Personal

exhibiting – never again!

I’ve spent most of my life doing things that helped other people achieve whatever they wanted to achieve.  Sometimes this involved teaching people how to use computers or cameras, sometimes it involved moving location because of my husband’s job, sometimes it meant working hard to maintain a clean and welcoming home for my Airbnb visitors, or writing newsletters for someone else’s company.  But slowly, over the last couple of years, I’ve gradually come round to thinking that it’s my time to do something for me – I feel the frustration of a lot of unfulfilled potential..  So for the time being I’ve dropped most other things and am trying to blow my own trumpet a little.  I feel uncomfortable with this – I don’t really like being in the spotlight – and I also miss the satisfaction of feeling that I’ve helped in some way.  Helping myself is both harder and more guilt-inducing.

It’s been a big learning curve, both in practical terms and in terms of my own reactions and motivations.  My first step forward was to set up an Instagram account.  I began to get followers and ‘likes’ almost immediately and am now up to 134 followers.  I like Instagram and will continue with it, but I’m also aware how little all these ‘likes’ and followers mean.  I’d noticed that my follower numbers tended to go up and down a bit and, naively, I hadn’t realised that a lot of people will follow just so that you follow them back.  This doesn’t work with me, because I’ll only follow work that I really like, hence the up and down figures.  But it also highlights just how meaningless the whole thing is and I wonder how many of my 134 actually care about or like my work – but that’s social media for you!  (Please have a look, if you like – you can find me using #gillywalkerimages)

The other thing that I’ve been involved in is showing my work, which has begun with taking part in Nottinghamshire Open Studios throughout May, and which has now progressed to my own exhibition at beloved@thebarn in Southwell in July.  For the Open Studios I only had to produce a few pieces; for the solo exhibit I needed to fill a whole wall.  I’m so relieved I had this gentle run-up as there’s been a lot to learn and even so, things have gone wrong.

My first problem was the cost of framing.  Even if you find a cheap way of framing and mounting your photos, it remains very expensive if you have to do a lot of them.  I’m still in a state of shock about it all.  I was lucky enough to find an online framing supply place that does good quality budget frames as well as all the other accoutrements you might need for any framing purpose.  (If you’re interested, they’re called Brampton Framing and I can recommend them.)  To begin with I stuck to A4 prints, which I can make myself at home, plus ‘value’ frames and mounts.  There’s a limited choice of the budget frames – you can get black or you can get white – and you can specify the width of the simple wood frame.  They come with mounts in the price, and there’s a choice of 23 colours.  I settled on two combinations – white frames with Smoke (mid grey) mounts that work for most images, and black frames with black mounts that work brilliantly for a few of them.  The white and pale grey combination looks fresh and modern and I’m really pleased with it, and the black makes the right images glow out of it.

So far so good – but these are quite small pieces and for my solo exhibit I needed some larger pieces.  Larger prints are straightforward – I get these from Digitalab who do a very good job at reasonable prices.  However, the framing was more of a problem – see above, about cost!  I upcycled one frame that I already had, sticking to the white frame/smoke mount combination, ordered another largish square frame, and had another long horizontal frame custom made to hold a sequence of three prints that worked well together.  But I had been asked to produce a large statement piece.  I had the idea of upcycling a very large, professionally made frame that I already had and which contained a print that I didn’t particularly like, which seemed like a good idea at the time but turned into a bit of a disaster.

First I had to take it apart.  Peeling the tape off the back and scraping the remnants of it from the wood, took quite a while.  I bent back the metal pins, and managed to get the backboard out, but the mount and print wouldn’t budge.  After some closer examination, I realised that the mount/print had been taped to the glass in a kind of sandwich.  With a bit of help I managed to run a knife round the edge and cut through the tape binding them together, eventually removing the mount/print.  Next the glass, but it wouldn’t budge – it almost looked like the metal pins had been put in after the glass and it was obviously going to be impossible to get the glass out.  Never mind, I thought, I’ll paint it with the glass in place, although this was going to be a slightly precarious exercise as the frame was so big that the glass was very vulnerable to breaking.

In the meantime, my larger prints arrived, having taken quite a bit longer than usual.  On trying out the largest print with the mount and the frame, I found that somehow the mount had been cut about 3mm larger than it should have been and didn’t fit the frame.  That was fairly easily solved and I used a sharp craft knife to trim the edges.  However the aperture in the centre, which should have been about 3mm smaller than the print, was exactly the same size and the print was falling through.  I have no idea whose fault this was – I thought I’d been very careful with measurements, but I’m notoriously bad at measuring things so it might well have been down to me.  I solved this problem by sticking the print to a much larger piece of paper and then fixing the whole thing to the back of the mount – not ideal, very amateurish and I wouldn’t sell it like this, but it got the job done and looked fine.

I was on the home stretch by this time, but panicking wildly as I only had a few hours left to get it all together as the prints only arrived the day before I was due to hang. (Please note: this whole story is a great example of how NOT to prepare for an exhibition)  The masking tape I used to protect the glass had stuck to the paint on the frame, so I had to run a sharp knife around it to get it off cleanly.  Finally, and with great relief, I placed the mount/print in the frame and tried to insert the backing board.  It was really tight and I struggled to get it in, and while I was doing this the glass – the glass that no way would come out of the frame when I tried – came partially out of the frame.  And I couldn’t get it back in.  You may have guessed the rest – I got all of it in except for one corner which refused to budge, and of course it ended up breaking.  There was nothing I could do except take along the rest of the work and promise to sort something out regarding the big piece.

Blue leaf reflection

Disasters aside, choosing which images to show has been really difficult.  First off, there’s context – my work is being shown in a space that’s half gallery, half craft/gift shop, so it needs to have some commercial appeal while at the same time being images that I feel happy with and that are representative of my work.  The second and more difficult issue is that I tend to work in series, or themes.  This means that a lot of what I do doesn’t terribly lend itself to showcasing single shots – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and would be better displayed as a book or slideshow.  Also, some of the work I’m best pleased with is unlikely to be popular with viewers and buyers – eg, I’ve done a lot of recent photography in Newark Cemetery and people don’t really want photos of gravestones on their walls.  I wouldn’t, either!

This has forced me to go back in time for a lot of the images I’ve used.  However, what I’ve done is reworked many of them as my skills in post-processing and my access to useful software have both increased since these were taken.  It also makes them feel fresher to me and rekindles my interest in them. And while, at the time, I was still adhering to the ‘least processing necessary’ view, I now don’t care about that and am only interested in the final result.  It doesn’t matter to me how I get there and I feel I’m moving towards what might be called photo-based art rather than photography, the latter raising all sorts of expectations in people’s minds that I don’t always fulfill.

This whole process has been – at varying times – frustrating, enlightening, infuriating, motivating, panic-inducing and educational.  There have been times when I wish I’d never started on it.  However, it does feel good to see my work nicely presented, on a wall where other people can look at it.  I’ve learned an awful lot from the process.  I haven’t managed to fill a great deal of space even though it’s cost me more than I can really afford, but I now have a basis for building on and adding more work.  I’m glad I did it – but I’m not in any hurry to do it again…….

If you’re in the area, you can see my pictures at beloved@thebarn, King Street, Southwell, Notts, NG25 0EH, from now until the end of July 2018.  The gallery is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

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what I’ve been doing all this time

New Forest, intentional camera movement

I feel as if I’ve lost my way a little with this blog at the moment, especially photographically, but things have been going on in the background.

My podcast recording of the interview with Radio Newark has finally been posted, after some delay caused by technical hitches.  If you’d like to listen to it, you can click play below, or if that doesn’t work look for it on the Girls Around Town podcast page: http://www.radionewark.co.uk/podcasts/girls-around-town/ (there are lots of other interesting interviews on there too).

Girls Around Town, Radio Newark, broadcast on 30th April, 2017 – Gilly Walker talking about mindfulness and photography.

I was waiting until it went up before I said anything about it, so now I can tell you that it wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as I thought it might be.  It’s easy to forget that there (presumably) are lots of people out there listening, as you’re only aware of the other two people in the studio.  The worst part is the large black mic positioned a few inches in front of your face, but that’s not so bad and you get used to it.  The time went really quickly, and I still had lots left to say that I hadn’t said.  All in all, it was very relaxed and informal, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.  Moreover, on listening to the soundtrack I actually seem to sound quite coherent which was not at all how I felt!

Other news is that I had some photos in an exhibition in Leicester during May – the woman who organised it approached me to ask if I’d be interested in being included, and of course I was.  It was the easiest thing I’ve done in a long time – all I had to do was send her the high-res files and she had them printed, mounted and framed.  I was quite chuffed to find I’d been given a little alcove to myself, with three of my prints displayed – I’ve used one of the pictures at the top of this post, and you can see the other two below.  Like many folk, I rarely get anything printed out and it was fantastic to see the images in print, rather than just digitally displayed.  It’s made me think that I must turn more of my photos into prints.

Wonder Exhbition, Leicester 2017

Another thing I’m hoping to do is to put on a solo exhibition at Newark Town Hall in 2018, and am making enquiries about that. I have so many photos I’ve taken on the walk from my home, through the cemetery, and round Balderton Lake, and they’d not only be of local interest but would back up my claim that you can take endless interesting shots even if you only keep going back to the same place time and time again.  I have to get some images together on a series of themes and then have a chat with the curator.  It’s been really busy lately so this has sunk to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list, but I’ll get there eventually.

Finally, I have a new course running, starting next week (3rd July) at Southwell Library.  It’s called Exploring Mindfulness Creatively through Photography and will run for five weeks, with more dates planned for the autumn term.  You can find details here: https://www.inspireculture.org.uk/skills-learning/community-learning/2017/07/community-learning-exploring-mindfulness-creatively-photography-southwell-library/  This is also quite nerve-wracking as I haven’t taught this before in a formal way with groups.  It’s taking a lot of work to make sure I’ve put something good together and of course there will be tweaks and alterations as I go along as you never get it entirely right first time.  I’m also in discussion about running the same thing in a one-day format for a local business who put on lots of little workshops centred around nature, arts and crafts, so I hope to have something happening there soon, as well.

So – busy, busy, busy behind the scenes, but I’ve found it hard to get motivated to post here regularly.  I’d like to think that I might get back to it again soon – I miss my blog when I don’t post and I’ve managed to keep it going since 2011, which is far longer than I ever thought I’d achieve.  It would be a shame to let it go now.

 

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reaching for the sky

Clematis growing along telephone wire

There’s a lot going on at the moment, with opportunities popping up all over the place.  Such a change from just over a year ago, when Geoff had just became employed again after two years of no work and the financial crises and monumental worry that went along with that.  You think when you’re in the middle of this kind of thing that when it ends you’ll feel like breaking out the bubbly and dancing round the kitchen with a huge smile on your face.  Not so.

The reality is that when it’s gone on for such a long time, you become worn down by it.  Your heart and emotions go numb, because if they didn’t you couldn’t keep going, and it takes some time after it all ends to bring yourself back to you again.  It’s taken me most of this last year to let go of the protective shell I put round myself and to start moving forward into a new kind of life.

Three months ago I suddenly realised I could buy books again.  The fact is that I could have done this at any time in the last year, but I was so used to thinking that I couldn’t allow myself any kind of luxury that that belief had become ingrained in me.  And then, a few months ago, I was searching the library’s database for a book I wanted to order and read, and they didn’t have it.  The thought came suddenly – I could buy it!  And so I did.  A small example, but it shows how you adapt your thoughts and actions to suit the situation, and how difficult it is when things change for the better to remember to let go of those beliefs and adopt new ones.

One thing that always gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, and that also had been missing from my life during this time, is going on workshops and learning something new.  Two weekends ago I went on a sequencing, editing and bookmaking workshop with John Blakemore, and I’ll write some more about that in due course.  For the moment, it’s enough to say that the weekend was inspiring, fun, frustrating, tiring, and wonderful, and that it felt so good to be able to do this sort of thing again.

Another thing you think, when you come out of survival mode, is that you can then fire ahead at full steam with what you’d really like to be doing.  But it doesn’t work that way at all – well, not for me anyhow.  For the first six months of last year I was still doing Airbnb almost full-time, and was so tied up with it that I had no energy to even think about other things.  By July of last year I’d made the decision to stop, instead letting two rooms in the house on a long-term basis, and suddenly I was free again.  However, that freedom went along with feeling just a little lost and confused.  What was it I had wanted to do?  It was hard to remember.

Then some things happened to move me along.  I went back to a women’s networking organisation I had been going to before all of this kicked off, and my ideas about using photography as a way into mindfulness and self-awareness went down very positively.  I still hadn’t done anything very practical about it, however, but the turning point came a couple of months ago when I was asked if I would take part in a local radio show where I would be interviewed on contemplative photography and anything else I was up to  Knowing I had a deadline was exactly what I needed to get me moving again.

So my radio interview is next weekend, which is both terrifying and exciting me in equal measures.  I’m in the process of being taken on as a tutor by Inspire (who run the local arts, culture and library service), and they seem very open to the kind of ideas I have for new workshops.  I’ve been told of another, private, organisation who run countryside-based one-day workshops and I’m just about to approach them with some things that I think would be a good fit for them.  I’ve made some enquiries about putting on a solo show in Newark Town Hall Museum next year, and I received an email the other day asking me to take part in an exhibition on contemplative photography to be held in Leicester.  All of this has happened in the last two weeks or so and I feel a bit as if I’m on a rather delightful runaway train.

The photo above was taken last spring, on the first holiday we’d had for over five years.  There are a number of things that I like about it – the soft pink profusion of the clematis blooms against the delicate blue sky, the juxtaposition of the man-made and the natural, and best of all, the way in which the clematis has made excellent use of what it was presented with.  I’m sure there’s a lesson there for us all.

 

 

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gift from a stranger

 

Buddybox postcard

This postcard fell out of the book I was reading in bed this morning.  The book is called Love Anthony, by Lisa Genova – you may know her as the writer of the novel on which the film Still Alice was based.  I was having a duvet morning.  Sometimes I just feel inexplicably low and flat and tired and this morning was one of those days.  Sometimes I have to get up anyway because there are things that must be done and obligations and commitments that must be met, but this morning I was lucky and had the luxury of being able to snuggle up, stay put, and finish the book.

The book is a touching story about the bereaved mother of a young boy with autism who died at the age of ten, and another woman whose husband has just left her for someone else, and how their paths intermingle and cross, ultimately helping both of them to come to terms with their losses.  Although its subject would seem to be about autism, the story is really about love in its various forms, and most of all, about loving unconditionally.  It’s beautifully written and a compelling read, and I didn’t want to put it down.  I cried.  Much of it was to do with the story in the book, but some of it was because it linked to things in my own past that the story brought to mind, and some of it was simply because I was feeling a little low anyway.  And then the postcard fell out.

On the back is printed: WRITE SOMETHING NICE TO SOMEONE YOU’VE NEVER MET.  There’s an empty space for writing in, and then instructions to leave the postcard somewhere where someone will find it – a library book, a cafe table, a pigeon hole.  Inside the box, someone had written this:

Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.

Don’t confuse your path with your destination.  Just because it’s stormy now doesn’t mean you aren’t headed for sunshine.

After reading it, I cried some more, because I believe that what you need comes to you at just the right time and because somebody, somewhere had cared enough to place the postcard in the book in the hope that it might help whoever read it.

There seems to be so much unkindness and anger in the world at the moment, so much tragedy and hatred and suffering and intolerance.  These things seem so huge that it’s hard to know what you can do that will make any difference.  I know I’m not the kind of person who’s ever going to do great things.  I’m not going to suffer for a cause, volunteer in war-torn countries, be a political agitator, generate thousands for charity, or anything like that.  But I do believe in kindness, and I do believe that small kindnesses can make a big difference.  I’m aware that I have many flaws, and I know that, like most of us, I’ve been unkind when I could have done better, or failed to be kind when it would have been easy for me.  But I do try, whenever I feel able, to carry out some small and unexpected kindnesses.  And I’ve been on the receiving end of many small kindnesses, and they have touched me deeply at the time and will live in my memory for always.

So I think it’s possible to make a difference in the world in very small ways.  We can’t all do ‘big’ stuff, but small gestures can mean a lot and are something everyone can manage.  The postcard was a small and lovely, unexpected gift from someone who would get nothing in return other than the hope that it cheered the person who found it.  Last week I was clearing out my desk drawers, and I found a number of photos that I had printed for various reasons but never used.  I thought it would be nice to adopt the postcard idea and do something similar with the prints. It’s a small thing to do – a very small thing – but I hope that it might make a difference to someone, somewhere, like this one did for me.

Constant kindness can accomplish much.  As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

Albert Schweitzer

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Wicca

My old cat died last night, just a couple of weeks short of her twentieth birthday.  She stopped eating, and for the latter half of the day she lay there glassy-eyed and unmoving and I knew it was time. She was so thin it was hard to see how her body could support life, her fur was dry and matted, and she felt so fragile I thought she might shatter with a touch.  Her time had come.

I wanted to hold vigil with her on her last night, so I wrapped her in a blanket and laid her on a cushion beside my bed.  At 12:50am she began to twitch wildly, then took her last few ragged breaths as I gently stroked her.  I think it was a good death, with a minimum of suffering, in a familiar place, wrapped in all the love I have to give.

The kittens gathered round, unsure what was happening, but somehow knowing to keep a respectful distance.  Later, I placed her body on a table in my office and Fingal extended a gentle paw to touch hers.  I was lucky enough to have my camera in my hand at the time.

Fingal and Wicca

A little while ago, I wrote this poem after Wicca had made a rare visit to me when I was lying sleepless in bed one night.  We have a three-storey house and she hadn’t been to the top floor of the house in months.

Old cat

You came to me tonight,

easing your arthritic body up several steep flights

just to see me,

and allow me to stroke your dulled fur

and murmur your name into deaf ears.

I was having dark thoughts till you came,

but you led me back to a safe place

and my heart unfurled,

and the soft purr of a loved old cat was all I needed

to let me feel what there is of peace in this world.

Goodbye, my friend.

 

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hereby hangs a tail (or two)

Fingal, black and white kittenFingal

I have two kittens.  My early morning quiet is punctuated by the drumroll of eight tiny paws hurtling up and down stairs, on and off furniture, in and out of rooms.  Set free from the confines of their overnight room, all that energy demands release.  A thrown-away crumpled ball of paper becomes a delight – prey to be batted around, pounced on, chased.  Once, they found the ultimate prize under the sideboard – a dead bumblebee!  Pot plants rustle delightfully when playing tag through them, one at each side, and any object on a high surface is guaranteed to make a fascinating noise as it crash lands on the floor, if they can only get up there to knock it off.  Curtains are made for climbing on, and for having mock tussles with each other while both cling on with claws hooked into the fabric.

Fingal is a black and white ‘tuxedo’ kitten, with a white bib, paws and underbelly, and a smudged diagonal white mark across his nose.  His eyes are as round as the hole in a polo mint and full of kittenish wonder.  He’s a floppety sort of cat, constantly falling off things, utterly relaxed, toppling and rolling onto his back at every opportunity, softness personified.

He thinks everyone is his friend, and so far that’s the way it’s worked out.  He loves people, and will start up a deep rattling purr like the waves breaking on a pebble beach, at the slightest hint of attention from a human.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe such a sound can come from such a small creature.  He loves to cuddle, and his greeting to me is to come close to my face and very, very gently touch noses.  This makes him – and me – very happy.

Flora, tabby kittenFlora

Flora is a tabby who looks a lot like a snow leopard – she’s exquisitely beautiful (this photo doesn’t do her justice).  Her eyes are almond shaped and full of bright intelligence – while Fingal plays the clown, she is the brains of the outfit.  She’s fussy about who touches her.  When she first arrived I thought she was nervous, but then I realised she’s not scared of much at all, although she exercises a sensible caution in her interactions.

It took nearly a week before she’d let me stroke her, although she consented to play-fight my finger from the beginning.  She did this with grace and gentle politeness, claws immaculately sheathed, never hurting me, just the velvet bat of her pads against my hand.  It turns out she prefers men to women – she was all over Geoff the minute she saw him, eyes squinting shut in ecstasy as he rubbed behind her ears.  That made me happy as well, if a little jealous.  She adores Fingal, too, and tenderly puts an arm round his neck as she uses the other paw to wash his face.   There’s no doubt she prefers men, but she’s getting to quite like me anyway, despite my gender.  Last night she curled up on my lap and slept, and I’m now permitted to stroke and pet most areas although not, for some reason, her head and face.

They have brought such joy into my life.  I still have Wicca, my cat of almost twenty years old, but it was making me terribly sad to see her so frail and old.  She’s my first cat love and will always be very special to me, but I needed to bring some life and promise and joy into the house and the kittens have done just that.  Wicca is being coddled, with hot water bottles on a comfy chair and everything she needs in one room, and we’re doing our best to make her remaining time as comfortable and happy as possible.  I still feel sad to see her so reduced, but the fun and freshness of the kittens counteract that to a large extent, and promise a future where I won’t be left alone in a home empty of animals.

Photographing kittens is so difficult!  These shots aren’t great, as I had to use an ISO of 1600, and even that wasn’t enough to get a truly fast enough shutter speed that would totally avoid camera or subject movement.  Unfortunately my old camera only goes this far up the scale – I was using it because I think there are some focussing issues with the new one.  I hope to get some better shots soon – the kittens are changing and growing so fast and I want to capture the cuteness before I find they’ve grown into full-size cats without me noticing.  And it seems to me that sometimes it’s good enough for a photo’s to function as memory, and that a shot is worth having if it brings those to mind when you look at it, even if it’s sorely lacking in technical merit.

 

 

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Maria’s book

Book coverThe book – I took the photo after two large glasses of wine, in a hurry, and in low light, and yes, there is camera movement – happens to us all sometimes!

When we first moved to this area we rented a wonderful 17th century cottage – living in it felt like being enveloped in a warm hug.  We became good friends with our landlady Maria, who is one of the most delightful and lovely people you could ever hope to meet.  She loves her cottage too, so when we left I wanted to give her something very personal as a thank you.

That was about a year and a half ago, and it’s taken me till now to do it.  My idea was to photograph small quirky parts of the cottage and make the resulting images into a keepsake book. I took all the shots before we left and then things stagnated for a while, partly because we were very busy settling into our new home and partly because I didn’t know how to make the kind of book I had in mind.

Eventually I went on a small workshop that took me through the steps of making a leather-bound book, but then my ambitions began to soar and I had so many complicated ideas for how Maria’s book should be put together that I confused myself into a standstill.  Eventually I got clearer (and simpler) on what I wanted to do, and while still a bit overly ambitious for a first attempt, it began to look do-able.

Unfortunately there was little prospect of seeing Maria for a long time, as she was then sole carer to her two very elderly and infirm parents and rarely had any time to herself.  I’m the kind of person who’s far more likely to get things done if there’s at least a loose sort of deadline in place, and knowing I probably wouldn’t see Maria for ages meant that the book was constantly put on the back burner.

Things change, however, and Maria’s mother died a short while ago and with only her father to care for she gained a little bit more time for herself, although I still hadn’t managed to meet up with her.  Then last week we had a small impromptu party and I invited Maria, expecting her to say that it would be too difficult for her to come.  But then she said yes……

I was thrilled she was coming, but went into instant panic about the book.  It meant I really had to get it finished, and in a matter of days, at that.  But I did it, and the pictures you see here are the result.

Book - title pageFirst page – the lace lining is part of a curtain that used to be in the cottage

Let me explain something of how it was put together.  The leather cover is lined in lace and the lace came from a small curtain in the bedroom of the cottage.  One day when we were out, there was a sudden summer storm and when we got back we found the bedroom window (which we’d left open) had been banging back and forth in the wind, trapping the curtain and tearing it.  When we left, I took the torn curtain with me thinking I’d use it in some way for the book.  Part of it made the lining, and I used the piece that was left as a kind of stencil.

Because the images aren’t hugely interesting in themselves, being meaningful only if you know the cottage, I felt that some of the pages needed jazzing up a little.  I had the idea of spraying gold paint through sections of the curtain lace, and tried to link up the pattern with the photograph – eg, on the opposite page of a photo of the brick kitchen floor, I used a section of curtain that looked a little like a brick pattern.

Sewing the pages in wasn’t easy.  I had some thin cord that I wanted to use, but then found I didn’t have a needle with a big enough eye in it to get the cord through it.  With a bit of help from Geoff, I did manage to thread it in the end, and then found that I had to make what seemed like enormous holes in the spine to get it through.  I was worried about the lace inside tearing, but fortunately it didn’t.

The cover needed decoration too, and some kind of fastening.  Eventually I found some outsize decorative wooden buttons on Ebay, and some fancy string-like trimming in a local shop.  I had planned to sew the button on, but it would have spoiled the effect of the lace inside as the stitching would have shown on it.  In the end, I glued it on with fabric glue after creating some fake stitching to make it look sewn.  I also glued the trim to the underside of it, and the trimming then wrapped round the book and was held in place by the edge of the button.  Surprisingly, it all worked out very well.

I finished it yesterday, and handed it over, wrapped in Christmas paper, to Maria.  She won’t open it till Christmas day, and I really, really hope she likes it – but more than that, I’m just so relieved to have it finished at last.  And for those of a worried disposition, she doesn’t read my blog so I think it’s safe to post……

Balderton mapA little bit of research on Google produced this map from 1906, with the cottage marked on it

Welcome signThe Welcome sign on the outside of the cottage, plus a view from outside, looking into the kitchen

 Victorian brick floorThe original brick floor in the Victorian kitchen extension.  The gold stencil on the left page echoes the brick pattern of the floor.

Wall lightThe beam above this wall light in an upstairs corridor is covered with 1950s newspaper, announcing Queen Elizabeth the second’s coronation

Stencil detail Close-up of the stencilling, created with gold paint sprayed through part of the lace curtain

Mind the StairsThe stairs to the attic master bedroom were all of uneven heights and sizes and twisted round in a curve.  The door at the bottom warned you to Mind the Stairs.

Studying photography: part two – what worked

St Dunstans Church, City of London

I got rather gloomy after writing the last post.  I’d forgotten how conflicted I was about studying degree level photography, how it felt so constraining, and how I constantly had the sensation of being torn in two different directions – what I wanted to do, and what I felt I had to do.  What really prompted me to write about this at all, however, was that I’ve since realised  that doing these courses also had many positive effects, some of them long-term.  What follows is a summary of the main ones.

A structure to work within – when I started studying I was doing what most people do when they’re new to photography and wildly excited about it: taking random shots of everything and anything that caught my eye without making any kind of sustained progress.  It was good to have interesting assignments that made me think harder about what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve.  I can create my own structure now, but I wouldn’t have known how to at the time or had the discipline to stick with it without some external promptings. The assignments were interesting and challenging and allowed a lot of scope for personal interpretation, and most of the courses were well-written, thoughtfully put together, and stimulating.

Encouragement to work in themes – working in series, or themes, was new to me when I started.  I came to realise quite quickly that it’s much more fulfilling to work this way and it produces a more coherent, thoughtful body of work than the one-shot wonders I’d been producing.  I still take one-off shots of things that catch my eye, and I enjoy that, but what I really love to do is to explore something thoroughly, seeing more and more of its nuances and depths.  Working on projects like this has moved my photography forward in a way that nothing else has, and has made it much more worthwhile and satisfying.  This is one of the best things I got from the experience.

Window, St Dunstans Church, City of London

Background knowledge – I learned a lot about the contemporary and historical photography world, and a little about photographic/art theory.  I don’t think I would done so much of this on my own.  It’s given me a good foundation from which to discuss photography and photographers, and it’s knowledge I take pleasure in having.  It makes viewing exhibitions much more meaningful and enjoyable, too.

A more open mind – I had to look at the work of photographers that I would have otherwise avoided.  While not particularly pleasurable, this was really good for me and made me work to understand what was behind the images and what made them notable.  Over time I came to appreciate photography that I would previously have dismissed.  I learned to spend longer looking and avoid the knee-jerk ‘like/don’t like’ reaction I might have had before.

A supportive community of other students – this was a huge advantage, which I found far more valuable than anything else.  I made a number of good friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with, and a few whom I meet up with face to face.  I knew that I could get considered and thoughtful feedback from peers any time I wanted it, and I received immense support and encouragement from other students, particularly during a time when it was singularly lacking from official OCA sources.

Study visits – latterly, OCA began to hold study visits to significant exhibitions.  These offered more opportunities to meet and talk to other students, and hear tutors talk about the work we were viewing, giving us additional insight into it.  I also went on a residential weekend, which was arranged by the students themselves (in conjunction with OCA), and that was an amazing  and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

It included the opportunity to bring some work and have it critiqued by both a tutor and a group of students.  I was apprehensive about this to begin with, but having a variety of people contribute their thoughts resulted in a more rounded feedback that was less open to the bias one person might show.  It also increased my confidence to have another tutor say some very positive things about my work – I’d accepted by this time that I was never going to do very well within OCA, so this gave me a bit of a boost.  Of course, it could equally well have gone the other way……….

Reflection, St Dunstans Church, City of London

Greater self-awareness – one good thing about identifying what you don’t want is that it points the way to what you do want.  All the angst I went through at times had the effect of throwing some light on what it was I most wanted from photography.  It made me question myself, in a good way.

Increased self-confidence – this may seem unlikely given what I said in my previous post, but it’s a matter of  ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.  I certainly lost a lot of confidence while I was doing the courses, but ultimately I realised that if I wanted to continue doing photography I couldn’t place too much importance on what any one tutor – or anyone else for that matter – said to me about my work.  I once had the same assignment marked by two different tutors and, although the overall mark was similar, the individual feedback on each image was markedly different.  Assessing any kind of art is unavoidably subjective and I stopped taking any of it very seriously – good or bad.  Of course, I then asked myself if there was a point to doing the course at all and I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t.  By that time, I had structures in place that gave me the other things I’d gained from studying, and if all that was left was course material, assignments and tutor feedback then it wasn’t enough to justify the costs involved in carrying on (both financial and emotional).

Were I to go back to degree study again, I’m sure all the old feelings of inadequacy would resurface – I was always a square peg trying to fit myself into a round hole and that makes it very difficult to hold on to confidence in your work.  But now I’m beginning to feel I’ve found my niche and my voice, and that I’ve made a solid foundation from which to move forward.  In a strange, and often indirect way, studying brought me to this place.

Arch with climbers, St Dunstan Church, City of London

At first, once I’d removed myself from the college I felt a little bit lost for a while, unsure of what I wanted to do or what I was aiming for.  Slowly I returned to the approach I had when I first started, albeit augmented by the positive things I’d taken from my period of study.  When I came across contemplative photography I realised that this is how I naturally work and suddenly I felt as if I’d come home.  College work was supposed to involve a lot of planning and research before you even got the camera out, and although I did go about things this way sometimes, it never felt right and never produced my best work.  At other times, I went back to working in a way that felt natural to me and added in the ‘planning’ and research afterwards to keep everybody happy.

And that was the real problem – when you do something with the end in mind, whether that’s a certificate, good marks, approval from peers/tutors, or whatever, there’s a real danger that you lose your way.  Some people are strong-minded enough to avoid this – I’m not always one of them.  To be truly creative you have to spend time in play, and feel free to make mistakes, and this wasn’t a culture where mistakes were well-received.  I became less and less adventurous and played it more and more safe.  And as I did, my marks got lower and lower, which in turn made me lose confidence, and the whole thing went spiralling downwards.  Looking back at some of the work I did for assignments, I can see that while it was perfectly OK, a lot of it didn’t reflect or express who I was.  I’m glad to have left it all behind, and grateful for the benefits I’ve brought with me.

Images are of St Dunstan’s Church in London and form part of an early assignment for the Landscape course.  I’ve pulled out the ones that feel most like ‘me’ – the others in the set never did.

 

 

 

A visual life

This week I’ve been inspired by Kim Manley Ort’s post, A Visual CV, to have a go myself.  There are ten questions, to be answered visually, without words.

I’ve found it surprisingly difficult.  The same image could have answered several different questions, and some of them don’t quite capture what I wanted to show.  With others I felt I’d like to use more than one image to say what I want to say, and then there were all the ones I wanted to use but couldn’t.  But I may be over-thinking it – probably the best way is to make quick decisions and let intuition decide.  Taken as a whole, I think these probably represent me quite well.

If you feel like having a go yourself, leave a link to your own post in the comments.

 

Who are you?

Marine Lake, West Kirby

Why photography?

Couple with umbrella through fountain

What is your trademark photographic style?

Water, blue and gold

What truly inspires you?

Where do you go when you close your eyes?

Canoes, Norfolk Broads

Where is home for you?

Path, Stapleford Woods, Notts

How would you describe your lifestyle?

Tea for two

What makes a great shot?

Ripples, Lincoln

How do you view the world?

Sky window

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned?

Windchime love

 

Why I haven’t been out much, lately

Sky over Newark

In the last month, our Airbnb bookings have really taken off.  We’re in the middle, right now, of more than a fortnight’s worth of back to back bookings and that, plus my casual job in the local libraries, has taken up so much of my time and attention that this week’s blog post is only just scraping into what is still, technically, this week.

I’ve never done so much bed changing, house cleaning, and laundry.  I’ve never waited for so many people to turn up at the door, rarely arriving anywhere close to the time that they say they will.  I’ve never set so many breakfast tables or bought so much bread and toilet paper.  But it’s been good – everyone who’s stayed so far has been lovely, it’s been interesting to meet and talk to so many people, and it’s producing a goodly amount of much needed income.  The guest before the current ones also presented us with a freshly-caught trout, which was great but led to some consternation about which of us was going to gut it.

Out of all the people who’ve booked, there’s only been one awkward customer and he hasn’t even arrived yet.  He’s booked in next week for five days, made the booking several days ago, and has been bombarding me with messages ever since.  First off he wanted to know exactly how far we were from his place of work.  This seemed to me like something he could have worked out for himself, but I duly found the website for his workplace, got the postcode, entered both postcodes into Google maps, hit Directions, got the info, and sent it back to him.  Then he wanted to know if he could have a discount for a longish stay, so we took a bit off the usual fee.  To do this, I had to send him a Special Offer, and he then wanted to know every step of the process – answer: I don’t know because no-one’s ever sent me one – and could he pay with this card or that card, and what did he have to click on, etc, etc – answer: click Accept and try following the instructions.

After he did this and booked, the next message I got asked how he could cancel and what the terms and conditions were.  Not that he wanted to cancel, he pointed out, but he wanted to know.  I didn’t say that perhaps it would have been a good idea to check this out before he booked.  I suggested he clicked on the clearly marked link on our listing, where it says Cancellation: Moderate, which would take him straight to what he wanted to know.

Then it was: could he cook his lunch and dinner in our kitchen? – he’d bring his own implements.  Answer: No – because it clearly states in our listing that it’s light use of the kitchen only and not for serious cooking.  I suggested various takeaways close by.  OK, he said, could he put a week’s worth of frozen meals in our freezer?  I gave him a yes on this one, because although our freezer is very small it’s fairly empty at the moment and I was getting tired of saying no.

After that it was: could he drop off his luggage early in the morning before he went to work, and if he couldn’t do that, could he bring it the night before and leave it here.  Answer: No – because I’d already made it a condition of taking the booking that he couldn’t check in till after 5.30pm as we had other guests staying, I was going to be out for most of the day, and Geoff will be out the whole day into the evening. First thing in the morning I’ll be tending to our departing guests, running Geoff to the station, stripping the bed and getting the room and the house ready, and trying to get out the door and have the long and leisurely lunch with a friend that I had planned long before I knew he was coming.  I also had the feeling he wouldn’t turn up when he said he would (hardly anyone does) and would probably keep me talking and be hard to get out the door.

Every day brings a new request, and he hasn’t even arrived yet.  I’m rather dreading his stay.  I’ve turned it into a game now – we try to guess what the next request is going to be, becoming more and more outlandish as we rather hysterically try to out-think him.  Today I’m holding my breath because, so far, he hasn’t been in touch.

While all this has been going on, I’ve been offered more and more library work.  I’m very grateful for the work – it’s pleasant, not terribly badly paid, and the people are nice.  It’s just that I wouldn’t choose to do it if I didn’t have to.  Integrating the Airbnb commitments with the library commitments can sometimes be a major exercise in logistical planning.  Geoff is fantastic at doing lots of the practical stuff, like hoovering, but he doesn’t have the knack of making things look nice and dressing the room properly, so it has to me that does these things.  One or other of us also has to be in to receive them, which can be difficult when they turn up much earlier or several hours later than they say they will.

Anyway, this a very long and rambling excuse as to why I haven’t written anything this week, till now.  And I don’t have much to say this time.  Nor have I managed to get out and do any photography.  However, the skies as seen from my study window have been nothing short of spectacular, so I’m going to leave you with those.  I hope you enjoy.

 

Sky over Newark

Sky over Newark

Sunset sky trails over Newark

Sunset sky trails over Newark

Sunset sky trails over Newark