I have always loved obscuring the face, the entry to the soul. I have done this with masks, hats, flags, doorways, gestures, pictures, etc., but never have I done it with a lampshade.
Years ago for the cover of New York Time’s Magazine we made a lampshade hat that looked both like a hat and a lampshade, but I had never found a real lampshade that would work until recently.
This is one of those pictures I had often dreamed about previously, but it was not until this past winter that I actually found another picture from my dreams. My aspirations and my dreams from years past seem to be an important insight into what lies before me.
Before I get into the minor logistics of this picture, one must ask oneself “why would he ever want to make this picture?” Sure it is funny, but to me it is more than that. I have been doing similar tricks for 45 years, so what obscure corner of my cerebral cortex would need or desire to express such a fanciful image.
Although my pictures are often referred to as surreal, and I have been included in many shows where surrealism was the main focus, I am not sure this is how I see my pictures.
I perceive my pictures as playing with time and space (and I am sure this is the quality that people perceive as surreal) but mostly I see my pictures as funny, and to use the most vulgar expression from the 21st century art world, beautiful and romantic. Please close your eyes and shut your ears for I have referred to the unmentionables. I seek beauty, sentiment (not sentimentality) and passion in an era where any important of significant art critic would cringe with disdain at these terms. Any piece of art that is beautiful would never be considered important and to add romanticism on top is the total stamp of insignificance, unless it is cloaked in an intellectual cerebral mask, which can be talked about, so that no one except themselves can understand it.
Well, I don’t know what drives the engine of my little green fuse, but as soon as I walked into this large estate in upstate New York, I knew immediately that I wanted to take a picture under this lampshade that hung low over a massive table in the front foyer, designed by my favorite American architect Stanford White.
But why do this? I have done similar things before. It was a full day of shooting, and it was not part of the assignment. But somehow I felt it important to return to that part of my subconscious, which despite my attempts to elevate, continually since my youth, has surfaced over and over again.
The simple fact is, as I have mentioned before, a good part of myself does not like me very much. I do not like to be looked at, regarded, studied, as this seems to accentuate this problem. This is a huge dilemma for me.
I stare lovingly at others and can look at them endlessly with wonder and awe, but only find fault with myself. That is why I try to avoid having any graven image (or for that matter any image) of myself. I never like what I see. This dilemma particularly manifests itself with my camera. For when it comes to photography I am not unassuming, withdrawn, fearful, or lacking in aggression. In fact I would say I am out there driving and fighting fearlessly for truth, justice, and the Rodney Smith way. I can get up and talk in front of thousands with no fear, work on New York streets with hundreds watching, but if you take away my camera or you take up yours and point it at me, I immediately fall into an uncomfortable and fearful state.
So what gives? Am I shy, self-loathing, receding and fearful, or am I an egomaniac who knows no bounds.
Unfortunately, I am both, and you see it in my work. I can identify with those who have nothing and are close to total despair, or I can easily feel comfortable with those who have it all.
For many years I have had another recurring dream, far more profound than the first. In the dream, I am in an all male line up of sorts, being carefully scrutinized by attractive women. It is only women who are observing and evaluating the men. The men are asked to take all their clothes off (which to me is like removing all the things of value and worth), and to stand naked before the critical eyes of these women.
I am naked, vulnerable, and I feel so unattractive and undesirable. No woman would want me without the clothes of fame, fortune, and glory. As a naked man, I am nothing.
I don’t want you to see me without my clothes, my affects, my house, my car, and most importantly, my pictures. I really don’t want to tell you about myself, yet I constantly do. I want you to look at my pictures, like them, even love them, want to purchase them and own them. I want you to love me, but how can you when I don’t love myself. The pictures are beautiful, but I am ugly and full of faults.
So on this glorious day in the winter of 2011, we all together moved this massive table and asked the exquisite, beautiful, six foot tall, Viktoria to stand under the lampshade. Now, here is the real irony, or should I say paradox of this picture.
Viktoria, this perfect Hungarian beauty, must also feel misunderstood and easily overlooked. She at every glance from the toes to the top of her head is beautiful, but maybe like the rest of us, inside feels full of insecurity and misgivings. Maybe she feels that no one sees past her beauty to the real person inside. Beauty is more than skin deep.
I standing on the outside feel powerful and filled with fun. By obscuring part of the truths with this lampshade, with no one able to see the whole person, we are looking at more than meets the eye. For a brief moment what looks incompatible (Viktoria and myself) is perfectly in tune.
Viktoria is more than her looks (she is wise, funny and loving, etc.) and I am my best when no one can see me.
In any case look very carefully at my pictures, they are more than they seem. They are obscured and full of metaphor. Yet they are showing you and me a way out of the unhappiness we feel inside ourselves, in our culture, politics, and our lives. They can show you what lies on the other side, to open a door from the void, from all the fears that fill our culture, and help us find the right question to all our answers.