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…

 

 

Home By The Sea [A Short Story]

Throughout the month of November I set myself my first 30-Day Challenge. It took the form of committing myself to producing a short story: writing a chapter/day for 30 consecutive days and supporting it with a single photographic image, which I then published daily on my Instagram feed. [You can read the full introduction here.] What I hadn’t fully realised, when starting out, was the real challenge would be to simply keep the narrative plates spinning without the ability to go back and edit anything!

The challenge naturally drew to its conclusion at November’s close [and some of you may’ve read the slight time-lag version here] with a surprisingly cohesive story which a few people quite enjoyed – and they weren’t all related to me! Surprising, in the sense that in writing every day – come rain, shine, health, mood, lack of tea, life intrusions, work and dog walking commitments – with no retrospective edit, it somehow held together even more impressively than those bookshelves I put up! [Some of the later chapters, on the tougher days, took 2-3 hours to write and edit an image!] I’ve since deleted the daily postings in order to collate the story in one easy-read post here, entirely in its original form, with no further editing [for now].

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

When autumn comes she falls. Her colour slides and fades to a trickle like softly falling rain. He always watched her. The weight of pain. The tears that tumbled into her pillow and mingled with the scent of loss. And her heartbeat would slow to the fluttering of a winged insect trapped inside. He always watched her.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

He watched her sleeping until the dawn unfolded into a lemon sunrise. The new day light softly licked at the peeling paint of the beach house. Uncoiled from sleep she padded across the wooden floor in bare feet before pressing her cheek to the cold glass of the sweeping picture window. The velvet ocean glistened and reflected the sun like a tin box. Cupping her hands to dull the reflection she scanned the smooth arc of shoreline for all that she loved. But all she could feel was the rising tide.

 

 

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Every morning he would run the liquid curve of the secluded bay; where the land met the timeless sea. Time and tide would swallow his soul almost as efficiently as the shoreline quietly gathered his footprints in their collective wake. What had he been running from? Each day he would wrestle with that thought as the soft sand grappled with his every sinew.

He never saw her… then. But she would sometimes watch him from the confines of the shimmering grass dunes. In hiding. For days and weeks each run would end the same way… prematurely, with head bowed, hands gripping his knees tightly, while his lungs burned with the intensity of the most vivid of sunsets. Tearing at his life with bare hands.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The bay itself could be viewed in all its subtle majesty from the headland at its northern reach, perched high above the ragged perilous cliffs. The rolling expanse of dunes could only themselves be reached by the intrepid souls willing to undertake a significant trek through the dense ancient woodland that clung to the skyline. The more accessible southern end was protected by acres of private land owned by the estate.

The dunes had long been her sanctuary. She would often lie back in the soft folds of sand, her dreams tracing shapes in the passing clouds, while the grasses whispered quiet inspiration.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

He watched her sleeping and wondered where her dreams might take her. He allowed himself to softly trace a line across her cheek with a fingertip, before sliding her hair from her face. But couldn’t speak.

She later woke with a start. And felt the uneasy disquiet of being watched. She instinctively reached for his side of the bed. Coldly departed. And the day had barely begun. She searched the half-light room, met mournful eyes and smiled. Was it true that dogs could feel what you were thinking? And did she read its eyes too?

 

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

She had lived in the tumbledown cottage a few miles inland from the bay her whole life. Her family had worked for the estate for generations. A time line that seemed as long as history itself. But she was end of the line. Her parents, now increasingly frail, had reluctantly retired and moved to the nearby town. She already knew her time at the cottage was probably limited; soon to be swallowed by the new estate manager.

She was a poet. A struggling poet. But she consoled herself with the feeling that without struggle there was no worth. Her poetry had once been purely inspired by beauty that surrounded her. Then he arrived. And her writing began darkening at the edges.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7

He was possibly the most successful architect of his generation. Clients and plaudits rained down around him like silver lined clouds choked with confetti. As a young boy, his mother became increasingly exasperated to come home to find her dining table had disappeared under a beautifully crafted avalanche of cardboard. The exasperation completed by the sight of her worktops scattered with random packets and loose food like a famine relief airdrop drop had burst open upon striking her kitchen. It would seem his tracks were laid before him. And now he was the runaway train.

But there was an emptiness inside where his soul should be. Its echo growing louder. Take flight.

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

As autumn advanced the woodland began to shed its canopy. In the clearing, the stand of silver birch pleaded with outstretched limbs, their leaves now an inverted halo at their feet. Winter would soon become the uninvited guest.

She used to embrace autumn in all her promise; the way its softening light held all its colours in the damp air. Sometimes she would stand and hold her breath, becoming so still she was the silence; thoughts painting shapes in splashes of coloured memories. She held her breath no longer, for fear of never breathing again.

Chapter 9

Chapter 9

The beach house had been his Rubicon. When you close your eyes, jump and spread those wings. Something begins.

He recalled the precise moment his life changed forever. Standing on the stage at the prestigious Riba Stirling Prize for architecture. Standing in the spotlights’ glare. He felt his empty words of peer acceptance echo within. The hollow man. The whispers had grown to a thrashing roar; a wave had broken right through him. The search for an escape had begun that same night; when fate and desire collided. The beach house had come to him in a dream.

Within a year the land had been acquired and the plans approved. He was learning to fly.

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

She knelt down and held the dog’s muzzle gently in her palm, planting a tender kiss on its velvety head. Stay, she said. The dog’s expression was a picture of quizzical calm as she rose to her feet and slipped out the door alone. A change to the routine.

The early morning air was a chilled November blue, which swept skyward in a broad brushstroke and on to the horizon where it met the sea; bleeding into one another they became one. She walked to the incoming tide’s edge, sat down and curled her toes into the cool, damp sand. Closed her eyes. And waited. Finally, a broad wave smashed through her hull. Salt water ran through her veins and bones. She gasped for breath. He watched her from the sweep of the picture window. In that moment, they became one.

Chapter 11

Chapter 11

After the second immense wave thumped into her chest, sending her tumbling in its undertow, she had retreated to the softer sand. Time slid through her fingers. It began with a shiver, but now the November cold crept through her like a bereavement. Her life had begun to feel like breathing under water. She would suddenly find herself gasping for air as if her own soul were dragging her beneath a stampede of white horses.

She heard his voice on the air and turned to look at the beach house now shrouded in mist. She could just make out the sad face at the window. The dog had probably been watching her all along. She turned back to the ocean one last time and tasted the salt on her lips. How many tears would it take to fill an ocean?

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

It had steadfastly stalked him. A cavernous sense of loneliness eating his insides; a wildebeest brought down by his own pride. Lionised. When he looked in the mirror he saw a face he no longer recognised.

His sanity had begun leaking out. A liquid spill from increasing bouts of insomnia. That night of the awards he’d reached the end of the line. The train had scattered its haunted cargo, while he had floated three stops too far. No return. Heading out onto the streets above he turned his collar against the stiffening breeze and walked the few miles home in accidental solitude. The drying leaves of an avenue of beech trees rustled like a convincing sea. The night had only just begun. Physical exhaustion dispatched the insomnia and his mind surrendered to the dream.

Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Her loneliness had been altogether different. Isolation sustained her. She had been born in the ivy-clad cottage nearly four decades ago. Aside from the three years she had spent away at university studying English – or The Descent Into Hell, as she once wrote – her entire life was here. As an only child, the adjacent woodland and the crescent-shaped bay beyond had been her playground. Her history. Her future. The flora and fauna lived both outside, and inside her. One.

From a distance she had watched the access road be built and the foundations of what would become the beach house poured. Her tears had poured with the uncertainty of it all. A world once so familiar, turning upside down. Inside out. Her own foundations crumbling. A soul crying out.

Chapter 14

Chapter 14

During its months of construction he would escape the city tumult, spending increasingly long weekends at the beach house site. He felt the warmth crawl thorough his bones, as he began to rediscover the youthful boy below. He built as much as he could with his own hands. For the first time in many years, lost in the calm, his mind drifted back to the dining room table and his improbable cardboard creations. He smiled at the memory. His mother’s memory. He wished she could see him now, more than ever; a contentment disentangling.

In the softening of each day, he would watch the horizon gracefully dissolve. Twilight would gather around him. And in the last glow of light he would sense an unknown smile.

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Overnight, autumn had delivered her first frost from out of a brilliant sky. A sky where the stars endlessly reveal themselves, one by one, pulling you into the unfathomable. Lost. As she had been inexplicably lost in him.

The early morning light now rolled across the bay a pale cranberry, licking at the delicate frosting on the grasses. Inside the beach house she carefully placed another log onto the fading embers. She waited for signs of life. The spit and crackle. She hugged her knees as the flames began to dance, their soft glow bathed her cheek in a tender kiss.

She knew in her heart. She must leave.

Chapter 16

Chapter 16

The build was well advanced now. She continued to walk the woods and dunes but avoided the shoreline at weekends, when she thought he might be there. When dusk calmly gathered up those days, bringing with it the swirl of bats flitting overhead like her deepest fears frantically in search of a place to hide, she would see him picked out alone in the glow of the fire outside a modest tent. And although the tent was no longer visible, the dancing glow now emanating from somewhere within the growing structure, she would sometimes catch herself wearing a momentary smile; as she did on those mornings she caught him run the corrugated sheen of the water’s edge. He would get further and further before the breathless collapse.

The waiting had become the hardest part. It almost seemed like he was avoiding her as she had clearly been avoiding him.

Chapter 17

Chapter 17

His success had inflicted significance upon him.

The clouds above opened up, an insidious adagio, leaving him an island swallowed by a vast ocean. He never knew his father. And when his mother died suddenly, her heart torn apart by a veiled genetic weakness, he had been surprised at the storm surge of guilt felt when discovering he’d seemingly inherited his father’s lifeblood. Finally, the silent torment that had powered his achievements had begun to burn out. The flames from the nightfall campfire routine were beginning to reignite his soul. He cast fears and dreams into its heart; where they would escape, embers spiralling skyward, seeping into the darkness like a wave of microscopic lanterns. And as they faded, replaced by distant stars, he embraced his insignificance.

After a while he knew when he was being watched. And by whom. He also knew he had been avoiding her. But now he had the answer.

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Standing in the window of the loft apartment his eyes drifted through the familiar view. He felt his old life recede into the distance; a movie script ending. The darkened sky loosened into rain. Droplets formed on the glass, merged and ran, blurring the cityscape like a life sliding away. He became aware of his own reflection.

What makes us who we are? When all our cells either regenerate or die throughout a lifetime. Perhaps a life of truly being should be as fluid as the rain.

Darkness crawled across the city like an animal finding somewhere to die. Streetlights dissolved into pools. He glanced around the empty room one last time. A life without reflection isn’t worth living.

Chapter 19

Chapter 19

The beach house cut a faultless form into the landscape; its own smooth curves hugged the contours of the surrounding dunes and swaying grasses with a balletic grace.

A thunderous downpour had chased across the bay on a relentless wind; for a while the elements raged. She stood at the ragged margin of the sea, the breeze trailing her hair, face turned to the sky. She hadn’t seen him for more than a month. All around her the glow of renewal; the retreating tide reflecting an ethereal gold. In that moment, inexplicably, she felt hope.

Although she didn’t know it, the waiting would soon be over.

Chapter 20

Chapter 20

She sat in the beach house picture window for one last time and watched the sun inch into its new day like an insincere apology. Her unfeeling hands wrapped around a steaming mug of tea; his favourite mug. The dog lay curled across her feet; the warmth from its body tracked its way to the vacuum of her heart. She closed her eyes, a silent tear trickled down her cheek and dropped to the floor with a soft tap.

How do you trust your life when it can one day disappear like that? The making of a solitary cup of tea. Being alone. Again. Took constant effort. She felt the mug slide from her grip and crash to the floor, sending the startled dog scampering for cover. The fragments of a life lay around her feet. For a fleeting moment she hated him.

Chapter 21

Chapter 21

A mellow, milky light whispered into his new life. Light, colour and texture slowly spilled across the fresh room. No longer merely a vision unfolding from a dream, but a reality. A spiritual homecoming. Contentment escaped in an easy sigh. The stress of the old world had already begun to peel away like a snake shedding its skin. He slid into his clothes with a sudden urgency, intent on seizing the day, and soon found his lungs fill with sea air.

A parade of noisy oystercatchers shared his tidal walk. His eyes drifted hesitantly to the dividing line: the reeds that separated the beach from the dunes. He thought how he’d never physically seen her; simply felt her presence. With a renewed sense of purpose, he strode across the great divide.

Chapter 22

Chapter 22

After traversing the rolling dunes he caught sight of a well-worn path that drew him into the wood. The sun punctured the clouds and warmed his bones. It was spring. The trees had begun to unfurl a luminous haze of green; bluebells jostled under pools of sunlight; the air filled with a heady scent of wild garlic and the soft hum of insects. A beauty that surrounds. Rebirth.

He caught a glimpse of the cottage beyond the trees and sensed a cloud of butterflies rise within him. What was that… Fear? Exhilaration? Or something yet to be defined.

Chapter 23

Chapter 23

‘If we get half of half a chance…’

The poem dissolved on an echo through the cottage. She swung the door open on the unexpected knock. Underneath a windswept shock of dark hair shone piercing copper blue eyes and a disarming smile. Time stood still. A crowd of spring flowers craned their necks to see. A frozen silence. Something intangible passed between them, like fate and desire playfully bumping shoulder to shoulder, a subconscious knowing. The breathless hush was interrupted by their uncoordinated laughter. In his hands a padded envelope, which he held like a curious feeling.

Chapter 24

Chapter 24

He sank back in the chair, its arms threatening to imprison him. His explanation seeped into the void between them. A mumble of nervous words. Tears had slowly filled her eyes and smeared her vision. She could still make out her name staring back at her from the cushion of papers: the deeds to the cottage.

He had truly discovered her through her poetry. She was this landscape. And in her words he had found the most precious gift; the part of him he had feared lost. When you let go of what you think you need, life can find you. In his words, she came undone. A light in the darkness. And they continued to float, like hope in the sea that separated them.

What is love?

Chapter 25

Chapter 25

November unleashed a monster. The storm roared through the bay, gripping the ancient woodland by the throat; roots were ripped through the earth. In its aftermath the ground wore the twisted limbs and colours of the fallen. A battlefield. The mood hung low like a dark cloud.

Autumn hadn’t been the only casualty. Just before the storm had arrived he had watched her gather her things. And leave. From now on, only dust would gather in the gaps they left behind. He made one last attempt to follow her. She didn’t look back. Over his shoulder he saw only two sets of footprints: those of hers and the dog padding devotedly beside her. It was like he’d never existed.

Chapter 26

Chapter 26

A light dusting of days had passed since their unforgettable first meeting. Her world had joyously burst open like the woodland floor in spring. Although he had gone, she found herself staring at the undisturbed folds in the chair; recalling the creases of his smile. Listening to his unfolding story had felt like discovering some of her own missing jigsaw pieces.

She drifted into the garden of heaven scent and lay down under a canvas of blue and soft scattered whites. The brush of spring’s warm breath, a hummingbird whisper against her cheek. She closed her eyes. Dreams can come true when given to the wings of birds. All those thoughts that cannot be heard. When silence takes flight. Unaware. A tide was about to engulf her.

Chapter 27

Chapter 27

Days slid into weeks; surrendering to the will of time and tide. The rearrangement of his life stole him away. But upon each return, no longer running, he was coming home. Into the wide open arms of an ocean of missing.

She slipped out of the wood and crested the dunes. The dawn dabbed faint smudges of light along an endless horizon. Rock pools glistened like handfuls of carelessly scattered coins. The scene an envy of angels. She first sensed it in the pit of her stomach. The pulse. The distant heartbeat. The texture of driftwood and shells. Words began to reveal themselves across her poetic page. Missing him had become an art form.

Chapter 28

Chapter 28

Weeks slid into months. Falling into an easy rhythm. Like the tides. He had begun painting; hurling kaleidoscopic mood at vast canvasses; alongside the unburdened commitments to designing sublime beach houses throughout the world. Her own poetic muse had erupted into an outpouring of sensory discovery.

What made it curiously memorable: he had never phoned her. So when he called from a blustery beach off Vancouver Island his I Love You was so snatched by the wind he’d had to shout it. Twice. They had to wait an entire week for that first kiss. A breaking wave of desire and longing sent crashing through them; bodies dissolving into a haze of spiralling molecules. They would become so much more than lovers.

Chapter 29

Chapter 29

December 15. It had been a jumble of eight endless months since that day. A low morning sun cast a raking shadow through the single set of footprints. Fresh from sleep she shielded her eyes from the glare, faintly registering a distant seal hauling itself out of the shallows. She sought solace in the coffee he had left brewing on the stove. Beside it a yellow sticky note spilled three kisses, a smile and ‘Save some for me sleepyhead.’ She smiled back and returned to the view with a contented yawn.

Half a mile up the beach he rolled in the turning tide. He shared something with his unknown father: they both died at the same age. He may’ve survived his own ruptured brain aneurysm, but in his collapse into unconsciousness he had slowly drowned. Back at the beach house the dog pawed frantically at the door.

Chapter 30

Chapter 30

She sat in the hospital corridor. Breathless. Shutting out the world, she closed her eyes and pressed his music to her ears. Inside the bubble her mind blazed with the colour of the year they had shared. She slowly began to believe that love could eclipse even the darkest of fears. She lingered on the memory of his gaze. For the first time, the pain eased and she felt her own smile creep. No one leaves you when they live in your heart and mind. She recalled the happiness she felt on their last walk; the lowest of spring tides. In her mind the arc of the bay mirroring her own hand now tracing the smooth curve of her swollen belly; in that moment her waters broke like a wave.

At the beach house a loose silhouette stared at the ocean and felt something shift. He would always watch over them.

 

 

Making A Show Of Myself

Skydiving, food poisoning and photographic exhibitions.

You should always be prepared to try something new. As I get older and wiser [it’s all relative], the phrase: The Bucket List looms ever more prominently. Especially when a new Instagram friend of mine [‘Hello, Claire’] crosses off two from her/my[!] list in one go:

1. New Zealand
2. Skydiving

…and she’s barely 20-something! When did 20-somethings begin bucket lists? I must’ve missed that memo 20+ years ago! Now I find myself in a race against time. [Well, when compared to Claire, certainly!] So, this week I attempted to remove something memorable from my list. Both of the above are quite near the top of mine. Much further down, at No.197, is Self-Inflicted Food Poisoning. It wasn’t until later, when I looked at my list more carefully, I realised I’d actually been looking at the wrong one; I’d actually been reading the companion list I made due to my deeply inadequate pension provision: the How To Kick The Bucket List. [No.1 One way ticket to Switzerland for lovely fresh snow, excellent chocolates and the clinic.]

 

Note: This bucket doesn't appear in my previous blog: To Pee Or Not To Pee... it's merely your warped imagination
Note: This bucket doesn’t appear in my earlier blog: To Pee Or Not To Pee… it’s merely your warped imagination

My wonderful wife and gifted cook went to London for a couple of days. The ingredients for the feast were inadvertently set. Simply add me and some haphazardly prepared chicken breast fillet, thawed from frozen, leaking more juice than a bulging melon suffering water retention.

The stomach pain began later that evening. By morning my body was wracked with pain through every sinew, rolling its eyes at itself with hands on hips wagging an accusing finger as it began the arduous task of expelling the invader from all available, umm, ports.

It must be said, the human body can be a wholly remarkable thing in the face of adversity, or even idiocy, given the chance. Essentially sidelined by its impressive intervention, I was a mere spectator. I just wish I could’ve also been stood a bit further back. Instead, it dragged me along too, out onto the high seas in a Force 9, breached above and below decks for close on 48 hours. It wasn’t pretty out there, but we finally made it back to the harbour, an arm draped around each other’s shoulder, feeling like we’ve learned something from the experience. We’ve really bonded, and forgiven ourselves, especially since all the leaking stopped.

The moral of this story? If ever I invite you around a for a chicken dinner… wear a disappointed expression and a hazmat suit bearing the logo Nil By Mouth.

 

Exhibitions

Altogether a more satisfying Show Of Myself. I was really delighted to have another image in the latest MA Doran Gallery exhibition Valentine’s Group Show 2013, deepening and/or broadening my metaphorical American footprint. And I can now also confirm my involvement in F-Number at The Grant Bradley Gallery, which opens with a Private View on Friday 8th March 6 – 9pm, then runs until the end of the month.

 

F-Number at The Grant Bradley Gallery
F-Number at The Grant Bradley Gallery

 

I will be showing 4 images from the Where The Land Meets The Sea series; as well as the [rather gorgeous] large landscape book produced for the joint show in Oklahoma with Michelle Firment Reid and a full set of the companion individual note/gift cards; the large framed version of The Falling Leaf; and a further 20 16″ x 10″ prints culled mostly from my street photography work.

 
 

“Accidents that never happened
Loves that never could have been
Falling from a rock onto a soft place
Fall somewhere in between”

– ‘Show Of Myself’ : Nick Kelly [The Fat Lady Sings]

 

The Foothills of 2013

Well, here we are in the foothills of 2013, so I thought I’d have a swift and fond look back at the year that was and highlight a sprinkling of exciting early 2013 news, too.

Regular readers of my blog [well, both of you] will know that 2012 was undoubtedly my most creatively rewarding year, with my work featuring in 5 different exhibitions and galleries both nationally and internationally. It’s never easy to predict what any new year will bring, but my goal will simply be to maintain the momentum that a wonderful 2012 afforded me. And I’d like to especially thank everyone who has supported me along the way. Making images can be a relatively insular activity, but to have them step out of the digital darkroom and into the light often takes the considerable support of like minds. So, thanks to every encouraging one of you that I’ve met along the way, both physically and virtually.

 

So, That Was 2012
So, That Was 2012

On reflection, though, 2012 was a slightly curious one, for my photography … a year, while exceptionally rewarding – Oklahoma being the pinnacle with its adventure, press and television coverage – with the majority of that work stemming from images produced prior to 2012, and the production of that exhibition with Michelle itself being time consuming, and hurling in some significant life events and major computer headaches, I don’t feel like I’ve produced a great deal this past 12 months. And as the central image up there might suggest, many might be excused for believing that, in terms of new visual production, I’ve mostly been sleeping!

2013 has been similarly unkind in life events, so far – with the end of the year and January bringing two surprise and shocking deaths of close friends of my wife’s and a very good friend of my own now fighting breast cancer. But I’m hoping that these events can consciously conspire to motivate me and shine a magnifying glass on now, because if there’s anything this past month has illustrated all to graphically, now is all we have.

 

In Praise Of Trees
In Praise Of Trees

 

In Praise Of Trees : In praise of the emotional pull of the seasons. The heartbeat. The melancholy sadness of winter. Waiting. Pausing for breath. Before spring delivers renewal. The promise of things to come. But a tree never forgets. It stands witness to a lifetime of memories.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Blipoint

In Praise Of Trees is an image from my relatively new Instagram account. I recently upgraded my phone to a Samsung Galaxy Ace 2. My first smartphone. So I’m using the Instagram account for words/images that flow through my day. [Some of the images are taken with the phone, some are older images previously unprocessed now cropped and processed within the phone.] The following composite image is from the end of last year when I was delighted to find one of these images had been featured on the wonderful Blipoint website:

 

2012 will also be mostly fondly recalled for the satisfaction of the near culmination of my most personal and emotional project: anatomyofastroke.tumblr.com/ and to have seen my father make a quite extraordinary physical recovery. [More on that soon. One year later. A Q&A session with questions supplied by my friends on the Flickr and a final image is planned. “I began documenting this journey for my own emotional release and peace of mind; as a record of progress in the challenge that undoubtedly lay ahead, for him; as an education for others; and for what I ultimately truly hope will be an uplifting journey to recovery.” It certainly proved to be an exceptionally challenging experience for my father and everyone around him.]

 

So, here we are in the foothills of 2013, and with two exhibitions ending in the past month or so, it felt like the year was set to start quietly. But during the past week I’ve been contacted by a gallery directly who want to feature me in a collection of 9 photographers from the region “…[in the] gallery’s first hand picked photography exhibition. Following on from recent successful open submission exhibitions where photography played a strong central role, the exhibition seeks to showcase top regional photographers engaged in the most creative applications of the medium.” Most notable as this will be the first exhibition where I’ve been simply asked to participate as a photographer – rather than have my images curated from a general submission. In the same week a further international exhibition has been mooted for some of the Where The Land Meets The Sea work with Michelle Firment Reid. And I’ve also been approached by a magazine to feature an image in their “…monthly collection of the world’s best short stories, curated from the likes of The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Moth, McSweeney’s and more… each issue pulls together some of the finest stories available and offers them to the reader alongside captivating imagery.” More flesh on these bones soon, and I’m hoping the latter doesn’t simple evolve into a mass trawling for free images. What is it about photography and free images? I can barely afford my existing gear, and certainly can’t afford any [no matter how desired] expansion… uh, but don’t get me started on that! Ahem.

Upwards and onwards…

“Cops are looking for JLo’s ex-husband…” And What Preceded It

It was a busy celebrity news morning at channel Good Day Tulsa. And not only were the cops looking for JLo’s ex-husband and the country’s super couple moving their family to Vegas, there was another, uh, celebrity showbiz item…

It’s been a long time coming – this piece never did appear online, and neither Michelle nor I could even get a response from Good Day Tulsa, never mind secure the clip itself – so this week Michelle, who couldn’t copy this from her recorder, propped her iPhone in front of the TV and recorded her When The Land Meets The Sea interview, which took place the day after I left Oklahoma. [So pleased to finally be able to see this! Hope some of you enjoy it, too. I think she did a great job. And was probably helped considerably by my absence: the ‘British photographer’ mumbling in the corner with his eyes caught in the studio headlights!]

 

 

This will probably be my last post relating to the work that culminated in this summer’s extraordinary adventure to America. So, I thought it would be nice to round off Where The Land Meets The Sea : Together Alone The Artist & The Photographer with these final words.

Much to my horror, I found that Michelle had committed us to an Artist Talk for our first night show opening. Rather like the mere thought of appearing on live television, the talk mostly had me waking up in the small hours in a cold sweat, as me and talking to a roomful of people largely go together like polar bears and babysitting: it could all too easily go horrifically wrong!

Finally, on the day of the show itself, just hours before the opening, fear and panic rising, I decided to write all those small hour snatches down. So, while a degree of spontaneity in my delivery was potentially lost at sea, at least I wasn’t knocked out of the boat by a freak wave and eaten by a shark! And… I still have it, here, in my little moleskin book. So, this is an insight into me, into where Where The Land Meets The Sea was born, before meeting Michelle, who took it to an entirely different level; to an entirely different audience:

My life was very different when all this began about 20 years ago. I was a Construction Project Surveyor and a committed amateur sportsman – an often hectic, yet happy life.

Then I made a strange decision, and this guy came into me and my wife’s life. Absolutely crazy. What made me do that?

Bracken

And then, about four months after Bracken came along, I was taken quite seriously ill. Suddenly, from being someone who was in possession of a full and active life, I was home, completely isolated; had Bracken not been there, I think I would’ve gone quietly insane. And that became our special bond.

So… How did I repay that bond? Well, about a year later, I put him in a kennel and disappeared to Canada for a month!

I thought about him a lot, during that time. We both did. And when we eventually returned home we both felt so guilty we booked a cottage in the middle of nowhere amidst some gloriously deserted coastline. I still recall the blissful isolation of that holiday – out of season, in an English October. And we never left these shores again. For the past 20 years, first Bracken, then Willow, it’s been out of season deserted coastlines all the way. In fact, this is the first time I’ve even been on a plane in those 20 years. And, through all this time, I wasn’t actually taking many photographs at all; just simple holiday memories.

 

Willow

I’m essentially more known for my street photography work. I saw an Elliott Erwitt retrospective exhibition in London in 1994. It proved to be a gateway drug to the likes of Robert Frank, Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson and ‘The Decisive Moment’. And that’s what I did. I took pictures of people. There aren’t any people along the gloriously deserted coastline, so I didn’t take any photos.

Then, something else strange happened. Some time in the late 90’s, I completely fell out of love with the medium – and barely took a photograph for more than a decade. I increasingly found myself talking about my photography in the past tense.

Through most of my life I’ve written diaries and journals – the latter quite extensively from the mid-80’s and throughout the following decade or so. I very occasionally read back through some of them and, about three years ago – coinciding with my embracing of the photographic medium again following my switch to digital – I read the line: I find a piece of my soul every time I visit the sea. And I set myself the challenge, to capture that feeling. But how?

I’ve always been a great admirer of a few contemporary, classical British landscape photographers: David Noton, Paul Wakefield and Ed Collacott. Who, much in the same way that Ansel Adams once did in Yosemite National Park, would lug their large format cameras and tripods through the landscape. But I didn’t want to do that. And, more importantly, as beautiful as their work is, I didn’t want to make purely pictorial images. I wanted to try and capture that mood, that emotion.

So, I travelled light: Nikon D300 and 18-200mm zoom lens. I would generally only take images at a certain time: the golden hour [or overcast days]. I couldn’t be too choosy, as this would usually only happen one week/year! But I still wasn’t happy with what I had. I wasn’t feeling the work.

The epiphany moment came one day when I began adding some textures to my work – desaturating colours and pushing the contrast. Again, working relatively quickly using skills associated with more traditional darkroom skills in the new digital processing medium, I began to innately feel when I’d got it right, both in my head, and my heart: the soul I was attempting to capture.

Somewhat ironically, with many people drawn to my street photography, the majority of this work, when posted online, has been largely ignored. At least, that was until one day, about 18 months ago, when Michelle suddenly dropped a beautiful comment on my Flickr stream. She seemed to immediately pick up on that emotional resonance. She really got it. [And I know Michelle is going to tell you a little bit about that – some of which she restates in the above TV interview.]

And now, for me, to have been able to have witnessed the evolution of this work through her eyes has been a truly humbling experience. And has added so many layers to this expression of feeling. And although it’s been a relatively short time for Michelle, what you’re seeing is something that has been gestating, seemingly almost waiting for this moment, for some 20 years. And if someone had told me, even a couple of years ago, that this journey, this adventure, would wind up with me standing here…

And it all began because of a cocker spaniel called Bracken.

 

Please click on image to View the book