Saturday, August 22, 2015

Equiblues 2015!

This was the third time I have been to the Equiblues rodeo and country music festival in St. Agreve, France -- an annual event that draws upwards of 25,000 people and that this year was celebrating its 20th edition.

It was one of the first big country-western festivals I attended (back in 2004) when I first started following the "scene". Last time I was there was 3 years ago -- read what I wrote back then HERE and HERE.

Equiblues lasts the better part of a week, but this year, I only was able to make it there for Friday evening and Saturday, and -- alas -- I missed all of the rodeo -- though I saw some of the cowboy mounted shooting competition.

One of my reasons for going was to meet with Georges Carrier, an expert on country music in France who had been the director of the Country Rendez-vous festival in Craponne for 18 years.

I parked in front of the scene in the photo at the top of this page -- a fitting welcome image.

But the photo below encapsulates the atmosphere event better: "Authentic Dreams". Festivals like Equiblues are signal embodiments of what I call "real imaginary" spaces -- a re-created; no -- a created -- "America" where everyone wears cowboy hats and boots and hustles and bustles amid the trappings of the frontier; but where little has much really to do with the United States. As usual, except for some of the artists and rodeo performers, I was one of the only -- if not the only -- American there. I did hear English in the crowd from one couple strolling through, but UK English.

Actually, I found this year's Equiblues just about identical with what I found three years ago. Even the same food (sausage and frites; steak and frites; wine; beer...) and physical set-up. For festival-run merch, tickets, food, and events -- you have to pay in Equiblues dollars that you have to buy with Euros: one dollar = one Euro.

As usual, I was fascinated by the use of flag imagery -- American flags, Confederate flags and various other flags and banners. They are used basically without much meaning, as decoration mean to provide an "American" or "Rebel" spin, as backdrops, clothing, ornamentation.

In the photo below, fly in a row, over a souvenir and clothing stand,  an American flag, a Confederate flag with the words "Heritage Not Hate", a  Confederate flag and, I think, an Iowa state flag. I doubt of many people understood the significance of the slogan......

Check out the flag-inspired clothing, too.

The music, of course, with crowded concerts every night -- by American, Canadian and French artists -- under a circus-like big top, is one of the highlights. And there is a big space for line-dancers. I am still fascinated by the hypnotic geometric movements of these masses of people.

 There was even a Miss Equiblues contest.

But most visitors looked more like this:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Jen Osborne's portraits of Indian hobbyists

"Indians" and others in Hungary, 2013. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Mother Jones magazine has published a series of stunning portraits of Indian hobbyists in various European countries by the Berlin-based photographer Jen Osborne. I don't have copyright permission to repost the pictures -- but do follow the link!

In them, Jen shows the seriousness of the approach taken by people in the scene.

On her web site, Jen discusses her experiences.

From 2011 until 2015, I photographed the elusive "Indian Hobbyists" situated in Hungary, Poland, Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as film sets and stills from the popular Winnetou series and other Eastern European Native American films. The subjects in my series are not "ethnically" First Nations, but Europeans who use cultural mirroring, as practiced heavily in the sixties and seventies, to claim "Indianess", as well as present themselves as sympathetic to Native Americans. This hobby was once used as a form of psychological escape from gruelling dictatorships embraced behind the iron curtain.
She also photographed some of the  locations in Croatia where the Winnetou films of the 1960s were shot.

I of course have also been photographing people and places in the wild west scene -- including Indian hobbyists -- for more than a decade, and the photos on this page are mine, not Jen's.

Karl May Festival, Radebeul, Germany, 2008. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Tepees at a Tramp Potlach in Czech Republic

And my interest, too, goes well beyond Indian hobbyists and reenactors to include the wide range (pun intended) of people included in the Imaginary Wild West scene -- the fantasies, the yearnings, the music, the wild west theme parks, the saloons and all those elements that see-saw between the commercial and the sublime (or sublimated).

"Jim Bowie" and his wife, and "Indian maiden" at the Pullman City wild west theme park.

Czech Indian hobbyists at the German wild west theme park Pullman City

Czech frontier hobbyists at the private wild west town "Beaver City"

 Click here to see a photo gallery of some of my other Imaginary Wild West pictures


Saturday, June 6, 2015

RIP Pierre Brice, the Eternal Winnetou

The French actor Pierre Brice has died. Much of Europe is in mourning; few Americans have ever heard his name.

Brice, who was 86, starred as Winnetou, the Apache chief who was the hero of a series of movies shot in the 1960s based on the wild west stories of Karl May, the German hack writer who died in 1912 and never set foot in the American west but who thrilled the Old Continent with his tales.

I fell in love with Brice, like (almost) every other girl in central Europe, when as a teenager I spent the summer of 1966 in Prague and saw my first Winnetou movie. It was called “Old Shatterhand” and also starred the American actor Lex Barker as Winnetou’s blood brother, the German adventurer Charlie, AKA Old Shatterhand.

My then-10-year-old little brother and I went to see a 10 a.m. showing at the Sevastopol movie theatre in downtown Prague. After that I was obsessed. I bought a postcard of Brice in his Winnetou costume — darkened skin and long black locks held by a head band — and I cut out photos of him from Czech magazines.

As I wrote in an article about Karl May festivals more than a decade ago:

With his long hair and good looks, Brice set the mold for how a stage Winnetou should look and act, just as the late American actor Lex Barker, the original Old Shatterhand in the movies, set the standard for that role with his rugged features and trademark fringed buckskins.

I regret that I never got to interview Brice for my ongoing Imaginary Wild West project.

But Dana Weber and I did interview another Winnetou — Gojko Mitic, a Yugoslav-born actor who won fame during the Communist era playing Native Americans in East German-made Westerns, Mitic played Winnetou at the oldest and biggest summer Karl May festival, that in Bad Segeberg, Germany, where Brice himself had long been associated.

Gojko Mitic as Winnetou at Bad Segeberg, 2003