Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Bench

51°27'54.51" N   0°05'27.49" W

This post has been inspired by a poem written by Rosie Miles. Rosie is studying for a literature MA and the programme includes sharing her writing with visual artists, who are to produce work in response. Rosie sent me a selection of poems, including one called 'Bench (for Kate Etheridge)'.

Kate was a friend of Rosie's who died young from a brain tumour. A group of her friends collected money to have a bench engraved in her honour. The narrator of the poem describes sitting on the bench, tracing the inscription with her fingers, thinking of Kate. The poem brings out the tactile qualities of the bench, still very much there years after Kate's death.

                                              "...As yet you're not
           defaced, and ten years on you're part of what
           lives, grows, belongs here in this place...."

Reading the poem I was very strongly aware of a sense of the solidity and presence of the bench, and the absence of Kate. I often look at the inscriptions on benches in parks and wonder who these people were, people who loved the park so much, and who were loved by those who chose to commemorate them in this way. I found that the bench was in Ruskin Park in South London, not too far from where I live. I thought it would be interesting to visit and document the bench, to sit on it and explore it and the space it was in, to place it in my mind and on the map. I wanted to explore the sense of the solidity of the bench, to see if it was there still, while Kate, whom I never knew, was- where?

So here is the bench made in Kate's memory. The little film clip above was taken stting on the bench, trying to capture a sense of being there, while the stills below document the bench as it was in August 2011.

Scenes of life on the bench - the spider's web

Evidence of other visitors
I have located the bench on Google Earth and have attempted to post these pictures to Google Earth - I didn't realise until I started that it takes up to four weeks for pictures to appear. I will update this post when/if they appear. In the meantime you can find the bench for yourself by plugging in the coordinates at the top and bottom of this post.

So here is the bench, and its surroundings, and the inscription to Kate from her friends. I have explored it, and I have located it fairly precisely on the map. But where is Kate? Who was she? What did she look like? We will probably never know much beyond her name, her lifespan, and that she was much loved. So what does the Bench symbolise, to you or to the people who loved Kate? I suppose this work, like the poem that inspired it, is about love and loss and what remains.

I don't regard this as a finished project but as work in progress. I want to visit the bench again, in winter and in spring, and take some more pictures/film footage. I hope to get a recording of Rosie's voice reading the poem, and ultimately to put the stills, audio and film clips together into a single piece of footage, ideally linked to/from Google Earth. 

I've not tried to make work in response to a poem or piece of writing or music before. I've found it a very interesting and stimulating experience and expect to try it again. I look forward to finishing this project and am grateful to Rosie for sharing her work with me and giving me this opportunity.

51°27'54.51" N   0°05'27.49" W

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Lion and Unicorn

I recently spent a fascinating day at the South Bank with my friend Gilly. The complex is hosting a great number of exhibits, art works and events to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. I found this installation particularly interesting and resonant. It is called "The Lion and Unicorn": a reference to a pavilion at the original exhibition which celebrated what it meant to be British. The pavilion had at its centre a collection of ceramic birds, symbolising migration and freedom of speech.


The current installation was put together by artist Gitta Gschwendtner working with 50 young refugees. The papers contain poems about their experience of exile and belonging, and as you near the installation you hear their voices speaking the poems, while overhead the paper airplanes suggest flight and departure, freedom and movement. I found it all very powerful and thought-provoking. I particularly liked the combination of written and spoken words with the visual elements of the piece. Sound pieces were a signifcant part of the various installations at the South Bank - more of this in a later post ...

(Sub)text continued

Spotted on my way to work one morning last week.


I took this a few weeks ago in my local area. My eye was initially caught by the graffiti: as I looked further the complexity of the scene and the colour combinations attracted me. I can't make much sense out of the graffiti. It looks to me to be half-finished - in partcular missing the top of the letters. Perhaps the authors couldn't reach? Maybe the handy ladder will be pressed into play next time. I am sure there are many stories behind this scene. Life is full of these little puzzles.

Further exampls of this ongoing project can be found here and here.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

More (sub)text

A few more pictures from this work in progress.

Vivid colour, stunning detail

Common cafe

No drinking in the churchyard

Everything must go

This is our home

Inspiration: Paul Strand and others

I've come across a lot of inspirational work this week and thought I would do a bit of a round-up.

Firstly, I found this beautiful film of Paul Strand's life and work via @hungryeyemag on Twitter. The film is in six parts so around 1.5 hours long and if you are interested I would suggest that you set aside time to watch it all the way through. It is something to savour and reflect on rather than quickly skimming.

I found it fascinating to see how Strand's work changed over the years, from his early period as a pictorialist through ground-breaking formal modernist works and finally towards work that explored social and political issues as well as more formal studies. I found it fascinating also to see his work in film, and the development from someone whose film-making started from a still image and an interest in light to work which was much more aboit movement, more film-like in its essence. The exploration of his post-war books is really interesting also, including the realisation that you could find enough material to make a book anywhere, once you start to look.

Throughout his life Strand spoke of his work as being about the outside world, and not a self-expression- "People ask me how I decide which picture to take... (all I can say is that) something outside of myself stops me and says 'Look at this, look at me' ". This strikes a chord with me as my primary drive in taking pictures is to capture what I see outside me. Of course, individual personalty and taste do come across in photography in any event, but pure self-expression is not my main interest. There are many wonderful and thought-provoking images to see in this film, alongside the personal story and the events of the century. I love the fact that he was working hard to the end: his final, and only titled work, 'A bird on the edge of space' is a profoundly moving exploration of the end of life, calling to mind later life Kertesz's polaroids.

Other riches:

Brassai, interviewed by Tony Ray Jones - another fascinating exploration of a man's life and work. Two comments made by Brassai sum up the main themes of the essay and are meaningful for me. The first was his statement that "one doesn't photograph with the eyes but with all one's intelligence". I suppose my ideal is to take pictures that work on more than one level - things that please or intrigue the eye and than engage the brain and emotions also.

Szarkowski on Eggleston - a very thorough exploration of William Eggleston's work by the great curator. Some aspects of the commentary in this essay looks dated now, showing how the photography world has moved on in 40-odd years, but much is still insightful and relevant. The discussion of the move from black and white to colour particularly struck me. Szarkowski sees Eggleston's use of colour film as part of his decision to open up his photography to show more of our everyday life, as we live it, eschewing pictorial scenes and great moments for a more inclusive exploration of the everyday. Again I suppose I find this inspiring because it is what I am currently trying to do in my own work.

Finally, I found this comparison of Google Street View vs boots on the ground as ways of tacking for social documentary photography very interesting. The subject is the prostitutes of Italy's backroads and I find the comparison between the detatched voyeuristic street view approach and the engaged exploration by Paolo Patrizzi very telling.

And speaking of my own work, I think it's time to stop looking at others and get on with some. ; -)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A confusion of flowers

I was at Ruskin Park in Denmark Hill yesterday, working on a project which I hope to be able to share soon, when I came across an area of meadow planting. The site you see below used to be a bowling green: in 2007 it was replanted as a wildflower meadow.

It was a lovely space to find in the city (that's King's College Hospital you can just see in the background), a managed wilderness full of insect life and a sense of the abundance of nature. Of course I had to try to take some pictures while I was there.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Ghost Town

There's a seriously strange atmosphere in my area tonight. When I left work Central London was looking lovely in the evening sun - people lying around in parks, enjoying a pint at the local pub. Police vans from Surrey and Norfolk and lord knows where lined along Petty France and panic buying at M&S were the only signs that something slightly odd might be afoot. Hard to take the sight of people wandering out of M&S with bulging bright green bags too seriously, though.

But what a change when I got off my train. everywhere shut - evening the local takeaways and ethnic always-open we-sell-everything-at all-hours shops. As I walked from the station I noticed quite quickly that all the people melted away, to a point where there was mostly just me and occasional solitary individuals. Everywhere shuttered and boarded. Almost no traffic. Almost no people. Like something out of a science fiction film. Much, much more unsettling than if there had been lots of people and a bit of mild trouble - that wouldn't have unnerved me nearly so much.

My local bicycle shop has removed all its stock, and the second hand car lot is empty (see below) for possibly the first time either. I took a snap to record the occasion and then realised that maybe pulling out an expensive camera wasn't such a clever move so stopped with just one pic. When I got into my street I met a man who said he had walked up the high road for half a mile trying to find milk for his baby and not finding anywhere open. Luckily they have enough milk to get by till tomorrow. All I've been writing this near my window I have heard almost almost no traffic and no-one out. Not many sirens so far. Here's hoping for a peaceful night, and that all this has been an overreaction.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A bit of an experiment

So, after some trials and tribulations, here is my first attempt at a video clip. I wanted to capture the sense of peacefulness I felt. The sound quality is poor (I think the crackling soudns is something to do with the breeze hitting the microphone- it wasn't there in real life) and there are other technical flaws but I am fond of this all the same. Maybe that's what all that furry stuff on professional mikes is for. Anyway, we all have to start somewhere, so here I am. Started.

PS: I hope this plays for anyone who is interested. I had to compress it and could only do that by turning it into a Windows Media Player file. I've embedded a much larger file below which should play on anyone's system but might be too large to download. Let me know if this works for you or not (on any level)?