This Week In Photography Books – Dash Snow

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was sitting on my porch the other day, chatting with a friend. He’s a wicked smart photographer, and has had a good bit of success, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. The ideas were flying rather quickly as we sat, rocking in our rocking chairs, killing black and red ants as they explored my territory. (They’re aggressive, and they bite, so they had it coming.)

He’d just returned from forty days roaming the hinterlands of Dick Cheney’s Wyoming, and was hungry for conversation, like a Jew who’s fasted after dropping a Torah. Mostly I listened, because he likes to talk. At some point, we reached the subject of artistic intent, which is guaranteed to rile up anyone/everyone.

My friend was an environmental activist for many years, and makes art for the noblest of intentions. He’s either trying to save the planet, or make us realize we’re all doomed. I haven’t decided yet. Regardless, he comes from a long line of artists who want to make the world a better place. The serious guys.

I mentioned that, though I occasionally vacillate, I mostly believe that no one reason for making art is inherently better than another. It’s the moral relativism argument, grafted onto an art conversation. He smiled, (or was it a smirk?) and said, sure, that’s the politically correct thing to say.

“But do you really believe that,” he asked?

I paused, and then said yes. I do. I’ve seen enough interesting art, over the years, that came from infantile experimentation, or anarchic rebellion, to believe that it’s not only the serious strivers who get to make the good stuff. Sometimes, great (or provocative) art can come from hedonistic, nihilistic nitwits, whether we like it or not.

This week’s book is a great example of the phenomenon. “I Love You, Stupid,” is a very thick book filled with Polaroid photographs (and video stills) taken by the now deceased art star Dash Snow. Before I say anything else, I’ll admit that the pictures you’ll see below will likely offend your better sensibilities. They’re meant to, and they succeed.

Mr. Snow was famous before he died, as he came from a line of very important people in the art world. (The de Menils.) I didn’t know this, nor had I seen his work while he was alive. I do remember him dying, but only because I must have heard third hand that some junkie art dude overdosed. That was the extent of my knowledge, though perhaps you know more than that.

The book contains a very well-written opening essay by Glenn O’Brien, of GQ and Andy Warhol circle fame. Great stuff, really. It will make you excited to make art, for sure, and also prejudice you towards liking the images that follow. He’s extremely persuasive, and also forthright in countering any rich-kid bias you might have. (Basically, he presents Mr. Snow as a 21st Century Shaman.)

Once you’re fired up and ready to go, you get to see countless photographs of all the bad stuff you’re not supposed to do. There is tons of sex, drugs, blood, semen, graffiti, partying, homelessness, vomit, and more sex. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every penis included in this book, I could…well…buy the book. Fortunately, all the bad behavior reeks of genuine effort. (Must be all the smack and coke.)

A little while back, I wrote about Mike Brodie’s book “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity,” and was a bit cynical about his intentions. Great project, but I could see his mind whirring as he realized how perfectly his photographs would deliver what people wanted. It wasn’t that he didn’t seem serious about his frisky lifestyle choice, (freight train hopping,) only that the concurrent calculation was also evident. This book obviates those concerns. This mayhem feels real, like it doesn’t care whether we’re there to look or not.

I’m not saying this art is brilliant. (It’s not.) Nor that you should like it. (You probably won’t.) But I’m pretty sure Dash Snow wasn’t trying to be bad. He just was. And darkness walks upon the Earth, whether we like it or not. So art that captures that essence is valuable. Every bit as valuable as the art that tries to improve upon our faulty existence on this spinning blue orb.

Bottom Line: A nihilistic, voyeuristic, bad boy thrill ride

To Purchase “I Love You, Stupid” Visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. Awright, I’ll bite… If I can stay awake through yet another presentation of “look at me I’m so bad” lifestyle celebration. It’s kinda like looking at picture after picture of people giving the finger. Wow, how original! It’s almost like their rebels or something!!! And, of course, it’s taken on Polaroid, the perfect anti-art Art statement. No, not trying too hard. Zzzzzzzzz…

  2. Really, you waste your time on this?

    Then you add hipster political BS to the mix, ‘days roaming the hinterlands of Dick Cheney’s Wyoming’? Was that feel good ‘art writer’ fodder for your knee? Jerk? Wyoming is an amazing state to photograph. (You might read “The Solace of Open Spaces” by Gretel Ehrlich sometime)

    Like I need one more ‘star’ party Polaroid book.

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    Bill G.
    Maryland, Home of Obama’s NSA
    (Gee, I sound trite and vindictive by ignoring the many good people of MD)

  3. If I recall correctly this was on Martin Parr’s books of the decade list. On the one hand there is perhaps a kind of nihilistic honesty and energy about it. On the other it seems the very definition of trust-fund hipster cynicism.

  4. I can’t believe that Dash Snow has had such a shelf life. This is not photography – it is a view into a privileged, nihilistic life through snapshots. If Snow had not been funded by his grandmother, and did not have his pedigree, would we even pay attention to him? If some poor junkie made the same work, would we care?

  5. I normally try to avoid offering up a public opinion on such controversial topics but, I think some are overlooking Jonathan’s statement which I believe sums it all up: “I’m not saying this art is brilliant. (It’s not.) Nor that you should like it. (You probably won’t.)”.

    The New York City art world is a complicated, mixed bag of what the omniscient hierarchy may deem brilliant in the context of a particular generation or culture. What may seem to be a pretentious effort of artistic expression today could possibly be essential in defining a culture in years to come. Fifty years ago, Andy Warhol was considered the “Carpetbagger” of the art world and Jackson Pollock years before that (imagine the nerve of a guy who would dare sling paint from a brush aimlessly onto a canvas).

    Historically, the art world always has to find and discover its newest savior – the more controversial the better – whose artistic expression best defines a generation and, a pedigree, if their fortunate enough to find the complete package, won’t hurt. I’m from Houston so; I grew up knowing the influential power of the de Menils dynasty (they literally built the prestigious Houston Museum of Fine Arts).

    I recall chatting with a couple of my old bohemian friends from our early days in New York’s East Village shortly after Dash Snow’s death, when one of them made this comment, “Polaroid…why didn’t we think of that back then’.

    • Maybe because it had already been done by countless others, including Warhol and Evans.

      Art world “savior,” or art world Richy Rich celebrity anomaly, slumming and drugging away the family fortune? Granted the guy was in pain like any piss poor junkie, and his art mediocre at best like that of many another artist wannabe without his inherited assets. I just have trouble feeling for a guy who stepped over the huddled masses on street corners in the dead of NY winters, so he could pass out in $325 hotel rooms.

  6. I always enjoy viewing a photobook of people shooting up and puking as I enjoy my morning coffee.

    Great way to start the day!

  7. scott Rex Ely

    There is a reason for making art?
    What if one prefers unreasonable art?

  8. “A little while back, I wrote about Mike Brodie’s book “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity,” and was a bit cynical about his intentions. Great project, but I could see his mind whirring as he realized how perfectly his photographs would deliver what people wanted. It wasn’t that he didn’t seem serious about his frisky lifestyle choice, (freight train hopping,) only that the concurrent calculation was also evident. This book obviates those concerns. This mayhem feels real, like it doesn’t care whether we’re there to look or not.”

    Or is Brodie maybe just a better photographer than Snow was? Snow lived in an environment full of artists so he surely was very aware of how and by whom his work was going to be seen. When looking at his pictures I don’t get the feeling like he doesn’t care, rather I feel like he probably thought that everything he does, no matter how shitty, is gold.
    I stumble upon Snow’s work every now and then and I never fail to be bored. Yes, there’s sex and drugs and all that but there’s never any real sense of danger (overdose notwithstanding). Snow and his friends are not outcasts, they’re the in-crowd. The cool kids. They’re acting out because they’re young and want to have a good time but nobody is going to stand in their way if they want to take that corporate job at their dad’s company once they hit 30.
    That’s what I prefer about Brodie’s work. Living as a hobo and stepping out of society takes real commitment and even if you take cool pictures, finding your way back into society might not be that easy.

  9. Grubernd has it right.

    Mr Snow’s output is utter drivel. Bored rich kid bs.