Oh Death – at 27

I just saw a post on the NY Times about 27 year old artist named, Dash Snow, dying of an overdose. One commenter mentioned that a dash of snow does a lot of damage to the body- and another praised his polaroids. Both commenters were dead on.

I had never seen his work, nor heard of him- partly because as a father who rarely leaves the house I just don’t know what’s going on anymore. 15 years ago I probably would have- and in some ways I miss that connection to the world- and in some ways I don’t. All right- I do- but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It really was a transcendent group of photos, and I don’t think I viewed them that way because of his death. Frankly I pretty much forgot about that and just looked at the photos. It would be an oversimplification to lump his work in with other youthfully “transgressive” photographers like Terry Richardson or Ryan Mcginley. (I just ended up reading the big New York mag article that cemented Mr. Snow’s fame- and it seems he’s a subject of a lot of Mr. Mcginley’s work) There are a bunch of images of young people naked playing around with each other and with drugs. I think that the reason that a lot of images like this have powererfulness is because they aren’t exploitative but instead somehow empowering. Instead of an outsider documenting a social group, the group is documenting itself in a way. At the same time, the very fact of that documentation becomes in some ways an instigation device in itself. Is the artist and his/her friends taking drugs in order to take pictures or taking pictures in order to take drugs/ because of the drugs.

Some of the ones I saw were simply exuberantly juvenile(warning: nakedness and drugs)– images seemingly egged on by – and staged for the camera.

Others, however, were much more politically charged. It was these images that transcend the adrenaline fueled emptiness of the more raucous sex and drugs images. I guess for me it’s the one-upsmanship of this latter work that gets old- as I get older. When I was 21, I might have been impressed by the idea that these were bad kids doing bad things which look like a lot of fun. At some point though the empty posturing of this kind of bart simpsonesque (jumping on the couch yelling pay attention to me) art just depresses me- especially now that I have kids. On some level there’s a connection between this kind of work and the world of music as subculture- both of which have an uncomfortable relationship with money and marketing- the work thumbs it’s nose at the culture at large- but doing so in such a way that the transgression is in itself marketing. the moral/cultural/emotional complexities of which make me want to be a farmer.

Which brings the subject back to the subject at hand. As I look at work that celebrates the traditionally uncelebrateable I think again about how we all go through stages in our lives. At 40 we aren’t who we were at 20… fully… yet we still have a lot of who we were within us. How then do we transition from uncontrolled hedonist to loving parent- or adult that anyone can count on or trust. Is it even possible? I guess that’s what kind of bums me out about work like this. There’s something exciting about this kind of behavior at 20 that’s incredibly depressing at 40…or 45.

Perhaps I’m just projecting my own middle class values onto work that isn’t about that- yet it is– it’s about challenging those values.

In the end though, how does the hedonist stay happy?

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