Artist Ed Baynard and photography critic and curator Vince Aletti have been friends for many years. In Baynard’s ongoing photographic series, he wishes to create an “old fashioned documentary” of his long time friend’s apartment and enormous book collection. Recently featured in New York Magazine, Baynard share with us a closer look at the project, his inspiration, and personal anecdotes with Aletti.
Paddle8: How did you first meet Vince?
Ed Baynard: Honestly, I’m not sure at all – I think I’ve always known him. I can’t remember when I didn’t know Vince in New York. We had a lot of the same friends in common like Fran Lebowitz and Peter Hujar, who was my best friend and also Vince’s best friend, so we shared best friends, which was great [especially because it was Peter.] But we’ve been friends for at least 35 years.
I see him every Christmas – he gives a Christmas party every year, and I never leave New York at Christmas time unless it’s an emergency, because Roberta Smith goes, Jerry Saltz goes – it’s a group of people who may not necessarily get to see each other all the time. We all end up at Vince’s eating okay cookies and tortellini with jarred sauce, which is pretty good, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s Christmas! Otherwise, I see Vince almost every other week for dinner – it’s the kind of friendship you don’t take for granted – one of the ones that I really think about what would make it even better, and that’s how this group of photographs happened; I’ve shot 4 or 5 times and I plan to return and do more.
P8: What inspired you to do this project?
EB: There’s this wonderful line from Susan Sontag’s On Camp, she says, “I don’t know why this came down to me to do, but it did,” and I feel the same way about Vince’s apartment.
P8: What were you trying to project about Vince’s space – or Vince himself – through these photos? What is your own relationship to it?
EB: My intention? The point of view you mean? What I intended was to get as much out of the way as possible and be as close to documentary as I could let myself be, considering that I’m an artist and used to having an intention and a point of view. I tried to let the surroundings speak to the camera, and I hope that’s successful. I wanted to do it like an old-fashioned documentary.
What I care about is that this goes into the world as an idea. People can look at it and enjoy that this is the way a human being lives his life and it informs what he does as a critic and curator. Part of what makes him so interesting is that he comes back to these surroundings. There’s a certain look to interior photographs and I didn’t want that. I wanted any viewer to look at it and see it the way Vince sees it. If you were to walk in[to the apartment], I hope you would say, “Oh, Ed got it right!”
P8: How does Vince introduce his friends to his living space and collection? It’s obviously an important part of his life, but is it integrated into his social life?
EB: You get used to the feeling of the apartment very quickly; it’s like walking through aisles. When there are people there, places to sit are uncovered. I can think of a discussion a few years ago with Roberta Smith – I was on the side of “there is no more art world,” and she was on the side of “yes there is.” Part of what made it work was that we were crammed into the living room with a few other people, nose-to-nose, talking about what had happened to the art world. It’s much better than my parents’ living room where we sat very far apart from each other…I think it works.
P8: -Who won the argument?
EB: I didn’t win that one – there’s a really big art world that many people joined over the years. She saw it as something that opened up the entire world – I thought maybe that would eventually happen, but in her mind it had already begun. In closed, intimate spaces you can’t get away from the other person when you’re having a good, intelligent conversation or argument.
P8: So, the space is where he collects a kind of personal history?
EB: Definitely. I just don’t think many people do that. You have to have a sense of self and what your self needs to see in a very serious way in order to do that, what he does. Lots of people might respond to somebody who is just totally unknown, and the maker isn’t necessarily important in the way that you can feel about a work, and that’s what makes Vince so heroic is that much of what he collects is anonymous. Someone once said this, and I’ve used it a lot of times when I explain what it is to be a painter: My hand makes what my eye needs to see. In Vince’s case his hand, his life, brings to him what his eye needs to see.
P8: Can you discuss a specific image from the shoot that resonated with yours and Vince’s shared experience?
EB: The reason that I put in the Penn cover of House and Garden (in the New York Magazine feature) is that Vince collected Penn’s covers from House and Garden that are completely unsung still-lives. He collected many, which I find just wonderful because I am such a big fan of Mr. Penn. There are so many different aspects to his long and excellent career. What Vince could see that tells you something about him as a critic and as an eye, and will tell your viewer how sincere this is.
P8: Of all his collected books and images, do you have a particular fondness or special memory of any of them?
EB: I don’t really have a special fondness for any one thing – I like the broad stroke of it. I’m interested in how people express themselves, and this is a form of expression. This is about something very personal [for Vince].
I like walking through stacks, knowing that all that history is in a stack. We had a discussion some years ago about [Alexey] Brodovitch, [Art director for Harper's Bazaar from 1938-1958]. Vince started bringing out magazines and pointing out what he thought was extraordinary…and I went, “Oh my goodness, can you imagine what this was like when it first ran?” I mean, we’re used to seeing some of these images now…and he pulled out the magazines, knew where they were and the dates. It takes a familiarity and real love of the material to do that. I think he gave away a lot of- I’m not sure – his disco material from when he was writing about that. I know there is a book of his that’s out about some memorabilia, and a Museum somewhere in America, a disco museum? And he gave all of that away. Then he had a show at White Columns of just a little of what’s in the apartment, but it took up the whole place.
Check out the New York Magazine Article
STUFF: Still Life Photography, curated by Vince Aletti opening July 27