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.