Kevin Ballantine's Gallery
A birth and two deaths
On the cover of the Government of Western Australia's, Department of Public Health's, Leaflet No. 18, Nurse's Advice To Mothers, is a small design of mirrored triangles, separated by two lines.
The triangles are formed of line drawn flowers, like a William Morris pattern.
A curious motif for a baby book. My mother took me to the local health clinic for examinations, there she was provided with the booklet.
My weight was noted in the baby record and the clinic nurse wrote instructions and recipes.
I wonder what "Atkinson's Corrective Cordial" would correct? The booklet advised mothers:
DON'T let him be kissed, particularly on the mouth—the risk of infection is too great.
DON'T praise Baby so that he can hear, because he can understand before he can speak.
DON'T overstimulate his brain by dangling objects in front of him or forcing smiles.
DON'T dawdle over undressing or bathing him.
My mother gave birth to me in Victoria Park — a suburb of Perth, the capital city of Western Australia — on September the 4th, 1950. When I was a child, bread was delivered by horse and cart, milk was ladled into billycans left overnight on front steps and porches, food was kept fresh in ice chests and backyard chooks provided eggs and Christmas dinner. And three-pence would buy a Saturday afternoon's entertainment at the suburban picture theatre. We called them The Flicks. Maybe a Tom and Jerry cartoon, then a serial, or The Three Stooges and then the feature — usually in black and white.
Like all other kids, I never wore shoes to the Saturday matinee pictures or to school. Although a new kid from Sydney, named Leon, arrived at school wearing shoes. Leon had style and would become a photographer. My father was a sheet metal worker. My Mother gave up a career as a fabric designer to become a housewife. It was rare for married women to work in those days. After dinner, we called it tea, I would listen to a valve powered radio with my brother and sister, while my father, to make some extra money, worked on the kitchen table soldering metal framed porch lights and making toys. In the 60s my father moved from the workshop into sales and he stayed with the same firm until he retired. Mum died the 3rd of June 2003 and Dad died 4 days later.
Bill Cooper's pictures
Growing up I was wary of the world and found refuge in home and family. We were different. We were a church family. On Sundays there was Sunday school at 9.30am, a communion service at 11am, and in the evening at 7.30pm, an evangelical gospel service.
Sundays were solemn days, not just because of church, but also the melancholy of anticipating Monday morning and school. Schools were oppressive places.
After the evening gospel service the car park filled with quiet voices and the streetlights would pick out children flitting around silhouettes of hats and coats. After farewell blessings the congregation of hats and coats drifted into the darkness, and their lot of another working week. More than forty years later, I recalled the atmosphere of the church car park while watching villagers gather for their Easter procession in Mezzo Juso, Sicily. Often supper would be served after church and sometimes Bill Cooper's photographs of the early days were screened. The men had built the new church with hand made bricks. Bill Cooper had documented every church family. The families that had cars, were pictured in front of their cars, and families without cars, were pictured in front of the corrugated iron wall of the hired hall. There were howls of laughter whenever Bill Cooper's photographs of the early days were screened. Once there was a time when the preacher's wife became stricken with polio. The church elders met and prayed late into the night. By morning the preacher's wife was cured.
Leaving the Sunday School Picnic early
Television arrived in Perth in the late 1950s. We ate our dinners in front of black and white TVs and the suburban cinema became a supermarket. There was:
I love Lucy
Father Knows Best
77 Sunset Strip
Then there was the Cuban Missile Crisis. October 1962
The images of the blazing body of a protesting Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc. June 11, 1963.
Kennedy's assassination. November, 22, 1963.
The images of Jack Ruby gunning down Lee Harvey Oswald. November 24, 1963.
And then The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. February, 4, 1964.
In the 60s, radios became transistorised and portable. Mum gave me one for Christmas. In 1964 there was Gloria and Baby Please Don't Go by Them, and Walking the Dog and Little Red Rooster by The Rolling Stones. I purchased a ticket for The Stones' concert of February,13th, 1965, at the Capitol Theatre in Perth. I left the Sunday school picnic early, polished my shoes, found the ironed white shirt, put on a tie and caught the bus into town. I had never been to a rock concert before. When I saw the scruffy, hairy crowd congregating in front of the Capitol Theatre I walked past, went around the corner and removed the tie. The concert was wild.
On my radio I heard the music of Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan played at the Capitol Theatre in 1966 but I didn't have a ticket. And then there was Hey Joe and the burning guitars of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix never came to Perth.
There were the images of the police chief shooting the Viet Cong suspect February 1, 1968.
When I finished high school I made money working in the back shed silk screening images of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Eric Clapton on T-shirts. The drawing of Eric Clapton wasn't convincing so I included his name in the design.
While working in the wheat-growing town of Wongan Hills in the early 70s, nights passed with music all the way from Canada. Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young.
"Blue, blue windows behind the stars,Yellow moon on the rise."
And then there were the images of Kim Phuc's, napalmed and naked running body. June 8, 1972.
Friday 2.57pm. January 25, 2008 (Australia Day).
What's that noise? My daughter Alix asks.
Jimi Hendrix. I reply.
I'm playing CD 2 Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock. Track 4. The Star Spangled Banner. It's amazing. I believe the two great moments of Modernist, Romantic art of the 20th century were the bronze casting of Auguste Rodin's Meditation Avec Bras, and Jimi Hendrix's performance at Woodstock and maybe Bob Dylan's, Blonde on Blonde.
April the 7th, 1975 I arrived in London.
I loved London.
After travelling around England and Europe in a Kombi van for 5 months, I settled in Fulham.
In September, I enrolled in a media course that taught photography and I purchased my first camera from a store in Tottenham Court Road; a Pentax single lens reflex Spotmatic. I had the camera for about 10 months, then a friend fresh out of prison borrowed it and I would never see him or it again. It was a pity, I loved that Spotmatic.
Its replacement was another Pentax, the new K series bought from a store in Staines but it didn't have the feel of my first camera.
Last time I was in London in 1984, I purchased a Yashica Mat twin lens reflex. It was a camera styled on the Rolleiflex, the medium format camera that made square pictures. Square pictures became my favourites. There is something about a square. Perhaps it's a square being so sure of itself. Perhaps it's because it's the same shape as the vinyl LP record covers that window dressed the 60s. The Rolling Stones' 12x5. The Beatles' A Hard Days Night. The Kinks' red album. The sound tracks of our raggedy lives were all perfect circles packaged in perfect squares. Bauhaus master and mystic, Johannes Itten, wrote; "Square: calm, death, black, dark, red."
On Saturday night, October, 24th 1975, I met Joelle at the Greyhound Pub, Fulham Palace Road. She was from France, working in Richmond and researching Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones. I knew of a Burne-Jones stained glassed angel in the village of Shoreham in Kent.
Joelle was going home to spend Christmas with her family, but I had no plans. On TV, The Old Grey Whistle Test featured John Lennon, live from New York performing Stand By Me. And I thought, "I'll go to New York for Christmas." I arrived in New York with very little money, thinking that I would get by somehow, meet people. I never anticipated how cold it would be. My denim jeans and street market leather jacket would afford little protection from those icy winds. The airport bus dropped me off on Manhattan Island somewhere. Only a few of the streets had names, all the rest just had numbers and it was getting dark. I asked a couple if they knew of any cheap places where I could stay. I was hoping they would take me home. The guy looked straight through me. He didn't know of any cheap places and said "but if you don't find somewhere soon you sure as hell will freeze your arse off."
I spent the night at the YMCA, the hotel where Mark Chapman would spend the day before shooting John Lennon in front of the Dakota Building. My money went fast. I pulled out my address book. Donna! I met her in Greece. She lived in Boston and I arrived there during a blizzard, it was wild, I'd never seen snow before. After 10 days eating Donna's family's food it was time to return to New York and Kennedy Airport.
Hell's Angels occupied the Amtrak carriage, but it looked homely enough after the cold of Massachusetts. I arrived around midnight and walked through the frozen and empty streets to the East Side Bus Terminal. It was closed. I spent my last dollars on a taxi to Kennedy and arrived there at about 3am. The terminal was deserted except for The Piccadilly Bar. Donald Sutherland was there with a beautiful, dark haired woman and a small child. At last it was time to board. After begging the $4 embarkation tax, I was so relieved to get on the Heathrow bound 707, I forgot to remove the film from my bag, and it was fogged by the X-ray machine.
Off the tube at Hammersmith, the air felt warm, I took off my jacket and strolled down Fulham Palace Road to home, 59 Finlay Street. Joelle was there.
By the end of January I was back in Western Australia, renting a room in a house in Fremantle leased by a musician and a poet. With a view of the river the house was named Tranquil Waters. February and March passed and on Easter Sunday, when my family visited, I announced in a borrowed suit, I was leaving.
The month of May found me with Joelle. She was living outside London in a small bed-sit in Staines. She kept her milk and butter cold outside on the windowsill.
We left England mid year for France and lived with Joelle's parents in Nancy; then with sister Nanou in rue des Couples in Strasbourg. Mao Tse Toung died.
Crossing the English Channel early November, I heard on the ferry that Jimmy Carter had been elected President. A few days later I left London for Perth.
Arriving in Perth, in December 1976 was like landing on another planet for Joelle. Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world.
Our son Remi was born in 1982, and Alix our daughter, in 1985. Remi has moved out of home a couple of times; the first time when he was only 17, but he's back now. Alix has moved out, then back again and once again is moving out into a new place this weekend. This may be the last week we live together as a family.
Joelle and I plan to return to London this year (2008) via Rome. The last time we visited London together was January 1978 after our French wedding on Christmas Day. On the way to London I want to visit the Vatican City and its museums. Sculpture is my favourite art form. The best sculptures are like photographs. They don't move. Their world has stopped. Nothing else can happen to them. Whereas the uncertain lives of the subjects of photographs, happily and sadly continue on after the moment. If I had the skill I would be a sculptor. I began a sculpture in London just after buying my first camera. Its face took on the appearance of Keith Richard then Donatello's Mary Magdalene. It was never finished. Unfinished so many happiness and sadnesses ago. Forming hands in plaster of paris proved too difficult. Meanwhile London waits.
This web site is for Joelle, Rémi and Alix.
And thank you Nanou.