Imagining the Alhambra

Nestled on a steep hill overlooking Granada sits the Alhambra with its red walled fortress and palaces. From its towers the distant snow covered ramparts of the Sierra Nevada are visible. The highest peak Mulhacén, is named after Abu I-Hasan Ali or Muley Hacen (in Spanish), a 15th century Emir of Granada who is believed by legend to be buried on its summit. Arriving by plane this peak of 3,478 metres (11,411 ft), the highest in Spain, confronts passengers before the descent into the valleys near Granada covered with mile upon mile of olive groves. After landing, cars and buses travel along the highways of modernity passed shopping malls until entering the bustling narrow streets of the old city, where one then climbs to find peace and serenity in an oasis of gardens and the Moorish palace at the Alhambra.

How then does one understand the Alhambra? Is it a place representing Islamic conquest, rule and surrender; a monument celebrating the triumph of Spanish unification; a court where Columbus sought finance and patronage before sailing to the New World beginning new conquests and empires; a place of politics, romance, intrigue, tales, and legends; an archeological site; a museum of design, architecture, engineering and hydrology; a site of botanical and horticultural inquiry: a place of religious inspiration, and an imagined community living now through history.

A book is a tactile thing. We touch it, we feel it, we read it. Paper has its own texture, when we are not being transported to other worlds, times, visions and places by the words printed across its pages, we can see the fibers, textures and ink of which the page is composed. Similarly, the Alhambra is felt, not just seen: its arches and vaulted domes of mocarabes, carving stalactites from empty space and creating intimate spaces: delicate arabesques framing windows, miradors, patios and oratories with views opening onto gardens or the city far below; intricate mosaics, and patterns etched into stone along with Arabic words, phrases and poems talking of God, and wisdom; doors and passages seemingly leading nowhere opening to courtyards or rooms; the ever present sound of water flowing from fountains; the scent of flowers; high walls and towers shielding the outside world from that hidden within, as well as commanding views and power; the interplay of light, shadow and colour both within the Nasrid Palace, Gardens and Generalife during the day and red glow as evening descends; and the relief against which this tactile experience of the Alhambra is felt, that captivates and transports one’s imagination to another time and place, when contrasted with the Palace of Emperor Charles that was added to the site with its brutalist style, in homage to classicism and Catholicism.

I can imagine the Emir in the Court of the Ambassadors receiving noble visitors, of supplicants entering through the Gate of Justice, the busy medina with its workers and traders adjacent to the Nasrid Palace, soldiers in the Alcazaba watching Granada or washing in the bath house, life in the royal residences, children running through the gardens, horticulture being developed in the Generalife shaping agricultural development in Andalusia, bells ringing from the Watch Tower telling farmers in the valley it was time to irrigate their crops, flowers blooming in summer, and the cold days of winter with an icy chill blowing from the Sierra Nevada. Finally, I see the last Emir departing with tears of sorrow for North Africa with the bones of his ancestors never to return, except for Muley Hacen buried on the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada. Those ancestors had built a beautiful palace and kingdom, which was ultimately peacefully surrendered by its last Moorish ruler to prevent its possible destruction.

On the bell gable of the Watch Tower, a plaque declares that on the 2nd January 1492 in the Christian era after “777 years de la domincion Arabe”, Catholicism was victorious under Ferdinand and Isabella. Of course, in less than 50 years the Inca Empire had been conquered in the New World, its culture brought to heel, its wealth stolen, most of its building and temples torn down to be rebuilt as cathedrals celebrating the Catholic Church, and later thousands upon thousands dying in Andean silver mines financing economic growth, wars and empire. Ironically, recalling the Inca terraces, I am reminded that they too were horticulturalist and hydrologists that experimented with improving crops in relation to their environments and developing irrigation systems.

Standing at the Alhambra looking 500 years back to 1492, or the 777 years that the Moors ruled in southern Spain their history seems so far far away, and time passed slowly bringing us forward through epochs of competing European discoveries, trade and empires consolidated under absolute monarchs, to the world of today where there have been global conflagrations, and the speed of technology and economies of scale bring us closer together. Although time and history seems to pass slowly,  change perhaps is actually swift and sudden, with events having their own momentum or impetus. Islamic conquest spread swiftly, and equally the victory of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, and subsequent conquest of the New World was equally cataclysmic in sweeping away the histories of other peoples.

Technologies change worlds, the galleon, cannons and muskets meant armadas were able to establish dominions in far off lands. Today, information technology and digitisation, has swept away inventions and created new economies, through changes that fifty years ago seemed to be only fantasy or science fiction. Books are no longer bought physically but are read online, whilst images are mostly captured electronically although I still like to make photographs using film. Even photography is a medium that has only existed around 150 years before displacing arts such as painting and drawing. The reporting of news and events is no longer local but spreads globally at the click of a button, and goods from one country can be purchased in another through the internet. The market is no longer in the medina, or protected by the shadow of the Alhambra, a castle or monarch, but instead like most transactions exist in cyberspace.

How then do we view and represent the Alhambra? Is it as a series of images inhabiting our mindscape, momentary memories, that the unconscious will recover with the passage of time and emotion, revealing pictures as the remainder of a holiday like the empty fragments of shells worn by the tides, or are these images, these photographs ordered by theme and content, journeys of inquiry and imagination, the tactile reminder of a place that we read, and are touched by.

As I reflect on the Alhambra, and my passage through it, I remember two Arabic phrases that greeted visitors on the walls of the Nasrid Palace, Everything that you own comes from God, and, Enter and fear not ask to ask for justice, for you will find it. Perhaps too history, and the communities we imagine inhabiting the past, are never really owned and we should not fear to enter, because in these special places we find ourselves.

May 2017 Alhambra OM2 Fuji100 13

All photographs taken using an Olympus OM-2, G. Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens on Kodak Portra 800, Fuji Superia 400 and Fuji Superia 100.

Portraits, posters and the past

Street art and bill posting, deliver art to the streets romantically keeping artists hidden, inspiring ideas and encourage comment and debate. During Revela-T the streets of Vilassar de Dalt came alive, not only with people and photographers, but also photographic art.

Around the Biblioteca Can Manyer, a former factory restored to become a public library, portraits of former textiles workers who once labored in the local textile manufacturing industry graced the walls, in a tribute breaking the silence that follows economic restructuring and globalisation. All that is left, as the artist’s (Joglar & Kaesler) stated, is the thread poignantly woven into society from these long abandoned factories, of the interpersonal relationships created through work that builds communities in time and space,  and “generates experiences, haste, feelings, challenges, fears, friendships, joys…  modeling our personality.” The silent factories remain like “ships stranded in the streets of Vilassar” and conceal within the memories of hidden exertions, of toil, a once busy place, where now the portraits of those workers restored to the exterior walls of the old building uncover the anonymity of days past.

Elsewhere, in a decaying old shop come gallery, Els Rajolers,  the artist Juanan Requena had installed a lifetime of images, of memories, of an unconscious coming and going that is revealed by the tides of feeling and emotions, perhaps as vacation snaps uncover all that is left, the bare bones of a story or endeavour left in time, 10, 20, or even 50 years ago.

Nearby, on the exterior of a church along the Carrer Angel, bill posters were attached using starch and water asking the question “but who or what are we dealing with?” Perhaps when guerilla artists are revealed and we think we know who we are dealing with, it becomes easier to dismiss identities no longer hidden,  but subtexts and causes still remain at play.

What is it that is really being dealt with when portraits confront us on the street of former workers, by humorous or political posters on a church, or by abandoned factories or shops installed with exhibitions? Perhaps it is the voice and record of the past and those that work humbly in the shadows, never to hold the limelight except in our remembrances or struggle to maintain a future that can resonate in solidarity with their achievements of social justice and the communities they imagined, modeled and built for us, and where we live today.

June 2017 RevelaT AerochromeFPP 3
Retratos del Textil – Biblioteca Can Manyer
June 2017 RevelaT AerochromeFPP 2
Portrait of the artist Juanan Requena
June 2017 RevelaT AerochromeFPP 1
Silent ship – Fábrica de Cal Garbat
June 2017 RevelaT AerochromeFPP 5
Bill posters
June 2017 RevelaT AerochromeFPP 6
Serious faces (or, live long and prosper) – Revela-T team
June 2017 RevelaT AerochromeFPP 4
Hidden within

All photographs taken on colour infrared film using a Chamonix 4×5 view camera, a pinhole mounted in a Compur shutter, and a 6×7 roll film holder.

Cambridge, where the magic really happens…

It felt like the sun had barely risen, but I’d had breakfast, hopped on the Tube, got my rail tickets, bought a latte, visited a deserted Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station, and was soon on the 7:15am express to Cambridge, where the magic really does happen…

Cambridge is not just a university, or another English city nestled in green countryside, but a place of history, romance, learning and legend. Every step, every place, every sight,  has a story or name that inspires one’s imagination: whether it is link to the War of the Roses, or espying the initials of Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn together in King’s College Chapel that had escaped erasure; the clock that eats minutes, and worm holes leading to alternate realities in space time; gravestones in church yards of poets, fellows and members of secret societies; hints of spy rings and the presence of bohemian idealism; advancements in science and medicine leading to Nobel prizes; and, the quiet of study and contemplation.

Unexpectedly visiting London, after Barcelona, I touched base with internet photography friends in England suggesting that we meet up for a day of shooting, perhaps at Brick Lane. My friend Judith, was quite keen (adamant even) that I should visit Cambridge, and also soon had Juliette from Stansted and Alison from Leeds on their way as well.

Arriving at Cambridge, and after exchanging greetings, we headed off for a walking tour around the town and some of the colleges, with Judith as guide. Highlights included visiting King’s College Chapel, and St John’s College.

After lunch we visited the Ascension Parish Burial Ground where many well known former Cambridge fellows are buried. Judith had promised to show me the gravestone of one of my favourite modern philosophers and Cambridge Apostle, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Leaving the churchyard we headed out to Grantchester, with its meadows and Orchard popularised by the Neo-Pagan group of Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, E.M. Forster and Wittgenstein. As it was a fine Saturday afternoon, with exams finishing, many students were enjoying picnics, swimming or punting on the River Cam, or the Granta as it is also known.

Of course nothing says being in England more than an ale at a pub, followed by dinner, which is perhaps how all meet ups should conclude, or be celebrated. A little of the magic was captured with my Olympus OM-2 and Zuiko 50mm f1.4 lens, on some expired Kodak 200 film.

June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 24
Across fields of time
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 3
Distant towers
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 6
Clare Bridge
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 4
Clare College
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 5
Punts
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 9
Gate of Humility – Gonville and Caius College
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 10
Chimneys along Trinity Street
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 11
The Great Gate – St John’s College
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 13
Door
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 17
Within
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 18
Where the magic happens
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 20
Cloisters
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 27
New Court – St John’s College
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 21
Traffic at the Bridge of Sighs
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 26
Vote Labour
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 28
Tombstone of the Apostle Ludwig Wittgenstein
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 23
Swan and cygnets
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 29
Grantchester meadows
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 30
Ducks
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 32
Punting
June 2017 Cambridge OM2 Kodak200 33
At rest

 

Celebrating Revela-T

Arriving in Barcelona for Revela-T 2017, I had little idea of what to expect. It is an incredibly long 28 hours by plane from Australia. The day after landing we headed out to Vilassar de Dalt early in the morning to hang the photos I was exhibiting at the Cal Garbat. Of course we got lost a little, had questions about paying bus fares, wandered the streets, and were found again. The exhibition space, an old abandoned factory we fell in love with. After meditating on the wall, and making a plan on how to hang my photos, we felt it was time for morning coffee, being still a little on Sydney time. With Melody, my partner’s help, we rapidly installed the exhibit in time for the mid afternoon lunch break: now we were on Barcelona time.

Lunch of course was a celebration in itself, as are most things perhaps in Catalonia. Although in the previous year, I had a photo included in Revela-T as part of the Next Best Thing Pinhole Project and many pinholers attended, it seemed just too far at that time. I had been recovering from heart failure, and always want to make the most of travel with a rigorous pace. Little did I realise that even this time, on returning to Australia blood tests showed that I was a little hypothyroid during these travels again and needed adjustments to my medications. Notwithstanding, no one ever wants to rust away by becoming moribund, so perhaps it is better to burn out a little, seize the day and enjoy the celebration of life, people, places, food, wine and photography.

And Revela-T is not just a photographic exhibition but all of those things, a festival bringing together a community passionately celebrating image making based in chemical processes from film to wet plate, daguerreotypes to instant film, cyanotypes to caffeine development, with lenses and without, from small to large formats and beyond. It is place to share stories, experiences, learn, to discover new friends, catch up with old friends and meet those known from across the internet, to listen to artists talk about their work, to enjoy the town of Vilassar de Dalt with its unique heritage, and perhaps more importantly to enjoy the photographic life that this analog fiesta celebrates.

I feel incredibly grateful to have had some of my photographs chosen to be exhibited at Revela-T, to have been unhidden, discover Catalonia and Spain, and be able to share the passion of those participating me in these images taken with my Olympus-OM2 on colour infrared film.

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Windang wheels

52 rolls

Windang Island sits just beyond the mouth of Lake Illawarra. At low tide it is possible to walk out to the island over a narrow sand bar or isthmus which becomes submerged at high tide in a big swell and storms. In a Dreaming story, Windang Island is an abandoned canoe used by the Thurawal people to reach Australia.

Carriage wheels on the rock shelf were from a rail line built here in the 1890s to carry rock quarried on the island for breakwaters at the mouth of the lake to keep it open. It silts over from the pressure of tides and waves, only breaking open after heavy rains on the escarpment behind which flood the lake. The project was abandoned soon after it begun, and the wheels were left on the rocks and beach. In the last 10 years the lake was opened permanently with the completion and…

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Pink rocks and blue pools

52 rolls

“The fool who is aware of his foolishness is therefore like a wise man.
But a fool who thinks he is wise is called a fool indeed.
A fool who, as long as he lives, attends to a wise man,

he doesn’t know the doctrine, as the spoon doesn’t know the soup’s flavour.
If a discerning person attends to a wise man even for a second,
he swiftly knows the doctrine, like the tongue knows the soup’s flavour”
                                                                             – ‘Bala vaga’ of the Dhammapada

After 14 kilometres hiking all I feel is my breath and the soles of my feet. I stop, rest, sip water, readjust my heavy pack and start off again. At the base of my back all I feel is agony. I concentrate, take step after weary step, hoping that I can transcend the pain. It is after all only reality, and there are only 4…

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On mountains and falls

52 rolls

“Flowers laugh without uttering a sound. Roosters cry without shedding a tear. Examining the ages reveals that good deeds are as rare as flowers among rocky peaks while evil acts are as plentiful as the grass on fertile hills” – Kyokai

“High peaks and lofty crags are where the wise dwell. Green pines and deep valleys are where practitioners sojourn. When hungry, they eat tree fruits to satisfy their famished belly. When thirsty, they drink the flowing streams to quench their feeling of thirst” – Wonhyo

“The suddenly everything was like jazz: it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, and then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the side of the world and in that…

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