The Stranger

The madman walks through the street, oddly dressed
Some nod, some smirk, some keep their distance
Wary eyes at their corners, keeping guard
He moves on, uncaring or oblivious
Standing then in the middle of an open field at the edge of town
Watched by others with pity in their eyes
He starts to sway, his arms outstretched like a crucifix
His palms facing heaven, his hands pointing down
As if stuck in some firmament, his fingers curl

The ground shakes, and at the time, we don’t connect the two, cause and effect
People run to doorways as champagne flutes, crystal mice and glass unicorns jitter-bug to the edge, and then oblivion
Around him the earth heaves like a new dawn
Giant sheets of rusted iron like red ribbon conceal him, then lift him up
We stand in silenced awe
The whole city sinks with the great displacement of transmogrified clay
An impossible tower of ten thousand scarlet strips
Stairs cling to the exterior and spiral up around the tower’s impossible bulk
We begin our desperate pilgrimage to the high point
The wind clawing at us, the stairs calling like crows
The tower rocks with each great gust
We call out to the stranger but no one answers
The path leads up, and sometimes down
Yet we push on through the aftershocks of sudden transformation

At the top, there is no one.
The stranger is gone.
All that remains is a tiny inscription that reads,
“I have always loved you”.

The Camera and the Crown

Having read the Wikipedia entry on Zygmunt Bauman and one of his papers, “Alone Again: Ethics After Certainty”. I’ve been thinking about the camera. Bauman looks at the camera twice, firstly as the creator of still images, and then as the creator of moving images.

He points to the still image as a cultural anchor, framing our world in a permanence of the past and a token of certainty, the moving image by contrast frames modernity as transient and insubstantial. In all fairness, Bauman is quite old and clearly not a child of the internet. If the previous two incarnations of the camera create a sense of permanence and then impermanence, what does the current crop of youtube clips indicate?
I would suggest that they point to a community of production and consumption, where permanence and impermanence is not the central issue, but the relationships between the images and their authenticity is the most pressing concern. Relationships that are authentic now guide the zeitgeist.

This is not however my main concern, another idea that Bauman traces is the idea that modern society tries to take out the uncertainty of life, but such an endeavor is simply not possible with all people in every society. From this arises the specter of “the other” or as Bauman calls him, “the stranger”. The fear of the unknown and uncontrollable now has a face; it’s the pedophile, or the Jew, or the Muslim, or the black, the gay, the refugee. Some of these groups are shadows (such as the pedophile), some are real (such as the Jews), but what they have in common is that none are threats unto themselves. All the hand waving about the risks of anyone of the previous groups has nothing to do with actual risk, and everything to do with fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable.

After the great depression, the stranger was the Jew; and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?
So as a photographer, where do I see the lens now? Society has come to see the camera as a symbol of authority; the news cameraman and the CCTV are both symbols of power. When I publicly wield a camera I do so to take pictures. Culturally however, I have assumed a tool of authority for my own ends. People are shocked, SHOCKED, to discover that people can take their photo in public and there’s nothing they can do about it. After all, the image is mine. I used to tell people that cameras really can’t steal your soul, but I sort of missed the point.

People aren’t actually concerned with their souls being stolen when their picture is taken in public. They’re worried that they will become unwilling participants in a cycle of production and consumption. They fear an asymmetrical relationship between the viewer and the subject; and this state of mind is only possible because of a disintegration of the concept of society, and the attendant loss of the public-self. I am “The Stranger”, and suddenly everyone believes that they are islands unto themselves, and the camera becomes the conquistador.

The camera is not a crown, but in a society where individuals distance themselves from moral duty as being “a private concern”, the camera with its power to document and critique the subject beyond the influence of their own network of relationships, it becomes an instrument of power. I personally welcome the scrutiny, as a person who is publicly moral, and the rest be damned.

Becoming organised

I have a love/hate relationship with chaos. I will openly and freely admit to enjoying the excitement of a last minute deadline, a dozen conflicting commands, or total technological failure. I will also admit that this is a sad and pitiful way to get one’s thrills.

So I’m going to be more organised. Zen like if you will. I have installed gtd-php to manage my work flow, but more than that, I have decided that I want to do my life differently. Reacting to chaos leaves no room for pleasure, and too much excitement leaves me drained.

I have things I want to do, and things I need to do, and they both shall have their doing.

The wonders of washable flooring

The body looked like it had crawled through a muddy field, which annoyed Michael even more.
“I just cleaned the goddamned floor!”
Stewart looked at Michael, his mouth slightly ajar.
“I really think you’re autistic sometimes, a dead body appears in your lounge room and you obsess about the floor.” He paused. “Maybe you have some sort of cleaning psychosis?”
They both looked at the body again. He (and it was a he, the scraggly beard left no doubt) had broken the dining room window, had crawled muddy, bloody and bleeding across the floor, cleverly avoiding setting the alarm off, but inexplicably rolling up nearly half of the floor rug in the lounge room. He was barefoot, wearing overly tight jeans and a baggy old shirt that proudly proclaimed “Our community, our future”.
“I bet he’s a junkie” declared Michael.
Stewart merely rolled his eyes “Well, he’s only a corpse now”.
“We should call the police”
“I should take some photos”
“Stewart! Fuck you’re grim.”
Stewart merely looked earnest “The other people in my photo group would kill for an opportunity like this! Look at him! Look at the shirt! Look at the mis en scene!”
“Well if they did, at least they’re problem solving for themselves.” Michael hesitated, “Grab your camera, you’ve got five minutes”.

It had taken quite some effort to restore the house, an ex-rental that according to local legend has housed bikies and all manner of unsavory sorts. Michael stood now in the front yard, unlike the muddy back yard; the front yard was piled high with debris from the renovation. Pieces of pipe, plastic and copper, old bricks, half bricks, odd bricks wrapped in plastic for some unknowable purpose, plasterboard and empty plastic bags with the remnants of paper labels long faded and now mysterious, and also inexplicable lengths of wires bent into crazy shapes suggesting gouged eyes and tetanus shots all at once. The pile of rubbish was an impressive display of urban prosperity and was greatly admired by many in the street.

The police arrived. A young man who looked like he’d rather be inside, and a small woman who looked liked she enjoyed being assertive.
“You called about a dead body?” the woman asked as she tried to look stern and helpful at the same time.
“I’m Michael”. Michael offered a handshake, “What a bitch” he thought.
She grimaced a smile “Sergeant Alexton, and this is Sergeant Pavkovic”.
Sergeant Pavkovic offered up a sly grin at the social maneuvering between the two.
“They’re not sending a forensics team?” asked Stewart inside.
“No” snapped Sergeant Alexton “We have to confirm there is actually a crime scene first!”
Michael made a point of looking at the body and then at Alexton again. Pavkovic risked another grin.

“He came in from the backyard, probably jumped the fence” Said Pavkovic absently, “So strange”.
Alexton bent down to look at the face of the dead man more closely “Christ!”
“Christ you’re dramatic” thought Stewart as he unconsciously toyed with the camera in his shirt pocket.
“It’s David Cooper!”
“Is he famous?” asked Michael, it was a cruel thing to do, but he couldn’t resist.
Alexton managed to look shocked “Um, no. He’s a local junkie and dealer”
“See! I told you it would be a junkie” said Michael looking at Stewart.
She ignored Michael, “Rumor was, he owed a fair bit of cash to some bikie gang, probably came to do your house over” said Alexton triumphantly.

“That doesn’t explain why he’s dead though” said Stewart.
Never knowing it, both Michael and Stewart thought the exact same thing “She’s no Miss Marple”.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” Alexton said turning on them; she had taken it upon herself to be assertive. In her mind this seemed a reasonable response to the mood of disrespect she was sensing. The fact that a dead junkie in your lounge room may invoke an emotional response in the occupants never really crossed her mind. “Because this will be investigated, and you have to cooperate fully you know, if you don’t it could go to court and you’ll be a hostile witness!”

Michael let the bluff hang in the air, out of politeness, and no small measure of pity for the woman. He decided not to mention the house’s legendary status.
“How soon until I can wash the floors?” asked Michael to the eye-rolling of Stewart. Pavkovic nodded sagely at the question, there was a lot of mud, but at least it wasn’t on carpet.
“I don’t know” steamed Alexton “The forensics people will tell you, I shall need statements.”
So Stewart and Michael gave statements, which were mostly drawn out versions of “We came in, and he was on the floor”, forensics came and went, as did a glazier the next day to repair the window. It would be a number of weeks before the autopsy would reveal the cause of death to be not bikies, or drugs, or bullets, but a simple heart attack brought on, one might suppose, by hard living and stress.

Michael however was more intent on washing the floor. It was clean, but his uncommon cleaning obsession meant that he kept trying to “scrub the death out” of the very spot where the body was found well into the evening.
Stewart looked on and eventually asked “When you replaced the floor, what was there underneath?”
“There was no underneath!” replied Michael “We’ll I mean there was a floor, but it was shocking you could pick up any board it was all so rotten, and the rubbish underneath, piles of it, the sort of thing that harbors rats and worse”.
“Humor me Michael, can I see the pile?”
“You’ve already seen it; it’s the one at the front”
“Humor me” he repeated as they walked outside, and it was there that Stewart’s keen eye picked out something, a brick in black plastic. “Now why would anyone wrap up a brick?” he asked as he began to unwrap the object.
“When it’s not a brick!” answered Michael as they stared at the smiling face of Douglas Mawson gazing out serenely from the plastic. Old fashioned paper money.

They both spent some minutes looking at the $100 notes.
“I think I saw about five of them, bricks that is” said Michael.
“I think your renovation just paid for itself” replied Stewart grinning as they both turned, and started to eagerly rummage through the pile of urban prosperity in the evening’s fading light.

Seven poems for a single day

  1. Insomnia
  2. Oh baby, I know you can’t sleep
    It’s 2.55 am and you’ve got work tomorrow
    Don’t worry
    You can still smell the fried chicken you ate for lunch
    And there’s not enough milk for breakfast tomorrow
    Not entirely sure what to wear
    No dog food either
    Too much unresolved action
    Too much left undone
    It’s time to sleep and dream of being famous
    Dream of fancy parties and glamorous inner city living
    Witty conversation and television interviews
    Biographies and the holiday home on the Queensland coast
    It’s 3am and you still can’t sleep
    Don’t worry baby, you’ve got work tomorrow

  3. Dreaming
  4. The sheets should be changed, but instead they carry the comforting fragrance of the self
    The air is cool and still and stark, a night bird’s song drags my soul out, through my back and out the window, into the air and across the darkened sky
    Dreaming is what we do when we are not happy with the world
    The contented do not dream
    I dream that I fly over all of humanity and I feel them beneath me, billions of electric cells, each one dreaming of a better world
    Because in my dreams, people aren’t satisfied with the cruelty of our world
    The night bird’s song releases me, and the great electric sea recedes into the darkness
    and I am swept up in the gentle grace of rest.

  5. Morning
  6. The alarm glares at me, and I glare back.
    I have been visited by the late night possum, the one who comes along in our rest and shits within our mouths as we sleep.
    Strong coffee and toothpaste are a partial cure, time will fix the rest.
    No amount of hot water will give you back the vigor of youth, but each morning you will try.
    There is no milk, someone got to it before you could. Again.
    An abundance of fried chicken from the night before sits like a snake about to strike at your digestive tract.
    Close the fridge.
    There is coffee enough at work, and pulling on a shirt that you have neglected to iron, you lie to yourself and say “It’s a cotton poly blend, the wrinkles will fall right out”.
    They do not.
    You begin the march into the bright glare of a new day.

  7. Children
  8. They run because they are free,
    Like the howling wind they gust about the playground gathering leaves and paper and empty wrappers,
    They are wild eyed dervishes caring not for the past or the future, and we lumber through them like ancient stones, and like the wind they shall wear us down,
    We shall be made smooth and bright by the process, we know this and we do not regret it, some welcome it with open ancient arms,
    The wind is untamed, unlike our dancing dust devils, a bell and then music; each gale sorts itself and breezes into their allocated rooms to carry on their turbulent way.

  9. Meetings
  10. Leave nothing to chance, leave nothing to chance, leave nothing to chance.
    Have you checked it? Have you signed it? Have you put it in the pigeon hole?
    Late meeting, important meeting, another meeting.
    How late? Very late! Always late, like the phantom pregnancy of progress.
    Things to resolve, suggest, vote upon and recommend.
    People to meet, stakeholders, humans, important people, squeaky wheels, insufferable prats who get voted onto these things again and again and again.
    What is it we do again? Besides the process? Must consult, must include, even if it means no one wins, because then everyone wins, or something.
    The night bird is calling, the night bird is calling, the night bird is here.

  11. Homeward
  12. “Go home love.”
    A fellow soldier smiles at the mirrored wounds of a long day.
    Silence is the intruder now, space is conspicuous by its presence.
    You undo your path and walk on home,
    You are still surprised to discover your house has not burnt down, your house will never burn down, but that doesn’t stop you from suspecting that the instant you lay eyes upon your home, that you will gaze upon charred ruins.
    We have been known to catastrophise.
    The light is low and the house is still.
    An ancient deaf dog does not stir, you watch her breathe to make sure she’s alive.
    Silence for her, and space for you.
    Day old fried chicken for you both.

  13. The apparition of rest
  14. An unmade bed opens its arms like a slutty lover
    Wrinkled sheets and stains of sweat and misguided pudding
    The wasps of thought raid the hive of sleep
    No honey for the restless
    A fevered fit in the darkness that makes you turn against yourself, finding no comfort in your disheveled lover’s arms
    Eyes rolling back in sockets that will not rest or dream
    A million daylight wasps driving back the gentle night
    There is naught to do ‘cept wait
    The night bird is calling, the night bird is calling, the night bird is here.