Bond Street & 64th Street, Southwest Corner

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Never apologize, never explain …."

I've long been a fan of the maxim attributed to Noël Coward: "Never apologize, never explain …." Not that I follow this maxim myself — I am a chronic over-apologizer and over-explainer (is there a 12-Step Program for this? don't tell me, I don't want to know) — but I admire the insouciance, and perhaps the wisdom, of an attitude that I am unable to attain to myself.

Tenth Avenue & 30th Street, Northwest Corner

And so from the outset of the New York in Plain Sight project I've been torn between two pairs of opposing impulses:

to explain everything vs. to explain nothing

to apologize for the evident madness of the undertaking vs. to say nothing about it.

Of course, if one has, or ever has had, intellectual ambitions (not to say pretensions) of any sort (I confess, I confess), then explanations are more in keeping with that, and the more voluminous, the more detailed and expansive, the more so.

Why not relate the project to the very essence of photography? Or if one believes that there is no such essence, then at least to what various people at various times and places have thought that essence to be, however mistakenly?

And so on — surely further examples are unnecessary, though of course they would make for a longer and thus more "serious" post.

Why not just let the project speak for itself, so to speak, without any "captioning" of this global, explanatory kind?

True enough, many photographs are only meaningful in relation to their captions, or at least become more meaningful, or their meaning more specific, in relation to their captions and even in relation to what else the photographer and others — e.g., critics, curators — have to say about them.

And on the other hand, in some circumstances, especially in some photo essays — I'm thinking of Frank's The Americans — the uncaptioned images nonetheless in effect caption or explain one another by their relationships with one another not only in their subjects but in their sequencing within the essay.

That said, isn't it enough to know, and does it even really need to be said at all, that New York in Plain Sight is a set of pictures of everyday life at street level in daytime Manhattan in the long summer (mostly) of 2006? Doesn't saying more result in more closure instead of greater openness?

So that "less is more" really means something in this regard?

I think I'll say no more about it — for now. (I know that tomorrow I'll be unable to resist more explanations.)

And the madness of it? The most I think I should say about that is, probably, "never apologize, never explain …."

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