Well I could use the phrase femme fatale to describe the gals that inhabit her paintings and world but… I don’t think it would quite suffice. It wouldn’t capture their utter hardboiled, tough talking, (killer) high-heeled attitude.
The book Hollywood in Kodachrome captures a point in time when film stars were presented as existing in an almost otherly human, elsewhere atmosphere than day-to-day folk (suitably, one chapter is titled When Godesses Roamed The Earth).
Here the use of a particular film stock presents them in surreal, saturated colour (reflecting the use of vivd, sometimes beyond real Technicolor in the cinema).
There is an almost surreal element to them and their composition; these are images from a grown-ups never-never land of flowing white satin gowns and impossible glamour.
Of more recent photographers, who would I compare them with? Well, if Pierre et Gilles were to meet David Lachapelle in an imagined 1940s Hollywood dreamland, well, that may well be heading in the general direction.
Although they are taken by a variety of photographers – George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, John Engestead, Paul Hesse, Ernest Bachrach, Bernard of Hollywood, Robert Coburn, Ray Jones, Bud Fraker, Frank Powolny and Eugene Robert Richee amongst others – there seems to be a uniformity of vision to them and the book appears nearer to a fine art photography monograph than a collection of commercial photography taken from a variety of sources.
Quite frank lovely stuff. But a glance at one or a few of the photographs is a seductive invite or welcome to another world.
Along which lines, from the book itself / Arthur Miller:
“Glamour, that transhuman aura or power to attract imitation, is a kind of vessel into which dreams are poured… A beautiful woman can turn heads but real glamour has a deeper pull…”
It’s not that Das Phantom Von Soho, hailing from Germany is 1964, is necessarily a great film but it was/is a particular reference point for Afterhours in the way that it imagined the streets and back alley joints of Soho at the time, particularly in the early part of the film.
In similar way that the teenagers in Karlheinz Weinberger’s photographs could be said to have “created their own version of rock’n’roll that made you think they had only ever experienced the original source via an out of tune radio”, this was a vision of Soho two or three steps removed, a sideways glance and reimagining of its stories and mythology via representations in film, fiction and tabloid salaciousness.
An English translation of the background on the film courtesy of an ether robot.
Peruse the relatively recent release of the film (and its somewhat prurient / misleading cover) here.
There is a certain, very British understated (dour?) glamour and sense of kitchen sink-esque escapism to a proper cafe. Greasy spoon sounds derogative but essentially that’s what I’m thinking of – your well-kept, well run greasy spoon cafe.
Along such lines; Edwin Heathcoate and Sue Barr’s London Caffs book is a collection of formal photographic portraits and text overview of such cafes.
The books feels like a time capsule, a recording of establishments that have stood against the march of time; formica, tiling and silvered hot water geysers resoluteness.
In and around London’s Soho you used to find (and still occasionally find) such places – often they had a sense of deep rootedness, that their Mediterranean owners had been running them as a family business for more than a generation or two.
Looking through London Caffs recently, the pages seem to open of their own accord to a cafe where the light was a little more golden, the magic a little more present.
Not unsurprisingly, this was The New Picadilly, the art house of such things. I use that phrase as these cafes, their rituals, ambience and so forth could represent a certain kind of folk art.
There is / was a sense of pride to the workmanship of running good cafes along these lines, a certain artistry.
Sometimes such leanings would be more pronounced, more overt than in other cafes. Soho and its nearby environs seemed to house a number of these, classic cafes as it were and The New Picadilly was one such place.
Here (and inside other similar fellow travellers) that workmanship / artistry stepped over into a particular kind of flamboyance or showmanship, an obdurate tradition or ritualism to how your cup of tea and slices of bread and butter would be prepared, served and bantered amongst.
It is now gone, departed under the feet of progress. Which brings me back to the London Caffs book and the sense of it being a historic snapshot.
This was pertinent when the book was published in 2004 and I suspect even more so now as an increasing number of such traditional cafes and their ways have disappeared.
Visit traces of The New Picadilly at Classic Cafes here (which is also home to a not dissimilar book by Adrian Maddox and a fine resource on such things).
Peruse London Caffs here.
This photo from the cover of Tom Waits Small Change album I think captures a certain something just about right – a kind of dissolute, lowlife, in the gutter, earlyhours of the morning, when did my life disappear off the end of a barstool-ness.
It has Mr Tom Waits in fine boho/hobo fettle and quite possibly the future Elvira-Mistress Of The Dark Cassandra Peterson.
I say quite possibly because the lady herself has this to say on the subject:
“I’ve stared at it really, really hard, and I’m pretty sure it’s me” and attributes such not quite sure-ness to something of a life lived during the 1970s.
Anyways, Mr Tom Waits, a tip of the hat to you sir.
PS A couple of escapee outtakes from the above mentioned shoot, that I’ve only recently stumbled upon:
Peruse the album here.
Around these parts, I have something of a soft spot for work/subculture that reimagines its source material – reinterpreting it to create new narratives.
Along which lines, the work of Thomas Allen in which he takes vintage pulp fiction paperback covers and creates his own one frame films.
Technically, I suppose they could be called dioramas but I use the word film as they do seem like momentary snapshots from imagined films – when I look at them, my mind seems to know that the characters within these scenes have a wider story, that each image is but one cell in a reel.
His work may well help that process by playing with noir, pulp and vintage archetypes, signposting the way towards known and sometimes well-travelled storylines and backstories (in a way that reminds me of the pin-up noir illustrations of Niagra).
There is a dreamlike quality to his work – something that seems to be emphasised by the way it often uses a narrow depth of field. This blurred, part focused manner of presentation seems to engender a sense that these are scenes from some half-sleep, half-remembered, half-awake moment.
There is also a surprising visceralness to the Uncovered work. Although that maybe shouldn’t be all that surprising as his source material comes from a market where books were sold via their salacious covers.
However, his work takes that somewhere else, somewhere that may be a little (or more than a little) darker, leaving the viewer with a sense that these aren’t moments in time that are always comfortable viewing. Noirish in the sense of unredeemable characters and situations as well as in an aesthetic manner.
Preview the book further at the rather fine and resource filled photoeye here.
Hell Is A City… a rare example of a film that took Hollywood noir and aesthetics and created/recreated them not only in the UK but also in the North of the country (at a time, 1960, when most films took the South of the country/somewhere indefinable as their locale and just pre/concurrent with the kitchen sink/Taste Of Honey/Saturday Night Sunday Morning etc New Wave of British film).
It features Mr Stanley Baker at his hard northern finest and has some quite frankly astonishing, other world and time scenes of unlicensed gambling that take place in the Northern countryside; all cloth caps and penny throwing – a fine capturing of a very specific geographic, cultural and historic point in time…
…and if memory serves me correctly, an end sequence of driving through the night that is pure LA Noir but… well, over here.
Well worth an hour or two of your time.
Peruse the film here.
I think I first came across Oliver Sieber’s work via an exhibition of his called Skinsmodsteds and One Punk at The Photographer’s Gallery back in 2002, which was shown at the same time as documenter of 1950s rock’n'roll reinterpreters Karlheinz Weinberger’s work.
At The Photographer’s Gallery site it says this about Oliver Sieber exhibition:
“Where Karlheinz Weinberger’s irreverent teens, showing in the gallery at No. 8, dreamed of a different future for themselves, Oliver Sieber’s latter day sub-culturalists seem to dream about a different past.”
Which made me think about looking for utopias in the modern world.
In times gone by society seemed to look to some imagined future, a world filled with blinking computers, every day luxuries, easy and fast mass transportation, miniature communication devices, hermetically sealed homes controlled by the aforementioned computers and so forth. A kind of populuxe-esque vision of the future.
In the modern world, in the West at least, much of that has come to pass, albeit in a more day-to-day, less overtly grand or futuristic manner.
All of which made me think of the concept of hauntology and the idea “that society after the end of history will begin to orient itself towards ideas and aesthetics that are thought of as rustic, bizarre or “old-timey”; that is, towards the “ghost” of the past.”
Which to a certain degree seems to have happened; sometimes overtly with the ongoing popularity of vintage / retro / burlesque etc culture, sometimes less overtly whereby chart topping acts are essentially retro recreationists, though not marketed directly as so.
Maybe now, without strong utopian visions of possible futures and paths, a visionary, idealised or recreated past has become a place where subcultures and post-industrial society goes to dream (to paraphrase William Gibson).
All of which brings me back to Oliver Sieber.
In his 2013 book Imaginary Club, a vast array of subcultures are represented, intermingling in a, well, imaginary club.
There are two photographs in particular that I’m drawn to, one particular subcultural corner of the club; the vaguely workwear 1950s-esque cover image and a sort of reinvented neo-rockabilly – the second of which in particular puts me in mind of and seems to draw a circle that heads back towards Karlheinz Weinberger’s rock’n'rollers who had recreated their source material as though they’d only heard it via an out of tune radio (to paraphrase myself paraphrasing somebody else).
Visit Karlheinz Weinberger at Afterhours here (amongst other places around these parts).
Cathi Unsworth’s The Not Knowing and connections to the music and work of certain suave gents from back in the day…
Well, while we’re on the subject of Tindersticks and Stuart Staples (I may well say “while we’re on the subject of…” a fair few times around these parts as much of the world and work I’m wandering about, via and through are interconnected in curious and intriguing ways)…
…here’s the first novel by Ms Cathi Unsworth. In terms of genre, I suppose the nearest area I would point you towards is a form of contemporary London crime noir…
… but I think in part what fascinates me about it and drew me to it was that it was also a document of a particular time in old London town, just before Britpop. A time when Gallon Drunk and a new breed of one-over-the-eight, slicked back, sharp-suited rock’n'roll was around and indeed appearing in elements of the music press (something Ms Unsworth had a hand in but more of that another time) and occasionally even the visual airwaves.
This was a music and style that in part looked back towards a reimagined 1950s / early 1960s past but wasn’t a bobby socks recreation but a new set of work unto itself, that at its peak could be the soundtrack to a rip-roaring ride of recklessness through the heart of town.
The Tindersticks connection? The title was “borrowed” from the title of one of their songs on their first album.
Actually, while we’re on the subject of The Not Knowing, I’ve always meant to ask Ms Unsworth if that’s her on the cover as the lady in question has a sartorial style not dissimilar to her own.
Around that time of rock’n'roll re-imagining in which the book is set, Ms Unsworth was also heavily involved with a magazine called Purr. Something of a rarity now but if Harry Crews, The Cramps, Derek Raymond, Barry Adamson and James Ellroy float your boat, then this is well worth adding to your ballast.
Actually, thinking about it, invite those folks around for some cultural nourishment and you’re not a million miles away from some of the roots of The Not Knowing.