Photographer Ari Marcopoulos Takes Us on Many Paths to the Same Place in “Not Yet”

Photo: Cover image for Jay Z Magna Carta Holy Grail, 2013.

You know that moment, when the camera comes out and you have the instinct to compose yourself in some altered state. Really it’s fake but we’ve seen it so often we think fake is real, these posed, perfectly composed presentations of “self.” Truly they are fictions of our imagination, the dream of who we want to be, who we see ourselves as, and how we would like to be seen.

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But then, the photographer knows what he wants to see, and will take the picture at will, your desires be damned. “Not Yet!” you might cry out, in an attempt to control the scene. But it’s too late. Your moment turned out to the moment before you pulled it together.

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Photographer Ari Marcopoulos understands this. His photographs are taken in the meantime, in between times, capturing how things are rather than how we want to seek to re-present reality. His new monograph, Not Yet (Rizzoli), is a glorious collection of iconic and never-before seen photographs made from the 1980s to the present that take us along his paths through life.

In the afterword, Marcopoulos reveals, “Not Yet started out as a traditional monograph. As the project developed, though, I started to feel uncomfortable with being both the subject and the author—I wanted a point of view on my work to come from someone other than myself.”

Fela Kuti Queens, 1982

Fela Kuti Queens, 1982

He took a new approach to editing and sequencing the book, inviting friends, peers, and family to curate individual chapters as though they were making a zine of his work. With chapters curated by Kara Walker, Matthew Barney, Barry McGee, David Strettell, and Marcopoulos, among others, Not Yet is a tour de force through an archive that captures the vibrant beauty of the world.

As Marcopoulos tells Catherine Taft in the book, “I know that my work is very subject-driven, as is photography in general, so in order to widen my practice I try to take pictures in which the subject might be abstract or so mundane that nothing really stands out.”

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These photographs make for peaceful interludes providing an optical respite. They are truly quite Tao with their full embrace of nothingness that exists in the infinite stillness of the moment. Sequenced throughout the book they offer a moment of contemplation that reminds me of the way ginger cleanses the palate between courses in Japanese cuisine. They offer the understated pleasure of emptiness, allowing a moment to gaze upon the void before looking begins afresh.

The joy of Not Yet is that it feels like a map of the artist’s mind, taking along journeys into foreign and familiar worlds. When the “Magna Carta, Holy Grail” album cover pops up, it feels right at home among the photographs of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fela Kuti, David Hammons, and Run-DMC, the pictures of graffiti, snowboarders, and street scenes. Not Yet provides a feeling of continuity in a diverging, disparate, and diversifying world, calling to mind the Apache proverb, “You can take many paths to get to the same place.”

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All photos: ©Ari Marcopoulos, courtesy of Rizzoli.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.