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photography

Jun 3, 2010

On drawing David Malouf

Insomnia, writing a blog post, ABR philantropy, and making a picture with a lens, and then a pencil.

Insomnia, writing a blog post, ABR philantropy, and making a picture with a lens, and then a pencil.

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How to write a blog post

I had an itch to write a post that would tie a knot in the thread connecting Thick of It, Modern Family, MasterChef, Jason Akermanis and ex-Minister David Campbell. But maybe tomorrow. I’ll do instead an idea that came as it often does, in the velvet centre of the night.

Awake at 3:43 am there is naught but to entertain yourself – in this case by mulching ideas for the blog; eventually, hopefully, Hypnos will sidle up to tap you on the back of the head with his bronzed finger and (you know the feeling) like a ten tonne piledriver coshes you off your feet – suddenly groundless, blind and freed from thought, you are sucked down the vast vacuum chasm of sleep.

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So, photographing and drawing David Malouf

Last night, ABR – Australian Book Review – held a cocktail party to launch new initiatives in its philanthropic program. That is, with cuts in arts funding always imminent, it needs to raise private funds to do cool stuff like pay for writing prizes. So, in a splendid old house belonging to the Myer family, a bunch of us – I was there circumstantially but not unwillingly, and when I say “bunch” I mean a group of exceedingly well-groomed and respectable people, and when I say “us” I mean them, those upright pillars with disposable dosh – gathered to hear David Malouf, who had flown in for the evening, deliver a ten minute speech about writing and reading and supporting the literary culture – it was thoughtful and elegant and no doubt it will be published in ABR (or, the ABR as they call it); I hope so as I was too busy making pictures to take notes. Anyway, if you want an award named after you, say, the John Smith Memoir Writing Prize, it might well be possible. Ask them how.

Malouf2aLit mags are usually not overendowed in the art dept. and Peter Rose, described as the “indefatigable editor,” asked me to assist by taking some snaps. I blithely said yes, which was a mistake. Robert Capa said, If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. Photographers have to be willing to get right in, be intrusive. You must assume that people will tolerate that behaviour because that’s what photographers do – same as we shrug off our irritation at taxi drivers behaving like pigs. But in that room full of the great and the good and the powdered, I felt unable to block the audience, stand in front of the speaker, and flash him with my wee digicam. I’ve just checked my snaps and they’re utterly unsatisfactory as documentation – they can’t even pass as “art.” Sorry, Peter.

Another thing – in this most standard of occasions, a speech being made from behind a lectern, only the glamour of the speaker can raise the picture above banality, and even then a big fat mic can cause a lot of deglamourisation.

Having wasted two minutes fooling around with the lens, I spent the next eight sketching. The likeness is about equivalent to the photo, surprisingly, as the camera has a 4X zoom and my specs do not. Update addition here: I was scratching away at it, erasing and trialling a line left and right, and sorting passages of shadow. It was dark, and fifteen feet away Malouf was illuminated … from the back. D’oh. I could hear appreciative noises behind me as I clawed and scraped. Post speeches (Morag Fraser, Peter Rose and David Hansen spoke – I scribbled the latter), Ms Nettle – we were all tagged – introduced herself to say she wished she could draw, I said I wished I could sing. (Hi, Wendy. Oh why not: hello Rowena, hi Kate, hi  Jane.) Drawing in public draws a crowd, one could say. I read somewhere that no one would presume to look over your shoulder if you’re writing in a notebook in a cafe. But start sketching and people hover. The emerging image is magnetic. To see something is to know it in some fashion that the most astute critic can only despair to fully analyse. Seeing is a kind of possession – and the possessing works both ways. #update ends. If I had spent eight minutes trying to make a good photograph it might have worked out. But call me old-fashioned – I’m happier to have the drawing: it’s handmade, and therefore cooler in a sort of daggy, writerly way.

david malouf

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Final bon mot: Peter Rose, commenting on Malouf’s speech – he could hear “religious purrs of approval” from the crowd.

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