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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

I am reading a book called “The Theory of Clouds” by Stéphane Audeguy. It is, like much of what I like to read, a mix of fact and fiction and focuses on a history of cloud watching.

A section of the book  tells the story of the painter Carmichael (supposedly based on John Constable) and his obsession with capturing clouds in paint. I had always considered Constable a painter of mills and bucolic settings, but you can see from this google search the extent of his cloud paintings, just a few reproduced here.

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The difficulty of capturing the cloud is discussed at length on “A Theory..” however now the camera captures clouds with more ease, which you see everywhere in photography from Aotearoa.

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Laurence Aberhart. Catholic Cross, Puketapu, Hawke’s Bay, June 1982
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I have recently succumbed to the tyranny of the pedometer. I need to move and get outdoors because the winter gloom of Southern New Zealand affects me quite a lot and sun and exercise helps. Thing thing is…exercise. In my much younger days I climbed and tramped and the thought of “artificial exercise” eg the gym, chills me. I have friends who walk and I am a fan of flâneury on the page at least, see here and here. Related to this, some of my favourite books relate to psychogeography, brilliant examples being Martin Edmonds’  “Chronicle of the Unsung” and “Dark Night: Walking with McCahon“. More recently I discovered WB Sebald whose “Rings of Saturn” which I cannot recommend strongly enough.

So can I walk with purpose in my small town, and is it big enough that I can also wander? Initially I am being guided by the 1970s books “Taieri Buildings” and “More Taieri Buildings” by Lemon and Bascand, and am trying to locate all the buildings still there that are within the build up area. Sadly some, like the old Flour Mill (in this photo just before its demolition), have been reduced to gravel carparks.

Recently on a night walk I managed to circumnavigate, by accident, the grounds of what was Holy Cross College, a former seminary. This photo was taken around 1900 I am guessing, as a new chapel was built in 1902.

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DCC Archives, postcard in Taieri County Council Photograph Series. Photographer: AW Bathgate

And today I took this – from a similar position. You can see a former convent just in front, now a house.

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Poor phone camera photo taken today of same view.

So yes….more to walk and write about. I am also excited to compare urban, rural and small town journeys. In Rebecca Solnit’s “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” she writes “In the country one’s solitude is geographical – one is altogether outside society….In the city, one is alone because the world is made up of strangers, and to be a stranger surrounded by starkest…is among the starkest of luxuries”.

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For most of last year I was immersed in geographic academia and geographical detail remains intriguing to me. This morning I chanced to hear just the beginning of a radio interview with Jake Gorst, director of Modern Tide, about modernist architecture on the East Coast of the US.. The first thing that struck me was his statement that Long Island was 100 miles long. I don’t know why this hadn’t registered with me in the past. But on reflection it makes sense, as many of my literary/arts favourites have some sort of connection to the island and yet I had never really connected.

Jackson Pollock lived and died there. The Pollock Krasner house in Springs in the Hamptons is now a study centre and museum of sorts.

Both Armistead Maupin and Edmund White’s (especially Forgetting Elena) stories of Fire Island.

Large parts of John Irving’s “Widow for One Year” takes place in the Hamptons also at Sagaponack. This is not an easy book but captures human nature so well like much of Irving’s writing

The wonderful book “Architect of Desire” about the infamous Stanford White was largely located at the Box Hill estate in Smithtown.

The decline of Box Hill led me to research the fading history of Long Island and I discovered this website about the mansions of Long Island and the architectural relics of its heyday.

The mansions of course bring us to one of the most know Long Island stories “The Great Gatsby” and I was surprised how close to New York in modern terms Gatsby’s Estate was. Wikipedia states that ” In this novel, Great Neck (King’s Point) became the new-money peninsula of “West Egg” and Port Washington (Sands Point) the old-money “East Egg”. Several mansions in the area served as inspiration for Gatsby’s home, such as Oheka Castle and the now-demolished Beacon Towers.

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Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby and I am sure there are many many others….

Finally Rufus Wainright’s song Montauk is also a great favourite

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Seeing is believing

I have had an eventful time. Last week I reluctantly sought help for a persistent visual disturbance through the miracle of a twitter friend who works in the eye department at the hospital to see help immediately. So after a scramble to find someone to look after the children I ended up in ED, diagnosed with a detached retina and had acute surgery* the next day.

My vision the past week, at best, has been something like the first 5-6 seconds of this

Which really makes you appreciate full vision. Also I am not allowed to drive for about a month, and as the only driver in the family that has also presented problems. However travelling by bus, however tedious enables you to NOTICE things. Even if sometimes you notice incorrectly (due to the poor eyesight) e.g. The man I saw walking a very large cat which turned out to be a labradoodle. Taking time and noticing is very good and I have realised that seeing is only part of things even though is stuffed up my plans to go to the local showings of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

An example of seeing &  feeling might be this video that I found on YouTube which completely captured my own recent visit to Seacliff. I think this video – and its only a video – also captures the feel of the place. Its hard to say as I’ve been there several times and it certainly has an atmosphere. Interested to hear if readers get anything from the video.

However, the visual is just out of my reach for now, as is a long term prognosis on my sight.

Now you may go about your business as usual. Someone once said to me that no one  wants to read about YOU, unless you are Steve Braunias.

*Getting eye surgery under a local anaesthetic is… “interesting”

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In the stress of life and a new job, I have frequently found myself at 3am worrying about work. My remedy has been to listen to audio books which I find soothing and I manage to get back to sleep. I should add at this point that a recording of Ginsberg reading ‘HOWL‘ did  not have this effect.

However my recent late night/early morning sorry has been Patti Smith reading her book “Just Kids“. There is an intimacy in an audio book read by the author, it felt like Patti was telling her (and Robert’s) story directly to me. I was surprised at her accent (yella, fella etc) and affected by her vulnerability. In fact, yesterday morning at 5am I found myself weeping as the story drew to a close with Sam Wagstaff’s and then Robert Mapplethorpe’s deaths. Yesterday was that kind of day and the book on reflection is full of reminders of our mortality.


Patti and Robert lifted from here

It is an old story. I watched a film a while back that is an intersection with Just Kids.  Black White + Grey, is mainly about Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship. Ron Brownson has written about this here and I agree it was sad not have more focus on Wagstaff and his amazing collection of photography (which Smith details the beginnings of in Just Kids). I have been dreaming of black and white photographs of American Bison since: the great herds of the great plains of the west, now as non existent as the New York of the 1970s that Smith and Crump document.

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A pile of American Bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer: photographer unknown, mid-1870s (image by Chick Bowen, 27 May 2011)

I hate the concept of ‘bucket lists’ and yet I sort of have one. Sadly often the things I want to see or do don’t exist or can’t happen. For example I wanted to stay at the Chelsea Hotel (a feature of the Just Kids story and many others) but it has been bought out and closed. “ A property developer recently bought the down-at-heel building for $80 million (£48 million) and has turned it over to an architect best known for designing bland Holiday Inns.” Gone the way of the bison, ground into fertiliser.

[This post was written to a soundtrack of Smith’s “Horses” and aided by strong black coffee.]

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Out on the street

Things I’ve seen lately (click image for larger photo).

A walk down Bond Street with my daughter explaining tagging and street art (As best I could)

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This neon cow in Mosgiel has long fascinated me. It should be tidied up and preserved.

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and this in the window of the local Christian bookstore

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Washday – 2011

I have recently got my hands on a  copy of ‘Washday at the Pa’. This is the 2011 edition of Ans Westra’s photo essay originally taken in 1963 for the school journal. The exhibition is currently on at Suite Gallery and they have republished the photos with text by Mark Amery and additional 1998 photos of the Washday family revisited.

The original publication created much controversy

 “following protests by the Maori Women Welfare League Washday at the Pa [school journal] was controversially withdrawn from circulation by the Department of Education. The League condemned Westra’s depiction of the poor, rural Maori family living in sub-standard housing as untruthful and inaccurate. “

Interestingly the Welfare league has now withdrawn its objections.

There is a great interview with Ans Westra here [Podcast] from Radio NZ Nights with Bryan Crump

I guess this is a sort of cultural artifiact as well as an artistic one and I like to think (although I am possibly wrong) that we are mature enough now as a nation to see these photos in context. Also I’ve been thinking about women in the arts in NZ and how they had/have such a struggle and often were subject to undue criticism. Watch this space for more on that topic.

Get this book and/or see the exhibition – 26 October – 26 November 2011, Suite Gallery, Level 2, 147 Cuba Street
Wellington

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