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In the Footsteps of Van Gogh

One of the goals of my month spent in Provence and the Côte d’Azur during October, 2011 was to visit and photograph sites that were important to the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh is today, of course, one of the most admired artists of the late nineteenth century. His art and his tortured life are the subject of a large number of books, articles and films, including Irving Stone’s 1934 biographical novel, “Lust for Life,” the 1956 movie of the same name based on the novel, and, most recently, an exhaustively detailed biography, “Van Gogh, The Life,” by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Random House, October 2011). Despite the fact that van Gogh’s artistic career spanned only a little more than ten years, his output was prodigious, comprising about 2,000 paintings, drawings and other works. He is most celebrated for the landscapes, portraits and still lifes he completed during the last five years of his life. These include “The Starry Night,” paintings of sunflowers and other flowers, trees and gardens, self-portraits, and portraits of “L’Arlésienne” (Madame Ginoux), of the postman Joseph Roulin and his wife, of Dr. Paul Gachet, and of other persons with whom he came in contact during these years.

Throughout his life, van Gogh suffered from serious mental and physical illnesses, including a form of epilepsy (as diagnosed by doctors at the time) and syphilis. He also suffered from an extremely excitable, irascible and seemingly bipolar personality that put him constantly at odds with nearly everyone with whom he came in contact, including his parents and other family members, employers and business associates, fellow artists and members of any community he inhabited. During his lifetime he sold only one painting, despite his younger brother Theo’s position as a mid-level manager at one of Europe’s most prominent art dealers. Theo in fact supported him financially during his entire career as an artist. His work was generally considered unsalable and received little notice until the publication in January 1890 (about six months before his death) of a highly favorable article in the magazine Mercure de France by the young critic Albert Aurier. Van Gogh’s late work has been variously characterized as Post-Impressionist, Symbolist and Cloisonnist, but remains distinctly recognizable as his own unique style.

In February, 1888, after living with his brother in Paris for two years, van Gogh moved to Arles and eventually established his residence and a studio there in the famous “Yellow House” at 2, Place Lamartine (unfortunately destroyed in a bombing raid during World War II). The period of van Gogh’s residence in Arles, from February, 1888 until May, 1889, saw the creation of many of his most well-known paintings. The Office of Tourism in Arles offers a free map of the city showing the locations where ten of these paintings were done. At each of these locations, a reproduction of the work painted there is set up on a post at approximately the location where van Gogh is thought to have stood as he painted. Of course, some of the locations van Gogh painted no longer exist, such as the Yellow House, or look quite different today than they did when he painted them more than 120 years ago. However, several are still quite recognizable. My first stop after arriving in Arles was at the site of van Gogh’s 1888 oil painting, “The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, at Night.” This is the van Gogh painting:

The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, 1888, oil on canvas

Here is my photo of this location as it looks today, during the daytime, from approximately the same perspective:

In October, 1888, van Gogh painted this image of the entrance to the Trinquetaille Bridge, which spans the Rhone River at Arles:

The Trinquetaille Bridge, 1888, oil on canvas

Here is that location as it appears today:

One must admit that the appearance of this site is not improved by the addition of a parked car, graffiti and trash bin.

After months of entreaties from van Gogh, the artist Paul Gauguin joined him at the Yellow House in late October, 1888, and the two spent several weeks living and working together. It had long been a dream of van Gogh to form an artistic movement with Gauguin and other artists he hoped to attract to Arles. However, his relationships with other artists frequently ended with violent disagreements, and Gauguin was no exception. After a number of clashes between them, Gauguin walked out of the Yellow House on December 23. Apparently thinking that Gauguin was leaving for good, van Gogh initially ran after him. According to some accounts, van Gogh threatened Gauguin in a park with a straight razor, but Naifeh and Smith state (p. 702) that he simply gave Gauguin a newspaper article containing the words “Le meurtrier a pris la fuite” (the murderer has fled). In any event, it is undisputed that, when van Gogh returned to the Yellow House, he had an attack of some sort, cut off part of his ear with a razor, wrapped the severed flesh in a piece of newspaper and delivered it to a nearby brothel with instructions to give it to a prostitute named Rachel. There followed several months during which van Gogh alternated between a hospital in Arles and the Yellow House, until the police, upon the petition of about 30 neighbors, padlocked the door of the Yellow House in order to prevent him from returning there.

In May, 1889, van Gogh voluntarily committed himself to the asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole, located about a mile south of Saint Rémy-de-Provence at the base of the Alpilles mountain range. The asylum, a former monastery, derives its name from the nearby Mausoleum of the Julii, built about 30 BC by three Julii brothers in honor of their father, who had been granted Roman citizenship and the right to use the name “Julii” in return for his military or civil service to Rome. The mausoleum today remains in remarkably good condition:

Between the Mausoleum and the asylum lies the ancient Gallo-Roman town of Glanum, which has been under excavation since 1921. From the grounds of that site, I took this photo of the Mont Gaussier, which is part of the Alpilles range:



During his more lucid moments, van Gogh was permitted to leave the grounds of the asylum to paint. In a number of his paintings of that period, the above landscape is clearly visible, for example:

Le Mont Gaussier with the Mas de Saint Paul, 1889, oil on canvas

A Meadow in the Mountains, 1889, oil on canvas

Mountains at Saint Rémy with Dark Cottage, 1889, oil on canvas

Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape, 1889, oil on canvas

The Alpilles also appear in the background of van Gogh’s most famous painting, “The Starry Night,” likewise painted during this period. Regrettably, the wheat fields and olive groves so beautifully painted by van Gogh during his stay at Saint Paul de Mausole have since fallen victim to extensive residential construction in the vicinity of Saint Rémy.

As is generally known, Van Gogh died of a gunshot wound in the abdomen in July, 1890, while living in Auvers-sur-Oise under the care of Dr. Gachet. While popular accounts have attributed his death to suicide, Naifeh and Smith present substantial evidence that the shot may have been fired by someone else, possibly accidentally. See “Appendix: A Note on Vincent’s Fatal Wounding,” pp. 869 et seq.

Please note that the photographs shown in this posting are low resolution copies of the originals. For full resolution copies of these and other photos of Arles, Saint Rémy-de-Provence and other towns and villages in Provence, please visit the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photography website, Phil Haber Photography, where signed prints of these photos may be purchased.  For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2012 Philip A. Haber

A Photographic Tour of Roussillon

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During the month my wife and I spent in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, in October of 2011, we set aside a day to visit the spectacular hill town of Roussillon. Roussillon lies in the heart of the region known as the Luberon, a large and mountainous area to the north of Aix-en-Provence which occupies a part of the department of the Vaucluse. The drive to Roussillon from Aix, where we had rented an apartment, is about 40 miles but can take well over an hour even by the most direct route. The narrow roads wind around hills and through picturesque valleys, running past or through other hill towns such as Bonnieux and Lourmarin, which are themselves eminently worthy of a stop or a day trip.
Roussillon sits on massive deposits of red, orange and yellow ochre. The colors of the ochre result from the presence of large quantities of hydrated and anhydrous iron oxides which were deposited over 100 million years ago when the land that is now Provence was part of the seabed. One of the first sights which the traveller sees upon entering Roussillon is a large ochre cliff immediately opposite the eastern side of the town (click on any photo in this posting to see a larger version):

A short walk from the town up the hill along the top of this cliff brings you to the ochre quarries, where for centuries the colorful building materials from which the town was constructed were obtained. In the quarries are many colorful and fanciful stone shapes such as these:

From the top of the cliff there is a striking view of the town:


Inside the town itself, the red, orange and yellow colors of the ochre dominate:

As in so many towns in Provence, there is a beautiful clock tower, made in this case of the same red ochre materials one sees elsewhere in Roussillon:

I couldn’t resist taking a photo through the archway in the clock tower from the other side:

Every street in the town bears witness to the ubiquitous ochre materials:

Doors, windows and shutters are also strikingly colored to match or contrast with the prevailing ochre colors of the walls:

It does not take long to see why this town is included in the official list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France). A visit to Roussillon is an unforgettable experience.

The photos shown in this article and other photos of Roussillon and of other towns and villages in Provence and the Côte d’Azur are available for viewing and purchase in full original resolution in the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photography website, Phil Haber Photography. For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2013 Philip A. Haber

In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part III: The Bibémus Quarries

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My third and last of the Cézanne tours organized by the Office de Tourisme of Aix-en-Provence involved a visit to the Bibémus quarries (carrières de Bibémus), a site where Cézanne painted frequently from 1895 to 1904. The quarries are located a few miles east of the center of Aix. These quarries had been in operation at least since the days of the Roman empire, and were extensively worked during the 17th and 18th centuries. The reddish-yellow ochre rocks obtained there were used in the construction of buildings and monuments in Aix and elsewhere. But after the 18th century, the quarries fell into disuse because of fissures and sand pockets in the quarries’ rocks, probably resulting from the presence of high levels of salt, which also made sand quarried there useless as a component of concrete. In 1885, the quarries were closed and thereafter were completely abandoned, which allowed Cézanne to work there whenever he wished. In 1954, a portion of the quarry site was purchased by the American artist George Bunker, who upon his death in 1991 left it to the city of Aix-en-Provence, on condition that it not be commercially developed but maintained as a public park in memory of Cézanne. The city opened the quarries to the public, along with the other Cézanne tour sites, during the centennial of Cézanne’s death in 2006.

While painting in the quarries, Cézanne rented a stone cabin (“cabanon”) located there in order to avoid having to travel daily to and from Aix with his paints, brushes and supplies. The cabin is still there today (click on any picture in this posting to see a larger version):

Cézanne’s Cabanon in the Bibémus Quarries

The quarries were an ideal subject for Cézanne’s style of painting, lending themselves naturally to representation as a collection of geometrical shapes of contrasting colors. Here are some examples:

Bibémus Quarry, 1895, oil on canvas

Corner of Quarry, 1900-02, oil on canvas

While there has been extensive growth of vegetation in the quarries in the more than 100 years since Cézanne painted there, much of this unusual landscape is still visible today:

The Bibemus Quarry

The Bibemus Quarry

At several points during the tour, a panel with a reproduction of one of Cézanne’s paintings in the quarries is set up at the exact spot where he painted. Thus one can compare the painting itself, e.g. —

Bibémus: The Red Rock, c. 1897, oil on canvas

with the same view as it currently appears:

The Red Rock

One of Cézanne’s most well-known paintings shows Mont Sainte-Victoire in an apparent view from the Bibémus quarries, with the red and yellow rocks of the quarries seen directly below and in front of the mountain:

Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarries, c. 1897, oil on canvas

Interestingly, this view cannot be found in the quarries. While Mont Sainte-Victoire is in fact visible from certain parts of the quarries, the ochre rocks are nowhere to be seen in those views. For example, I saw this view of the mountain during the tour:

View of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the Bibemus Quarries

According to our tour guide, the view painted by Cézanne never actually existed even in Cézanne’s day, and Cézanne simply created a composite picture showing the mountain together with rocks that were visible only from a different part of the quarry. Of course, as a painter Cézanne could take such liberties. Such a scene might seem difficult for a photographer to emulate. However, with today’s digital photography and such tools as Photoshop, a similar photographic representation can be easily created:

This combination photograph is composed of parts of two of my other photos shown in this posting, i.e. those entitled “The Bibémus Quarry” and “View of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the Bibémus Quarries.” Its remarkable similarity to Cézanne’s 1897 painting suggests the possibility that Cézanne’s painting may in fact be a combined representation of these two views taken from different parts of the quarries.

The three tours “Dans les Pas de Cézanne” organized by the Office de Tourisme of Aix-en-Provence were certainly among the most interesting and informative of the many activities and sights afforded by this remarkable destination. They are an experience not to be missed, especially for lovers of modern art.

For additional photos of Aix-en-Provence and other beautiful and interesting cities and villages in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, please visit the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photography website, Phil Haber Photography. For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part II: The Studio at Les Lauves and Mont Sainte-Victoire

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After the Cézanne family estate at the Jas de Bouffan was sold in 1899, Cézanne needed a new studio in which to work and to store his unfinished canvases, paints and other working materials. In 1901, he bought a plot of land in an area known as Les Lauves, which in Cézanne’s day was open countryside to the north of Aix-en-Provence, and is now a built-up suburb. This was Cézanne’s last studio, and he designed it with great care. It includes a ground floor with living accommodations, and a first floor studio with a very high ceiling, the necessary large window facing north for good lighting, and windows facing south toward the town. The studio is located on a road that at the time was called the Chemin des Lauves and is now named Avenue Paul Cézanne (although it is still called Chemin des Lauves beginning at a point further north). Cézanne worked in this studio from 1902 until his death in 1906, and here painted his final masterpieces, including the large bathers series, numerous still lifes, and many paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire (although the latter were often painted on location). While today there are no paintings remaining in the studio, there are many recognizable articles from Cézanne’s last years, including a huge easel, a ladder, brushes and palettes, and various objects that appear in his still lifes, such as a table, numerous pots, jugs and bowls, three skulls and a plaster cast of a cupid. Photographs inside the studio were unfortunately not permitted to be taken.

At the time that the studio at Les Lauves was built, Mont Sainte-Victoire was visible from there. Today, construction and the growth of trees and other vegetation in the surrounding area have blocked the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the studio. However, in any event Cézanne preferred the much better view that was available on higher ground about a half mile further north. That location still exists today — a small public park named “Terrain des Peintres” has been set aside by the town of Aix-en-Provence at the location where Cézanne created his last paintings of the mountain, a few dozen steps above the road. An open space is provided, surrounded by ten panels containing reproductions of paintings of the mountain by Cézanne from that site. The view to the east from there is nothing less than spectacular (click on any picture in this post for a larger view):

Mont Sainte-Victoire from Les Lauves

The photo above shows the view of the mountain that appears in Cézanne’s many paintings of it from this location, such as these:

Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1902-04, oil on canvas

Mont Sainte-Victoire vu des Lauves, 1904-06, oil on canvas

These “Post-Impressionist” paintings exhibit the characteristics of Cézanne’s mature work that so inspired the Cubists, Fauvists and other modern artists: objects, including the mountain, trees, buildings and even the sky and clouds are represented by geometric shapes arranged in patterns of color gradations. The illusion of depth is created by careful use of lines and contrasting patches of color. Note also that, particularly in the case of the first of the above paintings, the vertical perspective is not natural but has been altered to emphasize the shapes and characteristics of the mountain and the intervening space. Such alterations of perspective were characteristic of Cézanne’s still lifes, as well as his landscapes – see the introductory commentary in Cézanne, by the great art historian Meyer Schapiro (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1952).

As mentioned in a previous posting in this series, during his lifetime Cézanne painted the Mont Sainte-Victoire no less than 87 times. While Cézanne favored the site at Les Lauves during the last years of his life, he had earlier painted the mountain from a considerable variety of other locations. Another of his favorite viewpoints was from the vicinity of Le Tholonet, a small village lying about four miles east of Aix-en-Provence, along a road known in Cézanne’s day as the Route du Tholonet and now called the Route de Cézanne. In this area, there are wonderful views of the mountain from the southwest, as opposed to the view from straight west seen at Les Lauves. This is one of Cézanne’s paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire from a viewpoint near the Route du Tholonet:

Mont Sainte-Victoire Above the Route du Tholonet, c. 1900, oil on canvas

In search of a similar viewpoint, I drove east along the road from Aix, and a little past Le Tholonet came upon a park on the north side of the road with a hiking trail up a steep hillside, from which there was an excellent view of the mountain:

Mont Sainte-Victoire from near Le Tholonet

While Cézanne’s work was apparently not well received by the citizens of his home town during his lifetime – see the article Paul Cézanne in Wikipedia – today it is difficult to go anywhere in or around Aix without seeing references to him in the form of statues, plaques, street names and other memorials, e.g.:

Statue of Cézanne at La Rotonde, Aix-en-Provence

Indeed, Cézanne’s presence seems to dominate the city from the Office de Tourisme at its center to its outermost parts, and yet is only one facet of a town that has an enormous quantity of wondrous things to offer the visitor. For other photos of Aix-en-Provence and other beautiful and interesting cities and villages in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, please visit the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photo website, Phil Haber Photography.  For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

In my next post, I will describe my tour of the Bibémus Quarries, east of Aix-en-Provence, another site dear to Cézanne where he found ideal subjects for his remarkable style of painting.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part I: The Jas de Bouffan

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In October of 2011 I spent several weeks in the beautiful and fascinating city of Aix-en-Provence.  Aix was the birthplace and, for much of his life, the home of Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906). One of the greatest artists of the 19th century, Cézanne is regarded by many as the father of modern art (Matisse and Picasso are both said to have referred to Cézanne as “the father of us all”). A visit to the Office de Tourisme in Aix quickly makes clear the connections between the artist and the city. The Office provides a three-part tour of sites where Cézanne lived and worked, entitled “Dans les Pas de Cézanne” (“In the Footsteps of Cézanne”). It also prints and distributes a guide map of Aix and the surrounding countryside showing the locations of churches, cafes, houses and other sites connected to the lives of Cézanne and other members of his family. (A collection of photographs I took in and around Aix and in many other towns and villages in Provence can be viewed in the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photo website, Phil Haber Photography.)

One of the Cézanne tours consists of a visit to Cézanne’s family home in the area known as the Jas de Bouffan, located in Cézanne’s day on the western outskirts of Aix and now part of the enlarged city. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cézanne was the scion of a wealthy family. His father was a successful merchant and banker, and despite his great disappointment that his son decided to pursue art instead of finishing his legal studies, he nevertheless supported Cézanne financially.  He purchased the house in the Jas de Bouffan in 1859, when Cézanne was 20 years old. The ground floor included a large drawing room with a curved white wall and a high ceiling. Cézanne began painting in this room in 1860, filling the walls with the products of his first efforts as an artist. After Cézanne’s death, the paintings were removed from the walls and transferred to canvases, but the tour of the house includes a video presentation that projects images of these paintings onto their original locations.

At the urging of his friend and former schoolmate Émile Zola, Cézanne relocated to Paris in 1861, where he later came under the tutelage of the Impressionist master Camille Pissarro. Beginning in 1870, Cézanne moved frequently between Paris and Provence, including both Aix and L’Estaque, a fishing village located on the Mediterranean coast near Marseille. However, in the early 1880’s, Cézanne’s father had a studio built for him on an upper floor of the Jas de Bouffan. After that, Cézanne spent more of his time in Provence, at the Jas de Bouffan or at L’Estaque or other sites near Aix. Cézanne’s father died in 1886, leaving Cézanne with a substantial fortune including the estate in the Jas de Bouffan. Cézanne lived and worked there at various times from then until 1899, when the house was sold following the death of Cézanne’s mother two years earlier. Much later, the house and a portion of the grounds were sold to the city of Aix. The house has been open to the public since 2006 for visits in connection with the tours organized by the Office de Tourisme.

The house in the Jas de Bouffan sits on a substantial property that includes a large walled basin or pond. Cézanne completed many paintings of the house and grounds during his lifetime. This photo, which I took during the tour, shows the house as it appears today, taken from the gardens to the rear (you may click on any image in this post to see a larger version):

House in the Jas de Bouffan

This photo may currently be seen at the recently opened Centre d’Art at the Hôtel de Caumont, in Aix-en-Provence, as part of an exhibition on the life of Cézanne.

Here are two of Cézanne’s paintings of the house, also viewed from the the rear:

La Maison du Jas de Bouffan, 1876-78, oil on canvas

House with Red Roof (Jas de Bouffan), 1887-90, oil on canvas

The first of these two paintings is a particularly good example of the distortion of perspective characteristic of much of Cézanne’s work. Although the point of view of the house in the painting seems to be about the same as the point of view in my photo, in the painting you can see a large part of the roof, as though the artist were looking down from a point well above the ground.

The pond is situated to the rear of the house and is surrounded by small fountains in the form of carved stone lions and dolphins. This is how the pond appears to the visitor today:

The Pond at the Jas de Bouffan

This is one of Cézanne’s paintings of the pond:

Pool of the Jas de Bouffan, 1885-87, oil on canvas

It became clear during our tour of the grounds that there had been many changes during the more than 100 years since Cézanne lived at the Jas de Bouffan. For example, as our tour guide explained, many of the chestnut trees that dominated the property during Cézanne’s life had died as a result of the construction of a highway south of the property, which had cut off much of the natural flow of water to the property. Some of these trees had been replaced with plane trees, which are better adapted to dry conditions. There had also been much growth of natural vegetation in other parts of the property. As a result of these changes, some of the views from the property which appear in Cézanne’s paintings can no longer be seen. In particular, there is no longer a view of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the grounds of the Jas de Bouffan, which can be seen in this painting by Cézanne from the mid-1880’s:

Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan, 1885-87, oil on canvas

The Mont Sainte-Victoire is a massive limestone mountain ridge lying just a few miles east of Aix-en-Provence, and was one of Cézanne’s favorite subjects. In fact, he created no less than 87 paintings of the mountain during his lifetime from a number of different of locations, including 44 oils and 43 watercolors. While I was disappointed not to have a view of the mountain from the Jas de Bouffan, I had a great number of opportunities to photograph it during my subsequent visits to sites in and around Aix.

The second and third parts of the Cézanne tour included visits to Cézanne’s last studio at Les Lauves, just north of Aix, and to the Bibemus Quarries, east of Aix. Other posts in this blog describe these visits as well as my excursions to other sites in the vicinity of Aix from which Cézanne created his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. See In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part II and In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part III”.

For other photos of Aix-en-Provence and other beautiful and interesting cities and villages in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, please visit the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photo website, Phil Haber Photography.  For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

The Making of “The Man at the Counter” – Part II

The second day of shooting of the short film The Man at the Counter (Facebook site: The Man at the Counter) took place entirely inside The Cascades Cafe on Warren Street, the main street in the town of Hudson, New York. That day being a Sunday, The Cascades was closed to the public and had been rented for the day by Brian McAllister, the film’s director. This was a make-or-break day for the cast and crew, since a majority of the film’s scenes take place inside the cafe.

Happily for me as the day’s still photographer, the ceiling of the cafe was a uniform light cream color. This favored using bounce flash off the ceiling to light my shots of the cast and crew, thereby softening the overly bright highlights, unwanted reflections and dark shadows that would typically result from the use of direct flash in such a confined area.

While the cafe was an ideal venue for the film, certain alterations still had to be made before shooting could start. For example, some of the furniture and equipment had to be rearranged to create a suitable open space at the counter for the scenes shot there between Ian Hyland, as the young server, and Bill McHugh, who plays his elderly customer. Since these scenes are a part of a story told in flashback by the film’s 30-something protagonist (Tom Everett Scott) about events that occurred when he was 16, the menu items and prices on the blackboards behind the counter had to be changed to those one might have expected to see about 15 years ago. These arrangements were planned and carried out by art director Kaitlyn McInnes and production designer Rachel Bird, seen in the photo below (click on any photo to see a larger version):

The next shot shows the crew in discussion about the setup of the Red One digital cinema camera and the other equipment. Shown from left to right are director Brian McAllister, director of photography Dennis Donovan, producer Bob Cammisa and assistant camera/key grip Phil Toran:

An area was set aside in the back of the cafe for costume designer Katie Maher and her wardrobe. The scenes shot in the cafe take place over a period of several days and numerous costume changes were required. In this shot, Katie assists Bill with a costume:

This photo shows Ian and Bill at the counter in a run-through of a scene before shooting began:

In this photo, director Brian McAllister discusses a scene with Ian and Bill:

Here is director Brian acting like – a director (shown with hair and makeup artist Candice Crawford):

In this photo we see screenwriter Rebecca Sue Haber and producer Bob Cammisa awaiting their turn to appear as extras, seated at the table in the cafe at which they briefly appear in the film:

After a long day of shooting, the crew had to restore the cafe to exactly its condition at the start of the day. This included erasing the menu blackboards and rewriting the original menu items and prices! It was late Sunday evening before the crew was ready to leave for the night. But it was amazing to me how much had been accomplished that day. All was set now for the scenes with Tom Everett Scott, who was scheduled to fly in from Los Angeles the following weekend to shoot the first and last scenes of the film and to record his voiceover.

You can see a larger version of any of the above photos by clicking on the photo. Additional photos can be viewed at my photography website in the gallery The Man at the Counter. For additional information about my photography, please also see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

The Making of “The Man at the Counter” – Part I

The short film The Man at the Counter was shot in September and October, 2010, primarily in and around the town of Hudson, New York. This is a brief account of the making of the film, illustrated by some of the photos I took on location as one of the film’s production still photographers.

It all started as a poem written by playwright Rebecca Sue Haber. When director Brian McAllister read the poem, he immediately suggested that it would make a great script for a short film. It had a moving story that could be vividly told in a series of visually captivating scenes. Rebecca set to work converting the poem into a film script, and thus The Man at the Counter was born.

In the film, a man of about 30 tells about a life-changing experience he had when he was 16, while working one summer behind the counter of a local cafe. The 30-year-old man is played by actor Tom Everett Scott, who appears at the beginning of the film and tells the story by reciting the poem in a voiceover. As he speaks, the scenes that he describes are played out on the screen. The man as a 16-year-old boy is played by Ian Hyland, and another main character, an elderly man, is played by Bill McHugh. The old man comes into the cafe each day and orders a cup of plain coffee. Each time, he snatches a handful of sugar packets on his way out.  In the course of the film, the boy learns the reason for this strange behavior, and learns a lesson about life and love as well. The surprise ending gives the film its powerful message.

Director McAllister chose Hudson over several other contenders for a number of reasons: it has the look of a classic old American town; it has a beautiful main street — Warren Street — with a cafe — The Cascades — that was a perfect fit for the story; it was reasonably close to New York City and Fairfield, Connecticut, where most of the actors and crew lived; and he had the invaluable assistance and cooperation of Bob Lucke, the owner of the cafe, and Richard Scalera, the mayor of Hudson. On the first morning of shooting, the block of Warren Street on which the cafe is located was closed to traffic for several hours to facilitate the shooting of the initial scenes, which take place on the street outside the cafe.

On that first day of shooting, the crew began setting up the equipment at the end of the block at dawn. Photos in a previous posting in this blog show how Warren Street and the The Cascades looked that day in the early morning light (click on the names to see photos). In this shot, cinematographer Dennis Donovan (in the red shirt) and assistant Phil Toran set up the Red One digital cinema camera – the current state of the art in digital cinema technology – while producer Bob Cammisa looks on (click on any photo to enlarge):

Here is director Brian McAllister instructing actor Ian Hyland on exactly where to ride his bicycle down the street to the cafe:

This shot shows Ian being prepped for the first day of shooting by hair and makeup artist Candice Crawford:

Here is Ian in motion on his bicycle at another location a few miles outside of Hudson:

In this photo, with the Red One mounted on rails, director and crew struggle to keep pace with Ian as he streaks by on his bike:

Several local residents volunteered as extras for another scene shot at a ravine outside Hudson:

It was a full day’s work, and the cast and crew turned in rather early in order to be ready to start again at dawn the next day. The second day of shooting was a Sunday, when The Cascades was closed, and the cafe had been made available the whole of that day for shooting of the interior scenes.

The photos shown here are only a small selection of the production stills taken during the shooting of the film. To see a more complete collection of these photos, please visit the gallery The Man at the Counter on my photography website. For additional information about my photography, please also see my photography Facebook page.


Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber