Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Six

Hardcover Sketchbook. Given to me by Sarah Clift in the spring of 1992 and recovered three times. As each of the paper covers wore out and fell away, the centre portion of the front was pasted into the book. The final cover was made from cutting up a poster for the Vancouver Opera and a Knopff book catalogue. A friend once criticized it for being "too romantic - too emotional."

During this time I was reading a lot of Milorad Pavic and became fascinated by Derrida's The Post Card. And so the book contains several short lines very much in the style of Pavic:
She is a very delicate woman. The sound of a plate breaking could kill her.
While the derridian influence played out in other ways: I had a short relationship with a woman where I sent her a post card after each time we met. In the years when this book was written you could go into a drug store and purchase a colour photocopy for 49 cents. This was unprecedented. Photocopies were by definition designed to obliterate subtlety and detail thus reducing the world to a washed-out, yet high-contrast version of itself. With the colour photocopy all that changed. The technology has such implications for artists that the Western Front Gallery ran a show with the Xerox machine itself installed in the gallery. The saturated colours entranced us. It was tempting to put everything onto the platen: autumn leaves, fabric, old photographs, younger versions of ourselves.

Here is a page that interests me. On the right, a photocopy of a photograph of Georgian Bay, on the left the text reads:
Poem to the hands of a dead uncle 
Unpack your hands 
Joint by joint unhinge the fingers. The bones of a bamboo kite lacking paper, built of torn string and knots. Your hands are the ribs and skeleton of a crow. 
It is important to realize that, just as there are fields that dogs will not walk through because of scent, because of noise, because of dust; there are some things these hands will never do. They will not spill tar on rooftops or gather salmon. As if it would be easier with a felt-tip pen to darken squares on ariel photographs, or wade through supermarkets. 
If I could help you I would. Tighten or loosen the skin stretched over you palms with a key placed in your wrist. Lengthen your lifeline to improve fortune. But I see from the state of your body it is too late for mechanics. 
Later travelling the bus through Vancouver winter: the branches more like hands here. The long black fingers of a woman extended to catch rain.

Here is a list of books.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Self Portrait

Self Portrait. Taken October 25, 2010

"Time passes. People grow old, fall out of love, go their separate ways. Charis and Weston met in 1934, married in 1939, in the fall of 1945 she wrote to tell him she was leaving him, and in 1946 they were divorced. Weston took his last picture in 1948. He died in 1958. These are the dates. Nothing has caused me more problems in writing this book than the interminable need to establish and verify dates. I hope they are all correct but in one sense dates are irrelevant. The value of a life cannot be assessed chronologically, sequentially. If that were the case then the only bit that matters – like the closing instants of a race – would be how you felt in the closing seconds before your death. (This is one of the questions posed by photographer Joel Sternfeld – 'Is what we are at the end ultimately what we are?' – in his book On this Site.) The moments or phases that make life worthwhile can come early or late. For atheletes, and women dependent solely on their beauty, they always come early. For writers, artists, and everyone else they can come at any time. If you are unlucky they do not come at all. Sometimes these moments are preserved in photographs. The acts – in the artist's (or model's) case, the works, and, in an atheletes, the results – that redeem a life can come in advance of everything requiring redemption. Chronology can, sometimes, obscure this."
Geoff Dyer – The Ongoing Moment

Here is an index of portraits.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Five

Hardcover sketchbook. It is not a very nice book to look at. It is worn from being carried in a bicycle pannier for three months. There is nothing interesting pasted inside, and it is messy. Still - so many things began in this book. It has drafts of poems that I would complete later. Like Birds of Good Omen for Sandra. It also has bits of writing and thoughts that would find their way into finished works. Once piece that remains unpublished goes like this:

In the nineteen-seventies a fascination develops with dare-devils. Swimming pools are converted into shark tanks, the Grand Canyon bristles with approach ramps and the remains of rocket engines litter the rocks. High-wires are strung between the tops of skyscrapers.

Marcel d'Extrodinaire has a special car built with two accelerators. One for the driver and one for the passenger: "Like sewing in a second heart." he comments to the press.

He offers the passenger seat to anyone who will get in. "Experience the greatest thrill of all! The thrill of pure speed!" A large crowd blossoms around Marcel's vehicle, a flower of expectant faces. The crowd withers and disperses when Marcel tells them he has also removed the brakes.

He is finally approached by a young woman. When he reminds her there are no breaks she is unflinching.

"I will get into your car Marcel" she says, "on one condition."


"That I drive."

Marcel's family has a long history of tempting fate.

I was young - only twenty-five. Writing and wanting to write. I would set myself the challenge of describing things. Often I would use photographs because there was a moment of drama in them. Sometimes there was a character there that could be brought to life with only one or two lines. I would go to art galleries or photography exhibits and describe the people in the pictures.
- A man holds a child and smiles. The child is terrified.
- A man alone. Formal.
- A woman, her head turned left.
- A young girl, a baby, and a pair of arms holding the child.
- A daughter and mother facing each other.
- A young boy with thick black-rimmed glasses.
- A man with a dog - a great Irish Setter - the dog is blurred, trying to get away.
- An older woman in a black sweater and heavy eyelids, a small string of pearls around her neck.
- Two men, their arms are crossed as the each clutch the other's nose.
- A nun.
- A man in a raincoat and sunglasses. In each hand he holds a toy gun. The sunglasses are thin and do not hide his eyes.
- A frightened cat on a garbage-can lid.
- Three girls, their faces distorted as they try to press each other out of the picture.
- A woman with roses.
And as always there are fragments of things. Little bits that cast a partial, twenty-year old light:
The boy is shown frantic. He clutches at the neck of a large bird. The bird flies and the ground is missing. The eyes are wide on the boy. On the bird they are just ordinary avian eyes. Natural, unconcerned with the passenger attached around the neck. This is a natural form of flight. The kind you experience in dreams, when what is unnatural is the ground - placed like a wall in your path.

And the only thing I consider strange is that in the morning I awoke and my arms are clutched frantic about your neck. The plumage of your wings is crumpled beneath the weight of my body.
If I could give advice to a young person it would be this: Write everything down. Always. Absolutely everything - leave nothing out. The result will be like living twice.

Here is a list of books.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nadina Tandy

Nadina Tandy. Painter. Taken October 25, 2010.

Nadina arrived early and soon we were earnestly talking about daughters, trading stories about hers and mine. She conversed fluidly and with emphatic gestures. We switched between white clothing and black background and black clothing and white background. I ended up with a number of good shots but I couldn't decide on one that could communicate the way I wanted. This is often the case. It took me over a month before I decided on the top image. Often I end up in the centre of a field of possibility and I can push my interpretation in a number of directions. I almost decided on this one.

She was just a little tired and paused to rub her eyes, but the gesture is one of deep fatigue or unconsolable grief. It's not a great portrait of Nadina but it is a portrait of something. 

Where is the truth in a gesture? Part of our fascination with photography is our fascination with the very idea of truth. We often have a strong emotional investment in the ontology of the image. Has it been changed? Is it trying to fool us or manipulate us? These questions are as old as photography itself.
From its beginnings, photography has lived in persistent conflict with the nature of its being and those elements which can define it. this conflict arises over whether it is the representation of truth or a mechanism for metaphors. Photography is the most painful reiteration of what we are and what we don't want to be. It is the truth constructed with pieces of truth and pieces of lies. It is what anyone wants it to be ... With photography, there is always a mystery, a veil which does not allow us to have the clarity we desire.
Jorge GutiĆ©rrez. Director 1990 to 1994 Museo de Artes Visuales  Alejandro Otero, Cararas. Quoted in "Image and Memory: Photography from Latin America."
"a mechanism for metaphors" I love that. Images, what are they other that the workings of the old eternal metaphoric machinery.

See Nadina's work here.
Here is an index of portraits.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Four

A hardcover sketchbook, completed mostly in 1991. I was so happy to find a hardcover book that did not have lined pages. Perhaps they always existed and I had just let a sheltered provincial life, but my joy was profound.

The front endpaper is a figure I devised, named the "mythic aleph" It is  composed of an aleph, photocopied over and over again until it reached the size of a sheet of paper, collaged with a cutout of a double ouroboros. In the study of mathematics the aleph is used to number transfinite sets. The figure (and my interest in many aspects of philosophy) was inspired by the Jorge Luis Borges storey, "The Aleph." This notebook is filled with notes from my Master’s Studies in Philosophy of Science.

The back endpaper is the notorious "Bertie Bassett" Liquorice Allsort man. He is an anthropomorphik - a human-ish figure made out of inanimate parts - like the Michelin Man. He led at lest one poet from London Ontario to produce a book of poetry. Anthropomorphiks by Robert Fones was the result of thinking "What power held all those inanimate parts together?"

Skimming this journal twenty years after it was written, I find wonderful (to me, at least) lines like:

Metaphoric considerations cannot be adequately dealt with by the framework of logical empiricism due to the simple fact that a metaphor is not subject to empirical confirmation.


Every game of perfect information has a solution in terms of pure strategies.

And earlier, an outline for a cross-diciplinary presentation given to a class in the English Department:

Language Theory – Adaptation of the model theoretic argument.

  1. What is a formal language and why would we want one? Leibniz's answer for a universal characteristic. The alchemical equation - that language is an exact copy of the world. Hence to master the world is a logocentric endeavour.

  2. What would the failure of attempts to recover the adamitic language imply?
          - Occult Platonism
          - Anthropocentricism or anthropological relativism
          - The failure of the axiomatic conception of science as realism
          - An undermining of any realist theory based on linguistic distinctions
          - Failure of the Universal Characteristic and confirmation of the fall.

"Adamitic" language is the lexical system used by Adam before he was kicked out of the garden, or the language used in the world before the tower of Babel was cast down. The rigour of the argument depends not one jot on religion, or if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. All you need to believe (mistakenly, as it turns out) is that there exists an exact correspondence between language and the world.

There is a break in book four -  a number of blank pages - and then if fills with notes on hypertext. They became the foundation for my contribution to what is now The Electronic Labyrinth.

One of the hypertext platforms of the early '90s was called Hypercard. As I was working I kept a series of notes for a hypertext to take advantage of the hypercard platform, "HockeyCard" was to be a collection of citations and anecdotes in hockey card format detailing the loss of life and violence associated with the game. Research let to these notes:

In 1907, a game between Ottawa and Montreal included several stick swinging battles that moved the Montreal Star to call the game, "an exhibition of butchery." Later that year, Owen McCourt of Cornwall died the day after being struck in the head by a stick.

On March 28, 1950, in a game between Detroit and Toronto, Gordie Howe went into the boards and suffered a brain concussion, a slashed eyeball, and a nose fracture. Doctors discovered severe hemoraging in the brain. "When they opened up Gordie's skull," recalls Sid Abel, a team mate of Howe's at the time, "blood shot to the ceiling like a geyser."

And so on. I'm keeping "HockeyCard" in the wings - if the hockey riots keep happening, maybe I'll complete it.

Here is a list of the books.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Matthew Talbot-Kelly

Matthew Talbot-Kelly. Animator and Filmmaker. Taken October 23, 2010.

We did this shoot in Matthew's animation studios on Granville Island. He was working furiously (as he often does) on an animated story that takes full advantage of the iPad platform.

I've kept journals for years, and I have often wondered about the possibility of bringing the kind of collage that works so well on the page into film. Peter Greenaway has come very very close to this idea, but, as much as I admire his books and films, they don't quite capture the ... ummm ... something I can't quite name ... of the collaged page. Matthew's two short films, "Blind Man's Eye" and "The Trembling Veil of Bones" do.

I was hunting for subjects and Matthew needed some promo shots for a webpage and a magazine cover featuring him. We moved some desks and book cases out of the way and did a quick shoot against the white walls of his studio. Even though it was only nearing the end of October, I knew that these would be some of my last sessions of the year. When we would meet again in the spring, Matthew would give me some ideas about portraits that would open up very large and interesting doors. More on that ... later.

See Matthew's Moving Tales here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Three

Souls are living mirrors, images of the created universe. 
- The Monadology, 1714.  Gottfried Leibniz

In the autumn of 1989 I began keeping a journal of my dreams. But it is almost impossible to record them as the act of writing destroys the fabric that holds them together. You are left with nothing but tatters. As you seek to order the eidetic fragments with words you realize that you are not recording a dream to interpret it later - you are already interpreting a dream to record it now.

Despite the slippage that occurs, it is a curious and necessarily surreal exercise, often bearing strange fruit. Here is an excerpt:
It is a world war and I am on a hill, toward the top, looking down the slope. It is a nice green hill like the kind you would find anywhere in suburbia. The outfit I am with is advancing. Everywhere people are shooting and being shot. I only fire half heartedly and I aim to miss. I think this is senseless. As we advance the enemy start shooting themselves. We are not distinguished by race or uniform. There is a referee and a fool. The only way I know he is a fool is because he shoots the referee with blanks.

My mother and father are eating brunch in a hotel/motel. They invite me to join them, but I decline, I am trying to find a plate on the wall that tells what type of brick was used in the building. I go around to the front. The building looks like an old three-storey walk-up. There is a ladder going into one of the apartments. I know it is Eva Braun's. I climb the ladder and my parents follow.

It is a very small apartment with only a fridge and dusty kitchen. It is old an decaying as if the building had been abandoned since the war. On the fridge is a portrait of Hitler in his last days. His moustache is missing. His face is long, drawn and wrinkled, and he appears to be wearing make-up. Blush rouge in attempt to cover the yellowness of his skin. He wears the uniform of the SS. There are also blankets. I ask Mom and Dad if the blankets are theirs. They say no. I leave and take the picture with me.
Here is a list of the books.