Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility — unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it — that goes by the cult name of “Camp.”
WOW this is such an amazing and dramatic start to Susan Sontags essay Notes On Camp. For weeks now I have sat down and tried to type out all my thought on this essay. I painstakingly would go over Sontag’s essay and then reread parts of her essay and for some reason I couldn’t contextualise my thoughts and feeling.
THEN I GAVE UP!
I love her essay so much and I loved the ideology of camp but I was beginning to put so much pressure to try to capture and define all Sontag’s thoughts. Then I realised that Sontag had done such an amazing job of of pinpointing and listing exact references of what CAMP was but I had no idea what those references where?
So I started looking them up And “Oh my God” I loved them so much! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then I decided instead of me constantly sharing my thoughts and ideas on Sontags brilliant curation of what camp was, instead I would share her images and examples of what Sontag clearly identifies as camp, send them to artists and friends and ask them to critique and respond.
The read like this-
I have recently been reading Susan Sontag 1964 essay Notes On Camp. In this essay Sontag rigorously interprets what camp is.
I will try to explain to you what I think camp is.
David Mooks definition of CAMP:
It is an affection and appreciation of taste for the extravagant and unnatural. It’s popularity, vulgarity, banality mixed with a little bit of innocence. It’s theatrical, it’s show stopping, it’s over the top and it’s mixed with love, studiousness, rigger and humour. It can be the masculine hijacked by the feminine without even knowing, but then finding out, embracing it, and then amplifying the feminine. Its men exuding floppy wrists and masquerading in sassy neck ties. It exudes style and glamour. It’s amusing and binal but never boring. It’s sophisticated and charming. It’s ostentatiously flamboyant and humorously tantalizing. It’s fabulously fashionable yet full of odopulance which hides and overlooks one’s foibles or exposes them and then celebrates them.
I have hand picked you to take part in a little survey as I love your taste, style and opulence. I have attache an image or video that Sontag’s describes as a “random examples of items which are part of the canon of camp,” found on pages (5 and 6) of her essay.
Could you please examine the image and send a critique of what the image is, why you think it is camp and what might make it camp? Please do not be afraid to excused campness in your response.
You can respond either by writing or a video message.
I have attached an example of what I am looking for. I chose to do a video message.
For my video I wore a wig and glasses but please note, costumes are not necessary, but are a welcome addition if desired It dose not need to be long at all keep it simple and have fun.
For my example Michelangelo have given myself this image of the statue of David by Michelangelo.
All responses will be added to MAFAzine Blog witch is viewable by the public but has zero following! Your participation would be so invaluable, but if you cannot participate at this time I somewhat understand. If you cannot participle please let me know and I shall send your image on to someone else. Please send your response as soon as possible. The cutoff deadline is May 29, 2020.
Thank you so much for your participation. If you have any question please don’t be afraid to ask.
Each email also had a camp image or video attached and a little personal note. They were sent out last night Tusday, 5 MAY 2020. Now we wait for the responses…………
Mark Bucks was the first to respond to this video-06/06/20
Ideally I would read this over the video, but I don’t know how to do that…. so here’s a written assessment ! Mwah !
Calendar Girl, Neil Sedaka.
Textbook Camp, Calendar Girl forces us to witness the 1966 abduction of Sedaka, a tragic event that nearly destroyed his career, disguised in frivolity and merriment.
The Scopitone opens with Sedaka imprisoned behind his grand piano, the seersucker tuxedo barely obscuring the stripes of a jailbird. The expression of terror in his eyes underscores his desperate attempt to convince us of his love for the “Calendar Girl.” But, despite his endless, breathless plea “I love I love I love I love my Calendar Girl,” Sedaka is assailed as soon as he rises from his piano.
Four Amazons descend upon him in sequence, first seen through magic portals they cross a sacred threshold, marked with flowers. Two of the Amazons are draped in animal hides, one decorated with human organs, and another is named after the Roman god of war, “going to March you down the aisle.” The reign of terror begins.
Once the camera returns to his cell, dominated by the ominous and oppressive multicolored grid, Sedaka has already suffered the punishment of the Amazons. His seersucker jacket now stained with blood and red all over, they symbolically dance and twirl with his tortured body. His limbs flail uncontrollably as he begs for mercy “eeeah! eeeeeah! My heart’s in a whirl…. I love I love I love I love my Calendar Girl”
The Amazons are not deterred from their prize. Four more emerge through the portal, one brandishing an enormous explosive device wearing a helmet of fire, and another warrior in the hide of a ferocious cat, with chains and mystic gauntlets, unapologetically wearing the hair of a presumed past captive. Descending into his cell, they lie atop the piano laughing at him through cruel, mocking smirks. His neck is bound in the vice of a turtleneck, a symbol of his helpless debilitation. He is theirs.
Viewers are then treated to a rare glimpse of the Amazons’ fabulous ritual dancing. Through the magic portals and on our side of the threshold, they rejoice in a Bacchic display, fire in their eyes, June’s once sober demeanor now rolling in an orgiastic expression of ecstasy. Sedaka’s piano is now red, a symbol of bloodshed, his beige suit indicating that he has been reduced to nothing but flesh over bones.
Four more Amazons complete the abduction, one performing a victory dance atop the piano. another dressed as a multicolored Pierrot, to emphasize his humiliation. Sedaka’s mournful black tuxedo signals his defeat, and he is delirious. The scene ends with them bringing him back to their realm, the Amazons rhythmically taunting him before he passes into their world.
It is worth noting that the abduction came on the heels of Sedaka’s appearance on the quiz show I’ve Got a Secret, where he gloated about performing Tchaikovsky, noted gay composer, in the Soviet Union. He then audaciously played Fantasie Impromptu, by noted bisexual composer Frederic Chopin, on air. His espousal of the gay canon surely angered the tribe of Amazons, colloquially known as Calendar Girls.
After this cruel event, Sedaka’s career faltered. He tried to reach out to ABBA with a song “Ring Ring,” and although they answered his call it was a chance meeting with grand high gay Elton John that brought salvation. After signing with Elton’s label, Rocket Records, he reflected on the abduction and imprisonment with his album “The Hungry Years,” followed by the optimistically titled album “Steppin’ Out,” the first single being “Love in the Shadows.” The obvious homosexual undertones of this partnership need not be highlighted, but might offer evidence of the trauma endured from the Calendar Girls.
“To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up”Oscar Wilde, in An Ideal Husband
Megan Day Response 06/06/20
Didn’t have time to make a video but I’ve made a little text of the performance as if I was the woman performing. Hope this is ok!
Response to Maria CALLAS sings Carmen HABANERA in covent garden
I look longingly and somewhat seductively at the camera before I start to sing, setting the tone of the rest of the song. My movements are fluid and at ease, I am comfortable with my femininity and confident in how to use it. My hair is tied up into an intrinsically tied bun and shines for all the world to see. I’m wearing a fabulously adorned black dress with jewels embellished down the centre and silky shawl draping over one shoulder, with the other shoulder and collarbone free of restrictions and willing the viewer to look at the contours of my figure. I don’t need to think about what words come out of my mouth, they just do and I am enjoying the time on stage and the time to perform. I hold the notes and let my voice vibrate through the space, I am in control. I decide half way through to abandon the shawl and let shoulders escape as my voice escalates and I am in complete harmony with the orchestra. The audience applauded and I am soaking it in and enjoying every second.
Eva Kunna Response 06/06/20
Hi there! I wrote this for you. Sorry it might be a little rough I can read it out on a video if you would like also. Thank you for including me in your project it means a lot to me.From Eve
For me Aubrey Beardsley has always been this artist that I have been fascinated by. His work inspired the extravagant artwork in my favorite story as a teenager. To me his image of Salome is very theatrical and flowery. I could kind of imagine her as a sort of diva like Lana Del Rey in her flowers. The image is all flowy and pretty. Even if it’s sort of graphic. I think Camp also relates to the style of Art Nouveau itself. I kind of think of the Moulin Rouge sort of aesthetic and Tiffany Lamps and houses all done up in that style. I could see Aubrey Beardsley’s artwork placed in that sort of setting. Under lamplights in a home where they always play something that either sounds like Jazz or Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP. Let’s say an apartment just off Broadway in New York City or somewhere in Soho in London along Old Compton Street which looks out over the buildings. Maybe it’s just a print framed from a collection of many. Which reminds me a little of the way Japanese Shunga prints are collected in a volume in pieces made for framing. You could put it in any frame you want and I’d suggest something that is replicating Tiffany glass. In your bedroom where you keep your ball gowns or your leather drag and your diamonds and rhinestones and theater costumes.Everything will always be done up in flowers and the colors bring to mind Disney’s Fantasia. With Schiaparelli roses on black satin decorated with glitter that sparkles like the neon lights on the streets downtown. Forever and ever and ever like the lights over Broadway.
Sent from my iPhone
Dani Tagen Response 07/06/20
Here you are my dear:
The Tiffany’s lampshade is Camp because to beginning with its name is Wisteria – a climbing shrub that has showy, pendent clusters of usually lilac or blue-violet flowers. That can not be more extravagant.
It’s theatrical in a sense that it is made to light a room but I doubt it would actually do a good jog at it. It seems to only lit itself! At the same time, I can totally see it on a set of Salomé – it reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley drawings, I keep looking for the phallus hidden somewhere.
Btw, I so enjoyed the BlueBird on a tree video.
Grant Heaps Response 07/06/20
I am so excited to help you with this. Sorry it took me a couple of days. I have been super caught up in my projects and have been neglecting so much else.
The joy in the postcard is both natural and unnatural, it is exaggerated in a depiction but it is not an exaggeration in a reality. The game playing between the women and the man is the focus of this postcard and in this way it is not taking itself seriously but in the loveliness of the drawing it is taking itself seriously. I think this contrast makes it camp. It’s exaggeration of colour which in reality again might not be an exaggeration at all adds to it feeling unrealistic but those very likely were the colours of the bathing costumes worn on the beach that year. The prettiness of the background colours makes the women’s costume seem more exaggerated and again this contrast makes it camp. The naughtiness of the man taking aim at the woman’s bottom and the woman playing along with her bottom aimed as directly at him making it sexy and silly is also very camp. I also think the bathers in the background acting up for the artist is very fun, they are part of the action and know they are being observed. Their silliness and performance are both camp. It also has a cheapness to it but there is skill and talent mixing with that cheapness which again causes contrast and campiness.
Let me know if you need anything else. I miss you and London so much.
Alex Smith Response 08/05/20
This teapot always appealed to me David! there’s so much that speaks to me. it’s humorous, the figure seems to hold itself in a knowing pose as if internally mocking and inevitably acknowledging the camp was of itself to the outside world. A foppish dandy embracing ‘I’m a little teapot’ clowning and dismissive in the same gesture. It’s a functional performance. ‘..This is my spout’ and pout.
Alex Neumayer Response 08/05/20
Hi love! Well I’ve just taken a look at the video clip you sent. It’s quite a colourful little scene by today’s standards which is often attributed to the concept of camp. Bright colours and the notion of being ‘loud’ in appearance. The acting is a little ‘overblown’ and ‘high stakes’ which are two more affiliations that camp often carries. I’d also say the intensity of emotion and ‘feeling’ is another characteristic of camp. The intensity of the Queen’s hatred for the Earthmen, which we discover has resulted from her ill treatmentat their hands. (I found that twist to be a bit ‘campy’). Then some might also ascribe the acting certifiably camp! Particularly the Queen’s breakdown in front of the mirror. Get over it bitch you got burned! Physically AND romantically. Build a bridge please, maybe help some earthling orphans and put some good back into this world instead of filling it with your own prickly insecurities. Great clip babe thank you for thinking of me. X
Nick Corrigan Resoncse 09/05/20
Olivia Mossuto Response 10/05/20
Emmett O’Fathaigh Response 10/05/20
Eva Brá Barkardóttir Response 11/05/20
I loved your idea and provocation.I made you a camp desktop mural!I really wasn’t sure if it was ok to compare these two words because I know camp is sometimes used to describe “gay qualities” and I certainly am not trying to say that being gay is kitsch! Something in your take on the word just reminded me of the way I understand Kitsch. If you find the comparison inappropriate for this project or just in general, please let me know and I’ll make you another mural. XAll the very best,Eva
Patrick Schubert Response 12/05/20
What a pleasure to hand picked and propelled into this wonderfully flamboyant piece of delicios fashion exursion. This video shows the gorgously dressed , prosumably hollywoodian, diva been admired and serenaded by men in top hats. The oppulence of the glitzy tiara does not seam to be toppable.But here it comes : Dehumanizngly exaggerated assessories attached to beautyful models. Pointless frilles, antennas, feathers and sparkely chains make way for sheer enterainment .These dresses can’t possibly worn for a dinner party so their existance is only justyfied by showing them off on a red carpet or in a dreamlike variety show. The close proximity between fashion show and variety show takes you on a journey of desire. One can’t help but to imagine oneself to hover over a misty pond with giant lilies in one of those supersized body framing garnents.Thats all there is to it. With lots of loveYour Patrick
Holly English Response 13/05/20
Kelly Ewing Response 13/05/20
Claudia Sambo Responce 17/05/20
La Lupe: Don’t play that song (you lied)
I don’t get it, I really don’t. I don’t see camp in La Lupe.
What I see is – what now know is – a Cuban artist singing a sad song with a smiling face. Actually she is not smiling, she is actually beaming with happiness. She seems to be very concerned with her waistband which she keeps rearranging. At some point she wipes her nose with the back of her hand. She scratches her thighs. She fixes her scarf. It’s funny. She is wearing shorts (these days they would probably be called hot pants), high boots, a tight white shirt, and a lot of flashy jewellery. She jumps around and gesticulates a lot, but this seems normal because she is performing the song with all her might. She is very expressive; yes it’s all very exaggerated but I don’t expect any different from a performer. And she’s also funny, and why not? Obviously this woman is a diva. She can do whatever she wants to do. This video dates from 1971 and it’s rather low quality; I might have missed something in the blurriness.
So what’s the problem?
I had to go and read Sontag on Camp, or rather I quickly browsed it and thought, what the hell??
Well maybe this essay was very important at the time (1964) but to me it seems like a jumble of definitions, a hodgepodge of labels that cover just about anything under the sun. So it doesn’t help me understand what camp is.
I don’t think La Lupe is camp. But then I am Italian and I’m not bothered by displays of emotions, sentimental songs, humour, excess and volcanic women. I’m used to opera, to the theatrical. I’m not bothered by anything that has soul. Or by something that is serious and silly at the same time. La Lupe reminds me of Italian television. It’s like something that I recognise from when I was a child, something in my blood. But then, we know that the Anglo-Saxon tradition has – always had, and still has – a puritan streak. It’s dry, it’s flat, it’s black and white and doesn’t get the greys. That’s all I see in Sontag. Trying to rationalise a love of the exaggerated, extravagance etc. I particularly object to the way the puts together stuff from different centuries and contexts – through the lens of Oscar Wilde? What the hell??? It sounds like bad theory to me but then I’m not an expert. I’m sure I’m missing something.
At some point Sontag says “the whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious”. Yes and why not? Why do we need a camp label? Clearly she speaks in the 60s context yet it’s like the doesn’t put the finger on the real problem, all I hear is waffling.
In any case, you know what? La Lupe is NOT CAMP. Forget it. Forget Sontag & Camp. She has written better stuff.
To conclude this long response to your question, I’m going to show you something that no doubt Sontag (may her soul rest in peace) would define camp. And she would be very wrong.
Raffaella Carra’ sings and dances Tuca Tuca in the Saturday night TV show Canzonissima, a classic. It’s 1971, the same year of the La Lupe video.
Alex Needham Response 17/05/20
I think this video is camp because, first of all, it features Eartha Kitt, a woman so camp she made a song called Cha Cha Heels with Bronski Beat in the 80s. But even Eartha Kitt – playing Catwoman – is outdone by the campness of her Catmobile, which is bright green with not only ears and a tail attached, but whiskers and a cute tongue. Over-the-top? This car is outrageous.
In fact this scene contains three representations of a cat – the car, Catwoman resplendent in skin-tight leather and a mask, and an actual cat which sits on a lead at her shoulder, surveying the scene with cool impassivity. The fact that both Catwoman and the Joker know that they’re being watched, and are putting on this whole show in order to hoodwink the stuffed suits upstairs, makes it even more hilarious. And that’s before we’ve even got to the immortal lines: “You want a ride, big boy? Get in the car or I’ll blow what little brains you have out.” It’s the campest kidnap of all time.
Michelle Tayler Response 17/05/20
You have asked me to respond to Aubrey Beardsley’s The Climax.
I first notice the feminine symbols of the image: the moon, the flower, the repetition of swirls (which as a circular motion I perceive it as such) which is then neutralized by the masculine energy of power with her holding a severed head and the intense stern look on her face. (masculine being hijacked by feminine without even knowing but then finding out and amplifying the feminine; extravagant and unnatural)
I don’t see this as a commentary on gender but rather an image that is playful and serious all at once. It is aesthetically pleasing while conveying an image of death. She is also part of the unnatural realm as she is floating in the sky.
Strong stern face, masculine qualities, she feels no regret for this violent act. The artist’s tendency is to neutralize gender through the face – the faces of women seem masculine, the faces of men femme. Salome’s face could be swapped with John the Baptist’s without notice. (masculine being hijacked by feminine without even knowing but then finding out and amplifying the feminine)
Alongside the moon, the flower, water, and repetitions of swirls, the flowing lines billowing fabrics all speak to the feminine (exudes style and glamour). But Salome’s hair is wild, frizzy and unkempt, suggesting an untamed and powerful energy. The time this piece was created, women were meant to be well- manicured, composed, and refined. This image defies those gendered expectations, as camp defies gendered expectations. She is Medusaesque, and Medusa was the original haggy drag queen. (Amplifying the feminine).
Women of the time were not allowed to be sexual. Flowers are vaginal, water is feminine. The sexual undercurrent of the piece is not overt but underscores the piece and infuses it with playfulness. Playfulness with an edge – the name of the piece is The Climax after all! Ostentatiously flamboyant, humorously tantalising.
An offering – the way she seems to be offering John the Baptist’s head to…the Altar of Camp? Not before bestowing it with one last kiss. (taste for the extravagant and unnatural)
Nicole Robicheau Response 20/05/20
I used to have a girlfriend who was in a band.
A queer campy band.
Like the two in Mother Nature Father Time, I danced.
And probably like these two, sometimes not to the beat.
Once we took over the streets of Toronto to shoot one of their music videos.
I rode my red bike in a black and white short skirt with a striped t-shirt that had a black mesh tank top over top of it. I completed the look with big red hat and black sunglasses with cowboy boots and fake blood coming out of one of the corners of my mouth. I was also really hungover.
The lyrics went something like this.
I’m going to tell my friends about you.
What do you mean by that? What friends.
I have friends and they have money.
What does money have to do with anything?
Certainly you must realize you have a market value.
Yeah a little blond boy who breakdances and sucks cock.
I can make five grand a week easy off your aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaass.
You think so?
I know so.
You think so?
I know so.
You think so?
I know so.
You think so?
I know sooooooooooooooo:
Joseph Demster and Karen Stepanyan Response 24/05/20
We were a bit stuck for a response to the video. However, we did speak to our neighbour Josephine. She gave a thought provoking, if a little far-fetched, response. She has kindly given permission to include this portrait, account, and archival footage below. I hope this helps:
Life is camp. Camp is life. Josephine Henrietta Cock d’Harcourt, of the Kent Cock d’Harcourts, speaking to you from WC1.
Berkley’s, the year of our lord 1933, Footlight Parade’s Human Waterfall is camp par excellence. As those donas flutter their elegant lallies in perfect rhythm, to the ever so eerie siren’s song, opal-esque orbs form sautoirs and florets with a beauty matched only in their wide American smiles. Triumphant, they erect transfigured into a conical bosom streaming with joie de vivre.
Queer. It reminds one of a moment in the mid 1960’s. I was modelling for a young Hockney. Truth be told I believe he was quite besotted, barely able to withstand my womanly charms. Upon graduation from Mont-Choisi, my pronounced clavicles had marked a disappointing and unsuccessful debutante season, but had given one a predisposition for success in the newly popular water ballet circuit. I received rosettes at several continental aquacades. While demonstrating to Hockeny the transition between ballet leg and double ballet leg, I became somewhat of a human fountain oneself, having overindulged on the Dubonnets with Lady Bird Johnson earlier that morning.
Best wishes,Joseph & Karen Response
Stacy Grahame Larson 24/05/20
Peter Kelly Response 28/05/20
Frank Leuwer Response 30/05/20
Virginia Bruce perches on top of what is reminiscent of an extravagant wedding cake surrounded by white sugar and black beauty. Mythical creatures in fluttering costumes accompanied by handsome and well dressed men are sparkling in the night sky. A beautiful scene is complete. A truthfully theatrical microcosm in black and white with dramatic music and cinematography. Difficult to top this extravaganza and serious passion on glamor and theatre.
Nicol Berinsteine and Will Gorrissen Response 31/05/20
Gisele Da Silva Response 30/05/20
The 17th century French court is not known for understatement. Opulence, extravagance, and and excess were hallmarks of the age. The Sun King, the Palace of Versailles. The bar for camp was set very high.
The man who wore this shoe was Philippe I de France, duc d’Orléans, and he cleared the bar for camp with ease.
Phillipe I – knowns a “Monsieur” – was the younger brother of Louis XIV, the Sun King. (You can already see camp runs in this family). As a child, Phillipe was know for his beauty and sparkling intelligence. Monsieur was effeminate from an early age. With encouragement from his mother, he began dressing in girl’s clothing as a young child.
As an adult, he was famed for his flamboyance, opulence, and love of women’s fashion, often wearing fine gowns to balls and parties. His homosexuality was an open secret – his dalliances outside of his two marriages were the stuff of legend.
Phillipe is credited with popularizing the red-heeled shoe at court.
But is this shoe camp? Such a shoe most certainly IS camp to our modern eyes – impractical, excessive, theatrical. But was it camp at the time it was worn, or was it just another shoe? More importantly, is the shoe camp itself, or is it the wearer who imbues the shoe with its campness?
Phillipe’s persona was so outsized and potent, it infused everything he came into contact with. He was camp, this shoe is camp, thanks to its association with the wearer. It is not possible to separate one from the other.
Using your definition David, let’s unpack this shoe’s campness.
An affection and appreciation of taste for the extravagant and unnatural. It’s theatrical, it’s over the top.
A giant red bow and a bright red heel. Check, check, check, check. Also, anyone who has worn a heel knows how unnatural wearing a heel is.
It’s popularity, vulgarity, it’s banality mixed with a little bit of innocence. It exudes style and glamour.
The shoe was considered magnificent and stylish, and it was quickly adopted by France’s most fashionable. It is vulgar, in the way popular things are, but it’s not banal and there’s nothing innocent about Phillipe or this shoe.
It’s mixed with love and silliness.
His mother’s encouragement informed his sartorial taste. This shoe is the expression of a mother’s affection and adoration.
It is the Masculine being hijacked by feminine without even knowing but then finding out and amplifying the feminine. It’s men exuding floppy wrist and masquerading in sassy neck ties.
The very definition of this shoe. The lines, suggesting the curves of feminine form. The height, conferring power, the elongated the leg and pointed toe, suggesting delicacy and grace. Femininity co-opted and amplified by masculinity
It’s sophisticated but dull. It’s fabulously fashionable yet full of opulence in its simplicity.
The shoe, for all of its campness, is simple. It verges on boring. It’s beige. No buckles, buttons, or beads adorn it. Clean lines and a towering red heel adorned by a single giant floppy red bow. And yet it’s the shoe that set the French Court aflame with its sartorial daring and elegance.
THAT is the power of camp.
Manolo Lugo Response 03/06/20
David Mook: I originally chose the Jody Miller Scopitone video for Manolo to respond to because some of his art based practice which explores notions of domesticity. After a little discussion Manolo asked to respond to a video of his choice and he choice a music video by Juan Gabriel- REMASTERIZADO 1984. he responded while on a video call with me. I tried to tape the call but there is no sound. He also recorded our conversation via his camera and I am still waiting for him to send me his response. I must let you know that Manolo Lugo is one of my best friend in the world and the sheer nature of or conversation are often quite campy and I love and am for ever grateful that we can play and communicate in that way.