SHAUN BELCHER

A working class hero is something to be

Category: commission

Edwin Smith revisited – Catching Light

Back in October 2014 (now three years ago) I was on the first term of a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU.

I was also with uncanny timing commissioned (the first and so far the only time I been commissioned) by R.I.B.A. through Apple and Snakes to write in response to a lovely collection of Edwin Smith Photographs at R.I.B.A. that autumn.

I missed my course deadline but fulfilled the commission and promptly left a course that frankly I should not have been on at that time. The £500 fee almost covered my first term fees!

The RIBA website has ‘mislaid’ the entire project basically  so I publishing whole thing here instead.

Here is the work which is one of the best things I done so far and as I not as flavour of the month as certain other poets hasn’t been seen since unless you delve deep into my obscure back catalogue.

Apple and Snakes put up a blog post of the recordings we all made as well..again not heard much of that from RIBA either they probably ticking various ‘engagement’ boxes.

Listen to all the poems here: http://applesandsnakesblog.org/blog/edwinify-yourself#more

I am indebted to Roy Hammans who actually developed the last image after Smith’s death who provided informative advice throughout and is probably the single most knowledgeable person about Smith and his work.

EDWIN SMITH – Catching Light

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”― Christopher IsherwoodGoodbye to Berlin, Berlin Stories, (1945)

 

 

  1. Kodak Box Brownie No.2 Model F. 127 Roll Film 1927

 

Camden Town Bedroom 1935

 

 

Trembling in a gloomy Camden Town bedroom surrounded by brown paper

The teenage boy gently prises the camera from the leather case, undoes the catch

Traces the word BROWNIE[i] along the fake leather strap, caresses the box

The textured cardboard leatherette warm to the touch, he raises it to his eyes

Spins around to catch a glimpse of lace curtains breathing in and out

Then a pause, stops breathing, squints through spectacle glass and a blurry lens

No film, just retina, lens and glass glinting, quiet suburban air between the wars

Shutter pressed, the first image, undeveloped, untaken, unrecorded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. ICA IDEAL 205 Glass Plate 9×12 1935

 

 

Opticians London 1935

 

 

 

A present from Marx and Nash[ii], same fake black leather case but much stronger

A hint of steel, hands now more relaxed, a world at his fingertips

The box finally clicks open, bellows a tiny lung, rangefinder, spirit level

Suddenly in Vogue, a London Atget spinning around fairs, cafes, Oxford Street

Zeiss Ikon Tessar 135mm f4.5 precision German lens and Compur shutter
The shop windows buzz with reflections, his spectacles stare back after

Nights spent in Lund Humphries[iii] experimenting with solutions, final prints

Days mixing it with emigrants and socialites, Focal Press tricks, ghost images.[iv]

 

 

         

 

 

 

 

 

  1. CONTAX II 5cm Sonnar Lens 35mm 1936

 

Kentish Town 1936

N.B. The curators got this wrong is in fact in East End probably Limehouse or Whitechapel as the Poster behind the gent is for a show at Hackney Wick and architecturally Kentish Town simply doesn’t match this setting.

 

 

Modernism in Kentish Town, a lens named after the sun, Sonnar

The lure of speed, futurism, the 35mm film spooling out of the movies

Twisting on that light yellow filter, ½ a second at F4, the march of progress

Back to black-outs, air-raid fears, black shirts, Agfa Isochrom, Kodak Nikko

The thrill of a world intoxicated with power[v], dancing on a ledge, never falling

Café de Paris, Heppenstall, Orwell, men talking in gangs carrying knives

His finger presses the shutter on Laura Knight and Coco, the ballet, the fairs

Spin Pennies from Heaven, Zeppelins over the docks[vi], Germany calling.

 

 

 

 

  1. THORNTON-PICKARD RUBY Quarter Plate 1904

 

St Lawrence, Bradford –on-Avon, Wiltshire 1950

 

Post-War, Deep England after Evans[vii], ash in the mouth, misericord darkness,

Light trickle slowly through lens, cat-one, cat-two, cat-three, whispered

People have become ghosts, 27 and a half minutes[viii], divining, digging into time

A mahogany box worn to a gleam in a suitcase, mahogany tripod, Leeds, England

So solid, a step back from the sirens, modernist black and white, the emblems

Slow drizzle and fade, tilts into spires and thickets, empty barns, rigs of the time

His glinting spectacles at the viewfinder, crouching like a sniper, waiting

Hiding his camera under vestry tables, a quiet man in a corner, hooded.

 

 

  1. GRAFLEX SPEED GRAPHIC Roll Film 1960

 

Fylindales, Yorkshire 1969

 

 

Movement, travel, portables, Made in New York, focal plane, press camera

The fruits of success, lease-lend to never had it so good, the wide angle

The New Europe, Ireland, Italy, Greece and France, the Ensign Autorange

Searching for the same mellow light, that photograph in the mind always

Then back weeks later to the darkroom in deepest England, the bleaching
Hours lightening shadows, clearing highlights with Potassium Ferricyanide,[ix] poison

Chemical arts, sleights of hand, shade in the palm of the hand, fission and fusion

His collecting eye adding the coin to the wishing well, staring at the sun.[x]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. ENSIGN AUTORANGE 820 120 roll film 1955

 

Stubble Burning – Last film developed 1993 by Roy Hammans

 

 

‘Co-operating with the Inevitable’ he called it, “bend with the stream”

Holding the Ensign Autorange up to the light it reflects in his spectacles

Bought in 1955 the last camera he held, English made, Walthamstow

The firm almost disappeared when in 1940 the offices in Holborn bombed

All surviving he stands with Olive to watch stubble burning in 1971

Squinting through a crisp and sharp Ross Xpres lens at the flaring

Feeling the silver body in the palm, the faux leather Ensign logo

Epsilon shutter pressed, a last image, taken, undeveloped, catches light forever.[xi]

 

© Shaun Belcher 2014

 

[i] Edwin Smith redeemed the Kodak Box Brownie by collecting Corn-Flake packet coupons probably in 1927  (EWELL, 2008)p.11.

[ii] Friend Enid Marx gave Edwin Smith a ‘better camera’ in 1935 shortly after he got married Olive Smith reports this as the Contax but as Ewell points out that not released until 1936. (EWELL, 2008)p.13.

[iii] Enid Marx was connected to The Royal College and Smith’s photographs came to the attention of Paul Nash who encouraged Smith and gave him access to the darkrooms at the publisher Lund Humphries. (EWELL, 2008)

[iv] Smith co-wrote and published a series of Focal Press guides from 1938-1940.(SMITH, 1940)

[v] Ewell reports the trip Smith made with his sponsor Sir Albert Talbot Wilson MP, a fervent pro-Nazi, to Germany at this time. (EWELL, 2008)p.19.

[vi] The German airship Graf Zeppelin made ‘spying’ raids probably equipped with aerial photography equipment of a high resolution on the 30th June 1936 and this was reported in Hansard on the 8th July 1936. The Parliamentary exchange highlights the naivety of some in Government which bordered on complicity. (Hansard, 1936)

[vii] Frederick H. Evans, British ‘Pictorialist’ photographer famous for the ‘Sea of Steps’ photograph taken in Wells Cathedral which Smith took a version of in 1956. A major influence on the Cathedral and Parish Church series.

[viii] Smith would time exposures using the cat phrase and replace the lens cap on exposures that could last up to 27 minutes thus removing all trace of human activity. (EWELL, 2008)p.52.

[ix] Smith mixed his own chemicals. After his death a large amount of Potassium Ferricyanide was found in his possession. The chemical is a poison and the Ilford Manual of Photography recommends disposing in drains with plenty of water to reduce the risk. Source: Roy Hammans note to article ‘Ways of Working’ on The Weeping Ash photography website. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)

[x] The Edwin Smith RIBA exhibition highlights the ‘trick’ Smith used during the Fylindales printing of placing a coin on the paper to ‘create’an image of the sun where none had been.

[xi] The circumstances of this last roll of film being left in Smith’s camera and only being developed years later are detailed on the Weeping Ash website. Source: ‘The Last Exposures’. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)

 

 

Bibliography

 

EWELL, R., 2008. Evocations of Place. 1st ed. London: Merrell:RIBA.

HAMMANS, R., 2011. Edwin Smith Working Methods. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/life-work/ways-of-working
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

HAMMANS, R., 2011. The Last Exposures. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/related-material/the-last-exposures
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

Hansard, 1936. GERMAN AIRSHIP “HINDENBURG.”. [Online]
Available at: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1936/jul/08/german-airship-hindenburg
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

SMITH, E., 1940. In: All the Photo-Tricks. London: Focal Press.

 

 

Burning Books : where did it all come from…

https://www.scribd.com/document/347049332/Burning-Books-Pamphlet

Having self-published the latest pamphlet in an intentionally ongoing series ( I aim to publish a ’round-up’ pamphlet twice a year from now on) here some author’s notes on the poems.

The latest is  ‘Burning Books’ Horseshoe Press Pamphlet No. 2 and I thought I’d try and describe what influenced the poems and what I think I doing which invariably different to what the reader imputes.

Burning Books and Buying Time ..education, morals, politics..everything can be bought these days. I am literally buying time at present using up savings before the next employment…..if there is a next one…

The Dance of Debt

The dance of debt been going on since time immemorial but never has it been such a mantra from the ruling classes..

Burning Books

Things are not getting any better no matter how many J.K.Rowling novels we burn….

Iggy Pop in a sideboard

True story on  Foundation Art at Oxford Polytechnic I suddenly had enough money to buy my third ever vinyl album. The first was an MFP Oliver the musical soundtrack. The second  was Alice Cooper’s Bilion Dollar babies then this. The copy I purchased was so warped it kept skidding when played on the Dansette tweed record player kept in my parent’s sideboard. I returned it to Woolworths and traded it for a flat copy of XTC’s White Music. I heard just enough of The Passenger to ‘get it’ and the details about Berlin are fantasy thoughts prompted by a documentary and footage shown after Bowie’s death.

Five doodlebugs

Just for fun completely random stuff which has overtones of suicide airline pilots from the news owing something to Prynne and Oliver but not sure what. I never been a strident modernist in that vain and frankly get bored with poetry that needs decyphering or pretends to be something it isn’t. The factionalism of contemporary poetry means that if you go down that road you will have a loyal and small audience and not much else. It a good route for academics. A love of Bob Cobbing helps..the poetic equivalent of trainspotting.

London Calling (45)

Start of a series of Vinyl 45 related poems. Short and lyrical …that’s it with overtones of political comment just like the original songs.

Working on a Building of love (45)

See above any link to Corbyn is purely coincidental and anyway I ditched Labour for the Greens.

A Poundland sonnet

Both these ‘sonnets’ written pre-election. Angry squibs. Didn’t help the shits won anyway.

A Wreckless scheme

A retort to the great God Armitage’s dull work in the field. Armitage is like New Labour very successfull and very dull.

Edwin Smith – Catching Light

A commission, a PAID commission no less, for R.I.B.A. Now online at RIBA website too. Loved it as gave free rein to my retro-technology obsessions. Each verse dedicated to a particular camera Smith used at different times in his life. Lead to some interesting places which will explore further like Zeppelins over Wembley,  1930s Camden, Orwell and Fascism.

Online at RIBA:

Matilda in the snow

The description of the down-land cottage all true. My dad was a farm labourer in early 1960s. We were so poor he bred rabbits to sell. The memory of Matilda comes from school history lessons. Matilda fled Oxford and was given refuge at Wallingford (my school’s location) Castle. Her action changed history and ensured that the Plantagenet line was in power later. No Matilda no QEII..which despite all the 90th Birthday celebrations might have been a good thing..in fact how about no Royals at all? Personal note I fled Oxford too but on a London bound overcrowded National Express coach. Not quite as romantic…

Rust

The selling of England by the Pound was most brutal in the destruction of William Morris’s original company. Rover was the biggest employer when I a child now it the University. They let it rust….

Postcard to Okinawa

Hiroshima anniversary.

ACRONYMS

I hate acronyms especially nasty little ones that belittle the working class which most of them seem to be funnily enough…

The Oxford Professor of Poverty

Dedicated to Simon Armitage who has hoovered up everything I could ever aspire too with some of the dullest poetry I ever read.
Success in Britain is never offending anybody…and toeing the line forever…..New Labour through and through. His first book is where it ended for me…

Collateral

Self-explanatory. Whilst writing I referred to Edwin Muir.

I was also was reading Cesar Vallejo in great translations published by Richard Price ( a proper poet) at Southfields.

Awfully Middle Class

Again says it on the tin. A classist rant and I aint apologising. If you are going to publish boring self-referential holiday snaps about reading Dante on the beach then be prepared for a slagging..naming no names..

Buying Time

Self-explanatory but I lost count of the number of times privileged i.e. wealthy middle class people have told me that life is what you make it, you make your own luck, you only have yourself to blame etc etc. BULLSHIT..this country is totally controlled and run by money and the class system has become MORE not less embedded in my lifetime. I would not have had a decent education in post Thatcher Britain because that is how the Middle Class voted and would like it to stay…if you poor you don’t get in the door…

finally

SHORT STORY: THE LEASH

About the only thing I got out of my brief tenure on a creative writing course at NTU. Heavily influenced by David Belbin’s particularly rigorous copy-editing. He would make a great editor. It a parody of a Scottish Working Class realist story from mid 1980s. Not bad for a first attempt. More James Kelman than Irvine Welsh thank god …

The full story and a ‘contextual document’ about influences we had to submit alongside it are available on the blog here:

MY FIRST SHORT STORY: Influences

 

I hope this might help…

The Bear Pit – Oxford Channel 6 TV – 1999

bear

Filmed for poetry slot on Oxford 6 one of the first local TV channels in the country. Filmed direct off TV hence quality. Summer 1999? I am stood on location i.e. in the Bear Pit it still there 🙂

I am a lot younger (40) thinner and beardier…

The Bear Pit – Long Wittenham – 1999 from Shaun Belcher on Vimeo.

 

The poem is available in Farm Hand’s Radio above:

THE BEAR PIT

Council grass-cutter smooth
the sliced hay and clover ferments in warm bundles
in the crest and dip of this depression
a hundred yards short of the churchyard entrance.

The old building has fallen to dust
living only as a memory of a shadow at dusk.
Here the cocks once beat a flurry of blood and feather
and the shackled bears were unchained.

Later those bears danced, shifting in their chains
as the first generator spluttered into life under the chestnuts.
Then it was teeth and claws, a rowdy entertainment of
blood soaked pelts and simple wagers.

The clay beneath this hollow has drunk
up its four hundred years of dripping blood.
It has fed into the roots of every blade of grass
that now lies as smooth as fur
a cloak of lost bets, shattered bones and fears.

Edwin Smith Poem – now online at RIBA website

RIBA
RIBA have finally put up the poem…so you can read it now I provided a ‘referenced’ version and a ‘clean’ none annotated version they went with referenced…strangely but there you go ‘Catching Light’….I have also provided a recording of myself reading (no footnotes;-) which will be uploaded later I presume.

READ THE POEM ON THE RIBA WEBSITE

Edwin Smith – ‘Catching Light’ completed

edwin RIBA42397

Final draft of the commissioned poem has gone to Apples and Snakes and R.I.B.A.

6 stanzas of eight lines each stanza titled according to Edwin Smith’s cameras.

1. Kodak Box Brownie 1927

2. ICA Ideal 205 1935

3. Contax II 1936

4. Thornton Pickard Ruby 1904

5. Graflex Speed Graphic 1960

6. Ensign Autorange 1955

I do not know publication conditions so cannot post until know that or it put in public domain by RIBA. Above a blurry photo of first draft.

 

Now available online : EDWIN SMITH POEM FOR RIBA

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