There is a great profile and interview with Ma Jian, in this weekend's Guardian on the need for fearlessness in writing, on not bei...
Monday, 28 July 2008
Thursday, 24 July 2008
I was going to write a complex post on portrayals of children, landscape, isolation and their relationship to ideas of creation and destruction/the apocalypse.
But, for the first time since 2006, Summer has arrived in the UK. So it will have to wait as we break up for the holidays.
Instead, I will leave you with this picture of Haruka at Weston-Super-Mare, a reminder of just how bad last year was, with a touch of the Severn Estuary Apocalypse about it too.
Monday, 21 July 2008
Lord of the Flies
The 400 Blows
The Bicycle Thieves
Continuing on the apocalyptic theme introduced by The Road, here are three harsh films about children: about the cruelties children can inflict on each other, the cruelties inflicted on children by the adult world and the cruelty a child inflicts on himself - or at least the tragic disappointments that a child suffers when his consciousness collides with socially accepted views of what his father has become.
Lord of the Flies is obviously apocalyptic and an allegory of the English class system, but the other films also have End Times elements, the sense of finality that comes with the loss of belief and trust, that sense of isolation and abandonment and loneliness that comes with betrayal by your family, friends and society.
This loss of belief is something that the boy in The Road doesn't experience - he has never experienced humanity or warmth or love even, but he always believes in those things. He retains the fire within that makes us human, but in a strange way the book is not about him, but about his father, a man who says one thing but does another, whose loss of belief and failure to retain his humanity stands in such opposition to his son's dignity and ultimate trust.
Thursday, 17 July 2008
Snow by Orhan Pamuk is a book many people, especially Turkish people, don't get on with. It's honest, direct and complex. It's also a tad prickly, in keeping with Pamuk's character.
But I love it. It's not exotic and it's not soft. I love the harshness of the city of Kars, the pragmatism by which people exist and the intricate weaving of allegiances and emnities between the religious, the secular, the devout and corrupt. The human relationships it depicts extend way beyond Turkey and tell us so much about how the world works, how politics works and how physical and social pressures can distort behaviour and a country.
Snow is also a tremendously visual book. It shows eastern Turkey in both an emotional and a physical sense.
The photography of George Georgiou works in the same way. It goes beyond the striking quality of the imagery and has a depth that reveals something about Turkey and Georgiou's knowledge of the country - a knowledge that one has a depth to it. I met Georgiou last year at Witzenhausen's Aperture Party in Amsterdam and he was a lovely man. Now he's living in England and his images have popped up on Verve, and he's also up in the Blurb Photobook Competetion (thanks to Jackanory for that news) where his book, "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk" is up on show.
He also has a book called Fault Lines East and West set for publication later in the year, which promises to be a tremendous book. In the meantime, good luck to him in the Blurb competition (and Amy Elkins whose Beyond This Place: 269 Intervals looks great).
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Salman Rushdie also figures in the Sunday Times article on writers', critics' and journos' Most loathed books.
His excellent Midnight's Children is selected as are books by Ian McEwan and Martin Amis, though I do get the feeling this might be because all three writers are, in some ways, what Marjane Satrapi would call "annoying".
DH Lawrence, Doris Lessing and Virginia Wolf also gets picked as does Dostoevsky, which shows that nothing is sacred.
Ian Rankin even has the temerity to choose The Road by Cormac McCarthy, an incredibly written work that manages to wrestle a little bit of hope from the most desperate of circumstances.
Add an "On" to McCarthy's book, and you have my selection. I know, I know, On the Road, the great road novel, Robert Frank, The Americans, but I just don't care for it and I would prefer the Americans with a different introduction.
In McCarthy's book, when things go bad you get eaten or shot, In Kerouac's book, when things go bad, Sal's aunt wires him some cash and everyone continues on their sad, little way.
And Walter Salles is making a film of it. God help us all!
Oh yes - has anyone got any other suggestions?
Monday, 14 July 2008
Friday, 11 July 2008
Guerrilla gardening is one way of making cities more beautiful, though whether it will cheer up Elephant and Castle is another question.
Still it's a great idea, there is a Guerrilla Gardening blog, a book and anyone who plants foxglove anywhere is doing something good.
Some tips from the Guerrilla gardening blog.
|1. Spot some local orphaned land. |
You will be amazed how many little grubby patches of unloved public space there are. Neglected flower beds, concrete planters sprouting litter and untamed plants, bare plots of mud. Chose one close to home, perhaps you pass it on the way to the shops or work, and appoint yourself it's parent. This will make it much easier to look after in the long term and reduce the risk of straying into a dangerous neighbourhood.
2. Plan a mission.
Make a date in the diary for an evening attack, when trouble-making busy bodies are out of sight. Invite supportive friends, or perhaps enrole supportive strangers by announcing your attack in the Guerrilla Gardening Community here.
3. Find a local supply of plants.
The cheaper the better. For city dwellers think local DIY stores, supermarkets and whole salers. The cheapest plants are ones that are free. Sometimes garden centres will have spare plants to give you for the cause. Or befriend someone with a garden (you might even be lucky and have a garden yourself). Think of these private spaces as the training camps for harvesting seeds, cuttings and plants hardened for their big adventure in the wilds of public space. If you have things going spare please leave a message in the Community forum for guerrillas near to where you live.
4. Choose plants for front line battle.
Think hardy - resistant to water shortages and the cold, and in some locations pedestrian trampling! These plants need to look after themselves a lot of the time. Think impactful - colour, ever green foliage, scale. These plants need to really make a difference, for as much of the year as possible. Visit the Community to get advice about specific plants for your part of the world, and to share your horticultural advice with the less experienced. In London I use a lot of herbs like Lavender and Thyme, tulip bulbs, shrubs.
Thursday, 10 July 2008
The death of small scale farming is what Justin Partyka focusses on in his fine essays on East Anglian life and shutdown sales - his work can be seen in the latest Granta Magazine.
In Justin's own words:
"Situated on the east coast of Great Britain, East Anglia is one of the country's prime rural and agricultural regions. The expansive flat landscape, massive skies and long farming heritage make East Anglia the closest place that Britain has to a prairie region.
These photographs explore the last vestige of East Anglia's deep rooted agrarian community, where traditional methods and knowledge are still very much depended upon, and the identity of the people is intimately shaped by the flat open landscape upon which they live and work. It is a ramshackle world. Buildings are decrepit and farm machines are often worn out. And the soil and mud become engrained into everything they touch.
In the last fifty years, rural life in East Anglia has experienced great change and the region's agrarians have become a rural minority hidden behind the gigantic corporate farms and monster tractors which dominate the region. The days of full-time rabbit catching are long gone, and the region's reed cutters now have to compete against imported reed from Eastern Europe. At one time hundreds of small family farms populated the East Anglian landscape, but today most of them have long since disappeared. Those that remain struggle to make a living under the shadow of the agribusiness that surrounds them; constantly having to fight against the effects of a global economy, a forever growing mountain of bureaucratic regulations, and the increasing impact of climate change. In the words of an old-time East Anglian farmer: "It’s just one big tractor now and a thousand acres. There is nobody on the land today." In 1950, the number of people in agricultural employment in East Anglia was 142,225. By 2000 it had fallen to 56,819.
For the East Anglians that continue the agrarian tradition of subsistence living from the land, it is as if time has passed them by. They are the forgotten people of the flatlands, who work the land simply because the need to is in their blood. They are a stoical bunch though. While they find themselves banished to the margins of society, for now at least they stand in the face of change and continue on. After all, what choice do they have? This rural way of life is all they know."
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
An essential part of a living city is having space for living, eating, drinking, shopping (see John Londei's pictures on the death of independent shops), reading and just hanging out. Tying in with that theme are Rachel Barrett's Newsstand pictures - here, Big Brother takes the form of the ranks of airbrushed models celebrities staring out from those top shelves, little signs of independent retail life in the big city.
Barrett also has some tremendous bad food pictures on her website, which leads on to the subject of the theme of the British cafe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had their first serious tiff in "...a grubby restaurant near Euston Station (London). The absence of Parisian cafes, about which they both complained bitterly after a bun in a Lyons Corner House, added heat to the argument" (from A Dangerous Liaison, by Carol Seymour Jones)
British cafe culture is examined in this feature from the Guardian - it's better than it was, but it's not that good is the essential message. It also notes that Italian cafe culture came from England don't you know!
"The UK doing cafe culture is a bit like watching your dad dance," he says. "We're never really going to carry it off with any aplomb and sophistication like the French. The cafe culture in France is different from the one here. In the UK, it is very much the Starbucks culture. It's been transmitted from America, rather than trying to replicate the French version, which is much more relaxed."
The irony of us trying to decide whether we want American-style or French-style coffee shops is that, as Markman Ellis, author of The Coffee-House: A Cultural History, says - we had them first. "The continental notion of the cafe was inspired by a British idea. When the first coffee houses opened in Rome in the late 17th century, they were very much thought of as an imitation of a British model," he says.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
In the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown and Alec Soth look at the effects race, cars and the subprime fiasco have had on Detroit. James Howard Kunstler gets a namecheck and there is also a short slideshow by Alec here .
"The birthplace of modern America - one might say the modern world - is a huge disused factory building that stands on a busy six-lane boulevard in a part of Detroit named Highland Park.
It has become a commonplace to describe Detroit as the sick city of America, but it is sobering to reflect on just how long this has been so. Browsing the internet before arriving in the city I came across an article in Time magazine headlined 'Decline in Detroit', lamenting the rising unemployment rate, the rate of migration from the city and its declining tax base. 'Blight is creeping like a fungus through many of Detroit's proud, old neighbourhoods,' it read. The article was dated 1961."
This exodus of people and commerce to the suburbs resulted in a massive shift of capital, and a declining tax-base in the inner-city. While Oakland County, the wealthy suburb to the north, is one of the most affluent areas in America, Detroit itself is the country's most impoverished city - not only a synonym for urban decay, but a repository of all of America's most intractable problems: the decline of manufacturing and the threat of competition from overseas; racial tensions; a housing market decimated by the subprime mortgage crisis. More than a third of Detroit's residents live at or below the federal poverty line. Ironically, in the city that gave America the automobile, more than a fifth of households do not own a car."
Read full article here
Monday, 7 July 2008
We all have our Geography of Nowhere moments. Mine came in Burlington, Ontario. My wife was born there and grew up there. Her parents, refugees from the former Yugoslavia, moved into an empty plot of land after the Second World War on a street inhabited by refugees from Eastern Europe. Surrounding the house were fields full of corn, lettuce and plums which the street's inhabitants picked for a living. In their gardens they grew fruit and vegetables to supplement their incomes. The family built a garage and lived there when their first child, my sister-in-law, was born, then built a house where the rest of the family including my wife grew up.
I first visited in Burlington in 1992, while living in Toronto. The fields had gone and in their place were used car lots, strip malls, railway tracks, chemical works, an Ontario Hydro plant and endless roads and parking lots. My wife's childhood home had become the wrong end of the tracks. We walked across town to my sister-in-law's house, which lay in the pleasant wood-lined roads near the lakeshore. It was 25 degrees and about 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. We saw 3 people who weren't in cars. I was flabbergasted at how easily people had lost their environment, how development, planning and an overwhelming attachment to the car had alienated people from and made them blind to their immediate surroundings - which is really what the Geography of Nowhere is all about.
So, as you do, I decided to photograph it and here are some of the results - One Mile From Home - pictures of the immediate area 1 mile from my wife's home in Burlington, Canada.
Friday, 4 July 2008
Kunstler also has a website where he features his Eyesore of the Month. This is what he says about his July 4th offering.
" The Magic Forest amusement park, Lake George Village, New York. Here in this sweet-but-ridiculous little roadside attraction we see all the aspirations of a post-World War Two middle class -- the wish to feel good about our country (having just won a victory over manifest evil) and the secondary belief that we were now entitled to all the goodies that the universe had to offer. We can look at this kitsch panorama and wonder at the innocence of the nation we were back then. We have become something else now, something both scary and pathetic. What will be the icons of our country in The Long Emergency?
Happy birthday, United States of America"
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
It's the London Festival of Architecture and the novelty story is the July 4th jelly competition, where Britain's top architects (Will Alsop, Foster and Partners etc) head the shortlist for the prize of Britain's top jelly architect - read the story here.
On the serious side, the relationship between food, jelly and architecture has a long history. Antonin Careme, chef to Napoleon 1, Tsar Nicholas and King George IV, believed in the power of the jelly to transcend the palate - he also believed architecture was essentially an extension of pastry making.
Maybe more buildings should be made of jelly. You can see the shortlist here.
Central to making the roads manageable was Frank Blackmore, who invented the mini-roundabout.
Blackmore died last week, but part of his legacy is pictured above - The Magic Roundabout, highpoint of any trip to Swindon. Blackmore was a true eccentric - his family snaps were of roundabouts and junctions from around the country and in his home he had the rubbish bin placed in the middle of the kitchen to ease family traffic around the cooker and sink.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
The most beautiful photograms come from Adam Fuss whose baby pictures, ripples and disembowelled hare are an inventive, intricate and time consuming take on the fragility of life. Also pictured here is one of his My Ghost series, a delicate take on the archaeology of dress.