THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Art" Feed

"London Nights" and "Another Kind of Life"

I took up photography seriously a few years ago. After a wordy life practising law, I thought it would make a change to focus on my visual sense in retirement.  To my surprise it has become important to me. So when I received an invitation to attend the press preview of a new photography exhibition at the Museum of London, I accepted with curiosity and a little dread. Why dread? Well photography was disdained as a merely mechanical process in its early days and pioneering art photographers, in their anxiety to be taken seriously, rather tended to overdo the worthiness of their subjects. They concentrated on the dark and dismal and sought out "social" meaning in every frame. Their successors have tended to follow suit. Too many photo exhibitions exist in what I call "Magnum World" – a parallel dimension named for the ineffably "worthy" Magnum Photo Agency – where dismal and depressed denizens raise their sickly children in squalor and without hope. Any happy, successful people appear there only to heighten the sense of injustice and despair.

If when I die, I go to hell, it will be Magnum World.

London Nights_02
London Nights_02
London Nights_02
London Nights_02
Fortunately though the night life of our capital involves, of course, a fair share of misery the curator – Anna Sparham – has taken a more nuanced approach. She has included images ranging from the dark to the celebratory. The subject of the exhibition – London at night  – is ambitiously broad. It could easily have resulted in a meaningless jumble of pictures that left no lasting impression. The exhibition features photographs by pioneers like Paul Martin and "greats" like Bill Brandt, but also by amateurs shooting for their camera clubs. It features early images from when long exposures could first be made by gaslight through to the modern era. Anna has arranged them into three broadly themed sections entitled "London Illuminated." "Dark Matters" and "Switch on, Switch off".  Taken together they create a very satisfying portrayal of a great city and its people at night.

The London Nights exhibition is running at the Museum of London from 11th May to 11th November and tickets can be bought here. The museum has other interesting collections (currently including one about the suffragettes) and is always worth a visit anyway.

Finding myself near my regular haunts at the Barbican, I also took the opportunity to visit the Another Kind of Life photo exhibition now running there (but soon to close). This features many works by famous photographers and so there is a lot of high quality imagery. Alas, almost all of it is not only from "Magnum World" but also shoe-horned into a politically-correct narrative.

I enjoyed some of the work from a technical point of view. I could not fail to appreciate the photographs by the late Mary Ellen Mark, for example. I even actually liked some photos by Igor Palmin of Russian hippies in Soviet times. These were rebels – unlike their narcissistic Western counterparts – with an actual cause. There's good photography here but I am glad I had another, better reason to travel to the City from West London!

 


Art, food and friends

My friends from London invited me along on an artistic excursion yesterday. I picked them up from their hotel (rare use being made of Speranza's +1 seat — there's no +2 when the driver is 6'7" tall) and we headed to the Fondation Maeght gallery in Saint-Paul de Vence. I like art. I have a modest collection of paintings — all modern. I think it's amusing how old some "modern" art now is and wonder how useful a category it really is these days. 

Art-5
Art-3
Art-4
I loved the Fondation's buildings. They nestle on a steep wooded hill and provide a wonderful exhibition space. The collection is a very mixed bag, which says more about the collectors than the artists. There were many pieces I would give house room to, if I had a roomy enough house. But one piece by the Bulgarian artist Christo dominates much of the gallery during a current exhibition. His "mastaba" made of one thousand one hundred and six brightly painted oil drums stands in a courtyard. That I rather enjoyed, if only for the photographic opportunities presented by the coloured shade it cast. But drawings and models of it — and other versions of it, actual and proposed — took up room after room inside. There are only so many oil drums presented as art that a sane chap can see without giggling. Especially if he's rash enough to read the explanations on the gallery walls.

I love the French language. My only criticism is that it's so musical it makes wicked things sound appealing (e.g. "fiscaliste, impôts, l'État"). It needs some ugly sounds to prevent French people being drawn to ugly concepts. A serious obstacle to the enjoyment of art anywhere is the self-worshipping pomposity of dealers, curators and (sad to say) some artists and when that is compounded by the ferocious up-themselvesness of French intellectuals it's just hilarious.

Art-1
Art-2
After a modest but agreeable lunch at a pavement café we headed off to see what Matisse appparently thought was his greatest work, the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. I beg to differ with his assessment, but it is an attractive and spiritual place, promoting calm reflection. I confess that I am prejudiced against any place that prohibits natural light photography (as non-invasive an activity as could be conceived) so perhaps all the rules raised my hackles and prevented me enjoying it as I should. It's an excellent piece of interior design inside a mediocre piece of architecture, embellished by some wonderful stained glass, delightful drawings and imaginative vestments designed by the great man. 

I dropped my friends off so they could taxi to their next hotel in Juan les Pins. I drove home to Mougins and processed the day's photos. A couple of hours later we met again in Antibes where they introduced me to other friends of theirs; an Irish couple  at whose place in St Tropez they are going to stay on the next leg of their tour of French pleasures. 

Continue reading "Art, food and friends" »