PRINT January 1993


THE MAN'S NAME is Igor. I don’t know if this picture is posed, I don’t know if the photographer even knows Igor: by chance, I do. An architect from Trieste, he acted in movies a friend of mine made in the early ’70s. He’s carrying the goldfish to drop in an aquarium I’ve never noticed in his house. Maybe it’s for the restaurant he used to own on Greenwich Street: at home, Igor’s a cat person. Large, furry, slow-moving cats who drop unexpectedly from high bookcases. My director friend once told me, “I really don’t know why I like Igor. But he fascinates me. Maybe it’s the way he looks, his voice, I can’t help it.”

A few years ago, Evan Lurie and I were planning an opera about Wittgenstein. Igor told me he had some documents relating to Wittgenstein’s death in Trieste. I told him I was certain Wittgenstein had died in England. “No, no, that’s what everybody believes, but my friend’s written a whole play about Wittgenstein’s last days in Trieste.” “Igor, I’ve been researching this opera for two years, I know.” “Yes, but what you know is a myth.” His insistence wore away my certainty, and on the hottest day of the year Evan and I made our way to Igor’s office in the extreme west 20s. “Gary,” Igor said when we arrived, “Sit down for a moment: I have some bad news. But maybe it’s also good news. It seems the play isn’t about Wittgenstein. It’s about Winckelmann.” At this point I thought: “See? He’s crazy!” “How could you get them confused? Wittgenstein? Winckelmann?” “But maybe you should consider,” Igor said, in complete earnest, “writing an opera about Winckelmann instead.”

Perhaps the man in the photograph isn’t Igor but someone who looks like Igor if that’s possible. An actor playing Igor who believes he is Igor, or someone who knows nothing of Igor and who’s headed uptown instead of downtown a little after rush hour, on his way to some bedroom community where keeping fish and watching television fill the hours and times. Miles from him, a couple in another picture, in their classic Lower East Side apartment (though the unbarred door and other details suggest maybe a less embattled enclave of sexy poverty, some place like Pittsburgh): she’s Hispanic, he’s white. He’s pulling his pants on. She’s got the dog in her lap. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but I now know that it’s possible for two people in an interracial relationship never to discuss race, even when the racial difference permeates everything, determines practically all the decisions the “raced” person makes, defines all the unarticulated boundaries that are drawn and redrawn between the two people, and decides, sometimes, when the relationship will end. As a friend of mine says when unspoken, repressed, yet obvious factors produce a fait accompli: Go know.

In photos like this, where a man’s alone and peering into the abyss—in this case, into the refrigerator—I always see two people, the man pictured and the man taking the picture. (If it’s a Cindy Sherman, I see Cindy behind the camera as well as the image she’s worked up.) I imagine the tone of their complicity, hear the directions being given to the subject. I inhabit the mental process of an actor, who knows that he “himself” is not the point, but who is also inescapably aware that—at least one person is watching him intently—at least one person is watching not only the image he’s presenting (which is the point) but him, watching everything that won’t be in the picture: the expressions that sleet across his face as he fixes his markers in memory, the way his shoulders relax between takes, accidents with his clothing and makeup.

The only defense available is to stylize even these gestures, expressions, accidents, until everything’s just for show. During the Reagan/Bush years, a lot of people I know (I don’t leave myself out of this) became keenly and painfully aware that other people were looking at them, watching their every move. We began layering ourselves with protective covering, contriving ourselves as figments of the public imagination, disembodying ourselves as “phone friends,” withdrawing to our various Fortresses of Solitude like Supermen contemplating the properties of kryptonite. To the point where even opening the refrigerator at 4 A.M. required a certain struggle of will, an effort of histrionics.

I’m not going to talk about the bedroom or the bamboo wall hangings or Cosby on the television: the fact that I assume, by one quick look, that it is Cosby (it isn’t) tells you more about me than I want you to know, but you know that already. I don’t have words for this unspeakable sorrow. I miss you. As Rene says in a poem, you know what rhymes with miss you.

This is a sleepwalker headed for the IRT: she’s either getting on it or going under it, go know.

Gary Indiana is a writer who lives in New York. He selected and responded to these photographs.