This juxtaposition amuses me to no end; it’s cosmically right in its wrongness. On the left, you’ve got a photo taken by Seydou Keita, a Malian photographer who — as Birdseed is right to point out — was able to achieve a kind of intimacy with his subjects that, whatever one calls it, shines through the image. They were comfortable with him, and for all the power the photographer might have over the image being created, I would go so far as to say his images show true because they are true: he made photographs of proud and powerful personalities because taking their picture made them even prouder and more powerful than they were.
I also find Keita himself incredibly charming; here’s Keita: “If you like my work, you’ve got to know why. I know that many of my photographs are excellent and that’s why you like them. I stopped photographing when color photography took over. People like it now but machines are doing the work. Many people call themselves photographers nowadays, but they don’t know anything.”
On the right, on the other hand, you’ll find the execrable Zach Braff, who despite having the first two seasons of Scrubs (which I intensely, if shamefully, love) under his belt, also made Garden State, the Synechdoche, NY of pretentious slacker cinema. Garden State has a certain joy to it, and (though not nearly enough) a certain sense of its limitations that are almost enough to make me forgive it its trespasses. But its failings, nevertheless, are legion: it thinks its banal truisms are deep and profound, and the line “this song will change your life,” encapsulates the fetishizing of art which wants to invest consumption with transcendent significance. And though it tries really, really hard to make Braff into a New Jersey Hamlet, it does so by having its tautological cake and eating it too, first making passivity into a tragic flaw and then transcending it with art via the transcendent power of art to transcend tragedy via art. Neat trick, that. At least Synecdoche, NY had the guts to recognize the self-deluding falsity of that kind of thing, however much it sacrificed its humanity in the trade.
Back to the photos, I’m struck by the contrast between the self-loathing solipsism of Braff on the right, staring into the mirror because he can’t imagine looking anywhere else and glorying in the very homogenized nostalgia-culture he pretends to be castigating, and the simple meaning the ladies on the left get from wearing dresses cut from the same fabric. They are friends, simply and sufficiently. And while Braff affects to be as unaware of being watched as if he were doing a soliloquy in Hamlet, the plain comfort of the body language cliche on the left speaks volumes; they pose as many have done before, and don’t mind that this is so.
Also, it just kind of cracks me up.
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By the way, if you’ve found me even moderately bearable lately, you should check out some links I came to via Birdseed’s interesting response to my last post. You can see some of Seydou Keita’s photos here, you can read a great meditation on ethical consumption of music here, and you can get a nice bit on the tourist as flaneur here.