if you live in new york , you know that this is the biggest small town in the world….i run into people on the streets all the time who are old friends…..i do not say "howdy" to everyone i meet on the street, but this town is small enough that you really can’t get away with anything!!!
and so it was yesterday afternoon….i was rushing to drop off a fedex box on the most beautiful spring day of the century ….sitting there in the late afternoon good light, perfectly positioned at the best corner table, was joseph koudelka and gilles peress and his wife alison…you do not meet joseph koudelka without getting a big bear hug…..joseph always appears to be in good humor…when joseph walks into the magnum office he literally goes around and hugs everyone in the room….joseph is a lot of fun…but, joseph is also deadly serious…..
i sat down to join joseph , gilles and alison….whatever i was rushing to do suddenly became unimportant….i was now basking in the glow of the afternoon light with two of photography’s greats….i did not speak, i just listened…..gilles and joseph were in the middle of a conversation about a place in history and how you must control your work even after your death……
the discussion was based on the henri cartier-bresson exhibition currently at the International Center of Photography featuring 300 of henri’s "scrapbook" photographs….photographs he never showed anyone…but photographs that show henri’s thinking process at an early age….they show his evolution….show his life and what he cared about…but, not his "selects"…not the work that he showed the world….not the icons with which we are all familiar….
joseph was upset with this henri cartier-bresson collection at ICP….henri had often used joseph as an "editor"…someone he trusted to pick one picture over another……."i am sure henri never would have showed this work….he would be angry with this exhibition" joseph said…
gilles countered "well, all of this work is interesting for all of us…if you are going to show your early evolutionary work or if you know it may someday be "found", then you have to publish it and control it before you die"….
i started wondering if leonardo da vinci would have liked the show at the Met of his early sketches….but, i stayed silent…..
gilles then offered to help joseph put together his early work in a book….a special book of the evolution of joseph…..gilles is a very special thinker…..he sees things in ways that few see….gilles can put a twist on something that makes you think about whatever it was you were going to edit in a whole new light….in my opinion, gilles would be an amazing editor for joseph…but my opinion does not count…only joseph can decide….
joseph is 70 years old….like everyone in magnum and everyone who has spent a lifetime dedicated to their work, he thinks about his "place in history"…certainly joseph already has a place….but he does not want to be misunderstood now and he does not want to be misunderstood after he is gone…..this was a heady conversation in the afternoon sun…i was soaking up every split second…..just feeling to be a little part of history sitting at the table with these guys even having this discussion….
it is something to think about….since none of us knows our departure point, at what point in time do you organize your work in such a way that nobody can mis-use it after your death??…..photographer control….."place in history"….this is what magnum is all about….
the afternoon sun was now hitting joseph square in the face and twinkled off of his glasses….gilles joked that joseph always kept up his "tan"….joseph would smile, laugh heartily, and then suddenly he would look like the weight of the world was on his shoulders….
joseph is here in new york to make a presentation of his most recent book "Koudelka" (Aperture) at the Aperture Foundation next Thursday evening….suddenly our little cafe gathering broke up and gilles and alison went on their way…joseph and i walked alone up 7th avenue heading for magnum…we both remembered sharing chinese takeout right where we were walking now several years before……joseph noticed i was limping a bit and asked about my leg…he said he had a bad leg too…..when you are with joseph you remember every little thing..
i asked joseph how he would present his book…joseph does not make speeches……he said " i will just show the work and then take questions only"…….the presentation at Aperture will be packed……everyone in the room will know that THEY are part of history and that they will be witnessing a presentation by an icon in the world of photography whose place in art history is assured…..only joseph will be "concerned" about his next book…
i hugged joseph goodbye at the office and stepped back into springtime…..in the concrete jungle i saw a little dogwood blooming white….everything sparkled…..i felt heady and light…..i got the first cab i saw….even a friendly driver who did not mind taking me home to brooklyn…..i had to get back to my loft soonest to start organizing my work….i have a long long way to go……i really am concerned about my next book!!!
koudelka at the magnum meeting in london 2006