Summer Jobs 1 …

A piece in The Guardian a while back, in which various (well-known) people talked about the summer jobs they had done while they were students, got me thinking about my own ventures into similar areas of casual labour. Like many of my generation, my first ever paid job, when I was fifteen, getting on sixteen – GCEs, I remember, the old ‘O’ levels, were on the horizon – was as a newspaper delivery boy for the paper shop just across the road from where we lived in Camden, North London. Bernard Shaw Court, to be precise. After that, still at school, I had a short-lived job behind the scenes at a small Sainsbury’s in Somers Town, close to King’s Cross Station. One summer – I think I must have been in the sixth form by now – I worked as a porter in the Covent Garden Fruit & Vegetable Market, before it moved from the area around Drury Lane several miles west to Nine Elms; the summer after that was spent sweeping out the cages in the Lesser Mammal House at London Zoo. And through much of this time, summer holidays excepted, and beginning, I think, in the second year of sixth form, I worked in various capacities for J. Lyons & Co Ltd.

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J.Lyons’ first tea shop: 213 Piccadilly 

In the first half of the last century, Lyons was the largest catering company in the world.  Beginning in 1894 with one tea shop on Piccadilly – basically a café selling teas, coffees et cetera and hot or cold  food at reasonable prices – by the turn of the century there were 37 tea shops in London and 14 in major cities outside; at the beginning of the Second World War, the number had risen to 253. Nor was it just tea shops. In 1909, the first Lyons Corner House opened on Coventry Street; larger, grander and appealing to a more upmarket clientele, it could seat an amazing 2,000 people at any one time. The Corner House restaurants often featured live music, and it was at the Marble Arch branch, in my early teens and in the company of my mother and my aunt, having trailed after them around Selfridges, that I heard Ivy Benson and her All-Girls Band, my first experience of listening to live big band jazz.

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Ivy Benson & Her All-Girls Band

But back to the work. My years in the sixth form coincided with a rise in the popularity of jazz, the traditional variety in particular, and a corresponding  increase in the number of clubs where bands might play. Even if you were prepared to walk home at the end of the evening, rather than take the bus, clubs cost money. And, on average, I suppose I would go two or three times a week. The 100 Club on Oxford Street, the Fishmongers’ Arms in Wood Green, small clubs scattered across North London – Finchley, Barnet, Golders Green. Pocket money not really being a thing, the only way to get the necessary was to go out and earn it. 

At first, I just worked weekends, then, gradually, added a couple of nights a week. Initially, I was at the tea shop opposite Charing Cross station [It’s now a Pizza Express] and after a  year or so, I was transferred to 213 Piccadilly – yes, the site of the first Lyons tea shop ever. Staff were rotated through various tasks when on duty, the two busiest of which were ‘the steam’ – making teas, coffees and other hot drinks – and ‘the grill’ – making sure there was a plentiful supply of hot toast, grilled bacon and sausages and poached eggs, as well as making up sample plates and putting them on display. In especially busy periods, you would often be turning bacon under the grill and removing toast from the toaster with one hand, while cracking eggs with the other hand and lowering them into the simmering water of the poacher, which was long enough to take at least a dozen eggs at any one time.

Though some of the staff were full-time, a good proportion were casual and ever-changing, so those part-time workers who weren’t shy of putting in a good shift were quickly noted by the management and a beneficial two-way relationship evolved. If the duty manager [she would have been called a manageress – senior management aside, all the people I worked under were female] knew you could be trusted to work the early evening shift on the grill several nights running without complaint, you were less likely to be sent out onto the floor to clear tables overflowing with dirty crockery.

Beginning, as I say, when I was still at school, I worked, on and off, for Lyons up to and including my three years at Goldsmiths when I was doing my teacher training: some eight years in total. And [mostly] enjoyed it. During the latter part of that time, I worked alongside a man called Richard, whose day job was at the John Lewis store on Oxford Street. After one especially busy period, a bank holiday weekend as I remember it, in which we’d performed above the call of duty sufficiently to be mentioned in despatches, both Richard and I were summoned to appear before a senior manager and invited to join the management training scheme, with the promise that within twelve months we would be managing shops of our own, with a clear career path upwards and beyond. I decided to stick with the teaching; the last I heard of Richard, he was managing a tea shop in Brighton.

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J. Lyons tea shop, North St., Brighton

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iPod Shuffle: September 2018

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1. Small Town Heroes : Hurray for the Riff Raff, from Small Town Heroes *

2. Buckets of Rain : John Renbourne & Wizz Jones, from Joint Control

3. Beyond the Horizon : Bob Dylan, from Modern Times

4. Four or Five Times : Jimmie Noone, from Clarinet Frequency

5. Saturday Jump : Humphrey Lyttelton Band, from The Parlophones 1949-1959 Vol. 4 **

6. Lil’ Darlin’ : Georgie Fame & the Harry South Big Band, from Sound Venture ***

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7. In a Sentimental Mood : Robert Wyatt, from For the Ghosts Within

8. What Can I Say? : Boz Scaggs, from Silk Degrees

9. Monkey Man : The Maytals, from Young, Gifted & Black

10. Short Wet Summer : Rob McMinn, from Avignon****

* The lead singer and leading light in Hurrah for the Riff Raff, is Alynda Segarra, who was born in the Bronx of Puerto Rican heritage and whose mother, Ninfa Segarra, is a former Deputy Mayor of New York City. The band’s most recent album, The Navigator, was released in 2017 and there is a quite superb video, directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa and photographed by Rudolph Costin, featuring one of the tracks, Pa’lante.

**This was recorded in December, 1958, along with The Bear Steps Out, only the second session by the version of the Lyttelton Band that regularly featured three saxophones in the line up for the first time – Tony Coe on alto, Jimmy Skidmore on tenor and Joe Temperley on bartitone – giving the ensemble a little-big-band sound that confirmed, for good, its move from traditional to mainstream jazz and the style of such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Buck Clayton. As such, I saw and heard them at the 100 Club in Oxford Street many times.

***By 1966 Georgie Fame had enough clout, I guess, to talk the powers-that-be at EMI into letting him live out one of his fantasies and make an album with a big band, a band that would sound as close to that of Count Basie as possible. [And he did get to sing with the actual Basie band just a year later. Lil’ Darlin’, which Georgie knew from the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross album, Sing a Song of Basie, was first up at the first session and as he said, “I was terrified because it was such a challenge. I had to produce these long, clear, straight notes … It was the first track we did, so I do sound very nervous. It’s a hard song to sing if you’re not confident. I get a bit embarrassed when I listen to it now, but I was trying.” Sounds pretty good to me.

****Written by Rob McMinn, who also plays guitar on the track, plus everything else that’s going, this is another of Rob’s hypnotic songs of barely requited love.

 

“Body & Soul” Booklist Review

Body & Soul will be published by Pegasus in the United States in November, and here is the first US review, by Bill Ott in Booklist – a starred review, no less …

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Retired Nottingham copper Frank Elder, appearing here in the fourth and final episode of the series, is in many ways an even more melancholic, depressive hero than Harvey’s Charlie Resnick, star of his own classic series, which concluded in 2014 with the appropriately titled Darkness, Darkness. Like Resnick, Elder constantly carries the weight of his past cases and the pain of lives lost, but whereas Resnick manages to find some solace in small things, like listening to jazz, Elder—isolated in distant Cornwall—only walks the headlands and, if anything, grows more withdrawn and bitter as he marches. When his estranged daughter, Katherine, reenters Elder’s life, he immediately realizes she is in trouble. A relationship with an artist has gone very bad, and, when Elder sees the way the painter depicted Katherine in a series of paintings, his pent-up anger bursts to the fore. Soon the painter is murdered, and first Frank and then Katherine are suspects. Trouble lurks on other fronts, too, as Elder, whose life has been defined by his failure to protect his loved ones, struggles to muster his strength for one more attempt to save those who need saving. Harvey writes with great power about the disappointments and tragedies of living, and he always digs deep into the emotional recesses of his characters—all of which makes the devastating ending of this remarkable novel all the more powerful.

— Bill Ott

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Art Chronicles: Jenny Saville

I first encountered Jenny Saville’s work, alongside that of Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili, Damien Hirst and others, when she was included in the newsworthy, even notorious,  Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997. More recently, two of her canvases were shown at Tate Britain as part of All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a century of Painting Life. One linked her with that loose agglomeration of mainly young and controversial artists short-handed as YBAs; the other positioned her within the broader tradition of representational painters of the human figure – the body. Only with the survey that forms the major part of the current NOW show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One) in Edinburgh, did I have the opportunity to see as broad a selection of her work in one place – seventeen pieces ranging from the 1992 “Propped” to “Aleppo” from 2017/18.

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Jenny Saville Fulcrum 1998/99

The effect is to be – let’s step aside from any art speak here – gob-smacked, slapped into consciousness. First it’s the size – these are big canvasses and in this perfectly hung exhibition they are granted the space they deserve; then its the paint – the thickness, richness of the paint – and the flesh, the flesh of female bodies, faces – flesh that is almost overwhelming, overwhelmingly real, faces that are torn yet tender.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Saville studied anatomy, that she has or had a particular interest in plastic surgery, that the many images she has collected range from those illustrating war wounds to the physical abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Pain manifests itself in some of these paintings, cruelty even. And yet there is a tenderness here – call it love, even – sympathy, affection.

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Jenny Saville Hyphen 1999 [detail]

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Jenny Saville Hyphen 1999 [detail]

I came to see the material of paint as a kind of liquid flesh I could mould in my hands.

Astonishing, that’s what these paintings are, astonishingly real. Look, look away, look again; look up close at the sworls and gouges of paint, paint dragged across the surface of the canvas, the surface of the body. Women’s bodies.

The history of art has been dominated by men, living in ivory towers, seeing women as sexual objects. I paint women as most women see themselves. I try to catch their identity, their skin, their hair, their heat, their leakiness.

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Jenny Saville Fulcrum 1998/99 [detail]

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Jenny Saville Fulcrum 1998/99 [detail]

NOW is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art until September 16th.

Short Stories 2: “Blue & Sentimental”

A blog post or so back I wrote about the business of writing short stories and the first – my first – “Now’s the Time” – in particular. Well, the arrival from the States of the US edition of Ten Year Stretch, published by Poisoned Pen Press, brings me to my most recent published story, “Blue & Sentimental”. Title courtesy of Count Basie this time, rather than Charlie Parker. And in place of Charlie Resnick, the central character is my London-based private detective, Jack Kiley.

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Ten Year Stretch brings together twenty stories commissioned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of CrimeFest, the Bristol-based festival of crime writing and writers. Edited by Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller and published in the UK by No Exit Press, it features a broad range of contributors, from Ian Rankin to Sophie Hannah, Lee Child to Simon Brett, Ann Cleeves to Mick Herron and James Sallis to Zoe Sharp.

My story had its beginnings in a lunchtime meeting in Dalston, East London, with a long-time friend, now living in Ireland, and her daughter Lucy, and is dedicated to Lucy and her partner, Anna. Just around the corner from our lunch spot is the Vortex, a jazz club I’ve been patronising in its different guises for some little while. Aside from the good music upstairs,  Nicki Heinen runs a monthly poetry and jazz session in their downstairs bar where I’ve read on a couple of occasions. All of which set the story in motion. This is how it begins …

Kiley hadn’t been to the Vortex in years. A celebration of Stan Tracey’s 75th birthday, December, 2001. Bobby Wellins joining the pianist on tenor sax, the two of them twisting and turning through In Walked Bud before surprising everyone with a latin version of My Way which, for the duration of its playing and some time after, erased all thoughts of Frank Sinatra from memory. Now both Tracey and Wellins were dead and the Vortex had moved across east London, from Stoke Newington to Dalston. A corner building with a bar downstairs and the club room above, which was where Kiley was sitting now, staring out across Gillett Square, waiting for the music to begin.

The call had come around noon the previous day, just as he was leaving the flat, his mind set on a crispy pork bahn mi sandwich from the Vietnamese place across the street from the Forum. The 02 Forum, as it was now less fortunately called, Kiley old enough to wish for things to be left, mostly, as they were.

“Am I speaking to Jack Kiley?”

He’d assured her that she was.

“You find people who’ve gone missing?”

“Once in a while.”

“That doesn’t sound too encouraging.”

“I’m sorry.”

There was a silence in which he guessed she was making up her mind. If he moved the phone closer he could hear the faint rasp of her breathing.

“Can you meet me?” she said eventually.

“That depends.”

“Tomorrow? Tomorrow afternoon? Somewhere around four? Four thirty?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“You know the Vortex? It’s just off … “

“… Kingsland High Street. Yes, I know.”

“I’ll see you there.”

She rang off before he could ask her name.

Out in the square a group of elderly black men were sitting quietly playing dominoes, oblivious to the cries of small children and the bump and clatter of skate boarders negotiating a succession of mostly successful pirouettes and arabesques.

Behind Kiley, the musicians who had been arriving, haphazardly, for the past ten minutes or so, stood chatting, shrugging off their coats, freeing instruments from their cases, starting to tune up. On stage, the drummer finished angling the last of his cymbals correctly and played an exploratory paradiddle on the snare. With the concentration of someone threading a needle, one of the saxophone players fitted a new reed into place.

Gradually, the composition of the ensemble took shape: rhythm section at the back, piano off to one side; three trumpets; two, no, three trombones; the saxophones, five strong, down at the front of the stage, one – the bartitone player – leaning back against the side wall.

The leader stepped forward, called a number from the band’s book, signalled with his hand: four bars from the piano then four more and the sound of fifteen musicians filled the room.

Smiling, Kiley eased back in his chair.

The repertoire mixed original compositions with new arrangements of the tried and tested; after an extended work out on Take the A Train, Kiley got up and made his way to the bar.

Only one woman sat alone amongst a scattering of couples and a dozen or more single men; smartly yet casually dressed, dark hair swept back, Kiley wondered if she might be the person he was meeting, but when he passed close by her table she gave no sign, and by the time he’d paid for his beer she’d been joined by a stylishly bearded thirty-something energetically apologising for being late.

Back at his seat by the window, Kiley saw that a woman wearing a bottle green apron over a brightly patterned floor-length dress had stationed herself behind the domino players and was busily cutting hair, a short but steadily lengthening line of clients waiting their turn. A quartet of youths criss-crossed the square on scooters, revving noisily, while on stage the band strolled its way into the interval number, a slow rolling blues that climaxed all of ten minutes later, electric guitar ringing out over a volley of brass.

As the applause faded, the musicians began to set their instruments aside, the taller of the two tenor players unclipping her saxophone from its sling before crossing the room.

“Jack Kiley? I’m Leah Temple.”

Art Chronicles: Rana Begum & Mark Dion

I wouldn’t have known about the art installation by Mark Dion at St. Ives’ Porthmeor Studios, if my partner, Sarah, and I hadn’t fallen into conversation with the invigilator in the small gallery at Tate St.Ives currently housing work by Rana Begum under the title, A Conversation with Light and Form – and which in itself we’d only stumbled on by chance, moving between the rooms showing work from the Tate’s permanent collection and the current exhibition devoted to Patrick Heron.

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Begum is interested in the interplay of colour and light and the effects of repetition; in taking the everyday and presenting it in such as way as to encourage us to look at it afresh. Here, acknowledging that St. Ives was a fishing village long before it became primarily a holiday destination [the story of Cornwall writ small] she has taken two of the staples of the fishing industry – nets and floats – and ‘remade’ them. Nets, painted in a variety of colours – red, green and blue – hang, overlapping, from one wall; plaster moulds in different shapes and sizes, the size and shape of floats, are arrayed together on  a stand. The ordinary made art for us to take pleasure in and enjoy, while pointing up its original form and function. From artefact to art and back again.

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Having talked very interestingly about Begum’s work and how it was made, the invigilator mentioned, almost as an afterthought, an installation by Mark Dion just a short walk away that we might be interested in. Only open to the public one day a week, he thought. Maybe Wednesdays? So it proved. Wednesdays from 10.00am.

Dion is an American artist who is also interested in the everyday; in his case, specifically, the way knowledge – history – is collected and presented; interested in the process as well as the finished presentation or display. In 1999, for instance, to coincide with the opening of Tate Modern, he used volunteers to comb the shores of the Thames outside Tate Modern and Tate Britain for whatever objects and fragments of objects they could find; these were then cleaned, as far as possible identified, and finally placed on display, together with flow charts and photographs, in a large glass-fronted mahogany cabinet.

During his time in St, Ives, Dion, like Begum, found his inspiration, to a large degree, in the artefacts and livelihood of fishing; more specifically, with relation to Porthmeor Studios, in the harmonious ways in which the working fishermen and working artists have come to occupy the same space. Originally built for the pilchard industry, fishermen still use part of the building for storing gear and setting nets, while much of the rest was converted into artists’ studios which have been home to the likes of Ben Nicholson, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Patrick Heron.

Commissioned to make a work which would mark the completion of the restoration of the Studios, Dion followed his normal practice, using a group of students from Falmouth University, to source as many artefacts from the local fishing industry as possible; these Dion carefully arranged on one side of one of the cellars below the building, with artists’ tools and paraphernalia on the other.  The resulting work, The Maritime Artist, remains on display and is well worth seeing – but remember, on Wednesdays only, after 10.00am.

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NB There’s a fascinating exhibition of Rana Begum’s work in the Djanogly Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, until the end of September.

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Short Stories 1: “Now’s the Time”

It’s always a good day when an envelope falls onto the mat, the telephone rings (both of those events increasingly rare) or an email pings into my Inbox, asking me if I would like to contribute a short story to a forthcoming collection. This especially if it means my work will be published alongside that of other writers whose work I admire and if the person doing the asking as an editor or publisher who ranks high in my estimation. Oh, and mention of a small fee is always a bonus.

One such message arrived earlier this year from the esteemed Maxim Jakubowski – a man, who by his own admission, has been responsible for over a hundred anthologies over the years. But in the world of writing and publishing, all good things (as I well know) approach an end, and, according to Maxim, the volume of all-new crime stories he is currently putting together – provisionally titled Invisible Blood – will be his last. Could he, he asks, convince me to contribute a story? Could he stop me?

It was Maxim who first persuaded me to write a short story – a form I had spent a good many years avoiding – the result being “Now’s the Time”, which, title borrowed from  Charlie Parker, first appeared in the collection, London Noir, in 1994.

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This is how it begins …

“They’re all dying, Charlie.”

They had been in the kitchen, burnished tones of Clifford Brown’s trumpet, soft like smoke from down the hall. Dark rye bread sliced and ready, coffee bubbling, Resnick had tilted the omelette pan and let the whisked eggs swirl around before forking the green beans and chopped red pepper into their midst. The smell of garlic and butter permeated the room.

Ed Silver stood watching, trying to ignore the cats that nudged, variously, around his feet. Through wisps of grey hair, a fresh scab showed clearly among the lattice-work of scars. The hand which held the glass was swollen at the knuckles and it shook.

“S’pose you think I owe you one, Charlie? That it?”

Earlier that evening, Resnick had talked Silver out of swinging a butcher’s cleaver through his own bare foot. “What I thought, Charlie, start at the bottom and work your way up, eh?” Resnick had bundled him into a cab and brought him home, stuck a beer in his hand and set to making them both something to eat. He hadn’t seen Ed Silver in ten years or more, a drinking club in Carlton whose owner liked his jazz; Silver had set out his stall early, two choruses of “I’ve Got Rhythm” solo, breakneck tempo, bass and drums both dropping our and the pianist grinning, open-mouthed. The speed of thought: those fingers then.

Resnick divided the omelette on to two plates. “You want to bring that bread,” he said. “We’ll eat in the other room.”

The boldest of the cats, Dizzy, followed them hopefully through. The Clifford Brown Memorial album was still playing. “Theme of No Repeat”.

“They’re all dying, Charlie.”

“Who?”

“Every bugger!”

And now it was true.

The story I’m going to write for Maxim’s last anthology, it had better be a Resnick story, I think. One that involves him in some significant way, at least. Resnick in retirement, kicking his heels a bit. Harking back. Thinking of Ed Silver, perhaps …

SILVER Edward Victor. Suddenly at home, on February 16, 1993. Acclaimed jazz musician of the be-bop era. Funeral service and memorial meeting, Friday, February 19 at Golders Green Crematorium at 11.45 am.

A story that begins, perhaps, with the line …

“They’re all dying, Charlie.”

Get to Resnick’s age and they’re starting to fall like ninepins.

If anyone wants to read (or re-read) “Now’s the Time”, it’s included in the Arrow paperback of the same name, along with ten other Resnick short stories.

Now's the Time

 

Art Chroncicles: Killed Negatives & the F.S.A.

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Much as, for many people, Dorothea Lange’s portrait of Florence Owens Thompson, known as Migrant Mother, epitomises the suffering and endurance of the American heartland during the Great Depression, so this and other photographs that Lange took when she was employed by the Farm Security Administration in the 30s have come to be more or less fully representative of her career. This despite the fact that half a lifetime and more than half of that career were ahead of her.

After working for the FSA, she was hired by the War Location Authority to document the internment of Japanese American citizens following Pearl Harbour and then collaborated with Ansel Adams in documenting the lives of shipyard workers, men and, increasingly, women, who had moved to California to work in the booming wartime shipping industry in the final years of WW2. In the 1950s. together with her writer-son, Daniel Dixon, she produced an in-depth portrait of rural life in Ireland, before returning to America and working on photo essays dealing with inequalities in the justice system and the effects of large-scale government land projects on local communities.

Lange died in 1965 at the age of seventy, just a few months before a retrospective exhibition of her work opened at MOMA in New York. She wrote the following as a postscript to the show …

I would like to add a line to encourage persons interested in using a camera to concern themselves with making photographs of the life which surrounds them, to raise his [or her] sights to include what’s going on about us, to the camera to show this awareness.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing [in conjunction with Vanessa Winchip: And Time Folds] is at the Barbican until September 2nd. And, running until August 26, there is a very  interesting exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Killed Negatives: Unseen Images of 1930s America, which gives considerable insight into how Lange and the other photographers employed by the F.S.A. – Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Gordon Parks, Marion Post Wolcott et al – were directed, encouraged and generally managed by Roy E. Stryker, who worked for the Farm Security Administration as Chief of the Historical Section of the Division of Information.

As Stryker later described himself …

I’m the guy who sat in the middle … I kept the store … My goal was to write the history of the Farm Security Administration. We didn’t collect many documents. We collected pictures. Many think I went down to Washington with a plan. I didn’t. There was no such plan … I was one-half editor, one-half papa, one-half hell-raiser, one-half publishing agent, and occasionally psychoanalyst without portfolio.

He may not have had a plan when he arrived in Washington at the beginning of his tenure, but, if indeed that were the case, one soon became clear. Arthur Rothstein, the first of Stryker’s hirings, was left in little doubt …

It was our job to document the problems of the depression so that we could justify the New Deal legislation that was designed to alleviate them.

Here’s an extract from a letter Stryker sent to another photographer, Jack Delano …

Please watch out for autumn pictures, as calls are beginning to come in for them and we are short. These should be rather the symbol of Autumn … cornfields, pumpkins … Emphasize the idea of abundance – the ‘horn of plenty’ – and pour maple syrup over it – you know, mix well with white clouds and put on a sky-blue platter. I know your damned photographer’s soul writhes, but to hell with it. Do you think I give a damn about a photographer’s soul with Hitler on our doorstep? You are nothing but camera fodder to me.

As becomes clear from the photographs and letters on display at the Whitechapel, Stryker was quick to dismiss a photo that, to his mind, didn’t reinforce the impression of America in the Depression that he was after, just as he would discard an image he considered to be inadequately  focussed or badly framed. These – and this is reflected in the name of the show – he ‘killed’ by punching holes through the negative – an act which Dorothea Lange considered an act of vandalism, but that didn’t stop him. Any more than it stopped him sending strongly-worded letters to his men and women in the field, criticising them for what he perceived as their lack of technical skill. And one of the pleasures of the exhibition is deciding on which grounds – poetical, artistic or technical – Styrker had decided to make his cull.

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NB . The Stryker and Rothstein quotes come from Paul Hendrickson’s excellent book, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott [Knopf, 1992] Currently out of print but ready available and, as is the case with all of Hendrickson’s  books, well worth reading.