Lee Jeffries

photograph: Lee Jeffries

There was an astonishing series of photographs in the Guardian recently taken by Lee Jeffries which I found immensely powerful and moving.  Lee is a Manchester based amateur photographer (and accountant by profession) who takes pictures of homeless people around the globe and helps to publicise their situation and raise money for homeless charities.  You cannot help but look at any of his pictures without instantly realising the magnitude and complexities of emotions, situations and experiences that each subject has gone through that has brought them to the position of homelessness.

Thought provoking stuff that I hope all will remember when we see someone homeless when next out.

See more of Lee’s work here and find out more about him here.

War Horse

Just recently seen the film War Horse which I have to say without having kids who love Michael Morpurgo it was unlikely I would have gone along to see it.  However  I’m glad that I did as it’s a stunningly filmed real family epic but of course with Speilberg at the helm you should perhaps expect nothing less.  I’ve not read the book but my kids did complain that some artistic liberty had been taken and the film did not follow the book entirely which of course led to some interesting discussion on why this might be as they start to develop their critical faculties.  From my point of view it’s one of those films that you just have to go along with and if you are prepared to do so then you will be in for a treat, I could be incredibly harsh and say that in some ways it’s a bit Lassie Come Home but that would be unfair.  Two things that sustained it for me was firstly the cinematography, which from the opening scenes of the lush fields of rural pre WW1 Devon through to the trenches provide a rich and vivid tapestry that from a purely visual perspective would carry the film.  Secondly, just as when the book club reviewed Shadow, Morpurgo can craft a fantastic story cleverly using the travails and journeys of the horse to investigate a whole host of issues, many of which the adults will of course be aware of but for children becoming aware of history it’s a great template.

So the film covers issues of tenant farmers and their relationships to the landowners and how hard and tenuous their grip on survival was; family relationships and the secrets that we might keep from our children and how that can affect a family; loyalty and what that may mean in many forms; WW1 – and brilliantly this looks at the arrogance of the British Officer class, how children became caught up in the conflict on all sides, the similarities of the men in the trenches, the affect on French civilians, how both sides contained good and bad, how terrifying trench warfare was and the randomness of conflict and of course death and loss and the affect this can have.  These are fantastically big and important themes that opened up a whole world of discussion and interest in my kids.

There are a couple of scenes that remind me of the opening to Saving Private Ryan which for me is still one of the most incredible powerful and visceral bits of movie making I’ve seen.  Speilberg manages to bring a semblance of that to War Horse but of course without the bloodshed that you encounter in the Private Ryan film.  So overall I was glad that I went to see it, both from my own point of view and that of the kids, it’s powerful cinema and there was not a dry eye in the house while watching it including me.

The Boneyard Project

Incredible – artists let loose on old airplanes left in the desert.

I always thought there was something majestic yet forlorn about old aircraft left to rust slowly in the desert.

It turns out they are a brilliant metal canvases.

In Praise of the OBO

I totally love test cricket and I think that the more anachronistic it seems to have become in this age of instant gratification the more affection I feel for it.  Yes I can quite happily go along to 1 day games (where the above picture was taken at last summers game v Sri Lanka) or even take the kids along to 20/20 (or bish bash bosh as it’s known in our house) but test cricket is where it’s at.  Even it’s name it great – it is the ultimate test of tactics, temperament and technique married to the unknown vagaries of the pitch and weather conditions.  In fact is there any other game where the condition of the 22 yards playing strip where the ball will be bowled can have such a dramatic outcome of the game ?  There is also something very unique about the atmosphere, sights and smells of a test match.  There is a very civilised hubbub outside the ground as plots are hatched to attempt to get your alcohol into the ground, which due to the stricter than airport security, appears to becoming a new national sport; a variety of attire makes for great people watching with everything from fancy dress to fancy dan.  If the weather is shining then the vast lush green playing surface of the outfield makes for a suitably striking contrast against the stands and the crowd and provides the perfect canvas for the players to perform on.  Like any sport watched live it takes on a different perspective, for example the first time you see a genuine fast bowler come roaring in and unleashing the cherry at 90mph is to get a very different take on the courage and skill shown by the batsman who can conquer and control that incoming missile.

I think however that one of the great things about the sport (apart from the fact that it can take 5 days and end in a draw therefore baffling almost any American) is the pace of the game, the way it ebbs and flows and changes course like a babbling brook – you think you know the course that it will take but can never be sure as it is prone to change at any moment.  Suddenly one side will change the tempo or a player look to bend the game to his will, an individual battle will commence that can have a profound impact on the bearing of the team.  It is in fact like reading a great novel, yes it needs time for the plot lines, sub plots and characters to emerge but patience and time invested by the reader/watcher will be ambly rewarded.

Of course there are now many ways to watch and enjoy the game – live of course, via TV (of course you will need Sky for that sigh), the incomparable Test Match Special on the radio or various blogs but one of the brilliant ways that has come about over the last few years has been the invention of the Over by Over (OBO) web coverage – and in particular the one on The Guardian website which means that work never be dull as you keep up with what is happening in some far flung corner of the globe.  Of course the premise of it sounds ridiculous – you can’t listen or see what is happening, each over is described and written up by someone (usually Andy Bull and Rob Smyth) and it pops up in the feed on your screen (or you manically press F5 to get the screen to refresh).  However due to the pace of the game it has natural gaps in it where the bowler will return to the start of his run for example that allows for comment, analysis and chat to take place which is exactly of course what happens at the ground live.  These gaps or silences before the action take place remind me of a bar of silence in music before the next stage comes crashing in – it’s the silence that magnifies the sound or action that subsequently takes place.

What makes the OBO so good is that themes and chatter will develop during the day as the writers interact with the readers worldwide throughout the days play, these themes or riffs are usually pointless and ridiculous but as such they become totally enjoyable.  Yesterdays was a classic case in point, while describing the total humiliation of England’s performance against Pakistan talk moved to the worst journey you have been on and as always the OBO readership did not let us down with countless staggeringly bad journeys described.  You can have a read and a chuckle here.  So make sure you tune in at work for the next test it will make the day far more pleasurable, if not at work then the order should be this TMS on the radio, OBO on your device of choice accompanied by your favourite beverage – a fantastically chilled and decadent way to waste a day.

Friday night curry

image

Sometimes at the end of the week it can be tricky to rustle up something that we all want and will enjoy, the habit of compromise can often leave me creating something that fills a hole but does not necessarily excite the tastebuds.  When you have one that does not really eat meat and quite likes things spicy and another who likes mild and meaty it can prove a bit of conundrum.  I’m lucky in that I live close by to a cracking curry house that I’ve been taking them to since they were babies and at least that way we can all get what we want, the downside being that it costs.  Tonight I was determined to get the curry right and managed to knock up this pan of beauty , which although not meaty managed to get the heat and spice just right so that all tucked in and pronounced themselves satisfied.  I think it was the cold beer, chilled out mood I was in and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds rocking the kitchen which were the secret ingredients.  Can’t beat a nice curry.

Northern Art Prize

I was invited last week to the announcement of the winner of The Northern Art Prize 2012 at Leeds City Art Gallery.

The winner this year is Leo Fitzmaurice and in choosing Fitzmaurice as the winner, the judges said (and I quote):  “The strength of this year’s exhibition and the Prize are testament to the generosity and commitment of all the artists. However, Leo’s work for the Northern Art Prize exhibition in particular is ambitious, risky and compelling.  Drawing upon historic resources and current mobile phone technology, he provides a fresh perspective on the traditional subject of landscape, whilst at the same time pushing the boundaries of his own practice.”

This isn’t going to be a ‘lets rant about modern art’ post. Promise.

I like to think that I know a little bit about art and how to appreciate it. Modern art comes in many shapes and sizes and whilst I like it when it is challenging, sometimes it oversteps the mark. Sheds as boats, lights being switched on and off, unmade beds…these would fall in to the ‘interesting’ category for me.

This year’s Northern Art Prize has its fair share of interesting, challenging and thought provoking work and I think that’s how it should be. Here’s my pick of what caught my eye in no particular order:

I was particularly taken with James Hugonin’s meticulous artworks. For me they were the outstanding item in the Show and for the record, it was a travesty that he didn’t walk away with the prize money. Hugonin’s mysteriously colourful ranged from small pieces through to enormous executions – all beautifully detailed. They were pedantic and intellectual and I loved the craft needed to pull these off.

 

Here’s the winner in front of one of his works – the most interesting for me – where he has pulled together a series of classic Leeds Art gallery works to create one new work. In itself, this is an interesting but derivative thought that when I discovered what he had done, I smiled at his cleverness but then moved quickly on to disappointment. It seemed a smug idea, too clever for its own good. But his mobile device photography really did it for me – unoriginal and contrived. Sorry.

 

I was quite taken with Richard Rigg’s unsittable-on chairs and his other items of weird physicality. There was some kind of odd light switch affair which I didn’t really understand. But it wouldn’t be the Norther Art prize if one didn’t utter to infamous Streety line ‘you can’t get away with that’.

All in all it’s an enjoyable, slightly mystifying but ultimately worthwhile diversion to see this year’s finalists at Leeds City Art Gallery. I don’t think it’s on for much longer so you might need to get your skates on.

Judging, books, covers.

I love this image – this is the cover art for all of the books we’ve read in book club.

It gives me a real sense of achievement when I look at it and each book cover reminds me of the book immediately and brings back the feelings and emotions I had for each book when I was reading it. They also serve to remind me how important the design of a book cover is and if a publisher or author gets it right it completely adds to the overall experience and if they get it wrong how it compounds the any negativity I have about it.

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?