Kevin Ballantine's Gallery
- Jacqueline's portrait 2005
- Sept 10th
- Sept 11th
- Sept 12th
- Sept 13th
- Sept 14th
- Sept 15th
- Sept 16th
- Sept 17th
- Sept 18th
- Sept 19th
- Sept 20th
- Oct 8th
- The End of Everything: Nov 16th
- Nov 17th
- Nov 18th
- Nov 19th
- Nov 20th
- Nov 21th
- Nov 22th
- Nov 23th
- Nov 24th
- Nov 25th
- Nov 26th
- Nov 27th
- Nov 28th
- Nov 29th
- Nov 30th
- Dec 3th
- Dec 4th
- Dec 5th
- Dec 6th
- Dec 7th
- Dec 8th
- Dec 9th
- The Stranger Wore A Gun: Nov 11th
Jacqueline's portrait 2005
Last time in Paris; leaving the Musee Rodin and walking along boulevard des Invalides, a woman came hurrying towards me from the direction of the Metro. She was so Paris. I didn't have time to do anything other than wind on the film and shoot the Nikon from the hip but I made a picture. The negative was overexposed and out of focus and her feet were cut off, but I liked the print very much. A rushing Camille Claudel scurrying by. As the best photos often aren't intended, this time I had brought to Paris a borrowed, Kodak Diana. A toy like camera, with a plastic lens, that leaks light, unevenly exposes film, overlaps frames and produces softly focussed, hazy, whimsical and often unintended images. And so when light and things and locations don't conspire to create a picture, the Diana perhaps could come up with something. Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt and the Greeks knew her as Artemis. Artemis and Apollo were twins and both were archers. Apollo spread disease with his arrows while Artemis shot bad women with hers. She shot them with arrows that moaned.
Saturday, September 10th
Arriving at Roissy at 6.30 am, it's already 20 degrees. It's going to be a warm day. Joelle said that Paris could be sunny and hot in September. I'm disappointed. I'd hoped for Autumn weather; overcast skies, people wrapped in overcoats disappearing around corners, threatening storm clouds over the Pantheon, car headlights reflecting off wet roads, those kinds of fugitive things. Photography is so good at arresting things on the run. Summer weather isn't going to suit the kinds of photographs I hope to make, some of my favourite photos were made by Robert Frank, in London in the early 1950s. Hazy, grey streets, dark suits, in his photos you can feel the chill air. I remember a walk along the Thames in Richmond in 1975. It was foggy, cold and I had borrowed Joelle's fur coat. But that would have been November, not September.
Arriving at Gare du Nord, it looks exhausted following a summer of travellers. After breakfast off a worn Formica café table sticky with humidity we walk the two kilometres to Montmartre. Along rue de Dunkerque, right into boulevard Magenta, left into boulevard de Rochechourt, continue into boulevard de Clichy, past Place Pigalle and Place Blanche, the Moulin Rouge, Corcoran's Irish Pub then right into avenue Rachel and down to number 16. If you knocked a hole in the wall behind the apartment's divan bed you would step into a Montmartre Cemetery tomb. I'd visited Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise where Jim Morrison is buried and Cimetiere Montparnasse where Baudelaire, author of The Flowers Of Evil is buried but I've yet to visit Cimetiere de Montmartre.
Climbing rue Ravignan, the light rain persists. At the Musee de Montmartre, painter and model Suzanne Valadon is pictured naked in a photograph. She took Erik Satie for a lover but it didn't last. Satie would yearn for her next door at 6 rue Cortot. The colours of the flowers in the garden at Musee de Montmartre are intense. The geraniums are so red they seem to pulse. They are full of blood. In rue Lepic, in front of Moulin de la Galette, where the owner's body was crucified on the windmill's sails, the borrowed Diana smashes. The hardly used, part of the history of photography, Kodak Diana floats through the air like a piece of confetti then strikes the cobblestones and shatters. The lens isn't damaged and the shutter works, but a chunk of plastic has sheared from the top and part of the viewfinder has become unglued and rattles around inside. It's still possible to take pictures but looking through the viewfinder the world is a complete blur. Rather than a huntress, the Diana has been reduced to the Cyclops whose one eye was put out by Odysseus; the Cyclopes, the creatures that fashioned the helmet that made Hades, god of death, invisible.
Sunday, September 11th
Last time I sat in Notre Dame it was January. Night had fallen, it was deep winter, few tourists about and the vocalist had the voice of an angel. Now, the vocalist is a man, it's morning, and his singing is earthly and there are many tourists about. The hum produced by the quietly spoken voices moving around the seated congregation is strangely reassuring. My map says the site of Notre Dame has been a place of devotion for more than 2000 years.
Over Cimetiere de Montmartre stretches the green steel bridge of rue Gaulaincourt. Along Samson avenue we find Francois Truffault's grave. It's plain and matter of fact. Just a slab of polished stone. A hand written note, sodden by drizzling rain and held down by small stones declares in English, "I love you Truffault."
It's late afternoon, we set off for the Rex Cinema. At the corner of boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle and rue de la Lune we pass the bookstore that had a box of Max's books when I came through Paris from Sicily in 2000. There are still stocks of Max's books in the store. The Rex Cinema is a disappointment. I know it from a black and white photograph that pictures a scene from Gotham City, with the Rex, at night, film noir like and menacing. In this late afternoon light, the Rex is just over looked and tired art deco. We sit at the café opposite, order drinks and wait for the Rex's lights to come on. Not all come on. Perhaps the Diana can do something?
Around the corner in rue du Faubourg Montmartre is the restaurant we had read about. It's packed and we are taken to a table for four already occupied by a young couple. We are about to spoil their evening. Joelle apologises. The food arrives quickly. The young man says locals know the restaurant as the "jaw factory". It has a rapid turnover of patrons. My frites arrive cold. Colette said "you should never eat in a Paris restaurant on a Sunday.'' The young man and young woman both speak French, German and English. He would rather live in Berlin; less populated and less polluted than Paris. She lives in Berlin and is visiting Paris. He is writing a thesis on trust law. She has finished hers "about women and religion". I ask if she means religion or just Christianity. "Just Catholicism from a feminist perspective". She hasn't read Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae but she is reading Julia Kristeva. He claims that more than half the men in French prisons are there for sex crimes. We talk about Roland Barthes and his book Camera Lucida, a book about photos as wounds rather than as signs. The young man says there is a good view of the Rex from the roof of the building where he lives.
Monday, September 12th
An attendant in a double-breasted suit the colour of dust, says today is the last day photography will be permitted in the Louvre. The Louvre will be closed on Tuesday then on Wednesday photography will no longer be allowed. He says management wants to sell more postcards.
Tuesday September 13 th
Paris is like a full belly with the Metro subterranean blood vessels stretching beneath its skin carrying sight-devouring tourists from attraction to attraction. Normally I'm only in Paris for a couple of days and a sense of urgency keeps me underground on the Metro. But as this visit is longer I can afford the time to walk. It's a surprise to find that Place de la Madelaine, Place Vendome and Place Concorde are just minutes apart on foot. Place Vendome was where Lady Di left the Ritz and then crashed and Place Concorde was where Marie-Antoinette was guillotined. Paris can be rough on royalty. When the history of violence is written, Paris will be good for a couple of chapters. Templar Knights burnt at the stake, bishops tortured on the grill, St Dennis carrying his martyred head through the streets of Montmartre, The Terror, The Commune, the Gestapo knocking on your door, Lady Di's car crash. We watch the sun set over Concorde.
Wednesday, September 14th
Jacqueline's three-hour train journey from Nancy to Gare de l'Est is delayed by one hour and fifteen minutes "du a un acte de malveillance." We buy a sandwich and wait. A young man asks customers at the bar for money. He is quietly agitated. A pigeon glides into the entry hall and lands on the floor. It is the same colour and pattern as the marble tiles. The pigeon has been painted by Rene Magritte. Jacqueline's train arrives. She looks frail.
Thursday, September 15th
Colette takes us to La Taroudant II, a Tunisian restaurant in rue Capucine. Colette had worked in Tunisia and knows the food. Couscous au mechoui avec merguez Vin marocain rose (guerrouane) Desert – le mystere (ice cream) We sit amongst flashing fairy lights, tiles like Byzantine mosaics, brass teapots, stained glass lampshades, long barrelled rifles and daggers. Joelle, Jacqueline and Colette dip sugar cubes into fig liquor. La Tarouant II is named after an oasis. The bell rings at the cemetery, its 5.45 pm, time for visitors to leave. The sun will be setting in 2 hours. At 7.30 pm I'm sitting on a bench on the corner of rue Des Saules and rue Cortot with my Nikon on my lap. I'm asked if I know where Vincent Van Gogh lived. "Around the corner at 54 rue Lepic". I'm asked what I'm doing? "I'm waiting for the streetlights to come on". I'm told last night they came on at 8.15 pm.
Friday, September 16th
The sky is grey it's raining. I have a long walk to rue du Quatre Septembre and the Bourse. The rain is steady so into the Monoprix to buy an umbrella. I stand behind a scrawny young man who talks to the matronly cash register operator. He is quietly spoken and repeats his request a couple of times. She finally understands. He wants sex she says. The French flag on the roof of the Bourse spoils the Greek temple look and the drizzling rain continues all the way back to avenue Rachel.
We have lunch with Bertrand at Restaurant Tifinagh. Tifinagh is well worn and authentic. High school students with their hand rolling tobacco occupy one table and a couple occupies another. The woman is from Brassai's book, The Secret Paris of the 30s. She has peroxide green hair, smokes tailor made cigarettes from a red packet and is wearing an over designed pink leather jacket. She never smiles as she talks. Her male companion nods between bites of cake off a fork. She is probably a local. I see her up at rue Lepic a few days later.
I watch a huge full moon rise over Sacre – Coeur.
Saturday, September 17th
The sun is shining but it's cold, so different to the sticky and hot morning of a week ago. The taxi ride to Gare de l'Est is slow due to the road works. We fix Jacqueline's rail ticket and catch the Metro to Montparnasse to visit the Musee Bourdelle. Looking in the windows of parked cars, military personnel with machine guns patrol the streets of Main Montparnasse. Old Montparnasse was named after the sacred mountain where Apollo entertained his muses. On boulevard Montparnasse, Andre Kertesz sat at a table at the Café du Dome and brokered editorial photographic work for magazines like Detective. To illustrate Detective, Kertesz, Brassai and Bill Brandt re-staged crime scenes.
Boudelle was a student of Rodin yet his work is cold and bears the gestures of automats. While I don't see love in Rodin's work there is passion. Bourdelle's work has the look that became the template for war memorials and Stalin's monuments.
Along boulevard Edgar Quinet, in through the main gate of Cimetiere du Montparnasse. Turn right into the first division and avenue du Boulevart and Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir's shared grave is on the right. I wait as two young women make their photos of each other. They ask me to photograph them together. A lone woman arrives and places a single long stemmed rose on the grave. Arriving at Metro Raspail, we walk down the stairs where Lee Miller met Man Ray and we take the Metro to the 3rd arrondisement to see Bill Brandt. Bill Brandt Photographies is at Galerie Karsten Greve, 5 rue Debellyme. Robert Frank had seen Brandt's pictures in 1969 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Frank wrote,
"I heard a sound, and a feeling inside me woke up. Reality became mystery. To see these nudes is wonderful . . . . I've felt the whiteness of the skin before, I've looked at a woman's body with desire and it became love making and later habit. Here in that cold museum the same familiar feelings return."
I find Brandt's nudes are cold. The Policeman's Daughter's nakedness is something to bear. I'm taken back to scenes from a movie I saw some 40 years before. Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1965) and Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) were a double feature at a suburban drive-in. I would have been sixteen. Repulsion and The Pawnbroker were both black and white movies. Repulsion was not what I expected. It was a "paranoia horror" movie, a genre I wasn't familiar with starring French actress, Catherine Deneuve. If I had seen the movie poster I would have read, "The nightmare world of a Virgin's dreams becomes the screen's shocking reality." The Pawn Broker was a "holocaust survivor" movie and starred Rod Steiger playing the role of New York, pawn broker Sol Nazerman. In flash back, the pawnbroker's beautiful wife was assigned to a brothel in a Nazi death camp. I remember scenes of routine dread reminiscent of the air of Brandt's The Policeman's Daughter.
Brandt was a fan of the cinema of German Expressionism and I read in Telerama that Bill Brandt was also an Orson Welles fan. Luc Desbenoit (2005) writes that Brandt believed he understood Welles' aphoristic "The camera is much more than a recording machine. It is a medium through which messages from other worlds travel." And Desbenoit asks; "Ne dit-il pas qu'il "photographie des souvenirs", pas ce qu' il voir? "Doesn't he say he "photographs memories" not what he sees?"
Wandering through the 3rd arrondisement towards Musee Picasso, I recall how Repulsion and The Pawn Broker had been an impressive double and how Catherine Deneuve was so Paris. The Picasso Museum is closed, something about security. We set off for the café lined, grassed square of Place Des Vosges and Café Hugo to over hear young women speak of their love affairs.
Sunday, September 18th
Sunday morning there are no patisseries open at Place Blanche, so across the bridge to the leafy part of rue Callaincourt where the shopkeepers aren't as friendly as those at Place Blanche. I buy our bread and return for breakfast with Nat King Cole and Sweet Lorraine.
Sunday afternoon we cross the Seine on Alexandre III on our way to the Left Bank. On picturesque Alexandre III, wedding photographers ply their trade. On boulevard St Germain we pass Sartre's haunts the Café des Deux Margots and Café de Flore. The cafes are packed and people pose to be photographed out front. On boulevard Raspail, a red dress on a headless mannequin makes me reach for the Diana. We spend the evening at A la Petite Chaise, the oldest restaurant in Paris and ignore Colette's advice about not eating in Parisian restaurants on Sundays. The onion soup is delicious.
Monday, September 19th
A busker violinist at Place Pigalle Metro plays Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose. We arrive Maubert Mutualite and the Pantheon, another beautiful, Greek temple like building. Then to Jardin du Luxembourg to find The Statue of Liberty. There are at least two in Paris. It was in Jardin du Luxembourg where I first saw Rodin's, Eve. Adam was nearby. Eve was walking away from something terrible. I made pictures with my twin lens Rollieflex and when I developed the film the skies were blemished, damaged. Must have been something in the bathroom water that I used to process the film. I don't care for Rodin's chiselled and smoothed marble sculptures but I do care for his bronzes, especially Eve; vulnerability fashioned in clay then cast in enduring bronze.
We lunch at a café amongst the trees and wander through the gardens. The Statue of Liberty receives the Diana treatment. We stroll along boulevard St Michel, take the Metro to Chateau Rouge, climb up to Sacre-Coeur, down rue du Calvaire and down to La Villa des Abbesses. I pay 4.00 euro for 25 cl of Heineken, watch a man dressed in fox hunting garb, stop and pick up a cigarette butt, light up and continue down rue des Abbesses. I return to avenue Rachel.
Tuesday, September 20th
We leave for Nancy with Jacqueline.
One Evening in Nancy
The light is failing through the window of Café du Foy, I notice a young woman standing in the centre of Place Stanislas by the monument. She is wearing a dark jacket and skirt, like the kind of uniforms shop assistants wear in department stores. Her dark hair is tied back. She wears a large red scarf around her shoulders. She is wearing flat-heeled shoes. Her arms are folded, impatient with the cold. One leg is bent; the other straight supporting the weight of her body. I want to make a picture. However a companion arrives and they leave the square.
Saturday, October 8th
Returning to Paris we stay the night at Hotel Little Regina, just over the road from Gare de l' Est. We have dinner at a café next to Canal St Martin and with Hotel Du Nord nearby I feel like I'm in a movie set. A young woman seated with a group of friends on the side walk makes the foreground for a picture. She asks if I am a photographer and she says the canal is very famous. Around the corner from Hotel Little Regina is Hotel Lorraine, which was the first Paris Hotel I stayed in. It was 1976 and we stayed over night before travelling to Nancy for Joelle's, grandmother's birthday. I wasn't invited. I remember we visited Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise and I saw a bronze tombstone drawn on by Marc Chagall. The first time I slept in Paris was in 1975 in a Kombi van. Hotel Lorraine's sign isn't lit and I put away the camera. It's 7.30 am. A storekeeper rinses urine out of his doorway with a bucket of soapy water. It's 8 am and the light is an even grey now. The promise and anticipation of twilight has gone. Looking down from the fourth floor window, I notice the pale lavender of a discarded Metro ticket on the pavement. The TV says the minimum was 11 degrees and the maximum will be 21. We leave Paris in an hour.
Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida. (R. Howard Trans.). New York: Hill and Wang.
Delany, P. (2004). Bill Brandt: a life. London: Jonathan Cape.
Desbenoit, L. (2005, September 28). Un oeil d'aigle. Telerama, 59-60.
Frank, R. (2005). Robert Frank: New York to Nova Scotia. (Tucker. A, Ed.). Gottingen: Steidl.
Part 2: The End of Everything 2008
Domenica, November 16
Rome's, Fiumicino Airport's self-service rail ticket machine accepts some euro notes and credit cards and spits out others. At 5.30am there are no staff around or shops open. Red-eyed travellers are frustrated. An Italian from Sydney advocates riding the Leonardo Express for free. Joelle perseveres and we have our tickets, one for the Sydney revolutionary and two for us. We leave for Stazione Termini on the 6.36.
What centre Hotel Center occupies is a mystery as it's off our Streetwise Rome map. We walk into the piercing, rising sun of Via Giovanni Giolatti. Our luggage makes the din of a fair ground chocolate wheel as it clicker clackers across the steel grids in the pavement. Hot air rises. Homeless people keeping warm stir. Below the grid is one of Rome's undergrounds. Rome will not be easy to get around. It has only two underground rail lines. Linea A and Linea B. Construction of Linea C is slow as ruined Rome gets in the way.
7.30am. The room isn't ready. We are given a map and requested to come back "after lunch". Reception advises Linea A would take us to the Vatican and I think I hear the number 17 bus will take us to the Colosseum and The Forum. Instead we set off on foot for tree lined Viale Manzoni; it made the promise of interesting shops to Joelle as we passed by. The further we walk the shabbier Viale Manzoni becomes. The graffiti and tattered street posters haven't been read for some time and tree roots lift the pavement. I see the urban landscapes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. At the corner of Viale Manzoni and Via Emanuelle some early morning Romans arrange themselves into a Garry Winogrand street photograph. An elderly man waking from a nightmare rambles by. A woman dressed in black, purposively chooses flowers from a street store. A grey nun steps from a doorway. A man talks to dogs. We walk on and a column rises supporting Santa Maria. A reliquary in Santa Maria Maggiore preserves a fragment of Christ's manger.
On Via XX Septembre, we open Santa Vittoria's door onto a Mass. I can't see Bernini's Saint Theresa. A robed man reads from a pulpit. Behind him are seated more stern faced robed men. Saint Theresa will wait for another day. A small poster fly-pasted on the temporary wall of a construction site announces a recital of Mozart's Requiem. It's tonight. Jet lagged we neglect to note the venue and walk back to Hotel Center. I sleep until 4.30pm. When I wake it's nearly dark. Joelle has been up for some time.
We search for the Mozart poster without luck. An obliging tourist office worker googles and finds the concert. At 6.30pm we are seated in the back row of San Paolo entro le mura (Saint Paul's within the walls). The introduction is brief, the Requiem begins. A soprano's voice is almost as beautiful as our CD. We can't believe our luck. I'm noticing the art behind the orchestra. The entire wall is a mosaic by Burne-Jones. Saint Paul within the walls is the most beautiful church in Rome.
Lunedi, November 17
We purchase our Vatican museum tickets, up the stairs, a huge bust of Rome's supreme god Jupiter has the blow waved hair of a 70s rock star, and out onto the terrace and hovering above the trees, is the dome of Saint Peter's. The guidebook is right, the view is "breathtaking". Domes represent the engorged breasts of Mother Earth, it's not the cross that maps Christendom, it's breasts.
Caravaggio's The Deposition from the Cross is in room XII. It looks like a photograph of a scene from a play. The foreshortened perspective of Caravaggio's Deposition positions the viewer at the distance of the disengaged spectator like the photographer looking through a zoom lens.
A band of pilgrims gathers determinedly at the steps of Saint Peter's, some hope for a cure. We're obliged to wait while the singing pilgrims file through the massive doors. Michelangelo's Pieta is behind glass protected from any more hammer blows. Michelangelo's slender Jesus doesn't have the muscular carpenter's body of the Jesus of Caravaggio's Deposition. We escape Saint Peter's smothering crowds and officials and walk along Via della Constituzione to Umberto Bridge. There is much about Rome that is like Paris with the river and its bridges but it's also so different. Paris is elegant and sophisticated, whereas Rome is earthy and less tidy, with ancient columns strewn all over like dinosaur bones. The past of Paris has been sanitised, whereas Rome's festering origins dislodge Viale Manzoni's pavement and obstruct underground rail construction as Pagan Rome bursts out.
A few street corners from Piazza Vavorona is Sant'Agostino. This will be the first time we see a Caravaggio painting in the church for which it was commissioned. Rome's smaller 15th century churches are so beautiful. Bare footed the Madonna di Loreto stands in the doorway of a Roman house. The Madonna bears the same features as the women of Burne-Jones. Dark hair, a Greek sculpture profile, a strong neck, a clearly defined eyebrow that looks like it meets the other, a pronounced and rounded full jaw and chin, and Elvis Presley's mouth. The Madonna exhausted is about to swoon.
In nearby San Luigi dei Francesci, is Caravaggio's, Calling of St Matthew, Saint Matthew and the Angel and the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.
Matthew and a group of men, some wearing fancy plumed hats and flashy striped blouses like a jockey's, sit around a table gambling, or perhaps Matthew is collecting tax. A beam of light shines into the seated men's eyes. Matthew's days of hanging around with fancy young men are over. The viewer of Saint Matthew and the Angel is seated in the front row of a theatre and looking up at the stage. As Saint Matthew transcribes his gospel the stool he leans on has one leg tottering over the edge of the stage. He will surely topple off. Caravaggio's Saint Matthew is about to tumble onto someone's lap sitting in the front row?
Caravaggio's commission requested Saint Matthew murdered celebrating Mass in a temple like setting. Though Caravaggio's Martyrdom resembles more a brawl in a sauna, with three of the bodies in the busy scene naked except for mini robes tied around waists. One of the semi naked bodies, a youth wearing a headband, is the sword wielding assassin. Rather than an Ethiopian soldier, the head banded assassin looks more like a Caravaggio angel.
Martedi, November 18
We follow Viale Manzoni and Via Labicana to The Colosseum and the Palatine Museum. In the Palatine Museum is a sculpture of Dionysus. There are traces of red in the long hair that snakes over his shoulders. What a pity his head has been removed. The face of Friedrich Nietzsche's anti Christ is kept a secret. Nietzsche believed that if Beethoven's Hymn of Joy could be turned into a painting it would provide a vision of the Dionysian. Rites with ecstatic and intoxicated initiates, tearing apart and devouring live animals, is not easy to reconcile with Beethoven's 9th. Perhaps an ACDC or Led Zeppelin concert or John Coltrane's Live in Seattle would be more Dionysian than Beethoven. We wander around The Forum imagining another Rome, visit Piazza Venezzia and walk to Hotel Center for a rest.
It's 4pm and we arrive at Santa Vittoria. Opening the door this time there is no Mass. In a Capella on the left, is Bernini's larger than life size Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. An angel with a thrusting spear smiles at the reclining and ecstatic saint. Saint Theresa's foot is the size of a basketballer's.
Santa Maria del Popolo at the northern end of Piazza di Popolo houses Caravaggio's Conversion of Saint Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter. Both paintings have only a few pictorial elements but the sense of space in both is claustrophobic. The crucifixion scene is lit by one light source whereas the conversion scene uses more complex lighting. Strong but diffuse light comes from the right of the conversion frame. The light directly above Saint Paul accords with The Living Bible's account of the scene in Acts 9:3 "a brilliant light from heaven spotted down upon him!"However, Caravaggio's spotlight on Saint Paul is not brilliant, but more strong, diffused stage lighting, whereas the biblical light was so bright that Paul was blinded for three days. Caravaggio's differing lighting directions and strengths, and sufficient fill light to illuminate shadows, produces a hyper real illusion of modelling and form. Portrait photographers know Caravaggio's use of sidelight, and overhead butterfly light, as Rembrandt lighting.
Mercoledi, November 19
Our last day in Rome, we arrive at Metro Barberini and find the Trevi Fountain, such a big monument for such a small space. Along Via Veneto is Bernini's seashell drinking fountain with the bees. The crypt of Santa Maria della Concesie is crammed with the bones of 4000 Capuchin monks. Intact skeletons in robes lie in state. Capuchin monks weren't very tall. The gardens of Villa Borghese are expansive and beautiful. As we have no reservation we will have to return in the afternoon to visit the Galleria Borghese and see the seven Caravaggio paintings. We lunch at the Spanish Steps. We walk to The Pantheon. What a primal place. There is power here. We cross the Tiber on Ponte Sisto, Rome's first bridge. We walk through Travestere, The Devil's District. I'm transported to Il Capo in Palermo. Joelle feels uneasy in Travestere. Perhaps in summer and overgrown with vines it is more like the guidebook. But Santa Maria di Travestere is beautiful. We are spent and too tired to return to Galleria Borghese. Rome's taxis are affordable so from Ponte Garibaldi we taxi to Hotel Center and stay in for the night with convenience store food. A pity about the Borghese's seven Caravaggio paintings, next time.
Giovedi, November 20
Flat, cleared farmland, interrupted by wooded hills, is framed in the train window. A flock of Burne-Jones, Saint Paul's between the walls sheep pass by. Now a forest brushed with earth brown, khaki greens and apple yellows. Winter is coming. Heading north it will get colder. The colours blend together like watercolour. The skies are soft and the clouds have no edges. I want to jump off the train and stay here. Passing through tunnels ears start popping, we must be climbing.
We change trains at Florence. Siena is only 40 kilometres away but the train will travel via Empoli and take 1 hour and 40 minutes. But the gentle pace proves restful and suits the countryside. Locals alight and board here and there, none in much of a hurry. I wonder what is on their minds? What they will be doing today? An affectionate couple sit opposite. "How long will the train take?"They are surprised. They have no luggage.
Siena's store windows are stacked with panforte. Christmas is coming.
Sitting on the terrace of Bar Il Palio, the tension leaves our bodies and rolls down the slope of Piazza Del Campo towards Palazzo Publicca. Rome was a big town and not easy to get around. Some churches were so difficult to find and we walked and walked and walked. Here in Siena, our hotel is just 50 metres away in Piazza Indipendenza. A pigeon lands on a nearby table. It has no feet. Bar Il Palio plays early Beatles.
It was July 2,1975. We arrived early to take the place on the barricade closest to the entrance of Palazzo Pubblico. We witnessed the moment after the blessing when the horses clattered and clopped through the Town Hall's doors. A young rider had the face of a Paul Strand portrait. It was the last day of the Palio and the contrada of Istrice would soon have victory. The prize, a Madonna adorned banner. I've been to Siena three times now. That first time without a camera. The second time in 1984 with a camera that square pictured a man in a suit, leaning on a bollard in the middle of a nearby street and now this third time. I would be happy with a good suit photograph. Dorothea Lange and August Sander both made wonderful suit photographs. Imagine a room with a view of Piazza Del Campo. Siena is so beautiful. Rust brown stone, flashes of light and glimpses of the eternal. In 1348 The Black Death took half of Siena's people. Ghosts are everywhere. Ristorante Spaghetteria da Renzo's (14, via Delle Terme) minestrone soup is delicious. The cook's face says she has spent a lifetime in the fields.
Venerdi, November 21
At 8am the sun finds an occasional wall in Banchi Di Sotto while most are in deep shadow. The late November sun is low in the sky all day, morning, mid day and afternoon. I think of Harry Callahan's Chicago light but the streets here are too narrow for sunbeams to penetrate. I haven't seen Siena in this kind of light before. The Holgas won't cope. I need my Rolleiflex.
In Museo dell' Opera del Duoma, Duccio Di Buoninsegna's Madonna of The Maesta, sits enthroned surrounded by saints and angels on panels 5 metres wide. After Rome's Renaissance paintings of torture, martyrdom and melodrama, I'm enjoying the stillness of Siena's 14th century painting. Although Terre Verte (Green Earth), the Medieval and early Renaissance under painting colour for human flesh is unsettling. The use of green enhances the warmth of the over painted red Cinabrese skin colour but when I see green flesh I see putrescence. Duccio's, The Maesta was painted for Siena's Cathedral in 1311, 7 years before his death and 37 years before the arrival of The Black Death.
Sabato, November 22
We leave Siena on the 8.47 for Florence.
A woman shakes a rug over a balcony.
On the horizon is a snow-capped mountain.
Arriving, we walk to 6 via Medici, a family stands by the entrance, the parents are crying, we are given the key to room 406. What a hotel room! Hotel Medici must be a 2 star hotel. There is room to walk around the bed and there is a writing desk. The bathroom is small but not as small as in Rome and Siena where you could shower while sitting on the toilet. We meet Ivan in the street near the Duomo; he's a little grey now. He travelled to Florence from Bern. It's good to be together again. It's been 8 years. We find a bar that sells expensive beer. Ivan asks what the photo project is about. It's about The End of Everything I say.
Domenica, November 23
The Uffizi's enigmatic blonde gazing at the viewer, in Botticelli's Primavera, I think her name is Flora, looks like Cate Blanchett. A Wikepedia down load claims that Renaissance blondes bleached their hair in urine.
The colours of Caravaggio's The Sacrifice of Isaac are more sombre than the other paintings we've seen. Perhaps the others were cleaned, or perhaps it's the dim lighting in the room, or perhaps that's how it was painted. Sombre. It's a sombre business, God ordering a father to kill his son. An angel grips Abraham's knife wielding wrist, and points to the surrogate sacrificial ram. Isaac's eyes confused and terrified, plead to the viewer. What a powerful rendering of terror. The viewer can do nothing. The eyes of the ram don't leave the finger-pointing angel.
On the other side of the Arno is Cappella Brancacci and Masaccio's beautiful frescoes. Masaccio commences the Brancacci Chapel frescoes in 1427. In 1428 Masaccio leaves for Rome and soon after dies, at the age of 26, leaving the frescoes unfinished. In 1484, 9 years after the birth of Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi completes the Brancacci frescoes. Italian art is still some time away from the Michelangelo revolution. Masaccio's work is known for its naturalism, yet his figures retain a medieval stiffness. They are made as if of painted wood that is slowly coming to life. They gesture like marionettes. The Church had used puppets controlled by strings for morality plays. Marionette means Mary Doll.
Masaccio's Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, is Edvard Munch like. Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Conscience and Yahweh is angry, as they now can discriminate good from evil without having to defer to him. If they eat from the Tree of Life, then they become immortal, as gods, so they are expelled. In my 1956 publication of the frescoes, Adam and Eve are depicted wearing stencilled fig leaves. The frescoes have since returned to their original portrayal and Adam has a penis and testicles. Masaccio paints no snake. The only other figure, is a sword-wielding angel dressed in red, ushering the striding couple from Paradise. Eve's face is grotesque in its anguish. What a terrible consequence for humanity. What did she do that was so wrong?
A wine bar and pizzeria on Via De Cimatori beckons and invites us in for dinner. The Divina Comedia has a bohemian feel about it. I imagine poetry brewing here. A waitress wears a wild hairstyle. The food and wine is tasty and affordable. After dinner, Ivan will return to Bern on a night train and tomorrow we leave for Paris.
Lundi, November 24
7am. It's raining. There's thunder.
We've been lucky. Everyday has been sunny but today it's raining.
7.45. The Duomo's bells are ringing, a cascading, tumbling, joyful sound as in Sicily when the bride and groom, showered in fertility rice, leave the church.
It's raining more heavily.
The weather is closing in. The mountains beyond the airport are faint now.
Approaching Zurich we fly through a cloud of steam coming from what looks like a nuclear reactor.
It's raining in Paris. People dressed for the cold are darting like a Arles sky full of swallows in out of the traffic of Gare Du Nord. I'm too buggered to take out a camera. We're hungry. We eat at Hippopotamus.
Mardi, November 25
Galerie Laurent Strouk
8 bis, rue Jacques Callot
Exhibition: William Klein Contacts
William Klein's retreatment of his funky, carnival-esque, genre defining, 1950s street shots,and later work is surprising. He's made contact prints of some of his most well known pictures and then painted aggressively with bold, thick colour, around and over the images. The young gallery assistant asks if we know his work. "He is very important."She tells us that William Klein lives in Paris near the Jardin de Luxembourg. Klein must be 80 I guess. I give the young gallery assistant my website address. I wonder if she will look?
2 rue des Beaux Arts
For sale are vintage prints by Cartier-Bresson and Doisneau. I prefer Doisneau's atmospheric portrait to Cartier-Bresson's carefully composed portrait. There are also photos of the Beatles, Rodin, Cezanne and Marilyn Monroe as a young, unrecognisable brunette. Imagine if you lived in Paris and were after a special gift for a friend, what could be better than one of these photographs?
Galerie Camera Obscura
268 Boulevarde Raspail
Exhibition: Sarah Moon 12345
Sarah Moon's smudged, New York Photo Secession styled vamps and prints are evocative but lack the emotional darkness and melancholy of Stieglitz's fin de siecle Camera Work. Yet an elephant in a frame of deep black is very strong. It does look like a 19th century photo. An elephant lost in Galerie Camera Obscura.
Foundation H-C-B (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
2 Impasse Lebois
Exhibition: Henri Cartier-Bresson Walker Evans Photographier L'Amerique 1929 – 1947
Walking to the H-C-B Foundation, we follow the wall of Cimetiere du Montparnasse. When Jean Paul Sartre died; Simone De Beauvoir leased an apartment opposite the cemetery, so as to be near him. There's the plaque. She lived there. Simone and Jean Paul's grave is just behind the wall.
Walker Evans' style is gothic - flat and front on. His photographs of America's joyless 1930s, pictured places and people, not dissimilar to the Western Australia where I grew up in the 1950s. Perhaps that's why I find his pictures engaging. Some of Walker's best pictures are in this exhibition.
A young Walker Evans travels to Paris to become a writer. Writing doesn't work out so he stays with photography. "If it had not been for the challenge of the work of Walker Evans I don't think I would have remained a photographer."Wrote Cartier-Bresson. H.C.B.'s American photos are like Walker Evans' pictures.
Mercredi, November 26
Galeries nationale du Grand Palais Exhibition: Emil Nolde 1867 – 1956 With cubes of colour and brushes and boxes of pencils, students make studies of Emil Nolde. I'm aware of Nolde's work and the importance of the period, but I don't know his art that well. Nolde's mid 1890s paintings of fantastic mountain giants would be apt illustrations for the imaginative worlds of children's books. His early paintings are in the styles of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Lautrec. The beautiful Couple sur la plage (1903), is reminiscent of Seurat. Then from the 1912, Enfant et grand oiseau, the work is the expressionist style for which Nolde is known. The 9 panelled, over 5 metres wide, "La Vie du Christ"occupies one room. Nolde used green underpainting for human skin just as the Medieval and early Renaissance painters. A movie is screened in the museum. Joseph Goebbels enters the 1937, Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich. The exhibition purposed to ridicule Modernism. Nolde was forbidden to paint by the Nazis. Friend, Paul Klee said, Nolde was a daemon. The creature floating in the sky of Nolde's Avant le lever du soleil (Before the sunrise), really is a daemon. We spend the afternoon amongst Monet's water lilies and haystacks at Musee Marmottan Monet. Joelle buys a book on Impressionist Berthe Morisot. We enjoy the last of the daylight on Rue Rivoli.
Jeudi, November 27
At Gare de L'Est, waiting for the Nancy train, I sit next to a Holocaust deportation memorial. 11am. I'm breathing out fog. It's going to be freezing in the east. It was minus 6 degrees last night. My feet and fingers are numb. A café proprietor pours a glass of boiling water over his tiles. Steam rises. He mops briskly. The temperature is dropping. I stand and move my legs. There's Joelle. The sun, low on the horizon, breaks through and cuts like a laser from one side of the carriage to the other. Sitting opposite, a devoted Joseph, sporting a shaved head, gold earring and three piece light grey business suit, cradles baby Jesus in his arms as if the baby is made of wafer thin porcelain. Mary sleeps. We arrive, Nancy is full of sunshine. A taxi with two chatty drivers, delivers us to Lay St Christophe and Jacqueline's. Joelle was back last year with Nanou to visit her Mother. I haven't seen Jacqueline for 3 years.
Vendredi, November 28
Lay St. Christophe's winter sun rises behind the southeast corner of the patio window and sets behind the southwest corner of the patio window, never rising high in the sky. When I first arrived in London from Western Australia, in 1975, the early April, English sun never rose high in the sky either. I felt uneasy about that low sun.
Samedi, November 29
Jacqueline has lost a pearl earring. It was Raymonde's, Guy's mother. Caravaggio's The Annunciation, is in gallery 8, of Nancy's Musee des Beaux - Arts. Mary's head is bowed, an angel, face hidden in the dark canvas, points tentatively towards her. The angel wrapped sensually in cloth from the best of shops is Baroque, silent Mary in profile is Gothic. Medieval faith had Mary impregnated by a beam of light. Her solitude fills the room.
Dimanche, November 30
At breakfast the pearl earring is found in the sugar bowl. Benoit and family are arriving soon. We are having Sunday lunch together. I'm typing this in Guy's office. Guy was a historian and Jacqueline has slowly been disposing of his books. Now most are gone, with the shelves that aren't empty, occasioned with left over monographs, nick-knacks and sundry other things. I notice a photo on top of a pile. It's quirky, the camera has made the young woman pictured an amputee. She has only one arm. Guy was good with a camera. The Cabourdin family album photos, are like editorial pictures from Paris Match. This photo doesn't have his sense of style, but it intrigues. Joelle had made the photograph of a school friend. I notice an old photomaton picture of Jacqueline. I will ask Benoit to make a scan. What a beautiful portrait of Joelle's mother! Benoit, Catherine, Mathieu and Melanie arrive. Lunch is at L'Auberge de Courcelles.
Mercredi, December 3
Catherine arrives to drive us to Nancy railway station. Jacqueline waves goodbye from the kitchen window.
10.28 The train leaves.
10.48 Blobs of snow are scattered like rocks in a field.
The TGV is picking up speed.
I would rather be sitting so that we can see where we are going rather than where we have been.
The TGV is now hurtling along. I'm feeling sick.
Crows in the sky.
Fields and village rooftops flaked lightly with snow.
All flash past.
I listen to Neil Young's, Tonight's the Night.
I'm climbin' this ladder
My head in the clouds
I hope that it matters
I'm havin' my doubts
I'm singin' this borrowed tune
I took from The Rolling Stones
Alone in this empty room
Too wasted to write my own
I first heard Tonight's the Night, on a small cassette player that sat on a bedside table in Joelle's room in Richmond. I don't recall hearing Borrowed Tune. It's such a good song, just a harmonica, piano, and that voice.
A black angel rests in a field. His wings are heavy.
A grove of bare trees is skeletal, like veins in a dried leaf.
All green is a field of Christmas trees.
There's a young deer.
11.47 graffiti – industry – suburbs – Paris – it's exactly 12.
We lunch at Foodissimo
4.13 Eurostar is leaving.
5.40 We enter the Channel Tunnel.
6.11 We are in England.
6.48 Paris time, Eurostar comes to a halt. I turn off the iPod and The Stones' Little Red Rooster. We are in London.
Arriving at St. Pancras Railway Station at 6 is a mistake. The taxi crawls through the traffic to Exhibition Road. We should have taken the tube. The meter clicks over 20 quid and we're not at Alistair's yet. At last! Ali hears the wheels of our luggage skipping over the mews' cobblestones and opens his door with a smile. After home made pizza it's off to Onslow Gardens and the Anglesea Arms, the pub where Bruce Reynolds plotted The Great Train Robbery.
Thursday, December 4
Hammersmith is 4 Piccadilly Line tube stops from South Kensington. We're spending our first morning in London revisiting Fulham. The Hammersmith Odeon must be nearby, but I can't see where. It's now called the Hammersmith Apollo. Bruce Springsteen played there. I remember the Born to Run posters along Fulham Palace Road. Joelle invited me to the Odeon for "A Hairy Ape"concert, when we arrived, it was a Uriah Heap concert, they were awful. When we met, Joelle's English was limited and I spoke no French. I invited Joelle over for tea, I should have said dinner, she arrived having already eaten. There's the Fulham Palace Road exit. We begin the walk to Putney Bridge. On the way we shall find the Greyhound Pub, where we met, and after Finlay Street, where I had lived. A biting wind whips at us. A blinding sun stabs our eyes. The sun and the wind are turning us back to Hammersmith. Our arrival has provoked powerful forces. We're drawn into a cosmic maelstrom. Identities transform. Howling from the south, the wind is not Notus, but devouring, kidnapping, snakes for feet, the cold of winter, North Wind, Boreus. The winged horses Pyrios, Aeos, Aethon and Phlegon are spitting blazing darts of fire. I imagine blindfolded Fortuna in Fulham Palace Road, with her ball and wheel that rolls and spins in any direction. I feel the presence of Clotho, the Fate, the weaver of destinies. With her two sisters, she is a daughter of Night. Incantations are chanted, spells and counter spells are cast. Zeus, furious over the Fates allowing Sarpedon's life taken by the spear of Patroclus, hurls a vengeful lightning bolt. The air sizzles. Clotho deflects the bolt with ease. The Battle of SW6 is swift. The night that Joelle and I met at the Greyhound Pub remains that night. The moments of the going away of a daughter to somewhere so far away remain those moments. Jacqueline waves goodbye from the kitchen window. The vanquished sun and wind abate. Zeus, the storm gatherer, taking the form of an eagle, launches into the air, and flaps sulkily northeast towards Chelsea. Fortuna and Clotho, indifferent to their victory, make no carry on. The Greyhound Pub is now The Southern Belle. We had walked Fulham Palace road so many times, yet there are buildings we can't recall, even a cemetery. Those London, autumn and winter months of 1975 were such an intense time. They were the days of the end of everything. After Creswell Street is Finlay Street, then Bishop's Park and then the Thames.
Bishop's Park is as cheerless this morning as when in September, 1975 I shot the new Pentax Spotmatic's first roll of film. We leave Fulham walking along New Kings Road. It's a long way to Sloane Square. We catch the number 22 for Piccadilly Circus. On congested Kings Road, perched high on a restaurant's wall, are two eagles and nearby two goddesses. They were also there in 1975. Which of the eagles is sulky Zeus I wonder?
Not finding a pub around Sloane Square we lunch at Starbucks which are everywhere. We Christmas shop for Remi and Alix, then from Sloane Square and a change at South Kensington; the Underground takes us to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly's Eros flashes the same knowing smile of the angel thrusting the spear at Saint Teresa in Santa Vittoria in Rome. A short walk finds Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery. In room 34 are the three Caravaggio paintings. Boy bitten by a lizard, Supper at Emmaus and Salome with the head of Saint John the Baptist. Supper at Emmaus is such a beautiful painting. A risen and chubby faced Christ, shares a meal with two raggedy disciples. A French speaking tour guide points at the bowl of fruit, perched precariously by Caravaggio on the edge of the table, about to spill onto the floor of room 34 of the National Gallery. John the Baptist's head is rendered with large, loose, rough brush strokes. The flesh transforms into waxy flakes of paint. Salome's face is painted smoothly, seamlessly, with no brush marks. Salome does not look at her prize, John's head. Instead she is distracted, and gazes out to the left of the frame towards the floor. Her expression is of annoyance and disdain. Perhaps incongruous, given the grotesque, severed head lumped onto the platter she clutches. It's as if the cat, has just coughed up a fresh fur ball onto her new carpet.
Friday, December 5
I'm up early and on the Central Line to St. Paul's and then to The City. Saint Paul's is un-photographable. I can't get back far enough.
An underground violinist plays Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.
I walk along The City's Threadneedle Street. The financial district's streets are cold and hard. Robert Frank made pictures here.
I meet Joelle for lunch.
An underground guitarist plays Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.
We spend the afternoon in Covent Garden. At nightfall, we walk under Waterloo Bridge, along the Victoria Embankment, across the river on the Jubilee Bridge, walk along The Thames Path, pass the stores selling freshly roasted food, walk by the giant Eye of London, over Westminster Bridge, along Whitehall, through the Horse Guards Parade, along The Mall, Haymarket, there's Piccadilly Circus, it's time to eat. What a beautiful walk.
Saturday, December 6
I'm up early and on the Piccadilly Line to Russell Square. It was a hotel on Russell Square, where I spent my first night in London. The hotel-lined Square is much larger than I remember. The red telephone booths that dot the Square are wall papered with blue-tacked sex industry advertising. The advertising boasts, "No Rush."One flyer claims to be a "genuine photograph". Around the corner is the British Museum. I picture sleeping streets and waking lions. A little further on is Tottenham Court Road. It was on Tottenham Court Road where I bought my first camera, the Pentax. I don't care for today's digital cameras. They have the personality of a television.
I join Joelle for breakfast before we set off for some window shopping along Sloane Avenue. We ride a packed tube to Notting Hill Gate. The Saturday afternoon crowds in the streets around Portobello Market are thick. After lunch in a pub, we walk to Hyde Park. The Prince Albert Memorial is Romanesque and St. Peter's-esque. Gold, marble, mosaics, an American buffalo, an Indian elephant, Prince Albert in an Elvis Vegas years cloak. Queen Victoria disapproved and the monument was covered until after her death. Walking through Knightsbridge and the pressing crowds of Harrods we find a supermarket and purchase our evening meal.
Sunday, December 7
An underground guitarist plays Jim Hendrix's Hey Joe.
Our last day in London and we are on the way to Joelle's favourite place, Kew Gardens. Joelle had lived nearby in Richmond, but can't remember the name of the street. The barrier at the Kew Gardens tube station ignores our out of zone day passes, and refuses to open, but we manage an exit. Walking down West Park Road, I lose my footing. Ice! The path is treacherous. Who are the gods, summoned today, to obstruct our passage I wonder? Just left around the corner there's the house. Joelle had lived at 110 Mortlake Road. Malevolent daemons stir. We don't linger and return to the tube station, cross the railway bridge, have a coffee at Starbucks and find the Kew Gardens' entrance. Frost covers the grass and the lake is iced over. We walk and walk. It's so beautiful. I picture an Alice in Wonderland hedge. A late lunch amongst blazing rays of sunlight, in the Kew Glasshouse Café, and it's time to return to Exhibition Road and Princes Mews. On the way is the Victoria & Albert.
Alfred Stieglitz's The Steerage, is in the Victoria and Albert's photography collection, a gift from Georgia O'Keeffe. As a painter, O'Keeffe shared what she saw without fuss. Images of flowers, the Hudson River, New Mexico, Ghost Ranch. Always dressed in black and white, she looked like a photograph. With her dark hair tied back, Stieglitz found her irresistible. On the same wall as The Steerage is a beautiful print by Joel Meyerowitz. One of a series of 12 photographs; The French Portfolio. The young woman pictured so pensive and distant.
Monday, December 8
A car glides slowly through the dark over the cobblestones of Princes Mews and comes to a careful stop at our door. It looks comfortable. A Volkswagen model I haven't seen before. We confirm Terminal 3. We load our luggage.
Tuesday, December 9
Remi says, "What are you two doing back?" He's put a 6 pack of Stella Artois in the fridge. On the kitchen table, is Alix's Christmas CD and a note. "Welcome Home." She will arrive back from work soon.
Part 3: The Stranger Wore A Gun (2009)
November 11. Remembrance Day.
I leave Joelle and Alix sleeping.
Remi drives me to the airport, we hug and say goodbye.
The plane pushes off, my watch says it's 5.55am. 9½ hours into the flight I'm reading Francis Golffing's translation of Friedrich Nietzsche's, The Birth of Tragedy & The Genealogy of Morals. Perhaps The Death of Tragedy should have been the title? "With tragedy the Greeks had given up the belief in immortality: not only a belief in an ideal past, but also the belief in an ideal future."wrote Nietzsche (page 72). Nietzsche's mortal Tragedy dies by suicide with a lethal dose of Socratism. In The Birth of Tragedy chapter IV in fluorescent yellow I underline;
Although of the two halves of life - the waking and the dreaming - the former is generally considered not only the more important but the only one which is truly lived, I would at the risk of sounding paradoxical, propose the opposite view. The more I have come to realize in nature those omnipotent formative tendencies and, with them, an intense longing for illusion, the more I feel inclined to the hypothesis the original Oneness, the ground of Being, ever suffering and contradictory, time and again has need of rapt vision and delightful illusion to redeem itself.
In The Genealogy of Morals chapter XXII in fluorescent yellow I underline;
The reader may have guessed already that I have no fondness of the New Testament … The Old Testament is another matter. I have the highest respect for that book. I find in it great men, a heroic landscape, and one of the rarest things on earth, the naiveté of a strong heart.
There is a scene in Genesis where Lot of Sodom, offers his daughters to the mob as scapegoats for the two visiting angels who Lot is protecting and who the mob wants to rape. Lot declares that his daughters are virgins and "to do with as you wish."I'm reading The Old Testament and imagining pictures.
The flight is taking so long. The LCD jet crawls across the Indian Ocean and over the Arabian Sea. Flying away from the sun the sky will darken only a few hours out of London. The plane arrives late at Dubai, local time is 1.17 pm. The Dubai haze is thicker than Beijing's. The connecting flight to London leaves in less than an hour. This trip to London so unexpected, I'm pleased. Whenever I've left London it has always been too soon.
6.30pm London time, the Piccadilly line from Heathrow moves in slow motion. Sounds are muffled in the darkness, I think of Wim Wender's movie Wings of Desire and the silent thoughts of commuters and apartment dwellers heard by unseen angels. A family dressed in formal garb on the way to a recital embarks at Baron's Court. They are late. I listen to their English voices and look into their English faces. They chat. I'm invisible.
South Kensington Underground Station's Snax convenience store sells beer at £1.49 a can or 4 cans for 5 quid. Off Exhibition Road, into the Mews, knock on Ali's door once, twice. No answer. There's an envelope at my feet, the key hangs in the Olive tree on the left. Ali will be back later. The TV is on Sky News, the same news is repeated every 15 minutes, news presenters over act to conceal indifference, I drink 3 beers, watch the news 3 times and go to bed. I will see Ali in the morning before I leave for Fulham. I'm going to photograph The Elephants' Graveyard I told a friend.
1932's, Tarzan The Ape Man was still popular in the 1950s? I recall a 50s photo by Alan Ginsberg of Neil Cassidy in front of a cinema showing The Wild One, Stranger Wore A Gun and Tarzan the Ape Man. I saw Tarzan the Ape Man when I was a child and remember the moment of revelation when the secret location of The Elephant's Graveyard is disclosed. An aged elephant, closely trailed by cagey treasure hunters, plods into a waterfall and disappears. The treasure hunters follow through the cascading wall of water and enter the cavernous and ivory strewn elephants' graveyard. They are rich!
When I travelled home on the District Line I would walk to Finlay Street along Fulham Palace Road from the Putney Bridge direction. When I travelled on the Victoria Line I would walk home along Fulham Palace Road from the Hammersmith direction. That walk was longer. After meeting Joelle; she lived in Richmond, I most often walked home from the Hammersmith direction. Today, two Hammersmith policeman suspect I'm al-Qaeda. "You can't be too careful with photographs."says a policeman.
The number of crosses and churches along Fulham Palace Road are more than I remember, then my eyes were on the pavement not the sky. The mobile rings, it's working, it's Joelle, there's a delay, we talk over each over, I had left Joelle without saying goodbye. She hears police and ambulance sirens. She's wondering where I am. I'm near where The Greyhound Pub use to be, just passed Charing Cross Hospital.
At Fulham Cemetery a large bird with a round tube like beak and striking blue feathers scattered amongst drab brown and grey feathers looks at me suspiciously. I wonder if it is a camouflaged surveillance-camera. The cemetery bird looks like a wind up toy. This is my first visit to the cemetery, despite walking past so many times. A young woman sits alone on a bench, she looks troubled.
I arrive at Finlay Street, my 1975 London home. Last year, December, 2008, walking down Finlay Street for the first time after so many years, I saw myself, there in the street, as a 25 year old. I saw the faded blue of the denim shirt and jeans, the warm black and red jacket, the hands fumbling in pockets for the Underground pass and the boyish body hurrying to Putney Bridge Station. The 25 year old didn't notice me standing by the schoolyard fence. I was a ghost. That last December visit spooked Joelle. Our return provoked the stirring of daemons, we left hurriedly and I never made the walk from the corner of Finlay Street, along Fulham Palace Road, passed the corner of Fulham Road to my Putney Bridge tube stop. Fulham Palace Road curves slowly from Putney Bridge towards Hammersmith like a beckoning finger.
At a charity store near the corner of Cowan Street I spend £1.50 on a plastic angel to decorate our Christmas tree and on 2 small glasses for a Christmas toast. A young mother pleased with the purchase of a new second hand coat thanks the storekeeper. I enter a "greasy spoon". It's bright and cheerily painted in Monet's kitchen yellow. I've been here before but the personnel have changed. A father and son serve breakfast all day. 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, 2 toast, tea or coffee for £3.90. In heavy metal gothic vein blue Brighton Rock pink lettering on the son's ample forearm is tattooed Arsenal. Two women sit nearby, sisters, twins? They are so alike. The sister dressed in jeans, scarf, jacket, beanie and boots is leaving her husband, she would be in her 40s, she's dressed for the cold. "Is Fulham playing this weekend?" No it's all Internationals this weekend. "Extra salt and vinegar please."
Sitting by the entrance to Putney Bridge Underground Station, I re - load the Rolleiflex. I share the bench with an unlikely couple. One, a talkative man with stylish grey hair and a smart black over coat, looks like a used car salesman, or a lawyer, or a spy. The other beefy one, who says nothing, has a shaved head and looks like a night club bouncer. The talkative one had a camera just like the Rolleiflex. "A Box Brownie."They stand to catch the incoming bus. Now they purchase underground tickets. Now they approach me on the footbridge over the Thames. I think they are Special Branch. I leave for Temple, Somerset House and the Courtauld Institute where there is a predella by Fra Angelico
The rain is heavy on the cobblestones, the sound of a fast train or is it a line of supermarket shopping trolleys being pushed across a car park? I write with a soft lead pencil and watch the words slide onto the paper and see and feel them taking form, like a drawing. Writing like photographing, makes those moments of recognition last. The pencil is blunt, the lead is too soft. This morning I'm returning to Fulham to photograph Bishop's Park. I didn't have time yesterday.
Bishop's Park, so familiar and so strange, this could be the day I shot the first roll of film of my first camera. Two crows drink from a puddle. There's something about crows. How many crows make a murder, how many elephants make a graveyard wonders the stranger who wore a gun?
South Kensington, November 2009.
An independent review of the Diana's Pictures Exhibition in Perth 2006