Sunday, October 4, 2009

Seen Outside a Public House, Asked to Account for his Actions by the Landless Landlord

I was wondering who was the Angel of Angel. The inn, we know, that gave its name to the area, stood near where the tube now is. There was a sign, certainly, identifying the spiritual form in question, whether Gabriel, Raphael, perhaps as represented on the coin, or someone now unguessable: no known images remain.

In Highgate there's a pub by the name with a cast of the Victory of Samosthrace over the door, promoted to angelhood by, what, chance, some landlord picking the thing up in a boot sale and finding it fine over the door? That's how the signs work, I'm beginning to think, the words and the images slipping over, under, round each other, things being named and names being shown not once and for all, but as a process. That's what I should be trying to capture, then. At Angel, I thought, perhaps I could - something underway.

The local bookshop, 'local interest', has much to say. The process is the same at other locations on the outskirts of the early city - Elephant and Castle, for instance, and I, for one, suspect Pimlico: a coaching inn names an isolated crossroads, makes a stop out from town, and, when the city eventually grows to meet it, the built-up area as a whole. When the inn disappears, though, as at Islington, and the name names a spiritual being, it wanders, attaching itself to all sorts of other things, forlorn, gleeful, desperate, melancholy, abused and opportunistic by turns, pub without a sign, sign without a pub, tube hole, shopping centre public sculpture, Business Initiative District, unnoticed collective potential, co-opted, conscripting, squatting or worn.

I was beginning to uncover the Angel in the space, often unknown, frequently avowed: Diana by the toilets, angelicized for the Angelic. The process, then, of angelicization, bring it into the ambit of where the old pub's named a new. Venus on the bar itself. This one had nearly flown when a pissed punter had attempted to run off with her, I was told on investigation, presumably stricken with Pygmalion love, the plaster lump being of no great value, grabbing it from the bar and running, but, born down by weight, had been easily disburdened, brought round to his senses, sent home to sleep it off.

The area names a business and celestial lore is practice here on earth.

In things, but also in people. I had no idea what this might mean. Was the angel a product of the camera, or rather, without the camera, would it be freer, more ubiquitous, even if even less noticed still?

Can I photograph the space without me, without the camera to see, the florist, would that be the Angel? The questions were idle, pre-philosophical, they might have said, I recalled, my student days - the days I worked the students' pumps, Mile End, their reading groups, developed a taste for drunken philosophy that's perhaps never quite gone away, repeating on me now so many years later I find myself behind them in the dole queue. The woman, what was her name, offering design tips on the pub? What would she be doing now? Could we ever have hit it off? That had been his thought he'd put to her - mine back then -, she'd smiled but seemed offended. Mere pump puller, me a student, worlds apart?

I'd warned the florist I'd be slow, and this certainly was that, what's more, a new camera with more controls to fiddle about with - opening aperture to blur up foreground drinkers - no permission from them, don't want anything recognisable as the shot passes up past them, takes in their fuzzy profile, details untouched.

'May I ask what you're doing?' Man in a mock cop uniform, 'Community Police'.

If you don't know, how can you say? I believe this man selling flowers may be the Angel, one of the angels, the sign gone, the word still there. I'd asked, he'd said yes, but then, if they spoke, the angels, would I understand?

'But you were focusing on the drinkers.'

No, no, the Angel, the drinkers a blur. Though they may too be angels, I don't know, didn't ask.

'How do I know you only included only the florist? How do I know there aren't strangers there too? Can I see?'

Can a man in his position see an angel? I thought not. If I'd had the chance of capturing one, would it remain in the camera as I passed it to him? There wasn't of course a law against photographing angels, and, if there was never to be one, my duty was to decline.

'Have you heard of Section 44?' I blanked. It rang bells, but the context threw me. 'Prevention of terrorism'. Failure to comply - to hand over the angel - would mean he'd call the real police, the ones he aspired to be. If I just only said yes he'd have a look and go. If I said yes, to be seen hunting angels on the street is reasonable grounds for suspicion of plotting a terrorist act, he'd let me go. Could I, then, too, be an angel, trapped, wing stuck in the works, or should I hand over? The answer was clear, but hard to put across. It would be colluding with terror, siding against the angels, to hand over my camera to this man.

A van, six or eight people in case I was dangerous, the

photographer of florists. Conflicting stories. Was I crouching dangerously behind a bush, as the man said, or was it rather what you call low angle? Was this about photographing strangers or could it be plotting to bomb? Was the officer trying to blur difference? Why? Was he, perhaps, the revenging angel, was it how you saw it, crouching, the depending angle?

As I left, slightly shaken, one of the drinkers waved me over. What had happened? Was it for the photograph? Did I have consent from the flower man and what had I said? This punter, too had been stopped, a filmmaker - fiction -, and on the next table a fashion photographer knew a man who had. In fact, returning home, I find the experience is common, with a lot of chat about it (my own encounter I added in a relatively early comment to Porter's site on the day, before the later chat made it apparent just how far it was from unique) and an international protest grown since (the events reported in this post actually dating from some while ago) to something really quite big.

So perhaps I have to rethink my previous entry, the number of photographs killing the pub signs, the pubs dying with them, the photographs taking over. I need to put on my thinking cap, back to the student days, start all over, decide what it is, a pub sign, but also a photograph. The assumption that to take one's a free act, the space independent of the photograph, you clutch, squeeze, go unnoticed, false. The Angel is the passer by if you crouch, but a Business Initiative District if you're caught, a public space in the imagination, in reality, an area given over by the council as an experiment, an image of the public space imaginary. In the one space the blogging photographer captures angels, in the other he plots bombs, in the imagination, a law to catch terrorists would be a law to catch terrorists, in reality, it nearly let angels escape.


  1. well, poor reality. can we name a pub (or a sign) after orwell ?

  2. That would indeed be beautifully apt. I remember being very happy to try a pint of Daniel Defoe, for instance, opposite his old pad up in Stoke Newington, Dickens and Shakespeare have so many that the latter needs at least one post dedicated to him, but in Orwell a pillar (pillier) of the established goes, as far as I know, untoasted. Something must be done...