Sunday, March 13, 2005

For the Children

Apparently, Sartre is not the only one to have the cigarette erased from his history. I have learned a couple of things from an over the top article called Nicotine Nazis.

Only two pictures of blues singer Robert Johnson exist. In one of them a cigarette dangles from his lips. When the post office used that photo to create a stamp honoring him, they carefully removed the offensive cigarette. A few years later they did the same thing with a Jackson Pollock photo used for a stamp. A Utah newspaper ran a full page color picture of James Dean, but digitally removed the cigarette he was smoking. (They apologized for it afterwards.) An Eddie Bauer ad in Wired magazine also airbrushed away Dean’s cigarette. A boxed set of Paul Simon’s older works features an old picture of the singer on the cover. In the original photo he was holding a cigarette, in the new one both the cigarette and the smoke have been removed. In all honestly, though, we can’t use these examples to compare the nicotine nannies to the Nazis. Here, they emulate Stalin.

In 1999, Elaine Y. Wan wrote about the Pollock incident in Stamping out a Cultural Icon:
Jackson Pollock, the famed representative of abstract expressionism, will be featured on the new 33-cent stamp to be unveiled on February 18 by the United States Postal Service. Dressed in paint-stained denim, Pollock is pictured in the process of dripping the final touches to his work. But fifty years after his picture was taken, Pollock's idiosyncratic lip-hanging cigarette has been removed digitally for the stamp...

The image of Jackson Pollock taken from a 1949 Life magazine photograph was chosen to honor Pollock's contribution to abstract expressionism as part of the Postal Service's "Celebrate the Century" stamp series, a recognition of famous people, historical and cultural events, and invention in particular decades. The image was modified to produce a non-smoking and no longer bald-headed Pollock.

Not only was the cigarette removed in this instance, but hair was added where it was found wanting. This seems to lead in an entirely different direction. Perhaps the exclusion of cigarettes is more than a moral protection "for the children". Perhaps it has to do with nostalgia and the recreation of our idols to conform to our version of perfection.
not only is the photograph never, in essence, a memory, but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes counter-memory... because in it nothing can be refused or transformed.

...says Marguerite Duras in The Lover.
What is an authentic memory? Do we remember things as they were or is it always through a filter of nostalgia and how can we know? Is a photo a placeholder for memory? What role does photoshop play? If an image can be transformed to accomodate our desire for, say, a history without cigarettes and heros with full heads of hair, then, although each photograph may offer a fixed version of events, we can have many versions of a single photograph.

In most of my childhood remembrances, I am not moving. I fear that my memory is a series of polaroids.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jatsimpleposie said...

You mean Duras? Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Muskateers and such.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Anne Walk said...

quite right jatsimpleposie. good catch.

1:47 PM  

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