film found history Kenya Malawi Negatives photography portraits Tanzania travel Victorian

Time Machine to Nyasaland

The other day I opened a small cardboard  box given to me by my Mum. Inside I found delicate pockets with negatives saved from the rubbish tip – the school she worked in was clearing out storage space and everything was being thrown away.
I kept the box for years but recently discovered my husband Chris has scanning equipment to handle the large format negatives, so we set to work…. I never expected to be so excited as each image revealed itself… One after another, fascinating untouched photographs appeared from British missionaries based in Africa, from 1916 and thereabouts…

The arresting images include women with scarification, some sort of military march, impressive Zulu warriors in full regalia, and my favourite – a grinning man with his teeth filed to points.  The Victorian lady in white really sets the colonial time period, as do annotations with such comments as ‘a peculiar hairstyle.’  Some of the countries referred to (Rhodesia and Nyasaland for instance) have changed names and borders, some several times in the interim.

The photographer had a great eye for portraiture, the subjects appear strong and unfalteringly return the viewer’s gaze.  It is absorbing to think about the equipment the photographers must have used to take the pictures in situ, their feelings and motivations and what the subjects must have felt towards them. Did they ever see the processed exposures?  The young girls playing in the pictures would be more than one hundred years old if they were around today.

I am grateful the little box was rescued from the landfill as a thought-provoking glimpse through the lens of another place and time.

cinema film history Los Angeles

Reanimating Movie Theatres

Recognise The Palace Theatre? Picture it with Michael Jackson at the the top of his game skipping down the road taunting his date after a scary movie… Perhaps you didn’t watch ‘The Making of Thriller’ a million times on betamax when you were little but, er, I did. Before moving to LA, I had no idea the cinema in the seminal music video even existed, so I was excited to see that this one and many others were taking their cue from the breakdancing zombies and coming back from the dead to entertain us.

The Last Remaining Seats programme in Downtown LA is amongst a number of initiatives to reopen the doors of long closed and woefully neglected theatres on Broadway. In their heyday places like the 100 year old Palace or 1918 Million Dollar Theatre were celebrated landmarks but the decline of downtown led to their demise and closure. The efforts of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Bring Back Broadway initiative and new buildings such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall have contributed to the regeneration of the area as more banks and historic buildings are gentrified into apartments, bars and shops. Many of the theatres are being renovated, opening for special events and available for hire.

The lure of historical uniqueness and some clever programming means more film-saturated Angelenos, used to high tech THX or IMAX 3D cinemas, are leaving their flat screens at home to rediscover the thrill of a night at the flicks, in some of the most amazing original environments.

So far I have been to events hosted at The Orpheum, The Los Angeles and The Million Dollar Theatre to see some classic films with Q and A sessions, and presentations by actors and producers – such a great way to make going to the cinema even more special in Tinseltown. It’s also good for the odd bit of celeb spotting, including Hugh Hefner who is in fact a big sponsor of the events. The theatre interiors themselves have starred in countless TV shows and films, doubling as European opera houses and the vaudeville stages some of them originally were built as.

The interiors are really something to behold, some a little more shabby chic than others, with lavish detailing such as rococo pink bathrooms, heavy velvet and brocade curtains,  monstrous chandeliers, and mirrored ballrooms.

Every Saturday there is a walking tour of the downtown area run by the LA Conservancy , I’m looking forward to booking one of those to learn more about the history of the area.

commercial film Liverpool music photography portraits

Faust in my House

Stan Ambrose
Stan Ambrose
Faust by F.W. Murnau, 1926

My apartment in Liverpool has an interesting claim to fame – as recording studio! The peculiar acoustics of the high ceilings and large windows of the old converted brick structure added a unique quality to the sound, as a specially commissioned new soundtrack was recorded in my living room.

Stan Ambrose is a lovely gentleman and accomplished musician, also known for playing harp in local bohemian cafés in Liverpool such as the Green Fish and Egg Café & Gallery. Quite the cinephile, he was delighted when approached to create a new interpretation of the 1926 silent classic ‘Faust’ from  F.W. Murnau. The beautiful improvised soundtrack he created in response to the film was featured in Masters of Cinema’s DVD release as a special feature.

Watching him play reminded me that the concept of ‘Silent movies’ really is interesting, as the films in their day were always shown with evocative live music – and were anything but silent!

The photos I took of Stan during his performance were published in the booklet inside the DVD packaging.