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An Unpublished, Unvarnished Interview with a Conservative Artist
A few months ago, the editor of "Tokion Magazine," Ken Miller, wrote to inquire if I would do an interview. My work had been mentioned at a symposium at The Cooper Union (my alma mater) as noteworthy by a fine young photographer named Ryan McGinley, sparking Miller's interest.
I said sure. Miller emailed a set of questions.
It's taken some time to finally write my answers. And Ken Miller hasn't seen them. The space allotted for such things in "Tokion" is small, and I've rambled on. Fortunately, the length of a text is not a big concern in cyberspace.
Ken Miller: You are originally from Brooklyn, but you avoid the NYC gallery network. Why is that?
Les Krims: I grew up in a two-room apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Though I can think of worse places to live, the twenty-three years I lived in New York City were uncomfortable and spare. After graduate school there was no money, prospects were uncertain. Like Snake Pliskin, I escaped from New York.
When I moved to Buffalo ("Western New York"), in 1969, snide remarks greeted my Brooklyn accent. In a very few years, the children of the people who mocked my accent were tellingly leaving Buffalo to find work elsewhere, and often wound up living in Brooklyn. (In the last 3 decades, Buffalo's misguided politics and high taxes have pushed jobs and over 300,000 people out of this city.) These refugees found apartments in newly gentrified safe zones carved out of the Brooklyn ghettos surrounding them, and began having kids of their own. Their kids avoided the public schools hobbled by nihilistic ideology and misguided politics (read Daniel Patrick Moynihan's essay, "Defining Deviancy Down"). These young Brooklyn natives rode the subway in rush hour to attend private schools (their parents went to private school, and so would they). I've lost my Brooklyn accent. But the grandchildren of the folk who mocked my pronunciation now speak with a Brooklyn brogue. A three-minute drive through Buffalo's wide, traffic-free streets, and I'm at work. I still miss New York City food - the fried chicken wing is Buffalo's culinary claim to fame. However, all in all, moving to Buffalo has been tolerable.
At 27, I had my first exhibition at The Witkin Gallery. Unknown one day, in no time I had a "reputation." In 1969, the Witkin Gallery was the only commercial photography gallery in New York City. I was a new fish in Lee Witkin's small pond. The artsy folk I met at Witkin Gallery openings were strange, middle class. Their main entertainments seemed to be drugs, radical politics, and ethnic food (I did share their affection for the food). The wacky ideology they professed and their dislike for America bewildered me. (The Painted Word, written by Tom Wolfe, offers an enlightening, entertaining read about these times in New York City's art world.)
In the years between 1969 and 1981, seeking sales, I moved from The Witkin Gallery, to Light Gallery and, finally, to Robert Freidus Gallery. Lee Witkin purchased pictures from me as long as he was alive. Light Gallery and Robert Freidus Gallery sold few pictures. However, my own modest commercial ventures in publishing books and small offset folios were fairly successful. I made a profit, the books were well received, and I found the entire process interesting.
With self-sufficiency in mind, in the fall of 1978, a unique opportunity presented itself. Gallery owners, curators, and collectors from the U.S., Canada, and Europe would be attending a print collecting symposium and auction hosted by the George Eastman House, in Rochester, New York. Photographs were then beginning to be exhibited in galleries that had only showed painting. The Eastman House event was really an excuse to celebrate that change. There was a sense that photography had arrived, that it was hot! I had doubts.
Most of the marketers, and a good part of the market for photography, would be at George Eastman House, in the same place at the same time (a first, then). I devised a simple plan to sell my photographs at the symposium to whoever might be interested.
Light Gallery represented my work in 1978. And Light's representatives, Lawrence Miller and Peter MacGill, would be at the Eastman House symposium (those names ring a bell?). I explained my plan to Peter and Larry. Without any explanation, they refused to sell my work at that event. I decided to represent myself. A $40 fee, paid in advance, would allow me attend, and to roam about for three days, toting a small case full of prints, a pack of invoice forms, and a ballpoint pen.
On the symposium's last day there was to be a fundraising print auction complete with auctioneer from Christies. The auction would sell work donated by contemporary photographers, and use the proceeds to purchase the work of contemporary photographers for the Eastman House collection (say that again!?). Tables were set up throughout the exhibition areas at G.E.H., so that galleries and dealers could hawk photographs. I reasoned that these folk would not be selling contemporary work to each other, and Rochester, paradoxically, was not a lucrative market for art photography. Dealers and galleries still made most of their money selling "old paper" as it is known in the antiques trade-historical material in limited supply. I knew that Lee Witkin saw no reason to attend. I believed sales of contemporary photographs at the event would be slim to none.
The Eastman House held a moderately successful mail auction the previous year using the same odd plan: selling donated contemporary photographs to purchase contemporary photographs (a "heads I win; tails you loose" idea for the artist even now). The year before, flattered to be included, and seeking the imprimatur of being listed in the catalog, photographers had donated work, naively failing to set minimum bids. Nobody was donating anything this year. Minimum bids were in place based on theoretical top dollar valuations at which no prints had ever sold. The mechanism on display, this year and last, appeared to me to be a new incarnation of the legendary perpetual motion machine.
I reasoned that if I offered a limited selection of my pictures (some specifically fabricated for the event) at a "bargain" price, at an event where no bargains would be available, I might sell some. (The deal: Any print from a selection of 36 contact prints, made from 8x10 negatives, for $50 each - inexpensive even then. The hook was that 10 of my prints - $500 dollars worth - had to be purchased at once to get that price. In two days I sold hundreds of prints, including an edition of 50, of an 11 print set called "Please!")
An odd and unanticipated consequence of the Eastman House caper is that those few pictures, now, in large part, are the only pictures that represent my work in many museum collections throughout America and Europe. I am continually surprised by where those bargain prints show up. The power of the tax advantage is not to be ignored.
The pictures offered were selected from a series called "Academic Art," or fabricated specifically to satirize the symposium's hustle (e.g., "Please!": an 11-picture set of 8x10 contact prints of my 68-year-old mother in her bikini, carrying a cane, tin cup with pencils, sporting dark glasses, pretending to beg in Buffalo's dusty summer streets, each picture made as she screamed the word PLEASE!). Young artists might want to consider the effectiveness of a good hook and "price point," that the practice of collecting is herd-driven, and, the fugitive nature of what's "hot."
In a time of inflated prices for all photographic work, I believe that an affordable price for my pictures may have some appeal. With that in mind, I've created a website to sell beautifully crafted, archival ink jet prints - the best prints of my pictures I've ever made
This venture's hook is similar in approach to the 1978 Eastman House offer: an affordable price for memorable pictures at a moment when few bargains are available. When I last heard, Lawrence Miller Gallery, was selling my Kodalith prints for upwards of $3000 each. Through my site, a $195 (less money than a graduate student wannabe star would charge for a picture), buys a signed and dated ink jet print of any picture offered at my website, printed to order, by me, on an 8.5"x11" rag sheet. $395, buys any image printed by me at any one of three standard cut sheet sizes: 13"x 19", 17"x 22", & 24"x 30" (SX-70 pictures look best to me about same size and are only available on 8.5"x 11" sheets). A "choice" of different size enlargements for the same price can't be found at any gallery. $595 will purchase a 36"x 44" inch print of any picture except an SX-70 image. Shipping and packaging are included in the price in the U.S., and priced at cost outside the U.S. The prints are the product of ten years of honing my digital printing skills, and the selection chosen from 40 years of work.
K.M.: How has your approach to photography evolved?
L.K.: When I started to make photographs, it seemed to me that "serious" photography was mired in slumming excursions funded by affluent folk eager to see what danger looked like. These pictures produced instant catharsis for their viewers, and changed little or nothing for those photographed. Art photography as such, was a small industry, an amalgamation of arts and government agencies, which used the poor and damaged as the raw material for a perverse entertainment: socially concerned photographs. The pictures fed this industry's voracious appetite for propaganda. The propaganda was used by the culture industry, politicians, and the rapidly expanding bureaucracy of the welfare state to "prov"e that the "problems" which rationalized the money spent to employ them all, had not changed. This was another, and perhaps the worst of the culture industry's perpetual motion machines. Photographs fueled the engine of this machine. In contrast to this retrograde, cynical practice, New York City in the 1960s was chockablock with "ism" after "ism." Creative energy was in abundance. All of this influenced my work.
In graduate school I began constructing situations (simple tableaus) to be photographed. I called these satirical images "fictions" (it seemed clear to me that a photograph was pure illusion, easily manipulated, fictional). A note, or a simple sketch to help objectify and remember an idea often began the process.
In my second semester of graduate school (1965), Owen Butler (Pratt's photo lab assistant then, now a professor at R.I.T.) showed me a calendar of photographs used to promote the Horn/Griner Studio. The pictures were wild, funny tableaus, and the reproductions had an unusual look. I asked Owen how the prints for the calendar were made. At first he said it was a secret (Owen worked at Horn/Griner as studio manager). Eventually, as a graduation gift, he told me that Kodalith paper was used, but nothing about how to use it. I bought some, experimented a bit, and began to use it to print my work.
I found the work of Jeanloup Sieff, Art Kane, and other fashion and editorial advertising photographers fascinating, great to look at, and a welcome antidote to the gloom and doom of activist photography. Most of these photographers were innovative craftsman, and used extraordinary new optics. I discovered I had a great affection for wide-angle lenses.
On a visit to New York, in 1968 (recommended by Peter Bunnell to his friend Bradley Hindson, I had a job teaching photography at R.I.T., and lived upstate, in Rochester, NY), I saw a Lawrence Weiner exhibition at the Seth Siegelaub Gallery. The exhibition consisted of framed, letter size, typewritten statements - not pictures. The words described simple "acts." I felt a strong affinity for Weiner's quirky approach, and the proletarian, commonplace images his words described. When I was a kid, I had poured a gallon of discarded paint in a hole in the ground in a vacant lot; I shot my Red Ryder BB gun at a wall in our apartment (many times), and examined the dimpled depressions. I used firecrackers to blow up anthills and toadstools. From time-to-time I set small, "decorative" fires along curbs on 63rd Street. Taking care to avoid lines of drying wash, I shot balsa wood rockets powered by tiny, solid fuel Jetex Type 50 rocket motors off my apartment house roof aiming for Coney Island. Some of Weiner's pieces sold permission to a "collector" to do things for which, these days, Ritalin might be prescribed.
By the end of the 1960s, conceptual art; new optics; advertising photography; the satire and uncompromising language of Lenny Bruce (in my opinion, "performance art" at its unequalled best); Rube Goldberg's odd contraptions; Willem deKooning's "Women;" Art Povera; small, inexpensive "multiples" by Ed Rusha and others; Richard Lindner's paintings of tough, common women; Henri Cartier-Bresson's elegant, spare photographs; and William Klein's teaming pictures and beautifully printed books had all made lasting impressions. As the 1970s progressed, I enjoyed Peter Saul's wild, irreverent, expressionist parodies of history painting; the Hairy Who; Duane Michals's narratives; Lucas Samaras's SX-70 manipulations; Guy Bourdin's fashion work; and the edgy, candid work of my friend Paul Diamond. As much as I liked Henri Cartier-Bresson's work, my pictures remained anti-decisive moment.
Through the 1980s, my methods evolved. I began to alter carefully selected "candid" pictures using texts in the manipulative manner of activist photographers. However, my pictures presented a point-of-view not offered in leftist-controlled media (CBS, NBC, ABC, The New York Times, and incipient public radio and television). By "spinning" documentary images with texts, strangers could be transformed into actors in believable tableaus. The left's methods for propaganda were harnessed to criticize the left, making transparent media and art bias. "Making Chicken Soup" had done this in one way years earlier, these newer pictures were more explicit.
I used a variety of cameras and film formats. Self-taught as a photographer and user of computer technology, those skills evolved gradually, unhampered by what seemed to me to be an academic art establishment that fed a radical, ideology-laced Cool-Aid to students, designed to kill those parts of the brain where common sense and creativity reside. In the 1980s, the left saw clearly that the Soviet Union would fail, and though they now controlled culture in this country, their ideas had atrophied and become vestigial. It appeared to me that the left's Kamakaze-like plan was to take art down with them and their failed revolution. I photographed avidly, attempting to reflect American culture where aberrant behavior was exploding.
Along the way, the amazing potential of digital technology became clear, and I waited for computers and high-resolution ink jet printers to become affordable. Computers, film scanners, and ink jet printers are now central to making my prints.
K.M.: Is your documentary photography (street photography, etc.) your older work?
I'm not exactly sure to which pictures you're referring. If you mean "The Little People of America, 1971," The "Deerslayers," or "The Incredible Case of the Stack o' Wheats Murders," yes, those are older (all were published in 1971). But they were made to criticize socially concerned photography (a.k.a., "street photography"), and its content. Initially, those works challenged the use of a photographic image as "evidence," and underscored how photography was morphing. Considered together, the three portfolios announced a synthesis of methods and ideas-a fusion of the conceptual, candid, and commercial, which I believed would displace prevailing practice in art photography. I called my pictures "fictions." (In a 1970 article in "Camera Mainichi," my notion of a photograph being a "fiction," was published to accompany an article reproducing my work.)
"The Deerslayers," supposed hunters to be conceptual artists making sculpture. Near the end of Vietnam war, radical leftist activists using nasty ad hominem attack, characterized any gun-toting hunter as a murderer; police, as some may remember, were called "pigs." Tongue only slightly in cheek, I suggested that the deer trussed to cars, pick-ups, and campers-commonplace in upstate New York during hunting season-were best understood as sculpture, and a "performance" Hermann Nitsche would enjoy. The title was suggested by James Fennimore Cooper's novel, "The Deerslayer." Those pictures were meant to conjure a creative appraisal and positive spin for a utilitarian sport practiced by many people living outside the radical-intellectual epicenter of New York City. Most deer hunters ate what they shot. And it's my guess that many lefty intellectuals would have strapped-on a Glock and gone hunting, too, if lox ran wild in Central Park. (An original print portfolio in a flocked clamshell box was produced containing shotgun shells, deer targets, deer hide, antler tips, and other objects.)
"The Little People of America," 1971, was selected from photographs made at two, national conventions of the Little People of America. The L.P.A., was founded by the 3-foot-9-inch actor, Billy Barty. The members of the L.P.A., were primarily achondroplasia and hypopituitary dwarfs. These people annihilated the stereotype of "dwarf" delivered by art history and socially concerned photography. "The Little People of America, 1971," embodied America and American spirit at a time when the left was pissing on this country. Though dwarfs had been stereotyped by art history, I thought my pictures rightly showed them as normal people who possessed an oversized amount of strong, straight, American character, and much courage. (A tape measure was included in the original print version.)
"The Incredible Case of the Stack o' Wheats Murders," was a "fiction"-a totally fabricated, conceptual work suggested by forensic photographs I'd seen in a coroner's text (the movie "Seven," and the smash "CSI" series also seem to have evolved from such pictures). I hoped "…Stack o' Wheats," in the context of the other two works, would make clear the strengths of fabricating photographs; how little a photograph was worth as "evidence;" and how manipulative the photographer could be. (A heat-sealed plastic pouch of pancake mix, another of chocolate syrup, and instructions for making your own "stack" came with the original print version, enabling a buyer to create his own "prop.")
The three sets of pictures were first shown at The Witkin Gallery, in 1972, as framed press sheets, along with 25, single-image Kodalith prints (the trimmed and boxed versions made from the press sheets sold for $3.95 each, and now can fetch over $100).
The offset portfolios were followed in the next few years by a small, offset book called "Making Chicken Soup," ("Dedicated to my mother and all concerned photographers-both make chicken soup."), "Fictcryptokrimsographs" (a book of satirical, hand-worked SX-70 prints), "Les Krims: Kodalith Images" (a set of postcards reproducing Kodalith prints of single-image pieces, published in Austria, by Galerie Die Brucke); "Porsche Rainbows" (a set of machine processed color photographs of small rainbows formed by spraying water from a garden hose over my new, yellow, 914, 1973 Porsche); "Uranium Robots" (the photographic record of a robot suit building contest I held, inspired by toy robots and cartoons I saw in Tokyo, while there in the summer of 1974); "Academic Art" (numerous "sets" of pictures directed and photographed by me, but fabricated by my introductory photography students in response to my assignments to interpret various academe-based art movements); "Please!" (pictures of my mother begging in the streets of Buffalo); and "Idiosyncratic Pictures" (a large, original print portfolio of zany, allegorical constructions photographed using an 8"x10" camera). In 2005, Actes Sud, published a Photo Poche monograph of my work, edited by the brilliant Robert Delpire. And soon, an extensive selection of my pictures will be published in Germany, in a curious magazine called "MØLLÜSK."
"The Great Society" programs begun in the 1960s, which aspired to social change, produced disastrous results over time. However, what did decline at as steep a rate as the rise of crime, drug addiction, flight out of many cities, and illegitimate births, was socially concerned documentary and street photography. Ironically, it wasn't until the official failure of the Soviet Union, in 1991, that a reformulated, reformatted "concerned photography" reemerge in Germany, a country notorious for its "solution" to minority problems. This work was a reaction to the sensationalism of American photography, which had, in the late 1960s, begun to displace a leftist stranglehold prevalent since the 1930s. These German pictures presented a megalomaniacal celebration of Aryan youth and public spaces, and to me looked to be a notable reemergence of Albert Speer's aesthetic, at a time when Europe was forming one large, socialist state. (Do I hear German artists humming that old "National Socialist" anthem?)
K.M.: How posed were your Kodaliths?
L.K.: They were often completely posed. However, once, at a conference at the George Eastman House, I heard Beaumont Newhall ask Gary Winnogrand a snide question: "How long does it take you to make a photograph?" Winnogrand's riposte was, "1/500th of a second at f/11." In my newest pictures, computers, 3D applications, and texts are employed to "spin" carefully sifted candid photographs. Each time I reexamine a digital scan of an older negative I'm likely to change it. Making composite pictures is something I've been doing regularly for some time. These practices, for me, pretty well render moot, standard notions of "posing" and "editions."
K.M.: Why did you use your family in the photographs?
L.K.: In 1965, I made a picture of my mother in our apartment sitting on a plastic covered couch wearing white panties and nothing else (a plastic covered couch drew the same snickers from the intelligentsia then as it does now). Part of my intent was to show the déclassé environment in which I was raised; part to present my blue collar "MOTHER" to the world. The picture glared back at slumming dilettantes. It disclosed the unique modesty of a hard working, working class woman. My mother liked that picture very much, even if feminists didn't (affluent, middle class feminists have since regularly been photographing their naked mothers and fathers). Ideas of decorum held by poor or working class people were often very different than those practiced by the middle class (think about rap videos). Growing up in two rooms offered little privacy. Over the 23 years I lived with my mother it was impossible to completely avoid seeing her without clothes, though I tried. My mother offered to model when I complained one day that it was hard to find a model to pose for me (that would change quickly!). My friends and family were just that. They knew me, they liked me, they knew I was shy, they understood I was serious, that I meant them no harm, and they helped me out.
K.M.: Do you approach your photos with a specific statement in mind?
L.K.: "God is dead!" "Eat the rich!" "Power to the people!" are statements-misguided, hostile statements made by spoiled zealots. "Making Chicken Soup," was the documentation of the fabrication of an ethnic myth-the Jewish myth of Chicken Soup and its curative powers. It associated this traditional palliative with ideology driving the fabrication of propaganda, the purpose of which was to bring about a misguided, leftist, revolutionary "cure." I thought that both cures were equally ineffective.
Some pictures are concentrated quasi-allegories. "A Marxist View…," for example, was my attempt to compress a suite of pictures into one picture (as if William Hogarth had tried to squeeze all he had to say in "A Rake's Progress," into one engraving).
Some images are simple and direct: for example, "Homage to the Crosstar Filter Photograph, 1970" (a "voodoo" to dispel the use of a trite special effect); or "Plus One Stop, 1969" ("concerned photography" had become so formulaic and trivialized by the late 1960s, that "Popular Photography Magazine," offered this basic film exposure advice to be followed by amateurs photographing in the ghetto [what amounted to a despicable sport, in my opinion]).
On occasion I've attempted to replicate the epiphany one can have in life when a small thing observed in a larger context makes a big impression. This produces the Ah-ha!, or Boing! effects (scientific, and cartoon terminology).
In 1985, "Esquire" magazine commissioned me to make a couple of tableaux-one about fashion, the other about so-called "Generation X." These were interesting to do, and widely reproduced.
With my daughter's birth in 1986, and the new responsibilities of being a dad, things changed. I started to make more candid pictures, spinning their meaning by applying "texts" directly to the image. The texts were satirical and political critiques in the guise of titles-a new corollary for the adduced meaning of incessant, leftist, media distortion. The title's purpose was to transparently fictionalize what was imaged. I thought viewers might be edified and amused by understanding how text can hammer the shape of an image's meaning.
The phrase "decline of the left" seemed an apt title for new pictures inspired by the Soviet Union's collapse on December 25, 1991, (Christmas day for Chrissake! Talk about perfect!). In 1993, Michel and Michèle Auer exhibited in Geneva, Switzerland, 50 pictures energized by this notion. Irritating the left had always been something I wondered why more young artists didn't do. The left's [she]nanigans offered an endless supply of material to inspire criticism and satire. Most of the cadre manning (femming?) academe's arts and humanities programs did not celebrate the failure of Soviet communism-they mourned it.
A Republican controlled Congress, and the implosion of liberal media, offer signs the left is, at least, quivering, getting grayer, loosing their grip, starting to shrink, leaking a bit. For example, Jacques Derrida's death was the excuse for an astounding revisionist article, "The Theory of Everything, R.I.P.," by Emily Eakin, published in The New York Times (October 17, 2004). Various deconstructionists and poststructuralists actually admitted in print to their fantasy that the sea of twaddle generated in academe by Derrida's minions would bring about a Marxist revolution (amazing!), while post-dating in 2004, to the beginning of the 1990s (1991, maybe?), their disavowal of, and distancing from, Derrida, and the Marxist revolution he and they were cultivating in their dreams. Talk about disingenuous twerps.
K.M.: Are you interested in having your photographs "read"?
L.K.: Do you mean closely read? For example: "[the]rapist," a.k.a. therapist. There's much too much of that sleight-of-hand. Many of my pictures have titles that function as punch lines, and some titles can be read as very short, short stories. Critics often intentionally overlooked or misread my titles - mentioning a title might have announced that at least one artist/photographer was critical of the left. Digital technology now allows me to print discrete titles and commentary beneath each picture. These are meant to offer clues to my intent, and enhance a picture's visual experience.
K.M.: What was your reaction when you found out your "Stack o' Wheats" photos at U.C.S.C. had been destroyed?
L.K.: Think about the timeline here. That cryptofascist's melodramatic acting-out took place almost ten years after "The Incredible Case of the Stack o' Wheats Murders" was published. Ten years! There is, now, thirty-five-years later, a website associated with the ACLU, devoted to perpetuating this criminal act. The site presents a slanderous Marxist analysis of "…Stack o' Wheats…," with a link to Nikki Craft's delusional explanation of why destroying that portfolio was not an act of hate, self-promotion, and ignorance. (The recently deceased radical feminist author Andrea Dworkin, one of Ms. Craft's colleagues in the failed quest of anti-porn radical feminism, is named in one footnote. Dworkin gave her fellow citizens the famous lines, "Heterosexual intercourse is the pure, formalized expression of contempt for women's bodies;" "Romance is rape embellished with meaningful looks;" and "The only good man is a dead man." In the June 6, 2005 article in New York Magazine, "The Prisoner of Sex," Ariel Levy sums up Ms. Dworkin's hateful quest: "With the possible exception of the Shakers, it is difficult to think of an American movement that has failed more spectacularly than anti-pornography feminism." Pornography is now, "…a source of inspiration for all of popular culture." I deplore pornography, but I'm not a prude. "The Incredible Case of the Stack o' Wheats Murders," was, in part, a work expressing my revulsion for violent crime.
It is not coincidental that at the same time as the U.C.S.C. crime, The Society for Photographic Education's "learned" journal, "Exposure," published-in two different issues-defamatory and libelous articles accusing me of many of the culture crimes conjured years later by Nikki Craft, at Andrea Dworkin's behest. The U.C.S.C. event was a pre-Borking-a destructive tactic the left would perfect in the coming years (have a look at "The Source of Anita Hill's Coke Can Hair," Group 1, at my website). In 1978, two years prior to being vilified in "Exposure," I was the S.P.E.'s featured photographer, honored at their national convention, in Asilomar, CA.
Destroying a $3.95 offset portfolio ten years after its publication was the pathetic act of someone who desperately wanted to do anything to be noticed. My needling the radical left motivated Kraft's crime. It had nothing to do with pornography. I never again joined the SPE, and avoid contact with this tribe of lefties. Henry Kissinger had it right when he said, "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."
K.M.: Do you miss that celebrity and controversy from early in your career or was it mostly a hassle?
L.K.: It is disconcerting to know firsthand the effects of being marginalized. However, I'm an introvert, and being forced to the margin, with full pay, in a free country, has been a tolerable experience. It's much like "Brer Rabbit" getting tossed into the "brier patch." George Herbert's notion, "Living well is the best revenge," is good advice.
K.M.: What is your favorite place in Buffalo?
L.K.: My digital lab is where I spend most of my time. I keep a helium-filled toy dirigible there powered by a small electric motor. I fly it while pictures are printing. Each print I make bears a text tag that refers to Buffalo: "Printed by Les Krims, in a Basement in Buffalo, New York-a Failed Border Town Where the Stank of Government Cheese Meets the E.coli Scented Lake Erie Breeze." That phrase also fades-in on my web site's homepage. The locution pretty much sums up a town where a Democrat politician's name appears at every lever on every old voting machine for every choice for just about every party. Not too many complaints about "hanging chads" in Buffalo.
K.M.: What do you try to teach your students? Do you focus on technical issues, or aesthetics?
L.K.: One useful lesson is to make students aware that it's possible to intentionally create intelligent, entertaining, and moving pictures with a camera, guided by an idea, and enhanced with words. However, we are a veritable church of all notions at B.S.C. We leave nothing out. Making an impression, enjoying the process that got you there, and wanting to do it all again are fundamental to sustaining oneself as a student, and later, as an artist. Additionally, our area's library (a unique resource) contains the work of hundreds of photographers (immersion in Cooper Union's great art library while an undergraduate there was the model for this). These works represent every aspect of photography, and is easily accessible by all our students. There are no end of examples of work made by artists I believe to be witting and unwitting leftist tools, which have, nonetheless, produced exquisite, sometimes important, and often, deplorable pictures (but I almost never let on to this). It is a free country.
© 2006 Les Krims