Issue #214  3/12/2015
A Bad November and Belated Farewell to Good Friends: Rudolf Kicken, Lucien Clergue and Robert Long

By Alex Novak

Some months are better than others. Then there was November of last year. Why, you say, am I just getting around to writing about something that happened over four months ago?

As I said in the November 2013 issue of the newsletter, I really don't like to write obituaries, especially when it comes to friends. Well, this past year's November wasn't any different, except that the friends were very dear and came in threes. Their loss hit me particularly hard, and I really didn't feel like dealing with it for a while.

I had just finished attending the memorial at Paris Photo for Rudolf Kicken, which was a lovely but bittersweet affair and tribute to this dear colleague. The auditorium was standing room only as the photography world traipsed up to the podium on the stage to pay tribute to a genuinely nice man, whom we all miss.

As I noted in the article on his passing, Rudy was "a man with a huge and generous heart and a wonderful sense of humor, who greatly loved his family." He was also just a fun person to be around. His enthusiasm and his effusive approach to all in his very wide circle was a mark of his character. With his generous nature, Rudy never seemed to leave anyone out. And, as one presenter described him, Rudy was the photo community's James Bond—debonair, fun-loving, risk-taking and handsome.


Photographer Arthur Tress with Lucien Clergue in LA (photo by Alex Novak)
Photographer Arthur Tress with Lucien Clergue in LA (photo by Alex Novak)

Just a short two hours after this memorial the word leaked through the Grand Palais that another giant had left us: the great photographer and founder of the Arles Photo Festival, Lucien Clergue.

Lucien had become another good friend over the last several years. We kept bumping into each other at photo fairs and in Paris, and his warmth was infectious. A few years ago he even asked me to represent him.

Back in May 2013, he had invited me to one of his photography show openings on the Left Bank. The vernissage was, of course, a crowded event. But Lucien came over and we chatted for a while, until he leaned over and whispered that he was ill with cancer and that he feared that his beloved Rencontres d'Arles might not go on the next year. We discussed some of the tragic politics involved. Fortunately it did go on, and a proper tribute was made to Lucien on the occasion of his 80th birthday, but this 45th edition was to be his last Arles festival. Battling to attend, he had to walk around with an oxygen supply for his breathing, which he did not want photographed at the time.

Lucien Clergue was the first photographer to be elected to the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 2008, he was made a commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He produced more than 75 books and over 20 short films and documentaries. In 1968 Clergue was honored at the Cannes film festival for his documentary, "Delta of Salt" (1967).

Clergue was born in Arles, France, on August 14, 1934. He was a prodigy on the violin, picking up the instrument at the age of only seven years old; but his family wasn't wealthy, so he could not pursue a career in music.

He counted many friends, including Picasso, who he met in 1953 after a bullfight in Arles. He showed the artist some of his photographs, and Picasso encouraged him to continue. Picasso later introduced him to Jean Cocteau. Picasso and Cocteau helped Clergue publish his first book, Corps Memorable (1957), a series of nudes illustrating the poems of Paul Eluard, with the cover drawn by Picasso and the preface written by Cocteau.

Clergue's major breakthrough came in the U.S., when Edward Steichen gave him a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1961. His work was then shown the following year at the Louvre in Paris.

Lucien Clergue died in Nimes on November 15, 2014.


Artist and friend Robert Long in the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia (photo by Alex Novak)
Artist and friend Robert Long in the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia (photo by Alex Novak)

I didn't learn of my good friend and college roommate Robert Long's death until several weeks after I got back from France, but he too passed away in this horrid month of November. Robert was a talented artist who worked in collage and watercolor, but became interested in photography more recently.

Bob showed his art in commercial galleries in Boston, New York, Houston, Taos and Austin. He was a part of exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Colby College in Maine and other venues.

Bob died on November 21, 2014 of an incurable, untreatable cancer, which had metastasized throughout his body. Barely two weeks had passed between his terminal diagnosis and his death. He was only 67 years old.

Long had been a practicing Buddhist for many years, but, as he told me, "I still do Buddhism, but less institutionally." It apparently allowed him to accept his own fate calmly (and, I might add, bravely).

It was ironic that even though we hadn't seen each other in over 35 years until recently, we had both just visited with each other, and spent time renewing our good friendship just a few months before his passing.

Neighborhood. (photo by Robert Long)  This was one of Robert's images that he took after our visit.  I had given him an old digital camera, and he immediately took to complex imagery and forms.
Neighborhood. (photo by Robert Long) This was one of Robert's images that he took after our visit. I had given him an old digital camera, and he immediately took to complex imagery and forms.

We had been emailing each other for a number of years after reconnecting through social media (one of its few true benefits). I had even commissioned and purchased one of his marvelous collage artworks, which hangs on my dining room wall. Finally last August, Bob took the trip from Austin, TX to come and visit me here in the Philadelphia area. In late September I reciprocated when I went to Austin for the Daguerreian Society's Symposium and Trade Fair.

As I emailed Trudi, his girlfriend, "Bob was maybe the closest male friend that I’ve known to die. Besides going to the same school at the same university, he and I were roommates twice—during college and just afterwards. We worked on projects and shared a community of friends. We used to have some great intellectual conversations (some half stoned, but still incredibly interesting). We had a bond. Breaking that bond hurt more than I can say.

"As I get older and say goodbye to more and more friends, it saddens me, and the loss of such real friendship (not the Facebook virtual kind, but the kind you have to earn) makes my own life poorer and emptier. Knowing that they aren’t somewhere in the world means one less connection, one less expression and possibility of warmth and friendship. You always try to find additional friendships, but those are separate and never a replacement."

Trudi responded with a beautiful quote from Isaac Asimov. As she put it, "Asimov’s philosophy shines with its fullest heart in these beautiful words penned at the end of his life, at once validating and invalidating the mortality paradox."

Here's what Asimov said: "The soft bonds of love are indifferent to life and death. They hold through time so that yesterday’s love is part of today’s and the confidence in tomorrow’s love is also part of today’s. And when one dies, the memory lives in the other, and is warm and breathing. And when both die--I almost believe, rationalist though I am--that somewhere it remains, indestructible and eternal, enriching all of the universe by the mere fact that once it existed."