|PIECE OF CAKE by Valda Bailey|
When I first arrived at Farley Farm, many years ago, I was full of wide-eyed wonder. I had long been an admirer of Lee Miller's photography and a large part of that was based on her hedonistic lifestyle which, like that of the Bloomsbury Group, was unchartered fantasy for me. I am talking here not of sexual fantasy but more of an interest in seeing how art transcends morality. Therefore, imagine how it felt for me to walk around the gardens naked and pose for Valda's wonderful photographs. Also, how appropriate it should be Valda who photographed me there as her own work had struck me as so beautiful when I discovered it via her correspondence on Twitter with the likes of Rob Hudson.
Valda came to tea with us at Brighton armed with the most delicious home-made cake I have ever tasted and this may very well have given Valda her idea of a formal, naked, tea party for one in the grounds of Farley Farm. At the shoot, Valda brought lots of goodies to eat as well as a two tier cake stand. I provided the crockery, table and chair. She had two thoughts for a location - either the formal rose garden near the house or the open field by the car park. We plumped for the former and had great fun whilst Valda clicked away as I gorged on the sandwiches and cakes which Valda had brought with her. After the tea shots, we wandered around the gardens and tried poses next to several of the sculptures. This was one of the first shots and I remember that Valda purred as she took the photograph. I felt good too as I obeyed her request to lean against the trunk of the tree and let my arms hang loose like the rest of me. How many visitors to Farley Farm in the past had done the same?
Valda wanted to shoot me next inside the old greenhouse by the Kitchen Garden and after we finished there, we finished up in the field where I shed my clothes again and, holding only a polka dot umbrella, I went bonkers in the field much to the possible surprise of visitors to the village shop in the car park which abutted the field although I guess that the inhabitants of Muddles Green have seen stranger sights over the years. The wind was quite strong and it was as much as I could do to keep hold of the umbrella - I secretly hoped a big gust of wind would lift me up like Mary Poppins.
So that was that - a magical morning in a special place but Valda agreed to my suggestion of a drink and a chat at the local pub, neither of us really wanting the magic which had been conjured up between us to dissipate but, eventually, the time came for us to let it go and I returned to Brighton and she to her home and the editing of the photographs.
And look what she produced! A sumptuous feast for the eyes. When I first received them, I flitted from one to the other like the wasps which had buzzed about the sandwiches and cakes which Valda had made with the same love and care that she now displayed in the final edits of her photographs. I fed on each of them and, as I guzzled, I drank in their intoxicating colour and vibrancy until I had to stagger away with a belly full of wonder. I had to choose one of these images for my project but I needed to rest first. I noticed that she hadn't sent me any of the shots in the field and, when I asked her about these, she realised that she had omitted to send them and they followed soon after. They only made my task more difficult. I decided to choose two - something that I have done only four times before. Valda had been daunted by her task and the responsibility of following some amazing work by others but she need not have worried. Even Lee Miller would have been proud of what she produced and what is more, Valda has cast a sweet shadow over Farley Farm and, whenever I return,
my mind will drift back not only to Lee Miller and her life there but also to the gloriously happy day on which I was photographed by Valda Bailey. She is very self-effacing but she is exceptionally good at what she does and I suspect that, deep down, she knows it.