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James Friedman got a BFA with Distinction in Photography at Ohio State, and
was chosen to participate in Toward A Whole Photography, an experimental graduate program directed by Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While studying for an M.A. in Photography from San Francisco State University, he worked as an assistant to Imogen Cunningham. Friedman’s work has been exhibited internationally and been published in numerous books and discussed in Artforum, Arts, Afterimage, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice and The New York Times.
Pleasures and Terrors of Kissing. No definite article in the title, in merging with another in the kiss our sense of self becomes intensified and blurred, deeply selfish and deeply alien.
Lips are the border of inside and outside, and in the latter part of the 20th Century ‘the kiss’ has been celebrated in photography as a public window on a private emotion – think of the couple in Robert Doisneau’s Kiss By The Hotel De Ville. Or Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image of the sailor kissing the woman in the white dress in Times Square on V-J Day. It’s the ultimate ‘anti-social’ image, not in the sense of being destructive, but an image of two people recoiling from the social world, into their world, whose pleasure and terror is not the exclusion of every other human being, it’s more profound than simply exclusion – in the pleasure of the kiss no one else exists (it’s said prostitutes don’t kiss with their mouth). And because kissing is done with eyes closed, it’s a feeling that is almost unrepresentable, that can’t be said, and only seen in the photograph.
Adam Phillips, psychoanalyst and author of books on human behaviour Adam Phillips suggests, picking up on Freud’s story, that the kiss is both a promise and the unraveling of the promise, as our desire always exceeds our love’s ability to satisfy this desire. Strangely it’s because kissing ultimately disappoints, we always return for more.
In the introduction to his project the Pleasures and Terrors of Kissing, James Friedman writes, “I do not remember any kissing between family members as I was growing up. It wasn’t until my mother was hospitalized for eight months, unable to speak, that we began to kiss good-bye before I would depart for the day after visiting her. These newly discovered displays of affection were imbued with genuine caring and profound sadness as we both know she had only a short time to live.” It was this relationship with his mother in her final months that prompted his photo project.
The thoroughness, the circumstances, the kissers are so diverse (people kissing/licking dogs) that the Pleasures and Terrors of Kissing feels like an encyclopedia or taxonomy of kissing, or the document created by an ethnographer – passionate, affectionate, oblivious. Shot in black and white enables the viewer to focus on the stillness of the kiss – the awkwardness of the bystander faced with this bubble in space hints at a little bit of social chaos injected by the public display of private passion (‘where to look?’).
How long did the project take, and how did you ‘find’ the kisses? Or where they staged?
I worked on the project for seven years.
How did you ‘find’ the kisses? Or where they staged?
I “found” some of the kissers but, early in the project, I realized that if I were to roam the earth for the rest of my life, it would be impossible for me to happen upon a sufficient number of public displays of affection with which to construct a substantive body of work. So, I asked friends and strangers to kiss for the series. I don’t think of the photographs as prototypically staged; I consider them to be street photography because once the kissing commenced, the subjects became engrossed in their experiences, they forgot about me and I became invisible.
Most surprising image of pleasure and terror?
The most surprising photograph in the series is #1302.
I placed the camera on a concrete walk way at ground level and did not look through the viewfinder to frame the picture. Surprising is the precise, serendipitous framing of the kisser wearing glasses with her hand on her partner’s shoulder as well as the inclusion of the onlooker’s inscrutable gaze.