Thief of Hearts


I went to hear artist Phil Collins give his slide lecture last Monday night at the Arden Theatre. (See other posts here and here for more on Collins.) When I arrived, who did I meet coming out the door but the artist, whose face brightened to a big grin when he saw me. He gave me the official Euro-style two-cheek kiss and said, looking stressed, “I’m so very nervous.”

A little while later he got up on the stage to give his talk which was great and elucidated the politics and passion behind the art. I won’t dwell on the remarks but I do want to post his written preamble to the slides, a reading he did before he launched into the meat of the slides. It was unexpected and poetic and wonderful. My note-taking was not up to his quick delivery in his soft voice so below is a mostly accurate account of the reading. Imagine Collins reading in a low voice with lots of pauses. Also, imagine him swigging a couple beers and puffing on cigarettes,* for he did both in the hour and a half he was up there.

(top image is photo from “Real Society” a project in Spain in which people were invited to pose unclothed (their decision how much or how little) in a swank hotel room for an international photographer — him.)

Collins On Photography

How hard it is for me to write.

Photography is easy. It brings interesting people together. It’s all about love and exploitation.

Photography gave me permission to fall in love and to travel.

The camera is insatiable; indomitable. It’s a drug.

Of course photography is a rotten liar: the gift between us is dispersed in the 60th of a second.

The camera is a thief. It takes a picture.

It’s unabashedly romantic, driven by an emotional state instead of the rational. I distrust the media. I want to see for myself.

I see through the prism of intense murderous envy.

Why can’t I be you?

Why is separation such misery?

I feel this watching tv. I always want to replicate the misery in my videos.

I want to make things you want to crawl into; photos you want to piss yourself to get into.

Maybe more than others I don’t understand much about anything.

I thought taking your picture would make you love me. I wanted it to be a gift to you. But how can it be?

My interest in portraiture lies in the space between: the shame, distrust, submission….

The first photos I showed were ones of myself after surgery for testicular cancer.

I see myself in every photo. It’s the relationship beteen us — the way you turn away.

The camera is of course a symbol not of glamour but of loss. Each birthday, the camera is brought in from the back and you’re made to say cheese and look like you’re having a good time.

One thing about cameras, they work in packs. The flash of one calls out another.

(image above is photo “Sanja the day Vlade left for the war”)

I’ll let it go at that, only to mention that each project he showed slides or video of was sweet and edgy and full of the intimacy he is always looking for. Intimacy is uncomfortable and so is Collins’ work. But in a cool world it’s good someone is wandering about causing intimate moments and chronicling them. Because no matter how fleeting, maybe those moments of intimacy are what it’s all about.

Video artist Nadia Hironaka will give a gallery talk about Collins’ work this Thursday, Oct. 27 at 6 pm. Temple Gallery Old City.

*This is the second public slide lecture I’ve seen in a month in which the artist proceeded to light up and chain smoke on stage through the talk. (The other was Art Spiegelman’s talk at Penn. Read post.) I’m always looking for trends and I want to say this is not such a good one.

(last image is from video in Bogota called “The World won’t Listen” in which people were invited to come and sing karaoke to songs by The Smiths.)


phil collins, temple gallery



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