Maiden Voyages: October 2015

Halloween is Pip’s favorite holiday so I expect he has a few special things planned for us this month.  I tend to be less sentimental about such things, but I do plan to complete a post on Nan Goldin.  She just came out with an amazing new book and I know Pigtails readers would like a peek.

Ionesco Revelations: A reader has been updating me on a new book by Simon Liberati (Eva Ionesco’s husband since 2013) about Eva’s childhood.  The timeliness of this release has pressured me to put together a post on Irina Ionesco (the photographer) and her daughter (the model).  According to interviews and press releases (in French), Irina’s use of Eva was coerced and there remains a lot of bad feelings.  Because the book puts Irina in a bad light, she attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent its publication through the courts.  These circumstances puts Pigtails in an ethical dilemma.  Our journalistic obligations compel us to offer an overview which would necessarily include some of the photographs in question.  But it is also our wish to respect the feelings and reputation of Eva and avoid causing her distress needlessly.  After some deliberation, I have decided to postpone the Ionesco post until I can more clearly ascertain the model’s position about how this story should be told.

Alice’s Anniversary: As mentioned before, this is the sesquicentennial of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  One project is to publish a special edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the basis of the final Wonderland story.

Lewis Carroll, Photographer?  While trawling the internet, Pip found a site with some interesting photographs.  The weird thing is that two of them are attributed to Lewis Carroll. First of all, photographs by this artist should properly be attributed to Charles Dodgson, not “Lewis Carroll”.  More importantly, a quick look at these scans indicates a classic Edwardian style and methodology.  Take a look for yourself at these red herrings and I wouldn’t mind someone coming forward with the name of the real artist.

Lewis Carroll...not! (1)

Lewis Carroll…not! (1)

Lewis Carroll...not! (2)

Lewis Carroll…not! (2)

Wearing Nothing but a Tiara: There is no shortage of cute photos on the internet.  Here’s one called ‘La Princesse aux Escargots’ (The Princess of Snails).

The Virtues of Monsters: Although the purpose of this site is to cover the arts and media, it would be naive not to recognize that pedophiles visit this site and I felt it would be of service to mention something that came across my desk.  It seems there is a schism between two groups of pedophiles who disagree over the ethics of sexual contact between adults and children.  To keep the loud-mouthed extremists from dominating the debate, a more moderate group started their own forum that strikes a balance between acknowledging this kind of sexual orientation—if that is the proper expression for it—while respecting the rights of children not to be molested.

Along for the Ride: Gunārs Binde

Gunārs Binde was born in the district of Aluksne, Latvia in 1933. Although he graduated from Priekuļi Technical School of Agricultural Mechanisation, he pursued his interests through a correspondence course with the Press Photography School of the Moscow Central House of Journalists from 1961 to 1963. After that, he taught photography at the Riga Secondary School of Applied Arts until 1976. By 1959, he was holding regular solo exhibitions. Despite his training in photo-journalism, he began to expand his skills and knowledge in the theater, starting as a lighting designer and finally creating his own documentary films. In the first half of 1960s, he quickly gained recognition in the Soviet Union and internationally for his photographic exhibitions which included a few nudes. In collaboration with scenographer Arnolds Plaudis, he developed an original method of staged photography. This technique uses a synthesis of theatrical and acting elements with the aesthetic principles and realism of photography. This emerging style was a consequence of Binde’s dissatisfaction with the simple recording of facts of journalism and allowing a director to impose his interpretation on the scene.

Gunārs Binde - The Offended (1970)

Gunārs Binde – The Offended (1970)

Purely documentary photography is, to me, too primitive, and the subjective portrayal of one’s world is incomprehensible; the real values in photo-art are somewhere between the two.

I don’t pursue sensationalism, striking events or characters, nature photography, documentarism or portraiture. I am looking for a resonance between the visible world and my soul. If I perceive such a harmony, I take a picture.

This image reminds me of lucid dreaming. Are the images from these fairy tales playing in her dreams?

Gunārs Binde - The Dream (undated)

Gunārs Binde – The Dream (undated)

Like many artists, Binde appreciates the beauty and artistic value of the nude and included examples in his exhibitions. As a result, he received some flak and found himself dedicating much of his career convincing the Soviet authorities of the legitimacy of the artistic nude. This required great discipline because too many so-called artists get tempted into serving the basest desires of the masses, creating work that is little more than pornography.

Gunārs Binde - Marite (1979)

Gunārs Binde – Marite (1979)

One of the challenges of Binde’s style is that modeling is not a simple mechanical process. A model’s cooperation and ability to understand the artist’s direction takes a special sensitivity and having a model with the right “look” is no assurance of success. Over 25 years ago, Binde was fortunate to find a model capable of expressing his vision and create an effective collaboration. Her name is Tatyana (Tanya), a yoga instructor and actress. When Binde began to work with her, he was amazed how fluently she understood his style. It felt as if the only challenges to overcome were the technical obstacles—formidable in their own right.

She has always inspired me in my work. She has always inspired me to think, giving wings to my creative spirit and setting fire to my fantasy. She encourages me.

This level of trust is no small achievement and their intimacy and personal feelings are expressed in their work. Together they created a number of photo series: ‘The Flight’, ‘Nine months’, ‘Like mother, like daughter’, ‘The Cage’ and numerous erotic stories and portraits. She became his principle muse and they got married.

Shortly thereafter, their daughter Anna was born. Binde continued to shoot Tanya, even during her pregnancy and the addition of a new family member meant that she would inevitably participate in the work.

Gunārs Binde - Wind from the Sea (1996)

Gunārs Binde – Wind from the Sea (1996)

The series ‘Like mother, like daughter’ is particularly charming with the intriguing use of mirroring poses by the pair. Some of the titles are also indicative of the feelings of love within this family.

Gunārs Binde - Silver Dress No. 1 (2003)

Gunārs Binde – Silver Dress No. 1 (2003)

Gunārs Binde - Silver Dress No. 3 (2003)

Gunārs Binde – Silver Dress No. 3 (2003)

Gunārs Binde - The Invaluable Burden (2003)

Gunārs Binde – The Invaluable Burden (2003)

Gunārs Binde - The Game (2003)

Gunārs Binde – The Game (2003)

Gunārs Binde - The Look (2003)

Gunārs Binde – The Look (2003)

There were no indications that Anna continued to pose for her father beyond this series, but she is clearly proud of him and currently assists him in his studio and consults with him about his artistic legacy.

One of the most compelling things about serious artistic nudes is their ability to communicate “line” and “form” and this effect is especially accentuated in the black and white format. Even though Binde has a special love of the female figure, he acknowledges that there is a place for both male and female, young and old.

Binde’s concerns about contemporary photography is that it does not offer a compelling balance. It tends to be purely conceptual, bereft of personal feeling and spirit, and artists, in their desire for success, are loath to communicate their ideas about the political implications of their world.

Binde is today considered one of the top Latvian photographers of all time and has been called “The legend of Latvian photography”. He resides in Riga and is still happily married to his wife and muse.

Gunārs Binde (official website)

More images from the ‘Like mother, like daughter series’ can be found here.

Spanish Cousins: Carlos Saura

In order for Pip to get screen shots for his film posts, I have had to dig up a number of films for him. In the case of Carlos Saura (b. 1932), director of Cría cuervos, there was some interesting biographical information. Not only was he an avid photographer before deciding to become a filmmaker, but he seemed to be specially compelled by his child subjects. Most probably because of his own childhood experiences, Saura speculated that it was de rigueur for Spanish boys to get their first education about girls and the erotic world via their female cousins. In fact, two films—La Prima Angélica (My Cousin Angelica, 1973) and Pajarico (Little Bird, 1997)—dealt specifically with the childhood romance between cousins. Some mention should also be made of Ana y los Lobos (Ana and the Wolves, 1972) because even though the girls in that film perform the bland role of dutiful children, there are interesting clues about family dynamics which inform many other Saura films.

Lobos is about a young woman, Ana (Geraldine Chaplin), hired by a family to serve as governess for three little girls—Natalia (Nuria Lage), Carlota (Maria José Puerta) and Victoria (Sara Gil). Three brothers and their mother live on the estate and over time, Ana learns that each of these four characters have terrible neuroses which she takes in stride with both curiosity and amusement. The men react badly to this and, in the end, punish and murder her. The girls are in the background during the entire film, but do not stand out as characters, performing their roles as well-behaved stereotypical little girls. There is one distressing incident when the girls find their dolly buried in mud and her hair cut by one of the brothers. As the drama plays out, there is always this tension in the back of one’s mind about how the girls will develop and be treated when they grow up.

Carlos Saura - Ana y los Lobos (1972)

Carlos Saura – Ana y los Lobos (1972)

Angélica seems an autobiographical account of Saura’s own late childhood. The lead character, Luis, is interring his mother’s bones in the family crypt, staying with his aunt, with whom he spent some memorable summers. During the visit, he recalls incidents from his first summer there almost forty years earlier. The flow of the story is confusing at first until one realizes that the same actor (José Luis López Vázquez) is playing Luis and the young Luisito and you have to pick up clues from the scene to keep it straight. An additional ambiguity is that his beloved cousin Angélica (Lina Canalejas) has a little girl Angélica (Maria Clara Fernandez de Loaysa, who also played her mother as a little girl in flashbacks). The elder Angélica seems always to be wearing a kind of proper uniform during reminiscences. The presence of an older adult actor playing a child makes him appear like a developmentally-delayed adult. It is disconcerting at times when he leers with fascination at Angélica as in one scene where the family thinks nothing of undressing and dressing the young girl within eyeshot of her cousin.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (1)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (1)

There is a lot of fun interplay shown in the film between Luis and both Angélicas. In one scene, he is dressed in a Roman uniform and told to stand like a statue while Angélica makes faces at him, seeing if she can get him to crack up.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (2)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (2)

The younger Angélica is curious about Luis’ old relationship with her mother, asking a lot of questions about it and seeing if she stacks up to her mother.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (3)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (3)

A strong friendship is rekindled with Angélica and her family and Luis forms a pretty strong one-on-one bond with the daughter. One day, he takes her to where her mother etched their names on a tombstone.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (4)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (4)

The young Angélica jokes about how the boys take no interest in her because she is not well-developed, supposedly unlike her mother at the same tender age of 9.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (5)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (5)

Luis then flashes to a time when the elder Angélica showed him her first bra, with him begging her to show him again.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (6)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (6)

Although Luis seems to be enjoying his visit, a lot of bad memories of the war are associated with it as well. He decides that he has had enough self-indulgence and decides it is time to leave. The younger Angélica is outside riding a bike and Luis asks if he can try it before departing. He pedals with her riding along and we get one final flashback of him having done the same thing with her mother. Apparently, it was part of a scheme to runaway together, but the youngsters’ plans are foiled when they encounter a patrol who brings them home where they are then punished for their folly—never to be together again.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (7)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (7)

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (8)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (8)

Saura’s view of life seemed quite pessimistic in the 1970s with characters expressing all manner of dysfunction with only one precious memory of romance. Even in Lobos, the matriarch makes mention of the scandal of a family member falling in love with his cousin. Over the years, the director must have mellowed as he attempted a more modern version of this family romance in Pajarico. The three brothers seem to be modeled after those from Lobos, but in nobler forms. This time the girl is called Fuensanta (Dafne Fernández) and the boy, Manuel (Alejandro Martinez), is played by a 10-year-old. There are a number of similarities to Angélica with Manuel being “abandoned” by his parents for the summer and needing to stay with his extended family in Murcia. The film is divided into three chapters, each dedicated to one of the uncles. The first is Juan, who picks up Manuel. His namesake in Lobos was a womanizer with dark erotic fantasies, but this one is an artist and appreciates women in an aesthetic way. He makes his living running a tailor shop and a number of women work there. Manuel has three girl cousins but we see very little of the other two, Amalia (Rebeca Fernández) and Sofia (Andrea Granero) . Fuensanta makes a big entrance at the shop wearing a fancy dress. This worm’s-eye view is the result of her being picked up and placed immediately on the counter by her father.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (1)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (1)

Juan takes Manuel and Fuensanta to draw and learn the finer points of color and composition. Later, he shows them some art books and expresses some envy at the skills of past artists—the way they were able to add mystery to their work.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (2)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (2)

Fuensanta playfully coaxes Manuel onto the roof where they bond and share some secrets.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (3)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (3)

Fuensanta’s first big secret introduces us to the second uncle, Fernando. His namesake in Lobos is quite disturbed by his homosexual proclivities and devoted himself to meditation and penance in a whitewashed cave. He was the one who cut the dolly’s hair and buried her. This Fernando is seen making love with his boyfriend, Tony, in the cellar of a pastry shop where he works. The children are bemused by this spectacle.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (4)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (4)

Fernando is an artist too and plays the cello beautifully. Unfortunately, his lover has fallen in love with a woman and is planning marriage. In a state of despondency, Fernando has a heart attack and is sent to the hospital. The third uncle is Emilio and, like his counterpart (named José in Lobos), is the de facto head of the household even though the decrepit grandfather still lives. He is a scientist, an optometrist of sorts who practices the rare craft of iridology. The children wander into his office and explore a bit before coming upon him. He explains that the iris tells a story about each person and asks Fuensanta to sit in front of a machine so he can examine her iris.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (5)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (5)

He finds a mysterious pattern in one region he cannot explain. It is meant to hint at Fuensanta’s telepathic abilities. For example, the grandfather is only partially lucid and so sometimes makes strange-sounding requests. Whenever this happens, she quickly explains that he is simply asking for orange juice or wishes to have the blinds closed. Mistaking Manuel for his favorite son, Antonito, and knowing he will die soon, grandfather decides to reveal a secret he has never told anyone before.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (6)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (6)

Apparently, one of the secrets Fuensanta shared with Manuel was her telepathy. The rest of the family only learn of it when grandfather inexplicably disappears and only Fuensanta knows how to find him. He is discovered in a park and he says he got lost while trying to get to the sea. Emilio promises to take him there and there is a final idyllic scene with grandfather sitting in a chair staring into the sea while everyone else frolics on the beach. The instant he passes away, Fuensanta senses it immediately and turns around to look back at him.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (7)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (7)

Manuel might have had more time with his uncles and cousins except for the funeral compelling his parents to return and then take him home. Looking one last time at Fuensanta, Manuel realizes he will never see her again as she is now.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (8)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (8)

The Girls of Summer, Pt. 3

Alas, summer is drawing to close here in the Northern Hemisphere, but we have time to get one more of these in before it officially ends next Tuesday, September 22nd.  Let’s begin.

We’ll start with a video clip.  This is the opening scene from the German film The Baader Meinhof Complex, directed by Uli Edel. I won’t say much about the film itself, other than that it is based on a real political group that was active in Germany during the late ’60s and the ’70s.  You really should watch it.  The opening scene features the twin daughters of the Ulrike Meinhof character frolicking on a nude beach.

Uli Edel - The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (official site)

Our next piece is from a photographer by the name of Elliston Lutz.  I couldn’t tease out much information about him from the internet, but I know he generally shoots (mostly adult) fashion photography.  This piece probably comes from a fashion shoot, but I couldn’t tell you which one.  In addition to this lovely photo, there’s a short video Lutz shot a few years ago for Guess Kids featuring child singer Jackie Evancho along with some other children.  You can watch that here if you’re interested.

Elliston Lutz - (Title Unknown)

Elliston Lutz – (Title Unknown)

This next artist is one of my absolute faves, and I’ve featured his work here before, in the Bare Beach Babies series.  Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (usually shortened to just Joaquín Sorolla) was a Spanish painter who specialized in Impressionistic beach scenes, mostly featuring children.  This one is aptly titled Summer.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida - Summer (1904)

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – Summer (1904)

Wikipedia: Joaquín Sorolla

Well, what would this series be if I didn’t post at least one image by Jock Sturges?  You’ve probably seen this one before—it is one of Sturges’ most iconic images, as it features his favorite model Misty Dawn.

Jock Sturges - Misty Dawn

Jock Sturges – Misty Dawn

Wikipedia: Jock Sturges

Here’s another artist that’s appeared on the blog before, Russian painter Tatiana Deriy.  This piece references the fact that Greek goddess of beauty Aphrodite (and her Roman equivalent Venus) was supposedly born out of the sea.  That’s one of the creation myths surrounding her anyway.  There are actually several, but this is the one artists tend to gravitate to in depicting her birth.

Tatiana Deriy - The Young Aphrodite (2004)

Tatiana Deriy – The Young Aphrodite (2004)

ArtRussia: Tatyana Deriy

Here’s a photo by noted photographer George S. Zimbel.  The title, Space Babies, seems like an odd choice for a photo of children lying on the beach, but it was taken in 1959, the height of the Space Age, which kicked off in 1957 with the launch of the satellite Sputnik.  And these girls, dressed in their sunglasses and sleek swimsuits, were thoroughly modern kiddos of their time.

George S. Zimbel - Space Babies, Jones Beach, New York, 1959

George S. Zimbel – Space Babies, Jones Beach, New York, 1959

George S. Zimbel (official site)

There weren’t really any closeup shots in the other two Girls of Summer posts, so I decided to remedy that by including this photo by Jorge Pérez Carsí, a Spanish photographer from Valencia.  Its title translates to The Summer Holiday of Angela.

Jorge Pérez Carsí - El veraneo de Angela

Jorge Pérez Carsí – El veraneo de Angela

Fotocommunity: Jorge Pérez Carsí

Although it’s in black & white, this is actually a painting.  Carl Hans Schrader-Velgen actually painted many of these nudes in nature scenes, though usually he focused on adult women.  It’s unusual to see scenes of boys and girls bathing nude together, though they became more frequent as the twentieth century progressed.

Carl Hans Schrader-Velgen - Heisser Tag (1913)

Carl Hans Schrader-Velgen – Heisser Tag (1913)

I actually included a photo by this next photographer in the last Girls of Summer post.  This little girl looks like she would love to jump into that nice cool water, doesn’t she?

Jonas Elmqvist - Summer by the Sea

Jonas Elmqvist – Summer by the Sea

Our next artist, who goes by the online moniker Pretty, is a Russian photographer who utilizes some special effects in her work.  There’s something that calls to mind mythological or fantasy art in this piece.

Pretty - The Girl and the Sea

Pretty – The Girl and the Sea

Pretty (official site)

Our next artist is painter Ariana Richards.  If that name sounds familiar, it should.  Richards is best known as an actress who appeared most notably as a child in the films Jurassic Park (as Lex Murphy) and Tremors (as Mindy Sterngood).  She still acts occasionally, but these days she mostly devotes herself to painting, at which she is quite talented, even winning awards for her work.  As an adolescent she occasionally did some modeling too, even appearing in a Japanese magazine.

Ariana Richards - Hannah & Dylan

Ariana Richards – Hannah & Dylan

Gallery Ariana (official site)

Wikipedia: Ariana Richards

David Hurn is an English documentary and celebrity photographer of Welsh descent.  Miners’ Week (a.k.a. Miners’ Fortnight) was an event in which miners and their families would descend on the peninsula of Barry Island off the coast of South Wales during a certain time every summer, packing the beaches.  You can see more photos and read a bit about it here.

David Hurn - Miners' Week at Barry Island

David Hurn – Miners’ Week at Barry Island

Wikipedia: David Hurn

Sven L. is a photographer who is fairly well represented on the web, so it’s odd that he never includes his last name.  I suppose it’s a privacy issue, but whatever the case, he has lots of lovely photos of children—girls mostly—and will certainly be featured here again.  I’m including two of his photos here.  I particularly like the first photo, in which the girl is wearing a filmy translucent shift or slip (and apparently nothing beneath).  I would love to see more images of the girl in this costume—it very much reminds me of the fairies and maidens that appeared in artwork of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Sven L. - Beach (2011)

Sven L. – Beach (2011)

Sven L. - Panorama (2011)

Sven L. – Panorama (2011)

Flickr: Sven L.

The girl who appears in this next painting is a little older than what we ordinarily would post here, but I quite like this painting and just had to share it.  It is by French Symbolist and Orientalist painter Armand Point.  I particularly adore the girl’s hair.

Armand Point - The Bather

Armand Point – The Bather

Wikipedia: Armand Point

Here is a photo by Russian photographer (of course) Yanina Arkhangelskaya.  I could not trace this one back to its source unfortunately, and there seems to be nothing else about the artist online.

Yanina Arkhangelskaya - (Title Unknown)

Yanina Arkhangelskaya – (Title Unknown)

Another Russian photographer, Vadim Petrakov, was a bit easier to find.  He has done quite a lot of work for the stock photography site Shutterstock.  Of course, this image did not come from there.  I also have another photo of these siblings by the same photographer, but I liked this one better.

Vadim Petrakov - Brother and Sister

Vadim Petrakov – Brother and Sister

Annie Cassez is a French painter and illustrator.  I actually think she’s a better still life painter than a portraitist, but I do like this piece.

Annie Cassez - La Chilienne (2010)

Annie Cassez – La Chilienne (2010)

Annie Cassez (official site)

Laimis is probably another photographer I discovered on a Russian photography site, but who knows for sure?  I could find nothing else about this artist online.  What I like about this photo is the children’s well-defined musculature.  These are kids in their prime for sure.

Laimis - (Title Unknown)

Laimis – (Title Unknown)

Here’s the final piece, and yep, it’s by another Russian photographer.  Her name is Oksana Tseatsura, though she occasionally goes by Sana.  This photo is titled, appropriately enough, The Last Summer Day.  And that’s it for our Girls of Summer!  Well, for this year anyway . . .

Oksana Tseatsura - The Last Summer Day

Oksana Tseatsura – The Last Summer Day Oksana Tseatsura


The Blind Art Collector

In the beginning of Public Speaking, a film about Fran Lebowitz, she tells the story of an art collector who was showing off his multi-million dollar Picasso to some friends. When he turned around, his elbow went through the canvas and tore it. You see, this man could not see and this incident serves as an apt metaphor for our age.

…there is no more suitable and potent image-symbol for our time than the image of the blind art collector. -Fran Lebowitz, Public Speaking, 2010

Lebowitz mused that that would make an excellent book title. Sorry for stealing your thunder Fran, but the two films reviewed here really demonstrate different aspects of this phenomenon: Catfish (2010) and My Kid Could Paint That (2007).

Watching Catfish is a fun adventure because it is not simply a documentary, but a mystery that takes place in real time. It is about the evolving relationship between a dance photographer named Yaniv “Nev” Schulman and a woman named Angela through Facebook. Schulman shares an office with two filmmakers in New York and they decided they wanted to document this interesting development.

It all started after the exhibition of one of his photographs; shortly after, he got a unexpected package in the mail. It was a painting of his photograph, ostensibly produced by an 8-year-old girl named Abby.

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost - Catfish (2010) (1)

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – Catfish (2010) (1)

When first I saw this, I knew I had to share this story with Pigtails readers, not imagining how many twists and turns there would be. Over time, Angela introduced Schulman to a number of her family members, all seemingly endowed with artistic talent. Alex was Abby’s brother who was part of a rock band and Abby’s half-sister, Megan, was a singer, musician and dancer. Abby continued to send paintings of Schulman’s pictures and he began to hear about her prodigious output and the popularity of her work at gallery showings. At a certain point, he could request a painting (from Abby) or a song (from Megan) and it would be produced in short order. The bubble finally burst when Schulman and the filmmakers got suspicious about this fast turnaround. With a little investigating, they realized that Angela was simply taking music found on the internet and calling it her own. Schulman was deflated at being so deceived and his instinct was to cut off all contact, but it was decided that they should slyly confront her about her ruse and see where it led. After a show in Colorado, the crew flew to Chicago and drove to a small town in Upper Michigan to see how she would react to a surprise visit. They planned to handle things gingerly so Angela would not be scared off right away. After the initial greetings, he finally got to meet Abby who was with her friend when they arrived.

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost - Catfish (2010) (2)

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – Catfish (2010) (2)

While Abby was getting ready, Schulman cornered the friend to talk about this prolific output. Being unprepared for this unexpected visit, this turned into something of a clearcut confession.

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost - Catfish (2010) (3)

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – Catfish (2010) (3)

When Abby finally came out, the gentle interrogation continued and getting flustered, she finally exclaimed, “You’re confusing me!”

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost - Catfish (2010) (4)

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – Catfish (2010) (4)

Having secured his confession, he continued to spend time with Angela looking for the right time to confront her without needlessly hurting or embarrassing her. He realized she was just a lonely woman looking for a way to connect on a deeper level with a bigger world. Her home life was both mundane and challenging with a mentally-challenged son who needed a lot of care. Finally, while Abby was having her riding lesson, he coaxed the truth out of her, assuring her that everything was all right and that he was no longer upset by her deception.

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost - Catfish (2010) (5)

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – Catfish (2010) (5)

It was an especially moving story because instead of exacting revenge, Schulman made a real connection with a warm and imaginative woman—who was, of course, the real painter. By the end of shooting, the two of them remained Facebook friends.

The second film is about a 4-year-old named Marla Olmstead. It is an instructive story about fame, the media and the fickle art world. Marla’s parents, Laura and Mark, say all of this was just a fluke. While Mark was doing some painting, Marla started begging him to do some painting as well. Instead of just sticking her in front of the television, he obliged. He learned that it made more sense to just have her work on a canvas placed flat on the dining room table instead of an easel.

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (1)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (1)

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (2)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (2)

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (3)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (3)

Like any proud parent would, they loved her “masterpieces”. Friends kept commenting on the work and one who owned a coffee shop asked if he could hang some of them at his place of business. The canvases garnered a lot of positive comment and he was compelled to ask the family for prices so they might be sold. Anthony Brunelli, himself a realist painter, offered to have her work exhibited along with his. He contacted a local paper and a family and parenting columnist for The Press & Sun Bulletin, Elizabeth Cohen, did a human interest piece on Marla. When someone at The New York Times got wind of it, the fuse was lit. The ironic part is that Marla did not seem to like all the attention and was normally the quietest kid in her class—unlike her little brother Zane, who could be seen hamming it up in front of the camera. The last thing she wanted to do was talk to a lot of grown-ups about her artistic vision. Whenever she was in the mood to paint, she was made to wear a denim dress that would be easy to clean after the inevitable mess.

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (4)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (4)

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (5)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (5)

It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of Marla and her parents had to confer with each other often about who should have access and who should not. After some time in the spotlight, it was inevitable that the media should turn on her. The story was getting stale and so there had to be a new angle. On February 23, 2005, a 60 Minutes story aired essentially calling Marla’s work a fraud. The niggling problem was that whenever there was a camera trained on her, she would produce these muddy compositions that did not reflect the style of her other work. This called into question whether she really did the canvases by herself and Mark and Laura got the expectable accusations of being bad parents and exploiting their child for personal gain. After the shock of the 60 Minutes piece subsided and nervous collectors were happily buying her work again, the Olmsteads cautiously agreed to allow Amir Bar-Lev to create this documentary. He promised to cover the story objectively and let the viewers decide if this was a fraud or not. It was a difficult task because Marla, being a real 4-year-old, did not take a full-time interest in painting. A hidden camera was set up and finally she was shot producing an actual work. Nevertheless, critics were not satisfied as this piece still did not seem to meet the standards of those that came before. At age five, Marla continued to get high prices for her work.  Here she is attending one of her showings.

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (6)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (6)

I’m afraid the filmmaker left the audience hanging as he could not make a definitive conclusion. And I had a bad feeling in my stomach because I knew that most people would look at this story in a conventional way—taking one side or another—and not see what it reveals about abstract art and the human mind. Many simply regard abstract art as a simple fraud. Indeed, a testament to an artist’s skill is his ability to communicate an idea clearly with at least some elements of realism. Laura hated it when people called Marla a prodigy and it is a reasonable complaint. The reality may seem a bit dull to some but a little girl had a rare opportunity to express herself with paint simply because the tools were on hand—including a supportive father who could bring together the materials. It is no surprise that someone so young would produce abstract images as they are an expression of the unabashed impulses of the subconscious which could not only be produced by 4-year-old, but would be appreciated by the sensitive adult mind. Adults do tend to forget how aware small children can be. Even the parents erroneously assumed that, in her innocence, she was oblivious to the vagaries of fame. I actually did not find it surprising at all that Marla could not be herself when being watched, even when shot by a hidden camera.

Amir Bar-Lev - My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (7)

Amir Bar-Lev – My Kid Could Paint That (2007) (7)

Unfortunately, society’s current assumptions and modern scientific understanding are inadequate to understanding the subtleties of this story and others like it and reflects how far we still have to go. I was told about a similar case in Australia of Aelita Andre. Whereas Marla is private and subdued, Aelita is articulate and self-possessed and yet both reveal something universal about the human mind as yet unhindered by the constraints of culture.

Aelita Andre website

Maiden Voyages: September 2015

A Growth Spurt: is now on a dedicated server. This has been necessary due to the large volume of traffic on the site. This also affords us some independence, strengthening our position and giving us more flexibility.

A Distraction: Another development is the loss of our technical support person. Due to a personal crisis that may take a while to resolve, he can no longer offer the kind of service he would like. Therefore, we have begun to hire various independent, but professional, contractors to provide a number of services for the site and the server. For example, some malware was just purged from the site. Those of you who recently experienced pop-ups when navigating the site will find that they have ceased. I had intended to set up an infrastructure so we can solicit donations from able readers, but I had to adjust to these new developments and instead intend to have things in place by next month’s ‘Maiden Voyages’.

The Zieglers March On: Pip tipped me off about an article on Maddie Ziegler appearing in Elle. It seems she has been doing some runway modeling for charity, cheerfully accompanied by her little sister, Mackenzie. For those who are not familiar, Maddie is the actress who appeared in two much-talked-about music videos.

In Process: We were fortunate a little while ago to see a painting by Scott Affleck in progress. I have just been informed that the work was recently completed and so that version can now be seen on that post.

Evolution of the Body: A supporter provided an interesting lead about a review by Artspace staff about the evolution of the human body in 20th Century art. It took excerpts and images from The Art Book (2012), recently published by Phaidon.

Potent Personalities: Sally Mann

Mann’s challenging images of childhood and, by extension, motherhood have become ubiquitous. This post has been long in coming because of the nagging question: How will I ever do justice to this artist’s work? Finally, the release of Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, published by Little, Brown and Co., this May forced my hand and convinced me that I could procrastinate no further. The book is the kind of self-examination that would have made Socrates proud and an enviable genealogical legacy to her entire family.

Sally Mann (neé Munger) was born in 1951 in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Her father, a family physician from an established Texan family, was educated in the North where he met Sally’s mother. This kind of heritage would almost inevitably make Sally a fish out of water in social circles but impress upon her an appreciation for the land itself. She took a serious interest in photography when at The Putney School in Vermont which her two brothers had attended before her. Her father introduced her to the arts and she has fond memories of several books he shared with her. One was The Family of Man (1955) and on only her second roll of film, she shot her first nudes in 1969, inspired by Wynn Bullock’s Child in Forest. For the most part, Sally bares all in her book, but out of respect for one of her subjects who now has a prominent position in a major corporation, she did not reproduce it.

Wynn Bullock - Child in Forest (1951)

Wynn Bullock – Child in Forest (1951)

Two films were produced about Sally, both directed by Steven Cantor. The first, Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann (1994), was shot and produced during the furor over the exhibitions of her child nudes and the second, What Remains (2005), gives a much more comprehensive picture of her inspirations and body of work. When I personally learned of the artist’s work, I was naturally impressed by the raw and pristine imagery, but after seeing these films, I admit to falling in love with the humanity of this imaginative and tortured soul. We begin to get an insight into Sally’s attitude about nudity by the fact that in her first two years of life, she obstinately refused to wear clothes. In fact, the assumption that nudity was an integral part of everyday childhood caused her to overstate in interviews the number of photos that existed of her in a state of undress. After a careful review, she was compelled to amend the record. Some of the photographs of young Sally reveal some of the striking characteristics to be seen later in her own children.

Steven Cantor - What Remains (2005) (1)

Steven Cantor – What Remains (2005) (1)

After high school, she opted to attend Bennington College, deciding that she was not cut out for one of the more urban schools. She met Larry Mann during a Christmas visit home in 1969 and they were married six months later. During their early years together, they traveled throughout Europe on a thin shoestring budget, much to the consternation of Larry’s socially ambitious parents. And even after visiting some of the most beautiful places in Europe, the couple felt nothing held a candle to Rockbridge County so they moved there for good in 1973. Sally shares a rich tapestry of family history including how her father first bought the land and how she later bought out her brothers’ shares so that it could become the Mann estate.

It seems remarkable in retrospect, but at first, Sally did not consider her children suitable subjects for art photography. She did the usual photos that parents are expected to make, but they were snapshots and not done with an artist’s eye. Sally has always respected the presence of serendipity in the creative process and in 1985, one of her biggest took place. Emmett, Sally’s eldest child, was born in 1980 and then Jessie came in 1981. With the birth of Virginia, she fancied that she should capture the event on film. Unfortunately, the exposure time needed to compensate for the poor lighting meant that Virginia’s entry into the world was a blur—”a dud”. A few months later, Sally took what she considered her first good family picture, Damaged Child, of Jessie’s swollen face from insect bites. She got the idea from the title of a Dorothea Lange photo Damaged Child, Shacktown,Elm Grove, Oklahoma (1936). As she continued her efforts in this vein, she began to realize that she was blessed with children of potent character. Even so, none of this would have materialized without an attitude shift. It is perhaps within the most mundane material that we find the sublime.

Sally Mann - Damaged Child (1984)

Sally Mann – Damaged Child (1984)

Sally’s family photographs are a mixture of spontaneity and deliberate composition. For example, here we can see her directing Virginia to get one of her shots.

Steven Cantor - Blood Ties (1994) (1)

Steven Cantor – Blood Ties (1994) (1)

Sally Mann - At Warm Springs (1991)

Sally Mann – At Warm Springs (1991)

On the other hand, when she sees something she just has to capture she asks the child to hold still until she can get her camera set up. These are precarious times because as time passes, some of the spontaneity is lost and the strain of holding the pose adds to the intensity of the posture and facial expression. In one of Sally’s favorite images, she had the camera nearby and was able to shoot The Perfect Tomato. The strange title was the product of haste; the tomatoes were the only thing in focus in the shot. The lens flare was a happy accident that gave the subject an angelic quality. In Blood Ties, Jessie described her memory of how it happened.

Steven Cantor - Blood Ties (1994) (2)

Steven Cantor – Blood Ties (1994) (2)

Sally Mann - The Perfect Tomato (1990)

Sally Mann – The Perfect Tomato (1990)

In 2000, Melissa Harris interviewed Jessie Mann who was preparing for her freshman year in college. Among other things, she spoke about the nature of her relationship with her mother.

When we were taking pictures, it created a relationship with Mom that’s very different from other people’s relationships—much more powerful…Because there already is a very powerful bond, then add to that the bond between artist and subject…On top of being our mother, she became a whole lot more. So that made our relationship stronger, but of course more complicated. -Jessie Mann, 2000 (Aperture No. 162, Winter 2001)

The combination of an artist’s eye and a desire to get the image just right created a kind of ambivalence within the family. On the one hand, it is flattering to get so much attention, but getting the image right sometimes meant a seemingly interminable effort. In the case of the image The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987, when she first saw Emmett in the water, she did the usual and asked him to hold still. Shot after shot did not come out to Sally’s satisfaction and over the next 7 or 8 days, Emmett patiently followed his mother’s instructions until everything was right: the light, the reflection in the water, the eye level, Emmett’s position in the water, Emmett’s position in the frame and the right pose and facial expression. The title, which later came to have a double meaning, was meant to express the exasperation after such an ordeal. Several versions were reprinted in Hold Still to illustrate this process.

For the most part, Larry and the kids were good sports and for that reason, Sally has to give equal credit to her subjects for the successful collaboration. But sometimes, as Emmett remarked, whenever one of them noticed that look in their mother’s eyes—when she suddenly “saw” a picture—if one was not in the mood for another photo session, one had better make himself scarce. Or if there was no way out of it, the kids could torment their mother in more subtle ways. The top shot of all three kids appeared on the cover of Immediate Family, but the bottom illustrates one of the variations where the girls have softer facial expressions. Emmett confessed later that during this shoot, he was moving his body ever so slightly forward and back to keep his mother from getting the perfect focus.

Sally Mann - Emmett, Jessie and Virginia (1989) (and variant)

Sally Mann – Emmett, Jessie and Virginia (1989) (and variant)

Despite these battles of will, the family members recognize that Sally brings out something special in the seemingly ordinary.

…She sees the world in images. -Larry Mann (What Remains, 2005)

It’s almost like she sees something happening and she just thinks to herself, “I know that this is special—what I’m seeing right here.” -Emmett Mann (What Remains, 2005)

When you’re around an artist all the time, you’re always reminded of what’s beautiful and what’s special, and you can’t forget it. -Jessie Mann (Aperture, No. 162, Winter 2001)

I think what makes Mom different is that she can look at the same object that I would consider pretty commonplace and ordinary, but she’ll make a print of it and suddenly I’ll see the beauty of it. -Virginia Mann (What Remains, 2005)

When Immediate Family was published in 1992, Sally assumed it would be greeted with moderate acclaim just like her previous work, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988).

Sally Mann - At Twelve (c1984)

Sally Mann – At Twelve (c1984)

The family was not prepared for the explosive sales and the notoriety that came. Listening to the detractors, one might come away with the impression that Sally published the work without regard to the feelings and reputations of her family, but this was far from the truth. The children were consulted about their favorites and which images they objected to. Never was nudity at issue and Larry mediated to make sure the children were not just trying to please their mother. For example, Emmett vetoed an image (Emmett Asleep, 1985) because, at the time, he was pretending to be Bugs Bunny and was wearing white stockings on his arms. Given his age, he was concerned about looking like a dork. Another candid image was of Virginia entitled Pissing in the Wind. Now that they are grown up, they can appreciate these images for what they are, candid moments of family life and these two examples were reprinted in Hold Still. Sometimes Sally censored herself as in The Bent Ear. With Jessie’s thin figure and the strain of waiting for the camera to be set up, Sally thought the picture made her look like a torture victim and was simply too painful to look at.

Sally Mann - The Bent Ear (1989)

Sally Mann – The Bent Ear (1989)

When the letters came in, Sally was surprised at the range of comments. In her characteristic fastidiousness, she sorted them into For, Against and What the Fuck? Although a sense of humor was undoubtedly helpful, the one ray of light was that more than half the letters were positive. It is tempting for visually literate people to write off any negative comments as narrow-minded and not worthy of acknowledgment. Whatever the interpretation, what was happening was a kind of culture clash. Nudity seems to be a natural mode of expression for the liberal-minded proponents of counterculture; and just as there are clothing-optional parks and beaches, there are bound to be many households that observe this custom as well.

The real breakthrough in Hold Still is that Sally makes the context of the land paramount in the interpretation of the pictures. Within this context, these images make perfect sense and without it, they seem bizarre at first glance. The land that the Manns owned was a secluded plot surrounded, unusually, on three sides by the Maury River. Even in the most difficult of times, the family felt safe there away from the madness and ridicule of society—without radios, without television and without computers.

How natural was it in that situation, to allow our children to run naked? Or, put another way, how bizarre would it have been to insist on bathing suits for their river play, which began after breakfast and often continued long after dark, when all three would would dive like sleek otters for glow sticks thrown in the pool under the still-warm cliffs? -Sally Mann (Hold Still, 2015)

For the most part, Sally would avoid looking at the almost endless barrage of reviews. She was an artist, after all, and would not want her art to be tainted by the influx of public opinion. But occasionally, something would come across her radar and one review in particular was devastating in its thoughtlessness and self-righteousness. It was an editorial by Raymond Sokolov, a food critic of all things, published in the Wall Street Journal in February 1991. Ostensibly about government funding of the arts, it took the opportunity to ridicule and mutilate an image published on the cover of the Fall 1990 issue (No. 121) of Aperture. Virginia happened to see it and was very upset about being “crossed out”. For a time, she became extremely self-conscious about her body and even wanted to wear shorts and a shirt in the bathtub the following night. In an attempt at a kind of psychotherapy, a photo shoot was conducted to make a light-hearted mockery of the censorship.

Virginia at 4 (1989) ; Sokolov Article, Wall Street Journal (1991); Virginia's Letter to the Editor (1991)

Virginia at 4 (1989) ; Sokolov Article, Wall Street Journal (1991); Virginia’s Letter to the Editor (1991)

Sally Mann - (Untitled) (1991)

Sally Mann – (Untitled) (1991)

To Sally, her family photographs were partly therapeutic. She would take every mishap and exaggerate it into a worst-case scenario to help alleviate her own anxieties about motherhood and as a kind of sympathetic magic to prevent the worst from actually happening. Whether this actually worked is a matter of perspective. Both Jessie and Emmett are only alive today because of stokes of good fortune, Jessie having been born premature and in guarded condition for an extended period and Emmett surviving a car impact that ought to have killed him.

Sally Mann - Jessie's Cut (1985)

Sally Mann – Jessie’s Cut (1985)

As statistics will bear out, whenever there is a large group of people, a tiny percent are bound to be weirdos. Two particular individuals stand out in Sally’s memory and their tales are told in the book. A few years into their marriage, Larry’s mother, who lived in Connecticut, murdered her husband and then killed herself. Because the couple was respected in the community, the police did not really conduct a full investigation and quickly closed the case. Sally fancied she’d investigate further on her own and called the police to request a copy of the case file. Strangely, the police had the file readily at hand. The reason was that they were receiving strange letters from someone in Richmond with fanciful suggestions of foul play. It turned out to be the mother of a disgruntled artist, envious of Sally’s fame. The other was a man who became love-sick for the Mann children. He would track down family members, neighbors and institutions for any scrap of information about them such as birth certificates, school events and grades. The FBI became involved but informed the family that since this man did not make any threats and had not trespassed onto the property, nothing could be done. The family decided not to go public with this information until now based on the notion that they should not dignify the efforts of this man. Ironically, in their diligence to keep a wary eye out, this man came up in family conversations more often than blood kin. In a sense, he got his most fervent wish as his specter was a constant presence in the house.

Perhaps the most hurtful type of negative criticism was that Sally was a bad mother. This put her in an intractable position as no mother is perfect, but with the public scrutiny, every little thing would be interpreted as some shortcoming. As mentioned before, mother and children are all strong-willed people and there were the usual conflicts as is bound to happen in any family. Sally was apparently not physically affectionate with her children and so there are signs that they sought other forms of comfort. Jessie, for example, developed a drinking problem which she has been managing. After reflection, the children now recognize that their mother expressed her love through her art and gifted them with a sense of their beauty. For this reason, each of the children are consistently very protective of their mother and defend her as necessary. And Sally has her regrets as well, like the time Jessie refused to eat her flounder and was made to sit there all night until she finished it.

Sally Mann - (Untitled) (c1986)

Sally Mann – (Untitled) (c1986)

Fame is a two-edged sword, but it would be unfair to blame its negative effect on an artist who could never have anticipated it. She reasonably assumed that quality work would eventually get recognized by cultured people—but slowly. Sally’s notoriety sometimes interfered with schoolyard relationships because other kids would tease them or other parents objected to their mother’s work. With this kind of fame, what room is there for the children to find their own place in the world? Once Emmett and Jessie were in college, they started talking to each other about their childhood in a kind of exclusive support group; who else would understand their experiences? And should they parlay their mother’s fame to their own benefit? Another effect of all this attention is that one can get used to it. In the film What Remains, Jessie talks about being a kind of modeling junkie. Whenever someone wanted to do a photo shoot of her, she just couldn’t say no. On the other hand, Virginia, being much younger, had a slightly different perspective, hoping simply to fit in and get on with her life.

All the while, in the background of all this drama, was the land. One can see Sally’s interest in the family photographs wane as the children became smaller and smaller in the background of these timeless landscapes.

Sally Mann - Sempervirens "Stricta" (1995)

Sally Mann – Sempervirens “Stricta” (1995)

A theme that permeates Sally’s retrospective is death. She learned that her father collected art that featured portrayals of death and analyzing Southern culture, Sally feels there is always an undercurrent of death, as though it were a familiar companion. This is an understandable reflection of all the blood shed on battlefields and the brutal use of Africans and their descendants in the building of the South.

There were two events in Sally’s life that precipitated two of her projects. The first was the death of one of her beloved greyhounds, Eva. She could not bear to bury her and so, over time, she studied her pet’s decomposing remains. Even the smallest fragment of bone seemed to evoke memories of Eva. She became fascinated about what happens to bodies when they decay and was given permission to photograph bodies at a facility where they study decaying bodies in the open. The results of her work appeared in the book, What Remains (2003). The other event was the killing of an escaped convict on the family compound. When the authorities finally cleared out, she stared at that place contemplating the dichotomy of death and renewal. While the land indiscriminately recycles, the memories of death linger in the writings and minds of human beings. This prompted a visit to the great battlefields of the South to capture this sentiment on film, culminating in the book Deep South (2005). And as if there were not already enough presence of decay in Sally’s life, Larry was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy in which the muscles waste away. Fortunately, Larry had a well-developed physique to start with so it would take longer for the condition to be debilitating. For most men, this kind of indignity would cause him to hide his disease, but instead Larry has generously allowed Sally to photograph him and his condition as time passes in a project calls ‘Proud Flesh’.

Another expression of Sally’s fascination with the past is that she processes her own negatives and has practiced a number of antiquarian techniques. She likes the feel of handling the materials, much as Julia Margaret Cameron did. Also like Cameron, she welcomes the serendipitous flaws that are rejected in a professional process: dust getting on the plate or laminate peeling on the negative in just the right place. Using older techniques also means longer exposure times and in her series, ‘Faces’, she asked her grown up children to hold still for various 3-minute exposures. The flaw in this image gives the impression of soapy tears.

Sally Mann - Faces No. 10 (2004)

Sally Mann – Faces No. 10 (2004)

A manifestation of the superficiality of society is that if a gallery can’t make money on art, they aren’t interested. Sally was disheartened that no New York gallery would exhibit ‘Faces’ and she later found an excellent venue in Washington DC which made it possible for friends and neighbors to view it. This project also became a kind of personal discipline. Sally admits to being a nervous and frenetic person by nature and so has challenged herself to produce self-portraits that require her to hold still for 6 minutes while she exposes the plate.  This development is also a result of the fact that her children are no longer on hand to model

Steven Cantor - What Remains (2005) (2)

Steven Cantor – What Remains (2005) (2)

Having both Southern and Yankee blood, Sally was exposed to the best and worst of both cultures. She embraced the philosophy behind the Civil Rights movement, but she herself was raised by a black woman she knew as Gee-Gee. The day-to-day management of the household was done by this woman and she made sure Sally was fed, dressed and ready for school. Sally’s contemplation of the role of black people in the South made her wonder about this alien lifestyle and upbringing—so utterly different from her own. In an effort to explore this “otherness”, she recently embarked on a project to photograph the bodies of black men. To bring out the truth in her subjects, she keeps things as anonymous as possible. She does not ask them about their lives and she does not share any particulars about herself except what she requires of them. After about an hour, they part company.

From time to time, Sally—sometimes with the kids—would review the family photographs. She shares an interesting theory about the interplay of memory and photography. Not really remembering her own childhood, she has relied on photographs and other artifacts to reveal her own past. It is as though the ability to record things photographically diminishes our capacity to remember. Historians have noted something similar after the invention of mechanical printing and the development of popular literacy centuries ago. In her Aperture interview, Jessie expressed a sense of disembodiment about her old pictures, a feeling that they are not really of her. This makes some sense since we are not the same people we were as children and here the images are not just family snapshots, but partly constructions from their mother’s imagination. An anecdote about Jessie takes place when she was dressing for an exhibition of the the family pictures. She realized that a sleeveless top she was considering would expose her chest if she raised her arms and so she rejected the garment. A friend remarked how odd it was that she should be concerned since there would be numerous photos showing her chest at the show. Then Jessie responded, “Yes, but that is not my chest. Those are photographs.” Children can indeed distinguish between the production of an image and the real thing.

Sally Mann - White Skates (1990)

Sally Mann – White Skates (1990)

Sally Mann - Holding the Weasel (1989)

Sally Mann – Holding the Weasel (1989)

Many today might feel that Sally Mann and her family have been vindicated. They rode the rough waters of celebrity and controversy, the adult children continue to make their way in life and Sally is still pursuing her art. But one unrecognized effect of the thoughtless rhetoric has been that many good family photos have still not reached the public. This subject was discussed in What Remains, but whenever the family mulled over the possibility of another book or exhibition, there was the inevitability of answering the same tiresome questions and they became discouraged. Perhaps someday we will see them when our society respects real artists and galleries regard them as more than just an opportunity to make money.

A favorite image of mine is Steven Cantor’s parting shot in Blood Ties. In it, Virginia is saying that she wishes her mother would take a picture of her right now.

Steven Cantor - Blood Ties (1994) (3)

Steven Cantor – Blood Ties (1994) (3)

Thank you Virginia, Jessie, Emmett, Larry and Sally for your courage, generosity and irrepressible human spirit.  -Ron

Sally Mann photography (official site): some of the unseen family photographs may be coming to light here.

Jessie Mann (official site)

Pigtails posted a this delightfully irreverent image a while back.

An excellent collection of reproductions of Sally Mann’s work were published in a Christie’s catalog for an auction held on October 7, 2009 and copies have been sold on the secondary market.

I have done my best to give a good overview of this artist, with an emphasis on the children, but Mann’s work is such a linchpin to many issues regarding art, child rearing, nudity, psychology, social justice, commerce and privacy that these will have to be discussed in a supplement post later.

The Girl as Unrequited Lover: Ana Torrent, Pt. 3 (El Nido)

This post comprises the third and final entry in our Ana Torrent film series.  Before we begin, I would like to point out that, because the quality of film available to me was relatively poor—bleary, washed out and dim—the stills taken from it are not as good as I would’ve liked.  Nevertheless, I took over 120 stills in all and sifted through them to get what I believe were the finest examples from the bunch.  Anyway . . .

Although El Nido (The Nest) was a contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1981 Academy Awards, the Oscar instead went to Moscow Does Not Believe in TearsEl Nido is an odd little film directed by Jaime de Armiñán and is widely considered his best film.  It stars Victor Alterio as an aging but spry widower and the then 13-year-old Ana Torrent as the young girl he becomes infatuated with.  Torrent won Best Actress for her performance at the 1980 Montreal Film Festival, as well she should have.  Though Armiñán lacks the artful flair of Erice or Saura, this was a solidly directed film, and I find it strange that I had never heard of it before, only discovering it when I began to look deeper into the early career of Ana Torrent.  So imagine my surprise when I discovered she had starred in Spain’s answer to Lolita!

The film opens with Alejandro (Alterio), a wealthy and reclusive widower, listening to classical music in his living room and pretending to conduct the orchestra.  We see him first in silhouette; when we first see him in the flesh, he’s riding a horse through the forest.
Again, he seems to be conducting an orchestra, though this time the music is in his head.  Alejandro is something of a dreamer and a rebel, a man who walks to the beat of his own drum, and the drum he hears is distinct in his head.  It isn’t a drum, actually; it is Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, a piece based on the Book of Genesis and inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, a poem that is, in part, about the Fall of Man.  Foreshadowing perhaps?

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (1)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (1)

Alejandro’s cerebral concert is interrupted by an egg striking his head.  Befuddled as to its origin, he rides away, only to find a red scarf monogrammed with a ‘G’ attached to a tree limb.  Back at home, Al amuses himself by listening to his music and playing chess against a computerized board.  He tells the game, “I see you coming.  But I will not fall into your trap.”  Definitely foreshadowing.  Meanwhile, the scarf still intrigues him.  To whom does it belong?  Amparo, Al’s housekeeper, comes in, interrupting his reverie.  Al has an antagonistic relationship with the woman, who puts up with his moodiness and eccentricities with great forbearance.  The two exchange shouts and insults more often than not.  Al really doesn’t want her there, and only tolerates her presence because she manages the household affairs, leaving him to his daydreams, the only thing that makes him happy since his wife’s demise.  Amparo berates him for letting basic household upkeep slip, using his dead wife’s memory to guilt trip him, but Al is not interested in such things.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (2)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (2)

Again Al wanders into the woods, this time finding a note with a feather attached that says, “The goldfinch feather will take you to the great tree. G.”  He can’t help but follow the clue.  His curiosity stoked, he climbs up the remains of the ancient dead tree he frequently visits, only to find another note pinned to the top, again with a feather.  “The jay feather will lead you down the stream. G.”  At the stream, Al finds yet another note and feather, this one stuck to a limb out in the midst of the stream.  Having to traverse the swift waters to get to it, Al is both amused and a little exasperated.  The note reads: “The feather of the hawk will take you to the tower. G.”  Who would go to such trouble to torment the old man so?

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (3)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (3)

Back at home, Alejandro tries to figure out where the clues came from.  After a lead he’s given by Amparo turns out to be a dead end, he decides to visit his only real friend in town, the local parish priest, Eladio.  Although Al is an atheist with a dim view of religion, and he and the priest often exchange insults, it is clear that the two men are quite fond of each other.  Al brings Eladio a box of chocolates and asks for his help in identifying the handwriting from the notes.  The priest is a scholar and has some knowledge of graphology, among other things.  The priest identifies the writing as that of a young girl, and suggests she is stubborn and uneducated but has some native intelligence, sensitivity, passion and a sense of humor.  These qualities suggest someone who is a good match for Alejandro, if not as a lover then at least as a companion.

The priest also identifies the tower referred to in the final note as the bell tower of his own church.  He and Al decide to climb the tower to look for the next clue.  Here Al wonders why the girl has chosen him.  What exactly does she see in him?  The priest says it’s because he’s a fool and that she’s toying with him for her own amusement.  They find the clue, which says, “Falcon feathers will take you to the performance. G.”  Eladio warns Al that this game could lead to trouble, and informs him that the local school children are putting on a performance of Macbeth.  It seems that Al’s mystery girl may be even younger than he anticipated.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (4)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (4)

And here we get our first glimpse of the girl, Goyita, (Ana Torrent), who is portraying Lady Macbeth in the play, a difficult and nuanced part that requires great acting skills.  Al is immediately taken with the girl’s performance even in the rehearsal.  It is evident now that this is no ordinary young girl.  She is precocious, spirited and beautiful.  I must say: how differently Ms. Torrent looks here than she did in her earlier films!  She reminds me a bit of the young Natalie Portman.  As Lady Macbeth, some of her lines are provocative.  “Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,” she says.  These are not words one would ordinarily hear coming from the lips of a middle school-aged child.  Al is a captive audience, and Goyita is, in turn, distracted by Al’s presence to the point where it begins to affect her performance.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (5)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (5)

Having been ejected from the rehearsal by the teacher, Al waits for Goyita outside until the rehearsal is over. Their first meeting is in the town square, in the street.  Alejandro walks Goyita home, quoting lines from Macbeth himself.  Meanwhile, Goyita’s teacher spots them walking together and is obviously concerned.  Al—and the audience—finds out here that Goyita is only 13 years old.  No wonder her teacher is worried.  We also learn that Goyita has been aware of Al for years, and it is only recently that she has decided to get his attention, although she did so coyly, through her little game with the notes and feathers.  Isn’t that exactly like something a 13-year-old girl would do?  Usually their affections are reserved for boys much closer to their own age though.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (6)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (6)

They soon arrive at Goyita’s home.  It turns out that her father is a policeman.  This certainly complicates things.  Before they part ways, Goyita mentions that she also knew Alejandro’s wife, yet another element that will cement their bond.  And as she is ascending the stairs to her family’s apartment, she whistles.  What do you think the tune is?  None other than Hadyn’s The Creation, of course.  Is it deliberate?  Well, Goyita has said that she knows where Al lives.  It’s possible—even likely—that she’s heard him listening to this same oratorio.  So, it seems she knows very well what she’s doing.  The last thing she does before entering her home is stomp several times on the floor, an act which indicates that, although preternaturally bright and mature, she is still a kid after all.  Kids tend be noisy when they’re happy.  What is the source of Goyita’s joy?

Immediately she is confronted by the police sergeant, who criticizes her for being too loud.  Goyita’s relationship with the stern and unpleasant sergeant is one of mutual dislike and mistrust, as we will see.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (7)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (7)

Back at home in his study, Al asks Amparo if anyone has come to visit.  He is eagerly awaiting a visit from his new little friend.  He dials the number of the police station, but when someone answers, Al doesn’t speak, afraid to reveal his identity and why he’s calling.  The officer on the other end hangs up on him.

We cut to Goyita’s home, where her family is eating dinner.  She is in fact the oldest of four children.  Psychologists interested in birth order would suggest this accounts for at least some of Goyita’s high intelligence and maturity.  This theory is, of course, only moderately accepted in the larger mental health community.  Nevertheless, Goyita is a good model for the theory.  During dinner, Goyita’s mother criticizes her for climbing trees, calling her a naughty tomboy.  It seems poor Goyita is constantly being attacked from all sides.  One might say she is the typical misunderstood teen, only she is anything but typical.  Goyita’s mom also uses this opportunity to criticize her husband, Goyita’s father, whom she considers a lazy and ineffectual disciplinarian.

Soon the sergeant appears, inviting himself into the house.  Goyita’s dad rises when the sarge—his boss—enters.  Since the family lives over the police station, the sarge is apt to appear at any time.  The sergeant insinuates that Goyita has been climbing to the building’s roof, and the girl curtly answers, “That’s a lie,” earning her a smack to the back of the head from her mom.  We find out that Goyita’s given name is actually Gregoria; Goyita, or sometimes Goya, is a diminutive nickname.  The sarge accuses Goyita of leaving the attic door open and of breaking out a window.  She denies it, but her mother takes the sergeant’s side.  She ends Goyita’s meal and sends her to her bedroom as punishment for these offenses.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (8)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (8)

Alejandro prowls around Goyita’s school, waiting for her to get out of class.  Goyita’s teacher, Marisa, spots him and addresses him.  Their conversation is warm and friendly.  I can’t help but think that, if such a thing occurred in this day and age, the teacher would likely call the authorities immediately, and she certainly wouldn’t be friendly towards the man.  In fact, she apologizes for being rude to him the other day when she chased him
away from the rehearsal.  Meanwhile, Goyita watches the conversation from a nearby window.  She seems worried.  What are her teacher and her new friend discussing?

Well, Marisa is inviting him to the performance of Macbeth!  The old man isn’t sure he’ll be able to make it, though of course there is a powerful drawing card in the form of Goyita.  He wonders if Goyita was assigned this difficult role as some kind of punishment.  This isn’t a bad assumption.  Goyita certainly has a tendency to be mischievous.  But no, she is studying acting and volunteered for the part.  She’s the real deal, Al realizes, a girl truly interested in the arts.  His fascination for her only deepens.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (9)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (9)

Later, Alejandro enters an artist’s studio that’s full of old paintings and objets d’art.  It should come as no surprise that Alejandro is an aesthete, an admirer of beautiful things.  The artist turns out to be a young woman he is well acquainted with by the name of Mercedes.  Indeed, the two are lovers and their relationship is something of an open secret.  Yet, their relationship is well organized, with Al showing up at certain times each month.  This time, however, he has shown up early.  Something—or someone—has stirred up his passion, causing him to break out of his usual routines.  I wonder who that someone could be?

When a young couple shows up at the studio to invite Mercedes to some film event, she casually informs them that she and Alejandro are lovers.  Al feels like she is mocking him because she doesn’t really want to be seen with the old man.  She promptly informs him that he doesn’t understand her at all.  She’s right, for, although the two are lovers, they aren’t really compatible, though not because of their age difference.  They simply have different temperaments.  Anyway, to prove her sincerity, Mercedes drags him into the street and kisses him passionately before all and sundry.  There can be no doubt now that she cares about him, but what are his feelings toward her?  Note that she’s wearing red, the same color we usually see Goyita in.  Red has long been associated with passion and sexuality; so it is here.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (10)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (10)

Later, Goyita shows up at Al’s home on her bicycle.  The gardener nearly sends her away, but Al happens to see her ride up and alerts her to his presence and meets her on the lawn. His joy at her presence is obvious.  This is a man in love, no doubt.  Though Al is pleased to see her, he also takes time to lecture her about leaving home without her parents’ sanction.

Today this same story would be spun another way: Al would be a selfish sexual predator, a one-note villain who doesn’t really care about Goyita and manipulates her to get into her pants, and Goyita would be a lonely innocent who doesn’t understand what she’s getting into.  It would be a cautionary tale about the dangers of underage girls meeting up with strange older men.  But this film is far too classy and nuanced for that.  Alejandro does care about the girl, and while his emotions are running high, sex is the farthest thing from his mind at this moment.

Unfortunately, Al’s scolding, though gentle, upsets Goyita and she storms off.  But Al intercepts her; he doesn’t want her to leave, of course.  She says she came by yesterday and he was gone; she asks where he was.  He was in Madrid, he tells her, a bald-faced lie.  He was actually in Salamanca (which, incidentally, suggests their town is somewhere in the vicinity of Avila), meeting his lover.  Perhaps, then, Goyita has another reason to be upset.  Does she intuitively understand that he has been with a lover?  Maybe she is jealous after all.  Yet, she decides to stay.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (11)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (11)

As the two walk through the woods, Goyita insists that Alejandro not visit her at the school, or talk to her teacher for that matter.  More jealousy?  It must be said, the young teacher is quite beautiful.  Or is Goyita simply worried that word of their meetings will get back to her parents?  Whatever the case, Al promises to do neither of those things in the future.  Next she wants to know why he wears a beard, telling him that it makes him look old.  This is our first real hint that Goyita’s feelings about Al are more than emotional.  She desires for him to look younger, more pleasing to her eye, which means she has been assessing his appearance as someone of the opposite sex.  And yet, when he asks her if she’d like him to get rid of it, she emphatically replies, “No.”  She is confused by her own feelings, perhaps even fighting them.  They hear a bird chirping in the vicinity.  Is it a goldfinch, Al wonders?  Goyita identifies it as a coal tit.  She is forever correcting him on his bird identifications thereafter.  The girl definitely knows her birds!  Is she equally adept at identifying the bees?  Well . . .

Goyita asks about his necklace, which he tells her is a talisman meant to remind him of the concentration camp he was put into by the Francoists during the Spanish civil war.  It’s interesting that all three of the Ana Torrent films we have examined are connected to the Spanish Civil War in some way; few outside Spain can imagine the impact of that event on the lives of those who lived through it and through the Franco regime.  Al in turn asks Goyita how she knew his wife.  As it so happens, she was, like Goyita, a bird nest enthusiast.

In one of the most poignant scenes in the film (which kicks off an extended montage sequence set to music of The Creation), Alejandro and Goyita stand near what appears to be a broken monument in the countryside, both pretending to be conductors.  This is a metaphorical manifestation of their love for each other and their perfect compatibility, as they work together to conduct their imaginary orchestra.  In their minds they are perfectly in sync; but, of course, the realm of the imagination is not reality.   Previously Al had occupied the raised spot in their relative positions, but in an act that conveys multiple layers of meaning, Al steps down and leads Goyita to the higher position.  He is not only demonstrating his true love for the girl by literally placing her on a pedestal, he is also stepping down from his post as representative of his generation and allowing the next generation to replace him.  He’s old and he knows it, soon to die.  More foreshadowing.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (12)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (12)

As the montage continues, they dance.  Couples dancing has a semiotic relationship to sex.  This doesn’t mean that Alejandro and Goyita have had sex (or will), only that if they did, it might look something like this—honest, attentive, joyful and elegant.  We will see the dancing again, and each time it happens, the camera moves in a little closer as their relationship becomes more intimate.  In another kind of dance, the two circle and weave around each other on their bicycles.  Their relationship is being forged and strengthened with these actions.

The montage continues with skeet shooting, Al shooting the skeet while Goyita works the skeet thrower.  He’s a crack shot.  Remember that, because it will be relevant later.  This is also another sexual metaphor.  Al then teaches Goyita to fire the shotgun.  Again, these activities do not imply actual sex; they merely indicate what a sexual relationship would be like between them, a perfect give and take.  Despite their huge age difference, they are perfectly compatible in their shared world.  Would that this was all there was.  But it isn’t.  The reality is, they must contend with the rest of the world, and there is where their
compatibility breaks down, for their huge age disparity will inevitably mean heartbreak for Goyita.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (13)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (13)

The montage continues to unfold, and we see our pair riding horses together, a bit more dancing, and then they play Leapfrog.  It is interesting to note that, among the activities supposedly enjoyed by Edgar Allen Poe and his own 13-year-old bride was this game.  The couple lived in New York City (specifically, Fordham) for a brief time, and there are accounts of Poe and Virginia playing Leapfrog in Central Park with friends of theirs.  Finally, Alejandro and Goyita climb a tree to examine a bird’s nest before the montage ends.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (14)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (14)

Later, as they prepare for bed, Goyita’s two younger sisters, as small children are wont to do, tease their elder sibling about having a boyfriend.  Goyita denies that Alejandro is her boyfriend, and the sisters call him a holy fool.  They have no idea what that means; they’ve only heard the sergeant refer to Al by this term.  It starts an argument between Goyita and her sisters.

Back at Alejandro’s place, Al proclaims to Father Eladio that he’s a normal man, and yet he’s obsessed with this young girl.  The implication here is that Al is no pedophile or sex deviant; he has never been interested in young girls before, but now he finds himself in love with one.  To be fair, Goyita is hardly an average girl.  But what a quandary to be in!  Eladio tells him that if he didn’t know Al, he would’ve reported him to the authorities, yet he knows his friend would never hurt the girl.  Eladio suggests that Al should marry his lover Mercedes to get his mind off the girl and put an end to his loneliness.  Eladio asks how old the girl is, to which Al replies “110 years,” a joke referring to Goya’s precocious nature.

When they meet again, Goyita asks Alejandro what a holy fool is, to which he describes himself to a T, right down to the clothes he wears.  Goyita has the gardener call the police station to inform them that “Goya Menendez is eating dinner with her school friend.”  Again, Al lectures her about lying, especially to her parents.  Goyita dons Al’s headphones, a gesture meant to convey that she isn’t listening to Al’s lecturing.  When he removes the headphones and repeats his point, she again threatens to leave.  She has no patience for Al treating her as an elder treats a willful child; she sees him as an equal and wants him to treat her the same way.  Again he stops her from leaving and agrees with her point that they must lie about their relationship.  Perhaps he is finally seeing it for what it is, whereas Goyita, with youth’s ability to pierce instantly through facades, had seen it that way all along.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (15)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (15)

Alejandro tells Goyita that he dislikes the civil guard (police).  This seems to make her happy; she dislikes them too.  She asks to see his deceased wife’s bedroom, a request that makes Al uncomfortable for a couple of reasons, but he agrees to do so nonetheless.  At this point Goyita attempts to properly seduce Alejandro.  She picks up his wife’s brush and begins brushing her own hair with it.  She tells Al that his wife was unattractive in comparison to her, describing the woman as short, stocky and small-breasted!

She then goes through his wife’s old things, finding a beautiful blue dress that she holds up to herself.  She clearly has plans to replace Al’s absent spouse.  She says that it’s rumored that Al married for money rather than love.  This accusation finally pushes Al past his breaking point, and he becomes angry, but Goyita quells his anger by pointing out that she never actually believed the rumors.  She asks why they never had children.  Al says it was because his wife was barren, an answer that satisfies Goyita, who may be thinking about having kids with Al herself.  Finally, Goyita wonders if his wife suffered as she
was dying.  Al says that he suffered more than she did.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (16)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (16)

Then they have dinner.  The meal is elaborate, but only because Goyita is there.  She is flattered that Al would go to such trouble for her.  Later, while the two are looking at bird nests, Al asks why Goyita chose him.  “For everything,” she tells him.  Giving up the pretense of cautiousness, Al decides to drive Goyita home.  On the way, her teacher spots her in Al’s car and is obviously worried about her student.  Before she leaves his car, Goyita asks him if he likes her.  He tells her that she’s a child, albeit a bright and sensitive one. But that’s not what Goyita wants to hear; she wants to know if he likes her as a woman, and says that if he doesn’t, she will leave and never speak to him again.  She’s giving him an ultimatum: either love me on my terms or don’t love me at all.  Al tells her that he does indeed like her as a woman, but that it isn’t normal for someone his age to be attracted to a 13-year-old girl.  She asks for and receives a kiss from him (a chaste
one on the cheek).  He says to her that if people tell her bad things about him, she shouldn’t believe them. She agrees wholeheartedly.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (17)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (17)

While speaking to Goyita’s teacher, who has ostensibly come to ask him about music for the play, Al asks her why she agreed to let the girl play Lady Macbeth.  “Because she is evil enough to understand the role,” the teacher insists.  The teacher then asks him why he chose Goyita.  He never really answers her, but he points out that Goyita forbade him to talk to her, so he is violating his promise by even speaking to her.

He and Goyita meet again in the woods.  They swear a blood oath, mingling their blood in an act that mimics consummation.  They each carve their own first initial into the palm of the other and rub the wounds together.  Goyita then gives Al her red scarf, and Al gives Goyita his talisman.  Goyita then asks him to burn all of the pictures of his wife as well as her clothes and other belongings.  This he refuses to do, and she leaves.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (18)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (18)

Later, at school, the teacher asks to see Goyita’s hand.  When she asks what the A means, Goyita says, “Nothing.”  Because it is a letter A, the teacher asks all the boys whose names begin with A to stand.  But none of them have an initial on their hands.  She then asks all the children with an initial to raise their hands.  Every child laughingly raises their hand.  The kids are making a joke of Goyita’s love, but the teacher still believes it is another child who shared the blood oath with Goyita.  She tells her students that childhood romances are normal, though she does have some concerns about the cutting because of the risk of infection.

Later, as Marisa is painting props for the play, Goyita pays her a visit.  While getting her to help with the painting, the teacher also devises a plan to get Goyita to reveal what’s going
on with her: she will ask Goyita a personal question, and for every question she asks her, Goyita will get to ask Marisa a personal question in turn.  Goyita agrees to these terms.

After a few throwaway questions, Marisa gets down to the nitty-gritty.  “What does ‘A’ mean?” inquires Marisa.  Goyita replies, “You already know,” but she admits it stands for Alejandro.  Goyita asks what will be on the next test, which, by the established rules, the teacher must answer and does, but she isn’t happy about it.  How clever our girl is!  The teacher then asks if Goyita has the ‘G’ on his hand, which of course he does.  Goyita then wants to know why her teacher went to visit her friend.  She responds that she wanted to know if he was a trustworthy person.   The teacher then asks what it is Goyita and Alejandro do together.  Goyita lists the things they do, which does not include anything sexual.  The teacher advises Goyita to end the relationship, but Goyita claims it has already ended because he refused to do everything she commanded him to do.  (Despite the stereotype, it is clearly Goyita who is in charge of the relationship and doing all the manipulating.)  Even so, this is a lie on Goyita’s part—her relationship with Al may have undergone a temporary setback, but it is hardly over.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (19)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (19)

The film cuts back to Alejandro’s place.  Although he had refused to destroy his wife’s belongings, in the end he does as Goyita asked, burning her clothes and the photos of her in his yard.  It seems that no matter how much he resists, he cannot refuse Goyita in the end.  This is what true love has done to him.

The next morning, Goyita discovers that the sergeant has released her pet falcon, which rightly enrages Goyita.  She then happens upon the sergeant screaming at her father, presumably about his daughter’s shenanigans.  Goyita confronts the sergeant about her bird, but he simply shouts at her and calls her an idiot, then chases her out of his office.  Goyita, visibly upset, vows to kill the sergeant.  It’s an empty threat, of course; she is no murderer.  But she despises him that much.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (20)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (20)

Al visits his wife’s grave, and the priest finds him there.  Eladio tells Al that the townsfolk,
including the girl’s family, all know about their little romance.  Most people think Al is a bit koo-koo but basically a decent guy.  A small minority think he’s a sex maniac, however, and that he should be taught a lesson.  Eladio says he should beware of the latter group.  Alejandro tells Eladio that for the first time in his life he is really living.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (21)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (21)

When Goyita returns home for supper that night, her mother informs her that she is being shipped off to her aunt’s, and sends her to bed without her supper.  Her father too has had enough, it seems.  He removes his belt, preparing to give her a lashing.  Goyita wants to know why she’s being punished.  After all, it’s not like she and Alejandro are hurting anyone or doing anything wrong.  All they do is ride horses, listen to music and so on.  As it so happens, the anger from her father is all a front to fool his wife.  He doesn’t actually whip Goyita but repeatedly strikes the bed beside her instead.  This makes her mother happy, as she thinks her daughter is finally getting her long-deserved punishment, but her dad seems to understand his daughter better than her mother does.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (22)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (22)

Later, Alejandro tells Goyita that he bought a bird guide.  It seems Goyita has instilled in him her love of birds.  But now she is upset, for she is being sent away on Friday to live with her aunt.  This will be the last time they will get to be together.  She tells him too that the sergeant released her bird and took away the talisman Al gave her.  She asks him to kill the sergeant for her.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (23)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (23)

Back at home, Alejandro’s reminiscences of his times with Goyita are interrupted by Amparo.  In the past this would’ve made him angry, but it’s clear from their exchange that he is a changed man thanks to Goyita.  He treats his servant much better now.  Moreover, he is a broken man.  The loss of the love of his life has ripped the heart out of him.

In their final meeting, Al reveals to his priest friend that he spent five years in the seminary. They share a laugh over that.  Al decides to track down Goyita to her aunt’s place.  Of course, she can only watch him through the window, but she is very happy to see him.  It will be his final view of her, and he will take it to his grave.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (24)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (24)

Alejandro next goes to the police station, where he challenges the sergeant to a duel.  The sergeant thinks he’s joking, but he is quite serious.  He assures the sergeant that he is a terrible shot, but of course we know better.  Later, Al waits on the cliff to ambush the sergeant, who brings Goyita’s father with him.  They both carry machine guns, hardly a fair gunfight.  But Al doesn’t care about this anyway.  He fires on the sergeant and apparently misses.  He then stands in the open, waiting, and the sarge easily mows him down.  After killing Alejandro, the officers discover that Al was using blanks.  The thing is, Al had had the advantage because he was on higher ground, and he saw the sergeant well before the sergeant saw him.  Plus, he was a great shot.  He could easily have killed the sergeant if he’d wanted to, but he’d never intended to do so; his plan had been suicide by cop all along.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (25)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (25)

Many of the townsfolk show up for his funeral, including the policemen, the teacher and the priest.  Goyita later visits his grave, which has been erected on the same site where the old monument once stood and where he and Goyita first danced.  She vows to never give herself to another as long as she lives.  She says that he taught her a new word beginning with A: Amor. She carves another A into her palm and places it against his grave.  The final shot is of Goyita conducting The Creation from Alejandro’s gravesite.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (26)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (26)


The Girls of Summer, Pt. 2

Well, I was planning to do an article on the Ana Torrent film El nido first, but I haven’t even got the film stills ready yet, so I will do it later this month.  Meanwhile, I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way, because I know some of you have been eagerly anticipating it.  So let’s get started, shall we?

The first two pieces are from a Russian photographer I’ve featured before, who went by the name Mastadont at whatever photography site I pulled these from.  The first piece is a reference to a character from Slavic mythology, a water nymph called a Rusalka.  But I especially like the second image.  It’s a lively piece, and one of the little girls almost seems to be dancing atop the rainbow that dissects the image.

Mastadont - In the Lake Swam Rusalka

Mastadont – In the Lake Swam Rusalka

Mastadont - (Title Unknown)

Mastadont – (Title Unknown)

Photodom: Mastodont

Now here’s a painting by Donald Zolan, who is known for producing highly popular if somewhat kitschy paintings of children.  Any one of dozens of his works could fit into this post, but I really like this one of a young girl stooping down to get a better look at a monarch caterpillar.  Zolan will eventually get an entire post devoted to his work, but for now we’ll have to settle for this one.  The artist himself passed away in 2009, but his art lives on and is as popular as ever.

Donald Zolan - Small Wonder

Donald Zolan – Small Wonder

The Zolan Company (official site)

This is a strange image.  The little girl is topless, which is odd considering the time and place the photo was taken: Coney Island, New York in the early ’90s.  Unlike in Europe or other parts of the world, little girls going topless at an American beach is highly unusual, to say the least.  Moreover, bucking the usual trend for these kinds of photos, this girl does not appear to be very happy.  She’s frowning, and her arms are crossed defensively.  Award-winning photographer Rineke Dijkstra is Dutch, but perhaps her subject here was not, and while Dijkstra clearly saw nothing out of the ordinary in having this girl pose topless, the girl herself seems less than thrilled at the prospect.  Then again, the little redhead could be upset about something entirely unrelated.  Who knows?  This subject is now an adult, and I’d be curious to learn what was actually going on in her head at the time this was taken.

Rineke Dijkstra - Coney Island, NY, USA, July 9, 1993

Rineke Dijkstra – Coney Island, NY, USA, July 9, 1993

Wikipedia: Rineke Dijkstra

This image has appeared on the blog before in one of the old Random Image of the Day posts, but I have eliminated that post and brought the image into this one.  I know nothing about the photographer.  This is another image I picked up from a photography site, probably Russian.  I am intrigued by the girl’s pose—she stares up at the sky with a smile, and seems to wave at someone there, perhaps a passing angel, her hand lambent in the sunlight.  I only wish the photo was slightly larger.

Tony Chiodo - Angelic

Tony Chiodo – Angelic

Frank Owen Salisbury’s work has appeared on this blog before as well.  The interesting thing about Salisbury is that he was a conservative hardcore Methodist and a serious portraitist who painted the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and even John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) himself.  And yet, Salisbury also painted this beautiful piece featuring two nude young girls.  In fact, the girls were Salisbury’s own twin daughters, Monica and Sylvia.  What?!  Imagine, a man like Salisbury presenting his own preteen daughters to the world without a stitch!

Ah, but alas, how differently we have come to look upon the nude child since Salisbury’s time.  Today a religious conservative like Salisbury would likely be protesting such images rather than painting them.  One thing I’d like to point out here: although it’s subtle, if you look at the blond twin’s wrist, you can see she is wearing a very thin bracelet, an item that  ever so slightly anchors this image to modernity.  Finally, it is notable that the original version of this painting is currently housed at the National Trust Museum of Childhood, part of Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, England, which looks like an altogether fabulous place to visit if you’re ever in that part of England.

Frank Owen Salisbury - Wonders of the Sea (1912)

Frank Owen Salisbury – Wonders of the Sea (1912)

Wikipedia: Frank Owen Salisbury

British photographer and art film director Tacita Dean took the next shot that focuses on a couple of toddlers who have clearly been enjoying a dip in a pool or pond or some such.  Is it just me or does the little blond girl’s costume look to be crocheted or knitted?  Whatever it is, it’s an odd choice for swimwear. Perhaps these outfits were not intended as bathing costumes at all and the water frolicking was all rather impromptu.  This image has the warm, fuzzy feel of a snapshot from a family photo.  Or, it could be a subtle advertisement for Johnson’s Baby Lotion.

Tacita Dean - Baby Lotion (2000)

Tacita Dean – Baby Lotion (2000)

Tacita Dean (official site)

Wikipedia: Tacita Dean

The following piece was scanned from The Family of Children, a book I’ve drawn from before.  The book contains another image of this girl from the same shoot, a closeup (bust and head) portrait, but I think this one is much more interesting.  The girl looks to be preparing for a swim while a young couple (her parents?) make out on the ground behind her, completely oblivious to the girl’s presence.  This image may have been shot at the original Woodstock festival—it has the right feel. I’m sure it comes from the hippie era: late ’60s/early ’70s.  Because the source image was small, this is a little grainier than I’d prefer.  I used the Gaussian blur feature in Photoshop to eliminate the halftone, but I didn’t want to overdo it or too much detail would’ve been lost.  It’s a fine balancing act.

The photo was taken by Joan Liftin, who isn’t terribly well-represented on the web but should be.  She has, in the course of her career, worked for the likes of the International Center of Photography, Magnum Photos and UNICEF, and she has edited books on other photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, Charles Harbutt and Andrea Stern.

Joan Liftin - (Title Unknown)

Joan Liftin – (Title Unknown)

This next piece is a digital photo-manipulation piece by DeviantArt user Kayceeus.  She works with stock photos and creates collages that she then manipulates until they resemble paintings.  This one is particularly good, and had I not known, I might easily have mistaken this for an actual photo-realistic painting.

Kayceeus - Summer Fun

Kayceeus – Summer Fun

DeviantArt: Kayceeus

These next two photos are by Helen Eleeva.  Because of the girl’s movement and the tilted angle in each, these images are dynamic.  In the first photo, the girl is running along the beach with her dog.  Caught mid-stride, she appears to float over the beach.  In the second photo, we see her with arms outstretched and hair fanned out.  Is she pretending to be a helicopter?  Note how the other (tiny) figures in the shot have been relegated to the far upper right-hand corner.  It’s an odd composition, to be sure, but it mostly works.

Helen Eleeva - (Title Unknown) (1)

Helen Eleeva – (Title Unknown) (1)

Helen Eleeva - (Title Unknown) (2)

Helen Eleeva – (Title Unknown) (2)

Along the same lines is this color piece by Swedish photographer and designer Jonas Elmqvist.  Running with arms outstretched, the little girl is about to bolt past the frame of the image and leave it altogether.  There’s something inherently true to the experience of childhood here.  It reminds me of a beautiful quote by Michael Whitmore from his article Finders Keepers:

Children, like legends and rare books, are often on the verge of disappearing, and it is for those who have left the kingdom of childhood—that high-walled garden whose gate has always been left swinging in the background—to wonder where they’ve gone.

Jonas Elmqvist - Summer Feeling

Jonas Elmqvist – Summer Feeling

Another image borrowed from a Russian photography site.  The thing that’s most striking about this image to me is how, though the one little girl is clearly nude, most of the other children (all of whom appear to be boys) are dressed in rather clean and modern-looking clothes.  These kids aren’t counterculture types, I think; nudity is just accepted for young kids hanging out on a raft with their grandfather.  But both the little girl and the boy sitting up front (a brother?) are also wearing crucifix necklaces.  This is Russia after all—far different standards than in the US.

Galina Sergeyev - Grandfather Said . . .

Galina Sergeyeva – Grandfather Said . . .

This piece is by Turkish painter Ali Özhan Güneş, who often paints scenes from nude beaches.  Again, the interesting point here is the contrast between the two boys wearing swimsuits and the naked (except for sunglasses) little girl who is watching them.  The boys seem to be completely oblivious to the naked girl beside them, but in a year or so that will likely all change.

Ali Özhan Güneş - Happy Children (2012)

Ali Özhan Güneş – Happy Children (2012)

Ali Özhan Güneş (official site)

This is a fun image.  I’m not entirely sure what the girl is wearing as the splashing water obscures most of it, but it appears to be some sort of scouting or sporting outfit.  The latter makes more sense based on the title.  Spain won the FIFA World Cup in soccer in 2010, which would indicate this image dates from the same year.  I know nothing about the photographer here.

Anna Kamińska - Congratulations Spain

Anna Kamińska – Congratulations Spain

Canadian photographer Valerie Rosen made a name for herself documenting life in the Near East, but she also works as a portrait and events photographer.  I really love the pose this little girl is in.  She looks like she’s about to tumble backwards, right onto her behind.  Joy indeed.

Valerie Rosen - Joy

Valerie Rosen – Joy

Flickr: Valerie Rosen

Tom Chambers is my favorite artist in this post.  As a photographer, he likes to create images that hover at the edge of surreality.  If you visit no other sites linked in this article, don’t miss this one.  There are plenty of little girls in his work, including a whole series from which this next image is taken.  The concept and symbolism here are compelling for reasons that are difficult to quantify, but I’ll do my best.  First there’s the contrast between the dark, massive, earthy beast and the airy, light and graceful girl who rides it, even as she mimics the sea bird flying nearby.  The bird itself hovers over the horse’s head, as if representing the true nature of the horse, who may want to fly too.  Thus we have a kind of spiritual triangle here: horse, girl and bird, all connected by the water and air around them and seeking the next level up from their usual conditions.  The horse is much lighter in the water, the girl is higher and freer on the back of the horse, and the bird is the most liberated of them all.  The horse is a Marwari, which come from India, a nation whose people are known for their spiritual connection to the elements.

Tom Chambers - Marwari Stallion #1 (2009)

Tom Chambers – Marwari Stallion #1 (2009)

Tom Chambers Photography (official site)

Carl Wilhelmson was a Swedish painter whose best work was produced during the first quarter of the 20th century.  He was a student of Carl Larsson, and his work bears much resemblance to Larsson’s, but he also studied under Bruno Liljefors, whom he might’ve inherited his love of outdoor scenes from.  He didn’t paint many nudes, but one of the few he did paint is our next image.  The girl’s pose feels slightly stiff and forced, and she is a tad too centered, but the light flooding the scene, the muted colors and the paleness of the medium itself tend to counteract any overly formal aspects of the piece.

Carl Wilhelmson - Sommar i skären (1915)

Carl Wilhelmson – Sommar i skären (1915)

Wikipedia: Carl Wilhelmson (Site is in Swedish)

Last but not least . . . two photos from Mikael Anderrson.  The close bond these children have is obvious, and I could look at dozens more photos featuring the two.  I wonder where they are now?

Mikael Andersson - A Boy and a Girl Playing in the Water

Mikael Andersson – A Boy and a Girl Playing in the Water

Mikael Andersson - A Girl and a Boy Embracing at a Lakeside

Mikael Andersson – A Girl and a Boy Embracing at a Lakeside

The Final Nail in the Coffin (revised)

Because of the paradigm of childhood innocence, there are a number of juxtapositions that most people would find odd or outright disturbing. In one interesting case, U.S. prosecutors solved an embarrassing problem because of the sight of children smoking marijuana.

A couple of years ago, I watched the documentary Square Grouper which told three tales of marijuana smuggling in Florida. Square Grouper is a euphemism for the bundles of marijuana that would wash ashore when smugglers jettisoned their cargo under the pursuit of drug enforcement authorities.

The first story was about a group that called itself The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church. Based in Jamaica, its members believed that marijuana—which they referred to as ganja—was a sacramental herb and an essential part of Church ritual. The remarkable thing about this sect is that it was very conservative and believed in the strict obedience of women and no homosexuality, birth control or masturbation. And yet it was progressive in its belief in the brotherhood of white and black men. When white men from the United States first began to visit Jamaica, it was recognized that some way had to be found to bring ganja into the U.S. and a smuggling operation began. It eventually was so economically successful that it became the top source of income for the Jamaican government.

U.S. Church members finally acquired enough wealth to purchase a compound on Star Island in Miami Beach in 1975, much to the consternation of the neighbors. The rapidly growing group began to get complaints because of the large disruptive influx of new “followers” and the dense smoke wafting onto the neighbors’ properties. A number of law enforcement agencies began surveilling the compound and would arrest Church participants, but would have to release them later as they argued on the grounds of freedom of religion (First Amendment) and could afford the best lawyers in the area. This was an embarrassing situation for the authorities as news agencies covered the activities of the Coptics. In an attempt to convince the neighbors of their holy intentions, they were invited for a visit and that’s when the appalling vision of children smoking large amounts of ganja was witnessed by outsiders.

Billy Corben - Square Grouper (2011) (1)

Billy Corben – Square Grouper (2011) (1)

Billy Corben - Square Grouper (2011) (2)

Billy Corben – Square Grouper (2011) (2)

When these images hit the airwaves, the public outrage gave the authorities the political cover to arrest and convict leaders on charges of drug smuggling.

There are two important lessons to be had here. 1) No matter how righteous a group thinks its position is, success does require a certain political aptitude and a recognition of the prevalent public perception. 2) Emotional reactions to images or situations will overrule even the most skilled attempts at rational argument.

[150916] When I informed Pip about doing this post, he told me about an issue of Life that had an picture of children smoking.  It was from a special edition called ‘The Journey of Our Lives’ in October 1991.  It featured images from cultures all over the world who practice a range of rituals associated with life transitions: birth, maturity, marriage and death.  Since all versions on the internet were of poor quality, we tracked down an issue so we could bring it to you here.  These girls were shot just outside of Kingston, Jamaica partaking of “wisdom weed” for the first time.

Daniel Laine - (From Life Magazine) (October 1991)

Daniel Laine – (From Life Magazine) (October 1991)