DUCHAMP e NEWMAN
The photographs of Duchamp aim to be something more than just a series of more or less successful portraits. Rather, they are an attempt to render in visual form Duchamp’s mental approach to his own work – an approach that acquired material form in years of silence, in a rejection of action that is actually a new form of action, and of continuing a process.
When making a portrait of a person, you can assume no end of attitudes towards the photographer. No portrait is more of a portrait than one in which the sitter puts himself there, posing, fully aware of the camera. In other words, facing the photographer as if to deceive him, saying “I’m here, but I’m pretending I don’t know you’re there, so my pretense will be more credible.” Photographing someone doing something, on the other hand, means recording an event, so it’s a form of reportage. In a certain sense, portraiture is a more noble form than news photography, so long as there is no reticence, no pretense with regard to the operation as a whole, which must be as open and as direct as possible.
Even so, posing is also to some extent an action, which meant that if I photographed Duchamp posing, I would have found myself in a vicious circle. Having said that, posing was the attitude closest to non-action, because anything else that Duchamp might have done would have been something extra, a step too far. The portraits at home or in the museum were not enough for me: I wanted to take a picture of him while he was walking, because I ﬁnd that walking is the most elementary attitude in life, and the most signiﬁcant in photographic terms. It is an action detached from creating, and the clearest action of just living.
That is why there are some photos of Duchamp walking from his home to Washington Square. Then we found (but he already knew!) that there were chessboards drawn on some concrete tables under the trees in the square. I’d already taken some photos of Duchamp playing chess, but I’d discarded them because they were too discursive. On the other hand, I did choose these photos of Duchamp in the open air, sitting at the little table with a chessboard but no chess pieces. Indeed, Duchamp is not even looking at the chessboard, which turns it into a symbol.
An even more explicit symbol because it is in the open air, away from its usual setting. There’s something brash about Duchamp’s pose, with his eyes half closed because the sun is shining directly in his face.
Then there are photos taken at home – they’re the portraits I was talking about. In these ones I tried to have him adopt poses that would reveal his non-action, the silence that already in those years was weighing on the works of young artists and that increasingly appears to weigh on their behavior today. So insisting that Duchamp look at his own and other people’s things, now such a long time ago (Duchamp used to say “you can see seeing, but you can’t hear hearing”), is a bit like emphasizing his renunciation.
Here’s Duchamp sitting in that famous armchair, with his cigar permanently in his hand, looking at an old photo of Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a nude woman. And here’s Duchamp again in his sitting room in New York, seated on a sculpture by Brancusi. Duchamp is doing absolutely nothing here, and we see him slightly from behind, while his face is almost in proﬁle and he looks like someone looking elsewhere.
Lastly, we went to the Modern Art Museum, and here it was exciting to photograph him among his works of about ﬁfty years earlier, looking at them as though they were not his, having him pose with his back against the wall, a living work of art himself among his old things.
Da “La Fotografia”Fotografie e testi Ugo MulasGiulio Einaudi EditoreTorino 1973