2 November 2011

More weeks in New York

8th Ave, NY, 17th October 2011, 14.15
Avenue B, NY, 18th October 2011, 14.33

East 9th Street, NY, 18th October 2011, 14.54

North 7th and Kent, Brooklyn, 22nd October, 17.45

Nassau and Bedford Ave, 23rd October, 1.05

Brooklyn Bridge, NY, 23rd October 2011, 18.35

On the G train, October 25th 2011, 17.12

Wooster Street, 28th October 2011, 18.12

16 October 2011

A week in New York

West 27th Street, Sunday 16th October, 1.30pm

34 St Penn Station subway, Thursday October 13th, 11.35pm

Espace, Hell's Kitchen, Thursday October 13th, 11.10pm
Angela Bassett at the party for the opening of The Mountaintop on Broadway. Spike Lee wore a ridiculous velour hat.

Occupy Wall Street, 18.00pm
CHANGE is in the air

Occupy Wall Street, Sunday October 9th, 5.15pm
The first Spanish language General Assembly had been going on for about an hour, and these women gathered next to it and laid out these two flags, then a series of pink crucifixes and long powder blue evening gloves with slogans and ideals written in black pen.

Occupy Wall Street, Sunday 9th October, 4.55pm

Looking up in Bryant Park, Saturday 8th October, 18.30pm

*Not pictured: Spiderman the Musical (urgh); The Creators Project in DUMBO with FourTet; tacos at Paquitos; 5.40am at the Brickyard, Hell's Kitchen on Saturday morning watching Wales lose to France in the Rugby World Cup.

11 October 2011

A week in London

Liverpool Street Station, Thursday October 6th, 14.22pm
This child has amazingly lizardlike hands.

Liverpool Street Station, Thursday 6th October, 14.15pm
This man was standing underneath the departures board. I asked him "Is it ok if I take your photo?" He calmly looked at me and said "Everything is".

Soho, Wednesday 5th October, 3.15pm

Broadway Market, London Fields, Saturday 1st October 1.50am
A woman aged 30 was shot at the bus stop just before 2am. I was cycling home and approached the bus stop about 10 minutes after the police arrived. They were putting up cordons. The shirtless man was extremely drunk and harassing a policewoman to find his shirt for him. The policewoman was trying to take a witness statement from the young man in red, who gave the drunk man his jacket.

Friday 30th September, 1.55pm

30 September 2011

27 September 2011

Djokovic v. Nadal: This Time It's Personal

September 12th 2011. A day later than scheduled, a day after the most portentous date in the American calendar. A day after the day that sparked two wars - one barely masquerading as over, the other the longest in US history, whose casualty toll reaches over 250,000, showing no signs of abating, as renewed attacks from the Taliban have seen the intelligence agencies of the US and Britain. The eve of that portentous date, a truck bomb in central Afghanistan killed 5 Afghans and injured 77 US soldiers. A day which signifies unending, fractious offensives; offensives which come with deeply embedded psychologies: military cruelty presented as the fight between ideologies.

24 hours after that portentous date - and itself a day later than planned - a different kind of battle, between two foreign powers.

The US Open Tennis Men's Final.

World no.1 Novak Djokovic, bulldozing his way back from 2 sets to 0 down against Roger Federer in the semi finals (for the second year running), against defending champion Rafael Nadal - defeated Wimbledon finalist, 5 times losing finalist to Djokovic in 2011. Their rivalry this year has felt more like a war, in which the reigning king has been eroded and exploded by the Serbian's unbelievable resilience and strength in depth.

This was a battle. Brutal. Attritious. Contentious. And not just competitive - but combative. A battle whcih Djokovic inevitably won - but nonetheless a match which, over 4 sets, took nearly 4 and a half hours.

It hurt to watch. The two men were beating each other to a pulp, running so hard and striking the ball with such power that each shot really was that: a shot. Discharged with inconceivable force; two men armed. Literally. Weapons growing out of their shoulders, at times firing canons; at others, tricky, terrifying snipers, seeking the lines and corners.

This mammoth, hugely entertaining battle marks a new rivalry: Djokovic and Nadal. But unlike the previous rivalry which dominated men's tennis - that between Nadal and Federer, who have competed in 8 Grand Slam Finals (Nadal victorious in 6), and produced the greatest match of all time in the Wimbledon Final 2008 - this one will not be as dazzling in the ability of both players to bring the best out of each other.

Nadal and Federer's games fit each other like gloves - they challenged and responded to each other in ways previously impossible. But Djokovic and Nadal will not reign together. They'll wax and wane in turn: because their rivalry, with two styles so similar, is one of outdoing. Djokovic's game is effectively modelled on Nadal's (whose game was modelled on beating Federer's): phenomenal fitness, incredible returns, defence-into-attack, the grinding of opponents and the surprise unleashing of rocketing forehands. The elements they do not share between them - most clearly exposed on clay to Nadal's advantage, and on the hardcourts of Australia and the US for Djokovic - is unbelievable spin (Nadal's power) and a probing, split-second backhand (Djokovic's power - and Nadal's weakness).

So why, with games so similar, has Nadal always had Djokovic's number before? It's not just because Djokovic has only really reached competing levels of fitness and consistency this year. Nadal's greatest weapon, when all other weapons fail, is a huge heart and the steeliest of minds. The power to convince himself against the inevitability of an apparent loss: the ability to just keep the ball in play, to plant a seed of doubt in the opponent's mind, to hide out, to battle and play dirty until the dominator trips himself up. As well as his own waspish forehands and offensives, he plays so well into the self-confidence of others: he finds a way to undermine their faith in their strongest assets.

Yet in the heart of the second set of the Final, after Nadal had gone 2-0 up (as in the first), only to be hauled back to 2-2, at the end of a 17 minute game of brutal attack and impossible playmaking - Djokovic broke him. And that steely reserve cracked. Beneath it we saw what that outer armour protects: a little boy, eager to please, determined to succeed, bullied and buoyed by his uncle Toni. Skinny, a little desperate and full of willing - but out of ideas.

On September 12th, as the CIA building in Kabul slept nervously, suspicious but unaware of the attack awaiting it, Rafael Nadal faced up to a new enemy. An enemy that may well be himself.

Novak Djokovic beat Nadal at his own game. He played the same style of tennis, and now, emphatically underlined by Djokovic's unstoppable victories all year, he was playing it better. Constantly. And Rafa - with nowhere to hide under the lights and the cameras, no teammates, just one individual so eager to win, to please, that he re-programmed his body to play left-handed - faced the truth. That his refusal to lose had become a kind of denial....a negative. He went through his usual armoury: defence into attack, denying the loss, clawing back; but his classic refuse-to-lose game lacked one element. Belief. Even in the exhilarating fight of the third set. which saw Nadal come back from 4-1 down to take the set on a tie break, won by flashes of electric forehands, the moments of transcendence felt like a suspension of disbelief on Nadal's part. Half an hour where he forgot that he doesn't believe he can beat Djokovic right now.

The media loves to spin itself into a frenzy about form and fitness - endlessly fretting over the 'torture' Nadal inflicts on himself like an over-protective mother cooing over a grazed knee. The only torture for Nadal is mental. He was on fine form - and velocity - in the US Open, the second week especially. His first 2 sets against Andy Murray in the semi-final (won 6-4 6-2 3-6 6-2) were an example of the terrifying fluency of a top player at total ease. Nadal, who knows Murray's game so well, and knows how to beat it, was gorgeous: improvising with his own game, experimenting with length and depth, taking to the net. Just like with Federer's game, Nadal has cracked the formula with Murray: he knows the rhythm and rigour he needs to apply. The men on the other side of the net are known quantities. And with this knowledge, this comfort, he can relax and play great tennis.

But - what of this new enemy? This brusque, dark-haired, slim pine tree of a man, who makes Nadal look nervous and strained, exposing a weakness in Nadal's game he never thought he'd need to improve: that strong, strong resolve. How has Djokovic got inside his head?

The answer is in the Serb's own constitution. After several years showing promise, he has come to terms with his own head and heart. Sure, djokovic's superb fitness, the change to a gluten-free diet and good rest all contribute. But as he says, he hasn't changed his game so much. The key to his year of superhero tennis - only 2 losses in 64 games - is an alignment of a powerful mind to that powerful body. Exuding positivity and - in his own words - 'aggression', Djokovic has found a place for his personality within his game.

In previous years watching Djokovic play, you could see his undoubted talent - his victory in the Australian Open 2008 an obvious signal - but it always came in gasps, usually separated by periods of petulance, wilting fitness or variable form. Djokovic's relationship with his mind and personality was a bit like Murray's: the mind is a danger. It should be kept separate from the game; leave it off the court so it doesn't distract you.

As we constantly see with Murray, this causes problems. Try to lock up your mind and soul in the locker room and it will find a way of creeping out in your shoelaces, appearing on the inside of your towel as you wipe the sweat and change ends, in the yellow fluff of the new balls you're now nervous to serve with.

Djokovic has realised this year that personality - heart as well as mind - has a crucial place in a champion's game. He's not going to win just by playing good tennis. He has to have the attitude, the feeling to match. In his own words:

"...I had difficulties approaching semi-finals and finals. I would wait for players to make mistakes. I didn't have the positive attitude. That has changed now - the 2010 US Open [four-set defeat by Nadal] was the turning point.

"I guess it just clicked in my head. It's just that I'm hitting the shots that I maybe wasn't hitting in the last two, three years now. I'm going for it."

Djokovic's heart is in his tennis now - his character and his energy no longer struggling to stay subdued in the locker room.

Just look at that astounding exhibitionism after his match-point-saving forehand in the 5th set against Federer in the semis. or his unselfconsciously ridiculous robot dance at the end of the first week. His playmaking in set 2 of the final. Or his cold, clinical bulldozing of the 4th - a no-nonsense close out. Djokovic - a great mimic, a joker, a cheeky chancer, a bit arrogant but also, crucially, an enigma, a coolly fierce solider - has let his personality play tennis.

Now his mimicry - once reserved just for joking around or terrible adverts - is being used on court, to embody the styles of other players and beat them at their own games. This audacious mix of calm cockiness, one-upmanship and flair is - this year - an almost impenetrable fort. Opponents look across the net and see themselves...parodied.

And that was what made the US Open Final such a terrifying, pummelling bout of a game. It was personal. Like part of these players' identities was at stake. Like they were fighting for who they were: fighting for the right to be called champion, two players so similarly matched that the battleground was really a mental one. Two men playing a style of tennis which, on paper, is very similar. Two men divided and engaged by the net: drawing these similarities into battle.

The divide between them was not equal, though. The net a window to one, disguised as a mirror to the other. Nadal in the interrogation room - staring into the glass to only see himself, whilst Djokovic stoof on the other side, seeing his every move.

The component which turned the scrutiny on Nadal, and hid Djokovic's direction and probes from the Spaniard? That Djokovic has made that defence-into-attack style a purely attacking on. He's turned a 'negative' style of tennis into the most aggressive, open, incisive play around.

So now that Djokovic has brought his head game to rival the strongest head and heart of all - what is going to decide the future of this rivalry?

It will be the physical state of each player which redresses the current divide. To fix the mind, Nadal must go back to the body. Focus, train, and stop worrying about Djokovic. Focus on improving the backhand, serving under pressure, finding depth of groundstrokes. Only through playing the game, getting absorbed in it, can he find himself. Regain confidence, find enjoyment - and that form which found him winning the French, Wimbledon and US Opens in 2010. Time will pass. Djokovic will get a little tired, or the magic making this incredible year will run out; maybe that old mentality will peek in even for a second, if he isn't careful; maybe he'll drop off his workrate (though that seems unlikely...). Time will tell whose body will fatigue and confidence will falter.

Just look at that country plunged into war by that portentous day before September 12th. What a lot of self-belief and aggression it showed in the face of an enemy. And what a lot of damage and error can be caused when that self-belief goes awry. Or when it's not founded on anything. It becomes denial. The enemy adapts, survives, learns your game, finds its rhythm. And retains its own element of surprise. And the war grinds on: in it for the long haul, charting the shifts in power like spikes on a heart monitor.

During the match, Rafa must have felt like he was fighting a cause he didn't believe in. But in the press conference afterwards, Nadal's attitude was superb. And in a way - having, as he says, a new 'goal', a new target, is brilliant for him. He needs something to aim for: someone to attack. Djokovic is still soaring, but behind him - despite his humility and sense in interviews - Rafa is aggravated. Aggresive. In sport, that can cause an explosive renewal of offense, or a terrible implosion. A desire to finish this once and for all. Because in tennis at least, wars can be won and lost. They can be measured and tabulated and put in snippets on Wikipedia and ATP player bios. We're playing at being in battles. And if someone gets hurt, they don't get buried in a mass grave. They have a massage. Or cramp in a press conference.

26 September 2011


Uprising & The Art of Not Looking Back//
Hofesh Shechter Company //
Dance Xchange, Birmingham, September 24th 2011

scribbled down last night, in my notebook:

"teeters between the

and the

... neither one - nor the other - but


at the the same time


5 September 2011

the agony of others: the US Open and its injuries

Expecting a match report and some press feedback on Rafael Nadal's victory last night in the US Open 3rd Round against David Nalbandian, I went to the tennis tournament's website. across the homepage was a video, whose screengrab just looked like a normal press conference. I clicked on it and found this (I feel sort of weird linking to this, as I don't know how I feel about this video being posted):

The most popular video on the US Open site, unavoidable on the scroll-through video gallery which keeps landing you back on it, was nearly 2 minutes of Rafael Nadal wincing and cramping, as the camera, rock-steady, recorded imperviously on. I made it through about a minute before realising 1) they aren't going to cut to anything else, let alone report on the match and 2) this is horrible.

What good is it to me, or anyone, to gawp at a tennis player suffering cramp at a bad time? Some of the comments below were ridiculous - one woman, Elizabeth David if I remember rightly, said that 'it was agonizing - how dare they put up such a video - look at what 'we' put them through'... (the response from another user, predictably deadpan, was along the lines of 'not agonizing enough for you to stop watching...')

Let's pull this into perspective. There are several things going on here. Yes, Elizabeth David, there is something cruel or weird about the posting of this video. But cramp isn't that cruel or weird thing. The odd thing going on with the video is the seeming lack of empathy or sympathy for a player in an awkwardly-timed spot of bother. Even weirder, or greedier, is the way that this footage was immediately advertised - and of course, picked up - by media outlets across the globe, hitting the homepages of ElPais, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald (that at least has a sense of, not a sensationalist, humour) and so on within minutes - as a collapse/ shock/ OUTRAGE!!!

stop! press! RAFAEL SLUMPS TO THE GROUND....with cramp.

Cramp is painful, yes, but it passes. Press conferences too are painful, but they pass, with the same old 'he played well, tough first set, but I played some good points' soundbites. The only thing which makes the press conference special is that we happen to have seen what is an otherwise banal moment in a sports person's life, when thet have to lie back, breathe deep and wait for the spasms to subside.

Nadal's irritation with the persistent camera-snapping silence is understandable. But that's the only thing that makes the video interesting: imagining the silent, poised journos, gawping at an 'agony' that is merely inconvenient. And then this moment becomes the story of the entire game - it eclipses the sport completely. Nadal played a good game, and yet once again, the media will be fawning over this bruised solider, who is pushed 'too hard' by the tennis calendar.

Yes, the tennis calendar is punishing, but I have a feeling that no one is more punishing on himself than Rafael Nadal. The difference between he and Nalbandian was exactly one of mentality, a mindset solidified years ago and now paying off: Nalbandian, as everyone keeps saying, was one of the great hopes of a few years ago. He never really made it, and looking at the match up between he and Nadal yesterday, you could see why. It was written in their bodies, their body language, their movements and muscles. Both have talent, but what differentiates them is the amount of hard work and pain Nadal has put himself through to get to 10 grand slams.

But back to that video a second. It has since been removed from the US Open site, all full 2 minutes of boredom. A few rogue youtube versions remain here.When you relay its contents, it sounds funny (and then first comment for this video is: 'looks like he's getting a blowjob lol'): a world class athlete slowly disappearing from view under a table at a press conference. Fine, that is kind of funny - when you tell it to someone else.

But watch it, without thinking that. What is it that makes the event, the banal insight into an athlete's cramp, creepy? What does that unswerving, anonymous camera remind me of? Michael Haneke's Caché. A film that supremely deals with the mind games caused by the camera, the unglinting focus on the everyday; and how the viewer, intent on finding meaning, will turn the everyday, the uninhibited, into the ominous, the treacherous. (Incidentally, the trailer is a perfect example of the opposite - Hollywood's all powerful need to subsume and convert the tone and focus of any film into a deceptive 'thrill ride'; to reimagine the spasms of the death drive only in relation to death.)

What is baffling about this video and its eeriness is its complete absence of necessity, or even of meaning. (And see how desperately I am now flailing to give it meaning, to fit it into something sensical!)

I understand why it was recorded - but I don't understand why the US Open let it be posted, unedited, to the world. The two minutes are not dissimilar to those two hours of footage of Binoche and Auteil's house in Caché: unending, with no narrative, no change, no seeming purpose outside themselves. So why share it?

It is necessary, for other events, for a camera to unswervingly capture the agonies of an individual, or a nation. Pain and suffering DOES belong on the news: so too does reporting it objectively.

The word 'objective' is worth pausing over: post-modernism has torpedoed any sense of faith in 'objectivity'. Objectivity instead is always a relative term. The camera is not a passive nor innocent thing; it shapes and changes behaviour; and for the viewer it frames events into stories. Yet the objectivity - or otherwise - of the camera, is incredibly fluid; whilst in art we know it is oppressively present, it can be used with more urgency, and less calculation.

In a field such as journalism, especially within war and conflict reporting, the mere presence of a camera is important. Finding the right place, following the right people, until the filming can be done. But when recording takes place, there is little time, or consideration, for how 'objective' the framing. The focus is on what is in front of the camera, the rest, once the camera rolls, is simply trying to keep pace. Because the snatched footage from an al-Jazeera camera, or a mobile phone, are immediately in dialogue with a much bigger picture, a much bigger version of events.

Having a view into the torture and atrocities committed by non-elected and elected governments is imperative - and dangerous. In politics, video is perhaps the closest we can get to counterbalancing the mind-numbing (and often desensitising) raft of words - spoken or written - which use the recurrent themes: civilian casualties, air strike, unrest, humanitarian crisis. So in the context of ongoing unrest, the necessity of seeing a Syrian detainee being slapped and humiliated by a solider loyal to President Bashar al-Assad (in the link above), speaks for itself. It is not pain for pain's sake: it is one human face of the troubles which are recevied outside of the Middle East in largely dry and stylised (sterilised?) forms: reports, new legislations, meetings.

But in the context of the US Open Press Conference (and the endless press circuit), an athlete's cramp does not speak for itself; and footage of this is useless, empty, unless we can understand where it fits. Those 2 minutes become a strangely dull pornography, where the viewer persists in the hope of a weird titillation or enough disgust to turn off: haha he looks like he's getting a blowjob...Oh my god isn't this terrible and awful!!!...yeah but isn't it still kind of hot...

For the most part, the video does little but raise an odd, passive aggressive disinterest, much like the disinterest of that 'unobtrusive' camera, turning us into the gawping rest of the press conference. Which is what makes this little glimpse of a player in pain so weird. It has no story; no outcome. The big games of professional tennis, unlike most other sports, give the viewer unblinkingly direct access to the players in moments that merge agony and ecstasy; and those emotions are always part of a bigger narrative. We're driven to expect them: but to expect them in the right places, like finals, career-defining moments.

Like with Caché, the presence of the camera here is not the dangerous thing: the viewer is. So far beyond the argument for the objective gaze, we now give the camera an overwhelming subjectivity, projecting our own meanings or feelings, filling in the gaps the way you might in a film, or an art installation.
It has to be telling us...something...it must be watching for a reason....
Thanks to the increasingly theatrical coverage of sport in the UK, even the journalistic camera is expected to give us a gazumping great tragedy, or triumph - rather than simpy document a passing moment. (And that's what Haneke's film plays with so brilliantly...in fact, maybe the overblown trailer was deliberate - to further highlight the expectation for titillation that the viewer presents.)

Of course, the journalists present to question Nadal were doing their job; what is more, no doubt the footage stops when it does because afterwards other figures rush in and the moment is lost. But those lonely 2 minutes are a curious pause for reflection: on the state of empathy in a culture which so obsessively yearns for any taste of the extraordinary and exalted few that it becomes distracted, and defined, by the mediocre.

But let the extraordinary be the focus once again. In tennis terms at least, Nadal (as the Guardian's Kevin Mitchell wrote) 'is back'.