Monday, 29 March 2010

The Butterfly Effect (from behind)

Yesterday, from the tube - the District line - where the train runs over-ground near Wimbledon Park - I spotted a man in his back garden, kick his dog. A Dalmatian. At first-sight - from the rattling train – I didn’t see it right; a foot connecting with a blur of black and white: I think: he’s kicking a football. The sign adjacent to the emergency button (in the carriage) said: ‘penalty for improper use’. Was reporting a dog being used as a football, worth the risk of a penalty?
I hit the emergency button on the London to Dover train a couple of weeks ago. I was in the toilet and I always flush train-toilets with my foot… sort of kick it. But as I'm poised on one leg, about to flush, the train rocks (points?) and I fall onto the help button. Next thing, a voice comes from a concealed speaker, “This is the driver. Do you need assistance?”
To make a work of art that doesn’t look like a work of art’: the lines (tracks, designs?) on First Great Western’s train seats are very Duchampian. Do they record the contours of the journey? I’m thinking of Duchamp’s “Three Standard Stoppages”, whilst, with my toe, tracing the line I’m taking - through time (a timeline?). Back to the dog-kick: to be affected but feel unable to effect a change. A family once lived in a shoe. I live life in a sock - a sock the size of a body bag. Permanently 'socked' - always on the hop - another skin between your own skin and everything. How do you kick a sock that size, off?
This morning I drew the curtains to see the biggest butterfly I’d ever set eyes on - gigantic, on the grass beneath the tree in the garden - its bright-coloured markings comprehending the sunlight; I ran for my camera: I’m an artist but I love to connect with my amateur-side. And what barmaid’s arm wouldn’t benefit from a papillon tattoo? I can make a tracing from the photo (there’s this tattooist on the Fulham Road…)
I’ve got a chime hanging in my window; some days it looks like a UFO but today it’s more like a halo. As I’m framing the butterfly through the halo the boy who lives next door runs out into his garden, kicking a football around. The noise and vibration of the ball ricocheting off the garden fence seems to have no effect on the butterfly, it doesn’t flap a wing. I zoom in.
It is indeed the biggest butterfly in the world. I’ve discovered a new species: and when you do that you can call it after something; name it after yourself even. I’m not dressed yet, so I put on my brightest coloured socks - (attractive socks?) and social worker sandals - in the hope of attracting the enormous creature onto the end of my foot. Not to kick it: for a close-up shot.
But when I am up (down) close, when I’m analysing it like a social worker, the butterfly says: Brazil; Portugal; Tunisia; Mexico; Korea; England – 2006. This butterfly didn’t shed its caterpillar skin; this papillion’s a species of dog-eaten football (‘The Shot-Spotted Butterball’?). So I can kick it after all.
I collapse near Dover whilst kicking a toilet, causing a man to kick a dog near Wimbledon Park, causing a dog in Putney to chew a football to death, causing a butterfly to be born of the dead skin: The Butterfly Effect (in action, von hinten)? 

Friday, 26 March 2010

Drawing Comparisons

Today I disguised myself as a man, went and sat in a pub, and drew the barmaid. Been doing it for years (drawing barmaids, in disguise): the sketches are terrible - no progress - but I’m not concerned about the end result (whether the drawing’s any good or not). No. It’s the dualism, the synchronicity, the mimicry - the comparison that can be drawn between the actions of the barmaid and myself - that draws me back, time and again. I can disguise myself but you can’t disguise the facts: I’m drawing the barmaid as she’s drawing pints.
I’m filling the page as she’s filling a glass. Both of us are drawing a substance with a head (and beer, like a barmaid, has to have ‘body’). Dark ink flows from my pen as dark-ale drips from her tap. As I’m drinking her in with my eyes can she see through my disguise? We’re both using only one hand: she pulls at work; I pull at home. We both have one arm thicker than the other. She’s using optics; I’m using optics
Everything is connected. Aleister Crowley’s family brewed beer: the family’s wealth lay in the brewing of Crowley Ales. They also owned a number of drinking shops, akin to present-day wine bars, known as Crowley’s Alehouses. Edmond Yates (founder of Yates’s Wine Bars) in his Recollections and Experiences (1884), stated, “Crowley’s Alehouses were small shops fitted with a beer engine at the counter”. Air Ships have engines and Crowley wasn’t exactly close to his family. During the First World War Crowley sent a letter to Count Zeppelin to complain about the inefficiency of German bombing raids over Britain. He wrote, “A great deal of damage was done at Croydon, especially at its suburb, Addiscombe, where my aunt lives. Unfortunately her house was not hit. Count Zeppelin is respectfully requested to try again. The exact address is Eaton Lodge, Outram Road”.
Planes have engines too. But look, this one is also equipped with a head - a head that combines beer and engines and optics: a head with an eye (optics and beer engine pumps again): a head that throbs and froths.
And look at Crowley’s self-portrait again: head to head. Onwards and upwards (but don’t confuse this with progress): I can’t stop drawing comparisons.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Miss Under-Handing Self-Arming

I hadn’t been a barmaid for five minutes (four years, to be exact) when the landlord announces: “The pub has just been granted university status”. Our ‘local’ is now a learning establishment… has become a franchise college”. And the landlord is now the dean.
Pub? University? Pole-dancing venue? 

Dean; Golf Course Management: Déjà view. But who was I to complain? I was allowed to keep my (barmaid’s” top on, and was promoted on the spot (well, on the barstool, actually). From now on my title was to be: Senior Barmaid on TAP, on a two-arm-pull ups fast track, foundation-studies-year in Bar Management. It works like this: if the student does enough two-armed-pull ups (thus passes the TAP) then they can go on to take an OAP (one-arm-pull ups) Honours Degree. They’d then be qualified to study for an MA in OFPs (one-finger-pull ups); followed by a PHD in OAPs and OFPs, combined. And then - and only then – after fifteen years of study (a long, hard, pull) – are they fit to go out into the pub as a barmaid.   
Here’s the scene. I’m summoned to the dean. And you guessed it: the dean’s a half-only-reformed pub landlord, with one hell of an over-manned arm (his other arm’s normal – girly even, some say). So you can imagine my surprise when the dean says, “This education establishment is over-armed, I intend to make cuts”. “Cuts in arms?” I protested. “Doesn’t that sort of thing have a name? Surely you can’t be suggesting self-arming?" But the dean doesn’t pull his punches. “Funding is down and we going to have to raise the bar (the pull-up bar). We are going to have to recruit younger OAPs - and it doesn’t matter if they’ve not got any GCSEs - we need to be seen to be training OAPs to work in breweries: they come to us straight from school, and graduate as OAPs”. "But that’ll bring the country to its knees – they’ll be pensioned-off before they’ve had chance to pay any contributions”, I reasoned.
The dean pulls his mobile out and scrolls to the photograph of a young girl, smoking. Her right arm – her smoking arm – is absolutely enormous; her left arm’s normal – girly – teeny even. “I sometimes wonder what good a university education is, for youngsters like this”, the dean lamented. “Look at the size of her arm? It’s almost as big as mine; and I’m a dean and she’s only a teen. Imagine how big her arm will be, compared to the rest of her, when she’s old enough to pull pints in pubs? A born-barmaid if I ever saw one… if the smoking doesn’t kill her first". “And I thought smoking stunted growth?” I interjected. “That’ll explain why she didn’t flinch when I pulled out a tape measure and measured her arm... to get her vital statistics before we offered her a place”, the dean said. “And she didn't respond to my request for a light. We should read this as a good sign; we don’t want them to listen, think - voice an opinion and the like. Let’s pull them all in, turn them round quick, and get them out again, out on the pull”. As he spoke, the dean was drawing on a cigar the size of a baby’s arm.
"Look, dean, forget the teen”, I said, as I drew my own mobile out of my shoulder holster (well, my beige bra, to be exact), pointed it at the former pub landlord, and scrolled to a photograph of a woman on her knees with her arm stuck up a downpipe. “Look at this mature student who graduated with TAP, OFP, OAP honours last year: a model student who went out into the real world and wasn’t afraid to get her hand dirty; wasn’t coy about her plumbing". “Did you give her one?” inquired the dean (although he could grasp a beer-tap, our dean still didn’t possess a clear grasp of academic lingo). “I gave her a first, if that’s what you mean. Of course I did, she more-than deserved it”, I replied. “And furthermore, I think it’s scandalous that we are thinking of cutting an arm like hers in times like these”. “First. My arse”, blurted the dean.
I undid my Timex, loosened my cufflinks, and was about to roll-up my shirtsleeve, when the dean, with the look of a man looking to a dark-future, said, “Stop. You can’t have heard me right.” Then he paused. “No, on second thoughts, my door is always open to Miss Under-Handing. That’s it. Let’s open a university of misunderstanding. Do you still want to be a woman? Good. You can be Miss Under- Handing. Go on, go out and get yourself a new Kimono; and brush-up your Chinese. You are now our new head of Misunderstanding. Go out. No. Get out. Recruit me an army of cack-handers".

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Barmaid's Arms

What was a pub landlord doing at a Photography lecture? What was I doing, talking about arms and ‘pulling barmaids’, with a passing-nod to Rose Selavy’s ‘ready-mades’? After the lecture, in the bar (where else?), the pub landlord, stalks me - sweet-talks me - tells me I come over ‘all exotic’ – I’ve clearly got pulling-power: a cross between an oar and a mermaid. But I think he’s pulling my oar (leg) when he says, “Why didn’t I come and pull pints in his pub?” So I get an interview to be a barmaid.
The interviews were taking place the following morning, in a disused lido. Beer taps (and optics) had been installed on the walls (sides) of the dry pool. The idea being: the interviewees demonstrate their skill by slowly filling the dry pool with ale. But what does a girl wear to a job-interview in an empty swimming pool? Something that looks as dazzling dry as it does wet but can still leave an impression, when moist. The top also needs to double as a lifejacket in event of the interview going tits-up: “Not waving but pulling”. Either way: not drowning. I need to wear something attractive, eye-catching, and buoyant. The top can’t be too low-cut and has to show a bit of arm. No, what am I thinking: it has to show a lot of arm. And I know what you’re thinking: Shespy, your personal shopper, let Shespy choose your top. Shespy. Topshop. Wrong. A mistake. Shespy’s (own) tops are almost always very low-cut and the one’s that aren’t, are dangerously unbuttoned. No: even Ispy Shespy (in that way). Talking of tennis balls. I need false breasts and tennis balls float, as well as bounce.
Normally, I’m not the kind of man who’d steal women’s clothing off a washing. But I’ve never wanted be a barmaid before: I don’t know what normal is anymore. So when I spy this little sleeveless rhubarb and custard number flapping in the breeze, on a washing line, I was over the garden wall like a shot: “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”. 
And when I came across the dog-eaten innards of a pink tennis ball - washed-up on the beach – with a dash of pink fluff beautifully complementing the rhubarb and custard of the stolen top I’d just nicked – I had a breast to boot, and a buoyant one at that, albeit only one.
The interview got off to a good start: the pub landlord and a good-looking life were questioning me. I pulled a few pints into the empty lido. They were both wearing lycra shorts, and were clearly impressed by my wrist action. But as the beer rose up to my thighs, I found myself unprepared for their psychological approach: word-association: They said, “pull”. I said, “up”. They said, “bar”. I said, “dog-eaten tennis-bra”. They said, “lemon and lime”. I said, “washing line”. They said, “service”. I said, “tennis”. They said, “bitter”. I said, “tart”. They said, “mixer”. I said, “transvestite”. They said, “transparent-top” (the beer was up to my chest by now). I said, “vest”. They said, “Finger”. I said, “strength”. They said, “skirt”. I said, “length”. They said, “barmaid”. I said, “mermaid”. They said, “Rudolf Hesse”. I said, “cross-dress” (I wasn’t going to be tricked in to saying, SS). They said, “Spandau”. I said, “ballet”. They said, “prison”. “I’m too good looking”, I said. They said, “beer”. But I wasn’t going to be tricked by beer. So I said, “hunter”. They said, “cider”. I said, “straw”. They said, “pour”. I said, “oar”. They said, “Blouse”. I said, “big girl’s”. They said, “biceps”. I said “curls”. They said, “pub signs”. I said, “The Barmaid’s Arms”. They said, “barstools”. “I’d take no shit”, I said, “job”? They said, “it’s yours”. 

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Shespy(s) The Writing On The Wall

Big room, in front of a big audience – a young audience: I’m talking about OAPs. I talk about OAPs at lots of universities; even though one-arm pull-up mastery, unlike Golf Course Management’, is not yet a degree subject. I’m invited – my reason for being there at all, is to talk about photography. But I rarely do. I show them photographs all right: photographs of one-arm and one-finger pull-ups (mainly, photographs of myself, pulling; on, or in, the past). Nobody seems to object. Don’t forget: it’s the finger that fires the camera - I could be talking Photography after all.
Me, finding a vein (in myself) in front of an audience

I’m talking arms but I sometimes wonder how it affects their minds; university, nowadays, is all about training for a career; not leaning for learning’s sake – pulling for the sake of a pull – a life experience (rather than an experience for life).
And there’s no future in one-arm-one-finger pull-ups. According to the Guinness Book Of Records, only one person in one hundred thousand can chin a bar one-handed. But that’s the secret of a good lecture. Talk as if you are addressing just one person, you only have to reach-out to – touch - one individual. Anyhow, I keep getting invited back. I occasionally punctuate the talk with photographs of barmaid’s arms (it injects a little ‘glamour’ – I am after all being paid to talk about photography): images of me measuring barmaid’s arms – proving – providing photographic evidence that proves, that in seasoned barmaids, one arm – the pulling arm - is always thicker than the other. Perhaps I’m training photographers to become barmaids? All right for the women. But training transvestite- photographers - in off-the-shoulder-frocks - one arm massive, one arm withered (half Ian Dury, half Fatima Whitbread): pulling pints when they should be pressing shutters. A pretty unbalanced thought: references Diane Arbus.
I’m at University College, Falmouth (big dark room; big young audience), I’m showing them a photograph I’ve been looking at since I was twelve: the legendary John Gill, Maths Professor, Godfather of ‘bouldering’, doing an OAP, topless, in a cave. 
It would be impossible to underestimate the importance of this photograph of Gill, on my right arm. 
Directly after showing Gill pulling, I show a photograph of me presenting my arm to the camera - during a family holiday in Switzerland in 1977 - demonstrating the amazing effects of seeing the Gill photograph, and of only a year of one-arm-pulling. The rest is history. I’ve pulled every day since.  Shespy’s in the front row – she’s my age. You might wonder why my personal shopper’s attending a lecture on pulling. Maybe she thought (like everyone else) it was going to be a talk about snapping? Either way, I never give lectures on shopping. But here’s a woman in a shop doing a one-arm-pull-up.
When the talk is over and the applause has finally died down, shespy comes over and asks for my autograph. I think, funny, shespy witnesses my signature all the time – every time she points me at a purchase in fact - so why here, and now? Unnaturally (for me), I refuse. “That’s interesting”, Shespy says. “This is the second time today you’ve failed to acknowledge your own name”. “What are you on about”, I protest. Shespy explains: “When you were showing that photograph of Gill doing an OAP in the cave, I was waiting for you to mention the fact – a fact that seemed blatantly obvious - that your name – Greg – was written on the wall in front of Gill’s eyes. The writing was quite literally, ‘on the wall’, right in front of his face – right under his nose. Indeed, it looked as if Gill had risen up there in order to come face-to-face with you. Greg. Spooky. To think, while you’ve been worshiping Gill all these years, he was worshiping you first, as it were. Gill’s quite literally, ‘lifting himself’ – rising-up - in front of your name. He met you before you met him, so to speak. The writing was already on the wall.”
That’s the thing with photographs: you have to look both through and at them at the same time. I’d been looking through this photograph for thirty-four years yet never once recognised my own name. Now, thanks to Shespy, my personal shopper, all I see is: the Great Gill, pulling over me. 

For more information on the 'amazing' John Gill, visit his wonderful website:  

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Cat And God: Rat Scabies

Had communiqué about “Nudes in the Lambscape”. Had I seen "the cat in the bottle?" No. Furthermore. Did I know that cats come high amongst the most photographed subject matter of all time? And did I realise there were not cat photographs on my blog and this was my first albeit it accidental, word, of a cat? No. No.
But I do know cats are good climbers (“He climbs like a pussy-cat”); and cats catch rats; and lambs and sheep suffer from scabies (sheep’s babies – lamb-scabies?); and that I’m still sore from falling off a climb called Rat Scabies.
Rat Scabies (Christopher Millar, b.1957) was the drummer of The Dammed (a punk band back in the 1970’s, contemporaries of The Clash). And you have to (as I did) place a Crash Pad (a portable mattress for bouldering) beneath Rat Scabies to protect your landing (it’s a funny route: too short to require a rope but too high to fall from unprotected).  I flew off the mantelshelf and crashed down onto my carpet (flying carpet?) no less than eighteen times before I hobbled away.
Consider the route-description of Rat Scabies again: "Up a flake... move R to a mantleshelf (sic)." It’s interesting to note that mantelshelves collect dust (dead skin), and that scabies is 'the flaking-off of skin'. But am I going to write a letter to the route’s first ascensionist, one, Gabriel Regan, enquiring if he saw the linguistic/gymnastic connection when he first climbed and named the route back in 1975? No. But wasn’t there an Angel Gabriel? And although the phrase of “the lion shall lie down with the lamb” is one of the more popular quotes from the Bible, it’s really misquoted. In the King James Version, it’s the wolf that dwells with the lamb, and it’s a leopard that lies down with a kid, and “the calf and the young lion and the fatling together”. (Isaiah 11:6).
It’s God spelt backwards - God von hinten, God coming from behind that puts the ‘fear of dog' into sheep. But cat spelt backwards is tac, and TAC is the Transport Accident Commission (in the State of Victoria, Australia). TAC is involved with promoting transport safety and in improving Victoria’s trauma system. It has an excellent ‘crash data-base’ (crash-landing site?).
Forget cats, the real threat to sheep is picnic mats. The lamb may lie with the lion and dogs are a worry to sheep, but this flying picnic mat - this bastardization of a flying carpet - would really put 'the fear of God' into sheep. A farmer once told me, the shock of the sound caused when hot-air-balloons suddenly ‘fire-up’ over cows and sheep grazing often traumatizes them into aborting. Odd. With us balloons prevent the need for abortions. And at one time (in the 1500’s) weren’t sheep’s stomach’s used as condoms?

For further reading about both incarnations of Rat Scabies, see Christopher Dawes’s excellent, ‘Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail’, Sceptre Books, London, 2005: and, On Peak Rock, Carl Dawson (ed), BMC Guide Book, 1993.   

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Nudes In The Lambscape

Note: You really need to read “A Mugging In The Country” first, or this will sound absurd.
So I was mugged in the country whilst in the act of photographing a sheep. But say the sheep I’d been trying to snap had been carrying a camera - had taken a snap of me getting mugged? Why not? Sheep are always being fleeced; they’d be sympathetic to the plight of ‘the mugged’. But would a mugger shot by a sheep (a mug shot?), stand-up as evidence in court? Could that balloon ever really have been caught, even if it were caught-on-camera by a sheep? Switzerland’s a law-abiding land where the cows have bells strapped around their necks; so what’s wrong with sheep, carrying cameras?
Photographs often furnish nourishing evidence, but nourishing evidence of what? Ambiguity can be hard to swallow"

Sheep form flocks: Camera Clubs. Sheep are ‘dipped’ in chemical baths: development. And every Camera Club veteran knows lambing is excellent (staple) photographic subject matter. Where would we be without lambing photographs? Think about it. From Emerson to Brandt to Raymond Moore and Fay Godwin: for a century and a half the cannon of British landscape photography (all city dwellers, I might add) has shot sheep as camera- fodder. Perhaps it’s about time the ‘fodder’ became the photographer.
Yes, but whose tea? As a young child, whose mother I was secretly seeing, once said, “Eating animals is wrong. It spoils their futures”.

Picture a nude of Little Bo-Peep - seen through the eyes of a sheep - legs spread, in a bathtub of sheep-dip, (it wouldn’t require a “Do you want to dip me?” caption). Like that Annie Leibovitz photograph of Whoopi Goldberg, knees akimbo, in a bathtub of milk. It’s doable-dipping just dripping to be done; you’re always coming across old bathtubs in fields where sheep are grazing. Or a shot of Little Bo-Peep and a ram; I’ll leave you to imagine this composition (position?) for yourself.  No, but sheep are natural landscape photographers, black and white lambscape photographers, through and through. Sheep are even equipped with natural lens-caps: you pull the wool over their eyes. Sheep graze, so why shouldn’t sheep gaze? ‘The Gaze of the Sheep: A Self-Portrait in the Lambscape’, (a tome: monochrome images by sheep, gazing, at sheep grazing).
But if the tables were turned - sheep turned their lenses on humans -, say sheep started shooting nudes: would they portray us the way we portray lambs and sheep in photographs; as soft, fluffy, cuddly, lovable pet-like creatures, a million miles from the dinner table? I don’t think so.
Consider this illustration and accompanying text, from, “The Look Of The Lamb: A Young Sheep’s Guide To Nude Photography”.
Lately we have witnessed the birth (lambing) of a new photographic formula for realism in the depiction of the human nude, which we may describe as Cold Cuts (as appose to lamb chops). This formula consists in the presentation of selected tidbits from the human carcass – a breast, an elbow, a bit of buttock: they are simply cuts of meat.” 

Friday, 5 March 2010

A Mugging In The Country

So you spend your birthday alone. What do you do? You go for a walk on the hills. Walking and thinking go together: I’m alone with my thoughts. Mugging, and ‘being in the country’ don’t go together. So when, out of the blue, I’m knocked to the ground - mugged - on my birthday by a stray party-balloon - someone else’s birthday balloon at that - it’s not a happy birthday. 
I'm stood still, on the top of a hill, trying to photograph a sheep when, without warning, I'm attacked from the sky (an air raid?). It came from behind. Funny, von hinten (from behind) are the only two words of German I know (other than yes and no). Yes, an air raid - von hinten: I get a happy-slapping on my birthday from a balloon out celebrating some far-off stranger’s birthday!
After the attack - which leaves me flat on my back - the balloon hovers me. I'm pinned to the ground in its shadow, a shadow of indecision: is he going to mug me again or what? But as we regard each other (a couple of rear-regarders alone on a hill) from a safe-distance, I get to thinking: this is the only real contact with another breathing thing (he's full of gas and air - he breathes) I’ve had, and am likely to have all day. With this, I'm on my feet, arms (and legs) wide open: I call-up to the balloon (in English), “Come back down. Take me again. I’m ready for you this time. It’s my birthday.” 
But my desperate plea only seemed to frighten the mugger away; he climbed even higher into the sky. So I address him German. “Von hinten again, if that's the way you want it, I don't want to see the back of you. No. I do. Yes. Let's be rear-regarders, but…come back and take me”. 
Higher and higher climbed my rear-regarder, further and further – off - up into the blue. But the sheep I’d been trying to photograph, she clearly speaks German: upon hearing “von hinten”, she bolts for the woods.  
I watch my happy-slapper rise, until he becomes no more than a tiny dot, like a pinhole in the blue sky of a postcard (once pinned to a wall, but now released, yet forever scarred  - holed; marked like Jesus - he came down an mugged us, only to ascend again and watch over us). What a strange thing it is, when someone who has had such an impact on you - has been so large in you life - suddenly departs, and you're left watching them become smaller and smaller. There's not that much space between closeness and distance.
My mugger may have been full of hot air, but he was no mug: my mugger was a flaneur: a flaneur of the byways of the skyways. No, my mugger was one balloon that knew his Baudelaire: “But the true voyagers are those who move simply to move – like lost balloons! Their heart is some old motor thudding in one groove... Let us depart…when shall we set sail for happiness?