Conversation with Hitchens Photographer

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You probably know these images, or others by this photographer (and you may even have appropriated them for a posting or used them for a meme).  You can’t google Christopher Hitchens without seeing his work. He is Christian Witkin, a Brooklyn based photographer, who has photographed Hitchens as many as six times, frequently for Vanity Fair Magazine. He has an extensive portfolio with some of the most well known personalities in the world.

All photos in this posting by Christian Witkin, and used with his permission.

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I spent an afternoon in his studio where he told me some of the stories behind the shoots.  The most interesting was the day he spent documenting Hitch defying the quality of life laws put in place by then NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (whom Hitch, never short for clever descriptions, called a ‘micro-megalomaniac’). The story appeared in the February 2004 edition of Vanity Fair (see VF photo tribute to Hitchens).

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A still shot from a video on Christian’s site where he explains his methods.

That session produced the now well-known bicycle photo, where Hitch is on the bike in Central Park, without…I can hardly say it… his feet on the petals!  That same day the two went downtown to dine at Lucien, in the East Village.  Hitch sat at the bar, smoking a cigarette, again, in violation of the Mayor’s laws. He wrote about it in “Love, Poverty and War“.

Hitchens smoking at the bar at Lucien.

In the past year, I’ve dined at Lucien’s on several occasions, including last night where my friend and I had the Pigeonneau Roti Hitchens (roasted squab with wild mushroom risotto and foie gras, which Lucien placed on the menu to tribute his friend.  One of the first postings on this blog introduced Lucien: Meet Lucien, (not a fractious juvenile).


For more of Christian’s work please visit his site, and check out his Instagram feeds.

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Christian at work

Good Advice for Election Season

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“Beware of the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish.  Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect them to live for you”. (Christopher Hitchens,from Letters to A Young Contrarian, 2001)

This is good advice for this Presidential election season, although the “Never be a spectator of…stupidity” part may be challenging. 

Reviews:        New York Times    Observer

In closing, don’t forget about the mammal advice!

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Introducing Gad Saad

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 9.03.44 PMDr. Gad Saad is an evolutionary behavioral scientist at Concordia University, in Montreal.  He is known for applying evolutionary psychology to marketing and consumer behavior. If you don’t know exactly what that entails (I didn’t) please see his web page. While there, also check out his personal bio. (He has a beautiful family and two cute dogs).

After Christopher’s death, Dr. Saad wrote a piece for Psychology Today called Christopher Hitchens: The Personification of Intellectual Courage.

In this interview with Dave Rubin (The Rubin Report), he discusses topics readers will appreciate, including atheism, political correctness, and free speech.  Additionally, he defends our friend Sam Harris from the sharp barbs thrown his way after the highly controversial Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Ben Affleck kerfuffle (I’m pretty sure that’s the official name of the incident…I mean kerfuffle).

Dr. Saad is an articulate voice for reason and I hope we will be seeing more of him.

Hitch Bar! Stop in next time you’re in Toronto

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 1.30.35 PMLove whiskey but had enough of Mother Teresa?   Next time you’re in Toronto, visit Hitch Bar, a pub inspired by CH that opened in 2013.  In BlogTO, reviewer Martha Stortz says the place evokes the feeling of an old style salon, where discussion and community are valued. There is a communal table for gathering and and a wall projector for showing documentaries and TED talks. The signature drink, The Hitch, contains whiskey, soda, and lemon. As for who might like the place, the review suggests “Anyone who loves whiskey but hates Mother Teresa”. . Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 1.41.04 PM . Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 1.59.04 PM

Photos: Jesse Milns
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New Atheism 101: The Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse

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Many of you will have seen this classic, but for those of you that are new to Hitchens and his orbit, it is well worth watching.

The film documents an almost two-hour roundtable discussion with the so-called new atheists: Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. The group, also nicknamed “The Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse”, met at Hitchens’ Washington DC apartment on September 30, 2007. For the non-Biblical scholars amongst you, the name is a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelations.  

I am glad someone had the foresight to document this.

Enjoy being a fly on the wall.

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Vidal Loco? Hitchens to appear in new documentary about Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.

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Photo from NY Post. Credit: Reuters

Thanks to one of the readers of this blog for pointing out this tidbit from the New York Post.  The documentary, “Best of Enemies”  follows the often nasty rivalry between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.  Hitchens is included in the preview clip:

NY Post Article and video clip

The relationship between Hitch and Gore Vidal was somewhat strained.  It all had to do with a difference of opinion about whether Vidal asked Hitch to be his heir apparent (or his ‘dauphin’) or, as according to Vidal, Christopher wanted the title.  Christopher’s version makes sense, especially as Vidal seems to have become  generally more bitter in his latter days (I base this on seeing the film Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia). Christopher, apparently, lost respect for Vidal after hearing his consipiricy theories about the 911 attacks. In a Vanity Fair piece called “Vidal Loco” (which is also included in “Arguably“), he says:

“He  [Vidal] openly says that the Bush administration was ‘probably’ in on the 9/11 attacks, a criminal complicity that would ‘certainly fit them to a T’; that Timothy McVeigh was ‘a noble boy’, no more murderous than generals Patton and Eisenhower; and that ‘Roosevelt saw to it that we got that war’ by inciting the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor,”

He calls Vidal a crack-pot and refers to his post -911 attack writings as  “a small anthology of half-argued and half-written shock pieces [which] either insinuated or asserted that the administration had known in advance of the attacks”.

This is not the first time Hitchens has appeared in a film about Gore Vidal.  In Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, there is a scene where Christopher tries  to get a book autographed by the author, but is denied by an assistant.

Comic Relief. Hitchens fails the Ten Commandments game

If you want to laugh, and simultaneously see a demonstration of Christopher Hitchens’ wit, you have to watch this fourteen minute video.   A Christian radio show host (a Mr. Todd Friel) sets up a highly ridiculous premise for a game show called  “What If?”. The game entails the said Christian radio show host pretending his beliefs are facts, and asking Hitch what he would do in particularly absurd circumstances.  The amusing part is that Christopher treats each question as if it’s being asked by a legitimate journalist, and answers it wryly and sharply.  He does not get caught in any of the silly traps set by Mr. Friel.

The funniest exchange happens toward the end of the interview:

Friel: Sir, is it possible that the reason you rage so much against God is because you just want to live your own autonomous way, living anyway that you want to, any lifestyle that you prefer, without being accountable to your creator?

Hitchens: I think that’s highly probable, yes.