John Hamon is my Hero
Anyone who’s been to Paris lately is familiar with John Hamon. His photo is everywhere – pasted on the sides of buildings, on street signs and street corners, even, apparently, illuminated on the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Invalides among other iconic buildings. I’d never seen him before, even though he was supposedly a thing when I last visited in 2017. Nobody knows who John Hamon is. He’s just some guy who decided to plaster his face and name all over Paris. He looks like a nice guy, friendly and convivial and marginally goofy. He makes you want to smile back.
His ‘art’ is pure promotion. He has no ‘body of work’ other than his ubiquitous face poster. Without gallery representation or pretentious statements or manifestos, John Hamon has become one of the most recognizable artists in Paris. He’s also proof that a creator should never explain his work. Much better to just put it out there and let people explain it for themselves. There’s nothing worse, in my mind, then pretentious artist’s statements. Good art comes from somewhere other than the logical mind and can only be diminished by intellectualizing it. That’s why, in spite of all the philosophical theory I’ve thrown around here in the last few years, I’ve never read a book about the ‘theory’ or ‘philosophy’ of photography that hasn’t bored me to death. My idea of hell will be being made eternally to read post-modernist books about photography and its ‘lexical’ nature and how such intersects with the ‘death of the author’ or some such ridiculousness.
I’d actually thought about doing the same thing, years ago, although not in Paris, but here in Raleigh (the “Paris of the Piedmont”). Print up a bunch of pictures on 13×19 cheap proofing paper and wheat-paste them all over downtown. See how long it took for people to start asking what the heck those weird pictures were that were plastered everywhere. Just print up photos of whatever – the more ambiguous the better. But have a theme. Paste them everywhere. Add to them weekly. Simple and hopefully, thought-provoking. Being lazy, I never got around to it. John Hamon beat me to it, and now everyone in Paris knows his name. I couldn’t help but thinking, that could have been me.
John Hamon has inspired me. Paris does that to you. Find a goofy pic of myself as a kid – my high school yearbook photo would work perfectly given I have long hair, am wearing what looks like a blouse and it’s hard to tell exactly what sex I am (I was a trailblazer even then) – and plaster it everywhere. No name. See what happens.
That’s the thing about creativity. It doesn’t have to be profound and sophisticated. It just needs to be thought provoking. It helps if it’s unique i.e. not a homage to or copy of somebody else. And these days it doesn’t need the mediation of curators or galleries or publishers or critics. With the internet, you can just put it out there and see what happens. If it’s interesting, it will get people’s attention if you’re persistent enough, although you’d be better to ignore internet beauty pageants like Instagram, which kill rather than nourish true creativity by turning its production into a popularity contest. If people don’t like it, or are confused by it, so what; you woke them out of their stupor for a minute or two. John Hamon, by the simple act of plastering his face everywhere, made my visit to Paris more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been. That’s something.
When I do do it, just remember: I had the idea long before John Hamon.