Friday, January 29, 2016

Doing, Reading, Listening


  • I went to Glasgow (see last post's Photos From A Bus Window) and I did some actual real photography work. The pictures are of families in the snow and you can see some of them here.

  • I have been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcasts. I thought they would annoy me as her facebook page annoys me (I don't love inspirational quotes) but actually she is wise and funny and there's profanity and advice and listening to her is like listening to your most comforting friend, or a really good therapist. The first episode was her in conversation with a blogger who wanted to write a book (it wasn't me), who thought she would be able to do it once her kids were finally in school (again, not me) but who was stuck and couldn't get going (could have been me, but wasn't). The advice Gilbert gave her was the advice I was looking for last time I talked to someone about my wanting to write and was instead told 'writing is just a hobby for you, stick to what you're good at.' I won't pretend it didn't hurt. But that podcast helped and now I'm writing again and maybe I won't keep writing but I'm going to try because it's not just a hobby, it's something I love and am good at and want to do* 

  • Speaking of facebook and conversation, I started a facebook page for this blog, mostly because I was bored and lonely and hoping some of you might chat to me sometimes about the interesting things that are on the internet that I might post there sometimes. Also because I heard it was a good idea if I wanted to sell a book one day, I'm not going to lie.

  • I read this piece about why young women should have savings, it is literally the only thing I have ever read that has inspired me financially. My grandpa should have told me about a Fuck Off Fund when I was 17 instead of that 'rainy day' crap, it would have been infinitely more effective.

  • Speaking of ma dog, before Christmas I read Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor. It looks and sounds like an animal training book (which is why I bought it) but actually it's more of a brilliant memoir about Karen Pryor's life's work in animal (including human animal) psychology and how when the Man Scientists told her she was wrong and that she didn't have a PhD and she should do things differently and that she wasn't a real scientist anyway, she said 'hmmm, that's interesting' and carried on doing exactly what she did - brilliantly. I loved this book and her publishers need to re-market it as a fascinating, funny, inspiring memoir/popular science book. I'd read it, again. 

  • Finally, do you know this 1970 song by Peggy Seeger? It's bloody brilliant and probably the most feminist thing I've ever heard. I have spent 15 minutes listening to it on repeat for my favourite lyrics but I don't have any because it's all fantastic. Eat your heart out Beyonce.

* It's 'Cara's creative confidence gets kicked but somehow she keeps on trucking' week here on Peonies and Polaroids. Thank you for your comments on that post by the way, they were appreciated and it was valuable to hear that I'm not the only one was was Lost in Indoctrination (phrase coined by Emma in the comments). I'm trying really hard to reply to my comment now, to give them the attention they deserve and to spark some conversation so if you feel like replying to my reply to your reply then have at it.

This postwas practise for making notes and remembering interesting things and sparking conversation, also just blogging, because I'm hoping to do more of that in the future, here and elsewhere. Share your best things from the internet in the comments if you feel like it, I'd love to read them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A story about a story.

The brief was to take photos that told a story, a narrative. The thought of taking any photos that didn't tell a story was ridiculous to me but I played along anyway, there were plenty of people at art school who thought narrative was over.

The visiting lecturer was young and female which instantly lent her opinions more value to me than those of the old men who held our captive audience each week, imparting their Great World View under the guise of teaching.

She showed us a range of work by established artists exploring storytelling, both traditional and experimental. One set of slides that jumped across the projector was work by a Japanese photographer, black and white photos taken from a bus window as she traveled home from the city to see her family. I don't remember the specifics of her situation but it was moving, emotional, artist's statementy. I do remember the pictures though; deep blacks and murky greys, reflections on the dirty windows of public transport, fragments of other passengers creeping into the frame, flocks of jet black crows scattering over fields. Crows were a recurring theme, she saw them a lot as she traveled home and they seemed to symbolise something ominous, heavy. (When have crows ever symbolised anything else?)

The tutor went round the class asking us what our thoughts on the project were, where our ideas were going. The Japanese photographer has inspired me, photos through car windows having stirred something in me ever since the opening scene of Lost in Translation. The layers and the distractions, your eye flirting between subject, glass, reflections, questioning which layer exactly is he subject.

When the tutor reached me I mentioned that I was interested in the Japanese piece, that I frequently traveled between Edinburgh and Glasgow and was inspired to tell the story of that journey in black and white, through moving windows. 

'Well' she snorted without even taking a pause, 'that was a very emotional journey, very meaningful' as if that fact might have escaped my notice. 'I don't think your journey would quite have the same impact. Ok, who's next.'

Embarrassed, I turned back to my sketchbook, crossed out 'bus journey' and started scanning the other notes I had made for new ideas. I don't remember what I handed in for that project but I do remember the feeling of being dismissed out of hand, as a silly little girl who imagined herself more interesting than she really was. I also don't remember when my embarrassment turned into anger, when I started bristling at the power that that woman had held to encourage me, to listen to my ideas and help me tell my story. She didn't know why I was travelling between the two cities, she didn't know because she didn't even bloody ask. I could have had a dying parent, a secret child, a desperate unrealised love that had turned my heart to an over filled balloon of quivering liquid and my every move through this world a hallucination of watery sun straining though threatening clouds out of which menaces of crows burst . . . theoretically speaking. Ahem.

I don't feel ashamed that I let myself be dismissed and I don't berate myself for not thinking 'well fuck you' and doing that project anyway, I was 18, and I was a student in the cult of the mythical Artist Tutor, and it was that woman's job to teach and encourage me and she totally, utterly failed. Sometimes the lesson people need to hear isn't 'stand up for yourself, take no shit, ignore the haters', it's 'don't be a dick'. Listening to people's stories isn't hard, it just takes a little bit of time. Almost everyone is more interesting than they first seem (some people are less interesting than they first seem, you can usually find those people at art school.)

These photos are not the art project I never made, that can't be recreated and these weren't taken under the influence of any great well of emotion (they were taken under the influence of boredom and a couple of those tiny bottles of supermarket wine), but every time I take a photo through a moving window I remember this story and today I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for listening. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

On January.

It would seem that January is nobody's favourite month but I don't hate it with the passion that many appear to. Yes, it's dark and yes it's long and yes Spring is still so far away and no it doesn't have the sparkling promise of fun and feasting that December does, but it's also quiet, and gentle and if you aren't insane and treating it as a period of abstinence and self-denial after the excesses of Christmas then it's a month ripe for wrapping up in a nest of whatever comforts you and looking after yourself in front of the fire (real or proverbial).

I don't hold with January as a month of self-denial, January is a fine month to do more of what pleases you, not less. No one drops by in January, there are few social engagements, kids go to school and come home again every day of the week (unless you get a storm day, which is more welcome in January than it was in November). January is by and large a month where you are left to your own devices, other people busy with their own recovery from their own Christmasses - be that a recovery of kindness or one of deprivation - and being left to my own devices is pretty much my favourite thing. And then at the end of the month of knitting and resting and drawing and thinking and staring into space I am rewarded with my birthday, which is something that I enjoy more and more every year. Yes, I like January.

At the end of this week I'm going away all by myself, which is also one of my favourite things. I'm going to Glasgow to photograph four families (another of my favourite things) and there is a whole lot that I'm looking forward to about the trip because as much as I love this island, after almost three months I am desperate as fuck to get off it. I'm also desperate to work, to take photos again and be paid for it, to spend time with people who value not just my skills but also their families, their children and the precious fleeting moments of every day family life enough to give me their time and money to capture them.

I think I've mentioned before that I always return from family photo sessions appreciating and loving my own family that little bit more. I'm hoping that doing four sessions over two days will increase and intensify that feeling exponentially because at the moment – I have to admit - I'm not appreciating my family life that much at all. I mean obviouslyofcourseitgoeswithoutsaying that I love and appreciate my husband and my kids and the fact that I have them and that they're all wonderful human beings etc etc etc, but I'm also tired and stretched and frustrated and irritated by being little more than a cook and a cleaner and a referee and a personal assistant in our little set up we have going here.

We're still settling into our new life and Nye and the girls have settled a lot faster than I have. They have their roles and their places and their lives, Nye has a job, the girls have school, they all have friends and colleagues and classmates that they see everyday. I have... the house and the dog and a list of chores. And a whole bunch of niggling ideas and dreams but not quite the gumption to make any of them happen any time soon. It's a process and as I sit at home I'm constantly fiddling with the rubix cube of my world, trying to find a way to make the pieces align but my inability to figure it out is making me royally pissed off and I am looking forward to a few days off, a few days in a world that doesn't need made sense of because it's not my world, I'm just visiting.

Other things I'm looking forward to include coffee from single source beans and an espresso machine, with crema on top and pretension on the side. Leaving the house and walking down the street and seeing other human beings but not knowing a single one of them and not having to stop and talk to any of them one single bit. Walking past those human beings on pavements. (Pavements! There is a pavement on the island, but it's only two feet wide and maybe forty feet long and it doesn't really go anywhere. It's still nice to walk along it though, for the novelty.) Going to the cinema and drinking wine alone in the dark* (there is a cinema that visits the island every few months, it comes in the back of a lorry and parks 10 miles away and I can't drive and we don't have a babysitter and while it's an amazing thing that a cinema comes in the back of a lorry it may be less frustrating if it just didn't come at all.) Friends who I can see on foot, with little notice or planning, in a variety of interesting locations, some of which serve foreign food. Shops, shops full of things I don't want, don't need and can't afford, but shops none the less. Working as a photographer who isn't a wedding photographer that does family photography sometimes but is just a Photographer (who doesn't do weddings so don't ask me). Spending seven hours on the bus, each way. With sandwiches and podcasts and knitting and probably not any books because I get travel sick but also absolutely no one to ask me any questions at all for SEVEN HOURS.

Yes, I like January and I like this trip very much.

*Shitting fuck. I just looked up the listings and the indie cinema near where I'm staying is only showing Star Wars, The Hateful Eight and that Leonardo DiCaprio one. That's a lot of middle aged white men with beards, or Star Wars which I have only ever watched because my kids love it. Do I want to see any of these? Do I? Tell me.