Sunday, August 9, 2009

Free Women in Paris

"Photography can never grow up and stand on its own two feet if it imitates primarily some other medium. It has to walk alone. It has to be itself.”

--Berenice Abbott, photographer (far right, photo by Man Ray, c. 1921)

If I'm reminiscing about my religious, philosophical, and other influences, I can't overlook the influence of the Lesbian Artist in Paris (fin de siècle or between the wars), who seemed to me, when I was in my early twenties, the epitome of freedom. It wasn't all that simple, of course, but I still find these women's lives--as creators, not subjects--alluring, inspiring.

This afternoon I took a break from film editing, which I find nerve-wracking, to gather some images. I used to remember who painted or published or photographed whom, and who was lovers with whom too, but these details don't stay with me, just the sense of women unfettered and alive. I suppose my admiration for them is a relative of my admiration for Jim Kirk (though he's no intellect)--people who stand on their own feet. A romantic illusion, in part (a lot of these women were independently wealthy, for instance, and Kirk is, I hate to say it, fictional), but not a bad one...

Romaine Brooks, self-portrait (1923)

Reneé Vivien (left) and Natalie Barney

"Writing only leads to more writing." --Colette

Au Café, Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes in Paris, 1922, photo by Maurice Brange

"It is not what France gave you but what it did not take from you that was important." --Gertrude Stein

Sylvia Beach

Far left, photo by Berenice Abbott;

Near left, in her Paris book- shop, Shakes- peare and Co., photo by Gisèle Freund


momo said...

In London I saw "Coco avant Chanel", the new film about her early life, with Audrey Tatou. It will probably be here soon--she came from a really hard-scrabble life, and the film makes it really clear how marriage, being a mistress and being a prostitute were sometimes just slightly different roles.

Your filming seems to be stirring up your creativity--your writing has been grand lately!

Jennifer said...

That Stein quote is just fantastic, and those are some gorgeous photos. I remember being fascinated with Anais Nin (who intersects tangentally with this society) and her diaries for much the same reason, although as I realized how much the diaries were constructions I lost some respect for her (yet in a postmodernist sense I suppose I've regained it--constructing a self is no minor business!)

Fresca said...

Coco Chanel, Anais Nin... and so many others of that era--ridiculously easy to over-romanticize, of course, but if they feed our souls, there are worse things.

The trick is, I realized, for me not to get caught up in mooning over other people's artistic lives in Paris, but to *lead my very own artistic life* right here where I am.
Or to paraphrase David Copperfield, to be the author of my own life.

I don't mind knowing that memoir/diaries are constructs, or storytelling--made up of what David Sedaris calls "trueish facts" (or was that Stephen Colbert?), though I don't like to feel taken in.
But mainly, I just don't want to lie to myself, don't want to forget where the line is between artistic construct and lived experience. That's what I don't respect--in myself or others.

Paul Herron said...

About Anais Nin--it is indeed a shame that one needs to reconstruct the life of a diarist, of all things. But when Diary 1 appeared in 1966, there was no choice, for reasons of privacy (a paradox) and the wishes of personages in Nin's life (her husband, for example, who chose to be deleted entirely from its pages), but to publish an aberrated version of her life. The "truth" was "psychological" rather than "literal," leaving readers to fill in the holes, eventually being helped by the publication of the unexpurgated volumes after the death of Nin's significant others and biographies. Visit as we are dedicated to filling in these holes.

Fresca said...

Thanks for the link to your good work, Paul!