Saturday, 1 February 2014

Describing the Giraffe

Going through my backfiles, looking for overlooked but exhibitable gems, is proving an interesting exercise.  A problem that arises out of the rapid progress of digital cameras is the feeling that anything older than two or three years is probably obsolete.  Too small, too little dynamic range, not enough something -- all those discontents that drive the digital arms race.

Clearly, this is nonsense, more a problem of perception than reality, but it was going round the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern that really brought it home.  A good picture is a good picture, even if it's tiny, sketchy, and obviously painted on cardboard.  In fact, Klee's originals are often considerably smaller than their familiar poster-sized reproductions.  I found myself being drawn in irresistibly by these intimate visual magnets, like a kid pressed against a sweet-shop's glass cabinet.  A very different sensation from being pushed back across the room by Mark Rothko.

Giraffes are amazing beasts.  I still remember them vividly from my last visit to our local zoo with my daughter, back in 2007, just as she was on the cusp of losing interest in the excitements of childhood.  The Giraffe House is rather like a church, barn-like, hushed, quietly-lit, and full of The Presence.  When they are inside, these bizarre creatures stride back and forth like long-legged supermodels, brushing against each other and rummaging in the high food-baskets, occasionally dipping a crane-like neck to investigate the hay-strewn floor.  All in complete silence.

It is awe-inspiring, and impossible to capture with a camera, except by that visual synecdoche where a part invokes the whole, invoking in turn the famous parable of the blind men and the elephant.  So, a small, blurry image of a small part of a large beast seemed worth reviving.

No comments: