Winchelsea, Spike, and coffee and walnut cake

Geoff and SpikeThose of you who know anything about Spike Milligan might also know that before he died, and with his typical brand of humour, he asked that his gravestone bear the inscription “I told you I was ill”. He now lies buried in the graveyard of Winchelsea Church, and he almost got his way with the inscription, but it’s in Irish Gaelic instead of English. The Chichester Diocese got a bit uppity about having the English version on the stone, and after two years of wrangling they finally said the equivalent of ‘oh, alright then, but only if you do it in Irish’. (Milligan held an Irish passport)

A couple of weekends ago we went to Winchelsea to see it. The excuse – and it was purely an excuse for a day out – was that Geoff had completed a cryptic crossword that was themed around the quote and he thought it would be fun to be photographed beside the headstone holding the completed crossword.

 

When we got there we couldn’t find it and it turned out that, in a trick of fate and timing that I’m sure would have pleased Spike enormously, the gravestone had been removed just a few days beforehand. His wife had just died and it had been taken away to have her name engraved on the stone, so all that was left to us was a mound of unmarked earth – but we took the photo anyway and we managed to buy a postcard of how it ought to have looked.

That was the only disappointment of the day, and there were lots of compensations. Before we started looking for the grave, we had some lunch in a beautiful little beer garden belonging to the pub in Winchelsea, and I found this bench quietly being taken over by nature.

Overgrown bench

Winchelsea Church had the most amazing stained glass windows.  The photographs don’t do them justice – the colours were softer, lighter and more pastel than stained glass usually is, but I had trouble getting that to show in the images.

Stained glass, Winchelsea Church

 

Stained glass window, Winchelsea Church

And we found the grave of someone called Seddon Wildeblood, which sounds like something out of an eighteenth century romantic novel.  Wonderful!

Seddon Wildeblood

Then we went to Winchelsea Beach, which is a huge expanse of sand, sea and pebbles, stretching for miles and only broken up by the wooden groynes that criss-cross it.

Winchelsea Beach

There was a powerful wind that seemed ideal for a bit of kite flying.  Unfortunately it was so strong that, after a while, the lines of the kite got tangled up into a tight, Gordian knot that was impossible to undo with the wind whipping everything around, including my hair over my face.  In the end we bundled it all up and threw it in the back of the car, to be slowly unpicked later at home.

Kite flying, Winchelsea

I played around with some abstract water and sand photos too.

Pebbles

Water patterns

Then we finished up with tea and cakes in Rye, and staying true to my inability to remember to photograph things before I eat them, I ate them and forgot to photograph them – but I will tell you it was one of the nicest slices of coffee and walnut cake I’ve ever had.

Making books

Geoff's birthday book

I love books; I’ve always loved books, with a passion. I read all the time and can easily get through a book in a day (and do other things as well).  But as much as I love the content of books, what I like equally much is their physicality – I love the weight of them in my hand, the lovely squared-off heft of them.  I love the way they smell: every book smells different and each one is enticing in its own way.  I love the feel of the pages, whether they’re tissue-thin or thick as card; matt, or smooth and glossy.  I love shiny new books, for their perfect edges and untouched quality, and I love old, tattered books, for their faded covers and soft, much-handled, pages. (Kindle, eat your heart out)

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve had a yearning to make my own books for some time now.  Eventually I’d like to combine my photography projects with hand-made books so that I could create  beautiful, individual works of art with each element enhancing the other.

That’s for the future, and you’ve got to start somewhere. I haven’t made it to a book-binding class yet but I have made my first ever book.  I know it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t have any of my photos in it, but I made it and I’m proud of it.

The backstory is this: it was Geoff’s 50th birthday in March and I wanted to do something special for him. I didn’t have much money so it had to be something that was meaningful but didn’t cost much.  So I came up with the idea of making a small book called ’50 Things I Love About You’ – one for every year of his life.  I themed it around rabbits because he adores rabbits.  I had a lot of fun putting it together, although it was more time-consuming and challenging than I thought it would be.

I made the pages out of cream luggage labels from Paperchase, and each page was decorated with pieces of rabbit confetti (found on ebay), painstakingly glued on, one by one.  I managed to find a phone charm in the shape of a rabbit, and then I found a key with a little tag with ‘My heart’ on it on a card-making site.  The other components were things I either had lying around the house or found in a card-making supply shop.  And on every page, I wrote one, two or three things that I love about him.  (The first 30 or so were easy; the next ten were more difficult; and by the time I got into the 40s I was having to think very hard indeed – and wishing he was a lot younger.)

It didn’t work out quite as I had hoped. The luggage labels seemed like a good idea at the time, but they had metal eyelets in the holes and when they were piled up together they became much thicker at one end than I’d anticipated, and that required a complete rethink about how I was going to hold everything together.  There were other problems too, but I got it to work well enough in the end.

Rabbit and key charms

Rabbit confetti on pages

Back cover

That all happened back in March so why am I bringing it up now? Well today I got delivery of the most gorgeous book called ‘Book + Art: handcrafting artist’s books’.  It’s full of stunning and inspiring artist’s books, plus just enough of the practical how-to stuff on binding to be useful without being boring.  (Rather appropriately,I bought it using an Amazon voucher I was given for my own birthday.)  I’ve only flipped through it so far, but it’s fired me up already and I’ve realised this is something I so want to do.  Combining my love of photography and my love of books just has to be the way to go.

And, oh yes, in case you’re itching to know: did he like it? Well, I did have to pass the tissues so I think the answer’s ‘yes’.

A photographer’s miscellany

Reflected woods

I come across so many good things as I move round the internet that I thought I’d do a series of occasional posts on the best of them.  This is the first one.

I love treehouses; I always wanted one but never got it (maybe because we never lived in a house with a garden that had big enough trees).  If you’re like me, satisfy your treehouse craving at ‘inhabitat’ website.  These are beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

This Arty Bollocks Generator made me laugh.

David Peat’s street photography is wonderful – humorous and touching. Although he’d taken thousands of street photos over the years, he’d never had any of them printed or shown bigger than a tiny thumbnail on a contact sheet.  When he was diagnosed with a terminal illness at the age of 64, he started sorting through the negatives and the best are now on show in Scotland.  What a shame it took a life-threatening illness to encourage him to share them with the world.

I loved this post About Fear, The Maze, and Freedom on CopyBlogger.

Paul Octavious creates interesting photos using books.  So does Abelardo Morell and his photographic illustrations for Alice in Wonderland are superb.

Turning to Etsy, this is my camera bag to die for. In fact I love just about everything Janine King does.

And this site has the most amazing street art you’ve ever seen.

I have absolutely no idea how they do this, but this twist on the cutting a person in half’ magic trick is incredible.

For any vegetarians out there, the Eating Well site has some great veggie recipes.

I really like the look of Diffusion: Unconventional Photography magazine.

If you’ve ever needed to find the owner of a Flickr picture you’ve saved, this could be really useful.

And if you’re a woman of a certain age, and have wondered about doing some self-portraits, have a look at Patricia Lay-Dorsey for inspiration (click on Portfolios, and then Falling Into Place).  If she can do it, so can you.

That’s all, folks!

Art subjective? – here’s the proof……

Apples

 

I’m dedicating this post to anyone who has ever been floored by criticism of their work – here’s proof that you shouldn’t take what anyone says too seriously even if they are qualified and experienced.

The tutor I started out with on the course I’m currently studying is not known for his tact or empathy.  He didn’t like my first assignment one little bit and criticised it so harshly that it took me the best part of a year to get my confidence back.  I asked for a change of tutor at the time and so the same assignment was marked a second time.  What you see in this post are a few of the images with both tutor’s comments added to them.  I don’t think I need to say any more……except, don’t take anything too much to heart!

 

Yellow tree

Apple tree

Photography, introverts and parties

Solitude

I’m so happy to have discovered the Introvert’s Corner section on the Psychology Today website; it makes me feel a lot less like an oddball than I usually do.  I once filled in a questionnaire on introversion and I was practically off the scale on some of the parameters.   My introvert traits often perplex and puzzle the extravert people in my life, who mostly don’t understand that I’m just wired differently.  For every three extraverts in the world, there’s just one introvert, so we’re seriously outnumbered and usually more than a little bit misunderstood.

In case you’re an extravert yourself, let me just clear up a few misconceptions.  We’re not people haters – we often love people but only in small doses and in ones, twos or threes rather than large numbers.  We prefer peace and quiet, because loudness simply overwhelms our more delicate nervous systems and we can’t think straight.  And we love to talk, but only about things that really interest us and when we feel we’ve got something to say – you can’t shut us up when that happens.  We’re not shy people (well we can be, but it doesn’t go with the territory) and we’re often very friendly and sociable (just not 24/7).

The big, big difference between us and extraverts is that even when we have the kind of people contact we enjoy, our energy is drained by it, but extraverts actually gain energy from being around others.  For that reason we need to spend much more time alone to recharge our batteries.

Parties are not our idea of fun

Because of all this, our idea of fun is a lot different from an extravert’s notion of the same thing.  We loathe parties.  We understand that extravert people have a lot of fun that way, but we just don’t. We’d rather have root canal work than have to go a party (especially as you don’t have to make small talk when your mouth’s full of dental instruments).  Parties are noisy, you can’t have any sort of in-depth conversation at them (which is the kind we like), and even worse, you have to try and look as if you’re having a good time even when you’re very definitely not.  On top of that, we find parties and most social things involving large groups of people, well…… quite boring, really.  We tend to have a low tolerance for small talk, and we’d much rather be doing something other than standing around, struggling to have banal conversations over wincingly loud music.  And when we say doing something, that could just be thinking – we usually have a lot going on in our heads.

So what does this have to do with photography?

I’ve found that being a photographer helps a lot when it comes to finding a way of surviving these things.  A camera – particularly the serious DSLR kind – makes me look as if I have a purpose and gives me something to do.  It means I can talk as little or as much as I want to, wander around or sit on the edges if I like, and when it’s all over I can present the host with some nice images of their ‘do’, which usually goes down very well.  And not least, it gives me something absorbing and interesting to do that doesn’t make me look rude.  Result!

Once I got over the initial stages of learning how to take photos – when I used to feel that people were looking at me and my DSLR and imagining I actually knew what I was doing, when I was all too aware that I didn’t – the camera became a great tool both to hide behind and to make connections with.  I attract attention because of it, but it gives me a role to play and I find that reassuring.  It gives people something to ask you about, and a reason to speak to you.  (I may not be big on small talk but a little bit of it does make the world a nicer place.)

It’s probably not the same for all introverts.  Most introverts hate being the centre of attention or indeed attracting attention to themselves in any way whatsoever.  For myself, I don’t mind as long as I have a role to play.  I’m happy and comfortable being a photographer, or a tutor, or a hander-round of canapés, but without being able to wear the role like a protective cloak I quickly feel exposed and lost in large gatherings. That kind of social interaction is deeply unsatisfying to me and it takes huge amounts of energy for me to try to fit in, but if I don’t make the effort I look and feel like a spare part.  Having a role to play takes that kind of pressure off.

For me, at least, photography hasn’t just given me the creative outlet I always yearned for, it’s also stopped me feeling like quite such a party pooper (although I’d still much rather not go!)

 

Love

Love, plaque in the trees

I was having a bad day; I felt tense, antsy, mildly depressed.  So I went for a walk in the woods, followed a small track away from the main pathways, and discovered this plaque high up in the trees: Love. Just what I needed. Thank you to whoever put it there.

Love, with little hands, comes and touches you with a thousand memories, and asks you beautiful, unanswerable questions

Reflecting on reflections

Reflection with orange lamp, London

This week, Kat Sloma is blogging on Reflections in glass

I’m a bit obsessive about photographing reflections, although when I started trawling through my archives it turned out I have far more photos of reflections in water, mirror, metal, or other substances, than I do in glass.

The word ‘reflection’ comes from the Latin ‘reflex’, which means to bend back – in the case of glass it’s the light rays that are bending back but this also gives it its other meaning of considered thought – ie, you turn back on your thoughts and give them more consideration.  I’m pretty keen on that kind of reflection as well and have eagerly engaged in lots of it – some might say to the point of over-indulgence but I don’t listen to them.  Studying philosophy just egged me on as far as this went and I was actually encouraged to write whole essays about this sort of thing –

Do you ever wonder if the guy in the puddle is real, and you’re just a reflection of him?
— Calvin and Hobbes

Kind of makes you want to disappear up your own tutu, doesn’t it?

Staying true to my nature, I’ve been giving a bit of thought as to why many of us are so fascinated with photographing reflections. Speaking for myself – which is all I can do here – I’m drawn towards abstraction in art and reflections can turn something quite ordinary into a fascinating abstract.  They distort the subject, sometimes making it semi-transparent, and giving it a less substantial, dream-like look.  You often get a double-exposure effect as well, which adds to this. I like the sense of ambiguity and the little bit of effort that’s needed to figure out what’s going on.  You can’t usually take in a reflection picture in one casual glance – you have to really look at it.  If you look at the image at the end of this post, it can take a while before you realise that the leaves are painted onto the glass and the building is reflected in it.

I also don’t like straight lines much and find it fascinating to see buildings and other straight-edged objects take on wavy, curvy shapes.  I’ve always loved Gaudi‘s architecture because of its lack of hard edges and straight lines – a reflected building can turn into an instant Gaudi.

Someone else who likes distorting buildings is Cole Thompson.  In his project The Fountainhead, he photographs skyscrapers reflected in some kind of curved metal board (I can’t remember what it’s made of).  I think he’s had a mixed reaction to these, but I like them.

I’d love to know what it is that other folk like about reflections.  Nearly everyone is fascinated by them so if you have any thoughts on why, I’d welcome a comment below.

 

Buildings and leaves, reflected

St Dunstan’s – sanctuary in the City

St Dunstan-in-the-East, detail

I’ve just finished working on the second assignment for my landscape course.  The brief was that we had to choose an area of approximately one acre of ‘countryside’ and take a large variety of photos that gave a sense of the place.  ‘Countryside’ can be interpreted fairly liberally, so I chose a small garden within a ruined church, right in the centre of The City of London.

I’ve never been a religious person; I find plenty of meaning in life, but it comes to me in other ways.  When I was a child my mother used to drag me along to church and I’d sit there longing with all my heart to be outside in the sunshine.  It seemed to me even at the age of eight, that if there was indeed a god, he would be better served by getting out and appreciating this fantastic world that he’d made.  I imagined him looking down, banging his forehead against a brick wall (or perhaps an unusually solid cloud) and saying (and UK readers can imagine a kind of Richard Wilson voice here):  “I don’t believe it!  I make this amazing place for you to use any way you want to, and I really hoped you were going to have a good time there, and what do you do?  You sit in a dim, man-made environment, singing mournfully and shutting yourselves away from the sun – which I also created and which took a lot of damned hard work, let me tell you – and you moan on about your sins and how you’re not deserving of what I’ve given you.  Well, let me be the judge of that – your job is to rejoice in it, for god’s sake! ”  You get the picture.

So when I came across this little gem of a place in London, it symbolised something for me.  It’s a mediaeval church with a Tower designed by Christopher Wren (who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral).  It was bombed heavily during the Blitz of WWII and all that remained of it was the tower, which was still intact, and the walls of the church.  It was decided not to rebuild the main church, but to turn the ruins into a garden.  It’s now a beautiful, peaceful place with trees and a fountain, and benches where office workers come to eat lunch and sit quietly.  To me it represents that feeling I had as a child: the lush green of the plants growing inside the building and the roof open to the light and the sky brings the natural world inside a sacred space, and that just feels right somehow.

Despite the fact that large numbers of people are using it on any weekday lunchtime, the atmosphere is unusually quiet and serene.  Most people read or eat packed lunches; there aren’t usually many people talking and although the occasional person is engaged in conversation on their mobile, the sound doesn’t carry  – I guess the trees and shrubs soak it up.  It has all the good qualities of a church – the peace, the meditative feeling, the beautiful stonework – while essentially being a place of nature.

The following are a selection of photos I took there, some to be used in the assignment, some not.  And you’ll find another one here.

St Dunstan-in-the-East, lunchtime

St Dunstan-in-the-East, reflection

St Dunstan-in-the-East, window detail

St Dunstan-in-the-East, benches

St Dunstan-in-the-East, dog

St Dunstan-in-the-East, legs

St Dunstan-in-the-East, lunchtime

St Dunstan-in-the-East, ray of light

Happy Birthday to me

Today I’m 55 years old.  That’s beginning to sound quite old to me – I’ve already outlived my parents by several years and that’s a strange feeling, I can tell you.  Depending on which one I compare with, I’ve already had three or four years longer on this planet than they did.

55 seems like a significant sort of age even if it doesn’t end in a zero – I’m now definitely closer to sixty than I am to fifty and the likely time left to me can sometimes seem alarmingly short.  I don’t feel this old, but then most people would say that.  I don’t think I look too bad for my age, but then most people would probably say that too.  And I think my attitudes, tastes, and outlook on life are all younger than many people of my age, but then they’d all probably say the same thing.  The truth is you can never see yourself the way others see you and self-delusion is all too easy.  The only thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t go back to being twenty again even if you did restore my waist to its former glory.

It’s been an interesting life so far.  Bad things have happened – a damaging relationship with my mother, parents dying in a road accident, two divorces, one terrible marriage to someone who I now think had sociopathic tendencies, the ensuing loss of most of my confidence and belief in myself, an illness (M.E.) that took ten years of my life, and many other, smaller, things.  But that’s just one way of telling the story.  I can also tell the story of a father who loved me dearly and with whom I had a close relationship, the time and space my illness gave me to explore and think about my world, the stronger sense of self I ended up with after escaping my second marriage, the most wonderful dog companion I ever had who saw me through a lot of unhappy times, and the lovely, lovely man who’s been in my life for the last eleven years and to whom I’m now married.  It’s the same life, just two different ways of seeing it.

I’m a lot wiser – I think – than I used to be, although the extra wisdom has made me realise just how much I don’t know and don’t understand.  In many ways I don’t mind ageing and actually find it quite interesting.  As a child I used to wonder what I’d look like when I was old and now I’m beginning to see.

I’m quite happy with how it’s gone so far but there is just one thing that bothers me.  I used to be someone who had adventures and I don’t any more.  Some were big and often ill-advised adventures: leaving Scotland and everything I knew to be with a man I’d only known for a couple of months, going a little wild while studying for my MA and effectively making up for an adolescence I never had, and – more recently – making a decision under stress to sell up and go back to Scotland to live and then being so miserable I was back again within six months, considerably poorer and somewhat wiser.

Some were much smaller and more enjoyable adventures: a night out with three Franciscan monks, who invited me to their study centre the next day, where I found the only other women were nuns and I was wearing a mini skirt; a motorbike trip through France where loads of things went wrong but somehow it was all still good; applying for – and getting – a job teaching IT when I knew a lot less than I – and they – realised about how to work a computer; crawling through a field on a summer’s evening to watch badgers; taking part in a river race where you had to launch yourself into a fast flowing river with only an inflatable mattress and a crash helmet, and then, partway along, jumping thirty feet into the base of a waterfall; a Thelma-and-Louise type holiday in a red sports car with two university friends who were ten years younger and considerably more gorgeous than I was, and who spent the whole time experimenting with intoxicating substances, except for when we were having sound healing and being regressed into past lives in Glastonbury – I felt a bit like the maiden aunt acting as chaperone, but I enjoyed it anyway.

I used to meet strange and interesting people, too.  At university – which I went to late in life – there were people of all nationalities and some very eccentric academics with unconventional lives, one of whom lived with three women (not all at once; they took turns).  Another, whom I went out with for a year, would only wear red socks and later took up unicycling and playing the didgeridoo.  A third used to cook exquisite five course dinners for fifteen members of the philosophy society every week, and was said to be the only person who’d acquired a PhD purely on the strength of his wizardry in the kitchen.

My academic phase was followed by my ‘alternative’ phase, where I got to know people who dressed entirely in shamrock green, claimed to communicate with extra-terrestrial beings, built labyrinths, lived over converging ley lines, read tarot cards, modelled penises out of clay (I couldn’t make this stuff up), cleared ghosts out of houses, and many other weird and wonderful things.  Now, I wouldn’t want to be around these people all the time – that would get quite tiring I think – but knowing them made my life richer and a whole lot funnier.  (And a quick note to my more conventional friends – I want to reassure you I love you all dearly and wouldn’t swap you for anything– just so you know)

In the last few years there hasn’t been much of this kind of thing at all.  My last real adventure was to go to art college, having only been drawing and painting for three months (before that, the last time I picked up a pencil or a brush was when I was thirteen so there was a bit of a steep learning curve).  That led to my passion for photography, for which I’ll be ever grateful.

But since then? Zilch, nothing, nada.  I’m living like the middle-aged person I undoubtedly am.  I’m playing it safe and it needs to change.  I used to be much more spontaneous – truly, it did get me into trouble on numerous occasions but I regret the things I haven’t done more than the things I have.  I need a change or a challenge.  And not the kind of everyday challenge like earning money and finding work, but something completely new and exciting and possibly scary, that will stretch me out of the complacent, contented shape I’ve recently grown into, even if it’s only for a few hours.  I don’t know what it’ll be yet, but watch this space……..

 

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming “WooHoo, what a ride!”

 

 

Confessions of a failed food photographer

Risotto balls

Risotto balls

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and we’ve got a table booked at our absolutely most favourite restaurant ever (Jojo’s, in Tankerton, if you want to know).  The last time we went there I meant to photograph each dish but managed to forget until we’d eaten most of them.   As it’s a tapas restaurant and we have lots of dishes, and they come out bit by bit, it’s going some to forget to photograph any of them before we started eating.  But, hey, they still look good even when almost finished.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll remember to get my camera out before I start eating!

 

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas

 

Quinoa salad

Quinoa salad