Monday, 29 April 2013

In a state of flux

Test for X company Photographer: Hanna Maule -Ffinch @Germaine Walker 
I am in a flux at the moment, waiting to hear about jobs, people and situations that need to be resolved. So  here I am, making and unmaking plans, thinking of this and that. You know what I mean, if x happens I will do y, if x does not happen I will do z. I needed some space to think and clear my head and the great indoors was the only thing I could manage, apart from extended visits to the gym and my beloved pool. Meanwhile, as I sit at my desk,  I look around and spot tons of things that need sorting, the carpet needs a good clean, my books need tidying up. I will not even mention the bedroom and the clothes I can no longer fit into my wardrobe.
It is spring time, at last, and this seems to be the time of the year when people begin to take life changing decisions. I got a call earlier from a friend who urged me to go on a course she has just done with a life coach, two intensive days of soul searching and exercises to rebuild her confidence. When I politely enquired about the cost involved I literally had to hold on to my chair. For that figure I could easily fly to an exotic location. Now, that would restore my confidence in me and faith in mankind. To each their own, I suppose.

In the midst of all this my old stalker has resurfaced. Oh no, not again, what does he want now? It is cyclical. I never hear from him for months and months, then he writes these absurdly long emails, full of expletives and with a list of sins I have committed since he first met me, which was several years ago. He is delusional so now I have become controlling and racist, as well as being uneducated and morally contemptible.  Was this brought on by his watching the documentary film last night about young Mrs T, I wonder? Was he thinking of her when emailing me? Because  that is someone who, as Sam Wollaston writes, was:
"bore, a boaster and a bully, friendless, joyless, loveless, demanding, controlling, snobbish, racist and mean, even to her own dad. I expect a fan would have seen a programme about a determined, strong young woman preparing to be a great leader. She did that – divided. Rest in peace".I should explain that at one time this guy and I were together but then I left him because being with him was utterly boring - we were just too different. It was a long time ago, these things happen and people move on. He used to drink a lot and that did not suit me at all. Later, he developed some paranoid delusions and has since spent his life moving in and out of hospital. There is nothing I can do about these emails, apart from confining them to the junk folder or block them. I did consider involving the police and did so, at some point, but he is unwell and innocuous, according to his carer. Answering his messages is counterproductive. I was quite upset this morning and was thinking of reporting him again but for what?  he has simply threatened to write a book in which all my deadly sins will be detailed. However, he has not yet written anything. And even if he does, who on earth would want to read his drivel? Who would publish it? I am no celebrity. Delusional thinking.
Once again I blocked the email address, deleted the messages and decided to let it be.
I think I shall go for a swim, that will cheer me up, while I wait...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Music and photography

Photography: FO Visions
 I would like to thank the many people that have remembered my birthday. Yes, it is that time of the year and I was lucky to have it on a wonderful sunny day - this is England, guys, and the weather here was foul, to say the least, until a few days ago, but warm and bright today.
I spent the day doing very normal, ordinary things. A shoot for a designer's website, a visit to the gym. My son came to see me, it is always nice when he finds the time to do so.
Then I started tidying up my email box. And I found an old message from someone I used to know . It is an odd message, all about his thoughts on photographing performance and the parallels between music and photography. I am pasting it here, he raises some very interesting points.

Photographer: Martin Norris. Model: Alex B

"The question of what is photography is an impossible one to answer. It is many things to many people in both a utilitarian and aesthetic sense. With regards art, since the first invention of photography, questions of photography’s place and legitimacy within the art world have found no satisfactory conclusion. Indeed we live in a time when art itself seems to not know itself, a time when a pickled calf can sell for over £10,000,000.  In an age where the question is being asked “what is art?” what chance is there of coming up with an answer in regards to a single medium?
I can go some way however in answering the question of what photography means to me, its strengths and weaknesses, my likes and dislikes. As a musician I draw many parallels between music and photography. Firstly, in the true physical sense in so far as both art forms are based upon our ability to sense waves of energy. In music we create vibrations that both the performer and the audience find pleasing and in photography we capture light. I am always aware as a photographer that I do not take pictures of physical objects, only the light that reflects off them. Incidentally something I learned in one physics lesson that fascinated me and has always remained with me is the fact that an object absorbs all the light that matches its own colour from the spectrum and reflects what remains. In other words grass isn’t green but every colour but green. When I take a picture I’m not taking a picture of what something is, only what it isn’t.
One thing that photography is particularly good at is capturing a moment in time. Photography has afforded us the ability to stop the continuum of time and observe and contemplate a single moment as seen through the eyes of the photographer and if he or she is worth anything as an artist then that image will have meaning and produce an emotional response. A question that requires an answer from me at the moment is why photography is a good medium for documenting performance? It is precisely this nature of freezing time which makes photography such a good tool for the job.
If one is to document a performance, especially a community based performance it has to be viewed in its context. From my own experience of playing in the Brazilian Carnival and more recently with the Berbers in Morocco I understand how important the contextual element is and in no way should this be underestimated. I spent years listening and studying the minutiae of field recordings but it wasn’t until I saw these performances in situation did I really begin to gain an insight into their true significance and meaning.  It is my argument that in the right hands photography is the best medium for capturing performance, its context and greater meaning as a whole. A performance is a work of art and I believe that only another art form has the power and ability to convey to the viewer something of emotional response that is felt from experiencing the performance first hand.
In music a single note has no meaning, it requires at least one other note either played simultaneously to give harmony or in sequence to give melody. Music does have meaning and the power to elicit strong emotional responses but a note has no meaning in isolation, it is totally dependent on what comes before and after. It necessarily follows that all notes contain within them all possible meanings.
I believe the same applies to photography and would use a picture by Ernst Haas to demonstrate this. The same process that elicits an emotional response when listening to music can be found in photography and is all to do with Harmony (not to be mistaken with “harmonious”), Harmony in the musical sense that can contain consonance and dissonance.
As mentioned previously, music is merely waves of energy. One of the first things you learn in music is that major harmony makes you feel happy and minor harmony makes you feel sad. A wave of energy vibrating a 440 cycles per second coupled with another wave vibrating 554.37 cycles per second gives a feeling of happiness but couple it with a wave vibrating at 523.25 and we feel sad.
I believe the compositional elements of a photograph behave in the same way and contribute to whether the photograph is a pleasing composition or not. Elements within a photograph work to give each other meaning. A photographer sees these patterns in the apparent chaos of everyday life and captures them on film.
Photographer: Ernst Haas. Google images
 To demonstrate many of the points I would use a photograph by Ernst Haas as a reference. Although not taken at a performance it is taken at an event. It clearly demonstrates the power of photography. The event is the return of Austrian prisoners of war to Vienna. No amount of sitting through newsreels of this event could convey to the viewer more meaning than this photograph. As a photograph we have time to contemplate this moment, to come back to it time and again. (I would have to say something of the nature of each person interpreting everything through their own experiences. How we cannot be taught the things we do not already know)
 The elements in this picture, if seen in isolation are meaningless.
The joy on the returning soldier’s face. He appears not to notice the woman, or maybe he chooses not to; not today.
The 3 elements in the picture, the returned, the missing and the grieving.
We look at the picture of the missing in the same way we would look at an old picture of a relative we have never met – trying to glean some of the essence of the life it represents. Of the 3 main elements in this picture it is the only one that remains unchanged by the circumstances of the war. It is a photograph within a photograph.
(I would reference back to the point about a single note having all possible meanings and the parallel with this “note” or element. The original photograph was forged as a pure sound intended to resonate in harmony with its future on a mantelpiece and passed through generations “this is my son...” “this is my grandfather…” but in this context, sounded against this other elements it has a very different meaning).
 This photograph clearly demonstrates the power of photography to convey so much about a situation and can be used to capture the “context” of a performance as well as the performance itself.
 I would link my idea of the “Harmony” of the elements to Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive moments ".
Photographer: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Google images

My friend's musings end here. He never came back with a final draft - I can't even remember now what this draft was for, this goes back many years. 
I would love to have your comments on this, especially the images he discusses. 
 Thanks again for your birthday wishes.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Nudity and nakedness

A lot of people have posted on this already so I doubt it I will be saying anything new. I took part in an art student project yesterday which was an exploration of nudity and nakedness. The young artist devised it as an installation with three male models and two female models, one of whom myself. The other female model and one of the male models were a couple in real life and they were demonstrating some intimacy, but all very subtle. We had to pose for photos of our own interpretation of nude and nakedness and then we had different locations within the room and different tasks to perform as the guests poured in. I had to sit in a hanging chair showing my idea of nudity. Another model posed for a short life drawing class. The couple stood together in an embrace. All guests and the models too had to fill in a questionnaire about themselves and what they thought was 'nude' and 'naked'.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but this is beside the point.
I thought a lot about this difference and came up with the following.

There is a very porous boundary between nudity and nakedness, but to me nakedness suggests self awareness of being unclothed and therefore a sense of shame in showing one's naked body. I always think of Eve who was nude in the Garden of Eden but then suddenly saw her nakedness after she ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and became aware of being exposed.
But in my interpretation of nude I went further and used Helmut Newton for reference, so I wore heels and used very aggressive, Newtonesque stances, whereas for naked I showed myself in a state of dishabillée, entirely self-conscious.
It seemed appropriate.
To me nudity is almost like wearing clothes. I am nude when I model. I am naked when I am putting my clothes back on in the privacy of the bathroom. This is particularly so when I pose for life drawing classes. I keep my robe on until the class begins and then  I 'wear' my nudity for the artists. So nudity is wearable,  whereas nakedness is not.
I wonder what you think of this.

(All photos modelled by Alex B and taken by Martin Norris)

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Digital death

Last year the very talented Lauren E. Simonutti passed away. She was also known as Lauren Rabbit on deviantArt.  I did not know Lauren personally, only as an artist whose work really touched me.
I have just posted something about her work on Univers d'Artistes.
Her website is still active and her dA gallery has not been taken down. I believe this is a good thing, as it gives people an opportunity to appreciate Lauren's art. But recently a journalist friend, Pino Bruno,  who blogs about technology wrote a post that gave much food for thought. As it is in Italian, I will summarise it.
It seems that Google allows you to manage your account in such a way that you can indicate how long after it's been inactive it can be closed down. This can be done through the inactive account manager.
Apparently there is also  a free tool, which allows you to create scheduled messages to be distributed across social networks after we die, to say goodbye in our own special way.
 Can accounts be kept alive by relatives of the deceased person? Apparently not. Geoffrey Fowler wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January 2013 about the tribulations of a family that wanted to keep their daughter's Facebook account still alive.
There are some important issues to consider, here. What if someone impersonates a dead person? What if the account is kept up to date without communicating to the world at large that the account holder is actually dead?

Conversely, what will happen to the thousands of images uploaded online by artists such as Lauren? How can their work be accessed?
I have a gallery on dA which has most of my work as a model. If I were to die, what would happen to it? I suppose once I am dead it really won't matter to me anymore...
That's a sobering thought.

(All photos modelled by Alex B and taken by Vaida Kaklauskaite for Models of Diversity Mature Model Campaign)

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

I can't abide

Photographer: Elina Pasok. Test for Dove
... all these crocodile tears and this eulogising of Mrs Thatcher. A true feminist (puke), a saint (puke) a saviour of Great Britain (puke) etc etc (more puke). As you can gather, I am no fan of Mrs T, never was.
Glenn Greenwald yesterday wrote a very good piece about why not speaking ill of the dead cannot be applied to public figures. Especially Mrs Thatcher. Had Hitler died today would you go round saying he was a man with integrity of purpose - yes, he definitely was, he killed a few million Jews after all - a saviour of Germany etc etc?  Well, I can't help thinking this as I hear all this praise heaped on Mrs T. Where is the loo please? I want to throw up!
I want to throw up because this woman who was definitely no feminist was bent on privatising everything and we are living with the consequences of this.  Greenwald writes as follows:

[she] engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as "terrorists", something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and Indonesian dictator General Suharto ("One of our very best and most valuable friends"). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, "across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown."

Photographer: Milly-Anne Kellner
Stop please stop this insane hagiography. I suspect that those who are writing Mrs T's praises were not around in the 1980s and have no clue of what it was like to live under Mrs T's rule. We can't, we really can't forget what she did, it has had long lasting effects and they are definitely not positive. 
Not everyone is keen to praise her, however. There was a petition going round - it has now been stopped - to privatise her funeral. It really bugs me that as a taxpayer I shall have to contribute to Mrs T's State funeral. Money ill spent, totally. 
"She will be for ever unforgiven by those who now see worse being done in her name to another generation"

 See my previous post on Mrs T. written last year when the film about her came out 

(Photos modelled by Alex B)

Monday, 8 April 2013

Professional integrity

Original photo by Neil Huxtable. Crop and b/w conversion by me. Original here

A friend of a friend was telling me about something that happened to her at her workplace. She is a very forthright person, Katherine Hepburn style, and made no attempt to disguise her outrage. It seems that she was asked to sit on a panel where they would be selecting candidates to put forward for promotion. One of the candidates, for unknown reasons, perhaps in view of the fact she is in a managerial position, was given the opportunity to view and comment on all the applications. The friend discovered that this woman had also applied for promotion in the same round, on top of the one she had just received - fast tracking her own career progress. It seems that the only application this candidate did not comment upon was her own and this was seen as acceptable by everyone involved. My friend was disgusted and resigned from the panel. "I want nothing to do with this flawed procedure"she said "They may all be happy and see nothing wrong with it, but I do. For me to distance myself from it is a matter of professional integrity".
I should add that this friend works in the public sector, where procedures and such like are regarded as important. In the private sector things may well be different, yet an appearance of fairness is still maintained, in terms of recruitment, promotion and so on.
I would like to understand better this notion of professional integrity. Where do you draw the line? What is and what is not admissible?
The behind closed doors decisions are always going to be there, the manipulation, the flaunting of regulations. For many people career advancement will always involve taking part in those games, compromises. It is rare to find people that have the courage of their own convictions and who will not bend their will and they are often the ones who find themselves isolated, because they refuse to be part of a clique.

Photographer: Elina Pasok. Test for Dove
"It's the principle of the thing" said my friend. "I am sensitive to such issues, I come from the land where people are asked to pay a pizzo in exchange for protection, but we have learnt to say no".  She thought that if one candidate had the opportunity to give feedback on the others, they should all be given that same chance.
Integrity is difficult to define. A long article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy opens with the following:
"Integrity is one of the most important and oft-cited of virtue terms. It is also perhaps the most puzzling. For example, while it is sometimes used virtually synonymously with ‘moral,’ we also at times distinguish acting morally from acting with integrity. Persons of integrity may in fact act immorally—though they would usually not know they are acting immorally.
Thus one may acknowledge a person to have integrity even though that person may hold what one thinks are importantly mistaken moral views". Perhaps my friend was too suspicious and saw foul play where there was none. Still, I have to admire her for having the guts to walk out. She demonstrated conviction and integrity with her views of how a professional should behave.

(Photos modelled by Alex B)