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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

BOOK REVIEW: A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY 1968-1989 BY PETER SCHLESINGER

Image above: ©Peter Schlesinger, David and Cecil Beaton in Cecil's conservatory, Wilsthire, 1970.

 

 

A private moment on Paloma Picasso’s wedding day; a young Robert Mapplethorpe leaving a photography shop in France; Vivienne Westwood’s very first shop on King’s Road in London. Peter Schlesinger captures these moments, imbues them with intimacy and romanticism, and reveals the world his subjects make for themselves. The viewer reflects: What happened before? What happened after?

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.41.38 AM©Peter Schlesinger, R. B. Kitaj in his studio, London, 1976.

 

 

In “A Photographic Memory: 1968-1989,” Schlesinger displays photographs of the artists and personalities who surrounded him, many of whom have gone on to great renown. As an insider to this circle, he captures idyllic moments and an aura of youthful freedom. For David Hockney, who taught Schlesinger at the UCLA art program in the 1960s, the young sculptor went from being his student to muse to lover. In 1966, the pair traveled to London where Schlesinger documented his ten year stay in the city.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.28.28 AM©Peter Schlesinger, Andy Warhol and Rex Reed in a taxi, Monaco, 1974.

 

 

 

As a trained sculptor and painter, Schlesinger’s photographs explore how people and objects interact with the space around them, with an eye that does not define but inquires. A photo taken accidentally of Hockney and Cecil Beaton in the latter’s conservatory does just this. Beaton gazes upward and sprawls his legs while Hockney sits cross legged and glances lightheartedly at the camera. By chance, Schlesinger happened to click at this fleeting moment of joy and wonder.

At first, Schlesinger intended these photos as sketches, from which he drew inspiration. As he traveled to Europe, the Middle East and Pacific, the photos began to take a life of their own.

5©Peter Schlesinger (Left: Vivienne Westwood's shop on the King's Road, London, 1975; Right: Paloma and Tina Chow after Paloma's wedding dinner, Paris, 1978)

 

 

 

In 1978, he photographed Paloma and Tina Chow after Paloma’s wedding. There is a voyeuristic element to the photograph of the glamorous ladies as they, back to back, each facing a wall mirror, press on lipstick and make-up before rejoining in a night of revelry.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.41.15 AM©Peter Schlesinger, Amaryllis, New York, 1979. Eric on the phone, New York, 1979.

 

 

 

A photo of a doorway at La Chartreuse de la Verne in France is “art revealed in the moment,” as Hilton Als writes in the introduction of the photo book. The half-hidden topless male subject on the other side of the doorless archway is not posing. He might be dancing, celebrating, singing, acting in ecstasy. There is no judgment. The young immerse themselves in the moment, as in the playful juxtaposition of an amaryllis still life to a photo of Eric Boman on the phone with his back turned, hands hidden, and buttocks exposed

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.42.45 AM©Peter Schlesinger, Robert Mapplethorpe on the Boulevard Saint-German, Paris, 1971.

 

 

 

A whisper to Jennifer Bartlett’s on her wedding day; Andy Warhol and Rex Reed in the backseat of a taxi; a pensive R.B. Kitaj in his studio. Due to the inherent freedom in Schlesinger’s work, the book is both a personal narrative and a documentation of the decades when one could travel from London to Paris to Yemen to Syria with one passport.

4©Peter Schlesinger (Left:Elisabeth Murray whispering to Jennifer Bartlett at her wedding, New York, 1983; Right: Doorway at La Chartreuse de la Verne, France, 1976)

 

 

 

“A Photographic Memory 1968-1989” is the first monograph to present a complete representation of Peter Schlesinger’s work. It is now available from Damiani publishers.

By Shershah Attic

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