Saturday, 27 April 2019

Travelling to Iran #1

I am going to Iran on Monday. At the moment I am still in London sorting out last minute practicalities and also doing some reading. I have borrowed a copy of the iconic The Road to Oxiana by Richard Byron, written in the 1930s and I thought I should read through it, for sentimental reasons. My father travelled to Iran around the same time as Byron... Tomorrow afternoon I shall pay a visit to the British Museum to have a look at their Persian art collection. It will give me a headstart.
I have never been to Iran before and this being a rather misunderstood country, it warrants a travelogue.  The sanctions imposed on Iran by the US have made things very difficult for Iranians. The UK does not have a cordial relationship with Iran and a few people I spoke with seemed rather mystified by my choice of holiday destination.
Everyone who has visited Iran tells me to keep an open mind, political games are one thing, people in Iran are friendly and easy going and keen to welcome visitors.
I have done some preparation: for the time being my social media accounts are set to private and my blog is also not public - I shall revert to it being public only when I return. I also have a VPN. These are just precautionary measures.
I have read the blog by Nomadasaurus and have joined the Facebook group See You in Iran. I have started learning the Farsi script and have a phrasebook. I have packed enough scarves to cover my head with and learnt a few stylish ways to tie a hijab. I have read the wonderful book by Alexandru Balasescu Paris Chic, Tehran Thrills about fashion in Iran and am looking forward to being there and taking photos.
I realise I am skirting the question. Why go to Iran?
At least once in your lifetime, you should go to a country that boasts 19 UNESCO world heritage sites. I think this is itself enough of a reason.
It's tricky for British and American citizens, the visa on arrival is unavailable to them but nationals of EU countries (and more)  can easily get in.
I will soon have my very own photos to display and my own tales of travelling through this ancient and mysterious land, but for now, I would like to post the video 'Don't go to Iran' by Tolt
See for yourself.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Wearing stylish scarves to hide imperfections

Last week I developed a lump behind my left ear which was rather tender. A visit to my GP (which had been initially scheduled for a very different reason, as I will be soon travelling to Iran) resulted in a diagnosis of possible mild infection of the lymphatic nodes,  which usually clears up on its own.  Painkillers such as ibuprofen are enough.  The lump was not so innocuous after all and grew into a large swelling in the parotid and also in my throat, right below the jawline. I found myself unable to chew. I went back to the surgery and was seen by a different doctor who prescribed amoxicillin, tentatively diagnosing parotitis. 'But check with your dentist' she said. "It could be a dental issue'.
I called up my dentist, and she was able to see me that very afternoon. By then the swelling was considerable. She said there was no dental issue but suggested I should take metronidazole together with amoxicillin. I continued to take ibuprofen because antibiotics do nothing for the pain.
The following day I was so sick, unable to eat, and feeling like death. The antibiotics did not seem to have much effect, my face was very swollen. I panicked, being Good Friday, normal surgery was closed but going to A&E seemed excessive.  I was able to book an emergency appointment at my surgery, and the doctor who saw me put me on a different antibiotic, flucloxacillin, which I need to take in conjunction with metronidazole and for seven days. Like her colleague before her, this doctor too was unable to confirm a diagnosis but thought that the antibiotics would help. Now I am scheduled for a blood test and have another visit next week. I am leaving on Monday week so by then everything should be in order,  I sincerely hope so.
Except that...
My parotitis (if it is parotitis) looks and feels like mumps.  It is only on one side, rather than both, but my current resemblance to a hamster, so typical of mumps, is uncanny.
The problem with it is that I had mumps as a child and I am meant to be immune. However, there has been a resurgence of mumps cases among adults and sometimes, though not often, people can catch it twice - I have been reading medical journal articles through PubMed.
There is no way of telling unless I do a test of my saliva but where can I do that on a Bank Holiday Weekend? I am unwell, but I am not dying! A&E is definitely only for life-threatening cases. Imagine turning up asking to have a saliva test! 
What troubles me, however,  is that taking antibiotics for a viral infection, such as mumps, is useless. But what if it is not mumps? Then antibiotics are my only option. Not to mention that if I really have mumps, I cannot go out and infect others, so I am homebound, out of social responsibility - on a beautiful, warm and sunny day! (which is why I am reading PubMed articles).  Fortunately, by Tuesday, if it is mumps, I will no longer need to be isolated, and if it is not,  the antibiotics should have done their job. 
From Pinterest

All this brings me to the main point of this post, which is not about medical issues but about fashion and style. After all, I am no medical doctor, though I am a doctor,; however, I rarely use my academic title. The swelling might take a little longer than Tuesday to subside, and I really do not like my (half) hamster face! What's the solution? Easy. Some stylish scarves, tied in such a way as to cover the cheeks, can do the trick. I have also developed a mild rash on my neck - all these antibiotics, I hate taking them - so I am happy to cover it up.  I have been browsing, and yes, this will be an opportunity for me to wear all my scarves. Covering the swelling will also have the added benefit of protecting my ears which need to be kept warm - I feel a throbbing pain in my left ear.
I am actually quite excited by it.  To get inspiration on how to tie my scarf, I have looked at this website and also Pinterest - the 1950s were the decade of the scarf! Think Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor or even Queen Elizabeth II. 

And since I will be travelling to Iran, where women have to cover their head anyway, there are also a few hijab styles that might suit - The Tehran Times can be looked up for ideas.
By the time I am back my face will have lost its hamster look - as they say, there is always a silver lining. The main thing is to stop feeling nauseous and to bring the fever down. 
Happy Easter to you all. I posted my greetings on Instagram with a beautiful image of Catherine the Great Fabergé Easter Egg, now in a museum collection and utterly breathtaking.
One of these days I will write about the issue of owning artworks at home and/or making them available to everyone by placing them in galleries and museums. Till then.

( I will take a break from blogging from next week and while in Iran I will also not post on social media, but I will be back mid-May with numerous photographs. I do not have a great camera; however, Iran is such a photogenic country, it will not matter) 

Monday, 15 April 2019

Tea Towels as works of art

Sunflowers on a tea towel

On Sunday I went to Tate Britain to see the  'EY Van Gogh and Britain' exhibition. I discussed it in an insta-post and will not repeat my views on the exhibition. But since then, something has been troubling me. When I was at the Tate shop, I saw tea towels on sale with Van Gogh's paintings reproduced on them.  My first thoughts were that it was tacky to use, say, 'Sunflowers' on a dishcloth. Then I had second thoughts. Why not hang a tea towel as one would do with a poster or a large reproduction? I also knew that Van Gogh had actually painted on tea towels when he was too penniless to buy canvasses.
Suddenly I began to see the tea towel in an entirely new light.
When I reached home, I started reading about tea towels and discovered a new world, so to speak. Tea towels have often been highly decorated, their functionality becoming incidental.  The Art of the Tea Towel by Marnie Fogg is a visual history of the humble tea towel, and yes, tea towels can be very artistic and a collector's item themselves.

Seaweed, a wallpaper by John Henry Dearle (1860-1932), produced by Morris & Co., England, 1901. Tea towel from the V&A

The 1960s, through Pop Art, taught us to view decoration and functionality as interchangeable. Art was everywhere, and tea towels reigned supreme as artistic works.
I am now intrigued, and I feel like beginning my very own collection of tea towels. I will not use them to dry dishes, I will just keep them, and one or two Van Gogh tea towels might brighten up my walls.
So off  I am again to Tate Britain, to visit once more the exhibition - I want to look more carefully at those paintings by Francis Bacon whose subject matter is Van Gogh and to buy a couple of tea towels...

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The stories images tell through titles, captions and hashtags

"A picture is worth a thousand words":  most good images tell a story,  one that is often left to the viewer to imagine. This is particularly so when the images are of people.  Sometimes a story is created by using the image in a particular context - curators of contemporary art and photographic galleries are adept at doing it and may assign a temporary meaning to a picture which resonates with specific trends, concerns, understandings, of the public they wish to address.  The title of the image is all important. Even photojournalism does not rely solely on the image to tell a story, but on a combination of an aptly devised title to go with a picture. And in our digital age, the title and the hashtag are essential for the purpose of being discovered in online searches. Few people post images on Instagram without a hashtag. 
I once did a shoot with photographer David Nuttall, with whom I used to work a lot when I first started modelling. When he sent me the images from that shoot I was reading  Jungian analyst Layton Schapira and her description  of the Cassandra woman:
"What the Cassandra woman sees is something dark and painful that may not be apparent on the surface of things, or that objective facts do not corroborate. She may envision a negative or unexpected outcome; or something which would be difficult to deal with; or a truth which others, especially authority figures, would not accept. In her frightened, ego-less state, the Cassandra woman may blurt out what she sees, perhaps with the unconscious hope that others might be able to make some sense of it. But to them, her words sound meaningless, disconnected and blown out of all proportion."
As I looked at the images, I read all this into one of them, so I entitled it "Cassandra's sorrow" and displayed it with that title on deviantArt - of which I am still a member, ten years on.  Neither David nor I was thinking about Cassandra when shooting, the narrative unravelled later. And it is a narrative that fits.
In another shoot I did with Suki Wilde, the story was discussed in advance. Suki is an actress, a model and also a photographer. She brought several props with her, and we used the theatre where she performs as a location for our shoot.  She used a combination of digital and film, her preferred medium being film. For the first part of the shoot, we were on one of the terraces. She suggested a simple storyline, a woman waiting for someone,  maybe her lover, who never comes, or perhaps she is starting out on a journey full of hope and then gives in.
There is a lot you can imagine here, the photographs give a suggestion of a story, you the viewer can fill in the gaps. The first images show a  bold woman. The final pictures in the series show a dejected, broken woman, finally falling asleep on the dirty floor, in complete disarray. I no longer have the final image, but here you can see the preceding one, which clearly conveys the sense of being deserted, abandoned, rejected and feeling hopeless.

But when it comes to stories created around photographs, nothing will beat the wonderful narrative by Daniela aka drop-asd on deviantArt in one of her early pieces. She took an image of me from 2008, an art nude with then, now photographer, Cidy - I am not able to show the picture here, but it can be seen on deviantArt and wrote:
 "This photo shows a sad love story between an elderly woman who was a brilliant writer and a young boy who delivered her supplies from the local store. They fell in love, but neither his parents nor her children from her first marriage approved so they had to leave the country and move to Spain. Unfortunately, their plane crashed. There were no survivors, but the two lovers died in each other's arms."
I don't think I have ever laughed so much in a long time.  The story behind that picture, from my point of view - thus another narrative - is as follows. I wanted to do a shoot that would explore the relationship of an older woman with a younger man and chose the model, CidyThe photographer, a gifted amateur, who at the time was a close friend, and very much into realistic representation, was not convinced it would work because "there was no truth" - Cidy and I were not even friends, we had only met once to discuss the shoot.  On the day of the shoot, the photographer and I had a massive row about the concept, and he wanted to cancel the shoot. I pleaded he should not cancel because Cidy had already left home and was on his way to the studio. When Cidy arrived, he found himself right in the middle of the row. During the shoot, the photographer and I continued arguing, Cidy wanted to get out of the studio as quickly as possible. Eventually, we got a series of shots which showed immense discomfort. And that became the title of the best of those shots, "The discomfort of intimacy."
The point of all this is that to convey a narrative, you need images, but also a few, well-chosen words. Captions and titles are necessary and, like I said, these days you also need hashtags.
Mekita Rivas, in her article, sums it all up: "Be both illustrative and informative when writing photo captions." Excellent advice.

(this is a revised version of an earlier post from 2010 which is no longer available)