Peter Emanuel Goldman
ArtMedia Gallery is proud to present Love, Despair and Longing. New York-Paris 1962-68, Photographs by Peter Emanuel Goldman, the first exhibition of Goldman's photographic body of work.
Peter Emanuel Goldman was a celebrated filmmaker of the underground cinema and the only American link to the French New Wave during the sixties. At that time, he also started an intermittent career as a journalist. Later, in the seventies, he composed and recorded music. He spent the next fifteen years as a writer and consultant on foreign affairs. Recently, he became a novelist. in 1962, he began to practice straight photography while he was filming Echoes of Silence, his first movie. Simultaneously, he used his still camera to register the kind of life he shared with his friends and his perceptions of New York City, mainly of his neighborhood, Greenwich Village. In 1966, he settled in Paris temporarily. For almost fifty years, his negatives were forgotten and kept in storage in the US and Paris. Several months ago they reappeared in a box sent to him from Paris.
Goldman’s small and compact negative archive introduces an unknown chapter in the history of American photography from the early to the middle sixties and immediately beyond. Sex, love, desire, passion, drugs, nightlife, sadness, despair, loneliness have its place in this archive. A sensibility that approximates Goldman's would not appear in photography until the following decade with Nan Goldin, the photographer of “sexual dependency.”
Goldman's straight photography and film—chiefly Echoes of Silence—are close thematically. Both are autobiographical in a certain way, not literally, but more extensively they recount the life of a group of young people searching for pleasure, intense feeling, and understanding. There is also a visual connection between them. Goldman worked night and day with his still camera preferably using ambient light. At night, with scant lighting, he underexposed the negative to increase its sensitivity and achieve high contrasts. A dark atmosphere, displacement of focus, extreme close-ups, spontaneity, irregular framing, were Goldman's resources for narrating the intense drama of youth.
My first feature film, shot in 1963-64, Echoes of Silence grew out of the life my friends and I were leading in Greenwich Village—the inner torment, the despair, the sexual hunger, the search for meaning and experience and all the things that were haunting me and the people I knew. “Wanderings without aim through the city, loneliness in the crowd... a need that devours every character condemned to search... aflame, haggard and scarred inside.” (Judith Revault d'Allonnes, Trafic, Paris, June 2014). One French critic (Henri Chapier in Combat, June, 1966) called Echoes of Silence “The best film ever made about the profound despair of the young.” The key to Echoes of Silence was in the photography—the faces, movements, light, glances, etc. James Stoller (Moviegoer, Summer, 1966) wrote that Echoes was "moving photography. …with stills so beautiful they appear to move.”
My straight photos, which miraculously reappeared after 50 years in a box sent from Paris, resemble my films to some extent and differ in others. The photos were mostly made at the time I was shooting Echoes and in the year following, before making Pestilent City, The Sensualists, and Wheel of Ashes in Paris. I would stage some scenes almost like I was directing a film—faces and shots of longing and loneliness, while many other photos were taken of my wives, children and girlfriends, as well as streets of the Village, especially at night. The city is often in the foreground instead of the background, as in the films. The camera is capturing life on the streets.
What makes a good photo? Firstly, it is something you want to look at and keep looking at. It is not only what is in the photo but what is not. A good photo has a sort of mystery as if there is much more happening than what we see. While a film plays out the scene, the viewer of a straight photo must create his own story. The subject and composition reflect the inner eye of the photographer. Composition, light, subject, faces when lined up just right make an excellent photo.
In 1961, while riding the Métro in Paris, I was reading a critique of Boris Pasternak’s poems, when I realized I didn’t want to be an academic and write about other people’s work (I was studying history at the Sorbonne and scheduled to go to grad school at Berkeley the following year.) I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know how or in what medium. But I was driven to create. Film and writing became my main areas of expression, but still photography was also very important to me. I only hope that you will look at the photos and keep looking. They are, after all, an external reflection of my inner self.