leo photophile

Through a glass darkly

The Search

So something lies in wait. To be discovered. Ah but, the intrigue is not always there. All anyone can do is wait or half-heartedly try to push through. But no, not even then does it happen. All unsuspecting, however, I may catch the scent on the breeze and desire kindles.

 To the garret Staircase to the Herb Garret, St Thomas Street, SE1, September 2006

A year or two back, I had the urge to reread a book I read for the first time over thirty years ago. I recalled nothing about it except for a girl with an exotic name that figured somehow or other; the only impression she left on me was of someone standing in a doorway dressed in something silvery. That’s it. Even her name I couldn’t remember. And leaving through a secondhand copy I found – there it was between those unturned pages still -Sharon (not Rose of Sharon like in The Grapes of Wrath) Kincaid. Sharon Kincaid was the name. It sounded too plain now, not showbiz like then. I remembered the title of the book. Of course, I did.

So I started to read and as early as page 7, this:

This morning, for the first time in years, there occurred to me the possibility of a search.. As I watched, there awoke in me an immense curiosity. I was onto something.

An immense curiosity!

What is the nature of the search? This is page 9.

Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me: so simple it is easily overlooked.

This is Binx Bolling.

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighbourhood and he doesn’t miss a trick.

 Market porter Taking out the rubbish, Borough Market, September 2006

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

To think my eyes had passed over these words before without registering, at least not consciously. It must have been the bit before it that set up the bookmark, and which, with the passage of time,  had become planted in my mind as being about Miss Kincaid. Such are the mysterious processes of memory! Here it is:

 Miss Kincaid Standing in a doorway,  1993

This is page 8:

The idea of a search comes to me again as I am riding the Gentilly bus down Elysian Fields… Directly next to me, on the first cross seat, is a vey fine-looking girl. She is a strapping girl but by no means too big, done up head to toe in cellophane, the hood pushed back to show a helmet of glossy black hair… As the bus ascends the overpass, I discover that I am frowning and gazing at a noble young calf clad in gun-metal nylon. Now beyond question she is aware of me: she gives her raincoat a sharp tug and gives me a look of annoyance – or do I imagine this? I must make sure, so I lift my hat and smile at her. But it is no use. I have lost her forever. She flounces out of the bus in a loud rustle of cellophane.

Then it is the idea of the search occurs to me. I become absorbed and for a moment or so forget about the girl.

This is in fact not Sharon Kincaid. She turned up later on.

I felt on to something the moment I stepped into 12th Century priory church of St Bartholomew The Great, and returning with an air of high expectation I found there the shot I wanted.

 A sacred space A sacred space, St Bartholomew The Great, founded 1123, September 2006


September 28, 2006 Posted by | black and white photography, The Moviegoer, Walker Percy | Leave a comment

Arets Bilder

When I was much younger than I am now I came across a book of black and white photographs, I don’t remember where, possibly in a secondhand bookshop or stall, or maybe someone was throwing it out. Anyway, it was a Swedish publication: Ur STF’s bildskord 1955/6 Swedish Pictures of the Year 1955, published by The Swedish Touring Club. The title, which I have by heart, was Årets Bilder (pronounced oreets – with the little circle above the Å). I haven’t seen the book in years.

Coming across this unlikely publication in the fifties was one of those chance occurrences that feels just right. Thematically the photographs would now seem dated – mountain landscapes, healthy walkers in national dress, elderly worshippers – yet they had a quality which fascinated me then and I suspect still would. It was the particular balance of dark and light these photographs possessed that drew me, together with an elusive focus which must have been characteristic of the lenses of the time. It is the type of picture I find myself going after today.

 Three doves Three doves bild, Dubrovnic 1966

 St Anthony's bilder St Anthony-in-Roseland bild, August 2006

  Piano top Piano top bild, 1997

This is a bronze by the late Clifford Benjamin Cundy, 1925 – 1992. Here is his obituary in The Independent, 16 Apr 1992.

Sculptor in bronze, painter in oils. Exhibited at the Royal Academy, London and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and commercial galleries worldwide. Member of the Sketch Club. Member of the National Society of Painters. Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford to study engineering but spent more of his time studying art at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford and did not graduate. Friend of the Scottish sculptor, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, CBE, RA. He returned to England from Iran with the intention of becoming a monk, perhaps influenced by C.S. Lewis who was a don at Magdalen at the time, but instead met his lifelong muse, Hazel, who was to become his wife, so he gave up his intention. Clifford made all his own tools and equipment and did most of his own casting and finishing at Richmond, Surrey, England where he lived. His ancestor was Andreas Kunde, from Pommern, Prussia, born before 1762, who married Anna Clara Klatten auf dem Kutzenhufken also from Pommern, Prussia. Otto von Bismarck, the ‘iron chancellor’, had an estate in the same place.

My picture is in the remembered spirit of Arets Bilder.

Perhaps there are different influences at work here, however.

Carlisle Lane SE1 Carlisle Lane, SE1, August 2006

September 16, 2006 Posted by | black and white photography | Leave a comment


Wilderness has at least two meanings and both are present in this photograph from my series Men of the Road, taken in Glasgow in the sixties. First there is the wilderness of the slums, within a year or two of their demolition, and secondly, the wilderness that seems to inhabit the man engaged in the serious business of lighting up.

Hud still noo lighting up

Figure and setting could be said to be in accord, but only, I think, in a facile sense. For the old wall and pilasters have a beauty of texture which for me is the seductive potential of the grain of black and white film.

 texture Pilaster base

By contrast, the inner wilderness of the man is likely to be inveterate.

This figure evinces paranoid anxiety, which differs from depressive anxiety in that it is concerned to cast the dead objects into outer darkness; it is a defensive position where objects are perceived as alien and hostile and are cursed with an instant ferocity.

Wary wary

In religious thought, for example in the writing of the Christian mystic Thomas Merton or in Harry Williams’ The True Wilderness, enduring the wilderness is understood as necessary to the refinement of the soul and a stage in the soul’s journey. There is something of this is what the medieval Christian ascetics called The Dark Night of the Soul, though here the witholding of grace was not dependent on the destructive urges of the individual, though this in  itself is a moot point, but rather an initiative of God to test the person’s faith.

Yet is it not close to Klein’s depressive anxiety. Whereas wilderness in the monastic tradition placed its faith in emergence into a permanent state of blessedness, Klein uses the word position and means by it that a person can only visit the experience of reparation and restoration – progression and regression are permanently taking place in the maturing individual (a somewhat different take on the bleak Calvinistic verdict on back-sliding!)

And in Melanie Klein’s thinking on the depressive position contrasts with the embattled paranoid position which holds to alienation as a matter of life and death and may petrify into a state.

 wily and perhaps dangerous wily and ready to strike

But notice the look of anxiety in the other eye, his left.

So what is the true wilderness?

September 3, 2006 Posted by | black and white photography, Harry Williams | Leave a comment

Scenes from a marriage

This is not about a marriage of mine; nor is it, as in the title of Ingmar Bergman’s television series of the above name, any particular marriage, though inevitably partakes of both; mainly it is a way of bracketing some of my photographs taken over forty years. So this category comprises pictures which create for me an unexplored sense which lies behind the meaning of the word marriage. Here is the phtograph which recently gave rise to the idea. It was taken in the late sixties. My then wife was an accomplished dressmaker.

 Form Form

This next picture represents the period immediately following a row when it feels as though something has been irrevocably destroyed. Objects with which one lived in harmony have become estranged and the dread is that this has come about through one’s own actions. For what is spoiled to become vital again would seem to require a miracle. In such a wasteland one either defends one’s corner or prays for a resurrection. It is the latter position that Melanie Klein recognizes as a depressive anxiety. Whether my slanting image does convey the sense of disenchanted objects, I am unsure; I may simply be reading into it. But I am conscious of not wishing to resort to a pathetic fallacy and use conventional symbols of a wasteland. My photographs of the Gorbals presents a wasteland but within which there rises a vital spark. 

Spoil Spoil, 1995 

The next picture expresses a sense of prevention. In a recent discussion here is how the state of ennui was described to me:

“Ennui is a rich word, and describes a way of seeing beyond that of most people coupled with a disregard for the humdrum and a fascination with the miniscule or un-noticed scenes. Ennui is a state of boredom but different. A glazedness or malaise brought about by lack of stimulation and leading to a disdain or weariness for all things.” 

Compare this with the quote from Andrei Platonov’s The Foundation Pit in my First Post

Ennui of the cooker Ennui of the cooker 

The next picture expresses that part of the self that is untouched by relationship and remains an exile within marriage. It symbolises the thing in one that, despite being known, is of its nature solitary and remains isolated throughout. Then the other is not experienced as being there and is only there should they choose to stay.

 Mystique of the cloakroom Mystique of the cloakroom

And this one speaks for itself or, as Rab Noakes (1972) put it:

Drunk again Drunk again!

September 2, 2006 Posted by | black and white photography | Leave a comment