Mad dealers #1
I stumbled across the Jewish photographer, loveable Georges Glasberg, on his photography and pre-cinema stand in Paul Bert within the Cignancourt flea market of Paris in the late 70s.
Overnight from being a specialist antique games and dexterity puzzle dealer between Paris and London, I became involved and fascinated by the magical world of pre-cinema, with its magic lanterns and paper optical toys, manufactured prior to the advent of cinema in 1895.
Optical toys included attractive French tin magic lanterns made by LaPierre or Aubert circa 1895 which were decorative 3D objects in themselves, some in the shape of the Eiffel Tower or a Buddha.
I scoured the photographic French dealers every weekend in the flea markets of Vanves, Montreuil, Paul Bert, Jules Valles and the antique fairs of La Bastille, Chatou and La Villette known as brocante. Soon I was known by the specialist dealers thus optical toys, magic lantern glass slides and persistence of vision paper items, such as thaumatropes, were put aside for me probably because I paid more than my French colleagues.
This fascinating world overlapped into vintage photography, early cinema ( Les freres Lumiere and Georges Melies), vintage cameras, reference books, prints and ceramics showing the image of the magic lantern and the lanternist even involving the photography of pioneers like William Friese-Greene, Louis Daguerre and Eadweard Muybridge. I was fascinated and learnt everything from my colleagues who were usually professional photographers and clients, who had private collections or small private museums like the Barnes twins in St Ives, Cornwall, David Francis, the film critic or Ernst Hrabalek, the magic lantern collector in Vienna. Others, like Bill Douglas, were known film directors or Howard Kazanjian the film producer in Hollywood of ‘Star Wars’ fame. When, over dinner, I would ask Glaswegian Bill about his early life, he would answer that I must watch his famous trilogy when it came back to the BFI.
Georges had a wonderful lined face full of life's experiences, abundant white hair, a ruddy complexion and a broken vein nose from probably drinking copious amounts of red wine! I only wish I had taken his portrait. He worked side by side with his inseparable mistress Marie-Mad, a suitable name as she was madness itself. I would hang out with them on his stand on Saturdays and Sundays and watch the world go by meeting a few obsessional collectors and listening to intense photographic technique conversations with other photographers, amateur or professional, such as Swiss Michel Auer.
I recall buying a tin magic lantern and Marie-Mad had to remove the lens to wrap it separately. She opened a drawer to look for some newspaper and then put the rather phallic lens, after carefully wrapping it, into a small very familiar looking plastic bag. A recycled sanitary towel bag of all things, thankfully unused!
Soon I got invited for dinner at Georges's Montmartre studio just off the famous Place du Tetre where artists drew caricatures of the ever present tourists. I knew he had a house in Oppede in the south of France with a wife and children but he lived in harmony with Marie-Mad until she became a radio ham staying up all night talking to truck drivers and the like. Georges grew jealous and irritated when she arranged to meet one of these hams at night! Maybe that was why he decided to leave Paris and his younger mistress because he couldn't keep up with her vitality and youth! Exciting seductive Paris was far far away from the quiet life that Georges would return to when he finally left Paris and his cozy working photographic studio.
There he proudly showed me his black and white landscape photographs, books and exhibition catalogues from his past work in the 50s but I was only interested in portraits like the fashion photographer Willy Maywald had shot and gracing his studio walls in Montparnasse. I would go every Saturday to Willy's Salon and meet photographers and artists until he was rediscovered in the early 80s by Jutta Neumann and became well-known again. They set off to New York to be feted at the same moment as I was exhibiting at Madison Square Garden so we were able to lunch together. Fame came again at the end of Willy's life. Georges, by contrast was unknown, and retired to his rustic home and family in the Luberon.
We lost touch. I called him once from Menton hoping Oppede was close by as I had no idea where it was located. We didn't have Google maps in those days. We chatted and laughed about the good old days for about an hour and then he rang off and exited from my life forever. Georges died in 2009. Disillusioned, he also broke with his best friend, the art dealer Elliot Baruch, who I introduced to my close friend American Carmen Salis Aul at the time. Carmen would became Elliot’s mistress for 25 years and a successful vintage poster dealer, because of me, between Paris and New York. But that's another story for another vignette.
I googled Georges and am pleased to see that his daughter has catalogued his fine work and an exhibition in 2014 was curated.
Vive Georges! Vive Black and white photography. Vive La belle France!
Written in the Plaza Cavana Hotel, Nerja, Spain during Carnaval on 24/2/17 and updated in Brighton on 10.10.18.
Link with ‘Carmen and Elliot’ vignette.
Georges Glasberg co-author with Jean-Paul Clebert
John Barnes obituary - The Guardian 2008.
Wikipedia - Howard Kazanjian
Wikipedia - Ernst Hrabelek - magic lantern collection - Vienna - Prater museum and Vienna airport.
Lester Smith pre-cinema collection
Georges Glasberg - Google images (1914-2009)
Paris naïf by Paul Guth with all 64 photos by Georges Glasberg
Wikipedia - Bill Douglas cinema museum
Wikipedia - history of film
BFI - British Film Institute
Willy Mawald images of fashion photos and Picasso