Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Life Hacks from Iris Apfel

“When you are young, everything feels like the end of the world” 

17 Again

It amuses me immensely when I use this quote and all parties agree, indeed, yes, these are wise words! – only to screw up their faces in surprise when I spill the beans that they are from the Zac Efron movie, 17 Again...(but come on, really YOU LOVE IT, you saw all the high school musical movies too...right??)

But here’s to talking about a film that we can all unashamedly, unabashedly proclaim our love for—Albert Maysle’s documentary Iris. The ‘geriatric starlet’ Iris Apfel is impossible not to love. Age certainly hasn’t stopped 93 year old Iris from keeping busy with her passions and embracing opportunities as they come, continuously adding to the wonderful narrative of her life. Maysles has made this film with love, it is clear, and the deep friendship between the person behind the camera and the one in front of it has created a film that is intimate, natural, unforced. There are no shiny fingerprints of a too perfect and idolatry portrait, but the sense of a personal project, a naturalistic style of filmmaking that lets the natural star quality of his subject, Iris, shine through. And shine she does, in her ever sharp wit and one-of-a-kind style, glimpses into her and Carl’s idiosyncrantic lives and homes. But in the end, it is the human touch that wins you over- the tender love between her and Carl, the care that everyone and everything that matters in Iris’ life she bestows and the knowing wisdom that all of life’s adventures have brought her.

To Zac Efron’s dreamy eyes and angsty teen speak in 17 Again, I feel ya. My existential crises border on once too often, on the irrationally broad spectrum from my crumbling faith in humanity everytime my banana bread isn't perfectly toasted to the as-yet blank answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And, if I be so daring as to say- I think we all feel a little sideways and overwhelmed at times, so I thought I would make a list, because that always makes one feel better—and even merrier, a list on what we can learn from the words of the terrific Iris Apfel.

1. “It’s better to be happy than to be well-dressed”

Fake it till you make it only gets one so far, right? At the end of the day, nobody knows better how you feel than you yourself, whatever goatskin Isabel Marant skirt you might be wearing—so nurture from the inside out. And next time you're having a bad hair day, ham it up circa the 90s, and all sadness will be overwhelmed by grooviness. 

2. “You can’t have everything”

An apt and simple truth for any turn of the century babies like myself who might be gaga-eyed and drawn to google amounts of pressing life decisions every single day—pottery classes or surf instructor course? Send five years travelling the world as an instagram famuzzz hippie and then become a veterinarian, before opening a restaurant and adopting some third-world children, settling down in the South of France? But perhaps more pressingly—Orange is the New Black or Suits on Netflix? Stan or Netflix?? Socks with hotdogs or socks with bacon???

It’s a hard knock life. Clearly.

3. I don’t have any rules, because I’d only be breaking all of them”

Some people may fare well by rules, but something’s gotta give after all—we’re only human, right? Sometimes it’s better just to go with your gut, or deviate from the norm and see where you end up. And whether you end up in a good place or not so good place you’ve learnt more than you would have just by sticking to the rules.

4. “I’m not a pretty person. I don’t like pretty, so I don’t feel badly. And I think it worked out well, because … when you’re somebody like myself, in order to get around and be attractive, you have to develop something, you have to learn something, and have to do something, so you become a bit more interesting.”

‘Pretty’ is like the word ‘nice’—a throwaway generic compliment. Don’t get me wrong, I use either of those words much too often to poke fingers at everyone else, but every now and then it’s good to sit back and think about why we just use those same terms over and over. Are we stuck in some viral infection of ‘nice’ and ‘pretty’, a sea of happy sameness? I guess, it’s like what the big deal with being pretty, or perceived as pretty? And here’s where I make my subtle link back to point number one—do what makes you happy.

Honestly, pretty stupefies. 

So, an open letter to all the spectacular human beans I know and don't know that you are and can be fabulous, wonderful, radiant, glorious, captivating, ubermensch, badass and the best of everything (!!) - in part inspired by ultimate girl crush Iris Apfel. 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Thoughts on: A Second Chance

Several minutes into the film, Ingmar Bergman’s island of Fårö—the haunting scapes of which are rendered beautiful in their timeless unease and isolation, came to mind. Though Susanne Bier’s 2015 thriller A Second Chance is set a hop and skip away in modern Denmark, there is the same strange and stark symbiosis of human interaction and their environment...

From Bergman's Through A Glass Darkly (1961)
From Bier's A Second Chance (2015)
Before being carried away on fanciful words though—let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is in fact, simply the very heavy metaphorical elephant that looms across the whole film. Yes, that is to say the shadows are long in this movie, and ever longer do they stretch as it progresses.

The film begins fast and right in the thick of things as detective Andreas and Simon break into known criminal Tristan’s apartment. From the get-go, Biers packs a punch with confronting visual images and the kinetic camerawork that never settles on anything for long. Subsequent events get darker and darker—a baby at the heart of it—and the rest perhaps better left for the viewer to discover. For by leaving the plot behind in this film, we better appreciate the tragic pathos of Bier’s characters. Andreas, the tragic hero, driven by his flaw of moral righteousness, in a world ruled by systems and laws; Sanne, a woman trapped in a degrading relationship who needs a way out; Simon, the alcoholic detective living alone, left by his wife for a swimming teacher; and Anna, the mother of Andreas’ son who remains a mystery. Like the frames of the infinite horizon above the water, and the single endless row of streetlights that cinematographer Snyman captures elegantly, so each of these characters is utterly alone. Each has a private struggle, demons that are constantly tense beneath the surface but only burst through sometimes—catalytic events that take characters closer, closer and then, for some, further away from the edge.

Bier’s ability to depict this unsettling tension both between, and within each character harkens to a sense of human experience that is etched in ancient tragedies. Her thriller gains more traction within this enduring framework with the starkly etched portraits and relentless pathos becoming more meaningful as individual, interpersonal stories. Despite this, the film could have been relieved at times from its constant sarabande. Even the disorienting but necessary movement of the camera, to keep a sense of ‘going somewhere’ grows more and more still, not only weighing down on the movie, but growing tediously heavy on the audience’s shoulders too.

What Biers tries to reveal is illuminated in the words of Bergman- "I want very much to tell, to talk about, the wholeness inside every human being. It's a strange thing that every human being has a sort of dignity or wholeness in him, and out of that develops relationships to other human beings, tensions, misunderstandings, tenderness, coming in contact, touching and being touched, the cutting off of a contact and what happens then." 

Biers doesn't quite cut to the bone with A Second Chance, leaving the viewer rather dull-headed but not so much enlightened. But that is not to say this film isn't worth seeing for although a rather heavy-handed shadow does fall over A Second Chance, it is inevitable that the characters and their stories do emerge with quiet dignity, in the clean northern light. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

On Film: Shanghai

I will refrain from saying too much, but I thought I would share with you a small project I was inspired to create after the unexpected way that a lot of my film photos from China turned out, especially because it re-invigorated the way I remembered the place. The illustration on the cover page is by my talented little brother. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

龙虎山 Mount Longhu

My recent travels to China took us to Jiangxi province (the area shown in red on the map), a south-west journey from Shanghai, 3 hours via bullet train. 

Here, is Mount Longhu - literally meaning 'Dragon Tiger Mountain'. It is one of the birthplaces of Taoism/Daoism (romanised version), with many temples built into the cliffside landscape. Although China is known as a mostly Buddhist nation, the 'true' Chinese way of life is based on Taoist philosophy- less a religion and more of a perspective on life. 

The classic yin-yang sign derives from Taoist thought- a duality that represents a balanced life. The different binary definitions are not prescriptive, just like Taoism itself, and are entirely relative. But basic tenets include the dual notions of night (yin) and day (yang), female (yin) and male (yang).

This is the same well which the first-generation Taoist, Zhang Daoling drank from thousands of years ago. I'd never had well water before and it was pleasantly sweet and slightly warm. In ancient times, people had to wash their hands in this holy well water before visiting the temple, since it was disrespectful to show unclean hands to the deities. In the same vein, Taoists pray with their left hand covering their right, since the right hand was usually used in combat and had therefore encountered bloodshed, impolite to show to the heavenly gods.

We went through the old town, situated in the mountains. It was an amazing snapshot of local life and felt so far away from the 21st-century city life I am used to. Although everything seemed novel to me, turning me into the dumbfounded, gaping tourist who couldn't stop taking photos- it must've been strange from the locals' point of view who likely knew no other way of life, and did not see the same jarring juxtaposition of old and new that I did. Most of the dwellings opened straight onto the main road, with everything inside visible- TV sets, plastic chairs and kids toys next to traditional wooden tables, men playing mahjong; each dwelling a striking tableau of mountainside life. 

If you look closely at the last photo, you will see holes in the cliffside. The ancient practice was to place coffins inside these openings, with more important people placed higher up. It is still unknown how these coffins were placed in the holes since the rock face is sheer. These cliffside resting places had to face east to catch the morning light as a sign of good luck and prevent the wooden coffins from rotting. 


The peace and continuity of a simpler way of life in the Chinese mountainscape contrasts immensely to big cities like Shanghai. It is a reminder amidst all the criticism, corruption and problems which we read about China, providing us with a cynical point of view- that there is a rich, inspiring cultural history that lies largely unspoiled, an escape where such reflection comes easily. 

The mountains are well-traversed and suited to domestic tourists, but may not come easily to Western travellers since it is not particularly developed. Although there is an innocent charm in the poor english on signs and sense of authenticity with young local tour guides- and I hope these remain in the future- but with a sustainable focus on developing tourist information to make the experience more accessible for international travellers. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Love is so short, forgetting is so long

I wonder sometimes what it is about documenting life, through images, words, even song, that seems coded into our DNA. Or at least, for some of us this may be true. I think, unhappily, that taking photos has often become a distorted projection, a wrapping of ourselves in a falsehood, casting an untrue light on reality, a constant and exhausting performance of superlative happiness. It is like the primitive nature of asserting dominance, of being powerful over others, is for many in my generation about being seen, in a very curated way- at certain places, at certain times, in certain garments, in certain poses, with certain people…the demands of the perfect life are endless. And it is fed by the furor of celebrity. But it is sad to think like this too much- haven’t I been swept up in it myself too at times?

I write now, because the time of year has brought us to another horizon, an outpost to look back, briefly, from. The sweet and salty taste of summer perfumes my thoughts, lifting forth the new, gentle taste of authenticity- pomegranate jewels tapped out and savoured, crunching in my teeth.

On a quiet Friday in December, A remarked that “most of the friends I’ve talked to seem to have really grown into themselves this year,” to which I replied carelessly, a prompt that’s-all-there-is-to-say tone to my voice because I didn’t want to have the same conversation again, “good.” Sometimes I think talking about ourselves is a waste of time and silly, because it is all projection, bandaging up wounded egos and sometimes self-pitying talk but now, remembering A’s statement…it is the ruby dewdrops of the pomegranate that I am reflected in, that make the fruit really truly, a pomegranate- because, who else can we ever inhabit? Who else do we have more claim over? The selfish truth- and maybe this is the only truth we will always know, is that there is no one on this planet whose pain and joy we experience with greater vividness, whose dusty dreams and secret ambitions we guard more closely, whose sense of ugliness and beauty we are more closely attuned to, than our own. My every memory will die with me; we may find deeper connection with others, synchronise our body patterns with those close to us, but no one else has seen or will see the world as I have seen it; only I occupy this space that I am in, and there is a pocket of emptiness that I claim wherever I go, until I die.

To document life, when every moment is as transient as the last…that is exactly the reason to do so. Pablo Neruda said, “love is so short, forgetting is so long.” If I want to savour the first ripe mango of last year again, I will find words, images, song that unearth the sensation again. The brevity of things is beautiful, and I can imagine that the brevity of a love all-consuming and new, is too, leaving pure undistilled memories at the end, and then we can colour our world and others’ with them in so many ways. Memories, are subconsciously and consciously created, collected…afterwards, we chase the past, catch it in glimmers when we smell the same pungent combination of car leather and women’s fragrance years later, or see our own father’s furrowed forehead in our own child. The most prosaic moments in life are perfumed by something foreign, yet familiar, something not here, yet here somewhere…memory. I realise that I should take control of my own memories, capturing them as I see them- if I am an idealist, then I will live, breathe, see, hear and smell that way as much as I can. I think what I am saying seems like many things but maybe is the one thing after all, that whether or not the grass is green where I stand I will not try to be somewhere or something else just because the grass seems greener there, because up close it is fake, but, here at my little outpost, the summer heat has never unfolded with such headiness nor have the storms been so unapologetic; it is the afterglow of the tempest, ever golden.

(All photos taken on iPhone 5C)

Sunday, 30 November 2014


Summer via playin' around on Polyvore (you wonderful app.)

Friday, 7 November 2014

Girl with a Pearl Earring

In the midst of (not) studying for exams, I stumbled across two marvellous things:
1. A streetstyle photo on Vanessa Jackman's blog that called to mind a 21st-century reincarnation of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. 
2. Polyvore. 

My Friday morning headache was sufficiently cured as my finger swiped through echelons of material wonder to create a little collage inspired by the unique, jewel-toned, Baroque, dim-silhouetted, dutch-lapis lazuli-indian yellow richly draped essence of Vermeer's timeless tableau and Jackman's intriguing portraiture.

(listed clockwise)
1. No. 21 Ines Tie-Neck Chiffon Shirt in Berry
2. Bauble Bar Pearl Ishtar Drops
3. Megan Huntz Charlotte Maxi Dress
4. Aurelie Bidermann Cheyne Walk Earrings
5. Contileoni Floral Print Silk Chiffon & Linen Scarf
6. Snow Black Boots handmade 
7. MSGM Printed Duchesse-Satin Mini Dress
8. Bardot Gold Solar Cuff

1. Langani Multi-Strand Pearl Necklace, 1970s
2. T By Alexander Wang Short Dress
3. Noir sachinbabi Women's Margarete High-Low Metallic Ball Skirt in Bronze
4. Valentino Lace Blouse
5. Roksanda Ilincic Marlow Stretch Wool Twill Trousers
6. Free People Manchester Tall Boot
7. Saint Laurent Red Wool Hooded Cape
8. Dr Martens Buckled Loafers
9. Isaac Mizrahi Pearl Pendant Necklace
10. Wouters & Hendrix Gold Crows Claws Pearl Brooch
11. Loewe Pre-owned Brooch (with red)
12. Oscar de la Renta Brooch