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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

An Open Letter to Paul Kopeikin



Note: If you're looking for a sober, expansive background and critique of this issue, please see my previous post, "The Case Against Jill Greenberg's 'End Times.'"

Dear Mr. Kopeikin,

I have followed with interest the debate surrounding your courageous showing of Jill Greenberg's politically-charged photographs criticizing the Bush administration and religious fundamentalists. I would go so far as to say that Jill has not only expanded the boundaries of fine art photography, but invented a new model for performance art as well! I'm guessing the conservative movement is taking this all pretty hard.

I was reading through some of the blog posts and comments by the various nutjobs who pollute the blogosphere with their anonymous opinions when I noticed that you took a moment off from your gallery-directing duties to set the record straight:

Innocent children are being slaughtered daily by the Bush Administration in Iraq and Afganistan (and who knows shere [sic] else) so anyone worrying about the non existant [sic] abuse of the children in Jill Greenberg's photographs should immediately contact the White House to add their voice to ending the murder of children by this Republican Administration.
Bravo! I've been saying it for years: Art doesn't kill people - war kills people! Sometimes to make an omlette you've got to break down a few eggs. And for heaven's sake, Jill isn't the first artist to make people suffer for her art, or the first to intentionally bring thirty-seven children to tears. She's just the first person to think of doing them at the same time. I'm sure she will be busy explaining that project at parties that for the rest of her life. Before she did it, I'd have said it couldn't be done!

But I'm preaching to the choir here, right? I know you're a busy man, so I'll get to the point. This controversy has clearly taken you out of your comfort zone, but you've stepped up to the challenge and I think you're ready for more. I also sense in you a deep-seated concern for politics and (dare I infer) pressing social issues. And here we arrive at a unique opportunity. In the absence of any legal challenge to Jill's current work (well, some kooks are working on one, but you have such a good case, I'd defend Jill myself - and I'm not even a lawyer!) we may be cleared for takeoff on a variety of taboo topics. Here are a few exhibits I've been thinking about:

  • Mental health services have undergone drastic cuts in recent years, and the mentally ill are suffering without essential services. I would like to draw attention to their plight by having Jill film multiple "interview" sessions with a schizophrenic patient who has been denied needed mental health treatment. The patient will be told that he or she is the subject of a police investigation and lightly interrogated using standard police techniques, and his or her reaction will be captured on film. In this way I hope to illustrate my own anxiety regarding the treatment of the mentally ill in our country. Of course, since the patient lacks the capacity to distinguish fantasy from reality, there is really no reason to think that our intervention on behalf of all sufferers of mental illness will be any worse than the individual's own private hell.
  • Mentally handicapped people have been mocked in an alarming number of recent movies - it's as though they're the last group left it's okay to make fun of. Let's take a hard, uncomfortable look at this subject by inviting mentally handicapped adults into Jill's studio, where a large group of Hollywood's beautiful people will taunt them for several minutes while Jill photographs their reactions. We'll get some waterworks for sure, but some of them might get angry or even violent, so we will definitely need some security on this one. After the shoot we'll have a big party with sheet cake and party hats and all of the handicapped people will be invited. They'll be clueless.

  • Poor conditions in U.S. nursing homes are putting millions of our elderly at risk. To dramatize this deplorable situation, I would like to subject several nursing home residents with dementia to the repeated receipt of distressing information (that their children had all died together in a plane crash, for example) while Jill photographs their expressions in a hieratic style. By repeatedly sharing the same information and documenting multiple reactions on film, the project would highlight the cultural "amnesia" that has thus far prevented our society from engaging in serious reform, and would express my own feelings of sadness when I realize I have forgotten something important, like my keys. Each subject's children would closely monitor the project, of course, and as their guardians would have full rights to volunteer their parents' unwitting participation.

  • I think viewers are also very curious about the parents of the children Jill photographed for "End Times." Why not mine that subject a bit for a "sequel" of sorts? Let's make arrangements with the parents of a "bully" figure at each of the "End Times" kids' schools. With the consent of his or her parents, the bully will taunt and verbally abuse the "End Times" subject until they completely break down. Now, I know what you're thinking - we photograph the bully just after their conquest, to document that smug glow of domination. A good political critique to be sure. But what I think would be really interesting would be to go back to the parents of the "End Times" kids and tell them what we'd done, then photograph their reactions. How will they feel when their kid is bullied without their consent? Hoppin' mad, I bet! Now, permissions would be hard on this one, but Jill's good with Photoshop. It'll be tricky to see their expressions through all the paint daubs, but I'm sure she could pull it off.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, each of these ideas involve some so-called "exploitation," but is it our fault that these people can't consent? Sure, their temporary suffering means a lot to them, but we know better, and that makes the work not only important, but even a little funny! I've tried to limit my suggestions to things that Jill's work has truly prepared audiences for, and I think everyone who's on-board already will agree that our one-two punch - the progressive stands we'd be taking plus Jill's lovely shooting style - shows a profound respect for any pain that we might cause.

These projects will be also a little tighter in terms of their message than "End Times," which, I've got to admit, is a bit of a stretch. Jill sort of left herself open on that one!

I've taken up enough of your time, but I'd like to say one more thing. I noticed you sent Thomas Hawk a clever note thanking him for his negative publicity, and I read it very carefully. If you don't mind a little criticism, I think you need to come on a bit stronger with that stuff if we move forward with any of these projects. Let's face it, there are a lot of people out there who enjoy watching toddlers cry but who have already learned the hard way that in the art world, poor taste translates into kitsch within a generation. As Nietzsche put it, "A pair of powerful spectacles has sometimes sufficed to cure a person in love." Do you think an Al Jolson could get a job singing in blackface today? What happens if and when the real issues affecting children around the world do become more real to us, when we start to take them seriously, rather than "not too seriously," as Jill describes her own stab at it? How will Jill's little cryfest look then? It's enough to keep timid folks' checkbooks firmly planted in their Birkin bags. But you know as well as I do that if we can really keep the general public convinced that any publicity is good publicity, we won't need our artists to go around calling people's bosses. The armchair critics will shut up, the mass media will copy-paste our press releases, and the only people left talking will be people we know how to work with. And us, of course!

But maybe I'm just not thinking enough like a curator. I guess if you do it right, an exhibition is like a war - move in fast, throw in some shock and awe, and by the time people step back and take stock of things, you'll be selling a completely different show.

Think it over, Paul. Let's make some money.

11 comments:

John Wilson said...

Excellent piece - sadly I'm not sure Paul is bright enough to spot the message (I'm basing this on my exchanges of emails with him on the "collection"). Apparently those of us who venture an opinion contrary to his are "losers" with no right to express it - be warned.

John Hancock said...

With wit and writing like that, you are going to go far.

Nice companion piece to your original blog.

Keep up the good work.

Rhonda Taylor said...

Money for Tears...

If the parents left the room for a few minutes, then who knows exactly what actually happened during the photo shoot.

What if one of these beautiful children refuses to be photographed because of this event, then the parents might be able to sue for possible loss of income. "My photogenic child had a promising career as a model and is now afraid of cameras..."

There could be other behavior problems. Children do grow up you know.

What if one of the children becomes a serial killer that targets female photographers? Yeah, he makes them cry and beg for their lives before leaving them dead -- in a grotesque pose.

Could this fiasco in his early childhood be a good defense if he's caught murdering female photographers later in life?
(No gender bias: I read somewhere that most serial killers are men...)

I read somewhere else that it's possible for an adult to remember a traumatic event from early childhood with proper counseling.

Depending on just how awful the experience was for each child, I wonder if any of those children will one day 'remember' what happened in that studio while their parents left them alone with the 'artist' perhaps we'll see them all on Nancy Grace as she breaks down the courtroom drama for the masses -- play by play.

...maybe Stephen King could write a book about it - something like -- 'Nightmares in the Studio' or John Gresham could cover the serial killer angle - something like -- "The Artist"...

I wonder if Michael Jackson bought any of the pictures?

Paul Kopeikin said...

Wow. Three whole comments, and one from a guy (John Wilson) who is angry because I didn't want to be his penpal. This is really a big controversy isn't it? Surprising it's not on the cover of Time Magazine. I didn't read this when you emailed it to me so I don't think I'll bother now. But it's not surprising to me that you're from Texas, the same state that has given us the worst President in the history of our Nation.

Jill Greenberg's "End Times" series is Art and the methods used to make it are not child abuse. Not even a little bit. Anyone who feel otherwise is mistaken. The unfortunate thing is that by equating Jill's work with child abuse the definition of real child abuse gets watered down. Which is why people who want to pretend there is a controversy - there isn't - and get people angry are the ones doing the damage.

John Hancock said...

Right Paul, and you don’t have a vested interest in this, now do you? I’d say about $2,250.00 worth. More marketing for your client I see. Why don’t you call everyone who disagrees with you an idiot like you’ve done in the past. I know I’d like people to see the real you.

I feel sad for you that you don’t want to see this as abuse. And if you read the California statute on the matter, you’d find out that causing a child emotional distress is abuse. And these children are certainly in distress. They are a far cry from just crying, and as an example, image.google.com “crying children” and see what you get. It is nothing to the horror and anguish that these children are obviously in in Jill’s pictures.

And if Jill is so concerned with the abuses Bush is doing, why is she abusing children too? There are MANY different ways she could have expressed her displeasure and disgust with Bush rather than purposfully forcing 3 year old children into a state of emotional distress.

And why isn’t any, or all, of the money from these $4,500/ea. prints going to organizations that will help those children she seems so concerned about? And I’m not talking $.10 on the dollar. Lets see her put her money where her mouth is. That goes for you too.

What?!?!? That isn’t what she and you are going to do with the money?

Yeah, I thought so.

Oh and Paul, you don't hae anything to say about a state and who is the worse president when Reagan was from California, and besides his presidency he stiffled, with the police, free speech in Isla Vista, CA at the UC campus there in the 60's.

And wasn't Pete Wilson governor there? Why yes he was. And he proposed the most restrictive immagration legislation ever to have been written in the country.

And waht about Aaaarnold?!?!?

Keep counting your money...since this is all you really care about and what this whole "work" (and I use that term loosely) is about.

Anonymous said...

Paul said:

The unfortunate thing is that by equating Jill's work with child abuse the definition of real child abuse gets watered down.

I like the part where Jill is equating her own political feelings with a bunch of screaming, crying babies. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth. No deep thought, no stoicism, no look of wisdom or agelessness - a bunch of crying babies.

Could she not see that coming?

Jason said...

I didn't read this when you emailed it to me so I don't think I'll bother now. But it's not surprising to me that you're from Texas, the same state that has given us the worst President in the history of our Nation.


Don't be so harsh, LBJ wasn't that bad.

Ralphyboy said...

Hey Paul… There may still be time to distance yourself from this work, and this… artist? What is being said now may not make you worry or think that this is a problem for you, but remember that kids grow up. And when these kids grow up, I am totally confident that there will be a hammers of hell lawsuit about this. It’s just too easy.

I mean, with all the photographic evidence, the taped confessions (Jill’s radio and television interviews)… Literally tons of documentation on the net (including your own admissions of complicity). The money trail, the removing of children’s clothing, “making them cry” for real (as opposed to as an act or for pretend), the personal attacks on those who dare to question the method used to provoke such intense negative emotion in toddlers.

I full believe that the lawyers that start the class action about this matter, will crush everyone involved (the artist? The dealers, maybe even the parents). No mercy, just crying for everyone… After all, it’s a natural emotion. It’s good to cry. And, will be about the same for you profiteers here in this matter to have your world’s wealth stripped down and taken away from you, same as it was for those children at that moment.

But on the bright side, maybe you can start over then by selling photos of all you guys… standing on the curb… crying.

Anonymous said...

satire should be funny. you shouldn't quit your day job.

Jeremiah McNichols said...

Satire (n). 1.a. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. b. The branch of literature constituting such works. See Synonyms at caricature.
2. Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity. [Latin satira]

...

Some things just aren't funny, are they?

Ralphyboy said...

Actually… not meant as satire. My main goal is to tweak the “concern for self” emotion in the perps here (since it seems that they are reading the blogs about themselves and this deed of theirs).

Now…take a deep breath so that the brain cells can wake up. Okay.

See… if they become concerned that the babies that were set up to be photographed in this manner, might some day come back at them with the full force of the law (and with all the proof that is now being provided by these Einsteins of the art world), just maybe we will never have to experience a replay of this type of non-sense again. At least not from Jill.

That is what I personally can attempt to do here. No threats, no personal attacks, not a single cuss word. Just a wake up and smell the coffee reminder; kids grow up and meet lawyers. So... do you really want to continue down this road of “high art”?

Oh, I believe that it is going to happen anyway, the lawyers thing that is. But, maybe if they realize that, they will stop now and no more little kids will end up in a puddle of their own tears because they spend a few minutes Jill and one of her great artistic ideas. And by stopping her now, maybe criminal charges will not come Jill’s way, because she is on that road too if she continues to be so creative with children.