"I secretly appreciated the architecture of these gas stations. I like that concept of a little building that has a great overhang, a respite from the sun where you could pull your car up underneath and then go inside your place. I dreamed of living in a gas station at one time."
Tate Liverpool have collected together Mark Rothko's Seagram Murals again, 21 years after they helped open the gallery. I spent years wanting to like Rothko more than I actually did and it took seeing some of these colossal works at Tate Modern to truly understand his appeal. When a large Rothko fills your field of vision, all sense of perspective is lost. Appreciating his work requires you to let go momentarily, to loosen your grip. Most of my photographs focus on life's little details and I love that there is something so overwhelming out there to counterbalance that.
And with Anish Kapoor's retrospective and Miroslaw Balka's How It Is both opening recently and featuring similar attempts to immerse the viewer in three-dimensional colour fields (Kapoor with an indented canary-yellow cone; Balka with a room filled with darkness), you can't help but think that the notoriously depressive artist might just have cracked a smile from his great studio in the sky.
This next cover isn't even one of Coleman's greatest records but both sides of the sleeve combine to sublime effect and the whole style marked a tipping point in jazz album design.
This sleeve was put together by Forlenza Venosa Associates - an ads, promo and music publishing company formed in 1966, when the former Columbia Records editor and art director Bob Venosa joined the fledgling Forlenza Associates.
For the past decade, the style of the Blue Note label had been dictated by designer Reid Miles, who had interpreted a string of landmark titles literally with smart modernist designs and Francis Wolff's noir-ish, two-tone photography.
With Venosa on board, however, they began to introduce increasingly wild, Afro-psychedelic art to the label's album sleeves, no doubt encouraged by his time spent hanging out with Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix.
However, for a year or two in the late 1960s, they turned out a string of covers that bridged the gap between the monochrome mod classicism of the early Reid Miles sleeves and the crazier excesses of the post-1970 designs.
Venosa worked on a number of classics, including Donald Byrd's Slow Drag, Lonnie Smith's Think!, Hank Mobley's Reach Out and Bobby Hutcherson's Total Eclipse, but for sheer atmosphere and timeless style, this wins it for me.
I was in desperate need for distraction a few weeks ago and decided to catch Robert Mapplethorpe's Polaroids exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in its last week. Like most people, I came to Mapplethorpe via his close association Patti Smith, but I enjoyed the show for a whole host of unexpected reasons.
Think Mapplethorpe and think punk rock, polaroids and sado-masochism - all instantly gratifying hits. And while there was plenty of that among the 96 shots in the show, I was surprised how many lonely still lifes there were - single subject shots of dusty sideboards and worn mattresses from friend's apartments in early 1970s New York.
These images dealt with unexpected emotions; of nostalgia, contemplation and grief. Arranged as respite to his more aggressively sexual snapshots, they felt charged with a negative force, as if you could sense the absence of each object's owner(s).
Maybe I was looking for this. Having spent 36 hours by my Mum's bedside before she passed away in the early hours of the previous Saturday, I had found myself with plenty of time to dwell on similar small details and inanimate objects: the folds of her bed sheets, the patterns of the hospital curtains, the arrangement of belongings on her dresser. Regardless of the prompting, I felt like Mapplethorpe was looking at his immediate surroundings through a similar filter.
I was lucky enough to interview Patti Smith a few years ago and she told me how she had taken to visiting the houses and graveyards of the writers and artists that she admired to photograph the tools of their creativity - the writing implements of William Blake and such like. I wonder now if that was a fascination that dated back to her time together with Mapplethorpe, or whether she was belatedly picking up on the methods of her former lover?
Soon after that exhibition, the ever-generous Bill Guy recommended I take a look at the work of Uta Barth, a beautiful and rather understated photographer working in Los Angeles. As her website puts it, "her interiors and landscapes engage the viewer in an almost subliminal way, testing memory, intellect and habitual response." That seemed to crystallise what I had felt towards Mapplethorpe's still lifes but also left me sad that the Oxford exhibition and accompanying book had all been promoted in a rather one-dimensional way - even looking for a polaroid to accompany this post, I found plenty of his S&M shots and portraits but none of the more modest, contemplative pieces. Sure, people like to be titillated and provoked but where is the harm in presenting a fuller picture of an artist with more to offer? To me it was clear that sex sells but memories last.
The Jive Talk “In the context of art photography, Sasse rightly begins by breaking the replicative link between camera and subject. Taking this altered concept of photography as a basic premise, he sees pictures not as illustrations of something else, or as records of the past, but first and foremost as two-dimensional formations, during the viewing of which the present occurs.”
- Stefan Gronert, The Düsseldorf School of Photography, 2009
The Hip Walk Atmospheric, lo-fi shots of otherwise insignificant architectural details that feel loaded with nostalgia and intrigue.
I just read this great story about "that little ole lonely elevator girl" from Robert Frank's photo, above. More than 50 years on, she came forward after seeing her 15-year old self in a review of Frank's The Americans at SFMOMA. I particularly like Kerouac's description of the "blurred demons" in the photo too - it's something I've attempted in a few pictures with mixed success.
Anyway, thanks to the Exposure Project blog for tipping me off to this (via the NPR site). I found their blog while I was searching for Christopher Doyle images online yesterday and it is the sort of site worth setting aside a long, wet afternoon to properly dig through.
Another plea for recommendations here. After posting about the work of Rut Blees Luxemburg a few weeks ago, I've rewatched a bunch of bootleg Wong Kar Wai DVDs I picked up in Hong Kong last year. The director has worked with cinematographer Christopher Doyle on most of his features so far and between them they've established a very distinctive style, taking their cue from vintage noir and retro-futurism, with plenty of slo-mo camera work and unusual viewpoints.
It is the over-saturated colours and heavy contrasts that I'm particularly interested in, especially on 2046 and In The Mood For Love. I've seen it called "Vanguard colour grading" but can't find a good explanation of this on the 'net. I'm guessing it's an expensive post-production filter of some sort but I'm sure there must be an easy way of getting similar effects in Photoshop - a few things I've tried look far too processed or heavy. If anybody can advise on a neat way to replicate this or maybe point me to an online tutorial somewhere, that'd be much appreciated. Here is the kind of thing I mean...
2046, (Dir.) Wong Kar Wai and (Cine.) Christopher Doyle
Chungking Express, (Dir.) Wong Kar Wai and (Cine.) Christopher Doyle
In The Mood For Love, (Dir.) Wong Kar Wai and (Cine.) Christopher Doyle
Dutch photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn has spent the best part of three decades taking portraits of Tom Waits and the pair have now collaborated on a book of iconic shots and lyrics. Waits/Corbijn was due out today according to Amazon but it looks like we might have to wait until the end of the year to see it, judging by the website of publishers Schirmer-Mosel.
Waits must be a dream to photograph as I can't think of another singer-songwriter of his stature who has maintained such a strong aesthetic over a 30-plus year career. His lyrics have always been a grab bag of vivid visual references and twisted narratives; of Potter's Field graveyards, windshield diamonds and jockeys full of bourbon; of buildings "lit like dominoes" and hookers so good they'd "make a dead man come."
And for a funny looking fella, he seems to really enjoy the theatre of the photo shoot, with each scene serving to accentuate his various character traits in neat little ways. When he barks into a megaphone or bangs a drum, it encapsulates that unpredictable menace within his music - that same uncomfortable feeling you get when a nutjob sits down beside you on the bus. Similarly, when he is shown elsewhere in silhouette clambering up a tree, it is impossible not to fixate on his simian-like features more closely next time around or chuckle at the Jungle Book-era Louis Prima bounce to his gravelly scats. Corbijn's photographs draw many of these traits out beautifully and the pair's collaboration should be a rare treat. Whenever it comes out.
As this blog has slowly transformed into a collection of the many influences I'm absorbing into the photography on Art Of The City, I thought I should finally start acknowledging by other biggest source of visual inspiration: album covers. I remember Paul Weller once saying something to the effect that he didn't have a favourite author and that when he was growing up that Lennon and McCartney were his favourite authors. In that same spirit, when I was growing up in a non-descript Midlands satellite town, photography and art galleries didn't really register but album and single sleeves proved a constant source of inspiration. I would identify with a great cover, trust a songwriter more for their artistic eye and often chance my luck on buying an album on the strength of the appearance alone. The covers mattered and they still do.
This occasional series will dig through the photos and designs that I've loved for years or just recently discovered, from the strange oddities to the stylish classics. First up is this cover from Terry Callier's 1973 lost gem What Color Is Love. The music is a dream; a hazy, lovelorn mix of folk, jazz and soul. When the sax flies on the epic opener Dancing Girl, it cuts cleanly through the bluesy atmosphere like a finger through dust on a shelf. As one Amazon.com reviewer has put it so sweetly, "everything you think about the cover is revealed in song." Listen to the full album here...
I've been in Paris for work over the weekend but managed to see the two Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibitions that are currently on show in the city - Henri Cartier-Bresson à Vue d'œil at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) and Henri Cartier-Bresson: L’Imaginaire d’Après Nature at the Museum of Modern Art.
There is plenty of overlap in the two displays, explained away by the former being a selection from their 300-strong collection and the latter being a set curated by Cartier-Bresson himself in 1975. The Museum has the benefit of a few larger prints and extra space, while the MEP has some less well-known images to tempt you in (not to mention the added bonus of some Saul Leiter images in the "recent acquisitions" display in the basement...). Regardless of the relative merits, what really struck me is the way in which HCB really drew the best from black and white - the shot above is almost no longer a scene from a Greek village but a beautifully arranged collection of bold abstract shapes. It is not only a moment caught but also a scene filtered down to it's very essence.
"You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and I knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing? My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I'm creating an imaginary — it's always imaginary — world in which I would like to live."
- William Burroughs quoted in Paris Review, Fall 1965
Just a quicky today. Here's another great long exposure night photograph from Todd Antony. I especially like the fact that you get a sense of the city through the curtains and condensation, without ever seeing it directly. It is taken in a very traditional interior but the bustle of the city is deliciously close at hand, just outside the window. You can view more of Todd's stylish landscape work on his own flashy website here or better captioned on his flickr site here.
I come across plenty of great young(ish) artists and photographers online that I want to share and so I've come up with a quick format for this going forward. In a bid to turn a few more people on to their work, I'm going to offer you condensed tasters of their latest output, with a link to finding out more. Here's the first, I hope I end up uncovering something new that you like...
The Jive Talk “Santin’s images are imbued with a provocative edge, a painterly violation of photographic intentions - whilst simultaneously suggesting a celebration of the freedom of paint, enlivening an image from the flatness and fixed, controlled nature of the photographic image.”
- Rollo Contemporary Art press release
The Hip Walk Spookily photorealistic portraits of women drowning in milk
Continuing my recent fascination with long exposure shots of cities by night, I came across the "Night Series" by young Parisian photographer Floriane de Lassée. It is obviously something of an obsession for him too, as he has produced shots in a variety of locations over a number of years now, starting in New York and taking in Moscow, Paris and the Far East.
There's a real sense of inquiry and improvement across each subsequent series too, culminating in the stunning Beijing shots below, which are the first set of nocturnal photos I have seen that manage to capture interesting interiors and exteriors in a single image.
William Rose, Out Of The Past Original US poster print, 104x69cm, 1947
Poster Art Wednesday is back with the bang of a vintage Enfield revolver, as I opted to dig up this vintage Mitchum film noir.
William Rose was one of the most prolific illustrators of the 1940s, preparing RKO cinema posters for everything from "the greatest film of all time" Citizen Kane to the cult B-movie Cat People (tagline: "She was marked with the curse of those who slink and court and kill by night!"). The artist also reportedly produced a painting a week for romance novels and society magazines, like Cosmopolitan and American Weekly.
The real interesting twist here is in the divided loyalties between these two sources of commissions. By all accounts, Citizen Kane was loosely based on the story of USnewspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who just happened to own American Weekly. Hearst had taken objection to the Orson Welles' film and done his damnedest to prevent its theatrical release in 1941. Given that there was a Rose original advertising Citizen Kane in foyers across the country, I can only presume he must have been a hell of a sweet talker to keep up the commissions from the notoriously no-nonsense Hearst.
The fantastic thing about blogging is that you can start a new blog entirely unsure as to the exact purpose of why you are doing it, only to then land on an answer maybe 30, 50 or several hundred posts in. I began Hip Walk as an outlet for my enthusiasm for mid-20th century art and photography, before it gradually mutated into a place to post up imagery from any period that has inspired my own photographs, over at Art Of The City.
While this much is true, and I'll still post things that I've discovered, however late or after the fact I am, I've also really realised that more than anything I want to find some like-minded people who can say: "You like this? Try this then..." It happened when Owen from Magic Lantern Show turned me on to the Vancouver photographer Fred Herzog. It also reaffirms subconscious steals or influences too, like when Bill Guy mentioned the obscure Jim Jarmusch film Stranger Than Paradise on this photo - for the record, I've had the poster of that film on my wall for about 5 years now, so Bill is either a) psychic, b) stalking me, or c) even more astute and visually perceptive than I first thought.
I've slowly discovered that such mutual tips and nods are the real reason I'm doing this second blog - it's obvious really, even if I've maybe not encouraged it the same. So for the few of you who check in here regularly, I really want to pick your brains as I go. If I post on a theme or a style that reminds you of something else, please leave me a comment and hopefully we can all turn each other on to something new, something enlightening or just something that looks pretty damn cool.
Anyways, today I've posted up the work of Rut Blees Luxemburg, a Berlin-born, LCC graduate who has taken some wonderful long exposure shots of East London over the past few years. Her work is suitably atmospheric and edgy enough for it to have graced the covers of two major UK albums - The Streets' Original Pirate Material and Bloc Party's A Weekend In The City - but I've returned to it purely for the skill of the rendering. I've been trying some long exposure night shots myself recently (I'll post them on AOTC when I finally take a good one) and have begun to appreciate how good these really are. In Luxemburg's photography there are no lens flares or other glossy Photoshop cliches, just grit, texture and glowing sodium colours.
So with my new spirit and purpose, can anyone recommend any other good long-exposure night photographers in a similar vein?!
Poster Wednesday time again and for this one I've opted for a new release, albeit one with its flag planted firmly in mid-20th century art and design. This poster for Duncan Jones' Moon has been all over the tube network in London recently and it can do seriously odd things to your eyes. Those concentric circles trigger that great throbbing Op Art effect, like a Bridget Riley masterpiece or Paul Newman's buzzing face on this Cool Hand Luke classic.
In fact it's a real return to - or rather update of - those vintage Hollywood posters, when all you needed was a person, a title and a clever geometric design. Sure, those circles represent the moon itself, but they also evoke the disorienting experience endured by Sam Rockwell across the course of the film and the echoing emptiness of his surroundings. It's design motif as message. I love it.
If anyone knows anything of the artist or has a favourite vintage film poster in a similar style that they'd like to share, it'd be good to hear your comments...
This guy came up via a great little art book called Alla Prima. It's a new American title from Watson Guptill that details the finer points of painting wet-on-wet, but also delves into the history of the medium, tracing its usage from El Greco and Velazquez, via Edward Hopper and right up to contemporary talents like Alex Kanevsky.
The finish of this painting reminds me of Adrian Ghenie's earlier work, thanks to those vast fields of colour and the glitchy vertical splashes, but much of Kanevsky's other work tackles distorted nudes in a similarly inventive way. He uses plenty of clinical, bleached-out passages of bluish whites, yet the contrast with the darker foreground here really draws your eye back in - it's those contrasts again, like modern film noir shadows. Check out his full portfolio here.
I need to get this one out of the way sharp-ish, before they sully the memory of one of the 1970s greatest movies with the pitiful-looking Tony Scott remake that is due out in the UK next week. This poster does a sweet job of summing up the dynamics of the original, with the orderly geometry of the subway map disrupted by the great sweeping graphic of the train.
Really though, it's the film that is the inspiration for several of the Art Of The City posts, from the subject matter (rattling trains, city streets and commuters) to the overall aesthetic (strip lights, shadows, all those vintage beiges and browns). And with such sharp dialogue, it's saying something that I'd even watch the film with the sound off...
Respect is due to the photographer Julius Shulman who died on Wednesday, aged 98. A photographer best known for capturing the golden age of Californian modernist architecture, he spent the post-war years shooting public and private projects by the likes of Mies Van Der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. They may have designed the homes but it was Shulman that brought them to life, letting shadows dance across their interiors or capturing them in the context of a glittering city skyline.
Amazingly, Shulman continued to work until very recently, bequeathing more than 250,000 prints to the Getty Research Institute in 2005 and giving an interview to Metropolis magazine two years ago for the publication of his three-volume Taschen retrospective. I'd known some of his best known images for years but only put a name to them with the Birth Of The Cool exhibition and catalogue. Anyway, as a mini Hip Walk tribute, here are three of my Shulman favourites:
Andre Kertesz's On Reading opened at London's Photographer's Gallery today and amazingly this is the first time that the Hungarian photographer's collection of bookish snapshots have been exhibited in the UK.
It's a clever little collection, full of unwitting members of the public caught in private moments; sprawled out on balconies with a novel, inspecting the bargain bins of Fourth Avenue book stalls or ignoring passersby like the man in Pont Des Arts, 1963, pictured left.
The exhibition - like Elliott Erwitt's Handbook - underlines why a cute concept and a sense of humour are a million times more important than staged gimmicks or superior finishes. However, revisiting the collection more than 90 years after Kertesz began taking the first images included here also lends the display a nostalgic edge, and one which got me thinking later on.
Subconsciously, I had left the book-themed exhibition and headed to Borders, around the corner from the gallery on Oxford Street. The flagship store was closing down, with all stock being sold off at a 50% discount. While this is no doubt due in part to the effects of online retailers and supermarkets undercutting them through bulk purchasing, I can't help feeling that it also could be as a result of people increasingly turning to digital means for their information fix. And wouldn't On Reading have been a far less interesting collection if all it showed was people huddled over laptops, iPhones and other assorted gadgets?
Now of course, I am an avid blogger, but I also love cracking the spine of a fresh paperback or grabbing the paper on my bleary-eyed sprint to work each morning. Maybe it's the relaxing ritual of it all, like making a cup of tea? Or maybe it's because you can never truly get lost in a story when you are reading it on a machine that is hooked up to millions of other people? Who knows. If you only one other thing on this rain-sodden evening, make sure it's grabbing yourself a good book - for Kertesz, if not for me.
Buzzed by posting the large reproduction of North By Northwest last month, I want to start hipwalking classic and stylish modern posters every week. For the first of this series, I've turned to Richard Hamilton's Beatles photo collage that accompanied the original copies of the Scousers' "White Album".
Now, I'm no Beatles nut but their 1968 double album not only contained their best songs (Dear Prudence, Helter Skelter, Happiness Is A Warm Gun) but also one of the finest pieces of music-related Pop Art ever made. Hamilton suggested the poster as a means of contrasting with the austere, individually-numbered conceptualism of the album's cover. "I began to feel a bit guilty at putting their double album under plain wrappers," he recalls in Barry Miles' The Beatles Diary. "I suggested it could be jazzed up with a large edition print, an insert that would be even more glamorous than a normal sleeve."
A huge fan of the then 46-year old artist, Paul McCartney spent the best part of a week driving to Hamilton's house in North London to assist with the collage. Contemporary photographs by John Kelly and Linda Eastman were neatly arranged alongside childhood snaps, before Hamilton pasted in white paper to give the composition room to "breathe" and tie it in with the off-white album sleeve. McCartney was taken aback at the simplicity of the gesture: "It was beautiful and I remember being very impressed with the way he put this negative space on - it was the first time that I'd ever seen that idea."
He's a fan of Diane Arbus and David Lynch, he lives in Barcelona and he goes by the name of *Complejo. Other than that, I can't tell you anything much more about this hipster's work, but everybody needs a little mystery in their lives once in a while, no?