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August 08 2012

John Stezaker's best photograph

'I collected pictures of smokers. But it was only when I gave up cigarettes that I found a use for them'

I call my combinations of images of men and women "marriages". It is an old idea for me, although this is a recent work, from my series Muse. Each picture consists of a man smoking combined with a female other half, the idea being that he is "inhaling inspiration", which is classically associated with the female. When I started producing marriages, I felt I was creating new beings. They were more like people than the original bland glamour shots of the 40s and 50s that I used as source material. Somehow, when they got broken up and recombined, real people seemed to emerge.

My best work happens during explosions of activity, mainly late at night. The next morning, I might decide to dismantle the results, but this also counts as a creative process. The great thing about collage is that, because production is so minimal, you are always close to the vantage point of the viewer. I am often asked why I don't just get two people, pose them for photographs and splice the shots more accurately, but that misses the point. It's the imperfect match, the failure of unity, that makes us identify with these beings.

I have used the actor in this work, Mischa Auer, before. He was a very interesting character, married four times. I collected pictures of smoking figures for some time, but it was only when I gave up cigarettes that I found a use for them. A few years ago, I gave up alcohol, too – and, sure enough, drink has started to appear in my images. It is nice to think my art has that therapeutic immediacy, even though this is not my conscious intention.

I know nothing about the woman, but she has a number of attributes I look for. Women with their hair up are useful because they combine easily with a male haircut. She is also wearing a watch: I'm fascinated by the particular time they tell, because it represents the here and now. The portraits exist in a fantasy world, but the watch is real, the only objective thing in the work.

When people say I'm not a real photographer, I tell them I work with the medium rather than in it. In the internet age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the producers and the consumers of images. I see my work as merging these two worlds.

When I was showing this in Los Angeles, a memorabilia collector told me he thought I must have a secret agenda because the characters in my collages all had terrible lives. Although this was a coincidence, maybe I was looking for a certain kind of vulnerability.


Born: 1949, Worcester

Studied: Slade, London

Influences: Giorgio de Chirico,Joseph Cornell, Picasso

High and low point: When I took care of my son, 12 years ago, I was not producing anything because I was absorbed in domestic duties and at a low point as an artist. Then the artist Jake Miller discovered my work, and I gained recognition.

Tip: Don't listen to the nonsense you get from art historians, teachers and critics. Just follow what your eyes tell you and what moves you.

• John Stezaker is nominated for the Deutsche Börse photography prize 2012, at the Photographers' Gallery, London W1, until 9 September. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 07 2012

The Shard is a St Paul's Cathedral for our time | Norman Rosenthal

Who cares who built it or why? The Shard is simply London's most magnificent building since Wren's masterpiece

The reactions to London's latest mega-structure have not been moderate. "The Shard has slashed the face of London forever," wrote Simon Jenkins in the Guardian a month ago, invoking the destruction of Timbuktu, Dresden, Moscow and Peking, not to mention the bulldozing of the great Buddhas of Afghanistan. Jonathan Jones, the Guardian's art critic, has described the Shard as "self-evidently a monument to wealth and power run way out of control. It screams with dazzling arrogance that money rules this city and says money inhabits a realm way above our heads."

But when have great buildings and structures – since the pyramids of Egypt and before – been anything other than monuments to wealth and power? The fact is that, in recent decades, in this country and all over the world, power has resulted in many vulgar and nasty blots on the landscape. London, of course, was terribly damaged during the second world war. Bomb sites scarred the city and, for the most part, what has come to replace them has been pretty abominable architecturally, with only a few honourable and sporadic exceptions. Any sensitive person crossing the Thames on Norman Foster's pedestrian bridge, looking left and right towards Christopher Wren's Baroque masterpiece, can only want to put on blinkers. Nasty skyscrapers have been built all over the West End and the City of London, from Centrepoint to the former NatWest Tower, not to mention London's Barbican. Here, many wonderful cultural events take place, but it can only be described as a city planning monstrosity. Think too of the expensively hideous Portcullis House, built to house the offices of our MPs next to the beautiful fantasy of Westminster Palace.

Finally, along comes something that is genuinely magnificent to look at – namely the Shard, as it has affectionately come to be known. I don't care about its function or who built it, or even who financed it. It is a masterpiece of visual design by one of the great living architects, Renzo Piano.

Elegant and as inspiring to look at as a great cathedral, I keep discovering it from all sides – near and far. Its apparently broken apex makes for one astonishingly poetic image. As a pure glass edifice it resembles the most amazing cut diamond, both by day in the sunshine and at night lit up as a beacon over the city, as thrilling as the Eiffel Tower in Paris – which was also hated by establishment figures when it first went up. Now we cannot imagine Paris without it. I cannot now imagine London without the Shard and would go so far as to say that it is arguably the greatest and most beautifully skyreaching building to be erected in London since St Paul's Cathedral.

Critics who profess to be concerned with London and the way it looks would spend their energy better if they were to turn their attention to those ghastly sculptures mushrooming up all over the city's squares and parks. The idea of walking around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens now fills me with horror as my eyes are continually assaulted by absurd and corrupt objects such as the horse's head at Marble Arch, not to mention the stupid jelly babies nearby, or the monument to the poor animals killed in the two world wars.

The beautiful Royal Artillery Memorial of Sargeant Jagger has been horribly upstaged by a succession of hideous monuments commemorating fallen heroes of the Commonwealth, most recently a ghastly parody of the beautiful screen of Decimus Burton next to Apsley House. One can argue about the rights and wrongs of erecting a monument to Bomber Harris, who in the understandable hysteria of the second world war caused, among other things, the destruction of the beautiful city of Dresden. What one can also argue, if one has any aesthetic sensibility, is that the retrograde and cheap monument, which is impossible to overlook as one passes through Hyde Park Corner, is the most ghastly eyesore and should have been prevented.

In the meantime, one can only be grateful that at least the Shard is here to give continual visual pleasure from all aspects and distances across town. Don't you love the story of the fox that climbed to its top? How happy it must have been! © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Artist Kelly Richardson brings a taste of Mars to Whitley Bay

Mariner 9, an ambitious video installation imagining the Martian landscape, is being shown at Spanish City in the seaside town

A beautiful but horribly scarred Martian landscape, perhaps 100 or 200 years in the future, dominates the interior of a seaside fun palace whose fun days have long gone.

The unlikely pairing of futuristic art and faded historic grandeur is in Whitley Bay, once the liveliest and most exciting seaside town in north east England.

The Canadian artist Kelly Richardson – who moved to the area about 10 years ago and stayed – has installed a work called Mariner 9 in Spanish City, part of a wider retrospective being given to an artist making a name for herself internationally, but perhaps less so in the UK.

Eight miles down the coast, the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland is staging Richardson's first UK solo show, giving all its available space to work never seen in this country.

"Kelly is able to do things that no-one else has done in her field," said the NGCA's programme director Alistair Robinson. "She has been based in this region for nearly 10 years but no-one even in this region has seen her work. She's been showing around the world but in this country she is, as yet, an unknown quantity. She is definitely going to go very far, she already has – just not here but that will change, and quite soon I believe."

Richardson is part of a new generation of digital artists using technology to create hyper-real landscapes.

More often than not she films real places, whether it is a Texas swamp or an idyllic Lake District wood, and transforms them into something completely and disconcertedly unreal.

With Mariner 9, an enormous 12-metre wide video work commissioned by Newcastle's Tyneside Cinema, it was always going to be much trickier.

"Obviously I couldn't film on Mars," Richardson said. "But I found out Nasa knows how Mars is constructed and had all the digital data for that so I was able to take all the data, put it in a 3D programme and recreate the lay of the land faithfully."

It is a remarkable film, showing Mars littered with real and imagined space crafts and rovers; some of which are forlornly continuing to find signs of life. Its premiere coincides with the landing of Nasa's Curiosity rover on Monday.

As with the works on display in Sunderland, viewers can spend time finding out the stories or imagining their own. It does not feel as if you are simply looking at a screen with something on it, it feels like you are in the environment on screen.

Robinson said the artist is "an astonishing perfectionist" with an attention to detail that sometimes verged on the lunatic.

For Mariner 9 Richardson had to learn an entirely new software programme, investigate the texture of Mars and all the missions to it, and then speculate on what future Mars rovers and space craft would look like. "It has been a lot of research – a lot of geeking out basically," she said. "It has been a real challenge and [there were] various points where I didn't think it was possible. Even people in the industry were telling me I wouldn't be able to do some things."

One of the biggest challenges was creating a 3D dust storm that goes on for 20 minutes. Richardson was repeatedly told it was not possible. "I was like, 'no I can do that – I will.'"

Mariner 9 is in a memorable building. When Spanish City was built in 1910 it had, it is said, the largest dome in the UK after St Paul's cathedral. For most of its life it was a fairground before it fell into neglect and disrepair. It closed in 2000 but was restored in 2010.

This installation fits perfectly into the raw interior of a building about to embark on a new phase of life, with redevelopment plans to create a hotel, residential accommodation and an entertainment centre in the dome itself.

After Sunderland, the Richardson show will go on tour to Blackpool, Eastbourne and Buffalo in the US.

• Legion is at the NGCA until 29 September. Mariner 9 is at Spanish City, Whitley Bay, from 3-19 August © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 06 2012

Manifesta 9: a rich seam of art in a disused mine

This year's Manifesta is an exploration of coal-mining, featuring dodgy DIY prosthetics, John Coltrane and WH Auden

The coal mines that dotted this corner of eastern Belgium, Holland and the northern Ruhr were once photographed in all their melancholy grandeur, un-peopled and under flat skies, by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Now this place is home to Manifesta, the ninth edition of the roving European Biennial of Contemporary Art. I walk along a bleak corridor on the top floor of a dilapidated building, to a crisscrossing rhythm of unseen hammers, beating on anvils. There is a metallic tang in the air, dry on the palate. Little windows in the walls give glimpses of an empty landscape with a distant, grass-covered slagheap. A now-defunct railway leads over a viaduct to an abandoned pit-head. Just as the Bechers fussed with their camera, waiting for the right windless and deserted moment, I wait at the window.

The hammers beat on. This building was once the headquarters of the André Dumont mine in Genk, in the Limburg region of Belgium. The mine ceased work in 1987; the building itself was completed in 1924, a handsome example of art deco industrial architecture.The smell in the corridor, says the artist Oswaldo Maciá, who worked with perfumer Ricardo Moya, is meant to evoke failure. Like many of the works here, Martinete (Maciá's "audio olfactory composition") is a kind of elegy. The legacies of the industrial revolution, the migration of labour and the geopolitics of Europe and beyond are Manifesta's theme: the world as it was and what it is becoming.

The exhibition takes us from the fossilised head of an iguanodon, discovered during mining, to an engraving of the ironworks at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire at the beginning of the industrial revolution. It takes us from reimagined scenes of the carboniferous forests, with giant horsetails, ferns and giant dragonflies, to Duncan Campbell's film of John DeLorean's attempt to build his futuristic gull-wing car in Northern Ireland. On the way, we pass through John Martin's subterranean illustrations of Milton's Hell, meet the Ashington Group of pitman artists (whose story has become the subject of both a play and a musical), and quota-breaking Russian miner Alexey Stakhanov, poster-boy of Stalin's Russia.

Small stories and larger histories, piles of coal and fragments of lives fill The Deep of the Modern, as this exhibition is subtitled. There are photographs of the 1984 miners' strike by Guardian photographers Denis Thorpe and Don McPhee; Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis's re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave, and a documentary about the shooting of Belgian miners during a 1966 strike. With real lives and history, artworks and ephemera, mining engineering and Marcel Duchamp, this is, quite deliberately, a move away from the biennials we are accustomed to.

This Manifesta is a rejoinder to the malaise besetting many ambitious international art events, which its chief curator, Cuauhtémoc Medina, pithily itemises: the feeling that there isn't time to see things properly, the despair of participants and audiences alike, the curatorial egomania and opaque themes, the homogenisation of different cultural practices, the "usual suspect" artists.

While biennials invariably take some account of their places and its contexts, Medina and his team try to do it better. Past Manifestas have filled venues across San Sebastián in Spain's Basque country, based one in the Trentino valley in Italy's south Tyrol, and attempted cultural reconciliation in divided Cypress (a disaster). The Deep of the Modern fills a single building and can be seen in a day. The sense of context is inescapable. Another Manifesta co-curator, Katerina Gregos, examines the ongoing economic crisis, describing how the majority of us "will experience grave social and economic circumstances in years to come". She continues: "One thing is for sure: we will not be able to eat our iPhones or find comfort on Facebook unless there is a fundamental move away from the complacency for which we are responsible."

The challenge is overwhelming, so we are left with our encounters with individual things, some of which are rich in ways we might not expect. A collection of samplers that once decorated mine-worker's homes in Genk are embroidered with homilies. "Even though you are in love, you always need to eat," says one. "Be careful with fire, coal is expensive," reads another. And here's an old, battered photographic portrait of a young Greek couple, Spyros and Polyxeni; when Spyros left Greece to work the mines in Limburg, they tore the photograph in two and he took the half depicting his wife to Belgium. When she later joined him in Genk, carrying the other half of the portrait, they sewed the image back together. It is a small family memento, but deeply telling.

Thousands of Greeks, Turks and Italians came here to work in the mines. Their communities are still here though the mines have gone. Now I am listening to Rocco Granata, son of an Italian, who bought his family to Genk when the boy was 10. Rocco briefly worked in the mine but became a singer, and his international hit, Marina, recorded in 1959, drifts through a lower gallery. Sound is everywhere: WH Auden reading his verse to Britten's score for the 1935 film Coal Face; the thwack of a stick beating Tomaž Furlan on the back of his head, in a video that shows him "operating" his machines wearing gimcrack industrial prosthetics. The Slovenian sculptor is an heir to Keaton and Chaplin, or even Norman Wisdom, a mechanised man who won't fit the bill. He'd probably even hurt himself clocking-in.

There's humour and absurdity here. I turn the tiny handle of a musical-box mechanism that tinkles out the tune of the Internationale, little knowing that the sound is relayed to speakers on the forecourt outside, the tune forlorn amid the birdsong and the decaying buildings, in Croatian artist Nemanja Cvijanović's Monument to the Memory of the Idea of the Internationale.

In a video by Mikhail Karikis and Uriel Orlow, a choir of former Kent miners stand in a field, singing Sounds from Beneath, a recreation of remembered noises of the pit. They shush and roar and hiss. And here's John Coltrane, blasting from David Hammons's 1989 Chasing the Blue Train, a landscape of piano lids, some upright, others prone on the floor. Toy train tracks wend their way between the piano lids – like hills and plains and the curves of a woman's body – to disappear into a tunnel of coal. The little blue train sits stalled on the track. Hammons's work sucks other sculptures around it into its own landscape. Far across the floor are three little conical mountains of coal, topped by the Belgian flag, by Marcel Broodthaers. And nearby Richard Long's 1992 line of Bolivian coal runs the length of the gallery, and Bernar Venet's 1963 indeterminate mound of coal, is a black island rising from the concrete. Coltrane gets to you, along with the catch-in-the-throat smell of coal dust, as you stand beneath Marcel Duchamp's 1200 Coal Sacks, suspended from a ceiling like hams.

Manifesta has a reach and breadth I wasn't expecting. There's so much more to it than the dark matter of coal.

• Manifesta 9 is on until 30 September, click here for details © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 03 2012

Exhibitionist: The week's art shows in pictures

From Philip Guston in Edinburgh to Dada Fest in Liverpool, find out what's happening in art around the country

Modern Toss

Stave off Olympics overload by going to see the Edvard Munch exhibition at London's Tate gallery

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My trip to the 1936 Olympics

In the summer of 1936, when I was nine, my grandfather, mother and I made a trip to eastern Europe that I will never forget. My grandfather, Aaron Schindler, was a member of numerous Jewish charities and followed the activities of European politics as he had quite a few relatives living in various European cities. He had been hearing about Germany's escalating campaign against its Jewish and minority populations, and felt he should see for himself what was happening and took my mother and me – much to my delight.

We crossed the Channel in July and headed by train to Vienna, Krakow and Warsaw, where we met lots of relatives. Getting them to understand me was quite difficult, but with the help of my grandfather translating from Yiddish to English, we managed. My grandfather, who could see signs of uncertainty and unrest throughout the region, was trying to persuade various members of the family to consider leaving their homes and businesses to start a new life in London. He could offer them jobs, as he owned a successful ladies clothing business in Bow, east London.

Our journey continued to Hamburg and then on to our final destination, Berlin, where we met more relatives. There, my grandfather surprised me. As a special treat, he asked me to accompany him to the XIth Olympiad as he had managed to get two tickets in the main stadium.

With my pocket money, I bought two Olympic brooches from one of the shops outside the stadium.

Inside, I saw a mass of people waving flags – more than 45 countries were taking part. I also saw quite a few men in uniform waving flags I did not recognise. Later, I found out that they were swastikas.

Almost opposite our seats was a row of boxes, and we could see a group of men sitting in them. The German couple beside us told my grandfather that some of the men were Olympic officials and the man seated next to them was Chancellor Adolf Hitler. I was too young to understand the importance of Hitler's presence at this great non-political sporting event with the sea of swastikas and military uniforms but, years later, the 1936 Games were often referred to as the "Nazi Olympics" and I realised that I had witnessed an historic occasion.

One of my most memorable recollections of that day was watching Jessie Owens, the great American athlete, win one of his four Olympic gold medals. I can't remember whether it was the 100m or 200m, but there was a lot of noise in the stadium. Owens made history as the first athlete to win four gold medals at the Olympic Games, a feat not equalled until 48 years later when Carl Lewis won gold in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. As Hitler had intended the Games to showcase his Aryan ideals and superiority, it is both ironic and poignant that Owens, a black athlete, turned out to be the most successful Olympian that year.

I wish I had been old enough to fully appreciate what took place that day in Berlin, but, still, I knew it was a very special occasion.

After our visit, my grandfather managed to get only one relative out of Vienna and another from Poland. Fortunately, some managed to get to the United States. Sadly, the others perished in the Holocaust.

Now the 30th Olympic Games are being held in London and it is bringing back many memories of that trip. I am so glad I was able to be a  part of history and to share my story now.

Anita Silberstein, nee Zerman

Playlist: In memory of my true love

Blow the Wind Southerly (traditional English folk song)

Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly/Blow the wind south o'er the bonny blue sea/Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly/Blow bonny breeze my lover to me

In 1957 I was filled with excitement at the thought of singing this folk song in a junior school choir festival at a Norfolk secondary school, which at the time seemed many miles away, although in reality it was just six miles. In the spirit of inclusion, all the class were to sing, although, as the teacher moved along the line to hear us, some were asked to mime. I was terrified at the thought that I would be one of them; in the event, not being chosen to mime gave me misplaced confidence in my singing voice. Since then, I have always felt free to sing loudly, despite comments from my unappreciative family.

We were dressed in our finest clothes and it was a day to savour. In later years, I could always remember the words to this song when other memories failed me.

My lover did come, although not by boat, and regrettably he died young. I think of him as I sing the song to rock my new grandson to sleep. When he is being particularly fractious, my daughter will phone up and ask me to sing it to him down the phone, in the knowledge that it calms him. When he has been in my charge, I have played him a better version on my phone. I regret that he will never know his wonderful granddad. If only his grandad could be blown over the horizon to meet the little soul and, of course, me. Any direction of wind would do.

Rosie Penna

We love to eat Ayrshire: tatties by theirsels


Ayrshire potatoes

Water to boil

A bunch of syboes

The cooking is simplicity itself. Scrub and boil for 20 minutes in their skins and serve with melted butter and syboes (spring onions)

A few weeks ago, I read the long-awaited notice in my local greengrocer's window: "Ayrshire tatties now in."

To all Scots, the arrival of this uniquely flavoured "pomme de terre" is greeted with as much gusto as the wine lover's first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

In season for a matter of weeks, the crop is devoured by the nation as quickly as the potatoes are pulled from the ground. First batches are initially sold at a premium in suburban shops and local markets, prompting me to comment to my salesman that he balanced my produce as if trading in gold – to, which he replied, "I am, sir, I am."

I lived abroad for many years and invariably my trips back home were out of season, leaving my taste buds deprived of this national delicacy. My sister would invariably tease me by describing how she had savoured the current year's crop and telling me it was the best she had ever tasted.

One of the distinct summer memories I have of childhood is returning home after marathon games of football to enormous plates of butter-slicked Ayrshires heaped high and washed down with a glass of cold milk. My taste buds tingle as I write. With four hungry mouths to feed, my mother would buy a daily supply when stocks became plentiful and much cheaper, knowing there would be no complaints from her brood. "Is there any more Ayrshires, Ma, just by theirsels?" was the constant request in too short a season.

In 1990 I returned to the UK to live and work in London. On phoning my sister, I was told the Ayrshires were in season and, to my delight, she sent two pounds of the nuggets by parcel post. I don't think I have ever received a tastier welcome-home gift.

Now resident in my native land, there is no need to wait for the post. I just keep the pot boiling until, sadly, the season is over for another year.

John Bookless

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email Please include your address and phone number © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Food as art: it looks almost too good to eat

Put away your recipe books. If you're wondering what to eat tonight, take inspiration from the world of design, art and literature instead

A few years ago, I wrote a cookery book called Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer that was inspired by the delicious food and treats enjoyed by the characters in children's classics. There were recipes for Mary Poppins' Raspberry Jam Cakes, Swallows and Amazons' Seed Cake, and Anne of Green Gables' Layer Cake. The idea emerged on a family holiday during a conversation with my then nine-year-old daughter, who at that point was engrossed in a marathon reading of Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outer series, which contains multiple references to macaroons and fry-ups. As I was also something of a greedy reader when young, together we decided to ransack the library to create a collection of recipes that could be made with and by children who wondered how the foodstuffs that are so avidly consumed on the page actually taste off the page.

As it now turns out, the book was an early example of a new phenomenon that sees adventurous cooks finding inspiration everywhere but in a recipe book. Today, there is a flourishing movement of food from art and food as art, with young food writers and stylists mining painting, design, literature, poetry and even Pantone charts for ideas, and using them to create strikingly original dishes and recipes.

Megan Fizell, an Australian based in Sydney, is an art historian who began her Feasting On Art blog in 2009 as a way of combining her interests in food and art. The results are rarely a direct recreation of the image, but more image-inspired. So Cézanne's Still Life With A Plate Of Cherries (1885-87) is the jumping-off point for a rich and fruity cherry and nectarine clafoutis, while a glorious vase of red poppies painted by Van Gogh is the basis for lemon and poppyseed bread.

The blog is richly creative and educational, with each post providing a very palatable side dish of art history. It's also refreshingly down to earth, as Fizell tells of the challenges, difficulties and mess. Unlike more professionally produced shoots and articles, there is no pretence of perfection.

While her savoury dishes are historically accurate and authentic, many will be wowed by the sweet things she creates, the fabulous geometric Mondrian pound cake, colourful, circular Hirst cineole cupcakes, and Warhol-esque tomato soup cake. A chicken is a chicken, but sponge, icing, chocolate and food colouring are the kitchen creator's media, just as clay, stone and paint are for the sculptor or painter. In fact, there is little in the artist's studio that cannot be substituted in the kitchen.

Take colour charts, for example. Emilie Griottes was inspired by the Pantone colour chart to create a range of Pantone tartes. Griottes is a French food stylist and, although she gives recipes, the tarts are really for looking at admiringly, wonderingly, while you ask yourself why you never thought a banana, marshmallow or apricot was an example of a Pantone reference rather than simply a food. Hers is a playful approach, the grown-up version of the food art created spontaneously by children who arrange alphabet spaghetti into words and draw faces with ketchup.

Equally creative, but more low-key and with a plain, contemporary, fashionably stark aesthetic is the series of Fictitious Dishes, by Dinah Fried, an American graphic designer and photographer who takes famous literary meals and turns them into artfully arranged pictures on her website. So Oliver Twist's bowl of gruel is suitably meagre and miserable, while the famous chapter on chowder in Moby Dick is distilled into a thick, pale, appetising clam chowder (for another take on this, as well as Jane Eyre cardamom seed buns and Toni Morrison tribute beloved blackberry tart, check out Cara Nicoletti's

Fried's photographs are shot from above, so that they look like paintings, with the food arrangement becoming a modern-day still life. Since there is no text to explain anything, the images have the reverse effect of sending you back to the classics to read and digest the food sections on the page. There are just five dishes in the series so far, but Fried is asking for suggestions, so perhaps we can look forward to her interpretation of Miss Havisham's wedding feast or the wonderful descriptions of food in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar or George Orwell's Down And Out In Paris And London.

Fried's approach is to stay close to the inspiration but to give it a cool, modern twist, whereas Eat This Poem, a blog written by young American poet, Nicole Gulotta, has a more reverent tone. It offers up recipes inspired by the spirit and mood of her chosen poems, mostly by contemporary US poets but with a few by writers such as Elizabeth Bishop and William Carlos Williams. Gulotta's dishes and writing are more tangential and esoteric. She is at her best, and the connections most interesting, when she is inspired by a poem that contains a direct reference to a foodstuff, such as when she selects Pablo Neruda's Ode To An Onion to create a rich and comforting onion galette with blue cheese and honey.

It's vibrant, energetic and very modish, but this style of arty food also raises the question of "gastro porn". Some certainly give out a look-but-don't-eat message, but the most successful combine fun and inventiveness to produce something you know will taste great and – you hope – be eaten with relish.

Taking art and literature as inspiration means no rules, and the freedom to express your culinary creativity as you please, according to your vision and the contents of your cupboards. It's a far cry from the hand-holding of our usual kitchen guides. If you don't know what to make tonight, start by putting away those recipe books.

• Jane Brocket's new book, Vintage Cakes, is published by Jacqui Small in September at £25. To pre-order a copy for £20, including free UK mainland p&p, go to, or call 0330 333 6846. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Tea with Grayson Perry. Or is it dinner, or supper?

What you call the evening meal reveals a lot about where you come from – and maybe even where you're headed…

Grayson Perry

When I was 19, I went out with quite a posh girl. Not only did I lose my virginity with her while watching Life On Earth on the telly, but I also received a crash course in dining and class mobility. On evenings when I was to visit her, I would eat my tea with my family first. Tea, in this case, not being Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches, but the working-class evening meal, served perhaps between six and seven o'clock. After tea, I would ride my motorbike over to her parents' Elizabethan manor house and there I would partake of supper. This was good news to a growing country lad who could easily eat five large meals a day.

Supper, as in "kitchen" or "country", is upper class. It implies that this is just a casual family meal, maybe with close friends. It may involve a simple starter, wine, and cheese and fruit to follow, but would probably not involve a white tablecloth and starched napkins. Supper is elegant sufficiency. It has overtones of Billy Bunter's midnight feasts, Hogarth prints or officers on campaign. The real significance of supper, I think, is that it implies the user is familiar with an altogether grander style of meal held in stately halls, the formal dinner with copperplate invitations, waiters, silverware, port and speeches. The word supper, I think, implies a subtle rebuke to the aspirational classes who are gauche enough to hold dinner parties at home.

Noel Gallagher

Me and my kids call it tea. My wife calls it dinner. She went to uni, I didn't. She's middle class, I'm not. As for supper? What is that, exactly? As a kid, I ate Irish stew. As unemployed teenagers, it was something with beans. After that, until I left home, it was, "Make it yourself!" That's when it started to get tricky. I still eat shit, to be honest. You can move the boy to London, but he'll always be a northerner.

Helen Fielding

Growing up in Yorkshire, breakfast was a fry-up at the start of the day, dinner was at lunchtime (often a cold collation of what, in hindsight, was probably slices of giant sausage made from BSE) and tea was at the end of the day – a lard-based feast of something like suet and mince roly-poly with gravy and carrots, followed by treacle sponge topped with cream, ice-cream and custard. Supper was Ovaltine and a biscuit at bedtime.

When I descended to the south and Oxford, in the first week my tutor invited me and my tutorial partner, who was also from the north, to dinner. We duly turned up in the middle of the day to be greeted by kindly astonishment and a gracious attempt to explain how things worked in the sophisticated world we were about to enter.

Emboldened by this new knowledge, the next time I was invited to dinner, this time by fellow students, I arrived at the appropriate time – the evening – but wearing a long gown, admittedly one from C&A, but somewhat in the style of pictures I'd seen of Oxford drinking clubs and summer balls. Unfortunately, my worldly-wise hosts were wearing jeans and serving spag bog on a kitchen table decorated with candles in old wine bottles.

Things got better for a while, but when I moved to Los Angeles, the whole nightmare started again. People wanted to have power breakfasts in the middle of the night – 6.30am! – meet for lunch before noon and the earliest I was ever invited to dinner was 5.30pm. Even then, it didn't seem to be quite acceptable actually to eat anything. The concept of "supper" doesn't really exist in LA, as far as I can make out. People don't seem to cook very much, so either it's dinner in a restaurant or a posh, carb-free dinner in someone's house done by a cook, but again, quite often ridiculously early and all over by 9pm. The closest thing to a Cameron supper is going round for "take-out" or "carry-out", which means you just hang out informally and eat something that arrived in a van.

Back in London, I find myself using the word "supper" quite a lot, usually to suggest the sort of informal, just-a-bunch-of-incredibly-cool-friends-round-the-kitchen-table soirée I aspire to, with something I've knocked up from the Ottolenghi cookbook. In reality, I'm more likely to spend the evening eating spoonfuls of odd things out of the fridge while watching telly in pyjamas. But at least you don't have to call that anything.

Rachel Johnson

I remember my parents giving dinner parties in Brussels, in the 1970s, during the tragic Ice Storm period of my childhood. My mother would cook. My father would carve, occasionally with an electric knife, like a baby buzzsaw. They divorced when I was 14. I learned from my mother that the best parties have nothing to do with "fine dining" – I have to this day a horror of hushed tones and chinking cutlery – but lots of wine, rowdy guests, and rough peasant food with plenty of things to pick at even after pudding. It's a model I try to follow myself, although for some reason even "kitchen supper" can take three days, not counting all the time one spends convening exactly the right cast, and clearing up. I still do "kitchen suppers", but have long banned "dinner parties" as both exhausting to give and to attend: they're like taking a four-hour exam in someone you don't know and may never see again. I've noticed a new trend, though: often, the host will ting a glass and want guests to sing for their supper, and get a "general conversation going". Being highly competitive and noisy, I enjoy that (the last dinner I went to, we had Stephen Hester talking about banking). If it's in Notting Hill, "kitchen supper, just locals" can be a £200-a-head catered dinner for which the whole mansion is transformed into a souk and there will be at least two household names present as trophy guests. A "country supper" is eight people, something killingly calorific and crumbly out of the Aga, followed by drunken driving through country lanes. No one gets invited to dinner parties any more: that's déclassé thanks to Come Dine With Me. It's always supper, sometimes even "sups", but only if you're really grand. It's at "sups", of course, that you're most likely to get the Lynch-Bages or the PM.

Joe Dunthorne

There was a constant war between my sisters and me for the best seat in front of the TV. This meant that dinner became, in essence, nothing more than a race to finish first, so that we could run from the dinner table and claim prime position. With the good seat came the remote control and with the remote control came dominion over one's destiny.

We always ate quite late, at eight or so, which was proof that we were authentically middle class. Sometimes, the names of the dishes my parents cooked sounded unsettlingly exotic – ratatouille, moussaka – and I would long for parents like those of my mate John, who lived on the hill. When I went to his, we ate tea early, at 6, sometimes even at 5.30, and had proper food: fish fingers, pizzas, crinkle-cut chips.

After school, knowing that I would have a long wait for our evening meal, I always put two chocolate muffins and half a tub of custard in the microwave. Then I'd eat them with a spoon in front of Neighbours. I didn't know it then but I was having high tea.

David Lammy

Breakfast was always rushed - a slice of toast and out of the door. Lunch was terrible – baked beans and two chicken nuggets from the school canteen. Dinner, however, was something to look forward to. This was always real Caribbean food: chicken rubbed with allspice and scotch bonnet peppers, rice and peas, yam dumplings and plantain. Sometimes, we'd set out the table, but more often than not we'd sit in front of the TV with our dinner trays (mine was a tacky metallic one commemorating Charles and Diana's wedding).

The first few weeks at university brought some culture clashes. Newly made northern friends talked about "tea", but to me "tea" was just a warm brown drink that my teachers enjoyed. My family never had it. The closest we got at home was Ovaltine, and that certainly wasn't a meal.

I was first introduced to "supper" at the inevitable visit-your-new-friends-at-their-homes that follows your first term at university. It was more ritualistic than our dinners ever were. Supper was something you anticipated, that you perhaps got changed for. Inevitably, it was a faux pas minefield: multiple courses, a plethora of cutlery and alcohol (which, until then, was something I had only ever had in a park or a pub, never in front of a consenting adult).

This was all new and novel, but it was mundane and stuffy, too. As I've grown older, friends who have "supper" make their children have "tea" with different food, at a different time and on a different table. I don't see the point. I find it hard enough to see my kids as it is, and even harder to make them aware of their Caribbean roots. That's why we have dinner. The four of us sit down at the table and we eat food their grandmother would approve of.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

There is no such thing as a "country supper" in culinary or sociological terms. Or at least there wasn't, until now. What there is, is "supper", the meal that posh(ish) people eat at home most days in the evening – when they are not going out to or hosting "dinner" – a meal of some formality designed to entertain and impress your social peer group. You can invite someone to "supper" and know they will not expect tablecloths or candles or more than perhaps half a dozen guests. They might expect to chat to you in your kitchen, though, while you prepare the meal in question.

Then there is "the country" – not to be confused with "the nation", but a posh shorthand for what might more generally be described as "the countryside". It means anywhere with more fields and hedges than streets and lamp-posts. It's a word used in such sentences as "I live in the country, but I have a flat in London", or "I live in London, but I have a cottage/farm/stately home in the country."

To me, therefore, the term "country supper" is specific. It can be meaningfully used only by and between people who regularly eat "supper" in each others' houses, and have (at least) two residences, one in a rural location. (Though, being a Devon man, I'd call Chipping Norton suburban. Or at best "home counties".) On that basis, although "country supper" is a hot buzz-phrase right now, I doubt it will permanently enter the lexicon of either gastronomy or class analysis.

I know all this, of course, because I am reasonably posh myself – and if there really was such a thing as a "country supper", I would expect to have been invited to one.

Bee Wilson

In 18th-century London, supper was posh: an insubstantial final snack eaten by the upper classes long after dinner – cold beef and punch, perhaps, nibbled to sate the appetite before bed. But growing up in the 1980s, supper wasn't grand. It was just what we called the seven o'clock meal, whether it was toad in the hole, cottage pie or that exciting new discovery, the M&S ready meal.

I'm not sure why we called it supper rather than dinner or tea. Our Oxford household was thoroughly middle class, but also eccentric, very bookish and Anglican; the Last Supper was much discussed. My mother was a Shakespeare scholar, so she may have been talking in Elizabethan English when she called us in for supper: "Men sit down to that Nourishment which is called Supper", as it says in Love's Labour's Lost. Or it could have been an affectation from my grandmother, who tried hard to shrug off her roots in a Devon post office, referring to "the drawing room" and going so far as to ennoble Marmite with a French pronunciation: to her it was always "Mar-meet". She would never have dreamed of calling the evening meal "tea", which meant small cakes and china cups at four.

Personally, I don't find "supper" snooty. It is only when you add an adjective that it becomes pretentious: country supper and kitchen supper are both phrases used by people like David Cameron, who normally eat dinner, but are slumming it. My husband's family, much posher than mine, always eats dinner, implying candles and several delicious courses at 8pm. The joy of supper, by contrast, is that it carries no particular expectations besides nourishment. It could be anything from fillet steak to poached eggs and Mar-meet toast. Supper is simply the comforting end point to which the whole day has been leading.

Tom Parker Bowles

Dinner party: two words to strike fear into even the most open-minded of hosts. It comes barded with sneers and marinated in petty snobbery, an event that seemed less about eating and more about a smug sense of belonging – Debrett's with fish knives and a par-frozen bun. They have tea, you have supper, I have dinner. Visions spring to mind of jellied tomato rings and overcooked soufflés, an excess of velvet and the degradation of a perfectly good meal.

But, really, it's a simple matter of semantics. There are few things more civilised than having friends over for supper or dinner. It matters not which word you use, so long as you don't go and call it a dinner party. I can think of nothing worse than asking people to clad themselves in black tie or, worse still, "smart casual" before coming over to eat. Or to subject them to the half-witted, smeared and foamed approximation of a three-star Michelin chef. Good food, well cooked, and plenty of grog, shared with people you love. That's not a dinner party, rather having dinner, at home, with mates.

As children, we had tea – sausages, fish fingers, whatever – at about 5pm. Then my parents had dinner at about 8.30. I was always rather jealous of those mums and dads who had "supper". It seemed far cooler and laid back, resolutely more modern. But whatever it was called, there was always comfort in falling asleep to the clatter of knives and forks, and the easy hubbub of well-watered good times.

So yes, the dinner party, with its forced dress code and fussy food, stilted conversation and whiff of self-satisfaction, is something to be feared. But then, so is any meal possessing these horrible qualities, regardless of whether it's branded "supper", "dinner" or "feast". All that matters is the shared pleasures of the table, time to eat, drink and be merry. The dinner party might be dead, but the fundaments of domestic edible pleasure will endure for ever and ever.

Peter York

I'm not a foodie, but I know foodies, and I find their dinner parties most alarming. I want meat and two veg spread in an orderly way on the plate. And a pudding that contains something nice like meringue.

Dinner parties have changed a lot since I wrote the Sloane Ranger Handbook with Ann Barr in 1982. There still exist in corners of the country meals of almost stunning simplicity, usually involving something I hate – game birds – produced with a certain amount of fanfare. Horribly red stringy things. But at least you know exactly where to start, which is the main course, and what's the end. And there is all sorts of silverware.

At a foodie supper, the sequence is disrupted, and it's done with the utmost of casualness. I remember eating at a foodie neighbour's house 25 years ago and thinking, which bit is which? What goes first? Is that a pudding or does it just look like one? For a person of conservative habits, it was very disconcerting.

Now you can see it in full bloom. There used to be five kinds of cheese from about three nations that one could take to a dinner party. Now there will be Colombian drug smuggler's cheese and something sourced from a farmers' market in Aberdeen.

Of course, I don't give dinner parties. Mostly I eat out, but when I'm at home I have kitchen suppers in the most literal sense: "This delicious thing I found in Tesco, let's just put it in the microwave." I'm not northern, so I don't call it tea. And I don't call it dinner, because it's not dinnery. So it's supper, I'm afraid.

Jeanette Winterson

Dinner parties make me feel like a desperate housewife on Come Dine With Me. I grew up in Lancashire in the 1960s. Dinner was eaten at 12 noon and it was pie and gravy. Except on Sundays, when we had a joint of beef or lamb, the remains of which would be put through the Spong mincer on Mondays for a week's worth of aforementioned pies. My first dinner party happened to me when I went to Oxford. I never wanted it to happen again. The real issue is that I like food and I like to eat my food, not try to shove it in my mouth while talking to someone I hope never to meet again. My girlfriend is Jewish, a great cook and seriously social. When we got together, I said, "I will do cocktail parties and I will do supper with friends. Never make me go to dinner." She tried, twice; the first time I refused to eat and the second time I refused to speak. We haven't tried since.

I love suppers with friends. Is there a class thing? Yes, for sure, but if you are a writer or an artist of any kind, you can avoid class. You can mix wherever you want to and say what you like. That helps. I have to say, though, that the best dinner party I ever went to was thrown by an eccentric member of the Guinness family in a crumbling house in Dublin. The dining room hadn't been decorated since 1840 and, as the room was colder than the fridge, we left the champagne out to chill. Food was cooked on a burner of the kind road-menders use to melt tarmac. I was sitting next to Neil Jordan and we both ate in silence until we had eaten enough to be able to speak.

Oliver Peyton

I'm rarely invited to dinner parties these days – being a judge on Great British Menu, as well as a restaurateur, people just assume I'm the guest from hell.

Maybe that's also why, when I have people over for dinner, they're often surprised by my food. They turn up expecting some sort of whizz-bang gastronomic experience, only for me to serve up a fish that's been covered in herbs and salt, and shoved in the oven. Dinner parties, to me, are about family, friendship and fun, not networking or spending all night in the kitchen.

That attitude's probably a throwback to my childhood in Mayo – mealtimes were extraordinarily important, and we wouldn't dream of not sitting down to dinner together. And it's "dinner" or "tea", by the way – I'd never even heard the term "supper" until I came to England.

When I was young, dinner parties didn't focus nearly so much on the food. They were more about staying up all night, and if there was any actual cooking involved, it usually got burned anyway. Perhaps it's just an age thing that the dinner parties I go to now aren't like that at all, but I kind of miss those days.

• Interviews: Charlotte Northedge, Bob Granleese, Becky Barnicoat.

The guidelines: Tea

When? 6.30pm, or whenever Dad gets home from work.
What are we eating? Fish fingers, chips, beans. And then a yoghurt.
Who's coming? You, your siblings, your parents, possibly a friend, so long as they've checked with their mum first.
Topics of conversation Shhh… Hollyoaks is on.
Tableware Not the good cutlery. That's for Christmas Day and Christmas Day alone.
Dress code Your school uniform, unless it's in the wash because you got it muddy at lunchtime.

The guidelines: Dinner

When? 7pm, or thereabouts.
What are we eating? One of those Marks & Spencer meal deals, bought on the way home from work.
Who's coming? Whoever's at home.
Topics of conversation Work, your journey home from work, that thing Joanna who sits opposite you at work does with her teeth that's really annoying.
Tableware A plate on your lap. Who has space for a table any more?
Dress code Whatever you worked in (although freelance writers may wear trousers as a point of etiquette).

The guidelines: Supper

When? 9pm, or later.
What are we eating? Something light and self-consciously rustic, usually cooked in a bloody Aga or something.
Who's coming? You, Rebekah Brooks, David Cameron and, indirectly, Robert Jay QC.
Topics of conversation Chipping Norton, NewsCorp's BSkyB takeover bid, whether or not Dave can lend you a horse.
Tableware Silver cutlery, ironed tablecloths, goblets full of children's blood.
Dress code Top hats left at the door. We're all in this together, remember.

By Stuart Heritage © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Letter: News photography – no snap judgments

When Tom Hopkinson (my father) rescued a man being lynched in South Africa (The bystanders, Weekend, 28 July), he was no longer "editor of Picture Post" but of Drum magazine, on which he was the only white staffer. Rescuing black photographers and journalists – in as beaten a state as the man in the story, but almost always thanks to the forces of apartheid – came with the job, as he relayed in his autobiography Under the Tropic.

Ian Berry, however, is too modest in claiming "It never occurred to me to do anything" in like situations. While he may not have directly intervened in this instance, he was there at Sharpeville in 1960, acting with considerable courage in warning as well as photographing victims during the massacre. Berry's impressive body of work played its own part in documenting and thereby strengthening the campaign to end the apartheid regime.

As Berry's fellow Magnum photographer, Abbas, told me when I interviewed him and put the familiar question regarding the "humanitarian" responsibilities of a photojournalist in a conflict zone: "If I wanted to be there to save lives, I'd join Médecins sans Frontières. As it is, I am a photographer, and my first responsibility is to show what is actually happening to the rest of the world."
Professor Amanda Hopkinson
City University, London © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Ultraviolet Beauties, by Cara Phillips – in pictures

These replications of the damaging effects of UV light might make you think twice before overdoing it on the sun lounger

Weekend readers' pictures: Fresh

From peas to fruit: your best pictures on this week's theme, Fresh

August 02 2012

Thieves steal Derby Museum artefacts worth £53,000

Police say hoard of items, including 18th- and 19th-century watches, were taken from depot between 2 May and 19 June

A collection of coins, medals and watches worth £53,000 has been stolen from a museum's storage facility. The 1,000 artefacts from the Derby Museum and Art Gallery's city-based storage site were stolen some time between 2 May and 19 June, Derbyshire police said. None of the items have been found.

Among the hoard is a collection of about 20 18th- and 19th-century gold and silver watches worth up to £3,000 each. These includes examples made by clockmaker and scientist John Whitehurst, who was a member of the Midlands' based Lunar Society, and a contemporary of famous Derby artist Joseph Wright.

Coins dating back more than 800 years have also been stolen, as well as more modern coins from the early 20th century. The items were locked away and only used for exhibitions and special viewings.

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire police said museum staff had worked on the collection recently, but the thefts came to light only when another museum made a request to borrow some of the items.

The theft was recorded with the Metropolitan police arts crime unit as well as the Arts Council England security advisory service in the hope that the thief would try to sell them.

Meanwhile, additional security measures and procedures have been put in place at the storage facility.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Dee Hornblower said: "There has been no sign of a break-in at the premises, so the possibility that this was carried out with inside knowledge has at this stage not been ruled out. We have circulated details of the stolen items to every police force in the country in the hope that they can be traced."

Derby city council cabinet member for leisure and culture Martin Repton said: "Our ultimate fear is that some of these items which are of a relative low monetary value could potentially be discarded by the culprit or culprits, meaning that they would be lost for ever with little chance of recovery.

"We are therefore also appealing to members of the public who may have any information to contact Derbyshire police."

Anyone with information about the incident, or the whereabouts of the stolen items, should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555 111. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Eames: The Architect and the Painter – review

This documentary about the famous designers celebrates a unique kind of American creativity that anticipates the digital age

This documentary by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey celebrates a unique kind of American creativity. Charles Eames, in underacknowledged partnership with his artist wife, Ray Eames, created a design studio in the mid-20th century in Venice, California. It was not merely a question of their classic Eames chair. They worked in almost every field of art, architecture and design; acting like an ad agency, they accepted commissions from big corporations like IBM to produce idiosyncratic promotional films that humanised their sponsors and look now like the most earnest but entertaining instructional movies liable to be shown in US high schools. The most celebrated of these is Powers of Ten (1968), a 9-minute animation about relative scale starting with an overhead shot of a sunbathing couple, zooming out progressively into space and then back into a micro-cosmos of molecules and atoms – it brilliantly anticipates Google Earth. Eames's spirit lives on in the careers of Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.

Rating: 3/5 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

London arts venues report mixed fortunes during Olympic Games

London 2012 Games causing low turnout at British Museum and West End theatres but National Theatre and BFI report boom

Despite the eerily deserted streets of central London, arts and entertainments bosses are reporting very mixed fortunes during the Olympic Games. Some have seen visitor numbers plunge since the Games started, such as the British Museum where visitor numbers are down by 25% and some West End theatres down by a third, but others including the National Theatre report business as good as last year, with near full houses every night.

Although box-office figures have not yet been compiled, anecdotally many venues report that business is picking up this week as Londoners realise there are bargains to be had, and that travel – after warnings of transport chaos initially scared people into staying home – has so far been easier than before the Olympics.

Terri Paddock, editor of the Whatsonstage website, said many of their posts are reporting empty streets, and theatres surviving by heavy discounting and last-minute sales. "I live in Lambeth, work in Tottenham Court Road and am walking through the West End throughout the day and evening. I can tell you personally that I have never seen it so quiet during my 20+ years living in London," she said.

The British Film Institute is on track for a record month, with the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises sold out for the next six weeks on their giant Imax screen, and at its South Bank cinemas spectacular advance sales for its season of every Hitchcock film. "We are forecast to exceed target for attendance during the month," a spokeswoman said.

However at the British Museum, normally a heaving mass of overseas visitors in August, visitor numbers are down 25% on July/August last year, and there are plenty of tickets available on the day for the major exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World – which was expected to be one of the blockbusters of this summer. "We know this is the general picture from speaking to other venues," a spokeswoman said. "We've very deliberately scheduled the Shakespeare exhibition to run on to 25 November, and we're expecting a very different picture after the Olympics and when the schools go back. It's actually a really nice time now to visit cultural attractions, without the usual crowds and it's so easy to get around in London."

In stark contrast, at the National Theatre it has been standing room only on many nights for all their shows, with the starriest, Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens – traditionally regarded as one of Shakespeare's least appealing plays – selling out for almost all shows, and 90% sold for all the Olympics dates. George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma is doing least well, but has still already sold 60% of available tickets for the same dates.

A spokeswoman said the bulk of ticket sales are to their regulars in London and the south-east, but sales to overseas visitors wandering in on the day are healthy too, and all the free activities in and around the building on the South Bank are very well attended.

The Society of London Theatres, representing 52 theatres mainly in the West End, said numbers are picking up this week, compared to last week when many had banks of empty seats to rival any of the Olympics venues. They also report that people are recognising there are bargains to be had: business is brisk at the TKTS discount ticket booth in Leicester Square, operated by the society. Ticket sales for the Kids Week promotion, now expanded to the whole month of August, which offers free or heavily discounted tickets to under-16s accompanied by a full paying adult, are well ahead of last year – 100,000 tickets have already been sold, compared to 70,000 for the whole promotion last year.

The Tate Modern gallery has been on a roll this summer, with massive publicity for its new Tanks underground space, a string of new exhibition openings, and many of the Festival 2012 events happening around it on the South Bank. However a spokeswoman said that although the place is still buzzing, ticket sales are down for the charging exhibitions. Further down on the opposite bank Tate Britain – not helped by its main restaurant closing until next year for renovations – has also seen a sharp drop in ticket sales.

At the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, which would normally expect 20,000 people a day at this time of year, and long queues outside the gates before opening time, staff say they are "still busy, but noticeably quieter". A spokeswoman added "it makes it a really fantastic time to visit". The Museum of London also reports visitor numbers well down, and suspects that their mainly family audience was put off by the warnings of transport problems. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Somerset House to show Valentino collection that took 50 years to make

Valentino: Master of Couture to feature over 130 of the Italian designer's gowns, as worn by Grace Kelly and Julia Roberts

A 60-metre catwalk will be installed in Somerset House in London this autumn as part of a retrospective spanning 50 years of the work of the fashion designer Valentino Garavani.

Valentino: Master of Couture is set to feature over 130 hand-crafted gowns, worn by the likes of Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. They will include the wedding dress Jackie Kennedy wore to marry Aristotle Onassis in 1968 alongside Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece's pearl-encrusted ivory silk wedding gown from 1995.

The outfits, painstakingly made by the finest dressmakers and fashion specialists, have never been showcased in the UK before.

Alongside red-carpet looks, such as Julia Roberts's 2001 black Oscar dress, catwalk pieces and one-off commissions, the show will also feature photography and mementoes from the designer's personal archive. Clothes will be themed in groups according to style, from volume to a section celebrating the designer's trademark red. Films showing the designer at work in the atelier will also be screened.

Somerset House, the main site for London fashion week since 2009, has previously staged innovative exhibitions celebrating the likes of avant garde label Maison Martin Margiela and style magazine Dazed & Confused. The director of Somerset House, Gywn Miles, said: "We are delighted to welcome Valentino and show off his beautiful designs in such a spectacular way."

Garavani has not designed for the fashion house since his retirement in 2007. His career has previously been celebrated with an exhibition in Rome and a documentary film, Valentino: The Last Emperor.

Last month, the Valentino brand was bought by Mayhoola, an investment group thought to be backed by the Qatari royal family.

Designed since 2008 by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, who previously worked alongside Garavani, the label has successfully staged a revival. The duo's collections have received critical acclaim while appealing to a new generation of the young and fashionable, including Alexa Chung and Carey Mulligan.

• Valentino: Master of Couture, is at Somerset House, London from 29 November to 3 March © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 01 2012

Food photography: the tricks of the trade

Social networks are now full of pictures of people's lunches and dinners. But follow a few easy tips and you can produce truly mouthwatering images

Last week, I met my new neighbour for the first time, at 7am, over the garden fence. He was getting on his bicycle; I was squatting, in my pyjamas, photographing an ice cream sundae. It wasn't until later I realised he probably thought me strange. Barbecuing jerk chicken on a grey and chilly Monday to get a shot before the rain sets in, or crouching over a lone scotch egg in the local park is all in a day's work for me.

I never gave food photography much thought before joining the industry. My first food shoot, while on work experience with a BBC cookery magazine, was a shock. Not only was there a photographer and a food stylist, who cooked and groomed the dishes, I was making tea for the photographer's assistant, prop stylist, and art director. It took all day to take four photographs.

Nowadays, I take my own shots for my "Perfect" columns, although the picture editor offers gentle advice, usually a plea for "more natural light!" Hence the incident in the garden. Natural light is an obsession with photographers. As Hélène Dujardin, chef turned blogger and professional food photographer, writes in her book Plate to Pixel, the second thing people notice, after the food, "is how the light hits a certain part of the dish ... too much or too little, will make a viewer like or dislike a photograph.". And all light is not created equal – shot under the energy-saving bulb in my kitchen, food has a sickly yellowy cast.

You can use professional lighting kit, but Dujardin doesn't think it "natural to the human eye". And artifice is a definite no-no in modern food photography. Chris Terry, who has photographed cookbooks for the likes of Jamie Oliver and Anna Hansen, is quite clear. "Use daylight, not the crap light in the cooker hood ... don't use the flash on your compact camera or phone unless you work for forensics."

Easy. Except, it's not that clear-cut. Food and drink photographer Paul Winch-Furness, who runs photography courses in fashionably dim restaurants and busy markets, thinks every light has its place. If the photo is for "people who have to come home and bake in the evening, then you don't want natural light". It's more realistic, as far as they're concerned, to show your cake basking in the warm glow of a lamp instead.

Handily, things shouldn't look too perfect these days: a fingerprint in the icing, or a slightly wonky souffle helps people relate to the food: "People don't want a photo to make them feel stupid," says Winch-Furness. Jonathan Gregson, a photographer and director whose work has appeared in everything from Hovis ads to cookbooks agrees that details entice: "How frosty ice cream melts and runs down the side of a cone … these lovely foodie bits which, more often than not, people are tempted to clean up. Aiming for imperfection in an image is no bad thing"

Things were not always like this. Pictures from the 1950s, when cookbooks embraced photography in earnest, tended towards fussy presentation, but little attempt at scene setting, with dishes crammed into the frame. Cookbooks from the 1980s and 90s are all microscopic garnishes and towering cakes, rarely encouraging the home cook to have a go.

Stuart Ovenden, deputy art director at the BBC's Good Food magazine, says that this has changed recently: "Five years ago we'd agonise about the placement of herbs, or that, in a salad, everything was perfectly evenly distributed; nowadays, we're more likely to leave mistakes in for a more interesting picture." Perhaps that's why no food stylist I talk to admits to using the old mashed-potato ice-cream trick, or the infamous hidden tampon to create steam.

It's all down to what Winch-Furness calls the rhetoric of the image. "People know how to read a photograph these days," he says. The light, the crockery, the background, all tell their story. He is not wrong.

Everyone is a photographer now. (Except, perhaps, me.) I have received a bit of criticism from readers. My ginger cake looked like "something my dog regurgitated", while the summer pudding was described as "bloody".

But what amateurs can forget is Chris Terry's golden rule: "Unless the food is being photographed as evidence, the point is to make people want to grow, cook, eat, or even just enjoy looking at it." The briefest skim online will prove that it is all too easy to lose sight of this.

Smartphones, with their eight megapixel cameras and nifty apps for giving your fish and chips that sun-bleached look on a wet day in Widnes, or turning them into panoramas, have those with only the slightest interest in food snapping away at the table. And while natural is best, neglecting to remove the dirty paper napkin from the shot is enough to put the entire internet off its dinner. Bad food photography must have overtaken cute kittens and naked ladies as the scourge of the worldwide web. Uyen Luu, a Vietnamese cookery teacher, cook and food writer, takes gorgeous pictures of her dinners using the Instagram app, and says she likes using her phone because it's so easily accessible: "I love to quickly style a plate of food, a scene, snap and share."

On the flipside, not all fancy apps are a good idea. "Everyone will have seen beautiful cookbooks and magazines with lovely photography," Terry says. "They are beautiful for a reason, don't go way off-piste with the weird, cross-processed filters. They look shit. Just don't."

Armed with all this advice, I take a picture of this week's "perfect" - salade niçoise. It is a Mediterranean dish, and the sun is finally out, so I plate it on fishy crockery and take it outside, bearing in mind the sage advice of Delicious magazine's food editor Lizzie Kamenetzky, that salad is "all quite last-minute – it goes quite quickly, so work fast". I toss ingredients, take experimental shots, then artfully scatter olives and a drizzle of dressing, ensuring that all the ingredients are visible.

I send the results to Gregson. He approves of the overhead angle, observing that it "suits things which have a lot of top detail [or] are bitty, like chopped salads", and the wooden surface, which doesn't vie with the food for attention. He is not keen on my beloved crockery, which "fights with the food ... the eye finds it hard to know where to look". A simple muted glaze is his choice but, as I haven't yet built up my prop cupboard, I settle for plain white.

The bright sunlight, which I fondly imagined would evoke Nice in high summer, doesn't flatter the food – the salad looks sweaty. He suggests taking the dish into the shade to catch "the sky reflecting in the shiny surface of the olives", thus the colours look less harsh . I like his idea of including salad servers in the edge of the frame and, as it's a meal for two, he advises taking a serving away, "as though someone were just tucking in", to give the shot structure and a story.

The results? Well, you can judge for yourself. I wouldn't claim my photography is as perfect as my salad, but you know what they say about practice ...

Top tips

• Don't splash out on equipment: "limiting yourself can force you to be creative".

• Plan your picture and decide on the story you want to tell, but don't overcomplicate things.

• Plan composition and background: "Don't leave your can of Red Bull in the shot!"

• Experiment: Take pictures in different locations or lights to see what works.

• Get as much light as possible, and balance your camera on a tripod or a flat surface – "just hold it still!"

Inspirational food photography at,, and © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Dieter Roth: the video-diary Rembrandt

Dieter Roth chronicled the stuff of life with a poetic, sarcastic eye. He also filmed his death in meticulous, heartbreaking detail. Jonathan Jones on the standout show of this year's Edinburgh art festival

Dieter Roth sits at his desk, wearing a silk dressing gown and a soft cap. A lamp casts a warm glow as he studies a sheet of paper in front of him. Elsewhere, on another screen, we see the German-born artist watering his plants. He turns the camera so that it catches him walking outdoors where, in pallid sunlight, he pours nutrient-enriched water into a watering can. Soon he will be dead.

Dieter Roth made Solo Scenes in 1998, the final year of his life, thanks to an illness caused by alcoholism. At this time of all times, he chose to put himself under surveillance by setting up cameras throughout his house and studios in Germany, Switzerland and Iceland, filming himself going about his daily activities. On screen after screen, 128 in all, the sick artist, born in 1930, draws, makes notes, and just sits at his desk thinking. He looks busy, but it is hard to tell if he is creating new works or simply cataloguing old ones. Cameras catch him pottering about, even sitting on the toilet. Again and again, Roth's face peers in concentration at his work. His body in the dressing gown is large, his beard noble.

As I watch Solo Scenes, on show at the Fruitmarket gallery as part of this year's Edinburgh art festival, I start to feel as if I'm looking at a Rembrandt self-portrait reimagined as a video diary. Throughout his life, the 17th-century Dutch artist painted himself, scrutinising his face from every angle, posing as a knight in armour or the Prodigal Son. Then, in old age, he showed himself with a harrowing dignity. Those final self-portraits look back at us with a terrible truth: we age, we die.

Roth must have known he looked like old Rembrandt in his farewell video. The anglepoise lamps that light his nocturnal labours give him the twilight colours of Rembrandt's kindly brush. Roth bows out with dignity, even when we see him on the loo – because, even there, he is reading, thinking.

What would you do if you had a year to live? Roth worked on. In almost every scene, he is intent on his art. Even when he is not producing, he is thinking about producing. Thinking, thinking. It is his dedication and his seriousness that come across. Once you know what he was facing, this autumnal kaleidoscope of flickering screens becomes an emotional tidal wave. Solo Scenes is about what we do in the face of death – and what Roth does is insist on life. From scribbling on a pad to caring for his plants, he clings to its everyday beauty.

People video themselves in every moment, every embarrassment, these days. Art needs structure. Roth was more controlled. Cameras are placed at carefully chosen positions to capture powerful shots of this private world. The formal composition lends this intimate work grandeur, the sense of planning and order adding to the feeling of self-discipline in the face of disaster. It's what makes this such a harrowing encounter with the big things.

Who was Dieter Roth that his passing was so special? He was one of the most elusive and brilliant artists of the late 20th century. His works, the fragments of his sprawling creativity that can be seen in museums or tracked in private collections, include an old zinc bathtub filled with chocolate-covered busts of Beethoven; and an installation called Bar 2, a fully functioning bar complete with overflowing ashtrays.

Roth, from that generation of redemptive Germanic artists who emerged in the 1960s, looked at the stuff of modern life with a sarcastic, poetic eye. He kept diaries in which he worked out all his ideas and sketched out all his fantasies. In this exhibition, his diaries are shown as works of art in their own right, allowing us a glimpse into his reeky creative mind. One series of drawings seems to show his own head exploding into cosmic squiggles and monstrous caricatures. Another, sketched on a visit to Chicago, depicts his guardian angel.

Although an extraordinary draughtsman, Roth was not interested in turning that skill into something he could sell. His attitude to money, success and the consumer society is summed up in Flat Waste, his most stupefying diary of all. On rows of tidy shelves sit scores of files, each containing a month's worth of waste from his studio (anything that was less than 5mm thick). Plastic binders hold the detritus. Scrap paper. More scrap paper. A Gauloises cigarette pack. A Marlboro cigarette pack. Hotel stationary. A torn-up bill. The stuff of life, the stuff of death.

Few artists so fulfilled the great 20th-century tradition of art, begun with Dada, that spurns all self-indulgence, ultimately becoming identical to real life. The fact that he kept his beauty for his diaries, and rigorously avoided summing up his achievement in any saleable, elegant form, makes Roth, after his death, a monumental human archive – one that's just beginning to be opened up in this important, heartbreaking exhibition.

As an intense and inward artist from northern Europe, Roth would have warmed to the spooky fjords and winter suns in Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape, at the Scottish National Gallery (also part of the festival). In the late 19th century, artists began to look at the world through spectacles tinged absinthe green and suicidal black. Symbolism rejected outward appearances in favour of inner truth. The world is shown in shockingly subjective ways: mountains became nightmarish symbols of death, the sea a phantom.

This excellent survey excels at setting the titans of the age – Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch, Monet – alongside the less well known and sometimes wickedly eccentric artists. With its radiating sea and sky captured in unreal colours, Albert Trachsel's The Island of Blossoming Trees (Dream Picture) looks like a psychedelic album cover, yet it was painted around 1912. And if you thought The Killing was an eerie journey into Scandinavian bleakness, take a look at Eugene Jansson's 1899 painting of Riddarfjärden: the Stockholm lake is transformed into a pool of midnight darkness strangely illuminated by phosphorescent sea creatures, with a horizon tinted blood-red.

It is enough to send you running to the nearest comedy venue.

• Both shows end 14 October. Details: © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Briony Campbell's best photograph

'They were working together as dancers – but there was a feeling something more might occur'

I spent a year teaching in Zanzibar when I was 19 and fell in love with a local boy. It only lasted a few months, but it got me interested in the complexities of a relationship between two people who have grown up very differently. Afterwards, I kept going back to Africa, trying to tell positive stories with my pictures, but I never showed them to anyone because I felt inhibited – being a white girl with a camera, talking about people's lives that I knew little about. It's the classic photographer's conundrum.

I took this shot of Jessie and Addisu at Lake Langano, Ethiopia, in February this year. It's part of a project about Britain's links with east Africa, explored through couples consisting of one person from each place. Jessie and Addisu were dancers who met while working on a show two years ago. They kept in touch, then spent days together in London whenever he flew over, but nothing had happened romantically. They then decided to work on a piece together in Addis Ababa. Although they were meeting with a professional agenda, there was a feeling that something more might occur, so it was a big deal for them to agree to me coming along and taking pictures.

I spent three weeks out there, getting to know them. When it came to taking pictures, I felt like a bit of a third wheel. They worked solidly in a hot studio, so that was the main focus. Jessie told me things were developing between them on a personal level, but it hadn't been addressed. I tried to encourage those conversations to happen with a camera in their faces. They were very tolerant.

Then, just before I left, we took a road trip. It was a long journey and when we finally reached our destination, we ran into this beautifully refreshing lake. It was completely deserted but somehow, within minutes of us being in the water, an audience gathered. The boy in the picture stayed for ages, watching as closely as he could.

As Jessie and Addisu stood together, their feelings seemed quite apparent. I worried I was holding them too long for a picture; when I stopped, they awkwardly started clowning around. But in that moment it became clear, in my mind at least, that they had fallen in love.


Born: Swiss Cottage, London,1980

Studied: London College of Communications

Influences: Sally Mann and the films of Lynne Ramsay and Claire Denis

High point: The overwhelming response to The Dad Project, and how much i. It helped me deal with my father's death.

Low point: I once travelled to Tanzania, and my bag, with all my film in it, was stolen.

Tip: Say yes as much as possible – without compromising your morals. But don't expect accolades, financial or otherwise, anytime soon.

• Briony Campbell is in The Bar Tur Photography Award exhibition, Paradise Row Gallery, London W1, 21-25 August. Details: © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Tehran exhibition reveals city's hidden Warhol and Hockney treasures

Paintings collected with help of Iran's last queen, Farah Pahlavi, and safeguarded in museum basement, on show for first time

It is the finest collection of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the US, boasting works by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.

But the pieces have been stacked in the basement of Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art for more than 30 years, gathering dust in storage. Censors in Iran classed some as un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay, and they have never been shown in public. Others have been displayed only once or twice.

But now a number of the collection's paintings are on show for the first time in Tehran as part of the museum's Pop Art & Op Art exhibition, featuring works by Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Victor Vasarely, Richard Hamilton and Jasper Johns.

"Many of the works in the exhibition are shown for the first time," Hasan Noferesti, the museum's director for art programmes, told the Mehr news agency. "The exhibition aims to show the evolution of these artistic movements."

More than 100 pieces from the museum's remarkable collection are on display, according to Mehr, along with a series of works from Mexico that have been dedicated to the museum in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution and the 200th anniversary of the country's independence.

James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Larry Rivers and RB Kitaj are among other artists whose works are in the exhibition, which runs until mid-August.

Iran's unique hidden treasure was bought before the Islamic revolution, under the supervision of Farah Pahlavi, the former queen of Iran, who fled the country with the late shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

The 38-year reign of the shah, self-proclaimed kings of kings, came to an end after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran receiving a hero's welcome and founded the Islamic republic.

The collection includes Pollock's Mural on Indian Red Ground, considered to be one of his most important works and estimated to be worth more than $250m, as well as important pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Whistler and Marcel Duchamp.

There are even pieces by artists whom the former empress met in person, including the Russian-French painter Marc Chagall and the English sculptor Henry Moore. The collection is thought to be worth more than $2.5bn.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pahlavi explained that the collection was bought during Iran's 1970s oil boom. "Our oil revenue had significantly increased and I spoke to [the shah] and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda [then prime minister], and told them that it was the best time to buy some of our ancient works both internally and from outside.

"I thought how good it would be to have a museum where we could put the works of our contemporary artists. Later I thought, why shouldn't we include foreign works. This is how it all started … at that time our curators and collectors were mostly interested in traditional art and not so much in the modern art."

Pahlavi's interest in western art is believed to derive from her education in France.

Kamran Diba, an Iranian architect and a cousin of the queen, was commissioned to design the museum in the heart of the capital and later selected the works with help from various people, including the presidents of Christie's and Sotheby's.

Pahlavi said: "I was very worried for the fate of those paintings during those events [at the time of the revolution], I was worried that the revolutionaries would destroy them. But fortunately the museum staff protected them in the basement.

"Some years ago the director of the museum showed some of the pieces and made a catalogue listing the works. I'm happy that people have realised what was hidden there for years."

Between 1997 and 2005, during the mandate of the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, when restrictions on art were temporarily relaxed, Alireza Samiazar, then head of the museum, struggled to secure permission for the first display of some of the works.

In 2005, to the dismay of the regime's hardliners, a large number of the paintings were brought out for an exhibition. That show sparked controversy. Francis Bacon's Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants, with seeming homosexual content, was deemed inappropriate and removed from the exhibition. However, many contentious works survived the censors. Andy Warhol's portraits of Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe are in Tehran and his paintings of Mao Zedong have been put on display in full for the first time in the pop art exhibition.

Despite the contempt of Tehran's rulers for western art, the collection has been safely guarded – bar a Warhol portrait of Pahlavi herself, which, she said, had been cut with a knife.

In 1994 the museum exchanged one of its many remarkable paintings – Woman III, by the Dutch-American expressionist Willem de Kooning – for a rare illuminated volume of Shahnameh, an ancient Persian poetry book, which belonged to the American art collector Arthur Houghton, because the painting had shown too much nudity in the eyes of the authorities.

The swap infuriated many, including Pahlavi. "If they were really interested in Shahnameh, couldn't they pay $6m and keep De Kooning's painting? The US businessman David Geffen, who bought the painting for some $20m, sold it for $110m few years ago. The De Kooning exchange is the sole exchange they've done so far and I hope it remains the last one."

Of the many ironies surrounding the artwork is the fact that Iran's powerful Guardian Council, a group of clerics, intervened a decade ago to forbid the selling or exchange of the works because, they said, trade in un-Islamic and pornographic works was prohibited.

Ali Amini Najafi, an Iranian art critic based in Germany, said: "The works in the collection are not randomly or arbitrarily chosen, it is clear that people involved in selecting them had a consistent plan to pick relevant and significant samples to depict the evolution of modern art and also to make sure that all movements from impressionists to pop art are represented.

"This collection was gathered at a defining moment of our history when Iranians were taking distance from their traditional past and were showing curiosity with modern art." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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