Friday, 10 April 2015

Charging the Void

I took these series of photos for the last photo theme of "Personal" at the Democratic Camera Club here in Edinburgh. The vase in the photos was made by my dad who taught ceramics and was an art lecturer. 

I first wrote about the vase in a blog post called Forget Me Not three years ago. Unfortunately, the vase had just broken which prompted me to write about it. I also wrote about the other objects I had inherited from my dad and how, although I was sorry this particular piece had broken, I wasn't even sure if I had really liked it. Although I love some of his other works, I wasn't really sure what to think of this one. Then, I wrote about it as if I had made peace with the fact that the vase was broken, saying that memories of a person shouldn't have to be preserved through objects, especially if you don't find that object particularly attractive. I may have written that, but I didn't throw it away. 

When we moved to Edinburgh from Germany in 2013 I took the two heavy pieces of the broken vase (it broke at the "neck" so to speak) with me and eventually found a restorer. (It must have been one of the few moves where things get mended rather than break). I must admit when it was away at the restorers, I didn't miss it much and only remembered where it was when they called me a few months later. When I picked it up I was amazed as I couldn't see the break at all. 

I still don't really know if I like the vase. The project gave me the opportunity to find a way of photographing it now it was mended.  In these photos I wanted to show a process of relating to it, not just showing the object itself. Maybe because the vase dates from the 70s, the artist Rosemary Trockel popped into my head and I began to think about how she addresses feminism and politics in her work, and how she mixes the distinctions between craftsmanship and high art, all themes in her work at that time. I then conducted rather functionary arbitrary actions on the vase, like a performance. I used the vase as a pillow and also as a rolling pin. (as far as I could see there was no functional use to the vase, so I gave it one.) In another I used it for target practice, throwing screwed up pieces of paper to see if I could get one in the opening at the top. (Quite a futile game, but an interesting way to map failure.) I shook out its contents onto a piece of white paper (the vase became almost corporeal, dust and debris reminiscent of ashes). 

At the meeting the main feedback I received was to film it as a performance. The term "(positively) Charging the Void" was used by artist and lecturer David Grinly in his introduction to the theme of "Personal" on why we take photographs today. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Ticket Collector

In 1997, I travelled from Prague, Moscow, St Petersburg overland on the Transiberian Express to China and then Thailand, Laos and finally Indonesia. On the way I collected scraps of paper, tickets, cigarette and match box packets, stamps, and anything that caught my eye. Below is a selection from that. I remembered this scrapbook after Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop asked people to share their collections on their mini social gallery in celebration of the current Barbican exhibition, Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector.  If you want to see other people's collections and find out more about the Pollock's competition and how to share your own collections, see my last post or check out their Facebook page.

Mongolian money, stamps and maps

Moscow and ticket for Transiberian perhaps


The stamps on the left feature the Thai King Bhumbibol Adulyadej, rather coolly holding a camera here. 

China, water bottle, cigarette pack and ticket for Great Wall



Aeroflot mints, cigarettes? I am not sure.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

More is More

To celebrate the current Barbican exhibition Magnificent Obsessions: The artist as Collector, Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop are asking people to share images of their collections in a mini gallery. 

"You can win a pair of tickets to Magnificent Obsessions: The artist as Collector at the Barbican and tickets to the Unicorn Theatre but really just to share the love and show how collecting inspires. Don't be shy. Please share."

I love the collections I have already seen there. This is a collection of Kokeshi Dolls belonging to illustrator Geoffrey Coupland.

And this is a collection of Multicultural Dolls belonging to Simon Seddon, artist and manager at Benjamin Pollock's toyshop.

My collection is much more modest I am afraid. 

Here is the collection of a rolling stone (small caps) (me). 

Dumpster truck owned for 20 years, acquired in Tokyo on visit and tour of incinerator plant.
"Flohspiel" tiddlywinks game owned for 10 years, acquired in Berlin; neighbours put out things they didn't want in the hall for others to take.
Knitted figure (newly acquired) Edinburgh originally belonged on a card. Now just hangs out and turns up in unexpected places around the flat.

I LOVE my dumpster truck and could never ever part with it. It even tips up and has a neat compartment for tiny amounts of rubbish at the rear, and reminds me of Japan, a country I love and once visited. 

So if you have a collection, don't keep it to yourself, share it here. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

I Wish This Place

Sand has formed itself to shell
Impossibility within which to dwell

Good luck, fair weather, another year
For the place that stays on here

My wish is more selfish than that
I want to take it, wrap it up

I pick up the corners of loose bricks
And fold them slowly, light as air

I slip the windows into my bag
And into my pocket goes the door

I find a compass of zigzag tracks
A ballet of heavy machinery

Scaffolding falls into a telescope
Now thin lines are holding up the sky

I wish this place well, and I wish it ill
But it takes off alone, and I haven’t the will

Monday, 9 February 2015


A response to this month's photo theme of Construction/Deconstruction from the Democratic Camera Club here in Edinburgh. Here is its new website and you can follow on twitter @DCC_Edinburgh.

Pictures taken at Quartermile in Edinburgh. I find buildings are often most attractive whilst they are still in the state of construction. As for deconstruction, I got quite excited that there were so many forms and guises this Meccano-like structure could become through the lens. 

Thanks to Nick Haynes for this month's theme. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


My 5 year old son enjoyed his visit to the "Barbarican", as he calls it. The bottom photo could also be a time-lapse film, as the person by the piano didn't move for hours. Something I notice about The Barbican is that people can hang out there without having to 'rent space' by buying a coffee or purchasing something. There is lovely low-key atmosphere. There's even free entertainment relayed from the live concerts going on in the auditorium into the foyer. There is no sense of people being moved on or hurried. Student-types, wearing black "Barbican" T-shirts, tend vending booths, reading books between intervals. A man who appears to be homeless was sitting on one of the sofas watching the concert on a small TV screen downstairs when we visited. 

As we wandered in, Pure Imagination, the song that Willy Wonka sings when he introduces his Chocolate Factory, was resounding ethereally around the building from a concert called 'The Sound of Musicals'. Not perhaps the soundtrack that immediately springs to mind when you think about Brutalist architecture.

"If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Wanta change the world?
There's nothing 
To it."

Come with me
And you'll be
In a world 
Of pure imagination
Take a look 
And you'll see
into your imagination"

Is the Barbican Centre a paradise? While this soundtrack was playing it certainly could have been, and in my imagination it very nearly was. 

With its bold structures, surface textures and different layers, it is a photographer’s dream. It is the largest performing arts centre of its kind in Europe, and has contemporary and classical concerts, theatre performances, film screening and art exhibitions as well as a library. In the conservatory, over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees nestle amongst the concrete and glass structures and walkways, and is free of charge to visit. The photos I took in there were taken during the very last rays of light of the day. When I look at the photographs now, could all that concrete be looking just a little organic? Could the far edge of the building with its ridges look like a spine? The conservatory pictures, like the Barbican’s atmosphere are also low-key, but in a tonal way. So dark, the colour has edged out of the frame. The building appears almost fragile, the leaf shapes pick out sillhouettes in its body; the building soft and blurred, the plants hard-edged.

Concrete is not such a hardy material and does not weather well in our maritime climes, where nature has often had the better of it. This material gave the architectural style its name. Brutalism does not originate from the idea of "brutality" but from the French Beton Brut or "raw concrete" the material of choice for Le Corbusier. Brutalism's critics have blamed the style for urban decay, but when you experience the Barbican, which is now Grade II listed, you wonder whether Brutalism's 'failures' are more down to a lack of political will and financial support, rather than design. Perhaps the social ideals of some of its proponents are also out of step with today's political agendas. A project like the Barbican, which took over 30 years to complete, does hold some of the optimism and idealism of Willy Wonka's song, where he sings, "Wanta change the world? There's nothing to it." 

What also seems to have weathered rather badly in this country is the idea of architecture being for public benefit. The Barbican, with its textured concrete surfaces, rough at the edges charm and totalitarian feel, is ironically much more welcoming and transparent than any of the new city slickers on the block like the 'Walkie Talkie'. This latest addition to the London skyline was granted planning permission on the premise of a 'Sky Garden', a free public garden on the building's roof. Sadly this hasn't turned out to be the case. Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright says of the Sky Garden "it feels like you are trapped in an airport" and "it is not the public park that was promised, but yet another private party space, available by appointment."

English Heritage also criticised the 'walkie talkie' as a "brutally dominant expression of commercial floor space". In short, I know what kind of brutal I prefer. As Willy Wonka sings: "If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it" - for free - at the Barbarican. 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Freshly washed Creed

Martin Creed Work no: 1059, 2011
A public sculpture, commissioned for the historic Scotsman Steps by the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. 104 steps lead down from the Scotsman Hotel on North Bridge down to Waverley Station and the Fruitmarket Gallery on Market Street. Each stair is clad with a different colour of marble. More information here. 

Walking down the steps today, on a hectic pre-Christmas shopping day, the stairs had just been freshly washed by the council, and the relative quiet and seclusion of the stairwell seemed ironically to amplify the hubbub around the station and streets outside it.