Featherston NZ book festival 2019 and my haul of books.

The weekend of May 9th to 12th saw the fifth annual Featherston Book Festival. As you will know from my earlier posts, Featherston was admitted into the organisation of International Book Towns last year, so this was their first book festival as an official member. They ran a number of events – Author readings, literary talks, book binding workshops, printing, poetry, activities for children and much more, plus of course lots of books to buy from existing Featherston bookshops and a number of visiting booksellers who set up stalls in halls. I particularly enjoyed John Arnold’s seminar, titled An introduction to book collecting in the Internet Age, which was very informative and included free handout sheets of useful information.

I had only recently arrived back in New Zealand on the Sunday the previous weekend after almost a month in the USA where I’d visited several bookstores in San Francisco and the mighty Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon and was feeling a little travel weary, so maybe didn’t appreciate Featherston’s festival as much as I should have. But that’s down to my demeanour, not their efforts. I’d had visions of returning home from the festival with the back seat of the car covered in books, but alas that was not the case.

There were maybe a dozen book sellers who had set up stalls in the main ANZAC hall in town, some from Featherston and some from further afield, but I found their stalls of books either not to my taste, or overpriced for the condition of the books. As Yoda would say “Disappointed I was”. I only bought two books for myself from the hall and one for my wife – Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald. She’s been a reader and collector of Roald Dahl books since childhood……I love to annoy her by calling him Ronald, telling her that his mum was dyslexic. My own purchases from the hall were Janesville – An American Story by Amy Goldstein. Goldstein follows the fortunes….or misfortunes of the people of the town of Janesville, when the General Motors plant that employed much of the town’s population closed. It won the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year prize. Tracy Kidder – the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine says “Anyone tempted to generalize about the American working class ought to meet the people in Janesville. The reporting behind this book is extraordinary and the story – a stark, heartbreaking reminder that political ideologies have real consequences – is told with rare sympathy and insight.” Over four and a half thousand people on Goodreads have voted and given this book a rating of 4.12 out of a possible 5.

My second book from the hall stalls was Colombian writer – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was browsing the various books in the hall and when I saw the title of this one it rang a bell of recognition as a friend of mine, Chilean born/Czech based writer Jorge Zuniga Pavlov, recommended it to me some time ago. I have not read any of Garcia Marquez’s books, but he is….or I should say was, as he died in 2014….a prolific writer, who started as a journalist, and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but is best known for his novels, such as The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) and of course the book that I purchased, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). He was a prize-winning author, having won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1972 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Over half a million people on Goodreads have rated this book at 4.06 out of 5 and say “The brilliant, bestselling, landmark novel that tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love—in rich, imaginative prose that has come to define an entire genre known as “magical realism.

I had much more luck in the actual bookshops in town, rather than at the much hyped Anzac Hall. I visited 6 or 7 bookshops and made purchases in just two of them. In The Dickensian Bookshop (which incidentally sells much more than books by Dickens) I bought Tim Moore’s Do Not Pass Go where he takes us on a trip around London by way of the streets and utilities mentioned on the Monopoly Board. Its a comedic travelogue of one man’s erratic progress around those 28 streets, stations and utilities, Do Not Pass Go is also an epic and lovingly researched history of London’s wayward progress in the years since the launch of the world’s most popular board game back in the 1930’s. And according to the blurb on Goodreads….”Sampling the rags and the riches he stays in a hotel in Mayfair and one in the Old Kent Road, enjoys quality time with Dr Crippen in Pentonville Prison and even winds up at the wrong end of the Water Works pipe. And, solving all the mysteries you’ll have pondered whilst languishing in jail and many other you certainly wouldn’t, Tim Moore reveals how Pall Mall got its name, which three addresses you won’t find in your London A-Z and why the sorry cul-de-sac that is Vine Street has a special place in the heart of Britain’s most successful Monopoly champion.”

My second book from Dickensian Bookshop – where incidentally, I was most impressed by the friendliness and knowledge of books from the lady behind the counter – was a novel by Michael Palin called “The Truth”. Although I have read several non-fiction books by the great ex-Python comedian and renown traveller, I have only read one other novel by him (Hemingway’s Chair), however since I thoroughly enjoyed that one, I hope that this is equally entertaining. The Truth according to Goodreads…“Keith Mabbut is at a crossroads in his life. A professional writer of some repute, he has reached the age of fifty-six with nothing resembling the success of his two great literary heroes, George Orwell and Albert Camus. When he is offered the opportunity of a lifetime—to write the biography of the elusive Hamish Melville, a widely respected and highly influential activist and humanitarian—he seizes the chance to write something meaningful. His search to find out the real story behind the legend takes Mabbut to the lush landscapes and environmental hotspots of India. The more he discovers about Melville, the more he admires him—and the more he connects with an idealist who wanted to make a difference. But is his quarry really who he claims to be? As Keith discovers, the truth can be whatever we make it. “ Goodreads only rates this 1998 novel at around 3.5 out of 5 although it had good reviews from The Spectator, The Financial Times and Time Out magazine.

The remainder of my books, three of them, were bought from For the Love of Books. The first of which is a book that I have been meaning to read for a number of years. Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came to life from a drunken idea while hitchhiking around Europe in 1971. Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, it was later adapted to other formats, including stage shows, novels, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 video game, and 2005 feature film. My version of the novel was published in 2005 and includes a tie in with the movie…..showing several still photos from the movie. As the back cover of the book says “One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun, and the galaxy is a very strange and startling place.” Over a million readers on Goodreads rate the book at 4.22 out of 5 and add…“Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.”

So after 3 what may be called humerous books…..we come to a couple of books with more serious undertones. Jonathan Raban’s Surveillance although a novel, tackles the problems of real life threats to our privacy. The Times says “Post 9/11, everyone watches and is being watched…..in Raban’s black and brilliant portrait of his adopted city, all kinds of sinister forces filter and manipulate the truth. A wonderfully ironic, disturbing take on the un-privacy of modern life.” The Spectator adds…“Raban’s book should certainly be required reading. Of all the 9/11 books so far, Surveillance is perhaps the most disturbing because it offers scant comfort and no certainties.” Set in Seattle it follows fictional journalist Lucy Bengstrom on a particularly invasive assignment.

My final book is Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars (the World is a Battlefield). This is a non-fiction book in which Jeremy Scahill tells the story about how the USA came to embrace assassination as a central part of its national security policy – and to pronounce the entire world as a battlefield. No country is safe from the wrath of the USA. Although this was ramped up after 9/11, the roots of the story by far predate the day when the Twin Towers fell. The book tells of the expansion of covert US wars, the abuse of executive privilege and state secrets, the embrace of unaccountable elite military units that answer only to the White House and the use of drones to murder civilians…..some of them American citizens. The blurb on Goodreads states “Funded through black budgets, Special Operations Forces conduct missions in denied areas, engage in targeted killings, snatch and grab individuals and direct drone, AC-130 and cruise missile strikes. While the Bush administration deployed these ghost militias, President Barack Obama has expanded their operations and given them new scope and legitimacy. Dirty Wars follows the consequences of the declaration that “the world is a battlefield,” as Scahill uncovers the most important foreign policy story of our time. From Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond, Scahill reports from the frontlines in this high-stakes investigation and explores the depths of America’s global killing machine. He goes beneath the surface of these covert wars, conducted in the shadows, outside the range of the press, without effective congressional oversight or public debate. And, based on unprecedented access, Scahill tells the chilling story of an American citizen marked for assassination by his own government.” Ironically back in 2012 when speaking in Israel, President Obama said “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” And yet that is exactly what American foreign policy is. It sends missiles and bombs raining down on countries all around the world in the supposed ‘defence of American lives’. What double edged bullshit is that? And because they have so much power in the UN Security Council they get away with it every time. Any other nations leader would be brought before a tribunal on charges of war crimes…..not the American President, no matter who he is. I am very much looking forward to reading this book.

If any of you have already read any of these books, please let me know your take on them. Were they good, bad, indifferent reads? As usual your comments, shares, likes are appreciated and thank you for reading my posts.

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Earth Abides – an “end of the world as we know it” classic.

George R Stewart originally published “Earth Abides” in 1949, but it’s as readable and as prophetic today as it was then. This book is a CLASSIC (yes in big letters) – classic post-apocalyptic story. It deals with an end of the world as we know it situation – one that wipes out 99% of humankind – and follows, initially a lone survivor, and then a small group, who learn to depend on one another and to begin again. It’s not the literal end of the world – just the end of the world “as we know it”. We as humans have to adapt to change in order to survive.

I love a good dystopian novel/survival novel/even a good zombie (blood splattered) novel. And often-times I even envy the survivors – having a chance to start again with a clean slate – where hopefully they, and humankind as a whole, will not make as big a mess of things this time as they did the last time. Here there are no politicians, no corporations, no armies – doing the bidding of the political or corporate elites….just ordinary people with a will to survive. Earth Abides has no zombies, no gratuitous violence, and only implied sexual acts and either in spite of, or because of, this it is still a great story – of hopes, fears, strength and frailty of the human spirit, of quest, an adventure and a journey into an unknown future by learning from, and in some cases ignoring, the lessons of the past. But don’t get me wrong – there is death/murder and there are relationships and the usual relationship issues in this story.

This was one of the books I bought recently on my trip to the west coast of the USA. The story is based primarily in San Francisco (where I spent much of my time) and is a multi-generational epic. I highly recommend it. It’s not only about the quest for survival and a rebuilding (of a kind) of society. It makes you question things. To look at your own life and evaluate what’s important (the theoretical meat and potatoes of life) and what is merely gravy…trimmings… that are more there as a front to give the ‘right’ impression rather than having any real substance. It makes you look at the possibilities that a totally fresh start – either for humankind as a whole, or for ones self as an individual – could mean. Does a fresh start mean a clean break from the past or are there some things from the past worthy of carrying forward into a new future?

There are a couple of quotes, that may help in pushing a person to take the decision to make a fresh start, from the book, that I’d like to share with you. The first is “men go and come, but earth abides.” Which I think kind of puts our lives into perspective by which I mean that all our struggles and worries of today in our daily lives mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The worrisome things that keep us awake at night are not really worth the importance that we give them…..we live, we die, we become one with the earth…the whole ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing. The earth goes on regardless, so why not do what makes you happy? The second is “without courage there is only a slow dying, not life.” Sometimes you have to stand up – for either yourself, or for an ideal – even if it means swimming against the tide of public opinion. Live YOUR life, by your rules, not someone else’s.

It’s taken me almost 60 years to find out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, and to figure out what sort of world I would like to live in – to be a part of…and what I can do to start to move me in the right direction. I am not an anarchist, but do believe that we have had a lot of pointless rules and regulations imposed upon us, by the people we elect to represent us. The same people who seem to think of new things to tax us for each day. We are being over regulated, our freedoms are being taken away (little by little in the hope that we don’t notice) and we are being taxed to death to finance the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sometimes I ask myself… would the end of the world as we know it be such bad thing?

As usual your comments and thought on this are appreciated.

“Goodreads” gives the book a 4 out of 5 and I’d certainly give it at least 4 out of 5 myself. They say “A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.

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.

So far so good. What next?

Hi all. I am really enjoying my blogging experience, both from a writing perspective and also from reading other writers posts. As 2018 comes into it’s final days, it almost brings to an end my first 3 months of blogging.

It’s been difficult as a beginner to know what to write about. What do people want to read about? – was my first thought. Then I threw caution to the wind and I simply wrote about anything that came to mind, relating to my passions of writing, books, writers….anything book-ish or book related…travel and photography. Also there was a question of how often I should write? Should I write every day, or once a week – how often is too much and how often is not enough? That question sort of solved its self as I have other things to fit in between my writing….like living. It’s been an interesting first 3 months and this being my 33rd blog post means that I am averaging 11 posts per month or around 2.5 posts per week – which, due to other commitments is about as much as I can manage at this point, although I would love to dedicate more time to writing.

I probably need to rearrange my life to allow more writing time. Not only for my blog, but also for other writing and photography projects – present and future.

I started to write a book about how it was to be a child of the 1960’s, growing up in a Yorkshire village – with my younger brother and about some of the scrapes we used to get ourselves in. After school or in the school holidays we’d spend most of our time with our friends playing in the local woods. This was of course before child molesting became a national sport and the “stranger, danger” programme convinced most parents that the world is no longer a safe place for kids to play unsupervised. That, combined with the internet and virtual reality/on-line gaming is going to rob most kids in the future of the fun of playing in the woods and getting dirty, bruised and scratched – building tree houses, rope swings and just being out in the fresh air.

I had intended it to be more of a family history type book so my children and their children (if and when they have them) have some idea of where their ancestors came from, since we now live on the other side of the planet. BUT once I started writing and the words started to flow it soon became a more anecdotal collection of amusing (I like to think) stories of some of the crazy things we did and lived through as kids.

I hit the 40,000 word mark just before starting my WordPress blog in early October and the book has been put on the back burner for now. My New Year resolution will be to get back to it and finally get it finished.

Another project languishing on the back burner is a photo book of a six month backpacking trip around the UK and Europe undertaken during 2016. I was meant to be getting right onto it as soon as we returned home. Almost 2 years later…..it seems I am still the king of procrastination.

Yet another project is to combine some of my photographs with poetry. Again, this is something that is partly under way with about a dozen poems under my belt so far.

BUT the main purpose of this post was to look at which of my posts have been best received from readers/followers so far – in order to guide me in the direction that my blog needs to take in the future. It would appear that you folks tend to like my travel related posts the best. Of the posts to attract “likes” reaching into the double digits, my posts about Paris and Barcelona scored the highest, followed by a review of Richard Laymon books, closely followed by a piece about beat writer William S Burroughs and another piece about Christmas. The next best liked was a couple of attempts at poetry. So I guess that gives me some guidance of what I should concentrate on in the future.

I’d love to hear about your writing projects destined for 2019. Please feel free to comment below.

Inspirational Photographers – their books on my shelf….

I was given my first camera before I reached my teens. It was a simple point and shoot Kodak film camera, but it was the start of my love affair with photography. For birthdays and Christmas presents I’d sometimes receive money and that would go straight in the money box to upgrade eventually to an SLR, but the only one in my price range was a Russian Zenith brand camera. I bought it anyway, despite it’s poor reviews in camera mags. More money came in and I added an extra lens and some filters. It just felt right….having the SLR and a big lens on shooting wildlife in the woods. The resulting photos were OK….better than I could get with the point and shoot so I was happy.

In my mid teens, after school and on weekends I worked at the local supermarket and eventually saved enough money to buy a “real” camera. I’d been awestruck by celebrity photographer of the day David Bailey, who didn’t just photograph the “jet set” – he was part of it. He was one of the biggest stars around and photographed anyone who was at the top of their profession. Movie stars, rock stars, top models, celebrities of all types, world leaders….all the movers and shakers were photographed by David Bailey. So, when I saw him on T.V. advertising the Olympus OM10 SLR I knew I had to have it.

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I wasn’t disappointed. It was a nice camera. Much lighter and better quality than the Zenith and a stylier look too. It came with a standard 50mm lens. I got my first zoom lens to go with it and then added a wide angle lens and I was all set up. Of course that was longer ago than I care to admit and over the years I moved with the times…..dabbled with Polaroid instant photos in addition to the OM10….had a go with a few other film cameras in various formats (including a twin lens reflex that produced square nagatives) and eventually when the quality of digital photography reached an acceptable level I made the switch to digital – DSLR’s. Firstly Fujifilm digital cameras – in fact I still occasionally use my Fuji HS10 which has a wonderful 24 – 720mm lens. The only real let down is the speed of focus (and the size of the sensor). It produces some nice clear and bright images.
At the moment I have a couple of Nikon bodies and lenses in my camera bag. BUT this article isn’t about me and my cameras it’s about the photographers I admire or who influenced me over the years. Yes Bailey was the first, so when I came across his book “Locations” in a local book store I bought it for old times sake. Turning over the pages I see again what attracted me to his style of photography – the glamour and the “beautiful people” – and yet it now seems somewhat tawdry (false, showy but cheap).

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The above pic shows a German Language version of the book. I have the English version. Actually, and not meaning to be unkind to the lady on the front of the book but, you wouldn’t know from the cover that he was a glamour photographer. He was famous for having affairs with a number of his models and even married two of them. In 1975 he married American fashion model and writer Marie Helvin; and in 1986 the model Catherine Dyer (born 20 July 1961), to whom he remains married. One of his most famous books featuring photos of Helvin in various stages of undress was “Trouble and Strife”.

These days I have a number of photographic heroes and heroines. The Heroines I already touched on in an earlier post, so I’ll talk about the male photographers and the books of theirs that grace my bookcases and coffee table.
My passions – other than writing – are photography and travel, so no surprise that one of my favourite photographers – probably my overall favourite – is Steve McCurry, who’s photo “Afghan Girl” shot him to stardom.

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Above “Afghan Girl” photo on left and McCurry on right. His photo of “the Afghan Girl” graced both the cover of National Geographic magazine and at least one (if not more) Nat Geo hard cover book “The Photographs”….which I also have on my bookshelf.

He tends to work in Asia a lot, particularly India where he makes the most of the vibrant colours. I don’t think that there is a photographer any better when it comes to colour photography. He has an eye for the right shot and will scope out a setting for a long time waiting for the right person wearing the right colours to walk by a particular scene. The brightly coloured saris and the pastel coloured buildings in India are perfect subjects for him to photograph. I have a number of his books including “The Path to Buddha”, “Untold – the stories behind the photographs” and a small format Phaidon book simply titled “Steve McCurry”.

 


The “Untold” book is a wonderful insight into a photographers world and gives the back story on how many of his popular photos came to be taken. I also have a thick, large format book “Magnum” – no not the TV show – about the Magnum Photo Agency – which features McCurry’s work and also have several hardcover National Geographic books which have several of his photos. I’d also love to own a copy of his book “Monsoon” – photographed in India naturally.
Talking of “Monsoon”….New Zealand photographer and fellow Magnum Photo Agency member Brian Brake has a book of the same name – shot in India which has a number of excellent photos, BUT without wanting to offend any Brian Brake fans out there, although he is a very good photographer, in my opinion, he comes second to McCurry.

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The above photo is both inside and on the cover of his book. The photo initially received rave reviews – until it came out that he had actually set up the shot. It seemed on the surface that it was a shot of a girl lifting her face to the rains of the monsoon – BUT he’d set it up with an assistant holding a hose on a ladder and having his model pose under the hose. Either way, it’s still a very nice shot. I have Brake’s “Monsoon” along side another of his books “Lens on the World” beside my Steve McCurry books, on my book case, in my office.

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“Lens on the World” covers a huge range of Brakes photos throughout his career.

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I have just the one book by Helmut Newton – “Polaroids”. I have been in awe of Newton’s statuesque nudes for years. He also photographs celebrities, rock stars etc. When I was in Paris in 2016 I saw an exhibition of his huge format photos at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie – located at n. 5, Rue de Fourcy. It was only when I saw these huge, larger than life prints up close – the clarity was amazing – that I realised what a good photographer he is… or I should say was. Although most of the prints at the exhibition were in black and white he also worked in colour. I suppose I’d have to put him in the same catagory as David Bailey – a glamour and glamorous photographer, who lived the lifestyle of the rich and the famous.

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Elliot Erwitt’s Paris“. I had to buy this book – by one of my favourite photographers – of photos of one of my favourite cities in the world.

Elliott Erwitt (yet another member of Magnum) – classed as an American photographer but born in France -for me is one of the finest photographers at “capturing the moment”. It’s a real skill out on the street to capture the right shot at the right time. One second too early or one second too late and the shot is meaningless. Hit the shot in the sweet spot and you have as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s coined it “captured the decisive moment”. He enjoys taking photos of the absurd….loves getting down to the level of dogs (he loves to photograph dogs and has an entire book of dog photos)…and really has fun with his camera. Which is why, now in his 90’s, he is still putting out books of his work. He has often said he has never worked a day in his life….taking photos is a joy not a job. Two examples of his work are below.

 

 

Another master of Street Photography – another Frenchman – Robert Doisneau is another of my favourites. Probably his most famous photo is also his most infamous photo. Doisneau is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street.

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Initially hailed as a masterpiece of “catching the moment” – it was later revealed that it was posed specially for the photographer to get the shot. Posed or not, it’s still a great photo and graces the cover of the Taschen produced “Icons” (as in Icons of photography)book on my shelf. He, like Erwitt loved capturing comedic shots like the one below of a gendarme – captured at just the right moment.

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And to round things off I’ll just mention books I have of a couple of the pioneers of photography…Edward Weston – an American photographer who’s favoured photographic subjects were of nudes or of close up shots of peppers and shells although, in a career spanning 40 years, he also photographed a variety of still life, portraits and landscapes. He has been called one of the most influential and innovative of America’s photographers. Again, like Bailey his nude studies seemed to be of women he had relationships with, most famous of these was Tina Modetti – a stage and film actress who later became a photographer in her own right.

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His early photos were soft focus but as he progressed he became The Master of detailed photography producing incredibly clear images with what was at the time fairly primitive equipment.

…and finally no photographic library is complete without at least one book by Ansel Adams. Most famous for his photos of the Yosemite region of the USA – his photos of the great outdoors are legendary. He first visited Yosemite with his family back in 1916 when he was given his first camera, a box brownie, by his father. The rest, as they say, is history. As a professional photographer, working in large format he produced very clear detailed photos and like his fellow photographer Edward Weston was a founding member of the f/64 group of photographers. His work has been reproduced in books, magazines and calendars – and his images are still being used – even though he has been dead for over 30 years. True quality does not date.

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His book “400 photographs” is one of the books that I often look at for inspiration.

The above books are some of my favourite “go to” books when I need a photographic lift and are a small selection of my library of photographic books. I’m just testing the water here. If you’d like me to share more about my collection of photography books, please comment below.

Two Outstanding Women Photographers

While I don’t want to get into a discussion (argument) about male versus female roles in the job market. There are some jobs better suited to one gender than the other. There are jobs however that can be equally well performed by either gender and yet the oportunities for women in that field are sadly and wrongly lacking.

Photography was (hopefully is no longer) one of those professions. Fifty years ago there were not many women excelling in the photographic field. It was without a doubt a man’s domain.

However I just want to point you toward a couple of books that show that women were not only the equivalent of men as photographers – they could also outshine many of their male counterparts. And I write this as a male who is a keen photographer and have been since childhood.

The two women I want to bring to your attention – firstly Eve Arnold, who was involved with the world famous Magnum Photography Agency as early as 1951, becoming a full member in 1957.  Flicking through her book All About Eve – I realise that I have seen many of these iconic images before, but never knew they were taken by a female photographer, nor did I appreciate the effort and skill that went into capturing some of those images. Being a female photographer actually worked to her advantage particularly when dealing with other females who were to be the subjects of her photographs. She had a wonderful way about her – her patience and her caring nature – helped to put her “models” at ease. To quote Eve herself “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument”.

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She photographed all sorts of people – children, labourers, movie stars and heads of state. Her more famous subjects included the likes of Marilyn Monroe – with whom she had a special understanding and gained an amazing insight into her personal life, Paul Newman, Malcolm X, jazz entertainer Josephine Baker, the Eisenhowers etc. BUT she also photographed poverty and the down trodden. To quote from the book….“She produced picture assignments for magazines internationally, published books and exhibited worldwide. A blend of curiosity, discipline and moral courage would characterise her career which never settled for cliches or stereotypes”.

She was born in the USA and much of her early work takes place there, but after 1962 when she went to live in England, her photography was dominated by overseas projects particularly in China and she also photographed behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in the USSR in the 1960`s.

The book was put together to celebrate Eve’s work on her 100th birthday. She died shortly after. (1912 – 2012).

The second photographer unlike Eve Arnold enjoyed no publicity of her work during her lifetime. In fact, very little is known of her life and yet she produced thousands of photographs.

In the book Vivian Maier – Street Photographer we are brought into Vivian`s world thanks to Historian, John Maloof who came into possession of several boxes of her prints, negatives and undeveloped film from an auction of stored property.

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All we get to know about Vivian is that she spent her life as a nanny to various children and part of her time was spent, camera in hand walking the streets and taking photos of anything that caught her eye…..sometimes with the children she was minding in tow.

As Geoff Dyer says on the back of her book “Vivian Maier represents an extreme instance of posthumous discovery; of someone who exists entirely in terms of what she saw. Not only was she entirely unknown in the photographic world, hardly anyone seemed to know that she even took photographs“.

Her legacy is a remarkable record of life, not only in America, but in France and other countries she visited over a period of more than forty years. We probably wouldn’t even know what she looked like if it wasn’t for her penchant for taking her own portrait as a reflection in shop windows.

She used a Rolleiflex camera, shooting from chest level – looking down into the view-finder so most people failed to realise that they were being photographed. This made for some interesting candid photos.

As it says in the books foreward “A good street photographer must be possessed of many talents: an eye for detail, light and composition: impeccable timing: a populist or humanitarian outlook: and a tireless ability to shoot shoot shoot

Amazingly Vivian had all these qualities but was entirely self taught. It’s scary to think that this body of work only came to the public eye by chance…. AND we are richer for it.  I was very fortunate to see an exhibition of her photos when I was in France a couple of years ago.

Both these photographers produced an outstanding body of work and their books are worthy of a prominent place on anyone’s book case.

A Rhapsody in Old Bohemia.

According to the dictionary Rhapsody means –

  1. Music. an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation
  2. An ecstatic expression of feeling or enthusiasm.
  3. An epic poem, or a part of such a poem, as a book of the Iliad, suitable for recitation at one time.

For this post I’m going for meaning number 2, as I do get ecstatic and enthused about Cesky Krumlov.

Czech Pilsner beer is the best in the world. Little wonder, it was the Czechs who invented it in the town that bears it’s name (Plzen) and it’s amazingly cheap to buy here. But there are lots of reasons for visiting the Czech Republic other than for their magnificent amber Pilsner…..although that alone is reason enough.

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Most tourists when visiting the Czech Republic make a bee line for Prague and understandably so. It is the capital after all and has so much history and a whole heap of tourist sights including the castle and the Charles Bridge….and a really good tram network.
But I want to talk about another town in the south west of the country….Cesky Krumlov in the heart of southern Bohemia. It has all the history (built in the 1200’s) and architecture of Prague, on a smaller scale (population a little over thirteen thousand)….and a fairytale castle high on a hill overlooking the old town below – wrapped in the protective embrace of the Vltava river, which almost encircles it. It is compact, scenic and very walkable. It’s a gorgeous place, has UNESCO World heritage protection and has a lively arts and literature scene, which is to be the focus of this post.
We were very fortunate to meet with and stay in the home of Chilean born – Czech resident – writer Jorge Zuniga Pavlov – author of “La Casa Blů: historias del bajomundo latinoamericano” (Blue House: stories of Latin American Underworld). And “Stěhování a jiné po(c)hyby” – (Moving and other stories) – A selection of stories (some autobiographical) about how Prague was moved by the affect of communism on Chilean emigrants escaping from the agony of Pinochet’s dictatorship. But also about Prague in the nineties. Stories from the environment of the Chilean community in Paris. Stories about returning to the ocean and returns to Prague, traveling, meeting and passing.

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Jorge is one of the most welcoming, helpful, generous and humanitarian people I have ever met. I’m very proud and privileged to be able to call him a friend. He’s also a champion of literature….he has been very active in the promotion of writers and their work. Since 2014 he has been opening his home (Litera Krumlov) as a venue for writers to visit and read excerpts of their work to an eager and appreciative audience. There’s a bit of a tradition where authors who perform at his home sign in on the wall of the main room with their name and date.

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Writers and artists are also accommodated in his “Writers Residence” – where we stayed for the week – a lovely airy room on the lower floor of his historic home – built in the 1500’s. In fact as I write this, he tells me that he has Two Czech poets staying in the Writers Residence at the moment. His home is built on a hillside above, and overlooking, a bend in the Vltava river. It has two floors rising up from street level and another two lower floors – down the slope toward the river. It’s a quirky, wonderful old house with it’s own cave-cellar and a bathroom with walls made of books and wine bottles. The exterior walls of the house are over two feet thick and keep the house warm in the harsh Czech winters and cool in the summer.
Jorge is not only a writer and promoter of literature, he’s also a wonderful baker of bread which he served us fresh, daily at breakfast time. Just one of many items of food on our overloaded breakfast table. Like I said before he is a very generous man.
Under Jorge’s guidance we explored the “Arts” side of Cesky Krumlov.

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Firstly we’ll explore theatrical productions. Up the hill behind Jorge’s home is the castle garden. Formal gardens with fountains similar to those you’ll find in the grounds of most european stately homes, but uniquely here there is also an outdoor revolving theatre. Usually with revolving theatres it’s the stage that turns to reveal a new scene. Not here. In the castle gardens theatre it’s the audience who are seated on a giant turn-table. As each act unfolds, the audience are turned to face another part of the garden – another scene. It’s certainly a talking point and one to tick off anyones literary list. For more information about the theatre and the shows it puts on see link – https://www.otacivehlediste.cz/?&lang=en

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Speaking of theatres, there is also a Baroque theatre inside Krumlov Castle with a full set of scenery, props and costumes from the era. The decor inside the castle is a trip back in artistic time dating from the 1400’s in some parts and 16th, 18th and 19th century in others. It’s worth a visit.
https://www.zamek-ceskykrumlov.cz/en/about

The castle courtyard features a very ornate pink coloured tower.

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One of the claims to fame of the castle is that they have always kept bears in the castle moat….yes, bears. It’s a dry moat by the way…the bears aren’t swimming. It’s traditional and draws the tourists, but myself I’m not happy seeing animals in captivity. It was the only downside, for me, about the castle tour.

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On the plus side, just before entering the castle, from the gardens at the top end, there is a small cafe in a little courtyard which sells the cheapest glass of beer in Cesky Krumlov. It’s a locally brewed beer made in a brewery down by the river called Pivovar Eggenberg – which has been perfecting the craft, or should I say the art, of making beer since 1336. After wandering around the gardens on a hot summers day, it was just what the doctor ordered!
The old town its self is no less pretty than the castle. The main square is surrounded by pastel coloured buildings with a fountain in one corner.

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The narrow cobbled streets and alleys lead to an array of arty things to check out including sculptures, galleries and museums such as the one dedicated to artist Egon Schiele – Schiele Art Centrum. http://www.schieleartcentrum.cz/en/exhibitions/1/
Not only is this gallery dedicated to the art of Egon Schiele it is also a museum of his letters, furniture, business cards, photos and geneology of his family. As well as the permanent Schiele exhibits there are also revolving exhibitions of other historic and contemporary art….and naturally there’s the obligatory gallery shop which is well stocked with Schiele memorabilia and art books of all kinds… “please exit through the gift shop”. The reason that there is a Schiele gallery in Cesky Krumlov in the first place, is that his mother was born here, was resident here for many years and Schiele himself lived and worked here on and off. In fact…to connect the dots…. Jorge Pavlovs house features in one of Schiele’s works.

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Although Schiele is lauded here now, in his heyday he was once run out of town, by the equivalent of the town council, as they didn’t appreciate his desire to paint and draw the young girls of the town in the nude. He returned several times afterward as, he claimed, he simply loved the town and wanted to be here. As well as the gallery you can also visit Egon Schiele Atelier – the garden house where Schiele lived and worked. It is once again an artists residence and is leased out as an artists retreat.

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http://www.schieleartcentrum.cz/cs/zahradni-atelier/88/
If photography interests you, I’d definitely recommend a visit to Dum Fotografie (there’s nothing dumb about it ) http://www.dumfotografiekrumlov.cz/en/home/ which is a gallery dedicated to photography – primarily by Czech photographers. When we were there this included several rooms of photos by Jan Saudek who seems to specialise in theatrically staged nude and semi-nude works. https://www.saudek.com/ They also sell books, prints and posters, relating to the exhibits, in their little shop at the entrance of the gallery.
Another must for photographers is Museum Fotoatelier Seidel

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http://www.seidel.cz/cz/museum_fotoatelier_seidel_cesky_krumlov/  The tradition of photography was created in this unique building…which was both home and photo studio of the photographic Seidel family. It is like stepping back in time into a 19th century photo studio complete with all the equipment, vast quantities of unique period photographs, photo postcards and glass negatives. The museum/studio is open year round.

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The entire old town of Cesky Krumlov is a living monument to art, sculpture and architecture. You never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

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Down an alley into a small courtyard we came across some odd looking sculptures….one, a little like a steampunk version of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings movie (but with breasts), sits perched half way up the wall of what turns out to be a quirky looking bar owned by local sculptor Miroslav Páral…. Looking at his work he seems to have a thing about digits – fingers and toes – and indeed about hands and feet in general…and other body parts too. This is reflected in the sculptures dotted around both outside and inside the bar and includes a bench seat held up by huge metal human-like feet at either end.

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You can buy candles here in the shape of fingers. The bar is situated by the riverside and has a row of giant sized red metal chairs facing the river…again art work….and very hot to sit on on a sunny day.
Miroslav Paral (born 1955) is a very accomplished and highly respected sculptor who has exhibited his work all over the world and in 1993 received the Award for Culture of the town of Český Krumlov. http://www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/umelci/t_mirpar.htm and http://www.paral.cz/
This is only a snippet of what’s available in the historic town of Cesky Krumlov…..there is much, much more. Another theatre, live music, more writers retreats….And just one last thing before I finish…Behind the Schiele Art Centrum are a number of almost derelict buildings which are boarded up. Local artists have pasted works of art over the boarded up windows and doors….there’s also a bit of grafitti….it’s mostly interesting stuff and free to view!

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And I didn’t even mention any of the tourist activities such as rafting the river….or the churches, chapels and synagogue….food…drink and delicious icecreams….green solitude of the park

 

I hope you enjoy reading this. I enjoyed writing it as it combined my passions of writing, photography and travel. Until next post…..