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Sport 30: Peter Black-Real Fiction

Ken Bolton — re Peter Black

page 44

Ken Bolton

re Peter Black

Dear Greg,

I expected to be writing this
up late
surrounded by books, music playing quietly,
having a bit of a think
I think I thought
I'd think about
Peter Black and Robert Frank,
about the darkness
that seems to be at the centre
of a lot of New Zealand art
or seems somewhere
to haunt it
& figured I'd have trouble
separating this
from the literal darkness
especially as the latter
signals the former most often—or is there in its stead.
As a literalist
which for the most part I am
it is
the literal darkness I see most
—see only,
tho I intuit occasionally
that it is
of something else.
I was going to make some comparisons
of New Zealand & Australian attitudes
to this
‘metaphysical dark’
Tho ‘metaphysical’
I never have a firm handle
on it—
a bit spiritual & a bit
is that it?
where the bodies go wobbly & out-of-phase
on Star Trek or
The Outer Limits, indicating some
redistribution of particles
thru a wooze-machine
to another time or form?
Uri Geller—
is that metaphysical?
This is to invite being
written off
as a lightweight, I know. I'll stop.
thing I was going to suggest
New Zealander's quieter,
greater confidence
from facing this darkness more directly. Australians
it's often held are nervous of the empty interior—
to which we keep our backs. Inverted commas
come in here flocking to save the words from bald
assertion, naivety—
i.e., held by whom, not
then there's ‘empty’—it's not ‘empty’
& who
believes this crap anyway? I never think about
the dark, empty, arid interior.
But then is there an Australian more nervous?
And it's true
can you say that?—Australians worry about who
they are
New Zealanders seem quite sure
our art seems sunnier
page 45 —disposition-wise.
New Zealanders
do daggy better
a kind of recognition
of the dark abyss
thru laughing at it?
In Melbourne
our daggy merely forgives the inevitable failure of
everything…to live up to its pretensions.
Not so dark
you see.
So we have Tony Tuckson:
you have McCahon
we have Bill Henson, you have
Peter Black.
I prefer Tuckson & Black
McCahon seems always
more ‘Steptoe’ than ‘Beckett’
Henson too obvious
in the pathos & the Beauty
—he ‘quotes’ them, sure
a cake he'd like to have and eat
‘have’ as if he
didn't care, ‘eat’ as if shielded by irony…
is partly its business
—as if to feel dirty was to feel modern.
Take Black's dog at night in the back seat of the car,
the peacock in the park,
the politician on election night
amid balloons, the narcissus seal.
I like all these
& liking, responding to them
seems the point.
Henson photograph's point is our thinking, our unease
about our response.
Black's work might be from an
earlier era
which is the way—or is why—
the comparisons
with Robert Frank's The Americans.
is the first morning I've had free
to write like this for ages. I'm not up late at night, Greg—
just past 10 a.m.
in a coffee shop in Hindley Street
the waitress wears no lipstick this morning
but otherwise it's exactly where I always am,
at some older Italian guys rabbitting on at a table outside
(I look thru the glass—the radio is on, coming
from a speaker above my head—a girlie voice singing—right sun, traffic outside,
bright gleam,
from a metal
rail outside &, much brighter, bouncing off a car
over the road. I look up
to confirm there's nothing
to say about it
—other than that it's black—
& it's gone.
Another Richard Estes morning
that only I have
in Adelaide
because I think that way
yes, I, only I!
And that's ‘daggy’ Adelaide-style.
We can dream
of being cosmopolitan
but we can't be (cosmopolitan).
The failure thesis
once again
(tho I had it first only a moment ago—
do I really believe in this?)
page 46 It is probably easier in Wellington
to be confident of your place in the world.
Don't ask:
more geography rings you about
you remember constantly
two islands, north & south, volcanoes,
& the clouds
roll by overhead
as if reeled.
You think, ‘edge of the
& there's the darkness
plus the fierce Presbyterian
Now that's dark.
The photographs seem
symmetrical, balanced
—the monkey with the camera,
the woman
lying in the park, the nun (her gesture, the cross
below her face),
the Maori biker gang—
which says
look at this
evidence, things captured, glimpsed
but too artlessly to have remembered to ‘look’ artless.
The bunny garden gnome,
the seal
are joking recognition of the ‘human condition’
—pathos, ‘suffering’
& the way animals—like cartoons—
illustrate it
so we get to have our pity
but not expend it—
because these are jokes
& on
the woman politician, the woman asleep on the grass
we expend a far more real, & realistic, recognition—
of the human
—in specifics, not an allusion (the seal's
Narcissism, the dog's beseeching).
Carol Jerrems
makes a contrast
an Australian photographer
much more
concerned with the relations between people
in her photographs.
Robert Frank's America was far more various
than New Zealand
far more diverse—& tense with it—
less cohesive
policed & coded
Peter Black's Maori bikers
is not a Robert Frank picture
less bizarre
less alienated
pictures New Zealand can assent to
the way America could not
to Robert Frank's.
The more limited truths, the
depth & singularity of New Zealand.
All the stuff
I didn't want to find I'd said.
Photographs are great
the way they raise up all that is irrelevant or
quite the point about them
—& they remain,
can hold them in your hand
but you can't put
your finger on it.