Archive for the ‘Sam Haskins’ Category

Take-two Tuesday — When art influences life: Sam Haskins Month, Day 2

June 29, 2010

This post orginally appeared in a less illustrated and much rant-freer form on December 2, 2009 at 9:46 am.

Today I am thinking about Sam, but still pretty upset to find out he was dead. So I thought I’d use this below shot of him and Leni Riefenstahl as a springboard to discussing a little bit about propaganda (obviously entire books and brilliant essays are devoted to this topic, I just want to think out loud a bit). So. Sam and Leni. They were not any type of friends, but they of course knew one another, because of the international stature both held as artists.


This picture with Leni was taken in Munich in the early 70’s. We were serving on the jury for a photographic competition organised by Der Spiegel. A friendly argument developed during a break in the judging activities. Postal sacks filled with the competition entries swamped the corridors leaving little room for chairs. (“Leni Riefenstahl,” Sam’s blog, entry dated 3/15/07)


Still from Leni’s Olympia, 1938. She was a brilliant, bold pioneering female photographer who had a keen instinct for shapes and the human body — and she was a National Socialist in Hitler’s Germany.

Leni Riefenstahl is a divisive and problematic figure for me to wrap my brain around: while her career has been largely brilliant, and I suppose each piece of art ought be considered an entity unto itself? — ought it? a debate for a different day maybe? — she is a photographer and cinematographer from whom for me it is difficult to separate the facts of her life and her art. See, her body of work is great, but besides such feats of human architecture as Olympia, that body of work also contains within it The Triumph of the Will, a handy piece of pure propaganda which launched her to forever-infamy and helped sway many to the National Socialist way of thinking.


Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler at Nuremberg, 1934.

Yeah, that’s Heinrich Himmler and her at Nuremberg, 1934, setting up a cozy little scene for the camera. It’s significant and somewhat ironic to me and, you likely too, because, of course, she and Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, spinmeister, were busy here trying to launch some Nazi ships of popularity, and ultimately the career of many a Nazi ended there, eleven years later at the trials. Riefenstahl was arrested after World War II, but was not tried at Nuremberg, nor ever convicted of any crimes. Fair or unfair?

It has recently become popular to exonerate Leni Riefenstahl for her part in Goebbels’ games on either a) the strength of her large body of striking and unique work or b) the reasoning that she did what she must during a time when a lot of people swallowed their true opinion to avoid persecution by the National Socialist party.


Leni with some asshole.

I do not believe there is any way of ever knowing for certain about (b). I simply think people are shoehorning their own opinions in to those years of her life so that they can excuse loving her later work. In fact, I have got to say that fearfully holding one’s tongue to avoid losing a job as a bank teller when one’s boss rants against Jews, versus being an artist of international stature who can reasonably leave a country and travel to another with little fear of detention — and then maybe even announce her repatriation to a place where they do not abduct and murkily displace citizens based on religion, a course chosen by many artists and scientists during this time — but not doing that and instead turning around and shooting The Triumph of the frigging Will, thank you very much, are two totally different situations, pressure-and-force-wise.


l to r: Joseph Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, and Adolf Hitler.

So the lukewarmly advanced “oh, but she had to do it” part of the argument is fishsticks in my book, I’m sorry. Bull-fucking-shit. Until I see hardcore documents that Leni was told something like, I don’t know, that her mother was being held and she would be whipped and her teeth would be pulled from her head and force-fed back to her every day unless Leni continued churning out propaganda, oh, and that P.S., all the anti-Semitic things she said and did in the 1920s and early 30s before the Third Reich had seized power and employed her at her own request were just for funsies, because she is totally not a hater!, then I will not ever, ever support that specious (b) argument.


Leni and crew filming those all-important ’36 Olympics.

There’s keeping your frightened mouth shut and half-heartedly going along with a thing with a constant eye to getting away, and then there is willful participation in that same thing in order to benefit socially, artistically, and financially. Painting Leni with that brush of reluctance is shameful and disgraces the good people who were placed by circumstance and fear for their loved ones in that hellish and untenable position, which they no doubt regretted to the end of their days. I say again: it is shameful and disgraceful to humanity to claim Leni belongs in that camp. Period.


“Sielspringen.” Jumpropers. Leni Riefenstahl. Not sure of the date.

I tried to be neutral but I got worked up even attempting to sound nice about it. Whoops. Blarg, it’s all slipping away from me, I get so nuts about WWII. I’m sorry.

So … this was supposed to be about propaganda, both the first time and on this retread. I wanted to figure out what I think about art and propaganda, and it would seem that I think some pretty angry shit, but is that necessarily right or well-reasoned? Like, okay, Leni was arrested but not tried for her participation in the National Socialist campaign to conquer — you know … the globe. Leni won 50 cases of libel against her from people who said she had knowledge of war crimes like the concentration camps — which is weird, because if she was so innocent of this knowledge then I wonder why, when she was asked why she went along with the propaganda plans, she claimed it was out of her fear of being sent to a camp … a camp that she did not know existed. fascinating, yes? — and also claimed she would lament forever that people would associate her with Nazism. Can’t think why. But enough ranting, god, the main thing is: she was let go. So she never got a trial or did time. Ought she have?


via peternicholson, Leni was shooting establishing-shot footage for a rally documentary and was caught by a friendly cameraman on the ground beneath one of her striking set designs in front of which a horribly real not-a-play-at-all went on.

Question for discussion: is propaganda a crime? A con of the highest order, making it a physical and emotionally abusive crime of course, as any manipulative act must be, but also, and perhaps more strangely, a crime against art itself? A violation of its core function? If the purpose of art is to express yourself, and we see that for some being provocative is how they do it (I do not believe the work of shock artists violates or upheaves what I’ve just advanced as the core purpose of art; I believe their work still falls beneath the aegis of self-expression, whether they understand that or not), then is propaganda a gross perversion of the core purpose, forcing a perspective on the viewer rather than expressing one’s own, muscling and manipulating and violating the relationship between seer and seen?


Olympia series by Leni Riefenstahl, 1938, via bodypixel. Do check the piece out.

We talked about what happens when art imitates life, and when art imitates art, but what about when life imitates art because art influences life? What would Leni’s dear friend Goebbels, great-grandfather of the spin and the catchy slogan, answer, if he had not been killed himself rather than face trial (or death at the hands of Dönitz) in the liberated Germany? What are the implications of how art as propaganda was used politically, with our historical understanding, when we look now at modern instances of using art to increase the popularity of a product or idea, from advertising of food and beverages and clothing to much more volatile and animate subjects such as people and philosophies and lifestyles?


Golden Globe and Academy Award winner Charlize Theron for Christian Dior, “J’Adore” parfum.

Or am I all backward. Is the opposite so? Is all art propaganda of some kind? One of my favorite movies, The Cradle Will Rock, written and directed by Tim Robbins, which is set during the 1930’s, draws consistent symbolic parallels between artists and whores, and even has a line where William Randolph Hearst says, not sneeringly, but simply with a practical confidence, “And artists are whores — like the rest of us.” Has the relationship between art and advertising and commercialism and pop cultural consciousness come so far that there is no way to ever go back? And, fuck, what do I know, like is that so wrong?


“Tommy Hilfiger Celebrates Sam Haskins.”

“We have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes.” (Joseph Goebbels, 1943)

I do not have answers. I’m frustrated and bummed and totally confusing myself. I quit! I’ll regroup and come back to this a different day.

William Blake Month: “A Poison Tree”

June 8, 2010


I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.


And I water’d it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.


And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,


And into my garden stole
When the night had veil’d the pole:
In the morning, glad I see
My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.

(William Blake, “A Poison Tree.”)



(I was concerned that the photo credits would break up the rhythm and impact of the poem, so I’m putting them down here.)

top: Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme…, aka Female Don Juan, aka If Don Juan Was A Woman (Roger Vadim, 1973).

second from top: Jacqueline Sassard and Stéphane Audran, Les Biches (Claude Chabrol, 1968). Spoiler: one is about to stab the other in the back. Interpret freely and watch for yourself.

third: “Grand Apple Face” by patron saint Sam Haskins. In-camera photo montage before the age of photoshop. Amazing. RIP.

last: “Poisoned with love” by miss- alienation on the d.a.

Langston Hughes Month: “Songs”

May 28, 2010


“November Under Light.” Sam Haskins, November Girl (1966).

I sat there singing her
Songs in the dark.

She said,
“I do not understand
The words.”

I said,
“There are
No words.”

— Langston Hughes, “Songs.”




A beautiful and true sentiment.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 18: “Mood swings”

December 18, 2009


“Mood swings,” 2006.

This picture actually juxtaposes the covers of Sam’s books Haskins Posters (1972) and November Girl (1966). He put it together a few years ago for a different book. The images as a single unit have become a very popular print.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 17: Kate and Rosie, the plot thickens

December 17, 2009













I feel like I should mention I’ve been putting these up out of sequence so I don’t totally spoil the plot for you. Don’t forget to add Sam’s Cowboy Kate and Other Stories, the Director’s Cut to your Christmas wish list. You can get it from Powell’s Books, Amazon, or get on a mailing list with Dashwood to see when they get another copy.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 16: More Gill because I can

December 16, 2009

Sam basically discovered Gill. She was one of his favorite models, and I think it’s reflected in the work they put out together. This series of shots comes again from Five Girls.

Click the pic to see it big.

Gill was an art student in Johannesburg in the early sixties. Not a professional model, she just walked into the studio one day and was a total natural in front of the camera.

There were stories of Vietnam soldiers taking copies of Five Girls (often gifted to them by their wives or girlfriends) to war, so Gill was also a Vietnam pinup. The fan mail generated by Five Girls in the 60s included letters from both men and women. (Sam Haskins’ blog, entry dated 21 April 2008)

Sam Haskins Month, Day 15: “The Marshall’s star”

December 15, 2009

Sam Haskins Month, Day 14: Sorry I skipped Day 13

December 14, 2009

Sorry I skipped Day 13. Part of the day I was spending time with my daughter and the aforementioned estrange(st-people-on-earth)ed husband, and before that I was at church, you godless heathen. It happens! That’s right, I hella believe in something bigger than the frequently mucksucking shithole (it has its moments, though, I admit) that we’ve made of this Earth. Sue me.

To make up for yesterday’s lackage, I will post up more images than usual and cut the commentary.


“Gill,” the cover of Five Girls. This image has become somewhat iconic.


“Flutter,” 1972.


“The Apprentice.”

That last one, “The Apprentice,” features Ginny, who, like Gill, wound up figuring in a lot of Sam’s work. I haven’t gotten around to talking about her yet, but I will. I like the navel contemplation. She has a kind of interested but pleased look on her face. Good modeling, good shot.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 12: A slick ballet

December 12, 2009

Technically, the telling has more in common with a slick ballet sequence from a well directed film than with the conventional picture story. It flows and it tingles. It has continuity and superb presentation. It is made up of an agreeable mixture of fun and hyperbole, extravagance and restraint. Nothing is just plain statement, so that the reader has the pleasure of exercising his own powers of interpretation.(Norman Hall, review of Cowboy Kate)

Spiritually, it is a song of praise for the loveliness of woman and it has a lyrical fragrance which harks back to Spenser or Ben Jonson. In all there is a pervading sense of fun.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 11: Cowboy Kate, “One Dark Blue Night” edition

December 11, 2009

Sam Haskins Month, Day 10: Pioneer of in-camera montage techniques, now fallen by the wayside

December 10, 2009

One of the things Sam Haskins is known for is his in-camera montages, which made him highly sought after for advertisement and design layouts. “Big Apple Face,” directly below, is an example from his official site.

Haskins achieved amazing effects well before the advent of the computer software used today to digitally reach the same look. He explains the composition of another famous piece, which shows a model seemingly embedded in rose fabric, in one of his blog entries:

Here is a 1970’s reminder of a pre-Photoshop montage world. This image is to be included in my new book. Its a single exposure with the model viewed through optical glass at 45º and the fabric positioned to the side.


Lindy Mirrored Roses
At the time there was zero retouching after the event. Now of course I have the luxury of scanning the transparency to clean and refine the image in Photoshop – God bless its digital socks. (Sam’s blog.)

“God bless its digital socks.” He’s so funny. Was. That’s depressing. This whole suicide thing really shocks me. It just didn’t jive with what I’d always read and heard about him, and his high-humored sense of fun. But his son said his stroke changed his personality. I guess it was very frustrating to him and he considered it very limiting. I just don’t know how I feel about the whole thing.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 9: November Girl

December 9, 2009

“Dance.” From his 1966 book November Girl. He also included it in 2009’s collection Fashion Etcetera. I’ll go in to that one a different day.

November Girl, like most of Sam’s books, is out of print. Still, it’s not as though all copies were burnt by papal decree and Illuminati appointment in all parts of the world at the precisely same hour it quit being printed, enforced by guards with muskets and sabres and saltpeter; it’s a photography book with boobies in it, not a worldwide conspiracy or any kind of forbidden-treasure-map.

You can pretty easily, though expensively, find November Girl online from rare booksellers and nudity-fans (those poor, brave pariahs who actually find the naked human body of interest — ugh, I cannot imagine what their lives are even like, they should really have their own charity) of all stripe if you got the cash for that kind of thing.

Perhaps one good thing to come from his recent death will be that demand might increase for his books and they will go back in to circulation.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 8: “Fair and gentle nymph,” Photo Graphics

December 8, 2009

“Fair and gentle nymph,” Sam Haskins, 1980.

The graphic experiments first seen in Haskins Posters (1972) and related exhibitions at London’s Photographer’s Gallery and National Theatre resulted in a book called Photo Graphics (1980). The title of the book coined a new term in photography that has since become widely used. (the wiki)

Sam Haskins Month, Day 7: A lovely cowboy

December 7, 2009



Oh, she was a lovely cowboy.

What a great and playful statement, and a beautiful and widely imitated shot.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 6: Gill the art student, Girl Two

December 6, 2009

“Gill, the art student with ribbons in her hair.”


Click to see larger.

“…images from my book Five Girls. The model, photographer and in this case the Rolleiflex camera are all comfortably anchored flat on the floor.” (Sam’s blog, April 13, 2008)

All five of the models in Five Girls, like Sam, are from South Africa. That’s where he shot the book. I’ll see what else I can dig up on the girls.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 5: Five Girls – Bes in braids

December 5, 2009


Five Girls represents many things to me.

A serious project that served as a clearing house for graphic ideas which were floating around in the back of my mind.

A fun project which was a relief from highly disciplined advertising illustration.

An opportunity to control the full cycle of an undertaking, from the first conception of the idea and choice of approach, through the photographic processes and selection of pictures, to the final detailed layout and design.

I do not like to dream up explanations for my work.. That is why this book is, quite simply, me – thinking pictures. (Sam Haskins, forward to Five Girls, 1962)

Many of the pictures from Five Girls, along with other prints of Sam’s work, are available as “signed, museum quality photographic prints;” hit up his official site’s order form to learn more.

Sam Haskins Month, Day 4: The straight Kate

December 4, 2009

Sam Haskins Month, Day 3: Kate and Rosie

December 3, 2009






(Blondes and brunettes. They are a Thing.)










It’s not looking good for Rosie, eh? More to follow.

When art influences life: Sam Haskins Month, Day 2

December 2, 2009

Today I am thinking about Sam, but still pretty upset to find out he was dead. So I thought I’d use this shot of him and Leni Riefenstahl as a springboard to discussing a little bit about propaganda (obviously entire books and brilliant essays are devoted to this topic, I just want to think out loud a bit). So. Sam and Leni. They were not any type of friends, but they of course knew one another, because of the international stature both held as artists.


This picture with Leni was taken in Munich in the early 70’s. We were serving on the jury for a photographic competition organised by Der Spiegel. A friendly argument developed during a break in the judging activities. Postal sacks filled with the competition entries swamped the corridors leaving little room for chairs. (“Leni Riefenstahl,” Sam’s blog, entry dated 3/15/07)

Leni Riefenstahl is a divisive and problematic figure for me to wrap my brain around: while her career has been largely brilliant, and I suppose each piece of art ought be considered an entity unto itself, she is a photographer and cinematographer from whom for me it is difficult to separate the facts of her life and her art. See, her body of work is great, but it also contains The Triumph of the Will, a handy piece of pure propaganda which launched her to forever-infamy and helped sway many to the National Socialist way of thinking.


Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler at Nuremberg, 1934.

Yeah, that’s Heinrich Himmler and her at Nuremberg, 1934, setting up a cozy little scene for the camera. It’s significant and somewhat ironic to me and, you likely too, because, of course, she and Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, spinmeister, were busy here trying to launch some Nazi ships of popularity, and ultimately the career of many a Nazi ended there, eleven years later at the trials. Riefenstahl was arrested after World War II, but was not tried at Nuremberg, nor ever convicted of any crimes. Fair or unfair? Question for discussion: is propaganda a crime? A con of the highest order, making it a physical and emotionally abusive crime of course, as any manipulative act must be, but also, and perhaps more strangely, a crime against art itself? A violation of its core function? If the purpose of art is to express yourself, and we see that for some being provocative is how they do it (I do not believe the work of shock artists violates or upheaves what I’ve just advanced as the core purpose of art; I believe their work still falls beneath the aegis of self-expression, whether they understand that or not), then is propaganda a gross perversion of the core purpose, forcing a perspective on the viewer rather than expressing one’s own, muscling and manipulating and violating the relationship between seer and seen?


Leni and crew filming those all-important ’36 Olympics.

We talked about what happens when art imitates life, and when art imitates art, but what about when life imitates art because art influences life? What would Leni’s dear friend Goebbels, the undisputed grandfather of the spin and the catchy
slogan, answer, if he had not been tipped off as to his imminent arrest and killed himself rather than face trial in the liberated Germany? What are the implications of how propaganda was used politically, with our historical understanding, when we look now at modern instances of using art to increase the popularity of a product or idea, from advertising of food and beverages to people and philosophies and lifestyles?


Golden Globe and Academy Award winner Charlize Theron for Christian Dior, “J’Adore” parfum.

Or am I all backward. Is the opposite so? Is all art propaganda of some kind? One of my favorite movies, The Cradle Will Rock, written and directed by Tim Robbins, which is set during the 1930’s, draws consistent symbolic parallels between artists and whores, and even has a line where William Randolph Hearst says, not sneeringly, but simply with a practical confidence, “And artists are whores — like the rest of us.” Has the relationship between art and advertising and commercialism and pop cultural consciousness come so far that there is no way to ever go back? And, fuck, what do I know, like is that so wrong?


“Tommy Hilfiger Celebrates Sam Haskins.”

“We have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes.” (Joseph Goebbels, 1943)

I do not have answers. I’m frustrated and bummed and totally confusing myself. I quit! I’ll regroup and come back to this a different day.

Not cool — very, very sad news

December 1, 2009

Oh my god — so I had linked you guys up to his blog in my post about it being Day 1 of Sam Haskins Month this morning, but had not checked the front page of his blog for myself for a few weeks.

Sam Haskins died five days ago, on November 26th, at his home in Australia. Holy shit. From his blog, November 27th, an entry by his son:

Sam Haskins died last night. He was severely depressed after his stroke in New York in September and I suspect he suffered another smaller stroke after his return to Australia. In an act that was entirely out of character with his consistent celebration of living large, art and beauty, Sam took his own life.


Sam Haskins cover edition from “Four Masters”

I genuinely thought he would pull out of his post stroke depression, I had always watched him overcome challenges with a combination of intelligence, know how, buckets of creative talent and extraordinary discipline. Unfortunately the stroke on September 19th, the day his show opened at Milk Gallery, damaged the right side of his brain and he never recovered his emotional stability.

It is always a wrenching loss to see great minds and great artists departing but Sam had a recent blessing, his last rock star moment, in New York, with the huge success of his Fashion Etcetera book launch and exhibition. That recent high note was made especially poignant by the photographers, both from New York and those who came to Manhattan from all over the world, to tell Sam that they had embarked on their careers because of his books. We lost count of the number of times that was said.


“Poster Girl” from Five Girls.

Sam’s fellow professionals and fans showed him enormous warmth, love and respect in New York – those memories are very fresh in my mind – and I want to thank the people concerned.

I will post an obituary later.

Ludwig Haskins (Sam’s son)

Well, I guess that makes this month and a celebration of his long and wonderful career even more important. He is one of those photographers whose work means the world to me. I hope that the pictures and little factoids and vignettes from his life that I post over the course of this month inspire you to buy one of his wonderful books, or just learn more for yourself about him.


Sam and Alida at the recent Milk Gallery showing

This is a real shock. My condolences to Sam’s family and friends, especially his sons Ludwig and Konrad, and most of all to Alida, his wife of fifty-seven years.