A Working Life

A friend of mine, Erlend Clouston, has been writing a series of wonderful pieces for The Guardian about some of the less glamorous and yet most essential jobs in Scotland. I particularly reccommend the piece on the The Forth bridge painters and the one about a marine engineer on the Calmac ferries.

For some reason, these have appeared in the Money section of the Guardian, rather than in G2, perhaps because they have insufficient celebrity or scandal content. By putting them in a section which few of us read, the Guardian seems to be affirming the notion that these jobs, though essential, are better off unseen.

The Birds of Midway Atoll

I wish the bird in this photo were part of some shamanic ritual, or failing that, an art piece by a hermit who lives on the coast of Novia Scotia. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It, and the other photos below, were taken by Chris Jordan a month ago on Midway Atoll.

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.

There’s something about these pictures, and also Lu Guang’s, which troubles me, and not just because they starkly demonstrate the degree to which we have devastated our environment. What I find equally upsetting is how beautiful they are- as if even pollution now has its own aesthetic. Even as we push species into extinction, and ecosystems into radical change, we are making art from these actions. The fault, of course, is not in the photographers, but in those who provide subjects for them.

Cormac McCarthy Interview

Cormac Mccarthy, mid-1960s

A rare, intriguing, and somewhat provocative interview with Cormac Mccarthy and ‘The Road’ director John Hillcoat at the Wall Street Journal.

I don’t find it surprising that he describes the ‘800-page books that were written a hundred years ago’ as ‘indulgent’, though I cannot agree. McCarthy has said he has no interest in authors who do not ‘deal with issues of life and death’, but it seems to me that there are other, equally valid concerns for an author, some of which cannot be dealt with in a concise manner.

Inherent Vice, Chapter 11



Doc gets a postcard from Shasta that reminds him of when a Ouija board sent them on a fool’s errand. When he revists the location he finds a golden building shaped like a fang. Inside he meets Japonica Fenway, a girl from a previous case, who has wraparound hallucinations. After Denis crashes his car, Doc takes it to Tito Stavrou, who tells him he was supposed to pick up Wolfman from Chryskyolodon, but he never showed. And that Chryskylodon is, at a push, Greek for ‘Golden Fang’.

p.163- An amusing alternative postal delivery system- ‘catapult mail delivery involving catapult shells, maybe as a way of dealing with an unapproachable reef’.

p.165- A little extra sensory paranoia to add to all the fears about the living

Around us are always mischevious spirit forces, just past the threshold of human perception, occupying both worlds, and that these critters enjoy nothing better than to mess with all of us still attached to the thick and sorrowful catalogs of human desire.

p.166- During a torrential storm Doc imagines floods that lead to the ‘karmic waterscape connecting together, as the rain went on falling and the land vanished, into a sizable inland sea that would presently become an extension of the Pacific’. Lest we miss the reference to Lemuria, Sortilege has a dream about it, where she reveals that ‘We can’t find a way to return to Lemuria, so it’s returning to us’ (p.167). Just because this is an imagined Eden, it is no less potent (and perhaps painful). Once again, we are dealing with the Fall. Which is perhaps the only tolerable way to explain the present. At least there is the comfort that in the past things were different.

p.166- Doc and Shasta, whose relationship is all but over, make out in a car (this is a flashback) just so they can forget ‘for a few minutes how it was all going to develop anyway’. This is pretty much a synedoche of the novel.

p.170- The Golden Fang Procedures Handbook has a chapter on ‘Hippies’.

Dealing with the Hippie is generally straightforward. His childlike nature will usually respond positively to drugs, sex, and/or rock and roll’

p.171 Doc has a vision of ‘an American Indian in full Indian gear, perhaps one of those warriors who wipe out Henry Fonda’s regiment in Fort Apache (1948)’. Though a comic moment, this is also a nod to a history of disposession, of massacre and counter-massacre.

p.172 Japonica’s delusion (‘actually visiting other worlds’ p. 175)  is not without its truth, and also recalls the figures from the future in Against the Day.

Among those who could afford to, a stenuous mass denial of the passage of time was under way. All across a city long devoted to illusory product, clairvoyant Japonica had seen them, these travellers invisible to others, poised, gazing, from smogswept mesa-tops above the boulevards, acknowledging one another across miles and years, summit to summit, in the dusk, under an obscurely enforced silence.

p.176 Another ominous technological development, when Doc sees people listening to music on headphones,

in solitude, confinement and mutual silence, and some of them later at the register would actually be spending money to hear rock ‘n’ roll. It seemed to Doc like some strange kind of dues or payback. More and more lately he’d been brooding about this great collective dream that everybody was being encouraged to stay tripping around in. Only now and then would you get an unplanned glimpse at the other side.

The disturbing implication here is that all of the experimentation and freedom of the 60s actually helped the interests of capital and authority. That the last thing the latter wanted was a public fully engaged with actuality.

The photos of Lu Guang

I used to live in Shaoyang, a small town in Hunan province, in the south of China. When I told strangers where I was living they said, ‘There are many criminals there’ or ‘They have many oranges’. But the most frequent response was ‘That is a dirty place’. In many respects they were right. There were always piles of litter on the street, some of which were never swept up. The water in the Shao Shui river was a dubious green, like that of a jade milkshake (a colour some attributed to the presence of a dragon that slept in there). Even the people of the town said they disliked it being for dirty, though there was often a double standard at work- those who wiped the seat of a bus or chair in a restaurant, or who insisted on sitting on newspaper, were also the same people I saw throw cans and tissues out of train and bus windows.

But Shaoyang was in an agricultural region. Whilst I often saw rubbish caught in the sluice gates of the dam- and once the burst body of a pig -there were few signs of industrial pollution, nor of the alterations of landscape depicted in Edward Burtynsky’s photos (click on them to enlarge).


Tanggu Port, Tianjin 2005


Feng Jie #4


Wang Zhou #4

Though it is clear from watching Manufactured Landscapes (the documentary about his work) that Burtynsky has a strong environmental stance, his pictures often have a neutrality about them- the sense of judgement witheld. The same cannot be said of Lu Guang’s photos which make plain the environemntal costs of China’s reliance on coal-fired power stations (approximately 80% of their energy).


15-year-old boy from Tianshui, Gansu Province


Longmen town in Hanchen city, Shaanxi Province


Tianjin Steel Plant, She County, Hebei Province, March 18, 2008

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