Monday, 25 February 2013

Opportunities and cities

Photographer: David Newby for The Guardian
Following last week's post a reader from Sweden commented that he enjoyed reading my blog and somehow envied me for living in a large city rich in cultural events. Another blog reader replied to this comment saying that one can always create one's cultural event, there is no need to envy the dwellers of a large metropolis. Today a blogger of my acquaintance wrote citing my post and talking about how she is able to create her own opportunities for modelling even though she is not close to a large urban centre.
I never really meant to write a post in praise of cities, or about opportunities that cities afford, my original post was merely a description of something I had been involved in and which had taken place where I live, which happens to be a city. Nor was the envy felt by my reader meant in any bad way, it was something he said to express his current desire for new horizons.
 I chose to live in a big city when I was much younger because having been brought up in the country, cities fascinated me - I longed for the experience of being able to be anonymous in a crowd and was delighted by the ease with which one could stumble upon an unusual venue and discover new activities to involve oneself in.

Photographer: Martin Norris

However, being able to manage your career successfully is definitely not dependent on living in a large city, certainly not in the age of the internet, when everything can be accessed online. This is the age of MOOCS, free online courses at top universities which one can take from any corner of the world, without prerequisites,  to improve one's CV or satisfy one's curiosity  - I recently enrolled for a short course run by Yale on psychology, very entertaining as well as informative.
Cities have their drawbacks and not everyone is able or even willing to take part in cultural activities. There are times when I feel so exhausted that the thought of taking myself to a theatre or a gallery is pure anathema. On those occasions I may watch a DVD or an online version of some old film, often on youtube. Or I may take a virtual tour of the Louvre. One could do so from absolutely anywhere, so long as there is a computer and an internet connection.
Some of us dislike cities and feel more comfortable being in less crowded environments, cleaner and altogether healthier. Some of us love them and feel restless if confined to a quieter milieu.
Sometimes I long for sandy beaches and a blue blue sea. At those times I look out of my window and I see a busy street, cars, people. All I can do is dream of the next time I will be able to go on a holiday. Not immediately, I know that much.

(Model: Alex B)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

An exhibition and a film

Question: Why do I write a blog?
It  came up when a photographer friend, who has just acquired a new powerful camera and is now exploring film making, met me for a drink to discuss ideas for a film. We had just been to see the exhibition of the MA Fashion Photography finalists at LCF.
Natasha (Natalia) Lipchanskaya, one of the finalists,  had me model for her project and invited me to the preview. I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing those pictures, at last (students are under strict  instructions not to show their photos to anyone until they are mounted on the gallery wall) and they did not disappoint. Natasha, a young photographer from Sochi, a Russian town I happened to visit some years before she was born (that was indeed another era, Russia was known then as the USSR), asked me and another mature model to pose for her, for a project entitled Invisible Women. Older women are invisible, according to our youth worshipping society, and never sexy. Natalia wanted to challenge this, coming from the position of a fashion photographer. I really love the work.
My photographer friend- turned-film-maker joined me at the exhibition and then, as alcohol had run out, we adjourned to a nearby bar. By the time I got home I was a little drunk, champagne always goes to my head.

Answer: I blog to be visible as a model.
I could have just turned my blog into a subsidiary portfolio, but that is boring. So I talk to an invisible gathering of online friends, mostly about things that concern me, one way or another.
My friend and I discussed options. Soon this blog will have short films to enliven it. Silent ones, primarily, I dont like speaking. But who knows?
Talking of films, I saw one yesterday which challenged me. I enjoyed watching it , mostly, but towards the end it had me gasping and wanting to leave - it was a tad too long.
I am talking about Synecdoche, New York the 2008 directorial debut of screen writer Charlie Kaufmann. In my last post I discussed the film about Anna Halprin, in which the message is that art and life are a continuum. Kaufmann's film also makes the point that art and life merge but his view is so far removed from the exuberant life affirming Breath made visible. Through Synecdoche (a figure of speech by which the part is named for the whole eg England for United Kingdom) Kaufmann drives home that life is disappointing, death is inescapable and art is part of life and thus it  fails us as life does. The synecdoche of the title refers to the replica of New York the hero of the film, Caden, builds for his project, in an abandoned warehouse. It is also a replica of the world.
I will not spoil things by giving away the end. It is a film that often may seem insane, PSYCHOTIC EVEN  and yet very lucid, an immensely tragic experience.
So an interesting week for me, in which I went from celebrating maturity and life and then, temporarily,  being plunged into despair through a reflection of how tragic and utterly senseless living is.

(Photos by Natalia Lipchanskaya modelled by Alex B.)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Art and life: a continuum

I was invited to attend a viewing of the film Breath Made Visible about the life and work of Anna Halprin - I am getting several invitations to attend events these days, the next one is a lecture by Professor Vlatko Vedral at the Royal Society, where he will speak on quantum.
The Anna Halprin invite indicated that choreographer Joe Moran would introduce the film and then take questions from the audience. I know Joe personally, which is why I was doubly keen to attend. I knew about Anna Halprin before going to this event but seeing this movie has made me appreciate her even more. What a woman, what an artist.
There are incredible moments in the film, which charts her career over several decades and is a testament to her political engagement. There is footage from the 1950s and 1960s, when Anna began to work with African American communities and made dances some of which led to street performances. More recently, Anna has not hesitated to show her naked old body, celebrating its beauty, because growing old is natural, why should older bodies be shunned? the clip below shows her snippets of her very moving and poignant work.

Anna says something which really struck a chord with me (I may be slightly misquoting here, but this is the gist): "When I was younger I lived for art. Then I learnt to make art to live". Wonderful words.
There is no distinction between art and life. The two are intertwined.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Thinking about Valentine's Day: a Lacanian realist's view

 Photographer: David Newby for The Guardian
I never think of Valentine's day but as we near the fateful day newspapers and magazines and of course ads and commercials never fail to alert us. I have even found in my mailbox a notice for a seminar about John Cage's 4'33 inviting participants to bring a valentine, in whatever media, for John Cage in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Well, one has to find something that appeals to  today's disgruntled students, somehow.
Last weekend The Guardian - I was in there again! - was all about love and Valentine's day, a little sickening really.
Magazines are awash with stories of lovers reunited, people who have found the one. Which brings me to a book I have recently read, authored by Anoushka Grose, No more silly love songs: a realist's guide to romance. Ms Grose is a psychoanalyst of Lacanian orientation. This book is not written by someone who positions herself as an expert. True, she draws on her professional experience, but she also reflects on her life and her very personal mistakes, in a very accessible and humorous style of writing..
It is a sobering read and a much needed one before Valentine's Day. I am not so keen on Sex and the City which Grose refers to again and again, but hey, she is of that generation. And yes, I confess, I too used to watch it, only to dismiss it as silly immediately after the end of each episode and swearing I would not plonk myself again in front of the TV for the next episode. I watched the whole series, in fact.
Back to No more silly love songs. It is, unabashedly, self help material. Ms Grose must have also been thinking of  how to boost her income, a perfectly reasonable goal. I like the free association style she brings to her writing, with Leonard  Cohen and Freud mentioned in the same sentence.
The book came out in 2010, so it has been around for a while. It was written after a disastrous relationship in just 6 weeks - I know that feeling well, I too began a blog vaguely based on myself and my very own last disastrous relationship with a man who was to me as Bottom was to Titania. I have that blog, Monique's Journal, still in my blog list, I decided to keep it private rather than go public with it, I wrote furiously for some weeks then lost momentum and focused on this blog instead. Meanwhile, like Titania, I too woke up from my slumber saying "Me thinks I fell in love with an ass". So Monique's Journal was archived. Stylish Anouschka Grose has some good advice for people looking for love: "keep it real, keep it going".

 Titania and Bottom, Henry Fusely. Source: Google images
However, I can't help wondering whether Ms Grose's realism has a subtext.  As I said, Ms Grose is a psychoanalyst of Lacanian orientation. According to Lacan, explains Zizek,  "the real is located beyond the symbolic", and is "that which resists symbolization absolutely, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality".
So I wonder whether there is more to this 'realist guide to romance'?
And, oh, spare a thought for those poor souls that celebrate their birthday on 14th February.

(Photo modelled by Alex B)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Flirting with Danger

Photographer: David Newby for The Guardian
I bought The Guardian yesterday because I wanted a tear sheet of my picture, modelling Denim. I can access the paper online  but I like old fashioned tear sheets.
I read the magazine with great interest, I usually enjoy the various columns and articles. I was struck by the piece written by James Lasdun, Flirting with danger.
It is an account of being stalked by a former student of his. Apparently, it has been going on for five years now. Lasdun, a writer, who often engages in teaching writing workshops to graduate students,  has now written a book "culling her emails", after all, something she accused him of doing all along to boost his writing since they met, which he has eventually done. The piece is a plug for the forthcoming book, a fictionalised account of what Lasdun experienced. I am saying this because it is so easy to lose sight of such details. I do not for a moment doubt the distress that being stalked would have caused Lasdun, but I would like to go a little deeper because there is much I find unconvincing in this story. Unusually, I left a comment to this effect on The Guardian piece, amidst a chorus of the old  "kill the witch" - here taking the form of either diagnosing extreme mental illness, on the basis of Wikipedia's definitions,  or  proposing ways "to punish the criminal".

The distress goes both ways, I believe that Nazreen too is highly distressed and this book will definitely worsen her condition of distress. I find it hard to believe that after being arrested twice - a major shock for her-  she was not offered some form of therapy, at the very least some CBT (not that I think CBT is particularly effective, but at least it allows one to consider other forms of therapy). I find it hard to believe that the stalking continues - in any case he certainly has not stopped reading her emails and drawing on them for his book.
Nazreen is, he says, a gifted writer. And a woman. It is this combination that raises alarm bells for me
Lasdun is writing this to clear his name. As a writer, he does not seem to be so talented after all, as the characters in this 'real-life' novel come across as rather shallow.
But what I find worrying is the use of the trope of 'the mad woman', the 'hysteric' (here obsessional and delusional). I can't help thinking  of Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic and how we still badly need to deconstruct patriarchal metaphors and sexist assumptions.
We don't really know what really went on, we only know Lasdun's account. Let's not forget that people will buy the book titillated by the excerpt and Lasdun will make a profit. If this is meant to be a 'real-life' novel by someone who calls himself a writer and even teaches other people how to write, I would expect it to be written with greater sophistication and insight, with a less partisan view and without encouraging a "kill the witch" attitude in the readers - less of a rehash of Fatal Attraction, in other words.

(Model: Alex B)