Jerry Burchard 1931-2011

Jerry Burchard December 1 1931 - May 17 2011

The San Francisco veteran photographer Jerry Burchard has died. His particular creative corner of the image world was a dark one, shot through with accidental and long-travelled light. I first met Jerry in Bangkok in 1985 when he lived in a rooftop apartment opposite my ground-floor one on Soi Wittialai Khru. He was a warm, jolly, rotund man in colourfully-patterned shirts. He walked the city at night with his camera, catching not so much the people as the way streetlight and neon bounce off buildings. He was a third-generation Rochester Kodak boy and a patient hoarder of ambient light.

I wanted to use his seminal photo ‘Dancing Trees, Ko Samet’ as the cover of my book The Fever Wards, and this initiated an email exchange last year. My publishers had other ideas but here it is again in all its ghostly glory. The acid green and warm umbers have an almost hallucinatory joy to them, and this on an island where the larger trees are swathed in saffron swatches and spirit houses placed underneath them.

Dancing Trees, Ko Samet 1986

Jerry’s Bangkok is a two in the morning one, a night out on the town. His images strip away so much in order to get back to the light. His old teak house I remember well and from the image you’d never guess there were six lanes of traffic behind the photographer. The sky seems to have gathered all the pollution of the city into an extra-terrestrial purple and the house itself has become a sort of south-east Asian Bates motel. I suspect the developers have eaten up the house but Jerry’s haunting image remains in light.

Old Teak House, Bangkok, 1992

40 minutes in Ko Samet, Thailand

This last image reminds me of those weekends out of the city in the mid-Eighties when we might spend half an hour before bed on the rickety bamboo terrace that fronted the island’s stilted bungalows. The stars were out in force. There was a smell of mosquito coil and salty beach-wear hanging up to dry. We might not have been in our right minds – we were far gone. The sea has come right up to the rocks. Further up the beach there might be late-night revels at Edgy Sue’s. John would be reading Kapuściński and I might be reading Bowles. When down the beach would come Jerry Burchard, tripod in hand, forty minutes of night light locked away in his camera.

More photos and tributes to Jerry Burchard here:



Alexey Titarenko

Untitled 1993, Alexey Titarenko














It’s not often that a photographer, particularly a contemporary one, strikes with the force of a painting, a Whistler say, or with the relentless onward stride of Dante’s multitudes moving through his Inferno. Here’s T. S. Eliot:

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

In Titarenko’s photos the human mass becomes shadow, shade – it is we who are passing through a landscape that becomes more solid than the crowd – we are a human wave. Titarenko captures the Russian tide passing through the faded, exhausted city of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s. Metal and stone seem to have more substance and staying power than flesh.

He brings out this evanescent quality of people and light in some haunting shots of Cuba in his Havana Series from 2003.

Untitled (Malecon) 2003














In the series Time Standing Still, the lone figure of a woman at a Russian beach leaning on a silver birch seems to be trying to arrest time. The reclining, leisure-seeking figures seem to be not so much on a physical beach but on a shore of time.

Untitled (Beach 1), 1999














Titarenko is a marvellous capturer of light and shadow. You can see a full portfolio of his work here:



Lucas Cranach

Lucas Cranach: The Judgement of Paris

This octagonal room in the Kunstmuseum is full of small paintings by German masters of the 16th century: Hans Wertinger, the Oberrheinischer Meister, two little allegories (death and the woman, death and the maiden) by Hans Baldung Grien and four marvellous Lucas Cranachs.
The greeny-blues of Cranach’s Judgement of Paris sit easily on one pea-coloured wall. A sly-eyed horse looks out from an oak thicket with a river valley in the background, a walled city done in tints of blue. So far, so Rhinish. A castle crowns a hill, a road winds up. Cranach came from the small town of Kronach in southern Germany: town and painter are synonymous; he knows this topography like the back of his hand.

Paris is in armour, anticipating the battle of Troy that will ensue from his choice. Zeus himself holds the Apple of Discord. Three gossamer-draped goddesses occupy the foreground. Paris holds an enormous white-feathered red hat, like a cardinal’s but without the tassels. He appears to look towards the middle of the three goddesses, Athene: she is wearing a similar cardinal red hat, but without the feathers.

The goddesses Hera and Aphrodite flanking her have lovely buns, small as a boy’s, seen sideways on and full view, and willowy figures, narrow under the breasts, hairless: a contortionist’s dream of women.

Then you notice that Aphrodite on the right wears her hair in a gold brocade cap and that all three women wear jewelled dog collars, chokers, I suppose. Two of them also sport large neck chains. Athene is a minx, her hair done in 1930s flapper style. Aphrodite has a perfectly formed breast, white as alabaster.

Paris sits on a kind of stone-coped spring that issues from a spout. Its little splashes are almost sexual. The strange red hat is picked up in the red lining of his inside thigh, which looks like an enormous penis issuing from his codpiece. He has a square, bearded, simian face, like the faces in many of these Upper Rhine paintings: rough-hewn woodsmen coming down out of the forest to the riverbank to become burghers. He appears to be looking at the nude women but really he’s gazing up into the trees at a coat of arms hung in the top branches like those signs you used to see in trees in Northern Ireland – Repent, the End is Nigh!

Who is the old man brokering the deal? He clutches the Apple of Discord in the transparent gauze that gives the women a semblance of decency. Perhaps he’s Zeus under grey muttonchop whiskers.

The line of four faces leads the eye back to the eye of the horse, elaborately saddled, with a gold-clasped bridle that echoes the chains of the goddesses. That horse is an effete creature, unready for the ten years of the Trojan War. The scene is arcadian, conjured from the trees. Cupid, enveloped in a grey storm cloud, is about to let fly a golden arrow. Which woman will it pierce? We know from the myth that Paris will choose Aphrodite who promises him the gift of love in exchange for the golden apple. Paris gets the girl, Helen of Troy. War starts between the Trojans and the Greeks, the thousand boats. The hollow horse ends it. Odysseus wanders the seas and founds Rome.

Once again the apple is the start of history as we know it.

Another Cranach, Portrait of a Woman (1508), is simple and spare after the rich treatment of the judgement. It’s on a small oak panel in a plain black frame. The woman looks like a servant or a nun but a ring is on her right index finger. She wears a white veil that doesn’t appear to be kept in place by anything. The white of the veil is carried into the border of her black dress. Its sailor collar has an almost unnoticed pattern of leaves, black on grey. The effect is subtly modulated; black, white and grey playing off each other as in a Whistler or a Sargent.

The woman’s round, large-eyed face conveys restraint and purity, like her dress. The brown eyes are slanted inwards, finely lashed and far apart, like a Lucian Freud. The mouth is small and prim. In a praying posture, she looks fixedly at us as though we are intruding. What is she thinking? The matt green, dung-coloured background does a lot of contrast work. It is an arresting study in piety.

Lucas Cranach: Johann Friedrich Grossmütigen, Elector of Saxony

This tiny portrait of Johann Friedrich Grossmütigen (the Magnificent) offers a moral contrast to its neighbouring portrait of piety. It was painted in the last year of Cranach’s life, 1533, on limewood. How magnificent he is, in his sable-collared coat, neck hung with beadwork, gold chains and jewels, his fat finger sporting a sapphire ring. One almost expects earrings, so oriental does he look under muttonchops and thin trimmed moustache. The hair is receding, the brow squashed and misaligned. The fur collar seems an extension of his beard. He is every inch the pasha, the decadent potentate: sloped forehead, small almond-shaped eyes, unsmiling, preoccupied by the trivia of power. The background is sky blue, just washed in, with only Cranach’s insignia and the date for relief. The Elector of Saxony has all the pomp and arrogance of his position: not a pretty man.