Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Saturday, 27 December 2008
I'm not a fan, I just watch Madonna constantly from a distance. Nor am I an admirer of the slightly trite erotica of the photographer Bettina Rheims. Yet the man's sly glance and the star's faintly seedy glamour are entrancing.
Photo: Bettina Rheims
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Saturday, 20 December 2008
Some time ago, I attended the launch of a group of bronze figures depicting Rembrandt's "Night Watch". Champagne flowed and local politicians strutted their stuff. Suddenly I noticed this lady wandering between the statues. What is she holding in her hands? A mouse, a feather, a butterfly?
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Mimi Weddell's husband died when she was 65, leaving only unpaid bills and loving memories. Undaunted, she decided to become an actress/model. Over almost three decades, she has appeared in everything from "Sex and the City" and vampire movies to cheese commercials. Now 93, her life is being celebrated in the documentary "Hat's Off", which is available on DVD.
Women like Mimi are all too frequently belittled with comments such as "she must have been beautiful in her youth". I'm sure she was quite lovely but - with her combination of glamour, aquiline good looks and sheer gutsiness - what she has become is altogether more extraordinary.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
This photograph is shot from my favourite seat in my favourite café: the Luxembourg in Amsterdam. It is where I come for espresso and to lose myself in the latest issue of French or Italian Vogue. Haute couture and the Luxembourg's golden light ensure that I am transported to another time and place: not here, not now.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Last Wednesday, the Prince Claus Awards for culture were presented in Amsterdam at a lavish ceremony attended by the Dutch royal family, leading politicians and sundry plebs like myself. I was there because I'd translated most of the speeches. Hearing them read is a curious sensation: the content belongs to the original authors; the words are mine. It's a bit like dressing up in someone else's clothes: strange and slightly sexy.
One of the Awards went to the Chinese fashion designer Ma Ke. Her work is based on the Zen-like notion that clothes are imbued with memory. I agree with her entirely, although my experience is rather more along the lines of "If this frock could talk, I'd really rather it didn't!"
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Diana Dors was a lovely lady with a great sense of humour, especially concerning her original surname. According to her autobiography, she was once asked to open a church fête in her home town of Swindon, England. Before the event, she lunched with the vicar and informed him that her name was really Diana Fluck. The vicar became somewhat agitated about his speech and the risk of mispronouncing "Fluck". But when the moment came, he introduced Diana with the following immortal words: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you our star guest. We all love her, especially as she is our local girl. I therefore feel it right to introduce her by her real name; Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the very lovely Miss Diana Clunt!"
Saturday, 29 November 2008
The entry about Gregory (Nobody at Home, 8 October 2008) set me thinking about a dead person’s continuing presence in the land of the living. Here, memories are not enough. You want tangible proof of what once was and maybe still exists. Then I remembered the books we shared, which were often intended not as works of literature but as bearers of inscriptions. Greg favoured pulp gems like this autobiography of Diana Dors, Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, which he gave to me when he already knew he was dying. Inside, in Dutch, he wrote, “I love you”: a simple way of ensuring that I would never forget.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Saturday, 15 November 2008
As a child, I believed that photographs changed when people died, that they acquired a haunted quality as is demonstrated by this romantic but melancholy image. Five years ago, the young man, a British Jewish student named Jeremiah Duggan, was lured to a conference at the Schiller Institute in Wiesbaden, an involvement that proved fatal. Despite sounding like a sister organisation of the highly respectable Goethe-Institut, the Schiller Institute is a sinister, anti-semitic sect. It contends that Jeremiah committed suicide by running onto a busy autobahn where he was hit by two cars, a claim that is disputed by his mother who believes he was murdered.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
This portrait of the terrorist Andreas Baader was taken with a tiny Minox camera that had been smuggled into Stammheim Prison where he and three other members of the Red Army Faction were awaiting trial. Baader subsequently shot himself with a pistol that had also been spirited into the jail and hidden in a record player.
See also the Profoundly Superficial entry of 25 October 2008.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
This Egyptian beauty is currently languishing at the bottom of a bookcase at a local auction. The catalogue carries no information about her origins, nor is there any estimation of her asking price. But I find her rather lovely so I photographed her for my Egyptologist girlfriend who - naturally enough - is in Egypt.
‘Would you like her for your birthday?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes!’ said Miss Bertje. ‘Is she the genuine article?’ I continued. ‘Or is she a fake?'
‘Her colours are not unusual,’ came the cautious reply, ‘but you never know with forgers. Some of them are extremely sophisticated. Even museum directors often don’t know for certain what’s real in their collections.’
So next Tuesday evening I will be perched on the edge of my chair at the auction. Will Beauty be going for a song and coming home with me? Or will the bidding go sky high on the assumption that she’s an ancient lady?
Photo: Annie. If you’d like to know what happens, check the comments section of this entry on Wednesday, 12 November.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
As if abandoned by some modern Cinderella as the clock struck midnight, these golden boots have been left amidst the dirt and cigarettes of an Amsterdam street. Perhaps they are waiting for another young girl willing to chance her luck on finding a fairytale.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
The construction of the North-South subway in Amsterdam is almost universally unpopular. It is exorbitantly expensive and is leaving chaos in its wake as it ploughs through the soggy mud on which this city is built. Houses have subsided; others have developed terrifying cracks in their walls. Even the mice and rats have been driven from their cellar dwellings and have ventured upstairs en masse, much to the horror of the human residents. Still the city council is putting a brave face on it, as is demonstrated by these photographs of real hedges attached to acres of steel fencing.
All in all, the futility of this gesture reminds me of a ‘Potemkin village’, one of those fake settlements created by Prince Grigori Potemkin as ‘window dressing’ to reassure Catherine the Great of her peasant subjects’ well-being.
Photo: Annie. Click to enlarge.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
While steering her towards an open window and a sheer drop to oblivion, Mrs Danvers informs the nameless heroine that she will never match up to the omnipresent but very dead Rebecca.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Amsterdam stencil grafitti is hot right now. Take, for instance, this new spin on Diane Arbus' 'Boy With Toy Grenade'. But, to be honest, the Arbus version remains by far the more compelling image.
Top photo: Annie
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Saturday, 11 October 2008
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
When my friend Gregory died, I found it hard to accept that I would never see him again. I looked everywhere and sometimes I thought that I saw him: a dirty blonde angel fallen to earth. Last week I discovered this doorbell near the Leidseplein in Amsterdam. But nobody was home. The house was empty and deserted.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Belgian fashion recluse Martin Margiela is celebrating 20 years of his heavily deconstructed Maison Martin Margiela. He is never photographed and only communicates by fax. The word is that Spring/Summer ’09 will be his final collection.
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Saturday, 27 September 2008
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
The Japanese flipflops in the previous post have sent me spinning off on a quest for all things Japanese. I found these stenciled works on a garage door next to a Japanese antiques shop called Van hier tot Tokio, which is the Dutch way of saying 'From Here to Eternity'.
Photos: Annie, taken on the Prinsengracht, Amsterdam
Saturday, 13 September 2008
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
The girl in this mural is 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, who lived with her parents, four brothers and two sisters in Drumcliffe Avenue in the Bogside, a Catholic district of Derry (Northern Ireland). She loved music, art and playing with the local children. On 6 September 1971, Annette was shot in the head by a British soldier. No one has ever been charged with her murder and no investigation has been carried out.
Two weeks ago in Derry, I met her cousin, Kevin Hasson, who was one of the artists who painted this mural on the side of a Bogside apartment building. Kevin, who first honed his skills copying the graphics on Thin Lizzy covers, works with fellow muralists Tom and William Kelly. Collectively they are known as the Bogside Artists. All of them are locals and experienced the Troubles first hand. They were in the Bogside during Bloody Sunday when the Army shot dead 26 civilians. Kevin was a youngster out on the streets but was lucky. Tom and William’s father had served in the British military and knew that the arrival of the elite Parachute Regiment meant danger. He told his boys to say at home and they did as they were told.
The Bogside Artists have been working together for the last 15 years. What’s striking about their work is that, although the murals reflect the historical details of civil war in the Bogside, their themes are universal rather sectarian. Annette’s mural, for instance, is called the “Death of Innocence” and highlights the plight of the child victims of conflict everywhere.
Hopefully peace is here to stay in Northern Ireland. That’s why the Bogside Artists are now organising art workshops for the local kids, both Catholic and Protestant, where they can get to know and understand each other better.
Saturday, 6 September 2008
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
The man in this photo is Barry George. It was taken just after he had been freed on appeal against his conviction for the murder of BBC presenter Jill Dando. George was always the police's main suspect because he was the local weirdo, who stalked and attacked women and claimed to be the brother of Freddie Mercury. However, the forensic evidence was virtual non-existent and, after serving nine years in prison, he was finally acquitted. This means that Barry George - who has an IQ of 75 and myriad personality disorders - is back on the streets and as crazy as ever.
Saturday, 30 August 2008
This elegant shellfish lived millions of years ago when the west coast of Ireland was still a tropical swamp. Through the course of time it fossilized and languished at the bottom of the sea. Until yesterday. Now it's mine, all mine!
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Saturday, 23 August 2008
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
A few weeks ago, an anonymous animal lover taped a protest letter to the window of one of the houses in my Amsterdam neighbourhood. It reads:
"How long must this innocent little creature stay locked up in its tiny cage without a mate?
This is worse than locking up a criminal, who at least is let out of his cell occasionally.
Please listen to your heart. Buy him a larger cage and a mate. This will make him happier than he is right now.
Would you want to live like this?????
Imagine you have wings
and are not allowed to fly!!!!"
The letter was immediately removed. The bird is still alone in its cage.
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
The oft-forgotten fact that true fashion is ageless is demonstrated by 86-year-old Iris Apfel. Known for her trademark, owlish glasses and extraordinarily eclectic outfits, New Yorker Iris Apfel is one of the most stylish gals around. No surprise then that she features on Vanity Fair’s 2008 International Best-Dressed List. When asked which fashion item she cannot live without, she replied, “Do you have a favourite child?
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Sunday, 3 August 2008
In August 1974, tightrope walker Philippe Petit gained a mythical status for his illegal walk between the Twin Towers in New York City. Clandestine preparations included shooting a line between the Towers with a crossbow before securing a 450-pound steel cable to both buildings. Then, at 7.14 a.m., Petit set off from the South Tower, clutching his 55-pound balancing pole. In 45 minutes, he made a total of eight crossings, bowed to his audience a quarter of a mile below and spoke with a seagull circling above his head.
Later, when asked why he did the stunt, Philippe Petit said “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.” "Man on the Wire", a documentary about Petit's WTC crossing, has recently been released. The trailer is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZ_-KP9A_I4
Friday, 1 August 2008
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Treasure hunting on Ireland's beaches is a form of meditation where a glimpse of something ancient and unmistakably man-made stands out amongst the usual pebbles and detritus. This neolithic implement is my prize find although initially I was obliged to surrender it to the Irish nation when it was sent off to the National Museum in Dublin. Fortunately, the Museum didn't want it because it had enough examples of its own.
Photos: Bertje (top photo), Annie