Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Forgotten Film

I have a gorgeous old Minolta X700 SLR camera that I bought second hand in Edinburgh and taught myself how to take ‘proper’ photos (as opposed to point-and-click).  I love this camera.  I love the feel of it, the weight of it, the age of it.  But somewhere along the way, after the arrival of children and digital cameras, I stopped using it.  A couple of weeks ago I took it out of the drawer, thinking of the film that was still in it and having no idea what photos I’d taken.  There was still a bit of space on the film so I went out into the garden and took miscellaneous photos of chickens and flowering plants. 
Then I headed into the nearest camera store, that still deals with actual film to be developed, handed over the film and some money and waited.  Today I went in to collect the film and was delighted to find some quite lovely photos that had been waiting to see the light of day.  It was something like my own Vivian Maier Moment.  There were photos of a baby, who is now a nearly 7 year old.  
There were photos taken on a foggy night from our old North Carlton flat.
And then there were the ‘finishing off the film’ photos from our current back garden.  I am so happy to see these photos and remind myself of the joy of composing photo shots, deciding on the aperture or shutter speed, thinking about what depth of field I want.  I had forgotten a lot – I had to look up the manual to remind myself how to rewind the film and remove it.  But how fantastic to use this technology again – and it does look different to the photos that I now habitually take on my iPhone.  
There is no comparison. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Things of Stone and Wool (and calico and thread)

Not sure what I'll call these or what exactly they are for.
Maybe that doesn't matter.
I just enjoyed making them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My New Best Friends

As the scarcity of my blog posts demonstrates, I am not one to write/blog unless I have something to say. But something has come into my life which I feel the need to write about.  Chickens.  I LOVE CHICKENS.  I feel incredibly grateful to these funny creatures for pushing out a valiant egg-a-day each in the middle of a Melbourne winter.  I thank them personally every morning.  As do our children.  And they love the chickens too.  I would also like to thank our chickens for distracting our kids from their iPods / iPads / TV, for teaching them where their food comes from, for entertaining them, for cheering them up when they're miserable, for the invaluable life lessons that chicken rearing teaches us. If you love and care for small feathery creatures and feed them and clear out their poo-ey chicken coop and feed them some more, they pay you back in eggs, garden fertiliser, and endless hours of soothing chookie noises and amusing antics.  What's not to like.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Something Old and Something New

I'm not sure why, but I've always loved history.  Not necessarily history in the Big-Events Significant-Landmarks type of way.  I have always found the traces of our personal histories compelling; the images and objects that remind us of particular occasions or life events.  As a child I used to love rummaging around second-hand shops and looking at the old collections of family photos and wondering who these people were and why their photos were in a second hand shop and not a prized family treasure.  

When we bought our house, I found it very moving that only one family had lived there before us and that out home was obviously a loved home.  
When we were having some work done on the house, we found some fragments of old photos of the family that used to live there.  
A couple of years later one of the sons of the house popped by with some more photos of the house, his mother and his brothers in the garden.
It makes me think of all the other houses in our street, in our suburb, and all the other family photos and family stories.  
I love these photos.  I look at them and compare them to our own family equivalents - our girls out the front, posing for a photo with the same pillars behind them.  

I remember one elderly neighbour had my kids enthralled by telling them he could see horses  from his bedroom window when they built their house in the 1940s - two doors down from where we live.  He has since died and it has made we want to collect some of those stories and gather photos and other memories relating directly to our neighbourhood and turn it into a new piece of sound/video art.  
So, that's what I'm going to do. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I love Alain de Botton

I love Alain de Botton.  His writing is so clear and sensible and logical.  His Religion for Atheists was something of a revelation – I thought I was the only Atheist who felt that religion-shaped hole in their lives.  His latest book Art as Therapy (with John Armstrong) is not only one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen in a long time, but looks set to challenge and enhance the way I understand Art.  I haven’t even got to the end of the first chapter, ‘Methodology’,  and already I’ve had one of those light-bulb moments about how I respond to art, and for me most particularly, how I respond to Music. 

In a section about ‘Growth’ de Botton opens with the following observation:
It is one of the secret, unacknowledged features of our relationship with art that many of its most prestigious and lauded examples can leave us feeling a bit scared, or bored, or both.
 Who of us hasn’t felt this at one time, and then felt guilty or inadequate for feeling this way in the face of ‘Great Art’ or ‘Great Music’ or ‘Great Literature’?

De Botton questions why we may have such a negative response to particular art works when others may find them beautiful or moving, and he proposes that this may be based on some negative experience that we have come to associate with a particular work or style or genre.  This is of course a very subjective and personal perspective to have of a work or art but then a huge part of how we approach art is subjective and emotional – so it shouldn’t be surprising that there is the potential for a negative response.  This hostility that we may experience towards a particular work of art or genre has the potential, de Botton claims, to “taint” our experience of aspects of life because they can trigger “…a variety of defensive behaviours in us”.  If we take a defensive stance towards a piece or art and by association an entire genre or style, we are in effect depriving ourselves of potentially enriching experiences.  We move from a particular negative experience and generalise and project this onto our experience of a whole range of related works of art.  “We employ a powerful, erroneous emotional logic.”

Part of de Botton’s project in this book is to suggest ways in which we can gain more from our experience of art – how it can be potentially ‘therapeutic’.  He invites us to move beyond our initial negative emotional response and ask ourselves why we respond that way – to be open to our discomfort or ambivalence or distaste and its root causes.  In this way engagement with art can help us to address past negative experiences and their ongoing emotional legacy and move beyond our defensive response. “The first and crucial step to overcoming defensiveness is to be highly alert to its reality: to be generously aware of how normal it is to harbour strongly negative views about things.”  From there he suggests that we try to gain some insight into the artist’s perspective and “…look out for points of connection, however fragile and initially tenuous, between the mindset of the artist and our own.”

This all seems totally sensible and reasonable and in some ways obvious, but it took Alain de Botton to point it out to me.  I find it all to easy to hold on to an initial negative response to a particular artist’s work or genre, often stemming from an initial negative emotional response of not ‘understanding ‘a work and feeling irritated or inadequate.  There are composers whose work I almost instinctively reject because of my ‘defensive’ response – and for some reason it never occurred to me to move beyond my flawed emotional logic.  I had always put it down to individual ‘taste’ – I just don’t like it because it is not my kind of music.  This in not to say that there is no such thing as individual aesthetic preferences but I wonder how much of our assumptions about what we like or enjoy or respond to in art are tainted by a negative response somewhere in our past that we probably can’t even remember.  I have always thought that I was quite open minded and eclectic in my musical tastes but reading this book has led me to challenge quite a few assumptions about how I respond to different kinds of music. 
So thank you Alain de Botton, for again asking me questions and suggesting new ways of looking at things.  And for reminding us that we all have flawed judgement from time to time, because we are human, but that we can find ways of moving beyond these self limiting defensive responses and become more open and receptive to new experiences and all the world of art has to offer.