Saturday, September 26, 2009

say cheese

I had dinner with Joel Peter Witkin last night.

Growing up (I'm still in the process) I have seen a lot of art. I have seen a lot of artists. I have seen a lot. One has to, its part of the art buisness, if one can call it a business, and Im starting to think it is (foolish me) I have never really connected with other artists (living or dead) I was never the artist who could gaze at art for hours in some kind of tantric bliss. I just didnt feel it, it just wasn't me. 'I have looked a lot' Matisse once said.I know how he feels. I try not to miss a great exhibition or even a not so great one. I try not to miss anything where I think I might find another piece of the jigsaw puzzle. When I first went to New York I was invited to studio 54 by a friend who thought it was all a bore. I couldnt wait. O.K. to be honest the place was a bore, unless you are into shattered ear drums, bad music,and bad coney island fairground lighting.Snorting huge amounts of coke and doing things to very ill looking skinny girls that didnt look pleasent. Needless to say, studio 54 was not my cup of tea. That said, I did meet a lot of people there. I met Andy Warhol (who looked like someone trying to impersonate Andy Warhol ) and who seemed to take a brief liking to me. We chatted (or rather I did) over the loud music for 10 minutes.I told him about my art and who I was and so on and on and on..His response was (if you could actually tell there was one) 'you are very clean' I took this to mean! well!!!! er!!!!!!! Well Im not sure....Years later when I worked for Tropic magazine as the art director, I had the good fortune to spend the day with Robert Rauchenburg. He was installing a huge mural at the local museum (MAM).It was good to meet him, I liked his work and I liked the fact that he had a drinks trolly following him around. He asked me if I would be at the opening (I hadnt planned on it, 11 hours that day with him seemed enough) but I said yes anyway..The next night I went along to say hello. He was already sourrounded by 300 blue haired ladies by then, but managed to see me throught the haze of hair lacquer and beckoned me over.I cut through the sea of facelifts with big bank accounts to say hello.He gave me the biggest bear hug that went on forever and ever (actually 5 minutes) It was almost sex.I could tell from the fumes bellowing out of his mouth that he must have had a million drinks by then.It was fun, he was a very good artist and a very nice man.
Many years later I was staying with my dear friend Billy in the Hollywood hills overlooking LA. Pure magic. It was beautiful and rich and I felt at home (although I always felt like quasimodo compared to all the droves of beautiful talentless people).I had dinner and lunch quite a few times with David Hockney.We both had the same art shcool in commom and became (friends would not be the word, but the next rung down on the ladder) We would fax each other art . He was a little boring and talked and talked about...well nothing really.I liked him though.It always fun to meet famous artists. Why am I telling you of all this you ask? Well Im not sure (maybe its the martini) I never really liked that many artists.I never thought they were that good.It always amazed me how very little talent could go a long way. Picasso Braque Miro kieffer,Tapies (sometimes )Twombly (always) and a few others have touched me, but its rare. When it came to photography and photographers I am at a loss.I think photography is an easy art. I think a lot of people have built a massive carear around there index finger hitting the shutter.Although I do love to hear photographers talk up what they do, always amusing. There are few and far exceptions.I could tell you some juicey stories of when I worked with Anne Lieberwitz ( I wont because she seems to be needing good vibes about now ). I could tell you about the time I worked with Mary Ellen Mark for 10 days (I wont because it will give me a headache) Needless to say, I dont think many photographers are very good.In fact I think 95% of them are very bad.
I am always amazed to what people consider 'A great photo' What do they mean by that? The answer is easy. A 'great photo' really is mostly just a 'good photo' 'a good situation', 'a good moment' captured in that split second. It is not a great photo. Its a good photo achieved by luck or being at the right place at the right time. As for set up photos like in fashion, I think most are lame, very similar, almost a formula. I could go on but I think you get the point.Can you remember the last 'Great' photo you saw? If so I would like to see it. So I very seldom use the word great to describe a photo let alone a photographer. They do exist but its a rarity They could almost be counted on one finger let alone a hand. Photography has a long way to go. It will get there. It has too.

I had dinner with Joel Peter Witkin last night........A great photographer indeed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

French pigs ( "pâté de tête" )

DISCLAIMER: O.K. before I start this weeks story, which happens to be about food.I feel I should point out that Im from a place where great taste and bad taste both exist side by side. A gastronomic disaster if you will. A land where taste buds have long been extinct and maybe never really existed.YES! you guessed it England. I feel I should tell you this up front, because Im about to make a little fun of my friend who happens to be French and who happens to be an amazing chef. Yes you heard right, An Englishman making fun of a French chef. Very cheeky of me Im sure. When I was growing up I watched my mother in her garden all hours of the day and night. I watched her grow nurture and basically coddle her fruit and vegetables. Needless to say they tasted amazing.Grown with true love. Every mouthful was a sheer delight, a pyrotechnic display of flavor that had my taste buds jumping hoops for joy. This was of course before she cooked them. The fresh cabbage, peas, carrots, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts all murdered before my very eyes.A crime most English. My dear sweet mother would boil every bit of life and of course taste out of them, let alone the goodness. My mother was not alone, it seemed the whole country all joined in on this most bizarre act. Volumes of steam, belching out of every kitchen, every sunday, as lunch was being prepared (I use the word prepared lightly) So when people say that English food is the worst in the world (apart from Holland that is) I have to agree with them. BUT! only after its been cooked .
Which brings me to my friend Blandine (yes a funny name but all names seem funny to me in France) She is from the country in the south, from a region called Cevennes. Its real peasant country (and I mean that in a good way, really I do) She was telling me about her amazing school lunches. Blood sausage, rabbit liver pudding, oats porridge soup and goat and chestnut milk. suddenly my school lunches didn't sound (or look) so bad. I wish I could tell you what they consisted of, but to this day I still don't know.I can tell you that all the food was a light grey. A boiled light grey.The parts that were not as boiled, were dripping with lard.They were a colour I had never seen before or since .A shiny colour. Anyway, Blandine was telling me romantic(slaughter) stories of how the kids, aged between 6-11 would watch the pigs get slaughtered.How the blood would spill from the 'slit opened carcass' into a large pan. How an older woman would stir the blood and remove the fibers, so as to stop the blood congealing (my god!, to think at the same time I was reciting Shakespeare) I would have traded the Bard for a slaughtered pig display, anyday. When I told Blandine that I was working on a project, and I needed parts of animals, like tongue and eyeballs and pigs feet and yes even a pigs head etc, she didn't batter an eyelid (and when I say batter, I don't mean the English fish and chip sort), She set off to harvest my animal bits from around Paris. Every weekend I would go to her apartment (because of the great light and because she has a fridge big enough for a pigs head) and start shoot these beautiful and horrific parts for my art. I will tell you more about this project a little later in the year when its finished (actually it is finished) but more later. Have you ever wondered what to do with a huge pigs head when you don't need it anymore? Well, I hadn't but Blandine had. COOK IT!...Im not going to give you all the details now, only because I made a small 3 minute film (which has not been edited yet) that I will show here on this very blog in the next few weeks. I will let Blandine narrate the film and tell you what a great tasty dish this is. She will tell you how country people don't waste one part of the animal. She will tell you that in the country, people know how to create great dishes using natural ingredients to bring out the true flavor of the beast. She will tell you that English food is the worst in the world (apart from Holland) You will have to excuse me know, Im steaming some veggies for dinner. Its been on now for nearly 6 hours so they should be almost done.

Ah! like mother like son..............

FIRST EMAIL response from Blandine. She writes... the strongest memory of my first time to England is all smells : in the small village of Welwyn, Herts, a lingering smell of cold beer mixed with the sharp stomach wrenching cheap vinegar drizzled over fish (white flaky flounder ?) and chips and the love-hate smell of tepid takeout chicken and curry pie, and above all the microwave reheated steak and kidney pie with the barely cooked gravy soaked bottom dough...hmmmmyeeek
Then my first scones, first gooseberries, first potted chicken liver paté, first cucumber sandwiches, all served by bluish haired ladies on Royal Doulton, I could go on and on...

SECOND EMAIL from Blandine...she does go on and here it is...

I am all love/hate
About hate :
Beans on toasts
breakfast sausages
Plastic looking fruit
Dreadfull fish flour fed chicken tasting like fish (in the 70's)
tepid beer smell
fluorescent peas
Worcestershire sauce (I love it now, in tiny quantities)
bad bitter Madras curry powder
clogged marmelade
grey boiled vegetable
custard powder
jello powdered gravy
in fact anything artificially flavoured or processed which is always worse than french processed food

this was in the 70s, it improved so much since... (note from me)...IT HAS?
If you have the urge to read more about Blandine ...Here is her blog link

Sunday, September 6, 2009

a grave situation

When I was about eight years old my hamster died. It's name was Hammy hamster (yes I know). My sister and I cut the top of a coca cola can and stuffed the very still cute fluffy beast into it. Then we buried it at the bottom of the garden (funny how things are always buried at the very end of the garden, away from the house) Anyway, that was that. A few sweet eight year old words about heaven or god or both, and HH was off to meet his maker...... Two weeks later I decided to dig up Hammy. Im not sure why. I don't think its because I missed my little fluffy friend (all he did was go around and around on a wheel, a bit like me know) I just felt the urge to see what he looked like after this short period of time (I will spare you the details dear reader). I tell you this story because I just returned from a trip to England. Some family things, some professional (more filming).I wont tell you about the filming , as much as I want to, and I wont tell you about staying with my father.But I will tell you about my trip to EnGLAND. I will tell you about the damp nylon vail of sadness that wrapped its clammy fingers around me as soon as I arrived.I had grown up in this area, I, as most of us do, have vivid recollections about our childhood.I for some reason remember every detail. I was only there for 5 days but it could have been months. It didn't take long for the rot to set in and take hold. I drove all over this very familiar place, and looked and looked and looked and took a direct hit and sank immediately. It seemed I had a story for each of the places .Dr Browns house on the Southend road where I had my finger stitched back on, when I nearly sliced it off from a huge piece of glass, buried in a snow ball .The sand pit on 'bread and cheese hill' where my brother and I would dig tunnels into the sand, had it collapsed I would never have been found. Benfleet creek where I left my fishing bag with all my little hand made flies and floats and hooks (I hated fishing but I loved the stuff ) I went back but it had been taken. Rushbottom lane where I wanted to kiss Ann Wakerling but couldn't because I was so shy, even though she wanted me to. The train station where I would sneak up to London and be scarred half to death because of such a big adventure. It was a childhood full of worries and stress and a huge box of paints where I could find refuge. I saw all these old sepia stained memories again. I really wanted to enjoy my trip back home. I really wanted to live each memory again. I really wanted to bask in the memory, like it was a big warm bed on a sunday morning.I couldn't of course.What it turned out to be was a bed of nails.The place didn't hold anything good for me, it didn't feed me or give me what I so needed. I wanted beautiful sunny kodak moments, all presented in an expensive photo album,leather bound with little corners on each of the photographs. I wanted to look back and feel like I was listening to a song that was around when I first saw June Pritchard, the six year old that lived across the street. My home town of Thundersley, Benfleet, Essex, England, felt like it was on its last legs, out of breath. nearly dead. It felt like life has been leached out of every living cell.Dark.stagnant. Still. I listened to people talking, talking volumes about nothing . Sad little nothings............Nothing.
I should never have never dug up Hammy from his resting place , only to see a frenzy of maggots dining out on a free dinner.I should never have revisited my little pet only to see and smell fluids dripping from his once plump golden furry body. I should never have pulled him from the earth, to see a sticky mess woven with death. I should never have gone back to where I grew up.
They say you should never go back.'They' who ever 'They 'are were right this time.
I'm back in Paris now.I don't have a hamster to bury. But its never too late.

The photo above was taken at St. Mary's in Woodam Ferrers Essex. A grave situation indeed.