Adieu Michelle Vignes

October 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

THE MESSAGE CAME from a neighbor via email on October 3. “Tonight about 8 we heard sirens, then a fire engine and an ambulance pulled up in front of Michelle’s house,” he wrote. “After 5 minutes or so they carried her out to the ambulance, which quietly drove away.”

Two days later, on October 5, 2012, photographer Michelle Vignes died, and the Bay Area photography world lost one of its shining stars.

Vignes came to San Francisco in the mid-1960s from France, where she had worked with legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. She photographed many of the seminal moments of the era: the Black Panthers, the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, rock bands at the Fillmore Auditorium, the final flourish of the Oakland blues clubs. She photographed female prisoners, Playboy bunnies and church ladies seized by the spirit.

“It’s a mystery, a photograph,” she told an interviewer. “It’s like having an orgasm in a way. When it’s right — the feeling of taking the right picture at the right time in the right composition — it’s a joy.”

A community memorial in celebration of her life will be held on Saturday, October 27, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

EARLIER: “Shooting from the inside

Farewell, Cleopatra

March 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

Elizabeth Taylor | Photograph by Roddy McDowell

The queen of film has died, which provides an opportunity to look again at a favorite photograph. The actor Roddy McDowell photographed Elizabeth Taylor in 1961 when they were filming “Cleopatra.” It was included in our July 2000 exhibition of his photographs from Double Exposure, a series of books pairing his photographs of celebrities with text by other celebrities.

Here is what the actress Ava Gardner wrote about Elizabeth Taylor:

Elizabeth’s beauty doesn’t come from the shape of her face or nose or mouth or even those magnificent eyes, it comes from an inner strength and energy that very few people are blessed with. Also, a goodness and kindness that very few people are privileged or bother to see in her. They see the facade but not the remarkable woman inside.

I’ve known her since she was just a teenager, and I really haven’t seen much change in the person herself except a growth in character. But she has always been the same person — true and real — and like all great beauties she becomes more so as she ages.

— from Double Exposure: Take Two by Roddy McDowell

FOREVER FASHIONABLE: In her final starring role, Elizabeth Taylor was fashionably late for her own funeral. Her burial service at Forest Lawn began 15 minutes behind schedule, by her request.

A place called home

March 23, 2001 § Leave a comment

Ms. Tomlinson and the House of Tomatoes | Paul Kwilecki

Decatur County is an ordinary rural county located in southwest Georgia. The population is 25,000 ordinary people, and Bainbridge, the county seat, has about half of these.

In 1959, when I was 31 years old, I decided to test a theory of mine, and Decatur County seemed an ideal model on which to try it. Looking at documentary photographs from all over the world, I was struck by similarity more than difference.

If my theory were true, I could bear witness as well in Decatur County as in Copenhagen or Tokyo. In this dispatch from the front which I was determined to deliver, the message was the details.

It would be a big order, taking years to achieve. But that could be turned to advantage. Working on a single project over a lifetime nurtures continuity, breadth of scale and an assay of community dynamics that would be beyond a lesser venture.


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