Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Early Portrait of Gita

Artist Unknown

"From one sweetheart to another, Gita"

An early portrait of Gita. Apparently given as a gift to her first husband, George Zoul.

Inside was tucked a registered personal letter postmarked July 28, 1938, also to Mr. George Zoul. c/o Bachelor's Club in Jackson Heights, Long Island.

"I suppose by now you are completely sterile (May I be the first to offer my congratulations and sincere wishes for your success in matters sexual!)"

She writes that she is saddened their relationship was severed in "so abrupt a fashion." Must try to figure out her timeline with her marriage to George and his service in the Lincoln Brigade.

She also writes that "I will always be your friend, whether you want me or no, and I shall always be more than a little interested to know how your extravagantly emotional nature will expend itself. Think of me without rancor and I will be satisfied."

We need a journalist, perhaps to help with public records.


The Project Begins

copyright Gita Lenz

Last week, I met with my interns for the first time, to begin the project of conserving and organizing the work of photographer Gita Lenz. Below, is a very loose chronology of her life as I understand it so far. There are some large holes but right now we are trying to read through old correspondence and notes and pay stubs, etc. in hopes of pulling together a better understanding of Gita's life.

Anyway, here is the Chronology as provided by her firend, Timothy:

Gita Lenz, Photographer, Writer

Born Gertrude Maslow October 9, 1910 to Louis Maslow (seamstress) and Yetta Youkeles (piano teacher), in New York City. Parents immigrants from Ukraine. One younger brother who later died in car accident in Los Angeles (date unknown).

Married George Zoul, a Czech immigrant, in mid 1930’s. He was a communist and later joined the Lincoln Brigade with whom he went to Spain in late 30’s to fight against Franco. He was shot in combat and was buried in Spain.

Married Richard Lenz in 1940. Marriage lasted 18 months or so.

Moved to 65 Carmine, in the East Village, in 1940. Lived there until October 2001.

Some correspondence with Mel Most (died 1990) a foreign correspndent and PR agent.

Friends with:

Julien Beck, founder of the Living Theatre
Bayard Rustin, a prominent civil rights and worker activist
William Packard, poet and playwright, founder of NY Quarterly
Aaron Siskind, photographer

Part of Brooklyn Museum photography show titled ‘The Third Eye’ in 1952
Part of MOMA ‘The Family of Man’ show
Published in ‘Modern Photography’ monthly periodical in a few issues early 1950’s.

Held odd temp jobs entire working career. I think was an officer with “NY Quarterly” from inception in the early 1970’s Wrote poetry and studied under William Packard in 60’s / 70’s.

Was interested in socialism and anarchism as it applied in the 30’s through 1960’s.

Only known travels were to Mexico in 1960’s (?)


Gita Lenz, Photographer

copyright Gita Lenz

Short story...

A friend of mine who lives in New york, called me a year or so ago and said that he was helping a friend of his into an assisted living situation. He said that she was a photographer and he thought a very good one. His friend's name is Gita Lenz and I had met her about four years ago at an opening for a show I had in New York in 2002. She is beautiful really. I made the trip to New York to take a look at the work and see what my friend had in mind. Gita has boxes of work, boxes of negatives, correspondence, the whole thing. It is a life in images. Well, actually we feel that she might not have been a photographer for much of her life. But the images are likely from the late forties and into the sixties. Since Gita was moving out of her place, we needed a place to store the work. Ultimately, we decided that I would make a good temporary home for them in Virginia.

So, jump to the present and I recently checked in with Gita again up in New York while taking down a recent show. She really is amazingly sharp and funny. I have begun to do some editing with the work and I took a lot of images up to her so that she could see them and talk about them and basically just to visit with her. It was very cool to see how much she enjoyed the photos.

For me, visiting with her, looking at the work, it stirs up all kinds of thoughts. Why is it we do what we do? When we are gone, is anyone really going to care? Gita has an amazing range of work... street stuff, abstracts, experimental images, portraits of artist / dancer types, documentary work. She was a student of Aaron Siskind's, she was in the landmark 'Family of Man' exhibition in 1955. She was also a published poet. And yet, here is her work, in boxes, in some random guy's house that she has only met a couple of times and the work is still trying to get noticed. It kind of tears me up really.

Anyway, I have only just begun trying to figure out what to do with the work but I will try to keep this online diary going because I think it will be an interesting trek. For next spring, I have a couple of interns from the University where I am teaching and hopefully they will help me get further along. Ultimately, I hope to get together some tight portfolios and see them accessioned into notable photo archives or appropriate museums. Then, if we can put together enough of the story, I could imagine a book might also be a possibility...

So, more later on Gita.