Notes from Home, Part Deux

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.

13 thoughts on “Notes from Home, Part Deux

  1. Rob Campbell

    Yes, yes, but I thought Part Deux was going to convince me I really, really needed to upgrade my old Samsung to an iPhone. My almost zero cellphone lust has been nipped in the bud! So cruel!

    Regarding the John Hamon concept: isn’t it tantamount to littering, and if you identify yourself, won’t the boys in uniforms come calling to prosecute Bill Posters?

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Have you not considered the fact that there might be a ‘Part Trois’, potentially even ‘Part Quatre’? I’ve got all the time in the world, Rob.

      As for the bill posting, prove it’s me doing it. You clearly haven’t been to law school. It’s like the guy who’s found, drunk as shit, standing next to a car that’s run off the road and hit a tree. It’s not illegal to be drunk and standing next to a wrecked vehicle at 4 in the morning, now is it. Maybe in some sissy Euro-type country, but not in the good ole USA. Prove to me he was driving the vehicle. You can’t. This is a problem for the cop charging him with a DWI.

      1. Rob Campbell

        I’m happy to read that there are likely to be further episodes of the French Follies; I always look forward to anything you pen.

        Regarding law: yep, only my granddaughter is into law in my direct family (she spent a year of her course studying in Paris, in French, and beat some of the locals, too. There were several Americans on that course, and one of them came over to Britain to attend my granddaughter’s wedding to yet another lawyer.) I believe that a niece of mine spent time in N.Y. working to pass the US bar exams; she’s currently working in Edinburgh, but with an eye on the future path of Scottish Nationalism, which should it succeed in breaking Scotland away from the UK, is destined to see a wave of Scottish professionals headed, tsunami-like, towards the south of England. At least the Titanic had a berg to blame; Scotland would only have it’s face-painted idiots to curse in future generations.

        In the case of the drunk that you cited: isn’t there such a legal concept as likely cause or probability that carries enough weight to secure a conviction? On the other hand, I suppose that unless any third party is damaged, the drunk has suffered enough loss to make him think again next time. As with Britain, there is very little jail space to let…

        1. Leicaphila Post author

          “In the case of the drunk that you cited: isn’t there such a legal concept as likely cause or probability that carries enough weight to secure a conviction?”

          Juries are full of idiots. I once convinced a jury to find a client ‘Not guilty’ when my guy had been caught redhanded by the Sheriff having just broken into the Sheriff’s house. The Sheriff himself came home for lunch to find my guy parked in the said Sheriff’s driveway loading the Sheriff’s washer and dryer onto his pick-up truck. I forget now what my argument was, but apparently it was incredibly persuasive. Me and the client had a good laugh afterwards.

          The Sheriff, bless his heart, never held it against me.

          1. Rob Campbell

            “Juries are ful of idiots”

            That must pose a lot of ethical doubts in your mind…?

            I know you are there to represent the client, but nonetheless, isn’t the blind lady holding the scales just a little bit offended? It’s something that’s often crossed my mind when trials and such hit the media and another mafioso walks free, though perhaps in the latter case it’s not so much idiocy as fear.

            Anyway, the same claim regarding idiots could be made about polling booths, so I expect one should not be surprised about anything.


  2. JamesP

    Ah! Place de la Discorde!

    I can’t wait to go back there. I’m looking forward to going out early in hope of finding some fog and taking pictures. Puis, un café et un croissant au bistro.

    Of course, foggy Paris pictures have been done before (and certainly better) (Brassaï comes to mind), but these will be *my* foggy Paris pictures.

    I leave in a month.

  3. Andrew Molitor

    Yeah, if you want people to actually see your pictures, it’s hard to do better than simply pasting them up in public. I’ve done it. It’s fun and rewarding.

  4. G. F. Weld

    Isn’t that how Shepard Farley became famous; plastering Andre the Giant stickers and posters etc. all over the world. One even appeared on a urinal in the White House.

  5. Rob Campbell

    Found this video which might be the last one in which Lindbergh featured.

    Particularly telling: towards the end, he mentions the state of contemporary fashion photography and its photographers who have popped up to replace many of the now banned old guys. Seems it had made him decide to get the hell out and do something else.

    Unfortunately, he got out too damned well.

    For me, there’s a sort of vague relief in his opinions: I realise I was around at just the right time to enjoy it before it went tits up and became history. When you work alone, you tend to become pretty isolated in your mind, too, and your work defeats start to feel particular to you; only later do you understand that it’s been happening to many of your contemporaries as well, and for quite some years, and only the continued presence of the giants had you believe that things were normal except in your own case.

    I guess that it can be laid at the feet of digital for cutting swathes across the world of printed magazines and, thus, killing advertising revenue which once lubricated the entire industry. Actually, it really began a lot sooner than that: I used to have a knitwear client who did a lot of photography, and he used to get financial backing for shoots from Monsanto, the fibres producers. When that ended, so did the generous spending on advertising, and much more modest work took it’s place. But it was still a lot better than nothing.

    Hey ho.

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