A poem

Listening to Stuart Maconie by John Osborne from Nasty Little Press on Vimeo.

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Auggie Wren’s Hackney Story

‘If you don’t take the time to look, you’ll never manage to see anything’

Okay so I didn’t see much. Not much that will set the rapidly morphing world of photo journalism ablaze anyway. Taking one photo of Hackney Central every minute for twelve minutes probably didn’t leave enough freedom to capture any but the most fortunate ‘decisive moments‘. But the above axiom – a quote from Paul Auster’s tale, ‘Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story’ – still stands. In the short story, based on true events allegedly, a cigar-selling protagonist – Auggie – describes how he has taken a photo of the same spot on the same street at the same time every day for twelve years. Auggie has collected every photo, shot daily at seven in the morning, into one album for every one of the twelve years he has been snapping.

This is where I took my inspiration. Hackney Central was to be my street corner. It is an oppressed nerve-jangled melting pot bustling with evacuation shuttles and ridden with the unlucky, waiting only it seems to pass through. It is at once open – St John at Hackney Church giving way to it’s cemetery – and claustrophobic, the narrow space like a jam jar of buses, trains and people. Yet it seems to relish its work and performs all that is asked of it. If I had nothing else on in life then I sincerely think it would be a street corner worthy of twelve years of ebbing and tiding photography. As it was I had a day. My day off. A really cold day at that. A day to stand outside and capture this frenetic amalgam. I’d planned on an hour. One hour of a photo every minute. I set out with borrowed big camera (for today I was a serious photographer and the world should know) and a makeshift mono-pod – born a poster tube to die a poster tube but for one day it glimpsed a Blow-Up existence.

After wandering Hackney Central for my gaze – outside Pizza Hut? Nah. Too far away from all the action and reaction. Near the Church? Yeah, near the Church, I can tie that in to Walter Benjamin’s recently read theories on ritual values of art if these pic’s turn out to be  supremely dull – I found my spot. So it began. Snap One. Idiot. Forgotten my watch. Oh it’s okay I have my phone. Snap Two. The sky is looking sweet today. Snap Three. Wow its cold, one hour here you say? Snap Four. Why did I choose an hour? Where did I pluck that from again? Snap Five. I’m hungry and I need a wee. Snap Six. If Auggie took photo’s for twelve years couldn’t I take them for twelve minutes? Snap Seven. Genius. Snap Eight, Nine, Ten. Do I go to Marks & Sparks or McDonalds for lunch? Good or Evil? Snap Eleven. All this wool I have on is doing nothing. Snap Twelve. Done, right I’ll go to Marks and Sparks for a smoothie, that’s one of my five, and McDonalds for fries and cheeseburger. £2, bargain. It’s fine I’ve been to the gym today, I deserve it, it’s cold. Plus they have a toilet. Great.

For artistic suffering I took three sets of twelve that afternoon, scouring the narrow way for vantage points, and hoping for odd folk and incident. Then I remembered incident wasn’t really the point. In the story Auggie invites Auster to look at his work. Auster is initially underwhelmed, ”All the pictures were the same. The whole project was a numbing onslaught of repetition”. After a few minutes of feigned appreciation, Auggie blurts, ‘You’re going too fast, you’ll never get it if you don’t slow down’. Only then does Auster begin to realise the hidden beauty in Auggie’s photography, and I’ll leave you with his wondrous moment of enlightenment…

‘And then little by little, I began to recognize the faces of the people in the background, the passers-by on their way to work, the same people in the same spot every morning, living an instant of their lives in the field of Auggie’s camera. Once I got to know them, I began to study their postures, the way they carried themselves from one morning to the next, trying to discover their moods from those surface indications, as if I could imagine stories for them, as if I could penetrate the invisible dramas locked inside their bodies. I picked up another album. I was no longer bored, no longer puzzled as I had been at first. Auggie was photographing time, I realized, both natural time and human time, and he was doing it by planting himself  in one tiny corner of the world and willing it to be his own, by standing guard in the space he had chosen for himself’.

Check my slideshow over on Flickr

Buy the beautiful thing for remarkably little here

Labour, Inequality and a Rant.

Please please let us have a referendum on electoral reform. No matter who wins the next General Election, we desperately need to broaden the choice. You may risk giving representation to the BNP but the closed shop of Labour and Conservative is strangling ideas and suffocating change.  There is nowhere left to turn and if we needed any further proof then it came in the form of last week’s report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality from the National Equality Panel.   The report shows that the current Labour government has presided over not only the maintenance but the widening of a vast inequality gap.  So an unprecedented three Labour governments have overseen a rise in inequality? It should stand as a matter of disgrace. It makes me despondent. Either I vote for Labour again or face the unavoidable alternative of David Cameron – he’s not exactly a One Nation Disraelite. Tories promising spending cuts don’t usually herald great eras of social justice. Margaret Thatcher anyone? Thatcherism is precisely why this gap first appeared.

But before Labour supporters blame another problem on MT I want to say I’m sick of hearing it. Thirteen years is a long time – especially when ten of those years were boom time.  Labour’s tactics? The deregulation of the financial sector, the slashing of capital gains tax, the abolishment of the lowest tax band – none exactly strike me as redistributive, inequality addressing measures. This once proud socialist party presided over a long – although ultimately flawed – period of economic growth and prosperity and yet just a few of the rich got filthy stinking rich whilst child poverty will remain a concern in Britain for the foreseeable future.

Not only that but Britain also face damaging university funding cuts. £500m is to be cut across higher education. There is a real concern that this will affect quality of teaching – student leaders have called the cuts ‘self-harm’ – but the potential impact on inequality is nightmarish. The gaps caused in education budgets will surely give rise to increased tuition fees. As fees increase the number of students from disadvantaged homes entering higher education is sure to drop as the prospect of huge debt becomes that mental bridge too far. Then universities across England edge toward being playgrounds for the rich and so social mobility lessens and we enter a vicious circle of inequality.

This announcement also comes hot on the heels of the green paper which has confirmed the Labour government’s intention to renew Trident and build two new aircraft carriers. The initial cost of these measures has been given as £25billion but it has been reported that additional costs, including equipping the carriers with up-to-date fighter jets, could mean the total bill rises to £130 billion. That’s two hundred and sixty times the amount which is about to blow a hole in university funding across the country. Wonderful, I live in a society that values the potential destruction of millions over the education of thousands.

p.s Oh, from which socio-economic group do the British Armed Forces get most of their recruits? Those on the wrong side of the inequality gap of course.

The Maison Martin Margiela Diner

2010 and the supper club vibe is still on-trend for the glamorous folk at high-fashion mens label Maison Martin Margiela. The uber-sleek and sundry at the recent Paris catwalk show were seated restaurant-style and then joined for bubbles and conversation by one of the wandering clothes-horses – very much the spirit of the underground restaurant. If you wish to make a joke at the expense of the perceived intellect of male models and what chat they may have brought to the tables then this is your chance…

If only MMM would adopt the supper-club suggested donation business model for their clothing range…certain supper-club proprietors could return the appreciation. Perhaps I could suggest a sponsorship deal? Surely fashionista’s love bruncheon?

You can read my review of Tony Hornecker and The Architecture Foundation’s recent mash-up, Christmas at No.42, here

London Loves

London Loves is a blog about what London Loves from Josh Surtees. I have written a piece about one of the things I love about London. The Night. Here is how it starts…

“Beasts of prey and great cities alone in nature remain awake when darkness comes; the one in search of death, the other in search of an extra hour of life” HV Morton

London wears winter well. Why? London loves darkness is why. This sprawl of space and ideas comes to shuddering go when the sun packs up and heads south. In London the stars don’t come out at night in the sky, they come out down here – in the wonder of possibilities. We’ve given up our view of the heavens to look for them in this City. This city that can give or take a night’s sleep. London loves the night as it desires to extract just a little more from life than Nature intended.

The daylight hive of the capital, The Square Mile, dies a lonely nocturnal death – save a few bankers wasting electricity under motion-sensitive lights contemplating deficits/bonuses and probably China – as vitality courses into the surrounding streets of London. From the gaudy doorways of Soho, the thunder-dome of Camden, the meta-hip of Dalston, the unapologetic trash of Shoreditch to the celebs, paps and wannabe-papped of Mayfair, South Ken and Notting Hill, London is, in Ginsberg’s words, ‘’burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night’’.

Read the rest on London Loves

Stop Making Sense

Go on I dare you. I double dare you. Go on, I dare you not to crack a smile when you watch this.

Sublime stuff from the best live-in-concert film ever – Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme of Silence Of The Lambs fame. If you haven’t seen it, well you should, I’ve never known a recorded gig to be so captivating. David Byrne doesn’t let you ignore him.

Let him entertain you some more…

Dave Eggers, Newspaper Baron

‘The only thing that doesn’t work is a single-media strategy’. These are the words of Michael Stoll, an American reporter and a director of the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit web start-up that looks to fill gaps in local news coverage that have arisen with the contraction of the mainstream press.  Stoll extolls the virtues of a multi-platform approach to news, whereby Twitter or Web updates are used for breaking stories and print journalism becomes the outlet for analysis and commentary. Stoll was discussing his recent collaboration with Dave Eggers – the San Francisco-based publishers McSweeneys attempt to both celebrate and re-invigorate the medium of print journalism – the £10-a-copy newspaper Panorama.

Eggers, the editor-in-chief, has found his star rising recently due to his screenplay for cinema smash Where The Wild Things Are. For those unaware though, Eggers was already the literary wunderkind of the noughties. A champion of the short story Eggers revived the art-form with the creation of  independent publishing house McSweeneys back in 2000 with the proceeds from his delightful novel, ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’. The cornerstone publication, McSweeneys Quarterly Concern, is a boundary-pushing cult phenomenon which has carved out a niche of hipsterdom for new writing and spawned it’s own stereotypical reader – read a brief history of the publication and about the damage done to one blogger by the McSweeneys reference in the indie flick Juno here.

But Eggers is not one to kick back on his cool; McSweeneys love the writing cause. Added to the array of work the publishing house do with children’s & writing charities they decided to save the dying art of newspaper journalism. “Our hope,” Eggers notes in conversation with the LA Times, “is that readers will say, ‘I forgot all these things that newsprint can do.’ I think it’s life-affirming when you say, ‘Let’s just write it at the length it needs to be and not keep shrinking everything.’ ”

The 320-page broadsheet newspaper Panorama, issue no.33 of McSweeneys Quarterly Concern, was published in December last year and it’s first run of 25,000 has been completely gobbled up by awe-struck readers, “Panorama very nearly brought tears to my eyes. Everyone I know who has seen it has been similarly overwhelmed and overjoyed.”  said Allison Arieff, the New York Times “By Design” blogger. A further run has been announced. At the moment a second-hand copy will currently set you back over a hundred dollars on Amazon.com.

Among the centerpieces of the Panorama is an investigative piece by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Porterfield, looking into cost overruns in the renovation of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It’s an effort undertaken in conjunction with SF Public Press, “The Panorama is a perfect partner,” says Stoll, “they share the same love of the medium but haven’t joined the stampede that has given up print for dead.”

The Porterfield investigation will encompass more than 10,000 words and half a dozen graphic elements, split between a main piece and several sidebars. It’s the kind of thing, Eggers notes, that is hard to do online.

So print journalism as art appreciation? The medium itself celebrated for its depth and possibility? Well perhaps in the Eggers imagined future, ‘We started thinking, what if you offered the same sort of depth, analysis, literary value that you get in a magazine? When people sit down, they want to have an experience, and if you surprise them on every page, curate it in such a way that it’s constantly surprising and constantly delighting, I think you could keep them.”

Twittered over and highly desirable ten-quid broadsheets spanning hundreds of pages with local investigative journalism at heart? Welcome to the niche future of news.

p.s You can also try Five Dials, a free literary PDF subscription magazine from Hamish Hamilton. Issued via the web it beats with a heart of print as it instructs readers to print out and enjoy. Look out for the David Foster-Wallace special hitting the web-stands soon.

p.p.s Thanks to the LA Times for the quotes.