Thursday, January 6, 2022

Crit: Tulsa, OK by Victor D'Allant

This review contains a great deal of swearing.

This is a book of pictures from Tulsa, OK, taken around 2018, ostensibly of the picturesque dregs of humanity, as a kind of homage to Larry Clark's famous book, Tulsa which was made 50 years ago. Somehow D'Allant manages to work in references to the Tulsa Race Massacre too, which took place 100 years ago, but the connection here is tenuous to the point of non-existence.

The new book is clearly an homage to the earlier one, and shares some structural details as well as a location and, kind of, a theme.

Clark's book chronicles his friends over a series of years, and is mostly pensive portraits with a few photos of drug use, and smaller number of photos of nudity including one truly spectacular penis. His photos are often grainy, with occasional dutch tilt. One segment of Clark's book is a two page spread of what looks superficially like a contact sheet, but is actually motion picture strips.

D'Allant's book shares some of the graphical features: blurry photos, dutch tilt, and several spreads that also superficially resemble contact sheets. D'Allant doubles down on anything from Clark that looks like a tic, and pretty much dismisses anything that looks like a regular picture. It's all blur, tilt, and tits. More on these later. The book is, to put it mildly, design-forward. It's very... red. And over-designed.

D'Allant's book also has a lot more text than Clark's. It opens with a long essay ostensibly from his fixer, Julie Winter, about her dazzling career as a drug dealer and a lot of other things. The essay does not ring particularly true, about which more anon. Then we get blurry dutch tilt photos of an airport, and then D'Allant is in Tulsa photographing junkies. Female junkies. Invariably without their shirts on. There's a lot of what we are supposed to believe are text messages and other conversations with said junkies included as textual matter.

Ok, so even if we take this fucking thing entirely at face value we're in dicey territory. Drug users on the verge of homelessness tend to be people with a somewhat complex relationship with the truth, and we meet a lot of these people. The question is not whether there is a lot of bullshit in this book, but where the line is and who's doing more of the slinging. This is not throwing shade at homeless people, or drug addicts, it's just reality. When people are against the wall, telling the truth is not a high priority, and it should not be.

There are by my count 107 photos in the book, of which 74 contain nudity, and of those 56 have visible tits. There are no naked men. It's more than half titty shots, almost three-quarters vaguely, insincerely, smutty. It contains a couple of the lamest "bondage" photos I have ever seen in my life. This is some of the shittiest porn I have ever seen.

Despite D'Allant's desperate urge to wrap himself in the flag of the Tulsa Race massacre, the bulk of his models (let us drop the pretense at this point, there are inexpensive models that he paid to pose nude, not Julie Winters "clients" who are posing as an act of, I dunno, empowerment or whatever the fuck D'Allant's claiming) are white.

Stirred in here are a few photos of Americana (a flag crumpled on the snowy ground, etc.) and symbols of cheesy religion (a neon cross, etc.) Precisely the kinds of things a sloppy dimwit would shove in to try to position his book as some sort of cultural critique. D'Allant is, after all, a visual anthropologist. Whatever the fuck that is. A lot of photos were taken through car windows for no reason that I can discern.

Part of D'Allant's homage to Clark's book is several pages that look like contact sheets. Looking closely we see that in all but one of them he's simply duplicated the same uninteresting photo over and over. For one spread, he flipped it for the facing page. Sweet jesus what the fuck. The one where he didn't just lazily dupe is a set of photos of one of the very few (the only?) black models he hired pretending to box. You could probably make some racial hay here but honestly I can't even.

At the very end, lower right on the colophon page, we find a statement in which D'Allant says, well, let me quote it:

If most of the stories in this book are true to the best of our knowledge, some of them may have been edited. And some of them may even be #fakenews

Given that my hackles were up, having noted a bunch of tells already, I virtually exploded with fury at this confession that he's made all this shit up. This legitimately makes me very angry. This book is being presented as documentary, but fairly clearly contains much that is untrue, and we wrap up with the convoluted, coy, confession of fakery. Ugh. Fuck you, Mr. D'Allant.

I don't know how this book was made. I do know that if you flew in to Tulsa, and worked your way through the cheapest models on modelmayhem who would shoot nudes, this is the book you'd get. To be fair, a lot of those models are in fact drug users.

So, what are the tells that this is bullshit? None of these are smoking guns, and any single one could be fully legit. Together they paint a picture that is not encouraging.

It begins with the essay at the beginning, by his fixer, Julie. Julie uses the words "jail" and "prison" interchangeably. This continues throughout the book. D'Allant doesn't know that they're different, and doesn't know that ex-cons are, at least sometimes, a little finicky about the distinction.

Julie tells us that she was a drug dealer, and is again. We are apparently intended to believe, curiously, that dealing drugs to the nearly homeless is a surprisingly profitable and glamorous career (it is not, fuck you, no.)

Julie notes in passing, for no particular reason, that while in "jail" she wrote porn, that is to say, fiction, for money. When already suspicious, one cannot help but wonder if this is a sly hint.

Moving on we see a lot of scenes that suggest drug use, the naked girl on the rumpled bed, and so on. Scenes that look like drug-use scenes from movies. We see only two actual uses of drugs, and both are weirdly enough some sort of powdered drug being lined up for snorting (not actually being snorted, though.) What makes this notable is that the people we're supposed to believe these subjects to be don't use that way. They smoke and they shoot, snorting is largely an affectation of the effete, an expensive and wasteful pain in the ass. We see no smoking or shooting. Which is extra odd, finding someone to smoke a crack pipe on camera in Tulsa, OK, 2018 should have been pretty easy.

Also, powdered drugs in lines is the easiest "drug use" scene to fake, especially if you're deliberately making all your photos blurry. Flour, sugar, whatever, especially if you're not even going to pretend to snort it.

The text messages are all either completely lucid, or gibberish, which seems odd. One angry boyfriend writes in gibberish but somehow manages to spell "anthropologist" correctly.

Close examination of the pictures in fact shows almost nothing at all that looks seedy, except that the models are generally out of shape and have tattoos. Even the police ride-along sequence is just pictures of cops. There's a bit of sex, tethered weirdly to dubious "text" conversations with D'Allant's "editor" saying that he can't possibly! But he does! Hah! Take that "editor", you prude! I will so include the photos of the inexpensive model putting things in her vagina, because I am edgy!

If you dig a little further, you find that Julie Winter is a real person. She has an identifiable tattoo on her collarbone. Her facebook page claims she's been clean, legal, and working on her life for the last seven years which rather clashes with the fanciful story of her glamorous life as a street dealer selling in 2018. It's possible that an actual working drug dealer would work on a book that identifies her — with photos — as a working drug dealer in 2021, but that seems unlikely.

So where does the line between truth and falsehood lie, here? I don't think it's strictly within the realm of stories the models told D'Allant. I think that this book is mostly, or entirely, a construct. I do not think Julie Winter is a drug dealer now, and I do not think she was a drug dealer in 2018. I think the majority, and perhaps all, of the subjects in this book are simply inexpensive hired models and, sometimes, their boyfriends.

Inexpensive models are sometimes involved in low-budget porn, and while there's a certain amount of that in the book, we should not take this as evidence of reality or truthiness.

In my judgement, D'Allant is a fraud, and this book is a fraud. I think the weird little text on the colophon is his attempt at a get out of jail free card, a "ha ha j/k lol" squib to ward off contempt. It's not working.

It is also a bad, lazy, book. These pictures do not even get to wear the cloak of documentary to hide their shoddiness, they are deliberately made to look shoddy to impress a faked air of truthiness on them. This is a fake "document" which recycles any number of dumb tropes, and is a fucking insult to Clark's book.

What really puzzles me is why anyone would put this level of production and design into a dogshit like this. It's quite well made and, as noted, heavily overdesigned.

I don't even like Clark's book that much, it turns out, but at least it's honest.


  1. Replies
    1. I wrote about that book!

      There's probably some remarks to be made on the differences. The "Veles" photos individually made no real claims, it's just "dude at bus stop in Veles" which turned out to be "bus stop in Veles, with digital dude pasted in."

      D'Allant's photos are arguably claiming "real-life junkie, illustrating hardscrabble life of junkies in Tulsa" which are in fact "inexpensive model willing to show tits in Tulsa" which, at least to my eye, is a bigger deal?

      Both were definitely making a Book About A Scene, and both made essentially fraudulent books about a Real Scene, so in the large there's a lot of overlap.

      For whatever it's worth, Bendiksen used methods that were actually more difficult than doing it honestly, and D'Allant seems to have used methods that were a lot easier than doing it honestly.

    2. The "Tulsa wtf" book designer João Linneu is also responsible for Brad Feuerhelm's "Bleak House," some roadside chainsaw attractions, and public toilet taggings...

    3. Oh man I'd forgotten about bleak house.


      Keep scrolling down, there's some good lurking among the adhd-scribbly schmoz. Apparently BH is the rock-bottom worst of it, which I'm guessing represents all of 5-minutes hourly billing rate. Too bad, Brad!

  2. Come on now, Vincent is a Serious Photographer. There's a photo of him holding a ... LEICA!!!! On top of Mt. Fuji, Japan, too!

  3. Hi. I am Julie Winter. All of us who are in this book are not a fraud. These were my friends, my co-workers, my bartenders, me. This was our life experiences in Tulsa. To have them open up and share there lives, share their not perfect bodies, to show their vulnerability and scars was hard, very hard. Then there’s you, who obviously didn’t get it, calling us fake or that we were just posing. How insulting. Not to mention just down right narrow minded. Yes there is a lot of nudity but some of us can see a naked female body and understand it is not just a sex object. And even more of us can read the stories and realize how honest and real they are because they have been there themselves. You really missed the mark on this. Oh! Next time I’m drug dealing, I’ll be sure to post that on my Facebook so everyone can be in the loop. 🤦‍♀️

    1. Thank you for your remarks, Julie. An opposing viewpoint is always welcome around here.