I had an email the other day from a friend in the UK, alerting me to the fact that he had received a Google Alert about an article that had appeared in the Jerusalem Post about the the Jewish-American painter and photographer Saul Leiter whose work he very much likes. As the Jerusalem Post is not one of my favourite newspapers, I hadn’t seen the piece but I do remember seeing an exhibition of some of Leiter’s work in London a few years ago and was very much impressed.
Leiter is often described as a pioneer of colour photography although he didn’t regard himself as such even though he was using colour film 20 years before those who usually are considered pioneers in this field. (Colour until c.1960 was used primarily only for advertising. If you had pretensions to be artistic, you were expected to photograph in black and white.). Leiter’s pictures are as much about colour as anything else. He was wont to photograph such things as parts of coloured umbrellas against a greyish background, or through rain wet windows or of blurred passing cars, the effects created being quite amazing.
Leiter was born into an Orthodox Jewish family, his father a Talmudic scholar and he himself attended yeshiva until he was 23 and gave it all up to become a painter and [ a mainly fashion] photographer, gaining fame only when he was older than I am now. I remember when I saw the exhibition and read that he received his first camera from his mother aged about 12 that he must have nagged her so much that he received it as [pre-??] barmitzvah present.
When I received the notification from Roger and read the article, I did what one often tends to do these days and googled “Saul Leiter” and discovered among other things that a few years ago when he was already in his late 80s, a documentary entitled In No Great Hurry – 13 lessons in life with Saul Leiter was made and is available on YouTube.
It was fascinating. For start, he reminded me of lots of people I knew, including family members. What he was saying reminded me of one of my late mother’s aphorisms, which went sort of “When you pass 70, you can say what to like to whomsoever you like (Doris wouldn’t ever have said “whomsoever” but so what?) and have no regrets. Some people, such as politicians, develop this alarming characteristic much earlier in life—politicians, for example.
For me, the most interesting part of the interview/documentary had nothing whatsoever to do with photography but was the following 3-4 minute episode:
“I think I said something very unkind to [my father]. I think I said that I didn’t want to be a ‘professional Jew’ for the rest of my life. It’s not a nice thing to say to your father who was a great Talmudic scholar — a light in the Diaspora.
I had the talent for it but eventually I got fed up with it and I turned against the whole religious world with all the preoccupations with purity and nobility and observance. I wanted to be free of those things. … We live in an insane world where all kinds of people who have different notions of God, who manage to know what he wants, who have carefully transcribed his written … [laughs] … and yet people believe in it and order their lives around it. I wrote a poem “The Ways to God” when I was about 13 or 14, it’s a long poem but it starts: “The ways to God are worn and thin and loveliness is laughing sin” … [laughs] …the ways to God are one thing but there but there is this crazy thing in the world we live in.
The Leiter family is not as familiar with the notion of kindness as I believe they might have or should have been. Greatness was important; great scholarship was important; intellectual achievement was important; knowing was important; knowing a great deal was important. Kindness?? If kindness interfered with the pursuit of knowledge, of greatness, of learning and scholarship… too bad. Get rid of it.”
The highlight of the past week occurred on Wednesday when Lily, our littlest grandchild celebrated her seventh birthday. Tami decided that it would be a fun day (and Shuli decided that Gali could join in the fun) so after a breakfast in a café and some retail therapy (might as well start the training early), it was off to the eastern end of the Yarqon Park where a large helium balloon is tethered.
And it was time to go for a ride. …
… The balloon reaches a height of about 100 metres, I think they said. Not very high but it was interesting to view the northern end of Tel Aviv, where we live, from up above.
And the main thing was that the kids enjoyed it, too!
And then it was back to morning walks through the park, the port, and the streets of North Tel Aviv to see what emerged in front of the camera lens.
A wall with peeling paint in the early morning sun, which although viewed in colour “in the field” just had to be seen in black and white of the screen …
… A bashful member of the fire hydrant tribe …
… a fisherman who had brought not only his own tackle but also something that indicated that he might be going to spend quite some time there waiting for the fish to take the bait …
… and egret, something that has been missing from my photographs of late …
… something colourful on one of the walls in the port that needed a little bit of touching up to make it really attractive …
… and then there were these mantis-like lamps in the port that look even better in black and white than they do when photographed against the sky-blue background in real life.
Back on the streets, there were all sorts of things that popped into view. There’s this little chap who seems to have become a regular outside the street café on Nordau Boulevard. I can’t make out whether what is tied around his nether end is a disposable diaper or whether it’s there in order to keep his chariot in order. Whatever, it helps the little chap get around.
… and the Ginsburgs of Aristobolus Street seem as if they are still intent on keeping all potential strangers at bay.
And then, as I walked through the park on the north bank of the river, I stood and watched this incident of sexual harassment as it happened. She walked out from behind a pillar on to the base of the bridge and he followed her. She turned around and walked behind the pillar and he re-emerged, strutting his stuff, still following her. This went on several times but I lost interest and don’t quite know what happened in the end. I assume that she was telling him to beat it but I suppose that he didn’t understand or pretended not to understand her pidgin English.
I was going to leave this post politics-free — until I came across the scene below. This was one of these pictures in which the caption appears in your head even before you shape up to take the picture. And the caption that popped up was GIGO, which is an acronym, as anyone familiar with computers well knows. It stands for “Garbage In, Garbage Out”, and implies that bad input can only result in bad output or garbage.
And wat is the connection to things political. Well, again, to my warped mind, it reflected “change in government” and it doesn’t really matter whether you take the example from Israel or the UK. In these days, changing the government is a case of GIGO and, boy, does it stink! …
… which, of course, brings me to politics and politicians. It would have a relatively peaceful week except for two events. Last Monday, a panel of 11 judges of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled unanimously that the advice given to Queen Elizabeth II by her Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to prorogue Parliament thereby preventing MPs from sitting and debating the dire situation facing the country was illegal. The prorogation then was as if it had never happened and Parliament renewed its work the following day.
In other words, the Prime Minister had lied to the sovereign. He stated post facto that he respected the decision of the Court although he profoundly disagreed with it, which meant that he was in a bit of a bind. He may have lied but it strikes me that he didn’t recognise it as a lie because telling untruths is what he does most of the time, as is also the case with his new found American friend, who is also in a bit more trouble than usual these days. Perhaps Boris’s was just a little white lie—a fib. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. It could be that he wasn’t exactly lying but was just engaging in a bit of innocent and inventive telling of trumped up stories.
At any rate, Mr. Johnson should be rejoicing that he lives in the twenty-first century and not in some earlier time where the punishment for lying to the sovereign might have ended with him being sent to the Tower of London or worse, with the mob yelling “Off with his head”. Perhaps in that case, he might have thought twice about leaving the European Union as the French might have reinstated the guillotine especially for the occasion, as it has to be less painful that the axe! But of course, they won’t do it because if they did they wouldn’t know what to do with the yellow duster that is permanently in place on his head — which is even more pass-remarkable than the banana that sits on the head of the President of the United States! (Hanoch Piven is an illustrator, educator and creative instigator. His artwork is unique; by reinventing the meaning and use of everyday objects he forges associations between these and the subject of his creation.) https://www.pivenworld.com
Meanwhile, in Israel, with the tied result of the Israeli general election a fortnight ago, the State President, after failing to get the leaders of the two largest parties to agree on anything, eventually charged the interim Prime Minister to try and form a “unity” coalition, given that 55 Knesset members had recommended Bibi to the 54 who had recommended his erstwhile opponent, Mr. Gantz. Unless that latter reneges on his election promise no to sit in a government headed by a man likely to be indicted on three charges, the likelihood of that happening is low — unless, of course, Mr. Netanyahu removed himself from the drama. (Incidentally, his pre-trial hearing is set for this week and his demand that the hearing be broadcast live was dismissed out of hand by the Attorney-General, who explained that the hearing is a legal procedure and not part of another election campaign.
It looks as if Bibi will have to talk things over with the person who really runs the country and see where he goes from here.
Finally, I leave you with just a photograph and two songs. The picture is of the lighthouse that graces the Yarqon stream as it enters the Mediterranean and I gave it some special treatment (though the photographers among you might see where I slipped up!)
The songs are from the musical South Pacific. Given all the hatred and venom that was spewed out at the last election campaign in Israel and currently in the UK, the USA and elsewhere, it’s worthwhile listening to the two songs in sequence. The messages they transmit are so apt and amongst other things, they make one realise what a wonderful lyricist Oscar Hammerstein was.
Au revoir — until the next time.