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January 22 2012

Richard & Famous; Painted Photographs

Open Eye gallery, Liverpool

Richard & Famous is a show that touches on celebrity culture and its psychic fallout. It takes its punning title from the photographs of Richard Simpkin, an obsessive fan turned self-styled artist. His work, which covers the walls of Open Eye's main space, consists of snapshots of himself alongside an array of more than 2,000 celebrities, many of whom seem palpably uncomfortable in his presence.

Richard & Famous echoes the obsessions and dedication of another celebrity stalker, Gary Lee Boas, whose 1999 book Starstruck set the bar for celebrity-stalking with a camera. Simpkin's work is more straightforward in a way – less blurry and so less predatory-seeming. It consists, in effect, of the same tropes over and over: the same pose, the same smile, the same look of bemused patience from the object of his attention. The photographer Martin Parr, who curated this celebrity-themed show, makes big claims on Simpkin's behalf, drawing our attention to the difficulty of getting access to the famous, and suggesting that his achievement is "to turn his whole game into a compelling piece of art". Maybe so, but I felt curiously empty when faced with a gallery full of these snapshots. That, perhaps, is their whole – Warholian – point.

Next door, in a big, brightly lit room, the Los Angeles-based artist Simone Lueck approaches celebrity in a more knowing, and, indeed, telling fashion. To create her series The Once and Future Queens she placed an advertisement on the website Craigslist, "seeking fabulous, striking, interesting older woman to pose as glamorous movie star". The word "interesting" is perhaps key here. Many of the 150 older women who answered the ad, and subsequently posed for her in scenarios of their own making, gravitated to Los Angeles during the old Hollywood era of starlets and bombshells. Mara, the blond woman who appears in several shots, is actually the daughter of a Warner Brothers starlet called Mae Madison. Though Mara, like the others photographed, never made it in Hollywood, she is given licence by Lueck's camera to behave as if she did, mimicking the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Ingrid Bergman in her languorous, exaggeratedly sexy poses. The photographs manage to be at once affectionate and parodic.

Lueck calls her large-scale portraits "collaborations", and a sense of knowing playfulness undercuts the mood of desperation in her work. A woman called Francine dresses up in a gold dress once worn by Linda Evans, star of the 80s TV series Dynasty, a celebration of a certain kind of impossibly gilded – and bitchily cut-throat – celebrity lifestyle. Vintage film buffs will pick up on the references to Bardot and Bergman, and to the ageing Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, the ultimate self-referential movie about the cost of Hollywood stardom.

This is a series about ageing and mortality as well as celebrity and its dark aura. Lueck's use of bright colour tones, elaborate settings and exaggerated poses made me think of the more whacked-out portraits in Katy Grannan's series The Westerns. But Lueck's gaze is more sympathetic. The sense of unreality in her photographs suggests both the skewed reality of Hollywood stardom and of the lives lived in thrall to it.

Upstairs in the Archive Gallery, Parr is showing what he calls Painted Photographs, images he has amassed over the years from flea markets and second-hand shops. 'Painted' is perhaps not the right word since most of these old film stills and publicity shots have been marked in what looks like Tippex and chinagraph pencil by newspaper and magazine picture editors or printers. As time has gone by, these functional photographs, taken between the 1930s and the 1970s and often used time and again as press shots, have attained a new life as a kind of found art.

There is an old-fashioned charm to these portraits of the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali, and the markings add a layer of unintended artiness that looks primitive in the era of Photoshop. Most intriguing of all, though, is the subtext: how collectors can turn almost any artefact into art, and, in doing so, alter the meaning – and the financial value – of objects that once were purely functional or even throw-away. The fetishisation of the object seems to have grown in tandem with the burgeoning of celebrity culture, and both seem to point to our increasing need to inflate the significance of the trivial and the ephemeral.


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November 25 2011

The man who's been photographed with 2,000 celebrities

Over 23 years Richard Simpkin has collared more than 2,000 celebrities to have his picture taken with them. Why, asks Tim Dowling.
See a gallery of Richard Simpkin's celebrity snaps
Plus: a video interview with Richard Simpkin and the chance to enter your celebrity photos in our prize competition

Let's select a picture at random, from among the massed ranks on the wall: it shows a smiling, frail-looking Audrey Hepburn, circa 1991, standing on the pavement with a young boy. It's poignant, because Hepburn is no longer with us and the boy, whoever he is, is no longer young. It has the quality of a minor artefact – lots of people, after all, met Hepburn – but from the boy's perspective it's evidence of a memorable moment, a close encounter with a star.

Now step back and look at it in context, along with the other 450-odd, 21cm x 14cm photographs hanging there. All the pictures show celebrities, from Nelson Mandela to Kim Kardashian, all of them posing with the same person: Australian photographer Richard Simpkin. Some of them look delighted, others bewildered. Woody Allen looks positively pissed off. The picture was taken in 2001 outside the Dorchester hotel in London where Simpkin had been waiting along with his girlfriend and a few other fans. "There was never a word exchanged between me and Woody Allen," Simpkin says. "But we got a photo."

That you may have never heard of Simpkin is partly the point. For 23 years, he has been getting his picture taken with the stars. The results can be seen in his exhibition, Richard & Famous, which has been shown in various galleries around the world. Why does he do it? Is it a comment on celebrity? On mortality? On our relationship to the former, in the context of the latter? "It's capturing your life," Simpkin says. "There it is, and there I was, part of it all."

Simpkin was only 15 when Bros came to Sydney in 1988. "Bros were huge in Australia," he says. Simpkin was in the habit of hanging around after rugby league matches to get the players' autographs. He was determined to do the same with Bros, but wasn't sure how to go about it. "I remember thinking, well, they have to stay in a hotel," he says. "So I said to my mum, can you drive me around, and we'll look for Bros." They went to all the top hotels, but by the time they arrived at the one where Bros were staying, the band had left. Simpkin was undeterred. When Poison arrived in Sydney some weeks later, he got a tip-off and headed for the Sebel Townhouse – a fading hotel favoured by rock bands.

"After about two or three days, I'd collected all four autographs on my Poison poster." When Kylie turned up at the Sebel Townhouse a week later, and Debbie Gibson a week after that, Simpkin was there. "I'd become almost like a celebrity at school. It was like, 'Who's Richard meeting next week?'"

Simpkin didn't think too hard about the point of it all – "I guess it was a way to become popular with the other kids" – and was content with his hobby until someone showed him something that convinced him he was wasting his time: an old snapshot of her dad with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the product of a chance encounter in New York's Central Park in the 70s.

"He captured something very special," Simpkin says. "I remember looking at it and thinking, what does an autograph mean? It's just a scribble. I want to get my photo taken with people who are going to be remembered in history."

Simpkin's obliging mother bought him a camera, and he set about pursuing his new goal. He quickly realised that if you wanted to be in a photo with a celebrity, you couldn't take the picture yourself. This means that Simpkin is to some extent neither the subject nor the author of his photographs, but there were more practical concerns. "You're trying to give your camera to a girl who's screaming and crying that Jon Bon Jovi, her idol, is standing in front of her," he says. "And you're like, 'Can you just take the photo, please?' And she's going, 'Nnyaaaahaaaaahahhhh!'"

At about this time, Simpkin met Michael Hutchence, after a friend's father pulled some strings to get the boys into the Sydney Opera House, where Hutchence's band INXS were rehearsing. The meeting would change both Simpkin's life and his view of celebrity. "I didn't know what charisma was," he says, "but Michael Hutchence was, and still is, one of the most charismatic people I've ever met." Simpkin left school at 16, despite his parents' misgivings, to spend five months with INXS while they recorded an album, hanging out and taking pictures. "If you've ever seen the movie Almost Famous, that kid in Almost Famous, my life was very similar for five months," he says. "I got to go to all the listening parties. The drummer John used to drop me home." Over time, Simpkin and Hutchence became friends. Eight years later, when Simpkin heard that the singer had been found dead in his hotel room, he was in the parking lot, waiting to drive Hutchence to a rehearsal.

It wasn't until five years after Simpkin got his camera that he looked back over his collection and noticed a few things. In the intervening period he'd gone through puberty, and his appearance had changed dramatically. Some of the legends with whom he'd been snapped were dead and gone. "I thought, 'I'm actually on to something here', and it changed from just a simple fan sort of thing into a project." At 20, he embarked on a career as a professional photographer, vastly improving his access to celebrities.

To date he has been snapped with more than 2,000 famous people, and over the years has developed a professional detachment. He sees that he gets to his celebrities, even if that means keeping his cool while fighting through a hundred-strong crowd of girls screaming because they've caught sight of Robert Pattinson ("I don't do that every time otherwise I'd be in a mental home"), or, where possible, thinking laterally. "Would he go to the zoo?" he says. "Would he go to the beach?" When he couldn't get near Keanu Reeves, he tracked him to the airport. "I'm always polite. There's a respect between me and the celebrity." But he couldn't control the elderly passerby he dragooned into taking the photo. "You look very grumpy," said the man to the actor. "I want a big smile out of you." Reeves didn't smile.

Simpkin began with the strict brief of having his picture taken with people who would be "remembered in history", but has fairly Catholic tastes when it comes to celebrity. His exhibition features Shirley MacLaine, Bob Dylan, Donald Bradman and the Dalai Lama, but also Milli Vanilli, Mischa Barton and Zac Efron. While he admits to having been occasionally starstruck in the past – particularly in the presence of Michael Jackson – the shallow waters of modern fame don't do much for the 38-year-old and he's beginning to feel out of touch. "When I go to Los Angeles, I let 50% walk past me. I don't know who they are."

Given the years he's put into fighting scrums of autograph hounds, the cheapness of modern celebrity, and the fact that his collection has resulted in a book and exhibition, does Simpkin ever consider calling time on his mission?

"It's an interesting question," he says. "I could stop this today, and Richard And Famous would be an interesting project for ever." At present, however, he has no plans to. "I'm obsessed with making the best exhibition I can."

• Richard & Famous is at the Open Eye gallery, Liverpool, from 13 January 2012-18 March 2012. Entry is free. The Guardian and Open Eye are joining forces to create a unique gallery of paparazzi-style photographs. If you have a shot of yourself with a celebrity, you're in with a chance to have your work displayed in a Guardian online gallery, and may be selected for exhibition at the Open Eye gallery by guest curator and Magnum photographer Martin Parr. One overall winner will be invited to the VIP opening night of Richard & Famous on 12 January 2012, including the cost of UK train travel and accommodation at the deluxe hotel Malmaison. Please read how to enter and the terms and conditions here.


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July 12 2011

Cornish cafe sells celebrities' leftovers

Uneaten morsels left by Prince Charles, David Bailey and Michael Winner at a cafe in Kingsand are to be sold for charity

Celebrity memorabilia is huge business in the auction rooms of London, New York and Los Angeles. But a Cornish cafe is getting in on the act by selling off leftovers that remained on the plates of famous visitors.

Among the goodies being sold by the Old Boatstore in Kingsand are:

• A small lump of bread pudding left over by Prince Charles, valued at £300.

• A crust from a cheese and tomato sandwich left by photographer David Bailey, for £100.

• A shell fragment from egg in a sandwich eaten by comedian Hugh Dennis, for £100.

• A small uneaten piece of lemon drizzle cake left by film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner, for £100.

• A single blackcurrant from a bowl of ice cream left by swimmer Sharron Davies, for £100.

The so-called Museum of Celebrity Leftovers was created by Michael and Francesca Bennett, who say the collection began in 2004 when David Bailey dropped in and left a crust.

They now have more than 20 exhibits stored in airtight jars and want whoever buys the cafe to take them on, too. The money made from selling off the leftovers is to go to charity.

Francesca Bennett said: "We were so chuffed that David Bailey came in we kept part of his sandwich as a joke. It just grew from that.

"It's so quiet here, it's really surprising that so many famous people should turn up in such a small village."

The exhibits are not preserved but are not showing signs of going mouldy, she said. "They just seem to be drying out, really."


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July 01 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: photos from her private album

Photos from a new book published this week containing rare, unguarded snaps of the star, who died in March aged 79



May 03 2011

Met gala: McQueen tribute show draws celebrities – in pictures

In pictures: Fashion's most famous fans flocked to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for the preview of an exhibition devoted to the British designer



February 14 2011

Baftas 2011: style lessons we learned

Who shone and who didn't quite get the look right on Baftas night? Simon Chilvers gives his fashion verdict

See pictures from the night here

It helps to be best friends with a designer

If the ceremony ever got boring, which it did, then game of the night was surely what are Julianne Moore and Tom Ford gossiping about? Naturally, Moore was wearing a Ford – she was in his catwalk show and his film A Single Man, after all – and it was the night's fashion triumph. Midnight velvet could sound a bit stately-home curtains, but with Moore's red hair, bright lips and restrained jewels, this was the epitome of class.

Men in bow ties do look dapper. And modern


Tom Ford is on a winning bow-tie streak. The designer was naturally dashing in a large one while he also dressed both best actor winner Colin Firth and Nicholas Hoult in smaller versions.

If you're young, wear something fashion-forward


Star of True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld, may have looked older than her 14 years but Miu Miu was an inspired choice. Cool yet demure with the on-trend midi-length differentiating her from the floor-length brigade.

It's all about the right hair


Emma Watson's Valentino couture dress was gorgeous but now that the edginess has grown out of her pixie crop, the combination was a trifle ageing. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter went signature bird-nest bun with a hint of dreadlocks and heaven knows what happened to Tracey Emin – her hair was so big it outshone her gold Vivienne Westwood. Imagine.

Colour can trump bland


A red carpet can easily turn into a sea of beige (see last year) so it was a relief to see stars embracing this spring's colour trend. Sam Taylor-Wood's tomato Celine dress and Emma Stone's one-shouldered Lanvin gown with split-pleat skirt were both hits. Note: both had belts to break up the colour. Meanwhile, Gemma Arterton proved you can do safe black but with a twist of bright: her simple yet striking velvet Yves Saint Laurent number was razzed up with an electric blue bow belt.

Surprises can be good


Wild trademark hair aside, Helena Bonham Carter decided to take the barking-bag-lady look down a notch from the mismatched-shoe debacle of the Golden Globes. Strangely demure, in a restrained black Vivienne Westwood.

Eveningwear: really the time to experiment with python?


In theory the idea of a snake-print Lanvin dress sounds quite fabulous but unfortunately, as JK Rowling found out, it's a pattern that can overwhelm.

Ditch one-shouldered for sleeves


There was talk at the Golden Globes about a resurgence of dresses with sleeves but this didn't really happen on Sunday night. It's a shame really, because, as proved by Livia Firth's gorgeous dress by ethical designer Nina Skarra, sleeves can add a real sense of elegance.

You can have too much of a gold thing


A jewel-encrusted Givenchy couture dress should be a total knockout. Unfortunately, the translation on to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo actress Noomi Rapace didn't add up. For gold tips though, look to Christopher Lee's brilliant wife Birgit who chose to razz up her plain black dress with one massive neck piece and a pair of wondrous specs.

Women can wear trousers at night


Yes, yes, yes, we know Tilda Swinton is a red-carpet wild card – she's super androgynous and has severe hair – but in a fashion season of trousers, her choice of wide-leg trousersuit and tux blazer by Colombian designer Haider Ackermann was smart. Heroic.


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January 23 2011

Alison Jackson: 'I'd love to do Piers Morgan. I'd just use Susan Boyle. They're identical'

Queen of the mock-doc Alison Jackson isn't short of material – just lookalikes

I have yet to meet anyone more excited about the royal wedding than photographer Alison Jackson. "Of course I'm excited," she laughs, over coffee at Hamiltons gallery in London's Mayfair. "It's A, if not THE, story of our time: royal line marries air hostess line," she giggles. "How utterly brilliant."

Spotting the potential of "lookalikes for satirical means" while a photography student in the 1990s, Jackson turned a seemingly gossamer concept into portraits and mock-docs, winning a Bafta in 2002 for Doubletake. Focusing on compromising fake footage of the Beckhams and the Blair/Bush "special relationship", the TV series cemented her role as a post-Warhol, post-Spitting Image celebrity voyeur.

It's this deep-rooted obsession with TMZ celebrities that has now led her to Review of 2010, "a satirical mixture of reality takes with real news, intercut seamlessly so that you can't tell what's real and fake".

Expressive and Kylie-tiny with a wave of blonde hair, Jackson does not look unalike Princess Diana. This is unnerving for two reasons: one, were Diana alive, they'd be the same age and two, Diana's death was precisely the moment Jackson became celebrity-mad.

"People mourned Diana's death more than their relatives. It was shocking. But Diana was the perfect celebrity and marked the birth of the celebrity magazine."

The royals – "a guarded, censored brand" – remain the meat of Jackson's most successful work and in timely fashion, she's now moved on to the royal wedding – "my main focus for 2011". Her latest shot, capturing the moment William and Kate stopped being virgins, will appear in Royal Family at the Hayward gallery in March.

Filming topically for Sky has been "taxing, tiring and solitary". She shoots at breakneck speed and achieves the grainy, peeping shots by using three phones – a BlackBerry, an Android and an iTouch – attached to a stick and filming simultaneously with everything turned around in about 12 hours.

But it's sourcing lookalikes that is trickiest: "Finding a Julian Assange has been a nightmare. And I've yet to find a good Charles. David [Beckham] can do everything, but Kate [Middleton] has about three versions – hair and body, face and the soundalike."

She found Barack Obama working in a shop in Thailand "but he can't speak English which is problematic" and she once, in desperation, ran up to Nicolas Cage to tell him what a wonderful lookalike he was ("His face!").

Is there anyone left? "I'd love to do Piers [Morgan]. Do you think he would mind?" He loves publicity, I reply. "He'd be easy then. I'd just use Susan Boyle. They're identical."


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June 11 2010

South Korea:A Rapper, Tablo and the Obsession With Good Degrees

By Lee Yoo Eun

Recently, a famous rapper Tablo's (Daniel Seon Woong Lee) has been questioned fiercely online regarding his Stanford degree. This scene of people fussing about pop stars' education background is rather common in Korean art field, where Shin Jeong Ah who made her way through a chief curator position in Seoul's most prestigious museum by using her forged Yale credentials shook the nation in 2007. In response to the scandal, many celebrities hurriedly went through the degree verification process. Kim Young Oak, a star philosopher in South Korea more commonly known by his pen name ‘Do-ol', made public his Harvard Ph.D graduation certificate and dissertation immediately after the Shin's scandal, to dispel any doubt on his educational background.

Tablo, a Canadian of Korean descent hip hop artist is among top celebrities in Korea. Tablo’s hiphop group, the Epik High's albums have made numerous huge hits in and outside Korea and it's recent album ranked as the number one on the iTunes Hip hop chart in mid March. Tablo has been featured in many mainstream media, including the CNN, and his Stanford background catches the public attention. Below is the CNN interview at Youtube:

The doubt about his education background was firstly put forward by a blogger ‘whatbecomes' who, rather unreasonably, attacked Tablo's English's ability. In order to clear the doubt, the University and Tablo’s professor from Standford have repeatedly confirmed Tablo’s degree and Table supporters also obtained verifications through the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), which is one of the most trusted source for degree and enrollment information:

A photo of NSC credential from the Naver blog.

Despite the fact that the verifications of Tablo's degree have been put forward by various sources, a number of netizens continued to question the details, such as the inconsistence of the date of attendance. Tablo finally lost his patience and tweeted on June 3 that:

흥미를 위해 저를 공격하는 사람들 때문에 저와 저의 학교, 일반 인터넷 사용자들, 다양한 방송 관계자들과 기자들이 모두 저의 학력을 수차례 인증했습니다… 모든 사실을 부정하면서 끝없이 저와 저의 부모님까지 욕하고…저 아빠가 된지 얼마 안됐어요….더 이상 소중한 시간 뺏기기 싫어요.

Because of those people attacking me just for fun, me, my school, some Internet users, various media people and journalists had to go over and over the degree certification process so many times…Theses people, do not try to accept the truth and went on insulting me and my parent incessantly… See, I recently became a father of my kid… and I don’t want to waste my precious time on this matter, no more.

As people's frenzyness on famous people's college degrees came to light by Tablo's case, many begin to look for a connection between the degree forgery and the preference given by the Korean society to people from prestigious schools. Serious discussions diagnosing the situation are looming over the internet. A blogger from the Jstarclub.com commented that this incident demonstrates how significant an individual's educational background is in Korean society.

국내에서 타블로가 처음에 주목을 받게 된 것은 그의 음악적 재능과 실력 때문이기도 하지만 그를 뒤받침 해준 것은 그의 학위였다…국내의 여론이나 시청자들은 높은 고학력을 가진 이들에게 유독 친근함과 좋은 감정을 드러내는 게 사실이다. 그만큼 한국 사회에서 학벌이란 무시할 수 없는 가치이기 때문이다.

Tablo got recognized in Korea partly because of his musical talent and ability, but what really supported him is his diploma…Local media and audiences have shown intimacy and favoritism toward people with higher educational background. In Korean society, one’s educational background is a crucial value that cannot be ignored.

The experience of faking one's degree can start as early as the kids get into the elementary school. The ‘Human Rights Oreum' (Oreum means a Rise in Korean), a human rights activist weekly magazine in Seoul posted an article titled ‘Degree fabrication is stemmed from a credentials-centered society' on it's site. The author recalls his shameful childhood memory of him lying about his parents educational backgrounds.

학교에서 조사하는 가정환경조사 중에 ‘부모님 학력'을 적는 칸이 있었어요. 한참을 망설이다가 엄마는 ‘중학교 졸업', 아빠는 ‘고등학교 중퇴'라고 적었어요. 부모님 몰래 말이지요. 사실은 두 분 모두 초등학교 졸업이 학력의 전부였어요…그때는 ‘초등학교 졸업'이라는 부모님의 학력이 너무 창피했었는데, 지금은 초등학교 졸업의 학력을 창피하게 생각했던 것이 너무 부끄러워요.

“I had to fill out a blank concerning my parents’ education levels in the student's family's background check paper handed by the school. I hesitated quite a while before I wrote down my mom ‘graduated middle school' and my dad ‘dropped high school', of course, I did this without telling them. In fact, they only had the elementary school education…Back then, I was so ashamed of my parent's low educational background. But now I came to feel much more ashamed of my shameful feeling toward of my parent's elementary school education.

A survey done by Saramin, one of the biggest job search agency in Korea, shows people's stress from the society's preferential treatments to people with good educational background. In a survey done to 2,152 people in their twenties and thirties, about 20 percent of the respondents have answered ‘yes' to a question ‘Have you ever thought of forging your educational background for employment or success?’.

학력을 위조하고 싶은 생각이 들 때로는 33.5%가 ‘입사지원서를 작성할 때’를 1위로 꼽았고, ‘실력보다 학벌만 높은 사람이 취업이나 승진할 때’(33%)가 근소한 차이로 뒤를 이었다. 이밖에 ‘서류전형에서 떨어졌을 때’(17.6%), ‘학력을 위조한 후 성공한 이야기를 들었을 때’(6%)…실제로 구직활동을 하면서 학력이나 학벌 때문에 차별을 받은 경험을 묻는 질문에는 66.5%가 ‘있다’라고 응답해 10명 중 7명이 학벌로 인한 차별 경험이 있는 것으로 조사되었다.

To a question ‘In which occasions you came to think of forging your educational background?’, 33.5 percent of respondents have answered as ‘when I write down the employment application form’ and 33 percent answered as ‘when people with higher degrees gets the job or promoted over people with ability’. Other reasons were ‘when I couldn’t get pass the paper screening process’ (17.6 percent) ‘when I listen to a success story made possible by a degree forgery’ (6 percent) (and etc)…To a question ‘have you actually been treated unfairly because of your educational background while searching for a job?’, 66.5 percent, almost 7 out of ten people have answered as ‘yes’.

Korea’s education system is notorious for locking students up in a classroom till near mid night and forcing them to private institutes afterwards. It is no wonder people living under this juggernaut came to daydream about faking degrees or see imaginative forgery cases from others, subconsciously seeking to get a slice of compensation for their money, energy and youth spent on intense education.

June 05 2010

In Pictures: The work of Brian Duffy

The famed photographer has died has died aged 76. Here are some of his photographs that helped define the mood of the Swinging Sixties



January 27 2010

Why Britain's best artists leave

How can London be the capital of global art when our celebrity culture makes it such a miserable place for artists to live and work?

Chris Ofili, whose retrospective has just opened at Tate Britain, is just one of the British artists who have chosen to live abroad to get away from the madness of art's celebrity culture – including such serious figures as Tacita Dean and Steve McQueen.

So here's a paradox. Constantly, the media tell us that London is this century's Manhattan or Paris, that Britain is the world's leading art capital. Yet I believe that in Manhattan in the 1960s you would actually have found artists living and working – and if Picasso had fled back to Barcelona, the Musée Picasso wouldn't have been in Paris. Art capitals are traditionally places where artists thrive. But what kind of artist really thrives on our brand of instant celebrity?

As a critic, you forget what celebrity means. It's seeing people coo over someone who seems very ordinary to me, such as Grayson Perry – someone I've sometimes been rude about, sometimes praised, but certainly never mistaken for the kind of artist I, personally, would go weak at the knees to meet.

Celebrity is such a small thing compared with real fame. For me, a famous artist is one whose works have secured them a true place in art history, whose talent is mysterious and personality elusive. Jasper Johns is famous; Perry is a celebrity.

A celebrity is someone who is "like us" – just watch all those talent shows on TV – which by definition limits their genius. A celebrity, to have democratic appeal, really has to be a bit second rung, a bit ordinary. It's quite a contradiction. You have to catch the eye and yet you can't intimidate people with supreme abilities.

The purest expression of modern Britain's celebrity art culture, and its logical conclusion, was Antony Gormley's participatory artwork on the Fourth Plinth. Here was the mediocrity of the celebrity culture made monumental – everyone an artist, everyone a star, not a trace of imagination in sight.

No wonder the real artists run for their lives.


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January 04 2010

Tiger Woods turns coverboy

• 'Raw, never before see' shoot took place before revelations
EA Sports stand by their man and prepare for new golf game

When he announced over three weeks ago that he was taking an "indefinite break" from golf to "repair the damage I've done", this may not have been the image change Tiger Woods had in mind.

The disgraced golfer appealed for privacy last month following lurid allegations of affairs with up to 14 women "to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person".

Today, however, new photographs emerged in which Woods is pictured not in a contrite tableau with his wife and two children, but posing aggressively, and apparently naked, staring into the camera with a dumbbell in each hand.

Vanity Fair, in which the pictures by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz appear, has not confirmed when they were taken, though it does say the "raw, never before seen" photo shoot took place before the golfer's fall from grace.

The golfer's squeaky clean image collapsed following a bizarre car crash outside his home in November, after which a number of women emerged claiming they had affairs with Woods, what Buzz Bissinger, a Vanity Fair writer, refers to as the golfer's "harem". It is a measure of how far Woods has fallen that where the magazine is usually unfailingly deferential in its treatment of its celebrity cover stars, Bissinger lists in detail the allegations made by the women, which he summarises more coyly as "sex, tons of it, in allegedly all different varieties".

Woods had a positive approval rating of 87% in 2005; it is now 33%, Vanity Fair notes, describing it as "one of the greatest recorded drops in popularity of any nonpolitical figure".


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