This is a large book, beautifully printed on good paper that presents a overview of Twombly’s photography over fifty years, with a gap between the mid-1950’s through 70’s.
The essay doesn’t offer much detailed information about Twombly’s photography, editing or printing process, but the publisher says the photos (you can buy one with a limited edition copy of the book) are “printed on matte paper using a dry-print process that imbues them with velvet and almost grainy hue.”
Some photos feel like studies, with multiple views of a single subject or scene. And many of the photos are interiors from the studio, including in-progress paintings.
But there are also a few from a Wal-Mart (there’s a fictional tumblr placing Cormac McCarthy at the Apple Store, but this is really Cy Twombly wandering the aisles of a Wal-Mart with a Polaroid), the Boston skyline, and Sally Mann’s studio. One of these is used for the back cover of the book, Twombly sticking his camera inside the bellows of what looks to be one of Mann’s old 8x10 cameras. These feel a bit like a daily journal, or “Cy’s 365” project.
The earliest works are square and black and white, so we can presume Twombly used a Rolleiflex or similar camera. There is the large gap in time (after the mid-50’s) with no photos. It seems Twombly then discovered the Polaroid. The later works are in color, mostly square (with a handful of rectangles).
The early black and white photographs are incredible glimpses into his studio on Fulton Street in 1954. They show the graffiti-like scrawl he become known for, on every (dark) surface. This feels like a not-yet refined version of one of his most famous series - the grey “chalkboard” paintings of 15 years later.
The patina of Twombly’s sculpture and paintings has always been difficult to capture in photographs. It’s his Pompeii dust, making the art difficult to place in time. The connection with Sally Mann is interesting, as she also is a master of patina (the drips of chemicals on glass plates, the swamps, the South). In photography the Twombly patina is expressed in desaturation, very soft focus, the faded look of expired film.
The scale of Twombly’s paintings are so vast - both in size and what they are representing (the seasons, the battle of Lepanto, Achilles’ rage). But usually there’s an entry point, at waist-level, a smudge of paint with some dirt or hair from the studio, a small shape or scrawl of a word. Many of these photographs can be taken to be just one of the smudges of color, one piece of collage material, debris from the studio that makes its way into the art itself. Light and color poking through the volcanic ash of instant photography.
On first look these very out of focus photographs feel unspecific, yet he seems to be trying to get one specific thing in each, and nothing else - the color of a lemon, form of shadow in the petals of the flower, or the horizon at the edge of the Mediterranean.