Mary Macpherson

The photographs of Mary Macpherson – with a dash of poetry

Posts Tagged ‘Falling Awake

Landslides – the work of Gregory Halpern and Alice Oswald

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Gregory Halpern’s Paris Photo award-winning ZZYZX and Alice Oswald’s shortlisted for the Forward Prize Falling Awake, hardly need reviews from me. But perhaps no one has yet put them together in a commentary.

To plunge right in, which is what these works do, both smash through received wisdom in their respective mediums (photography and poetry), reminding one to take the hallucinatory or psychedelic seriously and believe in the raging guitar of musicians like Jimi Hendrix.

Halpern’s ZZYZX’s 6 x 7 negative photographs travel from the southern California desert, through Los Angeles to the sea, on a journey so subjective it functions like fiction – and like the best fiction it takes one to a place of emotional truth. Beautiful, thrusting, ambiguous portraits of down-and-out people loom in his wide verticals, as do rocks, birds, buildings, a rabbit and shattered glass. Running through it all is sunlight and dryness, with the book opening with an image of fire (something to fear in the land of drought). When we reach the sea at the edge of the dream, it’s not a wide blue welcoming expanse, but something rough and lurid that splashes against the lens.

Superb sequencing of related, yet wildly contrasting images, also hold the book together along with repeating references to hands and eyes and the primacy of sun on skin. This portrait of a land and its people, with it’s odd, beautiful thrusting images is music for our times, and sweeps aside desire for large/medium format, composed, soulful land and city scapes – begone endless documentary work it says. Begone endless work shot on overcast days. Work like this, done this well, has all the bite you’ll need.


The photobook ZZYZX and the poetry book Falling Awake

ZZYZX and Falling Awake


Despite loving gardening and the outdoors, nature poetry normally isn’t something I normally seek out. But acclaimed UK poet Alice Oswald put us face down in the dirt,  reminding that nature is about death, competition, disintegrating bodies and strange snuffling creatures – human, animals, insects and mythological figures. Her work opens with one of several vertigo inducing poems, this one about rain, and moves to flies, rotting swans and the severed head of  Orpheus floating downstream.

But it isn’t just radical subject matter that makes the poems rock. Oswald has the ability to twist a perspective or an experience, moving her lens up and down so it’s close up and personal.

Here’s the opening of Body, which plays with the finding of a badger’s body:

” This is what happened

the dead were setting in under their mud roof

and something was shuffling overhead

it was a badger treading on the thin partition ..”

and here’s the swan looking down at her own decomposing body in Swan

and leaving her life and all its tools

with their rusty juices trickling back to the river

she is taking last look …”

What makes these poems stand out isn’t only the viewpoint, it’s also the dense earthy language and a swinging gasping syntax that sweeps the reader with it, like a landslide of mud and stones. It seems as if the desire to see the world differently has, like Halpern’s work, found a perfect radical voice.


Here’s Gregory Halpern taking a well considered swipe at documentary work and academics:

and a piece by Sean O’Hagen in The Guardian:

and an interview with Alice Oswald about her collection:


Written by Mary Macpherson

27/12/2016 at 3:19 pm

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