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Friday, 29 September 2017

Americans, Football and Fathers

Last week I was very touched by two deaths on social media this following week, by people I don't really know so well, but in some ways I think I do.

The first was the death of Annakarin Quinto's father. She described it on her Le Boudoir page on Facebook and linked her ideas of the fears of parenthood and being a daughter to my book All Quiet on the Home Front - which is also about being a parent and being a daughter and the freedom that is needed in that relationship. That was very moving for me and is part of a sense of responsibility I am feeling to the work that I haven't had before.

A few weeks before dying, my father revealed to me in a tensed whisper that all his life he had been fearful for me, for my natural naïvity (that of course for me was only an endless curiosity and lush for life). He thought I wasn't armed to defend myself. But neither was he. That stroke me straight in my heart like a rocket and blew my mind. So, that prison, that heavy prison I was carrying on my shoulders trying constantly to overcome it and forget its weight was this : my father's fear

I don't really know how to follow that up; it made me quite emotional. But work becomes different when it's put out into the world and people understand it. Very different.

Then there was Mishka Henner's father. I have interviewed and written about Mishka Henner's work before for Foam and the BJP where I looked at his early work Less Américans. It's not as spectacular as his bigger later work, but it really touched a chord in me and led me down a path of other works where erasing is the thing - and what is left behind comes into the fore, highlighting elements that we might have taken for granted before.

Less Americains is a book where the key figures from Robert Frank's Les Américans are erased. A lot of people see it as a despoiling of something sacrosanct, but I think of it as quite the opposite. Robert Delpire, the publisher of Les Américans, died earlier this week (and I have no idea what his opinion of Less Americains was. Perhaps he hated it or was indifferent. I don't know). For me the original is a brilliant book and a testimony to the vision of Robert Delpire (and of course Robert Frank), but his real legacy is what developed from what the work he published - and Henner's book is a small part of that. It's a homage if you like.

Less Americains ties in with Rauschenberg and a whole bunch of other photographers and artists who have erased things. And some very surprising things happen to pictures when you erase what you imagine are key elements. You still recognise the picture but in a different way. This is what I said in a post from 2012.

'I think Henner builds on this work ( all of which is fascinating) in Less Americains. And in that sense, it is more about visual salience and what we recognise in an image - and how we recognise it. That is not something new, but it is something thoughtful and considered that helps us to understand how we read photographs.'

The other thing that Henner did that stuck with me was his video of his father Bill at the end of Man City v QPR in 2012. It's football so it's stupid, but the ending of the game was the most dramatic in Premier League History with City coming from behind to win the League in the final seconds of the game - for the first time in blah blah blah. It's a day my wife and daughter described as the happiest of my life.

The video shows Bill walking across the pitch in slow motion to the Cowboy Junkies version of Blue Moon. I remember watching that video and then showing it the day after to my class. And I showed it some more people and I have watched it again and again and again. It still brings tears to my eyes. Henner's not supposed to be a very emotional artist, but this is intensely emotional and deliberately so, bringing together the football heartache of 44 years of Man City Uselessness with a relationship that wasn't always easy.

But from that simple video, I remember Bill's face, his smile, his, hat, his little jaunt that is not quite a dance, and Henner's affection as they head back to their seats. I watch it for the good-naturedness of it all, for the jubilation, for the smiling steward, the man on his knees in the centre circle, the disbelief, for the feeling of summer peace, all accompanied by the slowest Blue Moon every by the Cowboy Junkies.

It's not part of the Henner ouvre, it's something else, and it's quite beautiful. And enjoyable. I don't know if there are too many things in photography I've enjoyed quite so much as Bill walking across that pitch in 2012. It's a window into a soul that I can identify with, that I can share a moment with from a distance. So I feel like I know him a little bit. And for that I am grateful. Thank you Mishka Henner and thank you Bill!

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