A visit to the library….

A visit to the library was called for after an on-line chat with an author friend of mine who lives in the Czech Republic. We’d been discussing the “Lost Generation” of writers – they include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Stein etc. and he had asked me if I had read anything by Max Brod.

Brod (1884 – 1968) was a prolific writer in his own right, but is mostly remembered as the friend of Franz Kafka, who, when requested by Kafka to destroy all his writings at his death….refused to follow the writer’s instructions and had the works published instead. So it’s thanks to Brod that so much of Kafka’s writings saw the light of day.

Brod was a German speaking Czech Jew – who later moved to Israel to escape the Nazi take over of the then Czechoslovakia. He died in Tel Aviv in 1968. He was an author, journalist, translator and a composer of music. A very talented man. He first met Kafka, at Charles University in Prague where they both studied, in 1902. The rest as they say is history.

Naturally my friend’s insistence that I read Brod had me intrigued so I set off for my local city library feeling for sure that they would have at least one of Brod’s books. How wrong could I be? Not a single book written by Brod on their shelves. Deciding to check out on-line book sellers when I returned home, I set about searching the library’s catalogue of books for anything at all mentioning Brod.

The only book I found at the library with any mention of Brod, was a novel by Australian based writer Marija Pericic called The Lost Pages – which is a fictional story about the relationship between Kafka and Brod. I picked it up anyway and will have a read of it later. I also picked up 2 other books. One about New Zealand writers who – although not as famous as the main members of “the lost generation” of writers – were New Zealand expat writers living overseas during the same period of time – called “The Expatriate Myth”, by Helen Bones.

The other book – the one I decided to read first – is by another Czech Jewish writer who went through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the short relief of the end of the second world war and the subsequent take over by the communists under Stalin – by the name of Ivan Klima. It’s his autobiography titled “My Crazy Century” – with the C and Z of the word Crazy highlighted in Red – giving you a red Cz – I assume symbolic of the many years that the Czech’s were under communist rule. I’m about a quarter of the way into this 534 page memoir – enjoying it, but horrified at how people were treat – first by the Nazi’s and then by the Communists. I will probably do a review of the book once I finish it.

Back at home I googled Bron’s books and was surprised at how few were available in English. It seems that the ones concerning the diaries of Kafka are available in English, but little else. The two main books of Bron’s that my writer friend recommended were only available in German. One called “Prager Kreis” (Prague Crisis or Prague Circle) printed in 1967 and the other “Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie, 1960” (literal translation being – Quarrelsome Life: Autobiography, 1960 – although there may be another meaning). I may try to get them anyway and struggle through with my basic schoolboy knowledge of the German language.

Whilst at the library, much to my wife’s dismay, I was perusing the discarded books on the “for sale” table. Four books caught my eye, so for the princely sum of $2, my own library has grown by 4…..even though – as my wife was quick to point out…..my shelves are already overflowing. Those books were – “Now and Forever” by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of 2 novellas – “Somewhere a band is playing” and “Leviathan ’99”. Bradbury is of course best known for the novel Fahrenheit 451. “Extreme Rambling” by Mark Thomas – a travelogue about hiking through troubled areas of the world. “New Scottish Writing” – which is a collection of short stories by writers from Scotland – printed in 1996, so not in actual fact all that “New”. The final book was “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow which is a post apocalyptic/dystopian story – set in Britain in 2010…. after the oil ran out. I must say I do like a good dystopian novel….hopefully this one won’t disappoint.

So there we have it. The library failed to deliver on what I went for in the first place, but the books I chose – both to borrow and the ones I bought -should expand my knowledge and entertain me. I do love the library!

Please do make use of your own local libraries. In these days of belt tightening and reduced budgets, city councils will cut funding if they think the libraries are not being used by sufficient people. So please get out there and borrow some books. And I’d like to say a little thank you to all librarians and library volunteers who keep the libraries staffed and open. Well done, you are appreciated, and thank you very much.

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Ernest Hemingway – love him …or hate him.

I have a love/hate relationship with Hemingway. I have tried a number of times to read his novels. Every book of his has frustrated me and I’ve put them down unfinished. There’s just something about his style of writing that grates against me….like fingernails down a chalk-board.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I picked up “A Moveable Feast” in our local library, vowing to give Hemingway one last chance to redeem himself. I’m already half way through and to my surprise and delight I am actually enjoying it…..so what’s changed? Frankly I have no idea. The writing style is the same so perhaps it’s the subject matter….my beloved Paris.

Ah Paris! City of Lights, City of Love and Romance, City of Style and Fashion, City of Art and Literature. Home of many of the writing greats of the past and present…for some permanently for others a temporary home. And no doubt she…Paris…will continue to inspire writers and artists for years to come.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

It should be noted that this particular book is not a novel….but more a collection of essays about Hemingway’s time spent in Paris. According to the all knowing oracle Wikipedia – “A Moveable Feast is a memoir by American author Ernest Hemingway about his years as a struggling young migrant journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920’s. The book, first published in 1964, describes the author’s apprenticeship as a young writer while he was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.” Possibly it is just my time to find enlightenment in Hemingway’s words. Unlike my wife who had to read Hemingway’s “The old man and the sea” at school and proclaimed it “possibly the most boring book in the world” – I only ever thought to pick up one of his books after seeing Woody Allen’s 2011 movie “Midnight in Paris” – which I have touched on in an earlier blog post.

In the movie Hemingway is seen rubbing shoulders with other literary and artistic greats such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot (all members of the Lost Generation of writers), Pablo Picasso, Degas, Man Ray, Cole Porter and many others. I initially thought that it was simply Allen taking poetic licence in placing all these legendary people in the one place at the same time, but reading Hemingway’s book – it confirms that he knew and mixed with many of these people and more. He was also friends with Ezra Pound and James Joyce and politely suffered the company of Ford Madox Ford – who was, it seems, invariably – in later years – the worse for drink. Ford was a fellow writer and novelist, a champion of literature – established, new and experimental, and a publisher. He even published some of Hemingway’s work.

It must have been marvelous to have been in Paris back then.
In the movie, Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender – played by Owen Wilson refers to 1920’s Paris as being the Golden Age – something refuted by another character Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard – who insisted that the Golden Age was during the Belle Epoque period, which of course ended in 1914 with the start of the first world war. It seems that everyone has their own individual ideal nostalgic period. In the movie, Gil Pender is transported magically back from present day Paris to 1920’s Paris. Here is a short YouTube trailer of the movie showing the scene where Pender meets Hemingway. And Hemingway speaks the way that he writes. No one else talks this way….no one!

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the cafes that they frequented. To listen to the literary discussions and friendly, often drunken banter

Hemingway’s early years in Paris were as a struggling writer and he and his wife would live in the cheapest part of town in an apartment which shared a bathroom on the landing with other apartments on that floor, would sometimes miss meals and rarely bought new clothes in order to afford the little luxuries of life. Money it seems would always find Hemingway just at the time that it was most needed. He professes to have had a fairly carefree…almost worry free existence, where finances were concerned. Something always turned up to save the day, whether it be an against the odds win on the horses, an overdue royalty payment from a magazine or publisher, or even simply being able to borrow books from Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company – rather than having to buy them.

I guess it’s a reminder that every writer has to start somewhere….and in a way it should give all of us “struggling writers” hope.

I’d love to hear from you….please tell me if you love or hate Hemingway….and if you love his writings, which book you consider to be his finest piece of literature.

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes….

Just as “Man” can be destructive to nature, so can nature show its destructive powers. Such an incident was the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The 7.8 quake struck at 10.47am on 3rd February 1931. The epicentre was 15 kilometres (just over 9 miles) to the north of the city of Napier and occurred at a depth of 20 kilometres (about 12 miles). Many buildings in the central business district of both Napier and its sister city Hastings collapsed immediately. The brick built facades of others fell into the streets killing and injuring passers by. Railway lines and tram lines buckled and bent like plastic. A total of 256 lives were lost and thousands were injured – most loss of lives occurred in Napier, with about a 3rd in Hastings. Nerves of locals were shredded by over 500 aftershocks within two weeks of the initial quake. The last recorded aftershock attributed to the February 1931 quake occurred in April 1934 (over 3 years later!). At 5.6 on the Richter Scale it was still a nasty and powerful reminder of the earths destructive powers. It remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

Timber buildings, of which there were many, survived the initial quake but fell victim to fires which broke out soon after, leaving both cities looking like war zones. In Hastings, fire crews managed to control the fires, but in Napier they were not so fortunate. Because water pipes had been ruptured by the quake there was no water pressure and so no way to fight the fires, which raged unchecked.

The destructive force of the quake was also a creative force – uplifting some forty square kilometres of sea bed to become dry land – draining the Ahuriri Lagoon. This is now where the Hawke’s Bay regional airport stands.

The New Zealand Listener Magazine in 1941 (ten years after the devastating earthquake) was quoted as saying that “Napier had risen from the ashes like a phoenix”. It quoted the 1931 principal of Napier Girls’ High School as saying “Napier today is a far lovelier city than it was before”.

This was primarily thanks to the efforts of government appointed commissioners John Barton and Lachlan Bain Campbell who were sent to Napier to assist the Napier City Council in the rebuild. A review of building standards was also commissioned which found that many of New Zealand’s buildings were totally inadequate. As a result, most building of the 30’s and 40’s were heavily reinforced. Of course those standards have been surpassed several times since then.

During this time Art Deco architecture was all the rage and because the old city had been completely flattened, Napier (and parts of Hastings) were built primarily in this style – along with Spanish Mission architecture.

The preservation of these Art Deco architectural wonders all in the one locale has earned Napier the title of Art Deco Jewel of the Southern Hemisphere, and attracts tourists and Art Deco enthusiasts from around the world. This is particularly noticeable during the annual Art Deco Weekend Celebrations – which take place on the 3rd weekend of February to mark the beginning of the rebuild and rebirth of this Art Deco jewel – when the streets are jam packed with revelers wearing their best 1920’s and 1930’s costumes, hundreds of vintage cars and party-goers dancing in front of the Sound Shell on Marine Parade to the sounds of big band jazz music.

There are hundreds of events taking place over the days leading up to the weekend and over the weekend – some are official – organised through the Art Deco Society and some are unofficial. These include fly pasts and aerobatic displays, steam train rides, a parade of vintage cars, marching bands, theatre, music, costume competitions, old movies at the cinemas, soap-box derby for the kids, dances, guided art deco tours, lots of feasting and partying and so much more. BUT if you’re planning on a visit….book early as accommodation can be scarce.

For full details of this years celebrations please visit the official website of art deco napier. https://www.artdeconapier.com/Events/Napier+Art+Deco+Festival+2019/All+Events.html

I’ll leave you with some of my own photos of the annual Napier Art Deco Celebrations.

As usual, any comments are very much appreciated and will be replied to as soon as possible.

“And what do you do…?”

I really hate it when people ask me this – because what they really mean, what they are actually asking me, is “How do I make a living?” – and in all honesty, at the moment….I don’t!

I hate it because I don’t have a straight forward answer. I’d like to be able to say “I’m a Writer” – but I don’t actually make any money from that, at the moment anyhow. Some years ago I had a regular travel column with one of the local papers – but at that time I had a full time job (which had nothing to do with writing), so the travel gig was more of a hobby than a job.

There is the age old question to consider – when does one “become a writer?” At what point could I, in reply to the question …”and what do you do?” – give the response “I am a writer”…..and be able to feel comfortable saying it.

By definition I write, therefore I am a writer. But even as I write those words – and there’s no doubt that the words are true – by definition….. I feel like a phony. Then again I also spend time taking photographs – so does that make me a photographer? But I probably spend a good portion of my day tending our garden…..growing much of the food that me and my wife eat…and then again, since my wife is the one who is currently bringing home the bacon – by which I mean that she’s our income earner, I also play the role of housekeeper. So what do I do? Am I a writer, photographer, gardener, housekeeper – all of them…none of them? And sometimes I paint or draw – but I wouldn’t call myself an artist.

I don’t feel entitled to call myself a writer. Am I being paid to write? NO! Have I had a book or article published by anyone reputable? Er… NO! The only writing I currently do are my blog posts and of course I am working on a book…..or two. Aren’t we all working on a book…or two? So why oh why do I yearn to be able to call myself a writer and yet feel afraid to do so? And why does it concern me so much about how I am perceived by others?

I could take solace in the words of the “good and the great”…..

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
– Ernest Hemingway

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
– Somerset Maugham

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.
– Ray Bradbury

The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.
– Russell Baker

Writing is its own reward.
– Henry Miller

I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
– Erica Jong

It’s that time of year…..OR the Good, the Bad and the unfortunate Ugly…of Christmas.

Merry Christmas every one.

Yes it’s time to bring out the hideous jerseys and grow weird things out of the top of your head.

Stop any child in the street and ask them what Christmas means to them…..and you’ll probably get arrested for attempted child abduction or molestation….it’s an unfortunate sign of the times. “Stranger Danger” has been drummed into kids these days, which means as a result, that we no longer have kids coming Christmas caroling door to door – as their parents are in constant fear of perverts grabbing them. If you were able to ask a child in the street – without their mother dragging them away while dialing the police on 911….111….or 999 depending on what part of the world you’re in – they would be more likely to reply either “Santa” or “Presents”, rather than “it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – the son of God, sent to earth to save mankind”.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly a one word answer is more likely from a child on the street, than an entire coherent sentence, particularly if it means that they have to look up and break their concentration from the video game they are playing on the latest iPhone….and secondly Christmas has been abducted by commercialism and the jolly fat man in a coca cola trademark coloured suit. A third reason, if we need one, would be that religion – at least the Christian religion – doesn’t seem to have the pull it used to have when we were all “God fearing”. The churches are all but empty these days except for weddings and funerals. BUT I’m not going to get into a long rant about religion and which one, if any, is right and which one is wrong…..because I don’t know the answer. If we’re honest no one does. We can claim to know…..but it’s actually a belief….not a known fact. That’s why they call it “Faith”. However, I’ll put the lid on that can of worms because it’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I remember the magic of Christmas as a child. Christmas eve was the only evening of the year that my parents could get me and my brother to go to bed early…..in the sure and certain knowledge that Santa would be coming, and the sooner we were asleep the sooner he could come and leave us oodles of gifts. We didn’t have “stockings hung with care” on the fireplace. Oh no, not me and my brother. We’d sussed out that you could get a lot more presents in a pillowcase than you could in a miserly stocking. So, we’d lay out a clean pillowslip at the foot of our beds and cover our heads with the blankets with the intention of staying awake to catch Santa in the act. Pretending to be asleep, snug and warm under the blankets, soon gave way to actually falling asleep and that was that… until morning…..usually very early morning – 6am even.

Which ever one of us awoke first we’d whisper very, very loudly to the other “Has he been yet?” And one of us would scurry to the foot of the bed, look over the edge and seeing the stuffed to overflowing pillowcases gorged with colourfully wrapped presents would confirm “He’s been….He’s been!!!”

We’d immediately leap up, grab our stuffed pillowcases and drag them into mum and dad’s room. One pillowcase left at dad’s side of the bed, one at mum’s side and me and my brother would jump up onto the bed and snuggle down in the warm gap between the two of them – excited and fidgety and eager to start opening presents. BUT, just to stretch the agony of waiting, either mum or dad…..usually mum….would get up and make a cup of tea first. Can’t have presents being opened without a cup of tea for sustenance, can we? It’s the British way!

And then FINALLY the gifts would be brought out one at a time…..one from the pillowcase on mum’s side…followed by one from the one on dad’s side, so we could all watch each gift being unwrapped and OOhed and Aahed over…..or more likely see the look of anticipation and expectation turn to the look of disappointment and dismay. It’s not that me and my brother were ungrateful little shits, it was more because mum and dad used to buy us “nearly gifts” – as in not what we actually asked for but nearly the same – similar but not – close but no cigar. Usually the decision to get the “nearly” gifts was made based on cost. There was never a lot of money in our house when we were kids, but we were well fed and cared for. So rather than buying the popular brand, they’d go for a cheaper knock off – made in China – gift that was meant to be similar but didn’t usually come close. This was back when “made in China” meant cheap and crappy – now EVERYTHING is made in China. Then there would follow the arguments….or should I say animated discussions…. about why this particular gift is “So much better” than what we’d actually asked Santa for. And whilst demonstrating how much better this toy was….a bit would drop off and so it would be consigned straight to the rubbish bin. An example of a nearly gift would be “Lego” building bricks – that we had asked for and didn’t get – and the “Chad Valley build a home set” that we did get, with flimsy plastic panels and plastic beams with little lugs to affix the panels to….which would snap or split the first time you touched them. OR the time my brother asked for an Action Man toy – a soldier….the doll for boys lol. BUT got some cheap Chinese copy with a squashed head and a leg that kept falling off.  OR, sometimes they would actually surprise us and really push out the boat by buying a top brand item…well made….lasts for ever….expensive even. BUT again not quite what we’d asked for. My bike was an example. All the kids on our street had “scrambler” type bikes with big 20 or 24 inch wheels and cow horn shaped handlebars that made them look like speedway bikes – they were so masculine they almost reeked of testosterone – and we’d race around a dirt track in the edge of the local woods on them until we were sweaty and covered in mud. What did I get? Well….the brand was Raleigh – a top brand and very well made, BUT it was a commuter type bike with tiny 14 inch wheels with white tyres (I mean WHITE! Who ever invented white tyres needs to be shot. They’re only ever clean looking before you ride the bike. After that they are forever dirty.), and a carry-rack on the back complete with a white shoe box size and shaped saddle bag, with a delicate little strap and buckle on it, to match the white of the tyres, seat and hand grips. Oh JOY! It looked very feminine! It screamed “Sissy on a bike – please beat me up!” It was orange which was all that differentiated it from the bike that a girl up the street had….hers was purple, but otherwise identical in every way. I was shocked, embarrassed and depressed – rather than elated and excited – what mum and dad were hoping for – and then dad tried to sell the idea of this new bike to me by saying “If you notice just here….the columns for the handlebars and the seat extend, so it’ll last you for ever, no matter how much you grow.” It really added to the whole experience.

But a bike, sissy or not, is still a bike. I’d take the bike on long rides well away from the village, in the hope that no one would see me on it. The only good thing good about that bloody bike was that it had a battery powered siren – rather like the sound of a police car – instead of a bell. This was just an added torture though, because even though I wanted to sound the siren – because it sounded soooo cool – I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was riding a girls bike! It was purgatory! And it wasn’t only confined to toys…it was the same with clothes. Winter in Britain is bloody cold and I’d asked for a duffle coat which for boys came in one colour – just like the original Ford motor cars – you could have any colour as long as it was black. So I was expecting a black coat with a tartan interior to the hood and plain wooden toggles as buttons. What did they get me? Exactly the same coat as a girl in my class at school was already wearing….kind of a blue and black herringbone pattern. It wasn’t that it was a bad coat….just that if a girl already has one….it’s a girls coat!

Enough of my reminiscing….and wallowing in self pity. I learned from the feeling of discomfort and disappointment suffered as a child….. and therefore inflicted the same on my own kids! No I didn’t….at least I hope I didn’t. I hope that we bought them…or I should say…I hope that Santa BROUGHT them what they asked for rather than us being “Nearly” parents. I must say, when you have kids of your own, Christmas retains that magical feeling. The excited anticipation of Santa’s arrival rubs off on us adults too and we actually….through our children….enjoy Christmas and all it’s crass commercialism. When my young sons went off to bed straight after dinner on Christmas eve to get to sleep early……I’d hide outside their bedroom windows and ring little bells…..pretending to be the bells on the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. It kept them awake for hours and meant that they’d be so exhausted in the morning that me and the wife would be able to sleep in for an extra hour or two.

These days though, our children have grown up and flown the nest and since there are no grand children (yet) to pamper, Christmas has sort of lost it’s magic. What I do enjoy most about it these days, is the simple act of gathering family and friends around the table for Christmas lunch. Togetherness….AND being that we live in New Zealand, in the southern hemisphere, which means that Christmas falls in the middle of summer…..we’ll be gathered around the dining table outdoors, in the garden, in the sunshine, in shorts and t-shirts…..table laden with food and drinking a nice cold beer.

However, having been born in the UK and having first experienced cold snowy Christmases, it feels alien to me to have Christmas in summer, which is why – even though Christmas day always falls on December 25th – it always seems to sneak up on me, catch me unaware and unprepared so my Christmas cards always miss the last mail for the year….always arrive in the northern hemisphere to friends and family there…late! AND having only mailed them yesterday I have inadvertently kept up this unwanted tradition – they will be late yet again.

New Zealand Christmas lunch in the garden.

I wish you…..and all in the WordPress family of bloggers, writers and readers, a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous (as opposed to preposterous), New Year.

The death of the letter…..

Is it just a sign of the times, is it progress, or is it a tragedy?

New Zealand Post Mailboxes…..disappearing from a town near you!

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the closure and subsequent franchising of the Post Office – more specifically of NZ Post Shops here in New Zealand….which in a way could lead to the ultimate death of the hand written letter.

Back in 1880 New Zealand had 850 post offices dotted around the country, serving the needs of the community. The population of NZ at that time was less than half a million people. At its peak there were 880 post offices. Now however, in 2018 and with a total population of a tick under 5 million, NZ Post are in the process of closing down their final 79, stand alone, post offices – and turning what’s left of the business over to the likes of pharmacies and supermarkets to run – as a franchise operation along side their existing business functions. The Post Office began life as a public service, but these days of commercialism and profit and loss – not to mention shareholders waiting for their dividends – it’s all about the money. And if the money isn’t rolling in, the service has to go…..sold to the highest bidder! No matter how incompetently it will be run, even if it brings about it’s eventual destruction.

I know that we have to move with the times – I’m not a Luddite – but I question how well the service will be run by supermarkets in particular when it comes to sending a letter or parcel to some obscure overseas destination. I see delays at the counter and delays in the service.  Already, home postal deliveries are reduced to only certain days of the week. Post boxes, on street corners, to mail your letters have been slowly and silently disappearing over the years (1300 have disappeared since 2008), in an obvious wind down of the postal service as a whole.

Part of the problem is that people don’t write letters these days, nor do they send as many greetings cards as they used to…..thanks to e-mail’s and e-cards. I am as much to blame – or possibly more to blame than most. More to blame? – you ask.  Let me explain my reasoning for saying this.

Back in pre-internet days I was a prolific letter writer. I had pen-pals all over the world – 52 of them in 48 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica. Some would only write a few times each year, but with others, letters would travel back and forth across continents with eager regularity. As I have mentioned in a number of my posts, one of my passions is travel, and letters to pen-pals was a wonderful way to make not just contacts, but friends around the world and to learn about other countries, about other ways of life, other customs. I believe that if we all had a friend in every country and knew of their lives and customs we’d be less likely to allow our leaders to declare war, or put in place economic sanctions – just to win a political point. When you strip everything back, we are all human beings, regardless of colour, religion, customs and politics.

This was in the mid 1980’s though, and sadly I have lost touch with most of them since then, partly because I moved from the UK to New Zealand almost 30 years ago. BUT these days, even those I do still keep in touch with, that communication is done by electronic means – the internet and e-mails , or via social media.

My wife and I met thanks to letters. We were pen-friends from opposite sides of the world – me in the UK and she in New Zealand. We started writing to one another over 33 years ago, met 32 years ago and have been together ever since – the last 30 of those years as husband and wife. More important for me than getting a book published – my letters brought me my greatest possible literary prize – my wife.  So for me particularly, the decline and slow and inevitable death of the Post Office and therefore the written letter, is a personal, sad event. 

Did anyone else meet their significant other via the magic of the hand written letter?

Paris has it all….part 2

On my Euro-Trip I had tried many times to visit photography galleries or exhibitions featuring photography or photographers, but each time my good intentions were thwarted for one reason or another. Sometimes I arrived in a city on a day that the gallery didn’t open, or one exhibition had just finished and they were taking it down in readiness for the next, or it was reserved for a private showing, or the gallery had closed permanently, or it had moved to other premises…….and the other premises, even when armed with Google maps were impossible to locate.

It was a pleasant surprise then, during my week in Paris to view several exhibitions of photography and photographs. I almost went into shock!

The first gallery we visited was “A Gallery” as in Gallery “A”.
A. Gallery on Rue Léonce Reynaud, 4 – is a small gallery on the ground floor. Located in the 16th arrondissement, close to Pont de l’Alma, between the Palais de Tokyo and the Fondation Yves Saint-Laurent – no fee to look around. At the time there was an exhibition titled Best of the West featuring several top photographers. Photo portraits were of the likes of Mike Tyson, Barak Obama, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, David Bowie etc. Quality detailed large format prints – very nicely displayed. The guy in charge of the gallery barely looked up when we walked in – he’d obviously realised with a mere glance at us that we were not there to buy, only to look.

Another gallery – Gallery Les Douches – is on a back street at 5 Rue Legouvé. When we arrived, the door was locked, but press the buzzer and they let you in. The gallery is on the first floor – no lift,  so no use for wheelchairs. Again it was free of charge and featured photos by two women photographers – Vivian Maier and Berenice Abbott.

Unlike at Gallery A, the staff here were very welcoming and issued us with brochures of the photographs on display and pointed us in the right direction. As well as the photos on the walls, there were also tables with photography books and we were invited to sit and peruse the books for as long as we liked.

I had not heard of Abbott before – she got her start in photography as a dark room assistant to Man Ray.
Man Ray wanted someone who had never been involved in photography before, so he could mould them to his way of doing things. She learned how he set up his photo shoots and went on from there to be a photographer in her own right……and a good one at that. After learning from Man Ray, she set up her own studio in Paris before re-locating to New York, which is where she came into her own as a photographer. Most of her more iconic photos were taken in the period between the two world wars. 

Abbott’s Manhattan Skyline – March 1936

Vivian Maier’s story is both amazing and sad at the same time. I have already mentioned her in an earlier post I wrote about women photographers. She was an unknown in the photographic world almost until her death. During her life she would come to amass a group of storage lockers stuffed to the brim with found items, art books, newspaper clippings, home films, as well as over 30,000 negatives and 3,000 prints and a huge quantity of undeveloped, exposed film. Due to non-payment of rent on her storage lockers, her property was forfeit and auctioned off.

Most of which was purchased – as an unknown item – by one John Maloof for the princely sum of US$400 at auction in Chicago in 2007.

Thankfully Maloof, a history and photography buff, went to great lengths (and personal expense)  to get Maier’s images out into the world.

At this time Vivian was still alive but almost destitute – bouncing from homelessness to a small studio apartment paid for by a family that she once worked for. In 2008 she slipped on a patch of ice and sustained a head injury. Although expected to recover she died in a nursing home in April 2009. She had no family.

I had already seen the documentary film – finding Vivian Maier and purchased one of the books of her photographs so I knew quite a lot about her. Her speciality was documentary / street photography. She worked as a nanny and would take the children in her care on field trips around the city and photograph anything that took her fancy. By accident almost she ended up documenting, in her photographs, over 40 years of american history. And yes….I am a fan.

The final photography gallery we visited was Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Ville de Paris at 5/7 Rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris. For the first time on this trip we had to queue (40 minutes) to get into a photo gallery……and pay 8 euros to get in.

But there were exhibits by 7 different photographers over several floors of the building…..the star of which was Herb Ritts.

Ritts was a friend of Richard Gere before either of them became famous. He took photos of Gere which later gave him a foot in the door of the world of photographing celebrities. In the 80’s and 90’s he took photos of many celebrities and also took a series of fashion and nude photographs of fashion models Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford. He worked mainly in black and white and made some iconic images. Sadly on December 26, 2002, Ritts died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50. 

So after having not much luck at finding photo galleries on the rest of this trip I almost overdose on them here in Paris. Wonderful!