Monday, 11 January 2016

MA-Ness Year 2 Term 2 Week 2 Relaxation, Enervation, Affirmation, Very Old Newspapers Indeed and Taking Photographs

this weeks post it note - much more filled in than last, current reading which is an excellent and thought provoking book and an appropriate bookmark made from medium format film backing paper

Front page of an original copy of the Leeds Intelligencer from July 1836 as perused in Leeds Library - utterly wonderful...and aside from design, change in language and attitudes not much has changed really - newspapers in 1836 were full of gossip - who had attended what ball, international events and adverts for hair dye, and the latests in fashions with economy
What became known as 'the bastard dissertation' all safely printed up, bound and handed in - now awaiting it being marked with some trepidation but fingers crossed it'll be okay.....

Had a much more chilled week last week, life seems so much easier when there isn't a scarey deadline hanging over you. It was a delight to get back to work in a gentle way - I did some picture taking in St George's Fields, did some playing about on the photocopier (am interested in the way you can degrade the quality of images by photocopying them and then photocopying each subsequent copy - think it is an interesting way to explore how memories can change over time) and some colouring in too with oil pastels as well as quite a lot of thinking about why am I doing the course and what am I doing it for and why I love the things I do.

This thinking was partly as a result of a conversation with my husband and one with my tutor. I want to do as well as I possibly can on this course and the predominant way I had been measuring this was by the marks I'd got for assignments which on reflection seems a rather narrow and reductive way of looking at things, plus it runs the risk of me thinking it hasn't been worthwhile if I don't do well markswise. Which would be silly really - it's taught me a whole new way of looking at other people's work and my own, I've learnt a whole new vocabulary, met all sorts of interesting people and been able to use some really wonderful even if I don't get the overall grade I really want it won't have been wasted at all. And I need to remind myself of this more often when I am getting worked up over marks and the academic hoop jumping side of things.

I got the Photographers Playbook  (Fulford J and Halpern G 2014 Aperture) out of the college library last week after seeing it listed in the bibliography for an abstract for a paper called 'Botanizing On The Asphalt': Wandering as Generative Interpretation by Bonny McDonald and Ruth Laurion Bowman.  And I fell in love with it instantly after reading this quote which is just inside the cover:

'But it just happens, every so often, that something very ordinary seems beautiful to me and I'd like it to be eternal. I'd like this bistro, and that dusty light bulb, and that dog dreaming on the marble and even this night - to be eternal. And their essential quality is precisely that they aren't'.  - Raymond Queneau Witch Grass.

This completely resonated for me (so much so my own copy of the book is on its way to me via a large online tax avoiding company...) and made me think of the times I've stood on Whitby Pier watching the waves crash against the pier wall and wanting to be able to bottle that sound, smell and moment and be able to return to it whenever I want - especially in times of distress (oh how I wish I'd have been able to bottle the smell of the fur behind Lucia's ears as it was so lovely) and no amount of photograph or video taking can relive that moment in its entirety but it can at least boost your memory of it. I've also wanted to 'bottle' moments of peace amongst the remaining stones in St George's Field - I'm trying to make it into a habit that every time I go to college I also pop across the road too so I can resoak myself in its peace and calm.

I'm not sure why I find such peace and solace in what used to be a graveyard - it's partly an aesthetic thing and because it's peaceful and quiet. But I am also very aware that in its past it will also have been a place of great emotional pain and torment, for even if you do believe (like many victorians did) in an afterlife and that once dead provided you have lived a good life you will ascend to heaven and so be in a 'better place' those left behind still have the trauma of missing and grieving and sometimes I worry I'm possibly being a bit ghoul-like when what I want to do is promote the practice of honouring lost loved ones.

Along with lots of thinking, and a bit of reading I also did some research this week - I looked at original copies of the Leeds Intelligencer held in Leeds Library. The very splendid library which is next door to and above Paperchase and very wonderful it was too. You can read all about the library here and if you get chance to go/join then do for it is very lovely indeed. I was in a room marked with signs saying things like 'you are requested not to talk' and 'this room is for silent study' and aside from the ticking of a very wonderful Potts Clock and the distant noise of a clock elsewhere in the library chiming the hours it was beautifully quiet. No chatting, no people tapping on mobiles, or tapping on laptops and the noise from the outside street only became noticeable as the lunch hour began.

I was looking at copies of the Leeds Intelligencer from 1834-1836. In that time it was published once a week on a saturday and you also had to pay a penny tax on top of the cover peice when you bought it. Each copy was stamped somewhere on the front cover with a red tax paid stamp. Initially it consisted of two folded pieces of paper so 4 sides in total and it was adverts on the first two pages. then  reports from the 'imperial parliament', local and national news and gossip. All in very small densely packed typeface, no illustrations though some engraved logos - though not sure they would have called logos then. Very different in tone and look from todays newspapers but not all that dissimilar in terms of content. By 1836 it was 4 pieces of paper folded in two and the first 4 sides were of adverts.

Utterly marvellous adverts for places like the Lounge - 17 Boar Lane Leeds whose proprietor '[respectfully begs to announce that he has just imported a beautiful Assortment of GENEVA WATCHES and several elegant GILT TIME PIECES (15 days movement) with many choice and Beautiful Specimens of Foreign Manufacture, adapted either as Presents or Articles of bijoutire for the Drawing Room'. Capitalisation exactly as in advert.

This advert makes me smile so much - and later on in the period I was looking at, there were adverts for hair dye, wax flowers and 'newest fashions in beaver bonnets' and of course PROFESSOR STEHELINS BOTANICAL PILLS which came complete with a treatise on syphilitic and venereal diseases with 'observations on seminal weaknesses arising from early abuses'. An immediate cure was available with 'secrecy and safety' from 11 Albion Street Leeds for just 2s 9d a box.....

But perhaps best of all the newspapers smelt of old - not just the old cold of being kept in an archive but the almost 200 years of being stored, they were beautifully creased and torn around the edges and were covered in fine black soot from candles and coalfires. Utterly wonderful and captivating. I could have looked at them all day but after a couple of hours and finding the article I wanted to - namely a report about the first funeral to be held at St George's Fields or rather Leeds General Cemetery as it was known then and the calls for subscription to the monument for Michael Sadler (still there alongside the Chapel in St George's Fields) as well as an advert detailing the burial charges I called it a day. Reading such dense type is hard on the eyes and I had to wash my hands more than once to get rid of the dirt of the centuries, as much as I love 'old', I don't want 'old' on my sandwiches and by that time I was very hungry indeed.

I took lots of photographs on Sunday in St George's Fields before heading to the Hyde Park for the afternoon showing of The Lady In The Van. I've never known the ground so soggy and boggy at St George's Fields - the annual reports often complained of poor drainage and there were lots of puddles, not just on the paths of subscription graves laid flat but also on the grass. I took the opportunity to take pics of reflections in the puddles though alas the repairs I'd made to my wellies with gaffer tape aren't as watertight as I would like...but they don't leak as much as they did so at least I only had cold as opposed to wet feet to watch the film.

And what a glorious film it was - heartwarming, poignant, heartbreaking and funny. I'd read the story many years ago and seen a production at Leeds Playhouse many moons ago too so knew the story. Maggie Smith was utterly wonderful as Miss Shepherd. As was the chap who played both Bennetts Alex Jennings. I absolutely love her assertion that as it was holy water that she put in the battery it had no need to be distilled, and the keeping of the air freshener behind the Virgin Mary by the confessional. The unhelpful lay secretary at the convent was a small but also very revealing part about just how miserable and restrictive a religious life can be. I want to watch it again.

So this week is going to consist of more photograph taking, more reading and a lot of thinking about what format I want my final project to take as I have no hand in until the middle of August when I have to hand in my portfolio and I need to focus (pardon the pun) on that but alas no trips to the oldy worldy splendour of Leeds Library again for a while...just my overcrowded workroom instead..... 

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