It was John W. Alexander Jr. C’56 who first alerted me to Julian Wasser C’55, whom he remembered as DP photo editor back in their school days, long before he became a top photographer in Hollywood. John emailed me shortly after Wasser’s book, The Way We Were, came out in mid-2014. I assumed we would do something on it in “Arts,” maybe get permission to run one or two of the photos.
But we never managed to get a copy of the book or make contact at the time. Luckily, as senior editor Samuel Hughes recounts in “Wasser World,” we got a second chance at covering Wasser—and the result is a much richer story than I had initially envisioned.
The impetus this time was David Pullman C’83, who encountered Wasser at a gallery show that featured his “iconic” 1963 shot of conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a naked model. They got to talking and discovered their mutual Penn connection—after which Pullman called us and later helped manage the introductions.
(We had written about Pullman when he came up with the idea for “Bowie bonds,” which allowed investors to buy shares in David Bowie’s future royalties, while Bowie himself received an upfront payment of $55 million [“Alumni Profiles,” April 1997].)
Bowie, who died this past January, was also photographed by Wasser. A portrait of the rock star, as well as the Duchamp photo, appears with the story. As do shots of Joan Didion, Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston, and many more. Rather than one or two images, Wasser has allowed us to select generously from his portfolio.
And the man himself turned out to be a character as vivid and surprising as his work. Sam learned that Wasser had been visiting Paris, but had returned to Los Angeles for health reasons. In fact, he was even then recovering from open-heart surgery. Nevertheless, he was game to talk and Sam flew out to meet him. The resulting interview offers a fiercely frank, insightful, sometimes contradictory, and (be warned!) often profane take on his long and varied career.
One of the revelations in the Penn Museum’s recently opened major exhibition, “The Golden Age of King Midas,” is that his ill-fated golden touch might have had a basis in reality: a pigment contained in clothing worn by the Phrygians (the society Midas ruled) would have made it seem to shimmer like gold in the sunlight.
That’s according to curator C. Brian Rose, who spoke with freelancer Julia M. Klein for our article, “Beyond the Golden Touch.” Rose is the latest Penn Museum archaeologist overseeing excavations at Gordion, the ancient Phrygian capital located in modern Turkey, which have been going on since 1950.
All told, the show includes some 230 artifacts from Gordion and the cultures around Phrygia, including Greece, Persia, Assyria, and others, that were assembled from the Museum’s collections and loaned by the Turkish government. The accompanying photos are by Candace diCarlo, done especially for the Gazette.
In “The Dhaka Studio,” associate editor Trey Popp describes a unique design studio taught by architects Stephen Kieran GAr’76 and James Timberlake GAr’77, and their new book about it, Alluvium: Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the Crossroads of Water. The studio’s focus on developing a thorough understanding of Dhaka—one of the most crowded, environmentally fragile, and vibrant areas on the planet—is reflected in the structure of the book, which is mostly taken up by elegantly produced data sets, strikingly evocative photography, and written pieces describing different aspects of life there. One of them, by Stephen Kieran, serves as this issue’s “Elsewhere” essay.
—John Prendergast C’80