Gene Smith's Sink
- Sam Stephenson
- My last highlight
- Number of highlights
Certain prints required a few days to make, said Karales. The pair made dozens of 5 x 7 work prints for each negative, testing and experimenting until Smith was satisfied. Then they would make an 11 x 14 master print.
Smith said he couldn’t read one page of Henry Miller without taking three pages of dissenting notes. Valens said he could rank his library based on the number of notes he’d jotted in the margins of each book—the more notes, the more favor.
His addictions were a topsy-turvy struggle, but people liked him personally and wanted to help him, including Gene Smith, who was known to let Clark “borrow” some of his equipment so Clark could pawn it. Sonny was my man, said Fuller. We were instant friends, about the same age. He was a young scholar of music. He had the same personality as Coltrane, dead serious about his music. He was also a great writer. He was hip. He had a different type of creativity, a unique and special touch, and an old-fashioned quality that was also very modern.
In his seminal 1966 book, Four Lives in the Bebop Business (republished in 2004 as Four Jazz Lives), the African American poet and historian A. B. Spellman quotes the saxophonist Jackie McLean, concerning an unfair record deal McLean agreed to while addicted to heroin: I was starving when I signed that contract … And my condition didn’t help, either; any money was money then … The record companies today are aware of what the cat’s problems are. If they weren’t aware that there aren’t many jazz clubs going and that record dates are a necessity to many musicians and that some musicians use drugs, there would be more jazz musicians around with money. When I asked Spellman to elaborate on the relationship between labels and addicted musicians, he said, Record labels kept stables of drug addicts. Addicts were always borrowing against royalties, and they were always behind on paying back the money. So one way they’d pay back their debts to the labels was by playing a new recording session, because the addicts never had money to pay them back. The record label’s side of the story is hard to contradict: the musicians owed them money, and the label executives could show that they lost money on the deal. The appearances of this situation looked unhealthy to many of us. The musicians were owned, almost. But it’s hard to stand up for junkies, because it’s hard to justify their behavior and, it’s true, the labels did loan them a lot of money in advance. You have to see both sides. *
Kazuhiko Motomura’s books, the one by Morinaga and one by Robert Frank.
When I conduct oral history interviews, I don’t use a script. I prepare at length, and questions arise naturally, but I purposefully don’t use a list. This method can mean forgetting to ask something important. But it’s worth the risk because it also can enable an unusually emotional and revealing exchange, something real. My father, a doctor of internal and family medicine in my small hometown, Washington, on the coast of North Carolina, always said, “If you listen to patients long enough, they will tell you exactly what is wrong with them.” In the late 1990s, I attended a talk by the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who put it this way: “If you ask a question, you’ll get an answer to that question. But sometimes if you just sit there silently for long enough you’ll get answers to questions you wouldn’t know how to ask.”
Coastal towns are more appealing in winter. The light is clear, the air crisp, and the off-season demographic atrophy reveals a town’s cultural skeleton and a more discernible pulse.
The morality and narrative techniques of Faulkner and Williams influenced Smith’s photography: he taped the text of Faulkner’s Nobel speech to the wall above his desk in his dilapidated Sixth Avenue loft.
Will Patton’s performance of Light in August,
For years, I’ve noted that the words doctor and documentary come from the same Latin root, docere, or doceo, which means, variously, to care, to pay attention, to teach, to learn, to heal, to make appear right.