Richard Ham, American (1920 - )

About the photographs of Picasso, the story by the photographer, Richard Ham:

An advance portion of our photo unit moved to Paris in the fall of 1944 and not long afterward, I happened to meet Monica Sterling, an accredited war correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, who mentioned that she had just learned how to get in touch with Picasso. I suggested that we offer to meet and photograph him, since during the war, the Germans had labeled his work "decadent" and perhaps he might appreciate some positive admiration.

On the agreed-upon day, Monica, an Englishwoman, Frences Lee, a photographer from our outfit and I met Picasso for the interview. Monica and Frances spoke fluent French, but between Picasso's poor English and my poor Spanish, we did somehow manage to communicate directly.

It turned out that he and I did have several mutal friends and acquaintances: Man Ray, Roland Penrose, Eddie Kaminski and Lee Miller. I aalso asked him about Surrealism and Salvador Dali. He replied that it was a fine medium of expression. However there are too many people who merely throw a bunch of unrelated objects together just to shock or amaze the public who then label the result as "surrealism."

Picasso also said that "battles aren't ended with the firing of the last gun" and therefore, future trends in art won't necessarily "quiet" down after the war. At that piont, I remembered that Picasso had just joined the Communist Party in Paris. Also, he said that he was planning a rather large canvas depicting the present revolution in Athens, with British troops firing on Greek partisans. It was to be similar to his famous "Guernica."

At one point, I asked him if he thought the center of artistic endeavor would ever move from Paris to, say London, or even New York. He replied, "the orange always comes to the orange tree, never to the apple tree."

The many pictures of Picasso present his physical characterists, but meeting him in person, his two bright, dark brown eyes were almost hypnotizing - eyes interested in everything about them - eyes that continually questioned, smiled, and exclaimed, always darting from one point of interest to another.

Finally, I brought up the idea of a photo session and Picasso quite affably agreed to a date.

It took place on December 15th and I was accompanied by Frances Lee, who held my extension flash bulb. Even though the huge studio was freezing, Picasso came down dressed in a blue-striped cotton polo shirt, baggy slacks, and plaid slippers. But after posing for the first shot, he excused himself and reappeared in a full length camel-hair coat. Delicately perched on top of his head, looking like a squashed pancake, was a tam of Scotch plaid design, topped with a huge red pom-pomn, this last a gift from some admirer.

Before the war, I had read about the fabulous iron stove in Picasso's studio, so of course we had to include it in one of the shots. Also, one of the two resident Afghans conveniently laid down beside the tiny stove which the artist used to heat wate for his tea. The cost of fuel was so high that at the time the huge stove in back was used only as a chimney.

As we wrapped up and started to leave, Picasso very seriously thanked us for our interest and invited us back to see his work any time we happened to be in the neighborhood.

A week later, I took two sets of 8x10 prints back to the studio and rang the doorbell. It was opened by James Sobartes, Picasso's secretary, who ushered me into the big studio and asked me to wait until Picasso came down. As I stood there, the prints were suddenly whisked out of my hand and there was Jean Cocteau, leafing through them, rapidly commenting in French. Then I remembered that years before I had read about Cocteau's penchant for suddenly materializing out of nowhere to give people a sudden jolt of surprise. Sobrates came over to interpret, which amounted to "Mr. Cocteau thinks that these are the best shots of Picasso that he has ever seen."

Picasso was also very complimentary and after autographing my set of prints, he asked if I had had lunch yet. When I said, "No," he followed with, "Will you have lunch with me?" and of course I said, "Yes."

We went up the long stairway to the second floor, where the kitchen was located and Picasso took four slices of dark bread, scraped some butter over them and then laid on two leaves of lettuce. Next he went over to a small tomato plant bearing three tomatoes that was sitting on the kitchen window sill. He cut one off sliced it delicately and distributed the slices over the two sandwiches.

As we sat there eating tomato sandwiches, he asked, "Do you like your sandwich?" and I replied, "Yes, it's a very good sandwich." Then, "You know you are really eating a work of art," and I replied, "I like it very much," Whereupon he pointed over to one side of the kitchen and leaning against the wall were at least a dozen of his paintings, each of a tomato plant with three tomatoes on it."

Even now, fifty years later, I sometimes sto and wonder, "How much do you think he'd have charged me for one of those paintings?"

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