A singer songwriter from Seattle, Brandi Carlile’s music is a fusion of country, folk, and rock. Her first album, Brandi Carlile, released in 2005 seemed to mark her as the next Lucinda Williams, a promise that was more than met with the 2007 release of her even better follow-up The Story. Yet in spite of a big push on Grey’s Anatomy, Carlile has not yet become the big name I anticipated. Which makes listening to her even cooler. Here’s a casual concert video that gives a better sense of her style than some of her more slickly produced videos.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I resisted as long as possible (about three months) but after spending long hours at the Apple Store after both my children broke their computers, I gave in. (It was fortunately just after the price drop.) But, boy, do I love my iPhone! And don’t believe the scare stories. Everything about it works flawlessly and it’s really simple to master. In order of frequency the applications I use most often are: phone, iPod, notes, photo album, camera, weather, and the link to You Tube, but my newest pleasure is using it to listen to podcasts of Studio 360 as I walk my dog. Now that’s cultural enrichment!
Steven Cantor’s second film about Sally Mann (his first was an Oscar nominated short) was shot over five years and largely eschews the controversy about nudity and children to focus on the creation and aftermath of Mann’s photographic studies of death. An intimate and beautifully shot documentary, the film takes you deeply but unintrusively into Mann’s personal life and ends up as a study of the life of one of our most serious and talented photographers and the challenges even a renowned artist faces. Look out for: the story and pictures of Sally and husband Larry when they first met. The scene where Peter McGill calls up to cancel Sally’s scheduled show.
As previously noted, Jorg Colberg’s Conscientious, The Sartorialist, and Alec Soth’s late blog, have been a pleasure and an inspiration. But to state the obvious the entire blogosphere is simply teeming with original voices, opinions, and content. In writing this blog I often find the answer to my research on one blog which leads me to another blog, etc... If not for blogs, how would I have known who made Nicole Kidman’s bra? (Thank you Mr. frankufotos.) Or seen the daily photographic postings of Swedish photographer Sannah Kvist on “She Broke My Heart So I Broke Her Face”. Or even known there was a blog “For White Men Who Prefer Black Women”. (If you need to know I was trying to find out who took the picture below that I saw on another blog that was commenting on Jacob Holdt’s website for “American Photographs”.)
The second book I loved was so funny I could not stop laughing out loud even as I ruefully noted the diminishing number of unread pages. Toby Young was the archetypical Brit in New York whose first book, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”, hilariously chronicled his hapless time at Vanity Fair where among other things he invited a stripper to the office on what he did not realize was Take Your Daughter To Work Day. The follow-up finds him improbably successful after his first book is turned into a one man play in London and he is hired by a big time Hollywood producer to write the screenplay for an un-named movie about a mysterious 70s record producer. As he learns the ways of Hollywood and screws up with regularity, Young warily gets married, has a child, and in some of the books funniest moments attends various friends’ weddings where his inappropriate toasts end up losing even more friends and alienating even more people. A heroic failure in true Brit fashion, the book provides the vicarious pleasure of seeing the Emperor, himself, reveal he has no clothes.
I owe a thanks to the Bellport library who had this book on their new releases table otherwise I never would have picked it up. The latest and fourth installment
in Larry McMurtry’s Thalia series, which began with the 1966 “The Last Picture Show” and follows the wonderfully alliterative “Duane’s Depressed”, “When The Light Goes” picks up Duane Moore at 64, now widowed, semi-retired, and crisied in every way. When I told my friend the über literary agent Mark Reiter I was reading it, his comment was “Oh, the sex book!” and it’s certainly…frank. If that’s not enough to recommend it, it’s one of those books you can’t put down, and when you’ve finished it makes you want to go back and read all the others in the series.
I’ve never defined myself as a Dylan fan and I thought the movie was a mixed success, but the soundtrack was out of this world - an eclectic mix of recording artists covering 36 Dylan songs with a bonus 37th song of Dylan himself singing the title track. Many of the artists are pretty obscure. I still don’t know who John Doe (that’s how he’s listed) is who sings my favorite song – “Pressing On”, but I’ve at least heard of some of the other contributors - Karen O, Jeff Tweedy, Sufjan Stevens, etc.. Nevertheless in combination with the film, the soundtrack re-awakened my interest in Dylan so that my Christmas viewing will now certainly include Scorcese’s Dylan documentary.
If I had to pick one television show it would have to be Project Runway. This is because it’s the one program where you really see the creative process at work from beginning to end. Surprisingly, the contestants seem genuinely friendly and supportive of each other, and host Tim Gunn is avuncular, helpful, and charming – all at the same time. The judges are honest and incisive and so all the tension comes organically from the simple format – who is going to make the best outfit of the week and who is going to make the worst and get voted off. It’s thrilling to watch.
Patrick Tsai is a 26 year old American who moved to Taiwan in 2003 to pursue photography away from the States. Three years later he met a young Chinese photographer named Madi Ju via the internet and shortly afterwards they began an intense personal and professional relationship. Working together under the studio name My Little Dead Dick, they began posting pictures documenting their travels and life together. Like Lartigue crossed with Nan Goldin their photographs are footloose, modern, romantic, borderless, and blissfully free of the heavy-handed Chinese references that seem so prevalent in the wake of the Asian art boom. The writer Will Doig summed up their work beautifully. “These photographs,” he said “make me want to flee — not flee anything in particular, but simply flee for the pure elation that comes from irresponsibly picking up and leaving. Because what starts as irresponsibility so often turns into opportunity, and sometimes you just need a little nudge to make that leap. This series feels like a good, hard shove.”
I’ve never been a huge fan of top ten lists (other than David Letterman’s. Too often they seem obvious or self-congratulatory. But as I’m heading south for the holidays, for the next ten days I hope you’ll find some interest in a countdown of the top ten things that enriched my life culturally in 2007.
With best wishes to all for a Happy New Year!
This Julie Taymor film which wove a bunch of Beatles songs into a trans-Atlantic love story set against the political and cultural background of the 60s seems to be film that everyone meant to see, but didn’t get around to. It got terrible pre-release publicity as a result of an editing showdown between the director and producer and that (along with a lackluster advertising campaign) seemed to rob it of the necessary kharma. It was, however, not only imaginative, daring, and entertaining, but pulled off the incredible feat of refreshing its Beatles songs in and reconnecting you to what made them so special in the first place. So the soundtrack shares kudos with the film, which should be out on DVD any day.
Seven years ago I happened to be in Los Angeles to see the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts landmark show, "Made in California". A vast and ambitious look at California culture, the works in the exhibition ranged from Edenic painted landscapes to Rock and Roll posters. What affected me most, however, was a short film loop of Henry Fonda's end speech from the John Ford film of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath". Combining Steinbeck's words with Ford's stunning FSA inspired cinematography it was film as verbal and visual poetry, and I always felt a loss at not being able to revisit it at will. Well, wish no more! Thanks to the miracle of You Tube, here it is. (If you're impatient skip to 02:15 minutes into the clip.)
To set the scene: it is late at night after a dance at the shanty-like workers' camp. Tom Joad (Fonda) and his mother stand in the moonlight on the edge of the wooden dance floor. Joad has been identified as the killer of the police vigilante who assassinated his friend the activist Preacher Casey. Now Joad must run away to take up Casey’s mission. As Joad leaves. Ford has an accordion playing his favorite tune “Red River Valley,” a song that in Ford movies is always associated with the fragility of community.
And here, for the record, are Fonda/Joad's words:
Well, maybe it's like Casey says. A fella ain't got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul out there that belongs to everybody. Then....(Ma Joad: "Then What, Tom?") Then... it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere…wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready…And when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there too.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
One show not to miss is Pieter Hugo’s “The Hyena and Other Men” at Yossi Milo (through January 12). There a large and pale-colored group of photographs present the surreal spectacle of a group of Nigerian men who make their living by traveling around displaying their tenuously domesticated hyenas. The hyenas look nothing like one would expect, but rather like strange mythological beasts. The crudeness of their muzzles and chains bring to mind Aslan’s sacrifice in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”.
The photographer, Pieter Hugo, is a 31 year old self-taught, South African photographer who has been exhibiting all over the world since 2002. This is his account of the work:
These photographs came about after a friend e-mailed me an image taken on a cell-phone through a car window in Lagos, Nigeria, which depicted a group of men walking down the street with a hyena in chains. A few days later I saw the image reproduced in a South African newspaper with the caption 'The Streets of Lagos'. Nigerian newspapers reported that these men were bank robbers, bodyguards, drug dealers, debt collectors. Myths surrounded them. The image captivated me.
Through a journalist friend I eventually tracked down a Nigerian reporter, Adetokunbo Abiola, who said that he knew the 'Gadawan Kura' as they are known in Hausa (a rough translation: 'hyena handlers/guides').
A few weeks later I was on a plane to Lagos. Abiola met me at the airport and together we took a bus to Benin City where the 'hyena men' had agreed to meet us. However, when we got there they had already departed for Abuja.
In Abuja we found them living on the periphery of the city in a shantytown - a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons. It turned out that they were a group of itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. The animal handlers were all related to each other and were practicing a tradition passed down from generation to generation. I spent eight days traveling with them.
The spectacle caused by this group walking down busy market streets was overwhelming. I tried photographing this but failed, perhaps because I wasn't interested in their performances. I realized that what I found fascinating was the hybridization of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals - sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel. I started looking for situations where these contrasting elements became apparent. I decided to concentrate on portraits. I would go for a walk with one of the performers, often just in the city streets, and, if opportunity presented itself, take a photograph. We traveled around from city to city, often chartering public mini-buses.
I agreed to travel with the animal wranglers to Kanu in the northern part of the country. One of them set out to negotiate a fare with a taxi driver; everyone else, including myself and the hyenas, monkeys and rock pythons, hid in the bushes. When their companion signaled that he had agreed on a fare, the motley troupe of humans and animals leapt out from behind the bushes and jumped into the vehicle. The taxi driver was completely horrified. I sat upfront with a monkey and the driver. He drove like an absolute maniac. At one stage the monkey was terrified by his driving. It grabbed hold of my leg and stared into my eyes. I could see its fear.
Two years later I went back to Nigeria. The project felt unresolved and I was ready to engage with the group again. I look back at the notebooks I had kept while with them. The words 'dominance', 'codependence' and 'submission' kept appearing. These pictures depict much more than an exotic group of traveling performers in West Africa. The motifs that linger are the fraught relationships we have with ourselves, with animals and with nature.
The second trip was very different. By this stage there was a stronger personal relationship between myself and the group. We had remained in contact and they were keen to be photographed again. The images from this journey are less formal and more intimate.
The first series of pictures had caused varying reactions from people - inquisitiveness, disbelief and repulsion. People were fascinated by them, just as I had been by that first cell-phone photograph.
Many animal-rights groups contacted me, wanting to intervene (however, the keepers have permits from the Nigerian government). When I asked Nigerians, "How do you feel about the way they treat animals?", the question confused people. Their responses always involved issues of economic survival. Seldom did anyone express strong concern for the well-being of the creatures. Europeans and Americans invariably only ask about the welfare of the animals but this question misses the point. Instead, perhaps, we could ask why these performers need to catch wild animals to make a living. Or why Nigeria, the world's sixth largest exporter of oil, is in such a state of disarray.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I just heard that the British photographer Keith Arnatt is not well. This summer I was introduced to Arnatt's work in a show at The Photographers' Gallery in London curated by Arnatt's friend, Magnum photographer David Hurn. While he started off as a painter, Arnatt turned to conceptual photography in the late 1960s with work that often had a deadpan humor. One series in the show particularly caught my attention. "Notes from Jo" (1990 – 94) record his wife’s Post-It note messages usually left in their kitchen. The work irreverently plays on the conceptual concerns of image and text through the irritations and communications of daily life. Above and below are a selection of the pictures. We wish Keith the very best.
Nouvelle Vague (the band) was created by two french arrangers, Marc Colins and Oliver Libaux, who put together eight singers - six French, one Brazilian andone New Yorker - to reinterprate 80s post-punk songs in mellow French "lounge" style. Sounds pretty arcane, but the group found their own cult audience and released two albums with a third on the way. Their stand-out production, however, has to be this incredible video of their song "Dance With Me" set to the famous dance scene from Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film "Bande A Part".
As you can see from the clip of the original film (below) - there's
been some deft editing to make it synchronistic, but it's currently my
For trivia fans:
1) The actors dancing are Anna Karina, Sami Frey (in the jacket) and
2) The film gave its name to Quentin Tarantino's production company, A Band Apart, and several of its scenes are echoed in "Pulp Fiction".
3) Nouvelle Vague and Bossa Nova both translate to "New Wave" in English.
4) In 2005, "Bande A Part" was the only Godard film selected for Time
Magazine's All Time Top 100 Films list.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I am not a disinterested observer being in the process of producing a film based on the life and autobiography of Diana Vreeland, but Vince Aletti's 8 page appreciation of the exuberance of Vreeland's VOGUE layouts in the new issue of Aperture Magazine is a knockout. Vince has long been an authority on magazines as well as one of the more eloquent and astute writers on photography and the selection of spreads is terrific.
Regarding my own D.V. project, I am incredibly pleased to announce that Ric Burns has agreed to make the film his feature debut and my co-producer is Nina Santisi who produced what is generally considered the best and truest film on fashion - "Unzipped". We are at the earliest stage of development, but describe the film-to-be as a blend of documentary and performance with a single actress playing the role of Diana Vreeland. For those who did not see Ric Burns' last work, the 4 hour PBS documentary on Andy Warhol, trust me - it's one of the greatest documentaries ever made (along with his 7 part series on New York). Both are available on DVD.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is one of the most prestigious in Europe and the four shortlisted photographers have just been announced.
Most interesting of the group is Jacob Holdt – a barely known 60 year old Danish photographer. Beginning in 1970, Holdt spent five years hitchhiking across the US, living with and documenting the lives of the people he met - from the poorest sharecroppers to wealthy families. Holdt was not particularly interested in photography as anything other than a means of expressing his shock at the conditions he found in America. Yet as his images reveal, he was an extraordinarily gifted photographer. (Think William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Donna Ferrato, and Nan Goldin!)
In 1977 selections from his travels were published in a book titled “American Pictures”, but after a Byzantine plot by the KGB to use the book as pro-communist, anti-american propaganda was uncovered, Holdt hired a lawyer to stop publication of the book all over the world.
Since 1991, Holdt has worked as a volunteer for CARE in numerous third-world countries while maintaining one of the more eccentric and image laden websites. A book, “United States 1970 – 1975” was published by Steidl this summer, and is listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but I have yet to see a copy in any store.
Jacob Holdt on his travels around America circa. 1972.
After church in South Carolina.
15 year old unwed mother.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
This week's unveiling of a new waxwork of Nicole Kidman at London's famous Madame Tussaud's is a chance to comment on one of the most extraordinary cover pictures of the year, but one that passed by with almost no attention. Taken by Patrick Demarchelier for the October Vanity Fair, it shows Kidman in a jaunty nautical cap opening her blouse to reveal her victorianly white skin and a Carine Gilson bra. Her eyes are unfocused, her lips parted as seductively as her current face allows. It's a strong and surprising image with an almost Arbus-y subtext as the subject seems pinned into her moment of odd revelation. It's a great cover shot.
Demarchelier is so prolific I'm not always sure people recognize quite how good he can be. But what I found so surprising about the image is: a) that Kidman found the need to do it; and: b) that once done it seemed so un-noteworthy. Did she want us to see that as she approaches 40, she looks every bit as good as her waxwork likeness (in the red dress)? In the age of photoshopped covers and nip and tuck, a glossy magazine cover picture is more an illustration of a concept than something with any great basis in reality. However, I would have thought there would have been at least some feminist outrage at the sexual objectification of one of the more accomplished women of her age. Perhaps in a time of panty-less celebrities a pale poitrine and expensive underwear is just the touch of class we need!