Thursday, 29 September 2011

In Praise of Miso Soup

Ok so this is a random subject for a blog, but bear with me its going somewhere...

So Miso Soup.

I love it! No really, I love it!  

So much so I was visiting (for the 2nd & last time) the 'At Home In Japan - Beyond the Minimal House' exhibition & I got to thinking about miso soup & sat in one the best reading spots in London & wrote this:
 My first experience of miso soup was a mere packet of instant soup from a supermarket in Chinatown. The large squares of seaweed unfurled in the steaming hot water & floated amidst the brown soup, slimy & delicious. That was it. I was hooked. 
It was sometime before I realised that there are so many variations on this soup that it would take me more than a lifetime to try them all. But what a challenge to try anyway.
My most recent try (of the instant kind that is) was a huge disappointment. Purchasing organic miso soup in pretentious Hoxton shops I should have known better....
Tempted by the promises on the beautifully designed, traditional/trendy box (a small one, this was concentrated) I had high hopes for the 5 sachets contained within. However, these hopes were dashed before I even tasted it. The dark brown liquid procured from adding hot water to the pulpy contents inside were no more interesting once hydrated. No seaweed to tantalise me, no little spring onion rings to float up to the top. Just brown opaque liquid. 
Nevertheless between this high & low there have been many joyous moments with miso.  

Ok, so I had time on my hands, but am a firm believer in noticing the smaller things in life that bring me happiness. 

You could say I'm a cheap date or just trying to be an optimist. Whatever the reason this got me to thinking....

The title of this blog is stolen from a great book I recently read, 'In Praise Of Shadows'. 

A classic, worth reading as it is very short, but all about the aesthetic of the dark in many ways. It delves into the nooks & crannies of Japanese culture both literally & metaphorically. 

In one chapter Tanizaki writes about the joy of laquerware & the way in which many bowls have gold decoration made to catch candlelight, not bright light. These are made to be enjoyed in the shadows. There is a subtlety in this idea almost alien to contemporary ideas of the clinical minimal interiors, painted white with white crockery & brightly coloured art on the walls to show off work to maximum effect.

So with this in mind I have started to look at the world a little differently. But of course always mindful of enjoying the quiet moments of beauty & reflection that can be found in the everyday. Here is a wonderful example of Japanese Christmas cheer to enjoy & revel in.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

My very first photobook

Someone asked me recently what was my first photobook. I think they were expecting something profound & well chosen from the 'classic photobook category'. However, when I said the 'Sleepy Little Lion' they were confused. I cannot remember when my mum bought this book, but it was read to me before I could read myself, so aged 3 I guess. There are many editions of this available. I love the cover of this one:

So not the most ground-breaking photobook in the world, but unusual, as I have only ever seen a few kids books with photographs rather than the traditional illustration route (of which there are many - see my previous blog from a show I saw in Melbourne here) & I still found myself drawn to any if I spot them. I must admit the older ones are always better, perhaps the nostalgic innocence of them...

So who was Ylla? 

Well very little is written about her. I can only guide you to Wikipedia. Her untimely death in 1955 is probably why we have seen little of her work, but with Hungarian photographer's so celebrated, why not add Ylla to the mix for a bit of light hearted warmth so lacking in the serious world of photography today? 

Animal portraits are by no means easy to achieve. Yes, all pet owners (as you know I can't resist snapping my cat Nova) take pictures of their animals, but do we approach them as 'portraits' or just as records of the 'cute things they do' or a memory to keep, a picture to show others to share our fondness for them. Marcus Doyle's photo of 'Molly' is a great photo worth noting:

Anyway back to Ylla. As you can see from photos of her interacting with animals, her love for her furry & feathered friends runs deep & brings great joy to her & to her audience, young & old alike.

She obviously didn't take herself too seriously. I must say a refreshing change from the usual...

This image really reminded me of a famous picture by Joan Fontcuberta, spot the difference (ok pretty obvious, I will let you investigate this yourselves or another post may have to be dedicated to this) :

So back to the Sleepy Little Lion...

(I think this book was originally sold as part of a Blue Peter appeal)
The siamese cat obviously does not feel happy about her territory being invaded, (note to self keep Nova away from lions) another wise lesson is learned...

Why has this not become a classic staple of the childrens/photo library? Well I think it should. It beautifully illustrates the somewhat dated ideas about wild animals, but also allows for a close observation of the little lion through the photographic medium. There is a little bit of anthropomorphising - dressing him in a jumper for example - which is promptly corrected with the lines:
And she dressed him up in a little sweater.
But who ever heard
of a  lion with a sweater on him!
(Not to mention the grammar. I digress.) It is also disturbing at times when he is laid on a zebra skin rug, however quite knowing in its own way, subversive imagery for a child to digest, ahem...

So I can't resist a cat section to finish

The joy expressed in this image is fantastic as Ylla cuddles a kitten...

Imagine Ylla as a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, perfect!

Everyone knows what curiosity did. This picture of hers is amazing too.

Here is my own effort taken recently with my cat on her reigns (she is a house cat, & very small in an area full of BIG tomcats) meeting the local wildlife. No comparison, but a nice illustration of how good Ylla is...

Then on a more abstract note (& because I felt it needed to be included here) is my photo titled 'Catsplat' in honour of Olivia Spooner's 'Dropped' series. Have a look, her blog is well worth checking out.

So it has been another frivolous blog, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Please post a comment if the mood takes you & for goodness sake tell people about this book. 

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Handsome Window Smashing

The Handsome Family

A few months ago I went to see The Handsome Family whose music I fell in love with before I even heard it. How does this happen? Well with song titles like 'The Loneliness Of Magnets' how could I resist?

The first song I heard was 'Bottomless Hole' amazing & so surreal, random & imaginative they really conjure wonderful imagery in their work - worthy of inspiring any artist to create a visual representation of their lyrics.

One of the songs that they sang was about my favourite character in 'Wisconsin Death Trip'. If you are interested in art, documentary & photography you MUST see this film. The person they wrote as song about is a real person called Mary Sweeney.

Here I got a bit carried away with my large wine glass as a vessel to view them through. I think the wine was going to my head at this point or maybe I was just drunk on the music flowing into the room. Why can't all gigs be this good? 


However I did come to my senses...

Then the song took me to Mary...

Here is the actress who plays Mary Sweeney in the film. Her story is a fascinating one. Like all of the characters taken from the pages of Lesy's book of the same name following the lives of people in a small town in Wisconsin called Black Rivers Falls in the late 19th century. Mary Sweeney was a teacher who had bouts of mania (probably due to manic depression) which resulted in her smashing in as many windows as she could before she was inevitably arrested. I think there is something of a Mary Sweeney in all of us.  

Lesy's imagery is a delightful marriage of film & still photography. I thoroughly implore you to buy both the book & the film.

Here are two different editions, the latter is the most available.

I won't write any more as I don't want this to be a spoiler for anyone who is new to the work. Just trust me on this one, it is not a cult classic for nothing.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

LICA / LICC award & a proud moment

What a great night I had last night with a bonus!

Attending the LICA (London International Creative Awards) on behalf of Christian Tagliavini who was a finalist for the grand LICC prize.

Out of 800 entries he was chosen as one of the 15 finalists. To see more about the competition see here. Although Christian did not win, his selection made me very proud & exited to see his work up on the walls of the gallery. As I sat in the audience watching the short films of images of each finalist I was made aware that I would be asked to come on stage to collect his finalist trophy. This made me both excited & nervous at the same time.

However, when his work came up on the screen the row of people behind me gasped & someone said, "That is beautiful, wow that's my favourite by far." I was thrilled & all nerves vanished.

So I promptly said a few words on stage about how I fell in love with his the minute I saw it & how excited I was that UK audiences will soon have the chance to see it too.

Here is the beautiful trophy, awaiting its rightful owner in November when the show opens.

A lovely dinner followed where I met the winners from  'Campaign' (see their blog here design lovers) & spent a wonderful 2 hours with them, my friend Michael McGuinness & the lovely Myriam Blundell (who had presented them with their award) at the end of a very long table. Conversation flowed from conversations on art, photography, design, architecture & money on balconies...

This may be a short & sweet blog today, but I promise for much more next time...till then TAKE SOME PICTURES PEOPLE!