Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- Lovely light
- Animals not understanding cameras
- The Wires get mentioned! (But it makes no difference!)
- More Big Olympic Thing photos
- Snohetta does zig zag roofs for competitive cities
- Going from knowing a piece of music to also knowing what it is
- Don’t mention The Wires!!!
- White Van Brians
- A Shiny Thing by Frank Stella Hon RA
- Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
- Another from the archives
- Big 4
- Another quota sign
- Magic clarified
- Viewing the clutter at Centre Point
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Category archive: How the mind works
As mentioned earlier this week, and as is in any case very obvious, I depend heavily on good light for my photography.
And I particularly like light where there is plenty of it, but also dark clouds in other parts of the sky.
As in this one, taken last Thursday in Tottenham Court Road:
I particularly like that scaffolding shadow effect that you sometimes get, but usually after dark with artificial light from inside the building site.
Photography days with me often happen when I am basically out and about for some other purpose, but am struck by a particularly striking sight, which demands to be photoed. And then (because I always have my camera with me) I am off. The above photo was one such. I distinctly remember taking it. And then I spent the next two hours snapping, which had not been the original plan at all.
I have, of course, included a couple of feline photos, what with today being Friday. But, knowing what we do of animals, most of us would probably reckon that only the monkey really has any clue about what is going on, and he only in the sense of perhaps suspecting that this is a thing that makes a picture on itself of what it sees. None of them really get it, and most of them have no idea at all. It’s just a peculiar thing.
But, of course, they all look as if they are taking photos, if you want to believe this.
What makes them all look like real photographers is their total and totally unselfconscious concentration on what they are looking at and doing, with no thought of the fact that they are themselves being looked at. This they all do share with real human photographers.
Another day another Dezeen posting, about some modernistical architecture, surrounded by The Wires:
But this time around, guess what. Do I believe my eyes. I must. For what they are telling me is that, in among this posting’s accommpanying verbiage, is to be found … this:
The gridded monochrome glass facade that wraps around the upper levels was conceived as a contrast to the “chaotic” urban area and criss-crossing electrical wires that surround the site, and features one raised corner covered in dark-tinted glass.
Yes, those “criss-crossing electrical wires” are acknowledged to exist. Amazing.
The Wires are mentioned, because the architects themselves mention them:
“The area where the building is set is highly chaotic in terms of architectural typologies, textures and colours, so it was therefore chosen to generate a building that would constitute itself as the order within the neighbourhood’s chaos,” explained the architects.
This is architect speak for:
We are going to build the exact same modernistical erection that we would have built had The Wires not been there. Screw The Wires! Yes, The Wires are there. But we will build as if The Wires were not there. The Wires have no power over us! The Wires, we spit on you with our modernism!
That’s the spirit. Unless it isn’t, and they actually only noticed The Wires after they had built the thing.
The point is, whether they see The Wires or they ignore The Wires, The Wires make no difference!
I find writing about music very difficult, because … why bother? I like what I like and you like what you like. Either this is a music blog, in which case we can all agree about how right I am to like the music which I like (which you like also), or it is not. And, it is not.
Nevertheless, here is a blog posting which is sort of about music, except that really it is about how the mind works, which this blog is often about.
On Saturday morning, I was woken by my alarm clock to make sure that I started the recorder on my radio to record CD Review, which I duly did, very dozily. I then, dozily, heard the announcer telling me that I was about to listen to Beethoven’s First Symphony, first movement, and I duly listened.
Beethoven’s First Symphony has a very particular start which is, if you know the piece, instantly recognisable. However, I have not known it, in the sense of hearing it and knowing with certainty that this was Beethoven’s First Symphony, until last Saturday morning. I could recognise the tune and hum and conduct along with it, but I was unable to tell you which piece it was with complete confidence, the way I could and can with all Beethoven symphonies from Third to Ninth. I might well have guessed it right, but it would still have been a guess. But this time, I am pretty sure that hearing that very recognisable opening of Beethoven’s First together with being told immediately before it began that this was what it was may actually have stuck in my head, as a twinned pair of facts.
This was because I was half awake, but not fully awake, I think. I was, I surmise, in a highly “suggestible” state. I think that’s the word the psychologists use.
The reason that all of this matters to me is that, as I get older, I find that getting to “know” a piece of music, as in: going from knowing it as a piece of music to knowing it as a piece of music and also being able to identify it, going from knowing it to knowing what it is, is becoming a rather rare experience. There is lots of music that I know in the sense of being able to hum along with it and of knowing approximately what is about to happen next, but as the decades roll by, I still can’t identify these pieces. The pieces I got to know well when I was young are like a fixed catalogue of pieces I know and can identify, rather than something that is expanding steadily. The catalogue is only expanding very slowly.
You may say: But merely knowing or not knowing the mere label of something is rather a superficial matter. Well yes, that may be. But I don’t think knowing the label of a piece of music prevents me from getting to know it more in all the deeper and more meaningful senses. Rather the reverse. Knowing what the music “is” frees my mind to concentrate on all of the more interesting things about what the music “is”, as opposed to the superficiality of what its mere label is.
Three exclamation marks in the title there, because this is the third time I’ve had cause to mention this strange habit, of writing about newly designed houses (in this case a newly adapted house) where there are lots of Wires in all the outside pictures, but The Wires never get a mention.
But at least, what with this house being yellow instead of white, we see an architect thinking in colour. Soon, soon I tell you, the floodgates of architectural colour will open.
I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th. Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:
Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context. I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates. In there I see things like Darth Vader. And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there. Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments. Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.
But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting. If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better. As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly. I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there? No he did not.
But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary. Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it. A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose. It would dilute your brand. Anyone could have done that. There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that? Come to that, who the hell is he? So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:
The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.
Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all. The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.
I am reading In Defence of History by Richard J. Evans. The attackers are the post-modernists. In Chapter 3 ("Historians and their facts"), Evans writes about how evidence considered insignificant in one era can become highly significant in a later era:
The traces left by the past, as Dominick LaCapra has observed, do not provide an even coverage of it. Archives are the product of the chance survival of some documents and the corresponding chance loss or deliberate destruction of others. They are also the products of the professional activities of archivists, which therefore shape the record of the past and with it the interpretations of historians. Archivists have often weeded out records they consider unimportant, while retaining those they consider of lasting value. This might mean for example destroying vast and therefore bulky personnel files on low-ranking state employees such as ordinary soldiers and seamen, manual workers and so on, while keeping room on the crowded shelves for personnel files on high state officials. Yet such a policy would reflect a view that many historians would now find outmoded, a view which considered ‘history’ only as the history of the elites. Documents which seem worthless to one age, and hence ripe for the shredder, can seem extremely valuable to another.
Let me give an example from my personal experience. During research in the Hamburg state archives in the I98os, I became aware that the police had been sending plain-clothes agents into the city’s pubs and bars during the two decades or so before the First World War to gather and later write down secret reports of what was being said in them bysocialist workers. The reports I saw were part of larger files on the various organizations to which these workers belonged. Thinking it might be interesting to look at a wider sample, I went through a typewritten list of the police files with the archivist, and among the headings we came across was one which read: ‘Worthless Reports’. Going down into the muniment room, we found under the relevant call-number a mass of over 20,000 reports which had been judged of insufficient interest by the police authorities of the day to be taken up into the thematic files where I had first encountered this material. It was only by a lucky chance that they had not already been destroyed. They turned out to contain graphic and illuminating accounts of what rank-and-file socialist workers thought about almost every conceivable issue of the day, from the Dreyfus affair in France to the state of the traffic on Hamburg’s busy streets. Nobody had ever looked at them before. Historians of the labour movement had only been interested in organization and ideology. But by the time I came to inspect them, interest had shifted to the history of everyday life, and workers’ views on the family, crime and the law, food, drink and leisure pursuits, had become significant objects of historical research. It seemed worth transcribing and publishing a selection, therefore, which I did after a couple of years’ work on them. The resulting collection showed how rank-and-file Social Democrats and labour activists often had views that cut right across the Marxist ideology in which previous historians thought the party had indoctrinated them, because previous historians had lacked the sources to go down beyond the level of official pronouncements in the way the Hamburg police reports made it possible to do. Thus from ‘worthless reports’ there emerged a useful corrective to earlier historical interpretations. This wonderful material, which had survived by chance, had to wait for discovery and exploitation until the historiographical climate had changed.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (hence the second exclamation mark in the title), now.
Yes it’s another Immaculately Modernistical Japanese House Posting at Dezeen, where the pictures are full of The Wires …:
… but where the text never mentions The Wires.
They don’t see the anarchy. They see only the Order.
After photoing the old London Model, which was the original reason (excuse?) I had visited the Building Centre, I took a look around the place to see what else was on view.
Look what I found:
Nut I took another picture of the Building Centre CATable which included a rather cool looking chair. All I was thinking about when I took it was including the chair. I liked the chair. (I also liked how it was lit.) But this snap, quite fortuitously, turned out to make the CATable look particularly like a cat:
It looks like it’s got eyes, because of the accidental aignment of two of the holes, and because of the way that there is light behind. We humans are programmed to find faces where we can, and if they can’t be human faces, maybe they can be cat faces.
The way that the CATable’s legs are done already shows that the cat resemblance is deliberate.
The CATable is not a one-off creation. They are now being mass produced and you can buy one, if you want to. A snip at $4,799.
Further evidence of highbrow types climbing aboard the catwagon in this Colossal report on Intimate Portraits of 50 Artists and Their Cats Compiled by Alison Nastasi. Artists eh? They’ll do anything to get noticed.
Last night, I ventured out to dinner at Chateau Samizdata, hoping that my seeming recovery from flu would not be thrown into reverse. I felt okay all last night, and I still do. Not fully recovered, but okay. But, my sense of taste was and is a mess, in fact now I think about it, it has been for several days. I have always thought that I have good taste. Don’t we all? But just now, I don’t. Things taste somewhat nasty and metallic.
A little sickness-googling got me to this website, which tells me what would seem to have been happening. This is quite common, it would seem.
Dinner was great, really superb. Thank you Adriana. Even with my taste-buds misfiring, I could still tell that this was fabulously tasty food. But I couldn’t really appreciate it properly. It was rather like listening to great orchestral music, but in the Royal Festival Hall.
At least I was able to photo the food being photoed:
Nowadays, this being the twenty first century and all, I think this is the test of whether your cooking at least looks like it will be good. Do your guests get out their smartphones and take snaps? If so, success. If no, fail.
I recently decided to keep an eye open for newspaper front pages. Yesterday, I snapped, among others, this one:
It was the airplane nearly crashing, or seeming to, that got my attention.
I tried to chase up the story, and eventually found it, not in the Times, behind its paywall, but at the Manchester Evening News, and I found a slightly better version of the picture at the Daily Mirror, in a piece about the generally windy weather we’ve been having lately:
The Manchester Evening News quoted a spokesman for Monarch, the airline whose plane was featured in this picture. He had some interesting things to say about how the camera had, on this particular occasion, told somewhat of a lie:
A spokesman said: “Over the last few days the country has experienced extremely high crosswinds.
“The image depicts a completely normal landing given the weather conditions on the day.
“The image was taken at long range and therefore is deceptive.
“The foreground in this picture is higher than the touchdown zone on the runway - proven in this case by the lower wheel appearing to be in the ground, which was not the case.
“As seen in this image, it is common practice for pilots to perform a crosswind landing in these conditions.”
After I had had a closer look at this photo myself, I was going to say half of this myself. The foreground is higher, and makes the plane look lower. What I had not realised was that the plane was actually in the air.
I notice, however, that the subheading of the Manchester Evening News report quotes the bit about how this was a “completely normal landing”, above the photo that, as explained, makes it look anything but, thus deliberately suggesting Monarchical complacency. But the spokesman didn’t just say it was normal. He explained why it looked abnormal, without actually being abnormal.
I took this picture at lunchtime, near London Bridge Station, last Saturday. I was trying to find my way to LLFF15, and getting lost, basically because I departed from London Bridge Station in completely the opposite direction to the one I should have departed in. But I did get some good snaps as a result.
Because I was in a hurry to get to LLFF15, I did not pause to identify any of the buildings in this photo. Another time. Which I will definitely contrive because there is a lot of building activity going on around there. It isn’t just the Shard, it’s the whole area. In particular there is Guy’s Hospital, now receiving a facelift.
You’re right. Rather feeble stuff, and for the second day in succession. But I am still feeling distinctly unwell. Judging by the state of the weather, had I ventured out today I would have felt very much under it, and would probably have made things worse. Lurgies these days seem to go on for a lot longer than they used to.
I see two White Vans there. One decorated (by the look of it) and one plain. Those things are everywhere.
It started with this picture, which I took at the home of some friends a while back. I know exactly how you probably feel about this cushion, but on the other hand, I don’t care:
I love how the TV remote is there next to it. I had no idea at the time, or I would have made a point of including all of it.
But now the www-journey begins. At the bottom right hand corner of the cusion are the words “Susan Herbert”.
Obviously, I click where it says “visit page”, and arrive here. I scroll down, looking for the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl. I don’t ever find the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl, but I do encounter this, which is a posting about a big blue horse at Denver Airport. Clicking on “Denver Public Art Program” merely gets me to useless crap about Denver, but googling “luis jimenez mustang” gets me to pictures like this ...:
… and to an article in the Wall Street Journal from February 2009, which says things like this about the Blue Denver Horse:
Anatomically correct - eye-poppingly so - the 32-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture makes quite a statement at the gateway to Denver International Airport.
But that begs the question: What kind of statement, exactly?
“It looks like it’s possessed,” says Denver resident Samantha Horoschak. “I have a huge fear of flying anyway, and to be greeted at the airport by a demon horse - it’s not a soothing experience.”
Many people here agree, calling the muscular steed a terrifying welcome to the Mile High City.
Samantha Horoschak was not wrong. Because, it gets better:
Mr. Jimenez was killed working on the sculpture. In 2006, while he was hoisting pieces of the mustang for final assembly in his New Mexico studio, the horse’s massive torso swung out of control and crushed the 65-year-old artist.
Ah, that magic moment in the creative process when a work of art escapes from the control of its creator and carves out a life of its own, independent of its creator. And kills him.
Is it still there? How many more victims has it claimed? Has it caused any crashes?
I love the internet. And not just because I am quickly able to look up the proper spelling of such words as “posthumous” (which was in the original version of the title of this) and “kitsch”. It’s the mad journeys it takes you on. Who needs stupid holidays when you can go on a crazy trip like this without getting out of your kitchen chair?
Is it a bird?
Is it a plane?
And it’s also a partial eclipse of the sun.
We had this in London, earlier in the week. All I remember is that I, one of the seemingly small minority of people who realise that Britain’s next day weather forecasts are accurate, ignored it, knowing that it would be clouded out of view.
Which it was.
A routinely good way to photo something which is only quite interesting is to line it up with something else that is similarly quite interesting. The result can be very interesting.
I was in Tottenham Court Road this afternoon, searching out a toner cartridge for what I discovered is now an antique laser printer. I had no idea until now how much less toner cartridges cost if you get them on line. Stupid me.
Anyway, it was a chance to photo the BT Tower, the first and still one of the greatest of London’s new Big Things (Big Thing being what BT stands for). Most things in London look better in bright sunshine, or at least I can photo them better. But for some reason, this rule does not apply to the BT Tower. Today’s decidedly muggy weather suited it very well. Because it is quite a way behind those empty trees, it looks dim and grey, instead of bright, and this seems to suit it. Maybe this is because muggy weather makes it look further away, and consequently bigger. Here is my favourite shot that I took of it:
Summer is very nice and well lit and warm and everything, but all those damn leaves get in the way horribly, and ruin all manner of what could be great shots.