Monday, 25 April 2011

Lonesome Lights

An excerpt from my exhibition essay:

Lonesome Lights
When I was a boy, my father lived in a blue beach house with a long deck. Along the railing, one Christmas, he wound a long, heavily bulbed string of Christmas lights. For nearly a decade afterwards there they remained, features of the house. This always felt a little sad to me: the lights would only ever get switched on for occasions or moments my father would deem special, on summer nights or on foggy afternoons.

Each bulb was about the size of a wine cork, just big enough to grasp entirely in your hand. Their flaking green, red, and blue enamel, subject for so long to Californian weather systems, had forsaken its gleam. They were rough to the touch, I remember. A third of them, maybe, fizzled rather than burned as normal lights do, and a handful were shattered entirely. However, these lights still held for me a shoddy magic all their own. Freed from their festive purpose, they took on a paradoxical effect, a dull splendor, a crummy sacredness.

I’m still sensitive to that memory: the melancholy of those busted-up Christmas lights, redeemed somehow by their tired, hungry resilience.  I feel a pang whenever I think about them. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Sudden Walk

'When it seems we have finally decided to stay home of an evening, have slipped into our smoking jackets, are sitting at a lit table after supper, and have taken out some piece of work or game at the conclusion of which we customarily go to bed, when the weather outside is inclement, which makes it perfectly understandable that we are staying at home, when we have been sitting quietly at our table for so long that our going out would provoke general astonishment , when the stairwell is dark and the front gate is bolted, and when, in spite of it all, in a sudden access of restlessness, we get up, change into a jacket, and straightaway look ready to go out, and after a brief round of goodbyes actually do so, leaving behind a great or lesser amount of irritation depending on the noise we make closing the front door behind us, when we find ourselves down on the street, with limbs that respond to the unexpected freedom they have come into with particular suppleness, when by this one decision we feel all the decisiveness in us mobilized, when we recognize with uncommon clarity that we have more energy than we need to accomplish and to withstand the most abrupt changes, and when in this mood we walk down the longest streets--then for the duration of that evening we have escaped our family once and for all, so it drifts into vapourousness, whereas we ourselves, as indisputable and sharp and black as a silhouette, smacking the backs of our thighs, come into our true nature. 
And all this may even be accentuated if, at this late hour, we go to seek out some friend, to see how he is doing.' Franz Kafka 1913

This first picture, of the vase, was taken in late November, inside a Greek restaurant. The last photo was taken strolling down beside the Botanic Gardens last month, before the blossoms had come out, the wisteria bloomed.

I currently have a cold, and I'm having to soak up the first real spell of summery Oxford weather through a scarf. Yet, somehow, the idea of a sudden walk in the middle of night sounds very very appealing. All this late sunlight has been making for lilac evenings. Lonely twilight pooling with possibility.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


I need to do some more research into this, but it is beginning to dawn on me that Autochrome Lumiere (an early colour photography process using glass plates and dyed potato starch) may have everything that film photography strives for. The above picture was taken on Christmas Day 1913 by Mervyn O'Gorman, an enigmatic aviator and balloonist. The fact this is a young woman, a skyline, a beach, a lovely red parka, a breath, and a moment nearly 100 years behind us (and yet so sumptuously present) astounds me. It makes me, myself, breath more heavily, feel myself here looking at this faraway world as if through a telescope, across galaxies. 
The two plates above and below are examples of the wonderful Heinrich Kuhn's work circa 1910. It is said he was desperate to make photography as respectable as painting. Personally, I think he went a step further and unraveled a kind of impressionism out of everyday life. It offers almost instant nostalgia to see the way the lawns and meadows always blur in his photographs.  
O'Gorman's model was named Catherine and she may have been his daughter, or his niece, no one is certain. Recently she appeared on the early UK editions of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Friday, 8 April 2011


Photography Exhibition I've put together with friends. It opens on the 14th at 7.30. All welcome.

Friday, 1 April 2011

April Fools

When I used to ask my grandfather, an old retired paleontologist, what my grandmother was like when he met her, because I loved my grandmother more than anyone alive on earth, he would always respond with a question of his own. 'Which time?' he would ask. Later, when I was much older, he would liken his answer to those overlain cave paintings he'd seen--entwined lion tails or horses flank by flank--carbon dated whole millennia apart. The fact was, my grandparents had met, fleetingly, a number of times before settling on one another, before impressing themselves fully into each others lives. Afterwards, always remembering one another fondly, but never quite managing an actual relationship, at least not in the traditional sense. For years and years they were more like acquaintances, stumbling past each other, wielding various obstacles like so many rain-dampened parcels: other people they happened to be dating at the time, mean geographical differences, conflicting job opportunities. They would meet, take a breath together, then be on their way again. A whole narrative of quickly taken coffees, nervous updates, and pregnant pauses. Awkward farewells at bus stops, postcard gestures. But still, still, the lingering in the memory, the smiles and the adoration they kept to heart. Once, grandfather told me, he had spotted her faraway in the British Museum, between the mummies and papyri, and felt as though he could marry her there and then, right in that cool and hallowed room: but the marriage, in fact, didn't happen for another decade, in Sienna of all places. Sometimes I think of them, these separate people, still young, still yet to become themselves and lying in their separate beds at night, worlds apart, and yet their future lives so entwined, the souls of one another burning secretly somewhere on the horizon. Their love, extended and timeless, like caves waiting to be discovered, pyramids lying in wait.