The Road to Nowhere

Dalia Al-Dujaili on identity, storytelling and the importance of providing a platform for second-generation immigrants

Hark1karan, Zimmers of Southall (Copyright © Hark1karan, 2020-2021)

Identity is complex a complex thing. In The Road to Nowhere, a magazine from Dalia Al-Dujaili, a British-Iraqi editor and journalist, the concept of identity is torn apart, scrumpled and analysed as she addresses her frustration with a lack of accurate representation of second-generation immigrants – where so often are diaspora communities spoken for in the media and therefore turned into a “political issue only”, she says. Where in fact, migration is a vital part of global culture, and The Road To Nowhere – now in its second issue – seeks to highlight this through a celebratory merging of art and writing, told first-hand from “third-culture kids”. She says, “Humans are mosaics of their experiences, their upbringings, the people around them and their personal history. So none of us fit neatly into a box, we’re all so messy and complicated!” Below, Dalia reveals her reasons for making the magazine, what we can expect to find inside the latest issue and her personal thoughts on identity.

Courtesy of Angela Hui

What are your reasons for starting The Road to Nowhere, what provoked it?

Oof, so many reasons… I started it during lockdown of 2020 as a way to pass the time as I was still a uni student then and didn’t have much to do. It was partly a way to raise aid money for the famine in Yemen which remains one of the largest humanitarian crises in history yet receives almost no media coverage. 

However, mostly, I was frustrated at how little agency diaspora communities have over telling their own stories. Representation is few and far between; when we are represented, we are spoken for and don’t get to choose how we’re shown. I was annoyed at how migration was almost always made into a political issue only. Whilst obviously it’s inherently political, it’s so much more than that. Migration creates culture and art, feeds creativity, inspires us, connects communities and reminds us to be human, so I found the constant politicising aspects a bit objectifying, belittling and limiting. 

On the other hand, migration is one of the most important aspects of humankind’s growth and its richness and is the oldest and most natural phenomenon, yet under current policies in the UK and the EU, migration has never been under more scrutiny; immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are fighting some of the most aggressive and oppressive policies. As children of immigrants, we owe our livelihoods to freedom of movement, so I’m desperate to fight totalitarian control of movement and borders through creativity and joy.

Edmund Arevalo

What can we expect to find inside issue two? How does it compare to the debut edition?

Firstly, it’s so much bigger than the last issue! Almost double the number of pages. And you can expect to find an extremely diverse range of stories; for this issue, we have contributors with backgrounds from Aotearoa, Ghana, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Poland, and many more. The contributors use a range of poetry, fiction, personal essays, photography, illustration, digital art and film, and we have several interviews with trailblazers like Rohan Rakhit and Angela Hui. So I really sought out stories which greatly differed from one another but, at the same, were all connected by the same thread of their very human and sometimes even mundane nature. 

Family meal before service

Can you pick out a couple of favourite stories featured in the magazine and talk me through them? 

Oh my goodness, very difficult to pick out just a couple. But if I have to… Zain’s story is one that I keep returning to. Not only is his personal story absolutely fascinating – the move from Lahore, Pakistan to East London, then Morecambe – but the way he talks about objects, and clothes especially, as archives of our families’ migration is so relatable and poetic. Again, it’s just a deeply human story that almost any diaspora kid can relate to, no matter their background. Also, Zain’s work is just absolutely stunning. 

My interview with Angela Hui is another that I really treasure and feel very honoured to have in the magazine. Angela is about to publish her own book, Growing Up in a Chinese Takeaway, and we discussed her upbringing in rural Wales working for her family’s business. What I love about her story is how deeply Welsh and Chinese she feels. It was fascinating hearing her speak so passionately about Welsh culture and a love of Wales. I think people often forget how we do in fact love the countries we grew up in, as well as loving the cultures our parents imported for us from their homelands; Angela’s story is a reminder that we don’t have to ‘pick a side’.

Natasha Zubar

What does identity mean to you? And how have you represented (or scrutinised) the concept of identity in the magazine?

Identity is both everything and nothing. It’s a made-up concept and whist I deeply resonate with my identity as an Arab Brit, I also try to reject rigid notions of ‘identity’ because they can be so limiting. Many diaspora feel the same way because we fit in “everywhere and nowhere at the same time”, to echo Theo Gould in his TRTN piece, Mixed. I also think some aspects of identity politics can be more harmful and divisive than uniting. Identity to me is just being able to express the different parts of yourself without feeling the need to cater to a certain audience or change yourself to fit into other people’s boxes. Humans are mosaics of their experiences, their upbringings, the people around them and their personal history. So none of us fit neatly into a box, we’re all so messy and complicated! 

I think a good example of this in the magazine is Hark1karan’s Zimmers of Southall series (the cover image). Other than being obviously stunning, this series is so refreshing because it’s almost got nothing to do with Sikh culture – it’s about a community which is devoted to classic BMWs and which happens to be Sikh. The subjects of the images are evidently Sikh because of their clothing and appearance, but the series isn’t making their Sikh identity the sole focus, which just really humanises this community and de-exoticises them. Hark, perhaps unintentionally, re-writes this stereotype of South Asians being associated with Bollywood, curry and turbans, but he also shows how this community haven’t rejected their culture either; they manage to fuse their saris and Bhangra with their love of German Whips. I mean, to me, it’s just quietly genius. 

I hope in this magazine I have shown how identity is both a beautiful thing and ultimately a futile exercise – you will never be able to fully embody one identity and the magazine is part of a mission to learn how to accept this as a beneficial and powerful existence instead of it being simply frustrating. 

Rachna, Mom, 2021

What are the key takeaways, what can the audience learn?

Joy! I just want people to feel joy, and feel more open to listening to stories that challenge their views.

What’s next for you?

We have a couple exciting events lined up this year with the magazine, including a sold out screening of shorts at the Barbican, Finding Home, Forging Identity, and we’ll be selling the magazine at Bow Arts with Baesianz Makers Market. 

Currently, I’m just pushing and promoting issue two as best I can. We already have ideas and collaborators for issue three – I’d like to keep growing our online platform to showcase more audio-visual content, and I’d love to keep collaborating with arts collectives, organisations and institutions on in-person events like workshops, exhibitions and screenings/readings. But to be transparent, we need funding to make the next one even better, and the bigger our audience, the easier it is to convince someone to give us money… And as you know, funding is competitive and extremely difficult to attain. So the work starts now in anticipation for next year. 

The Road to Nowhere can be purchased here.

Jyni and Chuey, by Jai Toor, 2022

Marco Russo

Mirror Mother, Lorena Levi, 2021

Mixed, Theo Gould, 2021

Senja, by Maddie Sellers

Yousef Sabry, for The Road to Nowhere, 2022

Zain Ali, by Nancy Haslam-Chance, courtesy of Zain Ali

Hark1karan, Zimmers of Southall, (Copyright © Hark1karan, 2020-2021)

Hark1karan, Zimmers of Southall, (Copyright © Hark1karan, 2020-2021)

Hair of the Future

Zhou Xue Ming explores otherworldly structures and techniques in his crafty hair designs

Land on the Instagram account of Zhou Xue Ming and you’ll be instantaneously enamoured, scrolling and pausing – with curious hesitation – as you start to question the process behind each of his creations. A hair designer by title, Shanghai-based Xue Ming is more of an artist-stroke-wizard as he expels his craft on the artful placement of a do, from the decoratively lavished to the perfectly coiffed. Proving that there’s more to hair than hair itself, Xue Ming has been working in the industry for almost 10 years now. And ever since his first hairdo, he’s since been published on the covers of Nylon China and Modern Weekly Style, and has collaborated with an abundance of makeup artists, from Shuo Yang at Jonathan Makeuplab to Yooyo Keong Ming. 

Xue Ming’s impact is mammoth, not least in the creative application of colour but also in the use of materials. It’s not just hair that’s incorporated into these designs, for there’s also the unexpected addition of metallics, wires, peacock-like feathers, spikes or a material that appears like the cracks in a frosted lake. With a vast “enthusiasm for artificial hair”, he tells me, it’s no surprise that his portfolio succeeds in pushing the boundaries as to what can be worn on the top of a head. Sadly, we’re not going to be getting any answers as to how he makes his pieces – “this is my little secret” – so instead, we invite you to marvel and leave the methodology to the imagination.

One of the most recurring motifs of Xue Ming’s is the periwig, known as a highly styled wig worn on formal occasions, often sported by judges or barristers as part of their professional attire. Explicitly artificial, these wigs usually tend to have unmissable height and weight to them, placed atop a head in a composed and careful manner. The periwig was most popular from the 17th to the early 19th century, typically composed from long hair with curls on the sides. The colours are usually dyed in more realistic hues, whereas Xue Ming’s are quite the opposite. 

In fact, Xue Ming’s take on the periwig is widely juxtaposed with the more traditional concept of the wig. In one design, the hair appears like an explosion of fireworks with its vibrant yellow tones and splaying textures – the type that makes you want to reach out and touch, even though it looks like it could burn you. Others are more multi-toned and soft, displaying a palette of blush pink, sky blue, purple and sunshine yellow; while some – with pointy edges similar to a sea urchin – look completely unwearable. Or so you’d think. Not too long ago, the designer worked with a “young lady called ‘Princess’”, wherein he was “pasting posters with ‘princess’ cartoon images to prepare the periwig”. He ended up covering the entire periwig with these posters; “I was really interested to see the result”.

The work is a wonderful merging of old and new, where traditional headgear has been transformed, warped and lavished in the modern style and technique of Xue Ming. You can easily see some of the silhouettes being worn in the past, most likely the Regency era, while others are drawn from a far-reaching trend found in the future. Perhaps he’s ahead of his time, and world of hair might become little more creative in the years to come.

Bad Form: Caribbean Literature

In an excerpt from the literary magazine’s seventh issue, guest editor Mireille Cassandra Harper celebrates the Caribbean through stories, essays, reviews and poetry

Illustration by Tomekah George

I am a second-generation Jamaican. Despite my grandmother moving here in the 1960s, my mother remained in Jamaica, a ‘barrel child’ and spent her childhood in the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine, raised by her grandparents and later her aunt. She has often entertained me with stories of her childhood, visiting then-untouched beaches, fond memories of picking fresh mangoes, oranges and cashew fruit (often surreptitiously), the goats, chickens and other animals that her grandparents reared on their farm, and the joys of a rural and idyllic childhood. 

I grew up with an intense love and appreciation of my Jamaican heritage, that was always supported and nourished. Our home was filled with the sounds of Morgan Heritage, Richie Spice, Tarrus Riley and other music icons. From Lover’s Rock Sunday sessions and Vibes FM car journeys (those who are familiar will recall the hilarity of the incessant interruptions declaring that the station was ‘the wickedest in the whole world’) to late nights on holiday in southern Italy, where my parents would drive out to arid, empty locations in the middle of nowhere so we could enjoy open-air reggae concerts with the likes of Jah Mason, my mother and I belting out “My Princess Gone” without a care in the world. Storytelling and literature played a big part too. I was regaled by tales of Jamaican folklore, my favourite being the story of River Mumma, a mythical sea siren. A literary lover from a young age, my mother sought out books that put Caribbean literature front and centre. She travelled far and wide to buy me countless titles about the Caribbean, many of which I still own. My personal favourites, Kwame and Netta’s Story, came from Black River Books, an independent publisher that sought to revive the fullness of Caribbean heritage by telling beautiful stories of the lives of Caribbean children, putting them front and centre of stories, rather than on the sidelines. I was taken to meet my heroes, John Agard and Grace Nichols, and cherish the beloved signed copies I went away with to this day.

As I’ve grown older, more complexities around my heritage have come to light. In recent years, I have grappled with difficult conversations with my grandma – if you have ever tried to persuade your grandma, especially a 92-year-old Jamaican grandma, to consider a different way of thinking, you’ll know how challenging that can be. I’ve also attempted to reckon with the fact that my family is split across towns, states and countries – disjointed in more ways than one, and tried to reckon with intricate and at times, painful family histories and hidden secrets that inevitably have come to light as I grow older. At the same time, I have built deeper connections with family members, expanded my knowledge on my family history and heritage, and both listened and taken in the wisdom of my elders. Outside of my familial relationships, I am seeing what it means to be of the Caribbean diaspora, redefined through music, art and of course, literature.

When I came across Bad Form last year, I felt like I had finally found a literary space that encompassed the richness, vibrancy and sheer brilliance of Black, Asian and marginalised writers. Headed up by the phenomenal Amy Baxter (who will likely own her own publishing house one day, mark my words!) and the stellar team – Morgan, Sophie and Emma who are all immensely impressive in their own right – I found Bad Form’s active and dynamic approach to platforming Black, Asian and marginalised writers a breath of fresh air in what can often be a stagnant, elitist and if I am to speak frankly, institutionally racist industry. I knew instantly that I would love nothing more than to work on an issue celebrating Caribbean writers and so the idea for Issue 7 (my lucky number, what are the chances?) was born.

We picked June by chance, but writing now, this publication marks an important time for the Caribbean diaspora. As this issue lands in your hands, Caribbean American citizens are honouring their heritage during Caribbean American Heritage Month and the UK celebrates the 73rd anniversary of the Windrush generation coming to Britain. This feels, in this moment, like a literary ode to what is a month of both remembrance and celebration. A celebration of the Caribbean and all its greatness, this issue boasts 17 stellar writers who each share their stories, essays, reviews and poetry for your literary pleasure. From opinion pieces on Jamaican patois and revelations on queer and non-binary defiance in contemporary Caribbean poetry to literary essays on West Indian revolutionaries and narrative poetry that bring folktales and legends to life, each piece is a gem in its own right.

Like Amy, I’m not one for favourites – each of these contributions is equally brilliant – but some left me reeling after reading. Ashley Roach McFarlane’s spectacular piece on the historical development and exportation of homophobia to Jamaica and Desta Haile’s breathtaking poem, Blue Blood – an ode to her late sister and her childhood years spent in Barbados are two I would recommend you devour instantly.

This issue’s mesmerising cover comes from illustrator, Tomekah George, who creates colourful artworks which sit between collages and paintings. Her abstract design pays homage to the diversity of the Caribbean – across its peoples, cultures and landscapes – coupled with the connectedness of its persons. A huge thanks goes to Tomekah, who approached this with such care and love. 

Thanks also to Duppy Share who have kindly partially sponsored this issue. Many brands co-opt Caribbean culture without consideration for its people. It has been a pleasure to work with an organisation that appreciates the labour, effort and time that the team at Bad Form undertakes for each issue, respects how we choose to present our respective cultures and heritages and recognises the value in this work.

And, of course, thank you, Bad Form readers. Without your support, this issue wouldn’t exist. I hope reading this nourishes your spirit. It has been an honour to work on this, to encounter incredible writers, poets and essayists, and to work with such a brilliant team of brilliant women. May you cherish it as much as I have.

Mireille x

Bad Form is available to purchase here

Port Issue 22

The Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Port – featuring writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf and David Hallberg, the greatest male dancer of his generation – is out now

Photography Mamadi Doumbouya

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the foremost intellectual voices in the United States today. The author of Half of a Yellow SunPurple Hibiscus and Americanah – as well as of one of the most-viewed Ted talks ever, sampled by Beyoncé, no less – Adichie transcends the barriers between literature, art and music. For the cover story of Port issue 22, she met Catherine Lacey in Washington DC to discuss her extraordinary books, the complexity of recent gender movements and to give a hint at a next big project.

Photography Suzie Howell

Elsewhere in the magazine, we speak to 6a – the most exciting architecture practice in London; discuss Netflix and race with the director of Mudbound, Dee Rees; and travel to rural Netherlands to meet the pioneering Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Also featured: The photographer Christopher Payne visits one of the largest flag factories in the US, and we uncover the secrets and beauty of space with astronaut Nicole Stott.

Photography Tereza Cervenova

In the fashion section, celebrated photographer Kalpesh Lathigra and Port‘s fashion director Dan May travel to Mumbai to shoot a 40-page story around the sprawling, seaside city; Scott Stephenson styles this season’s collections and Pari Dukovic shoots the greatest male dancer in the world, David Hallberg, wearing Saint Laurent.

Photography Kalpesh Lathigra

Commentary pieces come courtesy of Will Self, Lisa Halliday and Jesse Ball, as well as Samuel Beckett‘s seminal Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. Highlights from the Porter include Tilda Swinton remembering her friend John Berger; an interview with the British artist Gavin Turk; foraging with chef Nicholas Balfe; and ex-director of the Tate Modern, Vicente Todolí, on his passion for citrus fruits.

To buy Port issue 22, click here.

Photo Essay: Fish

Port and still life photographer Giles Revell go under to reveal the beauty beneath the waves

John Dory fish on blotting paper, shot by Giles Revell

John Dory

This extraordinary looking fish, with its quiff-like spiny dorsal fin and miserable face, has the rather grand Latin name Zeus Faber, as it was sacred to the god Zeus. It also carries the Christian name St Peter’s fish, the gold ringed dark spots on either side of its body are supposedly the fingerprints of St Peter, the apostle who pulled the fish out of the Sea of Galilee and plucked a gold coin from his mouth to pay his overdue taxes.

The John Dory is a sophisticated predator, creeping up behind its prey then using its extending mouth to hoover up cuttlefish, small-fin fish and squid. To eat, John Dory could be described as elegant and is considered by many to be the best tasting fish in the sea.

Haddock on blotting paper

Haddock

Haddock is a close relative of cod, they have a bluish-brown back, silvery flanks, a black curved lateral line and a sensitive chin barbell used for feeling around for food in the dark ocean depths.

They enjoy the cool waters of the North Oceans only coming inshore in summer to feed before going back offshore to breed. To eat, haddock has an ozone-like aroma that encapsulates the salt water from which it is fished; the texture is very lean, spearmint white and soft and it is best cooked with its skin on to enjoy its delicate flavour.

Freshly caught mackerel on blotting paper

Mackerel

A ritzy looking fish with its metallic green-blue sheen scattered with a mass of black scribbles or bars on its back, pale green and purple flanks that sparkle with a myriad of hues. It’s designed for speed, is a highly effective hunter and can live for up to 20 years if it avoids nets and lines.

It’s a fish that repays being eaten very fresh before its rich oil content starts to spoil. The aroma of the fish is reminiscent of fine green seaweed and its predominately pink flesh is succulent with discreet flakes that are almost chicken-like in texture.

Herring on blotting paper

Herring

The “silver darling” herring has a rich history in the world of fishing. So important are they that from Britain to Scandinavia, there have been an enormous number of cures created to preserve them. From their head to the deeply forked tail they are predominately silver with a blue-green back, allowing them to melt away into the watery environment when viewed from above.

Herrings are rich in oil content and are perfect for smoking after a spring and summer of feeding, which makes them lusciously plump. These wonderful oils add to the saltiness of their flavour and the skin adds a light seawater character and the flesh, a slight white peppery spiciness.

Salmon Heads on blotting paper

Salmon

Atlantic salmon is one of the most popular eating species, probably because it farms so well. These fish are extraordinary as they are able to return to the river where they were born with pinpoint accuracy years after they went to sea, and it’s believed that a number of navigation aids, including the stars, differences in the Earths magnetic fields and ocean currents, guide them.

Once they get close off the coast, salmon literally smell their way home, guided by a chemical memory of what their river smelled and tasted like. There is no mistaking its rich savoury flavour with its high and satisfying oil content.

Photography Giles Revell
Photography assistant Tristan Thomson

Julian Schnabel: New York’s Renaissance Man

Port meets the Brooklyn-born artist, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, father and man about town during an afternoon at his home and studio Even if you don’t know who lives there, the home and studio of the painter Julian Schnabel is a familiar sight for denizens of downtown Manhattan. As the West Village stretches out toward the water, a pale pink tower rises out of blocks of low apartment buildings and townhouses. This is Palazzo Chupi, a residence that Schnabel designed and built in 2009, so called after the nickname of his second wife, Olatz López Garmendia. The structure, with its stepped-back floors, curved windows and arabesque arcades, resembles a cross between a modern condo and a medieval castle in Convivencia Spain. 

To visit Schnabel, one must first make a procession through Palazzo Chupi’s imposing wooden doors on the ground floor and into a tall, dark elevator that features a wall-size mirror, pointed ceiling and a woven bench, in high Gothic style. The doors open on to a sudden mirage, or so it seems: a room of billowing red velvet curtains, stone tiles and enormous paintings covering every available patch of wall – the domain of a deposed monarch in exile perhaps, or one of the best-known and yet least-understood living artists in the world.

Two summers ago, Schnabel was visiting the cemetery where Van Gogh is buried, in Auvers-sur-Oise, to the north of Paris. ‘There were these rose bushes with these pink roses, and there’s this black wall around the cemetery that had little white stones in it,’ he says. The scene provided the impetus for some dozen paintings, which hang, stately, at Pace, like a room of Monets at the Museum of Modern Art, pre-historicised. ‘There’s a work ethic in these paintings, a paintedness that is a very old-fashioned way of being a painter.’

The grandeur of Schnabel’s current surroundings and the Pace exhibition is all part of the artist’s carefully cultivated mystique. As a representative icon of 1980s New York City painting, in all its excesses, and the mascot of the neo-expressionist wave that preoccupied painters at the time, these days the artist is famous for being famous. The New York Times called him “the carnival man of contemporary art” as far back as 1982. Schnabel and his several ex-wives and art-world model girlfriends, and his now-adult children – son Vito and daughter Stella – have been mainstays of the society pages ever since. 

Another factor has increased Schnabel’s public notoriety. He leveraged his fame into Hollywood as well, tapping friendly actors and funding films with his own fortune. The results, movies like Basquiat (in which Bowie plays Warhol) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, display a unique visual sensibility. A new film project will explore the life of his most recent inspiration, Van Gogh, succeeding his paintings.

Yet Schnabel’s new rose period presents a mystery. These are quiet, contemplative paintings, more introverted than anything Schnabel has done in decades. What happened to the bad boy of the 80s, the builder of pink towers, the unrepentant enfant terrible of the art world?

Schnabel’s salon, the room where I meet him, is hung with paintings from the various phases of his long career: an autobiographical solo exhibition that continues throughout his home, hung between eclectic artefacts like a toreador costume and a Chinese idol. In the kitchen is an inchoate work from the 70s, a dark canvas fixed with shelf protrusions and painted with wandering lines, somewhere between neo-expressionism and Arte Povera. Two of the more recent series much in evidence are the ‘Navigation Drawings’, maps with sweeps of thin, translucent paint; and the ‘Goat’ paintings, in which a photograph of a stuffed version of the titular animal is set against a swatch of 19th-century wallpaper and daubed once more.

The rose pieces represent another turn. Schnabel reclines on one side of a long couch and I sit in a throne-like chair beside it, positioned like a therapist to his patient, but the painter gestures for me to sit with him. He eases back further. ‘I want things to be able to be different and address other things, rather than make the same thing over and over,’ he says, gesturing at the work around him.

When talking to artists, there are certain patterns that emerge, no matter what kind of work the artist makes, no matter how famous or obscure they are. One is that they don’t like to be tied to their influences, even if they are undeniable art historical reference points. Hence Schnabel’s dismissal of my initial suggestion of Cy Twombly as a comparison for his rose paintings. Schnabel is a fan of the late painter, whose play between figuration and abstraction his own work echoes, but Twombly’s flowers aren’t his favourite, he says. 

Another reality of conversations with artists is that any attempt to describe their work to them will inevitably fail. This constant falling-short brings to mind the paradox of trying to interpret art in the first place: the experience of viewing it is never the same, nor often remotely similar, to the process of making it, of having your nose up to the canvas and your brush in the paint. The piece often doesn’t mean to its viewer what it means to its creator. ‘You’re doing something and people are all around you, but they don’t see what you see and they don’t know what you’re doing,’ Schnabel says. 

It’s this gap that the artist hopes to represent in his film about Van Gogh, now that he has put an end to the rose series, he says. He can let the audience in on the process of art-making from the painter’s perspective, even as the characters in the movie remain distant from it. Showing the reality of Van Gogh’s life and work seems to be a way for Schnabel to reconcile his own fame with the fact of his ongoing artistic practice, though his own career couldn’t be more different than the post-Impressionist’s – Schnabel has sold far more than one canvas in his lifetime. 

‘The movie’s about painting. Van Gogh as a human being has been highly mythologised; his death and his ear have been mythologised. It would be nice to make a movie about a guy everybody thinks they know about, but maybe they might be surprised,’ Schnabel says. Over the course of our conversation he pauses for longer and longer moments, either fighting sleep or diving into an inner landscape, imagining the work to come.

By this point, the long afternoon has overtaken the city, the sunlight is starting to dim, and Vito’s living room is hushed and enclosed, an unreal space filled with the living detritus of culture. The roses, to offer up my own paltry interpretation, are an effort to seek solace in the rush of time, a way to begin to find a place in history, if there is one to be found. That the blooms the paintings depict will fade is inevitable, but Schnabel has captured them, to set against every image of every flower that will ever be made by an artist. Here is his enduring offering. 

‘Painting seems to last a long time. It’s a wonderful refuge. The painted world is a place where you can reside outside of the world of everything else,’ Schnabel says, and pauses for the longest time, reclining flat on the couch, eyes closed, searching for something internal and then coming back up with it, a vulnerable twinge in his voice communicating a universal ache. ‘In there, there’s a great freedom. Obviously, there’s this crazy relationship with eternity. It’s a denial of death.’

This article is taken from Port issue 20. To subscribe, click here.

Photography by Michael Avedon
Styling by Dan May

 

 

 

 

 

Dana Lixenberg: Imperial Courts

The Dutch photographer explains how portraits became stories in her Deutsche Börse Prize-nominated series

In 1992, Dana Lixenberg travelled to Los Angeles for a magazine story on the race riots that broke out after the Rodney King trial. Outrage had spread through the local community after King, an African American taxi driver, was filmed being savagely beaten by several policemen who were later acquitted. 

After witnessing the one-dimensional reporting that seemed to reduce the complex and cultural situation to simplified gangland stereotypes, Lixenberg returned the following year to photograph residents of the Imperial Courts housing estate in Watts. The people there went on to become the focus of her 22-year project, Imperial Courts. Taken between 1993 and 2015, the series of portraits and its publication has earned the Dutch photographer a nomination in this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

The project began with her introduction to OG Tony Bogard, leader of the Imperial Courts Crips faction and unofficial “godfather” of the community. ‘When I was introduced to him, he was very reluctant to trust me, or even work with me,’ Lixenberg recalls. ‘I kept showing up at his house and, eventually, he relented. Tony introduced me to his friend Andre who had just gotten out of jail, needed work and was interested in photography. I would meet him everyday at the playground with my camera, and we would hang out and he would make the introductions,which was very important. Tony had given his approval.’

‘Freeway – 1993’ © Dana Lixenberg

Despite Bogard’s approval, Lixenberg was still met with wariness. ‘A lot of people didn’t want to have their picture taken,’ she continues. ‘I was seen as a negative. There was a lot of media attention due to a fear of new riots following the retrial of the four officers.’ In the end, Lixenberg’s slow, patient approach set her apart from the media frenzy. ‘When I showed them the polaroids, they started to come around.’

The direct style of Lixenberg’s portraits is a defining quality throughout her work. ‘I like it when people don’t perform too much, when you try and create a space where someone just is,’ she says. ‘For me it’s all about the person, looking at each individual and tuning into the mood and the moment. Whether the beauty is shown through a tilt of the head, the body language, or the texture and light, there’s a genuine exchange between me and the subject when I’m photographing them.’

‘Tish’s Baby Shower – 2008’ © Dana Lixenberg

The 1993 photographs were exhibited in the Netherlands, and published in Vibe magazine, after which the work was shelved for fifteen years. ‘I didn’t feel compelled to do a follow-up,’ says Lixenberg. ‘That was never my intention when I did the first series but I’d given people prints and had stayed in touch over the years, and then, as more time passed, the responses became more powerful, and the residents would ask when I was coming back.’

‘Dee Dee with her son Emir – 2013’ © Dana Lixenberg

Lixenberg returned to Imperial Courts in 2008, but quickly found that it wouldn’t be enough to simply produce new versions of the portraits she took in the 90s. She wanted to take the project further, and portray the community in all of its complexity. ‘I wanted to photograph new people and new generations, and make group shots and landscapes. I used sound recordings to document the residents’ reactions to the portraits so they could tell their stories in their own words, and video to show the movement and soundtrack of the area.’

Despite a few cosmetic changes, the social conditions of Imperial Courts had not improved. She found that the project, however, had become less political and more personal. It had become about memory and family, and the bonds that make up a community. ‘People had passed away or were spending time in prison. New generations were born, and the pictures started to carry more weight. The more time passed, the more stories the pictures held. The pictures became stories.’

Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts 1993-2015 is on show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London until 11 June

Everyday Africa

Behind the powerful photography project challenging stereotypes about the world’s second largest continent

It was back in 1985 when the MJ-led supergroup, USA for Africa, released their charity single, ‘We Are The World’ – a song that raised in excess of $63 million and a shining, totemic example of mid-80s cheese. But with lyrics such as: “send them your heart so they’ll know that someone cares / And their lives will be stronger and free”, the song is equally symbolic of something far more insidious and hard to define.

“I remember seeing commercials as a kid on the television and seeing a kid with flies all over his face, with a voice saying ‘For 50 cents a day…’,” explains Austin Merrill, co-founder of the Everyday Africa photography project. ‘We’re not trying to say that people don’t need help—people need help everywhere, in London and New York they need help too—but we’re saying that there’s a lot more to it than that. News informs these cliches, but so do movies, music videos and commercials, and have done for a long time.”

Everyday Africa was created in 2012 by writer Austin Merrill and photojournalist Peter DiCampo, who shared a growing annoyance with the Western stereotype of the continent as a place rife with poverty, disease and war, and not much else. Now, the project is being published in book form by Kehrer VerlagEveryday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent.

Afro on purple. Silhouette of my daughter. Accra, Ghana. @africashowboy

“It started as a reporting assignment,” Merrill says. “Peter DiCampo and I were in the Western Ivory Coast to report on the ways that the country was moving on from a decade of civil war, but we realised that we were reporting on much of the same things that you always hear about from that part of the world. It was frustrating for us because we’d both lived in that part of the continent for several years, and felt that there was more going on than just crisis. So we began using our cellphones to take photographs of everyday life, as a way of telling that side of the story.”

She’s my girl, he said proudly. Dembara, Senegal. @hollypickettpix

Operating primarily through Instagram, the project aims to shine a light on the day-to-day reality of the 1.2 billion people that live there, while underscoring their diversity and individualism.

One of the most exciting things about the project is that, through social media, it is able to connect with people of all age groups. “We have to understand each other a little better,” notes Merrill. “I think it’s possible by reaching out to kids and getting them to see these countries as places that are not exotic, but where people live normal lives.”

Two women and their cell phones in Lagos, Nigeria. @andrewesiebo

The photographs featured in Everyday Africa are taken by a community of thirty photographers from around the continent. Some of the pictures feature scenes of disease and destitution, but, crucially, they sit next to pictures of ordinary life. “If you grow up with a more realistic perception of what people and cultures are like, then you might have a better way of thinking about the world, a better way of thinking about how countries should interact, how people should interact,” he continues. “There are a lot of ways that this could ripple outwards.”

Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent is published by Kehrer Verlag

@everydayafrica

Brexit: The Case to Remain

PORT contributors Will Self, Janine di Giovanni and Hanif Kureishi put forward their reasons to remain in the EU

Remain

Will Self

The Brexiters have shown their true colours with their dog-summoning campaigning – it’s whistled-up our old racist friend, the British bulldog. Just look at the rump of their support: valetudinarians in support stockings who’ll be hobbling on their Zimmer frames to the polling booth in order ruin their grandchildren’s future. I’m not claiming that everything in the European garden is lovely – or even that it can be made to bloom, but we live in a febrile and fissiparous world, and institutions which have a proven record of maintaining stability should be cleaved to like never before. There’s all of that – and there’s also the unutterable beauty of French women, and the fabulousness of European culture. You’d swap that to be shafted by Ronald McDonald? Salopes! While your leaders are true rois des cons

Janine di Giovanni

In terms of international security, alliances are important. We might scoff at NATO and find it a relic of the Cold War, but in times of military urgency – such as Russia’s creeping westward expansionism onto Ukraine and eyeing the Baltic states with glee – they are necessary mechanisms for peacekeeping. I am French, British and American by nationality, and each one of my passports is an integral part of my identity, so I do understand the argument of the Leavers, but I strongly disagree with it. I think that remaining in the EU is essential for Britain, for trade, diplomacy and the economy, but also for moral responsibility. Britain was an important part of the Allies in World War II, and frankly, with the rise of ISIS and global terrorism, as well as pressing issues like climate change and epidemics, we are in dark times. We need each other, and each part of the EU is an interlocking part of the puzzle of globalisation. Yes, the Brussels bureaucrats are often lazy, inefficient and ridiculous, but the concept of the EU –like the concept of UN or the League of Nations – is about strategic alliances and partnership. Standing alone, in days like these when terror attacks and wars are literally borderless, is desperately unwise. I vote to Remain, of course.

Hanif Kureishi

My neighbourhood in West London, which I rarely leave, but, which could be considered a microcosm of the city, buzzes with the hybrid energy of Italians, French people and Arabs, as well as Africans of all kinds. We live together fruitfully and creatively, and rarely want to kill one another because of religious or racial differences. We have created one of the richest, most tolerant and culturally mature societies on earth. The wealth and success of Britain has always been based on exploitation: on Empire, immigration and the other. Now, unfortunately, the very people who made London the wonder it is are despised. And the so-called ‘migrant’ is being used as a spectre, threat and excuse. We are facing a crisis in Europe, which concerns not only the possibility of more neo-liberal destructiveness and greed, but also a backlash, which has caused a new and dangerous Right to re-emerge. These opportunists, hucksters and snake oil salesmen – from Le Pen, to Hofer and Boris Johnson – with their simplistic, opportunistic solutions, are dangerous precisely because they utilise the energy of the many disillusioned and disappointed. This threat should remind us that we must reaffirm and fight for the humanity of the European Project, which, at its centre and despite its failings, concerns egalitarianism, feminism, sexual freedom, and particularly a tolerant and non-racist multi-cultural future.

Donald Morrison: The Death of Time?

Port’s European editor Donald Morrison on the history of Time – the magazine that he called home for over a decade

American co-founders of Time magazine Briton Hadden (1898 - 1929) (left) and Henry Luce (1898 - 1967) (centre) stand with politician and Cleveland city manager William R. Hopkins (1869 - 1961) who reads an article from an issue of Time magazine, Cleveland, Ohio, August 31, 1925. The magazine, dated from that day, features golfer Robert Tyre Jones Jr. on the cover. (Photo by Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
American co-founders of Time magazine Briton Hadden (1898 – 1929) (left) and Henry Luce (1898 – 1967) (centre) stand with politician and Cleveland city manager William R. Hopkins (1869 – 1961) who reads an article from an issue of Time magazine, Cleveland, Ohio, August 31, 1925. The magazine, dated from that day, features golfer Robert Tyre Jones Jr. on the cover. (Photo by Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Was the 60s magazine world really a golden age of three-Martini lunches, outrageous expense accounts and office sex? Basically, yes. At the same time, it was also a place where quality journalism thrived. An ex-Time editor laments the lost days

It was the best of Time, it was the worst of Time. It was the summer of 1967 and my first day of work at what was then the world’s most influential magazine. I strode into the Time & Life building in midtown Manhattan and, demonstrating the reporting skills that would soon make my reputation, promptly got lost. A parvenu from the provinces, I had never seen a building so vast, so elegant, so quietly intimidating: 48 stories of granite and glass, 32 stainless-steel-clad elevators, swarms of snug-shouldered men and pencil-skirted women. A scene straight out of television’s ad-biz nostalgia series Mad Men – much of which is filmed on the 37th floor today. After two wrong elevators and three incorrect floors, I located the editorial department. It was 8:15 am. I prayed that my 15 minutes of tardiness would pass unnoticed.

They did. For another two hours. Until a just-arriving receptionist informed me that, at Time, nobody got to the office much before 10:30 and then didn’t do any real work until late afternoon, when the bosses staggered back from their three-Martini lunches. Welcome to the golden age of magazines.

Over several decades in the Time empire, I savoured the first Martini of print’s golden lunch hour as well as its last. I travelled the world at the magazine’s expense, dined with princes and policemen, interviewed presidents and something else beginning with P that I can’t remember (Time’s energetic writing style favored alliteration, among other quirks). It was a wonderful life, financially secure and intellectually challenging, and I was especially pleased to work for the most politically powerful, most professionally polished player in print publishing (sorry, it’s a hard habit to break). Newsmakers hastened to return my calls when they learnt I was from Time. Nabobs lobbied to get their face on the magazine’s red-bordered cover.

From 1923, when Yale classmates Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, both 24, launched Time as an innovative news digest for “the busy man”, the company grew to embrace dozens of now-famous titles (Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated), a book division, and film and broadcasting operations, all under the Time Inc umbrella. Time-Life buildings dotted the globe – the one in London’s New Bond Street still bears the name, under different ownership – and Time Inc bureau chiefs outranked US ambassadors in the pecking orders of many foreign capitals. Haddon died young, but under Luce the company exercised an outsize influence on 20th century America. His magazines could launch or sink careers in politics, business and entertainment. They could start wars (or at least sustain them, in the notorious case of Vietnam) and shape the global conversation. Luce’s widely read 1941 essay ‘The American Century’, a term he borrowed from HG Wells, defined the country’s exalted self-image and set the course of its interventionist foreign policy for decades.

If you’ve been reading the business pages lately, you may have gathered that Time’s time has passed. The newsweekly and its siblings, which include the 100 or so magazines of Britain’s IPC, are losing readers and advertisers to the internet. At Time itself, worldwide circulation has dropped from more than 6,000,000 when I was there to less than 4,000,000 today. The parent company, now called Time-Warner, is essentially in the television and movie business. The publishing division, still known as Time Inc, accounts for only 12 percent of overall revenues, and profits are declining.

Of course, nearly all magazines are limping these days. Newsweek, for decades Time’s chief rival, closed its print edition in December. But when the malaise hits Time Inc, the world’s largest magazine publisher, it is big news. Time-Warner recently announced that it is getting rid of all its magazines by spinning them off to shareholders as a stand-alone operation. The new company is expected to be saddled with a share of Time-Warner’s prodigious debt. (By contrast, Rupert Murdoch is spinning off his print holdings debt-free.)

Prospects for survival are thus highly uncertain. Luce, who died in 1967, would have wept. As I do today, especially for a digital generation that will never know the glory that was Time. Glued to their social-networked devices, they will remain clueless about the excitement, the romance, and the glamour of a glossy-paged industry that once held millions in thrall – a near-mythical realm where style and quality mattered. Luce and his successors did not invent magazines, but they knew how to do them right. And they treated the help like family.

A few days after my arrival, I was invited to join the Time softball team in the New York publishing league for a decisive after-work game. Opponent: Newsweek. I had just arrived at the Central Park playing field when, in the distance, I saw an enormous black limousine bounding over the lawn, pursued by angry mounted policemen. A Time secretary emerged from the limo with a lavish spread of shrimp, salmon and chilled white wine, along with supporting napery, cutlery and glassware (no Styrofoam, she had instructed the caterer), as well as a silver tea service. The police and their horses were stunned, as were the poor Newsweek players, who had only a few cans of beer to sustain them. We won the game. The limo driver received a summons, which the magazine paid along with the catering bill.

Keeping the talent well fed was a Time tradition. On closing nights, as we scrambled to put the magazine to bed, there was an evening-long buffet on the main editorial floor. And a feast it was: jumbo shrimp (the writers loved that oxymoron), Caesar salad, roast beef carved to order, cheese and dessert. A drinks cart, laden with wine and spirits of all colours, would rattle up and down the corridors. This bounty, I was told, had been introduced to deter us from repairing to the neighborhood’s many watering holes, from which some employees would return drunk or not at all.

Drink was an occupational hazard at Time. I developed stomach trouble until I began boycotting the drinks cart. Colleagues lapsed into alcoholism – some never to return, others rescued by the company’s generous healthcare plan, which covered rehabilitation. I helped coax two friends into rehab; both returned a few months later, sober and sheepish, and went on to successful careers. Eventually, the magazine sobered up. The week I became a senior editor, I learnt that my duties included presiding over a locked drinks cabinet, prudently doling out spirits to my small staff. We were entitled to one bottle a week. I felt as if I were an officer in the British Navy, dispensing rations of rum.

The other office hazard was sex. Time for many years maintained a curious gender apartheid: men got to be writers, while women were fact-checkers (or researchers, as they were officially called). The magazine paired a writer with a researcher on every story, and the two would work closely throughout the week. Inevitably, affairs blossomed and marriages wilted. One morning, after a particularly difficult close, I arrived to find a telegram addressed to the staff, signed jointly by a writer and a researcher I had last seen arguing over their story on Richard Nixon. The telegram announced that, sometime in the wee hours, they had slipped out of the building, hopped on a plane to Florida and got married. The researcher, as was the custom, resigned from her job; the writer stayed.

Time’s generosity with expense accounts was legendary, though it took me months to work up the nerve to take a source to lunch. I favoured cheap restaurants and, when travelling, flew economy even though first-class was permitted. Eventually, a kind superior told me I was giving the magazine a bad name. In his graceful 1997 autobiography, One Man’s America, my longtime boss Henry Anatole Grunwald recalled: “In one case the question arose whether the cost of moving the mistress and the horse of one reassigned correspondent could be charged to the office. Granted. Another reporter put on his expense account the single and unelaborated statement ‘trip down the Nile, $25,000.’ Granted, but correspondent subsequently fired. Items like ‘orchids and caviar for Maria Callas, as well as paté for her poodle’ raised no accountant’s eyebrow.”

Nor were brows lifted when Time Inc executives commandeered the company’s many jets and helicopters – and not always to cover stories. Inspecting a new Time Inc subsidiary, an editor was suddenly called back to Manhattan, only an hour’s drive away. “Get me a helicopter,” he barked at the closest secretary. My ex-colleague Christopher Byron, in his aptly titled 1986 memoir The Fanciest Dive, recounted the secretary’s reaction: “I didn’t know what he was talking about. I thought maybe it was some new Galleria delicacy, some triple-scoop dessert with a propeller on it.”

Still, we earned our perks. I was in the office until dawn at least once a week for several decades. Mercifully, limos were available after 8 pm to carry home the weary, even to distant weekend homes. We labored under a system guaranteed to cause heart attacks, which felled a shocking number of my colleagues. Luce and Hadden, perhaps influenced by the time-and-motion studies of Frederick Winslow Taylor, had divided the journalistic process into its constituent parts. Correspondents around the world would send in raw dispatches, which, along with library information dug up by researchers, were woven into a coherent story by writers in New York. The result was then heavily mauled by senior editors, most of them promoted writers, to comply with the magazine’s rhetorical style and their own inner demons. Correspondents had to wait until the magazine was published to see what happened to their reporting, which was sometimes distorted beyond recognition. Time allowed no bylines, so none of us could claim any real credit for our work.

It was a classic case of Marxist alienation, the separation of a worker from his product. We seethed with alienation, salved partly by a sense of solidarity in our shared abuse – and by the idea that our output was actually pretty good: well written, thoroughly researched, never dull. For me it was a subsidised education: I learned more about structure, narrative and concision in my first months on the job than I ever could have in a graduate writing programme. My colleagues and I may have been slaving in a gilded cage, but we were proud of our eggs.

Well into my years at Time and things began to change. Bylines were introduced. Women became writers and even senior editors. Correspondents in the field got to see stories before publication so they could demand changes. Writers were encouraged to express themselves. A better Time indeed, but trouble was coming. Luce fell into a swoon, the garden died; God took the internet out of His side. The web and its associated disruptions posed a challenge that Time has never quite risen to. The magazine remains lively, but print revenues are dwindling far faster than digital revenues can compensate for. When I left my final post in London a decade ago, I said goodbye to a Time team of 32 professionals; now there are barely enough to fill a black cab. News bureaux from Paris to Los Angeles have been closed. Benefits and frills have been squeezed. No more first-class travel. Gone are the limos after eight.

My dear old Time & Life building may be gone soon, too. The company is said to be studying a move to cheaper quarters, and chiselling that storied name off the façade. I sometimes pass the building on my visits to New York, reminded of all those rosy-fingered dawns I staggered out into after a long night of doing decent work.

That is the wondrous thing about print. Unlike the internet – with its slapdash blogs and evanescent tweets, formats that soon make words obsolete – print is physical. It endures. As a result, writing for the printed page seems to elicit greater care than it does for the glowing screen. And so, long after I have vanished, many of the hundreds of pieces I crafted in the House of Luce may still be read, on glossy paper. To me, that is the best of Time.

Over a long career at Time, Donald wrote for every one of its departments, and edited its Asian edition out of Hong Kong and its Europe edition out of London