Sainsbury Sunrise

Sainsbury’s, Cambridge, 211211

Yesterday, the advantages of: shopping early; and carrying a camera.

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Five Facets of Photography: Photographs that Changed the World – Alexander Gardner

Alexander Gardner The Dead Of Antietam, 1862

The American Civil War Battle of Antietam, 17th September 1862, was the bloodiest day in American history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing.  The photographer Alexander Gardner arrived there two days later and set up his stereo wet-plate camera and made dozens of images of the body-strewn countryside. Back in New York Matthew Brady arranged an exhibition of the work. Visitors were greeted with what are believed to be the first recorded images of war casualties.  The photographs are so sharp that people could make out ­faces. In the fields lay not faceless strangers, but ‘real people, sons, brothers, fathers, cousins and friends’.

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Park Street Car Park, Cambridge

Contractors are putting up scaffolding round the unlovely and unloved Park Street multi storey car park.  It is to be redeveloped as an apart-hotel with 250 public car parking spaces in the basement.  It closes on the 4th January.

Park Street car park, Cambridge

I’ve looked up its history on Cambridge New Architecture (Philip Booth and Nicholas Taylor, 1970).  The car park was built in two phases, 1962-3 and 1967-8 to designs by De St-Croix of Truscon Ltd, with T. V. Burrows, City Surveyor.  The original design capacity was for 440 cars.  Truscon was the contractor and the cost was £154,000.  It was Cambridge’s first multi storey car park.

Booth and Taylor: welcomed it ‘as a first step in removing the private car from Cambridge’s choked centre’; and said the overall structure ‘has much to recommend it, with its use of Truscon’s simplified concrete construction’, though they had reservations about some of the materials, detailing and landscaping.  They concluded that despite the low charges (1/- (5p) for four hours) ‘…it is improbable that the Park Street Park will be used fully until cars are proscribed in central Cambridge.’

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Shingle Street 31

Shingle Street, swimmers in lagoon, December 2021

In my last post about Shingle Street (9th September 2021) I mentioned ‘a final visit to be made’ before completing the edit of the photographs.  I made that trip on Sunday 5th December – it’s only a final visit for the purposes book, I’m sure I shall be going back again sometime in 2022.  While much appeared unchanged since my previous time there in April, I saw new things to enjoy and ponder on: building work to extend and improve Salty Dog cottage; a solitary grey seal swimming south about 15m off shore; a group of three people in wet suits and bobble hats swimming like woolly ducks in a lagoon; a flag with an RAF roundel flying near Lavender cottage; black-headed gulls and carrion crows squabbling over the scraps left by a departing fisherman; and a spectacular rainbow spanning from Hollesley to somewhere far out to sea.

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Oak, Fulbourn Fen

Oak, Fulbourn Fen, December 2021

Oak tree shadow, Fulbourn Fen, Saturday 4th December 2021

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Fen Landscape – Swavesey

Chain ditch, Swavesey, December 2021

With the walking group at Swavesey, Wednesday 1st December 2021.  Parked in Market Street and headed NW out of the village, across the Guided Busway and along the bank between the Lagoon and Swavesey Lake.  Strong cold wind from the west whipped up the surface of the Lagoon; crouched tufted ducks bobbed up and down.  Placid mallard rested in calm water on the Lake in the lee of the bank.  A grey heron flapped by with lazy strokes of its down-pointing wings.  Gold finches twittered in the bushes and fled ahead of us.

Mare Fen, Swavesey, December 2021

We climbed up onto the bank of the Great Ouse and walked NE.  Whistling ‘whee-ooes’ carried on the wind from a raft of wigeon on the river.  A pair of Egyptian geese sat aloof at the edge of the water.  Fieldfares, the first of the winter, rose up from the hawthorns with a chattering ‘tchak-tchak-tchak’.  Sleepy eyed black and brown cattle lay sheltered by the embankment at Web Hole Sluice.  Two mute swans dabbled in the chain ditch and a kestrel hovered hopefully over the reeds.

Swavesey Drain, Swavesey, December 2021

A path overhung with bare winter bushes brought us to the edge of Over.  Just beyond two scandalously derelict bungalows, we took a path SW past an orchard, a rare remnant of a once proud industry, to cross Swavesey Drain.   Beyond that lay reedy marginal land. In the distance a windmill and a communications tower signalled the passing of technological ages.  A battered post along Cow Fen Road marked the line of the Greenwich meridian.

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Five Facets of Photography: Ideas that Changed Photography – Doreen Spooner

George Bernard Shaw, Doreen Spooner, 1949

Doreen Spooner (1928-2019) was the first woman to work as a staff photographer on a Fleet Street newspaper during a forty-year career, mostly on the Daily Mirror. Spooner’s photograph of George Bernard Shaw won the British News Picture of the Year award 1950.  Her first front page scoop came in the summer of 1963 when, in a shadowy London pub, she photographed Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, the two women at the heart of the Profumo Affair.

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Artist’s Portraits

The editor of the RA Magazine for winter 2021 has asked contributors to nominate their favourite depictions of artists.  Five have chosen works by photographers.

Gabriella Boyd: Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a record of a 15-year period of her life.  Brimming with love and brutal honesty, it captures her struggle for intimacy.

Phoebe Cummings: The photograph Image from Yagul, 1973, both of and by Ana Mendieta, covered in flowers.  She still defies categorisation.

Vanessa Jackson: Claude Cahun’s double-headed self-portrait from 1929, titled Que me veux-tu? or ‘What do you want from me.’

Alastair Levy: A photograph from 1924 titled Marcel Duchamp with Shaving Lather, by Man Ray.  A gloriously playful and perfectly deadpan depiction of the artist by his close friend.

Cathie Pilkington: When I first saw Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1982 portrait of Louise Bourgeois I thought, yes, that’s what women sculptors have to do: live a long time, make tons of work, tuck a giant penis under your arm, grin.

Nan Goldin, Ballad of Sexual Dependency, c.1985
Ana Mendieta, Image from Yagul, 1973
Claude Cahun, ‘Que me veux-tu? 1929
Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp with Shaving Lather, 1924
Robert Mapplethorpe, Louise Bourgeois, 1982
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Joan Leigh Fermor 6

Nikos and Barbara Hadjikyriakos-Ghika with John Craxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Joan Fermor, in 1958

The story of the intertwining lives of John Craxton, Niko Ghika and Patrick Leigh Fermor have already shone a little light on the enigma that is Joan Leigh Fermor (‘Ghika Craxton Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece’, see post Joan Leigh Fermor 2 23rd June 2018).  The publication of a new biography, John Craxton – A Life of Gifts, by Ian Collins, adds a little to what we already know.

Joan is identified as a photographer early on when Craxton meets ‘a neighbour from heaven – the photographer Joan Eyres Monsell’ in the early 1940s.  We learn nothing about what sort of photographer she is, but we are told quickly that she is: ‘Six feet tall, and willow slender’…with ‘light gold colouring’; ‘Elegant, empathetic and intellectual’; and ‘independent thanks to money from her mother that she shared with her circle’.  Craxton said, “She was so sexy, so attractive; slightly aloof but the hint of bed.”

Collins records that in Cairo late 1944 Joan was ‘still taking photographs [unspecified] but was now helping with the war effort’ (it was here she met Patrick Leigh Fermor, ‘Paddy’).  During a cruise on the Eliki in 1951, ‘Paddy made notes for a travel feature to be illustrated with Joan’s photographs’.  Collins says she was Paddy’s ‘travel companion, photographer and first critic’.  Five photographs are credited to Joan; with one exception they are essentially social snaps.  We learn nothing more about her as a photographer.

Variously throughout the period covered here Joan was: driving Craxton and Paddy to Greece in 1952; at Ghika’s house at Hydra with the artists and writers; had Ghika staying with her in London in 1958; visiting Craxton in Chania over Easter 1963; sharing correspondence with Craxton; and having him to stay at the house in Kardamyli.  She is there as a presence, but with no direct creative role.

Margot Fonteyn on the Eliki cruise, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1951

But a role she did indeed have, a role presaged by the opening description of her.  Craxton used her aristocratic connections to facilitate a relationship with Lady ‘Peter’ Norton, wife of the British Ambassador in Athens, which helped establish him in Greece.  Her support for Craxton was also direct and practical, as an undated letter shows

Joan now looked out for John more than ever (‘Here’s an anti-birthday and anti-Christmas present which I meant to send you ages ago with lots of love’; ‘This cheque is because I am suddenly and unexpectedly rolling at the moment, can’t go into a shop and only like giving it to friends.’  She bought pictures from his exhibitions and did all she could to promote his talents.

Later when Craxton found a property to rent with Christopher Mason, ‘Joan would meet all expenses.’  In 1960 Craxton wrote to Joan, ‘with a recklessness inspired by your generosity I have rented this empty house…’.  Her generosity of spirit extended to Paddy: ‘Immune to jealousy, Joan befriended her partner’s lovers.’

When Joan died Craxton wrote: ‘Like all adorable people Joan Leigh Fermor had something enigmatic about her nature which, together with her wonderful good looks, made are a very seductive presence.’  Collins adds, ‘She had been a most generous and loyal friend over six decades…’. Once again we learn very little about Joan as a photographer; we are told again of her beauty, charm and generosity.  If she was limited as a creative force in her own right, she facilitated it in others through emotional and financial support.  Craxton may have made a success of his art without her, but as Collins suggests, ‘Paddy might never have written a word without Joan’s adroit support’.  To cast her as a muse would fit the Grecian setting of much of these entwined lives, but was she a source of artistic inspiration?  ‘Adroit support’ suggests something more practical.

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Cormorants, River Cam

Cormorants, River Cam, November 2021

Walk from Bait’s Bite Lock to Clayhithe yesterday – sunny and chilly.  Dunnock, wren, robin and blackbirds flitting in and out of the hedges; mallard, dabchick, moorhen and mute swan idling on the water.  Five cormorants sat, gloomy sentinels, on a dead tree near Clayhithe.  Are they here year-round and do they attempt to breed?  The Field Guide says they may nest ‘on inland lake islands and trees’.

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Traces of Erewhon 6

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Sleaford War Memorial

Sleaford cemetery yesterday. Unusual War Memorial in the form of an angel. ‘To the glory of God and in everlasting remembrance of all the men from Sleaford, Holdingham and Durrington, who died for their country in the Great War 1914-1919.  Their name liveth for evermore’

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Five Facets of Photography: Ideas that Changed Photography – George Rodger

Dinka boys of the Duk Faiwil tribe. Sudan, George Rodger, 1949.

George Rodger was a founding member of Magnum Photos in 1947. He travelled to Africa and photographed of indigenous people of the Nuba Mountains, the Latuka and other tribes of southern Sudan, in 1948 and 1949.  The results are regarded as, ‘some of the most historically important and influential images taken in sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century’.  Rodger published his photo essay on the Nuba and Latuka in 1951; pictures were also seen widely through the National Geographic. Divisive German photographer and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was prompted by Rodger’s work to travel to the Nuba region to make her own photo stories on the Nuba people.

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Reading Women 8

In the final session of her course Britta offered an explanation of why there are so many images of women reading.  Her starting point was that the paintings are overwhelmingly by men.

First, the easy availability within the family of a wife, mother, sister or daughter as a (free) model, the ever present sitter.

Second, the representation of women reading lends itself to interpretative manipulation. A painter creates the female reader according to his own needs.  She is for the artist, consciously or unconsciously, a vehicle for the message he wants to convey, what he wants to make visible on the canvas.  This could be the sacredness of a spiritual event, the domestic ideal of a woman as educator, the seductiveness of a mistress and so on.  In each case he has the freedom to construct his own interpretation of the woman reader.  Last, but not least, in each case he can express on canvas the fantasies and innermost desires for the opposite sex, in short his fascination.

I’m not sure what interpretation should be put Vittorio Matteo Corcos’ painting Dreams (1896) and the title seems misleading – she is surely no innocent dreamer.  I hesitate to put interpretations on my woman reading in Venice from Take a Seat.  And it’s important to make the essential difference between the painting and the photograph: the former is constructed; the latter presents a fragment of actuality.

The Lido, Venice, 2011
Dreams, Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1896
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Regenerating Beech

At Wandlebury on Saturday to enjoy the autumn colours. Found this beech regenerating with eight new sturdy coppice-like growths shooting vertically from a fallen trunk.

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