Archive for the ‘Adam Gee’ Category

The Girl in the Blue Dress

I’m just back from a week in the village of Glencolmcille, Donegal (Ireland) doing a painting class at the Irish college (Oideas Gael). One day there I sat next to a Catweazle-looking fella, an American academic, called Jim Duna in An Chistin (The Kitchen restaurant) and he told me about an artist who had been active locally, a fellow American. At first he couldn’t recall the painter’s name and from the clues he gave I guessed Edward Hopper. It turned out it was one Rockwell Kent. I’m not bad on my art history and that name had never crossed my path.

The next day Oideas Gael put on a screening of an RTÉ documentary from last year about Kent and the subject of his most famous painting, Annie McGinley. After our morning painting session in the village’s National School we traipsed down to the college to watch the film, ‘Searching for  Annie’/’Ar Lorg Annie’ by Kevin Magee. Kevin is BBC Northern Ireland’s Investigations Correspondent and it turns out the Gaelic film is actually funded by BBC Gaeilge and Northern Ireland Screen (which I work with often), through their Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

One of the locations used in the film is a room above the better of the two pubs in Glencolmcille, Roarty’s. The next morning, on the way through the village to the hostel (where I was finishing a watercolour of Glen Head [see below] from the vantage point of their cliff-top lounge) I snuck in through an open door and up the stairs of the pub in search of the room as I knew it contained copies of Kent’s paintings. As I walked into the room there sat Jim at his breakfast – turned out he was lodging there. I had a look at the various pictures, poor copies, but nevertheless with some of the power of the originals.

None of Kent’s paintings reside in Ireland. He painted 36 in the Glencolmcille vicinity in in 1926. The most famous and resonant is this one, entitled ‘Annie McGinley’.

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‘Annie McGinley’ by Rockwell Kent (1926)

The painting now resides stashed away in a private collection in New York. It should be an icon of Irish painting. This reproduction doesn’t really do it justice. The location remains unchanged to this day. The day after the documentary screening some of the people on the Hill Walking course recreated the pose in the exact spot. The cliff-top is a couple of valleys over from the tranquil, resonant glen of Glencolmcille.

The subject of the painting is the eponymous Annie McGinley, a local girl, about 20, daughter of one of Kent’s local friends. Her father kept Kent’s drying oil paintings in his house as the barn where Kent and his new American wife lived was not dry enough. This is Annie’s father carrying his poitín still away at night to evade the authorities, punningly titled ‘Moonshine’.

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‘Moonshine’

The documentary was funny in the way it skirted round the core of the painting. People kept using words like “sensual” and “curvy” when it is clear that the painting revolves around Annie’s bottom. It’s a very sexy image – Kent’s wife would have been right to be concerned. Annie in later life denied even posing for the picture. But as another curvy young woman later said: she would, wouldn’t she.

In my opinion it is the ‘Olympia’ of Ireland.

Edouard-Manet-Olympia 1863 painting

‘Olympia’ – Edouard Manet (1863)

Someone should make it their mission to get the painting back to Ireland and into the National Gallery in Dublin for all to enjoy. It is as much a part of the national heritage as Paul Henry’s ‘Launching the Currach’ (which sat above the fireplace in my mother-in-law’s good room) and Jack Yeats’ ‘The Liffey Swim’ (subject of my recent Picture of the Month).

Paul Henry 'Launching the Currach' painting (c.1910)

‘Launching the Currach’ – Paul Henry (c.1910)

Kent painted a number of pictures during his year in Ireland which could be considered masterpieces. Another one is ‘Dan Ward’s Stack’, men at work during harvest in Glen Lough, an inaccessible valley two north from Glencolmcille, lead by Kent’s friend, Dan Ward (on top, left), neighbours helping like in ‘Witness’ (Peter Weir, 1985, with Harrison Ford).

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‘Dan Ward’s Stack’ (1926)

This one ended up not in the USA, to which New Yorker Kent returned after his Donegal sojourn, but in The Hermitage in Moscow. Kent, something of a lefty, was invited to Moscow to be the first contemporary American artist to have a solo show in the Soviet Union. He left 80 canvases to the Russian state after the exhibition, including this one. The Rusky’s loved it for its depiction of collaborative work. Kent’s socialist leanings got him into trouble with the US authorities, got him hauled up in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee under McCarthy (whose mother was from Co. Tipperary), and generally stifled his career. Hence my not having heard of him.

Now my guess of Hopper was not that far wide of the mark. Rockwell Kent was born in June 1882 in New York (of English descent). Edward Hopper was born the next month, July 1982, also in New York. The other painter who came to mind on first seeing Kent’s work was Nicholas Roerich who was born 8 years earlier in St Petersburg, in October 1874. Roerich I first came across in a little museum dedicated to him way up Manhattan island, on W 107th St. The style of Roerich’s landscapes and skies are very reminiscent of Kent – or vice versa. Similar palettes and graphical technique.

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‘Path to Shambhala’ – Nicholas Roerich (1933)

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‘Monhegan, Maine’ – Nicholas Roerich (1922)

So Roerich was doing very similar landscapes at much the same time.

Interestingly Roerich is described as a “painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, philosopher and public figure” – Kent as a “painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, sailor, adventurer and voyager” – both seem to have been multidimensional characters. Much like Richard Burton, the subject of my last post.

railroad-sunset edward hopper 1929 painting

‘Railroad Sunset’ – Edward Hopper (1929)

I’ll have a poke around to see if Kent, Hopper and/or Roerich crossed paths as they were all clearly active throughout the 20s.

It’s not too often I come across a painter as good as Kent out of the blue these days so I feel blessed that Glencolmcille chose to reveal him to me.

Here’s one of the poor copies from the hallway beside the room above Roarty’s

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

And here’s one from the bar below

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

Also in the bar below was this photo linking me back to home

shane macgowan road building at brent cross

On the right is Shane MacGowan, later genius songwriter of The Pogues. He spent his early childhood in Co. Tipperary. On the left is a local from Glencolmcille. Brent Cross is in my manor in London.

Here’s a woman on cliff-top sketch I did my first day in Glencolmcille, before coming across Rockwell Kent

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Malin Beg, Donegal

It’s above Tra Ban (Silver Strand) in the next village from GCC. The crouching woman is a fellow painter, Pamela from Eindhoven, Holland, taking a photo with her phone to use back in the studio.

This is my watercolour painting of Glen Head from the hostel vantage point

Glen Head Glencolmcille watercolour painting by adam gee

Glen Head, Glencolmcille

This oil, by Kent, is probably just over that headland

"Irish Coast, Donegal," Rockwell Kent, oil on canvas, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia.

‘Irish Coast, Donegal’ – Rockwell Kent (1926) [The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia]

Kent became very enamoured of Donegal and the Glencolmcille area (as well, I suspect, of Annie McGinley). It weaved his magic on him – he was living in Glen Lough to which no roads lead (til this day), no electricity runs, some kind of Eden. Farmer Dan Ward lived down there with his wife. They survived in the wild landscape and trekked into church on Sundays. Kent tried to buy their farm when they became too old to run it. He couldn’t get over to Ireland to make the purchase because the US government withdrew his passport because of his left-leaning sympathies. He took them to court and eventually won. Regained his passport. And secured a victory which has held – the US authorities are not allowed to withhold a passport in the way they did with Kent right until today.

The magic worked on him and it did on me. I found the whole experience meditative. I have never had the opportunity to stay put in one place and paint it over and over from a multitude of angles. The afternoon after completing Glen Head above I went for a walk with two new friends, Micki a muralist and graphic designer from Ohio and Colm a retired economist from Dublin, around the religious sites of Glencolmcille associated with St Colm Cille/Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland. As we were walking through the landscape below Glen Head, near the ruins of St Colm’s chapel, I realised I recognised particular rocks and patches of land from having painted them earlier. It was a deep, focused relationship with a place the like of which I haven’t experienced before.

watercolour painting of glencolmcille by adam gee

A God’s eye view of Glencolmcille – a watercolour painted with reference to Google Maps on my phone, my last picture of this trip

The Golden Envelope

Exactly this time last week I was at the Festival Hall, London entering the auditorium for the Television BAFTA Awards. Our film ‘Missed Call’ was nominated alongside three BBC productions and, while I had faith in the quality of the film, I didn’t have high hopes of a win. It had been shot entirely on a smartphone. No broadcaster was involved at any point. It was fully funded by a privately-held UK indie (Little Dot Studios).

The team assembled in the afternoon sunshine in an urban garden on top of the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hall. On the taxi ride in I’d noticed our table number was 007 so I was feeling positively Bond like in my John Pearse jacket. John I suspect is the only Savile Row-trained tailor cum filmmaker in London.

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At the appointed time we dropped down onto the red carpet and shuffled along. Greg Dyke was just in front of me. He soon gave way to Rob Brydon and Lee Mack.

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Once inside I found myself chatting to a man from BAFTA’s marketing company – he proved an important character in the night’s drama. Let’s call him X.

Oiled with champagne, I talked to various colleagues from the industry, many from my alma mater Channel 4. I entered the hall behind David Mitchell (who was talking about how we all pretend not to care about awards – but can’t help but care when we win) and Victoria Coren-Mitchell (who was talking about women not wearing pants). I had a brief exchange with Steve Arnott from ‘Line of Duty’ – he turned out to be Scottish, who knew?

As Graham Norton kicked off the show I felt increasingly like we had no chance. Until the Live Event award was announced and a Remembrance Day programme beat the Royal Wedding – at last, an underdog. I put in a small prayer for help from up there to my dad. I had bought a Farah shirt for the night the day before to invoke his spirit – he used to wear these very conservative Farah “slacks”. Apparently some how (Christ knows how?!) the make is becoming trendy again (again???).

Then it was the moment – Short Form Programme. They showed the clips, including one featuring Jodie Comer, the hottest of properties thanks to ‘Killing Eve’. Then two beautiful young things, boy and girl (still not sure who they were as I’m in my silver fox period and phenomenally out of touch) opened the golden envelope and said the words “Missed” and “Call”. There began a week-long buzz I can still feel. Our director, Victoria Mapplebeck, and me had a moment – made all the more beautiful by the fact that Jim, her son and co-star in the documentary, was on her other side. As we walked down to the stage I passed Andrew (Moriarty) Scott clapping with genuine enthusiasm and in front of him Phoebe Waller-Bridge being equally generous. That moment was both humbling and perhaps the highlight of the night for me. On the stage Victoria did a beautiful speech, Jim getting very well deserved applause, as did the iPhone Victoria brandished as the main tool of her trade. Hearing my name in that context was of course a kick. Victoria and I had started the project as a BBC3 series (which they rejected) just before I started at Little Dot Studios and I took advantage of the new job to realise one episode which became ‘Missed Call’, a high risk 19-minute unscripted piece whose ending we didn’t know when we embarked (would Jim get to meet his long AWOL father?) Watch the film here to find out…

The other thing that really struck me was how enthusiastically our win was greeted. Jim’s 15-year-old presence will have helped a lot. But so to did X because he promised to make a noise if we won and he whistled so loudly his wife smacked him.

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When we shuffled off in a lovely daze we went through an efficient assembly line of photos, signing for the individually numbered BAFTA mask, being interviewed. Victoria, Ananda Murphy (our stalwart producer) and I were the named individuals representing the winning production team. The next day I took the heavy bronze award into the Little Dot offices, holding it aloft like the FA Cup, and these are the massive smiles it lit:

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Eventually we were reinserted into the hall in our original seats and tried our best to concentrate, while texting our mums, spouses, children.

Then a bit of a shock which put it all into perspective. The memorial section in which, to my dark astonishment, the name and face of Anthony Owen appeared. I had no idea he had passed away. I checked after and he had texted me three days before to congratulate me on my new job at Red Bull Media House. Everyone used to envy his job title at Objective – Head of Magic. He got my kids tickets for Derren Brown, always generous and warm. I last saw him at The Story conference in February. A total shock. (You can help his family here.)

After the awards/programme recording concluded, a big photo of all winners was taken on stage. I was standing right behind Benedict Cumberbatch who was clearly very emotional about his first BAFTA win. To my right was Fiona Shaw who is an acting idol of my Mrs and Joan Bakewell. I had a brief exchange with that other underdog Huw Edwards (of the Remembrance programme).

On the way down from the hall I bumped into my old Channel 4 colleague, John Yorke, then Head of Drama. We discussed how I apply his book ‘Into The Woods’ (of which I am a huge fan) to documentaries, applying story structures more often discussed in relation to drama and movies.

Next a very nicely presented dinner with my team from Little Dot and ‘Missed Call’ and wafting around in a delightful daze. At one point I was accosted by a charming older couple who wanted to cop a feel of the mask. They did and we got chatting and it turned out they were the parents of Ruth Wilson. ‘Mrs Wilson’ was one of my favourite contenders for this year’s awards and I voted for it for everything possible. The gentleman was one of the son’s (Nigel) of Alexander Wilson featured in the drama. They introduced me to Ruth and we had a long chat, including about the fact I’d made a film about another Ruth Wilson last year ‘Vanished: The Surrey Schoolgirl’.

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A whirlwind of chat and booze until 3am. I bumped into these delightful colleagues from Little Dot who had arrived from BAFTA’s offices at mudnight, having clipped up the broadcast for YouTube – small world.

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After two and a half hours sleep I got up to go deliver a lecture at Ravensbourne film school. “The bad news is this is the first lecture I’ve ever done still a bit drunk. The good news is I have a great excuse…” Pulls out heavy, shiny mask (from the unglamorous plastic bag I was using to take it into the office after).

 

 


Winner’s acceptance speech by Victoria Mapplebeck for Missed Call in the Short Form Programme category

Oh my god!  I just want to say thank you to Adam Gee who commissioned this.  He is at Little Dot Studios, commissioned it for Real Stories. This was a tricky film, as you can see, because I’m both director and parent to the fantastic Jim, and that meant I needed ongoing support from this fantastic dream team of commissioners and editors and producers.

I think it’s proof… I hope the film is proof that small is beautiful, because I shot the whole thing on that phone, and when we needed an end credit composer, Jim took his phone out and composed the end credits, and even better gave me the rights for a pair of trainers.

So, yes, I just want to say — I think you deserve it every bit as much as we do.  Jim is the star of the show.  It’s hard being in a film at 15 and he did brilliantly.  So thank you.

 

David v Goliath

adam gee victoria mapplebeck bafta awards nominees party april 2019

This is Victoria Mapplebeck, director, and me tanked up on free Taittinger above the Thames, overlooking the dome of St Paul’s, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater and other great London landmarks. It is the Nominees Party for the BAFTA TV Awards which this year are in at least one respect a landmark in themselves thanks to a new award being presented in two weeks’ time.

It is significant that the newest category for the TV BAFTA Awards is Short Form Programme, marking the passage of online digital video into the mainstream of television. This year is the second year of the category and the first year Little Dot has entered. (Last year I was involved in the judging of the inaugural awards because I knew I might well have conflicts of interest thereafter).

Also significant is the nomination we were delighted to receive at the end of last month in this category for our Real Stories Original ‘Missed Call’. The rest of the nominations list is filled entirely with BBC productions. So that’s a broadcasting Goliath up, not against another broadcaster, large media owner or brand, but a privately held UK indie which invested its hard-earned cash in original unscripted content.

missed call real stories documentary video poster

To date Little Dot has commissioned two dozen factual originals (that was the task I was brought in to do) and they are starting to make their mark in a rich mix of ways.

As well the BAFTA recognition, ‘Missed Call’ won the Social Media category of the AHRC Research in Film awards, one of only five categories. These spotlit the critical role of research in film-making, a vital aspect which rarely gets the limelight. The 19-minute documentary premiered in London’s West End at Open City Docs where it was nominated for Best UK Short Film. It was selected as a Finalist at the iPhone Film Festival, reflecting the fact it was shot entirely on an iPhone X, the first professional documentary made on the device. It won the Best UK Film Award at the Super Shorts London Film Festival, and has shown at a variety of film festivals.

Some of the Real Stories Originals have played well in online realms, such as ‘Sorry I Shot You’, a documentary on restorative justice in action, which was in the Official Selection of the Webdance Film Festival; ‘Finding Fukue’, a co-commission with CBC in Toronto, which won Best Film at the National Screen Institute of Canada Online Short Film Festival; and ‘Travelling on Trash’ which won a Gold Award at the Spotlight Documentary Film Festival.

Others have enjoyed an on-the-ground life across the globe in festivals from Queensland, Australia (‘Through the Eyes of Children’) via Oakland, California (‘Black Star’ at Black Arts Movement (BAM!) Film Festival) to Sheffield, England (‘Surf Girls Jamaica’, which picked up a Best Women in Adventure Film award).

One of the most pleasing pieces of Real Stories Original silverware was winning the Best British Film gong at the London Surf Film Festival. Who knew? London’s got plenty going for it but the pounding of the waves is but a distant dream. Now that BAFTA is a not so distant dream – the ceremony is on Sunday 12th May (on BBC1 hosted by Graham Norton) and whether it’s David or Goliath’s night the Real Stories team will enjoy the ride…

bafta tv awards 2019 short form programme nominations missed call

Missed Call was directed by Victoria Mapplebeck and produced by Amanda Murphy (Field Day) :: Sorry I Shot You was directed by Andy Mundy-Castle (DocHearts) :: Travelling on Trash was produced by Deborah Charles (The Distillery London) :: Through the Eyes of Children was directed & produced by James Lingwood (Big Pond) :: Surf Girls Jamaica was directed & produced by Joya Berrow & Lucy Jane (Right to Roam) :: Black Star was directed and produced by Sameer Patel :: Finding Fukue was directed by Daniel Roher & Edmund Stenson and produced by Felicity Justrabo.

The Empathy Podcast with Oisin Lunny

the empathy podcast oisin lunny adam gee

I can’t recall exactly how or when I first met Oisin Lunny – it was through digital media/multiplatform circles. But I do clearly (that is, as clearly as was possible in the circumstances) recall listening to his band in a rowdy basement in Watermint Quay, Hackney on big nights among the London Irish Murphia – they were called Marxman, a pioneering Celtic hip-hop band that used the bodhran, the traditional Irish drum, for their beats. The band was on Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label (alongside the great Young Disciples among other footstomping acts which defined the 90s). They had the distinction of having their first single banned by the BBC and their third one performed on Top of the Pops. Oisin making his marx in music is no surprise given his heritage – his da is Donal Lunny, Irish producer extraordinaire and member of seminal bands Planxty and Moving Hearts (with the likes of Christy Moore). Oisin has moved the family on from the bouzouki to all things digital and mobile (but with a healthy respect for the bodhran and the Irish songbook).

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Oisin in Marxman (left)

Among his digital marketing related activities Oisin produces a podcast about Empathy called The Empathy Podcast. He recently recorded an episode with me in which we discussed the relationship between Empathy, Creativity, Connection and Networks. Here is the programme [Running Time: 22 mins].

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Another Marxman on Simple Pleasures.

Marxman with Sinead O’Connor:

“Ship Ahoy” by Marxman from Oisin Lunny on Vimeo.

Square Root of Instagram

In 2006 at Channel 4 (London) I commissioned a mobile-centred website called Big Art Mob. It enabled users to publish photos of Public Art (from sculptures to graffiti) from their mobile phones. In other words, it was basically Instagram 4 years before Instagram was invented. It was created with digital all-rounder Alfie Dennen (father of We Are Not Afraid) using a photo-publishing platform he had developed with partners named Moblog. I had been experimenting with Moblog for 18 months when a TV project about Public Art (The Big Art Project) came over the horizon and it struck me as an ideal place to apply Moblog technology.

The main difference from Instagram is that Big Art Mob’s photos were not in square format.

Today I went to see the Klimt / Schiele exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I have been a big admirer of Schiele since I heard about him from David Bowie on a radio programme around the time Lodger was released (1979). At the time the Austrian painter was little known outside cognoscenti circles (eg the Marlborough Gallery in London). I was taught a little by Frank Whitford at Cambridge who wrote the Phaidon monograph on Schiele. And I won a travel scholarship at Girton to go study his work in Vienna around 1984. Last year while working at ORF in Vienna I got to do a bit of a self-shaped Schiele tour to mark the centenary of his death which I wrote about in On The Trail of Egon Schiele. I even had a stab at a Schiele in a painting class I recently attended locally:

adam gee copy of egon schiele painting

The exhibition was excellent, bringing out the contrast between how and why Schiele and his mentor Klimt drew. Along the way it reminded me of Klimt’s distinctive adoption of the square format in his portrait painting. Which got me thinking about which other artists went square.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1903-1907)

Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is 1.38m by 1.38m. It was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer, husband of Adele. The painting was notoriously stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna, until being returned by the Austrian courts to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in 2006 at which point it found a new home in New York. It is considered the zenith of Klimt’s golden period. It uses Klimt’s trademark technique of cropping the figure top and bottom to create a pillar through the canvas, here set slightly right to allow the bulk of the patterned dress or aura to balance the composition.

Square and portraits reminded me of the excellent Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain last year. The square format works particularly well in the double portraits which were the beating heart of that show.

My Parents 1977 by David Hockney born 1937

My Parents by David Hockney (1977)

The emotionally resonant My Parents is 1.83m by 1.83m, even more epic than the Klimt, yet with the most down-to-earth subjects. Each parent occupies their own half in a very different way – attentive mum, square on, in her own space; pre-occupied dad, at an angle, overlapping the furniture – subtly capturing the difference in parent-child relationship.

Hockney was born on 9th July 1937, eight days before my dad. Nine days later another German Jew, Gerda Taro, died in Spain. She has the tragic distinction of being the first female photojournalist to have been killed while covering war at the frontline. This evening I started watching My Private War for this year’s BAFTA judging, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin, a latter day Taro. Recently, also for voting purposes (BAFTA Documentary Film chapter), I watched the feature documentary Under The Wire, likewise about the life and death of Colvin (killed in Homs, Syria by an Assad regime air-strike). Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War in a tragic accident involving a reversing Republican tank.

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Republican militiawoman training on the beach outside Barcelona by Gerda Taro (1936)

Taro was another stand-out squarist. She was partner of Magnum photojournalist Robert Capa. (Capa was introduced to the world by Picture Post in 1938, where my maternal grandfather worked. The Hungarian Jew, who famously lived out of a suitcase for most of his adult life, co-founded the Magnum photo agency with Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.) I saw Tara’s first ever US solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2007. Capa picked up the habit from Taro and there are a number of square photographs attributed to Capa which are widely thought to actually be the work of Taro.

These days I find myself photographing square by default. I’ve enjoyed using Instagram for years as a platform for photography only (none of the Stories bollocks or video). Initially it was an excellent way to syndicate your photos across your social accounts (when it was linked to Flickr – the monopolists must have disconnected on account of Yahoo’s ownership of Flickr I guess). Square poses its own compositional challenges which by and large I enjoy rising to – there are not that many shots I take which can’t be accommodated in the stable, equal-sided space. It encourages the use of diagonals which can be dynamic. Here’s one of my favourite of my square compositions:

statue of george orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London)

Statue of George Orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London) March 2018

The square is stable enough to carry the two dark figures on the right side. Orwell’s statue is characteristically smoking, hence the appeal of the BBC smoker – both are fag in hand. Of course Orwell like Taro was a graduate of the Spanish Civil War but he made it home to the BBC and to die in the relatively civilised surroundings of UCH (University College Hospital, established by two of my distant ancestors on the Picture Post grandfather’s side, and where both my boys were born). Orwell’s house (at 1 South End Road) is along the same road in Hampstead/Parliament Hill where my dad grew up. He was a child of refugees from Nazi Germany.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

To round off these square stories, Taro was given a funeral, attended by thousands, by the Communist Party of France. She was buried at Père Lachaise on 1st August 1937 (what would have been her 27th birthday) in a grave designed by Alberto Giacometti. On the tomb is written, in French and Catalan

So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016 – an open-air display of Taro’s Spanish Civil War photos was included in the f/stop photography festival in Leipzig. Leipzig is where my dad was born in July 1937 in the shadow of the Nazi fascist regime, a swastika and eagle on his birth certificate. When f/stop ended, it was decided that the display would become permanent. This was partly financed through crowdfunding. On the night of 3rd/4th August 2016 (two days after Taro’s 106th birthday), the display was destroyed by being daubed with black tar-like paint. This dark act of destruction was widely suspected to be motivated by anti-semitism or anti-refugee politics. A further crowdfunding campaign more than raised the €4,000 required to restore the vandalised photos. The equal and opposite forces of creativity and destruction, light and dark, squared up to one another.

Be there and be square.

Tampere, Finland

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the first place I’ve been to in Finland outside of Helsinki. I’ve worked with the Finnish state broadcaster YLE for some years now, usually in their offices at Pasila towards the north of the capital. On Wednesday I gave a talk on Short Form Video as part of their FutureZone series at their Tampere offices (Mediapolis). Tampere is 160km north of Helsinki, the second or third largest city in Finland (depending on how you are measuring) and the largest inland urban population in the Nordic countries. It is situated between two large lakes.

The event was delightfully hosted by YLE news anchor/journalist Milla Madetoja who presents the regional news nightly. Finland is divided into 9 regions which become larger and more sparsely populated as you head north.

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Selfie by Milla Madetoja

At lunch I was asked by the Head of Current Affairs to explain what was going on in the UK with Brexit. I couldn’t.

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Tervetuloa! / All welcome! poster

milla madetoja yle news anchor studio

Robot camera in news studio

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No-nonsense regional news studio (one of a pair)

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Photos of famous old Finnish stars around the Mediapolis auditorium

Vanished – press coverage

Some excellent press coverage in both the tabloids and qualities helped ‘Vanished’, the documentary I recently made with Martin Bright and Ryan Ralph for Real Stories, bring in a very respectable quarter of a million views on YouTube in its opening fortnight.

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The whole point of the coverage

daily mirror 10th May 2018 Could dark family secret hold the key? adam gee

Daily Mirror 10th May 2018 Could dark family secret hold the key?

The double-page spread from the newspaper appeared in the 3rd slot on the mighty Daily Mail website just below Trump welcoming home prisoners from North Korea and Barbara Windsor getting Altzheimer’s.

Daily Mail Vanished

The story was then picked up by The Sun…

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…and The  Mirror

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As well as being covered in The Observer/The Guardian

Ruth Wilson, the schoolgirl who caught a cab to oblivion The Observer martin bright 2018-04-29

…and The Belfast Telegraph (home town of one of the two protagonists, ex-counter-terrorism cop, Liam McAuley).

ex-met officer from ni and his search for missing teen belfast telegraphy 8th may 2018

The Belfast Telegraph 8th May 2018

The coverage has helped progress the case bringing forward new witnesses and information which is being shared with Surrey Police, who brought on a new officer to take charge of the 23-year-old missing person investigation in March when the ‘Vanished’ team were firing a lot of questions their way. Martin Bright and I went in for an initial meeting with the investigating officers and their boss on Monday after struggling to get input from the police throughout the filming. They did show up at the screening and Q&A we ran for the community at Dorking Halls Cinema on the eve of the film going live but chose to remain incognito.

Lead Story at the scene of the mystery

This morning journalist Martin Bright and I were interviewed on the BBC Radio Surrey breakfast show about our documentary ‘Vanished’. The documentary was the lead story on the station’s news this morning, pipping MI5 and Putin to the top spot. It has now accumulated 0.25M views on the Real Stories YouTube channel in its opening days.

[11 minutes listen]

Not the Usual Suspects

Social Media Addicts Anonymous still poster documentary film

Social Media Addicts Anonymous

Carol Nahra interviewed me last week for her documentary film-making blog Docs on Screens

Carol is an American journalist and documentary producer, who since moving to London in 1996 has worked as a producer, and as a consultant & writer for Sheffield Doc/Fest. She also teaches documentary film and digital media for Syracuse University’s London program and the Foundation for International Education. She regularly moderates Q&As and special events at London documentary screenings.

Taster of the interview

Little Dot’s Adam Gee: “I have made a real effort not to commission the usual suspects.”

 

In more than a decade at Channel 4 heading up factual multiplatform content, Adam Gee commissioned many multi-award winning productions, including Embarrassing Bodies and the Big Fish Fight. After a stint launching All 4’s short form video service, he is now commissioning for Little Dot Studios, who have earned astonishing viewing numbers with their flagship Real Stories documentary channel. A regular guest speaker for my digital engagement class, Adam excels at spotting trends and keeping ahead of the game in a dizzying, fast-changing media landscape. I chatted with him about his work finding new pathways for documentary filmmakers.

Carol Nahra: Can you tell me about your role at Little Dot?

Adam Gee: I was brought in last summer to commission the first original content for Little Dot’s Real Stories, their documentary channel, which is the biggest of their portfolio of channels. It’s a very pure form of commissioning in that I was given a blank sheet, a pot of money and instructions to fill up the blank sheet with stuff that would fit properly onto the channel. So I set about basing the brief on the data underlying the channel. The data makes it really clear both who your audience is and what they actually like. This does not constrict your commissioning, it just shows where the most fertile territory lies.

CN: What kind of films do you commission?

AG: One of the things that characterises Real Stories is by and large they are uplifting and inspirational and have a feel-good vibe about them. And that is probably to some degree a product of the time – I think people are quite up for hearing things which are uplifting about humanity. So I commissioned eleven documentaries in the second half of 2017. I’ve just started on the next five. They are very varied subjects which range from restorative justice to proxy marriage to social media addiction and all things in between. They also range from traditional observational documentary to things that are much closer to the border of factual entertainment. And to some degree they have been done in the spirit of experimentation, to see what fits happily onto the channel which has been built up on acquisitions, what people find an easy transition to if they’re watching the 60 minute, relatively high budget documentaries which are the foundations of the channel.

CN: What don’t you commission?

AG: YouTube is the core online presence of Real Stories and there are certain subject areas which are vulnerable on YouTube to being demonetised or slapped with an 18 certificate – in other words, are vulnerable to being made invisible. So I was careful to stay a long way inland from those borders so the investment wasn’t at risk in that way. There are plenty of places you can go to make documentaries about ISIS or fetishes and this doesn’t need to be one of them. My favourite part of the brief is the slide that says what we don’t want at the moment. And that reads pretty much like my Channel 4 job description – sex, drugs and rock and roll. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and am happy to move on.

CN: Who have made the films?

AG: By and large these commissions have been done with small indies and individual filmmakers. I have made a real effort that they not be the usual suspects. So when I read down a list of the commissions to date, the first ones were directed by the founder of a new BAME-owned company (Andy Mundy Castle, Brittle Bone Rapper); a woman returner who’s coming back from a career break (Debbie Howard, Absent From Our Own Wedding); a woman who has been in Holloway prison twice for gang-related offences but is now on the straight and narrow (Nicole Stanbury, Sorry I Shot You).

A number are first-time commissions. Taken as a whole, they are quite a weird and wonderful bunch that are really talented and have delivered without exception. At a tight tariff like the UK online video one, if you’re not going to take a risk on emerging talent then, when will you ever?

Sorry I Shot You documentary film thumbnail poster Real Stories Little Dot Studios

Sorry I Shot You

FULL INTERVIEW can be read on Carol’s blog here

Travelling on Trash

My fifth commission for Real Stories is ‘Travelling on Trash‘. You can watch it here (14 mins). It was made by The Distillery London.

travelling on Trash Poster real stories little dot studios

An epic adventure sailing down the Mississippi on a raft of plastic bottles

Six friends sail down the Mississippi, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, on a raft made of plastic bottles, to explore how plastic and other pollution is affecting America’s iconic river.

The raft, constructed from used bottles and other repurposed materials, travels down the second longest river in the USA for 56 days. Enthusiastic but inexperienced, the crew of young friends are battered by extreme weather changes, an infestation of bugs, boat breakages and the realities of finding shelter every evening in time for nightfall.

Their epic journey takes them from Minneapolis, through the confluence with the Wisconsin river and then the Ohio. They stop in Baton Rouge to have their river water samples tested in the labs of Louisiana State University. They carry on past New Orleans to finally reach the sea at the Gulf of Mexico. But the destination is not as important as the friends’ experiences along the way, above all their contact with the locals who share their first-hand accounts of how pollution and plastic is affecting one of the world’s great rivers.

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