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Preview: tasting rhubarb

tasting rhubarb

Updated: 2018-02-06T01:59:29.951+00:00




Reopening soon in new premises. Maybe.

New year wish


may the new year
have many doors and windows
reflect some sweet dreams




Crouching dragon


Dark sunlight


The early fog never quite lifted today. When I went out later something of it lingered - not really a mist, not even a blurring, but a softening of light and colour that I'd never seen before. Everything soft and thick like velvet. The low, low sun strong but diffused. A faint but distinct sheen on walls and pavements. And the sky such a dark blue. Not dark like a storm or dark like dusk, but a new shade. Some things can't be predicted or described or encompassed. Some things, some days are just astonishing and lovely.

Planet stirring


Wild storms and flooding from the sea. The news of all this interrupted for the announcement that the bright light of Nelson Mandela has gone out. And around our little lake the rampant vegetation shrinks and cracks and flares as it shades into winter.




  Thick might seem an odd word for these, for the big, pale, blurry, fragile images taken with a pinhole camera, for the standing figure, outside one picture, inside another, both solid and transparent. It was an exhibition of works by Karen Stuke, depicting places described in Sebald's masterwork Austerlitz about a man brought to Britain from Prague on a Kindertransport, his adult discovery of his past and voyage into it, the huge effect upon his personality and life, his recounting of his story to the narrator. It's a long, pale, swirling story, hauntingly glimpsed in these photos (see them all here), which were deeply atmospheric in themselves, all the more so in the harsh beauty of the Wapping Project, a cavernous, largely windowless former hydraulic power station, and all the more so to the captivated reader, like myself, of Sebald's work.    I was thinking of the way that social scientists, ethnographers, speak of 'thick description', a build-up of multiple layers and perspectives through which we may arrive at new insights. It starts with the book, a meandering, but intense and gripping narrative. No, it starts with the real places, historical narratives and found pictures that the book evokes and the visceral, unbearable, memories attached to these. And it spreads, alludes, moves and inspires, as writers and artists continue to make works in response to Sebald's; as readers and viewers are drawn in, tossed around, left floating, yearning, glimpsing pictures of our own, like this one through the window of the old power station on my way out.  [...]

To frame or not to frame


A big thing in 'street photography', I suppose, is the lack of a frame, the freedom from it, the capturing of a random, unboundaried flash of space and time that is in some way affecting. But the point here, of course, is precisely the frame of door and window shapes behind the figure. She's walking past the front entrance of Tate Modern and the framed figure fortuitously evokes the pictures inside - perhaps was only noticed because, approaching the entrance, I was already 'seeing' the paintings I'd come to look at.



Why this impulse to tilt the camera - experienced before, but only in autumn? I suppose it's the sensation of trees meeting the ground as the leaves keep falling, of being tipped inexorably into winter.




  Beached on the wet footpath - as pink, damp and fleshy as a creature from the sea.

Vermeeresque again


Oh dear. Since I saw the film about Vermeer, they're everywhere: quiet, luminous women, reading or writing by a window, looking like a painting. What a cliché. But a sweet one, and all the sweeter when so many sit or stand or walk absorbed in their phones or tablets: that absent, abstracted indifference to surroundings and compulsive inability to put the damned thing down. Seeing someone read a book or write in a notebook never feels as alienating. Yes, of course they may be equally abstracted, and of course good stuff, as well as mindless or super-stressful, proceeds through all those 'devices'. Still, a proliferation of dwellers in the global city who evoke an old Dutch painting seems no bad thing.

South London Botanical Institute


 And before they become too drastically unseasonal here are some photos from a recent visit to the South London Botanical Institute. This big, boxy red-brick Victorian villa was purchased in 1909 by Allan Octavian Hume, a curious, energetic man, returned from a career serving the British Empire in India. He was one of the "least worst" colonialists, it seems, instinctively fostering welfare over repression; and when not at work he embraced and explored the sub-continent, making social and political contacts and collecting, collecting, as they did then, descriptions and specimens from the natural world - especially birds.  Back in London and with no exotic birds to shoot and stuff, his voracious attention refocused on botany. This house and garden became the home of a fast-growing collection, assiduously cultivated, preserved, recorded - an exceptional work of its kind. Amazingly, it has survived intact as a modest, independent charity. The house has not changed much. It's spare and atmospheric, with rooms full of filing cabinets housing an extensive herbarium centred on a great number of fine, hundred-year-old specimens. The latest of many volunteers work endlessly and painstakingly to conserve the collection and most recently to check and digitally scan each sheet for inclusion in a national, publicly accessible computer database, herbaria@home. Other volunteers tend the garden, teach botanical drawing and the histories of medical herbalism and Victorian naturalism to children and adults alike. This is a precious place. [...]

In sunshine and in rain


The exhibition we saw at Kew Gardens in September of botanical paintings by Rory McEwen was
memorable, especially the paintings from the last year of his life - precise and intense depictions of dying, decaying leaves, titled not by species, but by where they fell. These were images that lingered, cooking slowly. They bubbled to the surface as I trudged and skidded in the following weeks on fallen leaves, often stopping, in the street, in the rush, in the rain, to take photos. They're still bubbling.

Table light


Colours of the wind



an early sunset
flickers between fire and ice -
colours of the wind

Mindfulness of leaves


The rain was heavy. Fallen leaves, plastered into pavement picture-frames, curl and glisten as they start to dry - settling into new, more muted, more translucent colours.

Just faintly spooky




I find it hard to pass the Millenium Footbridge without taking photos. While it used to be the architecture of the bridge, its long, lazy leap across the Thames and the shadowy heft of its underside,  now it's more often the people: above me, in movement, outlined, sometimes  poignantly, against the sky.

on the bridge
time stops and distance shrinks
their hands touch

White water


to be imagined:
the floating fading colours
of lemon lime mint

Dutch light in London


In the odd little riverside microclimate of the South Bank and its irredeemably ugly concrete arts complex, the light can be surprising and extraordinary.


Around the lake



Around the lake, an Autumn forest of tousled gold and green and purple.

more photos
while the tall reeds
and flowers sway softly
the heron stands still

Cat's eyes



Painted by a shy September sun



The sunshine has been rich and soft, if infrequent. Both when the sun shone and when it didn't, September's light was perfect for taking photos and I found I'd taken some I rather liked and that perhaps cohere around a certain mood.

Is it very sad, or very weird, to say that taking photos reassures me that I'm still alive? I think I felt a bit better about this after reading Loren on the twelfth anniversary of starting his blog, which is one of my favourites, full of wisdom, skill and joy in life. "Blogging is the mental equivalent of regular exercise.", he wrote, "Forcing myself to write here has kept me more alive than I ever thought possible." An intensely practical way of putting it, and I knew at once what he meant. It's how I feel about taking photos and how I felt for a long time about blogging.

So here we are again. I'm not sure right now if I'll be returning here for the long term or having a go at something else. But having a go at something. Making shapes and pictures with words and with my camera is too important, too fundamental, to walk away from.

A selection of September photos is here - best viewed as a slideshow.

Hot days, cool art


On a hot day recently, I'd been reading Lisa St Aubyn de Teran's book Mozambique Mysteries, about her life and work in the hot, green coastal mangrove-lands of remotest northern Mozambique. As I walked very slowly in the park, hot already by nine o'clock and steaming at noon, so green and lush after the heat exploding into downpours, it felt like a small, tame offshoot of the landscape she describes.

The watery light and fierce colours were very striking and my camera came out of its unseasonal hibernation. I'd risen early and by mid morning had been in the library, visited the Picture Gallery, walked in the flickering shade taking photos, and lingered in cafes. Lovely as the morning light had been and lucky as I was to be at liberty - a planned respite after strenuous efforts - the rest of the day loomed long and hot.

I was so glad, though, that I'd made it to the gallery before the height of the heat and crowds. I'm in love with the works of Mark Gertler in the current Crisis of Brilliance exhibition at Dulwich. This is an unsurprisingly popular show, including also Dora Carrington's moving portrait of Lytton Strachey and a lot more vivid, lovely work by young British artists just before, during and after World War I. But Mark Gertler's paintings, with their limpid intensity and that slight flattening that allows their sheer luminosity to provide the third dimension - well, some days later I can still feel the quivering of these. It's sad that his life (see above link) was not so luminous.