Camera Carlos: Reflections on Imagereality (Alternative Title: cleavagecleavagecleavage)

While acclaimed photographer theorist Susan Meiselas, president of the Magnum Foundation, was seated in her office on West 27th Street finalizing details for the “Photography, Expanded” symposium, and acclaimed photography theorist Geoffrey Batchen was sitting in his office at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand researching the implications of photography’s reproducibility, failed photography theorist Carlos Spencer-Bayard was sitting in an Irish bar in Cleveland, Ohio thinking about cleavage. But the man known to his friends and family simply as “Ghost” was not ogling or fantasizing; he was philosophizing, or so he told himself.

Haunted by photography and fueled by failure, Ghost was beginning to grow weary of Facebook and its ever-present cleavagecleavagecleavage. Every morning when he logged into his account, he discovered a fresh batch of buxom photographs waiting for him. The timing and regularity of these deliveries (not to mention the doughiness of some of the photos themselves) reminded him of a bakery baking fresh bread. And it wasn’t just his female friends; somehow during the past five years, he had befriended a high number of “chest puppies,” as a man who takes numerous pictures of his naked torso in a bathroom mirror was known in local gay vernacular.

Were the Facebook accounts of other photography theorists so saturated with cleavage? Did Abigail Solomon-Godeau have to suffer through photo-after-photo of bosoms on vacation or socializing around town? Did Rosalind Krauss’ friends inundate her Facebook account with mirrored selfies taken after mundane midweek workouts (or worse: videos of these workouts themselves)? Did Victor Burgin even have a Facebook account?

As he pondered these questions, the opening line to Jason Isbell’s “Flying Over Water” ghosted through his consciousness.

From the sky we look so organized and brave

This line, altered slightly, always reminded him of Facebook: from the sky we look so organized and fun.

Good-bye, Thoreau’s lives of quiet desperation. Good-bye, Hobbes’ nastiness, brutishness, and shortness. Good-bye, Wilde’s sad world inspired by melancholy puppets.


Where’s that liquor cart?
Maybe we shouldn’t start
But I can’t for the life of me say why

But Ghost knew better. He knew these people. He knew who they were, where they came from, and how they lived. He knew that just because their lives were no longer quiet did not mean that they were any less desperate. The majority of his Facebook friends, he suspected, were living lives of chesty desperation.

Carlos Spencer-Bayard took a sip of his Jameson on the rocks and smiled. Lives of chesty desperation. That was a good phrase, he thought as he extracted a pen from his pocket and scrawled it across a bar napkin.

To him, Facebook appeared to be both a burlesque and a burka: while seductively exhibiting ample acreage of flesh, it concealed every inch of a person’s personality. In other words, you could know intimate details about what a person looked like, but nothing else. On Facebook, people were both naked and veiled.

Both a burlesque and a burka, naked and veiled. Those were good phrases too.

From reading Nietzsche, Ghost had learned the importance of good phrasing. A man could eek out a career from a couple of good phrases, a meager academic stipend, cold morning walks through the mountains, and an occasional skinnydip.

“Do with profound problems as with a cold bath,” Nietzsche had once advised, “quickly in, quickly out.”

What else had he learned from his years of skinnydipping into the topic of photography?

For the rest of the essay, click HERE.

Chicago Literati

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