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Who was René Robert, the flamenco photographer found dead on the streets of Paris? | USA

Swiss photographer René Robert made headlines last week after it emerged that he had died on the streets of Paris from hypothermia on January 19, at the age of 84. He had been left unconscious after a fall, and no one came to his aid for hours, until it was too late. The circumstances of his passing have eclipsed his work, which was dedicated to capturing the essence of flamenco. Friends, colleagues and experts in such photography describe a personality and craft of someone whose death has become a terrible symbol of the dehumanization of people in big cities.

Robert, who was born in Fribourg and is due to be laid to rest today, Monday, in Paris, had a partner, Sabine, for many decades. He discovered the magic of photography at the age of 14, thanks to the father of a friend who developed his images. That’s according to Robert himself, who gave an interview in 2007 to the website Música Alhambra. He sought his fortune in France as a photographer, and in the 1960s he began to frequent Le Catalan, a flamenco venue in Paris. In the aforementioned interview, he explained that he was first attracted by the dancing, while the musical part of the show was “more confusing” to him.

His friend, the journalist Michel Mompontet, who announced his death, describes Le Catalan as the place where the Spanish diaspora would go: the artist Picasso, whose workshop was nearby, as well as the painter Juan Gris. “The old flamenco artists say that you could see and hear both the best and the worst,” Mompontet explains. “Those who were hungry would arrive and they would be given food, drink and a place to sleep.” Mompontet met Robert when he was 20, at the end of the 1980s. At those shows, “there was almost always a very smart-looking gentleman with a spotted handkerchief, hat and a cigarette in his mouth – discreet, but a friend of the artists,” he explains. That man was Robert.

While Robert intimidated him at the start, Mompontet discovered the “simple personality” of a man who worked as a publicity photographer to put food on the table, until his images of flamenco began to be worth something. As the years passed, several generations of artists passed before his lens: Paco de Lucía, Camarón, Chano Lobato, Fernanda de Utrera, Aurora Vargas, Tomatito, Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Sara Baras, Carmen Linares, Vicente Amigo… “Robert didn’t talk much,” Mompontet recalls. “He was a humanist, with a great sense of irony and he was very kind.”

Singer Aurora Vargas, in a photo taken by René Robert.
Singer Aurora Vargas, in a photo taken by René Robert.

French photographer Jean-Louis Duzert agrees with this description. “He was humble, he liked to work in the shadows,” he explains. Duzert, a former photojournalist, also discovered flamenco and Robert more or less at the same time. Since then, their friendship and complicity was constant. “We would speak at least once a month to get up to date with shows, concerts…,” he explains. “He would send me his photos and I would send him mine,” he explains, still emotional over the death of someone he saw as a “guide, a master,” and even “a father,” even though there were only 13 years between them. As he wrote in the dedication of one of his books, Robert considered him “a brother of photography.”

Robert published Flamenco (1993), La Rage et la Grâce (or, The rage and the grace, 2001), and Flamenco attitudes (2003). He donated his photographic archives to the National Library of France, and Duzert insists that he was still preparing projects. “We were planning to do a book together about 50 years of flamenco in France,” he explains. “Regrettably, that will no longer happen.”

“Robert didn’t just photograph cantaores and bailaoras [flamenco singers and dancers] but also he tried to portray that kind of catharsis found in flamenco, that tragic spirit, always in black and white,” explains Eduardo Navarro Carrión, cultural manager at the Cervantes Institute in Paris and the organizer of an exhibition that, in 2019, displayed Robert’s photos in Nantes, at the Spanish cinema festival in the same city. Robert explained that when color was used to depict flamenco, it appeared “very touristy” to him. His style was a “very scenic” kind of photography, “in search of the creative moment,” Navarro adds.

“He didn’t want to move to digital,” adds Mompontet. “He liked to develop his photos. It’s curious, because at the same time he was very open to other arts. He loved Caravaggio, his dark scenes, and [flamenco] for him was a tragic representation of life’s extreme feelings. For someone as reserved as he was, that fascinated him.” And despite all of this work, Mompontet explains between giggles, Robert barely spoke any Spanish. “Flamenco is a way of feeling and he had that,” he explains. “That’s why the flamenco artists who were close friends, Camarón, Paco de Lucía, they got along well with him, although I don’t know in which language it was.”

Chema Blanco, an artistic advisor at the Nîmes Flamenco Festival and the director of the Flamenco Biennale in Seville, would share a glass of wine and a lunch with Robert and other figures during the French event. “He was much loved, there were a lot of people who admired him,” he says about this “shortish man.” At those meetings they would discuss “the shows that we had seen. He was very pleasant and had that typically French Bohemian air.” Blanco was impressed how “he looked at and listened to you with close attention.”

Farruco, as immortalized by Robert.
Farruco, as immortalized by Robert.

Flamenco photographer Paco Sánchez, who has been taking portraits of figures from the flamenco scene for 40 years, points out that Robert’s style is very similar to his. “I discovered him years ago and I was surprised, because I saw myself reflected when I was starting out, in the 1970s, with high-contrast photos in black and white, with the veins on the necks of the singers about to burst and the details of the dancers’ hands.” For Sánchez, he was a photographer who was characterized by “simplicity, very direct.” As for his personality, while he didn’t know him personally, he adds that “he was not much seen in the media, and was sparing in interviews.”

The artistic director of the Picasso Museum in Málaga, southern Spain, José Lebrero, was in charge of the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art in Seville when it organized a 2009 exhibition, which showed the role of flamenco in photography. Among the 50 or so featured photographers, with 200 or so images on display, was Robert. Lebrero includes him in “the tradition that there was in France with flamenco related to an interest in the exotic.” His work “formed part of a saga in which the dark side of Spain attracted him; it was more about the tavern and the ritual than esthetic excellence.”

With his death, Duzert laments, “a chapter has been closed in the world of flamenco.”

Juana la del Pipa, in another image by Robert.
Juana la del Pipa, in another image by Robert.

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How Emergence of AI-Generated Virtual Twins Is Revolutionizing The Fashion Modeling

Emergence of AI-Generated Virtual Twins

The Voice Of EU | In the ever-evolving landscape of fashion modeling, a groundbreaking innovation has emerged: the creation of virtual twins through the power of artificial intelligence (AI). This technological advancement has already made waves in the industry, exemplified by the case of Alexsandrah, a renowned model who has seamlessly integrated her AI counterpart into her professional endeavors. The implications of this development are far-reaching, reshaping not only the creative landscape but also the economic and ethical dimensions of the fashion world.

Alexsandrah, known professionally by her first name, stands as a pioneer in this new era of modeling. She proudly shares that her digital twin mirrors her appearance “even down to the baby hairs,” blurring the lines between reality and simulation. This symbiotic relationship between the human model and her AI counterpart signifies a transformative shift propelled by AI technology.

Advocates of AI-generated modeling argue that its increasing prevalence promotes diversity and inclusivity within the fashion industry. By showcasing a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics, AI models empower consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, ultimately reducing fashion waste stemming from product returns. Moreover, the cost-effectiveness of digital modeling presents economic opportunities for both companies and individuals seeking to leverage this innovative technology.

However, amidst the promise of progress, critics voice concerns regarding the potential ramifications of AI modeling. The displacement of human models, makeup artists, and photographers looms large, raising questions about job security and ethical implications. Furthermore, there is apprehension that unsuspecting consumers may be deceived into mistaking AI models for real individuals, undermining transparency and authenticity in the industry.

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect

Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, underscores the pressing need to address these concerns. She highlights the risk of distorting racial representation and marginalizing models of color through the uncritical adoption of AI technology. Indeed, data indicates that women, especially those from underrepresented groups, are disproportionately affected by the advent of AI in modeling, further exacerbating existing disparities in the industry.

The case of iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. illustrates the nuanced stance that companies are taking towards AI-generated models. While initial experiments with AI models aimed to diversify representation, backlash prompted a reevaluation of their approach. Levi reaffirmed its commitment to live photo shoots and human models, signaling a cautious approach to AI integration in its operations.

Despite varying responses from industry players, the demand for AI-generated models continues to grow. Companies like Lalaland.ai, founded by Michael Musandu, are at the forefront of this technological revolution. Musandu emphasizes the complementary nature of AI models, envisioning them as supplements rather than replacements for traditional photo shoots. He underscores the potential of AI to enhance the shopping experience, reduce product returns, and create new job opportunities within the industry.

The journey towards ethical AI implementation in fashion modeling is fraught with challenges, as highlighted by the experiences of models like Yve Edmond. Concerns regarding consent, compensation, and labor rights underscore the need for robust regulatory frameworks. The Model Alliance advocates for legislative measures to safeguard the rights of fashion workers, including provisions for informed consent and fair compensation in the realm of AI modeling.

Amidst the complexities and controversies surrounding AI-generated modeling, individuals like Alexsandrah navigate this new frontier with a sense of optimism tempered by vigilance. By fostering transparency, ethical use, and equitable compensation, AI has the potential to expand opportunities for models of color and revolutionize the fashion industry. As stakeholders grapple with the ethical and economic implications of this technology, the journey towards a more inclusive and sustainable future for fashion modeling continues.


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Top 10 most profitable places in Britain for holiday rentals

The most profitable locations in Britain for holiday rentals has been revealed – and the majority are not located anywhere near a beach.

Staycation favourite Cornwall is top of the rankings, with an average price per night of £84 for a room and £117 for a whole house.

A total of 476,910 bookings were made via popular holiday rental companies in the area last summer, according to analysis of Office for National Statistics data by the money website Wealth of Geeks.

The figures suggest that holiday lets in Cornwall took bookings worth £40million between the beginning of July and the end of September last year.

However, most of the top 10 are located in inner London, the research showed.

The most profitable locations for buy-to-let have been revealed, with staycation favourite Cornwall at the top of the rankings

The list of top ten places also includes several areas in London, including Westminster in second place.

The average price of renting a holiday let in Westminster is £133 a night for a room and £435 for a house.

With 304,790 holiday let bookings, it produces a revenue for the area in the heart of London’s west end of £34,441,270 for the summer period last year.

The calculations were based on bookings on Airbnb, Booking.com and the Expedia Group, with data taken from the Office for National Statistics.

The rental prices, meanwhile, were taken from Airbnb across 388 British towns, and the total revenue was calculated by multiplying the number of nights with the nightly cost of a room on Airbnb.

The revenue did not take into account any costs of running a holiday let, such as repairs and maintenance, nor did it factor in property prices.

All of the remaining locations in the top ten were in London except for one on the south coast.

This was Brighton and Hove, where average rental prices per night were £100 for a room.

In total, the data suggested that the British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023.

Michael Dinich, of Wealth of Geeks, said: ‘Holiday rentals play a vital role in the UK’s tourism industry by supporting local economies, providing accommodation to enhance visitor experience, and promoting tourism in diverse regions across the country.

‘Tourism also helps to promote awareness of lesser-known areas, helping to distribute tourist spending more evenly across the country.

‘While some destinations may experience seasonal fluctuations in tourism often in the summer months, holiday rentals attract visit year-round, helping to sustain economies and businesses during off-peak seasons.’

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in this year's Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in this year’s Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped

The findings show that those looking to invest in the holiday lets market need to do their sums carefully before taking the plunge and committing to a particular area.

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf, explained: ‘This data shows that it’s not just the prospect of beaches and more reliable weather which drives profitability.

‘It’s not just traditionally popular holiday destinations which produce the best returns so it’s vital that would-be landlords do their research carefully before investing.

‘The ability to make money depends on supply and demand, not just the attributes of an area.

‘At what level a landlord can rent their property for, after taking into account all expenses, is key and explains why areas such as Westminster and Camden are proving profitable, where they may lack the charm of a traditional UK holiday destination such as Cornwall.’

The British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023, according to the latest data

The British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023, according to the latest data

Tax crackdown

The data on the most profitable holiday lets follows a crackdown on the sector by the Chancellor.

Jeremy Hunt announced in this year’s Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped to help improve the availability of long-term rentals.

The move is due to come into force at the beginning of April next year and is widely seen as a way of bringing the tax regime of shorter-term lets more in line with longer term rentals.

Experts operating in the sector insisted that holiday rentals remained in demand ahead of the changes.

Graham Donoghue, of Sykes Holiday Cottages, said: ‘Staycations have been growing in popularity over the past decade and right now demand for our UK holiday cottages is higher than ever, with the average annual income of a holiday let owner up as a result.

‘Hotspot locations like Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Cornwall continue to see considerable demand and bookings across the UK for our holiday cottages have been up 11 per cent during the current Easter school holidays.

‘The demand we’re witnessing is particularly good news for our holiday let owners who have faced their own set of challenges recently. Despite changes, which we are carefully guiding our owners through, it’s clear that holiday letting remains a profitable and rewarding long-term business model.’

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‘Monkey Man’: Dev Patel makes directorial debut with a delicious stab at action cinema

Dev Patel makes directorial debut with a delicious stab at action cinema

Dev Patel has always had an intelligent glint in his eye. From his big screen debut in Slumdog Millionaire to his role as a journalist in Aaron Sorkin’s series The Newsroom, the British actor usually brings a sense of peace, calm and intelligence to his performances. Perhaps that is why it is no surprise that, at 32, he has made his directorial debut with a film in favor of social outcasts, which he also produces, co-writes and stars in. The surprise is its genre: Monkey Man is a fierce action and martial arts film, revolving around hand-to-hand combat, dismemberment and knife fights.

Patel returns to India, the land of his ancestors, for his story of revenge that is strengthened by the creative arsenal applied to its sequences — and not only those of combat. While there was a serious lack of design in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, one of the worst choices for Oscar for Best Film in Oscar history, Monkey Man has at its heart a physical and moral entanglement, involving a sadistic police chief, a luxury brothel that serves as home to both fornication and power, and a ragged young man who seeks to atone for the death of his mother through the most savage forms of violence.

Monkey Man is also set in a slum overrun by gambling and fights, with Patel earning a few rupees as an underground bare fist fighter wearing a crude monkey mask. With its colors and the camera’s handling of Bombay’s chaos, the movie has echoes of Brazil’s City of God.

Image from the movie 'Monkey Man.'
Image from the movie ‘Monkey Man.’Universal Pictures

A comparison can also easily be made with the John Wick saga, which has revolutionized commercial action and martial arts cinema in the past 10 years. Patel even mentions John Wick in one on-screen exchange. Yet, despite the similarities, the staging and editing of their spectacular fight sequences set them apart. In the four installments of the John Wick movies starring Keanu Reeves, the choreography regarding the confrontations is developed through a paradoxically harmonious staging of continuity, with general shots extended in time. The dynamics of their contenders and their movements are visualized with hardly any editing, almost like a classic fifties musical but instead of dances, there is physical destruction.

The action in Monkey Man, on the other hand, is not one of continuity, but of rupture. The cuts are incessant and move at an unrestrained pace; the shots come in quick succession, with barely a second or two between them. Patel’s handling of cinematic language is brutal. For a novice director, he displays a dazzling energy, cadence and expressiveness. This is demonstrated by three of the only four fights in the ring, each one based on a dynamic sense of space and narrative. The first is defined by the close-up shot, with the camera directed at the waist of the opponents or even lower — giving the viewers a sense of overwhelming closeness. The second offers a very different vision of the fight, which is both more poetic and exquisite. And the third uses surprise as the main exponent, and is raw and concise.

With rough textures, contrasting colors and ochre photography, reflecting the social mud in which most of the characters are stuck, Monkey Man only slips off kilter in the second half, when the Hindu demigod, Hanuman, assumes the tragic halo that envelops the protagonist. Although it gives him authenticity with respect to his lineage, the visualization is tinged with a somewhat tiresome messianic muddle of lyrical ambition.

Monkey Man

Director: Dev Patel.

Cast: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sobhita Dhuliwala.

Genre: Action. United States, 2024.

Duration: 121 minutes

Release date: April 12.


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