Remembering John Ranard- Words from the Memorial
Andrew Castrucci Dear john you were one of my closest friends I miss you dearly i've known you for over 22 years john you left us to early I wasn’t ready for you to leave I thought you were going to make another comeback My muhammid aLI FROM LOUIEVILLE You always had the strength to bounce back- I wasn’t ready to say goodbye I still owed you that spaghetti sauce We were calling each other about getting together to photo a guerilla art piece we were going to write “America Berserk” on the wall 100 times till you couldn’t read it – until America berserk turned into a blackened sprayed unreadable overlapping pattern. I had the spray panit. He had the camera. You kept telling me you got to give me more notice -I got to go visit my sister Or the next time your were to weak to go out The last time I saw you I gave you one of my fedora hats. I had a collection of my grandfather’s hats When I first met you it was thru one of your photos it was about 1985/86 A strange photo of colonel sanders form Kentucky fried chicken in an open casket You had balls to sneak into his wake and take this shot You always had the guts to take the unusual shot/unusual perspective Your photo was juxtaposed with a group of artist’s /poets in a book called anti -utopia I was curious to meet the guy that took this photo You were a part of a group of artist that c ame from louieville Kentucky in the early 80’s
we later worked closely on your house is mine squatter and homeless project Also guerilla performances at met John also photographed my wedding in 2001 and various other family affairs He recently photographed my mother and fathers 50th wedding anniversary my mom was a big fan of john ranard you always kept it a secret how sick you were “I don’t want to tell you about bad news”, he would say he would only tell me when he was bouncing back and things were looking good Besides setting up john with commercial projects we collaborated on various art projects thru the 22 yeaRS I’VE KNOWN HIM JOHN was my photographer My ALI from louieville i have over 500 of his photos of john's I was a true believer in you
there are basically 8-10 important photographers that documented the lower east side from 1976 to present marlis momber Martha cooper Tom warren Clayton patterson Chris flash (from the shadow) John panley To name a few John was different from these photographers He tresendend photojournalism –john’s work was more mystical A fine line between realism and abstract forms John unusual subject matter, perspective, a dramitic cropping stood him out from great photojournalism of our time. John was more of a surrealist- a magic realist. He reminded me of a story when a photographer came into this African village and20set up a portrait of the tribal chief Before the photographer snapped the portrait, “the chief said are you going to steal my soul or give me soul? “ John was the kind of photographer that gave you soul
Ranard could take a wedding photo showing 90% of the persons back (no facial features) greeting a younger guest and this photo still had this magical spirit. this photo was actual my father greeting his granddaughter As we were hanging johns show at tribes I saw john’s work in retrospect as a pyramid: the LES work, the Russian work, and middle America (the boxing series) And outside this pyramid were the recent self-portraits, his most personal work. And than outside this circle was his collaborations w/artists like david hammons/ krizytof wodiczko Than outside this was his commercial work that he rarely took on like an unusual wedding he kept telling me I don’t have a long time to live and I have to to finish this new work I naively always thought I would get old with john ,2 old men arguing about art and politics John I’ll miss your stories the ones you kept in your pocket everytime I saw you You always had a good joke Or some informative opinion of some important absurd news event At this time john just left his wife and moved into the squats We were both deeply involved w/ the squatter community “whats the first thing you do when you move into a squatE2 , john said Quit your job” John finally surrended after giuliani brought in the tanks in one of the final symbolic evictions on the LES while I was trying to get him into bullet space he moved into subsidized housing on east 2nd st. and rebuild his dark room for the 5th time
john was a photographer that took chances -he was in dangerous situations- he dared go where very few roomed either it being in Russia in post-soviet union transition (after the wall fell)or in the middle of a riot on the lower east side-he went to this edge and saw things that gave his photos this other dimension from shooting galleries outside Moscow to hardcore off the path boxing sub-culture of middle America
one time at 6 am on april 1, when the sun just starting to come up. I read a manifesto in front of the metropolitan museum of art and knocked over 20 squatter piss bottles ,poor man’s gold, a manifesto in reaction to a museum of dead artists, some of the Rembrandts were fakes, a homage to Van Gogh’s yellow sunflowers, a protest to Giuliani’s regime ,a 10 year anniversary of Tompkins Square riots, the day they acquitted the police officers that shot Diallo.
this was a 5-10 minute guerilla piece john photoed and documented after most of us got away jonh stayed and kept shooting I ran back and screamed john! we are going to get arrested we got to get out of her e. I left he stayed to shoot the aftermath barely escaping arrest
When john did a 2 person show at bullet space w/ bruce witsipe (one of the leaders of the group of artists from louiville-) (R.I.P. bruce ) they argued a lot Bruce spoke about during the Russian revolution there were 2 kinds of artists There were the social realist and there were kandinsky, el lissitsky and malevelvich (the suprematists), They debated the content of narration and propaganda vs. art The abstract vs. realism- how the less narrative works had more of a metaphysical meaning in their work while still being honest to the revolution Less overtly political, but more powerful. John played the devil’s advocate and stuck up for the realists. Even though his work was in the light Rodchenko and deep down inside He knew he was not a realist Somewhere in heaven or hell or where ever you guys are- I can still here you and bruce still arguing. john transcended this mirror of life –its hard to explain? He was just different from the rest of the photographers As a painter /sculptor with photography we battle with this imitation of life We reject the camera-we try to transcend this realism -this machine- this flat surface-(like a david smith sculpture) but with john I saw something different! I compared him to Weegee (Arthur fellig) He wasn’t just recording a historical event In reality there are 3 dimensions. In quantum physics t here are 11 dimensions With John ‘s photos he went beyond this 3rd dimension He gave a soul -a spirit -an aura to his images You could see the ghosts between the glass and frame
One day he was taking a large group photo at our wedding -about 80 of us. He had a camera he bought on the black market outside Moscow, some sort of post- WWII sliding wide angle lens that would move side to side as he shot this large horizontal family grouping. The camera started to malfunction and the audience starting complaining to hurry up and shot the god damn photo. I calmed down the group saying this guy is a great artist be patient. John shot the most incredible photos for this special night. This took place at Angel Orensanz place on Ludlow street. John had his magic working that night. Our last hurray. This was one month before sept. 11 We sang god bless America for the last time with a Italian festival band we hired off mulberry st. john captured a magical realism of this night It felt like The world turned upside down a month later With john gone /an era has gone- we are in a new city A new century
John the next time I make my grandmothers secret spaghetti sauce I’ll think of you The sauce is on its way to 2nd st. and B apt. 3d or the next time I put that fedora hat The next time I see the young 17-year-old ALI from louivillle I’ll think of you the next time=2 0I look at one of your photos… I miss you john
I was actual in a situation at a club on the les in 1985when I was working w/ the bad brains when a local well known photographer was shooting a portrait of HR (sort of the god-father of hardcore punk) he said to the photographer w/ his dreads pushed away from his eyes “in a staring glance -are you going to steal my soul… Over the years and at this moment i think a lot of this incident and see how if Ranard would have been in this situation- how he would of treated this chief different john you stood out from the rest of the LES photographers you were a true artist a true shaman I miss you dearly your friend and brother a.c.
john ranard selected works tribes gallery thru sept. 30 285 east 3rd st.nyc 10009 www.tribes.org