Richard Prince: Thoughts on Spiritual America

Below are Richard Prince’s thoughts on the famous Brooke Shields nude photo that was taken when she was 10 years old.

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Gary Gross who originally took the photograph finds himself in court ten after he took the picture fighting over who owns the rights to the picture.
Terrie, Brooke Shields’ mother recognizes what this picture could possibly suggest, (not about Brooke, but about her). In a word:”pimp”. When the picture was taken, Brooke was ten years old but Gary Gross made her head up to look like an older woman. Then he went to the trouble of oiling her body to heighten and refract the presence of her “he-she” adolescence. Now we’ve got a body with two different sexes, maybe more, and a head that looks like it’s got a different birthday. We’ve got a couple of million dollars in court costs and another possibility of million in projected sales from a poster that Gross is trying to sell of his image of Brooke.

You’ve got the management of an image, the questions of ownership of an image; finally you’ve got a big celebrity, someone who turned out to be the princess of the United States. And it’s all happening because of the truth or consequences of a photograph. The ecstasy of communication. It sounds like a bizarre game show. I don’t know if any of the principals involved recognize exactly where the heart of the darkness is located.

But I began to see the “picture” as a patriotic one, that is to say if I was to have heard that this type of activity over a photograph was happening in another country I would have considered moving there. What I did next was exhibit the image. I tried to provide a counter environment.
I matched the picture to refer to the outer facts rather than making my own
picture which would have involved only inner facts.

I titled the picture: By Richard Prince, A Photograph of Brooke Shields by Garry Gross. Not unlike McNeil’s title: “Arrangement in Black and White” which the public ironically personalized into the title Whistler’s Mother.
Apparently the public is still not ready for “arrangement”.

The situation I presented was Spiritual America. That’s what I named the
photograph of Brooke Shields, (after an Alfred Stieglitz photograph of a gelded
horse that I saw at the Met).

I also opened a gallery with the same name Spiritual America in order to
exhibit the photograph. This was an off-off West Broadway gallery located at
5 Rivington St., NYC. Not opened to the public, not free and not official. It was not given the keys to the city and I believe hardly recognized. It was in fact a
side-show, another frame around the picture, another attraction around the
portrait of Brooke Shields. This picture gives good meaning.

You don’t have to believe in her, you can believe in it because in it, Brooke
is both her and it at the same time. Brooke as the subject becomes an
indirect object, an abstract entity whose sex is unknown. Brooke is it. And as an it, is in a sense the subject of an impersonal verb that expresses a condition
without referring to an agent. The condition that’s expressed is an
objective resemblance of Brooke that could never be guaranteed in daily life.
This is what photographs can do. It’s a condition that can only be achieved on a flat and seamless surface, a physical location which can represent her resemblance all in one place – a place that has the chance of looking real, but a place that doesn’t have any chance of being real. My desires needed satisfaction… And satisfaction seems to come about by ingesting; perhaps “perceiving” the fiction her photograph imagined. I felt I was in partnership which the picture.There didn’t seem to be any interruption between what was imagined by the picture and what was imagined by me. It had an oppressive effect, a glowing hallucinatory energy. There was a libidinal intensification and relief from possession and jealousy. I became infused with this picture , almost as if I was being X-rayed. And this came about when I finally re-photographed the image.

She became more nude than a real naked woman.

Categorized: Writings

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