|I'M YOUR MAN by Graeme Montgomery|
17th June 2016 - the end of Over the Hill. People asked at the time and have asked since why I felt that I had to end it. I began to feel that it had had its day as a project even though I was fairly certain that I would carry on collaborating with photographers. Also, there were some tiny things that tipped me over the edge and I thought yeah, I think it's time to stop this, tie a ribbon around it and put it up on to the shelf and bring it down every so often to wonder at the fantastic times I had had with such clever, imaginative and talented artists.
Initially, Graeme reached out to me or people like me when he placed the advert in Time Out. At the time, neither of us were aware of what he had started so it seemed appropriate for me to ask him this time. He was very enthusiastic about it and said that he would like to film the final shoot as well.
I was nervous and sad as I reached Farringdon Station. Then suddenly I was confronted by the familiar smiling face of Alex Bamford. Alex, who had been so kind first on my shoot with him in February 2014 on the beach at Peacehaven when he photographed me naked in the moonlight and provided a dressing gown and a hot water bottle (and slippers?) and then again a few months later when he printed the labels for the exhibition as part of The Brighton Photo Fringe. I told him where I was going and somehow it felt right for him to be a witness to the end of this journey as he and his shoot summed up all the factors that had made the project what it was. The need to go further than I had gone before, to challenge myself and to expose my body and my feelings and to be met with simple acts of kindness in return. It is difficult to understand how it feels to be told you have an illness like Parkinson's. At the time, I thought I took it in my stride but with hindsight, I have understood more.
I found myself on the bank of a fast flowing river and I had fallen into the water and was flailing about and grabbed what seemed to be a branch of an overhanging tree but it was the paddle of a small boat being held out to me by an old man who was naked - as he hauled me to safety, I saw the light of the moon on his skin, his muscles, his hair and then his eyes which held that light as he looked down on me with such love and compassion that I was overcome with emotion as I collapsed on to the hard wooden floor of the boat. I lay there for a while as we moved slowly across the water. My saviour moved the boat so well or did the river move the boat? It was difficult to say. I tried to speak but no words came to my lips. I drifted off into a sleep accompanied by a harmony of sounds - water lapping against the creaking bow, the relieved breaths of slumber replacing the desperate heaving of my lungs and the soft whistle of a tune by the man who plunged the paddle into the water first one side and then the other. I woke in the sunlight of the morning to the muffled murmurs of voices. The boat was still moving. I raised myself up on one elbow and blinked. I was alone on the boat which nudged against the bank. I stood up and saw my wife. She was crying with tears of sadness and joy. She took the branch from my hand and threw it into the water and, as she did so, we looked over to the bank on the opposite side of the river. There was no tree, only the figure of a young man carrying a paddle walking away. He stopped, looked back and waved and then turned and disappeared into the long grass. I recognised him immediately.
After saying goodbye to Alex, I had a cup of tea at a cafe and then continued on the last part of my journey. I pressed the bell of the building and pushed the door which opened onto an iron staircase which clanged like a tolling bell as my steps took me up to the studio door. A man opened it and smiled. "Graeme?" I enquired. "No" he said and stood back to let me in. I saw another friendly face. "Graeme?" As he shook his head a voice said "Tim!" It was Graeme. I burst into tears. I think it was all too much for them all and I apologised squeakily between sobs.
A few hours later, into the afternoon, Graeme took this shot.
Call me good If you want a lover
Call me bad I'll do anything you ask me to
Call me anything you want to baby And if you want another kind of love
But I know that you're sad I'll wear a mask for you
And I know I'll make you happy If you want a partner take my hand, or
With the one thing that you never had If you want to strike me down in anger
Baby, I'm your man (don't you know that?) Here I stand
Baby, I'm your man. I'm your man.
- George Michael - Leonard Cohen