The Flamingos Have Flown the Coop: Or, One Flamingo Flies Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Public Programs Manager Andria Lisle reflects on Brooks’ Art & A Movie program and interviews photographer Susan Segal.

pink9Behind the scenes, planning our quarterly Art & A Movie programs, which are part of the larger Brooks Films program, feels a little bit like training a housecat to jump through a fiery hoop. It can be done (see: Moscow Cats Theatre), but it is often a difficult process. First, we have to choose the film and negotiate screening rights. Then we have to find a suitable art-making activity that must fit numerous criteria: It has to relate, somehow, to the accompanying film. It has to be inexpensive, interesting, and easily interpreted. It has to be open-ended enough for attendees to riff on their own. It also has to pass the eagle-eyed examination of our Chief Curator and Registrar, who have strict rules on what kind of art-making materials can be used in the Rotunda, where many works of art, including Nam June Paik’s Vide-O-belisk and photographs by William Eggleston and Ernest Withers are on view.

Paint and glue are verboten, which spurs our imagination on to more creative ideas. Make working clocks out of 45 rpm records? We did that when we screened Thunder Soul. Braid chic bracelets out of sailor’s rope? Yes, when we screened Bonjour Tristesse. Fabricate miniature chairs out of champagne cork cages? Yes, along with a packed screening of Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture. We’ve made ransom note Valentines (and liberally poured White Russians) for The Big Lebowski, and sewn felt mustaches for City Lights.

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All of this leads us to last Thursday night, when more than 100 John Waters fans descended on the Brooks for Art & A Movie: Pink Flamingos, which entailed bedazzling lawn ornaments with rhinestones, followed by a screening of the circa-1972 black comedy.

The flamingos were ordered in May, and stacked on our loading dock. The rhinestones, which, to be honest, were much more expensive than we expected, arrived the week of the event. We booked the film via a distributor we work with frequently, and the Brooks’ Graphic Designer created posters and postcards using an astonishingly fun photograph we found online which features the Pink Flamingos director choking a pink flamingo lawn ornament. But we didn’t just “right-click” on the image and save it to our desktops: we’re an art museum, and that kind of borrowing is as frowned-upon as the aforementioned use of paint in the Rotunda. It was easy to find photographer Susan Segal, who pleasantly surprised us by granting us use of her image for the event. Then Segal went above and beyond by gifting the Brooks with five copies of her photography book, A Pink Flamingo, published by Ten Speed Press in 1989, which we could give away to the attendees.

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As always, things moved fast the day of the event. DJs Red Eye Jedi and Chase-One set up in the Rotunda, and The Brushmark put plenty of white wine in the cooler. Five volunteers manned the will call table and the art-making stations, and our intrepid Marketing Associate made a run to the Art Center for metallic markers to use in addition to the rhinestones. Ten boxes of pink flamingo lawn ornaments were unpacked, and the film was cued up down in the Dorothy K. Hohenberg Auditorium. And then the crowd arrived, and before we knew it, all of the wine was drunk and the flamingos were completely transformed, each one of them a new and wholly unique creature. The DJs put away their vinyl records, and everyone went downstairs to watch the film. We held a drawing to give away Segal’s books, introduced the film, and then came back upstairs to break down the tables in the Rotunda, take out the trash, and breathe.

John Waters by Susan Segal

John Waters by Susan Segal, copyright Susan Segal

Once we recovered, we wanted to follow up with Segal, who, although she resides more than 1600 miles away on the Left Coast, was an integral part of the event. Plenty of people are familiar with John Waters and Divine, and everyone’s seen the ubiquitous pink lawn ornament perched in a planter or someone’s yard, but Segal’s image perfectly epitomized the entire Pink Flamingos experience. Having permission to use it to promote this particular Art & A Movie was, for us, the icing on the cake. We only wish she could’ve been here to participate!

What kind of camera do you prefer to use for portraiture?

35mm or 2 1/4 – depending on the situation.

You note on your website that the concept for A Pink Flamingo was “conceived one night in a dream.” Could you elaborate?

That dream was very elaborate. I saw the book and the title and I had envisioned the book party in Los Angeles, where I was living back then. It was a fun dream.

Who was your favorite subject to photograph for A Pink Flamingo? Who was the toughest to shoot?

No one was hard or difficult to photograph. The hard part was putting together the shoots. For every photo there was a lot of pre-production issues to work out. Scheduling, props, studio time. I shot on location in the Bahamas, Reno and Las Vegas and of course Los Angeles. You have to be prepared when time and money is on the line.

Was anyone resistant to the project?

Everybody was very willing to work with me luckily.

What advice do you have for young working photographers?

The one thing that is unique to each of us is our vision. It may not be right for every client we want to work with but don’t be discouraged. Stay true to who you are and how you approach each assignment. Getting the assignment is the hard part.

According to your bio, you’re a graduate of Art Center College of Design. Would or wouldn’t you encourage young artists to pursue higher learning?

I feel very fortunate to have been able to go to Art Center which still has one of the best commercial art school reputations in the world. That is where I learned my craft and established my style and built my portfolio. I know of other photographers who learned the business working as assistants to established photographers. Everyone has their own road that they will take. Certainly liberal arts colleges and private colleges like Art Center are a great way to learn your craft.

Have you made the switch to digital photography?

Yes I am now totally digital but I still have my Nikon 4. It’s not that easy finding professional film labs.

Are you a fan of the film Pink Flamingos? Of Divine and/or John Waters?

Of course!! I saw Pink Flamingos in the movie theatre when it came out. I grew up in Los Angeles and some friends of mine and I went to see it. I think John Waters is brilliant and I’m a big fan of his movies. [When working on A Pink Flamingo] I first worked with Divine. He was in Los Angeles on a promotional tour for his latest movie “Trouble In Mind”. Harris [Milstead, Divine’s birth name] was a great guy. He helped me get in touch with John Waters.

What are you currently working on?

I have my stock photography business that I am always working on. As far as assignment work I’m on hiatus.

More on Susan Segal’s photography: http://susansegal.biz/
More pictures from Art & A Movie: Pink Flamingos

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