• Martin Parr: After writing about the reprint of Martin Parr's famous The Last Resort, I neglected to mention what I myself did. Although not a natural fan of Martin's work, I decided he was too important not to be represented in my library, so, a year or two ago now, I got Martin Parr by Sandra S. Phillips, from Phaidon. I've recently rearranged all my books, so of course I can't find it to refresh my acquiaintance with it. Like most things around here, it's around here somewhere. But it struck me as a serviceable overview that includes a good sampling of the better-known pictures, one that doesn't take up a lot of space or require a stiff investment. Of course if you're into social documentary, color photography, English photography, or if you just like Parr, you would want more than that.
• Meanwhile, back at the café: Don't miss the new postscript at the end of Peter Turnley's Egypt post. Brings it all full circle.
• Many more notes: Following up on the last Music Notes post, there are several new mixes now up at C60Crew on Mixcloud. Always great soundtracks to my mornings, even the cuts that aren't for me. Photo above by Bob, from his "Dark Wood" mix of "improvisation / electronica/ float / cello / sound textures," who says it's "Near Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery, where I found the graves of Liberace, Freddie Prinze, Bette Davis and Ronnie James Dio." If I ever go to Burbank I'll know where to stay.
• The Woodmans: I did get to Chicago on Monday, and had a fine time. I don't socialize much. I spent the second half of the trip on the verge of being lost, ending up at my friend Gabi's newly-acquired vintage two-flat in an old neighborhood near Lake Michigan. You know those friends who you think are just so unique in the world you can't believe they're not world-famous, celebrated far and wide by one and all? Gabi is one of those for me. Her new place combines high ceilings and 19th-century charm with newly-finished hardwood floors and an ultramodern starkness in the bathroom and kitchen, suffused thorughout the airy rooms with soft light and a comforting feel.
With Gabi navigating, a more relaxed drive down Lake Shore Drive on Chicago's lakefront brought home again that beautiful city's magnificence—few cities in the world can hold a candle to Chicago for architectural spectacle. It must be seen. We walked right past the Chicago Cultural Center where the Vivian Maier show is hanging, kicking ourselves for not leaving enough time to stop in and see it, to the Gene Siskel Film Center, my first time there. As you might expect, it's a nearly ideal place to see movies, up a long and broad flight of stairs, with small, intimate theater spaces gleaming with subsidized wealth.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It's not entirely about Francesca the photographer—by necessity, the filmmaker, C. Scott Willis, concentrates on her surviving family, who are all artists. The interviews are articulate and in places quite moving, and the absences in the film are almost as eloquent. The film is in part about the life of artists—how they work, how they exist. And it can't escape being the story of a family marred permanently by the suicide of one of its members—about the sense of loss and pain and permanent mystery a suicide leaves in its wake.
I do feel it gave me a very good handle on Francesca Woodman and her art. I can't shake two parallel feelings: that she was not a major photographer, and that she would have been, had she not felt so fragile and depressed that day she stepped off into space from a high building. If you've studied the biographies of enough artists, you begin to get a feel for what constitutes their "early work"—their initial explorations, before their genius really gels. The seed of their later work is in it. Woodman's "early" work is almost achingly suffused with that sense of genius to come...it just never did, is all. The "early" work is all there will ever be. As with most suicides, I blame her for that, a little. Suicide might be romantic, but persistence is more courageous. I admire the elderly.
I have a hard time separating the movie from the rest of my evening—Gabi's bon mot about the movie score as being "too Philip Glassy" and the homemade pizza she and her housemate attempted to ruin but didn't, and Blue, the world's most timid and laid-back pit bull, who I find enormously likeable even for a dog. I found the film thought-provoking and moving to watch, even engrossing. I thought it was great while I was looking at it. It leaves less of a residue, however, than I thought it would, and the perfect little experience of it seems like just part and parcel of a larger experience, enjoyable throughout.
Two things I'll remember: George Woodman reporting that after his daughter's death he couldn't even read because he simply couldn't concentrate on anything (reading is a big part of my life, and I empathize), so he turned to the poems of Emily Dickinson because they were the only things he could find that were short enough for his fractured attention span, one by one chewing up all eighteen hundred of them. And the hopeful upturn of the film's end, when we see the huge installation that Betty Woodman has been working on throughout the film go up at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Parents lose the most when a child kills herself, and yet it's inescapable that they always get blamed, at least a little. The delighted smile on her face when she saw her creation in place took me back to when she said in a halting voice that she can face the pain but cannot even touch the guilt.
A fine documentary about art and artists. Not essential, and at the same time well worth seeing. If and when it appears in a streaming format, I'll try to pass along a heads-up.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.