The Long Lens of History

January 17, 2018

I’ve already lived through several generations of photography. My parents had a little Brownie box, and then I graduated to an SLR; we all had Polaroids of one kind or another, abandoned for digital a decade back; and now we have digital-SLRs and telephone cams of extraordinary clarity.

Of course, this sequence is just the latest in the surprisingly long history of photography. While the work of Fox Talbot and Dageurre from the 1830s and 1840s is quite well known, the latest thought is that experiments could go back a further generation, to the 1790s.

A print, “The Leaf”, due for auction, is now thought to be connected to Thomas Wedgwood and Henry Bright who were experimenting with “solar images”. Humphrey Davy (famous as the inventor of the miners’ safety lamp) wrote about these images in 1802.

Jill Quasha is the photo dealer and expert who bought “The Leaf” in 1989 as she was building the Quillan Collection, a group of world-renowned photographs that Sotheby’s sold (without the leaf print) for almost $9 million on April 7. She said that it was still too early to say exactly what type of research would be conducted on the image. Tests could include those to determine the age of the paper and to identify the chemical makeup of any substances on the paper. “I think it has to be done quickly and efficiently and with the least amount of damage to the photograph,” said Ms. Quasha, who added that she hoped the research could be completed within six months so that the print could be put up for auction again with a more iron-clad, and perhaps stunning, provenance. (As a Talbot, it was estimated to sell for $100,000 to $150,000; if it is determined to be older, it could bring substantially more.)

Interesting stuff for those us who follow cultural beginnings.


Image: Flocks 1

January 17, 2018

The Coup In Hawai’i

January 17, 2018

Today is the 125th anniversary of the takeover of the Hawai’i Islands by American trading interests, overthrowing the native kingdom.

America already had a long history of violent and genocidal imperialist annexation on the mainland (“Manifest Destiny”).  The coup in Honolulu was a logical, if long, step of the same impulse into the Pacific.

Night Music: Linger

January 16, 2018

R.I.P. Dolores O’Riordan, so sad.

Brief Review: Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole Novels

January 16, 2018

Jo Nesbo

In November, I reported that I had started to binge read the thriller novels — the Harry Hole series — of Jo Nesbo. Well, I have finally finished them, all eleven, and I have rarely had such a prolonged good time with a single author.

Harry Hole is a Norwegian detective inspector (and later a consultant to the Oslo Police) specialising in serial murders. He is a disreputable drunk (and later a recovering alcoholic) disliked by most of his peers.  However, as the series progresses and he solves ever more difficult cases, his abilities and reputation tend to the legendary.

All the books are centred on Oslo, which Nesbo paints with a knowing eye, but many of the books also include long sections set in Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, and various European cities. Each location, in Norway and elsewhere, drawn with intimate knowledge and careful atmospherics.

These are not whodunits in the style of, say, Agatha Christie cosies; most especially in the later works, we know who at least some of the bad guys are. Rather, the novels are a fine amalgam of procedural and tense thriller. Nesbo has a wonderful ability to mislead the reader about who is doing what to whom, and he builds tension with that ambiguous uncertainty. The novels are also graphic, sometimes grotesquely so, in their use of violence.

Nesbo is also a master at weaving into his tales the cultural realities of modern life; the music, the technology, the changing mores of social interaction.

In my previous reviews of novelists’ work (Laurence Gough, John Le Carre, and John Irving, for example), I have tried to explain the pleasure I get from watching the author grow and change throughout their careers. I’m not sure it is the same with Nesbo; his style and quality seemed to exist even from the first Hole book, The Bat. What progresses as each of the the novels appear is a definite assurance, a confidence to try ever riskier plot developments (it is remarkable, for instance, that in The Police, the 10th novel in the series, Harry Hole does not even appear until page 164).

I am certain that many readers will enjoy these books in whatever order they come to hand. However, I can say with certainty, that reading them in order provides a deeper pleasure. There are important story lines and relationships that play through several volumes, and their interest only grows if you have the background that earlier works provide.

Jo Nesbo is a prolific author; apart from the Harry Hole series he has written at least eleven other works.  I will give him a break for a while but I will definitely be reading his other work sooner rather than later.


Wise Words

January 16, 2018

A Modern Political Platform, From 1918

January 15, 2018


One hundred years ago today, Mary Ellen Smith (or “Mrs Frank Smith” as she was usually known) published her platform for the Provincial by-election in Vancouver that year.  Many of its planks are remarkably still relevant today, including minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, juvenile justice reform, and proportional representation:

“Vancouver World”, 15 Jan 1918, p,5


She won the by-election, becoming the first woman elected to the BC Legislature.