Popped into OK Comics (a place I need to do a blog post on) recently to see what they’d pick out for me this time and I came out with a couple of interesting numbers, the first of which was this fantastically titled comic / graphic novel by Jason. It’s a quick read, you can comfortably read it in half an hour for example, as there is a sparseness to both the illustration and the narrative which, as someone new to the comic world, is something that takes me a bit of getting used to. A novel telling the same story would be packed full of text, characterisation and description whereas Jason boils everything down to the bare bones, but in doing so invites you the reader to build the body around them, to fill the space with thoughts and reflections on what is happening. As there is often so little on the page you can tend to whizz along and I found myself having to force myself to slow down to savour the word and the images, like drinking a nice wine, don’t gulp it down let it settle on the tongue and savour the flavour as it develops. So my new method was slow the pace and fill the space and once I’d adopted this method the comic took on new levels for me.
The story opens in a strange world that is essentially the world of today but one in which violence is ever present as assassins loom large, hired to kill everyday people for the generally annoying things that happen in everyday life, a noisy neighbour, someone getting promotion instead of you, a failed relationship etc. The central protagonist (nobody is named in the story apart from Hitler) of the story is himself an assassin, an assassin who’s relationship is failing, but who’s business is booming and who has a steady stream of people queuing outside his office to employ him to kill the annoying people in their lives. One of these people though has someone more serious in mind, he’s invented a time machine and wants to employ the killer to travel back in time to kill Hitler in 1938, thereby preventing the second world war and the subsequent Genocide.
There is a potential snag however as the machine uses so much energy that it takes 50 years to create the energy for one trip back in time and to have enough energy to return to the present day and the inventor has been waiting up until this moment to have the energy for the machine to work. There is an interesting moral ambiguity here in using a contract killer to kill a mass murderer before he becomes a mass murderer. The assassin accepts the mission but gets overpowered by Hitler who jumps in the time machine transporting himself to the present day and leaving the assassin stranded back in 1938. At the same time as Hitler is now living in the present time the assassin is also there, and looking to find him but he’s now an old man having waited 50 years to get back to the point at which he was originally sent back in time. He enlists the help of his girlfriend (who is now like his granddaughter) to see if they can find Hitler. I won’t reveal what happens next as unsurprisingly there is a twist, however something to think about is that despite the second world war not happening the world is still a violent place so with or without Hitler man’s inhumanity to man remains intact.
With the protagonist effectively having lived his life again over the previous 50 years and Hitler not embarking on his plan for world domination, both have second chances which I think is a key theme that Jason is trying to portray and perhaps to ask questions of ourselves that no matter what mistakes we have made we possess the ability to change, to create our own second chances. This is particularly effective when we think of our relationships and how we treat those closest to us, perhaps if we looked to understand more and condemn less we would not become so annoyed by the things others do, we would be happier people and there would be less conflict. Despite the sci-fi time travelling shenanigans I think that this is what Jason is trying to say and that the comic is really a love story and reflection on relationships.
This is a comic that is a short read but don’t think that this means it doesn’t contain some big themes, dry wit and clever ideas as it does. What it really does very cleverly I think is to allow you the space in which to explore them.
The kids chose Vivid as the theme for #halftermphotofun and, following on from the extraordinarily bleak weather we’ve had over the last few weeks, I for one was happy that a bit of colour would most likely appear as people interpreted the Vivid theme. There have been some lovely interpretations, mostly focussing on vivid colours but not all, check out the black and white photo of the old man’s vivid face, I’m not sure there is a better interpretation than that. A vivid imagination is required to create the great art and literature that we enjoy and this has been beautifully captured in many of the images sent in. As for the fish, the sender was flagging up the colour but I reckon there would be a pretty vivid smell as well. Objects and experiences can also bring back vivid memories of things we have done, places we have been or of people who are sadly no longer with us.
One of the things that we like best viewing the photos when the come in, is not just looking at the interpretation but where and who they are from and in particular it’s great when other children take part, after all the whole idea behind this is created by my own children who set all the themes for the various photofuns that we do. Youth has been to the fore this week with photos from a 3, 5 and 8 year old as well as entries from my kids. I think it creates a playful nature to the whole affair, introduces the idea of visual interpretation to children and keeps all the clever adult photographers on their toes. You can’t immediately tell which photos are from adults and which are from children and indeed one of my favourites in this weeks collection is from an 11 year old.
We really appreciate everyone who takes part, its good fun but is also teaching valuable lessons in the power of social media, how ideas and pictures can spread for example.
The photo at the top is of Tom Hill and I loved it straight away, the contrast between the vivid green of Tom’s helmet compared to his mud caked legs, a vivid reminder of the weather we’ve been having. As those who read this blog regularly or follow me on twitter (@ianstreet67) will know I like riding bikes and Tom’s photo immediately brings back vivid memories of similar rides and I’m sure that the ride Tom had just completed will be lodged away in his memory bank.
I hope I haven’t missed out any photos, but I usually do so I apologise in advance if this is the case. Let me know if I have missed you out and I’ll update the gallery. If you click on the gallery it will open up and you can scroll through the photos in all the vivid originality they were sent in. Keep your eye on my twitter feed for the odd #weekendphotofun and the next week-long ones will probably be April – #Easterphotofun. Thanks to you all for making this week a colourful one.
When I think back through time and consider how and when I became aware of art I think that it was initially first through music and specifically album covers. A long time before I’d come across Rothko’s signature use of colour I had been impressed by the stark minimalism of AC/DC’s Back in Black album cover. There have been a string of great artists and photographers who have designed album covers including Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Peter Saville, Robert Mapplethorpe, Raymond Pettibon, Banksy, Damien Hirst, Sir Peter Blake and Jean-Michel Basquiat to name just a few. Many of the iconic images are burned into my consciousness and I can remember flicking through racks of records sometimes simply buying a record based solely on the cover design. This was not always the best policy of course but did sometimes turn up some gems. As we have moved across to the digital age the art design associated with a record has reduced and I don’t remember covers in the same way I used to which I find a bit sad.
Alongside the album cover artists were also involved in designing flyposters for gigs, often a gig poster didn’t display much other than name of band and venue and this is still often the case today but sometimes beautiful images were produced and at the moment in Gallery Munro House there is an exhibition of lovely original screen printed gig posters (all of which are available to buy at very reasonable prices). I loved the vibrancy of many of the designs, particularly those of the Manic Street Preachers, Queens of the Stone Age and Public Service Broadcasting. I liked the way, wondering round the exhibition, that in the same way album covers remind me instantly of the sound of the band these posters transported me to the live venues where I’d seen many of the bands on display. The exhibition finishes on Saturday I believe so you’ll need to be quick to catch it now but if you are in Leeds over the next couple of days, like your art and music then it’s well worth popping in.
Click through the gallery and let me know which ones you liked and also which album covers made an impression on you.
It’s not often that you step out of your comfort zone and experience new things but last night I went to see some contemporary dance, an art form that I know absolutely nothing about and have never experienced previously. I went to see Phoenix Dance performing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
It turned out that there would be three distinct pieces / performances – See Blue Through, Document and Mapping, each performance lasted around 30 minutes with Document and Mapping being new works. For me I’m glad that the pieces were performed in this order as See Blue Through didn’t create as much of an impression on me as the other two pieces which were spellbinding.
The Dancers were simply astonishing and I’ve never seen anything like it, the movements throughout the night were mesmerising, a combination of athleticism, gymnastics, ballet, grace, fluidity, angles, robotics, flight, martial arts and puppetry all combining in a dizzying array of combinations with dancers moving around, over, under and sometimes almost through each other. To an untrained eye such as mine it was sometimes difficult to know who to watch or what to follow and I actually found my eyes hurting as I tried to take in so many intricate movements.
After the strange, stretchy undersea world of See Through Blue the atmosphere and style changed dramatically as we moved into Document which was stark, dark, visceral and intense. The stage had been reduced to a relatively thin grey strip from which the 5 dancers didn’t stray as they battled and grappled back and forwards within the confines of this area (quite how they didn’t crash into each other was a mystery to me). This piece was really intense and seemed to be at times (perhaps because of the grey strip on which they were performing) almost a visual dance interpretation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road mixed in with a depiction of war or even the Holocaust. Despite the fact that I was just sitting watching I felt quite breathless when it had finished such was the tension that had been created.
I was glad that Document was sandwiched between the other two pieces and Mapping was a fantastic playful performance that was both serious and humorous. The dance depicted the journey from East to West taken by many immigrants and the difficulty of finding yourself in a new country not understanding the language or culture. One of the dancers within this piece had a tiny hand held video camera that he used to film parts of the performance as he danced. These video clips were then looped up on a slight delay onto a screen behind the dancers. This creating a real visual contrast as you watched the dancers while at the same time the video glimpsed being actually in the dance. At one point in the performance the dancers placed some tape onto the stage, signifying I think both the journey across from East to West but also the lines on maps that outline borders. Then came a truly amazing section, the dancers laid down and the tape became a new ‘floor’ and when watching from the seats the dancers began to wriggle and roll around. However as they did this there was a camera in the roof looking down and filming them which again was played up onto the big screen, translating these wriggles and rolls into beautifully inventive dancing, movement and somersaults. It’s a hard thing to describe but it was clever, witty and brilliant to watch.
I’m not sure I’ve done any of this justice but I was so glad that I took the plunge and went to see something that I have no experience of, opened my mind and let it be dazzled by what I saw. Before I went in I’d joked that this was not exactly going to be like a Shellac gig but actually I ended up thinking there were in fact quite a lot of similarities: originality, intense, challenging, angular, muscular, humorous and above all memorable.
Unfortunately I couldn’t be at the last book club in person, so as our rules dictate, I submitted a written review. Sometimes a written review can produce a more lucid and passionate take on the book as there are no influencing factors or in my case, I don’t get too carried away with the emotion of a meeting.
I actually like the process of putting my thoughts into writing for book club and often wish I did it more often as I feel my written reviews have more gravitas and eloquence (especially when read out by a BBC trained voice like Andrew’s)…
Crossing The River by Caryl Philips
Score 8 out of 10
Slavery is one of those subject matters that elicits a complex response from me. As a child I remember clearly the TV mini series Roots adapted from Arthur Haley’s book, it was a powerful and I’m sure relatively sanitized take on slavery and its impact on generations of people. I recall the powerful feelings of loss and overwhelming guilt, thankful that I was never to be put in a situation like that.
The fact that our country was instrumental in facilitating the slavery trade had been conveniently glossed over for me growing up and it was only on digging deeper that I discovered the inconvenient truths of slavery as close to home as Harewood House — built on slave money.
I would really liked to have seen Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave as a companion piece to this book too: an unwaveringly brutal depiction of slavery in film seemed like a good counterpoint to this subtle and delicate book.
Right, on with the book.
First question: Is this a novel or a collection of short stories? The link between the stories was there, albeit tenuous, particularly in the final story, but nevertheless provided a central thread around which the stories could be woven.
The Pagan Coast was a heartbreaking story, full of melancholy pathos and desolation. I thought it was really interesting to explore the little known fact (at least to me) that when slaves had done their time they were ‘freed’ back to their ‘homeland’. That this freedom turned into a form of cruelty worse than slavery itself was deeply, sadly ironic. As the story unfolded through the correspondence of the child like Nash Williams and his moving story of his father seemingly turning his back on him, the sense of loss was palpable culminating in his loss of faith in both his father and God and ultimately death.
The big question for me here is just how did the Christians of that time balance their faith with the concept and reality of slavery?
The slave ship captain interlude was relentlessly harrowing. Amidst the tedious descriptions of wind, temperature, tides and day-to-day ship duties was the everyday nature of taking slaves. This was described as such a commonplace event that it chilled me to the bone: lives ruined forever, casual death and the business of slavery, not flashily horrific but routinely normal.
Martha’s story was no less tragic but perhaps more recognisable in the canon of slavery stories. It was again a numbingly tragic story of a life lived, owned and ruined by different people. The author made these feelings real for me and the most moving part was losing her daughter and then spending the rest of her life seeking her out. This was an emotionally raw story told tenderly and I liked how the author chopped the timelines — a common but effective ploy used throughout — to create anticipation and depth. Yet again the story ends in death and there is a palpable sense here that death brings freedom as in the first story.
Joyce’s story felt very different and I was impressed throughout with how the author had created authentic voices across the generations. The physical and emotional austerity of wartime Northern England was perfectly captured in this story. This was an unpalatable layering of hardship, heartbreak, cruelty, determination and tragedy — predictably ending in death. Interestingly the story raised questions for me around who was the slave and who was free and I really liked that I was asking questions all the time as to who was black in the story, as Joyce never mentions the colour of skin.
So, was Crossing the River a metaphor for death or slavery? I’m not sure—it could be both. I have read somewhere that ‘The River’ was what slaves called the Atlantic. Interesting also to hear the phrase being ‘sold down the river’ or betrayed, being used in its original context as the buying and selling of people.
Ultimately, I found this a harrowing book; the author not afraid to leave things unresolved or introducing stark tragedy at every turn. If the intention is to leave no glimpse of light in the darkness, amidst the desperation of dislocated and shattered lives, then this book is a resounding success.
I’m left with the lingering feeling that there should be no positives whatsoever where this subject matter is concerned and I am convinced that books on slavery should be painful to read by their very nature.
My score does not in any way reflect my enjoyment of this book, but the lucid power of the narrative and the fact that I simply couldn’t look away and not be affected by the stories.
Can we read a comedy next?
Now over the years it’s true to say that I’ve often been labelled as good for nothing but the weekend just gone is the first time I’ve actually worn an actual label advertising the fact. I had the label as I was attending the first ever gathering of Good For Nothing Leeds (@GFNLeeds). The whole approach of the Good For Nothing crew caught my attention as they aim to simply bring talented people together to fashion creative solutions to good causes and they do this by chucking everyone together for a weekend and seeing what happens at the end of it. The get together happened at Duke Studios in Leeds which was a great place, perfectly suited to the occasion.
So what, I hear you ask was I doing amongst these creative movers and shakers, well I was actually pitching one of the good causes #GFNRecovery which you can read more about here if you are interested but this post isn’t about that really as that starts straying into work type stuff but if you keep your eyes on the sociable organisation blog I’ll write something up on the idea and the reaction / development there in due course. This post is more about the concept of Good For Nothing and my experience of it. What I will say is that it felt a bit weird taking an idea that I’ve had mulling over in my head and suddenly standing in front of people talking about it and seeing if they thought it was a good idea and whether they fancied helping. Was this work, not work, I wasn’t really sure and perhaps it was an introduction into a different way of working (and if it is then it’s definitely a future I want to be a part of). Now I’m not a coder, designer or anything like that but if you’ll indulge me for just a second I do think that I’m a creative thinker. As pompous as that may sound I have, and always have had lots of ideas but I don’t really do anything with them because at the end of the day I’m perhaps inherently a thinker not a doer or just plain lazy – good for nothing even as this post explains. I have an inherent distrust of hierarchies, structures, organisations and to be honest people but as I didn’t know anything about the Good For Nothing crew I just acted on impulse and though what the heck.
I’ve often felt that the way we structure and divide our society with regard to work – those in work, those not, perceived status given to certain things, third sector v statutory v private creates an unhealthy environment that is not conducive to actually solving societal problems. There are great people in all of the situations and sectors I describe but it is often never the twain shall meet. The brilliantly simple idea behind Good For Nothing is that it provides the space where barriers and egos and status and sector are left behind. Get in a room and come up with solutions.
So after I did my pitch I sat at a table and people came around and worked on looking at solutions, they were genuinely interested and had lots of varied perspectives to offer and they came from all different sectors with mutual respect being shown. I can’t recall many instances in my life where I’ve actually seen that happen. Throughout the weekend people just pitched in and helped on any of the three ideas; you might need a website building, no problem someone would help you on that, same with app development, or funding or business planning or copy writing or blog development of filming or content strategy etc etc or and this should never be underestimated, getting tea, coffee and toast. How refreshing and this photo series by Lisa Jeffries gives a good flavour of the atmosphere.
This was the first one to happen in Leeds but this could be the future, an ideas lab, bringing people together who are interested in making a difference in the city, breaking down barriers across sectors and enabling good people to do good stuff. I felt honoured to have been allowed in. Maybe my old teachers were right I am Good For Nothing. See you at the next gig.
At the start of this New Year I decided to take a photo everyday of something I had done, experienced, a place I had been to etc. It was my nod at being more mindful about what I was doing day to day (I’m terrible for running from one thing to the next) and to create some record of cool things I had done, and it worked!
This month has been ace, I’ve been road tripping to Welsh Wales to see chums, over the water to The Big Apple to see my brother and had a pretty good few weeks at work. Many of the images do contain food I confess, a few home made creations as well as trips out to favourite haunts, both new and old. Can you guess where I’ve been?
It’s been great and I’ve realised how important connecting with people is to me, and that focusing on something good every day made me feel more positive. If I did ever feel fed up a quick review of the photos made me feel better! How could you not smile at a heart froth cappuccino, a sickly Greggs cake from your work pal, the hail stone storm you got stuck in, the beautiful Kirkstall Abbey, and an all star American breakfast?
Join me in April when I will be doing the photo a day project again, I’ve already roped my welsh chum and big sister in!