Victor Cobo

Behind the Smoke Colored Curtain


The images that I collect are often as much about myself as they are about the subjects being photographed.  A broad exploration of real and imagined journeys, which often entail not only a physical displacement but also a psychological and emotional passage.

The act of seeking out characters of interest has become a therapeutic process by means of escapism, yet it is also an addiction whereby I can express who I am and delve into my current state of mind.  A deeper representation of my relationship to this vast world we live in.

I am both an actor and choreographer in my photographic diaries and similarly to the subjects I work with, I live on the fringes of society between dreams and memories. For me, the search for my subjects makes me realize they are my reflections and my companions, each one a Dante within a personal inferno. They are the renegades, outsiders and survivors.  In the end, their trials represent all of us and define these moments of solitude that we all experience in our lives.




Victor Cobo (b. 1971) is a Spanish American photographer based in New York City. His works explore our evolving isolation through memory, dreams, sexuality and the translucency of the psyche. Cobo is a self-taught photographer who was originally trained in painting and life-drawing.  His work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine; Newsweek; Time; Surface; the San Francisco Chronicle; Ojo De Pez; Burn Magazine; Leica World; Courrier Int’l.; The Advocate; Private; Foto8; American Suburb X; Idomenee and Eyemazing.  In 2007 he was the winner of the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship. Cobo’s photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally and his work is featured in many private and public collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Akron Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and the Amon Carter Museum, as well as numerous private collections.


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92 thoughts on “Victor Cobo – Behind the Smoke Colored Curtain”

  1. as much as i hate (smiling) the no: 24, all the rest are blah blah blah blah meshing all together etc.., havent been that excited for a while..smtnn fresh, at last!

  2. Yes, yes, yes and YES!!
    Love this essay and the way you search for yourself in your subjects. A series of single images which sit all perfectly well together. It kind of reminds me of Alberto Garcia-Alix and Anders Petersen in the way you face those who live on the fringes and shadows of life.

  3. this is truly interesting…this essay i predict will bring out where we all are in photography today…there will be very strong YES…and very strong NO….which means right off the top…not mediocre!!…

    you can imagine that i come down on the very strong YES side….i believe just exactly as Panos and Paul say.. i would only add that this is not about storytelling or essay or anything other than fine SEEING and PERCEPTION…yes, as Paul says, like Petersen and Garcia-Alix for loose reference….message: for heavens sake, just take the great picture!!! from your gut!! and worry about a story later!! or forget story!! i mean , do we always NEED linear stories?? why? lines in the sand? how about a larger circle? yes yes

    not that everyone should copy THESE no no of course not…but if YOU can take YOUR pictures as honestly as Victor has taken HIS pictures, then you are on your way…

    for you NO voters , you really might be missing something…if you miss this, i am afraid you will be missing a lot..and might just be frustrated with the whole craft in the process….things move/change/go forward….for as you can see the collectors etc will line up with Cobo…the astute magazine editors will line up with Cobo…i have watched Victor for several years…my bet is on him for sure…Cobo lead off Burn 01 with American Dreams as you may remember

    of course, there are many other kinds of fine photography…and i will be showing you some surprises in the next few weeks in totally different genres..but for personal exploration, and VISION i think Cobo among the best…look closely, think twice….

    cheers, david

  4. Petersen, Garcia-Alix, Moriyama, Aue Sobol!!, d’Agata, Posner, Ackerman, Goldin, Corbijn to some extent, Onella.. just to name a few.. love their work, get it, feel it, hear it.. none of it is about storytelling (except perhaps for Cafè Lehmitz and Sabine).. so no, I don’t care, as long as it moves me..

    Here I seem to be deaf, I can see the pictures, but I don’t hear them.. blank. The only thing I hear is : ME.

    No strong NO from me here though, that would mean I’d get something, which I don’t..

    Honest you say.. don’t quite understand..

  5. And yes, I remembered Cobo’s essay opening Burn 01, and that he’s one of the top 30 of this years EPF, reason why I have looked at this work not once or twice, but at least ten times, and also explored his website.. still, cannot lie to myself just for the sake of it..

  6. EVA..

    honest answer…fair enough…


    no surprise…and fair enough as well..but please please get a hot weather picture for us…please..looking forward….


    love your website…your pictures…nice

  7. the world upon which we knee ourselves over places and selves looks remarkably like the shorn-curtain pulled away’d moments stuck between a thinning triangular knot of a dream….between two identical doors, 225 and 226 as if two buses waiting to debark toward a town, a cactus, in the far-distant horizon that shall grow infinitely separated from the other the further along the journey…stuck between those 2 choices and rooms, each one a choice, whichever shall be irrevocably darted away in time….

    for me, too, there are 2 kinds of photographic choices one makes…two rooms in which one kept step…toward one side of the triangle stopping is the room withdraw…in one there lay some kind of pulling away from the self, the documenting of others as a way to get at one’s own tale in the guise (and often a ruse) of someone else’s life, of some other place, as a sharing: this world, that person, that moment in time…. in the other lay the full life of one’s dreams, of one’s crackled negotiation…of refusing to document the other but instead trying to wrestle down and net all those thoughts and moments and powerful dreams that well up despite the world around and that is the self: the me inside the ‘I’, the description, the carnival capturing of someone one’s thoughts and experiences and ideas and dreams within the shadow world of the around….

    and for me, always, it is that room, that photographic journey that speaks the most to me….because while often an act of ventriloquism (and what is photography if not that?), it is the voice that seems to me the most real, because it does not hide between an artifice of you, of others, but because it builds its artifice from the self and says: this is a gamble gamboling along the inner corner of my head and heart…this, be it a constructed thing, is some scribbled part of my life…and i am sharing that with you…..and i will always take the person, photographic or not, who shares their life over the other who speaks of others but not themselves or their life….always a gamble that for many will end in failure and rejection, but from that stems the more honest….the quiet child in the corner, though turned down, at least stood up for themselves rather than the piping squad leader speaking out over the crowd….

    i love this work in exactly the same way i love Lynch’s Inland Empire….i have always loved Victor’s work…and see much more about that inland empire of the self…in a way closer to Weegee than Petersen….a mad brilliant spot-flash into the murdering and resurrecting self….not ackerman at all but Noir…and as anybody whose red Noir, or watched the flicks knows, Noir isn’t about the angst of the world, but the pulpy hoping heart of the human spirit….

    beautiful, engaged…not about the power of ‘photogrpahy’ but about the power of the person who straps photography onto their hips like a thick, swelling prop…..

    my only regret ;))…why 25….inland empire was 2hrs plus…i want a mad deranged song from this chorus….

    thanks Victor :))…so so nice to be head-heart fucked by the power of another’s personal rhyme…

    to quote Molly B:

    “…..I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. ”

  8. “.for as you can see the collectors etc will line up with Cobo…the astute magazine editors will line up with Cobo”….which means what exactly???

  9. I’ve come to the conclusion that good photography always “stinks” of the photographer. From what I’ve been seeing over the last 18 months since my tastes have changed, is that when a photographer is visually very articulate or has a point of view it’s always about the photographer.


    please look at his collections, galleries, assignments….track record…his modest version of a bio is right here..Victor is 40…impressive resume´ considering he does not back down from his very stylized personal approach…


    well i think the best are a blend of the subject and the photographer…for sure, greatness is going to come when the photographer has in ANY art form…artists NEED grist for the mill, so there cannot be just introspection ..there has to be meat on the bone…but without the smell of the author the artist the photographer there is no bone…can you give me even one example of otherwise?

  11. Bob…

    to me there’s a third room, that would be a blending of room 225 and 226 together, and that would be my choice, not this or that, but both.. or something of both..

  12. The fact that it isn’t a linear story and it’s a collection of single eyeball kicks means a lot to me. I’m just not capable of making photographically a linear essay story. I see and feel and react by single images.

  13. Bob..

    ever eaten cheese and jam, together? Fine sheep cheese with onion jam?? Don’t think water, don’t think diluition, but a bang, when putting one thing to the other :)

  14. eva….

    funny, cause i love cheese and jam….but never onion jam…marina always laughs at my food ‘togethering’ ;)))….i understand, believe me :))….off for water today :)))

  15. This is a very personal essay of pleasure, pain, sexuality, freedom and being oneself.
    Great pictures helping us to peek into the life of other people which is usually hidden from us.
    Is this a reflection of ourself? Is this a part we do not want to see, is it an alternative reality?
    #14 reminds me of my own essay in progress, #18 reminds me of a story by the German writer Wilhelm Bush, and #22 is just great.
    The strong contrasts and the snapshot kind of pictures make it so personal, so direct and painful. Pleasure can be painful .. and pain can be pleasure .. like those pictures. There is nothing in between.

  16. Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    I am reminded more than a little of Nobuyoshi Araki’s quite excellent work with this essay. It’s good that it appears here for us to take in – regardless of its reception.

  17. I’ve been looking for a useful comment to make, but I can’t seem to find one. When I first went through it, I didn’t seem to think I liked it much, except for between rooms 225 and 226, Killer and the hibernation self-portrait, which strikes me as both hilarious and tragic at the same time. But that was early yesterday and in the time since, as I have been doing other things, I find that images from this essay keep drifting through my mind, in clear detail, more so than usual after I view an essay. So there must be some kind of power behind them.

    When I next go to New York, which should be soon, I sure would like to meet Valerie of New York and take my own picture of her, but I don’t suppose that will happen.

  18. “Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.”
    Leonard Cohen

  19. paul–anders petersen?? no-frickin-way.
    almost feels like a wannabe d’gata.
    i like 1 & 22.
    the rest feel painfully contrived.
    which is what makes it so very unlike petersen’s work.

  20. Katia…

    I never said his work looked like Anders Petersen, the subject he chooses is what reminds me of Petersen and yes you’re quite right D’Agata even more so.

  21. Petersen is also one of my heroes….one of the titans….giacomelli, frank, petersen, moriyama, fukase, moon…they set the bar…i’m still catching up, as are most working that vein….

    for me victor’s work is not the same at all to Petersen or d’agata or any of the others mentioned…for me, like i said, more like drama, theatre, a private kind of theatre, a la Lynch + weegee….contrived yes, but that is it too…it isn’t about ‘documenting the world’ per se, but is really about revealing one’s negotations within the framework of the world….it’s like theatre…some get torn up and enlivened by the contrivance of live theatre (i do) and some find theatre just that false, contrived, artificial (which it is)…an internal theatre with external signifiers….but i’m not sure trying to write critically about it will convince….it’s one of those beasts that, to me, is all in the footsteps-on-the-sand recognition….the risk of failure (and approval) is always highest when a person unveils themselves in front of others (for most don’t really want to know/see/hear who another is/feels, they just want their recongition of what they think someone is…same too in pics)….

    for me, in a photogrpahic world defined by not only the ubiquity of the photo but often measure out by clean/crisp glass and nano-second retention, it is that personalized opening (that to many feels solipsistic and egotistical) that rings true to me….not my truth, but the listening to someone else’s riffing….

  22. Bob, I think that most people here understand and appreciate what you are saying about revealing one’s negotiations within the framework of the world and unveiling oneself, though they probably don’t enunciate it so quite so precisely; yet remain somewhat less than captivated by this work. And as far as I can tell, there aren’t a lot of prudes round here.

    Sorry to comment on a comment rather than the work, but I’m still not entirely sure what I think about it.

  23. “but if YOU can take YOUR pictures as honestly as Victor has taken HIS pictures, then you are on your way…” DAH

    Still chweing on this ‘honestly’ bit..

  24. most photogs try to “enter”, to find a way to break “through” on the other side, to get IN the situation/story..
    Victor has been already IN the STORY before he shoots..He is not preying in the corner as a wild animal for his victims to shoot them hiding in the dark, patiently..
    not at all.. he IS the story..He incidentally “tells the truth” because he has no choice..he shoot what he already either created or “already gained permission”…to get “in”..
    The photos came later..its the result…of the way he “moves”… ethereal, not forcing the photo, not thinking about it…just shot it because he “happened” to be there and had “no choice” but to shoot them..
    Everything came out “effortlessly”, “naturally”…fresh & organic!

  25. most photogs try to “enter”, to find a way to break “through” on the other side, to get IN the situation/story..
    (i mean trying to enter , over thinking, over analyzing etc)

  26. not at all.. he IS the story..He incidentally “tells the truth” because he has no choice..

    Again, I’m guessing that just about everybody here see’s that. Question is, is the story original? Is it interesting?

  27. MW..u know i love u right?
    yes u do..
    answer to yo quest with an answa:

    yes,yes, how cannot be?
    Do you know ANYONE’s DIARY not to be interesting in the very least….
    the kid (victor) is doing us a favor here bro (mw);)

  28. Do you know ANYONE’s DIARY not to be interesting in the very least….

    Very good point.

    Why does this essay’s success depend on if it’s original?

    Because “unoriginal” and “successful” are contradictory terms. No?

    No Panos can come back and ask “Do you know ANYONE’s DIARY not to be original in the very least….”

    Well, perhaps. I don’t have all the answers.

  29. we dont need “flies in the wall ” anymore , only because we all have cellphones therefore we have that..we as society-technology we achieved that…and auto programs etc..
    what we lacking is folks brave enough to “throw up” in our faces, in other words , open their guts, for us to see, get naked, give us their personal diary to read for free… like victor, or JUKKA or Amy Winehouse!

  30. Panos.. you mean, shoot what you feel, or feel what you shoot, instead of shoot what you see? Then, ok, easy, only way to do.. but I think everyone can answer only for oneself…

  31. thats why i love Harvey and D’Agata…they “created” the environment, the atmosphere , the mood , the everything, therefore the photo wayyyyyyyyyyyyy before they clicked the button…there is no such a thing as the “DECISIVE MOMENT”… if u shoot a drug addict, it better be you sniffing the glue…(“you” =i mean the photographer..etc)

  32. EVA:

    i don’t think what David means is that he putting himself entirely out there, or rather not ‘himself’ but taking the risk of building a body of work (here and his other bodies of work) that is unapolegetically him…even at the risk of great failure…meaning, too many photographers risk everthing in their work only to please…only to make others ‘get it’ rather than just making the work and working on it long and hard as a way to point what it is they see, how they say it and how they feel about the world, themselves, life around, the act of making pictures….in this sense, david is absolutely right…i see lots of work and talk to lots of photographers and mentor/help lots and the biggest thing that many seem to have as a homing device is that they seek approval, or rather, they want their pictures and stories to be like someone else’s….rather than to make what it is they feel…cause in the end, in truth, it all does look the same….really…but what distinguishes is that one senses that there, whatever body of work we’re speaking of, is something that does turn electric…and that juice, at least for me, often comes from the current that enlivens…not in mimicry of another, but in one’s one way…..honesty not in versimilitude but in openness of self…

    MW…yup, i hear you :)….i do think that there are some bodies of work (as with all forms of art) that can be ‘argued’ into appreciation and others its just a case of ‘getting it’ or not…not feeling a particular body of work or artist doesn’t at all mean that those who don’t get it are somehow ‘less’ or ‘thick’ or underappreciating…and i also think if one works too hard to ‘like’ or emphasize with something, it’s visceral strength gets broken….parse any Lynch film and it’s seem pretty ridiculous and empty (part of the point of his films) but if Lynch hits you (as he does me), that it’s all in that groove…Tarkovsky gave nearly the entire soviet moving watching population headaches (and he was a tough cat too, i know someone who knew him when she was a young dancer)…but there’s ever been one….ditto jlg……one moriyama, one giacomelli, one frank, one andersen…many imitators…which is natural….my only hope for BURN has even been a small, simple thing: that even when people don’t like things, don’t feel them, at least see that the immense size and possibility for photography is limitless…just as with novels and music and painting and movies and sculpture and food and haircuts….

    and i hope that when people see Loomings, they’ll also see that as an attempt to sing upon the endless possiblities of the photographic medium…..

    the joy of simply making up stories with pictures and their unfolding….

  33. Looking at this I wonder if there are two different kinds of bravery or guts that may be required for strong photography — one has to do with turning the lens on the world outside whether it is street or conflict or what have you the other is turning the lens on one’s own inner world. This work is more about the latter.

  34. Ah, sounds like a lot of fluff to me. I’m not sure we’re seeing the “inner world of the photographer” as much as just another attempt at making post-modern conceptual art.

  35. Bob…

    you start out writing “i don’t think what David means is..”, am a little confused, was waiting to read (after what he did not mean), what he meant.. but anyway, I think only he can explain what he meant with it.. I do get Panos’ explanation though, which makes sense..

    I am sincere, I found his whole comment a bit odd, that, quoting DAH:”for you NO voters , you really might be missing something…if you miss this, i am afraid you will be missing a lot..and might just be frustrated with the whole craft in the process….things move/change/go forward….for as you can see the collectors etc will line up with Cobo…the astute magazine editors will line up with Cobo…” and that this piece is the benchmark for us to understand where we are in photography.. well, seems a bit drastical to me..

    About the honesty bit.. I do not think that somebody who does not shout *ME* and *I* at every step is being less honest than somebody putting only her/himself in the center.. honesty is a silent thing, to me, something that goes on between the heart and mind and soul of one, sole person.. all this with due respect and IMO.

  36. Eva…

    Maybe more than honesty it’s a matter of having the nerve to show the general public (not Burn because as MW quite rightly stated ” there aren’t a lot of prudes round here”) his fantasies which many a puritan will find a little perverse.

  37. Eva: sorry, TYPO…i was deleting a first sentence when i commenting and forgot to delete ‘don’t”…i meant, i THINK david was suggesting that ;)))..not don’t think….egads…..sorry for the confusion

  38. Eva: and yes i agree….someone who doesn’t shout ME is being just as honest, but maybe David’s comment has to do with the fact that most of the commentators here are oriented toward the traditional, the classical much more so and just his statement….

    and by the way, i saw an extraordinary documentary last night on the American Depression photographer Michael Disfarmer…never heard of him before or his work….so this is for you…a great photographer, unknown his entire life until he was ‘discovered’ 17 years after his death….

    his portraiture is extraordinary…..looking for a book…

  39. Paul :))

    thanks….looking for a book…i know there was a book (the discovery) in ’76…hunting this week….quite a revelation…quite a story! :))))

  40. Imants…

    “of those three only Jukka is naked the other two are /were about charades”
    Leaving out Amy Winehouse, couldn’t it be that Jukka just possesses a sharper eye for photography and makes a much more eloquent essay and Victor is showing his life without a charade at the best of his capability?

  41. Maybe more than honesty it’s a matter of having the nerve to show the general public because … his fantasies which many a puritan will find a little perverse.

    Sorry to still be commenting on comments rather than the work, but I just don’t see how too many people in this day and age are going to find anything in this essay particularly shocking. And certainly not “normal” Americans who typically have their hard drives stuffed with porn. The dreary black and white, I think, suggests more a personal discomfort with the proceedings than any kind of freak out the bourgeoisie aesthetic. Similar dynamic with Jukka, btw, who I feel comes at it from a very puritanical perspective. Unlike, say, William Burroughs or Jim Carrol or a host of others who unapologetically relish their anti-social predilections. Check out Vansant’s “Drugstore Cowboy” for a good visual example. Whereas Jukka and similar photographers on Burn portray shooting up as outrageously ugly, Vansant captures the beauty of the blood in the hypodermic chamber and the characters unabashedly believe that bougoise life sucks and that a life of drugs is preferable. Arguable, no doubt, but that attitude strikes me as being at least equally as honest as the dark morality tale and usually more so.

  42. Bob, Stephen Bulger probably has the Disfarmer book in his backroom shelves. Just ask his staff nicely if you can have a glance.

    Essays dealing with sexuality are interesting because the subject matter is as broad and diverse as the photographic process itself. In the same way the readership here comes from, and goes through, a multitude of approaches leading to some sort of authorship, one’s sexual nature perhaps can be an anchor toward judgement and acceptance with this essay.

    Some observations: Victor has concentrated for the most part on the theme of dominance/submission here; it is my understanding that in these relationships the perception of the dominant being in control is a false one…it is the submissive which ultimately “works the pedals”. This is of particular interest, as I wonder where, between the subject and the photographer – and the viewer – the taking and giving of control takes place? As well, I’m curious as to why Victor has decided to title some images, but not all. Does the action of giving a title indicate distance or closeness to the subject, and if so, in which way? This itself makes me question the autobiographical element of the essay, the “meness” under discussion here. “Shooting oneself” which Victor alludes to, and which clearly fascinates me, does not necessarily imply autobiographical authorship, and is not a complaint I have with this work at all. The mixed signals I’m getting here between the layers of uncertainty and the layers of complexity mirror the discussion at hand of gut versus head in the creative process.

  43. EVA,

    I understand the honesty of DAH as
    everything we photograph is about ourself.
    we decide the angle, the frame, the picture. it is about one sees, not about what happened. that is close second. being honest means being honest to oneself and accept, that all one photographs is about oneself and the own viewpoint.

  44. Thomas, I don’t think David believes that at all, certainly not as a blanket statement. Perhaps there’s always something of the photographer in the photograph, and some photographs can be nearly all about the photographer, but there’s almost always something about the subject as well, and it’s not at all unusual for the photograph to be mostly about the subject. I’d hazard that’s the norm, actually.

  45. MW…

    I know countless people who come to mind, who would find this mildly disturbing or at least not very attractive subject matter. Then would criticize the work and then turn on to the photographer and bitch about him also. Admittedly they’re not American.

    BTW I love your phrase “the beauty of the blood in the hypodermic chamber” :)

  46. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for the comments, both critical and praise. In some ways I am a participant and in other ways more of a voyeur. Just needed to get that out there. Without sounding like a pretentious ass, because if any of you knew me, you’d realize I’m quite the opposite>>>I think what I am trying to do is explore and investigate allegorical and emotionally symbolic concepts dealing with human sexuality. It’s one of the great dark mysteries in the world, and to explore this through photography to me is very interesting. Yes, there are others who also have explored this subject matter to great lengths, but I hope I throw my own version into the mix, alternating between the dark and the playful, and in many ways leaving the mystery and imagination up to the viewer.

    David Harvey>Thank you for posting this series of images and a huge THANKS to all who took the time to view and comment.

    All the best,

  47. Like Frosty, I have no idea what sort of comment I should make about Victor’s work nor am I sure I know what Bob is talking about, either, so I will say the following:

    From the Marx Bros., “Cocoanuts”)
    Hammer [Groucho Marx]: … Now here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
    Chico: Why a duck?
    Hammer: I’m all right. How are you? I say here is a little peninsula, and here’s a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
    Chico: All right. Why a duck?
    Hammer: I’m not playing Ask-Me-Another. I say, that’s a viaduct.
    Chico: All right. Why a duck? Why a— why a duck? Why-a-no-chicken?
    Hammer: I don’t know why-a-no-chicken. I’m a stranger here myself. All I know is that it’s a viaduct. You try to cross over there a chicken, and you’ll find out why a duck. It’s deep water, that’s viaduct.

    Lots of people argue about politics; in fact, arguing about politics is one of the great pleasures, if you can call it that, of American life and has been since the founding of the Republic. Very few people other than academics, though, actually argue about the political philosophies that underlie those arguments; most people prefer to concentrate instead on the day to day maneuvering and staged news events that constitute the foam on the surface of the political sea. I think more people would talk about political philosophy if someone kept the academics out of the discussion altogether, since most of them are fairly liberal, if not actual left wingers of one sort or another; professors are, as a rule, annoying the way your neighbor’s kids are annoying, which is too say all the damn time and never more so than when they let that damn dog of theirs wander around the neighborhood peeing on your mother’s azaleas, but that’s another story; and left wingers, like any other insecure religious believer, like to shout down anyone who disagrees with them. This makes them disagreeable to be with on the whole, especially if they are Marxists, since they may mistake you for an oppressed proletarian and try some brand new lines of agitprop on you to gauge their overall effectiveness, hoping to stir some good old fashioned revolutionary class struggle with a pernicious but otherwise fairly harmless kulak counter-revolutionary capitalist running dog like your local Korean fruit stand owner before they go home to the suburbs and eat some vegan quiche for supper.

    I bring this up because one of my co-workers, a graduate student who wants to work with children after she gets her masters degree, for reasons that elude me at the moment (you can skip the next bit if you want and start up with and I; you won’t miss anything important); the concept of willingly working with children always reminds me of great souls like Father Damien or Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa, living saints who spend their lives working with lepers or condemned prisoners or advertising executives; you’re happy that someone works on behalf of these poor unfortunate wretches, and you’re equally happy, if not even more so, that the someone who works with them isn’t you; and I (welcome back to the main part of the sentence; the weather here is fine, sunny and high in the low 70’s with a chance of showers later tonight) found ourselves talking about Marxism for some reason. We discussed the great dogmas of that great secular faith: dialectical materialism, the surplus value of labor, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle and the inevitable triumph of the workers, religion as the opiate of the masses, and then she posed a question about the central tenet of the Marxist faith. She was skeptical of many Marxist claims, and one may say that in the light of recent history she has every right to be skeptical, and she wondered aloud if anyone had ever done a systematic and scientific examination of the factors involved in the Marxist conundrum of why a duck?

    Indeed, one may well ask why a duck and not some other species of waterfowl? The question of why a duck is an old one, as I am sure you know, predating the existence of Marxism by at least a millennium. In the Middle Ages, schools of philosophy contended bitterly over the question, with angry mobs of students coming constantly to blows in the streets of Paris and Bologna and cheese with mustard, with many a university suspended from competition for years because of irregularities in recruiting star philosophers. The medieval nominalists held that only the individual duck existed, that ducks as a class merely reflected the individual duck down to the webbed feet, the quack, and the insatiable drive to sell supplemental health insurance. The medieval realists believed that ducks derived their inherent duckiness from their being part of the greater class of ducks and from owning a really cool motorcycle, which then, as now, was a babe magnet, and that the individuality of specific ducks was less important than the larger category of duck to which all ducks belonged…yeah, I know, this is all a bit much, but it was the Middle Ages, remember; there were no movies, no television, much less cable TV, no computer games or any computers to play them on. They had to do something to pass the time and arguing about whether ducks came by their identity through their individual characteristics or through their membership in the National Hockey League was a good way to kill a year or two. Remember how dumb you’re going to look to your descendants a thousand years from now and cut these people some slack, okay? Medieval peasants, to round out the argument, thought that both schools of thought had a good deal of merit, intellectually speaking, but most held to the opinion that no matter which school’s argument was the more valid, ducks still tasted pretty damn good when you could catch them, particularly if damp and moldy rye bread is all you’ve had to eat since you were a kid.

    Marxists, as a rule, follow the realist approach to the question of why a duck. Such categories as class and duck, after all, are human constructs, after all, templates that are dishwasher safe and won’t break even if hurled at a wall by a happy Greek dancing to the theme music from Zorba the Greek at a wedding he’s not paying for; free food does that to people sometimes. In any case, this reduction of ducks to a mere category, one of many, suits the philosophical bent of most Marxists, who seem to despise most species involved in the insurance business, but this aversion has little or nothing to do with the larger question of why a duck. The most popular answer of the twentieth century was I don’t know, I’m a stranger here myself, but I feel that in our more modern age we can safely say, without fear of contradiction, why the hell not a duck, and to say so with great confidence. Now why Marxists loathe the insurance business so much is another question entirely, and one beyond the scope of this essay, but the dislike appears real enough, based on the historical evidence of the past century. I find it hard to think of a twentieth century Marxist state where I’d feel comfortable selling life and property insurance, given the usual Marxist prejudices about life and property.

    The above has nothing to do with Victor’s essay, but there’s a lot of stuff here that doesn’t have anything to do with Victor’s essay and there’s likely to be a lot more stuff here that hasn’t have anything to do with Victor’s essay before whoever is next on the essay parade shows up and the whole process about lots of stuff having nothing to do with the essay at hand repeats itself; I’ve hung around Burn long enough to how this is going to turn out, boys and girls. And I liked your essay in 01, Victor, especially that picture of Jesus covered with money and really looking like he needed an aspirin. I liked that one a lot.

  48. MW, yeah I guess my statement was a bit too strong to say “it is only about the photographer”, however I believe that every photograph is also a reflection of the photographer.

  49. I see a lot of women exposed, they are mainly the bodies in the essay while what seems to be men introduce the life (and its masks)-questionning, ie. the “serious” stuff.

    I disagree totally with you David, that there is a YES (Heaven’s Gates open) and a NO (“you just don’t understand!”) to this essay. Personally, I am very interested to read what our women friends on BURN have to say. Besides, the contrary of yes is indifference, not NO.


  50. Bob, may I?
    you claim to be careful about “greatness” (on FB), and here you go off, yoopee!, first sentence, on your heroes, the Titans (which are great men), setting the bar (of greatness, I presume). It’s OK, but IMO, you can’t have it both ways. I have absolutely no heroes in photography, the only one close to that for me is Lewis Hine, and that is not because of his photography, but his fight to free children from exploitaion/labour (think of Nachtwey and War P. friends ending a war with their pictures). There are great photographers, but for me, they are a by-product of a very exciting medium available to so many.

    There are a few pictures that have touched me deeply over the last few years, very few are by professionals, “greats”, and are hardly susceptible to ever find their ways on gallery walls and magazine pages. Basically, I forgot the name of who took them, they are simply great images to me to which I respond emotionally. To me, that’s what photography is about. No pantheon!

    Panos, you say sniff the glue to photograph addiction. I am sure it’s one way of doing it. But talking about Nachtwey again, he did a pretty good job of catching the feeling without having to lose an entire family, or be dying in his own blood… We are never sure what is the best way to shoot the feeling, that’s why it’s so much fun to take oictures. Neither yes nor no! ;-)

    Paul, you mention honesty, showing one’s fantasies without puritanism. It’s called pornography (erotism too, but I noticed the word is rarely referenced nowadays), and its ubiquitousness beats puritanism by a mile.

    I get a feeling Jamie, Katia, Eva are rather non-plussed by the essay. So far, if I had boobs, I think i’d be too. Not sure, though… Unlike Jim, mentionning post modern conceptual art in the essay, I am more simple and inclined to entertain thoughts about sex tourism (which is just a variant of tourism, look at Parr’s tourists) than sex, as to what helped bring out this essay. But Victor doesn’t tell us enough (which D’ Agata does instantly from, as Panos says, his set-ups).

    So far, I have neither YES! nor NO!, but also neither GOOD! or BAD! Well, yes, the essay is pure BURN ESSAY verbose, telling us again what is in the pictures rather than letting us discover it ourselves, but now, by August 2011, that’s quite understood. :-)

  51. Herve:

    what’s stopping you?…..why ask permission, …

    i did NOT say they were great men…i said they were PHOTOGRAPHIC heroes….big big difference…the ONLY heroes i have in my life as people are mostly ones who worked beyond themselves to make the life of someone better: starting with my mother and father….photographic hero is a person that pushes boundaries, that attempts to give so much of themselves in their medium of storytelling/expression, that remain an inspiration and a bellwhether by which i map out my own photographic life…but photography is stimpled-simply expression of story telling…in truth, the unknown people who work the landscape amid grief and suffering are FAR MORE heroic to me than War Photographers, since you have chosen to mixed fruit here….hero, photographic, means something simple: whose work and whose photographic life has inspired me, whose life have i drawn from as an example (photographically speaking)….add to that Mann and Meatyard and Richards and my close personal friend Jack Burman…and PLEASE contextualize since you’re quoting me on FB….that was in reference to having discovered Michael Disfarmer, whose work is profound and inspiring and who was unknown and work his craft without the need for being known…..

    i’ll let me own pictures and accompany stand as a reply (wait for that) and as for the way one lives…..i’m always amazed at the dichotomy of your banter: loving at FB…bulldogging at burn…

    sniff, sniff…


  52. (think of Nachtwey and War P. friends ending a war with their pictures)…a sweeping statement care to back it up with real information not your personal hearsay?

  53. and by the way, my photographic life is far far from being the most important aspect of my life, just as the greater part of my life is not spend with photographers or the photo world but is simply one of the aspects of it, it is part (not the entire) of who i am and how i live…just as is writing and teaching…but so is walking and helping and meditating..more importantly is being a father and husband and a friend and son and brother…so, shall i begin to write about the deeds as well…aren’t we chatting about pictures and photographic life, not about how one lives their life…unlike what appears to be ;your suggestion, i don’t compartmentalize any of this….I love Nachtwey as a photographer and his commitment…i can’t say i enjoy our conversation at all in NYC…does that mean I respect him less??..of course not, photographically speaking…..if we’re talking people/photographs, I prefer James Delano much much more as a person who happens also to be a great photographer….but James’ work and commitment are a profound touchstone for any photographer interested in telling stories through the medium….so I don’t conflate the do thoughts….isn’t that what you want to begin with, not a reduction, absurdum?…

    it’s all the same: the way we live this waking life….so, if we’re going to parse each other’s words or rather interpret ‘photogrpahic hero’ as to be compared with who we best admire in life, than what’s the point of even writing about photography or photographers, i wonder….

  54. and last bit (u know this is with a smile, so please don’t take long words with anything but <3)…talking of photogrpahic hero: u would be hard pressed to find someone that has done more for young photogrpahers, time and money and heart, than david…though i love his work alot, i respect him and admire him as a person even more because he has tirelessly worked to make the photographic life (whatever that may be) for young and old…he put his butt and time and money and commitment where he said he would…in time, in edits, in introductions in publishing in grant in helping …he could have rested on his laurels (tell it like it is and divided soul is enough to secure his place at any photographic table) but he didn't he beat down the door for photographers and does this continually…not, putting the 2 ideas together (work and life) that is the character of a real photohero…and yes there are others who aren't known who do the same…but that commitment to those who invest themselves and to give back have a place at his table and at his home….at the risk of sounding like a sycophant, he is clearly a personal hero….and a friend….

  55. Anyone remember the music video for Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer?” It was (still is) a groundbreaking collection of scenes that were gloriously designed, textured and photographed. A collection of images combining Dante’s Inferno and Cosmo, each scene on itself could be a disturbing, yet beautiful photograph all on its own. The result was a brilliant, visceral experience so controversial, that the director demanded his name be removed from the final credits. My jaw dropped to the floor the first time I saw it, and am still impressed on how well it has aged.

    This essay strikes me a lesser version of that; a series of images to give an overall sense of exploring the darker side of sexuality, possibly leading to depravity(?) Gordon comments that it looks like their are having fun. To me, the series is supposed to act as a warning against the darker impulses. I could be wrong, but that’s what’s great about interpretational photography.

    Does it work? Kinda. It does leave a feeling, like needing to be cleansed, after viewing, even if it is not as effective as the NIN video that was brought to mind. But I can’t help but feel that there should be more—more texture, more haunting, more obscurity, more atmosphere.

    I guarantee that DAH would have predicted, if asked, that I wouldn’t like this. I don’t, but I like the potential that this could become if taken even further into the imagination.

    BTW, I’m not a big fan of hacking on the artist statement, but I’ve read this three times, and I still don’t understand what the hell is being said. The writing is more dream-like than the images.

  56. I guarantee that DAH would have predicted, if asked, that I wouldn’t like this. I don’t, but I like the potential that this could become if taken even further into the imagination.

    Brian, if you like that NIN/Mark Romanek video, it sounds like either David doesn’t know you very well or he thinks very little of this essay.

    Have you seen the multimedia interludes on the last couple of NIN tour videos? On the DVD’s they are available by following the menus down to something like extras/alternate angles and are my favorite multi-media pieces period. Mark Romanek’s video for Hurt is incredible as well, especially as how it’s deeply affected so many who have never heard of Trent Reznor.

    Gotta half agree on the artist statement, though sounds more like academicese nightmare than dream-like. Victor, please introduce yourself to Strunk and White.

  57. “Brian, if you like that NIN/Mark Romanek video, it sounds like either David doesn’t know you very well or he thinks very little of this essay.”
    DAH knows that I prefer straight shooting, telling stories PJ-style.

    “Have you seen the multimedia interludes on the last couple of NIN tour videos?”
    Saw them in concert a couple years ago…incredible. The place was just 2/3 full (It’s Des Moines, after all) and the dude went all out to give a good show, and the multimedia interludes were great. Good to know they are available for viewing again. Thanks for that.

  58. I think Number 6 is an arresting and beautiful image, and I find Number 15 interesting and well done. But I think those two images are quite out of character with all the rest, and as for the rest… I gotta side with Herve on this one, they simply do not interest me, not even as mildly titillating soft porn. Classify me however you want, if that is what you want.

  59. Just watched that Nine Inch nails video and I really, really find the music sooooo lame for such good images. I loved someone’s comment saying “Trent Reznor looks like a bondage-prone version of Professor Snape”, but I see what you mean Brian.
    After reading Bob’s latest comments I really feel bad about myself… But deep, deep down I know I truly don’t feel the wrong because if I did I would change my ways. I’m no saint at all. I’ve always had a hard time not going over the top artistically and invested too much time in myself and never enough in those close to me. I know it’s bad, especially considering what I’ve achieved and that’s something my wife sometimes reminds me about, but, but, but…
    I can’t help it.

    And I like this essay and I’m enjoying all the reactions and comments. Perhaps I don’t go into it deeply enough, I like eyeball kicks and feel no other way about things. Sometimes essays grow on me, but I usually go by instinct. I like being swept away.
    Bloody hell!! All I need now this morning is to kick the bucket in the operating theatre after this comment :))

  60. I neither feel a YES or NO about the photos….I have been looking at them for several days and reading the comments. Trying to understand the writing, the message.
    The story might not be linear but you can still group these together and find common themes in them.
    It has a dream like feeling to it. Dreams often do not make much sense but you relate to them because you have had these experiences before. They are part of your memories….memories been played out of sequence.
    That’s how I feel about these photos.

    I have hung around and still hang out in similar groups…except transsexuals and drugs…not passing judgement here!…so they feel almost normal to me.
    I thought I was going to see images of a night a friend does called “wierd” in brooklyn….or see images of friends I have in San Francisco. I seriously thought I would!
    I think Victor has been to these places.
    Number 1 I love and number 20….the “killer” dog is great too.
    I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Is not so black and white, no pun intended. I mean
    the whole thing about “getting it” that David has mentioned….but I am learning and thats always a good thing.

  61. Behind the smoke colored Curtain, the girl Disappeared

    A tree born crooked……….Will never grow straight

    Promises are never meant To keep.

    How it going to end?

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