Maiden Voyages: December 2016

(Last Updated On: February 3, 2017)

I had not intended to do a Maiden Voyages this month as I had no new news leads to share.  However, a reader just informed me about the tragic death of David Hamilton. Readers are reminded that even though I have not been active lately, I have not abandoned this site and continued leads are encouraged so that other readers may be kept up-to-date.

David Hamilton Dies: The controversial photographer who inspired so many collectors and other artists died on November 25th.  So far, the police believe it was a suicide—presumably out of despondency from the accusations of former models claiming rape by the man in their youth.  The first accusation came from Flavie Flament in a novelistic memoir entitled La Consolation where she describes the incident.  Flament would not confirm Hamilton’s identity publicly but featured one of his photos on the book cover. Given the timing of the death and the reputation of the photographer, the police needs to exercise caution about making hasty conclusions.  With what little information has been shared publicly, it seems equally likely to be an act of vigilantism.

I am not in a position to weigh in on the veracity of the rape accusations or Hamilton’s intent to sue for slander.  But such a turn of events once again brings us to the question of the value of an artist’s work.  Do the circumstances of a work’s creation have to be taken into account when evaluating it?  Whatever the facts may be, do they diminish or enhance its visceral impact?  Because of the taint of association, will the future yield no new artists who will admit to admiring his work?

la-consolation-cover-flavie-flament

Addendum: Sometimes I get leads from readers uncomfortable with having their comments published even under an alias.  I would like to add a few details that came my way about the circumstances of Hamilton’s death: found at the scene were sleeping pills and a plastic bag (presumably for suffocation).  Also, the door was left open and it should be clarified if this is commonplace among suicides.  Additionally, there was an exhibition of Hamilton’s work scheduled and so the context needs to be cleared up: in the light of these accusations, was he looking forward to it or did he become concerned about a public lynching?  Or was this a plot engineered to put an end to the exhibition of his work and ones like it?

[170203] A reader informed me of this interesting review of the Flavie Flament book.

26 thoughts on “Maiden Voyages: December 2016

  1. Having read the anonymous and very sympathetic review of Flavie Flament’s book one or two things perturb me. First and foremost is the assumption that FF is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    The reviewer dismisses Hamilton’s protestations that he is innocent and the victim of an attention-seeking ‘misery memoir’ as “insinuation”.

    The reviewer apparently does not understand attention seeking behavior. The reviewer believes that a minor media career fulfills FF’s obvious desire to be valued, therefore her novel and subsequent accusations are not just attention-seeking, ergo they must be true Q.E.D. I disagree, and in any case find the inference to be a non sequitur

    FF is in her forties. That is not insignificant. It seems that with the onset middle-age the desire to find someone else to blame for one’s inadequacies can sometimes reach crisis point.

    Thoughtful people can cheerfully accept the possibility that self-obsessed, and often self-loathing, even self-harming teenagers are capable of pointing the finger at the innocent, at least since Salem, but seem slow to realize that the same destructive mentality can emerge as youth bids a final farewell and the bleak horizons of middle and old age beckon.

    To claim that the choice is between believing either that FF is telling the truth, or that she is suffering from psychotic delusions is disingenuous of the reviewer. People do, on occasion, lie, to others and themselves. Lies may be pure fantasy, or can start as distortions and exaggerations of actual events and can be expanded upon and repeated until even the liar has no comfortable recollection of what is actual memory anymore and what began as pure fantasy.

    People lie for many reasons, obviously, but one of them is self-justification. “I’m not the way I am, things haven’t turned out this way because I’m a bit stupid and a bit nasty and a lot selfish, I’m like this because my parents, or someone else is responsible for making me like this.”

    People do get “fucked-up” by their parents, or other authorities, or abusive people, or society or general circumstances, that goes without saying. But guaranteed, most people at some point their lives, probably in their teens or their forties, would like to be able to turn round and say “it’s all your fault” to someone else. The thing is, most of us don’t because we can still hear that little voice that says, honestly, however badly other people have treated us or let us down, mostly we are responsible for our own fuck-ups.

    I think it is also significant that at about the same age(s) many seem to (re)turn to religion for comfort and support, and moral re-evaluation, according to the taboo-system of whichever cult one wishes to belong to. I don’t know whether FF falls into the born-again category, or if she embraces the causes of secular puritanism, but I would not be in the least bit surprised.

    What I have seen of Hamilton’s art reflects a romantic and rather dreamy nature, not the cynical predatory creature which FF portrays.

    It may be telling that of all the girls who posed for Hamilton over the decades, only three others, two friends of FF and a third some twenty years her senior, have come out of the woodwork to suggest they were also victims.

    FF is extremely revealing of her character when in response to Hamilton’s suicide she accuses him of cowardice. Hamilton may have been very old, and was obviously, from his art, a very sensitive man, but he was also intelligent enough to see that in the current climate he was never going to get a fair hearing.

    I rather uncharitably wish her many more of her “sleepless nights” as she contemplates what she has achieved.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read the review and comment here. I agree that the real issue is perception. Anyone investigating matters of humanity realize that getting at any objective truth is a futile effort and will be misinterpreted anyway. It is also tempting for readers of blogs, newspapers and books to interpret what they read; it is a natural function of the human mind. That being said, your speculations about FF’s motives are intriguing and may have some validity (and has a similar ring to those who had accused Ovenden). On the other hand, I did get some personal feedback from those who knew Hamilton personally and the impression was that he could be something of a crass opportunist and may have been capable of crossing the line if it served his purposes; Hamilton had neuroses and psychological needs as well. The real concern in my mind is whether his treatment of young girls was depraved or simply “in bad judgment”. Most people who give any deep thought to this subject know that there is a world of difference between statutory rape and rape by terrifying coercion and there are plenty of shades of gray in between. It is also difficult to know how another person may react to a situation that others may find perfectly safe, acceptable or normal. FF’s appraisal of the situation is at variance with her family’s and that is an interesting detail.

  2. I have found this thread a compelling reflection on the depiction of what most people describe as ‘innocence’. I have never been a fan of Hamilton’s work because it seemed to me to that it was in fact voyeuristic. The girls he photographed were, to me, the images of unattainability glimpsed from the viewpoint of an uncertain adolescent boy. I watched ‘Bilitis’ once and my lasting impression was that as an imaginative portrayal of a masturbatory fantasy it was excellent. But the obverse of that was the realisation that ‘real girls’ just weren’t like that: the cultural prohibitions against young girls exploring, and perhaps exploiting, their burgeoning sexuality were too great. The brilliance of Hamilton’s fantasy is that older men know what young men don’t – that girls are voraciously sensual where young men of a similar age are voraciously sexual. His images play to the older man who finally understands that if only he had been able to access his own femininity he too could have cavorted in sensuous soft focus with these dream girls.

    Perhaps as girls grow into women they come to understand the minds of men and some turn that learning into resentment of male mental perversion of their sensual innocence? There is also some concern in my mind as to the responsibility of parents/guardians. I am confident that their permission must have been given in order to allow the photography: to what extent did they understand the nature of the work? It is inconceivable that Hamilton deceived them about the fact that their daughters would be photographed naked. Presumably they knew the work could be published? No doubt the girls were remunerated? I doubt Hamilton just took his models to Agde without the knowledge or permission of the girls’ guardians and I would be astounded if they were to think that the photographer was likely to be any less naked than their daughters at what is the most famously publicised nudist city in France.

    Hamilton may not have been more than a competent photographer but I wouldn’t criticise him for that. I am also fairly certain that he must have walked a very dangerous knife-edge in order to visualise the fragile sensuality of his subjects. Perhaps he missed his footing on occasion, and perhaps it is easy for us to criticise and suggest he ought not to have exposed himself to such danger. But we should also remember that he gave us some breathtaking images of beauty emerging from childhood’s chrysalis, one of which was used on the cover of the book that seems to have precipitated his demise.

    • Very well put! It has become common practice these days to label people as either saints or monsters. I suppose that illusion is needed for powerful people to justify their power and the need to cover up any skeletons in their closet/cupboard. But Hamilton was but a man with a kind of beatific vision that resonated with men. Regarding the voraciousness of girls and women, it is exactly that which terrifies men at the subconscious level so that they are obliged to fool themselves and try to control women in a society that is ostensibly male-dominated.

  3. I just read the news article you linked to. “Ms. Flament, speaking to The Sunday Times of London . . . said that at one photo shoot, in his apartment in Cap d’Agde, in the South of France, Mr. Hamilton appeared at the door naked, wearing only a camera around his neck.”

    This was at Cap d’Agde. A clothing optional community. Why would she be surprised to see him naked. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. It’s the worlds largest nudist resort.

    This is about messing with readers minds. Those familiar with Cap d’Agde (and it wasn’t mentioned in the article) are more likely to be accepting of Hamilton’s work. Those unfamiliar, will take this as proof of his guilt. I find these kinds of journalist manipulations to be offensive. Much more offensive to me, than Hamilton’s work to those other folk.

    • There are so many inconsistencies like this to mention, but I did notice this little sin of omission. In fact, one of my associates lives there and it is indeed a well-known naturist colony. What else has been omitted? I am concerned that I may have seemed callous about the incidence of rape in this case, but something “stinks in the state of Denmark”; I just can’t quite put my finger on it. That is why I am encouraging comments so that perhaps the pieces will fall together in my mind.

      As it stands, I am prepared to accept that Hamilton may have committed statutory rape a number of times. The description of the incident in Flament’s book does not indicate anything unusual or sadistic. And I expect that girls in this situation may find the whole experience bewildering and probably chalked it up to a learning experience, but trauma? Flament’s mother and brother are still alive and maintain that she was never mistreated. She claims never to have confided in either of them out of extreme shame. If the experience were really so traumatic, she would certainly have told one of her closest friends. Who is it and, in the interest of truth, would she please come forward to confirm this?

      It is becoming increasingly evident that this situation has been brought to light with the express purpose of extending the statute of limitations in cases like this. If successful, it will allow law enforcement to appear very vigilant (justifying large appropriations) while in fact becoming lazy investigators in detecting such crimes in a timely fashion. A simpler and cheaper solution would have been to pay for public service messages encouraging women to report such rapes in a timely fashion to the proper authorities. The particular way this is being handled is creating the false impression that there is concern for the plight of such women. Mind you, I am not excusing Hamilton who probably committed a breach of ethics and the letter of the law, but it does not make him any more a monster than perhaps 90% of the male population.

  4. I first became aware of David Hamilton’s work in late 1978. I was in the old B. Dalton Bookseller bookstore, and the first book I looked at was the first one he had published, “Dreams of a Young Girl.” It was remarkable. The U.S. had been in the early panic over child porn for over a year at that point (which his work was obviously not). Nevertheless, I simply assumed such material…such beauty, and eroticism…involving the unique qualities of young women, could not be sold. It was a joy to discover I was wrong.

    Also, it just happened that 1978 was the most stressful year of my life. Remarkably, the things that were really troubling me at that point in my life were just suddenly beginning to disappear, gratefully. And a joyous moment in that sudden change was discovering Hamilton’s work.

    I also began to appreciate his other work books, such as “Bilitis”, “La Dance”, “Private Collection”, etc. I saw “Bilitis” at the local art house.

    I’ve had many nice Hamilton moments over the years…

    That period of time was also the early stages of video rental. Most people didn’t have video machines at home. I didn’t. Actually owning a movie, a video, of a movie you liked, was really something of a novelty, at that time. Video stores were very new. The few ones that were around sold mainstream titles. Most of them wouldn’t be selling anything such as “Bilitis.” I was, however, visiting an upscale part of town, and found a video store which specialized in more obscure foreign and art house titles, as well as more mainstream product. On a whim, I asked them if they had “Bilitis”, and they told me they did (!). Wow. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have thought that an obscure title, which showed once a year at an arthouse, would be available on video. How could they make any money off of it? But they did have it, and now I had a copy of it.

    It’s difficult to relay, and maybe waxing sentimental about it now may seem precious, I suppose, but in this day and age of instant availability of all media, of instant streaming, you can watch movies on your cell phone, how nice it felt. There was a time when, if you wanted to see an old movie, you had to watch it on television, likely edited for commercials. Or you went to a revival theater/art house, to see a screening. But in any event, you had to wait, if you wanted to see it. And sometimes you had to wait and wait. So, actually having a copy of “Bilitis”, at that time, was kind of nice.

    A couple of years later, I went into the same store previously mentioned, and they informed me of a new movie by Hamilton, “A Summer in St. Tropez.” The owner of the video store told me that the color on that movie was more beautiful than any other movie in their entire inventory. High praise from a man who was very knowledgeable about films, film history, etc. So I bought it, and of course, loved it. The segment where the camera moves slowly around the girls lying around the bowl of fruit, as well as the music accompanying it, were my favorite moment in the film.

    I regularly read foreign publications over the years, the French “Photo”, Paris Match, etc. I remember when the issue of the French “Photo” came out, with the beautiful depiction of Monica Broeck on the cover. It had 32 pages of Hamilton’s work inside. What a nice discovery. It was a beautiful edition.

    I guess I could say that I truly love his work.

    I remember the first time I visited Paris. Along with the excitement of visiting the great city for the first time, I made a wonderful discovery. I had no idea that his work was sold on postcards. What a delight. I’d always felt a bit odd, in a way, living in the U.S. Discussing David Hamilton seemed to feel strange. Most people that I spoke with seemed to be unaware of his work, and those that did, seemed to only have a vague familiarity with it. Seeing his postcards sold so openly everywhere really felt quite nice.

    I will have more to say shortly.

    • I am delighted. Come to think of it, given the circumstances, Hamilton may not have a place where people can share reminiscences like this. Thank you for this touching account. -Ron

      • Thank you for your appreciation, Ron. Yes, this is a very nice place to share reminiscences of Hamilton. Just a few more words, in keeping with my promise…

        That first time in Paris, I was walking past a book store, and saw a new Hamilton photo book, based on his new film “Tender Cousins.” The book and movie hadn’t yet been released in the U.S. So I bought the book, and kind of felt like I sort of had a leg up on any Hamilton enthusiasts in the U.S., as neither would be released for some time in the U.S.

        When the film was released, I have to admit to having an immediate crush on Valerie Dumas, the 12-year-old blond girl in the movie, who was trying to get the male protagonist of the film, 14 year old Thierry Devini, to notice her. To say she was cute was an understatement. Maybe it should be called “cute to the next level.” I wish she would have been in more scenes. It’s also worth noting, that, had Hamilton chosen to depict young males as well, in his style, in his work, that the young actor in the film would have been a very good example of it. Young male beauty, very pretty, and with a slight hint of femininity, was what he was, and what Hamilton could have done in that genre, had he so chosen.

        On another visit to France, I was down in Nice, and bought the video “Premiers Désirs”, or “First Desires.” I was aware of it, but it hadn’t been released in the U.S. I finally had it transferred into the VHS format. And there is, today, a French actress who got her start in “Premiers Désirs”, Emmanuelle Béart. She isn’t really known in the U.S., but she really is a major actress in France.

        And she got her start in a David Hamilton movie…

        I’ve always believed that he was able to bring out the innocence of young women, through his photography. And I don’t think it can easily be done, either. The idea that young women, beginning the early stages of maturation, can be faithfully, gently, and aesthetically depicted, in an erotic context, would be difficult, yet Hamilton managed to achieve it.

        He also managed to do it in a time and place which was really receptive to his work, and from there it branched out to the rest of the world.

        He had a talent which other individuals have tried to replicate, but they wind up being what they are…Imitation Hamilton. Simply smearing Vasoline on a lens and photographing young women hasn’t produced anything but a clear imitation, and lacking in the depth he had.

        I do agree that he repeated his work much over the years, but no one has equalled it, or matched his output. He also has a quite significant amount of still life and nature work in his books, giving lie to the notion that he is solely obsessed with young women. He also has done a beautiful book on Venice, as well as a noted photographer of ballet.

        I feel sad at this time, because of his passing. I was going to say some things about it, but the previous poster, Lee Rivers, expressed his sentiments about the reason Hamilton left us better than I could, so I will leave it at that.

        But I would just ask, Ron, if you can relay some positive information relating to Hamilton, it would be appreciated. Surely he had many contacts and friends in the creative and business fields worldwide, who would rise to his defence at this time. And there has to be women, who as girls, have nice memories and would be supportive of him at this time. They should be encouraged to come forward, and not be afraid, based on their experiences, to supply a counter narrative.

        His work has enhanced my life beyond what I could really describe, and that is how I would like to conclude.

        • You have made much of the Hamilton films. Although he was excited by the idea, he came to realize that they could not capture the “feel” that one gets from his photographs. He wanted another avenue into his dream world, but motion pictures operate differently and cannot simply be regarded as somehow superior to photos or paintings or sculptures or novels. It has its own strengths and weaknesses.

          Regarding a positive narrative of Hamtilton’s work, I would hope that some of his trusted associates and models would come forward with their positive stories and I am content to leave the Pigtails post of him stand as is. -Ron

  5. Hamilton was a true epicurean who created a lifestyle that included a lovely chateau in the south of France with fine art, wine, food and, apparently, comely, gracile girls who made him rich. Apparently he seduced a few of these, and perhaps he got seduced by a few as well. Narratives are rarely simple or linear in this realm. But what a life!

    It’s not a great leap to countenance him as a seducer of innocents. People can’t get close enough to what they idealize; they want it breakfast, lunch & supper. I imagine that the melancholy he suffered from the accusations (four in number so far) about his old indiscretions stemmed from more than simple regret. I’ll bet he felt betrayed as well, crushed from having fond memories spoiled by women seeing their girlhoods in harsher light. Perhaps others will emerge with more kindly memories of him. If so, it’s too late to balance the scales. He had partners who matured into womanhood (former models) but Wikipedia says nothing about his domestic life. Marriages? Divorces? Children? We’re in the dark. It will be interesting to see if a biographer pops up.

    A great photographer? Not really. Not in league with Ron Oliver or Sturges. But the man could create a moody tableau to frame his obsessions. The problem is, that’s all he did. Over and over. Artists grow. Hacks just repeat themselves. Nevertheless, along his meandering way, he made a handful of images that stop the heart. Perhaps Ron will give us a sample of his faves.

    • Thank you for this wonderful comment. It expresses my sentiments as well. Surely, Hamilton was not innocent and pure, but who among us are? Also, was the experience really a fate worse than death or are we seeing the effects of stigmatization and ridicule (or even a put-up job)?

      I also realize that it was a stretch to call Hamilton an artist, surely not in the same league as Ovenden, Oliver or Sturges, but he did contribute something to the world. And, as mentioned before, he did inspire many legitimate artists which may be an even most important legacy.

      • Ron-
        Thanks for the cover of Ms. Flament’s confessional. Please notice the poor graphic design: one can barely make out the author’s full name. Indeed, because the background color obscures her last name, it appears as “LAMENT.” Indeed! Deliberate? I’m sure our pizza-gate conspiracy fan could make a lot of that. I found his loose ramblings a lot of bosh.

        I wonder if Ms. Flament’s book will be published in English?

        • I tend to doubt it will ever be published in English. It would be of little interest outside of France except for the revelation that she was referring to Hamilton.

          • But now coming to think of it, isn’t it possible that some publisher in the United States or Britain might get interested in it, for THAT reason?
            Such a publisher could very well decide to put it out in English with the title changed to something like “I Was a Victim of David Hamilton”.

          • There is probably only a minority of people outside of France interested in this entire book (it is not entirely about Hamilton). Books like this tend to be sensationalist and have only a small and short-term following just enough for the publisher to make some money and the author to receive her 15 minutes of fame. -Ron

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