This Week in Photography: Chaos and Class

Part 1: The Intro

 

 

I love it when a plan comes together.

That’s what George Peppard used to say, as Hannibal Smith, in the cheesy 80’s TV show “The A-Team.”

Then, the character was played by Liam Neeson in a pretty-bad movie version of the TV show, which came out in 2010.

This morning, on Twitter, I stumbled upon a video of the comedian Frank Caliendo doing a Liam Neeson impression, pretending to be his character from “Taken,” (which was shot in France,) in which Caliendo-as-Neeson threatens to give a telemarketer a bad Yelp review.

 

I also read in the New York Times today that France would soon require all people to wear masks indoors.

(Elsewhere, I read that a French bus driver was beaten to death for asking his riders to mask up.)

In the Washington Post, I saw that the Governor of Georgia would bar all cities and municipalities from requiring people to wear masks, during our American-dumpster-fire-outbreak.

In a normal year, many Americans of means might be taking their European holiday right now, but of course Americans are actually banned from Europe, due to our anti-scientific, highly politicized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our leader, Donald J Trump, has made such a mess of things that I’ve had to officially apologize to my friend, about whom I wrote in this column early in the year, because Trump now does have mass deaths on his hands, if not nearly as many as Adolph Hitler.

DeSean Jackson, a football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, recently made an Instagram post in which he incorrectly attributed a quote to Hitler, while proudly promoting an Anti-Semitic agenda.

And also this morning, on Facebook, a friend posted that she and her family would be moving to Germany, for the rest of #2020, so their son could attend school, and have a “normal” life.

This same friend belongs to a family that famously fled Nazi Germany and came to New Mexico to found a ski resort, in which certain trails are named after members of a failed coup to take out Hitler.

The coup was featured in a movie starring Tom Cruise, who became mega-famous in “Top Gun,” in which Val Kilmer also became a super-star for playing Iceman, but then Kilmer lost a big part of his New Mexico ranch due to The Great Recession, which was the worst American economy until now.

In #2020.

Are you confused yet?

If so, my plan has indeed come together, because after a week off, I wanted to see if I could open this column in a manner that truly reflected the insanity of the moment.

Things change from second to second these days, and my fellow Americans are acting so irrationally that they’re willing to risk killing each other to prove a political point.

For example, in Red River, New Mexico, a town known at “Little Texas,” (which you can read about in a Reuters article written by my son’s former youth soccer coach,) apparently a man walked into the local health clinic, with Covid symptoms, but not wearing a mask, and he tested positive along with 3 other people, so that now the clinic has been shut for 14 days, and the town no longer has a functioning medical office, despite being in a valley surrounded by mountains, cut off from the rest of the world.

Like I said, welcome to #2020.

 

Part 2: Making some sense

 

The American Revolution was really about money, even if Freedom was a part of the mix as well.

Rich guys like George Washington didn’t like paying so many taxes to the King of England, given that the crown didn’t offer too much back in the deal.

We used to worship Old George here in America, but now he’s been cancelled because he was a slave owner.

Donald Trump chose to give a maskless speech on the 4th of July, to a maskless white audience, at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills, on land that was stolen from the Lakota people, despite treaties promising them their ancestral homeland in perpetuity.

(Those treaties were not worth the paper on which they were printed.)

As to the white men enshrined in stone on that mountain?

 

Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, and in the current moment, are considered assholes. (Rightly so, I guess. We may have idolized them for centuries, but slavery was simply inexcusable.)

Teddy Roosevelt was a racist, and now even Abe Lincoln has been criticized, because he promoted the stealing of Native American land in the MidWest.

This section of the column was titled “Making Some Sense,” but I’m not sure that I have.

 

Part 3. Follow the money

 

I was trying, before jumping off the rails, to bring attention to the fact that money and power are, and have always been, intricately connected.

It’s the real reason that the Washington Redskins are finally changing their highly racist, despicable nickname: sponsors like Fedex came after team owner Daniel Snyder’s money, so he folded.

That is literally the only reason he did the right thing.

Money buys power, and historically, power is enmeshed with class.

Here in America, while we’re occasionally willing to discuss race, and are often obsessed with money, class is barely allowed into the cultural conversation.

It’s the hush hush, as nobody wants to be considered lower class, the middle class has been shrinking for decades, and the Upper Class likes to stick to its own, and does a damn good job of keeping everyone else out.

I was reminded of that while reading my friend Kevin Kwan’s new book, “Sex and Vanity,” which both features and skewers the world’s jet-setting .1%, at a fabulous wedding in Capri, on New York’s Upper East Side, and in the Hamptons as well.

Kevin updated E.M. Forster’s acclaimed novel “A Room with a View,” while simultaneously examining entrenched racism in America’s chicest Upper Class apartments and beach clubs.

(It’s a fun read for summer too.)

But it really resonated with me, as I was first introduced to the New York Upper Class as a freshman at Duke, and my clumsy attempt at social climbing pretty much ruined my college experience, and changed the course of my life.

 

Part 4. The Photobook

 

Even though I took a week off from writing, and am definitely hopped up on super-high-caffeine coffee, this column is actually building somewhere.

I promise.

It ties together threads from above, and even from my last column before I took my break, in which I mentioned the students from various ICP programs that I reviewed via Zoom a few weeks ago.

How so?

Well, a while back, my former photo professor, Allen Frame, who also teaches at ICP, wrote to see if I’d be interested in potentially reviewing a photo book by his friend, and former ICP student Martine Fougeron, and I said sure.

(She and I were once in a show together in the Bronx, but I wasn’t able to attend, so we’ve never met or been in contact.)

I opened the book today, and was immediately struck by the fact that she chronicles the lives of her two boys, Nicolas and Adrien, as they grow up.

It hit me quickly, as these last few months, my children, Theo and Amelie, have been each others’ best friends, companions, and social networks, as we live mostly quarantined on our farm at the edge of the Wild West.

The boys featured in the book, however, don’t share much in common with my kids, beyond the fact that my daughter has a French name.

“Nicolas & Adrien” was published by Steidl in 2019, which is always the mark of art world insiders. And the cover features scarlet and gold, the colors of Gryffindor house in the Harry Potter novels, and wouldn’t you know, but I’m reading Book 3 to Amelie, but I’m not sure if we should keep it up, now that JK Rowling has come out as an Anti-Trans activist on Twitter.

(I promise, no more off topic rants in this column.)

From the opening statement, in which Ms. Fougeron writes of her sons attending the Lycée Français de New York, and summering at the family home in the South of France, the book gives off whiffs of the Upper Class vibe.

From the chic fashion within, the strong chins, the subtly entitled body language, I was pretty sure the book represented a look inside the 1%, and as it builds, my suspicions were correct.

There is a reference to Le Bal des Debutantes, which also comes up in “Sex and Vanity,” and the end statement discusses the multi-generational wealth in which Ms. Figueron was raised in France.

That doesn’t make the book less interesting, though, as our prurient desires to see behind the velvet rope also drove work by Slim Aarons, and Tina Barney, among others. (Or even my much mentioned buddy Hugo, whose series, “Upper Class,” was his thesis show at Pratt in 2004.)

This book begins in 2005 though, and follows Nicolas and Adrien as they grow up, changing for the camera, smoking weed and frolicking with their good looking friends.

It it summer escapism?

I’m not sure.

Kevin’s book clearly satirizes the people with whom he fraternizes, and when “Nicolas & Adrien” depicts one of the boys in his Occupy Wall Street phase, I wasn’t sure if the irony was intended.

(I almost choked on my tea, which I drank before my coffee.)

Still, I found this book worth writing about, and recommending, as it crosses the threshold of making me think, making me want to write, and it’s also well-made, so that’s how we got here.

To stick my landing, I’d like to mention that the rich have always ruled the world, and likely always will.

Whenever they’ve been taken down, like when heads rolled in France, or when communists took over in Russia, they’ve always been replaced by other people who like to keep the money and power for themselves.

It’s why all those Chinese politicians are billionaires these days, (which Kevin chronicled in “China Rich Girlfriend”) or why the Soviet leaders kept all the good food and pretty dachas for themselves.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t press against that selfish mentality, (because we must,) but based on the history of human civilization, we should at least understand how big a fight we’re facing, to undo millennia of entrenched inequality.

See you next week.