Skip to main content

Photographer Joel Meyerowitz

With his wife, writer Maggie Barrett, he'd planned to begin work on a book about Tuscany in mid-September, 2001, but the project was interrupted by the terrorist attacks. He photographed the excavation of Ground Zero, culminating in an exhibition that is now on tour around the world. Several months later, they resumed work on the Tuscany project. The book, Tuscany, is out now.

09:53

Other segments from the episode on November 3, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 3, 2003: Interview with Nathaniel Kahn; Interview with Joel Meyerowitz; Review of Raul Malo's music.

Transcript

DATE November 3, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Nathaniel Kahn talks about his new documentary film,
"My Architect"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Nathaniel Kahn, is the son of
the famous architect Louis Kahn, but it was not a traditional father-son
relationship. As Nathaniel explains in his new documentary "My Architect,"
Louis Kahn had three families. The architect and his wife Esther had a
daughter, but Kahn also had two other children out of wedlock with women he
worked with. One of those women, Harriet Pattison, is Nathaniel's mother.
Louis Kahn, who was in his 60s when Nathaniel was born, visited Nathaniel's
house regularly but never lived there. The architect was found dead in a Penn
Station rest room at the age of 73 in 1974. Nathaniel was 11 at the time. In
the new documentary, Nathaniel tries to make sense of his father's secret
family life and to examine his achievements as an architect. Some of the
buildings designed by Louis Kahn include the Salk Institute in La Jolla, the
Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth and the National Assembly Building of
Bangladesh in the capital Dakar.

The film "My Architect" opens next week in New York and Philadelphia and will
open in other cities in the following weeks. I asked Nathaniel Kahn what
distinguished his father as an architect.

Mr. NATHANIEL KAHN (Filmmaker, "My Architect"): He returned a sense of
weight and kind of primitive architecture. And I think so much of
architecture, modern architecture had become very light, glass, steel, about
skyscrapers. And Lou was interested ultimately in buildings that would be
around, that would last and would be spiritual. And certainly, he was
interested in materials, very much materials and ancient materials and heavy
materials--brick, concrete, not so much about glass and steel. Very much
about really creating modern buildings that have the feel and presence of
ancient ruins. And I think people find that his buildings are not only
intensely spiritual experiences, but they also work for what they were planned
to do. So the Salk Institute for Biological Studies is a really good
laboratory. It works as a laboratory. The Exeter Library in New Hampshire is
a strange, mysterious building but it also works as a library.

GROSS: Before making this movie, what was your father's place in your world?
Let's start with growing up, for instance.

Mr. KAHN: Sure.

GROSS: Your father died when you were 11.

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: What was his place in your world when you were growing up?

Mr. KAHN: My father's pl--I mean, my experience of him was very mysterious.
He sort of floated in and out of our lives. I would see him maybe once a
week, something like that. But, yes, he would show up, oh, around dinner
time, but you could never set your watch by Lou. He would just kind of show
up at some point. And he'd usually call at the last minute and say he was
going to come to the house. And my mother would go into a flurry of activity
making, you know, a special meal and it was very, very exciting thing. And I
always felt, as a kid, I'm the luckiest guy around because my father is an
exciting thing. He's not just a dad who falls asleep on the couch and watches
TV. This is an artist who takes time out to come and, you know, show up in
our lives and is somehow almost a magical person, like Merlin, you know. He
was already, really, you know, an older man, though he had a tremendous boyish
kind of energy and quality. But he was also very warm. I mean, he'd show up
in our house, and it was a tremendous amount of fun and then he'd disappear.
We'd actually drive him back downtown to Philadelphia then leave him off at
his wife's house.

GROSS: He was married?

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: He and his wife had a child.

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: He had two other children.

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: You, and he also had a relationship with the architect Anne Tyng and
had a daughter with her.

Mr. KAHN: That's right.

GROSS: So he had kind of three families, one official...

Mr, KAHN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...two unofficial.

Mr. KAHN: Yes, right.

GROSS: Were you supposed to be a secret? Did other people in his life know
about you, and were you allowed to tell your friends and even your teachers
that this famous architect was your dad?

Mr. KAHN: Sure. I was allowed to. I think it was a kind of secret. Maybe
it was an open secret. I mean, I think people who were close to him certainly
knew these things, but he never went out of his way to tell people, you know,
`This is my alternative family. These are my three children.' That just
never happened. We did not cross paths, you know. But I was a kind of
secret, yes. And it was always a little bit difficult. People'd say, you
know, `Where's your father?' or `Who's your father?' I was always very proud
of him, tremendously proud of him, but I also--it always gave me a start, you
know, in my stomach when somebody asked me that as a kid, because I knew that
there would be an explanation that I would have to give.

GROSS: Oh, a really complicated one, yeah.

Mr. KAHN: Yeah. Yeah, it's complicated. And at that time, that was sort of
a bigger deal. Now it's much more commonplace. But it was complicated also
by the fact that he was a famous man, and I knew that, you know.

GROSS: Did you call him Dad?

Mr. KAHN: I called him Daddy.

GROSS: And that was OK with him.

Mr. KAHN: Oh, yeah. No, I mean, he was very--this is part of the conflict
and part of making the film that is still something that's rattling around in
my head is that this was a man who was full of contradictions. He wasn't one
of these workaholics who absolutely, you know, really had no interest in
family or in children. He had tremendous interest in everything he was
involved with. And I think that's the abiding contradiction of my father for
me, is that I know he wanted to be a good father. He just couldn't do it.

GROSS: My guest is Nathaniel Kahn, and his new film is a documentary about
his father, the late architect Louis Kahn. Let's talk a little bit about the
circumstances behind your birth.

Mr. KAHN: Sure.

GROSS: Your father was already married...

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: ...when you were conceived.

Mr. KAHN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Your mother--how did she know your father?

Mr. KAHN: My mother was introduced to him. She was living in Philadelphia,
introduced to him, and I think fell in love with him instantly, though she was
28 years younger than he. And I think that it was a, you know, a love affair
that lasted until the end of his life, you know, which was only really about
12 years. They met in around 1960, and he died in '74, so 14 years. And she
was very much--you know, she was an artistic person, was interested in
landscape architecture, went back to school actually after meeting him to
become a landscape architect. And I think it was a tremendous kind of
flowering of her life to meet this man who was interested in her, who was
older than she and with whom she could share such tremendous kind of artistic
connection.

GROSS: What are some of the things she went through when she realized that
she was pregnant, that he was not going to leave his wife to marry her?
Abortion wasn't yet legal.

Mr. KAHN: Right. True.

GROSS: Having a child out of wedlock was still considered a very damaging
thing...

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: ...I mean, something that was going to kind of ruin your future in
every way...

Mr. KAHN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and embarrass everybody who was connected with you. So what are
some of the things that you know that she went through when she was carrying
you?

Mr. KAHN: Well, I'm here because of her courage. I think it's really that
simple. And, I mean, you know, it chokes me up to think about it. I never
quite said it that way before, but that's true. There were certainly many
pressures on her to do something alternative, whatever that would be--not have
me, give me up for adoption. These were very real choices that were discussed
and that she was pressured to consider. But it was really her friends, and
they are the two friends who are in the film, I'm pleased to say, because that
they agreed to do this, to talk about these events which were very, very
difficult. And they really encouraged her. And they said, `Listen, if you
want to have this baby, you go ahead, do it.' And it's a marvelous scene
because the woman who says it in the film, she has a marvelous sort of
Bostonian accent. And she said, `Well, we never knew what Harriet would
really come up with, but in the end, it was all right. And here you are and
she loved you, and she loved Lou and that was the love of her life and she did
the right thing.' You know, that's the way she--so she kind of had this Yankee
belief somehow that, you know, that if you work at it and you persevere, it'll
be OK. So...

GROSS: Oh, and also this belief that this kind of love was actually
life-enhancing.

Mr. KAHN: Yes, and that you can't turn your back on that. And I think that
my mother clearly was very much in love with my father. I think she expected
a different outcome. I know that's in the film. I mean, one of the most
difficult interviews to do in the film was with my mother. I interviewed her
twice. I had to go back. I didn't have the courage the first time to ask her
the real questions. And the second time I went back actually alone, without
my cameraman. And, you know, I was sort of pushed to do that by my wonderful
team, which I want to talk to you about because they're all women. And they
said, `Nathaniel, you didn't really get from your mother the truth. You've
got to go back.' So...

GROSS: What did they want you to ask about that you hadn't asked?

Mr. KAHN: Well, I think really several things. One certainly was really to
talk about how my mother felt about my father, not following through. You
know, not being there for her. And the other was, of course, this story,
which I've been told since I was a young boy, that my father was going to come
and live with us, was going to get a divorce and come and live in our house.

GROSS: This is what your mother kept telling you.

Mr. KAHN: Yes. Yes, and you know, we get to that in a moment, but I
think--so my mother, when she decided to have me, it was a very, very
difficult time. She left Philadelphia. She went to stay with these friends
of hers who took her in. She went and lived in upstate Vermont right after I
was born, worked for someone up there and really, for two years, was away from
Philadelphia and was away from her family, really sort of in exile. I mean,
she calls it the exile years. And of course, I have no memory of them. I was
a little baby.

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. KAHN: And I have a few photographs, and I look perfectly happy. But I
did, I have to say, come across a photograph just the other day that would
have changed the film if I'd had it, and that was a picture of my father in
Vermont holding me.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. KAHN: And this is something I didn't know. I didn't know that he showed
up there because I remember meeting my father for the first time. I was
three. And my mother had so clearly--I had met him before that but I have no
memory of it. But when I was about three, my mother--we were living in
Chestnut Hill. My mother set three plates at the table, and she said, `Your
father is coming for dinner.' And I said, `Well, what's that?' you know, truly
not knowing quite what a father was and that I had one. And I remember him
coming for dinner, and it was quite awkward because it was probably one of the
first times that he was aware that I was aware that he was something to me
that wasn't quite worked out. And I'll never forget his look. He was very
serious. And later, when I knew him better, he was, you know, a heck of a lot
of fun. But at that time, he was awkward. He didn't really know quite what
to do, what was expected of him, what he was--you know, other than have dinner
with us, what was expected. So my mother went through a lot. I think one of
the things that she held on to through all those years was that he would get a
divorce and come and live with us. So I think that's--and that he really
planned to do that. And that was a kind of a story that my mother and I held
on to together.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Nathaniel Kahn, and his new
film is a documentary called "My Architect," about his late father, the
architect Louis Kahn. Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some
more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Nathaniel Khan. His new
documentary, "My Architect," is about his late father, Louis Kahn.

Now Louis Kahn actually had two secret families, or semi-secret. Louis Kahn
was married and had a child in that marriage, but there were also two other
women in the city of Philadelphia who bore his children. And one of them is
the mother of my guest, Nathaniel Kahn. Nathaniel Kahn knew his father, but
his father would maybe stop by about once a week to the house.

Let's talk a little bit about your father's architecture. Now he didn't
really come into his own as an architect till he was about 50, which is pretty
late in life.

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: And he died at the age of 73, so he didn't have like a whole lot of
time to really do work once he found himself.

Mr. KAHN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you say in the film, it was apparently a trip to Italy and then to
other parts of the world where there was truly ancient architecture that
helped him find his style and his voice as an architect. And once he found
it, he really worked like a demon.

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: There seems to be an upside and a downside of that. Upside is the
work. Downside is--you talked to some of the people who worked with him. And
you get several interesting stories about how difficult it was to work with
him because he was so driven.

Mr. KAHN: Yes, that's true. He was very driven. I think it was also
enormously--his office, which I also want to say that he visited us probably
once a week, but I also spent time in his office as a kid. So--and my mother,
of course, worked for him, too, worked with him.

GROSS: You must have thought a lot about how difficult, what a strain it must
have been for your mother...

Mr. KAHN: Sure.

GROSS: ...to work at the firm with your father, knowing that he was married
to somebody else.

Mr. KAHN: Yes. Oh, yes, very aware of it.

GROSS: How did she deal with that?

Mr. KAHN: You'd have to ask her. I mean, it's actually in the film. I do
talk about it in the film with her because she had a little room kind of
downstairs. And she was, you know, kind of hidden in the office because
sometimes, you know, his wife would--his wife, Esther, who was a very
formidable, interesting woman, would come to the office. And, you know,
Harriet would be there, my mother would be there, and she'd lock herself in
the room, you know. So it was a very awkward thing, and I think it was
awkward for people in the office. It was certainly awkward for my mother. It
was awkward for his wife. It was awkward for Lou. You know, it was awkward
for everybody, but this was just kind of--once again, this goes with the
territory in a way of somebody who is--I mean, I think of my father as
somebody who would burn the furniture to keep the place warm. I mean, he's
like one of those characters, you know, it doesn't matter. You can't take it
with you.

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. KAHN: So it was a race, you know, and so you don't resolve everything.
You just keep going day after day after day.

GROSS: As you've said, your father was influenced very deeply by ancient
architecture...

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: ...that still remains. And he tried to use elements of that in his
design to get some of the spirituality that architecture had....

Mr. KAHN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and put that in his design as well. And the kind of crowning
achievement of that in your father's work is the capitol of Bangladesh in
Dakar.

Mr. KAHN: Yeah.

GROSS: You travel there for your movie, and I wasn't aware of this until
seeing the film. It's a really magnificent, inspiring building which I'm
going to ask you to try to describe.

Mr. KAHN: Sure. Well, I have actually in my pocket here--of course, this is
radio, so you can't see it, but I can describe it. Oh, I haven't got it
today. I always carry it with me. I washed my laundry today. But his
building, the capitol of Bangladesh, is on the Bangladeshi money as we put the
White House on the back of our 20-dollar bill or the Capitol, I think, is on
the 50. I haven't seen a 50 in a while. It is a phenomenal building. He
built them a capitol that is like nothing else in the whole world. It's a
little bit hard to describe as a building because it looks both like it could
have landed from space and that it's always been there, that it could have
been built yesterday or could have been built 1,000 years ago or 10,000 years
ago. It has an absolute timeless quality. It looks a little like a castle.
It's floating in water, a moat that he dug around it, and then it's on a kind
of a little rise in the middle. It's made of concrete, but it's not--it
doesn't have that kind of heavy, you know, Soviet look at all. It's a very
soaring building as well. It's mysterious. You see it in the mist. It looks
like it, you know, just landed from outer space, as I said. It has great
cut-out holes in it that allow light into the interior. You see no glass.

GROSS: Geometric forms, circles, triangles.

Mr. KAHN: Yeah, geometric forms, but they're there for a reason. They're
there to let light--I mean, one of the things that my father really hated--he
didn't like glass because glass, you know, is not structure. It's not holding
the building up. So the building looks like a ruin and yet also like
something modern at the same time. And it has this kind of primitive power.

GROSS: So what was it like for you, the first time you laid eyes on the
building?

Mr. KAHN: When I first saw it, it was interesting. You know, it occurs
towards the end of the film. We travel throughout the world looking for
people who knew my father, seen his buildings, finding these enormously
emotional moments of a son looking for a father. And suddenly, I got to
Bangladesh and I knew this is the last building of my father's that I'll ever
see for the first time, and I want to see it right. So we had a guide there
and I said, `Listen, I don't want to see it out of a side window or something.
I really want to see this building because it's so massive and beautiful.' So
I said, `Blindfold me.' So he did, blindfolded me. We drove through the
streets. You could hear all the tremendous noise of Dakar. It's a city of
many, many millions with absolutely no infrastructure.

So we arrived in front of this building--I didn't know quite where we
were--got out of the car and I started walking across the street. He was
guiding me, of course, and then the grass, I felt grass under my feet. The
ground was soft. And this silence started to kind of fold around me. The
city was sort of receding, and I could feel this presence in front of me. And
he said, `Are you ready to see this thing?' And I said, `Not quite,' and sat
and took it in. And then I said, `I'm ready.' And he took the blindfold off
my eyes, and I burst into tears when I saw that building, knowing that it's
the last building that I would ever see of my father's for the first time and
realizing the enormity of that achievement in the middle of this extremely
poor country. It was at that time a new country. In fact, it was started
when it was still Pakistan. The war intervened, building stopped. Lou kept
working here without being paid in Philadelphia, slaving away on this capitol
that he knew he had to build and give these people. And here it was, finished
10 years after his death, a monumental achievement, and the capitol of a
country, a national symbol, everything he believed architecture could do, that
building does.

GROSS: One of the things that amazes me about this is that this masterpiece
that he designed, that he was working on when you had a relationship, when he
was still alive, was so out of sight, was so far removed from anything you
could fathom or see.

Mr. KAHN: Of course. Yes.

GROSS: You know, and so it meant that one of his major obsessions, one of the
things that was taking up his time and taking him away from all three of his
families was something that you couldn't possibly fathom, not only 'cause it
wasn't fully built yet, but because it was just so far away.

Mr. KAHN: No, it's true. And he would also often tell me stories about India
and Bangladesh. He'd sit on the side of my bed and as a little boy, he'd tell
me these fantastic stories about this place, about the Bengal tigers and about
the people there and about the spirituality and about a little boy named Rumi
and an elephant named Tubby and, you know, fantastic stories and about these
men building this huge structure, carrying all the concrete in baskets on
their heads with bamboo scaffolding, right? It was phenomenal, fantastical.
And you know how oftentimes, you hear a story as a child and then you go see
the place and you think, `Oh, that's all?' you know. Yeah, it's sort of
disappointing. Everything he said in his stories to me as a little boy was
true when I saw that building. And it's so interesting that somehow, if you
create a project that has kind of an emotional weight to it and a need to be,
which is the way Lou would put it, it really needs to be and you kept people
involved with you in it, you can really move mountains together. And I think
that's something that I realize, too. It gave me insight of my father, that
somehow by biting off way more than he could chew, which is absolutely what I
did with this film, things came to him that you never could have put in place
had you been more cautious, you know.

GROSS: Nathaniel Kahn's new documentary, "My Architect," will open next week
in New York and Philadelphia. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's get back to our conversation with Nathaniel Kahn. His new documentary,
"My Architect," is about his late father, the renowned architect Louis Kahn.
The film is about his father's professional achievements and his secret life.

In addition to the child Louis Kahn had with his wife Esther, he has two
children out of wedlock with women he worked with. Nathaniel's mother,
Harriet, was one of those women. Kahn's two secret families were not
mentioned in the obituaries. In fact, Esther apparently didn't want them at
the funeral, but they showed up anyway. That's an issue that Nathaniel talks
about in the film with Sue Ann Kahn, the daughter Louis Kahn had with his wife
Esther. Nathaniel's other half-sister, Alexandra Tyng, was there as well.

(Soundbite of "My Architect")

Mr. KAHN: The casket was there and I remember being--some arms went in front
of us and we were pushed into the side room.

Ms. ALEXANDRA TYNG: You were very--I remember you being at the side because
I had to search for you, and I went deliberately to Harriet to say something,
because I had never met you, and I knew, whoever you are, you must be
suffering in some way. And she just--I said, `Hello, Harriet.' She stared
straight ahead, and she didn't have anything to do with me. And I felt really
bad about that because I went up with the best of intentions to say, `Look,
I'm not my mother,' or `I'm not...'

Unidentified Woman: You're not.

Mr. KAHN: You're not.

Ms. TYNG: `...have nothing to do with that.'

Mr. KAHN: Yeah.

Ms. TYNG: And you know, on the other hand, I hadn't really made contact with
her since you were born, and I felt badly about that, but I knew I couldn't
have handled it.

GROSS: What do you know about the circumstances behind your father's death?

Mr. KAHN: Well, you know, his death was so--it's sort of an irony beyond
ironies, right? He was returning from India, from these major projects. He
has two major projects in India. He traveled alone. Why? I have no idea. I
mean, who does that these days, you know, over that kind of great distances?
He was coming back from India. He met someone in--he actually met another
architect, Stanley Tigerman, in London, and I think Lou knew he was going to
die because of some things he said to this other architect. He came back to
New York. He went through the train station. He wasn't able to get a flight
back to Philadelphia. Went to Penn Station, New York, around 8:30 on the
night of March 17th, 1974, St. Patrick's Day, Sunday--it was a Sunday.

And someone saw him actually in Philadelphia, saw him not--you know, in the
waiting room. And he said, `I have to excuse myself for a moment.' He went
to the men's room. He didn't come back, and she thought, you know, he went
to--you know, didn't want to be with us. And he collapsed and died in the
men's room. And he was--for some reason, the identification on his passport
was not complete. I don't think he had a home address on it. He had, I
think, a work address on the passport or the home address, I had heard, was
crossed out. So he was unidentified. You know, they weren't able to contact
anybody who knew him for three days. And for three days he lay in the morgue
in New York unclaimed. And people in Philadelphia and slowly around the
country and then around the world became panicked. You know, where did he go?
He disappeared. He really disappeared from the planet.

GROSS: How was he finally identified at the morgue?

Mr. KAHN: His wife, Esther Kahn, was called and they said, `We have a man
here,' and they described him. Scars on his face, blue eyes, about this age,
white hair. She said, `I think that's Lou.' And she went with another
architect, actually a fine architect from New York, together, and they went in
the morgue, and there he was.

GROSS: What was the funeral like for you? It was the first time all three of
his families actually met.

Mr. KAHN: The funeral was a completely surreal experience, and someday I'll
put it in a feature film because that's where it belongs. I mean, it was like
a Bergman film, you know. These families were there, these people who'd
worked with him, devastated. The taxi drivers from Philadelphia lined up
outside Oliver H. Bair Funeral Home here, because he didn't drive. He took
taxis. And we have taxi drivers in the film, as you know. But literally
there was a line of taxi drivers to pay their respects. My mother's brother,
who had so objected to my birth, showed up and took a taxi from the airport
and said he couldn't believe the impact this man had had on the city. You
know, couldn't believe--he was impressed for the first time, you know. And we
were very much shuttled off to the side. I was in a side room with my mother,
and I really couldn't see. I couldn't see the casket because we were told not
to. My father's wife, I think to some degree understandably, but it's a
tragedy, didn't want, you know, us as part of the ceremony. Nor did she want
my other half-sister and her mother to be part of the ceremony.

I do understand that. It was a tragedy at the time. It was very difficult.
It was a complicated thing for all of these people involved. But for me, a
little boy, I just saw kind of the big black suits in front of me and I really
couldn't get close to my father, and it was like I'd lost him completely, you
know. And to see the pallbearers lift him on their shoulders and take him
down, it was raining and I did not go to the grave site. So I never--his
death was surreal to me, and I did not believe he was dead. I mean, I did and
I didn't. You know, but for years, I would walk around the streets of
Philadelphia and I'd see a white-haired man from the back and I'd think,
`That's Lou. He's still around.'

And when I went to India, it always occurred to me that maybe he decided, you
know, `Enough with all this complication. I want to disappear into the, you
know, outback.' And somehow I did feel that he was, you know, there in India
and in Bangladesh. And it's interesting. We shot a whole scene at the
graveyard, at his grave site. And I hadn't been there before. It was the
first time I went there. You'd think, `Got to have that scene in the movie.'
And I had difficulty finding the grave. It was very funny. You know, there
was all kinds of stuff going on. And when I looked at it, I said, `You know
what the problem is? He's not here. This is not where I go to pay my
respects to my father.' And what an interesting thing to have a father who
left not a tombstone but stones upon stones. I mean, these phenomenal
structures. You go to those buildings, his spirit is absolutely there. I
felt it. It's there. It's not like a ghost that's wandering around
unhappily. It's this sense of the man. He's right there. You can feel it.

GROSS: If you could, would you buy one of the homes that he built and live in
it?

Mr. KAHN: I would love to buy one of the homes and let my mother live in it,
you know? It's not possible for me. I'm a filmmaker. But not for me. No.
No. And I think that's part of why I made the film, because there were so
many unresolved things with my father, feelings that I had, a conversation I
wanted to have with him for two hours. I wanted to grab him out of the grave
and say, `Listen, Daddy, I'm not ready for you to go yet. I got to talk to
you. I got to know you before I can let you go.' And I think part of that
was also realizing that I do have to let him go, and living in a house of his
I think would make me sad all the time.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Sometimes when you know somebody you care about a
lot is a genius...

Mr. KAHN: Yes.

GROSS: ...you have to ask yourself, `Do you cut them breaks because they're a
genius?'

Mr. KAHN: Sure.

GROSS: Because they're a genius, do they not have to do the dishes? Because
they're a genius, do they not have to pay a lot of attention to their
children? Because they're a genius, do they not have to hold up their share
of whatever it is outside of their official work? And you're kind of in that
mix there. You're one of the things that the genius couldn't pay that much
attention to...

Mr. KAHN: Sure.

GROSS: ...because he was busy being a genius and busy being very eccentric in
his own way. So...

Mr. KAHN: Well, first of all, I'm not sure my father was a genius, which is
an interesting...

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. KAHN: That's an interesting kind of question there. But I don't mean to
stop you...

GROSS: You know, he was just obsessive and not a genius?

Mr. KAHN: No, no. No. No. I mean, he was--certainly he had tremendous
gifts.

GROSS: Right. Yeah.

Mr. KAHN: But I think one of the lessons of Lou is that if you really--as I
said before, if you really bet on yourself...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KAHN: ...and you really say, you know, `Come hell or high water, I'm
going to use my talents to their best possible...'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KAHN: `...advantage,' and you get to live long enough. I mean, part of
it is rolling the dice, right?

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KAHN: I think the story of Lou tells you something will come out, and I
don't think it was--you know, he was not one of these people--he wasn't like
Mozart or, you know, these people who just--it just flows out of them. He
struggled like hell to get these things, and I think--you look at some of the
buildings that he was halfway towards building. If they'd been built before
he was really done, they wouldn't be great. And in a way, what he was was his
own best critic.

GROSS: Nathaniel Kahn, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KAHN: Thank you.

GROSS: Nathaniel Kahn's new documentary, "My Architect," about his late
father Louis Kahn, will open next week in New York and Philadelphia and will
open in more cities in the next few weeks.

Coming up, photographing the beauty of Tuscany after shooting the hell of
ground zero. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Photographer Joel Meyerowitz talks about his projects
in Tuscany and at ground zero
TERRY GROSS, host:

After September 11th, my guest, Joel Meyerowitz, got special permission to be
at ground zero documenting the slow process of removing the World Trade
Center's remains. After several weeks photographing there, he returned to the
project he was supposed to be working on, photographing Tuscany, whose natural
beauty was the ultimate contrast to the hellish landscape he'd been immersed
in. His book, "Tuscany: Inside the Light," has just been published. The
text is by his wife, Maggie Barrett. They were married in Tuscany shortly
before September 11th.

Meyerowitz was contractually obligated to go to Tuscany and finish his
photography book. Nevertheless, I wonder if he felt almost guilty for leaving
behind New York and ground zero.

Mr. JOEL MEYEROWITZ (Photographer): It was wrenching. I have to say that I
would be away in Tuscany and I would be thinking about, `What am I missing?
They're still working down there.' And you know, I had become so much a part
of the rhythm of that place. But I did leave the first time in January at a
point when there was a kind of plateau. They had cleared away most of the
surface debris and were beginning to go below ground level. And there was a
sense that, you know, they were mining, and I just knew that I could leave for
that period of time and it wouldn't be so far advanced when I returned that I
would feel I had missed a huge period in the work. And I was right. I came
back and I stepped right into it and it felt, you know, the familiarity of
returning to someplace you know well, and suddenly I was in it again. And I
didn't feel I missed anything major.

GROSS: People who to go Italy often come back talking about the light. What
do you have to say about the light in Tuscany and how it changes from season
to season and from sunshine to rain? What are some of the qualities you're
working with?

Mr. MEYEROWITZ: This place is, like every place in the world, unique to
itself. But why it's unique came to us after a number of years of
observation. This particular valley, called the Valdorsha, which is below
Siena, is composed of a kind of white clay. Oddly enough, it's an incredibly
nourishing clay. Things grow there phenomenally--wine and olives, wheat,
sunflowers. It's a rich land. But it's got a white base to it. It's not
black earth or rich American earth. And so when the light rains down in this
valley and because it's a valley, there's a particular kind of moisture always
trapped in it.

So the valley itself has a kind of pearlescent quality. It's as if the air in
the valley is illuminated from within because sunlight striking the ground
rises up from the ground. It doesn't suck up the light because of dark earth.
So there's a funny kind of glow around everything. And we became aware of
this and it infused the photographs that not only I made but my students made.
And so it began to suggest itself to us as a very unique phenomenon in this
particular location on the face of the globe.

GROSS: Now how does that glow get affected by changes in the weather and
changes in the season?

Mr. MEYEROWITZ: Well, in the wintertime, the valley is one of those places
that holds the moisture longer than anyplace else. So when you awake in the
morning, there's always fog, which could be dismal if you're living in Norway.
But in Tuscany, even in the winter, there's sunlight. And so it penetrates
this fog and then it raises it. So you have the changing of the day every
day. And I felt that the wintertime was almost the most exciting season of
the year.

GROSS: Joel, one of the books you're well known for is about Cape Cod and
particularly about the light in Cape Cod. How would you compare Cape Cod
light with the light in Tuscany?

Mr. MEYEROWITZ: Well, oddly, they're completely different but they share
some wonderful qualities. Of course, Cape Cod is a spit of sand also light
colored surrounded by water. So there's always a kind of--an atmospheric
moisture that rises off the surface of the water, sort of cooked by sunlight,
and it splinters the light almost prismatically. That was my sense of what it
was like to be on the Cape, that there was a kind of purity to the way light
fell.

When you're on the mainland, inland anywhere, there's always particles of dirt
in the air, whether it's pollution or dust, who knows, but those particles if
you think of a little drop of dust in every molecule of moisture, it reduces
the light somewhat. But in Cape Cod, there's no land mass to speak of. And
so the air seems to be purer, more glowing. And so there was a kind of
radiance. I used to say it was almost shadowless is how it felt.

So the Cape has its glow from the waters around it, and the Valdorsha has its
glow from its substance, what it's made of, this clay which is good enough to
be made into pottery. So it has a kind of glasslike reflectance to it.

GROSS: There's a certain type of beauty that I think has almost been, well,
ruined might be too strong a word. There's a certain type of picture, or
picture postcard that captures this like perfect theme, and we've come to
think of it as scenery or as like, `It's like a picture postcard.' And as
lovely as it is, it's predictable and cliche. Do you feel that, Joel, as a
photographer, there's a certain type of image that's kind of been ruined for
you by that type of perfect image or perfect scenery? And how do you try to
get something that goes deeper than that?

Mr. MEYEROWITZ: You're absolutely right. The wallpaper that Tuscany has
become is sort of there by the yard. Almost any photographer can stand
anywhere in Tuscany and look at the countryside and point their camera and
clip off 70 degrees' worth, you know, with a 35mm lens, and you have Tuscany.
And if you put into it cypress trees on a hilltop with a church nearby or of,
you know, charming sheep on the road below, you can make something that
everybody has seen in the postcards. So part of the challenge was to avoid
those things that we all know already that have ruined the experience for us
and try to get into a place where the surprise, the freshness, the innocence
of observation could make its way.

And so I avoided things like the fields of sunflowers and all of these
lollipop trees. And then one day, towards the end of our work, in the fall,
actually, we were driving through a valley and there was fields of sunflowers,
all of them heads bowed, brown stalked, drooping flowers, and it looked like
the dead marching off the battlefield. And I stopped the car, we both gasped
and got out and stood amongst them. And what I felt was that they had served
their day. They are now going to be turned into useful produce, and they were
a kind of a vast horde that was accepting their death. The season had brought
them to this.

And I made a photograph that, to me, is one of the darkest and maybe even most
daring pictures in the book because it's anti-beauty. It isn't about the
familiar gloss that sunflowers make. It's about the reality of the life
cycle. And I think often for me, photography isn't about making a frame.
It's about having a moment when I wake up where I think, `Oh, my God. This is
happening right in front of me.' And that kind of awareness, that kind of
mental process is for me where the ideas of photography and the act of
photography combine in a way and perhaps allow us to make something new.

GROSS: Photographer Joel Meyerowitz. His new book is called "Tuscany:
Inside the Light." The text is by Maggie Barrett.

Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews two new projects involving Raul Malo
of The Mavericks.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Two new projects from Raul Malo and his band The Mavericks
TERRY GROSS, host:

The Mavericks have put out their first album in five years, and lead singer
Raul Malo has just produced and co-written an album with the country singer
Rick Trevino. Taken together, says rock critic Ken Tucker, these two projects
show the range of Malo's Mexican-American take on country, pop and rock music.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. RAUL MALO (The Mavericks): (Singing) I want to know what promises to
keep. I want to know how guilty people sleep. I want to know if willows
really weep. I want to know where's my reward to reap. I want to know...

KEN TUCKER reporting:

That big booming voice with the conversational intimacy, it's Raul Malo's
pipes that makes The Mavericks instantly identifiable to any listener whose
first reaction isn't, `Hey, is that Roy Orbison?' Certainly on this album,
called simply "The Mavericks," Malo isn't shying away from the Orbison
comparisons with soaring ballads like "In My Dreams."

(Soundbite of "In My Dreams")

Mr. MALO: (Singing) I used to think I was the only one who never knew what
it was like to fall. But you came along changed all the rules that day. Just
for a moment I had it all. You are the dream I live with. You are the wish I
made. The name I always whisper in every prayer I pray. Now that you left
me, while you forget me, I'll hold you in my dreams.

TUCKER: Meanwhile, Rick Trevino turned to Raul Malo to jump-start his career.
Dumped by Columbia Records as a straight-down-the-middle country crooner,
Trevino's using his debut on Warner Bros. Records and his songwriting
collaborations with Malo to give his music a more open, wide-ranging sound.
It results in juicier music, even when he's singing about so hackneyed a
subject as how hard it is to be a star.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. RICK TREVINO: (Singing) I'll be drinking cold coffee in a diner in Baton
Rouge. I got a show there out in nowhere, then we got to drive straight on
through to Oklahoma and Arizona. What's a thousand miles or two for a big
star in an old car, and this is all a dream come true. I've been living on
easy street...

TUCKER: There are times on this album, such as the title song, "In My
Dreams," when Trevino sounds more like the old Mavericks than the current
Mavericks do. Listen to the way his vocal attack echoes Malo's here.

(Soundbite of "In My Dreams")

Mr. TREVINO: (Singing) I used to think I was the only one, who never knew
what it was like to fall, but you came along, changed all the rules that day.
Just for a moment, I had it all. You are the dream I live with...

TUCKER: On the whole, and with the exception of a misguided cover of Bryan
Adams' soppy, "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?" Trevino's work with Malo
is tighter and more cohesive than The Mavericks' album, which tends to sprawl
and repeat itself. By now it's too easy for Malo to power ballad his way
through a song. He's much better with a lighter touch, such as he applies to
the swinging "Shine A Light."

(Soundbite of "Shine a Light")

Mr. MALO: (Singing) I really want to sit and talk about the way things are
or maybe ought to be. It's wisdom I don't want to do without. Brother, shine
a light on me. Brother, shine a light on me. I've never been a real
religious man, but I only see as far as my eyes can see. So what exactly is
the promised land? Brother, shine a light on me. Brother, shine a light on
me. Shine on me. Shine a light on. Shine a light on.

TUCKER: I don't think either The Mavericks or Trevino are going to make any
new commercial breakthroughs with these albums. They're at once too
idiosyncratic and too traditionalist. But that doesn't mean Malo and Trevino
can't every so often reach into your heart and give it just the right sort of
tug.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TREVINO: (Singing) Heartaches will find you, every time you slip on over
that cheating line. Heartaches are fateful when love is blind. When I look
at you, darling is it true, heartache, are you gonna be mine? I hate the way
that you make me feel each time you walk through that door. But when the
hurting's gone, you come along and I keep coming back for more. Heartaches
will find you, every time you slip on over that cheating line. Heartaches are
fateful when love is blind. When I look at you, darling is it true,
heartache, are you gonna be mine? Yea!
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Democracy Is 'Strained' But Not 'Broken,' Former President Obama Tells 'Fresh Air'

In his first interview with Terry Gross, Obama talks about what he misses most about being president and reflects on the turmoil of the Trump White House. Obama's new memoir is 'A Promised Land.'

20:56

'Alex Rider' Novelist On The Joys Of Reading (And Writing) Mysteries

Anthony Horowitz's novels about a reluctant teen spy have been adapted into a TV series for IMDB TV. Horowitz is also the author of Moonflower Murders, a mystery for adults.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue