Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Dennis Stock

Photojournalist and Magnum member Dennis Stock, born 1928 in the South Bronx to an English mother and a Swiss father, must have been quite an impossible guy. "... he could be direct to the point of harshness", writes Carole Naggar in her informative essay "I'll meet you tonight at noon". In the words of his friend, gallery owner Howard Greenberg: "He had little patience for those who did not agree with him". And: "He had enormous confidence ... he could become combative and even arogant, which cost him relationships over time." Yet he was also generous and did serve as a mentor to younger photographers.
Time Is On Your Side is divided into sections entitled James Dean; Musicians, Actors, Jazz & Theater; Fairs & Festivals; California; Hippies & Road People,  All photographs are in black and white, some come with interesting captions and I continue to wonder who wrote them, in particular this one: "James Dean in his apartment on W.68th Street, just off Central Park West. On the top floor, it was small and stateroom-like – probably a maid's room in earlier days. It was crammed with books and records. Jimmy had a need to be surrounded by books, but it's not sure if he was a real reader. He collected all kinds of music: Schoenberg, Stravinsky, medieval music, and even Frank Sinatra's SONGS FOR YOUNG LOVERS. New York City, 1955." What I find interesting is the suggestion that the books shown are only part of the furniture.

"In the whole series James Dean seems to be an actor in his own life, the people and places around him no more than a theater set. He cuts a lonely figure, disconnected from his surroundings by an invisible line", writes Carole Naggar. I couldn't agree more yet I also wonder how much this view of Dean might also be sort of a self-portrait of Stock.
A double-page spread in the section on immigrants shows couples in New York City (in 1950 and in 1951) giving "an assurance of 'No communist affiliation'". Indeed a "bureaucratic absurdity" (as the caption says) and at the same time a frightening document of a hysterical era. And, very different from the pretty relaxed pictures in "Hippies & Road People".

"In 1968, Dennis Stock assigned himself the subject of the state of California. He tought that this was were things were going to happen", I learn from Carole Naggar who also contributed an interesting description of the man holding a surboard (the picture below): "His whole body remains hidden, except for his arms, turning the surf into a polished white mask with the stark shadows of the stairs creating a geometric background as his shadowed hands seem like small animals with open jaws."
I'm increasingly concerned with questions of photographic collaboration. There are many superb shots in this tome that are quite obviously snapshots. And, there are the ones that give the impression that the person portrayed was trying to come across favourably, and succeeded in doing so. How much credit is due to the photographer and how much to the person portrayed?, I sometimes wonder. In case you also wonder, you should look at the pic of Louis Armstrong in his dressing room at the Latino Casino, Philadelphia, 1958. To look so supremely relaxed, there must have been quite some chemistry between Stock and Armstrong.

Dennis Stock
Time Is On Your Side
Prestel, Munich-London-New York 2014

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