Antonia DiBona & Myra Schiffman
was your initial reaction to them? Did you discover a favorite or favorites? AF: I found the figurines in a junk shop, where they were in a huddle in a wooden box with a faded red ribbon. I took them home for $100. They sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years before I started to photograph them, at that time, in color. Eventually they came out of the box and assumed their stature in more formal black and white portraits. As for favorites, of the photographs: Madison winked at me while we worked together, and I was completely taken by his charm. Teddy Roosevelt was a dreamer who turned a rabbit pelt into a cloud, and there he floated.
in six-word phrases to avoid copyright infringement. One such phrase was “tall, slim and of erect carriage.” Nearly all the presidents were described in this way. Of course, some of them were portly, stout, or obese, and then I enjoyed the contrast. The double entendre was intended because the presidents, like rock stars, are often, and sometimes inappropriately, erect as well. As men, they have sex lives. Particularly in our American History this is a repeated theme. Studies have been done on the stature and the substance of presidents, and I felt this description brought them up close and personal. GM: In addition to their physical characteristics you draw from many sources to create a personal history of each president. Here’s your comment at the beginning of the Source Material: “This volume was composed, like the Jefferson Bible, “By cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject.” Each phrase was culled from pre-existing presidential letters, biographies, novels, children’s books, websites, blogs, accounts, rumors, hearsay, etc....” How would you describe this book as a whole?
GM: Were there others of whom you were less fond? AF: Even those men that were indistinguishable, dull, ugly, mediocre, unremarkable are so human it’s hard to dislike any. As Grant said about his wife, “I liked her with her eyes crossed and would not have her different.” GM: President Monroe was described as “tall, angular, erect”—did that phrase give you the idea for the title? Tall, Slim & Erect admittedly has a bit of a double entendre for readers. Why did you choose that title? AF: I became interested in the way history was written. It is repeated. Over and over, you hear the same words, but
AF: This is a conceptual project, if you will, of appropriation, a re-mix. The words, as you noted, were in fact culled off the pages of other books, from various his-
Issue 6: A Magazine of literature, media, and art.