Saturday, November 7, 2014
Five days worth of a whirlwind of activities allowed us to completely recover from jetlag and see most of the shows and exhibitions there wouldn’t be time for once the MOPA (Museum of Photographic Arts) portion of our London stay started. Of course, the MOPA trip was the impetus for us being in London at this time in the first place.
The group stayed at the Langham, at the north end of Regent Street, not too far away. We started our first day with the MOPA crew the way we started most days, at Ottolenghi, before heading over by subway and foot. The group is smaller than usual this year: MOPA director Deborah, assistant Christina, John and Cliff, Larry, Larry’s friend from Kent, Gilbert, and Gary. Some of the regulars (Jon, Gail, Ralph, Zoraida and Becky) had been sidelined by needing surgery, needing to be elsewhere for business or family duties or lured to other destinations.
For our first excursion together, we boarded a small bus and headed east, towards the Tower, where the crowds swelled tremendously, despite the extension for 2 weeks of the poppy display. The snarled traffic dissipated beyond and the driver of our small charter bus deposited us at a brick complex of studios, including that of Richard Learoyd. We were met there by Frish from Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco.
He uses a camera obscura of his own making, essentially an enormous view camera (think Anselm Adams and his camera with a bellows), with a lens situated between a model lit by intense spotlighting on one side, and a wall “ground” on the other, on which the image is projected upside down and backwards onto a large piece of film from a roll of photographic paper. At least with a view camera, one could preview the image with a Polaroid beforehand.
Richard’s assistant does most of his model scouting for him. He isn’t looking for conventional beauty, but for the ability to project an inner dimension. Most of his models are women, sometimes nude, against a neutral backdrop, with minimal props. This system yields incredible detail of the skin, hair, the subtle nuances of each subject.
Our afternoon was devoted to the mundane: picking up alterations and more clothes shopping for Steve, and dropping my phone off at the Apple store for a free Iphone 5 battery replacement.
We were a few minutes late to our dinner site, Vasco and Piero’s Pavilion, an Italian restaurant near the Langham, and so were surprised to find we were the first to arrive, the others apparently availing themselves of free cocktails in the Langham’s lobby. The food was very tasty. I enjoyed the tuna carpaccio and avocado starter, and my swordfish, as well as tastes from Steve’s ravioli next to me and Cliff’s choices opposite me.
Sunday, November 8, 2014
Sunday started in the dark, with us leaving the apartment at 7 am (sadly, before Ottolenghi opened for the day), heading toward the Royal Albert Hall to meet up with clients and staff from Hackelbury Fine Art, organizers of our day’s outing to southwest England. Our destination was Manaton, a small village in the moors of Devon, a very picturesque area of rolling green hills, streams and tall hedges, where Garry Fabian Miller makes his home. It was a long journey, 3-4 hours each way at bus speeds, but a splendid afternoon. Garry met up with us for lunch at Guild of Devon Craftsmen Café, at Bovey Tracy, where there was a bountiful spread of scones, salad, and spinach and sausage frittatas, before a fantastic, subtly sweet corn beef and root vegetable hash with a poached egg.
His home and studio are on a lush property with ponds, with lovely gardens and trees, very photogenic itself as the late afternoon shadows became longer and longer.
Although he began as a conventional medium format photographer, achieving early success with a series of seascapes taken from the roof of his house over a 2 year period, he long ago left the camera aside in favor of a camera-less method of working of his own laborious and stepwise devising. He has an enlarger in his darkroom, and introduces glass vessels, templates, liquids and other objects for variable lengths of time between the light source and a photographic paper. His works are unique, one-offs, photograms of a sort, although without objects necessarily in contact with the photographic paper. He is truly a painter with light.
Monday, Nov 10, last full day in London
Before meeting the group at 10 at the Langham, we had a last breakfast at Ottolenghi, before picking up my Iphone at the Apple store at 9 am. That was a strange sight, something I have NEVER seen before-a near empty Apple store. They apparently only take appointments or pick-ups like mine before 10 am when the store opens to the public.
I was out so quickly, I had time to duck into the H & M Store on the way to the hotel, wanting to see why queues had formed BEFORE midnight one night earlier in the week for Alexander Wang’s new collaboration with H & M. Not surprising, there wasn’t much left, except a form fitting neoprene dress, which fit perfectly, for 50 pounds. Perfect for my next event at the aquarium!
Our first morning appointment was to visit the home and collection of a private collector, who likes to fly under the radar, so will go nameless. His identity must remain top secret. Suffice to say, he has a comprehensive collection, with an active curatorial staff, busy organizing loans and exhibits, as well as publications.
After a lunch which was comforting and soporific at Annie’s, we visited a charming young photographer with a picturesque and unusual residence, a house boat on the Thames, Jim Naughton. He showed us his newest body of work, which made stunning use of scientific specimens, but we were sworn to secrecy beyond that.
His earlier work had attracted Deborah’s attention at APAD, including portraits of the Nemeno people from Namibia in colorful costumes. He also has an interesting additional body of work documenting participants in war reenactments.
On our return, Steve and I took advantage of the bus swinging past the Natural History Museum to jump off and check it out. It is housed in a huge spectacular building with amazing skeletons and fossils, well worth a repeat visit.
We have actually submitted to and know people who have been finalists in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition on display, so it was great seeing it in person. The images were backlit and really phenomenal.
For the evening, we went separate ways. The MOPA group was invited to Somerset House for the opening of the skating rink, followed by dinner at Fernandez and Wells. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a play based on a book I and my entire bookclub had loved, was my destination for the evening. As the National Theatre is just across the Thames from Somerset House, I accompanied Steve there, hoping to photograph the skaters before going to the theatre. However, entering from the Thames side, access to the opening was so controlled that we couldn’t just breeze in, and were detained for a quite a while while somebody official was hunted down to escort us inside. So long, in fact, that my window of opportunity closed, so I left before Steve was admitted.
The play was as though the book came to life. This was the first night of previews and the huge theatre was packed. The director came out before the curtain lifted and made some remarks, to the effect that this would be the first complete run through and as long as nothing happened which “would endanger the actors,” the show would go on. If the first half was imperfect, this was not apparent to me. At intermission, I decided to leave, not because I wasn’t enjoying the show, but because I already knew what would happen, the verisimilitude of the play to the book being remarkably true. I plead guilty to trying to be in 2 places at once, but had the idea that dinner would still be going on and I could still make part of it. When I got there, the party to open the skating rick was clearly disbanding, with patrons streaming out. Organizers were pressing gift bags onto the departing guests, including me. I could see into the restaurant, which appeared empty. I asked someone official looking if there were any private parties in the restaurant, and was told no. Surprised, I headed home, thinking Steve and the MOPA group had already left. Earlier, I had asked Steve to head across to the theatre and wait for me there, so we could travel back to the apartment together. I had thought I would surprise him by showing up at the restaurant. Instead, he was extremely annoyed. I didn’t realize until I was back in the apartment and didn’t find him that he was still out. I texted him then. It turned out, I was misinformed and the MOPA group was probably still in the restaurant when I arrived, in a private room I couldn’t see. Of course, I should have actually gone into the restaurant itself and asked, but it did look empty. Poor Steve had crossed the Thames and gone to the theatre, arriving while the second half was still going and only received my text when the patrons began streaming out.
Tuesday, Nov 11, 2014 was our travel day to Paris (next installment, Part 3), as well as Armistice Day. 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and so this Armistice Day loomed even larger in our minds, especially having just seen War Horse and seeing poppy pins on many Londoners about town. This Armistice Day was also notable for being the finale of the art installation which had become a cause célèbre in London, namely Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, with artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper installing 888,246 ceramic poppies over months in the moat at the Tower of London, one for each British and colonial soldier who was killed in WW I. Per Wikipedia, Armistice Day (our Veterans Day) commemorates the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. A few minutes before 11 am, we were in transit on the Eurostar, already on French soil, en route to Paris, when the loudspeaker came to life with the announcement that the tradition of 2 minutes of silence, would be observed on the train on British time, the train having originated in London. It seemed a fitting close to our London stay, which had been marked by many reflections on the tremendous toll of war and its continuing ramifications.
Next up-Part 3, Paris!