Romanians in Paris by M Durquet

My eyes fixed upon a small ivory sculpture in the window. I looked for the gallery owner to ask if I could take a photo of it. He obliged gracefully and I asked him about the price. It was far beyond my means (5,000 Euros) and I told him that immediately so as not to waste his time, but he insisted on having me touch and hold it. We entered into a wonderful conversation about African art and looked at the Senufo mask he had just purchased. Within his perfect French, he had a slight accent that was vaguely familiar so I asked where he was from- Romania, he said. He had been living in France for 30 years.
The day before, I spoke with a French woman who told me that France was dealing with huge waves of Eastern European immigrants. "From which countries?" I asked. "First the Romanians, then the Bulgarians, now the Ukrainians and the Georgians," she lamented. "It's a calamity." Je ne sais plus ou on va dans ce pays si ca continue comme ca. 

Later that morning I walked by a market under a freeway where people who were supposedly Romanian were gathered around piles of used clothing on the ground. There was a great deal of frenzied activity around the people who were selling these items. I couldn't understand the language. I was only able to take a few pictures before a man threatened to kill me and chased me away. Again, I was told I had no right to take pictures. This time I walked to the policemen stationed on horses nearby, explained what happened and asked if this was true, so I could get it straight, once and for all. "No, you have a right to take pictures here," they said. Still, I didn't dare take more. France is certainly a confusing place. I wish I had asked the art dealer more about his life as a Romanian in Paris.

Smoothest Rides Ever by M Durquet

Another day in the Mission. 
What these photos fail to convey are the glorious sounds coming out of each of these cars, rolling slowly through the streets of San Francisco. These men could be professional DJ's. They probably are. Funk, Rap, Soul, Blues, Rancheras.  The best party was in each car. And I have never seen cars so spotless. Not a crumb, or a hair, or a piece of paper or a fingerprint on the seats and the floors. Who would want to leave?

Freedom and Photography: Paris by M Durquet

"liberté égalité fraternité, hiru gezur horiek egiak balite" (si ces trois mensonges étaient des vérités!)

This is a Basque saying regarding the motto of France (and of Haiti). “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, if only those three lies were truths!”

When I was last in Paris, I showed a friend a photo I had just taken of lovers kissing at a café.  I didn’t get the shot I had hoped for, which was when the woman was still walking towards the man. I had stepped into the middle of the street, almost getting hit by a car, while trying to not be noticed.  My friend’s reaction was horror- I had no right to photograph people in public, he said. What if the man was cheating on his wife? I could ruin an entire marriage. They have laws about this in France, he tells me.  I have since learned that the punishment is 1 year imprisonment and 45,000 Euros.

I ponder the irony that such laws exist in the country where Daguerre gave to the world the first photograph of a person (actually 2 people), on the Boulevard du Temple. Paris is the city where streets and tramway stations are named after photographers- Lartigue, Atget, Daguerre and Niepce, but also George Eastman in the 13th arrondissement. There is even a garden named after Brassai near the Corvisart Metro stop.
Rue Georges Eastman, Philantrope. Inventeur de la pelicule photographique
Leaving the Square Brassai
Imagine if we didn’t have the photographs of Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, and Kertesz, all of whom photographed lovers kissing (this is the subject of another post).

Relating to Article 9 of the French civil code, a person’s private life includes his or her love life, friendships, family circumstances, leisure activities, political opinions, and many other things. Articles 226-1 to 226-9 of the new Penal Code add that taking a person’s picture, whether the person is living or dead, is prohibited without prior permission, since the protection of privacy extends beyond death. People have taken various positions regarding the interpretation of these laws (see the links below), and I am not claiming to understand them correctly. I just know that it makes it less fun to take pictures. I have been told by a French journalist that I have the right to photograph three or more houses from across a street, but not one house by itself, and that I cannot set up a tripod at the Jardin des Tuileries, nor take photos of the Eiffel Tower at certain times when lights are on. So I wonder why I am seeing photos by Bruce Gilden plastered all over the Paris metro stations, photos of Parisians rushing by on the street, who were clearly not giving their permission. Do they make exceptions for Magnum photographers? 

In my case, I was threatened even as I took photos of mannequins in a shop window, while standing on the sidewalk. “C’est INTERDIT!” (It is forbidden) someone from inside the shop rushed out and yelled. She told me I might sell my photos to “les Chinois”, who would then make cheap copies of the French creations. I find this insulting to the Chinese, who are perfectly capable of coming up with their own unique fashions. It also implies that everyone “else” is making money at the expense of the French, including me. In fact, I would have gladly contributed to the French economy, if they kept their stores open. I needed to replace some broken camera equipment and spent my last Sunday in Paris going from one closed camera store to another, then hoping to find at least a lens filter at FNAC, but was told they didn’t stock the size I needed (for a standard Canon lens)…ever.

But I digress: back to the first photo. My friend’s concern says this to me. In a city like Paris, a man should be able to meet his mistress in broad daylight, at a café on a quiet side street, near Montparnasse. He should be so relaxed that he could sit back in his chair with his ankles crossed as he slips his right hand under her derriere. She should be able to wear a little black dress, fishnet stockings, stiletto sandals and a matching black leather purse. She should feel free to wrap her left arm around his shoulders and hold his neck in the palm of her right hand while they kiss, for at least 5 minutes. And, in the ultimate gesture of tenderness, he should be able to take his left hand to the underside of her upper right arm, which is rarely seen by the sun, and touch its soft skin. I have to admit, this is romantic and maybe he's right.

A picture is more than a document about one individual or one moment- it becomes a medium for discovery and conversation. It is a reflection of time and place in a broader sense, where we can see ourselves through universal themes such as childhood, work, war, love, and everything else we collectively care about. We don’t actually know anything about these two people from this photograph. What we see reveals our individual points of view.  For example, my friend viewed the entire “story” from a male perspective, imagining the plight of the man, if he were to get caught in an affair. Where did his idea that this was an illicit meeting come from? Is it that most married women don’t go out to meet their husbands for a coffee in the middle of the day while dressed so seductively? We don’t know the true story. This scene might not even be real- they could be actors being filmed from somewhere else in the distance. Photographs are not to be trusted.

Freedom and Photography: Le Baiser by M Durquet

Andre Kertesz
Henri Cartier Bresson
Aurélie Filippetti, the former French minister of culture has expressed that Article 9 is unacceptable with regards to photographs. “Without them, our society doesn’t have a face,” she said. “Because of this law, we run the risk of losing our memory.” Doisneau’s “Baiser de L’Hotel de Ville” (1950) landed him in court decades after taking it. Jean and Denise Lavergne erroneously believed they were the subjects and invoked their rights under the French privacy laws. Doisneau was forced to reveal he had asked the real couple to pose, after having seen them kiss spontaneously and not wanting to intrude. He won the court case. The woman in the photo, Francoise Bornet, said: "We didn't mind. We were used to kissing. We were doing it all the time then, it was delicious.”

Freedom and Photography: Texas by M Durquet

On the street in downtown Austin.
When I returned to the US after photographing in Paris, I immediately felt that I was in a freer place, artistically speaking. No longer would people yell at me for taking pictures in public, as the French often did. The French privacy laws have made the land of Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson a rather inhospitable place for that same type of photography today. But, how interesting it is to come to Austin, Texas, which has changed dramatically in the 20 years since I last visited. It is a vibrant city and one of the highlights for me was seeing the "First Photograph" which is enshrined at the Henry Ransom Center. I always teach my students about this image by Niepce, yet I had never seen it. It is kept behind glass and walls in its own “section” of a room, with guards close by, next to the Gutenberg Bible. I love the story of the making of this photograph as it shows the tenacity and drive that people had to create an image, using materials such as bitumen and lavender oil, waiting for hours to make an exposure that often resulted in failure.

Texas is involved in recent debates over laws about photography. I learned that it is legal now to take pictures up womens' skirts here, otherwise known as “upskirting.” To get a full understanding of the law and the reasoning behind it, one must read the article, and go beyond the obviously lurid subject. This is a far cry from France. Texas is actually a place of freedom, even if in a perverted sort of way. One could say that it is a place where photography matters and debates are possible. The judge in the case, Sharon Keller, wrote: “The camera is essentially the photographer’s pen and paintbrush. A person’s purposeful creation of photographs is entitled to the same First Amendment protection as the photographs themselves.”

Whereas in France people hold on to these charming old world ideas about their ability to control their privacy or their lives (through striking or fighting Uber, or not working on Sundays), Americans have long since given up on such ideas. They pursue their private ideals, having mostly accepted that they are under surveillance all of the time anyways. Artists like Doug Rickard, can exploit the new methods of surveillance to coax art out of them and break new ground in the practice of photography.

One of the joys of photography is making images of things we don't normally have access to or pay attention to and sometimes these can be disturbing and uncomfortable. But the American law protecting freedom of speech is there because it supports a "free society." For me this means a society that examines itself, however imperfectly. The collective presence of all types of photography helps us do that. There is another issue, of course: censorship. We know that the American government has censored and impeded an enormous amount of photography related to our recent wars, but at least on an individual level, there exists a certain freedom to keep the spirit of photography alive.

Glass, Paper, Silver by M Durquet

What is the color of silver? When my students accidentally expose photographic paper to light, I have an internal fit, but try not to show it. I don’t like knowing we have wasted a resource- that there was silver perfectly spread in gelatin on that paper, that it had the potential to convey meaning. I often tack the exposed paper to the wall, and tack other sheets on top, just so I don’t have to throw them away. The other day I took some of these down and marveled at the colors they had become over the past year of doing nothing- some with glossy and other with matte surfaces. I brought them home, thinking I should play with them. As I looked around my house, fumbling for an idea, I recovered some old silver plates someone had given to me, items I had been too lazy to polish or use. The tarnished colors resonated with the silver gelatin paper.  Subject. Background. Light filtering through on a rainy day. Trying to find out what there was to see.

Happy New Year by M Durquet

Art is in the smallest details and in your deepest dreams.
Kim and Giacometti: Paris 2015
Portola District
The Castro
North Beach

Jalopies and Hoopties by M Durquet

Self-propelled internal combustion.
Vehicles of Expression.
Still to be found in San Francisco.
near 3rd street
24th street
24th and Mission
near 3rd street
near Cortland, on Bernal
Bayshore and Cortland, Baby.
Near Harrison street
Florida Street at 24th
Harrison Street 
near 3rd street

Self Portrait: Homage to Man Ray by M Durquet

In 2013, the Basque director Oskar Alegria introduced his film "The Search for Emak Bakia" at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival. An exceptional experimental film, it weaves documentary, storytelling, and history while revealing aspects of Man Ray's time in the Basque Country that are difficult to appreciate otherwise. Emak Bakia means "leave me in peace" in Basque and it was also the name of the house that Man Ray lived in. In this movie there are scenes of women sleeping whose eyes are captured just at the moment of awakening. These reminded me of some of my favorite Man Ray photos, such as the one of Kiki de Montparnasse. 
Kiki and the African Mask, by Man Ray 1926

Why Are There No Women Artists in the Congo? by M Durquet

The “Beauté Congo” exhibit at the Fondation Cartier in Paris has been so successful that it is extended until 2016.  As I walked through the exhibition, I noticed that most of the human subjects were men- Congolese politicians, Barak Obama or Muhammed Ali, for example. The occasional woman was provocatively dressed or a showcasing a car or pregnant with a budding male writer/artist.
Then I noticed that the artist names on the wall were all male. This is not unusual, in any part of the world.  According to the Guerrilla Girls, in 2012 less than 4% of artists in the modern art section of the Metropolitan Museum of New York were women. But in 2015, in a major art capital like Paris, at an exhibit representing an entire country and spanning a century, at a venue that according to Cartier’s website, “distinguishes itself by its curiosity, originality and heterogeneity,” I hoped for better. In the WSJ, Tobias Grey, says the “show’s scope is ambitious.” I wish it were ambitious enough to include women.
I asked a girl working at the museum entrance if there were any women artists in the exhibit. She nodded no, then as I walked away, she said: “Wait! There is one downstairs.” I headed there, excited. Finally, towards the end of the exhibition, I saw the name: Antoinette Lubaki. She was born in 1895. There were 4 works by her, identical in subject and style to the 14 works by her husband nearby. So, I considered some of these possibilities:
1.    No woman born in the 20th century, in this country of 77 million people, ever touched clay or a brush, camera or other artistic tool or attended an art school or produced anything of artistic value.
2.     The curatorial team (headed by Andre Magnin), did not make an effort to look for such a woman. It is noteworthy that of the 11 (mostly white) catalogue contributors, only two- Nancy Rose Hunt and Dominique Malaquais, are female.
3.    Magnin’s definition of what constitutes Congolese art is too narrow to include what women do.
4.    For any number of reasons (which might include economics, war and societal expectations), women are discouraged from making art.

Magnin said, “It is my duty to recount…the adventure that led me to a deep exploration of Congolese art. I had three aspirations with Beauté Congo. The first…was to share with a Western public the passion that impelled me to search all over Congo-Zaire for thirty years. My second aspiration was to tell the story of ninety years of Congolese art which had always been described partially, and was visually familiar, but only fragmentarily so until now. I want this exhibition to widen people’s perceptions of the country…” 

Yet, I still feel I am being presented a “partial” and “fragmented” story. One interesting work is a painting whose title translates into “Africa of the Future.”
Here we see a utopian vision of a modern world- clean, bright, and where women are mostly invisible. The few women are accompanied by a man, while the men either walk independently or with their friends, drive cars or spaceships. I counted approximately 57 men and 9 women. This far exceeds the imbalance in countries like India and China, which have a preference for sons and where (according to the Daily Mail) “there are now as many as 120 or 140 boys for every 100 girls despite a ban on gender-based abortion.” Art reflects back to us our desires, values and beliefs, so what is this painting saying?  

I would have liked the Fondation Cartier to address why, of the 350 works shown and of the 40 artists represented, only one is a woman (represented by 4 pieces, or 1.1% of the total works). I am not even sure 1.1% is statistically relevant. The Guardian refers to this show as the “first ever retrospective of art from the DRC”, but it would be more appropriate to clarify for visitors that this is the first ever retrospective of art by MEN from the DRC. In France, where people love to strike, why haven’t the citizens of Paris plastered fliers or held signs in front of the Fondation? Why the blindness and complacency? Of all the reviews I’ve read, only Rachel Donadio in the New York Times has touched upon this, and brings in a quote by Pascale Obolo regarding the “neocolonial and paternalistic attitude of Mr. Magnin.” Ms. Donadio also informs readers about Michele Magema, a successful Congolese artist who has exhibited internationally, yet wasn’t included in this show. How did Magnin, “The world’s foremost expert on African art,” (according to The Guardian) miss her?

Jenny Stevens, also from The Guardian, interviewed one of the artists in Beauté Congo, Kiripi Katembo. He shares his thoughts about one of his images: “Women raise children, look after their husbands, and also go out to work and provide. Yet men are still seen as the chiefs. When I look at this picture, I think about all the work women do to serve the economy of Congo and their families, but they get no respect. They are treated like machines, while men can do what they like. I also think of my mother, who died last year. She worked in the market, ran her own business, knitted and worked out in the fields, too. So I called this image Move Forward as a way of saying thank you to women – because they are the true power of my country, the people driving it forward.” 

A Guerrilla Girl who goes by KAHLO said, “ How can you really tell the story of a culture when you don’t include all the voices within the culture? Otherwise, it’s just the history, and the story, of power.” In this exhibit we have a story of the power of men, and a story of the power of France in its former colonies. We have the story of who finances exhibits in the contemporary art world. Cartier is owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, based in Switzerland and headed by a South African: Johann Rupert. As of 2014, Richemont is the second-largest luxury goods company in the world and Rupert is the 2nd richest man in Africa, valued at over 7 billion dollars.

I wanted to find a different story about Congolese women artists and after searching, I came upon this. In April 2014, Ugandan born curator Robinah Nansubuga curated an exhibition in Kinshasa called Women Without Borders, and it included 19 artists from central and east Africa, including the DRC. She estimates that “only about 10-20 out of 200 or 300 artists in a university here are women. We wanted to understand why there are so few, and what challenges are holding them back.”

Other links of interest:

I Was No Longer the Person I Was.. Joel and Robert by M Durquet

Kizomba at the Viaduc. Paris, 2015 

Every encounter with a person or a place has the potential to change us completely. The person who changed my way of seeing, as a photographer, was Robert Clarke-Davis. I was lucky enough to have spent moments wandering with him in Chicago and San Francisco, watching him imperceptibly take photos. And, he sent me camera equipment and photographs of his to look at, nearly every week, for years. My eyes perceive the world differently because of him. 

Joel Meyerowitz quit his job and decided to become a photographer on the day he met Robert Frank, even though they barely exchanged words. I enjoyed watching this video, in which Joel describes watching Robert take photographs of two children and the effect that hearing Frank press the shutter had on him.  Little snippets: “The small gestures seemed to have meaning, or potential for meaning. I felt the rhythmic flow. They were visual revelations. When I left the location, suddenly, everything on the street seemed dynamic and alive. Block after block, the world was inundating me. I was no longer the person I was when I left.”

This video also reminds me that one of the best ways to learn something is to just be in the PRESENCE of a master, and listen, wait, watch. No books, no classroom, no tests. Then, if you don't want to be a schmuck, get a camera...any camera. 

"People ask: 'What camera do you use?' I say: 'You don’t ask a writer what typewriter he uses.' " - Man Ray

Looking at People Looking by M Durquet

"Art does heal: scientists say appreciating creative works can fight off disease." is the headline of a Feb 2015 article in The Telegraph. It says that experiencing art is associated with the following positive emotions: "amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride." I know this is one of the reasons I love getting a text like this from a former student. Even better is seeing students post pictures of themselves with art, like the one below. All photos were taken this summer in Paris, except the Barnett Newman, taken in NY last year.

Musee Picasso- I loved their outfits, her tattoos, that she is taller than him and how she was so affectionate.
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. Hardly anyone goes here. Again, I was drawn to her tattoo, the way she held herself the whole time she was looking at the art, and she looked very, very slowly.
Centre Pompidou- Yves Klein. This jovial woman from Spain didn't realize that there was anything in common between her dress and the painting until I showed her this picture.
Musee D'Orsay- I stalked this poor couple for a long time, and really wanted a photo of them from the front. But I knew that, being French, they wouldn't agree to it. The woman, who must have been in her late 60s or 70s, had impeccable style. Her necklace matched her heels and her dress was a piece of art in itself.
The Louvre- Egypt
The Louvre- Seated Scribe, Egyptian 2500 BCE
Institut du Monde Arabe
Institut du Monde Arabe
MOMA- Barnett Newman

Man Ray and Lee Miller by M Durquet

Paris, 2015
When people are asked which historical figures they would like to meet, answers like Jesus and Mother Theresa come up. For me, it is Man Ray. I made a pilgrimage to photograph his grave at the Cimetiere de Montparnasse this summer, and read his epitaph: "Unconcerned but not indifferent." He is buried with Juliet Browner, whom he met in Los Angeles when he was 50 and she was 29. Of Romanian descent, she was strikingly beautiful in an unconventional way and besides posing for many photographs she would just hang around so that Man Ray could be inspired by her "presence". 

Juliet Browner, by Man Ray
But, I’ve always been more interested in one of his previous lovers, Lee Miller. At the age of 22, she traveled from the US to learn photography from Man Ray in Paris. Man was nearly 40 and already had a formidable reputation as a Surrealist, painter and photographer. When she landed on his doorstep, he initially refused her but she left with him for Biarritz the next day. She eventually rivaled him as an artist and became a brilliant photographer in her own right. The touching aspect of their relationship is that although they had a devastating break up that drove Man to madness, they eventually reconciled. Both married other people and when Lee Miller later succumbed to depression and alcoholism, Man sent handmade gifts to her in the US to help her feel better. This relationship continued until the end of their lives. Below is a photo I found of them on this link ( just before Man Ray died at age 85. Their love is palpable.

Interesting portrait of Lee and Man by William Seabrook
Man Ray and Lee Miller in 1975

Balthus by M Durquet

I come to Paris to be reminded that art and love are one and the same. Both are driven by a desire for wholeness, creativity, truth, surprise. At the Centre Pompidou, I saw a Balthus that was just donated to the museum. I haven't seen a reproduction of it anywhere and, standing there, I felt that coming all the way to Paris was worth it just to see this one painting. 
new Balthus at the Pompidou, Paris
Art, like love, sometimes involves transgression. Balthus said, " I want to proclaim in broad daylight, with sincerity and feeling, all the throbbing tragedy of a drama of the flesh, proclaim vociferously, the deep-rooted laws of instinct." I learned to love Balthus as a student in Wayne Thiebaud's painting class in college. From the perspective of the painter looking at a Balthus, one quickly sees past the erotic elements and is struck by his masterful technique, a method based on years spent on one painting, using paints hand mixed each morning by his wife, Setsuko, references to the great figures in the history or art, and compositions so carefully structured that they have the grace of a bird in flight at the moment it passes between two branches of a tree. As I look at his paintings, I think that in our modern world, we have forgotten the beauty of the smallest gestures, bending over to dry a leg with a towel, reaching for a mirror or a comb, resting a hand on an armchair. Perhaps one of the most compelling or revealing things a woman can do is sit, lost in thought. Or, sit while lost in another's thoughts, through reading a book. In this painting, Balthus picks up this theme in golden hues, punctuated by 2 complementary colors, orange and blue. The book appears as a sort of light, the back of the chair mimics the delicate curve of a spoon. The white of this curve reappears on the girl's right foot, partially hidden and framed within a small shape. Her face turns slightly towards us as her eyes turn towards the book, the spine of the book is parallel to her arms, and Balthus positions her legs to create triangles that remind us of Raphael's compositions. The girl's nonchalance adds to her mystery. The bare surroundings bring attention to the folds of her skirt and the armchair. These folds suggest movement, and from there our imagination can travel wherever it wants, if her skirt were to move and reveal more. Still, she will always know more than we do. Only she knows the contents of the unnamed book and of her thoughts. We are under her spell, but can never reach her. 
A contemporary photographer doing interesting work based on Balthus's oeuvre is Hisaji Hara. 
I also just learned that Balthus produced nearly 2000 polaroids at the end of his life. See this article: