Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Privacy and memory: an exchange with Susan Schultz

SS to JM:

You seem to come down on the privacy end of things . . .
JM to SS:
In principle I do, yes, and I think it's an easy call. You wouldn't like  it, for instance, if Robert Frank were to visit your mother in her  Alzheimer's home and then publish her picture captioned "An American."  You'd feel simplified, misrepresented, appropriated, exploited,  objectified, and all kinds of other things too. And from Robert Frank  it's an easy slide down a slippery slope to Diane Arbus, paparazzi with  long lenses, the Church of Scientology, and the pro-life movement with  its charming habit of publishing pictures of abortion providers'  children just in case something should heh heh happen. A useful essay to  read about all this, I should think, is Orwell's "Benefit of Clergy." 

And you've read about Walker Evans in Alabama in 1936: cold, aloof, making no effort whatever to conceal his contempt for the people he was making immortal. But oh boy no I do not want to relinquish my memory of what he achieved. In practice the call is hard, and you make it harder still.

But you begin broaching an idea about the difference between taking somebody's picture and writing about her. Are you going to develop that? I don't see much distinction myself between the two practices.

SS to JM:

I don't see myself doing what Frank and Arbus were doing, but perhaps I'm idealizing it. Even more complicated are the profound effects of these pieces on people like you, which matter, though yes, I do see the intrusiveness of it all.

I also think hardly anyone in the world will know of whom I write on Country Lane in Arden Courts.

But to think about, yes!