Reflections of the Man Behind the Mirror

Reflections of the Man Behind the Mirror-Len Steckler

“Hanumath”, part of the exhibition “Len Steckler: Reflections of the Man Behind the Mirror”

Back in December, I was recounting a wonderful story, one that resulted in one of the most beautiful photographs of Marilyn Monroe ever taken. It ignited an interest in me regarding the entire body of work of photographer Len Steckler. Limited Runs will exclusively exhibit the first of a series of fine art photo collections featuring Steckler’s fashion photography, including 28 legacy and/or never-before seen images from his fashion photography session taken between 1960 and 1966. The exhibition will take place throughout February in Los Angeles (“City of stars/Are you shining just for me/City of stars…” – sorry if you are not a fan of La La Land, but I am. The world needs more comedies, the best kind of, anyway).

For sure, good fashion photography is more than what meets the eye. And these photos by Len Steckler are certainly prone not only to catch the viewer’s eye, but to raise a question or two as well. The name of the exhibition alone, Reflections of the Man Behind the Mirror, intrigued me, so I reached out to the founder and president of Limited Runs, Pierre Vudrag, to unveil the layers of Steckler’s interesting take on fashion photography. There is plenty of mystery remaining though. And so it should.
What was the idea behind these photographs? In the early 1960s, fashion photography began to turn to itself as a subject, to its own artifice and staging. Do Len Steckler’s photographs hint at undressing the theater of fashion and questioning the creation of perfect beauty?
Len Steckler started his professional career as a graphic artist working for various advertising firms (he literally shared an office with Andy Warhol at one such agency) and gained prominence as the originator of the campaign for the first diet drink, Diet Pepsi.

Len often relied on the photographs of his model he used to design campaigns and found that the magazines began requesting more and more the use of the photos rather than his drawing. Reading the writing on the wall, he switched to photography as a primary means of earning a living. Having an artistic eye, Len believed that you could make photographs that satisfy the commercial needs of advertisers while at the same time fulfill his artistic vision. You will rarely find his models posing against a stark white background.

He also believed that you could place the model in every day settings, i.e. on the street of New York City, allowing the viewer to see how beautiful fashions looks in the real world (this is evident in our next collection) while at the same time enhancing the elegance of a collection. During these sessions, Len noticed and became fascinated with the reflections of his subject juxtaposed against the large windows of office building and store fronts. It gave Len and ultimately the viewer an alternative perspective of the model and the fashion. A single image showed the viewer another side or angle of the person/model. Depending on the shot, it could seem as if the reflection of the model has a different facial expression giving the illusion that someone else can be seen in that reflection. Len took this style into the studio where he began using a single mirror (see the photo called Pangea). He then began experimenting with multiple mirrors, then started using pieces of broken mirrors strategically placed around his subjects. He shot his subject’s reflection off of mirrored balls (aka disco balls). Eventually, Len took the concept to the ultimate conclusion and created a 360 degree room of mirrors. With this room, and depending on how Len shot his subject, he could give the viewer the illusion that the model is surrounded by several copies of herself, or if Len desired, hundreds of copies, thereby altering our perception of the model.

Why “Reflections of the Man Behind the Mirror”? It almost makes me expect to see the image of the photographer himself reflected in the mirror, too, self-consciously posing, undermining fashion’s glamorous illusions. How would you explain the title?
I wish that I could tell you that the title was meant to give the viewer the impression that it was meant to undermine the illusion of fashion, however, it was Len Steckler’s mission to enhance the illusion of fashion, make it feel other worldly while at the same time accessible to everyone.

The title simply came from the fact that as I was curating the collection, I reviewed hundreds of images and could not initially determine how Len was able to shoot the photos and not appear in the picture.

Exactly. How did he do that?
Eventually I discovered a handful of photos where his secret was revealed to me (only 2 appear in the collection). From what I’ve ascertained, Len had three approaches to achieving this. One is very obvious and one can easily be deduced by looking at certain images (see the photos entitled All of Us and Isosceles. The other two methods are less obvious, but if you study the photos in the Collection, both are revealed. I leave it to the viewer to see if they can find the clues.

photos: courtesy of Limited Runs

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Three Movie Lovers and Their Ten Movie Picks

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 
Three movie lovers met over the winter holidays and challenged each other to select ten of their top movies of all time. I may have mentioned before that my husband and my brother are even bigger movie buffs than I am, and they certainly are better film connoseuires. My husband used to write the film guest posts here on the blog and my brother is the first one whom I heard say “I love films too much to write film critique, and even film reviews” – he also never leaves the cinema theater before all the credits have rolled out at the end of a movie, out of respect for everyone involved in making the film. One of their best traits when it comes to movies is that they are both incredibly open minded, something that I, I admit, sometimes lack. Needless to say, their opinions on the subject of cinema are the ones I value most – and just to give you an idea about their knowledge and passion, I will tell you that the only other ones I sometimes read and always value are Roger Ebert’s and François Truffaut’s. And that’s because they, too, loved movies.

So these are ten unabashedly subjective favourites, in no particular order, of each one of us: first one below – my brother’s, the second one – my husband’s, the third one – mine. We saw each other’s lists only after everyone had completed his/her own. And all of us agreed that it was difficult to choose just ten films, and that we should have extended our selection to twenty. Maybe we will soon.
Los olvidados 1950 
City Lights, 1931 (Charlie Chaplin)
2001 A Space Odyssey, 1968 (Stanley Kubrick)
Chinatown, 1974 (Roman Polanski)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948 (John Huston)
Mulholland Drive, 2001 (David Lynch)
Los olvidados, 1950 (Luis Buñuel)
Blow-Up, 1966 (Michelangelo Antonioni)
Ugetsu Monogatari, 1953 (Kenji Mizoguchi)
The Place Beyond the Pines, 2012 (Derek Cianfrance)
Nashville, 1975 (Robert Altman)
Ugetsu Monogatari 
Le Trou, 1960 (Jacques Becker)
Vertigo, 1958 (Alfred Hitchcock)
Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, 1922 (Fritz Lang)
A Ship Bound for India, 1947 (Ingmar Bergman)
Ivan’s Childhood, 1962 (Andrei Tarkovski)
Belle de jour, 1967 (Luis Buñuel)
L’Avventura, 1960 (Michelangelo Antonioni)
La bête humaine, 1938 (Jean Renoir)
Seven Samurai, 1954 (Akira Kurosawa)
The Searchers, 1956 (John Ford)
A Ship Bound for India 
The Red Shoes, 1948 (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
In A Lonely Place, 1950 (Nicholas Ray)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948 (John Huston)
L’Avventura, 1960 (Michelangelo Antonioni)
Rear Window, 1954 (Alfred Hitchcock)
Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987 (Wim Wenders)
All the President’s Men, 1976 (Alan J. Pakula)
Ivan’s Childhood, 1962 (Andrei Tarkovski)
La grande illusion, 1937 (Jean Renoir)
Chinatown, 1974 (Roman Polanski)
Le trou 1960

photos: 1-The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Warner Brothers) / 2-Los olvidados (Ultramar Films) / 3-Ugetsu Monogatari (Daiei Studios)/ 4-A Ship Bound for India (Sveriges Folkbiografer) / 5-Le trou (Filmsonor/Play Art)

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Franca: Chaos and Creation

Vogue Italia by Franca Sozzani 
I have always taken good care of my collection of magazines, just as I have of our books and films. To be honest, both my husband and I were a little freaked out at first of the day our son would start crawling and then walking, especially that we didn’t want to remodel our home and that we certainly did not want to let toys take over every room. But, although our CDs have not all been so lucky, our books and films have remained intact, and we are hoping for the best. My magazines, too. My editions of Vogue Italia outnumber by far the rest of the fashion magazines I have gathered over the years and it is them that I am most fond of. The Italian Vogue is one of the two fashion magazines I still read. And I have loved it because of Franca Sozzani. She made it what it is today.

Remember in American Gigolo, when Richard Gere is lovingly laying out his clothes on the bed? I just thought of that (maybe because my mind is so used to making movie connections) when I took out my Italian Vogue copies that December day, flipped through my favourite editions, inevitably stopping to re-read an article here and there, carefully rearranging every single one of them. I decided to grant them the best reading nook in the house, the whole stack of them. It suits them well, too.
Vogue Italia by Franca Sozzani 
With all due respect to good journalism, I have to admit that what I have read in the media after Franca Sozzani’s unexpected passing away in December (not just the simple reportings of the fact, but also the articles which were supposedly paying their tribute to Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief for 28 years) failed to move me in any way. And, please, please, if you are going to post something on your social media, refrain from using hashtags and that most horrible, clumsiest three-initial-letter acronym ever invented. Show a little respect and class. Even if you have not personally known the person, but admired in the public realm, and feel you need to express the sadness of their loss, using that hashtag is simply lazy, reductive, appalling, just not right. How about saying “Thank you”? Thank you for the creativity, for the beauty, for the vision, for the art, for your what you have left behind. I felt I knew you a little because I read your magazine. Isn’t this what we want to say? I hope it is.

Anyone with a slight interest in fashion knows about Franca Sozzani’s fearlessness, her wild imagination, her unique way of fusing social issues with fashion, of using images as international language, of merging reality with fantasy. And anyone who has understood that fashion is so much more than clothes knows why Franca has revolutionised fashion. This is all true and worth repeating, yes. Emotional? No. I felt that every piece of writing on the subject lacked emotion. Which is why I am so grateful that Franca Sozzani’s son, Francesco Carrozzini, made a documentary about his mother, Franca: Chaos and Creation, which he presented at the Venice Film Festival in September. I am also glad that Franca approved of it, saw it and was content with it. It’s the only portrait of Sozzani I care to see. And if you watch it first, do let me know what you think.

photos by me

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My San Francisco, with Nadya Zimmerman

San Francisco through the lens of Nadya Zimmerman 
I go to sleep and and wake up to this breathtaking view of San Francisco every day. Let me make myself clear. There is still an ocean between us, but this view is now adorning one of our bedroom walls. I fell in love with this photograph taken by Nadya Zimmerman and she surprised me with sending it to me. It’s a little painful to admit this, but Hitchcock went down and San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks took its place. But it’s okay, Hitchcock loved San Francisco, too.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to ask Nadya to show us more of her San Francisco and walk us through it. Originally from Riga, Nadya has been living in the Bay Area for nine years. I discovered her photography through her beautiful blog, Nadya’s Side of the Road, which is about the lifestyle of living slowly in California and appreciating the beauty, elegance and magnificence of life through travel and photography. Passionate about photography, people, art and culture, Nadya loves discovering the relatively unknown corners of the places she visits and capture them in photographs that tell stories. She is also the founder of The ARTBO magazine, and her short film, Eyeball, was presented at Castro Theater in San Francisco. My kind of person! Her areas of interest, place of living and beautiful photography were bound to make this a very inspiring conversation, but what I probably liked the most about Nadya’s description of her life was her honesty and the reality check of life in San Francisco today. The good, the not so good, and the beauty of it all.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
Could you describe San Francisco in three words?
It’s hard to describe San Francisco in three words, but I’ll try… Fog, Brunch, Technology. I know, most people still think about San Francisco as a city of hippie, art and freedom, but it’s less true now. The artist community is being squeezed out by the tech generation of young people in flannel shirts, eyes stuck to the screens of their phones or laptops, who worry about their projects and have no time to live. In the last few years the city has transformed into a playground for the young and wealthy. This is a sad reality of the most beautiful city (now the most expensive city) in the US. The city’s fabled quirks and collections of oddballs are definitely bleeding out from San Francisco. Once the Bohemian capital of the West Coast, ‘Fog City’ is becoming reduced to the very wealthy and the homeless.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
Looking at the good side, what do you love the most about living here?
I love a lot about my life in San Francisco. I love people. We have here so many people from so many corners of the world, it’s amazing. The food is great partially due to the variety of people. I love being so close to the ocean. I love the hills of San Francisco and the old, colourful houses. San Francisco reminds me a lot of Europe. I don’t think I would love any other American city as much as I love San Francisco. It feels like home.

What is your one favourite thing to do in San Francisco and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
I love going to museums in San Francisco. We have a few of them and there are always a lot of new things to see.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
While in San Francisco, early mornings are best for: Photography. I am a huge fan of shooting my favourite city at dawn. The city looks truly magical when the first rays of sunlight touch its roofs and empty streets. At those moments I am always thinking about my luck living in this city.

How do you get around in SF?
I don’t drive. So I walk a lot. My sister and I love walking in San Francisco. We always find new charming streets, views, or cafés. This city never stop surprising me and I think people miss out on a lot when they don’t walk all these hills.

What is your favourite spot in the entire city?
Ah, that’s a really hard question. But I am forever in love with the Golden Gate Bridge. When I first came to California, it’s what I saw right away after the airport and I was so blown away by the beauty and size of the bridge, by the surreal views. I knew immediately it was my place.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman

California Street with a view to Bay Bridge

Describe your kind of perfect day in San Francisco: Well, I would start my morning with a cup of coffee at Rose’s Cafe on Union Street. Then, I would wander the evocative ruins of Sutro Baths and explore the nearby Sutro Heights gardens. I would hope for the morning fog as, believe it or not, from this once upon a time fog hater, I am now in love with fog. Fog is also perfect for my photography. Ocean in fog is simply breathtaking.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
The most unexpected thing about the city: There is no summer. Sometimes we get a warm September and October, but, overall, there is no summer and I love it even when I complain about it.

What is the best time to visit San Francisco (best weather, few tourists)?
Best weather is definitely in September and October. In terms of tourists… they never leave. San Francisco is always full of tourists. Always. If you are not afraid of cold winds, April and May are beautiful because of the wild flowers.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
Where should one go if they want to feel less like a tourist and more like a local?
Well, we have so few spots, locals are very protective of them and so am I. But I would visit Union Street, Castro, and I would let myself wander around without any map. That’s the best way to end up in some odd and truly San Franciscan spots. Let your heart and the wind in your hair lead you.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
And what is one touristy place one must see?
Twin Peaks. Go there early for sunrise. It’s a magical view. Twin Peaks is ideal to see the 360 degree version of San Francisco. The view is so beautiful. Downtown, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Port, the whole Peninsula is right in front of your eyes. I think Twin Peaks should be the number one destination to visit when you arrive in San Francisco for the first time, well, unless you are afraid to leave your heart in San Francisco or to be carried away by the freezing wind.

Sunrise above San Francisco Bay, Twin Peaks

Favourite moment of the day for taking photos: Sunrise!!! Love that first light of the day.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
One thing/spot you never get tired of photographing: The Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the place where my new life started.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman

San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
Best coffee in town: I am a big fan of Philz Coffee. They are local to San Francisco and a must try. But I also would recommend to visit Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club Cafe. They have not just good coffee, but the most amazing cinnamon toast! The café itself is super tiny, stylish and friendly. It has a little bar inside and a very unusual outdoor seating area. There is a wooden bench under the window and a little section made of a fallen tree. Hippie/hipster looking locals are always sitting on that tree enjoying their coffee and toasts.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman

Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club Cafe

San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman

Ocean Beach

Favourite place to eat: I have so many, but there’s nothing like heading down to that little café on the corner for breakfast and a morning cup of coffee. You know the one – the one you visit rarely but is always on your mind when you are in the area. Rose’s Cafe is one of those for me. It’s a very charming, cozy, Europeanish little café on a corner on the western end of Union Street. Locals love it.

Favourite bookstore in town: I buy all my books on Amazon… but, still, I read only real paper books.

Most beautiful scenic hike: I love the hike from Muir Beach to Pirate’s Cove. Who doesn’t like little hidden pocket beaches? It’s not an easy hike. What looks to be an innocent curvy little path with breathtaking views of the coast is a very impressive incline. The views are breathtaking!
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman

The hike from Muir Beach to Pirate’s Cove

Best Bay Area beach: Cowell Ranch Beach is easily my favourite beach on the Northern California coast. It’s my secret place, my private getaway. It’s funny, even though we have been living in the Bay Area for the last 9 years or so, we discovered Cowell Beach a couple of years ago during the location scouting for one of the short films directed by my husband. Since then, if it’s a great day to get some sun on the beach, we go to Cowell Beach. We also simply love to have a walk along the cliff. Even on a cloudy day, it’s a scenic walk or bicycle ride. I believe one of the reasons why the Cowell Beach isn’t more popular is that there’s a 1/2 mile walk on a gravel path to the beach across some farmlands. The other reason might be the hidden small parking lot (maybe enough for just 10-15 cars?).
My San Francisco with Nadya Zimmerman Cowell Ranch Beach

The Cowell Ranch Beach

My San Francisco with Nadya Zimmerman 
Best out-of-town escape: I must say, our little house we rented in Sea Ranch lived up to every dream I had of what life in the forest with an ocean view would be like. Honestly, on our first day there, I frequently had a feeling of being deaf, not that I know that feeling, but I imagine it’s how it’s supposed to feel, just not hearing anything. Anything at all. Sometimes I could hear, slightly, a sound of surf or a bird. I did enjoy the way the sun was coming out for a moment in late afternoon before again being blinded by the always creeping fog – my idea of perfect weather.
San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman 
Best place to watch a movie: Castro Theater. Sometimes they have film festivals or international movies. My short film, Eyeball, was also shown in Castro Theater.

Now you’ve made me curious. Could you tell us more about your short film?
Eyeball (you can watch it here) is all about the difference between human interdependence and ‘virtual’ interdependence. We crave experience, but increasingly we seek that experience through the flat screens which we carry in our pockets, our purses, that surround us in our homes; screens that seem to follow us everywhere we go. Television, laptops, tablets, phones and now eyewear have seduced us into a reality that has nothing to do with the touch of a hand, a whisper in the ear or a simple kiss on the cheek. We want people to realise progress has never been a simple bargain – there are always hidden costs!

Part of my inspiration for Eyeball comes from my favorite books: 1984 and Brave New World. Another part of my inspiration comes from my own experience with the world around me. Every time I go outside I see people on the streets, in the restaurants with their phones, tablets and they are so consumed by them. I always thought it looked kind of ugly. And one day I realised I had started to become one of these people. I was scared of my own willingness to become sucked into something so disconnected with the physical world. So I wrote a script to express my idea of what’s going on right now with humanity and how technology influences us and changes us into something ‘less than.’ It’s actually interesting that with any technological progress we enclose ourselves more deeply into a box, more separated from ourselves and the physical world.

When I was 7 years old I knew so many names of stars and constellations of stars, I knew where to find them in the sky. To look into the night sky and talk with my relatives or friends about what is out there and how infinite the Universe is was a totally normal thing for so many young people. And my imagination was huge! Now this knowledge has been washed from my mind. Today I’ll bet if you ask teenagers when it was the last time they looked into the sky and asked THEMSELVES (not Google) a question about the universe, stars, etc…. their answer would be NEVER.

I hope our film Eyeball will make at least a few people stop, think and come out of their boxes to experience the real world just a bit more.

Don’t remember who said it but… Just as air in the atmosphere of the body, so time is the atmosphere of the mind. Who owns your time, owns your mind. Own your own time and you will know your own mind.

And, finally, I’d like to add about the film that it’s very much San Francisco today.
My San Francisco by Nadya Zimmerman
More travel interviews: Into the World: Ana Hogas and Ionut Florea / Paris in Spring with Georgianna Lane / Interview with Travel Writer Francisca Mattéoli

photos: Nadya Zimmerman

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Shirt Stories: Jennifer Neyt

Shirt stories Jennifer Neyt 

You always notice the person wearing a great shirt. A classic that, for me, holds just as much appeal as a perfect pair of jeans. Shirt Stories is about others who feel the same, women and men, and who wear it well.

Among the skinny jeans uniformed French fashion editors (Emmanuelle Alt is still a favourite though), there is someone who refreshingly goes against the trend.’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Neyt is no stranger from the skinny denim, but just as often she embraces a wide legged nautical pair of trousers, a leather skirt, and even a floral dress sometimes. Everything remains in the simple, classic lines, but she approaches every outfit as an opportunity to make it her own.

It’s obvious that she also loves shirts, and, frankly, she’s one of those who wears denim on denim best. But I myself really took a liking to the way she wears the white shirt: A-shape black leather skirt (a much more inspired choice than a pencil skirt) and black pointed-toe pumps. Nothing revolutionary – quite the opposite, as black and white can so easily fall into a blunt look – but infused with so much more personality than the old white shirt-jeans pairing. I guess it’s also a matter of the wearer’s personality. She just knows how to make it work.
Shirt stories Jennifer Neyt 
Related Shirt Stories entries: Francisca Mattéoli (interview) / Robert Redford / Charlotte Rampling / Ralph Lauren / Heidi Merrick

photos: 1-Mitograph / 2-Sandra Semburg

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