Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The star, the moon, the lamppost and the car; or Photography vs. Poetry

I've been wondering for a while now what distinguishes photography and poetry (and in a broader sense, writing): two elements of my life that are crucial to how I perceive and interpret the world around me.

Short of channeling Roland Barthes (a la Camera Lucida) mid-blog, what fantastical conclusion can I have reached?

Striding home from the station after a long day stalking the streets of London, in search of art (the Museum of Everything in Primrose Hill) and socialising (a lunch date with the Jack of Hearts), I whipped out my camera to take this shot of the star, the moon, the lampost, and the car. Each light sources of completely different scale and level, distance and dimension, on the Earth. In the darkened October evening, I was struck by the appealing constellation of these four diamonds of light.

This may seem like a rather long pre-amble to what I've set up to be a 'battle', a discussion that could easily lead to spilt blood, a literary deathmatch like the ones regularly seen in London, L.A. and cities across the globe.

But like all good stories, I reckon you need a little detail, a little extra imagery, to add to the picture. I've always been one for an extra flourish. Robert McKee, writer of near-seminal screenwriting text, Story, would probably be turning in his grave right now - if he were dead, that is.

Simply put, photography is the expression of an interest in the outside world, an external fascination, and an open receptiveness to patterns, images and people, that once captured, serves as a reflection of those points of focus, subjects, and objects. Once captured, that awareness of the outside world forms a critique and a relationship with it.

It is governed by a sensitivity to things alien to us, which nevertheless enable us, along with the photographer, to understand things familiar to us, the external informing, educating, contrasting and consoling the internal.

In opposition to this, I would place writing, and I use that sweeping title to work my point through, although I'm sure there will be a mineful of contradictions and exceptions to it. Writing seems to me as an elucidation of things internal, a mine of its own, welling up with nuggets of emotion, veins of belief and slowly formed (and forming), crystallised notions of human nature. Writing seems to draw deeply upon the self, in order to demonstrate, dissect and decipher what is beyond the direct sphere of knowledge and comprehension, everything that is unfamiliar, alien or external.

Viewing poetry and photography in this binary fashion, it seems that the process of these separate disciplines is the crucial point of divergence.

The roles of those actively engaging in the two pursuits are different: is the photographer a 'documenter', and the poet, the writer, a 'pyschoanalyser'?

Clearly, there are nuances and subtleties beyond such blanket terms, and I'll need a little more time to think about that; but until then, it's time for dinner. Before I depart the blogosphere, Ill finish with a story, or maybe a poem:

Why did the star, the moon,
the lamppost and the car
meet for dinner one night,
disparate as they usually are?

What intrigue, what magic
could anchor their orbits
in one place, at one time,
without heavenly writs?

The star was incensed,
The moon confused,
The lamppost impressed
And the car bemused.

Flashing past, red lights large;
Soft, orange glow cast;
Rotund, pale face full;
Pin prick, light years fast.

One lens open, intrigued, calm,
Two eyes steady, alert, keen;
Tentative finger, tense, ready,
One brief moment. What will it mean?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

So you think you're a Nature lover? Think again...


"I love Nature."

"I'm a Nature lover!"

What does that actually mean? We box up Nature into diary-sized bites, we squeeze it into a walk in the woods, a picnic at the park, a stroll along the beach.

We view Nature through our television screens, conservatory windows; from the security of the sofa, or the car seat, or the train carriage.

We indulge in Nature.

We watch a sterilised grotesque: a creepy centipede scuttering in the darkness, a dung beetle rolling itself through the low-lit living room, the swallow swooping up to the ceiling, until the red button, and bed time.

Aliens and creatures of science fiction craft themselves in elements of Nature to frighten us, because we don't know it well enough, because we don't know it any longer. Oceanic tentacles loom from outer space; soil-clogged claws snap from the great unknown in the sky, vines untouched by secateurs extend, tendril by tendril, into our horrified imaginations.

David Attenborough is no substitute for a life lived in the great outdoors.

Friday, 15 October 2010

One in a Few Thousand: Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds

At the beginning of the week, I thought that a visit to the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern would be relegated to the realm of commonplace cultural experience. Thousands upon thousands of punters were set to sit, stroll, crunch, play, think, snooze, on the 100 million Sunflower Seeds carefully crafted for Ai Wei Wei's new art installation, as commissioned for Unilever's annual exhibit.

However, the gallery's decision to prevent members of the public from walking across the sculpture has leant my trip on Tuesday to the Tate a greater significance. It appears I am now only one in a scant few thousand.

The decision was taken, according to the Tate website, "in consultation with the artist," and I would love to have been privy to that particular conversation.

"Yo, Ai, you know that monumental piece of art that 1600 skilled artisans have been solidly working on for at least two years? The one that's meant to represent the power of people who have access to the internet in China, and therefore the growing potential for a challenge to the censorship of the state?"


"Well, apparently, it gives off... er... Dust."


"So, we're going to have to shut it down. With immediate effect. No one can walk over it. No one can run their fingers over the hand crafted porcelain seeds. No one can sit on it, as they would sit on a beach or a park, and spend a tranquil moment in thought. No one can traverse the border between art and the body, and find a new understanding with the simplest of tactile pleasures... Sorry about that."

Honestly. If "repeated inhalation" of dust "over a long period of time" were a problem, then just slap a time limit on the thing. Have a big ol' annoying buzzer rationing the time spent admiring the art. Enforce obligatory face masks upon the public. Give each visitor their own giant bubble, a Truman Show-esque fish bowl suctioned to their shoulders. Go on. Suffocate us.

This is a ridiculous reaction, that warrants a serious consideration of the things we value in life. To adapt the truism, a little bit of dust never hurt anyone.

Photograph: "Life Line", after Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Twitter Tanka

So.... It's about time I popped up some more juicy poems. This one I've put up at the request of a delightful teacher from Scotland who heard me poetry busking as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival this Saturday. Here goes....

Twitter Tanka

The modern counterpart
to outmoded ancestors
travelling the globe twenty years ago.
Who clutched bulky lenses,
and brightly greeted sulky Brit defences,
with flashbulb grins,
smooth, rounded chins,
on long legs thin.

This decade's bunch are a savvier breed,
moonlighting as tourists,
surfacing at night
to sate their social networking needs.

Click, load, click, refresh;
chasing you, as arrows touch.
Night's blue. Two minds meet.

They send each other tanka over twitter:
two loving lines repeated,
plus two more,
their retweeted characters
cursorily read by scores of followers,
their secret language shared,
and spread
from island to island of late night laptop lovers,
networks of glowing firefly faces
peering as screens to understand
their spinning thread
of conversation.

Click, load, click, refresh.
Chasing you, as arrows touch.
Night's blue. Two minds meet.