Bob Dylan – Freewheelin at 70

•May 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation”

Robert Allen Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan hits 70 on May 24th 2011. He has been recording for at least five decades , yet his music represents nearly a century of North American music as he brought his influences from blues and traditional music, along with his family background from Ukraine and Turkey. Even Welsh poetry had its influence as Bob’s name reminds us  (i.e. Dylan Thomas).

Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler, and an apparently reluctant figurehead, of social unrest. Though he is well-known for revolutionizing perceptions of the limits of popular music in 1965 with the six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone,”a number of his earlier songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” became anthems for theUS civil rights and anti-war movements.

His early lyrics incorporated a variety of political, social and philosophical, as well as literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed hugely to the then burgeoningcounterculture. Initially inspired by the songs of Woody GuthrieRobert JohnsonHank Williams, and the performance styles of Buddy Holly and Little Richard,Dylan has both amplified and personalized musical genres, exploring numerous distinct traditions in American song—from folk,blues and country to gospel, rock and roll, and rockabilly, to English, Scottish, and Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and swing.

In Mike Marqusee’s words: “Between late 1964 and the summer of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock’n’roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console.”

Even though many find his singing ‘unconventional’ he is unique and I am sure it does not bother him what people think of his singing -just like when he went electric at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966 . Here is the commentary by Andy Kershaw on the incident when Dylan was called ‘Judas’ just for relinquishing his acoustic guitar for one with pick ups.

In the autumn of 1978, I arrived at Leeds University, already over-qualified in Dylanology. Another Bobsessive, I soon discovered, was living close by in our Headingley student ghetto, and he supplemented his grant by dealing Dylan bootlegs. One night he sold me a copy of an album that, according to the crudely stamped label, was a recording of Bob Dylan and The Hawks (later The Band) at the Royal Albert Hall on their notorious UK tour in May 1966. It was on these dates that Bob first appeared in Britain with an electric band. (His tour the previous spring, immortalised in the film Don’t Look Back, was still solo Dylan, in protest mode, with just an acoustic guitar.)

Bob by Feinstein

The 1966 bootleg was not only of first-rate sound quality; it was also the most dramatic, confrontational concert I’d ever heard – and I was a regular at Clash gigs at the time. It remains, for me, the most exciting live album of all. Dylan, on that tour, split his audiences straight down the middle. Many were thrilled by his new psychedelic songs and the massive onslaught of The Hawks roaring through the biggest PA system that had, at that point, been assembled in the UK. It had flown in with the band from Los Angeles.

But many others in those staid, municipal concert halls were outraged and betrayed by their darling acoustic minstrel plugging into the mains. (It was, though no one realised it at the time, the birth of rock music as opposed to pop music). No matter that Dylan had released five electric singles – notably, “Like a Rolling Stone” – and one electric album in the previous 12 months: British audiences were still getting up to speed on his earlier records and they wanted back the Woody Guthrie protégé they’d seen in 1965.

This tension between artist and audience snapped in an almighty confrontation on the bootleg. Slow hand-clapping and jeering throughout Dylan’s electric half of the show – which was later properly identified as his concert at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 17 May 1966 and finally given official release by Columbia Records in 1998 – climaxes with one betrayed folkie letting fly with a long yell of “Judas!” It became the most famous heckle in rock’n’roll history.

Dylan is rattled, and for an awkward second the audience is stunned – until a yelp of solidarity with the heckler goes up. It is still a genuinely shocking moment. (Concert-goers in those days were routinely reverential. They still stood for the national anthem at the end). Dylan eventually composes himself and leers: “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!” And then, off mic: “You fucking liar!” (some claim he said: “Play fucking loud!”) before he and the band kick into the most majestic, terrifying version of “Like a Rolling Stone”, their final number – a performance of Gothic immensity surely drawn from Dylan by his anger at that single shout.

Well, if you dont like his singing or his electric guitar playing you can at least wonder at the genius of his poetry..

As early as 1965 media critics were acknowledging Dylan’s status not only as a popular music star but as a poet of substantial literary merit. Dylan has generally treated his critics with derision, stating that they do not understand what he is trying to express. Dylan has always confounded reviewers by refusing to explain the meaning of his songs, however, insisting that they stand for themselves. Because many of his songs hold up well as poetry, separated from their music, they are natural choices for study by critics specializing in contemporary language arts, who compare them to the works of Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg himself proclaimed Dylan to be among the greatest poets of the century. Dylan usually avoids discussion of his works as poems or talk of himself as anything but a performing songwriter: “Poets drown in lakes,” he told Paul Zollo in a 1991 interview. Zollo explains that Dylan “broke all the rules of songwriting without abandoning the craft and care that holds songs together.” Such well-crafted songs include “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” which are examined for their visionary symbolism and imagery. “Like a Rolling Stone” is praised for its lyrical qualities and the emotional force of the repeated refrain, “How does it feel?” and its powerful expression of alienation. “Desolation Row” which portrays a dark, apocalyptic vision of the fate of human society, is another favorite of critics. Dylan’s work fell below his own classic standard during parts of the 1980s and 1990s. Not until Time Out of Mind did critics once again overwhelmingly praise Dylan’s lyrics as startlingly fresh compositions, equal to his most critically acclaimed songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Music writer Bill Flanagan was present at a party held in 1985 to honor Dylan’s accomplishments. When television reporters asked him to explain Dylan’s significance, he explained that Dylan refused to accept any limits on rock and roll and thus showed everyone else that the form could expand to include all sorts of ideas. Flanagan relates a conversation he had with musician Pete Townshend, who also attended the party. “He joked about the futility of trying to offer a concise explanation of Dylan’s significance. ‘They asked what effect Bob Dylan had on me,’ he said. ‘That’s like asking how I was influenced by being born.’” (ref:http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/dylan-bob).

A taste of his poetry

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
Person crying

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

and from ‘Freewheeling’

Masters Of War

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

And now for some recordings….

Early Dylan  -live at Newport

As any Dylan fan knows every time you see him live, his songs morph into new creations -sometime for the best and sometimes…but their his songs and he doesn’t stand still -his idea of the ‘never ending tour and musical journey.

And remembering Woodie Guthrie

Live in 1963 -Brandeis University

1964 -I dont believe you

1975 -Abandoned love

Bob Dylan at Live Aid

Live Aid -when the ship comes in

The last waltz – forever young medley

A very croaky Bob in 2010 -Blind Willie McTell

Dylan re-invents every song every night. The results range from transcendent to downright intolerable, sometimes within the same song, but they are never predictable.

and the artist as painter…..

Following Bob’s motorcycle accident in 1966 (some say he was in rehab -no serious motorbike crash just a psychological crash)

he was ‘taught’ to draw and ever since he was been working on his other arts -here are some examples of his paintings:

St.James Infirmary …. another history of the blues

•March 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

St.James Infirmary   …. another history of the blues

Listen  to this first ….. from Louis Armstrong

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St.James Infirmary

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and now from Blind Willie McTell

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Dying crapshooters’ blues

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As a quiz question…..could there be any connection with Henry VIII?

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Well yes and no….

The links are described in Wikipedia:

“St. James Infirmary Blues” is based on an 18th-century traditional English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as “The Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”), about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease.

The title is said to derive from St. James Hospital in London, a religious foundation for treatment of leprosy. There is some difficulty in this, since it closed in 1532 when Henry VIII acquired the land to build St. James Palace.Another possibility is the Infirmary section of the St James Workhouse, which the St James Parish opened in 1725 on Poland Street, Piccadilly, and which continued well into the nineteenth century. This St James Infirmary was contemporaneous with the advent of the song.

As I was a-walking down by St. James Hospital,

I was a-walking down by there one day.

What should I spy but one of my comrades

All wrapped up in a flannel though warm was the day.

—”The Unfortunate Rake” (trad.)

The St James workhouse..

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Variations typically feature a narrator telling the story of a young man “cut down in his prime” (occasionally, a young woman “cut down in her prime”) as a result of morally questionable behavior. For example, when the song moved to America, gambling and alcohol became common causes of the youth’s death. There are numerous versions of the song throughout the English-speaking world. It evolved into other American standards such as “The Streets of Laredo”.

The song “Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues” has been described as a descendant of “The Unfortunate Rake”, and thus a ‘direct relative’ of “St James Infirmary Blues”. Blind Willie McTell recorded a version for Alan Lomax in 1940, and claimed to have begun writing the song around 1929. However, the song was first recorded as “Gambler’s Blues” in 1927 by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra.

The tune of the earlier versions of the song, including the “Bard of Armagh” and the “Unfortunate Rake”, is in a major key and is similar to that of the “Streets of Laredo”. The jazz version, as played by Louis Armstrong, is in a minor key and appears to have been influenced by the chord structures prevalent in Latin American music, particularly the Tango.

Like most such folksongs, there is much variation in the lyrics from one version to another. This is the first stanza as sung by Louis Armstrong:

I went down to St. James Infirmary,

Saw my baby there,

Stretched out on a long white table,

So cold, so sweet, so fair.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,

Wherever she may be,

She can look this wide world over,

But she’ll never find a sweet man like me.

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Lets listen to another jazz version by Cab Calloway (with a bit of cartoon humour) :

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Compare with trombonist Jack Teagarden’s soulful version:

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A great ‘traditional’ version from Snooks Eaglin from Folkways records 1959:

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Lets listen to a few more versions and see how the song has evolved:

First Bobby Bland:

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one of my favourites – from Van the Man -really brings the sense of drama and mix of jazz and blues versions -Live in Montreaux 2003

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And getting back to the roots -an acoustic version from  Arlo Guthrie:

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A good version from guitar maestro Eric Clapton along with band leader Doctor John

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and a gritty version from Joe Cocker and Leon Russell:

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and back to the roots with an acoustic version from Dave Van Ronk – remember the other title – ” Gambler’s blues”

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a soulful/psychedelic rendition form Eric Burden and the Animals:

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I think you realise now how a ‘traditional ‘ song can inspire so many musicians -over centuries!

Some more recent adaptations:

And a great live jazz version from Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue

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Vive la France-  Camélia Jordana in 2011

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and what about Jools Holland -and guess who ….  Tom Jones!

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and the White stripes

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2013 – from the Hot Sardines….a very jazzy touch again

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and a more traditional piano version from Hugh Laurie:

In Paris? Pres de Centre Pompidou? Try Henri Cartier – Bresson!

•February 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In Paris? Pres de Centre Pompidou? Try Henri Cartier – Bresson!

bresson

 

EXHIBITION HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON
CENTRE POMPIDOU / FEBRUARY 12th - JUNE 9th 2014
GALLERY 2, LEVEL 6

Exhibition

For the first time in Europe, the Centre Pompidou is devoting a completely new retrospective to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, through more than five hundred photographs, drawings, paintings, films and documents.

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This exhibition, both chronological and thematic, proposes a genuine reinterpretation of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, by Clément Chéroux, curator at the photography department of the Centre Pompidou. The public are invited to journey through over seventy years of work of the man known as “the eye of the century”.

 

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Publication

To complete this retrospective on one of the key figure in modernity, a major book showing the totality of the exhibition, has been published by the Centre Pompidou (€49,90).

 

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Application

From February 9th 2014, the Centre Pompidou proposes a rich artistic and documentary application for tablets, produced in partnership with the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Photos and Le Monde.fr.

An application for tablet, available under iOS and Android
French and English
Price: €4,49

 

 A video =the decisive moment

Bill Brandt – shadow, light and modernism.

•January 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Having blogged about Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau,Bert Hardy and Roger Mayne, you may have noticed I like street photography, realism, photo journalism, documentary and a modernistic approach to photography ( with a hint of surrealism) . Fifth in  line, for my blogs  comes Bill Brandt, whose images  I have been fond of, for many years.

His story is told in his own words.

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Bill Brandt, self portrait with mirror.     1966 East Sussex Coast

What does Brandt say about his art…

“It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country. Most photographers would feel a certain embarrassment in admitting publicly that they carried within them a sense of wonder, yet without it they would not produce the work they do, whatever their particular field. It is the gift of seeing the life around them clearly and vividly, as something that is exciting in its own right. It is an innate gift, varying in intensity with the individual’s temperament and environment.”

‘I had the good fortune to start my career in Paris in 1929,working in the studio of Man Ray.’

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   Man Ray

For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.

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Racegoers Paris 1931

There were the surrealist publications, Bifui, Varietes Minotaure and others, the first magazines to choose photographs for their poetic quality. There were the surrealist films such as Bunuel’s notorious Le Chien Andalou and L’Age d’ Or, which had a strong effect on photography. One could say that it was now that modern photography was born.

Atget’s work was at last being published. He had died almost unrecognised, two years before. Brassai, Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson were all working in Paris, as well as Man Ray. Man Ray, the most original photographer of them all, had just invented the new techniques of rayographs and solarisation. I was a pupil in his studio, and leamed much from his experiments.

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Paris -la nuit -1932

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London

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“The extreme social contrast during those years before the war was, visually, very inspiring for me.”

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“I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums”.

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Doing the Lambeth Walk-East End, 1939

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“Looking back now, one can see that already two trends were emerging: the poetic school, of which Man Ray and Edward Weston were the leaders, and the documentary moment-of-truth school. I was attracted by both, but when I returned to England in 1931, and for over ten years thereafter, I concentrated entirely on documentary work.”

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Parlour Maids

“I photographed everything that went on inside the large houses of wealthy families, the servants in the kitchen, formidable parlourmaids laying elaborate dinner tables, and preparing baths for the family; cocktail-parties in the garden and guests talking and playing bridge in the drawing rooms: a working-class family’s home, with several children asleep in one bed, and the mother knitting in a comer of the room. I photographed pubs, common lodging-houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms.”

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“London has changed so much that some of these pictures have now the period charm almost of another century. After several years of working in London, I went to the north of England and photographed the coal-miners during the industrial depression.”

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1937

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“My most successful picture of the series, probably because it was symbolic of this time of mass unemployment, was a loose-coal searcher in East Durham, going home in the evening. He was pushing his bicycle along a footpath through a desolate waste-land between Hebburn and Jarrow. Loaded on the crossbar was a sack of small coal, all that he had found after a day’s search on the slag-heaps. I also photographed the Northern towns and interiors of miners’ cottages, with families having their evening meal, or the miners washing themselves in tin-baths, in front of their kitchen fires.”

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Jarrow 1937

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Chester le street

 

A photographer must be prepared to catch and hold on to those elements which give distinction to the subject or lend it atmosphere. They are often momentary, chance-sent things: a gleam of light on water, a trail of smoke from a passing train, a cat crossing a threshold, the shadows cast by a setting sun. Sometimes they are a matter of luck; the photographer could not expect or hope for them. Sometimes they are a matter of patience, waiting for an effect to be repeated that he has seen and lost or for one that he anticipates. Leaving out of question the deliberately posed or arranged photograph, it is usually some incidental detail that heightens the effect of a picture – stressing a pattern, deepening the sense of atmosphere. But the photographer must be able to recognize instantly such effects. - Bill Brandt -“Camera in London”, The Focal Press, London 1948, p. 16
But I did not always know just what it was I wanted to photograph. I believe it is important for a photographer to discover this, for unless he finds what it is that excites him, what it is that calls forth at once an emotional response, he is unlikely to achieve his best work. - Bill Brandt - “Camera in London”, The Focal Press, London 1948, p. 10
If there is any method in the way I take pictures, I believe it lies in this. See the subject first. Do not try to force it to be a picture of this, that or the other thing. Stand apart from it. Then something will happen. The subject will reveal itself. - Bill Brandt - “Camera in London”, The Focal Press, London 1948, p. 17]

Most frequently reproduced of all my photographs, is the Portrait of a Young Girl resting on the floor of her London room. Perhaps it is not really a portrait. Her face fills the foreground and beyond the profile stands a chair and a chest of drawers; seen through two windows are houses on the other side of the street. This picture may have been subconsciously inspired by Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane.

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“The technique of this film had a definite influence on my work at the time when I was starting to photograph nudes.”

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1949

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“I am not interested in rules and conventions … photography is not a sport. If I think a picture will look better brilliantly lit, I use lights, or even flash. It is the result that counts, no matter how it was achieved. I find the darkroom work most important, as I can finish the composition of a picture only under the enlarger. I do not understand why this is supposed to interfere with the truth. Photographers should follow their own judgment, and not the fads and dictates of others.”

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In 1926, Edward Weston wrote in his diary, ” The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it ? ” My new camera saw more and it saw differently. It created a great illusion of space, an unrealistically steep perspective, and it distorted.

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“Photography is still a very new medium and everything is allowed and everything should be tried. And there are certainly no rules about the printing of a picture. Before 1951, I liked my prints dark and muddy. Now I prefer the very contrasting black-and-white effect. It looks crisper, more dramatic and very different from colour photographs.”

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When I began to photograph nudes, I let myself be guided by this camera, and instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.

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“These last pictures are close-ups of parts of the body, photographed in the open air, I saw knees and elbows, legs and fists as rocks and pebbles which blended with cliffs and became an imaginary landscape.”

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“Feeling frustrated by modern cameras and lenses which seemed designed to imitate human vision and conventional sight, I was looking everywhere for a camera with a very wide angle. One day in a secondhand shop, near Covent Garden, I found a 70-year-old wooden Kodak. I was delighted. Like nineteenth-century cameras it had no shutter, and the wide-angle lens, with an aperture as minute as a pinhole, was focused on infinity.”

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“I felt that I understood what Orson Welles meant when he said ‘the camera is much more than a recording apparatus. It is a medium via which messages reach us from another world’. For over fifteen years I was now preoccupied with photographing nudes. I learned very much from my old Kodak. It taught me how to use acute distortion to convey the weight of a body or the lightness of a movement. In the end, it had also taught me how to use modem cameras in an unorthodox way, and for the last chapter of my book Perspective of Nudes which was published in 1961, I discarded the Kodak altogether.”

I am not very interested in extraordinary angles. They can be effective on certain occasions, but I do not feel the necessity for them in my own work. Indeed, I feel the simplest approach can often be most effective. A subject placed squarely in the centre of the frame, if attention is not distracted from it by fussy surroundings, has a simple dignity which makes it all the more impressive. - Bill Brandt - “Camera in London”, The Focal Press, London 1948, p. 13

A video summary of one of Brandt’s books -Shadow of Light

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Portraits

I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him. This often seems to make people forget what is going on and any affected or self-conscious expression usually disappears. I try to avoid the fleeting expression and vivacity of a snapshot. A composed expression seems to have a more profound likeness. I think a good portrait ought to tell something of the subject’s past and suggest something of his future.

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Dylan Thomas 1941

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Robert Graves 1941

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Henry Moore 1945

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Pablo Picasso 1957

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Peter Selllers 1963

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Magritte 1966

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“One of my favourite pictures of this time is Top Withens on the Yorkshire moors. I was then trying to photograph the country which had inspired Emily Bronte. I went to the West Riding in summer, but there were tourists and it seemed quite the wrong time of the year. I liked it better, misty, rainy and lonely in November. But I was not satisfied until I saw it again in February. I took the picture just after a hailstorm when a high wind was blowing over the moors.”

topwithens 1945

Top Withens,  1945 – Bill Brandt

skyebull 1947skye 1947

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Bill-Brandt-571957

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Stonehenge-Under-SnowStonehenge under snow

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A video summary  from the BBC Master photographers series:

David Hockney – Photography is dead…long live painting!

•January 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This is the third of three blog posts on Hockney’s approaches to photography and painting.

 

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David Hockney by John Minihan 1975

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David Hockney’s Self-Portrait with Red Braces (2003). © David Hockney

 

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David Hockney has used photography brilliantly to explore concepts of space and time, but still comes back to his core idea that photography is quite limited by the ‘tyranny of the rectangle’ , the ‘single viewpoint’ and the ‘one moment in time’ .

Let’s explore a little on the ‘one moment in time ‘ idea. He worked on this using his ‘joiners’,once again.

Consider this image of Bill and Noya Brandt (1982) :

david-hockney-noya and bill brandt

Hockney has been able to challenge the ‘one moment’ by piecing together several moments -we know Bill has only two hands yet we we see several hands in different positions and the two subjects  are watching how this series of images is being put together. It even shows a polaroid image mid way through processing.

Through Hockney’s study of the Grand Canyon, both through photography and painting he tried to challenge our view on space and perspective.

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The Grand Canyon South Rim with Rail, Arizona, Oct 1982, © David Hockney

Hockney wanted  to photograph the unphotographable. Which is to say, space … There is no question … that the thrill of standing on that rim of the Grand Canyon is spatial. It is the biggest space you can look out over, that has an edge’.

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David-hockney-Grand-Canyon-Looking-North

The Grand Canyon looking North, September 1982 

‘when you put one piece of paper on top of another… you put two pieces of time together, [and] therefore make a space. I thought I was making time, then you realise you’re making space… Then you realise time and space are the same thing.’

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David-hockney-Grand-Canyon-with-my-Shadow

The Grand Canyon with my Shadow

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Through painting, much later (1998)

CANVAS~grand canyon 1998

Canvas study of the Grand Canyon 1998

‘You can peer into it for an awful long time. And you look all over. I mean, it is the one place …
…….where you become very aware of how you move your head, your eyes, everything.

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grandcan700

A bigger Grand Canyon

And the colours ?-

If you want very strong colour, first of all you have to put it on reasonably thin … and build it up in layers. But I wanted the colour to stay there so you have to put it on in a certain way to build it up rather slowly … let the white of the canvas into it to get the glow. You don’t put white paint in colour that would make it somewhat chalky”

It is interesting to note that not only the idea of overlapping images and building up layers of colour makes links to both his photography and painting – it is in the range of vibrant and imaginative colours that starts to separate the process of photography and painting -although these days  use of ‘photoshop’ morphs the two once more.

The link with his ‘joiners’ is through the putting together of 60 smaller canvasses to make up the big painting.

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What is Hockney’s views on the relationship between photography and painting?

hockneyjoiner

Is photography dead?

Hockney is challenging the ‘tyranny of the rectangle‘ as well as perspective, space and time.

He tries to provide different perspectives and time on the same surface -is he more successful using paint?

Has photography given him new insights into his painting – such as his studies on the Grand Canyon?

Can you ‘move around a scene‘ in photography?

Has photography huge limitations by often being ‘one point in time?

“There is only now”

  

‘British Blues’ – Acoustic

•December 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment

During the 1960′s in Britain electric and acoustic/folk blues was raging.

Having touched upon the stars of the 50′s and early 60′s who were mainly playing ‘electric’ blues ,as their mentors in Chicago were doing, I would like to take you back to remember some stars of British Blues who were mainly playing acoustically.

jo-ann-kelly

I would like to start with a much underrated blues singer and guitar player who I first saw in Swansea – Jo Ann Kelly. She died too young, at only 42, but before that ,she certainly woke up fans in UK and the States with her outstanding blues voice. She was equally at home singing Skip James as she was Billie Holiday -perhaps we can start with these two.

Hard time killing floor –  Jo Ann Kelly with Stefan Grossman:

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God Bless the Child -unaccompanied

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and to make the link with Tony McPhee -here is Jo Ann with Tony  -”Oh Death”

Tony McPhee  – with some nice slide work on  “Write me a few short lines”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PWG376pAeU

 Some words from Tony (TS) McPhee from an interview with Early Blues (ref. below:)

What first attracted you to the blues? 
Cyril Davies I think.  I used to go and see him at the Marquee Club.  Somebody just said something about this R&B band and they were there every Thursday, and they were just magic.  From there, I just went on to find out things about other people – Muddy Waters especially and the numbers they were doing (Howling Wolf stuff) so I went and bought stuff, especially John Lee Hooker.  Although we never did any Hooker because it’s so difficult to do. 

Who impressed you musically in the early 60s, both in British blues and across the water?     Hooker, absolutely.   Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin – amazing, odd style of guitar work which I loved.  Playing with Hooker, who played with a finger saw style, as did Sumlin and from there, that’s how I did it. 

What was it like playing with such greats as John Lee Hooker?
Hooker was fantastic.  Great fun and a real gentleman.   Little Water however was not much fun, really not a nice man at all.  He’d been shot and somebody finished the job when he went back in.  Memphis Slim, I did a couple of gigs with Memphis Slim.  There was one particular gig where I think he was being shafted and he said “I ain’t no ignorant nigger” and he went to find the promoter to sort it out.   Jack Dupree was fantastic – a lovely man.

(Alan White – Early Blues  from http://www.earlyblues.com/Interview%20-%20Tony%20McPhee.htm)

and some more talk about Hooker and playing Graveyard Blues:

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Although I have mentioned Davy Graham in the previous blog post on British Blues,  I find him such an influential guitarist that I could not fail to add him in here as well:

davygrah

Leaving Blues is the first song on his Folk, Blues and Beyond and the starting notes gives us a hint of his interest in Middle Eastern music, as well as blues :

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There are those musicians who had firm roots in the blues but also embraced folk music  - but often difficult to separate as in some ways early acoustic blues were a form of folk music. Bert Jansch is one of those guitarists who were influenced by guitarists such as Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGee but then moved into more of his own style leaning towards folk.

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Bert Jansch - a simple blues ‘Come back baby’

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John Renbourn , another guitarist sitting on the fence between blues, folk , jazz and even classical forms of guitar, but influenced in his early days by blues players such as Jesse Fuller, Lead Belly, Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy.

john renb

Here he is playing a more jazz oriented piece with another great acoustic blues player, Stefan Grossman – “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”

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At the same club I saw Jo Ann Kelly I also enjoyed Saturday evenings with Andy Fernbach -a much underrated singer /guitarist:

Broke Down Engine Blues:

A great voice….

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Dave kelly

“If there is such a thing as a British ‘blues pedigree’, then Dave Kelly’s sets the standard.  Dave is a blues craftsman – a journeyman who has served his time with the best. In New York he jammed with Muddy Waters.  He became a friend to Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.  It was Dave’s big sister, the late Jo-Ann Kelly, who first opened his ears to the blues, although his passion for rock and roll – and especially the work of Buddy Holly – remains intact.  In 1967 he joined The John Dummer Blues Band  and he has continued to polish his style and technique throughout an adventurous career with some of Britain’s finest players. 

(ref:http://www.earlyblues.com/Interview%20-%20Dave%20Kelly.htm)

davekelly

Here he is with Paul Jones: Mr Estes said…..

 

Charlie Musselwhite – great blues harp player

•November 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I am a great fan of Paul Butterfield, so it is no surprise that another harp player of that era (and still going strong)  also pleases my ears – Charlie Musselwhite.

Charlie+Musselwhite++1964

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Let’s listen

‘Stand Back’ was Charlie’s first and very successful album

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and compare that with a more recent sound..

‘Gone too long’  from the album ‘Delta Hardware’ (2006)

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Pure and simple….’Please Remember Me’

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A particularly poignant favourite – ‘Christo Redemptor’

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Another old favourite…

Help me..

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He enjoys collaborating with other musicians  such as Big Walter Horton, Ben Harper and even the Buena Vista Social Club stars

….with Big Walter first…

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with Ben Harper… from ‘All that Matters Now”

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and how about this version of Chan Chan -Charlie with the Buena Vista Social Club stars:

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With Richard Bargel –    “Mississippi Beat Part I”   2007

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** and with his own daughter Layla Musselwhite  - Your Darkest Hour

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and here’s Charlie the harp teacher:

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BLUES WORLD – what’s on offer?

•October 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

 BLUES WORLD  is a great repository for all things to do with blues music -including great photos.

Recently Blues World highlighted the work of Chicago photographer Raeburn Flerlage :

Check this very atmospheric shot of BB KING…..

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BB KING by Raeburn Flerlage

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RFMuddyCotton

Muddy Waters and James Cotton - Raeburn Flerlage

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Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin - Raeburn Flerlage

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RFFurry

A great picture of the hands of Furry Lewis - Raeburn Flerlage

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As a repository of all things blues many links are provided to magazines such as Juke Blues:

jukeblues

                         ……and Living Blues magazine

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How about specialist record labels?

e.g. Document Records

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And for remastered vintage blues try FROG RECORDS

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from memphis

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and an even more specialised label:

logoloiusi

budfletclouis

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and even blues specialist shops:

e.g. Cat Head store

Check the vid:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pb3lDkoqD4&feature=player_embedded

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If you are going to Mississippi and you love the blues you cannot miss this store – apart from the merchandise, the Cat Head store calendar is a mine of information about events , juke joints and players around Mississippi.

catheadstore

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How about some cartoon story telling?  Drawings by R.Crumb (remember that Big Brother and the Holding Company , with Janis Joplin, record sleeve?)

ref: http://www.bluesworld.com/Pekar1.html

harveypekar r.crumb ridinthedog2

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rcrumb ridin the dog4

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And books -certainly plenty of books, writings and interviews

Books:

COVER_paramount2

Paramount introduced Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Skip James, and other blues greats to the world — but there’s much more to the story than its legendary jazz and blues records. Alex van der Tuuk reveals the full history of the people and companies behind the label in a landmark work that blends musical, business, and local history in a unique way.

 Writings

e.g. The search for Blind Blake

blaketightsepia

http://www.bluesworld.com/Blake.html

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and interviews:

Son House – CD and interview

Arcola Records

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Arcola’s second double CD release features Son House, a true child of the Mississippi Delta, born in Coahoma County, 1902. Once a part-time preacher, in performance he balanced secular blues with religious messages.

 

The first CD begins with Son’s unsurpassed 1968 Seattle concert, including song introductions, Son’s thoughts on life and the blues, and descriptions of how he came to write each selection. According to one reviewer this performance is the best of his recorded powers after his rediscovery in 1964. And indeed, a comparison between this concert and the various 1965 recordings show that it took a few years for Son to get back into shape. Consequently, Son House is truly in his best form here on Arcola.

The second CD starts with Son’s 1930 recording of My Black Mama Pt. 1 and continues with my 1968 interview where he describes his early life and musical influences, and how he made his way with Willie Brown, Charlie Patton and the pianist Louise Johnson to Grafton, Wisconsin. There Son made his first recordings with Art Laibly of Paramount Records. The interview continues with Son’s stories about those three and his other companions of the time, Rube Lacy and Robert Johnson. Son describes how he and Willie Brown took Robert under their wings, and got him out of his nest and eventually into another one that killed him. Interspersed with the interview are songs from each of these musical colleagues and the disk concludes with Son’s 1930 recording of My Black Mama Pt. 2.

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and we can finish with next year’s blues calendar from Blues Images

bluescalendar

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What is great about the site is its easy navigation…

So how can you keep away from BLUES WORLD?

 
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