Rana Begum, No. 764 Baskets

The opening exhibition at the new Kettle’s Yard includes No. 764 Baskets, 2017-18, by Rana Begum.  It‘s a site specific sculpture made up on a thousand bamboo baskets, hand woven in Bangladesh.  ‘The work draws upon the artist’s childhood memories of basket weaving in her village in Bangladesh, as well as time spent reading the Qur’an at the local mosque, where the dappled morning light, sound of the water fountain and the mesmeric recitation created an atmosphere of peaceful concentration.

It is shown in St Peter’s Church, which dates back to the 13th Century.  The font is Norman.

Photo: No. 764 Baskets, 2017-18, Rana Begum, St Peter’s Church, Cambridge

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Cafe Culture 6

‘Fantastic food in the centre of Cambridge’, is how the Michaelhouse Café promotes itself.  The web site explains: it ‘is one of Bill’s Cafés founded and operated by food writer and restaurateur Bill Sewell. Bill has been involved in Michaelhouse since before it opened in 2002. The café is set within the remarkable re-development of St Michael’s church under the auspices of the Michaelhouse Centre.’   Pevsner, writing of St Michael’s in 1970, says: ‘A small, extremely attractive church almost entirely of the early C14.  It was appropriated to the newly founded Michaelhouse and rebuilt by its founder Hervey de Stanton.  In 1327 he died and was buried in the chancel of the new, yet incomplete church.’

Photo: Michaelhouse Café, Trinity Street, Cambridge, March 2018


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U3AC Photo Forum 15 – Creative and Abstract Photography

Sue Fifer explored this through the work of established photographers and members of the Forum, following the headings used by Jackie Higgins in her book, Why it Does Not Have to be in Focus (Thames and Hudson, 2017).  ‘Portraits/Smile’: e.g. John Stezaker & Andy Warhol.  ‘Document/Snap’: e.g. Henri Cartier-Bresson & John Baldessari. ‘Still Lifes/Freeze’: e.g. Thomas Demand.  ‘Narrarive/Action’: e.g. Keith Arnatt.  ‘Landscapes/Look’: e.g. Hiroshi Sugimoto.  ‘Abstracts/Dissolve’: Robert Rauschenberg & Alvin Langdon Coburn.

Sue showed much that chimed with Gerry Badger’s view of photography as ‘fiction, metaphor, poetry.’  If a lot of the work also used variously reflections, blurring, shadows, close ups, combined images and eccentric viewpoints, it depended on serendipity and the ability to look and see.  The contributions from the Forum were highly individual; as the Canon marketing slogan says, ‘No one sees it like you.’

Photos: 1. No. 3 Bus window, Cambridge, January 2017; 2. Aquarium lights, Hardwick, March 2016

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One of the advantages of living in this otherwise unremarkable bit of suburban Cambridge is being near good local services.  Having Budgens just five minute’s walk away has been so convenient.  Not always the best quality, but a comprehensive range, decent service and so handy when things ran out or catering for the unexpected.  No more: it closed on Saturday 10th March.

The City Council’s planning web pages say: ‘17/1297/FUL | New block to rear containing three 3xbed residential units with roof terraces following demolition of existing retail storage space at first floor and changes to the external appearance of the existing elevations along with revised access arrangements from Perne Road, courtyard at first floor level, car and cycle parking and associated landscaping.’  Rumour has it that it will reopen as a Co-op.

Photo: Budgen’s Corner, Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, March 2018

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Blenheim Blue

Blue rope at Blenheim Palace.  Well, what other colour would a Duke use?  Perhaps a radical gardener slipped on the red dog collar.

Photo: Blenheim Palace, March 2018

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Ma () is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts.” The spatial concept is experienced progressively through intervals of spatial designation. In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.  Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.’  Wikipedia

Photo: The Maze, Blenheim Palace, March 2018

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U3AC Photo Forum 14 – Morality and Controversy in Photography

Helen Cherry started of gently with the Cottingley Fairies and then took us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the work of Robert Capa, Brian Walski, Mikhael Subotsky, Kevin Carter, Eddie Adams, Nick Ut, Alan Kurdi, Irina Ionesco, Diane Arbus, Joel-Peter Witkin, Andres Serrano and Jill Greenberg.  She asked questions posed by these pictures. Is it right/wrong to take them?  Should they be published?  What are the rights of the subjects? Do they result in change or are they merely to shock?  Do the ends justify the means?  Is it just a job or a public service?  What price is paid by the photographer?

There was much debate and a lot of issues were left hanging.  But there was some consensus on the following. 1. The context for the pictures is vital in understanding them.  2.  It is important to respect the subjects.  3. Turning pictures of exploitation and suffering onto art object on a gallery wall is wrong.  4. Photography reveals what’s happening and society can’t claim it doesn’t know.  5. Mixed feeling and responses to much of the work; solid condemnation of the work of Irina Ionesco.  As for the impact on the photographer: several of those in the above list committed suicide.

Photos: 1. Elsie Wright, Cottingley Fairies;  2. Joel-Peter Witkin, From Songs of Experience

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Guardian Angels

Nine guardian angels watch over the congregation of All Saints, Landbeach.  Eight, wings folded and baring painted shields, look down from the hammer beams.  The ninth sits below the chancel arch, legs jauntily crossed and arms outstretched, its spread wings form a lectern.  This joyful figure, carved in oak, probably originated from the Netherlands in the 17th century, where it may have formed part a larger tableau in a church or cathedral.  It was bought from a York antiques dealer in 1882 for £13.50 (£1,544 now).  Showing its age, and then badly damaged when it was knocked over by a member of the congregation, the angel was restored recently by conservation woodworker Andrew Matthews at a cost of £1,350.

Photo: Angel lectern, All Saints, Landbeach, Cambs, March 2018

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Nothing Lasts

According to Leonard Koren, wabi-sabi can be defined as, ‘the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.’ Whereas Andrew Juniper notes that, ‘If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.’  For Richard Powell, ‘Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’  Wikipedia

Photo: Orford, Suffolk,July 2011

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I once spent an afternoon walking along Victorian terraced streets in Cambridge photographing windows.  I was intrigued by the way something a fragile as a pane of glass could so definitively and effectively separate public and private spaces.  It reflects the fact that as a society we both respect property and are very largely law abiding.  We obey the flimsiest, often almost notional, indicators of boundaries: traffic cones, white lines on roads, lines of tape flapping in the breeze, fences that would give way at a push or might be easily scaled.  Politicians are keen on red lines and lines in the sand, but these are often neither definitive nor effective.

Photo: Brighton promenade, July 2011

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U3AC Photo Forum 13 – Travel Photography

Members of the Forum submitted around 40 travel photographs for discussion.  The RPS definition of travel photography was used as a guide: ‘Images that express a feeling of a time and place, portray a land, its people or a culture in its natural state. They have no geographical limitations.’  The most popular categories were people (35%), buildings/towns (28%), landscape (12%) and coasts/water (9%).  Countries ranged from Norway to Botswana and Cuba to China.

Some pictures followed the brief closely and were unmistakably of, say, India; and some gave a more general impression of abroad, of otherness.  Capturing the idea of a unique place in a single image is almost impossible without resorting to postcard icons.  What is important is what they mean to the photographer and what he or she is trying to convey, not whether they comply with how the RPS views the world.

Photo: 1. Abandoned church, Kayakoy, Turkey, July 2002; 2. Between Deir Ez-Zour and Palmyra, Syria, September 2010

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The Unknowable

In James Fox’s BBC4 programme ‘The Art of Japanese Life’ on 19th February a Zen Buddhist monk explained something of his beliefs.  ‘The unanswerable, the mysterious, how should I describe it, it’s one aspect of our philosophy.  So in other words the answer isn’t the point; our philosophy is characterised by a search for understanding, it’s a search that will never end.  I think that’s why we value the unknowable.’

Fox concluded: ‘The Zen preference for uncertainty and suggestiveness might still seem alien to us fact loving, empirical, positivistic westerners, but it became a crucial part of Japanese culture, and you can’t understand Japanese culture until you begin to embrace the beauty of mystery.’

Photo: Anglesey Abbey, Lode, Cambs, 2011

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U3AC Photo Forum 12 – Macro Photography

Adventures in small things with Chris Thomas.  A largely technical, ‘how to’ presentation, but none the less interesting for that.  Chris eschews expensive specialist macro lenses and relies on converters, supplementary lenses, extension tubes, reversing rings and the lens from a microscope.  Tripod usually essential; a two-way rail a handy accessory.  Focus stacking looks like magic.  Interesting work can also be made with a scanner and a smart phone.  New worlds revealed: the micrograph of the false foot of a caterpillar looks like a view of Mt Fuji or perhaps an ancient map.

Photo: Fabric scan, February 2018

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Colouring Book

A version of Colouring Book by Jeff Koons at the Royal Academy during the Summer Exhibition 2011.  One of a number of versions, apparently: ‘A page from a Winnie the Pooh coloring book featuring Pooh’s companion Piglet was the genesis of Coloring Book. Koons took a magic marker to the page and colored in various zones; in the fabrication of the sculpture, he removed Piglet from the composition, which resulted in this abstraction rendered in cheerful pastel colors.’  In highly polished stainless steel, it became an optical illusion – was the sculpture transparent or was it reflecting the surrounding buildings?

Photo: Colouring Book, Jeff Koons, Royal Academy, London 2011

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Youth, Wilfred Dudeney

Youth by Wilfred Dudeney stands, or rather kneels suggestively, outside Pemberton House, Pemberton Row, London.  It was commissioned in 1955 to stand in front of the headquarters of the Starmer Group, owners of northern local newspapers, in collaboration with the architects R. Seifert and Partners. Dudeney (1911-1989) was an academic and teacher, a member of the New English Art Club and president of the Royal Society of British Sculptors 1971-75.




Youth is described as an ‘example of the figurative tradition advanced by modern influences’.  The stance of the muscle-bound figure and the proud stare give it distinctly unapologetic homoerotic overtones.  It combines this with a somewhat Fascist force, not to say aggression.  That Dudeney was a contemporary of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frink says a lot about the diversity of mid- 20th Century British sculpture.

Photo: Youth, Wilfred Dudeney Pemberton House, Pemberton Row, London, 2011

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