Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This post has no photos, but its got a lot of feeling

I’m a good sport. I’m a team player. If something is needed to get the job done, and it’s something I can do, then I’ll do it. No hesitation. No questions asked. So last fall, as the brand manager for the corporation that I work for, I went to a photoshoot in New York City. The Creative Director asked if I might step in as a model if needed. I said sure! If that helps the photoshoot, if that helps get the job done, then I am there, 200%! And I was. It was a five-day shoot at as many locations and at each I had fun not only giving brand input, but holding up reflectors, moving props, chatting up the models; I did whatever was needed and enjoyed doing it. 

It was the last day of shooting when I was asked to model. It had been a long week of long days and this was towards the end of the last day. We were shooting at beautiful home on a lake north of NYC. The weather was warm and humid. Trust me when I tell you my hair was not looking its best. Trust me when I tell you that the make-up I put on at 6 am that morning was non-existent. Trust me when I tell you that wardrobe put me in the most boring, most conservative, limpest of blouses and khaki pants, which I would normally never, ever wear. But I’m a good sport! It was my part and I was going to play it. And I did. 

Sitting with my model “husband” on the outdoor deck overlooking the lake and pretending that we were reviewing our finances on a laptop. I chatted. I smiled. I played the part. And it was all fine until yesterday. An art director who I’ve worked with only long distance and we’ve never met in person, sent me a brochure to brand review. It was a brochure on retirement. Fine. No problem there, I do this all the time. I scroll through the pdf, all looks good. All is on brand. Then I get to a page with a photo of me and my “husband”. The copy reads “Meg and Bob are about to retire...”

What? What? How can a photo of ME be used as part of a couple that’s about to retire! I like to think of myself looking at least 10 years younger than I am, which would place me in early to mid-forties. I tried to be objective, thinking if I saw that woman, would I think she looks old enough to retire? Maybe? Really? Maybe? It is a terrible photo of me. But I don’t want even a terrible photo of me to look like I could be near retirement. But what’s retirement age anyway? It’s 65. Right? Do I look 65? I want to be at least 75 or 80 before I look 65. I can’t show you the photo because of photo rights, and I wouldn’t show you anyway, because it’s terrible!

Vanity, vanity. Hell yes!

It’s kind of driving me crazy. 

I just spent thirty minutes looking at images of Ines de la Fressange, one of my style icons. She’s beautiful in a very natural French way. And she is a year older than me. I looked at her images comparing the lines around her eyes with mine. The lines on her neck with mine. Ok, ok, maybe I have fewer? But she’s very beautiful to begin with and she’s model tall and model thin. But she’s got lines! She has a great smile. I have a great smile too. Would someone use her as an example of someone who is about to retire? I don’t know. I remind myself of wise words I once heard in a writing class...compare and despair. 

And now I know, I take photos too personally to be a model. 

And now I know, I am what I am. Keep smiling. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Korda: an eye for beauty and revolution

The cover of the show catalog, featuring Natalia "Norka" Mendez,
Korda's second wife and model, 1958. All photos are courtesy of the Alberto Korda Estate. 

One evening after work in early December, best-fashion-friend-forever Karen and I braved rush hour traffic to drive to Foothill College in Los Altos, which is about a forty-five minute drive south of San Francisco. Both of us are passionate about fashion and we were determined to see a fashion photography show, Korda Moda, that was closing soon. The photographer was someone we had not heard of before: Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, who called himself Korda.

We arrived at the gallery and there we learned a fascinating story of fashion, politics and Cuban history.

One of Korda's three main models, Nidia Rios, circa 1956

The exhibition was created by Ron Herman, chairman of Foothill College photography department. Viewing the thirty beautifully hung photos on display in the small campus gallery, we were suddenly in the glitzy and glamorous Cuba of the 1950's. At that time, Havana was a sexy jetsetting place with Hollywood stars such as Ava Gardner, Rita Heyworth, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Lana Turner flying in to play at the swell hotels and shop at the elegant El Encanto department store, which carried the latest Parisian fashions including an exclusive Dior salon.

Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez and his business partner, Luis Peirce Byers, opened a photography studio in Old Havana in 1954. They named it Korda Studio because according to the show catalog, they liked that it sounded similar to Kodak and it was also a tribute to filmmakers they admired, Alexander and Zoltan Korda. Alberto became associated with the name and took it as his own. The studio gained success shooting commercial photography, including fashion. In 1956 they moved their studio nearer the center of all the excitement, across the street from the Hotel Capri. Korda met Norka and together as photographer and model, they became Cuba's most exciting creative fashion couple. But the main motivation for Korda was not capturing the chic clothes on film. It was as he said, "I wanted to become a famous fashion photographer because that way I would be able to meet the most beautiful women in Cuba." And because of the quality of his work, he became known as the Richard Avedon of Cuba.

Norka, photo for front page of "La Mujer" supplement of Diario de la Marina newspaper, June 1958

Norka, photo for front page of "La Mujer" supplement of Diario de la Marina newspaper, 1960

But with Fidel Castro's rise to power in the early 60's, Cuba was glitzy and fashionable no more and it was all about the revolution. Korda admired Castro and became part of the revolution, documenting him, his men and protests. On March 5, 1960, Korda shot what is considered the most reproduced image ever, the photo of Che Guevara. As all businesses were being nationalized, Korda's studio was taken over by the government and his photos were either hidden or destroyed.

 "Heroic Guerilla"

Ron Herman gathered all the photos in this show and created the catalog. For the last four years, he has conducted art and culture tours of Cuba while searching for the missing Korda fashion photos. He sourced the thirty in this show from Korda's family and former models. Herman continues to search for more. He is organizing another trip to Cuba March 23-April 5, details can be found here

With this quote from the Korda Moda catalog, Korda explains his creative motivation:
"A man who develops a work like mine is always dedicated to something he loves. I did that from the very beginninging. I have loved the beauty of women as much as the beauty of those men who led the Revolution. The beauty of those men is not only esthetic but also moral. Loving, as I did, the work I made with men like Castro and Che Guevara, you can see the similarities between both types of photography." (Korda: A Revolutionary Lens)