Angus McBean – Christmas card for and of his partner, David Ball.
I’ve been researching Angus online and a certain sniffy dismissive article on the biography of Angus McBean by Andrew Graham-Dixon made me angry…even using the fey word, ‘cheerfully silly’ and ‘not..a great photographer’.
I suspect this is, homosexuality aside, because a) he dared work with those weird theatrical types, b) Humour Does Not Belong In Photography, as Zappa didn’t say – using humour, satire, surreal juxtaposition and staged compositions is rarely admired as art by the ‘serious’ critic (see Hollywood and the Oscars and many internimable art films) c) his quite experimental side is ignored or dismissed as ‘gimmickry.
What I would say in defence is look at the above image – doesn’t it belong more on a record cover circa 1983 rather than 1953? It’s obvious that when he got his first proper retrospective in ’82 his work had an influence…His photo compositions are technically perfect and brilliant, but have a dry surreal humour to them, and his own work was always pushing boundaries…not ‘cheerfully silly’ Christmas cards, although they could be…but demonstrations of technique and artistry.
Sure some of his theatre work – his bread and butter – isn’t to my taste, very stagey of the period…but that’s not all of his work…love the quaint idea that somehow you’re supposed to create art without a day job – as a jobbing photographer you also have to pay the bills too.
And I see nothing ‘generous’ to a subject in covering them in clay, making them look as if they head is cut off, making them look like puppets, or photographing Quentin Crisp as if he was a female starlet…I think that’s amazingly radical for the 1930s-50s actually.
And I hate the idea that somehow funny or whimsical imagery doesn’t mean it’s serious art, or have serious intention, and thus can be discounted…for that would discount many artists such as Peter Blake who loves found art and a silly visual joke as the best of them.