Explore O:JA&L’s Buttonhook Press offerings on Amazon.

Support O:JA&L’s free presses.

Subscribe to the O:JA&L YouTube channel.
Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.
Follow O:JA&L on Facebook.

BERENICE ABBOTT PHOTOGRAPHS
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM

Mrs. P in the South by Paul Klee

Twenty-eight years old in 1926
and not yet all the way out of the closet,
Abbott, who had access to Peggy
through Man Ray, would have experienced
all the contradictions of the closeted Queer gaze.

But as she took the pictures of Guggenheim,
then also in her twenty-eighth year,
Abbott was subject to another
sort of double consciousness as well.
We might think of her as sheltering
behind the Leica from the crosswinds
of a desire that knows its object to be unworthy.

The silly brittle woman with her lapdogs,
her imperious way with Man,
her utter failure to disguise
how hot she was for the camera.
All of this spoke to Abbott
of something needy and small
in her subject’s character,
something deeply unlovable.

Yet as she courted the light
that best accommodated
Peggy’s frock and features,
Abbott was unable to ignore the desire
the brittle silly woman caused in her.
Desire filled the room like the light
that would invest the photographs
with a hard and simple clarity,
like the light that attached itself
to Peggy’s narrow body
in that absurd Chanel funeral dress.

It could only be because of the money,
Abbott reasoned.
So butch to have all that money.

 

About the writer:
Benjamin Goluboff is the author of Ho Chi MInh: A Speculative Life in Verse and Biking Englewood: An Essay on the White Gaze, both from Urban Farmhouse Press. Goluboff teaches at Lake Forest College.

Image: Mrs. P in the South by Paul Klee (1879-1940). No medium specified. No size specified. 1924. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprints Buttonhook Press and HOT BUTTON PRESS Contemporary Issues, supports writers and artists worldwide.

Follow O:JA&L on Facebook.

OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) recommends the services of Duotrope.

 Duotrope®