John Benton-Harris - “a son of the beach”Looks at - Joseph Szabo's - "Jones Beach"At the Michael Hoppen Gallery - (1 August - to -19 September)
It takes courage to be a leader, instead of simply playing it safe by being yet another follower, just as it’s refreshing for us, not to gaze upon works by people who've been over celebrated and over marketed. But sadly Mr Hoppen's courage isn't quite enough; it also takes the ability to differentiate between imagery that is adequate, or even good in editorial terms, and seeing that goes way beyond familiar observations of everyday existence.
However, imagery that take us to this new plain of awareness are always the by-product of those who take the trouble to know this history, and also something about their subjects, and those earlier eyes that contributed to both. Sadly Joseph Szabo's love affair with Long Island’s Jones Beach has more the look of a voyeur then someone engaged in a fine romance. He, as this imagery states (excuse the clumsy metaphor) has been operating in the dark, while he’s been out there basking in the sunshine of this subject. So as adequate as these first images looked on paper, as illustration, they do not pass muster as notable examples of Fine Art, on a gallery or museum wall.
And when I first caught site of his Jones beach snaps, while flipping through a copy of a recent Sunday supplement, the thought that came to me was something Walker Evans said, (See the bottom of Page 3, Number 6 of “Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence” By Tod Papageorge, Published by the Yale University Art Gallery) in regard to where he believed “Valid Photography” could not be found; after he listed several unlikely spots, he concluded - “under no circumstances is it anything ever anywhere near a beach”.
Looking at these images without the benefit of knowing of my medium, and its achievements, I might well agree with Walker's prejudice. But since I have this knowledge and openness, I can also see what Mr Szabo's simple approach denies him, a message or opinion to deliver, a desire to entertain, a determination to seek and capture what has not been previously seen, and a talent for invisibility. Understandably all this allows, even demands that I be under-whelmed by Mr Szabo's shoot, and Mr Hoppen's choices, as well as Mr Evans’s words, when it comes to understanding what the beach has to offer.
At this point, I must confess I haven’t yet seen the complete show, only the synopsis of it. But having experienced Mr Hoppen’s disregard for fact and his poor visual sensitivity tells me he’s simply looking here to sell lower priced works, to gain some advantage from the recent down-turn in the photographic market.
Well, now that I've seen the “Whole Tamale”, I’m left feeling that the additional 30 images only devalued his smaller view, for it became clear that the diversity that was hinted at in the first eight images that illustrated his “DAYS OF SUNSHINE AND POSES", revealed more about him then his subject. Snap, after Snap, after Snap, this beach was used as his premier place for watching “Dolls Strutting their Stuff”, mixed in amongst a few muscle flexing Adonises. If Joseph truly wants to be taken seriously (by me at any-rate) he needs to stop (seemingly) letting little Joe point the way, and also attempt to look beyond the reach of his lens, for a contact that strives to go beyond the best, and nothing of that is to be gleamed in this display of beach trekking.
The variety hinted at in the small editorial advertisement for this show was never delivered, but a diversity of sorts was to be found. It was in the prices asked, which ran from £790 for an 11 x 14 inch print to as much as £8289 for something near 2 to 4 feet. So I must admit, I got Mr Hoppen's motivation wrong. It was after all about a show at a lesser cost to everyone, it was about giving us an "AMERICAN FANTASY" to follow in the wake of his first "AMERICAN FICTION" - "The New York School" - his last American offering.
So thinking there might also be a fictional aspect to this show, I took one last look around these 36 exhibited prints, to make sure there weren't any from Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate or Scarborough, by another true Son of the Beach, like myself, that could be more justifiably connected to either of these poorly represented and distorted offerings.
© John Benton-Harris - August 2008
Two from 'a son of the beach'
Essaouira, Morocco 2011
Sausalito, CA, USA 2012