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Thursday, 05 April 2018


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I still recall the first time I saw Nixon's early Brown Sisters photographs, decades ago. They were and are powerful, compelling work. This is a sad coda to his career.

I don't really see what the big deal is. This guy's thing -- his teaching thing -- was provocation, specifically sexual provocation. It was right out in the open, and not secret. It's understandable that some people were rankled, or made to feel uncomfortable by it, but that's the nature of provocation.

The head of the photography department at Ohio University when I was a student there wasn't provocative at all in his teaching style or topics. Nonetheless, he liked to insist on inviting himself into the darkroom with the undergraduate boys to help them load their film. After the film was loaded, his hands invariably found themselves wondering down your pants. It took considerable effort to fight him off. When I told our dorm RA about it, the RA said, "Who cares? He does that with everybody. Let him get his jollies."

There's a world of difference, in my view, between that kind of molestation of students by a "respectable" member of faculty, on the one hand, and the provocation apparently put forth in the open by Nicholas Nixon. The latter is honest if perhaps a bit strong.

I sometimes despair that people today are becoming too squeamish. There's really no place for that among serious students of art. Censuring strong provocation in university professors might make them go away, but predatory pervs like my old OU professor will always be there, lurking in the dark.

I seriously can't understand some of these guys.

He was (past tense!) one of my heroes. I suppose given the up close and personal nature of a lot of his photos of people that are in his various publications that he might venture to bits and pieces other than eyes and ears. Never did imagine he'd abuse his teaching privileges. Always liked best his New Topographics work and other landscapes, anyway.
I'm guessing Edward Weston would never be able to get a teaching position these days...

Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto Psychology Professor, refuses to use genderless pronouns if asked to do so by a student.

Professor Peterson claims that it infringes on his academic freedom. However, under Ontario human rights law, like that in other provinces, ignoring such a request is a form of gender discrimination.

Newspaper article is here.

A constant theme that runs through the descriptions of Mr. Nixon's transgressions is that so many of his students and fellow faculty members looked what he did as being "edgy." It just goes to show that if you are constantly running up to the edge, it's only a matter of time until you fall into the abyss.

"In fairness to Nick, no students brought complaints against him."

I don't think this comment is really appropriate. In situations like this it is uncommon for victims to make complaints due to a belief that they are over-reacting, not perceiving the situation realistically, or they feel that no-one will do anything.

What Nixon did was an abuse of his position. There is no excuse for it. His past work does not make up for it. His stature as a photographer and instructor does not make up for it. His skill with large-format photography does not make up for it.

There are many great photographers in the world who do not and have not abused their positions. We should not mourn the fact that Nixon was found to be abusive. We should absolutely condemn him and anyone else who might consider using their social stature to bully, intimidate, or put other people in compromising situations.

Nicholas Nixon does not belong in a school setting, but does a "fall from grace" mean we should disregard or worse, degrade his artistic accomplishments? Is he still not a leading light of American art photography?

PS I'm not arguing your point, only wondering how we should now regard his genuinely great work. The question is valid if we understand ourselves to be imperfect.

Not to name names, but notable careers are being ended left and right at Mass Art

Nick Nixon, when interviewed on the matter said, "I am not a crook".

Back to you in the studio, Mike!

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, was a 1960s lifestyle. The popular movie Blow Up (1966) was about a commercial photographer who was living it. Now jump forward to the today of #MeToo. In the 52 years that have past, a lot has changed.

The movies Deep Throat (1972) had long lines of non-pervs waiting to see it. A joke of the day was that President Nixon had seen Deep Throat seven times, but never could get it down pat. The Joy of Sex was an illustrated sex manual by British author Alex Comfort. It spent eleven weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and more than 70 weeks in the top five (1972–1974).

What Nick Nixon is accused of would not have been out-of-place when he started at MassArt in 1975. Later in his career, when some of his actions could have been seen as inappropriate, new students all knew about his teaching style. According to the article no student ever made a complaint against Nixon. It looks to me as if the Globe is on a witch-hunt, in a desperate bid to again become relevant.

Nick Nixon, like many hidebound old-men, could not adjust to changing times. But the pendulum swings both ways. In another 20-30 years NOT telling a woman she has a nice ass, will be seen as an insult.

It is sad, very sad, but there is not much flesh on the story here. Sometimes this behavior is organic (medically speaking), sometimes it's tone-deafness and sometimes much worse. But in our current hysteria many ignore these distinctions.

I was and am a great admirer of his work. I had one interaction with him by email that was fairly weird and vaguely sexual but maybe appropriate "If you are asking, I would say that your pictures need more surprise, more risk and more danger. More dick and heart, less head... " [oddly enough I think that would work as a stock phrase you could use on approx 1/3 of all photographers...and I think my pictures at the time had a fair amount of heart. I read the article and absolutely agree that his behavior was inexcusable and disgusting.

And yet I'm left still being an admirer of his work. He had a small exhibit at the MFA in Boston and I remember this photo he took of an eyeball that was technically stunning as well as emotionally gripping and just beautiful. It remains so.

I'm ok with that dichotomy and still trying to find a good place to be with it. Art to me, at its best, is more than just about the artist who created it. I don't think you need to romanticize the artist and his or her bad behavior, but by the same token, I don't think you need to dismiss the art made by someone with major or extreme personality flaws.

Additionally I think there's an interesting contrast with how we view contemporary artists vs artists from the near or distant past. Jimmy Page as just one example dated a 14 year old girl while being a rock star. He walks among us as a respected rock god.

I wonder if someone could prove that Bach had been some sort of deviant (in truth we know not all that much about him), would his music mean less to me than it does now.

Anyway, shortly: Nick Nixon: acted repulsively/eyeball picture: remains pretty amazing

Or you could get it directly from Bill himself via http://portfolios.williamneill.com/p/william-neill-phot

Let's not forget the controversy surrounding Jock Sturges, those interested can google it up. I was even aware of an art teacher in the 90's where I was living, that wanted his students to photograph themselves nude as an "exercise". Is art school a great place for hidden "leches"?

You are at the mercy of the times you live in. As a person who has managed large groups of media people, even I'm amazed my how the most innocent thing is taken in the worst possible way by many millennials. Sometimes it seems like a way to halt the work and create controversy because they just don't like the work or the management.

I never asked anyone to look at a picture of my penis tho...

I gave my mother "The Brown Sisters Forty Years" when it came out and she absolutely loves it. I forward the new yearly portraits to her when available.

We've talked about when the project will eventually end and why, because so many ingredients need to come together each year for a project like this to remain fruitful. I think that project is probably finished now, but not for any of the reasons Mom and I discussed.

I am not sure that 'sad' is the right description of this. If what the article describes is correct then this should be a cause for joy, not sadness: another person who has been consciously taking advantage of his position of power over much younger and (I assume) mostly female students has been stopped from further abuse. That's a good thing.

The only thing that may be sad is that it may now become hard to say you (by which I mean 'I') appreciate the photographs he took. That's a really complicated question I think: am I allowed still to like 'Baby Driver'? I don't know. But dealing with another powerful man abusing people? That's not sad.

(Note: I'm male.)

I spent 21 years in the Boston area. On occasion, when I was in my 20s, I'd meet up with photo students (friends) at the college. I liked checking out their work. Nicholas Nixon often came up in conversation. I envied them for having access to him.

I've been a fan of Nixon from the time I first saw his work in the 80s. His AIDs series changed my way of seeing the disease and its devastating impact on those who were sick and their friends and families. I remember how society ostracized those who were stricken. For me, that series is a perfect embodiment of art, journalism, and social commentary.

When I first read of Nixon's transgressions, my gut churned, and a palpable sadness engulfed me. I'm angry. Although I still love much of his work, I detest him for his actions as an educator. He crossed a line--by miles and miles.

I'm curious to know at what point his judgment slipped. Maybe he succumbed to early onset dementia. I don't know.

As a former adjunct professor, I know young college students are especially vulnerable. They're transitioning from childhood to adulthood. To what extent his transgressions have impacted the emotional, intellectual, and self-esteem of his students will, over time, unfold.

What now? Will he be indicted for his abhorrent behavior? Will he be evaluated and possibly committed to a psych facility? Or will his lawyer manage to get him off the hook. ... I hope the DA goes after him with a vengeance and that his former students are helped, whether it be financial compensation and/or counselling.

My heart goes out to his students.

Hi Mike, in case you don't know, the sexual harassment issue has been going on for a while involving many renowned scientists in diverse disciplines. Here is one recent case: https://www.nature.com/news/scientists-sexual-harassment-case-sparks-protests-at-university-of-rochester-1.22620. I don't have any sympathy for the perpetrators, no matter how great they are as scientists.

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