Wednesday, 30 May 2012

JUST LIKE A BABY BOY by Sophie Ellen

I found Sophie's work through Flickr and, in particular, liked her contemplative self-portraits. I am really drawn to self-portraiture at the moment because I find the whole question of why people photograph themselves fascinating. Why do they do it? Why do I do it? Is it a form of self love, self identification, a journey of self-discovery, a cleansing experience? I haven't got a bloody clue.

Anyway, I wrote to Sophie and I was so pleased that she replied in the positive and seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of working with me. Over the next few weeks, we spoke about ideas for the shoot and Sophie mentioned her liking of the work by Francesca Woodman and Paolo Roversi both of whom I admired greatly. She did too and said that she had been thinking about making it more personal to us both. She explained that she had not been well and had had to take some rest after finishing her course at University but that, since the start of 2012, she had been slowly getting back into it and had found that her passion for photography was stronger than ever. She took a complete twist and began doing self portraits; something she would never have contemplated doing before. The more she did, the more personal she wanted to make them. She had a lot on her mind about her own life that she would want to incorporate into her work that would make it personal to her and said that, perhaps, working along similar lines with me would make it personal to me as well, instead of me just being another model to shoot. This was music to my ears because, as I have said so much, it is the shoot that it really enjoy, the collaboration, the communication with the photographer, the sharing of ideas and the more personal, the better.

We carried on exchanging ideas for the shoot until the day I travelled up to to Suffolk on the train and Sophie met me at Brandon Station. I felt in tune with her immediately and we talked about so much eg families, our respective illnesses, photography etc. I really enjoyed the day; we started off with some photographs of just me and then went on to include both of us. Sophie showed me the shots through the back of her camera and they looked great but, she was slightly concerned that I wasn't actually saying anything which is a problem of mine. Sometimes, Jane shows me her latest painting and is very pissed off if either I say nothing or just "Yes, it's good". Quite understandably, she wants more as did Sophie. Well Sophie, here is the more. I love the photographs and how they speak of our relationship and our struggles with illness and the love and care we had both been given and which we feel for others as a consequence. Working with you was a real coming together artistically and spiritually. 

After four hours of shooting, Sophie was very tired. She took me to the Station and, when she dropped me off, I felt strangely bereft. Quite a while later, I received the photographs and, as I said to Sophie at the time, I was almost speechless. She had, very quietly, taken photographs that seemed to have tapped into the essence of me and that may have had a lot to do with the discussions we had by email beforehand and the chat in her kitchen before we started shooting. They show an amazing insight and are a perfect lesson in how a portrait should be taken. She has portrayed me in my own image which is not easy to do but it is does highlight how adept she is in discovering what makes one tick.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

MAD HATTER by Kandy Ackland

MAD HATTER by Kandy Ackland
It was almost exactly a year ago that I first met Kandy in Hove and here we were on 8th May in a rape field in the middle of the Sussex countryside creating more brilliant photographs. It was wet underfoot (as the Headmaster at my grammar school in Chichester used to announce in Assembly before telling us the bad news that we couldn't play on the sports field at break time - all those fields sport now is an ugly estate of newish houses and a small artificial games pitch.....but I digress). It was very wet and muddy underfoot and quite misty but otherwise it was a beautiful morning, all the more so for seeing the lovely Kandy again. I don't know what it is about her which is so uplifting but maybe it's because she is so game for trying things out (and succeeding) or her generally positive nature but I did feel that we were brothers-in-arms, as it were, that damp spring morning.

We parked at the side of the road and tottered (I did the tottering whilst Kandy strolled) over to the other side to negotiate an iron gate whilst a few very early morning commuters whizzed by in and out of the fog wondering who the fuck we were and what we were doing, especially once I took everything off and donned just a tailcoat, mascara  and my grandfather's silk top hat. He worked as an accountant for a railway company and presumably the hat was used for special occasions such as the opening of a new waiting room or even a new station or branch line. I never knew him but he has a lovely warm expression in the few photographs we have; he was widowed twice and married three times and had many children including my father. I digress again.

Initially, Kandty shot me using a fish-eye lens on her digital camera and then took some shots on film whilst I sat on a chair first of all and then stood up for the final shots. We then climbed back over the gate to the car. I can't really climb anymore, at least not without difficulty - the spirit and desire is still there but the flesh and muscle is weak - but, with Kandy standing by in case, I managed it. A minor triumph on an all round successful expedition.

We went on to some bluebell woods further up the road near Ditchling - it was getting lighter by now and the woods looked beautiful with the fresh green of the new foliage on the trees washed by the misty rain and set off by the soft colour of the bluebells made even more gentle due to the fact that the petals were slowly beginning to fade. I was wearing my wellington boots and assumed Kandy would want me to remove them but she asked me to keep them on and shot me again on both digital and film in a variety of poses. She then called a halt but I wanted MORE and I think we did do few more but she knew it was time to stop but the trouble with me is that I never know when to stop. Anyway, we squelched our way back to the car which was parked near a small puddle into which drops of rain were slipping intermittently off the leaves above. It looked so beautiful and I wished that I could have captured it on film. Kandy suggested I filmed it on my 'phone and so I did and, once I work out how to get photos and film off my bloody mobile, I shall add it to this post.

Well, the aftermath of the shoot was interesting. I received a set of digital photographs from Kandy very soon after the shoot and, when I looked at them for the first time, I loved so many things about them - the colour, the contrast of black against yellow and green, my engagement with the viewer and the wonderful grainy effect. However, I found the full length nudes troubling not least because I looked so fat. But, as I explained to Kandy, I have learned two things during my project; first that other people look at at you without vanity and judge the image purely on its merits and, secondly, it is essential that you walk away and come back and look again as I did the following morning. And the following morning, it was all quite different. I loved them all, although this one was my favourite as it had been at first glance. Not only do they all look stunning, they pose so many questions - who is this guy and why is he here, half dressed in evening clothes with the remnants of make up on his face possibly from the night before? I liked the why.

I threw all this plus my intitial doubts at Kandy and she responded by saying that the images were unsettling for the obvious reason that it is wholly unconventional. The images have a sense of humour about human nature and also a quite sweet 'to hell with it all' message conveyed in them. She was experimenting with the child-like confidence in the ridiculous that counteracts the seriousness of adult life and, of course, mortality. She was attempting to articulate the 'why' and this could be read in different ways. She saw the images as a lark about, a stress relieving silliness which of course, I fully identify with and that is what is important, not my bloody stomach.

"The vibrancy of nature is like a chamber of jewels in which to flaunt and revel in the majesty of it all. Your own kingdom from which we all came and will return" - Kandy Ackland.

These are so good that, only for the fourth time, I have included a second photograph from a photographer in my project


Monday, 7 May 2012

SNAP! by Clayton Bastiani

SNAP! by Clayton Bastiani

I came across Clayton's bizarre images on the internet in July 2010 and, of course, I wrote to him asking if he might be interested in joining my project. About a week later, he respond saying that it would be a pleasure to take part. He said that he lived on the Isle of Wight and that his studio was very humble consisting of two strong lights in a spare room with bits of material hanging from washing lines but that it was what he did with the pictures afterwards that transformed them into something other. It sounded good already! His initial thoughts were to create something with a timeless quality representing the degenerative aspect of my illness, something spiritual, involving childhood ambitions and incorporating personal elements to work into an image as over-laying textures - perhaps a superhero take on the physical ailments.

What with this and that, it wasn't until 2012 that we began talking in earnest again about a shoot but then Clayton's father died suddenly. However, he was still very keen to help with my project and so we plumped for 7th May as the day of the shoot on the Isle of Wight. His idea was to collect me from the ferry and then travel across to the south western part of the island and quite literally walk and talk and take pictures. He had about four ideas buzzing round his head and asked me to wear a suit and a bowler hat. 

On the day, we followed his plan but first of all we had a coffee and a chat about how the day would go and then set off to a lovely beach where I donned an overcoat and a top hat and pranced about. Then we travelled around and took more pictures in different locations before going back to his place for lunch where I met his lovely wife and son. We adjourned to his home made studio and did some nude shots of me dancing around my 'body' and then we went off and did some more shots on and under a pier before he took me back to the ferry terminal and I made my way home. It had been a great day - a bit tiring (I actually fell asleep talking to Clayton at one point) but in a nice way. Clayton was great company all day and it never seemed to flag. 

So far, he has sent me these four images and my immediate reaction was "Wow!" I thought they all looked incredible. Clayton explained the basic concepts behind each image. The first one portrayed the Island as the Dinosaur Isle as it is known. I wondered what it would be like without the dinosaur but, when Clayton sent me a dinosaurless version, I realised that it didn't work so well as he intimated that it wouldn't. With the dinosaur there, it suggests that either we are out playing together or perhaps he has sneaked up on me and got into the picture. It is more fun and more unpredictable. The second image examined the necessity to split myself into several characters in order to be portrayed differently as many times as I had so far with the project. The third image deals with the reaction to being informed about the illness or being given news that is beyond my control or making and the sense that, at times, it feels as though you are standing at the edge of the abyss or staring at a future that can be both scary and amazing at the same time. The fourth image shows the interior workings of a clockwork cure. Wonderful aren't they? But which one to choose? I went for the first two in the end and of those the Dinosaur just edged it not necessarily because of the Dinosaur but I liked my pose before the camera - it has a chaplinesque look about it.

However, Clayton has two more to send me so watch this space. Either way you can guarantee that they will be interesting and thought provoking because that is how Clayton is. He has a strong intelligence and is a very sensitive person, fully aware of his place on earth and how he wants to relate to his fellow beings. He has a wonderful imagination and this is what enables him to create such amazing images almost out of nothing.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

OVER THE Southport Part Two

Me and my friend Mike McCartney
At last, the time had arrived to travel up to Southport for the exhibition. It had all come about through looking for sponsorship for a London exhibition. I had written to a number of City Solicitors and Nicola Lynch, who is not a solicitor, came to hear about it and wrote saying that she was the Managing Director of a company which owned a Victorian shopping arcade in Southport and that they had an empty unit which could be used for a show. I arranged to meet her in London and we got on quite well and I confirmed that I would like to accept her kind offer. I travelled up to Southport to look at the unit which was perfect and, at the same time, I met Nicola again and her PR company representatives, Margaret Tarpey and Jennifer Moore, as well as Yvonne Burns, the manager of the arcade and Joanne Dobbie, the local representative of the charity, Parkinson's UK. We discussed what needed to be done and I came away feeing very satisfied about it all.

Inevitably, there were one or two teething problems on the way but they were sorted out by way of compromise and a hug and over the next few weeks, I contacted those photographers whose work had not been shown in Guernsey, to ask them to supply a print for the show in Southport. A couple of photographers were unable to do this but, when they backed out, there were others to take their place and, in the end, we had 55 photographs to display.

Pat Moss
I had a shoot with the lovely Pat Moss in Preston in late March and, afterwards, she very kindly accompanied me to see the Framer, Robin Carter, whose shop is also in Preston to discuss how everything would be framed and mounted. That was extremely helpful because l had never hung a show of any kind, anywhere, ever.

The weather on the way up to Southport on Sunday 29th April was appalling - driving rain and a howling, blustery wind. I had to change at Wigan and cross the road to take a train on a more local route to Southport. I almost took off because l was carrying a very light but quite large polystyrene notice board which flew up into the air with each new gust of wind. Anyway, I got there in the end and, at about 6pm, I was welcomed at the door of the Ambassador Townhouse Hotel which I can say quite confidently, is the best B&B l have ever come across. It was very clean and comfortable, had a nice atmosphere and the food was good. I mean, what else do you need?

''the best B&B ever"
I decided to explore and had a look around Southport and then eventually wandered into a nearby restaurant for a chinese meal. As is often the case with oriental restaurants, they were charming and welcomed me warmly with the slight bow to which I am now becoming accustomed. The restaurant was empty apart from two women at one table and the waiter put me right next to them (not on the same table, obviously) which l thought was a bit odd. He then took my order for a drink and spread my knife and fork to the sides and smoothed the table cloth in the process and unravelled my napkin and spread it across my lap and bowed again as he took two steps backwards and then turned on his heel in a very well practiced manner and shimmied off returning a few minutes later with my lager to take my order. All very slick and smooth which made it all the more surprising when two of the waiters rolled a bloody great table top down past me and the two women huffing and puffing and groaning as they went, followed a few minutes later by another waiter dragging a large broken fishtank in the opposite direction with more huffs, puffs and groans and the odd hernia thrown in for good measure. I had no-one to talk to so I asked one waiter how long he had worked there and his immediate response was a rather defensive and suspicious "why do you ask?". He seemed satisfied by my limp "I was just interested" reply but obviously took an intense dislike to me because after l had paid the bill, I asked for a finger bowl and he looked at me reproachfully as if I was trying to get an extra dish for nothing - maybe they drink hot lemon water in his homeland. I imagined him smiling wickedly to himself as he listened to my stifled scream as I dipped my sticky fingers into the hottest finger bowl ever served in Southport, Merseyside or anywhere else for that matter. I should have noticed the scalded lemon sizzling in the water when he brought it to the table wearing asbestos gloves. Still, the food was quite edible although a bit loaded on the heavy side with MSG. I went back to the B&B and watched Spurs beat Blackburn on Match of the Day and then fell into a deep sleep dreaming of the Chinese Opium Wars.

Full English Breakfast started off the morning and hop skippity jump to the Wayfarer's Arcade where I met the lovely Yvonne who let me into the unit which had only just been repainted and looked wonderful. Within a short time, the framer, Robin Carter and his assistant Wayne, arrived and we sorted out the where the photographs would all go, the plan which I had prepared earlier only being slightly altered due to one picture having been printed in a landscape format which I hadn't expected. I felt slightly bad that some of the photographs were larger than others bearing in mind that I had requested uniformity, particularly in the case of Pat Moss whom I realised could have printed her triptych much larger but was too late to change anything now. 

The first Photo to go up was Mike McCartney's "Peter's Friend" and over the next 6 hours or so,  Robin and Wayne expertly hung the remaining 54 and by about 4pm, it was all done and looked great. During the morning Joanne of Parkinson's UK, turned up and helped me with this and that including the labels which looked superb if I don't say so myself, which I do. It was a very easy day in that we all got on very well and Joanne and I particularly so as we shared a similar schoolboy (schoolgirl in her case) sense of humour although I wasn't too pleased when she kept referring to Astrid Schulz' great photograph as ''that camp one''. We had a drink together afterwards in Wedderspoons during which not only I remembered (thank goodness) I had a dinner date later with an old client of mine, Anne Green, but also we heard one of a group of youngsters on the adjoining table utter the immortal words ''I gotta get me hair cut for court in the morning''.

Robin and Wayne
Later that evening, I met Anne for our meal at a local brasserie which she had described previously as one of the best restaurants in Southport - not sure either of us agreed with that sentiment when we woke up the next morning with funny tummies. After an extremely convivial meal, I returned to my room to watch City play United in a ''top of the table clash'' which City won rather comfortably. I fell into a broken sleep dreaming of lavatories.

Me and Selina Mayer
The day of the Private View. I woke up feeling somewhat ''liverish'' as my mother would say and left a message on the proprietor's answerphone foregoing the Full English or indeed any other nationality of breakfast. I went back to bed for a couple of hours and woke up feeling much better. I wandered into town and bought a paper and did the Idiot's Crossword over two rounds of toast and a pot of tea. I returned to the hotel intending to have another nap but after writing some notes, I realised that it was past 3 o'clock and so I showered and chose the black tie over the spotted grey one and ambled slightly nervously down to the Arcade where I met Nicola and we each gave the other the hug we had promised to each other. Jenny arrived full of bonhomie and efficiency followed by Joanne and her boyfriend, Damian, whose name I proceeded to forget until I said goodbye at the end of the evening. Joanne had brought a bloody great Parkinson's UK flag-come-banner which Margaret sensibly ordered outside for the duration of the Private View - I think she foresaw Health & Safety issues possibly arising (almost wrote Health & Efficiency - ho hum, those were the days, my friend). We put two flags in the window ("less is more" as Jane always says) and we ditched the balloons.

As we got nearer to 6pm, the guests began to filter into the Arcade including the lovely Linda Lieberman, the beautiful Jill Jennings, the gorgeous Pat Moss, the handsome Jules Holtom and plain old Mike McCartney. The Speeches went very well, including mine (well, it was brief) ; first Nicola spoke very eloquently and reflected on the history of the Arcade and briefly on the project.  She then introduced the Mayor of Sefton who gave a very amusing and laconic speech and finished by declaring the exhibition open. I was next up and it was mainly a collection of thank-yous. Mike McCartney brought up the rear and gave a quietly witty speech in which he ended by saying that, if anyone had a cure for Parky's they should come to see him and then we could all go home. Nicola then closed the speeches with an exhortation to the guests to ''go for it!'' She is a lovely person with an attractive dry wit.

Left to right - Robin Carter, Jules Holtom, Linda Lieberman, Me, Mike McCartney, Pat Moss and Jill Jennings
Of course, the evening sped by but l had the chance to speak to all the photographers above mentioned and also to Selina Mayer who arrived later. Before Mike left, he gave me his promised rendition of "Is everybody happy? You bet your life, we are".

Slowly the guests dwindled and disappeared into the night. Nicola very kindly invited me to join her for dinner together with her husband, her mother and brother Tim and Yvonne and it was very relaxed and enjoyable. I staggered back to the hotel and fell asleep dreaming of Kings and Queens, of Beatles, Ancient Philosophers, Flour, Yellow Roses, Cowboys, Paper Clippings, Peter Pan, Pigeons, Fish, Tottenham Hotspur, Madness, Pumpkins and Love and Pain and the whole damn thing.

All right boys, this is it - over the hill.