I recently watched my son D’s reaction to Suzie Templeton’s Peter and the Wolf as closely as I watched the animated film itself. The 30-minute film is a child’s tale, but there are scenes that might take an older person’s explanation (in the way the Lion King’s “circle of life” could be considered by some parents to be thematically mature). Mainly, though, I wanted to see if the story would help jumpstart his appreciation for classical music in the way it helped me back when I was his age.
When I myself was three years old, my parents took me to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I do not know if it was Eugene Ormandy himself who conducted the piece that day, or if it was one of his assistants, but I remember the narrator introducing each of the characters: Peter, his grandfather, a duck, a bird and the wolf, and the instrument that represented each one. To this day, it is the grumpy bassoon of the grandfather and the ominous French horns of the wolf that come most quickly to my mind when you mention Peter and the Wolf.
For those of us who grew up with the Prokofiev music and narration, there are probably some firm ideas on how Peter and the Wolf should look. One of Templeton’s most obvious changes is that she gets rid of the narrator. Templeton says one filmgoer complained that she had spoiled his childhood memories of the story, but many of us will instead be impressed by the meticulousness of the storytelling and the beauty of the filmmaking. The scene with the bird (a Russian crow in this case) attempting to fly with the help of a balloon is humorous and magical. The cat is elephantine. The basic plot remains the same. Peter is forbidden to leave the home of his stern grandfather, who warns him of the dangers of confronting the wolf who inhabits the area. The setting is updated to look like a part of Eastern Europe that has fallen on economic hard times. The audacious Peter is still the story’s hero.
It reportedly took Prokofiev four days back in 1936 to write the musical piece; it took Templeton and her crews, based in Lodz, Poland, five years to make this film interpretation, which they painstakingly pieced together using stop animation. (The formerly disappearing art form has recently been resurrected by filmmakers like Nick Park, who brought us Wallace and Gromit). Templeton made several research trips to places like St. Petersburg to inspire her to create what has been called a very “Russian look” to the film. The puppetmakers were meticulous in creating the details of the characters’ faces and bodies. The grandfather’s face is craggy. Peter looks longingly at the woods with the palest blue eyes. Interestingly, the puppets (which use ball and joint steel armatures) were said to be so complicated that the filmmakers heavily used changes in lighting and camera angles rather than facial manipulations to suggest changes in expression. The sets are elaborate; the filmmakers used hundreds of real trees to create a 60-foot long set for the forest. Templeton also makes some tweaks to Prokofiev’s simple plot: the hunters are bumbling and cruel, for instance. And in this more politically correct era (and film), the wolf is a wild but ambiguous figure. After Peter captures him, he allows the animal to slip away.
Bill Pierce on why it makes sense for some photographers to travel light.
David Alan Harvey works, whenever possible, with a small camera (Leica) and a single lens (35mm). David is one of those people, wise before his time, who realizes photography is about what is in front of the lens, not in back of it. All the equipment in the world can’t save your butt if you can’t observe, deal and, sometimes, even understand your subject. Indeed, all of the equipment in the world, when it is hanging around your neck, can be a real impediment to dealing with your subject.
Mentions Henri Cartier-Bresson (who worked primarily with his Leica rangefinder), Richard Avedon (who mostly works with a twin-lens Rollei and an 8×10) and Arthur Grace (whose book Choose Me was shot with a twin-lens Rollei). Via Ian G., aka 4edges.
Traditional media continues to atrophy, but the need for content has not. If anything, there is a greater need for content than there has ever been. Columnists talk about the death of newspapers, but we are all reading more text, viewing more images and watching more video; we just happen to be doing more of it online. Talk to anyone under the age of 30, and chances are that they read few, if any, print publications.
It has become harder to make a living as a photographer, but easier to sell photographs. Online distribution has made media more easily available, but more media now sell at commodity prices. Photographers are no longer paid simply to make a technically competent photograph. Kodak roll cartridge film and Polaroid instant film popularized photography, but it is digital photography that has put the skills of making and developing properly-exposed photographs into many more amateur hands. That has caused deep concern among many aspiring professionals, who find themselves in an arms race with affluent consumers to buy more and more expensive equipment. The price of stock photographs has been driven down to the cellar; microstock photos sometimes sell for as little as a few dollars, or even a couple of dimes. Robert Lam got $30 for a Time magazine cover photo.
I have drafted a cover page for my online book Through the Looking Glass: Photographer Interviews.
Stacy Oborn discusses the process of self publishing a photo book with Elijah Gowin and James Luckett.
What I found intriguing, and worth posting here, was that between Elijah and James I had examples of the two extreme options left to the photographer interested in self-publishing an art monograph. Eljiah was going the whole-hog, no-expenses-spared, best press in the world, best paper, total authorial control route; while James is counted among the much more vast population of photographers casting a hopeful lot with one of the various print-on-demand publishers on the scene these days. I decided to talk with both of them about their projects and processes, fits and starts, and share what I learned here.
Rick Jelliffe writes about how he lived “smaller” in 2008.
In Japan under the Shoguns, there were tight sumptuary laws that prevented ordinary people from such luxuries as chairs and tables. The result was a culture rich in fabric, ceramic, paper, paper, gardens, calligraphy and small objects that could be stored away. There is little stark about a simple traditional Japanese tatami room, which can be contrasted with the starkness of the ideological modesty of Shaker furniture, for example: indeed, the plainness of tatami room merely provides a frame which shows off the beauty of craftsmanship, design and display. So simplicity is not antagonistic to beauty.
I am part of the group show “A Reflection on Life in New York” that is being hosted by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office – New York from December 15-22. The show is curated by Hom Liou.
When you are a young man, you are not yet fully aware how the years can blow past like the wind, that there are good years as well as bad, that they must all be weathered in the same way that trees earn their rings. One of the greatest challenges of becoming an artist is overcoming the fear of feeling like a fool. It is no accident that fools are quickest to overcome that fear.