Saturday, 26 March 2011

Chippy owner's night by the Danube with Liz Taylor

It is Elizabeth Taylor as she has never been seen before. In a plush Budapest hotel. Wearing an expensive party frock. And with a Celtic FC hat upon her film star’s head.

This wonderful image hangs in Toby’s Chip Shop in the village of Thornton, near Kirkcaldy, in Fife. It belongs to Robert “Toby” Delmaestro, who was there by the Danube on the evening in 1972 that the photograph was taken. To cap it all, said Mr Delmaestro, “that’s my hat on her head”.

Football, they say is a funny old game, and Mr Delmaestro’s story proves that old cliché. He had travelled with friends to watch Celtic play Újpest Dózsa in the European Cup quarter-final and found himself among 150 supporters ensconced in one of the best hotels in the country.

Taylor was starring in a film being made in the Hungarian capital and was accompanied by Richard Burton, a notorious drinker who was to lead the couple out on a night that has become the stuff of legend.

"It had been in the papers that Burton was staying in a hotel right by the river, and it turned out to be the one we were in," said Mr Delmaestro.

"A big Glasgow fellow just went up and chapped at the door of his suite. Burton came out and said, ‘What are you after?’ The big man said, ‘I’ve heard you can drink a bit. Well, I’m not bad at drinking either. Do you want to come down?’.”

Burton responded by putting a huge sum behind the bar — £10,000 according to Mr Delmaestro — to cover the bills for all the Celtic fans in the hotel, and saw they were well fed.

Mr Delmaestro, who has haggis puddings and chicken suppers on his chip-shop menu, remembers eating lobster, crayfish and steak; other accounts speak of caviar and champagne being shared among the fans.

Most of all, he remembers talking to Taylor. “She was a rare woman. She said to me, ‘What’s your name?’ and I told her,” said Mr Delmaestro. “She said, ‘That’s a bit of a Gypsy name’. I said, ‘Well I am a bit of a Gypsy, I’ve been travelling in Ireland’. She liked that.”

Not that Mr Delmaestro was flirting. He admired Burton — “a cracking-looking man, a big strong guy”. Burton came over to join his wife and exchanged a few friendly words with Mr Delmaestro. “He was talking to everybody.”

Margaret, Mr Delmaestro’s wife, was not so convinced of her husband’s motives in talking to the film star. “My wife found out that Liz Taylor was there and she phoned me,” he recalled. “She was a bit worried, but there was nothing to worry about.

"It was lovely, a great night. There was not one person there who got overly drunk. They were a few laddies, shouting and singing for Celtic, but people behaved really well.”

Mr Delmaestro, a lifelong Celtic fan, speaks bitterly about the way money has ruined the game. But he soon chuckles again: “That trip was £40, for the flight, the hotel and the match.” A tiny sum to invest in an anecdote to last a lifetime.

Photo by James Glossop. More at Timesonline

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

V&A at Dundee price shock

It was billed as a new museum to revive the fortunes of an ailing Scottish city — just as a branch of the Guggenheim in Spain has transformed Bilbao — but months after the winning design for the V&A at Dundee was announced, serious doubts have emerged over the final cost of the building.

Experts who have studied drawings produced by Kengo Kuma, the Japanese winner of an international competition, are adamant that the museum could easily double or treble in price, not least because the planned structure is almost twice as big as any building intended for the site. One described the “massive and inevitable hike in cost” as indefensible.

Critics allege that the winning blueprints barely conceal the hidden costs. Two floors shown in cross-section are shaded out, and not included in the cost-per-square-metre price calculation. Nor is a plant room depicted, normally between 15 and 20 per cent of the budget in a building of this type.

The museum’s most striking features are likely to come at a heavy price, say experts, including the dramatic, spaceship-like sloping walls that also increase the volume inside the building. On the exterior, the surface area is huge and Kuma’s striking finish is created from a complex design that will be difficult to construct.

The saving grace for the V&A can be found in a remarkable quirk of the funding package. The world-famous institution is not obliged to meet any of the building costs. Instead, its outpost in Dundee, planned to house 20th century design products, will be funded by £15 million of Scottish government money, supplemented to the tune of £30 million by lottery funds, European grants and commercial sponsorship.

Read more at Timesonline.  Image by James Glossop

Thursday, 17 March 2011

"Such horrors will live with me forever"

The Times, March 17, 2011

A British surgeon who spent two weeks working in battlefield hospitals in support of Libyan rebels has returned home with horrifying evidence of the mass killings carried out by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Abdulmajid Ali worked round the clock as he made his way westwards from Tobruk into the heart of the conflict, treating hundreds of men, women and children who had been attacked by Colonel Gaddafi’s mercenaries with bullets, missiles and anti-aircraft guns.

Last night he called on Britain and the UN to establish a no-fly zone over the country immediately, as he presented evidence, including photographs, of atrocities committed by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces against civilians.

At the town of Beida, the mortuary was full, he said. “Children had been shot as they stood on balconies watching a peaceful demonstration. The snipers were well trained. You can see that all the victims were hit in a vital place: the head, the carotid artery or the chest.”

Some of the victims he encountered, including members of his sister-in-law’s family, are pictured only as assemblages of body parts after they were blown up in an attack by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces on a munitions dump at al-Rajma, near Benghazi.

Dr Ali’s evidence backs reports that anti-aircraft guns were turned on the crowds in Benghazi when protests erupted on the streets of Libya’s second city. The images show human remains, burnt and charred.

“Believe me, as a surgeon, I will never overcome these sights,” Dr Ali said. “I have seen horrors, things I never thought I would live to see. These images will stay with me the rest of my life.”

Read more at  Timesonline.   Picture by James Glossop

Monday, 7 March 2011

It's golf, not Sodom and Gomorrah

The Times, 7 March, 2011

It’s the hypocrisy of the ‘Holy Willies’ that so galls Ken Galloway, the golf club secretary. He remembers the long cold snap at the end of last year. All weekend, every weekend, “the golf course was like the Cresta Run,” he says, with hundreds of people — including fierce Sabbatarians — sledging and skiing over the fairways and across the greens.

“They make us mad by the way they make their argument,” growls Norrie MacDonald, the course record holder, in agreement. “This is golf on the Sabbath. It is not Sodom and Gomorrah. Anything else goes on Sunday, apparently. You can ski, you can take pictures, ride your bicycle. You can fornicate. You’d swear that something in the Bible specifically mentions golf as a sin.”

This take on the Sabbath's last stand  is from today's T2  section of the Times, and appeared alongside a five minute video. You can find more at Timesonline, Sunday on the Isle of Lewis

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Germany's soul through a lens

Young farmers stride out to a dance, wearing their hats at a rakish angle. A careworn Jewish woman poses for her identity card. The conscripted soldier and an SS functionary stare into a camera, the former seems uncertain and fearful, the other self-important and secure. 
    What can you really tell from these portraits? Everything, believed August Sander, the great German photographer, because, he maintained, “every person’s story is written plainly on their face”.
    These images and thousands more, captured without clever lighting or the trickery of Photoshop, were catalogued and published as part of Sander’s mighty goal: a portrait of mankind in the 20th century. The remarkable extent to which he achieved his objective is revealed in a moving and evocative display of 170 photographs, opening this month in Edinburgh.
     Nearly 50 years after Sander’s death, no one now doubts his achievement. His influence is shot through the work of other artists. It was Sander’s deeply humane studies of dwarves and blind children, of the dying and the dead, that compelled photographers such as Diane Arbus to follow him to the margins of society for inspiration. In his lifetime, inevitably, the very qualities that attest to his genius would mark Sander out for harassment. At the height of his creative frenzy Hitler came to power and Sander’s work was immediately suppressed.
    For Gerd Sander, 70, the custodian of his grandfather’s archive, the reason for these attacks is clear. Sander “did not show Germans as the Nazis liked them to be seen” and would not pander to the notion of an Aryan ideal.
    Such temerity had consequences. In 1934, Sander’s Face of our Timecollection was destroyed by National Socialist thugs. The same year his beloved son, Erich, Gerd’s uncle, was imprisoned by the Nazis as a communist. He died ten years later in Siegburg prison of an appendix condition that could, and should, have been treated.
    Nor did the end of hostilities bring relief. Any notion that Sander would be lionised by a grateful German people for bravely chronicling the human story through the war years is scotched by Gerd. He grew up with his grandfather and has bitter memories of the manner in which the old man was ostracised as an artist. “Nobody could confiscate anything or smash things up as they had before, but it was not as if he was accepted as someone who had made a record of the period,” Gerd says.
    Then he recalls the praise showered on the film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, whose Triumph of the Will survives only as a chilling reminder of the Nuremberg rallies. “That Nazi bitch,” Gerd snaps. “She was still, until her final days, the great heroine as a photographer. Of course, she denied ever having known about atrocities.
    “Sander, in the late 1940s, included all those people in his work, the Jews, the persecuted. But after the war there were many who still said ‘the Jews are the cause of all the evil that has come down on Germany’. It is a sentiment that has not gone away completely yet.” It may be no surprise that while his grandfather’s archive is held in Germany, Gerd administers it from his home in northern France.
    And what an archive it is. Sheer longevity ensures that Sander’s catalogue delivers a stunning panorama of human history. Born the son of a carpenter in 1876, he acquired his first camera in the 1890s. An early photograph shows him to have been a dapper young man with a pointed moustache, who is pictured playing a lute and sitting alongside his wife Anna. Sander set up his first photography business in Linz, Austria — the town where Hitler was brought up — but left for Cologne in 1910. There, he continued to earn a living through commercial portraiture, but as he toured the countryside around the city, photographing the proud farmers and their stoical wives, the notion of his lifetime’s work was already forming.
    People of the 20th Century finally began to emerge in Weimar Germany of the 1920s. It would be “a physiognomic image of an age”, declared Sander, presenting “all characteristics of the universally human”.
Categorising his subjects under headings and sub-headings, he set about the task with astonishing attention to detail. He recorded every class of person, in any walk of life, from the captains of industry, who happily paid for their portraits, to the pedlars and Gypsies who turned up penniless at the studio door.
    All of human life is here. The loopy grins and gawky stances of his two boxers tell us everything that we need to know about their sporting prowess. We sense the desperation of the Turkish immigrant, eking out a living as a mousetrap salesman in the midst of the Great Depression. The fat, doughy hands of a pastry cook seem swollen with pride, like the rest of his body.
    Few of these people were ever identified in his records by Sander, though some names of famous industrialists and artists were added after 1945. Sander believed that his sitter’s essential humanity would emerge if he was displayed anonymously.
    When a selection of 60 prints was shown in Cologne in 1927, he offered an explanatory note: “If I, as a normal person, can be so immodest as to see things as they are and not as they should or could be, please forgive me, but I cannot do otherwise.”
     The dark pall of Nazism shrouded his achievement until the very last years of his life. In 1958 Sander was made an honorary member of the German Society of Photographers, and received its culture prize in 1961, three years before his death.
     He went to his grave with a secret. A series entitled Political Prisoner, which features a photograph of Erich, his son, and a sequence of portraits from inside Siegburg Prison. It has always been assumed that Sander himself shot these photographs on a visit to the jail, but that was not the case.
     “Erich photographed himself, using time exposure, in his cell,” Gerd explains. “He photographed the other people too. We have about 40 negatives. They were taken for identification purposes. He made copies and a priest smuggled them out.” Sander included them in his catalogue as a statement about victims of political persecution. He then photographed his son’s death mask. It is the last image in the archive.
    “You might ask me, ‘how can you include photographs that he didn’t take?’ My father always said to me before he handed over responsibility of the archive, ‘You will have to explain that one day to the world’. There is nothing to explain. The truth is best. It is an homage to his son. Erich was very important to him, he was always talking about him. August had his portrait of Erich’s death mask on his living-room wall. He didn’t ascribe the pictures to him because he didn’t see the name as being important. They were from the Sander studio, what was important was what they were showing.”
    Gerd first exhibited the images in 1995. “No one asked me how did my grandfather get into a Nazi prison? It’s what he was saying with his work; people don’t think. They see a name on something and assume it’s true. His work wasn’t about photography, that was just the means to express his ideas.”

Artist Rooms: August Sander runs Feb 12 to July 10 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (national 0131-624 6200)