WES: Time and pay? I don’t know. It is not a new problem. How long did it take Joyce to do Ulysses? Finnegan’s Wake? And what were his returns? I could never be rested within myself without doing this.
Interviewer: What if nobody sees it?
WES: The goal is the work itself, and with any real finality, the artist is never sure if he is or isn’t finished.
Excerpt from Smith’s interview with Philippe Haussmann regarding the Pittsburgh Project, 1957.
In life, Smith never completed his project and only printed and published selected images. The work was edited by Sam Stephenson and published posthumously in 2001 as Dream Street. I love Dream Street and that more of these images can now be seen, but knowing how difficult and personal editing and sequencing is for the photographer, I feel, with no disrespect to Stephenson, that Smith’s essay as he envisioned it died with him.
Other Streets is my Pittsburgh Project. Like Smith, for many years and for many reasons, I was not able to finish it. Perhaps, as Smith notes, it was because I was unsure if it was or was not or even is now or ever will be truly finished. And yes, I too expect no financial return. I too did this to rest something within myself.
I have many photographic influences in my work, but for inspiration for what a great photobook looks like in terms of editing and sequencing, I returned again and again to Robert Frank’s The Americans. I never got to meet him in person, but I felt a loss when I heard the news that he had died. In addition to his work which continued to evolve after The Americans, I also loved his dedication to pursuing his work on his own terms. In one of the recent essays I read about him, I was surprised to find out that he got rejected by Magnum. That factoid is another reminder that we don’t need validation from the establishment to succeed. RIP.
Portrait by Allen Ginsberg at Christie’s, taken after yesterday’s Aperture talk on the state of the photobook.
Mark F. Erickson is the author of the photobook Other Streets: Scenes from a Life in Vietnam not Lived.