House of film – The Black Rose

A personal note

This is not a review of Trent Parke’s magnificent and sombre work, but a gentle personal impression.

This last week found me once again in the beautiful halls of the Art Gallery of South Australia, seeing Trent Parke’s ‘The Black Rose’.

One series of images from the exhibition showed a defrosting snake next to a demolishing house – ‘The house of film’.

For me, the house of film was about decay and destruction. It was one of many series and images in the exhibition that flirted with the same theme.

I won’t say more than that. It’s early in the exhibition’s run and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone else. I will say that if you go, take your time. And go more than once. There’s a lot to take in.

In the same week, I also went to hear Trent’s talk with exhibition curators Julie Robinson and Maria Zagala and guest speakers Alasdair Foster, freelance art writer and curator, and Bronwyn Rennex, Director of Stills Gallery.

The combination of this talk and Trent’s artwork is an incredibly generous gift.

In addition to the particular sombre beauty of the exhibition, it was heartening for me personally. I live, with a lovely man, in a house of film. The formats come in all manner of sizes, but mostly bear shades that fall between black and white. While I usually shoot 35mm, I’m just as happy with the digital format and am willing to try whatever works. To see and hear that an accomplished creative photographer like Trent is happy to mix media – 35mm, large format and digital – was wonderful. It provided a personal connection to an incredible artist.

It didn’t stop there.

Think of your favourite artist. Is it van Gogh? Van Dyck? Imagine visiting their hometown, seeing their work, understanding that you held the same sort of brush and . . . then there’s an image. An image of a place you’ve been. A place that perhaps you even tried to capture.

For me, that image was ‘Pirate Ship’ at St. Kilda.

I’ve stood there. Same stones. Same sky. But that guy stood there too. He came out of his house of film and captured my world. And then he turned it around and showed it to me.

A more vivid and unforgettable reaction to a piece of art I couldn’t imagine.

Art at its very, very best.

Trent Parke, once again, has found the extraordinary in the ordinary.


A note for educators: for those interested in seeing the exhibition with a study group or class I can heartily recommend Trent Parke, The Black Rose, Education Resource PDF, prepared by the Art Gallery of South Australia.

I REMEMBER

a book signed by terry pratchettI remember the day I met Sir Terry Pratchett.

He wasn’t a sir then, but he was already popular. I live on the wrong side of the turtle, so I’d been reading him for many years before I had the chance to meet him in the flesh.

I can still see his face, the room, the books.

Terry had been signing those books all day. He was short-tempered because his hand hurt. He should have been furious. We ask so much of authors like him. Terry looked at me suspiciously when I told him my name. He wrote it down, but seemed certain I’d made it up in some way. I’d been in an accident the night before, so I can imagine how I looked. The staff of the bookshop had kindly given me a chair to sit on as I waited in the queue and I was sleepy from the painkillers. I remember the eyebrow he raised as I approached. I remember it and I treasure it.

It wasn’t a very long wait as book-signings go, but it didn’t matter. I would have waited an eternity.

When I heard of his death this morning, I found I couldn’t move. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was devastating all the same.

I thought all day about when to write this post. I thought it might be better if I left it until I’m less angry. Less lost. And then I re-read Neil Gaiman’s article on the angry man that was Terry Pratchett.

‘I rage at the imminent loss of my friend. And I think, “What would Terry do with this anger?” Then I pick up my pen, and I start to write.’
Neil Gaiman

I also read Scott Lynch’s furious There is no Past Tense of Terry Pratchett. So, anger and sadness be damned – here I am.

I’m not angry that Terry has left the world so soon. If there was anyone that could fight Death, it was him. I doubt he left quietly.

I’m not angry that the Discworld has stopped at Raising Steam. What a gift it was. The finest of books in the finest of series. How can I be angry in the face of such of riches.

I could never be angry for the words he left behind. There are so damned many. And they can never be erased. If they burnt every book and tried to erase him from the libraries, the orangutangs and I would still hold his memory. Perhaps not every word – not exactly as it spilled across the page – but the way of his words, his way of seeing things, and the way he could shine a light upon an otherwise upside-down world.

His works don’t stop here. They can’t stop. His words and his worlds live on. His fans, to which he was so giving and so generous, will carry them always.

We will be forever grateful.

So, why am I angry? I’m angry for the way that we lost him. That we had to lose him at all. What I want to say here, falls apart. I stare at this paragraph and the screen blurs. It is futile and it is anger. It is loss.

Since my teenage years, Terry has been a constant thread in my life, from the first word to the last. When the internet came along, he was there with it. When The L-Space web and afp were built, if you lurked and were patient, you would find traces of his presence.

His constancy has been his words. His words and his vivid, insightful, incredible imagination.

I was asked recently about authors that have influenced me. Without notice, it’s an unfair question and, while I came up with some good authors at the time, Isaac Asimov included, I left out so many. Including Sir Terry. Because he wasn’t an influence. He was bigger and wilder than that. His words were everywhere. He was a flood. A constant, bright and shining wonder.

I have more than once taken the time to try and tell him what he meant to me. By email, in person, in dedications. And, if only the once and only briefly, I think that he heard. I still have his reply. What I told him wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be. How could I ever find words big enough to pay back the incredible debt of gratitude I owe him?

I was a stranger to him, but he resided deep in my heart and mind. And, although he is gone, it is there I will forever find him. There and in the pages of his books.

Farewell, Sir Terry.

In your words you live on.

‘Up on the mountains, as the blizzards closed in, there was a red glow in the snow. It was there all winter, and when the spring gales blew, the rubies glittered in the sunshine.

No one remembers the singer. The song remains.’

— Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero

 

Life’s little mysteries

an empty frame for glasses sitting on the footpathSome pictures tell a thousand words.

Some of them just raise questions.

Sometimes you just need to accept that life is full of intrigue.


I found these glasses recently. I didn’t take them home.

I stared at them for a little while. They stared straight back at me.

I asked them if they needed help. They seemed to say ‘please leave us be’.

I left them where them I found them.

Alone and cloaked in mystery.

The gap in my bookshelf

a row of books on a bookshelfA tribute to Colleen McCullough

Last week saw the passing of a well-known Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Colleen was a neuroscientist, a researcher, and was responsible for one of the most popular Australian novels – The Thorn Birds.

The Thorn Birds was published in 1977. I can’t say for sure when I first read the book, but I know it was decades ago. It feels like the book has been in my life, one way or another, for a very long time.

The gap on my shelf is where that book should be.

I don’t know where it went. I have a lot of books and most of my books are double-stacked in the shelves. I’ve moved house a few times. I’m always willing to loan out my books, especially the old favourites.

I know how it looked. It was old, worn and tattered. As an author trying to earn a living from the sales of her books, I’m sure she would have preferred me to buy a new one. As a book-lover, that’s too bad. The old and tattered darlings always have a special place in your heart.

The book had been loved by my half of my family. It’s possible it’s with one of them now.

I can remember it and its story. I remember its shape and how it felt. I can also remember the moment I realised that authors could come from here.

I grew up reading all sorts of things and most of it was from the UK, the US and Europe.

I’d previously read Colin Thiele – you can see one of his books on my shelf. It isn’t Storm Boy. I long ago loaned that to someone who was passionate to read it. I think they still have it. That’s okay. So long as it’s loved.

But as much as I loved Storm Boy, I didn’t ever think about Colin Thiele the author. Not until much later.

Colleen McCullough – the author, the mind behind the fiction, the woman that wrote the words – was in my thoughts from the very last word in the book.

I doubt I can ever fully describe how I felt at that moment.

It took me years to realise I could write. I’ve always told stories. Always written them for myself. I know, without a doubt, that she was a solid step on my stony pathway to writing. It’s a pathway that never ends. Not while you’re still breathing.

And now that the world has lost such a fine mind, a novelist, a scientist, a local, and a woman with a way with words, I can only stare numbly at the gap in my bookshelf.

It wasn’t until she was gone, that I noticed what I was missing.

It is a void that can’t be filled.

Vale, Collen McCullough. And, thank you.