early fog never quite lifted today. When I went out later something of it lingered -
not really a mist, not even a blurring, but a softening of light and colour
that I'd never seen before. Everything soft and thick like velvet. The low, low
sun strong but diffused. A faint but distinct sheen on walls and pavements.
And the sky such a dark blue. Not dark like a storm or dark like dusk, but a
new shade. Some things can't be predicted or described or encompassed. Some
things, some days are just astonishing and lovely.
Wild storms and flooding from the sea. The news of all this interrupted for the announcement that the bright light of Nelson Mandela has gone out. And around our little lake the rampant vegetation shrinks and cracks and flares as it shades into winter.
Thick might seem an
odd word for these, for the big, pale, blurry, fragile images taken with a
pinhole camera,for the standing figure,
outside one picture, inside another, both solid and transparent. It was an exhibition
of works by Karen Stuke, depicting places described in Sebald's masterwork
Austerlitz about a man brought to Britain from Prague on a
Kindertransport, his adult discovery of his past and voyage into it, the huge
effect upon his personality and life, his recounting of his story to the
narrator. It's a long, pale, swirling story, hauntingly glimpsed in these
photos (see them all here), which were deeply atmospheric in themselves, all the more so in the
harsh beauty of the Wapping Project, a cavernous, largely windowless former hydraulic power station, and all the more so to the
captivated reader, like myself, of Sebald's work.
I was thinking of the way that social scientists, ethnographers, speak of 'thick description', a build-up of multiple layers and
perspectives through which we may arrive at new insights. It starts with the
book, a meandering, but intense and gripping narrative. No, it starts with the
real places, historical narratives and found pictures that the book evokes
and the visceral, unbearable, memories attached to these. And it spreads,
alludes, moves and inspires, as writers and artists continue to make works in
response to Sebald's; as readers and viewers are drawn in, tossed around, left
floating, yearning, glimpsing pictures of our own, like this one through the window of the old power station on my way out.
A big thing in 'street photography', I suppose, is the lack of a frame, the freedom from it, the capturing of a random, unboundaried flash of space and time that is in some way affecting. But the point here, of course, is precisely the frame of door and window shapes behind the figure. She's walking past the front entrance of Tate Modern and the framed figure fortuitously evokes the pictures inside - perhaps was only noticed because, approaching the entrance, I was already 'seeing' the paintings I'd come to look at.
Why this impulse to tilt the camera - experienced before, but only in autumn? I suppose it's the sensation of trees meeting the ground as the leaves keep falling, of being tipped inexorably into winter.
Oh dear. Since I saw the film about Vermeer, they're everywhere: quiet, luminous women, reading or writing by a window, looking like a painting. What a cliché. But a sweet one, and all the sweeter when so many sit or stand or walk absorbed in their phones or tablets: that absent, abstracted indifference to surroundings and compulsive inability to put the damned thing down. Seeing someone read a book or write in a notebook never feels as alienating. Yes, of course they may be equally abstracted, and of course good stuff, as well as mindless or super-stressful, proceeds through all those 'devices'. Still, a proliferation of dwellers in the global city who evoke an old Dutch painting seems no bad thing.