Vali Myers, Frankfurt 1980.


In life I don't really have much in the way of regrets.  Or, as the song says, too few to mention anyway. But in photography, which has been a large part of my life over the last 35 years, I have plenty.

The largest of which would certainly be that I should have taken up photography much sooner.  Which I would have done had I not been so focused, by my mid teens, in becoming a painter.

The second biggest of my photographic regrets is that I wish I'd been blessed with a little more foresight.

I suppose one could say that about anything one chooses to do with one's life but, photographically speaking, I think I've been particularly guilty.

Take the time I ran into the artist Vali Myers.

It was at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1980.  I'd taken a few days off from my job as an ad agency art director and gone there to try to get a book deal for a bunch of photographs that I'd recently had in a  show in London.  Vali was carting around a portfolio of her drawings and I guess she was looking for a book deal too.

I approached her for the simple reason that she had a tattooed face.  Some of the skinheads and prostitutes I'd been photographing in London had tattooed faces and it was becoming a bit of a theme for me.

I had no idea who she was.  She was friendly enough but she seemed extremely nervous when I tried to photograph her. I took a total of four frames and she doesn't look particularly comfortable in any of them.

After which, she showed me her art.  I was impressed but not overly so.  In genre of psychedelic illustration that she was (possibly loosely) working in, there were some incredible talents back then.  Much of her work was overtly erotic and it was obvious that the woman in most of her drawings was herself.

To be honest (and since this is my blog, why not?) I thought she might be a little crazy.  Or, since she was in full hippy regalia, I thought she might have taken too many drugs.  Possibly too many drugs that day even.

And this is part of the problem that I have, which I allude to above.  I'm inclined to make hasty and often mistaken assumptions.  For a photographer of people, this not a good point.

When I closed her portfolio and we went our separate ways, I made a note of her name and then promptly forgot what it was.

I hardly thought about her again until last week, when I saw her very recognisable face in this article -

It turns out that Vali Myers was a lot more successful at Frankfurt than I'd been.  And that she'd been friends with people like Tennessee Williams, Salvador Dalí, Django Reinhardt, Jean Cocteau, Jean Genet and Patti Smith.

But that wasn't the most amazing thing about her for me.  Maybe not for any photographer...

There are perhaps only a couple of dozen of really influential photo books from the last Century (stuff like The Decisive Moment, The Americans and Twentysix Gasoline Stations) and one of them is called 'Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint-Germain-des-Prés' by the photographer Ed van der Elsken.  It was published in 1956.

Most people don't know anything about this book but to serious students of photography, it's very well known.

The book, which is mostly photos but with a small amount of text, tells the story of a beautiful woman called Ann , her penniless Mexican lover Manuel and their colourful lives on the Rive Gauche.  The photos are fantastic and the book looks like a storyboard for a cinéma vérité film that was never shot.  It's supposed to be fictional but certainly doesn't look like it.

The original book is long out of print but an English version called 'Love On The Left Bank' is still available.

It turns out Vali Myers was the girl in that book.  It was long before she had her face tattooed.

Her original name was Ann Rappold.

Without Google, I'd never have known this.

And she'd have always remained an anonymous face from the past.

A woman I met all too briefly 33 years ago.

The obvious question is - if I'd have known then what I know now, what difference would it have made to my photographs of her?

I'm not sure.

I'll have to get back to you on that one.