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mercoledì 29 maggio 2013

Imogen Cunningham

Yesterday we went to two photo exhibitions at Kulturhuset, Stockholm. One presented selected works by American photographer Imogen Cunningham.

She was born in Portland, Oregon in 1883. Her father, Isaac Burns Cunningham, named Imogen after the heroine of Shakespeare's Cymberline. He encouraged her to read before she entered school and paid for art lessons every summer.
She graduated in chemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, but her interest was already towards photography, as the subject of her thesis shows: “Modern Processes of Photography.” In 1909 she was awarded a grant to study photography in Dresden, Germany,and 5 years after her first one-person exhibition was held at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Imogen Cunningham married Seattle etcher, Roi Partridge. They had a son, and shortly after two twins were born. In the time when she was home taking care of her children, she took a lot of photos of flowers and plants, as she explained:
The reason during the twenties that I photographed plants was that I had three children under the age of four to take care of so I was cooped up. I had a garden available and I photographed them indoors. Later when I was free I did other things

She continued to take photos all her life, almost until her death in 1976, aged 93.

She took many kinds of photos, from portraits to nude pictures, from plants close-ups to street life photographing.

Street life photos are my favorite among her works.

Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I'm going to take tomorrow. - Imogen Cunningham

lunedì 27 maggio 2013

Darling cats

Cat sleeping on the lap, drawing by my daughter

“Holding this soft, small living creature in my lap this way, though, and seeing how it slept with complete trust in me, I felt a warm rush in my chest. I put my hand on the cat's chest and felt his heart beating. The pulse was faint and fast, but his heart, like mine, was ticking off the time allotted to his small body with all the restless earnestness of my own.”
Haruki Murakami

While we are in Sweden in a long break from my job, we brought our cats to my parents' place. Today, my sister posted some photos of them on facebook. They are the sweetest and cutest and loveliest cats in the world!

domenica 26 maggio 2013

The Izu Dancer, a novella by Yasunari Kawabata

Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self.
May Sarton

When I was 18 and 19, in the summer I lived and worked in London, and I remember discovering how wonderful it could be to have time on your own: I truly understood the difference between "loneliness" and "solitude".
The short story (or novella ) The Izu Dancer, which I read this week, reminded me of that feeling. Though the story is set in pre-war Japan and mirrors the sensibility of that time and that place, it carries important universal values such as a person's journey to self-awareness, the painful line between childhood and adolescence, between pure love and sexual desire.

The 19-year-old narrator is travelling alone through the Izu Peninsula on a holiday from his school in Tokyo. He is sensitive and introspective. Along the way he encounters a group of migrant dancers, a family plus another woman. The youngest person is a "little girl" who has come to "a dangerous age", as one of the older women suggests, implying that she is suspended between childhood and maturity, almost out of the first, yet not into the other. The narrator is initially attracted to her and she clearly shares his feeling, but he is upset at seeing her naked at a public bath because he realizes that she is still an innocent child. So, if romance is suddenly out of the question, it is exactly her straightforwardness and innocence that make him feel more positively self-aware, less misfit with reality and with his own self.

"He's nice, isn't he," the girl's voice came again.
"He seems to be very nice."
"He really is nice. I like having someone so nice."
She had an open way of speaking a youthful, honest way of sayng
exactly what came to her, that made it possible for me to think of myself as
frankly, "nice." (...) I had come at nineteen to think of myself as a
misanthropist and a lonely misfit and it was my depression at the thought that
had driven me to this lzu tip. And now I was able to look upon myself as
"a nice person" in the everyday sense of the expression. I find no way to
describe what this meant to me. The mountains grew brighter-we were getting
near Shimoda and the sea.

The girl shyly asked me to read her a piece from a storyteller's collection.
I took up the book happily, a certain hope in my mind. Her head was
almost at my shoulder as I started to read, and she looked up at me with a
serious, intent expression, her eyes bright and unblinking. Her large eyes
almost black were easily her best feature. The lines of the heavy lids were
indescribably graceful. And her laugh was like a flower's laugh. A flower's
laugh-the expression does not seem strange
when I think of her.

At the end the narrator and the little dancer part with the promise that they will meet again. Yet we understand, as the narrator seems to realize, that this will never happen; this sweet tender moment in life has passed, leaving a deep change even though the love they feel is impossible.

Reading this story left a melancholic but pleasant feeling of accomplishment, because even if the feelings between the narrator and the Izu dancer were not properly consumed, they nevertheless had a deep impact on them and we can see, from his perspective as he travels back to Tokyo on a ship, how he has changed and grown in his solitary trip through the Izu peninsula...

I floated in a beautiful
emptiness, (...)
Everything sank into an enfolding harmony.
The lights went out, the smell of the sea and of the fish in the hold grew
stronger. In the darkness, warmed by the boy beside me, I gave myself up
to my tears. It was as though my head had turned to clear water, it was
falling pleasantly away drop by drop; soon nothing would remain.

giovedì 16 maggio 2013

Nikolaj Roerich

All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the storms at its summits."
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance Of Loss

This month I started a book which I meant to review here, The History Of Love by Nicole Krauss. Apart from some good glimpses here and there, I found it unoriginal and poorly written, so I haven't been able to finish it yet. Instead, a few days ago I started The Inheritance Of Loss, by Kiran Desai (daughter of Anita Desai and girlfriend of Nobel prize winner for literature Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorite writers) and I'm adoring it. It's one of those books you want to both devour quickly and savor slowly and carefully, so beautiful it is. One of those books that opens hundreds of doors leading to different unknown or slightly known paths of thought and knowledge.

I will write a review of this novel after reading it, now I just wanted to spend a few words about Russian artist Nikolaj Roerich. I had heard of him before but got curious about him now as Kiran Desai mentions him and his paintings, in particular this one:

Tibetan choksee tables painted in jade and flames colors piled with books, including a volume of paintings by Nicholas Roerich, a Russian aristocrat who painted the Himalayas with such grave presence it made you shiver just to imagine all the grainy distilled cold, the lone traveller atop a yak, going - where? The immense vistas indicated an abstract destinations.

Roerich was a Russian painter, writer, philosopher and public figure, born in St. Petersburg in 1874. He was fascinated by Russia's ancient past, by archeology and architecture, and, after meeting his future wife Helena in 1900, he started to share her passion for eastern religions and traditions, especially Vedantist essays of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, and the Bhagavad Gita. After the political changes following the February Revolution of 1917, Roerich, his wife and two children left Russia and moved first to Finland, then London, where he started to work as a stage designer in order to earn a passage to India and to explore the Land whose culture had been the object of his studies and passions, together with his wife. Due to economical troubles at the theatre company, ne never got any money for his work and the the Roerich family moved to the US in 1920. They fulfilled their dream of and expedition in Asia in 1923. In Roerich's own words, as quoted by Wikipedia, they "started from Sikkim through Punjab, Kashmir, Ladakh, the Karakoram Mountains, Khotan, Kashgar, Qara Shar, Urumchi, Irtysh, the Altai Mountains, the Oryot region of Mongolia, the Central Gobi, Kansu, Tsaidam, and Tibet".
Their travels in these areas inspired his paintings, mentioned by Kiran Desai.