Adam Fuss

Notes d’après les entretiens de Mark Haworth-Booth avec Adam Fuss (1961) le 26 août 1998, disponibles à la British Library dans le cadre du projet « Oral History of British Photography » (références C459/ 103; F6559-F6562; 8 bandes)   



1ère bande (31:41)

Born 1961. As a teenager, photography as a bridge between sciences and art.

Fascination then with equipment as much as with images.

At 19, influence by John Williams while in Australia (using his camera in a very free way: flash in daylight, slow shutter speed, people moving, camera movement). His series: Details in deserted buildings (in US).


2ème bande (31:41)

Saw photo by Ellen Carey at the Fogg (painted spirals on the photo?).


3ème bande (31:41)

Urge to see Jackson Pollock at Pompidou (but not Man Ray, not interested)

1984: earned money as waiter, could do photos.

Knows Peter Schuyff.

Pinhole camera: told at school that you can take the best pictures in the world with a pinhole camera after offering as an excuse to the Art Master at school that his camera wasn’t very good.

Couldn’t pay for dye transfer prints so decided to show BW pictures from pinhole. Wide angle for sculptures in museum (poetry of mythological figures)

1st exhibition at Massimo Audielo Gallery: 20 pictures, sell to Terry Winters, Julian Schnabel.

Without knowing it, expose film through a hole in the camera, bits of cardboard fell on the film, like dust: photogram, very beautiful. I don’t need a camera anymore, I don’t need the outside world anymore, I can do things in the studio, in the dark, in my cave (it’s in the book)

Photograms on Cibachrome on purpose: talcum powder, cut-out pieces of cellophane in the negative carrier.


4ème bande (31:42)

Play around with materials.

Paper under water: ripples on the surface.

Lot of experimentation.

Exhibition with Mark Morisuo and the Starn twins at Massimo one year later.

Back to BW: water drops, then single drop. Impressed by scale of Starn twins.

Big scale photogram.

Does not like much contemporary art, but Blake, Pollock, pre-historic paintings, Tarkowski.

Talbot: photogenic drawings by moonlight.

Later, does stained glass pictures, like illuminated by moonlight.

Spirals with pinhole of light, pendulum with a torch; then with colour. Photo of light under the influence of gravity; mathematical formula for time. Like near death experience.  Shown at Robert Miller gallery in 1989; article in the Sunday Times. Several hours before pendulum stops; sitting in the dark.


5ème bande (31:34)

Souvenirs with the dealer Harry Lunn. 19th century photographs traded with him (night sky [black speckled with white, the Swan constellation], head of a cow). His baby picture (Invocation) in V&A collection: 3 weeks old, 1st time he was in water.

After the colour spirals [going back and redoing things], last show with Massimo Audiello (went bankrupt) show the Arks (single circle, some very black) [photogram is reality, recording things actual size, no distortion through filtration of glass, no enlargement or reduction or manipulation of light, just the record] and others: looking like black rectangles, in fact pictures of children 4 to 7 years old, on the border of perceptibility. John Cosmer has made dark pictures (gave me the idea, but mine darker), passport photos like, scratched out reflections in the eyes, then print very dark. Idea of the growth of a soul, perception inside oneself as in a dark space, like a child, needing nurturing, light, vulnerable, need careful attention to even perceive it; if you stare it disappears, you have to look away to see it. My best work. Here the viewer is not passive, like with most photographs, you have to do the work, you make the investment and it is very pleasurable.

The babies series (son of his dealer [Pieter Estersohn]): just a photogram. Again when the baby was one year old: do it in the water (movement, not nature morte). Then did a few more for a show (2nd show at Miller). Completely intuitive; then I talk about it, figure it out afterwards. My track: abusing my regular camera (multiple flash, turning it upside down), then pinhole, then no camera, it’s a logical progression into low tech, no tech, simplifying; for me not planned out, just intuitive, seemed right. Things happen accidentally, but in fact they are in a direction.

Image of a feeling, of a sensation rather than representation of baby in water.

It is not a scientific experiment; my focus is on the aesthetics of the picture [snake swimming to the water]; not just a record.


6ème bande (31:33)

After the babies, putting powder (idea from the dust pictures : material on paper) With the photogram the intimacy of the object is critical, incredible sharpness at 1 mm above surface, (but at 3 mm, very soft), powder is very intimate with the paper, water too.

My hand was removed, not my gesture : presenting (I shouldn’t say creating)  a picture whose form was universal, everyone has a relation to that form. If it had been my hand imitating the snake, not the same quality.

That quality of line, you find in Lascaux, in Pollock, some De Kooning late paintings (when he does not have a mind anymore).

So I let the snake crawl around: the paintbrush of nature. In powder, in water : life force : the snake wants to be free.

Making the Arks (circular images) and large scale multiple drops : it is tricky making perfect circles, frustrating, so I throw the bucket of water on paper (Disaster), with trigger in my mouth.

Photograms of plants then (flowers later)

Then rabbits’intestines pictures, Love series, and Details of Love: where the intestines of the two rabbits mix together. Idea of a picture with a quality of line that was figurative and one that was abstract (intestine). Started with a fish: shape of the fish and abstraction of the intestines lines.

Use a mammal instead of a fish (horse impractical, maybe if paper was big enough). Rabbits more practical, also symbolic: fertility symbol, lunar animal, Christ sacrifice, soft and vulnerable like a child. Blood and fat on paper: should I wash? wild psychedelic colours on paper: chemical reaction between blood and mucus, and Cibachrome, extraordinary vividness, appropriate to love. I was after the quality of line. Insides are out and mixed with someone else’s inside, blended together. Shown only Details, not the pictures with the rabbits in full : gallery objected (who wants to buy pictures of intestines ??). It was too pretty ! they sanitized it.

Guillaume Gallozzi (great dealer and friend)

Book with Andrew Roth (<> published by Arwirth) : photos of chrysalises by him and others. Plus photo of a zen monk/teacher, 90 years old (my first platinum print).


7ème bande (31:31)

Platinum print; admiration for Frederick Evans (spiral), who reprinted the Blake’s photos, but they are also Evans photos. Interest for photo as document of art, like printmaking. With platinum, light, glow in the print, as if radiating light, different from silver.

Working on continuation of My Ghost, last exhibition (in Sweden, last September), photograms of christening dresses and shadows of butterflies, rabbits, as projected by a candle (flickering light) : the two go together : dress = body without life, shadow = life without a body . With candle light, it’s like the image moves, vibrates, pulses.

Working now on:

  • Columns of lace, trimmings, fabrics: artistic rendering of DNA, column of weaving of forms. (lace is amazing in platinum; difficult to do large size platinum print)
  • Photograms of birds in flight, and butterflies.
  • Silhouette of a woman in a gesture of mourning (shadow, flash, paper is on the wall).

Talk back about stained glass: bombed church, moonlight; discovered process to transform  silver salts in metallic salts, like colour on a daguerreotype surface (show called Rememory at Robert Miller gallery): see yourself in the print (the areas without colour are mirrors), your image fills in the icon. It is a moment of self-reflection, realizing that you are living, one is remembering oneself while being in front of the icon.

I keep going back to my old work, I understand it better, try again.

Made a pinhole picture, 1st time in 15 years, but didn’t work: Mimbra bowl (900AD SW USA, for burials, always broken with a hole, depicting the bowl of the sky, mountains painted on the rim; the drawings have a great quality of line. How to photograph them? use the hole as a light source, bright light, needs further work. The bowl is like a pinhole camera in a way.

Big book last year, text by Eugenia Parry; lots of press.

My work is too self-conscious, Atget very different, he is not there manipulating things, very natural.


8ème bande (11:56)

The Met bought a water picture (chaos, water under pressure) at $45K (triptych). A baby photogram in front of the Degas show at the Met, radiating.

Spore prints, in Sussex: not photographs (except a few experiments), spores from mushrooms, microscopic, flow with the wind, but in a room with no wind, they fall to the floor, in the pattern of the gills on the underside of the mushroom, the mushrooms graph themselves by the deposition of the spores, which makes a print on the floor : abstract images, like my photograms recording natural forms. Also little larvae dropping down, crawling on the floor across the paper, trail among the spores, their mucus leaves a silver line on the paper, thousands of little trails of silver.

Connections with artists: Chris Bucklow, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller; interest in William Blake, nature. Chris joined later; the other two same approaches: cameraless, natural forms. It’s all English, even though I have been away for long time, I live in NYC, but the English countryside is my home. Beyond the objects, something less tangible.