Walking with an empty stomach out along the causeway at Aust. The end of the concrete path meets with the moonscape beach. Giants’ brains of molten, marbles boulders have tumbled near the river. The old Severn bridge sweeps high above us. Rattling and sounding so unsafe. Each car makes another dent; each lorry loosens another bolt. Once we came here and there was no traffic. The roaring wind had caused police to shut the 1966 route into Wales, as it often did. Hearing no sound but the lapping water and nibbling wind chipping pieces off the cliff made me shrink into the beach, subservient to nature. Years later, snow would bring all of London – apart from Boris on his bike – to a halt and Japan would crumble inwards from stirrings within the earth. Torn apart like paper dolls in the breath of Nature.
Back to the rubble of the beach. Maybe one other stranger with an enthusiastic dog. Something robust like a retriever. Only one other perverse soul encouraged to spend his growing darkness by the cold Severn. You go and walk at the top of the sands and rocks, right under the side of the cliff. Stumbling over the debris of previous landslides. The warm red of the rock contrasting with the Giants’ brains. I took a piece once and it crumbled red rock all over the window sill. The veins and pathways of the brains loosened and spat clay coloured sludge onto the white paint.
Afraid of landslides and attracted to water, I take my end of the invisible dog lead of the invisible dog we always walk (something less robust and more bouncy than a retriever) and step along like a penguin by the edge of the river, which always seems more like a sea shore.
In the descending dusk the little buildings of foreign Wales are twinkling on lights. I can hear voices calling out for dinner from across the river. Little pieces of warmth float towards us from the individual fire places and kettles being switched on for the peas.
The river is yawning and stretching, not feeling its own increasing coldness. Perhaps it enjoys growing more menacing and more significant as the sun disintegrates.
I hear you walking towards my back and wait for your approach to say it is time to chase the dying light back down towards the causeway and through the iron gate. There is one house sitting midway along the concrete strip. Like the lighthouse keeper’s perch, it presumably had a purpose to being built there. Against the harsh wind and my hollow body it looks like the most comfy hole in existence. The yellow glow emanating from the windows looks warmer than any pub. The occasional wafts of cooking smell as warm and peaceful as the lilies in the cathedral. A tiny hint of garlic heads towards the end of the decrepit ferry launch.
I am in my own little trance, made small by the great white whale of the bridge and the ravenous water taking bites from the shrapnel of the bank. We reach the car and dive out the air and back into the present.
I do not just post this to demonstrate my middle class, Guardian-reading predilection for fair trade and organic Cooperative supermarket produce. I didn’t do it either to mention how I listened to Radio 4 whilst preparing this.
Instead I do so in response to Luke’s comment that whilst the content of these pages occasionally sways towards the (pseudo?) intellectual, ‘I could also imagine you writing about just having a really nice hot chocolate’.
Indeed I could, Luke, and indeed I will.
And so after concocting a witches brew of dark chocolate and cinnamon, I had my own Proustian moment being transported back to Antwerp, there to celebrate the millenium with sister, mother and step father. I wore a rather dapper black, fur hat (ahead of the recent ushanka Shoreditch trend) and a long black coat. Step dad insisted on the purchase of a hat and then never tired of telling me how I resembled a Jewish orphan.
In the middle of an exceptionally cold day we fell into a tiny vegetarian restaurant, decorated in primary colour pop art. I asked for hot chocolate (one of the corner stones of my diet at that age – occasionally changing to chocolate milk when in the Spanish sun) and was presented with a deep bucket of cocoa soup. Proper hot chocolate like I had never had before where the chocolate was therapeutically melted into the hot milk in place of dehydrated, crumbling cocoa powder. And into the dark gloup was added a whole blend of cinnamon and spices.
Then falafel and humus and chilli sauce.
It was trips under the influence of my step dad that really created my pretentious love of food. The part of me that forgets the overdraft and insists on ‘just popping in’ to Patisserie Valerie for an afternoon sweet thing and loose leaf tea instead of being content with a bag of crisps and a coke from Sainsbury’s. Afternoons at Bristol would be immeasurably better if macaroons and tea was served at 4pm every day. I feel the £4,700 price tag could easily stretch to such an inclusion, especially considering that my bank balance can no longer.
Since the bionic back is rebelling again, last nite I embraced the updated version of the Great British tradition of Laudanum and found the last remaining supply of Tramadol nestling in the bottom of a desk draw and washed a few back with beer. A more modest version of the blackberry whiskey and Tramadol combination which successfully took me through the weeks after my operation, it still appears to work as a pretty affective painkiller. Albeit one that separates your head from your neck.
The soundtrack to this discordant sedative is the Jefferson Starship/Aeroplane and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. At a loud volume.
The reading list is Slaughterhouse 5 (there is a reason why Tramadol and Tralfamadore are very similar words), Eric Stanton and Audrey Niffennegger’s graphic novels. Posy Simmons would also work rather well.
When the cat turns into a butler and heads to the supermarket or starbucks the menu will be hot chocolate. Until then it is green tea and lemon.
Through a Glass Darkly: Thomas Ruff’s Nudes
From 8th March – 21st April, the Gagsioan Gallery, London is showing two exhibitions of the works of German photographer Thomas Ruff. One, at their Britannia Street venue is a collection of NASA images of Mars which have been altered by the photographer. Contrastingly, the second, held at their Davies Street premises, contains Ruff’s Nudes series. These works are created from internet pornography images which have been distorted through enlargement. The result is that the pictures, many of which would fulfil familiar clichés of internet porn in their un-doctored state, become coated in a painterly haze which perhaps makes the pictures more accessible, or even acceptable, to viewers who would normally profess to be repelled by the genre.
This area of Ruff’s work easily engages with the murky discourse debating the difference between art and pornography and an exhibition of it is likely to trigger further discussion relevant to this. Equally, his working practice is frequently critiqued by commentators debating whether harvesting images from the net and altering them can even be considered either photography or ‘art’. Both of these questions are ultimately unanswerable, although the second has more of an aura of irrelevance about it that the first. Perhaps, instead of focusing on the core acceptability of Ruff’s working practice or the categorisation of the finished product it would be interesting to consider the affect of the finished works on the viewer and how the act of distortion contributes to this.
Foremost, the distortion process creates a misty screen across the surface of each picture and this, aside from marginally hiding from the viewer what is actually taking place, completely removes all sense of flesh – real sticky, clammy, hairy flesh. It has been argued that the porn in any state is devoid of this quality due to all its waxed artifice. However, apart from body hair removal and other cosmetic practices like breast enlargement, the idea of bodies and skin –soft, hard, sticky – has to be present, otherwise it would not be arousing. This is emphasised by stark lighting and direct camera angles which never, as is the case with Ruff’s images, attempt to hide anything from the viewer. Indeed they do exactly the opposite.
Ruff’s distortion techniques veil the pornographic images and remove the visceral element from them and, contrary to the idea that seeing less is enticing, it actually makes them rather banal. They are still internet porn which some viewer may find shocking in itself, but many will surely not given its massive availability and the amount of highly sexualised images used throughout advertising and art. In fact, Ruff has removed the one quality which could have provoked a real reaction in the viewer: flesh.
In a culture in which (a version of) sex is ubiquitous, it could be said that what we are really afraid of is no longer the concept of sex but bodies themselves. Consider the advertising of clothing company American Apparel. In a description the adverts could be described as similar to a wealth of others: attractive, youthful model (usually female) modelling semi-revealing clothes in ‘provocative’ poses. If we subscribe to the idea that advertising is over-sexualised, then that description should be counted as rather mundane. However, the American Apparel adverts have surpassed other far more overtly sexualised adverts, such as those by lingerie company Agent Provocateur, in eliciting forceful responses.
This could, in part, be linked to the circulation of sleazy stories regarding the CEO of the company, Dov Charney, who designs much of the advertising himself. However, most viewers are probably unaware of subplots of the tale when they view the adverts and therefore are reacting purely to what they see. Whilst not endorsing the American Apparel adverts on either aesthetic or philosophical grounds, I would suggest that what many people find distasteful to the point of revulsion is not the inclusion of sex in advertising a product, but the absence of air brushing and inclusion of bright lighting and a direct camera approach (similar to that used in porn) which reveals the models to be real, mole-covered, freckly, gangly humans. It is the sweaty suggestion of armpit stubble and the feeling that these Fresher-looking creatures probably wiff off last night’s vodka badly covered over with Palmolive deodorant that makes the images far coarser and rawer than most other advertisements.
For whilst we claim to be OK with sex (despite being English) and even profess to be tired of it due to media oversaturation, we are au fait only with a confined version of it. Harriet Walker hit on this in an Elle April 2012 article evaluating last season’s seemingly sex-obsessed catwalk collections which included bondage-references, corsetry and lots of skin tight leather. ‘When Fashion does Sex!…it’s an intellectual game, playing with aesthetics and references.’ Says Walker and ‘It’s never really about the old fashioned business of getting laid.’
This is similar to what Ruff’s images do. In their distortion they intellectualise and play around with images of sex and in doing so remove it even further from actual sex and actual bodies. In this respect they represent how this society often views sex: through a veil of frosted glass. Those people who wish to continue this practice should head to the Gagosian, where as anyone with a genuine interest in sex, flesh and the flabby or bony body should queue up for Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery or study the works of other photographers such as Helmut Newton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ellen Von Unwerth or Akari.
Art and Literature
Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited
If all my daydreams were given a name it would be: Sebastian Flyte. A beautiful interwar dandy in cricket whites illuminated by limestone, his alcoholic downfall is painful enough to confine all my frequent re-readings to book one of three. All that follows is too much like heartbreak. And yet it also has the power to heal that condition too. Whether read in hospital with the soothing accompaniment of morphine or whilst hiding from the bank balance amidst dreams of quail eggs in Oxford, Brideshead is both the perennial backdrop to my nostalgic existence and literary comfort blanket. The Granada Television production featuring the cherubic Anthony Andrews alongside Diana Quick is faithful to the text and sartorially inspirational.
One day when the sun shines I will let you see my tattoo.
The Strokes – Is This It
In my younger and more vulnerable days – for I am now a rotten post graduate – I became besotted with Is This It [N.B. No question mark! Says the Sub-Editor (me)] and listened to it every single day for three years. How I do not resort to hyberbole! Every morning without fail from GCSE to A Level, I woke up, pressed play on the CD player and granted myself exactly 30 minutes to get ready to be educated/smoke. If I was not pretty much together by the time New York City Cops came on I was on track to be Late. Now that I am old and wake up to the sound of Radio 4, I am unaware of what the kids are listening to, but I sure as hell know it isn’t a patch on this.
Film and TV
When I came across Black Swan I saw that someone – Darren Aronofsky- had made the film I was always meant to, and that therefore I should give up on life and become a banker. I probably would have, had it not been so sublime. A story about ballet – and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake nonetheless! – with a lovely dollop of Freud; Soviet Constructionist style artwork for the posters and costumes by Rodarte. Here, like floral paper lining a wooden draw, is the inside of my brain.
Additionally, spending a few minutes pondering over the lifestyle of a ballerina is always a wonderful kick up the ass. No matter how hard you think you work typing essays all night and panting up Park St, it all pales into nonexistence when put next to the inimitable dedication of a prima ballerina. Put down the whiskey-flavoured fudge Rosemary and work harder, harder, harder!
When we were children it was our mothers who dictated how we dressed and when we were teenagers it was the older and cooler kids at school. So who now that we are adults has an influence over our personal style?
Possible answers – apart from the decidedly lame ‘my boyfriend’ – include magazine editors, fashion designers and the buyers who choose what actually arrives in the shops. However, within approximately the last 5 years, a new and highly influential character has slipped into the sartorial ring: the fashion blogger.
The modern figure of the blogger comes in a variety of guises and each lends attention to different areas of fashion. To begin with there are those who focus on the high end designers and catwalk fashions, either established brands or new protégés. Popular bloggers such as Bryanboy (www.bryanboy.com) and Disneyrollergirl (www.disneyrollergirl.net) tend to opt for the former, whilst Susie Lau aka Susie Bubble (www.stylebubble.typepad.net) is hugely devoted to publicising and exploring innovative new designers and collections. Contrastingly, Bargainista Fashionista (www.bargainistafashionista.com) has –as her pseudonym suggests – founded her blog on a ‘More Dash Less Cash’ philosophy, which includes an emphasis on the unparalleled creative quality of the British high street.
Other bloggers have instead chosen to devote their time at the keyboard to the personal styles being displayed by particular individuals. Perhaps the most well known and, let’s be subjective, phenomenal blogs to have attended to this is Scott Schuman’s www.thesartorialist.com. Schuman posts photos with minimal commentaries of achingly well dressed people from around the globe – usually in the major cities, such as his home town of New York. Despite the number of photos posted and the geographical spread, all of Schuman’s subjects possess the same time-suspended insouciance and appear to prove the rule that style is something you are born with, not something you buy. As The Observer’s Alice Fisher noted ‘It is impossible to follow his work for long without finding your idea of style has subtly shifted.’
Although The Sartorialist immortalises the style of others, there are also blogs cataloguing the personal style of the author themselves. Of those already mentioned, both Susie Bubble and Bargainista Fashionista (Susie Wong) frequently use themselves to model the clothes being discussed and their sites are accordingly shaped by their personal tastes. Another person to follow this pattern has been Tavi Gevinson who caused excitement within the mainstream press by providing some of the most witty and imaginative writing on fashion in existence, despite beginning only 13 years old. Now also running the online magazine http://rookiemag.com, her original blog www.thestylerookie.com contains many photos of Gevinson sporting her very own Twin Peaks meets The Virgin Suicides with added Courtney Love look.
What these disparate bloggers have in common are massive audiences and the ability the shape how many people dress. It is now frequently remarked that the real fashion weeks happen as much off the catwalks as on, with the street style of bloggers and off-duty models now as important as that of the magazine editors and celebrity attendees of the shows. Elle’s most recent biannual Collections magazine for S/S 2012 had a specific section of photographs of bloggers between shows, including Garance Doré, girlfriend of Schuman and herself a member of the profession. Vogue likewise paid homage with a photo story based on an imaginary blogger hectically dressing in a hotel room in their February 2012 issue.
This recognition, along with front row status at shows has lead to designers loaning or gifting items to bloggers as a means of publicising them to a large numbers – Susie Bubble gets 30,000 hits per day. Whilst there will only be some who can afford the true item, the potential to start a trend very much exists. Equally, high street items mentioned by Bargainista Fashionista frequently do sell out at a rapid pace.
Given the continued rise in status of bloggers of all genres and the employment of web resources in fashion, for instance live streaming of shows, the influence of these undercover detectives of style seems unlikely to wane anytime soon. In short – this style bubble wont go pop.
2012 British Student Film Festival
The 2012 British Student Film Festival runs from 30th March to 30th April and has the appearance of an event almost as fun to attend as it would be to participate in.
Shunning any traditional London bias, the festival begins in Newcastle and then travels to Liverpool and Bristol before arriving in the capital where the awards ceremony will be held on 27th April. Additionally, in 2013 the festival will be expanding to include locales in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, giving more aspiring film makers the opportunity to take part and potentially secure both awards and recognition from an inimitable panel of judges which includes Rankin and Jonathon Amos.
Aside from the actual films themselves, part of the promised fun lies in an astute selection of venues. The Newcastle evenings offer a view inside a converted grade II listed warehouse, whilst Bristol attendees get to enjoy a few pints in the Stokes Croft area before and after screenings. The concluding London shows are housed in the Loading Bay Gallery, part of Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery, a location which will always be anything but boring.
The festival aims to be as inclusive as possible, with both affordable entry rates for contributors and cheap ticket prices for viewers. Submissions are of 3-5 minute long films, all of which are screened at some point during the festival. This optimises the chance that participating in the festival may lead to future success in the industry and also means that a massive variety of films will be shown. Genres represented stretch from documentaries and contemplations to blood lust and thrillers.
The democratic and embracing philosophies of the festival, accompanied by sturdy economic management – witness their robust list of patrons and sponsors – makes this event that demands support and attention from the public and film industries. Secure tickets for at least one night and perhaps glimpse the beginnings of some superb cinematic careers.
More details can be found at www.britishstudentfilm.co.uk
Selling Dreams begins with an iconic Irving Penn 1950 shot of Lisa Fonssagrives in a harlequin-patterned dress and ends with a 2005 Tim Walker photograph of Lily Cole with a giant camera literally walking all over the exact type of Vogue-chic black and white photography that Penn’s picture forms a part of.
Is it true that this kind of deliciously glamorous image is now consigned to the creative floor? The exhibition itself with its ability to firstly knock the viewer into a nostalgic trance would suggest it is not entirely dismissed, but that, as with the Tim Walker photograph, it constitutes a very particular backdrop to our imaginings of the term ‘Fashion Photography’.
Segmented into decades and arranged in chronological order, the RWA has organised the exhibition in a circular formation across two adjoining rooms. After attending so many confusing multi-room exhibitions at major galleries, this is refreshing as there is no need to waste time wondering where to tread next.
To begin with the show appears to be a nostalgic’s dream, with shot after shot of inter-war glamour and delectable crumples of touchable silk. However, as a viewer afflicted awfully with this nostalgic disease, I was surprise at the speed at which it becomes saccharine.
Instead, what really stood out are the points at which fashion photography took subversive twists. The first introduction of this is the 1930s Surrealism section, which includes an image of one of the movement’s most impeccable characters, Lee Miller, photographed in a Madonna-style bra surrounded by Madonna Lilies – a joke for the modern eye which the Surrealists would surely have appreciated – along with an example of solarisation and, most interestingly, a haunting Horst. P. Horst picture of the back of a deathly corset looking skeletal against a barren background which crucially anticipates the 1980s works of Corrine Day.
Before, however, we reach that decade there is another great shudder evoked by the introduction of Helmut Newton’s androgynous and supernaturally sexy shots. Given our modern familiarity with Newton, in part due to Yves Saint Laurent, this impact is unexpected and yet in this hourglass-heavy context the captivation caused by distorting and merging the sexes perhaps partially explains our current fascination with the sexless, skinny models of today.
When we do reach the era of Day, it is interesting to also note a widening of fashion publications – the early decades are so dominated by Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – to include Dazed and Confused, The Face and ID. As an even more recent addition, there is also a photo by The Sartorialist blogger Scott Schuman of two Islamic girls in Amsterdam. This is a very deft inclusion on the part of the curator as it at least nods to the massive revolution which has taken place in fashion photography under the name ‘Street Style’ during the last five years or so.
In fact, photography of Schuman’s kind is arguably a more dominant trend in the genre during recent years than the last section of the show titled ‘Fiction and Fantasy’ has been. However, the sheer beauty of the images, particularly Miles Aldridge’s Technicolor Le Manege Echante (2007) which looks like a picture of the Louis Vuitton S/S 2012 carrousel invaded by an Angela Carter heroine, more than justifies their inclusion.
For all these subversive moments to really take effect, we of course need the original glamour of early Vogue shots as our continual point of departure. We need the clinched-in-waist cliché for the sex of Newton to get the blood moving and we need all the black and white in order to become addicted to the overly saturated, intense hues of Aldridge and Steven Meisel.
As a Beginners’ Guide to Fashion Photography, this concise exhibition considerably satisfies, but it also encourages the uninitiated to appreciate what an enticing and innovative era we are at present living through with regards to this art form. Hopefully there will be a few more Lula and Love subscriptions asked for come next Christmas.
Yesterday I finished reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima originally written in the year following the dropping of the atomic bomb and updated 40 years later with a further chapter chronicling how the lives of the six hibakusha Hersey spoke to had developed.
It is an interesting book to read in comparison to the testimonies in Paule’s book, From Above (http://www.paulepictures.com/blog/?p=4199), particularly with regards to the story of to the Rev. Tanimoto and his wife and daughter who were photographed by Paule. In the concluded chapter, Hersey makes the pilot of the Enola Gay, Captain Robert Lewis who met Rev. Tanimoto on an American edition of This is Your Life appear both mercinary and drunk during his apperarnce on the show. Contrastingly, the recollection given by Koko Tanimoto Kondo (the reverend’s daughter) in From Above of her encounter with Lewis on the evening of the show makes Lewis’ remorse and utterance ‘My God, what have we done’ far more genuine, human and sad. I wondered whether he was drunk because of nervousness, not out of bitterness over a paycheck…
Hersey’s book is a slim volume which it is tempting to read too fast. Or atleast that was my explanation for why alot of the horrific details do not always fully sink in. However, I wonder if, even if read slowly, we could ever really comprehend that level of devastation, destruction and grief. And perhaps this is where photography fills in a void. Alot of the photographs in Paule’s book need no text. (Says the woman who spent 3 months agonising over it.)
A little while ago I came across a selection of old Japanese postcards of Hiroshima post-atomic bomb in an antique show in Plymouth. Being used to the inoffensive, pretty postcard traditions for England (so pronounced ‘Picture postcard’ has become a cliche like ‘chocolate box’) I thought it was a very strange thing to have a set of postcards of. However, they are fascinating and haunting to look at. They have a strange, unsettling tranquillity about them which perhaps is because the are entirely devoid of human life. Hiroshima has been turned into a ghost town with the most important factor, the humans, removed from it.
Alot of the places depicted are also mentioned in Hersey’s text.