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For Joel, Trisha and all the Remarkable Women

The Summer months are usually my downtime, when I catch up on any project that I put on the backburner while teaching. This Summer has been action packed so far. I finished with Spring courses in May and gave a lecture at the Disability and Philosophy Conference at UNC Asheville. I was energized by the scholars and diverse presentations in the short and intense, three-day weekend. I returned to Durham and began teaching my one Summer course, Representing Women, that was six weeks long and flew by. I also had several writing projects this year that needed more attention. I wrote a review of the documentary film, Who Am I To Stop It (Cheryl Green, Cynthia Lopez, dirs., 2016), and loved presenting on it at the conference. In a later blog, I will discuss this film and its possible screening in North Carolina, once plans materialize. I have already reached out to people whom I thought would be interested, including Trisha Ziff, the film director I met when I posed for Joel-Peter Witkin in 2015. She wrote me back that her film, Witkin & Witkin (Trisha Ziff, dir. 2017), a documentary about Joel and his twin brother, painter Jerome Witkin, was screening at a documentary film festival in Washington DC and asked if I wanted to come. She confirmed that I was in the film, modeling for the photograph and discussing with Joel why he asked me to pose for it. (See . . . on my website). I told Paul and we immediately started planning. Every experience that involves Joel has proved dramatic, exhilarating and fruitful for me. This event was no exception.

To learn more information about Witkin & Witkinsee.

To view the trailer.

The film made its eastern US premiere at The American Film Institute’s 2018 annual documentary festival June 13 – 17. See: We got last minute reservations at the festival’s primary hotel, The Kimpton Hotel Monaco, a historical landmark. The building and its rooms are quite elegant, but it does not have a modern elevator into it from the street, such that a valet had to show us to and operate a freight lift for us to enter and exit. This was a very hospitable service however Paul and I generally like to come and go as we please without seeking assistance. We arrived around 3 PM or so on Friday June 15 after battling DC traffic for about an hour. We wanted to explore the area for activities and places to eat.

The hotel was across the street from the National Portrait Gallery. See

and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

I had every intension of visiting these venues on Saturday before the Witkin & Witkin screening at 4 PM at the National Gallery of Art.

When we exited the hotel that Friday afternoon, Paul carried me down the front steps, a method that was faster than the lift but not good for his back and not something that we wanted to do in front of an audience, since usually people offer advice or help in the process. We walked around the busy intersections surrounding the hotel, scoped out the museums nearby, found a restaurant, ate, returned to the hotel and sat in the lobby for a bit because it was time for the daily happy hour. Susan Rosenberg, a collector and patron of Joel’s work, as well as his friend, introduced herself to me as she checked in to the hotel. Paul and I returned to our room for the evening, and I heard from Trisha, who was still traveling from Mexico but asked if we could meet for breakfast.

Apple Painting with Ann’s Hand for Trisha, June 2018: Acrylic on canvas, 6 x 6 in., 2018

Paul and I got a table in the hotel restaurant the next morning and ordered delicious breakfast food. I spotted Trisha entering and talking with a couple who was dining at another table. She found us, we hugged, and she gave me an AFI film festival badge that I was to wear to any festival events. On it, I was designated as a FILMMAKER, and I liked that. I gave her a card I made with a printed, color image of a painting of an apple with my right hand in the lower, right-hand corner. The print was blurry and Trisha appreciated it, especially what I wrote to her inside. Trisha was busy that day with details, including coordinating transportation for us to the screening. Joel wandered in next, sat and talked with us. He was wearing the same polka dotted glasses that I saw him wearing in the film trailer I watched online, which made me smile. He liked his card, too, that had a painting of a tropical flower and my right hand. Images of these two paintings are below. Joel and Trisha talked mainly while Paul and I ate, as they had not seen each other in a month.

Flower with Ann’s Hand for Joel, June 2018: Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 8 in., 2018

After breakfast, Paul and I prepared to leave the hotel, and I just scooted down most of the steps myself from a less conspicuous side door. We discovered that the museums did not open until 11:30 AM, so Paul pushed me to see all kinds of sites. In front of the Federal Reserve Building, we watched the filming of Wonder Woman II. The crowd was dense, but we squeezed in to see the set, vintage cars and a smoke/fog machine that was operating. We didn’t know how long to wait for more action and confirmed that other viewers had been there for hours, so we proceeded down the street. We scoped out the location of the National Gallery, took a picture in front of the Capital Building, cruised down the National Mall and arrived at the National Portrait Gallery, where Paul took the shot of me below, posing with Michelle Obama’s portrait by artist Amy Sherald. I had toured DC on a rushed middle school bus tour years ago and remember little of it. Paul had never been to DC, so it was great that we could take in so much in a few hours. I crawled up the stairs back into the hotel as several people in a passing tour bus watched. Paul and I were amused to become one of the sights/sites to see.

Trisha had instructed us to meet for the car that was picking us up around 3. When we got to the lobby Joel was there and chatted with us. He was friendly and seemed confused about the plans. He connected with Susan via his new watch, confirming she was on her way. When I inquired about what he had been up to, he said, smiling, that he had been traveling so much, he couldn’t remember where he had been. He then said that he assumed I had “heard about Barbara,” referring to the recent death of his wife, and that he would “never get over it.” I just said quietly, “Of course not.” I would learn more details about this loss while viewing the film. Joel, Susan, Paul and I gathered in the car and Joel made some funny comments on the ride to the National Gallery. It was nice to talk more with Susan in the backseat. When we got to auditorium where the film was screening, there was discussion of where I would sit, as stairs lined each side of the descending rows of seats. Trisha said earlier that she would like me to come on stage with them after the film, so I made an executive decision to get down from the wheelchair and crawl down the soft carpeted stairs to a row where Paul and I could sit closer to the screen. Awaiting the beginning of the film, I had to resist watching people coming in, as I was curious about who would be viewing it.

I learned a lot about Joel and his brother from the film and was impressed with both of their artworks. They were raised primarily by strong women and share history, yet their artwork has developed more individually. Jerome is a painter of primarily large scale and detailed compositions. I especially appreciated the vivid and passionate anecdotes he and Joel shared separately in the film that were intense and engaged multiple senses. Joel talked about how his wife was on Hospice care at their ranch at the end of her life, where he served as her primary caregiver. Through tears he said it was the most intense time of his life.

After the screening, Trisha, Joel, Susan and I gathered on the stage to field questions. The first few inquiries seemed interrogative, as a few people asked Joel and Trisha about what they would have done differently in their past work and what they planned to work on next. Trisha made a comment that stood out for me when she articulated that she wanted to foreground in the film the strong roles of women in the artists’ lives and works. Trisha also emphasized that, although many scenes were shot in North America, all the labor and production took place in Mexico. Her response to my email inquiry about her statement is below. Other audience members tried to compare, contrast and ultimately cast Jerome and Joel in competition, a dynamic the film specifically resists. The film humanizes both Witkin brothers, contradicting especially Joel’s persona as a kind of evil genius, or careless exploiter of his models. I was annoyed because I wanted to say that we should focus on this work, this film, that the audience just viewed. But I was not going to interrupt Trisha nor Joel.

Hi Ann

The date is October 2017.

The film was produced in Mexico, about 2 Americans, all th crew were Mexican, I spoke about how when it comes to culture Mexico looks north . . . without borders . . . and for Mexico to make this film was quite extraordinary.

Enjoy resting . . .

love, Trisha

email correspondence 7.6.18

Then a smiling man in the audience was called on and said that he had to ask the model, i.e. me, what it felt like to be on screen in the National Gallery and in Joel’s photograph. I should mention here that I spoke in the film while topless, yet covered with white body paint, and was shown modeling, completely nude. There was a lot of me to see on the screen, although I was one relatively small character in a series of lavish stage productions throughout the film. I smiled back and responded that I am an art historian and was writing about the representation of disabled and disfigured (“my words” I clarified) in Joel’s work and felt that I had to model for him myself, which I pursued and did in 2007. I said I was excited when I posed again in 2015, upon invitation by Joel, when the documentary film was shot. I then stated that Joel knows a lot about art history, that we exchanged images, and that I always enjoyed working with him and now, with Trisha. Several audience members nodded in acknowledgement. Joel’s work gets a bad rap in art history and criticism, with which I contend in my first book (2010), specifically in a chapter titled “Performing Amputation.” I was proud to be on stage to speak about my perspective this June 2018. Following the screening, a friendly young woman, walking with a cane and some sort of leg brace said to me, “You are a remarkable woman.” I was so honored, thanked her and we chatted in the elevator.

During the Q&A, in response to his future plans, Joel said something about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, in an anecdote that I couldn’t completely understand. I thought about how, when he talked about not recalling where he had been and what he had done on his travels, he sounded as if he no connection to his exeriences. His dismissal of what he couldn’t remember seemed more poignant than absent-mindedness, as if such events had completely escaped him. An email from Trisha arrived after we were home, stating that Joel had changed even in the month since she last saw him, and that on Sunday, he had no recollection of the film screening nor any of the questions from the day before. She also wrote that she really appreciated what I said about working with her and with Joel and that he would not make any more photographs. I was sad, touched and glad that I had the chance to see him and to speak for his work. Trisha’s comments meant a lot to me. Joel and his work should always be thought of well.

I am staying in touch with Trisha about his status and about the film, because I certainly want to see it and write about it again.

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