DUCHAMP AND NEWMAN
I have already mentioned my work on the American painters and the importance this has had for me and for my experience.
Without the friendship, shown to me from the beginning, by Leo castelli and Alan Solomon, whom I met at the Biennale in 1964, I probably wouldn't have embarked on this enterprise.
While Castelli was introducing me to the world of painters, collectors, musicians and friends, Solomon took me to the Studios, in a very particular way. At first I was worried about his presence, because I thought he would just use me for his own purpose. But Solomon never interfered and did not say anything; he stood by himself, listening to some records or reading a book, when, at a certain point, he went away, leaving me alone. At that point I had the opposite feeling: I feared I was totally left to chance; I often asked for explanation, but Solomon kept silent. I think he just did not want to make things more complicated for me than they already were; and above all, he thought highly of my work; and he felt that any mistake I might make would be more interesting as far as my trip into American painting and a certain side of New York was concerned than any footnote that he might add to the story.
Nobody has sent me to New York, I moved all by myself, I wanted to understand and to be a witness. I went through the Studios without speaking English at all, just saying those few essential words, trying not to be an hindrance or being heard or, yet, hampering what the artists were doing during their work.
When I photograph painters, I often try to go beyond the mere reportage, and I also try not to take the usual portrait, or the nice portrait, because what I'm interested in is to make clear the artists in connection with the result of their own works, that is to say that I tried to understand which of their attitudes is crucial for the final issue.
For some painters doing nothing is more important than doing something. Of course is not easy to convey this apparent passiveness and understand that here is a complex drive behind, which is an await for the event, for something that sometimes could solve immmediately, with one single move. For example it is not helpful to photograph Newman while he is painting one of his big canvas, in which two or three vertical lines divide the space, because anybody, looking at this work can perfectly figure out how it was done. It is more curios how meticolous he was in arranging his studio before starting painting: the habit of putting some paper behind the canvas in order to avoid to soil the wall, the tidiness of his studio, which reveals his psycological attitude of an extremely meticolous man, scrupolous about everything and as well about his way of dressing,very elegant and always in order.
Anyway, in that case, a photograph is just a document which is eventually open to other people's interpretation. In this case I feel impersonalized, thus I try to understand what is happening around me,doing it through my photos: I try to give the document a direct interpretation, thus to be a complete subject. Looking at one of these photos, people have to understand why it was done in that way; it is not possible to get what a painter is doing without getting what I, the photographer, have done; one needs to realize that my point of view is not only optical but mental above all. For Newman the important thing was the relation with his canvas, the fact of entering it slowly after a process of concentration which defines sizes, space and sections. It was for sure the best way for me to express this scaning by photographing the details of Newman's canvas, where, at its border, you can find Newman's signature and the beginning of the work.
The same photographs of Duchamp could be more than a series of portraits more or less successful. They visually attest Duchamp's mental attitude which has been realised after many years of silence and by refusing to do something which is just a different way of doing something, of going on with one's subject. While doing someone a portrait you can take an infinite number of attitudes towards him or her and let them take another infinite number of attitudes towards you, the photographer. I think the very portrait is the one in which the person stands there, in a pose, aware of the camera, doing nothing but pose.
Usually when you say that you want someone to be natural, the meaning of being natural is not that of being in that way towards yourself, but of being natural with the camera, that is to say with the photographer, as if you wanted to take them in saying " I am here, but I'm pretending not to know you are there. This way my pretence will be more believable".
Photographing someone while he is doing something is like recording a fact, thus is to say reporting that fact. A portrait is, in a certain sense, something nobler than a reportage, as long as there would not be any reserve in it, or any pretence towards the entire project, which has to be as open ,as direct as possible. Yet, striking a pose is, in a certain sense, the same thing of doing something: so when I took photos of Duchamp in a pose, I really found myself in a vicious circle.
Anyway posing was an attitude which could be similar to doing anything, because every action Duchamp could have done would have been something more or something in excess. Portraits at home or in the museum weren't enough for me: I did want to take him while he was walking, because it seems to me that walking is the very simple attitude in life and it is very significant by a photographic point of view, it was like doing something, yet apart from the yeld.
So there are some pictures of Duchamp walking from his house to Washington Square. Then we found (and he knew that!) that there were some chessboards drawned in a few table of cement or stone among the threes in Washington Square. I had already taken some pictures of Duchamp while he was playing chess but at the end I discarded
them, because they were too discursive. I choose these pictures of Duchamp outside instead, with him sitting in front of this small table with a chessboards but without any chessmen; and furthermore Duchamp never looked at the chessboard; it has become a symbol and it is a most precise symbol just because it is outside, out of its usual context.
There was something bold in Duchamp's attitude, when he stands with his half-opened-eyes because of the sun beating upon his face.
There are also some pictures made in Duchamp's house, those portrait I've mentioned before and in these pictures I tried to lead him acting in that doing-nothing-attitude showing that silence which weighed so heavely upon young artists's work in that period; a silence which is weighing even more upon these artist's behaviour.
If "doing something" means producing something, there is nothing as particular as watching something which is already done. So persisting with Duchamp watching his own things or other people things, which are so far away by now (and Duchamp says "you can see, but you cannot feel the felt), is like emphasize Duchamp's giving up. Here is Duchamp, sitting on that so popular sofa, with that cigar always in his hand, watching an old picture of Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a naked woman. And here is Duchamp again, in his living room in New York, sitting on a Brancusi' sculpture. Here Duchamp does not do absolutely anything, he is taken a little from behind, his face is on profile and it seems he is looking somewhere else. Then we went to the Modern Art Museum and there it was so exciting to photograph him among his works of about 50 years ago,while he was watching them as if they weren't of his own; and was so exciting letting him pose with his back leaned against the wall: Duchamp, as a work of art himself, comes alive among his own old things.