Photography

I’m still not writing. I’m still struggling to get out from under the cloud of work I’m caught up in at the moment. But it occurred to me I’ve been banging on a lot on here recently about one of my passions – music – and haven’t really touched on another one: photography. I’m a bit of an amateur photographer and like to wander about places with an old fashioned 35mm camera taking black and white shots of things on genuine black and white film stock. (Occasionally I use colour, as in the photo here taken in Tokyo a few years back). There’s nothing particularly innovative about it, I don’t do it because I think I can break into the world of photography. I just do it because I like it.

I used to be quite good at art back in my school days. I was really interested in fine art, painters like Picasso, Magritte, Marc Chagall, Kandinsky. And I kept this interest up for a while, regularly visiting the Tate in Liverpool and London, looking out for new exhibitions. That all kind of changed when I walked into the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank and saw a collection of photographs by Henri Cartier Bresson. I went out and got a camera, and I don’t think I’ve ever used a pencil or a paintbrush since.

To be honest, I was never THAT good anyway. I wasn’t going to be breaking into the art world at any point. But Bresson’s photographs completely changed my perception of art. Because great photography is art. But whereas painting and sculpture, and multi-media art have become ever increasingly oblique and conceptual (which I don’t have a problem with by the way), photography retains this purely real, emotive immediacy which I guess I just find more interesting. I caught a bit of the Bresson documentary on BBC4 last night which has obviously led to this post, and one of the talking heads on there (I can’t remember who it was) said that in photography either something happens or it doesn’t. You have to be engaged enough to capture a moment when it sparks into life, but distant enough to capture it without being dragged in and thereby losing the clarity you need to depict it properly. But it’s all really down to chance and to waiting. I couldn’t agree more.

Bresson is my hero to be honest with you. He just had this ability to capture something in his photographs that I can only really explain pretentiously as a hidden truth. He snatches moments out of time and lets the rest of us see them. His portraits seem to strike right through to the essence of the people he’s photographing. His more panaromic stuff just balances perfectly the subject and his environment. The guy was a genius. I wish I could take photographs like he did.

But it occurs to me, I could apply some of what I just said to the short stories I put out last year. I’m not comparing myself to Bresson, god forbid, but trying to depict the moment, trying to get at the essence of what’s real. Trying to engage but trying to retain clarity. I’m not saying I was successful at it, but that’s what I was aiming for certainly. So perhaps it’s no great surprise photography has an appeal for me. I think I need to get out the camera again. It’s been a while. If I can’t write then at least I can hit the shutter release while I’m thinking about xml and webservices and front end components…

Writing? No, just more music ramblings

No, still no posts about writing. I haven’t DONE any writing for about six weeks. Instead I’ve been on holiday and then come back only to be pinned to the floor for over a month by a mountain of work. I have, however, been buying some records again, so I’m going to talk about that for a minute. Maybe it’ll get the writing gene activated again – who knows?

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Ok, that’s Shiva Burlesque, a band I’ve been meaning to look into for nearly twenty years now. I remember when I was eighteen I was in a small town called Barry just outside of Toronto in Canada (don’t ask why, that’s a long story) and I went into every record store asking if they had Shiva Burlesque. I was a big Grant Lee Buffalo fan at the time (Fuzzy had just come out and I’d seen them live and loved them) and I’d read in a magazine they were all in a previous band. Anyway, nobody had their records. One guy even told me I was wasting my time – Barry was a redneck hole in the ground and unless I was after Bryan Adams I could forget it. He obviously didn’t enjoy living there very much…

Anyway, the reason I mention any of this is that a fortnight or so ago, for some unknown reason, I finally tracked down and bought the second Shiva Burlesque album Mercury Blues. And it is glorious. Much more edgy and experimental than Grant Lee Buffalo were. Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it so much twenty years ago. Maybe I was supposed to wait until I was nearing thirty eight before listening to this. In any case, I love it. I can’t stop playing it. And it’s set off a kind of chain reaction…

I have a pretty eclectic music taste, but obviously I have some preferences. I seem to be drawn to indie music, specifically American indie music I suppose. Anything a bit acoustic, a bit lo-fi, maybe with a drawling vocal and a few Beatlesque melodies. If it sounds anything like that I’ll probably be all over it. I’ve spent the last few years moaning a bit about how there isn’t as much decent music about now as there was in the 90s. Back then I seemed to discover a new band every month, every week even. Now, it’s about every five or six years. I guess that’s evidence of me getting old and picky. But listening to Mercury Blues I was reminded of a couple of other records I have. I plucked out some Mazzy Star, I listened to Evan Dando’s solo record again. And I started thinking, right, it can’t be that there is no decent music out there. It must be that I’m just not hearing it for some reason. So I rolled my sleeves up and dived into iTunes and Wikipedia. After a few false starts and blind alleys, I found this:

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Isn’t that glorious? The Pernice Brothers – never heard of them. What have I been doing since 1998? At least they have a back catalogue I can now plunder. I’m a fan of Sonic Youth and I discovered Thurston Moore has a couple of solo acoustic albums out. I was checking out some of the bands I remember from the 90s that I thought were ok but not earth shattering, and in looking at The Afghan Wigs and The Screaming Trees I discovered their front men had been collaborating as The Gutter Twins. What a great couple of CDs they’ve put out. I’m telling myself the inordinate amount of money I’ve spent on iTunes is all in the name of research for this collection of shorts about music I’m (not) working on. Ah well, at least I’ve proved to myself I was wrong. There is some great music out there at the moment, it just seems harder to find now than it ever was before…