Exploring MALBA – Buenos Aires

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Sitting in England, staring at an atlas, if people still have those, Buenos Aires looks like it’s sitting at the end of the earth, but get there and you feel at home very quickly. Wandering around the cobbled streets of San Telmo, soaking up every cliche coming true, in a good way, you swagger around like a local, forgetting the fact you’re lost, as a man in a muted post horn tee shirt sells you prog tango records, while a woman in a kaftan, next door, stuffs blood sausages and slaps veal cutlets into breadcrumbs. All this in a market hall where Eva Peron playing cards sit next to mangoes, in season, or out and bottles of wine and wooden cups crafted every which way to sip Yerba mate tea out of. If you’re willing to brave the never ending plane flight to get there, then Buenos Aires presents itself to you on a plate. You don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to get a gob full of Argentinian culture, be it viewing the bear pit down at La Boca where Maradona used to spirit dance his way around La Bombonera, or admiring the tango dancers down on Caminito, while the River Plate sits, like a millpond, at the end of the street.

Up in Palermo, amid the wide Park Avenue style boulevards, where stylish bars mingle with craft bakeries and coffee houses on streets named after near neighbours like Costa Rica and Uruguay, you will find the excellent MALBA museum. Devoted exclusively to twentieth century Latin American art, the museum is something of a revelation, not least because of the riot of colour you will find upon its walls, Latin American art it seems rarely does drab and when it does the passion bowls you over and kicks you in the knackers anyhow.

Created by Argentine moneybags Eduardo Constantini and designed by AFT architects, the sleek halls take visitors on an artistic journey from the modernism of the early twentieth century when South American artists took their cues from European Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism to the surrealist twenties when artists began to look to South America’s own ancient stories of magic and fantasy for inspiration. The exhibition culminates with the turbulent 1960s when art became a weapon against a brutal dictatorship. Here are some highlights from the collection.

Oscar Bony – El triunfo de la muerte

Oscar Bony was one of the most influential of all Argentinian artists, becoming a key figure in the Instituto Di Tella scene, an art school in Buenos Aries, which was an artistic hotbed. Bony emerged and flourished in Buenos Aires in the early 1960s in the brief period of unfettered artistic freedom between the fall of Juan Peron and the arrival of the military dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía in 1966. The rise of Ongania would prompt an intensifying of artistic power in Argentina starting when Eduardo Ruano famously smashed a photograph of John F Kennedy as a protest against American action in Vietnam, but this would ultimately give way to censorship, with the police shutting down anything that carried even a hint of an anti establishment message. This prompted Bony to flee to Milan, where he became a music photographer for a while. El triunfo de la muerte (The Triumph of Death) features a number of images of a man being shot in different theatrical poses, the bullet holes are actually visible in the glass to add to the dramatic effect. The piece offers no real continuity, it is not a comic strip despite appearances, instead it offers the message that there is no escape from death, this is not a picture of a process, rather it is a visualising of finality. There is though a political element, the bullet holes match those fired by a Walther PPK handgun, the same weapon that was used to kill Rodolpho Walsh, an Argentine investigative reporter who was murdered in Buenos Aires in 1977 as he was about to file his famous ‘Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta’ which exposed the damage the regime’s economic policies were having on the Argentine people. This work offers an image of a man reaching the peak of his expression right at the very moment of his death.

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Maria Freire – Sudamerica No.10

An example of how South American artists, despite their own rich tapestry of culture, were sometimes inspired by European history. Maria Freire, an artist from Uruguay, was often inspired, when creating her Sudamerica series, by Medieval imagery, which is surprising given the utterly modern feel of her work. Created in 1958, the Sudamerica series features a relatively reserved colour palette, something that she would go on to expand in her later work. Rhythmic patterns and chains of symbols are featured throughout her portfolio.

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Oscar Bony – La familia obrera

This piece prompted something of a controversy when it was first shown in 1968, a time when Argentina was in the grip of military dictatorship. The work was originally live action, with Bony ‘hiring’ a mother, father and son to sit on a platform at the Instituto Di Tella, while sounds from their everyday life played behind them, creating a kind of staged voyeurism. MALBA honours the work’s original power by displaying a six foot still of the instillation. La familia obrera was of course a mould breaker, blurring the lines between performance, art and sculpture, but it was more than that, it was a particularly bright spark, in a year full of bright sparks, 1968, which further spread the flames of political tumult already raging around the globe. It was also a piece about the exploitation of the working classes of Argentina. They were Evita’s power base, she called them the descamisados, the shirtless ones, pouring money into charity programmes to help, while docking their pay checks to fund them. The people presented in this picture are representations of the working classes of Buenos Aires at the time, the working classes of wider Argentina must surely have not looked nearly as well healed, but perceptions are everything. The original work proved so controversial that it was shut down by police.

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José Pedro Costigliolo – Forma

Costigliolo was one of the most important artists in Uruguayan Modernism. He dipped his toe into Cubism, Purism and Russian Suprematism, producing both figurative and non-figurative works. In 1952 he co-founded the “Non-Figurative Art Group” in Uruguay with his artist wife Maria Freire. He is considered to be a pioneer in his home country and his work is never dull, but always a sharp explosion of pop colour.

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Lilliana Porter – Wrinkle

Wrinkle is all about perceptions, it presents pictures of crumpled up pieces of paper next to some typed dialogue, which suggests that the viewer reconsider the beauty of wrinkled paper. Born in Argentina in 1941, Lilliana Porter’s work has a sense of aesthetic austerity running throughout it, sometimes she uses little to say a lot and sometimes she uses little to say nothing at all. The printed conversation between ‘emm’ and ‘ett’ kicks off with:

“emm: so are they wrinkled pictures or pictures of wrinkles?

ett: well to begin with, they’re not pictures.

emm: and what would you call them?

ett: i’d call them still-lifes of action paintings.”

Before concluding:

“emm: who needs wrinkles?

ett: you may not need them, but you’ve got them.

emm: that’s what I mean, wrinkles aren’t very nice. Wrinkling things up is messy….destructive.

ett: don’t moralise. So is god……”

Before going onto describe all the majestic things that are wrinkled, ripples of water, your pants, the surface of the moon, oh and this article, when you rip it up and go, ‘that’s enough of all that!’ But, it will still be beautiful and there’s nothing you can do about that, sorry!

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Pickup Brass

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I saw several characters dressed in black, law enforcement ninjas, freshly dispatched from the governor’s office in Sacramento, shuffling Jeff Goldblum down some steps in a sedan chair at MGM studios.

“Where are you taking Jeff-san?” I asked the lead ninja, spying Goldblum’s obviously drugged and sleeping frame behind the red curtains.

Goldblum started to stir as I made my inquiries, the ninja’s beady eyes darting about behind his black balaclava, like two guttering candles in a jack o’ lantern, as Goldblum gurgled and thrashed his arms about behind us.

“Look over there,” one of them said to me, and I did, falling for that old trick, as another slapped Jeff across the chops with a black slipper.

“Hey, that’s really not on,” I said, and I punched the lead ninja in the nose, prompting the attendant ninjas to draw their nunchucks. I was greatly out numbered and bound for defeat, had Clint Eastwood not been passing, and, seeing a fellow American threatened by foreigners, broke into some dialogue he’d had with Bernadette Peters in Pink Cadillac, the ninjas edging away from the confrontation, hypnotised by the Eastwood aura, collectively taking the role of Peters, singing her responses, as if they were in a barber shop quartet.

While all this bollocks was going on I was easing Jeff out of the sedan chair and he was slobbering all over my shoulder, slurring out some anecdote about Geena Davis tripping over an inflatable purple dragon and into the deep end of a public swimming pool.

I bungled him into Robert Redford’s car. I had been Redford’s driver ever since the days when he and Jane Fonda would perform abridged versions of their films on Santa Monica pier to pick up bucks.

Jane Fonda: Come on Paul, all I want to do is go walking barefoot in the park.

Robert Redford: (Doing his best Milton Bearle impression, chewing on a stogie) What are you, crazy?

Redford came barrelling down the steps, in his Scarlet Pimpernel gear, and into the back seat as I strapped Jeff in.

“Good day at the studio, Mr Redford?” I asked.

“What’s wrong with him?” Redford answered, gruffly, gesturing towards Goldblum, who had his right cheek up against the passenger side window, snoring, loudly.

“Ninja kidnappers,” I said.

“Again,” Redford answered, “better watch myself.”

Redford soon got down to business barking street names and directions while peering through the sun roof checking the wind speed with a handheld anemometer, its egg spoon fins flipping about in the Hollywood breeze.

I drove off and Goldblum announced that he needed to vomit, and did so, after spending a good ten minutes trying to roll the window down, only to realise he was rolling it the wrong way, after much ratcheting back and forth of the handle.

Meanwhile, Robert Redford began to tear open several industrial sized sacks of seeds that I had loaded into the back seat, each marked Eschscholzia californica in a folksy county jail kind of font. He slipped on a pair of antique magnifying goggles in order to inspect the grainy mix.

“Good mixture today,” Redford affirmed, “from Constanza, I shouldn’t wonder?”

“From Constanza,” I said, “working even on his wedding day.”

We arrived at our destination in good time, a bland bit of road near Hermosa, bordered on either side by grass verges, leading to a large white warehouse, which appeared to be some kind of recording studio, as we could overhear someone vigorously rehearsing a pickup brass section, hollering “more, more” over an out of tune, yet funky, doo-wop melody.

I produced a silver shovel from the glove compartment, which I passed to Redford. My role now was simply to maintain a steady speed as he tossed the seeds out of the window onto the grass.

A great percentage of the yellow flowers that appear every spring on roadsides across California were planted by Robert Redford and Jeff Goldblum as part of their long running commitment to guerrilla environmentalism. The administration, up there in Sacramento, comically tripping over wastepaper baskets and so forth, wanted to put a stop to it, wanted to weed-kill them all off with pesticides and chemicals, none of them much beneficial to Mother Earth and her wisecracking sass.

There was a screeching behind us, those law enforcement ninjas, their black jumpsuits now Nancy Reagan red, all crammed into an advancing Ford Maverick, yelling obscenities out of the open windows.

“Hit the gas!” Redford shouted, throwing his arms up into the air, seeds flying everywhere, the commotion waking Goldblum, who rumbled into life, coughing up a couple of pennies in the process, before looking behind him, yelling yikes and then pulling a small wooden accordion out from underneath his hat.

“Turn the radio down,” Goldblum yelled, so I turned the radio down as the speedometer trembled over a hundred and he broke into some French folk song he told us was about a girl who lost her clothes to a gust of wind as she splashed about in a fountain.

Robert Redford looked over his shoulder as the car began to clatter its way towards being a write off.

“Nice fucking song,” Redford said, curly blonde bangs falling over his forehead, preparing to bail out of the moving car, “now, let’s get ourselves together.”

Curlew River

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Out of the woods they come, crunching their way across the shale in newspaper shoes, him wearing a Japanese kimono and her, all bones and marzipan, spitting out orange pits at right angles as she walks.

Our Girl stands in the Curlew River while the great grid of power station metal hums in front of her. Shivering, she stares at the grid, the cooling towers and that whole ring-a-ding-ding rhinestone scene they’ve got cooking over there.

The grid, that buzzing electric grid, that’s her life, see? Look, that’s Stevie, up there. She loved Stevie.

“I know you,” Our Girl whispers, breaking her trance when the two arrive. “You’re from the Mystery Plays at the Hornerby Assizes, I saw your tents being packed into rickshaws this morning.”

“Rickshaws, dearie?” Lady Marzipan says, her voice all reedy and rattly from her smokes.

“Never seen a rickshaw in all me life, despite me breeding,” KimonoMan cuts in, boasting a hoity-toity accent now, a put on, long yellow nails tapping the bark of the riverside oak tree he slithered towards.

“There was lots of confetti swirling about,” adds KimonoMan, “a right ribald scene if ever there was one, I doubt you could have picked us out.”

A slap for KimonoMan, right across the chops, for giving the game away.

“Remember hitching a ride on the sails of the Montefiore Windmill, Dora, in the snow?” KimonoMan says, edging the subject away from his increasingly haphazard memory.

“You’ve got to keep the sail tight between your legs,” he demonstrates, with an imaginary windmill sail, suddenly real, it’s cream canvas material rippling in the Middle Eastern breeze, sun glinting off the top of the Dome of the Rock, catching Our Girl right in the eye, blinding her momentarily.

“Relax and let your arms dangle when you reach the lower portion of the swing, your fingers might graze the ground, but don’t worry, you’ve just got to move with the mill.”

Drumroll, he performs a somersault, vaudeville style, to much applause. Confetti. Flowers. Curtain.

KimonoMan pops his head around the red velvet. Lordy, Lordy, an encore, tonight of all nights!

The pit band break into After You’ve Gone and KimonoMan waddles, Chaplin style, bamboo cane a-swinging, towards a revolving Billy Brownie Garden blackboard and bows.

“Vault forwards on the upward curve if you want to make it to the top again,” he says, as he slaps the blackboard with the bamboo cane, like Monty outlining the conclusion of a mission. “It’s worth it, if you want to see all Jerusalem in an eyeful.”

Lady Marzipan interrupts, hectoring Our Girl now, meanly, clearing the still-confetti-laden air with a waft of her hand. “Our lives are made of natural light not electricity,” she says. “Your man made power is doing you down,” lurching a hunched shoulder in the direction of the river facing station.

“You need to step out of your river and look a little to the left.”

To the left, well, to the left, we all look to the left. Even Herself gets out of the Curlew River to take a look to her left.

My God, an illusion! These people can do that. Just cover your eyes, Lady, look away, and they’ll be sneaky pete-ing along before you even know it.

“De dum-de-dum-de-diddly-dum,” KimonoMan sings, making out a melody for his song on a Den-den daiko.

“The trees were chewing peppermint gum,” Lady Marzipan answers, vamping.

“Down by the towers and down on the shale, they hung him up on two penny nails!”

On the tree trunk bark Our Girl taps out a rhythm to accompany their song, but she’s wearing silver thimbles on every finger, golden rings on every toe. Her rhythm, you see, only counts if she’s connected and she’s not a part of their ecosystem, she’s not even close.

 

Bite-sized Reykjavik

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imageIceland had never really been on my radar. I had a vague knowledge of the place; I knew that it was where Bjork came from. I knew that they had taken a terrible hit during the financial meltdown of 2009 and that one of their temperamental volcanoes had brought European airspace to a standstill in 2010. But that was just about it.

All Europe-ed out after a few months of back to back visits to the continent and with a long week-end to spare and a stash of disposable pennies, that little flake of land, mid-Atlantic, began to look more and more attractive. An exciting in-reach wilderness, that wasn’t continental, but offered an independent culture and a thriving music scene.

Iceland, the very word conjures up thoughts of adventure, sliding down bloody great big glaciers, wandering down ravines cut into the earth thousands of years ago, bubbling springs and those grand, chilly, empty vistas of nothing. And Reykjavik too, the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state, with it cafe culture and it’s downright cosmopolitan nature, all amid, if you’re lucky, the ethereal shimmer of the Northern Lights. Yes, my initial disinclination gave way to inexplicable enthusiasm when I gave the idea some thought.

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The first thing that you realise as the airplane nose nudges into Icelandic airspace is the sheer emptiness of the space and the blackness of the volcanic land. The slightly melancholy introduction is quickly overcome by the friendliness of the airport, with its odd living room feel, a line of hardy out-doors-types reclining in arm-chairs amid the surprisingly, for an airport, relaxed atmosphere. It was like deplaning into an outlet of the Edinburgh Woolen Mill, a sensation that would be often repeated.

The bus to Reykjavik was buzzed by what appeared to be an American Air Force style B52, suddenly appearing over the brow of a grassy hill while I was gazing out across the flat landscape that comprises Keflavik. It was either taking off or landing behind me, I wasn’t quite sure, either way, its roar was such a surprise that I banged my nose on the coach window.

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Despite Reykjavik being home to over 200,000 people, the majority of the Icelandic populace, I was surprised at the village feel of Reykjavik central. Many, many coffee shops, enough record stores to satisfy even the most frenzied vinyl junkie and a surprising number of noodle bars make up the narrow, bicycle strewn streets.

My first meal in the Icelandic capital was in one of these eponymous noodle bars, but one recommended by a friend who had been before. The bowl was enormous, brimming with chicken noodle soup and I sat in the window slurping away, staring at the Hallgrímskirkja church, the city’s most bewitching building.

imageThe pristinely white structure sits at the end of the long and straight principle shopping street, Skólavörðustígur, towering over the city, it resembles an ice sculpture, the building’s curved and rippling sides bringing to mind the perfect fossilised shapes sometimes found on a volcano field. The church inside is refreshingly plain, all whites and creams, very calming, for a church, even the traditionally uncomfortable pews are upholstered.

I took a wander to the beautiful lighthouse at Seltjarnarnes, about a half an hours walk from the city centre, still within striking distance of town, but utterly deserted. Miles and miles of empty beach followed miles and miles of empty beach.  It was so quiet that the noiselessness seemed to pressure my ears, as if they were straining to hear something, but couldn’t and the strain to do so was making them ache. It was like the world had gone quiet. It was all right for a while, a different experience, but after a couple of hours I was yearning for a return to civilization and people. It wasn’t the true Icelandic wilderness, but it was interesting to experience the edge of emptiness.

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My visit happened, by chance, to coincide with what would have been John Lennon’s 73rd birthday. My temporary landlady told me that Yoko Ono always visited town on that day to light the ‘Imagine Peace Tower’ a light sculpture Ono had built on Videy, a small windswept island about five minutes sail from the harbor. I wasn’t entirely sure if it would be my kind of thing, but I went along anyway, sailing across the freezing water on a rickety boat while “The Ballad of John and Yoko” blared from speakers wedged in the wheelhouse. We all sang “Give Peace a Chance,” and I kind of thought it might be nice if we actually gave it a try, after all I’d been awarded peace in great big chunks during my visit to Iceland and I’d found it roundly enjoyable, so why shouldn’t the rest of the world get a fair crack at it too?

Amid the candlelit emptiness, someone strummed an acoustic guitar, Yoko Ono danced all in black, top hat strangely resistant to the blowing gale. It still wasn’t really my thing, but because of that, I was enjoying it.

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Tantra Song – The Mystical Modernity of Paintings from Rajasthan

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Energy fizzing about a turquoise sea - From Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, selected and with writings by Franck André Jamme. Published by Siglio

Energy fizzing about a turquoise sea – From Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, selected and with writings by Franck André Jamme. Published by Siglio

With our modern eloquence, our technology and our brash and inventive culture, contemporary artists have developed individual ways of expressing hopes, beliefs, doubts and fears through art. Yet magically, when arts and crafts are brought together from across the world — from cultures and nations completely separate from one-another — unlikely bonds emerge, suggesting a common human struggle for expression.

An excellent example of this can be seen in Tantra Song, a new book compiled by one of France’s leading contemporary poets, Franck André Jamme. The book features a collection of rare Tantric paintings from Rajasthan, India, used to awaken heightened states of consciousness through meditation. Collated by Jamme during many trips to his beloved India, the paintings bear an uncanny resemblance to 20th century abstract art, Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism, despite the fact that they are articles of the 17th century, replicated by generations ever since.

Having spent more than two decades in conversation with the private communities of Rajasthani tantrikas, Jamme—like other poet-ethnographers before him, Michaux, Leiris, and Bataille, was moved to highlight the paintings’ subtle magic.

The pictures presented are often joyful: filled with colour, they are both hypnotic and sensual, their simple geometry elegant yet immediate. Produced upon recycled paper, the paintings feature divine and religious diagrams and representations of deities and mystic forces, which are used to help believers visualise the deity they portray.

White arrows dance and fizz across a deep turquoise square representing energy, whilst colour filled wheels contain all the shades of the Earth. There are fiery triangles atop a tropical shade of blue — the tongue of the goddess Kali in duplicate — the repetition supposedly inducing true intoxication.

All the colours of the world - From Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, selected and with writings by Franck André Jamme. Published by Siglio

All the colours of the world – From Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, selected and with writings by Franck André Jamme. Published by Siglio

Jamme quickly recognised the simple logic of the Tantrika craftsmen: “They see time and day and night very naturally, they think of two stripes, black and white.”

“There are a lot of small rules with this kind of Tantric painting,” Jamme adds, “but [ultimately] they respect colour: if they want to express consciousness, they are going to use light blue; they are not going to use red.”

This favouring of colour over stipulation is indicative of Tantra, which is often looked upon with scorn by traditional Hindus who’s own religion is comprised of complicated rules and regulation. In comparison, Tantrism embraces freedom, personal liberty, and gender equality. “Traditional Hindus are skeptical and a bit afraid of this,” explains Jamme, “because Tantrism can sound a little bit devilish to them — there is so much freedom. They’re afraid of freedom. — [fear] is the standard for humanity.”

Returning to France from India with the artwork and a better understanding of its meaning, Jamme exhibited the paintings as part of Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the Earth) an exhibition held at the Pompidou Centre in 1989. The display brought together contemporary art from across the world in an attempt to answer the question: “Is there such a thing as a common world art?”

Jamme considers the answer to that question to be yes; the evidence lying not only in the distinct similarities between Tantric painting and our own contemporary art but in the art and culture of eras past.

“In Orissa, India,” Jamme says, “[they’ve] found a particular form of poetry from the Medieval times which is extremely close in form to Haiku poetry from Japan — very short pieces with the very same number of syllables. That’s fascinating! I think there is [universally] a collective, hidden human search for expression,” Jamme explains, “just think of yodelers in Switzerland — you have exactly the same thing in the North of Vietnam.”

The principal force driving this search is freedom of expression, something embodied by the Tantrika craftsmen who harbour a “mad and pure desire for mental elevation. They’ll think of any way, any manner, any practice to reach that goal, beyond many of the rules and regulations of their rite.”

These Tantric paintings are the colourful, disciplined result of concentration combining with freedom, beautiful to look at, yet also — to those who believe — an attempt to “assemble almost everything, out of almost nothing.”

Tantra Song, collected and with writing by Franck André Jamme is available through Siglio Press.

F For Fake – Orson says: ‘Never Trust an Expert’

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Orson Welles and Elmyr de Hory – Picture courtesy of Mark Forgy

I am not an expert. I say that with all due consideration to you, the reader, who may well have found this page expecting expertise, thinned and straightened into horizontal lines, ready for you to take up your collective noses like Victorian snuff. We live in the era of the expert. The twenty four hour news media, to borrow an increasingly dreary phrase, screams for, day in day out, and thusly teems with, expertise, battalions of experts eager to validate any newspaper, any news network, any website with their considered meanderings into the anointed topics of the day.

Every statement needs validation. Every argument needs both sides. Two statements of fact. But with more and more statements being made, through countless platforms, mouthpieces and mediums, the clamour for authentication is prompting the bar for expertise to be lowered further and further.

Expertise is overrated. An expert can’t be trusted. Overarching statements and both subjects of Orson Welles’s recently re-released late-period film ‘F for Fake’. The film focuses on two notorious swindlers: Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving, one notorious recluse: Howard Hughes and a whole host of dubious experts.

“In the late 1960s Elmyr de Hory was the world’s most talented and most successful art forger ever,” says Mark Forgy, a writer from Minneapolis and one time assistant to Elmyr. Forgy is, you could say, one of the leading Elmyr experts still living, the holder of the deceased painter’s personal papers, he acted as de Hory’s confidant and bodyguard. When the painter committed suicide in 1976, with the law closing in, it was Forgy who found Elmyr dying from an overdose of sleeping pills.

Forgy certainly boasts all the trappings of the expert, he’s written a book (The Forger’s Apprentice – A True Story) that’s one peg up in the expertise stakes. The book has been turned into a play (directed by Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha, co written and co-produced by Mark Forgy and Kevin Bowen, first performed at the Minnesota Fringe in August 2013). Mark Forgy is even available for lectures. In fact at this juncture you might think it best for me to hand over to Mark Forgy to complete this brief lecture on Elmyr de Hory and the falling stock of expertise in our century, but, to paraphrase Orson Welles: “This isn’t that kind of article.”

Elmyr de Hory - Picture courtesy of Mark Forgy

Elmyr de Hory – Picture courtesy of Mark Forgy

Mark Forgy is not the only expert on the life and times of Elmyr de Hory, and he certainly isn’t the most famous, and fame counts for a lot these days. Clifford Irving (whose name you might have heard most often mentioned in regards to Howard Hughes – more on him later) was the first to publish a book on the great Elmyr after spending some time together with him on the island of Ibiza, where Elmyr planned to settle after spending years running from city to city avoiding the police. The book was Fake! and it told the story of how some of Elmyr’s fake Picassos, Modiglianis, Reichenbachs and Renoirs made their way, un-rumbled, into the most prestigious art collections in the world, where some of them may remain to this very day.

But Irving, the writer and momentary expert on Elmyr, had his sights set on becoming the authoritative source on a man even more fleeting and mysterious than the Hungarian born painter.

Howard Hughes was the great mystery man of his age, the Saran wrapped enigma, the man who engineered the uplifting brassiere and the grounded Spruce Goose, made movies and wooed Katharine Hepburn, before disappearing, to some top floor penthouse suite in Las Vegas where he kept bottles of his own urine, padded about with Kleenex boxes on his feet and saw no one. So the stories go. So the experts tell us. Sequestered in the Desert Inn, surrounded by a ‘band of mystery Mormons’, bemoaning that dago bastard Frank Sinatra who had stolen his girl, the world waited for the Hughes comeback, after all, nobody turns their back on celebrity, not in America, everybody comes back to the lights, eventually.

Cliff Irving erroneously believed Hughes had gone for good and should he, Irving, produce a book, an autobiography, a fake autobiography featuring fraudulent contributions from Hughes himself, then the missing billionaire would surely not stir from his rooftop hideout disturbing the desert sands covering his lair, in order to refute Irving’s fantasy. He’d been gone for fifteen years by then, could be dead for all Irving knew, or at the very least the Kleenex stories could be true and the old man would be too crackers to notice.

Hughes was a man desperate for his story to be told, said Irving, they had met in various locations around the world for interviews, including incredulously, on top of a Mexican pyramid, like a scene from a fake de Chirico painting. And why not a Mexican pyramid? Hughes was gaga, so the more outrageous the better. After all if there is one thing people hate more than anything it’s an unfinished story, think Kennedy in Dallas, Princess Grace in the hills above Monaco and Diana in the Alma Tunnel. An unfinished story leaves a void ready to be filled with bunk, scurrilous sculch, which people believe, if it gives meaning to a meaningless end, or in this case, something even more ethereal and infuriating (for the gossip hound) than death, an unexplained disappearance.

Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes

The world bought it. Time Magazine bought it to the tune of $250,000 for serial rights to the manuscript while Dell Publishing Company offered a further $400,000 for the paperback rights. But before money exchanged hands, Irving’s big book of lies had to pass muster with the experts. Hughes’s signature on the documents agreeing to the publication of the book had to be authenticated. The best handwriting experts in the whole-wide-world were summoned and pored over the documents like pigs over a trough of satsumas. They huffed and puffed and wiped their sweaty brows and concluded, after much study, that yes, this was the signature of the real Howard Hughes and with the approbation of the sainted experts given, Irving had his scoop, the scoop, bar the (phoney) Hitler diaries, of the century.

Hughes should never have had to stir from his stupor to dismiss the story, there should have been countless experts on hand to do that for him, people in possession of the plain facts. And yet that is exactly was he was forced to do, not physically though, instead his disembodied voice appeared over a phone line to a room full of invited journalists.

“I don’t remember any script as wild or as stretching of the imagination as this yarn has turned out to be,” said the supposed voice of Hughes. “I don’t know Irving. I never saw him. I never even heard of him until a matter of days ago when this thing first came to my attention.”

Despite the fact that it was known that Howard Hughes had used voice doubles in the past, the journalists, who were all supporters of Hughes, concluded that the voice did indeed belong to the dyspeptic billionaire, just as the handwriting experts had identified the hand of a Hughes in Irving’s phoney web.

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

Mark Forgy (left) and Elmyr de Hory (right). Picture courtesy of Mark Forgy

Mark Forgy (left) and Elmyr de Hory (right). Picture courtesy of Mark Forgy

When Adam scratched Eve’s name onto the Eden tree, its my guess he didn’t initial it, but for as long as that tree stood, way back in the BC’s I bet there was some knowing character on hand to point out the landmark, and I’m sure that when that etching was weathered off the bark, or the tree was felled, that someone was quick enough to whittle a replacement, so as not to loose the tourist trade.

“It’s pretty, but is it art” wrote Ruddy Kipling, a verse quoted by Welles in F for Fake. You could say that Elmyr’s fakes are pretty, but certainly not art, because of their carbon copy nature. But then again, can’t deception be artful? Irving’s bogus autobiography was certainly artful in its circumvention of the truth. Expertise is easy to fake if you are able to say something well enough.

Speak delicate untruths in an authoritative voice and you will most likely be believed in the heat of the moment. Anything jump out at you when you read earlier: “Fake! told the story of how some of Elmyr’s fake Picassos, Modiglianis, Reichenbachs and Renoirs made their way, undiscovered, into some of the most prestigious art collections in the world.”? Reichenbach? An artist who ranks with the greats? No such person. Francois Reichenbach, the producer of F for Fake, the more likely candidate here. But did you briefly believe in this new artistic master as you skimmed these paragraphs? Were you willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, just for a moment?

Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes

Perhaps the more pertinent question, in an age where news and celebrity have become intertwined is should we be more realistic about the outlets we turn to for truth? Anyone who looks towards a blog say, or a tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail, for example, for hard, provable fact and then screams bloody murder when they are left disappointed is misguided. It is blatantly obvious that the purpose of the Mail, in its current form, is not to inform, but to entertain, in the same way as a Beano comic will.

A character assassination here, a sexing up of the facts there, from the ‘fascist den’ at the Daily Mail to the supposed ‘nest of Marxists’ that comprises the BBC, these aren’t sins against the public, but are the well-meaning acts of a new and fine breed of storytellers, currently residing in the one time impenetrable fortresses of truth and justice that once made up the media in the UK and the US. Ranks of Clifford Irvings, willing to put fiction before the truth for the sake of entertainment, backed by cherry picked experts frothing at the mouth to contribute. And what of it? Why not enjoy the hapless flinging of cream pies that constitutes our national discourse. Just don’t start believing everything you hear, the recorded voice of Howard Hughes appearing out of the ether won’t always be there to dismiss the inexactitudes of the experts. Today, that job is up to us.

And with that the writer drops his authoritative voice, takes off his mask and returns to civilian life.

‘You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you!’ Hotel Texas – An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs John F. Kennedy

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Skyway, 1964 Robert Rauschenberg - Oil and silkscreen on canvas Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund, The 500, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Mark Shepherd, Jr., and General Acquisitions Fund © Rauschenberg Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Skyway, 1964 Robert Rauschenberg – Oil and silkscreen on canvas Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund, The 500, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Mark Shepherd, Jr., and General Acquisitions Fund © Rauschenberg Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

There are many iconic images of the 22nd of November,1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Amid all the poignant pictures the relevance of a small collection of artwork by Picasso, Franz Kline, Thomas Eakins, van Gogh and Charles Marion Russell has become lost. Nearly fifty years on from the tragedy in Dallas, ‘Hotel Texas – An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs John F. Kennedy’ offers a different perspective on those infamous events.

The Kennedy’s three day trip to Texas, an early salvo in the president’s 1964 re-election campaign, had already seen the first couple visit San Antonio and Houston, before they arrived, exhausted, at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, in preparation for visits to Dallas and Austin the next day. In their hotel suite the pair were met by a treasure trove of art hanging from the room’s walls and went to bed assuming the pictures to be replicas. On closer inspection, the next morning, they discovered that the artworks were authenticated originals.

This unprecedented exhibition was the work of Owen Day, a Texan art critic. Day learned that the seventy-five dollar a night suite reserved for the president was not the most luxurious in the hotel, the ritziest room had instead been reserved for the Texas-born Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird. The Johnson’s suite had hand-me-down items from the Ritz Carlton in New York, while the Kennedys had to make do with views of a bus station and some underwhelming furnishings.

Spirit Bird, c. 1956, Morris Graves, Tempera on paper, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Gift of the William E. Scott Foundation.

Spirit Bird, c. 1956, Morris Graves, Tempera on paper, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Gift of the William E. Scott Foundation.

Knowing the first couple were art lovers, Day began to organise a ‘customised art experience,’ in an attempt to brighten the suite where John and Jackie would, ultimately, spend their last night together. After a flurry of telephone calls it was arranged that the rooms would be decorated with a selection of art and sculpture assembled from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Private collectors also offered work, all expertly negotiated by Ruth Carter Johnson, a civic force in Fort Worth, who didn’t vote for Kennedy but still wanted to contribute to the effort.

President Kennedy spent his last night sleeping beneath van Gogh’s ‘Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade’, while Jackie slept below ‘Swimming’ by Thomas Eakins. It was supposed to have been the other way around, but the couple changed beds unexpectedly.

Traditional American art was represented with the inclusion of Charles Marion Russell’s ‘Lost in a Snowstorm – We Are Friends’, while modernist works, more tailored to Mrs Kennedy’s art tastes than to her husbands, were also featured, such as Franz Kline’s ‘Study for Accent Grave’ and ‘Spirit Bird’ by Morris Graves. There was even a Picasso sculpture, the charming ‘Angry Owl’, which sat in the suite’s entrance hall, running the risk of courting controversy given the artist’s flirtations with Communism.

Lost in a Snowstorm – We Are Friends, 1888, Charles M. Russell, Oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Lost in a Snowstorm – We Are Friends, 1888, Charles M. Russell, Oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Of the twelve artworks displayed in Suite 850, Eakins’s ‘Swimming’, is given the most consideration in the book, which features an essay on the painting by Alexander Nemerov. The picture depicts several swimmers lounging upon an eighteenth century sawmill platform by a newly created lake. The ruined platform remains the same, for now, but the water is slowly eroding it and changing its environment. A new world is coming while another is leaving and the figures swimming seem trapped somewhere between the coming and the going. Nemerov notes that when Father Oscar Huber gave Kennedy Extreme Unction, the Last Rights of the Catholic Church, at Parkland Memorial Hospital after the shooting, his words like Eakins’s painting ‘marked Kennedy’s passage from one world to the next’.

Thomas Eakins himself, in a self portrait, breaststrokes in the lower right of the picture, echoing, writes Nemerov, a Professor of Art and Art History at Stanford University, JFK’s famous four hour swim to Plumb Pudding Island, with a severely injured man on his back, after his PT boat was sank by the Japanese during WWII.

Swimming, 1885, Thomas Eakins, Oil on canvas - Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchased by the Friends of Art, Fort Worth Art Association, 1925; acquired by the Amon Carter Museum, 1990, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through grants and donations from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation, Capital Cities/ABC Foundation, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The R. D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation and the people of Fort Worth. 1990.19.1.

Swimming, 1885, Thomas Eakins, Oil on canvas – Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchased by the Friends of Art, Fort Worth Art Association, 1925; acquired by the Amon Carter Museum, 1990, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through grants and donations from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation, Capital Cities/ABC Foundation, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The R. D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation and the people of Fort Worth. 1990.19.1.

The picture, like the president, is rooted in Catholicism, the figures in the painting with their perfectly sculpted bodies and proud postures are reminiscent of Caravaggio’s religious depictions of martyrs, John the Baptist and David. Yet these characters are simply larking about by the water’s edge, they aren’t saints or apostles, they look like heroes, but they lack a story.

Jackie Kennedy loved the display and remarked that she wished she could have stayed longer to admire the pictures, while Jack Kennedy rang Ruth Carter Johnson to thank her for organising the surprise; it was the last phone call he ever made. After breakfast Kennedy was presented with a ten-gallon cowboy hat by the civic leaders of Fort Worth, he refused to try it on, but promised to wear it on his return to the Oval Office.

Respect and good intentions evidently supported the First Lady of Texas, Nellie Connally, when she turned to President Kennedy, as their open top car moved slowly into Dealey Plaza, and said: “Mr President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you!”

“No, you certainly can’t!” Kennedy answered. A second later, history took its shocking course.

President Kennedy speaks to the crowd outside the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, Texas, November 22, 1963. William Allen, photographer/Dallas Times Herald Collection - Courtesy of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

President Kennedy speaks to the crowd outside the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, Texas, November 22, 1963. William Allen, photographer/Dallas Times Herald Collection – Courtesy of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Hotel Texas – An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs John F. Kennedy is available now from Yale University Press.
One of the most shocking moments of radio ever recorded: Erich Leinsdorf breaks the news of President Kennedy’s death to a packed Boston symphony hall:

Factual Nonsense – The Art and Death of Joshua Compston

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flowers

Those Kray twins were right bloody bastards weren’t they? With all that filching, cly faking, dewskitching and dollyshop demandering. Should have gone into scrap metal like their old dad instead of always being a few sour moves away from a pair of silver derbies. Ronnie and Reggie were both born in Hoxton, London, which today is sewed together with bordering Shoreditch. Back in those fun filled glamorous days that we collectively term England’s Middle Ages, the body of Jane Shore, a noteworthy tart and one time gumar to Edward IV, you know, that pudgy faced, all cheeks and very little mouth, David Cameron lookalike of a Plantagenet monarch, was dumped in a ditch in the area, leading to the district’s ironic dubbing, or so the highly dubious and historically disputable story goes.

Hoxton and Shoreditch used to be characterised by bustling small industry, factories and workshops, but in the years after the Second World War industry began to move out, leaving behind a great number of empty warehouses and shop floors cheaply available. Because of the large spaces and low rents artists and musicians began to move in, giving birth to a burgeoning creative scene. The cultural bridge between the tail end of the industrial Kray scarred Shoreditch and its early days as an artistic haven in the early nineties was dreamed up, built and cemented by Joshua Compston. Artist, impresario and curator.

Compston is best known for the gallery he set up in a former factory on Charlotte Road named Factual Nonsense. Described as a “cultural think tank” Compston wanted the gallery to aim towards revolutionising the lives of the working classes. In his lovingly crafted new book on Joshua Compston, published in conjunction with an exhibition of work and materials related to Joshua’s career at the Paul Stolper gallery in London, Darren Coffield, a friend and contemporary of the artist, writes of Shoreditch in the early 1990s. Coffield describes the area as “a dilapidated and unpopulated place”, in the wake of another British recession, a place that appeared to Joshua as something of an ‘undiscovered country’, a million miles away from the late-era Thatcherite middle class hedonism that had taken root in London’s west.

Factual Nonsense organised a number of public events that, if one, like a complete fucking buggerlugs, were to analyse Shoreditch’s recent cultural development, would be regarded as key moments in the area’s rebirth. The Fete Worse than Death (1993) was one such event, a kind of art house street party organised by Joshua and located in Hoxton Square around ‘the notorious triangle of Great Eastern Street, Old Street and Curtain Road, a Victorian artisan area famous for its nobler design.” Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst famously dressed up as clowns for the event, producing spin paintings at one quid a pop, just as anyone who has bought a Hirst in the following years should have adopted similar jovial gear.

Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst at the Fete Worse than Death dressed as Clowns by Guy Moberly.

Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst at the Fete Worse than Death dressed as Clowns by Guy Moberly.

Gavin Turk did a bash the rat stall, Brendan Quick a pubic hair exchange for those who wished to pluck and barter with their tangled diamonds, Sarah Lucas had an empty stall with a piece of cardboard placed on it reading ‘our thoughts on any matter for 20p’ and James Goff (these are all names of artistic veks who were on the scene at the time, quoted diligently in Coffield’s book) was particularly proud of his tuna fish tail stall. “We went to the bloody fish market and got all these tuna fish tails and then we got this grill and we barbecued together and we sold it. And I remember at the end of the day, we were sweating and stinking and we were selling tuna fish tails for five quid a piece. And Damien Hirst was selling his fucking spin paintings for a quid a piece.” Across the way from Goff’s tuna fish tail stall Tracey Emin was running a kissing tent, 50p for a kiss and by 7pm of the same day you could get a lot more for the same price. Did James Goff of the tuna fish tail stall stop by for a snog on the rot from Jane Shore, oh, I mean Tracey Emin. “No, we were to busy doing the fucking tuna,” he remembers. The Fete ended with the traditional drawing of a raffle (the prize: a bag of dildos) and someone yelling at them to turn the music down.

The Fete was successful in binding together a disparate set of characters into a community, but the cool reputation it garnered as the event fell into crystalline memory began Shoreditch’s transformation into what it is today. “Within a year and half,” Gary Hume notes in the book, “everything had gone up in price. People could no longer be there. A coffee house arrived and another one. The Fete was the beginning and the end of it.”

In the meantime Factual Nonsense continued its pioneering work. There was The First Party Conference (1993), a string of cultural events of the kind that if you remember them then you weren’t really there, the cock and yarbles posters that publicised the programme are fondly remembered, but caused a great deal of controversy when they tried to plaster them down the King’s Road. There was also the Fete Worse than Death II, which Compston said attracted “over 4000 people of different descriptions and denominations, making myth of the area of Hoxton and Shoreditch as an upbeat up and coming cultural zone.”

Darren Coffield and Graham Bignell -  Factual Nonsense  - Sex Art Money

Darren Coffield and Graham Bignell -
Factual Nonsense – Sex Art Money

Compston’s public work, such as the Fete, in many ways foreshadowed some of the recent public artworks by Jeremy Deller, yet aside from the public events, the book also highlights Compston’s more conventional artworks. Coffield praises Joshua’s ‘Other Men’s Flowers’ collection as “one of the most underrated and overlooked artworks of the last twenty years.”

Coffield notes that he and Compston were interested in printed ephemera and says that the two of them would attend ephemera fairs at the Victory Services club near Marble Arch, with Joshua going on to recycle the purchased turn of the century paper curios by sending people letters scrawled on the back of “old ocean liner menus, Edwardian cheques and pre-war public health posters.” Compston’s ‘Other Men’s Flowers’ project saw him recruit a number of leading British artists, old and new, to produce a series of prints, inspired by ephemera and based on old texts, so Mat Collishaw recreated a page from Lady Chatterley’s Lover, for example, while Henry Bond contributed a description of Monaco.

The title was inspired by a collection of poems collated by Viscount Wavell, a general in the Second World War, who had the habit of reciting poems to encourage his men on the eve of battle, he was later persuaded to compile these poems into a collected volume, which he titled ‘Other Men’s Flowers’, flowers being an age old term for writing. Compston’s father had given him a copy of the book and he later discovered that the title was not Wavell’s own, but belonged to the French writer Michel de Montaigne, who had written to describe his own collection of other men’s poems, “I have gathered about me a posy of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own.” Which is rather a good description for the stories presented in this fine book, Coffield gathering together and binding up for the sake of posterity the life’s work of a dear friend.

Darren Coffield and Graham Bignell Factual Nonsense - Verbage

Darren Coffield and Graham Bignell
Factual Nonsense – Verbage

Joshua Compston died in 1996, at the age of 25, and was buried with all the fuss and shenanigans usually accorded a pharaoh or a brave and true conqueror of great panoramas of giant stuff. “Joshua’s funeral, it kind of looked a bit like one of the Kray twins funerals,” writes Coffield, “it was a lot of people.” His coffin was painted with a William Morris pattern and bottles of wine were stashed by his body as crowds of people thronged the East End while Joshua made the journey from Factual Nonsense to his final resting place. “I found the funeral quite strange,” says Andrew Wilson. “I remember thinking, who are all these people? It was a sort of circus and it was, almost, dare I say it, one of the most successful events that Joshua inspired, but he didn’t benefit from it at all.”

London characters come and go, but the city is eternal. Rejoice by the dusty railings around the steps to the pedestal of the statue of this great and incorruptible youf. Rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice.

 
Factual Nonsense – The Art and Death of Joshua Compston is available now: http://www.factualnonsense.com

All images (except the first) courtesy of the Paul Stolper Gallery, London ©Dosfotos

All Things Brighton Beautiful

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All Things Brighton Beautiful

Robert Leeming

1.

I was drinking a bottle of Sink the Bismarck in one of those bars where supping ale named after historical events and renowned political figures is the thing to do, and I was thinking of Kenneth More getting off with that girl outside the phoney shoe shop in the film of the same name. Anna Maria was drinking a Death of Queen Mary, 1694, an extravagantly morose choice, the brown bottle arriving with its neck dressed in a kind of lacy black ruff, borne atop a leather bound book of English Common Prayer.

“That’s a fine Protestant choice,” I said to her, or something to that effect and she laughed in a half hearted way, which was done only to suggest that she was willing to participate in the evening not that she found the remark funny.

We slept together that night, for the first time, and I left her flat before dawn with my mind replaying only the more certain elements of the evening. As I walked, I remember it seemed to come light in leaps and bounds, not gradually like usual, and it felt almost as though I was a stick-man drawing jumping over fences, under a pencil sketch sun, as someone else flicked the cards.

I spent the next day watching archive video clips, old interviews with Laurence Olivier, in black and white, on reel to reel film projected via my Bolex M-8 onto a white sheet strung across my living room wall and held in place by clothes pegs. Olivier was sitting on the stage of the Old Vic in 1968, talking to Ken Tynan, the interview offering a host of clips and quotes to use in a documentary I was making about Olivier’s life for the Chichester Festival Theatre.

This was one of the few occasions in the fifteen or so years that I had spent as a filmmaker that the given commission actually raised a personal interest. The necessity to eek a reasonable living out of films meant that I spent much of my time putting together presentations to be showed at corporate conferences held in hotel ballrooms.

On the screen Olivier and Tynan were stood up, facing each other, Olivier’s hand was outstretched, his little finger drawing an invisible line down Tynan’s forehead onto the bridge of his nose. “You have a weakness,” Olivier said to Tynan, “right here”. Olivier was recreating a conversation he had had with some old theatrical manager who had identified a particular shyness in his face that hindered his expression at auditions.

I had always admired Olivier. I admired how he carried himself, like the panache of a thousand court jesters was stored between his shoulders. I admired Olivier’s confidence, the way he dressed and how he spoke with equal enthusiasm from one word to the next, appointing his diction with a renewed sense of creativity and vigour at the start of every new sentence.

I liked having dead heroes, because you could impose your own world view on their character and plunder it at will without the deceased saying anything new to cast doubt on your diagnosis or to question your theft. You could piece something together, a cock and bull story from Pathe news clippings and old editions of Picture Parade, a theoretical personal history, that a one-time icon pursued disastrous relationships and sometimes unabashedly thought he was better off alone. And, living in accordance to their philosophy, knowing you had a kindred spirit somewhere in the ether, you needn’t entertain the notion that you were somehow missing out by doing the same, because your one-time icon lived, what appeared to have been a reasonably happy life, and had still been an unrepentant malcontent. And if you neglected to research too far and ruled out of hand any unearthed evidence that proved to the contrary, then your bond would be bulletproof.

They were sitting again now, on my bed sheet screen, Olivier was talking about his performance of Richard III, his characterisation and the opening night. “The second performance was Tuesday afternoon, matinee, for which I was all too ill prepared,” he raised his eyes, as if he was addressing the dress circle, “I approached the footlights, faced the audience and started, and by the middle act, I knew I had them, they say there is a phrase ‘the sweet smell of success’, and I can only tell you, I’ve had two experiences of that and it smells just like Brighton and oyster bars and things like that.”

Anna Maria had a similar malady. Finding an absent hero that inspired her and being jealous of their success made her work harder. She was a fashion designer. A struggling one. And Elsa Schiaparelli was her personal Madonna. She would tell me again and again how Schiaparelli had delivered her first collection at thirty-seven. Anna was twenty-eight and already had more than enough to constitute two but lacked the interest required to reproduce them.

“No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece,” she would say at the first sign that one of her pieces was about to attract a hostile reception. She was certainly a fighter when the qualities of her work were questioned. And her work was controversial, but it was based on a controversy from the past, which surely reduced its relevance.

I remember her excitement after meeting the proprietor of a boutique fashion shop on the Portobello Road at a party hosted by two mutual friends. The couple’s professions made for an interesting group of guests, and I spent the evening talking to a London financier who was making much or his recent investments in Mongolia and the advancing economy there. “I suppose a Mongolian boom is our equivalent of a struck match,” I remember saying, feeling like a character in a New Yorker cartoon, while Anna Maria worked the room.

The man from Portobello expressed an interest in her latest collection, in particular the blue chiffon dress she was wearing at the time, with a bee crafted out of mother of pearl and golden thread attached to the left shoulder. If I didn’t care for anything else she made or wore, and I didn’t much, my love for her in the dark blue dress with the mother of pearl bee on the shoulder would make up for any distaste she might detect in me for her other creations. The keeper of the Portobello Boutique thought the same and announced to the party, theatrically, that the bee would be to Anna Maria what sky blue was to Lady Jane Grey, “something to emblazon on a banner and fly above her castle.”

I had of course warned her in the taxi home, amid her rising excitement, that one should never trust a promise made at a party. But boosted and blinded by the sense of self satisfaction one often gets after a compliment, which does much to convince you, for the moment, that you have after all chosen the right path in life, she loaded up her car with dresses, wrapped turbans, Arab breeches and bodices, harem pants and a hat shaped like a French aristocrat’s slipper.

The man on Portobello Road was polite and respectful but declined to stock her line on the basis that he believed people wanted clothes that walked the line between satisfaction and outrage, but consented to purchasing the navy blue dress with the bee on the shoulder. She dismissed his offer and I remember her labelling him a “crazy talker” in the car home with that look in her eye that people sometimes have when they have shown a misplaced streak of hope in public and have since been chastened.

The Olivier film flipped and fizzed it’s way to a conclusion and I grabbed another circular reel tin from a collection I had amassed during my years in film. Leonard Bernstein, another dead hero, appeared on the screen, he was lecturing from behind a wooden desk with a Harvard University crest behind him. I looked into the mirror that hung on the wall behind an old gram cabinet I had bought to play Davy Graham records on. I looked at my reflected image and thought of Olivier’s comment to Tynan, I ran my index finger down the middle of my forehead as I stared. “You have a weakness,” I repeated out loud to myself, Olivier style, “right here.”

On the screen Bernstein was talking about Igor Stravinsky to an audience of rapt music students, their clothes suggesting the encounter took place deep within the 1970s. Still sitting down, but becoming more and more animated, he spoke of the music; “It’s like street vernacular dressed up in white tie and tails,” he said of the Rite of Spring. Stravinsky’s work was second hand he claimed, “Yes, second hand; because the best personal statements are made through quotes from the past.”

2.

I told her I loved her while the crows batted about the bars at the crest of the white Ferris wheel. The sky was grey and Brighton seemed broken, but it still meant the world to me. I had spent two years after university living there, in a dingy second floor flat at fifty-four Denmark Villas, while I worked front of house at an art gallery. It was, at the time, the turn of luck I been hoping for, the position offered a new life in a new town and it was a considerable step up from the first summer job I had held working in the National Trust kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.

When Anna Maria told me she had been invited to attend the unveiling of a new menswear collection, designed by an acquaintance with sway and the willingness to put that sway to good use for the sake of a pretty face, I was only too happy to accompany her and show her around my old stomping ground. In fact it had become something of a tradition to take a girlfriend to Brighton for that purpose. It was always an easy romantic trip to make out of the city, and not far enough for any hiccups to occur, either in transit or itinerary, which may reveal a tiny flaw or niggling trait of character that could sow the seeds of later schism.

The event itself attracted what I had come to call the usual crowd, ironically, because they were far from that. Standing under the Georgian era, Oriental style glass, in the banqueting hall of the Royal Pavilion, I watched the party’s fashionable comings and goings, while cradling a glass of champagne that I sipped, slowly, for fear of finishing too quickly and being stranded without a conversation to engage in.

Anna Maria worked her way around the room from one conversation to the next trying to see as many people as she could, while I watched a portly woman who appeared to be the oldest person in the room, and the worst dressed, wearing an ill fitting brash floral pattern in midwinter. The lady fiddled with a ceremonial chain around her neck and repeatedly told a man in a tight, tailored, double-breasted jacket with trousers with cavalry coloured yellow stripes down the sides, that she was the High Sheriff of East Sussex. “Got to talk to the Rotary Club on Monday,” she said, “in the Plough and Harrow and it starts with a meal,” she emphasised “meal” comically while the cavalry officer laughed politely and eyed an escape route.

I was approached by a woman wearing a petticoat that had wide royal blue and gold stripes running down its fabric, her looks were almost Greek, Mediterranean at least, the kind of beauty you knew would mature into a long and healthy old age, without giving up much to time and worry. The tightness of her petticoat lent her an excellent posture which suggested she believed herself to be riding a Lusitano charger.

“Are you enjoying this?” She asked, expecting, I could tell from her tone, and given my position on the periphery of the room, a scathing response.

“It’s not mine to enjoy,” I replied, eying the crowd again, “but it looks pleasant enough to me.”

She said, suddenly doubting my interest, “You do want to talk, don’t you?”

“Depends on what we’re going to talk about,” I answered, avoiding her eyes, “what do you do?” I asked, “Are you a designer like the rest of them?” I waved my hand, dismissively, in the general direction of the party.

“I assist a designer,” she answered.

“You assist,” I replied, “but you want to do, right? Everybody wants to do.”

“Everybody has to learn, I’ve got ambitions though, like we all have.”

The tone of her voice suggested to me that she thought I could well be a man of means in the industry and that if she offered considered answers then she might well gain a useful contact.

I wanted to go on, but Anna Maria had pushed her way through the crowd towards me, hand in hand with another man.

“That’s Edward Quint,” the petticoat woman said to me, as her body language course corrected towards a greater gravity. “It’s his party,” she laughed realising she had said the least important detail first. “It’s his collection,” she shouted.

“And that’s Anna Maria with him,” I said. “She’s with me.”

A jazz ensemble struck up at the opposite side of the room, the saxophone notes hovering over the crinoline mesh of a stave that drifted through my head. I knew the song; it was light and Brazilian, something, perhaps, by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Quint was very well dressed in a perfectly tailored black suit, jacket pocket filled with a folded white pocket-square embroidered with green holly leaves and red berries. Anna Maria seemed to be in awe of him, which confused me, because I’d never seen her in awe of anybody, and Quint was so opaque, in my mind comprised only of a chalk outline, with no memory of character or meat to fill the middle.

“Have you always been in fashion, or did you jump into it from a more conventional base?” I asked Quint, in an attempt to start a conversation while Anna Maria made for the bar, which had been covered in wildflowers and was staffed by people wearing colourful paper mâché animal masks. The masks were matched to a t-shirt which bore the name of a Ted Hughes poem, “The Thought Fox” one of them read, “The Owl” read another.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Quint said without making eye contact.

“Well, I’m a film-maker, but I haven’t always been, I used to work in a National Trust kitchen serving junket to five year olds’, we’ve all scraped the bottom of the barrel for money, haven’t we?”

“I’ve always been quite lucky,” he answered quickly, almost in a whisper, still looking down.

“So have I,” I answered,” becoming more and more irritated by Quint’s ambivalence to my presence, “I haven’t even spent an evening serving drinks in a paper mâché animal mask yet.”

Anna Maria returned with a drink in each hand, the golden chain on her left wrist clinking against the glass as she passed one to me and turned to Quint and said, “I suppose he’s been talking about National Trust kitchens and junket again as he, well I can tell you right now, it’s a load of old rubbish, he worked for a summer at Hampton Court Palace and spent most of his time fucking a tour guide on Anne Boleyn’s bed.”

“He did mention something along those lines,” Quint replied, “don’t worry, Jonathan, I’m more than liable to tell my own tall tales from time to time.”

His confidence had come alive now, like the recovery of a shy child when backed by his mother.

“There’s nothing tall about it,” I snapped.

“Alright, darling, we’re just teasing.”

“And what do you think of my Anna Maria’s work,” I interrupted, but Quint ignored me, again, instead he clasped her by the arm and said “Anna-Maria, bees to you are what strawberries were to Desdemona, something to embroider on a handkerchief to stir a jealously. “

Anna Maria and Quint were flirting with each other, and even though I knew this was, on her part more than likely, done simply with an eye on business, I was, nevertheless, filled with an anger that gripped me from time to time, but rarely provoked public ill temper.

I grabbed her by the arm, “What do you think of our Anna-Maria, Eddy?” I repeated, putting emphasis on every word, like Laurence Olivier at the end of The Entertainer.

“Rather beautiful isn’t she? Could almost be one of your models,” I paused, “we’ll maybe.”

Anna Maria laughed uncomfortably and tried to break my grip.

“She has a weakness though, don’t you think, Eddy, right here?” I lent towards her and ran my little finger down Anna-Maria’s forehead and she winced, “Like all her cares and woes are being stored up, right here, and creasing her, don’t you think, Eddy, don’t you think?”

I’m not sure why those words in particular came to mind, at a moment when I found it necessary, in anger, to relate something that would shock and puzzle, in an attempt, a silly attempt admittedly, to gain some intellectual superiority, or some superiority at the least, over the situation. It had been a few months since I had heard Olivier saying the same words to Ken Tynan on the stage of the Old Vic, in the very early days of my relationship with Anna Maria. Perhaps because I had caught them out of context the words had refused to leave me, it certainly wasn’t exhumation for the sake of clarity, if Anna Maria had wanted to know what I had meant, I couldn’t tell her, it was just an attempt to hurt in anger.

Anna Maria’s face dropped and Quint took a deep breath inwards, and I could almost see the smoky air drifting down his see-through windpipe in his see-through chest.

“Am I in the middle of something?” He said weakly, his eyes dipping to graze the floor before rising to meet Anna Maria.

“Nothing,” I said softly, “you’re in the middle of nothing, that’s the problem.”

I had been outlandish and rude, I think I was drunk, but Quint had annoyed me, inexplicably, and the fact that Anna Maria could have any truck with him made it worse, it devalued my opinion of her, whatever her motives.

Stating the obvious again and again, she didn’t seem to understand that I got the fact that I had embarrassed her. That had been the point. And I was not remorseful. What she didn’t seem to understand was that she had embarrassed me, again and again, with company I was unsure of, yet she continued with her lecture.

“I’ve got to admit, I spend most of my time these days wanting to be on my own,” Anna Maria shouted at me when we got back to our hotel room.

“Then have it your way,” I snapped.

She paused and sat down on the bed, she was crying now. “What do you mean, a weakness, what the hell was that supposed to mean?”

My head was banging so I grabbed a bottle of water from the mini-bar and then turned around to face her. “It didn’t mean anything, it was just, something I heard, it wasn’t really even directed at you.”

She laughed, sardonically.

“It was just something I said, well, to baffle, to confuse, to say something that Quint wouldn’t understand, he was being a rude bastard to me all night, all night, but I guess you didn’t notice that.”

She sat quietly, with a look on her face that seemed to suggest forgiveness rather than hopelessness, but then she stood up again, her bristling anger still in tact.

“Would it kill you to say one original thing, even your insults are stolen,” she shouted.

On that count I was defenceless and I approached her and attempted to put my arms around her, but she pushed me away.

“I want to be on my own when you’re around, you’re a drag, being with you is a drag, trying to placate your conversation is a constant drag, your endless…..”

I grabbed her by the elbows realising her list would continue as she became more and more hysterical.

“Yeah, yeah, a drag,” I snapped, “change the record, can’t you see that all I do is support you, that’s all I do, I follow you around to these things, that I hate, situations that I don’t feel comfortable in.”

“Brighton’s just a nostalgic fuck for you, that’s all, you wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“Well yeah, maybe it is,” I shouted, “and if you carry on like this you’re going to kill every decent memory.”

She called me a self centred bastard and threw the telephone at me, which I dodged, before she lectured me on how success in life and finding love were not, in her eyes, interdependent. I disagreed with her, although I didn’t doubt Anna Maria’s tenacity and capacity for hard work, I did doubt her sense of knowing when to stop and call it a day.

I dodged the flying bedroom door that would have hit Al Bowlly square in the forehead and killed him outright, as the grand, supernatural explosion of light hit the room, the death of a relationship, amid the usual blaze of anger and malice, as love and fine memories caught flame like kerosene. I felt like burning our letters in the fireplace as one last act of defiance. Then I remembered we hadn’t written any letters.

After the initial blast no shrapnel metal even grazed my shoulders, and I left the rubble, skewed and twisted, to be explained away by somebody else.

3.

I’ve always wanted to be a man of letters, to have a handful of different correspondents around the globe I could write to with little anecdotes, updates and observations about the progression of my life. And this wasn’t really because I enjoyed writing letters, rather I could imagine my foreign correspondents gathering together one weekend after my death, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon in Mayfair, and pooling their collections of crumpled blotting paper filled with my treasured ruminations. And then, or so I would dream, they would club together in order to publish a four hundred to five hundred page collection of my writings with a title that emphasised the prolific nature of my wit.

I had never once written to Anna Maria, there had never been much point; we had always been at close quarters. Actually, I had never once seen her write, only sketch, in charcoal or coloured pencil, the outlined silhouette of her latest creation on blue notepaper. I had seen a writing pad, lying on top of a pile of old Italian Vogue Magazines in her workshop, its pages edged with purple butterflies, but there were no indentations on the top page to suggest that it had ever been used.

One of my long-suffering correspondents, a girl I certainly had numbered among my imaginary Sunday afternoon circle, was Alana McCray. We had been to university together in Ulster and had met in a film club, united by our love for Pier Paolo Pasolini.

I had happened to mention Pasolini in passing during a conversation we had about Italian film after the group had watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s Eclipse. Pasolini had captured my attention for a week the summer previous and I had the tenacity, more out of vanity than obligation, to recommend the St. Matthew’s Passion to her as a good starting point to begin the appreciation of his oeuvre. During the next meeting she tapped me on the shoulder and announced, with a certain degree of pride, that she had watched the film and found it “charged” and if I remember correctly, “rather satisfying”.

This came as something as a surprise, because in all honesty, I had found the St. Mathew’s Passion to be a drag and had given up half way through, but everyone had to have a favourite director, and for the sake of the film club, Pasolini was mine.

Nevertheless, Alana and myself suddenly had a shared interest, a charade admittedly, but a shared charade, which I always considered was the best kind. On the back of this we went for coffee, and I had talked about my favourite Passion scene, the baptising of Christ at the River Jordan, happily twenty five minutes in, and she talked about hers, the public flaying of Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate, which, I guessed, is somewhere near the end. And I showed her the horrific picture of the murdered Pasolini lying on a Roman beach on my iPhone, his brains dashed out and his face flattened by a car wheel and she seemed to tear up briefly and then we had brownies.

Our brief affair was interrupted by her move to Harvard, on a yearlong placement as part of her social sciences course. She completed the year, and decided to quit the course and stay in the United States. We remained in touch, eschewing email at my insistence, in favour of letter writing; I labelled it a romantic gesture and claimed we could be like George Bernard Shaw and Mrs Pat Campbell.

The letters came and went, I looked forward to them from time to time and opened them as soon as I saw them behind the door, and other times, when I was seeing Anna Maria, or when I was working on a film, the letters were left unopened for weeks, on top of my dresser, with sometimes four or five arriving before I managed to dispatch just one. I think she missed them, and when I did read her letters she didn’t appear to be having that much of an interesting time, her tone becoming more and more agitated the longer her notes were left unanswered.

And then, a few months after I last saw Anna Maria in Brighton, Alana was back, working for an independent publisher on Old Brompton Street. We arranged to meet in writing, in two short letters postmarked just a day apart. She signed off “can’t wait to see you soon” and I signed just “Jonathan”.

We arranged to meet in Berkley Square and I sat for fifteen minutes on a wooden bench facing what appeared to be a deconstructed statue of Alf Ramsey, either that or a shattered Pegasus, I wasn’t sure, and I couldn’t believe that the distant figure who had spent so long thinking of me whilst writing her letters would soon be sat next to me and the thought of what I would say first, and not knowing what that would be, made me nervous.

When she did arrive, she walked from the direction of Mayfair, not Green Park, which impressed me.

“Hi,” I said and kissed her on the cheek. She said “Hi” and a silence followed and to fill it I said something along the lines of “this is where the nightingale sang, isn’t it?” Gesturing towards the park.

“What?” she replied, she didn’t know what I meant and furrowed her brow.

“In the song,” I said, and she laughed, and I loved the fact that one night, maybe that very week, I’d be able to play it for her on an old Frank Sinatra record I’d found in Oxfam, and she would hear it for the first time and fall in love with it and think of me every time she heard it.

We saw each other on quite a regular basis from then on, usually at night, sometimes sleeping together, sometimes not, always at my place, because I found it difficult to actually sleep in a bed that wasn’t mine.

I kept an English Book of Common Prayer on my bedside table to use as a coffee mat, one of those free copies that had, at one time or another, supported a Death of Queen Mary, 1694. And with Alana sleeping next to me I thought of Anna Maria. Funny old Anna Maria, she would have known where the nightingale sang, who wrote it and the location in Le Lavandou where it was first performed, and I couldn’t decide if her knowledge was a credit or a drawback.

About ten weekends after our reunion in Berkley Square myself and Alana made the traditional trip to Brighton, although I didn’t tell her the recent personal history that had played itself out there, I did show her my old flat and the cafe on the seafront where I had once spotted a frail Laurence Olivier, Lord Olivier of Brighton by then, and his wife Joan Plowright, having a cream tea by the seaside. I knew he had always loved Brighton and had made it his home for many years, but I was still surprised to see him. I wanted to go over to say hello, but I decided to leave them be and take in the moment privately. He died a few weeks later.

It was good to be back, I felt much more settled then than I had done when I had visited with Anna Maria. My Olivier film was finished and had received a good reception, with more work promised, and now I had Alana, who wasn’t Anna Maria, but she was more reachable.

Alana spotted what appeared to be a ramshackle clothes boutique on Foundry Street called “Miraculous Champion”. On two floors, the shop was the kind that yells thrift from the outside but on the inside stocks nothing in double figures. And I idled casually by a mirror starring at my reflection, playing with my scarf in Harvard colours, while Alana flicked through the rails and admired everything that she saw.

“I love this,” I heard her shout behind me, “but it’s so expensive,” and I caught her holding a blue dress to her thin frame in the mirror, with a shimmering creature on the top left breast, before she disappeared behind a red curtain to try it on. I immediately thought of a bee, but doubted Anna Maria’s disparate sense of style would ever appeal to Alana, or that Anna Maria would have had the luck or business acumen to get her line into a store like that.

I told the shop assistant to tell Alana that I had gone to wait outside for her, and she appeared fifteen minutes later, with a blue crate paper bag, talking of how the expense was bearable for such a beautiful thing and she said the dress leant an extraordinary silhouette to an ordinary figure, and mentioned the mother of pearl bee that shimmered on the left shoulder as if it were in flight.

I told her that her figure was far from ordinary, but she was already walking with a spring in her step, like one does when one makes a spur of the moment purchase and is proud of the proven decisiveness. Alana mentioned that she had seen the designer’s name mentioned in one of those thick, high brow fashion magazines one often finds lying about on cabinets in boutique art galleries, on a list of names to watch, and I said that I couldn’t wait to see her wear it, and I meant that, sincerely.

Jumping up on the rail which separated the esplanade from the beach below, I shouted towards the sea, “I don’t like the look of the mist Mr Redburn!” quoting the first lines of Act Two of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd. I jumped down and kissed Alana.

“Do you smell that? That’s the sweet smell of success right there,” I said, looking into her eyes.

She breathed the sea air in then placed her hand around my waist and looked back at me, puzzled.

“What does success smell like, to you?” She replied, thinking my comment original and sensing an imminent proposal of persistent adventure.

“To me?” I answered, “To me, success, smells, just like Brighton.”

USSR 1991 – A Conversation with Keizo Kitajima

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06/06/1991, Nevelsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Larissa Romanov, 20 years old, works at a clothing factory. In September 1983, the Soviet Air Force shot down a Korean jet off the coast here, killing more than 200 people.

06/06/1991, Nevelsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Larissa Romanov, 20 years old, works at a clothing factory. In September 1983, the Soviet Air Force shot down a Korean jet off the coast here, killing more than 200 people.

In Keizo Kitajima’s new collection, USSR 1991, there’s a picture of a blonde girl with dark eyes standing on the side of the River Neva in St. Petersburg. Her clothes look surprisingly modern, despite the 21 years that have passed between the images being taken and their publication. Only the caption gives it away: “Yes, the name St. Petersburg is fine,” 22 year old model Silvia Myznikov says, “but I’m not used to it yet.” Born when the city was still known as Leningrad, Silvia absently turns a monumental moment from history into something like an inconvenience at the post office.

Before his arrival in Russia, Keizo spent his career producing picture collages of life in Shinjuku, a district of Tokyo and hotbed of underground culture and politics, where he created twelve booklets of photographs conveying the aura of the time. He also produced a seminal collection of images of New York in the 1980s. This new collection of photographs, taken on a trip through the USSR in 1991 and gathered together by Little Big Man Press into a lovingly crafted book, captures ordinary people living through a period of great upheaval. “Compared with the dramatic change of a political system, the tale of each individual’s life is very small,” says Keizo, “however I wanted to ensure the photographs valued these people’s stories.”

23/9/1991, Baku, Azerbaijan SSR: Andrei Titov, 16 years old. A Russian boy whose father is a Soviet Army officer and whose mother is a physician.

23/9/1991, Baku, Azerbaijan SSR: Andrei Titov, 16 years old. A Russian boy whose father is a Soviet Army officer and whose mother is a physician.

Depicting the re-evaluation of imposing and strong objects of state, suddenly rendered small and laughable in the wake of political revolution, it is often the individual who is at the foreground of these photographs. “I imagined that the collapse of the Soviet Union gave the Russian people an unfathomable shock,” says Keizo, ” and I tried to make a symbolic iconographic image of the people I met, based upon each individual’s tale.” Like the old paintings of Tsar Nicholas II, which place the monarch front and centre, coat decked in garter ribbons and trinkets signifying royal power, the people here stand by icons of their respective trades: a woman in a red cardigan stands by a green loom in a silk factory bankrolled by Charles Aznavour, while a man in a blue flat cap with a wrench in his hand works by the gnashing teeth of a Siberian logging machine.

In this way, history is the landscape from which individual stories arise, like for example, the image of Larissa Romanov, a 20 year old clothes factory worker. She is photographed in Nevelsk, a fishing town located on the southwest coast of Sakhalin Island in the North Pacific. During its history, the island has passed between Russian and Japanese sovereignty so Nevelsk is also known by its Japanese name Honto-Cho. “A Korean Air jet was shot down by the Soviet air force offshore here in September 1983, 200 people, or more, were sacrificed,” Keizo says, before adding, “for me this photography represents a hybrid scenery, in which various histories are piled up.”

29/09/1991, St. Petersburg, Russian SFSR: Sylvia Myznikov, 22, was born in Leningrad and has been a model for five years. "Yes, the name St. Peter'sburg is fine, but I'm not used to it yet" she says.

29/09/1991, St. Petersburg, Russian SFSR: Sylvia Myznikov, 22, was born in Leningrad and has been a model for five years. “Yes, the name St. Petersburg is fine, but I’m not used to it yet” she says.

Whilst Keizo asked many people to pose for portraits, not all accepted, “but all those that did seemed to show me their pride,” says the photographer. That pride is clear in the portrait of Dzhuma Redzhepov, a 65 year old, who made rugs with pictures of celebrities on them. With two etchings of Stalin hanging above him, he stands in a cluttered living room, the lapels of his blazer lined with medals won during the defence of Stalingrad in World War Two.

“I thought that I should try not to forget the people of the USSR I met that year,” Keizo adds, and his photographs offer a vivid reminder of those people who didn’t live for the Soviet Union, but nonetheless tried to live as best they could within its fabric.

8/6/1991, Yuzhno-Sakhalnsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk suburbs

8/6/1991, Yuzhno-Sakhalnsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk suburbs

Photography Keizo Kitajima

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USSR 1991 by Keizo Kitajima is available to pre-order now through Little Big Man, and will be published December 2012