Category Archives: photographs

This and that No. 7

Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison

Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison, 1994.
Photo by Christopher Burke via The Guardian.

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My morning today.

I was almost heartened — or whatever its shadow word is, the word for noticing that someone else has been undermined by the same enervators — to see, while poking around in Dawn Powell’s unedited diaries, that in 1956 she wrote: “Domesticity can deaden the creative nature as much as alcohol or poverty – indeed more.”

This and that No. 6 is here.

Let’s go down to the water.

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Mentally this is where I am today, contemplating the many moods of Maine seaweed, its life and loves. If you follow a path along the tree line on the right side of the photo above, on the edge of the goldenrod, it leads to an esoteric little beach on the island of North Haven. Last year I didn’t get out to the island until September and because of the way this summer will unfold, I think the same thing will happen this year. It seems intolerably far away.

Bring your sunglasses because the goldenrod is eye-searingly bright on clear day.

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The beach is down here, at the bottom of a sort of natural stairway. It doesn’t look like it but there are comfortable places to put your feet, and you won’t spill your coffee. At the top of the stairway there’s a skull keeping watch over things.

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There isn’t much to do down there. Sit on rocks, look at the water, watch boats go by. Lots of schooners and sailboats pass by on their way to or from Camden. There’s one of each in the distance just visible here.

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Looking at other islands is also an option. These are small islands so they’re best viewed large.

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Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 3

It’s been warm enough for me to continue making observational field trips. I’ve decided to Do Something with my tree photos this spring, health permitting — details will be announced here, naturally, at some point — and I need to keep collecting them in the meantime. This latest batch is from Connecticut.

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I’ve been reading Forest Forensics with great interest and I’ve learned that some of these holes that my camera is so drawn to are basal scars, “scars at the base of tree trunks created by the removal of bark from fire or some form of impact, such as from logging equipment.” That big, stretched out-looking hole above very closely matches the basal scar examples shown in the book, which are somehow presented in a less suggestive manner. I’ve still got a long way to go in learning about trees, though, so many of the things I’m seeing are still just mystery holes and nubbins to me.

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*****

Recommended related reading: “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” by Algernon Blackwood. You can read it in pdf here.

The Man Whom the Trees Loved

It’s not about the painter of trees one meets there on page one, actually; he’s a relatively minor character. It’s about a couple who live in Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forest. The husband is a retired forestry worker and his wife is troubled by the intensity and mysterious nature of his relationship with trees. The painter comes to stay with them for a couple weeks and then he’s gone.

I have some issues with it as a story, but the weird atmosphere and the vivid writing about trees and about being among trees make it worth reading. The character of the wife is a religious nutter who becomes old and pinched and mothering, and the story gets a bit melodramatic, particularly near the end, and its fluttery Victorian punctuation and tense emotional pitch get to be nearly too much. But there is something fascinating going on in it.

Supernatural Tales dust jacket

Supernatural Tales spine

The husband spends more and more time in the woods, at first coming home for lunch, then taking a lunch with him and spending all day with trees.

From morning to night he wandered in the Forest; often he went out after dinner; his mind was charged with trees—their foliage; growth, development; their wonder, beauty, strength; their loneliness in isolation, their power in a herded mass.

The trees eventually become an intrusive force, a sort of psychic presence, in the couple’s home.

*****

Blackwood sounds like an interesting guy. According to his wiki page, he “had a varied career, working as a milk farmer in Canada, operating a hotel, as a newspaper reporter in New York City, bartender, model, journalist for the New York Times, private secretary, businessman, and violin teacher.” He eventually settled in Switzerland and then his native England. From the introduction to my copy of The Best Supernatural Tales of Algernon Blackwood (Causeway Books 1973), which “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” appears in, here is AB when he was seventy, writing about his time in Canada and the U.S.:

During these years my one and only passion was—Nature. I read, of course (from free libraries), with a starving hunger to learn and know. Imaginative literature in French, German, English crammed me; scientific reading came much later. But no desire to write lay in me; in my years of newspaper reporting I betrayed no talent; I had one yearning only; intense and passionate; to get away into the woods or forest by myself. Nature apparently, gave me something that human nature could not give. . . . Meanwhile, fed by my few possible excursions into wild nature, and by tasting something of the bitter dregs of life in the raw as well, I was—presumably—developing. My intense interest in the so-called ‘psychic’ region rushed uppermost. Most of my books deal with imaginative speculation in this debatable region. I have been called the ‘Ghost Man,’ so that when I broadcast it must preferably be a ‘ghost story’ of sorts. My real interest here, however, lay always and still lies in the question of a possible extension of human faculty and the suggestion that the Man in the Street possesses strange powers which never manifest normally.

Ehh. Anyhow, many of the stories in the book focus on nature, either as vividly-described atmosphere — the New Forest (“The Man Whom The Trees Loved”), a storm-lashed bungalow sitting in isolation amidst sand dunes (“The Sea Fit”), lonely moors (“Accessory Before the Fact”) — or as a character itself, like the menacing copse of woods in “Ancient Lights” or the alpine forest surrounding the ski resort in “The Glamour of the Snow.” I’m really enjoying them. A Guardian profile from 2007 reports that while in NYC, Blackwood lived in a boarding house on East 19th St., where he “found his separation from nature in the city intolerable, and the ‘indifference to beauty’ of those about him inexplicable.”

*****

Chapter 2 of my field guide to trees is here.

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 2

I’ve blogged about trees kind of a lot. Some of my favorite specimens are here, here and here. My friend Jim asked if I’d seen any good ones lately and I said yes of course, the woods are full of them, and it is easier than ever to spot vague obscenities in the off-season, when there isn’t so much distracting greenery about.

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We don’t have nearly enough trees in Manhattan so I’m thinking about doing something more public with my collection of them.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure B

I don’t mind showing them to you like this but they’d be much better big, 2′ by 3′ prints or somesuch.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure A

I’m recovering from surgery at the moment but looking forward to adding to my tree collection soon. It’s been a mild winter in my part of the world, so I haven’t really had to take a break from my observational field trips. I keep thinking every hike will be my last for the year, but there’s always another. I thought a November hike in CT would surely be my last until spring. The air smelled like snow, and with the dressing rooms closed for the season the little beach on the lake by the park’s entrance looked lonelier than ever.

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The trees looked lonely too, or maybe just self-conscious about their nudity.

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It was the time of year when allegedly pumpkin-flavored donuts come out. They seemed like an ideal post-hike snack but the actual flavor was closer to orange-colored holiday.

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This famous beardo ice-scraping system I admired at a local discount store probably would’ve made a better souvenir. As Mr. Lunar Camel Co. noted, “it looks like he has the ice under control.”

famous beardo heated ice scraping system

There were strangely compelling breakfast systems on offer too. Plastic crap, yes, but if bears could take crap like this back to their caves and have it there when they awaken from hibernation, they probably would. I think that is the idea, to settle in for a very long nap, a nap so long your hands will tingle with pins and needles for days afterward, leaving you unable to prepare breakfast without these contraptions.

outlet shopping breakfast section

Later in the season, when I went for a hike at Harriman State Park, I found an ideal hibernation spot, a small cave protected by icicles.

icicles of Harriman State Park, figure D

There’s all sorts of exciting, twinkly bits like this in the woods in the winter. You just have to wear more layers to go look at it. Here is something I’d never seen before, because — I am guessing — it only happens at very particular temperatures, when the ground is a certain temperature in relation to the air: spindly strands of ice poking out of the dirt. They’re strong enough that I could easily pluck a few out and set them on a nearby rock for looking-at with minimal breakage.

weird ice

mystery ice specimen

I’m going to read up on weird things like this until I can get out into the woods again. In my cart right now:

Winter Tree Finder

Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter by May T. Watts and Tom Watts. I like leafsnap but one needs a book for leafless moments.

Forest Forensics

Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I always want to know what I’m looking at so I’m excited about this.

Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Not winter-specific; I just really like mosses.

Do you go hiking in the winter or do you prefer to look at trees on the internet until it’s warmer outside? Recommend any books or unusually cozy socks for me?

This and that No. 4

Billy Monk photos. From a nightclub in Capetown in the mid-60s.

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 23 February 1968

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 23 February 1968 at Michael Stevenson Gallery.

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 1967

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 1967 at Michael Stevenson Gallery.

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 1967

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 1967 at Michael Stevenson Gallery.

They’re silver gelatin prints. Via The Guardian and a commenter there. Very much worth reading; he sounds like an interesting guy. It’s a review of a new book, Billy Monk:

De Villiers dubs Monk ‘the seedy eye of the 1960s’, but he was more than that. He had an eye for the revealing, the intimate as well as the brazen, and he often caught both in the same instant. A bleached-blonde woman in a white trouser suit, holding a bottle of brandy in each hand, shouts or sings across the room, while beside her a sad-looking man sits in quiet contemplation. Another woman, a love bite visible on her neck, gazes lovingly at the bottles of brandy and coke on an adjacent table, while her escort slumbers blissfully on her shoulder. Bottles of brandy and coke are a constant in his photographs, as are short dresses, cheap suits and comatose customers. Monk’s relentlessly intimate reportage often captures the edginess of the hard-drinking life: the steely-eyed gaze of a punter who resents his camera’s intrusion, the defiant stare of a woman baring her breasts for the punters – and Monk’s camera.

This is a glimpse here, too, of another South Africa, an underground scene in which the taboo of inter-racial sex is flaunted. Ultimately, though, Monk’s brilliant snapshot aesthetic adds up to a portrait of wild people having a wild – though not always a good – time. His job, and his reputation as a bruiser, gave Monk the freedom to poke his camera where he wanted, but his eye for the revealing moment was extraordinary. In a short foreword, Goldblatt notes: ‘Monk’s non-judgmental, even cool-eyed awareness of the photographic possibilities of the bizarre pervades the work, and yet this awareness is never denigratingly exploitative.’

*****

Sally Cruikshank, “Quasi’s Cabaret” trailer, 1980. Described on YouTube as: “Nightclub of the future with live alligators and a tipsy train that serves drinks.” So exciting it’ll make you dizzy! First encountered in an animation class I took in college.

This and that No. 3 is here.

No. 2 is here.

And No. 1 is here.

tomb of the honey children

125th St.

tomb of the honey children

your moist little brain

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Photo (untitled self-portrait?) by Birgit Jürgenssen.

From Emma Markiewicz’s “Matters of the Head” in Cabinet issue 40, which is still laying around my apartment:

In the eighteenth century, hair was conceived of not only as an external indicator of a person’s well-being but also as a part of the body that could itself be affected by ill health. In either case, hair in the medical literature was rarely seen as a separate entity and was commonly discussed in conjunction with other body parts and physical conditions. Some considered it a primary marker for the humoral condition of the head, the intellectual seat of the human body. For instance, Aristotle’s New Book of Problems, Set Forth by Question and Answer, a 1725 volume . . . attempted to answer the question ‘Why does hair grow on the head more than any other body part?’ by asserting that hair is ‘an excrement’ that grows primarily on the head because of the moistness of the brain, and is therefore more likely to grow longer in women whose brains are more moist than men’s.

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Ohne titel / untitled by Birgit Jürgenssen.

this and that

let's go for a mental swim in this Panton pool

Verner Panton pool via butdoesitfloat.com. Fox b-side via YouTube.

north fork

When I said I was going to the beach last week my destination was Orient Point, at the end of the north fork of Long Island. I’d never been there before and was surprised and thrilled that it’s relatively easy to find a deserted or nearly-deserted beach there. I feel like I can tell you people — you lot are mostly continental or English and you’ve got your own lovable beaches much closer to home — but don’t tell anyone else.

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Sometimes the nicest thing is to not have anyone else around.

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It’s all the more exciting to find a deserted beach with interesting structures on it, like this driftwood teepee-cabana.

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Or to find a beach where a sailboat with flashy silver sails appears on the horizon. My friend thought this was very Matthew Barney-ish but it remained too far away to see whether the mast was made of vaseline.

silver sailboat in the distance

Driftwood legs, agreed? The navel is low but those are legs.

driftwood legs

Our favorite beach find was this oceanographic sofa, where thoughtful beachcombers can sit comfortably and think about special rocks or driftwood wants and needs.

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My friends were directed to the beach with the oceanographic sofa earlier in the week, when they arrived and discovered that the rental kitchen lacked a cutting board — people at the Orient Country Store knew it would be a good place to forage for a driftwood cutting board. Two designers in our party were inspired by the tremendous driftwood selection and made a chair too. It wasn’t quite complete when I took this photo but you get the idea.

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If you want to commission a driftwood chair or set of chairs I could probably hook you up. It would take a week or so to make so there’s the cost of lodging to factor in, plus me to document the process, plus an assistant for me, but think of how amazing your new chairs would be. Seriously, think about it.

You can see one of our driftwood cutting boards in the photo below of some farmstand herbs I made focaccia with. The focaccia was initially a disaster (it took three women wielding spatulas and knives to dislodge it from the pan it clung to, then was successfully resuscitated in breadcrumb form and used to stuff tiny peppers) but the driftwood cutting board was an unqualified success and we brought it to the Country Store to show it off to Miriam, one of the proprietors. Manhattan desperately needs small, friendly Urban Stores where people can exchange useful information and buy whatever little things they have a pressing need for, some candles or seltzer or a slice of peach-brown butter tart still warm from the oven. We have bodegas of course but I don’t think I’ve ever obtained any truly useful information under fluorescent lights because no one wants to chat when everyone looks hideous. Plus there is never a front porch and they are not run by bakers. There are some people who built a porch on their roof in the West Village and there’s been at least one gallery porch I recall, so I don’t see why this couldn’t happen.

farmstand herbs

Also nice to have around: farms and farmstands and wineries. Here is a lavender farm where bees live in lavender beehives.

lavender farm

I didn’t see any lavender honey for sale but we did come home with a good-looking melon. Russians pickle the rind and other people make things with the seeds, but who has ideas about how to make curly watermelon tails into something?

our melon

We didn’t eat the melon tail but we did have a terrific salad with flowers and pickled beets in it, and afterwards I thought about starting a new food blog that has only remnants of food on it. There’s probably already a Tumblr called Fuck Yeah Plate Study. Hmm.

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pink remnants after beets

We didn’t spend the entire time eating salads; there was also a fair amount of bicycling around and looking at things like ospreys in their nests.

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There was a sandy beach much easier on the feet than the rocky ones we visited but it has umbrella rules.

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Do you prefer to read serious or fluffy books on the beach? I don’t think I have ever had a preference. It’s easy to get distracted by people-watching / -listening but sometimes little distractions are the perfect punctuation for serious sentences.

reading at the beach

We stayed near a marina where children sometimes practice sailing in tiny white sailboats. A fine thing to watch from a porch, but I would not want to be responsible for keeping them from heading out to sea. If someone had sat seven-years-old me in a boat just my size I probably would not be here writing this blog; I’d be on a small, grubby island wearing a seaweed turban and blogging about that instead.

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new oceanographic snack

I’m back and I have a lot of photos to sift through and a lot of insect bites to scratch and curse. In the meantime here is a new oceanographic snack, by which I mean it is just the thing to eat when you are near the ocean. It is vegetarian yet briny and requires little effort.

new oceanographic vegetarian snack

The snack from top to bottom is: farm stand tomato, cheese of your choice, one layer of Korean seaweed snack (the sheets of roasted seaweed that come in a little packet), toast. I have a strong feeling that a perfected version of this snack would be made with sourdough toast, extremely fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil on top, but the snack in the photo was made with brie on multigrain toast and it was delicious.