Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Counting one's blessings

             Caroline, from a Polaroid taken in NYC in 1987.
 

Counting one’s blessings is always a good thing to do, especially during times like these when there is much to moan and groan about. Just read a very good article by Angela Watercutter with the wonderful title of Doomscrolling in Wired. Warning: this short report contains no gloom, just enjoyable and beneficial activity, together with a bit of history, and praise for those who deserve it most.

Here are a few of my blessings which might be yours too.

1.The garden is growing well this year and we have time to work on it.


2. I have my health which, at my age, 87, is not always what people have.


3. I have a wife who is cheerful, full of good sense, hard working, gifted in many of the artistic fields and encourages me to rest before I collapse.


4. Our son Nicholas loves us and we love him. We have two dogs and a cat that are a joy to be with.


5. We have friends who recommend books. Two recent ones which are both winners to my mind, are The Lost Girls by D.J. Taylor and The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, the latter is about Churchill and his family and ministers during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941. As a child my family lived near London and we were bombed occasionally but escaped a direct hit and lived.
 

6. Unlike during World War II in England, there really is no food shortage her in the USA today.
 

7. The world at the moment is divided into those who wear masks and those who do not, and those who know what six feet looks like and those who do not. I am of the mask wearing and the six feet school. I find that most people are sensible and will respect your mask wearing and distance keeping. 

If you encounter a difficult non masker or non distanter, don’t confront them. Being challenged is what many of them love, so they can make a nuisance of themselves. Which they can’t do if you move swiftly out of the way.

8. I like bonfires very much. We have cleared a lot of brush and have been having bonfires
in our fire pit. What a pleasure to see the flames spreading and to hear the crackling of the twigs and leaves.   

Just to sit there staring into it. Better than any TV show. First you have to get it going, that’s quite an art, and then feeding it with just the right amount of brush to keep it in check so that it burns nicely but does not set fire to the county.  


                Borage, self-seeded from last year's plant in our garden in Garrison, NY


9. Things to look forward to: 1: Tennis. I have been introduced recently to two players both of whom have their own courts. 2: Borage, the beautiful herb with bright star like blue flowers has seeded itself all over the place from last year. 

I had also sowed some borage seeds so we have it everywhere we look. It will be Pimm's every weekend from the beginning of July onward. The leaf has a cucumber scent and flavor, a must for Pimm's.The other essential when making Pimm's is to put a lot of gin in it.   3: Seeing people’s fully exposed faces again and taking their picture.

First and last thought: for ever bless, thank, admire, reward, applaud and respect doctors, nurses, and all their medical staff.    
 





Saturday, June 27, 2020

Heidie Posner, NYC, late 1980s.

Neither Caroline nor I can be certain how or where we met Heide. At this time we used to wander about Soho looking for faces that appealed to me. Almost always young and female. A number were waitresses.

Heidi could have been a waitress at the time. We also have vague memories of her working at Martha Stewart's as an assistant art director.

If there were better things to go on to I am sure she went there. Her strong looks would have prevailed, I believe. We both liked her and I think she came to see us more than once. Where are you Heidie?

Sunday, June 21, 2020


                  Young couple under a street light outside Botanica in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.

Just read two superbly written articles by Cath Pound published in the Culture pages of the BBC website. She is a master of brevity and unramblingness.

The first article is a review of short stories which she recommends for those still with more time than usual for reading. The second article is about the painter Bonnard. I am a photographer who has never really liked color photographs very much, especially color portraits. After seeing Bonnard's work again I shall be sticking to black and white photography.

https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200612-the-best-short-stories-for-every-taste-and-mood
https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190201-the-man-who-painted-moods

I realize this photograph of the quite attractive couple I have displayed above has little to do with the text. Well, if you can see a connection let me know. But I also thought that between the two they might inspire a short story.



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Work




My editing desk, Garrison NY, May 2020
 

A further thought on What to do when there is nothing to do.
 

For those still wondering what to do these days, to my mind, there has never been a better
opportunity for work. I don’t mean for the poor souls who spend their lives in law or accounting or finance but for those who make films and take photographs, paint pictures, write books, compose music and poetry and perform. Now, we may not be able to perform or create, but we can work.

Think, plan, make notes, file, research. What better chance has there ever been when you cannot now be distracted from your thinking and planning, by meeting Myrtle for a coffee––Myrtle was the girl you met last night at a party, but there was no party; or, you just must go to the gym to clear your mind––no gyms open; or a quick game of backgammon or ping-pong with Felix across the street because you feel like it––both activities banned as players will be closer than the recommended social distance. And now it is 12:30 p.m. so let's call Dorothy and suggest a drink or lunch at the local––no locals open. So there’s nothing stopping you from working.

By the way if you were thinking about doing something other than work, forget it. Shall we say you have thought of learning to play the piano, or reading Chaucer, or attending a Zoom class in diversity and inclusion; you will either have done these things years ago, if you were ever going to do them, or, they are, anyway, a complete waste of time and of no benefit or enjoyment to anybody.

A final thought: in 1938, the English critic, essayist and journalist, Cyril Connelly, wrote a book called Enemies of Promise. When you have worked, sit down with this, it is a wonderful book. Part 2 deals with distraction.







Talking to people

                    Friends at Victoria station buffet, London, 1981

                                    

Talking to people. A very pleasant pastime.

What to do when there is nothing to do? I have, like many people, shut down. There are four people I wanted to photograph but to reduce the chances of infecting or being infected, they will keep until the perils have past. There is no tennis, as West Point, where I play regularly, is closed to visitors until
further notice.

I have done our taxes and polished all my shoes. It is too early yet to tackle spring gardening.

I shall practice the piano more frequently than usual, read Chekhov's My Life for the tenth time, and look for other works by him that I have not read. I will watch Polanski's films, make bread more often and sit behind the slit in our castle wall and shoot anybody with my bow and arrow coming up the drive. (Except for the plumber and carpenter who are working on keeping our castle from falling down.)

When I have read all of Chekhov I shall order a copy of William Boyd's latest novel and a mystery by Sarah Caudwell from Split Rock Books in Cold Spring NY. For some reason there are a mass of English women who are very good at writing mysteries. From Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and P.D. James in the early 20th century to a thousand and one others all the way to today's Ruth Ware who people say is terrific.

                 Conversation at Marlow and Sons, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, 2011


Caroline and I will not starve nor shall we overspend on take out because I shall be trying new recipes from my favourite cookery books: French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David, Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier, Ou est le Garlic? by Len Deighton and The New York Times 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey. If I do not get round to trying more than one or two recipes I shall anyway read the books because they are all written by exceptionally good writers.

What I will not be doing is twittering or texting, because I never have and it drains away from what we should all be doing—I like talking to people! It is a very good way of passing the time! If anybody wants to ring me, please do.

Let's hope the warm weather will soon return and we can clear up the winter mess in the garden and spread compost on the soil. I dislike walking (I say this with due respect to Caroline and our dogs who are truly good companions) and there is no tennis, so I shall welcome the bending and stretching and the toing and froing of gardening.


Copyright Dmitri Kasterine, 2020 All rights reserved.

Published in Putnam County News and Recorder, March 25, 2020

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

At war with Coronavirus


We all have a sob story about the damnable virus ripping through the world. Mine is that one day I was able to photograph people I liked the look of and the next day I could not even see if I liked the look of them because their faces were covered. 

I dig out old stuff and write about the mostly happy memories of my subjects or the time I had with them. See my encounter with an enchantingly difficult girl  35 years ago that worked out well in the end.

In normal times I go out to restaurants to see who’s there, rather than for the good food found in a very few of them. I can get all the food I like at home cooked by me or Caroline. Not that sitting back and enjoying friendly, quiet and lightening service in restaurants is not very pleasant when it is done right. (But not too friendly: “And how are you today, my name is Gertrude and I am your waiter for tonight,” makes me want to get up and leave there and then.)

I walk down Main Street not for exercise but to scrutinize the people coming in the opposite direction. I go into shops seldom to buy anything but to see if there are faces that I want to see. Can’t do anything of this now.

Caroline used to go to things more than I did and has been responsible for finding me some of my favourite subjects. Book clubs, readings, painting lessons, wine tastings, visits to pharmacies and dog food suppliers etc. not to mention who and what she finds on –– I can hardly mention the words I have such an objection to them –– social media.

Now we come to the question of whether we are at war? Well, yes, we are, according to those you govern us and those who broadcast the thoughts of those who govern us. I was seven when World War II was declared. My mother and I were standing on the tennis court when she told me that there was going to be a war. “Will the soldiers come here?” I asked, not being sure if I meant our soldiers or theirs. Only ours came and hundreds of them, preparing for D-day.

Though plenty of enemy airmen came with their Stuka dive bombers, as we were only 20 miles from London and surrounded by fighter stations. Sometimes the German bombers dropped their bombs meant for the London docks on us, when they could not face the anti aircraft guns that ringed London.


             This is not a Doodlebug

1940 to 1942 it was conventional bombs dropping on us. Then a pause until 1944 when the doodlebugs (V1s) appeared. They just turned up with little warning, sometimes being chased by a Mosquito, Spitfire XIV or Mustang fighter aircraft. These rocket propelled bombs, launched from Nazi occupied France, were timed to cut their engines as they approached the outskirts of London, silently gliding to the ground which they hit in a terrifying explosion. There was little you could do if one appeared in the sky and its engine cut. Just watch and hope it would circle away from your area. Or run like hell to the nearest air raid shelter.

              Not a Spitfire ace

Skilled Spitfire pilots could upset the giros in the V1s and send them spirelling to the ground by flying alongside them and tipping their wings. To be effective the spitfire would have to engage the V1 as it passed over the coast of Britain and across the farmland of Kent and Sussex where it would do least harm when it hit the ground.

Now we have the silent enemy of Covid -19 with whom we are at war, doing its best to take us by surprise. We either take cover, or watch and wait for the infection to get someone else but not us.

We live in a house with a two acre field and woods stretching for several miles in three directions. We seldom have to leave this shelter, which almost guarantees us safety from infection. Until the all clear is sounded, this is where we stay––with our dogs, garden, books, keyboard, records, food and wine and each other. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Helen at Lucky Strike


We've lost lovely Lucky Strike. A place that meant so much to us in the late 1980s when we lived within walking distance of it from our loft on Lafayette Street.

Always perfectly cooked steaks and burgers and never not a table filled with people you'd want to sit along side. Exemplary service.

This is a photograph I took of Helen Johansson tucked into a far corner of Lucky Strike in about 1989. At the time she had stopped modelling and was designing jewelry.

We first met Helen when she turned up at the studio for a go-see.  I took a Polaroid of her but she looked very tired and nothing came of it.

One day, a few weeks later I spotted a girl sitting on the curb on 4th Avenue in front of a table with jewelry laid out on it.

"Now there's someone I could photograph," I said to Caroline and without hesitating asked her if I might take her picture. She said yes and turned up at the studio a few days later.

"I have been here before," she said, "You looked at the Polaroid you did of me and did not seem interested."

"Well, today you look different, just as you did when I saw you sitting on the curb, and I am looking for someone to photograph at Lucky Strike. Would you like to do that?"

She said she would. She left her telephone number and I said I would ring to make the arrangements.  This took some doing. When I rang her she was either out, too busy, or said yes and then cancelled.

After she cancelled the third or fourth time I yelled, "You will be there at 11 tomorrow or I shall come and drag you out of your apartment." All right," she said and hung up.

"That girl is driving me crazy." I said, slamming down the receiver.

Astonishingly she turned up dressed as you see her here and was as good as gold. A week or so later she and a friend came to dinner and she gave Caroline a piece of her jewelry.      

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Three glasses


I took this photograph at the wedding of the late Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster in 1978. I can't be sure, but I believe this was his best man.

My way of doing weddings was to slink about with my Leica looking for moments that sent a shiver down my back. These moments mostly came from the antics of guests showing exuberance or boredom or anger or intimacy. Seldom did I get a picture of the bride and groom that moved me.     

We won't see fun and games like this for a while. I have not tried a virtual gathering, neither have I tried a meeting of friends sitting six feet apart and yelling at each other. (Anyway, how do you pass the bottle or tea pot around without breaking the social distancing rule—by robot?) Although, like many, I am missing the company of others, I think it better to wait and enjoy the safety of Caroline's company, the dogs and the garden for the moment.

The time to pour more than two glasses will return.


   

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


Spring is particularly welcome this year. Here it is, full of promise: hostas about to unfold.

We have, and so have thousands, clung to gardening as a way of escape this spring. We have replanted an area of about 30' x 30' mostly with ground cover―periwinkle, pachysandra,
day lilies, and lily of the valley. We've made a small patch for herbs.

We've planted two climbing hydrangeas against what is left of a fence that surrounds the area and  faces the house, in the hopes that the plant itself will act as a fence once it grips the remains.

If you have a cat that you love but likes to choose his spots around plants, scatter orange or grapefruit peel over the soil where you do not want him. Coffee grounds work too.

I am expecting to be able to photograph people again once testing is available to all and is proved to be accurate. I presume if the photographer and his subject both test negative it will be safe to get closer than six feet and not wear a mask.

But when?      

Monday, May 4, 2020

Work



Photograph by Dmitri Kasterine. His editing desk, Garrison NY, May 2020

 

A further thought on What to do when there is nothing to do.

For those still wondering what to do these days, to my mind, there has never been a better
opportunity for work. I don’t mean for the poor souls who spend their lives in law or accounting or
finance but for those who make films and take photographs, paint pictures, write books, compose music and poetry and perform.

Now, we may not be able to perform or create, but we can work.

Think, plan, make notes, file, research. What better chance has there ever been when you cannot now be distracted from your thinking and planning, by meeting Myrtle for a coffee––Myrtle was the girl you met last night at a party, but there was no party; or, you just must go to the gym to clear your mind––no gyms open; or a quick game of backgammon or ping-pong with Felix across the street because you feel like it––both activities banned as players will be closer than the recommended social distance.

And now it is 12:30 p.m. so let's call Dorothy and suggest a drink or lunch at the local––no locals open. So there’s nothing stopping you from working.

By the way if you were thinking about doing something other than work, forget it. Shall we say you have thought of learning to play the piano, or reading Chaucer, or attending a Zoom class in diversity and inclusion; you will either have done these things years ago, if you were ever going to do them, or, they are, anyway, a complete waste of time and of no benefit or enjoyment to anybody.

A final thought: in 1938, the English critic, essayist and journalist, Cyril Connolly, wrote a book called Enemies of Promise. When you have worked, sit down with this, it is a wonderful book.
Part 2 deals with distraction.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sun and freedom

No wonder we want to do this again. Washington Square Park, NYC, 2016.

Oh, for a warm sunny day!


This was not quite the last time we saw the sun but after today it feels like it. Caroline and our late dog Louis in Garrison NY, 2011  

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sam Wagstaff with Robert Mappletrhorp's portrait of Patti Smith

Sam Wagstaff in the mid 1980s in his apartment at 1 Fifth Avenue, seen here with Robert Mapplethorpe's picture of Patti Smith for the cover of her first album Horses recorded in 1975.

Thanks to our present way of life I am reading two books a week. Just finished Just Kids by Patti Smith which I would probably not have read had I not, a week ago, run out of books and, also had I not, only a month before discovered what an exceptional writer she is when I read M Train. Her material is riveting, we know, but writers can make a horrible hash of anything, if they are bad writers.

Sam Wagstaff was the rich collector and curator who became Robert Mapplethorpe's lover and patron. He also helped Patti Smith financially with a trip to Charleville, France, where  the poet Authur Rimbaud was born and where he also died.

"When I was 16, he appealed to me, and at this time of my life, I'm still learning from him."  Patti Smith said in an interview with Andy Gill in The Independent in 2007.

"Why I love Arthur Rimbaud is not because he was a princely fellow: I love his work." 

When I took this picture, Mr. Wagstaff had recently finished cataloging his large collection of photographs. He showed my assistant and I some of the pictures he treasured most. He told us he had found most of them in book shops who also dealt in photographs, and in order to save time and fuss, when the shop's collections were in boxes, he bought the whole box and discarded what he did not want when he got home.        

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Helleborus orientalis

 
Come along April! Isn't it about time you pulled yourself together and treated us to a couple if fine days? Planting, tidying and weeding can be so pleasant on a sunny, windless, 60 degree day.

Photograph by Dmitri Kasterine,  Helleborus orientallis in  our garden in Garrison, NY, April 22, 2020 

The sad state of men's tennis

I have always liked ruins. Here is a ruin of a tennis court in Beacon NY taken in 2013. Not much hope for it and I must go and have a look to see if it is not now the site of a condominium development. Being a regular tennis player (or was until the closing down of all activity outside home) I was heartbroken to see this.

Until high schools stop grabbing money for football and promoting football as the sport that will get you girls, we are lost, and tennis will be over shadowed. American male professional players will continue to struggle.

To support my unscientific and breezy comments on football, I cite the fact that American women players are doing well on the WTA circuit at the moment.



Sunday, April 19, 2020

I had not looked at this picture for about ten years. I remember they were not quite sure they wanted to be photographed together because they had, that day, gone their separate ways, they said.

I wonder if it was the earrings. From what you can see from the photograph, you can't fault the shirt or the skirt or the necklace, or her or him. But, were the earrings a mistake?

Ah well, it was their business—I'm just expressing an opinion. I feel it is the only thing about these two, only knowing them from the photograph, you could be put off by. I liked them both, but couples are always separating for apparently no good reason that their friends and acquaintances can understand.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Unknown woman.

It was early afternoon in Red Hook, Brooklyn in 2011. We had had lunch with our friends who told us about a woman who lived in a chapel round the corner and gave dinner parties for twenty-five people, cooked by her, and lit only by candlelight. We should meet her, they said. They had spoken to her that morning and she was expecting us. We called her several times and we pressed bells, shouted and knocked on her door. She finally answered a call and said, "Give me a moment while I get dressed." This is how she appeared. Encouraged by Caroline to take her picture, I am not sure I would have photographed her if she had appeared in something more conventional when greeting strangers. But the face went with the outfit, I thought, and I asked her to stand in the doorway. 

We never received an invitation to dinner which was disappointing but maybe her living in the chapel was brought to an early end by a landlord or by the authorities and she never found another place to seat 25.

Monday, April 13, 2020

This picture has little to do with what we are concerned with today except that it has a soothing quality. I have forgotten the details but it was taken in the Midwest probably in the early 1980s. (My filing system from that period will never be held up as an example of how to keep track of ones photographs.)

But I wanted to tell you about something worth reading from the BBC website to do with Greek history, plagues and Boris Johnson, if you have not already read it. I have neither a picture taken in Greece, nor one of the present plague, nor one of B. Johnson, but this picture does at least have the look of isolation about it.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Oh the joys of summers's past! Photographed in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY in 2011.

You never can tell about subjects in photographs who look calm and collected―they may have just had the most colossal row.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Ways of Escape

In 1980, Graham Greene published a memoir called Ways of Escape. Much of the books consists of exciting incidents and encounters in his life, some of which led to his writing a book of fiction. Among the episodes he describes are life in West Africa in the service of MI6 (the British Secret Service) during World War II, his thoughts on and use of opium and his travels to Hanoi, Havana and the Middle East. In a number of these reports Mr. Greene was under fire or in danger of his life in other ways. To escape, it was action he was after.

Today, escape is only available through what you can find to do in isolation. No action, thank you, nobody wants danger through activity, there is enough danger by simply strolling about. My ways of escape are through Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert, P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, writing and gardening.

I took this photograph of Graham Greene in his apartment in Antibe, France in the early1980s. The apartment had just been broken into, he thought by the police, lawyer and judge from Nice he had recently accused of being corrupt. He tells the story of this corruption in J'accuse.