Sep 082016
 



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David Rodriguez

Have I ‘gone anorexic’, as Loiza commented? My backside in this photo by David Rodriguez looks hideously puckered. What can I do, though? I can’t jog in this pollution. Must eat even less.

No email from Bel. It is four days since the funeral. What has it done to her?
    I’ll email her one of these wacky pics from David’s shoot. Maybe it’ll stimulate a response.

Dear David,
Again –
Gracias – a brilliant session! Fantastic pics – thanks for sending!
    This one disturbs me though. Reminds me of Nazi concentration camps where people had to line up naked just like this to be photographed. Sorry for this macabre association. Call me paranoid. I think it’s because yesterday afternoon I started reading J.G. Ballard’s autobiography: he was in a brutal Japanese prison camp at Lunghua right here in Shanghai… Then later I was looking at my flatmate’s books including war-photographer Lee Miller’s photographs of the liberation of Buchenwald death camp. So I’m a bit too focused on human brutality at the moment.

Dear Suki,
SHANGHAI TURNS ALL CREATIVE PEOPLE EITHER PARANOID OR CRAZY. Yes I know about the beautiful Lee Miller: I love the work of Man Ray! I try with his solarisation effect but not very successful. Getting the effect digitally is only fake.

Tuh – typical! Lee Miller recognised only as an appendage of Man Ray.

Dear David,
solarisation was Lee Miller’s invention as much as Man Ray’s. She does not get the recognition she deserves as a photographer. She photographed political assassinations. She photographed the suicided bodies of the mayor of Dresden and his wife and daughter. She’s got loads more WW2 photos in a book I’ve got here documenting bombed-out London. She took loads of photos of women at war and women in the armed forces.
Suki

Dear Suki
I know that Lee Miller was not just a pretty face (although, saying that, she was painted six times by Picasso). I know that she understood the Surrealist movement – after all she married the Surrealist painter Roland Penrose. His work I find kitsch and derivative so I am not surprised he became an organiser/administrator in the end. By the way, I have an email conversation with the current Director of Exhibitions at Penrose’s glorious foundation, your Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. I pitch an exhibition concept to him. Wish me luck!

Dear David,
Picasso didn’t paint pretty faces.
Best of British luck with your ICA pitch!
Actually I’ve always thought it a bit weird that Roland Penrose got off with Lee Miller. As a pacifist and conscientious objector, how could he be together with someone whose adrenalin was fired (maybe even enthusiasm is the word) by seeking out and capturing human brutality on film?

I love sparring with fellow-creatives – something that is impossible with Aussie Cyril, my wet, malleable, acquiescent devotee.
    At this afternoon’s shoot, Cyril keeps popping truffles into my mouth.
    I must think positive. Melbourne has no brutal war history, no concentration camps. The sun is always shining. I could live off him and write without having to find paid work. No more modelling!
    Could I be plump and happy with doting Cyril?

Before bed, a final check for emails, texts. Nothing from Bel, despite the pic I sent.
    Wonder if she’s had her chest x-ray?
    Maybe that’s it. This silence. She’s found out she’s got cancer.


 

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Aug 252016
 



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Precocious Loiza

This pic is Precocious Loiza’s thank-you gift for my having been part of her Art A-level project. She got an “A-star”. She hadn’t shown me this one before. Kept it back as a surprise.

Unspoken goodbyes. At the street-side, beside the college’s waiting airport car, Lily Hong flings herself against Bel like a puppy. ‘Meet you at airport after fourteen days. Don’t worry, be happy!’
    ‘Be sure to get a chest x-ray,’ I say, as I too give Bel a hug.
    She gives a wooden one back. ‘Fake.’ Her grin is humourless. She gets into the car, and it drives away.
    I feel sick. ‘She‘s depressed enough to chuck herself out of the plane.’
    ‘I don’t understand,’ says Lily Hong miserably. ‘What mean depress, what mean chuck?’
    ‘S’okay. Nothing.’ I might never see Bel again. Paranoid thought? Anyway I don’t know what to do or who to tell, so I go about my day as planned, heading out into the surreal half-light, what Bel calls the ‘fake mist’ – man-made, from filth – for my appointment.

Nanjing Road West. Starbucks. I come up behind Precocious Loiza, and see over her shoulder a familiar bondage photograph – a Japanese woman semi-clad in traditional robes, trussed up with rope and suspended.
    ‘Oh!’ She jumps, then – ‘He-eyy!’ – reaches to pull me down by the neck for a kiss on the lips.
    ‘How’s art college?’ I hear a rasp in my own voice after sixty minutes of inhaling dirt.
    Precocious Loiza points back at her iPad. ‘This is the bag I’ve totally gotten into in my second semester at the Slade. I love Araki’s work.’
    I set down my rucksack, ‘Can I get you another drink?’
    ‘Tall skinny decaf latte thanks, and a biscotti. Wow, you’ve gone anorexic! Tamara says you were anorexic before she fed you up. In Year 10 at school we were forced to discuss this article about how very young models are coerced into retaining their pubescent shape instead of letting themselves physically develop. The school was, like, paranoid that we were all about to starve ourselves. Mind you, two girls did die of eating disorders but frankly they were loopy anyway and one of them had been, like, raped. Amazing that you’re starving yourself even at your age – looks like you need Tamara again.’
    ‘Yes. Gosh. No. I mean, great to see you. Back in a tick.’
    Do I “need Tamara again”?

When I return with drinks, Precocious has unzipped a large folio-carrier which she holds open to show me an enlarged photograph. ‘For you. Tamara’s got the same one but three times bigger on the wall above her sofa.’ Next, she rummages in her leather tote bag. ‘And she asked me to give you this.’
    It is a fat, weighty padded envelope, the top of which has been firmly stapled closed. Bombarded, I feel limp; and underlying that, a profound desolation. ‘Thanks for all this Loiza…’
    ‘So what do you think of Araki? Do you know he has sex with all his models? Like Picasso did, only with Araki it’s a high principle. He’s, like, totally against objectification!’ She reads off from her iPad: ‘Of course I had sex with all my models… I needed to break down the me-and-you barrier. I can say that I have collapsed the previous tradition of photography that emphasized objectivity. In the past, photographers felt they had to eliminate their subjectivity as much as possible. I consider myself a “subjective” photographer.’
    Into my despondent silence the eighteen year-old suddenly orders – ‘You should leave Shanghai. My parents have gone back to the UK. They said they were being poisoned by the air and the food and that nothing is safe.’
    ‘People like me can’t afford to live in the UK. I’m a loser in the UK. Fucking neoliberalism.’
    ‘Embrace it! Marry someone rich – then it’s awesome! I’m going to.’

When I get home I open Tamara’s envelope. It contains a massive wad of 100 Yan notes, and a note.

I know your birthday is May, but this is a gift in advance. I do not imagine for one nano-second that you are going to remain happily ever after in Shanghai, so this is to cover the cost of a flight to Heathrow and a taxi to my apartment. When you’re ready.



 

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