Life and Travel Now, with Photographer David C. Phillips

The Grand Canal in Venice in the fog | Photo by David C. Phillips
Photographic print available in the shop


The cold months of the year usually invite to reflection. As soon as the clocks are literally turned back, 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 time to travel with intention. It is now that we can set the pattern for the future.

I have asked photographers and travel writers to join me and tell their stories during these exceptional times we are living. My guest today is photographer David C. Phillips It is a great pleasure to carry some of David’s photography in the shop starting with today. These photographs capture a wanderlust in a quiet sort of way. Each one is timeless in itself. Each filled with the emotion of the adventure and of the moment. Travel should be very personal, it should never be about sightseeing, but about living in the place we are visiting, however short or long that time might be. But I will let David’s beautiful photography speak for itself, and here David is sharing his thoughts on life and travel at the moment.

Above the rooftops at sunrise in Venice | Photo by David C. Phillips
Photographic print available in the shop


What are the positives you have taken away from lockdown?

I am almost embarrassed to say that, for us, lockdown has meant a tremendous increase in sales of our fine art photographs. Not what we expected at all. But it makes sense. People are stuck at home looking at their walls and naturally they think of what they could put on them to brighten them up. Since our photography is aimed at lifting the spirits, it’s not surprising we’ve seen a very considerable increase in sales.

On the travel side of it, we mostly haven’t. And we have missed that. But recently I took the plunge and flew to London, spent two weeks self-quarantined and then moved on to Paris to settle. It’s gone really well and life in Paris is getting better. I am taking a lot of photographs.

What helped you escaped during that time?

I think we were too busy to pay much attention to the restrictions. Honestly, we’ve been busier than ever. I didn’t feel any need to escape.

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

Definitely more thought and planning will go into every trip. And I think we will value the travel we do much more than we have done. As you say, it has rather been taken for granted.

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

The first trip was accompanying my wife, Georgianna Lane, on several expeditions from our home in Seattle to some flower growers in southern Washington State and Oregon in order to help her with the photography for an upcoming book. It had to be done in order to meet the publishing deadline. What was most surprising was the enthusiastic help we received from everyone we contacted and met. They took precautions, as did we. But overall the experience was very easy and encouraging and resulted in really great photos for Georgianna’s book.

Are people creatures of place? Why is travel essential?

Well, I can talk from my own viewpoint. I love to discover new places and to dig under the surface, meet the people and photograph the place and the people so as to reveal their character. I am happy when I am traveling about half the time. But then I am ready to go home and consolidate edit, publish and then go out and start again. To me, there’s a world to discover and I’m not talking about resorts and fancy hotels. I mean real people and real places. So I don’t really know about everyone else. There does seem to be a general curiosity about the world. I don’t really know about holiday travel. For me, it’s always work and I prefer to go places with a specific intention in mind. I haven’t taken a vacation for as long as I can remember. But my work is very enjoyable.

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

It’s funny you ask that. The only place I never want to leave is England. But I’m not there any more! In my mind it is the closest thing to home. But I’m not seriously attached to anywhere. I usually find that if I have a purpose to be somewhere, I will live there happily and put up with any adverse conditions.

Three places I really want to go back to are Venice, Bhutan and Cusco and the Sacred Valley in Peru. But there are many others I want to go to. Too many to count.

Instagram: @photosbydcp



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Mirrors of a Character: Rita Hayworth in “The Lady from Shanghai”

Rita Hayworth in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures

Elsa Bannister is the enduring attraction of bad. We know we could all succumb to it at one point or another. As she explains, “One who follows one’s original nature keeps one’s original nature… in the end.” Elsa has no conscience anymore, but she is not necessarily unhuman by nature, but the result of what others have made her (she was psychologically abused by her husband). Her duplicity and actions are not driven by a lust for power and money, like in the case of so many femmes fatales, but out of a need to square things out, even if that means becoming evil.

Rita Hayworth was no longer the extroverted starlet, the one who appeared in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, where her tremendous sex appeal was already palpable, nor was she the radiant and vivacious star with red locks in Gilda, where she was part femme fatale, part pin-up girl. Her cropped, dyed champaign blonde hair in The Lady from Shanghai, a change of look that was Orson Welles’ idea and to Rita’s own liking, may have caused controversy and shock (there was a theory that got around that this was some kind of poor vengeance of Welles’ – he and Rita had been separated for a couple of years when they got together to film Lady from Shanghai), but it was a brilliant move that helped shape the image of one of the most underrated and essential femmes fatales in film history. Hayworth defied expectations with a quiet, precise, icy performance. She is pure noir. “Rita’s awfully good in it, don’t you think? And at the time, people didn’t even notice – she was too famous as a cover girl. Oh, the French loved her. But, then, the French do not automatically assume that if a girl is beautiful it follows that she’s a lousy actress,” Welles would tell Peter Bogdanovich in their interviews.

The fact was that Orson didn’t even want Rita in the picture. The role had been written for another actress, Barbara Laage. Rita was the studio’s idea, because they wanted to make an expensive Hayworth A picture, completely opposite Orson’s wishes. But Orson took this as a chance to prove everyone that Rita was more than a star, that she was a real actress, and he was eventually very proud of Hayworth’s performance. He didn’t want to present Rita as just a beauty, the image the studio had always wanted to sell, but as a destructive woman, what her character was. “She couldn’t come on as the well-established pinup; she needed a whole new look. So we made her platinum blonde with very short hair. You can imagine how delighted Harry Cohn was when he found out about that!”, Orson Welles would recall. Cohn was the studio boss.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures

The Lady from Shanghai is both beautiful and artificial, true to the idea that form dominates over content in film noir. Every shot is calculated for maximum effect. Orson Welles’ stylistic radicalism and innovative visual qualities are what make the film such a fascinating and impenetrable noir. From the very beginning, with that shot from Central Park, when Welles’ Michael O’Hara meets Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) for the first time, wearing a sweetheart-neckline, caped-sleeved white dress with black polka dots, in a carriage, we are introduced to a dreamlike world. It is a scene that looks very different from the rest of the film and Orson would later confess that it was one of his worst moments from all his films. “When I think of it, my flesh crawls. The whole sequence has no flavor… Even Rita doesn’t look like she does in the rest of the picture.” Michael O’Hara refers to her as “princess”.

But Elsa Bannister also talks about her time in Macao and Shanghai, which is the first sign to suggest that “she is more hard-bitten than she appears”, Steven Sanders remarks in the book Film Noir: The Directors. And one can not deny that both this sequence and Rita’s look work to enhance the strangeness of The Lady from Shanghai, and that ambiguous, detached from reality feeling that follows the viewer throughout the film. Because even if Orson believed that this strangeness was destroyed because of the flawed musical score the studio used against his indications, transforming the movie into another whodunit, when we arrive at the end, it is still not clear what to make of this whole game of betrayal, murder and erotic infatuation. The film does not make it easy for the viewer to follow the narrative and is visually so rich and unconventional that you are reminded that this is why film noir, the purest kind of film noir that is, where The Lady from Shanghai belongs, is a genre that belongs to cinema alone.

Rita Hayworth in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures

Michael O’Hara is a sail man who gets caught in a deadly intrigue with the mysterious Elsa Bannister – “O’Hara was was one of those poor sods who watches sunrises and quotes poetry,” Orson told Bogdanovich. She is the wife of the famous criminal defense lawyer Arthur Bannister and offers O’Hara a job on her husband’s yacht. After he initially refuses both her and her husband, Michael agrees to working for them on a boat trip throughout the Caribbean.

At first, Michael is a figure of authority, in control over the others. Until he steps foot on the boat. From then on, not only does he become gradually lost in a world of lies and deception, but the viewer, too, feels to be stepping into a nightmarish reality, and, even more unsettling, into O’Hara’s mind. This character identity loss is visually shown with incredibly precise skill. Elsa is always photographed in a luminous light, accentuating O’Hara’s dreamlike vision of her, as cinematographer Darius Khondji explains in an interview with Vincent Paul-Boncour, all the more so because everything else around is shadowy, even a day of swimming at sea, whereas Michael is always shot in an obscure, fading light, a sign of his downfall.

One of the defining sequences that show this is when O’Hara is approached by the devious character of Grisby, Arthur Bannister’s partner, when he is watching Rita swimming and sun-bathing in a one-piece bathing suit. He senses the evil undertones of everything around him, but O’Hara is incapable of hiding his bewilderment to Elsa’s beauty. Elsa represents seduction and female power. Right now he does not see, nor care, that she is only wearing a mask. The more he becomes trapped in his maddening love for Elsa, the more lost he becomes. “And from that moment on I did not use my head very much, except to be thinking of her.” When Grisby offers O’Hara $5,000 to confess to murdering him so that Grisby can disappear and cash in on an insurance policy, Michael is downright naïve, falling deeper in his abnormal behaviour, not realising the flaws of the plan, only thinking that he can take Elsa away with that money.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures

Rita’s costumes were created by Jean Louis, the designer who had also dressed her for Gilda. They worked together on nine movies. But as revealing her gowns for Gilda were, just as constricting her clothes in The Lady from Shanghai are. All her outfits are more or less closed up, except for a couple of sequences on the boat, when she appears in a swimming suit and shorts. In order to pass the Production Code regulations, they had to add an asymmetric strap to an initially strapless swimming suit. But all the other looks had nothing to do with the Code, including the fact that, when she is on the boat, she constantly throws a bathrobe or a military pea-coat over her swimming suit or shorts.

When Michael follows her as she runs through the labyrinth streets of Acapulco, in another surreal sequence, she again appears in white, but yet again her bare shoulders dress is covered by a transparent cape. From here on, her costumes become even more buttoned-up. In that regard, it is interesting to note that the studio made everything in its power to shoot as many publicity stills as possible of Rita in seducing gowns that never appeared in the film (such as the laced black dress in the mirrors serene), much to the disapproval of Orson Welles – the image of the star was more important to them than the film or Rita’s acting abilities.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures


“If I’d known where it would end, I’d never let anything start.
If I’d been in my right mind, that is. But once I’d seen her,
I was not in my right mind for quite some time.”


Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures

On the night of the murders, Elsa wears a black dress with a high-neck bodice, short dolman sleeves, cinched waist and ankle-length pleated skirt adorned with metal discs from the knee down (an element of surprise when you see the full dress). I believe this is Rita’s look and face, disquieting and ominous, that encapsulate her true self best for the very first time (she and Grisby have in fact have framed up both O’Hara and Arthur). Then we see her in the courtroom, elegance impersonated, in what appears to be a grey suit, with the net veil of her hat covering her face. Next she wears a white brocade jacket when she goes to see Michael in jail. She sits with Arthur on the bench in the hallway waiting to go in and he hesitantly puts his hand on the collar of the jacket, then immediately withdraws it under Elsa’s cold look. Her jacket is her armour.

In the final sequence, in the hall of mirrors, she is again wearing black, a sober skirt suit and net veil hat, when she reveals that she is no more calculating and devious, but bordering madness. It is when we see Elsa’s face among the heavily painted actors in the Chinese theater that its deadpan quality is mirrored to unsettling proportions. The fact that the height of her performance coincides with that brilliant, staggering cinematic moment, the mirrors shot (one that Orson himself was the proudest of, because he had wanted and succeeded in doing something that had never been done before in film), is beautiful and one of the greatest legacies of cinema.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in “The Lady from Shanghai”, 1947 | Columbia Pictures


Editorial sources: Orson Welles: Interviews, by Peter Bogdanovich; Film Noir: The Directors, edited by James Ursini and Alain Silver; Miroirs d’un Film: La Dame de Shanghai (Frank Lafond essay and interview with Darius Khonji, by Vincent Paul-Boncour), released by Carlotta Films



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Whenever the Wind Shifts, Chim Chim Cher-ee

”November” photographic print available in the shop

Every once in a while there is a soundtrack song that stays with me long after I’ve watched the film. There are many good film songs, but not all of them have this staying power. I think it has much to do with the time and mood of when you are watching the film. It doesn’t even have to be an original song composed for the movie (I am thinking about the Just Like Honey, by The Jesus and Mary Chain from Lost in Translation), or it may have everything to do with the creation of a very specific and unique music for a film, like Ennio Morricone’s distinctive whistle theme of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, one of the most instantly recognizable elements in the history of cinema. Or it can be Chim Chim Cher-ee, sung by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins (1964).

My son likes musicals, so one evening last week we watched Mary Poppins. It was the right call even for my sworn-in “Noirvember” evenings, and we all loved it. I loved the feeling that it gave you that Mary Poppins has a secret life, that she’s someone different than her prim appearance. And children love something and someone different, don’t they? They are drawn to her because she is real yet capable of all those magical things, maybe even hinting at something dark underneath. I keep coming back to the words of Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller: “Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life.” When all is cheesy and cheeky all the time, how can you know the meaning of magic? That’s why I am so keen on classic fairy tales for children, where they can see both mystery and truth, good and bad, on exposing them to a world of fantasy through books and films. And I also believe they have to discover these worlds when they are young enough to still have that sense of wonder intact.

As for the song Chim Chim Cher-ee (just listen to it), there is a mystery to those lyrics and sounds evoking a much darker and introspective lore than what first meets the ear and watching the film this time of year infuses the film with an even much more eerie feeling. I have been playing the song to my son several times a day since we watched the film and we both sit in silence as we listen, each keeping one’s thoughts to oneself, each trying to conspiringly hide the twinkle in our eyes. I swear I won’t be surprised if on one of our daily forest walks we see Mary Poppins stepping down from the sky when we sense a shift of wind. Just as I wouldn’t be surprised if I stumbled upon Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. And come December, I am sure we will find new meaning to Chim Chim Cher-ee.

Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins”, 1964 | Walt Disney



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Deceit Is in the Details: Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity”, 1944 | Paramount Pictures

“The living room was still stuffy from last night’s cigars. The windows were closed and the sunshine coming in through the Venetian blinds showed up a dust in the air.”

The only time when Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff is shown in broad daylight in Double Indemnity is when the flashback begins, right before he meets Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson. From then on, daylight only makes itself present through streaks of sunshine that come into interiors through the blinds of the windows which are more likely to suggest his being trapped in his own destiny rather than reveal the time of day. There is no escape for him. It’s a feeling that follows him around at all times, a sense of darkness that takes hold of him, even if he is trying to keep it at bay with his cynicism and black humour. His apartment is rendered cold and strange, the Dietrichson mansion is menacing, stifling and shadowy, the office usually appears deserted, just a place where one can make a buck and take a shot at living, the phone booths and other urban spaces are dark, like unmendable gaps in the urban grid.

In a genre that presented a world somewhere between pulp fiction and existentialism where life had low values and an even lower running time, a world where love is hardly ever spoken or felt, being replaced by obsession and fatal desires, a world of danger, vice, loneliness and fatalism, a world that meets the death of the American dream, Double Indemnity may be the darkest, most bitterly disillusioned and sinister film noir of them all. “Since Double Indemnity, the two most important words in motion pictures are ‘Billy’ and ‘Wilder’”, Alfred Hitchcock would say.

Double Indemnity revealed a groundbreaking, raw sense of bleak postwar urban reality, riddled with anxieties and rotten morality that weaved through the American society. “We had to be very realistic…,” Wilder confessed. “You had to believe the situation and the characters… Double Indemnity was based on the principles of M… I tried for a very realistic picture… that looked like a newsreel. You never realized it was staged. But like a newsreel, you look to grab the moment of truth, and exploit it.”

Our anti-hero is cynical, tough and filled with greed. All his flaws surface when he is led astray by a desperate and dangerous dame who is plotting to murder and cash in the insurance after her husband’s death. He comes late to his senses, but only because betrayal is so sudden and striking. Phyllis has no sense of morality. She is rotten to the core.

When she first enters the scene, there is nothing much that she wears besides her bathrobe. But that little else, rings of gold and an anklet, is more than enough to paint us a clear picture. From the very beginning, accessories speak more about the character of Phyllis Dietrichson than her costumes. Because the clothes are smartly downplayed so that we keep guessing about the character. This time, it is not the costumes that trigger the exaggeration of femininity and artificiality, one of the defining elements of the femme fatale, but the finishing touches of her look. The oversized stone ring hints at the idea that she is onto a bigger life for herself. The anklet she wears is used to imply the male desire over and over again, emphasized by Neff’s constant, obsessive recollection of the anklet in his flashbacks, as a way to pass the Production Code’s censorship regulations: “I kept thinking about Mrs Dietrichson and the way that anklet of hers cut into her leg.”

For their secret rendezvous at the supermarket, she is wearing everyday outfits, plain and masculine, be it a tweed vest, white shirt and straight-cut black skirt or a white blouse and tailored trousers with a high, belted waist, as if desperately trying to fit in the middle-class neighbourhood life. But everything else about her, from her platinum blonde hair and perfectly rolled fringe, to using bold lipstick that somehow cuts through the black and white of the screen and dark sunglasses, says otherwise. She doesn’t want to fit in. It is a desperate call that she is trapped in a suburban hell. The sunglasses, worn inside the supermarket, are a clear yet contradictory disguise – people didn’t wear sunglasses in films in the 1940s, unless for a cover-up. And it is not the police or the insurance company that Phyllis is trying to shield away from, it’s not even us, the viewers, because we have already been let in on the plotting. It’s the ordinary people, the likes of those in the supermarket. It’s them who can be more menacing than the police. Our two protagonists are ordinary citizens, too, an insurance salesman and a housewife who stop at nothing to escape middle-class angst. It’s exactly this idea, that there is something rotten in each and every one of us, that is so shocking about Double Indemnity.

When we see Phyllis Dietrichson with those dark sunglasses on, we realise she might just as well have worn them the whole time. Because her eyes never flinch. It’s just a dark void behind them. Barbara Stanwyck is the archetypal femme fatale, just as Double Indemnity is the archetypal film noir.


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It’s Time to Be Better Listeners

We’ve all been there. Getting together with friends and friends of the friends, starting to tell a story, it may be from your latest travels, and then be constantly interrupted by someone else who must tell their own story first and faster. Even if something bad happened to you in the said travel story, you are still interrupted because they had experienced something much worse and they must tell it first.

I have always appreciated a good listener, even more than a good storyteller. A good listener always has time for you. You know he/she will listen to you and will give your storytelling the importance, patience and time that it deserves. And if you know how to listen, your future travels, too, will be wiser and more interesting. Because, as photographer Frederique Peckelsen says in our latest interview, “one thing I have learned though is that there is no need to travel just for the sake of it. Sometimes I felt that I had been home long enough and it was time to just go somewhere. Those journeys would never really impact me, because they might have been initiated out of boredom, instead of real interest in a place. I rather have a place coming to me through a photo that sparks a fascination or an article about the history of a place or even an old illustrations book from a certain area than me just picking a place to go to just because I want to leave.”

There are things I have missed since March and things that I haven’t. One thing I haven’t missed is having to put up with someone who needs to be the center of attention all the time. I know now who is willing to listen first. And when they in turn have a story to tell, I will be the first one affording it all my attention.

That’s the beauty about books. You always have the freedom of choosing the books you read. And only the worthy will get your undivided mindfulness until the end. A good travel book will require all your attention and interest, but it will also offer you room to dream, courage to take a leap of faith, power to transport you, the impulse for change. Maybe from now on we’ll be more selective with the stories we choose to listen to so that the experience feels just as enriching as when reading a good travel book.

Beryl Markham and Martha Gellhorn were both reluctant in telling their stories. That’s the first thing that made me interested in their books, the introduction to Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night, being written by Martha Gellhorn herself. Both unconventional, brave, contradictory. Beryl Markham, a pioneering aviator, who recklessly pursued her life and freedom with a child-like curiosity – “I learned what every dreaming child needs to know – that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.” Martha Gellhorn, novelist, journalist, war correspondent and great traveller, although she called herself an amateur traveller, who gathered the best disaster stories from her lifelong peregrinations in what came closest to a memoir that she ever wrote, Travels with Myself and Another – “Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.”

It’s time to take time to listen better, read more and sort ourselves out.


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