Tuesday, June 30, 2009

farewell, my lovely

This is, or was, it: we've driven out of 962 N. Hoover Street. But this picture, of course, gets left: it goes with the house. The house was built in 1926. It doesn't actually turn up, by named address, in a Raymond Chandler novel, but it is, of course, perfect for the period. I keep hoping, and wanting, to see an old movie, and have it, looking rather surprised and young, come into view. Nonetheless, the address, and probably fictional phone number, appear in the movie version of Farewell, My Lovely.

This still from the film hangs in the downstairs bathroom - which we never used all that much, largely because it also housed the kitty litter tray. Oddly, when one looks at it, the palm tree logo on the drinks mat much resembles that on the logo of the Rubaiyat, the club in Ann Arbor where Alice was once a DJ - a logo that will be reproduced in her Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture. Seemingly, generic Orientalism mingles with the generic West Coast. It's the palm trees.

This picture, therefore, stands out among the frames and frames that I took, just before we handed the house over to the renters. But we're so happy, for many reasons - despite the sadnesses of leaving, to be driving east ((tonight in luxury in Sedona, tomorrow back in Santa Fe).

Monday, June 29, 2009

still packing

although this young Apollo, or whoever he is, won't be coming with us: he's part of the terrace (quite literally: his plinth is cemented in).   He manages to retain a certain dignity even though the movers (very efficient ones - Allied, "the cheerful movers," so far live up to their slogan) have stacked up some of their many boxes against him.   I've taken so many pictures of this statue (and manipulated them in various ways) over the last four and a half years that it seems only fair to give him one more outing: his profile against the cypress is one that I've borrowed and deployed to various ends (put me in a sculpture gallery, or a cemetery, with a camera, and I'll be happy for hours).    

He is, of course, about the only tranquil thing about this house today - I never want to see another cardboard packing box or plastic crate or remnant of strange enthusiasm that one finds at the back or bottom of things (weird vitamin potions buried deep in the freezer, disconnected bits of exercise equipment, things I'd hoarded thinking I might Do Something Artistic with them) again.   Oh, and I wish that I knew in which of 50 cartons or so my only respectable black pants that I'd left out - somewhere - might now be.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

packing up

packing, and more packing.   Theoretically, the movers do a lot of it, tomorrow - but one still has to sort things so that they can process them.   Somewhere when I wasn't looking my photographs of moving out of 962 have shifted from the commemorative to the documentary, although this still is, in many important ways, a record - a melancholic record - of how the sun falls into the bedroom in the late afternoon.   It lacks, though, the sound of Pop Goes the Weasel being played for the 72nd time that day on the itinerant ice-cream van; the ambulance sirens; the helicopter; the cars remembering to brake just in time at the stop sign (or to inspect the ex-yard sale items that, yes, we did drag out to the side of the curb - the really nasty things, anyway); the two guys next door fighting; the dog more or less next door howling in despair; the mariachi music (or, the last couple of days, Michael Jackson songs) playing loud on car radios; Josie opposite using a vacuum cleaner on her car that's so loud that one thinks that it must be some kind of warning siren; the little girl opposite practicing to be the youngest ever winner of American Idol (she does, indeed, have a stunning voice); her elder brother Albert screaming; the sound of an old supermarket cart being propelled down the street by someone looking for discarded bottles to put in it; firecrackers (we're nearly at the 4th of July); skateboarders; car alarms; and miscellaneous human shouts and squeals.   There's a lot that photographs can't show.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

garage sale

The garage looks remarkably sparse (if well arranged) here, but I promise you, each side was in fact full of well-chosen, well-arranged, tasteful stuff - all at bargain prices, all ready to go.   Only it stayed.   We had put up notices.   We were there bright and early, at 8.   But no one else was.   One person turned up after about twenty minutes, rummaged around, and bought a rather beaten up wrench for $1.   Then another long pause.   Then three Hispanic women negotiated, hard, for two rather elderly and faded tee-shirts (50c), and a bath mat (an exorbitant $2, I think).  And so on.   It was a very dispiriting process, and if we hadn't sold a t.v. and its stand, we wouldn't have covered the cost of the labels that I'd bought and on which I'd written prices.   Happily, some friends turned up - thanks, Connie, Jeff, Greg, Marita, Edward! - or we would have been very lonely.   

So what does one make of this?   We are, after all, used to yard sales in Eldorado, where it's hard to find parking within comfortable walking distance at opening time.  But we came to see that there were other yards sales within a block or two - and then that these were multiplied again and again in street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood.   LA is yard sale central.   And there are properties to let, also block after block - people are moving out, not moving in, and judging by most of our (sparse, very sparse) clientele, those who remain are looking only for the very cheapest bargains on essentials, not what - for the most part - were the relative luxuries and trinkets  that we had on display.   It was very sobering.  

Anyone want any very cheap things?   At this rate, we'll be moving them across country and they'll turn up again at Highland Park's annual mass yard sale in September...

aretha...and hat

So, yes, she did wear it, or a light weight slightly shiny silvery summer version of the January masterpiece... visible here on the large screen... an amazing occasion (and Occasion it certainly was - the Rev Jesse Jackson being introduced, the minute's silence for Michael J, some extraordinary singing from AF, and some completely incomprehensible Brazilian dancers at half time.   Oh, and Halle Berry kneeling at the Grande Dame's feet and apparently kissing her toes).

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Back in LA, it's been time to carry on with packing up the house, with sorting out things for Saturday morning's garage sale, and with investigating some of the strange things that end up at the back of kitchen cupboards.   The last time we did this last activity, in the summer of '06, I seem to remember throwing out everything that had passed its eat-by date.   It was depressing how many things that I dropped into black trash bags today that had a terminal date of '07... But apart from practical activities of this kind, it's the last blast of sentimental picture-taking, with or without an iPhone in hand (see below, where the sepia makes Silver Lake look rather like a 1930s picture of the French Riviera, or indeed like Los Angeles in a Raymond-Chandler derived film still - apart from the big new block of the Children's Hospital in the distant background).

It's going to be especially hard to leave the plants - and the picture above is of the trumpet plant, which is going strong (and smelling wonderful) by the front door - I crawled underneath her so that I could convey a sense of her true trumpeting qualities, but also in an attempt to include the tall cypress trees as well - trees that are very much the hallmark of this house.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

what happens in vegas

I've never yet been outside the airport in Las Vegas, but the airport is always a totally fascinating pace in which to change planes - people determinedly trying to recoup their losses at the slot machines; people indulging themselves - trying to stave off a heart attack brought on by stress? - at the Oxygen Bar; large contingents of the scarily overweight; people gazing into their deep inner gloom. This guy fits the last of these categories, and may be heading for the penultimate one: what's weirdest about him is his mohawk hairdo - if it's possible for a mohawk to be thin and wispy, this one has achieved it.

Ah, the advantages, once again, of the iPhone camera: with the sound turned off, one can look as though one's just whiling away the minutes before one's delayed connecting flight through playing Anytime Pool (n.b. that the rules are different for US and UK 8-ball pool, and I think I'd rather learn this when engaging in the virtual variety than on any more social an occasion) - when actually, one has the unsuspecting victim in one's sights...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

campus art

This has never been one of my favorite pieces of sculpture - although I suspect that some of the ways in which I relate to it - it's too bright! the figures are grossly over-sexualized! it's almost cartoon-like! - show that I'm falling exactly into the aesthetic (Anglo) trap designed for me by its artist, Luis Jiménez, possibly best known for his huge blue Mustang at Denver Airport (and not just because a leg of it fell on him when he was working on it and killed him...).   It stands at the entrance to the University of New Mexico, and it's called "Fiesta Jarabe" (actually, on the base it's inscribed "Fiesa Jarabe," but it's 4/5, and at least one of the other 5 has "Fiesta" in full. Nonetheless, whether intentional or not, this serves as an injunction to read the whole thing carefully).   It shows a couple executing the jarabe tapatío, and that already sets it up as a firm statement of New Mexico's Mexican connections - not the old Spanish ones, but more recent immigration and links (Jiménez himself was originally from El Paso).   This dance, the hat dance, had been chosen as the Mexican National Dance in 1924 by the Secretary of Education, José Vasconcelos (much to the disapproval of some in the Catholic Church, who thought it far too lascivious).

The lasciviousness is certainly exploited here - one of the reasons why the statue was controversial, both in NM and in Los Angeles.   When it was installed in UNM - in 1996, I think - it also had people tut-tutting over it because they found the couple's skin color too dark for them to be Representative New Mexicans (LJ, of course, was making a point, here...).

But whatever my gut reaction to the sculpture - and of course it is a clever piece of art, in some ways, when one thinks about it, because it both exploits fiesta stereotypes - as if on the place-mats of a bad Mexican-themed restaurant - and exaggerates the individuality of the couple (one reason why I think it makes me uneasy, and one reason, too, why I photographed it from this angle, is that the man and the women's faces don't suggest uncomplicated enjoyment: on his, in particular, there's a hint of sneering sadism, that lend an aura of potential sexual danger to the encounter, and make one feel doubly uneasy about that tight skirt) - whatever my gut reaction, it pushes me into thinking how good it is to be in a state where stereotypes - of a good as well as a provocative kind - can form a part of campus art and architecture.   UNM engages pueblo style architecture to the full (you can see something of this in the building behind), with its faux-adobe walls and its vigas, its turquoise paint, its curves.   I was in the library today, and a group of high school students were being given a tour: they were being shown, indeed, the individual carving of the vigas, the tin work on the lamps and the chandelier, the NM art - both old and new - on the walls.   Could one do this with New Jersey, and College Avenue?   

Monday, June 22, 2009

rural new mexico

This is a deliberately washed out looking image, created - to some extent - out of necessity, but certainly out of circumstance.   I simply couldn't find my little point and shoot camera anywhere when I was leaving the house today - didn't really want to take an SLR out to lunch - didn't really think I'd be likely to use it (of course, these last two assumptions are always bound to be proved false).     But I did have my iPhone (what now seems like an Outdated Model, given the fact that the new 3GS has a vastly - well, considerably - improved camera function), and I'm still hooked on using the Toy Camera app - which can be relied upon to produce something interesting and unexpected.   

This one I tweaked a bit more in Photoshop, though, because I wanted to desaturate it, take its color register back down to those of the early FSA color photos  (a significant number of which are from New Mexico), because this scene could have come straight out of the early 1940s: the unevenly hand lettered sign advertising Coyote Fence (that's the kind of fence you can dimly make out on the left, made from upright pieces of wood - cedar or aspen or juniper, supposedly at least five feet tall, to keep these hungry beasties out), and below these, latillas - or skinned thin branches or tree limbs which are usually placed between vigas - or beams - on a ceiling.   Just recounting these names reminds one of how local are the terms in NM for building/domestic architectural work, and I think that if I saw this picture anywhere - even in its slightly blurry and darkened state - the lettering, together with the dried red mud, would scream New Mexico at me.

This tin shed is just at the side of the gas station by the 2nd entrance to Eldorado - I may well go back there with a better photographic instrument.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

waking up

Part of my visual/verbal discipline for the year has been to take a daily photograph of the view from the window where I wake up.   I think I've missed this one only three times so far - once because I had a medical procedure and had other things on my mind; twice because I'm forgetful.   My favorite pictures so far have tended to come from overnight flights...  But this view is almost never the actual first thing that I see when I wake.   That vision is more like this... so I went to bed with a camera by my side, ready.

Yes, Emmett is menacing.   Why not shut him out?   Quite apart from the fact that this wouldn't be fair to the other three (who restrict themselves to bouncing on and off the bed, chattering at birds), I adore his menacing little face, and he's 14, and has some kidney problems, and he won't always be there to deliver a wake-up call (indeed, quite probably it is, in part, driven by the demand that we go to the kitchen and feed him some expensive low-protein cat food).   But I also wanted to take a photograph that came as close as possible to conveying that which it's so hard to record: touch.   One can capture appearance, and sound, and to some extent - replicate, if not record - smell.   But touch?   Note that blurry, out of focus paw in the foreground (even given the camera's macro function).   One can't quite see any of Emmett's remaining teeth here, but believe me, they are there, ready to nip one's chin, nose, ear - even, yesterday, and somewhat insultingly, what he found were tempting rolls of fat at the back of my neck.   

I have no idea why my posts don't seem to be getting forwarded to Facebook: this is doubtless reducing their audience to - hmmmm - a quiveringly low number.  So perhaps I can get away with another (non-cute) kitty image, today.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I'm relaxing my discipline this evening - it's a Saturday night, and the annual passing-through-Eldorado of the Pride Train, complete with rainbow banners and balloons, always puts me in a good mood ... I'd intended to go out and photograph it, but was out by an hour in my timing.   So, two pictures - exemplifying a typical dichotomy: the pretty picture, about which there's nothing much to say, and then, one of the other kind.   Meredith asked the other day on FB whether one could have too many peonies - she was, I'm sure, talking about her yard, not her bedside table, but waking in the grey rain this morning, her comment was the first thing that I thought of when I woke and saw these, and thought no - not possible to have a superabundance ... so, Meredith, this one's for you.

The reality of a wet day shows up well here, but it should be very good for the herbs - ours, and these.

These are planted outside the latest very-near-to-Eldorado culinary acquisition and temptation, Real Food Nation, just above where 285 joins I-15 - the junction with the Old Las Vegas highway.   The co-chef here used to be at the (now closed) Galisteo Inn: the whole establishment is devoted to local, organic, and slow food, and it's quite delicious.   The dark chocolate cupcakes with caramel frosting and toasted pinons should probably be illegal.   

But this spiral and gridded lines of a watering system (even if not the strange hybrid - a cross between a fried egg and a sunflower - on a stick) had me thinking more about land art / art in a landscape.   To be sure, this shouldn't count at all - it's functional, and if Land Art is one thing, it's non-functional, except in so far as it gets the perceiver to think about space, time, and the relation between aesthetics and the environment - or, rather, because Capability Brown, say, did that pretty well, about the point of art at all.   I read today Erin Hogan's Spiral Jetta. A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West today, which, despite its terrible title, has some very thoughtful insights into how one might respond to Land Art (and her description of her experience at the Lightning Field manages to convey its magic in an impressive way).   One of the points that she raises is that of whom Land Art is for - and how to assess the huge amount of effort (and expense) that goes into some of it, in relation to the relatively tiny number of people who see it, in its out of the way situations - however moved and inspired by it we might be.   This particular curve and set of lines, however, manage to symbolize exactly what RFN sets out to do - a respect for the beauty that can accompany the utility of growing food to eat.   I just hope that my rabbit doesn't make his way up there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

landscape grid

This is only a very miniature piece of - well, not even land art, but landscape art: a grid drawn across what was a spectacular sunset.   I was extraordinarily grateful for this sunset: it was a heavy-clouded and rather gloomy day after the start of the morning, and then suddenly, everything lit up in its full glory - the very best of NM sunsets, caught somewhere between a Caspar David Friedrich painting and heaven.

I've been eyeing this empty bird feeder (do not worry - plenty of other ones are full) for several days now, waiting for a worthy evening sky that it would be effectively silhouetted against.   I wanted to use it to refer back to the practice of imposing abstract, and geometric shapes onto landscape, and then letting natural light bring out their form (though in choosing this from a whole collection of rapidly taken shots, I have to say that this one is largely made by its composition, with the hazy charcoal form of the tree in the background, and therefore this may not quite count).   I've not been able to stop reading about Land Art (though of course, I should be writing stuff about the late C19th, and it's an uncomfortable collision), and the ways in which geometric, simple, abstract shapes within the landscape make one reconsider light and form and space and place and time.   In and of itself this doesn't do any such thing, of course, but I am intrigued about the possibility of using it as a starting point for something else (which is, I think, a further transformative possibility when it comes to photographic representations of human artifacts within a landscape).   I don't have a scanner here this week, but nonetheless, I think I may well print this out and see what the effect - and then the meaning - might be of painting in - some? all? of the shapes on the grid - an aggressively angular counterpoint to the meditative practice of coloring in a mandala.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

the scenic beauties of New Mexico

This is the new view from our front door.   I'm being disingenuous here - it's the view as seen through a telephoto lens, or as it would be if one walked up the drive way and then over a chunk of our neighbor's land.   But still, it's unmistakably what, in England, would be called a Portapotty, albeit painted a fetching New Mexican turquoise.

In justice to our neighbor, I should say that he's copiously apologized for this (and, though it may not have been connected, cut and presented me with a very handsome deep red rose).   But its presence harks back to an earlier theme this year: the quiet signs of the recession.   For a good builder would not necessarily normally be available to add portales - a NM style porch - front and back at this season.   And Paul, who is doing this work, is normally a house builder.   But there aren't any to build around here, right now.   So I'm hoping to talk to him about our own naked back wall, very shortly.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nina's boots

Today was very dusty: although Nina was lovingly anointing her new (that is, new 2nd hand) boots at lunchtime with olive oil, I had an anxious suspicion that the sandy New Mexican soil was going to adhere to them even more firmly as a result.   

This sandy road was the way up to Star Axis - another piece of Land Art, another non-photographable construction.   I did, though, feel far more respectful of an art work that is in the midst - the long midst - of being built: it's a work in progress that, once finished, is designed to last for 26,000 years (the precession, so called, which is the length of the slow wobble that tilts the Earth's axis first towards, and then away from, Polaris).    Work in progress - however tempting - is not the same thing as a finished piece when it comes to photographing its effects, startling though its geometric lines, and its scale, were.   Whether or not the solar system will be the same, repeating itself in its cycles, at the end of that time, one can't exactly anticipate.   It seems likely - only I'm quite sure that the means whereby we record its motions (whether mathematically or representationally) will not.

In this context of time passing, the fact that Charles Ross has only been working for a quarter century on this project seems like speedy process.   Star Axis is a very different kind of work from Spiral Jetty or the Lightning Field, and a far less sympathetic one, to my mind.   This may have a good deal to do with the sun itself.   I would love to come back at night, and sit in the Hour Chamber, with the north star, Polaris, at the top of the 15 degree opening, and each star on the left-hand side taking exactly an hour to pass to the right, the east (most of all I'd like to come back at that time in August when the Perseides shoot through the New Mexican sky, and complicate this with their shows of burnt out light - August 12th, this year).   The Hour Chamber is at the front of the Solar Pyramid: behind it, is the Star Tunnel, parallel to the Earth's and intersecting with the line of the equator: a steep staircase rises above its bottom chamber, and according to where one pauses on the staircase, one will be able to have a sense of where Polaris was at that moment in history - a going up and a coming down, looking forward and backward, at once.

Looking in either direction today was a vertiginous experience (literally, if one suffered from such physical issues) - of course it would have been good to take out a camera, and capture the brutally angular and exact progressions of light and shadow.   What struck me most, in the bright mid-day sun, was the potential cruelty of the sharp sunlight.   Its long, thin, needle-like piercing triangles of light reminded me horribly vividly of the sun striking the column on ice at the end of D. H. Lawrence's short story "The Woman Who Rode Away," a phenomenon of the winter equinox that signaled the (self) sacrificial woman's deliberate, willed giving up of herself to - as one can read it all too easily - man's phallic (and desired) power.   Late Lawrence is very nasty, sometimes.   But here and elsewhere he gives one pause for thought about what sun worshipers are actually worshipping, and although Star Axis (as its name suggests) is hardly a temple to Ra or Tonatiuh, Charles Ross is fascinated with the sun in all kinds of ways: from constructing prisms through which light falls in meditative or healing places (for the most part one or the other - the chapel of Harvard Business School may currently serve both functions), to making Solar Burns.   To my mind, quite the most thrilling part of the day was seeing not just Star Axis itself, but some of the structures (though not the lenses) used to make the burns, and a number of sets in construction and arrangement in his workshop.   He focuses the sun's rays on wood - for the most part - for precisely nine minutes, the length of time that it takes light to travel from the sun to earth, and at different moments of the year, it performs different curves. He's using the same medium as the photographer, in other words, but instead of light being benign and enabling, he's bringing out its destructive qualities, too, and using them to create art.   This seems to be looping round, in my flash-obsessed way, to the tie-in between the necessity of light for image making, and the cross-over point in which it becomes murderous.

I can't find a way of looping back to Nina's boots, though there could be something potentially cruel about their pointy toes.   But I did want to reflect how wonderful it's been to travel - on and off - with fun, clever, creative people for the past few days, and I'm not sure that it's going to be at all easy to return to my habitual academic orbit.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

a spiral destroyed

There.   I knew it.   At least this offender was offering up some extra amusements for the cats - though all of them (the rabbit outside, the cats, I'm glad to say, indoors) froze when two adult coyotes and a young adolescent pup trotted past.   Cub?   What do coyotes have?

This is a deceptive picture - I was trying to see how a daylight - at least sunny early evening - image could be made to look as though I'd caught the little bunny by flash, turned her into a night-time thief - without actually using flash at all.   That is, I wanted to induce an air of crime and menace - trying to jump-start myself into thinking about the next section of Flash! that I plan to work on, even as I carry on thinking about lightning (I've been reading Gretel Ehrlich's A Match to the Heart, her account of being struck by lightning, and her subsequent investigations and meditations around the phenomenon itself) and also the blinding and brilliant (if not flashy) light of the sun.

And - hence the second rabbit - I was also trying to create an image that would translate well into a mock Polaroid, having just discovered this crazy application that allows one to mimic this form... it even makes the proper Polaroid whirrr.    I am still very much hoping that a firm will, indeed, take over the old Polaroid plant and start making film again.   My carefully hoarded packet of 4 x 5 film won't last for ever...

Monday, June 15, 2009

spiral seed

I very much wanted to write about the difference between the Lightning Field and Spiral Jetty - but I had no spiral jetty to hand today.   So I had to find a spiral... here is a spiral of bird seed on the back porch.   I set it up around lunchtime (it's curled the opposite way round from the SJ, but that's not deliberate - probably linked to my innate tendency to do things counter-clockwise, which made my mother decide when I was about six, and stirring cake mixture widdershins, that I might be a witch) and then photographed it every hour - each time it was a little bit more ravaged by housefinches and some untidy mocking birds.   This evening, after going out for dinner (hi there, UCI gang!), it looks as though something heavy has sat on it.   Probably a rabbit.

For I had intended to explore how the SJ, for me, is a very playful piece of art work - it knows, I felt, that land art is going to seem small and insignificant when set against the grandeur and scale of nature, and wants to have fun with the concept.   Hence its glorious inutility, its acknowledgement that it is decorative, and not in any kind of rivalry.   It's also something that though its stem, the root of the curly lizard tongue, is attached to land, draws the eye on past it to the sparking, crackling salty wastes of its surroundings.

Whereas the Lightning Field is uncompromisingly there.   It makes no concessions to us.   It's indifferent to us, its spectators.   Its poles recede into the night, and are still there, emerging as thin pale grey stripes in the dawn.   It mocks us - you expected an art work to relate to you, humor you, draw you in?   Forget it.   It doesn't have to - any more than nature does.   It takes from nature - at least in daylight - all the time, reflecting (or, for much of the middle of the day) refusing to reflect natural light.   It joins heaven and earth - sometimes in a very secular and pragmatic way, sometimes in a far more glorious and transcendental one.   But we, as viewers, aren't in any kind of control about when this happens - it's up to the art work's interaction with light, not with us.    It belongs to the air and sky, despite being rooted in the ground.

The spiral, on the other hand, is all about the land: made of rocks and sand, and laid flat on the earth.   Or so I thought.   But I was wrong - I watched a five minute excerpt from Robert Smithson's 1970 film about the Jetty today (I am so excited - the whole thing is going to be shown in Albuquerque in August) and in fact, he was inspired by the sun, by its radiant white heat, by the fact that this sun, the source of light - the source of what makes a photograph, one might say - is "a vast spiral nebula of innumerable suns".   His own spiral is, for him, a "circle curling out of the sun."   So it is far closer to forms traced by light than I ever thought (and this has pushed me to learn, as I've been intending to do, more about it - you've not heard the end of spirals, even if this particular one will have been eaten).

This image is from 4.30 p.m. - the hour in which the shadows of the curved chair backs had themselves crept round to add to the spiral's trajectory.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

on not photographing the Lightning Field

Before one is driven out to Walter De Maria's Lightning Field - 400 stainless steel pointed poles, arranged in a symmetrical grid somewhere north of Quemado on the high plains of Central New Mexico - one is made to sign a form affirming that one realizes that lightning is dangerous; that one might encounter various tricky items of wildlife (I did, indeed, encounter a two foot rattlesnake, going about its slithering business), and that one recognizes that photography is not permitted.   It is also surely the case that very few people head off to the Lightning Field without a camera somewhere on their person, even if it's only on their cell phone.

So why this prohibition?   As Catherine Lord remarked (and my profound thanks to her for inviting me along to share this experience with her, three UCIrvine MFA students (Nina, Josh, and Dong) - and one Harvard student (Martabel), there is, of course, something of the performative about it - it makes one think about photography, and its adequacy, or otherwise, as a representational means for engaging with this particular art work.    It's a prohibition, however, that makes one consider, as well, the control that a sculptor may want to possess over his work.    I found myself bridling, initially, at the possessiveness of the prohibition - a restriction of other people's right to take this work as the raw material for their own: a capturing not just of their experience, but an acknowledgement of the beauty of - say - the first morning rays of sunlight hitting the poles, and turning them, and the surrounding grassland, an extraordinary shimmering tangerine gold haze.   But then - and here we hit intentionality - how far should an artist be able to determine the conditions under which his or her work is seen?   For De Maria's intention is not just to offer up an aesthetic object in its own right, but to demand that we see it - that we live with it, and our responses, and our thoughts, over time.   Why else allow only six people at a time to view it; drive us forty five minutes down rough roads, and leave us for twenty hours in a renovated 1918 log cabin, with a casserole of green chile enchiladas, a pot of beans, and each other for company?

I have a huge amount to say about all of this, and not enough energy to do it justice this evening - in part because I got up at dawn to see the sunrise, which was one of the most sublime experiences imaginable.   And (having been talking to Nina about the sublime) I mean that in its fullest, most Kantian sense.   The longer I spent there (and it was very hard to be picked up at 11.30 this morning, even if we did all go off and eat a lot of pie in Pie Town, made famous, for me, by Russell Lee's FSA color photographs), the less relevant the idea of photographing it seemed to be, and the more important the inner, and the conceptual experience of being in this setting became.

Very unusually for me, I couldn't stop writing.   I stayed out on the Field from 5. 10 a.m. till 10.30 - returning only to make some coffee (everyone else was back asleep...) walking, and looking, and thinking, and writing.   A very weird annihilation of time took place.   I'm normally meticulous about one journal page per day - but I seem to have written half way through next Wednesday, and that's not counting some more notes and a badly inadequate drawing at the back.   Photography, for me, as an activity, became relatively irrelevant - though thinking about it did not, and in a feverish, elated, ideas pouring over each other way, I took note after note after note, about what I saw, about - well, yes, about the irrelevancy of the photographic flash by the side of flashes of lightning.   Even though we didn't witness any direct storms hit the field (with the irony of which only New Mexico is capable, I arrived back in Eldorado to a magnificent display of lightning and heavy rain), the anticipation of lightning was there all of the time - and that sense of imminence, of about-to-be spectacular, is very inimical to the ideas behind so much photographic theory.

I think that I care enough about the prohibition (and/or De Maria's emphasis on primary experience being something that should be felt) to respect it, when it comes to public reproduction, at least.   Another factor that crosses my mind is that the prior circulation of many different reproductions might diminish the effect of this actual experience, preconditioning the eye.   But surely writing can do this too - I stopped reading Kenneth Baker's long essays on his several stays at the Lightning Field after half a page, because I didn't want his intellectual, literary, cultural response to influence my own at the time, brilliant though it is in retrospect.   Nonetheless, in this picture - which may or may not have been taken on the Lightning Field, but bear in mind that one of the few noises, apart from clear birdsong and the occasional incongruous jet airplane, is wind, wind, wind, and bear in mind, too, the empty striped bee shells that litter the red soil and the chamisa - in this picture, and for once, writing holds prominence.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

poles apart

A 7.10 a.m. posting?   But I am off to the Lightning Field, and so will be off the (telecommunications) grid until tomorrow afternoon.   I'll be in the company of a different kind of grid - 400 stainless steel poles in a large flattish area - not to mention that of four people I don't know, and one whom I've only briefly met...   But still - I'm very excited by this...

So here is my very own pole, or rather the bluebirds' pole.   I'd hoped to get a shot of them diving in with their twigs, but the grey clouds came up and spoiled the light, and in any case I'm running later than I would choose.   Nonetheless, since photography isn't allowed at the LF (de Maria's copyright protection - but more on this tomorrow) it may be the only pole that I take a photograph of all day.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I know that I swore off posting too many Cute Kitty photos when I began this project.   And now that's two CKs within one week (if one can, indeed, call Emmett Cute, which is debatable, given his teeth and general bullying tendencies).   But actually it's harder to take good cat photographs - ones that sum up the absolute essence of a particular cat - than one might think.   This is LucyFur in her palace - in my study here in Cuesta Road, a perch that she's loved since she was a kitten - and I like the image for its geometrical symmetries as well as for Lucy's loving (or maybe just benignly tolerant) expression.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

no direction home

So what has happened to the road sign pole at the end of our road?   When we turned up on Tuesday, I'd taken this as yet another signal of the recession: someone had stolen it, I figured, as a support for a garden fence, or to tether one end of a washing line to, or as part of a trellis system.   But no, in fact, the pole, dented badly, is lying in the ditch a little further up the road, and I can only imagine that some vehicle must have slammed into it at speed.   It would be good if the Eldorado Community Association manages to give the Cuesta/Monte Alto junction back its identity (for direction is an uncertain business around here - Mapquest puts our house in the wrong place).

But waiting for this to happen will turn into one of the pleasures of the evening walk - together with seeing what's new on the Monte Alto house with the huge metal buffalo outside - and, I was going to write, the wagon - but is the wagon still there?   I think it may be missing.   It's dark, and I can't check.   But they have a wonderful new bit of western kitsch - a rocking chair made entirely, so far as I can see, of horseshoes.   In case anyone is wondering, the pink flamingoes just up the road are looking a little dessicated and pallid.   A little further, what had looked a couple of months back as though it was going to be a Victory Garden seems just to be sprouting a few potatoes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


One of the huge pleasures of coming back to Santa Fe is re-encountering all one's things here - furniture, pictures, books, kitchenware, mugs... opening the cupboard and encountering this collection is like meeting little slices of one's past.   The mug on the very left was one that I bought in Santa Fe in 1997, at Ohori's - the shop that we still get our coffee from (even when we're in NJ - very much recommended).   Next to that is a geometric patterned Deruta mug from a store called Ceramica of Vail, that doesn't seem to have a website, and that has  - or did, when I used to ski there regularly - have the best selection of Deruta mugs that I've ever seen, even in Italy (that being said, I've just unearthed a Deruta website that says "order by phone from the USA," which could prove a lethal temptation.   One of my former colleagues in Oxford, Ron Bush, and his wife actually went to Italy to order their very own unique plates directly from Deruta themselves, which would be quite something to be able to do).   Then there's a bone china mug with images of engravings of tulips, from Liberty's, in London, which is probably my favorite store of all for lusting after objects for the home, and, especially, textiles - not their own, but ones from such UK fabric designers as Osborne & Little.   Lurking behind that is a Mexican mug that I can't quite remember where I bought it - in Santa Fe, I think - and then two more Deruta numbers, one traditional, and one a spectacular one with figs on it, a present from Alice.   Both came from the Clay Angel, which was a great pottery store in town, but is now, sadly, defunct (not a recession casualty - it disappeared a couple of years ago).

In taking pictures of these, I'm inevitably reminded of Fox Talbot taking a photograph of his china collection.   "The whole cabinet of a Virtuoso and collector of old China might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way".   I think he especially had in mind the idea that should his china get stolen, then this would act as an accurate record of possession in a court of law - but because photography was so new, its status as evidence had yet to be determined.   I can't imagine anyone stealing these, and them then being recoverable - a better-than-usual Eldorado yard sale, maybe?   but even if we somehow, heaven forbid, manage to break every single one of them, there's now a record of them for sentimental memory - something that Fox Talbot didn't seem to be bothering himself about.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the sun has got his tongue out

La Posada, Winslow, as I've noted before, is an extraordinarily good place to stay between Los Angeles and Santa Fe - quite apart from the allure of the restored Harvey House, and the trains that pass through this station all the time, and owner Tina Mion's own quirky and very striking art work, there are always plenty of other things to look at.   I was sitting out in the sunken garden this morning, among the hollyhocks and roses, trying to concentrate on writing graduate reports - and suddenly saw the real sun striking its big bronzed cheerful counterpart, making one wonder whether it was about to speak, or swallow one of the all too numerous (atypically so) flies that were around this morning, or just, simply, mock a passing guest.

Monday, June 8, 2009

last day in the old home

This was the day that the cats left 962 N. Hoover Street for good - for Santa Fe in the first instance.

Robert Martineau's 1862 painting, The Last Day in the Old Home, presents an early version of foreclosure, the bailiff repossessing the keys as the elderly grandmother peruses the apartments to let column of the newspaper; the profligate father raising a glass to the future with his son (an ominous indoctrination of the male line into unsound ways) as another sign of his ruin, the picture of a racehorse (gambling, gambling) on its side, ticketed for auction, showing yet another side of his ruin.

There's nothing like that symbolism here - just Emmett sitting over his water dish, looking, as ever, faintly malevolent - the  kind of patriarch who, if human and a Victorian, would be less likely to figure as the head of the household in Martineau's picture than as some out and out villain.   This sinister Emmett quality is one reason why I've allowed that rarity into my blog, a picture taken with flash.   One of the odd facts that I've learned since working on flash photography is that the reason that cats, when photographed by flash, don't show red-eye like humans is that they have (unless they are blue-eyed cats).   They have something called a tapetum lucidum at the back of their eyes, reflecting light back, almost like a mirror - we, on the other hand, have, at the back of our eyes - the interior surface that includes the retina - something called the fundus, which is reddish-black - and this reflects red back again because it doesn't absorb red from rays of light (no, it's not as simple as the horror-comic version - the idea that it's our red blood vessels that are shown up by red-eye - even though that's often stated in populist explanations).

Sitting, currently, on a bed - on the corner, befittingly - in Winslow Arizona - Emmett's (and everyone else's) eyes are currently closed, showing no apparent homesickness as yet.   

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Not, I am glad to say, us, just yet, although the slow slow process of filling bags and boxes has commenced.   This is a van in front of a little compound a bit further up N. Hoover - a small complex of buildings that's for sale, together with planning permission for ten apartments (very cramped apartments, they would have to be - but the planning hearing some months back reduced the threatened number from twelve to ten).   The renters who are being displaced are central Americans of some kind (tempting to say Mexican, as if a generic label, but the family opposite us rushed to hang out national flags after El Salvador's World Cup qualifier victory over Mexico last night, which was a very timely warning not to fall into this trap).   This is a stark reminder, though, of how lucky we are, to have movers and a van arriving at the end of the month (courtesy of Rutgers, even with its hesitant budget), who will pack up photographs and paintings (well, o.k., we pay for that part), and not leave canvases sitting unprotected in the back of a pick-up truck.   What, exactly, is it?   It looks as though Georgia O'Keeffe set out to paint the Virgin Mary.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

the crying sock

this is the corner of the stairs at 962 N. Hoover St., and on the stairs is a small, battered, grubby, green and white stuffed sock.   This is Lola's crying sock.    She has just deposited it there, after one of her daily - sometimes even more frequent - yowling fits, executed with it in her mouth, or crouched over it in a desperately depressed posture.   But what does this all mean?   Is it a protest against the state of the universe, or a wail of despair at the muse deserting her?   Is it a complaint against her arthritis - but then, why the sock? - or a howl of longing for the kitten/phallus that she never possessed?

As a photograph, it's also a homage (though I didn't realize this until after I'd taken it, or I might have gone to more trouble to avoid the strange reflection that crept in on the half-way stair, like a ghost balustrade) to Jeff Wall's Odradek, Tàboritskà 8, Prague, 18 July 1994  - itself an interpretation of Kafka's strange short story, "The Cares of a Family Man."   In this story, in Wall's photo, the Odradek is the strange, indeterminate object that exists under the stairwell.   It's not quite clear whether it is animate or not, whether it has a consciousness of its own, whether it  can move of its own volition, whether it's some rather solid incarnation of a malevolent dust bunny.   It is also, in Kafka criticism, often understood as an object that stands for indeterminacy itself, and by extension, for our anxiety to invest things with ontological certainty, with meaning, with an identity that we can recognize or a purpose that we can understand.

Lola's sock is rather similar.   Although it possesses no agency of its own - it's unmistakably the possession of a rather gloomy, if dear, tabby and white cat - we find it very hard not to invest it with the meaning that we want it to have for her - to make sense not of the shabby damp textile itself, but of her inner feelings, her desires, her grief, her being.   Yet, like the Odradek, it remains an object that, ultimately, stands for unreadability - in this case, the inscrutable nature of cat psychology, and the deep desire that we have to project onto her human emotions in an attempt, I suppose, to deepen yet further our attachment for her rather puzzling self - not to mention our sentimental delusion that she should feel flattered to find herself, just for once, written about alongside Jeff Wall and Kafka.

Friday, June 5, 2009

out back

it managed to stop raining this afternoon/evening, so that we could eat out on the deck, and watch pink and grey tinted clouds scudding across the sky, the feeble flicker of flash lights from people taking photographs up at the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood sign fading into the dusk.    That's hard to leave.

But if one turns in the other direction ... if one looks through the trellis at the back of the deck, one can see the little houses crowded on the hill behind us.   Which are fine when the inhabitants are quiet (and the ones on the left almost invariably are) - but the people directly behind are film editors - sound editors, that is - and can play the same loop of dialogue or street sounds or a door closing over and over and over again.   From this, one learns that sound editing must be a profession that requires extraordinary patience as well as a discriminating ear, but one wonders whether listening to it in practice mightn't have fitted well with the techniques used in Guantanamo.

And a little closer is the end of the walk-in closet that sticks out of the bedroom.   It looks best in the dark, since one can't see the peeling paint, and behind the paint there's - what?   For the wood is being inexorably nibbled away by termites - the house was tented and de-termited a few years ago, but the tiny little specks of termite droppings are back, and quite probably the whole rather ramshackle edifice is becoming daily more precarious.   

I suspect that this is a photograph that would be the more effective if one knew nothing whatever about the context, however: if one could read it as suggesting urban proximity, each differently-lit room intimating, but not narrating, different activities that could be about to take place within it; the sense of night closing in on each house's privacy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Quite how I came to be present in the dentist's surgery whilst Alice was having one crown fitted and an impression taken for a further one is a complicated story - as I kept whimpering to all around me, this is the last place in which I would expect to find myself voluntarily.   But I sat quietly in the corner, and in fact it was fascinating (and reassuring) seeing a dentist and her assistant at their careful and competent work - normally, of course, I'm at the receiving end of what feels like a pneumatic drill being randomly and sadistically applied within my mouth (actually, I'm not usually aware of very much, being blissed out on nitrous oxide, without which I more or less refuse to open my mouth in the first place).    My own highly wonderful dentist has taken plenty of pictures of my own imperfect jaws, and I've admired his high-end Nikon dental equipment, but I've never had the opportunity to photograph the scene of action/torture before.

Nor did I really dare to whip out a camera on this occasion - I was to all intents and purpose checking the latest emails on Rutgers budget cuts, etc, on my iPhone... with the sound turned off, there's little to give away the fact that I'm in fact taking a photo.   This is, in fact, the technician at work - but what strikes me as deeply, deeply implausible (and yet, I promise you it's not posed) is that Alice is not only calmly lying there, but reading - and reading, moreover, a magazine not exactly unconnected with the mouth, as though this orifice was not a site of distraction and discomfort.   Very strange - but I'm also extremely glad that the end result is not just an image (using, again, the Toy Camera app - I completely love its arbitrary effects) but a recipe for Kale and White Bean soup - tomorrow's dinner.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

miraculous form

although it looks more like an eruption of sea-blue ectoplasm - perhaps "Tucson Teal" ectoplasm, the color that Connie is painting the back of her house in Los Angeles - a color that I have the greatest difficulty in not calling "Tuscan," and therefore for a while couldn't find in the Benjamin Moore color chart (for I have designs on it for the hall bathroom here).   This former candle dates back to one of my very early Santa Fe summers - I think 1997, most likely - purchased from Walgreens, taken to England, re-imported to the US, tidied up to the attic here in Highland Park two years ago, and now retrieved, the worse for wear (the attic is stifling in summer, and this was lying on its side in a wastepaper basket, into which it must have slowly, gradually, waxily oozed out).

An early post - I'm hoping to be on a plane later...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


but what kind of seeds?   This ecologically-spirited bit of graffiti is to be found on one of the pillars holding up Route 18 as it crosses over Route 27, just by the Raritan River (yes, I did walk in from Highland Park, for the second day running).   In the midst of the wasteland of road construction, stenciled onto the base of one of the monstrous faux-castle crenellations that for some inexplicable reason has been deemed to give grandeur to this entry to New Brunswick (which, so far as it knows Castles, is surely only familiar with NJ's home of the mini-burger, White Castle) - to whom is it addressed?  

Perhaps the seeds in question are the grass seeds that accompany - now that we've hit slightly torrid summer - the wording?   Perhaps they are the seeds in - what? - watermelons?  Whole Food's Seedacious loaves? The flowers in our back yards (unless poison ivy)?   And then what do we do with them?   Plant them?   Create mosaics?   Or perhaps the seeds are of a less legal variety? In which case good luck to the saver: I still possess, somewhere, a matchbox containing some seeds given me by a student - and since these didn't grow when I tried germinating them back in 1982, I can't imagine why I think they could work now.   But there again, I suppose I did obey the mantra, and saved them.   For perhaps saving seeds represents hope for the future, the potential promise of green shoots and future flowers.

Or there again - perhaps this is an anti-masturbatory, or anti-coitus interruptus text, an indictment of all those who, like Onan (Genesis 38:9) would spill their seed upon the ground, as opposed to more humanly fecund repositories?   It's hard to know, in such a context, whether the heart is to be read as a Purity movement symbol.   But - despite the decidedly artificial, peppermint-green-food-coloring shade of the color used to mark the pillar - my own vote remains definitely with the ecological: a call for thrift and careful husbandry of all vegetative things.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Explain, please...   Why should this young man - who doesn't really look like a disruptive street theater artist - have been sitting in the window of the New Brunswick Starbucks, typing on a computer that has, firmly attached to its lid, a label saying "Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks."   Of course, it's stuck on so that it's designed to be read by whoever's in front of the open computer, but how does the self-conscious irony - assuming it to be present at all - work?  Best of all is the expression in the guy's eye, which seems to have just shifted away from his screen to take in the crazy woman who's rushed up to the window to take a picture of him (and then rushed away again, not giving him the chance to explain, or for that matter to offer me a mocha frappuccino).    There again, the melancholy set of the rest of his face doesn't provide any grounds for hypothesis (over and beyond the probability that his dissertation has got very, very stuck today).