Friday 29 February 2008

After Rodchenko

The Hayward have put up a Flickr group and invited visitors to the Rodchenko exhibition to post their own photos inspired by his. So I thought, well, I could maybe post some of mine. This is interesting only because I wouldn't have to go out and take them - I've been all along taking photos unconsciously, naturally, obviously inspired by Rodchenko. Here are a few.

PS Buried in the annoying exhibition website is a nice video (warning: the opening shots are not a comment on the Russian revolution, but an advert for insurance - bear with them!)

Thursday 28 February 2008


The Hayward Gallery in London has an exhibition of photography and photomontage by Aleksander Rodchenko. I didn’t know his work at all, and was tremendously excited by it.

Such a progenitor he is, the first to take photographs with so many of the angles and approaches central to modern photography. The first to see and experiment with the potential of small, portable cameras. The first to shoot extreme close-ups, odd angles, people and buildings and shadows as abstract pattern; the first to shoot upwards and downwards and on the diagonal.
So many of the kinds of images that come easily now to every untrained beginner photographer, the models we absorb as a natural part of the visual language around us: here he was using them for the first time.

A great proponent of the portable camera’s ability to popularise and democratise both production and consumption of images, he’d have been delighted, surely, by the digital revolution and how it has challenged the polarisation of professional/artistic photography and family snapshots, so that many, many of us untaught amateurs can revel now in the world of pattern, in creating and playing with images for their own sake and for all they might signify.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Monday 25 February 2008

Thursday 21 February 2008

Jayne Anne Phillips

In the new Granta 100 (and what an odd publication that is – ‘something new and unpublished from a selection of our favourite writers’ surely isn’t sufficient criterion for a satisfying collection) is an extract from a novel-in-progress by Jayne Anne Phillips, and I recall why I was so excited when I read Black Tickets and Machine Dreams, and for some years spoke of her as a favourite writer. Then I kind of lost sight of her. I see she published a novel in 2000, Motherkind, which sounds very appealing, but I missed it completely – perhaps not well promoted over here. Time to look for that then, while I wait with impatience for the new one, remembering how compelling I find her sensuous evocation of lives on the edge - ‘dirty realism’, as the critics dubbed it, but spare not bare, with more heart than alienation. I later found something of the same spare but lyrical up-close physicality in the British novelist Julie Myerson, but never quite in anyone the voice I find again here:

He steps out of his boots and I see the shine of blond whiskers along his jaw, on his cheeks that look hollowed out. He’s got such long bones, Solly does, and a bruisy mouth, like his lips are a little swollen. Most people wouldn’t say he’s handsome though, his face is too mismatched, the square chin and straight nose, the deep-set eyes. He stands there dripping on the linoleum by the shelves of cans and bottles, filling the plastic jugs and capping them, and a steam nearly rises off him. The rain is cool and warm at once.

….He looks at me with that mix of hard and soft in his eyes, and he won’t look away. I open the refrigerator and reach into it like there’s something I need. ‘We’ll be fine.’, I say. There’s a beat of silence, like he’s waiting for me. ‘All right, Lark.’ Termite stays completely still. I can feel him, tuned in to us, to the spaces between our words, and I rattle the loose metal shelf in the fridge, shift jars and milk bottles, before I shut the big door.

…Then he moves past me and crouches by Termite’s chair. ‘Hey, Termite,’ he says, ‘you like rain? It’s raining. No wagon today.’ He puts his hand on Termite’s shoulders. ‘That wagon would fill up and float,’ he says softly, then he looks up at me. ‘He used to talk to me. He doesn’t answer me any more, I know he knows me.'

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Above the bus stop

Early morning. Slumped against the churchyard wall by the bus stop. The bus driver’s deep in his newspaper; we won't be leaving yet. Hiatus. From the blinkered space between sleep’s hangover and the numbing cold of a grey morning, look up… and up, and back and see the ordinary, extraordinary patterns on the sky. Zoom lens: eyes, then feet float up towards the tree-tops. Cool, dreamy clarity of Winter shapes. With me still at noon.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

February again

I let the anniversary go by, and yet can't quite. Mid February 2005 I started doing this. And still I do it, although it's an ache as much as a pleasure - the knowledge that I can't or won't write more or better, that the precious, tenuous contacts made through blogging come and go and are subject to the same dissatisfactions (mostly with myself) as any others. But take this ache away and I'd feel hollow. Every small piece of self-expression heaved out into the virtual world is a centring, a brief sighting of home.

Monday 18 February 2008

Stumbled upon

In a shop that sells cheap, remaindered books (reminding me always of Clive James' superb poem) I found a treasure, and no doubt the start of a minor new obsession. A Viennese treasure, it was, as beguilingly, perfectly formed as a slice of Sachertorte: a slice of the city at the time of Freud.

Just another example of the ubiquitous Eurocrime genre, subcategory: historical, but one extremely, particularly to my liking. Vienna Blood, I quickly learned (for as soon as I think 'Oh, I like this!' I start googling around), is the second crime novel by Frank Tallis, set in Vienna at the very beginning of the 20th century and featuring Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and his friend, the young Jewish doctor and Freudian psychoanalyst, Max Liebermann.

Intriguingly, Frank Tallis, I learn, is a clinicial psychologist in the British National Health Service, whose previous published works include How to Stop Worrying and Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness! And he's good.

Like many compulsive readers, I adore many - though certainly not all - crime novels. And like many, the attraction for me is not the gory, the creepy or the suspenseful, nearly as much as it's the gift of a structure the genre provides: the familiar, clever investigator/protagonist arriving in the lives of disparate strangers and having a good look around. And here, come to think of it, the Max Liebermann novels are a little different. While the characters of Liebermann and Rheinhardt are lovingly, subtly drawn, the parade of suspects is vivid, but perhaps less subtle, more a parade of interesting types. The third protagonist, explored in well-researched detail, is Vienna in 1902, it's cross-currents of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, decadence and scientific innovation (and, of course, what the latter brought to the art of detection - the first analysis of blood and microscopic examination of dust and fibres),

Vienna in the time of Freud: as I followed Max up the winding stairs to the Professor's apartment, the description was so precise that I saw again the building at 19 Berggasse, the apartment now a museum, although it is some years since I visited. I loved this skilful picture of a place, a mindset, in interesting times. I also loved the writing style, which is elegantly spacious, with a definite, but not too laboured, nod to the period, a seriousness and verbosity that persuasively evoke another age, but never become tedious.

The small pleasures mean as much, often, as the weightier ones, especially when daily routines feel all too weighty. I'll be back for sure as soon as I can lay my hands on Mortal Mischief and the recently published Fatal Lies.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Big smile

I’ve waited a long time for this - about 32 years in fact! A small, self-mocking sense of satisfaction assails me because my recent hay(na)ku to an, um, table has made the latest Best of New Writing on the Web compiled by Litlove of Tales from the Reading Room. Litlove, you see, is a lecturer in French at Cambridge University – a species from whom I received very little approval during my deeply undistinguished (frequently on the verge of being kicked out, actually) years as a student of Modern Languages at that illustrious institution. I’m chagrined to note that more than half a lifetime later this still matters to me. We never get over our youthful fiascos, do we?

But self-mockery aside, the reason Litlove’s approval brings a big smile to my face is that I love reading her blog and share many of her literary tastes and instincts. A big, big smile.

Wednesday 13 February 2008


veiled mornings
dissolve into radiance

blossoms lured
into premature birth

Monday 11 February 2008


The blogger and the buddhas.

Yesterday was the most limpid of golden days, and the golden buddhas sang like bells in the sunshine. A gift of a day.

Friday 8 February 2008

Overtired is...

...when you stand there looking blank and the guy reminds you you usually have chai latte.

Monday 4 February 2008

Antidote to overstimulation

how something
so plain pleases


drawn I
am to this


angularity and
its matching shadows


imagine myself
pulling up a


and laying
my head on


table top
rubbing my hot


on the
cool white surface


I pick
up my pen


write only
small smooth words

Sunday 3 February 2008

The Chimaera: a literary miscellany

A new online literary magazine that looks set to be very good indeed, The Chimaera, captures my allegiance by devoting its second issue to translation and writing about translation.

I'd love to review it properly, but am still, alas, myself, far from lion, goat or serpent, in busy bunny mode. Maybe later.

Friday 1 February 2008


not my photo (who ever would have dreamed in 1986 of digital photography?)

Naivasha was somewhere I went a long time ago and looked on the dreamy sight of a lake alive with pink flamingos. Now people there are killing each other, wielding machetes and burning houses. Of course it isn’t more tragic if it’s somewhere you’ve been, or if it’s happening somewhere beautiful. But it certainly brings the shock and tragedy of violence home to you.