BLACK POWER

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - CULT OBJECT -

— In De­cem­ber 1964, the pres­ti­gious New York Re­view

of Books fea­tured a vit­ri­olic ar­ti­cle by the critic and play­wright Robert Brustein on Noth­ing Per­sonal, a work by pho­tog­ra­pher Richard Ave­don and writer James Bald­win. “One is ob­vi­ously sup­posed to han­dle such a vol­ume with un­speak­able rev­er­ence, sim­i­lar to that hu­mil­ity of spirit with which Charl­ton He­ston held Ce­cil B. DeMille’s pa­pier–maché com­mand­ments upon de­scend­ing from his Hol­ly­wood Mount Si­nai [ … ]” in the bib­li­cal epic, The Ten Com

mand­ments. Brustein is dis­con­certed by the team­ing up of the high–fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher for Harper’s Bazaar and the African–Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tual, who had be­come an em­blem­atic spokesman for the civil rights move­ment, a tan­dem he felt was not try­ing to save the world but at­tempt­ing rather “to cap­i­talise com­mer­cially on an in­creas­ingly self– crit­i­cal na­tional at­mos­phere”. “If you re­ally want to know some­thing about soli­tude, be­come fa­mous. That is the turn of the screw. That soli­tude is prac­ti­cally in­sur­mount­able,” Bald­win wrote in 1984, when he was al­ready with­draw­ing from the pub­lic eye, sick­ened by see­ing Medgar Evers (June 1963), Mal­colm X ( Fe­bru­ary 1965 ) and Martin Luther King ( April 1968 ) as­sas­si­nated one af­ter the other. The three most em­i­nent civil rights fig­ures fought for equal­ity be­tween black and white on Amer­i­can soil, where racial seg­re­ga­tion laws were abol­ished in June 1964, giv­ing way to an in­tensely vi­o­lent pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial up­heaval. Born in Har­lem in 1924, James Bald­win was the old­est of nine chil­dren, the il­le­git­i­mate son of a fa­ther he would never know. His mother got re­mar­ried to a pas­tor. His ca­reer took him from Green­wich Vil­lage to bo­hemian Paris where he stayed for ten years. A ho­mo­sex­ual, Bald­win ex­plored iden­tity is­sues with a fe­ro­cious sen­si­tiv­ity, which not only shat­tered the struc­tural racism of the con­ser­va­tives, but also the trust­ing bon­homie of the left–wing hu­man­ists: “It took me many years to spit out all the filth I had been taught about my­self, and which I half be­lieved, be­fore be­ing able to ex­ist on this earth as if I were au­tho­rised to do so.”

Raoul Peck’s doc­u­men­tary, I’m Not Your Ne­gro, the an­nounce­ment by Barry Jenk­ins, di­rec­tor of this year’s Os­car–win­ning Moon­light, that his next film would be an adap­ta­tion of Bald­win’s novel, If Beale Street Could

Talk, pub­lished in 1974, and the mil­i­tant tur­moil of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment have all con­trib­uted to a vast wave of in­ter­est in re­dis­cov­er­ing the au­thor of The Fire Next Time ( 1963 ). The re–edi­tion of Noth­ing Per­sonal, the work he co–signed with Ave­don, and which has be­come a leg­end that the pho­tog­ra­pher him­self thought was one of his finest works, shows how mod­ern their ap­proach was. Nei­ther out­shines the other; rather they sup­port each other in the quest for a higher truth mid–way be­tween the glam­our of pub­lic life and their deep­est, in­ner­most wounds. NOTH­ING PER­SONAL ( Taschen ), English edi­tion pub­lished in Jan­uary 2018.

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