Monday, April 30, 2012

Rage To Live

Barton Swaim wrote a recent Freelance column for the TLS about the difficulties of blurb-writing. He had been asked by a publisher to write a "two or three-sentence endorsement" for the jacket of a forthcoming book, and he was willing to perform this task, but had a good deal of trouble coming up with anything that sounded both honest and zippy.

"In an effort to get into the mood I tried reading some of the blurbs on the jackets of books on my shelves." And the TLS column that emerged was more about the ridiculousness of the blurbs Swaim found while searching those shelves than about the dull blurb he eventually wrote (and which the publisher ultimately decided not to use).

My own favorite of the examples cited was a 1949 blurb for a novel by John O'Hara called A Rage To Live. Clifton Fadiman (then one of the reigning American critics of contemporary lit) was evidently a man of scrupulous accuracy, cautiously concerned that his recommendation should not contain one word more than the strictest truth. "I know," he wrote, "of no finer presentation in our recent fiction of the culture of the rich Americans of our medium-sized towns."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Towel Game

In her own characteristic fashion Mabel Watson Payne greeted and entertained her home-returning mother after the office day was done.

Sunday Morning

Flamboyant street trees side by side in front of solid Victorian apartment buildings on Dolores early Sunday morning.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Public Library

Once a week Mabel Watson Payne and her Daddy make a trip to the excellent children's section at the Main Public Library in San Francisco's Civic Center. They return the books they borrowed the week before and pick out a stack of new books to take home. But the picking out also involves a lot of sitting and reading right there at the library to make sure of the best choices. If they go on Wednesdays they also can go to Baby Story Time. This week they were busy on Wednesday so they went on Friday, and since I was visiting on Friday it was my first chance to go along with them.

Mabel showed me first thing how she has learned to use the self-return machine herself, sliding books one by one onto the conveyor belt. She showed me the round room with its color-circle carpet where the hard-page books are shelved at baby eye-level. She had her afternoon snack while reading with Daddy in the big square room where the taller picture books are shelved. At the end we took eleven newly-chosen books to the self-checkout machine where she climbed up on the step-stool and (with Daddy's help) made the red line of light beep for each book when it hit the barcode.

Then we walked home with all the books stowed away underneath the stroller seat and carried them into the house and made a big stack on the floor. And then Daddy and I took turns reading them to her, over and over and over, as often as she wanted.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sturdy Grip

An afternoon full of amusements and adventures with Mabel Watson Payne. I managed to document some of the events and games reasonably well but the photos need a little time to get themselves organized. Meanwhile, here is an isolated portrait-like one of the amiable baby at 20 months of age. .


Manhattan gallery Andrew Roth recently presented a solo show by Ricardo Valentim (born 1978 in Portugal) called The New Typography. "He is," according to the press release, "best known for his film screenings and lecture pieces, but works across a variety of media, including radio, printed matter, photography, and sculpture."

This project seems to have been intended as a tribute to Jan Tschichold (1902-1978), universally recognized as one of the most alluring and influential type and graphic designers of the 20th century. As a longtime fan I have featured Tschichold's work often (here and here and here at greatest length). His most famous book (or manifesto, originally published in 1928 and still in print) was called The New Typography, as was the 2010 exhibition devoted to him at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Andrew Roth's press release attempted as follows to explain the connection between The New Typography by Tschichold and The New Typography by Valentim:

"From the turn of the century until the seventies, type foundries designed and distributed typefaces through what were known as type specimens, documents showcasing letterpress type to designers and printers. For over a year, Valentim has been collecting these type specimens. His interest lies in the ways in which they reveal structures of representation and communication. While typefaces usually function as vehicles to present ideas and content, in the case of type specimens this form is inverted: the ideas and content (i.e. words and texts) are used as vehicles to present typefaces."

In plain English, Valentim bought genuine Tschichold type specimen sheets (necessarily from dealers who specialize in typographic ephemera), slapped them into Plexiglas mounts, and then proposed to resell them on the art market as his own conceptual appropriations. The profit would surely be colossal, considering that the overall contemporary art market operates at price-levels exponentially higher than the market for typographic ephemera.   

At the library where I work we collect such type specimens. I have at times chosen and bought them myself for the institution and have subsequently put them on display in ways that look entirely similar to Valentim's display at Andrew Roth. But I foolishly lacked the audacity to claim that my "intervention" had transformed them into my own work.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


A. L. Kennedy is very high up on the permanent personal list of favorite living writers and I am (after several recent novels by others that exasperated to the point of abandonment) gratefully gladly trustingly buried at present in the middle of her new work, The Blue Book.

"There have been television programmes and movies that you've watched ironically, or not at all, but you're aware that others took them at face value and accepted what you couldn't. You often read the papers and then hear their headlines repeated later, undiluted by an intervening thought, stale ideas in strangers' mouths, and this can disturb you. You worry true believers are out there, like fierce toddlers needing to have their own way, hoping to turn their whole species their own way: to unleash the unbridled market, unbridled government, unbridled precepts from unforgiving gods. You suspect they want to mark you with mythical whips, prepare you in their stories, dreams, laws, so that you will bleed in this world and the next. Their posturing can seem ridiculous, but also a genuine risk."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bright Dolores

Good light early Sunday morning on Dolores, looking north toward tile-covered towers of the basilica. .

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Short Poem

The Furies

It booted up and everyone you knew
would be there was, on bunks, on babel-towers
of bunks, five to a bunk, shelved, legs dangling
homeward like the mischievously munching
dead on that high girder over midtown.
There was no room for everyone there was room for.
Noise were it not intolerable silence
would have been unbearable noise, it was all sepia
thank god till you remembered it was sepia
you chose. No one to thank but you, no one
to blame but you or choose but you. You tried
to close in on one face to make it blurry
but it sharpened like a sniper. Next you tried
to zoom the hell away and you got the Earth.

-- Glyn Maxwell

published in the TLS
image source is here

Monday, April 23, 2012

One Viewpoint

I made an experiment of staying in one place (on a busy commercial/residential street in  San Francisco) to see how many aspects I could isolate with this new camera and its good-quality lens that all the same does not have the advantage of any zoom capacity. It is too pure to have a zoom. So I must learn to do distance subjects in a different way. I wonder if I will break down eventually and add another good-quality lens, with a zoom.

Current Roses

If I had taken good photos of the individual roses alive in their East Bay garden on their various branches I would have used them. And I should have had several, because I took plenty. But in the end was not satisfied with most of the results, mainly due to focusing issues. Not that the results were downright fuzzy, just not startling sharp. And (as so often in the recent past) this technical weakness suggested the next direction for more and better new-camera efforts, viz the manual focus ring on the lens itself. The digital SLR has such sophisticated auto-focus capabilities of its own that up to now I have left it to its own choices while I fiddled with aperture size, shutter speed, white balance and ISO. Now that those can be handled more smoothly, it is time to slow down again and refine the focus by hand at the last instant before pressing that all-powerful button (keeping in mind that this is good advice for flowers but impossible advice on most occasions when Mabel Watson Payne is my subject, because even though she is more beautiful than any rose, she is also a great deal more animated).   

Note on Text: Stumbled this morning (still half asleep) on a layout that allows space for significantly larger prints on-screen than formerly, so now feel I have at last gained something I actually wanted after a weekend of frustrated griping about this new Blogger format. But cannot be sure how this change will display on other people's devices. If there are problems (or conversely if no difference is apparent) I trust the daily loyalists to let me know.