Thursday, April 16, 2009

Van Leo, Revisited

I'm having a lovely, lazy day at home today, mostly spent avoiding ridding out closets and cupboards in preparation for an upcoming jumble sale (Susan Boyle may look like a Barbara Pym character, but I'm living the life of one). As a result, I've been dealing with some digital jumble, clearing out files and folders, and ran across the following, which have put me in an Egyptian mood.

Many months ago, back when the Café was just a wee thing a few weeks old, we looked at remarkable photographs taken by Van Leo, who lived and worked in Cairo from the start of the Second War until nearly the turn of the century.

There are few things that more strongly conjure up Egypt's vanished past than his pictures, whether they are of glamourous film stars, as here in this study of the lovely Kariman;

Or of forgotten transients through the city. Here is a portrait of an English dancer called Katie Grey, as elegant as an ancient Egyptian bas relief.

His work could be quite straightforward, as with this study of actor Rushdi Abaza, a mid-century matinee idol...

Or hauntingly evocative...

This is the profile of a young Adonis known only as Nubar, a common Armenian name in pre-revolutionary Egypt. All we know is taken from the photographer's (wistful?) note - "immigrated to the U.S.A."

Van Leo's self-portraits take many forms, casting the artist as everything from a dapper man-about-town to, as here, a bearded desperado.

We often watch old Egyptian movies, Mr. Muscato and me, and we are especially riveted when they include location shots. We watch Omar Sharif or Laila Mourad or any of the great stars as they walk down a tree-lined street or enter through the revolving doors of a downtown boite and wish we could have lived in that city, seen that place that now exists only in traces and crumbling corners. We would certainly have paid a call, or more than one, on Van Leo...

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