Jul 142016
 



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Bel

One of Bel’s pics from her fly-on-the-wall shoot at Qi Qi’s café-bar. I suggest she modifies it to give the body a more radical outline like Man Ray’s and Lee Miller’s solarisation technique. It could even be made to look like Ferenc Berko’s experiments, which were unique in his time (1960s): he created images that looked like sketches, nearly abstract. But Bel ignores my advice. She is no Cyril.

When not teaching, Bel is obsessively working on the movie about Qi Qi’s life drawing session. Late into the night. Again before breakfast. As though there’s no tomorrow – though we are still six days from the deadline she has set herself for its completion: her flight to Holland.
    It means there’s even less chance to talk.

Afternoon. The Delightful Peony. By now – mid-March – it no longer matters that the café’s heater doesn’t work: the temperature is ambient. Shrubs in the roadside-landscaping are beginning to blossom.
    Another email from Cyril. His education of me continues. Or does he consider this to be “courtship”?

Darling Suki-muse! Ferenc Berko “turned to the nude for her beauty and challenge”. What do you think? Another romantic, like me? Cxxx

Dear Cyril, re Berko: that’s interesting because life-drawers similarly talk about ‘challenge’ – yet are coy about, or actually deny, looking for beauty. And what, anyway, is ‘beautiful’? “The curve of the neck, the turn of an ankle”, comments artist Helen Wheatley in Bel’s docu-movie ‘Under the gaze’ (watch it – it’s brilliant). Berko seems to emphasise the torso. He shows very few faces. And uses lighting and textures to create a mood. Yes – he is definitely another romantic. Not realistic.
    So – what do I think? Yuk. Give me realism and grotesquery any day. Sorry to disappoint. S

Evening.
    I deliver another cup of tea to Bel’s desk.
    She pulls out her ear-phones. Her breathing today seems calm and easy. ‘The sound-track’s great, though I say so myself. Got any biscuits?’
    Enthusiasm! For once, a smiley face! ‘Of course it’s great. You’re brilliant. I’ll bring the Oreos.’
    Bel stretches in her seat. ‘It’s mostly Maria Callas singing an aria – Qi Qi’s choice. But I’ve just realised we’ll need subtitles for these vox-pops I’ve edited in. I can’t ask Lily Hong, her English is too poor. Who can we get to do it for free?’
    ‘Fei Mo Di’s the obvious person. He’s the only person I’ve met who’s totally bilingual. I could offer in exchange another one-to-one shoot with me for free. I’ll go message him.’
    But when I return from texting in the kitchen (better reception at the kitchen window), Bel is pacing, scowling at her iPad. ‘This is really scary, Suki.’
    ‘What?’ I sigh, holding out the biscuit tin. She ignores it. How can her mood have changed so suddenly?
    ‘Global demand for food is outstripping supply because of climate change. In some parts of China villagers are abandoning the countryside because the land is too depleted to raise flocks or grow food. It’s even starting in Japan. Huge areas of Africa and China are turning into dust bowls on a scale that dwarfs the 1930s one in America. This American scientist Lester Brown says it’s all coming to a head – and he’s never been wrong in any of his predictions.’
    ‘Don’t you want an Oreo?’ Then – ping! A text from Fei Mo Di.

Yes, am up for this skills exchange, curious re Bel movie, wd like to support. Yes can do subtls tomoz, lets meet, also how about shoot 24 March my place like before?

    ‘Hey, Fei Mo Di‘s agreed!’
    But Bel is still agitated. ‘Look – there’s already millions and millions of people in poor countries who can only afford to eat five days a week – even actual water is running out because of over-pumping. In northern and western China, and somewhere in Africa, people are running out of land to grow food.’ She looks up, her eyes desperate. ‘It’s all going to collapse. I watched the Twin Towers live on TV as they collapsed. All this. Here in Shanghai. It could all come tumbling down in a minute.’

Bel, you so frighten me.


 

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Dec 312015
 

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ALT TEXT

Bel

Bel took this pic while we were making the movie Suki’s Life Room.

‘She fancies you, right?’
    I am ramming underwear into my suitcase’s remaining nooks and crannies. ‘Ha ha. Dunno if she’s even a dyke.’
    ‘She wouldn’t have invited you otherwise.’
    ‘She wants me for an Art Nude photographic project.’
    ‘Photography isn’t Art.’
    ‘I can’t believe you said that! The “photography isn’t Art” debate is anachronistic, tired and anyway stupid.’ (Pause) ‘Okay I just read that in The Guardian. But it’s what I think.’
    Ilka is in hard-line mode. ‘As Susan Sontag said, paintings and drawings of an image are considered to be interpretations whereas photographed images are viewed as miniatures of reality. i.e. documentary, not Art.’
    ‘I read that article of hers. I think you’ll find she goes on to say that photos are still interpretations, shaped by the photographer’s own taste.’ I will win this argument. I fetch the book from the top of the fridge where it got tidied to, turn to the article and read:

‘In deciding how a picture should look; in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. The 1930s photographers of the ‘Farm Security Administration’… blah blah blah… took dozens of pictures of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied with the precise facial expression that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry…’

    ‘Whatever, Suki. As far as I’m concerned, photography is just another imposition of male supremacy and control.’
    ‘That comment is straight from the joyless, outdated feminism of your bookcase. Look at Lee Miller – she was totally liberated as a model! Right back in, like, 1920! Like, totally free in her sexual behaviour and attitudes. Multiple lovers and stuff. Polyamorous. I mean, even nowadays most people are possessively monogamous, but she wasn’t. Polyamory is still even today associated with kink rather than being what the mainstream wants.’
    Stony silence from Ilka.
    I persist in having the final word. Even though it’s stupid. ‘That ‘male gaze’ theory, the one that says all the looking in the world is from men’s viewpoint and for their exclusive pleasure – it’s so 1970s. It’s so over.’
    Ilka is now by the door. ‘Suki, I’ve got an overnight in Leipzig again. A work thing. So I won’t be here when…’
    ‘Good. Coz we hate goodbyes, don’t we.’
    The door closes behind her.
    Tsk. She has never once stood up to me.

…Does Bel fancy me?


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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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