Charles Henri Ford
CHARLES HENRI FORD, Artist, d 2004 at the age of ninety-four.
Enigmatic survivor of New York's Bohemian Surrealists, co-author [with Parker Tyler] of "The Young and Evil," Lover of Pavel Tchelitchew, he famously introduced Gerrard Malanga to Andy Warhol.
In Sir Harold Acton's Memoires of an Aesthete he writes "Tchelitchew...moping in his little Studio, with a stolid Russian sister and a frenchified American friend who sat thumping the piano in his dressing gown." Charles was that friend at the piano.
From Gay Times: March 1992, words by Matthew Lewis.
Over to Charles: "I was born in a wooden edifice on a Mississippi timber plantation which my grandfather bought. One day the wooden edifice burnt down and ever since I've been too hot to handle."
When Charles Henri-Ford and Parker Tyler's The Young and Evil was first published in 1933, the British Customs burnt five-hundred copies and the shipments that reached American shores were returned post-haste. The publisher, the Obelisk Press, based in Paris, specialised in writers whose voices were out of synch with the prevailing moral climate. Radclyffe Hall, Frank Harris, Henry Miller. The book, undoubtedly ahead of it's time, was published one year before Tropic of Cancer, and was criticised for its amoral stance. In England Edith Sitwell wrote, "It is entirely with out soul, like a dead fish stinking in hell".
The subject matter, a report from the homosexual underground in Greenwich Village and Harlem during the early thirties. The Young and Evil is Ford and Tylers account of their real life experiences. As Ford says, "it uses real people, real places." Nothing is invented.
The dust jacket bore quotes from aesthetic luminaries of the time. Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein. Stein proclaimed that "the book created this generation as This Side Of Paradise by Fitzgerald created his." The book was republished in the sixties by The Olympia Press as "The novel that beat the Beat Generation by a generation", predating William Burroughs cut-ups by more than two decades}, again in 1975 by the prestigious New York Times Company and most recently in London by Gay Men's Press.
Parker Tyler died in 1974.
Charles Henri-Ford is alive.
Charles lives in Crete, Paris, New York and Katmandu with Indra Bahadur Tamang, his 'apprenti sorcier'. Indra was born in Kathmandu and he and Charles have traveled together for seventeen years. We first met in September of 1990 after an exchange of letters, photographs and telephone conversations. I was to be their guest for ten days in Xania, Crete. A small fishing village built by the Venetians, occupied by the Turks, home of El Greco.
To get to the house there are many steps: it is impossible for cars to reach the vicinity. The house itself is extremely large, the walls are very thick and the windows small. Everything has been designed to keep out the light and to keep out the heat. There are three floors. On the roof an area open to the sky where the Turkish women used to unveil. White walls. No one can see in. No one can see out. Total privacy. Haven to the recluse.
Every evening we ate fish caught from the sea by Indra. We dined by candle-light. We drank Xanian wine and devoured succulent fruits. In the mornings we swam in the sea. The afternoons while Charles was meditating, were for photographs.
Later I was to write to Charles: "the summer of 1990 was the most memorable time of my life." It was true.
I came to know Charles and Indra in many guises. As photographers, film-makers, poets, painters, pornographers, archivists and friends. The list of words seems almost endless.
But my ten days came to an end all too soon and I returned quickly to London, eager to begin wok in my darkroom on my celluloid catch of dead fish, dead chickens, sunsets, knife men, Charles and Indra.
My second visit Xania was in July 1991. For the first time in seven years Charles was traveling alone. It was plain to see Indra was sorely missed. "Its not so bad" he said after dining at Jimmy's restaurant the evening of my arrival, "but I'm glad your here. You're one of the family now." We drank beer and took to our beds.
For five days the patriarch would not speak, Charles' changes of mood were extreme. Sometimes his voice would come from a very distant place, as he spoke of Jean Cocteau as a friend or Pavel Tchelitcheff as a lover [Tchelitcheff who in his time was equated with Picasso], his eyes would light up blue as though possessed by both angels and demons, and he would recite Katherine Tankersley Young, Proust, or the Bible. This was a man who sent missives back home from Parisian opium dens. I was indeed with in a family where there was no such thing as having secrets and nothing needed explaining. "What is, is why." This was indeed freedom house. I was enchanted.
Two weeks alone with Charles in his cavernous house: how best to describe a cathartic experience or the mind of a genius.
Matthew R Lewis: Every one refers to you as being a ground-breaker.
Charles Henri Ford: All right. All right. Avante garde, ground breaker spear header what ever.
Matthew R Lewis: You came to my attention through Gerrard Malanga's book "Scopophillia, The Love of Looking".
Charles Henri Ford: It's out of print. A collectors item. It included the work of Brassai, Warhol, Burroughs.
Matthew R Lewis: Even so, Charles Henri-Ford's penis stood out a mile. And so did the date, 1935.
Charles Henri Ford: Well I never thought of it as breaking ground. I thought I might break the camera.
Matthew R. Lewis: How did this photograph come about?
Charles Henri Ford: It was taken out of pure narcissism. I had a camera I was playing around with at that time. It was a void lender. The photograph was taken in a mirror. The only difficulty I had in making this picture was maintaining an erection. When you pull down the skin and keep the skin down long enough, you shoot. So suddenly I shot in the middle of the session, and I couldn't take any more erections.
Matthew R Lewis: You were known as the first American surrealist. Cecil Beaton obviously had this in mind when he photographed you.
Charles Henri Ford: I collected together all these hands and, after Cecil saw them, he thought about making a photograph. He pinned the little rubber gloves all over my black tights. There was a giant papier-maché hand I fooled around with.