Week #81 500 thermal portraits from today 37degrees C 28 XY 010222: photographic video

It’s unusual for me to write about someone twice on my blog. Chris Friel, however, has been so adept at developing the craft of photography and finding new ways to disrupt and reinvigorate his view through the lens, that I just must.

After early work that captured country fields and lonely trees, to dark landscapes and multi layered pictures, Chris Friel turned to portraits. The faces he depicts are stripped of distraction. Life lies in their large baleful eyes and uncompromised presence. He seems to be interested in the statement of life through portraiture, here, (there are many clear portraits like this if you look through his work here) but in 500 thermal portraits from today 37degrees C 28 XY 010222 he takes this statement of life and distorts it. As you watch the image build and undo, fracture and reconstruct, digitalise into abstraction and then balloon with a naïve palette, back into full face, an understanding passes between artist and viewer that is personal.

This facial splintering is, for me, an allegory of our modern lives. We have, the work seems to be saying, not only many faces but many realities as the digital world pulls on our psyches. The process and, by extension, the work is both brutal and subtle, insidious and straightforward. In high temperatures which nature did not intend (or certainly not presently) the effect is exacerbated. And as we watch, we are ruptured without notice and built back with layers of fillers. We are rounded and boxed and blackened-out and both coded and discombobulated. We are stretched beyond recognition.

The ‘stills’ I have posted here are indications of Friel’s work, signatures of one of the current threads his work is exploring and that I have chosen to highlight. They, in themselves, are full of the lattice-work of life, its hard wiring and broad dough, its ineffaceable truth and angelic naivety. Even through our abstraction, humanness is undeniable.

Week # 80 Lonelinesses: a photographic series

Antoine Buttafoghi has not only centred his camera in order to take these images but, as if the gadget is an extension of his body and mind, he has centred his being. Broad in scope and yet personal to a fault, Buttafoghi’s work takes the viewer away from themselves and into the reality of someone other. Presented in grand meticulousness, the images are sharpened to the point of beauty. However, what makes these photographs truly attractive is the humbleness in which their protagonists have been portrayed.

Often times dwarfed by a large canvas, these pictures knit the world into the soul of someone. The person depicted is not so much overwhelmed as integrated; not so much awestruck as grounded; not so much bound to a scene as present in one. Because of this, the capturing of a person in their environment, these photos reflect back to us what it is to be current, contemporaneous and in progress even when we are still. For more distillations look here and here. Or choose from Buttafoghi’s gallery, here.

Week # 79 In My Blood It Runs: a documentary film

It’s not often a film infiltrates the body, making its way past the epidermis and into the bloodstream. Evoking its name, In My Blood It Runs has that quality. It’s a film that sinks into the mind and alters the viewer’s consciousness, teaching us something that most of us never get to experience. We see through a boy’s eyes, how life can be felt rather than ‘figured out’, lived rather than ‘ticked off’, known rather than sought. Connection is key.

Quite like an elegy for the human spirit, this film is a meditation on the ‘sense’ of our lives. Vastly applicable and extraordinarily important, there is something conveyed in the movie that is beyond words. The narrow parameters of how we denote success in our modern world are first perforated and then torn open. We are drawn in to something which western thought has, for the most part, little time for, and gives – to its detriment – no value.

Signalling why self-determination is so vital and why stymieing it is so damaging, this film lets us understand what’s at stake and how all of us can shine more brightly. For me, it made me ‘woke’ in a way that, rather than knowing something intellectually, I understood it viscerally. With some hard-to-stomach scenes when white dominant-culture weighs in, In My Blood It Runs displays certain truths that show us what happens when one society is raised above another. It demonstrates how domination works.

So, sitting with the current of the movie moving through me, I found a part of me had been opened and a meditation on what it means to be alive, let in.  

Week #78 My Time in Govie Housing Draws to a Close: a poem

Set in the unfurnished world of the welfare system, My Time in Govie Housing Draws to a Close, tells the softest and hardest of a stay in emergency housing. Sarah Rice illuminates small but visceral details that show us what’s happening and what’s at stake. The narrator – who has unknown but not unfelt difficulties – is astute and open-eyed and suitably cautious. And we see through their eyes, what adds and what leads to a picture of an environment. Authentically set, and taking a series of distinct and yet interlocking rounded images, we realise the situation in total. I love that when it happens in poetry.

My Time in Govie Housing Draws to a Close

Most sit out front with no front teeth
but lots of heart
                    and smokes
Their cars in many stages of undress

I’d showed up with mum and dad
(while I still had one)
                    and a wheel chair
They’d got sick of carrying me
          up the stairs

We nodded to Housing and the sunlight
          coming in the front windows
and the next door lady gave me a key-ring
          she’d made herself from leather
She gave the neighbour to my left a cut
above the eye with a smashed bottle

She would sit on the wall between us
and chat about life depression drugs
Certain days were bad
          the ones that reminded her
          of her murdered boyfriend
then she’d swing a baseball bat
at the night flying fucks
          and striking out
The ones who dobbed her in
to the coppers were the worst

But she was kind enough to share
          her music with me
through my bedroom wall
          at 3 am – a thumping
good time

I’d chat to her feet dangling
from the wall while I dug
in the garden – and in the end
she was saved by a dog
who hated the volume up
and my sleeplessness exchanged
          beats for barks
He wanted up and out
in the morning for walkies
so the benders had to straighten out
and while the pup didn’t take to men
he took his owner to a nice new house in the burbs
          with a larger yard

I’m following in her footsteps by moving out –
my place now a parking lot
for boxes – the washing machine untethered
          and the frigid air finally gone
The shelves unburdened with fresh ignorance
and the smell of the mould they’d tried to paint away
                                                  infusing everything

And although I was prepared
to leave behind the trees my dad had planted
currently in mid mad blossom
          Azaleas and camellia sesanqua
fuscia-pink and holed up making their last stand
I wanted to bring the tiny pomegranate tree
he’d given me just before he died –
the roots still struggling
to live up to their name
                    still settling in
                    not yet branched out
                              into new fields
                    somehow address-less
I would have – and I tried –
had made a small attempt the night before
with the wrong kind of shovel
          flat and square and useless
but it must have left some kind of mark
a trace of something wanted – something loved
          which was enough
to drive some random neighbour
to yank it out that very night
grasp it by green matted hair
and there –
all gone

Week #77 This Thing of Darkness: a podcast

Understanding homicide, as it turns out, helps in understanding the human condition. Who could have known? But the podcast, This Thing of Darkness, produced by the BBC and superbly written by Lucia Haynes and Anita Vettesse, tells us a lot about us: about how we think and why, about what it takes to commit murder and why, and, about love and how distortion and anxiety can pervert it. It isn’t hate we’re shown but the other face of love, which can deadly.

Despite the presence of brutality – you can hardly have murdered without it – what we hear is why life can produce brutality in an individual. The reasons, of course, are vast and deep, cruel and illuminating, sobering and disturbing. But, underlying it all, they are very human and because of that, ultimately decipherable.

Perhaps the reason This Thing of Darkness can boast to have achieved such a high standard of insight, is because the story is so beautifully choreographed. As it swings from the personal to the theoretical, the narrative reveals how the unresolved in us, can build. Without realising it, we are pushed ever closer – often by distortion – to bring about a resolution. For some of us this eventuates in things being resolved in a deadly way.

While the gulf between murderers and the rest of us may seem vast, this podcast not only manages to clarify and inform us about why murder occurs, but to bring those who commit it, closer. It demystifies our tendency to think of them as outside of us. Like the warp and weft of material, the text never excuses their behaviour but seeks and succeeds in showing us the fabric of the human condition even if it leads to the act of killing.    

Deftly pieced together, This Thing of Darkness shows us how we love and how that love can be misshapen.

Week #76 A Thousand Words: a photographic series

Valentin and Clara

Sven Creutzmann is a photographer who, by his own admission, is keen to tell a story. Marrying documentary photography with artistry are his ingredients and he’s good at getting the balance right. There’s a warmth in these shots, even the brutal ones, that draws the viewer in. They fill in the details by inviting their audience past the front door; they expand on what it is that we need to understand.

The breadth of Creutzmann work is considerable. From the political to the social to the personal, the work is crisp and decisive. Whether up close or shot from a distance, engagement is key. For more of his tales, try here and here and here.

The Bat
Ruben Gonzalez
Idelbis, Tropicana

Week #75 Dead Europe: a novel

Christos Tsiolkas is probably best known for his novel The Slap. Here, however, I want to recommend his third novel Dead Europe, my favourite of all his books. Not only is the narrative layered with all the mysterious and atmospheric veils of a myth, but it pulls the reader into a rippling search for place and timely-location. As a young man, a photographer, goes on a trip through Europe, he must come face to face with the claws of his past and the way in which they have been worn down.

It is the undercurrent of life that Tsiolkas is interested in: the roof-top chats, the ugly outskirts of Paris, the lonely barren insides of a Greek café. Energetically brutal while engagingly normal, Tsiolkas is a writer who excoriates the personal, sometimes to unbearable depths.

Eerily, Dead Europe has the feel of a prophetic missive, a kind of current dystopia. But what’s most arresting about this novel is what lingers, that of a bitter sweet reminder that the human experience is at the behest of historic whimsy. And the pain to understand our location in the world is often packaged in brutal truths.

Week #74 Casablanca Not The Movie: A photographic series … Yoriyas

How do you get just enough movement and stillness in a photograph? Actually, how do you get just enough modernity and tradition in a photograph? The complimentary juxtaposition of subject matter and form are a quintessential aspect of Yoriyas’s photographs. They abound with it: humour and seriousness, colour and blanch, fantasy and reality. Devoid of judgement, they allow a taste of everything of variance to be packed into one image.  

Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui is a Moroccan photographer who seems to have come to the art in an organic manner. From chess to mathematics to hiphop to dance this is a person who follows their passions, and his photography is definitely one to be celebrated.

Documenting daily life in almost poetic distillation, you can see more of his work here and here. And for a recent look in the time of COVID, here.  

Week #73 A Day Out: a photographic series

Martin Parr 1Martin Parr 2Martin Parr 3Martin Parr 5Martin Parr 6Martin Parr 8Martin Parr 9Martin Parr 10

Martin Parr is interested in people. He photographs them without apology, capturing their lives and representing them with humour if not a stark honesty. Often touting a relaxed veneer, the photographs have a deep resonance. They are bald reflections of life sometimes opening up on the absurd and banal.

Quintessentially English – although not exclusively so – Parr gets below the radar of his photographic subjects and into the national psyche. He ekes out an individual’s essence and reflects it back to us with an empathy that goes all the way to truth-telling. It’s not that it’s harsh but then, these shots are not taken in a deprived land. In fact, it’s plenty that might be the more problematic protagonist, plenty that is usually the backdrop for those who are anything but rich.

No matter what informs the shots – whether they are brazen or brutal – these photos are warm. At one end of the spectrum they celebrate the human spirit and at the other they are pictures of an overwrought world?

Certainly, Martin Parr’s efforts are glorious to the eye. More of which can be elucidated here. And – my favourite of his collections taken in Manchester –  here. And if you’re still hungry, you can go here.

Week #72 Searching the Dead: a poem

Andy Kissane is one of my favourite Australian poets. His style is often full-sentenced and slow winding, giving a sense of room. Syntax perfect, he intertwines visual aspects with sensitivities that are seemingly unemotive. It’s a hard line to maintain. But when pulled off, as he does, it accomplishes a full understanding of what’s at stake. Not that it’s harrowing. Just the opposite. Despite the serious and sometimes gruesome subject matter of his work, the gentle rhythm and sneakily benign ideas, leads the reader inside the poem and, once there, takes them through veils of gravitas until everything has been revealed, until the poem is rounded out. And not in a way that simplifies things. Rather in a way that holds those ideas and, by extension, the reader, still.

Gently pleasing, his words reveal harsh truths about real life. Searching the Dead is a great example. Here and here, you can find others.

Searching the Dead

The bone-coloured branches of the rusty fig

twist and rise into a canopy of leaves that shuts

out the beating sun. It’s like standing in a limestone cave

and gazing up at limbs that resemble toned calves

and bulging biceps. As if the tree has been fashioned

out of human body parts miraculously glued together.

From a distance it appears sublime, but standing beneath it,

I can’t shift these images of haunches, thighs and elbows.

The human form, even when you’re not looking for it,

is everywhere. Five days out from Nui Dat, after the firefight

and the ambush, I went back into the rubber plantation

to search the pockets of the dead. They weren’t our dead,

our dead had been dusted off that morning, but here

were men who resembled us, soldiers who had been trained

to follow SOP, move carefully day and night, minimise risk.

Clothes now stretched tightly over bloated arms and legs,

feet cold and green, flies and gnats crowding around

their eyes, their mouths. Bodies washed clean by the rain,

a few with legs completely missing, one or two

without heads. We were searching for intelligence.

I found a gold American watch, sunglasses, a plastic comb,

a bag of uncooked rice, a lock of hair. Occasionally

what appeared to be a diary, filled with Vietnamese script,

a pressed flower fluttering down to the ground.

A cowrie shell bringing the news from the South China Sea.

In one man’s pockets a pair of lacy black knickers.

And photos wrapped in plastic to preserve them –

a girlfriend leaning against a motorbike, a couple posing

near a lake, a family in front of a shimmering pagoda.

Everything smeared with the same red dust that coated

my skin. There won’t be another photograph of this man

sitting with his children as he tucks into a steaming soup.

The rubber trees had been hit by bullets and dribbled

latex, as if they were crying. Johnno and Boffa

were digging a mass grave. I took my shirt off

so I could feel the sun on my back. I might have been

fielding at square leg, dreaming of the tea break.

When I opened a tin of tiger balm or laid down a pack

of playing cards, this shiver spread from my neck

to my shoulders. I was so aware of my body, how

it was greased and primed, how it wasn’t going to jam.

What I collected I put down by the base of the banyan tree,

the wood darker than this fig, soldiering on through

the hot afternoon, soaked with sweat. I was elated to be alive.

The work had to be done before we could move out.

I made a shrine to lives well lived, then went to find

some cool water to drink, some fresh air to breathe.