His name is Raju Peddada. He is a journalist and photographer.
In 2018, he told us of the death of this little-known photographer: Art Shay.
Here he returns to his friendship and his conversations with Shay to whom we owe this wonderful nude of Simone de Beauvoir which amused him so much.
In Photography, both, consent and objection, will yield beauty
[Evidence: Title photograph, “Early morning walk.” I had parked in between several cars lining up on Columbus Avenue in Chicago early one hazy morning. I then spotted this lone man walking far in the wooded park. I really don’t know what it was that made him stop and look directly at me through that haze from that distance before I released the shutter. Of all the cars parked, why did he look at me? Did I send a dart his way? Nevertheless, he seemed to say, “Can I walk peacefully in solitude without your damn intrusion?!”
I looked away from the viewfinder and locked eyes with him. It was then that I had realized that it was a recondite neural process, that needed looking into – another another article!]
On the afternoon of July 15, 2009, I met Art Shay at our usual place for our bimonthly ritual: coffee and cakes at a Highland Park Cafe. On that day, we both watched a beautiful figure of a girl hop skip across the street. We stared at her all the way, and when she had reached the other side, I abruptly looked away the moment she turned around and she caught us looking, but Shay kept staring, waved and smiled at her. Then he turned to me and said, “Never look away from beauty. If she catches you, you smile and wave, it’s taken as a compliment. If you look away, it’s your guilt of mentally ravishing her – to her you are a jerk, a pervert.” He then added, “Looking is intrusion, at least two levels: a psychological one on both ends, second, the intrusion of the subject’s privacy.” And, off we went, on a tangent, on that concept.
Photography is intrusion. The morphological and the metaphorical character of photography is a bawdy one. One of mischief. It’s the short or the long wet lens voyeurism, a penetration, a violation, with or without consent. It is intrusion to render one naked. The lens mates with the our eyes to turn us inside out. No matter how you look at it photography is the mechanism of penetration, intrusion, therefore, pregnant with infinite aesthetic possibilities. To photograph is to penetrate – this is what we will explore today.
Let’s first understand the meaning of the word, Intrusion and its grammatical iterations: 1. Intrude, verb; 2. Intrusive, adjective and, 3. Intrusion, noun. The Merriam’s Dictionary defines intrusion as: A. an illegal act of entering, seizing or taking possession of others property. Oxford dictionary defines it as: the act of thrusting oneself in an encroaching manner, or introducing something inappropriately; or uninvited or unwelcome entrance. I couldn’t help noticing the word “thrusting, it correlates to the unavoidable visuals of consent or object.
Well, this evokes the prescience of certain indigenous Native Indians nations, who had always objected to being photographed. They had claimed it stole their soul, appropriated their powers: “white man’s instrument to weaken us.” Many had claimed it to be a dehumanizing force, that became the formula for their reduction and disappearance. Once photographed, they believed, it deconstructed them resulting in their vanishing. And thus, the legal definition, coincidentally, corroborated with how they had felt. I am not sure the law has its origins in this ancient cultural atavism. In our western cultural context, the Copyright, once filed, prohibits or restricts any and all likenesses photographed or copied without consent to thwart “stealing.” If you are a celebrity, the Paparazzi resort to all sorts of devices to thrust on your privacy to steal your likenesses and sell it. They are the professional purveyors of voyeurism.
The second meaning, B. something that affects a situation or people’s lives in a way that they do not want. This form of intrusion is more current and relevant to the present state of things. The irony is that, it’s considered, culturally and legally a violation of rights that subjects one to liability, without any physical contact whatsoever. This is something to contemplate. In the ancient times, and right up until the end of the Renaissance, there were no laws against “metaphysical violations” or should I say non-physical violations that involved intellectual property, unless it was provable physical-material theft. Today, metaphysical violations or intellectual property violations are the biggest portion of law practices, and less about physical violations, unless criminal ones.
Photographers are guilty, in all the variances of the word. But then, philosophically, this form of intrusion has enormous benefits. It’s the vector of contemporary functioning civilizations and their societies. Some of the various photographic intrusions that keep us civilized are: Surveillance, identification, security, record keeping and intelligence. In fact, photography is, now, less about art and aesthetic than about intelligence gathering and the nominal functioning of society. Inversely, photography is also the tool of criminals. Photography is used by crime syndicates to steal; flip side, intelligence and police agencies to thwart or identify and apprehend – same as the gun, used to commit crime and to protect.
Protect we must, from stasis and stagnation. Every paradigm shift is the consequence of intrusion, destruction and change of the norm. it’s a bitter pill, because, intrusion is double-edged. We intrude for positive changes, but the devices we create for this intrusion also deconstruct our humaneness. We may find cheap thrills in voyeurism, but this insidiously takes away from personal interactions. The byte sized lives we lead on our devices, with our eyes, thereby our minds, traversing the deep labyrinthine jungle of the net for escapes, is atrophying us and our progeny in nuanced ways. The devices of intrusion, work without, and the creep within is like ionizing radiation that destroy our cells of empathy – it’s self destructive in our addictive dependency. However, in all destruction or displacement, creation looms in the haze.
Photography thrives on intrusion. Intrusion is its fundamental value that affords beauty, security, yet, can violate. It’s a paradoxical gift that yields what I consider the most significant benefit: aesthetic beauty. Intrusion, consenting or objecting, generates aesthetic, which yields us great pleasure. Photographic intrusion exploits the human condition in all its variances, nevertheless, affords us insights into what and who we are, that we normally cannot become privy to. These are the intrusion benefits. To intrude (verb) is to offend, in degrees, and if one is unwilling to intrude, then photography cannot be their vocation. Even aesthetes or artists inexorably intrude to derive their aesthetic. And this brings me to that aspect of photography that is most important and intriguing.
The smallest of the photographic pursuits today is photography as an art form. There have been a handful of practitioners of intrusion that had a vision and the verve, in that order. One of them was Art Shay, a decorum be damned photographic pig that was my favorite aesthetic study on the human condition. He had ratcheted up photographic intrusion to an art form. From a career ending fracas in 1948-9, with a Vice Presidential candidate, Earl Warren, then governor of California, to intruding on Simone De Beauvoir, the great Social Theorist, Feminist, and French existentialist philosopher, in the bathroom, catching her butt naked, to taking a shot of his wife, Florence’s reaction, receiving devastating news from her oncologist. Then in Chicago, he had teamed up with the a National Book Award winner, Nelson Algren to dredge up the postwar underworld, risking life and limb, for some sobering stories. However, the most intriguing was the nude of Beauvoir.
Beauvoir, who had come to the U.S. on a book tour for her classic “The Second Sex” in 1952, had quickly become Nelson Algren’s lover, accompanied by Shay everywhere. We knew of Beauvoir only by her theories on post modern womanhood. She was a mystery. She was not known her beyond her tightly knit circle of friends: Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and some American expat writers. She, who had proposed a new understanding of the modern femininity was really an unknown commodity. Were her convictions just words? It was Shay, with his relentless and unflappable nerve, that had unveiled another facet of this contemplative woman, thereby completing her portrait for us. He deconstructed the mystery she was, by that fateful release of the shutter. And viola! Here she was, completely naked, the woman, she theorized about – no hypocrisy, no pretense, the genuine article, who did not even flinch on hearing the shutters fire off behind her, except utter, “Naughty man,” at Shay. And thus, Modern Femininity’s trans-formative power was realized.
As a critic and reviewer in the arts, I had never seen Shay’s method before. His mental technique was unique to his vocation. He would set off to find a metaphor, an allegory, an oxymoron, or a synecdoche. No other greats, like Bresson or Kertesz, had cued in or resorted to rhetorical devices to effectively conjure up and hunt for corroborative images. This is what makes Shay aesthetically remarkable. In the case of the Beauvoir nude, he had showed that her unflinching body was mightier than her words in positing modern femininity’s power.
Shay was so good at photographic intrusion, that he almost became invisible to his subjects. Great writers never project themselves into their work, they remain invisible, unless there’s a manifest purpose – same with photographers. When the photographer is invisible, the subjects will unveil themselves. In his last days and hours in the hospital ICU, Shay stuck to his credo: uncompromising intrusion, despite the state of the subject matter. He had encouraged my intrusion, to keep photographing him, in his most private and abject condition, his most vulnerable moments, with that external urine bag. I had somehow mustered enough squirt to keep at it despite physical and legal threats from the hospital security and their attorney. Shay had trusted me to reveal his mettle. He had applied the same standards to himself that he had subjected his subjects to. This is how the photographer and his subject dissolve or coagulate to become the objective. Then, it’s nirvana: photographic transcendence, a release from all else
– Copyrighted by Raju Peddada, August 18, 2023, All Rights Reserved on Text and Images
Intrusion manifestly evident in these photographs :
- The dog did not like the intrusion – as I tiptoed upstairs to my daughter’s room, I found the dog waiting for
- The Rickshaw labor stopped work and stared at me, for the
- The woman making bread had a dubious look as I interrupted her work, she is not
- Art Shay under the shadow of
- Art Shay, sitting up to encourage me, while the attorney and security were to my
- Vegetable lady defies me for intrusion when I asked her to look at the
- Even the langurs defy my intrusion, none except one looks at the
- Intrusion dichotomy, the mother-in-law hates it for photographing her beautiful daughter-in-law, who in turn enjoys
- Intruding on their waiting at the ration
- The intruding voyeur, who is irritated at being
- Feral Sleepers – a dangerous case of threats on intrusion, in Chicago
- Simone de Beauvoir nude by Art Shay ©