I don’t know whether it’s the weather or my camera

I have a new camera, and I am not as happy as I would like to be about the photos I am photoing with it. They often seem vague and blurry, as if seen through a mist.

But then again, the humidity levels during the last week or two have been very high. Maybe the views have all looked as if seen through a mist because they were seen through a mist.

Here, for instance, is a photo of a favourite building of mine, the big decorated box that is the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, as seen from Westminjster Bridge, which is quite a way away:

But I got to work with my Photoshop clone, and beefed up the contrast, and darkened things a bit.


Which looks a bit better. I’ve chased away some of the mist. The trees look greener. The details of the ROH’s exterior decoration are clearer.

I have a vague recollection of trying to reset my camera, so that it did things more darkly and more contrastingly. Maybe at that point, I contrived to do the opposite of what I thought I was doing.

But then again, not long after taking that photo, I took this one, of the giant 4 outside the Channel 4 headquarters building at the top end of Horseferry Road, a short walk away from where I live. I often go past it on my way home after an afternoon of wandering, and so it was that day, nearly a week ago now:

That looks bright enough and clear enough, doesn’t it? That’s without any zoom, i.e. space filled with blurriness. And without this weather making its presence felt, the picture doesn’t look like it needs any artificial editing attention. So maybe the camera is fine, and it has been the weather. And I just made the weather better.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

David Bowie dead – 2005 Ashes winners alive

Wandering along the Strand towards Embankment Tube, after Turandot had finished, I spied this sign on the inside of a shop window:

I had not realised that there are now David Bowie stamps. Apparently so. Ten in all. The ones above, and six more featuring LP covers.

You know what they mean, but the phrase “DAVID BOWIE LIVE” seems rather … jarring. What got Bowie onto these stamps now rather than any sooner, was that instead of being live, he is now dead (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG). Only dead people, or royals, can be on stamps, right?

Not quite. If you were an England cricketer playing in the 2005 Ashes that England won, you might also have become an honorary royal:

Scroll down here, for that picture, together with some rather sneering and very Australian references to Britain’s alleged lack of sporting prowess, which (says the Australian sneerer) explains why so many went crazy (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG) when those Ashes were won. And why the Post Office also went crazy and broke its own rule of us only being allowed, on stamps, to see dead people.

One Kemble Street and its roof clutter as seen from the ROH floating bar

The best thing about seeing Turandot at the R(oyal) O(pera) H(ouse) earlier in the week was definitely seeing Turandot. But almost as good was what I saw during one of the intervals.

So, do you remember this?

The “this” I am referring to is the disembodied rectangular box hovering up near the roof there. I copied and pasted the sanskrit my blogging system demands for that photo from this earlier ROH posting. To quote my earlier description in that earlier posting:

I especially like that disembodied clutch of drinkers, suspended up there as if in mid air, but actually in mid mirror.

All of which means that you don’t need to remember it, because I just told you again.

Well, during the interval in question, I found myself stretching my legs inside this aerial box. From it, I got views like this:

Which was all very fine, although I can’t really tell how good or bad this photo is, because I only have this terrible little replacement screen to look at it on.

But then, things got even more interesting. I looked through that big semi-circular window, and saw other interesting things. In particular I saw this:

That is one of London’s finer assemblages of roof clutter, made all the more magnificent by being anarchically perched, like a tiny shanty town, upon one of London biggest and blandest and most geometrically severe pieces of sculpted Big Thingness from the Concrete Monstrosity era. Namely: One Kemble Street, which used to be known by the much cooler name of Space House.

If you image google for One Kemble Street, you get a deluge of photos of One Kemble Street, but just about all of them are taken from below. It’s like they’re ashamed of that marvellous roof clutter. But why? It is magnificent.

Here is another view of part of this roof clutter:

That was taken in December 2014, on the same day I photoed the floating bar in the sky, in the first photo, above.

Memo to self: check it out again, and try to photo the whole thing, in nice weather like that.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

How Michael Tanner both misunderstands and understands Turandot

Yesterday I attended a Royal Opera House Covent Garden dress rehearsal, of Puccini’s Turandot. Never having seen Turandot on stage before, I learned a lot. The singing was pretty good, especially the choral singing, but maybe I say “especially” about that because I generally prefer choral singing to “operatic” solo singing. The staging looked appropriately splendid and exotic.

But the best fun of all was, afterwards, finding this bizarre piece of writing by Michael Tanner, for the Spectator. What is bizarre is that Tanner disapproves of the characters and he disapproves of the “happy ending” at the end of Turandot, like some myopic Victorian moralist objecting to King Lear because of what sort of people they are and because of what happens at the end of that.

Turandot is obviously a very wicked and tyrannical ice-queen type of a woman. But Calaf earns Tanner’s special condemnation. This is because Calaf, being from Asia in olden times rather than the Home Counties of England now, prefers conquest, sexual and political, to the love of a good woman. He is going to subjugate Turandot, sexually and politically, or die trying, and damn the consequences. But in Michael Tanner’s world tenors are not supposed to think and behave like that. Their job is to embody virtue, not watch while the slave girl who has been in love with Calaf throughout the opera is tortured and then commits suicide to spare herself more torture. After which Calaf carries right on with subjugating Turandot. But the fact that Calaf is not the sort of person whom Tanner would want marrying his sister is rather beside the point. Or to put the same point a quite other way, it is exactly the point. It isn’t just the setting of Turandot that is exotic. These are profoundly different sorts of people to those that Michael Tanner, or for that matter I, approve of.

This is like denouncing the Ring Cycle because Wotan is a god rather than a geography teacher, or because the dragons in the Ring Cycle do not behave like hedgehogs.

Calaf was also criticised by Tanner for standing still and just singing, instead of doing lots of “acting” in the modern style. But Calaf’s whole character is that of a would-be ultra-masculine tyrant. And tyrants instinctively exude power and strength, for instance by standing still in a very masculine chest-out pose, and singing very sonorously, rather than by doing lots of fidgety acting. It is their underlings and victims who do all the acting, by re-acting to people like Calaf.

However, it often happens that critics who denounce works of art in rather ridiculous ways nevertheless understand them very well, and often a lot better than the people who say that they like them. They absolutely get what the artist was doing. It’s just that they don’t happen to like it. I recommend Tanner’s piece as a way of understand how very different Calaf and Turandot are from their equivalents in, say, La Boheme.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog