Thursday, October 23, 2008

Krijn van Noordwijk

Grand Master of the DJ Portrait.

Krijn van Noordwijk’s studio overlooks the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, where city racket is replaced by twittering birds. Two spic and span work desks each with a large Cinema HD display. Open cabinets filled with books. On the floor: A Fender Stratocaster from 1974, a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe and a proper museum piece – a Gretsch White Falcon.

Krijn van Noordwijk (Rotterdam, 1958). Baggy jeans, hanging low on his hips coupled with a loose black t-shirt, finished off with a fresh pair of kicks, laces stretched wide across the tongues. No bling bling, just a dog tag round his neck and a pair of ‘Loc’ sunglasses on his face. Street wear and a tough demeanor; black cap pulled down over his ears covering a bleach blonde Clooney cut. He is the spitting image of Catweazle with his long goatee, but then with a preference for hoodies. Hiphopper (producing, DJ’ing, graffiti) at heart and fan of tagger Marc ‘Ecko’ Milecofsky, The Man Who Tagged Air Force One. When it comes to what’s hot Van Noordwijk’s finger is right on the pulse.
Krijn studied in Rotterdam at what is now known as the Willem de Kooning Academy. He loved the idea of being up to his elbows in paint and clay so he went on to become a painter. Two years later the department of visual communication was introduced. He was intrigued and kept dropping in to the department. When he realised that he felt more at home there he made the transfer from art to commerce. Rotring pens, gleaming attaché cases, was all so fascinating to him. A fine trade that touched on every one of his interests: concept development, design, typography, film and photography.

Van Noordwijk was, as creative director for Ogilvy in 1994, responsible for the famous Ford ‘shark fin’ ad campaign. An image of a shark fin cutting through the asphalt of an urban road. It won silver and an award for work in the field of photography from the Art Directors Club Nederland (ADCN) and at various international festivals. The to-scale road surface measuring two by three meters made of rough asphalt marked with white road lines, with a shark fin protruding from it found a new function as Noordwijk’s worktop at Ogilvy. He didn’t get to make much use of it though, as he spent most of his time on planes and in meetings rather than behind his desk. He had hoped that the clients were also his clients to a certain degree that he would be in a position to really do great work for them. But where there was too much fear. The courage to take risks was lacking and every step was taken with a hesitant caution. It was a full-on struggle against the tide.

In 1996 Van Noordwijk started up Laboratorivm with a partner, it soon became a hotspot avant la lettre where art and commerce could prosper side by side. The initiative brought back the days from the academy. A creative cell can quickly anticipate, find answers, get straight to the point, find direction. Decision makers and creatives sit opposite one another. It wasn’t too far away from something like Andy Warhol’s Factory: A fusion of art, music, graphics, photography, commercial direction and advertising. Creatives gravitated towards the project. Anyone and everybody started turning up. A book of own work was put together that earned international cult status and Van Noordwijk’s signature was soon in demand.

After ten years at Laboratorivm Van Noordwijk surprised the advertising world by leaving his ad agency behind in favor of continuing as a photographer. He wanted to take a step back from what he was doing. Was he on the right track? Wasn’t it becoming routine? Wasn't there something else? Was he losing touch with his craft? When, as art director, he contracted in a photographer he felt as if he was painting with another mans hands. One thing became clear; Van Noordwijk would become a photographer and threw himself into taking portraits of people.
Unlike many photographers who see the task of getting a picture as sufficient and lose themselves and sacrifice beauty in that process, Van Noordwijk is all about form. He searches for the kind of language of iconic imagery that you see in the work of the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Carl Fischer and George Hurrell. Poster sized portraits. This is where his background as graphic designer emerges from the shadows: the need to make things that cry out for attention and say something in the blink of an eye: Crystal clear, unambiguous information that stands out and intrigues. Verging on vignettes the images are taken back to their essence, borne of the notion behind the much loved ad agency principle KISS; ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’. The same kind of simplicity that could be found in Van Noordwijk’s advertising work: A body of work testament to a mission for simple, succinct imagery.

At the exact moment that Van Noordwijk strode into a bar one night, the landlord's hand slipped and put the music system on full blast. The mishap was sorted in a second, but the damage had already been done. In the blurry mind of one of the guests the two incidences were inextricably linked. With a pool cue in his hands he stepped up to Van Noordwijk, who, in all his innocence was good-naturedly pulling up a bar stool. ‘Ever had a severe blow to the head,’ he growled at Van Noordwijk.

This is the kind of impact Van Noordwijk has on people. With an idiosyncratic substantial presence, broad shoulders and an easy going look in his eyes he moves with measurement, always close to himself. This self awareness can ruffle others and he takes full advantage of that fact. There are a lot of types of photographers. Some try to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible, doing their best not to be noticed. Van Noordwijk is at the other end of the spectrum. He ruffles. He disrupts.
Van Noordwijk’s presence creeps into his portraits to the point where it seems like pure power play, a kind of macho game, a kind of cock fighting. He makes the portrait persona as big and broad as possible. The models sometimes retreat into their shells, making themselves small and humble. But you always see Van Noordwijk staring back at you, searching eyes demanding and challenging the viewer. There is always an attentiveness in the portraits, the models are not self absorbed, or concerned about their image, they are there - in that moment, in that confrontation.
Yet there is also an undeniable recognition in the eyes. The DJ’s see their own independence reflected back to them by Van Noordwijk. They are literally set aside from the masses, in their elevated podium overlooking the dancing crowd. Just like Van Noordwijk they are not partaking but spectating. Spectating is their way of partaking, always from a distance in their very own bastion. Their carefully cordoned off bastion dripping with their own sweat is their well protected territory.
Van Noordwijk has to find a way into that territory for every shoot. It starts with finding a date in the diary and weeks, sometimes even months, of attempts to reach the right person. He has to get through the wall of Managers, record companies, impresarios and PAs. When he finally sets the date, it can mean hours of waiting until the DJ has finished his set. The mobile studio is set up in a container hours in advance. The time for a shoot is limited. Helicopters await, blades spinning, the entourage pressing the DJ to get aboard. The macho ones tell the photographer he’s got a few minutes. One DJ told Van Noordwijk ‘You get one shot’. Van Noordwijk, no stranger to provocation himself, did indeed complete his session with one take. In Eindhoven one DJ was yanked off his stool by bodyguards to leave. Van Noordwijk’s relaxed, easy-going personality means he always gets his shot.
Van Noordwjk has an enormous image bank stored in his head. He finds his favorites in bygone eras: Man Ray, Lee Miller, Joel Peter Witkin, Richard Avedon, and Art Kane. They stand side by side with the likes of David Lachapelle, Martin Parr and Dewey Nicks. All this information has been saved and he's there with his model, ready to take a portrait. Within a few minutes or a couple of hours, it has to happen: Then and there. Exciting stuff. On the other hand there's the shoot. Just how will he go about it?
He goes in with an idea and in the following hours he gathers the material. Then he’s the one who’s shot, both physically and mentally. But that same afternoon or evening when he looks back at his shots and selects his material, it all comes together. He gets a buzz and his battery instantly reloads. Van Noordwijk considers his computer to be a dark room. That is where photography materializes, just like back in the day. He seeks the best grade for each photo, the finishing process. Color or black and white? Darker or lighter for this one? Each photo demands its own approach. He finds this part of the process equally as exciting as the shoot itself. From half finished he takes it to the end product. In that process he feels like a child the night before their birthday.

Van Noordwijk’s odyssey to immortalize contemporary DJs is reminiscent of the work of George Hurell. Between 1930 and 1932, Hurrell captured every star contracted to MGM in striking black-and-white portraits. With his Rembrandtesque lighting and dramatic poses, Hurrell transformed the actors into icons. Among them were Myrna Loy as well as Robert Montgomery, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Norma Shearer, who was said to have refused to allow herself to be photographed by anyone else. He also photographed Greta Garbo. Hurrell was dubbed the "Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait". His work set a new standard for Hollywood portraits that has never been equaled. It even inspired a new name for the genre; glamour photography.
Just like George Hurrell Van Noordwijk keeps the lighting simple. What is used on location in the improvised studio does not differ in nature from the home studio situation: Three one thousand watt lamps, one or two of which he puts into use, continuous light instead of a flash. A flash is too noticeable, like the crack of gunfire or a rap on the knuckles. Instead of this overly contrived technique, he prefers one light source. One key light shines on three quarters of the face, and an oblique one is positioned behind for a bit of counter light. All relatively simple and totally classic means. The true power of Van Noordwijk’s work lies in the way he manipulates the portraits. He lets the models be themselves and subordinates his own vision of the portrait. Iconic images from the icons of our time.

© Pim Milo, 2008.
Foreword for the book DJ by Krijn van Noordwijk , 99 Publishers. ISBN 978-90-78670-08-7

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gijsbert Hanekroot

Pushing limits
Two years ago the pop photographer-on-a-timeout, Gijsbert Henekroot (1945) turned up on SYB Design’s doorstep with two plastic bags full to the brim with photos; vintage prints in all the formats you can possibly imagine. Did SYB fancy designing a book? Well, Hanekroot did and the designer just so happened to be in.

Amsterdam today London tomorrow. The day after that? New York. One day Joe Cocker, the next Chet Baker. Not forgetting Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Brian Ferry, Twiggy or Neil Young. 'Abba to Zappa' paints a picture of the hectic lifestyle of a pop photographer in the '70s. The book gives you an idea about the lives of all those immersed in pop culture: PR agents, A&R managers, assistants, roadies, groupies, record labels - not forgetting the artists. By placing the images in a seemingly random manner the chaos of Hanekroot's existence leaps off the page. Images of live acts alternate with portraits and pictures taken during interviews. The fact that Hanekroot spent so much time with the artists puts the photos into a different class from the iconic, contrived images we've all seen so many times.

Three concerts a week
Without being dated Hanekroot's raw and guttural black and whites have an unmistakable 1970s feel to them. Apart from that is when as a viewer you feel a certain nostalgia for the young faces. Young guns, they surely were, engaging ones at that; Van Morrison, Steve Winwood, Carlos Santana, Robbie Robertson, Keith Richards and Dennis Wilson look like proper kids in the photos. Not that they appear contrived: With the absence of stock poses, there are no early signs of the restrictive upheld, high-profile images they later adopted. These are relaxed, personal and intimate portraits verging on the candid.

The conditions which Hanekroot worked under are unimaginable by today’s standards. Photographers were allowed to work for the entire duration of a concert, as opposed to only the first three songs - as is the case nowadays. During Hanekroot's peak time however, conditions had already started to change. He had to be a bit creative and break a sweat to get to the front of a Bob Dylan concert held in Rotterdam in 1978. Press photographers were banned and so he ventured into the arena alongside the crowd with his tripod and lens and fought his way through the masses to get up front.
Hanekroot always planned to take his best picture at a concert, especially when the artists pushed themselves to the limit. Going to three concerts a week his experience had taught him how to tell whether the musicians were motivated or just trying to get through the gig within the first five minutes. If the performance was out of this world, Hanekroots pictures matched it.

Routine kills
Interviewers always had priority over the photojournalists in the '70s. The journalist would get all the time in the world, after which there was no time for a photo. This led to Hanekroot's demand for full interview presence. This was no era of 10 minute interviews and even less so the era of press releases. This was the era of one-on-one conversations that could last the entire afternoon. Hanekroot would be there and would even crawl under the table if he needed to make himself less conspicuous. He would then shoot off home to develop his films and print his photos. A short time later he would jump on his bike to sling the photos in the post boxes of newspaper editors - press photo agencies, the Internet and digital manipulation were not something he had the use of. In 1983 Gijsbert Hanekroot quit music photography when he started bringing home photos that were less impressive than the ones he had taken of the same act three years before. It had become routine. Brought together in 'Abba to Zappa' three decades later, the book is no mere appendix. It is an enrichment of the history of pop culture in itself.

© Pim Milo, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Popel Coumou

The Other Room

Popel Coumou builds two-dimensional collages from paper, carton, fabric and clay, creating the illusion of space by clever use of perspectives and lighting. The end results are deceptively realistic and beautifully dressed miniature room sets, that seem like they are sheltering hidden secrets.

She combines the visions of interior architect and still life photographer. The fictitious three dimensional space are misleading. You find yourself trying to figure out whether the original maquette was two or three dimensional and what the actual scale of the material is. From dark spaces you peer through lit doorways and windows. The reflection of a hidden light source is the only thing that reveals something of the dark interiors. The balanced use of natural and artificial light echoes the paintings of Edward Hopper. In many of the works the feeling of desolation is amplified by the absence of human beings.
Popel Coumou is fascinated by spaces in which man is noticeably absent, in the midst of traces of habitation. But she appears here and there like a serene actress in her own stark compositions. In that way she adds an extra layer to her work, making it more intimate.

A different method
Poper Coumou (1978) graduated from the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in 2004. In 2007 she won the first prize at the Hyeres photo festival. An honour she had to share with the American Jessica Roberts. The prize included an assignment to make a photo series in Hyeres to be exhibited in the following year’s 23rd Festival International de Mode et de Photographie. For this series, Coumou used a different technique. The starting point was not the maquette, but a photo of a stairwell or a room. Architectural elements from Hyeres, like the Villa Noailles, the favourite hangout of Picasso and Man Ray.
A shadow is made more prominent or a sterile white stairwell gets a warm accent by applying a narrow red paper strip. This collage is then photographed with an analogue camera, after which an enlargement of 87 x 130 cm is printed. Sometimes the prints are worked on with a marker. They are so well done that only a second glance reveals that the interiors are not completely straightforward. With these techniques Coumou traverses the boundary between photography and painting.

© Pim Milo, 2008. GUP (Guide to Unique Photography) Magazine, Issue 15

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anders Petersen

“My pictures are getting closer and closer to a self-portrait”

“Photography is not about photography, it’s about something else. For me it is very much about encounters, about meeting people. That’s important for me. To get to know them, to know more, to be curious, to ask questions with my camera and with my mouth.
That’s perhaps the most important thing for me. I experiment with people. I am trying to get as close as possible. I want to be very primitive. I like the word primitive. You know: when you’re hungry, you’re hungry, when you’re horny, you’re horny. I want that to be shown. I believe in that. Very back to basics. That’s one of the reasons I so much admire Daido Moriyama. He is horrible and I love that. He has a fever. He’s nervous. He’s desperate. I am always looking for that kind of feeling. If they are desperate enough to keep going.

“I am collecting pictures. Pictures, pictures and more pictures. Feelings, feelings and more feelings. I write down people’s names, addresses and phone numbers. Then I go to my lab, have the films developed, have the contact sheets printed. Sometimes I make small seize RC prints. And then I go back and give them away. The first exhibition in Hamburg was over the bar. I put up 350 24x30 pictures. Then we made the agreement that everybody who could recognise himself, could take the picture down and keep it. That was a good opening. It was an opening for five days and five nights. It was the first exhibition I had. It was a great moment in my life, really. Ten years after I went there and everything was clean. No pictures, but one. That was a picture of me. And they kept it. That was so nice. That was Café Lehmitz. I started in the fall of ’67 and I had the exhibition in April ’70.

“I take pictures of people I can identify myself with. It’s a kind of humanistic school. You can see the line from W. Eugene Smith and Ed van der Elsken. Mostly I deal with two types of photography. One is I’m getting involved in a subject, a project. I’m a kind of project photographer, a diary photographer. I mix them. I try not to take the pictures as I see them, but as I feel them. I am very interested in imperfection, in closed worlds in the meaning of locked worlds like prisons, mental hospitals and homes for old people. If you’re curious, it’s nice to enter these places. With a camera it’s easier. It opens doors. I like the opportunity I have. When I enter, either a bar or a mental hospital, I always have my camera with me. Of course I have been thinking about the project in advance. I have been thinking before, but I am not thinking while shooting. I am thinking afterwards. I am more gut commanded. I shoot with my guts, not with my brains. Afterwards yes, but not while I am shooting.

“When I look at my own pictures I am rather negative. It’s just a little part of the meeting that I can show. They don’t smell. I am often disappointed about my pictures you know, when I think about it. But I try not to think about it. I try to keep going, to put more energy in my pictures. The only way I can do, to be honest. My pictures are getting closer and closer to a self-portrait. If I take a picture of a dog, it’s not a dog, but a self-portrait. If I take a picture of a naked woman, or of people who are having a good time, it’s a self-portrait. When I take a picture of people dancing, it’s never about dancing, never. It’s about longing, it’s about secret dreams, about feelings or about what you are afraid of. And I am typically somebody who is very afraid of everything. But I am not afraid of being afraid.

“When you are working this way, you are not supposed to judge the people. You have to believe in them, you have to take the responsibility. You have to show the pictures to the people as much as possible. Do you agree with this picture, is it a true picture of the moment we had together? Do you prefer another one? You have to deal with this. Which means the pictures are just ten percent of the work. The real work is like an iceberg, what you see is only the one tenth above the water. Especially in the mental hospital. I was dealing with the parents, the relatives, the children. Showing the pictures, talking, going home with them. That really was work.

“I never work with contracts. Never. I work eye to eye. And they respect that. There has never been a problem. I have photographed mad men, real psychos, real cuckoo people. No problems at all. It’s always face-to-face. I have been working hard for 35 years. I can say I have a little experience with this matter.

“If you have exhibitions, you have to invite them. That’s nice. O yes, that’s nice. I prefer to show my work, especially when it comes to projects like the mental hospital or prison. I like to show that in the prison. I had great shows. Maybe just for two or three days. I put them out on the floor. We have coffee and we criticise. And while I am teaching myself, they are teaching me. The way they react. They don’t really know that. This is a way for me to learn more.

“I tell them my intentions immediately. The story writes itself. I never follow a script, never. They are involved in the project. I am not steeling. They often ask me ‘What is the meaning of all this?’ ‘I don’t know yet,’ I say, ‘but perhaps you can help me.’ I want everyone to be involved. Because my way of thinking, of acting, of handling is based on a very simple idea: we are almost all alike. It doesn’t matter where we come from. It could be Istanbul, Okinawa, Groningen or Stockholm. We all belong to the same family. We are all brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. It is an easy, back to basic idea. It is very easy to talk like me, or to act like me. You are not supposed to be afraid of anything and this shows in your body language. And sometimes, when I am a happy guy, it shows in the pictures. But mostly not (laughs out loud.) I am sorry to say.

“It depends on my mood if I am dancing or smiling while I am shooting. I let myself go. Yes. It depends on the daily mood, the mood I’m in. If you don’t feel good than it’s no good going out taking pictures. I now have a kind of technique to build myself up in ten minutes. Then I go. Sometimes I don’t need that. It also depends on what kind of mood the people are in. The background, the stage, the light, the shadows. Ya, ya, ya. Mmm.

“Yes, I make contact easily. Sometimes photographers are not very good in making contact with people, but they are extremely good as photographer. There are so many different personalities in the world of photography. My way of trying to make a picture is very much through people, through the meeting. Not everybody is like that. I think you need to be rather cruel at the moment of shooting. You take. You are a thief. You are a surgeon. When you perform surgery you need a very sharp knife to find the finest nerves in the body. It’s the same with photography. If you want to go behind the surface, you need to cut. I am very instinctive. I am very fast, I am very cool in the cutting moment. You have to be cruel. You should not think about integrity. That you can question afterwards or before, but not when you are shooting. Blunt knifes make horrible wounds. I have to be sharp like a razor blade.

“When I worked in the prison there was a guy called Jacky. He was a kind of a myth among the prisoners because he was such a great thief. Now he is an old man. I wanted to see him because I heard so many stories about his life and how he succeeded. Everybody was talking about him. So I went to his cell and the guards opened it for me and I stayed seven hours there, just talking. I didn’t take any pictures. After a while he said: ‘Imagine a pyramid, square at the bottom, sharp at the top. I have to sharpen myself like a pyramid. Before I go into something I have to be pure. I have to be clean. I am not supposed to have those burdens with me, which you have at the bottom of the pyramid. Which means friends, relatives, the car, the radio, the television, the drugs, the alcohol or the women. I do not need this and I am not supposed to have these. So I have to clean up. I have to sharpen the pyramid. I have to think about what I want to do, all the time. Emotionally I have to be prepared. My brain is connected with my heart. I sharpen my pyramid. Everyday I get closer to the top of the pyramid, and the closer I get, the more and more dangerous I become. And when I reach the top, then I am really dangerous’, he said. I liked that. ‘When I have that fever I can do everything I want. I am absolutely extremely strong. And I am beautiful’, he said.

“I believe him. Cutting the crap. Sharpening. (In a very soft voice, almost threatening:) That’s exactly what it’s all about when it comes to photography, when it comes to shoot. You have to be clean, pure. You are not supposed to have yesterday inside you. You have to be in the moment. You have to be so close to the moment and your feelings that it’s almost hurting you. Then you are so strong. And you have to be dangerous in a way, when you are cutting, when you are breaking through. You have to break through. You are not supposed to stay there and look at the surface. Like Daido Moriyama, he is like that. He is really dangerous, I think.

“I am so slow. The mental hospital took three years, the prison two and a half. The old people almost three years. That’s because I don’t take so many pictures, really. I sit down and talk and I am trying to understand. When I was in the old folks’ hospital I was cutting their nails, curling their hair. I was washing the people in the shower room. Sometimes I slept there. I have to force myself to stop this. I am getting older and older and in this way I don’t get anything done. I have to get more effective. I think I am today. No, I am not. Now I am trying to take pictures of men. These are a kind of self-portraits too. In Istanbul, in Helsinki, in Berlin, in Hamburg, in Paris. I have been doing that for one year now and I think I have three pictures which I like. This is typically me. I am my worst enemy and also my best friend. I am very self-critical. Some say ‘These pictures are rather good’ and then I will say ‘But I have done it before’.

“Taking pictures the way I do is a physical kind of work. It’s very physical. It’s also mentally tiring. What keeps me going is my curiosity. The body is not so strong anymore. You can’t do what you did when you were thirty. I have to be more rational. There are so many things I would like to do, many projects. I’d like to finish them before I die. It’s very simple. So I have to hurry on. And I think every man who has a vision, doesn’t have much time left, no matter how young or old you are.

(In a whispering, defiant voice:) “I have to be open for everything that is happening. I have to be as childish as possible, as pure as can be. I have to have the eyes of a child. I am not supposed to have any background. But of course I have, I know that. That’s why it is so important to build up this pureness in your mental way of making contact. I am not supposed to show a lot of respect for people. I am not supposed to do that. There are so many photographers who are standing there, excusing themselves for being photographer. You have to be proud of yourself, stand up with your experience. And then approach, attack. You can see it in the body language of a photographer that he is proud of himself. He can enter almost every group of people, no matter what kind of group. Because he knows that he has the power. Because he is sharp. He has no yesterday. He is sharp in the moment. And then the people, it doesn’t matter what kind of people, they listen to you. When you approach, you have to know who you are and you are not supposed to be afraid. You are supposed to build up yourself in a mental way. It shows in the body language and in the way you are handling the camera. They listen. They don’t have to agree with you, but they respect you. Every man who shows his direction, is respected. You can make many faults in life, but if you show your direction, they respect you. Many, many photographers see their subject and then they go around, around, around and they don’t hit. I am not this way. If I build up in this mental way I hit. I hit –pouf- like that. Directly. And that is horrible, in a way, and I like that. Because I respect people as human beings, not at the surface. Human beings. We are all primitive, we have all an animal inside. We are made of blood, sweat, feelings, secrets, longings and we are afraid. I know that. But I have to show it when I am hitting. This is a way to have a kind of result that shows respect for human beings. But if you are shooting with a lot of respect, the result will be that you are not photographing people, you are photographing furniture.”

© Pim Milo, May 2003

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ron Galella

Spotlight on a self-declared bandit

Ron Gallella is considered the most controversial celebrity photographer in the United States. Newsweek heralded him ‘Paparazzo Extraordinaire’, Miami Herald News spoke of the ‘Paparazzi Superstar’. Galella, by way of his photos of celebrity nightlife, has himself grown into a popular culture icon.

On April 26, 1977, the doors of Studio 54 opened. It quickly became the most famous nightclub in the world. The likes of Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli,Grace ‘Nightclubbing’ Jones, Madonna, Diana Von Furstenburg, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Keith Richards, Truman Capote, Gloria Vanderbilt, Dolly Parton, Brooke Shields, Cher, Raquel Welch, David Bowie, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Michael Jackson, John Belushi, and hundreds of other celebrities graced it’s dancefloor. The strictly elite entrance policy led to lengthy queues at the door, which, in turn, increased it’s desirability and exclusivity. Under the flamboyant direction of the owners, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, Studio 54 was the place to be. Once inside the atmosphere was reminiscent of a Hollywood film set, brimming with glamour and extravagance. Strobe lights and smoke machines helped the guests to forget themselves and let go. Celebrities rubbed shoulders with celebrities, observed and registered by the camera of ‘Paparazzi Extraordinaire’ Ron Galella.
After Studio 54 first opened, Ron Galella was always on the scene, making sure he captured the highs and the lows. This paparazzo always got his picture: Powerful and candid images of celebrities going wild, losing their inhibitions. ‘Godfather of the American paparazzi, Galella captured the extravagant nightlife of the New York jet set. Paparazzo: the wrong man, in the right place, who - at the least photogenic moment - always gets his picture. Ron Galella was refused entry to Studio 54 only on two occasions. The fine line between public and private remained a delicate balancing act as Studio 54 and it’s glitterati were co-erced by the effect that ‘exposure’ had on their reputations. During this period Galella suffered from the same ‘social disease’ as the jet set of the 70’s and 80’s: afraid to miss anything, he burnt the wick at both ends. Meanwhile the celebrities wanted his guts for garters. For Galella it was a game. “Let’s say I cover a première, red carpet. That’s not paparazzi. After the première there’s a private party. No press allowed and I sneak in. That’s paparazzi. In other words: I’m creating another photo opportunity. I’m a bandit. I’m stealing pictures. Unofficial,unauthorized. That’s paparazzi.”

From hospital to court
June 1973, New York City’s Chinatown: Marlon Brando punched Galella in the jaw knocking out five of his teeth. It was a $ 40,000.00 punch settled out of court. The following day Brando was hospitalized with an infected right hand and five scars on his knuckles mark the occasion to this day. One year later, Galella, donning a football helmet, confronted Brando at a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria. This became Ron’s most famous picture of himself. Galella was later caught at Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s swimming pool in Cuernavaca (Mexico). First, the body guards confiscated his roll of 500 photos, then they gave him a kicking that landed him in hospital.
He has been counter-sued by Jacqueline Onassis in 1972: Galella versus Onassis, an unprecedented twenty-six day trial whereby the courts upheld his right to photograph her at a distance of twenty-five feet. John and Caroline at thirty feet. Nevertheless, Galella was able to make his most special photos from this distance. Not 100% sharp, we see Jackie O. in the grainy photograph looking into the lens, her natural elegance to boot. In 1982, Jacqueline Onassis sued Ron for breaking the twenty-five foot injunction on four different occasions. He pleaded guilty, but pointed out that she was always smiling into the camera and didn’t seem to mind being photographed from six or eight feet. He avoided a $120,000.00 fine and seven years in jail when a deal was made whereby Ron surrendered his right to photograph Jackie, Caroline and John forever.
Galella currently writes books. Later this year his new book ‘No Pictures’ comes out. He doesn’t miss his days as a paparazzi photographer. According to Ron, “Paparazzi photography now is pretty sick. When I did it, it was more sane, more one-to-one. More civilized, not the gangbang like it is today. And then there’s citizen’s journalism. Everybody with a cellphone acts like paparazzi. They have access, to events that even professionals can’t go to. For instance a big wedding like Tom Cruise’s. The invited guests can have their little cameras and shoot them where the professionals cannot... They do paparazzi. The business quickly changed. I don’t miss it.”

The man behind the camera
Native New Yorker Ron Galella (1931) received a professional arts degree in photojournalism from the Art Centre College of Design in Los Angeles, California. He started out as an Air Force photographer during the Korean War before becoming a freelance and magazine photographer in 1955. His first spread was four pages for Show Magazine in 1967 entitled, ‘He Shoots the Stars. The Man Behind the Camera…’ Magazines like Life, The New York Times, People, The Star and Vanity Fair followed suit. Galella: “My passion is to show the world the stars it celebrates in the natural and spontaneous moods that only paparazzo photo journalism can capture. I am interested in printing onto film what is real.”

© Pim Milo, 2008

Friday, May 02, 2008

Marcel van der Vlugt

A New Day

The latest image from Marcel van der Vlugt’s series A New Day bears the title New Lilith. The photo is a remake of the painting Lilith by British pre-Raphaelite painter John Collier (1850-1934). According to apocryphal scripture, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. She refused to subdue him and -when he tried to force her- she fled from paradise. Subsequently, God created Eve out of Adam’s rib, but Lilith returns and tempts Eve into eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Lilith is the universal archetype of the rebellious woman who refuses to be the underdog, only to be punished by the male oppressor. Oppression leads to revolt, revolt to oppression, thereby completing the circle.

The subsequent images in the series show Lilith in bondage. Wrapped like a mummy, she is completely defenseless.

As the first image is a remake the rest of the series is a makeover. A New Day is all about an imaginary beauty-clinic for plastic surgery where – instead of liposuction, Botox, breast augmentation, leg lengthening or facelifts- implantation of blossom is being performed. Blossom being a metaphor for youth, new life and fertility: A contradiction between eternal youth and transience. The series is not free of irony. By swathing a woman in bandages, barring her naturally perfect breasts, the viewer has the illusion that the breasts have been surgically corrected. Van der Vlugt is fascinated by the different aspects of the term “beauty”.

The editorial and autonomous work of Marcel van der Vlugt (1957), is of an unmistakably sensual quality. Erotic and titillating, but certainly not abusive of or unkind to women. This is in part due to the use of Polaroid-material, with which Van der Vlugt involves the model in every step of the process. A photo is never “stolen”, always taken with consent and participation. This makes Van der Vlugt more poetic than exposing.

© Pim Milo, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dirk Braeckman

A game of lines and patterns in tiled walls, windows, branches of trees, masonry, and variations in the landscape. The cracks in an oil painting or the stretch marks on a woman’s stomach. The rhythm of a staircase. The textures of a carpet, fabric, wallpaper. Dirk Braeckman (Eeklo, Belgium, 1949) looks deep into the being of things.

Braeckman cuts into time and space and offers us access to a closed world to which we attach meaning. He doesn’t attempt to give a weight to this meaning. He reduces and blows up the detail of the subject to become the main focus. The result is disquieting without becoming alienating. The underlying repetition and the balanced patterns give it this fine balance. It possesses purity, the purity of simplicity.

Braeckman approaches his subject so closely that the image becomes unavoidable, uneasy even. By keeping the image dark and grey or by printing the images out of focus, Braeckman eliminates the part of the information that could distract from the essence. By doing this he avoids the anecdotes and the recognisable, for him it is about the image itself and the recording of the space.

He investigates things that could easily go un-noticed, places that give the impression of being inhabited in some way, where time has passed or where people have been through a lot, although you can never be sure of anything. Harsh, direct flashlight bounces off the photographed subjects. The image in a painting is burnt out, returned to an irregular, refracted level. My glance recoils. It demands effort to look at the deeper meaning within the image. The photos deal with what cannot be portrayed. Braeckman’s theme lies in the twilight zone between concealment and exposure.

Images of empty interiors, apparently photographed as an afterthought, are interchanged with images of female nudes. Just as much as they are close-up, the images are subtle and steer away from emphasising form and texture. By placing the nudes next to the interiors Braeckman gives life to the inanimate objects and thus shows us death in life. His work straddles the line between life and death.

The twilight is accentuated by the deep blacks and sombre greys in Braeckman’s monochrome palette. These tints give the photographed subjects a barren quality and emphasise the desolation of the interiors and the female bodies. In spite of this barren quality, the photos are rich with nuance. Simultaneously refined and suggestive: you catch a glimpse of a personal story behind these big black and white, but prominently grey photographs.

© Pim Milo. GUP: Guide to Unique Photography, issue 13, 2008