The weekend before last, I was reading about a benefit for a film called Handmade Nation. As a person with an interest in most things DIY, I made a mental note about it. It was a project conceived by an owner of a shop in Milwaukee called Paper Boat. Though the project is in progress, it dovetails with my current research obsessions in a profound way. The connections wouldn’t really be apparent to most people not inside my head.
My interest in Henry Hamilton Bennett and the Wisconsin Dells doesn’t have anything to do with the hype surrounding him as a “pioneer photographer.” It has to do with his copious records of the circumstances surrounding his photographic gallery. He was a small town artist, struggling to make a buck as technological and social circumstances changed at the turn of the century. He was only one of thousands. It’s hard to estimate how many artists struggled to profit from newly opened local markets during the settlement of the American West. We have often been, to a large extent, a handmade nation.
SZ: Gilbert and George, another art couple, don't perceive themselves as two individuals any longer.
HB: Of course, for them it's a role-playing game. But for them it's the truth. We knew them quite well. Even back in the 1960s they often came to visit for coffee and cake. Sometimes I made dinner, back then they were still excited about my meat patties. These days, I wouldn't do that any longer. They've all come to be so spoilt now.
Interview with Hilla Becher, translated by Jörg Colberg (many thanks!)
Today, we’ll be driving to Milwaukee. I was interested in seeing the Gilbert and George show, but when I found out that Stephen Shore is speaking at the Haggerty Museum nearby, that clinched it. Shore (and the Bechers) were both part of the “New Topographics” exhibition that I mentioned a day or so ago. It’s been a very artful summer so far.
The interview with Hilla Becher brought into focus some of the hair-splitting I’ve been doing regarding photography and nostalgia, which I actually started thinking about when I read Gary Sauer-Thompson’s post regarding amateur vs. professional photography.
Nostalgia is Death
I was really interested in seeing this show when we passed through California. “New Topographics” was a pivotal influence on me (both as a show and as a movement). It’s waves were still rippling when I first studied photography in college all those years ago. As Colin Westerbeck recounts in his “On the Road and in the Street” essay in Frizot’s New History of Photography (1994), exhibitions can be seminal: