Human Interest
Audio Guide Playlist

Listen to commentary by artists and scholars on selected works in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, including Thelma Golden, K8 Hardy, Byron Kim, Deana Lawson, and Joan Semmel.

John Coplans: Well, my name is John Coplans. And I’m an assistant poet. If I call myself an artist, I get in a cab, and the cab driver says, hey, what do you do? And I say, I’m an artist. He says, what do you do, do you paint? No, I make photographs. He says, that’s not art, photographs. I make photographs too.

Narrator: John Coplans passed away in 2003. We interviewed him about his work for the 2000 Biennial.

John Coplans: So I tell them I’m assistant poet, and they shut up. Some of them of course accept the idea that my photos might be artistic, and they say, what do you photograph? And I say, myself in the nude. How do you photograph yourself in the nude? Do you use a timer? No, I say, I have a young lady assistant come in and photograph me. Now, they say, this is intriguing, how do we become like this? How did you start? So then it goes on, the story. Talking it into being, I actually spout words at somebody, at my assistants. So I have to think very carefully. Because if you look at these photographs, they are parts of my body which mentally I’ve conceived of then I have to arrange.

My fingers here are all stuck; I can’t gesture. I have to in, words, describe exactly what is the framing of what I want, and how I want the lighting. I want a shadow at the top or the side, slightly. So that’s all things that are in my mind, which I convey to an assistant, who reacts and does what I say, and I get what I want. That’s why I’m not really a poet, you see. I’m only an assistant. Because I really abuse poetry.

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