Wednesday, January 30, 2013
and indeed, I'm very grateful not to be out helping to entertain today's English job visit candidate - Alice is off as part of the group feasting her - but sometime's it's good to have a quiet dinner in the peace of one's own desktop. Only I guess it's not a dinner in, exactly, our own home. Our realtor called a few minutes ago to say that the sale of this house has recorded - so we are now, technically, tenants in it - until we move to the new one, next week. As a gesture of celebration, rather than fetch myself another carrot, I altered my address on my official university record. Gosh, I really know how to celebrate ...
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
This image doesn't work - it looked, at the time, like it might, but I was only prepared to use my iPhone, given the circumstances - but I am too migraine-y to go off and take another. It's what a lecture looks like at floor level (though I could lift my head and get a perfect view of the screen) with a whole lot of chair legs and human legs under a big seminar table. I had to leave on an urgent but futile hunt for someone to video it and didn't want to crash back to the front on my return: curiously, it was the most comfortable seat I've had in a lecture for ages.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Today, we left the formal classroom after twenty minutes or so, and went out to make cyanotypes. OK, we weren't all Anna Atkins, who produced extraordinarily detailed images of algae and so on in the 1840s, but some of the images were pretty good (on top, some lace - following in the footsteps of Fox Talbot; below, a necklace). What did we learn? That weather must have played a considerable role in early photography. The problem wasn't the sunshine, but the wind, sending little specks of grit onto our paper, and carrying off some of the damp sheets. At the same time, we appreciated, ever so much, that we were doing this in sunny Southern California in late January, and not exactly having to contend with the conditions experienced by British photographic pioneers.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
They were power-hosing the courtyard of the Tutor Campus Center today, where we were having our annual Graduate Student symposium in Art History - a day of excellent papers culminating in Alexander Nemerov talking about Margaret Bourke-White. I think he made her sound like a much more generous and feisty personality than I'd always thought of her as being - ok, maybe feisty, but she always seemed to irritate the hell out of a lot of people. On the other hand, Nemerov made a great case (in Q&A) for the heroism of the governess in The Turn of the Screw - an argument that made a whole lot of sense (she maintains unswervingly a belief in what no one else will) - so I came to think that he enjoys pushing a willfully perverse line. Certainly (and non-perversely) he offered up a very good case for the way in which she completely reworked the pictorialist circle that she found in Clarence White, so this image (inadvertently - I'd already taken it) is very much in that spirit, in the course of arguing that there is a kind of wildness in her images, a desire to show the world as somehow escaping her - or herself cutting free from the world. And he told a great story about her letting off a flash bulb in a bombing hold full of bombs ...
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Posted to an electricity pole down on Santa Monica, this is, of course, irredeemably sad.
But how to interpret it? Is it a genuine cri de coeur? Is this a former household that's now being sold off in little bits and pieces - the furniture, the videos, the books, the pans, the old-style TV sets, the plastic crates, the unmatching mugs, the sad faded tee shirts - with the partner who's been dumped slinking around, making a commentary on the very yard sale posters? Or does the person holding the sale hope that the other person will see this, and come back? Or could it be an advertising strategy, to make all of us stop and look at this particular end of the month sale? - there is, after all, something very calculated about that precise blue/yellow combination. Or is neither notice "real" - is this some provocative Silver Lake pole art installation? Or none of the above? "Apropos," is, after all, strange. Apropos what?
I am so very glad that, after our somewhat futile garage sale two and a half years ago, and our far-more-successful give stuff away free kerbside shedding of household items eighteen months ago, this time around, we've barely got anything more than one large suitcase full of stuff ready to be deposited at Goodwill.
Friday, January 25, 2013
This morning - trying to work, in reality just putting out tiny administrative conflagration after conflagration - was interrupted by a helicopter circling round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round overhead. At some point I went out to take a picture of it, and saw variegated neighbors also looking upwards. They may also have been looking at - may also have called in, as we did a little later - what we then spotted: the new graffiti on the fence at the back of the vacant lot next door. Quite proficient graffiti, one might add: hovering somewhere between gang art and something more interesting. But still - graffiti, and one doesn't want it next door. Who knows if the helicopter was connected, or not, but we then saw a police car stopped outside a house further up the street and its occupant talking to a woman in the front yard (yes, the bird watching binoculars came in handy). And we checked on line, and couldn't see anything particularly pertinent to today, but did find that a young man had been robbed at gunpoint down the street on Tuesday night (there again, what he was doing sitting on a front stoop with his laptop and headphones at 11.05 p.m. is a very good question). But we also found that some guy had been shot in the arm, a few streets over, on Monday night for, yes, challenging some kids who were graffiti-ing a fence. Hmmmm. This both makes us very happy to be leaving, and just a little guilty when it comes to wondering how our buyer will feel about her surroundings.
So, yes, we won't miss the 'hood. Though the view from the deck was pretty good on this rainy morning. But we can't actually see it from a room ... two weeks today, we should be ensconced and staring at something quite spectacular from our living room ...
Yes, it's Rafael's yellow strands of Penetrable again at LACMA, tied up for the evening, and then mangled by me into pale straw and sunlight. I passed it on the way to the documentary about Gregory Crewdson, Brief Encounters (followed by a conversation on stage between Crewdson himself, and the film's maker, Ben Shapiro, and Jonathan Lethem). My response to Crewdson's work - certainly the Beneath the Roses series, which the film is about - is very complex: I react against it in the same way that I react against over-produced music, yet at the same time I love, absolutely love teaching it when I talk about photography and narrative. And although the conversation went down some predictable lines (photography as being melancholic, elegiac, full of people who, if they aren't dead yet, will be), I really appreciate the fact that it doesn't just look backwards, but forwards. His images pivot on the moment that's between causation and result; they look forwards as much as they invite one to think what happened before the instant depicted. And of course, what the film showed supremely well was all the construction of artifice, whether he was using actual depressed small town America, or deliberately concocted one off sets. Only at the very end did it touch on Crewdson's own what-next, the Cinecitta series (which I like for their rather predictable melancholy and emptiness), and it didn't mention his "Fireflies," which are going to get a mention in Flash!, somehow, presumably as representing flickers that aren't flashes.
I spent the morning dealing with grids, both the artificial ones that one uses to make sure that one's lettering's aligned, and the more material scrim kind that shrouded Brooklyn Bridge when I took photos of it last fall. And with learning such important information as the Pantone #s for USC colors (201C and 123C, since you were wondering). I do love designing things ... though I'm still wondering whether I shouldn't have used a capital I on Invited - the balance needs a taller vertical there ...
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
If I have to sit in my office all day (and I did have to sit in my office all day, apart from chairing a department meeting, and a blissful hour and forty minutes when I was let out to teach, and talked about the parallels between snobbism in relation to iPhone apps that mimic old photo techniques and 1840s/50s condemnation of the mechanical nature of picture taking; and Richard Prince's Marlboro man and his pasting over photos of Jackson Pollock; and Ori Gersht's freeze-frame still lifes) - if I have to sit in my office all day, I'm glad to have silly/pretty things to look at. Here's a hen. Maybe it's a rooster, but let's call it a hen.
Today's Santa Fe Reporter had a big piece about the chicken wars in Eldorado - I think I've written about them before - should we, or should we not, have the right to keep up to four hens as pets (egg producing, useful pets), or not? So fierce has this divisive battle become that the expression Helldorado has been coined ... I was intrigued that Richard Traub - the Chicago sociologist - has a 2nd home in Santa Fe and "friends in Eldorado" - and he thinks that it's a class thing - those who want to keep it an upper middle class enclave versus the peasants (he doesn't quite call them that, but that's the gist). But I find this a strange equation: surely keeping chickens isn't the equivalent of having an old truck up on concrete blocks, which seems to be an analogy made in the article. I'd have thought that it may be something of a luxury to want to be self-sufficient (as in - a lot of work seems to go into maintaining our compost, for shockingly little reward). In my limited experience of Eldorado hen people, they're the educated, alternative-living sort - not the sulky people who're living out there because it's relatively cheap, and would rather not be in New Mexico at all, not caring whether or not they can see lots of sky and mountain ranges or not.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
... the sunsets here at 962. There was just a golden hole left in the sky when I arrived home this evening, but it was a good hole. It's an excellent thing that I'm a morning person (even if teaching prep and general admin is meaning that I'm developing definite owlish tendencies tonight), because I think the dawns are going to be spectacular over at 3689.
This isn't the first time that the electricity junction box thingy outside Gingergrass has features here - but no leaping ballerina this time, but something much more puzzling: a small, badly stuck black and white and by now tatty and torn image of a Macdonalds, somewhere. Quite apart from its implicit sardonic dialogue with my Vietnamese Chicken Salad, it was trying, of course, to wedge its way into my class prep (on photography as art; on photography's anxious relations with "art," and why it matters, anyway. Or rather, to whom). The answer, here, is a totally subjective one: dependent on muted color, and its capacity to puzzle. And accident. I don't know how I managed to bleach out the roadway so effectively (no photoshop manipulation there), but the fact of having done so gives me pleasure through serendipity.
I was actually wanting to take a photo that was unambiguously "straight photography," and had homed in on some very fetching sewer pipes for the purpose. For those of you who might be suffering from house-lust every time I post an image of our soon-to-be-new-home, there is, indeed, the question of a long sewer line cheerfully said to be "in failure" that needs to be replaced before we move in. These are not our sewer pipes, but the very sight of them cheers me up, since they are (unlike the ones that are being replaced) implacably Solid. I'll spare you my more boring efforts to make them mimic Paul Strand.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Victorianists among you will, I know, have your calendars blocked out for NAVSA 2013 in Pasadena (October 23rd 26th). Indeed, everyone should come - it's going to be a great party. Who wouldn't want to be in Pasadena in late October? The theme is "Evidence," and since we all work with evidence, all the time, it shouldn't be difficult to come up with a proposal ...
We - the organizing committee - were hard at work planning today, in Santa Barbara, at Erika Rappaport's house, following - yes - lunch in the sunshine, in the garden. The handsome cat on my knee is Cheddar, which is the most perfect name for an orange feline. So here's concrete Evidence that we're moving along.
I drove back along the coast - along Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway - which I think I went down on my very first visit to LA, in ? 1989, although I've not been any further north on it than the Getty Villa since. This, I thought, has been a big mistake - that is, until the sun went down, and I was stuck behind what proved to be a motor bike accident for a very long time. But before then - ah, I offer up these photos in apology to all of you who have snow outside your windows right now ...
Saturday, January 19, 2013
it's not usual for me to be at USC all day on a Saturday, but we were interviewing prospective graduates (and a very good lot they were, too), and I even managed to make a small dent on the admin backlog from the first week of the semester. I may even be up to - oh, say, half way through Tuesday, now. Campus was looking wonderfully picturesque - of course, Los Angeles in January is a major carrot that we dangle in front of applicants. At least two of the six had never been to LA before this weekend, and were not a little blown away by their trip to the Getty this afternoon. The view from my office window, just as the sun was going down, manages to look just how a campus should look. As one of the candidates said - the place looks as though it was designed by Disney. I think that was intended as a compliment?
Friday, January 18, 2013
I'll miss coming up the stairs and seeing the cats sunning themselves in the window - or greeting me at the French doors as I walk along the terrace. Here, DandyLion - aka Bitzi - and Moth are looking remarkably reposeful: the Domestic Cats. They are very lucky indeed not to be cognizant of The Hell That is Moving. When the guy came from the movers to count up the probable boxes and pieces of furniture and stray bicycles and guitars (well, only one of each, but they both symbolize, for me, a certain amount of wishful thinking so far as my expenditure of time goes) - when the guy came, my heart sank: it was a real case of Here We Go Again. At least our efforts at Decluttering in the past have been so epic that this time around, we're talking about one large suitcase going to Goodwill -not garage sales and kerb-side giveaways and so on.
The cats may be domestic - so are we. After eight plus years, the fact of buying a house together, and all its legal implications, propelled us towards the nearest notary in order to register as domestic partners (and it was a great reason to go out to dinner and have a bottle of fizz, as well, and celebrate how lucky we are, in all kinds of ways).
Thursday, January 17, 2013
... and now it's a bumper sticker (as seen, rather self-consciously positioned, on a very British Mini, that also has a sticker for the LSE in the back window). I can't quite get my head around why I object to this sticker so much at some visceral level, and I don't think that it's just because of some perverted reverse nationalism, although I've spent a day battling with people here who couldn't quite grasp my accent. I think my objection rests on how manufactured this sense of national identity seems to be. The story's become well known: it was one of a series of wartime posters in Britain, but never, in fact, deployed, or pasted, or whatever the right word would be. Only a few escaped - one that found its way to a bookstore in the north of England; a handful that were proudly brought in to the Antiques Road Show. But because it's now out of UK copyright, the image could - once "discovered" in that bookstore - be reproduced endlessly.
So - is it that I object to this because it's not "authentic" in some way? But it both is (as in - designed in the 1940s) and isn't (it wouldn't have ever been seen by ordinary people - my parents, for example, would have been highly, highly unlikely to have encountered it). I suppose I feel, all the same, as though it's passing as false history: proclaiming the need for a stiff upper lip and cups of tea and "just getting on with it" - which is one of those stereotypes that is more true than not. I don't think I've quite nailed it, yet.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
We've not yet got anywhere near that part of the semester when we'll be discussing photography and the environment, but it did strike me that this evening's view from the top of Parking Structure D was a perfect example of toxic beauty: that sunset would have nothing like the amount of thick golden glow that one sees here if it wasn't for the layer of carbon monoxide haze that rises up over the city.
Quite near the beginning of today's class, when I was discussing the setting up of a Writing and Photography blog as one of the options, I found myself (and this was unpremeditated) extolling the virtues of blog writing as a means of developing one's own voice. That's something that this blog has very much done for me over the past four and a bit years. I'm not saying that I use the same voice elsewhere, but there has to be a certain blog-consistency in sitting down to write something every evening, with little, if any revision (no time for that!). And so I guess I've hit on a kind of medium-specific tone, one that acknowledges that I really don't know who's out there reading this. That is, I know a couple of regulars, obviously - but I wouldn't write an email in the same voice to each one of them. So ultimately, the addressee here is disembodied, unidentifiable, composite, and at the same time imaginary.
Sometimes, it's wonderful to find that an inspirational billboard appears on one's way to work. I guess it would have been easy enough to drive by without registering, or registering it momentarily and then forgetting it. But John Berger, "Understanding a Photograph," is at my right elbow as I try and throw tomorrow's class together, and now that I've photographed this, I know that I saw it: "photography," as Berger says, "is the process of rendering observation self-conscious," and that's as good a description of what I do every day as any.
Monday, January 14, 2013
So far as I'm concerned, this counts as a photograph - it's a reproduced still image, anyway, a scanned drawing (yes, we're off and running in the Writing and Photography class ... what is a photograph? Though when I'm going to prepare the class that addresses that question for Wednesday, heaven only knows ...). This piece of paper mysteriously rose to the surface when I was scuffling around looking for some property tax documents - ah, the joys of moving - and I was so pleased to see it again. It's a map of the beginning of A la Recherche du temps perdu [sorry about lack of accents - this evening, I have one rainbow spinning whirly dead computer and one malfunctioning one] that I did a few years ago in a Bread Loaf class that I was teaching on Memory, where the students introducing the class had us - ah, well, inevitably, I can't remember what the actual exercise was - but we had to draw some impression or the other. I love this - I ought to draw/map books more often ... I have always loved maps, whether as tools, or artifacts, or thinking tools ... so I'm borrowing from the Introduction to Katharine Harmon's The Map as Art:
"Is there any motif so malleable, so ripe for appropriation, as maps? They can act as shorthand for ready metaphors: seeking location and experiencing dislocation, bringing order to chaos, exploring ratios of scale, charting new terrains. Maps act as backdrops for statements about politically imposed boundaries, territoriality, and other notions of power and projection. Mapping and art movements are equally susceptible to shifting political and aesthetic winds. Like artworks, maps are selective about what they represent, and call out differences between collective knowledge and individual experience.Artists use maps to respond to social and economic globalization, and to find orientation amid cultural volatility. And some artists include maps in their artworks not for their semiotics but because they can adapt cartographic systems to their uses or because they are simply drawn to the line and shape of the map's vocabulary."
If I were to map today, it would have lots of dark little spirals and mazes.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
- in very literal terms. We bought these rechargeable mock candles to light up a dark shelf (a shelf that normally held blankets, and occasionally cats), and they are really rather effective (not least because said cats can't catch their tails on fire in them). We're currently engaged in a ridiculously decorous correspondence with the sellers of our new house about Furniture - one week they want to sell some, then maybe none, now maybe all - and there are some good pieces there (we might even be able to furnish a guest room without it being a repository for items that don't quite fit anywhere else). It's notable how very much we rely on the agents' photos for deciding about these things (and here, of course, I have in mind my first class tomorrow, on Writing and Photography, and the fact that we're asking the question, this week - what is a photograph? and what work can it do?). Yes, it augments memory, in this case, or supplants it - not just because my capacity to remember whether an unmemorable chair is covetable or not is limited, but because things get changed around - there are a couple of lamps that I swear we've not actually physically seen, but are imaged on the web site. And looking through our agents' new listings, how well we know the Exercises in Decluttering that have gone on behind all those scenes onto which people are invited to project their Habitation Lust.
Bought for Showing this House, these orchids are doing very well indeed in the bathroom. All we do at home, of course (apart from panicking about the semester, which is pretty much a full-time occupation), is wander around, wondering what pieces of furniture, what pictures, and indeed which orchids will go where.
Friday, January 11, 2013
The couple of days before the semester starts usually manage to feel as though they are slightly off balance, and unevenly illuminated. One ought to be able to get on either with the business of the semester, or (far-off dream) with one's research, but instead of which, one lives in a kind of limbo, desperately pushing back against everything that Monday (and thereafter) will bring. Etc. But in fact, I'm really looking forward to being in an undergraduate classroom again - my first experience of this at USC. I'll be teaching a new version of my Writing and Photography course from a couple of years back: this time round, I know I'll be deliberately paying much more attention to the role that the on-line presence and dissemination of images plays. I also know that - like tonight, evidently - there will be many more nights when I don't get away from campus before dusk ...
I'll miss our orange tree here in Hoover Street. Meanwhile, we went round to the new house again today - mercifully, it was still wonderful - even more wonderful - and at the moment, it looks as though we might be able to move there round about the 7th or 8th. Whooooo! Here was the view from the living room this afternoon ... imagine ... We can't, quite.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Here's the traveling menagerie loading up in Winslow this morning (the cats all occupy the back seat, in a long row, which is why the back of the car, crammed with books that I didn't quite get round to reading, is quite so full). Oh, and there's a chair in there, too, which was very hard to maneuver around. Tomorrow, I shake myself back into some semblance of order.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Putting down the blinds before leaving Santa Fe took just a bit longer than usual, because the strings were all tied up to prevent the kittens (sorry, the young cats) from swinging on them and chewing the plastic nubbly ends and generally causing all kinds of mischief. As I write, they are busily rearranging a hotel room in Winslow, AZ. I'm not sure how much sleep we're going to get ...
Monday, January 7, 2013
Handsome, yes - but this is why our cats are definitely Indoor Cats (despite a dreadful scratching sound earlier today, which was Walter Gomez spreadeagled over a window screen, apparently trying to pull it out). This guy was just over our yard wall today. The picture was taken from a safe distance inside, though - with a telephoto lens - but he clearly knew that I was there. During dinner this evening, there was a dreadful yipping and howling just outside the front door - sounded like a whole pack of them - and then total silence. I think that means one rabbit the less. So we wait to see what our new house (still looking likely) will bring by way of wildlife - its yard backs onto Griffith Park, where there are many of these, and bobcats, and at least one mountain lion. I've just packed the binoculars, and a bird book ...
Sunday, January 6, 2013
MLA was fun - though somehow I didn't get to see all the people I'd hoped to see - but nothing beats being met by Alice at Albuquerque airport, and driving straight back up I-25 to Harry's Roadhouse ...
New Year's Resolution will settle in a little late - but because I'll be teaching my Writing and Photography course again, albeit in a somewhat different format than at Rutgers, I'll settle back into actually writing about photography this semester again. I think. I've been walking around all day thinking about the excellent panel that I went to first thing, about being suspicious about the hermeneutics of suspicion (not its real title) - and much though I can understand one of the basic premises that was being aired (that to read suspiciously, to uncover the real ideological biases underlying a text, to claim to know more than the text could ever know, is to practice a form of hierarchy-perpetuating power politics) [again, my terms] - much though I can grasp this, I feel that it would also be easy to slide into a recursive hall of mirrors. Once one's suspicious of one's own interpretive activity, where does one stop, or pause? And yet ... surely one shouldn't read in a way that glosses over a text's underlying political (in the broadest sense) assumptions? To do so is to ignore how social attitudes are transmitted and perpetuated through rhetoric - including how one might unthinkingly perpetuate them oneself. Etc. I kept remembering, though, a Hopi student whom I taught in a Bread Loaf class who said that in trying to encourage the class to think critically, I was behaving in what she construed as a colonizing manner, trying to force texts into subordination through my claims of dominance over them, just as white people had tried to dominate native cultures (the text in question, so far as I remember, was Daniel Deronda). I argued back at the time, promoting the virtues of critical thinking, but many of the attitudes articulated today seemed to be offering a more nuanced and articulated version of the same point. Whether or not it is the same, however, voiced by tenured people on an MLA panel, as opposed to a Hopi schoolteacher, is a moot point.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
It's Twelfth Night tomorrow. Christmas decorations come down (apart from those die-hards who leave everything up until the beginning of Lent). This is clearly true in the little patch of garden outside the Conference Center here in Boston. That also seems like a serious, serious sign that it's time to start thinking about the semester. Oh.
Friday, January 4, 2013
I'm sure that Club Monaco - one of the stores in the slightly glitzy mall by the side of the MLA - didn't deliberately theme its windows to coincide with the convention, but I love the way in which a whole lot of books have been torn apart, their pages fluttered to the ground, and sprayed with gold paint. This seems to suggest that there are a whole lot of things that one can do with texts than perform 20-minute long analyses of them. To be fair to today's conference going, I heard a number of papers (Patricia Yaeger talking quite inspiringly about trash; Cathy Davidson and Bethany Nowviskie on the Digital Humanities, say), which smashed some paradigms in a very action-provoking way - they alone made me want to get back to work, and back to the classroom - a feeling that may not endure the beginning of the semester, but let's hope.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
I think it's an octopus. Whatever sea creature it is, it's testimony to the coldness of the weather that an ice sculpture is just sitting there, outside the conference center. A morning of these temperatures drove me to buy a stripy woolly hat with large ear flaps (actually, I rather like it, though it's rather Kensington Market c. 1970 - it just doesn't smell, as such hats did in those days, of damp yak). Some cruel group of people have scheduled next year's MLA for Chicago, where assuredly, the hat will be traveling to again.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
are being carried on in the apartment block at the back of my Boston MLA hotel. Understandably, given that it's freezing cold, most people seem to be spending the evening in (watching TV, and at the same time on their iPads - the insights into modern urban life that this window selection gives!). They are also cooking, doing weights, hurling themselves onto (an empty) bed, standing talking and gesticulating, and wandering around aimlessly in their underwear. And those are the ones who haven't drawn their blinds. No one, yet, has murdered their wife - at least, not when I've been watching.
I'll say it again: it's freezing cold. Why my hat is sitting by the front door back in New Mexico, I don't know.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Our New Mexico house gets so hot in winter: the angle of the sun means that it comes straight into the south facing windows - indeed, since we installed it, we run the a/c much more often in winter than we do in summer. This is ideal for basking cats (cf Lucy Fur on the back of the chair), and indeed for sitting around and not getting enough work done ... I am cursing the switch in time of the MLA to early January. It used to collide with the Christmas/New Year gap in a tidy way, but now eats into the only swathe of the break in which one might feasibly hope to get any work done. Which is why I'm now lounging not in a sunny living room, but in the Sheraton at Albuquerque airport. I'm sure that once upon a time, the idea of a 7.10 a.m. flight seemed like a good one, but I'm incapable of reconstructing whatever the circumstances that led me to that decision might have been ...