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A Well of Conspiracy

The Tall Assassin, A Discussion with Author and Former SAPF Alan Elsdon   — The Year is 1942, Republic of South Africa. The Emergency Regulations Act, designed by General Smuts to curb pro-Nazi activities, had begun to bite at the ankles of the Ossewabrandwag membership list. The rounding up of Afrikaners and Nazi Auslanders into prison camps may have averted a civil war, but it also brought together many of the day's anti-democratic minds, and there they talked and fomented South Africa's future. At one such camp, Koffiefontein, there were interred together two men who would go on to shape the history of the country as few others would, one on the political stage and the other behind the scenes. The former, John Vorster, is well known. … [Read more...]


A word broke in two the other day, right in front of my eyes. A familiar word: automotive becoming auto motive, breaking into unfamiliar meanings: auto (self); motive (reason for acting). I had been thinking about a film I adored but didn’t quite understand. Auto motive: a key? The self is the reason, the motor for acting Acting? In the film Holy Motors, a man has a reason for acting, a motive, a motor. He is performing himself. A film in which a man is running, in black and white, first one way, then running back. He is a silent movie. A man who is only automotive. A man as made by Jules Marey, the man who ‘began’ cinema, who began the phases of movement of the moon of cinematography, a man who captured motion as later in … [Read more...]

Holes In The Net Of Time

Part One: Photography and Time in Observatory and Forest Reflections on two recent books of photography and text: ‘From The Observatory’ by Julio Cortazar and ‘December’ by Alexander Kluge and Gerhard Richter — When I was in my twenties and making films, I read Eisenstein’s writings about the dynamic principle of montage -- the ‘third thing’ that can happen if images are juxtaposed such that new meanings emerge, as in the classic example of Potemkin in which a statue of a lion seems to sleep, awaken, roar, the images together becoming  a metaphor for previously somnolent masses roused and rising up against oppression. I thought then -- and still do --  that this principle of tertius (Eisentstein’s term) explains … [Read more...]

Excavating the Tell

A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris, 2012 Ulysses, it is said, was so full of guile, was such a fox, that not even the goddess of fate could pierce his armor. Perhaps he had really noticed, although here the human understanding is beyond its depths, that the Sirens were silent...   – Kafka At the heart of all forensic science there are questions of epistemology which are often taken for granted. How can things be proven to have happened or not happened? How can memories be verified? What if something that looks like a duck and quacks like a duck was never a duck? All modes of inquiry are both predicated on and forever problematized by the relationship between ourselves and the world, as … [Read more...]

Off Their Rockers

Who I Am, A Memoir, by Pete Townsend (Harper Collins 2012), Life, by Keith Richards with James Fox (Little, Brown and Company 2010), The Heart Broke In, by James Meek, (MacMillan, 2012) The Patrick Melrose Novels  (MacMillan, 2012) and  At Last (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), by Edward St. Aubyn — It’s New Year’s Eve 1966 at the Roundhouse on Chalk Farm Road in London. My English girlfriend and I are surrounded by a frightening mob of inebriated, quarrelsome Mods and Rockers. It’s cold outside and The Roundhouse is an unheated brick train shed. Illicit warming fires are started here and there, right on the floor. Several fights break out. There’s only one door in or out and it’s far away through a sea of bodies. A 17-year-old … [Read more...]

Thank You For Looking

Peter Nadas, Victor Erice, Photography, Words, Trees, and the Passages of Time — At the corner of Calles Hernandez Macias and Quadrante in San Miguel de Allende is a craft shop where, on either side of its door, these words scroll across the windows: one side, Thank you for looking; on the other, Gracias Por Mirar. Each time during the fourteen years I have been going to Mexico, I’ve gone back to photograph these words. What is this going back, I have been wondering, this returning to the same site in order to make different images? I have been thinking about Hungarian writer and photographer Peter Nadas (most recently author of the novel Parallel Stories) who each day for a year photographed one wild pear tree in his … [Read more...]

Along the Stream, Doing Nothing

Of fascination and its opposite — Behind the house in New Hampshire where we lived when I was young there was a steep, overgrown hillside, and, at the bottom of the hillside, a wide parking lot. Marking the far end of the lot a stream curved and turned back on itself, eventually flowing out through a culvert that ran beneath the road. I’ve always recalled that stream with a very particular fascination, but the true nature of that fascination only settled into language a few weeks back. It’s as if the trace of that experience had been concealed somewhere in my body, and now, holding an asana in a studio in Silver Lake, something came open, releasing or “unconcealing” that trace into words. Pondering that moment, I feel my age, and recall … [Read more...]

La Vida: Photography and Time at the Center

Thoughts sparked by: RETURN TO CENTRO HISTORICO: A Mexican Jew Looks for His Roots by Ilan Stavans (Rutgers University Press, 2012) – 'Ilanchik, what do you think?' In his photographic memoir, Return to Centro Historico, Ilan Stavans begins with direct address. His father has unexpectedly e-mailed him a photograph of the Angel de la Independencia, the sculpture that sits at the top of a column at the center of the Paseo de la Reforma roundabout in Mexico City. The height of the statue, placed 118 feet above the column’s base, makes it difficult to discern its details in any way other than through the close-up lens of photography. 'Did you know it was a girl? A bronze girl, half-naked?' The father asks his son for his … [Read more...]

On Her Own: Photography and Time in Maine

A Meditation on ‘Chansonetta: The Life and Photographs of Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, 1858 - 1937 ’ by Marius B. Peladeau,  with an introduction by Berenice Abbott, published in Maine Antique Digest, Waldoboro, Maine, December, 1977 – Chansonetta with camera at the beginning of her life as a photographer Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (1858 -1957) packs her camera, a 1904 5 x 7 inch Century capable of speeds from 3 to 1/100th of a second—along with her tripod, carrying case and glass plates, it is a bulky load but she is setting off with a helper, her daughter Dorothy, sometime model as well. They load the equipment into a Ford motorcar given to Chansonetta by her two brothers, both inventors, one of the Stanley Steamer, the other of the … [Read more...]