Category Archives: photography

Beholding

Up to the minute thoughts here – this story, poem and picture are about a moment in a day in November 2014! My thoughts go back to it from time to time, and for a number of reasons. Why write it today? I’m not really sure – but here goes anyway.

Young boy drawing Stubbs' 'Whistlejacket' at the National Gallery in London

This picture was taken in the National Gallery in London in mid November 2014. I would have been unable to take it the week before, because the week before was the last in which visitors were not allowed to use a camera in the gallery.

I have a pretty poor memory, but I do remember a few things from that day. As well as the many tourists taking this new opportunity to snap their way around the nation’s artistic highlights, I’m pretty sure this was the first time I stood in front of a Caravaggio. The painting was ‘Supper at Emmaus’ – the flashier version, the one with high drama and big hands. There is something unique about the way light interacts with layers of oil paint. Something that defies reproduction in any other medium. No matter how fine the quality of a photograph or print, it cannot record the confusions of depth, those ambiguities of transmission that, in the hands of a master, seem to make the thing just, well, glow.

I stood and stared while the cameras clicked on. I didn’t want to photograph this amazing thing in front of me, I wanted to breathe it in through my eyes.

Further along the gallery I found something I did want to photograph, in front of one of the English artist George Stubbs’ most famous horse portraits ‘Whistlejacket’. This shows the ribbon of vibrant muscle that is an immaculate Arabian thoroughbred – rearing on a field of gold. The horse was a race winner owned by Stubbs’ patron the second Marquess of Rockingham. At the time the painting was first shown, some, reacting to the absence of rider, or any other details other than the horse itself, suggested it was incomplete. Stubbs, however knew his craft exceptionally well, and knew the object of his purpose in painting, perhaps to the point of obsession.

My photograph wan’t Stubbs’ painting – what interested me was the intense attention of a young draughtsman sitting in front of my it. Drawing in the National Gallery is a long-standing tradition. Artists seek to learn from those who have gone before, or bring their own technique or observation into sharper focus. I am and will remain a dedicated photographer, but still I can see that drawing like this can involve a more intense and active way looking. Being there, it transpires, is often everything.

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Beholding

Until yesterday – you had to draw
to make an image in this place.
From today – photography is allowed –
just click to capture (but no flash, please).

I was there, and so was Christ –
Caravaggio’s, supping at Emmaus.
Have you seen the painting or
only pictures printed, or on a screen?

Fermat’s principle is confounded in oils –
refraction confused as rays are cosseted,
kept and honeyed through the layers.
Additions are made, and given back.

It’s more than OTT – it’s airborne.
“Just back from the dead – yeah, but … Shh!”
I don’t believe, but I can’t photograph magic,
so I simply stand beholding, breathing light.

Twenty paces on another immortal
hangs on the opposite wall,
glowing chestnut on a field of gold.
All racehorses are minor gods.

The critics balked – “When will you finish?”
“Where’s the scenery?” “Where’s his rider?”

He knew. The thoroughbred rears forever –
heartbreak still, eyes high-strung in doubt.

I found a photograph to keep the day.
Back to me, eight perhaps, sat on the floor –
drawing the horse, his horse, his racing lines –
the crowd invisible, his gaze alight.

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To Dundee FC early 1900s

Pleased that my eccentric wee poem ‘To Dundee FC early 1900s’ found a spot in POETRY SCOTLAND‘s sheet for ne’er-do-wells and troublemakers ‘Gallus’ (Scots: bold, cheeky or flashy) – about the right place for it, I suspect!

Not so much a football item really, maybe more of a photography or a time-travel poem. Trouble indeed…


Sidelong

First photographic portrait image of a human produced in America.
“Robert Cornelius, head-and-shoulders self-portrait, facing front, with arms crossed”, approximate quarter plate daguerreotype, 1839 [Oct. or Nov.]. LC-USZC4-5001 DLC United States Library of Congress
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Sidelong

Robert Cornelius remains skeptical.
He does not trust that it will work,
or that a specific future develops
when this image will be visible.

He does not pause to comb his hair
or consider us, but guards himself
against the possible exposure,
against the theft, of unmarshalled spirit.

Slow counting silent hesitation,
he glances sidelong from 1839,
doubtful of our existence,
his focus on what he next intends.

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A gothic nook

It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions of the airy flights of my imagination , were born and fostered.

So wrote the Mary Shelley reflecting on her time spent at in “The Cottage” on Dundee’s Broughty Ferry Road.

She thought differently of the place in later years, however, “…my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy.

“The Cottage” is long gone but today, on a substantial buttress wall (dated 1899) in Dundee’s South Baffin Street, a plaque marks the spot. I was nearby this morning, and as the Wyvern Poets are currently working on a ‘Frankenstein’ project, I thought I’d pay a visit.

Curiously, I couldn’t help thinking that Mary’s later thoughts might have been even more gothic if fed from the place as it is today. A fine location for a scary movie…


Corbenic Poetry Path

We finally got around to visiting the Corbenic Poetry Path yesterday. The path is a delightful 3km walk through a variety of woodland, moorland and riverside habitats, around the periphery of the Corbenic Camphill Community near Dunkeld in Perthshire.

As the name suggests, poetry placed around the walk is part of the experience, and poems are placed at frequent intervals. Verses appear in the form of small post-top resin encapsulations, notices, and carvings on wood and stone. Some of these form sculptures well placed to work sensitively with the surrounding landscape, on a variety of scales. Sometimes the tone is contemplative, sometimes sombre, but also at times humorous and celebratory. Many of the works play with their specific locations, or refer to different aspects of the places in which they stand. There are also a number of sculptures, in materials both made and found, and even a sound installation (sample – note rainfall in background!).

There is a map on a panel near the (very small) car park, but the poetry path is dynamic – features do come and go. I think following the walk is enhanced by uncertainty about exactly what you might find next, but confidence that something unexpected will appear soon. Not knowing what is coming fosters a feeling of discovery, and I think that was part of the pleasure of our visit. The route of the walk itself is well made, charming and varied. Views across Perthshire from the walk are marvellous, often framed or emphasised by the artworks.

To be honest I had to look up ‘Corbenic’! Apparently in Arthurian myth it refers to the castle holding the Holy Grail. So perhaps, if this doesn’t sound too grand, ‘Corbenic’ can be taken to mean a location connected with a search for something of a nature which is both rare and has a spiritual dimension.

As I mentioned some poems are mounted on top of ‘poetry fence posts’ in resin blocks, the same size as the section of the posts, and about an inch thick. The small size requires a small point size of text which falls well below what is ideal for older eyes (…and, let’s face it, many of the poetry audience have been travelling on our personal grail quests for a whiley now…) These blocks had been glued on to the post ends, but (cue Scottish weather) this has not always proved a very firm anchor. Several were loose, and at least one was missing entirely, perhaps being repaired. However, all this is really a pretty minor bug-bear. But, when all is said and done, as well as a spiritual and artistic path, the walk is also route in the real world – change and erosion are inevitable!

It was a rainy day when we walked around, but given “appropriate clothing” I think the poetry path could be enjoyed in all but the worst of weather. As it was quiet, and RB and I went around on our own, we read some of the verses out loud as we went. I think this adds to the experience, as long as you don’t feel you might be irritating someone else. One advantage of a rainy day!

NB: Although the path is well made, some slopes would be hard for those with real difficulty walking. It is not suitable for wheelchair users.

Details and location