Jayne Tuttle | The Saturday newspaper

Jayne Tuttle is the author of two books: Paris or die: memoirs (2019), which was developed into an acclaimed solo theater performance in which she starred; and My sweet guillotine, published in September. She studied acting in Paris at the Jacques Lecoq International Theater School and worked as an actor, voice actress, translator and playwright, living in France and Australia before returning to Victoria in 2019. She is now co-owner of The Bookshop at Queenscliff on the Victorian Coast.

She chose to talk about Cookie in Tin Pan Alley NYC 1983 by American photographer extraordinaire Nan Goldin, whose work over the decades includes The Ballad of Sex Addiction slideshow (1985) – later also a book and short film – which documents the intimate lives of his friends in 1970s and 1980s America’s rock, drug and queer scene, and an unforgettable series of portraits of friends with AIDS in subsequent years.

What brought you to his work?

I was 28, 29, in Paris to study theater, and a friend of mine, who is a painter, got a job with Nan as an assistant, art friend/cook. Nan was living in Paris at the time. Marissa brought one of her books. There’s a picture of one of Nan’s really hairy lovers masturbating, with his dick in his hand. I was fascinated by this amazing image. My boyfriend was like, “Oh, no no!” But my eyes were just glued. I had started writing my own notes, one page a day, recording the world around me. And here is this photographer and there was no demarcation between her and her work. His work was his life.

I was fascinated that Nan was able to bring the camera in and elicit such natural reactions. My father was a photographer, cameraman at the ABC. I grew up with a camera in my face. I hated this. Now I was writing and I felt horrible about what I was doing, like I was stealing people’s lives and stories – so seeing this photographer doing this in such a free, truthful and brutal way, I was fascinated.

And then I was able to meet her. My friend said to Nan: “Rent a house in the Dordogne. I’ll cook, Sam will teach you yoga. And Jayne will come and be the clown! I was really naive, really lost and desperate to find out all I could about what she had done. She was so open and lovely and answered everything, and also asked questions. She said, “Read me some of your writings.” I released stuff that I was really proud of. Then I told him about this horrible article I had written about Mom, about her death, and I was so mortified that I had written it, let alone shared it with anyone. And she said, “I want to read this.” I read it to her and she said, “That’s where it is. It is the place. I remember saying to him: “But how do you do that and not upset people?” She said, “Well, don’t be an artist then. Go choose any other job. If you don’t need to do it, then don’t. But if you need it, and you feel like you’re looking to be an artist, then you have to push into this place: it’s the only place to push. That’s all we’re interested in. »

It was very confronting. Did I want to do this? I did it. So I did this mini-learning with her.

You have found a commitment to intimate work. You have since written two memoirs and are in the middle of a third.

Nan’s work is influenced by these epic territories – saints, Delacroix, Bosch – but his work is very personal and immediate. I rarely take out his books because his work hurts, it’s intense, it puts you in a certain state. Cookie’s face, she is sitting in Tin Pan Alley in a bar with her cigarettes but there is this air of Greek tragedy in the everydayness of this image. I had an idea in mind for a trilogy of books that were epic, in my mind, but very much grounded in everyday details. This second book is exactly one example of where you don’t want to go. The first ends with a horribly embarrassing, stupid, horrifying accident where I was in a stairwell and nearly got decapitated by a descending elevator. I think of Nan a lot because she was documenting her pain, her relationship with a man named Brian: one of her most iconic photos is of herself with a huge black eye – after a month – and she said she wanted to record that, to make sure she never went back to him. I think there’s a certain fascination with that incident in the stairwell that I honestly wish I could forget. So I wrote this second book, My sweet guillotineon the fallout from the accident.

Nan said that the more she photographed, the more she might be able to keep people down, causing so many people around her to die. Part of me is driven by grief. I found it very difficult to write about my mother who passed away, so I wanted to write about it. I found it difficult to write about the accident, so I wanted to write about it. It’s horrible, because it was sacrilegious in so many ways, and I’m always afraid of upsetting people and doing the wrong thing, but the intention, like Nan’s, is to try to capture something thing: to preserve and keep it.

Another thing Nan said to me that I think about all the time: I said, “Don’t people hate you? And she said, “Ooh, yeah, you gotta be ready to be hated. You cannot do otherwise. And that’s the difference between doing it or not. If you can be prepared for people to hate you, and still want to do it.

Nan’s work is so messy and varied: she photographs people having sex – and dying. There’s this incredible photo of Cookie in front of her husband’s casket. It’s on one page. On the next is Cookie in his coffin. And they’re three months apart. It doesn’t feel like Nan is doing this from a place of voyeurism. It comes from a place where the epic research and humanity is so epic, it doesn’t feel overwhelming – it feels like a work of art.

An operation in his work is memorialization: the necromancy of photography and its anguish in the face of loss.

I was always taking pictures as a kid, always sentimentalizing, and it turned into this writing. There is definitely that same desire to keep the places and people in my life in perpetuity. What I realize is impossible and heartbreaking. The more you love something, the harder it is to capture it. I mourned everyone: mum, dad, I mourned the loss of the characters in my books. I know Nan Goldin says this: She thought maybe she could save her friends, and she can’t, and that’s so sad. I feel the same. Perhaps I was able to retain a tiny spark of it. And if I have, that’s the best thing ever. You are not preserving, you are actually creating history.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 27, 2022 as “Jayne Tuttle”.

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