Tuesday, April 30, 2013

nothing and everything

Tomorrow's my last Writing and Photography class, and I'll be talking about my favorite topic - well, maybe - photos of nothing, and the ordinary, and the everyday.  So, on this dully lit last morning of April, this sight was wonderfully apposite, as I went to make my very last load to the recycling facility in Glendale.  Time for Georg Simmel!  "... even the lowest, intrinsically ugly phenomenon can be dissolved into contexts of color and form, feeling and experience which provide it with significance," so that we may come to involve ourselves "deeply and lovingly with the even most common product."

Monday, April 29, 2013

owling in class

There may not be a whole lot of people who fit Bernd and Hilla Becher and owling into the same class, by way of numerous same-but-different C19th tourist stereoscopic images of the Bridge of Sighs (and Martin Parr's Small World), but that's what you get if you talk about photographing and repetition.  I wanted to allude (briefly!) to memes (and found, to my surprise that Richard Dawkins was responsible for coining the term), and after Grumpy Cat, and a small detour whilst we pondered what might constitute a suitable Grumpy Tag caption for our class, I mentioned both Reflectoporn (and that's a phenomenon worth checking out, briefly - who knew ...?) and owling.  I was really surprised that NOT EVERYONE KNEW WHAT OWLING ENTAILS - is it already so passe?  Are my students less attuned to more or less current popular culture than I am?  So Justine volunteered to demonstrate what owling is, and even though a VKC chair is a pretty sorry perch compared to some of the ones that one can find on line, she did a very good job.  I'm just sorry I only had my iPhone to hand, and not a better camera - but there again, quite probably this kind of activity is most suitably captured in a thoroughly vernacular method.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

gothic light (veiled)

Putting together material for a class on photography and repetition, it seems only right that once again I should turn to the topic of house painting, or for that matter (because another part of me, for an upcoming conference paper, is immersed in C19th photography of Venice) Gothic window-shapes.  The repetition stuff has me gazing at a lot of deadpan material - grain elevators and gas holders and gas stations - lots of urban infrastructure - and this light is pretty deadpan, too.  That is, until we get to the emotions that I project onto it of frustration - it's at the top of the stairs down to my study, and most certainly it would look a lot better if the painters hadn't protectively covered it in plastic, and if I didn't now have to ask them to take this plastic down ...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

the neighbors' wall

I've always had a fondness for walls with abstract applications on them - usually little stripes of possible  paint, but on this occasion, I think that our neighbors are trying out textures.  We're not entirely convinced of the competency of their work crew, though, so we hope that this is the case, rather than this being just very strangely patched.

As for anyone who's waiting to see what the back of our house looks like now that it's painted ... or nearly all painted ... my dream of living somewhere in the Mediterranean is more or less, give or take a different continent, coming true ...

Friday, April 26, 2013

light at the end of the tunnel

You can interpret that title in a number of ways: the literal sunlight that falls on the bottom step of the stairs down to our back yard; the fact that the house painting will surely be completed some day soon (surely the painter hopes so - he keeps telling us that he thinks that the grey we want for the metal work is Too Purple; we keep telling him that we like it, and it matched the lavender); that, yes, this semester will come to an end.  I believe that last fact because of probability theory: it's on a par with "will the sun rise tomorrow?"  That was a question that, I remember, was asked on an Oxford University General Paper for admissions back in about 1970.  I can remember (my mother had copies of these at home that her students had taken) being fascinated by this - how could the sun not?  Or was it a question about the dubious British weather?  I was obviously not cut out to be a philosopher.  So far as I recollect, I wrote one of the two answers on my General Paper about Samuel Palmer and pastoral mysticism in British Romantic Painting, and the other about - hmmm, what?  I'd need to see the paper again to be sure ... maybe George Eliot, Flaubert, and realism - facts that, in and of itself, probably marked me out as a rather weird eighteen year old.  I certainly remember holding forth in French on the latter topic - with Germinal thrown in for good measure - in my A level French oral exam six months earlier, so I surely could have remembered enough to cough it up again in a written exam ...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

pattern recognition

Join up the dots.  That was one of the mantras that we were given to play with in the blurb/instructions for the event in which I took part at lunchtime today - three of us - one science journalist, one poli sci person, and myself, each with 8-10 minutes to talk about pattern recognition.  Pattern recognition (which is apparently what all employers are looking for, these days)?  I'm not entirely sure why I agreed, or why I thought I had anything to say about this - but I managed to talk for 10 minutes on Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornament, Berndt and Hilla Becher, Agnes Martin, Thomas Struth, Penelope Umbrico, Franco Moretti (graphs and maps, though I didn't really get to the trees) and Anne Helmreich et al's work on mapping C19th London art galleries and exhibition sites.  No wonder that it seemed like a good night to go out and eat: this was opposite Baco Mercat (good raw fish; rather greasy everything else) on S. Main.  And these blue lights slowly getting more visible, as the light went down, on the building opposite.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

lopsided flowers

Lopsided in part, of course, because I haven't yet worked through in patient detail how best to angle the flash (oh wondrous feature - a non-static pop up flash) on my newish point and shoot.  But also lopsided because our flowers are being raided, in the dead of night, by Moth, who thinks that it's the sweetest act of homage to hunt down a flower during the night and bring it to a sleeping Alice.  I'd think this was extremely sweet, too, if I wasn't, in fact, rather jealous of this decidedly preferential devotion.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

wet paint gate

Our (Korean) house painter tells it as it is.  Very helpful.  Half way through week three of the painting marathon - I'm sure that if they knew what the Forth Bridge was, they'd be making those transatlantic comparisons ... what's the more-or-less local equivalent?  The Golden Gate Bridge?  Anyway, by the time they finish, they'll need to start over at the beginning, at this rate ...

Monday, April 22, 2013

holding it together

Very clearly, today's heading and today's image is metaphoric.  A week and a half to go ... I think most of us are feeling under the same kind of strain as the fabric and cords of this tent left over from the Festival of Books ...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

invisible flickers

This really is a very boring picture of the palm trees at the front of our house.  Not that I think, for a minute, that it's boring having palm trees there - I love them - but it's the kind of shot that makes one think - hmmmmm - maybe I should play around in Photoshop a bit ...

However!  I went out there not because of the palm trees, but because it was noisy: and here's why - blow up a little segment of the image, and one finds - flickers!  Screeching away.  Camera and telephoto lens as bird identification device ...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

welcome to the party

Today's moment of triumph involve taking one large suitcase, and one almost-too-heavy-to-carry plastic  trash sack - both full of old clothes, shoes, variegated household objects - to Out of the Closet.  It's truly satisfying Purging, even if one always feels that maybe one could be Purging more.  It was also horribly redolent of all those trips to Goodwill back in NJ ... These objets were attached to the mesh that constituted the back door: one imagines that they are Finds from the general flotsam and jetsam that people must have donated ...

Friday, April 19, 2013

sand, not sky

Not sky, but sand.  Or something - desert storm?  (I'm now starting to sound like whoever has the job of thinking up names for paint colors.  Since you were wondering, my study walls are "teal ocean," with the alcove walls being "yellow haze").  I'm wondering what movie this will end up to be advertising.  Even at the end of a long week; even with a headache from hell; even with what was - at the time I was passing this spot - uncertain news coming out of Boston - I still enjoy my drive home every single day: driving towards the hills; seeing the light on buildings; reading the absurdity of people's vanity plates - on Sunset, a little later, I was nearly reversed into by a crazed driver in a car that read "I[heart]MYABS".  I jest not.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


The cats have been sniffing round and round my newly painted study, and very much seem to approve of its new, non-bland colors - as do I ...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

more painting

We will be so very glad when the painters finish painting our house (so will they, I think).  They arrive at 7 each morning, which is an early hour by which to have showered, corralled the cats into whatever room won't have open windows that day, and so on.  Today they've just about finished my study (let's pass over the mix-up whereby the head guy placed the wrong lid back on the wrong sample paint pot, which meant that I'd bought 3 gallons of the Wrong Yellow - which made the stairwell down to the study look as though it was colored with synthetic lemonade powder, not sunshine).  Here you can see how outside has turned Italian-ish: more garden views will follow, soon, when these draped sheets and bits of plastic and other protective wear have disappeared.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

painting some sky

One of the big pleasures of driving home down Figueroa (until one realizes that there's a Dodgers game on - there always seems to be a Dodgers game on) is when they repaint the big movie-publicizing hoardings on the front of these three blocks.  I don't know what this is going to be - but I like sky against sky.  It's a lot more successful than my study, back home, which isn't turning out at all the way I'd hoped, and I'm too tired to think straight about what that paint job might ideally look like.

Monday, April 15, 2013

solitary reading

It's nearly time for the LA Times Book Festival, and tents and awnings are going up all over campus (together, I gloomily suppose, with extra security checks?).  I wish I could report that this person was absorbed in a real live book: however, it was, inevitably, a computer screen that they were hunched over.  However, reading is reading.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

lily, again

Barry, this one's for you.  It's not the same lily as a week or so back - though it's the same big basic plant.  I was cleaning out the waterfall ponds today (I have, of course, always wanted to be able to write that sentence - I WAS CLEANING OUT THE WATERFALL PONDS) when I realized that it had flowered again.  Truly, I find the cornucopia of Los Angeles gardening quite stunning - I need to trim back the rosemary and lavender before they take over the front completely, but there are many worse things to be overtaken by.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

catnip banana

That is one ecstatic, catnip-stoned Walter Gomez.   I am filled with envy.  It's so curious how some cats are catnip-responsive and others aren't, or aren't particularly so.  WG, and to a lesser extent Moth, have been catnip cats since they were kittens - even though it's a response that isn't meant to kick in until they are adolescents - whereas Lucy Fur will have an occasional polite lick and roll around, but is fundamentally indifferent, and Bitzi - well, catnip is among the many things she can't bring herself to enjoy.

Friday, April 12, 2013

nesting time

It's that time of the year.  I thought that I was holding the camera steady enough to blow this up so that you'd be able to see the Family Crow, building their messy nest on top of the drainpipe - but not quite.  However - they are making a great deal of self-satisfied noise about it, too, as though no crow had ever, previously, thought of building a nest so very visible from the top deck of USC's Parking Structure D.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

almost the end of the week

We're not quite arrived there yet, though.  These tulips understand how I feel.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

supporting figures

Since we moved, my route - or routes - to work have shifted, of course, and I don't seem to spend so much time stuck in the car gazing out of the window and taking pictures ... But going to dinner after a talk this evening, I was sitting at the lights on - I think 8th St, downtown - at the beginning of the jewelry district, with plenty of opportunity to look around me at hitherto completely unexamined buildings.  I'm not sure, until I go back sometime, what this is ... Google Images was spectacularly useless at coughing up a match.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

light, space, and a waste bin

I wanted an image that would remind me - but not replicate - the Polaroid by Daniel Boudinet that Barthes semi-mysteriously includes at the beginning of La Chambre Claire/Camera Lucida [when I was introducing that text in class on Monday, and explaining the imperfect nature of the translation, I wasn't terrifically pleased to have a student interrupt me and ask if I spoke French.  Er, yes.].  It's a very blue lit image (hence the blue-ification of this one): nearly drawn curtains, with a thin triangle of light showing through, illuminating, but hardly revealing, an object of furniture - a chair, a sofa end.  It's only semi-mysterious, of course, because, unalluded to in the text, it's simultaneously arbitrary, a transcendental moment of the ordinary, and a tease, since unexplained.  And maybe there is no explanation, just as I have no explanation to offer when it comes to the existence of an image of a waste bin.  I gave one of my best ever explanations of the birth of the reader, the death of the author (hey: it's been a long time since I've been teaching this stuff) on Monday, but I think it fell on many deaf ears: there was much doing other things on laptops in that class.  Hagh!  Have I got a free-writing surprise for you tomorrow!!

Monday, April 8, 2013

margaret thatcher

I feel very torn, when I contemplate Mrs Thatcher's death today.  On the one hand I have this image of an elderly woman with dementia, living out her last months in the Ritz, of all places - a sad ending (though what do I know?) of a life, and in such terms, she becomes, I guess, once again the mother of someone who was a year ahead of me at school (which meant, of course, that she was an occasional presence around the school - I definitely remember her being at a school prize giving, and I hope that it wasn't her to whom I had to curtsey, but the Chairman of the Mercers' Company - i.e. the Chair of the school governors).  But - Margaret Thatcher the politician?  My teeth still went right on edge when I heard her voice on the radio as I drove in to work today.  I still feel so much anger towards her - and in part, still, that's feeling let down by the first woman to become Prime Minister, let alone for her involvement in the first Iraq war, or the miners' strike and the dismantling of the unions, or the Poll Tax - in general, everything that lay behind MAGGIE MAGGIE MAGGIE OUT OUT OUT.  I'll never forget the day that she stepped down - and, back in Oxford, the College Bursar went and flew the college flag from the top of the college tower, and I shared a bottle of pink champagne with my practical criticism class.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

peaceable kingdom

This preceded the unfortunate Moth-falling-in-the-bath moment (not a way to celebrate one's first birthday), and proves that, after a hard-fought nine months, that at least three of our cats now get on very well together.  The fourth is still under a bed, upstairs, though yesterday, I was (a) allowed to stroke her (b), for the very first time ever, heard her purr.  So she can!!  She's nearly five, and this is a true break through moment.  I'm so glad to have rescued this chair from storage: I've lived with her as long as I can remember.  When my parents bought her, back in the early fifties, she was a grim mid-brown with squiggles on.  They then re-covered her, in a bright navy blue with white buttons, and then I took her over, sometime in the eighties or nineties, and had her re-upholstered in this cat-flattering sea green/blue.  She is, apparently, a Victorian nursing chair - that is, as in nursing babies, I suppose - which means that she has very short stumpy legs.  Looking on line, it seems (a) unusual that she has rounded arms like this, and (b) depressingly obvious that one can buy lovely Victorian nursing chairs relatively cheaply - I guess they aren't what people other than me want cluttering up their studies any more.


Today, a new farmers' market - not, perhaps, as the crow (or local hawk) flies, the nearest, but certainly the one that feels most conspicuously as though it's in our own semi-rural neighborhood: in the parking lot of the Autry museum.  There weren't a whole lot of produce stalls, though the ones that were there had lovely vegetables - we've come away with a wonderful green cauliflower, for example - and there were a couple of excellent other-produce ones: we bought a couple of jars of jam sold by a woman and her husband - and he came from Bristol!  More synchronicity ... I'd not seen Griffith Park from its eastern flank behind, which made me realize quite what a huge, huge urban park we back on to - something brought home when the coyotes started to howl this evening.

Friday, April 5, 2013

tilting the flash

Faithful readers will know that my little Canon point and shoot suffered a terminal shutter collapse at the weekend.  Time for a new camera.  Since this was the second small Canon to give up on me - both times with shutter problems - I'm branching out with a Sony RX100 (which has a very lovely Zeiss lens, and - just look at that grey fur! - wonderful resolution).  It also has a pop-up flash which one can tilt - like a doll's house version of a normal big flash unit.  How could I resist?  On the other hand, it's going to take some practice to make sure that Walter Gomez doesn't consistently emerge with lopsided eyes.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

the ghostliness of a New Yorker story

Here's a strange one.  This week's New Yorker has a story by Tessa Hadley, a British novelist and short story writer.  It's set in Bristol in the very early 1970s.  It's about a 16 year old girl who becomes involved/infatuated/twin-like friend with a guy a couple of years older than herself, who's rebellious, who smokes a lot of dope, who's an intellectual in the making, who is also faintly mysterious, arrogant, and noxious.  This could have been me in 1970 getting entangled with - well, with anyone who'd come across my path.  The details are all there - I read it very slowly indeed - right down to the blue Formica kitchen counters.  Sure, I lived in London, not Bristol, but my first job was in Bristol, in 1980, and the topography of this story is my topography; these are my streets.

It's a good story - the ending, or endings, is/are predictable, but then the endings of all such stories would be, in life as much as in fiction.  So - why haven't I read more of Tessa Hadley, I thought?  She's a name faintly out there somewhere on my radar, but I felt that I wanted to read more (when, of course, is a good question, but google/amazon procrastination is always fun).  And what do I find, among other volumes by her?  A novel called The Master Bedroom, with a (just-resigned) academic protagonist called Kate Flynn.  What to make of this?  Could she have borrowed my name?  She read English at Cambridge: it's not completely improbable that she knows, somehow, of my existence.  Or is it completely arrogant to think so?  I feel as though this near-appropriation of my name is some kind of mild identity theft, and I'm decidedly confused (and, of course, will now have to read the book ...).

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

house colors

So which color should it be?  Actually, you can't vote; we've already decided; it's the big broad stripe that's - so to speak - the second layer down.  With sage green trim - only now that they've started painting, that trim may be a little to dark.  We'll inspect again in the early morning.  Getting the right color has been quite an exercise ... we really like a house a couple of streets away (as I may have remarked before ...) - we wrote the owners a note, and found, in the end, that the paint they used was made by a now defunct company (of course ...).  Our painter - er - went and stole a chip of the color - we don't want to know ... and it's been scanned and matched as nearly as possible.  I think that it would look good to have a whole abstract patchwork wall like this, but I know that I'd be shouted down, and probably with reason.  My desire to have my study painted a dark teal is quite wayward enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

broken bottle

I mean, I didn't need a glass of wine after today, did I?

Glum memo to self: ask for the groceries to be double bagged, next time.  Or, yes, take one of those recyclable bags that are always hanging by the front door, or sitting in the trunk of the car, or standing around full of books waiting to be taken to the office, or, really, are anywhere other than in my hand at the check out.

Monday, April 1, 2013

environmentally aware

It's the week in which my Writing and Photography students have divided into groups and prepared documentary presentations - very competently, so far.  One group, today, talked about USC and environmental awareness: interestingly, they started off very sceptical about how aware the campus is - or isn't - but found that indeed, there are, in fact, lots of initiatives in place - it's just that no one notices them, least of all the students.  So their point was, in the end, that much more effort needs to be made in getting across the message.  I loved this image - a janitor pulling a lot of trash walking in one direction, a student in the other, whilst on the wall behind, two placards.  On the left, the dark grey plaque with the name of the college and donors; on the right, something actually proclaiming that this is station #5 on the USC Environmental Tour.  I'm sure I wasn't the only person in the room who walks past this daily, and never noticed it, and certainly never knew that there was any such set of posters ...

Easter lily

One of the wonderful things about moving into our new house is finding what grows here; what flowers at what season.  Here, right on cue for Easter, is one of the calla lilies, growing at the side of the house, and definitely with O'Keeffe aspirational tendencies.