Points of View

Dalrymple writes in the new edition of the New Criterion about how a visit to a photographic exhibition in Arles has caused him to discover, for the first time, the power and profundity of photography:

What a fool I have been all these years not to appreciate the power of photography to act as a template for thought and reflection! How many other such idiocies have I been prey to? I fear it might be many. Now I even find myself preparing a book of photographs, to convey something that cannot be conveyed in any other way, at any rate not so economically or powerfully, and perhaps not at all.

Read it here (purchase required)

Dalrymple took many photographs during his extensive travels earlier in life (see for example the front and back covers of Sweet Waist of America). Might we see a new facet of his career?

6 thoughts on “Points of View

  1. Jaxon

    “What a fool”
    Yes well, the idea of anyone ever saying of Theodore Dalyrmple –

    “He lived life to the full”

    strikes me as an irony so extreme it’s actually hilarious.

  2. Tuesday Msigwa

    It’s very good news that Daniels is preparing a book of photographs. He already has the eye of a fine photographer. Some of his best images, as his readers will know, are to be found in ‘Monrovia Mon Amour’. ‘Prince Y. Johnson’s bodyguard’, ‘Outside the Maternity Hospital’, ‘The Mayfair Amusement Club and Star Grill’ and ‘The Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research’ are bleak and powerful images. The best of the 16 photos included in the book is, in my view, ‘A Masonic Grandmaster gestures to the ruins’.

    I have a very strong wish to see the photographs of the Steinway grand piano with its legs sawn off. These were taken by ‘Michel’, who explored the Centennial Hall with Daniels. Daniels writes (p129 of the 1992 John Murray hardback edition): “Lying on the ground…was a Steinway grand piano (the only one in the country…), its legs sawn off. The body of the piano, still gleaming black and in perfect condition, was in direct contact with the floor, while the three sawn legs were strewn about….A long-contemplated but long-frustrated revenge upon a whole alien civilization…. simmering rage and envy….Michel took photos of the stricken instrument….How long…before some post-modernist composer has a pianist not play the instrument but, in front of the audience, saw off its legs, to the craven applause of critics afraid to be thought stupid or reactionary?….We felt we had secured something of a scoop….We returned to the Olympic Hotel….There we found two…British photographers….I described to them…the destruction of the piano….’What do we care about a fucking piano?’ one of them said….I despaired then of my own country.”

    I often wonder why these piano photographs were not included in ‘Monrovia Mon Amour’. I hope that they still exist and, if so, that ‘Michel’ will allow Daniels to include them in the proposed collection.

  3. Seymour Clufley

    Just to clarify, Tuesday, which book is that excerpt from?

    It’s very nice to read it, as it’s a re-telling of one of my very favourite Dalrymple stories. I think it pretty much sums up his entire “thing” – first the destruction of the piano, then the inability of people to see the importance of destroying a piano.

  4. Tuesday Msigwa

    Hello, Seymour.

    Yes, the sawn-off grand piano is one of the most resonant (mental) images of the Daniels-Dalrymple oeuvre, don’t you think?

    As you rightly say, it summarises a great deal.

    The truncated piano is an emblem of barbarism and savagery, yes. But immediately after this, the Daniels lens brings into sharp focus the moral cretinism of the modern West. The photojournalists’ incomprehension, their vacuity, is brilliantly portrayed. They are complicit in the savagery that, as a species of war profiteers, they document. Daniels has penetrated to the rotten heart of the West here. No living writer is more astute on the subject of Western corruption.

    Since coming across the passage I have not been able to think of Liberia without bringing to mind the grand piano (mental – if the photo is lost it may have to remain mental) image, together with, of course, the video of Prince Y. Johnson having Samuel Doe tortured. You’ve no doubt seen it on YouTube; it is highly disturbing, even emetic. Daniels has seen the video and ‘Monrovia Mon Amour’ includes a description of his reaction.


    ‘Monrovia Mon Amour’ (Anthony Daniels 1992, published by John Murray), pages 129 to 135. A very great book of travel and reportage that is, naturally, out of print. In the unlikely event that you don’t possess a copy, I can send you a scan of the relevant pages.

  5. Seymour Clufley

    I agree with everything you say, Tuesday.

    There is something horrific about defiling a piano. My mother told me that in the small working-class town where she grew up in the 1950s, there was one day each year when the locals would all join in destroying a piano. It was a kind of annual “festival”. I couldn’t believe that such things had happened in Britain during a time when, almost universally, working-class people were trying to be moral, aspiring upwards, taking responsibility and education seriously. It just goes to show that there is always this tendency in people to despise high culture, even when they would have their children bask in it (by way of university education etc).

    As for TD’s experience, I read the story as he recounted it in the essay “What We Have to Lose” (http://www.city-journal.org/html/11_4_what_we_have.html). I wasn’t aware he’d written of it elsewhere as I haven’t read his books pre-LatB. On Amazon, Monrovia mon Amour is £89! If you’d like to scan the relevant pages and send them to slushprodukt at yahoo dot co dot uk, I’d be very grateful indeed!


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