Studio visit: Wendy Richmond

All images © Jon-Marc Seimon, 2018

Wendy Richmond works with her hands. Her works are elemental. Like breath. Like salt. Every hand is hers, gnarled, forged by evolution and life, and tempered by her deep emotion and keen intellect as she gropes and claws her way through loss to whatever lies beyond.

I visited her studio a few days ago, to talk about her work and to talk about mine. I wasn’t quite prepared for the visceral impact of her prodigious output. My first impression was of an archaeological field site, racks of neatly arrayed and classified body parts—all hands and arms, it turns out, and all hers. Adjacent, a big table containing a rubble of fragments, waiting to be sorted. And a few other smaller pedestals, displaying particularly worthy artifacts. It was like walking into Pompeii, the bone fields of the Olduvai Gorge, maybe Cambodia… And yet, all these forms, literally petrified, nevertheless retain their vitality, the moment of their inception captured for a fraction of eternity.

Working these images yesterday, I entered a deep reverie—how could one not?—reflecting on my own mortality, the way that my own body is beginning to betray me (having endured a life of at-best benign neglect if not wantonly reckless abuse). The ascendency of the next generation as the generation that raised me fades…                                

>>>check out Wendy's website


Touchpoints:

• David Wojnarowicz’s visage emerging from the dirt (or is it being buried?).

• Robert Mapplethorpe’s final self-portrait, with death’s head in focus, and his resolute, defiant expression, already losing its sharpness, looming behind. 

• Percy Bysshe Shelley—Ozymandias (excerpt)

“…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read…”

 

Forty years now

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Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of my arrival in New York as an immigrant. To the free world. I was sixteen. My siblings were all younger. It was grey, the end of one of the most epic winters on memory. We were all besotted with the idea of snow, which we'd never seen, but all that was left for us were some huge mounds of filthy snow in a Mamaroneck parking lot—we'd have to wait another seven months to see real snow for the first time. My dad went off to work almost as soon as we'd arrived, so the first few weeks were spent in a motel on the Boston Post Road. We four kids would go on forays from the motel during the day, each time growing a little less timid and venturing further afield. There was a good bookstore, which became a haven for me. There was a book on Tai Chi there, which I bought. I was somehow obsessed with the idea that Meaning lurked within the pages of that book.

It didn't, of course, and I just taught myself how to wave my arms around in the air, while attributing names like "dying swan" or "acorns over the river" (clearly I'm forgetting what the specific names from the muddy black and white photographs in the book were) to the various positions I assumed.

Here, forty years later, and I'm still seeking that Meaning. The snow from a storm a couple of weeks ago lingered, and twigs brought down by the ice lay on the surface and then slowly melted their way into the pillow of the snow, because their bark absorbs sunlight and they get warm. They always look wildly Japanese to me, and I always find myself, inadvertently, trying to decipher them. I read a book once about "the gypsies", and how they'd leave crossed sticks and stones and leaves in ways that only other gypsies would even notice, never mind decipher. I want, desperately, for these random scatterings of sticks to mean something, I want them to contain the answer to a secret, no matter how small, how banal...

A strange morning...

A strange morning...

I headed out for the woods yesterday morning, much as a usually do these days. The previous night's forecast blizzard had fizzled, so there were only about 4 inches of new snow on the ground, covering about 8 that were already down. It was about as exquisite a morning as I can remember, pristine. Like walking on fine spun dry sugar. And with the bittersweet knowledge that this is almost definitely the last snow of the season—at one point I found myself standing on a favorite hillside saying "Thank you Winter!" out loud!

And then this happened...

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Getting greasy with Ben

Getting greasy with Ben

Okay, so not REALLY greasy. Ben Boerum is my son-in-law. He and Emma live down in DC with their two magical boys, Charlie and Finn. Ben is this well-educated, highly literate, creative guy—heck, he was Julian Schnabel's assistant for a few years! Sophisticated. And he's sort of obsessed with...LandRovers! I've never been able to figure this out. I don't even know whether to put a space in the name LandRover! Is the R capitalized?

We were down in DC this past weekend, and Ben asked if I'd like to come over to the shop to take some photos. Yes, the LandRover shop...

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About 100 Photographs

 

This is a very personal portfolio of works that articulate my feelings of appreciation and reverence for our magnificent world...tempered by a deep undercurrent of disquiet and dislocation at the increasing loss of balance and perspective that's become a dominant element in the current zeitgeist.   I’ve tried hard to allow the selection of the works—which span forty years—be an emotional, as opposed to “rational", exercise. Specifically because I am usually a very “rational” person.

I approached the curation of this portfolio more as I imagine a composer considers her music—what are the cadences, crescendos, diminuendos? I listened to specific music a lot when I was doing this, notably Heitor Villa-Lobos' Preludes and Etudes, a body of work that I've loved ever since my tropical childhood in South Africa. While I didn't exactly use his music as an armature, it certainly informed and (I hope) infuses the sensibility of the collection.

 

A new chapter

A new chapter

Here it is. The relaunch of my website, after languishing in the wilderness for aeons. Whee! It's interesting to see how one's carefully nurtured garden starts to get a bit weedy, then the planting boxes begin to disintegrate...too many seeds from other species...the fence falls down. Why, it's exactly like a REAL garden! I should know—that's the state of my vegetable garden right now...

But this isn't about dwelling in the past, but rather setting the stage for the Next Phase, whatever that might be.

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Keeping it lean

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For the past few years I've been almost fetishistic about keeping my photo kit lean. After decades of lusting after big, hugely featured (and very heavy) cameras and lenses, I'm now equally fanatical in the opposite direction. As they say, the best camera is the one that you have with you, and that old saw is about as true a thing as has ever been said. Who cares about the awesome Hasselblad that sits languishing on the metroshelving back in the studio because (a) it's too goddamned heavy to schlep around and (b) every single exposure ends up costing more than a buck, because it's film? 

The champion when it comes to size is obviously the phone, in my case currently an iPhone 7+. Totally awesome camera, in my pocket all the time, and certainly my go-to. But there are other circumstances that call for greater firepower, and this is the dangerous territory where gearheads end up carrying "thousands of pounds of the latest ultra lightweight equipment" (as my mother puts it when she sees me and my brother heading off for camping trips with backpacks that threaten to tear our knee cartilages before we even start walking). 

For me, the limiting factor has become my camera bag. Not any camera bag, but my small black canvas Domke. They're a venerable brand, with a huge stable of serious camera bags for serious photographers. Mine is the smallest bag they make (okay, they make smaller ones, but those are called 'pouches' and are not technically 'bags'). It has one compartment, with a little padded slot for accessories. Two small external pockets, a velcro flap, and a shoulder strap. It also has a big loop through with you can thread a belt, to make it a fanny pack. My bag is faded, frayed, battered and...perfect. I can fit two small camera bodies, and three really great lenses. Memory cards and lots of batteries. An enema bulb—to clean the sensor. Lens cloths. A small tabletop tripod. And I've even fit my iPad in there. It's just amazing what you can fit in a tiny bag!

Allowing my bag to be my constraint has informed my choice of camera, too. The days of the honking Nikons are over. Now I use the small Sony's, not even the full-framers, but the smaller APS-C jobs, the NEX-7 and the A6300. I often wonder (agonize!) over whether I should upgrade to full-frame, especially given the limitations in printing large. But I recently printed a bunch of images at 17' X 22" with my friend Tim who's an amazing printer, and they looked great! So small and lean is the name of the game, and shall remain so... Until I find a reason to rationalize otherwise!

Off Season

Off Season

When I was seven years old I had a teacher named Mrs Dayan. She made a deep impression on me. She had arched eyebrows like black rainbows, and a very long, pointy nose which was elegant. Her hair was dark, and she had it done like a real lady. It leapt like a fountain out of the top of her head, and cascaded straight down until it ended in little ski-jumps that went out to either side of her shoulders. She wore a green dress—I believe that was the only thing she owned, because all I can remember her in was that dress—and she was quite fancy (but not too fancy for my tastes)...

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