09 February 2010


My recent post, Sunday Poetry: "Postscript," of Seamus Heaney's poem included the much-beloved photograph shot by Toni Frissell. A friend told me it was also the cover of the 1963 album by Bill Evans and Jim Hall called Undercurent. And here it is.


Well, that set me adrift and I found the photo was also the album cover for the 1988 Tears in Rain by This Ascension.

And for Osvaldo Golijov's Oceana.

And for The Beauvilles Whispering Sin.

But wait. The image was also colorized and used as a cover for the Kindle version of the novel Tethered by Amy MacKinnon.

I imagine one of the reasons this photograph is so popular (aside from it being gorgeous) is that it's in the public domain. So that got me started on Toni Frissell (1907-1988), whose portfolio was bequeathed to the Library of Congress upon her death. Here are a few of my favorites:

Frissell obviously liked to shoot around and even underwater. Wikipedia says she was a fashion photographer before WWII, the  official photographer of the Women's Army Corps during WWII, and the first woman on the staff of Sports Illustrated in 1953.

Her much-used image of the woman afloat just under the surface is called Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida. And there's where it was shot in 1947, the first year the springs opened as a tourist attraction, complete with underwater performances by "mermaids." The place became one of those legendary roadside attractions of mid-20th-century America. Here's one of Weeki Wachee's 1950s mermaids.

It turns out that the British band Supergrass shot a music video at Weeki Wachee Springs in 2005, which conveys a history of the place in and around the band playing to the mermaids (and proves that Hans Christian Andersen had it wrong and mermaids, though lovely underwater, can't sing).

The Mermaid (1911) by Edmund Dulac captures the vulnerability of a beached water being... something most of us can probably relate to.

"... The little mermaid swallowed the bitter, fiery draught, and it was as if a two-edged sword struck through her frail body. She swooned away, and lay there as if she were dead. When the sun rose over the sea she awoke and felt a flash of pain, but directly in front of her stood the handsome young Prince, gazing at her with his coal-black eyes. Lowering her gaze, she saw that her fish tail was gone, and that she had the loveliest pair of white legs any young maid could hope to have. But she was naked, so she clothed herself in her own long hair."
-Hans Christian Andersen
The Little Mermaid
Translated by Jean Hersholt

Which brings me back to one of my favorite painters, the Pre-Raphaelite, John William Waterhouse, and his A Mermaid (1901).

This mermaid was clever enough to keep both her tail and her tongue.

Post a Comment