What? What…??

16 06 2009

it's a date


I shall go to the Mountain!

11 01 2009

That’s right! I’m not going to wait for the mountain to come to me, I shall go to it! Far be it for me to sit on my faulpelz backside anymore, I’m getting busy. I am now doing something, albeit part-time, that I’ve always wanted to do…..work with animals! I’ve free time, I love soft, cuddly things (including Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows) and I don’t want to sit around staring at the white walls. So I’m volunteering my willing hands!

I think I wrote earlier about my first post-school job, working for a call centre. I had a similar ‘OH-OH life is changing‘ feeling back then, and had to endure a few days making sodding lampshade frames at a giant soldering machine before my first proper job came along. In that job, the ‘prototype call centre’ (I have to say that to make it sound vaguely professional, as the reality is, it wasn’t, and we were far from being so) I met one of my future best friends, one of my first ‘real loves’ and a boss who tried to fix us all in our chairs as he regaled us with stories of artificially inseminating his horses. I kid not. The real love didn’t even materialize into anything in the end, but I did spend many a night sleeping over at his, each of us lying in a twin bed in the guest room, separated by the night stand, chatting the night away. So near, yet so far! So cute! So sweet! I loved him, loved his mum and loved his dog. Strangely enough I found out 5 years later that he was dating a girl from Belgium who happened to be good friends with a Belgian friend of mine. Tuscon weird!

I learnt this over a glass of red wine sitting in a dingy bar in freezing Hamburg one December. Me, from England, talking about my English friend, sitting in Hamburg with a Belgian friend. Whose own Belgian friend is now dating my ex-love from England. Continental time-travel, post-modern time/space blurring or what???! I don’t know what really affected me but I actually had one of those feelings you always see on the big screen, when voices sound like they’re underwater, the room slowly starts to spin and you can’t focus. The heartbreak of it! The tragedy! The unrequited love! He’d never be mine!!!!! However, happy ending here, I actually met the girl a while later and I can genuinely say that I really, really liked her. And who can say that about their ex-love’s new crush? I thought she was great! And then the next time I saw them, outside the Japanese restaurant back home, they were wearing matching rain jackets. Phew. Lucky escape.

So after that circumlocution, I should really just say that I hope the temporary lacuna in my life is filled as quickly as the last one and matters as exciting as teenage love come along once more!

I am greatly enjoying all the slush and mush of winter in Berlin. Coming out of Warschauerstrasse underground station last night, seeing the Spree covered in broken patches of ice and the Death Star glinting in the distance through the heavy fog, made me feel like I’ve really found a new home. I’m longing for a bit of urban grit, but good urban grit, and I think Berlin has it. I’m more than happy to tramp through the streets, spraying grey slush everywhere, and I’m happy to just sit on the U-bahn going from place to place. I particularly love it when the train goes above ground, on bridges over the roads, and you can peer right into the rooms of the high-rise buildings. You never get hungry on the train here either; practically every tube stop has a croissant shop and those Schoko croissants are welcome to fill the small, extra ‘croissant stomach’ that I have. Much like a cow, I have more than stomach. One is regular, the other for pudding.

This reminds me of a fourth matter I’d agree upon with a Times journalist, ‘harsh weather makes people stoic’. This is true. And one thing I always said about Berliners, is that they’re stoic. And I like being stoic too. I want to feel a little more alive these days, and this city makes me feel that. I’m not going to claim I’m some hardened ghetto dweller, raised on dingy street corners or anything like that. But cities do make me feel alive; I love wide-open countryside and the sea too, but sometimes I just need a bit of grit, a metaled road under my feet to spark me awake. I’d be happy to buy a rail ticket and just ride those over-ground trains, endlessly peering into uncovered windows, innocent city-voyeur, chocolate croissant in my hand.

Not Berlin, but NYC. Also urban, also grit, also over-ground travel. Also my picture.

Not Berlin, but NYC. Also urban, also grit, also over-ground travel. Also my picture.

This is Berlin. Also urban. Also my picture, or my friend's. We're not sure.

This is Berlin. Also urban. Also my picture, or my friend's. We're not sure.

Mr. Photo!

19 08 2008


View of South Chicago from the Sears Tower

View of South Chicago from the Sears Tower

Thought I’d put up a couple of pics I took of Chicago to link to my last post about the Jeff Wall exhibition I saw there.


Short Cut - The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL

Short Cut - The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL


View from the Sears Tower

View from the Sears Tower


Ahh Chicago: thank you cheap dollar for allowing me to buy everything half-price; thank you Chicago, for serving me my first Pomegranate Martini, I am now a convert; thank you also for serving me a sweet potato with brown sugar on top, it was the best sweet potato I ever had. No thanks, Chicago, for having two airports and tricking me into going to the wrong one before flying over to NY; no thanks also for the big gusts of wind that kept blowing my skirts up. But I’m sure the tourist’s mistake brought a smile to someone’s face, eh??

Geoffrey Howell, Jeff Goldblum and Jeff Wall

18 08 2008

What’s the connection then between those three names in this post’s title? A-ha! They are all variations of Jeff or Geoff; the name being Old German and probably meaning ‘God’s Peace’ or ‘Divinly Peaceful’. 


  But I have uncovered another link between these three names: Geoffrey Howell was the name of the character in Invasion of the Body Snatchers who was the boyfriend of the character Elizabeth Driscoll, Jeff Goldblum played the part of Jack Bellicec in the same film and Jeff Wall is an awesome Canadian photographer who has produced some epic scale images during his time. Donald Sutherland, however, is a dishy man who wears a long rain mac in both Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Don’t Look Now. He has nothing to do with the other three.

  So….? Their names just connect them together? Yes  – but also something else. I think Jeff Wall is unconsciously influenced by the film (particularly the 1978 version) Invasion of the Bodysnatchers

  I was extremely lucky to catch Wall’s exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago last summer, who’d have thought a conference would have yielded such an opportunity? But I wasn’t underestimating Chicago, I was just genuinely excited to get to see Wall’s work in such venue and see it all in huge proportions rather than miniature versions on the internet. 

  Much of Wall’s work is staged, he utilizes actors, lighting, props and directs them in the same way you would film or theatre. He then reproduces the images with skilled technique to generate larger than life images, often displayed against huge lightboxes to give a cinematic impression and bring the photographs closer to large-scale paintings. As far as I have read, his influences come from many angles – events or movements he’s witnessed himself, represented later in the photo Mimic, or from literature – such as Odradek, which was influenced by the hidden ghoul of Kafka’s The Cares of a Family Man. Wall’s pictures seem spontaneous but most have taken months to prepare for and the thought and attention given to each one is easily forgotten by the viewer who is just left to take everything in, in one huge eye-opening image. 

  So where does Invasion of the Body Snatchers come in? Well, when I visited the photography exhibition it was my supervisor who pointed out how many of the people in Wall’s photos are in motion, walking mostly, briskly or sauntering, and he manages to capture this movement exactly – the heel just off the ground, or the toe; and if more than one subject is present he manages to capture all their movements in almost exact timing, and the images are not blurred or out of focus despite this movement.


  Now Wall was born in 1946, and would have been around 10 years old when the fear of Communism was still gripping North America. Ok, he’s Canadian but I’m sure at least the newsreports would have reached that far, right? McCarthyism, witchhunts, the ten year long entertainment industry blacklist, film such as The Red Menace, I Married a Communist, Them! and the original 1958 Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Such films represented the threat to humanity upheld by a Communist system which threatened to turn victims into soulless replicants, but it is the imagery from the film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers which I tentatively and quite ridiculously think seems to be present in Wall’s work.


  But isn’t photography just like such an invasion? Our living, breathing selves turned into flat, dead replications, trapped inside the boundaries of the photography? And it’s a long held belief by some ancient tribes that being photographed will steal the soul of the subject. A lot of photography of course avoids the flat, dull and lifeless subject, it aims to precisely bring emotion to life within the photo, and yet despite Wall’s work being centred on human subjects, their emotions, although present, seem slightly distant and reserved. Often the subjects have their faces turned away from the camera, or there is little communication between them, such as with Trân Dúc Ván. But it’s the footsteps and nature of motion which reminds me so much of Invasion. I’ve only seen the 1978 version but has anyone else noticed how much attention is given to the inhabitants of San Francisco walking in step together, replicants walking in tune and mirroring each others’ motions? Those parts were so creepy to watch. There were a lot of camera angles favouring the feet and footsteps and following shadows of the replicants, and as my supervisor pointed out, feet stepping in motion seem to be largely present in Wall’s work. So is Jeff Wall unconsciously influenced by Invasion

  Take a look at the images on the Tate Modern’s website here and tell me what you think! Look especially at Mimic, Odradek, and Overpass. Even Volunteer reminds me of the cleaner/janitor figure working in the Public Health agency featured in Invasion.

  So how about it? Jeff Wall was born during the last ten years of large scale Communist fear, his name is coincidentally linked to characters and actors in Invasion, and his photographic subjects are replicants of their living selves. Or, perhaps I am way too far off the mark and my speculation is solely that. It doesn’t matter, Jeff Wall is an incredible contemporary photographer and if you ever get the chance to see his work up close – go for it!


Body Snatchers - replicant fear


Overpass - Jeff Wall (2001)

Overpass - Jeff Wall (2001)