In Italian there’s an expression that goes “Figlio d’arte” which it doesn’t have an English translation that I know.
A “figlio d’arte” is a son or a daughter that does the same job of his father, or his mother. It is not surprisingly Italians use this expression and feels natural. Italy is a nepotistic country and nepotism is one of Italy’s shames.
It is a concept so familiar and given that we do not put much attention to it. In fact we almost see it natural.
Pick any professional category and you’ll find family trees of professionals with the same surnames. Doctors have their sons following father’s career, sharing the same offices and hospitals. Some categories are such close circles you could call it a sect. There are no chances of become a notary in Italy unless an influential relative isn’t already in to favour you. Either a politician or a shopkeeper, dads seem to have the gift of transferring their professional skills genetically. They clearly don’t. They cheat.
It’s on the news every other month that some university professor is going to be processed to have favourite his or her progenies to win a position that, on paper, was open to public. Few days ago was told of a successful wedding photographer in south Italy who kicked out a promising young assistant because he was becoming too good and threatening his son career. Sacrificing a good professional (and your profession) to favour your son, just because it is your son. This is the Italy I fled.
Such a pamphlet (it’s a blog, isn’t it?) to introduce Charlotte Gainsbourg performance. She closed the Somerset House series of summer 2012 concerts with a rare appearance. I tend to go to Somerset every year. I was there in 2011 for My Morning Jacket and in 2009 when I soaked my lovely Contax film cameras to photograph Bat For Lashes . The place is spectacular for live music and one of the only in London where you can see an open air concert without being on the muddy grass of a festival.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is a “figlia d’arte” but there are quite a few differences from those Italian scientists occupying a seat next to their father desk at the university.
She is not Italian. Charlotte father is a legend: Serge Gainsbourg. No other adjective can be used to define a man that has changed popular music forever. An artist whose impact on Europe songwriting is as big as Bob Dylan in USA.
I don’t know what brought Charlotte to follow her father steps. I know that, contrary to Italian nepotism that aims at a permanent position regardless having the skills, her is an act of profound courage.
Gainsbourg must love singing for the pleasure of it. She doesn’t need to do it for money. She wouldn’t need to do it at all.
Charlotte, before becoming a musicians, was already a renowned actress. She starred in over 40 movies and has been capable of stellar performances. Everyone should watch her role as a young Bob Dylan, indeed she plays a male character, in I’m Not There. Or the protagonist of controversial Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist which won her a “Palm D’or” as best actress at the most prestigious film festival: Cannes.
Charlotte Gainsbourg musical career started on an album recorded as a teenager with her father. Concentrated on cinema, she will not record for the following twenty years. In 2006 her debut solo album arrived. 5.55, written and recorded together with the electropop French duo, Air, and with Jarvis Cocker gave her instant recognition. Her alternative music star was born.
Despite the mostly English singing and an electronic vein, the delicate melodies and the explicit lyrics remind of her father. Her charm does the rest to make the mixture an unusual and delicious cocktail.
Three years went before the release of IRM in 2009. This time to write the songs, to help at the mixer and to join singing in the single, Heaven Can Wait, she called Beck.
It is rare that Beck fails on productions and with all these ingredients his dish tastes good. The album is a success. The career of Charlotte as a singer is consecrated and took off. Even the conservative music press, usually sceptical of artists coming from elsewhere, had a very positive reception of the album.
Last chapter of Charlotte Gainsbourg “the singer” is Stage Whisper. The double album came out at the end of 2011. The first CD is a mixture of unreleased tracks and further collaborations. The additional CD is recorded live with several songs including her rendition of Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman that she originally sang on Dylan’s biopic.
The album lacks of the cohesion of the previous two but it is worth mentioning the presence of two tracks by Beck which didn’t make IRM and a couple with Conan O’Brian and Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale. More relevant to the concert happening tonight at Somerset House is the song with Connan Mockasin who is on stage with her.
Fifteen photographers and almost 30 cameras in the pit give a feeling of the rarity of Gainsbourg performances. Busy with her double career she doesn’t tour much.
I am surprised to see the large courtyard half empty. Despite it’s her only UK date and this is one of the few dry nights of this summer. British money for entertainment must have all gone to fund the Olympics’ madness. Music, exhibitions, theatres must be struggling to cope.
Charlotte comes on stage as elegant as she is. Dressed in white, she mostly seats on a stall for her first three songs. Connan Mockasin plays guitar and some other instrument on the back at occurrence.
I would love to review this gig but I cannot. Somerset House policy has changed this year. Photographers granted a pass are not allowed to stay for the rest of the gig. A stupid rule in general, even more stupid in the moment the place is half empty and it would be plenty of space for 10 more people.
I would have reviewed the show and took some other photos at the architecture, as I did last year for My Morning Jacket show. It would have been all good for Gainsbourg, it would have been a better publicity to Somerset House.
Instead after three songs in the pit, Terrible Angels, Greenwich Mean Time, Jamais we’re out. Severely.
While I walk towards the audience, a girl of the security runs after me as I was a suicide bomber on the point of explode a bomb hidden inside my camera bag among the spectators.
I ask why I can’t stay this year. She tells me that it has never happened in all years that photographers have been allowed to stay for the gigs.
My photos of My Morning Jacket 12 months ago prove differently but what is the point to start a useless debate here?
The concert is over, I am walking in Southbank shooting the London Big Eye by night.
I can’t say if Charlotte Gainsbourg gig was good or bad you can search reviews on the net. Grazia, the fashion magazine used some of these pictures too. They are not credited but… you know.
I have already written about shooting an actress on stage about 3 years ago when I photographed Juliette Lewis at Koko. I haven’t changed my mind on what I wrote on that photo tip. Shooting Charlotte Gainsbourg was even easier than Lewis, because she is a less energetic act, but you can feel the help coming from her qualities. Actors help photographers.
I want to state a point that is not as obvious as it sounds. Any artist on stage is a performer, even the most intimate, sincere, genuine human being once on stage is performing. What happens on stage is not like having a chat sipping a beer with friends. It maygive that impression, though, and if it does, the performer is doing a good job.
The act of performing is, literally, an art. Which needs skills and needs a lot of practice. Actors and actress must study performing arts hard to become artists (well, if they’re not “figli d’arte” but I ranted about this at the top of this post). One of the fruits of the persistence is to achieve a consciousness of your role. Actors on stage can deal with their presence because they can touch it.
Charlotte Gainsbourg looks natural on stage, but she is not. To look natural is part of her acting, which is not natural. She would be natural at home on the sofa watching telly with her family. Not on stage with a band playing and a fanbase screaming their adoration. But she looks genuine, and the gift of performing spontaneity isn’t given. Comes from practice.
To a photographer having to deal with this professionalism is simpler, because this “controlled sincerity” is easier to handle.
It’s not up to the artist’s emotions but up to an artist who can control her emotions and make them look genuine. If they are or not in a good mood becomes irrelevant. Paradoxically the best actors are more genuine than the ones pretending to be. They don’t illude the fans with the myth of being real. They simply never are when on stage.