Gene

Aloisio Magalhães

New York 9/1977

Gene’s books raise an interesting question: Why did Gene produce a few books only? In my view, the answer is based on a very interesting point in his creative process. To produce a book is to stop a moment. A book is a sort of support structure, a vehicle for something. It can hold words, it can hold images, it can hold any kind of idea. But the book itself is only the basic support. So in a certain way, you have to stop your creative process; only then do you produce a book. Now for Gene, this was a very difficult thing to do because he was always involved in the creative process.

For Gene, the Shop and the technological equipment of the Shop were the tools he used just as someone uses a pencil, or someone else uses a pen or a brush. Gene used the technological apparatus of graphics as a tool, directly, with no intermediary, and he always used it in a creative way. So for him, it was really very difficult to stop the usual flow of work at the Shop to produce something like a book. That is why he needed either a good pretext or someone else involved directly in a project in order for him to stop for a moment. And so he would stop, because he liked that person or because he liked the subject. He always liked to be teaching someone how his graphic process worked, but it was beyond his own work. His own process was a sort of interrupted thing.

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Sometimes, as in my case, he was interested much more in making someone understand the printing process than in anything else. He wanted to give me a real introduction to the process of offset printing. To him that was much more important than the book itself, especially with the first one we did together, The Doorway to Portuguese. That first book was a sort of testament of the experience that was going on between Gene and me. And there always was in Gene a teacher, or sometimes more than a teacher, something like an older brother. My relation with Gene was always very much like being brothers, with him being the more experienced one, and always each would treat the other one very carefully. I think that with me there was something special behind the whole thing, something that cannot be explained. Maybe Gene had for me many of the qualities that I would like to touch and maybe I held out something for him. We made an exchange for the first time on the Portuguese book.

That book didn’t start off being a book; we were just playing around with the offset process to see what could be done, We had no plan for the book and the pages were not really planned out first either. All we had was the idea of making something, so we kept on making experimental sheets. And from among all those sheets we took the ones that we found the most interesting in someway and the most intriguing for some technical reason or other, and we kept those aside for a possible page in a book. While we were discussing those pages and thinking about the images that could be assembled in some sort of a book, I had the idea of introducing little texts in Portuguese, based on the ABC principle, and this gave us a flexible way of working with the pages. So the ideas and the talk and the printing kept going on, and it was a fantastic experience really because it was completely free.

But sometimes I had to control Gene a little bit because of that fantastic thing with him that he treated the technology like a brush. He was never interested in the fact that the sheets would be reproduced many, many times. Instead he was always introducing new things. He was forever changing a plate or introducing a new element to the offset process right in the middle of a run, He treated a high, sophisticated technology with complete liberty, complete freedom. His use of the medium was paradoxical because he kept on making changes even to the point of going against the technology. He used the technology of offset reproduction as a tool for making unique images out of materials and methods that had nothing to do with the usual materials and methods of the technology. It is a very important aspect of Gene’s mentality, of his approach to his technology.

This freedom of his, Gene used in order to make all different sorts of books. The concept of a book was for him something very open. For Gene a book was everything he made that was composed of more than one sheet put together. I think the most interesting books were exactly the ones that were the least like a book.

Take the New York Skyline; that’s a perfect example of Gene’s making something that was way beyond the tradition of the book.

Now, with the Doorway to Brazilia we had a completely free book. We had only one thing in mind. Let’s use this event, we said, of a new capital’s being built to see what we can take out of it and use in the technology of printing. There were no buyers, no programs, nothing pre-established. The only thing we decided was to take the photographs in Brazil and then to do something creative.

When Gene came to Brazil to start the book he was completely overwhelmed by the difference in life he found.

He was deeply touched by certain aspects of the life-not many, but certain special things – the nature of the tropical life and plants, the colors. He was also very much attracted to the people of Brazil, especially the simple people, the workers, and they were beauties! He was very much impressed with a certain kind of individual freedom that he felt was there in those simple men and women. He tried to get close to them, to talk to them.

He made a film of the workers in Brazilia and when he came back he planned to make a book of hats from all the pictures he took, but he never finished it.

Now I can understand very well why he never finished it, or why he never finished a series like the one of Barbra Streisand or the one of Nureyev.

The thing he always kept in mind, even in series like these, was the process of printing. To him the process was such an important thing that by contrast, to accomplish the process later on was a thing which was not interesting at all. When you have finished a series by making it into a book it is something stopped. It has come to an end. For Gene printing was a continuous process. He might stop it for a moment to produce a book, as he did with me because he was interested in teaching me or in finding out for himself more about how it worked, but then he would get right back to his process, making prints, and then prints on top of prints, and more prints on top of those. It was an endless process, a process that with Gene (1921-75) went on forever.

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