Efrem Zelony-Mindell on W.M. Hunt
Efrem Zelony-Mindell is an independent curator, writer, and painter. His curatorial endeavors include shows in NYC: n e w f l e s h, Are You Loathsome, and the International Center of Photography-Bard’s 2017 MFA thesis show Familiar Strange. He writes about art and photography for DEAR DAVE magazine, VICE, HuffPost, Baxter Street Camera Club of New York, MOSSLESS, L’Oeil de la Photographie, and aCurator. He received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts.
W.M. – Bill – Hunt describes himself as a champion of photography: collector, curator, consultant. etc. Every couple of years he picks up some unsuspecting young Turk (or Jewish boy from Miami) and unwittingly, for both parties, mentors him or her. Mr. Hunt has organized shows in lots of places. He has a book “The Unseen Eye: Photographs of the Unconscious” that his French publisher tells him is a classic. He writes essays for monographs and, occasionally, for L’Oeil de la Photographie. Ask him if he’s serious.
The first time I laid eyes on Bill I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I still don’t. A lot of times it seems impossible to me that life can provide such unlikely companions. Then again, when I really think about Bill, I realize he and I are not so unlikely at all. By the sound of it we were both quiet growing up and had a fascination with being alone, being away, finding an adventure even if it was only in a grandmother’s attic or in our own heads. And now that we’re older and working I get the impression that we both really just want one thing. We want to spend our lives not having to work with assholes. What greater reward could there possibly be?
For myself, as a young person figuring out the art world and having an interest in curating and writing, I realize it comes as no surprise that once I learned who he was of course I wanted to know Bill Hunt. He is one of the most influential collectors and curators of 19th to 21st century photography in the world. I realize how that sounds writing it, I can only imagine what it sounds like reading it, but Bill gets to have that said about him. Not out of flattery or grandiosity but just as a fact. The first time I ever sat down with him to chat about his collection and himself I asked him why photography? “I dunno man. Madness.” He doesn’t miss a beat and he’s not afraid of making people laugh, or leaving a little room for people to wonder about him. I liked that. It reminded me of myself. I can’t say I go into things with a plan, but I’m always eager to want to like people – I listen a lot. Bill did more than listen back, and he never just looked at me. He is a keeper of the difference between passive looking and really seeing.
When you see something, it pierces you. It stays with you and you come back to it.
I keep wondering how does Bill challenge me? And how do I challenge Bill? There are specific examples, but the feeling when I’m with Bill is better than any example. His freedom and eagerness to introduce me and encourage me in this world makes me realize the potential of being myself and allowing my personality to come through. You can kick down doors as long as you do it with a smile. And especially if you can make people laugh. It’s hard to feel important—it’s free to make others feel special—and when you can make someone else smile it’s filled with reward. Being adaptable and enjoying the action of photography is important. Learning how to make things work for you is the name of the game. It takes a huge amount of energy, “So don’t blow it.” as Bill would say. Bill and I respect each other’s time by giving just enough of a taste. We make each other want more. When I think of a relationship with a mentor I see something physical in my head, I don’t know why, but I’m not sure that’s what’s going on here.
We dance together, Bill and I, and there’s a lot of listening. And a whole lot of imagination. Bill is always talking about imagination. And the thing I really like about imagination is it’s not real until you make it real—and it can bring total opposites together. Imagination is about creating external concepts that can become present to the senses. So it’s about touching something that isn’t there, but you can hear it. A creative life is adapted every day. You have to eat, breathe, and live this art world thing. Making something needs to happen every day, even if it’s only one precious performance with a total stranger. It’s crazy and stupid, and Bill makes me realize there isn’t just one way to accomplish finding folks—who are just as crazy enough, and willing enough—to give me a chance in this world. Those people reward, and they are worth finding, fighting for, and chasing after. I am articulated by the road I make, and I try my absolute best to pay attention. It isn’t easy. Bill isn’t easy. But I don’t think I want to do things because they’re easy. I want to do things because they make me great.
I recognize in a lot of ways I’m still figuring out my exact mission. Along the way I’m excited to establish platforms that allow voices to be heard. Bill encourages that. The part that I’m not unsure about is that I really like photography. Seeing how Bill energizes conversations motivates me to be a louder voice and a harder worker. Bill and I continue to come back to each other. People ask me why sometimes, or how? Well the truth is Bill teaches me how to be myself. He teaches me that it’s ok to be myself, but more importantly he lets me be myself and he wants more of it. Myself is desirable and worthy. I wouldn’t exactly say that either of us are easy personalities. But if I could be a good little gay boy for a moment and quote Marilyn Monroe, “I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
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