Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Corn + Wall = Cornwall


50 Shades of Ray / Catching some Rays

Just two (for the price of one) concepts from the 28-page book that is It's A Shame About Ray.

Here's what people are already saying about it:

"U r a fucking genius!!!!!!"
– Christian

"Makes me want to meet the legend"
– Mel

"You must have a lot of time on your hands"
– Caspar

"Brilliant work"
– Narinder

"No comment"
– Ray

Top ten London buildings

1. Natural History Museum, SW7*
2. Michelin House, SW3* (pictured)
3. Battersea Power Station, SW8*
4. Horniman Museum, SE23
5. Space House, WC2
6. Gala Bingo Hall, SW17*
7. Peckham Library, SE15
8. Crossness Pumping Station, SE2
9. Southgate Tube Station, N14
10. St Pancras railway station, N1C

*What can I say? South west is best.

Inspirational demotivational business slogans

Previously on Barnflakes:
Aspire to be average
Don't just be yourself
Dream job is an oxymoron; T-1000 came up with 'Nightmare job is a tautology' but it's just the flip side of the coin – I would have thought of it eventually.
Top five office moments

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
The BARNACLES page has been updated and 'redesigned' (i.e. font made bigger), with choice bon mots now added regularly.

A brief* history of photography (part two)

At the risk of sounding pretentious (though I never thought there was anything wrong with that), I feel photography's always been in my blood. My grandfather, who I never met, was a keen photographer and amateur filmmaker; he worked for Kodak and experimented with 16mm colour film before it was available to the public. My uncle, who sadly passed away recently (I helped write his obituary in the Guardian), was a successful food photographer in the 1970s (I remember the surprise of seeing a poster of his in Athena whilst at school and thinking 'He's famous'!) and made adverts in the 1980s. My dad barely ever takes a picture, but my brother and I have always taken them. I would say it was travelling, like with many people, which got both of us into photography. We take similar photos too – of doorways, pavements and faded posters, for example.

Photography was always there in my travels – even if I wasn't the one taking the photos. For example, whilst in a belly dancing club in Cairo in the mid-1990s, my girlfriend at the time and I met two photographers taking pictures of the dancers, and of my girlfriend too when she got up on stage to have a go at belly dancing. They were using a Rolleiflex film camera and promised to post us prints but never did.

Said girlfriend was anti-photography, as I have been too at various times, so I didn't take many photos in Egypt (but obviously, the ones I did are great, such as this and this) or Morocco or most of SE Asia (I took about ten rolls of 36 photos in six months; I might take that in a week now with my iPhone); unique photo opportunities, perhaps, in my travelling days – hitching rides on the back of trucks full of Berbers and goats in the Sahara desert; narrowly missing massacres and revolutions (stuck in Jakarta with dengue fever during the riots and revolution for the fall of Soherto in May 1998, I was surrounded by photo journalists and used to hang out with them in the bars around Jalan Jaksa. I hardly took any photos – I was trying to make a video with a cheap camcorder until it got stolen by a prostitute – see my book Gullible Travels if you're interested). I curse myself now for not buying an SLR and taking lots of photos; it was a different world back then. The things I saw I'll never see again.

But I always felt I was a photographer, just one who didn't necessarily take photos (like Isabelle Huppert in Hal Hartley's film Amateur – the nymphomaniac who doesn't have sex), hence I'm doing a book of Missed Photos (there's something about the photos I didn't take that are always better than the ones I did). Didn't the Japanese used to say – which always seemed to me a bit ironic for them – cameras are an intrusion as they see into the window of the soul? Back then, it felt like I was living life, and photos were just an impingement on life (I always thought photography, like writing, a lonely existence; that's why I think I went into film, a collaborative process).

As mentioned in part one, I learnt how to use an SLR at 'A' Levels, then forgot how; I learnt at art college, then forgot how; I learnt at film school, then forgot how. The first 'proper' camera I bought was a Lomo (it felt proper to me). I loved my Lomo – shooting from the hip was their motto. I worked with a guy called Ken who was annoyingly good at whatever he tried his hand at, including Lomo photography. He took amazing photos with his, and had one published in a magazine, but he had no real interest in photography. I took okay ones, such as this and this.

My Lomo got stolen (also mentioned in part one); in fact I've had about half a dozen cameras stolen from me over the years. I should take heed. Like when my skateboard broke in half (a lovely Mark Gonzales board by Santa Cruz), I knew it was time to quit. I was crap skater (but liked the lifestyle).

Eventually the internet came. I went off photography again in the early internet age, and didn't take any good pics for years. It's like men who think they have a reasonably-sized dick until they come across porn on the internet, and they think 'What the fuck? Is that for real?' (or indeed women who think their boyfriend is pretty well-endowed...). Whatever talent you think you have – genital size, photography, writing, graphic design, illustration... there's a million other people who are bigger, better and more popular than you. Comparisons are inevitable if fruitless at best, destructive at worst.

I enjoy many things – chess, tennis, films, music, writing, photography, travel, for example – but not being brilliant at anything (or even just gaining the respect of my peers or being popular on social media; encouragement from my daughter and girlfriend don't count – that's unfair; of course they do, they're my biggest fans who keep me going – but you know what I mean... they may be biased) is, well, extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, lack of ambition and self-confidence aren't a good combination and don't really help.

With the internet, there's so much talent, sure, but also so much rubbish (or worse still, so much average stuff). A friend told me recently it’s the worst time ever to want to become a photographer – everyone’s a photographer; every day millions of photos are being uploaded. Exactly, I replied, there’s more crap than ever before.

(But Instagram, ah, Instagram. It doesn't even matter what your photos are like. It's about being popular. If you're a popular person, your photos are popular. It reminds me of being at school. The internet is one big popularity contest. Is it just me – yes, I know it is – but the popular photos and blog posts are just inundated with complements: 'amazing photo!', 'great post!', etc – if I ever get any comments, they're mainly piss-takes.)

In a recent interview, Joel Meyerowitz, famous street photographer of the 1960s, declared contemporary street photography dead – the streets are filled with people glued to their phones, he said. I think street photography is the hardest but most exciting genre of photography: you never know what you're going to come across. I love the idea of being a flaneur, wondering the city armed with a camera (which I've been doing on – but mainly off – for 25 years all over the world). Walking down any street, you may stumble across a great photo with a click of the shutter (such as this – which, you know, I love, but think in this day and age, with most people pretty visually astute, maybe six out of ten people walking past it would have taken a shot of it with their phone, and come up with a similar result. The main difference being they probably don't work for Magnum).

(This is what gets me about most office work – you know exactly what you're going to do, every single day. There's no surprises, no eureka moments – but photography, and street photography in particular, you can be walking around the most boring neighbourhood, but if your wits are about you, you may happen upon something beautiful and unexpected.)

The truth is, I've lived most of my life in my head (have I mentioned this before? Oh yes, here somewhere). I read biographies and autobiographies all the time – of film-makers, artists, mathematicians (Alan Turing, if you're wondering), travellers, musicians – from Miles Davis and Malcolm Lowry to Bruce Chatwin and Alan Lomax. What I'm always looking for, in a way, is a clue to how they did it, how they succeeded, and, in a way I suppose, where I went wrong in life. Just as in the film Life of a Leader (excellent, though almost too opaque even for me; the soundtrack the most accessible thing about it, which is saying something for latter-day Scott Walker) looks at the childhood and possible clues as to what ingredients go towards making a fascist dictator (presumably Hitler). So I endlessly pore over clues to what maketh the man (yes, usually a man) a successful artist in his field (Malcolm Gladwell says it's 10,000 hours of practise but I'm not so sure). In other words, to put it another way, why do I feel such a failure (in this area of my life)?

(What can I say? I have friends working in film, advertising, music and fashion; I know people who have published books and directed films; some are earning over £100K a year... I'm genuinely happy for them, if that's what they want. Most of them don't have time to spend their money, let alone spend time with their partners and children. A lot of these so-called glamorous jobs are actually fairly dull; either a lot of waiting around, or not ever leaving the Mac screen. I've worked in most of these fields and though I've been paid well, I've not had any job satisfaction at all. I'll always go my own way, plough my own furrow.)

It might be that I spend more watching my old videos on YouTube, looking at my photos on Flickr and Instagram and reading old blog posts more than anyone else does. I look at other people's work a lot too, and spend time thinking about photography and film, but get disheartened by the sheer volume and talent of it all – and then the comparison thing comes back. I love my films, designs, photos and writing. This is the crux of my failure – no one else agrees with me! At the risk of sounding pretentious again, I try to be creative every single day. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but this is what I've always done, and always will. It's what keeps me going.

Living in my head, I sometimes fantasise that my writing/films/photography/design will be 'discovered' (isn't that how it works? The good stuff rises to the top?) and I'll gain recognition in one of the fields. And make some money! Doing what I like doing! But I'll be aged 82, maybe, sitting in an old people's home, imagining the same thing – I’ll be thinking a Hollywood exec will read a treatment of a film I've written and buy the rights to it; a gallery will call to request an exhibition of my photos; a company will call to use a photo of mine for a billboard campaign; my videos will get millions of hits on YouTube... you get the idea. But meanwhile...

It feels like everything's passed me by. All my interests and passions – films, photography, graphic design, car boot sales, charity shops, old records, books and magazines, art history, travel, my paintings, doodles and writing, my impeccable taste – I just thought it would all lead somewhere. I often think I just want to chuck it all up into the air and have it all land in a different position so I can find a way forward. And get rich and famous.

*Turned out to be slightly longer than brief, and perhaps more personal than I envisaged. Luckily no one reads my long blog posts. Thanks for listening if you made it this far.

Previously on Barnflakes:
A brief history of photography (part one)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Top 10 films with men in drag

1. Divine
Pink Flamingos (1972)

2. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis
Some Like it Hot (1959)

3. Dustin Hoffman
Tootsie (1982)

4. Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) 

5. Jeff Bridges
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) 

6. Kurt Russell
Tango and Cash (1989)

7. Tim Curry
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

8. John Travolta
Hairspray (2007)

9. Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo
To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

10. Robin Williams
Mrs Doubtfire (1993)

Monday, June 04, 2018

Saatchi gallery barngains

It's a shame when the gallery or museum shop is more stimulating than the exhibits on show, but such was the case at the Saatchi gallery this weekend, whose current exhibition, Known Unknowns, failed to excite me or my daughter. The gallery shop, however, was full of wonders. Aside from charity shops, gallery and museum shops are my favourite kind of shops. I'd like to see a whole shopping centre of them, largely to save having to visit the galleries themselves, and to buy all my Christmas presents in one fell swoop. Imagine, shops of the British Museum, Tate, V&A, Natural History museum, etc, all under one roof. Retail and cultural bliss combined.

The Saatchi gallery shop has lots of reduced books, including The Field Guide to Typography: Typefaces in the Urban Landscape, a neat book which informs you which fonts are which in the city, from shop signs to train station signage. Reduced from £16.99 to £6.95.

In the gallery itself, French Lebanese artist Mouna Rebeiz has gone to town on the freebie front. Her exhibition The Trash-ic or Trash in the Face of Beauty, is giving away lavish A3 catalogues of the exhibition, as well as an English edition of the French art magazine connaissance des arts (usual price: £7.80), which features – yup – her exhibition. I don't know who's paying for this free promotion for Rebeiz (presumably not her). Finally, Saatchi's surprisingly consistently boring gallery magazine, Art  & Music, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, was also picked up for free. Oh, the gallery is also free to visit, should you feel the need to go.

I don't know, I just figured as my daughter (almost 12) is into girl power, she might like the exhibition of 17 female artists. I didn't think it would be exploring mainly adult themes – spurting bodily fluids, sex, human trafficking – and my daughter wasn't impressed. Some of it actually looked quite interesting, but we had to rush through it – there was a shop to get to.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Zombie blockbuster disaster movie dream

I’ve wanted one of these dreams all my life – a combination of low budget, edgy zombie film and Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie. I got one the other night, then wished I hadn’t. I’ve mentioned before how when my life is busy and exciting, my dreams are mundane in the extreme. And when my life is dull, my dreams can be pretty exciting. Well, this one was a roller coaster and a half.

Mankind was living with the post-zombie apocalypse, zombies were everywhere and that was fine, they were a nuisance but pretty harmless and under control. Apart form the biting, they blended pretty well into society. Ken, an old colleague I haven’t seen for years, was around. Pacey and Dawson from Dawson’s Creek were around (looking like they were still in the 1990s); I think they were soldiers living in the barracks.

Without warning there was a blinding light, an explosion and a flood of Biblical proportions. Mass confusion and hysteria ensued. I was standing in the street with my daughter's mother at the time; I don’t know where our daughter was – safe, I sensed. Water was rising fast. We started running up a hill; the water was already up to our waists. I eventually reached the top of the hill, just safe from the water below. I looked around, thinking my ex was right behind me. She wasn’t. I looked down below, and there she was, on a raft, just about to go into an abyss. We looked at each other for a split second – in that second, in her eyes, I knew she’d made peace, and everything would be okay, I would look after my daughter. Then she was gone.

I was upset. Back at the barracks, I hugged Ken. Then I had to tell my parents, my ex's parents and my auntie and uncle (aren’t dreams amazing? In real life, my uncle had recently died, but here he was alive as day). My daughter already knew. My dad mumbled that he’d had a ‘very disturbing’ voice message on his phone from my ex, just before she went over the edge.

I woke up sweating, almost in tears. It was a classic! Production values were high; special effects pretty realistic, acting very good. It packed an emotional punch. Script top notch, if slightly confusing in places.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Dreams

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It's a Shame About Ray – the book

Yes, this is now an actual thing. What started off as a drunken laugh in the pub is now, a week later, an actual book – well, once I get it printed of course. It's a Shame About Ray – named after the classic Lemonheads album – is a tribute to production manager Ray, his B2B magazine flatplans, and the cornucopia of puns that go with the man and the name.

And what an array of Rays: from Blu-Ray, Stingray and Ray Gun to the Milky Ray, 50 Shades of Ray and Ray of Hope, all the clich├ęs – and more – are featured in one handy 28-page, A5 booklet. A fitting panegyric to the man and his work, it is also the perfect companion to my previous Rashisms: The Book of Rash, as Ray and Rash both worked together.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Rayfaring Stranger
Rashims: The Book of Rash

Thursday, May 17, 2018

London through its charity shops #36: some odds and ends

Victoria, SW1P
The train station and surrounding area have been under construction for years and it still feels like a building site. The shiny new buildings are all ghastly, with one – the Nova Victoria – being dubbed ugliest of the year last year and winning the Carbuncle Cup.

The only redeeming features in the area are the stunning Westminster Cathedral, with its Stations of the Cross by Eric Gill, and Strutton Ground, the only nice road in the vicinity with its cobbled stones and weekday food market. There's a jolly nice Oxfam bookshop there, also selling music and DVDs.

Bermondsey Street, SE1
My favourite street around London Bridge now has a charity shop. Cause for celebration? Nope, because it's a Marys Living and Giving Shop for Save the Children with no books or records and men's shirts costing £25. 

Tulse Hill, SW2 to West Norwood, SE27
It's taken me years to know the difference between Tulse and Herne Hill (confusingly, for my mind anyway, it's because they're so close to each other). Tulse Hill is horrible, where people get shot and dragged under cars; Herne Hill is pretty nice.

Across the road from Tulse Hill train station is a ramshackle Geranium Shops For The Blind charity shop. These are getting to be such a rare breed; most charity shops been tarted up into boutiques with prices to match. This one's cheap and a bit dirty but can get in good stuff.

Continuing south along Norwood Road, we enter West Norwood before we reach another charity shop, and it's another Geranium. This is similarly ramshackle but bigger. Next is a relatively sterile RSPCA, with not much of anything of interest, ever. Past the train station on Knight's Hill are two Emmaus Lambeth, one selling white goods and electricals, the other, clothes.

Herne Hill, SE24
Herne Hill is nicely situated by Brockwell Park and has a funky market on Sundays. Not greatly served by charity shops, it has two pleasant Oxfam shops opposite each other on the delightfully named Half Moon Lane, a general shop and a bookshop.

Brixton, SW2 & SW9
Brixton has also never been good for charity shops. There's been a TRAID for years, which I've never been in, and there's now a huge Barnardo's on the corner of Brixton and Stockwell Roads, almost opposite the Brixton Academy. Lots of clothes, records, bric-a-brac and books; they had a good selection of art books when I last went in – I picked up one on Marcel Dzama for a couple of quid.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

Monday, May 14, 2018

London libraries #7: Swiss Cottage

A brutalist exterior houses a delicate, flowing and symmetrical modernist interior. What's not to like? Originally designed in 1964 by Sir Basil Spence (Coventry Cathedral, New Zealand's Beehive), it was sensitively remodelled in 2003 by John McAslan & Partners. The library has a light, calm, peaceful atmosphere. It also contains a gallery, cafe and other cultural and leisure activities. As the twin staircases are symmetrical, expect publications like Time Out and The Guardian to have rife comparisons to the films of Wes Anderson.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London libraries
London Through Its Charity Shops #35: Swiss Cottage
Random Animated Animal Film Reviews

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The weekend in barngains

Pictured:
The Cramps, Smell of Female LP (£2, Putney charity shop)
Yes I have it on CD, but great band, best album title ever, cool cover.

Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief LP  
(£2, Putney charity shop)
Didn't have this one at all. I only have Unhalfbricking by Fairport, which I've mentioned previously.

Rodreiguez, Cold Fact CD (£1, Putney charity shop)
Another recent coincidence this – I was chatting to a friend about Searching for Sugar Man over dinner the other evening, then this turns up. I've mentioned Light in the Attic, who have re-released the 1970 album, before. There's another 'alluring narrative' that goes with Rodreiguez: he was (re)discovered a decade ago working as a labourer in Detroit, not knowing his debut album had become a cult classic, and he had become a national hero and beacon of hope in South Africa.

Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream 
(£3.50, Putney charity shop) 
Beautiful book.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon  
(£3, Hammersmith charity shop)
Even though this will turn out to be another Gravity's Rainbow, I've been desperate for this ever since going to Kosovo. H said it would turn up eventually, and it did. There was no way I was ever going to pay £21 for a paperback.

Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman 
(£2, Crystal Palace charity shop)
The best comic strip ever.

Not pictured:
Two-for-one tickets for Kew Gardens
To see the newly restored Temperate House, even if it did rain.

Free screen print from Mai 68: Posters from the Revolution exhibition, Lazinc gallery, London
To the same friend I was chatting to about Rodreiguez, I muttered something about The Clash line "turning rebellion into money" with regards to the exhibition, but fascinating nonetheless.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barngains
London Through its Charity Shops

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
BARNGAINS is a select list of rated barngains from 2007 to the present day.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Notes on The Human Library

Overheard:
"I've just been to see the satanist"
"Oh the neo-Nazi just popped up, I want to grab him before
anyone else does"

Originating in Denmark, natch, The Human Library is an organisation dedicated to challenging prejudices through conversation. The concept is simple: people ('books'), mainly those who society as a whole has prejudices against, are on loan to 'readers' for twenty minutes, who get to ask questions and listen to the book's experiences. On a board is a series of labels – satanist, bi-polar, Muslim, homeless, autism, HIV, alcoholic, etc – and a reader picks whichever human book interests them, and they both go and sit on a sofa to talk about the subject.

I was a tad apprehensive beforehand, but the whole experience was relaxing and enlightening. As I look after an autistic young man, I went for the autistic book, and he was informative and chatty. H went for a reformed fascist and a neo-Nazi. The satanist was constantly in demand and booked out.

I love the idea. Whether the people who it's perhaps aimed at – those with prejudices – would be open-minded enough to attend such an event is questionable, but it's enlightening for both sides: the books get to express their experiences, and the readers get to hopefully understand a marginalised section of society.

We ran with the concept – why stop at prejudiced members of society? There could be a series of books, where experts expound on their chosen field. I know what you're thinking – isn't this what the internet is all about? Yes, true, but actually talking to someone face to face about a subject is far more enlightening and interactive than watching a YouTube video about it.

Interestingly, that week H had been on a course about restorative justice, a process where the victims of crime embark on a series of dialogue with their perpetrator. Having the victim and perpetrator talking face to face can give the victim closure and hopefully enlightens and changes the perpetrator, making them understand the damage they have done. It's a known fact that prison tends not to reform criminals; restorative justice can repair harm, build communities and promote understanding.

humanlibrary.org
restorative justice council

That evening we listened to:
Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Museum of Everyone 
A Life of Art

Friday, May 04, 2018

Cinema in Crystal Palace finally to reopen

After eight years of campaigning by local residents, there is finally to be a cinema in Crystal Palace, the first time for over fifty years. The Rialto on Church Road first opened in the 1920s, closing in the 1960s to become a bingo hall. More recently it's been a Christian centre. The Everyman chain of cinemas put in a bid earlier in the year, which was accepted. It will open as a four-screen cinema towards the end of the year.

Time Out has some pictures of what it's going to look like.

My image above contains all the iconic Crystal Palace landmarks: Transmitter tower, Sphinxes, dinosaur, subway and statue from the Great Exhibition.

Now all Crystal Palace needs is some chain stores. I've had with the cafes and vintage shops; there's nowhere for me to buy me a pair of pants or socks. Give me an M&S!

Nearby, the West Norwood Picturehouse is also due to open this year.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The lost art of the double bill
In the Crystal Palace subway
The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace
Random film review: The Pleasure Garden 
London through its charity shops: Crystal Palace, SE19
Double bill me

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
Crystal Palace Flickr album

Monday, April 30, 2018

Padstow's 'Obby 'Oss

The May Day festival in Padstow (also known unaffectionately as Padstein due to Rick Stein's chain of restaurants there) is a centuries-old tradition involving two processions through the fishing port town, each led by a hobby horse or 'Obby 'Oss. It was a wonderful experience when I went a couple of years ago but the sight of the 'Obby 'Oss alarmed me. Reminiscent of a cross between an evil Father Christmas, African tribal masks, Punch & Judy and something from The Wicker Man, the 'Obby 'Oss is an unpredictable beast, charging through crowds of people in the hope of capturing a fair maiden (so I was probably fairly safe then).

As tradition goes, from midnight today (the day before May Day), locals will decorate the town with flags, flowers and the maypole. Then late morning on May Day itself the processions begin, consisting of traditional dancing and singing. Locals are dressed in white with red scarves, some playing musical instruments. The 'Obby 'Osses, one red and one blue, are guided through town by the Teazers, who lead the dance with a club in their hands. Thousands of tourists also litter the narrow, windy streets.

See photos of Cornwall in my Flickr album, including some from the 'Obby 'Oss festival in 2016.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Beauty and the Brutalist exhibition
The Morris Dance Murders movie
Barnflakes goes Cornwall
Celebrating Cornwall's mining heritage
Notes on Cornish fiction