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Kodachrome Moment: How William Eggleston's revolutionary exhibition changed everything.
By Jim Lewis
Posted Monday, February 10, 2003, at 9:38 AM PT on Slate.
Late last year a revolution was commemorated, and hardly anyone noticed—a telling sign of the utter transformation it brought about. In October, the Museum of Modern Art reprinted an exhibition catalog that, in its original incarnation, had sold out quickly and then disappeared into legend, to be hawked by rare-book dealers for $500 or $600 and seen by those of us with shallower pockets rarely, if at all.
The book was called William Eggleston's Guide. Its creator was a somewhat eccentric Memphis native in his mid-30s who had come up to MoMA with a box full of slides [in 1967, according to a "Brilliant Careers" profile in Salon] and managed to convince that august and deliberate institution to grant him [nine years later] their very first one-man exhibition of color photography.
The show was a milestone, an annunciation of the coming of color; thereafter, black and white would come to seem slightly quaint and precious—evocative, as it is in, say, Cindy Sherman's film stills, of a distant past. New art photography would be almost all chromatic: Nan Goldin, Mitch Epstein, Richard Prince, and Andreas Gursky all owe the ready acceptance of their work—though not their work itself—to Eggleston's breakthrough.
Now, I'll ask you to guess what year all this happened—and bear in mind that color movies became common in the '30s and color television was first broadcast in 1955. So the first one-man show of color photographs at the high temple of modern vanguard photography was … ?
This is astounding, if you think about it. By 1976 color was everywhere—on every magazine cover, in movie houses, and on televisions. Warhol's commercial-colored Campbell's soup paintings had appeared in 1965. Dan Flavin was putting colored neon light sculptures in galleries as far back as 1966. But photography was still almost all black-and-white, guided by aphorisms like Walker Evans' declaration that color was "vulgar" [recanted by the '70s, when Evans was using a Polaroid SX-70] and Robert Frank's insistence that "black and white are the colors of photography."
It's difficult, in retrospect, to understand just what was so contemptible about Kodachrome up until the mid-'70s. Part of it, I suspect, was simply the anxiety, attendant upon photography since its inception, that the medium wasn't really an art form at all but a quasi-scientific technique. In this regard, the unreality of black and white was reassuring, as if it provided an aesthetic guarantee by removing the colors of the world. Part of it was simply that color images were a tacky bit of business, associated with magazines and billboards and the snapshots that ordinary people took of their vacations and weddings. The medium seemed almost inherently superficial: Where black-and-white photos revealed essential forms arranged in uninflected space, color caught all the surfaces and, therefore, required an entirely different approach to composition.
Then, too, using color halved photographers' control over their art. Since very few people had the expertise (or could afford the equipment) to develop and print their own color work, the artist was transformed into little more than a shutterbug—dependent upon technicians in commercial labs to fashion the works that their public would actually see.
And part of it, to be fair, was simply that color film hadn't reached the technical level of its black-and-white counterpart; it wasn't anywhere near as sensitive to light, for example, or as sharp, which meant that pictures had to be taken outdoors or under strong artificial light. [Also, color wasn't and still isn't, lighfast, because it relies on quickly fading dyes. That's probably the single biggest reason that collectors (including museums) avoided it for so long. Now there's a conspiracy to call a color photo a "c-print" and just ignore the longevity problem.]
Against this roiling mass of resentment, hidebound dismissal, and genuine technical inadequacy, Eggleston made his singular way, emerging out the other end as the Father of Color Photography. In truth, to grant him such a title is to foreshorten history a little: Paul Outerbridge and Eliot Porter had worked in color, and so had Eggleston's contemporary, Stephen Shore. But Eggleston, more than anyone, legitimized the medium, for what he did was to take color's perceived vices and, by pushing them a little farther along the axis of their failings, turn them into virtues, thereby liberating the process to work on its own terms.
And so the pictures seem to be as casually framed as snapshots, their elements arranged in odd spirals, achieving an unlikely balance that seems more fortuitous than planned. The subject matter is often as banal as can be, pictures of folks who mean nothing to you unless you know them, engaged in activities as meaningless as possible. They're not even those archetypes of humanity—the staring poor, the rushing urbanite, the glamour wannabes—that occupied photographers of the past. Here, instead, we have the irreducibly singular, as if what the camera caught had never happened before and will never happen again in precisely the same way: a young boy lying on the floor of a garage, a woman strolling down the side of a road, a pink-tongued dog drinking from a puddle.
And yet some of the images are positively lurid, as if the artist were declaring, "Take that"—and then producing a photo of a furnace-red brick building, a sordidly green-tiled shower stall, an elderly woman whose garishly patterned dress clashes with the equally garish daybed on which she's sitting. A photograph of a tree at night is washed out by the photographer's flash, leaving only a distant red stop sign to keep the entire composition from being almost insufferably unbalanced and shot through with glare. Nowadays, when it's not unusual to see manifest grain, or light flaring uncontrollably off a glass surface, or even red-eye in pictures on gallery and museum walls, you might think that what Eggleston did seems rather tame. But many of these images—see, for example, the infamous Red Ceiling—still have the power to shock.
Certainly, they were shocking at the time; in 1976, when the Guide was first exhibited, it received notoriously nasty reviews. (Hilton Kramer—then, as now, absolutely wrong about absolutely everything—called the show "Perfectly banal … Perfectly boring.") In retrospect, the show was both necessary and beautiful, and with the catalog's reprinting, it can and should be seen by everyone.
In a way, Eggleston did for color photography what the Dutch Masters of genre did for painting in the 16th and 17th centuries: He took it out of the hands of the wealthy institutions that had sponsored it (fashion magazines and advertising agencies in the one case, the church in the other) and turned it into an expression of the everyday. [Oh, come on! As if every American didn't own a color camera in 1976. The problem was that curators thought color was too everyday--a point Lewis makes earlier in the essay. What's with this "wealthy institutions" stuff? This is a strained art historical metaphor.] It is not so far, after all, from the vulgar to the vernacular: Eggleston bridged the gap, and in doing so delivered color back into the hands of art. [Surely Eastman Kodak, if anyone, took color from wealthy institutions and put it into the hands of ordinary people. What Eggleston did, supposedly, was then legitimize that banal enterprise as capital-A art. Except he didn't really--his printing, scale, and attention to detail made it a different level of activity than snapshots dropped off at the drugstore. Also, "bridging the gap between the vulgar and the vernacular" is about as meaningful as "bridging the gap between the naked and the nude."]
U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations
'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities
Dana Priest and Barton Gellman Washington Post Staff Writers
December 26, 2002; Page A1
Deep inside the forbidden zone at the U.S.-occupied Bagram air base in Afghanistan, around the corner from the detention center and beyond the segregated clandestine military units, sits a cluster of metal shipping containers protected by a triple layer of concertina wire. The containers hold the most valuable prizes in the war on terrorism -- captured al Qaeda operatives and Taliban commanders. Those who refuse to cooperate inside this secret CIA interrogation center are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights -- subject to what are known as "stress and duress" techniques.
Those who cooperate are rewarded with creature comforts, interrogators whose methods include feigned friendship, respect, cultural sensitivity and, in some cases, money. Some who do not cooperate are turned over -- "rendered," in official parlance -- to foreign intelligence services whose practice of torture has been documented by the U.S. government and human rights organizations.
In the multifaceted global war on terrorism waged by the Bush administration, one of the most opaque -- yet vital -- fronts is the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects. U.S. officials have said little publicly about the captives' names, numbers or whereabouts, and virtually nothing about interrogation methods. But interviews with several former intelligence officials and 10 current U.S. national security officials -- including several people who witnessed the handling of prisoners -- provide insight into how the U.S. government is prosecuting this part of the war.
The picture that emerges is of a brass-knuckled quest for information, often in concert with allies of dubious human rights reputation, in which the traditional lines between right and wrong, legal and inhumane, are evolving and blurred.
While the U.S. government publicly denounces the use of torture, each of the current national security officials interviewed for this article defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary. They expressed confidence that the American public would back their view. The CIA, which has primary responsibility for interrogations, declined to comment.
"If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job," said one official who has supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists. "I don't think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this. That was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA."
The off-limits patch of ground at Bagram is one of a number of secret detention centers overseas where U.S. due process does not apply, according to several U.S. and European national security officials, where the CIA undertakes or manages the interrogation of suspected terrorists. Another is Diego Garcia, a somewhat horseshoe-shaped island in the Indian Ocean that the United States leases from Britain.
U.S. officials oversee most of the interrogations, especially those of the most senior captives. In some cases, highly trained CIA officers question captives through interpreters. In others, the intelligence agency undertakes a "false flag" operation using fake decor and disguises meant to deceive a captive into thinking he is imprisoned in a country with a reputation for brutality, when, in reality, he is still in CIA hands. Sometimes, female officers conduct interrogations, a psychologically jarring experience for men reared in a conservative Muslim culture where women are never in control.
In other cases, usually involving lower-level captives, the CIA hands them to foreign intelligence services -- notably those of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco -- with a list of questions the agency wants answered. These "extraordinary renditions" are done without resort to legal process and usually involve countries with security services known for using brutal means.
According to U.S. officials, nearly 3,000 suspected al Qaeda members and their supporters have been detained worldwide since Sept. 11, 2001. About 625 are at the U.S. military's confinement facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some officials estimated that fewer than 100 captives have been rendered to third countries. Thousands have been arrested and held with U.S. assistance in countries known for brutal treatment of prisoners, the officials said.
At a Sept. 26 joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, spoke cryptically about the agency's new forms of "operational flexibility" in dealing with suspected terrorists. "This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11," Black said. "After 9/11 the gloves come off."
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them." Some countries are known to use mind-altering drugs such as sodium pentathol, said other officials involved in the process.
Abu Zubaida, who is believed to be the most important al Qaeda member in detention, was shot in the groin during his apprehension in Pakistan in March. National security officials suggested that Zubaida's painkillers were used selectively in the beginning of his captivity. He is now said to be cooperating, and his information has led to the apprehension of other al Qaeda members.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment earlier this week on CIA or intelligence-related matters. But, he said: "The United States is treating enemy combatants in U.S. government control, wherever held, humanely and in a manner consistent with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949."
The convention outlined the standards for treatment of prisoners of war. Suspected terrorists in CIA hands have not been accorded POW status. Other U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that interrogators deprive some captives of sleep, a practice with ambiguous status in international law.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the authoritative interpreter of the international Convention Against Torture, has ruled that lengthy interrogation may incidentally and legitimately cost a prisoner sleep. But when employed for the purpose of breaking a prisoner's will, sleep deprivation "may in some cases constitute torture."
The State Department's annual human rights report routinely denounces sleep deprivation as an interrogation method. In its 2001 report on Turkey, Israel and Jordan, all U.S. allies, the department listed sleep deprivation among often-used alleged torture techniques.
U.S. officials who defend the renditions say the prisoners are sent to these third countries not because of their coercive questioning techniques, but because of their cultural affinity with the captives. Besides being illegal, they said, torture produces unreliable information from people who are desperate to stop the pain. They look to foreign allies more because their intelligence services can develop a culture of intimacy that Americans cannot. They may use interrogators who speak the captive's Arabic dialect and often use the prospects of shame and the reputation of the captive's family to goad the captive into talking.
In a speech on Dec. 11, CIA director George J. Tenet said that interrogations overseas have yielded significant returns recently. He calculated that worldwide efforts to capture or kill terrorists had eliminated about one-third of the al Qaeda leadership. "Almost half of our successes against senior al Qaeda members has come in recent months," he said.
Many of these successes have come as a result of information gained during interrogations. The capture of al Qaeda leaders Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan, Omar al-Faruq in Indonesia, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in Kuwait and Muhammad al Darbi in Yemen were all partly the result of information gained during interrogations, according to U.S. intelligence and national security officials. All four remain under CIA control.
Time, rather than technique, has produced the most helpful information, several national security and intelligence officials said. Using its global computer database, the CIA is able to quickly check leads from captives in one country with information divulged by captives in another.
"We know so much more about them now than we did a year ago -- the personalities, how the networks are established, what they think are important targets, how they think we will react," said retired Army general Wayne Downing, the Bush administration's deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism until he resigned in June.
"The interrogations of Abu Zubaida drove me nuts at times," Downing said. "He and some of the others are very clever guys. At times I felt we were in a classic counter-interrogation class: They were telling us what they think we already knew. Then, what they thought we wanted to know. As they did that, they fabricated and weaved in threads that went nowhere. But, even with these ploys, we still get valuable information and they are off the street, unable to plot and coordinate future attacks."
In contrast to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where military lawyers, news reporters and the Red Cross received occasional access to monitor prisoner conditions and treatment, the CIA's overseas interrogation facilities are off-limits to outsiders, and often even to other government agencies. In addition to Bagram and Diego Garcia, the CIA has other secret detention centers overseas, and often uses the facilities of foreign intelligence services.
Free from the scrutiny of military lawyers steeped in the international laws of war, the CIA and its intelligence service allies have the leeway to exert physically and psychologically aggressive techniques, said national security officials and U.S. and European intelligence officers. Although no direct evidence of mistreatment of prisoners in U.S. custody has come to light, the prisoners are denied access to lawyers or organizations, such as the Red Cross, that could independently assess their treatment. Even their names are secret.
This month, the U.S. military announced that it had begun a criminal investigation into the handling of two prisoners who died in U.S. custody at the Bagram base. A base spokesman said autopsies found one of the detainees died of a pulmonary embolism, the other of a heart attack. Al Qaeda suspects are seldom taken without force, and some suspects have been wounded during their capture. After apprehending suspects, U.S. take-down teams -- a mix of military special forces, FBI agents, CIA case officers and local allies -- aim to disorient and intimidate them on the way to detention facilities.
According to Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment, captives are often "softened up" by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms. The alleged terrorists are commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep. The tone of intimidation and fear is the beginning, they said, of a process of piercing a prisoner's resistance.
The take-down teams often "package" prisoners for transport, fitting them with hoods and gags, and binding them to stretchers with duct tape. Bush administration appointees and career national security officials acknowledged that, as one of them put it, "our guys may kick them around a little bit in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath."
Another said U.S. personnel are scrupulous in providing medical care to captives, adding in a deadpan voice, that "pain control [in wounded patients] is a very subjective thing."
The CIA's participation in the interrogation of rendered terrorist suspects varies from country to country.
"In some cases [involving interrogations in Saudi Arabia], we're able to observe through one-way mirrors the live investigations," said a senior U.S. official involved in Middle East security issues. "In others, we usually get summaries. We will feed questions to their investigators. They're still very much in control."
The official added: "We're not aware of any torture or even physical abuse."
Tenet acknowledged the Saudis' role in his Dec. 11 speech. "The Saudis are proving increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts -- from making arrests to sharing debriefing results," he said.
But Saudi Arabia is also said to withhold information that might lead the U.S. government to conclusions or policies that the Saudi royal family fears. U.S. teams, for that reason, have sometimes sent Saudi nationals to Egypt instead.
Jordan is a favored country for renditions, several U.S. officials said. The Jordanians are considered "highly professional" interrogators, which some officials said meant that they do not use torture. But the State Department's 2001 human rights report criticized Jordan and its General Intelligence Directorate for arbitrary and unlawful detentions and abuse. "The most frequently alleged methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions and extended solitary confinement," the 2001 report noted. Jordan also is known to use prisoners' family members to induce suspects to talk.
Another significant destination for rendered suspects is Morocco, whose general intelligence service has sharply stepped up cooperation with the United States. Morocco has a documented history of torture, as well as longstanding ties to the CIA..
The State Department's human rights report says Moroccan law "prohibits torture, and the government claims that the use of torture has been discontinued; however, some members of the security forces still tortured or otherwise abused detainees."
In at least one case, U.S. operatives led the capture and transfer of an al Qaeda suspect to Syria, which for years has been near the top of U.S. lists of human rights violators and sponsors of terrorism. The German government strongly protested the move. The suspect, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, holds joint German and Syrian citizenship. It could not be learned how much of Zammar's interrogation record Syria has provided the CIA. The Bush administration maintains a legal distance from any mistreatment that occurs overseas, officials said, by denying that torture is the intended result of its rendition policy. American teams, officials said, do no more than assist in the transfer of suspects who are wanted on criminal charges by friendly countries. But five officials acknowledged, as one of them put it, "that sometimes a friendly country can be invited to 'want' someone we grab." Then, other officials said, the foreign government will charge him with a crime of some sort.
One official who has had direct involvement in renditions said he knew they were likely to be tortured. "I . . . do it with my eyes open," he said.
According to present and former officials with firsthand knowledge, the CIA's authoritative Directorate of Operations instructions, drafted in cooperation with the general counsel, tells case officers in the field that they may not engage in, provide advice about or encourage the use of torture by cooperating intelligence services from other countries.
"Based largely on the Central American human rights experience," said Fred Hitz, former CIA inspector general, "we don't do torture, and we can't countenance torture in terms of we can't know of it." But if a country offers information gleaned from interrogations, "we can use the fruits of it."
Bush administration officials said the CIA, in practice, is using a narrow definition of what counts as "knowing" that a suspect has been tortured. "If we're not there in the room, who is to say?" said one official conversant with recent reports of renditions.
The Clinton administration pioneered the use of extraordinary rendition after the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But it also pressed allied intelligence services to respect lawful boundaries in interrogations.
After years of fruitless talks in Egypt, President Bill Clinton cut off funding and cooperation with the directorate of Egypt's general intelligence service, whose torture of suspects has been a perennial theme in State Department human rights reports.
"You can be sure," one Bush administration official said, "that we are not spending a lot of time on that now."
Staff writers Bob Woodward, Susan Schmidt and Douglas Farah, and
correspondent Peter Finn in Berlin, contributed to this report.
Courtenay Smith and Sean Topham
“The house has become to contemporary architects what the seven-inch single was to Punk bands,” declare Courtenay Smith and Sean Topham. “It is a liberating challenge for its designer and an immediate, accessible product for the end user.” Xtreme Houses examines forty-five newly designed and built dwelling spaces by architects, artists, collectives and individuals from around the globe. Responding to the changing desires of consumers and the inevitable influences of overpopulation, suburban sprawl, environmental concerns, technological advances and economic fluctuation, each of the selected projects offers radical and unique solutions to our basic human need for shelter.
Xtreme Houses considers four general approaches to residential dwellings. The first chapter entitled “Self-Construct” covers a variety of do-it-yourself strategies. From private individuals who consider custom building a luxury to impoverished self-builders for whom it is the only means to obtain shelter, taking matters into one’s own hands and starting from scratch has resulted in exceptional and innovative housing solutions. Three pioneering examples are Michael Hoenes’ Tin-Can Houses in Africa, Brooklyn artist Vito Acconci’s House of Cars #2, and Atlanta-based Richard Martin’s Global Peace Containers in Jamaica, an entire community constructed from converted shipping containers.
Aided by the Internet, fewer people are bound to their jobs by location and are opting to live in rural areas. Chapter 2, “Move to the Sticks” focuses on nontraditional country abodes that work in harmony with their surroundings. Unlike conventional country cabins, these homes disappear into the landscape, as is the case with Michael Reynolds’ Earthships, float on water like Jean-Michel Ducanelle’s Aquasphere, or rest in the trees such as Softroom’s Tree House. As with other dwellings throughout the book, many of the projects take tremendous strides toward sustainable building, including Rural Studio’s Corrugated Construction made from recycled cardboard.
Chapter 3, “Bring Your Own Building,” explores modern takes on nomadic living. In addition to discussing the plight of forced nomads, such as refugees, the homeless and other displaced people, this chapter also examines transient living as a purposeful choice, often adopted by fashionable young urbanites and the super wealthy. California architect Jennifer Siegal and New York artist Andrea Zittel revisit the mobile trailer home, while other designers explore portable pods and articles of clothing that double as architecture, also known as “clothes to live in” or “buildings to wear.”
The final chapter, “Space Invaders,” discusses innovative methods of inhabiting the rare empty spaces left in cities. Through stacking, hanging, inserting and inflating, these homes playfully reclaim unused urban gaps. Many tap into underutilized resources, such as New York-based Michael Rakowitz’s inflatable homeless shelters which attach to the ventilation systems of public buildings. Others hang outside windows or are inserted into the existing infrastructure, such as LOT/EK’s Guzman Penthouse which rests on top of a Manhattan skyscraper.
Well-written and generously illustrated with photographs, drawings and plans, this exciting new book provides a sampling of the most cutting-edge developments in residential housing. Whether spurred by the latest advances in technology or the scarce resources of poverty, these homes challenge our traditional notions of what a house can be and demonstrate architecture’s ability to shape the way we live. They will undoubtedly set the standard for where and how we live, now and in the future.
Other featured dwellings by: Cal-Earth, FAT, Doug Garofalo, Herman Hertzberger, Doug Jackson, Jones, Partners: Architecture, Lacaton & Vassal, Atelier van Lieshout, Greg Lynn FORM, Monolithic Dome Institute, N55, Oosterhuis.nl, OpenOffice, Po.D., Marjetica Potrc, Michael Rakowitz, Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Wigglesworth, and Krzysztof Wodiczko, among others.
Courtenay Smith is a curator with the Kunstraum München in Munich, Germany. She was formerly Associate Curator at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art and has written about contemporary art and design for a variety of publications, including ARTnews, InForm, TenbyTen and the book, Icons of Design (Prestel).
Sean Topham is a full-time writer and journalist. His recent projects include the popular book Blowup: Inflatable Art, Architecture and Design (Prestel*) and Hands That Really Grip, an award-winning documentary about Action Man for British television. He lives in London, England and is currently working on his next book about space age design.