Shining my shoes
With a horse hair brush
The best time of my life [o]
Shining my shoes
With a horse hair brush
The best time of my life [o]
…There you are!!!
Next picture in 3…2…1…
September 2018, afternoon.
I am excited to be in the National Gallery. All around me, people are bustling about through the grand entrance hall of the Sainsbury’s Wing goyer. There are around 30 of us waiting for the afternoon tour to begin. Soon enough, our tour guide appears.
We make our way through the building. I do not plan to take any photographs here – my visit is part of a personal undertaking, to learn more about the great art masters and the works that are now on display.
That is, until I see Rembrandt.
(I think he saw me first)
He seems to watch us with the passing interest of a self-assured, confident man. He is unperturbed in the slightest as I automatically reach for my camera, set to f/4, 1/30, ISO-1000
To my mind, Rembrandt is the ultimate selfie-master.
Our tour guide gives us a brief overview of his life, and this particular painting – “Rembrandt, Self Portrait at the Age of 34”.
We learn that he painted more than 40 self-portraits over the course of his life. In this portrait, he is seen here at the height of his career, richly dressed. The pose he adopts here is inspired by two paintings he saw in Amsterdam –Raphael’s “Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione”, and Titian’s “A Man with a Quilted Sleeve”.
Indeed, he went as far as to make a sketch of Raphael’s painting and note its price.
Art influenced by other art.
A photograph inspired by art influenced by other art.
I am sure he would approve.
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I’ve decided what this blog is going to be about.
It’ll be a space to discuss and share some of the complexities of life I have grappled with over the years.
Deep existential questions.
“What is the purpose of life?”
“Why are we here?”
“What is love?”
“Who finished the milk and left the empty bottle in the fridge?”
But seeing as people way smarter [than me] have spent much longer deliberating on these puzzles and the answers continue to elude us all, I’ve taken the decision that perhaps we can start by looking at simpler things.
So here’s the plan.
I’ll take a photo that I took before and take the time to tell you a bit about it.
Then I’ll try and smuggle in some of my thoughts-in-process that could end up being half-baked theories, well seasoned with child-like naivety.
If I’m feeling really inspired, I might chuck in a poem as well.
This picture was taken in the middle of central London, at Piccadilly Circus, on a bright and sunny autumn afternoon. Which in England means it was not raining.
Regent Street was closed off to vehicles, people wandered freely on the road, making agreeable noises about the weather, pushing prams and herding their offspring, purchasing a variety of products from smiling salesmen and staring at their phones.
I mingled inconspicuously with the crowd, eyes peeled, looking for a suitable subject to photograph when it hit me.
(…actually it didn’t hit me. It rode in front of me. And it’d have had to hit a lot of people before it got to me. But I digress).
A giant bus draped in advertising decals – striking patterns, bright colours and vivid imagery. A bold message promising that a change to market-leading sports footwear would lead to a dominant re-framing of [the wearer’s] world.
(Think Dorothy’s ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz but with way more street cred).
*Sigh* If only life were that simple…
I have to admit that advertising can be very effective in grabbing our attention and directing our actions. It’s just that we’re often being distracted by things that aren’t really that… meaningful.
Things like stuff.
Stuff to wear.
Stuff to have.
Stuff to put our stuff in.
Stuff to move our stuff around.
Stuff to keep our stuff safe while we’re out buying more stuff.
But what if we could use advertising to improve our collective sense of worth?
What if we could be constantly reminded of the things that make us human, the things that unite us? The hidden beauty in our world? The great truths of life and the wisdom of the sages?
What if we could look up every now and again from our smartphones are be reminded that we are all one?
And all this without being sold to?
The shared cultural experiences that were prevalent in the past are becoming rarer with each passing day. We are social creatures and have created online platforms and networks to address our need for social interaction. Unfortunately, online communities can’t replicate the sense of togetherness that one gets from sharing the same physical space as another.
Our theatres, playhouses, museums… are all working harder than ever to attract and hold the attention of younger generations. But I suspect the real issue is how to generate a natural curiosity that drives individuals to find out more about the arts, philosophy and life itself.
As with many things, it may be counter-intuitive.
It may be much simpler than we think.
To get people to come to us, we stop chasing them.
We stop selling our brand to them.
We take what we have and we give it away.
Perhaps a picture of an inspirational piece of art.
Or a poem, a quote, a phrase….
For someone to see for the first time.
(Along with everyone standing nearby)
Making its way slowly moving through traffic.
Emblazoned in large letters.
On the side of a bus.
“The world is a buffet
so many sensual delights
and yet I stuff my face with rice”
I remember the first time I went to an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet.
It was mind blowing! So much food on display, an endless array of choices,
And no one standing around to tell me how much I could eat.
( I was a fat kid so hey! this was my own brand of heaven…)
I had it all mapped out – I would eat EVERYTHING!
Because, you know, this opportunity may not come round again.
And besides, leaving all that food uneaten might be a crime in some universe out there.
So I waddled over to the buffet with a happy happy smile,
Filled my plate continuously until chunks of food started to fall off the edges,
And then made my way back to my table.
I ate steadily, my thoughts consumed by the thought of all the food yet to be consumed.
It wasn’t long before I was standing back at the buffet.
Three trips later, I was done.
And I was barely into the main course options.
It was an emotional experience.
I had failed miserably to make a dent in the buffet.
And so much was still left untasted.
What went wrong?
The choices I made, as it turns out.
I had planned to eat several meals that afternoon.
That was the only way I figured I could eat everything.
I was unaware that it was unnecessary to eat a meal-size portion of every dish
To decide if I liked it or not.
I held the ingrained idea that I need to finish everything on my plate,
Even when I changed my mind or didn’t like the taste.
You see, my eight year-old self hadn’t realised two immutable laws of dining:
(1) The capacity of my tummy is finite.
(2) Regardless of the variety of dishes on offer, only one meal can be eaten at a time.
Over the years, I have found the same logic to be at work in life.
Life is finite. It starts. It ends.
Life is one. Everything has to fit into the one life you live.
Everyday, we are tempted
So many options to choose
We can be anything and anyone
But our time on earth is limited.
If you don’t like what you’re getting right now,
Stand up and join the queue once more.
Because the time is passing,
Lunch is soon over,
And the restaurant never runs out of rice.