Thursday, 3 April 2014

Hippety Hop Hop

Hippety Hop Hop, Hippety Hop Hop, this blog is going away for a while. 

Hippety Hop Hop, Hippety Hop Hop, Jesus is Dead, Jesus is Dead, an Easter Egg, An Easter Egg, Jesus is Dead, Jesus is Dead, I love Easter, I love Easter, Jesus is alive, Jesus is alive!

Fantastic - kind of sums it all up really.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

We Make the Dog by Walking

I've never had a dog. I've  never wanted one. But my daughter's first words were 'doggy' and we had a lovely neighbour called Wendy who had a lovely dog called Bailey.

About five years ago we started walking Bailey. Once or twice a week, we ended up taking Bailey on walks around our house in Bath. We walked to the park, to Brown's Folly, up Solsbury Hill but most of all down Charlecombe Valley. We entered a doggy world where people talk about their dogs and are so dog-like that they are one step away from sniffing each other's arses. I especially liked the slightly anxious owners who had rescue dogs. I always asked them the story of their dog and they always loved telling it - it was like a free trip to the dog analyst's with a Dickensian venality added to tie things down. And just as you had anxious owners, you had anxious dogs. You could see the worry lines on their doggy brows.

Isabel and I walked Bailey after school when she was younger. In summer we'd eat ice cream and in winter we'd sit at the top of the valley, have cake and hot chocolate and throw a ball for Bailey to fetch. It was a lovely memory of a lovely place but time moves on.

But then Isabel changed schools and we stopped doing those walks quite so ofter. The geography of where we live changed when that happened. My wife started walking him more and sometimes we'd go together during lunch breaks if I was at home. Then, a couple of weeks ago Wendy moved and took Bailey with her. So we don't walk him anymore. We don't go down Charlcombe Valley quite so often. We don't take the dog around the allotments or up Solsbury Hill or up to the park. Suddenly a great chunk of the world we used to inhabit has shifted. Sad but life goes on. It's funny how that happens.

The pictures above are from the last walk with Bailey. We make the path by walking the dog and all that. Oh well. Not flatlining yet, but I'm getting there....

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

"We teach girls shame..."

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about her latest book, Americanah in the Guardian at the weekend.

Americanah is "...the story of two Nigerian émigrés who love and lose each other across continents and years... It is a book about hair: straight versus afro; and discreet tensions, not just between white Americans and Nigerian immigrants, but between Africans and African Americans, between the light- and dark-skinned, between new and established immigrants, and its frankness – in particular on the subject of gender – has upset some people. "I knew that was coming," says Adichie. "I can't write a book like that and then go, 'Oh my God, they're upset.' But my intention wasn't to upset." She smiles. "It's just that I'm willing to if that's what it takes to write the book."

I like the fact that Adichie is very direct. She's direct about race, about skin colour, about the USA. She talks about her main character Ifemulu arriving in America and not being angry enough because she is African rather than African-American.; "I only became black when I came to America."

She also talks about Nigerian arrogance which was nice. I used to live in a house with a Nigerian who was a bit messy and used to say things like, "In my country you would be my servant and you would be washing my dishes," which always used to amuse both of us. 

Since leaving, she has began to see what she calls the Nigerian swagger – the attitude that causes resentment in other African countries. "We're not popular in any part of Africa. And we're rather proud of it. If I wasn't Nigerian, I think I would understand why. There's a kind of Nigerian aggressiveness … 'Why shouldn't we?' We'll do it very loudly and without much finesse, but hey. Inside Nigeria there are different cultures, but this is Nigerianness – it cuts across ethnic groups. I don't know if it's from our large size, I don't know if it's because we never had white people settle and stay. So Nigerians go to Kenya and Tanzania and we think, why are you so apologetic?"

Adichie also tooks about gender and the criticism she received for having a strong woman who has a will of her own. That's where the motivational picture at the top kicks in. I showed it my daughter the other day and she asked what the last part means, the part about the "art of pretence". I told her and she instantly recognised what Adichie meant. 

And that's why she's so good. Because she's direct and she says what is obvious to her, but at the same time recognising the business she's in. Americanah, she says, is ultimately a love story, because that is what stories are all about; love. 

Why complicate things when they don't need complicating. And I think that is true of all great writers. They tell universal stories using universal themes. Love's the big one. 

And isn't it the same in photography. Aren't there universal themes that great photographers touch on. Themes or elements perhaps. Emotion, the face, the body, the facade and the sublime. Isn't that what it all boils down to? 

But not love. Not even on the Left Bank. There's no love in photography. Funny that. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Spook Light. It's Spooky but is it Real?

I love the idea of the Spook Light. It's a great name for a light that mysteriously appears '...on a remote road deep in the Ozark Hills."

Spook Light Chronicles vol. 1 - the road and the light is an artist's book by Antone Dolezal and Lara Shipley that examines the strange phenomenon of the Spook Light. 

The book is a mix of found, appropriated and real-life-we-photographed-this pictures. These are mixed with text that takes us somewhere into the hearts and minds of Spook Light Country. Here's the place. They have an old map and that makes it Real! And because it's real, it's even scarier.

And Spook Light Country is a scary place; it's ' insular community living in the heart of the Bible Belt where the struggle between heaven and hell factors into everyday conversation.'

They factor into the book, because for Dolezal and Shipley "...the Spook Light has come to represent for the people we meet a desire for redemption and the fear of slipping into darkness." The  Spook Light "...provides a reprieve from ordinary life."

So Dolezal and Shipley are cranking it up, and with a name like The Spook Light, what's not to crank. The first question on my lips is "Is it real?" I really want to know this and like to believe that it is real. And Dolezal and Shipley pointing me in that direction with pictures like the one below. That has to be real.

One picture titled the boys that scared me, shows a young man standing bare-chested in the roadway.He has got two star tatoos on his chest and his hands are bunched into fists. He has a kind of smile on his face, but it's not a very nice smile and the man in the background has a near empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. There is tension in the air.

The caption reads:

I was kind of thinking what if the spook light were to come right here and collide with me and take my soul with it. And you guys would just have to leave me here, because I'd be a soulless man, just wandering down the road. 

There are more references to lost souls, the afterlife and it adds to the threat. The Spook Light is not benign. This is a book for suggestible people by, I'm hoping, suggestible artists. I know that if I was on the Devil's Promenade, more than a little bit of me would believe. No, let's be honest. All of me would believe. I'd be petrified with all that spookiness going on.

The found photographs build on this suggestibility and really make me believe. If it's old it must be true. The contemporary pictures of flashes of light add to this sense of threat while the lit landscapes add an alien element to the mental picture.

There are two more volumes to come in the series (the first is sold out). Hopefully by the end, I'll have the answer to my question. Is it Real?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Some stories you should have told me.

Tony Fouhse sent me the latest book from his Straylight Press, one of the most interesting of the new photobook publishers. For some reason Straylight feels a bit realler than most.

The book's called Same Old Story and features Fouhse's pictures together with a story by his partner, Cindy Deachman. The story is a contemporary stream-of-consciousness of love found and lost. It's a dreamscape filled with tension and anxiety. Nothing settles, nothing is as it seems, life is a constant race to and from shifting threats and possibilities. Life is immediate with a focus that shifts depending on what dreamscape you're in; the multi-roomed house, the chase, the anxiety sequence.

Loosely tied to the story are Fouhse's pictures from Toronto in the early 1980s (and this link will tell you how the pictures were connected to the story). This is old Toronto when it still had empty warehouses and a decrepit waterfront that, though decripit, wasn't devastated by identikit condos. That Toronto was staid and conservative on the surface, but scratch a little and you get beneath the skin. And that's what Fouhse's pictures show. They are offbeat and energised of people looking a little awkward in their skin. Maybe that's because most everybody in Toronto is a little awkward in their skin, either because they are trying so damn hard to make sense of matching the contradictions of living in such a brutally corporate/conformist city or because they see all these other people trying to make sense of matching those contradictions. But I guess that goes for any city with an essentially corporate soul. Or any city.

So the pictures? They are a funny look back at a time when the cracks in the facade were broader. A guy passed out at some outdoor event as a cadet of some sort salutes in front of him, a dog roaming a snowy street (remember when dogs used to roam free in places like Toronto), a racoon and bear. There's Miss Universe, a smoking car and a man in a suit walking along a downtown street. His hair is blown out and in the background there's a man standing against a granite wall with his hand on his head.

One picture shows a man lying on a bed with bandages over his eyes. Another shows a man with a megaphone covering his face. Everyone is fragmented and lost, including Fouhse who we see through a self-portrait in a wall of mirrors.

Same Old Story walks that edge between dream and reality, but in a very public way. These are street photos but they are not street. They are only street in the sense that they show a flip side to a public portrayal. You get two sides of the story for the price of one in other words.

Same Old Story reminds me of Harvey Benge's latest book, some things you should have told me. This is a trawl through Benge's subconscious, a narrative that is told through very direct visual links that make up for an unclassifiable surrealism. Though it's very photographic in some ways and connects to lots of new formalist still-life work, it occupies very different ground. It's almost anti-photographic and perhaps that's why it sticks.

I have trouble placing the work, but somehow it keeps on coming back to me. The book ends with a broken mirror, a fragmented self. And it starts with a trail of footprints in spilt salt next to an attractive women under a black umbrella. Empty facades, a rotten banana (in a plastic banana case) and a plastic snake add to the symbolism. But then there are very literal portraits mixed with blurred landscapes. I think there is something non-photographic happening in there which takes the pictures to a different place.

There are sexual references in there, both direct and indirect, but these are distant, almost unattainable. On his website, Benge says the book questions who we are and is an examination of the inevitability of change. It's also autobiographical and in that sense I'm guessing it might be a meditation on aging, on the distance and the facadism of everyday life.

Joerg Colberg picked some things you should have told me as his book of the week on photo-eye  and shared a sense of uncertainty. But still, says Colberg,  it  "...has everything a great photobook should have: Great pictures, a great concept, and more."

I also like a quote the Benge sent to me to explain his work.

've got nothing to express! I simply search for images and I invent, I invent... only 
the image counts, the inexplicable and mysterious image, because all is mystery
in our life.  Rene Magritte, 1951

Buy Harvey Benge's some things you should have told me here. 
Buy Cindy Deachman/Tony Fouhse's Same Old Story here.

Friday, 21 March 2014

More Brains: The Blogger's Brain and The Writer's Brain

Today's brain is one I posted a few years back. It's  the Blogger's Brain. This is a shameful ripoff of the Writer's Brain by Tom Gauld. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Photographer's Brain 2

I posted yesterday on The Photographer's Brain. Brian David Stevens suggested that my version might be a more sophisticated version of this one, from Father Ted. And he'd be right.

I've posted before on Father Ted, but never on its considerable contributions to photographic discourse. But anyone with a keen interest in photography who has watched all the episodes will understand its contributions to visual theory. The Photograph as Evidence,  Voyeurism,  Eugenics and the Family Album, Dimensions, Scale and perspective are all covered. So if you ever need to understand Francis Galton, the Dusseldorf School, Trevor Paglen (this is near, that one's far away) or Enrique Metinides, Father Ted will have the answer for you.To be honest, Father Ted has the answer for pretty much everything.

Dreams and Reality sometimes get confused by politicians.  Last night, the Chairman of the British Conservative Party, Grant Shapps posted this picture.

(You can read about Grant Shapps' blogging software here, and get some tips on how not to impersonate political rivals but still use your real name here.

The first response of most people was to think that it was a spoof or parody. Oh, and the spoof and parodies are already coming in. Thanks to Rob Hudson for this one.

 It reminds me of the advert on the left below ( from Old Conservative Ads ) which is from

And just because it was posted by Grant Shapps doesn't mean there isn't some parody involved. Somewhere along the lines, one of the makers of this must have been rubbing their hands in glee. It's the bingo balls that do it.

Another parody that briefly did the rounds this week was this rather cruel Malaysian Air ad. The spoof at the top was based on the bottom ad.  Obviously it's the wrong plane. It's got double decks and everything. I sometimes drive past the place where the Airbus is made but sadly that doesn't give me the expertise to identify what plane is what. Especially not if I see it on Twitter.

At least this one is real. It should be Saudi Airlines, but it's not. Patrick Cockburn has been doing an interesting series on things connected to the image in this week's Independent. Read him here.