Exhibit Review: Paris vu par Hollywood – Paris ponders the role of cinema in its identity

Paris vu par Hollywood exhibition banner, Paris, France, November 2012. Image by Meghan O’Reilly.

Paris vu par Hollywood
l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris
5 rue Lobau

until December 15, 2012

Paris: Is there a city more fetishized by Americans? The city of love, the city of lights, the capital of art, Paris has long captivated even those who’ve never seen it with their own eyes. To whom does France owe this notoriety? Its diplomatic tradition, its art, its literature…and in large part to American cinema.

Indeed France’s rich culture makes its capital a likely target for Hollywood producers, and since the advent of le 7eme art, hundreds of filmmakers have tried to capture the city’s unique allure. A new exposition, Paris vu par Hollywood, at l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris examines the city these filmmakers have portrayed throughout the years: a version of Paris, that has perhaps more to do with the American psyche than with the urban landscape itself.

The exhibition opens with a quote from mayor Bertrand Delanoë, pondering this American fascination. Regardless of its origins, he concludes, it has thankfully resulted in countless occasions for the whole world to “revel” in the city’s beauty.

I don’t disagree with the mayor; Paris is a striking city. Yet the exposition’s premise feels at times a bit patronizing: Paris, a city rich in history, tradition, art, and passion has a special ability to inspire the United States–a country that has none of those things.

But then again, hasn’t Hollywood been patronizing the French since the dawn of cinema? The exhibit ushers us through different eras and thematic depictions of the capital, from silent historical dramas in the early 1900s all the way to contemporary action films (including, to my amusement, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America World Police). Amongst the intriguing memorabilia, photographs, and video clips, we see the same themes emerging time and again: an obsession with the guillotine, a fixation on prostitutes, and a deification of the artist. Paris is simultaneously glorified and demonized; as much a cesspool of hedonism as a circuit of existential liberation; a place just as exotic, barbaric and primitive as it is enlightened, modern and fashionable.

So perhaps it’s only natural that a young, Puritanical country be so enthralled with an ancient, decadent city. Yet just how much of Paris’s reputation was based in reality—and how much was a myth perpetuated by Hollywood studios? As the exhibition cites one 1930s French journalist as saying,

“There’s the ‘Paris Paramount’ and the Paris en France…and the Paris Paramount is certainly the more Parisian!”

Indeed the exhibit emphasizes the absurd amount of effort invested in the constructing this “faux Paris”. Aerial shots of “Culver City”, the part of MGM studios used to film An American in Paris (1952) attest to the scope of the illusion. It was interesting, too, to witness how the city’s image developed after World War II, when more and more filmmakers began to come to Paris to shoot on-site. Tones shifted, idealism waned, but a certain Bohemian dream remained personified by the City of Lights.

The exhibition is rich in enticing artifacts: amongst my favorites were a bill from Mary Pickford’s lunch at the Ritz (she had an omelette), Gene Kelley’s boots from The Three Musketeers (they were enormous!), and several Givenchy costumes worn by Audrey Hepburn (they were somewhat less enormous). Notable as well were striking set and costume designs for an array of films, including Jean Renoir’s Moulin Rouge, and Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

For those less well-versed in cinema, I would have appreciated a more historical approach. While thought-provoking, the exhibition could have incorporated more context into its arguments, specifically regarding technological, political, and philosophical developments over the course of the 20th century. Nevertheless, I appreciated the collection’s clarity and organization, especially given its large scope. Paris has a separate museum for the cinematic history after all! Ultimately the exhibit is a success, delightful in its ability to both celebrate and critique the nostalgia that clouds our perception of city.

At the end of the exhibit, tourists and Parisians alike lingered at the back of the hall to watch a clip of Gene Kelley and Leslie Caron dancing on the banks of the Seine. The images are so familiar, yet so foreign; entirely fabricated, yet somehow more concrete than the city they represent. I suppose that for any given place, cinema—and art in general for that matter—is the closest one can ever get to seeing “the real thing”. But observing this universal transfixion in front of the projector made me wonder whether the real thing really matters at all.


by Meghan O’Reilly, GLIMPSE journal reviews correspondent, Paris


Paris vu par Hollywood is free at l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris (5 rue Lobau) until December 15, 2012. Open from 10am-7pm, Monday-Saturday. Audio guides available in multiple languages for 5 euros.

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Che Guevara: Life after Death Part 2

by Myya McGregory

What makes an icon?

In the last post we talked about the documentary film, Chevolution, directed by Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez and how Alberto  Korda’s photo of Che Guevara, the “Guerrillero Heroico” (the Heroic Guerrilla), transformed Guevara from a simple historical figure to a photographic and visual icon.

Ernesto Che Guevara by A Rostgaard 1969 from IISG’s flicker

Painting and street art are often treated as fiction, and photography as fact. Yet a photograph can be just as constructed as a painting. Korda’s Guerrillero Heroico was not popular by simple coincidence. His photo became famous because of the expression in Guevara’s eyes, his stance, and the strong angle of his head overlooking the crowd. In that one image, Korda captured, with light and angle, what many wanted to see in Guevara. Chevolution doesn’t dwell on this point but the idea is very present. The directors highlight this by contrasting the Guerrillero Heroico with the images of Guevara on his deathbed, which, though more widely disseminated at the time, have not gained the long-lasting fame of the more vivified Korda photograph.

As art has evolved, Guevara’s image evolved with it. The Guerrillero Heroico takes on a slightly different meaning each time it is modified. Each artist adds a new interpretation. Some make Guevara appear more ambiguous, some highlight the eyes, some blur the background, some make him more ethereal softly blurring the outlines, some make him radiant (see left), some even villanize him. Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick who created what is likely the most popular rendition of the Guerrillero Heroico tells BBC news he, “deliberately designed it to breed like rabbits.”  His high-contrast image darkens the eyebrows and intensifies Guevara’s gaze. The red background intensifies the black shading and the remaining white makes the entire image pop. It is a more stark and gallant interpretation of Guevara, born of the artist’s admiration.

The Guerrillero Heroico has become a symbol for both those who despise and those who love Guevara.

Street artist, Shepard Fairey (you might remember him from Exit Through the Gift Shop or the Obama “Change” poster) makes a brief cameo in  Chevolution. He talks about Guevara in comparison to his own project, the OBEY Giant. Many have seen the stickers, screen prints, and the walls tagged with Andre the Giant and the simple order to “obey.” This image paired with the single word “obey,” was turned into a social statement about propaganda.

If “obey” was written in a different font would we perceive it the same way? What if Andre the Giant was not the face of the command? What if it was Mr. Rogers?

A simple alteration can affect how we perceive an image. Whenever we view any image, especially an image of another person, we impose a specular dominance over it. We bring our biases, our questions, and our needs. If given the proper image, we can fill in its blanks with our desires. We can construct an icon.

In Chevolution, the directors argue that even though Guevara’s image can be found everywhere, some people still don’t know who he was. Who Che Guevara was has evolved into what he is now.

How is Che Guevara’s image being altered right now? Will it ever fade? What is the next icon that will have a seemingly endless afterlife?

Exhibition Review – Graphic Intervention: 25 years of International AIDS Awareness Posters, 1985-2010

Figure 1: "Sidafrica," France, 1998.

by Louise Kolff, GLIMPSE journal correspondent

Something about HIV/AIDS awareness posters fascinates us, and has over the past two and a half decades resulted in numerous exhibitions (e.g. National Library of Medicine, Monash University, AIDS Action Council, Country Awareness Network, UTS), collections (e.g. UCLA, AVERT, Cornell University, National Library of Medicine, Wellcome Library), projects (e.g. The Art of AIDS Prevention), and books (e.g. Visual Strategies Against AIDS). But why are we so intrigued by this particular area of visual communication? Is it because of the many ‘taboo’ subjects that the campaigns must navigate (e.g. condom use, homosexuality, death, illness, drug use, ethnicity)? Is it because encouraging sustained safer sex practices is such a problematic endeavor? Is it because the posters introduce us to the visual language of different cultures? Is it because many of them are humorous (intentionally or unintentionally), ‘risky’, provocative, clever, or beautiful? Or is it because we like seeing visual communication used to ‘do good’? A new exhibition, Graphic Intervention: 25 years of International AIDS Awareness Posters, 1985-2010, curated and organized by Elizabeth Resnick and Javier Cortés for the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), gives us a renewed opportunity to ponder these questions.

Beyond the visual representations we see, are highly complex issues dealing with sociocultural discourses, politics, psychology, history, media and marketing; issues that profoundly affect how the posters are designed, which messages they carry, how they are perceived, and how effective they are. The visuals contribute on many levels to the cultural meanings associated with the multitude of HIV/AIDS epidemics, spanning across national, social, ethnic, religious, and sexual groupings. Not only does culture influence the design of campaigns, campaigns in turn influence the way in which HIV/AIDS is culturally understood. As a result, discrepancies exist between the general assumption that HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns are inherently benign, because they are designed to benefit the health of individuals and society; and the critique from a number of cultural critics and analysts who believe that the campaigns are in many ways coercive instruments of power, designed to control our sexual practices and perceptions of minority populations and people living with HIV/AIDS.1, 2, 3, 4

What follows is a discussion of a selection of the many complexities which lie behind the visual language of HIV/AIDS awareness posters.

Cultural Representations

It has been noted that in western countries since the mid-1990s the focus has shifted from the domestic epidemics to the African epidemic.5 As the visibility of HIV/AIDS within western countries themselves has diminished, the visibility of the African (Caribbean, Papua New Guinean…) ‘other’ with AIDS has increased; as one critic argues: “the image of African women who get HIV/AIDS from their unfaithful partners, then pass the disease along to their innocent babies, evokes more empathy than the faces of those who comprise the domestic epidemic.”6 Through benevolent charity appeals (e.g. Figure 1) and media representations we thus project HIV/AIDS onto ‘helpless’ and ‘hopeless’ Africans, and in this way ‘our’ safety is reaffirmed by gazing at the suffering of others in far off places;7 what Stuart Hall describes as ‘the spectacle of the other.’8 When viewing posters that are meant as charity appeals, one might question how the visual language is impacting on our perception of those for whom the appeal is issued?

When viewing international collections of HIV/AIDS posters, one immediately notes the differences between the visual language and messages displayed in western and non-western cultures. Though they were produced as serious vehicles of communication within their specific culture, posters from non-western countries might seem fascinating, curious, humorous, exotic, or even naïve to western eyes. These posters, however, tend to display a frankness and practicality surrounding the issue not present in many western campaigns, which frequently tend to be more focused on clever design, subtle messages and advertising strategies. The woman in Figure 2, for instance, simply states, “I know you are not faithful,” while Figure 3 pragmatically asks, “if I am infected by the AIDS virus then who will catch the fish?” What might western campaigns look like if they implemented a similarly matter-of-fact approach?

Figure 2: "Mary, I Fancy You!" Papua New Guinea, 1993.

Figure 3: "If I Am Infected by the AIDS Virus Then Who Will Catch the Fish?" India, 1995.

Body Representations

Cultural historian Sander L. Gilman has suggested that there is a curious absence of ill and dying bodies in HIV prevention campaigns.9 He notes that even the body with AIDS is portrayed as attractive and beautiful, showing no physical signs of disease (see for example Figure 4). He also points out that death is only present through symbolism, for instance in the form of skulls, skeletons, or tombstones, not through representations of the dying or dead body. Figure 5 illustrates this point clearly; it features a skull made up of beautiful bodies. Some exceptions exist, such as the (in)famous United Colors of Benetton advertisement, featuring a man dying of AIDS (Figure 6).10 Furthermore, in developing countries the ill body is more prevalent (e.g. Figure 7); perhaps because people there are to a larger extent visibly ill and dying of AIDS, compared to western countries with better access to HIV treatment. When viewing the exhibition, one might ask, how the absence of ill bodies and prevalence of attractive bodies affects our perceptions of HIV/AIDS? What does the symbolism of death, as opposed to actual discussion of the contemporary lived experience of HIV/AIDS, do to our beliefs about the epidemic?

Figure 4: "I Am Not My Disease," Zimbabwe, 1998.

Figure 5: "Protect Yourself. The Only Way to Stop AIDS Is You," France 2003.

Figure 6: "The Death of David Kirby," Italy, 1993.

Figure 7: "What Does a Person With AIDS Look Like?" Uganda,1993.


Fear

Fear appeals can be defined as “persuasive messages that emphasize the harmful physical or social consequences of failing to comply with message recommendations.”11 Though much research has been done to determine the effectiveness of fear-based strategies in HIV prevention the results are inconclusive.12, 13 Much of the research, however, seems to suggest that if fear is to have any positive effect the message must include certain components: 1) the threat must be perceived as likely and relevant to the viewer; 2) the viewer must believe that he or she has the ability to follow the message recommendation; and 3) he or she must believe that the recommendation will eliminate or reduce the threat. Some argue that if used incorrectly fear appeals are not only ineffective, but they may in fact be counterproductive.14, 15 These are elements worth considering when viewing those posters in the exhibition that use fear as a strategy. For example, when examining Figure 8 and 9 one might ask: What are the consequences implied by the posters, and are these likely and realistic – e.g. does AIDS still equal death in western Europe as Figure 5 implies? Is it clear what the threat is and how it applies to the viewer? Is it clear what the viewer must do to avoid the threat of AIDS? Is it clear how these recommendations reduce or eliminate the threat?

Figure 8: "AntiAIDS-Ukraine," USSR, 2007

Figure 9: "AIDS, the Killing Bite of Love," The Netherlands, 1993.

Figure 9: “AIDS, the Killing Bite of Love,” The Netherlands, 1993.

Social Marketing

Increasingly those producing HIV/AIDS awareness graphics are incorporating “the use of marketing to design and implement programs to promote socially beneficial behavior change”;16 this has been termed ‘social marketing’. The premise being that rather than promoting a commercial product, a ‘social product’ is being promoted.17 One might say that in the case of HIV/AIDS the advertisements aim at ‘selling’ safer sex. This often means that HIV/AIDS awareness posters look similar to commercial advertising posters. For instance, chiefly display ‘ideal’ attractive bodies (e.g. Figure 10). Furthermore, in contrast to fear appeals that highlight the negative aspects of not using condoms, they highlight the positive aspects of condom use (safe sex is ‘sexy’, ‘fun’, ‘titillating’, ‘reassuring’, etc.) (e.g. Figure 11); or they use humor to capture the viewer’s attention (e.g. Figure 12). But how does the idea that health promotion graphics must compete with commercial advertising impact on the way in which the visual narrative of HIV/AIDS is told? Is it an advantage or disadvantage that they blend in or stand out from the plethora of advertising messages in the public sphere?

Figure 10: "Love Life Stop AIDS," Switzerland, 2006.

Figure 11: "Felix Is Sleeping Peacefully at Home. His Hans Uses Condoms," Germany, 1993.

Figure 11: “Felix Is Sleeping Peacefully at Home. His Hans Uses Condoms,” Germany, 1993.

Figure 12: "Without? Without Me," Switzerland, 1999.

Figure 12: “Without? Without Me,” Switzerland, 1999.

Though these are but a few of the many questions and issues connected to HIV/AIDS awareness posters, they give a small insight into the complexities that lie behind the representations we see, and perhaps allow us to explore the posters anew. For those unable to visit the exhibition in person, the excellent website allows for extensive online viewing of the exhibition.

Article/Review © Louise Kolff; all images © the creators and/or commissioning organizations. Presented here with permission of the exhibition curators.

About the Author

Louise Kolff is a PhD candidate at the College of Fine Arts and the National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. Her article, “Dilemmas of Claiming Ownership in an Epidemic,” appeared in GLIMPSE issue #1, Is the Visual Political? in November 2008.


Exhibition Details

Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters, 1985–2010
Curated by Elizabeth Resnick and Javier Cortés
from the collection of James Lapides, International Poster Gallery, Boston and Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Massachusetts College of Art and Design
September 13–December 4, 2010
Stephen D. Paine Gallery (website)
621 Huntington Avenue, Boston 02115 USA

Panel DiscussionVisualizing Solutions: Designers and the HIV/AIDS Crisis
with graphic designers Chaz Maviyane-Davies, Lanny Sommese, Joe Scorsone, Alice Drueding
Thursday, November 4, 6:30 PM
Tower Auditorium
Massachusetts College of Art and Design
621 Huntington Avenue, Boston 02115 USA


References

  1. Gabriele Griffin, Visibility Blues: Representations of HIV and AIDS (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).
  2. Roberta McGrath, ‘Dangerous Liaisons: Health, Disease and Representation,’ in Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology, ed. Tessa Boffin and Sunil Gupta (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1990).
  3. Paul Rutherford, Endless Propaganda: The Advertising of Public Goods (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).
  4. Denise Gastaldo, ‘Is Health Education Good for You? Re-Thinking Health Education Through the Concept of Bio-Power,’ in Foucault, Health and Medicine, ed. Robin Bunton, and Alan R Petersen (London: Routledge, 1997).
  5. Kaiser Family Foundation, ‘America Has Gone Quiet on HIV.’ Kaiser Family Foundation, 2 April 2009. http://www.kff.org/hivaids/040209_altman.cfm (accessed 29 June 2010)
  6. Ryan Lee, ‘Experts Debate the “New Face” of AIDS,’ Washington Blade, 1 December 2006, http://www.washblade.com/print.cfm?content_id=9556 (accessed 29 June 2008).
  7. Amy Kay, ‘Representing HIV/AIDS in Africa: Pluralist Photography and Local Empowerment,’ International Studies Quarterly 51 (2007): 139-63.
  8. Stuart Hall, ‘The Spectacle of the Other,’ in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London; Thousand Oaks, CA; New Delhi: SAGE, 1997).
  9. Sander L. Gilman, Health and Illness: Images of Difference (London: Reaktion Books, 1995), 115-72.
  10. Rick Poynor, ‘Benetton Hits Middle Age.’ Creative Review, 16 October 2006, http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2006/october/benetton-hits-middle-age (accessed on 23 June 2010).
  11. Jerold L. Hale, and James Price Dillard, ‘Fear Appeals in Health Promotion Campaigns: Too Much, Too Little, Or Just Right?,’ in Designing Health Messages: Approaches From Communication Theory and Public Health Practice, ed. Edward W. Maibach, and Roxanne L. Parrott (London; Thousand Oaks, CA; New Delhi: SAGE, 1995), 65.
  12. Robert A. Bell, et al., ‘Fear of AIDS: Assessment and Implications for Promoting Safer Sex,’ AIDS and Behavior 3, no. 2 (1999): 135-47.
  13. Hale and Dillard, 1995.
  14. Colin Batrouney, et al., ‘Fear Appeals and Treatment Side-Effects: An Effective Combination for HIV Prevention?,’ AIDS Care 19, no. 1 (2007): 130-37.
  15. R. F. Soames Job, ‘Effective and Ineffective Use of Fear in Health Promotion Campaigns,’ American Journal of Public Health 78, no. 2 (1988): 163-67, 165.
  16. Sonya Grier, and Carol A. Bryant, ‘Social Marketing in Public Health,’ Annual Review of Public Health 26 (2005): 319-39, 319.
  17. Seymour H. Fine, Marketing the Public Sector: Promoting the Causes of Public and Nonprofit Agencies (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992), xiii.

Ivy Moylan [Re]Views Cinematic Visions

There are many movies that deal with the subject of visions and the  marriage of the “real” and the “unreal,” including standouts such as Donnie Darko, Labyrinth, Jacob’s Ladder, and Pan’s Labyrinth. For this discussion, I specifically selected the films [Requiem, Where the Wild Things Are, and Harvey] because, rather than beg the question as to where visions come from, they instead address the tension that we all experience between daily life and our inner worlds of the fantastic, visionary or imaginary.

Excerpt from GLIMPSE film reviewer Ivy Moylan’s  “[RE]VIEWS: Requiem, Where the Wild Things Are, and Harvey.” Issue 6, Visions
Read the entire review here.

The Internet Afterlife of a Baby Picture

The second incarnation of the "amazingly happy baby"

Today’s NYTimes.com (and tomorrow’s New York Times print edition) features an article that might be described as visual archaeology of the Internet age. It traces the permutations of a personal photo that a Florida father posted of his “…amazingly happy baby”  back in 2000.

Fast forward 10 years, and we discover that this amazingly happy baby photo has since found its way into Japanese Manga artwork, and has been portrayed with “a pompadour in one, a head full of snakes in another. His face was pasted onto Kurt Cobain’s head, carved into Mount Rushmore and tattooed onto David Beckham’s torso.”

Read the full story: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/fashion/16meme.html