Thursday, 25 November 2010

Vintage Watson

On Tuesday night Albert Watson gave an informative lecture at the Victoria & Albert museum to coincide with his exhibition Vintage Watson at Hamilton's Gallery (which opened last night). Watson, born in 1942, is one of the most important photographers of our time, respected for his contribution to the world of fashion, art and music: having shot over 200 covers for Vogue as well as several iconic Rolling Stones' covers. At university he studied graphic design and then went to film school at the Royal Collage of Art. As a result he sees his work as a combination of the two- graphics and cinematography.
Watson is a photographer of diverse subject matter who has captured every angle of life over a period of four decades, producing a prolific portfolio. He lives through his work quite literally and he will continue to live on through it even after his time. Finding the subject, perceiving the subject, the composition and the lighting is what personifies his work and makes it unique to him. When photographing Alfred Hitchcock in 1973 for a poultry recipe the intention was to present the goose on a plate but instead, the young photographer urged Hitchcock to grab the goose by its throat and so created an entirely different image. This was a turning point in his career after which the influx of requests to work with him have not ceased.

Alfred Hitchcock with Goose, Los Angeles, Christmas, 1973

Watson's dedication to his subject is unquestionable and personal: he waited two and a half years to under go the application process which would allow him to photograph the ancient Pharaoh Tutankhamen's artifacts. His interest in history and his attitude towards preservation are here exemplified.

He recognises the 1970s as the starting point of his career, which in retrospect he sees as a frustrated period but one which allowed him to develop his skills and enter the 80s with no technical difficulties or barriers. This gave way to his most creative and achieved period. In the 70s he remembers being frequently 'discontent' with his work and saw three phases in his analytical digestion. Initially he'd posses a youthful arrogance about his images, a few days after his shoot he'd be unsure and then some weeks later he would want to destroy the work. They lacked subtlety. This was not a fierce reaction by any means but Watson would recognise the technical flaws and the sometimes harsh lighting in his work. Neither is this to say he was not enormously successful nor to dismiss his work from the 70s. It is merely a comparison of one period to the other and his feelings towards them.

He speaks with a thick accent, Scottish yet masked with a distinct American overtone. He is very polite, well mannered and charming: a tribute to having worked with so many people and supported by his British education. There is no air about him.

Although he has shot over 600 commercials (a great deal of which were fashion related), Watson claims that he was often criticised by editors for not being fashionable; his photos were not fashionable but rather of fashion. In hindsight, he sees this as a positive feature, contributing to the classicism of his work and the longevity of his appeal.

Albert Watson prints all of his own work (Richard Avedon, for example, does not). He says of the future of photography: it lies in digital but that this does not mean that one should abandon the correct form of learning.  It doesn't make one a better photographer just because you can do more,"digital photography makes amatures better". Sometimes, when Watson feels his work looks too polished, he puts down his four by five camera and picks up a 35mm, loosens and resets himself back to his roots.  

Naomi Campbell, Palm Springs, 1989

This composition was a work in practice, as Naomi Campbell was being shaded from the sun with a cloth, held behind her, Watson noticed the beauty of her profile and shadow which blocks her face and realised that this was the image he would use.

Kate Moss, Marrakesh, Morocco, 1993, 1993

Keith Richards, New York, 1988

Gabrielle Reece and Michaela Bercu, Pasadena, California, 1989

Kate Moss, Marrakech, 1993

This image was taken in Morocco; Watson took the a series of similar photos of the model at different times of day.

Mick Jagger, Los Angeles, 1992

This image has not been digitally manipulated or retouched; Watson took a photograph of Mick Jagger (in a car with a leopard for a shoot) and then rewound the film back to the image and created a double exposure, photographing the leopard on top.

Heel Budget Suites, Las Vegas, 2000

Rather Bob Carlos Clarke, Watson recalls when he discocovered the meaning of dominatrix in America.

Mike Tyson, Catskills, New York., 1986

His father was a boxer which is why he knew to shoot Mike Tyson from behind, exemplifying the breadth of his neck as a trophy itself and a tribute to his profession.

The GOD Sign, Route 15, Las Vegas, 2001

Jellyfish Tank Series Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, 2001

Currently, there is an exhibition of Albert Watson's work Vintage Watson at Hamilton’s Gallery on 13 Carlos Place, W1., including a beautiful selection of his Polaroids from the 80s as well as a few from the 70s. Until 21st Jan.

Monday, 22 November 2010

24 Hour Plays: Theatrical Art

John Cleese

Last night saw the seventh annual 24 Hour Plays at the Old Vic theatre, hosted this year by Monty Python extraordinaire John Cleese.

The concept for this evening is that group of actors and playwrights come together on Saturday at 10pm and work for 24 hours to conceive, write, rehearse, and perform six ten-minute plays. This is all in support of ‘New Voices’ to raise a significant amount of money to fund workshops for young aspiring actors. Artistic Director Kevin Spacey announced at the interval that 95 thousand pounds had been reached by contribution of silent auction bids and tickets. Tattinger, Ivan the Terrible (vodka), and Asia de Cuba were some of the more interesting subsidisers.

The first play was the most amusing and the audience was immediately responsive- in some instances the characters were cast as themselves with tongue and cheek allusions to their public personas. In this sketch Richard Armitage played the counter part to his on stage character, an obese forty year old man living in a run down apartment who had wished on a magic Christmas tree that he looked like Richard Armitage. Married to a well-rounded woman who had wished them into a large penthouse (suggested by the size of the small Christmas tree which had once been life-size in their ‘previous’ flat), this unlikely couple dance around and frolic with a new found zest. Each actor is asked to bring an inspirational prop, hence the appearance of a premature ornamental Christmas tree. Such clever gestures exemplified the creativity of the writers, some of which were more interesting than others.

In the second act, Kelly Brook similarly was cast as herself in a performance which mimicked what the writer, Richard Curtis, had gone through the previous night: trying to find inspiration and write a play from scratch in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning. Highlights included Kelly promising the writer that she’d be very grateful if she was given some deep and meaningful lines which didn’t comprise of taking her clothes off, explaining life was hard and that as a pretty girl she only ever had the best looking men in the room chatting her up and so being given the least confidence by result of their arrogance on top of the hatred of the other girls impending. She wanted to be taken seriously. Much to the appreciation of everyone in the room she took off her top as a method of persuasion to seek her desired role and did not disappoint. Curtis, renowned for Four Weddings and a Funeral, and sitcoms Mr Bean and Blackadder, also used this opportunity to slate Sienna Miller and Dr Who star David Tennant who dropped out the cast last minute, so leaving them with a ‘rubbish’ group of actors including Asda-advertising Ralph Little who naturally exited the stage by tapping his pocket full of change.

John Cleese took the stage between each performance and used memoirs of his mother to entertain the audience, a bitter woman living in Weston super Mare who had no longer wanted to live until Cleese, true to his dark humour, suggested sending over a small man he knew who lived in Fulham who could finish her off. This recalls the sentiments of his character Basil Fawlty who would quite like to be rid of the woman in his life, Sibyl. Nor were the German jokes amiss; only to hear Cleese's voice live and see his stiff goose-like walk only metres away was something spectacular- a privilege contributing to a sense of personal completion after years of following his career.   

The 25th Hour spent at the after party at St Martin’s Lane hotel was a great finale to the weekend but waking up on Monday morning was less enjoyable. As a friend once said,

It is usually a dream when you wake up remembering seeing Kelly Brook in her underwear. Not this time.’

Kelly Brook