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Sport 30: Peter Black-Real Fiction

Yin Yan You're My Thing

Yin Yan You're My Thing

The fact these photographs tend, at times, towards the cinematic underlines their allegiance with the work of Robert Frank—the photographer Peter Black is most often associated with. Frank was himself a film director, the maker of a banned film about the Rolling Stones (Cocksucker Blues, 1972) and the cover-artist for the Stones’ classic album Exile on Main Street, which features a profusion of his black and white pictures. If the lesson was still needed, this record jacket was artlessness become art, the words of songs inscribed: Soul Survivor…Yin Yan You're My Thing…I give you diamonds you give me disease… Elsewhere in the gatefold montage, we find passport-booth photos, the jarring vernacular of the restaurant menu (an image reprised by Peter Black and even more recently by Gavin Hipkins in ‘The Homely’), a screaming Joan Crawford, and the incessant, untidy poetry of street and bar: ‘Got to scrape the shit right off your shoes’ … ‘I don't want to talk about Jesus I just want to see his face’.

Taken through the window of a photo-shop, Peter Black's cover image for Bill Manhire's collection of poems Milky Way Bar (Victoria University Press, 1991) is a localised rendition of Robert Frank. Inhabited by equal amounts of affection and alienation, the image begs the question whether Peter Black is in fact stating an allegiance with the family snapshot rather than the Western canon. Peter's photo-shopfront is abuzz with discarded memories—unclaimed and now on offer to the general public for 50c apiece. Hapless children, a prize-giving, a Lockwood-style home on the move, a trophy table, a marae … (Some years later, when exhibiting at the New Work Studio, Wellington, Peter set the prices for his prints—displayed en masse, pinned to the wall—at a ridiculously cheap $50, which reminded me of these shopfront bargains and left me wondering if the association was deliberate.)

The melancholy bricolage of the photo-shop window is, at once, a kind of reliquary—as Ian Wedde would find it—and a looking glass which, once we have entered, as Maurice Duggan might have noted, ‘we shall ask our usual questions of a different ambience and receive, if we listen and page 63
Black and white photograph.

Untitled, 1986, reproduced on the cover of Bill Manhire's Milky Way Bar (VUP, 1991)

page 64 if we ponder upon what we hear, the unusual replies’.

By the early 1990s Black was producing his own variants on these picture-windows, using series of his own works—usually 32 exposures—to arrive at some almost Joycean compositions, incorporating inconclusive formations of language. In this, and other, respects, Peter's word-works have an affinity with Ed Ruscha's They Called Her Styrene (Phaidon, 2000), a book which assembles 575 artworks comprising words to create, as the artist states, ‘a sort of novel without an obvious plot, a series of words with an implied narrative’. Elsewhere Ruscha notes, appositely in the present context: ‘Sometimes found words are the most pure because they have nothing to do with you. I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.’

The noise, Peter would reiterate, rather than the music of experience. It's an untidy aesthetic although a surprisingly current one in photography today—and one that the gods and goddesses of grunge must look down upon and feel well pleased.

Peter's orchestrated suites of photographs could also be thought of as concrete poems. These compositions were exhibited in 1995 and 1997 under the appropriate titles ‘Sign Language’ and ‘Picture Stories’. Boiled down to its linguistic element, Getting Better, as it appeared in the former exhibition, read something like this:

Graphic poem.
CULPTUR Claude Claude
Monet Monet
STAR 0528 Do you know DETECTION
this man?
The artist's impression of Duffy
is for TODAY
HERE Lucky people!