Jaja Hargreaves goes by "julystars" on Instagram and it's there where I discovered her uncommon skill for finding obscure images culled from art and photography books and fashion magazines mostly from the 1970s-90s. I feel like about 80% of what she posts I'm seeing for the first time on her account and I'm continually amazed that while I feel I've been consuming fashion and art images widely and deeply for three decades there is still SO much new to me. Where'd she find that shot by Warhol? Or that one of a young Catherine Millet?? Or that one by Peter Lindbergh? You get the idea. Her speciality is mostly photographs of feminine, content, alluring, confident women and I often recognize the photographer but not the image, which leaves me even more puzzled why I hadn't seen the image before.
Besides all that I just had to be in touch with Jaja when I saw a picture of her shelves and what I believe (I couldn't clearly see all the spines) is the complete set of the French men's magazine Paradis, one of my all time favorite publications, and one which I can only think of two other people who might also have them. Needless to say I'm very impressed by Jaja's digging and taste and think you will be as well.
If you could post female nipples on Instagram which books or magazines would you like to pull from to feature where you’re quite sure the images aren’t already online? Contrary to what people feel as we drown in imagery, not everything has been digitized…
It would have to be Plexus. A French magazine which ran from 1966 to 1970. In contrast to the typical notion of publications available at the time, Plexus was devoted to humour and eroticism. It discussed philosophy, sexuality, sensuality, art, surrealism and science-fiction. Always with a touch of irony. It went against the tyranny of conventionalism and believed that people should be as free and provocative as they wished. This approach inevitably drew fire from both conservatives and traditional institutions. It was censored in 1967 because of its so-called pornographic articles. Contributors included (among my favourites) Félix Labisse, Leonor Fini, Dalí, Sam Haskins, Paul Delvaux, Lucien Clergue, Sempé and Falco. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family where books and magazines were everywhere. And even better, a complete set of Plexus. My parents didn’t believe in censoring photography publications or books and never imposed judgements on what I should or shouldn’t read. They also had a great collection of Zoom magazines which captured the seventies and eighties through the art of photography. Images from Zoom or Plexus would probably almost immediately be removed by Instagram. Too much nipple exposure. Something I continue to find absurd and confounding.
Which books do you wish there were documentaries made about the writing-of them?
Roswitha Hecke's photo book Liebes Leben (Love Life). The film director Werner Schroeter introduced the photographer to Zurich-based artist-muse and prostitute, Irene. This meeting resulted in a poetic and romantic documentary style representation of the model going about her daily life through the streets of Zurich and Rome. This is definitely not a moralistic portrayal. The photos capture Irene, a gaze of independence and defiance, teasing the viewer, in black and white tableaux. Nothing too explicit or objectionable. This is about a woman looking at another woman. It’s intimate and a different viewpoint on seduction. The images are interspersed with excerpts from Baudelaire poems and reminded me that he once wrote in his personal journal ”What is art? Prostitution.” A documentary about the relationship between the two women would be fascinating. Why Hecke chose to focus her eye on a prostitute and understanding whether it was an act of sexual reclamation or whether it ends up being another form of abjection. So many questions.
What a fabulous answer. I love that book and am not at all surprised you know it. I hope someone who has the means and ability to make small (in scope, not interest) films sees this…
I’d really like to know any others you have in mind. Can you please share one or two others?
Young London: Permissive Paradise by Frank Habicht.
The book was published in 1969 and is a collection of mostly black and white photographs of London at a time when things were changing fast. The city was still a hotbed of creativity but a darker mood was taking hold. Disillusion with the postwar dream and political turbulence. Rates of poverty and deprivation under the gloss were becoming pressing concerns. Frank Habicht’s images are fascinating. He photographed the streets of London during seven months and shot 250 rolls of film. Flower children, nudity, the working class, social activists wearing beads and Greek Shepherds’ coats, hard drugs and psychedelia, the establishment, left-wing intellectuals, the older order and the free spirit, ennui and exhibitionism, all superimposed. A city that was starting to fragment. I think that London at the time was the only place in the world where you could do what you want, it was unregimented. No rules and restrictions. This is what set London apart.
For which books from the past few years would you have loved to have been asked to blurb? Feel free to give us your blurbs here!
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes: A love letter to Oliver Sacks and New York. I’ve read it twice and was stunned both times. It is beautiful, tender and magical. A meditation on life and grief.
The Glossy Years by Nicholas Coleridge: Some people will call this book “silly” but I just call it hugely entertaining! It’s a gossipy and scandalous memoir from the chairman of Condé Nast Britain. Names dropped on every single page but with wit and endless enthusiasm. His thirty-year career at Condé Nast is fascinating and provides a penetrative insight into the worlds of journalism and British society. Two things I am most curious about.
I’m with you on most anything to do with Condé Nast. I don’t know why it stays endlessly fascinating to so many people. I hear Graydon Carter is working on a book (though hope it transcends just his Vanity Fair years) and every year I wish we’d get a thick biography about SI Newhouse.
Oh, yes! I have been told about Graydon Carter’s memoir and can’t wait to read it. I occasionally read Air Mail but I miss his Vanity Fair years.
What do you think of Air Mail?
I’ve received the ”Graydon Carter here…” emails every Saturday in my inbox since week one, and I like that it’s got the mark of his old standby editorial tastes (class, power, and the good life) running throughout it, and I see what they’re going for overall, and I open probably one in every 10 or so emails from them, but I’m not paying for it. I’m surprised they’re not doing some bi-annual or quarterly print offerings, but if they’re truly sticking to digital like they announced when they started then I applaud that.
What are you most curious about right now and what are you reading to satiate your interest in it?
I’m curious about so many things. I even find the ordinary deserving of scrutiny. I’ve always been inquisitive, particularly when it comes to human beings. Through books I can satisfy every single aspect of curiosity: curiosity about humanity, curiosity about who we are, curiosity about objects, cultural curiosity…
I think this is pointedly reflected in the pile of books by my bedside table! At the moment the pile consists of: My Life in France by Julia Child, Harvard Square by André Aciman, Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker and Look Again by David Bailey. Oh, and also Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A., which I noticed Lee Kaplan is also currently reading.
What are some visual books which came out in the early 2000s which today are still completely relevant and inspiring?
Most of the art/photography books or magazines I buy were published in the seventies and eighties. But I did get my hands on a scarce Helmut Newton book called Yellow Press which was published in 2002 by de Pury and Luxembourg. It contains a lot of personal photographs and behind-the-scenes imagery. A real gem.
Another book which came out in 2014 and I still find highly relevant is Self Portrait 1973-1986 by Luciano Castelli. It was published by Patrick Frey. The painter Luciano Castelli started posing for the camera in the seventies and played with the idea of his own body. He posed in outrageous outfits and played roles usually assigned to the feminine. For Castelli, the notion of beauty, the right to live in complete freedom and stereotypes of identity are all essential questions.
What is it about productions from the seventies and eighties that is so enchanting for you?
I’m not sure. I think there was less restraint in the seventies and eighties. More freedom. Look at French Vogue in the late sixties/seventies. Nothing was toned down. Storytelling was crucial and didn’t work the political correctness fields. Photographers like Guy Bourdin were given carte blanche to create the most surreal and mad scenarios which today would probably be regarded indecent and would shock too many people.
Are you an impulsive or considered book buyer and how many books would you say you’ve bought this year?
Book shopping is probably one of my favourite activities. I find it intoxicating. I have no self-discipline or self-control when it comes to books or magazines. I collect photography books but every purchase is mostly unplanned. Occasionally it will be a direct response to a recommendation from a friend (almost always Emilie Lauriola who is the director of Le Bal Books in Paris) but a lot of the time it can start anywhere: walking into a bookshop, watching a film, going to an exhibition, looking at out-of-print publications…total cross-pollination.
I buy a lot of books and magazines. Probably too much. My husband and I already have two rooms in our apartment with floor-to-ceiling walls covered in books and magazines.
Everyone should know Emilie and Le Bal. What is it about them that is special to you? And do you and your husband have the same tastes and how did you join libraries when you first moved in together?
My husband, Mat Maitland, is an image-maker and art director who grew up obsessed with pop aesthetics and surrealism. I tend to like a more dreamy and romantic genre. We both love spending hours in bookstores or markets looking for interesting vintage magazines as well as books on art, fashion, and photography. When we moved in together, we immediately knew that a library room would be essential. We each had so many boxes of books and magazines! It was also important since we both use books and magazines as a resource for work.
If you’re able to have a dedicated library room that is wonderful!
What are the most absorbing reads you’ve ever experienced, where you truly lost track of time and had to be shaken (figuratively) back to reality?
Conundrum by Jan Morris.
Jan Morris was born James Humphrey Morris on 2 October 1926, in Somerset. An accomplished soldier in the British military, a foreign correspondent, an intelligence officer and Britain’s best travel writer, her memoir, Conundrum, is one of the most absorbing stories I’ve ever read. Not only is it a fascinating biography it is beautifully and vividly written. She was one of the first people in public life to describe in detail a surgical sex change in the early seventies. A journey that involved years of hormone therapy while married with children and finally culminated in reassignment surgery in Casablanca, Morocco. An extraordinarily bold and challenging thing to do at the age of 46 in 1972. When I think about today’s searing social divisions, this conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity seems even more important.
I hope this sparks people to learn more about her, what an extraordinary life.
How do you browse in bookstores?
There is nothing more thrilling than browsing in bookstores. When London came out of its first lockdown, I wanted to welcome back the joy of discovering books and immediately headed to Daunt in Marylebone. Even the masks, queues and neurotic hand sanitisation could not diminish my enthusiasm! I couldn’t wait to revive the familiar routine. I’m a completely dedicated reader but—to answer your question—with no method of browsing. A bookshop is a voyage of discovery, a passport to other places and lives. You can walk in with a specific title in mind and walk out an hour later with an obscure French novel or armloads of art books. In Paris, where my parents live, I have a little list of favourite bookshops who will call me when something arrives that they think I will like. I love when the staff is engaged by anything you’re interested in. This will never happen with online retailing. I really hope all the bookstores I love so much can survive this new world we live in. They really need our support to thrive and are indispensable to local communities. How they are not deemed an essential service in the UK and France I will never understand. They should be exempt from lockdown restrictions.
You’ll likely hear no objections from anyone reading this!
“A little list of favourite bookshops.” Do tell please which Paris shops are on it. And anywhere else besides Daunt in London?
In London I love Donlon Books in Hackney and Peter Harrington on Dover Street.
In Paris, I will shop for books at markets, Le Bal, Le Comptoir de l’Image on Rue de Sévigné, Le Plac’Art on Rue de l’Eperon, Librairie Artcurial, Yvon Lambert, Librairie Michaël Seksik, La Nouvelle Chambre Claire, Librairie Louis Rozen, Un Regard Moderne.
Oowee, that Paris list, thank you!
What in your life would you not know about had you not read it in a book, meaning your friends and/or family didn’t tell you, you weren’t taught it in school, and you didn’t see anything about it online?
I think it will sound incredibly cliché but Anaïs Nin was quite the revelation. I found a copy of Delta of Venus when I was 14 and felt as if a door into a totally new world had opened! I shared the book with my closest friends and I’m pretty sure it was an education for all of us. We didn’t have Lena Dunham or Carrie Bradshaw at the time and Anaïs Nin, her books and diaries, was my first introduction to feminism.
I know what you mean, like a high school kid reading On the Road and then wanting to forgo their near future plans in favor of taking off, but as cliché as both are, words in a book only have true effect once they’ve been read, and I know you’ll agree that compared to so much else out there, reading is always one of the finest things you can do in this life. Thanks Jaja!