Intimate Life in the Public Eye: Nick Waplington

What is remarkable about Nick Waplington’s photographs is the special way in which they make the intimate something public, something that we, who do not know personally the two families photographed, can look at without any sense (or thrill) of intrusion. Countless photographs violate the intimate simply by placing it in the public context of a book, a newspaper, a TV slot. Yet others—like most wedding photographs—make the intimate formal and thus empty it of its content. -John Berger, Living Room, 1991

The first time I saw this artist’s work was in an issue of Aperture Magazine (#121, Fall 1990), a special issue about censorship called “The Body in Question”. The strange thing was that none of the articles referred to it so it was completely out of context. The issue discussed the uproar about photographing naked children and there were naked children in the image, but that was all.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (1)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (1)

There was no indication that ‘Living Room’ was a vivid photographic exhibition about working-class family life or that it was being made into a book (Aperture Press, 1991).

Nick Waplington (born 1965) comes from Nottingham and has a strong connection with the people there but because his father was a scientist in the nuclear industry, he traveled extensively in his childhood. He studied art at West Sussex College of Art & Design in Worthing, Trent Polytechic in Nottingham and the Royal College of Art in London. Starting in 1984, Waplington made regular visits to see his grandfather in Aspley, Nottingham, photographing his immediate surroundings. The friends and neighbors of his family became his subject matter of choice. He continued with this work on and off for 15 years which yielded a number of series including the one that became his first published book.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (2)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (2)

Among the pictures on the school table, I had found a thrilling color photograph by one of the students: three demonic little girls in plaid dresses, Hoovering the lawn. “Whoever made this photograph has found his eyes.” I said, “If he pays attention to the accident of what he’s done he can trust those eyes. There’s an entire body of work charted in this photograph—the life’s work of a completely original and powerful artist.” -Richard Avedon, Living Room, 1991

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (3)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (3)

Avedon was half joking because, like Sally Mann, he knew full well that happy accidents do not occur on a regular schedule; he did not imagine that the rest of the photos in the box would maintain that standard.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (4)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (4)

Living Room covers the lives of two neighboring working-class families in Nottingham over a period of four years and, in studying the images carefully, one can almost share the experience of the children growing up. Most of the shooting took place on Saturdays because that is when the families are at their most dynamic. No one has to go to work and there is a respite for indulging in the pleasures and dramas of family life. John Berger calls this series the photographic equivalent of Peter Paul Rubens’ work, because it is baroque in its composition and subject matter and perhaps a target of ridicule by stodgier members of the art community. There is an intense sense of intimacy; somehow Waplington has managed to put his subjects at ease to get off these shots.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (5)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (5)

The logic behind the title is that the artist is where the action is, the places where family members are gathering and engaging. This could literally be in the living room or any other place where drama is playing out. If someone has a need for some privacy, they can leave the scene and know that Waplington will not follow.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (6)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (6)

The photographer avoids the typical approach of a documentarian. He uses a 6×9 camera designed for panoramic shots, giving the images an epic quality. His low vantage point in the scenes gives the photos a feeling of immediacy as though they were being observed by a child. Waplington’s feet even appear in some of the pictures. By using these techniques, there is an impression of a real organic drama and the viewer is let in on the action.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (7)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (7)

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (8)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (8)

There are many excellent photographs not included in the book. Some were used for other series such as ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’ and many were recently compiled in the book Living Room Work Prints (2016).  You can see a video which show a quick flipping through the book here.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (Supplemental) (1990)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (9)

A subsequent book, Other Edens (1994) focused on more global environmental concerns in contrast to the intimate portrayal of the Nottingham residents. He continued his pseudo-documentary work with a bleak study of the Ecstasy drug culture in the mid-1990s and made a global road trip where the journey itself became the art. Another interesting project was a pictorial game illustrating the history of photography using the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (named after the famous game show) as a backdrop. A 2002 work called Learn How to Die the Easy Way expressed his yearning for the artistic and commercial freedom that the web might offer.

If, as I suspect, the Internet has broken the stranglehold of governments and large media corporations on mass communication, then we could be in for a very exciting period of development on a number of different levels. Would a breakdown of current modes of social, moral and political cohesion be too much for a man to ask for? -Nick Waplington, 2002

One can only hope. You Love Life (2005) is a pictorial taken over a 20-year period and made into an autobiographical narrative. Waplington collaborated with Miguel Calderon to produce graphic novels and fashion designer Alexander McQueen for a work illustrating the processes of both designers and artists. The artist also experimented with a print-on-demand service to test alternatives to the increasing costs of producing photobooks.

Nick Waplington’s Blog

Thanks go to the Academy of Art University Library for generously sharing their copy of Living Room, without which, this post would have required an expensive purchase.

Random Images: Lucille Ricksen

It is so often true that tragedy accompanies beauty. The following image, in the typical Edwardian style, is of a girl who was a promising model and actress with the pseudonym Lucille Ricksen (1910–1925).

Nelson Evans – Lucille Ricksen (c1920)

Ricksen was born in Chicago of Danish immigrants and had an older brother, Marshall, who also appeared in early silent films. She began her career as a professional child model and actress at age 4. Through her roles, she garnered enough fame to be able to provide for her parents. In 1920, she moved to Hollywood at the request of Samuel Goldwyn, casting the eleven-year-old in a comedy serial called The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy. Afterward, she began to be cast in full-length films and her career prospects continued to rise.

Ricksen often played characters who were much older than herself and she was recognized by the public and people within the motion picture industry for her maturity at handling adult themes. In 1924, at the age of fourteen, she was one of thirteen young women honored each year, believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. During her busy schedule that year, she was often ill and in early 1925, her health worsened and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. At this point, her father abandoned the family. Her mother, Ingeborg, tried to care for her while she was bedridden but had a fatal heart attack, literally collapsing on her bedridden daughter. Ricksen spent her last days being taken care of by others in the movie colony and two weeks after her mother’s death, she succumbed, at age fourteen. After her death, she became a kind of poster child condemning parents for overly exploiting their talented children.

Preserving a Sense of Wonder: Rachel Carson

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder, 1965

The power of a single image is amazing, like the following odd but charming image found on a sales site. It came with no identifying information except that the face looming in the background was Helen Hayes. Being a famous actress, I figured there should be some clue to the photo’s history. One of our guest writers, Arizona, took the initiative and offered a treasure trove of leads which are the basis of this post.

Jules Power International - The Sense of Wonder (promotional photo) (1968)

Jules Power International – The Sense of Wonder (promotional photo) (1968)

It turns out that it was a promotional shot for a special nature documentary to be aired on ABC in late 1968 called The Sense of Wonder. This film was a posthumous tribute to biologist, writer and environmental activist Rachel Carson (1907–1964).

Carson was born near Springdale, Pennsylvania. An avid reader, she also spent a lot of time exploring her family’s 65-acre farm. She started writing her own stories at eight and by age ten, was published in St. Nicholas Magazine. In her childhood, she was inspired by Beatrix Potter, Gene Stratton Porter, and in her teens, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson.

(Photogapher Unknown) -Rachel Carson reading to her dog Candy (c1913)

(Photogapher Unknown) -Rachel Carson reading to her dog Candy (c1913)

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University), Carson studied English then switched her major to biology in 1928, still contributing to the school’s student newspaper. She graduated in 1929 and did postgraduate work in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, earning her master’s degree in zoology in 1932. She intended to continue on to doctorate work, but the first of a series of family tragedies in 1934 forced her to find steady work to support her family.

She took a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio copy for educational broadcasts focused on aquatic life, all the while submitting articles to newspapers and magazines. In 1936, Carson became only the second woman in the Bureau of Fisheries to be hired for a full-time professional position. Due to her skill at writing, she was encouraged to expand her various research articles into a book, Under the Sea Wind (1941). Carson continued with the Bureau (by then called the Fish and Wildlife Service) through the 1940s because there were few other naturalist jobs—money in the sciences was focused on technical fields during the advent of the nuclear age. During that time, she encountered the subject of DDT, a revolutionary new synthetic pesticide, but because editors found the topic unappealing at the time, nothing was published on the subject until 1962. Carson continued to move up the ranks in the bureau with its increasing administrative demands, prompting her to make a conscious effort to transition into full-time writing. By 1950, she published The Sea Around Us. Because of the success of this book and a reprint of Under the Sea Wind, she was able to break away permanently in 1952.

Her books were made into a screen adaptation in 1953, but she was displeased with the result and lack of creative control and never sold the film rights to her work again. Her third book, The Edge of the Sea (1955), focused on her special interest in the dynamics of coastal ecosystems. She had a special connection with the coastlines of Maine and she along with her closest friend, Dorothy Freeman, purchased and set aside some land for preservation they called the “Lost Woods.”

Another family tragedy gave Carson the responsibility of raising her orphaned 5-year-old nephew and she moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. For the rest of her life, she would focus on the overuse of pesticides, particularly chlorinated hydrocarbons and organophosphates. The result of her careful research in the subject led to her most well-known book, Silent Spring (1962). It was a pioneering piece and is credited with being to first to give public attention to environmental degradation caused by pesticides and industrial activities generally. To accomplish credible research, Carson took advantage of her personal connections with government scientists, who willingly shared confidential information. She attended FDA hearings on revising pesticide regulations, coming away discouraged by the aggressive tactics of the chemical industry and the insidious implications of financial manipulation. She also developed good working relationships with medical researchers investigating the carcinogenic effects of these compounds. The completion of Silent Spring was delayed because of Carson’s poor health and subsequent diagnosis with breast cancer in the early 1960s. After her dire prognosis, she arranged for her manuscripts and papers to be bequeathed to the new state-of-the-art Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

In 1965, Marie Rodell, Carson’s long time agent and literary executor arranged for the publication of an essay intended for expansion into a book: A Sense of Wonder. The essay exhorts parents to help their children experience the pleasures of contact with the natural world. Carson early recognized the importance of exposing children to nature and even wrote an article dedicated to the subject, Help Your Child to Wonder (1956). But it was only during the raising of her nephew that this idea came to the fore. After the publication of A Sense of Wonder, Jules Power, an executive producer of nature films for ABC took an interest in making a news special based on Carson’s work. The script, written by Joseph Hurley, was based on that essay and was supplemented with information from The Edge of the Sea. It was narrated by Helen Hayes and its two-year production brought cameramen to several locations in the United States, with special emphasis on the Maine and Florida coastlines. The film, The Sense of Wonder, was produced by Daniel Wilson, directed by Alan Seeger and aired in November 1968. The film also gave some coverage to nature photographer Ansel Adams, offering a west coast perspective.

Jules Power et al - The Sense of Wonder (1968)

Jules Power et al – The Sense of Wonder (1968)

Carson understood the challenge of parents who have inquisitive children; they would never be confident about answering all their questions which might range from the microscopic world to the mystery of the skies. Her answer to such concerns was that attitude is much more important than knowledge.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder, 1965

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder, 1965

Carson was also aware of the realities of city life for many children and encouraged them nonetheless to explore what nature existed there and to listen to the songs of birds and insects.

Although the film was innovative for its time, it is hard to recognize this with today’s highly-polished, big-budget nature documentaries. As a result, there are only a handful of neglected copies in university libraries in the midwest. You will notice how red the film still is—a consequence of celluloid that was not stored properly. It is ironic that a little girl was used to promote the film, because most of the scenes with children in the documentary showed boys. This may have been an unconscious bias of the producers, but I think Carson would agree that it is just as important to expose little girls to nature and science as boys.

Historical Photographic Archives of Children

In Christian’s research, he is always looking for archival images of children and so comes across some good collections that should be shared.  The first image is from an unknown photographer.  The photo gives the impression of a poor girl in a dilapidated neighborhood but anyone with a knowledge of history knows the girl is sitting among the rubble of World War II.

(ARtist Unknown) - London (1940)

(Artist Unknown) – London (1940)

Vintage Children: And The Stories That Go With Them is an excellent site that has both documentary photographs and artistic portraiture from about the US Civil War up to the Great Depression.  The thing about this site is that each image comes with a little background information.  One of the interesting stories here is about discovering the identity of one of the most popular postcard models, Grete Reinwald.  I never had the time to get the whole backstory, so I never got around to sharing it with the readers.  If you are a purveyor of vintage postcards, you have almost certain seen this little German girl.
Postcard Featuring Grete Reinwald (c1905)

Postcard Featuring Grete Reinwald (c1905)

Another site called Vintage Images has almost 1500 images of children appearing on postcards, both photographs and illustrations.  Some of the artists are slated to be covered on Pigtails.

Sprite in a Veil

These postcards are from Stuart’s collection.  The nice thing about his collection is that it was acquired decades ago and so many of the items would be hard to come by in today’s secondary market.  A single piece that might be found on a sales site today may actually have belonged to a photographic series and so it is a delight to give our readers a fuller picture rather than a single image out of context.  These postcards were probably produced just after the turn of the last century.

The setting suggests a classical child of nature or a nymph, but with a veil that satisfies the English sense of propriety.

Untitled-1-PiP Untitled-2-PiP Untitled-6-PiP Untitled-7-PiP

Maiden Voyages: June 2016

There has been a lot of drama this past month.

A Disturbing Precedent: On May 11th, an organization called FSM-Hotline, sent a request to Pigtails in Paint’s service provider to have two pages removed from the site: ‘Stolen Dreams and the Japanese School’ and the ‘Dream Girls’ companion page. Since service providers tend to err on the side of caution and give themselves liberal discretion in interpreting the Terms of Service (TOS), they have directed us to clause prohibiting, “child pornography or content perceived to be child pornography”. The problem is that Pigtails’ mission is to work to alter those very misperceptions and yet we must somehow operate under these arbitrary standards. Nonetheless, to prevent being summarily shut down, we have complied with the request.

The Charge: According to the complaint, the pages contain material that are “potentially criminal” under German Criminal Code. FSM claims that German law enforcement concurs with their assessment, but the statement is ambiguous. It is also unfortunate that the service provider decided to respect a request from a watchdog organization rather than an appropriate law enforcement agency. Even law enforcement agencies have a tendency of misjudging situations (out of ignorance) and take actions that are later thrown out in court. The proper authority for making a removal request ought to be an agency belonging to the court system. Additionally, the request should be made from a U.S. agency, under whose law we are supposed to be operating. It is impractical to have to comply with the myriad laws that may vary from country to county. Issues of jurisdiction aside, an article quoting a real law expert in Germany seems to confirm that the ‘Stolen Dreams’ post is actually legal in that country and would not have precipitated legal proceedings.

The Organization: FSM-Hotline and its parent organization INHOPE are private charities and are being deceptive when they make such strongly-worded requests. Like many such organizations, they probably do submit reports to law enforcement but do not have any special standing with them. It is disconcerting that such a vigilante group should have this kind of sway on what is presented on the internet, given their highly-prejudiced standard that demonstrates less expertise than Pigtails in Paint itself. Any readers who want to protest FSM’s actions—accusing this site of hosting Child sexual abuse material (Child Pornography)—should do so by email and refer to unique report number 54892:

Our Action: Ideally, we want visual materials to be available to the public so it can judged on an individual basis and not filtered by the biases of those who purport to represent the average person or a moral code. When time allows, a text-only version of the ‘Stolen Dreams’ post will be published with a paragraph explaining the situation. We will also be shopping for a new service provider who can be counted on not to cave in to such insubstantial and ill-informed pressure. Ideally, Pigtails should be formally sponsored by an established art or academic institution that would help allay any questions of legitimacy. If successful, we hope to republish the post intact at a later date. A PDF version of the post will be made available to prospective service providers and/or sponsors as needed.

Please help us resist these efforts to suppress legitimate material that allows our detractors to diminish our effectiveness bit by bit.

An Impending Conflagration: On May 23rd and 24th, a final hearing was held in the Isleworth Crown Court between Graham Ovenden‭ ‬and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The hearing was dedicated to making a final determination regarding the destruction of historical and art photographs and a number of graphic works created by the artist. The hearing was conducted by senior Judge McGregor-Johnson who was flanked by two others, Ms. S. McGregor and Mrs. A. Newmark.‭ ‬Barrister Robert Linford and Solicitor T.J. O’Callighan‭ ‬represented the appellant, graciously offering their services free of charge. The biggest objection at the proceedings was the simple fact that there is no legal grounds for judging artistic merit in a court of law. The judges also used common colloquialisms to describe images instead of using the more proper language of the “visually literate”. The issue of the relationship between words and pictures was also brought up and how they together create the context for judging a work. However, the lead judge’s verdict was to ignore such connections, regardless of historical or political relevance. As a result, many of the poetry broadsheets, ‭which lent voice to children—expressing both their positive and negative experiences—are now to have their words posthumously obliterated from history. Surely the fact that this imagery might be considered distasteful by the tender-minded or sexually neurotic does not justify the indignity of these children being silenced. The decision to deem some pieces indecent and some not reached a point of absurdity. In some cases, one would have been hard-pressed to notice the difference between two examples when placed side by side. Nevertheless, the fact that the court should save any of the images slated for destruction is at least a partial triumph. Of the pieces deemed not indecent—none of which were created after 1987—were three from the Pierre Louÿs collection (27 are to be destroyed) and the bulk of the drawings and paintings produced by Ovenden himself.

Alabama is a Third-World Country: After a number of postponements, Chris Madaio’s trial to determine if he violated his parole conditions took place in Morgan County, Alabama.  Unable to afford his own attorney, a public defender was assigned to him.  The problem with public defenders is that they are usually overworked or have an understanding with the judge to just process people through the system, regardless of the merits of the case.  Madaio discovered his lawyer was incompetent and decided to accept a plea bargain, getting a sentence of 14 months.  The disturbing thing about the case was how obvious questions were not even asked like why the prosecution assumed he had access to the illegal materials in the storage unit, why others who clearly had access are not being charged and when those materials were placed there.  The third question suggests the possibility that the defendant has been subjected to double jeopardy in this case.  Madaio believes the court is going out of its way to make an example of him because he was a published photographer and wants to remind Americans that, “Freedom isn’t a right, it must be earned.”

Contact Form: For those of you wishing to reach the editorial staff by email, there is a new contact form on the ‘Contact Us’ page.  You can reach us using that form or just leave a private message in the comments section of the appropriate post.  If any readers find out-of-date email addresses printed on the site, please inform us so they can be updated.

RSS Feeds and Site Design: As we continue to experience growing pains, it has been necessary to add features that enhance our security and professionalism.  Until the site is fully updated, there might be some rough edges here and there.  For example, information on RSS Feeds had to be returned to one of the tabs at the top of the page.  For the time being, this information can be found under the ‘About This Site’ page.

Context is Everything: Facebook is at it again.  Images of nudity are being shared on social media, but because it is taken out of context, Facebook finds itself removing the images then replacing them when it learns the actual intent or backstory.  Learn more in this BBC Trending article.

‭I Must Plead Ignorance: Although I pride myself on being well-read and knowledgeable, life is an ongoing learning process. One of the complaints about the final Ovenden hearing was the judges’ failure to use proper terminology in their descriptions. I find it annoying when the term vagina is used to refer to a woman’s external genitalia when anyone versed in anatomy knows it to be internal. I usually resort to more clinical or scientific terms in my descriptions, but I was surprised to learn of the word pudendum (more commonly used in the plural, pudenda), which can be used to refer to the superficial genital organs of a girl or woman.

When Innocence Has No Voice: Munted

A film like this makes me think that there is no such thing as fiction. To make a compelling story, to get the audience to really care about the characters, it is more effective when it is taken from one’s real experiences. Munted (2011) is a remarkable short film produced by Welby Ings and based on an incident that occurred in 1961 in King Country on the North Island, New Zealand. The filmmaker recalls that a man was badly beaten and hounded out of the district without being able to comprehend what he had been accused of. He decided to tell this story showing how innocence can be brutalized whenever sanctioned rumor is pitted against a truth that can’t defend itself.

The word munted is slang meaning both damaged or worthless and drunk. The word obviously applies ironically to the main character but also to most of the other characters, though in a different sense.

The film is narrated by a 10-year-old girl called Katrina (Ella Edward) who lives with her Aunt Kath. This adds a layer of reality as the story is told by a child with its naivete and misconceptions about the adult world.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (1)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (1)

She introduces us to Don (Phil Peleton), an artist who lives in a building near Katrina. He draws sketch after sketch of flowers—a symbol of female innocence and played to great effect in the opening of the film—and sometimes sketches Katrina as well. The two have an emotional attachment and Katrina tells Don she wants to be an artist. The drawings shown in the film’s opening were actually drawn by Ings himself.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (2)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (2)

We get a sense of Don’s backstory from a combination of exposition and narration throughout the film. Apparently, while drunk, he got into an auto accident, killing his wife. He was subsequently unable to save his daughters from drowning because of his own fear of the water. In his art, water is always portrayed as darkness and associated with death. As a result of the crash, he suffered some kind of mental debilitation with both physical and psychological components.

Katrina comments that Don’s drawings are all covered in writing which seems to spoil the images, but it is clearly meant to reflect the artist’s mental state. The integration of text into an artwork is personally significant to the filmmaker who did not learn to read and write until he was fifteen. Therefore, Ings’ childhood memories of written text is as a kind of textural art suggesting labyrinthine forms. The film itself is also covered in text seemingly serving the superfluous function of English subtitles.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (3)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (3)

One day, Katrina’s biological mother, Brooke, appears with a new beau and is intent on taking the girl back. Aunt Kath resists this idea. She was unable to have children herself and her sister seemed incapable of taking care of a child so the arrangement worked out well for a while. It is clear from Brooke’s behavior that her desire to get Katrina is motivated by a selfish desire to restore her respectability as a mother. The two women look for Katrina by going to Don’s place. There, Brooke finds a folder with photographs of little girls.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (4)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (4)

Brooke begins applying pressure by making incessant phone calls to her sister. Finally, she does some digging, perhaps into the newspaper archives, and finds misleading clues to Don’s past. The impression is that Don is a pedophile who murdered two girls. Brooke makes the case that this proves that Don is a dangerous influence.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (5)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (5)

The situation is exacerbated one day when Katrina swims too far out and gets caught in an undertow.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (6)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (6)

In a startling act of heroism, Don overcomes his fear and manages to save the girl. However, when the others arrive on the scene they interpret it as an attempt by Don to harm her.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (7)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (7)

Brooke finally appeals to the egos of her beau and some of the local ruffians suggesting that they should really do something about Don. While in his tub—another drowning reference—the men come by, beat him, murder him and then set his place on fire. The dual purpose of fire here, destroying both the art and the man is an intentional reference to the famous quote: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (“Where one burns books, one will also finally burn people.”) (Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1820/21). This outcome is a vivid statement about the nature of the moral panic surrounding pedophilia and sexual abuse.

Throughout the murder scene, the song Farther Along is sung.

Farther Along

Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested though in the wrong

When death has come and taken our loved ones
It leaves our home so lonely and drear
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all, by and by

Faithful ’til death, said our loving Master
A few more days to labor and wait
Toils of the road will then seem as nothing
As we sweep through the beautiful gates

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all, by and by

After the funeral, Katrina packs and shares her concluding thoughts:

Things can happen like that, if you’re alone and don’t have any friends to look after you. You’ve got to be really careful. You’ve got to fit in. That’s just the way it is.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (8)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (8)

Welby Ings is an associate professor of graphic design at Auckland University of Technology, a storyteller and makes short films in his spare time. He is fascinated by how people think and has concluded that the act of creativity is really a form of “disobedient thinking”. He is a captivating public speaker and shares important lessons taken from his own upbringing. Munted won the 2012 Leeds International Film Festival Award in the short film category and was an official selection for several other festivals as well. His first film Boy (2005) was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2006.

The Welsh Pixie: Pixie O’Harris

Pixie O’Harris MBE (1903–1991) was born Rhona Olive Harris in Cardiff, Wales. She was the sixth of nine children born to portraitist George Frederick Harris and Rosetta Elizabeth Harris (née Lucas). It was her father, who was chairman of the Art Society of South Wales and a frequent exhibitor at both the Royal Academy and Walker Art Gallery, that encouraged her and her siblings to take up art as a hobby. The artist became a member of the Royal Art Society of South Wales and started to exhibit her work there from the age of fourteen. At the time, she was still signing with her birth name of Rhona Harris.

Rhona O. Harris - (Untitled Illustration) (1919)

Rhona O. Harris – (Untitled Illustration) (1919)

The artist’s family emigrated to Australia in 1920 and while en route to Perth she was frequently called “The Welsh Pixie.” Having a dislike for the name Rhona and thinking that a new name would go well with a new life, she changed her name to Pixie O. Harris. After arriving in Perth, she found temporary employment in an advertising agency colouring slides and drawing fashions. During her spare time, she continued to draw and took some drawings to local art galleries. The Perth Royal Art Society recognised her talent and allowed her to hang some of her drawings in the gallery.

After only six months in Perth, the family relocated to Maroubra, in Sydney, by which time the artist had amassed a large number of drawings. She took her drawings to the editor of the Sydney Mail magazine, produced by the Sydney Morning Herald, who paid forty pounds for thirty of the images.  Reportedly, a printer at the magazine saw the artist’s signature and mentioned, “You can’t have a name like that without an apostrophe after the O.”  The printer then added the apostrophe and Pixie O. Harris became Pixie O’Harris. While on a trip to Sydney she became friendly with a man whose father had contacts with people working at John Sands, a printing firm. The firm liked her drawings, hired her and she started producing advertisements. In order to improve her artistic skill, her employers decided to send her to the Julian Ashton Art School, paying her tuition. During this time she was also producing book plates.

After a year at this job, O’Harris quit and joined her father at his studio. As she was now well known, she freelanced for various magazines including The Triad, Green Room and The Bulletin. She also drew illustrations for theatre programs, comics for joke blocks and continued to accept commissions for advertisements.

Pixie O'Harris - Advertisement for OK Pure Jam (1923)

Pixie O’Harris – Advertisement for OK Pure Jam (1923)

Her first assignment to illustrate a book was Cinderella’s Party by Maud Renner, published by Rigby in 1922 for which she was paid two guineas per image. Two years later she was asked to illustrate The Lost Emerald by Agnes Littlejohn.

Pixie O'Harris - Cinderella's Party (1922)

Pixie O’Harris – Cinderella’s Party (1922)

Her father’s death in 1924 had such an unsettling effect on the artist that she decided to leave the city and ended up in the Burragorang Valley. There the artist spent many days perfecting her skills at drawing flora and fauna.

Pixie O'Harris - Pixie O'Harris Story Book (1940)

Pixie O’Harris – Pixie O’Harris Story Book (1940)

Upon returning to Sydney, the editor of The Triad commissioned her to caricature well-known personalities which took up most of the year and became some of her most recognised work.

In 1925 the artist published The Pixie O’Harris Fairy Book which was a book of short stories and verses interspersed with illustrations which became one of her most popular books.

po'h fairy book

Pixie O’Harris – Pixie O’Harris Fairy Book (1925) (1)

Pixie O'Harris - Pixie O'Harris Fairy Book (1925) (2)

Pixie O’Harris – Pixie O’Harris Fairy Book (1925) (2)

After finishing her work on the book, she continued her freelance work at The Triad where she drew images for the children’s pages as well as an occasional cover. However, the artist believed this position lacked security and decided to become a fashion artist for the Horden Brothers Department Store. She developed a different drawing style at that job and it helped refine her drawing of adults.  Prior to this, a lot of her images featured children or toddlers so some of the adults ended up with a childlike appearance. She continued with this job for three years.  It was during this period that she met a wool buyer named Bruce Pratt and married in 1928, initially quitting her jobs to stay at home. She subsequently gave birth to three daughters.

During the Depression in Australia, she rented an office in the city and set up an art studio. Her sister, Pat, was employed as her errand girl and occasionally collaborated with her on contracts. The enterprise prospered and soon the artist was working for the Woman’s Weekly and New Nation magazines. All the while she was still doing fashion work for Horden Brothers. Also notable during this period were the several colour covers produced for Woman’s Budget magazine and the caricature-based drawings for their series “Pictures of the Near Great” published weekly.

Pixie O'Harris - Woman's Budget (Cover) (1933)

Pixie O’Harris – Woman’s Budget (Cover) (1933)

With all these commissions coming in, O’Harris’ artistic ability became a mainstay in the commercial arts. In 1934 she received another commission to illustrate her fourth book, Hundreds and Thousands by Ruth Bedford. She enjoyed this work and so started work on the book Pearl Pixie and Sea Greenie (1935), a story about two rock sprites. The book sold well and was reprinted four times.

Pixie O'Harris - Pearl Pixie and Sea Greenie (1935) (1)

Pixie O’Harris – Pearl Pixie and Sea Greenie (1935) (1)

Pixie O'Harris - Pearl Pixie and Sea Greenie (1935) (2)

Pixie O’Harris – Pearl Pixie and Sea Greenie (1935) (2)

The success of this book drew the attention of other publishers and she spent most of the next year drawing images for four other books, all coming out in 1936. There is scant information about O’Harris’ life after this point. There were only two books featuring her work in the period between 1938 and 1939. The most likely reason she was kept occupied editing for Humour magazine. While lying in the hospital ward during the birth of her third child in 1939, she came up with the idea of painting hospital walls with murals. The joy of decorating the walls of children’s wards, baby health centres and schools continued for forty years and must have created the largest body of public works in Australia with over forty institutes decorated.

In addition to painting murals—in the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children—four books illustrated by the artist were published in 1940. One of these books, The Pixie O’Harris Story Book, was also written. The Adventures of Poppy Treloar was published in 1941 and is significant in that it was a story specifically for girls. At this time there were few books for girls and with three daughters, the artist noticed this shortcoming and filled the gap with three Poppy Treloar books. A fourth book was added 22 years later when the publishers, Paul Hamlyn, decided to release the books in a box set. In 1943 she started another book series about a possum named Marmaduke. The first book was Marmaduke the Possum, with an additional two following. Marmaduke became a play in 1960; the producer was Julie Simpson who read the book as a child and was so entranced by it that she became determined to produce it as a play. Julie found O’Harris who agreed with her ideas. Within a few weeks the artist had written the whole play, designed the costumes, masks and the backdrops. The play ran for five weeks during the Christmas holiday period of 1960/61. She wrote a second play in 1979 called The Queen of Hearts, Paddy and The Moon Lady.

Pixie O'Harris - Marmaduke and Margaret (1953)

Pixie O’Harris – Marmaduke and Margaret (1953)

Another important book written by O’Harris was The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly. The book became very popular and was reprinted five times.

Pixie O'Harris - The Fairy Who Wouldn't Fly (Cover) (1945)

Pixie O’Harris – The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly (Cover) (1945)

Pixie O'Harris - The Fairy Who Wouldn't Fly (1945)

Pixie O’Harris – The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly (1945)

From 1950 through to 1970 she focused on her mural work as well as writing short stories, poems and then making the images to go with them for School Magazine. When not doing this work she took up oil painting and accumulated such a quantity that she was able to exhibit them yearly from 1964 onward. Her paintings depicted plants, flowers, fairies and other mythological beings.

A resurgence of interest in her work took place in the 1970s as three of her books were republished. This renewed interest led to Golden Books Publishing giving her contracts to write eight more books for them between 1978 and 1982. The books were cheaply produced so do not show her work to a very high quality, though the consumers did not care and large numbers were nonetheless sold. During the 1980s, two biographies were published and she also illustrated an edition of Wind in the Willows. 

Her final commission came in 1990. The book was Alice in Wonderland, also known as The Pixie Alice, published by The Carroll Foundation. It was part of the 125th anniversary of the publishing of the original Macmillan publication. The book itself was designed to be a colouring book. The complete text to the original story was there with fourteen simply-drawn black and white illustrations.

Pixie O'Harris - Alice in Wonderland (Cover) (1990)

Pixie O’Harris – Alice in Wonderland (Cover) (1990)

Pixie O'Harris - Alice in Wonderland (1990)

Pixie O’Harris – Alice in Wonderland (1990)

A year later in 1991 Pixie O’Harris passed away. In 1994 the Children’s Publishing Committee of the Australian Publishers’ Association (APA) established the Pixie O’Harris Award. It is awarded for distinguished and dedicated service to the development and reputation of Australian children’s books. The guidelines state that:

To be eligible, publishers, editors, booksellers and publicists need to have worked consistently in children’s literature, demonstrated a commitment beyond the call of duty and developed a reputation for their contribution to the industry. -APA

In recognition for her work in the arts as well as the painting of murals for children, O’Harris received several awards, a Coronation Medal, a Jubilee Medal and became a Member of the British Empire in 1976. She was made a Patron of The Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in 1977.

Pixie O'Harris - The Little Round House (1939)

Pixie O’Harris – The Little Round House (1939)

The house that Beckons

Pixie O’Harris – The House that Beckons (1940)

Six Weeks of Boyhood

“Six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss,” is the parting sentiment in the short film No Bikini directed by Claudia Morgado Escanilla and based on a short story of the same name by Ivan Coyote. A reader made a comment about this film in a recent post so I decided it was time to do a quick review of this piece. The premise of the story is that a 7-year-old tomboy named Robin (Matreya Fedor), finding her bikini top too constricting, decides to pretend to be a boy and go topless in swim class.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (1)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (1)

We are introduced to the instructor, who has a driving personality and is prominently displaying a swim medal throughout the film. As she inspects her new students, there is some tension as we wonder if Robin will pull off this ruse. Instead of being outed, she is sharply advised to “straighten up”.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (2)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (2)

Apart from the usual trials and tribulations of swim class, Robin has a male rival, also hoping to win top honors in the class.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (3)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (3)

The conclusion is amusing as the mother reads the report stating how Robin—now proudly wearing the medal—should enroll in the advanced class with superlatives loaded with the conspicuous pronoun “he”.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (4)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (4)

To further accentuate the innocence of the girl, we are reminded that she did not actually lie to anyone. Everyone just made an assumption and she allowed them to believe it—also having the good fortune of an ambiguous name. The choice of casting Fedor is interesting. She is 7 years old instead of six as in Coyote’s story. I imagine the director had to find someone who would not be self-conscious about acting without a top and could not find a suitable six-year-old. As a result, the illusion of a gender neutral character is not particularly convincing.

Ivan E. Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. He is an award-winning author of eight collections of short stories, a novel, three CDs, four short films and is a renowned performer. Coyote’s first love is live storytelling and he is an audience favorite at music, poetry, spoken word and writer’s festivals around the world. Coyote began performing in 1992 and in 1996 co-founded Taste This, a four person performance troupe that combined live music, storytelling and performance poetry to create a genre-busting collaboration. Taste This toured North America extensively and in 1998 published Boys Like Her, considered a substantive contribution in the dialogue about gender identity and sexuality. Coyote is fascinated by the intersection of storytelling and music and works with a number of well-established Canadian musicians. He is interested in collaborations where the text and the score are equal players, not just storytelling with musical accompaniment. In 2001, he landed a gig teaching short fiction at Capilano University in North Vancouver and discovered that he loves teaching creative writing. It was while teaching seniors that Coyote recognized their true calling; he strongly believes in listening to the stories of our elders and encouraging them to write about their lives. He continues to tour extensively throughout North America and Europe, telling stories not only to festival audiences, but to high school students, social justice activists, adult literacy students and senior citizens. Coyote believes in the transformative power of storytelling, and that collecting and remembering oral history not only preserves a vital part of our humanity, but that a good story can help inspire us to invent a better future.

The Best Painting in History? Diego Velázquez

One of Pip’s favorite art analysts is someone who calls himself The Nerdwriter and has a series of videos on YouTube. Although his discussion of artwork is excellent, there has been no occasion to mention him on Pigtails until now. Recently, he reviewed a famous painting called Las Meninas and featured center stage was a little girl, a princess of Spain. The Nerdwriter considers this work more worthy of analysis than any other in history. An important distinction between photography and painting is that with painting, the artist has complete control and no element is there by chance so that the presence of the smallest detail can be a valid subject of discussion. The critic engages in the usual discussion of composition but also why the artist chose to depict two of Rubens’ paintings displayed in the background. The solution to a long-standing mystery is also convincingly proposed and, in The Nerdwriter’s opinion, what is great about this piece is that it is a bold statement about the virtue of painting itself. At that time, poets and musicians were highly regarded but not painters. The fact that the Rubens paintings were about the divine source of creativity and that a reflection of the king and queen in a mirror is coming from a canvas at the edge of frame seems to bolster the argument that Velázquez was making a profound statement about the power of the medium. “This is a painting about painting.” says The Nerdwriter.

Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas (1656)

Diego Velázquez – Las Meninas (1656)

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) was one of the most important Spanish painters and beloved court artist under the reign of King Philip IV. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted many portraits of the Spanish royal family, notable European figures and even commoners. The importance of Velázquez’ contribution was acknowledged by realist and impressionist painters starting in the early 19th Century and included Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon who all recreated several of the more famous works. Philosopher Michel Foucault devotes the opening chapter of one of his books to a detailed analysis of Las Meninas and Philip Roth also referred to that painting as a metaphor for the distracted attraction of courtship.

Velázquez received good training in languages and philosophy but showed an early gift for art. He first studied under Francisco de Herrera and remained with him for only one year. It is probably from this master that he acquired the habit of using brushes with long bristles. At age 12, he apprenticed under the somewhat undistinguished Francisco Pacheco for five years and married his teacher’s daughter, Juana, in 1618. The couple had two daughters.

Velázquez’ first visit to Madrid in 1622 was very timely as the king’s favorite court painter had just died. By August 1623, Philip IV sat for Velázquez for the first time and was pleased. The painter was then offered permanent residence in the court. In 1628, Peter Paul Rubens came to Madrid and met Velázquez, developing a high opinion of him. Rubens’ visit inspired the younger painter to visit Italy to study the works of the Italian masters. Velázquez’ career culminated in what is arguably his greatest work, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) in 1656. It featured Margaret Theresa, the eldest daughter of Philip and his new queen, Mariana of Austria. The artist was given the honor of knighthood in 1659 and it was only through this royal appointment that he was able to escape the censorship of the Inquisition. Otherwise, he would never have been able to release his La Venus del espejo (Venus at her Mirror), the painter’s only surviving female nude. Velázquez’ final portraits of the royal children are among his finest works and include the Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress.

Diego Velázquez - Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (1659)

Diego Velázquez – Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (1659)