Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gritty realism for pleasure and profit

No other photographic approach has proven itself time and time again to be as powerful a form of communication as reportage photography. Whether recording the day to day exploits of our own society, bringing other cultures and locations vividly to life or else reporting back from the front line of a far-off war, the skilled reportage photographer has the power to move hearts, change minds and even influence politics with a click of the shutter. In a career spanning almost 50 years, Colin Jones has trained his camera on subjects as diverse as West Indians in London and South Pacific islanders to create images that have done all these things and more.

Guardian Masterclasses are offering a unique opportunity to learn from Colin in a relaxed workshop environment at the Guardian and Observer's King's Cross headquarters. The sessions will explore the technical, theoretical and even moral ramifications of working as a reportage photographer, and students should be prepared to participate in discussions and practical exercises.
In Black and White. Having abandoned Manchester years ago, the Guardian now offers courses in capturing the harsh reality of life in black and white, on a digital SLR. Expect the attendees to pronounce reportage in schoolboy French.

It's grim up north:

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Butler did it

Knowing history can sometimes be more important than you might think. Kim Hill was talking to someone on her Saturday national radio programme, and as an aside, the discussion veering onto the reason why Ernest Shackleton's South Pole venture resulted in everyone dying. The speaker put it quite bluntly, with words to this effect: "Everyone died, because Shackleton took five people, and enough food for four."

Something most of us who have studied history, already know.
Hilary Butler knows nothing about history. It was Scott and his men who died. Shackleton saved his men. Hilary Butler thinks she knows stuff about vaccines, which she thinks are a Bad Thing. Hilary Butler is a public nuisance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For what it's worth

The business-backed New Zealand Institute, which has focused until now on economic policy, says the education system has lost sight of the need to keep young people engaged in school and transition successfully into work.

It recommends radical reforms including widespread use of computer-based e-learning, putting students on to pathways to work from the first year of intermediate school (Year 7), giving employers more input into what schools teach and giving all students career advice through school years and support after leaving school.
Stop children, what's that sound? It's the business elite, trying once again to take over the education system. So the business elite takes any opportunity to denigrate education and demand the involvement of businesses (which exist to make profit, not to teach) in your education.

It works like this: you go to school thinking you will learn to enrich your life, as well as getting a career. The business elite does not want you to learn. It wants you to be trained. That way, you will be useful to businesses. You won't be much else. If you do really well, you can go to business school and be trained to become one of the elite. But otherwise, you at least will have been trained to do a useful job.
The liftman was a small simian creature, dressed in the black tunic of an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron.


He flung open the gates. The warm glory of afternoon sunlight made him start and blink his eyes. "Oh, roof!" he repeated in a voice of rapture. He was as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a dark annihilating stupor. "Roof!"

He smiled up with a kind of doggily expectant adoration into the faces of his passengers. Talking and laughing together, they stepped out into the light. The liftman looked after them.

"Roof?" he said once more, questioningly.

Then a bell rang, and from the ceiling of the lift a loud speaker began, very softly and yet very imperiously, to issue its commands.

"Go down," it said, "go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go …"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Another week, another rewrite

It is also worth noting the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a single media company, when British tabloids have been known for decades for buying scoops and digging up dirt on the famous. Fleet Street in general has long had a well-earned global reputation for the blind-quote, single-sourced story that may or may not be true. The understandable outrage in this case stems from the hacking of a noncelebrity, the murder victim Milly Dowler.
No, the understandable outrage in this case stems from the hacking of a murder victim, the noncelebrity Milly Dowler. See, it's not that difficult: you just change the word order, again. The fact of Milly Dowler's non-celebrity status, as noted previously, is as nothing to the fact that she was a murder victim, who was still missing at the time of the hacking.

But wait, there's more:
We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can't cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.
Let's rewrite that last sentence:
They want their readers to believe, based on steaming piles of incriminating evidence, that the criminal acts of at least one publication reflect the values of the most senior News Corp executives across the world.
See, that wasn't difficult, was it?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Making news

Alasdair Thompson has been dumped from his role at the head of the Employers and Manufacturers' Association - but he cannot escape the media scrutiny.

As he dashed through the rain outside the Newmarket railway station this week, he kept his head down under his umbrella, avoiding people's gaze. When recognised and asked what he was doing now, he refused to comment.
Thus writes Kieran Nash in the Herald on Sunday. Another way that Nash might have written this story would be:
Alasdair Thompson has been dumped from his role at the head of the Employers and Manufacturers' Association - but he cannot escape me.

As he dashed through the rain outside the Newmarket railway station this week, he kept his head down under his umbrella, avoiding the rain. When I recognised him and asked what he was doing now, he refused to comment.
But that would not be so much fun. Of course, I may be wrong about this; Nash might have heard this story from one of a horde of journalists who pursued Thompson through the rain outside Newmarket railway station but who decided not to write this story and instead told Nash. But I think not. I think Nash was the media on this occasion and his intrusive question was the media scrutiny.

We have become accustomed to the media making the news but here is another first for New Zealand : one member of the media writes about his failed attempt to get a story but represents himself as the media and that failure as the story.

In the future, all news stories will be like this.

In other news:

Architecture students
Are like virgins with an itch they cannot scratch
Never build a building 'til you're fifty
What kind of life is that

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We were no match for their untamed wit

Newspapers, after all, are very sensitive to the moods and prejudices of their readers. It was because such papers as the News of the World knew that their readers were much more interested in eavesdropping on Prince Charles's pillow talk than bothered about how the snooping was carried out, that they felt able to get away with publishing such stories in the first place.

On one analysis, it is easy to see why all this was judged fair game, while the hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail was considered so heinous that the News of the World was immediately deserted by its advertisers and wound- up by its owners. The paper was widely seen as read by the working man and woman, people who would never empathise with the sufferings of hacked princesses or pop stars (how can the rich really suffer, with all that money?); but when the phone of an "ordinary" girl – one of their own– is hacked into, at a time when she was actually dead, the readers' empathy with the victim is overwhelming.
Ah yes, that would be it. Poor Milly Dowler was a working class heroine and thus the labouring class revolted on her behalf, whilst enjoying lurid tales of the sexual adventures of their betters. It was nothing to do with the perversion of the police investigation into her disappearance and the suffering of her family by the hacker's act of deleting messages to make more space for incoming. It was nothing to do with the facts of Milly Dowler's family being unknown and of their agony being exposed to public glare. It was nothing to do with the fact that she was actually dead. No, no, it was all about class solidarity, envy and the hypocrisy of the groundlings.

Dominic Lawson, son of Nigel and brother of Nigella, is an Old Etonian. As this old Daily Mail article explains, Eton is an absolutely splendid place whose old boys have achieved so much because of the character-building education they received:
Try being 13 years old and walking through Windsor, the nearest town, wearing a tailcoat and stiff collar, while all the locals stare at you and the tourists frantically take photographs. After that, any other form of public appearance is a doddle.
See, it is not about money and privilege at all, which will be a relief to the lower-middles and upper-workings of the Daily Mail's readership. Turned out nice again, missus!

John Oliver and John Stewart, next exit:

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Last Man in Europe

"In the real world of the 21st century there will be some pick and mix of policy. Sometimes it will be less left v right than right v wrong. Above all today, efficacy – effective delivery, motivated of course by values – matters as much if not more than ideology. Don't fear it. Embrace it. It liberates us to get the correct policy."
New Labour; young people often ask me "what was New Labour like?" I smile in a condescending way, light my pipe and tell them about New Labour.

You see, New Labour never was; nor will it be. New Labour is, it always is. Always, there will be New Labour and New Labour always will be. New Labour is never past; nor is it future. New Labour is, always.

Often as not, the young people will look at me in a puzzled sort of way. We who remember when New Labour first was realised can understand their bewilderment: they have never known anything but New Labour, such that they do not appreciate that New Labour is everywhere around them, above and below them, in and through them. New Labour is everywhere. New Labour cannot be seen, touched, felt, tasted or smelled: New Labour is every where and every thing. New Labour is.

Of course, it is not that there was a time before New Labour; nor will there be one after New Labour. We men and women of the 90s can remember a time before Blair, before New Labour was realised, but there was no real time before New Labour. Always New Labour has been with us, in us, for us, of us. But there was a time before Blair, a time when we knew not of New Labour. Blair showed us New Labour. He made us see what cannot be seen. He made us New Labour.

Blair showed us New Labour by pointing his hands outwards and in parallel, as if he were holding an invisible rectangular object (say, a Battenburg cake) by its ends. He then spoke in staccato sentences, apparently moving the invisible cake around as he spoke: showing it, offering it to everyone and no-one.

To think of New Labour is, in a very real sense, like thinking of that cake. It is not there, but it is there. Blair shows that it is there. The cake was always there. But we could not see it. We still cannot see the cake, but now we know it is there. Blair has shown us that the cake is.

New Labour is like that cake. That cake is New Labour. Blair shows us the cake, offers us the cake; but we cannot see the cake; we cannot accept it. We cannot eat the cake, but we can know it, because Blair has shown us it.

But even to think of a time before the cake and before Blair is to be in Error. Because Blair is New Labour and New Labour is Blair. There is not a time between Blair and New Labour, just as there cannot be a space between New Labour and Blair. One cannot think of Blair without thinking, simultaneously, of New Labour. And the reverse is true. For Blair and New Labour are not divisible. There is only Blair and there is only New Labour. Blair is New Labour and New Labour is everything. Blair is everything.

And that is all.

Amnesia in Timaru (and other stories)

A Timaru gynaecologist wants a campaign against promiscuity after encountering a shocking number of pregnant patients who cannot remember whom they had sex with.

Dr Albert Makary, who has been in Timaru for 20 years, called on national leaders, sports stars, schools and the media at a Forum on the Family in Auckland yesterday to "stigmatise" both promiscuity and the binge drinking that usually preceded it.
The Timaru Branch of the Anti-Sex League will meet on Thursday nights in the Christadelphian Bible Hall on Browne Street. Meetings begin promptly at 7.30pm. Ladies, bring a plate. And don't cross your legs.

Matters arising: the campaign to persuade national leaders, sports stars and the media to stigmatise promiscuity and binge drinking has not, so far, been a success. Tentative research has found that such people are often drunk and almost constantly "at it."

"I was starting to have more luck with getting chicks than in my early 20s [at 28]. I wasn't striking out. But I wasn't ruling either. I didn't know that when I was 32 or 33 that I was going to be able to get even more chicks."

The Memoirs and Confessions of Stephen Malkmus may well be published by Beck (H/T to Emily Perkins)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

M'he passat molt temps somiant amb l'Eleanor Bron

Subtitles, translations; contingent poetry; Tom Courtenay

Me with nothing to say and you in your autumn sweater

I feel I have been mean. Emma at Booksellers NZ responded to the previous post and she is right: you should go to a National Poetry Day event. I know I shall. In the meantime, go to the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. You know you want to.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Poetry is a destructive force

The following September, when the first issue of Poetry Nation appeared, Pablo Neruda and W.H. Auden died.
Such is the power of Poetry Nation; but why, oh why, do they they think it cool to call themselves PN Review?

Meanwhile, as Oxford Comma Madness runs rife National Poetry Day will be celebrated with a grocers' apostrophe:
National Poetry Day 2011 gives all New Zealander’s the opportunity to channel their inner poet and share their poems with each other in new and old ways. Chalk a poem on the street; txt your poem to a dedicated 021 number; read your poem aloud at an open mic event; or simply relax in a café, bar, gallery, cinema, library or school and let poems wash over you.
Really. This was not written by a poet. How about that syntax? How clumsy is the phrase "channel their inner poet and share their poems with each other in new and old ways?" Shall we count the ways? No let us not bother. And what about the imagery? One does not channel something within. The channeller goes into a trance and becomes the instrument through which a 10,000 year-old Hopi Indian chief (they are always Hopi; somehow they cornered the chanelling market in the spirit world) speaks to us all about nature conservation. As for the case management, how many New Zealanders can you find in this picture?

The worstest of all is left to the end: "simply relax in a café, bar, gallery, cinema, library or school and let poems wash over you." Wut? Is this Easy Listening Poetry Day? Is the purpose of poetry to wash away the aches and strains of the day ? You were wrong, Mr Stevens: poetry is not a destructive force; it is a soothing balm. As for you, Mr Eliot:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
No, let us not. Let us kick back and relax with a trim latté and let the poems wash over us, like the saxophone magic of Kenny G.

Here's a poem about death by Philip Larkin: