February 25th, 2014
Well as is usually the case with websites, time flies and the lack of updates to it adds to a sense of neglect.
Rather than a lack of activity to report, which could account for the dearth of posts since March of last year, 2013 was pretty packed with various projects, trips and speaking engagements balanced alongside my ongoing lecturing duties at UWE.
The first six volumes of the Fan Phenomena series hit shops worldwide last September and seem to have reached a responsive audience as all six titles went into a second printing just 2 months later. I’m hoping for the same positive reaction to the next set of titles which are due out April to June this year. Titles include The Big Lebowski, Hunger Games, Audrey Hepburn, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes and Marilyn Monroe. It will be interesting to see whether ‘character’ fan studies of Hepburn and Monroe are received in the same way as tv series or movies as these have a unique fan following. I do believe though that movie stars – when they become icons – can engender a fan following equally as ardent as that for say Star Wars or Doctor Who, primarily because they convey a mythical or archetypal quality which is at the root of much fan devotion.
The World Film Locations series continues apace with 12 new volumes being published in the last year. A few of the more popular cities have finally made an appearance, including San Francisco and Barcelona but it’s been good to see such a positive response to some more ‘off kilter’ locations such as Sao Paulo, Prague and Liverpool – all great movie cities in their own right with great cinematic traditions, but not necessarily the first places that spring to mind for ‘cine-tourists’ to visit. I took on editing duties for the book on Rome which has been alot of fun, affording me the chance to watch loads of classic Italian Neo-realist films that I’d been meaning to catch up on but never seemed to have the time. The series is drawing to a close as we approach our milestone 40 published volumes, but I am hoping that we can find some way of extending it in some manner as there are still so many locations to explore, and which people seem keen to write about.
Work is being completed on a book about street fashion in Havana for Intellect’s ‘Street Style’ series and I was so grateful for the opportunity to spend a week out in Cuba with my very good photographer friend Martin Tompkins, documenting the fascinating (and highly fashionable) people of Havana. The book will show just how diverse and ecclectic the fashion tastes of modern Cubans are at a time of real change for a nation that has made the most of very little over the last 50 odd years. I can honestly say that Cubans are some of the most generous, intelligent, honorable and diligent people I’ve ever met – with a grass-roots determination for facing each day with a smile and an industrious spirit that really was beautiful to be a part of. I finally got to meet Connor Gory, the main author of the book and a key collaborator for crafting an informed and engaging narrative to accompany Martin’s photographs. A US transplant to Havana, she has her fingers in more pies than I could count – running the first English bookshop in Havana, creator of the city app havana-good-time and generally buzzing around the city like one-woman creative queen-bee. her energy and enthusiasm will no doubt help to bring the book to life in a way no-one else could.
Categories: Design Film Photography Uncategorized
April 19th, 2012
There is a fleeting scene about 8 minutes into Wim Wenders’ heartbreaking but life-affirming film Paris, Texas that has stayed with me ever since I first saw it twenty odd years ago. The scene is of Walt Henderson (Dean Stockwell) parked up at a gas station, checking his map which is propped up on the hood of his car while on the way to pick up his wayward brother Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) deep in the Texas scrubs. I had yet to experience the great American open road even though I was living in Los Angeles at the time, but this one glorious shot encapsulated what I had always imagined a typical Stateside road trip to look, and more importantly, feel like.
The first quarter of Paris, Texas is essentially a road movie which shows just how taken Wenders was, as so many of us are, by a generic roadside Americana that includes fabulously lit-up gas stations, convenience stores and diners bathed in multicolored neon that often transforms them into alluring dreamscapes. The unique ability of a film maker is of course to elevate these ‘non-places’ even more by the use of ambient sound, cinematography and action – something that Wenders has done so well throughout his career. As both a photographer and film maker, Wenders appreciates the power of the still image which may explain why many of his films use an idle camera that allows scenes to unfold within the space of a carefully composed frame. This lingering, elegiacal method fits perfectly with both the mood of Paris, Texas and the measured pace of Travis’ character as he makes slow but steady progress towards his personal redemption – and scenes such as Walt’s gas station pit stop help to establish this tone early on.
I’ve been lucky enough to venture out on a few American road trips since first watching the film in the late 1980s so now have my own experiences to compare to those onscreen, and while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each journey none have quite lived up to the dreamy promise of Paris, Texas. Understandable I guess as reality very rarely lives up to a fictional account, especially one created by a film maker like Wim Wenders so versed in transforming the everyday into the extraordinary.
In his foreword to the book ‘On Location: Cities of the World in Film‘ Wenders describes this evocative nature of landscape:
‘A street, or a house front, or a mountain, or a bridge, or a river, or whatever, is not just “background”. Each also has a history, a “personality”, an identity that deserves to be taken seriously.’
He reinforces this idea by putting forth the example of how the Aboriginal people of Australia see every landscape formation as embodying some figure from a mythical past – every rock, tree or hill carrying a story that is related to their ‘dreamtime’. I can fully relate to this and remember a time in my own childhood when spaces, landscapes and objects had this kind of resonance, either in how I co-opted them into my own imagined play-space or seeing what they could reveal about my own fears and dreams i.e. that house is haunted or that skyscraper is literally scraping the sky.
These ideas and beliefs must inform the way in which Wenders makes his films and no doubt are one of the reasons why his films–Paris, Texas in particular–have made such an impression on me, essentially because I share the same beliefs. So when I see Walt sipping his coffee beside an ice dispensing machine as the setting sun ignites the sky into a thousand shades of orange, I don’t simply see what is there but what is ‘dreamed’, both by the the film maker and by my own imagination.
Categories: Architecture Design Film Photography
April 5th, 2012
While watching Alan Yentob’s BBC 2 profile of Las Vegas last night (The Lure of Las Vegas, 2009) I got to thinking about the reasons why this ‘city of illusions and ghosts’ is just so damn fascinating to me. In truth I should loathe the place. As a European surrounded by ‘genuine’ culture and history, the mere sight of the faux indulgence that Vegas city planners and architects lavish on the neon-lit landscape like a gaggle of children hopped up on hallucinogens should make me retch. And although wandering on foot up and down the strip with its undulating and disconnected hodge-podge of ‘architainment’ really is unsettling, the sheer magnitude of Vegas’ conviction of its own significance does cast a spell perhaps because, as Yentob suggests ‘it radiates that longing for a world of infinite possibilities’. From its early settler period through to its decadent glory days as a gambling mecca for mobsters and crooners to its current incarnation as the family friendly gaming (not gambling) capital of the world, Vegas is in a constant state of flux – raising, wrecking and transforming it’s topography faster than a card player’s losing streak, endlessly attempting to prefigure the wish fulfillment of those seeking an escape.
I could point to Robert Venturi’s 1972 book ‘Learning from Las Vegas‘ as a primary reason for why the city is now looked at with genuine interest rather than simply derided as a commercialized and tacky roadside attraction, but academic analysis only goes so far in helping us to understand our unique relationship or emotional response to a given place. Granted the more I read about and around the city’s history the more I’m inflating the bubble of mystique and significance of it in my own head, but recent visits to Vegas in support of a book project have helped me to balance out the theoretical with the actual physical experience of being there.
I can’t say that my visits have been pleasant experiences (I’ve either been too ill, too tired or too much of a miserable sod to make the most of what Vegas has to offer) but they have been learning experiences, and ones that seem to make more sense to me when looked at in hindsight and form a distance, which brings to mind Roman Polanski’s oft quoted remark about Los Angeles. As a design lecturer I’m still blown away by the neon signage that radiates across the city at night-time and had the opportunity to visit the phenomenal collection of signs at the neon boneyard, where hundreds of iconic relics whose lights have long since faded still pulsate with historical importance and relevance. I also managed to meet with local Las Vegas residents to chat about what the city has to offer beyond the strip and outside of the escapist transit of tourists, hucksters and players. Photographs I took there of derelict and stalled building sites due to the current economic climate sit uncomfortably alongside shots of recognizable Vegas movie locations, and a folder of reference material collected prior to my trip that includes excerpts from Michael Light’s book ’100 Suns’ about the nuclear tests carried out in the Nevada desert from the mid 1940s to the early 1960s jar when placed beside a $4.99 all-you-can-eat buffet receipt kept and brought back. I’ve realized though that perhaps this odd juxtaposition of artifacts, historical oddities and lived experiences is precisely the reason for my fascination with Las Vegas, in that it throws up more questions than it can ultimately answer – and what enquiring mind doesn’t like questions?
For now I’ll keep sifting through my photographs, read with interest of development plans for the city’s future and look out for the next probing documentary that inevitably searches for some of the answers I seek.
Categories: Architecture Design Photography