Drawing inspiration from such disparate works as Ingres paintings from the early 19th Century, a poster I remember seeing all over New York 40 years ago for a Joffrey Ballet production, and those pulsating hippie light shows of the Sixties, I shot all these photos in a single session. I wanted in each to merge my model with a projected image — but do it my way, no Photoshop — to create a modern image with classic beauty and some sense of mystery. Perhaps at first glance one thinks “How was that done?” but the perceptive viewer will see the images for what they are: photographs made with photographs. And proud photographs, not paintings.
It was a delight to find when they were exhibited in the 2011 edition of curator Tina Maneca’s Exquisite Corpse, an October show that opened during the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour, that each photo was a favorite of at least one visitor to the show. Of course some in the series drew positive comments from many people, but it was nice to know that each had at least one admirer. All were printed on metal, with glossy finish and ready to hang with no frame, and “In Her Realm,” below, is my largest such print to date — 45 inches wide.
Below is “Recognition.” It’s printed 24 by 24.
“Sosei,” below, is also 24 by 24.
Below is “In the Garden,” printed smaller, perhaps 15 inches wide.
“Forest Dawn” was not seen in Exquisite Corpse, as the print was damaged by a worker taking down the previous show in the space.
Fire? Ecstasy? Cherry blossons? Wagner’s surging music? All there. “Greeting Spring” is large, about 36 inches wide.
“Aspiration” is perhaps 20 inches wide.
“Discovery” is about 20 inches wide, too.
“Peace” is 20 inches square, and was used in one of the many 3-artwork assemblages that curator Tina Maneca put together.
Below is “Peace” and the works shown with it. Each assemblage in Exquisite Corpse has a “head,” a “torso” and “legs.”
My model visited the show. In her realm, indeed!
You’ve seen Vernon W. Campbell as good cops, bad cops, ornery inmates, bouncers, all sorts of tough guys. He’s actually a fine gentleman, helps a bunch of local performers navigate show business, and keeps busy himself as a working actor with SAG, AFTRA and Actors’ Equity affiliations. Andy Garcia’s “City Island,” which opened in mid-March, has Vernon’s latest big screen appearance, and he’s been seen in “Mercy,” the TV hospital drama. One of the great Oscar underdogs, Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler,” has him playing the bouncer at the strip joint where Marisa Tomei dances. HBO’s “Oz” is also on Vernon’s resume. This winter he said he could use some new headshots, so I told him to show me his faces and we did a shoot the afternoon before he got on a plane to Hollywood to make the networking rounds of the Oscar night parties. I pushed him a bit to give me more of his range, and here’s the result. I asked if he’d ever consider playing a happy mailman or a kiddie show character. “Of course,” Vern smiled. “I even want to play Shakespeare before I’m through, just nobody’s asked me yet.”
I had lunch at a lovely Turkish restaurant on the Upper East Side the other day with Sheila Simpson. I always describe her to friends as “my friend who’s a concert pianist,” hoping they’ll be as impressed as I always have been. Sheila and I have known each other since 1973, and share that special bond that New Yorkers have when we’re non-natives but know this is the only place for us to be. Sheila started life in Belzoni, Mississippi, where her mother ran the local dance school, and she was a child prodigy, playing her first solo piano recital at 11 and performing as a soloist with three different orchestras by age 15. A graduate of the University of Alabama, she received her master’s degree in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, graduating with honors. It was sometime after that, during the period she worked as a rehearsal pianist with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, that we got to know each other. She was at that time studying with Arminda Canteros, a much-loved Argentinian piano teacher whose playing made tangos a permanent part of my music appreciation. One of Arminda’s concerts at Alice Tully Hall in the ’70s was one of the highlights of my life, and I’ll always thank her for turning me on to 20th century Spanish and Latin American music. I love it when Sheila plays anything by Ginastera.
Over the years, Sheila has performed at Merkin Hall, in the Lincoln Center neighborhood, in 2001, and at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2004. Both recitals are available on CDs through Sheila’s website, SheilasPiano.com. She’s performed at the United Nations, and around the world. In the past few years I’ve also heard her perform two recitals in the gallery at Tenri Cultural Institute on West 13th Street, presented by the Leschetizky Association, which was founded in 1942 by pupils of Theodor Leschetizky (1910-1915) to perpetuate his memory. He was one of the founders of the St. Peterburg Conservatory of Music, one of his greatest pupils was Paderewski, and one of his famous sayings was “No art without life, no life without art.” Sheila belongs to the Association, and passes along her own knowledge of being a virtuoso to her many students. A musical life is a rich one, and one that keeps on giving, generation after generation.
It was to deliver a few prints I’d made of the picture below, which I snapped during the last round of applause at last May’s recital at Tenri, that took me to the Upper East Side the other day.
Sheila and I did studio portrait session last fall, in preparation for this year’s round of concerts. Here are some of the results.
In October, Sheila played Saint-Saens’ 2nd Piano Concerto in a concert with the Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Symphony, and because most of her New York friends couldn’t attend, she invited us to either of two preparation runthroughs she scheduled in one of the rooms upstairs at Steinway Hall, on West 57th Street. A pianist friend of hers, Francisco Miranda, played a transcription of the orchestra’s part while Sheila played the piano solo she would perform a few days later. Three movements, each very different, going as she said in the introduction “from Bach to Offenbach” in style. Only one melody in the whole thing that I recognized, but enjoyable for this non-classical non-musician’s ear and interesting enough to hear again sometime.
Lighting in the room was difficult, with strong light reflected in from the street through a big window and the room otherwise lighted with harsh florescents in two colors beaming down from rows of old factory-like fixtures. But I got this shot of Sheila and Mr. Miranda after they entertained us.
I always feel very priviledged when I hear Sheila play because she really puts the music across, producing it with a directness and intimacy — and obvious dexterity and command, almost always playing even the most complicated pieces from memory — but with no “look at me” ego thing going on. Sheila simply shares her love of music and her gift for performing it, and every listener feels it and learns. One of the glorious pieces I’ve heard her play several times is an arrangement for solo piano of Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations that her husband Tom adapted for her as a gift. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be one of Shelia’s piano pupils trying to learn to play and reflect her high standards. But of course not everything is as easy as taking a good picture of an attractive woman.
“Beauty is not caused. It is.” So said Emily Dickinson several generations ago, and it’s still true. Last May, I asked Hannah Plotka to pose for portraits for use in an ad I was putting together for the playbill for Hudson Theatre Ensemble’s “Rapunzel.” In HTE’s 2007 production of “The Miracle Worker,” Hannah played one of the children at the school for the blind in Boston that Annie Sullivan leaves when she is called to be Helen Keller’s teacher in Alabama. Hannah’s father David has played feature roles at HTE, and Hannah volunteers there, so Hannah was the perfect portrait subject.
My greatest fear going in was that she might feel exploited; after all, who needs to hold still for a portrait when you don’t need one for school and you’re not looking to work as a professional model or actress anytime soon. Determined not to pressure Hannah to be anyone but herself, I was happy to meet her mother and learn she was of the same mind. Hannah would not be getting a Jon Benet Ramsey makeover for the shoot. Fancy sunglasses and bracelets, fine and fun. Makeup, not much. No costumes. Hannah wanted to be photographed wearing her grandmother’s pendant. Years from now when she perhaps has grandchildren of her own, Hannah will be able to show them how beautiful she was the spring when she was no longer a little girl but not quite yet a teenager.
Gregory Nye has appeared in several recent Hudson Theatre Ensemble productions, playing various princes and kings for the kiddies, the hero’s best friend in Larry Shue’s comedy-drama “The Foreigner” and, most recently, a robotic actor playing both a TV soap opera doctor and a farmer in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Comic Potential.” Greg’s ready for paying work on stage and in television, movies and commercials — whoever hires him will be extremely pleased. He can do it all.