Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy | There Is No Chorus Without a Fire of Verses

An Intimate Encounter with Love's Eternal Flame in New Hardback, Via Issue 188, The Eternal Flame Issue!

Written by

Bree Castillo

Photographed by

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Styled by

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Hervé Guibert. “The Fiancé Iii” (1982). Collection Mep, Paris. © Christine Guibert, Courtesy Les Douches La Galerie.

You told me once that the ultimate form of passion is a love song. But I don’t write songs. So I played some on the radio to find out why and found nothing. I went through old CDs and spent nights watching people with stringy guitars sing atop sticky floors, and still, there was nothing. I searched and searched until the only thing left to listen to was the warbling finches outside your bedroom window as you slept. And then I heard it. The song. It was the sound of Sunday mornings entangled in bed, of hands finding each other in crowded places, of counting the moments until seeing you next. If love is a song, then maybe we are all humming the same tune of wanting connection, to be held and understood.

Hervé Guibert. “Santa Catarina” (1983). Collection Mep, Paris. © Christine Guibert, Courtesy Les Douches La Galerie.

This summer, The International Center of Photography explores the idiosyncratic languages between lovers with its new photo book, Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy. Co-published with D.A.P., the collection features over 250 works from 16 international artists that span from 1952 to 2022, and is accompanied by an exhibition at the ICP in New York. Following the history of photography through the lens of a lover, Love Songs is a look behind closed doors at the depth of love, a humble offering to quiet romance and all its forms and stages.

Clifford Prince King. “Conditions” (2018). © Clifford Prince King, Courtesy Stars, Los Angeles.

From first touches, childhood crushes, clandestine affairs, harmonious convergence, faded dreams and lingering feelings, to its tender final chapter, Love Songs is inspired by the canonical work of Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki, who have famously depicted the impulsive and complex eros of falling deeply. Featured in Love Songs is Araki’s Sentimental Journey (1971), in which the camera follows Yoko, his wife, from their honeymoon to her untimely death at the mere age of forty-two. Within the collective work is the longing to witness and revisit the intricacies, contradictions, and profound entanglements that love can bring.

Upon Love Songs’ completion, the limits of the lens are abandoned, while the enduring power of devotion lives onward. The photographs—some of fulfillment, others of yearning—document what it means to be breathing, to be overflowing with fervor and passion. Without these moments of tenderness, along with those of love’s absence, life is otherwise an empty landscape. And while love might not be as eternal as the song inspired by it, or the image that fossilizes it, what continuously burns is the innate search for connection—ever-present and always wanting.

See here, Sara Raza, the curator of Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy speak on the melody of love and what comes after.

Clifford Prince King. “Poster Boys” (2019). © Clifford Prince King, Courtesy Stars, Los Angeles.

How did you draw inspiration from the Paris staging of Love Songs while also bringing your own curatorial lens to the exhibition at ICP?

For the New York presentation of Love Songs, I applied my interests and curatorial methods that are rooted in subversive punk visual cultures from the 1970s and 80s, which are also pertinent to New York’s Lower East Side, where ICP is located. This approach relies on the montage technique to bring together disparate art and ideas, encompassing both high and low registers. I perceive this exhibition akin to a complex jigsaw puzzle that has given me the opportunity to reconsider other possibilities for presenting works layered with overt and covert symbolism related to love and intimacy. With the inclusion of five additional artists and bodies of work I was able to expand the exhibition and create an entirely new reading that was specific to New York, but also diverse in its approach.

Love Songs quite literally draws inspiration from music. Can you speak more to the playlist created to accompany the exhibition and your thoughts on how an exhibition can extend beyond a museum's walls?

The concept of the mixed tape is an allegory for the way the exhibition was curated both in Paris and in New York, and it is intended to be a gift to the audiences. The exhibition has its own soundtrack compiled by the artists featured in the show consisting of songs that are personal to them. This compilation provides another layer of intimacy that can be shared and gifted with the museum’s public.

The exhibition features work across a 70 year period. Do you feel there is something timeless and universal amongst artists in their portrayal of love?

The dual themes of love and intimacy upon which the exhibition is founded are both vertical and horizontal, and non-linear simultaneously. The artists certainly do challenge our perceptions of love and intimacy, and present works that are considerably decentralized. The exhibition is intended to be local, global, and digital, reflective of the art and technology of our time.

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