I think this is the week of corners. This, in fact, is looking higher up at the Wilshire/Vermont corner than the security camera is positioned on - that really isn't a grammatical sentence, but I've just written 500 words for the London Time Out and feel verbally addled. What's more, this isn't through a car window - I was getting gas opposite these buildings, which, with their huge murals (there's another one on the side at more-or-less right angles to the opposable thumb, the other side of the diagonal in the middle) add considerably to the attractiveness of that particular bit of the commute. They aren't quite tromp d'oeil, I think, since the surfaces of the buildings themselves offer slanted planes), but they certainly create a good deal of visual uncertainty.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
... though for once, with me as passenger, and hence able to give a moment's attention to (carrying on yesterday's theme) the fact of recording experience, my experience - in other words, actually being in the car. If I'd given a further moment's attendance, I'd have realized that the camera flash was on, hence depriving you of a self-portrait in the side mirror, and rendering the faintly tinted windows of the car a jaundiced yellow - hence the conversion to black and white.
This is Beverly Hills City Hall. I quote the laconic entry in Gebhard and Winter's Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, p. 159: "Spanish Renaissance magnificence built significantly at the beginning of the depression when the people in this vicinity felt little pain." If that indeed is true, it must have been a slap in the face to anyone who somehow slid through this confidently comprehensive generalization.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Stephen Shore has a brief piece in this month's Aperture, in which he talks, among other things, about photographing Los Angeles in the early/mid seventies, and in particular about "the jumble, the signage, the space" (exactly! that's the combination that I love when driving to work) and how much information there is to organize when taking a picture. For, as he says, he found himself juggling ever-increasing visual complexity, and yet, at the same time, he "recognized that I was imposing an order on the scene in front of me. Photographers have to impose order, bring structure to what they photograph. It is inevitable. A photograph without structure is like a sentence without grammar - it is incomprehensible, even inconceivable. This order is the product of a series of decisions: where to position the camera, where to place the frame, and when to release the shutter. these decisions simultaneously define the content and determine the structure."
These two pictures follow this logic - bringing form to a little jumbled corner, together with its signage. They also tacitly demonstrate the difference between a camera held by an individual, and the impersonal frames taken by an un-personed security camera. But. Neither of these two has been cropped; both are the result of my seeing the curiously semi-mutilated sign out of my left eye as I was stopped at lights. Both are the result of my taking two very quick shots, so there was no time for deliberate framing. But one, with its fringey palm tree and hint of sunshine in the reflection, is - to me - definitely Los Angeles, or at least Southern California, given that it's late November. The other - urban anywhere. So there's clearly another principle lying beyond Shore's: that of selecting one's image from more than one shot.
But. I don't know if Shore took just one picture - at Beverly and La Brea - choosing a carefully perspectival approach, imposing - as he puts it - a seventeenth century solution onto a twentieth century problem. What he does tell us, however, is that he went back the next day, and re-structured the picture - or rather, structured another image, one that "communicated my experience of standing there, taking in the scene in front of me." So this one is full of rushing cars, and has nothing of the still, almost contemplative (and hence rather inappropriate, however beautiful) qualities of the earlier image. I'm not sure that I'll think of reshooting this tomorrow (though I always end up stopped at those lights - corner of Vermont and Wilshire), but I think, on the grounds of personal experience, I'll choose the left hand side one over the right, perfectly formed though that right-hand one may be when it comes to illustrating the impersonality of the photographic technique it contains and references.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Yes, this dog is purple, and no, I've not been playing around with Photoshop. I encountered her - name of Tallulah, somewhat unsurprisingly - in Silver Lake today. Apparently she's colored with completely non-toxic vegetable dye (I should think so, too) and, I was told, this is "quite the thing" at the moment. The pink collar and leash is just too, too color toning. Going for a walk in Highland Park was never thus.
Friday, November 25, 2011
... indeed, how wonderful to have some time to stroll around, on Abbott Kinney, in Venice, and then down to Venice Beach. This horse - on a large metal rocker device - is a cousin of one that we've seen looking more and more decrepit in Colorado Springs - maybe we could hire a UHaul, and rescue that one, and set him up in search of a new home outside a shop that always has the most surreal, and elaborate, collection of glass cake stands. I just can't get over being able to go to the beach as part of an everyday leisurely afternoon out (whilst everyone else is tearing themselves to bit shopping, I suppose). It's incomprehensible, but delightful, that this isn't absolutely packed.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
I'm glad to say that nothing more pharmaceutical than a bottle of Lanson black label champagne was consumed today - we didn't call in at the Echo Park pharmacy, but were merely drawn up at the traffic lights on the way back from a circuit of Occupy Los Angeles. But this looks suitably festive for today. One part of me, of course, desires the full Norman Rockwell folk myth version (which writes out of the picture, of course, every possible kind of non-normativity as well as family bickering and tensions, and therefore is peculiarly un-attainable). One part of me thinks that turkeys and corn and sweet potatoes were a pretty bad trade-in for smallpox and measles. On the other hand, I'm deeply thankful for a day in which no one wants me to attend a meeting or even answer their emails - so I didn't; in which I can spend a morning doing that rare, rare thing, writing; in which we can go up to Griffith Park on a balmy afternoon in late November and be appreciative of sudden deep, perfect quiet; and on which we can have a perfect Thanksgiving dinner of pasta with grilled baby tomatoes and onion and parmesan, and chocolate mousse cupcakes. No weird casseroles involving beans and mushroom soup; no weird desire to place marshmallows in perfectly decent yams (believe me, I've pretty much been spared these, in fact, during my years in the US, but they go along with the mythic territory): a quiet day to ourselves is something for which we offer up many thanks.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
At first sight, this looks like a little scattering of light green blossom, or maybe of young leaves. But no. These are feathers: white fluffy feathers, pale green feathers, and a few longer lime green ones. I fear that something Bad must have happened to a baby parakeet. There's no sign of a corpse, but this feathery litter on some doormats that happen to be hanging on our terrace rail suggests an attack - a hawk? Spots, official name Lyra (according to her collar) - the neighborhood independently minded predatory Bengal cat? Or what?
Of course, says the Pollyanna in me, it might have managed to struggle free and get away. There's no blood. For someone who was jumping in scared shock all the way through Puss in Boots this afternoon (my first ever 3D movie! amazing!), and who was feeling the terror at every slip and slide into dangerous space, this is an odd form of optimistic reasoning. Because in a movie that's likely to have a substantial audience of children, of course Puss is going to be all right - however tight a fix he seems to be in - but one's body responds otherwise - as when one's favorite detectives get into scarily entrapped or violent situations - one knows they'll get out of it (or one trusts that they will - those authors who break the silent pact with their reader in this respect truly know how to unsettle). But do I really think that this small scared parakeet is all right now, just gazing with relief at her missing tail feathers? Ah, it would be so good to believe in the power of magical thinking, here.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
...at least, surely I can't cram too many more Ferris wheels into this year? Here's the one from last night, waiting to be dismantled, reflected in yet another piece of USC's water. The original Ferris wheel was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr in 1893 for the Columbian World's Fair in Chicago - it was meant to "out-Eiffel Eiffel" in terms of the views that it gave. Powered by steam boilers, it carried on rotating until 1906 - poor Ferris doesn't seem to have received anything like the share of the profits that he should have done - but it moved around, going first to Lincoln Park, Chicago, and then heading down to St Louis for the 1904 Exposition (and it was eventually, deliberately, blown up by dynamite). Quite why anyone thought it would outdo the Eiffel Tower's panoramic scope mystifies me - it was only 264 feet tall, as opposed to the Eiffel Tower's 1,063 (the London Eye, if you're measuring, is 443 feet). I'm not sure how good a view one would have got from this one - like so many modern wheels it seemed to spin and rotate and dip and go through a whole lot of other motions that I know would make me pass out ...
Monday, November 21, 2011
Perhaps it's a little strange that I should post three pictures of Ferris wheels during the course of a semester. But I couldn't resist this one, actually on campus - it seems to be something called Troy Week, popularly known as Conquest (no one prepared me for this ...). It's all part of the big build up to the USC-UCLA football game (yes, that same event that has Traveler, and Tommy Trojan, wrapped up in protective duct tape). So tonight there's a marching band, and other bands, and goodness knows what on stage, and fireworks - really, I should have stayed, rather than scuttling home to do teaching prep.
And the view from the top of the parking structure (that's becoming another recurrent motif, I know), was insanely beautiful after yesterday's storm, too.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I thought, when I took this picture round by the back door of Trader Joe's this morning, that I was going to write a disquisition about wastefulness (coupled with a snatch or two of the obvious Rolling Stones song). But now I'm not so sure - maybe this is just carelessness? Maybe these flowers are going to be plunged in buckets of water at any moment? Maybe they'll revive? It's worrying that I can't be sure of their state, one way or another. In any case, I always stay clear of miscellaneous bunches, especially the cellophane wrapped ones that look like guilt-offerings from gas stations.
But what does happen to less than fresh flowers? Actually, probably much the same as happens to their food. Which is what, here in Silver Lake? Unlike some food stores, TJ's doesn't have a completely firm policy about what happens to surplus, spoiled, waste food, although its website does boast the amount of food that gets given to food banks and individual organizations - about 656 truckloads in 2010, or 20 million meals. That sounds like a lot of food, until one thinks that in the same year, 46.2 million Americans were reported as being below the poverty line - so less than .5 of a meal per person gets given away a year (yes, I know that's screwy math, given how many parts of the country don't have a TJs, but still ...). Maybe that just means good store management. Maybe that means that the so called Donation Co-ordinator that each store supposedly possesses isn't always completely pro-active. But do the same organizations also get slightly wilted flowers? The really dead ones presumably end up in a dumpster - let's hope composted. What does waste mean when it's something inedible yet organic that's wasted? I guess the real waste lies in things like the gas used to transport the flowers in the first place (growing them presumably kept someone in a job?). Whichever way one looks at it, these seasonal bunches were not being well or respectfully treated.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
No, this isn't a split frame, in the sense of being a composite picture - but it struck me as I was typing, this morning, how neatly the screen of the computer was functioning as a mirror. It wasn't, of course, straight upright - that's an optical illusion - and nor are the bottles listing at some drunken angle, but the quirkiness is part of its appeal, to me, at least. Though my visit to the opening of the excellent Weegee in Hollywood show at MOCA this evening - curated by my colleague Richard Meyer - was enough to cure me, through aversion therapy, of quirky photographs for ever and ever. If sometimes Weegee's own sense of humor is forgivable (the Laughing Mule at the Pet Oscars, or whatever the awards were called, next to a society woman arching her own head back, and opening her mouth toothily wide in braying amusement), most often it's jaw droopingly sexist, or just plain silly. I admire Richard hugely for putting together a show that makes us think about Weegee in context, and think about him in interesting ways (and about the society that he was not just photographing, but photographing for), when the personality (and a number of the photographs, despite his slick technical ability) seems not to have been the most endearing. Still, there's a whole lot of Flashy material to get me thinking in the show, too - including some Weegee how-to manuals written for Westinghouse ("I can honestly say that my new book, 'Naked Hollywood,' could never have been done without dependable Westinghouse flashbulbs," goes a 1953 advertisement in Popular Mechanics) that are super-tough to track down, and are now, very frustratingly, sitting in full view, but behind plain glass ...
I managed, at very long last, to finish unpacking the last couple of plastic containers in my office today - very good to greet various items that have moved with me from one office to another over the past decade or so. This mug - which has been minus its handle for a long time - I bought in the Cowley Road, in Oxford, a long time back. But the flowers, the dried roses, tied together with a ribbon? I think they date from my time as chair at Rutgers, but then again, they may not. That's the sad thing - one keeps things for a memento, and then completely forgets what one's meant to be reminded of. Then there's a copy of Vanity Fair, a novel which I suspect I've not read in twenty years (though I remember it pretty vividly, or think I do) and Barry Lyndon, which I have a suspicion I've never read at all - and, of course, my bright blue office bookshelves.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Those are not tiny specks of dust on your screen, above the downtown skyscrapers. Those are helicopters, circling over and over the - how many? - 20,000? - protestors, marchers, sit-downers, arm linkers, passive resisters, and general 99%-ers in central Los Angeles today. It's also an example of how deceptive a picture can be: this looks like extraordinary tranquility (give or take the pollution that's giving an orange glow to the evening sky), but there's so much going on down in the streets (given that we were in the middle of an External Academic Review in Art History today, my active support was decidedly limited to watching the live stream on line: there's something very surreal about watching local action - or at least listening to local drum-beats - whilst preparing one's next set of supposedly persuasive arguments and positions). That thing on the left? That's the Shrine auditorium - aka the Al Malaikah Temple - built in 1920-26 (after its predecessor burned down) - and more about that on some other occasion.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Why, I wonder, has our green trash bin - the kind that one puts garden waste in - grown a face? I assume that this isn't absolutely recent: it doesn't seem entirely likely that the family of adolescent raccoons who've been bounding around the terrace have been out there with a spray can. although they are certainly delinquent enough to have considered it. I guess it must have been done on the street - but I've not noticed it before, even when tugging this bin - and its compadres - back up the 22 steps from the street every trash day. It's one thing admiring street art when one considers it part of public spectacle, but quite another when it seems to have moved, unbidden and grinning, onto one's own property.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
This young (and clotheless) man is a bas relief on one end of Taper Hall - the end closest the administrative building, the food area, the bookstore, the libraries - in other words, the directions in which I'm most likely to be heading if not to the carpark (and yes, I notice the depressing order in which I wrote those locations - truth comes out, when one's writing at speed). He seems to be shading his light against the sun, but in fact he seems most likely to be assaulted by this barrage of leaf shadows. I've stalked the image for a while, waiting for the moment when the light seemed just right.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Traveler, as I've remarked before, is USC's football mascot - a pure white Andalusian horse. Back in the days when I was a demon at Pony Club quizzes, I knew not to say "white" to describe a horse's color - "light grey," yes, but not "white". Still, that particular no-no doesn't seem to have crossed the Atlantic, or at least it hasn't made it as far as the football program. A year or so ago, a life-size replica rather startlingly appeared on campus - a gift to recognize the former President and his wife - styled with what even my ten year old self would have recognized as formidable tackiness. However, it doesn't look nearly so bad when wrapped in industrial quality cling film. This isn't some sub-Christo art expression: rather, the imitation Traveler and the statue of Tommy Trojan (maybe I'll feature that later this week?) have been protected against potential depredations at the hands of the local football mega-rivals, UCLA. The game is on Saturday November 26th, but clearly, security measures get under way well in advance.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
After the Abandoned Chairs of Highland Park (there are a few to be found around here, although mattresses and broken down desk units seem to be more common), the Impaled Chairs of Silver Lake. There's a whole fence full of them that we sometimes pass on our walks - not large chairs - six or eight inches across, let's say - and painted in patterns and colors that one rarely sees in an average furniture showroom. Their precise meaning and function (if, of course, any, beyond artistic entertainment and pure dysfunctionality) is happily impossible to guess.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
The major difference between watching a mid-November football match at USC and one in Piscataway is that - for all the threatening clouds and general dampness as a winter - "winter" - storm came through this weekend - one wasn't freezing cold, and slithering away afterwards through sleet and half slouchy puddles. Other than that, I seem to have moved 3,000 miles to exchange one shade of red for another, and one Scarlet Knight in armor for a Trojan in a helmet cantering decorously round on the handsome Traveler (sorry that there's no picture of him, but my efforts were too blurred - one can't take in cameras "with a lens bigger than a credit card"). Still, the martial side of the Trojan spirit is a vaguely familiar concept after all that RU medievalism, even if it's set a millennium earlier: I would find it very odd to be supporting ducks or badgers or even the Washington Husky (today's guests, beaten 40:17), whom one imagines show off a live canine when they're playing at home, but here just had a guy dressed up in a grey fluffy suit. I would say that the other big difference, apart from the weather - and, of course, having a marching band big enough to spell out the school's name - is that the team wins - but then, Rutgers came back handsomely against Army, even if, for a while, this was in doubt. For, yes, I might well have been the only person in the stadium whose eyes kept swiveling round to the screen on which the scores from other college football games were being flashed up (see below), and checking in on Rutgers's fortunes. Old habits die very hard. Chop chop.
And yes, that is an Olympic flame ...
Friday, November 11, 2011
So still was the air in downtown Los Angeles today that reflections on the water of the ponds outside LA Public Library reflected back the skyscrapers, the bird sculpture and the clouds so clearly that the pool doesn't look as though it has any water in it. Indeed, even though I know that I was photographing upside down skyscrapers, I can't tell myself, now, what's a reflection and what's a granite tile - if, indeed, any of the tiles aren't blue. It's most disorienting.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Here's a particularly fetching piece of street - or at least campus - art, right outside Taper Hall! Doubtless it will be gone by tomorrow, but it was very cheering to emerge to it this evening. However, my memory went nearly as badly askew as Rick Perry's when it came to what I planned to write about. I usually have pretty good visual recall and association, but my mind came up with a composite mangle this evening. I'd been going to call the post Get Yer Ya-yas Out - which of course was a Rolling Stones live album of 1970, and which I was convinced had a picture of someone sticking out his tongue on the sleeve. Absolutely wrong - that's the album cover that shows a leaping Jagger - I think - and a donkey with drums on either side of what looks like a small runway. So a ya-ya isn't a tongue. It ought to be - it suggests a derisory, yah-boo-sucks jeer - but it isn't. In fact, the album with lips and a tongue is Forty Licks, and I realize that it's taken me nine years to make the connections between licks and tongues - though that much used tongue design (by John Pasche) dates back to 1971, when I think it appeared as an insert card in the Sticky Fingers sleeve. Somehow, though, familiar though that particular Big Lips design is, I'd also managed to conflate it with all the heads - some of them in reduced black and white form similar to this - on the 1978 Some Girls. Perhaps I should develop some kind of sympathy with Rick Perry's brain freeze? Oops.
It's a long time since I hit 11.30 at night before realizing that I didn't yet have a Picture of the Day - thank goodness for (a) an iPhone handy and (b) Alice having very sweetly bought me some roses that are sitting in a - yes, rose bowl - on a shelf at the side of my desk. This quick Hipstamatic number manages to look like a rather delicate botanical drawing (or apparently quick - of course, I played around with a number of "camera" combinations and angles). And if my sense of it being a long and meeting filled day wasn't bad enough ... I just sent off a chapter description to someone in London and had an instant reply, and realized that it's already 9 a.m. there. Truly, one occasionally feels - despite the reassuring Englishness of a rose - a long way away.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
This billboard, on Fig, is always my favorite in LA, and never more so than when Puss in Boots is staring gingerly out from it. Our own Lola and LucyFur, meanwhile, have adopted a curiously Madonna-and-child pose. Lucy may be four and a half, but she still hopefully tries to milk-dance Lola, who isn't even her biological mother. Enough! It's a punishingly hard day's work, and back I go to it.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Yes, turtles - not in a park, but in a kind of large fish pond outside Lloyd Klein couturiers on Beverly - the kind of store that I am clearly the wrong size and shape even to contemplate going inside, ever - one can tell that just by sniffing the air. But the turtles (and koi) were a wonderful surprise (as was the fact that Beverly, at least at that part, has vacant spots at parking meters at lunchtime) - and the building that houses the boutique, too, was a classy attempt at mock Italian renaissance, complete with a lion's head fountain and faded Giotto-esque frescoes. I can't find it in my Gebhard and Winter Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles - my go-to consultation volume and constant inspiration for future trips - but it's absurd enough to be worth a visit.
It would be easy to mistake this for the inside of some temple, but the nearest that this setting came to housing a cult was to be the hotel-location for NAVSA these last few days. It's so strange when one's lingering on in the hotel when most people have left - not for pleasure, but because I had a 6.20 p.m. flight, and needed a quiet space with wi-fi. Whether a bar when the Titans are playing is exactly a quiet spot is a moot point, but it certainly allowed me to be on line.
It was a wonderful NAVSA - a happy NAVSA - not only because of seeing old friends, but because - despite all the grounds that so many people must have for complaint (no money! few job vacancies! uncertain politics - the next election is a year away today), I hardly heard any sharing of woe - people seemed genuinely to be talking about the papers and ideas and their work. So many many thanks to Jay and Carolyn and Rachel - I hope very much that you're basking in your success. Or asleep.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
There has been barely a moment to step outside the conference - at least, not if one doesn't want to miss stuff that one doesn't want to miss ... but this tree lies between the hotel and Starbucks, and of course made me wish that I'd taken the time - when I did have a few spare moments - to wander around in the kind of glorious fall colors that one doesn't get in LA. There, the deciduous leaves, for the most part, just get very desiccated and brown and then sulkily fall off when it rains. Whereas here ...
I have such fun at conferences - seeing people, above all (though among the papers that I heard today were a couple of life-saving references, quite apart from their intrinsic merits) - and NAVSA always seems like a big party and reunion. And I particularly like running into people (You Know Who You Are), who tell me that not only do they enjoy reading/looking at "Forms," but appreciate the fact that what I write tends to be fairly short, rather than screeds of polemic. You can't imagine how much that assuages my guilty apprehension that I should be coughing up intellectual commentary, rather than a daily version of paragraphs from an Occasional Essay.
Friday, November 4, 2011
All I can say is that this view is the complete opposite of the conference - emptiness and silence in the football stadium outside my window, but inside ... it's 12.30 a.m., in other words, and this is the first chance that I've had to post a picture of - well, abstracted emptiness.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Perhaps NAVSA this year has been sponsored by Midas? I don't have the stunning park-and-Parthenon view, but the football stadium at dawn, though the curtains, was quite picturesque - at least until the rain descended a few minutes later. The true star of the day, though, was inside the Parthenon, where we had a sumptuous and fun reception (as a 2013 co-organizer of the conference, I find myself looking at the excellence of this year's organization with admiration and trepidation. And, o.k., it may be admissible for it to rain here, but people will want their money back if it pours in Pasadena ...). I didn't even know that there was an inside to this replica. But there, on the upper level, is a quite extraordinary sight - a 41' 10" gilded statue of Athena. Just like in Ancient Greece ... And this isn't some piece of monstrous Victorian kitsch, but was built between 1982-1990, left pure white for twelve years, and then gilded in 2002. I really don't know what to say, other than that it's startlingly big, and that if this is ever rediscovered after some monstrous Armageddon, people are going to come to some strange conclusions about life in late C20th/early C21st America.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
One very good thing about taking the Flyaway to LAX is that one can raise one's eyes up and away from the traffic, and appreciate the beauty of downtown in the relatively early morning light. To be honest, the best specific thing about this bus was that it left at 9.10 a.m., rather than the 9.00 that I'd feared.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I'm getting habituated to the amount of Trojan stuff around campus - the helmets, the torches, the injunction to Fight On! that - in electronic red lettering - sends me off on my way home from the car park each day. Given what happened to the Trojans, that always seems to me to smack of heroic defeat ... and that was very much brought home today by this, a trash truck. What cleaned up after the Trojans? The Greeks! Is this a wonderful piece of deliberate irony? I wish I knew - but a little bit of Googling reveals that they're quite a wide-based SoCal firm, so they're not a locally generated piece of inspiration. Still, it made my morning, and it's not often that one can say that about trash collection.