Saturday, October 31, 2009


Santa Fe Farmers' Market, at this time of the year, is very much running down in terms of spectacular offerings - plenty of apples and potatoes and ristras, and then the chile mustard and the garlic and, as here, the honey. In fact, since we're barely in town long enough to turn round, we would probably not have gone at all, were it not for the fact that my father had put in an order for ten goat's milk lotion bars, in tins - not for himself, but for my parents' Polish housekeeper, who wants to send these pretty objects (some decorated with a spiral, some with bees) back to family and friends in Poland. There's probably some logic here, but it's an odd form of transnationalism...

Friday, October 30, 2009


much, much earlier in the year, a pink dachshund found its way onto this blog - today, her replacement: an illuminated own, sitting, intelligently, in Casa, waiting for someone to give him a home. Hmmmm: maybe: he actually looks rather good ...

So: I'm uncertain what I feel wise about, other than that one should get away from New Jersey as often as possible, and that as soon as we're at home in Santa Fe, the world slides and falls into perspective very happily indeed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

madonna's bra

In a perfect world, this would be some tranquil New Mexican view. But instead, it’s the interior of the Dick Clark American Bandstand Café at Newark Airport. I have spent rather too much of today in airports. Weather,

More specifically yet, it’s a pointy bra of Madonna’s, autographed by Madge, plus a few xx and oo s. In all its conical glory, this object is highly similar to the bras that were fashionable – at least among teenage girls – in the mid-60s, their concentric stitching creating little pointy ends that probably looked better on some people than on me. But the lack of the fit may also have had something to do with the fact that my one and only bra, when I was about 12, was a bra that, in desperation, I’d stolen from someone who was living with us as a paying guest that year. I couldn’t remotely figure out how else to obtain one – asking my mother was out of the question, since she believed that girls should start to wear a bra at the age that she did – around sixteen. Impossible to go through any more years – even weeks – of embarrassed agony: other girls in my class running their hands down my back to see if I was yet wearing one of these transformational objects; a sense of unpleasantly insecure wobbling when playing netball; wearing as many concealing layers of clothes as possible; finding curious modes of evasion in the school changing rooms.

Not that it was a great deal better when, eventually, my mother gave me 12/6, or whatever it was, and let me go and buy a bra. I went to an old-fashioned women’s underwear store on Wimbledon High Street, next door to the second hand bookshop, to try one on (where else could I have gone? I didn’t yet know, or register, that Marks and Spencers sold such things). The grey-haired harridans who were serving there tried a couple on me, which palpably didn’t fit – and then told me that because I had a narrow back compared with the (embarrassing enough, as things were) size of what I was trying to cram into the bra cups, I would need a Nursing Bra. Unsurprisingly, I fled, and arrived home in mortified tears. My mother, I later found out, went round to give them A Piece of Her Mind – which can’t have been remotely pleasant for them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

loving one's neighbor

If I hadn't otherwise been tied up, I would have been at this morning's protest against Westboro Baptist Church who themselves dropped round at Rutgers' Hillel to protest against Jewish and gay people. I first encountered this noxious group (I'm providing no link to their own site - clicking on it encourages them) when driving across the mid-west on some road trip west - it might even have been near their home base in Topeka, Kansas - but my road log is in the car and I'm not going downstairs to check... and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them standing thick and deep outside a church, bearing signs saying God Hates Fags.

Even if I couldn't be at the protest, I was delighted to see the banners still up, later, on the Reformed Church opposite the Hillel. That black and white thing in the corner is, of course, an umbrella: it was a very, very wet day on campus. In fact, I'd seen the umbrella and its owner heading down the street, but couldn't quite get where I wanted to be for a more inclusive shot in time...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

squares (o cuadros)

of hallway, and an exceedingly wet Highland Park dawn seen through the window. What the picture manages to miss out are all the holes in the ceilings - and some walls - through which the new wires are being threaded. This is a relief, if a long-drawn-out and expensive one (and a disruptive one, too - I keep mislaying things and they turn up a week later, somewhere odd).

But there are also the squares on the woven hanging on the back of the linen cupboard door to consider, somewhere in the murky gloom. Even if they are hardly well illuminated (for obvious reasons) right now, their presence, on this Gloria Montoya piece, a close relative of one (with red squares) that hangs in Santa Fe, is a deliberate celebratory nod to New Mexico's Spanish heritage. We bought this at Centinela Weavers, on the outskirts of Chimayo, run by Irvin and Lisa Trujillo, themselves wonderful weavers (one of Lisa's big pieces hangs in my chair's office): Irvin is the seventh generation of Spanish descended weavers to work in the Chimayo valley. Which makes my point: this area has been colonized by the Spanish longer than by people of Anglo descent: Spanish people who intermarried with Pueblo Indians, or who married each other, and created a set of artistic traditions.

And here, today, is the nasty case of Larry Whitten, who has taken over the failing Paragon Inn in Taos, and renamed it the Whitten Inn - a clue to his ego - and has forbidden the Spanish/Hispanic workers there to speak Spanish in his presence (he's apprehensive that they might be talking about him behind his back - impossible to imagine why) - and has asked them to change their names from Hispanic ones to English ones - Marcos becomes Mark - for his American guests might find the foreign-ness of it all hard to take. No matter that Spanish was spoken in New Mexico before English. Not a hint of a suggestion that Mr Whitten might learn Spanish himself. This is a completely depressing news item, especially at a time when jobs up in Taos are not exactly easy to come by.

Monday, October 26, 2009


It was a spectacularly beautiful fall day on campus - many trees with leaves as though they had already had the saturation levels in Photoshop turned up unnaturally high. And signs of Halloween are getting more intense - this spider was only one of a number of inflatable bogies and pumpkins outside this Mine Street house. Not nearly as spectacular as Los Angeles last year (I wonder whether Myrna and family opposite 962 will bring out their severed and bloody human limbs and lay them on their barbecue again? I was very worried about the dethawing meat going bad, till I realized it was plastic...), but much more in evidence than in England, where the most evidence of the upcoming date that I saw was a number of cut out black bats in the window of a house in my parent's street.

But this is also a seasonal picture because of the "Yes" sign in the window: election season (Corzine seems, at last, to be leading in the polls, which even if it's not something to get ecstatic over, is so much better than the alternative). This "yes" is a very localized "yes," however: part of the campaign to vote for New Brunswick to move to a system of ward-based elections, which certainly seems like a good idea (at present, five at-large members are elected). It certainly seems that this would give students who reside here much more of a chance to influence the government of the small city that they temporarily inhabit (and therefore get them more interested in politics generally, which is a good thing) - though a rather badly written editorial in the Daily Targum seemed to advance the idea that student representation would enable basement clubs to operate more easily (to the eventual benefit of the national music scene) with just as much fervor. I can't quite follow the counter-arguments, which seem largely just to assert that a united New Brunswick is a thing devoutly to be wished: ward-elected government (the plan is to have 6 wards, and then 3 at-large elected members) does seem to offer a far greater chance of participation.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

leaving on a jet plane

I am convinced that coming back to one's childhood home actually involves processes of repetition - this time consciously so. It is, once again, my mother's small posy of flowers on the windowsill - one sole late summer rose, and by now, my last morning drooping like something out of post-lapsarian Paradise Lost. I've been putting together slides for tomorrow morning's class on the 1960s - convinced that "Leaving on a Jet Plane" was a Vietnam song, I used it in today's title - but I can't find quick proof one way or the other. But what I did find when looking for course materials was this amazing set of memories and footage about the Grosvesnor Square anti-Vietnam demonstration in 1968 - narrated in a quite perfectly English way.

I wouldn't for a minute want to be next to me on this upcoming Virgin flight - I am deeply suspicious - have been for a while - that I am turning into an English hog, and even if I'm not actually swinish - who knows? - I would assuredly be thrown into quarantine if I were attempting to enter some countries.

Always hard leaving; always hard writing about it adequately: I find myself pressing up against my self-imposed limitations about public blogging: more on this self-reflexive topic at the end of the year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I have a sense that I use mannequins as a fall-back photo-subject on dank days in London, and today was no exception: everything else that I came across was very underlit and grimy (though I did turn into a typical American tourist, taking a picture of a stand of postcards with a Union Jack at the top - and then a picture of the Obamas standing with the Queen, before the eye was drawn down to more pictures of Royalty and views with Big Ben in them. Oh, yes, and I bought the postcard, too).

I changed from Tube to No. 19 bus at Knightsbridge, where there were the usual assortment of wasted figures sprawling around Harvey Nichols' windows - and then some shockingly snobby ladies with aristocratic pointed noses in the designer stores at the top of Sloane Street, together with some snobby ladies in the making - as here - in the upmarket children's clothes stores. There's something a bit like a Loretta Lux portrait about this one - despite my not having caught her head on: it's the same combination of blankness and wilfulness. I do wonder who the original model might have been. I was at the Beatles to Bowie exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery today - most excellent - but one thing that I hadn't really taken on board was how store mannequins came to be based on iconic women's bodies - so there was a Jean Shrimpton mannequin, a Twiggy one, a Sandie Shaw one (I had such a big crush on Sandie Shaw - I kept a Sandie Shaw scrapbook, which was seriously not a cool thing to do when everyone else was into the Beatles) ... So I don't know who, if anyone, today's pieces of plastic are meant to look like - Harvey Nicks' looked like a sub Amy Winehouse, but I couldn't be sure - and certainly not with these marble faced uptight girls.

Friday, October 23, 2009

bullets and bombs

Somehow, I've managed never to have gone to the Imperial War Museum before (rather chillingly magnificent buildings - from 1815-1930 they were the site of Bedlam, or the Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane - which, since I'd managed to time my visit neatly to coincide with screaming children at half term, still seemed haunted with cries). But having taught C20th English culture this term, and having pillaged their web site for images, I thought that it was about time that I went to look for myself...

If I hadn't been struck by the black, white and grey composition involving a Muslim woman taking a photograph on her cell phone, I would have chosen this picture as the P of the D - a relic of the first world war - a bible, or prayer book - I couldn't quite see - that had been in a soldier's breast pocket and had stopped a bullet from entering his heart. The personal memorabilia of all kinds were the most affective objects - much more so than the Gatling guns and military uniforms, though the displays made very good use of recorded sound, from voice-over letters being read aloud, to "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," to bugles, to the whine of bombs. War certainly emerged as a very nasty thing (though perhaps the most unpleasant footage of all was of Vietnam), and wartime as full of inconveniences as much as heroism: all of this good messages to send The Young. In other words, the displays were very good indeed in bringing home the combination of mundanity and terror. But I was also drawn to Edith Cavell's stuffed dog, and a taxidermed pigeon, in a kind of parachute sling, just as it would have been tossed out of one of the very tiny airplanes...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

river cafe

I have been waiting for the 93 bus outside Putney Bridge tube station for the last forty four years, or so (is that true??? alas, yes...the 93 was my bus home from school - although, admittedly, I usually caught it actually on Putney Bridge, after I got off the 220...). On a bad day, when the bus doesn't come and it's grey and cold, it feels as though I've done nothing whatsoever in between... It's some comfort to find that the River Cafe has been there just as long. I've never been in it, however (maybe this should be rectified? It has many on-line mentions as the best traditional fry-up breakfast in London...a time-warp classic...formica table tops, etc. Yes, definitely...the British equivalent of a very traditional diner...).

Here's the cafe in the gathering dusk this evening. I had plenty of time to wait there, because the traffic was all snarled up by the Fulham/AC Roma soccer match (I would have thought that would be wildly one-sided, in the Italians' favor, though in fact it was a 1:1 draw). I'm going to do some hard visual thinking, in the next couple of days, about what actually is typically English, in visual terms - things that go over and beyond tourist cliches... Here's just one example: how would any visitor, who hadn't yet worked out that the multi-fare card that one uses on London Transport is called an Oyster card.

According to Andrew McCrum, now of Appella brand name consultants, who was brought in to find a name by Saatchi and Saatchi Design (in turn contracted by TranSys), Oyster was conceived and subsequently promoted because of the metaphorical implications of security and value in the component meanings of the hard bivalve shell and the concealed pearl. Its associations with London through Thames estuary oyster beds and the popular idiom 'the world is your oyster' were also significant factors in its selection as was the uniqueness of the word Oyster.

So says Wikipedia. I think I prefer Alice's hypothesis that the London Transport logo more or less resembles a bivalve.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

fixing the light

Almost certainly, I thought, there would be some kind of quasi-touristy picture of York Minster going up as the Picture of the Day - one of the funerary monuments, probably (to match the atrocious weather) - a woman draped over an urn, or a bishop looking rather too enthusiastically at the genitalia of baroque putti. But no! though the images exist... In the new lecture hall at the University, before my talk, the university's photographer was taking some shots of me; we were talking cameras - and for some reason passed from a ritualistic Canon v Nikon conversation to the possibilities of the iPhone. He'd hardly used his at all for taking pictures - I was extolling its virtues, and also the virtues of the ToyCamera app - and to make my point, turned and took a photograph of the tech guy on a ladder behind me, doing a last minute light fix... I do like this, very much.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

more or less a familiar face

One of the pleasures of visiting my parents' house is, of course, seeing familiar pictures. But here's a new one, sitting on the old piano that probably hasn't been played for the last thirty five or so years (and was resuscitated by my father in the first place). That is - it's a photograph that I've seen before, in miniature - but here scanned by my father, blown up, mounted, and now in an old silver frame. This is my mother, aged around eighteen months, and looking very cute. But it was taken, she tells me, not so much to celebrate her cuteness, as to demonstrate to critical relatives that no, she was not a small and sickly little thing, but was actually growing very well and healthily, thank you. It's a disconcertingly familiar direct look, still.

Monday, October 19, 2009


What with colleagues knocked out by probable swine flu (get well soon, Meredith!), and the university - and department's - need for money, a piggy bank seems the only appropriate image - grabbed, to be sure, in terms of image-snatching, as I more or less hurtle out of the front door en route to London and York... But it's also a very cheerful pink pig, and I'll look forward to coming back to him, and home, and the latest escapades of the Cat Who Jumps from the Second Floor Gallery... next posting from London, with luck...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

running as fast... I can. Or that is how the semester feels: it's Sunday night again, already. I know that I get let out of my cage for a few days this week, however, which I'm greatly looking forward to (or would, if I could make the scanner that I have here work properly, so that I have a fully illustrated lecture - that is, when the lecture is fully written...).

This poor hamster is immured in Petco, in South Plainfield, NJ, which on a wet Sunday afternoon in October is as gloomy a place to be a hamster - or anyone - as could possibly be envisaged. I think his fate is probably marginally more secure than that of the proliferation of white mice, which, failing the appearance of an oleaginous Count Fosco, are probably destined for a python's digestive system. But our kitties needed some food (kibble, not white mice, though they probably would have preferred the latter), so we slouched damply off to find it. Curiously, after my other photography-in-shops experiences this year, no one seemed to mind me taking pictures of mice, or hamsters, or ferrets, curled up in a sleazy looking heap, with off white fur that made them look like chain smokers, which came as a big surprise. Maybe the animal welfare police don't penetrate as far as darkest Plainfield...

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Luckily, the topic of golf has never come up between Alice and my father: I fear that the fact that she once, as a teenager, played the - the what? - game? sport? - might well disqualify her instantly from family membership. My father brought me up loathing and despising people who played golf - I think this had a great deal to do with him disliking the wheeling and business dealing, the snobbery and pretentiousness that, for him, involved the mixing of golf and business. My inherited suspicions of the ritual - maybe that's the best word - were consolidated by the dangers of riding ponies on Wimbledon Common when there could, on occasion, be stray golf balls hurtling through the air (before this time, however, there was always the thrill of finding a lost ball, and unravelling its skeins of unstable rubber string until one found its glutinous, gluey center - rather like an inedible Cadbury's creme egg).

I feel sorry for these clubs, however, sitting at the bottom of the stairway to our attic like some sporting relicts in a Scottish baronial mansion. They are survivors: three sets of golf clubs were, we thought, loaded onto the movers' vans when we left Los Angeles, but only one bag arrived: the antique sets that once belonged to Alice's parents fell foul, somewhere, of Allied, the Careful Movers. We were more than suspicious, in retrospect, of the apparently efficient and charming mover who told us, in LA, that he had a friend who had a good business in resuscitating elderly clubs and selling them on at a vast profit. But how can one proved any evil doing of this sort? To be sure, a claim was filed, and compensation proffered, but the presence of these remaining objects, oddly looking like stringed musical instruments, is a daily nudge of sadness about the ever-lurking possibility of unpredictable loss.

Friday, October 16, 2009


There are times when I wonder whether my enthusiastic embrace of organic vegetable ordering is a totally sensible commitment - we do seem to end up with a lot of pieces of fruit (the vegetables, on the other hand, get eaten much more quickly). Apples get removed and placed in a bowl in the chair's office - a kind of apple-for-the-teacher gesture in reverse - and come in handy on truly busy and therefore lunchless days. But there seems here to be an unmanageable accumulation of oranges...

still, they are very autumnal. It was a more or less beautiful autumn/fall day driving into Princeton today - that is, it would have been stunning, if it wasn't raining - and if my view wasn't impeded, and my senses assaulted, by following close behind a septic tank drainage tank. Very New Jersey, somehow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

fortune cookie

I may have been the only person in the room today who had been looking forward to today's School of Arts and Sciences Chairs Meeting today for almost a month. This wasn't, however, due to some weird masochistic drive, but because it's held over on Busch campus, and the Busch student center has a rather good little Japanese carry out restaurant, and when one orders one's meal - even a box of sushi and a bean paste bun - one gets a fortune cookie on one's tray. Could it be that here, today, would be the magical phrase that would give me guidance in chairing?

Alas, I'm not flooded by inspiration on reading "If you want to succeed in business, avoid 'business as usual.'" I'm not even sure such go-getting entrepreneurial advice is legal inside fortune cookies under current economic circumstances. It raises a good number of questions about what "usual" might be, of course (and in any case, looked at another way, would I go back to the same outlet month after month if the sushi were going to be stuffed with marzipan and chocolate?). Maybe I should try tarot cards instead, I thought ... so I tried asking a question on this compulsive site ... and let me tell you: I wish I'd stuck to fortune cookies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

the ostracized ghoul

Now that the sukkot have been dismantled all over Highland Park (and no, three years ago, I didn't have a clue what a sukkah was - Alice and I thought our neighbors were putting up sweet little outdoor bowers, until it dawned on us that this was a mass movement, and that some of them were far from decorative and involved unsightly expanses of blue plastic) - now that the sukkot are down, the Halloween decorations are going up in force.

This triad are skewered into the front lawn opposite, and are disturbingly anthropomorphic in their grouping. I can't decide whether the one on the right is planning malice because she's been left out, or has been ostracized because she's plain daft ("daft as a brush," was the expression that I was brought up with - and which seems to have a range of implausible explanations, including ones suggesting that inept Victorian child chimney sweeps would fall headlong down the chimney and land on their heads, causing lasting damage. This seems deeply implausible to me...). Photographs are particularly good at bringing out the latent humanity in dolls, mannequins, and other forms of inanimate figures (c.f. Cindy Sherman's mutilated plastic figures, or the dolls house figures of Laurie Simmons, especially in her early works - check out the "cowboys" series. Maybe I need to get the plastic horses out of the car again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

workmen in the house

It's impossible to guess what workpeople make of one's house when doing repairs on it - when threading wires from top to bottom, for example. And do they speculate much about the lifestyle of the people who live in it? (beyond, in our case, asking Alice why we had so many books, and where my accent was from). I went into the bedroom this evening to discover that they'd moved the bed away from the wall, and rather than simply place the stuffed animals from the bedhead on top of the covers, I found the possum and the grey sheep handpuppet burrowing in a rather frightened way into the pillows. These are not animals with any long lasting sentimental significance - the sheep is only about a year old, from the farmer's market in Santa Fe - so I don't feel any sense of violation here - but it does make me wonder what, if anything, two Colombian electricians think of two women who go to bed with this particular assortment of wildlife.

I also have always liked rumpled beds in photographs, ever since seeing Imogen Cunningham's The Unmade Bed (the inspiration for a rather good Adrienne Rich poem, too). They always look as though they should have a narrative attached to them, even when there isn't one to hand.

Monday, October 12, 2009

the black hole

This unpleasant sight is what lay underneath just one of the ceiling lights that our electrician removed this morning - some of the others are even worse: a nest of crispy-looking wiring, singed bits of plaster, the occasional bit of squirrel-chewing, and other manifestations that make me very glad that the house hasn't burned down, and very puzzled that it ever passed a home inspection. Moral: get electricity inspector to have a close look at a house before buying it. This will end up costing a very good deal more money than I'd bargained for, but in my fire-phobic way (images and experiences like yesterday's are a good example of my life-long futile attempts to exorcize these fears) I will be very happy when it's done.

There's also something sinisterly spider-like about this. I've been disturbed by the idea that ordinary, domestic spiders in the US sometimes bite, apparently - that is, I knew that true nasty things like Black Widows had a venemous nip, but it took me a while to own up to the fact that other arachnids might also be troublesome. Tim, my cousin, explained this one: in the UK, all spiders weave webs (memories of my father waving a fat fly into a particularly enmeshed corner of his garage, saying "go on, go on - over there - go and be William's dinner...") and get their prey that way: in the US, and elsewhere, it's the non-web weaving spiders that have other means of bringing down their meals. This is such a good explanation that I refuse to check it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

baking potatoes least, not yet, but when the fire burnt down we threw a whole lot of potatoes wrapped in foil (memo to self: not well enough wrapped) into the embers. There are a lot of fallen trees to be cut up and burned on 58 acres of land: this represents a very small act of clearance as well as a way of cooking lunch. Very disappointingly dull light all weekend: this probably saves me from taking and posting a mass of tourist pictures of fall foliage...

not a cute kitty [Oct 10th]

It's nearly Halloween, and this critter is lurking - and his head swinging menacingly from side to side every minute or so - outside Nancy's Homemade Fudge Store in Meadows of Dan (I have to say, it's probably not a good thing that I've just discovered that they have a website: their dark almond chocolate bark is ridiculously good). It's something of a ritual to go there (I once was brainwashed enough by rural Virginia to buy a John Deere caddy in which to hold pencils, etc) - there are more different kinds of fudge that one would believe possible (blueberry cheesecake, anyone?) plus other things like a huge jelly bean dispenser - indeed, a very tempting place to take pictures, as well as contemplating stuffing oneself on large quantities of sugar. But its display outside also offers up an overblown example of the Fall Kitsch that takes over front yards from I-40 up to the mountains - scarecrows on haybales, pumpkins, clay pumpkin lanterns, witches, spiders... and then the seasonal occupations, like the lawnmower races that somehow we could bear to miss in Stuart...

copper [Oct 9th]

Up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, my cousin Tim and his wife Susan have restored an old farmhouse... (called Manesty, after the farm in the Lake District where his family used to spend summer vacations, and there are plenty of things about the place that are nostalgia-producing of England for me, starting with Marmite for breakfast). This weekend involved the (early) celebration of his 60th birthday, and the celebration of the new barn - complete with copper cupola and cockerel weathervane. These little curls and triangles of copper were lying abandoned on the barn floor: this weekend's contribution to the nearly-abstract.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

an intrusive name

So here's a puzzle. It's around 8.15 a.m.; slide show ready to roll on the screen in class (everything, today, from a black St Maurice from the ?C16th in a Devon church, to Mary Seacole, to Pathe News footage of people coming off the Empire Windrush to the London smog of 1952 - yes, it's Selvon's The Lonely Londoners). So I slide the blackboard up over the screen in order to write down the address and password of the class blog (clearly I am some kind of strange collecting addict in this area), and Lo! it reads "Man of the hour: Emmett." Alas, I didn't get the whole inscription - but how could this be? What is our senior, dark grey menacing cat doing turning up on the blackboard? Probably the class finally realized that they had Big Trouble on their hands - a crazy cat lady taking a photo of the visual display unit for her (other) blog. Still, those two 80 minute sessions a week are the total high spot of my academic life right now - teaching! not chairing! - and this was something akin to high-spirited celebratory self-indulgence at this temporary liberation.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

lack of communication

One of the effects of the budget cuts has been the removal of telephone lines from Faculty offices within the School of Arts and Science (unless they have an administrative role - the Chair can still be interrupted from her musings by a sudden ring...), which I have to say doesn't seem to me a big deal in this age of cell phones. But why should public pay-phones be eliminated - nay, ripped from the wall - as well? What happens if one has forgotten to re-charge one's cell phone? What of the increase in labor for the Chair (head round door: "oh, er...excuse me...I was there a phone anywhere I could use?")?

But this isn't a complaint, but a photographic exercise: an act of semi-abstraction, stimulated by Lyle Rexer's excellent new book, The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography. What he's concerned with are "photographs that refuse to disclose fully the images they contain;" that refuse mimesis in any simple way; that demand interpretation; that chafe at the limits of what we customarily think of as the photographic; that offer up "an impatience with mere visuality." I've only just started reading it, but I've already found very many resonances - in both text and images - with exactly the kind of abstract challenges that I often like my own photographs to pose.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

missing a figure

This is nearly a very intriguing photograph - it really needs a Gregory Crewdson style self preoccupied figure just mounting the steps. And perhaps another emerging from the house - or would that be overloading the narrative potential? Lacking useful actors when I came out of the house this morning - scurrying off to a lengthy 4 and a half hour New Chairs Workshop - this is, instead, a picture about absence - it's the railings, and the way that they stop, that make it seem as though something may be about to happen (more interesting, that is, that a long workshop). I'd originally had my eye on the moss - a peculiarly iridescent Irish green - but the whole sub-graveyard ensemble created an impression of a view more like Highgate Cemetery (where George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Karl Marx, and a whole lot of other Important Victorians are buried) - somewhere I've not been for far, far too long. Hmmmm: shall try to remedy...

Monday, October 5, 2009

movie stars and torn dreams

This is another act of homage shamelessly derivative of the exhibits on show in the Met's Surface Tensions exhibitions - I'm referencing Walker Evans's "Torn movie poster, Oak Bluffs" - I can't find an image on line to link to, but this depicts a man and a woman movie star on a hoarding, the paper ripped and scarred as if their faces have been angrily mutilated. Evans cropped the faces down very close, as if the frame of the photograph was itself doing violence to what was already a highly stylized photograph: the medium consuming itself.

I tried doing that with these two images, but it didn't quite work (unlike various images I've taken of layers of old posters, ripped through, on London Underground platforms, none of which have, oddly, made it into this blog. There's still a few months to go...I'll see what I can do...). Rather, these two images - spray-stencils, originally, I guess, and then transferred to stickers - are floating free, albeit with a few half-erased arrows pointing to them and a couple of attached vaguely fatuous comments. I'm not sure who they are - the one on the left is faintly Marilyn Monroe, but maybe not - it could be Diana Dors and Rudolph Valentino, or... (please supply identification - I think I am challenged when it comes to recognizing movie stars). But why are they stuck to the back of a women's bathroom door in Murray? I don't usually head into there (although today, mercifully, there wasn't anyone weeping noisily in the next cubicle, which usually happens, and is always upsetting), since Faculty are Privileged and have their Own Bathroom. But I didn't have the magic key for that on me - and was rewarded by these forced attempts at cheerfulness, the guy gazing straight at the cubicle's occupant with a naive hungry inquisitiveness; the blonde tilting her head up at him - but I think he's a lost cause, for whatever reason. Their physical separation on the door - let alone the jagged tears - promises no resolution of their drama.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

surface tension

Compelling though the Robert Frank exhibition at the Met was, I was also very glad to have seen the show of images from their permanent photography collection called Surface Tension, which included a whole range of images that played with illusion of surface and depth; that tried to make a two dimensional photograph surface look anything but; that functioned as a trompe d'oeuil, or, in the case of Adam Fuss, experimented with what happens when one lets loose a number of snakes in a large sheet of photosensitive paper lightly dusted with talculm powder. I thought - and probably still will - that I would try for a week of surfaces of one sort or another...

... but I hadn't been planning on my first example being a shot of my computer screen, which took an unprecedented and malicious dislike to the slides that I was putting together for tomorrow morning's class, and sliced everything up into irretrievable fragments. I had to crash the whole things, but not before I'd taken advantage of its attempt to make receding planes out of its flat and unco-operative surface. My fingers are crossed that it's more or less o.k., but I'm eyeing it warily...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

passion and dispassion

This had to be in black and white, in homage to Robert Frank: we went to the Met to see the New Americans show. Good, of course, to see all of the 87 images hanging on the wall - with an intelligent commentary about how they spoke in dialogue to one another in the book itself; better yet to see the working prints, the contact sheets, and all the other contextualization of the selecting and sorting and weeding of the 27,000 images that were whittled down to these select few (whoever said only digital image taking led to profligacy? what was so fascinating was how Frank would take two, four, seven shots of one scene, knowing that it had potential - and then just one image would, due to a trick of light, or a person suddenly looking up at the camera, or pausing in a shop doorway, be the one.

And of course, for all his Guggenheim-funded travels, Frank was looking around him, at ordinariness, and finding what made the ordinary extraordinary, and in his wake inspiring a whole school of street photographers, taking images as they find them (strange to think back to how shocking this seemed in America in the 1950s: the British tradition of Picture Post, the work of Bill Brandt, was much more demotic than, say, the more upbeat ordinariness peddled in Life). So I looked around in the C19th French gallery outside, for quick homage-making inspiration... here's a be-capped, flannel shirted young woman staring rather morosely at the heterosexual rapture of Jean-Léon Gérôme's Pygmalion and Galatea, flanked by Rodin's Eternal Spring (also known as Cupid and Psyche), with its same entwined passion (rather like Frank's picture of couples making out in a public park in Ann Arbor, Michigan).

It was so very good to be away from New Brunswick, but I don't know how to photograph that feeling...

Friday, October 2, 2009

baby shower

Truly, this was a novel kind of experience for me - it's not entirely true to say that I have never been to a baby shower before, because I have, of sorts - one that involved, so far as I remember, a large sheet cake and a larger box of diapers in the cafeteria of the Native American Prep School, up in the wilds above Rowe, NM. But other than that... I don't know whether to claim that this is just not a British thing (though I'm sure someone will put me straight, here), or whether, never having shown any signs of interest in procreation, I've been carefully and tactfully excluded from this particular female bonding ritual until now. I couldn't be happier than letting my hair down with the English department staff, who are an amazing bunch - and I was so happy to have been asked. But goodness me... I thought it was going to be - well, sheet cake, and a box of diapers, although it dawned on me that perhaps it would be a good idea to take a more inventive gift or two. Cake indeed there was (a big shout out to Courtney ... baked and iced in the shape of a blue truck ... ) ... but I was left musing, among other things, on gender colored codes, and on the arbitrary nature of them. Today's use of pink and blue seems to be the initiative of Amy, in Little Women, who tied a pink ribbon on her girl twin, a blue on the boy. But in fact this didn't get cast in sateen until after WWII: a catalog in 1918 could still happily maintain that "There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for a boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." However, since Rhea (above), is expecting a boy, blue - in 2009 - it was: and all the party favors and prizes were in blue, too. Prizes? Unwrapping diapers to see if they had mock baby poop in them?? I felt as though I was in a total parallel universe - back at the kind of party I sometimes got invited to in about 1962 when other girls wanted to play with dolls, and I had hoped for toy racing cars or plastic ponies. So I got out my own mechanical toy, and hid behind the camera, and remembered how very much I love taking portraits, and don't do so enough.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

the golden bowl

I think that I need a good, peaceful image for pure contemplation. This is not a Jamesian golden bowl - no fatal flaw or crack, so far as I know - it's a beautiful object that's been transported from Los Angeles to the less sunny spaces of our Highland Park living room. Seen from above, it here looks like an ochre harvest moon, slightly gibbous (a particularly good word for a not quite full moon); or a big tawny ostrich egg: it was, indeed, peculiarly hard to take a picture of it with enough being in focus at once. But maybe that's also it's strength, when it comes to pulling one in: like some kind of Rorsach test, one can't quite tell if it's bulging outwards or inwards, half empty or half full.