Thursday, January 29, 2009

Woman at Crossroads

I know this isn't technically a crossroads but its a major intersection at Dublin's Baggot Street and Waterloo Road. Eastmoreland Place makes up the crossroads, but its slightly offset. I was drawn to the woman who was there a long time - time enough for me to get my camera out of its bag, then compose and take around six shots. It seemed to be just enough for her to watch the traffic pass and enjoy a leisurely cigarette. Contemplating ... what to do next. Crossroads are highly symbolic of course and we talk about being at a crossroads in life. After the decision is made and a way is chosen, there is little room for turning back. It was at a crossroads that Oedipus (unknowingly) met his father and killed him - we all know the trouble that caused! Jung sees crossroads as a marriage of opposites and so they have positive and negative meanings. Different aspects of our personality meet and mingle at some intersection in our own psychological make-up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Tourists in Space

This was not the intended shot. Whilst trying for a shot of a man looking at a signpost, these two young people inadvertently walked in front of me. I liked the new scene with the rucksacks but just as I was about to press the shutter, the man turned round - thus. Recognisably tourists, I wondered what they thought. They are in an unfamiliar space whereas I am not. Although the shops have changed over the years, they are essentially the same Baggot Street buildings with similar facades. As an inhabitant, I have in my head a representation of this space. But think of the street-front behind our two tourists as a user of energy with networks of inputs from various ducts. The geographer Henri Lefebre would say they are burning with energy -the city is consuming giant quantities of human and physical energy. What then is the female tourist seeing? She is witnessing a partiality, an abstraction - and in so doing she is herself a kind of abstraction. In the street we are all abstract users and it is impossible for us to recognise ourselves. So are we together these tourists and I, in a kind of illusion, visiting space like a painting at an exhibition?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lunchtime Phantoms

This is a Friday lunchtime, 1 pm at the top of Dawson Street, Dublin. I was on my way to meet a colleague and walking round the outside of St Stephen's Green, I noticed how passers by were in such a hurry. They look very purposeful in these journeys from A to B. People to meet, things to collect, buses to catch? They hurried past, noticing neither the camera nor me. In the arcades and malls though, people do notice the photographer. Most duck to get out of the way of an anticipated picture of a building. Mostly, it never strikes shoppers that they should be the subject of the photograph or part of the composition. They may think I'm a tourist, capturing some essential part of Dublin. It seldom occurs to them, that they might be the essential parts of Dublin worth capturing. They are not subjects, but objects of the lens. They are passing phantom objects, almost dancing across the street in pursuit of other objects.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shopping in Dublin

I'm at the limit of available light here in the Westbury Mall, but I liked the red bag and shoes of the woman in the foreground. Westbury Mall is more arcade than it is a mall. Fairly small it's a shortcut so it does well from passing trade in transit from Grafton Street through to Powerscourt. Moving on from the previous blog, it's empathy with the things for sale that counts for "professional" shoppers - and beyond that, empathy with the money they are going to exchange for the value of the goods. It's almost as if the exchange was more important than the product purchased. The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas theorises that some people behave as if they have to be "normal". In so doing it's more important that they possess an object - even if they don't use it. Perhaps the object is even more pleasing because of the association with the money expended. After all, empathy with purchased goods is empathy with something inorganic ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Arcades Project

I have always been a great admirer of Walter Benjamin and this current phase of work is in honour of the Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin. A literary critic and one of the Frankfurt School of critical theorists he was much influenced by Freud and Jung. But World War Two was to cut Benjamin's work short. As the German army advanced on Paris, he died in mysterious circumstances attempting to cross the French-Spanish border. Benjamin said "The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses." More of Benjamin, the Arcade Project and flâneurs later - but I am pleased with this arcade photograph. This is the Galerie de la Reine or Koninginnegallerij Arcade in Bruxelles, just off the Grote Markt. Would these people be flâneurs? Or was that me?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Flâneur Blues

Today marks the end of the Cornwall shots. So it's a move from the old Royal market town of Penzance to Dublin city centre. It was just by coincidence (can there be any such thing?) that I came across the term flâneur after I took this shot. Popularised by Baudelaire and adopted by Walter Benjamin, the term refers to someone (a perceptive observer) who strolls through the city streets. Susan Sontag's definition of the photographer as flâneur deserves quotation in full: "The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker, reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world "picturesque". I think that's a security person looking at the camera and I feel he is not fond of les flâneurs. But this is just about St Stephen's Green, a shopping centre and above all, James Bond.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Red Eagle

Whilst walking on the outskirts of Penzance I came across this rather striking doorway. The colour attracted me and then the bird of prey door number. I think the bird is designed to be an eagle although purists are going to say the beak isn't curved enough! Early Welsh saga poetry features eagles as feasting on fallen warriors in the poem Eryr (eagle of) Pengwern. Pengwern now is thought to be somewhere in England and you can find out more about this by going to The eagle is a primary creature in Celtic mythology - a bit like the stag, salmon and owl. Celtic shamans, amongst others, popularly invoked the strength and eyesight of the eagle. In Celtic mythology, red invokes the power of the warrior, no doubt from all that feasting! If you dream of eagles ... then in all likelihood you would be having what Jung described as a "big dream" - something with an important meaning. There is little that comes close to the symbolic power of the eagle. The eagle pictured is at the door and hence is protective of the house and its occupants. Just out of interest, I looked for a relationship between the eagle and the number five in the picture and found a reference. The book of Genesis says that it was on the fifth day that God created both fish and the fowls of the air.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Magpies

Still in Cornwall, because I have dedicated this first part of the year to the small Celtic nation of Kernow. I can't locate the Cornish for magpie but this is a bird or edhen. Magpies bear some relation to Cornish Cloughs of which three appear in the arms of Thomas Becket. In general, magpies don't get a good press and cross-culturally they are regarded with suspicion. I like the Greek legend best. Nine Thracian maidens known as the Pieredes tried to outdo the Muses in singing. They were easily defeated and for their presumption and grandiosity they were turned into magpies, becoming associated with envy and snobbery. I would not visit this on the Penzance football team though. It has a history stretching back to 1888 and in its centenary year the team hosted Scottish champions, Glasgow Celtic. Perhaps other teams should regard a visit from the Magpies with trepidation. In Dublin we have more magpies than you can shake a stick at and although they are beautiful creatures, we sometimes chant that famous rhyme to ward off the evil eye. One for sorrow, two for joy ... So come on you Magpies. Steal the League this season!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Broken Boundary

Whatever condition a wall is in it is always a boundary! This is on a Cornwall estuary and so it is probably a sea defence, designed to keep the sea out at high tide. It has suffered some damage - from what I may never know. But walls will always crack at some stage. I am reminded of the Yeats poem "The second coming" ... "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned. The damage has released all manner of material that was used in building the wall and although it still stands, its continuity has been disrupted. Psychotherapists are always talking about boundaries and their preservation. If they fail to keep good boundaries in professional relationships, things get mixed up rather like this pile of materials and the relationship won't work as well as it might.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Building and Renewal

I came across this skeletal structure on the north coast of Cornwall. It looked dramatic and I wondered what it had been. Maybe someone can explain what used to be here? Whatever happened the building was, in all likelihood, constructed with the best of intentions. Buildings are usually inaugurated with some ritual - in some sense design and shaping of buildings bring order to chaos. But in psychotherapy sometimes we have to "take the roof off", to detach from the everyday world and strip everything down to essentials to reconstruct. I like to think that whatever enterprise inhabited this structure has re-established somewhere else on an altogether different basis. Perhaps conditions changed and the enterprise adapted. In so doing the original building had to be abandoned and was reconstructed in a new location using the much of the original material.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I couldn't resist this shot from Land's End in Cornwall. It's a fuzzed up knot and much repaired - or added to. Beyond the fence are the dangerous cliffs of a previous blog. It's a notional boundary because it wouldn't stop anyone from crossing the fence. So it's pretty much just a sign. Or is it a symbol? It could be the latter because knots are a sign of danger in many cultures. It is a Palestinian legend that if threatened by danger, an Arab can escape from his enemies by tying a knot in the fringes of his head dress and saying the name of Allah. But knots most often denote relationships. R.D. Laing wrote a book of what used to be known as "concrete poetry". Merely called "Knots" it tried to show what complicated strictures we encounter in our relationships. When we marry we "tie the knot". And appropriately for Cornwall, the sailor's handkerchief had three knots. Untying the first brought fair winds. The next meant a good catch. But the third was never to be untied since it kept storms under control!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tree of Life

Something of the coldness of winter took me here, when on a walk in Penzance, I noticed this tree silhouetted against the screen of an evening sky. There are always trees around but this one stood out. The tree has no unified or universal symbolism. It can signify birth, death, regeneration, the maternal, the paternal - it is the Tree of Life. It dies and rises again in times without number says Mircia Eliade. In a series of drawings based on the flower of Life, Leonardo da Vinci emphasised the cyclical nature of trees, shedding their leaves in winter then regenerating in the Spring. So let's look forward to the Spring and leave the last words to Darwin. "As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications (Darwin, 1872). For a scientific demonstration visit the excellent Wolfram's Demonstration Project at

Pirate Tattoo

Penzance and pirates are forever linked. But something about the advertisement reminded me of the story of dolphins being the souls of dead pirates. I found the explanation in a children's book called Pirate-o-pedia. A pilot called Acetes was sailing to Delos with his crew. He sent them for water but they came back with a sleeping youth they had kidnapped. Unhappily for them this was no noble's son who would fetch them a good ransom - it was the God, Dionysus (Bacchus). And when he awoke he was none too pleased. He stopped the ship when it was at sea and the errant sailors found they were acquiring scales and fins. All but Acetes, who refused to join their criminal game, were turned into dolphins and swam around spouting water from their nostrils. Acetes was spared and took Dionysus to onwards to Naxos where he was to meet Ariadne, his bride-to-be. You can find more pirate stories at

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Milk and Wine

Readers have been saying I should lighten up, because recent blogs have been a little sombre. So here's something I spotted just before Christmas. I was in a long Christmas queue in Penzance Co-operative so maybe someone decided they didn't need the milk and dumped it. Or it could have been a joke. Perhaps some Hermes character in the queue decided the opportunity was too good to miss. Yet there is a relationship between milk and wine! In this case, Indian mythology shows the way. In the Ramayana, a great churning in the Sea of Milk produces nectar and is celebrated very day in the morning hymn the agnihotra. This nectar is a symbol of initiation, knowledge and immortality - as is wine. Wine is the drink of the Gods. Anatolian Shi'ite sects call their sacred Raki "lions milk" in their secret language. If you have a dream about wine, it's likely to be positive because symbolically wine is regarded as a divine miracle.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Just a house

"Quand le cimes de notre ciel se rejoindront/Ma maison aura un toit." When the peaks of our sky come together, my house will have a roof. This was Paul Eluard, but it was Baudelaire who summed up the aesthetic in Les paradis artificiels. Speaking of Thomas de Quincey, he describes him staying in a small cottage, somewhat under the influence of opium, and has him say "... isn't it true that a pleasant house makes winter more poetic and doesn't winter add to the poetry of a house?" I wonder about the people living in this house, warm and cosy on a winter's day. They live and breathe their old house, tolerating the creaks of floorboards and groans of plumbing. But in psychoanalytic terms this is not a "dream home", which would be of the future. Because this house is old, we dream of the past and of happy childhoods, wrapped safely in the family. The house from the outside presents a landscape of the psyche which can only be intimate, warm and protective. I am indebted to Gaston Bachelard for his work on the Poetics of Space and I am sure that he would be cheered by this picture of this house - as am I.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Red Sea

Newlyn beach proved fertile ground for photographic material. It was the red that took my attention again and I wondered whether it was flotsam or jetsam, because I can never remember and then I have to look it up. This is clearly jetsam, because it has either washed or has been thrown overboard. It's a bit dreamy, this red solid cast up by the waters, an object that can't be dissolved or consumed. Like its petrochemical beginnings, it will never mix with water. But it is a container of sorts, a box, and a useful object in its place. It could have been a fish container and perhaps it will be useful again. Some years ago, it would have been the perfect workshop surface on which to rest an engine - although I sense such days are disappearing. Everything comes from and returns to the sea. Newlyn remains an important port for seafood, and although its future is uncertain it has hidden riches. Some psychoanalysts compare their work to fishing. They are helping elements - hidden riches - to emerge from the unconscious through recall.

Penzance Red

Another image from Cornwall. The next door neighbours put their towels out to dry and I tried several shots to get it right. It was this one with converging angles that I liked best. The way the large towel hung, it looked a little like a waving flag. The red in flags stimulates the senses, so perhaps this was what happened here, calling me to action to record the image. The fluttering flag is of the air, always set in a high point. Hanging between heaven and earth it both arouses and protects those under it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cornish Sailor's Rose

Whilst walking on the Penzance beach last month I spotted these roses. They were perfect, so they couldn't have been there very long. I figured they must have washed half a kilometer's distance from the monument at Newlyn, for Cornish fishermen lost at sea. I come from a seafaring family so I felt quite sad. Roses of course have quite a packed symbolic meaning. I like the Greek story though. The Ancients knew the rose as a white, but when Aphrodite's lover, Adonis, was wounded, Aphrodite pricked herself on a thorn when she ran to help him. And in so doing, she stained her sacred, white flowers red. In many cultures, the rose has a relationship with blood and hence rebirth. So it's a fitting tribute to the many working people who harvested the ocean on our behalf. You can find out more about Newlyn and the monument at An addendum from Baudelaire in Les fleurs du mal ... "O death, ancient captain. The time has come/Let us weigh anchor!"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Danger, danger!

This dramatic sign sprang out at me on a trip to Land End. I couldn't ignore the lettering. The block capitals carved into the rock and painted red were irresistible. No doubt about the meaning. Further than this point you should no further go! The paternal voice warns of danger and does not need to tell the observer to venture no further. As for Icarus, there's nothing to stop you putting yourself at risk. No difficult fence or barrier between the sign and the cliff impedes access. But we are familiar with the words, the colour and the form of presentation. To go beyond the sign is to transgress rules that are deeply etched into both consciousness and unconsciousness. To comprehend the sign, obeying or disobeying the implicit instruction is to exercise the judgement function - unlike the hysterical child, instantly imagining himself plunging helplessly to the rocks below.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Goodbye Christmas

The new year is here and Christmas has disappeared. How quickly that happens! This photograph was taken by a dear friend in Cornwall. A great photographer, he has a talent for spotting interesting but discarded objects, The Christmas hat on top of the bag depicting cuddly pets is particularly sad. What presents did the bag contain and what happened to them? And where are they now? For psychotherapists the giving of presents is a difficult issue, because we consider it a children's matter. When we are young we delight in receiving gifts. But when we are adults, exchange of gifts can be troublesome. For example, what is expected in return? The fine anthropologist Marcel Mauss explains this well in his seminal work, The Gift. When all is said and done, most gift exchanges may as well never have happened, because they signify some other relationship involving expectation, demand, response, reciprocity and social obligation.