Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 9 September 2011

Descending Order

I always try hard to stay on one of the themes suggested by Alan’s photo prompt in Sepia Saturday. Having spent a couple of pleasant, but seemingly fruitless, hours trawling my family albums, I came up with the one above, almost in desperation. Alan’s picture had President Wilson descending the staircase of the observation platform of a train. The above picture shows a little man, on the right, aged about three years, coming down the stairs of a wooden bridge. This is from my husband’ s family album and is one of a series of shots of him taken at Willow Lane Nursery, Lancaster, probably in 1952. I think it must have been a pretty progressive kindergarten, judging by the other shots, with lots of opportunities for learning through play. It’s the least clear of the set, but it does fit the theme - which I am determined to follow.

This one should raise a chuckle. The man in the photograph (my father) has been decapitated, but is still grimly hanging on to his duty-free cigarettes. That’s my Mum, just about to step onto terra firma, sporting a trendy trouser suit and newly set hair, and clutching her coat and vanity case. Sandwiched between them is a 18 year-old Me, in my red PVC mac and backcombed hair. It looks as though I’d plastered on the mascara as well. I was obviously out to attract as many Spanish waiters as possible - for this was Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, and it would be my first taste of Spanish sun. This was 1970, long before Ibiza became the ‘Party Capital of the World’ and was still a largely unspoilt and beautiful island.

The next sequence, which immediately came to mind when I was scratching the inside of my brain, is the iconic, ‘Man ascending stairs’ by Eadweard Muybridge in 1884-5. He was a hugely influential pioneer photographer and had a fascinating life, which included the murder of his wife’s lover. You can be diverted for a few moments by clicking here. It’s well worth the read.


It won’t have escaped your notice that this man is neither descending the stairs (as in the original prompt), nor wearing any clothes. By the look of his well-toned muscular physique he was probaby a body-builder/artists’ model. Muybridge did produce similar moving images of a female actually descending stairs, but I am far too coy to reproduce in my blog; voyeurs may click here.

So, for a man descending a staircase, but also naked as the day he was born, what better illustration than Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending Staircase No 2’, which Duchamp acknowledged was influenced by the work of Muybridge among others.

And to bring this post back full circle to the original prompt, there is also a Presidential connection. After seeing the above work in an exhibition, President Roosevelt wrote:

"Take the picture which for some reason is called 'A Naked Man Going Down Stairs'. There is in my bathroom a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture. Now, if, for some inscrutable reason, it suited somebody to call this rug a picture of, say, 'A Well-Dressed Man Going Up a Ladder', the name would fit the facts just about as well as in the case of the Cubist picture of the 'Naked Man Going Down Stairs'. From the standpoint of terminology each name would have whatever merit inheres in a rather cheap straining after effect; and from the standpoint of decorative value, of sincerity, and of artistic merit, the Navajo rug is infinitely ahead of the picture.” (History as Literature by Theodore Roosevelt 1913)

So there you have it, Men (of all ages, shapes and sizes) descending and ascending stairs, either clothed or naked, some complete, others, with body parts missing.

My three year-old grandaughter, who is visiting, wandered into the room whilst I was writing this post and I asked her what she thought the picture above was. She looked nonplussed, so I asked her if it looked like someone coming downstairs. She wasn’t so sure. “Like Bananas, in pyjamas!” I prompted helpfully. Suddenly recognition dawned. Now it all made perfect sense!

21 comments:

  1. Chuckling away at the 'Bananas in Pyjamas' comment! :-)

    I've seen an awful lot of girls sporting similar blow-dried and backcombed 'dos' to yours in the plane photo just recently!

    Jem xXx

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  2. Fortunately we live in a bungalow!
    Eadweard Muybridge did a lot of 'moving' pictures like the man ascending stairs. See
    http://bobscotney.blogspot.com/2011/03/beshekee.html for one I used earlier on Sepia Saturday.
    These days a nursery school would have a health and safety fit over a bridge like that in your first photo. We had more sense back then.

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  3. The photo of your debut in Ibiza is wonderful, Nell, and says so much about the times, of which I'm sure you have many great memories. I also like both Duchamp's painting - which to me seems very Picasso-influenced - and the Muybridge sequences.

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  4. The picture of you leaving the plane looks like you are escaping from a whale, like Jonah

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  5. By coincidence, I was just looking at Duchamps's painting. (I was reminded of it by something I am planning to post tomorrow.)

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  6. Children do say the funniest things! I like your stair theme...the little toddler is adorable as is the stunning hat on the airplane stewardess! great post, thanks. Have a great weekend!

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  7. I love the way you have (a) stuck to the theme and (b) led us up and down stairs in the most entertaining way.

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  8. Reading all the posts for Sepia Saturday you begin to understand just how true is the saying "... a picture is worth a thousand words"

    We started off with a fairly straightforward image of the back of a train carriage and 5 people, and we have ended up with umpteen themes. And, as you clearly show, each theme can then be expanded and developed.

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  9. an interesting collection there. Up the stairs and down again, is clever. Oh what a photo of you as the filling in a sandwich between your parents.

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  10. I've always enjoyed looking at Duchamp’s masterpiece. Great theme!

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  11. so, this is the post you say was inspired by Tony's and my own style, eh?! this is what it looks like from the other side...

    i like it, a whole lot!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  12. You've done it again - taken us on an almost perfect tour of the theme, tied ideas together, let different ages cohabit with ease and thoroughly entertained us.

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  13. Loved going downstairs and up and down again with you. Great post!

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  14. Ha! You did great on all of this ... talk about thinking outside the lines and pulling it all together. That naked guy sure is built ... I did go to the wiki page and see some of the other work by Eadweard Muybridge, very interesting stuff.

    The photo of the kids on the bridge is great and reminded me of one that I could have used instead of the ones that I did.

    I guess that I am like Pres. Roosevelt; I can't figure that painting out either.

    Thanks so much for working so hard on this post; I enjoyed it very much. Thanks, too, for stopping by to visit.

    Kathy M.

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  15. Great Job Nell! I enjoyed your post very much...Bananas wearing Pyjamas ...lol priceless :)

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  16. I love that picture of you getting off the plane. Such classic styles.

    I love the contrast and the common thread of these photos. As for Duchamp, he obviously saw something that Roosevelt didn't.

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  17. The only thing missing from this is Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dancing down the stairs!

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  18. Wow- you took the theme for a stroll up and down the stairs- and did a wonderful job of it!

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  19. Nice post. Watch out for the last step!

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  20. You've found some pretty good images, I think. I don't think I could have done as well, but perhaps its a matter of getting your mind around it....

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  21. I love the way you've tied the sequence of pictures together. I always wanted a hairdo like that but my curls would never allow it. At least I don't go out of fashion, even though I'm never in it.

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