Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Honky Tonky Spotty Dotty

So who’s survived and what’s been lost, and who and what has been gained in the slippage - from photograph to image - between Honky Tonk Party 1 and Honky Tonk Party 3? For a start the pianist’s shirt’s gone: it drew too much attention to the noses pointing at it. If you traced the black triangles on the pianist’s shirt, and then slipped any of the triangle-tracings over the nose of the pianist - or that of his admirer (right of piano) - they would be a perfect fit, a perfect match. Nose covers on an album cover, under the disguise of a loud shirt.
And why not trace? Look at the cross between Hank Marvin (of the Shadows) and Michael Caine (in the Ipcress File) - a shadowy spy? Hank and his girlfriend survived almost intact, they must have been traced. But notice she’s changed her top, and he’s borrowed the yellow jacket from the headless man obscured behind the smoking woman, on the left in Honky Tonk Party 1.
Let’s stay with profile of the smoking woman behind the pianist’s head, because it too has been traced, duplicated, and transferred to the plates on the wall in Honky Tonk 3
And finally, take another look at Hanky Caine’s girl. The shirt she’s wearing in Honky 1 has been used for the pub carpet on the cover of Honky 3. And if you care to count the dots on the shirt and dots on the carpet– spot the spots on both - you’ll find a numerical parity there too. The floor is 146 dots dirty and the shirt’s 142 spots spotty. But if you add the 4 spots on the shirt – on her right elbow reflected in the bar (next to the pint glasses), the amount of spots on the shirt equals the amount of spots of dirt on the carpet.   

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Alex Higgins: Turn Him Up

I thought I saw Alex Higgins sitting at the piano this morning. Alex Higgins died yesterday. I saw him play live in a pub once (when I was young). I never learned the piano and I’m not interested in snooker, but the sight of 'Alex Higgins at the table'; it's as visually beautiful as Vespas playing table tennis, certain obscure outcrops of rock, or my personal shopper's smile of approval.
I see a lot of Higgins in the high-wire walker, Phillipe Petit. But the best place to look for him is in novels: Knut Hamsun’s, ‘Hunger’, or Radiguet’s, ‘Devil in the Flesh’. But you won’t find a truer portrait of ‘Higgins the artist’, of Higgins the twitching, chain-smoking, hollow-eyed, quick-as-a-flash, thin-as-a-pin, self-centered child/man, virtuoso that he was, than by reading ‘The Edible Woman’, by Margaret Atwood: wherever she says Duncan, read, Alex. I found him irresistible.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Visual Daftness

I once saw a horse jump over a car. I saw it on an old postcard: Tipperary, ridden by Jack Prestage at the Augusta Horse show, March 1st (my birthday), 1924. But I was more shocked by a postcard I received the other day; one of those local delicacy-recipe-postcards - for Eccles cakes. The photograph depicted a couple of anemic-looking, misshapen puff-pastry discs, on a cushion. They had an aura of abandoned
shoulder pads. But the recipe informed me of the fact: dead-fly cakes are made out of animal fat. Lard.  

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Visual Deftness

Tired of counting feet in the library, I strike out for a walk in the country (but not before calling at the bakery). On the edge of town I photograph a plastic glove – of the type worn by carrers – stuck to an abandoned car. I don’t really know why I’m photographing it. I carry on walking and as I walk I remember the woman in the bakery wasn’t wearing protective gloves; she handled my Eccles cakes with the same (naked) hand she handled the money with. I photograph a horse’s head on top of a walled garden, before taking to the fields. 
After about an hour I pass another horse’s head that appears to be eating flowers. I stop for an Eccles cake in a churchyard - a dead fly cake amongst the graves. Before continuing on I investigate the ancient yew tree beside the church.
Halfway up the tree, amongst the branches, I see a horse.  After a couple of long, hot miles I enter Five Hundred Acre Wood (where A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ stories were set), it’s dark, cool, and Poohless.
I emerge from the wood - squinting into the sunlight - and come face-to-face with a horse. We contemplate one another through a wire fence (the grid method, again); the horse is blinkered and his head’s festooned with flies. It’s like I’m looking in a mirror. It’s like I’m facing my doppelganger. I show the horse a photograph - a self-portrait I keep on my phone – in which I am blindfolded with dead-fly cakes.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Visual Deafness

Do you measure pictures by the foot? A dominating interest in listening for footsteps can cause a kind of visual deafness. When looking at pictures - people pictures, pictures of tables, images with chairs etc -, do you immediately count the number of feet shown? If so, you are in all probability a foot fetishist.
Creative pictures must be felt in a similar way as one listens to music, emotionally, without expecting a story, and above all, without counting time with your foot.
Don’t confuse a creative picture with a library, for both are valuable in different ways. 

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Semaphore d'amour

Semaphore: from Ancient Greek (sema) “sign”, and (phoros), “bearing, bearer”.
The Problem
The grid method’s optional, but focus on couples this time. When out shooting, try to capture the special kind of semaphore used by couples to convey information visually, the 'semaphore d'amour'. Try to forget some of the more negative literal terms often applied to coupledoom, like “she did things behind his back”, or, “he showed his true colours”. And don’t turn the domestic home front into a battlefield - flags and camouflage and all. No, think of the couples not only as ‘bearers' of signs’, ‘but as wearers' of signs’. 
And finally, if the wife of a dog-walking couple appears more married to their mutt’s Frizbee – more colour coordinated, turquoise mated to the dog’s Frizbee – than to her husband, cut off their heads and go with it. 

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Net Gain

The ‘grid method’ divides the image you want to paint into smaller “bite sized” squares, and then you sketch each square, one-at-a-time onto your canvas. But we are not using the pencil or the brush, we are using cameras, and the camera is a machine: we are dealing with ‘photographic facts’, not painstaking, paint-staining fictions.
When out photographing you have to have a goal, something to aim for, shoot at; and we often see goalposts painted on walls or improvised out of chairs, traffic cones, pullovers, litter-bins and so on. This kind of improvisation often stirs us photographically, but seldom stirs us mathematically. This is because these improvised goals are almost always minus a net, are netless (net loss?).

The number of rendered bricks plus the number of holes in the basketball net equals the total number of holes scored by the goal.  

The Problem
To take a photograph in which a number unifies the entire picture. It is the inherent logic of numbers that is so useful in organising pictures, for it establishes the picture surface, or as it is also called, the net-gain of the picture plane.
But although purely geometric pattern will lie flat on the surface of a picture, it will convey no more mathematical proof in pictures than it would on the fabric of a chair, carpet, or wall, if it does not also contain some element of numerical consistency. 
Net total of net holes 181
Net total of bricks (rendered) 129
Net total holes in basketball net 52

Monday, 12 July 2010

Photographic Memory

This is an exercise in Photographic Memory, or how to relate the same two subjects – in this case, ‘bush and beast’ – in a single image without too much ‘beasting about the bush’; in other words, how to ‘flatten time’. Try - when in the field composing the photograph - to superimpose another photograph, recalled from memory, over the photograph you are about to take.
Later, when comparing the seen – ‘taken’- image with the remembered image – both need to be printed the same size -, measure the distance between bush and beast. If the bush-beast distance is proportional and roughly the same in both images, you possess a Photographic Memory. By way of certification, mount your heads and hang them side-by-side (face-to-face, bush- to-bush), along with the dates they were shot, on the wall.  But be mindful of the sight of horse’s head separated from its body, it can inspire murder.
The sight of a decapitated horse’s head never failed to insight Jarry’s Dr Faustroll, 'to murder'. As the good doctor himself explains: “I do not believe that an unconscious murder is therefore necessarily motiveless: it is not governed by any command emanating from us and has no link with the precedent phenomena of our ego, but it certainly follows an external order, it is within the order of external phenomena, and it has a cause that is perceptible by the senses and is therefore significant…I have never had the desire to kill except after seeing a horse’s head, which has become a sign, or an order, or more precisely a signal, like the down-turned thumb in the arena, that the time has come to strike the blow…The sight of a very ugly object certainly provokes one to do what is ugly… Now, there is no object in the whole world as ugly as the head of a horse, except perhaps that of the grasshopper, which is almost exactly similar without having the gigantic size of the former”.
And as for over-analysing 'bushes in photographs' (as Antonioni’s film, ‘Blowup’, reveals): murderers hide in bushes. Bushes, like decapitated horse's heads, signify death.     

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Lunch of Flowers

I thought I saw Bette Davis watering Eccles cakes. How I was I sure it was she? The way she had her hand in her back pocket - ‘Bette Davis style’. When it comes down to it, so much comes down to just a gesture, a simple gesture; and I hadn’t visited the badgers for ages, and I always take flowers when I pay a visit on the badgers. I go in the bakery next to the florists. Greg’s in Greggs: “I’d like a lunch of flowers, a bunch fit for badgers; I’ve got to learn to give: down, down, down where the badgers live”. 

I arrive at the badger sett armed with six Eccles cakes and twenty-four finger-rolls, but there’s nobody about. Now I’ve never been to a flower arranging class, but I carry a photo in my wallet, a photograph of clematis climbing round the front door of a 1930’s semi (a lost photo I found in a forest). I could work from that. Luckily the badgers had done most of the work; the stems were already there – formed by the way they drag long grass into their sett for their beds. All I had to do was add the flower heads (bed-heads?). 

Sunday, 4 July 2010


I left the wannabe bat wing mirrors, the ping-pong playing Vespas; but I hadn’t walked more than a couple of streets when I came to a door: a bat door. Even though I couldn’t have been further from Nuneaton I thought of Larry Grayson: “Shut bat door”. 
I put my ear to the door half-expecting to hear the sound of ping- pong. I peered through the keyhole: two road menders with giant ping-pong ball heads, admiring their faceless faces in wing-mirrors. No, the only thing I could make out was a teaspoon.
Batty or what? I retraced my steps, back to the duelling Vespas. It was I who had become the ball - driven between door and wing mirror. And I liked being hit. My random backstreet wandering had at last found a direction. I was driven. Happy even.  

Friday, 2 July 2010

Wing Mirrors Wannabe Bats

Wing mirrors enable us to see blind spots. But in this game of Vespa ping-pong (a blind sport?) you don't even have to see the wing as wong: wing mirrors are wannabe bats. Bats can't see, and the initials for table tennis are TT, and the TT Races are the annual Isle Of Man motorcycle race. The racecourse - along public roads - is peppered with accident 'black spots'. Since it was first staged in 1907, the Isle Of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) races have claimed 227 lives. 
B.A.T stands for British American Tobacco and Murcielago is a Mexican cigar brand. A lot of people refer to this cigar as "The Bat". Murchielago is the Spanish word for a bat.  The Cigar Smokers Journal, when reviewing the Murcielago in a blind tasting, stated: "the cigar burned uneven at first with one side burning faster than the other. This was due to the soft spots I felt on the side of the cigar." 

Thursday, 1 July 2010


Probably the most remarkable fact about circles is that they are all similar, and you only have to look at a tree-stump to see that circles define trees. Trees are not linear but circular. And many hats are often circular even though the heads that inhabit them are oval. Because geometry is a branch (pardon the pun) of mathematics, it is usually thought of as something worked out by man. But geometric shapes existed in Nature long before there were any human beings on earth, or under hats.

For example, many growing things show geometric balance and evenness in their appearance: in any pictorial arrangement, the darkest tree contrasted against the lightest hat (or vice versa: the tree could be a Silver Birch and the hat a Homberg) will be the centre of interest. But to make such values effective in pictures they should be limited in number and simple in tone, for any complexity is always confusing and difficult to comprehend.
There seems to be a long historic precedent for the use of the ‘magic’ three in pictures, for one is monotonous and two divides attention. Three, however, seems to be complex enough to be interesting without also being confusing. Numbers beyond three – even when two hats and a missing torso add up the same pictorial value as a truncated tree –tend to be difficult to comprehend visually.