In October 2006 V Magazine published a piece that coincided with the publication of the new edition of Kate. Here is the double page spread plus enlargements of the small images on the right and further on, the full text of the article.
Apple Dance 1972
Soaring Spirit 1966
Run Lindi Run 1980
When Cowboy Kate, “white as flowers, warm as sunshine, wild as whiskey and swinging like a lamp;’ first came to town in 1964, she swooped up the Prix Nadar and a million adoring fans. It was a defining moment, not only for the ’60s sensibility, but also in the history of photography. The heroine of photographer Sam Haskins’s eponymous book (which includes three additional photo-essays that comprise the (Other Stories of the subtitle) is a sassy blonde who wears a gun on her hip, a hat on her head, and not a whole heck of a lot else. Haskins, a native of South Africa, was reared on Hollywood Westerns, circus magic (he worked for a time as a trapeze catcher), and the work of Cartier-Bresson, Penn, and Brassai. Kate’s beautifully art-directed misadventure (Haskins also designed the layouts) is an act of true and original showmanship. Haskins hasn’t stopped shooting since-including some thirty years’ worth of Pentax calendars (Pirelli, eat your heart out). On the eve of his 80th birthday, Kate returns to town in a new director’s cut of the book, published by Rizzoli.
Alix Browne (V Magazine)
ALiX BROWNE What made you want to travel to London in the ’40s to study photography?
SAM HASKINS The visual awareness that has always been with me. It inevitably led to a course at art school. The late ’30s and ’40s were the years that pioneered documentary photo books and magazines, and they made a powerful impression on me. I had an early realization that photography as a profession could satisfy my yearning to get about and see the world, meet the people, create images, and enjoy a lifestyle provided by very few professions. For a young colonial artist, London was a glittering cultural mecca. You dreamed about its wonders from a tender age, and you could not wait to experience it. The city also had good photography schools, which did not exist in South Africa at the time.
AB Who were some of the photographers shooting at that time whose work interested you?
SH Irving Penn, Edward Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Steichen, Robert Doisneau, Brassai, etc. However, the more profound stimuli probably came from painters, sculptors, illustrators, designers, and filmmakers.
AB When you moved back to Johannesburg to start your own studio, what kind of work were you doing?
SH On my return to SA,I met and married Alida. That was the end of my solo act. We have been partners in crime ever since. We were young and not very well-off, so we photographed babies, weddings, portraits, architecture, all manner of merchandise and people for advertising, industrial images for annual reports, fashion, surgical procedures, aerial, reportage, film commercials-maybe there are a few that I do not remember. Advertising seldom results in images with lasting quality. The more interesting work was provided by the mining houses for use in their annual reports. The de Beers organization produced an in-house journal, Optima, managed by a brilliant young poet who gave me unlimited creative opportunities.
AB Did you consider yourself a photographer? An art director? Or do labels like that not interest you?
SH I like to think of myself as a graphic artist who uses photography as his medium. And an art director. And a storyteller. And a lover of good red wine and the music of Beethoven.
AB What was the climate-aesthetic, social, political-underwhich you created Cowboy Kate?
SH The universal language emanating from Hollywood is obvious. The stock paraphernalia associated with Westerns are particular favorites of mine, and I manipulated them to tell a little story. Cowboy Kate followed my first book, Five Girls, a straightforward collection of individual images. I didn’t want the new book to be just another dreary progression-it had to make a quantum leap, hence the narrative form. The book developed from a single experimental shoot (with the cowboy hat) that the model and I did to amuse ourselves.
AB Who are the women you photographed? In particular, who is Kate and where did you find her?
SH The original Kate is a model/friend who prefers to remain anonymous. She was a rarity in that she was very enthusiastic in pursuing modeling as her particular form of self-expression. The original two or three shoots were done without a story in mind. But “Kate” went abroad before I planned the book, so I had to resort to stand-in models to fill the gaps-five in all. The beauty is of a natural, noncommercial kind that did not rely on the extensive use of what is currently known as “hair and makeup:’ These were early days, and ancillary services were rare. The models, Alida, and I all joined in to make slight improvements. Orthodontics was still in its infancy.
AB You used a lot of different techniques-and cameras-to achieve all of the visual effects. Was part of the exercise for you experimental, in terms of both the images and the layout?
SH Those were experimental times. So yes – small cameras for mobility, large ones to capture fine detail. Smaller formats facilitated prominent grain size. I am inclined to think that the controlled, creative use of grain made its first appearance in Kate. Willy Fleckhaus and Alexey Brodovitch have always been two of my prime heroes, so the art of layout is very close to my heart. After all, together with the mechanical reproduction, it constitutes the culmination of the whole process – not to be entrusted to nonbelievers who are able to destroy the impact of an image at a stroke. In my day-to-day work, I hate to miss out on the layout stage.
AB Cowboy Kate has near cult status today. How was the book received upon its publication?
SH The reception was a party. A tumultuous welcome. Timing had a lot to do with it. The books walked out of the stores. Virtually every photographic journal in the world printed a review. Copies were smuggled into Soviet-occupied East Germany and passed on from hand to hand. Divorcing couples fought over possession.
AB What was the prevailing attitude about nudity at the time? How did people react to your portrayal of innocence?
SH Ambivalence, is probably the key word. I do not think that it made the top of the charts in rural backwaters, but in the more erudite international centers it is loved and cherished. In the midst of the emergence of strident feminism, it had more female than male fans. Still has.
AB On the inside back cover, it says that whenever you lecture on photography, your radical views spark off such a furor that you have to escape through a side door.
SH This smacks of publisher’s hyperbole. As a rule I’m able to fight off my attackers – more hyperbole. Most lectures and workshops are happy happenings. The occasional show-off attempting to draw attention to himself only manages to provide some general comic relief. My views naturally evolve, but basic principles remain pretty much unchanged.
AB What made you decide to release a “director’s cut” of the book? How does the new edition add to the legend?
SH It would be so utterly boring to release a facsimile of the original. Something a drone could do. At the moment of completion, most artists feel that they could have done better. What a wonderful opportunity this was to do some tweaking and add new images, to prove that I am not stuck in the ’60s.
AB What do you think is Kate’s legacy? What does she have to say to a contemporary audience?
SH I hate to sound presumptuous. So all that Kate and I would like to say is “Hey, kids. Look what we did way back in the ’60s.”
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