Last week I visited the MoMA to see their new photography acquisition. While I was there I signed up for a membership because the student rate for a yearly plan ($50) was not that much more than the cost of one visit ($25). I’m looking forward to going back when I have more time to see the other work and to possibly check out the Book Festival at PS1 this weekend.
The image I chose is a photo taken by Robert Frank on display at the XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography exhibit. The text in the photograph reads: “LOS ANGES [sic]/ FEBRUARY 4 / I WAKE UP / TURN ON TV”. To preface my experience of Frank’s work, I saw an exhibit of his photographs from his collection and book “The Americans” at the Metropolitan several years ago and a screening at Anthology Film Archives of his movies. What I picked up from Frank’s work was how many layers there are. The longer you look at a photograph the more things are revealed to you. Amazingly, all the layers of imagery and meaning are interconnected.
Going back to the MoMA photograph, this image first appealed to me on the most basic aesthetic level. I liked the urban feel of the scratchiti, the composition, with all that top heavy dark space, the shapes that form on the page, and the image’s stark black and white. Then I experienced it on a second level when I read the text. I was moved by the depression and hopeless surrender of the text’s author but was also slightly humored by the author’s existential ennui. Also the angle of the photograph looks like it is from the perspective of someone looking through bars, out of a pit of blackness. Next, I experienced it from a level where I observed ironic contradiction. Why is the text written with such energetic fury? Why the exact, yet useless, documentation of the date? In this morbid nest, the viewer, ironically, looks at the inverted sign of the “New Million Dollar Hotel.” Finally, upon meticulous inspection, I see reflections of a television, or a TV-shaped poster that invokes liturgical language: “Give Us This Day.” Who know how many other things are hiding in this composition!? Overall, it’s always a rich experience with Frank’s work.