Thursday, December 31, 2009

the end of 2009

First of all, this is in memory of Roxie: a dear, courageous, spirited dog whom I only had the privilege of meeting once in person, but who has been an inspiration to my own blog: without the support of her typist, my own musings would probably never have made it past Facebook. And because her typist loves this view, this is for her, and for MN.

I had, of course, been hoping anyway for a good sunset with which to round off the year. I'm not signing off on the Picture of the Day yet, though - I shall carry on until mid January, where I started in blog, if not in FB form. I'm still musing about quite what to do next - but I want to find some time to consider what it's meant to work at this as a daily practice, first. It's been very sustaining - a commitment to take some time out every day, and I'd never have kept to it if it wasn't for dear and loyal friends out there, commenting and keeping me going (and it's been great fun to see which pictures speak to whom). So thank you - and a Very Happy New Year - and ... more tomorrow...!

The other side of the house from the sunset, the huge moon rose somewhere over Glorieta. Its image seems quite apposite for the end of the year - not just the sum of 365 days, but looking very, very like that dot that used to appear and then fade out as one turned off one's television set. Goodbye, 2009.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

coming home

I was between planes in Dallas Fort Worth - coming in from Philadelphia, going out to Albuquerque - when the whole of Terminal D started applauding a battalion of troops coming home. This was both very moving, and very disconcerting. It's certainly not anything I've encountered before - rounds of applause on airplanes, yes, but this was a whole airport erupting into patriotic fervor. And I didn't know where they were arriving from, and didn't know if any of them might have been better employed checking out baggage-less men with Arab names who have lumpy underwear and buy one-way tickets in cash, rather than doing whatever they were doing.

But I couldn't help wondering what they were facing next (apart from the possibility of another dangerous, uncomfortable tour of duty in countryside looking rather like northern New Mexico in a snow storm): probably wanting nothing more than a beer and some complete silence, and having to cope with family and friends who can't possibly know what they've been through. When I was waiting at Albuquerque for Alice to come in on another flight, there was a soldier who'd been greeted by his pregnant wife and their tiny girl - and whilst the wife went off to the bathroom, the soldier took his daughter over to the window that overlooks the Kirtland AFB and was instructing her about the identities of the planes coming in to land - "There's as Osprey"... which might be a good way to keep someone of about ten months entertained, but also looked as though he couldn't quite relate to anything other than that life. And I kept thinking not just of these women and men, but of all their predecessors - all those who have come back physically and mentally damaged from other wars, and who, after the initial applause - where it's existed - and the bunting and hugs, have had to get on with lives that have been changed for ever. I was stuck with one of the most haunting of protest songs running through my head - Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda," about Australian soldiers returning after Gallipoli (where my great auntie Jess was, incidentally, a nurse). If you don't know it, listen.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


It's that chair, on the left-hand side of the picture, that's the disturbing one. Is it where the panel chair is to sit, just slightly, discreetly apart from the main act? Is there one paper, on a panel of four, that somehow doesn't just fit? Does it stand for anxiety about one's own paper being the one that seems simplistic, irrelevant, tangential? Is a boiled sweet, so thoughtfully provided by the Marriott, going to help even the most nervous of dry mouths, stifle a bothersome cough?

Yes, of course, this is in the Lynne Cohen/Candida Hofer school of empty institutional rooms - but there's also the semblance of four headless, green baize nuns sitting here, quite demurely - the formality of the chairs' posture worked much better relatively close up, rather than showing the empty seats in front of them. There's an air of expectancy - soon to be disrupted by what was, in fact, not a panel but a divisional meeting, sorting out next year's late C19th/early C20th panels. "Old media," anyone? For surely if there's new media, there must be old media - but how old does old media have to be? What the "old media" for the telegraph? The mail? Semaphore flags? Pigeons? Photographs might seem like new media - but I guess they are the "old media" behind film. How quickly, in this period, do we think of technology as obsolescent? This could be fun - though I'm not sure how to put together a call for papers in 35 words...

Monday, December 28, 2009

office life

The view from my window in the Philadelphia Marriott downtown (not a hotel I want to stay at again in a hurry - so impersonal that I even managed to get lost on my own floor, ending up in a corridor with a view down into the swimming pool - I hurried on past, in case I saw any hyper-fit colleagues putting me to shame) reminds me why, despite the ritual of moaning at the MLA (in my case, it's more likely to induce panic, very reminiscent of going to parties when I was eight or nine - only I could hide under the table then, and did, and that would be rather conspicuously peculiar here), and despite the fact that attendance at it always seems to be accompanied by a vile headache (maybe the cold wind that comes along with it in eastern cities?), and despite the fact that, as Elaine Showalter once put it to me, there's that sensation of seeing one's past life heading away from one in the opposite direction on the escalators - one is very, very lucky to be here, and not working in an office block.

Lucky, that is, of course, if one has a tenured job. There are certainly fewer delegates here this year (that's an entirely subjective comment, but it certainly feels much less bustling, much more anxious. There are 767 sessions, which seems normal enough, and we had a good attendance – 35 or so – even for a 7 p.m. evening panel last night.). There are conspicuously fewer jobs - down fifty-something per cent in two years. I know that we had been hoping to hire this year, and aren't - hence my being in the Marriott at all - a hasty downgrade of room, however, when we learned that we weren't to be lucky this year. I am always hyper-conscious of interviewees’ angst around one (the awkward wearing of suits, the uncertain heels) – but in 2009, the stakes seem higher than ever. Too cruel to take photographs of the human environment…another note on the catalog of things that I feel that I can’t photograph and write about with any directness, whatever the temptation.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


...and this is Philly station, or, more exactly, the view from the cab line, the moon rising over downtown Philadelphia. And next time I will be more careful, when reserving a hotel room, to get one with wi-fi ... so much for planning a massive catch-up session with email and admin and and and - let alone writing this, which has necessitated huddling on a bench in the convention hall and paying an on-line fee - fair enough in the confines of a comfortable hotel room, but the only on-line access available there is via a data port, and I don't have with me the necessary attachment for a MacBook Air.

These pillars imply grandeur, which might be appropriate for the city, but hardly for the MLA, which as ever is an unnerving experience, being in such proximity to massed anxiety. I've just been in a panel on affect, which seems highly appropriate for this convention, where, like any big conference, it's all about affect - whether as speaker or job seeker, the circumstances breed disquiet, claustrophobia, glancing nervously round doorframes; awareness of status (in the eyes of others), or lack of status (in one's own apprehension); wondering whether someone's recognized one or not - MLA law says that people whom one wants to be recognized by fail to show any sign of recollecting that you've ever met, whereas those who one would rather avoid pop up when one least expects them); trying to remember names without too obviously glancing at name tags (sometimes there are advantages in being 5'2" - one's eyes are nametag height)... and all of this is before one gets to the anxiety of visibility, sitting typing a blog post in a very public space.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

a green cow in a green shade

This strange bovine seems a long way away in time and distance - but I last saw her this morning, from my bedroom window in my parents' house - she's one of the many participants in the Cow Parades that have graced various cities over recent years - starting with Zurich, in 1998, where the display had the generic title "Land in Sicht," or - roughly - countryside in view. Which this mimics, even though misty down-the-hill south London lies just out of Sicht.

Since it's now ten to six, London time, and anti-terrorist measures and foul weather combined mean that I've only just got back to New Jersey, swaying slightly from travel motion (though at least I wasn't one of a sizable number on the plane to throw up, when we had to abort our first landing and make a very speedy ascent - yuk...) - so that's it, for today...

Friday, December 25, 2009


No, we didn't have pigeon for Christmas dinner (a very fine Norfolk Bronze designer turkey, for anyone interested, and worth every last penny) - but these were fluttering around outside eating breadcrusts that I'd jettisoned from making some stuffing (the apricot-pinenut- parsley-chile pepper-garlic side, not the chestnut and italian sausage one). I tried documenting a fair portion of the day, but nothing is quite beautiful or quite satiric enough, barring, perhaps, a few action shots of Simba chasing a new toy, or is somehow too private (elderly parents - one of the things that I want to write about towards the end of this year's enterprise is the self-imposed censorship, sometimes deliberated in advance, but sometimes quite unexpected, that can take over). These pictures somehow belonged to last semester, though - to the scene of capturing a pigeon in The Lonely Londoners - although, to be honest, these birds, though definitely London avian residents, have much more of the wood pigeon, edible look to them than do central London's flying feathered rats.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

christmas mantelpiece 20 Hillside. I always think that I developed, very early on, my notions of what constituted supposed Good Taste in art from the cards that found their way into the middle of the mantelpiece, though this year I'm not so sure about that Christmas tree thingy center-right. I note that our own picture of the V&A hanging sculpture has found its way on. The mantelpiece itself looks startlingly antique - like a Grinling Gibbons piece - but I promise you it came brand new from somewhere or the other back in 1961. There are a couple of family china mugs from the C19th, and then a very fine stoat, or ermine, just poking his china head above one of the cards.

Putting out the cards in the living room is a sure sign that Christmas has arrived. It's been a flat out day, without any chance to pause from cooking, relatives, packing presents, etc etc - except when we fled for three quarters of an hour on the pretense of some last minute shopping. So I have little by way of reflection to offer - other than offering any of you out there a very, very Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So... our treat to ourselves after a midday frenzied shopping in Waitrose - my father's favorite supermarket, which had the extraordinary effect of making Shop 'n Moan into a desirable experience - well, nearly - we escaped to Whitechapel to see an exhibition about '70s feminism at the Women's Library. Maybe we ought to have listened, first, to my mother's Voice of Doom announcement that apparently London Metropolitan University - to which the WL is attached - has apparently gone bankrupt - it certainly looked a glum and grey place - even less desirable than the River Dorms. For the doors were firmly shut and barred, with no indication (whether on line or on the spot) that this would be the case.

So we went damply back to the Whitechapel Art Gallery which had an excellent exhibition by Sophie Calle - totally worth going all the way for that alone. And so - the inevitable consequence - at dinner, my father wanted to know how to define "multi-media," and what I meant by "conceptual art." As if trying to cook vegetable moussaka from scratch within an hour and a half hadn't been challenge enough.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

tracing my footsteps

...quite literally. I walked across the parks in Oxford from my mother's flat - first to the Ashmolean, to buy a couple of last-minute Christmas gifts...and found that I'd forgotten my credit cards. Great. So...back across the University Parks, and back to the flat, and back again to the shopping metropolis ... all the time being able to see the prints of my Naot shoes, like sweet feathery curling ferns, quite unlike all the other treads in the snow. Even where I wasn't consciously thinking where my path went, I found that I'd taken the same track half an hour earlier.

There's a metaphor lurking in all this, of course - the fact of returning somewhere that's familiar to the point of uncanniness - though noting all the little changes (mostly in the form of boarded-up stores), and the seasonal novelties (a busker playing the banjo, accompanied by his howling-on-cue dog, and playing "D'ye Ken John Peel?"). There, walking through the parks, are the same sleek members of North Oxford families, with their Barbours and intelligently goofy mid-sized dogs; there, indeed, in Blackwells or outside the Covered Market, are former colleagues whom I was quite glad not to see every day when I left eight years ago, and hid inside my striped knitted earflapped cap rather than greet again; there are the same purchasing habits (a tarte provencal from the Maison Blanc for lunch). All in all, I know what it must be like to be a ghost.

Monday, December 21, 2009

a cold morning

in North Oxford - the view over snow covered tennis courts from my mother's flat, with a paper cut out balloon - so far as I remember, designed by Hans Andersen originally - he of the Little Mermaid and other stories (his fairy tales presented to me on my first birthday with an inscription to me from my parents: "Kate - her first birthday, her first book." Pause to contemplate why I've always favored realism, not fantasy.

Shockingly cold and damp, and we're perched sulkily in a bad-food cafe with internet (there being none in the flat) (note to The World - Morton's used to serve good sandwiches, and we've just been served some which were both insufferably nasty, with indifferent - to say the least - service. Do not patronize) Freezing some more - so a short post.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

yes, it's early

...but we will probably be without internet the rest of today - no wi-fi in the Oxford flat, no libraries open on Sundays, no real wish to schlep around town on a hugely busy shopping day looking for an Internet cafe. So... here is Simba, adopted by my parents from Battersea Cats' Home earlier this year, and parodically entering the cute cat category by looking like a Japanese Maneki Neko, one paw raised in a welcoming or supplicating manner. He's perched on a shelf above a radiator - or what we've come to learn, from our various heating engineers and maintenance people, is termed a Raddiator in New Jersey, between a cyclamen, and an African head of unknown (to me) origin - that looks to be caught somewhere between the remnants of Empire and a mid-century avant-garde-ish enthusiasm for "the exotic" - a question for a future dinner table conversation, but it's not practical to head downstairs and ask about its provenance at this rather early hour of the morning.

Sunlight. A little snow on the ground. Large house in background, Alenhoe, where Leslie Stephen and family, including Virginia - later V Woolf - were photographed in 1892. I cherish a fantasy of the adolescent Woolf strolling around what was the orchard of the big house - where my parents' own house has stood since 1961 - and somehow leaving a trace of presence.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

not quite this year's christmas card

...but nearly. For a lucky few, coming to a letter box near you, soon, a Christmas card - an image shot this time last year, also in the V & A, also of this light-sculpture/chandelier - but with a more sepulchral background - this is much airier. I took the picture a year ago about the day after I'd printed up and sent off my cards - and wished that I'd used it instead. This year, a day too late, I wish I'd been able to use this image... Annually, the quest for What The Christmas Card Should Be is a tricky one - I'm always chary of doing it too early, thinking that an even more appropriate image might come along - and I feel happy with that decision all through October and the first part of November. Then there's Thanksgiving, which I notionally save for the treat of working on it. But that doesn't happen, and suddenly it's mid-December, and I have armfuls of grading, and complicated travel arrangements, and an MLA paper to write... At least I managed to buy a book totally, utterly essential to writing that paper, today...

Friday, December 18, 2009

fun fair

I think I should have taught my class another phrase: "fun fair." Seemingly, this doesn't translate to the US - a temporary assemblage of galloping horses (and cockerels, etc) on a roundabout - or carousel; nasty things that swing one from side to side or up in the air and round again and upside down (seemingly people emerge from these without having fainted away or throwing up, which is a mystery to me); sometimes dodgem cars -i.e. bumper cars; and stalls at which one can shoot air rifles at rows of ducks, or other kinds of effigies, and win - well, it used to be a coconut, and now it's a very large stuffed animal toy. I once won a goldfish (whom I called Hannah, and who moved from Cumberland to London with us, and defied all odds and lived for about four years) through tossing a ping-pong ball into a goldfish bowl.

In other words, it shares stuff with an amusement park - but it travels around - its essence is temporary, and this is the reason for a lot of its mystique. Not that there's much mystique to Leicester Square on a bitterly cold and semi-snowy day, but when the annual fair used to come to Wimbledon Common in the summer for two weeks, it was like an annual disruption of Wimbledon's propriety by crushed grass and candy floss. I particularly liked a roundabout which undulated - with a tilted deck of floor boards - on which one could choose a motorbike to ride, and pretend that one was hurtling down one of the country's new motorways.

I'm throwing in a tourist picture - halfway between the Sixties show at the NPG and walking to catch a #9 bus. If the light had been better on the ground, I'd have taken a shot of a stunningly effective ice sculpture of a polar bear - executed on December 11th by Mark Coreth, with the ice slowly melting, showing the bear's bronze skeleton gradually emerging along with the idea of its imminent extinction. The ice bear is meant to be no more than a puddle, in three day's time...though it's so cold that his icy survival may be a day or two longer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

for the historical record...

...for this may be one of the last days that one arrives at Heathrow to be greeted with Aventure posters of Cheetah Woods in the immigration hall, thoughtfully staring at the ground, and captioned "It's what you do next that matters." Quite so. This is, of course, a photo taken illegally in this area, where cameras are banned, so I'll add it to my week's worth of stealing forbidden visual fruit.

If anyone thinks that Heathrow Terminal 3 looks peculiarly unwelcoming to visitors, they're right. The impression is confirmed when they can't open the luggage hold door because of the driving snow. And then there's the midnight tube trains, packed with people not-so-fresh from their Christmas office parties. Or very fresh indeed, seen from another perspective. And the wait for the cab, in the same driving snow....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

academic life

Believe me, I don't usually take photographs during committee meetings - but the light at this afternoon's CCA executive committee meeting (that's the Center for Cultural Analysis) was peculiarly Vermeer like, and I thought this would fit into the tradition of a number of photographers - Tom Hunter, say - who have been fascinated by Vermeer's use of figures and furniture set against strong clear light. I didn't exactly feel that I could get out my camera - it was bad enough trying to look as though I was checking my email in the less interesting moments, as I tried to nail the composition. Here's Lynn Festa looking intently engaged, with John Kucich looking on, and what I think must be Henry Turner's hand - the fingers rather strangely looking as though they've been dipped in blue ink - on the other side.

What this also is, of course, is an example of all the things that haven't really - and quite rightly not - found a place in my record of this year, such as the department going about its business. I don't have any sense of personally-determined no-go areas when it comes to depicting the crumbling surfaces of Murray Hall, but showing meetings - maybe even teaching - would be a different sort of documentary exercise, because of the type of commentary that I wouldn't have been able to write about the people, the dynamics, the internal politics, and so on. The unavailability of this material, so far as I'm concerned, is one of the things that sharply distinguishes this year's practice from that of journal keeping (though I've done that too). However, this afternoon's meeting, with its intellectual and visual reflections, seemed, just for once, to be ready for appropriation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

haphazard stuff

...or, when one looks on top of the bookcase from which one's just picked up one's little camera in the morning, what does one see? A zebra. I have a sense that more than one zebra has featured in this blog, which is strange, since I don't have any particular affinity that I've ever registered with these creatures (though I like them well enough). This one, made of material rather like a boot scraper, came from a Fair Trade store in Durham, NC. One orange bag, saying Lucy, and kept because of our cat, LucyFur. One rather overblown Victorian basin-and-jug set - the kind of thing that I fear Arabella Dunn would have used before putting on her false hair - bought in the antique store that used to be in the Old Jam Factory, in Oxford. One pink necklace, bought very cheaply whilst at a conference in Cambridge last summer, in an effort to make my outfit look -well, more summery. It worked in England, but not here. One imitation gold multi-strand wooden bead necklace, bought somewhere in Oxford in the 1990s, even 1980s. One turquoise necklace, from Santo Domingo pueblo, bought under the portales of the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe. One silver pin, with tiny beads on it, bought in Seattle when Alice was at a conference there. All of these are resting on a black-with-wool-embroidery small rug, bought in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

All of these add up to a rather exotic sounding collection, though they're genuinely random, indeed disorganized (I mean - why all these necklaces in my study?). But at least one can see them. For what is not there, in the background, is an air conditioning unit - our entire menagerie of these have been gathered up and put into the garage, and at last we have windows we can see out of (and that don't let in chilly air). This makes me very happy...

Monday, December 14, 2009

consider the lilies

which were sitting in the bedroom this morning, neither toiling nor spinning, until one of the cats knocked them over in a moment of panic (I was at Rutgers, but there were workmen in the house taking out the a/c units - so that we now have windows with views through them, rather than large solid chunky ugly things that we never use), and, in the process, drowned John Tagg's latest book, The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning - interrogating why photographs seem to carry such compelling evidentiary weight, when they aren't anything more than pieces of chemically discolored paper (or, as here, images on a screen - which might make a difference, since their fragility and ephemerality is of a different order). I felt at the time of taking this that it was one of those pictures that's an insurance policy against later (wisely so...) - but in fact it turned out to be a real record of ephemeral lily-presence.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

candlelight dinner

... another rather formulaic piece - as in - oh no! it's been a rain-filled day! I've barely been outside, and the light has been dark grey and damp, and it's heading into the evening! Whilst the discipline of keeping this blog has been a wonderful way of focusing my visual attention during a day, and my writerly attention at the end of it, I'm not sure what I feel about the potential abandonment of those days - like today - when I've had no compelling drive whatsoever to take a picture. And yet such days, as I've also remarked before, are often precisely those that force me to look around me, and to wonder what would make a picture - which cycles me straight back to the everyday: the cocktail glass, using up a lot of citrus fruit in the drawers at the bottom of the fridge, plus vodka; one three-quarters burned candle; and one lily, culled from a vase in our bedroom, and brought downstairs to beautify the table. Much like the principles behind Dutch still life, once again.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The indexical nature of the photograph is more or less neatly documented here: this is an actual thumb with an actual inscription on the pad of flesh underneath it. Of course in another respect it's not "as is" at all - like very many digital photographs (certainly most of mine) it's been faintly tweaked in Photoshop not for deceptive ends, but to bring out the constrasts between sunlight and shadow. But I didn't - as I could have done - write "Index" on a sheet of paper, scan it, isolate its slender pixels, and paste it in. Had I done so, of course, I might have tried a more directly punning montage, sticking the word where it belongs, as a label, under the index finger. This word, if intended as a label, really ought to read "thumb."

But of course, it's a memory tool (note to anyone likely to take my u/grad seminar on "Memory" in fall '10 - and yes, we do advance planningly scarily early in the English dept - it's Mon/Wed period 5 - on the very first day we'll make lists of The Different Ways in which we record things we want to remember). Alice needs to look over the index to Hot Stuff this weekend (when we're not talking to what's beginning to feel like an endless procession of men looking at the boiler). Hence, this reminder. I've never known anyone make notes to themselves on the inside of their hand before: my own habit (when did I stop it?) was always to make notes on the back of my hand - so much easier to see, and to remember... and it was something of a badge of pride at school to have neat little lists there, which one could cross off when done.

Friday, December 11, 2009

party time

It's the last day of the semester! It's rime for the staff Holiday Party! and here's testimony to the power of some decorations from the Dollar Store, and a shaft of sunlight coming into the Plangere, just before we get started on the Secret Santa ritual - something that I now goes on in workplaces up and down the country, but that I'd never heard of before my first invitation to the staff party a couple of years back. Sometimes it is relatively easy to guess who drew whom in the lottery and crafted and packaged their choice from the little gift wish list they had submitted - especially when there are little extras thrown in (a mint patty from Angela's office was a sure give-away). And if I'd been the recipient of an extra in the form of a balloon festival calendar, I'd suspect Keith Sproul, our new computing expert, in a nano second. But Keith himself was deeply mystified when he reached into his bag and drew out ... a wooden door stop. When we'd all stopped laughing, it turned out that it had fallen in there by mistake...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

blue christmas

Highland Park is sprouting a lot of Christmas lights - or, being Highland Park, more likely they are Holiday Lights. Some houses have lights strung tidily round every edge, like a gingerbread house; others have shudderingly nasty inflatable Santas; others red and green twinkly illumination; others silhouetted white reindeer standing on their front lawns. And opposite, there are these blue and white lights, that look like a very sinister setting in a David Lynch movie - an effect accentuated by the fact that the people in the house have their television on - all the time. There really isn't anything festive about this - but the competition makes be grateful that we're not looking onto a blinking light show.

And there's something about this sparseness of this which seems appropriate for this particular holiday season. Usually, the Zimmerli is a most excellent source of little Christmas gifts - but the display was startlingly sparse today, as though I'd got the date wrong and called in on December 28th. I asked the women behind the cash register about this, and they said that it was just like in the malls: the suppliers were afraid that they wouldn't sell their wares, so they weren't supplying. Quite apart from their own personal slump in profits - always assuming that such vendors are keeping afloat at all - this marks a very visible sign of the recession. Way back in the Writing and Photography class in the spring, we talked about documenting the recession in photographs - it's hard, though, to consider how to show not absence, not emptiness, not shuttered stores, but just a kind of somber paucity.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

brooching the subject

I have been into shockingly bad puns all day, ever since I saw a friend (shout out to Ben!) post a reference to Cheetah Woods this morning... nothing, really, to broach, other than the sad truth articulated to me by Don Fallon (former graduate student, from whom I bought this brooch this morning, knowing, too, that 10% of the profit would go into the coffers of the English Department's gift fund) that he sold very few of these wonderful assemblages of found objects - old bits of metal, cog wheels, bits of glass and beads, and so on, in New Jersey, because "most people prefer something less funky. I can only sell something like this in, well, an English Department." That seems to me to be a horrible indictment of the State. I suggested a trip to New Mexico...

A number of his pieces seemed to me just like the kind of things I'd like to put together from the stuff that I hoard - the broken earrings, the collapsed necklaces, the small slices of weather beaten metal, the stray beads, the little pieces of copper wire, stashed together with the tubs of Plaid's Mod Podge and bits of soldering equipment. Why I think that I am suddenly going to grow the hours in the day I need for any kind of artistic exercise beats me. Not to mention the difficult current jewelry situation I find myself in... a favorite necklace seems wedged around my neck, its clasp deeply embedded in on itself... unbudgeable. I don't want to cut it, but I think that I may get bored of this piece after a year or two.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


This is, indeed, today, and it's sobering to realize how far on we are with December, and how much there is to be done before December is much older - including putting together my annual calendar, and sending it off to Apple to be printed, before it becomes too late to send it off to a few favored friends, or to take it with me to England. And this year I'm faced with an extra dilemma, or at least choice - should I, do I want to, restrict myself to Pictures of the Day? This might make my task a whole lot easier - but then, I might be leaving out a few good possibles...

The date itself, sitting on a wooden sofa, is a little device that belongs to Alice, and although it's hard to remember to keep it current, it's really a very sweet piece of folk art (provenance not known by me - and she's out, so I can't inquire). There's something about its cheerful homemadeness that contradicts the mechanical regularity, the hysteria-inducing quality of time passing: it seems to suggest that although it can be useful to know the date, more or less, the exactness doesn't matter too much. In other words, it exerts a very calming influence on the time-panicked.

Monday, December 7, 2009

my manners are tearing off heads

This hawk was perched, most menacingly, in a tree outside Murray Hall this morning. I'm not sure what he was hoping to swoop down upon and kill (a packet of chips? a muffin? a hapless colleague?), but there was no way in which he looked friendly. Every single word of Ted Hughes's "Hawk Roosting," finding a feathery compression of the will to power encapsulated in the one bird, was fully on show - no sophistry in his body.

Actually, I thought that this would segue in beautifully to a comment about flash photography and birds of prey, looking at Eric Hosking, who took many, many flash photographs of birds, especially owls, and who lost an eye when attacked by a barn owl in 1937. But this seems not (as I'd thought) to have been because the owl had been startled by the flash - Hosking was climbing up to the nest at the time. It seems, though, to be a bad idea to photograph owls, or either night birds, using a flash - not because of danger to the photographer, or to bird eyes, but because the brightness disrupts their sense of day and night, and hence their hunting patterns. I need, all the same, to have a look at Hosking's autobiography, which bears one of the worst possible punning titles - An Eye for a Bird.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I would love to pretend that we spent the day sweeping up leaves and stuffing these bags full of them like rows and rows of brown paper warriors - but honesty compels me to admit the presence of a hired laborer. Nonetheless, we are now the proud possessors of the longest line of leaf sacks in the street. One more week of the semester to go - perhaps, by the end of it, there'll be time to lift my head above the rough and blustery waves, and read something that will allow me to comment with some sort of engagement on photographic representation...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Go RU...

I think, in fact, I might have done better photographing my lunch, eaten in the glitzy surroundings of Rutgers' Stadium's hospitality suite... the southern-style biscuit with egg and cheese went very nicely with the salmon, thank you. And the cannoli for dessert were pure, pure New Jersey. And we nearly won. And if it hadn't been so very freezing cold, and the rain hadn't turned to snow, and started to come down sideways in a determined fashion, I had a pass that would have allowed me onto the field, and this time I had my telephoto lens with me, and I'd been looking forward to - oh, I don't know, getting a triumphant shot of the winning touchdown. This was not to be - and even my perfectly decent shots of the touchdowns that we did get - well, one shot of action football play looks much like another, unless it gains historic significance through being, say, The Famous Victory over Louisville in 2006 (and yes, I was there, and probably it'll be the only occasion of my life in which I get to hug my university's president).

So... the P of the D is the real P of the D, and the spirit of the weather - the mud trudging back to the buses, with snow starting to come down in thick wet clumps, and slick viscous mud threatening to make walking impossible (it looked just about as hard to stay upright on the field). But in cheery, Polyanna-ish support of next season (I'm the kind of person who still believes that we can win until there's about 09 seconds left on the clock), here's a cheery picture of the marching band in a sea of red - above the increasingly disconsolate dance troupe, here clearly not quite entering into every last bit of the spirit of "I Will Survive." I'm sparing you the shots of the damp horse bearing the Scarlet Knight himself, who looked as though - like most of the rest of us - he couldn't wait to get back to a warm stable.

Friday, December 4, 2009

flashy lunch (aka Lunch #5)

No, these are not badly burnt falafel... no culinary disaster here. Rather, for all my writing on flash photography, I rarely use it myself unless there's no alternative; rarely think about using it to positive effect... and then, I realized I could make an exception to this rule using these very tasty and perfectly cooked falafel to sculptural ends as the light bounced strongly back from their silver foil container. The falafel themselves came from Zeina, in Highland Park (a new and excellent source of reasonably priced and very savory food, though we think we'll try and avoid the Friday and Saturday night belly dancers), and arrived in my office courtesy of Alice (or lunch would have been a white and red striped peppermint from the business office): the change of backcloth signifies that yes! I'd managed to shift from my desk to the mottled surface of the conference table at the other end of my room.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

burning down the house (oh, and lunch # 4)

Rarely, if ever, have I given a paper (to be precise, this was actually a workshopping of the first shaky draft of the first chapter of my book on Flash! Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination) that produced such a dramatic effect. This was a great, wonderful, helpful discussion - and we'd just gotten to the point of talking about whether I should be thinking about surprising Noise, too, and what the difference might be between visual assault and aural assault when BARP BARP BARP BARP BARP (and flashes too), and the Murray Hall fire alarm system was going off. And many fire engines arrived, and hunky firepeople in helmets scurried up the stairs, and there was no smell of smoke, and nothing was found.

I did, of course, spend lunchtime anxiously re-reading my own prose, and reading Kenneth Baker's short book/long essay on The Lightning Field, and generally trying to convince myself that I could recollect material other than the content of admin memos. I was also very, very grateful that I am not an anonymous blogger, for otherwise, Lauren might not have told me that yes, there is sushi here on College Ave, in the Student Center Foodcourt. It was not the best sushi I have ever had, and I am probably contributing to the demise of the world's shrinking tuna stock, and probably it isn't nearly as good as the sushi in the sushi place on Somerset, but it seemed the right thing to try it out, and I was deeply grateful for knowing of its existence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

lunch # 3

Clearly, lunch comes in round bowls, this week. I can't claim any forward planning here - after three meetings this morning - bang, bang, bang - 8 a.m., 10.15 a.m., 11.30 a.m. - I could do with a walk as far as Au Bon Pain, and this is what I brought back - some kind of chicken and brown rice and salad. I'll buy anything with the word "chipotle" in it. One of the meetings had to do with discussing Facilities at Rutgers - a topic that covers a multitude of things, from buses to bathrooms, halls of residence to the size of classrooms, faulty electrical wiring to non-swivelling chairs in lecture halls - and there was definite pique expressed (from those of us who are normally on other parts of the campus) about the fact that one can get sushi on Busch. Little time left over to speculate about the everyday and the ordinary, other than to note that an awful lot of what come through a Chair's office door involves people turning the ordinary into categories clamoring to be labeled bizarre, surreal, and you-wouldn't-believe-it. Some days (and I'm riffing off Dr Crazy's blog musings here), I do deeply regret not being anonymous.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

lunch # 2

Here, of course, is the flaw of A Week of Lunches - the fact that, if I remember early enough in the morning that I will be taking a photograph of my food, that I'm likely to put together something might photograph well... to wit, chick peas (or garbanzo beans, to allow for national difference - and someone whose teaching sank yesterday to putting the names of Sainsburys, Waitrose and Tesco up on the blackboard in the name of cultural studies - admittedly with Mary Douglas thrown into the mix - ought to be taking this into consideration), red onion, avocado, parsley, and, yes, smoked mackerel. Smoked mackerel? I thought that there had been a can of tuna, once, somewhere...

So - is this everydayness as repetition and boredom? No. As defamiliarized? Probably not, because even if a shiny desk surface is less of a commonplace backdrop than a pine wood table or granite counter top, there's still something of the Healthy Lunch Magazine Article photography about this image. As convention, then? As taking celebratory visual pleasure in the unremarkable? I was reading some Mrs Miniver short pieces to go with the chick peas - MLA related reading, indeed - the fictional character created by Jan Struther in 1937, a kind of quintessence of ordinary Englishness (and made into a film with Greer Garson in 1942), who was made to remark, at the height of the London blitz, what a relief ordinariness could be, and what a blessed relief it was to be able to feel bored. The whole argument that I'm developing hinges - I think - on what, however, constitutes post-war ordinariness and its affects.

Which (for I'm not going to give away the whole exciting plot of a 20 minute paper right here, even if I had developed it any further than this) makes me loop right round, and back to the topic of English food (yesterday's class subject matter) and how much social history is contained within a dish - and how unordinary this plastic container full would have seemed in 1945, or, for that matter, in 1965. An avocado? I first had one around then, and thought it deeply slimy and unpleasant - like overcooked spinach, but worse. Chick peas? Never saw them. Flat leafed parsley? Not in England - we only had the curly stuff. A red onion? - no, these were bulbous and yellow - or else "spring onions," aka, here, green onions. Smoked mackerel? That's about the only familiar object... and even so, a sardine would be a more regular fish to have extracted, with or without tomato sauce, from its tin.