Les Krims has always been a hugely controversial photographer, and critics have often been largely divided about where they stand on his work. In 1971 an exhibition of Krims's photos in Tennessee pissed a guy off so bad he kidnapped a kid and wouldn't give him back until the gallery took down the photos. For reals.
For our Still Lifes issue he sent us a photo from a train and toy show, which we thought was pretty great because it's a picture of a highway--normally the opposite of still lifes, but it's a model, so it's like, about as still life as you can get. Layers.
Krims is a professor at Buffalo State College, and has been taking pictures for longer than a lot of the contributors in our photo issue have been alive, so we figured it would be a good idea to ask him some questions about some junk.
Vice: Hi Les, tell me a bit about your photo from the Still Lifes issue. It was from a train and toy show?
Les Krims: Yes, it was.
Do you go to a lot of train and toy shows?
I go to one every few years at the Hamburg, NY, AgriCenter if I have the time. I've always liked photographing the inexpertly made environments for the model trains.
Your Wikipedia page says you have a "long-standing criticism" of what you describe as "leftist twaddle." What does that mean?
Deconstructionism is a good example of the intellectual twaddle referred to (but since the death of Jacques Derrida a few years ago, "was" is the appropriate verb). For example, what's the meaning of the word "therapist"? If I place brackets like so "[the]rapist," now what's the meaning? I just have no patience with or interest in the notion that in this country intellectuals in academe will bring about a leftist revolution through parlor games and disingenuous, boring, critical crap.
I see, how did you get into taking pictures of stuff?
My mother enjoyed making photographs with her cheap Ansco camera. Some of that rubbed off.
Do you remember what your first camera was?
My first camera was a Yashica Mat, which I bought new in 1963. I used my mom's Ansco when I was a kid.
You've been quoted as saying, "It is possible to create any picture one imagines." Do you have any images that you've thought of that, for whatever reason you haven't or couldn't create?
I'm shy, and finding models was always a problem. I'd have likely made more pictures with women had I the ability to find more who would work with me.
Your work has often been very controversial. In 1971 a kid in Tennessee was kidnapped, and the only condition for the boy's return was that a gallery which was exhibiting your work take it down. Why do you think your photographs spark such strong emotions in people?
Sparking a strong emotion in myself is one indicator a picture works. If I don't get a kick out of an image I'll never use it. Perhaps others can see and understand this quality but find it deplorable?
You've been able to watch the rise of digital photography from a vantage point that most younger photographers weren't able to. What's your view on digital photography verses film?
I just bought a Hasselblad H4D, and if I had the money would have bought the 50 or 60 megapixel version. The quality, ease of use, and speed of getting from making the picture to making the print is astounding, and very important to a guy my age who, as much as I'd love to, does not have another 50 years to play with it all. After I switched from architecture to art at Cooper Union, my impulse was to be a printmaker. In graduate school I discovered that making photographic pictures/prints was more to my liking. Once high resolution digital printers, scanners, and powerful computers became affordable it seemed to me to be a dream come true. I'd been waiting since the mid-1970s, when I first discovered all the crazy expensive technology, to be able to afford it all and use it. Capitalism and competition commodified this technology. This is a golden age for photographic picture making. The H4D, in my mind, made film obsolete. Earlier digital cameras did not, to my eye, produce files which compared favorably to film at moderately large print sizes; this camera does.
What would you be doing if you weren't a photographer?
I entered Cooper Union to study architecture. Architecture.
Do you have a favorite photo from the Still Lifes issue?
The cover was a good choice.
A lot of your photos--especially your older work--are pre-arranged and thought out. Do you ever just walk around taking random photos of stuff?
I pretty much stopped arranging pictures about 20 years ago. And I always worked candidly, even when I was setting up pictures. What I try to do now is "spin" candid pictures with titles that often amount to short, short stories, rants, or a combination of the two. Here's an example: It Seemed Curious to Me that the Nipples, Wounds, and Skin Discolorations were So Fastidiously Detailed on this Wax Sculpture of a Pretty, Lithe, Young Man Being Tortured. No Other Male Figure at Musée Grévin was Sculpted with this Much Skill. I Thought About the Artist's Sexuality (Gay? Straight?). Can Fervid Attention to Nipples, Scratches, and Abrasions Be Attributed to Being French? If this Reflected French Torture, what Might German Torture Look Like? A Severed Penis; Swastikas Scratched into the Chest; the Word Hitler Tattooed in Tiny Letters on the Lower Lip; a Thick Metal Rod Inserted Where the Sun Don't Shine? I Do Know that Thousands of Young People Can Be Seen Everywhere, Tattooed and Pierced, Metal Bars, Plugs, Rings, and Amulets of Various Sizes Forced Through the Flesh of Eyebrows, Nose, Lips, Tongue, Penis, and Labia. Luckily, None of these Metal Adornments are Magnetized, or these Folk, when Floating on Cool Waters in Summer, Might be Drawn Along the Earth's Magnetic Fields, Heads Pointing North, Feet South, Perfectly Aligned and in Tune, Bobbing Experiments in Perverse Physics, Underscoring for All to See a Conformity to Retrograde Beliefs, Primitive Fashion, and Misguided Expression. This "Art" Is Promoted by Postmodern Nihilism, Itself Bred by L.B.J.'s Great Society. Even a Nazi Wouldn't Have Thought to Inflict Such Vile Stuff On a Jew's Body Before Herding One Off to a Freshly Dug Pit to Be Shot, Dusted with Lime, and Buried. Paris, France, June 10, 2008.
Set in a middle gray eight point type printed beneath an image on a 17" x 22" or 24" x 30" sheet, that text doesn't call attention to itself. However, if a text is noticed and read, I believe it enhances and changes the image in a unique way. The combination of picture and text is a parody of the propaganda that was known as "concerned photography," and most journalism.
Alan Dershowitz & Son
Holy moley. OK, do you have a favorite photo that you've shot? I've been asking everyone that and everyone says "no."
You're a professor at Buffalo State College--any shining pupils we should be looking out for? Or any that you don't like that you'd like to publicly chastise?
David Mitchell and Jake Rowland are two outstanding recent graduates who are both making fine pictures.
For more of Krims, check out this series of Polaroids we ran way back in '08.