PRINT Summer 1982



To the Editor:
Colin Westerbeck’s article on the Timothy O’Sullivan exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its catalogue (“Strangers in a Strange Land,” Artforum, March 1982) was terrific. He and I are obviously in disagreement about the significance of O’Sullivan’s Western photographs, but it is a useful, intelligible difference.

I would like to discuss one of the issues Westerbeck raises, in his line: “This seems a landscape that even the wrathful God of the Old Testament has forsaken.” I wonder. Certainly, for Clarence King, this landscape proved divine intervention; the question is, of course, if it had something of the same significance for O’Sullivan. Westerbeck notes that King wished to refute Charles LyeII’s “uniform action” theory, and within certain bounds he is quite correct. But King was no fundamentalist from Yale. King dated the creation of the earth not to 4004 B.C. but to something more like 400 million B.C. He gave LyeIl and Charles Darwin vast time periods for uniform action but insisted that uniform action could not explain the gaps in the fossil records. (Oddly enough, many modern paleontologists have taken to catastrophism to explain the disappearance of dinosaurs.) I have the sense, from King’s journals and from some of his published writings, that he saw man as the “mere mite” Wester-beck sees him to be in O’Sullivan’s prints. But at the same time, the geological record insisted to him that there was design in the apparent chaos (though not a design from which man might take comfort; if anything, the design held out only the promise of repeated terror).

To King, then, geology is the efficient cause of speciation and God is the terrifying force underlying the changes in the earth. So, as O’Sullivan’s immediate audience, it seems clear that King would have found confirmation of his beliefs in the photographs. I believe that O’Sullivan could well have “intuited . . . that human beings were indeed wanderers in a wilderness, in a myriad of time,” and I believe that he could have learned exactly that from King. But this intuition need not have forced him to conclude that he was an outsider to history and nature. King affirmed a very unpopular scientific and intellectual position. He took comfort, he wrote to Henry Adams, in the knowledge that human affairs are a speck in the history of the world and that the history of the earth would prove him correct. I wonder if O’Sullivan did the same in his own way. That he looked beyond the conventional is a fact; why he did so is left open to our conjecture.

—Joel Snyder

To the Editor:
I wish to bring to your attention a change in recent attributions of photographs depicting Yves Klein’s art actions. While the article in your January issue (“Yves Klein, Messenger of the Age of Space,” by Thomas McEvilley) is not the first sign of this alteration of history, it is a particularly noticeable instance due to the large number of photographs used.

I am referring to the substitution of one photographer’s name—that of Harry Shunk—for the former credit line indicating a team of two photographers––Shunk and Janos (later John) Kender.

Shunk and Kender began working together soon after they met in 1957 in Paris. By the time they moved to New York in 1968 they had amassed thousands of negatives covering the Nouveau Réalistes, Happenings, and other events and personalities in the Parisian art world. Throughout their partnership—until they split up, with some bitterness, in 1972—all their photographs were credited jointly. Among the most famous images acknowledged as being by “Shunk-Kender” were the brilliantly staged and doctored photograph of Klein leaping into the Void—originally commissioned for his one-shot newspaper Dimanche and since then reproduced hundreds of times—and the “Anthropometries” series—one significant portfolio of which (including some of the same images used in the Artforum article) appeared in Avalanche #2 in 1971.

In an interview in 1977 Kender told me that at all times each photographer knew which pictures were actually his, not only through memory but through certain objective means, such as camera used, etc. At the time of their rift in 1972 Kender apparently expressed the desire to divide the archives roll-by-roll, based on originator. For one reason or another, not having to do with authorship, Shunk seems to have persuaded both his former partner and the lawyers that the collection should remain intact and under his control. (Certainly, from an art-history viewpoint, it would be important to keep all the material in a single location.) In exchange for Shunk’s ownership of the physical property, Kender was to receive payments over a ten-year period.

A crucial omission from the settlement agreement, it seems, was any mention of who was to receive credit, although Shunk, as custodian of the negatives, was given the right to publish them.

Regardless of legal interpretations and leaving to the reader’s own conscience any implications of an ethical issue, I feel it’s historically important to set the record straight. Shunk and Kender both produced a remarkable body of work, the importance of which is only now being fully realized. It is also important that, as a vital contributor to this work, the name of John Kender be once more associated with it.

Barbara Moore
New York

Although the photographs in question were taken while Harry Shunk and John Kender were in partnership and originally received the credit “Shunk- Kender,” Harry Shunk has stated that he owns full title to them. In a letter to Artforum concerning these photographs, Shunk also wrote as follows: “ . . . the prints published by Artforum were all photographed by myself, with the exception of the last photo on page 51, which was done by John Kender . . . ”