Friday, March 31, 2006

great photographic portraits #8

James Joyce by Berenice Abbott

James Joyce by Berenice Abbott, 1928

A lot of well-known photographers photographed James Joyce during his self-imposed exile in Paris, but this is my favourite because it looks to me as if it is how Joyce wanted to be depicted, as if he had some personal input into the process. There's something slightly humorous about it - perhaps unintentionally - but I like the relaxed, languid pose, the world-weary expression, and the way the hat, cane, tie, and the rings on the almost feminine fingers all combine to lend him the air of a rather disillusioned, fading dandy. As Elaine comments below, he does indeed look as if he might get up and dance a jig or tell a tall tale. But only if the puppeteer was to pull the invisible strings.
Can't hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome? What Thom Malone? Can't hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeying waters of. Ho, talk save us! My foos won't moos. I feel as old as yonder elm. A tale told of Shaun or Shem? All Livia's daughter-sons. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel as heavy as yonder stone. Tell me of John or Shaun? Who were Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of? Night now! Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!
James Joyce, from Finnegans Wake

Having written 'Ulysses' about the day, I wanted to write this book about the night.... Since 1922 my book has been a greater reality for me than reality. Everything gives way to it. Everything outside the book has been an insuperable difficulty: the least realities, such as shaving myself in the morning, for example.
James Joyce, on Finnegans Wake

You cannot complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read.... It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something. It is that something itself.
Samuel Beckett, on Finnegans Wake

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Rite of Spring
So winter closed its fist
And got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump

In its throat, ice founding itself
Upon iron. The handle
Paralysed at an angle.

Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
Round stem and snout, then a light

That sent the pump up in a flame
It cooled, we lifted her latch,
Her entrance was wet, and she came.

Seamus Heaney

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Gardener XLIII
No, my friends, I shall never be an
ascetic, whatever you may say.
I shall never be an ascetic if she
does not take the vow with me.
It is my firm resolve that if I
cannot find a shady shelter and a
companion for my penance, I shall
never become an ascetic.

No, my friends, I shall never leave
my hearth and home, and retire into
the forest's solitude, if rings no merry
laughter in its echoing shade and if
the end of no saffron mantle flutters
in the wind; if its silence is not
deepened by soft whispers.
I shall never be an ascetic.

Rabindranath Tagore

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
I heard on the news last night that the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay has died. I've mentioned him before - here and here - so I won't say anything except that the world is poorer for his passing. His extraordinary sculpture garden at Little Sparta in the hills south of Edinburgh will survive as a fitting memorial to his uncompromising and idiosyncratic genius.

Monday, March 27, 2006

great photographic portraits #7

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe

The body-builder Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1982

Some photographers - and Robert Mapplethorpe is one of them - are obviously perfectionists. There is a danger in this when it comes to taking portraits because the subject can easily get lost behind the technical skill of the photographer. Mapplethorpe manages to avoid this, and his subjects live and breathe, albeit in the way one of his exquisite still-life orchids does. However you can see the negative effect of perfectionism in the work of countless 'professional' portrait photographers, with their expensive equipment and perfect lighting, yet hardly an original idea in their heads. This portrait of Lisa Lyon is beautifully costumed, posed and lit, but all the energy is channelled into the biceps, the tightly gripping hand and the clenched fist. It's this tremendous feeling of controlled tension that brings the otherwise impassive, statuesque and mysteriously veiled woman to life.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In meditation practice, we neither hold the mind very tightly nor let it go completely. If we try to control the mind, then its energy will rebound back on us. If we let the mind go completely, then it will become very wild and chaotic. So we let the mind go, but at the same time, there is some discipline involved ... The basic practice is to be present, right here. The goal is also the technique: precisely being in this moment, neither suppressing nor wildly letting go, but being precisely aware of what you are.

Chogyam Trungpa

Friday, March 24, 2006

someone recently asked me what makes me laugh ...
brian sewell - english aristocrats - my own stupidity - airplane (but that's not important right now) - mike leigh - patagonian nose-trumpets - chic murray - whoopee cushions - dogs chasing their tails - peter sellars - heavy metal (excluding motorhead) - royalty - michael flatley - the simpsons - wallace and gromit - felix krull - king of the hill - laughing gas - les dawson in drag - monty python - buster keaton - fawlty towers - groucho marx - children - dame edna everage - vivian stanshall - jacques tati - fur pyjamas - vic reeves - harold and maude - cheers - kind hearts and coronets - penguins on ice - tony curtis imitating cary grant in 'some like it hot' - feather dusters - jarvis cocker - fashion experts - oscar wilde - eric morecambe - being tickled - lucius apuleius - alan bennett - weebl and bob - tristram shandy - private eye - tommy cooper - people who leave comments here - goalkeepers accidentally throwing the ball into their own net...

what makes YOU laugh?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Evolution versus Creationism
"Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise, natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere."
Jacques Monod, from 'Chance and Necessity', 1970

And this time his being within her was all soft and iridescent, purely soft and iridescent, such as no consciousness could seize. Her whole self quivered unconscious and alive, like plasm. She could not know what it was. She could not remember what it had been. Only that it had been more lovely than anything ever could be. Only that. And afterwards she was utterly still, utterly unknowing, she was not aware for how long. And he was still with her, in an unfathomable silence along with her. And of this, they would never speak.

DH Lawrence, from 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Big Country
I see the shapes I remember from maps
I see the shoreline, I see the whitecaps
A baseball diamond, nice weather down there
I see the school and the houses where the kids are
Places to park by the factories and buildings
Restaurants and bars for later in the evening
Then we come to the farmlands, and the undeveloped areas
And I have learned how these things work together
I see the parkway that passes through them all
And I have learned how to look at these things and I say

I wouldn't live there if you paid me
I couldn't live like that, oh no siree!
I couldn't do the things the way those people do
I couldn't live there if you paid me to.

Talking Heads, from 'More Songs About Buildings and Food'
Arthur Schopenhauer
'The world is my idea' is a truth valid for every living creature, though only man can consciously contemplate it. In doing so he attains philosophical wisdom. No truth is more absolutely certain than that all that exists for knowledge, and, therefore, this whole world, is only object in relation to subject, perception of a perceiver - in a word, idea. The world is idea.
Arthur Schopenhauer, 1844

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
To desire the same things and to reject the same things, constitutes true friendship.
Caius Sallustius Crispus (86-34 BC)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

oh dear, it seems shorty and nicky are both very small ...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dream Song 4
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken paprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her

or falling at her little feet and crying
'You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry's dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.' I have advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni.-Sir Bones: is stuffed,
do world, wif feeding girls.

-Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast...The slob beside her feasts...What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
-Mr. Bones: There is.

John Berryman
Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.
Edward Weston

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's St Patrick's Day, not a big deal in Scotland but huge in America for some reason, and once again I find myself asking the age-old question. Am I the only person in the known universe who doesn't like U2? I do, however, like Shane MacGowan and the Pogues:

Shane MacGowan

Lullaby of London
As I walked down by the riverside
One evening in the spring
Heard a long gone song
From days gone by
Blown in on the great north wind
Though there is no lonesome corncrake's cry
Of sorrow and delight
You can hear the cars
And the shouts from bars
And the laughter and the fights

May the ghosts that howled
Round the house at night
Never keep you from your sleep
May they all sleep tight
Down in hell tonight
Or wherever they may be

As I walked on with a heavy heart
Then a stone danced on the tide
And the song went on
Though the lights were gone
And the north wind gently sighed
And an evening breeze coming from the east
That kissed the riverside
So I pray now child that you sleep tonight
When you hear this lullaby

May the wind that blows from haunted graves
Never bring you misery
May the angels bright
Watch you tonight
And keep you while you sleep.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Lomo copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

I sometimes go fishing with this guy. Now you know why we hardly ever catch any fish.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Eyes Wide Open
There is nothing that is stronger than the feeling that you get
When your eyes are wide open
There is nothing like the feeling, you can never forget
When your eyes are wide open
Daytime was a feeling but it's not over yet
Are my eyes still open?
We've come a long long distance and we're never goin' back
Got my eyes wide open

I got both doors open
I got both doors open
I got the back door open
I got the screen door open.

In another time
In another place
There's a train running through
Right through the middle of the house ...

David Byrne, from 'Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)'

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Monday, March 13, 2006

Come to My Garden Walk
Come to my garden walk, my love. Pass by the fervid flowers that
press themselves on your sight. Pass them by, stopping at some
chance joy, which like a sudden wonder of sunset illumines, yet
For a lover's gift is shy, it never tells its name, it flits
across the shade, spreading a shiver of joy along the dust.
Overtake it or miss it forever. But a gift that can be
grasped is merely a frail flower, or a lamp with a flame that will

Rabindranath Tagore

Sunday, March 12, 2006

great photographic portraits #6

August Sander - Gottfried Brockmann, Cologne, 1924

August Sander - the painter Gottfried Brockmann, Cologne (1924)

'We know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled ...'
August Sander

Saturday, March 11, 2006

great photographic portraits #5

August Sander - children and sheep

When I first thought of doing this series of photographic portraits I knew that one of them would be by August Sander, who is probably my favourite portrait photographer. But how do you choose from the hundreds of superb images he made while working on his magnum opus 'Man of the Twentieth Century'? In the end I chose this one, but not for any particular reason - although I do like the expression on the sheep's face. There's something vaguely unsettling about many of Sanders' portraits, although they're not what you'd call 'contrived'. In this case it could be because the children are dressed up and posing like adults, which makes the sheep seem unduly large. Or maybe it's just the unexpected presence of the sheep.

Looking at Sanders' work recently, the one thing that strikes me is the influence he has obviously had on photographers like Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Joel Peter Witkin. I see his stamp on Edgar Reitz's monumental film series 'Heimat' too, which is a similar homage to the German people. Sander cast his net so wide, and approached his subjects in so many different ways, that I suspect almost every portraitist will find an echo of their own style in his work.

To me, Sanders seems an honest and generous photographer, treating his subjects equally regardless of whether they are artists, tramps, circus performers, politicians, soldiers, mothers, architects or farmers. His portraits are rarely predictable, they generally have an edge to them, and he somehow knew how to find that elusive ingredient which has endowed his subjects with a kind of immortality. In that respect he was a magician with the camera - or maybe 'alchemist' is a better word. I think he must have edited his material rigorously - with a very keen eye for what worked and what didn't - but that he probably approached his task primarily from the point of view of a documentary photographer rather than an artist. He just happened to be a great artist too.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.
Albert Einstein

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nursery school bosses in Oxford have ordered the words of the well-known childrens' rhyme 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to be altered to 'Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep' to avoid offending black children. So it's perfectly ok to offend rainbow children I suppose?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Generation To Generation
In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.
Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children. It is not
the place of some official to hand to them
their heritage.
If others impart to our children our knowledge
and ideals, they will lose all of us that is
wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children,
lest they drag out joyless lives,
lest they allow treasures to be lost because
they have not been given the keys.
We live, not by things, but by the meanings
of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords
from generation to generation.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Ivor Cutler
ivor cutler
has passed on i see
he was 83

I once asked Ivor Cutler to sign a book of his poems for a friend in America. I said, "Could you write 'To Terry'?". He did that, then looked up at me quizzically and said, "And who shall I say it's from?"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Harry Callahan, Chicago 1950
Harry Callahan, Chicago 1950

This is one of the most beautifully designed photographic websites I've stumbled across. Although the images are fairly small, they're well chosen and - for the most part - well reproduced. It's one of the few places I've seen some good reproductions of Richard Avedon's American Mid-West portraits online, and the idea of showing the images in book form works really well.

Monday, March 06, 2006


The Kiss
My mouth blooms like a cut.
I've been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby, you fool!

Before today my body was useless.
Now it's tearing at its square corners.
It's tearing old Mary's garments off, knot by knot
and see -- Now it's shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!

Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She's been elected.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.

Anne Sexton

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The state of mind of a photographer while creating is a blank...For those who would equate "blank" with a kind of static emptiness, I must explain that this is a special kind of blank. It is a very active state of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image pre-formed in it at any time. We should note that the lack of a pre-formed pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition. Such a state of mind is not unlike a sheet of film itself - seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second's exposure conceives a life in it.
Minor White, from The Camera Mind and Eye

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Let me here call attention to one of the most universally popular mistakes that have to do with photography - that of classing supposedly excellent work as professional, and using the term amateur to convey the idea of immature productions and to excuse atrociously poor photographs. As a matter of fact nearly all the greatest work is being, and has always been done, by those who are following photography for the love of it, and not merely for financial reasons. As the name implies, an amateur is one who works for love; and viewed in this light the incorrectness of the popular classification is readily apparent.
Alfred Stieglitz, 1899

Friday, March 03, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

I know it's snowing outside, but yesterday evening the geese were flying north again, so it must be almost spring.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

There was something
formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

Lao-tzu, from the Tao Te Ching
translated by S Mitchell
Raed Me ...
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtsiy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are wretitn, the olny iprmoatnt tinhg is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed erevy lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

if ( 1 1 == 1 ) { e8z = true; };
~ making waves
~ late-night love-talk

... or begin exploring here
Don Quixote in his study
"It seems to me," said Sancho, "that the knights who did all these things were driven to them... but... why should you go mad? What lady has rejected you?
"That is exactly it," replied Don Quixote, "that's just how beautifully I've worked it all out - because for a knight errant to go mad for good reason, how much is that worth? My idea is to become a lunatic for no reason at all."
Miguel de Cervantes, from Don Quixote