INTERVIEW WITH MARK SELIGER

By Anita Malhotra

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

Acclaimed portrait photographer Mark Seliger has photographed an impressive list of celebrities and public figures that includes Mick Jagger, Serena Williams, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama.

Starting his career with Rolling Stone in 1987, he served as the magazine’s chief photographer from 1992 to 2002. He then moved to Condé Nast publications, where he has shot covers for the magazines Vanity Fair, Elle, Italian Vogue and GQ, among others.

Mark Seliger has also released 11 books of personal work, the most recent of which is On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories. With a foreword by Janet Mock, the book features compelling black-and-white photographs of transgender men and women pictured on the iconic Manhattan street that has symbolized gay pride since the ‘70s. 

The photos from the book were the subject of an exhibition in New York City last fall and are now being shown again, this time in Los Angeles at the Von Lintel Gallery. Anita Malhotra spoke with Mark Seliger, who was at his studio in New York City,  by telephone on Feb. 1, 2017.

D’Jamel Young and Leiomy Maldonado featured on the cover of Mark Seliger's most recent book, "Christopher Street: Transgender Stories" (photo ©Mark Seliger)

D’Jamel Young and Leiomy Maldonado featured on the cover of Mark Seliger’s most recent book, “Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: How did your project Christopher Street first come about?

MS: I live in the neighborhood, on Charles Street, and I’ve always enjoyed the theater of that block. It’s almost like an Ellis Island for anybody who is in a place in their world where they’re exploring. It’s just very open.

And over the last couple of years I’ve really noticed that that area has started to homogenize and gentrify. So it started off as me shooting portraits of some of the neighborhood color and circus and fun, and re-introducing myself and asking people on the street if I could photograph them. And after about a dozen portraits, it became apparent that we were working on a more in-depth story specifically focused on transgender.

A portrait of Soya by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

A portrait of Soya by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: Was there something in particular about the transgender subjects that interested you?

MS: It was very intuitive the way that it worked out. I think that makes the best kind of project, where you just spend time in one place and then you see what it becomes. The most active and the most visually interesting moment on the street was a mixture of the normal theatrics of the area and a lot of very early morning people working the streets and on the streets. But also it’s obviously the hub of gay pride, and Christopher Street has a historical placement as well with the LGBT community and with Stonewall, so it really is a destination.

Amos Mac photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Amos Mac photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Fifty percent of my focus is always a process. So we were shooting with one kind of camera that I tested out and figured out that was what I wanted to do, and sticking with an environmental background on just one street. And then choosing black-and-white and just focusing on that.

AM: What camera were you using?

MS: A Hasselblad. It’s an analog, square-format camera I’ve had for many years.

AM: Was there a particular process you used to print the photos?

MS: We were printing on silver gelatin, so darkroom. Everything was done through an analog process.

NiTee Spady in a portrait by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

NiTee Spady in a portrait by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: In your work for magazines, I believe you usually come up with a concept or an idea for a photo. How did you go about conceiving these portraits?

MS: The portraits are really done from the street. One of the alluring aspects for me was just go on the street and meet people and take their picture. Some of them didn’t last more than six to ten frames, and sometimes we shot two or three rolls on somebody.

The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street was the site of 1969 riots that kicked off the modern USA gay rights movement (photo by Troy David Johnston, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street was the site of 1969 riots that kicked off the modern USA gay rights movement (photo by Troy David Johnston, Flickr Creative Commons)

I really tried to focus on the idea that there was not any kind of casting or pre-production. It was really from a random experience. Sometimes I’d go out and tour around at night-time and try to find subjects and would never find somebody, and sometimes I would find three or four. Every day was different.

At the very end – to fill some of the spaces – we were introduced to a trans panel one night through one of our subjects and we met some of our trans men. And that led us to getting to know some other men. The trans men were much more difficult to connect with on the street because there’s nothing that you would register as female.

AM: In your book, the portraits are accompanied by stories. How did you get these stories?

MS: It was just about the photographs at first, but once we got to know our subjects a little bit better I did interviews with half of them and we took those interviews and built transcriptions in order to accompany the photographs in the book.

A portrait of Les Larue by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

A portrait of Les Larue by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

The exhibition doesn’t have the caption information or the stories. The book does. And we also included in our presentation a short 20-minute documentary of the interviews.

AM: What did you learn about the transgender experience through your project?

I feel like there’s an incredible misunderstanding of the personal journey that people go through in order to be able to feel like they’re in the right body. It’s obviously a very difficult and important step to have the self-respect and the depth and the determination and the commitment to be able to do that.

The other thing I learned is that my subjects, for the most part, were all very willing subjects. It was the first time they’d ever been seen in this new form – somebody that would get to know them and be interested enough to go and take a picture and talk to them about it.

Carmen Carrera (R) with her husband Adrian Torres and their daughters as photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Carmen Carrera (R) with her husband Adrian Torres and their daughters as photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What have the reactions been to the book by the people you photographed?

MS: I think some of them were a little surprised that we kept it very honest. We didn’t Photoshop or change the way that somebody looked in any way whatsoever. They’re very raw pictures and a lot of my subjects were honored and fine with it, but at first they were a little bit surprised how honest they were.

Mahayla Mcelroy photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Mahayla Mcelroy photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What kinds of reactions have you had from the public?

MS: We did a show in New York that was unannounced and unadvertised and we had 500 to 800 people walking through there a day. The thing I realize is that everybody has a trans story like, “My best friend’s daughter is going through this.”

Actually my lawyer, who’s 80 years old and who helped me with the book project, looked at me after going through the book and goes, “my great-nephew used to be my great-niece.” So I was really tickled with the way that people responded. It’s all about being open in your own mind to the way the somebody feels about themselves. Maybe it does open questions in terms of our own bodies and our own self-discovery, but for the most part it’s about somebody else and you have to be tolerant of something that needs to be shared and obviously created.

Jamila Pratt and Paradise Valentino in a portrait by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Jamila Pratt and Paradise Valentino in a portrait by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: Tell me about the exhibit that is currently showing in Los Angeles.

MS: We’re doing a show with Tarrah von Lintel, who’s a wonderful gallerist in Los Angeles who really wanted to do this show and who also has just transitioned. She just loved the work and we’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback on the relationship of the work within the gallery. It’s a beautiful, beautiful space. So we’re very honored to be there.

AM: In terms of your overall career, how did you develop your interest in photography when you were first starting out?

MS: As a kid I was really more interested in printing. I learned the simplicity and the process of photography through the darkroom. And then eventually I went to a small state school, and in my third year at school I met my mentor James Newberry, who was teaching documentary and print-making. And that was when I started to develop the idea of portraiture.

Barack Obama photographed by Seliger for Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 just before beginning his second term as president of the USA (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Barack Obama photographed by Seliger for Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 just before beginning his second term as president of the USA (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: You have had and are having an amazing career as a Rolling Stone photographer and also with Condé Nast.

MS: Well, I worked with Rolling Stone for 10 years as their chief photographer. And then I moved to Condé Nast and I worked for Vanity Fair and GQ exclusively for them for 10 years. And now I work for both places.

I’m enjoying the fruits of working for lots of different people and lots of different editors. I work very closely with Jann [Wenner] and Jodi [Peckman] at Rolling Stone, and I work with Graydon Carter and do a little bit of work with GQ and Fred Woodward still. I do fashion work and I do my own work – just kind of immerse myself in what’s out there. Magazines are obviously changing all the time, so it’s an ebb and flow.

The Dalai Lama photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

The Dalai Lama photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What are some of the highlights from your career as a magazine photographer?

MS: There are so many amazing experiences I have had in terms of making pictures. I think if people were to ask about a couple of highlights I would say probably working with Obama was interesting – going to the White House. An experience working with a president is always pretty memorable. Then working with the Dalai Lama.

One of the earlier Rolling Stone things that I did that got my foot in the door was a twenty-fifth anniversary portfolio, which was a series of 15 or 16 photographs that celebrated the 25 years of Rolling Stone. That was amazing.

Musician Kurt Cobain was photographed by Seliger and featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a special memorial issue following Cobain's death on April 5, 1994 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Musician Kurt Cobain was photographed by Seliger and featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a special memorial issue following Cobain’s death on April 5, 1994 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

And the last ten years I’ve been doing some fashion work and I had an incredible couple of experiences working for Franca Sozzani, who just passed away, for Italian Vogue, and shooting couture during French Fashion Week and seeing that world, which was so fresh and unusual as well.

Actress Gretchen Mol photographed by Seliger in 2007 for Italian Vogue in 2007 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Actress Gretchen Mol photographed by Seliger in 2007 for Italian Vogue in 2007 (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Working with legends in the music world has always been a great benefit for me just because – like a lot of people – I really enjoy music. So to go and photograph some of my heroes has been a highlight as well, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan and George Harrison, Joni Mitchell. That’s been a fantastic route.

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards photographed by Seliger in 2011 for British GQ magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards photographed by Seliger in 2011 for British GQ magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What do you think are the qualities that helped you to be successful in this field?

MS: I think that portraiture is a fine balance of unveiling or revealing somebody when there’s an in-between moment.

Tennis star Serena Williams photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Tennis star Serena Williams photographed by Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

What we try to do is capture not only a visually provocative feeling within the photograph, meaning something that has a balance of composition and design and lighting and photography, but also one that really is significant of who these people are.

So I think great portraiture is really about, without sounding corny, essence and craft.

AM: Is there someone that you have not photographed yet that you would really like to photograph?

MS: There’s lots of people. Unfortunately a couple of them have passed. I never photographed Prince, I never photographed Michael Jackson in terms of entertainment. Both were obviously legends.

Two members of the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot photographed by Seliger in 2014 for Vanity Fair magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Two members of the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot photographed by Seliger in 2014 for Vanity Fair magazine (photo ©Mark Seliger)

It seems like there may be a new, fresh take on the world in terms of people getting more energetic about not only political figures, but leaders. But I’ve also been really interested in photographing the way that the earth is changing and the way it shapes our indigenous world as well. Everything is a project – it just takes time.

Comedian, actor and producer Jerry Seinfeld as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz featured on the cover of Seliger's 1999 book "Physiognomy" (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Comedian, actor and producer Jerry Seinfeld as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz featured on the cover of Seliger’s 1999 book “Physiognomy” (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: What projects do you have coming up in the near future?

MS: We’re still working on getting this book complete and moving through that. I’m kind of shaping some ideas for a next project and getting ready to lay out a possible anthology of 30 years. So that will be next year for me – editing and shooting.

We pretty much spend our weeks working on our commercial work and just kind of balancing out both worlds so that we have the resources to be able to do the other work.

Mark Seliger’s exhibit On Christopher Street: Portraits opened on Jan. 14 at the Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles and runs until Feb. 25, 2017. For more information about Mark Seliger and his work, please visit markseliger.com. 

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTIAN MUNGIU

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

Romanian film director and Cannes award-winner Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

By Anita Malhotra

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu has distinguished himself with a series of award-winning films that explore social issues in Romania in a highly realistic style. The best known of these is the riveting drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a young woman going to great lengths to help a friend obtain an illegal abortion during the late Communist era. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, the first time a Romanian film had won this prize.

He followed it with two more Cannes award-winners: Beyond the Hills (2012), based on a tragic incident that took place in 2005 in a Romanian monastery, and Graduation (2016), about a doctor who uses a corrupt system to ensure his daughter’s academic success.

Poster for Cristian Mungiu's film Bacalaureat (Graduation), which shared Best Director prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Poster for Mungiu’s film Bacalaureat (Graduation), which shared Best Director prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Mungiu, who was a writer before becoming a filmmaker, is also internationally known for the six-part black comedy Tales from the Golden Age (2009), which he wrote and produced.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Mungiu, who was at his office in Bucharest, by telephone on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

Director Cristian Mungiu on the set of <em>Graduation</em> (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Mungiu on the set of Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

AM: I wanted to start by asking about your latest film, Graduation [Bacalaureat], which won a Best Director Award at Cannes this year and had its Canadian premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. What are the next steps for the film?

CM: The film was bought as a screenplay by many countries and was later sold during the Cannes Film Festival to some other territories. Now I’m in this period when I have to travel and accompany the film because the film starts theatrically in the 40-something countries where it was sold. I started doing this in August in Italy, and I was very happy to see that it was the best-performing art house film in Italy this year.

Still from Mungiu's 2016 film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Still from Mungiu’s 2016 film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

I will start tomorrow with a small trip accompanying the film to the London Film Festival and New York Film Festival screenings. And by the end of the year it will start theatrically in 15 to 20 countries and I will probably be present at 10 festivals.

AM: How has the number of screenings compared to that of your earlier films?

CM: I think that my last three films were all sold in more than 45 countries, but probably 4 Months performed best because it won the Palme d’Or. At the same time there’s something about this film – it’s somehow more accessible to spectators. It’s either the fact that it’s my third film in a row which got something in Cannes or because it’s not as difficult as 4 Months or Beyond the Hills. The response is really very good. I was very happy to see in Telluride, for example, that they added an extra screening.

Poster for Mungiu's film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Poster for Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

AM: You have said that the film grew out of your experience of parenting. What is the connection between your experience of parenting and the subject of the film?

CM: I still live in Romania, so I need to make a decision about my children. I see many parents deciding early on about the education of their children because it’s not the same kind of education if you prepare them to stay and you imagine that they will live here, or if you prepare them to study abroad at the age of 18 and maybe have an international career.

Maria-Victoria Dragus in <em>Bacalaureat (Graduation)</em> (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Maria-Victoria Dragus in Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

And then there are a lot of small, practical things happening every day which place me in a position to consider what’s best to tell the children. Driving my children to school every day I have to decide if I respect the traffic rules and wait for the red light, and then there are 20 cars getting in front of me, or if I decide to be the first one to cross. Because this is the kind of competition that still exists here because things are not very well settled. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BENJAMIN VON WONG

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

Toronto-born, 29-year-old photographer Benjamin Von Wong pushes the technical and artistic limits of photography like few other photographers do. His elaborately staged, fantastical photographs – often set in unconventional locations – look like they were created using photo editing software but are the result of painstakingly planned and executed real-life shoots.

His photo shoots have featured people dressed as superheroes posing precariously on the edge of a skyscraper’s roof, a model dressed as a shepherdess in an underwater cave with sharks swimming nearby, and fire used for dramatic effect in a variety of settings. All his shoots are documented with behind-the-scene videos that are as fascinating as the photographs themselves.

"Salvation," a self-portrait by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Salvation,” a self-portrait by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

Von Wong (he added the “Von” when he discovered there was another photographer with his name) also has a strong interest in altruistic causes. In 2013, he produced a Go Fund Me video for a girl with a terminal genetic disease that brought in one million dollars in donations in a month, and he is currently using his unique style of photography to highlight environmental issues.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Benjamin Von Wong by Skype on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

"Home" by Benjamin Von Wong, featuring Ka Amorastreya (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Home” by Benjamin Von Wong, featuring Ka Amorastreya (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Where are actually you Skyping from?

BVW: I’m currently in San Francisco. I recently decided that this was going to be my new home base. And I just got back from about six weeks of travel though Europe less than a week ago.

"Deadpool" by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Deadpool” by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Why did you move to San Francisco?

BVW: I wanted to be surrounded by dreamers and entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place. I used to be in Montreal, and as much as I love the city, my feeling was that every time I came back home nothing changed. Whereas I can go away for two months and come back to San Francisco and it’s a whole new world every single time. It’s only been about nine months now, half of which I’ve spent travelling, but it’s been an amazing choice for me to move here and have the opportunity to interact with all these different companies and corporations and individuals.

Benjamin Von Wong with Ka Amorastreya (photo by Carmine Di Donato)

Benjamin Von Wong with Ka Amorastreya (photo by Carmine Di Donato)

AM: What were you doing in Europe?

BVW: I had two projects. The first one was to shoot in a strip-mining museum where they had a couple of different mining machines. We got post-apocalyptic characters and smoke grenades, and the idea was to create a piece against coal-mining. I’m going to create as engaging of a piece as is possible, to appeal to the younger video-game style generation.

And then the other shoot was in Poland. We found an underwater excavator in Poland and got a dive crew together, got a model, tied her underwater in 14 degree Celsius waters, and had a little piece of coral. The idea was to raise awareness for dredging, which is a fairly big issue, especially in the fishing industry.

"Cormorant Fisherman," done in partnership with Ballantine's Whiskey, by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Cormorant Fisherman,” done in partnership with Ballantine’s Whiskey, by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Where were you born and raised?

BVW: I’m Canadian. I was born in Toronto actually, and my parents are Chinese-Malaysian. I’ve been to 13 different schools in three different countries, so I travelled quite a little bit when I was young and I spent about half my life in Montreal.

Benjamin as a young man doing Taekwondo (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

Benjamin as a young man doing Taekwondo (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: What were some of those countries that you lived in?

BVW: It was just Canada, U.S. and China. In China I lived in Beijing for four years from eight to 12 years old, and while in the U.S. I lived in Dallas, Texas for a year and a half.  I also spent six months in California when I was a bit younger.

AM: Did you have any inclination towards visual images or photography when you were a kid?

"Portrait of Don MacKascill" by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Portrait of Don MacKascill” by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

BVW: I really liked comic books. I think that’s probably the closest to visual attraction that I had to anything. Photography was never something that I was particularly interested in. Even when I picked it up it was just a new hobby to take on with new technologies to try out, and it crept up on me throughout the years. When I quit my job in 2012, I didn’t necessarily want to become a photographer, I just didn’t want to be an engineer, and so I became a photographer by default.

AM: Was there any artistic influence from your family?

BVW: No, my family is not artsy at all. They did push us to try a lot of things out. I have a black belt in Taekwondo, I started playing violin when I was four, they put us through drawing lessons, painting lessons. We’ve tried everything from pottery to sculpting and just a little bit of everything. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HONJI WANG AND SÉBASTIEN RAMIREZ

By Anita Malhotra

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their 2010 duo AP15 (photo © Nika Kramer)

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their 2010 duo AP15 (photo © Nika Kramer)

In the six years that they have worked together, Europe-based dancers and choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (Company Wang Ramirez) have created an innovative body of work that blends hip-hop with other dance styles while exploring themes like relationships and cultural identity with freshness and humor.

Frankfurt-born Wang is of Korean background and studied ballet before discovering hip-hop. Ramirez, an award-winning b-boy, has Spanish background but grew up in the south of France.

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez interviewed on Feb. 27, 2016 at the Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez interviewed on Feb. 27, 2016 at the Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Starting with a short piece submitted to a hip-hop competition, they began creating larger scale works that established them in the contemporary dance scene. These include AP15 (2010), winner of a New York Bessie Award; Monchichi (2011), an exploration of their own relationship; Borderline (2013), featuring five dancers at times suspended from cables and a rigger; and Felahikum (2015), a collaboration with Rocío Molina that juxtaposes hip-hop and flamenco.

Frequently appearing in Europe, North America and South America, they were selected through auditions last year by Madonna to work on her 2015-2016 Rebel Heart Tour. Anita Malhotra spoke with Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez on Feb. 27, 2016 in Ottawa, where they were in town for three performances of Monchichi at the National Arts Centre.

AM: How did each of you get into dance and what were your first experiences?

SR: I started in ’95 as a self-taught dancer. I started in the south of France, and with year after year of training and being in the underground hip-hop scene, competing and battling, I got to know dance. I wanted to grow out of this and develop. I was interested in choreographic work, so I started to create my own work. I created my own company in 2007, and with this company I started to create more theatrical dance pieces. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA HARVEY

Dancer, ballet stager and teacher Cynthia Harvey (photo by Ian Whalen)

Dancer, ballet stager and teacher Cynthia Harvey (photo by Ian Whalen)

By Anita Malhotra

Dancer, ballet stager and teacher Cynthia Harvey first distinguished herself in the ballet world as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov, among others, and appeared with Nureyev & Friends. She then moved to the U.K. to be a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet. Since the mid-‘90s, she has worked as a stager and teacher around the world, and in 2013 launched her foundation En Avant, which offers scholarships and master classes to young dancers. Recently, she was named the new artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, a post that starts in May.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Cynthia Harvey, who lives in eastern England, via Skype on February 14, 2016, a few weeks before three performances by the Hong Kong Ballet of her production of The Sleeping Beauty at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. 

AM: When did you first get interested in dance?

CH: I started when I saw Fonteyn and Nureyev on television on the Ed Sullivan Show. I thought she was a princess – she had a tiara – so I wanted to be her. I was very much the girly girl, so ballet was great. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH EMILIE-CLAIRE BARLOW

Emilie-Claire Barlow at the UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival on July 20, 2012 (photo by Tabercil, Flickr Creative Commons)

Emilie-Claire Barlow at the UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival on July 20, 2012 (photo by Tabercil, Flickr Creative Commons)

By Anita Malhotra

Growing up in a family of professional musicians, Toronto-based singer and arranger Emilie-Claire Barlow sang in commercials as a child and went on to release her debut album in 1998 at the age of 22. She followed this with 10 solo albums featuring arrangements of jazz standards, contemporary favorites, Brazilian songs and other repertoire. One of these, Seule ce soir, was sung entirely in French and won a Juno Award in 2013 for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.

Also a successful voice actress, Emilie-Claire Barlow has performed for such TV shows as Sailor Moon, Almost Naked Animals and Peg + Cat.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Barlow, who was at Toronto’s Pearson Airport en route to Montreal, on Dec. 4, 2015, a few weeks before a performance at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

AM: I can’t help noticing that your name is half English and half French. Where did the French half come from?

ECB: It’s a very simple answer. The French half of my name, which is of course the first half of my name, is simply because my parents loved the name. They thought it was really pretty. My parents are Anglophone – there is no Francophone in my family at all. My mother is a Francophile. She loves the language, she loves all things French. And so here I am now with this name and trying to do my best to live up to it.

"The Beat Goes On," Emilie-Claire Barlow's eighth solo album, features songs from the '60s

“The Beat Goes On,” Emilie-Claire Barlow’s eighth solo album, features songs from the ’60s

AM: You did release one album that was entirely in French. How did you accomplish that considering French was not your native language?

ECB: It’s my second language and I took very basic French as a child, but it was quite minimal. It really came because I started touring a lot in Quebec seven or eight years ago and I wanted to be able to communicate with my audiences, both during the show and after when I’m meeting people. I also found myself immersed in the musical culture of Quebec and having opportunities to promote my music on various television and radio shows, which would feature other artists – Quebec artists. So this whole other songbook and repertoire started to open up to me.

Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALBERTO VEIGA (BAROZZI/VEIGA)

Alberto Veiga (L) and Fabrizio Barozzi (R), founders of the award-winning architecture firm Barozzi/Veiga (photo courtesy of B/V)

Alberto Veiga (L) and Fabrizio Barozzi (R), founders of the award-winning architecture firm Barozzi/Veiga (photo courtesy of B/V)

By Anita Malhotra

Spanish architect Alberto Veiga and Italian architect Fabrizio Barozzi began collaborating in 2004, making a name for themselves with a series of award-winning submissions to architectural competitions in Europe. Their unique and strikingly beautiful buildings and designs, often inspired by the surrounding environment, embody their philosophy of a simple architecture based on fundamental principles like light and scale.

Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland by Barozzi/Veiga, which won the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award (photo courtesy of B/V)

Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland by Barozzi/Veiga, which won the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award (photo courtesy of B/V)

 Their works include an auditorium in Águilas, Spain that echoes the shape of a nearby rock; a dance school in Zurich, Switzerland featuring a series of inverted triangles; and a symphony hall in Szczecin, Poland that is inspired by the verticality of the surrounding buildings. The latter, completed in 2014, has won numerous prizes, including the prestigious 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Alberto Veiga about the work of Barozzi/Veiga at their office in Barcelona on September 3, 2015.

Alberto Veiga at his office on Sept. 3, 2015 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Alberto Veiga at his office on Sept. 3, 2015 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What is your background in architecture?

AV: I studied architecture in a small city in the north of the country – in Pamplona. After I worked there for 5 or 6 years, I decided to move to the south – to Sevilla. And in Sevilla I met Fabrizio. We were working there together in an office. He studied architecture in Venice, but he moved because of the Erasmus Programme, this European exchange program that permits students to move around the continent.

Our background was the approach of a student trying to learn as much as possible of the classical view of the architectural office. Of course, our studies were different. What Italian architects understand by architecture is something more linked with history, the past. It’s more rhetoric, more narrative. I studied in the north of Spain, in a small city. The vision is more technical, it’s more functional. But we had a similar approach about what we wanted to do from the beginning. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS LAUDERDALE (PINK MARTINI)

Thomas Lauderdale, pianist and founder of Pink Martini (photo by Autumn de Wilde)

Thomas Lauderdale, pianist and founder of Pink Martini (photo by Autumn de Wilde)

By Anita Malhotra

Few people can say they have appeared as a soloist with a major symphony orchestra, aspired to be mayor, founded a band whose albums have sold more than three million copies, and worn a cocktail dress in public. Portland-based pianist and composer Thomas Lauderdale, who launched Pink Martini in 1994, has done all these things and more.

Under his direction, Pink Martini has released eight best-selling albums of tuneful, sultry songs in 25 languages that blend world, jazz, pop, lounge and classical styles. From its origins as a four-member band playing Portland parties for progressive causes, it has grown to 12+ members, including vocalist China Forbes, who co-writes many of the songs with Lauderdale. In the process, the “little orchestra” has toured much of the world, played with more than 50 symphony orchestras, and appeared at such venues as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, L’Olympia theatre in Paris and Royal Albert Hall.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Thomas Lauderdale, who was in Portland, on June 17, 2015.

Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale (photo by Holly Andres)

Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale (photo by Holly Andres)

AM: What are your earliest memories of music?

TL: I was born in Oakland, California and my family moved when I was two to Indiana. My parents were from the earnest side of the ‘60s. They had a reel-to-reel tape machine and there were six things that made up my childhood in terms of music. They were: Ray Conniff, Ray Charles, Roger Miller, the New Christy Minstrels, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. In addition, my father was a Church of the Brethren minister – one of the three peace denominations along with the Quakers and Mennonites. I was deeply affected by the hymns that were played during church – the bloody hymns of the 1880s, 1890s. So those were my biggest influences.

What all of this had in common was beautiful melodies. I never paid attention to lyrics until we started writing songs for the band. It was always about melody for me. Because the lyrics are in 25 different languages, the common thing holding them all together are the melodies. So one doesn’t necessarily have to speak the language to understand or to appreciate the beauty of the melody. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH EMIL VIKLICKÝ

Czech jazz pianist and composer Emil Viklický (photo by Tomáš Krist)

Czech jazz pianist and composer Emil Viklický (photo by Tomáš Krist)

By Anita Malhotra

Often described as the “Patriarch of Czech jazz piano,” pianist and composer Emil Viklický was born in 1948 in Olomouc, Moravia and later moved to Prague. Although his formal training was in mathematics, in the ‘70s he won awards for his jazz improvisation skills and music compositions, and in 1977 he received a scholarship to study for a year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As a jazz pianist, he has performed in the USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Israel, and Europe with various artists and ensembles, including with his own trio.

As a composer, he has worked in a wide range of styles, including jazz, contemporary classical, electroacoustic, and in an original style combining jazz with Moravian folk music. His works include three operas, full-length film scores, television music and incidental music for theatre, as well as numerous orchestral and ensemble pieces. He has won many awards for his compositions, and in 2004 was commissioned by Wynton Marsalis to write a melodrama for jazz band based on the prison letters of Václav Havel. In 2011 Viklický was honored with the Czech Republic’s prestigious Medal of Merit.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Emil Viklický, who was at his home in Prague, by telephone on June 14, 2015.

Emil Viklický

Emil Viklický

AM: What first attracted you to music?

EV: I grew up in a painter’s family. My father and my uncle were both painters. And my grandfather was a railway engineer in Vienna, so we had a grand piano at home. So I guess I started banging on it when I was two or three.

AM: How did you embark on a career in music?

EV: When it was time for me to decide what to do, I decided I wanted to be a composer. But my father said, “Are you crazy? Do you want another artist in the family?” My father was referring to his older brother, the painter Victor Viklický. The Communists came into power in the country in ’48, and Victor was put in labour camp in southern Slovakia. So he was just gone. My father said “Look, you have a talent for mathematics, so why don’t you go for maths and have music as a hobby?” I was an obedient boy, so I agreed. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH KENNY WERNER

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Jazz pianist, composer and educator Kenny Werner (photo courtesy of Kenny Werner)

By Anita Malhotra

Brooklyn-born jazz pianist, composer and educator Kenny Werner studied piano at the Manhattan School of Music and jazz improvisation at the Berklee Institute. Greatly influenced by the Boston piano teacher Madame Chaloff and the Brazilian concert pianist Joao Assis Brasil, he developed a paradigm-shifting approach to performance that led to the publication in 1995 of his best-selling book Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within.

As a performer, Werner has appeared extensively throughout North America and Europe. He has also composed many works for small ensembles and orchestra, and received the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his orchestral piece No Beginning, No End. Werner recently became artistic director of Berklee’s Effortless Mastery Institute (formerly the Performance Wellness Institute), which helps students develop and maintain healthy performances practices.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Kenny Werner, who lives in Monticello, New York, by telephone on June 13, 2015, a week before his performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Kenny Werner performing with his quartet and with Toots Thielemans in Antwerp, Belgium in 2008 (photo by Bruno Bollaert, Flickr Creative Commons, Aug. 15, 2008)

Kenny Werner performing with his quartet and with Toots Thielemans in Antwerp, Belgium in 2008 (photo by Bruno Bollaert, Flickr Creative Commons, Aug. 15, 2008)

AM: You just came back from Europe. What were you up to there?

KW: I was playing in different configurations with someone who in the last seven years has become a very deep music partner of mine – Benjamin Koppel. He’s a brilliant alto player and composer, and his whole family is a kind of royal musical family in Denmark. So we just spent about two weeks doing about five or six countries – Denmark, Spain, Germany, France and Austria – some duo, and some with rhythm section.

AM: What is it about playing with him that is so satisfying?

KW: Well, it’s the same thing that makes it special playing in my trio. It’s the conversation back and forth, arranging freer improvisations to such a degree of clarity in the interaction that you could almost say it was composition being written down at that very moment. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE COCKBURN

By Anita Malhotra

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

In his 45-year career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ottawa-born Bruce Cockburn has produced 31 albums of passionate, evocative songs based on his personal experiences and his observations while travelling, often in war-torn countries and in a humanitarian role.

With more than seven million records sold, he has been honoured with 13 Juno Awards, 21 gold and platinum certifications, membership in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. In 1982, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2002 was promoted to Officer.

Last year, Cockburn published the extensive, very personal memoir Rumours of Glory, which details his childhood, travels, humanitarian work, personal relationships and spiritual search as well as the stories behind many of his songs.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Bruce Cockburn, who now lives in San Francisco, by telephone about his life and music on June 12, 2015.

Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

Bruce Cockburn (photo by Kevin Kelly)

AM: You turned 70 a few weeks ago. Was turning 70 any particular cause for reflection?

BC: It’s cause for alarm more than reflection! I put so much reflection into writing the book that it wasn’t, really. It’s like, “Okay I’m 70 now,” and I wrote this book and the book has all this stuff in it, but I think that that kind of superseded any information to be overly reflective of on my birthday. A bunch of us were gathered in a little resort town in Delaware at the end of the northeastern U.S. tour that I was doing through the month of May, and there was a lot of eating, drinking and merriment, and that’s what I was thinking about.

AM: Your autobiography Rumours of Glory is very personal, very honest. Was the process of writing the book cathartic for you?

Bruce in 1947 as a toddler with his parents in Kingston, Ontario (photo courtesy of Bernie Finkelstein and Bruce Cockburn)

Bruce in 1947 as a toddler with his parents in Kingston, Ontario (photo courtesy of Bernie Finkelstein and Bruce Cockburn)

BC: Not exactly. It was instructive in certain ways and it was an interesting process, by turns gratifying and kind of exciting, and horrible. The horrible part had to do with deadlines, mostly, and with a couple of points where I got stuck and didn’t know how to proceed. But the chief one of those was remedied by engaging Greg King to be a co-writer on it. I’m not really given to a lot of rehashing the past. I’ve never been much for going back and sentimentalizing things, or being perturbed by things other than the things that have gone into my make-up that have to be exorcized either by time or by psychological or spiritual effort. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BRIA SKONBERG

Jazz trumpet player and singer Bria Skonberg (photo by Thomas Concordia)

Jazz trumpet player and singer Bria Skonberg (photo by Thomas Concordia)

By Anita Malhotra

Born in 1983 in Chilliwack, British Columbia, trumpet player, singer and composer Bria Skonberg has been featured as a bandleader and guest artist at more than 50 jazz festivals in North America, Europe, China and Japan.

In 2010, she relocated from Vancouver to New York, where she has headlined at Symphony Space, Birdland, The Iridium and Dizzy’s. She has released three albums, one of which peaked at #7 on the U.S. National jazz charts. In addition, she has earned a New York Bistro Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist, four Hot House Jazz Magazine Awards and is a 2015 recipient of the Swing! award from Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Skonberg, who was at her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 10, 2015.

The cover of

The cover of “Into Your Own,” Bria Skonberg’s third album, released in 2014 (photo by Seth Cashman)

AM: Where did your love of jazz come from?

BS: I was introduced to jazz through the school big band and the local Dixieland jazz festival. Chilliwack had a jazz festival for over 20 years and they did a really good job of incorporating the youth bands of the district into the festival. So we’d get our set and then we’d get passes for the whole weekend to go and watch professional players do their thing. That was a much more organic introduction to jazz as opposed to listening to it because the old-style scratchy recordings don’t always translate to young listeners. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN BULGER

Stephen Bulger in the office of his gallery after his Artsmania interview on February 27, 2015 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Stephen Bulger in the office of his gallery after his Artsmania interview on February 27, 2015 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographic art dealer, curator and appraiser Stephen Bulger opened his photo gallery in 1995 at a time when Toronto’s photography scene was relatively quiet. Since then, the Stephen Bulger Gallery has played a leading role in cultivating Toronto’s now-flourishing photo scene by hosting more than 150 photography exhibits, representing over 50 Canadian and international photographers, and building an inventory of approximately 50,000 prints and negatives that includes the work of Vivian Maier, the prolific street photographer who became famous after her death in 2009. 

Anita Malhotra spoke with Stephen Bulger at his gallery at 1026 Queen St. West on February 27, 2015 during his group exhibit “Subway.”

"Subway Tunnel Construction, N.Y," February 22, 1932, by Ewing Galloway (1881-1953), from the 2015 show "Subway" at the Stephen Bulger Gallery (© Ewing Galloway / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery)

“Subway Tunnel Construction, N.Y,” February 22, 1932, by Ewing Galloway (1881-1953), from the 2015 show “Subway” at the Stephen Bulger Gallery (© Ewing Galloway / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery)

AM: Where did your love of photography come from?

SB: It started in childhood, probably when I was seven or eight years old. It became a bit of a hobby to take snapshots. My mom used a camera to take pictures that she would later make paintings from, so she had an active use of photography that intrigued me. So I think from a young age I started recognizing photography as being something more than just snapping pictures.

"August 29," 1982, by Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész (1894-1985) (© The Estate of André Kertész / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery)

“August 29,” 1982, by Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész (1894-1985) (© The Estate of André Kertész / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery)

AM: What kinds of subjects did you photograph?

SB: Initially it started just with friends and family and events, and by the time I got into high school it became more abstraction or “fine art” photography.

AM: And then you studied photography formally after that?

SB: About four years after graduating from high school, I enrolled at Ryerson in their four-year B.A. program and studied still photography. And then that’s when I started to curate exhibitions. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CARLOS LUNA

By Anita Malhotra

Cuban-American artist Carlos Luna posing in front of his painting "Empingated" ("Freaking Awesome") on October 11, 2014 in Miami, Florida (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Cuban-American artist Carlos Luna posing in front of his painting “Empingated” (“Freaking Awesome”) on October 11, 2014 in Miami, Florida (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Born in Cuba in 1969, Carlos Luna has built a flourishing career as a painter, sculptor and ceramicist in Mexico, where he relocated in 1991, and in the United States, where he immigrated in 2002 under a visa for extraordinary ability.

His striking, intense works, replete with symbolism and autobiographical elements, have been exhibited in more than 60 galleries and institutions around the world. Highlights include solo exhibits at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, and the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, where his paintings were shown with the ceramics of Picasso. Ten books of his art have been published, and many of his works are in private collections.

"Flowers from the Sea" by Carlos Luna (oil on canvas, 47" x 58 1/2") ©2002 Carlos Luna. All Rights Reserved.

“Flowers from the Sea” by Carlos Luna (oil on canvas, 47″ x 58 1/2″) ©2002 Carlos Luna. All Rights Reserved.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Carlos Luna on October 11, 2014 at his home in South Miami, where he lives with his wife and three children. Parts of the interview were in Spanish with translation by his daughter, Camila, and son Carlos.

Carlos Luna at his studio in 2013 (photo by Ignacio Barrios)

Carlos Luna at his studio in 2013 (photo by Ignacio Barrios)

AM: Where did you grow up in Cuba?

CL: I was born in Pinar del Río but I grew up in San Luis. San Luis is a small town that is famous for making the best Havana cigars in the world. My family and I are simple people, but at the same time we are very rich-minded with a great imagination. My father liked to play the guitar and to improvise on Sundays. My two grandmothers liked to dance and sing, and we listened to music in my house all the time.

AM: Tell me a little bit more about your ancestors – when did they come to Cuba?

CL: I have a lot of mixed blood in my heritage. My father’s side of the family came from Northern Spain – Basque and Jewish Sephardic people. My mother’s father came from Andalusia, and all the Andalusians have Arabian blood. But on my mother’s family, my grandfather – his grandfather was Chinese and his grandmother was Japanese. I am proud of my heritage. I believe it is very rich. I respect where I come from because I think a man without a past is a man without a future. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MAXWELL TAYLOR

Maxwell Taylor with two of his works (photo courtesy of Maxwell and Therese Taylor)

Maxwell Taylor with two of his works (photo courtesy of Maxwell and Therese Taylor)

By Anita Malhotra

Born and raised in Nassau, Bahamian artist Maxwell Taylor trained as a ceramicist while in his teens and held his first solo exhibit as a painter in the early ‘60s. In 1968 he moved to New York, where he studied at the Art Students League, the Pratt Graphic Center and the Printmaking Workshop. There, he made a name for himself with striking woodcuts, prints and paintings that focused on the struggles of the disadvantaged, particularly women.

His works were featured at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico and have been exhibited extensively in the United States, the Caribbean and in South and Central America. His awards have included the Southern Arts Federation Fellowship Award.

Taylor divides his time between West Palm Beach, Florida, where he has a ceramics studio, and Nassau. Anita Malhotra spoke with him on October 8, 2014 at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.

Maxwell Taylor at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas on Oct. 8, 2014 with his 1982 linocut reduction "Damn Politics" (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Maxwell Taylor at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas on Oct. 8, 2014 with his 1982 linocut reduction “Damn Politics” (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What was your childhood like growing up in the Bahamas?

MT: I grew up without a father. My mother was instrumental in bringing up me and my sister. She had four kids. She was a seamstress so she would get up in the morning round about seven, eight o’clock, and the first thing she would do she’d go down to the shop. I used to hit the streets – just went from one neighborhood to the next neighborhood. And then at a very early age I had to work. I didn’t have anybody to give me anything. I used to do things like shoeshine, you know, and I had a job taking care of a horse.

Maxwell Taylor as a young man in the late '50s decorating a religious piece for Chelsea Pottery (photo courtesy of Maxwell and Therese Taylor)

Maxwell Taylor as a young man in the late ’50s decorating a religious piece for Chelsea Pottery (photo courtesy of Maxwell and Therese Taylor)

AM: What got you started in art?

MT: What really got me started was Chelsea Pottery. I always had the ability to draw, but during that period in the Bahamas, there weren’t too many artists. I was working as a bar-boy at the Emerald Beach Hotel and somebody told me about the Chelsea Pottery, which had just opened up and they were looking for young artists.

I was laid off from my job at the hotel and I went and I met Mr. Rawnsley. He checked to see what sort of talent I had and he saw that I could draw. They didn’t pay me right away, but I learned the technique pretty fast, so they put me on piecework. They would pay me for every piece I did that was of some sort of quality. I started getting a salary, and I met Brent Malone, Kendal Hanna, Vernon Cambridge and a lot of young artists. And that’s when I became serious about my art. Continue reading

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