I was thinking of the way that social scientists, ethnographers, speak of 'thick description', a build-up of multiple layers and perspectives through which we may arrive at new insights. It starts with the book, a meandering, but intense and gripping narrative. No, it starts with the real places, historical narratives and found pictures that the book evokes and the visceral, unbearable, memories attached to these. And it spreads, alludes, moves and inspires, as writers and artists continue to make works in response to Sebald's; as readers and viewers are drawn in, tossed around, left floating, yearning, glimpsing pictures of our own, like this one through the window of the old power station on my way out.
Thursday 28 November 2013
Wednesday 20 November 2013
Monday 18 November 2013
Thursday 14 November 2013
Tuesday 12 November 2013
Friday 8 November 2013
And before they become too drastically unseasonal here are some photos from a recent visit to the South London Botanical Institute. This big, boxy red-brick Victorian villa was purchased in 1909 by Allan Octavian Hume, a curious, energetic man, returned from a career serving the British Empire in India. He was one of the "least worst" colonialists, it seems, instinctively fostering welfare over repression; and when not at work he embraced and explored the sub-continent, making social and political contacts and collecting, collecting, as they did then, descriptions and specimens from the natural world - especially birds.
Back in London and with no exotic birds to shoot and stuff, his voracious attention refocused on
botany. This house and garden became the home of a fast-growing collection, assiduously cultivated, preserved, recorded - an exceptional work of its kind. Amazingly, it has survived intact as a modest, independent charity. The house has not changed much. It's spare and atmospheric, with rooms full of filing cabinets housing an extensive herbarium centred on a great number of fine, hundred-year-old specimens. The latest of many volunteers work endlessly and painstakingly to conserve the collection and most recently to check and digitally scan each sheet for inclusion in a national, publicly accessible computer database, herbaria@home. Other volunteers tend the garden, teach botanical drawing and the histories of medical herbalism and Victorian naturalism to children and adults alike. This is a precious place.
Thursday 7 November 2013
memorable, especially the paintings from the last year of his life - precise and intense depictions of dying, decaying leaves, titled not by species, but by where they fell. These were images that lingered, cooking slowly. They bubbled to the surface as I trudged and skidded in the following weeks on fallen leaves, often stopping, in the street, in the rush, in the rain, to take photos. They're still bubbling.