Corporal Capa’s Picture of the Week

Happy Memorial Day!

In 1944 and 1945, Cornell Capa was posted at Mitchel Field Air Force base, located in Nassau, Long Island. While processing Cornell’s personal papers, we came across a collection of news clippings which included photographs (both credited and un-credited) taken by Cornell Capa, illustrating the daily lives of air force personnel stationed at Mitchel Field.


Capa, in uniform posing with a camera, Ca. 1944/1945

The majority of the clippings were from the Mitchel Field Airbase’s local newspaper: The Beacon, Mitchel Field: “Published in the interest of personnel at Mitchel Field.” The collection also contained an assortment of clippings from other local New York papers featuring stories and photographs of the Airbase at Mitchel Field.


L-R: First Airforce Airmen, [unidentified Private First Class], Corporal Cornell Capa, [unidentified Sargent], ca. 1944/1945

The Mitchel Field Airbase was activated as 1 AF, December 18, 1940, as one of the four original numbered air forces. It became re-designated at First Air Force on April 9, 1941, with the mission to defend the Great Lake regions. By 1944, most of the concerns of the First Air Force was training replacement units for overseas combat. By late 1944-1945 the original four Air Force Units were placed under the command of the Continental Air Forces.

Many of the images in these clippings are completely uncredited or list the photographer as “FAF Photo” or “Official First AAF Photo.” They contain images of the daily life of the personnel and airmen of the base, as well as dozens of photographs of the Airforce football teams: “The Giants” and “The Aces.”


[possibly Cornell Capa,] Air Force Aces Football team, 1944/1945

We cannot definitively say that these images were made by Capa, however, there are a number of clues that point in that direction. Consider these three facts:

  1. The intentional nature of their clipping.
  2. They are the oldest preserved news clippings from the Cornell Capa Papers collection.
  3. Mixed with these clippings are images with a written credit to “Cpl Cornell Capa.”



Picture of the Week: Ice and Snow, Cpl Cornell Capa, ca. 1944/1945



Picture of the Week: Striking the Gong, Cpl Cornell Capa, ca. 1944/1945


Picture of the Week, Sgt Cornell Capa, ca. 1944/1945

If you notice, Cornell was promoted to Sargent in his credits!

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OMG, Bring a Book! The Library Goes to Critical Jamming

ICP Museum 2018

a plethora of books brought from the Library for the occasion, photo by Cathy de la Cruz

Yours truly and ICP Head Librarian and Archivist Matthew Carson participated in the recent panel From X-Files to The Matrix: Reality Disintegrated, held on Sunday, March 4 at the ICP Museum.

In the words of organizer Claudine Boeglin:

The 90s. It was an era of hope bracketed between the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the fall of the two World Trade Center towers (2001). New aspirations of politics, technology, and culture gradually vanished, prefigured by the dark conspiracy theories of The X-Files and The Matrix, where the known world is an illusion.

In an active roundtable, moderators and speakers will introduce different angles and stories around the theme of reality disintegrated. Through references to pop culture, counterculture, and activism, they will rebuild the zeitgeist of an era in an oblique, improvisatory fashion. This conversation will offer a post-modern magnifying glass in which to reflect upon the times we live in. In an effort to activate this exchange, the audience will be invited to participate through responses, comments, and suggestions.


  • Matthew Carson, ICP Head Librarian and Archivist
  • Bernard Yenelouis, Artist, writer, library staff, ICP


  • Aron Morel, London-based indie publisher
  • Janette Beckman, photographer
  • Nick Waplington, artist and photographer
  • Cathy de la Cruz, writer and member of the riot grrrl movement and Sister Spit
  • Avram Finkelstein, artist, writer, and activist
  • Carlo McCormick, senior editor of Paper
  • Guy Martin, photographer

Given the unstructured approach to the afternoon, the moniker “moderator” is best understood as a placeholder at best in terms of our participation. There were multiple layers of conversations, the highlight for me being a critical presentation by Avram Finkelstein, discussing images in relation to propaganda, capitalism, and colonialism.

Avram Finkelstein ICP Museum 2018

Avram Finkelstein, photo by Bernard Yenelouis

I had neither hope or inclination to “rebuild the zeitgeist” of this specific era, except as a method to understand present times.  The notion of such an action brings me back to Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Concept of History (1940).

The ninth thesis reads:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage.

I will also pull these fragments from the seventh thesis:

once one asks the question, with whom does the historical writer of historicism actually empathize. The answer is irrefutably with the victor. Those who currently rule are however the heirs of all those who have ever been victorious. Empathy with the victors thus comes to benefit the current rulers every time. This says quite enough to the historical materialist. Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage. In the historical materialist they have to reckon with a distanced observer. For what he surveys as the cultural heritage is part and parcel of a lineage [Abkunft: descent] which he cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another. The historical materialist thus moves as far away from this as measurably possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.

And the eighth thesis:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency.


Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, formerly owned by Walter Benjamin, collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The melancholic, “negative” aspects to Benjamin’s theses remind me of a comment I heard by the historian Iain Boal, at an academic conference on anarchism at Cornell University,  that negativity is important to sustain in the positivist world we live in.

How can we deconstruct the ability of photography (and all subsequent image-based media) to support and sustain this veil of positivist illusion of reality and its uses as propaganda and advertisement?

For Finkelstein there are only principles of propaganda and advertising at work, echoing constant political tensions underlying mass media in relation to, and as examples of forms of power. For the younger participants, 1990s photobooks were a physical link to an analog childhood that has vivid retrospective lines and colors in contradistinction to the abstractions of virtuality that have colonized our sense of the everyday.

The photograph informs us of what we want and how we want it. How can we disturb the neat sequences of the picture press, which make disasters appear temporal, recognizable in simple strokes, and as unimportant as any commodity? Where happiness  needs to be a thing seen and owned? Where vision is equated with possession? Does it have to be like that?

Looking at the books pulled from the shelves one can see that publishing had a different tenor to it. Given ICP’s long ties to documentary and photojournalism one can see an emphasis on these forms, while practitioners were shifting from magazine assignments to books, exhibitions and other forms associated with the art world. That shift is even more extreme now. Fashion was also moving to a similarly curated sphere. Among the books we could not locate which we would deem as important to this time period were Wolfgang Tillmans’ first book from Taschen and Nan Goldin’s The Other Side. And the library does not own a copy of Zoe Leonard’s  The Fae Richards Archive. We all agreed that there were not enough women or races represented in this snapshot view. By the same token, the erratic selection is not meant to be a shopping list either, but a consideration of possible tools for looking backwards.

Another aspect to keep in mind is that these books were acquired when ICP was still located uptown in the former Willard Straight house, where the library was a small room filled with books and there was no catalog of its holdings or a trained librarian. Books were acquired sporadically, most often when requested directly for a class. With such constraints in place a library could still evolve and emerge.


Slavoj Zizek in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (dir. Sophie Fiennes, 2012)

The 1990s revisited – books from the library brought to Critical Jamming:

Nobuyoshi Araki, Sentimental Journey  TR654.A73 1991

David Armstrong, The Silver Cord  TR680.A75 1997

David Armstrong & Nan Goldin, A Double Life  TR680.G65 1994

Richard Billingham, Ray’s A Laugh  TR681.F28.B55 1996

The Boston School (ICA)  TR680.B67 1995

Sophie Calle, Double Game  TR179.5.C35 1999

Larry Clark, The Perfect Childhood  TR681.Y6.C53 1995

Contemporary German Photography (Taschen)  TR646.G3 C66 1997

Douglas Crimp & Adam Rolston, AIDS DemoGraphics  TR820.C75 1990

Corinne Day, Diary  TR820.5.G7.D39 2000

William Eggleston, Ancient and Modern   TR647.E27 1992

Jim Goldberg, Raised by Wolves  TR820.5.U6.G55 1995

Paul Gorman, The Story of The Face  TR146.G676 2017

Paul Graham, End of an Age  TR680.G73 1999

Paul Graham, Empty Heaven  TR647.G73 1995

Eikoh Hosoe, Meta  TR647.467 1991

Will McBride, Coming of Age  TR681.B6.M37 1994

Boris Mikhailov, Case History  TR820.5.U38. M53 1999

Mark Morrisroe, Mark Morrisroe  TR676.M67 1999

James Nachtwey, Inferno  TR820.6.N33 1999

Camilla Nickerson & Neville Wakefield, Fashion  TR679.F37 1998

Gabriel Orozco, Gabriel Orozco  TR140.076 2000 & TR140.078 2000

Martin Parr, The Cost of Living  TR820.5.G7.P37 1989

Gilles Peress, Telex Iran  TR820.5.I7.P47 1983

Jack Pierson, All of a Sudden  TR654.P54 1995

Jack Pierson, The Lonely Life  TR654.P54 1997

Eugene Richards, Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue  TR681.D7.R53 1994

Gerhard Richter, Atlas  TR647.R53 1997

Joseph Rodriguez, East Side Stories  TR820.5.R63 1998

Joseph Rodriguez, Spanish Harlem  TR820.R641 1994

Martha Rosler, If You Lived Here  TR187.R67 1999

Cindy Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills  TR681.W6.554 2003

Stephen Shore, American Surfaces  TR647.S36 1999

Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home  TR681.F28.S85 1992

Nick Waplington, Living Room  TR681.F28.W36 1991

Nick Waplington, The Wedding  TR819.W36 1996

Brian Weil, Every 17 Seconds  TR820.W45 1992

Carrie Mae Weems, The Louisiana Project  TR647.W44 2004

David Wojnarowicz, Brush Fires  TR140.W65 1994

David Wojnarowicz, Tongues of Flame  TR647.W65 1992


Posted in archival collections, artists' books, Book events, collections, color photography, critical theory, deconstruction, ICP Library, memory, nostalgia, parataxis, publishing, queer, self-publishing, Slavoj Zizek, Unpacking the collection, Visual Research, Walter Benjamin | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

100th Anniversary of Cornell Capa

Today marks the 100th birthday of ICP’s founder, Cornell Capa. Many of the books that built the foundation of the ICP library came from the man himself. Many are inscribed with notes, and stickers from his personal library. Even Edie Capa, Cornell’s wife has books that have been accessioned into the collection.


One of the highlights of these books is Cornell’s copy of The Decisive Moment, which is inscribed:

“Cornell please tell me: what is THE DECISIVE MOMENT in a Magnum meeting? (guess my answer) Avec toute mon amitié Henri”



Another treat, is noticing Capa’s book plates that he pasted in many of his books as well as this copy of The Decisive Moment. We cannot help but remember his adventurous spirit represented by the ship travailing the open oceans, engraved on his library plate.2018-04-10-0004

Check out some of our posts of gems found about Cornell and his work here and some other books from Cornell’s library here.

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An interview with WRRQ Collective


This spring, the ICP Library launched a collaborative exhibition series co-curated with Brett Suemnicht of the GenderFail Archive. In addition to organizing a variety of curatorial perspectives to investigate gender through archives, Suemnicht invited participating artists Hallie McNeill, Evan Galbicka, and Colin Klockner to reimagine how printed media can experienced experienced in mobile reading rooms. Each artist has produced a sculptural display: McNeill’s Untitled book stand is functionally minimal and requires us to be at multiple heights to view its books; Galbicka’s GenderFail Archive Seat are resin sculptures that double as floor seating and shelving; Klockner’s Forum is an architectural model showing the most common form for how architecture has assembled bodies in search of information.


Evan Galbika, GenderFail Archive Seat. Installation view at ICP Library, 2018.

For the first installment of the series, Suemnicht assembled a selection of books and printed ephemera from the GenderFail collection as well as the ICP Library’s holdings. Four members of the WRRQ Collective arranged the first installment for the library windows: Darnell Davis, Pheral Lamb, Marcela Ossio, Quito Ziegler. What follows is a casual conversation with three members of WRRQ, completed in March 2018.

Patricia Silva: Quito, will you introduce the WRRQ Collective and how it functions as a group?

Quito Ziegler: WRRQ is an intergenerational network of queer/trans artists, cooks and activists. We came together through an annual summer retreat, now in its 6th year, linking queer artists with young people dealing with homelessness and transience. We have grown into a year-round family and our WRRQ continually evolves as a creative response to community needs. Depending on the project, there are 5 to 50 collective members working together.

All of us understand that our liberation is interconnected, and WRRQ hard to relate to each other across our differences. We make art for visual resistance and collective healing, including visual art, poetry, music, drag, video and culinary arts. We also take care of each other and our people by organizing community dinners, clothing swaps, vigils and street actions.


Patricia: How did the selections for the ICP Library window come about, for each of you? Quito mentioned earlier that you all worked intuitively, so how was that process?

Marcela Ossio: We initially looked through books and zines and came up with a variety of images that we liked. We then gathered the images together and came up with connecting themes.

Darnell Davis: We wanted positivity, an escape from the sad news of the world like a sigh of relief or a breath of fresh air. We just looked around and found things that made us happy and evoked that feeling of freedom and resistance that called out to us. I literally turned my mind off for a bit and just picked out images that sparked a positive feeling within me. Whether it was a beautiful brown face, a powerful uplifting image, maybe an image that was a little out there and sexually liberating, and even vibrant colors that put a smile on my face.


There wasn’t much talking which can be oddly surprising but, I guess that is due to the fact of us being a family of queers knowing each other well enough. When we all were smiling we knew we were doing the job we came to do which was to have these visuals become eye-catchers and lure people in to see the queer archive on display and not hiding or being on one row of a bookshelf. We created what we embody as a collective of diverse people with the commonality of being queer.

Patricia: Is this the first time that WRRQ Collective has done a ‘queering the archive’ type of project?

Quito: Kristen P. Lovell and I, two of the co-founders of WRRQ, have both been obsessed with queering archives for years. Kristen has produced at least four “Trans in Media” videos that show how black trans people are portrayed in the media versus how they portray themselves. My long-term search for images of nonbinary people and grappling with our historical invisibility made its way onto ICP’s walls last year in the Gender section of Perpetual Revolution, among other curatorial projects.

As trans movements grew and our stories became more known, Kristen and I have both starting moving away from strictly historic work, and are both into producing original films that put images of trans people we can relate to into the world.

Patricia: What does queering an archive mean to you, Marcela and Darnell?

Marcela: Showing different aspects of queer expression and community through a variety of artistic mediums.

Darnell: To me, it means putting queer books to the forefront like bolden texts making articles easier to find and harder to miss. I really enjoyed working with my collective family in making queer materials easier to find and out there for others to enjoy. One thing that always upsets me is to walk into a library and the queer section is either hard to find, one row on a bookshelf (ok, in some places it’s two rows), or non-existent.


Patricia: What sparked individual interest in the images that you chose and wanted to arrange for the windows?

Darnell: Happiness, Vibrant and Saturated Colors, Positive Message, Sexual Liberation, Beautiful Brown People, Strength, Power, Resistance. I chose images that I felt as human beings we need to acknowledge that we live in a diverse world where all shades and backgrounds of people exist. Our images need to reflect that diversity especially within a queer archive. I felt it was my duty to inject black and brown faces in there to dismantle the idea of the word queer and having the first thing in your head [for an image of queerness] be a white person. Instead I want the first thing to be seen with the relation to the word queer is an abundance of flowers. Not just one flower, but a whole field of wildflowers.

Marcela: The selections I made were works that popped out at me that were either by people of color or displayed the strength, power and beauty of people of color.

Patricia: How did you think of approaching this queer archiving project, knowing what our current political climate is?

Quito: The week before we curated our windows, a #MeToo moment happened in our lives, and I initially wanted to use the windows to rage against patriarchy and create space for others to air out their feelings. When we actually sat down to dream together, Darnell and Marcela convinced me that rage was not as fierce as love, and we’d do better by displaying positive images of strength.

Marcela: That was the initial idea, to do a Graveyard for the Patriarchy. I believe that with everything that’s been going on lately, it would be better to do something that would showcase works of art that are more positive rather than further giving a platform to negativity.

Darnell: When we were discussing how we felt about “throwing” books into the graveyard, things began to feel a bit depressing for me. I internally felt like this was another way of burning books and I did not feel like that was something I wanted to be apart of. So instead Marcela voiced what I was internally thinking and we all agreed that we should shift the vision from the graveyard and into focusing more on positive and self-affirming imagery. I thought it was especially necessary during a time where our country’s stance in the world is so depressing.

Patricia: Your arrangements are organized according to a sensibility rather than media-specific visual forms. I see this as a reflection of the WRRQ Collective’s own energy, and what holds you all to each other, do you agree?

Darnell: We are all a great mix of people with different backgrounds and talents merging together. Everything we do is a form of mixed media so you are right about that one. Our visuals are like wild ponies in a field of wildflowers!

Patricia: Love it!

Marcela: I would say that it is close to a reflection of the WRRQ collective because of the diversity of the images we chose, and how they came together so well to describe different ideas we were trying to display.

Patricia: From what you were drawn to in the ICP Library, what was most enjoyable to discover?

Darnell: The Black Panther and Flower Power photo book and the James Unsworth zine. It’s funny because when I came across the James Unsworth zine, I actually found him on Instagram and messaged him. James responded and told me about his new zines coming out soon and and now I’m a fan!

Marcela: I really liked discovering a lot of the work we displayed. These works are things I hadn’t come across before and it was very empowering.

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Stephen Grebinski, Keyed to Masculine Comfort, 2015

Faced with the excess and diversity (where to start?) of publications in Queering the Collection, currently installed in the ICP Library, I was happy to find (& just by judging a book by its cover) a familiar name: Stephen Grebinski.

This past fall at the Art Book Fair at P.S.1 I bought one of his publications in the hot & steamy zine tent, recognizing his work from Instagram (aparafoto). Grebinski works with an archive of old (analogue) gay porn, culled from print publications and VHS tapes.

The self–published book Keyed to Masculine Comfort mixes images from porn and interior design manuals. Cropped, printed in black-&-white on cheap paper, with a laminated soft cover, the book suggests longing and loss through the sea changes of time and low-tech appropriation. Both collections were once ordinary, or representative of markets that have subsequently fallen into an abyss of irretrievable times past. Bodies and furnishings once fulsome with possibility have receded into obsolescence, betrayed by the very technologies that once propped them up as ripe and fantastic. Rather than consider forms or styles as changing (body types, hair, floral arrangements, wallpaper patterns, etc.), we are faced with the shifting norms of electronic media that speed far ahead of our slow flesh, demanding new models of recognition.

Relentless consumption can be viewed as a perpetual and uncanny crisis in this bittersweet model of defunct intimacy and interiority, understood only in hindsight, past the point of being discarded. The wit of this book is in its transformation of mundane materials into a charged and graphically complex mapping of discarded desires that survive (somehow) and reanimate (into something different) in this perpetual fire of media.


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anybody’s image could become everybody’s image: an interview with Mariken Wessels


Mariken Wessels spoke with me about her work and evolution as an artist. Here is our conversation:



epd: When did you start making visual art works, and how did you start working with found materials?

MW: Before I moved to Amsterdam to attend the Theater School I was already taking photographs. In the southern Dutch city of Breda, where I grew up, I worked in the small local theater, where each employee had multiple responsibilities, from door keeping and preparing the dressing rooms to constructing the sets and serving coffee during the breaks. This small theater was part of a larger theater where large companies were holding their rehearsals. At the time, in the early 1980s, I was able to attend every show, by both small and larger companies. Due to my job I was allowed to take pictures during rehearsals too. I felt intrigued by the narrative power embodied within theatrical scenery, which prompted me to move to Amsterdam to study acting at age twenty. A few years later, after having graduated from the Amsterdam Theater School I studied a year abroad at the Lee Strassberg Institute in New York City. During my subsequent acting career in The Netherlands, where I worked for classical theater as well as for T.V. series, I kept on taking photos. Additionally I was involved, like during my apprentice years in Breda, in everything dealing with a play, from suitable attire to the design of sets. This attitude was stimulated at school and also welcomed in practice.

Parallel to my acting career I kept making my own work, which grew stronger and stronger on its own, up to the point that I realized I’d be happier on my own and let my art works develop within an autonomous practice, rather than remain part of the bustle of theater. And I went back to school, this time the Rietveld academy of arts in Amsterdam. One of my teachers in the photography class assigned us to make a book. At that moment I realized I wanted to make a book about someone dear to me who passed away, but of whom I had no photographs at all. On the internet I started searching for photos related to his everyday surroundings. I worked from the outside toward the interior, as it were. I asked myself the same questions that I would have asked myself in the capacity of actress. By means of these questions I tried to build a picture of this person, adding to the portraits pictures that approximated the way he lived, where he lived, how his room looked like, and what things he used. He played the guitar and listened to cassette tapes a lot, so I went looking for these kind of images, too. And I found exterior shots of his house. This collecting activity helped coming close again to this dear one I’d sadly lost. I collected the images I found in a little artist’s publication. One of the results that fascinated me is how the images in this book replaced my actual memory of where and how he lived. When I think of the staircase in his house or his room, my mind is directed to the book. I discovered the frightening possibility of pasting images onto one’s memory, distorting that memory toward a belief in the later images rather than the actual, living memory. Even though human memory is unstable to begin with, the idea of memories being replaced by (other people’s) photographs is something that kept me busy ever after. This launched my interest in ‘found footage’ and convinced me that other people’s images, often anonymous, can be easily appropriated both into my artist’s practice and into my private memories. I realized that anybody’s image could become everybody’s image.

TO inside


epd: You studied and practiced as an actor for many years. How has that influenced your art practice? Does your experience as an actor affect your artwork, especially through your use of narrative or embodiment of a character through photography?

MW: I think that the way in which I work has a lot to do with how I was trained as an actress in approaching a t


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heatrical role. Just like an actor has to study and do research in preparation of a role, I invest a lot in research and preparation for a project. I collect as many materials as I can around a certain theme or initial body of work. I have a large, Styrofoam bulletin board in my studio onto which I paste those research materials that might turn valuable for a project. Then there are large tables on which I collect objects or books that might become part of the story, or as attributes to a character.

In order to collect materials I’m reading a lot, comb out the internet, and my own memory or notebooks, because usually a lot of information and material has already been collected before I could connect it to an outlined project.

The molding of a character, to give it emotional depth and a credible environment (or a set, if you wish, to stay in the realm of theater), is stimulated by employing the Stanislavski-method of an actor’s preparation, following the so-called five W’s (Who am I? Where do I come from? Why do I do what I do? What do I do?, and When?). Thus one creates a faithful being, one who deals with trauma, has memories, goals in life, and so on. This digging of the human soul is what interests me and gives me the freedom to invent as much as it establishes the framework with which to keep a possible surplus of invention at bay.

epd: We are currently featuring the books included in your trilogy box in our exhibition Je est un autre: The vernacular in photobooks. Why do you consider these books (Elisabeth – I want to eat; Queen Ann. PS Belly cut off; and Taking Off. Henry My Neighbor) to be a trilogy? What are some of the differences or similarities between these three books your other work?



MW: All three books deal with people experiencing difficulty in keeping their lives on track and each of them deals with problems in a personal way. What binds them together in the end is a desperate cry for love and attention. But in each of these stories this attempt at healing happens rather falteringly. To be able to participate in the ‘normal’ world of daily goings-on doesn’t go without saying. The threat of dropping out is always just around the corner, one false step and one’s pushed to the side of the road. The border between functioning normally and failure is razor-thin. A repeating motif in my work is constituted by life’s vulnerability and contingency. The role played by memory and how people, especially under dire circumstances, find creative ways to shape and reshape a memory of a tragic event or their discontent, is a recurrent theme as well – perhaps the most important propeller of my pictorial approach in combination with first-person written statements accompanying the images as, for example, personal letters, postcards, or snippets. We often come to believe in our, often deliberate, distortions of our memories as conveying the truth. But I tend to place big question marks at such a belief. To what extent can we trust our memory? How can we even be sure that something has happened in the way we remember that something? As memories seem to buttress our feeble existence, that existence can easily collapse when memories prove to be fictitious.

Finally, another important theme is the way in which people communicate, especially when that communication seems inadequate. In Elisabeth –I want to eat (2008), for example, the eponymous character conducts a correspondence with her aunt Hans in order to keep a lifeline to the outside world, while she gradually gives in to depression. Hans approaches her niece as if she’s a patient, but her peculiar way of communicating raises the question who’s actually in need of help here.


Elisabeth – I want to eat

Ann, the protagonist of Queen Ann. PS Belly cut off (2010), the second book in this ‘open trilogy’, tries hard to keep a handle on life, but only with immense difficulties. She keeps safe distance to the real world and shapes her own world in which she attains her youthful and slim beauty again. Almost voodoo-like she cuts off her belly from recent photographs, damages her image so to restore her self-image.



In my latest book Taking Off. Henry My Neighbor (2015), we are witnessing Henry and Martha’s marriage becoming marked by the camera as an increasing divisive force. Henry almost literally disappears, firstly behind the camera with which he photographs an undressing or undressed Martha, secondly behind the prints he arranges into sequences and patterns, and after Martha has left him behind, Henry tries to reassemble her image into weird collage works before he retreats into the forests never to be seen alive again. I think that the ways in which he obsessively and systematically annotated his photographic project amounted to a frenetic effort to cling to life, while it would come to cost him his marriage.


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epd: Your work in the trilogy deals with found materials, the origins of which are somewhat explained on the colophon, but not within the narrative of the story. Can you talk a bit about the process of discovery of these materials, and how you go about selecting a set of materials to investigate?

MW: I trust my “antennae” to be on edge when encountering potentially interesting material. It’s a process I find hard to analyze or describe in detail, as it works so intuitive and guided by associations, that a single found or given photograph could carry the seed for a large work, whether it be a book, series of collages, a sculpture, photo series or otherwise. One thing leads to another. Recently, on the occasion of an exhibition at the The Hague Museum of Photography where I reshaped this ‘open trilogy’ into a spatial installation, I reworked the materials I’d used for Elisabeth –I want to eat for a 17-minute long film called Elisabeth (2017).

epd: In all of your work, I am consistently struck by the strength of your sequencing and narrative. Your ability to use blocks of images as markers or chapters to break up different elements of the story is especially powerful. What is your process when you are choosing the ordering or sequencing of imagery for your books, especially Taking Off and Queen Ann?


MW: As I said earlier for my researches I collect various materials, but I also produce images myself. Combined, these are added to my ‘sketchbook’, which consists of a long wall in my studio. The arrangement of the materials evolves from mood-board to storyboard, following free association as well as based upon research, developing into a story whose features grow sharper. In this process of questioning and polishing and honest listening to myself, I constantly wonder whether certain interventions are right. This process at times is very tedious, but I see it when it’s right.

When I make the transition from storyboard (still a spatial lay-out) to the book format, I scan or rephotograph all my materials before I make several dummy versions in InDesign. For all my books I did the sequencing, lay-out and design myself. I print paper dummies to check if the sequencing and design works well outside the computer too. When I transmit this dummy into a real book with a published, usually very few changes are made to my original concept.

epd: Have Martha, Henry, Anne or any of the other subjects of your books seen the finished pieces? What has been their reaction, or their families’ reaction?


MW: As far as I know none of them, nor their direct family members, has seen any of my books. At least, I’ve never gotten a response nor spoke to anyone who has heard that my subjects have had access to my books. And, honestly, this is not what I’m after, as the material has been removed (and often already far removed when found) from its original context and gone through my process of appropriation.

epd: Your books are often described as “voyeuristic.” I find that this description is a bit limited, and have always had the impression that you feel a certain empathy or tenderness towards your subjects. Can you discuss the nature of voyeurism and empathy in your work, and how you go about finding a balance between the two?

MW: The interplay of voyeurism and empathy is important in my books and it plays out on many levels, directed towards how a ‘reader’ of my books might feel about witnessing the collected material and the story but also voyeurism and empathy as it plays out with or between my subjects. I’m very much interested and stimulated by people and their, often strange, behavior – especially of people whose condition is hanging in the balance, so that distinctions between what’s normal or deviant are much harder to make.

For example, in Taking Off it seems as if Martha is being exploited through her husband Henry’s nearly ceaseless interest in using her as a model, but it is she who decides to put an end to it and even disappear from his life and their marriage completely. She stands her ground and takes over control.



I think it is thanks to my education in theater and acting experience that I can place myself quite well in other people’s shoes. Also, the characters in my book are often not far removed from characters I know in my own life or from my own experience.

epd: I was exploring your sculptural work and was struck by your piece Recover. Your website describes it as follows: “This is a leaf with a hole in it. One of Mariken’s hairs has been used to repair the leaf. Via this one simple act Mariken is attempting a grand gesture; to counteract mortality and to ask for forgiveness.” Your interventions are so elegant and respectful of the story, be it about a marriage, a teenager or a single leaf. I wondered if you could touch on the themes of rescue and repair in this work and in the work that appears in your photobooks.


Mariken Wessels, RECOVER Sculpture / 20 x 15 cm / Hair, Needle / 2006

MW: It’s all about holding on to things and memories, to not wanting to let life pass. It’s about fear for departure, fear of losing someone dear to you. Perhaps the holding on is convulsive, but that also bears the seed for tragicomedy.

In Recover I wanted to heal something with something very close to myself, my own hair in this case, but a strand of hair is frail. In this work I arrived at a fragile balance. In fact, in life one can never have a full grasp of or hold on things. Life can sneak out any time, suddenly, and then you’re left with empty hands. Recover constitutes an impotent attempt, a cry from the heart toward a better handle on life with its inevitable losses.

epd: Themes of body dysmorphia and anxiety appear often in the trilogy. Do you think that the reproduction of one’s image, and the power of manipulation of that image, speaks to these themes?

It does so indeed. I’m interested in distorted self-images. One can feel very different from how one appears (to yourself or others). This type of schizophrenia doesn’t always come to the fore in everyday behavior. What I want to show is behavior that gets marked and distorted by despair, as can be evidently seen in Queen Ann who wrestles with her self-image and cannot accept that the times of her juvenile beauty are irreversibly gone. She still wants to wear a sailor suit because it was denied to her in childhood. When she dresses in a sailor suit she feels young and small. Everything is possible and things are yet to get started. As her adult life bears too heavy on her, she creates her own world, or recreates a warped image of childhood. And Queen Ann is just one example standing in for many anonymous others wrestling with issues related to low self-esteem.


I’ve recently been reading an interpretation of Hans Bellmer, and his photographs/sculptures by Sue Taylor, she writes that Bellmer’s work can be read as feminist and that Bellmer, and therefore his depictions of his doll is “…thoughtful, well-read, and sensitive individual, a real intellectual.” and that his work is not based in misogyny, ownership and manipulation of the female body. Do you think the same instinct is present in Henry and his story? Is he trying to identify with the female body?

I find Bellmer an intriguing artist. I even possess two works by him. But to answer to your question: After Henry’s wife and muse, Martha, had suddenly left him alone, for Henry also the ‘object’ disappeared which gave his obsessive lust for photographic registration outlet and focus. Instead of looking for a replacement model, Henry gave free [reign] to his obsessions in relation to all the remaining photos, including the fragments he gathered after Martha had left behind a torrent of images thrown out the window. It is perhaps in this period that Henry ‘discovered’ his artistic talents by assembling collages based on the thousands of nude pictures. I think it especially came to pass when he, presumably by accident, overlayed multiple torn images.


Very different from what could be expressed through a single photograph, we see a Henry emerge who vented to his lustful desires by focusing on breasts and buttocks in particular. I, for one, got very curious about the boundary between obsession and sexual desire on the one hand, and the self-discovery of Henry the ‘amateur’ artist. I’m not sure that he was even aware of such ambition when still together with Martha.

In a certain sensitive approach to this dangerous subject I do see similarities to Bellmer’s work. Like in Bellmer’s case, Henry’s figurines (based on his collages based on his photographs of Martha), can be of classical beauty while they are permeated with some kind of serenity.


Have there been any collections of found materials that you’ve begun working with that did not manifest in a project?

Nope. But I won’t exclude any option since that would place a limit on my artisthood.

epd: Are you working on any projects now?

MW: Currently I have several projects running, based on gathered materials waiting to be fully formed and realized. These are put on hold for the time being since I’m working on another project since last summer which eats up all my time and attention for now. I won’t say much about it except that it will be presented in the course of this year and the next in three different phases.

The first presentation will consist of a few life-size ceramic sculptures based on the human body. These will be on show as of June 2018 in Museum Princessehof in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. These sculptures are inspired by one of Muybridge’s plates from the Human and Animal Locomotion series, namely plate 268, titled ‘Arising from the ground’ (1885).


Human and Animal Locomotion series, plate 268, ‘Arising from the ground’ (1885)

A sculpture, of course, stands still. But there’s a major difference between a static presentation or a movement that is ‘frozen’ in motion. The latter type of ‘movement’ can be completed in one’s own imagination. Sequence and time are important elements, hence Muybridge.

As of the early summer I will start working on a project following from this first presentation. This must become a photo series in which the human body will be explored in its ‘scenic beauty’ as well as in its animal nature. Keywords here will be deformation, (absence of) gravity and the elegance of the unexpected.

In the third phase I want to make a publication in which the first two series (sculptures and photographs) are brought together. Finally, the different stages of this project will be contained within a larger project.

epd: Lastly: What is your astrological sign?

MW: Sagittarius.

photos courtesy mariken wessels / image copyright mariken wessels


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“I am in Paris.”

thumb_52488_media_image_x584Following conversations with my colleagues at the ICP Library  about an event related to our current photobook display Je est un autre: The Vernacular in Photobooks, I decided to present selections from a small collection of films stills I accumulated in the 1980s when I worked at movie revival houses and non-profits in NYC. Calling these a collection is a misnomer: there was little impetus to my hoarding beyond instincts of accumulation. In the dark forest of time they are little crumbs leading back to multiple tales.

Rather than present the actual stills, I put several images into a powerpoint slide show, an “illustrated talk,” which would act as a prompt to revisit these lost worlds.

My first job in NYC was at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, then located in the basement of Carnegie Hall. The Carnegie was run by a couple, Sid Geffen and his wife Jackie Raynal, who also owned the Bleecker St. Cinema at Bleecker and LaGuardia Place. The Carnegie & Bleecker were part of a circuit of revival houses which were common in NYC at the time, including the Thalia, the Regency, Cinema Village, Theatre 80 St. Marks, the Hollywood Twin, the Metro, along with non-profits such as Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives, which are both still with us, the daily screenings at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as smaller venues such as the Collective for Living Cinema and Millennium. Going to movies was part of seeing movies at the time. VHS (and then DVDs, and then streaming) rendered this world obsolete.

Filmgoing has a manic, obsessive side: The “regulars” as seen in the front row of the Titus theaters at MoMA, or in the film Cinemania touch on this devotion. The narcotic allure of cinema is a platform for sociability, an ersatz commons that has been diminished as we retreat to the privacy of our individual screens.

Through my employment at the Carnegie, Bleecker, Film Forum, the Van Dam Theater, and Anthology I came in contact with a fantastic array of film aficionados who covered a spectrum of interests: classic Hollywood, French  and American auteurism, French New Wave, New German Cinema, experimental filmmakers engaged with the “Essential Cinema” canonized by the founders of Anthology Film Archives, independent documentarians, etc.

Hollywood studios had an office for stills, produced for continuity on sets (John Divola’s project Continuity utilizes examples of these – these images were for internal use only) and for publicity: establishing iconic moments of films, re-staged for the camera, for placement in theaters along with posters and lobby cards. They were both essential and worthless. With the decline of film studios and a move towards independent productions, the making of stills was done on set. The collectible aspect to these scraps is driven by tastes and associations, not material fine-ness. They are mass produced, duped endlessly, and usually printed on cheap resin-coated papers.


Working in a smaller scale film exhibition system outside of mainstream new releases, and without any specific agenda, I accumulated materials related to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Schroeter, Werner Herzog, Ulrike Ottinger, and Hans-Jurgen Syberberg among others, none of that so unusual for the time: it amounts to a snapshot of art film exhibition in NYC in the 1980s, the same with “classic Hollywood” melodramas by Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli and Nicholas Ray 30 years later this snapshot quality has morphed with the passage of time to look like an entirely different world. The non-linear films of Kenneth Anger or Bruce Conner have adapted to our contemporary world of virtuality fairly well, perhaps out of brevity & a liberal use of music (I recall Anger speaking at the Collective for Living Cinema, citing music videos, ostensibly a form he influenced, as “pablum for the mind.”).

These scraps persist as a sepulchral archive for experiences I didn’t quite apprehend at the time, colored with shifting memories and odd details that persist. Perhaps this is only a ruined map of a kind of magical thinking meant for the young in a big city. In retrospect there’s more skepticism and a sense of critical distance in the materials than I sense nowadays. A pragmatist like Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development may have her finger on the contemporary pulse when she says, “Here’s some money, go and see a Star War.”

Unmoored from their initial contexts, these strange, cheap images can engage with different drives and impulses, and act as a kind of memory theater oscillating between past and future, potentially to reveal more than anticipated. Gathered, rather than collected, with little direction and simple tastes, these images now act as a kind of retrieval system, although what they lead me to is not where I was, or how I thought about it, instead it is someplace else.



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