Shots in the Dark

By Patty Smith
from Details, November 1992

 

Self-Portrait, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

 

“When Robert and I were young, scarcely twenty, we’d sometimes go to Coney Island, have a Nathan’s hot dog, sit on the long pier, and dream about the future. Robert wanted to be a rich and famous artist. (He did it.) I wanted to do something great. (I’m still working on it.) We’d cast our wishes like the shoeless kids and old men who cast out their fishing lines. We’d sit there until dawn, then head back into Brooklyn. We were never afraid. New York was tough but kind. We were always all right. Maybe just a little hungry.

It was the summer of 1967. I had left the security of family, cornfields, and billowing New Jersey skies to seek my fortune in New York. I met Robert, a smiling, barefoot kid as misfit as myself. That fall, we got a place on Hall Street in Brooklyn, across from Pratt Institute, where he was a student. The streets were run by painters and poets. Everybody had a vision. Everybody was broke. Nobody had a TV.

Ours was a bleak little apartment that he brightened with Indian cloths, religious objects, and his own work. I tacked pictures of Rimbaud over my writing desk, played my Juliet Gréco records, and read Illuminations. Robert had a Timothy Leary book–one of the few books he actually read. (He often fell asleep in foreign movies. It was the subtitles, he said.) He was always working on a drawing, an installation, or a new piece of sculpture. He’d work twelve hours straight, listening to the same Vanilla Fudge album over and over. His work was asymmetric, psychedelic, and he was always scavenging for materials. I had to hide my best stuff, for many a wolf skin, brocade, or crucifix was sacrificed on the altar of art.

At twenty, we were still learning about ourselves, trying to make sense of what was going down. Assassinations, Vietnam, universal love, where our next meal was coming from. New York was going though its own changes–the Beat residue of the early ’60s was giving way to the divine disorder of 1968. All this was new to me–beaded curtains and LSD were not big sellers in South Jersey.

Robert and I rarely fought. We did bicker, though, like siblings, over everything. Trivial things. Who would do the laundry. Who would get the last sheet of drawing paper. Who was the better dancer. (He refused to acknowledge the superiority of my South Jersey over his own Long Island style.) What to eat. All he ever wanted was spaghetti and chocolate egg creams.

Our main preoccupations were art and magic. Magic was an intuitive thing you either had or you didn’t, and Robert was sure he had it. It was a gift from God, and he pinned his faith upon it. I always admired his confidence. It wasn’t arrogance, it was just there, unshakable. And he was generous with it–if he believed in what you were doing, he somehow infected you with it. His major source of anxiety was money, because executing his ideas required it and he loathed employment.

We were not the hippest people. That was not the thing. The thing was to develop a vision that would be worthy of remembrance, or even a bit of glory.

Sometimes we’d pass the night by sitting on the floor, looking at books. Some my mother gave me: The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, Brancusi, The Sacred Art of Tibet. And his own big coffee-table books on erotic art, Tantric art, and Surrealism. I’d plait my hair like Frida Kahlo, he’d stretch out in an old black turtleneck and dungarees, and we’d find refuge in the pages and emerge inspired, full of resolve.

Robert loved the large-format book. He wasn’t much of a reader, but he’d study the plates–the work of Michelangelo, Blake, Duchamp–and extend what he saw in works of his own. He dreamed of having such a book someday, devoted to his own particular vision that was, in the late ’60s, still forming.

This was on my mind recently when I opened the package containing the unbound sheets of his forthcoming book, Mapplethorpe. A large, exquisite book, admittedly not for every coffee table, but coffee-table size, just as he wanted. It forms a visual diary of his life, opening not with his name, nor a text, but with an image of a proud, frayed American flag. The stars block, and are therefore illuminated by, the sun. Toward the end of the book is one of his last self-portraits, in which he is aged considerably from physical suffering, stubborn, stoic, and a bit frayed, like the proud and weathered flag.

Robert took his first pictures in 1970. We had parted as a couple, but we stayed together as friends. We tackled Manhattan: The Chelsea Hotel. Max’s Kansas City. The Factory. The ’70s. Robert loved Manhattan, its perpetual twilight. He felt alive there, free. He loved socializing-even though he was shy–and he loved Andy Warhol, who was also shy and loved to socialize.

Like many exploring their sexual identity at that time, he cased the emerging frontier. Christopher Street. Forty-second Street. The leather, bars. The baths. He shifted identities, not out of crisis, but out of delight. One month, the sailor; the next, the hustler. “How do you like this new image!” he’d ask, pleased with himself in a black net T-shirt, tight pants, and a piece of red silk tied around his throat. In that same black net tee he hung out on Fifty- third Street, where he observed the hustlers, photographed the hustlers, and perhaps hustled himself. He wore the T-shirt executing art. And when he finally took it off, he stretched and mounted it on a frame and exposed it as art itself.

He was using at this time an old Polaroid. A pack of film was costly and might take the place of a meal, so each shot was important. Robert never took snapshots. He always knew beforehand the image he was after. He followed me around with that Polaroid constantly, issuing simple commands. “Can you stand in that shaft of light?” “Slowly face the wall.” Each shot taken with a studied economy, an economy he employed throughout his working life. Even later, as his work developed, he never used a motor drive, never shot roll after roll. His process was not a passionate one. His work was the result of a contemplative, deliberate act. He never drew lines; he crossed them, without apology, to create something present, new. A contact sheet would reveal just twelve images. They were all alike, except for the one he had marked, the perfect one. “The one with the magic,” he’d say.

I admit I hoped his photography was a passing phase. Somehow, being shot with a cheap Polaroid didn’t correspond to my notion of the role of the French artist’s model. But he took it seriously. He liked the speed, the immediacy. He was convinced that the common Polaroid print, in his hands, was a viable work of art.

He drew his subjects from life’s walk, and his work reflected change–both personal and social. Many of his models were biker boys, call boys, men of the street. His form was classic, stylized–“I’m not after beauty,” he would say, “I’m after perfection, and they’re not always the same.”

In the early ’70s he began to use the large-format camera, and he committed himself to photography, championing its elevation and exploration. Portraits, still lifes, early flowers, the S&M suite. At first I found the S&M photographs, which were difficult by most standards, frightening. I once asked him what it was like being there, observing, immortalizing the private rituals of these people. He said it was “somewhat scary. But they know what they’re doing. And so do I. It’s all about trust.” He used these photographs, which caused such a stir years later, to tease me relentlessly. He knew I was squeamish about them, and he’d slip prints into my books. So on a rainy Sunday, I’d open a beautiful copy of Peter Pan or Arabia Deserta and be assaulted by an image of a bloodied member in a vice grip. “Robert!” I’d yell. And I could hear him, through the wall that separated our studios, giggling.

I think the furor his work caused after his death would have amused him. But the attention paid to just the sexual aspect would have surely dismayed him. He was not intentionally political. He was not an activist. He shot what he saw–just as Genet wrote what he experienced–with grace. All his work–from the translucent skin of a lily to the arched torso of a black male–represented him, his vision of the world. Just as Pollock hated being called an Abstract Expressionist and Manet deplored the title Impressionist, Robert never wanted to be pegged. Not even as a photographer. The true artist desires, and deserves, to be remembered only as an Artist.

Shortly before he died, I sat with Robert in his studio. He still worked, despite terrible bouts of coughing, vomiting, and excruciating pain. With the aid of his youngest brother, the photographer Edward Maxey, he was able to produce some final, perfect images. We sat amongst large, exquisite prints. A cluster of deeply ripe grapes. A single rose. And a marble portrait of Hermes. The skin of the white statue burned and seemed to emit its own light against a field of black. It was as if, through Robert’s eye, it had glimpsed life.

“I think I’ve done everything I can with the photograph,” he said. “I think I’ll go back to sculpture.”

He had on that day the anxious, fervent gaze he often wore when he worked. I remember that same look as he photographed me in Burbank, California, in full sun before a drying palm. It was 1987, I was six months pregnant and feeling the strain. Robert was not well. His hand trembled and, as he worked, he dropped and broke his light meter. But we took the picture anyway, barely saying a word. He checked the image and drew the camera closer. “Can you raise your head just a little!” It was much like the first pictures. High concentration. Simple and direct. Within that modest photograph is all our experience, compassion,, and even a mutual sense of irony. He was carrying death. I was carrying life. My hair is braided and the sun is in my eyes. And so is an image of Robert, alive.”

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Broken Mirror

Juliette Gréco in Crack in the Mirror (Richard Fleischer, 1960)

 

LE MIROIR BRISÉ

“Le petit homme qui chantait sans cesse
le petit homme qui dansait dans ma tête
le petit homme de la jeunesse
a cassé son lacet de soulier
et toutes les baraques de la fête
tout d’un coup se sont écroulées
et dans le silence de cette fête
j’ai entendu ta voix heureuse
ta voix déchirée et fragile
enfantine et désolée
venant de loin et qui m’appelait
et j’ai mis ma main sur mon coeur
où remuaient
ensanglantés
les septs éclats de glace de ton rire étoilé.”

Jacques Prévert

 

___________________________________

 

“That small man who always sang
That small man who danced in my head
That small man with youth
Undid his shoelaces
And broke all the barracks of the festival
Suddenly everything collapsed
And in the silence of the festival
In the ruin of the festival
I heard your happy voice
Your voice so torn and fragile
Innocent and desolate
Came from afar and called me
And I put my hands on my chest
where they trembled bloody
Seven broken pieces of mirror
with your twinkling smile.”

Black Hair

Jean Cocteau and Juliette Gréco on the set of Orphée, 1950

 
 

CHEVEUX NOIRS

“Cheveux noirs cheveux noirs

caressés par les vagues

cheveux noirs cheveux noirs

décoiffés par le vent

Le brouillard de septembre

flotte derrière les arbres…”

Jacques Prévert

 
 

______________________

 
 

“Black hair, black hair,

Caressed by the waves

Black hair, black hair

Uncombed by the wind

September fog

Floats behind the trees…”

Breakfast

Juliette Gréco

 
 

DÉJEUNER DU MATIN

Il a mis le cafe
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de cafe
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le cafe au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourne
Il a bu le cafe au lait
Et il a repose la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allume
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumee
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s’est leve
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tete
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu’il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Et moi j’ai pris
Ma tete dans ma main
Et j’ai pleure.

Jacques Prévert

 
 

____________________________

 
 

He poured the coffee
Into the cup
He poured the milk
Into the cup of coffee
He added the sugar
To the coffee and milk
He stirred it
With a teaspoon
He drank the coffee
And put back the cup
Without speaking to me
He lit a cigarette
He blew some rings
With the smoke
He flicked the ashes
Into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put his hat
On his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
He went out
Into the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And I
I took my head
In my hands
And I wept

To watch a short film by Emmanuel Tenenbaum, which was inspired by this Prévert’s poem, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

I Am as I Am

Juliette Gréco photographed by Karl Bissinger, 1948

 
 

Portrait of Juliette Gréco, 1950s

 
 

Juliette Gréco and Miles Davis. Photo by Jean-Philippe Charbonnier

 
 

JE SUIS COMME JE SUIS

“Je suis comme je suis
Je suis faite comme ça
Quand j’ai envie de rire
Oui je ris aux éclats
J’aime celui qui m’aime
Est-ce ma faute à moi
Si ce n’est pas le même
Que j’aime chaque fois
Je suis comme je suis
Je suis faite comme ça
Que voulez-vous de plus
Que voulez-vous de moi

Je suis faite pour plaire
Et n’y puis rien changer
Mes talons sont trop hauts
Ma taille trop cambrée
Mes seins beaucoup trop durs
Et mes yeux trop cernés
Et puis après
Qu’est-ce que ça peut vous faire
Je suis comme je suis
Je plais à qui je plais
Qu’est-ce que ça peut vous faire
Ce qui m’est arrivé
Oui j’ai aimé quelqu’un
Oui quelqu’un m’a aimée
Comme les enfants qui s’aiment
Simplement savent aimer
Aimer aimer…
Pourquoi me questionner
Je suis là pour vous plaire
Et n’y puis rien changer.”

Jacques Prévert

 
 

__________________________________

 
 

“I am as I am
I’m made that way
When I want to laugh
Yes I erupt with laughter
I love the one that loves me
Is it my fault
If it’s not the same one
That I love each time
I am as I am
I’m made that way
What more do you want
What do you want from me

I’m made for pleasure
And nothing can change that
My heels are too high
My figure too curved
My breasts way too firm
And my eyes too darkly ringed
And then afterwards
What can you do about it
I am as I am
I please who I please
What can you do about it

What happened to me
Yes I loved someone
Yes someone loved me
Like children love each other
Simply knowing how to love
Love love…
Why ask me
I’m here for your pleasure
And nothing can change that.”

 

To listen to this poem set to music, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

The Dead Leaves

Les Concierges Rue du Dragon. Robert Doisneau, 1946

 
 

LES FEUILLES MORTES

Oh! je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes
Des jours heureux où nous étions amis
En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle,
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu’aujourd’hui
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle
Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié…
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi
Et le vent du nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l’oubli.
Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais.

REFRAIN:

C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble
Toi, tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble
Toi qui m’aimais, moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.

Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi
Mais mon amour silencieux et fidèle
Sourit toujours et remercie la vie
Je t’aimais tant, tu étais si jolie,
Comment veux-tu que je t’oublie?
En ce temps-là, la vie était plus belle
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu’aujourd’hui
Tu étais ma plus douce amie
Mais je n’ai que faire des regrets
Et la chanson que tu chantais
Toujours, toujours je l’entendrai!

REFRAIN

 
 

____________________________

 
 

Oh, I would like you so much to remember
Those happy days when we were friends, and how
Life in those times was more lovely and tender,
Even the sun shone more brightly than now.
Dead leaves are gathering as in December
You see how one never forgets…
Dead leaves are gathering as in December,
Just like the memories and the regrets.
And then the north wind comes and sweeps them
Into oblivion’s icy night.
You see how I never forgot
That old song that you sang for me.

REFRAIN:

A song like us, birds of a feather,
You loving me, me loving you,
And we lived happily together,
You loving me, me loving you.
But life tears apart gentle lovers
Who quietly obey their heart,
And the sea invades the sand and covers
The footsteps of those torn apart.

Dead leaves are gathering, dead leaves are piling
Up just like memories and like regrets.
But still my love goes on quietly smiling
Thankful for life and for all that it gets.
I loved you so, you were ever so lovely,
How can I forget? Tell me how!
Life in those times was more sweet and beguiling,
Even the sun shone more brightly than now.
You were my most sweet friend and lover,
But regret just isn’t my thing,
And I’ll keep hearing all the time
The old song that you used to sing.

REFRAIN

 
 

Some of Prévert’s poems, such as Les Feuilles mortes (Autumn Leaves), La grasse matinée (Sleeping in), Les bruits de la nuit (The sounds of the night), and Chasse à l’enfant (The hunt for the child) were set to music by Joseph Kosma—and in some cases by Germaine Tailleferre of Les Six, Christiane Verger, and Hanns Eisler.

Les feuilles mortes (literally The Dead Leaves) with music by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert, and the Hungarian title is Hulló levelek (Falling Leaves) Wa introduced by Yves Montand with Irène Joachim in the film Les Portes de la nuit (Marcel Carné, 1946).

It is a much-recorded popular song. The American songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics in 1947, and Jo Stafford was among the first to perform this version. Autumn Leaves became a pop standard and a jazz standard in both languages, both as an instrumental and with a singer. There is also a Japanese version called Kareha (枯葉) sung by Nat King Cole in his Japanese album version and 高英男 (Hideo Kou).

It has been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, Juliette Gréco, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Chet Baker, Eric Clapton, Iggy Pop, Andrea Bocelli, among others.Serge Gainsbourg paid tribute to Les feuilles mortes in his own song La chanson de Prévert.

The film Autumn Leaves (Robert Aldrich, 1956), starring Joan Crawford, featured over the title sequence the song as sung by Nat King Cole.

 

To listen to an altered version of this song performed by Michael David Rosenberg (better known by his stage name Passenger), please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

Dachshunds Lovers

Queen Victoria

 

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Queen Elizabeth II. Photo by Terry O’Neill, 1992

 

English composer Benjamin Britten and “Clytie”.

In this photograph taken by Yousuf Karsh, Britten is shown holding a dachshund and looking towards the score from his opera Gloriana (1953) which was written for the coronation of Elizabeth II. According to Karsh “the dog demanded to become part of the picture”.

 

Yousuf Karsh and “Jacques”

 

Abraham Lincoln

 

John F. Kennedy, Lem Billings and Dunker, Den Haag, The Netherlands, 1937

 

Lee Radziwill and Andy Warhol with his dog, Archie. Photo by Ron Galella, Montauk, 1973

 

Andy Warhol and Archie

 

Lou Reed

 

Christa Päffgen a.k.a. Nico. Photo: Mark Shaw for Life Magazine

 

Adele and “Louie”, named after Louis Armstrong

 

Cole Porter

 

George Harrison

 

Vincente Minelli and Katharine Hepburn playing with George Cukor’s pet

 

Grace Coddington

 

Juliette Gréco. Photo by Robert Doisneau

 

Elizabeth Taylor

 

Clint Eastwood

 

Marlon Brando

 

Ginger Rogers

 

Marilyn Monroe

 

Carole Lombard

 

Joan Crawford

 

Brigitte Bardot

 

Liv Ullmann

 

 Brooke Shields

 

Jacques Cousteau, his wife and “Scaphandrier”

 

David Hockney with Stanley and Boodgie

 

picaPablo Picasso and Lump. Photographer David Douglas Duncan published a book of Picasso’s pictures along his pet, which was titled A Dachshund’s Odyssey

 

The gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter House, a 450-acre estate restored by Edwin Lutyens. Awarded in 1979 the Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest horticultural accolade, Lloyd was the best informed, liveliest and most innovative gardening writer of our times.

 

Within the Wall Garden of Great Dixter is a terrace, with a pebble mosaic of Christopher Lloyd’s two beloved dachshunds, Dahlia and Canna. The stones for Canna’s eye and nose were acquired from Derek Jarman’s rock-garden, at Prospect Cottage, in Dungeness.