John Waters: Celebrity is Ridiculous

Children Who Smoke by John Waters

John Waters' Children Who Smoke

A few weeks ago I spoke to John Waters, who is currently showing Rear Projection at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles (through May 23), for an article about the value of celebrity photographs that appeared in the recent issue of WSJ. magazine. For his exhibition, which was shown at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York last month, Waters snapped film imagery of celebrities and altered them in often assaulting ways. Here are a few of his observations on celebrities and images of them:

  • It’s questionable if photographs of celebrities are art or not. I think it has less to do with the subject matter and more about what you do to it, how you alter it, and why we’re looking at it.
  • If Richard Prince took a photo of a photo of Gina Lollobrigida, I’m sure that would be art.
  • I like to take an image and put it into a film that is in my mind.
  • I love the idea that celebrity is ridiculous.
  • I like Weegee’s photos of celebrities. He looks at them with the gaze of an outsider. He looks at them as ridiculous. I have a Weegee photo of Johnnie Ray signed in his handwriting and his name is spelled wrong.
  • The most alarming photos of celebrities are by Gary Lee Boas. They all look like your Aunt Bessie carving the turkey at Thanksgiving.
  • I’ve always said that people don’t remember movies, they remember the stills.
  • The glamour of 1950s Hollywood is almost surreal now. It took hours to create those unrealistic and fictitious moments. Celebrities today try to look dirty, like they don’t wash their hair or their hands, and like they shop at thrift stores. It’s like they’re saying I’m so rumpled and dirty, I still can’t look ugly.
  • In my work, I try to act like the worst press agent in the world, like a failed press agent.
  • There’s not one bad frame in a movie if you look at one tiny corner of it.
  • I like to sneak into a movie like a thief and take out the art in the background that the actors didn’t even know was there.
  • My work is all about glamour in a way. It’s all about the lunacy of show business.
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