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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Bertien van Manen's Bijou Book of Childhood

 I really love Easter and Oak Trees by Bertien van Manen (and you can read all about it in next month's BJP). It's a tiny book that is a nostalgic look at childhood in the 1970s, the fun, the freedom, the nakedness, the lack of self-consciousness.

Scale matters in Easter and Oak Trees; it's a tiny book with tiny pictures that are all blurred and badly lit. It looks like the pictures come from a family album or book of holiday snaps (because they are all taken on holiday), but they don't. Van Manen never kept them in an album. Instead she just made contact prints and blew the odd one up to stick on the wall. So the book is a collection of pictures that are blown up from contact prints.

So you see her kids smoking (to follow on from yesterday's post) cigarettes made from kitchen herbs, pretending to drink and running around naked. In a way, it's a retrospective book about the wilding of childhood, but it's not done with a heavy hand weighed down by gravity, it's done in a manner that is in keeping with the idea - a manner that is light and mobile that has a charge of energy rather than the weight of the didactic.

That reminds me of Simon Callow's article in the Guardian on Brecht and Stanislavski.  It centred on the opposition of the two theories of what drama could be.

'Broadly speaking, Brecht's approach was political, Stanislavski's psychological; Brecht's epic, Stanislavski's personal; Brecht's narrative, Stanislavski's discursive. Brecht's actors demonstrated their characters, Stanislavski's became them; Brecht's audiences viewed the actions of the play critically, assessing the characters, Stanislavski's audiences were moved by the characters, identifying with them; Brecht's productions were informed by selective realism, Stanislavski's aspired to poetic naturalism.'

 The theories originated from Stanislavski's observations on himself.
'Was he relaxed? Hardly ever. Did he believe in what he was doing? Almost never. But when had he been relaxed? When had he believed in what he was doing? When had he been good? He remembered certain passages of certain performances he had given. Why had they been remarkable? Generally, he discovered, because they were specific, rooted in either personal experience or memories of behaviour that had impressed him.'

The same idea can apply to photography and as soon as I read the article I thought of Bertien van Manen. She creates books that go deep beneath the surface yet still have a life that pulls you into them. They ase simple yet complex, beautiful but disturbing. In Callow's summary of Stanislavski (which is not the more intense Strasberg Method version), they are psychological, personal, discursive, moving and naturalistic. Wonderful!


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