02 December 2010

Rogues Gallery?

January ~ Blackwater security founder Erik Prince.
Photograph by Nigel Parry.

January ~ Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein and C.O.O. Gary Cohn.
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

May ~ General David Petraeus.
Photograph by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson.

It is funny how I discover things on the Internet. My nominee for the least charitable, most self-indulgent, resentful essay on photography ever is Ingrid Sischey's 1991 trashing in The New Yorker, of Sebastião Salgado.* It is a paper so incoherent, so devoid of plausible judgment, I've always wondered how the editors allowed it to see print.

Sischey, of course, has gone on to distinguish herself as editor of that bastion of serious thought and incisive commentary ~ Interview magazine. She now has ascended to the post of contributing editor at Vanity Fair. All this demonstrates that early failure is no barrier to success in the world of vacuous publishing ventures. It also establishes how easy it is to squander whatever meagre abilities you might have on thoroughly specious undertakings while still feeling justified in voicing sanctimonious criticisms of those who try, at least, to put their more substantial talent to productive use. I suppose that is the risk of swimming always in the shallow end of the pool.

I already have devoted enough time to Sischey here. So, . . . end of that rant. My point, in any case, is that for some reason my Google alerts flagged this interview with Sischey about what to do at Art Basel/Miami. And on the same page is a link to a photo essay: Vanity Fair’s Year in Review: January to June 2010. And that slide show is what I really wanted to talk about. How is that for circuitous?

The bulk of the VF half year review consists of pics of entertainers and their enablers (read Hollywood actors and directors). But, interspersed with tie sideshow, are the three images lifted here; they deserve comment.** We have, in order, rabid mercenary, rapacious financiers, and . . . well, everyone's hero, the good General David Petraeus. This seems to me to constitute a real slap at the General. Don't get me wrong, I've made it clear here more than once that I don't hold him in terribly high regard. But there are limits. Petraeus may be misguided, he may be committed to pursuing a losing policy in an authoritarian decision-making structure, but he is not a venal, ideologue like Prince or simply venal like the the boys from Goldman Sachs. That makes him culpable but probably not criminal. You cannot say the same of Prince, Blankfein, and Cohn. Apparently, our media have more or less completely lost the capacity to discriminate not just between the serious and the ephemera, but between between the honest (if deluded) and the crooks.

I have to say that one of the virtues of Blankfein and Cohn is that, as bald bankers, they deprived Leibovitz of the signature fan-induced, wind-swept hair that renders so many of her portraits formulaic.
* If, after this characterization, you want to read it, you can find Sischey's essay reprinted in Liz Heron & Val Williams, eds. 1996. Illuminations: Women Writing on Photography from the 1850's to the Present. Duke University Press.

** All three images © the photographers noted in the
Vanity Fair caption/credit.

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