Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The past is a foreign country

These are just a few notes for a blog post which needs to be refined. The past is a foreign country is the title of a book written by David Lowenthal about our attitudes to the past.  The title of the book  is borrowed from JP Hartley's first lines of The go-between where he writes "the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there".

Our relationship to the past is complex. For one thing we always rewrite it, covertly and not so covertly, to make sense of the present, our present.  Thinking of the past is often done with nostalgia and indeed nostalgia has become a real industry, that of historic sites, heritage  and its management.

At a personal level we at times insist on wanting to delete the past from our memory, people or experiences we feel have had a painful impact on our lives and whom  we want to forget and want others to forget about them. Yet it is not possible to delete anyone from our past or present and attempting to do so leads to further problems. The best thing is to embrace our history and acknowledge it as a part of ourselves, with its positives and negatives.

Derelict buildings have a role to play in our understanding of and relationship with the past. They make us question ideas of permanence and ultimately of what constitutes our heritage.

The images here were all taken at Rougham Hall, a wonderful derelict building near Bury St Edmunds, bombed by the Germans during World War II.

(All photos taken by David J. Green and modelled by Alex B. )

The joys and pains of urban yoga

I am hooked on yoga. Totally. I am not after amazing spiritual powers, I am aware of that side of yoga but I am not interested in exploring it. What really does it for me is the idea of controlling the way my body works.  That's all. When things outside myself get too much for me there is always yoga. When I do it, I know I am totally in charge, I can mould my own body.  Some people have mistaken this as me being overly concerned with my own appearance. If that were the case I 'd be dieting. I am not even  going to the gym anymore. I do yoga to get deep inside, going past my muscle and bone structure, working on realignment, reshaping, stretching  and simultaneously strengthening the body, developing concentration and focus. Nothing beats the sense of empowerment I get from this.
I started doing yoga way, way back during my teens when I copied some asanas from a magazine. I loved the idea of getting into a 'strange'pose and holding it for some time. I loved the stretch. Of course back then I did it  all wrong, the breathing  and the way I got into the poses was wrong, as I discovered when I went to my first Iyengar yoga class in London. I knew nothing about alignment and about gently pushing without forcing. I risked dislocating my hips, the way I went about it without proper instruction. Fortunately at sixteen  I was supple enough not to damage my bone structure. Thank god for that.

Over the years I established a pattern. I went through periods when I spent all my spare time going to classes and periods when I could not bear to go to a single yoga class, there always came a point when I just needed to get away from it. Then I'd begin to worry about losing flexibility and core strength and would start practising at home but found it boring to do it on my own  and so I'd look for  a new class and a new teacher. The sheer number of yoga classes that are in and around London would make you believe that this is a city inhabited by yogis. Almost every corner of London has a yoga studio of some sort! And there are so many styles of yoga around, it is most difficult to choose the one that suits you best.  I have gone through my fair share of styles switching from classical Iyengar to hatha to ashtanga (sometimes in its power yoga variety) to my latest passion, Bikram, the hot yoga.
 As far as I am concenrned Bikram is the yoga style for me, no sweat (excuse the pun). I started doing Bikram  in NYC in summer 2007 because I had plenty of time to spare, the studio was within walking distance from where I was staying in the Village, I was missing my regular ashtanga class practice,  I could not find an ashtanga class of my liking and the Bikram studio had  an introductory offer of just $23 , unlimited classes everyday for 30 days.  I signed up and  it was love/hate  at first class.  I hated the fact that when I walked into the studio all I could do was lie on my mat, unable to move in that heat. And I prided myself in being a yoga adept! That was such a blow, I felt quite humiliated. I was determined to succeed and went back every day, learning the trick of  drinking as much water as possible.  After a while  my body showed the beneficial effects of  practising and my ribcage expanded. The heat and the sweat were great for my complexion. This far outweighed the discomfort of being in a sauna like environment for 90 minutes.
Back in London my ashtanga yoga classes did not appeal to me anymore,  the approach was  different, so I traded five years of ashtanga  (which caused me a severe tear in my left hamstring, as I launched into a side split pushing too hard) for a yearly membership at a local Bikram yoga studio. Just like that.
I began the routine of going to class, sweating, getting rashes all over my body because of the heat and learning to fight the urge  to get out  half way through  the class because I could not bear the crowded studio and the unbelievable heat. But  I am the kind of person that takes on challenges, so I made myself stick to it, till I actually began to like the heat and bear the smell of sweating bodies.  For months I went some three, occasionally even four times a week to the studio for practice. Bikram yoga cannot be done at home unless you build a proper studio for it, you really need the heat. Few people have the space and resources for their own personal Bikram studio and you need an instructor. So for regular practice you have to make time to go to class.

You have to understand that it all requires very careful planning. You need to take into account that practice is for 90 minutes and then you need to shower and change - a must after all that sweating - so you need to budget three hours to allow for all this plus travel within London which takes ages, transportation being such a problem. I was always calculating how far I was from the studio and when I  could get away from whatever I was doing and whoever I was meeting to get there for practice. As soon as I woke up my first thought was: what class can I attend today? And I would have a quick look at the studio's schedule. Sometimes I would cancel meetings or social events in order to go to my yoga practice.  At times it felt like a prison sentence - I must go to class was all I could think of and it weighed heavily on me.
In my second year my love affair with Bikram was still in full swing.  I even did the thirty day Challenge (one class everyday) during the summer of 2009. I felt good at the end of it but very, very  tired. I never repeated the Challenge, I just thought that it was a bit too much for me.
After the Challenge I began to slacken. I entered my third year  and began to get bored. Class was always the same and I found myself performing the poses automatically and my mind was often elsewhere. Now that is a sign that things are not working at all, if you do yoga and you are thinking about what you are going to have for dinner,  something is SERIOUSLY wrong. I  began to make excuses to myself for not going and ended up attending only four times over a period of two months.   I was a yearly member, in principle I could do two classes a day everyday  and it would not cost me any extra money. I was wasting my membership. The feeling of guilt was unbelievable. But I just could not go, the very thought of going to class filled me with dread.

When it gets to this point you know you need a change. I decided not to renew my membership straightaway  - I need a break I told the receptionist who immediately  asked me with great concern  "Have you tried the advanced class? Maybe that will help". Oh, the advanced class. It's by invitation only but I managed to get myself invited. I tried it. No way. First you have to do an ordinary 90 mins class then you do another 90 mins class with advanced poses. I was dead by the end of the first 10 mins into the advanced class and ended up with a sore neck because something went wrong when I attempted  the second headstand  (there are two types of headstands). And who's got 180 minutes to spare on a weekday?
So I did no yoga for five weeks. I felt uncomfortable, kept on thinking I should have been in class and this time I had no routine to practise at home. My body started aching, and I just knew I needed to go back. That intense stretching, someone coming to realign you when you need it, my body was screaming for it. I just had to go. But not Bikram.
I went to a different studio, was again lured by a special offer, £10 for ten days unlimited class attendance and I began the merry go round of trial classes. New place, new teachers. It's very exhilarating. First I tried Kundalini. How different. I had to work on my breath and  never realised how bad it had got, I could not sustain a simple breath retention - obviously I had not practised correctly the breathing I was supposed to do in Bikram class, how come I' d never noticed? By the end of the class I was knackered. I went back the following day for Dynamic yoga which turned out to be a jazzed up version of ashtanga,  so there I was doing again stuff I had not touched since 2007.  Yoga is basically the same but the way you get into a pose varies according to the school you follow and there are certain differences which are quite important e.g in ashtanga you bend forward keeping a soft knee, in Bikram you lock your knee all the time. Also the asana sequence changes. In Dynamic you speed things up.
I have not yet completed the ten days trial. There is Jivamukti yoga to try - a girl told me last night  in the changing room that it is even harder than Dynamic. And there's a couple more classess with odd names which I would like to check out.
But I am missing Bikram already. The thing is, deep down,  I love the no-nonsense approach. Bikram is scientific,  precise and bloody hard. I will go back of course. Just enjoying a change in routine. I have already decided that when I finally renew my membership I will enroll for  the advanced class, I have heard there is a new one on Saturdays. Time to learn to practise for 180 mins in the heat!
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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Pearl Jam in Hyde Park: what of grunge?

Summer is the time for festivals. The epic Glastonbury is going on, with a line up headed by Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder is also performing today as part of the three day Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park, London. I was there yesterday, to hear Pearl Jam and a host of 'lesser' bands, including Ben Harper and The Hives.
Photographer: Peter Trainor

I went with my son, who joined me specially to see Pearl Jam - he is currently teaching English to foreign students at the American School in Surrey, throughout the summer.Viks was born the year Pearl Jam got together. When he was a kid I used to take him to rock concerts quite regularly. I was not heavily into grunge back in the 1990s, I was already in my  thirties, so I am not part of  the grunge generation, but I was aware of it and aware of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, as well as the obvious Nirvana - I discovered Alice in Chains much later.

Photographer: C. Desir

When Viks turned fifteen he fell in love with  rock music and grunge in particular. He began to play it at home quite regularly and I got into it.  I was able to recognise the huge debt  bands like Soundgarden owed to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Anyway, all this is to say that Pearl Jam speaks to me as much as it does to Viks, despite the generation gap.

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

Rock concerts today are not what they used to be (of course I would say this, would I not?). They are a tamer affair. Bands know exactly what to play, mindful of iTunes downloads. The element of unpredictability that hovered around earlier rock music concerts has been totally superseded.

Pearl Jam are a class act, a very sophisticated one. The fan base that someone like Stevie Wonder has is very different indeed. Today Hyde Park will be flooded and there will be people in their sixties, even their early seventies who will be there to cheer Stevie Wonder. Yesterday I was among the oldest audience members. My son met some friends of his and proudly introduced me to them. They were positively shocked to see me there. Viks explained that he owed his knowledge of rock music - and he is a keen guitarist - to me 'my mum started me off when I was barely seven', he said . They thought I was  unusual and regarded me with some awe.

Photographer: Paddy Johnston

We loitered for a while and then pushed our way forward to be as close as possible to the stage when Pearl Jam began playing. They were brilliant, as could only be expected. By the time I went back home I had nearly lost my voice. I admired Matt Cameron's polished drumming, McCready on lead, Ament and Gossard on bass and rhythm guitar respectively were incredibly accomplished and I truly loved Eddie Vedder's singing. Their keyboard player, not part of the band,  sported hair as long and as white as mine, something I pointed out with glee to my younger companions. They did not play 'Jeremy', one of my favourites - perhaps mindful of the recent Cumbrian tragedy in the UK? but they did play 'Alive' which I absolutely love.

On the way back home - Viks had to leave immediately after the gig as he was due back to his school in Egham - I could not help reflect on the grunge phenomenon. Grunge is dead - quite literally so, as so many of the key players have met their physical death through drug addiction and cannot be resurrected.  The so called grunge bands hate the term, it was very much a media invention - remember MTV?  What there is to say is that  the grunge bands brought something different to music, at a time when rock music had become so very stultifying and stale. Mainstream bands made you want to puke - I went totally off rock music in the 80s. Suddenly there were bands whose lineage went back to the best rock bands of the 60s and 70s and who would write songs full of angst about reality and the pain of living e.g 'Alive'  is about incest and child sexual  abuse, and whose music had a melodic and rhythmic sophistication  that had not been heard in a longtime.

The 'grunge' lyrics were written by troubled souls with talent and sensitivity and were not about a made up and sanitised world. I dont think that grunge can ever really  die. It was motivated by  and was about passion, poetry and escape:  as such  it represents  a new take on Romanticism, hailing back to  Jim Morrison and further back to the French poet Rimbaud.

(All photos , unless otherwise stated, modelled by Alex B.)

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A la Magritte

I wrote this piece for What We Saw Today soon after reading the wonderful book by Oliver Sacks, The man who mistook his wife for a hat.   I got a lovely comment from Michael C., who actually recommended the book to me. I am reposting my review. Michael if you read this please try and comment again? You had such wonderful insights to share!

Book review

One of my favourite books is the one by Oliver Sacks The man who mistook his wife for a hat (Picador, 1985). Dr Sacks is a neurologist and the stories he narrates in his book are about his patients. The most extraordinary thing that comes across is his strong sense of empathy with his patients. We do not find in this book arid descriptions of neurological diseases, case studies presented in medical terminology, in which people could well be things, totally divested of their humanity. On the contrary, these are stories where we the readers meet real people and feel for them and their bizarre world, not entirely devoid of logic.

"Sunset on the beach" by Korrigan

A story I truly love is the one that gives its title to the book. This is a very moving account of how a musician, affected by a brain tumor in the visual parts of his brain, began to lose his ability to see people and things and recognize them. He was not blind, he suffered from a visual agnosia. He saw shapes, abstract geometrical shapes at that, and he was only able to make sense of the world around him, as his illness progressed, by relying on body-music, rather than body-image. He constantly sang to himself and, as his wife related to the doctor, he was not able to do anything unless he made it a song.

"Last rays"  by Korrigan

While reading the story I was particularly struck by certain observations made by Sacks on art and pathology. The musician in question had apparently been a good painter. Over the years he seemed to have moved from realistic representation to abstraction. To Sacks this was indicative of the musician’s illness, his gradual visual agnosia. To the patient's wife it was a marker of him having gone from more conventional representational art to modern abstraction. "You doctors" she says "are such philistines. Can you not recognise artistic development?" Sacks comment was that the wall of paintings in the musicians living room, where all his painting were shown together, was a “tragic pathological exhibit which belonged to neurology, not art”. And yet, says Sacks, there is often a struggle, a collusion between the powers of pathology and creation. A Picasso-like way of seeing is artistic rather than pathological, but in this particular instance it would be pathological, linked as it is with this patient’s visual agnosia.

"Wild on red"  by Jan Murphy

For me this raises an important question. Are art and madness in partnership? There is certainly truth in the idea that an artist sees things differently, through a different sensibility. The different way of seeing may be accompanied by a pathology i.e. think here of Van Gogh or Schumann. But madness is not a prerequisite for making art. The myth of the mad genius artist is just that, a myth, despite some recent attempts to prove a correlation between bipolar disorder and creative genius. There is definitely a link between creativity and eccentricity, understood to be a deviant , out of the norm, behaviour. But eccentricity is not madness.

"Evening on the beach"  by Korrigan

Creative endeavours actually require a sober mind to be truly successful. The creative arts do however have a remarkable therapeutic effect and may help in assuaging the assaults on the psyche of mental illness, however we may want to define mental illness. They help to deal with traumatic experiences and are a wonderful way to give an outlet to the expression of emotions, contributing to the healing process. Often, people affected by mental illness also have an artistic talent and through engaging in one of the creative therapies they may be able to nurture and develop that talent.

"Evening on the beach" by Neil Huxtable

Back to Oliver Sacks’ wonderful book. It truly is an eye opener : in its pages we encounter people who are afflicted by some severe disorder and far from being viewed critically or judged, they are shown to us as people. Often endowed with amazing gifts and artistic abilities, they are lovable and full of wit. It is a book that makes you wonder about the human condition and makes you want to reach out for the characters that populate its narrative. Overall, a wonderful and stimulating read.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Reopening an old wound? Models, photographers and copyright (Repost 5)

 Some time ago Unbearable Lightness posted on What We Saw Today a piece entitled "What value a nude", about print publishing versus internet publishing. The comments  it generated strayed into a discussion of model rights, copyright over images and reproduction rights. I wrote two lengthy comments to that post and then added a post of my own, which I reproduce below as it is one of those that  had to be taken down due to the mess up with photographs. I feel compelled to do so in view of a very nice comment left last night on that post, months later, by rbeebephoto, in which he talks about his personal attitude to models and their contribution to the artwork. Most photographers, in my experience, are extremely fair and courteous with regard to their models. There are however, occasionally, misunderstandings.
 Photographer: Michael Cheetham. Male model: Linten Clarke

Yesterday I had the very pleasant surprise of a message from a photographer, Michael Cheetham, who took pictures of me and model Linten Clarke as part of the Models of Diversity campaign. I had forgotten about those pictures, which had been taken without monetary compensation as we had agreed to support the campaign. Michael is now putting them in a West End gallery for an exhibition and has offered to split the profits.  We did not have a written agreement, but Michael felt dutybound to make this offer out of respect for both his models. What I am trying to say is that despite everything one should take written agreements with a pinch of salt. If one is up to mischief he or she will do so with or without a written agreement. If one is fair, he or she will act with honesty with or without written agreement.
 Photographer: David Nuttall

 I would also like to say that my personal experience with photographers has always been very positive, despite one or two misunderstandings, which were eventually cleared. I hope it will remain so! I take this opportunity to apologise for any miscommunication generated in the past.

Be that as it may, I am reproducing below the old post, adding to it to make it more up to date.

"Acknowledging a shared endeavour"

Photographer: Ashley Cameron

When Unbearable Lightness posted a couple of days ago her piece about the value of a nude, I added a comment which touched on the issue of copyright and the contribution of the art model to the making of the art work, the photograph. Then Stephen Haynes responded in his blog, explaining why sharing copyright with a model would be unworkable for him - by the way Stephen, Alex IS my real name, just short for Alexandra, its English equivalent, no need to put it in inverted commas. Tonight Unbearable Lightness has posted a very impassioned plea for the right of models to be regarded as collaborators and have their work acknowledged.

Oh, this is a complex, vexed and vexing issue. Let's try to look at it from a different angle. I have already discussed, and so has Stephen, a parallel from dance, referring to the Martha Graham company and its litigation with Mr Ron Protas, Martha Graham's former lover, who inherited ownership of Graham's choreographies and proceeded to forbid the company to perform those dances and even teach the Graham technique - luckily he lost his case. I will not repeat all that in this post. Let me just state the basic proposition: the art nude photographic model - in fact, more generally, a model - is a performer. As such s/he has a considerable input in the making of the final art work, the photograph. Without model there would be no photograph, put it simply. I know, I know, if I decide I don't want to pose for a photographer s/he will quickly find another model - I am wholly disposable, the field is competitive and full of wannabes. But the fact remains that the photographer would need a model to create the art work, the photograph. So why should my contribution to the making of that art work not be recognised? It's already bad enough that some photographers are not willing to pay a fee or not willing to share a profit or a percentage of it, if the photograph is sold. Some, definitely not all. I am forced to look at negative behaviour here, in order to make my case.

Why not share the copyright?

Photographer: Jan Murphy

Before you all jump up and say that such a request is outrageous, painters and sculptors certainly do not share their copyright with their models, let me make you aware of the current move in the UK to obtain official performer status for life models (or artist models, as they are also known) through getting an Equity card.  Equity is the union of performers in Britain and membership of that union is very much sought after. Life models are campaigning for their right to be recognised as performers and enjoy the benefits that come with that official recognition. Of course artist models will not be able to share the copyright of the painting or the sculpture they pose for, but by obtaining the official status of performers they will be entitled to be treated like performers, on a par with dancers, actors and musicians. Therefore they will be named in catalogues as the models of the art work and have a minimum fee set by Equity and so on. (I am proud to add that  soon after this post was published I did get my Equity card, as a life model and as an independent photographic art model  and am contemplating taking a much more active role in the union, for a greater recognition of life models)

Photographer:  Marcello Pozzetti

Let's go back to the world of photography. Most art nude photographers regard themselves as artists, and indeed they are, but photography is a very different art form from painting or sculpting. It really relies heavily on the active participation of another person, the model - unless of course the photographer only shoots landscapes or objects or is a street photographer, shooting subjects rather than models.

The input of the model is much more significantly tangible in an art photograph than it is in a painting. The photographic model has every right to be acknowledged, i.e., named. And yes, s/he should be entitled to share the copyright of the image or at least  have some rights to its reproduction. All sorts of restrictions can be put in place, of course, so that the image is not further processed or manipulated by anyone else once it is finalised, but share of copyright simply means that the authorship is shared. And in answer to Stephen, copyright does not have to be passed on to someone else in case of death, clauses can be put in to specify its duration in time.
 Photographer: Owen Gruyfedd

Unbearable Lightness talks about books whose authorship, hence copyright, is shared. When the books are published it certainly is not the case that one of the authors unilaterally decides to make changes to the book without the agreement of the other author. The same would apply to a photograph: any tampering with Photoshop by the "model's boyfriend", as Stephen discusses, would certainly not be admissible.

I did an interesting shoot  with photographer Ashley Cameron. Ashley works in advertising. He is a photographer and he also provides a retouching service. In the advertising and commercial world more and more photographers do not process their images, they simply turn them over to a retouching service. Copyright law seems to be behind the times: the photograph is no longer the product of just one person. A whole team of people is involved. Who says that the retoucher, who also does photo manipulations - ads are full of them - is less of an author than the person who took the shot? Soon there will be a need to review copyright law so that such newer developments can be given greater legal protection.
Photographer: Bob Adams

Some art models, like the great Veruschka, have the power to call the shots, so to speak: Veruschka certainly shares ownership of her body art images. Her website specifies that her self portraits are performed by her, Vera Lehndorff (she no longer uses the name Veruschka) and photographed by Andreas Hubertus Ilse. A simple statement but so very telling: it makes no bones about who owns what. Let's face it: it is Veruschka who leads the dance. She is the star, a superstar in fact. She is someone to reckon with, not to mess about with. But it should not just be for übermodels like Vera Lehndorff to be able to assert their rights as performers and collaborators and be acknowledged as such. Every model should have the inalienable right to have that recognition. This is the 21st century, we really need to leave behind old ways of thinking and create fairer laws which match current situations.

The art nude world is full of very talented photographers and models who do not necessarily work as professionals i.e. making a living out of their art nude work. This inevitably leads to grey areas. Copyright and reproduction issues are negotiated on behalf of commercial and fashion models by their agencies and restrictions can be significant i.e. there are stringent rules on "testing" and so forth, as many photographers, who make most of their living out of non -nude, commercial work,  have discussed with me.

Many photographers who do art nude are however very accomplished amateurs and will never publish, sell or exhibit any of their work, which they do for their own satisfaction. Many art nude models are not professional models, they do it out of passion, as a hobby. Model releases and written agreements seem wholly redundant in such cases.

 Photographer: Michael Culhane

I earn only a little portion of my income through modelling, primarily life modelling and in truth as an Equity member it is the plight of life models I am interested in championing . Life models often work long hours in appalling conditions and Local Authorities refuse to acknowledge their self employed status, leading to tax deduction problems.

 Alex by Alex Rennie

Art nude models are often willing to work TFCD or TFP with a view to splitting profits if any image is sold. This can be put in writing in an agreement but realistically how can it be enforced? Litigation will often be too costly. What is the solution? Be sensible, be courteous, be respectful of the other. Say clearly what you are willing/unwilling to do. Acknowledge photographers, if you are a model. Acknowledge a model, if you are a photographer, unless she asks you not to reveal her name. Most of all let's be realistic. Art nude is not a multi-million dollar industry and never will be. Rather than fighting over wrongs or rights, let's work together, models and photographers, to make art nude better recognised as fine art photography.

(All photos, unless otherwise stated, are modelled by Alex B.)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Lost film

This is a rant. I need to get it off my chest. I did a shoot with Marc Wainwright on 23rd May. We first tried to work at the disused West Hill mental asylum but we were escorted out by a security guard - the place is soon going to be turned into luxury flats, so it is heavily guarded.

We were lucky to find a derelict house not too far away from the hospital and we used it for our shoot.
I had brought along my Bronica and Marc taught me how to use it. We had a problem with the Polaroid back but maybe it was the polaroid film we used which was too old?
Anyway, as well as taking pictures with the Bronica Marc used his digital camera - thank god for that.

 Photographer: Marc Wainwright

On 24th May I took the film to Jessop to be developed. I asked for a contact sheet and for the negatives to be scanned on CD, so that I could later decide on the prints. I had two rolls but only gave one because I am still unsure about the camera, it could be that the polaroid back was faulty but who knows maybe there is something wrong with the camera too? I seem to be unlucky with cameras. I was given last year a Nikon D70 and then found out that the lenses had developed some mould, so I would need to get new ones. Needless to say I have never used the Nikon, not after finding out about the mould.
 Photographer: Derick Clerk

I was told I'd have to wait for 10 working days. I did . Then I had to deal with a family crisis so I did not honestly think anymore about the film. Early this week, when I got back,  I remembered and went to the store to collect  my order. It has not arrived, I was told. How come? Oh there was a Bank Holiday so everything has been delayed. Well even with a Bank Holiday  things should have moved. There was one Bank Holiday, not two! Dont worry , it must be en route, we will call you as soon as it is delivered. Heard nothing for the last couple of days. Called the store today. Oh we have to fill in a missing item form now, we cant tell you what has happened. The film was sent back from Germany and the courier has misplaced it.
 Photographer: Ricardo
I could not believe my ears when the manager with great nonchalance told me he could not tell me how long this would take, it could be weeks before the missing item is found and meanwhile no compensation is due until they declare it lost. And it did not make me feel any better to know that in his five year tenure as manager of this particular Jessop store this was the very first missing item case he'd had to deal with. To be honest I could have done without the honour!

So now I have another film to develop, I still know nothing about what is wrong with the Bronica and I do not trust Jessop. Even if I get compensated I will never be able to get those shots back.
When things go wrong they decide to go wrong en masse. This is a trivial matter compared to what is going on at home at the moment. But it is still somewhat irritating.
Photographer: Carlos W.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

From "What We Saw Today": repost 3.

This is very topical. I have been approached by an Eastern European photographer who only works with large and medium format to do a shoot, possibly more than one, with him. I am truly impressed with his work and am considering working with him before I go back to Italy to help looking after my mother.

I love working with film, I like the feel of a film shot and the adjustments one has to make as a model. When I did my shoot with George Swift he also used a large format. He took several shots with his digital camera and then we decided to recreate for film one of those. I have not got the print yet, am looking forward to it, but here is the digital version.

Photographer: George Swift

So I am reposting this piece which I wrote for Unbearable Lightness' blog only a few months ago (I have already explained the saga of the missing photos, so I will not repeat it here). Let me know your thoughts.

Film, Digital and Photoshop

(first published 3/03/10 in What We Saw Today)

Alex at 3  by her father

It all began with a box of photographs I found at Christmas - or was it Boxing Day? (no pun intended) - in a case I keep under my bed. They were taken by my father in the 1960s and my mother, myself and my sisters were his models - or should I say subjects? Lovely family pictures, including one of me taken in 1962 or 1963, with a huge doll almost as big as me.

There were also some large prints of my mother wearing a gorgeous black silk shawl, which now belongs to me, draped over her shoulders. She wore a 1950s dress, showing off her tiny waist - have you noticed how tiny women's waists were in the 1950s compared to waist sizes today? an 18 inch waist was not unusual back then, whereas it is today. My mother's waist in those days was really small compared to mine and she had already had my elder sister!

I loved the feel of those prints. They had been clearly retouched, in an old fashioned studio style. But they were lovely. And they had been taken with an old camera, using film.

Just before last Christmas I modelled for Brano (Branislav), a Slovakian student doing a Master in Photography at a well known London art college. The shoot was done on film in the foyer of the National Film Theatre in London, where they were exhibiting the entries for the Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition. Obviously that was a clothed shoot and it was done quite surreptitiously, while the exhibition was on. I was surprised no one stopped us, as we had no special permission.

Alex, film, by Brano

Let me tell you a little about Brano. He only shoots with film, using different cameras, including a Hasselblad which actually belongs to his department. He has access to a professional darkroom, does all the developing and processing in that dark room, scans the prints - these days you have to have images online - and refuses to do any further work on them using Photoshop or similar. I suspect this is one of the requirements of his course, the shoot we did was part of his end of the year portfolio. Occasionally, he might scan a negative and do some processing using the aforementioned Photoshop but when I asked him whether he would do that with a particular shot of mine, which I did not think was very flattering as it was, the look of disdain on his face was such that I promptly retracted my request, feeling very embarrassed. His words were "I use film. Why do you want me to enhance it digitally". Brano is a purist, as I later found out.

The experience with Brano and the box of my father's photographs made me decide I wanted to do more work on film. Specifically an art nude shoot. So back in January I put a casting call on MM and Purestorm, two sites for models and photographers, and more recently I put it on deviantArt, though I knew I would mostly get replies from the other two, rather than deviantArt, where I put it only as an afterthought. The response was extraordinary. One or two people - bless them - said they would like to work with me, they knew exactly what I was after, had the right equipment, it was just a question of sorting out practical details. The others...well, let me begin with those that felt the need to tell me, most patronisingly "You will not find anyone using film anymore. If we work together I can use a Photoshop filter, it will be like film and you will get b/w images". Or "Oh, I like your look, let's shoot together. You want b/w images. Easy, I will shoot in colour then convert it into b/w". Digital of course.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable

To these photographers film meant b/w. They either had no idea what film was or (more likely) they thought that I being a model would not know the difference  (for those of you who model: have you noticed how sometimes people condescendingly stress the word 'understand' as in "do you understand this or that" when talking to you? I once did a shoot with a photographer who could not refrain from saying "Oh, you know about that? You are intelligent!" totally miffed by the fact I could converse). Many people are convinced that all models are affected by severe learning disabilities and can, at best, only discuss competently the latest exploits of celebrities, as reported in trashy weeklies. These are exceptions of course and, I have to say, I have mostly worked with photographers who were most respectful.

Why do I want to do a shoot on film? Because as a model working with film is more challenging. You have to pose in a different way. The shot has to be very carefully composed and as a model you need to work in that mode and yet preserve some sort of spontaneity, or you will look wooden. My very first professional shoot was for an editorial in a weekly magazine, back in 2004, and it was done on film. The photographer used polaroid first. It took a whole morning to get it done and only four shots were taken. When shooting digital you can often see yourself on a computer screen, as the shoot progresses. It becomes a 'safety net'. It works like a mirror in a dance studio.

Alex in 2004, Woman magazine, film

I remember when I was studying dance the big controversy about mirrors. Some teachers would tell us to work in front of the mirror and correct ourselves. Some other teachers would absolutely not allow us to look at ourselves in the mirror and would either cover the mirrors in the studio or make us face the wall, with our backs to the mirror - and they would shame you in front of the whole class if they caught you glancing back. "You dont have mirrors on stage" they would say. "You need to be able to feel the movement and feel the symmetry of your shape in your own body. Only beginners [sneer] need mirrors". I used to think those teachers who forbade the use of mirrors were a real pain, I loved looking at myself in the mirror. But they were right, I reluctantly had to admit they were, no mirrors could ever be seen on stage. And not being able to feel the movement in your body and know what you are actually doing is not conducive to good dancing.

Photographer: George Swift

Just as I was getting interested in film for my own reasons the introduction of groups on deviantArt allowed photographers who only use film an opportunity to get together and create their own deviant groups. I joined a couple of them to look at the work that was submitted and in general to learn about film - I also have it at the back of my mind that I want to start taking pictures myself on film and recently got hold of a Bronica, but that's a different story I will tell you in another post.

Now you have to bear in mind my experience with Brano and his purist attitude and total avoidance of Photoshop - no doubt engendered by stringent course requirements. When I started looking at the work submitted by the members and contributors of these groups I swear that I often could not tell the difference between an image taken with a digital camera and an image taken with an analogue. I clearly only had the opportunity to look at online output not prints, so my impression was based on my examination of the material available online . I realised that the photographers would scan their negatives and photoshop them, as much as they wanted. The end result was, of necessity, partly digital. Brano's college professors would probably fail him if he did that as part of his portfolio, but what you do at college is not necessarily what you do when you leave with your diploma under your belt (when I wrote my dissertation I referenced it scrupulously almost every other sentence, but if I wrote articles or blogs in that style everyone would fall asleep).

Photographer: Hervé Baudat,

Everyone has their own take on film and digital and why they use either. Photographers can be sanguine about this issue. However, only very few, extremely opinionated, and perhaps slightly ill-informed people would say that film is better than digital - if people do maintain that film is "way richer in tone" it may be that they do not have access to the very best digital equipment whereas their analogue camera may be one of the top range analogues,  so in their experience film is qualitatively better, but this is not objectively proven. Eyeballman on deviantArt gave  a very detailed account of an experiment he was invited to take part in, where people had to guess whether a print had been obtained using digital or analogue equipment and it was almost impossible to tell the difference.

As a model I am interested in film because it has a different impact on my modelling. It is a personal choice and it does not mean I am not interested in working with photographers that use digital. Modelling for a photographer who uses film will make me, in my view, a better model, but of course there are many other ways to reach the same goal and there are models out there who are fantastic and yet have never posed for a shoot on film and may not necessarily be interested in doing so.
Photographer: Darran Porter

The end product of a film shoot is often digitally enhanced, so one can say that in the 21st century, and inevitably so, film is being used differently. And to me that is good, I do not advocate a return to the old ways, I don't believe in recreating the past in the present as it was. It is neither possible nor desirable.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Monday, 14 June 2010

From 'What We saw Today': repost 2

Another post from What We Saw Today.

Jealousy and Envy

 "Champagne"  by Mol Smith

I have just returned from a short trip to France. Good weather, good food, new friends. Lots of shoots but also lots of leisure time. Monday night in Paris I met for dinner a friend who is a psychoanalyst. Over oysters and Chablis at the wonderful historic "Closerie des Lilas" in Montparnasse, famously frequented by the surrealists in the 1930s, we discussed the destructive power of jealousy and envy.

Jealousy and envy, in English as also in other languages, are terms often used interchangeably - the conflation is evident in idioms such as "green eyed monster" (jealousy) and "green with envy". Yet they are not exactly the same: whereas jealousy would seem to expose fear of loss, envy hinges on feelings of inferiority. Historically jealousy has been associated with sexuality and to some extent it was seen as condonable, especially in the case of men being jealous of THEIR women, whereas envy has always been viewed as a positively anti-social drive.

The Greek myths demonstrate the negative power of both jealousy and envy: deities such as Eris, Nemesis, Megaera come to mind - they are all, incidentally, female deities, which to me is quite telling and indicative of a patriarchal order.

In literature, jealousy and envy have been given unparalleled treatment, as fundamental human emotions, sins (especially envy) in the Judeo-Christian Weltaunschaang. Dante for example defined envy as "love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs" and punishes it in the Inferno of his Divina Comedia , together with greed and avarice. In Shakespeare's tragedy Othello we see both jealousy and envy unfold through the actions of Othello and Iago, both consumed and destroyed by it, and in Goethe's Faust Mephistopheles IS envy. More recently in Peter Schaffer's Amadeus later turned into a successful film by Milos Forman in 1995, we see the composer Salieri being jealous of Mozart but envious of God, who has not granted him the same talent.

Photographer: Gadras

An understanding of jealousy and envy as primary forces are at the core of psychoanalytic theory, the study of neurosis and psychotherapy practice . From Freud's penis envy (the realization of the little girl that she does not have a penis would engender in her a feeling of anxiety) to Melanie Klein's theorization of envy as "an oral-sadistic and anal-sadistic expression of destructive impulses, operative from the beginning of life” concretising at the time of breast feeding, with the infant wanting to swallow the breast, jealousy and envy seem to be defining the basic intra and inter sex interaction. Their theorization comes with a slant on justifying a male view of the world (yes, even in Melanie Klein, although there is some radicalism and a strong dissent with Freud in her construction of envy as a visceral rage).

Feminism has changed all this. Even before the explosion of feminist psychoanalysis brought about by Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva, all of whom were out of French post 1968 poststructuralism, Karen Horney, a German psychoanalyst and psychiatrist re-theorized penis envy as womb envy. In her words this is "the unexpressed anxiety felt by men, naturally envying pregnancy, nursing, and motherhood — of woman’s primary role in creating and sustaining life — that leads them to dominate women and drive themselves to succeed in order for their names to live on". Let me make it clear: Horney is talking about a psycho-social tendency, rather than a quality inherent in men (so did Freud).

Photographer: Korrigan

Feminist psychoanalysis has changed the cultural landscape of the past 30 to 40 years, deconstructing the phallic hypotheses of patriarchy - the phallocentrism or phallogocentrism of society i.e. the privileging of the phallus (the masculine) in the construction of meaning.

What are we to make of jealousy and envy then? Jealousy and envy remain, fundamentally, mechanisms to control women . Let me restate this. It does not mean that men are not jealous and envious of one another. They are, and they aggressively attempt to control and antagonise each other. But it is in their interaction with women that the full impact of jealousy and envy are seen.

I am clearly generalising, but I would say that women often respond to situations in which they are made to feel insecure (trapped and inadequate, divested of their identity) by their partners with feelings of jealousy, directed at other women - Nancy Friday has written about this in her best-seller Jealousy. Men often react to their sense of inferiority vis à vis their more successful, stronger female partner by feeling rage and envy, an irrational and unconscious drive to destroy their object of desire. It is what, according to Susan Forward, leads to domestic violence. Abuse (of any type, from verbal to physical) feeds on this Kleinian envy or indeed, the womb envy theorized by Horney.

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

How can we overcome such destructive and self- destructive tendencies? I can only think of self awareness, self confidence and grounding. And last, but not least, compassion.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland: heavenly or hellish match?

Peter Pan  and Alice in Wonderland are two well known English tales, a play and a novel respectively, by Barrie and Carroll,  about escapism and a fantasy world.

Peter Pan is the boy that refuses to grow up.  His world is one of endless adventures in  Neverland. Peter is somewhat selfish and terrified of ever becoming an adult. His relationship with the Darling children and Wendy Darling in particular, whom he wants to be mothered by, is somewhat fraught, because of the Darlings attachment to their parents and because deep down Peter knows that Wendy does want to grow up and eventually even marry him, in other words, she wants him to grow up.

Pop-psychology author Dan Kiley discussed the so-called "Peter Pan syndrome" as a variant on the puer aeternus (eternal child)  Jungian archetype, in connection with adults who are socially immature and unable to form adequate relationships. Medically there is no such a thing as a Peter Pan syndrome, but this has become a shorthand to identify immature men - although the Peter Pans can be both male and female, they tend to be primarily male. In a nutshell, when men affected by the Peter Pan syndrome form  attachments with a woman they become extremely jealous, exhibit violent outbursts and can become enraged when the woman asserts independence in any form.  The fear of impotency and rejection contributes to verbally abusive behavior.

 Photographer: Gadras

The Peter Pan male strives to patronize the woman and to appear strong and assertive but in actuality he feels threatened by the woman’s independence or desire for independence. The fear of appearing weak and unmanly causes the Peter Pan male to deny any desire to share his own sensitivity with the woman. The Peter Pans of the world are extremely childish in their attachments and in their behaviour. Like petulant, fractious and obdurate children, they refuse to budge, will insist on denying their share of responsibility for anything that goes wrong and will attribute faulty behaviour to others alone, especially the women whom they feel threatened by. They want a Wendy Darling by their side but when Wendy Darling begins to act like a grown up  and chooses conventional maturity they will feel betrayed.

 Photographer: Jan Murphy

Alice  is an intelligent young girl who like Peter initially  rejects  the adult world - in her case the stifling ordered Victorian world in which she is growing up - but through her escape in the illogical and magical world of Wonderland is determined to discover its paradoxes, leading to acceptance of the adult world in a new key and thereby acceptance of her own  maturity. Alice's constant question which she puts to everyone she encounters is 'Why'. The screen version of Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton has strong feminist overtones, a re-reading and a rendering of the novel which pleases me despite all its faults because I have always felt that Lewis Carroll's Alice  epitomised a strong willed adolescent woman  not afraid of growing up, only unwilling to do so without self understanding and self knowledge: she rejects the adult world because she wants to grow up on her own terms. Peter Pan on the other hand is afraid of the adult world and escapes into childhood, hoping to acquire true freedom, which in real terms is untenable. Peter Pan escapes, whereas Alice does not.

In real life the Alices of the world are women on a voyage of self discovery. What happens when Peter Pan meets Alice in Wonderland?  They are bound to be a match in hell. Despite their initial common ground and attraction they misunderstand each other. Alice seems to want to leave the adult world behind, and in this she appears to be more radical than Wendy who maintains some ambivalence in relation to adulthood, through her mothering. But in fact Alice wants to understand  adulthood, rather than fleeing from it.  Peter lacks the ability to keep Alice intrigued for long and feels threatened by her constant questioning.  To avoid the feeling of being swamped  by Alice's independent thinking  Peter  has to feign a depth which he finds difficult to sustain. His ability to fly will keep Alice wondering  but she is bound to want to find out more about 'the happy thoughts' and 'fairy dust' and he will not be willing to share such secrets. Alice lacks the conventional mothering qualities of Wendy Darling. She will want Peter to experiment with his size, like she does, not understanding that such experimentation will feel to Peter like acceptance of an inner growth of which he is incapable, without renouncing his Peter Pan identity. Eventually, Alice will disappoint Peter even more than Wendy because she does not  reject the adult world at all, she wants to decipher it and make it her own, on her terms.

 Photographer: Korrigan

I think Alice  is  better off with the Mad Hatter (not least because in Tim Burton's film, the Mad Hatter is played by Johnny Depp). I am quoting here from Kimberly Wilder's post from the wonderful blog Georgiana Circle.
The Mad Hatter is a positive force for a feminist society for a variety of reasons. He is kind to Alice, who is both female and a young person. He is supportive of women in leadership roles: He is a supporter of the White Queen (a woman leader, and the better royal in the movie) and a supporter of Alice. In addition, The Mad Hatter models feminist and non-coercive support for Alice, because he does not demand that Alice battles the Jabberwocky, but asks reflective questions and offers her support as she decides what to do.

And truly,  if the Mad Hatter looks like Johnny Depp, it won't hurt (I am a fan).

(All photos modelled by Alex B. )

Monday, 7 June 2010

Photographic reconstructions

Not too long ago I was involved in a  reconstruction of Helmut Newton's Naked and Dressed. (Sie Kommen) Stuart Bentley was the photographer. We also did another couple of shots inspired by Newton. Indeed Newton is  iconic, at some point or another many photographers involved in art nude will have a go at making work at the very least influenced by Newton. The idea of a slightly flawed body, for example, is Newton-derived and I personally find it fascinating.

But let's consider this idea of reconstructing a photographic work. My background is in art and archaeology, so I am very au fait with the idea of reconstruction. I have also been teaching performance  theory for some years and in dance one of the main issues is that of remaking  someone's work i.e. recreating it, representing it, reinterpreting it, even reviving it.

Reconstruction is a most familiar concept in archaeology. Many people would say that this is what archaeology is about: through digging and piecing things together the past is reconstructed. But how does this reconstruction take place? The 1990s saw a revolution in archaeology, troubling its tenets of supreme objectivity. Archaeologists began to talk about subjectivity and multiplicity of interpretations  as a myth.

 Former Guggenheim Foundation Fellow Muriel Topaz has asked very pertinent questions with regard to the act of reconstruction , in particular "authentic restaging" of dance . How do we capture style, she asks. Does a reconstructor have the right to change the choreography?  what can each new performer legitimately bring to a role? what is the performer's appropriate contribution to the reconstruction?

I think such questions have a value in photographic reconstructions. Let's look briefly at the Newton's reconstruction I did with Stuart. The first thing to note is that Stuart decided to work with a mature model. "I interpret Newton's depiction of sensuality as referring to mature sensuality. Thus I want a mature model in my reconstruction" . This is what he told me in his first email which led to my booking. Next was the decision to use only one model in four different poses to achieve the effect of four models posing together, as in the original - this was the result of photoshopping. So Stuart acted like a reconstructor who changes the details of the choreography, in Muriel Topaz' terms. What about the performer's contribution? The performer is me, in this instance. What I felt was that what was required of me was not simply copying the attitudes of the four models but to project a viable interpretation of their mood. I knew that one of the models had a fierce expression and I did my best to re-embody that. The most important element of the composition, in my view,  was the dynamism of the walk and I tried hard to convery that  dynamism.

Stuart Bentley, as photographer and director, imparted and I,  as model/performer, portrayed the meaning of each attitude and gesture in relation to the whole. The reconstruction firmly remains an interpretation, located in the 21st century. But that is the nature of reconstruction on the whole.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Gurus and spiritual leaders

At my Bikram yoga studio I recently picked up a book entitled The Knee of Listening by Adi Da Samraj. Every time I went for class I glanced at the book shelves where various 'yogic' literature is on sale and the portrait of this man on the book cover always caught my attention. I was particularly drawn to his piercing eyes. I truly had no idea who Adi Da Samraj was and I was intrigued by the title, which I have not yet unravelled.

So eventually I bought the book  two saturdays ago. And, so much out of character, because I don't usually care for spiritualism, soon after I bought the book I felt the urge to go and check out a local spiritualist congregation. There is no connection between these two events, really, except that having this book in my hands made me feel different. Coincidence? Was I expecting a revelation by Adi Da Samraj through the services of the medium? I will tell you about the spiritualist session on another occasion. Today's post is about Adi Da.

The Knee of Listening is the autobiography of this remarkable American born spiritual Guru, who set up an ashram on the island of Naitauba in Fiji and created around him a personal cult that continues today even after his death in November 2008.  Born in New York in 1939 as Franklin Jones, Adi Da Samraj, earlier known by a series of different names, such as Da Free John in the 1970s,  proposed a synthesis of religious teachings from East and West and proclaimed his divine status as Avatar or God incarnation. A philosophy major, a writer and an artist - also a photographer  - his books, of which there are dozens - are a philosophical tour de force and display a superior intellect.

But Adi Da and the way of Adidam, his teaching, have been very controversial. A series of lawsuits by former devotees brought  to the attention of the world, in the mid 1980s, the less radiant nature of Adi Da. Exploitation in his ashram was rampant. Adi Da was apparently addicted to alcohol, drugs and orgiastic sex and the women close to him - the 'Wives' - had a particularly bad deal as they were apparently emotionally and physically abused, even tortured. In the Adi Da archives, available on the internet, there are  allegations  of violence, emotional torture, rape and theft.This only occurred in the inner circle, entendu, away from the eyes and the ears of the worshipping congregation of devotees.  But to hear that such things might have happened is at the very least perplexing and distressing.

I stayed up until very late on Thursday to read the autobiography - it is such a massive book, I never had the time to dip into it earlier. I found it very heavy going at times, so I skim read it in places.  I was utterly moved by it and totally convinced of the truths expounded therein. In the early hours of Friday morning I went online to check out the official website - I wanted to know more about Adidam as it is today.  Then I stumbled upon the claims by his former devotees and I felt sick in the stomach.  His  wife from his pre-avataric proclamation days was talking about how he broke her arm and tore her hair in handfuls, other women graphically described being raped by the Guru and how male devotees raped  female devotees at his instigation and I read various tales of people totally brainwashed and taken advantage of, financially and otherwise.

I cried, I truly did. I read the counterclaims by the Adidam official website, about this being a way of teaching used to shock the devotees and awaken them to REALITY, a method that later Adi Da Samraj abandoned for a more sober approach.  But somehow the whole thing no longer appealed to me

Photographer: Ray Spence

Adi Da Samraj is not the only controversial Guru of our times. There was Osho aka Rajneesh, deported from the US after fights broke out  at the Oregon ashram in the 1980s, following a power struggle, and of course there is Scientology and countless  other religious cults.  How can this happen? When people meet someone with tremendous charisma they lower their defences and do everything that is asked of them. When someone with hypnotic powers comes to you and persuades you that the way to achieve happiness is through worshipping him, you find yourself enticed and coerced into a way of life in which you give up your identity and your will completely.

You TRUST. Your living God  has a solution that will end your suffering, the sense of separatedness that we all feel, the sense of  the doom engendered by our mortality and the uncertainty of the future, and you  want  to believe him and give him everything he asks for. Then, when that trust is abused, before you manage to tell yourself that this is what has happened you go through complete denial. How can you let the world around you crumble? It really is one of the worst experiences ever.  It does not manifest itself only in a religious, cultic context. The cult of personality and leadership can be equally devastating in other contexts i.e. the recognized 'genius' musician who abuses and bullies his close younger collaborators/students comes to mind - I have personally encountered people who have been seriously damaged through such relationships.

Photographer: Marc Wainwright

It seems a paradox. Is there a solution? Should one give up trusting? Somehow this does not resonate with me. The main thing is to trust oneself and believe that inner peace can be achieved only if one loves and trusts oneself. With that in mind I can sit and enjoy reading The Knee of Listening, acknowledging it as one of the most challenging, creative works on Nonduality ever written in English, just as I enjoyed  Osho's discourses, without feeling any need to join a congregation of devotees worshipping the Living God .

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Friday, 4 June 2010

Dance, architecture and space

I have always been intrigued by the relationship between dance, architecture and space.

But what is space? Is it static and always there, or is it ‘produced’ by movement and by construction? Is it three-dimensional as we commonly understand it, or is Time also part of the equation, as Einstein and the physicists after him have proposed – giving us notions of ‘spacetime’? Is it measurable, or is space itself a measure? Is it a conceptual framework, or does it have its own ontology – its own nature of being and existence? Is space a perception? Can it be owned or, what do we really own when a ‘space’ is ours?

These are not my questions; they have been, for centuries, part of the philosophical and scientific discourse about space. They make it clear at once that space and spatiality – or spatial property – are complex and multi-layered; the space which dance and architecture claim to share is not only physical, for there is more to space than we see in its physicality.

A number of post-structuralist theorists have pointed out convincingly that space is socially constructed. How we are made to see an art work is critical to how we do, in fact, experience it.
Let’s consider ‘perspective’, the Renaissance notion, which we can know well from Renaissance paintings; it is based on classical Greek geometry, and is relevant to performance as it applies to the modern proscenium stage and, hence, the spectator-performer relationship. The ‘classical perspective’ is understood as a single point from which vision issues, and to which light is directed. So, it dictates where you should stand to see the work, usually central-frontal, like at the apex or point of a triangle. This perspectival vision or ‘right place’ cannot be assumed to be universal, for it was/is not true of other cultures - one can think here of the rotational perspective of Indian paintings. It is therefore important to be aware of which perspective we are talking about if we are to understand the spatial relationships between bodies.

French theorist Lefebvre points out that the single point perspective and visualisation are ideological constructs which define the perception of space and of bodies within it; and it is through these spatial relationships that subjectivities, or notions about individual actions and discourses and the individual’s understanding of his/her own experience, are constructed or socially agreed/imposed upon. Dance and architecture can organise space following a logic of perspectival visualisation but they can also disrupt this logic by creating ‘in–between’ spaces, a concept developed by Homi Bhabha to rethink identity.

A space with which we are all increasingly familiar with is the hypertext environment of the World Wide Web, more commonly known as cyberspace or virtual reality. Interestingly, we see the web as having spatiality even though it does not possess the volume duality – positive and negative – of physical space. It is a space which is architecturally manipulated, designed, to create cyber-places, increasingly capable of affording social interaction and of expressing cultural values – and yes, the programming construct is spoken of as ‘architecture’.

Dance, space, architecture: it is clearly not a relationship based only on shapes and lines. Japanese Noh theatre separates, in a ritualised manner, the world of death and the world of life, through spaces filled with white sand linked by a diagonal bridge, upon which the Noh dancers – themselves a bridge between the world of the dead and the world of the living – have to walk in order to reach the actual performance area. Says Japanese architect Kengo Kuma: “This space of separation is extremely important in Japanese architecture…In dance this void can be used to signify both space and time.”

 Photographer: PWPImages

The more one thinks about it then, the idea of ‘space’ is neither neutral nor universal: space is a concept underpinned, simultaneously, by historical, geographical, social, political and cultural significations. There is not one space but many spaces, simultaneously intersecting each other, just as there is not one dance and one architecture but a plurality of differently conceived dancerly and architectural endeavours.

How does this apply to modelling and photography? In my opinion much of this would hold, with the caveat that the relationship here is perforce two dimensional. But I'd be interested in hearing other views.

This post is based on an article I published some years ago under a different name in a magazine called Pulse
(Photos modelled by Alex B.)

An addition to bloggie world

For six months I have contributed to What We Saw Today, the blog by model and writer Unbearable Lightness. I now feel the need to have my own space, so to speak. I have used my deviantArt journal for sharing my thoughts and ideas, yet it is not enough. There is the pleasure of getting some continuity, in having a blog.
I will be using this blog to share my photos as well as my writing. I might even throw in some fiction, I recently started writing a novel in the form of a journal. I enthusiastically completed six chapters, still in draft form, and then ran out of steam. Writing fiction is not easy, if you are mostly used to writing non-fiction, at least it is not easy for me.

Photographer: Barry Martin

Comments are always welcome, I would like to engage in a dialogue with my readers.

My  blog's title? From Baudrillard:

"The real does not efface itself in favour of the imaginary; it effaces itself in favour of the more real than the real: the hyperreal"

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