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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  October 9, 2013 8:00am-8:30am EDT

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question for you and you have to figure out how to proceed? >> no, i've had a few of those. [laughter] tavis: how do you grade yourself on how you have navigated those moments? >> not so well. [laughter] i have had two or three of those in my life where i really -- you know, things just shattered, you know? you start to figure out, what is this? where do i go from here? i don't know who i am even. yeah, i hope i don't have too many more of those. [laughter] tavis: are there lessons though? it seems to me that those are the moments in our lives, and if you haven't had those moments, just keep living -- i grew up in a black gospel church, and we used to sing a song called "there's a storm out on the ocean." and it's coming this way. if you live long enough, there is a storm out there, and it will come at you. are there lessons that you have learned from those three tumultuous moments that you can
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maybe pass on to your granddaughters one day? >> in at times like that, you have to go back to something something deep -- who you really are, in essence, and where you find your strength. i mean, a few times i've gone into some kind of practice. one of the big ones was the study of buddhism. , this lastthis idea one, trying to recapture that girl that i was, whoever that was. i do think, you know, it is not in the external world that solves these problems for you, and it is not in that velocity that we embrace to get us through the day. i think it is really in the and that safe place
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within and surrounding yourself with that. i mean, my family has always been the balm for any bad time. tavis: i'm going to come back to that family and your granddaughters for whom you've written this book and other granddaughters run the world. before i move on, you said something fascinating i want to go back and pick up on. you are not the first person, the first artist, the first artist specifically, to sit in turned to who has buddhism at various points in their careers. that is not to suggest that there are artists who are arestians and artists who agnostics and atheists and everything else under the sun, but i find some of the most creative people i have talked to over the course of my doing the show have a certain point in their lives have turned to buddhism, whether they are musical artists. a sense, our faith is an individual thing. >> yes. tavis: i'm wondering if there's
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something to the fact that artists from tina turner to herbie hancock to richard gere who have turned to this. >> richard is a great practitioner, isn't he, and has been for a long time. for me, because i wasn't raised -- my family -- i am finnish on my mothers side -- there is a long line of agnostics or atheists. there was no religion practiced at home. nobody i really knew around me was religious, my family members. it kind of left almost like a blank slate to find something at some point in my life. i was fortunate enough to be in a place where there was a monastery nearby, so i was able to study with some of the monks and rinpoches. what they said had a tremendous weight for me.
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it made more sense than putting like, one god or whatever, a practice, that way. this was really an internal practice of, like, trying to learn these kind of -- the dharma, the life lessons, and to find a way to see life in a new perspective. to actually look out at the world in a new and elevated way. surehat, to me -- i'm people find solace that way in their religions, especially if they have been raised in something -- but since i never was, it was kind of like, you know, pick something. [laughter] that was the one that made most sense to me really. tavis: speaking of picking things, one of the things that you picked -- maybe it picked you -- beyond your thespian chops is this wonderful gift you have for photography.
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did you choose it, or did it choose you? is when iteresting it first started off -- when i say i started off, i was 18 and ran off, ran away from home, ran off to europe -- it was with a group of young photographers and film makers. i immediately sensed the power of imagery. i loved it. years later, i came back through to it through collecting photography. that is the only thing i have really collected seriously over many years. i have certain photographers that i just was in awe of. .alker evans or manuel bravo then i kind of surrounded myself with this, these iconic images, and at one point, somebody gave me a camera and i actually started shooting myself again, which i hadn't done for maybe 20 years or so. i just immediately was pulled
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back into the whole magic of it, like,dea of, photographing and developing your own film and printing your own. so the polarway, opposite of being an actor and being constantly observed and performing. this was so anonymous and so private. of -- really a great kind it just gave me so much joy to do. that is how it began again for me. i mean, i just started taking my camera with me wherever i was going. but if ihot on sets, was traveling somewhere or on location, i would always have my camera, and i would always be -- the-s that kind of fly-on- wall approach. i don't engage the subject.
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i like to sulk about in the dark. [laughter] tavis: i'm glad you said that because you use a word that i want to go back to now. there is something uniquely different about one whose life has been spent being observed, to your word, now doing the observing. >> yes. tavis: i have a number of books sitting in my dressing room right now on a coffee table. , theamous photographs photographs of sammy davis junior -- the greatest entertainer ever, i think, always being observed, but loved observing. i've got a book in there from he says life is spent being observed, but loves observing. and now jessica lange, being observed, but loves observing. how do i phrase this? what is the distinction or joy that comes from observing as opposed to being observed? saying,back to that
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being so incredibly private, you know? what i love about photography -- it is the same thing i love about acting, really -- it forces you right into the moment where you cannot be distracted, where you cannot be like thinking about other things or ahead of yourself were behind yourself. processre really in the of photographing, you are absolutely aware. i mean, you are looking -- it somehow -- the thing that it has taught me so much is that, the ability to see, to really look, and to actually see what is in front of you, you know? again, it isse, similar in acting in that way in that that is what begins to play into your imagination and where you want to go with that.
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particular, in my black and white photography that i do, one thing lends itself to the other. there is a certain kind of cinematic -- i understand the andr of light and darkness what that does on an emotional level and how that kind of creates a set almost, a scenario, a story. -- mostly, it is that thing of being anonymous in having this object between you and the outside world. in an way, you are kind of hiding behind it, and yet, you are using it as this great tool to just observe the whole life that goes on in front of you. tavis: i'm wondering how all of this -- i'm laughing on the inside -- i'm wondering how all of this plays out when a photographer shows up to shoot jessica lange. >> i hate it. [laughter] tavis: i knew you were going to
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say that. all of these years, it is almost unbearable for me. tavis: you may make it unbearable for the photographer. [laughter] >> i try to keep in mind his terrible assignment too. tavis: i'm wondering whether or not that make -- that made you an easier subject were more difficult. >> it has never been easy. i have more empathy now. [laughter] tavis: i'm sure they appreciate that. speaking of photographs, i will talk about the story in just a second, but "it's about a little bird" is based on a true story. pardon my ignorance, i do not know there was such a thing -- i learned something on the show every day -- i didn't know there was such a thing as hand-tinting black and white photographs, but when i saw what you have done with these photographs -- maybe i'm the only person who did not realize this -- for those who are ignorant about hand-tinting black and white photographs, what does that mean? i see what it looks like. it is beautiful. >> it is a process that goes
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back to the earliest photography, to daguerreotypes. of course, it was all black and white because that was long before there was any color technology. what they would do in those days, they would sometimes just at a little touch of color here and there, like to the cheeks or to the lips or to a gold chain or whatever. you see it and even the earliest daguerreotypes -- in even the earliest daguerreotypes. what interested me in it -- because i have collected photography -- a collected what they used to call real photo postcards, which i'm sure you would recognize if you saw, starting at the turn of the century. the last century. intographs being made postcards, which then you could send to your relative across the country, and this is our new house or a man would send to a woman with a note. from there came the tinted
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photographs, the tinted postcard. it always had this kind of magical, almost fantastical quality to it. it wasn't real color, but it was color that was laid on a black- and-white photograph. when i started this little book, i thought, well, i'm not an illustrator, obviously, but i had taken photographs of children. what i would really love to do -- because it should be colorful -- you cannot give a children's book my somber black and white photographs. there is such a thing as photo oil. it is not easy to find anymore, like a lot of the photographic processes, but you can still find it. then you shoot the photographs. you develop it. printed on black and white. it is all film. it is not digital. then you paint it, like painting
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by numbers. tavis: other then the creative joy that it brings you to do that, since nowadays you can take a color photograph in digital -- [laughter] >> or you can take a color photograph and turn it into black-and-white. tavis: why do the extra labor of love? maybe that is the answer. >> i think it is. digital doesn't interest me. it is too many steps removed from the actual tactile thing. i read real books. don't have a kindle. i like to feel the thing in front of me. the whole process of photography is so fascinating. there is something magical still about it when i get in a dark room and you shot a roll of film and you develop it and you look at your negatives and there is imagery there. it always stuns me. or when you print a photograph and you are watching it come up out of the developer, and it's
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like, it is magic. i can't explain it. this is really because what i'm interested in is going backwards rather than forwards. i am more interested in the old techniques and the old processes than i am and what everybody is doing now. tavis: why? >> why? because, to me, it has more soul, it has more life. it has, like, a history and bottom to it that i don't feel with other things. now i'm learning how to print photogravure, which is one of the first photographic processes. that, in itself -- you look at photogravures, and there is this magical, mysterious life to it that i never see when i look at digital. anyhow. tavis: i asked that question -- i press on the question of why because the answer you just gave is really far more philosophical than maybe you even meant it to
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be. i was just in conversation with myself the other day. i said, maybe it's just me wanting to hold onto the past, and maybe for some reason i'm afraid of certain things in the future, and what i realized is it wasn't any of that. love living in the moment. i love planning for the future. to your point, i find there are so many things in our world today that don't have the sole -- soul and the spirit of the old stuff. the good stuff. some of it is so blank -- lacking and bankrupt and empty and hollow. maybe it is just me preaching. >> i agree with you completely. tavis: i take your point about that. after the story, we talked about the beautiful photographic work inside the book. it is -- "it's about a little bird" is based on a true story. tell me about this true story. [laughter] >> i woke up one morning with this -- again, it is one of these things -- i believe in dreams. something came in the night.
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it kind of was still there with me in the morning. i sat down, and i wrote the story. i really wrote it for my granddaughters with the intention of giving it to them, making a little handmade book for them, illustrated with these you know,s, about, our lives together and everything. as i started writing it, this story came to me that i wanted to share with them about something that had happened to me. it is all true. when i was living and working in rome one time, i bought a tiny little canary at a bird market on the streets in rome. i brought it home. i was in rome by myself because my kids had grown, and they always came with me on location, but this time they didn't, and this little bird just filled my life. it was such a wonderf companion. when i say it filled up the
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silence, it really did. that hade this thing this thing with this tiny little bird, and when i got ready to leave, i had to come back to the states, i thought, i'm going to take this bird with me. i actually called the american embassy. what do i have to do? [laughter] they thought i was nuts. nobody obviously had any idea, nor were they going to take any of these questions seriously. i decided, well, i'm just going to take him. i remain to go into the airport that day, to the airport in rome, and i was traveling with some other people from the film, and they just like, see you later. if you get busted for bringing this bird, we do not want to be there. [laughter] i went into the bathroom, i took the bird out of its little box, it's little basket that i had in my hand luggage, and slipped it into my pocket, which was warm and dark. that little bird to stay there. we went all the way through the airport, through customs, through passport control.
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this was re-9/11. -- pre-9/11. you are not being strip-searched and x-rayed to death. when i got on the plane -- he was fine and quiet -- i took him out of my pocket and put him in his basket so he could eat and flight.ring the 8-hour then we did the reverse. he was home safe. we got home together just fine. that was the beginning of that story. then the birdcage was actually how the story begins to evolve for the kids, because they discover this birdcage in the old barn. that is also true. i was here in al a one-time -- time and saw this amazing birdcage in an antique store, and the woman said, that was john wayne's birdcage. i thought, how does she know that? i always thought -- that is how
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the story involved. it becomes about the wonder of children, which is another thing harkening to what we were speaking of before. are we in danger of destroying that for them with all the technology that is available to them? that idea of imagination and discovery and wonder, you know? that's a little story. tavis: have jessica lange' daughters given it a passing grade? >> i think so. i think they are tickled and don't really know what to think of it. [laughter] tavis: they will appreciate it, i'm sure. i certainly will even more so down the road. i've got a minute to go. it seems to me that this question is so therefore the asking, so i've got to ask it. the joy of grandmothering for you is what? >> it is the chance to do it again, that thing of your children grown now.
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it is kind of in the perfect order of nature, you know? you have your children. it you raised them. once they are on the brick of the next leaving, generation comes along pretty you have the possibility of doing it again. i think they are the redemptive force of nature. tavis: i think all the grandmothers who are watching are applauding that answer. >> plus, it's easier. [laughter] tavis: i'm sure they are applauding that too. jessica lange can be seen on "american horror story," season three on the way. she can be read in her new book, her first book, a children's book. it is called "it's about a little bird," the story and the pictures. jessica lange, go on with your bad self. [laughter] it is a delight to have had you on this program. >> thank you, it was lovely. tavis: that's our show for tonight. as always, keep the faith.
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♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with musician jimmy carter, one of the founders of the great gospel group, the blind boys of alabama. that's next time. we will see you then. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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♪ >> be more. pbs.
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coming up -- as the supreme court begins its new term, tim o'brien reports on a major case to be decided about separation of church and state. and, the outpouring of support for pope francis, widespread approval of his words and deeds.
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also, fred de sam lazaro reports from pakistan on the reasons that country is one of only three left in the world that has not eliminated polio. welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. religious groups were among those strongly condemning this week's partial federal government shutdown. 33 faith leaders wrote to congress denouncing what they called the "political brinksmanship" that seems to be
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prevailing. they said democracy depends on a commitment to the common good. the u.s. catholic bishops urged lawmakers to meet the basic needs of people in the u.s. and around the world. and separately, an ecumenical group said the shutdown particularly hurts pregnant women, infants and seniors. despite the shutdown, the us supreme court is scheduled to open its new term this coming week and we have a special report from tim o'brien on one of the cases the court will hear. it's a church-state issue and the question is what kinds of prayers are constitutional at the start of a government meeting. >> the august 20, 2013 meeting of the greece town board will now come to order. >> reporter: ever since john auberger was elected town supervisor 15 years ago in greece, new york, a predominantly catholic suburb of rochester, the town has begun its monthly meetings with a prayer.
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>> for the benefit of all greece and mankind in general, we offer these prayers. >> reporter: on this evening last august, the prayer was offered by tom lynch, an adherent of the bahai faith. >> oh thou, oh kind lord, this gathering is turning to thee. >> reporter: it was auberger's idea. >> it's important from primarily a historical perspective. our founding fathers believed in the right for us to pray and have that freedom of expression in prayer, and that's what we offer here today in 2013 in the town of greece. >> reporter: but the founding fathers also drafted the first amendment, prohibiting the government from establishing religion -- no state sponsored church. two greece residents, linda stephens, an atheist, and susan galloway, who is jewish, say for any governing body to begin its sessions with such prayers violates that first amendment ban. >> i think for the protection of government, as well as for the ptection of religion, they
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need to be separate. i think when government gets involved in religion, it corrupts religion and i think when religion gets involved with government, it can corrupt government. >> reporter: a federal appeals court in new york sided with galloway, noting that roughly "two-thirds of the prayers offered contained references to 'jesus christ,' 'jesus', 'your son,' or the 'holy spirit.'" judge guido calabresi wrote, "we do not hold that the town may not open its pubic meetings with prayer or invocation. americans have done just that for more than 200 years. but when one creed dominates others, regardless of a town's intentions, constitutional concerns come to the fore." this is not merely a contest between a small town and two of its residents. the town's case has all but been taken over by, and financed by, the alliance defending freedom, a national advocacy group promoting more government accommodation of religion.

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