Hans Namuth

Interview

Q: What was it that motivated you, what inspired you, to photograph artists thirty or more years ago?

A. Inspiration had little to do with it; the hazards of my profession did.

Q: Does the artist differ as a subject from other people?

A. Yes, he is different. He wears his inner thoughts and vibrations on his face (as does the poet); he doesn't conceal them. He is mostly free in front the camera and, in a sense, uninhibited. A true artist will always make a good picture--if he lets you.

Q: What prompts you to initiate a photographic session with certain artists? Is it the person? The work? And what if you don't like either?

A. To answer your first question, it is usually an assignment that takes me to an artist. And if I don't like either artist or work, or if there is no atom crochu as the French call it, no rapport of any sort, it may well happen that I fold my camera and leave.

Q: Do you discourage "posing"? What do you do if the artist is at work?

A. Oh, I don't discourage anything. I often let the artist take over and let him take the picture, so to speak. Thus, a "posed" picture can turn out to be very good. Furthermore, I don't disturb an artist at work. I welcome it when this happens, and often take photographs during a work session. This means, of course, that you established a very special relationship with that artist. Mark Rothko never let me be present when he was working, for good reasons. But others did; some seemed to welcome me or pretend not to see me. I immediately feel at home upon entering an artist's place. Sooner or later something develops. And the best direction is an absence of direction, a certain aloofness which is in reality charged with energy.

Q: Do your own feelings of the moment affect your work?

A. Unfortunately, yes. I remember my visit to Joan Miro in Mallorca some years ago. As he greeted me at the door he informed me that the friend who had brought us together had just died. I was so shaken that the pictures I took that day turned out not to be among my best, although Miro was most gracious and gave me all the time in the world.

Q: What interferes most while you are working?

A. Intruders.

Q: What has been the most challenging situation for you as a photographer?

A. There were several. The one that comes to mind most vividly was meeting James Thurber in Connecticut. A magazine editor and I rang the bell to his house at the appointed hour, and we heard Thurber's slow, shuffling steps coming to the door. As he opened it (knowing who we were but not seeing us because he was nearly blind), he said: "We have

-1-

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Twenty-Five Artists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Interview with Hans Namuth 1
  • Photographs by Hans Namuth 5
  • Essays on the Artists 29
  • Notes 39
  • Color Plates 85
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