My own Afterhours work draws in part from a longstanding mythology of a golden age folklore of Soho-esque shennanigans; a layered history found down hidden sidestreets, in the red-lit basements of unlicensed speakeasies and jazz allnighters.
If I was to cast an eye over the seas to the US of A for a comparable deeply ingrained mythology, I think I would probably look towards the stories of the Deep South, a certain gothic Americana or maybe towards the not too far removed overlooked and marginal world of dusty forgotten towns, roadside motels and diners.
Along which lines, I have been drawn to Jacques Olivar’s work, which takes that overlooked world as its locale, creating a youth filled, hyper-real, sometimes populuxe-esque vision and version of it, one with high-end fashion production values and gloss but which still contains a certain grit and the intertwined narrative of its homeland locale and stories.
There is an imagined, filmic quality to the photographs; they could be stills from or fully realised storyboards for a celluloid tale.
Along which lines, his works can put me in mind of Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard’s fine, moving 2005 film Don’t Come Knocking – which is set in just such a faded American town, one coloured with a certain velvet, neon-lit rock’n'roll here and there – but as re-shot by Erwin Olaf (see here at Afterhours).
Visit Jacques Olivar in the ether here.
When I was heading towards this first public year of Afterhours, I took a visit and a re-visit to various film favourites and a number of neo-noirs; in particular The Big Sleep (1978), Farewell My Lovely (1975) and China Town (1974).
The first two spring in one way or another from the pen of Raymond Chandler… the third is a fellow brethren in all but actuality. I don’t know if it’s right to call it a homage – this isn’t a nuance for nuance retread and recreation, it is its own story and creation…
A lovely looking film, in particular Mr Nicholson and Ms Dunaway; Mr Nicholson was heading towards 40 when it was made but looks almost impossibly young in a way, Ms Dunaway was in her early 30s but seems far older somehow – possibly a reflection of the trials of her character’s life.
On this page are a few related images and ephemera that have caught my eye since re-viewing the film; in particular the Super 8 version.
I like the way that pre the ubiquity of video recorders, such versions were the only way that films could be shown at home.
The box says it is a “SELECTED SCENE EDITION” and I think it would have run for about 11 to 17 minutes, which as the actual film runs for 131 minutes, well, that’s quite a selected scene version indeed.
Peruse the film here.
Jennifer Greenburg’s Rockabillies and the occasional flickering frames amongst a high definition past
Often, when I think of subcultures I tend to veer towards nightlife activity and I think in general the word is quite closely associated with youth and youthful lifestyles.
This is one of the things that makes Jennifer Greenburg’s Rockabillies book interesting: it is a photographic consideration of those who subscribe to a particular subculture and style generally post the first flush of youth, often in domestic settings and with “grown-up” life accoutrements and signifiers.
In Rockabillies kitchen towel sits next to a photograph of Elvis in the kitchen, proud parents hold their child next to their from back-in-the-day automobile, period detail lives picture perfectly amongst family life and the well honed quiffs.
On first glance the photographs seem to present an idealised, seamless recreation of times gone by; it is on closer, second and third inspection that the modern world can be seen through the cracks, the occasional frame flickering briefly amongst the whole film reel.
They are only occasional visitors in these highly curated, high definition selecting from the past homes and lives: the period television stood on an Ikea-esque media stand, the modern television quietly peering out from its new home in a vintage wooden case, a contemporary soft-drink held in the perfectly upholstered and kept interior of a Pink Ladies glamour car interior, a once taboo leg tattoo next to the lovingly kept sofa, a latter day Johnny Cash CD and accompanying player.
Interestingly, although I expect that cars and homes have had something of a brush and scrub up in preparation for the photographs and considering the vintage age of many of the items that can be seen in these homes, there is little sign of day-to-day wear and tear. Again, in contast to much of the more rough’n'tumble of nightlife/subcultural photography, this is a more polished, populuxe-esque, possibly affluent representation of passions and culture.
A touch more lo-fidelity (in a good way) and intimate than some of Tindersticks recordings, it’s a warm, human record full of the faith and foibles of life; Somerset House in particular is a fine song.
Whenever I hear it I’m transported to six in the morning somewhere, with the sun coming up and you’re still out or maybe just heading home as the world wakes up around you. Gentle and pleasantly melancholic. Lovely indeed.
Actually, listening to Somerset House again, I’ve just remembered that a part I’d always thought was a jump or a click on my vinyl copy is actually in the song. That always catches me by suprise.
I like how the album was made after the Tindersticks had split up and his partner told him to “just go and make something” and stop moping about.
Actually, while we’re on the subject matter of Mr Stuart Staples around 2004, there were some photographs of him that accompanied/were on the cover of Comes With A Smile magazine around that time (issue 18), which were quite an influence/point of reference when I was starting out with Afterhours; they captured a particular mood that I think I wanted to wander off and see if I could also throw my net around.
Plus, to be honest, it was nice to see him suave and back in a suit(!).
I shall have to see if I can dig out some more of those CWAS photographs at some point…
There’s a certain kind of nightlife photography book / tradition that I seem to have been repeatedly drawn to over the years (and probably also amassed more than one or two of them on my bookshelves).
They take the form of a collection of quite formal photographic portraits of subcultural / nightlife inhabitants – often using the blank walls, corners and backrooms of those estabilishments as fleeting studios and backdrops.
Along which lines, I would probably look towards Derek Ridgers When We Were Young that focused on London’s fashionable club and subcultural groupings from the late 1970s to 1987 (published by photoworks in 2004), the 1980s post-punk gathering Paradiso Stills by Max Natkiel (originally published by Fragment in 1986, reprinted by Voetnoot in 2013), Geordon Nicol’s multi-snapshot New York club recording Misshapes (2007, MTV Press) and more recently Oliver Sieber’s 7-year international photographic odyssey Imaginary Club (BöhmKobayashi / GwinZegal, 2013).
One particular book that I have returned to the most would be Jim Jocoy’s We’re Desparate, a capturing of late 1970s Southern California/L.A. punk/no-wave/post-punk nightlife dwellers (clubkid forerunners?) in a manner similar to the aforementioned portrait like manner.
And of all the photographs in that book, the ones that come back to me are probably the least typical – those of b-movie creature from the black leather lagoon mutant rock’n'roll world creators Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps.
Just as in wider life, culture and music, they seem like cuckoos in the nest, separate to those that surround them.
That is heightened by their particular backdrop being, well, more literally cramped, more decorated and colourful than many of the more blank settings of other photographs in the book but it’s not just that. The photographs seem to capture an ingrained sense of outside-rness.
Well, if you should be talking or thinking about a certain kind of golden glow, neo noir, the work of Wong Kar-Wai could well be a good place to start, in particular In The Mood For Love and 2046 (which is heading more towards Blade Runner-esque futuristic neo noir if memory serves correctly)… and I expect that subconsciously they’ve quietly seeped into my consciousness from the years back when I first saw them and tumbled out a touch in my own Afterhours work.
In a way, they could be seen as a forerunner to the sharp suited early 1960s styling of the likes of Mad Men, while the Far Eastern setting adds a certain stylistic interest and dissonance as this isn’t how such a place and time is normally depicted.
The worlds and atmospheres that are created in these films are a thing to behold – although part of moving celluloid tales, it can feel as though you’re watching single, elegant, still images that have been paused and created with infinite care; filmic paintings that draw you in and entrance.
They’re the kind of filmic beauty that the detail of hi-definition viewing was invented for… though a look-see and a browse tells me that In The Mood For Love is only available on a Criterion Region A/US player only release… ah well, looks like it’s some more technical jiggery pokery to convince machines on this side of the pond to play nicely with such a disc.
One of my favourite photography books is Behind Union City: it is a collection of photographs that accompany the Marcus Reichert directed film Union City, which starred amongst others a then rather famous Ms Deborah Harry and and a just becoming famous Pat Benatar.
I call it a photography book because it seems like more than a companion to a film – there’s an artistry, beauty and atmosphere to the photographs.
The world of Union City, as in the film, is presented here as one that belongs unto itself, that existed alongside the “real” 1950s era in which it is set but which had an aesthetic and palette of its own; neo-noir I think would be an appropriate phrase to use about now. A period reimagining rather than a recreation, to borrow from myself and photographer Nick Clements (see here at Afterhours).
Some of the photographs are taken as the film was being shot but equally a fair number of them appear to have been created separately, sometimes candid behind the scenes images, sometimes posed images that reflect the world, story and style of the film but which also have a sense of being self-contained works – a film on paper, to borrow from photographer Lou Stoumen.
Amos Chan, the photographer, had previously been a fine art photographer and teacher – numbering Nan Goldin and Phillip Lorca diCorcia amongst his students. The photographs in Behind Union City were taken at a point when Mr Chan was just about to become a commercial photographer and the images in the book seem like a fine synthesis of both commercial commission and creative expression.
There is a sense of the photographer’s own personal mindset/creative impulse being expressed within the book’s imagery, channelling, combining and collaborating with that of the vision of the film’s director Marcus Reichert and the work of actress/performer Deborah Harrry.
Which may well be another reason that I think of it as a photography book in it’s own right rather than pure film accompaniment, as such expression of personal, inner narratives could be seen to have become one of the defining characteristics of fine art photography.
(That sense of collaboration is carried through into the crediting of the book, where Deborah Harry, Marcus Reichert and Amos Chan are given equal billing on the cover.)
Behind Union City was published in 2012 by Ziggurat Books International. It seems like a quite rare or not so widely known book in the world. Hopefully this particular piece of writing will in some small way help to change that.
Played by John Barry and his Orchestra (and written by Mr Barry), it’s a tooting, twanging, uplifting, sharp piece of music that while it accompanies youthful misbehaviour and insouciance by a Brit-Beat-Bardot-esque Gillian Hills in this film, could easily be the soundtrack for that eras spook, spies and thriller chases and scrapes through the night time, neon-lit roads of the heart of town.
Listen to the music accompanied by the introduction to Beat Girl here (and watch for a youthful, not quite filled out yet but still full of darkly brooding beauty Oliver Reed) or listen to it in higher, more faithful audio quality here.
When I was recently perusing and exploring the work of Daniel Frasnay, in particular his Les Girls book of 1950s-1970s Parisian showgirls and revues, I realised that I had owned and treasured a book of his photographs for many a year now.
That book is Nights in Paris, originally published in 1954/1958 by A.W. Bruna & Zoon / Andre Deutsch.
It’s small, almost pocket-sized book that focuses on Paris’ nightlife in all its forms and Daniel Frasnay’s photographs accompany text by Jane Brusse (or does the text accompany the photographs ?).
This is a book that takes in all walks of nightlife from back when; showgirls, beatniks, gigolos, coupling, cabaret, transvestitism, streetwalkers, visiting servicemen, strippers, fairgrounds, bakers, allnight jazz, destitution, a police presence, drinking, nudity.
On first glance there’s a curious innocence and often a sense of carefree fun to the photographs. Despite all the above, it doesn’t appear to depict a world imbued with sleaze as say does Roswell Angier’s A Kind Of Life book that focuses on not dissimilar aspects of life in Boston around the mid-1970s (see here at Afterhours).
That may well be a side-effect of the manner that over time the more salubrious aspects of life can come to be gain a sheen of curio respectability. It may be a reflection of the spirit of the ages in which the two books were created and captured in the negatives of their photographers.
However, if you look closely, amongst the merry making that can be found in Nights in Paris, there is an undertone of something else amongst the apparent innocence: when I travel through the whole book, I am glad to leave by the end, to see the dawn rising over the newsstand and streets.
The book is a fine snapshot of Parisian nightlife but that sheen of innocence is also just that; a sheen, a surface impression and alongside the laughter and smiles there is something unsettling.
I can’t quite say what that something is, it may be from something in the eyes and face of its subjects here and there. Maybe an awareness of the possible darker other sides of such escapism. That such things are unlikely to be a non-stop consequence-less merry-go-round.
A quiet sleaze indeed.