Kamis, 30 November 2006

0 3 days till Girls Out Loud!

My tv show is starting on this Monday (4th), 10pm, on Channel 5!!!

First episode is Fame, so to tempt you to watch it, here are some production stills taken by our very pregnant (now give birth already) producer Joan Leong.

Rozz and I at Geoff Ang's studio, waiting to get our pictures taken by Geoff the Famous Photographer himself!!

You know how much his photography costs? Like $15,000 a day can!

Check out his profile here, got Rebecca Tan's (I don't like her much) nipples. Ha! Didn't expect them to be so ... brown.

Of course there's also Zoe Tay, Fann Wong, Maggie Q etc etc people, very nice photos!

Me getting hair curled

I had the horrible job of pouring cold milk on Rozz in an aircon room!

I felt so bad about it, until Rozz took my prop out of a plastic bag.... a freaking smelly DEAD SQUID.

I was told that a squid was gonna be used, but I really thought it was this kind...

Like red and curly sort, you know...


It is sooooooo cold and dead and super smelly!!!!!!

I couldn't stop strieking, and Rozz had to arrange the tentacles still Geoff was pleased, and she tried to put the slimy bastard's head on my head, and mind you the head is damn ugly, then Geoff said, "Yeah let's not show the head, I'm not very big on it..."

A tentacle brushed against my lip! Eww gross!

To see how the photos turned out you have to watch the show!

As a start to the show Rozz and I sat on the super expensive Maybach. I'll update how much it costs when I get a chance to ask Gillian or Rozz... (That's 1.5 mil)

Pronounced as "my-bark"

It's super nice! Limos aren't allowed in Singapore (right? That's what I heard), so I guess this is the closest u can get to a limo.

There's two separate tv screens at the back, and the two back seats come with adjustable velvet leg rests and remote controls and headsets and a lot of things lar!

The only thing I don't like about it is that it is blue. If it is in pink, it will be perfect as my "Maybach Princess Transport".

While Rozz went off to be a dream therapist in After Hours (see previous blog entries), I tried out singing!

Well, I sucked at it pretty much, so please don't watch the show with food in your mouth.

We also had lessons with Kumar, who taught us how to be fabulous...

He kept making jokes about my height, which I thought wasn't very polite since I only knew him for like 5 mins. =( But well, everyone else said he is a really nice guy off-screen. Shrugs.

Mike was there with us during filming (he was here to visit me), and he whispered to me, "Baby, aren't those lady's shoes?" Hahaha... He needs to be introduced to the Singapore entertainment industry.

And Rozz's expressions are always so funny.

We attend a Fornarina party!

Can see Ericia Lee blurred in the background...

Forced to be the hosts of the night, and I was seriously freaked out.

So yeah remember to tune in ah!


You know I love you all...

p/s: It fucking snowed like a half metre worth of snow TWO DAYS AFTER I CAME BACK! I saw none of it! And my nickname is Xiaxue and I never saw snow before! WTF! What's wrong with America???! It hates me. Singapore hates me too, once my plane touched down there was a heavy roll of thunder and lightning struck really close.

Kenneth now you know how good I am to you, better be nicer to me!

0 War/Photography: An Interview with Simon Norfolk

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "King Amanullah’s Victory Arch built to celebrate the 1919 winning of Independence from the British. Paghman, Kabul Province." From Afghanistan: Chronotopia.]

As photographer Simon Norfolk claims in the following interview, his work documents an international "military sublime." His photos reveal half-collapsed buildings, destroyed cinemas, and unpopulated urban ruins in diagonal shafts of morning sunlight – from Iraq to Rwanda, Bosnia to Afghanistan – before venturing further afield into more distant, and surprising, landscapes of modern warfare. These include the sterile, climate-controlled rooms of military command centers, and the gargantuan supercomputers that design and simulate nuclear warheads.
As Norfolk himself writes, in a short but profoundly interesting text called Et in Arcadia Ego: "These photographs form chapters in a larger project attempting to understand how war, and the need to fight war, has formed our world: how so many of the spaces we occupy; the technologies we use; and the ways we understand ourselves, are created by military conflict."
Indeed, he reminds us, "anybody interested in the effects of war quickly becomes an expert in ruins."

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "Rashid Street in Central Baghdad. The buildng on the right overlooks the bridge and so was heavily damaged in the fighting."]

Norfolk's written work delivers crisp and often stunning insights about urban design and historical landscapes. Later, in the same essay, he writes:
    What these "landscapes" have in common – their fundamental basis in war – is always downplayed in our society. I was astounded to discover that the long, straight, bustling, commercial road that runs through my neighbourhood of London follows an old Roman road. In places the Roman stones are still buried beneath the modern tarmac. Crucially, it needs to be understood that the road system built by the Romans was their highest military technology, their equivalent of the stealth bomber or the Apache helicopter – a technology that allowed a huge empire to be maintained by a relatively small army, that could move quickly and safely along these paved, all-weather roads. It is extraordinary that London, a city that ought to be shaped by Tudor kings, the British Empire, Victorian engineers and modern international Finance, is a city fundamentally drawn, even to this day, by abandoned Roman military hardware.
I first got in touch with Norfolk after I'd seen his portraits of supercomputers (posted here several months ago as Rooms of algebraic theology). I was particularly impressed, however, by his photographs of Ascension Island, a joint US/UK surveillance outpost in the south Atlantic.
As Norfolk explains: "Although only 64 km square and mostly ash and lava fields, the island is festooned with more than 100 antenna relays. These are bizarre; like some kind of aerial spaghetti. Some are wire versions of the Millennium Dome; some like large skeletal bomber aircraft raised on tall pylons; and some are delicate cones and spirals." This technologically Dr. Seuss-like landscape, "against a background of lifeless, red, volcanic ash is unearthly – more akin to a base on Mars."

[Image: Simon Norfolk. Ascension Island, South Atlantic. "On the edge of the Broken Tooth Live Firing Range on the slopes of Sister's Peak. Tyre tracks by the RAF. Distant aerials part of the American-controlled complex along Pyramid Point Road. In the far distance Cross Hill with another American facility on its peak."]

Norfolk and I soon set up an interview, which appears below. We discuss European Romanticism and the paintings of Claude Lorrain; the long-term urban effect of WWII bombing raids over Germany; Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness; the military origins of grain in black and white film; genocide; the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; modern art; the modeling of nuclear warheads; and how to survive snipers in a combat zone – including some unexpected fashion tips for other war photographers.
Norfolk is the author of For most of it I have no words (with Michael Ignatieff), Bleed, and Afghanistan: Chronotopia.
We spoke via telephone.

• • •

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "Bullet-scarred outdoor cinema at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul." From Afghanistan: Chronotopia.]

BLDGBLOG: Could you start with a brief thematic introduction to your work?

Simon Norfolk: All of the work that I’ve been doing over the last five years is about warfare and the way war makes the world we live in. War shapes and designs our society. The landscapes that I look at are created by warfare and conflict. This is particularly true in Europe. I went to the city of Cologne, for instance, and the city of Cologne was built by Charlemagne – but Cologne has the shape that it does today because of the abilities and non-abilities of a Lancaster Bomber. It comes from what a Lancaster can do and what a Lancaster can't do. What it cannot do is fly deep into Germany in the middle of the day and pinpoint-bomb a ball bearing factory. What it can do is fly to places that are quite near to England, that are five miles across, on a bend in the river, under moonlight, and then hit them with large amounts of H.E.. And if you do that, you end up with a city that looks like Cologne – the way the city's shaped.

So I started off in Afghanistan photographing literal battlefields – but I'm trying to stretch that idea of what a battlefield is. Because all the interesting money now – the new money, the exciting stuff – is about entirely new realms of warfare: inside cyberspace, inside parts of the electromagnetic spectrum: eavesdropping, intelligence, satellite warfare, imaging. This is where all the exciting stuff is going to happen in twenty years' time. So I wanted to stretch that idea of what a battleground could be. What is a landscape – a surface, an environment, a space – created by warfare?

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "Victory arch built by the Northern Alliance at the entrance to a local commander’s HQ in Bamiyan. The empty niche housed the smaller of the two Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001." From Afghanistan: Chronotopia.]

BLDGBLOG: And that's how you started taking pictures of supercomputers?

Norfolk: Those supercomputers – big BlueGene, in particular – those are battlegrounds. BlueGene is designing and thinking about a space that is only about 30cm across and exists for about a billionth of a second, and that’s an exploding nuclear warhead. BlueGene is thinking about and modeling that space very intensely, because what happens there is very complicated.

That computer is as much a battlefield as a place in Afghanistan is, full of bullet holes.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "BlueGene/L, the world's biggest computer, at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, California, USA. It is the size of 132,000 PCs. It is used to design and maintain America's nuclear weapons." On his website, Norfolk notes that the computer is used for "modeling physics inside an exploding nuclear warhead."]

BLDGBLOG: In the context of those computers, your references to the divine proved quite controversial – in the comments, for instance, at the end of that earlier post on BLDGBLOG where the photographs appeared. Could you talk more about these overlaps between the military, computer technology, and what you think is "godlike" about the latter?

Norfolk: Where weapons and supercomputers fit in for me is in a military-industrial complex. The problem is that that complex has drifted off so far above any idea of democratic control – even Eisenhower pointed this out – that I would call it godlike. It's beyond irrational, it’s beyond any kind of comprehension in a scientific sense. It's designing nuclear weapons that can destroy the world more efficiently – when we already have nuclear weapons that can destroy the world many times over.

People seem to think that I’m saying oh, they’re full of gods, or look, this is where god lives... But obviously I don’t think that. I don’t think that those computers are somehow unprogrammed by humans, or supernatural. What I’m concerned about is that those humans, who have programmed them, aren’t warm and fuzzy professors like The Nutty Professor. They're introverted people working in the basements of DynaCorp, and General Dynamics, and Raytheon, and they’re so far beyond any kind of democratic control that you or I will ever have over what they do.

It ends up being like a relationship with the sublime – a military sublime. All of the work I'm doing, I might even call it: "Toward a Military Sublime." Because these objects are beyond: they’re inscrutable, uncontrollable, beyond democracy.

[Images: Simon Norfolk. Top: The Mare Nostrum, housed in a deconsecrated church in the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre, Spain. Middle: "Commissariat à l'énergie atomique, Bruyers-le-Chalet, near Paris. CEA designs and maintains France's nuclear weapons. Installation of the new Tera10 supercomputer. The red poles are to prevent any accidents by falling down the open holes during installation." Bottom: CEA. "A 'cold aisle' between two rows of TERA-1 racks."]

BLDGBLOG: One of your photographs from Ascension Island shows a perfectly white-washed church – but, in the background, you see a military radar installation. There’s a fantastic overlap there between the theological lines of communication represented by the church, and the military/electromagnetic lines of communication represented by the radar. Both are immaterial, but both appear in the photograph.

Norfolk: [laughs] I've just been in the Outer Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland, where they have one of the biggest missile testing ranges in the world. It's mainly a radar site – to follow the missiles down-range, when they fire missiles into the north Atlantic – but there's other stuff out there, too: there's submarine surveillance stuff and ocean surveillance stuff, and it's all on top of this mountain range. But at the foot of the mountain there's also a statue of the Madonna. It’s called The Madonna of the Isles – but the local people call it Where God Meets Radar.


It's a bugger, though, because the way the mountain curves, you can't actually get a picture of both of them at the same time. There's no place you can actually get both things in the same frame. But when you visit, it's just extraordinary: she's a statue about 25' high, with a child in her arms, made out of white marble, and on the hill about 100' above are these huge white radomes, with these silently circling radar dishes.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. Ascension Island, South Atlantic. "The Church Of St Mary in Georgetown with Cross Hill in the background with an American radar facility on its summit."]

BLDGBLOG: Your photos are usually unpopulated. Is that a conscious artistic choice, or do you just happen to be photographing these places when there's no one around?

Norfolk: Well, part of this interest of mine in the sublime means that a lot of the artistic ideas that I'm drawing on partly come out of the photography of ruins. When I was in Afghanistan photographing these places – photographing these ruins – I started looking at some of the very earliest photojournalists, and they were ruin photographers: Matthew Brady's pictures of battlefields at Gettysburg, or Roger Fenton's pictures from the Crimea. And there are no dead bodies. Well, there are dead bodies, but that’s very controversial – the corpses were arranged, etc.

But a lot of those photographers were, in turn, drawing upon ideas from 17th century and 18th century French landscape painting – European landscape painting. Claude Lorraine. Nicolas Poussin. Ruins have a very particular meaning in those pictures. They're about the folly of human existence; they're about the foolishness of empire. Those ruins of Claude Lorraine: it's a collapsed Roman temple, and what he's saying is that the greatest empires that were ever built – the empire of Rome, the Catholic church – these things have fallen down to earth. They all fall into ivy eventually.

So all the empires they could see being built in their own lifetimes – the British empire, the French empire, the Dutch empire – they were saying: look, all of this is crap. None of this is really permanent: all of these things rise and fall. All empires rise and fall and, in the long run, all of this is bullshit.

I wanted to try to copy some motifs from those paintings – in particular, that amazing golden light that someone like Claude Lorraine always used. Even when he does a painting called Midday, it's bathed in this beautiful, golden light. To do that as a photographer, I can't invent it like a painter can; I have to take the photographs very early in the morning. So they're all shot at 4am.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. Ascension Island, South Atlantic. "The BBC World Service Atlantic Relay Station at English Bay."]

BLDGBLOG: So of course no one's around!

Norfolk: It is partly because of that that people aren't there – but it's also... for me, I think people kind of gobble up the photograph. They become what the photograph is. For me, people just aren't that important; it's about this panoptic process, it's about this kind of eavesdropping, it's about this ability to look into every aspect of our lives. And I think if you put people into these pictures, I don't know – it would draw viewers away. It would draw viewers into the story of the people. It's not about, you know, Bob who runs the radar dome; it's about this thing that looks inside your email program, and listens to this phone call, and listens to every phone call in the world in every language, and washes it through computer programs. And if you say plutonium nerve gas bomb to me over the telephone, in an instant this computer is looking at what web pages you've been to recently, it's looking at my credit card bills, it's looking at your health records, it's looking at the books I check out of the library. That's what frightens me – it's not about: here's Dave, he works on the computer systems for Raytheon...

So I've always tried to pull people out of the pictures – and, if they're in my pictures, it's usually because they represent an idea, really. I think if you're going to talk about Dave, or Bob, or Wendy, you have to do it properly. You either do it properly or you don't do it at all.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. Ascension Island, South Atlantic."The BBC World Service Atlantic Relay Station at English Bay."]

BLDGBLOG: How did you get to Ascension Island in the first place? Can anyone just buy a ticket ticket and go there?

Norfolk: You have to fill in a permission form – but, yeah, you can buy a ticket. A lot of birdwatchers go down to the Falklands, and airplanes have to refuel at Ascension Island. It's expensive, but you can do it.

You also have to fill in a form which they go through, and it says what you're up to and all the rest of it. So I'd filled in the form, and I'd said I was a photographer – but I got there and no one had read the forms! On my last day on the island, I phoned up and said: I'm a photojournalist, and I've been on the island for two weeks, and can I talk to someone up there...? And they fucking crapped themselves. They said how did you get here? Didn't you fill out the forms? And I said yeah, didn't you read the forms?

And they said, well – actually, nobody reads the forms.


BLDGBLOG: So much for international surveillance.

Norfolk: They also didn't pick up any emails that said I was going to Ascension Island.

BLDGBLOG: Or any phonecalls you made while staying there.

Norfolk: It's run by clowns, of course.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. Ascension Island, South Atlantic. "Looking towards the cinder cone of Sister's Peak from English Bay Road. On the edge of the Broken Tooth Live Firing Range."]

BLDGBLOG: It often seems like the most interesting thing about these places is what cannot be photographed.

Norfolk: Absolutely – absolutely. That's why, whenever you see warfare now, it's photographed in that same dreary, clichéd way: it's metal boxes rolling across the desert. Every time you switch on CNN, or buy a newspaper, you see guys in metal boxes – because that looks good. These photojournalists, and these TV crews, they don’t explain the process: they show things that look good on TV. A satellite orbiting in space doesn't look good. A submarine – you know, the greatest platform we've ever built for launching nuclear weapons and for surveillance – that has no presence whatsoever in how most people understand what the military does today.

The same is true of electromagnetic stuff – information warfare, cyber-warfare – and I wonder what photojournalists of the future are going to photograph? Are they still going to photograph guys with guns, shooting at each other? Because quite soon there aren't going to be guys with guns shooting at each other. We're quite soon getting to the era of UAVs and stuff. People aren't even going to know what shot them – and there will be nothing to photograph.

[Images: Simon Norfolk. "The supercomputer at the Wellcome Trust's Sangar Institute, Cambridge, UK."]

BLDGBLOG: Except for empty rooms and computer systems.

Norfolk: Exactly. Look at the way the war in Afghanistan was photographed: what you got was a guy on a ridge in a turban watching a very, very far away explosion. That was war photography! That was the way the Afghan war was covered. What worries me is that, if these wars become invisible, then they will cease to exist in the popular imagination. I'm very worried that, because these things become invisible, they just – people don’t seem to be fucking bothered.

But, you know, wouldn't it be amazing to have a series of portraits printed of missile systems, but you photographed them the way you'd photograph a BMW?


You get them straight off the production line in the factory, and then you polish them, and you wax them – so they’re just beautiful – and then you light them the way you would an Audi TT, with a black background, and you shoot them on a big camera. Just gorgeous – sculptural. Then the caption says, you know: Predator Drone. Hellfire Missile. Nuclear Warhead.

BLDGBLOG: It's interesting that, on your website, it says you gave up photojournalism to move into landscape photography – yet that seems to have coincided with a more explicit politicization of your work.

Norfolk: Yeah, absolutely.

BLDGBLOG: So your projects are even more political now – yet they’re intended as landscape photography?

Norfolk: I mean, I didn't get fed up with the subjects of photojournalism – I got fed up with the clichés of photojournalism, with its inability to talk about anything complicated. Photojournalism is a great tool for telling very simple stories: Here's a good guy. Here's a bad guy. It's awful. But the stuff I was dealing with was getting more and more complicated – it felt like I was trying to play Rachmaninoff in boxing gloves. Incidentally, it's also a tool that was invented in the 1940s – black and white film, the Leica, the 35mm lens, with a 1940s narrative. So, if I'm trying to do photojournalism, I'm meant to use a tool that was invented by Robert Capa?

I needed to find a more complicated way to draw people in. I'm not down on photojournalism – it does what it does very well – but its job is to offer all its information instantly and immediately. I thought the fact that this place in Afghanistan – this ruin – actually looks a little like Stonehenge: that interested me. I wanted to highlight that. I want you to be drawn to that. I want you to stay in my sphere of influence for slightly longer, so that you can think about these things. And taking pictures in 35mm doesn't do it.

So the content of photojournalism interests me enormously, it's just the tools that I had to work with I thought were terrible. I had to find a different syntax to negotiate those things.

BLDGBLOG: Ironically, though, your photos haven't really been accepted by the art world yet – because of your subject matter.

Norfolk: Well, I cannot fucking believe that I go into an art gallery and people want to piss their lives away not talking about what’s going on in the world. Have they not switched on their TV and seen what's going on out there? They have nothing to say about that? They'd rather look at pictures of their girlfriend's bottom, or at their top ten favorite arseholes? Switch on the telly and see what's going on in our world – particularly these last five years. If you've got nothing to say about that, then I wonder what the fucking hell you're doing.

The idea of producing work which is only of interest to a couple of thousand people who have got art history degrees... The point of the world is to change it, and you can't change it if you're just talking about Roland Barthes or structuralist-semiotic gobbledygook that only a few thousand people can understand, let alone argue about.

That's not why I take these photographs.

[Images: Simon Norfolk. Top: "Wrecked Ariana Afghan Airlines jets at Kabul Airport pushed into a mined area at the edge of the apron," from Afghanistan: Chronotopia. Bottom: "The illegal Jewish settlement of Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem. To deter snipers from the adjacent Palestinian village of Beit Jala (seen in the distance) a wall has been erected. To brighten the view on the Israeli side, it has been painted with the view as it would be if there were no Palestinians and no Beit Jala."]

BLDGBLOG: Clearly you're not taking these pictures – of military supercomputers and remote island surveillance systems – as a way to celebrate the future of warfare?

Norfolk: No, no. No.

BLDGBLOG: But what, then, is your relationship to what you describe, in one of your texts, as the Romantic, 18th-century nationalistic use of images, where ruined castles and army forts and so on were actually meant as a kind of homage to imperial valor? Are you taking pictures of military sites as a kind of ironic comment on nationalistic celebrations of global power?

Norfolk: No, I don't think it's ironic. I think what I'm in favor of is clarity. What annoys me about those artists is that there were things they actually stood for, but what seems to have happened is their ideas have been laundered. They've been infantilized. I don't mind what the guy stands for – I just want to know what the guy stands for. I don’t want some low-fat version of his politics. And unless you can really understand what the fellow stood for, how can you comprehend what his ideas were about? How can you judge whether his paintings were good paintings or rubbish paintings?

The thing that pisses me off about so much modern art is that it carries no politics – it has nothing that it wants to say about the world. Without that passion, that political drive, to a piece of work – and I mean politics here very broadly – how can you ever really evaluate it? At the end of the day, I don't think my politics are very popular right now, but what I would like to hear is what are your politics? Because if you're not going to tell me, how can we ever possibly have an argument about whether you're a clever person, your work is great, your work is crap, your art is profound, your art is trivial...?

For instance, I'm doing a lot of work these days on Paul Strand – and Paul Strand is a much more interesting photographer than most people think he is. The keepers of the flame, the big organizations that hold the platinum-plating prints and his photogravures, or whatever – these big museums, particularly in America, that have large collections – they don't want the world to know that Strand was a major Marxist, his entire life. He was a massive Stalinist. That just dirties the waters in terms of knowing who Strand was. So Strand has become this rather meaningless pictorialist now. You look at any description of Strand's work, and he was just a guy who photographed fence posts and little wooden huts in rural parts of the world. If you don't understand his politics, how can you make any sense of what he was trying to do, or what he photographed? These people have completely laundered his reputation – completely deracinated the man.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. Staircase at Auschwitz, with worn footsteps.]

BLDGBLOG: How does working outside of photojournalism, and even outside the art world, affect the actual practicality of getting into these places – photographing war zones and ruins and so on? You weren’t an embedded photographer in Iraq?

Norfolk: No, no. I was just kind of winging it.

You know, the camera I use is made of wood – it's a 4x5 field camera, made of mahogany and brass – and it looks like an antique. Part of what I do is I make sure I don't look very serious – it's best to look like a harmless dickhead, really, so no one bothers you. You look like a nutter. And, to be honest, I play that up: I've got the bald head, and the Hawaiian shirt, and, to look at the image on the back of the camera, you have to put a blanket over your head and go in there with a magnifying glass, and it’s always on a tripod.

So I have two choices: I can either do these images from a speeding car, or I can stand there with a blanket over my head, and look like such a prick that somebody's going to find me through their rifle scope and think: Oh! What's that? Let's go down and have a look... I can’t believe that photographers go into war zones dressed like soldiers! Soldiers are the people they shoot at. If I could wear a clown suit I would do it – if I could wear the big shoes and everything. I would wear the whole fucking thing.

I think there's a lot to be said for that, actually, because I can either scrape in there on my belly, wearing camo, and sneak around; or I can stand right there in front, wearing a shirt that says, you know, Don't shoot me. I’m a dick.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "Storage depot for the oil-fired power station at Jiyé/Jiyeh bombed in the first few days of the [Israel-Hezbollah] war and still on fire and still dumping oil into the sea 20 days later. Seen from the Sands Rock Resort, 1 Aug 2006."]

BLDGBLOG: Of course, you read how more journalists, photographers, and television reporters have been killed, or taken hostage, in Iraq over the last two years alone than were killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War – but, of course, this is the war where they’ve been embedded. They’re all –

Norfolk: The way the embeddeds are dressed!

BLDGBLOG: They’re dressed like combatants.

Norfolk: What are you thinking, going around in brown trousers and stuff? I don't want to say that the people are to blame for what happened to them – but I would not do that. I just would not do that. You know those orange vests that guys working on the roads wear? I've had those made with the word Artist on the back. [laughs]

BLDGBLOG: You’ll probably get shot by a soldier now.

Norfolk: [laughs] So the practicalities – I mean, you still have to be able to shift like a journalist does. You have to find out where things are, what's going on – and you still have to get there.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "A controlled explosion of an American fuel convoy in Iraq being filmed on the set of Over There, a Fox TV production about the life of a US Army platoon in contemporary Iraq. Being filmed in Chatsworth, just north of Los Angeles, Sept 2005."]

BLDGBLOG: In your photos of movie sets, where a war scene is being filmed, it's very clear that we're looking at a staged event. It doesn't look anything like real warfare. But have you ever found that the situation is reversed – where you're shooting a real war scene, in Baghdad, say, but all the reporters from CNN and the BBC make it look like some kind of TV set?

Norfolk: Oh, yeah, yeah – on the roof of the Palestine Hotel. You're up on the big, flat roof of the hotel, and you're looking down on this ballroom, and the streets of Baghdad are below that. The reporters were all camped out on the roof of this ballroom – with little tents and little pergolas with lights and generators and stuff – and you could see where it was evening in the world because you could see whose TV crews were up and working. You could see all the Europeans were out – oh, it must be 6 o'clock in Europe. Oh, it must be 7 o'clock now in the U.S., because all the Americans are out. Then the Japanese come out later on, and they do it all at 3 o'clock in the morning because that's 5 o'clock in Japan, or whatever. They're all sharing gear and generators and stuff, and using the same background – but they're acting like they're on their own, out on the frontline. Standing right next to each other. Quite bizarre. It was like some kind of casting for a new film.

There are these weird layers. When I photographed the Iraq movie, it was done, interestingly, in the same place where they made the M*A*S*H TV series – which is why it looks like M*A*S*H The same landscape that could be M*A*S*H could also be North Korea – and it could also be Iraq. What else could it be? Greenland? [laughs] So there are these weird layers of history – and weird layers of non-history, as well. These juxtapositions of time kind of crashing into each other.

The first book I did, the Afghanistan book, I called it Chronotopia, and that's a term taken from Mikhail Bakhtin. The idea of the chronotope – chronos is time, and topos is place – is any place where these layers of time fit upon each other. Either satisfactorily or uncomfortably – it fascinates me. Especially coming from Europe. In northern France, there are places where the English fought the French in 1347 – and it's the same place we fought the Germans in 1914, and it's the same place where the Americans rolled through in 1944. Their battle cemeteries are within a hundred yards of each other. These places have thicknesses, military thicknesses –

BLDGBLOG: It's like the Roman roads in London, that you describe in your writings: they're actually a military transport system, still there beneath modern streets. London is a military landscape.

Norfolk: Absolutely: it's military technology left lying around. This stuff comes down to us. You know, the reason I can take night shot photographs is not because Mr. Kodak wanted me to take these photographs, but because he needed to design a certain kind of film that could go into a Mosquito bomber and take reconnaissance photographs during the Second World War. That's really when all the advances in film were made – in grain-structure – and it was for aerial reconnaissance.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. From "Hotel Africa."]

BLDGBLOG: Your "Hotel Africa" series reminds me a bit of some J.G. Ballard stories – overgrown air conditioning systems, tent cities, native warfare, and so on – and you mention Shelley and Byron in some of your texts; so I'm curious if there are any intentional literary references in your work? Or is there a particular book or a particular writer who has influenced you?

Norfolk: Unfortunately, this is the biggest cliché of Africa, but the first book I wrote was pretty much based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Not because it features pictures of Africa, but because it has a curve, I think. What fascinates me about Conrad's book is that it starts in the real world, this world that we understand – they're in a boat in the Thames estuary – and he says, This, too, was one of the dark places of the earth... And what he's talking about are these chronotopes, these layered histories. Then he says, I’ll tell you a story about the Congo, and so he goes to Belgium, and then he goes to Africa, and then he starts going up the river.

So little by little you move away from these certainties; you move toward instabilities around the narrator as he talks. As he moves up the river, everything becomes harder to grasp. So the idea of that curve – I took that from Conrad.

When I did the first book, it started out with these photojournalistic pictures of genocide in Rwanda – it was about six months after the genocide, and there were 2000 bodies in one church alone. Then I went back in history, looking at other genocides that had taken place: at Auschwitz, where there's bits of evidence lying around, and then back to Namibia in 1905, and then to the Armenian genocide, where there's almost no evidence at all. There, the pictures become pictures of snow and sand, as a metaphor about a covering and a hiding, a new layer, so these evidences become harder and harder to discern and unwrap.

That was also something that I took from Conrad.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "Tailings pond of the Petkovici Dam. A mass grave was discovered dug into the earth of the dam and bodies were also thrown into the lake." From Bleed.]

• • •

Simon Norfolk will speak at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Saturday, December 2nd, at 4pm, in the Brown Auditorium. If you're anywhere near Los Angeles, consider stopping by.
Meanwhile, there are many, many more photographs available on Norfolk's website, and his own writings deserve a long look. His books – For most of it I have no words, Bleed, and Afghanistan: Chronotopia – are also worthy acquisitions. Shit, it's Christmas – buy all three.
Finally, a huge thank you to Simon Norfolk for his humor and patience during the long process of assembling this interview.

0 How to make your own Luffa sponge

Hey, give me a bar of soap and I'm happy and clean. However, I realize that some of you may need shower toys for some money-wasting reason that I'm not aware of. So, we are going to point you to a place that will tell you how to grow your own luffa, loofa, loofah, etc.

The GroovyGreen site shares some wisdom and you better get started. It looks like this takes a year!

For the third autumn in a row I am pleased to be harvesting my shower sponge for next year. Now I know that must sound like a strange statement but it’s true. Many people are surprised when they find out I grow my own Luffa sponges. “Don’t those come from the sea?”, is the standard question to which I respond that the Luffa is a vegetable you can grow in your very own garden.

If you're into this stuff, visit How To Make (and grow) A Luffa!

0 The Smarter way to Donate

Great timing at Cool Tools. My wife and I were just talking about increasing our holiday donations and while we'd prefer to do things in person with the charity, Cool Tools mentions a great alternative.

The site is named DonorsChoose and the first thing I have to mention is that we are only talking about $10 so read on, this is not going to break the bank.

How it works is simple, public school teachers post about special projects they would like to have their students partake in. The write the plan and submit it to DonorsChoice. Givers (you and me)choose which project we want to fund. You can choose based on city, % low income, etc.

I am going to share a sample project here.

I'm a third grade teacher at Clara Barton Elementary School in Chicago. Most our students (91%)are from low-income homes. Many of our young learners rely on our school to broaden their worldview, so they can see further than the neighborhood they live in. In my class of thirty only a handful have been to downtown Chicago, even though it's a few miles away! If you ask them what country they live in, many will say, "Chicago!"

I have felt compelled this year to show them they don't have to belong in one area, that the world is theirs to discover. I want them to have the knowledge of what's out there, so they have the power to rise above the circumstances they are in. As I started teaching them about the continents and different countries, I found myself frustrated because we have a VERY OUTDATED world map and no other resources to truly inspire them to know about the world.

We are in need of a world map, a map of the United States, and literature about different countries. Thank you for being willing to make an impact on the lives of young ones you don't have the privilege of meeting. Their lives will be touched by it and hopefully they will see that it's a small world after all!

The cost of large world and US maps plus National Geographic Traveler books about various countries is $1,957, including shipping and fulfillment.

Now, this is just one story and I chose Chicago because I live there. But come one, how is the woman going to teach without a map? I am not wealthy but I did have $50 that I could donate, so I did.

There are dozens more just like this. So first, if you want to help out this teacher from Chicago, here is a link and you can toss in $10 directly. If you want to look for something in your own neighborhood, you can start from scratch.

Come on, we're talking about sacrificing 2 vanilla lattes. Do what's right. Visit DonorsChoose.

Again, thanks to Cool Tools for the intro.

0 Angles of entrance

[Image: Geoffrey George takes us on a stroll through Detroit's Michigan Central Station, a building both abandoned and unfinished, in this Flickr set; the above image, so wonderfully skewed and angular, is the strongest of the lot – in fact, it's rather hard to stop looking at].

Rabu, 29 November 2006

0 About to reach home in 6 hours

Writing this in the bloody LAX airport while I wait 5 hours without internet connection for my next flight to Taipei, which is a leg-cramping 13.30hrs!!!!!!!!!

The things people do for love!

Bloody hell.

A chain series of events just happened to piss me off. First, I dropped my carry-on luggage onto my foot. It hurts.

After that, I had to pay USD$3 for a trolley. A BAGGAGE TROLLEY! It's all free in Singapore! Bloody capitalists.

My fucking 46 kg hugeass luggage then arrived (ain't it amazing? It is actually heavier than me), and in an understandable anxiousness to try to get it (after the fucker got lost the previous time. Though that might not be its fault), I blindly asked the man next to me to help me heave it out of the carousel -

Without noticing he is about 100 years old.

He, out of kindness, obliged, and almost died trying. He was pulled several metres along with the fucking samsonite, while I looked on wide-eyed and horrified.

He was thoroughly embarrassed and apologized profusely, while a stout Mexican daddy helped me with it. I feel so bad!

After that, some irresponsible cleaners decided that engineers work hard to design a wide airport toilet entrance clearly the size of $3 trolleys for their sake, and parked their STUPID cleaning trolley right smack where I would have to bump into it.

My carry-on delightedly fell on my foot again. It hurts.

I was so pissed I pissed and didn't wash my hands. I thought about going in again to wash them, I really did, but there the cleaning trolley was, menacingly blocking my way. Yes, so now, I am typing with filthy hands. I think I might develop a trauma of sorts.

Perhaps just to lure me into a false sense of security, something good finally happened. I found a plug outlet for the laptop!

About 10 wireless connections here, but none are free.

But ah! I thought to myself. I have some Lost DVDS I can watch for hours!!!!!! Hooray!

And tadah! I brought the external CD drive but not the wire to connect it to the laptop!


Very unhappy with a hurt foot.

Also bored.

I attempted to photoshop the photos that we took (which are minimal to say the least. You try to get Mike to try photos! That boy really doesn't know how to pose at all! If he were born a Japanese chick he would be ostrasized by all his Japanese chick neoprint-taking friends), but it just made me cry so I am not going to try again until I get back to Singapore and have more stuff to distract me.



In Taipei Airport now with internet! Bless the Taiwanese!

Reaching home in a bit, see u guys. =)

0 Wreck-diving London

[Image: From Blend; those aren't typos, by the way – it's Dutch].

Little Venice is a small riverine village east of Notting Hill on the manmade canals of Victorian London. Its waterways were all designed in the early 1800s by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the same engineer behind the machinery that excavated London's first Tube tunnels.
Now, however, the Romantic canals and artificial rivers of Little Venice offer something of an unintended glimpse, or working model, of the London yet to come.
"Tide levels are steadily increasing owing to a combination of factors," the UK's Environment Agency warns. "These [factors] include higher mean sea levels, greater storminess, increasing tide amplitude, the tilting of the British Isles (with the south eastern corner tipping downwards) and the settlement of London on its bed of clay."
Post-glacial rebound is the technical term for this "tilting of the British Isles." That tilt comes as northern Scotland's deglaciated mountain valleys rise steadily upward, decompressing from the weight of lost ice caps. Like a geologically-themed, slow-motion amusement park ride, the British Isles are thus "tilting," with Scotland's rebound pushing London into the sea.
Climate change only adds to the city's worries.

[Image: London, flooding; via the Environment Agency – if you're a Londoner, type in your postcode and see if you're at risk from water...].

Short of capping the Highlands in new glaciers of lead, however, or attaching gigantic hot air balloons to the spires of churches to pull the city skyward, London will eventually flood: its undersea fate is geologically inevitable. Whether this occurs in a hundred years or a hundred centuries, London will become a city of canals – before it is lost to the sea entirely. It is a new Atlantis, sinking deeper each day into the oceanic embrace of hydrology.
Yet is worrying about this fate the appropriate response? Perhaps such an outcome isn't tragic at all. Perhaps, if we view this future with a certain architectural curiosity, we can respond with something like enthusiasm.
In which case: what future city will we see upon the Thames?
In the estuarial distance, perhaps a thousand new artificially intelligent Thames Barriers will lift and fold their bulwarked walls against the onslaught of the sea. Moving levees, crawling and motorized – a kind of hydrological Maginot Line – insect-like and powered by tides, will encircle the British archipelago. We'll drive across inland lagoons on floating motorways.
House-boats and cargo ships will anchor ten meters above the pavements of Trafalgar, unloading passengers and cargo, Admiral Nelson now wreathed in seaweed. Adventure tourism firms will lead scuba diving expeditions through the reefs of Westminster, wealthy clients spear-fishing eels in the back rooms of flooded estate agents.

[Image: J.M.W. Turner].

London's underwater fate thus presents us with at least two intriguing lines of speculation. On the one hand you've got possible next steps for Greater London's imperial flood control regime; on the other, a vision of evacuation, collapse and abandonment after the city's oceanic war has been lost. Either way, the future of London is with the sea.
It's easy to imagine, in fact, that the entire English coastline might soon be buttressed behind 40-meter high locks and channels. Thames Water, already struggling to keep the Tube dry from river overflow, would need its own nuclear power plants, droning into the 27th century, just to fuel its complex networks of pumps and aquatic regulators. New canals, distributing North Sea storm surges up toward marshland desalination plants, could store that water in huge inland seas, well-protected reservoirs processed for drinking. A new Lake District, militarized, utopian, walled with concrete, might be visited by future Wordsworths, Coleridge and his ancient mariner setting sail up the Thames, now freshly dredged as far as Edinburgh.
But once those defenses fail, and London tilts further beneath the waves?

[Image: J.M.W. Turner].

The London Underground will be lost immediately, transformed into something between sewer and urban aquarium. Cellars and the steps that lead to them will make London a city of valves, pulsing from below with subsurface waters that burst up and outward from the windows of buildings, all of London a simulacrum of Versailles – an unintended architecture of choreographed fountains – showing off in arcs sprayed upon the facades of abandoned shopping malls.
Perhaps no one will be around to witness all this: cold water will lap across the bleached dome of St. Paul's unseen, for centuries...
Till, someday, a distant heir of J.M.W. Turner will return sunburnt from the tropics to find London an archipelago of failed sea walls and water-logged high-rises, the suburbs an intricate filigree of uninhabited canals, bonded warehousing forming atolls amidst sandbanks and deltas. Amidst new islands of former rooftops, he will rename the constellations to fit British geography as it used to be: Piccadilly Circus, King’s Cross, Tottenham Court Road, all burning above a city that quietly rushes with black waves.
Perhaps there will even be a star named after Little Venice, as its namesake rebounds further and further beneath the sea.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article, translated into Dutch, was published several months ago in Blend magazine – for whom I continue to write monthly columns, in case you're in Holland and you need something to read... And if you're as dizzyingly in love with J.M.W. Turner as I am, consider reading Peter Ackroyd's brief biography of him this winter).

0 Create your own MP3 Player

This is not a connect-the-dots routine so if you are a Novice, you may want to pass this one up. A site named Minty MP3 gives some very good instructions on how you can create an MP3 player in an Altoids tin. Need a picture, look below:

If you decide to give it a shot, there is also a forum to help you in your quest. As a side note, your cost will be in the same neighborhood as an iPod Shuffle so this DIY is for DIY lovers as opposed to someone solely trying to save money.

0 Automotive Ossuary

Brazilian artist Alexandre Orion turned a São Paulo transport tunnel into a kind of graphic charnel house, lined with skulls.
He created the images, the project's website explains, "by selectively scraping off layers of black soot deposited on those walls in the short life of this orifice of modernity."
And what a lovely orifice it is...

Specifically, Orion scraped, cleaned, and rubbed down through soot "until reaching the natural color of the walls" – inevitably leading me to wonder what other worlds, of figures and images and narrative sequences, might exist in some future graphic tense beneath layers of urban pollution...? And could one prepare for the accumulation of soot by attaching stencils to the walls of tunnels – only to remove those in five years, revealing imagery?
Interestingly, the rough geological equivalent of this procedure can be found throughout the American Southwest, in the form of various "newspaper rocks"
– where layers of desert varnish have been scraped away to reveal natural rock pigmentation, thus allowing the production of representational art.

In any case, the descriptive text on Orion's website seems to go downhill fairly quickly – we're soon scraping soot off the walls of repression and peeling away consciousness itself, and we're meant to be very, very angry while doing so – but the funny thing is, because voluntarily scrubbing sections of a public underpass isn't actually illegal in São Paulo – and would seem, in fact, to be a sign of refined citizenship – try as they might, Brazil's patient and well-organized police force couldn't charge Orion with anything.

Instead, the fire crews showed up and washed it down with hoses.

(Via Paul Schmelzer's Eyeteeth, which quotes a nice recap of Orion's project).

0 Make Money on the Internet: Part 2

A few of you may remember our October 2006 post regarding the multiple ways of making money on the internet.

We've recently come across several more ways to make a little coin online. We've used the same rules as qualifiers that I will recap here:

What's NOT included: Taking Surveys, Get Paid to Surf the Internet, MLM, Programs with a ton of negative user experiences (based on researching forums, googling them, etc.), Contest Sites, "Buy my DVD, CD, Audiobook", etc.

What IS included: Things you can use to legitimately make money online. Everything from product reviews to writing code, creating videos.

So with that, here we go:

  • ReviewMe - In order to participate, you must have a blog and it has to be active. Companies go to ReviewMe to advertise a product and ReviewMe asks their members to write a review of the product in exchange for cash.

    In regards to ethics, ReviewMe mandates that the blogger/site owner indicate that they are being compensated to write the review AND the advertiser cannot insist on a positive review. This is the opposite of other similar services that don't mandate trustworthy behavior. Ultimately the goal is to spread the word honestly.

    You can expect to earn $20 - $200 per review that you write.

  • Revver - I have no idea how I missed this on the first list. You basically upload your video to Revver and they attach an ad to it. You get 50% of what the ad makes. If any of you have been on YouTube or other video sites, you can easily understand that some videos, even bad ones at times, go viral and thousands of people see it, and your ad! If you want to see a sample of this, here is a link to Revver's 'most watched' page.

  • Vizu - I really like the sound of this one and may try it on Dumb Little Man. Instead of putting ads on your site, you insert polls. You get paid based on the CPM (cost per thousand) that you set. The better positioning on your site, the better you will do. The nice part of this is that everything is embedded into your site allowing visitors to participate without leaving. That is key. PS - I learned about this site today from Digital Inspiration.

  • Break.com - Upload your videos and pictures all day. If they like them and place them on their homepage, they will pay you $400 for original videos (you know, snowboarding off a house onto a trampoline and breaking your arm, etc) and up to $2000 for short films. They also have other random contests that pay out $50 a picture.

  • CelltradeUSA: Refer your visitors to CelltradeUSA. I wrote about them recently, but they offer an affiliate program now. In short, if people need to get out of a cell phone contract, cell trade helps them by matching them with someone that wants to enter into a phone contact without all the fees.

  • Bitwine - If you are an expert or even mildly knowledgeable on something, Bitwine provides a way for you to set a per minute rate and charge people to talk to you in a private meeting space. Bitwine is currently in "beta" so they are waiving fees which at some point will most likely be a % of your earnings. This sounds similar to Ether, which is a service we discussed in July.

  • Clickbooth - Clickbooth is a site that blog owners or site owners can join to place Cost Per Action ads on their site. It has a good base of advertisers and is similar to Commission Junction or Linkshare.

  • LoudLaunch - This service has not officially launched yet but it's something to watch. I first learned about this on Micro Persuasion and the consensus seems to be that it is similar to Review Me (which is on this list).

  • Rent-A-Coder: As I type this, there are 2,299 requests on this site. These requests are opportunities for coders to earn money. Take on a project, get it done and get paid. I like this concept because Rent-A-Coders doesn't get paid a thing until you do therefore it is in their best interest to keep you busy.

  • Shopping.com - Add widgets to your site that display products based on keywords. For the ultra-skilled, you can even customize the entire user experience by tapping into their API. I guarantee you've seen sites with this installed and you never realized it.

Good Luck.

By the way, on 11/23/2007, Ways to Make Money on the Internet, Volume 3 was added.

- Jay

0 Facts about Sleep

The National Sleep Research Project was the largest study of Australian sleep habits even conducted. My gut feeling is that a lot of their findings are just as accurate for people regardless of their location.

Since we all understand that sleep can basically make or break you, I've pulled a couple of facts from their study:

  • A new baby typically results in 400-750 hours lost sleep for parents in the first year

  • REM sleep occurs in bursts totaling about 2 hours a night, usually beginning about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Here is a wikipedia definiation of REM.

  • Dreams, once thought to occur only during REM sleep, also occur (but to a lesser extent) in non-REM sleep phases. It's possible there may not be a single moment of our sleep when we are actually dreamless.

  • Seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%.

  • The "natural alarm clock" which enables some people to wake up more or less when they want to is caused by a burst of the stress hormone adrenocorticotropin. Researchers say this reflects an unconscious anticipation of the stress of waking up.

  • After five nights of partial sleep deprivation, three drinks will have the same effect on your body as six would when you've slept enough.

  • Ten per cent of snorers have sleep apnoea, a disorder which causes sufferers to stop breathing up to 300 times a night and significantly increases the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

  • Teenagers need as much sleep as small children (about 10 hrs) while those over 65 need the least of all (about six hours). For the average adult aged 25-55, eight hours is considered optimal

  • Some studies suggest women need up to an hour's extra sleep a night compared to men, and not getting it may be one reason women are much more susceptible to depression than men.

To read their full 40 points, visit 40 facts about sleep you probably didn't know.

0 Get, Create, and Share Ringtones for free

I ran into Phonezoo last night and I spent entirely too much time on their site. I have never, ever been much a ringtone guy but with the site being free, I had to give it a whirl.

After completing a 10 second form indicating what type of cell phone and service you have, you will receive a text message to verify that you made the right selections.

Once that's done, you're ready to go and you have a few options:

  • Browse their public ringtone library and grab whatever you want. Your selections are sent to your phone and also stored on your profile page which you can share with your friends.

  • Create your own ringtones. Take your favorite song and upload it to their site. You can then select the portion of the song that you'd like your ringtone to consist of. Again, you can share your piece of art with the world or simply with a group of friends.

  • Sample copywrited ringtones. For good reason, they will not let you simply download the copywrited ringtones. You can however listen to get some ideas. In order to actually get that content onto your phone, you will have to upload your own version of the song and create the ringtone yourself. This at least proves that you purchased or have the song in your possession. They are trying to keep their site as legit as possible and this is a decent way to police things and keep them out of trouble.

Although they are in beta mode I have to say that I was extremely pleased because everything worked perfectly and frankly because it was free. As their membership and library grows and assuming they scale the service correctly, Phonezoo will become a top destination for anyone wanting to completely customize their ringtones.

Selasa, 28 November 2006

0 Snowdonia

One of the things I've always found most interesting about photographs from Mars isn't the planet itself – its landscapes and geology – but the strange visual style associated with the images: spliced together from multiple stills, the edges of the photos break up into black rectangular voids, as if the scene has been consumed by Russian Suprematism, the revenge of art history coming back to us from offworld sources.
Malevich as landscape photographer.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see the same approach used to the same effect, whether intentional or not, in these photos of Mt. Snowdon, Wales, taken by Flickr user Stuey G.

In other words, because of the culturally recent Martian resonance of spliced photography, these scenes from the earth appear unearthly; the topography – for me, at least – seems strangely removed from terrestrial expectations.
This isn't Wales, the style implies, but some new terrain altogether, geologically other.

Or not, of course, in which case you just think these look like photos of Mt. Snowdon; but take several hundred more of these things, write some text – and soon you've got a new planetary narrative: discovering other worlds, right here on earth beside us.

(For more Mars photos, see NASA; for more Snowdon photos, see Stuey's Snowdonia page. On an unrelated note, Mr. G. understandably loves his new ground-radar machine).
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