OF THE 1950s

by Aram Saroyan


When I was fourteen in the late 1950s I worked after school as an apprentice at Dick Avedon's Manhattan studio. His assistant at the time was Hiro, a young man only recently arrived from Japan. It was a wonderfully heady atmosphere that pretty much ruined me for my school assignments at Trinity. There was much talk of Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary art director at Harpers Bazaar and a revered teacher of photography. One afternoon I accompanied Hiro across the Triboro Bridge to the Queens docks, where we set up and for a Brodovitch class assignment Hiro shot a martini in a Tiffany glass in front of the Manhattan skyline at twilight. A very pretty woman who was the wife of the writer Harold Brodkey worked in the studio. A woman named Laura Kanelas, who always wore a red suit, was Dick's agent. It was the period of the movie "Funny Face," with its Avedon-like photographer portrayed by Fred Astaire, and I thought I'd found a magic kingdom.

That summer my father took my sister Lucy and me to Europe and Dick gave me a box of film as a going away gift. My father encouraged me to photograph street kids, and I came home from the trip with many rolls of exposures. The art director Marvin Israel accepted eight photographs for a spread in Seventeen, for which we each won an Art Directors award. Years later, now a writer, I published a book that included many of those photographs, Words & Photographs (Big Table, 1970). During the late sixties, I also did a mock-up of a second book of (mostly) different photographs from the same visit to Europe and sent it to Philip Whalen in Kyoto to write something on the page opposite each photograph. As I sensed he might, Phil turned the request around quickly. I received the marvelous text here virtually by return mail.

When I approached the European and American children in these photographs, I was still a child myself, and I think the transparent parity in some of the images is due to my being more an accessory of the camera than the other way around. Un-intimidated by the photographer, kids seemed to engage the medium with a straightforward sense of its potential, and I was on hand to make the picture.

Then, as I see it, a miracle accrued. Well-nigh half a century went by, and I discovered again these images and fell in love with some of these subjects whom I knew only for an anonymous moment and who have long since ceased to be children. It's not unlikely that some of them have ceased to be, period.

The photograph, however, remains in the paradox of the moment: It cannot age. It's as if time is turned into space—as moment-by-moment it is space—and remains so, forever, in a photograph. What we refer to as reality, then, is space, though we ourselves, fundamentally and of course ultimately, are time. This is the strange, diverting dance of the photograph upon our days (& gaze).

A. S.


Photos by Aram Saroyan; Poems by Philip Whalen