Monday, 15 April 2013
I was fortunate that the senior school I attended in Harrogate, Yorkshire provided me with the option of photography classes. Not being particularly blessed with the technical ability to draw or illustrate anything to a satisfying standard, I looked to photography to indulge a love for the visual arts. Armed with a Pentax SLR camera I’d wander the adjacent town landscape looking for people or objects to photograph and return to the school photography darkroom to mix up chemicals and anticipate the imagery emerging before the eyes. The process appeared alchemical, a surreal magical experience. Years later I purchased from the widow of professional photographer in Bognor Regis, W. Sussex an antiquated photographic developing kit. I would set up a temporary darkroom in the bathroom of my home in Yorkshire. Not very practical with two young children wanting to bathe or use the lavatory, so I joined a photographic group in York called Impressions. Upstairs there had been an art gallery, down in the basement were facilities to develop and experiment in photography to your heart’s content. Impressions staged an exhibition on the Welsh surrealist photographer Angus McBean - Immediately I became a fan of his work.
Angus McBean was born in Newbridge, Monmouthshire, S.Wales in 1904. The son of a coal mine surveyor McBean purchased his first camera, an autographic Kodak and tripod. Intrigued by the seemingly magical properties of photography aiming to take photographs of people McBean sold a gold watch given to him by his grandfather to raise five pounds to buy the necessary equipment.
In 1925 after his father's premature death, McBean relocated with his mother and younger sister to Acton, London. Employed as a furniture restorer by Liberty's department store in the antiques department privately he indulged his love of photography, mask-making and going to the theatre in London’s West End. In 1932 McBean left Liberty and grew a distinctive beard that symbolized the fact that he would never be a wage-slave again. McBean worked as a maker of theatrical props, including a commission of medieval scenery for John Gielgud's 1933 production of Richard of Bordeaux.
McBean's masks became a topic of conversation in social columns and soon attracted the attention of leading Bond Street photographer Hugh Cecil. Cecil offered McBean an assistant's post at his Mayfair studio. After 18 months having learnt the secrets of Cecil's softer style and having had the facility to use the studio at night McBean went on to establish his own studio in a basement in Belgrave Road, Victoria, London.
McBean, still primarily known as a mask maker, gained a commission in 1936 from Ivor Novello for masks for his play The Happy Hypocrite. Novello was so impressed with McBean's romantic photographs that he commissioned him to take a set of production photographs that included the young actress Vivien Leigh. The photographs taken on stage with McBean's idiosyncratic lighting, so impressed they immediately replaced the set made by the established but stolid Stage Photo Company. Instantly McBean created a new career and in Vivien Leigh had a charismatic photographic leading lady. McBean was to photograph Vivien Leigh on stage and in the studio for almost every performance until her death thirty years later.
McBean established a reputation as one of the most significant portrait photographers of the 20th century, and specifically as a noted photographer of celebrities. In 1942 McBean’s career was temporarily derailed when he was arrested in Bath for criminal acts of homosexuality. He was sentenced to four years in prison and was released in the autumn of 1944. After the Second World War McBean set about re-establishing his photographic career.
Effectively there were two periods to McBean’s career - pre and post war phases. Pre-war he was a lot more self-assured and experimented expertly with surrealism, indeed the work he created with Vivian Leigh are some of the most amazing surrealist photographic images known. Post war he reverted to a more regular style of portraiture photography working predominantly in entertainment and theatre.
In 1945, uncertain of whether he would find work again, McBean built a new studio in a bomb-damaged building in Endell Street, Covent Garden. He sold his Soho camera for £35, and bought a new half-plate Kodak View monorail camera to which he attached his trusted Zeiss lenses. McBean was commissioned first by the Stratford Memorial Theatre to photograph a production of Anthony and Cleopatra, and all his former clients quickly returned. Through the late 1940s and 50s he was the official photographer at Stratford, the Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells, Glyndebourne, the Old Vic and at all the productions of H.M. Tennent, creating images for theatre, music and ballet productions. Magazines such as the Daily Sketch and Tatler vied to commission McBean's new series of surreal portraits.
McBean's later works famously included being the photographer for The Beatles' first album, surrealist work and classic photographs of individuals such as Agatha Christie, Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Olivier and Noel Coward. McBean inspired and appeared in the David Sylvian video Red Guitar. McBean died on June 9th, 1990
There is a comprehensive biography, Face –maker by Adrian Woodhouse published by Alma Books (2006).
Angus McBean (c) estate of Angus McBean
(c) 2012 Steve Parry (Photo - Taken from DARK book edition)
Friday, 16 November 2012
Hwyl Nofio: DARK
Hwyl Nofio loosely translates from Welsh as “emotional swimmers”, and that core of emotion centres on one musician, Steve Parry (born 1958 in Pontypool, S. Wales). A classically trained guitarist and composer, Parry’s career in music spans nearly three decades, encompassing threads that reach back as far as the post-punk movement and as far forward to the prevailing drone/doom scene within contemporary underground music. Although the brooding soundscapes of Hwyl Nofio are solitary in conception, Parry works with a team of close collaborators that includes Mark Beazley (from avant-garde luminaries Rothko), Gorwel Owen (producer/musician of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Sandor Szabo (Hungarian avant-garde guitarist) Danish experimental Fractal guitarist Frederik Soegaard and Trevor Stainsby.
Each project is wrought from a relentless collective energy, producing such remarkable results as “Hymnal” (2002) an evocative treatise on religious symbolism, “Hounded by Fury”, a mordant assemblage of instrumental starkness, and the arresting guitar tonality of Parry and Soegaard’s joint release “Off the Map” (2007). Parry defines Hwyl Nofio as “cathartic in the sense that it is based on personal understanding of an explicit time and place”, and each release bears the weight of pure emotion and expression; a catharsis surges from within each of them like a longed-for crashing wave.
The latest album from Hwyl Nofio is entitled “DARK”, and dares to occupy a space beyond the temporal and the spatial. Instead it evokes a landscape wrought from personal experience, magnifying its visual and aural dialogues so that it transcends the specifics of its origin. Parry provides tangible evidence of this landscape in an accompanying book that inculcate the listener into a world of chilling folk myths and the resonances of family histories, as well as timely references to the forgotten legacies of Jane Arden and Bruce Chatwin. Their extraordinary work, commemorated in “Anticlock” and “On the Black Hill” respectively, acts as markers for the road less travelled, indicating divergent routes throughout the album that lead to ever more surprising vantage points. Its alien minimalist fields of sound are the result of a long gestating vista, both moulded and misshapen; its symbols are disorienting in their familiarity, the sensory impact resides in the intrigue of the ordinary. In its midst, you are without compass, but are also without fear. Its intimacy swallows you whole.
Thursday, 8 November 2012
Hwyl Nofio have recorded a special mix for The Garden of Early Delights on CRMK radio; including several tracks from their latest LP entitled DARK. It has been 10 years since The Garden of Early Delights first featured Hwyl Nofios’ music on the show. Broadcast on 23rd Nov 2012 @ (22.00hrs) the mix shall feature tracks from DARK plus previously unreleased music including a first airing Worldwide of the 15 minute composition Christ Distort and tracks from fellow Nofio Mark Beazley and the avant guitar work of Parry/Soegaard. Follow the link below for details of the show. Hoping you can join us on the night.
Click on link:- http://www.gardenofearthlydelights.com/