First, there were photographs. I remember appreciatively the last editions of the magazines that featured photographs – for example LIFE, Look, Realities – and fanzines, pictures of movie people. There was no process I recall in being drawn to black and white pictures. I just was.
I have had the oldest book in a collection, which a friend calls “photographic porn”, for 38 years, a book I had seen extracted in Rolling Stone and I found it in a bookshop on my first visit to South Africa. From then on, I bought books of pictures or asked for them or was given them. I have never got over books being given to me.
I don’t trust myself with a camera. I am myopic and ham-fisted but I have a good eye and faith in my own taste.
“Nothing is meaningless” says Gertrude Stein “if one likes to do it.”
About five years later, I began to look at painted pictures. There were two links to this: the first was cinema and second was cards.
When I arrived, the much younger of two children, my parents were both in their forties and loved the cinema. So I saw musicals, one-offs, comedies and social drama with my mother: westerns, military and political stories and adventures with my father. I didn’t miss much and I would still rather see a film than a play.
The spread of commercial cards has developed throughout my life, from cards for Christmas and birthday to cards for any occasion, cards showing reproductions of cartoons, paintings, film stills and original representations. I began to understand that I might know nothing about the continuum or development of art but I recognised an image I admired when I saw it.
I keep a reserve of cards and postcards, some because I had to have them, some to be sent to other people. Eventually cards led me to art books, particular artists, and the history of art. Just as scanning widely through newspapers, magazines and periodicals, I began to keep a modest archive – there were things I wanted to keep – and a lot of them were images.
In my first magazine job, as problem page editor for Woman magazine, I inherited a big notice board from my predecessor Peggy Makins. Eventually it began to look a bit tired and when somebody from household asked me if I would like another one, I said yes please. I have it yet. I change it around with newly discovered quotes and pictures and images, retaining one or two you might call the permanent exhibit.
I have a box file labeled “stickboard” that I go through from time to time and weed out the ones I can let go, either because the eye has moved on or because the thing no longer means what it did – but again, particularly pictorially, if it works for me, it works for me and I have cuttings and cards I can’t part with.
There are rhino and elephant, wolves and bears, the dancers Karsavina and Fonteyn (before the nose job), ancient cattle and Hokusai’s tiger in the snow: there are shapes and shadows and bottles, untypical of one painter and early of another, cards from friends and two or three things from friends I have never met, the legacy of radio that makes you feel you know somebody, even when you don’t. There are slogans and cartoons, Dietrich’s legs, a 1913 Lipton’s Tea competition entry form, an advertisement for The Economist, and a poem by Edith Wharton copied out in black ink on stiff white card by my son when he couldn’t find me a black and white card.
I sometimes wonder how it feels to be bored. It doesn’t really happen to me very often because these fragile images, much of which is ephemera, send me off to read, or think or find out, comfort my unsettledness, and make me reflect all over again on the man who told me a long time ago that love is recognition, not discovery.
That seemed entirely right to me for – in looking at my pictures – I feel not taken out of myself but rather confirmed in myself and it is for that that I cherish them.