Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Gerda Taro – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Unidentified Photographer, Gerda Taro, Guadalajara Front, July 1937

The excellent photoblog 'Fans in a Flashbulb' have posted a great profile on Gerda Taro, the photojournalist who was the love of Robert Capa's life and probably the biggest influence on his life and career.

Over the years Gerda's photography has been overshadowed by Capa's. but in recent years the interest in her photography and life has grown. The two photographers worked closely together and their work was published widely but sadly Gerda was killed in July 1937 while covering the civil war in Spain. 

'She returns to Madrid a few days later, then travels with Ted Allan to a battle site located between Villanueva de la Cañada and Brunete. There, on July 25, one day before her return to Paris, Taro and Allan find themselves in the midst of a panicked retreat. They jump onto a moving car and are both hit when a Loyalist tank crashes into the car. 

Taro dies early the next morning in a field hospital of the 35th Division at El Escorial. She is the first female photographer to be killed while reporting on war.'

Robert Capa never really recovered from the loss.

The excellent Gerda Taro – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow can be found at:

Friday, 10 April 2015

Three Recommended Links

The blog has been rather quiet of late, but it's time to start posting again after a brief break away with three recommended photography links discovered while i was away. I'm going to be adding link posts a couple of times a month to the blog from now on as well as adding other new photo posts.

The first is from the New York Times Lens photoblog and  looks into 'Debating the Rules and Ethics of Digital Photojournalism'. The core of the problem is the ease which digital images can be manipulated and changed. Its a discussion that has been long overdue and has yet to be resolved - maybe it never will be resolved. Another great article on the matter is by David Campbell. One aspect i found problematic was the number of photographers who thought of their images as the 'truth'.

The Atlantic photoblog recently did a three part series (part 1, part 2, Part 3) on the Vietnam War marking fifty years since U.S Marines landed in South Vietnam. Covering such a conflict in three sections is never going to easy especially as the Vietnam war was so extensively photographed, but many of the images i'd never seen before. The final part of series featured a great set of photographs by Eddie Adams.

The final link is a sad but thought provoking photo essay by Lisa Krantz, a photographer at the San Antonio Express-News, entitled 'One Man’s Lifelong Battle With Obesity'. Krantz spent four years working on the story that she initially thought would be about weight loss but  it developed into something far deeper.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Camera at Culloden

Take an historical battle that took place decades before the camera was invented, and reimagine it through a documentary camera crew filming the event. It was an idea that was used to great effect in the docudrama 'Culloden', a film made by the BBC in 1964 and directed by Peter Watkins.

Culloden deals with the battle between the Jacobite army led by Charles Edward Stuart and the British army led by the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II. Based upon the book 'Culloden,' by John Prebble, who also acted as an historical advisor, the film covers the events of the battle and the characters involved using a TV documentary style that still looks fresh and dynamic fifty years later. Around 85% of the camera work was hand held and camera angles were planned to make the most of the small cast.

The interviews with the Government soldiers and clans men  are especially well done with the camera focussing close into the worn faces and tired eyes of the characters. A cast of non professional actors did a fine job of portraying the men who took part in the battle, though it has to be said that Bonnie Prince Charlie, portrayed in the film as a weak pathetic character, is seen with a more sympathetically by modern historians.

Culloden went on to win a BAFTA in 1965, the year that Watkins filmed another of his docudramas 'The War Game'. The War Game was filmed in a similar manner to Culloden and looked at a nuclear attack on Britain and the effect on the population of Kent. The film was (and still is) such a terrifying vision of a nuclear attack upon Britain that the BBC banned it for 20 years. It went on to win an Oscar for best documentary film and the Bafta for Best Short Film in 1967. The film was eventually broadcast on 31 July 1985.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Chris Killip on Skinningrove

Photograph by Chris Killip
If you're looking for a superb photo film to watch that I'd have to recommend the Michael Almereyda film 'Skinningrove' in which photographer Chris Killip talks about his excellent work in the North Yorkshire fishing village during the 1980's.

The film presents a group of images, much of it unpublished work (several images ended up in Killip's classic 1988 book 'In Flangrante') and also discusses the background to the images. It makes fascinating viewing. Credit must be given to Killip for having such a respectful and natural attitude to his subject matter. As Almereyda states 'The photographs embodied something essential about Chris’s relationship to his subjects, to the world.' Sadly not all photographers are this engaged with the people they photograph.

Especially touching are his reminiscences about the lads who worked on the sea, fishing just of the coast of Skinningrove. Sadly two of the lads featured in the Killip's photographs drowned when the boat capsized.

The excellent Michael Almereyda film 'Skinningrove' can be viewed HERE

Monday, 30 June 2014

Tony Ray-Jones Video

This excellent video was linked on Twitter a while ago but i thought I'd mention it again on the blog because it is such a fascinating watch.

The film looks at the the superb photography Tony Ray-Jones produced for the journal Architectural Review in 1970. Instead of using the journal's staff photographers, leading photojournalists were used on a themed series called Manplan. Tony Ray-Jones worked on the issue that looked at housing.

I was greatly surprised to learn that Tony Ray-Jones was refused membership of Magnum twice - the second time after a poorly received submission of his Manplan photographs. One comes away from the film with the opinion that the failure was all Magnum's for not recognising such a fantastic photographic talent.

A good collection of Tony Ray-Jones weblinks can be found HERE

Monday, 2 June 2014

Best Selling Image

Some more prints sold this week and by quite some distance it's the speedway shot above that is my most popular image. It seems to appeal to a lot of people - probably bikers or motor sport fans... or both!

It was taken quite a few years ago now at a speedway meet in the West Midlands and I've always thought that this image nicely captures the energy of the sport - that sudden surge of power and speed as the motorbike rearing up as it leaps off the line at the start of the race. It's the raw ingredient of all motor sport.

It's one of my favourite shots too. You could get really close to the action (so close you could probably use an iPhone and fill the frame) and the epic levels of engine noise and bursts of speed from the bikes (with no brakes!) was enough the raise the hairs on your neck. The atmosphere was fantastic.

As for the camera, well the image was taken with a Nikon F3HP with a motordrive and a 50mm lens. The film was Ilford HP5 which added a grittier feel. More images from the speedway can be found HERE

Monday, 28 April 2014

World War I in Photos

The Atlantic photography blog 'In Focus' has just launched a series of posts dedicated to photography from World War I. Released in ten parts, part one has just been added to the blog featuring 45 images.

Each Sunday, until June 29th, a new set of photographs will be added to their site, collected from various image libraries and archives from around the world. As the Atlantic photo editor Alan Taylor explains in his introduction ‘On this 100-year anniversary, I've gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world.’

It promises to be a fascinating series. The introduction and the first 45 images can be found HERE

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Smoke and Mirrors

portrait of Michèle Breton on the set of Performance, 1968
Michèle Breton, 1968
This beautiful portrait of Michèle Breton caught my eye as i researched the film Performance. Unfortunately there is no photographer credit (it could possibly be one of the Cecil Beaton images taken on set that Warner Bros refused to pay for. Sandy Lieberson, Performance's producer, eventually paid Beaton's fee out of his own pocket ) for this image that acts as the holding image for the preview video on the Warner Bros Performance webpage. Surprisingly the page doesn't feature a photo of big name stars Mick Jagger, James Fox or Anita Pallenburg. No, they decided to go with a  fabulous image of seventeen year old Michèle Breton, who played Lucy, dressed in her Carnaby Street finery. It's one of the finest publicity portrait shots from the film, and yet of all of the main stars of the film, Michèle Breton's subsequent life after the filming of Performance finished remains one of the most enigmatic aspects of the film's history.

Type Michèle Breton's name into Google and you can easily find links, photographs, articles about the film, and more. Michèle's name even comes up in the auto suggestions list, yet a vast amount of the information relates purely to her role as Lucy in the cult 1968 British film. Information about her life afterwards is scant, poorly sourced and most often wildly inaccurate, which has really opened my eyes to how appalling unreliable the internet can be when there is an information vacuum. The less is known the more it seems people make things up. No sources, evidence or links. Just assumption, rumour and innuendo dressed up as fact. It isn't particularly helped by the fact that Performance is a cult film and is closely connected with the Rolling Stones story. Keith Richards also knew Michèle, briefly mentioning her (page 254 where he also reveals her nickname was Mouche - which means Fly in French - is the nickname a reference to one of her lines in the film?) in his 2010 autobiography called Life. However even books can get things wrong.

Marianne Faithfull's 1994 autobiography called Faithfull: An Autobiography is a perfect example of how an assumption or rumour can be made to appear as fact. So much so that it is still often quoted. A paragraph on page 155 mentions Breton which reads 'Michèle Breton didn't fare so well either. She became a heroin dealer in Marseilles shortly after the film and is, I think, probably dead by now'  The last line is the interesting section, where Faithfull uses the 'and is, I think, probably dead by now'. It's hardly a definitive statement of fact, which was fortunate as things turned out, although you can't really blame Marianne for thinking that way. The drug casualty rate after the late sixties was horrific as addiction took tight hold and reaped its deadly toll. Faithfull herself suffered many lost years of drug addiction, well documented in her book, but there does also seem to be an  fatalistic attitude amongst writers, especially those who lived through the sixties, who just assume survival isn't a likely outcome. Many didn't survive - Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons, were just a few of the names who succumbed during the early seventies - but others, like Marianne Faithfull, did eventually recover. They did survive.

James Fox and Michèle Breton in Performance
In late 1999, Mick Brown, a freelance journalist and broadcaster, released 'Mick Brown on Performance', a book that remains an essential A-Z guide for anyone interested in the movie. In the book Michèle Breton is finally tracked down to Berlin where she casts some light on her life. Oddly Brown starts with an error, stating that Breton's only film role was in Performance. This isn't correct. The French actress appears (aged 16) in Jean-Luc Godard's well regarded black comedy film Weekend made in 1967. Michèle makes an uncredited appearance as a hippie revolutionary in the movie, approximately an hour and twenty four minutes into the film, dressed in a white top, red jacket and skirt with knee length boots, carrying a wicker basket. Very thin, with short curly hair, slightly longer than she had it in Performance, it's unmistakeably her. On screen for a total of about one and a half minutes - one scene even includes her dancing - there is a very good close-up shot where Michèle is easily identifiable, assisting a blood soaked cook. She is also listed on IMDB as playing Atena in three episodes of the epic 1968 Italian produced TV series Odissea though unfortunately i have been unable to find any footage of her as Atena from the series to confirm this.

Regardless of that small error, Brown's book is very revealing about Breton's life. Born and raised up in a small town in Brittany, Michèle, just aged sixteen, was given 100 Francs by her parents, put on a train to Paris and told by her parents that they never wanted to see her again! Drifting to St Tropez in 1967, she ended up meeting Donald Cammell who would later cast her in the role of Lucy. After Performance had been completed in late 1968, Cammell drove her back to Paris, let her stay two or three days and then said that he didn't want to see her any more. For five years she drifted around France ( according to writer Robert Greenfield, Michèle visits Nellcôte where the Stones were recording 'Exile on Main St' in 1971. Srangely Greenfield lists Michèle as 'missing in action and presumed to be gone as well' at the end of his 2006 article without giving any details about his search for her or why he presumes she's dead!) and Spain, being busted for drugs on the island of Formentera, from where she flees back to Paris on the run from the police. It was then that she decided to head east, following the hippie drug trail, arriving in Kabul, Afghanistan, regarded at the time as the Paris of central Asia, sometime in the mid seventies. For a year she stayed there shooting morphine, even selling her passport and possessions at one extreme low point, before finally deciding to quit during an LSD trip. After three months in hospital in India, she returns to Kabul, then Europe via Italy before settling down in Berlin in 1982 where Mick Brown finds her thirteen years later.

Michèle Breton as Lucy
Michèle Breton's story really is quite an impressive tale of survival, both during the making of Performance and in the life she led afterwards, described by Mick Brown as 'a  life of drug-addiction, destitution and mental breakdown'. Reading through you want to know more about the remarkable and painful journey that she made. The making of the Performance appears to have been especially tough and bitter experience for the then very young, understandably delicate and insecure actress. Only James Fox gets a positive mention for his behaviour ('he was very gentle to me') on set, the rest being on 'a heavy ego-trip'. To a large extent that gentle relationship with Fox comes across in the film too. Stoned most of the time on set, Breton herself later stated ' I was very young and very disturbed. I didn't know what i was doing and they used me'. Was she exploited? The evidence certainly points that way especially when you consider how quickly she was discarded by Donald Cammell (with whom she had been in a ménage à trois, along with Cammell's then girlfriend Deborah Dixon, since 1967), shortly after filming had finished. Her relationship with Cammell had lasted over a year. Keith Richards' damning assessment of Donald Cammell's character in his book Life (pages 253-255) would appear to be a pretty accurate one.

Mick Brown's book shows Breton alive and in Berlin up to the release of the book in late 1999, and yet the rumours of her death and suicide still persist. Robert Greenfield hints, in a Faithfull like fashion, at this in his 2006 Rolling Stone article and even the Guardian in 2004 clearly state that 'Pallenberg and Breton succumbed to heroin, Breton fatally so.' No obituary source is mentioned - the journalist Michael Holden probably just used Faithfull's brief mention of Breton as evidence. Holden's Performance article is further undermined by further errors including the death of cast member John Bindon, who the article says was stabbed to death in a nightclub, but who actually died of liver cancer in his flat in 1993. Poor research seems the likely culprit but misinformation like this spreads online, especially from 'trusted' sources like the Guardian. It's one of the reason why i wanted to create this post and state the known facts about Michèle Breton from a reliable source - Mick Brown's on Performance. So far THE only reliable source I've found.

An extensive search online (as of the time of writing - March 2014) relating to the possible suicide, overdose or death of Michèle Breton (since the Mick Brown interviews took place) has revealed absolutely nothing. So where next? Hopefully a read of Paul Buck's 2012 book 'Performance: biography of a sixties classic' may bring things up to recent times. If Michèle Breton is still alive, and i have absolutely no evidence yet to suggest otherwise, she will be 63 years of age. She told Mick Brown in 1995 'I've done nothing with my life. Where did it start going wrong? I can't remember. It's something like destiny'.  I just hope that in the time since Michèle's last interview, the years have been kinder and more generous towards her.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...