Wednesday, 23 December 2015



Antoinette ‘Toni’ Frissell was a prominent mid-twentieth century photographer famous for her boundary pushing high-fashion photography.

She was born in Manhattan in 1907 to wealth and privilege. As a young woman she began work for Vogue as a caption writer, though was fired shortly afterwards due to her appalling spelling. Editor Carmel Snow did however encourage her to continue her explorations of photography, which she delved into further to distract herself from her mother’s illness, her brother’s untimely death and her broken engagement to Count Serge Orloff-Davidoff.

She apprenticed with Cecil Beaton and gained her first photography appointment for Vogue in 1931. She further received work from rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Toni was not as well-versed in the technical aspects of her trade as her peers, so ‘broke the rules’, taking photographs of models outdoors rather than in the artificial environment of the studio, and experimented with angles and effects. She said, “I don’t know how to photograph in a studio. I never did know about the technical points and I still don’t”. 

During the war Toni used her photographic skills in service of the war effort. She took thousands of photographs of nurses, soldiers, airmen and orphaned children. Images of women in uniform and African American fighter pilots were used by the Roosevelt administration to counter doubts as to their ability to handle demanding military positions. 

In peacetime Toni used her society connections to gain access to the powerful and influential, taking photographs of Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Jacqueline Kennedy. She also ventured into capturing the experiences of women from all walks of life. She focused on women performing active pursuits and sports and became the first women on the staff of Sports Illustrated.

Over 270,000 black and white negatives, 42,000 colour transparencies and 25,000 enlargement prints of Toni’s work were donated by her husband to The Library of Congress were they have been preserved for posterity.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

'If You Were Coming in the Fall'
Emily Dickinson

Saturday, 28 November 2015


The upside to being robbed is one is required by necessity to go shopping to procure replacement essentials. Tortoiseshell glasses and a crocodile wallet were hunted down. 

Oh and a strand of pearls, just because there is no possible moment in life that can't be improved by pearls.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

'To the Moon'
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1782-1822)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Invasions and Rococo Dreams

What a delightful weekend I’m having. I walked into the living room yesterday afternoon to find a strange man in the midst of it. Thankfully he left quickly upon being disturbed - I wouldn’t have had a chance if he meant to do otherwise. 

Sadly for him I do not think I was a good target unless you are after hundreds of books and aquariums – he did however kindly think to relieve me of my handbag. He left a motorised speedboat he had filched from elsewhere at my door in his haste to escape. Terrorised for so little. One does not expect when quietly working in the study metres from the balcony door on a sunny afternoon to be invaded and reminded of one’s helplessness. 

I am terribly glad dog slept peacefully through the entire thing (amazing house guarding skills!). She would not have understood all people do not mean well. 

I have been looking through the whimsical works of Fragonard, an immensely prolific Rococo artist, because I find I cannot work so well as usual. It is hard to be sad looking into his airy vision of the world…unless one begins to contemplate the fact many of his patrons and subjects were shortly to be beheaded in the revolution. Hm.

Blind Man's Bluff, 1775-1780

Les Hasards heureux de l'escarpolette, 1767

This painting is often used as a quaint imagery on sweetly feminine decorative items. I do not think the designers realise that the gentleman is  cheerfully looking up the lady's skirt in a time when women did not wear underwear. The lady looks quite in on the game!

The Reader c. 1770 - 1772.

Le Chat Angora, 1780 

Masterful rendering of the mirror ball. I wonder what it was actually for?

Saturday, 31 October 2015


Versailles is well known for its extraordinary opulence and beauty. But it is not often appreciated that it was originally constructed as a finely honed political weapon.

Louis XIV inherited a throne that had been historically precarious, weakened by the nobility, clergy and political revolt. This was particularly due the clientele system that involved large networks of social obligation able to be leveraged upon by the French elite to sway or even topple the reigning monarch. Yet, within twenty-five years of rule, Louis XIV transformed the state and bolstered his position without resorting to military might or open degradation. Louis XIV was a very modern master of propaganda, and used architecture to shift the perception of his position and power amongst his nobility and upon the international stage 

Versailles was not just a testament to the King’s power, but actually facilitated its acquisition. Before his reign it was just a royal hunting lodge (okay probably the most amazingly opulent hunting lodge ever, but still just a hunting lodge). Louis made it his central base and expanded it enormously during his reign, so the building itself alone stretched a mile wide. 

He also suggested important members of the nobility come and live with him, a suggestion that was not an easy one to refuse. If you were at Versailles you could access all sorts of cushy postings if the King looked kindly upon you. If you were not, you were ignored, or worse, subject to the King’s displeasure (eep). 

Now Louis XIV was being very clever here. By inviting the nobility, the most likely people to rise up and depose him, to live by his side he could keep a very close eye upon them and their activities. He could also divide them physically from the lands they ruled, and hence reduce their influence there. 

It also let him brainwash them. Versailles was a kind of gilded cage filled with messages blaring at you from every angle about how mighty the king was and thus how foolish it would be to mess with him. Carvings like one in the Salon de la Guerre depicting the king mounted on horseback trampling his enemies were not exactly open to wide interpretation. 

Louis filled his sprawling gardens with exotic flowers and fruits like pineapples (gasp!) to impress visitors with his mighty wealth. Everything was geometrically laid out in Roman inspired designs filled with statues of gods and goddesses, suggesting France was the rightful heir to the legacy of cultural ascendency and military might of the Roman Empire. This became fairly well accepted, which is actually pretty odd. Why France as opposed to another European country? And not Italy? Louis was particularly keen on statuary of the Sun God Apollo, whom he equated with himself, transforming Versailles from a European court to the home of a demi-god who ruled by divine right. 

The area south of the Petit Parc is a pretty prime example how Louis XIV used Versailles’ gardens to silently, yet blatantly, convey his supremacy. The south terrace fell dramatically to expose the Parterre du Midi below where the prize trees from the King’s were displayed in the summer. The Parterre was flat and bare, stripped forcefully of vegetation, excepting the boxed orange trees brought in by cannon carriers on the king’s direction. 

The Midi was a southern region in France known for growing oranges that in the past had been resistant to the King’s rule. The King’s control of the orange trees, many originally initially from Midi itself, moving in and out of the forcefully cleared area on military equipment was a statement of Louis XIV’s ability to dominate French land to his will. Just beyond the parterre was a great basin dedicated to the Swiss Guards, the formidable soldiers dedicated to guarding the King, further underlining the King’s power. 

I rather wish modern politicians would think to build pretty things to convey their strength. “Look at my amazingly exotic orchids and my stunning interior design skills – vote for me!” It would be rather pleasant. 

PS. For those of you who like puzzles I have one for you: Eponymous boys of Orwellian age would do well to look in boxes of snails.

Monday, 12 October 2015



I attended the Vaucluse House Open Day this weekend, a historic house I have long wished to visit. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Sydney. Amongst its many curious features is a door that leads to nowhere and the lack of a front door.

It began its life as the house of one Sir Henry Brown Hayes who was one of very few aristocrats transported due to his kidnapping of a local heiress and he determination to marry her, by force if necessary. He was reported to be of grotesque appearance and surrounded the cottage with Irish peat, believing inexplicably no Australian snake would cross it.

The colourful lawyer and politician William Charles Wentworth, for which the electorate Malcolm Turnbull holds is named, bought the property in 1827. Though a man of prominence in colonial society, he bore the stain of being born to unmarried ex-convict parents. Scandalously, his wife Sarah, herself the child of two convicts, gave birth to two of his children before they married. 

Wentworth embarked upon a significant program of improvement. He expanded the house significantly and added luxurious decoration such as gothic style castellated turrets, imported gold ornaments, Carrara marble trimmings, hand-fashioned English wallpaper and rare blue-toned carpet when the colour was expensive and difficult to manufacture at the time. 

The door that leads to nowhere was added to give symmetry to the hall in which it is found, mirroring the functional door at the other end. The lack of a front door remains an object of mystery. It is unclear why one was not installed, nor where visitors were expected to enter. Historian James Broadbent once said, Vaucluse House was a “fragmentary, muddled house with a character particularly evocative of its mercurial owner.”

PS. An article of mine featured in the Sydney Morning Herald and also on their website. It covers a topic quite different to those I post about here - unpaid labour – but may be of interest to some :)

Saturday, 3 October 2015


Sir John Everett Millais, 1888, 'I am Never Merry when I Hear Sweet Musik", Oil on Canvas.

Sunday, 6 September 2015


Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

"Mending Wall"

Robert Frost, 1914

Sunday, 16 August 2015

More Science

Frankie did an excellent job manning the Suggestion Box for the day. Tiring work!

 Galadriel the green tree frog is a stately old lady of twenty-five years old. 

Spiny leaf insects.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


The Australian Museum Science Festival began today - yay science!!! I had excellent fun helping to shepherd extremely enthused children from one exhibit to another. Shark in a bus (its a shark - in a bus!) and the native wildlife exhibit were particular highlights.

Leafy sea dragons hunt shrimp and plankton species with sensitive sensory organs allowing them to detect approaching predators through water movement. Using camoflague (they move through the water in such a way they seem to be floating kelp) and stealth to approach their prey, dragons then suck up their victims with great speed. With an astonishing 90% success rate they are one of the most efficient predators on the planet. 

Sharks constantly grow new teeth to replace those that go missing - some grow 30000 teeth in the course of a lifetime. 

Kirby, the most relaxed and patient Eastern water dragon in the world.

Frankie the Frogmouth! So sweet.

Monday, 3 August 2015


My new Fluval Spec! Eee! Its taken an age to cycle but at last it is ready for fish. I've put in my new female platinum white elephant ear Odette until I'm sure Merrick is completely healed and the water parameters are stable. 

I'm experimenting with a simple Iwagumi style in the Spec since my other tank with aggressive females will always need to be dense so they can hide from each other when they have their spats. The fissiden moss, a rarer species than I've encountered before, will slowly grow to carpet the sand. 

I wasn't sure about the nighttime effect blue light at first but it really is rather peaceful actually. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


“Culture and taste are central to Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus, domination, and the exercise of power. Cultural practices are, in essence, reflective of underlying class distinctions, serving as subtle yet powerful forms of social distinction. Lifestyles give practical expression to the symbolic dimension of class identity. Tastes stem not from internally generated aesthetic preferences, but from the conditioning effect of habitus and the availability of economic and cultural capital. 

"Each social class or fraction of a class has its own habitus and correlative set of cultural practices. This leads Bourdieu to conclude that relative “distance from necessity” is the main determinant of habitus and the formation of tastes and preferences. Those in the uppermost strata of society, free from material constraints, develop an aesthetic disposition characterized by “the stylization of life,” the primacy of form over function and manner over matter. In contrast, the working classes are seen to privilege substance over form, the informal over the formal, the sensual over the intellectual, and the immediate over the deferred. By way of a myriad of cultural practices, dominant factions thereby distance themselves from the subordinated, affecting a sense of casual superiority and social distinction. The exercise of taste thus serves to reinforce the right to rule.

"Bourdieu was not the first cultural theorist to observe that tastes and shifts in tastes are instrumental in social competition. Simmel, Vance Packard, and Veblen before him had defined luxury goods and high fashion as status symbols that conferred distinction upon their owners, equating good taste with membership in the upper classes. In this conception, those lower down on the social scale pursue emulative strategies for the acquisition of symbolic capital and social advancement, causing tastes to “trickle down” from the upper to the lower reaches of society. Veblen offers the most extreme version of the theory, holding that accepted standards of good taste are set for each class by the one immediately above, making the super wealthy at the apex of society the ultimate arbiters of good taste. 

"Social domination extends beyond tastes in material goods to encompass lifestyles and etiquette. This is because good taste is contingent not only on the acquisition of things, but also upon having the knowledge and time needed to appreciate or consume them properly. In other words, conspicuous leisure is the other side of the coin to conspicuous consumption, and by virtue of its wealth the leisure class is able to stay ahead by continuously reinventing what constitutes good taste. Within hierarchical social structures based on wealth, taste formation is an exclusively top-down process that condemns the lower orders perennially to be out of fashion.”

- Charles Harvey, John Press, and Mairi Maclean in William Morris, Cultural Leadership, and the Dynamics of Taste (2011) 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The King


"Give me time, and I'll give you a revolution." - Alexander McQueen

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