The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rongzoni/ Helen Ojha, "On the edge of a train station...," January 2008


On the edge of a train station..., originally uploaded by Rongzoni.

Rongzoni / Helen Ojha posted this piece to Flickr, January 20, 2008 (see original post at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rongzoni/2206702564/), accompanied by her following lines (copyright: Helen Ojha):

"A wall marks a life
A life marks a wall
For a moment
One defines the other
How do they both
Define us?"

This moving combination of word and image moved me to pause, ponder, and write as follows:

Your image captures the eye;
Your words lead us further.
The last two lines cut deep,
We see ourselves, a voyeur,
But also an accomplice.
--JW, 1/20/2008

This piece, like the street photographs of our shared "friend," Ahmad Kavousian, stir me to a point of discomfort with my life of suburban ease.

When buying our groceries, yesterday, seeing the goods, and the bill mount up, I told the cashier how grateful I was for my job. She replied, "yes, it is never something that any of us should take for granted."

This image and accompanying words from Helen Ojha fall heavy on my calloused conscience, coming the morning after. This man could be any one of us, if sometime, something in us, or about us, became just enough unhinged, that we could not function properly any more. What to do?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rongzoni / Helen Ojha's "Morning Dance...," January 14, 2008


Morning dance..., originally uploaded by Rongzoni.

Generously inscribed by Helen Ojha / Rongzoni: "For my friends John and Maria, for whom the dance of trees is a dance of life." (See her original post to Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rongzoni/2193868670/). It has been Helen's photographs, taken all around Ring Mountain, California, often at dawn or dusk, and the voice that she gives to trees, rocks, grasses, and skies, in both image and poetry, that has inspired me to think along parallel tracks. It has led to my own attempts to give photographic life and voice to the most ordinary of elements that I encounter each day, around me--albeit in a setting far less evocative than she has so consistently, creatively, and sensitively, brought before our eyes and minds. For her inspiring example, I am indebted, and deeply grateful--for indeed, thereby, my life and practice has been enriched.

In response, I dedicate these few lines to Helen, as she prepares to leave her beloved Ring Mountain, in California, and knowing that we share the whisper of the trees:

Morning Dance…

Long lingers night, heavy upon the earth,
Darkness yet denser as the time draws on.
Man and beast cower from the night,
Anything that stirs, to them gives fright.

Deep shadows cover the track of fox and wolf,
Game birds, in peril, tremble in the dark.
Under the bank, the rabbit burrows deep.
Wolf pounces on innocent sheep.

Atop a bank, trees and bushes stand,
Waiting out the night, in shadows bland.
Night owls may see them, but not we,
Our eyes are shut, or opened, can’t see.

Patiently, this shadowed world, it waits,
Waits as the earth on its axis turns.
As darkness invades across the shores,
Dawn’s first glimmers open up before.

Wolves and foxes, slink satisfied away,
Also the night owl, devours its prey.
The rabbit ventures forth, onto fresh dew,
The trees, we now see, dance for us, and you.

-- To Helen, of Ring Mountain, strong of soul, from John & Maria Walford, with our gratitude, and best wishes, January 14, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Ifdefelseif"'s "Simply Dreaming of The Sea," January, 2008


simply dreaming of the sea, originally uploaded by ifdefelseif.

Ifdefelseif's second version of "Simply Dreaming of The Sea," (as posted by her to Flickr, January 9, 2008, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifdefelseif/2180116286/ ), has me enraptured all over again, prompting these few lines before I close down for the day, at 2.05am:

Simply dreaming, simply dreaming of the sea...

Simply dreaming, simply dreaming, of the sea....
No! I'm dreaming, dreaming, of what I see!
Amid the foam, a mermaid flies,
Trailing hair, and stunning eyes.
A light so soft, so sensuous,
It carries me away, carries me away,
In its wake. Let me dream.

- JW, 1/13/2008

Kudos to ifdefelseif for not being satisfied with her first version, about which I wrote a few days ago (see below, my post for January 8, 2008), and coming up with something much more elegant, more refined, and far more dazzling in color and light.


I, for my part, was not satisfied with my version of Pieter Bruegel's "Ship at Sea, Menaced by a Whale, with Icarus Added," (posted with her first version, see below, post for January 8th) and so in my turn, now repost that, as modified by me:




John Walford, after Pieter Bruegel, "Ship in Stormy Sea, Menaced by Whale, with Icarus Added" 2007.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Semimortal79's "Time To Say Goodbye"


time to say goodbye, originally uploaded by semimortal79.

My distant "niece," Semimortal79, writes below her poignant, melancholy self-portrait (see original post on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/79073990@N00/2183134300/ ): "time to say goodbye..........to the past pain....
it s always a hard process as we get used to the taste of our own tears and accustomed to the colors of our bruises."

In response, I wrote this for her:

"Time to Say Goodbye"

There is, for each, that last, sad goodbye,
And then, the long dwelling thereon.
It was once so sweet, such laughter,
So much fun, as we went around together.
So much laughter, together.....

What happened? What happened
To those days in the sunshine,
Running down the beach,
Calling to one another,
Over the sound of the seagulls?

Where did it start to go downhill?
Was is in the restaurant, that night,
When we started to talk about the future?
He spoke of Paris, and I of Athens,
And things started to implode.

Why did our mutual understanding
Veer apart? We both loved the city,
The glamor, and the night life.
True, I loved my books, more than he.
Then there was that talk about religion.

When did I first sense there was no love?
Was it the day his eyes strayed far?
Was it when I shared what I never shared?
Was that my mistake? The risk I took?
Could it have been otherwise?

How could it have been different?
I am who I am; not as he wished me.
He is what he is, but I thought I could cope.
What would it have taken, for us to learn,
Each for the other's needs to hope.

But now, as I sit and brood,
I've grown used to this mood.
It has become my companion,
Whom, lacking other, I cling to.
Whom, lacking other, I love.

To what am I clinging? If not
To the pain, licked over again,
Savored, in its melancholy sweetness,
My last hold on what I can't let go.
Yet I know, I must let go, or perish.

-- John Walford, January 10th, 2008.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stricken, But Not Vanquished, January 9, 2008

Farewell, Fine Friend, Jan 2008 (Originally posted by me to Flickr, Jan 9, 2008, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walford/2180436059/)

One of our dear friends, John F., has been battling brain cancer for some while, and I made a small set about this in early December. To the amazement of everybody, he went right to the brink, and then rallied. He was so frail he could barely eat or move, let alone walk. Around December 3rd, the doctors wondered if he would even make it through the coming night. They told his wife that they would only send an ambulance, in the morning, if he woke up. If!...well he did, he rallied, gained a little weight, and recently, with his father's help, has even gone to the office for a little while, each day. One day, I received an email from him, inviting Maria and I to stop by. So, today, my wife and I visited him, and shared, among other stories, the one I am about to tell, as well as the "poem" that follows.

Meanwhile, I have been having a struggle with a tree in the woods directly behind our house, which lost its top in a storm. Trouble was, its top fell onto another tree, and got stuck there, refusing to shed its leaves--even though long dead. It became an eye sore directly in the center of our favorite outlook, so I resolved to fell it.

On Monday, I cut right through the trunk, yet it stood so upright, and supported by the other tree, it just rolled on its wound, like a knee in a joint, and refused to fall. As I was high on an aluminum ladder, and wondering what to do next, lightening flashed, accompanied by a modest, grumbling thunder. I retreated to the house, and watched my tree. There were two more flashes of lightening, some claps of minor thunder, a slight wind, and then the tree, finally knocked off balance, dropped to the forest floor.

The gentle storm, having done its work, passed immediately, and the sky cleared. I went out again to examine my tree. Turns out, it too had brain cancer, and that's why it had snapped, when its sisters bent with the autumn winds.

These intertwined events inspired the following lines, dashed off, before visiting our friend John F.:

Stricken, But Not Vanquished:

In the woods, behind my house
There is this tree. A tree
Outwardly much like its peers.
Yet hidden within its lofty brow,
A fatal flaw was hiding.

It raised two branches in the air,
Like arms held up, in supplication.
Yet the rain had found a way
To penetrate the gap between.

Over years, finding its way deep down
Into the upper core of this fine tree,
The rain was slowly eating, eating,
Like a cancer in the brain.
Hidden Infirmity, 2008.JPG

Autumn winds did sweep my little wood,
And all the trees did sway and bend.
But this year, when others bent,
This one snapped, its crown falling.

No, it fell not to the ground;
But rested its crown on its sister tree,
And held on to its own leaves, tenaciously,
Bowed down, but not fully broken.
Too Much To Bear, 2008.JPG

Storms came and went.
Came and went, tearing
At the trees behind my house.
But this old warrior held on.

Holding its leaves when all were barren,
It stood out, a beacon in the sky,
Proclaiming to me I know not what,
Always capturing my attention.

A day came, when I could bear its sorrow
No more. Drooped in dry leaves,
Lacking strength to bloom in Spring;
Unable to match its lesser peers.

I took the saw to its noble brow,
And struck deep, deep into its core.
Mocking me, holding death's sickle,
It, so upright, held firm as I cut.
Holding Strong To The End, Jan 2008.JPG

I cut from every angle, in every way.
It rocked steadily on its wounds,
But refused to bow to my blade,
Taking strength from resting on its sister.

Lightening bolts flashed in the sky.
I, from my ladder, descended,
Taking refuge from the storm.
Inside, I sat and watched my tree.

Silently, gracefully, in its proper time,
It yielded to the gentle wind, and dropped.
Dropped before my wondering eyes,
Resting quietly on the forest floor.
Lost and Found In The Woods, Dec. 31 2007.JPG

Its ashes, I will spread
Like snow, across the forest floor,
To nourish others, that they too,
Might stand, so brave, so upright.

Oh! Noble tree, I salute you.
How hung you on so long?
We none of us know,
What became of Lazarus,
Or of others that Jesus healed.

In wonder, and gratitude, for such things seen,
John Walford, January 9th, 2008.

Dou_ble_you's "Visitors," Jan. 2008



Visitors, originally uploaded by dou_ble_you.

The Art of Viewing Viewers--Viewers Viewing Art--and Art that Views Them With Cold Indifference.

Dou_ble_you, living in London, produces some of the most surreal, and thought-proving works on Flickr that are know to me. (For the original upload of this piece, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dou_ble_you/2178571895/). He is also one of the most dry-humored commentators on the works of others, always teasing the brain to think beyond the obvious.

This is one of his apparently more direct pieces--though likely as "apparent" as a painting by the early twentieth-century, Belgium Surrealist, Magritte, in which everything turns out not to be what it appears to be. Clearly here, in Dou_ble_you's photograph, some reflections come into play, altering our perceptions.

As an art historian, what captures my attention, is watching the photographer in the role of viewing viewers, viewing art, which prompts these few lines:

Art Viewing Visitors:

How cold she looks,
Face frozen in stone,
Curls not to touch
Harder than bone.

Why gaze they so?
I just don't know,
When none seem to see,
The rape I see.

-JW, 1/9/08

This time, one of my own: Many Signs But Little Direction, 2008

Visits to shopping malls and city centers always trigger my eye and mind into high gear, and to making photographs such as this (For the original post on Flickr, January 6, 2008, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walford/2174315478/).

It also inspired me to write these spare lines:

"Many Signs, But Little Direction"

Revolving doors,
Sucking people
In off the street,
And spitting others
Back out again,
Into the cold.

Electronic elevators,
Raising some up,
Taking others
Back down.
Up or down-
It's just the same.

Ever busy:
Going up and down;
In and out;
Always on the go.
Going nowhere,
In such a hurry.

More self-help books,
Than ways to turn;
More recliner chairs,
Than time to recline;
More clothes to wear,
Than closet space.

Always more;
Never satisfied.
Human hunger
Knows no respite.
Seeking, grasping,
Rarely reflecting.

Why reflect?
It might be scary!
What's in my head
Is all quite airy.
Did we forget,
Think first, then act.

-- John Walford, January 9th, 2008.

One More from Sati Kobashi (of São Paulo, Brazil): "Ancient Blossom"


Ancient Blossom, originally uploaded by Sati K..

I shall never forget the sensation of first seeing Sati Kobashi's photograph, "Ancient Blossom," (first posted to Flickr, Nov. 12, 2007, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sati_kobashi/1984401502/). It emits such deep feelings of sadness.

I have returned to it tonight, not because I am sad, but because there are few, like Sati, who have the capacity to make such poignant imagery, out of the common place.

Yet, I am convinced that none of us need look far, since the most ordinary elements around us are so richly suggestive, so redolent in meaning and association. When we take time to ponder, the most common objects--as well as the rare--can speak visually of all that can be found in a persons heart--love, sorrow, longing, joy, hope, despair, and desire--all what you will.

Photography, one thinks to be a medium of fact. But, in sensitive hands, it becomes the instrument of poetry, making visible what is there, but unseen, or, at best, half-seen. Yet it is that other part, which we all so easily miss, that needs most to be seen, and, being seen, digested through the eye, to nourish the soul.

So when I saw Sati K.'s "Ancient Blossom," back in November, I wrote for her, and here repeat:

Sati's "Ancient Blossom":

Sober rose,
Like a love lost;
A cherished memory,
Held poignantly;
Sad to let go.
Yet we must,
If we are to survive.

--John Walford, November 12, 2007, dedicated to Sati Kobashi, tender soul, and--thanks to Flickr--now good friend.

Sati Kobashi (of São Paulo, Brazil)'s "Countryside Life"


Countryside Life, originally uploaded by Sati K..

Remember the day when we went to see where GrandPa once lived....
We met an old aunt, or was it your father's aunt, dressed all in black.

Sati Kobashi'e photograph, "Countryside Life," (uploaded to Flickr, Oct 1st, 2007, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sati_kobashi/1469374905/ ) reminds me of visits to country people in Italy--though Sati's photograph is taken in Brazil.

I am always struck by the unvarnished quality of such countryside farms and domestic settings. There remains in such places, among such people, the rhythms, values, and atmosphere of an era, and a lifestyle, almost forgotten amid the glitz of our contemporary cities. And I wonder, are we really better off? Better provided for, sure! More comfortable, sure! But, at peace? Of that I am not at all sure. I see around me harried people, chasing their agendas from meeting to meeting, to accomplish what--a few more "hard-earned" dollars, to spend on what? Perhaps buying a cottage in the country.

So I wrote a little story of what Sati K.'s photograph evoked for me:

Where GrandPa once Lived:

Remember the day when we went to see where GrandPa once lived....We met an old aunt, or was it your father's aunt, dressed all in black. We came to the door, with the peeling paint, and the slender door frame, shook the little bell that hung to the left, and out she came.

Gesturing, mumbling strange greetings, in a foreign tongue, or was it a country dialect? We understood we were to come in...but not before noticing the tub, set up on a block of concrete, and filled with plants, waiting to be watered, or perhaps soaking, to refresh their parched stems and curling leaves.

The water line was unprotected, and made its ungainly way down the wall, with little thought to how it would strike the eye of the visitor,...just so long as it would deliver water at the right place, over the tub, by the door. it is all so matter-of-fact...just like the labor of tending the soil. No frills, or ceremony, it just IS.

The simple bench, by the water tub, was an annunciation, I thought, for the spartan interior we would soon encounter...but that was not how we found it, once inside....and how was that?...well, we will just have to wait for Sati's photograph, next time she visits.....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sati Kobashi (from São Paulo, Brazil), "The Dreams Are Out There..."


The Dreams Are Out There..., originally uploaded by Sati K..

Sati Kobashi has an imagination second to none, and her photographs are an ongoing source of inspiration, just as her communications and comments are consistently generous and warmhearted. I return tonight to Sati K.'s beautiful photograph (posted to Flickr 15 Nov. 2007, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sati_kobashi/2032447065/ ) because a new semester of teaching is about to start, and this reminds me of how I am feeling, with much that I had hoped to accomplish over the Christmas break still undone.

At the time I first saw this, I wrote as follows, and repeat here:

Stumbling in The Shadows

I stumble in the mellow shadows,
And see the work I have to do.
Heavy tasks, my will resists.
More easily, I raise my eyes,
And gaze through the window.
Light--filtering in between the trees--
Beckons me to a new day.
As its beams filter inside
My space, and my spirits warm.

--John Walford, November 15, 2007.

Ifdefelseif, Dreaming of the Sea, January, 2008


dreaming of the sea, originally uploaded by ifdefelseif.


Seeing Ifdefelseif's "Dreaming of the Sea," of January 2008 (originally posted to Flickr, January 6, 2008, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifdefelseif/2171426188/), my mind immediately jumped to Pieter Bruegel's "Ship in a Stormy Sea," (see below) and to the longstanding Netherlandish tradition of allegorizing the motif of a ship in a stormy sea as an allegory of both the life of man and of the ship of state. This prompted the following lines, addressed to our President, but dedicated to the creator of this striking image, Flickr's "Ifdefelseif."

The Ship of State

Man's life, they say, is like a ship
At risk in a stormy sea.
The Ship of State no less,
In such a mess may be.
Whose at the helm?
By what compass sails?
Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan,
I fear the ship off course.

When Pieter Bruegel
Such ship did paint,
The mariners, he showed,
Had sense to throw,
A barrel to the whale.
The mighty whale
From menacing them,
To menacing it,
Distractedly did turn.
The ship, itself, sailed free.

Now, Mr. President,
Please take a look,
At what now
Our ship does threaten.
The compass tells,
Change course,
Before your helm
Does snap apart.




Pieter Bruegel, Ship Threatened by Whale, with Icarus added by JW

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

foto_morgana / Frans Devriese's "Litang (理塘, Gaochengxiang), Qudenggabu chorten #12," 2007

foto_morgana / Frans Devriese ' s "Litang (理塘, Gaochengxiang), Qudenggabu chorten #12," of 2007, masterfully--as usual--puts before our eyes the intent gaze of a little Chinese-Tibetan child. (For the original post by foto_morgana / Frans Devriese, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/devriese/2130651486/)

I gaze imaginatively --through my monitor--during this, the first hours of the year 2008, into the eyes of this little child. This child is living on the other side of the globe from me. Our circumstances are almost totally different, yet I am captivated and I wonder:

Little Child with The Alert Brown Eyes:

Little child, with such alert brown eyes,
Your penetrating gaze, looks up at me.
Our paths so distant, never will they meet.

Yet the clock runs at the same pace for you.
My hair, the color of your woolen knit,
Your eyes, expectant, while mine are tired.
You gaze up, as I gaze down.
Yet we both know hunger,
Both seek warmth, and love;
Both need to know that we are loved,
Both wonder what lies ahead.
It's not easy, little child,
Not easy to find peace.
Love has to be worked at;
And food toiled for;
Pains bite deeply.
Shelter, where will it be for you?

What will this year bring to you?
And to me?
We both wonder.

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John Walford

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I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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