On this day, a silver screen legend turns 83. But what does it matter? They say myths are ageless and Brigitte Bardot is every inch a myth and then some!
I thought for a moment there to say “the quintessential silver screen goddess” but it immediately felt wrong. Oh, Bri-Bri is a goddess – no argument there or at least none that I care to hear. But she is too unique to fit into the confines of any description. Silver screen goddesses were thick on the ground during the golden years of cinema, but Bardot was in a league of her own. Besides, she never thought much of the profession and never sought the adulation.
What was the hysteria about then? Sure, she was insanely gorgeous, physical perfection personified. But then again, there was a horde of other actresses beautiful beyond words.
Image from mastersoffate.com
Image from BB official Facebook page
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Image from BB official Facebook page
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Image from stdibs.com
It certainly had nothing to do with her acting abilities either. Bardot herself once declared, “I started out as a lousy actress and I have remained one.” Film critics say she did well in a couple of films (Le Mepris and La Verite), but she is generally considered a mediocre actress at best.
I have to agree: she usually seemed disinterested and somewhat disdainful on screen, as if the whole thing was an annoying chore. This inevitably translated into wooden, forced performances. Bardot never claimed to love acting. On the contrary, she consistently voiced her dislike for the profession and vowed to leave it when she’d truly had enough. B.B. kept her word and bid cinema adieu in 1973, devoting her life entirely to the animal rights cause.
But this woman had a presence so powerful that you couldn’t tear your eyes away from her! She could just sit in a corner and sulk, stare vacantly at a wall, or smoke with a supreme air of boredom and you would still feel compelled to gaze at her, entranced and spellbound.
The magic of Bardot has virtually nothing to do with the quality of her cinematic work. Her films are mostly light fare, sometimes downright silly and occasionally boring to tears. But people kept flocking to watch her. Why the abiding fascination?
The pursuit of the answer made Brigitte the subject of cultural, sociological and feminist studies. Another French icon, Simone de Beauvoir, explored the appeal of B.B. way back in 1959 in an essay titled “Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome.” Here is an excerpt from that work:
“When Marlene Dietrich exhibited her silk-wrapped thighs while singing in her husky voice, she was casting a spell . . . Brigitte Bardot doesn’t cast spells; she acts. Her flesh doesn’t have the generosity that symbolizes passivity. Her clothes are not fetishes and when she undresses, she reveals no mystery. She simply shows off her body, which is in constant movement. She walks, she dances, she moves. In the hunting game, she is both hunter and prey. Males are an object for her, as much as she is an object for them. This is precisely what hurts males’ pride.”
Another prominent woman of French letters, Françoise Sagan, made Bardot the focus of a book in 1975. “She was success, money, love incarnated and she didn’t see why and who she should reimburse. She wasn’t ashamed of herself, she didn’t apologize for her absolute triumph whereas so many others apologized for their half-victories. And this is why she scandalized everyone,” Sagan wrote.
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Image from BB official Facebook page
Brigitte refused to bow to conventions at a time when such dissent sparked public outrage and moralistic diatribes. This is a woman that the Vatican once denounced as the personification of evil by using her image at the 1958 World Expo in Brussels in its pavilion hall to depict suffering, hell and the devil, and lasciviousness. There’s an irony somewhere here because Brigitte remained a conservative at heart throughout her life. She was, after all, brought up in a wealthy Catholic family that upheld tradition.
Controversy has always surrounded Brigitte, nowadays mostly for her far-right inclinations and nationalistic views. Many in France revile her for her stance on immigration in general and anti-Muslim sentiments in particular. She’s been convicted several times of inciting racial or religious hatred. And while claiming to have many gay friends, Bardot has spoken some ugly words about homosexuals.
On the whole, the French have mixed feelings about their erstwhile screen goddess. Many hate her for the things mentioned above but many also praise highly her immense contribution to the fight for animal rights. Quite a few admire her refusal to follow in the footsteps of actresses her age who desperately fight the passage of time by resorting to cosmetic surgery and often end up looking ridiculous. Bardot looks every year of her age, all wrinkled and frail, limping along propped on crutches.
The woman has endured, that’s for sure. Her style has been copied avidly through the years, but no-one has even come close to the original. She was a being apart, floating in her own universe: an incomparable body moving with animal grace, a shock of blond tousled hair, a pout the likes of which the world had never seen and has yet to see, an unapologetic attitude, and a total disregard for the trappings of fame.
She has symbolized many things in her life, among them France, sexual freedom and women’s liberation. It didn’t seem as if she cared much about all of that. Brigitte often claimed she was happiest in La Madrague, her villa in Saint-Tropez, next to the sea, surrounded by her swarm of animals and away from people. They say that Saint-Tropez became the jewel of the French Riviera after word spread that Brigitte had taken up residence there. The city is now honoring its famed denizen by unveiling a statue of Bri-Bri on her birthday.
Bon anniversaire, Brigitte! Be well and stay happy doing your thing, even if that happens to be nothing more than feeding the animals in your yard and puttering in the garden.
See the person in the picture above? That’s Silver Ginger. Well, that’s the artistic moniker he goes by. His name is actually Lee Gill, he’s English and he lives in Derby.
He’s also kind of weird. For one thing, he’s fascinated with skulls. They are strewn all over his place. Not real ones, obviously. Decorative stuff, jewellery, mugs, you get the idea. And get this: he has an egg ring that fashions a skull out of two eggs. It’s adorable: the yolks end up as the eye sockets and the whites form the shape of the skull. Lee’s also a neatnik of the highest order. I don’t think I’ve ever met a man as clean and tidy as him. Let me put it another way: everybody else is a slob when measured against Lee! And he loves cycling, which I thought nobody did. I mean, watching the professionals go at it.
Skull fascination or not, Lee is a person I count as my friend. We’re not friends in the conventional sense. We live about 1,800 miles apart. And while we met online back in 1999 (it may have been 2000, we couldn’t decide firmly on the year), we’ve only met in person twice: in 2013 and 2014. Still, we keep in touch regularly, making it a point to have a video chat every week.
But our personal dealings are not the subject of this piece. I want to tell you about Lee’s passion for photography. I’m embarrassed to admit that his journey to photographic excellence somehow failed to register with me. It just hit me one day that he had become a very passionate photographer and a damn fine one at that! You should hear him drooling over some camera or salivating over lenses that apparently work wonders! So let me make it up to Lee by telling you the story of his love affair with photography.
You know how you go to a shrink and it typically turns out that your parents are at the bottom of it, whatever issue “it” happens to be? Luckily, our parents don’t always screw us up, at least not in all respects. Sometimes they nudge us in the right direction and become responsible for our greatest triumphs.
The hero at the start of this story is Mr. Mick Gill. Besides siring Lee, this lovely gentleman has much to do with Lee’s love of photography. Mr. Gill himself seems to have an on-and-off affair with photography, as Lee told me. Daddy returned from his army service with a “cool spy camera, a Minolta 16” and that thing had little Lee in awe. Our boy also spent hours flicking through the family photo albums, lingering in fascination at the pictures his father had taken during his army days. Mr. Gill was apparently a master of self-portraits but what little Lee loved most was poring over the images of military vehicles, foreign landscapes and animals.
Lee reckons he first tried his hand at photography at the age of nine or ten. It was during a school trip to London and he’s still holding on to those snapshots although they are “beyond terrible.”
It seems that this love story began in earnest in Lee’s twenties. Mr. Gill was actively involved in the process. In fact, daddykins had enrolled in a photography course at a local college in the 1990s.
“He really took it seriously and started buying all kinds of old cameras at boot sales and from charity shops. At the time, we were both fairly fit and used to go cycling together, combining it with photography.”
Lee started with an old Russian camera borrowed from his dad. Then he got really lucky.
“One Sunday morning at our favourite boot sale I saw someone was selling a kit bag with a Praktika SLR+50mm lens. Nothing exciting, but at the time it felt as if I’d won the lottery. I think he wanted £25 for it, which I gladly paid. I remember being so excited I was buzzing all morning.”
Certain years stand out although not it terms of scaling any photography skills heights. In 1998, the Gill men took a trip to Ireland. It was to see the first stages of the Tour de France but the trip also provided an opportunity to wield their cameras. In 2000, Lee tried his hand (for the first and only time) at portrait photography. The subjects were the members of a band his girlfriend at the time knew. However, that was not an experience Lee remembers fondly and to this very day, he finds human portraits way out of his comfort zone.
About a year later, he had his beloved Mountain Bike stolen. The theft devastated him, killing his passion for going out and taking pictures.
However, around that time Lee started hearing about digital cameras. The old spark was apparently still lurking somewhere there, waiting for the right moment to burst into glorious flame. Having saved some money, Lee bought a digital camera in 2004. It looks laughable now and even back then it was far from being a fancy piece of photographic equipment. But the important thing is that it reignited the passion that burns brightly to this very day. Photography reclaimed Lee with such force that by 2005 it had completely displaced poetry as his means of self-expression.
2007 was another landmark year. It was then that Lee got what he calls his “first proper camera.” The Canon 400D DSLR was ideal for the level his skills had reached.
As the camera arsenal kept getting upgraded, the shooting perimeter expanded. Due to his limited mobility, Lee focused initially on areas around home but later began to venture beyond those confines. He’d struck a friendship with an elderly gentleman, also disabled, and the two of them joined English Heritage and the National Trust. Their trips have given Lee the opportunity to photograph some amazing architecture.
I think now would be a good time to say a few words about Lee’s disability. It’s the result of a stroke he suffered at the age of 13. The whys and hows are not pertinent to our story but the effects of the stroke have shaped his way of taking pictures. Since his left side is affected, all he can do with his left hand is hold the pistol grip he attaches to the bottom of the camera. He uses it to support the weight and hold the camera still, employing his right hand then for all the positioning, composing, focusing and pressing the shutter.
I could go on piling chronological details but they wouldn’t really add value to the story. I wanted to tell it because Lee is a friend and this is his passion. As I hinted earlier, this is, to a certain extent, my apology to him for failing to share in his photographic evolutionary journey.
I don’t know anything about photography. But as with any form of art, its worth is largely determined by the impact it has in terms of stirring emotions and provoking thoughts. Mastery of expressive means and innovative techniques are the concern of art critics. Regular people like me, we are primitive in our perception of visual art. We like or dislike photographs and paintings because of their effect on us or lack thereof. If the work leaves us indifferent, we’ll most likely pronounce it to be crap. It doesn’t mean we are right. It simply means the work in question doesn’t speak to us on any level.
But I digress. What I wanted to say was that Lee’s pictures have a special aura, an atmosphere that seems to spill out and envelop you. You react to them, maybe everyone in a different way, but they don’t leave you cold.
As any writer on a mission, I got pesky at one point and brought out the big guns. You know, all those questions artists usually find hard to answer but can always expect to get asked. Like motivation and choices, for example. In plain speak, I wanted Lee to tell me what prompts him to lift the camera and click the shutter button. Here’s what he had to say:
“I often get asked what I specialise in and what my fave subjects are. And my answer is always the same: everything! If I like what I see, I’ll take a picture. I’m inspired by everything around me and like photographing mundane objects, the kind that people walk by every day and pay no attention to.”
Lee went on to note that his style had changed dramatically over the past decade. He used to be all about landscapes in the beginning, which is how many photographers start out. These days, however, he’s much more about details and emotions. His images tell a story, they have a moral and a deep meaning. He sometimes finds it frustrating when people don’t pick this up but when they do get it, he feels immense joy and the deep satisfaction of having successfully expressed himself.
Lucky for me, Lee did play favourites and declared trees his greatest inspiration. If he had any say in how he’s to be remembered as a photographer, it would be for his tree images. He calls trees his muses and sees a story behind each one of them. Number two on this list are cemeteries and church graveyards. It’s not some morbid fascination although some may jump to such conclusions. Lee sees them as another wellspring of stories. Plus, they often abound in gorgeous works of sculpture and architecture.
As passionate as Lee is about photography, he doesn’t see a glittering professional future ahead.
“Do I ever think I’ll be some hotshot photographer whom people admire? No! Would I want to have fame? No! I have a small following of friends who like my work and that suits me. I’m very much an ego-free person content just to be himself. If people like my work, great. If they don’t, that’s fine too.”
I, for one, hope he gets recognition beyond his circle of admiring friends. On the other hand, some people want nothing more than to express themselves. Their goal is to produce work that resonates with those who happen to see it. Such people use their cameras, brushes or keyboards to tell and share stories. Sometimes these are stories of heartbreak, woe and misfortune. Other times, we get tales of love, joy and redemption.
People have always hungered for stories. Otherwise, why would cave dwellers have scratched squiggly pictures on walls? The grim stories teach us lessons provided that we’re willing to learn. The upbeat ones fuel our dreams and strengthen our resolve. I guess what I’m trying to say is that storytellers are special people.
Lee has chosen to tell his stories through a camera. Let me treat you now to the five pictures he considers his favourites. Yep, I asked him to choose and that elicited a few loud groans but he indulged me. He also provided brief comments for each of the photos.
The way I see it, there’s no such thing as professional and amateur artists. They all create because they feel compelled to. Some sell their art; others choose not to. But each is driven by the desire to tell a story or share an experience. Go on then, I say unto them! The rest of us are ready and willing to hear you out and rejoice, wonder, commiserate or empathise, as the case may be.
And there’s Lee, grabbing his camera and heading out in search of his latest story. The book of his tales will keep on growing and maybe one day it will become required reading.
P.S. See? I wasn’t joking – skulls rule that household!
P.P.S. And a whole treasure trove awaits you at https://www.flickr.com/photos/leemgill/. I’ll be delving into it a LOT for the needs of this blog. Oh, that lovely picture you see in the circle on my front page? That’s Lee’s work. I adore this picture – it’s one of the most beautiful things I have seen! Thanks, mate!
The “first one” would be this article but I need to make something clear right away. It’s anything but my first! As part of my last regular job, I produced anywhere between 10 and 15 articles a day. With nine years on the job, that’s a whole lotta articles!
This one is the first meant to serve my very own purposes. Hmm…now that I think about it, it doesn’t have that much of a purpose. I just thought I need something to inaugurate this site. It makes sense (or so it seems to me) to have some general piece posted first, something maybe even a bit ramble-y. And I do tend to ramble, believe you me!
Still, I think I need to anchor this text and here’s what I’m going with: Stephen Fry.
I love that man! I want him for my papa! I love watching him on screen, but it’s his writing that floors me every time. The man is a genius, right? Well, I don’t know if he’s taken one of those tests and holds the title officially. But we just know it: Mr. Fry is an Ubermensch!
I’ve caught myself thinking on several occasions that Mr. Fry should be put in charge of the world. Of course, I haven’t got the foggiest how that can be arranged; I just know that we need him ruling. Maybe we can have the United Global States some day and he’ll be president…
I’m not a fan of social media. It has nothing to do with age – I love the internet and consider it the best thing to have happened in my lifetime. Should they find a cure for cancer, I’ll revise that statement, but it holds true for the time being. Twitter plain depresses me; it’s this constant barrage of messages, most of them ridiculous or meaningless. It’s overwhelming and not in a fun way. But I finally buckled and created a Twitter account just so that I can follow Mr. Fry and a few other people I admire.
Anyway, a few days ago vile Twitter spewed the most delightful piece of news! Mr. Fry’s book The Hippopotamus has been made into a film!!! I did the happy dance, shouted from my balcony (the neighbourhood dogs didn’t like it) and treated my cats to that nasty, gooey stuff they love to distraction – you know, the one that comes in pouches and is the equivalent of human junk food.
I should point out that The Hippopotamus is my favourite book by Stephen Fry. I must have read it about ten times and it ranks at number two on my top books list, after Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim.
So you can imagine my euphoria when I found out that The Hippo is now a film. I only wish Mr. Fry had been cast as Ted, but Roger Allam seems like an excellent choice as well. I strongly suspect that watching this film will be the highlight of the year for me. Here’s the trailer:
And go read the book, please! You’ll roar with laughter, cry, marvel, cringe, gasp and then scream in protest that it’s over. I don’t know how well it has translated to the screen, but even if it’s a marvellous adaptation, it can’t possibly capture all the magic and madness of the book. You know what? I’m off to read it again, must be a couple of years since I last immersed myself in this glorious maelstrom of a story.