Category Archives: confession

The death of romanticism

smoke over a field at dawn. Would have once filled me with intensely pleasurable emotion, that this is the sort of experience one should be having, rich, sharp, textured, every sense activated, primal, suggestive – plus regret that one hasn’t always had such experiences daily, plus frustration that this is not a daily experience now. Unhappiness that one’s life is not as one would want it, i.e. not optimal, not as full of peak experiences as it could be.

Now, it’s just smoke over a field at dawn. Senses highly stimulated, in part by unfamiliarities, in part by extremes of lighting, temperature, awareness of contingency of the moment. I can get the same thing from a mid-afternoon lamppost if I want.


From hotel window, Houmt Souk, Tunisia, September 1987

I’ve already posted this picture and said I took it on my first ever morning outside Europe. And that now it makes me think about what’s wrong with the idea of “exotic”. This morning I remember that I had in my hotel room a slim volume of E. E. Cummings (thanks, Stephen). I liked the drawing of him on the cover and perhaps thought it would be quite good to look like that. I loved the poems.

I don’t remember seeing myself as some romantic Traveller, and I don’t think I even tried to write poetry on that holiday, only long postcards. But was there somewhere in the back of my mind a model of some Patrick Leigh Fermor-style young man that I was trying to emulate? Not that I’ve ever read him, but these memes infect you via unseen vectors. Maybe that’s how Jung’s collective unconscious works.

I also remember that on that holiday I also saw through the exotic: in a souk in Tunis, I remember thinking that this was as close as I could get, probably, to how I’d imagine a scene from the Arabian Nights, but it wasn’t magical, it was shabby, and I didn’t want to linger.

Continue reading Disillusion

Sunt lacrimae rerum

Liverpool One still trumps any parody I could make of it. This time, it was the ice rink on that high, artificial grassy hill. Behind security barriers, under a light, cold rain, happy shoppers skated round an Audi on a plinth. At least I found £1.22 in wet change in the grass.

My visit to the Liverpool Biennial began with the bafflement I’ve come to expect from encounters with a certain strand of contemporary art. It ended with a less predictable and explicable unhappiness. Continue reading Sunt lacrimae rerum

I'm coming back

It’s been a few years since I showed any artwork in public, almost a decade since I showed any photographs. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, though, the whys and hows, and then there was a what – photos I took when I was living in Melville, in South Africa, in 2008 – and now there’s a when, two of them in fact.

It seems that every few years I have to go through the cycle of thinking through the following thoughts about doing art and documentaries, in no particular order: Continue reading I'm coming back

On memories and cameras

I’ve written two more CultureLab posts. The first one troubled me a bit because, although I didn’t much like the artwork, the people were really nice. Ah, but your duty to your public, I began to tell myself, but that voice was quickly told to shut up and stop being a pompous arse. What public? What careful selection process permitted me to post my opinions on a site of a respectable magazine? What careful editorial oversight ensured that this was a fair and reasonable thing to write?

And who’s got their stuff in Gimpel Fils, and who’s hoping for the basement of a bookshop on the Lower Clapton Road?


“They’re so wonderful: after all that’s happened, with all the war and poverty, they still have hope.” L hates it when people from rich countries talk about people in poor countries like that. What’s so great about hope? she says. It’s just like religion: put up with the crap now because it’ll be all right after you’re dead and you can go and sit on a fluffy cloud for the rest of time. Continue reading Hope

Living in the past

I asked for, and got, Porcupines by Echo & the Bunnymen and Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony, both of which first appeared in my life about 1983; the first via Radio 1, the second thanks to Stephen Sharkey, who had heard it on the radio and was never the same again. Should I have got over all this by now?

The Liverpool links are that I was there at the time, that’s where the Bunnymen are from, and Terence Davies made what was for me particularly apt use of the Mahler in Of Time and the City.