Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Work #3

My constant declarations of love for Bruce Davidson are getting awkward for everyone. But, here is a recent article in which Davidson provides a handful of 'lessons' and advices on ways to work for aspiring photographers. It's definitely worth a read.

And this brief blog is a convenient excuse to post another of my favourite images by Davidson. (Have I posted it before? If I have, I'm sorry... I told you that this is getting awkward...):

image: Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street

Work #2

I love a good manifesto. And to that end, I've been devouring a compendium of ground breaking manifestos written by artists, filmmakers, writers and architects. Manifestos demand arrogance, irreverence and profundity in equal measures. Sometimes they read like poetry and sometimes they read like madness. They're a lecture, a berating, a coaxing and an inspiration. 

This compendium has some of the best known manifestos and declarations - the Surrealists, Futurists and Dadaists; the Dogme manifesto, the Yellow Manifesto, the Draft Manifesto; Herzog's 'Minnesota Declaration', Claes Oldenburgs' 'I Am For an Art' and Gropius' 'What is Architecture'. But, to my mind, the manifesto of the Arab Surrealist Movement embodies all the fury, beauty, disgust and power of a true manifesto. If you need to live by one manifesto, use this as your guide:
With disgust we shove aside the dregs of survival and the impoverished rational ideas which stuff the ash-can-heads of intellectuals.
1) We incite individuals and the masses to unleash their instincts against all forms of repression - including the repressive "reason" of the bourgeois order.
2) The great values of the ruling class (the fatherland, family, religion, school, barracks, churches, mosques and other rottenness) make us laugh. Joyously we piss on their tombs.
3) We spit on the fatherland to drown in it the fumes of death. We combat and ridicule the very idea of the fatherland. To affirm one's fatherland is to insult the totality of man.
4) We practice subversion 24 hours a day. We excite sadistic urges against all that is established, not only because we are the enemies of this new stone age that is imposed on us, but above all because it is through our subversive activity that we discover new dimensions.
5) We poison the intellectual atmosphere with the elixir of the imagination, so that the poet will realize himself in realizing the historical transformation of poetry:
a) from form into matter;
b) from simple words hanging on coat racks of paper into the desirable flesh of the imagination that we shall absorb until everything separating dream from reality is dissolved.
Surrealism is nothing but the actualization of this surreality.
6) We explode the mosques and the streets with the scandal of sex returning to its body, bursting into flames at each encounter - secret until then.
7) We liberate language from the prisons and stock markets of capitalist confusion.
It is plain that today's language, instead of being an agitational force in the process of social transformation and a vocabulary of revolutionary attack, is only a docile vocabulary of defense cluttered in the store of the human brain with one aim: to help the individual prove his complete subordination to the laws of existing society - to help him as a lawyer in the courts of everyday reality (that is, of repression). Surrealism intrudes violently on this abject spectacle, annihilating all obstacles to "the real functioning of thought" (Andre Breton).
When we write, our memory belches this language from the old world. It is a game in which our tongues become capable of recreating language in the very depths of the revolution.
Our surrealism signifies the destruction of what they call "the Arab fatherland." In this world of masochistic survival, surrealism is an aggressive and poetic way of life. It is the forbidden flame of the proletariat embracing the insurrectional dawn - enabling us to rediscover at last the revolutionary moment: the radiance of the workers' councils as a life profoundly adored by those we love.
Our surrealism, in art as in life: permanent revolution against the world of esthetics and other atrophied categories; the destruction and supersession of all retrograde forces and inhibitions.
Subversion resides in surrealism the same way history resides in events.
Maroin DIB (Syria), Abdul Kadar EL JANABY (Iraq), Faroq EL JURIDY (Lebanon), Fadil Abas HADI (Iraq), Farid LARIBY (Algeria), Ghazi YOUNIS (Lebanon)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Work #1

"Rule 7: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It is the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch onto things. You can fool the fans--but not the players."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Romance and Tourism

We remake the world in our minds.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Lost images from a film made long ago:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Gifts, true gifts, born from generosity and not obligation, always leave an echo in the heart.

A while ago, I posted a query to my weird online freakbook life about a book I was looking for - "Bons Baisers" - a published series of photographs of 'kisses' (interpreted in the loosest ways) by the photographers of Magnum agency. 

From nowhere, a friend from Paris contacted me to let me know that he'd found a copy and that he'd bought it for me. He was planning to send it, I was planning to send him money to send it, but we both got caught in the usual web of life. 

So, a month or two after our back and forth, we crossed paths while I was travelling, in a bar a long way from home, and he passed it to me after a handful of drinks, refusing my crummy materialistic gesture of covering his costs. I couldn't have been more affected... So, humble thanks, Genaro... You're a good man.

This is what the book that he holds in his hand looks like. It's fucking amazing.


Along with Carson McCullers' 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter', Fugazi's 'In On The Killtaker', Jean-Luc Godard's 'Vivre Sa Vie', Johnny Cash's 'Live at Folsom Prison' and Eduardo Galeano's 'Memory of Fire' I will always consider Bruce Davidson's 'Brooklyn Gang' series to be one of the great and perfect works of art of the 20th Century.

Each image is a slice of perfect American post war cinema embedded in a single, captured motionless moment. Romanticism, the myth of the urban rebel without a cause, the meeting of street life and the beach, the encroaching consumerism and the loneliness of love and friendship. Sitting around jukeboxes, or lounging on couches in the corner of a party or dance, lazing on the beach, making out under the boardwalk. 

Who can imagine the chemistry that must have existed between Davidson and his swirling mass of subjects - the 'gang'. Yet, in each photograph, there exists a sublime arrangement, a balance of disregard and disinterest and quiet performance and composure. 

Settle back and grab some pop corn. Let me show you the best film you've ever seen, the best painting you've ever sat motionless in front of, the most sublime piece of music you've ever heard, the greatest novel you've ever read, with all the world spilling forth from it; love, death, quiet and angry violence, melancholia, loyalty, trust, betrayal, the feel of the sun on your skin and the night air in your lungs. All of this is yours now. Thanks to Bruce Davidson.

and, finally, an anomaly:

(what is strange about the image above is that the distance in this photo is more reminiscent of contemporary photography where the complicity has been lost between photographer and subject and the image is always reserved; at a distance. Perhaps the usual intimacy of Davidson's images is both a part of his unique artistry and also, in part, because, in the days of film, there was no screen, no digital playback, no instant awareness of one's subjectivity already 'on screen'. So the image above feels like a rarity amongst his images. Now, however, it would be the norm; these days, photographers either force intimacy with party blogs and lifestyle editorials, or maintain the cool distance you get as the distant voyeur unprepared or unable to enter into the subject's life. So, to wind back the decades and imagine Davidson, amongst it, engineering performance and arrangement and composition, is to realise that as an artist he was able to scale some kind of sublime peak of shared intimacy in this documentary series. )

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wuthering Heights

I recently rewatched Andrea Arnold's hypnotic and grindingly heartbreaking adaptation of Emily Brontë's 'Wuthering Heights'. It is so difficult to capture intense desire and intense love in cinema without some kind of verbal or dramatic exposition of a character's inner state. Yet, in 'Wuthering Heights', the cinematography of Robbie Ryan and Arnold's intimate visual storytelling takes us into the wide eyed world of a deep, dizzying and ultimately bitter state of love and desire.


What makes the film and, of course, the original novel extraordinary, is the duration of this state. The intense blinding experience of first love is drawn out over decades. The childlike secrecy of a new love becomes the obsessive love of men and women torn apart, internally and externally, both by the infinite limits of their own love and the impossibility of this love in a world defined by limitations.


I love this cinematic meeting point of the absolute freedom of love and desire and the total destruction implicit in such an impossible emotional state. We all experience it. Sometimes it enslaves us, sometimes it empowers us. We are either invincible or on our knees. Soaring or paralysed. It is the stuff of life and the stuff of art.

In "Wuthering Heights", Cathy says: "My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary… I am Heathcliff." In Arnold's film she literally licks his wounds and scars, she pushes his face into the mud with her boot and she adores him with every glance. She is inside him. He is inside her. It is madness. Torture. It is love and sex and desire at once. The muscular haunches of a horse. The pages of a book. An insect on the cold muddy stones. Cruelty. Transcendence. It is brutal and beautiful, physical and elemental, raw and delicate and impossible to resist and impossible to withstand.

And in thinking of this film, and in thinking of sex and desire and love and madness and cinema and literature as I usually am, I was reminded of these words spoken by everyone's favourite mad Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek:
"I'm extremely romantic here. You know what is my fear? This postmodern, permissive, pragmatic etiquette towards sex. It's horrible. They claim sex is healthy; it's good for the heart, for blood circulation, it relaxes you. They even go into how kissing is also good because it develops the muscles here – this is horrible, my God!... It's no longer that absolute passion. I like this idea of sex as part of love, you know: 'I'm ready to sell my mother into slavery just to fuck you for ever.' There is something nice, transcendent, about it. I remain incurably romantic."
For me, for all the madness I know love and desire induces, endures and entices, I know that I need the films of my life to be more "Wuthering Heights" and less of "The Notebook". More mothers sold into slavery and less sanitised physicality. So, from me: a gentle and humble bow to Andrea Arnold and her beautiful films.