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Archive for the 'Inspiring Women' Category

Diana Athill

Quite an inspiring lady. In the Guardian, she talks about not being afraid of death, and Hunger Magazine has interviewed her, talking about how she’s been independent and self-sufficient all her life. Younger women need people like Diana to aspire to.



Beating Around the Bush

When three interns at Mother London were set the task of ‘rebranding feminism’ their directors may have imagined many things, but probably not ninety-three women’s nether regions on display in their East London HQ.

Project Bush is a photomontage of the brave ladies who stripped off for celebrity photographer Alisa Connan in order to make a statement about choice. How women tend their gardens is by no means the most important issue faced by women today, but it is synonymous with modern ideals and expectations. As such, the multitude of bushes on display were a symbol of what feminism speaks of today – an array of different choices, each valid in their own right, but, more importantly, chosen freely.

Project Bush cannot rebrand feminism or even define it, but it can present us with what we know already in a (conspicuously) new way.

The photomontage will be on display at Mother London’s HQ from 14-18 November.

Eileen Agar

Earlier this month I went to Tate Britain to see their ‘Library and Archive show and tell‘ with examples of the artist Eileen Agar‘s work and some of her love letters to and from fellow artist Paul Nash, with whom she had a passionate affair. I was very inspired by her thoughts and drawings. In particular by a snippet from her book ’A Look at My Life‘ which she wrote in collaboration with Andrew Lambirth in 1988, and where she describes her work method:

‘My own method is to put myself in a state of receptivity during the day. I sit about sometimes for a quarter of an hour or more, wondering what on earth I am doing, and then suddently I get an idea for something. Either it is the beginning of a title or just the germ of a visual image. Later on, if I am stuck with a half-finished painting, I might take a snooze and after that it comes together quite simply’ (p. 125)

Eileen Agar by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies / National Portrait Gallery, London


Two Lovers, 1931 by Eileen Agar


Family Trio, 1931 by Eileen Agar


The Reaper, 1938 by Eileen Agar

Overemphasised facial expressions


Once upon a time there was, and still is, a blog called Assez Vu. It is my personal blog and it’s kind of a digital collection of odd pictures and other finds from the past whose name literally means ‘I’ve seen enough’. Pretentious enough you might think, but Rimbaud made me do it. He said it first, not me. Well, where did the idea come from? Assez Vu was born out of another blog, or rather, out of a curious ‘visual experiment’ called Silent Ladies’ overemphasized facial expressions. The idea behind it was to find and post pictures that showed actors from silent movies in the act of ‘over-expressing’ themselves. Silent divas were the best: they could easily change from sophisticated smiles and languishing looks to raging and revengeful faces in a handful of seconds. They used their bodies and faces to make up for the lack of sound. Some of them looked realistic, others a bit odd!  Today, one thing is for certain, they are still very amusing.

Florence Turner in “Daisy Doodad’s Dial” (1914)

Clara Bow in “Wings” (1927)

Marie Dressler, Marion Davies, Jane Winton in “The Patsy” (1928)

Louise Brooks in “Pandora’s Box” (1929)

Sylvia Sidney in “Fury” (1936)

Theda Bara in “Cleopatra” (1917)

Colleen Moore in “We Moderns” (1925)

Irma Vep (Musidora) in Les Vampires (1915-1916)

Pola Negri in “The Spanish Dancer” (1923)

Laura La Plante in “The Cat and the Canary” (1927)

And finally here is the lovely Marion Davies, making fun of her fellow actresses Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri by impersonating them in the movie ‘The Patsy’ (1928).

“Real” Mae Murray

“Fake” Mae Murray

“Real” Lillian Gish

“Fake” Lillian Gish

“Real” Pola Negri

“Fake” Pola Negri

The clip from The Patsy (1928):
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The lady of dreams’ photo-collages

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 38, 1949

One can be born with a talent. Miss Grete Stern’s talent was that she could turn dreams into reality. Not bad huh? I know you wish you had this power too. But it was not always easy I tell you. Professor Freud would have found a lot to get his teeth into…because Grete Stern’s ‘reality turned-into-dreams’ are made up by surreal images of eyes detached from their face, pretty female bums, a giant tortoise-man in a suit and endless ladders, just to name a few. Now I bet you would like to know a little more about this German-born lady who used to wear round glasses.

Portrait of Grete Stern (Ringl with Glasses) by Ellen Auerbach, 1929

She moved to Argentina because of the Third Reich and there she contributed to a local women’s magazine, Idilio, with her photo-collages for a column entitled “Psychoanalysis will help you” (see, I knew our friend Sigmund must have had something to do with it!).

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 5, 1950

Grete Stern – photomontage

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 16, ca. 1950

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 1, 1948

Her photomontages, called Sueños (dreams), are an ideal conjunction between Dada collage and surreal photography and she had this peculiar ability to make the impossible possible, to release feelings and fears that, when looking at her work only once, is far more relieving than 10 psychologist sessions. In a row. Seeing is believing…

Grete Stern – photomontage

Grete Stern – photomontage

“Da Dandy” (1919), collage by Hannah Höch

“Observatory Time – The Lovers” (1936), by Man Ray

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 31, 1949

Grete Stern – photomontage

Grete Stern – Dream Nº 28, 1951

Grete Stern – photomontage, 1949

Grete Stern – Dream Nº42, 1949

Kate Carew, “The Only Woman Caricaturist”

Kate Carew Caricature

In the late 1800′s /early 1900 it was not easy to be a woman, especially if you were a woman with a talent. In a time when women didn’t even have voting rights, how could they be independent women artists? No way, impossible…

Yet there are some exceptions, one of them being the Californian Mary Williams (also known by the pseudonym “Kate Carew”). Kate Carew was an illustrator, “The Only Woman Caricaturist” as she was soon labelled.

Kate Carew and a caricature of herself

Her career began in New York, to where she had just moved. One day while at the theatre she found herself doodling a caricature sketch of one of the actors on a leaflet. When back home she found it and decided to send it to a newspaper, the “New York World”. Incredibly, the work caught the attention of the young editors of the paper and in a matter of days she was hired. She had her own column twice a week that featured caricatures of people at the theatre peppered with witty, humorous comments.

‘At the Theatres by Kate Carew’ caricature (1910)

Kate was an unconventional woman for her time and had such an extraordinary life. She continued making illustrations for the “New York World” – to which she became a regular contributor – and for other newspapers and travelled a lot between Europe and the States for both work and pleasure. She also married three times!

Kate Carew at work

The Angel Child comics by Kate Carew

Her most famous work is probably the series of illustrated interviews she made for the “New York World”. The list of her celebrity encounters is long and includes the like of Pablo Picasso, Mark Twain, Emile Zola, W. B. Yeats, Sarah Bernhardt, Theda Bara, along with countless others. The original and intimate chats she had with those famous people are always accompanied by lovely ink caricatures of them done by her. But here are some juicy bits from the interviews…

Mark Twain, writer

“The trouble with us in America,” said Mark Twain, “is that we haven’t learned to speak the truth.”

“Lying is not an art, not that I have ever been able to discover and I have tried hard all my life. It is a device of primitive intelligences. The best liars are savages and children. The most cultured people speak the truth as often as they think of it, and enjoy hearing it spoken by others. In heaven I shouldn’t wonder but they use the truth ‘most all the time.”

To read the full interview, click here.

Mark Twain and his caricature by Kate

Sarah Bernhardt, actress

“Is it possible, Mme. Bernhardt, to do anything great in art without having experienced a great love?”

“Oh, yes. To portray the passions one need not have lived the reality. That would be too sad. Think what we poor players would be compelled to suffer oh, la! La! If it were love alone, that would be agreeable; but there are wicked passions to be portrayed and crimes to be committed. An artist must be able to express all with truth, because within himself in the imagination he is capable of all. Then sometimes it is innocence that one portrays. Oh, an actress may play the part of a nun excellently without experiencing the purity of a nun.”

“Shu-u-u-err!” she trilled, with the most writhing and eloquent of shrugs; “shu-u-u-err! Ce grand amour n’est pas indispensable au grand art!”

Sarah Bernhardt and her caricature by Kate

W. B. Yeats, Irishman and poet

Mr. (Henry) Lucy, in discussing English and American humour, said:
“Our humor is certainly kinder. We are not as savage as you; your humour always has a butt.”
It was not many weeks later that I asked Mr. Yeats what he thought of American humour.

“It’s very unlike English humour,” he said quickly, “in being good-humoured. English humour always has a butt.”

“Dear me! That’s a precise contradiction of what Mr. Lucy said,” I gasped.

“Oh, but Mr. Lucy’s an Englishman and I’m not!” Retorted the poet with a shrug of his high shoulders and a laugh of sardonic enjoyment.

William Butler Yeats and his caricature by Kate

Pablo Picasso, artist

“Some of your women are walking to Washington to ask for a vote,” he informed me, solemnly. “For me I find that rather ridiculous. How many hours will it take them to get to Washington?”

“Hours!” I exclaimed. “Why, it will take them days. I don’t know how many, but several, certainly.”

“Perhaps you also are a suffragette”, he suggested.

“I am”, I acknowledged, with pride, “or rather I am a suffragist.”

“And the difference?” he queried like a puzzled boy.

I explained it to the best of my ability.

“You do not break windows, then, eh?” he questioned gravely.

“Not many”, I assured him cheerfully. “Have you any suffragettes in Spain, or don’t you have any votes there, anyhow?”

“Oh yes, we have votes there”, and he seemed shocked at my lack of knowledge of sunny Spain; “but I think there are no suffragettes, and I think I am glad.”

To read the full interview, click here.

Picasso

Simone Weil

Among the many professions Simone Weil (1909-1943) undertook during her short life were factory worker, teacher and soldier. Principally a philosopher, Weil sought to draw people’s attention to the oppressed, the poor, the starving and the outcast people of society, writing, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”.

Simone Weil

From a young age Weil acted with unguarded selflessness showing her to be a sensitive and highly astute thinker. At the age of six she refused to eat any more than the quantity of food allowed for the soldiers fighting during the First World War and refused to eat any sugar.

At the age of ten Weil had declared herself a Bolshevik and became involved in politics out of sympathy for the working class. Engaging with the ideas proposed by Leon Trotsky and the Russian Bolshevik party, she even arranged for Trotsky to stay in her parents’ house in 1933, while he was visiting Paris in secret.

Simone Weil, a soldier during the Spanish Civil War (1936)

Embracing all religions, Weil was fascinated by mysticism and befriended many religious clerics. With a deep spirituality she was empowered with an objectivity and clarity of mind that inspired many of the great writers, politicians and philosophers of her day. Meditating in Simone Weil’s room before going to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Albert Camus described her as ‘the only great spirit of our times’ and Susan Sontag described her as one of the most uncompromising and troubling witnesses to the modern travail of the spirit.

Simone Weil embraced a struggle against the conventions gender and her social convention. One of the most rigorously moral and compassionate thinkers of her day, she is as an emblem of female courage and success, and “a giant of reflection”.

Dorothy Bohm

Due to the newly opened exhibition Women in Focus: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm, I went to an event organised by The Museum of London featuring the British photographer Dorothy Bohm talking about her life and career in company with her daughter, art historian Monica Bohm-Duchen.

Dorothy Bohm, 18 years old.

Dorothy Bohm was born in 1924 in East Prussia. She moved to England in 1939 as her father was able to send her to a boarding school, allowing her to escape from the Nazis. She graduated from Manchester College of Technology where she studied photography and met her future husband. The main reason to study photography was not because she hoped to become an artist, but simply because she wanted something she could make a decent living from. After graduating she got a job in a portrait studio in Manchester, developing her reputation as a portrait photographer and four years later, in 1946, she decided to set up her own portrait studio in Manchester.

A portrait taken by Dorothy Bohm

Portraits by Dorothy Bohm

Dorothy’s portrait studio secured her a stable income which made her able to support her husband’s final years of study, and after he graduated he got a job in a petrochemical company that obliged him to move around the world. They travelled all over the world together, and have lived in both Paris, New York and San Francisco. In the late 1950s, Dorothy decided to abandon studio portraiture in favour of “street photography” and she sold her studio in Manchester.

Israel 1956, by Dorothy Bohm

Brussels, Belgium 1949, by Dorothy Bohm

Stockholm, Sweden 1967, by Dorothy Bohm

South Africa 1974, by Dorothy Bohm

This was the first time she was “free” to take photographs solely with an artistic purpose. Her photographs were mainly shot in black and white, but in 1980 she was persuaded by the fellow photographer André Kertész to experiment with colour, which she did for a few years, and from 1985 she worked exclusively in colour film.

Provence, France 1992, by Dorothy Bohm

Venice 1987, by Dorothy Bohm

London 1990s, by Dorothy Bohm

Paris 1988, by Dorothy Bohm

Today, Dorothy’s work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, both in the UK and abroad. Fourteen books of her work have been published and she is still photographing. It is her way of collecting memories.

“I have spent my lifetime taking photographs. The photograph fulfils my deep need to stop things from disappearing. It makes transience less painful and retains some of the special magic, which I have looked for and found. I have tried to create order out of chaos, to find stability in flux and beauty in the most unlikely places.”

— Dorothy Bohm

See Dorothy talking about her career in this video made by The Tate Gallery:

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Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Annemarie Schwarzenbach was a Swiss writer, journalist, photographer and traveler. She first wanted to be a general, then a pianist and a dancer but ended up with a doctorate in history at Zurich University, and published her first novel aged 23. She had a troubled relationship with her mother, whom apparently brought her up as a boy and as a child prodigy. She began to dress and act like a boy from an early age, and throughout her life she was often mistaken for a young man.

Her androgynous beauty attracted and fascinated both men and women, and I’m sure she still inspires today, when looking at some of the photos Marianne Breslauer took of her.

She was neither a man nor a woman, but an angel, an archangel.

— Marianne Breslauer


She travelled extensively, and within ten years she produced more than 300 articles and 5,000 photographs from her journeys across Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Africa. The photographer Marianne Breslauer who was a close friend of Annemarie’s has taken some of the most striking images of Annemarie while they were travelling together.

Annemarie’s relationship with her mother was a difficult one. Renée Schwarzenbach was a domineering personality, who ruled the household with a rod of iron. She also had affairs with women, which her husband tolerated. Annemarie was vehemently anti-Nazi whereas her family, and mother especially, sympathised with the regime.

Annemarie always lived a dangerous life with drugs and alcohol and died tragically attempting a “hands free” bicycle manoeuvre, but fell and hit her head and died nine weeks later. She was just 34 years old. After her death, her mother destroyed some of her archives, but Annemarie’s work was rediscovered in 1987.

“You can read her life like a novel, but no editor would publish it, they would say ‘oh it’s too much, give me a break’, but this is not the case, it’s all true,”

— Alexis Schwarzenbach, great nephew

Rosa Luxemburg

Berlin’s Talking Streets

The staircase leading up from the U-bahnhof station opens out onto a square shrouded in remnants of a pre-war Golden Age in Germany.  Away from the nearby streaming traffic, scantily strewn pockets such as Rosa Luxemburg-Platz offer spacial respite from the scale implemented in much of the rest of East Berlin. Walking amidst this strange copulation of time and space something of the historical poignancy comes into force. Aptly named, this square and the buildings that flank it are witness to the protests of political activists, and their murders, two earth-shattering world wars and forty years of division behind a wall.

Two great feats of twentieth century architecture stand on either side of the square. On one side is Hans Poelzig’s Kino Babylon, built in 1929, is one of the oldest cinemas in Germany. Its curved façade, mimicked in the door frames, steps and circle stalls of the interior, is a symbol of the Golden Age, the era of kino (movie theatre), ballrooms, cabaret and jazz.

On the other is Oskar Kaufmann’s Volksbühne (‘Peoples’ Theatre’) built between 1913 and 1914. Its empowering modernist grandeur reflects the political strife that was brewing in the years of its erection. History is frozen into the blocks that have built this square; activists rallying against German Nationalism’s vision of a new Germany, murder in the name of Communism, not to mention its three name changes over the course of half a century.

Berlin’s streets are a palimpsest of the last hundred years, its squares and street-names hold onto history as it propels forward in the present age. It’s current name, unchanged since 1969, after the political activist, feminist and writer, Rosa Luxemburg, is a signal of exactly that.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist martyr, was a twentieth century visionary whose skill for rhetoric made her a leader of liberal democracy. A prominent leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany she fought the fateful Nationalism of what was to later become the Nazi party and as a result lost her life. Shortly before her death, whilst rallying protesters she poignantly cried, “It’s either transition into socialism or regression into barbarism!”

Rosa Luxemburg-Platz, in the heart of Mitte, is a symbol of what has risen from the ashes of a city once torn apart. Now stands a gallery, a Peoples’ theatre, an art house cinema, record shops and numerous bars, here we can see a city embracing the future without forgetting its past.