I suppose once upon a time Alfred Cheney Johnston was an accomplished commercial photographer – albeit one whose work often focused on showgirls and celebrities and who had a certain artistic flair (while also being a member of the Algonquin Round Table alongside Ms Dorothy Parker, so he kept interesting company).
His work at the time was probably often higher end smut – “artistic” erotica rather than the p word… you could probably trace a line from his work to some of the more creative photographers whose work appeared in and around the likes of Skin Two magazine in the 1990s and earlier 2000s.
…but over time, his work has come to represent a particular spirit and aesthetic and as often is the way with “saucy” pictures and artwork, has gained a respectability as the years have gone by (see also E.J. Bellocq – though his work still retains/began with more of a transgressive darkness than Johnston’s).
Now, his work seems to perfectly capture elements of the 1920s and 1930s and it has been collected in the 2006 Jazz Age Beauties: The Lost Collection of Ziegfeld Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston, compiled by Robert Hudovernik.
…now this should be an utterly lovely, decadent feeling item but… well, the printing / image quality. A considerable number of the photographs are pixellated and have the appearance of lossy web found JPEGs that have been resized to fill the page – which contrasts with the technical ability that appears to be on display in Mr Johnston’s work.
A shame really, because the book is a labour of love and the only (easily) available printed and bound collection of his work. Still worth a look-see but a slight missed opportunity.
Visit the books at it’s publishers Rizzoli here.
Peruse the book here.
Well, apart from her name – Florence Stonebraker – this is one of those times when vintage pulp fiction covers seem almost too perfect, almost as though they have been created as part of a contemporary art project that has set up to create archetypes of such things.
I find it interesting how as the years go by what once may have been quite throwaway, utilitarian, quickie, mainstream work becomes something else, comes to represent or signify something else… this is one of those times (see also the likes of Abram Games who I was recently pointed towards – lovely stuff).
Well, talking of populuxe-esque aesthetics (see Day #71/365a)…
Erwin Olaf often seems to take the technical proficiency and some of the aesthetics / visual arrest of fashion and a certain type of high-end creative commercial photography and turns it towards his own ends – in a way that although different in immediate visual impressions and palettes, isn’t that far removed from the likes of David Lachapelle or possibly Nick Clements and his recreation / simulacra of previous eras – both of whom have also extensively worked in creative commercial fields.
It is these four photographs in particular that I am drawn to, from his Grief, Hope, Rain trilogy – they seem to be a stylised, even stylistically idealised casting back, recreation and simulacra of a previous eras aesthetics and a point in history at which a nation and individuals heard of the death of their leader (the early 1960s and the passing of Mr Kennedy in particular, which Erwin Olaf has said that he has a strong, haunting personal memory of).
Within them Erwin Olaf uses his tools of fashion or commercial aesthetics overtones to create an actuality of emotion, substantiality and reality has wandered into these imagined worlds and points in time…
Peruse his books here (the volumes simply titled Erwin Olaf and Erwin Olaf Volume II may well be the ones to wander towards if the Hope, Grief, Rain work catches your eye and interest).
Well, I’ve mentioned Robert Mitchum in the 1970s around these parts before (see Day #3/365a)…
…The Big Sleep from 1978 is part of what I think of as his triptych of classic world weary roles from that time.
World weary but he still looks like if he wanted to flatten you, well, you would be flattened.
The film stars amongst others a veritable A-Z of once absolute A-list stars who are possibly past their peaks in various ways – all of which suits both the updating of Mr Chandler’s hardboiled noir and the sense of society turned corrupt/gone to seed/70s grime… so we have his good self Mr Robert Mitchum, Ms Joan Collins in her best 1970s sauce mode, sometime turn of the the decade countercultural bolthole escapist hood Edward Fox, Sarah Miles, Ollie Reed (also heading towards that big tired, bear of a man point), James Stewart, John Mills…
…oh and looking it up, future él Records gent and King Of Luxembourg to be Mr Simon Fisher-Turner.
Well, I wasn’t expecting that. I was planning a rewatch of it again soon but that makes that somewhat rather more likely, just to spot that particular chap.
The image is from one of the pressbook for the film – generally a good find as they seem like scarce, precious documents of celluloid stories from a time before there was such wall-to-wall, head-to-toe, easily available merchandise for such things.
View more of such things at Ms Joan Collins site here.
I shall no doubt be returning to this particular celluloid tale at some point in the future as it seem to have taken something of a longstanding hold of my mind but in the meantime I shall but post the slightly odd, stylised glory of this particular image.
Peruse the film here.
Well, this is like looking inside my own mind… (and is a tribute to public libraries and the good folk who choose their stock, as that’s where I first came across it). In a way part of me is confused that I’ve not come across it before as it’s right up my straße.
It’s a book of photographs of even then disappearing Mississipi Delta juke joints in the 1980s and quite frankly it’s like looking into another world, you can’t believe they actually existed looking like this in all their glory.
The decoration is often very home made and reminds me in a way of what has become known as Outsider Art; all hand made and homespun. Ramshackle but beautiful at the same time and possibly a homage to a time before slick all-conquering commerce and professionalism in culture (and quite possibly subcultures)… and the colours and lighting, well, don’t get me started, I’ll be here all day.
More than touch surreal here and there (plus I love the handwritten signs telling folk the prices and not to do dope and crack on the premises).
Often the figures in the photographs appear shadowy, insubstantial, fading away, which seems to reflect something about the world and the way it was also sliding from view…
Anyways, I shall not talk about this too much. I shall just say that I heartily recommend you seeking out a copy of the book.
Birney Imes at Rose Gallery
The publishers of the book: University Press of Mississipi.
Peruse the book here.
I came across the above photograph in Patsy Kensit’s biography, Absolute Beginner*.
It’s her mum and dad at Trader Vics and for me it really captures a certain back in the day glamour.
If you’re going to be a late 1950s/early1960s glamourous dame who looks like you should be out in a nightclub with Ruby from The Long Firm, well, this could well be your archetype.
Now, not to overly glamourise the misbehaviour of certain sections of the East End’s population back then but let’s just say her dad/family knew “the chaps” – two particular twins with the nomenclature of Kray shall we say, which makes their style in the photograph make thorough sense.
Apparently, years after her parents had passed away, when Patsy Kensit asked a family friend why her dad was wearing dark glasses, the reply was “Well, Pat, he was in disguise.” That just makes me chuckle and chuckle.
As you may well know, Ms Kensit starred in the film version of Colin McInnes novel Absolute Beginners: although it’s flawed, I’m somewhat fond of the film and its almost cartoon like take on late 1950s Soho / London… and it does have Sylvia Sims (The World Ten Times Over), that fine chronicler of English tales Ray Davies looking for a quiet life and former Profumo Scandal feature performer Mandy Rice-Davies as his wife in it. Good for starters indeed.
Trader Vic’s is still around and Ms Kensit’s folks wouldn’t look out of place today. Visit it in the ether here.
From afterhours wanderings…
Danny Lyon’s The Bikeriders photography project/book seems to be pretty much a textbook example of how to create a respectful portrait of a closely knit subculture; one viewed by Mr Lyon as a “participant observer” (to quote Martin Parr and Gerry Badger in their The Photobook series) – Danny Lyon was a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcyle Club that he photographed but also there is a sense of him being one step removed and of offering an objective viewpoint or recording.
In a way they remind me of Karlheinz Weinberger’s 1950s photographs of Swiss rock’n’roll/biker rebels (see Day #56/365a).
Those in Weinberger’s photographs have been 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; looking at Danny Lyon’s photographs, I can imagine them having tumbled back in time to become that source.
The Bikeriders photographs are one of those times when the past that has been captured is almost too picture perfect; I don’t mean that in any negative way – this is captured as seen, documentary photography but there’s just such a natural, striking stylishness to them and their subjects/subject matter.
It is a collection of photographs that you see the word seminal applied to and in this case it is thoroughly justified.
Writing about them just makes me want to step away and go and dig out my copy of the book again.
You can view a fair few photographs from The Bikeriders at Magnum Photos here.
An original copy of the book will cost a fair pence, pounds and dollars nowadays…. it was republished by Chronicle Books, although that’s now out of print also…
…but it has been republished relatively recently by American fine art photography group Aperture. More details on that edition here.
Part of a somewhat tiny genre of British films set in amongst the vice, nightlife and shennanigans of just-pre-swinging London/Soho; alongside The World Ten Times Over, Saturday Night Out and Jungle Street but I expect… well, no, not expect… this is the top of the heap.
As a certain gent once said to me about it “Sometimes they just get it right”.
It’s also a lovely document of the streets from that time (and it’s interesting seeing how until at least relatively recently they haven’t changed all that much)… stars a future Steptoe as Mr Tony Newley’s helper and also a future nurse Gladys Emmanuel as a showgirl.
Lovely stuff indeed.
I seem to remember making a special trip a fair few miles to see it at the BFI… and of course it then finally appeared on an official shiny disc release. Ah well, well worth it.
The soundtrack has relatively recently been sent out into the world by cultural curator Mr Jonny Trunk.
Peruse the London Collection including Mr Sammy Lee here.
I think in part because in some of the photographs the people (actors?) do look genuine, in that they have a sense that they are of the time they represent; there is a sense of something ingrained in them, of being that battle and life scarred older chap.
Not in all the photographs (some of the people, especially the young folk look a little too healthy and well fed) but this sense of belonging in spirit to another or separate time has been something of an ongoing reference point with Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity.
People’s physicality has changed over time I suppose as diet etc has changed, which is probably in part why some vintage recreations in film etc do not fully convince or jar a little; the costumes and settings may be historically correct but the people aren’t.
I think I first came across his photographs via a copy of Hotshoe magazine that I bought on a reduced / previous months magazines stall – always something of a favourite for a rummage and a browse, especially as often they seem to have left-of-centre independently produced magazines sat next to glossy mainstream magazines.
All for a pound or two. Bargain indeed and you can probably pop to the nearby stalls and buy ten bananas for a pound. Food and cultural requirements on the cheap, who can say fairer than that?
Nicely produced book by the way. Eggshell-ish paper, textured linen(?) cover with a “tipped in” photograph (a posh way of saying it has been stuck onto the cover – not to belittle it though, it’s a fine looking cover/effect).
You can see more of the Re-enactors work on Jim Naughten’s website.
Visit Hotshoe who published the book here.
Peruse the book here.