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Godard’s knock


Been away filming a new BBC show in Turkey for 2 weeks. I like these long shoots abroad. I feel like I’m floating through a disassociated landscape. No mobile, no email, no TV. The irritants of London fade away and I start to feel very focused. There’s something about being with a knot of people, bonded by hours in a crew bus, that is pleasant. Because there’s so little to do, no excess of choice, you end up doing the simplest things and enjoying them. There are only these people, this hotel, this meal – so you do that. It becomes like the simplified space I’m familiar with from retreats.

It was suprisingly cold in Turkey. Early on in the first block in Bolu, in Northern Turkey, I had a morning free before I was needed for filming. The landscape outside my hotel window had been annihilated by snow. I had nothing to do for 3 or so hours. So I sat meditation. In that thin-air of stimulation, every thing became very sharp.

It’s something about the quality of attention. WH Auden says that curiosity is the one human passion that can be indulged without satiety. And he’s right, there’s always something to be noticed and then noticed more deeply. It’s a self-replenishing source of energy. If we move through the world touching things with delicate attention they come alive under our fingertips. In the snowlit corridors of mountain hotels and long journies across the white plains of Turkey, people and things seemed to sparkle and thrum.

But it also struck me that it’s not enough to be attentive. You need to pay attention to the kind of attention you’re paying. Otherwise, the quality of our noticing shapes what we notice.

That’s apparent in this photography thing. Over the years I’ve been taking pictures with my camera, I’ve noticed that I’ve started to take the same sort of pictures. Framed things in a certain “aesthetic” way. Picked certain objects to photograph and ignored others. I was talking to Laurie and Rob, the camera and soundmen on this shoot, about how boring this was getting.

There’s a great story about Jean-Luc Godard. His Director of Photography would get on set before shooting, spend hours setting up lights and camera angles to create a perfect, beautiful shot. Then Godard would step up to the camera, look through the viewfinder, and before calling ‘Action’ he would kick the tripod and shoot the whole scene on a random skew. Of course, in the film it looked weird but wonderfully correct. Similarly, Lars von Trier says that the best thing an actor can do for him is to fuck up. Sometimes the crap, the ugly and the random generate new beauty.

So towards the end of the Turkey trip we started to deliberately mess-up shots. Holding the camera up in the air, vaguely pointed at people to get an fresh frame. Photographing random things.

My patron anti-saint, Oscar Wilde, said that art is a raid on the predictable. And the skew-whiff art that I think is the best art makes life less boring. It stretches the perceiving eye to perceive more. It’s like when I watched Godard’s Alphaville on the way up to Haworth and suddenly Yorkshire train stations seemed like 1950s nouvelle vague. Knocking the tripod can surprise us with stuff we didn’t expect to notice.

Trungpa (0f course) already nailed this: “Normally , we limit the meaning of perceptions. Food reminds us of eating; dirt reminds us to clean the house; snow reminds us that we have to clean off the car to get to work; a face reminds us of our love or hate. In other words, we fit what we see into a comfortable or familiar scheme. We shut any vastness or possibilities of deeper perception out of our hearts by fixating on our own interpretation of phenomena.” Some bonkers film or off-centre photo from way outside our normal parameters can be exactly what we need to shake off our own lazy interpretations of the world. Or at least give us a whiff of vaster ones.

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