Sunday, 30 May 2010
The location is candid, the clothes are candid, and the concept was thought up on the spot with the quote in mind. This is one of the reasons why I like it so much, especially as one of my fifty-twos.
Prep is one of my favourite books, and significant to this week in the fact that it revolves around the life of a girl in the last years of her high school life. I, too, left my school this week. Flicking back through the novel yesterday, I found my old annotations from when I read it first, when I was about fifteen. It was one of the first books which properly spoke to me, and so I underlined the parts which I felt were relevant to the way I was thinking. Some of them I still agree with, and lots of them I find I can no longer relate to in the same way. The quote I used in my fifty-two this week, though, is one which has always been my favourite.
Cross was silent. I wondered whether he had fallen asleep.
That was when, not unlike the way he had that rainy evening in the taxi three years before, he began to stroke my hair. He set his fingers against the top of my forehead and ran them back, smoothing out my hair against the pillow, then set his fingers against my forehead again. Over and over, back through my hair, the glide of his fingertips – I think that maybe nothing else in my life had ever felt that purely, uncomplicatedly good. I couldn’t speak because I was afraid if I did, I might start crying, or he might stop doing it. I shut my eyes.
Sittenfeld C., (2005) Prep, New York, Random House, p289
The moment, in its purest form, doesn’t relate to anything that has happened to me this week. But the line about uncomplicated goodness – that was how I felt as I stood out in the field at sunset. Uncomplicated because I was alone and because I was in a foreign place without ties to anywhere or anyone. Also, the idea that I never had to return to the place which had, in the past months, become oh-so complicated. I was free of college and free of those I had been forced to stay with at college. It felt good.
And also, as I stood in the field and tried to find a visual way to link the quote with my photograph, I started thinking about the act of stroking someone’s hair. The way it is comforting, almost mesmerising, and the way in which I felt this week, for the first time in a long time, very safe. I mean, that I had realised how much love existed around me, and that I could access that when I needed to. That I had realised how much my friends cared about me, and how they were willing to open more doors to me and wanted to know me better. That I was in total control of my life, and how my gap year is beginning to take shape (I’ll write a blogpost soon.)
In the end, I entwined Ben’s meadow and the spontaneous aspect of my story with the concept around hair, plaiting my own and braiding it with reeds. I made them quiet and reflective, just as I was feeling as I stood in the meadow. Later, I tried a concept about tied hands juxtaposed with freedom, and then, thinking about the romantic aspect of the quote, I tied a bunch of reeds like a flower bouquet and held them to the light. Back home, though, I decided I liked the earlier, simpler ones better. They are partially thought-through, and partially spontaneous, and so they are different to most of my other photographs in the set. I enjoyed my spontaneity this week, though. I think it is, perhaps, what I need to inject into my photography a little more.
Jonny warned me that I would want to live in Ben’s house when we arrived, and he was right. It was ancient and enormous but cottage-y, with tiny winding wooden staircases and low ceilings and cubbyholes. It had an attic room and a cottage kitchen, and then we stepped outside and I was so glad I had brought my camera. He showed us acres and acres of grassland and woodland and wild flower meadows and ponds and grassy lawns. Eventually we sat out in the garden and revised while listening to my Music A2 set works on iPod speakers. I got burnt in the sun and Jonny stole my camera to take photographs of damselflies. I talked about never getting up to see a sunrise, and he said we should wake up in the morning and go out into the meadow to watch. The boys had a school barbeque to go to, so I spent the evening on Ben’s laptop until golden hour, before venturing out to take photographs. The spare room had the comfiest bed and I slept under a skylight for the first time in my life.
Neither mine nor Jonny’s alarm woke us up at 4am, but he shook me awake at half past five and we walked down to the meadow. It was overcast but the everything was so alive. Four deer watched us as we approached, and then skipped into the trees. I forgot about my camera and we stood there and talked and listened for an hour and a half, as the mist rose and the sun came up and the dew collected around our feet. When the church bell struck seven, we went back indoors and Jonny made omelettes before mum came to pick me up.
The day before, when I’d spontaneously accepted Ben’s invitation, I’d forgotten that Lottie had organised for us to waitress at a local (international) horse championship. Reunited with Lottie, Alice, and Kim, and having yet to step back through my own front door, the surreal experience of serving canapés in the VIP marquee felt like a very odd extension to the surreal experience of my anti-prom. We worked for nine hours with just a ten-minute break, earned tuppence, and smiled until our cheeks ached, but it was oddly fun.
In the past three days I’ve had eight hours sleep, left college, worn a gorgeous dress, watched a sunrise, slept under a skylight, and taken too many photographs. I feel as though I’ve made a seamless transition from one part of my life to the next, and I owe so much to a group of people I didn’t know this time last year. Alice has plans for us to play a series of concerts before she takes her flute diploma in July, Jonny suggests a trip to the beach, Lottie wants another origami picnic, and we’re making secret plans to host our next gathering at Ben’s extraordinary house.
Here is the making of my alternative summer.
In hindsight, I should really have guessed. Lottie bombarded me with odd questions, like what my favourite three-course meal was. Kim sounded no-nonsense when she announced she would do my make up before we went out, and drive Lottie and I to the city. Loud silences ensued whenever I asked whether our table had been booked yet.
On Thursday I endured my final five lessons, and then escaped the incessant prom-talk that echoed through the college café. As the others went into town to have their hair done, I left for Kim’s. Lottie got to me first. “Change of plan,” she said down the phone, “Our booking’s been moved by half an hour. Kim’ll get me at half seven.”
I thought I should let Kim know, but when I called her house she was out. I tried her mobile instead. She laughed, “I’m at Lottie’s. Long story… I’ll come and pick you up now.”
We went back to hers, she sewed up my dress and did my hair and then texted Lottie to let her know we were on our way. At the house she said, “Can you jump out and get her?” But at the front door, Lottie was already waiting. “I’ve just locked myself out; we’ll have to drop your stuff round the back,” she said.
I had no idea. No, really. It sounds ridiculous when I read it back, but nothing seemed contrived. We walked through the back gate and I saw the table decorated with origami swans, and as we turned the corner it took me a moment to notice the others, wearing suits and bowties and pretty dresses, waiting for me.
“Surprise,” Alice grinned, “Welcome to your Anti-Prom.”
Alice and Lottie had cooked the meal I’d described. We ate outside, under the paper cranes (and on the benches which, I later found out, Naomi had put together when the three Cambridge University offer-holders and two Engineering students failed to.) They explained how, while I’d been sat in double Politics, they had bussed in from the city with bags in tow to decorate the garden and tidy Lottie’s room, build benches and fold origami, cook the meal and change into prom-wear. We took photographs (with the help of the tripod Kim insisted I brought) and took off our shoes and when it got dark we went upstairs and curled up in sleeping bags.
We talked and laughed and played music, and eventually slept. I had a dream about the other prom and woke up in the early morning. To try and drift back off to sleep, I counted the sets of inhale-exhale breaths I could hear around the room. I reached eight, and I think it was then that it hit me.
Here I was, surrounded by a set of friends who had planned for months this surprise party. Who had worked so hard to make it a success, and who had given up so much time to make me happy. Here was a set of friends I didn’t truly realise I had.
More than that, I realised, here was not only my alternative prom, but my alternative summer. Here was an alternative to loneliness and to wishing that things were different. Here was the possibility of an alternative future; one not tied with everything I had been forced to give up in the past few months, but filled with a forever changing cycle of new friends, new experiences, new discussions and new dreams. Here, in this moment in the middle of the night, was a new beginning.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
This is a post about a book. On the last page there is a photograph of a nuclear explosion, and this quote.
Photography is undeniably powerful. I’m still trying to work out just how powerful it is, and why such a small machine can produce objects which can change the world. I think it might be because it is the only thing on the planet which allows us to time-travel.
The problem with photography, though, is that it cannot create fairytales. There is nothing magic about the process which produces the images. It allows us to do the one thing we thought we would never be able to do – capture time and preserve it – and that is where its enchantment ends. You cannot photograph a mountain if there is no mountain to photograph. You cannot photograph a dream, because it does not exist.
But, you see, there is one exception to the rule. His name is Tim Walker.
Oh I know it’s all been said before. But, truly, if someone discovered tomorrow that Walker’s photographs were created with fairydust I would not be surprised. The fact that I know they are not, and not a single one of his images is in any way digitally altered, is the most inspiring thing about them.
Walker’s work proves to me that anything is possible. The worlds which I thought could exist only in my head can be made palpable, can be created in this existence, and can be captured in photographs. It makes me believe that, and so it makes me look at this planet in a different way.
The truth is that I live in my own enchanted world. I recognised it, a little, when I first took off my shoes. The earth sings through my soles. When I pushed my way through the branches into the dappled light of the forest last week, out of breath from running because dinner was almost ready and the light was too beautiful to let fade, it was Walker’s world which I stepped into.
The lake water had been turned bottle green by the leaves and the liquid gold light. On the hill the grasses were up to my knees, and a soft carpet of moss had massed on every available branch. I had been gone less than two weeks.
This was a return which reminded me that life’s best-kept secret is the world around us. My powerful box, which cannot do magic, recorded my wanderings. And then, after dinner, I went to my room and read this book, which I bought last week. Tim Walker is the worst secret-keeper in the world.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
You were really lovely.
It's funny, because I think about meeting people from flickr all the time.
My friends here tease me about it. “All your friends live in the computer, eh?” Billy winked at me last week. It’s hard to explain without sounding pathetic, even though I believe truly that I have real, honest friends online. The thing is, I don’t think it would happen to me anywhere but flickr.
It’s hailed as being a community, which I agree with, and automatically every one of us has something in common – whether it be Nikon or Canon, dSLR or point-and-shoot. It’s a hobby which I can’t share with many people in the “real world”; I don’t know many people who are interested in photography. Flickr introduces me to people all over the world who see the world similarly to the way I see it. It shows me stream after stream filled with inspiration, and lets me talk and share ideas with anyone I want. And sometimes it introduces me to people I would never have met anywhere else, but if I had I know we would have been “real” friends.
It’s not just the website, though, but the subject of the website. Photography itself gives away far more about the image-maker than they might believe. With self-portraits and 365s you become familiar with the artist through their physical image, displayed on your screen day after day. You learn about them through what they write. You listen to them when they talk about their family, their pets, the dreams and hopes. And even when they write nothing, their photographs speak silently. You ride their emotions with them, looking at shadow-filled pictures on some days and sun-drench shots on others. The photographs don’t have to be self-portraits; they say just as much when they focus on any subject. Simply put, photography is unbelievably personal. You get to know these people through the way their lens paints the world.
Perhaps these friendships should stay only on the internet. Perhaps photography is where our compatibility ends, and in every other aspect our views, beliefs, interests and ambitions differ too much. Perhaps knowing these people in real life would destroy the magic that comes with discovering each other through nothing but images. I think this is true, sometimes. But if you have found another artist whose work speaks to you, and whose personality reminds you of your best friend, then the danger exists only in letting the opportunity pass.
I think about meeting you sometimes, too. I think we’re probably very different from the way we imagine each other – just as lovely, but different in subtle ways. I like the fact that in your dream we didn’t just take photographs together, but we talked too. That’s the test, I think. Everyone on flickr shares the hobby, but not everyone shares similar ideas about the way they use their camera. It really cheered me up, too, because things here are a little lonely at the moment.
It’s a shame that you won’t be in London when you visit the UK in the summer (although, you’re very welcome to come a stay here in Norfolk with me if you have the time!) I’m taking a year out before I start my university course in September next year, and I plan to travel. It would be great to make a dream a reality.
Hope things are sunny, as always,
- Jackson Browne, 'The Next Voice You Hear'
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Monday, 17 May 2010
The wide angle lens on my Mum's Pentax has made me insanely jealous. I mean, to the extent that I found myself drooling outside the window of our local camera shop this afternoon instead of running back to College for my music lesson. At the moment, I'm only about £100 off being able to buy one second-hand... Therefore, it would really mean the world to me if you considered buying one of my prints.
(Pretty much) all of my work is available for sale and can be seen here, on my flickr. Print forms are here, on formstack. (In terms of sizes, a 6x4 is the size of a "normal" photograph print.) And all the money will go straight towards something very similar to this.
Great big enormous thanks xx
Update: You are all amazing! Thank you!
Sunday, 16 May 2010
Friday, 14 May 2010
Thursday, 13 May 2010
It was overcast when I got to college on Tuesday, and the clouds refused to shift. The truth was that I didn’t notice the sky until I walked out of the gates at three O’clock – and the sun came out.
It’s almost a natural reaction now, to take photographs. I had an intriguing conversation with Jonny about it last weekend. When I told him about these, and about other photographs I took last week and don’t plan to post, he said, “I understand. I do the same with woodcraft.” For me, when I long to escape but my throat closes up and the words won’t leave my fingertips, I pick up my camera and run to the woods. For Jonny, he gets off the bus and picks up a stick, and whittles it into a whistle with his penknife before he steps through his front door.
I understand, he said, It’s about releasing everything inside you in a positive way.
Yes, I said, it’s a way of dealing with emotion. But is it not also about control, and about worth? When you feel like nothing is in your hands any more, when you don’t know what will happen with exams and with university and with the stupid Leavers’ Ball in two weeks time, to create gives you back some of your power. It proves there is something unique inside you, which only you can access. It puts you in control, and it makes you feel powerful again.
What do you mean, it’s about worth? he asked.
I said, I worded that badly. I mean, it helps you prove to yourself that there is something that is yours and yours alone. Lots of people can make whistles out of sticks. Lots of people can take pictures with their cameras. But your whistles and my photographs – they are unique. They prove our worth as individuals, because no other individual can do what we do.
You’re mad, Jonny said, and we carried on folding paper cranes.
So on Tuesday when I was sad, it was a natural reaction to come home and change into something sunny, and sling my tripod and my camera bag onto my back. There’s a photograph I’ve wanted to take for a while, and so I went to the garage to find a bicycle. I got oil all over my turquoise coat, and then the tyres needed pumping, and eventually I realised that both had a puncture. It was still sunny when I set off on foot.
The field I wanted to use is a village or two away from here, but I took a short cut across fields and thought instead a lot about photography and the earth and what it means to me. I have so many thoughts to put down and no time at all to do it, but I can’t stop thinking. I listened to a Mozart Sonata in C Major (Sonata in Sunshine, Sonata in Yellow), and posted a letter, and after half an hour I crossed the main road and found the perfect place.
I took lots of photographs, but there are two that I really like. One will probably be my Week Thirty-Six, if the next four days pass as I expect them to. And one – a mistake – summed up everything I had done in the past hour. It is dirt-caked feet and yellow blur and a turned back and a swinging skirt, and a green pathway that ends in light.
This is where it has come from.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
I need to reply to a formspring that sprung ideas about photography and reality (and I need to re-read what Susan Sontag said about it too.) I need to write about the way the earth and me talk to each other through my camera, and how it’s made me remember the way I used to feel when we first moved here from the city. There’s a different magic now, but it’s more real and so more exciting. I need to talk about the way I still never notice things as they’re disappearing, but only realise when they’re already wilted. I need to sort out what I think of self-portraiture and vanity, because my thoughts are scattered over scraps of paper in all three of my college folders and there are vultures circling above my head.
I need to do all this in order to do everything else, because photography is consuming me. I wish I could just let it.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
It took a short walk and a talk/To change the rules of engagement/While you searched frantically for reverse and them claiming/That virtue never tested is no virtue at all
- Billy Bragg, 'Must I Paint You a Picture?'
52 weeks on Flickr
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Monday, 3 May 2010
I just read the whole thing through a hundred or so times.
I reckon anonymity is another word for cowardliness, that its another way to be cruel with a smile and a pat on the arm because you're the one being sensitive and silly. And then I start worrying about you a bit more because what can you do?
But you're right. Take amazing photos and be silly in the woods and laugh at the stupid things we say and do. Leg it along the woodland path so that the perfect moment can be captured forever only to realise that all you got was some brightly coloured wellies and our open arms. Fall in streams, sit in muddy puddles and lean on broken wagons. Because, lets face it, in ten years time these are the bits that will matter the most. When we're rich and famous and definitely very cool we'll laugh at them.
Until then, the nerd herd needs an official photographer and generally awesome person.