Culture & Criticism Since 2003
This quarter, The Electric Review is pleased to feature the art work of San Francisco’s Amanda Eicher.
I am an artist making devotional landscapes. In a world that often seems (in ways designed or coincidental) to provide obstacles to the growth of people, countries, and whole cultures, this landscape work offers new open space, a signal.
Moreover, I do not work in symbolism: rather the references in this work are here to pull strings, to evince connections and what underlies them rather than to dictate meaning. These pieces are not here to be read in a linear way; instead, they offer space, a shelter, home for a night.
As I progress through my studio work, I try to translate these efforts into hands-on interactions with communities, developing collaborative projects that also provide space for growth. In Colima, El Salvador; Yaounde, Cameroon; San Francisco; and Philadelphia I have worked collaboratively with communities interested in using creative thinking to surpass obstacles to growth in the process of reconstructing after trauma.
“- & was (re) born there:
The weightless weight
& blood -“
Are the ice
Recovers the sea
Is the teeth
Minus the words
In infinite scope
Vision of artist
pure new perfect
& then reborn
Jim Marshall is a rock-and-roll legend, a photographer of immense grace and verve who is known for capturing his subjects in the pristine state of being – there before the eye of the camera now frozen in mid-bloom.
And the reason that Marshall is able to capture these one-of-a-kind shots is memorialized in the very title of this collection – trust. Quite simply, the personalities who have been recorded on paper and film by Marshall trust the photographer enough to appear without masks – bare skin in its cold natural state.
In Trust, we are allowed to view a vast swatch of Marshall’s color archive, the pictures presented for the first time in book form. At once, readers are greeted with the best elements of Marshall’s unique vision – this style that records motion and texture and nuance in a single simultaneous flash.
Obviously, its this genius that gained Marshall unlimited access to some of the century’s biggest names in music (such as Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and The Who).
Perhaps no other picture best typifies Marshall’s vision than a shot of Bob Dylan from 1963. In this photograph, a very young Dylan is seen kicking a tire down some grimy paper-coated New York City street: The poet caught in mid-stride, caught in mid-memory, drenched in lines of thought, blooming in front of us like the bells of a poem; and the poet there – existing only for the sake of himself.
Or catch the snap of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison in 1969. Here, the sultan of the country-blues is seen flipping the bird at the idea of prisons, his face suddenly gnarled in rage, his eyes frothing cold savage anger – this raging ‘fuck-you sign’ to the universe at large.
Also note the shots of Hendrix, Mick Jagger, Peter, Paul & Mary, Kris Kristofferson and of Dylan sitting beside Cash – each picture come alive, vibrating with meaning, vibrating the sacred depth of dimension.
As we review the scope of Marshall’s career, his resume speaks for itself: House photographer at Woodstock; tour photog during the grand Rolling Stones tour in 1972; at the center of the Newport Folk Festival (1963) and Memphis Blues Festival (1969); and there along-side Cash as he thrilled the hard-timers at Folsom Prison in a venue that tested both the music and the men who were making it.
However, more than the list of faces that Marshall has photographed, it’s the way that he took the pictures that stands out: As we thumb through this rich and vibrant summary of a life, we are slapped awake by the fact that Jim Marshall was not about posing figures and creating art.
Instead, like all great artists, Marshall allowed life to unfold into its own perfect road, allowing the sweet essence of beauty to release from the motion of the process, allowing each face to emerge – part and parcel of its own sacred form.
And as we thumb through this collection of snaps from rock’s one true great photographer, we come to realize that Jim Marshall is as much a part of the musical landscape of the last 50 years as Jagger’s nasty strut and Dylan’s wounded half-bleat:
Like the Beatles “Sargeant Pepper” and Jimi Hendrix’s still-smoking guitar, Trust belongs right there in the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame – forever a part of our music.
Who is Jim Marshall? In music circles, he’s someone good enough to be known only as “the rock-and-roll photographer.”
Marshall began his career in the late 1950s, gravitating toward the music world because “it was exciting and you could get into clubs for free.” However, it only took a few snaps for Marshall’s unique and limitless talent to gain world-wide notice.
At once, Marshall’s work commanded long attention, as he came to capture so many of the great artists of our time in their bright natural state – unposed, unhurried, unassuming. Suddenly, these stars were just people like you and me: Living out the moment before the great eye of the lens.
Leaf through Marshall’s latest collection of pictures, “Trust,” and you’re punched in the face by just how many classics this man has shot: This compendium of photos spans five decades and myriad genres (folk, rock, blues, jazz) – with pictures from everybody from Dylan to Zappa.
And later, when you put the book down to recover from this beautiful assault on the senses, you have to ask – how does he do it? How does he manage to capture the essence of skin on paper and film?
Marshall himself doesn’t offer any answer. Yet, while sitting in his San Francisco apartment (as the framed faces of so many of his subjects peek down at their creator from the shelter of their frames), I note that Jim Marshall’s true genius comes by way of his inner-security: This man is confident enough to let the shots come to him – there in the unobtrusive background, watching life unfold into this invisible roll of color.
And what you see in the pictures? Well, that’s entirely up to the viewer. In the end, that’s a mission for each individual naked new eye to suckle and savor.
I was born in Chicago, but I’ve lived in San Francisco since I was a year old. Actually, I’ve lived in this apartment for the last 27 years and have been photographing professionally for the last 50 years.
I sold my fist picture to City Lights Books. It was the cover for a book of poems by Lord Buckley and I was paid 15 bucks for it. Shortly after that, I sold a picture to Riverside Records – a picture of Bev Kelly for a live album. I was paid $25 dollars for that one. Those were the first…
In ’60 or ’61 I shot Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell for Riverside Records. That was a big one. Also, in 1961, I photographed Lenny Bruce at the Hungry I in North Beach [San Francisco]. That was the first roll of color film I ever shot.
No! I was just there hanging out there – in ’63 and ’64 I think. I was just there, taking it all in.
I first photographed Dylan in 1963. It came about as an assignment for the Saturday Evening Post. That’s how I first met him, and we became friendly to a degree. As a result, I was able to get some very natural pictures of him.
Yes, that’s true. I think that was before the pressure of stardom really fell on him.
It wasn’t that big a deal at the time – it was a Sunday morning and we were all going to breakfast in New York (me, Dylan, Suze, Dave Van Ronk and Terri Van Ronk). As I recall, only two frames were shot. It was all a very comfortable moment. (pauses; then interjects)…I only shot Dylan a couple other times. At Newport, and then later, in 1965, at City Lights in San Francisco…that was after he started his first big electric tour with The Hawks. At that time, I took some pictures in the rear of City Lights of Dylan with Robbie Robertson and Michael McClure and Allen Ginsberg…
Well, I’ve shot over two-hundred thousand rolls of film. And on roll number 40 I shot Dinah Washington. That was in 1959 at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco. That I remember well.
Man, look who she was! That was Dinah Washington. One of the all-time greats.
I’m very proud of this book – it contains many important pictures of mine. I guess, looking back, Johnny Cash was one of the most important artists I ever photographed. He was a great artist. And a wonderful man. You know, June saved his life. The day she died, he died. Her death took took the life right out of him.
Johnny had that edge about him. There was a hint of danger to him. He was just a magnificent presence. When he walked into a room, you knew he was there. He was second to none in the world.
That was at San Quentin at sound check. I said: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” And he flipped the bird at the camera! (laughing) Or maybe throwing it at me!
Those were shot at Newman’s Gym in San Francisco. It was on Leavenworth Street; it doesn’t exist now but it was the sister gym to New York’s Stillman’s Gym. Miles used to work out and he was a hell-of-a-good boxer. Quick hands. He’d tell his sparring partners: “Don’t hit me in the mouth, I have to play tonight…”
I don’t have a technique. I want someone to look at a picture and say, “what a great picture of Coltrane or Dylan or Jagger.” Not “what a great picture by Jim Marshall.” I want to show the best parts of the person that I can.
Over the last 50 years, people have given me their trust – with no restrictions and no limits. And I will not violate that trust. In 50 years, I’ve never had a lawyer or artist or agent or manager call to complain about any picture I took. And that’s not a bad record. Not a bad record at all….
Barry Feinstein is regarded as one of rock-and-roll’s visionary photographers. And he’s come to this place in the pantheon because his pictures serve not to embellish their subjects, but instead, to investigate the inner-workings of their souls – teaching us valuable insights about ourselves in the process.
In sum, Feinstein looks to eschew ‘technique’ in favor of spontaneity – above all else, his work intends to memorialize a scene in icy frames as it is happening.
One fleeting glance at the amazing pictures of Bob Dylan collected here and you will see that Dylan obviously trusted Feinstein enough to allow him entrée into his world, allowing the photographer to memorialize him on two of rock-and roll’s signature tours.
“With these pictures, I set out to create a visual image that people would have no other way of seeing,” says Feinstein. “In essence, I was out to catch the soul of Dylan and put it in front of people. Basically, I am giving the audience a way of seeing the artist in such a way they’ve never seen before. And really, I think I accomplished that here beyond any doubt.”
Make no mistake, in the annals of rock history, Dylan’s 1966 world tour (and his subsequent 1974 comeback tour following an 8-year hiatus from live performances) are the two most energized concert runs ever to take place: With Dylan chanting his poems in the midst of the frenzied guitar-driven stomp provided by The Band.
“The music Dylan was making was sensational,” recalls Feinstein. “It was simply incredible. Back in 1966, there was some fleeting anger when he started playing the electric stuff, but he was able to quickly overcome that as the audience was swept up in the passion of the moment.”
More than anything, Real Moments builds a record of Dylan’s private and public faces – this poet who’d been thrust into the neon lights, his every move charted by fans and media. Yet, behind the scenes, stood a different Dylan – captured here in ever-so-intimate terms by photographer Barry Feinstein, his work resonating with clarity and honesty and purpose (showing us ‘the other side’ of Bob Dylan that exists just beyond the hollow lips of the skin).
Focusing now on one of Feinstein’s shots of Dylan circa 1966, we actually are allowed to peer into the thirsty ghosts of bone as they reinvent Dylan’s face in the split-hooved flash of the moment (tasting each freight train of music as it roars through the muddy wilderness of the poet’s blood).
As noted, this book recounts Dylan’s two mega-tours in pictures, and hard-core fans will passionately devour every shade of every picture; the highlights indeed seem endless:
Note the shot of Dylan with the flower lady (page 90) – the poet’s eyes inquisitive and piercing, cutting to the naked heart of her story. In addition, a snap of Dylan’s hands holding a cigarette (the invisible outlaw Of Rock and Roll at pages 106 and 107) is absolutely mystical as we dissolve into the marriage of one artist recording the depth of another. And a picture taken in Dublin in 1966 (page 122) shows Dylan on the telephone, smoking, a coffee cup and a Coca-Cola bottle on the table flanked by a shaving razor (the musician heavy-eyed and exhausted, showing the wear of too many days on the same road). Finally, sip long from a Feinstein shot taken in LA in 1974 (page 150): With Dylan frozen on his back on the floor, eyes closed, mediating before the music starts.
Many fans will check out Real Moments and likely wonder just how-in-the-hell Feinstein got such access to Dylan. Yet, that question answers itself: Feinstein was asked to chronicle Dylan’s road because his work is very much the same as its subject – striking through the nerve of the core, documenting the moment in blood as it occurs (this man on a mission to illuminate the world that exists just beyond these transparent labyrinths of human skin).
All in all, Real Moments marks the finest collection of photographs from Bob Dylan’s most vital periods, these days and nights when he seemingly took over the world with his visionary songs now so perfectly encased in kinetic storms of guitar & organ & drum. It was a time that, thanks to Barry Feinstein, history will never forget.
(With an insightful foreword by Dylan compatriot Bobby Neuwirth, who fills in the hollow blank spaces left by Feinstein’s final camera flash).
WORLD TOURS 1966-1974: THOUGH THE CAMERA OF BARRY FEINSTEIN. MVD Video.This video captures images from two of the classic tours of rock, bringing the eye of the official tour photographer brimming into bloody life. Feinstein’s pictures, a stunning array of snaps that capture Dylan in the holy midst of creation, are augmented by an in depth interview with the photographer himself – Feinstein’s sense of purpose and humor escorting the viewer through rock’s golden period. Set in concert with Real Moments,this film allows us to gain some valuable insight into an artist who has evaded labels and categorization for almost 50 years.
To order go to amazon.com.
The young Bob Dylan built a mystical sound and cut a captivating pose – -a singer searching for truth who could paralyze motion with a single look with a single flash of his eyes.
In this collection of photographs (just released in paperback) Gilbert is on assignment for Look Magazine, shooting a series of photographs of an American songwriter who was taking the world by storm.
At the time, Dylan was a spry 23 years-old, at work on his transitional album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. It was a magic period – supple with hope and energy, awash in the poetry of motion and silence; and it was a magic period: Each hour drunk on echoes as lonesome troubadours shuffled road-to-road across the stagnate crucifixes of darkness.
In Forever Young, Gilbert’s pictures were taken over a short two week period, and they capture Dylan in his raw, pure, unmasked form. One of the most stunning series of snaps include photographs of Dylan at the typewriter, flanked by cigarette and ashtray, suede jacket soft against the naked white walls of the background – the poet alone writing the liner notes to Another Side. These pictures show a pensive and thoughtful Dylan, separated from the prying eyes of the audience, compelled by a vision within — a man beyond the essence of blood and skin now trying to express the sounds of the silence in words.
In addition, the photographs of Dylan with Allen Ginsberg are vital, depicting Dylan’s place within the history of the modern poetry movement. More than anything, Dylan bloomed in the frame and shadow of the Beat Generation, giving it a voice and a presence and a persona that simply could not be dismissed. Gilbert’s pictures of Dylan and Ginsberg show a common-bond and burgeoning brotherhood — these poets now reborn as one and driven by the same deep sense of spirit.
The text of Forever Young is written by seminal rock journalist Dave Marsh, and his perspective serves to synthesize the history of 1960s’ popular music in the elegant and lilting prose for which he became famous.
Simply, this book is an absolute must for all fans of Dylan and also for casual students of the folk idiom. As Gilbert shows us, the face of Bob Dylan circa 1964 forever changed the way America’s songs would be written and heard.
I founded The Electric Review in order to write about books like this, to shine a worthy light on visionary artists who somehow were lost in the unforgiving shuffle of commerciality, who somehow were denied the opportunity to shape their medium.
Here, Dan Nadel (who directs the Grammy-Award winning culture studio/publishing house PictureBox) has created an anthology which pays homage to the great voices of comics-past, these men whose strips were never quite able to intersect the roads of the mainstream. Above all else, this book shows that those artists whose work found its way onto the landscape of popular culture were, in many instances, not the most talented folks around; instead, they were only the ones who made it.
Art Out Of Time is divided into five primary sections (“Exercises In Exploration;” “Slapstick;” “Acts Of Drawing;” “Words In Pictures;” “Form and Style”), and it serves as another stunning addition to Abrams’ vast catalog of titles that have come to alter the way the world witnesses both art and the artist.
In this particular work, Nadel sets out to show that what we know may not be whole story (insofar as American comics are concerned). For instance, in the “Slapstick” section, the work of Milt Gross is spotlighted, and we can see everything from the “Dick Van Dyke Show” to “Three’s Company” in these panels. Even a cursory glance shows Gross’ work to be subtle and deep, demonstrating a refined command (genius) that was obviously years ahead of its time. In addition, “Words In Pictures” showcases Harry Hershfield and Boody Rogers — illustrators whose pieces are piercing dark and searching, promoting the reader to hunt the hidden meaning of the message.
Nadel should be commended for writing this book and saluting the lost visionaries of the comic-art-scene who far too few people know about. Moreover, Abrams should also receive sincere thanks for having the guts to publish this material, for it truly serves the mission of the commercial publisher – a mission to educate the masses and document history and influence myriad forms of thought.
In Art Out Of Time readers will be greeted with a vast electric sampling of heretofore unknown cartoonists whose work is at once riveting and inviting. Like some tattered underground lit anthology that contains four or five of Kenneth Patchen’s unknown picture poems, this book is about the magic and mysticism of discovery. In the end, it’s only about cracking the pages and enjoying the ride.
To order go to amazon.com, or go to abrams.com.
Richard Avedon’s sudden death on October 1, 2004 robbed the world of one of its pioneering photographers, for Avedon was known as a voice of broad ability, an artist who came to capture the vibrant undertones of the world though which we breathe.
Woman In The Mirror is an amazing addendum to Avedon’s career – a tour de force of visual imagery recorded in the full color lines of life itself. As a photographer, Richard Avedon was able to deftly catch his subjects in their natural state, in turn, recreating paths of reality through the sacred eye of his camera. Accordingly, Avedon’s images are both stark and supple, boisterous and reserved, absolute and vague — lost in layers, infinite in dimension.
Writes Art historian Anne Hollander in her brilliantly conceived summary of this master’s work:
“From cool Dorian Leigh appreciating her frontal image in a bathroom mirror, to warm Lorraine Hunt Lieberson feeling her rich Botticelli hair come to life through his lens, Richard Avedon repeatedly showed that whenever he took the picture, the woman and the performer were one and the same; and that each was really Venus, in one of her infinite disguises.”
The pictures collected in this volume never fail to strike the heart of the viewer. As Hollander infers, Avedon works in realms of shadow and shade, his subjects washed in blank color — these pictures about people and community suddenly melding together to create this great twisting dance of life.
As the title professes, this book is about Women — a stunning statement to their nuance and endurance and vibrancy. Obviously, Avedon was enthralled by women and he shared this admiration via his art. As a result, these pictures throb and ache with sensuality, their understated elegance documenting the photographer’s obsession with the secret eroticism of human beauty.
If Avedon’s mission was to write a record of beauty in all her various shapes and sizes — then this book testifies to his triumph. Flip open Woman In The Mirror to a random page and you will be captivated.
For example, the picture of Twiggy — hair splayed across the quiet landscape of the pages– is sexy and ethereal, the image splashing over the eye like long dollops of blood. The photo of singer Janis Joplin captures both her weariness and splendor in one magnificent instant. The image of writer Isak Dinesen circa 1958 immerses us in the naked mysticism of her eyes as they pierce invisible skin and cut us at the heart-core of the soul.
In each of Avedon’s photographs there is both wistful purity and deep eroticism — the sensual symmetry of these pictures will immediately engage the eye as it moves down the razor-points of the edge, forever marking us in the electric magic of the unwritten moment. Writes Hollander:
“We can see the mirror as the hungry eye of art, waiting for the woman to enter the frame and complete herself as a picture. Any picture of a woman is an extension of her mirror, with the artist’s eye going further than hers, expanding the creation the woman begins when she sees her own image.”
What more can the reviewer hope to add to Ms. Hollander’s eloquent observation? It’s all about the frail lines of Avedon’s pictures. It’s all about the way the truth of their symmetry captivates and inspires the stationary motion of the eye. It’s all about standing here in the moment, allowing woman to remove her many sensual masks and reveal the perfect being at the core of the self.
This volume is highly recommended to libraries at both the college level and private sector, capturing the beauty and depth of women. This selection would make a wonderful Christmas gift for aficionados of the medium and, specifcally, for fans of Avedon who died in his place as one of the greatest photographers of all time.
These photos bear witness to the faces that make up the landscapes of this American West. Readers will find the key to this collection in its understated elegance: like stills of some Peckinpah western shot in the modern era, the barren eyes and supple topography of skin splitting into shadow will bludgeon and stun, at once calling us back to memories of our own roots, at once revisiting thoughts of the personal journeys that brought us here.
This volume is recommended to both college-level and public libraries. College-level photography instructors might want to further consider American West as a supporting class text because of the way Avedon uses portraiture to create a moving body of work that also records the generational history of a place.
To order go to amazon.com, or go to abrams.com.
For generations of Americans, Life Magazine captured the many untold stories of their country. In words and pictures, Life dissected the layers of our communities and expanded our collective consciousness.
Yet, those stories only told half the tale. In addition to the articles that we devoured, it was the stunning pictures that actually summoned the characters to life and whittled at the faces until they swelled with sweet and supple dimension.
In this collection, we hold some of John Loengard’s most revered work. As a photo-journalist for Life, Loengard was one of the most influential ‘eyes’ behind the camera that his craft ever knew. Moreover, his work was not only special for what is presented, it was also important for those soft and undefined spaces it left bare — the artist allowing the smooth and shadowy gray of a wall or stairwell to be the text of the picture, confident enough to let the metallic sheen of the background make the movie.
“I think of John Loengard, however, as a perceiver of inner realities,” writes University of Virginia Literature Professor Ann Beattie in her eloquent introduction. “[A]nd that is, again, why I think of him working as a novelist does…”
You see, more than a photographer, Loengard is a master of the senses, struck only by the scenes that rattle the brittle human nerves of the mind. To this end, Loengard’s images are never born in contrived poses. Instead, he lets people and things unfold into being naturally, as the camera stands in the shade of the passing hour and records the moment. Like skin cloaking bone, the process is sweet and natural — unforced and pure, a perfect unadorned extension of the breaths we breathe.
Unforced and pure. A perfect crystalline new and undistorted world. And Beattie writes:
“When I look at his photographs, my silent reaction is, ‘Really?’ Not that there is anything there to make me doubt them; there’s nothing phonied-up or self consciously artsy. Quite the opposite: Really, you’re telling me these people , inhabiting the same world I do, have been stopped in time without giving the impression that time has been stopped long enough to make a definitive, nondefinitive photograph? They resonate instead.”
This book represents some of the most memorable pictures to ever grace the pages of Life — a graceful and moving account of a People and its country as they slowly turn together toward the next century. Accordingly, every image is a veritable print meant for center-stage on the high tongue of your living room wall; my guess is that different readers will likely be struck by different frames:
The pressed pleats of cadets moving toward a distant line, fists in bent clench, somehow come to reproduce the anguish of the soldier leaving home for some war-torn landscape in some unnamed land (page 71). The Reverend Jesse Jackson, alone and contemplating the path that took him on this search for Christ as our eyes dissolve into the wooden cross that hangs from the long bones of his neck (page 94). The Beatles in the pool, circa 1964, a quiet and happy swim, a moment away from the crowds that eventually consumed the joy of the music-makers (page 127). Princess Vera in her cottage, one closed eye peering through the walls at the next stage of the next world in a completely new life (page 126).
In these photographs, we find secrets about ourselves: the threads that bind a nation to its People and bind closed their beautiful gnawing cold horrific wounds. And our wounds actually lay naked in these pages of pictures — a pool of disparate images flowing together to reveal old holy mysteries of faith and hope and pain. And in these photographs, the mirror of America is split wide open, its mouth agape, its soul uncovered by so many soft black-white undertones.
Finally, in these photographs, a thousand separate worlds come together simultaneously to draw the same breath. To quote Ms. Beattie again — the images “resonate.” And resonate again with the human flavor of our blood.
This engaging new release by Abrams greets the changing seasons with humor and good cheer — poking fun at one of the more easier ‘targets’ we have at our disposal.
Here, New York cartoonist Danny Shanahan (whose work is widely known having appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, Time and Esquire) uses the medical profession as the subject for this brand new book of sketches. And from page one he hooks us — like reading through the Sunday funnies, I’m No Quack offers a few delicious moments away from life’s trials and troubles so we can enjoy a hearty belly laugh.
There are 120 panels here, and each bears Shanahan’s tell-tale style — the lines of his characters born in the rumpled ruins of reality jump to immediate life in our minds. And as this happens, we come to readily identify with their plight. How many men, in for their annual prostate exam, haven’t experienced the fear and trepidation that Shanahan captures in his piece depicting a nutcracker in the role of urologist?: “Turn your head and scream.”
It’s material like this that makes No Quack note-worthy: by tying together our every-day fears and realities to the world of medicine (who doesn’t loathe those outlandish prices and big-doctor egos?), we’re able to drink down a laugh at ourselves in the process. And that, then, is the purpose behind any artistic work: to command the frail face of the audience into the delicate webs of its construction.
As every writer will tell you, humor is one of the most difficult things to pull off on the page: there are just too many variables that can steal the power of a joke and render it forced and contrived. Cartoonists not only have this problem to do battle with, but must also fight the tendency to draw too ‘big’ in an effort to corral the reader and not let go.
However, Shanahan — a widely respected artist throughout the world — has avoided these pitfalls by keeping things contained and simple, one quick swipe of the pen cutting to the core of our world and reducing it to a chuckle and a grin.
Take a second look at the panel which shows a doctor with the whole of New York City on his examination table: “I’m going to prescribe something to help you sleep,” Shanahan writes here, recording the neurosis of a country in the dark humor of a single line.
For several decades, Malibu, California simply was the place to live. This sea-side community drew throngs of celebrities (Bob Dylan even took up residence there in the mid-seventies when he moved to California) — a idyllic and picturesque Garden of Eden on earth.
This pictorial compilation recently released by Abrams captures the allure of Malibu in majestic terms. Julius Shulman is regarded as one of the premiere architectural photographers to ever take a snap, and these pictures evidence exactly why: the suppleness of these marvels of modern-day construction shines through every page, bringing to life a world many of us have never seen before.
The other photographer featured here — Juergen Nogal — is no slouch either: his work is widely known in artistic circles for its subtle grandeur, and this style plays off the grand shine of Shulman nicely. In short, the two together build a feast of color and texture for the eye to behold.
Meanwhile, the introductory notes have been written by Hollywood journalist David Wallace, who has corralled this rarefied LA world in perfectly-framed word-pictures:
“Malibu, California, is one of the most ballyhooed places in the world, famous from Arizona to Zanzibar as a fantasyland inhabited by the glamorous, the privileged, and the lucky. It has been described as a ‘state of mind,’ ‘a celebrity ghetto,’ ‘away of life,’ and ‘almost the last ocean frontier.’ It’s name has been used to sell everything from cars to booze to barbie dolls…”
Malibu is divided into 9 sections, and is formatted by decade. Each chapter (decade) features some of the most stunning homes to be built in that period. Centerpieces can be said to grace each and every page, but of particular interest are the shots of the “Windcliff” domicile (page 134) and the Streisand Deco House (at page 172). These pictures speak to the true core of this book: the depth and incisiveness achieved by the photographers is of the highest order.
For a book of pictures to be deemed worthy of taking up residence in a personal library the images must be vivid and stark and skeletal with dimension – all at the same time. Further, the images must capture the interest and the sensibility of the viewer and propel him to want to investigate a subject in deeper terms. And that’s just why we are featuring this work. To reiterate, it creates a feast for the eye which will not be forgotten.
In 1956, an aging Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward by taking a swim in all of China’s great rivers, including the Yangtze. As part of this “Great Leap” into modern industrialization, Mao proposed to harness the energy of the Yangtze, the “dragon’s tail” of China’s rivers, long-noted as an unpredictable force of natural energy.
In 1992, a decade and a half after Mao’s death, the Chinese government, over the opposition of the international community, began the development of the Three Gorges Dam. When this development concludes in 2009, a wall of concrete 607 feet tall and 145 miles long will extend across the Yangtze, destroying all or parts of thirteen cities, 140 towns and 1,351 villages, in turn forcing the relocation of more than 1.3 million people:
“On June 1, 2003, the reservoir that will forever change life along the shores of the Yangtze began to form. During the twelve days that followed, people on shore watched as landmarks disappeared. The rock formations and rapids made famous by poets and painters sank beneath the water, never to be seen again. The water lapped over the rubble that once nurtured the cultural life of its inhabitants. Hundreds of thousands of tangerine, plum and apricot trees were now but stumps in the ground, slowly drowning. The textures of history — the tracker’s paths, the perfectly aligned limestone blocks that made up the walls and towns — were enveloped by the waters of the lake.”
Linda Butler’s superb photography and exquisite prose chronicle the displacement of the natural wonders of the Yangtze in the name of inexorable progress. Some of her photographs are reminiscent of Ansel Adams’ photographs of Canon De Chelley in 1941 and 1942, while Butler’s depiction of the gaunt faces of the displaced and dispossessed sometimes evoke comparisons with the Civil War photography of Alexander Gardner and Timothy Sullivan.
Butler’s photographs will also be exhibited in select (and unfortunately, too few) museums. Hopefully the reception of this text will provide the incentive to expand that exhibition schedule and allow a broader audience the opportunity to view these visual masterpieces.
Recommended to all libraries in both the college and public sectors as a general reference text.
Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.