Friday, 6 January 2012

Eve Arnold (1912-2012) RIP

The great Magnum photographer has died just short of her 100th birthday. Here is an article I wrote about her a couple of years ago.

PS If you want to read more of my writings, on photography in particular, there are more in scribd. Try here. I'll be uploading more in the near future, including old pieces on a variety of subjects — though not music. For my music pieces, you need to go to

Tomorrow Those promised Xmas music sleevenotes

Thursday, 5 January 2012

On the twelfth day of christmas . . .

Family. I'll be untypically emotive. Years ago now, I remember reading someone who, when asked which was more important, health or wealth, said: neither, it's family, because when you're sick or broke at least there is support around you. 

I'd add friends but, basically, it's true, isn't it. Few of us prosper without family and friends. In a meaningful sense, that is – which does include financially. Unhappiness is not just a product of not making your way in the world, it's also a reason. Unfair, I know, but . . .

I've been blessed, I guess. I have family and I have friends. Quite a few people occupy both categories. So . . . Xmas and its twelve days?

Well, over the break I read a piece by Ian Jack in the The Guardian in which he pointed out that London over Xmas has now become the kind of family place it used to be. Leaving aside the fact that in my area the exodus to second houses is so notable that you could have a half hour kip in the middle of the road, that is certainly true. Further, he added that the break has become a kind of retreat where families get to spend time with each other, across the generation. Some use the opportunity to fight and relive old wounds, I guess. But not everyone.

In which light, I can report that, over the break, my time-spent included . . .

* family outing to Billy Elliot matinee (young cousin is in the cast)

* Xmas dinner (cooked with my daughter) for a baker's dozen — on Boxing Day, it's a family tradition, leaving Xmas Day itself free for, well, nothing

* dinner with a couple of friends in Cornwall, one of whom I probably won't see for a while as she's heading off east to interior design junks (honestly)

* not one but two football matches with my younger son

* takeaway curry round our table for a dozen family or so

* a formal sit-down meal at a cousin's which I missed because of a bad cold - but got to eat takeaway the next morning

* a nuclear family meal on Xmas Eve

* giving phone cooking advice to a friend when the leg of lamb (an odd Xmas dinner choice, I know, but tradition isn't what it was, clearly) got left in the freezer by mistake and dinner was due in four hours - they say it was the best lamb they ever ate so maybe I stumbled on a new recipe

* brunch with cousins at their house in the far reaches of the known world (Bury St Edmunds)

* a friend's birthday party in his brother's pub

* a New Year's Day party at a friend's

* a completely private New Year's Eve – another family tradition

* picking up my elder son and dropping him at the airport - and, because of Luton's parsimony, having to pay a pound each time for the privilege

* more, probably, that I've forgotten about

And so that's your lot, folks. 

Tomorrow (or perhaps the day after), I'll post the sleevenotes for my Xmas music selection.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

On the eleventh day of Christmas . . .

A walk along the Thames at Mednenham. There's a long, flat stretch between an old, now disused ferry point and the locks below Henley. It curves slowly. 

I've walked it in sun and gloom and cold – though not in the rain, it's true. I've shared the early morning with caravanners and watched a stunt flier practise in a sharp blue sky, rolling and tumbling. I've done the whole walk without seeing anyone else. And I've walked back through the fields when you can't see past the crops and when the earth has been cleared for the winter.

It's a completely humanized landscape. There is no trace of what might have been there before our ancient ancestors moved in. But still, in the way the whole of the Thames Valley does, it has a deep, sharp sense of, well, nature. Not the real thing, of course, but certainly the 'real' thing – and that, being a human, is what I'm after. Reality is for animals. 'Reality' is what us princes want and cherish.

PS It's also possible that my thoughts and feelings are coloured and shaped by the fact that my father spent the war based at Danesfield House – which still forms an impenetrable riverside barrier at one end of the walk. It was the base for aerial reconnaissance intelligence. He looked at photographs, in pairs, and turned them into maps. I should think my parents walked this walk, a decade and more before I was born. When the fliers would have been practising for a different kind of show.

Till tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

On the tenth day of Christmas . . .

Valerio Spada's Gomorrah Girl. A photobook. A chronicle of a death in a southern Italian ghetto. Two visual narratives physically interleaved in one book. In a time where the book as object is clearly changing dramatically, Gomorrah Girl is something that could not exist in any other form. A Kindle, it could not be.

It was put together by Dutch designer Sybren Kuiper. And that is a not insignificant factor in its triumph.

It won a prize. But, not to show off or anything, I'd bought it some time before that. I was writing a piece about photobooks. This piece (which you can download if you want, as a pdf) . . .

PP Jul11 Bookshelf

Writing the piece, I became increasingly enamoured of a new wave of almost handmade and almost self-published photobooks. All are, of necessity, limited editions. This was one of the ones I bought. It was in an edition of 500 and came out early last year.
And that's another reason to think about it. I paid 30 Euros for my copy. That edition sold out. Then, recently, a second edition was published, at 39.50 Euro. That, too, has sold out. A copy of that second edition is available on for 150 dollars. 

If I can't have Gomorrah Girl, then I'll have Happy Birthday To You, made in psychiatric units by Anouk Kruithof. That cost me 20 Euros, I think. That did well, too. There don't seem to be any copies around. Last time I looked one would cost you more than 150 dollars.

Now, I'm not suggesting you (or I) buy these books for investment. They are objects that are worth their own existence and a place in your/my place. Nor will all such books rise in value. And you are also providing an income source for artisans/artists whose photography work was ceasing to do so. Be a patron. Buy now. Buy several. Enjoy them. Maybe make a few shekels.

And if it can't be a self-published book, then I'd have Simon Norfolk's most recent work on Afghanistan, in which he paired (well, kind of) his own photographs with a 19th century record of the benighted land, made by John Burke. There was a (great) show at the Tate. The lavish pale light of the images set up challenging duologues with the original black and whites — orthochromatic, so the colour representation was quite different from our modern panchromatic world. Afghanis, for one, appear far darker than they are - technical considerations inducing ideological outcomes.

The book is even better. The portraits make sense, to me, in a way they didn't in the gallery. There are more pictures, too

Till tomorrow

Monday, 2 January 2012

On the ninth day of Christmas . . .

A kebab roll at Lahore.

Just off the Commercial Road. Once upon a time it was the tiniest of takeaway joints. These days it's all dressed up and getting bigger every time I go there. It's now even got frontage on to the Commercial Rd.

Things don't change, though. The takeaway kebab rolls (lamb, minced and herbed, with salad, wrapped in circle of bread) are an eternal. For £3.50. 

Sometimes I eat there, too. There are marbly surfaces. An open kitchen. All male staff, cooks and waiters. Big TVs on every wall, mostly with football playing. My friend Paul who has subcontintental history and knows about these things tells me it's just like the real Lahore, a little bit of Pakistani life in east London.

The social mix is a delight, too, particularly on Friday nights. City dealers, getting drunk on byo booze. Essex families (Gavin & Stacey alikes) driving up against the rush hour flow. Mix and match Asian/English families where one woman will be in an A4 skirt, with her breasts hanging out and another will be wrapped in black. Strict Muslim families where — I've seen this with my own eyes — the beard of a pater familias shouts at the waiters to take the cutlery away before they will sit down.

Or maybe I'd go for a falafel at Marco Polo, a Lebanese cafe on Marylebone High St - my regular breakfast after early morning visits to the dental hygienist. (You don't want to turn up with bits of toast in your interstitials, now, do you.)

Till tomorrow . . .
On the eighth day of Christmas . . .

The Social Network. Among from the all the many reasons to applaud it, three things . . .

One Its yellowy colour overall. Despite two viewings of the movie, I'm not sure quite what the meaning is. Despite having written a piece for Hungry Eye magazine on this subject, I'm still uncertain about it. Perhaps uncertainty is yellow. Perhaps yellowness evokes uncertainty. I'll let you know when I've got the answer. Maybe it'll arrive in the next post.

Two It didn't feel like 'film'. Most movies, even good ones, have tricks and rhythms that feel so familiar, that are so familiar that you exist in a state of predictive nostalgia. (Which is something I'm working away at in another context, pop songs.) They have soundtracks that insist on doing your feeling (and thinking, too) for you. The Social Network doesn't do that. It has the rhythms etc not of life, of course, but of 'life', at least.

Three Written by a TV guy. There are loads of great things on British TV now. Funny stuff. Documentary stuff. Sports stuff. Historical drama stuff. But the contemporary drama stuff is complete bollocks. Even the stuff that is good is terrible. Maybe the producers and writers and directors should consider having a look at The Social Network.

Till later today . . .

Sunday, 1 January 2012

On the seventh day of Christmas . . .

(To catch up, I'm doing two a day.)

A pint of Dark Star Hophead. I know it's traditional and cringe-inducing for ale to have names that sound like Bill Bailey's hair looks. So I do have a problem with a brewery whose name evokes (or invokes even) the Grateful Dead and an ale with a weedy (ho, ho) pun of a name.

But it's fabulous stuff from the most successful new brewery in England. (Thank you, Gordon Brown, for your untypically canny tax break incentive for small brewers.) I'm not the only that rates it, either. See here.

Though from Sussex, it's become a London staple. It's what I order in pubs - if it's there. Which is how I came to realise how high I rate it. You can't get it or anything like it in the bit of Cornwall I spend some of the year in. Heligan Honey or Doom Bar just aren't the same. Though Tribute, if it's cold, is its own joy.

Where would I drink it? At my friends Kirk and Paul's place, Tapping the Admiral. Or perhaps at the Southampton Arms, with its 'Ale Cider Meat' sign. Or maybe the Euston Tap — there really aren't many neo-neo-neo-Classical pubs. (Or tube stations — including, as I discovered yesterday, Brent Cross.)

If this makes me sound like some beer bore, just for you I'll get a bit pretentious about it and say it is a fine citrus flavour (American hops, I think, if I was told right). In fact, I'll go further and say it has the air of pomelo . . .

See you soon.
On the sixth day of Christmas . . .

(Running a bit late, I know. Blame a cold.)

A Man With Two Guvnors. I saw it at the National a few months ago. There is little to add to the rave reviews. A couple of things, maybe . . .

One Setting it in Brighton in the 1960s and linking it to Carry On films etc gives a real tangible sense of the immutability of human concupiscence. From old Italian stuff to post-Graham Greene Regency seaside hows-your-father to, well, the National Theatre.

Two Like all great comedy, it is tragedy turned inside out. Thus flipped, it could be considered as, well, perhaps a Brechtian drama about the inherent dialetical contradictions of mercantile capitalism — Threepenny Opera, with fewer gags (ha ha). Or, as an emodiment of Kleinian theory — a case study of continuous (and finally productive) oscillation between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

Joking aside . . . actually, I'm not really joking. I've always thought jokes are more serious than serious stuff. That's why so many great stand-ups are such coke-head psychos (if their attitude and material is a good guide). To paraphrase Woody Allen on sex. Q: Is comedy also nasty and violent? A: Only if it's done right.

For my psychoanalytic studies, I wrote an essay which took The Importance of Being Earnest and unfolded its narrative back into its real rather than dramatic order. This produced an Oedipal tale, with a backstory of spousal abuse. It was respectably received, too. No one told me I was taking the piss, anyway. Which I perhaps was, a bit. But also most definitely wasn't.

Plus a little something for football fans. Well, fans of football commentators.