Monday, 21 May 2012
I really enjoyed this and have been meaning to read it for a while. I saw the film a long time ago but had forgotten most of the essential details. (If I remember correctly the film was critically panned on release but I can't quite remember why). Nevertheless, the shadow of the eponymous film still cast itself on my imagination and it was difficult not to picture Tom Hanks whilst Wolfe captured the journey of his "anti-hero", Sherman McCoy (possibly not a strictly accurate term in this context, I admit). The same thing happened to me last year with 'Tess of the d'Ubervilles' and Natasha Kinski. Damn that Polanski!
It was by chance that the book I read two books before 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' (TBotV) was Dickens's 'Hard Times' and, as Wolfe explains in the introduction to this his debut novel, TBotV is his attempt at to write a great city novel with the depth and ambition as those created by nineteenth century novelists such as Charles Dickens. In fact his Introduction to TBotV, entitled 'Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast', is a fascinating study of realist and non-realist novel writing trends in the twentieth century and how in 1987 he was attempting to write a broad realistic novel about New York which was completely out of step with the more non-realist - even magical realist! - writing trends of the time. If I was a lecturer teaching students about the history of novel writing then they would all have to read this introductory chapter (and the rest of the book of course). Tom Wolfe simply critiques the "write about what you know" approach to writing as being too narrow and warns young writers that this approach can lead to the cul-de-sac of believing that the "only valid experience is personal experience".
I haven't got loads to say about the book itself right now except that it was an amazing read. If his aim was to capture the city of New York at a particular post-war moment (the late 1980s) where politics, finance and personal morality were all at their over-inflated, twisted and seething apex then he more than matched his original ambition. Unlike Dickens he dispenses with any need to have a character (or two) that are unadulterated or morally pure and instead we have characters that are very human and believably corrupt. Sherman McCoy is Wolfe's master creation, however, and in fact he is a Master of the Universe - a Wall Street bond-trader who collects enough substantial crumbs from cake makers of the world economy to afford, at a push, what passes for the high life in NYC. McCoy's tortuous journey from being the most respected and highly remunerated trader at investment-banking firm, Pierce & Pierce, (with a Park Avenue apartment, wife and daughter to boot!) to being accused of perpetrating a hit-and-run on a young black honor student, is told by Wolfe in a such painful psychological detail you might be forgiven for thinking that the story was written in the first person but no, he still manages to move between his other New York characters occupying their minds en route.
It is twenty-five years since the book was published and it still feels very relevant. The distorting and destructive impact of the politics of race and an economy over-reliant on the crumb-collectors of Wall Street are clearly still playing themselves out, if I can be forgiven a rather large generalisation. At the end of the book I was rooting for McCoy to win and perversely enjoyed the thrill he was getting from his crazed lashings out, but this, I'm afraid, is where Wolfe leaves his audience: thrashing around in the carcass of a truly outstanding city that can suck the soul from its downtrodden, huddled masses and sometimes even its most privileged inhabitants. Bleak? Certainly. An irreversible fate? I don't think so.
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
View all my reviews
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Sunday, 12 June 2011
Here's a page I created earlier:
It already feels like a really cool tool. It could be very useful for quickly discussing the design of a web page with a client or member of your team. It could also quite easily be used for mischievous graffiti but I am sure no one will think of that ;)
which led me to here:
which finally led me to here:
Anyway, I ended up at Storify which is a kind of social media story aggregating tool. Why the heck would one need one of those? I am not sure at the moment but it was extremely intuitive to use and I couldn't resist giving it a spin around the block. Here's an embed from my first try out:
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
This video has got a certain edge to it and has been doing the rounds on the internet. The enjoyment from spitting out the word "TOSSER" seems be an essential element along with the Animal's guitar loop from their evergreen classic, 'House of the Rising Sun'. The host on a Saturday BBC radio show - I can't remember which - was asking for listeners to send in their own angry raps i.e. about stuff that they were angry about. Well, I'm pretty darn angry about Libya and so I wrote a short rap. Needless to say it wasn't read out. In retrospect, I think they might have looking for faux anger, but this, my friends, my crew, is the REAL DEAL. Here me now:
You patted yourselves on the back,
When you attacked Iraq,
Now all decoys have left the house-
There is no Dubya -
You thought WTF let's bomb Libya.
You make Gadaffi look like a democrat,
You've turned a civil war into a worldwide spat.
Your credibility is now spent.
Who are you?
You are the ruling, strictly humanitarian, British establishment.
2011 © MC ECLECTIC (TRAINS)
My colleague and I Xube have compiled some photos from the public access path ("The Greenway") into a little photomotion movie. I hope you enjoy it.
The Olympic Orbit Flickr set can be seen here.
Thursday, 3 March 2011
I started cycling to work again this week and so it's the first time I have seen the Olympic Park up close since October 2010. Things are progressing fast and I can't help but feel excited. There has been a lot of tired, dull press about the legacy issues. Who's going to have the stadium after the Games? etc... But the Games really feels upon us now. Anish Kapoor's Olympic structure is being assembled and the Velodrome was completed last week (on time and on budget). The structure is called the ArcelorMittal_Orbit and it will stand 115m in height making it 22m taller than the Statue of Liberty.
I am going to enjoy cycling past over the next 8 months (or until I can't take the cold) and will try to capture some of the key developments on the site on my iPhone. There are lots of Flickr Groups you can visit if you want to see pics of how the construction work is getting on. Here is a wonderful shot of the Olympic Stadium I found on Flickr taken by Chris Dorley-Brown.
Monday, 14 February 2011
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Alteration 1: Subtitle: "Experimenting with my new Sony DT
Alteration 2: Paragraph 2: "On a full frame sensor camera this would be a 50mm lens but on a cropped sensor, such as on my Sony A200, this would be a 35mm lens but what I ended up buying, in fact, was a 50mm lens which on a APS-C, or cropped sensor, is equivalent to a 70mm lens. (Confused? This blog has undergone some changes since it was first written and these are explained in the addendum post)."
Alteration 3: Paragraph 2: "This
Alteration 4: Paragraph 2: "So I now have the Sony DT
Alteration 5: Paragraph 4: "Kurt Munger, a devotee of Sony cameras and lenses, has reviewed the Sony DT
Phew! Kurt is the man to read on Sony cameras and lenses. I have a lot to learn!
The photographer's brain is missing
*How did this happen? Is it a sign of the early onset of dementia? I hope not and I don't think so. I went into Jessops intending to buy the 35mm lens, saw what I thought was one on the shelves, bought it and walked out of the shop with a lens in a box that said 50mm.
I even took a picture with my iPhone (left) when I left the shop because I was so chuffed with my purchase. The 50mm lens box didn't raise any alarm bells in my head because I thought I'd asked for the 35mm lens. The very helpful shop assistant (god this is boring!) said they had only one lens of this kind left and it was the one I'd seen on display. I said as long as it worked, and I had the same guarantee, then I was happy to buy that one. She went into the back of the store to find it's box and sold it to me. Tonight, Tuesday 8th February 2011, I actually used my eyes and looked at the lens and my world came tumbling down...
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
The pros say "it's all about the glass stupid". They say you can have a multi-megapixel camera body but if you haven't got a decent lens then you will never get the quality shots you aspire to capture. This is all very well and good but if you are an enthusiast like me you will balk at the price tags of great pieces of glass. So what to do?
Well, do some research, read the reviews and decide on a lens that will complement your standard kit lens (which in my case is the sturdy but quite average 18-70mm F3.5-F5.6). In autumn last year Sony announced some dedicated lenses for their Alpha range of cameras that won't break the bank. (I have their entry-level camera, the now discontinued A200). What kind of lens did I really want? Well, a telephoto zoom lens would be nice but not essential for the kind of photos I'm taking at the moment which are simple portraits, family shots, still lifes and landscapes. A wide angle would also be great but again a luxury at this stage. I decided, therefore, I wanted a fast prime lens; a lens with no zoom and, by definition therefore, with a fixed focal length. I was looking for a lens that roughly approximated what the human eye sees. On a full frame sensor camera this would be a 50mm lens but on a cropped sensor, such as on my Sony A200, this would be a 35mm lens but what I ended up buying, in fact, was a 50mm lens which on a APS-C, or cropped sensor, is equivalent to a 70mm lens. (Confused? This posting has undergone some changes since it was first written and these are explained in the addendum post). I wanted the shallow depth of field look - also called bokeh - that a fast prime lens can give you. This means I can open the lens right up to f-stop 1.8 and have a pin sharp subject in the foreground (no closer than approximately 1 foot) and a luscious defocused background. This 50mm prime lens was sold to me as a great portrait and landscape camera. So I now have the Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. I've started to do my own tests my early results can be seen by clicking on the test photos above or by clicking on this Flickr set.
Apologies for the lack of portraits. I need to find new subjects other than my family. Soon to come...
Kurt Munger, a devotee of Sony cameras and lenses, has reviewed the Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens and his great technical report can be found here: http://www.kurtmunger.com/sony_dt_50mm_f_1_8_samid147.html.
Oh, and of course this fast prime lens is very handy in low light. Which means you can hold off from using that flash.
Wednesday, 12 January 2011
|6/i365 - Stuck!|
"Mmm... yes I gave up smoking in 1998," I said.
"Did you find it hard to keep to? Did you have to write yourself post-it notes and stick them round the house to remind you of your resolution? That's what people are telling me that they have to do," prompted my desperate interviewer.
"No I didn't," I replied.
"How did you give up then?" he asked despondently. (I hadn't given him the answers he was looking for).
"Force of will," I said.
"Ha, ha the old 'force of will," he laughed and disappeared into the night. Defeated.
My daughters and I were bemused. They asked me what he wanted and I told them that I wasn't quite sure. It made me think that a New Year's resolution might be a nice-to-have for 2011 and then along came an invite to join the i365 (iPhone Photo per Day in 2011) from a friendly photographer called John Kershner of the Flickr photographic community. I'm not sure why I was invited but I'm very happy to have been. I'll put it down to one of those serendipitous social media experiences.
So, I am now committed to take one picture a day on my iPhone (3Gs) and upload it for my fellow i365 group members to see and anyone else who stumbles onto the Flickr online photo management and sharing website. I'm really enjoying the challenge. It appeals to my love of disciplined eclecticism. If you would like to see my 11 shots so far then please visit my i365 set.
Thanks John! Happy New Year!
Friday, 31 December 2010
Great music often evokes specific memories hardwired to precise locations and so with the death of great musicians. Friday 17th December 2010 saw the passing away of Don van Vliet, a beguiling musician, who you may know by the name of his musical alter ego: Captain Beefheart. Snow was falling fast in London and I happened to be playing some of my favourite Beefheart tracks on Spotify whilst attempting to clear my desk at work before Xmas - a persistently futile exercise. The snow was threatening to clogg everything up and so I headed for the tube. Someone twittered "Beefheart has died" which I picked up when the District Line surfaced to a snow-drenched Bromley-by-Bow underground station. I always lose data connection there but when I got home the radio confirmed Don van Vliet's depARTure.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band disbanded in 1982 after their 12th, and final, studio album Ice Cream for Crow and van Vliet committed himself to expressionist painting for the rest of his life. So his shuffle off this mortal coil was not an immediate loss to music as he had already retired: no comebacks, no reunions, no final tours or charity singles. If you have never been gripped by pop/rock music post 1955 then he will be, and is likely to remain, an utter mystery to you. If however, you like popular music (and one can never assume that everyone does) and you have never come across Captain Beefheart, then you have many treats ahead of you. My brief tribute is not an obituary, please go to Rolling Stone, MOJO, Wikipedia, The Guardian and cult fans sites for the narrative details. No, this is simply a short personal reflection on Captain Beefheart's impact on my musical senses.
I went to Nottingham Trent Polytechnic in 1983 as an indie kid and left in 1986 a jazz-fiend, a world music lover with a taste for the avant-garde - or so I like to think. Some of my new friends were listening to Frank Zappa - who immediately excited me as an artist - and along with Zappa came Captain Beefheart. Zappa went to school with Beefheart (I prefer to use his alter ego's name) and encouraged him to pursue his music, produced the most experimental of all his albums: Trout Mask Replica (1969) and also worked with him on the 1975 album, Bongo Fury. If you like one then you'll probably like the other although they are clearly very different artists. Nevertheless, what they share is a jazz sensibility.
Beefheart had an incredible voice. He could get really low and he also developed a characteristic high-pitched squawk, or squeak, that would punctuate his singing. His voice was often compared to Howlin' Wolf and it's a reasonable assumption that Wolf was a significant influence on Beefheart because of the initial similarity of the vocal sound, the skillful harmonica playing and Beefheart's clear love of the blues. So if you mix up Howlin' Wolf's voice with the free jazz experiments of some of John Coltrane's and Ornette Coleman's recordings and mix in a desert-swamp-rock blues thing with a poetry vibe, then you get some way to describing the explosive Beefheart sound.
I love the first album, Safe As Milk (1967). Electricity, a song from this album, is so brilliantly captured in this live footage from 1968 on the beach at Cannes. Beefheart looks out of kilter with the time. The audience certainly don't know what to make of him. The music has a frenetic energy and a very thick full sound. Ironically for me, I also like the mid-period, 'softer' recordings - Unconditionally Guaranteed (1974) and Moonbeams and Bluejeans (1974) - that Beefheart later disowned (not so avant-garde now are we?). If you get an opportunity to listen to Upon the My-O-My and Observatory Crest then hopefully you will be enraptured by the atmospheres they conjure up. Trout Mask Replica they certainly aren't.
Smoke-filled student digs, going on mad trips to Wales, turning up the dial to 11 on my (recordiing) Sony Walkman through the streets of Nottingham and free jamming sessions all get tied up into my Beefheart memory bank. Enjoy these links if you want to get booglarized:
13 Reasons Why We Love Captain Beefheart
Ten Essential Captain Beefheart Songs
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
In June this year I had the opportunity to film jazz singer Hope Augustus at PJ's in Covent Garden. It was great to get out with a video camera and capture a flavour of the atmosphere at Hope's gig. The performing space at PJ's is intimate, for those of you that don't know it, and therefore a challenge to film in. So I plonked myself at the back of an eating area and didn't take the camera off the tripod until the punters had had a few drinks.
It was a fun night. There were certain moments when the audience were completely captivated which is hard to achieve when everyone is eating and imbibing. Look out for the audience reaction to Hope singing "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face". Before the show I filmed a short interview with Hope. This was a family show, so to speak, as Hope is my sister-in-law. I hope (every pun intended) you enjoy this short film of the night.
[For those of you interested in the technical stuff: the film was shot on a Sony Z1 (HDV mode); I recorded extra sound from the PA feed into a Zoom H4n (utterly crucial); I edited on Final Cut Pro and my colleagues at Xube graded my footage using Magic Bullets].
Friday, 26 November 2010
The Chocolate Lab Test from xubetv on Vimeo.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
I'm really enjoying the HDR app on my iPhone. Pro HDR "lets you capture an image exposed for the highlights and another exposed for the shadows", as it says in the marketing blurb. High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography has been around for a while but now smartphone apps are giving people instant access to HDR imaging through a combination of the onboard camera and dedicated software. The HDR effect often gives images a dream-like quality because areas where you expect to see shadows become vibrant and full of saturated colour. If you have any links to great HDR images please let me know by just posting a comment on this blog.
I took this shot in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on a stunning autumn day in October.
Friday, 19 November 2010
I had great fun yesterday playing around with the Canon 7D camera. We hired it for its video capabilities but I couldn't resist a few still shots. Here is one taken with the aperture wide open (f2.8). This is the outer wall of my office in Bethnal Green, East London. The shallow depth of field (sdf) means that only a 20cm slither of the wall is sharp whilst the rest of the image - foreground and background - is satisfyingly soft (out of focus). SDF is also known as bokeh.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Monday, 8 November 2010
|Kindle on tube|
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
*They also made the mistake of trying to mix a film aesthetic (W&G has the high production values we associate with feature films) with the, often lesser, production values of a magazine style doc shot on video for TV.
It just didn't work for me although I am always interested in anything with the "invention tag" attached to it. The chap with the lifetime project of creating robots without electronics, propelled by wind and made out of electricians' plastic tubing was pure Heath Robinson.
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