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  • 24 Aug 2016
    Some say Shakespeare’s plays are evergreen, they will never come out of fashion. But what has changed since his first play Julius Caesar was staged at the Globe Theatre in 1599?   Female roles were played by men You may have heard of that in the 17th century England there were no actresses. Women were not allowed to perform in public theatres in England until 1660: quite an exception if we consider how much actresses were appreciated elsewhere in Europe, already bordering into stardom: think of Isabella Andreini in Italy or Armande Béjart in France. Not in England, though, where acting was not considered safe and morally appropriate for women. As a consequence, male characters were always played by boys or young men:  even the heavenly Ophelia in Hamlet or the feminine and fierce Desdemona in Othello.  Male actors were dressed in female clothes and had to wear heavy make-up to simulate a velvet like, elegant pale skin. It is said, although it is contested, that early make up artists were hired as well. Sometimes, hogs bones made into powder were blended with poppy oil to obtain a white paint which was then applied on the face. More often, however, the pale effect was given by the ‘ceruse’, a mixture of vinegar and lead: it was not uncommon that the boy actors met an untimely death by poisoning by this substance as it is extremely toxic.     Everyone could attend the Globe In The Globe Theatre, the theatre where most of Shakespeare’s plays were performed, everyone could afford to watch a play, unlike in other London’s theatres.  For one penny -the price of a loaf of bread at the time- everyone could buy a ticket amongst the ‘groundlings’, standing just around stage.. Of course, wealthier people also attended -they would get comfortable seats under cover. This way we could say the Globe was “democratic” as it tried to serve everyone while the quality of the plays and performance remained high. The Globe Theatre decided to keep this policy, as even today there are 700 standing tickets for every performance.   Actors didn’t learn a script In the Elizabethan era plays were a very last minute business, organized rather hectically. Actors didn’t have much time for rehearsing and many of them played into several plays as well as different parts at a time. For this reasons, actors were not given the full script,  only their lines,   What’s more an actor’s part also contained their lines and their ‘cues’ – the last words spoken by another actor before their own. “Cue acting” was popular and apparently didn’t hinder the success of most of Shakespeare's work.     There was no real copyright In Shakespeare’s time copyright rules  did not exist: the Statute of Anne, the first copyright law of some sort, was enacted almost 100 years after his death. Therefore, it was quite common that rival theatre companies would send “spies” to attend Shakespeare’s plays and then make unauthorised copies of them, to edit, sum up and perform them elsewhere: obviously without paying the Bard what he was due. On the other hand, many contemporary scholars argue that Shakespeare himself wouldn’t have survived today’s copyright laws, as his way of sourcing was quite “free”.
    5732   Posted by Serena Manzoli
  • 23 Aug 2016
      How does Hollywood deal with a topic like death? Apparently in a careful, repeated, methodic manner. Check out the filmmaker Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s latest short documentary called What Happened To Her and you will find an unintended tutorial on how (not) to represent dead female bodies.   What Happened to Her is a brilliant and powerful work that reveals Hollywood filmmakers’ bizarre obsession with showing pretty female corpses on screen. Indeed, there seems to be a pattern in the way Hollywood chooses its victims. What do these unmoving/still/statue-like bodies have in common? Apparently, many things: they are female, in their 20s-30s, almost exclusively white, naked, thin, and deadly sexy. Think about last time you watched an episode of CSI: wasn’t the victim an attractive young woman? And there is barely any variation to this: we can rarely see, for example, naked male bodies or old overweight bodies in these films.     But What happened to her brings also an uncommon perspective to the documentary. Can you imagine being an actor whose role is to be dead throughout the whole film? The narrator of What Happened to Her, Danyi Deats, did exactly that when she played a naked dead body in the 80’s cult movie River’s Edge. In What Happened To Her she gives account of her traumatizing experience of playing this role and while listening to her voice we can see a haunting compilation of dozens of look-alike female corpses from TV shows like CSI, Hannibal, Twin Peaks, True Detective.   How does this Hollywood fantasy come about? First of all, filmmakers make sure they choose pretty, white female actors;  like bare canvas, bodies are then ready for the make-up phase, which can last even several hours.  Make-up professionals turn into real artists in this case: their task is trying to show the unimaginable cruelty and abuse women had to go through and at the same time emphasizing their inherent beauty. Their next step is to place them into the environment that the producer picked while manipulating them into unnatural poses as if they were modelling for a live photo shoot.Here the bodies are displayed for minutes, being thoroughly examined by the detectives,forensic pathologists and the viewers alike.  The result is as shocking as much as memorable, and a constitutive part itself of the movie’s success: how to forget the haunting paleness of Laura Palmer in David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks?   What Happened to Her, while uncovering the dynamics behind the scenes of many famous TV series, invites us to reflect on the role of women in Hollywood and in society as a whole.  The documentary was featured at the 2016 London Feminist Film Festival, where it received its European Premiere, and also at the 2016 Hot Docs Festival where it earned the Honourable Mention Best Short Documentary Category. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan is an American producer and director who has been focusing extensively on how women are represented the by media.
    1377   Posted by Serena Manzoli
  • 23 Aug 2016
    When in 1853, the Commander in charge of the US fleet Matthew Perry arrived to Edo Bay, Japan, he didn’t know that his arrival would be not only important for the history of both countries, but also momentous for Western Art. Alighted in Edo to negotiate a delicate commercial trade with the Japanese government, he soon found himself to wander around the street of the city - that today we call Tokyo - where street markets sold several exemplars of colorful and stylized prints, quite unusual for those Western visitors, whose eyes in those years were used to the life-like details of chromolithography. In a boost of cultural shopping, Perry then returned home carrying back many of those work of arts, which amazed the US public and critics. Not longer after, educated Europeans, in a deviation from the Grand Tour, followed his path and went to Edo Bay to admire and purchase those prints. Not even 10 years later, Sir Rutherford Alcock exposed some of those prints at the 1862 London International Exhibition, where a Japanese section was created -filled with the exoticism that the XIX century bourgeoisie liked so much. The success of the Japanese print making, and of its most famous exponent, Hokusai, was declared. The technique behind it The same features of those prints which stunned Perry and his contemporaries are the ones which don’t stop to amaze us today: strong colors, large painted areas, audacious and complex chromatic combinations. But how were those prints made? With wood. The technique of woodblock printing (moku-hanga), was invented in China and made its way to Japan as early as the 8th Century, becoming popular during the Edo period, in the XVII and XIX century.   The technique consisted in drawing the image on a sheet of thin paper, which was then glued to the wood block, usually of cherry. The wood was then incised replicating the drawing outlines, then inked and finally firmly pressed on the paper, using a hand-held tool called baren.   Hokusai and other masters When Perry arrived to Japan, the woodblock printing was at its peak, and with it, the artistic wave that contributed to make it popular, the Ukiyo-e. Indeed, when we think of traditional Japanese print art today, we generally think of the Ukiyo-e, and of its most well known master, Katsushika Hokusai. Born in Edo from a mirror-maker, he soon started using woodblock printing for representing landscapes. Mixing the mastery of technique with a careful, modern sense of self-marketing, he collaborated with the popular novelist Takizawa Bakin on a series of illustrated books, and was said to carefully choose the blockcutters in charge of carving the wood to print its work. It was in its later life that he produced the Great wave off Kanagawa and the One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, his two most iconic works. Of the Great Wave off Kanagawa, around 5000 copies were printed: some are conserved and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and in Claude Monet's house in Giverny, France. Curiously enough, given that the woodblock they were printed from deteriorated after so many impressions, all the prints differ in some detail and in the strength of the colors. But Hokusai was not the only master: we are equally familiar with the work of Utagawa Hiroshige, who, as Hokusai, focused on nature, and influenced many Western artists: Vincent Van Gogh studied and painted copies of Hiroshige prints, fascinated by its colors. The legacy Japanese print making proved to be an immense source of inspiration to Western art. So prepotently, that it was given a name: Japonism. Van Gogh paid homage to Hiroshige by featuring him in one of its self portraits; Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec was inspired by woodblock printing for its colorful printed ads and incorporated several elements of the kabuki theatre in its painting. Edgar Degas was a renowned japanese prints collector and together with Edouard Manet also a strong admirer of the woodblock printing art. But, the legacy continued even later: how to deny japanese influence on Art Nouveau or on the powerful and bizarre prints of the English artist Aubrey Beardsley? Wood can deteriorate after multiple prints and the heydays of Ukiyo-e are over: but the influence of japanese print making did not fade away.
    1022   Posted by Serena Manzoli
Photography 2.829 views 1 like Sep 16, 2016
Turning passion into a job: an Interview with Monica Mendez Ain

It’s1998. Monica Mendez Aineros lands in England from Galicia, leaving the warm colors of Spain for the colder, greyish shades of Northern Europe. She doesn’t know yet that photography is going to become a key element in her life.

Fast forward 5 years and Monica is now a successful photographer who has found a rewarding environment in London. But Spain remains a strong influence in her work: many of her exhibitions pay homage to the traditions and people of Galicia, her native land.  We had the chance to meet her in the British Capital and ask her about her story, her work and how you turn a passion into a full time job.

I read your story. It’s particularly fascinating to learn how you started. Definitely it was not the usual route, was it?

Indeed. My passion for photography started when I was still living in Spain. I taught myself the basics of photography with the help of some magazines. Then I borrowed an old Olympus camera from a friend and began shooting.

 But then photography fell off the back of your mind for a while. Until you decided it was time to move to the UK…

Yes. I took the hard decision of leaving, for the first time, my small village in Galicia. When I arrived in England I didn’t speak the language so I began working as an au-pair and then in a residential home for ex-servicemen and women. It was while working there that I enrolled in a photography course. Once the course was over I started working in entertainment photography, mainly red carpet and film premiers. Then I was given the chance to work as a press photographer in Aberdeen. So I packed all my stuff and I moved up to the North Sea. After one year as a press photographer and a good number of images featured in the national papers, I moved back to London, starting my freelancer career and putting together my exhibitions.

This is how my interest for photography slowly turned into a passion and then my full time job!

What photographers inspire you and why?

The first photographers who inspired me were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus (the iconic photographer interpreted by Nicole Kidman in the critically acclaimed movie Fur, in 2007), Annie LeibovitzSebastião Salgado among many others. I particularly like photographers who do documentary or street photography.  

 printing photos

Photographers inspire us and allow us to build our own vision. When it comes to take photos for a living our vision may clash with the one that clients’ have. To what extent do you compromise your vision when working for a client? On the other hand, have you ever had a client who was unhappy because you didn’t want to make compromises?

Working with clients is always very challenging. You need to be clear from the first minute you talk to a client, so there won’t be surprises later. When a client starts asking for something that I don’t do, because it’s not my style, then I tell them. At that precise moment. It is better to stop before it is too late. This way you avoid having problems and dealing with complaints from clients. It is very important to keep an open communication from the very beginning. On the day of the shooting I normally talk to them before starting to take the pictures. I explain what is going to happen and what we are going to do, so that they know what to expect. If you do that, you avoid a lot of trouble. Listening to clients it’s also very important to get to know their needs and what they like. To sum up, communication and respect are pivotal to keep clients happy.

On the topic of gear: what cameras do you use?

I use a Canon EOS 6D and a 5D. I own a few different lenses with different focal length.

Most challenging thing in your photographer’s life?

Marketing. Still struggling with it!  Nowadays with the big influence of social media channels, as a photographer you have to learn a lot of things. Keeping up with all the social media apps, with editing and writing is really hard for me. I’m a photographer and I love taking pictures. It’s incredibly hard to keep up to date with all the rest!

monica mendez aineros landscape

Yes, it’s true! It’s difficult to keep up with all the things which don’t relate to your core activity. You literally have to learn everything anew, and you can’t avoid it. By the way, you made me think of how photography and technology are deeply related today. Some photographers are strongly again retouching and photoshopping their work. Others make a strong use of retouching, like the Italian fashion photographer Giovanni Gastel, who said “being able to master Photoshop is as important as taking pictures.” In an interview he said that “Taking a good picture is easy. Taking a great picture is much more difficult . In order to take the latter kind of pictures you need to know how to process the image.You need to fully master the technique (...) knowing how to retouch a photograph is pivotal. Mastering tools like Photoshop is very difficult and equally important. I had to learn to use it. You need to control the tools to take great pictures. The machines contain an aesthetic and you have to learn to find the limits of the system you use. Of course , discovering the limits of Photoshop is not as easy as it is constantly changing. (...) Taking a great picture has become more difficult because in fact you need to keep your skills constantly updated. Photoshop doesn’t facilitate the life of the photographer, it makes it more difficult!” So basically, the technique of taking pictures evolves - and you need to evolve as well. Where do you stand?

I do agree that taking a good picture is easy, but taking a great picture that stands out is difficult and challenging. Most of the great photographers have been recognised for excelling in the latter.

I am not a big fan of heavy retouching. I do minimal retouching to my images. With my personal work I only use the basic of photoshop such as levels, contrast and a few more tools. For wedding and portraiture jobs I usually do a bit more of retouching, but nothing too extreme. I like pictures that look as natural as possible. When you look at an image and you can see it has been heavily retouched it kind of loses interest to me, it doesn’t have the same effect. One thing is taking a great picture on camera, and another thing is to make a good picture with processing. I personally prefer the first option, good picture on camera and then simple photoshopping. Nowadays almost any picture can change dramatically if you’re skilled at photoshop, even the bad ones. I guess it’s up to your personal taste to decide, I don’t judge anyone who does heavy retouching but it just doesn’t work for me.

You also do portraits. Any tips you use to break the ice with your subjects?

Portraits are challenging, especially when you work with people who are not used to have their pictures taken. Before I start shooting I talk to them and I explain what we we would be doing, this way they relax and they know what’s going to happen. Taking small breaks every now and then works for me too.

One final question, that is going to be interesting for many young photographers who just started. How do you look for clients? As you said before, you need to learn and struggle with social media. Any other tips?

A lot of my clients are referrals, they are coming from other clients. I do also use Facebook, as I said. And of course I have a website. You can find it here!


Credits for all pictures: Monica Mendez Aineros

Tags: #Interview