10 Tapes and 13 Eyes

5 June 2008

Talking to Hugo about the Amazon. Some work trip he went on there years back, photographing scientists who were working on climate change. Flights to smaller and smaller towns, villages with smaller and smaller airstrips cleared out of trees and beaten into the dirt, then – when the airstrips ran out – it was still further to go up river, long day and night on a small boat heading up to their final destination; a middle of nowhere. Very dark in the jungle he said, the dense trees blocking all light. And the wildlife not so much visible as audible – endless animals, insects and birds you heard out there in the but never saw. Wet from sweat and moisture in the air the whole time and nothing ever got dry – not clothes, not skin, never once in the whole time. Amazing he said. But the best thing he mentioned concerned the long journey up river and how he had filmed very much of it, not really working on the project but more for himself. A lot of tape recorded looking off from the boat and out at the lush trees and the changing sky and the river bends and the light on the water. When they reached their final destination though he realised that by by accident he had left his stock of ten blank dv tapes in a hotel room way back en route and that the tapes he’d recorded the boat journey on were all he had left. In the next week, as various essential pieces of work-filming came along he had to sacrifice sections of the trip up the river – recording over it, bit by bit, inexorably. Trying to preserve sections here and there…. winding forwards and backwards, over-recording the bits he did not mind losing but trying to protect certain parts, scenes, passages. But slowly, day by day, minute by minute, he was erasing the trace of the journey that had taken him there, a kind of corollary for the process of forgetting until all that was left were vivid flashes, out of context views, moments, fragments cut up interviews and more work-a-day documentation.


Some people may remember that way back my brother M. wrote me about working to bury railway sleepers upright into the ground to hold up a bank where they’d cut a track thru a rich guys field.  A followup here in M’s customary late night dislocated rambling style. As far as writing goes there’s more than one in the familly. I have to watch out.

Still here. Been back to the boy millions place – nay more chainsaws and shite so much this time. The sleepers we put in still holdin fast the cut thru the hill. Didn’t like to see the concrete so much I gather, gotta cover that up with somethin. Been doin a wall for what seems like an age, reconstructing something that was put 150 years ago but has kinda fell down and had same age trees growin thru it. Pull it out and put it back. found a farthing. Labour was cheap then and they built with any shite they dug up on the property. Puttin it back difficult on a time and money scale. Still. Put it back with better quarry stone mixed in to make my life and back easier. Cant build a wall out of medicine ball mishapen heads in 2008. Not on a price. That was the bank been put back, and on to the wall. Used to build walls and tall walls down here using naught but shite and lime mortar. Anyhow, the things been fucked and the stone blown with wet and frost and snakes and ivy, took 4ft off the top as it was at a mathematical angle full of un original matter and Not Safe for our £boys stoned perambulations with his dog. Lime mortar, a curious thing. Delving into the black arts. Ive spoken to experts, theres talk of damp hessian, mixes worthy of fuck knows who, hydraulic, quick, and hydrated.

Burns all the skin off your hands in 2 days.no finger prints. Time for the perfect crime. Cept youd get stuck to a coppers shirt on day 3 with the barbs and shite on ure hands for a week then. Nay escape. Burns eyes too tho thats no good for crimes.

He bought a new jag the other day, an F plate fucked v12 convertible for 6 grand. Does minus on the mpg. Happy. Collects his mail in it from the top of the drive. Must be a quarter mile. Tis a distance eh?

Back tomorrow for more wall. Only 50 metres and 17 hands worth of skin to go. and 13 eyes.


The details

2 June 2008

Streets in that same gray light they always organise for the early morning taxi rides and the city still dreaming its most persistent night figures – the makeshift crew of staggering drunks, curled bench-sleepers and lone walkers, the street corner-standers, the lingerers of various doorways, african guys stood tall, dressed in white, black skin dense against the morning fog, the lovers, the occasional tangle of friends whose eyes are blurred by the onslaught of the morning, still laughing about yesterday. It comes to you in waves of blankness and sudden details. On a further street, a big cop holds a small guy at a skeptical arms length, the latter pushed back to the shuttered news-stand/kiosk painted an anonymous green. And meanwhile, in the back seat of the car that pulls up spilling music to a slumbering traffic light, the middle passsenger slumped forwards between compatriots appears to be cause for concern, nodding into uncousciounsess or nausea perhaps, and while the car waits even the driver leans back to see what's going on there, gesturing as he-that-is-slumped slumps more and the others look to him, or nod to the music, or lose interest and watch from the windows as the green light in the opposite direction gives free passage to nothing more than the morning light and the nothingness – the cross-street a whole direction in the city which no one apparently has a use for right now.

The light changes a bit. You pass a zone where the tops of the few high rise buildings are disappeared in fog. You see the derelict form of the homeless here and there –  the best (and worst) of them a guy cast as a sleeping knot of piled rags on the bottom steps to the church. They do the details very good for these trips.  And alongside all these the morning city dreams and spits its first born into the streets – street cleaners in orange, taxi drivers, night workers heading home, the insomniacs, the stray dog-walkers. Strange how it works – that only at this time, now in the mornings, do certain features of the landscape come into focus. Only now, somehow, do you see the walls, the boarded up windows on the 3rd floor, the beautiful repetition of the graffiti tags, the angles of a building, the letters of the traffic signs. Only now, perhaps because its near empty, so almost deserted – a film set waiting for the action. And at another street you see the moped that got knocked over sometime in this previous night and which now lies like slaughterhoused cattle, neck broken with the bolt gun, head forwards, handlebars splayed into the road. Or only now when your defences are down does any of this become clear, or even enter the realm of the visible, since at this time in the morning your eyes and brain work a weird and vivid back and forth; a sleight of hand, a dawn hustle that lets stuff flow and form on the back of your skull directly, stuff that would not flow like that any other time. The lulling steady cam of the taxi window whose gliding, speeding, curving vantage point is yours temporarily (for duration of this journey) and you think about how many taxi rides like this you have done – how many early morning escape from where-evers – how many tracking shots out and over to the airport, while the city calls out its cast of shift-working extras to do background detail, so loving, so complete in its partialness, their narrative.

And you remember back at the hotel. The night porter/conceirge was sleeping in his suit when you came down to check out,  his head lain on the desk by the computer terminal with its spiral of screensaver and he woke with the closing doors of the elevator or with the sound of your footsteps or suitcase wheels on the stone floor and while you paid and waited for the cab the two of you shared some blurred time, sat there in a kind of awkward half awakeness, in a foyer silence doubled by the lack of a language to speak in and in any case a space too close to sleep still and too hard or too intimate to share with a stranger.