This post follows on from my initial preparation (see here). Some additional context for the upcoming essay:
- The book Chames de Londres arrived. I found it strange – Izis’s black and white photographs are used as backgrounds to a monty-pythonesque montage of colour images, including cherubs, plants, horses, people, and even a light-house covering Nelson’s column (perhaps not to the French’s liking). It is really quite tasteless in today’s context. On further investigation, it seems that the collage could be the work of the poet and co-author of the book Jacque Prévert; Fatras, an organisation that looks after his legacy, indicates the Prévert created many collages. Perhaps when the book was first published in 1952, the inclusion of colour was a rare novelty. I’m glad it cost me only £2.80. The book confirms the location of the grave yard photo as St John’s cemetery in Wapping, England and not France as captioned in The Family of Man. The book is contains poems (mostly from Prévert) and photographs. The poem alongside the photograph is:
Le Cimetierre est désert
les tombes dépareillees.
Orphéons et fanfares jouez-nous encore un fois
cet air fou d’autrefois
cet air si dechirant enluminant le temps.
Dans sa boîte cranienne
au couvercle doré
un prince s’est enfermé
Dans sa cage cérébrale
il ne cesse de tourner
Une folle fille d’Eros
voudrait le délivrer
Si la cage est fragile
les barreaux sont solides
elle a beau les secouer.
Oh Folie d’Ophélie
os fêlés d’Hamlet.
My French is poor, but with the some help from Google translate, I understand the gist of the poem. It is about madness, with a backdrop of a deserted cemetery and mismatched graves, with the broken bones of a mad Hamlet. I consulted with a friend, who is a French graduate and discussed further … initially, ‘So it is about Hamlet being shut away in his folie/madness and she can try to get in but the bars on the cage (His head) are solid.’ I suggested it was a metaphor for the madness of ward, and she replied, ‘No you are right it is about madness and war and grief and being closed off from others’. The poem in the book is an extract from a longer poem that refers to the river thames with blood running through it (http://www.wikipoemes.com/poemes/jacques-prevert/charmes-de-londres.php).
- It is difficult to read the photographs in the book because of the absurdist collages covering them. The pictures show everyday street scenes in London, and would be a wonderful document without the corruption. They are reminiscent of the work of Brassai, who was a mentor to Izis. The library of Lausanne shows some of Izis’s images online from the book Grand Bal du Printemps. A screen dump of one is reproduced below.
- In my previous post, I learnt about ‘‘Izis’s “poetic sadness” was rooted in personal tragedy.’ I wanted to understand more about the Lithuanian-jews, Izis’s people. A well-referenced article on Wikipedia gives enough information for this purpose. ‘Prior to the German invasion, the population of Jews was estimated to be about 210,000 … the number of Lithuanian Jews murdered in the Holocaust [was] 195,000 to 196,000′. Over 95% of Izis’ people exterminated. The Red List, tells us the Izis’s parents were assassinated by the Nazis.
There is important context to the photograph – it’s place in time is soon after World War 2, most likely taken between 1945 and 1952 when the first edition of the book was published. In the aftermath of a time of unspeakable tragedy, particularly for Izis with the genocide of his people and murder of his parents. Prévert’s poem connotes this with reference to madness, broken bones, and mismatched tombs.
Lausanne University Library [website]. Jacques PREVERT et IZIS, Grand Bal du Printemps, 1951. Available from: http://wp.unil.ch/livre-photo/guilde-du-livre/les-albums-sur-paris/grand-bal-de-printemps/#pn4 [accessed 2.4.16]
Fatras [website]. La Succession Jacque Prévert. Available from: http://www.jacquesprevert.fr/en/succession/presentation/ [accessed 2.4.16]
Prévert J Izis-Bidermanas (1952). Charmes de Londres (Edition de Monza, 1999). Paris, de Monza.
The Red List [website]. Izis (1911 – 1980). Available from: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-803-view-humanism-profile-izis.html [accessed 2.4.16]
Trussel [website]. Directory of Notable Photographers – Izis. Available from: http://www.trussel.com/maig/izis.htm [accessed 2.4.16]
Wikipedia [website]. The Holocaust in Lithuania. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust_in_Lithuania [accessed 2.4.16]