Judy Brown, Claire Bloom - A Batesonian ReitirationSunday, January 01, 2012
I have an infuriating friend who is no longer so. That situation changed some years ago when I finally figured it out.
My friend’s name is Ian Bateson and he is as tenacious as a bloodhound in all his pursuits. What makes it worse is that he has a very good memory for things that I might have said to him. He invariably will tell me, “You already told me,” or “You’re reiterating yourself.”
I have a vivid memory when this infuriating habit of his became patently manifest. It was sometime in the mid 80s when he and I went to a concert at the Commodore Ballroom on Granville. The band was called King Crimson. I have memory of a girl, a beautiful girl, quite high on psychedelic candy whose hair made it seem like; I too had licked a stamp, something I hadn’t. Her hair was a mixture of blood red and shocking pink. Years later she became one of my favourite subjects in my pursuit of photography and the unadorned female figure.
I remember, too that my vexing companion blurted out (under the influence his accent was ever more a mixture of Cockney and Brixton), “This has all been done before. It’s not new and it’s boring.”
In many occasions in my past relationship with the irritating Bateson I have proudly showed him a photograph into which I have poured my heart in inspiration and sweat. With but a glance at my magnus opus his remark has been the cutting one, “ It’s been done before.”
That repeated statement, through the years, really stumped me until like it was for St. Paul, the heavens did open with a bright flash of light and I saw it.
When I teach at Focal Point in some of my lectures I invariably tell the above story. I tell my students that all of us as photographers have to take similar routes in our discovery of photography. As an example I cite the idea of going to a photographic exhibition featuring the works by some young amateur/budding-artiste who will have discovered what we all discover on this same route. This is that the nude human body when depersonalized and lit in a particular way will resemble the sand dunes of the Sahara.
There are two routes follow here. One of them is to look at the photographs in a deprecating and smug way, “I have done this. This is boring.” Or one can be kind and congratulate the artist for the work and hope that soon the bodyscapes will lead to something else, a something else which is usually a predictable pattern that proves we all strive for the same things, take the same artistic direction and only small differences mark our particular individuality.
And then looking at my class I tell them, Ian Bateson looks at my photograph and says, “It’s been done before.” I pause, a long one for effect, and I look at my class. I shout at them, “But I haven’t done that yet!”
Most are quite startled but they get the point. In our quest for that difficult-to-achieve personal style in technique, we must first imitate before subtle variations might lead to that individuality.
I have not had any infuriating conversations with Bateson since I saw the light but I appreciate the he led me to a discovery that has helped me temper my criticism to my students. It has also taken me in paths of self discovery that have pushed me to taking pictures inspired in paintings, photographs, books, poems, sculptures by contemporary and past masters of those endeavours.
Neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive by any random means, as a parasite, a moocher or a looter, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment - so he is free to seek his happiness in any irrational fraud, any whim, any delusion, any mindless escape from reality, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment nor to escape the consequences.
Ayn Rand – The Virtue of Selfishness
The above and much of what you read below (I have modified it a tad) I first wrote about here. I said it once and I cannot see I why I cannot reiterate myself. I think I can say it differently and perhaps better. This blog began last night when I was reading the NY Times Book Review for December 25. The review by John Horgan was titled Duped and it was about a book by an evolutionary biologist, Robert Trivers titled The Folly of Fools – The Logic off Deceit and Self-Discipline in Human Life. The paragraph that led to think of Judy Brown was this one:
As a Harvard graduate student in the 1970s, Trivers wrote a handful of papers showing how our genes’ relentless drive to self-replicate underpins even our most apparently magnanimous impulses. According to his theory of reciprocal altruism, we occasionally act kindly towards strangers because our ancestors – over time and in the aggregate – received a quid pro quo benefit from acts of generosity. In other papers, Trivers proposed that families roil with conflict because parents share no genes with each other and only half of their genes with children, who unless they are identical twins also have divergent genetic interests.
In 1964 I was madly in love with a 5ft tall reddish blonde girl from California called Judy Brown. Her ancillary claim to fame was that her father often played tennis with Charles M. Schulz. In other matters she told me that her life was perfectly ordinary.
I had met Judy Brown at the University of the Americas by way of my friend Robert Hijar who was studying fine arts while I was attempting to figure out the difference between resistance, capacitance and induction. Hijar was in the art department and girls (as we called them then without any guilt) gravitated to him perhaps because of the exotic smell of Liquitex.
Robert, Judy and I would go to Jazz Mondays at the Benjamin Franklin Library (it was run by the USIS). The three of us would listen to Gerry Mulligan and Lenny Tristano. Robert would sketch cars that resembled (how did he know then?) shoes while I sipped on my strong Nescafé and stared at Judy who I thought was as lovely as a woman could possibly be. She might have been reading Salinger, but I am not that sure.
Behind us were (they were there almost every Monday) a couple of Mexican gentlemen who always seemed to wear pastel colour shirts. They looked queer and I suspect that by being so obvious they could practice their trade of spies for the US Government unimpeded. Reason compels me to believe they may have simply been Mexicans who like us liked jazz.
Mondays at the Benjamin Franklin Library were followed by frequent visits to our Filipino Doctora friend who worked for the United Nations. We would go to her apartment on Tamaulipas Street and played mah-jong while eating Filipino food.
The first time I showed up at the Doctora's with Judy Brown in tow everybody who knew me was astounded. Up until that time I had never ever shown any outward desire for women. Word quickly spread and when my mother who was teaching at an American school in Veracruz found out she invited me immediately to visit with the new girlfriend. In one of the pictures here I photographed Brown wearing one of the Doctora'a Filipino dresses.
I did visit my mother in Veracruz with Judy Brown. I remember the pleasant night trip (there were others) on an ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) bus to Veracruz. I would lay my head on Judy Brown’s lap. She was reluctant. She kept telling me she had a boyfriend in California called Allan. She did not speak much of him, but just enough to unsettle me. I felt the kind of jealousy that Charly (Cliff Robertson) feels when he spots Claire Bloom beeing kissed by her boyfriend. "He only kissed you on the cheek," he says to Bloom. Why I mention the film Charly is explained below.
|Claire Bloom in |
Alexander the Great
This “relationship” dragged on and one day Judy Brown told me that she did not have the capacity to love anybody because she rejected it as just another manifestation of her selfishness. How Judy Brown disappeared from my life I cannot remember to this day. I sometimes wonder if she allowed herself to be latched on to me so that she could go to beach in Veracruz or to practice her Spanish.
There was a visual impetus to write this blog. Shortly after Judy Brown returned to California (and I never ever heard from her again) I found a passing resemblance between her and actress Claire Bloom. I have had a soft heart for Bloom since. I remember going to see a terrible film called Alexander the Great with Richard Burton, Fredric March and Claire Bloom playing a woman who never existed in Alexander’s real life. I sat through the film my two eyes on every gesture Claire Bloom made and my heart ached.
Last night we saw Charly. We all enjoyed it but I kept my Claire Bloom story all to myself.
Addendum: For those who might be curious about the photograph with the candle, I used a Pentacon-F with a 85mm Komura f:1.8 lens. The film was Agfa Isopan Record pushed to 1250 ASA and processed in Agfa Atomal New. The light was the single candle.