we left LA in the grey light of dawn, and were back in NJ in something far more hot and sultry than the west coast. The most noticeable aspect of EWR station platform is that it smells. Badly. Given how many international travelers arrive here, and stand around waiting for a train to New York, this is a bad thing. It's a very depressing return for those of us who live here, too. It's not easy to photograph a smell - even the ditch outside the waste yard, which always looks like somewhere that one might spot the odd corpse or two, or the strangely buoyant balloon like objects waving at the edge of the unit, to ward off low flying seagulls, or airplanes, hardly manage to convey the pungent nastiness of it. The only thing to do is to take refuge in a waiting room, a strangely contrastive region of angular, sterile, characterless, but nonetheless calming design.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
of course, this is not really soft and fluffy like thistledown: it's a cactus, and full of lethal little spikes. But it looks pretty from a safe distance, and has some delicate pale pink flowers blooming on it.
I've never remotely thought of myself as a cactus person, probably because in Britain they only ever came in the lumpy dark green variety that sulked in the corner of offices where it didn't matter - indeed, was probably beneficial - if no one ever remembered to water them (sadly, indeed, we caused the demise of a peculiarly delicate specimen, bought at the Huntington's fall plant sale, by remembering to water it). In New Mexico, I'm very glad to have solid pink-flowering and yellow-flowering four-foot high plants as part of the landscape on our land. And I'm very happy to eat nopales if someone has caught them and fried them for me (not much chance of that here in LA - we have seen the ones that grow down on the street level be gathered and borne off by a little old lady with a plastic bag, who probably didn't mind too much about the substantial dose of lead that the tender fruit must have imbibed).
But I will miss growing - or watching Alice grow - the variety of cacti that sit on a bench outside here. They'd lose their Californian allure if they came east to New Jersey: even if they could be nourished and pampered indoors, they'd still look like the rather precious collection of spiky things that my green-fingered paternal grandmother used to cultivate. Cacti are a type of plant that absolutely lose their allure when removed from their native habitat. Not that they've had much chance of sun today - more June gloom, rendering everything photographically unappetizing.
Friday, May 29, 2009
It's another contribution to the will miss/won't miss cataloguing of 962 N. Hoover St. The morning glories twine round the deck with huge exuberance - they never need cultivating, just propagate and re-seed - a Californian miracle compared with my mother's careful practice of germinating morning glory seeds through immersing them in boiling water and then placing them for days in a damp environment on a warm window sill till they start to sprout - just like we used to grow peas and beans on blotting paper in my junior school.
But then, beyond them, is The Vacant Lot. The VL is a constant source of anxiety. It's been there since a couple of cottages that were used as meth brewing establishments, or somesuch, went up in flames (quite possibly deliberately) - this was during the reign of 962's previous owner. Since then, the land has been for sale, has exchanged hands a couple of times (on one occasion - for we are sleuths on the internet - to Mr Gay Leather Los Angeles), has been granted planning permission for a block of condos (we read the plans in the city offices back in the summer of 2005, gauging with apprehension quite how close they would come to 962's boundaries).
As you can see, nothing has happened - just erosion, and anxiety every time there's a little earthquake, and lots of dried grass (and hollyhocks - those red blossoms), creating its own new fire hazard. And then there's the gang graffiti behind - the once-white back walls have been covered over in various devices that are doubtless locally significant, but which are fairly sub-standard so far as L.A.'s quality wall decorations can go. So for all the presence of cypress trees, which always make me think of Italy, and of D. H. Lawrence's poem "Giorno dei Morti", which for some odd reason was set as a theme for a painting prize when I was in my first year at SPGS (and no, I didn't win it - Claire Barlow did, and I see that she's now head of Materials Engineering at Cambridge University, which I don't think was predictable from her picture) - for all the presence of cypresses, it'll be a weight off our minds not to live next door to it.
What's more, this is a very flat photograph in terms of its lighting. And that's attributable to June Gloom - an atmospheric phenomenon (I know it's still May) that casts a grey pall over Los Angeles at this time of the year, and makes everything utterly depressing outside - I will not miss this one little bit.
or, Farewell to L.A. (in actuality, not till June 30th...) to Alice, from the Girl Gang - and thank you so much to Devra (picture credit, too), Alice W, Marla, Maria, Vivian, Ellen, and Lois, for counting me in as one of you since I've known you all... Cliffs Edge was on excellent form - my favorite place in town for eating outside, and no smells of skunk tonight - and happily Alice was recovered enough from Vile Food Poisoning to eat a bowl of plain buttered pasta...
So... and we battled with this one in class... does it count as a self-portrait if one hands one's camera to a friend, and poses oneself? Is this any more or less a self - or joint - portrait than it would be if I'd stuck the camera on a tripod, and put on the timer, and rushed round to reseat myself? I'm counting this as a self-conceived, if not self-taken photo, by these slightly tenuous criteria: thinking about it makes me realize, of course, how far the posing starts before one ever goes near the camera. I seem to wear the same jacket every time I go out at the moment, so that wasn't a hard choice - but it was an evening for what I think of as the Cat Toy Scarf (a very deconstructed Georgina von Etzdorf number) - with A in a dark red jacket with one of my Missoni scarves, and otherwise black tops, black pants... A couple of people gave Alice photographs from further back in her Los Angeles past - photos that I either had never seen before, or only once or twice in passing on a refrigerator door: it is so strange to meet a face that is very loved and familiar in its autonomous and happy existence before I had ever set eyes on it (or had only seen, rather, in a Catherine Opie book jacket photograph...). My own photos of the evening are most uninspired, apart from the ones taken without flash that in fact are just strings of restaurant lights... further evidence of my antipathy to working with my own academic subject matter. But I'm very glad to have this: when one's habitually behind the camera, a picture of us both - and both looking relatively normal and relaxed and happy (for neither of us is at all comfortable at being photographed) is a rare thing.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
This image was never meant to be. Which is not to say that it's a photographic accident, but I should have been posting an image of the flower-strewn meadows of Yosemite, or the Donner Memorial, or the little bed and breakfast just south of the Sequoia National Park where we were meant to be spending tonight - instead of which we are back in Hoover Street. Alice woke up in the unpleasantly early morning Unwell: migraine? food poisoning? norovirus? all three??? - so the only thing to do was to drive back home and lie her down gently behind drawn curtains: one of those vile drives down Californian interstates (the 5, in this case) that one wishes that one wasn't doing - crazed white trucks, crazed grey trucks, tires spinning off cars (only once, but it was not very far in front of us), crazed everything. But I made it in just about 6 hours, which has left me gently quivering from road motion.
But at the same time, the circumstances do bring home the difference between choosing a photo of the day when one's actively looking around one's own environment for things aesthetic or quirky or that represent that absolutely everyday suddenly transformed by light - and when one has - say - a number of competent, attractive, but ultimately too picture-postcardy views of Yosemite to click through. It was a desperately hard place in which to see freshly (even my theme of photographing-those-photographing-the-views looked somewhere between hackneyed, and a carelessly composed image). And yet, back in 962, which is familiar from living in it - rather than from many magnificent late C19th and early C20th images - it seems possible to look with an analytic eye at one's surroundings.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
So...round about 10 a.m. this morning, we were at Bridal Falls, Yosemite - completely magnificent sheets of water falling from the sky, creating such thick veils of mist and spray over the rocks that it's hard to take any convincing photographs of them at all. And the problem with all photographs in Yosemite is that they look like pale imitations of Ansel Adams, Muybridge, and all other forebears. But I was hoping that there might be symbolic resonances, at least, in taking pictures of new, optimistic, spring like leaves against the Falls.
However, in uncharacteristically Job-like manner, I was also casting around for gloomy images of schisms, rifts, divisions (we did, for that matter, see a huge rock fall an hour later, but that was too sublime in and of itself to carry such depressing weight). If, I thought, the California Supreme Court was wise and fair, I'd use an upbeat Falls image with which to open this post (although the sun wasn't in quite the right position for stunning rainbows). If not...
So it was a Not. So it's the riven rock that wins out. It's actually by far the more interesting and less stock-touristy picture, too, which offers some perverse consolation - though, in the global scheme of things, not much.
Monday, May 25, 2009
oh, the different styles of American B&Bs... We find ourselves this evening in the Groveland Hotel, just outside Yosemite, with frills everywhere (and teddy bears, and a yellow plastic duck on the edge of the tub). Happily we've relocated from the horrendous first room in which we were placed - Charlie's room - which I booked on line on the dubious grounds of its history, Charlie being a 49-er worker of some kind who was unmasked as a she after her death. Serves me right for booking a room on the dubious grounds of it being named after a gender bender. not only was it small and pokey, but the first thing we saw after we walked in (after the teddy bears) was a naked man in the room (no view) opposite... Anyway, we have moved to something far more salubrious, and with a view and a terrace...
but all the same, a far cry from the Black Bear Inn in Lake Tahoe, where the owners, Jerry and Kevin, proudly carried us our breakfast to eat outside by the little fountain by our room... Such attention to detail... Did we have any dietary preferences? we were asked on check in. Alice owned up to her cilantro aversion. Here, you will see my baked omelette and herbs garnished by a sprig of the offending greenery - hers not.
In other words... how best to take photographs to document vacations? Far better than Views (though oh yes, we have these too) are the small and telling details of what one eats and where one sleeps... and here, too, lies, the social history of the US, and the puzzling world of the B&B...
Sunday, May 24, 2009
It's a different sort of road picture - taken in a car park at the north end of Lake Tahoe - an antenna protected by a polystyrene ball. Alice hypothesizes that this may have something to do with a (half-remembered) Carl's Junior burger campaign: personally I think it just looks like a silly sub-Mohican face on an artificial snowball.
The rest of today's images are standard tourist views of us looking goofy in front of an amazing view, views looking even more amazing without us in them, pine tree trunks with moss (fine, but boring), a wide and fast creek too cold and dangerous to wade across than hiking, etc etc etc. But this sums up what I most like about small surprises on the road...
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Eureka, NV has very many virtues - it is still a relatively prosperous little community, because it still has mines nearby - not just gold, but precious stones (staying in the Jackson House hotel, which is being slowly renovated, but is stuck somewhere between 1880 and 1960), my room was the Ruby Room, named not after some saloon courtesan but after the gem itself. And it's remaking itself, in a quiet way, as a model of a western mining town: it still has its court house, its opera house, a number of old brick buildings - and the little museum. And this museum is in the offices of the old town newspaper, the Eureka Sentinel. What is particularly wonderful about this is that no one ever cleaned it up, and the walls are still covered in the posters that were printed on the machinery (still in place), and the notices, and the occasional news story, that were produced in this room. The whole room is a testimony to the crowded visual appearance of popular print - not as reconstituted, but for real.
Friday, May 22, 2009
What does one do with a spiral jetty, Robert Smithson's beautiful fern-like form curling out into the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake? Much more than I'd anticipated, it's a site not just for aesthetic reverence, but for contemplation (and with a spiral - does one walk round it and arrive, Nirvana-style, at the center, or stand on the endmost stone, like standing on a snake's head, and look outward?) For the view, as well as the spiral, is extraordinary: shimmering salty space, colored like the inside of a shell.
Getting to the jetty is not easy. One starts off in the Golden Spike National Park - site of a famous photo, indeed, marking the joining of the railroads coming from each coast. There are two rather fine replica working steam engines gently puffing and dripping steam on the spot (they run up and down the short section of tracks in celebration every now and then, too). Then there's nineteen miles of rough track - graveled for about fifteen miles, and then scarily rutted and sharp stone strewn, and after a mile of this I reflected that changing a tire on my car would not be a happy occupation, I was way away from cell phone coverage, and the area was not exactly populated, apart from flying geese. Even though I have happy childhood memories of my father regarding signs saying "Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles" as a provocation and a challenge to be tackled, and we drove down far, far worse tracks than this in our high-axled Triumph Mayflower (my mother grim-jawed, my father and I full of daring), and even though I've inherited quite a bit of his attitudes, even I didn't think the drive was worth the risk.
But I had driven all the way from New Jersey to see this... So I parked the car, and walked the remaining three miles... Even in May, Central Utah is Hot. I started to feel rather like Holman Hunt's Scapegoat standing in the Dead Sea (an extraordinarily similar landscape), though he didn't have a backpack full of bottles of Vitamin Water. (Nor, being dehydrated, and a goat, was he subsequently faced with the question of where one might pee in the middle of very barren terrain).
But the jetty was totally worth the walk there, and back, and the car and I survived, and here's my iPhone experimental image to prove that I made it all the way...
Thursday, May 21, 2009
So indeed, this morning, I was up at 5.15 a.m., and shivering outside with a couple of Japanese men (one with a very covetable vintage 4 x 5 camera), to do the tourist thing of taking an image of Old Faithful erupting, in the dawn: tripod, remote release cable, the whole caboodle. Only - and I'm sure those images are fine, but I haven't downloaded them yet (I was using my Canon, whilst almost all the pictures that I've taken and posted have been using a new and much lighter Nikon, to which I've become a convert, but that's a whole other, technical and after nearly 30 years of using Canons, to me perplexing story). But I think they are probably somewhat stock... and very quickly I wandered away and round other parts of the geyser basin close to Old Faithful, admiring the buffalo who loomed out of the steam.
For there was a lot of steam - for it was very cold. And the boardwalks were coated in ice. All the same, I wished I'd gone down there even earlier, and perhaps given Old F a miss, in today's chilly dawn. The image above is of Castle Geyser, which was happily bubbling away and shooting up steaming water every few minutes. Then a little further along, these two signs
loomed out of the mist. And down the path on the left, I came upon two relatively elderly people on a bench, wearing about thirteen layers of clothing, who told me that the reason the boardwalks became so very lethal and slidey around there was that they were made of composite, not wood - composed of recycled jugs. Jugs?
And for all my talk of fancy cameras, I'm not sure that my favorite image of the day wasn't this one, of Jenny Lake, in the Grand Tetons, taken with my iPhone, and improved using the Toy Camera (a misnomer if ever I heard one - but then I don't think of Holgas etc as toys - more as fun instruments) app. I am clearly reverting to Victorian tastes.
It has been a challenge to select which pictures to post from (internet-free) Yellowstone - the cute buffalo calves? The not-quite-so-cute buffalo scratching himself on my car? The bears? (one black, one grizzly)? The [other, o.k....] tourists photographing Old Faithful? But here are two days worth of natural phenomena, of fire and ice. First, a sulphuric geyser pool - if one just stands there and takes photographs just a few moments apart, one sees how the steam and the water ripples and the colors are in constant flux ("what have you got there?" one fellow visitor asked of me, as I stood by this particular bubbling hole, rather suspicious, as though I might have spotted a moose that he hadn't).
And then, the more obviously spectacular. This is from above the Lower Yellowstone Gorge Falls, which are in full spring tilt on the right of this image. And the masses of impacted snow and ice look as though they are breaking right off into it. Given glacial speed (and these are, really, tiny - in the sense of a few hundred feet long - glaciers), this might not happen in a day, though, or in a week - but the sense of immanence is there in the cracks.
So hard not to take the standard tourist images...
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Who knows whether I will have internet access this evening (or tomorrow)? So here's an early post - and in any case, what could beat breakfast in the saloon at the Irma Hotel, Cody, which William Cody built for his daughter. That's BB's cherrywood bar in the background, with a carved buffalo head in the middle (there are plenty of other taxidemermed buffalo, and goat, and long-horned sheep heads around the place, staring at one). The clientele is very local as well as touristy - hard to tell if the guy in the hat is a tourist or a rancher or a Buffalo Bill Center interpreter... No one seems, luckily, to mind one wandering around with a camera - which means I could take, too, a picture of the double poster of Notable Visitors to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, London, 1887. To have research-material-that-one-should-have-already-seen along with Irma's Skillet for breakfast is too much.
The talk at the bar was all of how hot it was outside last night - one guy, having only his biking clothes, apparently stripped down to his Spiderman underpants ... what would BB have said?
Monday, May 18, 2009
Mount Rushmore it isn't. But this is on the road out of Rapid City (o blessed Rapid City, for it hath a computer store that specializes in Apple, and furnished me with a new adapter...) towards Mount Rushmore, and someone, sometime, must have thought this looked like a tourist must-stop - together with the Mistletoe Christmas Tree Ornament store, Reptile World, a large wooden maze, and other enticements. The degree of roadside ephemera and general junk even surpasses that en route to the Grand Canyon: there's room for a whole picture book here...
My current rules of thumb for tourist spots (i) photograph tourism (ii) photograph tourists photographing... So, for the most part, I've been avoiding all shots that make it look as though I'm in Untrammeled Nature (o.k., apart from the cute little cinnamon colored baby buffalo, etc.), and making a deliberate attempt to think about how nature is packaged, guarded, informatively presented, rendered relatively safe, and so on. The National Parks Service do a particularly unobtrusive but helpful (and so far as Native Americans are concerned, respectful) job in the South Dakota Badlands, and I love the way in which some of the photography on their information boards can be rendered seamless with the actual sky and rock.
One side effect of traveling on one's own and with a respectable looking camera is that people size one up, and beg a favor of one: will I take their photograph? Of course! I say - but please, in return, can I take a photo of you, so that I can remember meeting you? (that surely comes under the heading of Disingenuous Strategies...)... But this couple seem happy enough with the result of my picture of them...
Saturday, May 16, 2009
since I have left (a) my adapter for the computer in York, Nebraska (b) my spare adapter at Richard's reception [retrieved, but still in NJ], and (c) my 2nd computer on the dining room table in NJ. This is not good - not least because I'm in the Badlands of South Dakota, where there are precious few Apple stores. So I continue my crazed tour, caught between different bits of research - the Rosebud reservation, where a number of Indians who toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West came from - and I cannot imagine what they made of Earl's Court, in London, after these wide wide sweeps of grassland - and before that the Harold Edgerton Explorit Science Center in Aurora, Nebraska, which had lots of his original flash equipment, and a wonderful hands-on science display for kids - including ways of making one see lots of things with mirrors. But I don't want to use up all my computer juice in describing it all... So you'll have to make do with multiple versions of me for now, in the assumption that I may be silent and imageless for the next few days...
Friday, May 15, 2009
Today was startlingly wet (according to Weather Underground, 6.15" fell just about where I was, so there was not a great deal to be seen out of doors - though I have a very poignant image of the American Gothic House at Eldon, IA seen through a heavily rain dropped window). But I'm delighted I took the opportunity to do something that I so often think that I'll do, and then drive on past - visit a real local county museum. Corydon hosts a superb example of the genre - Wayne Co's Pioneer Trails Museum - which was perfect, from Indian arrow heads onwards (with a Mormon hymn playing in the background: I was following the Mormon Trail, along Route 2, for much of the day, and I am quite sure they would have got impossibly bogged down in the mud with their handcarts). It was particularly strong in two areas: the many, many personal artefacts and photographs and hand-written labels of reminiscence donated by many local families, and the mock-ups of establishments on Main Street - a bank and a post office, a dentists and a telephone exchange, a jail and a photographer's studio (above) and, below, a doctor's surgery. The models make me think about Hiroshi Sugimoto's series of dioramas: "However fake the subject, once photographed, it's as good as real," he writes, and these, too, although yes, they are obviously constructed with dummies, and are snowed with labels, have a very eerie presence that is in part dependent on the used, worn materiality of the objects that they contain.
The very odd thing about Corydon is that it's named (as is Corydon in Indiana) after a very gay shepherd in Virgil's Eclogues (and after whom Andre Gide entitled his 1918 dialogue in defense of homosexuality). Sure, it's a pastoral location (and the museum has a huge barn with some fiberglass sheep in it, as well as other notable objects, like a huge steam threshing machine that is pure Tess of the D'Urbervilles). But it could have been called Arcady.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Now that I'm off the interstate, I'm suddenly deep in rural America - to be more precise, in Bonaparte, in south-eastern Iowa, complete with Amish or Mennonite buggies trotting at speed down Main Street, outside my window. It's an old mill town on the Des Moines river - just where Brigham Young crossed it en route to Utah, though I'm sure he didn't take the circuitous route that I'm planning. It nearly collapsed entirely as a community in the late C20th century, but has had something of a resurgence, and is deeply tranquil and pretty and deserves to be visited.
Its Main Street is short, and many of the buildings are beautifully restored - it's been named the smallest "Main Street" community in the US, and has its own little Post Office, and Opera House (and I'm staying in a converted glove factory). But its revival also seems a little precarious - some of the renovated stores, like the one above, are closed and for sale. It's a definite challenge, to post just one picture, not ten, or twenty, of the tiny town, but I've tried to document the architecture, the quietness, the American-ness that are concentrated within it (and will, doubtless, upload some other pictures onto FB very soon...)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
It's not easy to imagine that anyone would deliberately be driving to St Clairsville, Ohio, to look for a good old-fashioned American-Italian style meal, but Undo's, above the Hampton Inn, does a surprisingly good job. And it's only seven hours drive from the back of Murray Hall (I'm assiduously maintaining my rituals: the log; the photo at every stop...). Undo's claims to have been family run since 1953 (older than me! is that possible?) - and was effortlessly all it should be, down to the bad Italo-pop - including Itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini (in Italian). And the lasagna and meat ball was properly seasoned and the tomato sauce suitably rich. I did, indeed, document this (and it, and garlic bread, and a so-called salad, and a huge glass of chardonnay were only $16 in all), but better by far were the photos on the wall of the original family. I've loved looking at the images that have been handed in with some of the final student projects - those who took the option of writing on personal photography have been wonderfully generous in sharing - for even if one doesn't know the people concerned, as here, a whole era is summed up (and a whole immigrant community - the local advertisements indicate that quite a few Italian families must have settled in this very picturesque little corner of Ohio - at least, if one looks in one direction, over rolling wooded hills: the other has a Super-Walmart complex...)
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
This is and isn't a familiar image, or set of images: it's the thank-you card for Richard Miller from his very, very grateful Department on the occasion of his great send-off, celebratory dinner. I wanted to put something together that reflected his imagination, his vision, his sense of futuristic space (both literally and figuratively) - though of course when speaking I think I forgot to say all that, which was totally intended, even if my memory did jump over it. So... it had to reflect his travel - hence the EWR station windows - and of course all that he's done for Murray Hall - including the refurbishing of the floor according to a design done by his sister. But what to put at the end of the corridor? I'd thought of blue sky... but then yesterday he serendipitously posted to his FB site the fact that he was chasing tumbleweed (I shudder to think what particular aspect of chairing might lurk behind that phrase). So the Giant Tumbleweed was pressed back into action, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains hovering in the deep blue yonder behind.
It does feel good to be back designing composite images - the first for a long time. But the next two weeks are going to be posts from the road. I hope that I'll be able to find somewhere with internet every day - though I have my doubts about the wilds of South Dakota, and indeed various other spots. So... if there is a gap...do not fret...I am out there; I will have taken the picture; I will have thought about what to write... Tomorrow, first stop somewhere on I-70, traveling west. It's been so flat out I haven't even thought about whether or not to follow my usual road regime - take a picture each time I stop - which makes for a lot of strange pictures of or from gas stations, with inevitable homage to Stephen Shore (though I totally promise not to take any images of filthy toilets...).
Monday, May 11, 2009
I am suffering from serious techno-frustration this evening. I've been trying for a long while to print something out - on a Canon Pixma Pro9000 printer (just to diss it - don't ever buy one) that has been sulky, problematic, and sometimes (like tonight) non-functioning since I bought it - it keeps telling me it wants more ink, but the cartridges are full - they just register as empty. And go on-line, and you'll find others have had the same problem, and not one person has posted a solution. And my reliable printer, a big Epson, is in Santa Fe.
But more than that - it's struck me that when I go on the road on Wednesday (will I ever get off and on the road? that's another question) I may not have wi-fi in the wilds of, say, the South Dakota badlands. But I may have cell phone coverage - so I've been trying to see if I can post to my blog via my iPhone. Yes, would seem to be the answer - but I can't upload pictures. It tells me that I have too many pop-up windows open. This is also frustrating - not least because I have downloaded various photo apps - ones that, say, mimic a Holga, or a Polaroid, or do various other editing tricks - and wanted to play with these, too - as in this trial image of the plastic trail horses sitting on my desk (given the way my preparations are going, I'll probably manage to forget them there). So much for that pic-of-the day solution.
I am totally unsure how to resolve this printing issue, which is probably a loose connection - the pesky thing worked fine a few weeks ago (to my enormous surprise) but has obviously turned sour again.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Three nights in London is a sure recipe for havoc with one's sleep rhythms, which is probably why I was wide awake at 4.45 this morning. The previous night I'd been awakened at 2 a.m. by the outside security lights coming on - I thought I'd better check, and was just in time to see a very handsome urban fox trotting down my parents' garden. This morning - no security light, but the very palest beginnings of dawn, and a huge yellow full moon rapidly sinking behind the neighbors' roof, framed by tree branches and television aerial.
This is the window that I used to hang out of late at night in 1965 and 1966, before I had a radio of my own, listening to the dances in the school hall behind the tree line (a far more magnificent tree line - they sawed down the old trees to make room for a new swimming pool, which put paid to the dances, too). Above all, I was listening out above all for them to play the Stones singing The Last Time (wonderful footage here - on a very incongruous De Chirico influenced set), which struck me, even when I was 11 or 12, as the height of decadent angry melancholia, an impression reinforced, no doubt, by the sound of wind in these same high trees.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Selfridges' windows are aggressively yellow. The store has just - on 15th March - celebrated its 100th birthday, and windows are themed to match their famous yellow bags. So there are bananas, to be sure, and yellow plastic ducks, and perversely white tennis balls with yellow rackets. There are large yellow plastic rats nosing among he cheese and wine; there are Duralit toasters and old radio sets and noise-canceling headphones - my favorite of all - old Smith Remington typewriters similarly thickly painted in this color (I'll try and post some more pictures soon). This images shows, of course, the reflection of the offices or apartments opposite, and the fact that it was daylight meant that the reflections were far less subtle and suggestive than they were when I took photographs during London Fashion Week. But this image works, I think, because the presence of the very solid ladder on the left makes it look as though the woman is engaged in a rather slow and precarious robbery - or, alternatively, that she's sliding slowly down into the hold of a banana boat. I wish I could say that I could remember banana boats - apart from the song that goes with them - but I don't: I do, nonetheless, remember seeing oranges - great nets of them - being unloaded in, I think, the Prince Albert Dock in 1961.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Visiting my parents always - of course - means revisiting the familiar, but it also involves its own sense of ritual. One gesture that I love and look forward to is the little vase of flowers from the garden that my mother gathers and places on the window sill of my room. On my last visit, she'd been sick with (non-swinish) flu and there were no flowers - an absence that I registered at an emotional as well as at an aesthetic level: it provided a marker of quite how unwell she'd been feeling. But this time, the flowers - white and pale yellow roses - are back, and manage to look cheerful, even against what was, this morning, a sodden wet garden.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
For decades, my father stopped off in the pub on his way home from work for a pint or two and a pipe. More recently, since his retirement - over twenty years ago now - he took to going out from home, either driving to a pub near Wimbledon Common, or waling up the road to the Swan or, more frequently, the King of Denmark, for his drink and smoke and a quiet read - anything from Henry James to - today - a P. D. James novel. But the King of Denmark is now defunct and boarded up, and the Swan full of guys watching soccer on TV and playing video games and Being Loud. So now he's taken up residency for an hour every evening in a space that he's cleared at the end of the over-crowded garage.
This is, in fact, a posed photograph - not that he hadn't been sitting in precisely this position, but when I dared enter the sanctum, it was to tell him that a neighbor had called round to see if he would cat-sit this weekend (the delectable Bear and Thistle), and I had to ask him if he'd stay in position whilst I (camera in hand - I was in the middle of photographing my parents' own new cat) took a picture of him. It's deliberately taken from behind, to emphasize the self-contained nature of this nightly retreat, but nonetheless it's a collaboration, a piece of British quirky suburbia that's a far-distant relative of Larry Sultan's photographs of his parents. I can well imagine my father - like Sultan senior - saying very gruffly that this isn't him - it's my version of him. Which is indisputably true - what, though, isn't apparent without the accompanying narrative that I've given here is that although I've seen him retreat (wearing an old duffle coat in winter), and have smelt pipe tobacco seeping thickly into the house, this is, in fact, the first time that I've intruded on this privacy.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I would not be tempted to buy an apartment in the block that's being erected next to my office in the first place... but the amount of water that's being pumped out of its foundations today really makes me wonder about its drainage... When I went off to a faculty meeting at 9.50 this pipe was pouring forth water; when I returned at 2.40, it was doing the same. Yes, that's a long time... a presentation on copyright issues was battened onto the meeting itself. And this was a depressing presentation in many ways, since so very much of what I present in class, and then post to Sakai (however temporarily) - let alone use to illustrate syllabi - comes under some rather grey areas of fair use. I think one consequence of listening to the presentation will be, at least, that powerpoint presentations don't sit on my old Sakai sites for ever... (you have been warned...). Oh, and I could probably sue anyone who carries away this thrilling, compelling evidence of how much rain has fallen in New Jersey this week and distributes it to the world ... (though if you want to use it in a university multi-disciplinary course on water - c.f. much recent wry debate following Mark Taylor's recent New York Times piece, feel free to do so... for an excellent set of links to the debate - and to the piece itself - go here).
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
It was very, very, very wet again today and indeed is still raining - this was the one (external) bright spot - literally - in the gloom. Blurred, or at least muffled, since I had to take it when the opportunity was suddenly there and that meant that there was mesh over the window - and in uploading the image, the red seems to have become more muted than it is on my computer screen. Nonetheless, I'm very happy to have had a camera in hand when the resident cardinal was perching: of all American birds, he's the one that I still can't get over in all his vividness.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Ah, there is nothing like the view when leaving Newark Airport to bring home to one - whether resident or visitor - the least garden like aspects of the Garden State. And to think that someone brought up on American music in Britain thought - courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel - that there was something rather exotic-sounding about the New Jersey Turnpike - one was striking out, evidently, for the whole territory if one took it. I think that it was the word "turnpike" that sounded rather romantic and archaic, rather than "New Jersey," mind you.
Landing around 6 a.m. this morning, NJ was grey and wet and not looking at its best. So the challenge - not a tough one - was how to turn a fairly dismal image, taken from the light rail to EWR station (and whilst talking to a woman who realized that she was going in the wrong direction, and every inch was taking her further away from Terminal A and, presumably, her escape from NJ) - into an even more gloomy scene. This was very much a point-and-shoot affair - and it's left me wondering whether the car chopped in half by the rail, and the truck just emerging from the bridge, would have made for a much better and More Composed image if I'd waited just a second or so longer - or whether their sliced imperfection and not-quite-effected emergence are, indeed, part of the symbolic repertoire that go along with signifying that one's back in New Jersey. There's quite definitely nothing of the up-beat quality to the seediness that goes along with the best ever NJT'pike sequence that introduces The Sopranos, but the belching steam of the Budweiser plant is doing its smelly best in the background to remind one of the olfactory accompaniment to the general murk.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
I have no idea if this architectural feature has a more formal name, but I've always known it as the conversation pit: an uneven shaped small courtyard between the back wall of 962 and the houses on the hill behind and above it - built rather like an Italian hilltown into the steep hillside, and probably just as vulnerable in the event of an earthquake. It's always (except when people are film editing behind, and playing the same sound loop over and over and over and over again) been a wonderful spot to sit and read: part shaded, very warm. This, in fact, was taken lying on my back (so much for intending to get on with To the Lighthouse for tomorrow's grad class) and looking straight upwards. There are the neighborly precariously perched geraniums, their tomato plants just coming into view, a Leaving On a Jet Plane vapor trail in the sky and adding to the count-the triangles effect. So - yet further memorialization. I've been wandering around, again, this weekend, storing up visual corners.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
A very early post today, because we're having our Leaving Los Angeles party this evening, and that seems a fatally likely circumstance in, or after, which one could forget to post... leaving Los Angeles, alas, means Leaving the Orange Tree, which, whether hanging with fruit or with blossom, is the most wonderful thing to come upon at the top of the stairs leading up to the house. For someone based on the east coast (let alone coming from England), oranges are still a super-exotic thing to have growing (an avocado tree might be even more so - I remember seeing one of those in Riverside, at Ruth ap Roberts' house, the first time I ever came to California - I don't know what I thought avocados grew on, but that was a close to hallucinatory experience).
Friday, May 1, 2009
Most days, I'm fairly confident that I have either a stand-out Image of the Day, or an issue about which I want to say something - either something that grows out of the image itself, or else the image was itself generated because of the desire to write about a theme. But here's today's dilemma: one image that I really like, but that doesn't do much for me when it comes to writing about it. What, indeed, is there to be said about an anonymous pair of scissors on a table? - other than that the setting is a strange one: the corner of Sunset and Santa Monica, sometimes an empty lot, which claims to be rentable for shoots, and sometimes, at the weekends - and this is new - a kind of superannuated flea market cum yard sale.
But this picture is much more anecdotal, less aesthetic: it's Alice looking up for 11 seconds from revising the final chapter of the Disco book, due with her publisher at 4.00 EST this afternoon (a deadline met, give or take a half hour), and hence a moment worthy of commemoration and celebration (we've just been out to dinner at Reservoir). And it goes in the memorialization category, too - this is my study (and the desk will be moving to Highland Park) into which Work Has Spread (and which is, indeed, a very good space in which to concentrate - though I'm finding grading easy enough downstairs). And it also neatly references Alice's actual appearance with the tabby avatar - LucyFur - whose picture (framed on the wall behind her head) she's chosen to represent her as her FB portrait (an area of choice that stimulated various bits of class discussion this semester). So there's much more to be said about this image than there is about scissors. There are no compelling criteria that suggest that the personal should be privileged above the aesthetic (not that this is a bad picture - just a fairly conventional one), or vice versa - therefore, I'm keeping them both, as a demonstration of the relatively even handed (but not always resolvable) juggling act that goes into this daily pursuit, in which hitting a balance between the demands of taking photographs and the demands of writing is, indeed, the tricky bit.
... a late night post, since I'm just arrived in Los Angeles... This is a very disconcerting staircase: en route to the Robert Wood Johnson hospital in New Brunswick, it's all that I can do to stop myself calling it Stairway to Heaven... In fact it's going up to the NJT/Amtrak track (down which trains were hurtling at that time - by the time I was heading up to EWR, a PSE&G electric cable had come down on the track by Metuchen, causing much anxious delay...) - but down to where? Was it demolished because RWJ was extending its carparking facilities? Did people take out the bottom step because people were heading up them and vandalizing the track, or throwing themselves under trains when they had bad diagnoses? What was its function in the first place, because I don't think that the configuration of platforms has changed since the station was built?
The staircase calls out for some kind of metaphoric labeling, but I'm also very happy to let it just exist as a non-sequitur.