(Copyright 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)


The Importance of Being by Christopher Felver, Arena Editions (447pp.) $60    

(Photo by Myles Aronowitz)
(? Myles Aronowitz)

"There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough---there has to be vision and the two together can make a good photograph. It is difficult to describe this thin line where matter ends and mind begins."

---Robert Frank, 1962

Allen Ginsberg, Robert Frank's student, understood this and occasionally, in his photographs, more often in his poems, achieves his teacher's directive, especially in his photographs of his sometimes lover and always friend William S. Burroughs. Christopher Felver, a student of Ginsberg, Frank and others, in his newest book, The Importance of Being, reveals that he understands what Robert Frank teaches. Felver shows, in 421 soul filled images, that the student has become a Master.

In every aspect The Importance of Being is high art. Black and white and Blue from cover to cover the large book, an epic, is beautifully produced. It includes introductions by George Plimpton, Andrei Codrescu, Robert Creeley, Luc Sante, Jack Hirschman, an epigraph by Isamu Nogushi and the most illuminating interview with Felver to date. The 421 photographs are of leading cultural figures including Kathy Acker, Ansel Adams, Edward Albee, Mose Allison, Stephen Ambrose, David Amram, Laurie Anderson, Maya Angelou, John Ashbery, Margaret Atwood, Joan Baez, Dennis Banks, Russell Banks, Amiri Baraka, Peter Beard, Ann Beattie, Harry Belafonte, Saul Bellow, Daniel Berrigan, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Breslin, Douglas Brinkley, Charles Bukowski, Ken Burns, William S. Burroughs, John Cage, Cab Calloway, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, Noam Chomsky, Guy Clark, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Judy Collins, Francis Ford Coppola, Gregory Corso, Angela Davis, Willem de Kooning, Bo Diddley, Joan Didion, Jim Dine, Diane di Prima, E.L. Doctorow, Rita Dove, Robert Duncan, Marianne Faithfull, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Frank, Carlos Fuentes, John Kenneth Galbraith, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, Michael Graves, Dick Gregory, Robert Haas, Seamus Heaney, Richard Hell, Werner Herzog, David Hockney, Abbie Hoffman, Bob Holman, Dennis Hopper, Herbert Huncke, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Isherwood, Jim Jarmusch, Jasper Johns, Erica Jong, Donald Judd, William Kennedy, Ken Kesey, B.B. King, Maxine Hong Kingston, Galway Kinnell, Stanley Kunitz, William Kunstler, Timothy Leary, Fran Lebowitz, Doris Lessing, Denise Levertov, Philip Levine, Roy Lichtenstein, Taj Mahal, Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, Frank McCourt, George McGovern, Russell Means, W.S. Merwin, Arthur Miller, Czeslaw Milosz, Toni Morrison, Robert Motherwell, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Joyce Carol Oates, Odetta, Claes Oldenburg, Sharon Olds, Tillie Olsen, Michael Ondaatje, Grace Paley, Robert Pinsky, Roman Polanski, John Prine, Robert Rauschenberg, John Rechy, Ishmael Reed, Lou Reed, Adrienne Rich, Larry Rivers, Henry Rollins, Ned Rorem, Barney Rossett, Salman Rushdie, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Bobby Seale, Pete Seeger, Patti Smith, Gary Snyder, Susan Sontag, Terry Southern, Steven Spielberg, Gloria Steinem, Frank Stella, Oliver Stone, Tom Stoppard, Mark Strand, Sun Ra, Gay Telese, Cecil Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Studs Terkel, Hunter S. Thompson, Quincey Troupe, John Trudell, John Updike, Townes Van Zandt, Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Andrei Vosnesenky, Derek Walcott, Anne Waldman, Lina Wertmuller, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Robin Williams, Franco Zefferelli.

And that's to mention only 150 of the 421 phtographs which can't really be identified as portraits because each shot glimpses the heart and soul of the individual on the page. A warm glow flows from image to viewer. Felver has the genius artist ability to not only know all the details of light and lens he also has the old soul wisdom of one who recognizes and opens the soft heart. I have traveled with Chris in Europe and the USA. He recently stopped to visit here in Kentucky where he took photos of Brother Patrick Hart and me at Thomas Merton's grave at The Abbey of Gethsemani. A Ulyssean wanderer Chris is uncanny in every way. Work and play aren't in his vocabulary. He lives and breathes creative energy. He lives his dream. He is so subtle in his approach to his art as to nearly be invisible. It's as if the spring sun a spring breeze arrives. His subject relaxes and opens. A positive, harmless, even healing energy is present when Chris is creating. Suddenly it's over. He's done. No time has been lost. And although each and every image he creates is intimate no one feels that their privacy has been invaded. The humanity, the vision of the moment is captured in the work of art, the photograph. No need to describe the "thin line." It is gone. Matter and mind have merged, they are one.

Christopher Felver is indeed a Master. His photographs and documentary films have recently been featured in solo exhibitions at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris and Torino Fotographia Biennale Internzionale in Italy. He was a participant in the 53rd Venice International Film Festival. In 2000, a retrospective of his films was held at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and Donald Judd's Marfa Texas was screened at The Smithsonian. In 2002 Thunder's Mouth Press will release two new books by Christopher Felver: the first will be shots of Allen Ginsberg, the second will be photos of The New Rebels.

Ron Whitehead will read his poems in Katmandu, Nepal and on Mt. Everest in April and May for the UN's Poetry On The Peaks global event. David Amram will be his musical accompanist. When not traveling Ron lives in Kentucky. (Poetry On The Peaks then Mountains & Mt. Everest & His Holiness The Dalai Lama & Ron Whitehead)



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