Noa… uh, Nige’s Ark

I pull onto my driveway and the girl visiting next door greets me with ‘Are you the bird man?’ An unusual beginning to a conversation. And the beginning to an unusual day…

It seems I have a reputation as someone who charms the birds from the trees – especially since rearing my first successful brood of robins. [Okay, so robin mum and dad probably helped quite a bit, but with a constant supply of mealworms, I’d like to think I had a significant hand!] One of the regular visitors to the garden are a pair of collared doves, and while I was out one of them had apparently been attacked by magpies. The new neighbour, Margaret, pulled me into her garden “I don’t think it can fly. There were feathers everywhere,” as she led on. “I managed to shut it in the cupboard at the end of our garden.” [Uh, don’t ask!] She slowly opened the mirrored door to the wardrobe lying on its side to a sudden blast of frantic grey wings spiraling around my feet. I calmly, but swiftly, reached down and gathered up the flapping wings. I held it quietly to my chest, the bird’s heartbeat almost as swift as my own. “I knew you’d know what to do,” said Margaret. I have no idea why she thought that. And I now stood there mostly not really knowing of what to do next!

The bird calmed and I gently fanned one wing at a time; the left wing had lost a number of significant flight feathers, as well as a number from its tail; a couple of puncture wounds, from what I assume to have been the beak of the magpie, oozed a small amount of blood. 352

But its eyes were bright and otherwise seemed surprisingly well. Margaret went and found a cardboard box when I noticed the other one of the pair looking down from the fir tree in my own garden. Can birds show concern?

What now?

I tracked down a wildlife rescue centre, Secret World, and gave them a call. They would take the dove but didn’t have anyone in the immediate area today – could I get it to them by any chance? An hour’s drive away, we reached the compromise: they would try and arrange for someone to meet me somewhere en route for an exchange. An hour passed … no call. I called again, and somehow, a few minutes later I found myself agreeing to pick up two more injured animals from a vets on the opposite side of the city!

Another hour later and my cramped car held a small menagerie.

The Ark [and the fated gap in the box!]
 In the footwell, my collared dove had been joined by a hedgehog and, tucked snugly behind the passenger seat, a very excitable jay! I’d somewhat inexplicably become a wildlife rescue driver for the day!


The drive wasn’t uneventful. I’m sure we’ve all suffered those moments when a large fly or even an insect of the striped stinging variety becomes an irritating distraction as it zigzags across the windscreen. So, imagine, then, should a collared dove decide to leave the confines of its cardboard hospital and aim at the sky! Fortunately, I was actually stopped at a junction when it happened and managed a heart-palpitating recapture … albeit to the bemusement of the car driver waiting behind and the lady with the pushchair waiting to cross the road, as my arms flapped as wildly as the car-entombed bird.

I finally pulled into the rescue centre’s car park and walked into the reception to be greeted by a wildly enthusiastic hug from the cheekily persuasive Ann, one of the women manning the phones. I glanced up at the whiteboard behind their heads and laughed …

Secret World Rescue Driver: “Nice man! : )” 

I’d hopefully earned that enthusiasm and the accompanying tea and biscuits – although I declined the gentle persuasions that I might like to volunteer on a more regular basis. [The persuasion had already got me this far!]


Marlies and I slowly checked in the new patients, including the sickly little hedgehog

A relative of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

 and the excitable but finally exhausted young jay, which may’ve simply left the nest too early.

The exhausted jay

Secret World was a new world to me. But after this experience I was really moved by the dedication of all the staff involved – many of them volunteers – seemingly open to taking in any distressed critter. There was certainly a moment this morning when I really felt the options for the collared dove were limited.

So, that was yesterday, and having just spoken to Diane at the centre there appears to be some hope the collared dove will recover and could therefore be returned to the wild – something I’d particularly like to do, given that its mate has cast a slightly forlorn figure outside my window on and off for much of the day.

A testament to the work done at Secret World can be seen on this sign …


… and last month alone they took in 1,011 sick and injured animals. You can donate and support the work to rescue, rehabilitate and release wildlife at Secret World Wildlife Rescue here.



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.





England, My England : Part 2 … uh, my Britain

The Fine Line

The Fine Line
The Fine Line

After 30+ days of relentless politicking, the relative freedom granted by that of being a floating voter has reached its nadir.

Maybe age has cynically withered me, but laughable headline promises to introduce self-imposed laws not to raise taxes [Conservatives: before 2020] and the erection of a, er, tombstone [it’ll be your tombstone Ed! Labour] aide memoire in the No.10 back garden aside … it’s the relentless negative campaigning that withers me most. [And that being in Opposition is essentially just that: pretty much oppose everything … and then, in the increasingly dense centre ground, produce a slew of policies on education, the NHS, the economy and immigration which all dance around the same tune, sounding superficially sensible, while still attacking the opposition with vague generalisms.] Opposition is easy street. And an easy target. If only it were possible to vote in retrospect!

Thatcher: went mad. Major: went grey. Blair: went mad. Brown: went bust, after infamously promising the End to boom bust. All of them echoing to the ring of ultimately self-serving empty promises.

I think most [sane] people agreed that the 2010 election was a good one to lose; when a boat is lost so far up Shit Creek and paddle-less it prompts a snarky, There’s no money left message, from the departing Labour Treasury minister! But who has been sailing it back toward open water? Something Labour haven’t exactly rushed to acknowledge; funny that, eh? And I even got a Conservative campaign leaflet through the door only yesterday … predictable, perhaps, in its 50/50 split of carefully selected newspaper headlines supporting themselves and denouncing Labour [about as difficult to engineer as a nun shoot in an overcrowded nunnery!] and yet right under the negative attack on Labour’s potential ‘Coalition of chaos’ [something they themselves choose to ignore despite all the virtually guaranteed likelihood] … a photo of one Nick Clegg [Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister for the past five years! Maybe they forgot?!].

I will vote. And I’ve come to the conclusion today I will likely vote for the least arrogant. And, like last time, my vote won’t even count in my constituency. Such is the quirk of this paragon of democracy!

From Tate Britain To A Toilet in Clifton

Or… Where did it all go right?

Here we are in the balmy heat and humidity of midsummer England … and for the first time since the summer of 2006 the yellow blinding thingy shines hotly for more than the occasional morning or otherwise seasonally confused October afternoon. I’ve even released my biggest fan from its shackles inside the dusty box shoved to the back of the wardrobe! [I should probably clarify: that’s not a significant fan of my photography who came to visit me and inadvertently ended up being shoved inside a cardboard box and hidden in my wardrobe for 7 years, it’s the big blowy, air movement kind. Clearly I wouldn’t keep people in the back of my wardrobe. Not after last time, anyway.]

Well, as you can see the heat is affecting my mind quite badly, but on the plus side my first solo exhibition at Rubicon was so well received, it’s run was extended for two weeks and has now been moved to Rubicon Too for a further month.


Reflecting : The Artist
Reflecting : The Artist


Rubicon Too is the latest tastiest eatery to be opened by Umut [my biggest fan – uh, not that one!] and I was delighted to move my work there just over a week ago. The layout is a little different, so the show doesn’t hang together quite as well as it did at Rubicon. And four of the images are consigned to the basement on the way to the toilet… uh, but it’s a nice toilet. Either way, the contrast from having an image in Tate Modern and Tate Britain in the balmy [less] summer of 2008 is a shift of prestige not entirely lost on me: from Tate Britain to a toilet in Clifton in five short years. Where did it all go right, indeed? Ha!


The Wildlife Cameraman Cometh

And finally, for this overdue blog update, here’s a smile-inducing slice of summer from my own back garden filmed this very morning. Maybe there’s a future for me as a wildlife cameraman, yet? [Oh, and don’t worry, although of questionable quality it’s very short – mainly thanks to my deeply inadequate equipment. Uh, please stop making your own jokes at the back!]


Consumed by summer heat, deep in the ivy something stirs…


Note: I’m available for voice-over work for Farmers’ Weekly and other West Country agricultural language bias; walk on parts with minimal lines [due to poor memory retention] will be strongly considered for all major television or film dramas requiring a yokel; and, with Rubicon Too being just a stone’s throw from the world renowned BBC Natural History Unit, quite possibly a shoe-in as the replacement for David Attenborough.


First Solo Exhibition and The Anatomy Of A Stroke [One Year Plus]

At The Zoo : Watching The Animals
At The Zoo : Watching The Animals


First up: I’ve been organizing my first solo photography exhibition. And I hadn’t quite realised, when supplying everything but the walls, everything can be quite a lot of work! I just about made it – hanging the ten images last night. Time to breathe. Hopefully you’ll all now be booking flights from the four corners of the world for this must see event. Ahem.

Anyhoo… If any of you good [local] folk should head this way, feel free to give me the heads up, and I’ll do my utmost to meet you there. Coffees* are on you! Uh, call it your entrance fee and having the sheer pleasure of my company. Think of me as your photographic pim… uh, escort.

* Oh, yeah, that’s the bonus. Rubicon is a lounge café and chocolatiers. So you can easily be distracted from both my company and images with even more delicious distractible culinary treats.


The Anatomy Of A Stroke [One Year Plus]


Remarkably… we were both clean shaven for the occasion!
Remarkably… we were both clean shaven for the occasion!


When I began the project documenting my father’s battle with his stroke, clearly I had no idea where fate and circumstance might lead us. In my opening public comments I essentially concluded my introduction of the documentary with “…and for what I ultimately truly hope will be an uplifting journey to recovery.” Even when I wrote those words, I wasn’t fully aware, having survived the initial dramatic stroke, how the odds were stacked against him.

Happily, for those who followed the unfolding story, you’ll know that my father was lucky to fall into the third of people having such an event who subsequently go on to make a good recovery.

Once again, thanks for all your support through this difficult period in my/our family’s life. I had mixed feelings about making this public, but I was genuinely overwhelmed by those who took the time to write and offer their support and prayers, etc.

And special thanks to John, Alison, Claudio, Tracie, Louise, Kyre, Chris, Sharon, Hameed, Alex, Robert, Dawn, Jen and Giuliana for taking the time to ask some really quite probing questions, and allowing this to have an ideal completion.

The full Q&A interview can now be read on The Anatomy Of A Stroke website.