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Now in our ninth calendar year!
PCR #408 (Vol. 9, No. 3) This edition is for the week of January 14--20, 2008.

The Tampa Film Review for January  by Nolan B. Canova
The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region: Part 5  by Will Moriaty
"Cloverfield"  by Mike Smith
Goodbye, Vampira  by Andy Lalino
Bud Lee: His Trapped Memories Can Still Escape Through Photos  by Paul Guzzo
R.I.P. Maila “Vampira” Nurmi 1921-2008  by Lisa Ciurro
The Yellow Submarine Chronicles Part One: In the Town where I was Born...  by ED Tucker
It's Oscar Time! .... So Mj's Available? .... Belated Congratulations .... .... .... .... .... .... And The Oscar For 1983 Should Have Gone To...  by Mike Smith
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Filmlook by Paul Guzzo

Bud Lee: His Trapped Memories Can Still Escape Through Photos

As many of you may know, the Tampa Film Review’s Fourth Anniversary was last Friday, January 11. The event featured a “Best of 2007” Lineup of films, with each film receiving an award in honor of a legendary artist from Tampa in hopes of linking two generations of artists. One of the legendary artists was Bud Lee, a world famous photographer to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude. Bud Lee was truly someone who laid the foundation for the current flourishing arts scene in Tampa. I had the pleasure of spending a day with Mr. Lee a few years ago and, following the experience, penned the following article:

“Most of the residents are very old people who mostly wait. They wait for visitors, they wait for meals, they wait to be helped to go to the bathrooms, they wait for visitors who don’t come around and they sadly wait to die.” - an excerpt from www.budlee.net on what to expect when visiting Bud Lee at the Plant City Convalescent Home.

It was 1967 and Bud Lee was one of the most promising young photographers in the world. He was named the U.S. Military Photographer of the Year in 1966 for his moving photos of GIs performing their rigorous training drills in Germany. He had his pick of which top magazine he wanted to work for, finally deciding on Life. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to pick his own assignments for the magazine, and was often sent into harms way or into disturbing situations, the most disturbing of which still haunts him to this day – taking a photo of the very first legally aborted fetus. He snapped the picture and stared silently at his “subject.” It was just a terrible site to see.

“It was life thrown away and ignored. Nothing is worse than forgotten life,” said Bud Lee, staring into space as though hypnotized, as though realizing the symbolism of his statement. Bud Lee is far from forgotten. Friends and family still keep in close contact with him, photography lovers from around the world still collect his artwork. and Tampa museums regularly host Bud Lee exhibits. But for a man who grew accustomed to living a life in which every waking moment was spent working on an important project, it’s easy to see why a man such as Bud Lee can grow bored and feel forgotten in this juncture in his life.

Confined to a wheelchair due to a stroke that left him paralyzed, deaf and blind on his left side, he now lives in the Plant City Convalescent Home, far away from the exciting world he once captured on film. He still paints every morning, occasionally takes photographs, and the nurses at the home say he receives more visitors than any other resident in the home. But, altogether, these events fill only a few hours of his day. With the rest of his free time, he said he just sits alone, watching the minutes tick away, frustrated because, while his mind is still sharp, the stroke took away his ability to articulate his thoughts. His decades of travels and adventures are locked away in a safe inside his mind with no way to unlock it. Stories of his friendship with Andy Warhol and his time spent with Federico Fellini race through his head with no way to share them with the world.

True, he still can articulate short memories of each …

“Andy Warhol and I were in the same circle. He was outlandish, but not as outlandish as people think.”

“Fellini was the nicest man I ever met. He loved everyone. He would take the homeliest looking man and make him an extra in his movie, sit him on his lap and tell the man how lucky he was to have such a beautiful man in his movie. He treated everyone like royalty.”

… but he can no longer verbalize his full memories of each person, no longer paint pictures with words about his famous exploits.

“But I still have my photographs,” he explained. “They tell my stories now. Photographs tell clear stories.”

Yes, the photographs. Perhaps it is fitting that the art form that he perfected is now his sole way to tell the stories of his life. His photographs tell the story of a man who brought celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Bob Hope, Clayton Moore and Annette Funicello to life on the pages of magazines with the simple use of a flash and film. His photographs tell the story of a man who risked his own life to bring the world a glimpse into the horrors of the world – the Detroit and Newark riots, the Manson murders, kids on drugs. His pictures tell the story of a man who for decades never had a permanent home to call his own, instead traveling to every corner of the U.S. and Europe to capture the historical images of the sexual revolution, Martin Luther King’s funeral and war and peace, so that generations to come would have a clear understanding of their history.

The most telling photographs, though, are not ones he took, but rather photographs of himself, seen on the front page of his website, www.budlee.net – a picture of a young Bud Lee, full head of black hair, half smile cocked on his face, fresh from his stint in the military where he was introduced to the tool that would change his life – the camera; a picture of a 30-something year old Bud Lee in a tiny wooden shack hugging his wife; a picture of a distinguished older Bud Lee, pipe in hand, when he was a popular art teacher in Hillsborough County, changing the lives of every student who spent considerable time around him. These pictures tell the tale of a young boy from New York who grew into one of the most important photographers and artists of his generation.

The son of a diplomat, Lee was born in 1941 in White Plains, New York but spent much of his early childhood in South America, moving from country to country as his father was transferred, living in Peru for four years and Colombia, Brazil and Argentina for one year each. At the age of 9 he returned to New York with his family and attended the Colombia School of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Fine Arts in Manhattan, but had little to no interest in photography. He wanted to study film, direct movies and showcase human life in its natural settings. It was while serving in the U.S. Army and working for Stars and Stripes he fell in love with the art of photography and became the U.S. Military Photographer of the Year.

According to Lee, his photographs of the first legally aborted fetus were never published due to their “disturbing nature.” But, the photos from his next big assignment for Life Magazine, the Newark Riots, were published, though they were just as disturbing, capturing the image of looter Billy Furr shortly before Furr was shot and killed by police; and capturing the image of a bleeding child, who was inadvertently hit by a policeman’s bullet. These historic images were photographed as gun fire sprayed over Lee’s head, just inches from taking his life. But the photographs made the cover of Life Magazine in 1967 and that same year Lee was awarded Life Magazine Photographer of the year, launching Lee’s career to heights he never could have imagined.

Over the next seven years he traveled the globe, freelancing for publications such as Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Sunday Magazine, Vogue, Mother Jones, Ms. Magazine, London Records, Columbia Records, and many more. During this span, his best-known photographs are from a 16-page article, “Evil In California,” that covered such events as the aftermath of the Charles Manson murders, which included a visitation to the mansion where the Manson murders took place after Manson had been arrested, documenting the carnage left behind. After his duties at the mansion were complete, he continued to travel California, documenting other evils of California, taking photos of a woman named Lita who would steal swans from lakes and have sex with them in her hotel room, and photos of a young man on LSD who thought he was Christ. During this project, he received an accidental education on LSD, drinking punch unknowingly spiked with the hallucinogenic drug. Once the drug kicked in, he manically ran into the streets, desperately flagging down cars for help while in an LSD-induced insanity, only to be driven further over the edge when the drivers all resembled demons, complete with fiendishly red faces.

“That was my first and last time I used the drug,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, he traveled to Europe to photograph filmmaking great Fellini. He then moved to Iowa to found the Iowa Photographers’ Workshop and head the photography department at the University of Iowa Journalism School. In 1975, he was finally provided the opportunity to pursue a career in his first love, filmmaking, when he received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and began the Artist-Filmmaker-in-the-Schools program here in Tampa, working closely with students from over 100 schools as an “independent art teacher,” teaching them about painting, photography and filmmaking, loaning video cameras to future artists and helping to nurture their talents

Upon moving to Tampa, he settled in Ybor City, which he said was “much different than it is today. We only had to worry about stabbings back then.” He said Ybor City’s eclectic group of residents reminded him of the Village in New York. His upstairs neighbor was an aging prostitute known as Black Mary and down the street was a lesbian midget couple. He decided a colorful area such as Ybor City was the perfect place to plant the seeds of an artistic community, and he founded the Artists and Writers Ball in 1978, which became an annual event for 10 years, always held in the aesthetically unique Cuban Club. The Artists and Writers Ball was originally founded as an anti-Gasparilla Ball, a counter-culture event to fight against the krewe that held member’s “elite class” only balls. Everyone was invited to his ball – transvestites, businessmen, pirates, rich and poor and became a celebration of Tampa’s differences. Ironically, the Krewe of Gasparilla ended up becoming the ball’s top financial supporter. Despite the original intent of the ball, Lee accepted the krewe with open arms.

Despite his love for Ybor City, when his wife Peggy, who was a fellow Tampa art teacher, asked to move to Plant City he jumped at the opportunity. For so much of his life he was on the move. He was ready to buy a home, settle down, raise a family and after so many years of documenting the evils of the world, focus his attention on all the beauty the world has to offer. He returned to freelance photography in 1990 and photographed scenes such as children dancing in a swirl of color or a tourist attraction’s mermaid sunning on shells. A far cry from Manson’s mansion.

Unfortunately, 13 years later Bud Lee once again experienced the ugliness of the world when on August 8, 2003, he suffered a stroke and was later moved to the Plant City Convalescent Home. Though he said he still paints and takes photographs when he can, the home’s atmosphere is far from inspiring, which can cause quite a problem for an artist. But Bud Lee said there is one solution to his problem – visitors. Visitors stimulate his mind. He needs to hear stories from visitors. He needs visitors to ask him about his own adventures. He just needs to be reminded that he made a difference in their life and in this world.

He may not be able to walk on his own, but his spirit can still soar.

If you would like to visit Bud Lee, he resides at the Plant City Convalescent Home, 2202 W. Oak Avenue in Plant City or contact him through www.budlee.net or www.budleepicturemaker.com.

"Filmlook" is ©2008 by Paul Guzzo.   All graphics unless otherwise noted are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.