What is going on in these pictures? Is this an unsanitized view of society’s margins — the aging, the sick, the poor, the painfully awkward? Or is this a grotesque fantasy of a photographer-exploiter who pokes fun at other people’s misery? The photographs are incongruous and illogical; something about them is just not right.
The handful of spreads comes from Donigan Cumming’s infamous and rare 1991 photobook, The Stage (Maquam Press). Published in an edition of 600, the work went largely unrecognized until its inclusion years later in Gerry Badger and Martin Parr’s The Photobook: A History, Vol. 2 (Phaidon 2006). The Stage featured 250 jarring, full-bleed photographs across 125 pages — uncaptioned, unnumbered and undated. Though the imagery may have quoted the styles of social documentarians like Diane Arbus, Weegee and the lesser-known Chauncey Hare, the book was a first.