I have been building up the vocabulary of emotions to write this since his Diane Arbus lecture, that moment in which my conscious recognized “American Photography Since the 1960s” as an instance for profound personal growth, and Professor Alexander Nemerov as the compass needle pointing north.
Without getting too deep into the specifics, for those you really ought to treat yourself to a lecture, Nemerov has crystallized many of my fledgling ideas within the expression of his own personal philosophy. Perhaps the most profound and representative example of this is the notion of American Chiaroscuro, a distinctly American glorification of pain as a far more creative and productive force than pleasure. This is the concept that in winning we lose, and in losing we gain profound understanding. And it’s not that Nemerov has come up with ideas such as this one, this particular notion belonging to Clement Greenberg, but he is the one who puts this thinker and his thoughts together as an explanation both of the literary moves of Herman Melville in his epic Moby Dick, and of the photographer Larry Clark in his groundbreaking photobook “Tulsa.” Nemerov has a way of sparking understanding through his pulling from the vastness of his knowledge and experience. He has a way of phrasing that is at once vastly complex yet highly palatable. It’s no wonder that the class is half-full of undergrads and DCI students; men and women return back to school for a taste of the world as Nemerov sees it. For when he explains the way he understands something one can’t help but agree and see it anew.
Prior to taking Nemerov’s course I was a student grasping in the dark, personally knowing how I felt but lacking the ability to put words to these beliefs. But then came Nemerov with his fantastically clear articulation and expression of thought, and suddenly my sails had wind, my beliefs body. And it was comforting and secure.
It is a continuation, an evolution of this feeling which gives me cause each Monday and Wednesday morning to anticipate just which American photographer will be a jumping-off point for meditations on how to live life and produce art.
Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.