A casual gleam of sunshine, or a shadow thrown across his path, a time-withered oak, or a moss-covered stone may awaken a train of thoughts and feelings, and picturesque imaginings.
The Pencil of Nature, W. Fox Talbot
In May 1843 William Henry Fox Talbot stopped off in Rouen, on his way to Paris to market his calotype photography process, a competitor to the French daguerreotype. Talbot was shown to his room at the Hôtel de l’Angleterre, which overlooked the quai du Havre, full of sailing boats making their way from the port of Le Harve to Paris, or vice versa. Just two weeks prior the railway between Rouen and Paris had opened, with work beginning on extending the line to Le Harve. The world was changing.Read the rest of this entry »
I think I first consciously encountered Albrecht Dürer’s etching when I entered an exhibition on the work and influences of the writer WG Sebald. I had initially struggled to find my way in, then encountered a iron-clad circular staircase that took me down from ground level, although at no time did it feel like I was going underground as such, the experience was still in some way vertiginous as with passing each floor I couldn’t tell where exactly I was, both above and below, neither here nor there. The exhibition was shrouded in a large, heavy curtain, which as I passed through led me to a small passageway with another large, heavy curtain mirroring the previous one. The room was empty but for a small etching, from which the exhibition took its name, and in many ways took its inspiration, for although it was very much a collection of work related to Sebald, all of it could be viewed from the starting point of Dürer’s etching of 1514. I thought the etching was too small, but then realised I was wrong, that having to strain forwards towards the image made me pay more attention, that my inclination with large works of art is to just step back and let it wash over me rather than really scrutinise what is in front of me. I attempted to absorb all the details, aware that while there were undoubtedly a numbers of signs and signifiers in the image most if not all of them were beyond my knowledge and understanding, that this was something I would probably have to decode at a later date. However, art that needs decoding, or that references a variety of touchpoints, seems the most satisfying, and certainly helps guarantee its own longevity. Maybe it is the game of it all. Maybe the accumulation of it all, the sum of the parts, enables us to understand something more – the whole, so to speak. There was a pleasant sadness as I stood there, as you might expect. I parted the next heavy curtain, and stepped in.
The good hotel room is, in fact, the city’s paradigm: it provides everything you really need, and no more. The rest is out there; your dining room the city’s restaurants, your garden the city’s parks, your transport a bus or taxi or hire-car. It achieves in a positive way what so many societies try to do negatively, through commune or kibbutz: it removes the need for useless possessions. Positive, because it offers you a secret private life as well – for the possessions which really matter. How much do you really – really – need to own, continuously? Love, a sense of humour and the understanding which makes conversation into a genuine meeting instead of a pair of blind projections – they take no room at all. A crucifix, pet teddy-bear, half a dozen books take very little. The rest the city can provide, when you want them. That’s it’s job.
Lockdown inevitably means changes in habits and routines. I know some people are drinking more, some not at all. I guess it’s all just a bit different. Pubs closed. Trying times. Everything essentially a bit…odd.