Innis McAllister and the fate of photography

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Dog in Snow ©Innis McAllister

I am in an early cups-of-coffee-and-exploring stage of a new project with my photographer pal Innis McAllister. Innis is most familiar for his work with models and in fashion. He also has a rich archive of other work in a huge variety of subjects.

It is a challenging time to be a photographer.  In 2019 it is likely there will be 2.7 billion smartphone users on the planet, all able to take photos. So what, if anything, distinguishes the photographs of ‘real’ photographers like Innis from those taken by the smartphone snappers? As a writer, one answer seems fairly obvious to me. Most people are able to write sentences in their native language, but very few will go on to be published writers.  Just because billions of people have a camera in their pockets, they will not necessarily become photographers.

Some photographers accumulate images by going to exotic places or challenging environments. I like looking at these photos as much as the next person, but I am also drawn to photography that can make me look at the strangeness and beauty of commonplace things.

There is something about time too. Taking a photograph is an act of seconds, but the skill of the photographer can takes years to accumulate. Photographers, if they want to eat must be able to skilfully produce consistently good imagery, not just get lucky.

But there is more. The eye of a true photographer is easy to spot. Take the image above,  The dog in snow has an absolute timelessness, as if the dog had just trotted out of The Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel, here the photographer has the confidence to be simple, to let the beauty and contrast of the dog’s form rejoice in its landscape.

While the image below is from early in Innis McAllister’s career. Here a man is waiting for a train. See the squareness of the lines and how they progressively depart from true, gently winding your eye into the object of attention. A man reading a paper with a lurid headline about drugs. I used to sit with people on tubes that looked like him all the time. Now he seems a vanished creature from another time.

The tidal wave of imagery will become a defining feature of the early 21st Century. But I think artists can stand outside time. One of the jobs of ‘proper’ photographers is to find the images that do just that.

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Man waiting for train ©Innis McAllister

 

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A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines, by Robin Houghton

My ever-resourceful pal Robin Houghton has put together a real winner. It is an extremely practical and insightful little book which does what it says on the tin…. A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines. Packed with practical advice for those new to being published or a bracing reminder of what good practice as a poet looks like if you are an old hand.

With typical generosity, Robin does the leg work for you. She has consulted with lots of editors to find out what butters their parsnips when it comes to a submission, and the book is peppered with this feedback. She also rounds up and introduces online and print magazines, and offers all kinds of useful advice – about being disciplined and methodical in your submissions, and how to deal with rejections. (Thanks to reading this Guide I also bought a copy of 52 Ways of Reading A Poem, by Ruth Padel.)

A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines is selling like hot cakes, and with good reason. And at this time of year it would make an excellent little gift for anyone interested in being a published poet, or becoming a better-published poet than they may be already.

So simply go here to buy your copy.

Merry Christmas!book-cover-3D

 

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‘The Dark Fish’ in Horla

In my last post I mentioned I had been reading short story collections lately, and particularly the strange tales of Robert Aickman. This prompted me to exhume some of my own short stories from the cobwebby Kenny Vaults. One of these was a story called The Dark Fish. I wrote the first version of this in my mid twenties, and it interested the editor of a magazine called Panurge, who suggested changes. After three lots of changes, it was rejected. After this, and a couple of other rejections, it lay dormant in dusty hard copy for years.

Time, however, is the best editor. When I found my MS last week, a few editorial fixes suggested themselves.  These made, I was pleased with the results.

I had recently discovered Horla, the Home of Intelligent Horror, and when I sent it to its editor, Matthew Rees to my delight the story was immediately accepted. I have often experienced long time-lags between having written something, and it finding publication, but 32 years is my best yet.

The story concerns an astrologer, and was grounded in my own experience. For having graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Literature, I returned to London and seizing up the nearest copy of the Evening Standard was aghast to discover the absence of a ‘philosopher wanted’ column in the jobs section.

After a few months lifting and carrying boxes containing electric keyboards and cash registers in the Casio warehouse near Brent Cross, I began casting horoscopes in my spare time. I then left the warehouse to go full time as an astrologer. Briefly things went okay. I had taught myself how to cast and interpret horoscopes in my teens, and found a stream of people asking for my services. Soon my work took a darker turn. I found I was asked to do horoscopes for people who were recently bereaved. More strangely, I discovered that people were investing me with powers and wisdom I did not have.  I am pleased, looking back, that I had enough self-awareness at the time not to pretend I had the answers. I got out of the business of astrology sharpish. For more about my brief career as an astrologer and my feelings about astrology itself read this.

Alongside the story, I discovered the Rotring pen drawing below.

So, thanks again Horla — and please read the story here if you fancy ten minutes of weirdness then investigate the Horla site for yourself.

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A lost friend, agent hunting, and new collections of short stories

My friend Janet Summerton died on October 1st at the age of 79.  I was heavily involved in her care during her last two months, and that of her husband Ken who survives her. Janet was a lateral thinking champion of the crafts and craft makers – and a benign influence on a generation of arts managers in the UK.  There are plans to celebrate her life and work next year. My own relationship with her, however, started when I  was her lodger in my twenties. For the next thirty years she was a wise and affectionate aunt-like figure to me. What I learned from her is immeasurable, introducing me right away to the idea of having a portfolio career and, perhaps most helpfully, she stopped me being a genius.

* * *

Shortly after Janet died I attended a long-booked Writers & Artists ‘How to hook an agent’ day course for writers of Children’s and YA fiction, at Bloomsbury Publishing up in Bedford Square. The agents I heard from were Davinia Andrew-Lynch, Julia Churchill, and Ben Illis, all of whom were generous with their advice, and refreshingly normal and human. Lurking in Bloomsbury’s maze-like offices I kept imagining all the celebrated writers who must have visited there. My fellow attendees were a fascinating lot too, some had flown in from other countries. In the afternoon we all had ten minutes face-to-face with an agent. Pitching is part of what I have done for a living for the last twenty years or so, so the fact I made such an arse of myself was disappointing. Despite this, Ben Illis the agent I spoke to gave me excellent advice. I am acting on it.

* * *

I have been reading short stories recently, after buying two collections from writer friends, both published by Cultured Llama.

In Jeremy Page’s London Calling and Other Stories. I particularly enjoyed the novela-length title story London Calling. Its protagonist, a University drop-out called Eustace Tutt, is brilliantly drawn, and was for me like meeting someone from my own past.    Sadly, my past did not feature sharing a squat with two German girls with a propensity for nudity.  Jeremy’s stories are funny, touching and very human. I devoured the collection.

Unusual Places  by Louise Tondeur‘s style is fascinating, she has an alien’s eye for detail, and observations are made without the expected filters and hierarchies of importance. Louise is writing a crime novel at the moment, and I can’t help thinking the engaging oddness of her characters and description would make her foray into crime something to be greatly anticipated.

My other ‘discovery’ is Robert Aickman, a writer of what he called ‘strange Stories’, who died in 1981. I bought a new collection of his called Compulsory Games full of hauntingly weird stories. The story called No Time Is Passing, is one of the most disturbing and brilliant things I have ever read. It concerns a man who goes out into his back garden in West London and discovers a river at the end of it.  I found myself in the middle of the night worrying if I was going mad. I had been obsessing about the story lying awake and wide-eyed for hours. The way Aickman nudges up the weird every few sentences is just incredible. Dreamlike is a word that is overused continually, but Aickman’s stories are properly nightmarish, while rarely resorting to horror tropes.

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An Outbreak of Peace

An Outbreak of Peace, Stories and Poems in Response to the End of WWI

Edited by Cherry Potts of Arachne Press, this great new anthology coincides with the centenary of the 1918 Armistice.

The Launch Party, will be held: 7.00 pm, Wednesday 14th November 2018 — at Housmans, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX. If you’d like to come, simply email  cherry@arachnepress.com. Find out more about the anthology, its contributors and the readings here.

Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing the readings, drinking some wine, and also reading my poem War diary in 1/72 scale, which is about how the legacy of male hostility is passed down the generations… And Airfix kits.

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Eno installations at the Montefiore Hospital

I’m not given much to hero worship, but Brian Eno is as close as I get.  His ambient music is often the backdrop to my work, and his albums Neroli, Thursday Afternoon, The Plateaux of Mirrors (with Harold Budd), Music for Airports, and On Land are all favourites.  While his book, A Year With Swollen Appendices, which I read several times, influenced the course of my life and helped me diversify and enrich what have done with my life.

Lately, I have been researching hospital waiting rooms, as I believe the experience for people using them can be drastically improved. No surprise to find that Eno had already gone there before me. I visited the Montefiore Hospital  in Hove, just walking distance from my home, which has two installations by Brian Eno.

In the reception area you can find Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings for Montefiore, a slowly-mutating light painting, which layers and combines in millions of ways previous artworks by Eno.  He says in his notes, ‘The movement of the whole piece is deliberately slow. My feeling is that this slowness produces a calming experience — because it takes the viewer down to its speed.’ Soothing ambient sounds also provide a tranquil backdrop to the reception area.

The Quiet Room for Montefiore  is chiefly used by patients after chemotherapy and it creates a therapeutic, humanising tranquillity.  About this room Eno writes, ‘Creating a healing environment isn’t only about correct surgical procedures and the right technology but also about making an atmosphere where the patients feel able to relax enough to clearly think through their options, and to properly take part in the healing process themselves.’ As you sit on the sofa and watch the light combine in different ways, and sense the ambient sound calming you, you can tell this is art of a different sort, that provides a context for you to exist calmly. It is a brilliant piece of work.

I picked up the comments book in reception and read, ‘you can feel your blood pressure calming by the minute. It made me think of cells and change and the beauty of life.’ Another person wrote, ‘I truly believe they play a significant role in my treatment and my journey to being well’.

I believe treatment should begin in the waiting room, and The Montefiore Hospital, through its use of these Eno installations, may be on the way to doing just that.

I would like to thank Tom Collins of Montefiore Hospital for showing me the work.

Below a snap of the endlessly changing 77 Million Paintings for Montefiore, in the reception area, and a photo taken from the sofa in the darkened The Quiet Room for Montefiore.

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77 Million Paintings for Montefiore by Brian Eno

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The Quiet Room for Montefiore, by Brian Eno

 

 

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Get your TRUTHS here

I wanted to post this link to the Telltale Press site to get your copy of TRUTHS: A Telltale Press Anthology.  Crammed with exceptional poets, this anthology is Telltale’s swansong, edited by Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and I. Lovely to be able to finish the Telltale project on a high.

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Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and myself pictured in gleeful mode, at an editorial  meeting in a pub earlier this year.

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