The Recto/Verso photograms were made without the use of camera or film. A single page from a mass-circulation magazine was placed in direct contact with color photographic paper and exposed to light. The resulting image superimposes the visual and verbal information from the front and back of the magazine page. No collage, manipulation, or other handwork was employed.

Recto/Verso was published by Landweber/Artists in 1989 in an edition of fifty plus ten artist's proof sets. The portfolio is composed of twelve original 11"x14" Cibachrome photograms, signed by the artist and presented in 16"x20" museum-board mats. The prints are boxed in a hand-made, archival-quality case that also contains a vintage, numbered copy from the original edition of Heinecken's 1968 Are You Rea portfolio of twenty-five 10"x13" lithographs.

Twelve writers were each asked to address one of the Recto/Verso photograms. Their texts are printed on document-grade vellum slipsheets that overlay the prints. Alex Sweetman was invited to write a new introduction to Heinecken's Are You Rea portfolio, and his text is included with the lithographs. The writers include:

Claire Peeps
Lynn McLanahan Herbert
Susie Cohen
Irene Borger
Van Deren Coke
Joyce Fernandes
Anne Tucker
A. Grundberg & J. Scully
Bill Jay
Mark Johnstone
A.D. Coleman
James Enyeart
Alex Sweetman


Recto/Verso #6
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  Born in the U.S.A.
Comments by Joyce Fernandes, Chicago IL

"Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up.
Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A."

—Bruce Springsteen, 1984

An ad for women's jeans in Robert Heinecken's Born in the U.S.A. photogram mirrors the cover of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. record album. Both focus on the fit of jeans to ass. An any traveller knows, jeans symbolize America to those outside of the U.S.A. The Springsteen/Heinecken images can be seen as paradigmatic of American masculinity and femininity. In Heinecken's photogram, the woman's arms are above her head in a tangle of clothing, and her body is contorted to emphasize her buttocks. The advertisement is faintly sadomasochistic; a slight shift would have the woman hanging by her wrists, her distended butt asking to be whipped. On the other hand, on Springsteen's record jacket, Bruce is casual in his stance; he is the all-American, down-home boy ready for action. Springsteen is comfortable in his masculinity; the pockets of his jeans are worn, his tee shirt is white, and a red baseball cap dangling from his rear pocket has the same effect as a package of cigarettes rolled into a shirt sleeve. These jeanswearers are both icons of American sexuality, ubiquitously programmed by the media. Both Robert Heinecken and Bruce Springsteen have a romantic attachment, as well as an estranged discomfort, with iconographic masculinity and femininity.

As a photographer, Robert Heinecken has a long history of working with media images. His personal investigation of the mechanics of representation has focused on popular/news magazines, television, and pornography. In retrospect, it is clear that Heinecken is significantly aligned with the current post-modern agenda, and his work should be recontextualized within this discourse. Heinecken's photograms of magazine pages literally compress the vulgar detritus of contemporary society. His approach to this material is, however, more quirkily personal than the majority of cool, post-modern deconstructivists. Particularly in his He/She dialogues, Heinecken utilitzes his own voice to wrestle with confining prescriptions of sexuality. The photograms in Recto/Verso would appear to be more mechanistic in their approach, but the juxtapositions which Heinecken selects as interesting reveal a personal stance. These are not random images.

The Born in the U.S.A. photogram combines two fairly clear images: a female figure in jeans and a landscape. The obvious metaphor of woman-as-landscape is specified with the "U.S.A." text. Underlying these two images are murky, undefined areas that suggest vaguely threatening appendages. Coupled with the sadomasochistic implications of the woman's pose, a whispering of unsung lines says that those who are born die. And for Springsteen and Heinecken, the U.S.A. — the mother country — is implicated in this death. We are born in the U.S.A. and die in the U.S.A., or, for the U.S.A. Both Springsteen and Heinecken have addressed the pain and absurdity of the Viet Nam War. "Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong. They're still there; he's all gone…" (Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.). One of Heinecken's most powerful magazine photomontages, from the 1970s, features a photograph of a Viet Cong soldier proudly holding up two decapitated heads, coupled with an image of female legs. For both Springsteen and Heinecken, the horror of war is associated with a horror of women. Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. continues: "He had a woman he loved in Saigon. I got a picture of him in her arms now…" Oddly androgynous, the Viet Cong soldier in Heinecken's image could easily be a woman holding the heads of two male soldiers in her arms. These images of women, by both artists, picture their own vulnerability and fear of women.

For me, the most powerful Heinecken images are those that go beyond a mere replication of media images of women to reveal the artist's unease with prescriptive sexuality. Springsteen and Heinecken both reflect American culture — a culture that is middle class, suburban, decaying, immoral, and overdetermined by a hygienic, packaged sexuality. They admit their attachment to and roots within this culture but often describe a sense of discomfort, alienation, and fear. Although invested, they nevertheless claim a distinctly American pain and confusion — "like a dog that's been beat too much."


— Joyce Fernandes


Recto/Verso #7
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  Strong Teeth Make Good Art
Comments by Ann Tucker, Gus andLyndall Wortham Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX

The last room of the exhibition is devoted to photographers who regard photography as a tool, one of many available and all equal before the artist, rather than as a medium with inherent, inviolate properties. They are not committed to what they find in the world but to what they remember or imagine or feel. They are disciplined by the look of the art itself, not its external references. Intent on realizing their inner vision, they take license with both the subject matter and the medium, often enjoying the visceral, earthy pleasures of working with the graphic materials. The surface of importance is that of the print, not the object photographed. The importance of detail is in relation to the other formal elements in that particular object. While disdaining the photograph as evidence of anything other than the actualization of their own vision, they may use provocatively the viewer's expectation of evidence, pitting recognition of external reality against the properties of the process. Their images are suggestive rather than explicit and are indebted to other art as much as to literal reality.

This passage was written twelve years ago with Robert Heinecken's work in mind — particularly the part about provocation. This image is provocative, both in the sense of stimulating and of irritating. It is potentially both sexually and visually exciting. The potential lies in the viewer. There is a strong possibility that others will be irritated. Personally I find it compelling, memorable, and irritating.

Heinecken enjoys being a provacateur. For two decades he has challenged general audiences and specific photographers. He has sunk his teeth into sexual stereotypes like a bulldog on the end of a rope. He must have strong teeth; his grip hasn't slackened.


— Anne Tucker


Recto/Verso #8
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  After Heinecken
Contribution by Andy Grundberg and Julia Scully, New York NY (after the manner of the hand-written dialog of Heinecken's book, He Said She Said)


— Andy Grundberg and Julia Scully


Recto/Verso #9
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  Something Fishy
Comments by Bill Jay, Tempe AZ

In a recent tome about philosophical/psychological alternatives propounded by the major thinkers of history, the author expended thousands of words in much earnest wringing-of-hands about The Reason For It All. He impressed me greatly with his conclusion: "there is something fishy about human existence."

Trawling around in these murky depths is Robert Heinecken. And what he catches and offers for our consumption is redolent of fishiness. This is particularly true in this portfolio, Recto/Verso, in which seemingly random conjunctions of unpredicatable factors so consistently create recognizable and significant images.

Now and again others have landed similar images by a fluke. There was a bit of a flap a few months ago when a local woman was startled to see Jesus' face emerging in a frying taco shell. The taco was consecrated, not consumed, and the image became a shrine to hundreds of pilgrims. And, if I remember right, Elvis recently appeared in the mold on an old refrigerator. But my favorite example is an uncited newspaper clipping pinned up over the Xerox machine in our art department: a likeness of a patron saint has miraculously appeared on the scrotum of a fifteen-year-old Italian. (The account included a photograph of the scrotum image, so it must be true). Pilgrims are flocking to the blessed house, where the boy, Giuseppi, displays his holy scrotum through a hole in a screen. Giuseppi is philosophical about God's visitation: "The Lord has picked my testicles to do his work," he says. "I wish He had picked my friend Arturo's, but that's life." It sure is. As Woody Allen said, "…the Cartesian dictum 'I think, therefore I am' might be better expressed 'Hey, there goes Edna with a saxophone.'" Image is more interesting than abstraction.

Both Robert and Giuseppi share a faith in possibilities; the difference between them, however, is not one of kind but of consistency. Heinecken seems to have a psychic resonance with such residual images, which become even more significant because of their frequency and degrees of latency. As he has said: "I have the feeling that there are things happening that are really very interesting, if we can somehow find the key that makes them visible."

I cannot find an image of Jesus, Elvis, or even a common saint in the particular Recto/Verso image assigned to me — but there are plenty of other fishy things going on. I squint, revolve the page, and all sorts of latent images are brain developed. There's a squatting nude grinning typographical teeth, vomiting a sub sandwich (ham and cheese by the look of it) into a gaping maw with lips pulled apart by a giant's limbs; directing the flow is a Barbie doll in sunglasses, displaying provocatively enlarged breasts. A slight turn and there's a voodoo mask chomping on a severed leg. Turn again, and puckered ruby lips have opened to accept a glowing cigar butt. A further turn and a graceful swan's head is thrusting its beak between ivory thighs. And so on…

The "interpretations" are no less there than the more overt surface manifestations. As has been already pointed out elsewhere, the title piece of Heinecken's other, earlier portfolio, Are You Rea, not only includes the anagrams ARE and REA but also suggests ERA, both for the time in which we live and the Equal Rights Amendment. There is also the temptation to complete the word "Rea…" as "Real" or "Ready" (or even "Reagan"), when the trigger is a woman holding open her blouse. I can never see this title without associating "You Rea" with "Eureka," a cry of discovery.

If Robert Heinecken can dredge these photograms of magazine pages for so many strange, beguiling, and even meaningful associations and images, the question becomes one of chance or coincidence. I am referring, of course, to the hoary analogy of a particularly obsessed monkey eventually typing a Shakespeare play. Equating the artist with a monkey (even one so tenacious as this) seems rather insensitive, like Tammy Faye Bakker interviewing an armless woman on the PTL Club and asking, "Well, how do you put on your makeup?" I feel justified in posing the above, similarly impertinent question because I have a point to make which, to me, strikes at the essence of Recto/Verso.

In order to make the point I must first introduce a man with the appropriately photographic name of Kammerer. Paul Kammerer was an Austrian biologist whose professional passion was the proving of the Lamarckian theory of evolution. (He shot himself when it was discovered that his prize specimen, the so-called "midwife toad," had been tampered with to fake the evidence). Kammerer's avocation had been his conviction that apparent coincidences are merely tips of an iceberg, which happen to catch our attention. In other words, he reverses the skeptic's argument that from among myriad random events we select only those that seem significant. To Kammerer, "coincidences" are the rule, not the exception. He believed that there is an as yet undiscovered law which clusters non-causal concurrences into significant lumps. This, to Kammerer, "is a simple empirical fact which has to be accepted and which cannot be explained by conicidence — or rather, which makes coincidence rule to such an extent that the concept of coincidence itself is negated."

In a beautiful analogy, Kammerer likened this force to a "cosmic kaleidoscope" that, in spite of constant shufflings and random rearrangements, also takes care to bring like and like together — and to create recognizable, relevant juxtapositions by chance, as in this portfolio.

We may be condemned, because of our humanness, to play the role of "peeping Toms at the keyhole of eternity," as Arthur Kosetler says in a similar analogy, but Robert Heinecken has taken the stuffing out of the hole, giving us a clearer look at even our limited view. What Heinecken states as his interest in "residual reality" bears an uncanny resemblance to Kammerer's "seriality" (and it might be added to Jung's "synchromicity" and Pauli's "exclusion principle" and Hardy's "psychic blueprint" and so on). Unfortunately, such terms sound pretentious as if the idea were too difficult for non-specialists. As Goethe put is: "When the mind is at sea, a new word provides a raft." In fact, the principle is simple, if heretical.

What Robert Heinecken reveals in Recto/Verso is that the explanation of coincidence just will not wash, that underlying such randomness is a remarkable symmetry, as if something is trying to tell us something. And that is not only "bloody fishy," it is also the meaning of art.


— Bill Jay

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