I wasn’t kidding when I said Evans’ Cuba shots are underrated — I only found one of the ones I really wanted to show you. I’ll talk about the others I DID find, but with less enthusiasm than I would like.
What I like most about Evans’ photos in Cuba is that they’re the work of a young, hungry man still figuring out what he wanted to shoot and how he wanted to do it. Later on, of course, he was amazing — even if some of the photos feel way-too-stern the way a Black History Month assembly does. But here he was just another guy, with a camera, looking for things that fascinated him.
Waaay too many things are giving me emotional whiplash today so this is how I’m going to cope: with the most elegant pictures I’ve ever seen of two of my three favorite animals. (The third, in case you’re wondering, is the elephant.) Thanks, Nine, for avoiding the easy heartwarm and focusing on intelligence and placid beauty.
Wrapping up the week with a different kind of portraitist - contemporary Japanese master Hiroh Kikai.
Kikai’s methods are notorious - he spends only about 10 minutes with each of his subjects and lets them choose their backdrops. He finds them, literally, on the street. And he only takes a few shots.
But what a world he captures in those few moments. He wants to capture his subjects’ “essential character” - a typical bit of PR-sounding nonsense until you look at what he actually finds. It seems we’ve all got pain, fear, and regret etched all over us, and Kikai brings it right up to the surface.
I finally went to the exhibit of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” last weekend. It’s heading to the Met in New York in August, so see it here or see it there.
The Americans is now 50 years old and may be the most famous photography book of the last century. After all this time the pictures are still so striking and disturbing that they require very little commentary. So I’ll say is that the exhibit is worth whatever you have to pay for it, not just because it’s a chance to see every plate in the book up close but also because of the chance to see the pictures that DIDN’T make it in. Many of them are as iconic as the three below.
It’s unfair to highlight Malick without talking about the other great Malian photographer who was working at the same time: Seydou Keïta.
Asking me to choose between these two is like asking a mother to choose between her children; I love them both for different reasons. (They didn’t share my feelings about each other — apparently Seydou, who was about a decade older than Malick and had painstakingly built up a following, didn’t want the young, suddenly popular photographer coming to his studio. Malick claims that Seydou was afraid Malick would put a spell on him. Could be the ego talking.) This may sound unfair, but in many ways to me Malick represents the post-colonial sensibility while Seydou captures the pre-revolutionary one. Let’s go to the record.
I could go on and on about this guy. There are a few important things to keep in mind, contextually. Sidibé was born and raised in Mali; he grew up herding animals in a small village. His is a modern story: a gifted child, he first came to the city to go to school in the 1950s. So the narrative he tells with his portraits — the throbbing energy of the city, of youth, of modern times finally arriving — is his own narrative, too.
The other thing to keep in mind is just how difficult it must have been to take pictures in Mali in the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the fact that there wasn’t running water in most places. I’m talking about the fact that electricity was unreliable at best. One of the reasons I respect this guy so much is because it was no joke to do what he was doing given the constraints under which he was working.
A couple of days ago I was drinking with a friend of mine from Mexico City named Alberto. Alberto comes from a wealthy family and he was kidnapped, and held, for six months some time ago. As a result, he supposedly lives in LA “for security reasons,” as he puts it, but he hates it and is always back in DF.
"They try to take me from my family?" he says. "My family is my life!" Aren’t they, though?
I don’t blame him. Mexico City is one of the best places in the world and if I could, I’d be there myself right now. Looking through these Tina Modotti pictures of Mexico around the turn of the 20th century is making the craving worse.
Last night, for the movie Up, the theater handed out Kanye-like 3-D glasses. I nicked my pair — they are way cuter than the pitiful red-and-blue paper things I got as a kid — and am tempted to swap out the lenses so I can wear them all summer.
While I was watching the movie, it occurred to me that 3-D glasses rarely add all that much to the screen, but they’ve been responsible for some great movie audience photographs.