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April 22, 2014

On Meditation: Peter Matthiessen

An Intimate Portrait of the Late American Writer and Spirited Adventurer

The explorer, environmentalist and treasured author Peter Matthiessen was the first on filmmaker Rebecca Dreyfus’ wish list to feature in On Meditation, a series of personal shorts exploring the subject alongside other notable deep-thought practitioners including David Lynch. Matthiessen passed away earlier this month, leaving behind the legacy of a large life as a one-time CIA employee turned co-founder of The Paris Review. He will be remembered most as the author of the cherished natural-world travelogue The Snow Leopard, which was awarded two National Book Awards in the US. Below, Dreyfus recollects her time with Matthiessen for NOWNESS.

It’s inspiring to see someone who treated life as a relentless search for new places and ideas, with a general hunger for meaning. Few have lives that include that much adventure. I’ve met a lot of very accomplished people but Peter really lived beautifully.

I don’t think you can separate his life from his writing. He stood up for what he believed in. Whether it was for American-Indian people or animals or his very last novel In Paradise that takes place at a meditation retreat at Auschwitz, he never stopped thinking about the bigger picture.

Peter once said to me: “You can have meaning or you can have rest but you can’t have both.” I’m still trying to figure that out.

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The 8mm Films of Vivian Maier

A Rare Glimpse of the Late Street Photographer's 1970s Moving Image Work

These fragile, observational clips uncover Vivian Maier’s largely unseen experimentation with film. The New York-born photographer spent 40 years working as a nanny in Chicago, simultaneously fostering a secret passion for image-making that led her to document the urban life of America, enjoying her productive peak in the 50s and 60s. “Vivian saw details that pass us by in everyday life,” says director, curator and the primary caretaker of Maier’s oeuvre, John Maloof. When the photographer died in 2009 aged 83, the tens of thousands of images that she amassed during her lifetime were only just beginning to be discovered. After winning a bid for 30,000 of Maier’s negatives in a Chicago auction house in 2007, it took six months for Maloof to realize the importance of what he had purchased. “Little by little, I realized that the work was great,” he says. “Maier should wedge right in with the best photographers of her time, such as Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Lisette Model and Helen Levitt.” Next week, Finding Vivian Maier premieres at Toronto Film Festival. Directed by Maloof and Charlie Siskel, the documentary sheds light on the discovery of Maier’s hidden archive and slowly unravels her touching story. “She had few friends, never had a family of her own, and moved from place to place,” says Siskel. “There was little that was consistent in life; the one constant was her photography. With that, she never compromised.”

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Spotlight

On Collaboration: Solange Knowles x Toyin Odutola

The New York Pair Share Their Mutual Appreciation in the Last of Our Series with EDITION Hotels

“I think the essence of collaboration is being able to lay yourself on the line,” says singer and songwriter Solange Knowles, discussing visual artist Toyin Odutola’s powerful pen-and-marker works that explore identity in the fifth and final part of NOWNESS’ series created in conjunction with EDITION Hotels. “The best collaborations are not knowing what to expect; being completely open-minded and having a sense of vulnerability.” In this episode entitled “Inspiration,” the pair unpack their shared appreciation for one another: Knowles' first correspondence with Odutola was after she looked to track down the artist’s intricate, embossed pieces after a sold-out exhibition at New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery; she went on to commission an artwork which brought the two creatives closer. “I thought how can I address this in a way that's poignant and feel like I can really connect with you?” says Odutola. “So I did this series of myself looking down in this exhausted state, then looking up like I’m going to tackle you, and then down again.” The pair have a mutual muse in Africa, as reflected in Knowles’ most recent EP release, True—co-written with Dev Hynes—which gave rise to the Cape Town-filmed video to “Losing You,” and My Country Has No Name, the third solo show from Odutula, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Alabama. “It was months and months of creating, so it was really nice to have Solange’s voice in my head as I'm working,” explains Odutola of listening to her friend’s music. “Your message is something that really connected with me; I see myself in your work.”

Each film in the On Collaboration series has been produced in partnership with EDITION Hotels, a new project between Ian Schrager and Marriott Hotels. The London EDITION opened in September 2013.

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