Monday, 18 April 2016


Still from the video "Somewhere, Beyond the Sea" by Antonia Attwood
I have been asked to speak at Critical Voices 2016 at Tunbridge Wells on 11th June and when the organiser, Graham Shaw, sent me the details they included the names of my co-speakers and there, nestling amongst the names on the list was that of Antonia Attwood. I looked at her website where it stated that her work aimed to illustrate and visually interpret how mental illness 'feels' using "metaphorical symbols which create an attempt to raise awareness and understanding of the mood affectations and the phenomenology of mental illness". It goes on to say that her work explored "how it feels to be vulnerable and overwhelmed by the world living with a medical condition".

This was enough to convince me to contact Antonia but then I looked at her films "Gestures of Resilience" and "Mother Tongue" both of which I found extremely moving. However, it is interesting that, sometimes, I do not really think of myself as being someone who has a condition or an illness - maybe I do all I do to block that out. Who knows? Anyway, back to Antonia. The films were excellent so I wrote to her asking if we could collaborate. She replied quite quickly saying that she would love to create a moving style portrait with me and suggested that perhaps we could look at a gesture that made me feel empowered and cut it with a metaphorical image that explored how I 'felt' living with an illness similar to the way she dealt with this in "Mother Tongue". Yes, yes, yes! She then wrote asking me to think of metaphorical words that described my experience with Parkinson's and this bear of little brain had to look up the definition of a metaphor and respond accordingly. What I came up with were the constant incidences of little battles which I have had with the condition during the day, especially before my Deep Brain Stimulation surgery; it is almost as if PD is a sparring partner and that I bob and weave and jab away to stop it having too much of a constrictive effect.

We arranged to meet in her studio which is in a small gated complex in South London. I called her on the 'phone as I arrived outside and she she came out to let me in. I love that moment just before I meet a photographer whom I have not met previously. I have studied his or her work beforehand and I am excited by the prospect of working together and then suddenly, there they are standing right in front of me - it is one of the many pleasures of this project. James Stewart, the great film actor, said once that films are made up of moments like this and I feel that real life is the same. It is about anticipation, the unknown.

We talked for quite a while before Antonia got ready for the filming. I don't know how we got round to Bobby Darin singing "Beyond the Sea" but we did. It is a classic crooner/jazz song and, about three quarters of the way through, there is a wonderful drum riff and so, while I was being filmed, dancing to the song, I did some shadow boxing in time (or roughly in time) to the drum solos as Antonia film me. A few weeks later, I received the film and it is excellent. She has used the live version of the song which, even slowing it down, adds dynamism to the portrait but, at the same time, it creates this feeling of slowness and stiffness by the drawling soundtrack. The dance is interrupted by an image of brain shaking vigorously, each wobble like a poke in the ribs to remind us that, whatever methods are used to keep the illness at bay, the brain is still vulnerable. Brilliant.

Antonia manages yet again to make a simple statement whilst examining and representing a complex, irrepressible disease. She has a rare talent and I am very honoured indeed to have worked with her. When she sent me the film, she also sent these words which describe her take on our collaboration:-

"Tim describes his relationship to his Parkinson’s as an ongoing fight with his brain. Determined not to let it win, and ultimately succeeding at this. He came into the studio his energy and positivity simply inspiring. He started dancing to ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’ and instantly I knew he wasn’t a victim of a neurological disease, he was simply someone who loved life. 
Using the footage of him dancing, reminded me of a fight, just like the one he described previously. The fact he could get up and dance proved he was winning this one. Cutting this with images of a brain reminds us that the fight is always on going. I have no doubt that with Tim’s positivity, drive and determination this will be a battle till the end, to enjoy every single day."

The film is below.


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