Tuesday, March 31, 2009

feline darwinism

We're about to enter into a couple of weeks focusing on photography of people - family albums, portraits, personal photography of various kinds - but I didn't set out to take a self-portrait... indeed, didn't even know that I'd taken one till I downloaded this, and found my reflection where I'd thought a black car would be... From which one can see that it was a superbly fine spring day, and that I prowl around university car parks hunting down sympathetic bumper stickers.   One's choice of details to photograph constitutes a kind of autobiographical statement in itself, of course, but one rarely gets it mirrored back to oneself quite so obviously, yet unconsciously, as this.

Monday, March 30, 2009

labeling the door

So - I was talking to Nina about her interesting final project, which will involve thinking, quite directly, about the relationship between writing and photography - and we were discussing the difference that might be made about giving different labels to the same image (not at all the same kind of provocation as throwing the onus of interpretation onto the viewer by calling one's image Untitled # 113, but a provocation, all the same).

The front door here at 113 is quite disorienting enough when seen in triplicate, since it seems to be tilting in various directions at once.   But then given three alternative captions...how do they play against each other?   Actually, it's not easy to come up with three feasible captions.   I was cheerfully hypothesizing away to Nina about how one could give different (false) titles to the abandoned house that she passes on her way home - like "abandoned" - no problem - or "my grandfather's house" - a fiction, but who would care?   Or - more to the point - what viewer of the picture, knowing neither Nina's family not the house, would care?   But could I label my own house "my grandmother's home"?   No way, it would seem.   Nor could I bring myself to employ some emotionally untrue term - "unhappiness" or "trouble" or...   Would I have had the same response to a picture that I'd drawn?   I doubt it, very much.   Which goes to prove (perhaps to my own disappointment), my internalized commitment to the evidentiary status of the photographic image.

Thus, "front door" is not much up for debate.   "Invitation" is mildly double-edged - I guess we could use it on - yes - an invitation?   And it's also suggesting that it's a hospitable house.   Yet an open front door could also be said to be an invitation to burglars.   And "at the end of the passage" is a rather feeble homage to Kipling's short story about photography and pictures on a dead man's eye - hope there isn't one of those at the end of the passage... what is actually there is a reflecting mirror, not a shiny retina.   I think I'll need to try this again at some point - and choose something (as Nina's house is to her) that's more of an initial enigma to start with.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

recycled art

Here's another piece of recycling bafflement from Highland Park.   Sunday afternoons are when some of the prize pickings go out onto the kerb - but this painting is unusually idiosyncratic among the dilapidated chairs, the dented filing cabinets, the children's plastic tricycles, the very unreadable paperbacks.   Its status is unclear - did someone get tired of painting it?   Did someone get tired of it, period - assuming, possibly, that it's finished?   Who ever wanted to paint or own it in the first place?   And (most interesting of all) - is it still there, and if so, what does it look like now that we've had a monstrous downpour in a thunderstorm?

But this had me thinking: mightn't it be a good idea to organize a picture swap?   Not on S. 4th, necessarily, if this is what's on offer...but maybe a Murray Hall picture swap ... we must all have various perfectly decent paintings and prints and photographs and other images that don't quite make it onto our walls any more - and which we aren't quite going to get our act together to put out for a garage sale ... but if we could bring in our art work - put one down, take one up ... for each swap, donate $5, say, to, say, Rutgers Against Hunger ... by the time I'd reached home, I'd turned this into a nationwide event...  Perhaps someone would like a print of a painting of some ballet dancers, leaning against a damp Highland Park tree?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

lights out

It's Earth Hour in Highland Park - at 113, at any rate: no one else round about seemed much bothered.   And yes, a lot of ecologically sound sprouting bits, and organic Coloradan potatoes, and guacamole, too, and Jude the Obscure to read - Jude's compassion for earthworms, a rabbit in a snare, a cab-horse being kicked in the belly, and so on, seemed highly suitable, even if it's hardly an uplifting read for a Saturday night.

I cheerfully remarked on FB that if Johnson & Johnson could turn off all their office building lights for an hour, so could we all - it was only halfway through the afternoon that I started to wonder why ever they have all their lights on on a Saturday night anyway.   But there are some interesting questions hovering over J&J's environmental commitment.   Recently, there's been a large inflatable rat parked in a truck near their headquarters: this is courtesy of the Laborers Local 78 union branch who are protesting against the use of what they say is a sub-standard asbestos removal company at Picatinny Arsenal.   PA is a scary sounding place in its own right - an armament research and development center on a military base in NW NJ.   What's not clear from J&J's website (though they certainly advertise jobs there.   Yes, jobs!) not PA's, nor the one article I can find about the Rat, is exactly what they do at "the home of American firepower."

Friday, March 27, 2009

another day, another view

Would you believe - this simulacrum of a slide transparency was actually the view from my window this morning (the Courtyard by Marriott in Charlottesville, in case you can't wait to make a reservation).   To be fair, it was an excellent and comfortable hotel - but this is possibly one of the least prepossessing outlooks of my hotel-staying life (I realize, now, that I should probably have gone up into this multi-story carpark and taken a picture of room 204's window. I get sulky when I have to sleep with curtains drawn, but I wasn't going to argue with my own preferences this time.

Like any shot of a vacant garage, this image carries something ominous with it - a 
half-baked uninhabited  Gregory Crewdson set waiting for some imagination and action.    It's tempting to photoshop in a corpse or flood or rose petals or some vague hint of disaster... 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

waking up

So here's a problem - if, when it's time to take my where-have-I woken-up-this-morning picture (another daily habit for 2009, and one that should always offer me a default image in case there's no opportunity to take another) - if it's pitch dark outside, when do I take the requisite image?   I guess the first time that there's adequate light.

So here is New Brunswick station at 5.06 this morning, looking, if one squints through half closed eyelids, as though - in its greens and whites - it could almost be some Asian temple.   It was in fact built in 1903, and the color scheme is quite recent - the seats and other green paintwork used to be a somber institutional brownish red (according, at any rate, to the picture on Wikipedia).   Tomorrow morning's picture may be a stunner - by way of a dramatic view, my hotel room in Charlottesville VA looks straight out and into a multi-story car park...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

more missing ads

In much haste - when it came to both photography and writing - so this will have to be thought of as a Series of Rutgers staples, missing the pieces of paper that once were attached to them, and now blending very fetchingly with the metal bits and pieces on the telegraph poles to which they are attached.   These are on the way to the Alexander Library...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ads wanted

Presumably this noticeboard outside Brower Commons has, on occasion, had things posted on it - notices of meetings, of textbooks for sale, of film showings, of ...   I had no luck in hunting down a set of random advertisements, since there seemed to be nothing to publicize, nothing to trade, nothing to recycle.   What to make of this nudity?   It's not that Rutgers students don't respond to the medium of advertising - my class was spectacularly smart at analyzing advertising photography today.   Indeed, they suggested a sophistication in approaching them that might be under-catered for by the average college noticeboard.

More puzzling still, however, is that thin rope, which appears to be anchoring something - but what? into place.   We were talking about direct and indirect codes of signification - does one read this rope figuratively, or literally?   Indeed, if this image were an advertisement, what kind of text might it need in order to bring out its puzzling message?   Asking questions like this might have been an even more fun exercise than unpacking whatever narrative might be drawn around Sean Connery sitting in damp-legged khakis in some tropical paradise, a Vuitton bag nonchalantly by his side.

Monday, March 23, 2009


What could say "back in New Jersey" more eloquently than the Stop & Shop carpark?   But this image isn't meant to be an image of consumerist despair so much as Item One in a week when we're discussing advertisement photography.   I anticipate - but I don't know - that we'll have much to say tomorrow about magazine ads, and seductive/false promises within them (they are, after all, the easiest genre to bring to class, although I fantasize about someone unfurling a huge billboard poster).   Or wheeling in a shopping cart, although they'd have to pay a dollar to unleash these ones from S&S.

For one thing that our reading doesn't really take on board is the humdrum image, placed somewhere that's never going to be eyecatching, but that, I suppose, might slowly sink into one's subliminal consciousness as one stands in one of S&S's preternaturally slow check out lines.   Rather than encouraging some future-oriented feel good fantasy, this is aimed at stirring up a combination of anxiety ("What is Your Home Worth Today?" - I think you'll have to click on the picture to make it larger in order to read that) - with the promise that the reassuring-looking Tami couple "Your Realtors for life" will somehow look after one.   How, exactly, is not explained... they'll tell you that it's worth more than you hoped?   And then?   I don't know whether it's a fortuitous accident that their family name also is the acronym for Tax Advantage Mortgage Insurance, but one would have to be puzzling over the ad for a very long while in that line in order to work that one out.

It may also be an accident that the shopping carts (I keep typing "shopping trolleys," in a blithe British fashion) are Rutgers red, but a salute to the Scarlet Women on reaching the NCAA Sweet Sixteen!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

morning view

After reading fifty undergraduate papers on documentary photography, it seems an act of considerable frivolity to post a picture of the view from our back yard in New Mexico - it's not easy to squeeze much of a socially conscious message out of this.   But my excuse is that it was the last morning - the very early morning - of spring break, and so I'm on academic vacation in this blog.   The strange thing in the tree (not the rather limp looking wind chimes) is not some placard bearing a surreal philosophical proposition (one of students seemed rather over-optimistic about the quality of the graffiti that one might find to photograph in the men's bathrooms on campus, though I suppose one can only hope), but is in fact a block of bird seed from Wild Birds Unlimited.   With lots of pecans and cranberries, it looks like all the bits that one ever wanted to pick out of a fruitcake, and is to encourage (among others) the bluebirds, who were inspecting their newly erected nesting box this morning when we left.

This picture suggests immeasurable serenity ... if I'd really wanted to capture my mood when leaving this morning, I should have photographed a hole in the front flowerbed.   There was a very healthy-looking budding stem of a striped tulip there yesterday.   Why can't rabbits turn their sharp little teeth to the just-sprouting (and I'm sure tender - there are recipes on the internet) tumbleweed shoots?

Saturday, March 21, 2009


This jolly group - Greyhound Companions of New Mexico - were in the Sanbucso Center in Santa Fe this afternoon, outside Teca Tu, an "upscale pet emporium" that has always seemed to me to be outrageously biased towards Dogs.   But they do have adoption days (for both dogs and cats) in the mall outside, and these extremely relaxed canines are ex-racing dogs (the one in the purple coat even has dollar bills stitched into the side of his garment, presumably to suggest that he is Very Lucky Indeed).   I'm not sure where there are dog tracks in New Mexico - Ruidoso?

The adoption theme, however, allows me to celebrate the arrival of Simba at my parents' house (they lost both of their elderly cats last year).   Simba is pale ginger, eight years old, and, according to the Battersea Cats' Home Website, a "true gentleman".   Whether this means that he will open doors for my mother and take her breakfast and a copy of The Times upstairs in the morning remains to be seen, but after seeing his politely self-assured posture today via Skype, anything would seem possible.   

Friday, March 20, 2009


This is a work of rephotography, or at least, of seasonal revisiting.   Last summer there was a finch nesting in this box, and I took a photograph of her/him while she was actually sitting in a place more usually reserved for bills, and coupon magazines, or maybe - this being the yellow plastic side of the mailbox agglomeration - the Santa Fe New Mexican.   Although she wasn't there today, yesterday we saw her fly out quite rapidly as we approached.  It's nesting time.

In celebration of this, we went to Wild Birds Unlimited (an establishment distinguished not just by its commitment to local bird life, but by the resident, and vocal, black and white cat), and purchased a bluebird house and pole (and some more bird seed).   We have both Western and Mountain Bluebirds, and hope that at least one of them can be induced to roost (it's a birdhouse with access both from the side and from the top, in order to allow one to evict sparrows, an attitude that, given the diminishing quantity of sparrows in Britain over the last few years, seems to me rather unpleasantly discriminatory.   On the other hand, I don't think that I've ever seen a sparrow in Eldorado, so I probably shouldn't worry on their behalf).

Today's other bird news consisted of the Quail.   Last summer, we had several families of Quail, including the Catholic Quail (with thirteen little quaillettes, at least at the outset), and the sad, widowed (? goshawk, ? rough-legged hawk, ? great horned owl) Solo.   Solo was back a few days ago.   Solo now seems to have his mate for this year!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

abandoned squirrel

It's another oddity from the verges of Eldorado (the pink flamingoes, by the way, are doing fine - indeed, by the positioning of a nearby hose, it looks as though their owner has been watering them).   Why should anyone discard a plastic squirrel?   Why, indeed, should anyone have a plastic squirrel in the first place?   It's not a very squirrel-filled environment (although we do have a rock squirrel that sits, oddly enough, on a rock out back), which may mean that at one time, it was some kind of low-rent-squirrel compensation.    Nor was it trash day (though there were a few other strange things discarded by the road side, most notably a quite serviceable-looking pair of thick woolen socks).   For an ecologically conscious neighborhood, it does throw up some puzzles.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

harry's, again

This is my second Harry's Roadhouse picture of the year - a modest tally, considering the number of evenings that we've happily spent there.   Clearly it isn't closed - this is inside looking out, with the Santa Fe sunset just visible through the crinkly plastic that's still up shielding the pathway into the restaurant from the elements - not quite warm enough, yet, to sit outside with a margarita waiting for a table to become free.   Not that, indeed, we had to wait at all, prompting us to speculate how far the general downturn in dining out was spreading in Santa Fe (but we were relatively late, it's a week night in March...).   Nonetheless, last week's Reporter had a very telling all-page advertisement from the Compound - a decidedly different sort of very upscale restaurant on Canyon Road, offering Family Dining Wednesdays..."Be Casual & Relax With Us" = southern fried chicken - burgers - salads - Mac & Cheese - Kid's [sic] Quesadillas.... if they don't already know about it, some of the

 chunky turquoise necklace, bollo tie, concho belt, faceworked ex-Texan Las Campanas types [cultural translation offered on request] are going to get the dining shock of their lives.   The Roadhouse Tostada, and indeed the margaritas at Harry's were well up to their usual standards....and we sidestepped the usual hazard of spring break there: the Irish dishes that creep onto the specials...corned beef and cabbage is identifiable, but warm leprachaun potato salad???  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

picking up a railway track

One of the many special things about our house in Eldorado, NM is the railway track that passes about five hundred yards away - with an excursion train from the Santa Fe Southern Railway running along it once every day or so.   Some of the local walking tracks stretch along it, and underneath it - this afternoon, we were on one of these and came upon an abandoned glove skewered on a bush, waiting for its owner to come and reclaim it (I must credit Alice for recognizing quite how creative one could be with the positioning of the handless glove).

I wish I'd waited another hour for the train to come through - because then this glove could have been picking up the St Patrick's "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" Highball Train, with Irish Snacks (??) and a cash bar featuring Guiness and Whiskey.   There were a Lot of people wearing green in town today.   The SFSR puts on a number of special trains in addition to its regular excursion ones, especially at Christmas - and in the middle of the summer, when the annual Gay Pride train comes through, complete with rainbow balloons and a jazz band (and an all gay train crew).   Ah, Santa Fe...

Monday, March 16, 2009

acoma kitty

One of the very best things about coming back to New Mexico (apart from the skies, the air, the chile) is reconnecting with things in the house - like this very small pottery cat on my desk - about an inch and a half across, and made and painted by a woman from Acoma Pueblo.   Reconnecting with this little kitty is also to think about her feline siblings: over the years I've given my mother a number of similar cats which sit on a table in the living room in Wimbledon (together with some equally small Egyptian-style relatives from the British Museum, the Met, etc.).   And being here has not only meant escaping from NJ, the semester, etc., but also other (but linked) forms of reconnection since my cousin Tim and wife Susan have been staying - and here is Tim talking to my parents via Skype.   If they'd been in their living room, one might have seen the other little pottery kitties...

... I guess that this posting is by way of a very preliminary, very unscholarly, very unmeditative first introduction to some of the areas of personal photography that our class will be touching on after break: that's my excuse, anyway, for putting up an image that just encapsulates how very peaceful it is being here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It's March in New Mexico, which means that it's windy.   Which means that the wreckage of last year's tumbleweed is being blown around, and lodging itself against barbed wire fences.   Which means that it's forming archetypal Western views.   

This works, of course, to remind one how recently constructed such views are.     Barbed wire was being patented between 1867-1874 - the original vicious spikes somehow being manufactured in a coffee mill.   And around this time tumbleweed arrived.   There was nothing remotely native about Salsola Tragus.   Seemingly, it came over from Russia in shipments of flax seeds in 1870 or 1874, and escaped after that.   It always looks so pretty when it first starts to sprout in the spring, but that's delusional.   This year, I'm going to try vast quantities of white vinegar, which apparently it really dislikes - but I don't know how far to trust that advice.  For tumbleweed is insidious, and possibly malevolent, and can carry nasty stuff with it.   We saw some photos in class last week that Peter Goin took of the decommissioned Hanford Nuclear Reserve in south-central Washington: apparently in 2000, some nuclear-reactive tumbleweed escaped (the shallow root system absorbs nuclear properties very easily), and had to be hunted down and geiger-counter tested, as it bumped and rolled its way over the neighboring wilds.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I don't know.   I plugged in my iPhone to recharge it - and found this mystery picture there - clearly it was taken - well, where?  How?   Is it the inside of my bag, of a coat pocket, or what?   I really like this sense of the accidental, of light spilling into the apparatus uninvited: it belongs, in some oblique way, to my latest enthusiasm for Slow Photography (pin-holes, here I come) and for the idea of taking, in one way or the other, an image of time passing.   The great thing about this image is that I don't know what time it was.

Friday, March 13, 2009


So this is the view from my window tonight - that is, three hours ago, at late dusk.   We were looking at Muybridge's panoramas of San Francisco, and considering them as deceptive images: deceptive, that is, if one thinks of them as one static moment of city-ness, floating in time - because any composite picture is something that is built up of sequential moments (something that Solnit tries to remind us of in her lay-out, segmenting the SF images so that they appear, scroll like, over several pages).   In the case of this image, Photoshop's merge feature allows one a very basic way of signaling the overlap between frames, before, that is, one trims the agglomeration of images down to a neat rectangle, which I've refused to do.   I tried taking several panoramas - one doesn't want to waste the view from the 37th floor of the Millennium Hotel, on UN plaza - and in someways the most interesting one was formed when I looked directly downwards, rather than leveling my camera in conventional way at the horizon.   However, the completely crappy internet connection here hasn't yet let me upload it.   And at $12.95 for each 24-hours on line, one would expect a better connection than one receives - if one's lucky, there's a small flicker of interest out there in the ether every ten minutes or so - rarely enough to allow for any kind of sustained contact with the world.   So I'm going to cross my fingers, and keep pressing "send" till this posts...

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Here's my first Flash image of the year - quite remarkable, given that I'm supposedly writing about it... and it's on a street sight, a rather already-over-decorated street sign - at the end of Union Street, this week's location of inspiration - a kind of blogging version of Buy Local (an article in yesterday's Santa Fe New Mexican reported on David Cross, the mayor, pointing out as he spoke in the Plaza (chilly?)  out that if one buys local, 45% of the purchase price remains within the community; if one doesn't - but goes to a big box store -  only 13% does.   I had to get that in somewhere, even if it doesn't remotely fit.   Rebecca Solnit's brilliant discussion and reading at Rutgers yesterday was greatly supportive of my habit of associative digression).   Here's one of those lightning zig-zags that photographs of actual lightning bolts proved to be imaginative, but wrong - nonetheless, the pattern has endured as a convention of lightning representation, even if from the earliest lightning photographers onwards - people like William Jennings of Philadelphia - it's been shown to be fallacious.   I don't think that's going to worry a skateboard store.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

paper plates

One never knows what one's going to find on Union Street (or Mine Street - there was a sad and blurred photograph on a tree today advertising a missing ferret): today's gem was a paper plate mashed into the tarmac.   Which had me thinking - given our current class theme of photography and the environment - are paper plates environmentally sound?    Should one use them, or a dishwasher?   (we shifted to using paper plates last year at the National Humanities Center during the Great North Carolina Drought, and I meant to look into the issue then).

According to everything I could unearth in a cursory hunt: use porcelain plates, use the dishwasher.   Even if your paper plate was made from recycled paper (and what's the betting that this one wasn't?), it cost power to produce, transport, wrap (in what?), store, etc.   And unless one composts it, and the remains of the food on it (a perfectly viable option - though I don't know if it would work with one of those really waxy ones), there's then the problem of disposing of it somewhere more ecologically sound that outside my office.   Dishwashers, it would seem, are sounder than washing dishes by hand, even (unless one rinses the food off the plates first, which is not to be done) - though I notice that none of the sites I consulted mentioned the toxic junk and power and minerals and bits of wiring and circuit boards and elements and whatever else goes into making a dishwasher - not to mention disposing of its obsolete corpse.   One website suggested using a baked potato, which seemed overly complicated, given that pita bread is a handy receptacle - or there's even a sandwich.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


We were talking in class today - in advance of Rebecca Solnit's visit to Rutgers - about environmental photography, and how one might most effectively take photographs that would make one think about environmental issues.   We looked at the work of various photographers - Robert Adams's pioneering pictures of suburban tract houses and a drive in movie-theater set against Colorado's front range; Peter Goin's images of the toxic wasteland left behind when the US's first nuclear reactor was closed and left desolate and derelict; Richard Misrach's beautiful and haunting shots of the Salton Sea (somewhere that I've wanted to go and photograph ever since I saw them - but not having been there, can't imagine how one would not come away without them looking like a Misrach rip-off - maybe one would indeed need to attempt a rephotography project - but that's on the menu as a topic for Thursday's class on photography and time); Chris Jordan's piles and piles of abandoned cell phones and circuit boards, and images of shark's teeth arranged as chinese shark-painting - to draw attention to the hundreds of thousands of sharks killed daily for their fins.   And we looked, too, at various different parts of Subhankar Banerjee's Arctic Wildlife Refuge series, the images of caribou and sandpipers and polar bears rendered vulnerable, the tundra and icefloes and sand extraordinarily fragile and mutable, through the captions that accompany them.

One common theme in all of this was beauty - the conventional, National Parks style beauty of unspoiled land, but also the way in which ugliness can often be made to look stunning, or at least aesthetically attractive, by the camera.   It was hard to find anything around the streets of New Brunswick or Highland Park that quite matched up to that - somehow the greasetruck sausage growing white whiskery mold under a fir tree, or the trash can full of computer monitors at the back of - yes - a frat house didn't quite make the grade.   But this companionable set of neatly tied magazines, waiting patiently to be picked up in the morning on recycling day, seem positively proud of their organized, environmentally conscious credentials. I have, though, started to wonder about the destination and greenness - or otherwise - of a lot of recycling: what's the carbon footprint of a tanker that carries this newsprint, or bags of bottles and cans, off to China or wherever they go?   How would one photograph that?

Monday, March 9, 2009

new jersey drivers

There has been barely a moment today for breathing - let alone taking photographs or blogging... but this car was parked outside my office on Union Street, and I was rather taken with the geometric and determined precision with which its wound had been stapled together.

I would much rather have taken a picture of the glamorous skunk that was gamboling across the neighbor's yard, but that will have to go into the category of pictures not taken - but nonetheless impressed on the mind as if it were a photographic plate, that we were talking about in my C19th grad class today.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

missing england

I'm sure that when people ask me what I most miss about England they don't expect that the answer will be peppermint Aeros - a particular kind of chocolate bar only available in the UK (well, for that matter in Canada and Australia - the colonies! - but not the US).   Of course that isn't strictly true, as answers go, but it is a seductive little treat.   I'm not quite sure what I associate it with, because it was only introduced in 1973, the year I started college (maybe that's the answer?   But I don't think of it in connection with guilty binges in the same way that I do packets of chocolate digestive biscuits, or butterscotch Angel Delight).

These phrases, of course, are enough to sum up an era, and probably a country, in their own right.   I wouldn't count myself as a sweet eater (that's a consumer of candy, in translation) - so long as one thinks of chocolate as something else - though the first confectionery that I can remember purchasing certainly did fall into the category of sweets: aniseed balls, from a jar on Mr Smith the grocer's counter in Brampton, Cumberland, where they were 8 for a penny (that was two for a farthing).   One sucked them, to be left with a little sweet/sour anis seed at the center - and there was a deep crimson dye that leaked off their outsides.   When we moved back to Wimbledon, there was a bow-windowed sweet shop, now demolished, near the top of our road, and I used to buy certain treats on the way back from school: sherbet flying saucers, love hearts - which were also sherbetty - licorice fountains (ditto) - candy cigarettes, with scarlet ends mimicking filters, and - an occasional foray into the more expensive realm of chocolate - 2d Cadbury's  chocolate flakes, which could be crumbled up and eaten very very slowly.

Chocolate itself lived in the corner cupboard in our dining room, and was dispensed, like medicine, on a nightly, after-dinner basis: one, or maybe two, squares at a time.   These bars could be Cadbury's Dairy Milk (in a lovely purple wrapper, but boring), Cadbury's Fruit and Nut, which had too many raisins for my liking; Bournville plain chocolate (yes!) and the best of them all, Cadbury's Dark Chocolate with Roasted Almonds.   At Christmas (but this was when I was younger) there were, once or twice, pink round boxes of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates, and some very nasty violet creams from Fortnum and Mason.   The occasional box of chocolates would appear: Cadbury's Milk Tray (nasty), and Terry's All Gold assortment.   When Galaxy chocolate was introduced, it was marketed as creamy and therefore up market, for some reason - it probably meant that it had some kind of glutinous emulsifier in it.   For a very rare pleasurable morsel, there were the honeyed, almondy triangles of Toblerone.   At worst, someone would bring some Edinburgh Rock as a present - much grittier than Brighton Rock, with its festive thin red stripes and lettering running through it - so gritty, indeed, that I harbored a conviction that it was made of sand.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

sliced bag

At dinner this evening, Terry Smith - professor of History of Art at the University of Pittsburgh, and on his way back from a conference about contemporary Chinese art at Princeton - was telling me about the photography of Michael Cherney, a Brooklyn-born photographer/book maker/conceptual artist who works in China, and who selects parts of his images - looking for just the right sliver - blows up that part - breaks it up into equal sized sections - prints these onto xuan paper, fixes them onto backing sheets, dries them, and has them bound into a traditional accordion-style form.   "On the most elemental level" - I quote from what little I've been able to find out about him online - "Cherney's method allows photography, where one fixed viewpoint is a given, to serve Chinese painting tradition, which is not tied to a fixed perspective.   Enlarging the sliver and then sectioning the enlargement causes the fixed eye of the camera to lose its foundation and serve the flexible perspective of the Chinese tradition."

No homage to China, here - the bag is one that I bought in Santa Fe flea market a good few years ago, even if the brocade and beading and rich coloring is indefinably Oriental rather than otherwise.   But I was interested in the disorienting prospect of filleting up an image - a relatively simple, but already tending towards abstract shot - in a way that refuses any stable position for the eye.   My first attempt, though, was rather too much as though I'd simply shot the view through a latticed blind, so I experimented with moving one slice just slightly out of kilter, and with making the spaces between the slices just slightly irregular.   One of the things that I like about this is the idea of creating a sequence that absolutely refuses to be a narrative one.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Somehow I've never noticed this before - on the facade of Macy's in NYC - on, I think, 34th: underneath the lamp bracket is a plaque saying that this is the site of Koster & Bial's Music Hall where, on April 23rd 1896, Thomas A. Edison, with the Vitascope, first projected a moving picture.   Since I was on my way back from giving a talk on flash photography at the CUNY English Students' Association conference - where in the Q and A I'd talked about the links between spark photography and early time-lapse photography - effectively, the forerunner of the motion picture - this piece of illumination seemed quite apt.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


This sight - poised somewhere between dismal and terrifying - greeted me when i walked into our Chair's office this morning.   Is this what a Chair's diet sinks to?   Is this the new budget-conscious offering for hungry faculty?   

Twinkies, for me, exist in some kind of world of cultural mythology - a standby of American fiction, but I don't think I'd ever met one face to face before.    This may mark me down as foreign.     But even though I'll try most culinary experiences - once -  (there were, for example, some rather tasty and crunchy deep-fried mealy-worm grubs in Thailand, though admittedly I passed on the cockroaches) I couldn't face one of these.   I learned my lesson last year, in North Carolina: again, reading had taught me to expect a Moonpie to be some kind of southern delicacy - maybe not grits, maybe not a peach cobbler, but worth a try.    But.    I don't think I will ever have any comprehension of anyone who voluntarily chooses to put sweet styrofoam sandwiched between two slices of soggy cardboard anywhere near their mouth - and I have a very strong suspicion that a Twinkie would fall in the same category.

Twinkies, it seems, were invented in 1930, and originally had a banana cream filling - that sounds more nasty than one could believe - until a banana shortage during WW2 led to the substitution of vanilla innards.   Steve Ettlinger has written a book called Twinkie, Deconstructed, that looks in detail at all the ingredients that go into this monstrously artificial beast.   There is some stuff on line about deep-fried Twinkies - which look set to rival that traditional Glaswegian food, the deep-fried Mars Bar.   (Ettlinger's title also, for that matter, looks like my #1 candidate for misuse of the word "deconstruction," but I'll let that pass, since it looks like a fun read).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


These are very uncreative icicles.   After an evening spent listening to Jennie Livingston talk about her film work past and present, and watching her 2005 short *Who's the Top?*, and seeing work in progress on *Earth Camp One*, a photograph of melting icicles on the next door house - however attractive they might be, as icicles go - doesn't really seem to say anything very much.   I don't even have very many associations with icicles - our 2007 Christmas card, derived from photos taken of icicles hanging down from the canales on our Santa Fe house, doesn't really count... I was taken as a girl in Cumberland to see various completely frozen waterfalls, but they weren't really icicles...and then there are the icicles that hang down under the rail road bridge in New Brunswick and look as though they're about to fall off and skewer cars...  Sometimes, I suppose, an icicle is just an icicle.   If I had a little more time to be creative, instead of falling asleep, I'd find a suitable word to inscribe in pencil-grey on some of those window frames, very very faintly.   I did, just now, try typing in "Go manacle your icicle" - on four separate panes - but it didn't have the right effect, and so this won't be part of my long, long, slow, occasionally-happening project of making creative photographs around Emily Dickinson poems - but that's not to say that these icicles won't get recycled - re-icycled? - for that purpose, in time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

t(r)opical anaesthetic

If there's one thing that I like about going to my dentist's - apart from my dentist - it's the lobby, which is, in its steamy tropicality, like walking into south-east asia, but without the smells of wood smoke and durian fruit (though who knows, in Princeton? - the other day, eating a quite wonderful birthday meal at Elements, we were offered durian sorbet...).   Here, though, the palm trees are quite obviously indoors, and you can see yesterday's snow on the bottom of the window frame.

No documentary here - but I was blown away by the variety and inventiveness of my class's group choices of projects for (theoretical) documentary photography: in chronological order of presentation: child prostitutes in India; the effect of the recession on an east-coast fishing community; dog-fighting in New Jersey; the diversity of things that go on in Rutgers (a composite of that particular group's individual interests, from LBGT and Muslim communities to the after-effects of partying on individuals and the environment); a LOL-cats style tracing of a rescued kitten's life; and 365 days in the life of a NYC bus stop.   Such a fun class...even if I have 51 individual papers on particular possible documentary subjects to read...

Monday, March 2, 2009


This is G. F. Watts's Hope (c.1885-6), on a mug.   She came from the Watts exhibition at London's Guildhall, where I went on Saturday, and she's really in a pretty bad way: sitting on a globe - the world - her eyes are bandaged, and she's trying to get some sound out of her lyre, which has only one string.   Not good.   There's a star up there, above her shoulder, but it seems very distant and out of touch.

It's perhaps rather bizarre, then, that we might not have that message on which Obama kept on - er - harping without this painting.   He heard the Reverend Jeremiah White preach on it back in 1990 - a sermon in which the Reverend described how "the harpist is sitting there in rags.   Her clothes are tattered as though she had been a victim of Hiroshima...[yet] the woman had the audacity to hope."   Obama borrowed that phrase for the title of his 2004 convention speech, and for the title of his second book.   Nelson Mandela, for that matter, had a copy of it hanging in his cell on Robben Island.

But it's such a quintessential Victorian icon!   My mother tells me that her mother had a sepia copy hanging in her bedroom (now that must have made a really cheerful picture to look at...) - together with reproductions of Landseer's Shoeing the Bay Mare, Leighton's The Return of Persephone, and a secular mother and child that I think must have been a painting by George Romney.   I still can't work out quite how she can have her left knee bent round in such an uncomfortable position, but if a painting can have a Barthian punctum, for me it's the calloused, hard worked sole of that same leg's foot.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


- or so I still atavistically think of it, in Wimbledon: on the left, a scary forty-eight years ago, and on the right, this morning.   My father had been posing me in my brand new Wimbledon High School Junior School uniform - bought at a School Outfitters called Kinch and Lack in Victoria.   I didn't know whether to be embarrassed or proud of the fact that my head - measured for the navy blue hat with a green and white ribbon - had been judged to be size 7 1/8 - apparently very large for my age.   Navy mac - or maybe the navy blazer and navy skirt.   Vile beige socks - I don't remember them at all.   And Very Sensible Clark's Shoes.   And a brown satchel.

Other photographs from the same day suggest that my father was having a Steichen/Vermeer aesthetic moment, and prove that I could be a very solemn looking child - no wonder I worked subsequently on the Victorians - it looks as though I was one.

Going in and out of the front door collapses time.   Though the door, by now, has sprouted a little portico, and roses have grown up - the overflow from the downstairs bathroom still pokes out very inelegantly, though.   I was planning on musing at more length on putting past and present views together - but it was a long flight home here from home there, and I'm tired.