Bonnie Lee and the Leather Jacket Flying Men in Only Angels Have Wings

Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in “Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures


They are men who are staring down death as they are flying dangerous missions over treacherous mountain terrain, come rain, shine or fog. The short landing strips are no less hazardous. They have poor navigational equipment and makeshift planes, but they are hard-shelled and have an unconquerable spirit. It’s an electrifying, fast-paced, past-the-edge-of-yourself world, one of Howard Hawks’ fantasy worlds, a place for world-weary romanticism, borderline cynicism and crazy courage. Hawks was an aviation enthusiast, a born storyteller and an “invisible director”, François Truffaut described him, because his “camera work is never apparent to the eye”. Seldom have I seen this abundance of life effervescence, verbal sparring and sense of fleeting existence better depicted on screen.

“One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labeled buttons, and in whose minds knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fiction,“ pioneering aviator Beryl Markham wrote in her book West with the Night, recounting the early frontier of flying at just the same time the story in the film takes place.

This is one such story, from the days of the pioneering aviators. These daredevil pilots in Only Angels Have Wings seem to have forgotten everything but how to fly. They live up in the air, they don’t have a home and whenever they are not in the air they get by at Dutch’s – restaurant, bar, hotel and airmail company headquarters all in one. Some survive the missions, some don’t. But not because they are bad pilots, but because they dare to go where nobody else has. “If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work,” to paraphrase Beryl Markham again. The ones who survive have to forget easily, usually washed away with a round of celebratory drinks, because that’s the world they live in. The soundtrack is missing in Only Angels Have Wings. It’s just source music and the sound of the airplanes. “Live for today” is what they believe in. They also believe in one another. There are not many words among them, they trust and respect one another and the only thing they need to know before making one their own is if “he is any good”. And all they need to know to distrust someone is if he bails out on another colleague to save his own neck. They are defined by their professionalism. They do the job nobody else would.

It’s a man’s own land, “a tribute to man”, Truffaut would call Hawks’ adventure films. A world we are familiar with in his movies. But in his world, women are always welcome. They are strong-willed and ready to stand up to the hard-boiled men they fall in love with.

Richard Barthelmess in “Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures


There is something else that unites these buddying flyers. A code of dressing. They all wear leather flight jackets. It’s bomber jackets (the A-1 or A-2 jackets) – the style that became popular under the name of bomber jacket even though its use was not restricted to bomber crews – or variations thereof (some are lapel-collared, zipped-up, waist-long but with no knitted arm, collar or waistband, and no pockets, others are straight-cut, thigh-long and button-fastened, with side pockets). Howard Hawks was very particular about every detail in his films, costumes included. He was also a pilot himself and a director not at his first film about aviation (Ceiling Zero, 1936, with James Cagney in the main role, was another story about airmail pilots battling bad weather). He sought to give his characters credibility, as tough guys and pilots, so he naturally turned to the flyer’s jacket, steeped in utility and heroism.

It’s Cary Grant and one other character who wear button-fastening bomber jackets. I initially took it for an A-1 jacket, but while doing research for this article, I came across this piece on BAMF Style, that goes into such great sartorial detail, and found out it is in fact a variant of the style, the 37J1, which retains much of the cut and structure of the A-1, but has raised pockets as the most obvious differentiation. Cary’s jacket also has a left breast logo and a drawing on the back, recalling to mind the official service attire. The first airmail pilots were usually war pilots looking for a job they were good at and about the only ones willing to take on the dangerous job of airmail pilot, film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt explain, in a time when the rules of aviation were just being learned. Cary’s leather jacket may suggest his character was a World War I pilot himself. “The rear of a flyer’s jacket was an ideal spot for recoding his tours of duty,” Josh Sims notes in his book Icons of Men’s Style.

Cary Grant and Thomas Mitchell in “Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures

“Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures

The characters in Only Angels Have Wings were based on a group of pilots Howard Hawks had briefly met in Mexico while scouting locations for Viva Villa!, 1934. ”Collectively and individually they were the finest pilots I’ve ever seen but they had been grounded because of accidental drinking, stunting, smuggling – each man’s existence almost a story in itself.” He wanted to use “the background of this group of men and their spirit” as starting point. But, as Todd McCarthy notes in his book Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, the main source of inspiration may have been a short story called Plane Number Four by screen writer and former magazine feature writer Anne Wigton.

The leader of the group Hawks had met in real life was Tex, and he was to be the main character in the film. “You could only guess at his history, because he didn’t talk much even when drinking – and that was most of the time. […] He ran the outfit the only way it could be run – by complete domination – what he said went and everybody knew he‘d do twice anything he asked to have done,” Hawks said about his leading man inspiration. In the film, he takes the name of Geoff Carter, and is played by Cary Grant, found here at his chilliest, toughest side. Carter is the most daredevil of them all. He is the boss of the freight company and the chief pilot. He was in love once, but he found out that women and flying don’t match, so he hasn’t put his trust in any other woman since.

“Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures

The Hawksian woman is just as much part of Hawks’ universe as his tough men are. “Just before I met him, Tex had married Bonnie – they were a great pair. She was blonde, pretty, full of life and a great sense of humour… Outwardly unlike Tex, she was strangely like him otherwise. She loved flying as much as he did, not just the riding around but the strange love for the air that men had. Bonnie had been married before to one of the other pilots. He had been killed and she had drifted and knocked around until meeting Tex.”

Bonnie Lee: “That’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen,” (when she first sees one of the planes taking off).

Geoff Carter: “Yeah, right, it’s reminded you of a big bird.”

Bonnie Lee: “No, it didn’t. It’s really a flying human being.”

She seems to get it. What Beryl Markham said.

Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in “Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures

Geoff Carter’s woman is played by Jean Arthur. According to the book Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood and the sources stated there, Hawks was not content with Jean Arthur. She was one of Columbia’s top female stars and featuring her was the deal if he wanted to retain control over the production. “She was simply too wholesome, irrepressibly upbeat, and unironical to fit comfortably into Hawks’ world. She was not adept at improvising with the quicksilver Grant, and when Hawks would try to direct her to act in a sexy, subtly immersing way that he liked, she simply refused saying “I can’t do that kind of stuff”.

I’m not quite sure I agree. Bonnie Lee immediately fits in. In the fictional town of Baranca (which was actually built, so incredibly realistically, in Los Angeles, at the Columbia Ranch), in the story, in the men’s world she finds there. Bonnie Lee is a travelling entertainer who gets more than what she was expecting when she stops in the South American trading port. She is blonde, pretty, spirited, charming, good-humoured and a team player from the very beginning. In one of the first sequences in the film, when Bonnie Lee takes a seat at the table with the two pilots she had just met and they take off their hats, she takes hers off as well, although the etiquette didn’t dictate it. But take it off she does, ready to hold her drinks.

Cary Grant and Rita Hayworth in “Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures

“Howard Hawks was one of the first directors to show women as self-confident in a male group, even sexually aggressive,” Elsa Martinelli, the leading female character in Hawks’ Hatari!, where men and women share spaces, professions, friendships, and safari clothes, said in an interview for Cinema Retro magazine. In her houndstooth wool skirt suit, Jean Arthur foreshadows the ultimate Hawksian woman, Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, whose costume would in turn be inspired by Hawks’ wife, “Slim”. Actually, Jean Arthur’s suit, with its straight cut and coupled with a timeless, buttoned-up white shirt looks much more modern and menslike utilitarian than Bacall’s peplum jacket suit.

Bacall would be a revelation in 1944, paying opposite Humphrey Bogart at her debut role, as she showed that she could crack wise with Bogie, measure up to his personality and be even “a little more insolent than he was”, in Hawks’ words. The sexual spark between Bogart and Bacall may be missing here, but by no means does Arthur lack allure and verbal wit, and she is certainly paired convincingly with the men. And if we have any doubt she is a trailblazer, we shouldn’t when we see her sporting wide-legged trousers and loose-fitting shirt a little further down the plot, just about when she eavesdrops on Carter when he has a visit from that one particular woman from his past. Twenty-year-old starlet Rita Hayworth is in the part of Judy MacPherson, now the wife of another pilot. Hayworth’s tremendous sexual appeal is already palpable and it makes me even more surprised about Hawks’ remark regarding his discontent with Jean Arthur’s performance. Surely, he wasn’t looking to duplicate the woman from Carter’s past. The one who would ultimately turn Carter again towards women would have to be different. Jean Arthur’s Bonnie Lee is different. She is not some star-struck lady in waiting, she is more likely willing to be part of the men’s activities, of their world. She is part of the action.

“Only Angels Have Wings”, 1939 | Columbia Pictures

editorial sources: Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, by Todd McCarthy; The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut; West with the Night, by Beryl Markham; Howard Hawks and His Aviation Movies feature with film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt, available on the Criterion Collection blu-Ray edition; Icons of Men’s Style, by Josh Sims;


The Ultimate Hawksian Woman: Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not

Howard Hawks’ Safari World: Hatari!

Boogie and Bacall in The Big Sleep

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Leave a comment

The Culture Trip: November Newsletter

“I want all that stuff to stay in Argentina, where my story began and where it will end.” Guillermo Vilas in the
documentary “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score” | My childhood wooden racket.


“I used to think that, in order to see and feel extraordinary
things, I had to leave; leave home and journey far away
to search for these emotions. But not this time.”

Pedro Mecinas Martínez

During the summer, there are not many things for a summer girl to be looking forward to when she thinks of autumn. Of course, that changes when the season arrives because any change of season should and does make you present. But one thing in particular kept my interest up all summer long: the thought of a certain date in November when the 25th Bond would be released. Not because I was sure it would be safe for me to be able to go to the cinema to see it, but because I wanted to believe that in some parts of the world, with all the precaution and sanitary measures in place and the pandemic under control, such as New Zealand or Australia, people would be able to live the cinema experience again. It was this sense of some sort of return to normalcy that I needed to cling to.

November has usually been the month when a new Bond movie would be released. That made sense. That felt comforting. That thought kept people and cinemas alight. That all came to an end, as we all know, when the producers decided to cancel the release of the film once again and everyone’s morale went haywire. The mechanics of that decision are far too faceted and complex to get into, although I think Peter Bradshaw made a very good point when he wrote that James Bond has no licence to kill the movie industry. Unfortunately, bad news never travels alone, and with Sean Connery’s passing away, the end of an era (more than that of James Bond, but of the film industry as we know it and seen constantly change over the last years) looms larger than ever before. Sean Connery was Bond, James Bond, but so much more. But as James Bond, he defined the role and set the standard with an act of class, a magnetism not to be equaled, a wit as dry as his martini, a lethal edge of courage. The film industry has lost that edge of courage.

It’s November. I can’t go back to the cinema, but as the clocks turn back and the weather turns cold, I turn back to my favourite genre, film noir, transforming “Noirvember” into one of my favourite months. Right now I am on the hunt for more obscure noirs and whatever I don’t already own in my library I try to track down and buy, not stream online. At least I owe that to cinema. I have also felt like re-watching Harry Potter these days and reviewed The Prisoner of Azkaban last night. I blame it on the misty days we’ve had in the mornings and evenings, transforming the backyard into an eerie place, and on my penchant for mystery, dark subjects, and, not in the least, fantasy stories that make sense for children and adults alike. What would we be without storytelling?

But you know what one of the best parts of re-watching Harry Potter is? The memories from watching these films at the cinema when they first came out. As Sandra Lipski, the founder of the Mallorca International Film Festival (the 9th edition of the festival was held between 23-29 October), was telling me in my conversation with filmmakers about the current situation cinemas are in (everyone seemed so much more optimistic a few months back), I remember who I was with, the cinema I went to, the time of year, the atmosphere, our reactions to what we had seen on the big screen. For almost two decades my husband and I have been investing in our home theater and in our film archive, we are both movie freaks and film is part of our daily lives, but the cinema experience can not be replicated. It’s unimaginable to know that, for now, going to the movies is something of the past.

The Classiq Journal newsletter goes out the first Sunday of each month. It’s a culture trip.


I read A Month in Siena* in one sitting. You get lost reading it. In art, in thoughts, in a sense of place. Following the publication of his Pulitzer-prize winner The Return, his book about his return to post-Gaddafi Libya, to try to find out what happened to his father, who had been kidnapped and taken to prison there twenty-two years before, writer Hisham Matar decided to spend a month in Siena following his life-long interest in and love for the Sienese art. The book is not just about art, it is about humanity, and people, it’s writing about art from a very personal perspective, it’s writing about art with humanity.

Veronica Lake’s image was shaped by the Golden Age Hollywood’s star-making system. She could totally transform herself through costume. And yet, unusual for a film noir heroine, she wore trousers in The Blue Dahlia (1946). She also wore trousers in the noir This Gun for Hire (1942). And in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), she impersonated a bum for part of the film. Although not a noir, this was a satire that played with the idea of star image, and that contrasting role I believe was in accordance with Veronica’s own beliefs. Her real personality was in direct opposition to the image created for her by the studios. The real Veronica Lake was different and that’s why I am thankful that the book Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, co-written with Donald Bain, and which had been out-of-print, rare and sought-after for many decades, was reissued this year by Dean Street Press (their motto is “uncovering and revitalizing good books”).

I borrowed The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History from my brother a long time ago, but didn’t get around to reading it until I watched David Attenborough’s documentary A Life on Our Planet (more about it a little later in the newsletter) a couple of weeks ago. I think everyone should read this book. Because only through education can people learn and change. The book does not end on a positive note. Just think of that, too.

Founded in 2011, Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan published 7 volumes until 2017. After a hiatus of three years, the magazine was relaunched in 2020 as MONKEY: New Writing from Japan and it publishes the best in contemporary Japanese fiction in English translation, as well as other works both old and new by writers, artists, and translators from Japan, England, Canada, and the U.S.

The New York Review of Books allows free access to its full archive of 20,000 articles until November 3rd, so there are three more days when you can catch up on Geoffrey O’Brien Freudian Noir, on how 1940s filmmakers changed movie storytelling, or Pico Iyer’s Kurosawa’s Japan Revisited, where he writes about Ikiru: “But somehow it still touches on a world that grows deeper within me every autumn, even as its themes and props encircle me.” Of course, the NYRB thousands of articles are not just about movies.

In issue 9 of Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, Patrick Keating writes about music and point of view in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

The interview
Wes Del Val interviews Lee Kaplan of Arcana Books, the indispensable L.A. bookshop. Grab a pen and your notebook because you are about to enter a rabbit hole and you’ll have many books and under the radar publishing houses, whose art, design and photography books are more than just beautiful covers, to write down. The interview is part of Wes Del Val’s One Great Reader weekly series of interviews for the Book/Shop. They are all good and wells of incredible recommendations.

A piano in the middle of nowhere inevitably calls to mind one of the most singular books I have read,
The Lost Pianos of Siberia. | The delay of the release of “No Time to Die” doesn’t stop us reminiscing about
the entire James Bond series with Matt Needle. Poster art design by Matt Needle.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939). It’s an electrifying, fast-paced, past-the-edge-of-yourself world, one of Howard Hawks’ fantasy worlds, a place for world-weary romanticism, borderline cynicism and crazy courage. Howard Hawks was an aviation enthusiast, a born storyteller and an “invisible director”, François Truffaut described him, because his “camera work is never apparent to the eye”. Seldom have I seen this abundance of life effervescence, verbal sparring and sense of fleeting existence better depicted on screen.

You Only Live Once (1937), because “each shot, each maneuver of the camera, each frame, each movement of an actor is a decision and is inimitable”, in François Truffaut’s words, and “You Only Live Once should be seen often, and Lang’s later films should be thought about in light of it“. Cry of the City, 1948, directed by Robert Siodmak – Victor Mature and Richard Conte are always a good idea in a noir. Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, the darkest, most bitterly disillusioned and sinister film noir of them all, which revealed a groundbreaking, raw sense of bleak postwar urban reality, riddled with anxieties and rotten morality that weaved through the American society. And everything I can get from here. As I was saying, I am going noir this month.

In Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score, the Argentinian journalist Eduardo Puppo, sets out to prove, with the help of the Romanian mathematician Marian Ciulpan, who re-made all the world men’s tennis rankings between 1973 and 1978, that Guillermo Vilas, one of the best tennis players ever, was wrongly denied the No.1 world raking in the 1970s. This documentary (Netflix) is remarkable: because of the remarkable work of a journalist who made Vilas’ fight his own without even telling Vilas only until years of having worked on it on his own; because it succeeds in completing the image of a remarkable tennis player. There is such humbleness in these two people and such dedication to their respective works and such friendship and such humanity. It’s rewarding and grounding. “I want all that stuff to stay in Argentina, where my story began and where it will end,” Vilas told Puppo when he gave him and trusted him with everything he had collected over the years for safe keeping, every arm-band, tennis shoe, racket, trophy and personal journal.

Sofia Coppola’s new film, On the Rocks, reunites the filmmaker with Bill Murray and that’s the reason why I jumped at watching it as soon as it was released on Apple TV (even if I am still not on the online streaming wagon – watching On the Rocks, Vilas and A Life on Our Planet on online platform as in a couple of weeks is a first for me). Although not among her best films (Lost in Translation remains one of my favourite films of the last 20 years), what I liked about this comedy is that it is nothing forced about it, it flows naturally, without a big drama or any big revelation, a slice of privileged New York City life… before 2020 hit. It may be the escapism you need right now.

David Attenborough starts his new documentary A Life on Our Planet (Netflix) by greeting us not from some far-away wild place or lush surroundings, but from the deserted and haunting remains of the territory around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, recalling the disaster as the result of human and technical error. At 94, David Attenborough has seen more of the natural world than any other man on earth. And what he has seen during his lifetime, a man’s lifetime, is the monumental scale of humanity’s impact on nature, how our planet’s health has steeply deteriorated. A man-made disaster. There are few people who can get anyone’s attention on this matter the way David Attenborough does. He simply makes you listen, pay attention and act. I think his films should be viewed in schools.


Sasha Frere-Jones’ Perfect Recordings. I came across this playlist thanks to Wes Del Val’s interviews once again, and I loved it because of the same reason he did: “Once I saw that it was filled with many musicians I didn’t care about I knew I would like it, and I was right.” It is this sort of compilation that I like most because it leads you to new paths you weren’t familiar with and didn’t know you’d like. Just like entering a good bookshop. So many of the books that I love, I have discovered this way, by spotting a new author that I knew nothing about on the shelves, or by taking the recommendation of a passionate bookshop keeper whose tastes I trusted.

“I just love social media. I don’t follow anybody, I don’t read anyone else’s stuff, I just do my own.” Oh, how I love that. For Monocle’s The Big Interview, Jane Fonda talks to Tomos Lewis about her decades-long activism and using her public image for social change. She was a human rights crusader when very few were and when being an activist wasn’t a “thing” or self-congratulatory. She hasn’t changed.


“I used to think that, in order to see and feel extraordinary things, I had to leave; leave home and journey far away to search for these emotions. Until now, across my many group cycling and bikepacking trips so far, it has been like this. But not this time,” writes Pedro Mecinas Martínez in The Pannier Journal, as he sets off on a five-day bikepacking ride on the trails of Sierras de Cazorles National Park, located between the provinces of Castilla la Mancha and Andalucía, “an incomparable setting of nature, culture and gastronomy”.


With every story she tells, Marte Marie Forsberg takes us on the journey of her life in the English countryside. It’s about following your passion and your heart. Her workshops are a new way of travelling and exploring the world, which makes so much sense right now, and her shop is a beautiful companion to her stories and visual storytelling.

On an end note

“Though book sales have been strong this year, local bookstores are struggling: more than one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic started. As they enter a crucial holiday season, many stores are facing a challenging mix of higher expenses, lower sales and enormous uncertainty,” says The New York Times. Please consider all the independent owners and small businesses that are the pillars and pride of local communities, all the indie bookshops that are our cultural companions, and place your Christmas orders with them.

“You Only Live Twice” poster art by Matt Needle

*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the books recommended here, I have linked to the respective publishing house or author. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | | Leave a comment

Life and Travel Now: Photographers and Travel Writers Share Their Thoughts

The Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland. Photograph by Richard Gaston


Autumn is usually the time when life slows down. The clocks are literally turned back, and time, instead of racing by, seems to turn on a new mechanism, marked by the changing leaves. But this change in rhythm and pattern was felt very early on this year, back in March. As the first flower buds flickered to life and turned their faces to the sun, lockdowns descended on the whole world.

Travel came to a halt. People halted, too, sheltered in place and reflected. Then we once again sought refuge in nature and discovered that we could find beauty in the blackest of times. We started to cherish familiar territory and learned that travel doesn’t have to be about the destination, or not even about the journey, but about a fresh perspective on things. Travel is always about a leap of faith. For now, we have to put our faith in the vastness of our imagination, in the solace and beauty of our close surroundings, in the joy of rediscovering our own countries and in the flighting power of watching a sunrise from the peak of our own mountains. It is now that we can set the pattern for the future.

I have asked photographers and travel writers to join me in the up-coming weeks and share with us their thoughts on life and travel during these exceptional times we are living. Today, my guests are a photographer and a travel writer who have a special bondage with Scotland.

The Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland. Photograph by Richard Gaston


Richard Gaston

What are the positives you have taken away from lockdown?

I’ve became more aware of my plastic consumption.
Became healthier: exercising regularly and eating cleaner (more fruit and vegetables and no meat).
Gotten to know my local area very well: parks, cafes and architecture specifically.
Taken on a new hobby – cycling.

What helped you escaped during that time?

I set myself weekly tasks and developed a structured routine. I became more productive and enjoyed simple things. In addition, my new cycling hobby helped my reach further distances outside of the city and reconnect with old friends (we got into the sport at the same time).

We have all more or less taken travel for granted. How do you think travel will change from now on?

I think people will look more locally for travel, which I have went into more detail on in my following answers.

What is the first place you have travelled to after sheltering in place? What did you find the most surprising about this experience?

I completed a local trail, The Cape Wrath, that I’ve been meaning to do for years. It’s a wild hiking route through the highlands of Scotland. 250 miles over 17 days venturing into the country’s wildest areas, remotest beaches, loneliest glens and the highest waterfalls. It leaves from Fort William and finishes in the north-westernmost point on the mainland, Cape Wrath.

It threw many challenges, but, to be honest, due to the wildness of the route, it really allowed me to forget the pandemic was happening until we got to a shop in a village.

Are people creatures of place? Why is travel essential?

Travel allows us to broaden our mindset and learn new methods. Travel doesn’t need to be 1000 miles over an ocean, it can be local. Depending on your country, there are wild areas that can be explored on your doorstep. This can offer an experience just as enriching.

But if there was a place you never wanted to leave, which one would that be?

Scotland. I feel I am rich here. By rich, I don’t mean financially, I mean in the natural world, the friends and family I have, the people I haven’t met yet, the skills I can develop here and the experiences it can bring.
Richard Gaston is a photographer living in Scotland. Richard’s photographs are relieved of any unnecessary detail. What remains is the emotion of the adventure, of the moment, of the element. They have the ability to block all the visual noise that surrounds us daily. Maybe it’s his subject matter of choice, landscape, that focuses your attention on the now and on reality flowing, or the majestic beauty of Scotland, where he often shoots, that commands you to stay still and just be, or his preference for the colder months which naturally invite to reflection, but there is also a man-made quality and the eye of an artist that truly makes them unique.

The Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland. Photograph by Richard Gaston


Francisca Mattéoli
Travel writer

What are the positives you have taken away from lockdown?

I think many people, like myself, are going to see the world from a different angle now. Many will also have re-discovered the pleasure of travelling in their imagination.

What helped you escaped during that time?

To know that the whole world is in the same boat, and also the sensations of the life before «all this», such as a quiet stroll, a good book, a scene that calms us. Personal cocoons of comforting waves that give us courage and hope.

We have all more or less taken travel for granted. How do you think travel will change from now on?

I think that we all know now that anything can happen no matter where we are and that the unknown is not necessarily far away. People will not stop travelling in the future because to see what is happening in the rest of the world is, I think, a human need but I think that now, we will look more attentively at everything around us.

What is the first place you have travelled to after sheltering in place? What did you find the most surprising about this experience?

I was looking for nature and space more than ever. I went to Spain and to Switzerland, to the mountains. Not very far away, as I usually do, because it was impossible, but I tried to find the same feeling of freedom in a world open to light and fresh air. I was surprised to notice that after all my travels around the world I could slow down and still enjoy simplicity and the sense of wonder really near me.

Are people creatures of place? Why is travel essential?

Well, I’ll say two things. First, I think most of us are attached to the place where we were born but we also need to escape one way or another from our daily lives. Humans have always been curious to know about other people’s lives. Travel is in our genes. We are a nomadic species. I also think we need the connection with others, and the more we connect, the more we feel at ease everywhere with everyone. For me, that is why travel is essential, and how we can live in a better harmony – using our curiosity to travel and seek out new information, new people, new places, new adventures and open ourselves to many new things.

But if there was a place you never wanted to leave, which one would that be?

Impossible to answer that. I always want to leave after a while. My mother is from Scotland, my father from Chile, I’ve lived in many different countries, I come from different backgrounds and cultures… I always thought my home was a portable thing. But maybe it will change someday, who knows?
Francisca Mattéoli is a travel writer living in Paris. She has published ten travel books, from Adventure: Hotel Stories, to Map Stories and Map Cities. Her writing style has that capacity to leave you wishing for more. More of that beautiful weaving of personal or family experiences with the history and tales of a place that sets her work apart. The conversations with her are equally fascinating. Because when you have someone like Francisca Mattéoli at the other side of the conversation, you kind of wish for the discussion to take any number of directions, with the certainty that the experience will motivate you to learn more, do what you do better and open your eyes, arms and heart to the world.

Francisca Mattéoli in the Scottish Highlands. Photograph courtesy of Francisca Mattéoli



Good Storytelling Needs Time: Interview with Photographer Susana Girón

Through the Lens of Joni Sternbach: SurfLand

One Day That Summer: Torres del Paine, Chile

Posted by classiq in Interviews, Journeys, Photography | | Leave a comment

Good Storytelling Needs Time: Interview with Photographer Susana Girón

Flamenco dancer María Moreno photographed by Susana Girón as part of the project “Yo bailo”

It is the photograph that people are moved to more than words. But it has to be a good photograph. And good storytelling needs time, Susana Girón tells me. And I can tell just by looking at her photographs. It is not about taking photos, it is about stories lived.

There is the intimate and poetic portrait of one of the last nomadic shepherds in Spain and Europe, the result of not just observing, but sharing an existence with them for a few weeks a year, throughout the entire duration of the transhumance, every year, for five years now. There are the surprisingly touching portraits of complete strangers, “People I never saw”, shot through the window of a train, but which somehow reflect a piercing emotion. There is the powerful portrait of an artist stripped to bare emotions during the transformative artistic act. But whether from deep close or further away, there is this inner life movement that Susana Girón’s photography always communicates… the feeling that she shares something big with her subject and the space around… the feeling of existence.

The ability to see that is not in the eye, but in the heart. The skill of being able to both see her subject as individual and allow the viewer to connect with someone of a different culture and background on a much deeper level. The care and consideration and patience that lead to each image to feel honest. Conveying truth without melodrama, empathy without pity, hope without spectacular. Reflecting not contriving reality. Taking time, not made in a state of flight. Making the world familiar and seducing the viewer in, slowly, subtly, yet assuredly and optimistically. That’s the photography of Susana Girón. Because she has faith in the humanizing power of photography. It is an invitation to reconnect with the world and with each other.


”People I never saw”, photograph by Susana Girón


What does it take to go there, to want to tell a story through your photographs?

To take photographs is a way of life, a way to relate with people. To look for stories and tell these stories in photographs, it is an inner necessity, a chance to be a better person, because in every new story I am learning, I have a meeting with new people in very different circumstances to me and this is a continuous discovery for me. The camera is a tool to enter the stories or people that interest me, a kind of license. The most powerful fact in photography for me is this meeting, the process of developing a story and the challenge of translating the emotions you have into photographs that evoke these emotions and feelings. So, when I see or discover a story that has all the elements that I am interested in, a mixture of passion, excitation and determination comes to me and moves me to work and photograph. I feel totally “alive” when I am immersed in a creative process of making a photographic story.

On the other hand, since I was a child I have loved storytelling, telling stories… and, for me, photography is the best medium to do so. For me, it is a daily challenge to invite all the people that look at my photographs or stories to recognise themselves in the same stories despite the fact that they don´t belong to these stories or environments. From the distance of different cultures, ages or backgrounds, there is a kind of universal feeling that connects all people, and I am really interested in looking for these feelings.

I believe that your photography, which chronicles such different places and people, has this ability to make the viewer, too, want to be a better human; it opens him up to the world, to being more understanding, more alert, more receptive to the world around, near and far.

Again, the most appreciated and valuable gift from photography is the continuous human learning which means the chance to be a better human. This is because I take photographs.

”90 varas”, photograph by Susana Girón


”A good photo has to move our emotions as well as ask
us questions, it invites to a second reading.”


When do you know you have taken a good photograph? And what makes a good photo?

Normally, I realise it because I feel something, a kind of magical connection with the person portrayed or with the scenery, or both. The energy flow, it is difficult to explain, because when I feel this kind of energy I photograph from instinct and I am in a kind of trance and I forget what is happening around me, I am isolated from the world in these moments. I try to work and photograph from instinct or from the unconscious. I see something a little before it happens, a kind of premonition. And then, sometimes it happens, and all the elements that you were looking for are suddenly in order in front of you, sometimes it is even better because something unexpected appears and makes the photograph grow. And then you press the obturator and you got it! The good photograph is the one that shows in the best way the idea that was previously in your head. The light, the composition and the emotions are there, together and well-ordered, in a sort of miracle.

For me, the most important thing that a good photo has is EMOTION. A good photo has to move our emotions as well as ask us questions, it doesn’t allow us to discover the entire scene in one second, it invites to a second reading, to look at the photo again and again searching for that answer. Emotion is the basics, to feel something when you see that photo.

Emotion is one of the things that define your photography. Do you also think that people are moved to act on issues when they see your photography?

I would like to think so, but, to be honest, I think this is really difficult. For me, if my work gets an emotion, a reflexion, an inspiration, a thought…. anything that makes them react… then my goal is completed. I would like to think that my work could be inspiring to people, because most of my work, the stories, are imbued with a positive point of view and they invite us to be part of the story, in some way they could be the main characters of the story as well. Then empathy makes the rest.

The horses that the Alarcon family uses during the migration days, on an early morning next to the base camp of the shepherds. Horses are a valuable tool during the transhumance, helping the herders in the most difficult areas and abrupt terrain in the long journey days, which can reach 25 km per day.


”Good things need time. Good storytelling needs time.
I don’t know any other way to tell a story well.”

“90 varas” is one of your stories that I react in a very emotional way to. It’s not just photojournalism, you coming in and capturing what’s happening, it’s about telling a story in a very transformative and elegiac way, about evoking a certain way of living and transporting the viewer there. Can you tell me a little more about this project?

I am really happy in the way you describe your feelings about “90 varas”, because this is exactly what I was looking for when I was developing this project. I was very interested in the story of the transhumant, the last nomad shepherds in Spain, but I didn´t want to tell this story is a descriptive way. I was looking for a more evocative photographic language, inviting the viewers to the self-discovering of emotions and sensations. For that reason, I tried to avoid the descriptive images, I was not looking for an anthropological study of the shepherds. For me, the story was an invitation to travel with the Alarcon family and try to capture their life through the photographs while living similar experiences to the family during their migrations: Feel the cool, the fatigue, the insecurity of an uncertain future… all these feelings that I was feeling as well.

I started this project in 2015, and I am still photographing this story. I wanted to tell the story of the transhumance in Spain, visiting several places and families that still work in these ancient traditions. But when I discovered the Alarcon family, I felt that their story was the story to tell. Moreover, they come from a place (Fatima, Castril, Granada) very close to the village where all my family comes from. My village, Huéscar (Granada), is only 12 kilometres from the place where they live, and for me that was an extra value in telling this story, of people who are so close to me.

I have been sharing the migrations with this family since 2015, twice a year. During this time, which takes 200 km by foot and almost 10 days living in the forest and mountains, I share with the family all the duties. I live exactly in the same way they do. I am one more person in the family. This is very important, because they appreciate my effort and give me the chance to be seen as an ordinary person rather than a photojournalist, so life simply happens in front of me and somehow I am part of that reality with a photographic camera in my hands. Moreover, the most important thing is that I have a real appreciation for these people and we have a real friendship.

Maria Franco, wife of Antonio Alarcon, sleeps every night inside the car they carry like support during the migration. The low temperatures of the night in winter, which frequently fall below the -5º, force María to wrap herself tightly with several blankets to defend herself from the intense cold. Her sons and husband prefer to sleep in the tents that they ride with every day.

I think there is a lot to learn for all of us from this story and this way of living. I often feel, and in these times of crisis more than ever before, that people like the Alarcon family are the ones who have real power, the way they live without distractions, how they know how to slow life down, to focus on just one important thing, and allow you to be part of their family because they know that only the truly worthy can tell their story. How big a place does storytelling still have in this fast world we are living?

The world goes too fast. Thousands of images around us every moment. I don´t know how big that place is for storytelling, but what I know is that I need time to tell my stories. Perhaps for many people it is too slow and they don´t enjoy the discovery of every picture when you look at it with attention. It takes time and effort, but the feedback, the kind of feeling that comes back to you is more powerful as well. I need to belong to the places and the people who live in my stories, understand them, share the life with them… I don´t know any other way to tell a story well. Good things need time. Good storytelling needs time.


”Approach photography in an honest way,
with coherency and especially TRUTH.”


Your photography ranges from documentary to editorial. Where do you see the power of photography? As document or art?

I really don´t like labels. Why do we need to put labels on our work all the time? What I love to do is to tell stories that are important to me, that move me and that perhaps move others. That’s it. I feel comfortable and I like to mix the languages, even more so, I like to approach each new project in a different way. What I do is photography. Yes, this is a document, but, depending on the story, or on the project, I am most interested in looking for a less descriptive photographic language and for a more sensitive language. It is like an open image, where different interpretations are right, but you have to interact with the image, and take your time to feel the story. I normally don´t look for very evident images, where you can see all the answers about what is happening at first look. Both of them are documentary styles, and document and perhaps art. The power is to approach photography in an honest way, with coherency and especially TRUTH: in the way that you see and you feel and to be able to translate that in the way that you want to tell this story…. And if you find the way and it has honesty… then the power comes. It’s difficult to explain.

The Syrian artist Iman Hasbani is surrounded by fog in the mountains of Aley. The town host the Art residence Aley, a space where Syrian refugee artists fleeing from the Syrian war find a safe place for a month.

Can you tell me a little more about your recent book, Yo bailo?

This is a very special project, an experimental photobook that I have co-authorshipped with María Moreno, one of the best flamenco dancers in the world. The project started by chance, without any idea about what was coming. At the beginning of 2018, María was looking for a photographer to document her creative work while she was working on her new show for an important flamenco festival. There are a lot of photographers specialised in flamenco, but she was looking for someone with a fresh view, an outsider, who was not impregnated with these stereotypes the way flamenco photographers normally are. Her manager knows my work and that I had never taken a single photograph linked to flamenco music or dance, and they made a proposal to me. I was excited about this because I have always wanted to document the creative process of an artist. At first, the pictures were to be used on social nets or as a making-of, but after a year of work, of taking pictures in the intimacy of María (while she was training and dancing alone, during big shows, resting at home or travelling during her shows), we discovered that there was a powerful story behind.

Then we thought about telling the story of the hidden side of a creative process, what the public doesn’t normally see. Behind the big curtain of a big theatre, there are big efforts and, moreover… emotions: fear, passion, determination, doubt. The images were there, but the essence of this project was to tell this story based on the images and adding María’s own voice. Through brief and intense texts, she put the emotional words to what is really inside the person in every photographic moment. The power is binomial: the dialogue between text and image, flamenco and photography. The result is a book, where an artist, in first person, tells and shows the intimacy of her creative process, humanizing the view of an artist by using the power of photography and text.


”Writing is a very important part of my creative process.”


It is a singular and intimate collaboration, a communion might be the better word, between artist and photographer, especially that we have the images narrated by the artist herself. When you are working on other projects, do you ever feel the need to add words to your photographs?

Writing is always an important part of my personal projects. When I start a project, I get a new notebook where I am writing all the ideas and emotions that the story inspires me. Normally, these notes and texts are private, just for me, but at the same time, they are a very important part of my creative process, because when I try to write, more feelings come to me and writing inspires me with more ideas. Normally, I write a list of emotions that are related to the story and then take the challenge to translate that list of written emotions into images. Every project has its own notebook full of reflections and things that come to me while I am immersed in that project. It is very inspiring, but even later, when the time passes, it is amazing to discover and be able to come back to what was there when I was absorbed in the story. It is important to write because everything you don´t write is forgotten. In the book YO BAILO (I DANCE), the text belongs to another artist, but the very impressive thing is that every creator or artist can be recognised in these texts.

María Moreno exhausted looking at herself in the mirror of her dressing room after finishing her performance “De la Concepcion” at Alhambra Theatre in Granada city. Spanish Flamenco dancer María Moreno (33), known as one of the best flamenco dancer of the new generation of this art, was awarded in 2018 the prize for Best Emerging Artist during the Flamenco Biennal in Sevilla, the most important Flamenco event in the world.


Website: | Instagram: @susana_giron_photo
The book “Yo bailo” is available here.




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Le Paris de Claude Sautet: Romy, Michel, Yves et les autres…

I have always wanted a book with Romy Schneider on the cover. After all, we carry not one, but two Romy portraits exclusively in our Classiq Journal Editions. Not a book about her life (there are a few German publications on the subject), which would certainly veer away from her prolific career of talented actor and towards her tragic personal life, but one which honours her work, her films, the filmmakers and actors she worked with. Finally, that book has arrived (it came out this September). It’s a book about the cinema of Claude Sautet, Le Paris de Claude Sautet: Romy, Michel, Yves et les autres…*, written by Hélène Rochette, and on the cover there is a shot of Romy from Max et les Ferrailleurs, the film Sautet considered his best.

Max et les Ferrailleurs is a bleak, dark detective story that taps into noir while drawing two fine character studies: Michel Piccoli’s Max, a former judge converted into a cop, and Romy Schneider’s Lily, a prostitute linked to a gang of hard-luck, two-time crooks whom he wants to catch in order to restore his recently tarnished reputation in the department. Sautet inverts in fact the moral dilemma of the crime film and makes the criminals more sympathetic than the lawman. Nothing can disturb Max’s icy exterior, nothing distracts his attention, not even Lily. She is no ordinary prostitute either. She is the brain behind the gang of small-time criminals and it is her ambition that will get them all into trouble.

Romy is wearing Yves Saint Laurent in Max et les Ferrailleurs and in this particular shot depicted on the cover of the book she is wearing the black patent trench coat – the revival of the vinyl trench five years after Catherine Deneuve wore hers for another prostitute role, that of Severine in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour. Yves Saint Laurent had an “immediate and astounding sense of costume”, in the words of Roland Petit, and he chose a very sexy, character-appropriate wardrobe for Romy in this film – violet or red low-cut dresses, form-fitting black dress with plunging neckline, ribbon tied around the neck – but it is that trench in particular that stands apart, both shielding her away and marking her off.

The fact that the book is in French has both a positive and a negative side. It is written with the cinema knowledge and passion the French are capable of (it is much less often the case with American books about film), which always takes your own knowledge and passion for cinema one level up, but if it were to be translated to English it would certainly benefit of a much wider appreciation, as it deserves.

Organized in six chapters that analyse not each film in particular, and this is what I loved so much about it, but the elements that are defining for Sautet’s cinema (from that special portrayal of Paris, the image of the eternal capital, with its urban vitality depicted not through geographic landmarks but subtly, by slipping into the dark little streets and the boisterous yet intimate atmosphere of its cafes, bistros and bars, to the use of the car as modern instruments of destiny, to the free and audacious Parisienne, especially the characters of Romy Schneider, to the influence that the American culture had on the most Parisian of cineasts – westerns, the films of Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, John Ford, jazz music, as “he was capable of conducting certain cinematographic sequences like a jazz solo”, were a great inspiration for the French filmmaker), the book truly seizes the essence and uniqueness of Claude Sautet’s universe. “Sautet invented his own reality, and that’s why his films endure,” film analyst Jacques Fieschi is cited. And the marvelous thing about that reality is that, “in contrast with François Truffaut, who believed that cinema surpassed and amplified life, to the point of wanting to perpetuate the artistic excitement of the shoots,” notes Hélène Rochette, Claude Sautet’s films “cherished all life’s simple pleasures”.

It is the little details the book focuses on, in the true spirit of Sautet himself, who “always liked to scrutinize these little things, these constant trials and errors that anchor an individual in his singularity”. He was sincerely interested in life as it was, in its every moment, in the smallest gesture, in the simplest joy, to be lived in the moment, one of the reasons he liked open endings to his films. “Sautet never intellectualized his approach to filmmaking, that’s why he is considered a craftsman, a good maker,” Olivier Péray, assistant director on Mado, concurred. Claude Sautet reminds me of another great favourite of mine, John Cassavetes, who loved life just as it was and made his films about it, films that are raw, unfiltered, unpredictable, complex, overwhelming, just like real life is – “In Faces I wanted to show the inability of people to communicate; what small things do to people, how people can’t handle certain things that they hear and read in newspapers, see in films; and how, when they are not prepared to think with their own minds and to feel, how all this can become tragic circumstances,” the American filmmaker would confess. The emotions, the reflections on human behavior, the complexity of sentiments, we encounter them in Sautet’s work and we encounter them in Cassavetes’. And Cassavetes is rightfully mentioned in the book, too.

The interviews included in Le Paris de Claude Sautet, all of them recently conducted, in the spring of 2019, with Jean-Claude Carrière, Brigitte Fossey, Myriam Boyer, Arlette Bonnard, Sandrine Bonnairde, further add a new, intimate dimension to Sautet’s cinema and characters: “Claude Sautet did not just capture the authenticity and the truth in a shot, he also achieved this extraordinary balance that does not often exist in cinema, this rare musicality, and you sense that even today, when you hear a scene by Sautet, even on the radio, there is this rhythm in the dialogues which is always right,” Brigitte Fossey confesses.

And, finally, Romy. Romy, who became the impersonation of “the perfect French seduction”, Romy whose “photogenic power and beauty represented at least for a decade the image of femininity on the big screen”, Romy who taught Sautet that “women were courageous, vivacious”, because before he met her, “he didn’t know how to direct actresses and female characters didn’t interest him so much, except as objects,” Graziella Sautet, his wife, recalled. Incandescent, implacable, imperious, ferociously humorous, fiercely independent, Romy, the actor who was the new icon of freedom and modernity.

A while ago I wrote about Romy’s character in César et Rosalie, how I believed that Rosalie came very close to Romy’s own personality. The book draws an incredibly conclusive portrait of Rosalie, Sautet’s heroine who “is never afraid to claim her tastes, her desires and her insatiable quest for freedom”. She is the image of the determined, confident woman driven by her inalterable will to live, because the woman alone guides her destiny and her male alter egos must resolve to accommodate themselves to her decisions. Romy’s presence on screen was unequalled and she came alive in Claude Sautet’s films.
*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the book, I have linked to the publishing house (and to their credit, Parigramme has an incredible selection of book, some of which in English). However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.



Timeless Yves Saint Laurent: Romy Schneider in “César et Rosalie”

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