Posts Tagged ‘Photographer’

CECIL BEATON

5 April 2011

[Photo: Beaton by himself]At times in my life I have been overawed with certain artistic figures, almost to the point of being overwhelmed.  Cecil Beaton is like that for me. I once drove across the country to (of all places) Pittenweem to see an exhibition of original Sir Cecil Beaton photographs — it was stunning!

[ Photo: Princess Natalia Paley by Cecil beaton]A few years before this trip, I saw my first ever Cecil Beaton picture — it was of Princess Natalia Paley, and it stopped me in my tracks because of the background — I stared for a while before I realised that it was a bed, a frame of bed springs turned upright! I began to look out for his name.

So I knew some of his work before Pittenweem, but I could only have guessed at the depth and breadth of this man’s creativity!  It was an inspirational show! I immediately bought an SLR with different lenses, filters, a tripod, case, and darkroom equipment and took up photography.  Thanks to Sir Cecil Beaton!

He seemed to have been born at exactly the right time; he managed to photograph just about everyone of any worth since during the entire 20th century.  He caught war, he captured fashion and the movies, celebrities, personalities, stars, sportsmen, artists, writers, poets and musicians — and more besides, even Royalty! I think he took the best ever pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn.

[ Photo - Monroe by Beaton] [Photo: Garbo by Beaton]

Photography was a troublesome and expensive process, yet Cecil Beaton seemed to have more than his fair share of iconic, classic pictures.  He had a great eye for composition, he seemed to see in monochromatic, to really understand lighting and depth of field. This is no voyeuristic Weegee, no artsy Rodchenko, no Capa war pictures. This is glamour, style, styling, beauty — polished refinement.

I read that he was not overly technical and used only a few cameras, and I like that because I can identify with the relationship to things over the long term.

[Photo: Julie Andrews by Beaton]A well-known snappy dresser, he worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, but he also did costume design for movies and stage, was a noted set designer, a renowned interior designer and he designed book covers as well as being a noted diarist.

He was in with the jet-setting in crowd himself, and that’s a pretty unique twist in today’s weird paparazzi -v- celebrity world. He knew everyone who was anyone, and they all knew Cecil.

Considering his high profile, his “circle”, and the times in which he lived, Cecil was a well-known and accepted bisexual — he had many affairs with men and women, and a very long and steady non-sexual relationship too (with Peter Watson), even that is kinda cool.

[Photo: Candy Darling and Andy Warhol by Beaton]Naturally he garnered loads of awards and accolades, and I can remember well the day his death was on the news in early 1980, only a few months after I had started taking pictures and developing them myself in my new flat. This really was the end of an era, a real golden era.  No one can ever be able to take pictures of the Queen AND Candy darling with Andy Warhol, who else has managed to capture personalities as diverse as Yul Brynner and Twiggy, or Winston Churchill and Margot Fonteyn?

He took risks, did quirky things (such as the upturned bed springs), used mirrors, smoke, lighting, and all sorts of ad hoc techniques to get the pictures he envisaged.  But mainly, he got the best out of his subjects; they seem to be unposed, disposed, and relaxed — even when he has them in this very strange environment. A real genius, seemingly born to record that period of taste and time.

[Photo: Twiggy by Beaton]

Everyone ought to have a Cecil Beaton coffee table book, for there is nothing better than to flip through a collection of his pictures, to get lost in them, to think about them, to be inspired, but mainly just to appreciate the whole experience of another world long ago.

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WEEGEE

5 December 2008

Who’s Weegee?

Well, for me, Weegee is the name I kept coming across in my photography books in the 1970s, then later in album covers and book jackets in the early 1990s.

Weegee was an artist — a photographer — based in New York, USA. I later found out that he was born in Poland as Arthur Fellig, and that he died in 1968. But all that’s unimportant. It’s his pictures that matter, that’s all.

[Photography by weegee called 'coney island']I came to Weegee through a picture I found hilarious and fascinating at the same time. It is known as “Coney island” and is just a massive crowd of people at the beach on a hot summer’s day.

It is rude to stare, but this photograph allowed close inspection of everything and anything that caught your attention — a voyeur’s pleasure! Every time I looked at it, I would see something new.  I appreciated that Weegee had climbed to some high vantage point, and I understood the irony of having a “sea” of people at the beach.  I am glad this is not in colour; black and white is what allows things to be seen that otherwise would go unnoticed.  One would need to be Diane Arbus to make this sort of thing work in colour!

[Picture of George Michael Album Cover 'Listen without prejudice vol1']George Michael’s  album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 (1990, Sony), was clearly influenced by Weegee’s  “Coney Island” — in fact I thought it was Weegee’s!

You see, that’s the thing about Weegee: he influenced so many, and his stuff crops up in the most unlikely places.  For example, his “Hell’s Kitchen” was used as an album sleeve by saxophonist John Zorn for Naked City on the Warner label (also, strangely, from 1990).

[Photograph by weegee 'Hell's kitchen']

Now, I can’t say that I like “Hell’s Kitchen”; it is a crime scene of murder weapon and victim — not the nicest of subjects! However, Weegee makes such gory situations interesting by then turning his camera onto the crowd of onlookers and passers-by — and we get LEVELS of voyeurism!  We are voyeuristically looking at what a voyeuristic photojournalist sees when looking at crime scene voyeurs! This is “Their First Murder”:

Their First Murder]

OK, I will give you that the label, the title, is important; it makes you look at the picture again — and more critically, but I think that without knowing they were looking at a homicide crime scene, the picture is still fabulous.

There are so many pictures of Weegee’s that I could go on and on about here.  Go search them out, or buy a book (you won’t be disappointed). The point I am making is that Weegee was the first photojournalist that struck me, and these were the first of his pictures I noticed.

This was “news”, but it was not snaps of of celebrities, politicians or sportsmen, just real people (warts and all). They are stark, and uncompromising, and at times describe how low life can get, and how ugly people can be, and what ugly things people do.  Weegee was the first to take this approach, he worked very hard, and while his pictures may be envied, no-one would envy Weegee’s working life on the cold, hard streets of the Naked City!

Note that Weegee’s book was called “Naked City” — and this inspired the TV show and so forth!

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RODCHENKO

6 December 2006

[Picture of Osip Brik by Rodchenko]It was the picture first.  Not the story, not the context, not the label, just the picture.  It caught my eye and has stayed with me ever since. The photograph is called “The Critic Osip Brik”. I was just 17.

Alexander Rodchenko was Russian and an artist.  He gave up painting in favour of photography back in the 1920s.  Was he right, was art a waste of time now that we have photography? Hmm, interesting.

In any case, Rodchenko’s picture made me wonder about its subject — who was this curiously named man?  What a face!  The spectacles, the reflection of Russian, the composed features, the moustaches.  It somehow fitted the description for me of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Poirot!

My investigations at the Mitchell Library introduced me to the “Futurists”  — Brik was a Russian avant garde writer and literary critic, was one of the most important members of the Russian Formalists” as well as one of “The Futurists”. Brik was one of the co-founders of the magazine “Leftist Front for the Arts” or LEF, which was a championed Russian “Constructivist art”.

I was amazed — that this ostensibly very conservative, almost prim person — a potential Nazi — could be such an anarchist! WOW!

And for me at 17, reading about the Russian Futurists was earth-shattering! My research led to the Italian Futurists and the German Dada movement.

The Futurists were fascinated with the dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. They were out for attention, for challenge — for controversy — mainly by slagging off the art of the past as being boring.

Of course this clicked with the new wave — the “punk” movement of which I was so engrossed.

The portrait is iconic as an art object, and it showed me that you cannot judge a book by its cover.  I guess you could say that this is a bad photograph if it doesn’t make clear that Osip was radical and anti-establishment. But hey — that’s what that type of person looked like back then!

The name Osip Brik, and the picture are as part of me as anything can be.  I looked at this face every day for a decade, having it as a postcard that I carried about in my wallet.  Some people, on seeing it, has reckoned he was Jewish, others that he was a POW Commandant!  He’s been called right wing fascist, and communist — he’s been a villain and a hero, a mild mannered banker type and a cool, calculating killer!

This is therefore one of the most enigmatic images ever recorded on film.

As for Rodchenko, well, as a result of this picture I have grown to love so many other pictures of his that it may be said that Rodchenko is a seriously major influence on my life and approach to life.

He did the official film poster for the movie, “The Battleship Potemkin“, in 1926 — now, in case you don’t know, this film has  been voted one of the most influential films of all time on many occasions, and was named the greatest film of all time at the World’s Fair at Brussels, Belgium. It is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein about a real life  uprising from 1905 when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers of the Tsarist regime.

I have a lot of “coffee table” photography books, and I adore Rodchenko’s photographs. His eye was amazing — weird angles made me take family Christmas snaps standing on a chair to get a tall perspective!

Rodchenko has been an amazing influence on all sorts of people — even to this day.  Just look at this picture belonging to a collection of the Musée d´Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, entitled,  Rodtchenko, la révolution dans l´oeil.

[Picture of

Now compare it with Scottish Pop band, Franz  Ferdinand’s album cover for “You Could Have It So Much Better”:

[Picture fo Franz ferdinand's 2nd Album Cover]And Rodchenko’s stairs and shadows surely must have influenced another Glasgow artist, Jim Lambie — who uses black and white tape to create something of the same effect (the picture here is of his exhibition, “Forever Changes” at GOMA”).

[Picture taken by Rodchenko of shadows and stairs]jimlambie_goma

Rodchenko has endured as one of my all-time favourite photographers, and Mr Brik has been a close friend for a great many years (I even had him on a tee shirt).

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CAPA

10 November 2005

I have had a darkroom all my adult life; photography has always been so important to me — and to my wife (she takes fantastic pictures, much better that mine).

Naturally we have lots of coffee table photography books, and every-so-often they are consulted to remind us what we should be striving for.  Some photographers have taken pictures that have been so inspirational to me in so many ways, but I ought to add here that which is all too often omitted — that some pictures become friends, they live beyond the intention, the moment, or the context of the artist’s life.

  • The first picture that I can recall affecting me that way is by a chap known professionally as Robert Capa. It is probably one of the best known photographs ever taken.

Capa was in Cerro Muriano on the Cordoba Front during the Spanish Civil War.  It was taken on 1936-09-05, and is called known as The Loyalist Militia Man at The Moment of Death. The Militia man has been identified as Federico Borrell García, from Alicante.

[Picture called It’s an amazing picture.  It initially haunted and troubled me, and I hated it.

Then I found out that some people think that it is a fake. Oddly enough, that made me feel a whole lot better about the picture; it has become symbolic now, for me.  It is so familiar now.  It describes perfectly  for me the insanity of war, that a son/ dad/ brother/ friend can take a living step and be dead before completing the action — dead while actually moving.  Dead in a moment.

Yet the man is the only thing in the frame, the brilliant white shirt against the sky, the shadow adding so much, the lack of cover — nowhere to hide.  The lack of armour, of uniform, or support — this is a bloke with a gun, not a trained killing professional. This is an (ironically named) civil war. He’s a civilian really.  It’s obviously sunny, but thank goodness it’s a monochrome picture; colour would not work.

I am not sure it matters if this is the moment of  Federico’s death; the image speaks for itself, and does it’s job without the need for explanation or background information — it is powerful to me without being gruesome or gory (there are plenty of them available I’m afraid).  This goes beyond photo-journalism and becomes “art”.

[Picture of D-Day Landings by Capa]Personally I do think now that it is genuine — not a staged scene. Capa was perfectly capable of getting that close  to the action — look at his D-Day landing pictures for proof of that. He was known as a war photographer — in fact he was blown up as a result of stepping on a landmine in Indochina (Vietnam) in May 1954.  He died holding his camera in a war zone.  Earlier he lost the love of his life, war photographer Gerda Taro — she was killed in the Spanish Civil War.

But it was not all war and scary stuff; Capa was a colourful chap — as a Jewish Hungarian refugee, Endre Ernő Friedmann picked “Robert Capa” as his professional name because “Capa” means “shark” in Hungarian, and “Robert Capa” sounded American. He founded the famous agency, Magnum Photos in 1947 with Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Vandivert, David Seymour, and George Rodger.  He also dated the movie star, Ingrid Bergman and lived in Hollywood with her until 1947.  Their pal, the famous film director, Alfred Hitchcock based his movie, Rear Window, on their turbulent love affair!

I have to say here that I am not a war person, I certainly do not search for those types of pictures or anything like that.  Having said that, I do admire Capa and the work of the Magnum guys immensely — it’s just that I prefer those picture that offer something, you know, different, something extra. To explain this a bit better, look at the following picture:

[Picture of killer pilot by Capa]It’s not the fact that it’s a war picture, what I like about this is the expression on the pilot’s face — along with the tally, the suggestion of cockpit, and the angle of the composition.  It shows that Capa was a great photographer, technically, instinctively, and compositionally — what a good eye and idea, and that’s what it’s all about.

Powerful and memorable objects in their own right — that’s inspirational and aspirational!

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