Ten Days Ten Album Covers

On Facebook I was recently tagged on a meme called Ten Days, Ten Album Covers. You only needed to list the albums with no explanation. But, I just could not do that and had to write an explanation. About halfway through, I realized I had a post for my blog.

Remember, it about the covers, I focused on the photography and art design, and not necessarily the music. Two albums on the list I never listened to, then some of the others (Beatles, Springsteen, Dylan, Lennon and The Rolling Stones) are favorites.

Starting with number ten and working my to number one.

Number 10

Psyical Grafitti

The album’s art designer for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti was a man named Peter Corriston. He wanted to use a New York City tenement for the cover, but needed one that had no distractions like lamp posts or street signs. The layout would also have to fit the square design of an album cover. He found what he needed at St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. The resulting cover actually consists of two buildings, 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place. While they were close in appearance they were  not as identical as your see in the final photograph. The original photos were shot by Eliott Erwitt, B.P. Fallen and Roy Harper (no mention is made of which photographer shot the various photos in the album). There was a lot of pre-photoshop doctoring to make the two buildings look as a close as possible. Below is what the two buildings look like at the time.

Number 9

Exile

The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. Photographer Robert Frank’s photograph of a collage of photographs, supposedly taken at New York tattoo parlor, was used for the cover. Frank was born in Switzerland. After coming to America, he became part of the Beat Generation. Like the other members on the Beats, Frank with his photography was searching for the forgotten Americans, those exiled to the edge of nowhere. Mick Jagger, familiar with the photographer’s work, contacted Frank. The Stones were working on Exile on Main Street, an album that featured a lot of raw outlaw style blues. They wanted the same outsider feel for the album cover. Originally, Frank was going to use photos he took of the Stones on the seedier streets of L.A. But after art director John Van Hamersveld saw the tattoo parlor photo, he knew he had his front cover. Many of Frank’s other photos of the Stones were used on the back cover and inside.
Number 8

Janis-Joplin-Pearl-photographer Barry Feinstein

Janis Joplin’s Pearl was released posthumously. It contained some of her finest work including the classic Me and Bobby McGee. The photograph was by Barry Feinstein. It’s beautifully lit with the light falling perfectly on Joplin’s face. The Victoria style chair, her clothes and the drink in hand (most likely Southern Comfort) add to the atmosphere.

Number 7

Robert Mapplethrope

Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, was photographed by her close friend/lover/artistic cohort photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The photograph, taken in an apartment in Greenwich Village, is from the mid-1970’s. During the session, Mapplethorpe took about a dozen photos of Smith with a jacket slung over her shoulder and skinny tie flung around her neck before he caught the perfect image. It’s a delicate depiction of the singer off-setting the punk rock image she embraced at the time. Mapplethorpe died in 1989 from complications from aids. Patti Smith would write about their life, per Mapplethorpe’s request, in the excellent memoir Just Kids winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2010.
Number 6
Henry Ditz
The Doors Morrison Hotel – The album cover was by photographer Henry Diltz (art direction Gary Burden).  Two years ago my wife and I attended a presentation titled Behind the Lens. The guests were Henry Diltz and Patti Boyd, aka Patti Harrison. Diltz part of the talk was the more interesting, as were his photographs. Boyd’s photos, she admitted were snapshots she took over the years of ex-husband George and other celebrities. Diltz though is a professional photographer who has many album covers to his credit. His stories were fascinating. The Morrison Hotel was an actual hotel in a seedy part of Los Angeles. Ray Manzarek and his wife were riding around looking for potential locations to shoot the album cover. He recommended the third rate Morrison Hotel. The day of the shoot, the desk clerk told Diltz and company they could not come inside and shoot. The group set up outside and began to take a series of photographs hoping for that one special shot. Then came a moment when the desk clerk left for a break and the grungy lobby was empty. Diltz got the group to run inside and pose in front of the window. He shot about a roll of film and then they all got out before the desk clerk returned. They got their cover shot.
Number 5

Daniel Kramer1Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home is one of rock’s true classics. The cover photo was by Daniel Kramer. The photo shoot was done at the home of Albert Grossman, then Dylan’s manager. The lady in red, seductively lounging in the background, is Grossman’s wife, Sally. Note Dylan’s previous album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) behind her. When asked why this photo was selected, Kramer responded, it was the only one where the cat sitting on Dylan’s lap was looking at the camera.

Number 4

john-lennon-rock-n-roll-960x960

The cover photo of John Lennon’s 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album goes back to the Beatles Hamburg days when they played in the city’s red light district. The photograph is by Jürgen Vollmer, an old friend of the group from those wild early days playing in clubs like the Kaiserkeller. Vollmer captures Lennon’s early rebel without a cause persona. He’s framed in an entrance way of an old brick building somewhere in Hamburg, wearing a leather jacket, hands in pocket and one foot casually over the other, a combination of early Brando and a young Dylan. The three blurred figures passing by are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe.

Number 3

220px-Born_to_Run_(Front_Cover) Eric Meola Photographer

The cover of Bruce Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run, has become one of the most iconic shots in the history of rock. It was Springsteen’s third album and his big breakout, selling more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.  The photograph was taken by Eric Meola who during a three hour photo shoot shot more than 900 photos. Meola, a self-taught photographer opened up his own studio in 1971. Four years later he was photographing Springsteen leaning on the big man, Clarence Clemons, for the cover of Born to Run. The cover photo has been often imitated, from Cheap Trick to the Muppets, but never duplicated.

Number 2

Joni-Mitchell-Hejira-album-covers-billboard-1000x1000

In the 1976 Joni Mitchell released Hejira, a fusion of folk and jazz; the album cover, like the music, was a mix. Three photographs: Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota, a superimposed image of the artist staring directly at you, and a second superimposed image of a long empty highway layered over the artist’s coat. The final blended image suggests the creative never ending journey Mitchell has been traveling. It’s self reflective, seductive and elusive.

Number 1

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Like the music inside, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover was revolutionary. The art designer was Peter Blake. Each of the four Beatles were asked to compile a list of people they admired and would want on the cover. The concept was that the group performed a concert and all these people were in the audience. Using cardboard cutouts of their selections, all would all be featured in a group photo. Permission needed to be obtained from the chosen before using their likeness. Some folks, like Leo Gorcey, demanded too much money and were axed. Not surprisingly, Bob Dylan made the cover. Just as surprisingly Elvis Presley, a significant influence on the group, did not.  Michael Cooper was the photographer of the final image. While this photograph would be his most famous, Cooper worked with many other musicians of the day, notably with the Rolling Stones. In 1973, Michael Cooper’s life spiraled out of control. Addicted to drugs and with bouts of depression, at the age of 31 he committed suicide.

From Real to Reel: Still Photographers at the Movies Astrid Kirchherr

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Astrid Kirchherr

This is the 5th installment in this series.

Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kirchherr knew each other since their days at art school in Hamburg. It was there they met Jürgen Vollmer, a photographer. Voormann and Kirchherr were lovers, though their relationship was heading toward an end. After an argument one evening, Klaus wandered into the Kaiserkeller a club in a nasty section of Hamburg called the Reeperbahn filled with drunken sailors, prostitutes, gangsters and other sorts. The artsy/beatnik crowd that Voormann, Kirchherr, and Vollmer were part of were more into jazz and coffeehouses that the raucous rock and roll or the Reeperbahn. They wore their hair long, for the times, and leaned toward wearing black clothes. Voormann’s crowd were part of a group known as exis, short for existentialists who read Camus and Sartre.

Klaus Astrid

Klaus Voormann – Photo by Astrid Kirchherr

Depending on what biography you read, on stage at the time were Rory Storm and the Hurricanes whose drummer was Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, or a leather-clad group called the Beatles (the two groups’ alternated sets). Most bios lean toward the Beatles. Either way, the music was loud and raw.

Klaus found the music exciting and the band wild. He could not wait to go and tell Astrid and Vollmer what he experienced.  Astrid Kirchherr was already working as an assistant to photographer Reinhard Wolf and was on the cusp of having a great career of her own. Born in 1938 in Hamburg, Germany to a middle-class family. Astrid’s father was an executive officer in the German branch of the Ford Motor Company. When World War II broke, Astrid and her family evacuated to the Baltic Sea. After the war, they returned to a bombed out Hamburg, but still managed to live comfortably. [1]  She attended Meisterschule für Mode, Textil, Graphik und Werbung in Hamburg to study fashion design. During this period, she also displayed a talent for photography and was convinced by the school’s top photographic instructor Reinhard Wolf to switch courses. After graduating, Wolf hired Kirchherr as an assistant where she still worked when Klaus brought her to the club where she would meet the Beatles.

At first, Astrid did not want to go to the seedy red-light district. Sometime between Klaus’ first visit and the time he got Astrid to join him (timing again differs depending on the biographer), Klaus, who spoke decent English, and was a wannabe guitarist and a graphic designer, just completed a commission to do the cover of the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run album. [2] He approached John one night showing him the album. John brushed him off, telling him he should talk to Stu, he was the arty one.

Astrid-Kirchherr Stu

Stu Sutcliffe – Photo by Astrid Kirchherr

Eventually, after tireless insistence on Klaus’ part, Astrid, along Vollmer, went to the club. The three were blown away by the wild, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Little Richard songs played by the group. Astrid was as captivated as Klaus by the group, and by John in particular, but it was the sunglass-wearing diminutive Stu, the bass player who stood quietly near Lennon on stage that really attracted the young woman and the others in the arty group. Astrid, Klaus, and Vollmer kept coming back to the club, enthralled by the music. At first, Astrid hid her attraction to Stu by using her professional photographer status as a front. She asked to photograph them. The Beatles were flattered, to say the least, that a professional photographer, a beautiful professional photographer, wanted to take their pictures.

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Astrid Kirchherr and Stu Sutcliffe – Photograph by Astrid Kirchherr

Using a Rolleicord medium format camera and black and white film, Astrid brought the boys to a local amusement park called the Dom. The park had only a few people roaming around that day due to inclement weather. Astrid did not speak much English at the time, so she and the group communicated mostly through various gestures and her positioning the boys the way she wanted them to pose. In those first photos, the Beatles still had their hair combed back in the standard 1950’s-60’s Teddy Boy style of the day. Stu would be the first to change his hair with the help of Astrid. She did not invent the Beatles hairstyle as so often is incorrectly reported. At the time it was a familiar style among their arty/exis crowd including Klaus. The others, except for Pete Best, eventually would follow.

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The Beatles in Hamburg – Photo by Astrid Kirchherr

Astrid’s photos captured the rawness, the innocence, the attitude, the tough guy exterior, behind their insecurities, as well as the beauty of the group. The  for these boys, rock and roll was all there was in life. The boys loved the photographs and posed for Astrid on various occasions. The images from this period, along with photos taken by Jürgen Vollmer[3] have become part of the Beatles legend, in their own way historical documents capturing a moment in time.

 

 

Lennon and Sutcliffe (left) George Harrison (right)- photos by Astrid Kirchherr 

In 1964, while on assignment with photojournalist Max Scheler, for Stern magazine and using a 35mm film, Astrid photographed the Beatles once again during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night. She would also do the album cover for George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music. A couple of years later Astrid gave up her photographic career. She did stay friends with all the Beatles over the years though she lost touch with John Lennon after he moved to the United States. For many years, Astrid sadly saw no income from her Beatles photos though they were used over and over in many publications and bootleg albums.  It was in the 1980’s when she managed to get her original negatives back and her copyright.

John Lennon Foto-Ausstellung

Astrid Kirchherr on Film

Astrid Kirchherr made it to the movie screen in the 1994 film Backbeat which as you would expect is the story of the Beatles during their early days, before fame, playing in the sleazy sections of Hamburg. Kirchherr is played nicely by Sheryl Lee who bears an uncanny resemblance to the photographer. Astrid was a consultant on the film and was interviewed by screenwriter/director Iain Softley as part of his research.

I wrote an article about Backbeat on my film blog, Twenty Four Frames. Instead of repeating much of the information, please jump over to read by clicking right here.

 

Footnotes:

[1] An Interview with Astrid Kirchherr  

[2] Klaus Voormann would later design the covers for both  Revolver and The White Album. He also would play on many of the Beatles solo album including John Lennon’s Imagine, Plastic Ono Band, Sometime in New York City, Walls, and Bridges, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Living in the Material World, Extra Texture and Ringo Starr’s Ringo, Sentimental Journey and Goodnight Vienna. He also was in Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band for the Toronto concert and played at the Concert for Bangladesh.

[3] The cover of John Lennon’s 1975 Rock and Roll album features a photograph by Jürgen Vollmer taken during one of the Beatles later trips to Germany. Vollmer nicely captures Lennon’s early rebel image. Wearing a leather jacket, hands in pocket and one foot casually over the other; a combination of early Brando and a young Dylan, framed in an entrance way of an old brick building somewhere in Hamburg. The three blurred figures passing by are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe.

 

 

From Real to Reel: Still Photographers in the Movies – Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred

This is my fourth in a series on real life photographers as portrayed in the movies. Here we take a look at Alfred Stieglitz.

Today, photography is recognized as an art form. Photographs hang in museums and galleries right next to paintings, sculptures and other works of art. It wasn’t always like that. The change in perception was primarily due to one man: Alfred Stieglitz. As a photographer, as a cultivator of taste, an entrepreneur and as a publisher of a magazine (Camera Work) dedicated to photographic art, Alfred Stieglitz changed photography taking it away from the pictorialism style that mimicked painting and dominated photography in the early 20th century. It was a break from the past of photographers like David Octavius Hill and Julia Margaret Cameron. Stieglitz was inspired by them but did not want to emulate them.

AlfreddAlfred Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1864 to a monetarily well off family. His father, Edward, was in the clothing business and made a financial fortune, enough so that in 1871 he moved his family to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Edward would soon retire and devote himself to overseas travel and the arts. The Stieglitz family was living in Europe with young Alfred studying engineering at Berlin’s Technische Hochschule first became interested in photography. He spent his out of class time at the racetrack, local cafes and the opera. Most of the time there was a woman by his side. Stieglitz soon dropped the engineering education as his interest turned toward photography. In 1884, with his family now back in the States, Alfred remained in Europe to further his much self-taught education in photography. By 1887, Stieglitz was an expert enough photographer to win both first and second prizes in the English journal Amateur Photographer.

In 1890, Alfred returned to America. He discovered that Kodak with the release of their first point and shoot camera along with the slogan “you press the button and let us do the rest” amateur photographers were flooding the market. Stieglitz’s goal was to prove photography, like painting, was a form of artistic expression. As a member of the Camera Club of New York, he became editor of the journal, Camera Notes. As the editor, he promoted his personal beliefs on what were the artistic qualities of photography, publishing photos of other photographers who held similar creative points of view.

As time went by Stieglitz began to come into editorial conflict with the majority of the membership.  He and other like-minded photographers eventually decided to break away from the staid Club members and form their own group known as the Photo-Secessionist. They believed photography was not just a mechanical thing but like painting and sculpture involved craftsmanship. In 1905, with the financial help of Edward Steichen, Stieglitz opened the Little Galleries, commonly known and called 291 (the 5th Avenue street address).  It was at the Little Galleries where Stieglitz exhibited works by photographers and artists, both American and European.

Steerage

The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz

In 1907, Stieglitz made what remains today his most famous work. The Steerage was shot during a family trip to Europe. His wife, Emmy, insisted on first-class accommodations. Their passage was on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, then considered one of the largest passenger ships. Strolling on the deck one day his eye caught the view dividing the upper first class passengers from the lower class, aka steerage. The photographer raced back to his cabin and grabbed his camera, a 4×5 Auto-Graflex. The camera used glass plate negatives. He only had one plate prepared. With that one plate, he made the photograph.

It was another week until the ship landed in Paris that Stieglitz would be able to use an Eastman Kodak darkroom and print the picture. The photographer claimed he knew he had a masterpiece right away, yet he did not publish the photo until four years later in the October 1911 issue of Camera Work.

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Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

“Finally, a woman on paper!”

Those were the words Alfred Stieglitz uttered after seeing the charcoal drawings twenty-two year Anita Pollitzer, Georgia O’Keeffe’s closest friend, and six years her junior, presented to the photographer at his 291 Gallery late New Year’s Day, January 1916.  Later that year in May, Stieglitz included O’Keeffe’s drawings in a group exhibition. O’Keeffe was unaware of the exhibit and only found out through a fellow student about the work of a “Virginia” O’Keeffe on display at 291. Georgia made her way to the gallery and quickly rebuked Stieglitz for exhibiting her work without permission. Alfred was unapologetic; he was too enthused. He went on to rave about her work; how it moved his soul.

From this point on, their personal and artistic lives were entwined. Georgia took a teaching job in Texas, but they corresponded regularly. In 1918, he convinced her to move to New York, promising her a place to live and studio space where she could work. Soon after, Stieglitz began taking a series of nude photographs. When his wife Emmy found out, she gave him an ultimatum, stop seeing O’Keeffe or get out. The photographer quickly moved out and into the same apartment as O’Keeffe. At this point, they still had not been sexually intimate, but that would soon change.

Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

Stieglitz was obsessed with O’Keeffe. Over the next five years, he photographed her more than 300 times creating in the process a brilliant catalog of work and portraits of an emerging artist. He was the teacher; she was his muse. Though over the years that would change.

He was a quarter of a century older than her and married to a staid, dull woman. Alfred and Georgia came from different backgrounds. Stieglitz, an old-fashioned, European, steadfast traditionalist while O’Keeffe was a poster child for the modern liberated woman.  Naturally, their relationship was both passionate and unorthodox.

The Terminal and the Flatiron Building by Alfred Stieglitz

They married in 1924. Stieglitz continued to exhibit O’Keeffe and other artists including Marsden Hartley, John Marin and Paul Strand. As O’Keeffe became more confident and independent, they would disagree on many fronts. One major impediment was Dorothy Norman.  Stieglitz met Dorothy Norman in 1927. Like him, she was married. Beautiful, financially well off and a patron of the arts, she began spending a lot of time at Stieglitz’s gallery. The photographer, always a man with a roving eye started an affair with Dorothy Norman which lasted until his death.

In 1929, O’Keeffe, with Rebecca Strand (Paul Strand’s wife), went to Taos, New Mexico and the art colony of heiress Mabel Dodge Luhan. It was the beginning of a love affair with the New Mexico landscape that would influence her life and art for the remainder of her life. To the dislike of Stieglitz, O’Keeffe began spending a portion of her time every year in Southwest. Part of her reason for getting away from New York was Alfred’s continuing affair with Dorothy Norman.

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Dorothy Norman by Alfred Stieglitz

During the final years of his life, Stieglitz had a series of heart attacks. With O’Keeffe spending her time in New Mexico, Dorothy Norman managed the gallery during these times. In 1946, Stieglitz suffered a stroke. O’Keeffe came back to New York. She found Norman in his hospital room. Norman left, and O’Keeffe was at his bedside when he died.

O’Keeffe remained in New York for an extended period arranging Stieglitz affairs. In 1949 she donated over 1,300 of Stieglitz’s prints to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Later, in 1980 she would give another 325 photographs including many nudes. The total collection, aka The Key Set, is the largest collection of Stieglitz work in the world. (1)

 

Alfred Stieglitz on Screen

Alfred Stieglitz has yet to make it to the big screen, but made for television productions have been a bit kinder. In 1991, American Playhouse, a PBS produced series presented A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. The production starred Jane Alexander as O’Keeffe and Christopher Plummer as Stieglitz. It was written by Julian Barry (Lenny) and directed by Ed Sherin. There are few, if any, artistic couples who loom as significant in the history of culture and art as Stieglitz and O’Keeffe. Alfred Stieglitz did not consider himself a photographer, but an artist and through his galleries and his highbrow magazine, Camera Work he almost single-handedly made photography a recognized art form. Additionally, he was a pioneer in introducing the Modern Art movement to America.

To date, two films have featured Alfred Stieglitz, and as one would expect, Georgia O’Keeffe. In July 1991 PBS’ American Playhouse premiered a 90-minute film called A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stiglitz with Christopher Plummer as Stiglitz and Jane Alexander as O’Keeffe. The film was the brainchild of Alexander, a passionate admirer of O’Keeffe. She wanted to do a feature film but was unable to raise the financial backing needed. According to a New York Times article[1] Alexander’s husband, Ed Sherin whose credits include Valdez is Coming and TV shows Homicide in the Streets and Law & Order, suggested she try the PBS route. It would be a lower cost production but doable.

Plummer was not the first choice to play the photographer. Initially, the excellent Scandinavian actor Max Von Sydow was set to play Stieglitz, but he dropped out before production began because of a conflict in schedules. Martin Landau was next, but he too dropped out. Finally, Christopher Plummer came on board. He loved the script and quickly agreed. He became Alfred Stieglitz and is as sublime in the role as Jane Alexander is as Georgia O’Keeffe. Written by Julian Barry, the film illuminates the financially strapped art world of that period as well as two of its most gifted artists. It reflects how Stieglitz was not just a superb photographer but a wheeler and dealer in the art world of their time.

Stieglitz was a bigger than life character: mischievous, loyal, and generous, yet he could be domineering, sexist, brooding and demanding. He was a father figure to many upcoming artists of his time. Plummer captures all of this in his portrayal.  Jane Alexander’s take on O’Keeffe is as compelling as Plummer’s. Stieglitz was already married when he left his wife for O’Keeffe, twenty-four years younger. The two were opposites in just about every way except for artistic talent. Their life together was a constant battle of tug and pull. However, this film does not only focus on their personal relationship. Unlike most biopics, much of the time is spent on their respective arts. We see the Stieglitz photographing O’Keeffe, and how the photographer fought for and supported her work.

Creative partnerships are a rocky road; Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were no different. Her allegiance to Stieglitz forced her at times to submit to his demanding nature, including when he demanded she abort his baby she was carrying and wanted to keep. He also was a philanderer, cheating on his first wife with O’Keeffe and then later cheating on O’Keeffe after they married.  Eventually, she would make her way out to Santa Fe, coming back to New York and Stieglitz on occasion.  She was always uncomfortable living in New York, and even more so during their summers spent at the Stieglitz compound in Lake George, upstate New York. Alfred Stieglitz died in 1946. O’Keeffe would spend the rest of her life at her Ghost Ranch just outside of Santa Fe.

In 2009, Georgia O’Keeffe, another made of TV film arrived on Lifetime. Directed by Bob Balaban, the film stars Jeremy Irons as Stieglitz and Joan Allen as O’Keeffe. Like the earlier film, Georgia O’Keeffe had an extended gestation period. It was in development at HBO for four years before they decided to pass on it.[2]  Lifetime decided to pick it up. Unlike the stage-bound A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz it was shot on location in New Mexico including O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch just outside of Abiquiú, New Mexico. It was the first time filmmakers were allowed to film there.

Unlike the 1991 film, Georgia O’Keeffe focuses more on the complicated relationship, between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz and not as much on her art and what made her so unique. People who know little about O’Keeffe’s art will not learn much about what made her so extraordinary. The same can be said about Stieglitz, if you do not know who Stieglitz is and his importance, not just to Georgia, but to the evolution of photography as an art form, well the viewer will still be clueless after watching this film. For me, that the film’s central weakness. That said, it’s entertaining, a primer into the world of these two artists. Hopefully, making you thirst for more. Visually, it is beautiful to look at; the New Mexico locations as photographed by cinematographer Paul Elliot make you want to go there.

 

Footnotes:

[1] New York Times, Drawn From Life, July 23, 1991, Michael Kilian

[2] Reuters, Kimberly Nordyke, Lifetime Paints O’Keeffe Portrait, Nov. 5, 2008

Thoughts on Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

debbieThe twin deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds within twenty four hours of each other brings 2016 to a devastating finish  for multiple generations of film lovers. Reynolds bursted on to the screen in what many consider the greatest musical film ever made, Singin’ in the Rain. Her career survived one of the most famous scandals in Hollywood. She did it all with grace and style.

Reynolds most memorable roles, for me, along with Singin’ in the Rain were in the underrated drama, The Rat Race and comedies like The Gazebo, Goodbye Charlie, Divorce – American Style and Albert Brooks wonderful film, Mother. On TV, she was a perfect fit as Grace’s mother, Bobbie Alder in Will and Grace.

Three decades later her daughter, Carrie Fisher, became the first liberated sci-fi screen heroine. As princess Leia, Fisher inspired many young girls to break barriers here on earth just like her legendary character did in a galaxy far, far away. While I saw the first four Star War films, I was never a big fan of the series. For me, Fisher’s most memorable roles were in Shampoo, The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally.

I always admired Fisher for her soul baring acerbic wit. As someone said, a few days ago, I don’t remember who, Carrie was the  Dorothy Parker of our day. She was a great interview, never holding back, coming across as both cutting and vulnerable in discussing her addictions, relationships and mental illness. Her books were just as open. Postcards From the Edge, her first novel was to some extent based on her own life, as were her other written works.

HBO has been working on a documentary that takes a look at the mother/daughter relationship. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds airs in March 2017.

Remembering Lennon

   john%20lennonPhoto by Bob Gruen

  On December 8, 1980 I was watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when a news bulletin interrupted the program; John Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota, where he lived, as he and Yoko were returning home after a late night recording session.

    I was in shock!

   I grabbed my small transistor radio and turned it on. The dial was already set on WNEW-FM, then one of the premiere progressive rock stations in New York. It was true. Lennon was shot and soon pronounced dead. The station was jumping from one report to another. It was a combination of  shock, disbelief and horror. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

  Over the next days, weeks and months tributes poured in, memories were talked about, dedications were made all trying to keep the dream alive. There were also the hucksters who sold phony memorial pins, posters and tribute magazines. A slew of quick paperback writers pasted together “biographies” that fans gobbled up.

    In the end though, and what remains with us today, thirty-six years later, is the music and its message.

  Sometimes art is at it best when it seems so simple, yet it carries a message that gets more powerful and important with each passing day. Imagine is such a song.

 

Edward Hopper and the Movies

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Hopper’s The Balcony

Edward Hopper loved the movies and he reflected that love in many of his works. When Hopper was not in the mood to paint, he would frequently binge on going to the movies where he would sometimes find inspiration. However, unlike most people, for Hopper, movie going was not a communal experience. Instead, as his work bares out, he found isolation and solitude in theaters like he did in his most famous cinema theater painting, New York Movie (permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art), which shows an usherette standing alone under a light in a side hall just off the main auditorium.

hopper_1939_new_york_movieHopper’s New York Movie

Phillip French writes in his article, From Nighthawks to the Shadows of Film Noir how Hopper influenced film and the other way around. French writes how, “German expressionism impinged on Hopper early on, during his sojourn in Paris. His 1921 etching Night Shadows looks like a storyboard sketch for a high-angle shot in a Fritz Lang movie.” I myself see Lang’s silent classic, M.

2221_hopper-night-shadowsHopper’s expressionistic like Night Shadows

Many of Hopper’s works are voyeuristic; private moments in people’s lives (A Woman in the Sun, New York Interior, Office in a Small City).  Hopper’s influence on Alfred Hitchcock can be seen in Rear Widow (1953) where James Stewart’s photographer, stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg, sits by his bay window looking out the courtyard watching all the lonely people going about their lives in their apartments. You can see Hopper’s influence again during the opening credits of Psycho (1960) as Hitchcock’s camera moves from a wide view of the city and slowly zooms in on one  window where we discover Janet Leigh and John Gavin in an afternoon tryst.

hopper-night-windows-october-art-room Hopper’s Night Windows

rear-window-_-miss-torsoHitchcock’s Rear Window

In his most famous work, Nighthawks, Hopper was inspired after reading Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers (1946), where two hitman comes to a small town diner looking to kill Burt Lancaster’s The Swede, a down and out boxer. When Universal Pictures and director Robert Siodmak turned the Hemingway story into a film, Siodmak certainly kept Hopper’s diner image in mind. Another sign of Hopper’s influence is seen in Force of Evil (1948). Screenwriter/director Abraham Polonsky, while on location in New York for his first film, took his cinematographer, George Barnes, to an exhibition of Hopper paintings and told him, that’s the way he wants the film to look.

nighthawksHopper’s Nighthawks

killers                                                       Robert Siodmak’s The Killers

Nighthawks would continue to influence filmmakers and other artists for years to come.  Director Herbert Ross used it as inspiration in his 1983 musical, Pennies from Heaven as did Todd Hayes in Far from Heaven (2002). Tom Waits third album, and his first live album, Nighthawks at the Diner, with a cover design by Cal Schenkel, was influenced by Hopper.  In 1984, artist Gottfried Helnwein did a pop version of Nighthawks called Boulevard of Broken Dreams replacing the everyday patrons in Hopper’s painting with pop icons James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. The guy behind the counter is Elvis. Later Green Day used Helnwein’s title and created one of their best known songs.

dreams

Edward Hopper was not a sociable man. He seems to have had little interest in communicating with or meeting people. Much of his art can be seen as the work of a man who lives within himself.

 

 

 

 

Columns as Art

These columns stand in front of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native America Art in Santa Fe. The artist, Yatika Starr Fields, is of Cherokee/Creek/Osage heritage. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is the son of two artistic parents, Tom and Anita Fields. Fields work has been shown across the U.S. and internationally.

columns-museum-of-comtemporay-native-arts_dsc6606_cw-6603The color, the lines and pattern are what struck me and made me want to photograph it, hopefully adding a bit of my own vision to it in the way it was photographed.

Going to the Movies with John Lennon – Sorta Of…

john-lennon-yoko-ono_650It happened on September 30, 1976. Martin Ritt’s film, The Front, starring Woody Allen, opened that day at the Coronet theater in New York. I have been, and still am, a huge Woody Allen fan since his standup days when I first saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show.

coronet44At the time,  I was living and  working in New York. Being the Woody fan that I was, I took a half day off from work to go see The Front. The Coronet theater was located on Manhattan’s Eastside. The Coronet, its sister theater, the Baronet along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were high end  theaters. All the studios and distributors wanted their big films to be booked into these theaters.  Foreign films like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to domestic works like The Exorcist and The Graduate had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. The four theaters filled the entire block, between 59th and 60th streets, except for  a Bookmasters store in between.

baronet-coronet-theatres_cr1The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. In New York, Woody was always a big draw. After the film ended,  everyone began filing out. It was at this time, I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me among the crowd were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. In truth, while I saw the both of them, it was Yoko who I first recognized. I had to take a second look at who was standing next to her. Of course,  it was Lennon.

They and everyone continued to slowly leave the theater.  A few folks said hello and he returned the acknowledge. Most people just looked and gawked, like I did. Some, I am sure didn’t even recognize them, though they are hard to miss. New Yorker’s can be a jaded bunch and seeing famous people in the street is not an uncommon experience. A few famous people though can even shake up the jaded New Yorker. Lennon was one of those.

 I purposely stayed a few steps behind them all the way out of the theater until we all were out in the street. For those who are unaware, that block of theaters were located directly across the street from Bloomingdales. That was John and Yoko’s next destination. They crossed over 3rd avenue and disappeared in the department store. I stood by the theater watching them, cursing to myself that I did not have my camera with me. This naturally was in the days long before cellphones.

I never saw The Beatles in concert, but over the years I did get to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts. Never did with John, however, I did get to go to the movies with him. Sorta…