One of the pleasures in viewing the work of a particular artist one admires is the discovery of something strange and unexpected, if only in spirit. The other night I checked to see which of Jack Smith’s photographs were available around the Internet and decided to present some that haven’t been widely seen in a while. These, I believe, are some of those from the late fifties shot on two and a quarter inch chrome "slide" film. I have a camera similar to the one used by Jack, (mine is a medium/square format twin lens reflex Rolleicord with a 75mm Zeiss lens, circa 1950) but shoot on negative stock when working in color, which is a hell of a lot cheaper. Certainly, much of the quality of these pictures (for instance: the saturation of the color) depends on Smith’s use of chrome film, but I maintain that the most important element in these works is the community he was able to gather around him at that time.
That group of willing and like minded friends was something he sorely missed late in life, though there remained countless admiring young folk (such as my friends Ulli and Jeanie) who would do his bidding from time to time, and a few old timers like Ronald Tavel, and Ira Cohen, as well as Irving Rosenthal, with whom Jack maintained a long distance relationship by phone and the various assistants, some say spies, he sent Jack's way. (Ulli shot many rolls of color film for him at Coney Island, documenting a Lucky Landlord performance on the beach; the resultant slides being later integrated into other interior performances. Ulli never saw any of the fruits of this unpaid piecework until I sent her a few frames from Mary Jordan's serviceable documentary on Jack.)
Sadly we come to the matter of Penny Arcade, who has been very kind and generous to some dear friends of mine, such as Jenny Romaine and Sam Wilson, and has publicly slung mud at others. It seems that her friendship with Jack goes back to Charles Ludlam's adaptation of The Satyricon, which was called Turds In Hell, in 1969. Jack and Penny were somehow paired together in a sex scene and hit it off, but Jack left the production before its first performance (as was his wont, according to many collaborators.) What their relationship over the next twenty years was I can not say, but I can't help but note that she doesn't appear in a single frame of his work and he was constantly bemoaning his lack of performers (which Penny is known for being. In fact Stefan Brecht's widow, Rena Gill, couldn't help but marvel at how Penny managed to turn Jack's Memorial Service into A Performance by Penny Arcade.) What bothers me most about this woman, beyond the many false accounts she has given concerning the circumstances surrounding Jack's death and the insults she has hurled at Irving (especially those regarding his physical size,) is her going round from institution to institution introducing works (with which she has, at best, a rather tenuous relationship) and giving a lot of misinformation about what they are seeing to credulous admirers. Personally, I'm happy that the work is finally getting seen, but I rather resent her contextualizing it.
I kick myself now, having been given the opportunity to meet Jack in March 1989 and not taking advantage of it. Jeanie was at his place helping him turn his apartment into a film set for Sinbad In A Rented World and we had plans to go to Cindy Sherman's opening on Saturday the 25th. When I met Jeanie at 21 1st Avenue she asked if I wanted to go up and be introduced, but warned that Jack wasn't feeling well and that if we went up we might never make it to Metro Pictures. I will always be a bit sad and regretful that I didn't go up to see him. I don't pretend to be an expert on Smith's work, but I've admired it since I was fourteen years old and, forty years later, my admiration for him and his work continues to grow the more I see of it. Only, I want to see more! It should also be stated that Penny Arcade certainly did nurse Jack as he was dying; just as Jack's mother is said to have nursed dying folk, in her case for the sake of an inheritance. Reportedly Jack told Penny that she was being a mother to him in his dying days. Somehow Penny never seems to have seen the irony in this.