Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Michael Jennings on Happiness is Gold Blend at only £3 instead of £4.50
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- Long Title (with italics)
- Confirmation that map use has seriously declined
- Comrade Blimp
- Ashes to ashes
- La Porte des Indes
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- Father Christmas Aerodrome
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- Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
- The Kelpies of Falkirk
- A quota thought that (luckily for me) went nowhere
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Category archive: Art
Sometimes mistakes caused by not holding the camera still can be interesting.
Today I took several photos (at Victoria Station, like the previous photo featured here) of the station electronic notice board saying where my train was about to go. Basically, I was taking notes to remind myself later of where I had been. But one of these photos went wrong. On the twiddly little screen on my camera it looked, on account of me having moved my camera vertically at the critical moment, approximately like as you see it, top right.
That one won’t last a second when I go through all these at home, I thought. If I was in the habit of deleting snaps on the fly, which I am not, I would have deleted that one straight away.
But now look at how it looked on my big screen, back home on my desk, this evening:
That’s the middle of the picture, to get how big it is when spread out sideways all over my big screen. Click on that bigger picture to get an even bigger version of the original.
I don’t think it’s just me. The smaller picture is much more legible. But the bigger picture is a lot more fun, on account of being less legible. It stops being annoyingly blurry writing, and instead becomes Art.
Photoed by me yesterday. On the left, the setting. On the right, the owl. It’s not a real owl. It doesn’t look like Art, i.e. something put there Officially. It’s too much like an actual owl to be Art. More like something really expensive you buy in a shop, like the one with these animals that I photoed a while back, in Croydon. The owl looks like it was put there by one of the station staff.
A little googling tells me that the owl is there to scare away pigeons.
So, they are Official, but they aren’t Art.
So I was leafing through Mick Hartley’s blog last week, as you do, and I came across this picture, in a posting entitled Edwin eats cats:
And I thought, I recognise this. Sure enough, when out and about near Hackney Wick myself, on (I bet) the exact same day that Hartley took the above snap, I snapped this:
Click on that, to see that the graffiti is exactly as Hartley saw it.
I have pretty much identical tastes in pictures to Mick Hartley. I probably ought to leave more comments on his site saying things like: nice photo, I like that one, good colours, and so on. But like most sane people, I am reluctant to spout words praising art. Such words tend to come out either banal or nonsensical.
More bad news for Edwin, in this picture, of another bridge, taken ten minutes later:
At the time, I thought I was photoing another bridge, which currently, as I recall, goes from nowhere to nowhere, but which will presumably go from somewhere to somewhere once they finish all that Olympic refurbishment. It turns out I was photoing graffiti.
Okay that’s enough of Western Civilisation collapsing. I agree with the graffitist using the white paint, critiquing his black paint predecessor. “Enough”, he says. I agree.
I shall definitely be having a go on this, which will be up and ready for climbing in the Autumn:
The boundaries between Art, Advertising and Fun get ever blurrier.
This particular bit of artistically fun advertising being to advertise a new way to use “tulipwood”.
Blog and learn.
I greatly enjoyed the documentary about Richard Feynman shown on BBC2 TV last night, having already greatly enjoyed the docu-drama about the Feynman Challenger investigation.
Last night’s documentary contained the following particularly choice piece of dialogue:
“Why is your van covered in Feynman Diagrams?”
“Because we’re the Feynmans.”
There is a picture of the Feynmans, next to their van, which I found here, where the picture is slightly bigger.
Does this van still exist, with all the Feynman Diagrams on it? I hope so.
As has already been reported here, I have been reading Pride and Prejudice on my Google Nexus 4 ultra-mobile computer-with-phone. And, in Chapter X of this book, I read this:
My highlighted version of that last sentence being:
“As for your Elizabeth’s picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?”
So, in Jane Austen time, painters “took” pictures.
I thought that was only photographers. There does seem, does there not?, to be something peculiarly apt about a photographer “taking” a picture. After all, you could only “take” a picture with one click of a mechanical button, as I just did of my Google Nexus 4 with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150, if the picture was in some basic sense already there for the taking, in its entirety. “Take” gets across the difference between photoing someone and painting a portrait of them, by which I mean “making” a portrait.
Perhaps this “take” usage, to describe portrait painting, declined when the painters stopped claiming to produce what we now call photographic likenesses, and, under the competitive influence of actual photography, began to “make” pictures of people, the whole point of and the whole justification of which was that a mere camera could absolutely not “take” such pictures. Such paintings are made, not taken. To accuse a painter of “taking” a picture would be to accuse him of adding nothing.
My thanks to my next Last Friday speaker Rob Fisher, for the link to these photos:
My inclination is not to discuss the matter of supposed overcrowding, more to note that here we have more Art without Artists. Although perhaps photographer Michael Wolf would say he is an artist.
The idea of that category of photo is that here is a photo of something real, which resembles (reduces the thing to?) abstract art.
Were all those abstract modernists prophesying the inceasing rectangularity of regular life to come?
Here is another for the Digital Photography Imitates Art collection. I encountered this scene in the Tachbrook Street Market earlier this week, off Warwick Way, just as they were tidying up at the end of their afternoon.
I am sure the guy in the van clocked me as more than somewhat of a perv, but in my opinion photographic talent has a large dose of not caring what others think of you while you’re taking the picture, and another big dose of caring only about the picture.
So here it is:
It was only when I got home that I realised that I had one of those now-you-see-it-this-way-now-you-see-it-that-way pictures. One moment, I am seeing this as the back of a headless, legless, nude mannequin, which is what it was. Next thing I know, I am seeing it as the front of a headless, legless, nude mannequin, but very weirdly lit (from below) and very badly photoshopped into the picture, with strange white lines around it where a much less obvious join ought to be, which is what it was not, but still I see that. Do you agree? Course you do.
Here are two more snaps, just to show more unambiguously what was going on:
I think it’s the superior road surface that makes all this look like art. If it had merely been somewhat crumbly tarmac, it just would have been a few coat rails and a mannequin. Not art at all.
A while back, I had an enthusiasm for posting thin, horizontal pictures, of a sort that are ideally suited to the blog format, because they don’t provoke a lot of annoying scrolling up and won (the way the rest of this posting actually does), like this one:
I took that picture near South Kensington tube station, earlier this week. It tells you that the sign is on the outside of a restaurant called “Gessler at Daquise”, which is an odd name for a restaurant, but there you go. Gessler is a Polish family, and Daquise is ... what? A place in South Kensington? A building? There is a Gessler at the Daquise website, and it would appear that “Daquise” is a legendary restaurant, so legendary that they didn’t want to drop the name when the Gesslers took over. Or something:
Several decades of hard work and evolution have produced what arguably is the best Polish food offer in the world. Our U Kucharzy restaurant in Warsaw has gained both national and international acclaim, and was awarded a Bib Gourmand status by Guide Michelin for two years running - the only restaurant in Poland to be awarded such accolade. Now we are running a legendary Polish address in London - Daquise in Thurloe Street, which has been around since 1947. Our aim is to make it great again and we hope to see you there in the process!
Here is another snap of the outside, that shows what it looks like:
I didn’t eat that much, but what I did eat, a pancake, was delicious. The menu looks enticing, as do the prices. I shall return.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed the ambience. Not too loud for intelligent conversation, which restaurants often are, even if there’s no music.
Above all, given the excellent light that day, I loved the look of the place.
Here are two more photos, in the Digital Photography Imitates Art genre.
First, a still life:
Perhaps rather too much stuff there for a proper still life, but I liked it, especially the string of lights and all the little signs. Maybe you had to be there.
And second (note the Rothko influence on the décor in this place) an abstract:
With added mirrors, showing me from the neck downwards.
Most fun of all was the staircase down to the basement toilets:
That’s right. It’s in the front window!
I’m still on about last Tuesday, and about what a fine day it was to be taking photographs, and about what sort of photographs I took.
I confirmed that the weather was going to be just as fabulous as the weather forecasters had been saying for the best part of a week that it would be, from the moment I stepped out of my front door. Because, what I then felt was that very particular early spring experience, namely: feeling warmer than I did indoors. It comes from the bricks in my home being a heat store, or in the case of winter a cold store. To be more exact, the sun outside is hot and it warms up the air outside a treat, but it will take way longer for it to warm up those bricks, still busy sucking the heat out of my indoors.
So, I was in a fine mood from the start, and duly ticked off my official objective (plus second semi-official objective close by), so that the other half of the fun might begin. For me, the point is to get out there, preferably to places I have not visited lately, on a fine day, and to make sure I set forth with appropriate resolve and soon enough for it still to be light, I need an official objective. Those coloured buildings served that purpose very well. But then, there followed the unofficial pleasure, so to speak, of just meandering about and noticing things.
If you only click on one photo of those below, click on the first one, top left. That scene was actually quite a long way away, but thanks to the brightness of the sunshine and the power of my zoom lens, it looks like I’m right next to it.
Otherwise, there are my usual preoccupations. There is scaffolding, the other scaffolding being on Blackfriars Bridge, middle middle, where they are still finishing the new station on the bridge, with its oddly fluctuating roof. There are cranes, the same cranes each time, I suspect, on the top of a new erection arising somewhere on the other side of the river, between Waterloo and Tate Modern. And there is a particularly choice reflection effect, this time (I am almost certain) Tower 42 (the NatWest Tower that was) torched by the evening sun and reflected in the glass at the top of Tate Modern. There are bridges, no less then three in the picture bottom left, and five different bridges if you also count the ghostly columns of the Blackfriars Bridge that never was, next to Actual Blackfriars Bridge. And seven if you could the three views of the Millenium Footbridge as three different bridges. There is the Wheel, twice. And photographers of course, thrice.
I sought out the river because, as the light began to fade, by the river there would still be a huge (completely cloudless) sky full of the stuff to sustain me, in contrast to the streets north of the river where the light struggles to reach ground level.
Recently I recycled, at Samizdata, some thoughts about Art from favourite blogger of mine Mick Hartley.
On the subject of “as found” art, the sort when it’s Art entirely because the Artist says so, without having done anything else himself besides stick the thing in an Art gallery, Hartley said this:
The logical conclusion to this line of thinking would be that if anything can be art if its maker wishes it to be art, then anything or everything can be art – and we don’t need artists any more. Curiously this is an argument that artists themselves seem reluctant to make.
I just know that there is a connection between what Hartley says there, and Hartley’s (and my) habit of taking photos (and showing the photos of others) of industrial clutter, outdoor gadgetry (such as the communications kit you see on roofs), decaying infrastructure, etc., that resembles abstract art.
The point of such pictures is that you do not only perceive the objects you are photo-ing as things doing a job of some kind, that is, the way their original creators mostly, presumably, perceived them. You see them almost as disembodied effects, quite distinct from what the kit was originally built for, and often no longer even seeing what the objects once were or still are. You see them the way you see abstract art.
(Related to all this is that I like cranes, but what I really like is how they look (like very superior sculpture), rather than: how they work, which is best, which sort does what, etc. (Here is a Hartley crane snap I just found.))
I say you see all this stuff “almost” as disembodied effects. But I think a lot of the fun is that you can also see what they are originally, even as you observe their aesthetic pleasingness or oddity, or resemblance to some particular work of art or type of art. The pleasure you get is a bit like with those pictures which could be two different things, like an old ugly woman or a beautiful young woman, depending on whether you see that bit as an arm or a nose, or whatever. Is it what it merely “is”? Or is it Art?
Hartley is particularly fond of bright colour effects. As are many more recent sculptors.
In connection with all this, here are four snaps taken by me on Tuesday Feb 19th, when I went on a trip to check out Blythe Hill Fields:
Top left was taken on the way, through a train window. Bottom right was taken on the way home, at Whitechapel tube. The other two were taken in the Blythe Hill Fields vicinity.
Those Artists surely do still have a role in all this, because we photographers of abstract-art-like stuff are responding to their challenges. We are saying: We don’t need you. We can see our own Art, thank you. Mondrian rectangles? I’ll give you rectangles. Big crazy sculptures made of industrial waste? Why not photo … industrial waste? And so on. We are both acknowledging the power of and (some of us – like me and Hartley) seeking to diminish the power of the Artists.
The artists have been telling the rest of us to see and enjoy the real world in new and interesting ways, and we are doing that. They started this.
The question is not so much: Are the Artists necessary? They have been, to the process I have described. But: Can they stay ahead? Can they keep on setting new challenges, or do I and Mick Hartley and all the other As Found Art photoers end up being our own artists?
I am groping my way into this subject. The above may be a muddle. But there is something interesting in among all this, I think.
A final Hartley photographic link that also seems relevant.
I recommend trawling back through his blog, as I just did.
LATER: And, as if he’s determined to illustrate all of the above further, there is now this.
Next last Thursday photo I want to show you:
Clock on the left to get the same photo bigger. Click all you want on the right, but that price is as big as it’s going to get, which I am sure you will agree is just as well.
Perry de Havilland collects hippos, likes hippos, etc., and I am always on the lookout for cheap hippos for him. If you do a Samizdata posting, and forget to specify any categories, the posting is categorised as being about “hippos”. Arf, arf.
But hippos are hard to come by, as already noted in this earlier posting. For less than something like £980 I mean. This frustrates me, because Perry is a hard man to buy presents for. It also surprises me. Hippos are fun animals, surely.
The BBC thinks so. It features hippos in one of its intro-videos, the one where a bunch of hippos swim around in a circle. Even though they never swim, so QI says. They just skip along the bottom, which looks like swimming only if the water is the right depth.
I should have photoed the shop name, but forgot to. Sorry shop.
Today I took a trip to place I keep meaning to check out: Croydon. My fascination with Croydon dates back to a day in the 1960s when I was on a bicycle, on the way to an East Coast port, to get me to Scandinavia, about two hours from home on the very first day of the expedition. I was on this flyover on the south side of London, which I was anxious to avoid, and suddenly, there it was, like the towers of Pheonix, Arizona, or some such place. South London’s very own tower block cluster.
Being in the middle of Croydon this afternoon confirmed a suspicion, which is that you have to be in just the right spot to see the various Big Things of Croydon as a cluster. In reality, they are spread out. The closer to them you get, the less clustered they become. But, they are scattered along an approximate line. Which means that you see them as a cluster if you get in line, as I just happened to do, all those years ago.
Today, it got dark long before I might have found this sweet spot, and the Big Things of Croydon that I photoed were utterly lacking in any architectural punch, in the manner, say, of the Docklands Towers.
I’ll be back.
So, instead of a picture of the Croydon Tower Block Cluster, here is a quite different photo I took, in one of Croydon’s many Stuff Shops. It features me, but what I really like about the photo is all the vertical and horizontal lines, mostly here combining into rectangles. I really like rectangles:
The metal rectangles in the foreground, which are what lift this snap out of ordinariness, are, to me, mysterious. Are they things to screw televisions to? Or something else shop related? Or something people buy? Don’t know.
The shop in which I snapped this snap was your basic Stuff Shop, with a bias towards carpets, but also containing things like horses and elephants and pictures of the Last Supper.
I love Stuff. Croydon has tons of Stuff Shops, and I love gawping at Stuff. As a general rule, I prefer Shop Stuff to the Stuff you see in art galleries. Stuff Shops are windows into the soul of contemporary England, as art galleries can never be. Art galleries are merely windows into the souls of artists and gallery owners
Thank God for digital cameras, because with a digital camera you can photo Stuff, instead of being tempted to buy any of it.
Although I promise nothing, I hope to post further Croydon Stuff photos tomorrow.
Mail Rail Fungus Tunnel Wins London High Line Competiton
But frankly, from then on it’s all downhill:
A winner has been chosen for a competition seeking new green ideas for London. Fletcher Priest Architects won the High Line competition, named after New York’s famous linear park, with a design that melds abandoned rail tunnels, glass fibre sculptures and a fungal garden.
“Pop Down” would reuse the old Mail Rail tunnels, 9 foot-wide tubes for the transport of mail, which run just north of Oxford Street and were mothballed a decade ago. The underground garden would be lit via fibre optic ducts up to the surface, where sculptural glass mushrooms would harvest light, allowing real fungi to grow down below. The concept of an underground park fed by surface light isn’t a new one, and resembles a slim down version of New York’s proposed Low Line.
I followed that New York link, and I must say it looks much better than the London idea, which is just a long dark tube you walk along. Fibre glass sculpture and fungal gardens don’t disguise what’s really happening.
The point is, most Art galleries are quite nice places, sometimes spectacularly so. They would be pleasing to visit and to chat in, even if there was no Art present at all. I mean, you can just as easily stare at the fire extinguishers, if you really, really want some Art but there isn’t any. Fire extinguishers are often at least as good as Art, if you want something to stare at, to save having to make eye contact with your companion when they say something particularly stupid or threatening. But a big long narrow tunnel is a crap place to walk along, and stuffing bits of Art in it isn’t going to change that.