Monday, 27 June 2016

Age of No Retirement

Photographer: Wendy Carrig Model: me 

I am absolutely delighted to be announcing a collaboration with the Age of No Retirement a new social innovation enterprise meant to create better perceptions of the over fifties and to act as a catalyst for more economic growth opportunities.
It is very much the case that people nowadays live longer and work for longer. If they retire from a job, they might embark on a new career in their fifties or even later. Fellow model Frances Dunscombe tipped to be the new Daphne Selfe and also represented by Grey Model Agency began her new career as a model as she turned eighty and has not looked back since!
In my work  for The Age of No Retirement I will be addressing the issue of lack of confidence that many women feel once they turn menopausal - that dreaded word. I realise that lack of confidence affects men as well as women but in the patriarchal society in which we live women are most affected by a sense of dismay and a complete lack of belief in themselves once they go through that second major change in their bodies, the first one being of course adolescence, which marks the transition from child to woman. I have already started a short series of podcasts, independently and you can find them all here.
I have personally been very lucky.  After leaving a lecturing job which totally drained me, I began to take modelling a bit more seriously and embraced it. I also created for myself a routine of caring for myself and my body, exercising, making sure I ate the right food and generally changing my attitude to life, getting rid of the sense of anxiety and the push to achieve which had marred my younger years.
I am no supermodel of course and it's not that everything is a bed of roses but I have built up a lot of confidence and definitely have a different perception of what  growing old means and what can be expected.

Photographer: Wendy Carrig
The times in which we are living are indeed quite momentous. Among the many unwelcome consequences of the referendum results that shook Britain last week is an attempt to pitch against each other the younger and the older generation, with young people wistfully declaring  that baby boomers have robbed them of their future, as Giles Coren has done in The Times.
This is an oversimplification of a very complex issue. As Damon Albarn so eloquently put it at Glastonbury  a few days ago "Democracy failed us because it was ill-informed". Among the ill informed there was also a sizeable number of young people, some of whom cast their 'leave' vote almost in jest.
So let's not pitch the generations against each other, that is the last thing we want.
Older people have a lot of experience to draw upon and much they can still contribute to society, projects like The Age of No Retirement are about this.

Photographer: Wendy Carrig
Meanwhile I am very proud of my photos for the forthcoming JD Williams Autumn/Winter 2016 Lookbook, taken by the very talented Wendy Carrig.
That's all for today. More rain is forecast for this week. I really long for the summer...

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Bite-sized podcasts and social media

From Selena Shepherd's Lookbook. Photo: Polina Bakht
I came across quite by accident the app Anchor, only for mobile phones, both Android and iPhone, and loved it. It is a way for people to broadcast short audioclips to a global audience and then get recorded feedback. This way you have a proper conversation about a number of topics.
I had to try it and the idea came  to me I should start a conversation on ageing.  I recently contributed a post to The Age of No Retirement - not yet up - and so I thought that I could also revive my  Soundcloud account and move between  Anchor and Soundcloud seamlessly. 
I should confess that I have a terrible complex about my voice, I hate the very sound of it and find my accent, when I listen to my recordings,  really weird, an in-between thing. Well, I am an in-betweener. I sound foreign in my own country and wherever I am, I am always an outsider, I am always asked where I am from. Time to accept this and take it in my stride! 
I used to hate the way I looked in photographs and now I am so used to being photographed I no longer care. I guess it must be  the same about one's voice, after a while one gets used to it in recordings and then the fun can begin.
I am absolutely fascinated by the amazing things one can do with the help of today's technology and I love social media. I would not have discovered anchor if I had not had this curiosity in me to know more about technological developments that enhance connectivity. Only this morning I happened to read Jo Elvin's piece for Glamour, June issue, which is all about social media. I totally agree with Jo: social media can definitely help us  be connected and yes, there is a lot to be celebrated about it. I loved the story Jo tells about her daughter and her daughter's online friend with whom she shares film viewing on holidays - she has become a member of the family, through her iPad presence.
When I first moved away from my own family and country - oh God, it was so long ago - I kept up with them through  the odd phone call, as one did,  and through letter writing, which I loved. But What's app and Skype have made communication instantaneous and I find that now I talk a lot more to my younger sister than I ever did, because she is just a What's app call away. whreas earlier I'd call if there was something really important to discuss now I might call to find out how to cook artichokes the way you can't learn from Google - my sister is a good cook and my brother -in-law is a chef.

 Going online has often expanded my horizons. It is by viewing it  online that I have discovered the work of very interesting artists, not to mention great blogs. One of my favourites is by the lovely Rosalind Jana, an Oxford English graduate, author, model and only 21 years old! Every time she writes a  new blog post I get an  email alert and I always look forward to reading it. Her new book, an exploration of the state of being a teenager, partly autobiographical,  is very interesting  too,  and wonderfully written, I had a preview of it on Kindle and will definitely buy it. I am no teenager but I just love the style! And this young woman is very, very wise.
Back to the idea of podcasting. I started doing them just to try a new thing but I can see that it will probably grow on me over time. How exciting. I just have to figure out better ways of integrating Anchor with Soundcloud and will explore options. And practise speaking into a mike of course, as practice makes perfect.
I feel tempted to delete the ones I have uploaded but no, they are useful, if only to see, six months down the line, how much progress I have made. For now  the ones recorded on Anchor are in the public domain but I might make them private and use other versions, like the directly recorded Soundcloud podcasts without conversations with others, we shall see.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Here's to new beginnings and new ventures!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tarot Fashion

Micale's book

I first became interested in the Tarot in my teens. I love the different decks, some of them going back  to the 15th century  and now collector's items. The Tarot is of course much older than the 15th century but cards from these early times have not survived. I find the Tarot cards endlessly fascinating in their rich symbolism, which also intrigued Carl Jung.
I recently felt the urge of updating my Tarot deck and started looking around for a suitable replacement. I have owned a deck for many years, the now classic Rider-Wait Tarot but I feel it's time to get a new one. An artist friend I met in Sicily, back in April, Rocco Micale, is working on a new deck and I had a preview of some of his designs which he published in a small book of poems entitled "SpiRituale/Digitale. Miti, leggende, tarocchi". I will probably invest into one of his decks, when the whole project is completed, his Tarot designs definitely speak to me.
Tarot and fashion...that's an interesting pairing. Christian Dior was enthralled by the Tarot and had a great interest in everything linked with magic and the occult, from clairvoyance to numerology and palm reading. His lucky number was 8 and he always carried a talisman in his pocket. It all fuelled his creativity.

Six of Swords, Rider-Wait deck
 In my research of all things "taroty" I came across some brilliant blogposts about the Tarot/fashion connection.   Jess Carlson for example  discusses embodying the energy of the Arcana in the way we dress, whereas the lovely Vix has a whole blog called the Numinous dedicated to Tarot and style and a post on Tarot on the catwalk that I absolutely loved.
There are also t-shirts  with motifs from the major and minor Arcana. As blogger Elana Pruitt writes "Fashion is meant to make you think and Tarot cards are meant to make you think, and they both carry a similar weight of sensitivity. Not to mention, fashion allows you to show your connection with Tarot card mysticism by incorporating certain pieces into your outfit". It is up to the individual how explicitly make the connection.
Have you ever picked a Tarot card before going clothes shopping? It can be quite amusing. You do not have to follow it literally eg find something that  directly reflects the card design, but you can reflect on the energy symbolised by the card and see how that translates into colour and/or patterns or shapes and then buy your clothes. Et le voila' you're bound to pick up something that in your mind has a link with the card, even though it may not be immediately apparent.

Creative director: Florencia Martinez. Photo by Alexis Negrin. Model: me Montage by SR Models

The Tarot has inspired artists for centuries. Artists have designed exquisite Tarot cards, interpreting anew the ageless symbolism. However, Alejandro Jodorowsky, film maker and artist, connoisseur of Tarot decks and also an adept at the art of interpreting the Tarot as a spiritual source, has it from the master of surrealism AndrĂ© Breton, whom he met in the 1960s  that the only acceptable Tarot for divination is the Marseille deck. Jodorowsky  has helped design one, as he was always frustrated at not being able to find the perfect Tarot of Marseille, as he told the New York Times in 2011.
I am not sure about this. I love the variety of Tarot decks, just as I like the variety of fashion. Out there there must be a Tarot deck that fits me perfectly, in every sense.
(Can you see the Tarot connection in the images above from my shoot for Florencia Martinez?)

Friday, 10 June 2016

Instagrammed narratives

(Images in this post are from my own instagram, unless otherwise stated)

A couple of days ago I went to see the Performing for the Camera exhibition at Tate Modern, which closes on Sunday - I always go to exhibitions at the last minute, it's a kind of reflex for me,  and  I prefer weekdays, it's the best time not to get caught up in the crowds.
 For the first time I saw on display the work of Amalia Ulman, a young Argentinian born artist who has used Instagram to create an imaginary life, with relationships and  events that never occurred, over a course of two years, gathering thousands of followers in the process.
The concept of creating an imaginary identity is not entirely new, after all Cindy Sherman, who is also included in the exhibition, did precisely that, and extremely well, with photography, starting with analogue 'self portraits' and then converting to digital images for her latest projects.  Her self portraits were never  about herself, but about imaginary characters, stereotypical women sometimes caught in their most unguarded moments, yet all very carefully contrived.
With Ulman, however, it is social media that has been  consciously turned into an artistic medium, to create a  performed narrative that explores self, identity and, of course, gender.  It is a first, no one seems to have done it, at least not on that scale and with the same panache.

There are of course many artists on Instagram and following them can give one  a glimpse of what they are working on or even who they are hanging out with. Photographers and urban artists are all there, with multiple accounts. But Amalia Ulman's project is in a different category . Through Excellences & Perfections she was not  documenting (and glorifying in the process) her own life, she actually devised a performance from start to finish, based on the seemingly simple story of an ingenue that goes through major personality changes after moving to the city, splitting up with her boyfriend, becoming a sugar babe - a mildly autobiographical reference here as it seems that Ulman worked briefly as an escort whilst studying in London - doing drugs, having extensive cosmetic surgery, apologising to her followers for her "bad deeds", getting herself a new boyfriend. After carrying on in that vein for a longish period, taken at face value by her thousands of followers, Ulman finally owned up  it was a performance project,  or a 'tremendous hoax' as some people have called it, those who steadfastly hold on to the notion that social media is or should be about 'truth'. Now her project is being exhibited in major galleries such as the Tate Modern, providing food for thought.
I will not comment further on the significance of Ulman's work. There is a lot in there, it is a very carefully thought out piece of work. There have been many analyses written up by expert art commentators, ranging from Cadence Kinsey writing for the BBC culture site to the  blog post by the Courtauld researchers in which it is the issue of appropriate display of the self as present in Ulman's images that is focused upon.

The idea of performing trough social media is most intriguing and I would like to spare a thought or two on it.
There is no doubt an element of performance in everything that people post about themselves on social media. A lot of the stuff is quite commonplace. Facebook for example is full of sanctimonious inspirational quotes, rehashed from specialised 'quotes' sites. Twitter has given people the ability to be succinct, writing up mini texts which can be full of verve and humour. Both Pinterest and  Instagram are essentially visual, with Pinterest being loaded with pictures of food people are about to eat or want to eat, clothes they buy, hairstyles they want to copy. Instagram combines the quick witted hashtag of Twitter with  immediate image sharing and so far it remains my favourite platform. Now and again there are some beautiful images posted, moments in people's lives which powerfully resonate with the viewers. Some people write their inspirational maxims on post-its and then photograph them and upload them on Instagram - I have seen a few instances of it.  Others might make drawings, photograph them and post them. If anything Instagram is the art gallery immediately accessible to anyone, everywhere, through a smartphone. It enhances the idea that art is after all about communication and immediacy.

Self portrait 2014 with Bronica and expired film

I don't know whether other people are doing what Amalia Ulman has done and if so, how many. It certainly is a fascinating, stimulating  way of utilizing Instagram, not confined to selling one's wares, whatever they may be.
That's why Amalia Ulman's work, besides being rich in content and powerfully critical of privilege and prestige is ultimately very, very empowering.

Performing for the Camera is on display at Tate Modern until June 12, 2016

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Elegance and good posture

Photographer: Te-Cheng Lee. Artistic director: Emma Gluziki. Model: me

A few days ago there was a programme on ITV, about growing older, featuring the lovely model Frances Dunscombe, from Grey Model Agency. At 83 Frances is one of the oldest models in the UK, apart from Daphne Selfe, who is now 88.  Frances has a particular softness and grace that really makes her stand out.
I was really intrigued by the whole programme and quite alarmed when I heard that we can expect to lose, on average,  three inches in height by the time we hit the age of eighty. I was not convinced by that at all.
I have some familiarity with Alexander technique and I know that daily practice of the constructive rest helps to stretch the spine, rehydrating the discs, achieving the same effect as when we sleep but doing it in a more controlled way.  We are all a little taller when we get up in the morning, after a good night's sleep, but by evening we are about an inch shorter. However by  practising constructive rest throughout the day (about ten minutes, max twenty) can help regain that inch and in the long run, coupled with very regular exercise which allows you to stretch systematically, it can keep the shrinking at bay.
Most people have a very bad posture from childhood and pay little attention to the way they hold themselves throughout their life. I remember an article for the Daily Mail written by Tanith Carey not too long ago, in which she talks about doing Alexander technique sessions and how this helped her to regain her original height. Obviously you do not grow as such in adulthood, but by learning to control your posture and keeping your spine mobile you can counter the shrinking effect.

Like everything you need to start doing this early on, no point in waiting till you are all curved. Middle age, even earlier, is a good time to start focusing on this.
When I did Rolfing I was told to make sure that my computer was always at eye level so that I would hold up my head straight. I sometimes put a book on my head while sitting at the computer to remind myself of the sensations in my body experienced when being straight.
I have found the advice given by the Elegant Woman, a blogger from Hong Kong, on how to correct bad posture very helpful, it's worth having a look.
There are far too many blogs and websites discussing elegance and style only from the point of view  of what one wears and very seldom do people talk about posture. Yet posture and countenance are what makes one appear elegant and graceful, regardless of what worn.
When I do Sleek sessions with the amazing former ballerina Victoria Marr, she always tells us to hold our neck straight, shoulders down as if we had beautiful diamond earrings we want everyone to notice. You need space between your ears and your shoulders. Vicky's advice works wonders!
So next time you buy an elegant outfit or even a pair of jeans,  pay attention to body alignment. It will change the way you look completely and the clothes will really follow your body and become fully yours.