10 September 2006

Larry Towell (3)

Well, Larry Towell was truly, truly terrific this afternoon. He did not actually “lecture” - explaining that, given that he has a bunch of kids, he already has done more than his share of lecturing in his lifetime already. Instead we had a performance, with Towell speaking and singing, playing guitar and musical saw and a variety of what members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago have for many years called “little instruments” (odd percussion, toy whistles, balloons, and so forth). Larry was accompanied by harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens. All the while Towell’s images were projected, one after another, on a screen above him. During the course of the afternoon Towell traversed his photo-essays on The Mennonites, on politics and civil war in Central America, pictures from NYC on 9/11 as well as from anti-globalization protests, a segment of pictures from No Man’s Land (here too) and, finally, images from a “forthcoming” project called The World From My Front Porch, which is made up of Towell’s pictures of his home and family over the past dozen plus years.

The performance was exemplary of how one might insightfully entwine words and images in ways that strengthen both. Much of the time Towell played pre-recorded statements - “stories,” as he called them, which after all, he also claimed, is what photographers tell. I bought a 2CD package of his reflections entitled The Dark Years - Chronicles of War. These relate episodes, and Towell’s reflections on them, from periods of time he has spent working in both Central America and Palestine.

So, despite my qualms about the auspices under which the folks at George Eastman House brought him to town (here and here) I urge you to go and "hear" Larry Towell if you get the chance. His creativity affords a glimpse of how much more vital our experience of photography might be if we resisted the temptation to simply hang pictures on gallery walls.

PS: Here is a nice example of the way Towell intermingles words and images in a "lecture" on landlessness. (ADDED: 9/11/06)

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