Feb 112016
 



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Aussie Cyril

Another photo from the first Shanghai Art Nude Photographers group session. Aussie Cyril says it is apres the work of early photographer Ruth Bernhard. He has lectured in photography. He has a lot of knowledge.

I flounce up to Bel who is waiting, as arranged, on the China Art Museum steps. ‘Huh. Pompous git.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di?’ She puts out her cigarette, wheezing. ‘Your shoot didn’t go too well, then?’
    ‘He called Anaïs Nin a ‘spoiled upper-crust adulteress’. Why does she get treated with such contempt? Lee Miller doesn’t, even though her sexual conduct was just as liberated and controversial…’ I follow Bel through the museum’s entrance. ‘It’s because Anaïs Nin was a writer, that’s why. Visual imagery is infinitely ambiguous – all about the viewer’s perception – whereas the written word is a record of a thing perceived, and furthermore, is the writer’s take on it – their analysis. So the writer is laid bare, and therefore more vulnerable to personal criticism.’
    Zero response from Bel. Which is becoming usual. Does she think I talk rubbish? When a man ignores me I assume it’s coz he’s a sexist pig.
    Do I talk rubbish?
    The foyer is a huge modern space. A ruddy-faced immigrant from the countryside in cheap gaudy leggings shows Bel and I to her toddler, like pointing out cows in a field.
    ‘Maybe I talked too much.’
    Bel hands me an English-language leaflet about the current exhibition. ‘Did you? That’s interesting. When you model for artists you never utter a word.’
    ‘But with a photographer there needs to be interaction, doesn’t there? To find the poses.’
    Checking the leaflet’s map, Bel heads off. ‘What did you think of his penthouse?’
    I hurry after her. ‘Oh my god. Space-age. Shiny high-tech everything. That whole district is so pristine, glittering, brand new. All those exclusive luxury tower blocks. Was there ever anything old there?’
    ‘Shanghai isn’t old. Pudong was all paddy fields twenty years ago. You should read JG Ballard. He spent his formative years in wartime Shanghai when it was pure anarchy, which is why everything he’s ever written has an apocalyptic undercurrent. That’s Shanghai. Those towers built for the elite remind me of his novel High-Rise. They spook me.’
    Why does Bel only get animated about climate change, wars, and the end of the world? I don’t like thinking about those things.
    ‘Anyway’ – I shift the subject back – ‘I don’t think he’ll book me again. He definitely didn’t fancy me, I know that much.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di? Apart from being twenty years younger than you he’s as gay as a French horn.’

We wander through the museum. Bel’s and other visitors’ pulled-off pollution-masks dangle against their chests, like surgeons taking coffee breaks.
    I stop to field a Wechat message. ‘Hey – another one-to-one booking! Next week. That elderly Aussie, Cyril.’
    ‘Three times married.’
    ‘God, Bel, your ex-pat world is incestuous.’
    ‘He likes to submit to women. Apparently.’
    ‘How on earth do you…’ –
    – ‘One of his ex-girlfriends told me.’ We have reached the central hall where the new exhibition is installed. Some are gigantic. ‘Look! This is the fantastic stuff I wanted to show you. There’s so much photography-based art here, of a kind you don’t see in Europe.’ Bel is again animated, and this time, for once, about something positive. Her sweeping arm takes in all the works: ‘This isn’t about photographs. Photographic techniques and media are merely tools in the creation of these works. This all goes way beyond the debate on whether a photograph can be considered art.’ Her enthusiasm is a wonderful relief. ‘I’m going to bring my students,’ she declares.
    This is our best moment together since my arrival a fortnight ago: Bel actually being relaxed, enjoying something. I am so happy! I link my arm through hers. ‘So. When are you going to start your Art Nude project with me?’
    She immediately tightens a little. ‘When are you going to get out your unfinished manuscript?’


 

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Feb 042016
 

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Fei Mo Di

At the Shanghai Art Nude Photographers group session, this guy Fei Mo Di spun off from the Uglow, Schiele and Freud poses I was doing, and did his own thing.

Two weeks in.
    It is still (by British standards) hot – even in mid-October.
    When will I start to write? Will I start to write?
    Each day, while Bel goes teaching, I wander about – “acclimatising”. Staring. Being stared at. The street market was traumatic the first time I went alone. Now I stare through the cat-calls, grin back at the smiles. Great writing-fodder. It’s just… all still too new.

Bel is as bad. When will she start this Art Nude project with me? Will she start it?
    Her morning coughing fits have become my alarm clock. Today the Air Quality Index reports only moderate pollution: Unhealthy for people with special sensitivities. Asthmatics and the elderly may have difficulties. But she coughs whatever the level, on her narrow bed next to mine, scowling at the news pages on her iPad.

Anyway. Got my first one-to-one booking for a photo-shoot! Fei Mo Di (he with the improbably posh English accent, crisply-ironed shirt, designer jeans) is the second Shanghainese person I’ll meet really properly, after Bel’s little assistant Lily Hong.
    So here I am in his bright white 24th floor penthouse. We begin with sparse, polite conversation. The cityscape beyond the glass walls is a sci-fi movie-set. Vertiginous. Construction sites in all directions; cranes everywhere you look.
    Turns out Fei Mo Di is not what he seems. He went to Eton, then the Central College of Fine Arts in Beijing, topped off with a Masters in New York. His mother is vice-chair of a metropolitan committee for culture or something, on the Communist Party’s Consultative Council. She owns real estate in Kensington.
    I’m sipping from a tiny translucent cup. Just beyond the floor-to-ceiling plate glass, the neck of a crane is slowly approaching… What if it doesn’t stop? The elegant tea-set is beside an Apple computer on a huge perspex desk. Fei Mo Di points at his photos from the group session on the monitor. ‘I haven’t sent you these yet. See – I was moving around you a lot, focusing in. So I want to do that again now. I’d like you quite simply, first of all, to stand absolutely still, statuesque.’ He gets up, goes over to where lights are rigged up. ‘Right here.’

I get into position. Silently he begins. What’s the etiquette when one-to-one? Should I chat?
    ‘Ahem. I’m really interested to find out if art-photographers relate to their models differently from artists,’ I begin.
    No immediate reaction. Click, click.
    ‘Like, whether there’s a more natural, human relationship with a photographer? I mean, doesn’t a photographer want somebody alive?’
    Click. ‘Yes.’ Click. Click.
    Was that curt? Should I say more? ‘Whereas artists… I mean, Uglow, for example; he objectified his models to the extreme. He was so fanatical about the precise reproduction of what he was looking at that he’d actually measure out graph-lines on his studio wall and number them to mark exactly where the model was positioned. Flipping autistic!’
    The tele-photo lens stares coldly. ‘Autism has been known to equate with artistic genius.’ The lens roams to my belly, comes in close to my left breast, shoulder…
    ‘Well, but the crap way Uglow related to the model…’
    Fei Mo Di cuts in. ‘Are you familiar with the work of Chuck Close? He’s an autistic man whose excruciatingly meticulous process creates astonishing paintings that happen to start from a photograph.’
    ‘But if it’s from a photograph it’s not really Art’. Okay, I argued the opposite point with Ilka, but this guy’s Etonian accent is aggravating. I hammer on: ‘A photo is conventionally believed to show “the real thing” whereas a painting holds greater interest and value because it’s a unique and expressive interpretation through the artist’s eye, because everyone knows – and as Anais Nin said – “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”.’
    ‘Tuh. Glurge.’ Snap, shift, snap.
    ‘Pardon?’
    ‘Your Anaïs Nin quote. Asinine.’
    ‘That is not fair. People are always sticking the knife into Anaïs Nin. It’s because she was a writer. Words on the page are explicit in a way that visual imagery isn’t, so we’re easier to criticize.’
    Fei Mo Di looks round his camera at me, clearly annoyed.
    ‘Yes – I’m a writer myself.’ Standing there naked, I know I am ridiculous.


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Dec 242015
 

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ALT TEXT

Janey Walklin

This finely-detailed mono-print shows artist and model – Janey and me – juxtaposed, similar to a whole series of Picasso’s late work. Of which feminist academic Karen Kleinfelder writes: ‘…the overwhelming carnality or physicality about his late paintings in particular [prove that the model] remains from start to finish the object of the […] male gaze […] motivated by his “macho” need to affirm the power of his own penetrating gaze over the female figure, [his gaze thus taking on] an explicitly phallic connotation.’ Dur.

I am in my sleeping bag on Ilka’s sofa, face pushed up against her book-case. Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Anais Nin, Laura Mulvey, Simone de Beauvoir’s Das Andere Geschlecht, Sexism and God-talk, Was Wollen die Frauen? by Susie Orbach and Luise Eichenbaum, Fear of Flying. I pick out one by Karen Kleinfelder because it was published in 1993, two decades on from some of those old-hat feminists.
    It turns out to be a criticism of Picasso’s way of relating to the model. It is poppycock. A total throw-back to the 1970s ‘male gaze’ debate initiated by Laura Mulvey, a debate that Bel and I recently explored in the performance piece we made, just after we met. Well – maybe not that recently, when I think about it… God, was that four years ago aleady?
    Tamara (my last crazy flingette before I came to Berlin) hammered into me – being the domineering type – that the ‘male gaze’ theory is well dead. If models suffer vis-a-vis their artist employers, the gender relationship isn‘t the crux of the problem. Inter-personal relationships are absolutely – said Tamara – about power, but nowadays we are likely to have chosen our dominant or submissive roles, no longer hidebound by the old social conventions of male-female relating.
    Above the bookcase, Ilka has hung an original print showing artist and model – Janey Walklin and me – juxtaposed. When the artist-voyeur of the female model is also female, is that still problematic? Would Kleinfelder define my relationship with Janey as one of sexual domination and submission?
    Can I be bothered with this nonsense any more?

Ping!
    I was almost asleep. It’s Bel, answering my hyper-enthusiastic Shanghai here I come!

Great! Want 2 photograph u, explore some ideas. Been thinkin of dis 4 ages, I did Art Nude photog at Slade tho ended up photo-journalist (hence teachin photog/media here). Big Lee Miller fan – final-yr thesis ws abt her – she gets lost in Man Ray’s shadow

So Bel’s invite is because she wants to photograph me!

Why not a lovely Chinese girl? She must have students?

And who is Lee Miller? I remember vaguely, one time when Bel and I were both in London, getting a surprise text inviting me to go with her to a Lee Miller exhibition somewhere or other. But I was busy.
    I search on my i-Pad. One of the most stunningly beautiful, liberated women of the 20th century. Fashion model. Art Nude model. Genius. Alcoholic. Depressive. Free-thinker. Liberated. Too liberated: she posed for an advert for sanitary towels in 1929 that ruined her fashion-modelling career. Also fashion photographer, and – aha! – war photographer.

Was it Lee Miller who inspired Bel to go as a photo-journalist to Afghanistan?


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