I went to the last day of the Hunter S. Thompson photography exhibit today at M+B Fine Art in WeHo. Unlike the opening–which was so crowded you couldn’t turn around and so overfull with hipsters, Hollywood slummers, aging hippies and unhinged art freaks that there was no space to even step back to take in the artwork–well, today was positively sedate. Quiet. Pfft.
The photos were still there, though, as powerful as they’d been when I’d stared at them in that overfull room so full of heat and booze and flashbulbs several weeks ago.
There were the photos from exotic locales, the self-portrait with the busted eye, the pictures of the Hell’s Angels looking like nothing so much as the bunch of crazies that is my circle of friends, and the girls and the guns.
And then there was the one I hadn’t been able to tear myself from opening night.
I took a photo of it.
I don’t think I was supposed to, but I don’t care. I can’t afford M+B’s fucking $500 book. I can’t afford the art. I can’t afford their fucking zip code. All I have is a camera, and my memory, and this computer screen.
The photo is of his typewriter, paper carefully inserted, white and clear and waiting, as brilliant as the flare off the sun’s reflection on the sea off what I think was Big Sur, maybe Mexico. A writer’s habitat, a photo taken while he was working.
But wait. No writer works like that–table cleared, coffee mug precisely placed, pipe set just so. We work in disarray, surrounded by castoffs and totems and apple cores and other books and half-scribbled notes and calendars and piles of mail and plates that we ate lunch off of except now it’s five p.m.
Staring at it, in the silent center of a whirl of sound and color on opening night, I realized: Thompson set up the tableau. He carefully arranged each item, with great thought and precision, each piece considered for its rightness, each one absolutely necessary and not a thing more. The handle of the mug adjusted to frame just a bit of the table’s incandescent surface as the sun set.
The photo is a still life, a work of art, a love letter from Thompson to his muse, to his art, to his writing, to life. He stood there on that balcony, apprehending the perfection of the arrangement–lovely enough to make any writer’s heart burst–smiled to himself, maybe grunted with satisfaction–and took a photo of it. It is simultaneously a self-portrait and a photo of everything he loved most: truth, and beauty, and inspiration.
Thank you, Doctor.
“You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.”