Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sylvia Plachy: Faith in the unforeseen

"Mermaid," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

For a while in the 80s I ran a coffee-lounge for tenants in a high-rise luxury building on W. 57th Street. The lounge was usually empty so I worked on my novel. (No, I never finished it, but I did finish this one, if you're interested.). I also read a lot. I was reading the Village Voice -- still a real newspaper then -- when I 1st saw Sylvia Plachy's work. They had assigned her to publish one picture each issue -- a kind of visual summation, a what-the-city-looks-like-right-now moment. I forget what they called this feature, but the picture ran without a long explanatory caption. It was a window, a B & W glimpse, more consciousness than news, not an editor's statement, an artist's. Every week I looked through this artist's window with astonishment & delight.

I've never met Sylvia Plachy, but she inspired me to keep taking photographs. I gave up trying to take photos for a living & concentrated instead on getting paid as a writer & editor. Meanwhile, I went out & made the pictures I loved. A few years later I started Not dot com pictures, a 2-year web project that consisted of emailing a new image every day to everybody I knew. I was thinking of Plachy when I did it.

"Adrien Brody," Sylvia Plachy (her son), All rights reserved

"Aquila Theatre Company’s The Invisible Man," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

I recently discovered a new book of Plachy's photos, Goings on About Town: Photographs for the New Yorker, This time in color, the photos led off the magazine's cultural events' listing of that name for more than a year. Here's a slide show of selections.

In his foreword to the book, Mark Singer says of Plachy, "...she approaches her subjects with a peculiar mixture of doggedness and dreaminess, calculation combined with faith in the unforeseen. "

Later, he continues, "Stalking without threatening, she nimbly pursues what only she, for the moment, can envision. In that instant, she conjures; at some future moment, we will savor."

"Go go, Las Vegas," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

"Children playing at a Celebrate Brooklyn! concert," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

What I love about Plachy's pictures is their sense of constant flux & motion. With frames often tilted & blurs accepted, they feel one with the action, part of the parade -- inside lived life. This is in marked contrast to the willed perfection & stillness of so much contemporary photographer (think Robert Polidori).

I particularly like Singer's phrase "faith in the unforeseen. " Like her friend & fellow emigre, André Kertész -- Singer describes him as a "...mentor and honorary grandfather, who called her ('affectionately,' she insists) taknyos—'snotnose,'—in their native Hungarian "-- Plachy doesn't make up pictures in her head & then go out & produce them . Like Kertesz (I wrote about him here) her images are unscripted. They're unplannable.


Christine (CA) said...

Her work is interesting and reminds me of yours in many ways, especially when you are playful. And...I can't wait to read the story/novel you posted. Thank you.

You might be interested in the "salons" Greg Fallis produces every Sunday morning. He posts them to a discussion thread in the Utata group on flickr but you have to join that group to access the discussions. His essays and embedded photos, however, are archived on the external site:

Greg's writing is fine and the photographers he picks to showcase are interesting.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have thought your photographs were like Plachy's photographs for the New Yorker. Funny these paths we take to get to where we are.