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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

1940's Yakuza Tattoo Culture ~ Horace Bristol

Born in 1908, Horace Bristol studied at the Art Center of Los Angeles, where he was influenced by the work of Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White. He moved to San Francisco, met Ansel Adams and through him befriended fellow photographers including Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, and Imogen Cunningham.

He became a LIFE magazine contributor in the late 1930s and was soon hired on staff. In 1937 Bristol proposed a story about migrant farm workers in California’s Central Valley—a project that would include accompanying text by novelist John Steinbeck. LIFE turned down the story and Steinbeck withdrew from the partnership to write the story as a novel, which became his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath but Bristol photographed the region on his own.

In 1941 Bristol became one of five photographers documenting World War II under the direction of Edward Steichen, and he photographed battles in North Africa, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima.

Following his documentation of World War II, Bristol settled in Tokyo, Japan, selling his photographs to magazines in Europe and the United States, and becoming the Asian correspondent to Fortune. He published several books, and established the East-West Photo Agency.

 In 1956, devastated by the suicide of his wife, Bristol burned all the negatives and photographs that he kept at his seaside house in Japan, effectively ending one of the most intense photographic careers of his time. His remaining photographs were packed into footlockers, stored, and left untouched for nearly thirty years. Below are some of his stunning documentation of mid-century tattoo culture in Japan.

Horace Bristol, Yakuza Public Baths, Japan, 1947

During the Edo period (1603 to 1868), criminals in Japan were tattooed by authorities in a practice known as bokkei, making it hard for them to reenter society and find work. This is a primary reason why the tattoo culture of the Yakuza evolved in protest to this branding.
The meaning of Yakuza tattoos are usually related to imagery and symbolism in Japanese art, culture, and religion. The full body suit tattoo, in particular, is a product of Yakuza culture. In the past, it was obligatory in many Yakuza clans for members to get tattoos.
In modern times, the practice is no longer as common. Many Yakuza in the 21st century maintain clean skin to better blend in with society. Conversely, more and more non-Yakuza in Japan are getting tattoos.
Despite these changes, being tattooed is considered a rite of passage for the Yakuza.

1946, Tokyo, Japan ~ A Japanese tattoo artist works on a group of  Yakuza gang members.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Into the Wild: Journey into the World of Peter Beard

Photographer, collector, diarist, and writer Peter Beard (January 22, 1938) has fashioned his life into a work of art; the illustrated diaries he kept from a young age evolved into a serious career as an artist and earned him a central position in the international art world. He was painted by Francis Bacon and painted on by Salvador Dalí, he made diaries with Andy Warhol and toured with Truman Capote and the Rolling Stones—all of whom are brought to life, literally and figuratively, in his work. As a fashion photographer, he took Vogue stars like Veruschka to Africa and brought new ones—most notably Iman—back to the U.S. with him.

 After spending time in Kenya and striking up a friendship with the author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) in the early 1960s, Beard bought a piece of land near hers. He witnessed the dawn of Kenya’s population explosion, which challenged finite resources and stressed animal populations—including the starving elephants of Tsavo dying by the tens of thousands in a wasteland of eaten trees. So he documented what he saw—with diaries, photographs, and collages. He went against the wind in publishing unique and sometimes shocking books of these works. The corpses were laid bare; the facts carefully recorded, sometimes in type and often by hand. Beard uses his photographs as a canvas onto which he superimposes multi-layered contact sheets, ephemera, found objects, newspaper clippings that are elaborately embellished with meticulous handwriting, old-master inspired drawings and often swaths of animal blood used as paint. ( His style has influenced countless art directors and art journal/diary folks)

In 2006 TASCHEN published the book that has come to define his oeuvre, signed by the artist and published in two volumes. It sold out instantly and became a highly sought after collector’s item. The books were re-released in one volume, (a handsome hardcover edition revised by Nejma Beard with new images never published before). But alas it sold out as well. You can snag one from re-sellers for a hefty price but I think it is still worth it!

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"Beard’s unique photo-collage style may not fall within any particular genre, but the diaries, stuffed with pictures of wildlife as well as the people who impacted his life, represent a true and original snapshot of both his passions and his era. He doesn’t however consider himself an artist, preferring to describe himself as an “adventurer, explorer, photographer and writer”. And although there are ecological themes in Beard’s work, he also denies being an environmentalist. In short, Peter Beard defies being categorized."
two prints, taped together at back vertically; left print: partial view of page and side view of pages behind; sliver fist atop pages; TLC, photograph of giraffe attached with paper clip; LRC, pink matchbook glued onto print; R print: collage of fashion photographs; photograph of a book at L edge center, extending onto L print; feather attached to print at LL edge
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Peter Beard Designfather
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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

1890s Spy Camera Street Photography by 19 Year Old Carl Størmer

Carl Størmer (1872-1957) got his C.P. Stirn Concealed Vest Spy Camera in 1893 when he was studying mathematics at the Royal Frederick University (now, University of Oslo) Norway.

 "It was a round flat canister hidden under the vest with the lens sticking out through a buttonhole," he told St. Hallvard Journal in 1942. "Under my clothes I had a string down through a hole in my trouser pocket, and when I pulled the string the camera took a photo."

These wonderfully candid images are a window into a time when most photographs were very formal and rigid. One of the first good examples of street photography.  

“I was a young 19 year-old student at the time and had gotten hold of a funny detective camera.” ~ Carl Størmer 
"It was a round flat canister hidden under the vest with the lens sticking out through a buttonhole. Under my clothes I had a string down through a hole in my trouser pocket, and when I pulled the string the camera took a photo.
I strolled down Carl Johan, found me a victim, greeted, got a gentle smile and pulled. Six images at a time and then I went home to switch plate.” Størmer lived nearby Karl Johan and took a total of 500 images." 
~ Carl Størmer 



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