The Shakespearean and The Heathen

I first met Alice when she was a fragile 14-year-old. Her life had become more than a little crazy following the sudden loss of her father at a tragically young age, for both of them.

At the time, Alice’s mother, Linda, was briefly working with my wife, Sue, at the local university. And, unknowingly, it seems the fates had conspired.

Alice had lost her father a few days after Christmas and in the months that followed, as an only child, had understandably lost a bit of faith and belief in the world; her world turned upside down and inside out. It seems neither mother nor Alice were coping with the grief too well. Alice, I’d been told, had yet to cry.

It was early that following summer when Alice came to see a gig with Sue and I and, presumably, having decided I wasn’t wholly unhinged [an early misjudgment], subsequently agreed to come out and have a coffee and a chat with me. [For anyone reading who might not know, although not qualified, I’ve shared a room with a high school counsellor for the past decade. So, used to being around vulnerable teenagers, both Sue and mum thought Alice might open up to me.] Alice had been brought up within a philosophically stiff-upper-lip background. Be strong. It seems emotion wasn’t something she was able to fully express. I’m not sure how long we were in the tiny, crowded coffee shop that day, but at some point the emotional dam burst; many curious heads were turned. Eventually, we were standing outside as the world swirled around us and I offered her a hug. As we stood on the pavement I nodded back in the direction of the coffee-drinkers, many still looking our way … “If you can cry in there, you can cry anywhere!”

Alice has cried quite a lot since then … sitting on the couch; lying on our bed; in the car; while out walking the dog; and in one or two more coffee shops. She’s quite good at it now! But we’ve laughed many times, too. What I hadn’t expected those seven summers ago, was to have made a special little friend – which she’s grown into. There was that slightly uneasy period, for a while, as Alice grew closer to both Sue and I, where I didn’t feel comfortable at the thought of replacing her father. We talked about it and reached the playful compromise of her being my young wife instead … I still attach a delighted mischievousness at some of the expressions such an introductory label engendered from a few; particularly as Alice shares my absurdist sense of humour.

Since then, we’ve passed a number of life milestones and shared many wonderful moments. And I doubt any moved me more than the day I found out – after the event – that in one of her final classes at high school, the teacher had arranged a show and tell: pupils brought in various objects and described their relationship with them to the class. Alice simply took in a photograph of me! I’m told that she had most of the class in tears, including the teacher, vividly describing the sadness behind our meeting before alighting on the significance to her of the next couple of years … a thought that still moves me today.

The following is a video I made for Alice’s 16th birthday that summer after a photographic session in her home. Arguably most remarkable for the fact that I was able to use virtually every image that we shot that day.


I’ve chosen to write this now because today is Alice’s 21st birthday. Another milestone. But it’s become an extra significant milestone, as earlier this week Alice phoned to say she’d just completed a Skype interview with King’s College London and they’d immediately offered her a place on their prestigious MA in Shakespeare Studies “Not only will you draw on the literary expertise of a world-class university, but you’ll be taught within the renowned Globe Theatre, only metres from where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.”

When I first met Alice it seemed she was destined to become a barrister or lawyer; something her father had potentially wanted for her. Since meeting me I’ve wholly supported her in her will to simply become … Alice. And as a Shakespearean heathen myself I’m happy to clarify this direction has garnered absolutely no coercive prompting on my part! However, if there’s one thing I hope that Adrian [if he is able to look down from somewhere] and I both share in this notable of week’s … it’s a sense of pride at seeing Alice finding her way with such intelligence and passion.



There’s a place I go 

When I’m alone

Do anything I want

Be anyone I wanna be

– Newton ‘Shakespeare’ Faulkner



Who knows or even begins to understand why people come and go in our lives on this earth? The only thing I do know is that people occasionally swing into each other’s orbits for myriad of inexplicable fateful reason. And, undoubtedly, the best thing is being able to recognise the special ones when they do … and cherishing the journey you share.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without my favourite Shakespearean quotation: “I thought I’d [finish] by reading a poem by Shakespeare, but then I thought, why should I? He never reads any of mine.” – Spike Milligan.

For my special girl. For my special friend. To the future. Happy 21st Alice. x x x

The Shakespearean and The Heathen

The Calendar : 2016 : Update

Hey everyone, just a quick update on The Auction for my calendar. These are the first six months of images to be found on this highly desirable unbridled joyous “astonishingly excellent”* … uh, too much?


The Calendar 2016 Jan-Jun
Calendar Images : January-June


*  “Astonishingly excellent…” Yes, dear reader, not my words but the words of Donald Trump’s personal physician, Harold Bornstein. Admittedly, he was actually describing Donald Trump’s alleged physical health rather than, well, either his presidential campaign or my calendar, but I’m confident he would be equally eulogising. Meanwhile, Trump’s barber was said to have declined to comment.

Imagine being Donald Trump’s personal physician. I’ll, uh, just leave you with that thought for a moment …  …  … Okay! Okay, you can stop. It makes the prospect of, uh, unwrapping the calendar after it lands in your mailbox more appealing now, though, eh?!

The above images will furnish the eyes with pleasure between the months of January-June. You can read the full introduction to this auction idea by reading the accompanying blog/video here.

Current Highest Bid: 47 Euros

[Approx. conversion: US $52 and UKP 34]

[Bid by Valeria in Italy … Note: If you’d rather not have your name publicly announced with any bid please let me know.]


Kick-starting One’s Arse [by holding out a hand … and a cap]

I don’t intend to bore anyone with tales of my traumatic childhood … when I lived in box in the woods and was raised by wolves and the occasional elf. Or how my life as one of the world’s top sportsmen and a fully functioning member of our consumerist society was curtailed and largely hindered by … my personality.

But my prevailing reality is such that I’ve been unable to process images in anger on my computer for approaching three years; essentially, I’ve become as effective as a photographer who leaves the lens cap on. So, I want to plunge into, not so much the brave new world, as simply a world where memory intensive processing becomes a smooth reality and not simply a further drain on already shredded frustrations and thinning hair. [And actually share finished images with the friends and family of now two-year-old weddings!]

I had hoped for a fair financial tailwind that would’ve allowed this long before now but inertia has steadfastly refused its creep. So, with time sliding into the abyss of procrastination I’ve decided it’s time to allow my photography to raise the funds it needs.

Early in the New Year I will be looking into forms of crowdfunding with a view to raise money wholly for a new computer – and hopefully a portrait lens; and should too many of you go berserk: new camera body – by rewarding contributors with copies of my work in what might well prove to be utterly outrageous as well as contemporary photographic forms. [If you have any ideas, wishes or questions feel free to hurl them my way in the interim!]

To kick-start the idea I’m making available just ONE copy of The Calendar : 2016 featuring my street photography images, which I’m going to auction to the highest bidder from today! I’m one part excited, one part fearful that it’s going to end up costing me money to send it!

When I’m famous this will be collectible!*

I will be posting updates on the bidding process at the foot of this post and via Instagram, Flickr, F*c*book and Twitter. You can make bids in any location or via email and text and I will keep all locations up to date with the prevailing highest bid.

I propose to end bidding at 11:59pm on 21st December and will ship the calendar with its heartfelt personal message the following day – hopefully this should ensure delivery by the New Year anywhere in the world.

{ Doffs cap }

* Guarantees of fame are not included. Neither is the towel seen in this clip.


Current Highest Bid: 47 Euros

[Approx. conversion: US $52 and UKP 34]

[Bid by Valeria in Italy … Note: If you’d rather not have your name publicly announced with any bid please let me know.]


Exposure can be a fine line in modern media and in the wider art world. Underexposure; and your world remains conspicuously quiet like a church mouse with laryngitis. Overexposure; and the world’s your oyster … if I could just get the damned thing open! And an antihistamine for my seafood allergy. Or, failing that … a pram, some toys and a good throwing arm.

The Sublime Meets The Ridiculous

The highlight of my photography year was undoubtedly having an image curated for the Mobile Photo Now exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art [CMA] in Ohio, USA. The exhibition itself proved to be critically well received and presented a significant step forward for the medium and appreciation of photography as an art form. The exhibition, co-curated by CMA and #JJ community on Instagram, featured 320 images from 240 photographers representing nearly 40 different countries.

Overexposed : The Tsunami Effect

Only this week I had another image prominently highlighted within the #JJ community.




The image is one I took of my father for the project: The Anatomy Of A Stroke. It clearly made an impact in the daily #JJ community theme: Profiles. More than 4,000 images were submitted, with 188 selected by the army of community editors. Just 4 were then selected by Josh Johnson himself and posted under the main #JJ community hash-tag.


In posting Josh added “What a powerful and gripping image Will [Gortoa, my IG pseudonym]. I’ll just leave it at that. Anything else I write feels ridiculous. Thank you so much for sharing this.”


As you might notice by the numbers at the top of that image, the #JJ community has 636,000 followers and for a few hours my church mouse stream went atomic-powered church organ! Well, all things are relative.

Within 24 hours – and an increase in my own followers of about 50 – things returned to … ruined church at the head of the dusty high street in a desert town with no name. Cue tumbleweed! But it was fun while it lasted: watching my notifications window spinning like a Vegas jackpot machine … the modern day social media phenomenon that quickly becomes yesterday’s news [or a quick whack with the Like icon and onto the next Warhol].

Underexposed : The Pram

I also recently entered an image for consideration in the Royal West of England Academy’s 163rd Annual Open Exhibition. As it openly boasts “…[it attracts] leading artists from throughout the UK, it is open to all, and often includes work by unknown exhibitors alongside well-known names.” The selection process is notoriously … robust. And photography invariably maintains quite a low profile in the final selection. I was absolutely delighted to have The Falling Leaf curated for the 160th exhibition in 2012.

This year I was determined to go with a street photography image. I was pleased to get it through the initial online selection process, before mounting, framing and crossing fingers for the final selection. The subsequent email duly arrived … Selected! I do believe I may’ve done a moderate dancing movement – for anyone who knows me, they’ll know that’s quite significant.

But then something really quite cruel happened. I was to discover another category that I didn’t even know existed …



Just a few days before the exhibition was due to open, I received another email from the RWA with revised wording: Artist Selected Not Hung. Essentially this meant that the final curation essentially lies at the hands of the hanging team. But all is not lost … because in three panels placed around the exhibition is your name – effectively hung and displayed for all to see. And quite possibly point and laugh.

Well, I laughed. But when I returned downstairs another artist had brought in a pram containing a large number of toys and began hurling them out in quite dramatic fashion.

Exposure. Whatever the outcome, I think you should probably keep your dignity and modesty covered.





Publicly Speaking : The Fear

For the love of sponge! I possess an almost pathological fear of public speaking. I’d rather plunge my face into a hive a bees – who are known to adopt a rabid stinging frenzy at the merest hint of the smell of jam – while wearing a face-mask … made entirely from jam!  

So, when I was approached  last summer by the steeped in history* Bath Photographic Society asking if I would consider giving a talk during their up and coming season of lectures, why exactly did I say yes? I know why… it was in part down to me going through a phase of accepting every opportunity, while also subconsciously safe in the knowledge that 27th May 2014 was not only forever away, but would most probably never come. Clearly, there was at least one serious flaw in my logic: that of the inexorable march of time.

Time waits for no man.
Time waits for no man.

* Bath Photographic Society shares the same birthday as Kodak Eastman in 1888; a year before the invention of the first flexible photographic roll film!

Essentially, I’m an observer, not a talker. [Although my closer friend’s might doubt that assertion when I’m talking all over them! The fear has always been associated with public speaking. I have inevitably had a couple of brief experiences feeding the pathology; predominantly recalling levels of hyperventilation in danger of sucking the entire audience from the room!] And now I’d committed myself to talk to a roomful of people for a mind-boggling hour and a half! So, how did this curious alignment even occur?

During the previous season of lectures my ex-friend Dave Lewis-Baker gave a talk on the History of Street Photography. “You’ll be fine,” he assured me. That’s … early retired Professor of Politics at Warwick University David Lewis-Baker: the professional lecturer! Since first meeting Dave about 5 years ago he’s been very supportive of my photography; and slipped two of my images into his own talk amongst the historical great and the good. It was in the aftermath he persuaded their secretary, Liz Bugg, to approach me.

Still, at least I had 9 months to prepare, right? Ah. See, there’s another flaw in the logic associated with hoping time stands still: fear induced procrastination. So it was probably less than 9 days before the talk when I finally began to select images and order a brown paper bag** from Amazon; which isn’t necessarily as crazy as it might sound, as I generally respond well to deadlines. But things did get a little hectic in the last couple of days, with the format only decided upon the preceding day – a hastily borrowed laptop [Thanks again, Dave – well, it was all your fault!]; realising the planned use of PowerPoint was completely impractical; writing onto cue cards; mysteriously losing an entire batch of images only hours before; a late morning timed run-through that hinted I might overrun – but with tweaks still to make; a subsequent timed run-through that hinted I wouldn’t overrun so long as I didn’t breathe, waffle and nobody so much as looked at me. It was too late to change anything now. I was halfway up the stairs to shower and make myself beautiful when I suddenly turned on my heels, returned to the slide-show and took out 20% of the images! A few minutes later I sat under the shower and wondered … at this late stage, would faking my own death be seen as an overreaction?

** One of the best concise pieces of advice had appeared on my Instagram feed from a virtual stranger no longer than 24 hours earlier: Let your work do the heavy lifting. Know what you want to say, but approach the whole ordeal with a relaxed, devil-may-care attitude. Mind the speed of your speech, and pause and breathe often. What’s the worse that could happen?” I did reply “The worst? .. I forget to breathe often enough.” Scott quickly retorted “Alright, so you pass out. Just make sure there’s a great image on the screen… no one will notice.” I pondered the eventuality and thought of a backup plan: maybe, like the bus in the film Speed, if the images drop below a certain rate, the slide-show switches to auto… and the remainder of the speech is written on the souls of my shoes. Simple. What could possibly go wrong?


Street Photography. Following the gut feeling last moment 20% untested reduction in images the talk runs for... almost an hour to the minute!
You get the point: Street Photography. Following the gut feeling, last moment 20% untested reduction in images the talk runs for… almost an hour to the minute. Gasp!
Seascapes : The ethereal use of light in my coastal images.
Seascapes : The ethereal use of light in my coastal images. [Don’t give up the day job, Rob! 😉 ]

In the cool, relaxed light of reflection… it was a lifetime pathological fear duly exfoliated. I may well have forgotten to breathe in the first few minutes, but the warmth of the reception carried me through. And the subsequent feedback [anonymously requested], so far, has been truly humbling, as it is equally encouraging … now where did I put the jam?!

Feedback from past day or so:


Me attempting to get my head around new technology with the ever resourceful and helpful Chris. Dave Lewis-Baker looks on.
Me attempting to get my head around new technology with the ever resourceful and helpful Chris.

“…we saw a very personal exploration and a piece of your soul. You were articulate, thoughtful and thought-provoking.”

“It was wonderful to hear the how-where-when-why, for each shot, from the horse’s mouth – it made such a difference to my appreciation of what you have achieved.”

“Overall, the evening was excellent and ranks among the best that we have seen this year.”


It's getting serious now! [Dave Lewis-Baker looks on.]
It’s getting serious now! [Dave Lewis-Baker looks on.]
“While you are not familiar with public speaking, you clearly prepared very well and this delivered a top-notch presentation.”

“A very enjoyable and informative evening, up there with the best of them.”

“… well-balanced great presentation …considering it was you first talk your passion came through…”

View from the cheap seats.
View from the cheap seats.

You were funny, very open and informative.” 

Excellent evening. I think your imagination and creativity are very original.”

“One of the most interesting evenings we have had.”

“A very inspiring and entertaining talk.”


Taken towards the end of the break. They seem happy enough?! And still awake!   [I also had prints, books, etc at the rear of the room.]
Taken towards the end of the break. They seem happy enough?! And still awake! [I also had prints, books, etc. at the rear of the room.]
“… your knowledge of and passion for your subjects [made for] an amazing first ever presentation.”

“For me, you should have no qualms at all about your ability to talk publicly. Your knowledge and sincere enthusiasm with excellent images speaks volumes!”

The calming presence of BPS president, Geoff Wood
The calming presence of BPS president, Geoff Wood.

“The photography was brilliantly original, esp. the street photography. I know of no photographer who can spot visual puns like Nigel…  [the] street photography is a very personal development of Cartier Bresson’s concentration on people in their own environment, and can be viewed in the same context. He has the very rare ability to photograph people unexpectedly without causing offence.”





I’m indebted to… Dave Lewis-Baker for the initial shove and subsequent support; my great friend Rob Jordan, who filled the car journey to Bath with distracting laughter, helped setup and took a few photos as evidence; my wife, Sue, for agreeing not to come [maybe next time!]; and all at Bath Photographic Society for the opportunity [especially Liz Bugg for my exponentially frazzled emails and texts!].

And… breathe…