Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The release of the sound track to the motion picture “Shaft” starring Richard Roundtree was to be a major event. It featured the music of Maestro; Isaac Hayes for which he would win the much coveted Oscar and sold in the multiple millions. The album was released a few weeks earlier than the film and I had become engrossed in the music. The cover too, was itself an achievement of advertising art featuring the action hero/detective in a pulp fiction moment of triumphant motion with grim expression and guns blazing..  The bold, original concept “Shaft” logo most prominent! The liner notes spoke of many things including the film’s remarkable director; Gordon Parks. There was also a photo of Isaac Hayes with Parks and the creator of Shaft; Ernest Tidyman standing on the MGM studios film lot. All distinguished and excited about their collaboration. This was my introduction to Gordon Parks; an illustrious and variously talented man; one most gifted and accomplished. 

 From the starting point of film director I would discover that Mr. Parks had earlier directed the celebrated account of his own autobiographical novel “The Learning Tree.” He had even scored that film himself as well as having written the screen play. Parks had another major star point in his universe of expression. He was a photo-journalist of the highest order. He had been a staff member of the most lauded photography magazine in history.  The legendary magazine; “LIFE” was his home for a number of brilliant years. His contributions to the magazine included essays and photos on fashion, sports, Broadway and racial segregation. Parks remains a standard bearer for the ages; he is one among the greatest generation of photographers.

The films, writings, music and teachings of Gordon Parks have served as testaments to his journey to understanding, self-expression and the enrichment of the human experience. The catalogue of Gordon Parks’ efforts is eclectic, extensive and extraordinary. I have selected five pieces to illustrate his photography. They are his voice and speak to our pleasure.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Great Gonzo: Ralph Steadman

The great gonzo journalist; Hunter S. Thompson made famous as much for his erratic behavior, drug abuse and bravado as he was for his craftsmanship of writing. He excelled with his prose but he did not work alone. His “criminal” partner was another equally talented, equally erratic, balistically bombastic and gloriously flamboyant artist; Ralph Steadman.

Steadman illustrated a number of Thompson works including most famously Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Curse of Lono and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.  These are now classics; coveted by owners and selling to collectors for exorbitant prices. Orwell’s Animal Farm was published a few years ago in a limited 50th anniversary edition; and yes, Steadman brilliantly illustrated that master work too.

The art of Ralph Steadman is intriguing; bold and shocking with explosions of ideas, and unfettered recklessness. The colorful products of the hand and mind of the genius/madman; Steadman can equally amuse, shock and many times disturb. He recently designed a piece for Newsweek magazine. It was a response to the Charlie Hebdo murders. The article “The Right to Offend” written by Robert Chalmers features exerpts from a conversation between the two on satire, religion, terrorism and questions of artistic freedom and responsibility. It is highly recommended reading.

“Looking at what has happened in Paris, I now feel that I have succeeded. I did manage to change the world, and it is a worse place than when I started.”    
                                                                                                  Ralph Steadman

This comes at a time of extreme low for Steadman and all lovers of freedom (particularly lovers of satirical illustration and commentary.) I am not at all certain of Steadman’s observation of his life. He is as much a hero and inspiration to his supporters and admirers as he is in any way a detriment. He does what all great artists do he shows the world a particular truth and in  the moments we are engaged with his work we are distant from the pain of life as we see that same pain more clearly.