Tag Archives: photography

R.I.P. Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory
(12 October 1932, St. Louis, Missouri – 19 August 2017, Washington, D.C.)

Dick Gregory Lecturing at Wright State University, April 1973
Photo: Wilbur Norman

Dick Gregory, U.S. Army veteran, urbane comedian-turned-social activist and writer, actor, businessman and provocateur par excellence, died yesterday at the age of 84. I first met him in April 1973 when he spoke at Wright State University. I would then run into him at various events around the East Coast. I think the last time I saw him must have been in 1987 when he was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

He could keep up a biting and satirical running commentary better than anyone I have ever met, no doubt from practice as a stand-up comedian in his early career. That career was given a big boost by his appearance on The Jack Paar Tonight Show in 1961.

After turning down invitations to perform on the show he was called by Paar to find out why. (Billy Eckstine had told Gregory no black performer was ever asked to sit on the couch after their act.) Gregory told Paar that the reason he was not willing to perform on The Tonight Show was “because a Negro has never been able to finish the act and walk to the couch.” The show’s producers changed this policy, making Gregory the first African American to take the couch and talk with Paar after a show appearance!

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何藩 / Fan Ho – R.I.P.

Photographer-Filmmaker Fan Ho / 何藩
(8 October 1937, Shanghai – 19 June 2016, San Jose, CA)

fan-ho-as-evening-hurries-by

As Evening Hurries By. One of the photographer’s own favorites.

Somehow I missed the notice that one of my handful of favorite photographers, Fan Ho, passed to that darkroom in the sky in June of this year at the age of 78. (Many biographies list his birth as 1931.)

In the 1950s and the 1960s, Fan Ho stalked the streets, alleys, tenements, waterways and markets of Hong Kong with his Rollei Twin Lens Reflex, possessed of a deft compositional sense and a patient* eye for light and shadow. In so doing he inadvertently documented a city that would morph into the great metropolis it is today. His poignant, compassionate and artful portfolio from this time relates a humanist sentiment highlighted by a geometric touch salted with intriguing chiaroscuro. He was able, equally, to portray Hong Kong as a hive of activity or as a nearly deserted monument to the individual.

It is unfortunate today that many young photographers are not familiar with his work. For those who are, one of the facts they know is that the Photographic Society of America consistently listed Ho as one of the world’s top ten photographers every year from 1958 to 1965. He was the recipient of some 300 photography awards over a long career and also directed 27 films (also acting in a few!) His diversity sprung, no doubt, from his feeling that, “I hate to repeat myself.”

What is probably less known is that Fan Ho had a self-deprecating and very refined sense of humour; his wit was infectious and ever-present.

Fan Ho was about the last of a generation of image-makers who made photography the modern expression we see today.

He will be missed.

fan-ho-approaching-shadow-1954

* Approaching Shadow (1954). For many years I marveled at this photograph and thought of it as one of the small number of decisive moment masterpieces. Now that I know more about it I still find it entirely captivating as, apparently, did the buyer at Bonhams (Hong Kong) in 2015 who purchased it for HK$375,000 (US$48,000), a Fan Ho record. In fact, Ho used his niece for the model against the wall and a draughtsman’s triangle in the darkroom to create that dramatic edge of shadow! To me the artist’s darkroom manipulation makes this image no less great.

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I’m Back!

Open Sesame! Door on the Rooftop Cupola at Hotel Raquel, Havana.
Open Sesame! Door on the Rooftop Cupola at Hotel Raquel, Havana.

For some reason that no one at Word Press or its User Group could explain, I have been unable to access my own blog here since September 2014.

Now, through some weird adjustment I cannot really explain or figure out, I am back in the saddle!

But, having not made any entries in 10 months, I am out of the habit and do not foresee blogging with any regularity. And, who knows, maybe I will be blocked from entering my own blog again after I write this and will finally have to give it up totally!

Anyway…. check out my writings and photography pages – that’s where I am spending most all my time.

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27 April 2014: World Pinhole Photography Day

“Mauerblicke looking West” - image made with pinhole camera through a hole in the Berlin Wall, Germany
“Mauerblicke looking West” – image made with pinhole camera through a hole in the Berlin Wall, Germany

Sunday, April 27 is World Pinhole Photography Day. And, here in northern New Mexico, we are fortunate to have the world’s largest collection of pinhole photography and its associated paraphernalia.

In honor of the annual event the New Mexico History Museum is hosting Poetics of Light, an exhibition of the collection’s images from pinhole enthusiasts around the world.  Poetics of Light will open on the celebratory Day itself and run for about eleven months. (http://www.nmhistorymuseum.org/pinhole/)

The collection of 6000 photographs, 200 cameras and 200 books is the result of the generosity of Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer, Co-Directors of Pinhole Resource.  Both artists’ pinhole and zone plate photographs can be viewed on their sites at:

http://nancyspencerphoto.com/home.html
http://ericrennerphoto.com/home.html

There are many web sites providing directions for making your own pinhole camera.  Or, you can buy a camera for as little as $10 or as much as several hundred.  Check out both directions and ready-mades on the internet.

Herewith, a couple of samples (courtesy of the New Mexico History Museum) to whet your appetite for pinhole photography – and remember to get out there and create your own images this Sunday!

 

Starfish in Tidal Pool
Starfish in Tidal Pool

econtent.unm.edu

 

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Storage Yore

Vivian Maier self-portrait, 1955 (Catalog VM1955W03420-05-MC)

Vivian Maier self-portrait, 1955 (Catalog VM1955W03420-05-MC)

Often, when we read ‘hyperbole’ about a person, place or thing, we turn to it only to find that the hype is just that: hype. There are those few times, however, when all the fuss turns out to be revelatory and transformational. Such is the case with the 2007 discovery, in a storage contents sale, of the photography of American-born Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009).

Discovery is not too strong a word as her work was unknown to even the families for whom she worked as a nanny.  She never displayed, much less exhibited, the “collection of 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews…” that have come to light. (See http://www.vivianmaier.com and the 2013 film, Finding Vivian Maier.) The bulk of the photos seem to be riveting street images and they are hard to  pass by. Viewing them is a lot like eating ice cream: a spoonful makes you crave more… lots more.

According to the children she cared for she  carried her camera wherever she went. This is easy to believe from the many great images of the world around her. (She must have been very good at what we now label “multi-tasking”; watching the children in her care and snapping fleeting moments is quite a skill.) Fortunately for the world of art we are seeing her work at last. Its clarity, honesty and personal vision has caught the imagination of those in a position to let the rest of us see more. In the few short years since the discovery of her black & white negatives there have been numerous exhibitions at galleries and museums around the world.

Vivian Maier’s hidden obsession with making pictures ought not be confused with that of the normal hobbyist. She was exacting in her idea of what her finished products should look like, much as any artist. She would often send her negatives out to a developer, even though she had set up a dark room in her bathroom, and would ask for an image to be reprinted if it did not meet the critical demands of her eye.  Also, as the photos below make clear, she, like the best street shooters, traveled to neighborhoods many Americans of the 1950s and 1960s would never have visited except during their sit-down breakfast or dinner with the daily paper.

Maxwell Street, Chicago 1962 (Catalog VM1962W01099-06-MC)
Maxwell Street, Chicago 1962 (Catalog VM1962W01099-06-MC)

An undated photo (Catalog VM19XXW00573-08-MC)

An undated photo (Catalog VM19XXW00573-08-MC)

But, she clearly planned her exposure possibilities, too. The web site has a couple of her ‘sidewalk’ photos of celebrities: Kirk Douglas at the premiere of the movie Spartacus, Chicago, 13 October 1960 (Catalog VM1960W02526-07-MC), Frank Sinatra, Emmet Kelly, etc.

Born in New York, Maier was raised in France before returning to the United States (and then going back to France and, finally, returning to the U.S. in 1949 to live for the rest of her life.) Altho she is described as super secretive and closeted, she managed to take many vacations around the world. There are stirring images from India, Egypt, France, Yemen, Thailand and other locations. The photo below, from Saigon, is somewhat uncharacteristic in that her subject is smiling.

Saigon 1959 (Catalog VM1959W02685-12-MC)
Saigon 1959 (Catalog VM1959W02685-12-MC)

Let’s all shout out a grand Thank You to John Maloof in Chicago for buying that $380 carton of negatives in 2007 — and then spending about $70,000 to track down and buy cartons from others who had purchased her work at that original sale!

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