I first met Allan in 1974. I constructed small black bases that he needed for a photography project. After, he invited me to visit his photo studio, which turned out to be a small studio apartment, 28L, in the Churchill at 40th St. Allan at that time was working in macro photography so space was not an issue. Still the entire space was filled with materials, sculptures, props and equipment. I was amazed. Allan then proceeded to show me some slides of his current project; close-ups of paint squeezings. He explained that since it was so easy for photographers to depict reality, it was incumbent for photographers to explore abstraction. In that meeting I also viewed slides of his light bulb series, based on a sculpture with numerous electrical sockets to affix different size light bulbs, which also rotated to introduce motion and blur into his photos. After that day I was never the same. I viewed photography from a different perspective although my heart was still attached to documentary photography. Over the years, I learned a lot about the technical and aesthetic sides of photography from Allan. More importantly, Allan and his photographic quest was extremely influential for me in understanding an artistic mode of inquiry rather than the usual commercial mode.
Allan sought out ideas, gestures, moments and concepts to explore in photography. When the computer came along he was an early adapter, utilizing the scanner as a camera and the facility of the computer in creating photo collages, layerings and other manipulations. Allan was never interested in showing his photos within a gallery construct. The search for meaning, association and relationship was much more important. He almost deliberately chose not to finalize many of his ideas and projects but rather always played with a seemingly limitless wellspring of ideas to explore. While some were not so successful other were exquisite and provocative, which for me became a personal pleasure every time I came over to view his prints.
For many years I urged Allan to publish a book of his photography and ideas. He consistently remained adamant preferring not to do so. Finally after repeated pleas, he consented to allow a presentation of a selection of his photos on the web. His personal photo archivist, Elizabeth Hansen, who organized his photography into a database, also participated by making her own selection of favorite photos. The web site presents both our selections with some overlap. I chose 236 selections and Elizabeth chose 221 selections out of 7500 photographs. We concurred in 40 choices. For the cursory viewer, we also presented a smaller selection as a "Favorites" portfolio. We also chose to give some keywords of categorization from the AC Photo database, providing some indication of the ideas behind the photography. Although this website is "unauthorized" meaning that it is our personal view of Allan's imagery without Allan's participation or selection, I believe we have presented a very concise and coherent view of both his ideas and photography.
I first met Allan Chasanoff in 1995 when I was a student at the School of Visual Arts in the MFA Photography and Related Media program chaired by Charles Traub. Charlie and Allan were good friends who shared a common passion for examining photography's significance as a technological and artistic tool and particularly for deconstructing its myths (though their motivations for doing so differed.) I was invited to undertake an independent study project fleshing out their shared interest in exploring a question of originality in photography. To complete my mission, I was given liberal access to Allan's extensive library of photography books; which at that time included more than 2000 titles.
My initial contacts with Allan were limited, but I recall that they were always fascinating. He was warm, gentle, and lively in conversation. He spoke animatedly of his interest in the way that the human brain connects things: why he might for example see in a hand gesture a concrete reference to Andre Kertesz's photograph known as the Satiric Dancer
. Or more largely stated, how our personal histories and idiosyncrasies come to inform and overpower the banal onslaught of imagery (not to mention other media) we encounter on a daily basis. In passing, he mentioned his photography collection. He talked about photographers that I'd never heard of and described them as having done already what contemporary photographers were doing now and claiming as "new." He introduced me to a project that was then absorbing his thoughts: a scene-by-scene dissection of Robert Altman's film, Nashville
. There was no intended audience for this pursuit. He was doing this only because the film enthralled him and he wanted to understand it better. I found this thrilling. I don't even think that I knew at the time that Allan was also a photographer.
Seven years later in the summer of 2002, after a brief stint helping Allan and Raymon amass the world's largest collection of Amazing Grace recordings (now housed in the Library of Congress), I began helping Allan organize, categorize, and archive his own vast body of photographic work.
From 2002-2008, I worked for Allan Chasanoff as a photo archivist creating and maintaining a database that catalogs and categorizes a portion of Allan's photographic work. It is not an exhaustive archive, but rather a representative selection of Allan's much larger photographic effort. As of September 2008, it consisted of approximately 7500 images representing an estimated 10-20 percent of Allan's total photographic output.
Before being included in the database, images went through a multi-step editing process. In the first round, Allan edited his photographs and made prints of those that interested him. Next, I reviewed Allan's edited selections to familiarize myself with the new photographs and to note initial reactions including connections with and distinctions from previously made photographs. Then, Allan and I reviewed the photographs together discussing the back story and/or motivation behind the images, talking about his particular favorites and what made them so, and conferring on how a particular image might relate to others that he had taken before or to other images with which he was familiar. Having gleaned as much information from Allan that he and I had patience for, I then re-reviewed the photographs one last time and made final selections representative of his interests, habits, and particular likes (filtered of course through my own biases.) When I made my selections for this website, I tried to follow a similar protocol, keeping in mind Allan's favorites and trying to select a representative grouping of images.
Narrowing down an already enormously whittled down collection of photographs was no easy task and I did not take it lightly. I wanted to make a selection of Allan's photography that would convey the essence of his photographic work. My choices represent this effort. In the end when I look at the photographs chosen, I can't help but find them a bit barren. While the grouping still contains many classically Allan Chasanoff
images, I miss the absent ones that bolster and enrich those present. Allan's photography for me is more than the sum of individual images; the individual pictures are elements of a rich process, the artifacts of the particular workings of a particular human being looking out at the world in a particular way. I hope that the images presented here give some indication of the breadth and depth of this particular photographer's vision.