Thursday, 21 January 2010

Walk The Talk

They may have been black and white days, but things were far from clear. I had a slippery relationship with my parents - got into the habit of finishing their sentences (prevented them getting to 'the point'): in the presence of my parents, doing replaced thinking; ‘actions spoke larder (louder, larger?) than words’.

All this ‘doing something visual’ eventually took its toll and I ended up spending a lot of time (and money) under a doctor in Germany (the only country where I didn’t feel bloated). Dr Rusteberg not only treated the cause of my bloating, over time, he became interested in healing the cause of my photographs.

A typical consultation would go something like this: I’d present Rusteberg with a photograph (usually a self-timed, self-portrait) and he’d silently study the image, during which time I wasn’t allowed to say a word. The cue for me to speak came in the form of a windowed envelope; Dr Rusteberg would insert my photograph into a large, used, slit-at-the-sides, windowed envelope. The doctor would then move the photograph around inside the window, examining every inch of the image, until some detail - often small and seemingly insignificant in the photograph, but large and made centre-stage, in the window - was isolated and framed.  Rusterberg was searching for, what Barthes, in Camera Lucida, called, the punctum. This point-of-reference quite often proved to be a 'telling' point-of-departure: Rusteberg, like Telly Savalas (in his song, “If”), understood that a picture’s worth a thousand words.

While good doctor’s ‘window-to-my-world’ technique, proved pivotal in reducing my bloating, it only acted to inflame my nasty habit of finishing other people's' sentences – even Dr Rusteberg’s. I’d presented him with a photograph of my parents ignoring me (my father reading the paper, my mother knitting) as I fell off their house.

In an accompanying image, I'm buttering the house – melting bricks of lard onto the wall with a blowlamp (making for a ‘difficult home’). The doctor moved the window over my blowlamp, before settling on the lard, and said, “It’s time you came down off the fence, you’re walking on a knife-edge; it’s a slippery slope, on the one side sanity…” But I didn’t give Rusteberg chance to finish the sentence; I stepped in and ejaculated, “On the one side sanity: on the other, towels”.

Nowadays I’m of the opinion: far from curing me, those ‘windowed consultations’ with Dr Rusteberg, only served to fan the flames. Within days of my return to England I was attempting to ‘walk the talk’, as it were. I’d swapped the window for a widow (my elderly neighbour, Mrs Sharpe) and any sanity, for towels. I threw Mrs Sharpe a block of lard (she was used to handling lard), it made her feel comfortable in front of the camera – gave her something to do with her hands.

My neighbour might have been a widow without a window, but she had her own ‘take’ on what would make a good photograph. After I’d finished snapping, as I was taking the towels down off the fence, she said, I’m disappointed in you Greg: I thought you were a nice boy? I’ve been stood here with lard, all this time, waiting for you to walk my washing line”.

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