Monday, June 17, 2013
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In the process of discovering who my mother was, I've had the eerie yet exciting task of going through the notebooks and letters she filled in the months prior to her death. I relish the little surprises that give me glimpses, however cryptic, of her daily life. In a small, yellow "memo book" I came across this page. I wonder if Arbus wrote this in the notebook herself, and whether my mother planned to interview her along with the other photographers she included in her Images of Man series? I may never know.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Film still of Karl Katz by Rachel Seed.
Production still by Nikol David.
It was a pleasure and an honor to spend an afternoon with Karl Katz, who at an advanced age, still turns up at his midtown post at Muse Film and Television to executive produce such knockout documentary films as Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Herb and Dorothy.
Katz, Conceptualist and Executive Film Producer, was on my interview list due to his early and close relationship with Cornell Capa and his notable influence on the shaping of the International Center of Photography (ICP). Sharp and with a lively twinkle in his eye, Katz recalled his days as Director of the Jewish Museum and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Office of Film and Television, when he and Capa collaborated on groundbreaking photography exhibitions which showcased Israeli and Jewish photographers and photography and put them on display in New York City.
He counted "Jackie O" amongst his close friends and revealed how her passionate early support of photography and ICP (in the form of an anonymous New Yorker article that didn't fool many people) contributed to the smashing launch of the new institution, at a time when photography had yet to be taken seriously by most as an artform. She even attended Katz's 1970s wedding at ICP, unintentionally upstaging his big day with her celebrity.
In addition to various upcoming film projects, Katz is currently working on publishing a book about his life, titled, The Exhibitionist. May we all live as long and as fully.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
I've noted a strange phenomenon since embarking on this film project. It's true, there were several people close to my mother such as her friends, family and co-workers that I have gotten to know over the years. What's odd is that despite my meeting them for the first time, with many I have felt instantly close. I remember, for example, meeting Dick Robinson, the current CEO of Scholastic and my mother's former employer, dear friend and sometime romantic interest. I was 19 and about to begin a summer-long internship at his publishing house, when he came down to greet the most recent crop of interns.
As I stood in the center of the room's corridor, he walked toward me, hugged me tight, and began to cry. I've always resembled my mother in looks and mannerisms, so I've been told, and this has prompted similar reactions in many of her friends and family who have met me throughout the years. It's certainly an odd and sometimes eerie feeling when the person greeting you sees you as an incarnation of someone who has passed, paritcularly when you never knew that person and even more so when that person happens to be your own mother.
Most recently, I was visiting one of my mother's best friends, Hinda Gilbert, at her home in San Francisco. Hinda and my mother go way back to grammar school, where they became each other's treasured confidants during their emotionally tumultuous growing years. They kept in touch for decades, and on this visit I planned to interview Hinda about their friendship and her stories about my mother.
One night, driving around the city after dinner, Hinda said "you know I feel so comfortable talking to you just about anything. And that was how I felt with your mother, too." I told her I felt the same way. Hinda reached out to me when I was 19, saying she had dreamed about me and my brother and was sorry not to have kept in touch after my mother's death. She flew me out to San Francisco for a week and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other and enjoying the city. Since then, Hinda and I have made trips to Maui, Mallorca, Wales, England, Chicago, New York and down the California coast where she took me to check out a graduate school program in Valencia, CA. In short, she has become a treasured friend and mentor.
I don't question them too much, these reconnections I've made. I am grateful for them, though. They feel like homecomings.
Monday, November 12, 2012
R: McCullin and me, after our interview
Around 1970, my mother, an intrepid journalist making a series of short films about photographers, locked down an interview with the British war photographer, Don McCullin. They spent several hours in a central London hotel room conversing on topics related to Don's photography, experience at war, background, philosophy, and inspirations.
At the end of it all she edited the reels down to a 15-minute slide presentation of McCullin's photographs accompanied by his voice. This program was part of a double box set of films, Images of Man, which were distributed to educational institutions across the US by Scholastic, Inc., including programs about Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cornell Capa, Bruce Davidson, W. Eugene Smith, Lisette Model (Model's never made it to production) and others.
Forty years later I came across a couple boxes of the analog materials at my father and stepmother's house in Waukegan, Illinois. The boxes contained filmstrips, an L.P., a Kodak Carousel of slides and a cassette tape, and print reproductions of the photographers' work. Alongside the boxes were some personal letters between my mother and the photographers, and other ephemera from the making of the projects.
My interest was peaked since my mother had died in 1979 and I knew from my father's testimonials that this was the work she was most proud of in her prolific yet shortened career. I asked my father what ever happened to the original materials, such as the interview reels, correspondence and pictures, and he told me he sent them to Cornell Capa at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in 1979 just after my mother's death, for "safe-keeping".
I promptly emailed the institution to discover that there were nearly a dozen of these boxes sitting nearly untouched in their archives as they had been for decades. A few months later I was on a plane to New York to check these out, and spent the summer of 2010 hunkered down on the 12th floor of ICP's exhibition and collections headquarters cataloging their contents.
Several months later in spring, 2011, I found myself working at ICP, employed as the manager and organizer of their entire audio-visual collections, yet still harboring the obsession of what to do with all these materials to revive my mother's work. I decided that what was driving me do this was an inextinguishable desire to reconnect with my mother, since she died before I was old enough to remember her. My personal work up until this point was largely focused on other people's stories. For example, my most significant project to date was one where I traveled around the world filming interviews with and photographing dozens of other motherless women.
Just then I was talking to my friend Pearl, a filmmaker, who pointed out to me that what was interesting about this story was the personal quest. I thought about it for a while and finally, despite my discomfort, decided that the only way to work through this life-long void I'd felt would be to make a movie about it. Once the idea took root, I realized there was no turning back.
Two weeks ago I spoke with McCullin on the phone, and he apologized but said he had no interest in being interviewed and hoped I would accept his stance that he wanted to spend his remaining time with family and in his darkroom. At the end of our chat, however, he said he'd be in Houston this week for a war photography symposium and opening and that I might find it interesting.
I took my chances and headed here on that whim, no booked interview, in sincerest hopes of tracking him down to secure one. After attempting to go through any channel of communication that might lead to an interview, I finally met up with him after his talk and he agreed to 30 minutes Sunday morning.
Today, November 12, 2012, I am sitting in Houston, Texas where, after two years of failed attempts at connection and scheduling, I just finished filming an interview with Mr. McCullin, who is one of three photographers my mother interviewed who is still living. The other two are Bruce Davidson, whom I interviewed last May, and William Albert Allard, who I plan to interview later this month.
Included here is a film still and photograph from that meeting, as well as some quotes, then and now, first from my mother's and then from my interview.
1970, London, UK
Don McCullin: There’ll never be peace in the world actually.
Sheila Turner-Seed: You don’t think so?
Don McCullin: No. Not as long as somebody is making a fortune out of making ammunition and rifles and not as long as you’ve got a politician who's ambitious enough to take his country to war or have a pointless, kind of, disagreement, you know. And there’s always somebody around who’s going to pick up the bill and that means that innocent people are going to pick up the bill.
2012, Houston, TX
Rachel Seed: You made a comment during the interview my mother did with you, "there will never be peace in the world".
DM: That's right, there won't be. Not in my time. That saves me from making a fool of myself because...the only peace that will come to this world is if we wipe it our completely and there's a huge, you know, catastrophic explosion and we're all gone.... but the way things are going, there's no let-up in revolutionary activity and causes and religious reasons to attack thy neighbor....
Friday, October 14, 2011
A Photographic Memory
“A stone became a world
A child became all children
A war was all wars” –Ernst Haas
Director Rachel Seed goes on a transcontinental journey to learn – through their shared profession – about the mother she never knew. Sheila Turner-Seed was a successful New York and London-based writer, editor and producer who died suddenly in 1979. Rachel was 18 months old and Sheila had completed, a few years earlier, a series of award-winning film programs about the influential photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, W. Eugene Smith, Lisette Model, William Albert Allard and others, which were co-produced by International Center of Photography founder Cornell Capa and Scholastic Books.
After revisiting these photographers in New York, France and England or, if deceased, their closest associations, Rachel blends her mother’s 1970s interviews with her own footage, creating a posthumous mother-daughter collaboration that connects her to her mother while re-examining the course of the careers of some of the most influential photographers in the history of the medium.
Background and Summary:
“There were two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.” –Lewis Hine
It’s the early 1970’s, and Sheila Turner-Seed, an intrepid journalist ahead of her times, comes up with the idea to create a series of audio-visual programs about “Concerned” photographers, or, those “vitally concerned with their times”* who use the camera as a tool to make others aware of both the beauty and tragedies of the world, that they might be appreciated or changed.
Working with Scholastic Inc., she selects noted photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, W. Eugene Smith, Don McCullin, Lisette Model, Brian Lanker and Roman Vishniac and others to take part in the Images of Man series, and enrolls her close friend and mentor Cornell Capa, the eventual creator of the International Center of Photography, to support her project. To interview Don McCullin, Turner-Seed must travel to London. Concerned that she be welcomed upon landing, Capa enlists his former assistant, Brian Seed, show her around. He does, resulting in their marriage two years later.
Turner-Seed is a young New York City-based writer, editor and producer with a propensity for getting to the heart of weighty issues, and in Images of Man she records hours of sensitive interviews with the photographers. She keeps in contact with them afterward, and Cartier-Bresson writes Turner-Seed letters of gratitude for her edits, gifting her with several of his prints; Davidson recalls the interviews as “therapy sessions”; and later Lanker notes on his website that participation in the series is “his greatest honor”, above his Pulitzer Prize.
When Turner-Seed dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1979 she leaves behind a husband and two children: Brian Seed, a Time-Life photographer and former assistant to Cornell Capa; Jonathan, 4; and Rachel, 18 months. Shortly after her death, Brian sends several boxes of the original audio reel interviews to the International Center of Photography (ICP) for “safe keeping”, as is detailed in an accompanying letter.
Thirty years later, Rachel, an established photographer and emerging filmmaker, wanting to know more about her mother and hoping to revitalize her mother’s legacy through renewing the series, begins a personal journey to retrace her mother’s steps through the making of the Images of Man series.
The journey begins when she first discovers some stray materials from the project at her father’s home, accompanied by a copy of the letter her father sent to ICP in 1979. Sensing the importance of these materials, she contacts ICP to find out more. Welcomed into the archives of the institution, she spends the summer cataloguing the contents there, and the following year begins listening to the reels while employed at ICP. This is the first time she hears her mother’s voice since she died and the experience is surprisingly familiar, comforting and uncanny.
By revisiting the concept and photographers involved with this series, Rachel not only identifies with her mother but digs further into the work and ideas that started the most prominent photography institution in the world, questioning those who were there at its founding about how and whether Concerned photography still exists today and how photography has evolved over the past 40 years since ICP began.
During the course of the film, Rachel interviews photographers Bruce Davidson in New York, Don McCullin in England, and Cartier-Bresson’s widow (also a photographer) Martine Franck in Paris. She also interviews Capa’s assistant for many years, Anna Winnand, French Humanism and Cartier-Bresson expert Claude Cookman, and ICP’s Chief Curator Brian Wallis, plus other long-time ICP staff to put into context the founding of the institution and the ideas surrounding it, as well as gives insight into who Cornell Capa was. Finally, Rachel visits with Turner-Seed’s family, friends and colleagues in New York and the Midwest to fill the void of her knowledge about her mother and the context of the making of the programs.
Current Status and Timeline
Research and development for this film began in January 2011. Serving as major source material and as a backbone to the film’s structure are 50 hours of original interviews between Turner-Seed and the photographers, housed at ICP.
Other sources of research are Cornell Capa’s Concerned Photography books, the Images of Man series, and film screenings including Lamp Unto My Feet about ICP’s founding, and The Impassioned Eye about Cartier-Bresson and films about reconnecting with deceased or estranged parents, such as My Architect and Daughter from Danang.
In September, 2011, Rachel interviewed Martine Franck, the widow of Henri Cartier-Bresson, in Paris, and has since compelted interviews with Don McCullin, Bruce Davison and William Albert Allard. With adequate funding, the remaining film production will take place by the close of 2013, with editing and post-production completed in 2014 ready for distribution that year.
Creative approach and team
Rather than focusing on talking heads and objective subject matter, the style will be more of a personal journey where Rachel is in conversation with her subjects, searching both for clues about the history of photography and about her mother. Alternating between using HD 5D Mark2 cameras and Canon lenses, and a professional HD Panasonic video camera for longer scenes, aesthetics are as important as content and style is minimal, understated, and poetic throughout. The film My Architect is a good example of the stylistic approach here.
Growing up surrounded by photography, Rachel Seed became a photographer nearly 20 years ago and has run a successful freelance business for the past few years, while also earning an MFA from Indiana University (in progress since 2009). Since 2006 she has conducted 35 video interviews internationally of women and men whose mothers died when they were young, also photographing them. This work has been supported by several grants including the Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Yarka Vendrinska Memorial Award at the Maine Media Workshops, and a World Affairs Council Association grant for international travel, and exhibited in Russia and the United States. She was also named a Top 25 Artist at 3rd Ward Brooklyn’s annual contest in 2010. This is her directorial debut of a full-length film.
Daniel Traub, Rachel Seed
*The Concerned Photographer, 1968