March 24, 2009
Swans Commentary, as part of its George Bernard Shaw retrospective, now features Art Shay’s thoughts on Shaw, on the long and bitter apprenticeship of artists and writers in America, and on looking through the photographic portfolios of “giftless amateurs”:
Once a month it is my fate to receive in the mail at least one 11×14-inch envelope crammed full of some amateur photographer’s black and white prints. Now that digital is here, color has been added. Typical letter: “I don’t know if you remember me. I was at your recent gallery opening — you posed for my Leica and the print is enclosed — I can Photoshop your chin if you want me to…I recently have returned from a trip to my mother-in-law, who lives in Washington, DC. As you can see from my pictures, I spent a lot of time trying to get the Washington Monument into the same picture as the Lincoln statue. Do you think I have what it takes to go on and become a photographer for National Geographic, where I could combine my love for traveling with my newly discovered interest in photography? If you tell the Geographic you’re going somewhere do they ask you to keep your eyes open for something exotic? Do I need releases from dancing girls in Thailand, where we expect to go next vacation if I don’t lose my job? That’s my wife’s mother saluting President Lincoln, who was one of our best, she feels… She used to be a WAAF and quite possibly could have ferried the B-24 you mention in your book that you signed to me that I already treasure and I’ve shown to our local camera club who don’t believe I know you and are looking at my pictures. God, you guys really were the Greatest Generation…” The main trouble with his pictures was that Martin Luther King and 200,000 others were absent from the frames. Also, for a buck you could have bought better postcards.
For the full article, check out Swans here. For more (distinctly non-amateur) work by Art Shay, take a look at Chicago’s Nelson Algren from Seven Stories Press—or attend Nelson Algren Live at the Steppenwolf Theatre, April 6, featuring a slide show by Shay commemorating Algren and his work.