Eve Arnold – Lessons from Eve!


1963: Eve Arnold on the set of Becket. Photo: Robert Penn

Janine di Giovanni
Eve Arnold: Magnum Legacy

An indomitable woman and a Magnum stalwart, London based American photographer Eve Arnold (1912-2012) was one of the first female Magnum photographers. She started off as a house-wife, turning to photography only in her mid-thirties once her son Frank was born. What Arnold lost in time, she made up in tenacity, and a body of work that makes the Magnum Legacy publication on Arnold an inspiration for all those who feel like they’ve lost out on something.

This publication is filled with many iconic images including her first photographs of the underground Harlem fashion scene. Moving on to her famous images of Marlene Dietrich and later the potato pickers of Long Island, early on you get an insight into why Robert Capa summed up Arnold’s niche as ‘falling between Marlene Deitrich’s legs and the bitter lives of migrant workers.’ She could do both with aplomb! Her images of Marilyn Monroe brought her glamour, but alongside these she worked on political projects with Malcolm X and Joseph McCarthy. In 1970 she made a film for BBC called Behind the Veil that featured never-before-seen footage of the harem of Sheikha Sana, the niece of the ruler of Dubai. After this last project, Arnold accepted that film was not for her. It didn’t allow her to wander off on her own in search of stories to tell.

1979: Horse-training for the militia, Inner Mongolia, China

Arnold managed to maintain the fine balance between doing commercial projects to finance her more journalistic stories. This book goes on to chronicle Arnold’s travels to Cuba, China and Russia with insights into how her projects and publications were planned. She had a trusted team around her and the same names crop up throughout the book, showing that Arnold maintained a lifetime of friendships. She had warmth and pluck, and she was a great entertainer, throwing parties and dinners at her Mount Street apartment. Arnold loved to cook and always took a break for lunch! Not a sandwich at your computer kind of lunch, but one where everyone gets together around a table full of food!

One of the lessons we’ve absorbed from this magnum opus is that no matter how easy it becomes to take a photograph, no matter how much more difficult it becomes to make money out of photography, there is always room for talent! That one image that shows emotion, an action, a gesture…that something that we would not have seen if the photographer hadn’t show it to us.

There is so much you can do especially when your options are limited! Arnold’s first images were taken in dimly lit nightclubs in Harlem, forcing Arnold to push the limits of her ability to develop these images in the darkroom. Arnold later went on to specialise in black and white photography, only using colour when the story really needed it.

1955: Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses by James Joyce

We are deeply impressed by Arnold’s belief that it is the photographer and not the camera that is the instrument; how she negotiated nearly every piece of text that went alongside her images so she had control over the context; how she coached younger Magnum photographers to focus on the big projects, the ones that would last them a lifetime; by her determination, her ability to move her audience with both images and words; her tenacity and desire to make more stories and books than her long life allowed her to.

This one goes on the shelf for inspiration and lessons to learn.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Nothing is for Free?


‘Nothing is for Free?’
The first line in Philip-Lorca diCorcia‘s postscript to his Hustler monograph.

diCorcia then goes on to explain how in the late 80’s when the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment – the Freedom of Speech was being repressed, he was given funding from the National Endowment for the Arts with the condition that he not ‘transgress’ American values. He therefore decided to give them their money’s worth.

diCorcia used the money to photograph ‘hustlers’ or male prostitutes that he picked up from the Santa Monica Boulevard.
He paid them the same amount of money they would have been paid for sex, and he used this time to photograph them in motels, in parking lots, on the street.

diCorcia titled each and every one of these sixty nine images or so with the name, age, hometown and the price he paid each hustler.
A record of money well spent?

Todd M. Brooks, 22 Years Old, Denver, Colorado, $40

His modus operandi was to first pick a location for the shot. He would then set up his tripod and the rest of his equipment, leaving everything ready for when he brought a hustler back.
They often asked him if he was a cop? Why didn’t he want the sex?
But once back on set, they posed patiently.
Often giving him the exact image he had planned for.
Sometimes something unpredictable.

Tim Morgan Jr., 21 Years Old, Los Angeles, California, $25, and Joe Egure, 18 Years Old, Los Angeles, California, $25


Made in a time when the U.S. Government had condemned homosexuality, AIDS was rampant,  and diCorica lost his own brother to the disease, this project is filled with pathos and make-believe.

As diCorica says, ‘You’re supposed to have all the freedom that our Constitution allows, except the freedom to choose your freedom. None of those guys (the hustlers) were free – they charged for their services, for a faked’ sense of what passes for intimacy in the realm they left behind. They barely found a place to sleep or get high afterwards, but they accomplished the most sublime trade, their artistry: Nothing for Nothing.
That’s what was so perfect for me. It summed it all up.’

Chris., 28 Years Old, Los Angeles, California, $30


Marilyn, 28 Years Old, Las Vegas, Nevada, $30

Ralph Smith, 21 Years Old, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, $25


Roy, ‘In His 20s,’ from Los Angeles, California, $50


‘Sparky’ Anderson, 47 Years Old, Detroit, Michigan, $25

Martin Usborne: The Silence of Dogs in Cars


A dog in a car!
Why does that make interesting art?
And what’s that got to do with me?

A lot actually, when you come to consider that Martin Usborne has combined his love for dogs with a strong childhood memory of being left alone in a car, for what seemed like forever.
Not an unloved child in the least, it was just the feeling of being made to wait.
And not knowing if anyone would ever come to get him.
That’s all it was.
But like all living beings the boredom, the apprehension, the anxiety and the sadness, all followed.

So take a deeper look beyond the obvious dog.
They don’t have smart phones to escape into.
Let alone the ability to crank a window open.
At the end of the day are their emotions that different from our own?

The Silence of Dogs in Cars cover

A Modest Manifesto for Museums


We’ve been swept away by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and in our parallel reading have discovered his fascinating Innocence of Objects, that describes his inspiration behind writing the book and creating the actual museum.

For a writer (who had previously hoped to be an artist) to develop a fictional love story alongside building a museum of objects his protagonists would have used, is a mammoth task. And it took him over ten years to piece this all together. But with the book released in 2008 and his museum which opened in 2012 currently located in the Çukurcuma neighborhood in Istanbul, we can only be romanced by the delicate narrative he has crafted from found objects and the memories that surround them.

Museum of Innocence: Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence 1

But more fascinating is the Modest Manifesto for Museums he wrote in the Innocence of Objects. An ardent supporter of back-alley museums, flea markets and collections that tell the stories of individuals and not nations, here we reproduce Pamuk’s manifesto on what museums should imbibe –

A Modest Manifesto for Museums

I love museums and I am not alone in finding that they make me happier with each passing day.

I take museums very seriously, and that sometimes leads me to angry, forceful thoughts. But I do not have it in me to speak about museums with anger. In my childhood there were very few museums in Istanbul. most of these were historical monuments or, quite rare outside the Western world, they were places with an air of a government office about them.

Later, the small museums in the backstreets of European cities led me to realize that museums – just like novels- can also speak for individuals.

That is not to understate the importance of the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Topkapi Palace, the British Museum, the Prado, the Vatican Museums – all veritable treasures of humankind. But I am against these precious monumental institutions being used as blueprints for future museums.

Museums should explore and uncover the universe and humanity of the new and modern man emerging from increasingly wealthy non-Western nations. The aim of big, state-sponsored museums, on the other hand, is to represent the state. This is neither good nor an innocent objective.

Museum of Innocence: Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence 3

I would like to outline my thoughts in order:

Large national museums such as the Louvre and the Hermitage took shape and turned into essential tourist destinations alongside the opening of royal and imperial palaces to the public. These institutions, now national symbols, present the story of the nation – history, in a word – as being far more important than the stories of individuals. This is unfortunate because the stories of individuals are much better suited to displaying the depths of our humanity.

We can see that the transitions from palaces to national museums and from epics to novels are parallel processes. Epics are like palaces and speak of the heroic exploits of the old kings who lived in them. National museums, then should be like novels; but they are not.

We don’t need more museums that try to construct the historical narratives of a society, community, team, nation, state, tribe, company or species. We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane, and much more joyful.

Demonstrating the wealth of Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Iranian or Turkish history and culture is not an issue – it must be done, of course, but it is not difficult to do. The real challenge is to use museums to tell, with the same brilliance, depth and power, the stories of the individual human beings living in these countries.

The measure of a museums’s success should not be its ability to represent a state, a nation or company, or a particular history. It should be its capacity to reveal the humanity of individuals.

It is imperative that museums become smaller, more individualistic, and cheaper. This is the only way that they will ever tell stories on a human scale. Big museums with their wide doors call upon us to forget our humanity and embrace the state and its human masses. This is why millions outside the Western world are afraid of going to museums.

The aim of present and future museums must not be to represent the state, but to re-create the world of single human beings – the same human beings who have labored under ruthless oppression for hundreds of years.

The resources that are channeled into monumental, symbolic museums should be diverted to smaller museums that tell the stories of individuals. These resources should also be used to encourage and support people in turning their own small homes and stories into “exhibition” spaces.

If objects are not uprooted from their environs and their streets, but are situated with care and ingenuity in their natural homes, they will already portray their own stories.

Monumental buildings that dominate neighborhoods and entire cities do not bring out our humanity, on the contrary, they quash it. Instead, we need modest museums that honor the neighborhoods and streets and the homes and shops nearby, and turn them into elements of their exhibitions.

The future of museums is inside our own homes.’

Museum of Innocence: Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence 5

Inspiring words by Pamuk, that make us rethink the way we approach museums. Are we playing tourist, or do we really want to get under the skin of a particular time and history?

And if you’re looking to make a start in the direction Pamuk thinks we should take, there’s a Museums Mile Showoff at the Bloomsbury Festival tomorrow that we’re hoping to attend. This is your chance to hear experts in the field give you their perspective on what museums are doing right, one voice at a time.


Excerpt borrowed with thanks from Orhan Pamuk’s The Innocence of Objects, published by Abrams.
Images courtesy http://www.theguardian.com. Click for captions.

In Flowers: Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe is best known for his photographs of the nude male and sexually explicit gay imagery from the 70’s and 80’s. But these are only part of his oeuvre, which includes among other works some great fashion photography and still life.

Mapplethorpe’s images were produced not from a desire to shock or titillate, but from a search for the unexpected, for things he had never seen before. And his skills as a photographer, and his immaculate understanding of form, light and shadow, ensured that every composition of his produced a beautiful, sensual image; whether he was photographing a naked body or a flower in a vase.

Here are our favourites from Mapplethorpe The Complete Flowers.

Irises, 1986 (Image Source: http://www.phillips.com/)


Anemone, 1989 (Image Source: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/)


Hyacinth, 1987 (Image Source: http://www.phillips.com/)


Double Jack in the Pulpit, 1988 (Image Source: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/)


Tulip, 1984 (http://www.positive-magazine.com/)


Poppy, 1988 (Image Source: http://www.mapplethorpe.org)


Iris, 1982 (Image Source: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/)


<i>Rose</i>, 1977
Rose, 1977 (Image Source: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/)


Tulips, 1988 (Image Source: http://www.vogue.it/)


Tulips, 1987 (Image Source: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/)


In the main essay in this book by Herbert Muschamp, he says, ‘Mapplethorpe expects his flowers to be more than pretty. His lilies must toil, spin and impersonate Baudelaire. His orchids, roses and even his daisies must know how to put on mysterious aspects. They are Method flowers. He counts on them to project intrigue, hints of danger, and other noir effects. Ambiguity is essential; their shadows will contradict what the blossoms appear to be saying. They insinuate as well as ravish. A few are practicing to use their stems like whips.’

Whips or otherwise, these flowers are formidable like prized prima donnas. We can’t help but be swayed by the poetry of the light and dark in these images, which gives us yet another reason to be inspired by Mapplethorpe.


When we came across Jeff Mermelstein’s Run series, we instantly empathised with every single person captured in these images; the mad rush to get on to the tube before the doors close; to cross the road before the signal changes; to get into the building so you can be at your desk for 9.10 because 9.15 makes it look a little bit worse.

We know. Just like you know, that some mornings it’s about not letting both feet touch the ground at the same time.

And since we’re halfway through the week, this doesn’t seem as bad as it does on a Monday morning.

Run #4, 2009 (Image Source: http://artsy.net/)


Run #9, 2009 (Image Source: http://artsy.net/)


Run #2, 1995-96 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


Run #15, 2007-08 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


Run #7, 1996 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


Run #13, 2001-04 (http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)



(Image Source: http://www.desdeaqui.net/)


Though this series does seem to have more men running than women, featured in a publication called Twirl / Run, Mermelstein’s other half of Twirl has women doing what they unconsciously do best.

Twirl #2, 2001 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


(Image Source: http://www.desdeaqui.net/)

Twirl #9, 2009 (Image Source: http://artsy.net/)


Twirl #4, 2006 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


Twirl #11, 2008 (Image Source: http://artsy.net/)


Twirl #12, 2006-07 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


Twirl #17, 2009 (Image Source: http://artsy.net/)


And like a must-have for all my favorite NYC photographers, here’s a couple of Mermelstein’s shots that embody the city.

Untitled ($10 bill in mouth, NYC), 1992 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)


Untitled (Book in mouth, NYC), 1995 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)

Untitled (Chihuahua, NYC), 1993 (Image Source: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/)

Paper Heaven


We’ve been breezing through the publication on Dayanita Singh‘s File Room series and I’ve realised that no one does archives as madly as we Indians do. It made me nostalgic to say the least.

Those few times I’ve had to visit Government offices in Mumbai and have had a chance to peep into the file rooms, they all look like these. And as Singh says – they all seem to have the same ingredients of files, a table, lots of shelves and a human being in them.

File Room (Image Source: http://www.zeit.de)


File Room, 2011 (Image Source: http://www.art-it.asia/)


Image of: File Room
File Room, 2011 (Image Source: http://www.frithstreetgallery.com/)


File Room, 2011 (Image Source: http://www.art-it.asia/)


It amuses me when Singh says that asthama and archives go together, as do librarians and bad lungs. But archive fever, like most compulsions has to be suffered nobly.


File Room (Image Source: http://www.zeit.de)

File Room (Image Source: http://www.zeit.de)

While other artists have explored archives in the past, what is unique about Singh’s series is that all her images are of working archives. Every file has at least one person who knows what’s in it. And though these files might not be opened for years, they are far from abandoned.

Apart from being a bookmaker who works with photography (as she describes herself), Singh also explores the architecture of how photographs are displayed and has an installation called File Museum which holds 140 of her File Room works. An interesting concept, the photographs within this structure can be rearranged to create new configurations, almost like unbound pages that the reader can move around at will.

File Museum, Installation View, 2012 (Image Source: http://www.aperture.org/)


File Museum, Installation View, 2012 (Image Source: http://www.aperture.org/)


This File Room series gives insight into how archives that are yet to be digitised are being held together solely by human memory. Though not such a bad thing, perhaps the only downside is that it makes the archive fragile and less accessible. But despite this, it is still magical to walk into a room filled with files from floor to ceiling and know that as Singh says – in one particular file is a fact that could make such a difference to someone’s life. But the file and its facts lie dormant and silent, till the right person with the right question comes along. And this could very well be a question that Google can’t help with.

With a great interview with Singh and Hans Ulrich Obrist who I love for the simplicity with which he engages is interviewees, File Room is one book I’m putting down on my must-have list.