Monday, 21 April 2008

Away day

I don't get out of Montrose much. This is partly choice (it's very nice here), partly other things...but I am just back from a quick trip to the one of the most beautiful cities on earth - Edinburgh.

In Montrose we get plenty of music (the folk club brings excellent guests every fortnight - that's more than enough for me) but there aren't a lot of major art exhibitions nearby. There is the William Lamb Studio of course (never been, are you mad?) but I've been there quite a few times (even written a poem about it). What this means is that when I get near a city I do like to get into an art gallery, the sooner the better. Yesterday my beloved and I walked out of Waverley station (is it still called that? Not on the website...) anyway, out we came and the first thing I saw was the name Ansel Adams up in big letters on the side of the City Art Centre. I'm not a photography buff as such (don't you just love the word 'buff'?) but I remembered the name from one of my college friend's bedroom wall posters. we went.

It was a bit crowded (it was the last day of the show) and it was quite dark (to preserve the photos) and you couldn't quite relax and let it all in (there were a lot of prints!) but I'm glad we went all the same. The bit of the informative biography film I caught was interesting, the photos were fascinating (what I could make out of them) and there was also work by Scottish photographer Lindsay Robertson (huge, impressive shots of Glencoe, for example). There was even a lovely photo of a rose ('Rose on Driftwood' 1932) by Adams that gave me an idea for a poem about my Mum (I'm off to work on that this evening - it was such an odd-one-out in an exhibition full of redwood trees and great sweeps of dramatic landscape in Yosemite). There were some quotes from Adams up on the walls above the photos. Here are a couple:

"I believe photography has both a challenge and an obligation: to help us see more clearly and more deeply, and to reveal to others grandeurs and the potentials of the one and only world which we inhabit"


"There are no rules for good photography, there are only good photographs"

Could both of these apply to poetry? Quite possibly. I like the sentiments.


Jim Murdoch said...

I'm not the greatest fan of Ansel Adams I have to say and part of me feels a bit guilty about that because he is an extraordinarily capable photographer. It's simply that none of his work gets me excited. I've just had a look at a few of his photographs on-line, including the one with the rose you mentioned, and I still feel the same. I think it's the subject matter. I prefer photos of people. I find them endlessly fascinating. My daughter bought me a book a few years ago which contained photos of famous women all taken before 8am in the morning – it was fascinating; the photo of Sigourney Weaver stretching was a highlight. I've just watched Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus but was disappointed to find that her estate had refused permission to use any of her pictures in the movie. Her work really struck me the first time I saw – the snapshot raised to the level of portraiture.

As for the quote – "There are no rules for good photography, there are only good photographs" – I see what he's getting at but there are techniques; you can't simply point a camera and 'click', you need to focus … at the very least you need to take the lens cap off! It's amazing to see what has been done over the years with photographs and poetry is no different but just the same as a photograph is a two-dimensional image on paper (broadly speaking) so is a poem words on a page (broadly speaking). Of course definitions are treated as challenges by some people. I wrote this in a short story once:

… there’s nothing more foreboding that being faced with a white sheet of paper when you’re not sure what you’re expected to say. But who says you’ve got to write anything? You could draw on it, scribble on it, fold it up and put it in your pocket, rip it to shreds or make an origami water bomb out of it.

I guess that's pretty much what Adams was saying. At the end of the day there's only writing – good, bad and indifferent – it will stir you or leave you flat.

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Jim
I like photos of people too...even snapshots..I can sit and look at photo albums for hours and hours (mine or anyone else's). An interesting link to the Larkin posts - I found myself reading his 'Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album' on the train yesterday. Another lovely poem with the lines

'But o, photography! as no art is,
Faithful and disappointing! that records
Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds,
And will not censor blemishes
Like washing-lines, and Hall's-Distemper boards,'

Of course he was writing about snaps, not airbrushed magazine photos or anything like that. They certainly censor blemishes!

As for Adams, it was just great to be in the city and out and about seeing something new - always good for ideas and changing tack. I didn't particularly like the rose just reminded me how much my Mum loves roses (and all things conventionally recognised as beautiful) whereas I have usually gone for what you might call a rougher, weirder, more crooked beauty. Neither of us are wrong, of course, and that's what I thought as I looked at the lonely rose. I also thought maybe it was time I gave her more credit for things and wrote something that didn't make her cringe...

And the quote...I just like openmindedness and that's why I enjoyed seeing that one up on a wall in big letters. The urge to clamp down, to dictate, to taste-make...all that stuff can be so depressing. I like big ambitions, big ideas, big hearts!

shug said...

Larkin was aware that the camera could "censor blemishes". He once made the announcement

"I tell this to all photographers: I am not bald. I do not have a double chin. And this (pointing to his spare tyre) does not exist."

Rachel Fox said...

It's true he was not the looker poet of his generation. Would he have been less desperate with Ted Hughes' thick hair and animal magnetism? Still I'd take him over old crow-features any day of the week.

Colin Will said...

Many of his photographs have inspired me over the years. He had a nature poet's eye for landscape, for the dramatic and the reposeful.

Some years back I took a photo of Half Dome from 'his' viewpoint in Yosemite. It's OK, but just OK, while his is stunning. I took some from John Ford Point in Monument Valley later that same trip, and they're all the better from not having an Ansel Adams to compare with.

Speaking of portraits, my favourite Edinburgh Gallery is the Portrait Gallery. They had the excellent BP Portrait Competition Exhibition recently - don't know if it's still on.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes I like the Portrait Gallery too. I first saw the Joan Eardley self-portrait there that is now one of my favourite paintings ever, ever, ever.