Filling Gaps

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Gita Lenz. Self-portrait. Circa 1951.

Lane Wurster of the Splinter Group tipped me on this NPR story from earlier in the year about the late photographer Gita Lenz.  This story strikes a number of chords with me.  Kudos to these guys for getting this book and exhibition done.

I’m writing this post from Tucson, AZ where I’m visiting the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), digging through Smith’s archives once again.  How many times have I been here?  I don’t know.  My first trip was April 1997.  25 trips?  Maybe more.  At least one of the trips was for two weeks.  There’s no way in a million years this work would have been done if it hadn’t been for the complementary lodging I’ve received on every trip from my wife Laurie’s old friends Carol Buuck and in the early days Linda Armijo (and her husband Dane and son Jimmy).

History is told from the point of view of what’s documented.  What’s not documented might as well have not happened, as far as the written and understood history is concerned.  (If CCP hadn’t saved Smith’s tapes for thirty years, what would I be doing now?).  But it’s important not to fall too hard for the romance of the forgotten story, to make too much of it.  Often, there’s a reason why something wasn’t documented.  But even in those cases, the story can be fascinating and valuable.  It can fill gaps.  In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard wrote “Stalk the gaps,” inspired by the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.  The gaps are where novelists, playwrights, poets, and other artists have always wallowed.  But, beware, it’s not a good business model.  No focus group would ever encourage it.

More on the Tucson trip later.  I’m out here with Smith’s Minamata assistant Takeshi Ishikawa and writer Yumi Yamaguchi who is working on a book about Minamata.  Last night at dinner Yumi talked about the critical importance of Ishikawa-san’s work and presence in Eugene and Aileen Smith’s Minamata work.  She mentioned a few things I hadn’t considered.  Her book may turn out to be more about Ishikawa than the Smith’s.  That would be a gap filled.  I’ll try to fill that one again in Gene Smith’s Sink.

-Sam Stephenson

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