The notorious godfather of performance art, drag culture, and “trash” as high-art, Jack Smith, the avant-garde’s jack-of-all-trades has been named checked by just about every contemporary art superstar you can think of. Pre-Warhol, pre-Waters, Jack Smith pioneered the transcendence of low-brow aesthetics. The established art world never payed Jack Smith his dues while he was alive, having passed away from AIDS-related causes in 1989. It has only been within the last few years that the camp auteur has exploded in art academia and is now recognized as part of the Anger-Kuchar-Jarman cannon. His legendary, still-controversial, sexually ambiguous, frenetic rape hallucination and tribute to Hollywood kitsch, Flaming Creatures (1962), was seized by police along withGenet’s Un Chant d’Amour and fought obscenity charges with the Supreme Court. With noted fans ranging from Susan Sontag to Matthew Barney, the measurement of Smith’s crucial contributions to the art world as we know it is impossible to gauge.
While mostly recognized for his cinematic exploits, Jack Smith was also a skilled photographer. Much of his photographs remain missing, but fortunately since the resurgence of Smith’s cultural value a few collections have emerged. First is a five panel photographic (or ‘Fotographic’) essay composed by Smith for Film Culture no. 35, Winter 1964-65. Film Culture was an experimental film magazine crafted by Adolfas and Jonas Mekas that ran for about 15 years. The sixth panel was included by Arte Barrato as it holds the same proportions and is estimated to be of the same era as the others.
THE MOLDY HELL OF MEN AND WOMEN,
Jack Smith, Fotographic Essay
Film Culture no. 35 (1964-65)
Just a couple years before this series came The Beautiful Book from Dead Language Press (Piero Heliczer), which was small book featuring 20 contact prints (2.25in square) from Jack Smith. The 20th contact print is a portrait of Jack by fellow pioneer Ken Jacobs, and predominately features artist and dancer Marian Zazeela who also designed the book’s cover.
Portrait of Jack Smith by Ken Jacobs:
For more fun, head over to Arte Barrato’s tumblelog for a visual dissection of Aubrey Beardsley’s influence on Jack Smith.