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Posts Tagged ‘Stan Brakhage’

Stalking Seán O’Casey

September 18, 2014 | by

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Irish playwright Seán O’Casey’s death. Sam Stephenson tracks his appearances in W. Eugene Smith’s archive.


The original tape box for the reel containing the Red Valens phone call. On same reel, photographer Daniel Kramer is recorded in Smith’s loft discussing his photographs of Bob Dylan intended for Sensorium. Smith met Kramer in June 1965 when both were photographing Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited studio sessions. A Long John Nebel radio show is also recorded. The handwriting is an assistant’s, not Smith’s. Images courtesy of Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

On August 15, 1965, W. Eugene Smith was up late, as usual, in his dingy fourth-floor loft in the wholesale flower district, a neighborhood desolate after dark. He was working on the first issue of Sensorium, his new “magazine of photography and other arts of communication,” a hopeful platform free of commercial expectations and pressures. He was editing a submission by the writer E.G. “Red” Valens, whom he had met in 1945 when both were war correspondents in the Pacific. Despite the late hour, Smith decided to give his old friend a call.

Valens’s wife answered the phone just before the fifth ring. She’d been asleep. She gave the phone to her husband. He’d been asleep, too.

“Good morning,” said a groggy Valens.

“You don’t stay up as late as you used to,” joked Smith.

He then apologized for calling so late. Valens wasn’t irritated. He even resisted Smith’s offer to call back at a more reasonable hour.

Thirty-six minutes and nineteen seconds later, the pair said good-bye and hung up. We know this because Smith taped the phone call. When he died in 1978, this clip was among 4,500 hours of recordings he made from roughly 1957 to 1966. Read More »


The Big Book

April 11, 2014 | by

On photographer W. Eugene Smith’s unseen opus.

On September 2, 1958, W. Eugene Smith’s passport was stamped at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland. Hired by General Dynamics, he was there to photograph the United Nations Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, known as “Atoms for Peace.” He was to be paid $2,500 for two weeks of work (about $20,000 in 2014 money), plus a $20 per diem. Commercial work wasn’t Smith’s preference, but he needed the money. He needed some distance from New York, too.

A week later, on September 9, Smith’s long-awaited extended essay on the city of Pittsburgh hit newsstands in Popular Photography’s Photography Annual 1959. It was the culmination of a three-and-a-half-year odyssey that began with a three-week assignment and led to 22,000 exposed negatives, two thousand of which he said were “valid” for his essay. He staked his reputation on the work, evoking Joyce, Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Beethoven, among others, as influences for the “layers” intended in his Pittsburgh layouts. Two consecutive Guggenheim fellowships (the first one coinciding with his friend Robert Frank’s fellowship for the work that became The Americans) further raised expectations. After turning down $20,000 from both Life and Look magazines when they would not agree to his demands for editorial control, Popular Photography offered to put thirty-six pages of their Annual 1959 at his disposal for $3,500. Smith accepted.

Now the anticipated magnum opus was set to arrive. But rather than stick around to toast his achievement, Smith jetted to Geneva. He had anticipated a Pittsburgh flameout earlier that summer, in a letter to his uncle, Jesse Caplinger: “The seemingly eternal, certainly infernal Pittsburgh project—the sagging, losing effort to make the first of its publication forms so right in measure to the standards I had set for it … it is a failure.” Later, he wrote his friend Ansel Adams to “apologize” for “the debacle of Pittsburgh as printed.” Read More »


Gerard Malanga

August 24, 2011 | by

Gerard Malanga, 2010. Photograph by Asako Kitaori. © Asako Kitaori

Born in the Bronx in 1943, Gerard Malanga started writing poetry in his late teens. His first volume, 3 Poems for Benedetta Barzini, appeared in 1967, and he has since published roughly a dozen collections of poetry. Since his start in the New York art scene of the sixties, Malanga has also worked extensively in film and photography. He is primarily known for his emphatic black-and-white portraits of fellow writers, poets, and artists as well as Screen Tests, a series of silent film portraits he produced with Andy Warhol. The following is an excerpt of a conversation that took place via e-mail over several months in the fall of 2010 between my home in Copenhagen and Malanga’s in upstate New York.

You’re a photographer, filmmaker, and poet. Which of these is primary for you?

I’ve always considered myself a poet in everything that I do, whether it’s photography or movie-making. The one thing that unites all three is the image, the language of the image. Jean Cocteau was my inspiration and model as a polymath. His works were evidence of what one can do in a number of mediums.

When I started writing poetry in my senior term of high school—I was sixteen—I felt in touch with a secret language. It gave me a sense of identity. I suddenly discovered I wasn’t alone. I saw that I was part of a tradition. I truly believe I was fated to become a poet and that I was guided by some mysterious force.

I was a kid of the streets. There were no books to speak of in the apartment where we lived. The neighborhood library was my home away from home and on weekends I’d go to the movies, absorbed by the magic of the big screen. All that I’ve done in my life thus far, all the poems and all the pictures, are not so much an intermingling of my life with art but a divine accident. Read More »