I was offended and dismayed by The New York Times review last week, which not only brings up Laing’s appearance but then refers us to the author’s photo to conclude that she is “utterly unhideous.” If you read the book she’s painfully self conscious about being judged by the beauty standards imposed upon women, so just — wow.
Just back from London, where I saw the new Julia Margaret Cameron retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum— it’s a big show for the 200th anniversary of Cameron’s birth and it focusses on her relationship with what became the V&A (then the South Kensington Museum) and its founder Henry Cole. The V&A was one of the first museums to collect photographs and Cameron’s work was amongst their first acquisitions. Using letters from their collection as well as the photos themselves, curator Marta Weiss makes a great case that Cameron’s so-called “sloppy” technique was due at least in part to her habit of sending her artist-mentor-friends imperfect prints so she could save the better ones to sell. Unfortunately for her, those seconds given to her famous friends (like painter G.F. Watts and astronomer J.F.W.H. Herschel, whose album of Cameron photos is now on display at the Science Museum) ended up in museum collections all over the world — which gave an unrepresentative view of her work. That is not to say that Cameron never exhibited or sold photographs that her contemporaries considered flawed: the soft-focus edges and smeary lines of the “Angel of the Nativity” photo shown here demonstrate how her style emphasized artful composition and emotional effect over technical precision. But this exhibit provides some much-needed context for all the controversy about Cameron’s technique, which inevitably was gendered around her status as an early woman photographer. The catalogue to the show also breaks down the usual linear chronology of her work to organize it around the five surviving letters Cameron wrote to Cole. All in all, the exhibit provides a striking new look at an old “mistress,” to quote a now-old term by art historian Griselda Pollock….
[I’m grateful to the V&A staff who invited me to give a Works in Progress talk there. I uploaded a PDF version of my slides here: Jane and Julia]
I’m working on an article for Open Letters Monthly on the Romance Writers of America annual conference, which just ended in NYC. Here are some quick notes while I think about it…. [I know, I know I should have been tweeting and posting the whole time! But how do people get to all that?! she whines]
Best snippet of a session I heard: Liz Pelletier’s Spotlight on Entangled, where she wowed me with ten minutes of anecdotes about her editing process, including how she trains their interns in editing. As it ended the woman next to me said with similar awe: “who was that?”
Strangest snapshots: Goody Room Before and Afters. The last day the room looked like a tornado had hit it– with boxes of Harlequins of every stripe and sub-stripe on the floor; piles of bookmarks, buttons, and random swag; and a handwritten note from a peeved author: “To the person who took my promo out of its basket, left the promo, and took the basket. I hope karma bites you in the butt.”
Most appreciated gesture from a total stranger: At the Avon Meet and Greet author Candis Terry saw me standing alone, nervously, and went out of her way to introduce me to her editors. I was painfully grateful and now I’ll go read her books!
Worst moment of the conference: on my way there on Saturday morning I was late and rushing and when a stroller on the sidewalk blocked my path I must have shown something BAD on my face because the woman pushing it said “seriously? you’ve got to lose the attitude!” And I brooded on it ALL DAY. Because I hated that I gave her grief and I hated that she gave me back even more than I gave her.
Best quote from a session: romance novelist Eloisa James saying “E.L. James did not make my life any easier.”
New vocabulary words I learned: perma-free, street team, lookalike audiences
Most common advice to writers: “ask for what you want!”
I’ve always had a fondness for Garry Winogrand’s work, especially this iconic photograph.
I remember seeing it when I was a child and understanding it. The woman faced the wrong way! And the photographer caught her photographing the wrong thing! Figuring that out was a delicious surprise. Photographs could say things they didn’t seem to say. This photograph wasn’t about the rocket launch at all.
At the huge Garry Winogrand retrospective now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York I expected to feel fondness for all of his photos, to experience that flash of understanding over and over again. But I didn’t. Seen all together in such a large group it’s harder to make sense of it. There are the early photos for magazines, the city scenes from the 1950s, then suburban tableaux from the 1960s and 1970s. Then his untimely death in 1984 at age 56. In between he received Guggenheim fellowships, and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. He had plenty of success and recognition, though this is the first show that includes the full range of his work and even some chosen from the many rolls of undeveloped film he left behind.
The exhibit shows off his eye, his ability to see and capture the interesting angle, but the photos also blurred together after awhile. There were too many; they were too alike. When Winogrand is quirky, as in the photo above, I think Diane Arbus does it better: she implicates us in the subject’s difference more than Winogrand does. When he is more sociological, as in the photograph below, I think Robert Frank does it better: he stays with his subjects longer whereas Winogrand seems to drift past them. I was disappointed. Did the show take on too much? Or do I just miss that first epiphany?