The Society of Spectacle and what ‘appearance’ signifies for writers

Ruth HartleyArt, Art Process, Creativity, film, identity, Politics, Promotion, Reading, Society, WritingLeave a Comment

Marketing books and the writer as commodity

The crowd screaming in derision in The Year of the SexOlympics

I didn’t know yesterday what I would post today until a television programme last night that was supposed to be amusing made me angry. There was noisy laughter, mockery and four-letter words. Frankie Boyle, the presenter joked that Guy Debord had shot himself in his heart – or  – maybe his head – but what struck me was his mention of Guy Debord’s theories. I saw those as explaining the dilemma that present day creative artists face. We are offering stories or visual images for people to see or read but what we are forced to include is a commercial version of ourselves as part of the ‘deal’ when our ‘falsified’ appearance may have little to do with what we have actually made.


Guy Debord and his book, The Society of the Spectacle

Guy Debord

As I first heard of Debord only last night I can’t pretend to be ‘au fait’ with what The Society of the Spectacle but from what I understand, he is expressing much that I feel is true. Debord says “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” He argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” I wonder what he would have made of the World Wide Web and social media if he had not committed suicide in 1994? Nowadays police tell young women that the images they ‘photoshop’ and place on Facebook are so unlike their actual self Read More and Comment …

Tears, fears, longing, belonging and living.

Ruth HartleyAfrica, apartheid, Art, Colonialism, Creativity, Displacement, Family, Freedom Fighters, Human rights, identity, justice, Migration, Poetry, Politics, Power, Race, Racism, Religion, South Africa, War, Zambia2 Comments

Why I cried about who I might become

Delacroix’s painting of Liberty on the Barricades in Paris

“Why do you want to become a French citizen?”

I was asked this question at the end of a gruelling two hour naturalisation interview. I burst into tears.

“It’s such a difficult and important decision,” I replied, sniffling. “I’ve had to leave too many places I thought of as home. I want to live somewhere that I know to be good and just.”

I might have added “and that will accept me as a citizen”.

I might have asked “What other option do I have?”


It’s a long story that I’ll keep short

My painting of Apartheid 1994

Henry Tayali’s painting of the fight for freedom


I was born a British citizen in the Colony of Rhodesia. It was my home and I loved it. As I grew up I hated its racism. so when Rhodesia declared independence from Britain I chose to swear an oath of fealty to the Queen and remain British. I was working in South Africa then. Cape Town became my home and I loved it. As I wasn’t a South African citizen I had to report to the police routinely. That was okay. I was treated well because I was white. In fact, in those days, curious as it now seems, I would have put “European” instead of white on my immigration form. Read More and Comment …

Spain, Flamenco, Ladino and Duende

Ruth HartleyArt, Art Process, Music, Songs2 Comments

A few days in Seville

The Casa Rosado in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Plaza Espana, Seville








I have an odd relationship with Spain. I knew very little about Spain and yet, curiously, it is an intimate part of my family, and therefore, of me. This is how it began for me. My grandfather was a wool-broker from Manchester who traded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, close to the Casa Rosada of Eva Peron fame. My father spent his childhood there. Dad told me he remembered little of it. He spoke no Spanish.

One Christmas in Granada

Partal Palace, Alhambra, Granada

Alcazar Seville

It was therefore a shock on a visit to the Alhambra, to encounter the ghost of my father  in the form of a Hidalgo, a Spanish gentleman. Dad’s upbringing had somehow imprinted Spain into him. I watched as this old stranger breathed out the exact sound of relaxation that Dad always made, smiled distantly as Dad used to, then arranged himself, straight-backed, and straight-legged in a chair, with his fox terrier at his knee and his stick neatly by his side. Read More and Comment …

Géraldine de Haan Photographer: ‘Along the way’

Ruth HartleyArt, Art Process, Family, Imagination, photographyLeave a Comment

Géraldine De Haan, photographer and friend

Geraldine is holding a circular photograph in which a moving figure is swirling.

Geraldine de Haan with one of her photographic works. Photo taken by Michel Maliarevsky for La Republique

I’m lucky to know Géraldine. She is an extraordinary photographer and a stalwart friend. She works tirelessly and quietly at her own photography, but is essential to the Quinzaine de l’Image organised by Peleyre Association and John Eden. She also curates art exhibitions brilliantly.

I know. She helped me with my Corpus exhibition at Peleyre.

ALONG THE WAY or ‘En cours de route’

The photo shows the legs and lower body of a young woman who is swirling a white semi-transparent sheet of fabric around the top on her body so that it appears to be disintegrating

Woman in movement

Geraldine de Haan‘s own exhibition titled ‘En cours de route’ – ‘Along the Way’ opened at Atelier20 in Tarbes last night. It is wonderful. Do go and see it. It is mind-opening work. It is reviewed in La République by Michel Maliarevesky.

Géraldine explains her work in her own words.

“It’s a group of work about the ephemeral  body, the creative process, and the way I appreciate my home here in France. For “En cours de route” I drew from my series created over the past 35 years, which works well in the intimacy of the Atelier 20 gallery space. Living far from my origins has given me the necessary perspective and distance to realise these projects. While my work is largely narrative and autobiographical the emotions it evokes are easily recognizable to others.”

Home is where one starts from

Photo shows a young woman with shut eyes and her head ttilted back slightly. Across her face is the shadow of anothr woman in profile

Geraldine’s sister

“1984, a Sunday afternoon at my parents’ house; I take pictures of my sisters close by. I realize that I have never approached people so closely, at least not so easily and naturally. Working in this familiar context makes me realise right away that it is important for me to have a connection with what I experience in my work.”

Recycling the blues. Cyanotypes

A baby's christening robe is transparent against a lit backgound

Epiphany. Dawn (L’Aube)

“Recycling the blues, the subject and the look of the images, are a play on words. The blue colour of Cyanotypy has an ephemeral quality. Using some 19th century techniques, I discovered the pleasure of preparing my own papers. There is a whole artisanal approach to producing images from negatives that I still like.”

The cyanotype process was invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), astronomer, physicist, English chemist. This process is based on the sensitivity of iron salts to light. The cyanotype was later used by architects and engineers for a simple and fast duplication of their plans (architectural blueprints) and technical drawings.


A round tin plate contains the heads of two sheep facing each other.

Exodus. Epiphanies and Revelations

“Born into a Dutch Protestant family, I am familiar with the Bible. On Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday the Jewish people planned their hasty departure from Egypt by preparing to eat lamb (Now celebrated as the Passover.) On Good Friday, the butcher in Plaisance – near where I now live – had lambs’ heads ready to be grilled. It was an evocation of instant history for me. The intimacy of the image, the look of this animal, cancels out the violence of the massacre.

“Following up an unexpected result after an exposure, I made some series on the moving body. I work intuitively, the realisation of a project is done after a period of experimentation in my lab. This creative process is varied; my work is in silver/digital and 19th century photographic techniques.”

Un matin très tôt/ Early one morning

Geraldine is shown taking a photograph of herself in an old glass mirror. The sun is lighting up the back of her head and casting a shadow on the glass

Early one morning

“Early one morning – I saw a huge shadow falling across the the mirror in my room.  It made me laugh so I took my picture, with the shadow and reflections.

A little moment of happiness in my home in the presence of light . . . it brings me strength through the harmony of its rooms, its age is reassuring yet it gives me a future.






Par une soirée tranquille/ on a quiet evening

The photo shows an avenue lined by pollarded trees and rows of neo-classical statues catching the last rays of the winter sun.

On a quiet evening

“Visiting Herrenhausen, near Hanover, in winter, as the twilight fell very quickly over the garden, I had the impression that the statues were beginning to live their own lives.”

The Quinzaine de l’image and  Peleyre Gallery and Association

Geraldine told me how much she has gained from her work with the Quinzaine exhibition since 2011 and how it has encouraged her own work and introduced her to  other artists and photographers. It has been inspiring  for her as it has also for me. The Quinzaine and Peleyre make a very significant contribution to art and photography in this region.

Geraldine’s exhibition: “Along the Way”

We went to the opening tonight. Geraldine’s work is spiritual, without religiosity,  it’s finely crafted, but powerful, it’s subtle and straightforward, it’s reverential and ordinary, it’s serious and light, it’s beautiful, it’s strong. It is something to see because you’ll always remember the images. It’s a lovely space and the photos are well displayed. It gives you an idea of the diversity of Geraldine’s work. You can see her website here.



Tanvir Bush’s novel, CULL is personal, political, & passionate

Ruth HartleyBooks, Politics, Publication, Reading, Storytelling, video, Writing4 Comments

Tanvir Bush’s novel, CULL is launched

Tanvir Bush speaks to the audience from a podium. She is wearing a dark outfit with gold and turquoise embroidery. Her long hair has a turquoise streak

Tanvir Bush

What a launch it was too! There were 100 people in the Town Hall for the event. The Corsham Bookshop laid on the wine and snacks and managed the book sales. The event was filmed and will shortly be on YouTube. There were reading and performances and  guests, Miro Griffiths and Esther Fox, colleagues of Tanvir and disability activists whose virtual appearance was made possible by the use of tele-presence robots. It was a book launch unlike any other I’ve seen.

CULL is published by Unbound thanks to Tanvir’s agent at Curtis Brown, Karolina Sutton.


Grace, Tanvir’s first, now retired, guide dog was there

A small black guide dog made of sugar icing

Grace, the sugar guide dog from the top of the cake

Grace, the sugar icing guide dog with her harness on

One of the novel’s heroes is a guide dog called Chris. Alex, the book’s main protagonist, like Tanvir, the author, is registered blind and Chris, Alex’s guide dog is essential to the plot. Obviously Grace is the model for Chris and she made  a very excited entry onto the stage at the launch to deserved recognition from her blind human, Tanvir Bush.

Why are there unnecessary deaths of disabled people?

An overturned wheelchair rests at the bottom of a flight of stairs surrounded by floral tributes

In CULL attacks on disabled people and suicides of disabled people become common.

A newspaper poster offers a reward for information about benefit cheats specifically showing a wheelchair user

IN CULL local papers offer rewards if the public shop so-called scroungers – note the wheelchair!

6 newspaper front pages claim that the majority of benefit claimants are scroungers or skivers

The front pages of newspapers describing benefit users as scroungers. These are not from CULL but current today.

As Tanvir said her book was completed some time ago but it looks as if her hard-hitting satire about the organised culling of disabled, homeless, old and ill people is becoming more salient every day. It was advertised by the up-ended wheelchair and floral tributes in the Town Hall lobby.  We had a minutes silence for those disabled people who have died or committed suicide and whose names were marked on black flags at the launch.


The good Dr Binding

The Nazi doctor responsible for the extermination of disabled children

Tanvir carried out considerable research for her story. One character, the good Dr Binding, is based on the fact that a few doctors who are seemingly kind and caring may also be capable of murder. Tanvir studied Hitler’s personal physician, Dr Brandt, who experimented on the best ways to kill people with learning disabilities.

The most important thing is to tell a good story

The cake – CULL, the book with Grace, the sugar guide dog

CULL, the book on display in the Corsham Bookshop

The blue-framed window of Corsham Bookshop with a book display

The Corsham Bookshop in Corsham High Street






So the novel is a political satire and personal for Tanvir but at the launch she made it clear that writing a great story is what counts for her. She read excerpts from her book while it was performed by Trisha Lee and Bill Moody of Make-believe Arts and that really enthused the audience who went on to enjoy wine, cake, and buy signed copies of CULL! It was a enjoyable and exhilarating evening which finally ended in the convenient pub next door.

In the newspapers

The Flemish Weaver – the pub next door to the Town Hall

Corsham Town Hall

Tanvir Bush and Ruth Hartley are on either side of Miro Griffiths who is part of the evening in real time on an Ipad attached to a free-moving robot

Tanvir, Miro Griffiths on the tele-presence robot, and Ruth pose for the camera

There is a write up of the launch in the Gazette and Herald which to my surprise has a photo of me with Tanvir! One of my best moments was talking to Tanvir’s mentor, Miro Griffiths MBE. Miro was on his tele-presence robot which meant we also danced and twirled!

I am so very proud of my daughter, Tanvir Bush.