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Picturing a World

Carolus-Duran carte-de-visite

Maybe while New York is under a ghastly orange haze, it's wrong the wrong time to post a sepia photograph; but I got such a kick out running across this carte-de-visite , that I can't resist. According to the seller, the picture was taken in 1865 even though the card commemorates Carolus-Duran's winning of a silver medal at the World's Fair of 1878. And doesn't he look young and handsome! For Ferdinand Mulnier's sensitive portrait of Jeanette's other teacher, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, click here. For many more of Mulnier's photographs, click here.

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Susie Barstow

Exhibition alert: Women Reframe American Landscape: Susie Barstow & Her Circle is on view at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site from now until October 29th. The website has loads of information and images about this female artist who was as successful in her day as the men whose names are remembered for their grand paintings of the American landscape. Simultaneously comes publication of  the first book-length study of her life and art: Susie M. Barstow: Redefining the Hudson River School. I'll be going to the exhibition and look forward to learning more!

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Wilding Frieze

Exhibition alert: I couldn't help thinking of Dimples for President and The Flapper Queens when I saw Frieze in the review article The big picture: jazz age attitude captured by Dorothy Wilding. Wild, Wilding, wilder, and fun!

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Dark and light

Blog post alert: For those of you who follow a traditional calendar, this is the ninth day of Christmas. You'll be pleased by a few last glimpses of a delicious interior from Amy Merrick at Dennis Severs' House. And for those of you who think about writing historical fiction, Lucinda Douglas Menzies' photographs of the house are lovely help to visualizing the chiaroscuro of a pre-20th C winter. No wonder ghost stories are a part of the season!

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Barred track

As autumn wanes, I have been pondering this photograph of a Farm track and footpath in Bradfield Dale. The "dishevelled dryad loveliness" of the banked track is rudely interrupted by those straight, metallic lines in the gate. The gate bars mystery. Or does it? Visually, it has the odd effect of heightening the rich intricacy and organic fullness of nature that encroaches on the older manmade wall and track. It teases the mind with its incongruity; it makes what lies beyond more tantalizing. Visualize the picture without it: the proportions and recession become less interesting. Restore it and what do you get? Contrast, delayed gratification, ambiguity, the barb that pricks at complacency …. I'm still pondering.

Image © Copyright Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

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Webb Jupiter!

Blog post alert: The brilliant composite photographs of Jupiter captured by NASA's James Webb telescope make you understand the appeal of optimistic science fiction!

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Up popped a scene

Wow! David Hockney! thought I, when I saw this photograph by Ian Capper at Geograph. Explore the many paintings at 2005 The David Hockney Foundation and you'll see why. I'm not sure how a writer should use the moment—to imagine a rural place? to catch that sense of aha! when a character makes a mental connection? In any case, it gave my day a lift and I'm still smiling.

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Canal bridge

Now look at this photograph of a bridge over a canal! Even when I don't want to describe something in detail in a story, I want to be able to visualize it for myself so that I know I'm not building an impossibility into the plot. The physical world, moreover, shapes our lives and should shape the lives of our characters. Okay, so I'm trying to imagine a bridge over a towpath in winter. Here I have the architectural solution for going from one bank to another. Curves and straight lines, bricks and stonework, messy dead grass and moss. I can see the muddy track as well as cobblestones, damp under the bridge, and a gate on the far side. Perfect for giving me assurance now, and you never know when some detail will suggest a future plot development.

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Mermaid daguerreotype

Website alert: The story of the how this and other daguerreotypes were recovered from a shipwreck is found at "Doomed ship of gold's ghostly picture gallery is plucked from the seabed." It's a good enough tale in itself. But don't you wish you knew more about this woman with her coiffed hair and those racy black lace sleeves? For me, it's one step from the knowing look in her eye and the crooked smile into siren territory. A few more changes, and I could make her a mermaid with dangerous intentions. Or, of course, there is the possibility of gold-rush historical fiction. And get this: there are other unrecovered daguerreotypes and ambrotypes still down there in the same wreck, lying on the seabed. Now how suggestive is that!

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Bombed library

This morning, I ran across this photograph in a fascinating new book, Gothic: An Illustrated History by Roger Luckhurst. What interests me is not its connection to all the permutations of sensibility collected under the term Gothic. No, as the world fears a new war in Ukraine, it was the image of horrific destruction that hit me first. Then wonder at the books still so neatly shelved, then a smile at the calm, plucky Englishmen (those hat!) perusing books. But wait, it's probably staged.

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