Archive for the ‘History of Photography’ Category

Sam Haskins a talk by Ludwig at Coventry University

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Sam Haskins talk by Ludwig

This is a talk I gave about Sam at Coventry university in 2011, as part of the #picbod series.

I can be reached by e-mail

The talk is also available as an Enhanced Podcast. For viewing options see this Tumblr page.

Wingate Paine, Sam Haskins and Jean-Loup Sieff – copy vs influence!

Monday, February 20th, 2012

This week’s Photo Eye auction video by Eric Miles prompted me to tackle a perversion of art history scholarship which has taken root in American auction houses and galleries since the Steven Kasher Gallery show in 2008 of Wingate Paine’s photographs.

In the video referring to Wingate Paine’s book ‘Mirror of Venus’ (1966) Mr Miles describes Paine as being “As American as baseball” and credits him with creating photographic icons of the 60s sexual revolution. Eric Miles goes on to identify Paine as being the American branch of the 60′s style revolution happening in London in particular drawing a parallel with the movie ‘Blow Up’ and the fashion designs of Mary Quant.

There is only one problem with this heroic American view of Mr Paine’s images – it’s a lie. In a lifetime of observing Sam’s influence and influences, I have never come across another photographer whose entire artistic ‘signature’ has been based on copying Sam’s work to the same extent as Mr Paine. Of course Sam is highly referenced, more today than ever, and photographers like Tom Munro or Mario Testino have copied Sam’s work copiously. The thing is that next week Mr Munro will be all over Avedon and the week after that Guy Bourdin then Newton etc. Mr Paine on the other hand has Sam’s ‘style’, not to mention specific ideas, all over his entire career.

Wingate Paine – an ‘acquired’ artistic signature

Five Girls by Sam Haskins 02From Five Girls by Sam Haskins (1962)

Gill on Floor Conversation No2 by Sam HaskinsFrom Five Girls by Sam Haskins (1962)

Gill on Floor Conversation by Sam HaskinsFrom Five Girls by Sam Haskins (1962)

Women lying down by Wingate Paine 01Wingate Paine (circa 1965/6 or later)

Gill and Curl by Sam HaskinsGill and Curl from Five Girls by Sam Haskins (1962)

Wingate Paine 03Wingate Paine (circa 1965/6 or later)

Bes Five Girls by Sam Haskins 01The first content page of ‘Five Girls’ by Sam Haskins (1962) and below a close up crop.

Bes Five Girls by Sam Haskins 01 crop

Mirror of Venus CoverFront cover of ‘Mirrror of Venus’ by Wingate Paine (1966)

At some basic level I don’t really have a problem with Paine’s work in its own right. Deep down it is just how the art world works, especially in fashion and glamour with its ubiquitous ‘mood board’ syndrome. Mr Paine made a living as a photographer, which on its own is fine. There are however two problems here, one is art historical accuracy and correct credit and the other is understanding the difference between plagiarism and ‘reference’ or ‘influence’. There is a very important and distinct difference, not just for reasons of academic sequencing, but because the work of master artists who evolve their art form automatically carries a power which is self evident – especially over time.

Apart from the need for veracity in tracing the history of style and ideas there is another magical lie-detector at work here – the camera itself. And, this test, Mr Paine passes with credit. Photography perhaps more than any other art form provides a direct view onto the artist’s heart. Mr Paine couldn’t resist putting his hand into the cookie jar of Sam’s creativity – all the way up to his elbow – but in the process of stealing he revealed a truth. He really did love women and the photographic process, it is just sad that he couldn’t find his own voice to sing their praises.

‘Mirror of Venus’, Mr Paine’s compendium of work was published in 1966, four years after Sam’s ‘Five Girls’ and two years after ‘Cowboy Kate and Other Stories’. Mr Paine’s book went on to be reprinted several times and remained a best seller well into the 70s, which is an important commercial underpinning to the self delusional process of stealing an artistic identity – copying is profitable! It should however be borne in mind that at this time Cowboy Kate was in the process of selling nearly a million copies worldwide – probably a photo book record – and the widespread praise and exposure of Kate and Sam’s other work no doubt played a part in helping to boost sales of ‘Mirror of Venus’.

The debt that Mr Paine owes to Sam cannot be overlooked by contemporary commentators as serious and highly regarded as Photo-Eye. Which is not to say, in the overall evolution of ideas, that Sam’s thinking was not passed on to some photographers through Wingate Paine’s book. Until that is, those who thought that Paine was an American ‘original’ acquired libraries that were worth more than their cameras. At which point one would hope that they ‘discovered’ the true originator of the ideas and style adopted by Paine simply by looking at ‘Five Girls’ and ‘Cowboy Kate’ by Sam Haskins.

The question of where copying ends and influence or evolutionary reference starts is perhaps best answered by looking at the history of all ideas and even at evolution itself. The question is answered with eloquence in the series of four online videos by Kirby Ferguson, ‘Everything is a Remix’. His constant return to the mechanics of evolution, ‘Copy – Transform – Combine’ is immensely useful in clarifying the difference between copying or plagiarism and evolution or influence. In the art world, if you just ‘Copy’ or just ‘Copy and Combine’ that will inevitably produce a failure, a very low voltage version of something else which has real power. Without transformation there is no evolutionary ‘influence’. Real evolution always transforms and always leads to new life forms. That’s life and that’s art.

Below: An example of copying and combining without ‘transforming’, a case of 1+1=0.5

Sunday Bentley 01 by Sam HaskinsSunday from ‘Other Stories’ in ‘Cowboy Kate and Other Stories by Sam Haskins (1964)

Kate Cover by Sam HaskinsCover of ‘Cowboy Kate and Other Stories by Sam Haskins (1964)

Wingate Paine does Kate 04Wingate Paine (circa 1965/6 or later)

Sam Haskins and Jean-Loup Sieff a cross fertilising dialogue of influence

In terms of artistic merit the creatively ‘thin’ nature of Mr Paine’s work stands in sharp contrast to the work of those artists like Jean-Loup Sieff – also referenced in Eric Miles video – who was both an influence on Sam and influenced by him. Mr Sieff was a master photographer whose work carried his own distinctive, original ‘signature’. In the creative environment of Mr Sieff’s mind or Sam’s or any master photographer’s, influence is always ‘transformed’ never just copied or combined.

Mr Sieff started his career as a photo journalist and a member of Magnum and like many other photographers, ‘Five Girls’ was more than an inspiration to him. Like all ground breaking photography, it constituted permission to see, feel and think in a new way. Jean-Loup’s own genius and common values and subject matter (nudes, nature, meticulous lighting, eroticism) led to a long running cross fertilisation between himself and Sam. Although Sam featured in a book that Mr Sieff produced of contemporary photographers, they sadly never met.

It’s been impossible for me to tell which of the following shots came first but it really doesn’t matter – there was an influence dialogue between Sam and Jean-Loup. Both these shots explore ‘frame within a frame’, nudes and a single light source.

Jean Loup Sieff 01Jean-Loup Sieff 1970s

Apple Diagonal by Sam Haskins“Diagonal Apple” by Sam Haskins 1970s

Again, not sure of the dates of the Sieff image and again it doesn’t matter.

Tea Break by Sam HaskinsTea Break by Sam Haskins from Cowboy Kate and Other Stories (1964)

Sieff tea breakJean-Loup Sieff 1960s

Here there is little doubt that the Haskins image was published first.

Cheating Ace from Cowboy Kate by Sam Haskins‘Card Cheat from Cowboy Kate by Sam Haskins (1964)

Jean loup sieff plaitJean-Loup Sieff (circa early 1970s)

In preparing this post I took great care to look over the original material and as far as possible check dates. In the context of the Paine/Haskins story this revealed a very important and ironic footnote to the understanding of ‘Copy – Transform – Combine’. It turns out that in the process of stealing from Sam with both arms, Wingate Paine produced an image in ‘Mirror of Venus’ based on a photograph in ‘Cowboy Kate’ (a model sitting on an unmade bed) – just as Sam was working on ‘November Girl’ (published in 1967). It’s very likely that Paine’s copy, with its room corner set, in turn, sparked an idea in Sam’s head, for the ‘Parisian loft’ set which is among some of the best loved images from ‘November Girl’. In other words, I think he stole back from the thief! Which reinforces the Oscar Wilde insight “Talent borrows, Genius Steals” only Mr Wilde forgot to add “…and transforms.”

Sunday Bed by Sam HaskinsFrom Cowboy Kate & Other Stories by Sam Haskins (1964)

Wingate Paine model on bed 01Wingate Paine (circa 1965/6 or later)

November Girl by Sam HaskinsFrom November Girl by Sam Haskins (1967)

Ludwig

Marc Jacobs draws inspiration from Sam Haskins’ for the FW 2012 show?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

It is simply a fact that Sam’s seminal books from the 60′s; Five Girls, Cowboy Kate and November Girl are a constant source of inspiration to the fashion and glamour world. Not just other photographers but fashion designers, pop singers, cinematographers, make-up artists, illustrators and frequently graphic designers and painters keep gravitating back to the elusive resonance of those images.

Vivi Monster HatMonster Hat from ‘Cowboy Kate and Other Stories’ by Sam Haskins

Of course I cannot prove it – in the absence of a credit from Mr Jacobs – but it looks very much as though the Marc Jacobs Fall Winter 2012 collection presented in New York this week drew inspiration from the other famous hat featured in Sam’s work from the sixties, the ‘Big Hat’ from ‘Other Stories’ in ‘Cowboy Kate & Other Stories’ (1964).

Marc Jabobs does Sam s big hat 02Mark Jacobs giant hats AW2012 NY

Marc Jabobs does Sam s big hat
Mark Jacobs giant hats AW2012 NY

For the record I really love these hats and the clothes – absolutely beautiful

Of course Mr Jacobs would be different! Last year it seemed as though the whole fashion world rediscovered Cowboy Kate’s big floppy black hat. It started with the Tommy Hilfiger collection and spread like wildfire. The cover of Cowboy Kate is one of the most referenced images in fashion photography but last year the fashion designers took it to a new level and went mad for the black floppy hat that epitomised the sixties and tapped into the essence of Kate. But for Jacobs it wasn’t mad enough. It looks to me as though he spotted the brilliant caprice of the big hat in the field and turned it into the most talked about accessory at Fashion Week (FW2012 NY). This, very nearly 50 years after the photograph was taken next to Sam and Alida’s home in South Africa.

The hat icons from Cowboy Kate are not the only big hats from Sam’s work. The shot below is from the 70s when Sam had a studio just off the King’s Road in London. See the end of this post for the big hat from Five Girls.

Lindy Big Hat by Sam Haskins
Sam Haskins 70s

Marc Jabobs does Sam s big hat 09
Mark Jacobs giant hats AW2012 NY

Marc Jabobs does Sam s big hat 08
Mark Jacobs giant hats AW2012 NY

Below are examples, over the years, of influence drawn from the more famous Cowboy Kate hat – the wonderful black suede hat on the cover of Cowboy Kate. Rather than Kate having had her time in the sixties – Sam’s work is growing in stature and importance with each passing year. Successive generations of photographers hunting for the elusive definitive contemporary ‘face’ keep returning to the unique mix of liberation and style – not to mention cutting edge photography – that Sam crafted into his sequence of books while working in the obscurity of a downtown industrial building in Johannesburg during the sixties.

Kate Kate Cover by Sam Haskins
Cover shot from ‘Cowboy Kate & Other Stories’ by Sam Haskins

While his two main heroes, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn are more elevated by the art establishment, it is important to note that Sam’s work is more heavily referenced by photographers living and working today than either of his heroes.

Sam Haskins influence David Bailey 1965 i1
David Bailey (1965)

Madonna movie 01 frame 04
Madonna by Tom Munro – see the January 2009 entry of this blog for Sam’s thoughts about theft vs influence. To understand just how in love Madonna is with Cowboy Kate have a look at this video.

Madonna UK Elle CoverMadonna as Cowboy Kate by Tom Munro

Rankin does Kate 01
Rankin, one of the gracious few, has gone on record citing Sam as an influence

Sam Haskins Kate rip off 1965
God knows why Playboy produced this cover – a year after Cowboy Kate was published – when they could have had Sam shoot for them?

Talking of heroes and influence. It is interesting to note that Penn’s image of Picasso with the hat casting a shadow over one eye predated Sam’s work on Cowboy Kate – by about 6 years!

PICASSO CANNES 1957 Irving PennIrving Penn portrait of Picasso, 1957

And so it goes on, we all stand on the shoulders of giants. All of us!

And to prove the point here is another mad hat inspiration this time from Marcel Marceau referenced by Sam in ‘Five Girls’ (1962)

Shirly Beljon Dead Flower hat 3
Shirley from Five Girls by Sam Haskins

Marcel Marceau 01
Marcel Marceau

As an amusing footnote to this post – I thought it’s worth mentioning the origins of the hats in Cowboy Kate. Although on a smaller scale than America, South Africa benefitted from skilled German emigration in the 30s & 40s. The suede hat on the cover of Kate came from such a family, the Armbrecht’s as did the suede slacks featured in Kate. The ‘big hat’ however was produced by the most junior member of Sam’s studio staff, a teenage typist/receptionist, who designed and produced the hat without prompting. She presented her bold capricious creation to Sam who instantly organised a shoot to honour the home grown prop. I hope that she is still alive to read this post.

+++++

Update: February 19th 2012

In reviewing the blog post that follows the above news driven story I revisited the work of Jean-Loup Sieff and feel that he should also get a credit for possibly influencing Marc Jacobs Feb 2012 show in NY.

The gorgeous fur!? and the oversize forms!? – see the following delicious shots from the French master photographer, Sieff.

These images give me the opportunity to draw attention – quite apart from the possible influence on Mr Jacobs – to three critical factors that contribute to the joy and mastery of these Sieff photographs. A. They are self styled. This is from an era when photographers or members of their immediate staff played a key independent creatively role in fashion styling. In other words magazine appointed stylists had not yet moved into the positions of immense power that they hold today. B. These images combined high style and fun! Remember fun? C. They celebrate the control and beauty of sculpted studio lighting. This was an era when photographers had their own studios – instead of barrelling through rented spaces, in-and-out in a few hours. They had time, and they used it wisely.

Jean Loup Sieff Big Hat 01 460Jean-Loup Sieff

Jean Loup Sieff Big Hat 02 460Jean-Loup Sieff

The Art of the Hot Beverage

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

This week the award winning photo-blog La Lettre de la Photographie, features a story about LaVazza’s project to get the ’20 best contemporary photographers’ to take creative coffee break shots.

Below are Sam’s tea break shots from the 60′s.

Tea Party Sam Haskinst

Solo Tea Break Sam haskins

Sam and Figgins Junior Sam Haskins