible variations is potentially infinity. What becomes celebrated here is a sort of victory of life over art, with the paradoxical result that the era of electronics, instead of emphasizing the phenomena of shock, interruption, novelty , and frustration of expectations, would produce a return to the continuum, the Cyclical, the Periodical, the Regular. 3

With the shift to “variability”, the more explicit the quotation, the more the audience may be expected to recognize it, and thus the more directly it plays the new instance against the original one. Variations imposed by the artist become the critical focus in relation to the original work. Instead of eliminating the authorship, or even critiquing it, the remix/appropriated work emphasizes the role of the author precisely because it is the differences (if any) that matter: the role of artist-as-author is not minimized here, it is maximized. The artist reestablishes traditional positions for both artist and viewer: the artist dominates, transforming an existing work into something “new.”

This image of artistic domination over materials is familiar—it is the traditional view of “genius” in a different guise. The coupling of such a traditional view of authorship with a consistent artistic practice whose name mutates, (but whose procedures vary only slightly), imposes a specific conclusion about the recombinatory procedure: that instead of challenging traditional notions of authorship, it tends to assert them while inviting the audience to (un)critically engage the work using their encyclopedic past knowledge of the sources for the “new” work. The audience is active in their engagement with the work, but such “activity” is a potential in any viewing situation and should not be regarded as unique to recombinatory works.

At the same time, this engagement with a “critical” or “active” audience is only superficial. The “activity” is one of comparing the new instance to established forms. This action assumes the prior authority of the existing work. The recombinatory actions exist in parasitical relation (as variations) to their source materials. By drawing together existing materials in new ways, the “variability to infinity” Eco describes comes into the interpretation, creating a false consciousness of challenge to authority and the conventional role of the viewer: the repetitions inherent to remixing existing materials escape the psychological dangers unheimlich works may pose through a reliance on established expertise and the implicit understanding of the “rules of the game” involved in appropriations.

To claim the recombinatory practices commonly found in new media—sampling, appropriation, remixes, mash-ups, etc.—challenge traditional author/viewer conventions can not be accepted as true. As Eco has noted, these practices constitute a shift to a pre-modern convention set where the traditional established work that is the subject of the transformations is elevated in status, and the artist appropriating serves to reify that status, while viewers, aware of the conventionalized variability at the heart of appropriation, recognize in the artist's actions an assertion of authorial dominance over the original work as well as a (paradoxical) subservience to that work.



Petric, Vlada. Constructivism in Films: The Man with a Movie Camera, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); see also: Vertov, Dziga. Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov , ed. Annette Michselson, trans. Kevin O'Brien, (Berkeley: Universiy of California Press, 1984).

There are many sources for this claim, but it figures prominently in Douglas Crimp's “Appropriating Appropriation,” in On the Museum's Ruins , (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1995) pp. 126-136.

Eco, Umberto, “Interpreting Serials,” in The Limits of Interpretation , (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994) pp. 83-100m

above copied from:

Friday, April 25, 2008


For the last year, twenty-one year Belarus-born artist and professional high-fashion model Elle Muliarchyk has pioneered a girly graffiti. Her witty and insightful art plays on fashion's fantasies and everyone's notions of rarified space and unobtainable status. Since the 1970s, the predominantly male subculture of graffiti writers have asserted an anti-establishment identity by building an evidentiary record of where they've been as they established their personas by tagging public spaces. Muliarchyk's self-described 'guerilla fashion photography', which she stages in dressing rooms of high-end boutiques, accomplishes the same goals but in a novel, uniquely beautiful and thoughtful way.

Muliarchyk achieves what the New York Times termed 'Pretty Larceny' by smuggling her camera and assorted incongruous objects into upscale, exclusive dressing rooms in countries as disparate as Turkey and Bulgaria and photographing herself dressed in the stories' prohibitively expensive wares. Once inside the dressing rooms with the unattainably priced precious garments she has selected, she quickly and stealthy poses with her props. Among the objects she has brought into shops are a man-sized teddy bear, a King Kong paw, a WWII gasmask and bags of autumn leaves from Central Park which she struggled to sweep off Chanel's floor and clean from a $6,000 silk Prada dress.

Fashion photography legend Patrick Demarchelier discovered Muliarchyk when she was 16 in a Manhattan cafe and was the first high-fashion photographer to photograph her. One of her foremost fans, he was quoted in her New York Times Magazine feature profile as enthusing, 'her ability to draw inspiration, in a very limited time frame, is amazing.'

As a model, Elle has been photographed by top-tier photographers including Ellen von Unworth and Terry Richardson. She began her own project when 'practicing' poses in a Bloomingdales as she was on her way to her first shoot with Demarchelier.

Since that time, she has been profiled in the New York Times, the London Times and on Fashion Television. Her work has been compared to photographs by Cindy Sherman, Vanessa Beecroft and Lee Miller. Her images, which impressively straddle various styles and aesthetics - while always remaining compelling and skillful - can be seen on, a groundbreaking on-line exhibition space for Internet art, founded by British fashion photographer Nick Knight.

The shops where she creates art are often less supportive. Staff at Gucci called the police when she was discovered photographing in herself in one of their dresses, yet the bemused police officer let her take his photo, after he took her fingerprints. At a Bottega Veneta shop in New York, a salesman who peeked through a crack in the dressing room curtain and spied her reclining on a chaise longue in a sheer chemise and blue wig assumed she was shooting an internet porn video. And she was knocked unconscious when a saleswoman hit her on the head while opening the dressing room door as she lay curled up in a dress on the floor of Knightsbridge's Cavalli store.

These are only a few samplings of the extraordinary wealth of anecdotes that Elle has accumulated during her trajectory from poverty in Belarus to acclaim in New York's rarefied art and fashion worlds. We met in Manhattan's Once Upon a Tart cafe to load up on latte, share a giant gingerbread snowman, and talk.

ANA FINEL HONIGMAN: Do you feel that you have had a relatively smooth transition from fashion to art?

ELLE MULIARCHYK: I have always been very interested in art, even before I was in fashion. I never studied art for a degree but everywhere my family traveled, we always went to museums first. Art was always very important for my family - art and travel. When you die, you will not be thinking of the money you earned but the places you have seen...

AFH: Yet in the wider art-world, there are still perceived divisions between the art and fashion. Hence the endless stream of shows and articles investigating the question of whether fashion is art.

EM: Perhaps, but I think that now more than ever, fashion and art are linked. Fashion tends to be at the vanguard of mass media imagery and the influence of mass media imagery on contemporary art has been enormous. Warhol was a key figure in this. He bridged a lot of gaps between high art, and popular culture. For example he made the images of fashion icons like Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe more accessible and commercial to the public. And I think it great that nowadays many artists collaborate with fashion companies and communicate and express their ideas in a very accessible media. The result is that, if you cannot afford Jeff Koons' brilliant rabbit you can get a miniature one from Stella McCartney. And that connection makes you feel extra special. If a Real Artist designed the curious design on a Louis Vuitton bag, then, in a way, that connection almost justifies spending half of your salary on a bag.

AFH: Was fashion therefore always a peripheral part of your artistic ambitions?

EM: When I became involved in fashion, I decided to be the best model but otherwise I didn't know anything about it. At that time I was so stupid. My dream was to live a very 'Sex in the City' life and go to parties. Before coming here, I was an exchange student in San Francisco and every night, before falling asleep, I would think of New York. There is a special psychological technique for having your dreams come true. Before going to sleep each night, you need to paint your image of your future and it will happen.

AFH: What do you envision for yourself now?

EM: I no longer do it now, but when I was fourteen, I would close my eyes and visualize myself in New York doing the exact same things I am doing now. So, I guess it did work. I have quite a few new dreams that I am planning to realize!

AFH: Has New York lost its allure now that you're here? Are you blasé about it?

EM: Having lived in the jungles of Vietnam, then regularly waiting with my mom (three nights in a row) on the line to buy ugly blue 'Chernobyl' chickens, or toilet paper in minus 30 degrees C before, later moving to Prague, Paris and the California, I chose New York as my home right now.

AFH: On behalf of my hometown, you're welcome.

EM: Almost nothing is impossible is here. New Yorkers are very accepting and hungry for the new crazy idea. Sure, there is a negative side in it as well - in the way that everything is ultra disposable here. But if you are strong and have a talent to constantly re-invent yourself, then New York is your oyster.

AFH: Is the lifestyle here how you envisioned it would be?

EM: I go through stages of going out and partying like crazy but then I realize that all that fun can rush by in a blink of an eye and once I feel like I am not learning anything, then I go through stages of reading and meeting friends instead. I enjoy having a superficial life and then having a deep life.

AFH: Is your work a merger of the profound and superficial for you? And do people suggest dressing rooms for you to photograph or is exploring them yourself part of your process?

EM: When I started this project, friends would suggest locations because I never went shopping in high-end boutiques. I never had money, so I never even thought of going into those stores. I dreaded even walking past them. Especially when I lived and worked in Paris. It is a very intimidating experience to work as a model in Paris for the first time. I had to be very 'professional'. My agency told me not talk to anybody during photoshoot or a fashion show, so all I could do was walk around the shops after work, looking in the windows where everything is so sparkling and beautiful. I remember when I spotted the most gorgeous dress from the street and went into the store, the sales people just burned me with their eyes. Every move I made, they were X-raying me, I couldn't stand it and left. The next day I had to walk by the store again, and they were standing outside looking at me like 'I hope she doesn't come back inside.'

AFH: I doubt that Elle, though I am sure most average people are unwelcome in those boutiques.

EM: For the normal middle-class, working people these stores exist in a reality that is completely disconnected from theirs. I myself, especially coming from Belarus, used to feel that I belonged to a 'cast' of society that is prohibited from visiting them, until I found pleasure in this way of relating to these stores and their clothes. Even now when I go there I try to wear clothing that makes me look older and more conservative, maybe like an Upper East Side lady. Then when I am finally inside I have the last laugh!

FH: Are you now familiar enough with these environments that you scout out your own locations?

EM: Most of the times, I don't know what the dressing rooms are like inside. Very often the dressing rooms are locked. It is like a geisha ritual to be let inside these spaces. The sales person unlocks the door and personally hands the clothing on the hangers, carefully laying out other items on the bench.

AFH: So, the dressing rooms themselves do not determine the photograph?

EM: I've shot literally in close to two hundred stores, or more, and most of the time I shoot on the spur of the moment. The way my picture looks depends more on how I feel at that moment, rather than the dressing room itself. I let myself be surprised by the circumstances.

AFH: The chicken suit in one of your images certainly seems like a surprise.

EM: That happened once when I was driving from Oxford to London and stopped in a small town called Cheltenham. It was such a small town and because it was Sunday nothing was open, not even the gas station. The only open place was the weirdest party shop, just like in The League of Gentleman! They had a huge chicken suit.. and a dressing room! It was perfect.

AFH: Yet others of your images seem more determined by your emotional state than the serendipity of finding some odd object to wear.

EM: Another picture where I am curled the corner of a dressing room was taken after I met with the passport office and was sure I was being deported back to Belarus. My make-up was running and I was crying and crying. I was sure I was going to spend my life working on a sardine factory in Belarus but I passed a store and decided to go and have my picture taken to cheer myself up. And I think my pose and the style of the image really reflects what I felt just then. However, I have done a lot of research for several of the shots. For example, it took me about three months to scout a perfect and large enough dressing room to be able to squeeze inside a huge rubber paw for the "King Kong" picture.

AFH: Where do you get your props?

EM: Different places, but always for free, or with a very low budget. For example, I was staying at the house of my friend's aristocratic family in London and they had this beautiful antique mirror, which I became obsessed with. I smuggled it out of the house by the security doorman under a bed sheet. Could you imagine if they caught me, an ungrateful guest, at the first opportunity when the owners are gone, taking antique furniture out of the house? I dragged it onto the bus and on the tube, all the way to YSL in Knightsbridge. However, I paid dearly for my mischief - after that picture appeared in Sunday Times the aristocrats stopped inviting me to stay in their amazing house in Mayfair. One of my next crazy caprices is to hunt down a group of four or five typical Russian 'babushkas' from Brighton beach (little Odessa in New York), convince them to come them with me to Manhattan and pose with me in some posh boutiques on Madison Ave!

AFH: Don't sales people inquire what you're doing with packages?

EM: Yes they often do. Often they ask me to leave things outside the dressing room and I need to make up stories as to why I won't. For example, I bought this huge teddy bear at Harrods with a credit card and wanted to just drag him a few blocks down Sloane Street to whatever dressing room looked good. So, I carried him in a plastic bag and I went into Dior. But though the teddy was very hard to remove from the bag, he was impossible to stuff back in. It was so hard that I actually called the salespeople into the dressing room. I had to admit that I'd taken the bear out of the bag but I didn't tell them I was taking pictures. Instead, I said that I was going home to New York and it was a present for my god-daughter and it had slipped out of the bag - even though it had taken me two minutes to work it out of the bag. The two salespeople and security guards all were struggling to help me get him back in the bag.

AFH: They must have just thought you were some super-flaky, super-fluffy rich socialite. So, is part of your art is inventing the ways out of these tight situations?

EM: Certainly!

AFH: Have designers reacted well to what you do?

EM: Some. There were some magazines that wanted to shoot me talking to some of the designers I work with as a model. But it never happened.

AFH: Are you interested in dressing rooms as public or as private spaces?

EM: Both. I want to start photographing in the mass dressing rooms where women have to fight to try things on too. It is really interesting when shopping becomes animalistic. That is when we become like animals and somehow it gets in our blood. There are many things, which are addictive, like drugs, cigarettes, even coffee and chocolate, that work with your body chemistry and those things are explainable. But how is shopping affecting your body chemistry?

AFH: Maybe it is just the adrenaline of the fight, or of the hunt?

EM: Perhaps but that still doesn't fully explain to me why a dress can create a physical, not just emotional need. I mean, women feel physically better when they buy a new pair of shoes! Part of what I do with my work is train myself to become immune to that desire. I do this, and then that need does not effect me.

AFH: Is this like an adverse technique? Is it working?

EM: Well I might not be the best test subject. I am already an extremely un-materialistic person anyway. Since I was 14, I have lived out of only two suitcases. If I buy something, I give something. I exchange. And with this project it works for me in the sense that if I want a dress, then instead of acquiring it, I acquire the memory of it. I'll try it on, wear it and photograph it in order to not want to possess it, by purchasing it, any longer.

AFH: Which makes sense since when you buy something part of your attraction to the thing is the hope to have experiences in it that you'll remember. Optimally you want extraordinary experiences. And you create those without making the purchase.

EM: Exactly. I am speeding up the process.

AFH: Have you ever gone to create a photograph, and the particular garment you wanted to use was no longer available?

EM: Once I saw a stunning Chinese style dress in a shop window uptown. I didn't have time to photograph right away but I asked the sales people whether they could remove the dress from the window for me when I returned and they assured me they would. But I returned only two hours later and the manager informed that the dress had been sold and I couldn't try it on. I asked him whether I could just try it on to order it from the designer, but he refused because the dress was allegedly a limited edition garment that could not be remade for me.

AFH: I imagine that situation make the dress an even more tantalizing example of the type of inaccessible garments you create your work with, right?

EM: Yes it did.

AFH: You've received particularly strong positive feedback from people within the fashion industry, right?

EM: After the New York Times article, I had an exhibition at Via Bus Stop, a gigantic shop in Soho. It was a cool party, with lots of champagne and sorbets, and the Gods of fashion photography like Mario Sorrenti came. He told me that he liked my photographs and I almost started crying. I have to hold my breath when talking of him because of the awe I feel when I think of how beautiful he makes women look in his pictures. I had no idea that a hero of mine like him would appreciate what I do. It was unexpected but nice. Later a Berlin magazine 'photography-now' featured me in the spread side-by-side with Annie Liebowitz. And they wrote as much about me as about her. Then I really felt like I was a lucky mortal sitting on the top of Olympus with all the other Gods!

AFH: Elle, that's fantastic! Does that recognition mean more to you than the responses of viewers without a fashion or art background, or are you equally interested in the reactions your work elicits from a more general audience?

EM: It is all important to me. Now this is really funny - a week ago some surfer dude sent me an email. He said that he appreciated what I did because normally he'd look at his sister's Vogue in the bathroom as just a magazine with 'hot chicks' in it. But my story made him pay attention to the actual 'fashion' part of it. He said, 'You made dudes like me look at fashion as something cool and fun.' That was one of the cutest compliments I've ever received!

AFH: Now he'll read Vogue for the articles. Which fashion photographers influence your aesthetic decisions?

EM: The photographers that have always inspired me are Man Ray, Erwin Blumenfeld, Jean Loup Sieff, Helmut Newton. And I absolutely love Nobuyoshi Araki. Before I even knew who he was, one of my most favorite photos was his image of a girl kneeling in kimono eating a watermelon. Then a few years later I visited the retrospective on him at the Barbican and fell in love! He recorded the real life in such a beautiful way that showed pain and irony of it... I love how he portrays women - vulnerable and surrendered, but still with love and respect. Even more that fashion images, I am inspired by the cinema - Hitchcock, Jean Cocteau, old Japanese movies.

AFH: Are these references you explicitly pay homage to in your compositions?

EM: No, I don't decide what the images will look like beforehand. I will often realize afterwards that an image reminds me of something but only after I have taken it. When shooting it, I am not thinking of those references. I only react to what inspires in the dressing rooms. Though now I am inspired by serial killers.

AFH: Cinema images of serial killers?

EM: No, when I was a 10-year old child in Belarus, there was a serial killer in my town. Every other month, he would rape and kill a girl, stabbed her and burned her body with cigarettes and dump her body on a rooftop of an apartment building. My mother was actually chased by this guy. He grabbed her arm as she ran up the stairs. She was banging on peoples‚ doors until someone opened the door and she was able to escape. For a year my family lived in fear of leaving our house. It was truly traumatic. but in some sense I was fascinated by this killer. I collected the newspaper articles about him. At the time, I found my fascination sick. Even at that age I felt I was doing something wrong, but I couldn't stop it. And now I have been reading a lot of Georges Bataille, so I feel freer to go back and explore these desires in my art.

AFH: Those images of yours informed by Bataille are particularly reminiscent of Guy Bourdin's photography. They are fascinating but back to the issue of fashion and art. What connections do you see between fashion and art running past the obvious fact that both are expressive, creative, primarily visual mediums?

EM: In my opinion, fashion and art have been always been inseparable. I would say they are like Siamese twins. One of the historical figures I am fascinated most by is Marchesa Luisa Casati, whose family was the richest in Italy. Her father was a cotton industry magnate but Luisa's life was dedicated to the goal of 'making a piece of art out of herself'. She was a fashionable icon of her time and a muse for people like Jean Cocteau, Ballet Russe and later the surrealists. The Palazzo Del Leoni in Venice, where she organized her famous balls masques became Peggy Guggenheim museum. I believe a large part of the collection came from Marchesa's private collection. Later she died in poverty with $25million debt, and that was after Cecil Beaton tried to take care of her.

AFH: She was a creature who made art from fashion, but are there historical figures you consider role models on how to transition between the two disciplines as an artist?

EM: There are. For example, Man Ray considered himself a painter, but he constantly worked in, and improved, fashion photography through his commercial affiliation with Bazaar. In one of his first fashion assignments for Poiret, before he shot a model next to a Brancusi golden bird sculpture he declared, 'I'd combine fashion and art.'

AFH: Who are photographers you see effectively carrying on this tradition?

EM: Steven Klein and Meisel now have the creative control to put a darker, more off-center sensibility out into the mainstream of fashion. They produce exquisitely rendered work, with a distinct point of view. Which to me is the definition of art. This is a great inspiration to me, and this is what I'm striving towards. So if art has begun to incorporate more fashion imagery, fashion, at least in the arena of photography, has begun to veer more toward art.

AFH: Do you think this conflation of mediums is caused by Post-modernist theory legitimatizing the collapse of boundaries between intellectual and popular cultural?

EM: Yes, I think the Post-Modernism era is one of the key factors of fashion and art blending together. As some writers describe post-modernism, everything has been done and seen before, and the information is so easily available. It's almost like it's obeying the laws of Darwinism - they need to 'cooperate' to survive and evolve.

AFH: I see your point, but of course, though fashion might be seen as light culture but it is never 'low-art'. And, post-modern theory was more about mass culture merging with 'high' art than two areas of elite culture mingling.

EM: And they are already linked. There is a growing trend for the luxury market in fashion, and we can see exactly the same thing in art - there is the obvious 'chase for the most expensive artwork', as well as in incredible, eye-popping budgets that are required for creating contemporary artworks, like the Jeff Koons' blooming dog or Gregory Crewdson's set-ups. Fashion industry elevates the image of their brand by connecting it with high art, thus letting people connect and feel as a part of that incredible world.

AFH: Considering there are top photographers, like Ellen von Unworth or Corinne Day, who began their relationship to fashion as models, would you want to move into fashion photography?

EM: I don't think I want to move into fashion photography per se. Being on the other side of the camera, I have worked with top photographers and realized that in fact, the client buys the photographer's name while hiring them but the photographers are not really free to express themselves. However I'd like to experiment using fashion as a medium to communicate my thoughts. It's appealing to me because it reaches wider audience and I would imagine I can sneak in some subliminal messages (but it's a top secret - ha-ha), because fashion is looked upon less critically. It's a form of entertainment. It's much more 'harmless' than art.

AFH: Is what you do illegal?

EM: Yes it is illegal because designers are concerned about copyright and they would be worried that I am photographing their dresses to reproduce them, or mass-produce them.

AFH: So it is intellectual property thief?

EM: I don't know but I know they do not want me to do it.

AFH: Is that part of the thrill of what you do? Do you agree with my comparing what you do with graffiti?

EM: I do feel that way. Sometimes I'll be walking with friends past a store and I'll say triumphantly 'I shot in that dressing room', or I'll see a dress in a magazine and think 'I shot that dress'. I am leaving my mark on the fashion world, and leaving it in secrecy. That works for me. I take it as a challenge because I work really well under pressure. Creativity is like mercury. The more pressure there is, the more I feel like I am morphing in to some other creature. A dressing room is totally public. There are so many people in and out, and in and out, but at the same time, it is exclusive and private.

AFH: You mean that it private but not personal, and you make it personal for you, right?

EM: Yes. Exactly. I claim that space for myself. No one in the store knows what I am doing. I do it for myself, which is why it is an invisible mark, like of a ghost's; but I have a record of what happened there. When I was a girl, I read a lot of science fiction where a person entered in to a special box they would evaporate and resurface somewhere else. For me, the dressing room is that transportative space. I enter it and I explore a different dimension for 5 minutes. When I come back, everything remains the same but I am a little different.

AFH: Is another aspect of your work mocking assumptions about models as feminine ideals?

EM: It is funny, because I want people to know that models are human. For a couple of years I lived in models' apartments‚ with 12 girls sharing two bathrooms and one kitchen. I have very few models as friends, we don't share the same interests, but I still think of models as a pretty admirable and fascinating group and a profession. They are very misunderstood.

AFH: The model demographic, you mean?

EM: Yes, the model demographic is among the kindest, most compassionate and accepting groups of people. Judging from my experience, most of the time, they come from poorer backgrounds into this profession where they are being pushed around all the time, constantly fighting off people like patronizing party promoters or rich old guys. They have to learn to be resilient but also diplomatic and friendly.

AFH: Do you talk to the other models about your work as an artist?

EM: Not really, but I was in the bus the other day and another model told me that she had seen articles about me. It was nice. I hope they are genuinely happy but I am suspect most of them are just jealous.

AFH: Do you think there is a stigma placed on people in fashion when they try to enter in to the art world?

EM: Let's be honest. Many people I know complain that if a person tries to enter the art world it's just because they could not get enough acclaim in their 'fashion' world so they hope that maybe they could get more attention and 'coolness' by peeing on their dresses or their models! But I don't agree with this. I think that every person that stands strongly for something and is not afraid to let it show in their work is an artist. This kind of person is a material that contemporary culture is made of. Many of the great artists did the most significant work just by simply recording their lives. Like Araki and Warhol. If the art touches people in some way, be it awe-inspiring or repulsive, or even repulsively boring, it's still leaves a mark in history.

AFH: So artists are role models of their time?

EM: Not role models, but models.

AFH: I understand that modeling is part of your autobiography, but do you think there is a more general stigma, in the areas of the art world that consider themselves 'serious', towards artists coming from fashion backgrounds? Is this a concern for you?

EM: It's a very good question - the subject of 'seriousness'. I really have barely any experience in the New York art world. But I already have been deeply disappointed by how many of those art people trying to keep a reputation of being 'reputable' working artists. I have a funny story. About a month ago a famous gallery owner ripped my stockings in a crowd of people, totally by accident. I told him jokingly that I would send him those stockings with a bill and a letter from my lawyer. He loved the joke and told me to send it straight to the gallery. The next day my friend, who is a lawyer and who is also a talented writer, helped me compose the most hilarious 'investigation' letter. We described the 'attacker' as 6'6" tall giant, and me as a 'frail young victim', etc etc, and I sent the whole package including the ripped stockings to the gallery. While some people thought the joke was to die for, I got a strong reproach from others. They said, 'Elle, how could you do this??? You have gone too far. Now nobody will take you as a serious artist!'

AFH: Do you regret having done that?

EM: That was a bummer. I had thought I could be the most appreciated being spontaneous in an art world! For a while after this incident I was considering 'To be "serious", or not to be?' So I decided I just want to live for the hell of it and not calculate every step I make. Life is too short for that. I may as well live in Belarus!

AFH: That sounds extreme.

EM: Have you seen the play Tumbling off Broadway? In it, there is an old man who amasses a lot of money and never spends it because he wants the paper to print the amount he is worth when he dies. But the day he dies is the day the newspapers go on strike.

AFH: Serves him right. What do consider the most striking difference between art and fashion, if not between the two communities?

EM: Art is very generous. Art gives to history. Whether or not consciously, artists create the intellectual wealth for the whole of humanity through the whole of history. Though I have noticed that art no longer seems to deal much with ideas relating to transcendence. So in that way, perhaps, it is becoming more of an ephemeral matter like fashion.

EM: I was already kicked out of MaxMara even before I took my camera out.

AFH: I'm surprised they wouldn't want to participate.

EM: Salespeople don't care whether the store or the designer gets publicity, they just care whether they make a sale. Maybe they feel vandalized.

ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is a critic, PhD candidate in art history at Oxford University and Senior London Correspondent for the Saatchi Gallery's online magazine.

Copyright 2003-2008 © The Saatchi Gallery : London Contemporary Art Gallery

Above Copied from:

We Are All Photographers Now!

The rapid mutation of amateur photography in the digital age
08.02 — 20.05.2007
Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne
The rapid mutation of amateur photography in the digital age
08.02 — 20.05.2007
Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Everything is changing…

… how we take photographs, manipulate them, share them, store them — even how we pose for them. Our tools are mutating quickly, promising ever faster, clearer, brighter and cheaper pictures. Meanwhile telephones become cameras, desktop printers morph into mini-printing labs, and high-definition screens threaten to dislodge the venerable photographic print from gallery walls. And the eyes of the whole world are only a click away on the computer keyboard.

Where are we all heading?

During photography’s entire history, the amateur and the professional have represented distinct and often contrary approaches to photography, each battling for supremacy. Has the digital revolution tilted the field of battle irrevocably in the amateur’s favour? Or has it swept this traditional rivalry into the dustbin? Can anyone say?

A laboratory, an experiment, an exhibition

This innovative project takes a close look at the current state of this exciting, rapidly mutating image environment. A highly interactive event, it welcomes submissions from across the globe, and invites both live and virtual debates between visitors of all ages, educators, representatives of industry, photographers, editors, curators and cutting-edge internauts, netizens, and digerati. And just as our image world shifts with each passing hour, minute and second, so too will our exhibition respond to new developments with constant updates.

A comprehensive overview

Cell-phone imagery, digital camera pictures, sharing sites like Flickr and photolog, amateur agencies like Scoopt and Splash, individual blogs, electronic scrapbooks, hotlinking, ‘citizen photojournalism’, professional photographs showing amateurs at play, new printing opportunities, and historical precedents going well back to the 19th century… all are fodder for our electronic experiment. This is the first major museum project to undertake a comprehensive overview of the digital revolution as it impacts on everyone.

The key questions

The exhibition will attempt to shed light on many burning issues, among them:

Does the digital shift constitute a revolution, or merely an evolution?

Does the shift represent a real democratization of photography?

Is citizen photojournalism worthy of its name?

Does the shift threaten the livelihood of professional photographers in fundamental ways?

Does the shift represent a shift towards more authenticity or truthfulness — or less?

Is a true Casual Capture *on the horizon?

*A term proposed by engineers at Hewlett-Packard to refer to a future ideal of effortless picture-taking.

I.The exhibition structure: threads & modules

The following themes, or threads, run through the exhibition:


… the digital revolution. Digital debutante, or analog convert?


… about digital photography and its implications;

adapting and adopting to mutating technology


… pictures. Who is doing it? Of what? And why?

Sharing pictures…

… in communities large and small

Critiquing pictures…

…and thinking and talking about digital imagery

Saving pictures…

… Which ones should be preserved? And how?

II. The modules

Each of the threads houses a number of individual modules relating to its theme.

Each module is composed of a mix of the following components:

a brief explanatory text

photographs (framed or mounted. Individually or in groups. As prints, on-screen images, or projections. Live & recorded)

historical material (quotes from the past, explanatory notes, cameras and other objects, film clips, the 19th-century Kodak songs)

Internet imagery (on line, or as video visits to websites & blogs like Flickr, photolog, Scoopt, Splash, Lulu, etc. etc.)

printouts of selected webpages (so the visitor can read the pages more comfortably than on a screen)

displays (of statistics, of hardware & software)

artists’ installations (sourcing/refashioning amateur photographs)

curators’ installations (working with amateur photographs)

newspaper & magazine reproductions of amateur imagery

magazines & books of amateur imagery

In addition, there are the following individual modules:

The hardware map (all the apparatus of today’s digital technology: cell phones and portable appliances, printers, discs, chips, cables, cameras, screens….all mounted on a wall with various interconnections)

«The Flux»:

Upload to our site (open global invitation)

On screen display of images

Random selection of 100 printed high quality each week

Prints displayed, with weekly update

The print lab (for diverse use: for the Flow project as above, for non-flow prints taken off the net, on demand of visitors)

The chat module (informal talks on the gallery floor, structured and unstructured debates, international round table… These events programmed through the whole period of the exhibition)

The administrative team

Project director: William Ewing
Director, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Project administrator: Vincent Angehrn
Administrator, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Press & media communications: Marie-Claire Mermoud

Office coordination: Laurence Hanna-Daher


Adrien Cater
Artist/Photographer; digital imaging specialist and designer, Lausanne

Sabine Süsstrunk
Professor, Images and Visual Representation Group, EPFL, Lausanne

Luc Debraine
Art historian and journalist, Le Temps, Geneva

André Rouvinez
Head of Museography, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

With the assistance of

(in alphabetical order)

Mathieu Bernard-Reymond
Artist/Photographer; digital imaging specialist, Lausanne

Christophe Blaser
Associate Curator, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Jean-Jean Clivaz
Assistant, Museography, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Daniel Girardin
Curator, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Nathalie Hershdorfer
Associate Curator, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Radu Stern
Head of Education, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne


Guillaume Arbex, journalist, webmaster, Le Temps, Geneva

Stefana Broadbent, anthropologist, Swisscom, Lausannne

Matthias Bruggmann, artist/photographer, Lausanne

Ed Earl, Curator of New Media, International Center of Photography, New York

EPFL, Lausanne:
Damir Laurenzi, system administrator
Laurence Meylan, post-doc
Patrick Schönmann, student
Daniel Tamburrino, doctoral student
Patrick Vandewalle, post-doc

Edwin Jacobs, independant curator/Consultant of Culture Tilburg (NL)

Erik Kessels, editor, curator, Amsterdam

Michael Lapaire, journalist, webmaster, Le Temps, Geneva

Jonathan Lipkin, Professor of Digital Media, Ramapo College, author, New Jersey

David Mellor, Professor, University of Sussex, curator of photography, author, Brighton

Martin Parr, artist/photographer; curator; editor, U.K.

Fred Ritchin, director of PixelPress, photography historian, New York

Université de Lausanne:
Marco Costantini, art historian
Julien Furrer, web and e-learning developer
Romain Voisard, e-learning project coordinator

Bas Vroege, curator and director, Paradox, Edam

A multi-partner collaboration:

This project is organised in collaboration with a number of partners in the museum, gallery, university and business sectors, including: Le Temps, Geneva; Hewlett Packard; EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne); The University of Lausanne; The University of Geneva; Keystone, Zürich; MAZ The Swiss School of Journalism, Luzern; JPG Magazine, San Francisco; The Municipality of Tilburg, Holland; Paradox, Edam; Kessels-Kramer, Amsterdam; The Photographers’ Gallery, London and many individual’s specialists interested in the area.

This project is organized in collaboration with a number of partners in the museum, gallery, university and business sectors, including:

Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne
a museum for photography

18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH–1014 Lausanne, Switzerland
tel. + 41 21 316 99 11
fax + 41 21 316 99 12

From Sudan to Sundance, 'Art Star' Questions Celebrity

PARK CITY, Utah -- The international art star Vanessa Beecroft knows her story of vanity and obsession is controversial, because controversy is the point. She understands you might dislike her. "I totally agree," she says. "I don't like myself either."

A global art phenomenon, Beecroft is best known as the bard of bulimia (she has serious food issues) and for her infamous performance pieces in which she assembles dozens of naked women, accessorized in wigs or chains or Gucci, and displays them before an audience of elites, who sip champagne and stare.

Beecroft went to Sudan two years ago with a camera crew and photographer because, she says, she was interested in the plight of Darfur, though she concedes that she didn't know exactly where Darfur was, and never did get there.

Instead, she found herself in southern Sudan, where she visited an orphanage, found a pair of malnourished twins and offered each a breast, swollen with milk because she had left her own young child back in New York. Beecroft says she "fell in love" with the twins, that she wanted to "save" them, and began a quixotic quest to adopt the two infant boys.

Beecroft also photographed herself with the twins suckling her breasts. In an interview, she calls the work "a souvenir." The iconographic portrait, of a white-robed Madonna and two black babies, is arresting and disturbing, raising questions about celebrity, race, colonialism, international adoption. Exploitation or liberation? "There's never been anything like the double breast-feeding photo," says Jeffrey Deitch, her former dealer in New York. The photographs are for sale through her gallery in Milan. Beecroft says they sell for $50,000 each. Most of the collectors have been Americans.

This is the story told by New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly in the world premiere of her documentary "The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins" at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie follows Beecroft from the orphanage and Dinka cattle camps in Sudan to her home on Long Island to art exhibits in Milan and Venice. At times Beecroft's behavior is appalling, her motives and methods highly questionable, but it is difficult to turn away, and the more you watch, the more you wonder: What is best for these African children -- to be adopted by a wealthy vain celebrity, an Angelina, a Madonna, a Vanessa (who admits she is a little crazy), or for the babies to live with their relatives in a hut, and take their chances with poverty and disease?

In its review, the Hollywood Reporter concludes, "It probably would have taken a few more years of filming to have answered the most pertinent question: Can this kind of celebrity adoption work out satisfyingly for either parents or children?" The critic from Variety admires the film, writing that "Brettkelly offers an unvarnished picture of her subject, peeling away Beecroft's delusions about her seemingly noble adoption quest." Brettkelly's documentary is presented without narration, leaving the judgment to us. She is seeking a buyer and distributor for the film.

The day after the premiere, Brettkelly and Beecroft visit a photographer's studio at Sundance to have their portraits taken. Beecroft is tall, slender and dressed in black. Brettkelly is tall, slender and dressed in ski clothes. Beecroft is an Italian raised in Italy by an Italian mother (her father is an eccentric Englishman who appears in the film) and she speaks English with a melodic accent. Does she come across well in the film? "I thought, what a freak I am," Beecroft says softly, almost a whisper. "But it was really me."

Though Beecroft is an astute manipulator of media, she comes across in the film as annoying and clueless, like a dangerous child. In person? She seems harmless.

Brettkelly met the art star in Sudan, while the filmmaker was there working on a project on land mines. Beecroft had come because she read a brief article on Darfur in the New York Times.

"When I went I thought I was going to the Darfur area, but I wasn't really familiar with the south or west of Sudan," Beecroft recalls. "As soon as I landed -- because I was nursing my baby at home -- after all those hours of flying, I was in pain. I asked the bishop if he needed mother's milk, because I didn't want to waste the milk, and he handed me to the Sisters of Charity congregation and they brought me to three newborns. The twins and a baby girl. So then I spent two weeks nursing them and taking care of them. Sister Jacqueline kept telling me thank you for being here, and they called me 'the mother milk that comes from the sky,' literally the airplane."

Beecroft learns that the twins are not orphans, but have a father, who appears. The children's mother had died soon after their birth and he has quickly remarried. "I feel bad for the father," she says in the film. "I feel as if I'm stealing his children." But Beecroft persists. On camera she says, "I want them, but do I deserve them? I'm afraid of the judgment of the people, the bishop, the Dinkas, the world. Ah, here she is -- not that I'm important -- another white woman wanting something exotic."

Some thing. In one scene, Beecroft is shown rushing to photograph herself and the twins at the mission in Sudan, as Dinka women bang on the door of the church, upset because the twins are naked. In another, she is urging her photographer to hurry, hurry and get the shot. "Can we hide the window so they don't know we're taking pictures?" she hisses at her assistant. "We look like white monsters."

The film reveals that Beecroft's husband, Greg Durkin, thinks the adoption is a bad idea. The couple's relationship is fraying. He offers her a divorce. (The couple remain together, now in Los Angeles, where Durkin is vice president of research at Warner Bros. "I am living in a moment that is pretty hard," Beecroft says at Sundance. "But I want this family that I originally had and that was going to dissolve.")

She says she understood what her husband was saying -- that the twins were better off in Sudan with their own family, that Beecroft was often gone on long trips, her two young boys cared for by nannies. "I think that Greg, by interfering so passively aggressively, he made a better documentary, don't you think? He posed other questions," says Beecroft. "If it was an Angelina and Brad Pitt adoption story, where everybody is happy, that wouldn't have been very good. Society needed to hear no, no, maybe you shouldn't do that."

Eventually Beecroft abandons her attempt to adopt the twins. Asked if any good came of all this, Beecroft mentions that she gave the family of the twins two cows and a bicycle. She quickly says, "This is nothing." Why did she take the pictures? "I felt the urge to do them when I realized I couldn't adopt them. I needed to have this image, as a surrogate, but for me it's only the beginning," Beecroft says. "I'm working on a book on it, on a documentary, that is not a documentary like this documentary, but like an artist's notebook but I feel like I'm just at the beginning of it."

Beecroft says, "Sudan is a microcosm of Africa and of the blacks in the world, and I know it is presumptuous of me to take this subject under my wing, but I actually want to. It is my interest now."

What does the filmmaker think? "Often these children aren't really orphans," says Brettkelly. "What else can we do in these communities so these people can support and help their own children?" Instead of just whisking them off to the West. "It's a tricky subject. But as citizens of the privileged world, we need to think about it."

Beecroft smiles, her face a pale moon. She says, "I really enjoyed this criticism. It is what I work for. I want people to exercise their thoughts, and I provoke with this image. Because the image was intentional also, not only a souvenir. But it had an intent to provoke. So I was happy with this reaction. That is part of my work. To create a little bit of irritation for the audience."

Above Copied from:

Vanessa Beecroft: Classic Cruelty

Originally published in Parkett Magazine (November 1999).

Everything changes when live humans are used as subjects. An innocent objective such as that found in a scientific experiment can become sinister and foreboding. No one quivers at the replication of plastic containers, Brillo Boxes, tadpoles, rats, or even sheep, but the prospect of cloning human beings is sufficiently disturbing to inspire international censure and prohibition. The same is true of art. Time-honored practices of artistic technique, were they applied to live human beings, would no longer be honored at all. For example, Renaissance artists developed drawing techniques — such as modeling the body according to geometric proportions and abstracting from the life model in order to create a timeless or "classic" figure — which are still taught to students today. But if these were translated into reality and applied to human beings, would these same techniques not seem downright malevolent? In a treatise on proportion, Albrecht Dürer recommended a common Renaissance practice: to compose a beautiful figure, he wrote, the artist "must take the head from some and the chest, arm, leg, hand, and foot from others." Substitute "blond hair" or "blue eyes" for any of the preceding body parts and one quickly approaches an Aryanism of aesthetics. "Negro faces are seldom beautiful," Dürer warned, adding that "their shinbones and knees" are "not so good to look upon as those of the whites."1 It is doubtful that Dürer the man was a particularly rabid racist. The lesson, rather, is that the classic itself is not only timeless but also eugenic.

The drama of Vanessa Beecroft’s work derives from a similar transposition. In inspiration her work is essentially classical. Nude and semi-nude females, shorn of any trappings that might express their individuality, contractually obliged to remain as silent and immobile as possible, posed vertically and arranged in a group composition on a horizontal plane — the sum effect is something like a painting by Poussin except for this one crucial difference: Beecroft’s subjects are not made of paint but of living flesh. To abstract from the life model in order to paint a timeless figure is one thing, but to abstract the life model herself is another. What appears as classicism in the first case becomes depersonalization and suppression of individuality in the second. The mathematical techniques of proportion utilized in the first case — the Golden Mean and the "rule of three" — become anorexia and girdles in the second. Fashion is used by Beecroft not to individuate but to homogenize, and even nudity is exploited not as an expression of sexuality but rather as a way of reducing the models to an appearance of sameness — nudity is, after all, the original uniform. An old art-historical distinction holds that romantic art is premised on the expression of the individual, whilst classic art suppresses the hand of the individual in favor of rationalism, formalism, and mathematical order.2 In the hands of Beecroft, however, classicism goes a step further: it is not only the individuality of the artist that is restrained, but the individuality of the subjects that is actively suppressed.

Whereas the classical artist gives order to his compositions, Beecroft gives orders to her models. Typically these are rudimentary, along the lines of (1) do not move; (2) do not talk; (3) do not interact with the audience. These rules serve the aesthetic function of uniting the girls as a group and therefore as a single image. However, simply because the models are human, this method leads into a gray area somewhere between ethics and aesthetics. When an artist controls a paintbrush, it’s called skill. But when an artist controls people, what is it called? Is it still just skill? Does it become manipulation? Certainly Beecroft is not a fascist tyrant. She does not go out into the street with cudgels in order to conscript fashionable girls into her exhibitions by force. At minimum, there is at least an implicit contract between the artist and her subjects: earlier works relied on volunteers, recent ones utilize models who are paid for their services. Nevertheless, in every work there remains a model of control which is pyramidal and essentially authoritarian. Beecroft frequently refers to her girls as an "army," thus implicitly positioning herself as commander or general. However, the entire emphasis of this pseudo-militarism is not on violence or bellicosity but on control. Her army of girls is not Amazonian, and her model "soldiers" hardly seem ready for combat. Instead, their militarism consists in homogeneity, uniformity, and ability to follow rules. It is not the fighting but the formation that appeals to Beecroft.

However, to portray Beecroft as the commander of an army of models is to fail to account for an important aspect of her work. It is something like planned obsolescence: the artist dictates the initial conditions in order to create the formation-image, but subsequently she allows the work to crumble and decay. It is as though there exists, among the explicit rules to be silent and immobile, another unspoken directive which it is intrinsically impossible to fulfill: defy gravity. If Beecroft’s work resembles nothing so much as the Porch of the Maidens on the Erechtheum at the Acropolis, it is because of this strife between girl and gravity: whereas the caryatids at the Porch of the Maidens are pillars formed like girls, Beecroft treats her girls rather like pillars, requiring them to stand at attention for the long pointless hours of any one of her exhibitions. And although the girls may be spared the discomfort of a pediment on their heads, really Beecroft just redistributes the weight, since the girls are obliged to wear high heels. This has the effect of minimizing the area of surface contact between the model and the ground, literally reducing the plane of the foot to two points (a toe and a heel), thus making it more difficult for a girl to support her own bodyweight. After a few hours of standing it must no doubt feel like carrying a marble roof on one’s head.3 And perhaps at such a point Beecroft’s cruel classicism inspires one of her models to remark that, although there are conventions regarding the usage of human beings in science and war, there are none in art.

1. Albrecht Dürer, "Four Books on Human Proportion," in E.G. Holt, ed., A Documentary History of Art, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 316, 325.

2. For example, according to Arnold Hauser classical art is "characterized by the absolute discipline of form, the complete permeation of reality by the principles of order, and the total subjection of self-expression to harmony and beauty." Arnold Hauser, Mannerism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 4.

3. "On average, about 60 percent of a person’s body is water… On earth, when a person stands up, the weight of this water exerts forces throughout the body… Going from a prone to a standing position moves fluid into the lower part of the body and reduces the flow of blood back to the heart. If unchecked, quiet standing can lead to fainting; soldiers sometimes swoon when standing at attention. Two other hydrostatic effects are varicose veins, which have become permanently distorted by the extra fluid, and swollen feet." Ronald J. White, "Weightlessness and the Human Body," Scientific American (September 1998), p. 60.

Above Copied from:

Man Ray: Biography

Text from Wikipedia

Man Ray (August 27, 1890–November 18, 1976) was an American Dada and Surrealist artist.

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Man Ray showed evidence of being artistically and mechanically inclined from childhood. After graduating from Boys' High School in 1908, he was offered a scholarship to study architecture but chose to pursue a career as an artist instead. In 1911, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray, a name selected by Man Ray's younger brother Sam, in reaction to the ethnic discrimination and anti-semitism prevalent at that time. Emmanuel, who was called "Manny" as a nickname, thereafter used the single name Man Ray.

In 1915, Man Ray had his first one-man show of paintings and drawings. His first proto-Dada object, an assemblage titled "Self-Portrait", was exhibited the following year. He produced his first significant photographs in 1918.

While living in New York City, with his friend Marcel Duchamp, he formed the American branch of the Dada movement, which began in Europe as a radical rejection of traditional art. He co-founded the group of modern artists called Others.

After a few unsuccessful experiments, and notably after the publication of a unique issue of New York Dada in 1920, Man Ray stated, "Dada cannot live in New York", and in 1921 he went to live and work in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, France during the era of great creativity. There he fell in love with famous French singer, Kiki (Alice Prin), often referred to as "Kiki de Montparnasse", who later became one of his favorite photographic models.

For the next 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray revolutionized the art of photography. Great artists of the day such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Jean Cocteau posed for his camera.

With Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Gallerie Pierre in Paris in 1925.

In 1934, Surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim, known for her fur-covered tea cup, posed for Man Ray in what became a well-known series of photographs depicting Oppenheim nude, standing next to a printing press.

Together with Surrealist photographer Lee Miller—his lover and photography assistant at the time—Man Ray invented the photographic technique of solarization. He also created a technique using photograms he called rayographs.

Man Ray also directed a number of influential avant-garde short films, such as Le Retour à la Raison (2 mins, 1923); Emak-Bakia (16 mins, 1926); L'Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928); and Les Mystéres du Château du Dé (20 mins, 1929).

Later in life, Man Ray returned to the United States, where he lived in Los Angeles, California for a few years. However, he called Montparnasse home and he returned there, where he died. He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. His epitaph reads: Unconcerned, but not indifferent.

The above copied from:

More resources about the artist and his work:

Man Ray (1890-1976): Films

Man Ray (1890-1976)
View films here:

The American photographer Man Ray was one of a group of avant-garde Paris filmmakers in the 20s that included Leger, Bunuel, Clair, Kirsanoff, and Cocteau. His short films have finally been released on video, compiled and restored by the Centre Georges Pompidou. The very brief LE RÉTOUR À LA RAISON (1923) consists of moving geometric designs, intercut with distorted night shots of a merry-go-round, then moving three dimensional shapes, and closing with the play of bars of light on a woman's nude torso. It was an experiment in abstract expressionism that inspired other directors. EMAK BAKIA (1926) displays the influence of both surrealism and dadaism. Once again Ray experiments with the movement of shapes - many of the effects seem tired now after decades of innovation in animated film, but they were fresh at the time. He employs bizarre imagery as well - a man's eyes turning into the headlights of a car, a flock of sheep, the legs of a dancing woman. Odd effects are attained through camera movement - sideways, upside down, etc. - or distortion of the image, as in a convex mirror. L'ÉTOILE DE MER (1928) is more adventurous, but less engaging. There are many shots of people walking in Paris - Ray blurs the image a lot, attempting to explore a subconscious nether region - intercut with images of the sea, and some remarkable ones of the underside of a starfish. One of the titles says, "The sun, one foot in the stirrup, nestles a nightingale in a veil of crepe." It is hard to know how seriously to take such surrealistic musings.

The lengthiest and most famous of Man Ray's films is LES MYSTÈRES DU CHÂTEAU DU DÉ (1929). The spacious chateau of the title, along with a rundown castle nearby, is employed to explore various spatial relationships and textures. Some of the best effects are achieved with long shots through windows into landscapes, while the camera is moving at the same time. Ray also does some very strange things involving people wearing nylon stockings over their heads (giving them an identical faceless look), throwing huge dice and practicing weird diving and swimming formations in the chateau's indoor pool.

Overall, I don't find Man Ray's films as interesting or stimulating as those of Clair or Bunuel from the same period. Their experiments were informed by a resolutely personal vision. Ray seems more the purely formal innovator. The cinema (and indeed all art forms) need eccentrics like him who are willing to try different combinations of elements and techniques so as to discover hidden potentials in the art. Ray's pictures are fascinating viewing in this historical sense, but precisely because of their character as innovation in the abstract, they have lost the novelty and excitement they once held. Film method has long since incorporated all these things, so that the works in themselves now seem "old hat." Ray seems to have decided that he wasn't suited for motion pictures, because he stopped making them after the 20s, returning to still photography as his vehicle.


The above copied from:


Tate Magazine Issue 3

It's 1929 and avant-garde magazine Varits has a cash crisis. To the rescue, Man Ray and his muse, Kikide Montparnasse. John Baxter lifts the lid on one of bohemian Paris's better-kept secrets

'It is said,' Jacqueline Goddard conceded to me circumspectly, 'that Man Ray started with pornography. And I have seen recently a photograph of Kiki's mouth on Man Ray's private parts.'

Beyond this detail the last survivor of Man Ray's models from the 1920s - and the one who perhaps knew him best - was not prepared to go. Sitting in a hotel room in the sixime arrondissement of Paris, she and I were picking over the bones of Ray's career, a carcass from which much meat remains to be scavenged. For successive waves of scholars, the methods by which Brooklyn-raised Emmanuel Radnitski hustled himself into a new existence as Man Ray, photographer by appointment to the Surrealists, have proved a little too close to the bone. Indeed, to pursue the metaphor to its conclusion, these methods are proving to be the skeleton in Man Ray's closet.

If, as Christopher Isherwood confessed memorably in Christopher and His Kind, 'Berlin meant boys', it's increasingly clear that, for Man Ray, Paris meant pussy - and, it follows inevitably, porn. His photographs of Meret Oppenheim entwined nude with Paul Eluard's wife Nusch - far more graphic than the discreet double portrait featured in most Ray retrospectives - so impressed Henri- Pierre Roch, author of Jules et Jim, that he commissioned more of the same.

William Seabrook, diabolist, fetishist and recreational cannibal, invited Ray to a dinner which didn't feature, as was sometimes the case, fricasse la Parisienne made with a real Parisienne, but a naked girl chained to the stairs. Unblinking, Man snapped her, as he did a succession of Seabrook's other tableaux vivants.

Hardly had Man Ray arrived in Paris in 1921 than he took Alice Prin, aka 'Kiki de Montparnasse', as mistress and model, the latter for nearly 14 years. With her bottom-heavy body and small breasts, Kiki - a slang term for vagina - was far from classically beautiful, but she radiated, and practised, a simple sexuality that, long before she met Ray, had already recommended her to Tsuguharu Foujita, Mose Kisling and numerous other Montparnassos.

Ray snapped hundreds of portraits of Kiki. Indeed, many of the first 'rayograph' images were of his muse, taken as early as 1922, only months after his first experiments with putting an item - or in Kiki's case a body part - on film and exposing it to light.

But the pornographic images of the pair together remained one of the better-kept Surrealist secrets for more than 60 years. Ray doesn't speak of it in his cranky memoir, Self Portrait, nor does it rate a mention in Neil Baldwin's standard biography.

So what is the history of the image of Kiki's mouth and Man's manhood? The answers to that lie in a meeting of Surrealists in Paris in 1929, a meeting well-documented in the diaries of Louis Aragon, Andr Breton's tall, soft-spoken lieutenant.

When the Surrealists gathered for their daily sance at the Caf Radio on Place Blanche, one of Montmartre's seedier squares, they were hardly surprised to learn that the Brussels-based magazine Varits was unable to pay a printers' bill. Its editor, Edouard Mesens, later the doyen of London's Surrealists, was, and remained, as hopeless in business as he was charming in person.

'They could publish another special issue,' suggested Aragon. Although the Belgians were technically Dadaists, the Surrealist edition of Varits published the previous year had been a huge success.

'Maybe a special special issue.' mused Benjamin Pret. The most outrageous of the group, Pret had arrived dressed as a German soldier at the first Surrealist show in 1918, with Paris still traumatised by the war. He also took the movement's anti-clericalism sufficiently seriously to attack nuns and priests in the street.

That afternoon, Aragon headed across the Seine, to Montparnasse and the studio of Man Ray. He knew he'd find the hard-working photographer either at his home, on rue Campagne Premire, or in his studio on the other side of the Luxembourg, at 8 rue Val-de-Grace, with its distant view of the domed observatory that would figure in Ray's most famous painting, l'heure de l'observatoire - Les Amants (Observatory Time - The Lovers) (1936), with the languid lips of Lee Miller floating above it like an erotic dirigible.

Aragon explained the idea for a Varits erotic issue, with images illustrating the risqu poetry of Pret and Aragon. He showed Ray a sample:

Ah, the little girls who lift their skirts
and diddle themselves in the bushes
or in museums
behind the plaster Apollos
while their mother compares the
statue's rod
to her husband's
and sighs...

Ray slid open the drawer under his work table and took out a sheaf of photographs. Even with the faces cropped, Aragon knew who'd posed for them. The male body, hairy and pale, was obviously Ray's. And everyone in Montparnasse would recognise as Kiki's the mouth, lipsticked in a Cupid's bow, clamped around his penis, and the wide hips being penetrated so vigorously.

B reton edited the production, calling it arbitrarily 1929 as a gibe at the almanacs p roduced each December by the post o ffice and fire brigade, which sold them d o o r-to-door as a means of earning their annual bonus. Dividing the poetry into four sections, he named them for the seasons, with a Ray photograph p refacing each one. Mesens printed 500 copies of 1929 and shipped them to Paris, only to have the douane seize them.

Well, not the entire shipment, because copies were soon on sale clandestinely in Paris at inflated prices. Did someone report 1929, knowing it would drive up the price? The shock-haired Pret would not have hesitated to play such a trick.

Ironically, the only authority to have taken note of it officially is HM Customs and Excise inBritain, which declared it pornographic and prohibited importation when, in 1996, Paris-based Karl Orend published the first English edition.

The translations by Zoltan Lizot-Picon were, Orend revealed recently, actually a collaboration between scholar, critic and MIT professor Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno and Andr Breton's biographer, Mark Polizotti. Though banned in Britain, it circulates freely in the United States, where a tribunal accepted the evidence of two acknowledged experts that 1929 was indeed a work of art. The experts? Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno and Mark Polizotti, of course.

Jacqueline Goddard had much more to say about Ray. She walked with him around Montparnasse cemetery on a rainy night not long after Lee Miller left him, listening to his threats of murder and suicide as a pistol clinked in his raincoat pocket; she saw Kiki begging in the Montparnasse cafs where she once reigned as queen, supposedly to pay the gas and light bills but actually to buy cocaine; she visited him in his last home, on rue Ferou, and watched as, unnoticed by the invalid Ray or his near-blind wife Juliet, the dealers and admirers slipped his more portable prints and objets under their fashionably flowing overcoats.

Had Ray seen, would he have cared? Probably not. What makes him stand truly apart from the Surrealists is the sense, unique in that po-faced group, that the movement, and he himself, signified nothing. An autobiographical poem says it all:

'I'm ugly.
I have an inexpressive face.
I am small. I'm like all of you!
I wanted to give myself
a little publicity.'

, by Benjamin Pret, Aragon and Man Ray, is published by Alyscamps Press, Paris & London, ISBN 1897722 885.

The above copied from:

Man Ray

2b Rue Ferou, Paris

This film was made in order to preserve an important aspect of contemporary art - the Parisian studio of the Surrealist artist Man Ray. For twenty-six minutes we are invited to discover what lives on in the silence, under the dust of a place out of time. Since the death of the artist in 1976, everything has remained in place: paintbrushes, canvases, cameras, the darkroom, sculptures, mail, an array of unusual objects, the bedroom. Juliet, Man Ray's muse and companion for over twenty years, remembers. She alone is able to talk about what lives on in the studio. She takes us back to share in his ideas and his friendships - with Duchamp, Giacometti, Breton, Eluard, Paulhan, Dali, and Buñuel. The film is a testimony to a life lived and an art very much alive. It visits, post-mortem, an extraordinary world. The studio was destroyed in December 1989.

Click here to watch a free clip - fast internet connection required.

Man Ray Ingres' Violin

François Levy-Kuentz

Stephan Levy-Kuentz
François Levy-Kuentz

Juliet Man Ray

26 minutes
Recommended audience age range 14-adult

The above copied from:

The look of the moment

Gifted, beautiful and unpredictable, Lee Miller's career took her from the fashion pages of Vogue to the front line of the second world war. But while she is celebrated as one of the finest photographers of the 20th century, her great talents as a writer are often forgotten, argues Ali Smith

Ali Smith
Saturday September 8, 2007

In occupied Vienna in 1946, Lee Miller photographed an emaciated child dying in a hospital bed. The photograph is both merciless and despairing. The child's bones are clear in a too-tight, too-loose skin. The white folds of the sheets round the child are too rich. Their softness contrasts with the bed's iron frame, which suggests prison bars. The child's look, straight into the camera, is unanswerable. One hand holds the sheet, the other is open.

Miller was one of the first correspondents into the liberated concentration camps. In a fury at the bureaucracy that routinely meant no hospital drugs were available (except to the military), she cabled Audrey Withers, her editor at Vogue, with her Vienna dispatch.

For an hour I watched a baby die. He was dark blue when I first saw him. He was the dark dusty blue of these waltz-filled Vienna nights, the same colour as the striped garb of the Dachau skeletons, the same imaginary blue as Strauss's Danube. I'd thought all babies looked alike, but that was healthy babies; there are many faces for the dying. This wasn't a two months baby, he was a skinny gladiator. He gasped and fought and struggled for life, and a doctor and a nun and I just stood there and watched ... There was nothing to do but watch him die. Baring his sharp toothless gums he clenched his fists against the attack of death. This tiny baby fought for his only possession, life, as if it might be worth something.

Miller's report is a steely, eloquent piece of work in which she watches with awed wryness as the city of art and music ("the music which first cheers then haunts and finally irritates one to a frenzy of abuse") surreally reconstructs itself in its own ruins. The full dispatch hasn't yet been published in its entirety. This is just another astonishing anomaly in the story of Lee Miller's life and afterlife, or lives and afterlives, as her son, the writer and film-maker Antony Penrose, coined it in The Lives of Lee Miller in 1985. The latest book about Miller, The Art of Lee Miller by Mark Haworth-Booth, written to coincide with her centenary retrospective which opens at the V&A this month, is by far the fullest and most satisfying consideration yet of Miller's art and Miller as artist. Beautifully illustrated, with many images that haven't been widely available before, it is a work of proper appraisal, particularly good on areas of her work that have, until now, pretty much escaped critical attention, such as the series of frames she took in Egypt between 1934 and 1937.

But then Miller as artist is something we nearly didn't get the chance to consider at all. This is partly because, in her later years, she disparaged her own art, acted like it didn't exist, tidied what survived into the loft in Farley Farm, Sussex, the art-filled home she shared with her husband (and clearly her soul mate), the surrealist artist and collector Roland Penrose. That she was one of the finest photographic artists of the 20th century was just one of the discoveries her son made when he opened up some boxes in the attic and found original prints, negatives in their thousands, and several official-censor-shredded manuscripts.

We're only now, a hundred years after her birth and 30 after her death, coming to terms with Miller's many lives and gifts, and the one that's been most overshadowed by her photographic talent is that she was also a writer of great grace and force. Her rare later writing about art, about artists, about her long friendship with Picasso and about many other aspects of her life, is always witty and striking. Her war writing is stunning. Her skill was honed under intense pressure, on the hoof, in the war dispatches published by Vogue between 1944 and 1946. It was as she moved through liberated Europe and reported back to the magazine, for which she'd previously been a photographer - and whose editors, astonished at what she was sending, published her visceral text alongside her equally visceral photography - that she became a figure in whose combined eye and voice notions of politics, fashion, liberation and eyewitness met and made history. Her writing, like her photography, is about a lot more than the acts of witnessing and recording truth. It's about the act of composition, about the composition of all things, and about what truth actually is.

How to see Lee Miller? Much of her life would be a negotiation between the act of seeing and the act of being seen. She was born Elizabeth Miller in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907. Her father, Theodore, was a keen amateur photographer who took pictures of engines, bridges, and more and more incessantly of his own daughter, usually nude studies, all through her childhood and well into her young adulthood when he also persuaded friends of Lee's to join the (sometimes rather disturbing) nude tableaux.

Theodore was fascinated by stereoscopic photography, where the same image, doubled, viewed beside itself, creates the illusion of three-dimensionality. It's heartening to look at his double image of the nude Lee Miller at 21 and to see how the possibility of different selves must have fed positively into the young Miller's notions of the seen self.

She was raped by a "family friend" when she was seven and contracted gonorrhoea, the treatment for which was so painful that her brothers had to be sent two blocks away from the house so as not to hear her screaming. She grew up clever, energetic and so anarchic that every school expelled her (one particularly memorable prank was the surreptitious feeding of blue dye to a schoolmate who nearly fainted at the colour of her urine). She longed to be like Anita Loos, the girl scriptwriter on DW Griffith's film sets. Her young energy is re-conjured in one of her most vibrant later pieces of writing, "What They See in Cinema", published by Vogue in 1956:

The first theatrical performance I ever attended was in the Poughkeepsie Opera House. It seems highly unlikely, but is memorable and true that the 'Bill' consisted of Sarah Bernhardt in person, playing the 'greatest passages from her greatest roles', from a chaise longue; secondly, artistic, immobile nudes, imitating Greek sculpture (livid, in quivering limelight); and as a curtain-raiser there was a guaranteed, authentic 'Motion Picture'. The Divine Sarah dying on a divan was of considerable morbid interest to me . . . Though I understood no French, her Portia, pleading, seemed urgent enough (she was propped up vertical for that); the nudes were just more ART. But the 'Motion Picture' was a thrill-packed reel of a spark-shedding locomotive dashing through tunnels and over trestles . . . The hero was the intrepid cameraman himself who wore his cap backwards, and was paid 'danger-money'. On a curve across a chasm, the head of the train glared at its own tail ... the speed was dizzy, nothing whatever stayed still and I pulled eight dollars worth of fringe from the rail of our loge, in my whooping, joyful frenzy.

Never mind boring old nudes (look at the glorious, throwaway "livid, in quivering limelight" or the line of "Divine . . . dying . . . divan" - Miller loves assonance and alliteration and the slightly louche effect they have on rhythm). Never mind "just more ART". Miller saw herself as in love with life, with the dangerous way it moved, with the real thing. If you could capture that, you'd be heroic.

A visit to Paris, where she shook off her aged chaperones (and instead rented a room in what turned out to be a maison de passe and much enjoyed watching the comings and goings of the clients), gave her a love of the city's style and freedom. Back in the States, she was discovered - the legend goes - by Condé Nast when Nast himself hauled her back to safety after she stepped off a sidewalk into oncoming traffic one day. (She was so in shock that she babbled in French.) Nast took one look at her and signed her up as a model on American Vogue.

But she returned to France as soon as she could, in 1929, with an introductory letter for the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray given to her by the photographer Edward Steichen, for whom she'd modelled; the model had decided to become the photographer and knew exactly which teacher she wanted. She tracked Man Ray down in a Paris bar. "I told him boldly that I was his new student. He said he didn't take students, and anyway he was leaving Paris for his holiday. I said, I know, I'm going with you - and I did."

She helplessly stood for the new age. She was "the look of the moment", as art critic Richard Calvocoressi says of her modelling for Vogue in the 1920s. Then she was "the universal muse of the surrealists", as Angela Carter wrote (and it's interesting that even as late as 1990 a cultural writer as fine as Carter was still unaware of Miller the artist). Her very beauty was blinding, perhaps; certainly it became the focus for some extraordinarily modern face-offs. In America a portrait of her by Steichen had, by chance, become the first ever picture of a real-life woman on a sanitary towel advert, which caused a mini-scandal. In Paris, with eyes painted on top of her eyelids, she played the beautiful armless statue in Cocteau's 1931 surrealist cult classic film, Blood of a Poet. Her breasts were used by one French glass company for modelling the shape of its champagne glasses.

But the embodiment spoke back. The muse had her own muses. The face of modernity had a camera eye, and as soon as she got the chance, she was composing her own self-portraits, Lee Miller par Lee Miller. The woman who modelled Chanel and Patou began doing her own fashion shoots of other women in their clothes in her own studio for Frogue (French Vogue). The woman whose breasts were models for champagne glasses went to take some medical photographs and borrowed an amputated breast from the lab, then photographed it beautifully and bloodily on a dinner plate with a fork beside it, her composition a cuttingly close-to-the-bone comment on the meat market of which she was herself a part. The woman who was a shockingly good surrealist photographer shocked her daring male surrealist friends with her far-too-open attitudes to sexuality. Free love was for the boys; even the surrealists found it too surreal in a girl.

If her aesthetic independence unsettled her teacher/lover Man Ray, her sexual independence drove him nearly insane with jealousy. He took to threatening suicide, walking round Paris carrying a revolver and wearing a noose, then made his famous sculpture Object to be Destroyed - a metronome whose ticking pendulum tip is, revealingly, a photograph of one of Miller's eyes. Meanwhile, she hightailed it back to the States and opened her own portrait studio in New York (doing all the electric wiring herself), where she photographed perfume bottles and movie stars with the same stylish clarity with which she'd re-seen contemporary Paris as surreality. In both her commercial and her portrait work, she put to good use the experimental technique of solarisation, which she and Man Ray had accidentally discovered and perfected.

Haworth-Booth calls solarisation "a perfect surrealist medium in which positive and negative occur simultaneously". There couldn't have been a better dark-light conceit for Miller's own life circumstances. By 1940 she was in England, refusing to go back to safety in the States, instead winging it at Brogue (British Vogue), managing fashion shoots of pretty girls in utilitarian clothes on grimy realist streets (when shoots outside the studio were still quite a novelty). At the same time, she was compiling her own shots of bombed London, like Remington Silent, whose title is a witty play on the brand name of the mangled typewriter, its casing broken, keys splayed, loose ribbon staining the classically carved broken masonry or gravestone on which it sits. Four years after she took this picture, her friend and lover, the Life photographer Dave Scherman, photographed her room, Room 412 in Hotel Scribe, the Paris hotel where the allied press corps holed up (using the facilities that the retreating German press corps had just abandoned). An astute portrait of Miller, whose instinct about when and where to position the subject is central to all her art, it features her Hermes Baby portable typewriter next to the whisky on the table in a shaft of sunlight, lit up in the chaos, and presided over by the composed presence/absence of Miller, visible only in reflection.

A year earlier, she had been in England taking portraits of the war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (whom American Vogue was featuring because she was Ernest Hemingway's new wife). A year later, Miller's own dispatches would be making the work of contemporaries such as Hemingway and Gellhorn seem a touch sentimental. Here she is in 1946, on the execution of Lázló Bardossy, the fascist ex-prime minister of Hungary:

Then, accompanied by a priest and some gendarmes and a noise of the silent crowd shifting, a cocky little man jaunted in from a dark archway. He wore the same plus-fours tweed suit, ankle-high shoes with white socks turned over the edges as when he'd been arrested. He held his beaky grey face high and his gestures were taut. He listened to the words of the judge and as he walked in front of the sandbags he waved his hand refusing the blindfold. The four gendarmes who had volunteered for the execution stood in line awaiting the order to fire. They were less than two yards from him. Bardossy's voice orated in a high pitched rasp, "God save Hungary from all these bandits." I think he started to say something else but a ragged tattoo of shots drowned it. The impact threw him back against the sandbags and he pitched to his left in a pirouette, falling on the ground with his ankles neatly crossed.

At the end of the second world war she was the only woman photojournalist to advance with the allies across Europe, "the only photographer for miles around and I now owned a private war". She was one of the first people to take a photo of napalm in action, in St Malo in 1944. Not that she knew it was napalm; her photos were confiscated by the censors immediately she filed them. "It is almost impossible today ... to conceive how difficult it was for a woman correspondent to get beyond a rear-echelon military position, in other words, to the front, where the action was," Scherman wrote. The troops toned down their strong language for her, not knowing that she was toning down her own, for them.

The light and the dark. She was one of the first photojournalists into liberated Paris (and the first allied soldier to turn up at her friend Picasso's flat). Then, crossing into Germany, she was one of the first allied photojournalists to enter Buchenwald and Dachau. Astonishingly, she washed the visit to Dachau off in Hitler's own bathroom in his requisitioned flat in Munich, and, with the other GIs, was combing through his and Eva Braun's belongings at almost exactly the time the pair were committing suicide. Scherman's photograph of Miller in Hitler's bath, her filthy great army boots on the floor and her elegant arm mirroring that of the statuette placed next to her, is their dually sardonic and triumphant take on composition itself.

The affectionate story goes that Miller got herself accredited as US army war correspondent because she so envied her American friends in London their smart Savile Row uniforms and their easy access to Scotch and Kleenex. The truth is she'd been badgering Audrey Withers for some time to let her write text for her pictures. So Withers assigned her a short descriptive piece about the US broadcaster Ed Murrow. Miller found it excruciatingly hard. "After all, I've spent 15 or so years of my life learning how to take a picture - you know, that thing that is worth ten thousand words, and here I am cutting my own throat and imitating these people, writers who I've been pretending are démodé." But Withers liked the piece very much.

With her accreditation, in 1944, she flew into France to cover a quiet enough story about some nurses in an allied evacuation hospital and - "I grabbed a pocketful of bulbs and film, and clambered into a command car" - somehow managed to smuggle herself to a field hospital close to the front. Her first lengthy dispatch, "Unarmed Warriors", was a formally deft piece about the re-evaluation of a familiar landscape. "It was France ... it was no longer France." From the liberation of Paris she reported on the first fashion shows and the shaved heads of the girl collaborators, interviewed and photographed the great French writer Colette, covered the arrival of Fred Astaire and Marlene Dietrich and the press conference Maurice Chevalier held to clear himself of anti-patriotism. When a Vogue editor complained that neither the models nor the clothes in the fashion shots she'd sent were "elegant" enough, she snapped back: "These snap shots have been taken under the most difficult and depressing conditions ... Edna should be told that maybe there is a war on." The shots are real-surreal masterpieces, with their smiling, starvation-thin models next to bullet-riddled shop and cafe windows. "The bullet holes in the windows were like jewels, the barbed wire in the boulevards a new decoration."

Writing never came easily to Miller, who would fortify herself with cognac then batter at her Baby Hermes late into the deadline. "Every word I write is as difficult as 'tears wrung from stone'. I lose my friends and my complexion in my devotion to the rites of flagellating a typewriter," she told Withers in a typically funny and despairing cable. Scherman compared "being present during Lee's creative process to feeding his brain slowly through a meat grinder".

But what a writer. What an eye, what an ear. "A company was filing out of St Malo, ready to go into action, grenades hanging on their lapels like Cartier clips." Arriving in Strasbourg, "it didn't feel like an abandoned, evacuated city, but as if people were breathing somewhere behind walls." In Germany, "leaning back on the sofa" in her father's office, the Burgomeister of Leipzig's daughter, who had committed suicide, has "extraordinarily pretty teeth, waxen and dusty". An opera singer, photographed singing an aria from Madame Butterfly in the ruins of Vienna Opera House, is "perched on a plank across a drop ... her dress was safety-pinned to fit her hungry thinness". Miller's voice is always characterised by a combination of frank immediacy and surreal double-take. Her sense of edit must have come from years of knowing exactly how to retouch photos, where to cut, where to shade, where to lighten.

Great writers have never been strangers to the pages of Vogue (a quick scan of 20th-century writers for Brogue, for instance, turns up Virginia Woolf, Edith Sitwell, Jean Rhys, Iris Murdoch, Stevie Smith, Angela Carter). All the same, it takes a leap of the imagination now to re-inhabit the world in which even an advanced fashion monthly could house a voice like Miller's, who might write, from liberated Paris: "The entire gait of the French woman has changed with her footwear. Instead of the bouncing buttocks and mincing steps of 'pre-war', there is a hot-foot long stride, picking up the whole foot at once." Or, from St Malo under gunfire: "I sheltered in a Kraut dugout, squatting under the ramparts. My heel ground into a dead detached hand ... I picked up the hand and hurled it across the street and ran back the way I'd come."

It's not just in her photography that Miller asks you to look again. Her voice is as sharp as her eye. It bouleverses a reader's expectations, turns form and cliché inside out, punctures preconception. Her redefinition over several written pieces, for instance, of not just the concept but the very word "liberation" as she encounters it from situation to situation, becomes a profound attack on all empty, nostalgic or politically manipulative rhetoric. She tore up a Nazi flag and made herself a red scarf. She "liberated" a pair of pinking shears and cut herself (and the boys) blue scarves out of parachute silk. She took this word "liberation" to task, from the joyous, perfume-smelling streets of Paris to liberated Luxembourg where freedom is "the cinema for no purpose; it's the group in the street, laughing; it's trusting your friends and your family; or a newcomer because he has an honest face". But "the word was bound to degenerate. Now we 'liberate' a church when we wreck it, we 'liberate' a bottle of brandy when we beat down a mercenary publican, we 'liberate' a girl when we detach her from her chaperone ... 'I got liberated last night,' means I went on a particularly super drunk." The word degenerates until she compares the Germans she meets, who believe they've been "liberated" from a foolish involvement in a rather badly managed pyramid scheme instead of having been party to a brutal regime, with a dark-eyed couple she photographs who've just been freed from the Gestapo jail in Cologne.

What she saw as the German people's denial of knowledge and responsibility left her with a prescient sense that belief itself would be a war casualty. Her writing as she came through Germany (with nothing except her Rolleiflex lens between her and what she saw) became surgically cool, scathing, ironic; presumably this composure was also her protection. She was always a salty, street-smart, quick-witted writer; there's a deep love of puns and a Blitz-influenced Open-As-Usual humour in what she writes, the humour of anger, a survivor's lightness. It let her coin phrases such as "Gestapo Rotary Club", let her comment bitingly about Eva Braun's flat, its style "strictly department store, like everything else in the Nazi regime: impersonal and in good, average, slightly artistic taste". But her irony congealed into a cold and righteous fury when she reached Buchenwald, where she watched a dead SS man thrown on top of a pile of cadavers looking "shockingly big, the well-fed bastard", and Dachau, where the work-horse stables "full of fat-bottomed beasts" were terrible to the eye "after so many emaciated humans". The bestial shock allowed her some of her most powerful, terrible, cold-eyed work. How do you compose Buchenwald?

My fine Baedecker tour of Germany included many such places as Buchenwald which were not mentioned in my 1913 edition, and if there is a later one I doubt if they were mentioned there either, because no one in Germany has ever heard of a concentration camp, and I guess they didn't want any tourist business either. Visitors took one-way tickets only ... The tourists invited by General Patton fainted all over the place, although some remained arrogant. Even after the place was 95% cleaned up, soldiers who are used to battle casualties lying in ditches for weeks are sick and miserable at what they see here.

How do you compose Dachau? "I don't usually take pictures of horrors," she cabled Withers. "But don't think that every town and every area isn't rich with them. I hope Vogue will feel that it can publish these pictures." Withers published her cable as well as her dispatch. American Vogue titled the photo spreads and the breathtaking text that accompanied them "BELIEVE IT".

"There's something inside a human being that no one has thought of putting into a machine." Not being a machine, and having used up a spirit quota that would have kept 20 people happy for 20 lifetimes, Miller unwillingly returned to England after the war, profoundly disillusioned by its aftermath, and sank herself into the kind of silence that means that every book written about her is thick with detail till roughly 1950. The last three decades of her life always take up a disproportionately slim page-width.

A dismay at the mundane fashion jobs Vogue offered her, a dislike of being stuck in the country, an enervation and a descent into alcoholism commensurate with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, plus a total fear of the typewriter when she sat down to write and a great unhappiness at not being able to write any more, meant that such pieces as "Working Guests", her last text and photo spread for Vogue in 1953, are a rarity.

Its photos are of distinguished friends from the art world visiting Farley Farm. Even Miller's photo captions are gloriously subversive. "Max Ernst plants borders - one entire bed of Indian corn is all his own unaided work. Dorothea Tanning (Mrs Max Ernst), painter, operates as master electrician. Alfred Barr, art critic and director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, feeds the pigs. Katherina Wolpe (Mrs William Turnbull), promising young pianist, paints greenhouse." Maybe she always wanted art to make things work, to be something other than "just more ART".

The text is a typical upending of form. "There are columns of print by experts advising guests and hostesses how to behave toward each other with tolerance ... I've devoted four years of research and practice to getting all my friends to do all the work." Its tone is pseudo-clinical, cold-war totalitarian spiced with a cheeky, spiky violence. "Just in case there is something in the primitive idea of acquiring the qualities of the enemy by eating him, I refuse to have nettles or local snails on our table d'hôte, but we are going to try the curled young shoots of bracken (called fiddle-heads in New England), and without qualm we devour the inimical pigeons, squirrels and rabbits the gun-toters bring here."

It was her last lengthy piece of writing. Not that her creativity went away; it passed, instead, straight into the next passionate incarnation, Lee Miller as gourmet cook, insatiable recipe collector, winner of prizes, famous for gorgeous, naturally surrealist, visually unsettling dishes such as her "Pink Cauliflower Breasts".

It is as if, all her life, the 20th century in its brightest light and foulest dark threw itself at her feet or pursued her, snapping at her heels. Antony Penrose writes about the innate surreality in just flicking through an edition of Vogue from the war years, where "the grim skeletal corpses of Buchenwald are separated by a few thicknesses of paper from delightful recipes to be prepared by beautiful women dressed in sumptuous gowns". From one end to the other, the spirit of Lee Miller looked the surreal century in the eye and answered back.

One of the finest pieces of writing she left us, published in Vogue in 1945, is about the visit to Colette, herself a symbol of changing times and freedoms, whose own writing voice was always all cool but passionate. The spirit of versatility meets its younger/older incarnation in the piece.

The parade of 50 extraordinary years was given to me like flashbacks or cinema trailers. Colette as Colette. Colette, the siren, the gamine, the lady of fashion, the diplomat's wife, the mother, the author ... Colette on top of the Chrysler Building in the St Tropez barefoot sandals which tickled the jaded shutters of New York's cheesecake ship photographers 10 years ago.

Colette, who knew the cost and liberation of transformation, is tucked up in bed on the telephone. Seeing Miller in her army uniform, it amuses her "that I should have been transformed from Cocteau's statue in The Blood of a Poet to a poilu". She and Miller look at photographs together, of cats, of dogs, of Colette, portrait shots by Man Ray, some by Miller herself, who enjoys watching Colette and Maurice Goudeket, her much younger husband, affectionately squabbling. "Her elfin face was 50 years younger while she was haranguing." She records the survivalist persistence in Colette which meant that Goudeket, who was Jewish, survived the war years too. Then Colette "had me write" with her array of pens and pencils. "Hard points for digging, soft, easy ones for first drafts and letters, an old, wise one she trusted when she was completely stuck." When Miller leaves, Colette gives her a souvenir to take away, a piece of paper "with embossed lace edges and coloured cut-outs like an old fashioned valentine ... the holiday paper of her girlhood".

A thin piece of paper. A gift passing between two of the century's kindred spirits. The great writer, Miller tells us, "suffers the same anguish for every paragraph now, after 50 years of experience, as she did on those first four books". Miller wonders at the writing's grace, its "easy intimacy" that comes at no cost to its "mechanical accuracy". "Each of her perfectly poised words ... has survived total warfare."

It stands as a very good description of Lee Miller's own art. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

The above copied from:,,2164491,00.html

To view Lee Miller's work, visit: