To ‘take tea with Aunt Minerva’ is to be called to account by the closed group called variously the Society of Sulis, the Royal Society of Sulis, The Minerval, the Bath Artists, and the Restorers. There is no club house, no guildhall and the meetings take no minutes yet the purpose (if there is one) of what for ease I shall continue to call Aunt Minerva, is art. Painting, sculpture certainly but absolutely not photography and neither in the last century, film. It’s lovely to think of Aunt Minerva always meeting within closed doors at the National Gallery or under the glorious ceiling of the old Royal Naval College but often as not I’ve heard the choice is a house taken for the occasion, a well sited flat or even at need and hurried purpose that which I was told of, in the Ship & Shovel, Charing Cross.
Aunt Minerva is a society not for artists but for certain preservations made regarding artists. Photographs are not allowed on the premises when such are taken, nor film, and certainly not phones (that are taken from the walls during such tea, with Aunt Minerva). It has been Aunt Minerva’s avowed task to combat the scratch, that pass between what is seen and unseen, that othering, that elsewhere, that which is caught in the frames between the frames a film once took.
It was I am told bad enough in the 19th Century. Art, paint, sculpture, all comes from the hand of the artist. It is what lies within him, his mind and thoughts and whilst there were ever shadows then what was later called the scratch worked (if at all) through subtle influence, suggestion and fear, tales that spread and retold it changed. But photography comes not from the photographer, and in photographs the scratch found little doorways into our world. They could be seen, those parts of it, people in photographs always looking out and in the background or from a distant window. But who were never there to be seen. And still those agents, those sparks of the scratch, are playfully referred to as ‘daguerreo types’ or not to be confused with dull xenophobia, ‘dago-types’.
Film it seems only made what had been a case of figurative patch or metaphorical needed so much worse. For then the scratch was closer, not even seen. Present in the frames between the frames of film. Present and emerging in cinema and movie house. Half packed houses turning half-packed plus two. And so often familiar, these dago-types.
There’s less of that now. Digital cameras and storage leave no gaps, no pieces unseen. But once I’m told it was bad, and once Aunt Minerva was a busy lady indeed. A stern one too for the club or society, if there was only one at all, was for reasons of its own possessed of quite the laziest and indolent of membership.
When they can really be bothered.