James Baldwin, Restored

Hilton Als at The Paris Review:

Skipping along those tones mentally and emotionally, we’ve left the world of biography, in fact, and we enter the universe of pure metaphor. Growing up and as an artist, Baldwin had a great interest in masks, specifically the masks of blackness and maleness, the various roles we appropriate or condemn the better to define ourselves. In one of his last pieces of writing, he talked about the various projections that Michael Jackson, for instance, had to withstand and survive if he did not internalize what America deemed ugly, which is to say his blackness and his maleness. In Anthony Barboza’s extraordinary image from 1980, we have Jackson’s real pre–Michael Jackson face, the face God made for him and he did not make for himself. His internal life disfigured his body and his face in order to find some approximation of it in front of the camera and in front of the world, and it’s such a gift to have Barboza’s portrait before those decisions were made, and to see his extraordinary vulnerability and the beauty of his real face.

more here.