A simple plan. To breathe life into the past. To stand where others have stood but without their fear and without their pain.
I had noticed that on Twitter, Steve was a good friend of Al Brydon and eventually I got round to looking up his website on which I left a message asking if he would be interested in photographing me. I beat him to it - he was about to write to me suggesting the same thing. After several emails back and forth, we set up a date for the shoot. He explained that he had a grain of an idea. "I am particularly interested in time and age within the landscape, with a subdivision into how man has changed the landscape and yet the landscape will endure far longer than any man. We are a frail species and yet we can cause immense change, not always for the good. Part of my project centres around quarrying, mainly in the slate quarries of the Lake district, created as the Industrial Revolution kicked in and most of the working class population migrated to cities and urbanisation - a massive social shift that saw poor living standards etc and which took a century to address."
We arranged that I would travel to Penrith where he would collect me. I had been photographed by Al Brydon a short time before and he told me that he would be joining us. At Penrith, it was Al I saw first and he greeted me warmly as the good friend he has become and then he led me past the cars parked outside the station to Steve, tall and built like the number eight he once was. But, and this is a big but, the grip of his handshake betrayed immediately the tenderness within, the vulnerability and the enthusiasm. Steve is passionate about his photography and his printing. He takes pride in what he does whether at his daily work or out in the landscape he loves. He wants more. I want more. Many of us want more but each of us deals with the denial of it in different ways. Steve is on a journey but has not yet reached his destination and it is my good fortune that we have met at the crossroads and he has placed me in front of his lens and recorded the event.
That evening and the following two evenings I ate too much, I drank too much and certainly I talked too much but l enjoyed all three...... "I wish I was smarter" - as l write this, those words written by David Bowie pound around my head to an accompaniment of drums and strings furiously playing out their pulsating rhythms and luscious melodies. Ooh - ooh - ooh -aah.
Al being there was a bonus. He came along for the ride and he observed and contributed; his presence was a gift because, as always, he brought his unique humour, sincerity and insight with him. It was a good mix.
Steve drove us patiently in his big white fuck off Audi all the way to Hodge Close in the Tibberthwaite Valley and we parked between a pair of white vans and a school mini-bus and, as I alighted, it felt good to stretch my legs and breathe in the fresh Lakeland air. We climbed through a fence next to which stood a notice saying "Do not climb through fence" and Steve and Al walked down and looked over the edge of a quarry which they said looked amazing. I took their word for it and hung back using said notice to break the vertiginous pull towards the bottom of the quarry and certain death. Al and Steve then set off to have a closer look while I sat in safety and pondered my lot. My project had taken me to so many different locations - one week Exeter, the next week Sheffield, then Nottingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Norwich and now Cumbria. Different people, same country, parts of which would be unrecognisable to the quarrymen who had carved their place in the history of the hills which were spread out before me under the warm October sun. A group of schoolchildren returned to the mini bus and then took up occupancy of the huge slate boulders which bounded the parking area and ate their sandwiches and quaffed their pop. Although they were only a few yards away, their chatter was muffled and indistinct in the empty air. After about half an hour, Al and Steve returned. Al was so overcome by what he had seen that he found it difficult to find the words to describe his feelings. It augured well for the shoot. Steve lead us to another quarry along a path through orderly piles of rubble and red rusting metal and past a boulder on which were painted the words "Danger Keep Out".
We looked around the quarry and finally, Steve chose the place for the first shot. He set up his large format camera, checked the as light reading, the focus, my position and then disappeared under the cover and checked the composition. Then he checked it all again. He withdrew from the cover, asked if l was ready and then clicked the shutter. He smiled, I smiled and Al smiled. We had begun.