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Posts tagged ‘photography’

Beats, portraits and tennis coats

As it’s now the weekend, here are three cultural treats of my week…

Hey Daddio, it’s Beat Girl

Swinging cats, strippers and squares all star in Beat Girl (dir, Gréville, 1960), an exploitation film revelling in the seedy side of Soho and the bad deeds of 1950s teens. The soundtrack by the John Barry Seven is the epitome of hip coffee bar cool. Just check out the entrance of the eponymous, rebellious ‘Beat Girl’, Jennifer (played by Gillian Hills) in the opening credits (and a young, zoned out Oliver Reed).

Jennifer is disgusted when her father remarries a much younger French women, Nicole, and sets out to reveal her stepmother’s murky past. One of the movie posters proclaims – “my mother was as stripper, I want to be one too”. Another warns, “this could happen to your teenage daughter”, but the moral panic offers an excuse to linger on lengthy strip scenes, explicit for the time.

The post-war generational divide is addressed awkwardly in the film, with the disaffected young men discussing their experiences of growing up during Blitz and hiding out in the underground, just like the cavernous clubs they now swing in.

In contrast, City 2000 is the obsession of Jennifer’s architect father, offering a rather sterile vision of the future, and her rebellion is a way to get attention from him. Ultimately, after she gets into danger with strip club owner (played by Christopher Lee), she is pulled back into the family unit.

While Beat Girl is not quite “over and out”, it’s worth a watch for the “straight out of the fridge” lingo, Gillian Hill’s pouty, beatnik disdain, and the recurring theme song. You dig.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

For an afternoon treat this week, I headed to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. You can explore some of the chosen photos in this gallery. This portrait photography competition received over 5,000 entries, which were narrowed down to the 60 displayed in the exhibition. There weren’t any portraits which I felt would linger with me long after the exhibition, but I enjoyed seeing the variety of contemporary photos from the famous to family, from friends of the photographers to those they met on the street. Most of the portraits were staged, whether strictly commercial or not, and often full of drama and imagined stories behind their faces.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 M Shed

A sense of discomfort emanates from the winning portrait, Margarita Teichroeb (2011) by Jordi Ruiz Cirera, and as a viewer you wonder why the subject of the piece is covering her mouth and whether you or the photographer should be sharing this moment. Margarita is from a Mennonite community in Bolivia, living without electricity and cars, and where photography is often forbidden. The photographer spent time with them, but they were very uncertain about having their portraits taken (understandable in the circumstances). You can see blurred glimpses of her mother and sister in the background, in the context of the photo, seeming to shield themselves from the camera’s gaze. In comparison the second prize-winner, captures a woman at ease, almost incidentally naked with a chipped mug in her hand.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 is on at the M-Shed in Bristol until 3 November. This year’s prize starts on 14 November until 9 February 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Tennis Coats… at last

When in Tokyo, we wanted to say “sayonara” to the city by going a gig on the final night of our holiday. One of the city’s coolest married couples, the Tennis Coats (Saya & Takashi Ueno), were playing so we headed off to see them, got a little bit lost and ended up arriving just as they were playing their last song. (We hadn’t realised that the main act plays first in Japan, but at least we got to see the support act.)

Serendipitously this week, I noticed they were playing a surprise gig at Cafe Kino in Bristol. Although both feeling a little under the weather, we knew the holiday circle had to be completed. We came away feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy. Memories of our time in Japan, combined with the lovely, mellow but energetic atmosphere the musicians created, delightful tunes and the way that random people took to the stage throughout to join the act. A perfect way to spend a Tuesday evening.

What were your cultural highlights this week?

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Awa Odori at Tokushima: dancing in the street

Energy and elegance take to the streets of Tokushima each August for the Awa Odori. This summer, we were lucky to be able to join over one million people to enjoy Japan’s largest dance festival.

Awa Odori is one of the most famous celebrations which makes up the Buddhist Obon festivities where people return to their home towns to welcome the dead’s brief return to Earth.  The streets in Tokushima on Shikoku island are filled with people of all ages dressing up and dancing together from 12 to 15 August.

Dancing in the rain 

On arrival at Tokushima, we were greeted by the first rain that we’d seen in Japan throughout the two weeks of our travels. We were told that the dancing was in the balance and they would make a decision at 5pm…

But as soon as we drifted into the streets of Tokushima it was clear that the dance was on.

Woman dancing at Awa Odori in Tokushima

Women and men dance at the Awa Odori Festival.

We did not realise that the Awa Odori would be the same repeated dance from each troop or ren. Rather than being dull however, the repetition was enthralling. Before the end of one performance, we were cranking out necks for the next ren to come along, picking out the subtle changes in the movement. Hours passed without us noticing…

Man dancing at Awa Odori in Tokushima, Japan.

A man carrying the lantern at the Tokushima Dance Festival.

Woman dancing Awa Odori in formation, Tokushima, Japan.

What are the origins of the Awa Odori dance? 

There are a few theories on the origins of the Awa Odori with Awa being the old name for the Tokushima prefecture and Odori meaning dance. The one that seems most prevalent is that it was invented during the celebrations on completion of a new castle for the Lord of Awa in the sixteenth century. During the party, revellers’ inebriation caused them to stumble back and forth with their arms moving in the air.

women at Awa Odori on the streets of Tokushima, Japan

The dress defines the dance

The women’s traditional costumes were stunning, notably the striking amigasa (semi-circular hats) which were so eye-catching as the women moved in unison. Yukata (summer kimonos), beautiful obi often containing fans, and geta (wooden sandals) were also part of the show. The kimono restricts movement encouraging a graceful dance as participants stretch upwards on tiptoes in formation with the triangular hats forming patterns as they dance down the street.

Women's hats, Awa Odori dancers, Tokushima, Japan.

Wooden sandals or geta dancing.

Women dancing at Awa Odori in Tokushima, Japan.

Women in traditional hat at Awa Odori.

Whilst the kimono-clad women are choreographed to reach upwards, the men move down in a squatting motion with much more freedom. Many women and children took on this dance too and dressed in the men’s costumes of happi jackets, shorts and split-toed socks. The men wear the scarves around their heads which are tied under the nose and the women wear little scarf crowns.

Man dancing Awa Odori, Tokushima, Japan.

Women in Awa Odori men's dress at Tokushima, Japan.

A woman dancing in traditional dress at the Awa Odori in Takushima, Japan.

Only fools don’t join the dance…

The lyrics, “Odoru aho ni miru aho; onaji aho nara odoranya son son!” rang out across the city. In other words, it’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches; if both are fools, you might as well dance!

So throughout the event, freestyle dancers from the crowd joined in. This beautiful woman in the blue and white yukata with green obi was sitting just along from us and I was pleased to catch her on camera as she joined the dance procession.

Dancers from the crowd join the Awa Odori.

The beat is created by shamisens, gongs, taiko drums and flutes.

Woman playing the shamisen at Awa Odori Tokushima, Japan.

“Yattosa, yattosa” was called out throughout the performances. This is a hayashi kotoba call and response pattern stays in your head long after the dance has ended.

Woman at Awa Odori in traditional costume.

How to join the Awa Odori dance festival

If you’re in Japan from 12 to 15 August, I’d highly recommend checking out the Awa Odori. If you want to stay in Tokushima itself, you need to book accommodation several months in advance. When we looked a month before, we had to widen our search and stayed in Takumatsu, just over an hour’s train journey away. There are other Obon dances around Japan, including the second largest in Tokyo. You can also get in touch with the organisers in Tokushima and join the fools’ dance! If you’ve been to Tokushima’s Awa Odori or know any more about the traditions behind the dances, please feel free to comment and share your experiences.

I’ll leave the last note to the performers…

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An Eye for Vintage Fashion – Norman Parkinson

Eye for Fashion M-Shed, Bristol

What a lovely way to spend a Saturday. Lie in. Awake late to snow. Perfect chance to wear new 1960s style swing coat, faux fur hat and hand-warmer (crafted by my talented friend at Come Step Back in Time) Then off to An Eye for Fashion to see glamorous 1950s and 1960s fashion photos in a pretty, pastel-shaded space…

An Eye for Fashion at M Shed in Bristol (UK) focuses on influential fashion photographer, Norman Parkinson’s shots of British Designers from 1954 to 1964 as featured in Vogue and Queen magazines. Visitors can follow the intertwined fashion and societal changes from the austere 1950s though to the swinging 1960s, illustrating the shifts in lifestyles being sold to women through these magazines.

The show is a collaboration between the Angela Williams Archive and the M Shed. Sixty rare prints were chosen from the archive, many of which have not been displayed before. Angela Williams, a successfiul photographer in her own right, enjoyed a creative partnership with Parkinson starting in 1962 when she became his assistant.  The M Shed delves into its collection of vintage fashion to complement the photos on display so that we can see how the designer looks played out on the high street.

Vitality, cheekiness and 1960s optimism abound in the shots. Parkinson is well known for taking fashion photography out of the stuffy studio to outdoor locations in dockyards, streets and alleys as well as exotic locations. Parkinson said, ‘My aim was to take moving pictures with a still camera.’ (An Eye for Fashion catalogue) As fashion photography is of the moment, it is wonderful that these images have been preserved for future generations, especially the photos that didn’t make the final cut for the magazines.

The catalogue tells us that Norman Parkinson liked to take photos of ‘real’ women rather than ‘ice queen’ debutantes. Taking a different sense of ‘real’ women, as someone who buys Vogue as a guilty pleasure, it was interesting to see the way in which the models did indeed look more natural here and less ‘fake’ than their modern photo-edited versions.

10 years is a long time in fashion…

The 1950s  fashion magazine shots on display are targeted at the Vogue reader of the time – older, affluent middle class women. The photos reflect this with images of Ladies, “Mrs so and so” shopping, parties in stately homes, and twinsets and pearls. The aspiration is to be like these upper/upper-middle class women with their glamorous, champagne lifestyles. To complement, these shots, we see fashions of the day. A hyper-feminine, lacey pink prom dress with fitted bodice and full skirt caught my eye, which you could imagine a contemporary girl toning down with sneakers. Another display features two suits with fitted waists and calf length straight skirts – a common 1950s silhouette. Very ‘ladies who lunch’.

Swinging sixites

Then the swinging 1960s arrive – less Hardy Amies, more Mary Quant and Jean Muir. This decade saw shorter hemlines, nylons, bolder colours replace restrictive hemlines, stockings and dressing like your mother. The iconic shot used on the catalogue of Jean Shrimpton epitomises the decade’s cool confidence. Musicians start to appear in fashion shoots; see ‘How to kill five stones with one bird’ featuring Nicole de la Marge in Mary Quant with the Rolling Stones. From the M Shed’s archives, they pull out a cool Mary Quant style raincoat (which I would wear) and a psychedelic monochrome top (which interestingly feels more dated).

Jean-Shrimpton---Plain-Girl-campaign---Norman-Parkinson-catagloue

There is an energy and excitement in the photos and a cheeky sense of wit but also an innocence. Take Jill Kennington and Melanie Hampshire chatting to London bobbies on the beat (see a similar photo from the National Portrait Gallery) – Parkinson’s commission for Life Magazine in 1963 to promote Brit style state-side. You can imagine that these young women had just arrived in the big city intent on making their way in the world.

Another shot I love is a Daks advert in Vogue, 1961. The model is posed side-saddle on the cool mode of transport at the time, a vespa with leopard skin head scarf, tight cream skirt and tie blouse completed with ankle boots. A vintage style which could easily be given a 2012 twist.

If you have an interest in vintage fashion or social history, it’s well worth giving this exhibition a visit. An Eye for Fashion is on at the M Shed in Bristol until 15 April 2012. I’m in for the Vintage Weekend on 24 and 25 March. Hope to see you there!

Watch the private view and take sneak peek at the exhibition!