Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rainy days

It also rained in Paris. 8:00 AM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Rainy days, some light, some heavy, with temperatures in the chilly low 50s.

The calendar.  Monday night. The International Center of Photography (ICP) hosted their annual Infinity Awards at Pier Sixty of the Chelsea Piers, honoring “Outstanding Achievements in Photography.” The 2017 Awards recipients were Harry Benson (Lifetime Achievement); Sophie Calle (Art); Michael Christopher Brown (Artist’s Book); Michael Famighetti, Editor; Sarah Lewis, Guest Editor for “Vision & Justice,” Aperture, no. 223, summer 2016; Edmund Clark and Crofton Black, (Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition); Vasantha Yogananthan, Emerging Photographer.
Harry Benson with daughters Tess and Wendy at the International Center of Photography's annual Infinity Awards.
The ICP Infinity Awards were launched in 1985 to recognize major contributions and emerging talent in the fields of Photojournalism, Art, Fashion Photography, Publishing, Critical Writing, and New Media. The evening drew a crowd of several hundred.

I was attending as a guest of Gigi and Harry Benson. Harry, as you may know since he’s now a legend, came to America in 1964 with the Beatles. That arrival of the Fab Four and Mr. Benson was one of the memorable moments from that action-packed decade. For Harry it just happened to be an assignment he was given whether he liked it or not. He’d originally been planning on going to South Africa to cover a major political situation but was suddenly assigned this trip to New York. It was the trip that changed his life in more ways than one (he met his wife Gigi while on assignment in Texas).
Harry Benson, The Pillow Fight, 1964
Harry Benson, Muhammad Ali and the Beatles, Miami, 1964
After his initial assignment in New York, the young photojournalist from Glasgow, working for Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express in London, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement; photographed the Watts Riots, was standing next to Senator Robert Kennedy when he was assassinated in Los Angeles, has photographed the last 12 Presidents from Eisenhower to Trump, as well as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Michael Jackson, Kate Moss, the Rolling Stones, the British Royal Family, including a private sitting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, to name only a handful of the hundreds, maybe thousands of celebrities, prominent political leaders, stars of stage, screen and television he’s photographed in his 65-year career.
Harry Benson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Canton, Mississippi, 1966
He’s taken so many iconic photographs of individuals, incidents, activities, and events in the past six and a half decades that he’s been the subject of more than 40 exhibitions and 16 books. Under contract to LIFE magazine for thirty years, his work has appeared in most major magazines during that time. His career has recently been chronicled in the documentary “Harry Benson, Shoot First,” which was released to critical acclaim.

When I got home from the dinner Monday night, I happened to tell my doorman I’d just been to this dinner. I asked him if he’d ever heard of Harry Benson. No, he hadn’t. I then started reciting famous photographs Harry’s taken, beginning with the Beatles jumping up and down on their hotel beds having a pillow fight to Ethel Kennedy putting her hand in front of his camera as her husband lay fatally wounded on the kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, to Mohammed Ali with the Beatles, and several others. My doorman was very familiar with all of the images. “One man took all of those photos??!!” he asked, amazed. Uh-huh.
Harry with Sir Paul.
While on the subject of the UK, on Monday Richard Turley happened to send me the following message:

“Twenty years ago at the Sotheby’s auction of items from the estate of the Duchess of Windsor, I bought this tartan suit, drawn to it by the fact that it had belonged originally to the Duke of Windsor’s father George V (grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II) who had had it made in 1897 when he was 22 years old. A two-piece Rothesay Hunting Tartan lounge suit in forest green, deep red, and pale yellow.

He must have worn it to Balmoral to stay with his grandmother Queen Victoria

“I never took it out of the back of my closet except to lend it to The Costume Institute in 2002 and the RISD museum in 2013. This coming Saturday April 29th it will be sold at Julien’s Auctions in L.A. Hope it finds the right home — perhaps back at Buckingham Palace?”

Duke of Windsor’s Rothesay
Hunting Tartan Suit.
The wool suit consists of a single-breasted jacket with shawl collar, fabric-covered buttons, and a pair of flat-front trousers with zipper fly. As noted by Sotheby’s in the 1997 catalog, alterations that coincide with the Duke of Windsor’s comments relating to the Rothesay Hunting Tartan suit in A Family Album are present and include the collar that originally buttoned higher to a Late Victorian style, and the jacket has been relined with deep green satin rayon, and a zipper fly has replaced the original button fly in the trousers.

Both men were of small stature. George V was 5’5”. His son was 5’7”. It is the only garment in private hands that was owned by and worn by two British kings over 75 years. It got into private hands only after the death of the Duchess of Windsor because of the machinations of the Duchess’s lawyer Suzanne Blum and of Mohamed al-Fayed.

Both the 1997 Sotheby’s catalog and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, referenced autobiographies from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when discussing this suit.

“In The Heart Has Its Reasons,” the Duchess of Windsor wrote: “For some time after our marriage I was puzzled by the fact that while he was the acknowledged leader of men’s fashion, he rarely bought a new suit …. Take, for instance, that tartan dinner suit His Royal Highness wore last night at dinner. According to the tailor’s marks on the inside pocket, it was made for his father in 1897. Now, I am happy to see the suit still looking so well, after being refitted to His Royal Highness.” (Simpson, 307)

In “A Family Album,” the Duke of Windsor wrote: “Few of my father’s clothes were any use to me after his death .... I did, however, take one of his Inverness capes, and a Rothesay Hunting Tartan suit, which he used to wear for tea after shooting. I had it altered to fit me, substituting zip flies, which would have horrified my father for the buttons. It still contains in the pocket a tab bearing my father’s name-H.R.H. The Duke of York, and the date 1897.” (Sotheby’s, 404)
There are no labels or tailor’s markings. Together with a white cotton shirt bearing a piqué bib monogrammed with a W and crown, there are three silk Hawes & Curtis bow ties, and a Hawes & Curtis deep green silk cummerbund.
In the exhibit cataloging for “Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art further quotes “A Family Album” while describing how the suit inspired a 1950s craze for tartan:

“I happened to wear it one evening for a dinner at La Croë near Antibes, where the Duchess and I lived for a while after the last war. One of our guests mentioned the fact to a friend in the men’s fashion trade, who immediately cabled the news to America. Within a few months tartan had become a popular material for every sort of masculine garment, from dinner jackets and cummerbunds to swimming trunks and beach shorts. Later the craze extended to luggage.” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 19)
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Villa La Croë in Cap d'Antibes.
PROVENANCE: Lot 2913, “The Duke & Duchess of Windsor: The Private Collections,” Sotheby’s, New York, Sale number 7000, September 11-19, 1997

LITERATURE: A Family Album, by Duke of Windsor (London: Cassell & Company, 1960)
 

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