Archive for March, 2011


Friday, March 25th, 2011

Magnolias at RHS Wisley, Surrey, UK

This time I’ll allow my pictures to speak for themselves…

Has anyone else noticed that spring has arrived?

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Lost in aspiration

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Tokyo Story
Emily Allchurch, Diemar/Noble Photography, London. Until May 7,

In the twenty-first century, Japan is undoubtedly changed: its aging population, the breakdown of its social structure, rising unemployment and homelessness are grave concerns and the recent *earthquake and its on-going after effects will linger for many years to come. Until now, ordinary life in Japan has rarely featured in news coverage. Even Lost in Translation showed only a small glimpse of its urban side. The country, until Sky News revealed it in all its pain, misery and devastation, remained to many of us shrouded in inscrutable mystery.

Although the timing is entirely coincidental, yesterday, what might ironically be referred to as a very timely show opened in London. The blurb on the Diemar/Noble Gallery’s website informs us that Emily Allchurch’s Tokyo Story recreates ten of Hiroshige’s nineteenth century One Hundred Views of Edo, updating the series for a contemporary audience and recapturing Tokyo for future generations.

Hiroshige was a true craftsman and is renowned as a master printmaker, revered for his sensitivity of eye and the subtlety of his wood block technique. His prints convey an idyllic sense of peace and beauty, both of which are perhaps no longer entirely relevant.

Unfairly described as the Japanese Andy Warhol, Tadanori Yokoo, who rocketed to international fame in the 1960s, showed then and in later work, in his multi-layered imagery – influenced by the films of Akira Kurosawa and the writer Yukio Mishima – that juxtaposed traditional Japanese prints, his own drawing and painting and advertising images, something of the darker side of modern Japan’s moral decline. Yokoo’s technique was as confident as, and could be compared equally with, Hiroshige’s.

Putting to one side its truly marvellous potential, technical dexterity is as important in using Photoshop as it is in cutting wood blocks, or patching images together on film to make separations for screen-printing. Allchurch’s images, the content of which may hint at valid points and be an accurate commentary on current Japanese life, sadly fail by her apparent lack of technical skill when seen alongside either Yokoo’s or indeed, Hiroshige’s.

* Since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, estimated, according to National Geographic, to have unleashed the power of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, we’ve all got used to calling tidal or killer waves tsunamis.  地震 is Japanese for earthquake – the spelling is only given in Japanese characters but if you want to hear what it sounds like click here:|ja|Earthquake

Are there any more Hiroshige or Tadanoori Yokoo fans out there?

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Hello to Berlin

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Five days in Berlin

The party that started in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell – or rather, was pulled, knocked and beaten down – is still going on in the Mauerpark (literally, the Wall Park) in the city’s Prenzlauer Berg district which, every Sunday, hosts impromptu Karaoke events and where live bands play for free. In waste ground directly adjacent to the park and spilling over it is one of Europe’s largest and jam-packed flea markets. Almost anything imaginable is on offer from second-hand rabbit skin hats to fruit bowls made from heat-warped vinyl records, bashed-about antique furniture or hand-made jewellery. There’s every variation of great street food and drink to sample, too.

Berlin is vast. The city as a whole is undoubtedly reborn but there remain many reminders of its sometimes extraordinarily bleak and apocalyptical, sometimes magnificent, melting-pot history. We went as tourists. The weather was cold, the sky blue. I took only a small, compact camera. We stayed five days and travelled around on the S-Bahn – trains that run mainly above ground and go out to the suburbs – and the U-Bahn – trains that run mainly underground in the central area. Mostly, though, we walked, admiring the buildings and monuments, old and new, dipping into the wealth of trendy and traditional bars and restaurants, visiting a turkish market, eschewing the opportunity to see exhibitions in order to allow ourselves as much time as possible to get the feel of as many central districts as we could.

Have you been to Berlin since the wall came down? What did you think of it?

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Paper v. Plastic

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The prevention of literature

In 1946, three years before 1984 was published, George Orwell wrote: … it is interesting to speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level… it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialised countries feel the need for any kind of literature… Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio… perhaps some kind of low-grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum. It would probably not be beyond human ingenuity to write books by machinery. But a sort of mechanising process can already be seen at work in film and radio… and in the lower reaches of journalism.

Extracted from an essay by George Orwell entitled The Prevention of Literature, first published in 1946, included in the paperback Books v. Cigarettes, Penguin Books, 2008, £4.99p

Will e-books deprive us of the joy of handling real books?
What’s the point of going to bookshops, galleries or the cinema, when you can read, buy and see almost anything on-line?
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