This vintage camera of mine, the Panon Widelux F7 camera, is the real star of my upcoming Bold’e Burlesqu’e photo exhibit. Also used by actor Jeff Bridges on the sets of all his movies, this 1950′s designed gear-driven camera stitches slits of images together manually to create a full 170 degree view of my subject. In addition to the primary exhibit of Burlesque prints I will also be displaying a small select group of other favorite panoramic photos. I will have the camera available for viewing at the exhibit. There are few left in working order and are difficult to find.
What began with a four foot by six foot painting on my own living room wall exploded into a full-time career. To date, the best we can count, I have created over three hundred large-scale paintings all over the midwest region. These have included residential, commercial and public installations. The largest in scope and time has been a 15,000 square foot project in Eureka, MO. It took twelve months to complete. It is housed indoors at the Victorian Gardens independent living facility. Many of my paintings are considered commercial use artwork. This includes, restaurants like J. Bucks, DelMonico’s, office buildings like Merrill Lynch in Clayton and hotels such as The Chase Park Plaza.
Then still there are the countless public murals like the many seen along Route 66. I am to date still the most viewed artist on the great Mother Road. They say every journey begins with a single step but in my case, a single painting. I have illustrated in Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Kansas, Alabama, Virginia and Kentucky. There are no walls large enough to stop me from painting. What began with small 18″ x 24″ illustrations used for advertising purposes for Fortune 500 companies has developed into artwork many feet long! With Spring here I am looking forward to new projects in new places.
Why Burlesque? I am often asked this. Of all the subjects, of all the vintage subjects, why Burlesque? Honestly Burlesque wasn’t the top pick when I came up with the idea of creating a photo series while using my vintage Widelux camera. I had thought of roller derby, rodeo and bowling also. When the art form of Burlesque came to mind, I really didn’t know if it still existed. Boy, was I naive! What I knew about this form of dance was minimal. I thought it was an old form of theater usually performed in old, dark, smoky halls with ladies of questionable character undressing in front of screaming drunk men. This is where I admit I was entirely wrong. This is where I explain, why Burlesque?
I met a television celebrity entirely by chance one weekend at a vintage sale. Her name was Danielle Colby of “American Pickers” fame. This History Channel reality show has brought her into living rooms all around the country for many seasons. As she teams up with Mike and Frank to search for rusty gold very week, she also is deeply involved in the world of this vintage art form named Burlesque. While the other potential photo venues faded in desire due to camera limitations or popularity, Burlesque just seemed to make sense. If my goal was to pick a subject slow enough for my old camera’s swinglens to catch up, if a vintage look was desired, if accessibility was needed, then Burlesque was the choice. So in the Spring of 2014 I contacted my casual acquaintance, Danielle Colby, via email and pitched her my idea. I explained the limitations and benefits of this fabulous camera and how it would portray what was shown onstage. I also expressed my desire to do with Burlesque what the artist, Degas, did with ballet. This was the thought that intrigued her. She has many photographers in her family so the idea came across as a natural fit. She performs with her own dance troupe titled, Burlesque Le’Moustache. Then Danielle not only invited me to photograph an event, but the annual Iowa Burlesque Festival. In October, the beautiful Davenport Adler Theater was to be my palette. It was six months away but I accepted the invitation with excitement.
It was during this waiting time where my doubts began. It seemed logical for a photo series but I wondered if I should photograph a performance I wasn’t all together comfortable with. Now keep in mind, at this point, I had never seen Burlesque and was only familiar with what I thought I knew. Dark theaters, people with questionable character, drunkenness and debauchery. Not necessarily my kind of place. Was I nuts? What would friends think? Had I slipped to the dark side? But then the question I asked myself was this. What is the true role of any photographer, especially a vintage photographer? Did every correspondent agree with every war he covered? Does every reporter agree with the subject of every story he writes? Maybe I was missing my own point. All I originally strived to create was my own type of vintage art using this fabulous tool of panorama. I wasn’t trying to judge the subject but to paint the subject on film with integrity and beauty. I was making this too tough. I decided to proceed with the schedule and shoot the festival without hesitation. I would find beauty as I saw it and I would photograph with integrity. While photographing sunsets and street scenes would be safe and more widely accepted, frankly, they have been done. I just wanted something that, even I, had not viewed before.
The day (or evening ) arrived and I entered the hall leading to the theater box office to meet Annie Wren, Danielle’s sister, who was to take me in. She handed me the all-access pass that would allow me anywhere at the Adler. Back stage, on stage, dressing rooms, green room, cat walks, everywhere. She escorted me downstairs to the inner sanctum of the theater. Down the stairs and around the hallways to the first dressing room. From the hall I could see on into the crowded, narrow room banked on each side with counter vanities and make-up lights. It was like being on the sun bright. I stood at the door while Annie leaned in and got the ladies attention. “Girls,” she said, “This is Ray Harvey. He is a photographer and he is here with a really cool old camera to shoot your performance. He will be all around here. Does anyone have an issue with him taking your photo? If you do, speak now. But if you do, then you may want to think about a different line of work cause there will always be someone taking your picture.” No one shook their head and I was greeted with a “Hi Ray” as I walked into the room. And that was it. I was in the dressing room. Much like being in a girls locker room or daughters bedroom, I suppose. Make-up, bags, purses, hair dryers and candy wrappers were thrown about. I needed to step over clothes as I entered. The best thing was that they couldn’t care less about me being there. They rarely looked my way. They were just in their moment having fun and I guess an old guy with a camera was just part of it. As difficult as it may sound to you, I wasn’t looking at the nudity, lack of clothing or their costume process. In fact, it was only later when I reviewed my own photos did I really see what was in the dressing room. I was concentrating on the location of the camera and it’s angle to the subjects. I needed to be aware of possible glare to the camera lens as it moved from left to right. Was this a low angle or high shot? Was a close-up appropriate? Lots of decisions and no do-overs. This was a chance of a lifetime!
For more commentary on the night of BOLD’E BURLESQU’E, stay tuned!
I have created artwork all around the St. Louis and Midwest area for over thirty years in a freelance capacity. I have painted over three hundred murals for commercial, residential and public use. I have created and painted hundreds of decorative paint finishes and looks for residential and commercial use. I have also designed and painted large canvas backdrops for theater, trade show and photo applications. Branding such a diverse talent has been difficult at times mainly due to a customers limited focus. Who would call a muralist when a great paint finish is what is needed on an office lobby? Who would call a house painter to create a beautiful original custom art mural? My clients do!
The customers that have been with me from the beginning know there are few limitations as to what I can do for them. Is it a church, an office, a restaurant or a theatrical play. It doesn’t matter because I can help them keep their project moving. For lack of a better phrase, it is kind of like one stop shopping when they call Ray Harvey Art. If you have a creative need of any kind I hope you contact me first.
This past March I was invited to photograph the Iowa Burlesque Festival in Davenport, Iowa. How does an offer like that happen? It actually began the October prior when I met Danielle Colby star of the History Channels “American Pickers.” We were across from each other at Vintage Garage Chicago and we struck up a conversation. We shared a picker friend and I was giving an update on a project I was working on with him. The conversation quickly went over many subjects as she is just as warm and friendly as her image on the TV show. We traded contact information.
In Spring of 2014 I was trying to come up with one more photographic series using my vintage Panon Widelux camera. I was searching for an “old school” subject like Roller Derby, Rodeo or something else nostalgic. I wanted a subject that was intriguing. Something so curious viewers couldn’t help but look. This is where Danielle and Burlesque came in. Danielle has her own dance troupe named Burlesque Le’Moustache. Though never mentioned on American pickers she has made quite a name for herself in the Burlesque industry. So I contacted Danielle once again and pitched my idea, my camera and my goal. She immediately responded and was on board. I only wanted to visit one of her small shows she had scheduled but she insisted I come to the Iowa Burlesque Festival in October. It seems she wanted me to have all access to her most popular festival. Her parents were photographers as well as her grandfather so she loved where this shoot might go.
I must admit prior to this that I knew nothing of Burlesque. I had never seen it, heard it, been exposed to it nor knew anyone in it. What had I just gotten myself into? I must also admit there were many soul searching conversations with myself as to whether this was a good move. I needed to rely on the storytelling characteristic of this panoramic camera. Sometimes it takes vintage technology to do a vintage subject justice. I wanted to see how it might see this performance. Why is Burlesque considered dance? What makes it performance art? This was to be a new experience and just what I was looking for. With this new attitude I packed up the camera and a pile of film and went to Iowa.
This is where the story really begins. Gallery Zeke in Steeleville, MO has now offered me the opportunity to expose to the public what I experienced this May. If you want to know and see more, join me at Gallery Zeke for BOLD’E BURLESQU’E, an exhibited collection of panoramic photos. Share the “behind the curtain” experience of Burlesque. More information will be released as the event nears. Until then, save the date and be BOLD’E.
In 2007 I illustrated murals in three churches in central Missouri. One of these was St. Michaels church. I received a call this Spring that there had been a roof leak leading to some minor damage in the alter mural. I was asked to come in and do spot repairs. Eventually the roof was fixed and the small spots had been patched. Awaiting the contractors call that the little areas were prime coated and ready for painting, I received a different type of call. The contractor informed me there had been some “miscommunication” between the painter and himself. Instead of priming only the few small areas, the painter whited out the entire alter mural measuring some sixty feet! I am meeting with them today to discuss a new mural on that alter wall. Lesson here…Listening is paramount! Here is a photo of just one of the Tromp L’Oeil scenes.
In an undisclosed location, by request of the owner, I have been busily reaching new heights! In a 55,000 square foot venue there are a lot of rooms and ceilings to paint. These are designed to be intricate and historical in nature and can be quite tedious. These three photos show the detail and scale of just a few of the rooms underway.
This is peak season for mural painting. While most of my murals are exterior the weather is perfect now for new public art. I have new projects in the bidding process and others in the scheduling stage. It is sometimes difficult painting outdoors in Missouri. Afternoon thunderstorms, heat and humidity can take its toll on me and the painting. While additives are used to extend drying time on the paint and cool refreshments are needed by me, northern exposures and overcast days are my friends. The few cool breaks we have enjoyed this sumer are rare and valuable. It allows for early starts and extended painting hours.
If you see me up on a lift or scaffolding don’t forget to wave or honk and don’t forget to support your local artist this summer!