Sunday, January 31, 2016


Last week it was snowing; today the temperature was 73 ... So I consulted my copy of Hiking North Carolina - an optimistically purchased, woefully under-used volume, given how wet most weekends have been - and set off to walk round Shelley Lake, near Raleigh.  This turned out to be an over-modest walk, even with the addition of two extra little loops, and most of Raleigh was there too: walking, running, walking dogs, pushing strollers, pushing dogs in strollers, etc.  And fishing.  But it was good to be warm and outdoors ...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

overheight when flashing

Might I just say - this truck driver made something of a mistake.  Maybe the warning signal didn't flash; maybe he didn't think it applied to him; maybe, maybe.  Whatever else, the railway bridge in Durham seems to have operated rather like a can opener.

I fully appreciate this, since it's been a week working on flash and news photography ... No flash, of the photographic kind, necessary here, but I appreciate the serendipity of just coming upon some mildly newsworthy action when one's out for a walk.

Friday, January 29, 2016

more trees

Yes - trees again, because apart from my apartment, my car, my desk, and back again, that's pretty much all I see ... To be precise, second-generation Loblolly pine (I owe that information to the acknowledgements to Jared Farmer's wonderful Trees in Paradise - his book about trees in California, which he wrote whilst at the National Humanities Center).  They're planted on the ghosts of old tobacco fields, and this evening, they were glowing in the sunlight as I walked to my car.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

driving to work

One of the things I miss about Los Angeles - one of the very many things - is driving to and from work, and always seeing something new to look at, and/or, indeed, to photograph.  Here, there are (a) fewer red lights and traffic jams, and (b) - well, it's not so endlessly fascinating on the eye.  But today, at least, I had some red lights, and a suitably chilly sky.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

woolly ball

This is a wool ball.  I live in hope that Bitzi-DandyLion will rush up and down the living room chasing it: I think she's done so once, or twice.  It's a ball from the Farmers' Market: the woman who was selling them originally made these as dryer balls - to put in the dryer in order to get rid of static - and indeed, I have three of them just for that purpose.  But she said that people were also buying them as pet toys, so she started to make them with very simple decorations.  It has a very pleasing small amount of weight to it: one can throw it quite satisfactorily up and down the hallway.  I can't really find a justification for doing that, however ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

transitional space

I've always been a great admirer of Lynne Cohen's photographs of empty institutional spaces - sometimes of military complexes, sometimes of training facilities or classrooms or therapeutic establishments or factories - spaces that one passes through, transitional spaces, that have symbolic furnishings that are only occasionally used - like empty armchairs.  Just occasionally, there's a stray dummy, or other form of human simulacrum.  They are both made to look as though someone cares - at least sometimes - through the positioning of plants, or prints on the wall - but at the same time, they are profoundly sterile.  They are places in which something, anything, has just happened, or is about to happen - but one can't quite tell what.  

The reception desk at the National Humanities Center had just that quality when I was leaving this evening: akin to a set-up in an office catalogue, but at the same time with just a few hints that it's not utterly artificial (photographs of past classes of Fellows, for example).  It's a space for people to populate with a story.  Or as Cohen said in an interview for Canadian Art, “I once wrote about my work as being loaded with storytelling. Even if you know the work, it’s still always incredibly complicated. And why does it have to make sense? The images are pieces of a narrative puzzle that could be about anything. It’s totally absurd. Absurd, but it does tell a story. So the work goes back and forth; it is narrative and it isn’t.”

I went on line to hunt down this, or a similar, quotation from Cohen about the relationship that her photographs hold to narrative, and I was sadly disconcerted to find that she died back in May 2014.  I don't know how I missed that: it makes all those silent empty spaces even more silent.

Monday, January 25, 2016

snowy rooftops

This was the view from the car park at West Village, Durham this morning - whilst there was still some clean looking snow.  It's been warm today, so most of it's now in large lumpy heaps at the side of the road, or rapidly turning back into black ice.  I wish these chimneys weren't quite so hemmed in by a/c units ...

And then there's the panorama look, with all the old tobacco warehouses showing the influence on their brickwork of industrially-hewn Venetian gothic on turn of the century US architecture.  Rather like USC's new University Village - the whole of our campus style, indeed ...

Sunday, January 24, 2016


She just prefers not to.  Come out from under the bed, that is (except to eat, drink, and use her tray) - although rearranged kitty toys, rugs etc. suggest that she makes an exception in the middle of the night, when I'm asleep.  She emerged for about three minutes this morning - wanted a stroke - and then retired.  I guess that's progress, but really, Bitzi/DandyLion is Very Disappointing Company.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

the disappointment of our snow

Here it is - as seen from my apartment window - in all its glory.  Or lack of glory.  A few inches; a layer or three of crunchy ice, and the biggest entertainment watching people's FB pictures of deep snow, and looking at images of a car-deserted NY, and a car-deserted DC, on the news.  Clearly this is international news - I was touched by an email from my mother asking if I was dry and warm.  Dry, warm, and with cabin fever.  Snow does make for some good geometric shapes, all the same.

Friday, January 22, 2016

winter storm

I have no idea quite how I took this - I know that I was balancing on tip toe in my snazzy new snow boots to try and take a view out of the window without the reflection of bar lights - and I both managed (left) and failed (right) to do so.  But how did this all end up on one camera exposure?  I couldn't replicate this if I tried.  

The evening with colleague-friends in the bar was the best part, by far, of a disappointing winter-storm day.  I'd expected to wake up to fluttering snow - instead of which, most of the day was spent watching menacing grey ice pellets come down, and cursing friends on FB who were enjoying, apparently, real white fluffy stuff, instead of lethal chunks and slabs of ice.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

other people's campuses

There's often something very seductive about other people's campuses: one doesn't have to live one's own academic life in them, so plenty of room for imaging them as perfect teaching and working environments, full of enthusiastic blah blah blah.  Because obviously, it only takes a dinner's worth of conversation to make it very very clear that one university is very like another, in so many ways...UNC, though, has some spectacular buildings: the oldest public university, I was told, and the central campus designed by Masons, so the positioning of buildings, the situatedness at various points of the compass, is all with a purpose.  And Art History were great hosts - it was good to let a new incarnation of a Flash! talk get an airing ...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A purple sweet potato

Who knew?  I certainly didn't.  This has been a remarkable discovery, and North Carolina, the US Home of the Sweet potato, is the right place to have made it (though curiously, the best article that I found on its development and cultivation was a little while back in the LA Times.)  And this makes it clear that other people knew about purple sweet potatoes anyway, like the Japanese.  I'm hoping that it was terrifically healthy, with all those anthocyanins (and that purple is such a terrific color, I'd like to extract some juice and use it to make an anthotype or two.  I've just remembered that I saved some pulverized mulberries for that purpose, too, but they're in the freezer in Santa Fe).  For the culinary curious, that's Greek yoghurt, and cilantro.  Some of you will be well aware that Alice cannot stand cilantro (gene deficiency; tastes of soap); you won't be surprised that I am eating large quantities of the stuff in her absence.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

shooting the news

Since no one could possibly need to see another view from my desk - at least, not until the seasons change - you might as well see what's on it.  I'm back to the news photography and flash chapter - one that has a whole section about crime photography in the middle, which means that I've spent much too much time today looking at perfectly grisly pictures of dead men and occasional dead women.  Or as Weegee put it with typical laconicism: it's easy enough to take a picture of a corpse, because they don't get up and move.  Floherty throws together a lot of anecdotes about news photographers - both newsreel shooters and still photographers: given how much space he grants the former, I love the fact that, nonetheless, the publishers chose to illustrate the profession with a flash gun.  He has some good turns of phrase - I like the comment that the flashbulbs going off from myriad of newsmen covering the Lindbergh was like the flickering of fireflies on a summer evening: this is one of the first similes that I've found about flash bulbs - as opposed to smelly explosive flash powder - since they were introduced around 1930.  But startling, too, was a description of the combusting Hindenburg airship - in 1937 - like one great flash explosion, allowing photographers to shoot images of its fiery fate by the light that it itself emanated.

Monday, January 18, 2016

sky line

The temperature crept above freezing by mid-afternoon.  Since it was MLK day, I was working from home, which was a great incentive to go in search of Durham's Perfect Cup of Coffee, to be found at the terrific Cocoa Cinnamon, which might well become my new hiding place, at least when it's warmer (and if there's any space between the massed ranks of hipsters and Duke students).  There was the added incentive of the money that they were giving today from the sale of expresso and chocolate drinks to boost the coffers of a couple of kids in the East Durham Childrens' Save Initiative, in honor of the day.  Further up W. Geer Street was this wonderful mural, which manages to be of the city and enhance the city: walking round today was to see Durham at its wintry best.

And then there was an abandoned railroad, heading into the trees ... I'm sure I'll return to this as a subject, but here's a taster ...

Sunday, January 17, 2016

orange and white

To be sure, in a dark, grey day - sleeting, or depositing very wet snow, for much of the morning - I didn't feel any great rush of photographic inspiration.  Indeed, some photographic depression set in - I've been engaging seriously with the task of sorting, labeling, deleting more photographs from the past six or so years than I even dare think about, and I became quite convinced that I took better pictures back in 2010.  That being said - I also took, and presumably also on occasions then when inspiration lagged, a good number of really pleasing flower images.  So there's a pattern in my reversion.  And serendipity, too, because when I tried to reconstitute this shot today in order to experiment with some different lighting, I couldn't get the petals to curve in this reciprocal way again.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

working out the angles

Yes, that's a notably bad pun, but it's an apt one: I finished a chapter I seem to have been working on for a lifetime (on flash and black photographers in the 30s, 40s and 50s), and am ready to move on to the next - a half-written, a quarter in bits, a quarter still to be researched one - on flash and newspapers and crime.  So I was hard at work, in beautiful silence, all day, to be rewarded, as I drove down the driveway at dusk, by a huge, heavy hawk flying just in front of me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

peñasco blue

This evening, I took down my first bulb of Peñasco Blue garlic - about time, too, because it's just starting to dry (this is normal: it's an easy-to-cook with garlic because it has a very loose papery skin, but at the same time, this doesn't really protect it very well).   This particular strain of garlic - gourmet heritage garlic - has been grown around Peñasco, NM (on the High Road to Taos, and somewhere, I see on Zillow, where you can still buy a 2-bedroom house for 79K) for thirty years or more, and it's one of my favorite NM garlics.  I bought this strand at the Santa Fe Farmers' Market at the end of the summer, and it's been hanging from a kitchen cupboard door ever since I moved into this little apartment, reminding me.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

morning sun

I'm celebrating the fact of sunshine in North Carolina (celebrate it while I can - it's due to rain again tomorrow), coming into my apartment; hitting a spotted scarf; a bag (bought at the Farmers' Market in the fall) made out of an old feed sack, and a bag of kitty kibble (for the Senior Cat), that's slowly being consumed (when I'm not watching) by the invisible orange one under the bed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

an evening view (or: back in my office in the woods)

The view from my office, winter-style.  That lamp ... it gives the lie to any dream of being in a woodland wilderness, and indeed, you can see all the traffic roaring past on Highway 147, the Durham Freeway, now that the leaves are off quite a lot of the trees.  Mind you, at this time of the day, it's less of a roar, and more of a bad-tempered crawl.

It looks more sinister - the image, the lamp - in black and white.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Here, back in Durham NC, DandyLion - Bitzi, to some of you, but we've wondered if reverting to her original name will give her a little more self-respect - Dandy is still under the bed.  There have been many updates from cat sitters about her purring, her rolling over and over (whilst under the bed), her desire to be stroked - but, well, she's still there.  But.  Obviously she comes out to use her tray, and eat - and, I think my bedspread (genuine Amish, from Pennsylvania) bears witness - to sit on the bed.  Indeed, there's even orange fur inside it.

I've spent a good deal of today reading books about flash photography and police evidence (who knew that they put some kind of red substance inside footprints in the snow, so that flash doesn't reflect back off the icy surface).  There's some nasty stuff in there. when they're not using embarrassed looking police cadets as models, but are reproducing real scene-of-crime shots (no trigger warnings on the covers, either).  But there are no instructions about how to get the best angle on furry bed-covers.

Monday, January 11, 2016

leaving LA / in memoriam DB

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

That's a relative "nothing," of course: it was four and a half hours of uninterrupted work time all the way from LAX to RDU (uninterrupted, that is, apart from the welcome interventions that one gets when one's been upgraded to 1st: the warm wet towel, the glass of chardonnay, the shrimps).  My biggest relief?  That my (hybrid) car started after having been left in the airport carpark for just about five weeks.  Tomorrow?  Back to serious research and writing ...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

office life

One last view from our window of the Austin Omni, a hotel I fervently hope never to stay in again - at least, not with an inside view.  This shows the offices, layers after layer of them, as though one had opened the front door of some crazed corporate dolls house (and may I recommend Nikil Saval's Cubed: A Secret History of the Workspace, as the only possible accompanying reading matter?).  Last night the view was enhanced by the Bachelors of Austin Debutantes' Ball - this season's debutantes were being Presented at a ceremony/party in the Omni court.  Luckily, we missed almost all of this occasion, which had magnificent flowers, and seemed spectacularly white and wealthy - a mind-boggling time-warp, a microcosm of certain Texan society.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

austin, music, wheatpaste

Here's a bit of the Austin music scene, pasted - large-scale - to the side of a wall, round about where all the bars are, and passed, every day - sometimes more than once a day - on our way to MLA panels ... 

Friday, January 8, 2016

two views of the Capitol

First, in the early Austin morning mist, and then, with the MLA No Guns of the UT Campus (or, so far as I'm concerned, any campus) march bearing down upon it.  Take your pick!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

not messin' with Texas

This manages to look like a framed photo - it's a - I tell myself, because this is Texas - a bullet-shattered window somewhere behind the State Capitol, in a derelict building, reflecting, of course, not just the architecture opposite, but a white pick-up truck.  On my walk to the U of T's Co-op to buy an external hard drive (computer memory seems funky, don't ask), there were various strange sights as well as this:

a doorway to nowhere - The Wm B Travis what?  Building?  with a mock-leopard-skin rug covering a nearby bench; and this impossible hipster-ish person, with a sign on the wall exhorting one to Live A Great Story.  If you're looking for an image for your Narrative Studies course web page, feel free to borrow ...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

damp leaves

This was the view from our dining room this morning, before it was obscured by walls of El Niño water - most of which we seemed to drive through en route to the airport.  The annual blazing of the Asian Pear (reminding one that in LA, Fall comes in January) was today most disconcerting - it was so bright that it seemed that the sun was coming out.  That, of course, was an illusion.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

el niño

Yes, El Niño has indisputably arrived!! It was not the easiest of drives back to LA today (understatement), and these photos leave out the real horrors of driving over the desert (!?!) pass between Needles and Barstow in fog and rain, or down the Cajon Pass in driving rain and fog, with Wayz telling us Object On Road! Police Ahead! etc  - they leave it out, either because I was driving, or because Alice was, and it didn't seem fair on her to be wielding a camera when we were both decidedly scared at the conditions, lunatic drivers, etc etc.  But here's the bridge, once we were off the freeway in Pasadena, and some views of the 210 ...

... it's starting to clear, here ...

... this is just a bit earlier ...

and earlier still ...

and this is the extraordinary view when driving towards Flagstaff from Winslow, early this morning.

The thought, after all this traveling, of leaving again tomorrow for MLA is, well, not to be thought about until the morning ...

Monday, January 4, 2016

one last new mexican sky

Here's El Nino, heading our way ... who knows what rain we'll be driving into tomorrow as we approach Los Angeles (or what snow, first, in Flagstaff.  We have water.  We have bags of nuts and packets of cookies.  We have kitty kibble.  We have the MLA program, to read aloud to ourselves).  Admittedly, this, outside Route 66 casino, where we stopped for - well, water - isn't the most picturesque of ground views, but the sky was nothing if not spectacular ...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

winter tree

One last sunset - back to LA and El Nino and MLA and and and ... it would be very excellent to stay just a bit longer in New Mexico, decompressing.  But.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

spiral driveway

No jetty here - but a wonderful set of car tracks ... Early this morning, we were convinced that our south-side neighbor's house (just going on the market, and hence empty) had some strange looking smoke coming from it, so I tramped through the drifts to investigate: came to the conclusion that it was just the heating unit lurching into action.  But this gave me the opportunity (a) to look back to our own house, and (b) to add something to my ever-expanding portfolio of photographs of spiral formations ...

Friday, January 1, 2016

sun dog

Dawn of 2016.  It may look like a slice of rainbow, but it's not - no bow.  It's a sun dog - an atmospheric phenomenon when it's very cold (it was!) and the sun is reflecting off ice crystals in the air.  But why a "dog"?  The OED was no help - just races it back to the C17th, and leaves it there.  I wondered if it was like a "fire dog" - one of those iron stands book-ending a fire place - but that only seems to date from the C18th (and is equally inexplicable).  Whatever the etymology, it was extremely beautiful.

Oh, and I should note: it begins the 8th year of FTBL.  Thanks for reading ...