Saturday, 25 September 2010

Post Anticipation

Those pants (see last blog), with their washing-up glove gusset - that strangely stitched together combo – anonymously, stuffed through my letterbox the other day – has alerted me to something that ‘I knew but didn’t know I knew', regarding the disparate relationship between washing-up gloves and pants.
Years ago (in the mid 1980s) I responded to two – unrelated - photographic briefs. The first brief (quite understandably) involved pants, and its aim was to illustrate the slippery relationship, between Water Diviners and Y-fronts. 
The second brief said, Illustrate the saying: ‘Hand in Glove’. This, I interoperated with a washing-up glove. Both subjects – pants and glove – were modeled - or in the case of the pants, ‘dropped’ - by the same model, at the same location - a rocky outcrop – on separate occasions.
It's as if these – at the time, unrelated – briefs, anticipated my Post (of a few days ago); predicted what would come - stitched together as one - through my letterbox, a quarter of a century later. Perhaps the glove sewn into the gusset of the pants is - like some futuristic time-traveler’s underwear - a message from the ‘Briefs of yesteryear’. It's as if the Y-fronts had 'divined my own destiny', and this disparate meeting - of pants and rubber, post, past and future, latex, letterbox, and outcrops - may even have given birth to a new theory – albeit, one based on contradiction - Post Anticipation

Thursday, 23 September 2010

On the Laws that Govern 'Straw and Order'

I’ve been away for a few days. When I got home this evening I found these ‘adapted pants’, pushed through my letterbox. Here, I made a few brief photographs of them, before stuffing them through my next-door-neighbour’s letterbox.
For some reason these unwanted ‘adapted pants’ (Outsider Art, inside my flat?) made me think of the French writer, Raymond Roussel. Roussel's writing often described peculiar artifacts (he invented some very strange objects and garments for which there was no name) - like a statue made from whalebone corset parts that traveled on railroad tracks made from calf's lungs. 
Roussel’s novels’, ‘Locus Solus’ (Lonely Place) and ‘Impressions of Africa’ (it’s not a travel book) have had a great influence on me at one time or another. I first became interested in Roussel when I read that he’d traveled all the way around the world in a very early form of motor home - a motorized ‘roulette’ (gypsy caravan) - from which he only very rarely alighted: to prove once-and-for-all that external reality had very little influence on his writing. Louis Aragon called Roussel, ‘The Emperor of the Republic of Dreams’. 
Roussel committed suicide in 1933, aged 56 (in relative obscurity). Two years later saw the publication of his ‘secret and posthumous’ literary testament’, ‘How I Wrote Certain Of My Books’. Shortly before his death Roussel had produced a text - a bean-spiller - explaining the ‘very special method’ he’d employed, to write such strange and poetic works. Here’s Roussel introducing 'his method':  

I have always been meaning to explain the way in which I came to write certain of my books (Impressions d’Afrique, Locus Solus, L’Etoile au Front and La Poussiere de Soleils).
It involved a very special method. And it seems to me that it is my duty to reveal this method, since I have the feeling that future writers may perhaps be able to exploit it fruitfully.
As a young man I had already written stories of some length employing this method.
I chose two almost identical words (reminiscent of metagrams): for example, billiard (billiard table) and pillard (plunderer). To these I added similar words capable of two different meanings, thus obtaining two almost identical phrases…
As Colin Raff points out: ' Here we perceive Roussel's basic paradigm: an image or idea generating supplemental material, which, through seemingly infinite in scope, will always resolve itself with the original subject'. 
Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve often adopted an adapted version of Roussel’s ‘special method’ when making of my own work. My last blog, ‘Straw and Order’, is an excellent example the ‘Rousselian technique’ – adapted to accommodate photographs - in action.

The Laws that Govern ‘Straw and Order’
I started off with just two initials, PC. I then looked for two opposing PCs, and came up with, Police Constable and Petty Criminal. To this I added similar, rhyming words that were often capable of being related to one another somehow: law and straw, arm and farm and sheep and sleep. Sometimes these word combinations suggested – gave birth to – new words. Restoring became re-strawing, which in turn conceived, thatching. This gave me the storyline; which is basically about, how in order to catch a criminal you have to act like a criminal. I made some linguistic adjustment (discussed above) to what is a very simple plot. ‘To catch a Petty Criminal’ became ‘to thatch a thief’. The actor Cary Grant stared in Hitchcock’s film, ‘To Catch A Thief’. Then I had to find a way of getting both PCs (the Petty Criminal and the Police Constable) into a position where they would ‘grant’ me permission to photograph them ‘clutching’ straw. Cary Grant came in very useful at this point. The straw was contained in a bin-liner – a form of carrier bag. This united Cary with Grant. The criminal and the policeman were thus, both 'carriers' and 'granters'. They were both seen to be literally, and physically, using the Long Arm of the Law, to clutch at straw.
The photographic illustrations were the most difficult part. I had to persuade a policeman, and a criminal, to clutch at the same straw. 

Monday, 20 September 2010

Straw and Order

The Problem (In two parts)
To make two photographs that - when viewed side-by-side - unite opposites. For example: light and dark; good and bad; right and wrong; left and right.

Philosophy: I felt I was clutching at straws with this brief. So I bought a black bin-liner, went to a farm, filled it with straw and used it as a pillow. My best ideas often come to me in my sleep; and I always fall asleep faster when I’m lying in a position– in a field – from which I can count real sheep.
Part One: Next morning I drag the sack of straw to a café, for coffee, where I resist saying: I like my coffee like I like my women. Out of a black bin-liner. The only customer’s a Small Time Crook - a Petty Criminal – a desperate character I’ve known – by sight - since school. He’s sitting there, alone, looking down on his luck. This was both unexpected and fortuitous: it gave me the opening I was looking for: I asked him to clutch at straw. He didn’t exactly jump at the chance, but he agreed to hold it at arm’s length. I take a photograph: Straw-and-Order. He finishes his tea, hands me back my pillow, leaves. The next part’s a piece of cake.
Part Two: I call the police and tell them I have information on the whereabouts of a Known Criminal. They send a Constable, right away (look at the clock, they responded in under an hour). After I’ve spun him a yarn about sheep rustling, I ask the PC if he’ll pose for a photograph - one that best demonstrates, The Long Arm of the Law. I snap the PC clutching my bin-liner, thus re-strawing (thatching? – ‘To Thatch a Thief’, staring Cary Grant; carrier bags...) Straw-and-Order. They’re one and the same, the Petty Criminal and the Police Constable. Both are PC.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Executed by Dental Experts

Diary entry (and photograph), from the late 1980’s: ‘Spent the morning spitting tomato ketchup and mushy peas onto the pavement outside the Dental Executioners’.
There’s a lot of blood spitting and bile, and humans – on all fours – barking, in ‘Dogtooth’ (Yorgos Lanthimos 2009). We watched it again the other night. I could watch it forever. Why can’t we make films like that? A Fritzlesque father keeps his children locked up in a country mansion where they are totally ignorant of the outside world. It’s frighteningly funny. In this hermetically-sealed environment they are taught the wrong words for things: a ‘pussy’ is a bright light that can be switched on, and off; a ‘zombie’ is a small yellow flower; a motorway means a small wind, and an ‘excursion’ is a hard material for coving floors. The children are told that they’ll eventually leave home when their canine teeth – the ‘Dogtooth’ – falls out. In other words: never. It’s wonderful. They throw marble cake over the perimeter hedge, lick shoulders in mistake for ‘keyboards’ (a ‘keyboard’ is a vagina) and one of the daughters – after watching videos of ‘Rocky’ and ‘Jaws’, illicitly smuggled in by a blindfolded security guard, employed to provide sex for the son – becomes a pugilist shark who eventually knocks her own teeth out. There’s fake-blood and real blood, and it's only the passing airplanes in the sky that offer a glimpse of the 'world outside'. The same thing happens at the end of Bunuel's brilliant, 'Simon Of The Desert'. 'Dogtooth' is all very Bunuel: Bunuel with bite.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Enough Rope?

When I first started photography I’d go to an evening class and for one of the first briefs we were required to: Make a portrait of a stranger in uniform. I visited a prison (but I wasn’t a prison visitor; I went to a prison, not, to prison) and said asked if I could use a prison warder to help me re-enact a hanging-vision I kept having: ‘could I borrow a prison warder to help me bring back hanging?’

We found the spot, in a spinney quite close to the parameter wall. There was still an old rope swing hanging from the tree. I took some of the pictures on an old 5x4 plate camera. ‘You look like the hanging judge', the prison warder said, as I pulled the dark cloth over my head.
When I was young we lived near an Open Prison. You could see it across the fields, where I played. Strange to think now, that I dreamed of meeting an escaped prisoner – a bank robber or member of the Baader-Meinhof gang (but in the unlikely event, it would have been a petty-fraudster – a corrupt businessman or some bent solicitor). Nearby there were some specially built houses - a redbrick terrace -, where the prison-waders lived. 
Occasionally, whilst playing in the woods, I’d encounter a prison warder walking home after a shift, or for lunch. There was one I’d see regularly, hanging from a tree. He told me it was for his sciatica. ‘It’s not only the prisoners who do a long-stretch, it’s not only them inside who have to be straightened-out’, he’d quip. It was such a funny thing, to see this prison-warder, in his uniform – keys and all - hanging from a tree (beside a rope-swing). From a distance - and if I hadn’t have known he was doing it for his health - it looked like he’d hung himself.
And it must be made clear: I am not and never have been, in favour of ‘bringing back hanging’. Except, that is, for myself.  

Monday, 13 September 2010

Lassoing, Laundering, Smoking

Contact sheets are interesting. Consider the relationship between The Marlboro Man, lassoing, and a washing machine, spewing, in this, an unconsciously made diptych (of two shop-window advertisements). It is almost as if the image of the Marlboro Man - lassoing - were carried over into the washing machine, spewing laundered money. There’s a definite formal relationship – compositional similarities - between the two: follow the flow of the towel and the lasso; the direction of the horse’s head and the towel; the faceless washing machine and the faceless cowboy. Yet neither image can be taken at face value.
The washing machine is the natural mother of the lasso. She gives birth to the idea with all her spin cycles. The umbilical cord is the baby. If I owned a lasso I’d store it in a washing machine – the natural womb for the coiled worm. Why not? In Westerns, you see lassos – carried, coiled-up – on horses. And it’s a good feeling, riding a washing machine (or spin dryer). 
It’s my birthday and I say to the guests: do you want to witness the birth of a lasso – cut the umbilical cord before we cut the cake? They say, yes, so we all gather in the utility room, where I mount the washing machine and ride the beast until the cycle finishes. Then I open the door of the Zanussi and pull out a little lasso- baby. But hold on. Coils prevent babies (and the pent lasso is non other than a coil). How would I, if quizzed, get out of that tangle?
In the movies, homebirths always brought the cry (and I don't know why?) for, ‘towels and hot water’. I’m thinking the Great Bob Mitchum – he starred in some unmemorable Westerns. I loved and hated him in ‘The Night Of The Hunter’, but I once saw him play a Country doctor - in 1950’s matinee - one afternoon when I was waiting for Countdown. He's delivering a baby, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. As the mother-to-be pushes, he pulls. On his cigarette and the baby, at the same time. But there was worse to come. Just after he’d pulled the baby out, he pulled the half-smoked cigarette out of his mouth and hands it to the new mum. The camera cuts to her puffing away – finishing Mitchum’s fag -, to the sound of her baby crying. Cut to new mum handing the cigarette back to Doctor Mitchum - who’s cradling the baby (all clean and white and not at all like the red-cabbage-reality of a newborn) – as the camera pans, amid clouds of smoke: the first recorded birth of a ‘passive smoker’? The term hadn’t even been invented. I wonder if the baby’s still alive? Must be 60 by now – if it made it that far. Be great if he grew up to be the Marlboro Man. Must Google. No, much better, grew up to be the Milky Bar Kid: he was whiter-than-white (laundered?), he was a Cowboy in embryo; he too, had a lasso. 

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Thursday, 9 September 2010

An Unlikely Tail

Continuing the Cowboy-and-Indian theme. Last Saturday morning, I’m with a married woman (she'd swept me off my feet), we are having an affair; so we go to a Funfair, in the hope that nobody will recognise us there. We are in a fish and chip café; I’m reading the Guardian (Not very romantic, I know) – an article on Muybridge and his classic study, ‘The horse in Motion’ (where, in 1872, he provided photographic proof that horses, when galloping, did have all four feet off the ground at the same time.
So you can imagine my surprise when, over the top of the paper, I see a horse galloping past the window. It too had all four feet off the ground, but it’s no ordinary horse. It’s sporting a feather headdress and is being ridden by two feathered creatures: birds in the saddle, both facing the wrong way. I can live with that it is after all a fairground. 
But look at the tail. The tail, it’s all-wrong. Despite the speed it’s going, the horse’s tail’s hanging flaccid. I consult my Guardian - look at Muybridge’s horses in motion - all of his galloping-tails are horizontal. I go up to the counter and ask to see the horse’s owner: ‘I want to see a man about a horse’. The man who ran the horse (the trainer?) refused to be photographed (on or off the horse). Perhaps he was already riding a bit too close to the wind; perhaps he too was having an affair? But he let me acquaint him with Muybridge’s ‘Horse In Motion’ photographs. ‘Look at the tail’, I said. ‘Why isn’t your tail sticking out like that?’ He said it must be something to do with ‘Health and Safety’, something about ‘having a child’s eye out, or worse – impaling the public. Or that it might just stick out as too phallic. So I said, ‘here, you can keep the newspaper, it might make you change your tail; if all else fails you can use it to wrap your fish and chips’. ‘Impossible’, he replied. ‘Where have you been? We are no longer allowed to wrap fish and chips in newspaper haven’t done so for years: Health and Safety’.
It started with a Red Indian but the Red Queen has to have the last word. Lewis Carroll (a pioneering photographer in his own right) wrote ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ in 1871 - at exactly the same time Muybridge made his famous ‘Horse in Motion’ studies. So if The Red Queen was addressing this Red Indian horse (instead of Alice), she might have said: ‘The world goes at a very strange pace, it takes all the chasing you can do to keep your tail in the wrong place’. 

Monday, 6 September 2010

Good Pictures Are A Joke

The thing about a ‘found’ photograph (or in this case, a ‘found’ strip of negatives) is, you can only guess at the intended meaning. And most of us, once in a while, would like to get away from the challenge and excitement of contemporary issues and seek our pictures in a more romantic world. But this picture’s a joke.
In Cowboy-and-Indian films, Indians listen to the ground to tell how far away the cowboys (on horseback) are: so far so good. But this Indian – a squaw - appears to be deaf, and the cowboys must have been nearer than she thought. They’ve ridden right over her; hence the plasters on her face. The plasters have a practical importance as well as a pictorial significance (she wouldn’t be an Indian without them), suggesting that it’s a good picture (whatever that means?). But I find so-called good pictures a joke. Disappointing pictures, they're what to aim for. They are the pictures to make. 

Friday, 3 September 2010

A Word About Coffee-Filter-Bags

The line that separates good taste from bad seems sometimes no wider than a hair, but it is important to be able to recognise where it lies (or if it harbours pubic lice). The representation of the nude is strangely hedged about with inhibitions, prohibitions, taboos, and a general state of pubic bashfulness, and nothing but good taste (in coffee) can guide you.
Consider the matter of pubic hair. Concealment may often be effected by the use of a coffee-filter-bag. But avoid any form of concealment – drapery - that fails to conceal itself, for this is worse of all.
The Post Office generally takes a dim view of pubic hair and its representation in windowed envelopes as ipso facto evidence of obscene intent. 
A word about Coffee-Filter-Bags
Don’t try to make sense of coffee-filter-bags, or reduce them to rational terms. Least of all garments can they be justified on utilitarian (coffee) grounds: obviously, they are not devised to filter vision (dirty visions?), like a fig leaf. The pubic triangle and the coffee-filter-bag are not only related by their tobleronearity, both filter dirt entering the body. To the feminine taste, their decorative qualities are frequently elusive. But to the male they speak in an obscure code of emotional values, representing a sort of passionate catharsis, tragic sometimes, more often gay, exuberant or defiant, entirely personal always. However, mere man should not attempt to say whether a certain lady wears a certain coffee-filter-bag at a certain time because she is happy or because she is unhappy – exuberance, filtered or unfiltered.
A coffee-filter-bag on a coathanger resembles an umbrella. An unused – virgin - coffee-filter-bag could also be worn as a hat. The French composer, Poulenc (I adore his music), always wore a hat, and by looking at it you could tell at a glace if he were depressed, and wished to be left alone. It was easy. If he was ‘down’ he wore his hat with the rim turned down. Alternatively, an upturned rim said, say hello, I’m happy today. And Freud makes some interesting suggestions about hats, providing them with a background of unconscious sexual symbolism. Since this blog is designed for the family circle, we shall not further elaborate. 

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Umbrella Treatment

I remember being horrified at school, on being taught that syphilis had to be scraped away – from the inside of the penis – by a device known as the ‘umbrella’. This, we were told, had been the standard treatment, between the Wars. And they left our imagination to a visual image.
But in ‘Art-and-Craft’ class my imagination found a concrete form. This is a collage of what I imagined the ‘umbrella’ treatment for syphilis would have looked like. I was 15 when I created it, and it’s a mixed media work: Bitchumen; Perspex; toothpaste; coffee; coffee-filter-bag; coat-hanger; Kleenex (used); umbrella cover (with umbrella pattern). I never went on to do ‘O Level Art’.
Vintage photograph (only recently discovered) © Chris Lucas (my father).