Archive for February, 2012

‘Five Girls’ 50th Anniversary! Remembering the Artist at Work.

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Ask most people which book they associate with Sam Haskins career and you get an almost knee jerk response “Cowboy Kate”! Quite right, Kate sold almost a million copies, probably a photo book record. However, the most important book, in art historical terms, was ‘Five Girls’ published 2 years earlier in 1962. Five Girls was a commercial success and very much a photographer’s photo book. With Five Girls, although Sam was clearly standing on the shoulders of giants including his acknowledged heroes Avedon and Penn and the extraordinary high contrast work of Lilian Bassman, Sam offered the photographic world the highest philosophical service possible with photography, permission to think, feel and look in new ways. And, characteristically, he did it with a sense of fun – in fact that was part of the gift. But it was never content to employ fun, humour, or natural aesthetics at the expense of crafting perfection. Whatever he was shooting, his love affair with photography and his ‘lone-artist-in-the-studio’ mind set, was always there.

On the 50th anniversary of Five Girls publication, I thought it fitting to gather together some all too rare images of Sam at work.

Sam Haskins and Figgins Junior 1961Sam at work in his Johannesburg studio, 1961, self portrait

Sam Haskins shooting Cowboy KateSam on set with Kate’s horse, 1963, self portrait

Sam Haskins with African Image Layout 1966Sam in front of the working layout of African Image, 1966, Photo: Tom Burgers

SAM 2 Cameras Chelsea 70sSam working with his favourite camera Pentax 67, Chelsea, 1974, self portrait

Sam Shooting Chelsea 1970Sam, uncharacteristically shooting hand held in his Chelsea studio, 1970, photographer unknown.

Sam Haskins Chelsea Studio 70sChelsea Studio, 1973, Self Portrait

Sam Haskins dreaming on set London 70sSam, on set, 1974, photographer unknown

Sam with Big BerthaRental studio, Germany? circa 1978, photographer unknown

Sam Haskins 1978 by Bill JaySam in his balcony office overlooking the Chelsea studio, 1978, Photo: Bill Jay

Sam Haskins Sicilly 1993 by Charles Camberoque cropSam giving animated instructions to the model at a photo workshop in Sicily, 1993, Photo: Charles Camberoque

Sam Haskins NPG opening 2006Sam at the opening of his NPG show, Canberra exhibition, November 2006, Photo: Ludwig Haskins

Sam Haskins for Harpers smallSam on the last shoot of his career, for Harper’s Bazaar Australia, Sydney, 2006. Photo: Ludwig Haskins

Sam Haskins in Library Australia 2007Sam in the library of his home in Australia, 2008. Photo: Ludwig Haskins.

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

Cowboy Kate celebrates New York Fashion Week with Amex

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

The American Express VIP hospitality lounge at Milk Studios has a fashion themed edit of Cowboy Kate prints on display for Fashion Week NY February 2012.

Kate Pout by Sam Haskins 462

Kate Dressing by Sam Haskins 462

Kate s Desk by Sam Haskins 462

Kate Dressing Mirror by Sam Haskins 462

Press and print collectors should contact Song Chong schong@milkstudios.com