Talk: Kenneth Josephson with Michael Darling

Talk: Kenneth Josephson with Michael Darling


Thanks, Christy. And welcome, Ken. Thank you for being here today. And thanks to all of you for being here. It’s great to see so many of you turning
out on a sunny Saturday when everybody probably wants to be outside doing other things. But, before—of course, Ken and I are going
to have a chat, and we’re really looking forward to that. But, before we do that, we have a special
surprise for you. And, Tom, do you want to take it away? Yes. Take it away. Does Ken want to say anything about it beforehand? No. [Laughter]. And if you forget my name, it’s up there. Oh, Ken, your hat’s in the screen. [Laughter]. Well, I thought we had this all figured out. Can you raise it or? In the front. There’s a knob in the front. Can you get it up? Am I still blocking it? If I move this way, am I blocking it? No, that’s perfect. You sure I’m not blocking it? Is everything okay over there, Tom? I think—Okay, it takes a little—about
a few minutes to get this thing running. Ken, you don’t want to say anything? I want to introduce you to Tom Palazzolo,
who is at the projector. And he graciously agreed to help us. And he’s a wonderful filmmaker. He has done a lot of documentary films, mostly
in Chicago, except for one in Indiana, which was—what was the name of that place? Dude ranch or something? It was “Naked City.” “Naked City.” Which I think isn’t in existence any longer. For good reason [laughs]. Only half the audience can see that screen. Well, maybe people could sit on other people’s
laps on that side. [Laughter]. [Applause]. Almost. Tom’s been working for 40 years with films. [Laughter]. Tom was a wonderful student of mine at the
Art Institute—the School of the Art Institute, many years ago. And I have a lot of stories about him, but
I—that’ll take another hour. [Inaudible comment]. This was my second and last film. Okay. [Applause]. [Laughter]. Yes. Wait. No. Oh, you did? Did you want to—I’ll get that. I’ll . . . . Okay. Are you gonna tell ‘em why it broke? Well, we’ll see. I was gonna—so, what did we just see there,
Ken? [Laughter]. Well, I had my back to it. [Laughter]. I think I know what it is though. It was a film I—I projected a lot of films
in classrooms when I was teaching at the School of the Art Institute. And things would go wrong. You know, the film would break or burn up,
or the bulb would go out, or whatever. And I thought I’d make a film about the
projector. So, this is the result of it. And I wanted to introduce an intentional break,
so that it was like the film broke, you know, midway, and had to be rethreaded. So, there’d be a little performance like
Tom has done, rethreading the film. And the projector was the subject of the film. And, by the way, it’s a 16-millimeter film,
and that’s a 16-millimeter projector. And I’m telling you this, because some of
you may not be familiar with that. My accountant had hired this young lady recently
and he was showing her around the office, talking about her responsibilities. And he said, “And then we type up these
checks for this business.” And he took her over to the typewriter, and
she said, “What is that?” So, that’s why I’m talking about this. So, if this was your second and last film,
what preceded this one? I did a film on a destruction of a building
at—it was—the title was the location, “33rd and LaSalle Street.” And the—these buildings were being demolished
for the Dan Ryan Expressway, and displacing a lot of really poor families. Anyhow, there were two posters on the side
of the building which attracted my attention. One was “Solomon and Bathsheba,” and the
other poster was—what was it? “West Side Story.” And they were juxtaposed. And I think there was a window or something
in between. And it was my interest in filming or making
photographs of images within images. And so, I filmed the interior and then the
step-by-step demolition of the building. So, that was like a documentary effort. So, in a way, both of those moving-image works,
which you’re not specifically known for, were kind of about the mechanics of those
media. And, I mean, that’s—that would be a pretty
simple way to describe your photography though, too. It’s so much photography about photography,
and images about images. Do you think that seems like a fair— Yeah, you’re right. Yes. —characterization? And have the—I mean, I think this is a pretty
rare treat for us to get a chance to see this. This is from 1964, right? And has—you’ve really not shown it very
often in public. Is that right? Correct. Yeah. Just a few times. I mean, to me, it feels very, very contemporary
and it feels like lots of more recent artists, you know, might be attracted to doing something
very similar to that, something that’s very self-referential and—and, I mean, I think
that’s why this exhibition’s come about. Because, it feels like your work from the
‘60s to now is so playful, and irreverent, and critical, and kind of poking at the assumptions
of photography—or in this case, film—that so many younger artists seem to be also very
occupied with that today. So, this feels like another great contribution
to that history in a way. You’re absolutely right. [Laughter]. What am I going to say? Yeah, that wasn’t—I didn’t frame that— You’re wrong? I didn’t frame that very well as a question. But—I mean, for me, that, again, is the
reason why this show felt so pertinent to put on right now. And where—because, again, you have this
irreverence with photography. It almost is as if you don’t take it overly
seriously and you kind of trouble photography, in a way. Where did you get that idea? And did it meet with resistance when you first
started making pictures that didn’t take photography so seriously? Oh, that’s a good question. I—that’s hard to answer actually. I just—I love humor. I love humor. And I try to introduce that in some of my
work. And it’s rather difficult. Photograph—I’m sure a lot of you have
made photographs that you’re at a—in a particular situation that is rambunctious
or it’s very funny, like a gathering of people. And it’s very difficult to photograph and
capture that feeling. So, it takes a lot of work to introduce humor
and have people understand that it’s humorous. I’m not sure where it comes from. I guess it’s my personality. But, when you first started making pictures
like this, did you sense an overt—like a self-seriousness maybe within the world of
photography, where you felt like you needed to disrupt some things? Oh, yeah. Yeah. You’re right about that. I thought—I was—I had teachers. Minor White was one. And I was at RIT, which was very traditional
in their view of photography. And it was—I saw it as overly serious, and
reverent or whatever. And I thought that it needed to be maybe not
quite so much that way. So, some—like I have one series that I deal
with that is—references to the history of photography, which I was taught to really
love by Beaumont Newhall, the historian and writer of “The History of Photography.” So, I’m very taken by the history, and I
make references as a tribute to the medium and people that I admire a lot as photographers. And RIT is Rochester Institute of Technology? Right? Yes. And isn’t Rochester, New York also where
Kodak film was invented or based? [Crosstalk] Yeah, Kodak was based there and manufactured
film and everything. So, you were really at ground-zero of the
history of photography; studying there in the place where it was invented, essentially. Right. And there’s—at that time, it was called
George Eastman House, where George lived. And we—as freshman, very early, we made
a—we were taken to tour that. And everyone was looking for the blood on
the rug, ‘cause he committed suicide with a revolver. But, no one found it. [Laughs]. They had cleaned it up. [Laughter]. Well, was your humor well-received at that
time? When you were—you know, obviously, you still
have it. But, I mean, did people—did you get kicked
out of any of your classes for doing some of the things that you did or did you— No, but they didn’t really care for me introducing
myself into the picture or staging anything. They didn’t really see that as a good idea,
particularly. But, I remember another tour of Kodak Park,
it was called, where they manufactured everything. And I was like, I don’t know, 19 years old
or 18, I forget. But, when I started. And they took us through this tour, and we
went through a room where there—mainly women were rolling film into cassettes. So, they were very anonymous. So, they were calling out all these very rude
things to us, sexual things, you know, and everything. And amusing each other as workers. You know? I remember that. [Laughter]. Well, it seems like one of the strategies
that you really pioneered in a lot of ways is kind of somehow trying to pull back the
curtain almost on the illusion of a photographic image. Where we’re often trained and just accustomed
to look at a picture and feel like we were there, we’re standing there, and it’s
a window on to some kind of reality that has been captured. But, you have come up with all these kinds
of devices to sort of disrupt that, to make us realize, “Oh, there was a photographer
behind this. He or she was pointing at this angle.” Or you, sometimes also making us aware that
this is just a piece of paper with some emotion on it, and things like that. Can you talk about how that approach developed? Yeah. I was always—I was taken with motion pictures. I really loved watching motion pictures. And I was on a couple motion-picture sets
too. But, it was all—like all the things around
what was being filmed. Like the sound equipment and the lighting
equipment was all right just off the screen. And I kinda wanted to show how the image was
being made. And so, it came from that, primarily, I think. One of the things about your photographs that
resonate into our current moment, I think, is all of us becoming a bit more skeptical
of how a picture is made, if there’s been retouching and Photoshopping, and all of that—which,
of course, didn’t really exist, you know, in that form when you were making photographs. But, I’m still really curious about this
questioning of the photographic truth. Was there anything political behind that? Did you feel like you were—like you or your
peers were being misled by images that were—that you were seeing in the media, or newspapers,
or anything like that, that made you want to kind of slap people and say, “Wake up. You’ve gotta look at these pictures more
carefully, or more critically?” Hmm. I’m having a hard time answering that one. But, I worked for Chrysler Corporation for
a while. And there was a lot of retouching done on
the automobiles. At one point—this was in 1958 when the cars
were relatively long in size. And when we were photographing the automobiles,
we used a special lens that elongated the car to make it even look longer, and stretching
out. And we’d have to have the lens working in
the center of the car. So, they had to redesign the lock to make
it oval, because of the stretching, right? And you couldn’t have any of the models
nearby, because they’d look like, you know, these funny mirrors. So, [laughs] maybe that had something to do
with it. So, no—I can’t draw you into a political— No, I wasn’t political. I wasn’t. Okay. I’ve never sensed that in our conversations,
but it just made me wonder whether, you know, in that period, whether there was some other
external motivation. But, it’s more about the mechanics of how
pictures are made and— Yes. —films are made and things like that. Right. Right. Right. One other innovation that I think we see in
the exhibition is a rather small photograph—as most of yours are—where a picture has been
assembled using lots of other pictures to kind of create almost a collage. And the depth of field and everything is different
from each little piece to another so that there’s a really strange sense of space. And we also have a David Hockney photograph—or
a collaged photograph—in the exhibition that’s ten years later than that. And I think that was really amazing, to see
that you were already experimenting with that, you know, much before he, you know, really
popularized that form of almost this cubist kind of collage photography. Can you talk a little bit about how you came
into that, and even how you viewed Hockney’s later use of that same technique? Well, I wrote David Hockney, and I told him
that I thought he was doing a really good idea—doing some really interesting work
with my idea. [Audience laughter]. He never returned a letter or anything, but
[laughs]. I wanted to—let me see. I don’t know how I came about doing that
exactly. I wanted to—I’ve always been interested
in sequential ideas. And that was another sequential idea where
I photographed this activity in a supermarket parking lot. And I kept—the camera was on a tripod, so
there was no movement of the camera, except I kept rephotographing the same scene as it
changed people, and cars, and a particular couple that appear in three different parts
of the image. So, it’s a sequential thing that’s fractured. And there was a large—it’s up in the exhibition—a
large outdoor sign, which holds it together to make it convincing that it’s the same
place. But, all of these different things are going
on within that space, but the sign never changes. We just have a few examples of that, you know,
true kind of collage effect in the exhibition. But, is that something that you continued
to play with for a long time and even, would you say, that you continue to do that today;
or is that something that you kind of worked to—? I haven’t—not recently. But, I like forensic photography. I like looking at it. I did go through some police files one time
in Pittsburgh. And the photographs that they made for evidence,
purposes of evidence, were very precise and very convincing that they were truthful. And so, I—I had these postcards that were
older than the time when I was making my own photographs. So, I would find the spot where the previous
photographer was to make the postcard and make my own black-and-white image, and then
I put together pieces of the color postcard somewhat in the—the effect was somewhat
the same as that supermarket piece I did. And it was a way of introducing color, because
I—I had studied color at RIT and it was very difficult, at that time, to print color. And I thought it was such a waste of time,
and I would rather do black-and-white, which was much quicker. And so, I haven’t done much color work,
except some XX70s, which I love that color at that time. But, these collages were a way of me introducing
color into my own work. And I liked the contrast between the color
and the black-and-white, and how that functioned, and the way the space functioned, and the
way it recorded time changes. I don’t know if that’s been showing up
here behind us, but we have a great example of that in the exhibition, in MCA’s collection,
of Lake Shore Drive, or along the lakeshore there with its very recognizable view and
the postcard collaged onto the actual photograph that you took of that same scene. Right. And I didn’t think I could do it at first. Trying to find the same exact place and using
a lens that I thought was the same focal length. But, it worked. I was able to do it. I didn’t think it was going to work, but
it did, and I was very happy about that. That’s great. One other kind of technical kind of question
or maybe inside-baseball kind of question. So many of the ideas in your pictures, even
if they’re 40, 50 years old, feel incredibly fresh, incredibly relevant. But, the scale of your work does sort of,
you know, place it in a certain time and place, you know? And especially because currently a lot of
people working with photography now are really tempted to go really big with using color,
which you already talked about. Can you talk about that, and if you ever were
tempted to go big like some of these, you know, later generations of artists working
with photography might have done? And/or like why you intended to kind of stay
on this more intimate, small scale? Yes. The—well, one of the things I found with
artists, if they have a small space that they work in, their work is usually a small scale
for—you know, because of that. And I can print up to a certain size in my
darkroom—16 by 20 inches is the largest I can do. I mean, I could have someone else print the
work, which I’m not inclined to do. But, now, when you can digitize negatives,
I’ve had some pieces done 30 by 40 inches, which is a reasonably good size. And the quality of the image, the digital
image is so close to my own printed image that I’m very happy with it, you know? So, there are some larger images that I’ve
produced, but very, very few. Before we open it up to some questions, I
ask you kind of a big—a big picture question in terms—which is: You know, you’ve been
in this field for a long time and really made some amazing contributions to it. Where do you see photography today and do
you see a healthy future for it in terms of it being able to grow and to push boundaries
into the future? Yeah, before I answer that question. The other thing is I like the idea of kinda
an intimate experience with the photograph. That you do have to get close to it and it
kinda feels like intimacy. Anyhow, I think there’s so many possibilities
now with digital photography, which, by the way, I don’t do. But, I just have—I have such investment
in traditional photography, I just hesitate to go into digital photography. But, I can—since I don’t work in it, I
don’t see all the possibilities, but I’ve viewed a lot of possibilities. Like the instant recall of the image that
you’ve just made is just wonderful. I used to use a Polaroid to do that, but,
you know, that took a little bit of time. But, now, you have an instant recall. Because I think everything has moved to—instant
gratification is something that people seem to want, and digital photography certainly
does that. But, with Photoshop and all these ways of
altering the image, it’s quite endless what you can accomplish. It just—it is wide open. That’s just what I see, you know? It seems almost as if there’s, you know,
democratization of photography that anybody can, and everybody uses and makes photographs
all the time now. Does that feel distinctively different from
even when maybe people had Polaroid cameras and Brownie cameras and things like that? Does this feel materially different from that
period when photography was becoming popularized in a different way? Well, the manufacturing of cameras and equipment
has simplified the technical problems of making a picture. I mean, it’s erased all of the things—that
I kind of enjoy all the mistakes that were being made with traditional work. Like moving the—you know, shaking the camera
or—I mean, then people—I know other photographers have taken that and used that deliberately. Or, you know, multiple images by accident. I’ve done a lot of multiple images that
way. But, a lot of ideas have been taken from the
accidents—those technical accidents of photography, and made into very interesting images. Do you think that since—especially as someone
that was a longtime educator—do you think that since making of a picture with a camera
has become so easy and all of those difficult steps and technical know-how that was needed
before—it’s almost made photography education irrelevant or unnecessary? No. I think the thing that separates that casual
photography from serious photography are ideas. And I think if you have an interesting idea,
it’s—you can produce work that is very meaningful to everyone. So, I think the difference is the mind using
the equipment in a very creative way, and not just a casual—these casual images, I
mean, they’re very—they’re very well done, but a lot of times they lack any kind
of idea. That’s the difference, I think. And that kind of level of criticality and
discernment and things—that, someone learns in a photographic—with photographic training
and theories is what kind of separates the casual photographer from— Yeah. —the serious one. It yields you probably a higher rate of successful
pictures than the casual photographer too, I would think. Yeah. I think it’s much more difficult to make
an accidental image now. And I love accident and chance, and how that
can lead to some very interesting thoughts, ideas. I live by this, Pasteur’s statement about,
“chance favors the prepared mind.” So, if you have ideas, you know, circulated
in your head and you come upon something, you’re prepared to, you know, work with
that. Make something out of it. That seems like a good spot maybe to stop. Do we think, January, we have time to show
the film one more time just so—or should we launch into questions? We can go right to questions. Okay. [Inaudible comment]. Oh, I had one other story before that. Oh, please, sure. Sorry, I didn’t— I was in an exhibition in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 70s, I think it was. And the—there was a—it was a group show
of a lot of different photographers. But, one photographer who was in the show
was a man named Les Krims. And there was—someone was viewing the show
and took offense of his photographs, and demanded that the offending images be removed. So, I guess they didn’t do anything for
a while. So, this person kidnapped the director’s
son to hold hostage until the photographs would be removed. So, they—the show just had like a week or
so to run, so they just closed the whole show, and then the child was re—you know, released. But, they never found out the identity of
the kidnapper. And I hope that doesn’t happen to Michael—[laughter]
any of his relatives, because of this show. [Laughter]. Me too. [Laughs]. [Applause]. Well, I know we have microphones on either
side of the auditorium. And so, if anyone has questions, if you could
raise your hand, we’ll bring a microphone to you. And we’d love to entertain any questions
you might have for Ken. Here’s one. Hi, Ken. Is this on? [Side conversation]. Gosh, we’re having so many technical difficulties
today. I’m so sorry. It’s in honor of Ken’s work. Yes. [Laughter]. In the meantime, I wanted to thank Michael
and, of course, the MCA and the Terra Foundation, which has made this whole thing possible. And thank you very much. And I feel honored being invited to do this. [Applause]. Yes. My question, Ken, was in regards to your friendship
with Robert Heinecken. And there’s an amazing picture that’s
one of the more recent images that’s in the show upstairs. And I know you had a long relationship with
him, professional exchange as a teacher, and also as a fellow artist. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because, he was a very innovative photographer,
but didn’t make his own photographs like you make yours. Yes. I’ll tell you a story about when he first
started making images. He—there were places in magazines where
you could order unexposed—I mean, undeveloped film, rolls of undeveloped film of photographs
of nude women. And the reason for that was that you had to
develop the film. It could then be sent through the US Mail,
which you couldn’t send photographs like that through the—it was unlawful to do so. So, he never really made his own pictures. He used images from the media and, or like
I just explained, these images from—that he could get in the mail. But, he was a very influential person. For instance, I really admired him in terms
of some of the guerrilla tactics he did during the Vietnam War. If you remember, there was a famous photograph
of a Vietnamese soldier holding two severed heads. And he was protesting the Vietnam War. And one of the things he did was he bought
fashion magazines off the newsstand—or stole them. I forget which way. But, anyhow, he would remove the pages and
would offset print this image of the Vietnamese soldier holding the severed heads with hair
ads and that sort of thing. You know? And then he would reassemble the magazine
and put them back on the newsstand. So, I don’t know if that answers your question. [Laughter]. Do you want more detail? We have a question in the middle. Two, actually. One, can you talk a little bit about your
relationship with the photographer Joe Jachna, who, sadly, passed recently? And can you tell us whether you ate the bread? Well, that’s a good question—both of those. I very much admired Joe Jachna’s work. He was my classmate at ID. He was just this wonderful photographer who
came up with these glorious ideas, continuously. He was just a very, very good friend. And we exchanged ideas, you know, and were
very supportive of each other. The other question, no, by the time I photographed
that bread, it wasn’t edible. [Laughter]. And, no, I didn’t bake it. People always ask me if I baked it. No, I got it at—I got two loaves at a bakery,
and one worked real well. I sliced it myself. [Laughter]. Any other questions for Ken? Maybe while someone gets their courage for
a next question, I also wanted to thank my cocurator of this show, Lauren Fulton, who
worked on it. But, I also stand on the shoulders of Lynne
Warren here on our team, who organized the retrospective of Ken’s work here at the
MCA back in 1983. It really helped me bring more of Ken’s
work into the collection. So, I also wanted to thank Lynne for that. [Applause]. I also wanted to thank Christy. She’s done a great job putting this all
together for us. Do we have— Christy’s over here. [Applause]. Do we have a question in the front? What is your favorite color? I’m sorry? What is your favorite color? Color. What is your favorite color? Two. Black and white. [Laughter]. Oh, we have one more question over here on
the far side. We’ll get it. We’ll bring a mic to you, if we can [laughs]. Just a second, please. This is about Art Shay. He died yesterday. I was wondering, did you ever work with him? Art Shay? Art Shay died. I was wondering if you worked with him, or
your thoughts, or? No. But, I liked a lot of his images. I met him one time. That was all. But, he was a good photographer, I can say. I think the one that I admired most was a
child in midair heading for a mattress, off a porch. Yeah. And, also, didn’t he photograph Sartre’s—was
it Sartre’s lover? Simone. Simone. Yeah. He photographed Simone when she was nude at
a mirror in a bathroom, and she called him a naughty boy doing that. It was a good picture though. Hi, Ken. I wanted to just ask a little bit—since
I think there are a lot of students—current students of photography in the room. If you could talk a little bit about your
philosophy of teaching photography at the time that you were teaching? And maybe this gets back to an earlier question
about digital and the work that’s being done now in digital, but I remember, as your
teaching assistant, how you broke down photography in a way that, I think, reflects a lot of
what you do in your own work. But, maybe you could talk a little bit about
your teaching philosophy? Yes. I got another story that relates to this. I was teaching at ID for a short time—the
basic course. And the first thing that students were introduced
to the medium was to make a photogram, which was a camera-less image you make in the darkroom. You use light and light-sensitive paper, which
you then expose and then process. So, actually, you’re—the result are like
shadows that turn out white, of course. And where there’s no object or anything
on the paper or between you—the light and the paper, it comes out lighter. Anyhow, I briefly explained how a photogram
was made, and the class went into the darkroom. And this student, he crumpled up the paper
and then he set it on fire, which resulted in exposure of the paper. And then he let it burn for a little while,
and then he put it out in the developing solution, and fixed it and that sort of thing. And what turned out was this wonderful image
that had creases and, you know, and charred edges. And it was just a wonderful idea that I was
so jealous of, you know? [Laughter]. I should’ve followed his career, because
he must have done some other wonderful things like that. But, anyhow, when I was teaching, I liked
to introduce a little bit of technique, but mostly talk about ideas, about how to use
the camera, of course, technically. But, how to use the space, and light, and
time—ideas. So, the emphasis was on idea with just enough
technical information for the student to move on to the next thing. That was the way I taught, and it worked out
pretty well. I saw one last hand shot up over there on
the isle. The show upstairs is in two parts. The first part is your photographs, the second
part is a representation of the work of other artists. Were you curatorially involved with Michael
in making the selection of those works? My thought about when, my approach for an
exhibition is that the curator has different ideas than I have, and I like to see them
express their own ideas about how they’re going to present my work. So, I really don’t have much say in what
photographs are selected. So, I just trust the curator to do an interesting
exhibition. What was the other question? I’m sorry. Were you involved in the selection of the
items in the second part of the show? I guess, you know, the other artists, not— Oh. No, no. No, I wasn’t. Uh-uh. But, there are some wonderful images. Great. Well, I think maybe we should let you all
go upstairs and see the exhibition, if you haven’t seen it yet. I wanted to make one little commercial plug,
which you might’ve noticed that I’m wearing a name patch that says Ken, and Tom is wearing
a name patch that says Ken, and January [laughs]. So, we made this brilliant idea from Marilyn
Zimmerwoman, who has been collecting Ken patches—name patches. And we all have decided to make some of these
ourselves. And so, they’re available in the store upstairs
too, if you also want to be like Zen and wear a Ken patch around town, and make people scratch
their heads when you see you and know that your name is not Ken. And Marilyn’s my partner, and she’s a
good lover. [Laughter]. [Applause].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,