Shingle Street 7

There have been buildings and people living at Shingle Street since the early 1800s.  The Martello towers, the coastguard cottages and the massive shingle bank give it an air of permanence, yet this is the most mobile of coasts.  When I last visited the shoreline was a gentle uninterrupted curve, see Shingle Street 5, 13 July 2012.  Then storms and tides created off-shore spits and in August 2016 the Indy recommended having ‘a swim in the sheltered, lagoon-like waters’.  In March 2017 a blog reported, ‘The spit that forms the lagoon has been flattened and has extended towards the shore. At high tide parts of it are now submerged.’  Part of the lagoon remained when we visited this week.

Photo: Shingle Street, Suffolk, July 2018

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A Surfeit of Blue

Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, has 15th century poppy heads representing the seven deadly sins – Gluttony holds up his ample pot belly.  The architect Morris Lapidus called his autobiography Too Much is Never Enough in honour of his monuments to excess.  I’m intrigued by blue rope, its ubiquity and seeming indestructability, but a glutton for it, a seeker after excess?  Probably not.  I had reckoned without suffering a surfeit of blue when snooping through the windows of the German Ocean Mansion in Shingle Street.

Photo: German Ocean Mansion, Shinglestreet, Suffolk, July 2018

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Entomophobia is an excessive or irrational fear of insects, more specifically, apiphobia (bees), myrmecophobia (ants), lepidopterophobia (moths and butterflies) and spheksophobia (wasps).  A traumatic experience with an insect may trigger the phobia.   In addition to bites and stings and the association with pests, plagues and infestations, it is possible that insects are terrifying because they are so unlike ourselves – skeletons outside their bodies, strange ways of moving, too many legs and multiple or enormous eyes.  The Metamorphosis, entomophobia writ large; The Fly, entomophobia on film.

Photo: North Fen, Cottenham, July 2018

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Fen Landscape 34 – Flaming June

“Thermometers crept as high as 33C last week, with the mercury rising highest in Porthmadog in north Wales on June 28 … Scotland also recorded its highest EVER temperature last month – 33.2C in Motherwell, also on June 28 … unusually dry weather across the south east and central southern England, with just six percent of the expected rainfall … In Essex, just 1.7mm or rain fell during the entire month.”  “With no sign of a cool-down for at least the next four weeks forecasters expect this to be one of, if not the, hottest summers on record.  High pressure wedged over the UK refuses to budge as Britain bakes in one of the longest heatwaves for more than 40 years.”  On Tuesday the fenland fields were fringed with bleached blonde grasses in the evening sun.


Photo: North Fen, Cottenham, July 2018

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Still more I that E!

Unwisely took part in the Royal Academy quiz, ‘Which great British artwork are you?’  Depressingly predicable results!

“You are: John Constable’s A Boat Passing a Lock!  People might see you as a lovely and peaceful person, but that doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. Like John Constable, the painter behind A Boat Passing a Lock, you’ve got strong principles and a firm belief in your own sense of what’s right and what’s beautiful. The landscape painting that Constable is beloved for today didn’t make him much money in his lifetime, but he stuck with it regardless. Like him, you’re not one for attention-seeking dramatics or social climbing – we’re more likely to find you out and about, enjoying fresh air, good company and bucolic scenery.”

Tried the quiz again answering as I would like to be, rather than as I think I am.  Well, it’s a more interesting picture!

“You are: Angelica Kauffman’s Design!  No-one looking at you should underestimate just how much creativity and determination it took to get you where you are, and we could say the same for Design, painted by one of our only two female founding members between 1778-80. Like Angelica Kauffman, who became a successful artist despite the 18th-century art world’s persistent erasure of women’s contributions, you know the value of hard work and are prepared to dedicate hours to perfecting your craft. Naturally talented and popular, you attract many admirers, but anyone who crosses you will soon realise they’ve made a serious mistake. Just ask Nathaniel Hone, who submitted a painting featuring a naked dancing female figure thought to depict Kauffman to the RA’s Summer Exhibition. Kauffman promptly announced that either Hone’s artwork would be removed from the show, or she’d withdraw all her own paintings. The Council went with the first option.”

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I’m reading In Montparnasse – ‘The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali’ – by Sue Roe.  It has been read on BBC Radio 4 as book of the week, somehow appropriate given how frustratingly short of illustrations it is. ‘The lure of the decadent, the uncensored expression of chaotic, disruptive, erotic drives and the power of the unconscious to direct the artist’s work (a subtler encounter for the artist than simply making paintings of dreams) – all these things together added up to what the artists in this book understood by surrealism.’ (p.4)

Photo: Bath, September 2011

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One Hundred

J gave me copy of Seamus Heaney – 100 Poems today.  Synchrony.  I have been imagining my next photo book:  100 Photographs, all untitled, enigmatic.  It might have sub-title, 1000 Stories.

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Classical Archaeology 5

Ariadne, daughter of Pasiphae and Minos, fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus and, with a thread, helped him escape the Labyrinth after he slew the Minotaur. Here the legends diverge, as they so often do: she was abandoned by Theseus and hanged herself (bad); or, Theseus carried her to Naxos and left her there to die, but she was rescued by and married the Dionysus (not so bad).  The statue shows her in restless sleep – maybe she is wrestling with Ariadne’s Thread, trying to decide what to do next.

Photo: Sleeping Ariadne, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, June 2018

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Fen Landscape 33 – Great North Fen, Cottenham

Friday 22nd June 2018.  Midsummer evening walk into the geometric, point perspective, fen landscape.  Cultivator tracks meet a distant hedge separating land and sky, ordered, unvarying green from random blue and white.  The wheat looks healthy and full of promise, underneath the ground is parched and cracked.  Water flows slowly down Cottenham Lode to meet the Great Ouse.

Photo:  Great North Fen, Cottenham. June 2018

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Joan Leigh Fermor 2

In the past year two things have happened to add some details to the story of Joan Leigh Fermor, photographer, described in my blog of 22nd November 2017.  First, the publication of Patrick Leigh Fermor – The Journey Continues.  Second the exhibition and associated publication ‘Ghika Craxton Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece’.

Patrick Leigh Fermor – The Journey Continues

Patrick Leigh Fermor – The Journey Continues (9th Supplement, Benaki Museum, Athens, 2017) presents a series of essays on the life and legacy of Patrick Leigh Fermor (Paddy, PLF).  Joan is mentioned, insofar as she is part of that life and legacy, in two contributions: ‘Paddy and Joan’ by Cressida Connolly; and ‘Curating the Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive’ by David McClay. Six photographs are credited to her, four of them being of Paddy and their house at Kardamyli.


Connolly describes Joan as quiet, shy even, measured, clear sighted, interested in unconventional people and with an excellent mind and sound judgement.  ‘She was an observer, but she was always very present’, says Connolly.  A line can be drawn between these qualities and Joan’s career as a photographer: ‘Naturally watchful, she began to take photographs’, suggests Connolly.  Joan ‘delighted in ghoulish things’, which brings to mind immediately her photography of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, London’s Victorian cemeteries and cemeteries in Genoa, Guadeloupe and Haiti.

McClay describes how the Joan Leigh Fermor Archive arrived at the National Library of Scotland .  There are around 6000 photographs in her achieve; and there are 3,000 in the PLF archive, some of which are by Joan.  He suggests, ‘That she had a keen eye and [the] ability to photograph architectural and archaeological subjects is clear from her pictures.’   ‘Whilst many of Joan’s photographs are in albums which give basic geographical and chronological details they would be immeasurably enhanced with fuller descriptions,’ writes McClay.  Overall, ‘the collection is of significant interest and importance, not just for Paddy enthusiasts but for those particularly interested in Greece.’

 Ghika Craxton Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece

This exhibition opened at the A. G. Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, Cyprus, in February 2017, moved on to the Benaki Museum, Athens, in June 2017, before a run at the British Museum, London, from 8th March to 15th July 2018.  The exhibition included paintings, drawings, photographs, text, a short film and artefacts.  It records what Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith in the film calls, ‘a time of renaissance of literary and artistic collaboration between Britain and Greece’.  The substantial, well-illustrated publication to accompany the show, edited by Evita Arapoglou, documents the lives in Greece of the creative trio.  My comments below are based on the 3rd revised edition, April 2018.

The exhibition included eight photographs credited to Joan.  The book has 16 photographs credited to her, six related to building their house at Kardamyli, five portraits of Paddy, two of Ghika and one of John Craxton, and two group pictures.  Joan’s Nikkormat, which she used to document the building of the house, was an exhibit.

The book focuses on the story of the three protagonists, with Joan portrayed as a continuing and reliable background presence.  She wrote newsy letters to Ghika; he, John Craxton and other friends seem to see her mainly as a confidante and friend.  In later life her focus at Kardamyli seems to have been gardening, cats and cookery. However, she is described as an ‘indispensable part of [Paddy’s] life, the lover, companion and support’, a quiet, calming force.  He aspired to be a writer, but: ‘Apart from his trans-European walk in the 1930s, which he did not yet see how to handle, he had no core experience to draw on.  His travels in Greece, with Joan [taking photographs] were the result.’


Both The Journey Continues and ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ focus very deliberately on Patrick Leigh Fermor, not Joan, who is a supporting actor in the ‘renaissance’ drama that is recounted.  She emerges as reserved intelligent, thoughtful and organised, qualities that complemented Paddy’s very different character.  This was certainly not a purely passive role: she accompanied Paddy in his explorations of Greece; and her photographs informed his writing and graced his publications.  In the film show at ‘Charmed Lives’, John Craxton speaks of how he and Ghika were ‘working by memory and imagination’.  That would be a very good description of Paddy’s writing too and Joan’s photographs were important to him on both counts.

Connolly writes of Joan as ‘naturally watchful’ and an ‘observer’, both qualities essential for good photography.  They have shaped the significant, interest and importance that McClay accords her work.  But the limited number and range of photographs included in the exhibition and publications offer few new clues as to the quality of her work, other than as competent records.  A sense of personal and photographic competency emerges and it appears this how she was seen in the wider literary and artistic circle of which she was a part, not as creative artist in her own right.  How much this is really due to any limitations she had as a photographer or the cultural climate that still relegated photography to the lower ranks of the arts is an open question.

Photos: 1. Cover, Patrick Leigh Fermor – The Journey Continues; 2. Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor’s House, Kardamyli, Greece, 2014; 3. ‘Ghika Craxton Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece’ exhibition, British Museum, June 2018; 4. Joan Leigh Fermor’s Nikkormat and sketch by PLF, ‘Ghika Craxton Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece’ British Museum, June 2018; 5. Cover, Ghika Craxton Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece; 6. Lunch at Kardamyli, March 1967 – Paddy with the master mason and family, photo Joan Leigh Fermor

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Classical Archaeology 4

I’m fascinated by the strangeness of the Museum of Classical Archaeology.  On one level it’s the unease at being watched over in our mortality by all those lowering gods and emperors, like being entombed prematurely in a great sepulchre.  Then there is the dichotomy between the beauty of the sculpture and bloody, rapine, incestuous, vindictive, vengeful, greedy (etc., take your pick) stories they embody.  Or partially embody – this is a world of headless, legless, armless, neutered sculptural carnage.  Nothing seems stranger than this head, reduced to the fragment of a face struggling to escape, Alien-like, from a block of stone.

Photo: Head, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, June 2018.

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Making Connections

‘I got to the end of a project I’ve been working on for some time, which was both pleasing and a relief.  I found that, by working on one particular subject (with a couple of others rumbling in the background), I had become a bit obsessive, which in turn felt rather limiting.  Often when I finish something I feel a bit lost as to what to start next, but this time it was quite the opposite – I found I was taking my camera everywhere I went and simply pleasing myself as to what I took pictures of, regardless of any idea of what I should do with them.  I admit I felt I had permission to carry on in this way because it replicated Dayanita Singh’s approach to her photography [].  She shoots what appeals to her and only later looks for connections and themes in her work.  It seems to work beautifully for her so I felt that borrowing the method could be interesting.’  Elizabeth Roberts, Black and White Photography, July 2018, p.1.

Photo: Euston Road, London, June 2018

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Classical Archaeology 3

Sculpture from the temple of Zeus at Olympia. ‘Here the subject is a battle between Lapiths and Centaurs, mythical tribes of northern Greece, which took place at a wedding feast. The Centaurs, half horse half man, had been invited to the wedding but drank too much wine and attempted to abduct the Lapith women.’  According to Colin Clews, the Centaurs were ‘equally unable to rein in their desire for the young men: look closely and they’re carrying them off too.’

Photo: Lapith woman, Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Museum of Classical Archaeology, June 2018

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Classical Archaeology 2

‘Harmodios and Aristogeiton were honoured for bringing an end to tyranny and restoring democracy in Athens in 514 BCE.  In the early fifth century BCE the emerging democracy in Athens was crushed by the coming to power of two tyrants, Hippias and Hipparchos. Although only partially successful — Hippias escaped death — Harmodios and Aristogeiton were celebrated for overthrowing the tyranny. … The message is: tyrants beware, this is a democratic society’  Colin Clews, in ‘Queer Antiquities’, a contribution to Cambridgeshire LGBTQ History Month writes: ‘They were said to be lovers, motivated in part by Hipparchus’ unwanted advances on Harmodios’.

Photo: Harmodios, The Tyrant Slayers, Museum of Classical Archaeology, June 2018

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Renee Spierdijk

Renee Spierdijk at the Alison Richard Building, Cambridge.  ‘Renee Spierdijk’s work responds to images of young girls and women, mainly from found photographs.  She choose portraits that are taken in formal settings, with the individual often surrounded by political or religious artefacts.  Spierdijk is interested in the conditioning and domestication which children seem to be subjected to and in which they can appear patient, content or quietly mutinous as they wait and hope to become themselves.’  Exhibition on until 29th June 2018.

Photo: Renee Spierdijk paintings, Alison Richard Building, Cambridge, June 2018

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