Richard Misrach, Untitled (November 11, 2012 12:26 PM) [The Kiss #2], 2012, 60" x 80", Edition of 5 with 1 AP @ Richard Misrach


Artists Respond

Richard and Myriam Misrach

For our Artists Respond series, Richard Misrach and his wife, Myriam, ruminate on what it means to be in a partnership during this time of social distancing and the role that art can play. Turning to the photographer’s vast archive, the two reflect on images of couples and share their thoughts on the nature of togetherness.

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Richard Misrach, Untitled (July 26, 2013 5:21 PM), 2013, 60" x 80", Edition of 5 with 1 AP © Richard Misrach

Richard: Now that we are in self-isolation at home as a couple, away from our friends and family as well as our daily routines and interactions, it is interesting to reflect on “coupleness” and “social distance.” Myriam, what is your take on that?

Myriam: I have never been thrilled by the fact that you go to work six days a week, so this constant togetherness for me is actually a boon. I love being able to have meals together, take walks, share many hugs during the course of the day, watch the news together, and try to dispel the terror we often feel in our hearts by talking it out and holding hands. Having said that, this situation also brings out the worst in people, given that we are so stressed. So, I feel that we need to be extra careful in our interactions with each other and not give into any frustration, as this is going to be a long haul until we get out the other end.

What about you? What have you learned so far? What is the silver lining in this isolation, in dealing with your work, family, attitude about our world, etc.?


Richard Misrach, Couple holding hands, Washington coast, 2008, 60" x 80", Edition of 5 with 1 AP © Richard Misrach

Richard: I think the biggest, and perhaps only, plus that I am hearing from several people—particularly my son and daughter-in-law, Erica—is that they are having this unusual amount of qualitative time with their families. Jake, Erica, and Oliver (our two-year-old grandson) are spending lots of time together and absolutely loving that. And Oliver is thriving! That said, the hardship of almost every aspect of life globally today is heartbreaking and frightening. My work gives me a way to address what’s going on, perhaps as a therapy of sorts. On some small, personal level, I feel as though I am doing something.

I’ve been thinking about our relationship as we are quarantined together. I am so grateful for what we have after 33 years—we are so comfortable in this together, so to speak. And thinking about us together, isolated from everyone else, and this notion of social distancing, made me start noticing images in my archive in ways I hadn’t been aware of before. (It’s fascinating, actually, how a change in the world suddenly changes the way one reads a photograph.) I realized that I had photographed numerous “couples“ over the years—friends, romantic partners, parents and children, even people with their dogs—that reveal a broad range of emotions and relationships. They reveal all these permutations of “social distance” that play out normally in the real world. I am discovering new images every day as I look through my work.

I suspect this is of no surprise to you. Somehow, whatever comes up in our lives I simply process through my work. What about you? This is all so tense. How do you deal with it, especially in terms of social distance? Perhaps I should ask: is there anything in these pictures of people that makes you think about us (our coupling), especially now?

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Richard Misrach, Untitled (April 1, 2012) [from Tandem surfer sequence], 2012, 60" x 80", Edition of 5 with 1 AP © Richard Misrach

Myriam: I keep up with my friendships, more so now than before. They all seem so important to me. We talk on the phone a lot more. We Zoom. In terms of us as a couple, that sense of togetherness informs everything I do and always has. It’s the strong foundation that shores up my entire life. So, looking at the pictures doesn’t change anything for me. I’ve seen them before, they always thrill me and delight me, but they do not change how I see us. But as I busy myself with food delivery, sanitizing measures, and cooking, I watch you toil away at our dining room table, which is now your studio. What do you think art can accomplish in this dire moment?

Richard: That’s the big question. On the one hand, I know art can’t directly impact daily circumstances, and yet I do believe it’s good for the larger soul of society over time. The best art somehow transcends the tragedies and existential threats of any given historical moment. Think of any of the great art going back through time. It all transcends the terrible moments (the world wars, the pandemics, the crumbling of empires). That’s the epic overview.

On a more personal level, because of this terribly scary moment, I am discovering remarkable reflections on our humanity in my simple pictures that I didn’t even realize were there. That does thrill me and makes me reflect on the special value of our relationship. (And it takes my mind off the perpetual worry!) This is a “meta” interview of sorts: as a couple, we are exploring our relationship at this particular critical moment while we discuss how my photographs of coupling might be worth reflecting on. Is there any further take-away you have about our week isolated from…well, everyone and everything?

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Richard Misrach, Untitled (February 16, 2012 6:46PM) [couple, long exposure], 2012, 60" x 80, Edition of 5 with 1 AP © Richard Misrach

Myriam: What is shocking is that it’s only been a week of staying home, at least for you. I started staying home earlier. Time stretches forever. We had always complained that time passes much too quickly, so guess what? Now time has slowed down to a crawl because there is so much to think about, learn, and explore, which is how the brain measures time. When you are stuck in a routine, the brain doesn’t need to stretch. Now we have to figure out how to get food delivery, how to sanitize what we get, what to cook when, how to keep active, do work, keep in touch with people, etc. It’s a constant learning curve. We are stretching and time stretches with us.

Richard: At the end of each day (as we have done throughout all our years together), we sit in bed, hold hands, and watch something on TV. If I was photographing us from above, a god’s-eye-view so to speak, you would see a couple, close, surrounded by people-less space. Social space, indeed.

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  • Essays — Artists Respond: Richard and Myriam Misrach, Mar 26, 2020