Monday, 25 April 2016

MA-Ness Week 3 - Photoshop, Planning, Victoria Wood and Coffin Lining Print Transfer Experiments

this weeks post it note - full of capitals

items bought and consumed in honour of Victoria Wood - an artist whose work I quote verbally at least once a day and whose death brought a tear to my eye - the only famous person to have done so and which made me feel a little bit guilty about the thoughts I've had about other people who have been far more grieviously affected by a famous person's death and by famous I mean someone who is known but not known to them on a physical day to day basis

embroidery hoop lined with coffin lining offcut ready to get matte mediumed and image transferred - really pleased with how this is working out as wasn't sure if it would because it is synthentic material

image waiting to be transferred

So it's been a busy week of reading, experimenting, printing, doing and grieving too. Sadly due to a hopefully (temporarily) buggered left knee I couldn't take advantage of the sunshine by making cyanotypes as that involves too much leaning over or kneeling by the bath when rinsing and toning them so instead I did lots of digital printing in the college (almost getting RSI trimming the resultant prints - as that took me almost two hours at the guillotine) but I did also do some lumen prints and took some more pictures in St George's Field so  I at least used the sunshine that way. I've also left one piece out to see how long it takes for the image to fade and it's about 5 days as I have a kind of plan to make one and then take pictures of it at regular intervals until it is no more and then make those images into a film. With the lumen prints I did make I treated them (apart from that small piece) as I usually do - taking a picture of them and scanning them and then putting them in an envelope and keeping them in the dark. I then enlarge and digitally print the lumen image.  

I have not tried fixing them in the traditional way you would a normal black and white photographic print as I took advice from the lovely helpful darkroom folks at the Vernon Street Campus and they've advised that fixing lumen prints makes them a little bit lighter and as these are already v pale indeed - a kind of pale egg shell blue as they are made using decades (literally) old Agfa Brovira Paper I'm loathe to make them any paler so will stick to my current method of dealing with them - which is take a digital photo of them and scan them. Quite what Walter Benjamin would have made of the mechanical methods of reproduction available to use today I don't know.  A mix of amazed and intrigued I'm guessing as well as full of ideas as to what exactly that means for art itself and photographic art in particular.

I've also been playing with empty slide mounts and filling them with either photocopied bits of images or acetate or flower petals harvested from St George's Fields when the crocuses were on the wane or bits of matte medium transferred image onto coffin lining offcuts. I was concerned that this technique might not work as the coffin lining offcuts are synthetic and prone to static. I did say to colleagues that it's as well the dead aren't plagued by static or else it would be a very uncomfortable RIP-ing indeed.

The lumen prints I make often have a very roundabout route taking in all sorts of photographic processes on the way - they're most usually made from a 35mm image that I've taken - usually on black and white film but increasingly recently on colour film (at a pound a roll in the poundshop I'd be a fool not to use it) which has been developed in the traditional wet photography chemically way, scanned into the computer to become a jpeg, if it was colour I make it black and white and then I've boosted the levels (ie made the black bits blacker and the white bits whiter) and made it back into a negative, printed it out on ordinary printer paper, photocopied that print onto acetate setting the copier at its highest density and then used that acetate as a negative on a piece of photo paper which I put between the back and glass of a clip frame and then leave in the bathroom on the towel rail in the sunshine for about half an hour....and then I sometimes repeat the process up to the point of making it into a negative to use to make a lumen print.

I'm sure there is some izzy wizzy let's get busy instagram filter or something similarly entirely digital that can do all do this for you with one click of the button and when my back is aching and I'm thinking 'oh why do the feck do I still insist on being as analogue as possible' and 'this is really difficult without a proper dark room at home' I must be hinest that would be really tempting but to me that is far too much letting the machine do everything for me as opposed to you doing as much as possible in a hands on way and exploiting the machines for what bits they do best.

But Photoshop is something I find an unwieldy and unuser friendly beast, so much so that most of the photo editing I do digitally is done using the free with the computer operating system (windows 10) as I find that much easier to navigate. But I wanted to make some images back to front last week so I could make a quartet of them - negative and positive and facing one way and then the other so had to use photoshop. It must have taken me half an hour to work out how to do something so simple - it invloved much googling and quite a lot of swearing too but by the time I had done it I was so elated I felt like running up and down the street shouting WINNER!!!! or rather I would have done if my knee wasn't so rubbish at the moment.

One of the other things I've been doing a lot of is planning and list making - next month is packed for me with two conferences - at one of which I'm delivering my second proper grown up academic paper which is about 2/3rds done, and two showcases which I've (hopefully) got all the printing done now for - next it's a case of mounting them and transporting them. But there is also the somewhat dreaded final hand in deadline of mid August getting ever nearer too - I say dreaded not because I'm scared of not meeting it as a deadline but because it'll be the end of the MA at least - though there is still the end of year show in late October early November.  And whilst in some ways it's been the most challenging and difficult thing I've done (still come out in hives when I think of the dissertation) it's also been one of the acest and I just don't want it to end.

The eagle eyed amongst you may notice the phrase 'toast sandwich' on the post it note and I came across this gem of a recipe in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management which I was looking at to see if it contained any advice on what to cook for funeral teas. It doesn't as such but it does contain advice on the correct etiquette for paying visits of condolence and how to make old crepe look nearly equal to new but it does have a whole section of recipes that are especially suitable for invalids including a Toast Sandwich and Toast and Water - both of which are as they sound. As in the toast sandwich is a sandwich made of fresh bread and butter with a thin slice of toasted bread in the middle with salt and pepper though you can also include a little pulled meat or very finely cut cooked meat. Toast and water is altogether more rank sounding though - in that it is a piece of toast (ideally made from a hard crust which you have not allowed burn or blacken) which is steeped in boiling water and then the water once cooled is drained off and drunk by the invalid. Apparently it is a most 'disagreeable beverage' if drunk tepid but it sounds rank to me whatever temperature you drink it at.

It's taken me at least two goes to get this blog post done as for some reason I kept hitting something that made the formatting go screwy so fingers crossed it works now as got another busy week ahead and can do without the computer going arse about tit again....

Monday, 18 April 2016

MA-Ness Final Term (!!!) Week 2 Reading, Writing, Doing, Planning, Buying, Sorting, Straight Line Making

This weeks post it notes plus a to-do list with quite a few things ticked off it - though sadly this is only a mini to do list and not a great big to do list which remains laregly undone....oh and the trimmings from my submission to the community and college show at Potternewton Mansions
Think I'll set a trend for odd coloured disposable latex gloves? I was wearing them so I didn't get fingerprints on the print whilst trimming it after having fixed it to backing board with spray mount - did the sparying in the garage as that can be more easily ventilated plus that doesn't have a curious Mapp sniffing about and I don't think cats and spraymount are a good combination. First time I'd used spraymount - it sticks things neatly and quickly but a) it really pongs and not in a good way like sharpies aka sniffy pens do and b) it also seemed to take some of the colour out of the print - hence my using a tissue as well to ensure it didn't smudge.

So what have I been up to over the last 7 days then - well a lot of ouching and limping as knee continues to be sore and painful - though thankfully not quite as sore or painful or swollen as last week so I wasn't completely housebound but I was very slow in terms of getting about and at times having to use a walking stick.

I also had to leave myself extra time to get places so I wasn't late which led to my having to leave a really intertesting lecture on library services and narrowing down your dissertation/research question effectively that is going to be massively useful when I start applying for phd places/funding.

I've decided that is definitely what I want to do - just got to decide: where, when and what on....

I left that lecture at the college early so I would have plenty of time to get to my next appointment which was a talk at Leeds Museum by Dr Rachel Rich which was on Cooking Without A Clock - Domesticity and Time Keeping Without A Clock which was absolutely fascinating and looked at the use and nature of timepieces in people's homes in the 19th century. Then as now such mechanisms were not always very reliable (the clock I have in the kitchen is often slow - even with new batteries and the one on top of the television is a law unto itself) and then as now whilst sometimes they were there for display purposes they were also used for measuring time. There was also mention of the differences in timekeeping throughout the country - think it was Canterbury that was always 5 minutes faster than anywhere else and also the differences in homes - for instance one hostess writes in her diary how she always set her clock fast so that her guests would think it later than it was and so leave her in peace without her having to provide them with further nourishments. 
Dr Rich had mostly been analysing the documents left behind in Parisien arrondisement authorities which listed a persons worldly goods on their death and cookbooks of the period. Some had quite precise instructions about the amount of time a dish needed to be cooked for - eg 5 or ten minutes though one dish had the length of cooking times listed as 'several days' - though of course this was all before there was such a thing as gas marks, regulos and what have you. I have always had a gas oven and so I cook by gasmarks but even so each of the ovens I have used have each had their own foibles and the one I have now I know where best to place cake tins if I want as even a rise as possible and that if a recipe says gas mark 7 I need to nudge the dial a bit to between 7 and 8.

Her description of the information she found reminded me of how much fun I have had over the last couple of years ferreting about in libraries and archives looking at original ephemera for the era - newspapers, trade directories, jewellery, clothing and how much I want to be able to continue ferreting about in such places. I adore looking at contemporaneous material.

I did spend a couple of hours in the Local History section of Leeds Central Library last week - partly just because it is such a beautiful woodlined high ceilinged gorgeous room in which to sit and think (it's lots less noisy than the lending section of the library)and write and i had a couple of hours to kill til my next appointment.

I had planned to write in my diary whilst there but I thought I'd just have a peek at the trade directories again for the Victorian period and so got lost in their dusty wonder again - not a word was written in my diary but I did discover that in 1839 there were just 3 undertakers details listed in the trade directory and that by 1872 there were 54 - I'm no good at working out percentages but that is a massive increase. How much of that was due to a rise in population,how much due to a rise in customs and fashions  relating to death and so a ready made market for such firms I'm not sure. 
But I am hoping to find out at some point, first off I'll need to go back and see what each of the directories lists as the population for Leeds at that time and so see how much  potential business there was in terms of population numbers. It was also fascinating to look at old adverts with their wonderful turn of phrase like 'begs to announce' , 'respectfully bring to attention' and an amazing two page advert for a retreat near Leeds which was for 'the reception and recovery of persons afflcited with disorders of the mind' run by Mr Hare and in which the 'Medical, as well as Moral Treatment of the Individuals who are committed to his care' was their prime motivation. Fees were not mentioned but could be found out by either personal application or by letter to their office on East Parade Leeds where it would be met with 'immediate attention'.

Talking of archival material I had a chat on twitter with a chum of mine who is an archivist and was on her way to a training session on how to deal with the potentially distressing material held in archives and how best to support people accessing those materials. Family history in particular is not all fun like it looks on the adverts for records websites - especially when it can encompass potentially very sensitive issues like illegitmacy, domestic violence or records kept by medical or social services departments. Which in turn led me to thinking about my work - I wouldn't people to be distressed by it...though am quite happy for people to find it 'creepy' as I take that as a compliment but I saw or heard this quote the other day about writers and writing (and stupidly forgot to write down where I saw/heard it) which was 'no writer is entirely in charge of the meaning of what appears in their text' and I think this can also be applied to artwork too. I'm very conscious that as my work features the materiality of mourning that some would find it distressing or disrespectful regardless but that is not my intention and I hope people would give it a chance first.

The other quote I wrote down was 'good artwork takes careful preparation' which is very true - one of the things I'm struggling with at the moment is trying to prepare all the things I'm working on and working out which deadline needs what doing for by when - hence I was very glad to get the pic delivered to Potternewton yesterday (thanks to my lovely husband giving me a lift there) and to have made a start on the words project too.

Now I just(!) have in chronolgical order:

  • Gothic Creative Showcase in Sheffield - need to sort out which images to take and write a short piece about them
  • Victorian Representations Paper to finish writing - it's two thirds done words wise and I have decided on my beginning, middle and conclusion and the accompanying powerpoint images are also almost done.
  • Materiality of Mourning Conference - sort out which images to take and transport to get there
  • WI Walk and Talk - mostly done , just need to find a guinea pig to practice it on so I can fine tune it
  • Final module hand in - the biggie as it's portfolio - I have a structure and stuff to put it in it - just need to start putting it together
  • Paper for Death and Culture - really need to think about this - not just yet though but need to start mulling it over in the back of my mind as this will be the biggest conference I've been toEnd of Year Show - this might need sorting out sooner than October though as I'm not sure what access if any I'll have to college facilties once the course formally ends on August 12th...have emailed head of studies to clarify this... plus annoyingly (for me)the dates clash with Whitby Goth Festival...
  • Phd place/funding....

And why with all this to do do I still find myself clicking refesh on social media pages when I have got better things to do with my time and definitely better things to do with what limited time I have left at college. I know part of it is distraction from non college based worries but even so I really need to get focused over the next few days so I can have as much prepared in advance as possible so I am not running around like a headless chicken at the last minute as I HATE doing that more than anything.

But aside from my passion for looking at this sort of stuff I also spent part of last week doing some printing and then copying images onto acetate - some to use as negatives to make cyanotypes and anthotypes with and some I copied very small indeed to try and make small slides with as I have been given a box of empty slide mounts. I also hope to use some as artworks themselves. I also bought a couple of embroidery hoops, some thread, and a fabric marking pen to make some small pieces out of the coffin lining offcuts I was so generously given the other week. Need to work out best way of transfering the design I want for them - as the images will be my interpretation of designs I saw on tombstones in Dewsbury.

I also met with a colleague to work on a joint project based around words for the pedagogy cluster exhibition next month and we decided what format we wanted our interactive piece to take. I'm fascinated by words and especially by the words used around artworks and whether or not they add to or detract from a piece and whether they are an additional insight or a further barrier to participation. To this end we've designed a collaborative piecew which I typed up the words for last week - using courier font size 32. I've not worked in a collaborative way on a single piece for ages and I'm enjoying it. I'll also have lots of guillotining to do and here's hoping I can get the edges fairly straight. I am rubbish at straight edges - even with a ruler or a guillotine.

But although I might have failed at getting edges straight I did have some computer wins last week - namely making a table in word finally do what I wanted it too, and I even finally suceeded in making the computer do a copyright symbol. I have followed the instructions on how to do that to the letter UMPTEEN times with no success and so I asked my husband to stand behind me and check I was following those instructions correctly. Of course as soon as I interrupted him and asked him for help it worked....even though I did exactly the same as I had been doing all those umpteen times.

I did spend some time looking back through pictures I've taken over the last 18 months or so and was surprised by a) how many I've taken, b) how successful some of them are, c) how disappointing some of them are - if only I'd crouched a bit lower or the focus is not quite 100% d) or if only I'd waited for a few minutes it was nice to be reminded of some of them that I'd forgotten I'd taken.

I've also got loads of new books to read as well as the ones that are still on loan from the college library and which I've had on repeat renewal (I'm not worried I'm stopping anyone else from reading them as you get an email if anyone has requested it and when I have had I have bumped that one up to the front of the reading queue and so taken it back for the other person to use) but I find it difficult to sit and completely focus on a book sometimes. Maybe if I set myself the goal of a chapter of a couple of them a day rather than looking at the pile of unread ones and sighing....

Well best crack on - as well as the pile of unread books - those unwashed pots aren't going to sort themselves out either. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

MA-Ness Term 3 Week 1 - EEK FINAL TERM!!!! Procrastination, Distraction, Reading, Determination, Murder My Sweet, Weather Forecasts,Conference Acceptance, Just What Is My Practice Exactly and Other Musings...

this weeks post it note - noticeably fuller than last weeks in spite of me actually doing less physically as have been laid up with poorly knee for last few days and notes for this blog post on pukka pad velum which has become my favourite notepaper to write on as it's quite thick and really creamy and the name vellum appeals to the part of me that loves oldy worldy things.
Note I would not like real vellum to write on as writing on actual calf skin with all the preparation and expense involved  doesn't appeal to me at all - sure it wouldn't be appealing to the calf involved either.

Writing the title for this post it really stuck me that this is my last term at Leeds College of Art. I have a mix of emotions about that - partly a mix of wow I've made it this far, partly a mix (and this is the biggest part) NO!!!!! I don't want it to end as am having far too much fun and partly NO! because there are still lots of things I haven't taken full advantage of yet like the woodworking workshop and all the books that remain unread in the basically I'd best get my arse in gear and do all of the things that are still left on my to do list college-wise, as well as starting to work on final pieces for my portfolio.

The portfolio is my last assessment (a whopping 60 credits worth) and it is due on 16th August. EEK - though thankfully I have found a couple more pieces for the lighthearted element namely my homage/response to John Waters 12 Assholes and a Dirty Foot which is my 12 Belle Ends and a Sock On The Door. (Deliberate Mispelling) - I have yet to find a sock on the door though and cannot create one as the whole idea of the images in it is that they are found and unedited/uninterfered with beyond my decision as to what angle to take the photo from in the first place and they have to be taken on my camera phone too. I have found a pair of discarded boxershorts under a discarded shoe in a doorway in Dewsbury but although that's good - it's not right.

Mmm - will have to keep my eyes pealed or bribe someone to let me in some students halls and see if a sock on the door as a warning not to enter as shenanigans of an adult nature are going on is a real thing anyway. This whole project was the result of a very phallic looking banister and the shadow it cast in a flat I was staying in for the Goth Festival and a slighty tipsy conversation about it with the flatmates. It is also very different to my usual subject matter of death, memorials and such like and every so often I need a bit of light heartedness amongst the grim.

I must be honest though I have been somewhat struggling with motivation and energy recently - partly because of being distracted with concern re loved ones health and nagging complaints of my own (haven't been able to leave the house for the last 4 days as got bursitis or tendonitis in left knee) and because just not been able to completely lose myself in anything except clicking refresh on social media pages. But I did get lost in Sue Perkins wonderful autobiography Spectacles A Memoir (2015 Michael Joseph)  which made me laugh out loud at times and also think again of relationships with pets. I still miss Lucia so much it hurts at times and it is coming up to the first anniversary of her death. If pets were regarded as people and the Reformation in England hadn't done away with such behaviour - I would be getting together the fees for a priest to say a prayer for her soul and so limit her time in purgatory. But she was not a person and I am not a practising catholic so I'm not sure what I'll do - except think of her even more, light a candle for her and find some way of distracting myself.

But I have been stricter with myself in terms of setting myself targets like - not looking at social media until certain tasks are finished or not leaving the computer until I've a least made a start on certain tasks. Last Friday when my knee was at its most painful I did manage to distract myself with making a proper start on the Victorian Representations paper I'm due to deliver at the conference of the same name at Leeds Trinity University in May and am about halfway through - in as much as I need to write about 3,500 words and so far I've got 2,079 done and a much better idea of how I need to develop it further and how to redraft and hone what I've already written. I know it's also a good month off but I'd far rather be ahead of myself if I can rather than trying to catch up.

I've had some more conference news this morning - my abstract for the 3 day conference on Death and Art at York University in September has been accepted. This fills me with a mix of YAY and EEK - some of my favourite death scholars are due to speak at it and I am somewhat amazed and giddy to be in their company. Note to self - if going to be fan girly then do it in a considered and coherent manner. Plus it will also give me a good chance to look at possibilities Phd-wise. I've decided that is definitely what I want to do next but with a bit of a break.

The Victorian Representations presentation will form part of my portfolio hand in I think as this kind of research and presentation is just as much part of my practice (I still feel a teeny bit pretentious writing that but nowhere near as much as I did and it's not a word I could even have used at all before starting the course - though I don't feel at all pretentious using the word work so I might use that one instead in future but am still trying it out for size...) along with the visual images I make and create.

Visual images which I've not made many of recently - the planned infra red picture taking at St George's Field didn't happen thanks to the field being full of  sprint runners (even if they were the slowest sprint runners I'd ever seen - even with a busted knee I could have outmoved some of them) and earlier this week I thought I'd take advantage of the spring sunshine and do some cyanotyping but then I listened to the weather forecast which said it was going to cloud over. So rather than get something started which then might fail due to lack of light I didn't and did lots of reading instead - including Protecting the Living/Protecting the Living by Maxine de Vincenzi from Historical Perspectives June 2012, Julie Rugg's What Makes a Cemetery a Cemetery from Mortality Vol 5 No 3 (2000) and Wellington's Funeral in Victorian Literature and Culture by Cornelia DJ Pearsall (1999) and I finally got round to finishing the English Way of Death - The Common Funeral since 1540 by Julien Little (2002 ed) and the Art of Death by Nigel Llewellyn (1997 ed) and I made a good start on The Politics of Focus by Lindsay Smith (1998) and Camera - Victorian Eyewitness by Gus Mcdonald (1979) and my reading list shows no sign of abating/decreasing as I get more suggestions from the bibliography of each paper or book that I read.

I do find it easier to read a physical copy rather than a virtual copy still though and the kindle thing that I borrow from my husband is all well and good for checking social media and reading news stories in the Guardian (once you can get past those bloody annoying loading adverts) but I can't read anything more in depth than that on it. I am slowly but surely getting past my squeamishness about writing in books too (though only in pencil so it can be rubbed out if need be) - after all they are tools to help me do my work and sometimes a pencil does the job better than a post it note.

But I've digressed from the point I wanted to make re weather forecasters - me and my husband (I don't care if it would be grammatically more correct to say 'my husband and I' as that makes me think of Elizabeth Windsor and I'd rather not) have often joked that they are paid liars. And every time they get the forecast wrong which then has an impact on how I choose what to do I get cross and call them paid liars. I appreciate they are not liars in the grand scheme of things at all and perhaps just a bit mistaken. I  am sure politicians get paid far more and tell far more deliberate lies than weather forecasters for instance.

Whilst laid up this weekend with a pack of frozen mixed veg I got round to watching the dvd I'd borrowed from the college library before we broke up for Easter - namely Murder My Sweet aka Farewell My Lovely. This was the 1945 version directed by Edward Dmytyrk and starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley. Oh my - it was wondrous, utterly compelling black and white cinematography (the shadows in particular were gorgeous) witty, snappy, sharp dialogue, divine outfits, scotch drinking on an empty stomach, more plot twists than you could shake a stick at and it makes me want to watch The Maltese Falcon again...and again. Whilst I adore the technicolour sumptuousness of the Hammer Gothics I also adore the monochrome wonder of the golden age of Hollywood. Completely enchanting and whilst of its time in terms of men doing the fighting and the hard drinking former show girl adulteress getting her come uppance by being killed it was nowhere near as bad as some modern programmes and films are at portraying women. They were quite feisty and mostly in control of what they wanted in this one instead of just being portrayed as just sitting around being decorative and at others beck and call.

So what next - well immediately lunch though am not sure what I fancy and we've not got much in as I've not been to the shops and we treated ourselves to take aways and fishfinger sandwiches instead this weekend... though I've just remembered there is leftover greek bread and tsatsiki from last night's treat in the fridge, the sun looks like it might be out long enough to do some cyanotyping - except I don't think my knee is up for kneeling over the bath so will leave that for another day but I can prep some images to make cyanotypes with instead. I also think I'll do a bit more reading and more paper preparation. I also need to sort out my diary for the next few weeks and make sure I've got everything scheduled in properly....

I need to crack my social media habit too - which is a tad more difficult when using a tinternet based site as my research journal but I have mostly got through writing this without checking it, I also need to make myself read things through to their conclusion better - for instance I signed up to Goodreads a while back and last week it informed me it is 1441 days since I started reading a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

1441 days is just under 4 years and in spite of my best efforts (well okay not best as otherwise I would have finished it) so in spite of my half hearted efforts I am still at page 74 and the bookmark is a ticket stub from the Valentines Day showing of Brief Encounter at Jersey Arts Centre...I really must make an effort to get this book finished as in that time I've seen Brief Encounter at least twice more.

Might have to start it again from the beginning though and fingers crossed I'll get on with it better this time. I want to read it as my late and much missed chum Henry called me Madame Defarge (thanks to my knitting habit as opposed to my watching of public executions whilst knitting and my knitting skills aren't such that I can include the names of those I want to curse in it)plus am feeling the need for a bit of genuine victorian era ness too.


Monday, 4 April 2016

MA-Ness Week 14 Motivation, Cameras, Changing Ways of Working, New Books, Reading and Film Watching

this weeks post it note along with big sort of mind map to do list, new toy camera and lovely old book

Not been doing much coursewise the last few days - though I have taken a few pictures on my phone whilst I've been out and about the last few days. However I am both still somewhat distracted and am easily distracted. Today it's taken me til 2.45pm to start writing this, in spite of sitting down at the computer to write this at 1.30pm. Distraction a result of always being  the kind of person who is easily distracted but also because there are distracting things going on at the moment.

One of the things I am being distracted by today are the Archers groups I am part of and there has been a huge amount of messaging thanks to last nights episode in which Helen stood up for herself and child against her abuser. Anyway to try and get round this understandable distraction I've closed the email tab and am going to try and get to the end of writing this without looking at social media which is still agog with the goings on in Ambridge.

I did manage to finish reading one book last week - Julien Litten's excellent English Way Of Death The Common Funeral Since 1450 by switching the computer off altogether and just using my Little Oxford Dictionary from 1978 to look up words I didn't understand and that worked well - except it is better to be able to look up paitings and engravings via google images to get a better look at them. Anyway I intend to do the same bookwise this week and get another couple finihsed and so be able to take them back to the college library instead of getting them repeatedly renewed.

Reading-wise I am also reading (in fact nearly finished) a book called The Clothes On Our Backs by Linda Grant which is quite a searing read in places - beautifully descriptive - even if the things being described at times aren't pleasant or easy to read. It's about identity, background, how that can be unconsciously or consciously signified with clothes and hairstyles, keeping history secret, racism, anti semitism and leaving home. It's the second modern book I've read recently - think I shall be escaping back to some Victorian sensation fiction after this as I feel the need to escape to the past. Especially after hearing a lovely adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskells Mr Harrison on R4 Extra yesterday, I've still to finish her epic North and South though so maybe I should read more than the opening chapter which is all I've managed so far.

I also need to get more done on the Victorian Representations paper I am giving at the Victorian Representations Conference at Trinity University in May, last week I was determined to at least make a start on it and I have got together most of my notes and sources into separate folders - both in paper and on the computer and written a draft of the opening papragraph but that was as far as I got and I want to get the bulk of it done this week if I can.

I did however like a big girly swot submit my abstract to a conference on death and art to held at York Uni in September a whole two days before the deadline - undergraduate me would have been fainting with shock at this (and listening to the Archers!) good time management. I've had a reply to say it's been received and looks interesting but have not had a definite yay or nay yet and probably won't for a while.

It was a chums birthday last week and I sent her both a card and a copy of one of the cynanotypes I've made that I'm most pleased with  and am pleased to report that she loved it. I am interested in how different the same images can look depending on what process you have used to create them and then how different they can look depending on how you copy and print them. Am going to try embroidering one of them next - the actual image that is rather than trying to make an embroidery of the image, my sewing skills are not at that level of skill. Anyway the copy I sent her was an image I scanned and printed on the home printer rather than the fancier scanners and printers at college and I kind of preferred the more lomo version I made at home. I wonder what Walter Benjamin would make of the methods of mechanical reproduction today and what effect our image saturated culture has on us.

Aside from the comfort of the sound of other people's voices which R4 provides is the things I've learnt and pick up from it - last week I especially enjoyed In Our Time which was about Agrippina The Younger which was a mix of the known facts about her and the times in which she lived but also a discussion about history itself and the reliability of sources - a lot of that which is known about her is known through layers of 'hearsay, rumour and literary crafting' .  This made me think of how giddy I get when reading my beloved Victorian sensation fiction epics when there is direct mention of funeral customs and how lovely it is to have confirmation of what the historical textbooks say was the custom in a piece actually written in that time.

There was also an article on Womans Hour about military knitting in which they interviewed Joyce Meaden author of Knitskrieg A Call To Yarns which told me that during the Crimean War (1853-1856) you could book a holiday with Thomas Cook to go and watch the war from Sebastopol Harbour or from up in the hills. There was also a book of military knitting patterns was published which cost a shilling so it was done by ladies who could afford the price of the pattern book.
I knew it was a war of firsts in lots of ways - first use of telegraph, by the standard of the times 'live' embedded reporting, railways, and of course the changes brought about in nursing by Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale but I didn't know you could go and watch it as a tourist. I can remember a chum during the First Gulf War of 1991 watching it on CNN but I doubt he would have physically travelled to the area to watch it happen in front of him.

The military knitting being talked about was the knitting of balaclavas, socks, scarves and long johns by the wives left behind and how during the First World War the Archbishop of Canterbury gave dispensation for women to knit during church sermons and socks were the most popular item - as soldiers were only issued with two pairs and when they were sent a pair apparently it was the done thing to give one of the socks to a friend and only keep one for yourself and you just threw away the worst of the socks you had. You didn't throw two away at the same time. Fascinating stuff.

Cameras wise - I got a new one yesterday from my lovely husband and it's in the photograph above, it's a point and shoot 35mm but with a difference as it is see-through (apart from the bit which contains the film itself that is) and it's lovely to see the inside of a camera and how the wind on mechanism works, where the battery goes and its connections. I am looking forward to using it. Plus it does panoramic pictures too. I have also been offered a proper underwater film camera and I am really looking forward to using that though I shall have to get a new pair of wellies so I can stand in puddles/edge of lakes, I don't mind getting my hands wet to use it but I don't want wet feet as well.

I also got the (new to me) book in the picture - still in its original dust jacket. First published in 1958, this is the 1968 reprint though I'm guessing that this edition must have been sold after 1971 as the price sticker from F Warne and Co Ltd lists it as 45p. I'm quite rubbish at working out inflation rates but 45p in 1971 would have been quite considerable. It's a hardback and has a beautiful smell of old about it, but it doesn't list abstract in its glossary nor does it list surrealism. I love books - I can't imagine a life without them...and reading stuff online is good but it doesn't sink in in the same way and nor is it a haptic feast for the senses in the way that a physical book  is.

I've been watching a far few films recently - the spanish version of Dracula (1931) George Melford Universal which was longer winded than the english version, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2015) which was written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour -  a beautifully shot and realised tale of a female vampire in Iran who has a somewhat gruesome but lovely way of getting rid of an unpleasant drug dealer, a love of western music judging by the posters she has on her walls and who strikes up a relationship with one of the drug dealers victims, she is also a skateboarder and it features a very compliant cat too. It was in black and white and quite haunting but I wonder how much of it I missed due to not knowing the iranian cultural references in the film.

This weekend I watched Underground (1928) Asquith with live musical accompaniment at the ever wonderful Hyde Park Picture House, The Innocents (1961) Jack Clayton and Idle Hands (1999) Rodman Flender. Underground was a tale of 4 working class people - who are in relationships and one of whom works on the underground as a guard. The chap who is a womaniser and works at the powerplant which powers the underground is bored with his dressmaking girlfriend who lives in the flat above him and sets his sights on the underground guards fiancee instead - not taking no for an answer in a way all too reminiscent of the kind of unwanted male attention women still get on public transport today. Suffice to say it ends with murder and a very exciting chase across London which looks very smokey and dirty and there are also wonderful glimpses of the posters alongside the escalators, beautiful cloche hats, lots of smoking and scarves. It was lovely to see it with a live score - especially when the guard and his fiancee are having a picnic and a vagabond child plays a harmonica for them and there was a harmonica being played by one of the musicians. I've seen The Innocents before but it is such a wonderfully creepy and disturbing film it can bear repeated viewing - Deborah Kerr's gowns are wonderful, the haunting song and music, the creepiness, precociousness and cruelty of Miles, the drowned governess, the shadows, the fact that it is a huge house but feels so claustrophobic, the is or aren't they there nature of the ghosts, what exactly did Miles do to get expelled, the wonderful housekeeper, the undercurrent of unwholesome relationships.....I really must read the original story. I have a couple of anthologies with it in and it's not particularly long so I have no excuse really. I shall be watching it again though.

I didn't see Idle Hands when it came out - I saw a clip of it as part of a montage documentary film about american teen and high school culture films called Beyond Clueless (2014) Charlie Lynn and thought - wow, a film about a demonic possessed hand sounds like it would be a good giggle and it was exactly that with some excellent lines from the bottle impaled Seth Green character, an awesome soundtrack and some kick ass female characters too. I'd probably watch that again just because it made me chuckle so much.

The sun has come out now and I'm hoping there will be enough sunshine to do some cyanotyping this week, I also want to have a crack at some chemigrams too - once I've worked out the best way to do them, I also need to drop off a piece of artwork for a show and sort out a couple of bookcases so I can get to the books I need more easily. So best crack on with that then.....