Category Archives: Photography

What becomes a legend most? Interview with Nan Goldin

Spiral scratch – Heliacal revisited

Today I caught up with the curator of Heliacal, Rachel Thomson of Imbroglio magazine, (whose work is also included) the show taking place at the 13th century St Augustine’s Tower  (Hackney’s oldest building) to find out how the show has gone and how it has been received, just before it closes this week. “We have had about 900 visitors over the two weeks that the show has been on which I am very happy about,” Rachel told me. “It’s really good and far in excess of the number of visitors that I have had for other shows I have curated in Vyner Street, for instance. The show has had a great amount of interest from very different kinds of people, not only those purely interested in the arts. We have also had a great mixture of people attending. Everyone thinks the location and the work sits really well together and is hugely impressed by both. ‘Breathtaking’, a ‘fantastic experience’ are just a few of the comments we have had.”

Rachel has also uncovered an intriguing resonance between the title of the exhibition and its location itself. “I originally called the show ‘Heliacal’ as the word means ‘belonging to or relying on the sun’ as I like to work just using sunlight and the other photographers in the show use sunlight in the same way to create their images. An artist creates something from nothing. The artists in this exhibition choose to create their work with inexpensive found materials, such as leaves, twigs, insects and discarded rubbish and by exploiting direct photographic (cameraless) processes that rely purely on sunlight.

However, Rachel has since discovered that the word can refer to a spiral as well, which is very appropriate as St Augustine’s Tower, where the show is held has a spiral staircase connecting the floors to each other.

Rachel also has plans for a new show at the tower, provisionally entitled, Come Up and See My Etchings.


Here are some images from the Heliacal show.

The Hunters by Tessa Farmer. Photograph by Avalon Hale-Thomson

Warumpi Tryptich by Miriam Nabarro. Photograph by Rachel Thomson

Living Echoe III by Rachel Sokal. Photograph by Dawn Craig

Living Echo by Rachel Sokal. Photograph by Dawn Craig

Plastic Bags by Rachel Thomson. Photograph by Dawn Craig

Heliacal I by Rachel Thomson. Photograph by Rachel Thomson

Heliacal II by Rachel Thomson. Photograph by Rachel Thomson

The exhibition closes tomorrow (Thursday, October 18).and is at  St Augustine’s Tower, The Narroway, Hackney E8 1HR

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Filed under Art, Art exhibition, Artist, Hackney, Imbroglio magazine, London, Miriam Nabarro, Photography, Rachel Sokal, Rachel Thomson, Screenprinting, St Augustine's Tower i, Tessa Farmer

I love Chatsworth Road! Magazine launch and photo exhibition

I love Chatsworth Road magazine front cover

Tomorrow night (Friday) sees the launch of photographer Jorn Tomter‘s magazine, I love Chatsworth Road. It is at the Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road E5 from 6pm-9pm.

The exhibition is on Wed-Sun, 12pm-6pm until October 28.

From the introduction to the magazine, Jorn: “Once there were green fields and big detached houses all over our neighbourhood in Clapton. Glorious days! Then came the purpose-built market street Chatsworth Road with all its surrounding streets and houses. Clapton became part of the city. It changed, and it hasn’t stopped changing since. A couple of wars came and went. Some of the buildings were bombed and became playgrounds for kids while gradually being replaced by estates and tower blocks. Many moved to Essex to get a tan after sunbeds were invented, and new people moved in to the Chats area. Tasty jerk chicken became the new smell of Sunday.

When everyone started to shop at supermarkets, the market suffered and eventually closed down a couple of decades ago. Squatters came and went. The mafia came and went. The Murder Mile came and went. Elizabeth Taylor came and went. The cheap houses attracted low-income families, dreamers and creative people. Today the cheap houses are not so cheap any more and the coffee is probably as good as in Sydney. The market is back to please rather than as a necessity.

Who knows what will happen. Some will praise it. Others will complain and say it was much better before. It’s part of human nature to long for what once was. One remembers the good bits and neglects the bad experiences. I suspect that not all the owners of the farms and mansions welcomed the growth during the 19th century.
I love the community here and the majority of the people I talk to seem to like it too – simply because they feel it is a strong sense of community. I also love photography as a medium to record and as a reason to approach strangers. I started to document the area the first time I came here – it was like entering a timewarp and I knew it was going to change – plus I also fell in love with the people. I have learned that who I once thought were dodgy guys in hoodies coming out of the Pedro club can be sweet daddies and have a keen interest in what I am doing.

I don’t represent any shops or individuals, but I only have a strong curiosity to explore. What you find in this paper is a taster of what contains – the website I use as a platform for all the stories I come across and the photos I take. If it is well received and I don’t lose too much money, I will make another one. The aim is to publish it once a year or biannually and include some local young people in the process. Hopefully some of them might like to help out with producing this paper.

Thanks for all the support and to those who said “Yes” to being in front of my camera!”

Jørn Tomter
Photographer and Creative Director

Do you want to be photographed or do you have a story to
suggest? Please email:

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Heliacal – a group show at St Augustine’s Tower, Hackney

Heliacal – a group show at St Augustine’s Tower, Hackney from October 6-18

A  fascinating show of intriguing new artworks by a group of highly talented artists is opening in an equally intriguing location, Hackney’s oldest building, dating back to 1275, the Tudor St Augustine’s Tower in the Narroway, Hackney. The private view is tomorrow from 6 pm onwards. See you there?

Presented and curated by Imbroglio magazine,  Heliacal, a group exhibition of new work by Rachel Sokal, Tessa Farmer, Miriam Nabarro and Rachel Thomson.

In this exhibition, a series of delicate and ephemeral artworks are shown that reveal an artistic fascination with the power of the sun, concerns about our part in it’s environmental impact and the parasitical order inherent in natural systems.

A hunt for the miniscule, bewitching ‘fairy’ sculptures of Tessa Farmer, constructed from roots, leaves and dead insects, invites a journey up a spiral staircase through the cobwebbed rooms of Hackneys’ medieval clock tower.
In the Bell room Rachel Sokals’ chlorophyll prints, made using the leafs natural chemistry and sunlight, hang under ghostly shrouds, each unveiling leading to the works ultimate destruction.

In the lower rooms the earliest form of cyanotype ‘sun’ photography is exploited by Rachel Thomson who makes photogram impressions of floating entities out of discarded plastic bags, whilst Miriam Nabarro’s triptych captures the eerie shadow of a Mulga tree, collected on Warumpi Hill, the most sacred Honey Ant Dreaming (Tjupi Dreaming) site in Central Australia.

The private view is tomorrow, Thursday October 4, 6-9pm where you can meet the artists.

The show is on from Saturday October 6 until October 18 and is part of East London Festival of Photography 2012. The gallery is closed on Mondays.

For more information, follow @imbroglio_mag on Twitter

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Filed under London, Photography, Private view, Rachel Thomson, Screenprinting, Tessa Farmer, Uncategorized

Complete control/Working for the clampdown

I went to an event hosted by the redoubtable community organisation Open Dalston at Cafe Oto in Dalston, way back in May. I feel bad that it has taken me so long to report it but I do have some excuses, whether anyone will think they are valid, I have no idea. The main one was the app I used on my phone to record it, AudioMemos was so damn fiddly, awkward and almost impossible to use, really, really hampered transcription, never my favourite (is it anyone’s?) part of journalism. Bent over my iPhone, trying to gently coax the scroll bar along to where I had last left the recording, I felt like I was Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola’s  The Conversation. It has taken much too long to get this post ready. And for this I apologise.

But lame excuses apart, Open Dalston is a wonderful community organisation, which “campaigns for excellence in the quality of the built environment and public realm, the provision of transportation and amenities, and to ensure that changes to these have proper regard to the needs of local residents and businesses and the maintenance of a sustainable residential and business community”. I have attended a couple of their meetings at Cafe Oto which always feature immense talent –  the Laureate of Albion Road, the writer Iain Sinclair  being an honourable regular contributor.

This evening at Cafe Oto featured various fascinating speakers and presentations: an evocative film composed of footage taken of Dalston in the ’70s and ’80s by the photographer and filmmaker Alan Denney to a dub soundtrack, a reading by Iain Sinclair from his latest book on the 2012 Olympics, Ghost Milk, followed by a discussion lead by the founder of Open Dalston and local solicitor, Bill Parry-Jones, on the implications for east London of the Olympics, which, among many things, touched on the historic toxicity of the Olympic Park site, the nomenclature of clouds and what is casually dismissed as an east London “wasteland” (ie the Olympic site) was nothing but. The evening was concluded by an extract of short film  Imagine That which is in the process of being made by Sasha Andrews  about the Save Leyton Marsh campaign and protestors, some of whom were present to discuss their campaign.

However, the main focus of the night of was the book and research of ex-FT journalist turned writer, Anna Minton whose book Ground Control, which concerns the stealthy privatisation of our streets and public places and its new chapter on the legacy of the Olympics which Anna added post the book’s first publication. And as the Olympics are commencing this week, whatever one’s opinion on this spectacle, I thought its relevance was somewhat appropriate and timely.

Again maximum apologies for the delay in posting.

Anna began by explaining why she wrote Ground Control, which was  “because I am a frustrated journalist.  I also decided to write a new chapter about the Olympics. As a journalist, I constantly felt I wasn’t able to get the stories I wanted to into the newspapers. I was very frustrated by the time pressure of the job. I wasn’t really doing anything. So I left journalism and began writing longer pieces. I stumbled onto this theme  when I started looking at ghettos and gated communities in the US and began questioning whether or not there were coming over here. Then I started writing about another trend that I noticed, which was the growing privatisation of streets and public places.

Writer Anna Minton at Cafe Oto.

“While I was doing this research, I was still trying to get these stories in the paper and I had a lot of difficulty getting them published and I had this body of work which I thought could be the basis for a book. I was lucky enough to get  a book deal with Penguin and I wrote the book. Suddenly all these editors who hadn’t been interested in my work were suddenly really, really interested in this theme. (Anna goes on to talk about the constraints of the mainstream media and the difficulty in trying to get a lot of stories published which is also a difficulty that a lot of campaigners working with issues around the Olympics face on a daily basis.)

“The book essentially is about the growing segregation, polarisation and privatisation of our city and environment. I am going to concentrate on the privatisation of public spaces. This was a trend that really began in the 1980s (1985, ’86) with the emergence of these very large out-of-town shopping centres like Bluewater Metro centre and Westfield Merry Hill in Dudley, all over the country. Apart from this, we had the Big Bang in 1986 which deregulated finance and created this need for enormous banks with very large floorspace to accommodate their enormous trading floors and that wasn’t suited to the city of London – with its nooks and crannies of mediaeval streets.

“So a new space was needed for London’s burgeoning finance industry. This was the seed of the Broadgate Centre and Canary Wharf to create premises to meet the needs of these emerging financial industries. When Canary Wharf and Broadgate were built in the mid- to late-’80s, they were controversial places. They were very unusual places. They were the first large-scale, entirely privately owned, privately controlled parts of the city. People were very concerned about this. There was huge opposition in Docklands, lots of concern that this was going to segregate the environment. That this was going to create high security, gated communities, that it was going to do nothing for local communities. Even that it was going to create this divided environment. This is rather prophetic as we now know as this is exactly what happened.

Anna Minton: "This is more like a gig."

Anna Minton: “This is more like a gig.”

“But the point I’m trying to make is that all this high security, highly protected architecture, were side by side with areas that were completely untouched by the citadels of wealth. The whole justification of this approach is ‘trickle down’. The idea being that wealth will trickle down from these places down to the poorest parts of the community which need it the most. Of course, we know how manifestly that has failed. Not only in Docklands, but all around the country. The point is that these were exceptional places – they were finance centres. They were built to specifically meet the needs of business. They were created in the image of business. Now the big change started to come about over the next 10-15 years (actually this model pioneered in Docklands became the template for all new development all around the country).

“The template for all the regeneration sites across the country – large and small – now all of them rolled out on this privately controlled model. Seeing that streets which had been in public hands ie local authority democratically controlled hands for the last 150 years. (By the way, a democratic achievement which came about from local protest against the aristocratic gated landlords of the 18th century and early 19th century.)

“Now we started seeing this democratic achievement going to reverse and this has become the template for all our city centres such as Liverpool 1, Bristol and High Cross in  Leicester. I used to talk to people and ask if they knew of a single scheme that didn’t follow this template, please, tell me. I wanted to point out some of these trends and the consequences of those as it is central to the  arguments I make in the book that this high security environment is in fact is creating a far more fearful and paranoid society. And in fact this is one of the reasons we have these soaring fears of crime – though crime itself actually continues to fall. When I first started the book it looked as if this was an inexorable trend and really all I could hope to do was point it out which I think, in and of itself is an important thing to do.

However, while I was in the process of writing the book, it all started to come apart and actually the first line of the book (before I wrote the new chapter) was this book was conceived in a boom and written in a bust. So actually by the time I’d finished it and the time it came out the economic rationale for this privatised model of development had entirely collapsed, fallen apart because of course what underpins these places is very, very large  amounts of debt – borrowing –property companies have to borrow huge amounts of money,  raise the finance on the market. I like to simply use the word ‘borrow’ of course with the financial crisis they were completely unable to do that.

“All these schemes, all around the country, earmarked for development, such as the centre of Bradford. Westfield were planning a 23-acre private open-air shopping mall in the centre of Bradford and now that’s just a hole in the ground. It’s not just Bradford. It’s also Edinburgh, Preston, Leeds. All of this has just come to an abrupt halt.

“So that brings me onto my next point. So why do I want to write the new chapter of the book? Well, of course it’s all come to an abrupt halt bar one development  that some of you might be aware of – the Olympics.

“The development associated with the Olympics and Westfield Stratford City, the Olympic Park, of course, this, like the banks was considered too big to fail. And in 2008 at around the time we were bailing out the Royal Bank of Scotland to the tune of £76 billion, we also had to bail out the Olympic project. So at exactly around that time the taxpayer also funneled £6 billion, almost, into making sure that the Olympic development would go ahead. And actually, according to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, the private sector which is the rationale for this way of doing things, they are supposed to raise the money, the private sector has in fact contributed 2 per cent to the entire Olympic budget, which is now £10 billion and increasing.

So that really was the spur for wanting to write about this. This economic case that has completely and utterly fallen apart, and yet, we still have got this mind-set where we can’t do things in any different way at all and our flagship developments to the world,  our mirror, our reflections globally for 2012 is this.

“So I felt was the high point, the pinnacle of all the themes I was writing about. And of course it’s the high point in terms of the trends that I was discussing as well. So in terms of privately owned, privately controlled places, that’s exactly what we have here with Westfield Stratford City which is an open-air private estate. But the Olympic Park, the first public park in Britain, the first Royal Park since Victorian times for 150 years we were promised. And it’s called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. But in spite of a campaign, a very vociferous local campaign, which was even supported by the Mayor of Newham, that the Olympic Park should have royal park status, that is not the case. The Olympic Park will not be a Royal Park.

The convenor of the night’s event and the founder of Open Dalston, Bill Parry-Jones.

“Incidentally I should point out the royal parks are in fact public parks and only owing to a quirk in 1850, or thereabouts the Crown Land act actually gave all the Royal Parks over into public hands. This was part of the trend I briefly alluded to earlier, where private gated estates were in fact when fact opened up at around the same time as this, this period of sort of growing democracy and the great civic achievements of the Victorians, which are so often referenced by our politicians, Royal Parks became public parks. So there was a campaign that the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park should be like the parks we used to and we have long enjoyed.

“But it’s not. It’s a privately owned,  privately controlled estate. It will be in the ultimate hands of this new mayoral development and corporation, which, if it resembles anything it’s very  similar to the London Docklands Development Corporation of the 1980s and 90s. The developments within the park, those which are completed I might add in this economic climate I think the aspirations of what they hope to see there very unlikely to happen. But we already have the Olympic village with 3,000 extra homes – that’s actually quite a lot of housing – that is already passed over into private ownership. That is, that was bought up by the Qatari royal family in a consortium with a property company called Delancey. This would be an entirely privately owned, privately controlled space. And every development in the  Park will follow that model.

“At least that is the plan. But we have all seen the debacle that followed over the stadium, as very often these things very rarely work out because we can’t agree who to sell something to. There is no overall control, no overall vision for the area. The Olympics is also the highpoint of another of the trends that is central to everything I write about, which is this growing security of the urban environment and the consequences of that and I don’t think any audience could be more alive to those issues, having heard of local missiles appearing on local roofs. I’m not going to talk about security that much as I know Iain is going to address that issue. He lives here and has actually seen the missiles. I’ve not yet seen them. Yes, you can take it as read that this is an incredibly high security environment getting into the Olympic Park during the Games is going to take you hours, in an airport search type process.

“The question is what will remain after that, that is also always the question after the Olympics. I think the best is going to be a sort of Dockland Excel Centre type of environment. I also was keen to highlight another couple of aspects that came to my attention – the Ethical Olympic Pledge, if any of you have come across that, which was signed before the Olympics, local support for the Olympics is always vital, and in order to get local support Lord Coe, then head of  the bidding committee, signed an agreement with London Citizens then known as Panco – the East London  organisation and they promised various promises on local jobs, housing, affordable housing, construction of an academy in Leyton worth £2 million, various pretty good things which actually got community groups which were very wary of the Olympics behind the project.

“And when Sebastian Coe signed the agreement he told the Evening Standard as a result the games were ’eminently more winnable’. So this pledge was signed, and then, of course, when we won the bid the pledge was very swiftly reneged. And why was that? Although Seb Coe signed it, Ken Livingstone signed it the London Development Agency signed it – it was a binding agreement – the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA)  came into existence – the quango responsible for delivering the Games – they said, well, because they hadn’t been in existence when that agreement was signed, they didn’t have to honour it. So that’s what happened to that.

The author Iain SInclair reads from his book, Ghost Milk, and went on to discuss the Olympics

“And the other things I really wanted to talk about in my chapter, and I went into this in a lot of detail was housing. Because housing was at the centre of the promises about the Olympics. You must have heard about all these promises about what was going to happen to the four Olympic boroughs. All these convergences and promises about how standards of living were going to magically rise and converge with Kensington and Chelsea over the next 25 years.

“This is the whole sort of trickle-down idea. And housing is right at the centre of this, so what I wanted to do here was to spend some time and actually look at housing. I was lucky enough to meet someone who worked in housing, at one of the local authorities, who basically gave me his side of the story. He told me on a typical day’s work, he would going to a house sort of normal looking house in an average terraced street. And he will find between 30 to 40 men sleeping there in a two-bedroom house ten to room. Illegal sheds in back gardens.  I was told by someone who works for Shelter, he even had a client who was sleeping in a commercial fridge and paying rent for it.

“This is the reality, actually of the third world housing conditions in Newham, in this part of London, which is just sort of a world away from the promises which are being made about the level of affordable housing being provided. So let’s look at that affordable housing.  About half of the Olympic village is apparently going to be affordable housing. And that’s 3,000 homes. They might be in a private estate, but it’s still 3,000 new homes coming onto the market, that’s the relevant phrase, available, allegedly, for local, affordable housing.

“But you know that’s the thing. What does ‘affordable housing’ actually mean? This very slippery definition which has been impossible to pin down since we effectively got rid of council housing as a policy. Affordable housing now means according to the Coalition, in parallel with the changes in housing policy and the cuts  to housing benefits which are being introduced this year, affordable housing now means up to 80 per cent of market rents. Well, you know up to 80 per cent of market rents around here is not going to be affordable to the vast majority of local people.

“So really that puts those  promises in context. When I spoke to Shelter they just said to me when the Olympic executives talk about affordable housing, they are just living in a different world. They are  on a different planet. And actually that’s the point. Because these developments which are going up just around the corner from here, they are in a different world, on a different planet from the lives of local communities here. And that’s the theme that we first saw begin in Docklands. These entirely separate lives being led in the segregated parts of the city. And it’s reached its high point with the Olympic development. Yet at a time when there is no economic case for it at all.

“So I’m just going to stop there!”

Anna went on to read an extract of her book Ground Control. Her reading ended with her making points about social silence, the process of privatisation with its multiplicity of competing companies and quangos ensures that what happens is too complicated for most people to challenge.

“This is fun. I feel like I’m doing a gig. I’m going to put my pint down. It’s not normally like this for me,” she comments as she rests her foot on a monitor on the stage.

Anna reads from the new chapter of her book which is called “the Olympics and the Public Good” which develops  most eloquently and passionately the themes she discussed early at Cafe Oto and have been outlined above. She concludes:

“What is marked about the Olympic regeneration, that despite the financial crisis, there has been no pause for thought in the changed economic climate and the debt-fuelled approach to property finance, which privatised the public realm in its wake, and which is at the heart of the Olympic project. Despite the series of crises which have defined the last few years, there has not been a corresponding shift in the way that the political and media elite operate. Instead there is a strong sense that it is business as usual.

“And that we are just waiting for a return to normal. When it comes to Olympics, that raises serious questions. Not just about the economic rationale for the project, but about  democratic accountability. The significance of London 2012 is not just about, or even mainly about sport – it is all about the legacy. It is what this legacy will that be and what, perhaps it could have been. This is the focus of this chapter.”

She stops that this point and opens the floor to questions.

Questioner 1: I am interested in the use of the word “park” as we understand it.

AM: I think that parts of it are more park-like than others, but when I say it’s going to be run by a development corporation, which is going to be a facsimile of the London Docklands Corporation. The park is not going to resemble the Canary Wharf estate, a large part of the park is going to be an expensively landscaped green space within it. My point is that it is all going to be under this privately controlled regime that I think creates a very different culture, a very different atmosphere, a different sort of environment. But there will be substantial areas of parkland in it.

Questioner 2: What is the likelihood of there being a public outcry this summer?

AM: We had our riots last summer. I am very interested to see this new film by Plan B, Ill Manors, apparently it makes a direct link between last summer’s riots and the Olympic developments. I think there are direct links. It comes down to the city environment I was trying to describe which is so totally separated and segregated. Two separate worlds and obviously this breeds huge discontent, fertile ground for social unrest. In terms of having riots this summer, I think the huge clampdown on people who took part in the riots and the enormous sentences that got handed down that’s obviously part of the thinking behind all that, to prevent anything like that happening. I’d be interested to see if anything like that does happen in terms of the activist groups that are planning actions. I couldn’t predict it.

Questioner 3: Someone tells me who works for the Olympics indirectly, that to enter the Park, you have to go through Westfields shopping centre to get in.

AM: That’s right. That’s our gateway to our Games.

Questioner 4: I just want to do a plug and ask a few questions. I am involved with the Counter Olympics Network. We had a conference in January, that you attended, that was able how not to get arrested while doing civil action. We have been doing leafleting, legal picketing. Hopefully, there won’t be rioting this summer, but we will be defending our right to legal protest which is incredibly important.

AM: What I talked about in January, and I do generally like to end my talks on an uplifting note, but didn’t tonight as  it came to natural negative end. My uplifting note, and this is a really important point, maybe because I really didn’t want to praise Boris Johnson it to this audience. I always feel uncomfortable at this point as it comes to say something good about Boris, and am really pretty upset that he was re-elected.

But Boris has done one amazing thing which, of course, he didn’t do himself, his advisers did it. But still, in 2009, Boris published the Mayor’s Manifesto for Public Space in which he states he wants in London all new developments to ensure that all the city’s streets and public places remain under local authority control. He wants an end to the privatisation of streets and public places. This has the status of legislation and this is a really, really important point. Because development in London and everywhere at all but ceased – bar the Olympics development and King’s Cross, all of which got planning permission before his 2009 manifesto.

It is very difficult to know if this had had any impact at all. But for people who are interested in the issues around the privatisation of streets and public places, that manifesto should really start to get known and talked about and referred to, because people still don’t know about it. But it is there. It is something actually really, really positive. That’s the positive campaigning point I usually end my talks on.

Questioner 5:  This whole thing is a massive wealth transfer. What is your comment on that idea that public money is eventually going to end up in the hands of private pockets of corporations. Secondly I keep getting media requests for voices of opposition. But I’m not getting any response from anyone. Where is the voice of opposition? Where is the organised response?

AM: First point of course you are absolutely right and Lend Lease oversaw the massive transfer from the public to private sector. This was exactly what we were doing with the bailout of the banks. Lend Lease was the property company responsible for developing the Olympic village and was supposed to be raising, borrowing, the money to build the Olympic village. And obviously they were unable to do that following the crash. The government bailed them out they were and employed Lend Lease to manage the project. So Lend Lease have done absolutely fine out of that. The whole project is a transfer of public money to the private sector. Your point about protest – you are getting media requests to be the voice of opposition  but … you …

Questioner 5: Yes, we are being asked to put them in contact with people who are protesting, but we are not really getting the response.

AM: I find this one of the frustrating things at the moment is that there are all sorts of  people doing really interesting things but they are not all connected up. We are  talking specifically here about the Olympics but I do stuff on regeneration. I was interested in what Occupy, what Heygate was doing. And that all these groups are not connected up and this is a big, big frustration. And what I am feeling at the moment is that there isn’t any central focus for dissent and protests and that’s really big problem. I don’t know what to be done about it apart from discussing it in forums such as these. There isn’t the central focus.

Questioner 6: How will you be protesting during the Olympics?

AM: I said I don’t think I’m going to be doing anything much different to what I’m doing now, unless someone suggests something to me that I’m particularly attracted to. I’m not planning to launch any major protests myself – that’s not the sort of thing I do really. I’m very supportive of Occupy and other protest movements so if  something comes up that is in tune with what I do, then I hope I’ll help out.

Photographer and filmmaker Alan Denney introducing his film of 1970s and ’80s Dalston

Questioner 4: Because the state is all over us and repression has been so intense and people are receiving anti-Olympic ASBOs  for nothing, we are feeling quite circumspect. I’d be really happy to just leaflet with counter-Olympic flyers in Stratford for the next few months –  just getting out there and talking to people. I just want to get the message across. I’m not going to riot, but leafleting would be quite good.

Questioner 7:  Do you think outside of the private areas, there will be regeneration in the local communities which will extend beyond the Olympics? Or do you think outside of the private realm, it won’t extend and people will be worse off or all in the same place they already are?

AM: My view is that this is the role model and we shouldn’t be pursuing it. This model doesn’t work. We have seen  it doesn’t work all around the country. We now have a more segregated and unequal society than we have ever had before. Social mobility is at an all-time low, the lowest in Europe – nudging America’s levels. Our young people are amongst the unhappiest in the world. That is the direct result of this sort of approach which I think is completely wrong.

Questioner 8: What you think of the Olympics as a marketing campaign to the corporate world and the whole world? The government is prepared to take private capital’s interest over the public. The government is demonstrating its willingness to crush public opposition in favour of corporate interests by saying this is great for the corporate world and it will also maintain our image in the world. Because we are so desperate to hang on to some kind of credibility and they are doing anything which is basically crushing the population.

AM: You are right without a doubt. This is a global PR opportunity. And I think the story of the London Marathon is a pretty good illustration of that. The marathon was supposed to run through east London and now has been rerouted to go past the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the Mall. Because that’s what the global networks are going to see – not parts of east London. Without a doubt you are right. Because that is basically is the Olympic Games.

Questioner 9: You said the model is clearly broken. Any trends to find alternatives to that.

AM: No not really. I wish there were movements to having some of these empty sites turned into urban parks and there’s some guerrilla gardening here and there. Some interesting things pop up. But I think the really big difficulty is that local authorities are the crucible for local democracy and all this activity should be coming from them.

But local authorities have been leading the way in trying to get these big private estates to go ahead in their towns and cities. I think local authorities are in a strait jacket. As I said in the book and it hasn’t really changed since then. It’s still let’s get back to business as usual. That’s the way our politicians are pursuing policy at the moment.  No, sadly, there aren’t any big moves to look for alternatives but I think they are going to have to come.

And I think London is in quite a different position from much of the country, where if you walk down a provincial high street, half the high street is shuttered up. You know there are places in real dire straits and they have to look for alternatives. So I think something is going to have to give. And there are the groups around the country which are looking at doing different things on these sites so I’m hopeful that something might start to happen.

Questioner 10:  I am one of those mainstream editors who does publish your work, over the years in the Guardian. You say the model is broken, but as long as we have got the Qatari Royal family buying up whole swathes of London. I  had no idea that Spitalfields was owned by them. A management company runs it for them. I was chatting to a guy from the management company recently and he said, yes look around and it’s all lovely cafes and shops but is just part of the Qatari royal family’s portfolio.

AM: I should say Alison you’ve always published my stuff. You are the honourable exception. Alison is the editor of Society  Guardian, a really great place to publish. Your point about the Qatari royal family is completely right. And of course, they are behind the Shard as well, another flagship development for 2012. There will be probably other money like that, pockets of it. Who knows? Maybe the Chinese are going to start buying up our city centres. But that is not a sufficient base for our economy. And I don’t think anyone could really build a big argument that it is. Those are the pockets of global capital which are still provoking these places.

Questioner 11: What about when we’re going to be charged for using public property that is built by us and paid by us?

AM: Logically that could be a development further down the road – toll roads are an example of that. I think there would be a huge, huge outcry if you started charging people for parks. But the use of parks for commercial purposes is arguably part of that trend to some extent. But is that is already happening.

Questioner 12: It’s not a total fait accompli as at the end of September, we will find out if the Lee Valley Park will be returned from being a temporary basketball courts for the Olympics back to common land. If not, that will be a major breach of promise. If people want to come down and make themselves heard, please do. It’s not a done thing yet.

AM: I think there are all sorts of things that can be done although I think the weight of the trends is going in this direction. I used to live in Brixton and there was this little development a new square was created and the whole community thought it was going to be a nightmare. A privatised disaster. And actually it’s not. I don’t talk about this in the presentation as is not a large open-air shopping estate. It is just a little square.

But there are  pockets of genuinely public space which are still being created and as I pointed to the Mayor’s Manifesto, that is a real boost for that sort of thing. And Exhibition Road, in South Kensington, is going ahead on the shared space model, which is actually the total opposite to the high security model we’ve been discussing.

So I think there is all sorts of hope for this not to be the trend. But it’s a debate/battle really.

Questioner 12: I’m part of the Save Leyton Marsh campaign and I think it’s about process . We’ve lost the first part of our battle with the temporary basketball court it’s been built on the common Lammas land. But for myself and local people and people from Occupy that are supporting us in the campaign. The process of the local campaign and local people working with the campaigners in Occupy, working with people who came along through, but might not identify with Occupy, in order to support us to protect our free space.  This has raised all of our consciousnesses and that of the neighbours too.

Some of the Save Leyton Marsh protestors.

AM: I think you’re absolutely right and you have raised a really important point. What really strikes me, though, is that people have to try so, so hard and what you are doing is taking up at least half of your life, if not your whole life.  For people who are really, really committed, you can do these things. But local democracy doesn’t work with you it doesn’t make it easy. You have to really dig and find and search and fight. And you won’t be told about meetings. You won’t be told about key dates in consultations.

But it actually can be done and people do it all the time. But you have to put so much time into it, which brings me back to my earlier point about there being all sorts of really, really great things going on all around the country. And yet it’s so diffuse and disparate and that’s my big frustration and probably a lot of other people’s as well. That somehow it needs some sort of focus. It needs some kind of pulling together. But the people need to be paid to do that and that’s always the difficulty.

Questioner 12: We’ve learnt from local councils, the ODA, the Lee Valley Park etc, the courts of justice are not going to be open to us and are not going to tell us about their meetings etc. But fighting for a very local issue that is important to lots of local people  – like kite flyers, dog walkers, environmentalists and locals who love green spaces etc – builds up a power that makes you want to fight on, and opens people’s eyes who weren’t very political at first. They see the forces of repression come up – how members have been beaten up, the ASBOs and so on. And it’s not stopping us. And hopefully lots of you will be around Leyton Marsh, around the date of October 15, when we hope we might be beginning to get our land back and if we’re not we want but is a very, very slow process not a quick government short-term targets.  And working with, for me the absolutely fantastic members of Occupy. It’s a very very powerful experience. It takes a long time you have to give up a lot of your life.

Anna:  That’s exactly right that’s really good to hear.

Another woman from Leyton Marsh group adds, “That’s ultimately how we win the Olympics struggle, and the struggle against capitalism the struggle against oppression.” This was the conclusion of a fascinating, informative, thought-provoking evening. If you have any interest in east London local politics or the environment or culture, or a general interest in these matters at all, I highly recommend that you can get along to an Open Dalston event.

Bill Parry-Jones thanks Anna for her contribution and reminds, or warns the crowd that the police are making pre-Olympic pre-emptive arrests and that the Police are constantly scanning social media for information about subversive activities and that it is highly likely that they are present in the audience tonight of  Cafe OTO.

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Filed under Alan Denney, Anna Minton, British writers, Broadgate Centre, Cafe Oto, Canary Wharf, Docklands, Environment, FIlm, Hackney Riots, Iain Sinclair, Life in London, Literature, London, London Citizens, Luke Howard clouds, Occupy London, Poetry, Politics, Sasha Andrews, Save Leyton Marsh, Science, The Mayor's Manifesto, UK Banking crisis, UK banking crisis, Writing about London

Colour me beautiful – the polychromatic poetry of Misha Milovanovich

My interview, In Living Colour, with the Belgrade-born, London-based artist Misha Milovanovich about her Misha World collection of new scarves and art works that opens this Friday at Damien Hirst’s shop Other Criteria, London was published by Glass Magazine a few days ago.

And here are a few of her unique and beautiful scarves which are exclusively for sale in the UK at Other Criteria, 14 Hinde Street London W1U 3BG.

Candy Warrior – a Misha World scarf by Misha Milovanovich

Mellow Yellow – a Misha World scarf designed by Misha Milovanovich

Mellow Yellow – a Misha World scarf designed by Misha Milovanovich

Picasso – a Misha World scarf designed by Misha Milovanovich

Picasso – a Misha World scarf designed by Misha Milovanovich

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Filed under Art, Artist, Damien Hirst, Fashion, Interview, Misha Milovanovich, Other Criteria, Photography, Screenprinting, Shops

My interview with photo-artist Jamie Mcleod for Glass Magazine

Just a brief post. I interviewed the photo-artist Jamie Mcleod this month for the online edition of Glass Magazine. Here it is.  I’d be delighted to read any comments you have.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the very talented Mcleod has his private view for his show Ottoman Fight Club, which the interview focuses on, at Dalston Superstore tonight, January 12 starting at 7pm.

The formidable and fantastic Tiff McGinnis, aka Grande Dame, will be providing the sounds, the author Bertie Marshall will be reading and the Ginger Light, fronted by poet and writer Jeremy Reed will be performing.

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Filed under Art, Bertie Marshall, British writers, Caroline Simpson, Dalston Superstore, Glass magazine, Jamie Mcleod, Jeremy Reed, LGBT, Marc Almond, Ottoman Fight Club, Photography, Poetry, Private view, The Ginger Light, Tiff McGinnis, Turkish Wrestlers, UK fiction, Wrestling

Ottoman Fight Club – new show by photo-artist Jamie Mcleod

This Thursday a new show of work entitled Ottoman Fight Club by photo-artist Jamie Mcleod opens at Dalston Superstore, London. Mcleod is perhaps best known for his modern pop portraits, most famously with the torch singer Marc Almond, and his bold graphic work borrowing from his obsession with masks, faces, flesh, fonts,  lyrics and symbols which he composes to “create something borrowed, something stolen, something new and a lot that is blue”.

This new work, although eight years in the making as Mcleod immersed himself in the Turkish wrestlers’ culture, marks a departure and development in the London-based New Zealander Mcleod’s work which previously explores his fascination and  empathy with the outsiders, desperadoes, the forgotten and lost of the metropolis.

The images of Ottoman Fight Club were taken at the annual Kirkpinar tournament, held in Edirne, Turkey, which Mcleod visited over an eight-year period and where he established a friendship with the wrestlers. Shot in black and white, and screen-printed in a panoramic style, Mcleod examines the themes of male kinship and sexuality as expressed through the body.

The private view takes place at the Superstore tomorrow (Thursday January 12) at 7 pm and will be a very special event as the punk legend, author and mainstay of the Bromley Contingent, Bertie Marshall shall be reading and the Ginger Light, the musical collaboration of the poet and writer Jeremy Reed will perform a short set. And the magnificent Tiff McGinnis aka Grande Dame aka Crazy Girl will be spinning some maximum rock und roll.

Ottoman Fight Club

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Filed under Art, Art exhibition, Bertie Marshall, British writers, Dalston Superstore, FIlm, Jeremy Reed, LGBT, Literature, Marc Almond, Music, Ottoman Fight Club, Performance, Photography, Poetry, Private view, Short Story, The Ginger Light, Tiff McGinnis, Turkish Wrestlers, Wrestling

One city, a million words – Londoners by Craig Taylor

To the launch of Londoners.

My good friend, the author Stephen Thompson invited me to accompany him to the launch party of the book, Londoners, by fellow writer Craig Taylor which was held at the Canal Museum, in the back streets of the now newly smartened up Kings Cross. Published this week by Granta, Londoners is Craig’s attempt to “assemble an oral history of London, a panoramic portrait of the city and as much about Londoners as about London itself”.

To this ambitious end, which took him five years (and I, for one, do not relish the sheer amount of grinding transcription this entailed), he interviewed 300  Londoners across everyone of its boroughs  and “gathered almost a million words of conversation” of the city’s glorious cacophony and already the book is receiving some fantastic coverage (and see my earlier post below) in the press.

A large number of the Londoners Craig interviewed were present at the Canal Museum event and Stephen and I fell into conversation with the garrulous cab-driver from Essex, and his wife, who contributed to the book. As Craig said in the short speech he gave, look around and talk to someone you don’t know.

Copies of Londoners stacked up for sale at the launch

Two authors – Stephen Thompson and Craig Taylor

Two authors – Stephen Thompson (left) and Craig Taylor (right)

The launch at the Canal Museum, Kings Cross, gets busy

The launch at the Canal Museum begins to fill up

Thanks for the invite, Stephen! It was a fantastic night.

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Filed under Black British writers, Book launch, British writers, Caroline Simpson, Granta books, Life in London, Literature, Photography, Stephen Thompson, UK short stories, Writing about Hackney, Writing about London, Writing about Notting Hill Gate

The Weaklings private view continues

Before even more time passes, I thought I’d post a few pictures I took at Bistroteque bar where we moved onto after the private view of the Dennis Cooper curated Weaklings show at Five Years gallery last month (See my related post above).

The smoking area outside Bistroteque. From the left: the artists, Michael Salerno and O.B. De Alessi, Marc Hulson, Dennis Cooper, the artist Emma Wolf Deraze seated on musician Nick Hudson’s lap, writer Joe Nockles with his back to the camera.

More Marc and Joe.

From the left: the writer Paul Curran, artists Micheal Salerno and O.B. De Alessi, Marc and Joe.

Wolf and Nick.

From the left: La Roo/LR/Raacky/, I’m not quite sure what he’s calling himself these days. No, I’ve just checked it’s La Roo Rckay. Film maker Dario Vigorito and art critic Douglas Park (walking past).

The estimable Transductions also covered this event here.

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Filed under Art, Five Years Gallery., Literature, Photography, Private view, The Weaklings

What becomes a legend most?

I have been sorting through my cuttings and notes recently and found the transcription of an interview I  did with Nan Goldin in 2002 which I  was commissioned to write for Pure magazine, and has until now, never been published, as, sadly, Pure folded before this piece could go to press. I know I have subtitled this blog My Literary Life, but the work of Goldin, one of my favourite artists whose work has made such a great impact on me – I am an unabashed and unapologetic fan – and has, in my opinion at least, such a powerful narrative quality, I thought this blog would be a appropriate place to publish it.

I first encountered Nan Goldin’s work in 1990 when I saw an image of hers, David and Butch crying at the Tin Pan Alley, New York City, displayed in a show of fashion photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This image of a woman in tears whilst trying to remain composed as Goldin takes her picture made a great impression on me. It stood apart from the other inclusions in the show, and was, I thought, an odd choice, not as it didn’t apparently fit the remit of the show, although I was delighted it had been included despite not having any overt fashion content, as this was my introduction to Goldin’s work. To me the image embodied the narrative power and qualities of the best literature; empathy and mystery. A depth charge went off in my head.

Then later on at the ICA, I saw Goldin’s book “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” (Aperture, 1986, first published in the UK in 1989 by Secker and Warburg), which I bought. I was deeply impressed by Goldin’s startling talent and not only the brilliance of her images but by her sensitive and insightful introduction, which laid out quite succinctly what compelled her to document her world.

Discussing her sister Barbara’s suicide at the age of 18 (when Goldin was 11), she wrote: “When I was eighteen I started to photograph. I became social and started drinking and wanted to remember the details of what happened. For years, I thought I was obsessed with the record-keeping of my day-to-day life. But recently, I’ve realised my motivation has deeper roots: I don’t really remember my sister. In the process of leaving my family, in recreating myself, I lost the real memory of my sister. I remember my version of her, of the things she said, of the things she meant to me. But I don’t remember the tangible sense of who she was, her presence, what her eyes looked like, what her voice sounded like.

“I don’t want to be susceptible to anyone else’s version of my history. I don’t ever want to lose the real memory of anyone again.”

However, many of her friends that she documented so intensely were lost to early deaths – often from AIDS-related illnesses. A few years after the Ballad was published, she wrote in her introduction to her monograph about the life and death of her dear friend Cookie Mueller: “I used to think I couldn’t lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact it shows me how much I’ve lost.” This cruel fact is not lost on Goldin.

The Ballad was a book I returned to again and again. Fascinated by the shifting relationships between Goldin, her subjects and her camera – the ambivalence, trust, oblivion, poignancy, ecstasy, despair and sadness, love and lust.

Since then I have seen Goldin present her images at a variety of events at the Photographers’ Gallery and the ICA and again been deeply impressed by her unflinchingly honest, brave and beautiful work and how it has evolved as she has: from her drag days in Boston, to Lower East Side party oblivion, from empty bedrooms to her more recent poetic, abstract landscapes and film installations.

Her groundbreaking and brilliant work has been influential. And while various photographers, particularly those working in fashion, have appropriated elements of her style none rival the genius of her uncompromising vision.

As I mentioned above, I conducted the interview for the brilliantly innovative Pure – such a fantastic place to work where I met the most brilliant and talented people, it was like going to Warhol’s Factory everyday – which closed and so wasn’t able to publish the following interview.

The final issue of Pure magazine.

Seeing as this piece was for a fashion magazine, that industry is discussed at some length by Goldin in this piece. But I think her observations are worth considering and it’s (to me, at least) interesting to hear her talk around topics other than her early life and career as she established herself, which are frequently revisited in interviews with her.

At the time of this interview, which took place in London in January 2002, her exhibition, The Devil’s Playground was showing at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Coincidentally, Goldin has a show in London at the recently opened gallery Sprovieri of recent work, including grids of images featuring new and old work and a slideshow of her
pictures of children.

I could write a lot more about Goldin and how much her work means to me, but I’ll stop now. Here’s the interview:

FS: Is film still the number one thing in your life?
NG: My number one thing is still to go to a movie. They seem surprised by how long I take to install here because I can spend a week installing a show. There are 350 pictures in this show. Not all are new. Two thirds are from 1999 onwards. I’ve got really prolific since I moved to Paris where I am living permanently, for the rest of my life, until I find another idea. I have really close women friends here: Valerie, Raymonde, not Joana so much, Maria Schneider, who was always a real heroine of mine who and has now become a close friend. I have very healthy strong relationships with women. I didn’t have so many in New York. My life there was almost entirely about gay men for 30 years.

FS: So that’s the reason you’re in Paris?
NG: That’s a big reason.

FS: Do you find it more sympathetic? Do you find Europe more politically sympathetic?
NG: No place could be less sympathetic to my politics than America. My work is received more intelligently in Europe. I had my first museum showing of my slide show in Rotterdam, in 1983. I love Rotterdam. I love harbour cities in general. I like it much better than Amsterdam which is too much like a postcard. It’s too cute for me. Rotterdam is more real, it’s got a stomach. In ’83 I started travelling round Europe with my slide show. It wasn’t until I moved to Europe and got accepted in a big way in Berlin in the ’90s that I got acceptance by the big art world in New York. I didn’t really get to be known, or in the market, til ’93 in New York.

FS: Is acceptance important to you?
NG: Yes it was. Now what I like is that other artists know my work and are interested in me or want to collaborate. I’m very flattered when people I respect like my work. It’s like a dream of a little kid when somebody I idolised likes my work.

FS: Like who?
NG: Maria (Schneider). I don’t think of her like that anymore, because I worshipped her when I was young. Like Kiarostami; Jan Fabre the theatre director and visual artist; the Dardenne brothers, Jean Pierre Dardenne and his brother Luc Dardenne, Wong Kar-wai. Like Yves St Laurent, I don’t know if he likes my work but Pierre Bergé does. Stella McCartney is a big fan. I feel like a little girl sometimes because I don’t hang out with celebrities. I have never got into that. I never courted that but it’s nice when it’s people you respect and they respect your work. It’s thrilling.

FS: In a recent interview with the Observer, you said you were ambivalent about the fashion world and cosmetic industry.
NG: One of my assistants, a British man, says I should find a platform for it. Meanwhile I wear make-up.

FS: It’s a dual edge thing.
NG: I have no ambivalence about myself wearing make-up or designer clothes but I have an enormous ambivalence about what the fashion world has done to women.

FS: Do you know the writer Jean Rhys?
NG: Yes, I read everything by her.

FS: Do you remember the quote from her (I think from “Quartet”) “the desire to be loved and to be beautiful is the true curse of Eve”.
NG: Ha! It’s not true for me, my life is more important. At this point in my life I’m alone. I don’t think about it a lot. I’ve been alone for about eight years and it doesn’t bother me. Yes, I need to be fed but the need to be loved by friends has been as important to me than any lover I’ve had all my life. This is part of the reasons that my lovers don’t stay because they are jealous of how much I care about my friends.

FS: Haven’t you recently shot for Vogue?
NG: I shot for French and British Vogue. The British Vogue one featured clothes by Chloe and was shot at Highgate and the John Soane Museum. It came out much better in my opinion. I only did one day and was working with my own make-up and hair people and a model who I’ve known for years. I like Stella (McCartney) a lot – she’s a very open and warm person. I don’t particularly want to know about her background. We started talking last night about how we should tell each other about our family histories but we haven’t got there yet. Each time I spend with her, I like her better. So I was excited to be asked by her.

I had bought some Chloe clothes in Italy. I was interested and curious about her. I know somewhat about Kate (Moss who featured in the Vogue spread). I always thought that Kate’s look had come from my old friend Siobhan Liddell and some of her friends because they dressed like that about ten years ago. Unconsciously, and right after that, that whole look sort of came out. It looked exactly like Siobhan and Siobhan actually is – or was – as thin (I think she still is). She has that kind of baby face, a very young face. So I was interested in working with Kate.
At the same time as the UK Vogue one, I did a shoot that took about 40 days of friends and people I admired in Paris, for French Vogue. It included Joana (eight or ten pages) and Valerie. This is how I met Maria Schneider in June and which began our friendship. I also met Dominique Sanda, who I always worshipped. I also photographed Maggie Cheung – but these didn’t develop into a friendship either – and Maria de Medeiros a Portuguese actress and her daughter. She played Anais Nin in “Henry and June”. And Amanda Ooms who lives in London, and who I’ve known since ’89 and my friend Joey from New York who is a gorgeous transsexual.

The shot was about jewelry but that was sort of secondary. It was more like portraits. Joey is almost completely naked and they are taken in hotel rooms or old 18th century hotel rooms that I love.

The pictures were beautiful but the layout and colour-printing weren’t so beautiful. I love lots of the pictures but somehow there was something flat and dead about the way they were printed. But there was a really interesting letter published in the magazine the following month from a woman reader saying it was so nice to see real human beings.

One of the fashion things I ever did was for Helmut Lang for Visionaire magazine and I used people from all genders. People from the age of 18 – like James King – to people like my friend Sharon who’s about 50 or older. People of all different shapes and literally all different genders and my boyfriend at the time and his daughter who was 11. If I were to do fashion that’s what I would want to do

“If I do continue to do fashion, I would want to radicalise it

FS: Does it feel different when you shoot fashion?
NG: Well, that day it didn’t (for Helmut Lang). It was really fun. For Paris Vogue, it was setting up the shooting, setting up the clothes – there was so much involved in the set-up that it literally ended up being 40 days – or it felt like that. The letter was very gratifying. This woman acknowledged it was the first time she had seen in a fashion magazine real people of different shapes and ages.

If I do continue to do fashion, I would want to radicalise it, refuting the whole idea that there is only one way to look; that women have to be so skinny to look good; that they have to be 12 years old and wearing clothes that only women in their 30s and 40s can afford. Plastic surgery is distressingly popular and I feel that the fashion industry has killed tens of thousands of women over the years from anorexia.

I used to live with Teri Toye in the ’80s – a really gorgeous transsexual. She won Girl of the Year in 1986 (I think) as a Chanel model and she introduced this whole way of slinky, slow-motion modeling. It was amazing that the girl of the year was actually born male. It’s so rare to see a woman’s sexuality, real female sexuality, either in the shows or in the clothes. And in Paris now, when I walk into stores and the shopgirls literally say to me every time, “We don’t have anything in your size”.

The only time this happened to me before was in Jil Sander in Berlin where they said, “We have nothing that will fit you.” I said, “Yes, you do.” And I found something great. This happens to me in Paris again and again and again. They don’t carry anything over size 40 which is nothing, because I wear a size 42 or 44 but that’s hard to find in Paris among the designer clothes. All stores are like that. And I say, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” And they say, “not at all.” But I say, “Not in the rest of the world.”

It’s a hideous feeling to go round shopping and even feel like you are a freak. In America, more than half the population are overweight. It’s not healthy and I’m not proud of that but I don’t hate having a woman’s body. I’m not ashamed of my body and you know everything in the fashion world, if I was vulnerable to it, could drive me crazy. I think it produces so much self-hatred.

I remember so many girls when I was growing up who hated the way they looked. My work shows the beauty in so many different kinds of people because I never photograph anyone who I don’t think is beautiful. I never take an intentionally mean picture. I won’t show a picture where a person doesn’t look beautiful. There are days when everyone in the world looks like a Diane Arbus to me. She’s a genius but her work is completely different to mine. But on those days I don’t use my camera. I feel like if I started to use it that way, it would be like a sin almost. I never show people ugly pictures I take of them. I usually destroy them. So even if I like it, and they don’t, it doesn’t get shown.

The main thing that I want to say in this magazine is that I don’t think women are at their most beautiful in their adolescence or in their early 20s. You know it’s said that you make your own face. So you don’t really have a face until you are 30 or your mid-20s. When you are starting to grow up and show your character in your face. I think it’s obscene that many people are starving to death from anorexia. It’s been said many times, it’s trite. But when so much evil is going on against, for example the Afghani people, where women are being so oppressed that a woman’s body is a battlefield.

One of the things I love so much about Valerie is that she inhabits her body so completely. She has no self-consciousness about having stretch marks or having given birth. It’s just so amazing that she has nothing to hide. Whereas all these other women see every little – supposed – imperfection – anything irregular is seen as an imperfection.

Actually, I think what is being shown as beauty in fashion magazines right now has become particularly ugly. This kind of straight, blonde very conservative. American magazines are becoming very patriotic beyond belief to the point that I can’t live there any more. I had said that when the first Bush got elected that I would leave the country. And when the second Bush wasn’t even elected properly. I wasn’t there when the city was bombed but it seems to have changed my friends. Some people have become a lot more conservative but I can’t really speak about that because I wasn’t there. I feel compassion for their pain but it distresses me to see them all become more patriotic.

FS: How do you feel about appropriation of element of your style in fashion photography?

NG: In a way, it’s an homage. But I didn’t really know about it at first. But then when I started living in Berlin in the early ’90s, I started getting ID and Dazed and Confused. I was shocked how close things were to my work,

“I never thought heroin was very chic”

FS: Nothing in those pictures has the power to move you though.
NG: Well, it’s all set up. I never, never photograph someone getting high to sell clothes. I was called, at some point, the person responsible for “heroin chic”. I didn’t have anything to do with “heroin chic”. I never thought heroin was very chic. I did maybe when I was 18 but I got over that pretty quickly. The idea that a fashion photograph could make you cry doesn’t happen. And I’m proud to say that my slideshows can make people cry.

FS: I love the narrative quality of your images. There is a short story in each one.
NG: I don’t think I am going to do pictures which are anything like Renaissance art. I’m very influenced by a lot of things, but my chief influence is my friends and what I see and what I feel and my own experiences and memory. And the things that I look at include Renaissance art. I’m obsessed with churches and paintings of saints.

FS: You’re not Catholic, of course.
NG: I have the freedom of seeing it with a non-Catholic eye without the guilt. No Jews have our own guilt, that’s why we have psychiatrists – the Jewish version of a priest. As a non-Catholic, and since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the ritual and the beauty of Catholic art. I look at Renaissance art all the time. That’s where I got the idea to paint the walls of the gallery with varied colours (at the Whitechapel show). I tried to figure out how all these Renaissance paintings manage to work together.

And after that, I start to paint my walls. And I’m heavily influenced by films.

FS: Who has influenced you recently?
NG: Cassavetes, “Killing of a Chinese Booker”, “Opening Night” are my favourites. Gena Rowlands is fabulous. The work of early Antonioni,  Orson Welles and Pasolini, I love Roeg’s film “Performance”. I saw “Darling” the other night, which was amazing. I love all the Hollywood women. I saw all the films when I was a teenager. Jack Smith‘s “Flaming Creatures”.

The film maker Vivienne Dick had a big influence on me. I found her eye was very close to mine. I think we see things very clearly.

“The thing that drives me most crazy in the world

is not to be believed”

FS: Are you still taking self-portraits?
NG: No, not recently.

FS: I have always wondered how you managed to never show your camera when you were shooting yourself.
NG: There are ways of angling the camera. I don’t just use a tripod. The only time I did that was in ’88 when I first came out of detox, I spent every day doing self-portraits to fit back into my own skin. I didn’t know what the world looked like – what I looked like – so in order to fit back into myself, I took self-portraits everyday to give myself courage and to fit the pieces back together. I used a tripod then.

I was recently interviewed for radio in relation to the “Thanksgiving” show (2001) at the Saatchi gallery that I was part of. The interviewer said that people in London were very disturbed that I showed a picture of myself battered (“Nan One Month after Being Battered”, 1984) and they thought that I set it up. I was accused of deliberately putting on a wig for that particular picture. And also because I have some make up on they think I must have set it up. Of course I was wearing make-up, I never went anywhere without red lipstick for 25 years! It was a form of self-preservation for me to continue to wear lipstick even though my face was broken.

When I started photographing my boyfriend of years ago, Brian, I realised I had no right to photograph other people having sex if I wasn’t prepared to take them of myself too.

The thing that drives me most crazy in the world is not to be believed. If I say something honestly, generally, I am being completely honest and don’t tell me I am lying. It drives me crazy to be told I set up my pictures. How does it benefit me to lie? I guess they are afraid to believe it and are afraid to look at it.

FS: I think you look different in every picture of yourself.
NG: I think that’s even more apparent in the portraits of Valerie. I took 15 pictures of her and you see so many different sides of her. Like the pictures I used to take of Siobhan.

FS: In this culture women aren’t allowed to display all their sides, for instance to show their anger, sadness, pain.
NG: One of the major things I really want to work on now is female rage because that’s not dealt with at all – and I have a lot of it. A lot of women I respect have it too, you know. I think it killed my sister as the times she was living in were so conformist. This is a subject I really want to deal with. I want to start making films about female rage.

FS: Is this going to be a documentary?
NG: I don’t know. I am going to collaborate with Valerie who is my closest friend on one about my sister for a big show in a mental hospital (“Sisters, Saints and Sibyls,”  at La Chapelle de la Salpêtrière ) next September in Paris where they invite an artist to show. This year it was Jenny Holzer. Usually people just do their own work. But I want to deal with the place and what it means to show in a mental hospital. This is what I am working on at the moment. I like using different mediums – not just photography and slide shows, but also film. There was a saint named Barbara and the story has some components which relate to my sister’s story, who was also called Barbara. There will be big cibachromes of empty spaces and still lives and a kind of emptiness.

I’ve become really interested in the landscape but not as landscape but more as it relates to mood and how we live and how the outside impacts on the inside. I didn’t really look at the outside world during the years I was photographing the Ballad as I  was  locked inside my house and I lived totally inside. The only time I went out was to go to bars at night and all the pictures were taken with a flash because there was no light at all. However now I’m very interested in light. It’s the first time that my work has become at all metaphorical – or allegorical.

FS: Do you feel the allegory when you are shooting the pictures or is it in the viewing?
NG: More in the viewing. But I’m very much interested in water and women in water. I’ve been photographing that for years although I didn’t really know it at the time.

I usually work really instinctively and it’s afterwards that I think about what it means. I don’t know consciously that I have these themes that run through my work. This show  (“Sisters, Saints and Sibyls”) I’m talking about is the first time I’m working on ideas really. When I put my big retrospective together in ’96 (for the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), I saw that there were all these pictures of people inside looking out. All these pictures of women in water and mirrors. I don’t know what it means.


Filed under Art, Interview, LGBT, Nan Goldin, Photography, Private view, Short stories, Transgender