In the October Issue:
BLVR: Can I ask you about A Portrait of David?
BLVR: So in 1993 you shot seventy-five people named David, from ages one to seventy-five. What was your interest in making it? I see that project as classifying. Was it about saying, “Okay,this is fourteen, this is fifteen, this is sixteen”? Was it emotionally satisfying to make?
ML: Yeah, it was shockingly satisfying. The first project was about my interest in increments, my interest in observing what it means to be alive and what does it mean to grow up? It’s this play between the specific and the general. Because each David is also just himself. David age one was just “David Smith” at age one. But when you line up all these very specific Davids, you’re able to make generalizations. Here is the ad in the paper looking for people named David.
BLVR: What city is this? Winnipeg?
ML: Winnipeg. So it’s a portrait of Winnipeg. This idea of portraiture is a big part of my work.
BLVR: It’s like with Ampersand, where you created the seventeen thousand tiles that lined the Sheppard and Leslie subway station from pieces of paper you handed out to commuters, asking them to write “Sheppard” and “Leslie.” I love that piece so much. I love being in that subway. You can be in there for hours, just thinking about individuality.
ML: Right. It’s a kind of portrait of the people who participated. Again, it’s the increment of the individual−
BLVR: Same with the Colm Tóibín story.
ML: Right, it’s a portrait of the school but each individual contributes their little increment. Everyone presides over their own work, but when you look at the whole thing, it’s a portrait of the school—or Toronto—or Winnipeg. [We begin looking through the book of the follow-up project, called David Then & Now, which shows each David as he was when the project was first shot, then each David ten years later.]
BLVR: Is your dad’s name David?
ML: No, but I asked my dad for help when we couldn’t find a David aged sixty-seven. “Do you not know any guys named David?” I asked him. He was like, “Oh, well, there’s David so-and-so,” and I was like, “Dad, will you call him and see if he’ll do it?” And he did it, but the guy was such a fucking grouch. He came in—you’ll see. He had his galoshes on. He wouldn’t take his galoshes off, and he’s like, “I’m only doing this as a favor for your dad. Your dad’s a nice guy; I’m doing it for him.”
BLVR: That is so funny.
ML: [Turns the pages] There he is. He’s got his galoshes on. Look at that sneer!
BLVR: He really doesn’t want to be in your book.
ML: It’s sad because in that ten-year interval, six of them passed away, and he was one of the ones that passed away.
BLVR: People seem to change less as they get older.
ML: That’s true. Although it’s nice—when you get to a certain age, people chill out. Like, the guys that were wearing suits are now wearing sweaters [turns the page]. He’s clearly retired and golfing, you know?
BLVR: The older ones haven’t changed as much as the younger ones. They seem similar at fifty to how they were at forty.
ML: Yeah, I think you’ve done a lot of your changing by then. [Turns the page] This one’s pretty radical: I think this guy found religion. [Turns the page] It’s funny that this guy was fat but he didn’t get any fatter!
BLVR: It’s so interesting that even though one who’s older might look younger than someone who’s truly younger, the march is still forward.
ML: That’s exactly the point I’m making. You can make generalizations. You see them get facial hair, you see them get gray hair.
BLVR: Do you know that there’s no biological marker of age? Science does not have a way of telling how old somebody is.
ML: You can’t be specific?
BLVR: No, and if you think about it, that’s crazy. There’snothing. You can maybe tell that a person is in their teens, but even then, biologically, you can’t really say.
ML: That’s wonderful! My work is so fixated on ways to try and define that.
BLVR: It really does change your feelings about age. And it makes sense, because some people seem older and some people seem younger, and maybe even though they were born on the same day, they actually are different ages. It’s weird. I keep thinking about that.
ML: They took fewer footsteps and therefore are younger. They’ve taken fewer breaths.