At the Lucy Bell Gallery: Bruce Rae “Looking Glass”

Image by Bruce Rae showing at the Lucy Bell Gallery – click on the image to go to the exhibition website

As a homage to monochrome photography, the art of printing, and the intriguing beauty of still life, Bruce Rae’s “Looking Glass” exhibition now showing at the Lucy Bell Gallery in St Leonards has few equals.  There is grace, elegance and, for want of a much better word, allure in these images that seem so simple but which are the result of a combined eye for detail at the mechanical stage of pressing a shutter and then in the quest for a printing process and format to bring forth the desired result.  It is all quite affecting. 

The paper Rae used in the 1980s has long gone.  In the intervening years he has tried all manner of vintage processes, notably salt printing (there’s a nice Telegraph article from 2001 that comes up via a quick google).  But for this collection he has ‘gone back’ (per the press release) to a more standard approach and printed onto silver gelatin papers.  The resulting pictures have a superficially narrow colour range but within that reveal myriad tones and depths.  When even a shot of a lightbulb makes you gasp you know you’re in the presence of something special.

The exhibition has but a short time to run on Norman Road.  Get yourself there and be entranced.

At Somerset House: The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence at Somerset House

A collection of vitrines (glass cabinets) await the visitor who, to get here, has already followed the arrows, observed the video loops of walks around a town and who is now keen to see the fragments and mementoes of a fictional relationship curated by Orhan Pamuk whose novel is, in this exhibition, brought to some kind of fictional life.  This shouldn’t work.  Or at least it should be unspeakably pretentious.  It may be the latter, I’m no judge and, anyway, I like a dose of pretension, but it is also remarkably affecting.

Various objets are collected, along with, on a facing wall, notes about each of the vitrines.  Some of the objects are mundane, everyday items, some seem more obviously personal.  One cabinet is filled with football player cigarette cards.  You can easily imagine interlocking lives and loves which these things may have touched.  It reminded me of the story of how, when the British tried to fake a spy from a corpse they spent months collecting the detritus that would fill his wallet: ticket stubs, dry cleaning bills, a few coins.  I turned out my pockets as a I left the exhibition and a raffle ticket fell out.  I have no idea if I won.  I have no idea where I even bought it.

It is all arranged with such precision that it recalls old style natural history museums with their pinned down bugs, only here it is the minutiae of our shared existence that is being catalogued.  This could all become cold or excluding – I was never in love in Istanbul in the 1970s – but it isn’t.  You leave wondering what would be in your collection

TV Review: Mr Robot

Broadcast in North America over the summer and available in the UK via Amazon Prime for a couple of months I’ve only just got round to watching Mr Robot.  But then I am the kind of corporate sheep that FSociety, the hacking collective aiming to bring about the end of debt-laden society, despise … and so I’ve taken my time getting around to watching.  Ten episodes later I’m glad I did, even if the overwhelming praise heaped on the series from some quarters seems ever so slightly OTT.

Rami Malek plays the socially awkward, drug dependent, forgetful, sometimes misanthropic, tech expert Elliott.  He plays it well.  Everything that happens in the series happens because it is in some way connected to Elliott.  The problem is that Elliott has a tendency to misremember or plain not remember what he has done or who he knows.  Paranoia is everywhere.  But as Pratchett noted, just because you are paranoid does not mean that they aren’t out to get you.

Other characters swirl around Elliott as intrigue is piled on intrigue and layers of reality overlap.  “You knew that already” says Elliott at one reveal, “Don’t talk to them” is a reply used by another character interacting with the voiceover that addresses the audience throughout. This, when combined with “boo capitalism” narrative, could be so much student drama society claptrap.  That it isn’t owes a lot to the sheer number of compelling, interlocking stories, the bravado with which the programme is pulled off, the performances and staging.

Of the latter, I have to say it’s a real pleasure to see a series use the whole frame and go out of its way to generate emotion, reaction and suspicion by effective use of camera movement, focus and positioning.  Of the performances, in addition to Malek, there are standout turns from Carly Chaikin as the perma-nervous Darlene and Portia Doubleday as the tough beneath the outward appearance Angela.  Christian Slater is the big name with the eponymous character and he does a decent job.  One that makes you realise all over again that he really was a good actor back when his name was above film titles.  There are a whole of characters though – angels and demons and everyone in between – the list on wiki runs to about 30 and even the minor roles are surprisingly well realised.

Several years ago, the early days of the internet, there was a Sandra Bullock film that died in part because nobody knew how to film action taking place on computer terminal screens.  How we’ve moved on.  Cursors blink, code flies by, and the world as we know it might just be about to end.  Mr Robot is compelling drama and a brilliant ride.  Just don’t expect it to offer you the meaning of life or whatever else some reviewers may have led you to expect.

Royal Academy of Music Opera – Scenes at RADA Studios

You know it’s going to be a good evening when, having descended the stairs into the bowels of a building to locate the gents, you open the door not to be met with the foul stench of long-forgotten toilets but by a singer tuning up in readiness for the forthcoming show.  Such is one of the pleasures of the Royal Academy of Music Opera Scenes events – nobody is so far into their careers that they have disappeared up their own fundament.  In the half-time bar queue conversations were being had between students about who was doing what and only once was the word ‘darling’ uttered.  The performances weren’t bad either.  That’s the other pleasure of this sort of thing: genuinely talented folk impressing with what they can do.

Relocated to the intimate surroundings of the RADA Studios there was a close to full house crowd to watch ten episodes designed to showcase the range of the performers.  I’ll leave it to others to identify technically who was best and who will be wowing the world stage in years to come.

We had ten scenes with the staging set primarily for Nixon in China, which opened proceedings, and from which motifs and ideas recurred.  My amateur eye and ear were impressed by Emily Garland as Manon and by Alex Otterburn’s booming baritone interruptions; I liked the interplay between Alys Roberts and Emma Stannard in their scene from The Cunning Little Vixen; John Porter sang ‘la dona e mobile’ beautifully; everyone involved made Les Troyens magnificent.  I’ll stop picking names out now.  It was all good.

The travels of the opera company – albeit within the environs of Zone 1 – continue now as their next ‘home’ will be in the cavernous Ambika P3 for Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night before a spot of Monteverdi in Shoreditch.  After the quality of this evening, both look very tempting indeed.


At the Photographers Gallery: Saul Leiter

Postmen by Saul Leiter – image from The Photographers Gallery

Saul Leiter moved to New York City in 1946 and began taking photographs. They appear simple. People and objects often in everday settings. Often framed by the blur of movement or out of focus signs. Landmarks and neon lights are glimpsed but rarely do they take centre stage. Now, three years after his death, The Photographers’ Gallery has a floor dedicated to his work with a focus on his colour photography.

In using colour for ‘documentary’ photography Leiter was a man out of time, ahead of the movements that would come later. This exhibition has a balance of black and white and colour work but it’s clear that he landmark pieces are those shot in the distinctive colours of film from the time. It’s not just the nostalgic quality. Leiter had an eye for finding the poetic, the worthwhile, in moments in which nothing was actually happening. These aren’t shots crying out for meaning beyond “look at this image” and what builds up is a portrait of people collectively going about their business. The kind of people we are surrounded by and so don’t notice. Leiter makes us notice.

These days it’s £3 to get in to The Photographers’ Gallery. Even if this were the only exhibition beyond the paywall it would represent insanely good value for money. As it is there are two others that are also worth catching. A definite win from The Photographers’ Gallery.

At the match: Bexhill United v Southwick

This man is moments away from conceding five goals – (C) Jon Smalldon 2016, All rights reserved.

Six goals.  Five to the visitors.  And yet at half time, with Southwick just leading 1-0 and a being warmed by a welcome Bovril, it was possible to think that, if anything, Bexhill had had the better chances.  Indeed when, on eighty minutes. the home side pulled one back to make it 4-1 the woman along from me speculated that there was still time for a come back.  She wasn’t joking and it did seem plausible.  There really can’t have been too many games where too sides felt so closely matched that have ended up with such lopsided scorelines.

The opening goal, coming in the first few minutes, was a 1927 FA Cup Final special.  A weak shot skidded under the ‘keeper and in.  Oh dear.  Aside from that, on a heavy pitch, neither side created much but there was effort aplenty.  It seemed we were destined for a low-scoring tight one.  That continued well into the second half but on the hour it became 2-0, then 3-0, then, by 75 minutes, 4-0.  It finished 5-1.  Someone may one day be able to explain how.

It was fun though, as long as you’re not living or dying by the result obviously.  Despite the heavy going both sides moved the football well and there was a fair few thudding tackles of the kind we like at this level of non league.  There should have been a sending off but the ref chose only to show a yellow because some part of the two feet that had taken out the opposing player had managed to brush the ball.  They’d have winced like mad on Match of the Day about that.  Everyone was shaking hands at the end.

As is my want, I took some photies.  They show Bexhill in uncharacteristic sky blue.  What they don’t show, because I managed to always be in the wrong place, is any of the good stuff from today.  But, should you so desire, they can be found here.

At the match: Bexhill United v Lingfield FC

This man has just been sent off. (C) Jon Smalldon 2016 – All rights reserved

As I defrosted myself in the car on the way home the radio was singing the praises of the unpredictable Premier League.  Granted this year the top division is producing more thrills and spills than it has in many a year but did any of today’s games feature a dog on the pitch, failing floodlights and a winning goal so offside that supporters were applauding the linesman?  Thought not.  Thus I can be satisfied that I did not waste my time as I spent my Saturday shivering at the Polegrove as Bexhill United edged out Lingfield in the Southern Combination Football League.

The first real blast of winter saw a much reduced fixture list as grounds that for weeks have been waterlogged found themselves too solid for football.  The inspection here was delayed until midday to allow for a thaw.  The mercury inched above freezing long enough to ensure most of the pitch was ‘heavy’ rather than frosty so we had a game.  A game that was later in jeopardy as the floodlights failed to function, flicking on before flickering off multiple times.  By that time Lingfield were down to ten men as Stephen Smith got a second yellow for scything down a winger only a few minutes after he got his first for the rather poor offence of deliberately blocking a free kick.  The silly boy.

The visitors in red and yellow stripes held out until the 93rd minute – not even distracted by a pitch invading hound – and had plenty of chances of their own but could not keep out a header from Marc Munday.  Lingfield protested, as they had done all game, that the linesman had let an obvious offside go.  But their cries were all in vain and moments later the final whistle blew.  The result was harsh but then, as Peter Cook observed whilst in character as an underachieving manager, football is a cruel mistress.

The result means that Bexhill move within two points of Lingfield in the middle of the Division 1 table.  Neither look like leaving this division at the end of the year.  Maybe when they meet next it’ll be warmer or, for those of us wanting to take a few photos, at least a little lighter.

(I brought the camera.  Here are some photos.)


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