stem: vivian gornick
bron: the odd woman and the city: a memoir
There’s a famous photograph of Robert Capa’s that has been pinned to the bulletin board above my desk for a number of years. It was taken in 1948 on a beach in France, and it shows a smiling young woman dressed in a cotton gown and a large straw hat striding forward across the sands while a sturdy-looking old man walks behind her, holding a huge umbrella over her head: a queen and her slave. The young woman is Françoise Gilot and the old man Pablo Picasso. As Robert Capa was an artist, the picture is charged with emotional complexity. At first all the viewer registers is the lit-from-within triumph in Gilot’s smile; and right behind it Picasso’s amiable servitude. But keep looking and you’ll see in Gilot’s eyes that she believes her power everlasting; and then you’ll see the cold wordliness behind Picasso’s playacting deference. It hits you full force: Gilot is Anne Boleyn in her moment of glory and Picasso the appetite-driven king before he’s had his fill of her.
The photograph is so richly alive, it is actually shocking: it both excites and appalls. Most days I don’t even glance in its direction, but on the days that I do take it in, it never fails to arouse pain and pleasure, in equal parts. It’s the equal parts that’s the problem.