My first photograph of 2013 was at 8am on New Years Day. These were taken at about 4.30pm today, New Years’ Eve. I tried to capture the last light of 2013, the day has been rainy and mild but in the last few hours has gone clear and chilly, with a wind getting up. They are as shot whilst taking Oskar for a walk the small park nearby, I’m not sure if my last shot was him pulling at me or the wind blowing the trees as it was quite a long exposure!
Late last December I gave myself the task of writing a blog every day with a photograph. I was extremely pleased with myself when I had reached the 3rd January and was still doing it! I haven’t been able to take a new photograph every day through 2013, however most days I do and write something, even if it is just some ‘blurb’ to go with the image.
The process has broadened for me. I have begun to be quite serious about what I am taking. It has made me think even more as an artist again. I am limited in geographic range due to ‘poverty’ but I feel this actually helps, it makes me look at the minutiae of the surrounding streets and area, and most of the images have been within a mile radius of where I live. I had a few visits to old friends and a day in North Wales. I knew the areas well, so I knew what I wanted to take, which to me is important.
I have been taking photographs for many years, having started at art school in 1970, and had some images digitised from as far back as 1972, working on these has been a feature of my blog. For years most of the photography I did was linked to work, photographing events and projects I had organised, documenting performances and events for others, so concentrating on my own ‘view’ had been put on the back burner. I am beginning to get what I see as acceptable images, finding a ‘voice’ and close to what I am going out for. I often go past places many times before I photograph them, planning what images I want.
I have chosen a series of images for today’s blog from 2013. The ‘best’? I’m not sure that is probably for others to assess, but they are the ones where I think I have created an image which is reasonably close to what I was looking for. Looking back I see that my photographs can be split into three categories. (please click the thumbnails for full size images)
- There are those which create an abstract out of the mass of nature, looking closer than maybe ones eye would just walking by.
- Formal compositions created by the human-made world, especially where nature has impinged on the materials, such as rust, effects of wind and rain.
- The ‘snap’ of what I see as I wander round, found images, sometimes very personal.
In the middle of the year I began to use Pinterest, initially to keep images together associated with a novel I am writing. What it also did was introduce me to many photographers I either didn’t know or had forgotten about, and, for me to gather together images from artists who have had an influence on me from a very early age, such as Ben Nicholson. Pinterest gives me a visual stimulus I go to quite often and I have found things from others’ sites which have engaged me greatly.
In 2014 I am going to continue to evolve the photography and begin a series of images which convey my immediate life/surroundings. I hope that does not sound too pretentious!
I took this photograph on December 29th 1978 from the top of The Sears Tower in Chicago, it was at the time the World’s tallest building. It was a remarkable view. Outside was extremely cold and Lake Michigan in the dark frozen over. Looking down at the city you can see the snow on the roofs and people going home. I think this was about 6pm. I remembered this image as the film was dated, these shots ended the roll and I took the Ektachrome 200 to be developed almost straight afterwards. They are a bit grainy as they are through thick glass and long handheld exposures. I had them digitised earlier this year. It was taken on my Olympus OM-1 with standard 50mm lens. They are just tourist shots but I have always liked them as I like Chicago more than any other city in the USA.
A couple of images I took on Boxing Day that I looked at again. Quite contrasting on what was a cold foggy morning. Summerbank Road in Tunstall was shrouded in mist, the sun just beginning to struggle through, and as shot. The tree trunk was shot in both colour and black and white, it looked quite dead in colour, but when increasing the contrast and sharpness the black and white image in Lightroom it is fairly acceptable and what I was thinking of when I took it.
Whenever I switch on the radio or read the paper lately there are lists of best films, best albums, best theatre, best books, and probably best poos of 2013! So I will now award my Best Album of 2013.
I thought it was a very good year, but then most years recently have, I think the availability of music has led to a much broader range of music. When I was a teenager in the 1960’s we had no way of hearing new stuff, only through the odd programme on The Light Programme and later Radio 1, being as far from the sea as you possibly can get in the UK there were no pirate radio. So now there is so much to listen to and find it is almost too much!
5th – Laura Viers – Warp and Weft – someone I hadn’t heard of until I heard one track then I wanted to hear everything. It is singer/songwriter music of wonderful quality, using a very wide range of instruments and feelings. I love the album and listen to it over and over. Sun Song is magical!
Equal 3rd – London Grammar – If You Wait – a beautiful album full of references and quite stunning singing. Very British I think in its sensibilities.
Equal 3rd – Savages – Silence Yourself – this album knocks the socks off you. It’s like Post-Punk has come back to life but with an energy and anger it hardly reached originally. Fantastic energy, I’d love to see them live.
2nd – The Handsome Family – Wilderness – The Handsome Family make music which comes from the dark parts of the backwoods it’s best not to venture into. Their albums are dark, yet full of a humour and a love of Americana. Wilderness is a themed album, the theme being animals/wildlife, sort of opposite to the songs I remember as a child hearing Burl Ives sing. I would urge you to listen to their wonderful back catalogue which goes back 20 years. Some wonderful tracks with quite disturbing imagery like the Owls who steal your tablets… This has to heard!
My Album of 2013 – Goldfrapp – Tales of Us – a really beautiful album which I know I will listen to for a long time. Another themed album each song taking the name of a person, cinematic in style, sweeping strings and guitars and the beautiful singing. Until I heard this I’d hardly bothered with Goldfrapp, this album takes them to another level. I can put this on anytime and feel better.
Boxing Day – chilly only just above freezing, foggy, quiet. I took Oskar for a walk to the park nearby, past places I see every day, but changed with the mist and whiteness. I noticed how the damp and cold have made some of the birch bark turn a reddish colour. I took a lot of images (being pulled at by the dog) and a few worked out ok. I took them in this square format and also in black and white. I couldn’t get exactly what I wanted from the one ‘framed’ by the gate handle with the lock, and will go back (minus Oskar) so I can use a much slower speed. The light was low in the fog when these were taken at Midday. I’ve had to straighten a couple of the images due to being pulled, but the colour and framing is as taken with some minor sharpening in Lightroom. Click images to enlarge.
Today’s photograph was taken this morning (Christmas Day) at 9.15. I looked through my kitchen window and the wild strawberry plant ‘fixed’ to the wall was bathed in deep yellow sunlight. The sun is very low here and this was the only part of the garden which had any, it is chilly, about 1C at the time I took this, with some frost in the shadows. There are some green leaves left on the plant but the others are brittle red brown. I have not done anything to the image only made it smaller, the colours are as were taken on a square format. Happy Christmas to you all.
The final chapter of my novel Underpainting where we reach 1997. For all the previous chapters use the link above or in Categories and look out soon as I will be ‘publishing’ it on ISSUU. If you’ve been reading this from Chapter 1, thank you and I hope you have enjoyed it.
Rain pattered on turning leaves.
Under the umbrella of branches it was still quite dry. Bracken was turning brown, berries were blown to their fullest, and the last remnants of summer were fast disappearing.
Feeling a little tired from his climb Peter stopped and leant against a pine tree. His shirt was damp but not wet. He was pleased it was beginning to rain, the radio had said there should be a wet October, it would help the oak seedling he’d planted about an hour before, which completed French Corner. The hole he’d dug with some effort had shown that the ground was still dry from a dry summer, even though it had rained most days during the past week. Water had become a bit of a problem and some of the trees he’d planted in June and July were wilting.
Mist had hung onto the hills until lunch time and he couldn’t see more than half a mile even now. Under the canopy of trees it was gloomy. Peter knew his way around the hill well and that about a hundred yards further on there was a sheltered seat Malcolm had constructed from logs, where you could sit and watch the mosaic of fields change in the light.
As he set off again Peter looked round and was pleased to have completed French Corner. For nearly five years nothing had happened, no questions, nothing. Some days he was on a knife edge thinking that someone surely would put two and two together.
Peter continued Malcolm’s tradition of planting a tree each day, but increasingly he was having to cut back, clear, maintain; to keep the woods in good growing condition, to allow saplings space to grow and light to get to the ground below. He stopped at a densely overgrown area, took the slasher from his bag and began rhythmically to cut at the overgrown ferns and side shoots from saplings.
Marianne stood on a manicured lawn at the heart of Juliet Farrow Women’s College and listened to the choir rehearsing Jean’s work to be premièred that evening in the newly built concert hall. She felt there is a sadness in the sound of a choir practising in the distance reminding her of finality, of leaving safe places, of becoming detached. The music sounded interesting rather than beautiful, but she had little in her experience of contemporary music to judge it against. Jean’s position in music at the college was similar to hers in art and they’d started at around the same time.
Surrounding the lawn were white colonial style buildings, so clean they looked just decorated, dark brown brickwork sides contrasting with the stucco and wood fascias; the Stars and Stripes fluttered to one end of the lawn, with a North Carolina flag on one side and the College flag on the other. The morning sun was bright and felt warm, even though the leaves were beginning to turn golden browns, yellows and reds.
As she walked, Marianne listed in her mind the students she had to see that day, pleased that she would be able to get on with her own work by mid afternoon. She had already abandoned the Monument, the idea sounded great, but the first parts of it looked laboured and more like some exhibit in a charity shop window than the work she’d envisaged, there seemed little intellectual merit to it. Now she was working on a series of pictures in greys and brick reds based on her memories of childhood streets. She was reasonably happy with them, Lorete, who visited most weekends, loved them, felt they captured the true gloomy and desolate heart of England. The College were not so happy.
Marianne entered the computer suite housed in a building which always reminded her of the house in Psycho. She was still, after nearly three years, amazed at the incredible equipment and facilities available. She longed though for the students she’d left behind, the young women at Juliet Farrow were too earnest, everything had to be deep and meaningful. She often thought Bill would have been in his element. Two days earlier she’d had to sit in on a committee listening to a long rebuttal of the soccer team who’d won the State Women’s College Bowl, beating nationally ranked Duke; in celebration they had all lifted their shirts flashing their breasts for a photographer, who’d printed the picture in student newspapers all up the East Coast. That was not what young women at Juliet Farrow got up to, the principal and committee had vehemently protested! Her defence of the team was frowned upon, but forgiven because of her being English.
Marianne was at the IT department to learn scanning from Veronique who seemed to live in the building, she’d never seen her anywhere else in the college and her lights were on at all hours. As she was waiting she looked at a monitor, a student was working on a document about successful ex students, Lorete’s picture had drawn her notice, but the list was incredible. Seven Senators, the second woman to enter the Senate was an ex-JF (JF was the proper way to call the college), women running major companies, three ambassadors, university lecturers by the dozen, a bishop, three police chiefs, endless doctors, judges, lawyers and research scientists and rather oddly a murderer (success? Marianne thought to herself) who’d once been a sea captain. But no artist. Art was a relaxation, something important to life, but not vital, part of a whole, not the summation, not like money.
Some days she yearned for messy studios and messy untidy students.
The young women here were mainly from good God fearing middle class families, 95% white. However, this was no ‘finishing school’, you had to have very high grades to get in. They were the pampered daughters from small southern towns that make provincial seem interesting or smart suburbs of the vast cities on the east coast.
They were all beautifully dressed in that American casualness that only they can do, what hung loose and shapeless on Marianne fitted like a dream on these young women with their perfect teeth, hair and muscle structure. The most interesting students were those, despised by some, who’d gained scholarships, like Lorete had done, they usually came from poorer areas, some were even single mothers, and many had triumphed over great adversity to gain a place, a foot up the ladder.
Veronique was late, she always was, usually a problem with a database. Marianne looked in her diary, Lorete was due in tomorrow, that was twelve weekends in a row, they’d talked last weekend, which was so hot, about decorating the veranda overlooking the sea, sleeping out there in summer, collecting shells and driftwood to make a mermaid’s grotto. However today, before the sun burnt through, it had started very gloomily, sea mist rolling in was a sign of a major change in the weather, but what Lorete wanted she usually got, Marianne always had to remember that she was an old JF’ian. She also noted that she must phone Peter later, it was her turn.
Marianne left leaving a note to say she’d call back later. As she walked she heard a phone ringing and it was like a recurring bad dream. Her mother refused to talk to her again, or meet her when she was in the UK, she said that she hadn’t got a daughter anymore. Whenever she rang Colin answered.
Peter sat on the rustic seat contemplating a job well done. He listened to the rain pattering, in the distance the sky was clearing, and he could see Clun church, which was always a good sign. There was a patch of sunlight travelling towards him, following the melodious contours of the Shropshire hills. In his bag he carried a watercolour pad and some paints, he laughed when he thought of what Henry would have said, English landscape watercolours were an anathema to him. But Peter enjoyed the fluidity, the immediacy. No-one saw them, he hadn’t even shown them to Marianne when she c visited and Clare didn’t seem interested.
‘A year ago already’, he thought, and Peter realised she hadn’t visited this year. The first time she returned she’d stayed at his home, and they’d been like a brother and sister, chatting, catching up on things, not lovers, but friends. After that visits became shorter each time, but he felt both of them enjoyed talking on the phone.
Peter took out a thick piece of bread, some local cheese made on a neighbouring farm, and a bottle of water. It tasted good. He wondered how Henry was doing. He and Mark had split up, fourteen years together then a quarrel over a silly boy. Henry was now in New York, Peter wondered if Marianne had anything to do with him, he guessed not. A low flying jet pierced the silence. When he’d finished his meal Peter got the paints and pad out, put a grey blue wash on the strong rough paper, his brush stroke followed the contours, showing the beautiful handmade finish through the colour. He put it down to dry.
Marianne sat in her bright airy studio, the large glass roof light framing scurrying white and grey clouds against a bright blue sky, the wind was getting up. She sat in an old arm chair with a cup of herbal tea, contemplating a newly finished grey and brick red painting, thinking over what Sherry Lee and Georgia Gail had talked about. The two students had spent an hour discussing why they’d used an image of a 12 foot high hot dog as the background to a dance piece they were creating, they couldn’t see how so obviously phallic it was, they were quite shocked at Marianne’s interpretation.
They had spent considerable time telling her about the meaning of their lives and the relevance of hot dogs in their youth. Marianne had caught herself yawning and had been pleased when the phone rang and it was Lorete.
Lorete had found the perfect thing for that room overlooking the beach, an old cupboard from a dry goods store, still with some of the original enamelled labels on the drawers. Only eight thousand dollars. Marianne swallowed hard at that, but Lorete could afford it, and it would make her happy. She’d explained she was able to come up early this weekend, she had to see a potential donor in Wilmington on Thursday, and would stay on. Lately she often talked about moving her office to Wilmington.
Marianne was pleased she was coming, but was not sure if being together all the time was what she really wanted, but they had fun together, Lorete had arranged Marianne’s fiftieth birthday party, it had been a wonderful and magical event (Marianne was actually 51 but didn’t want to upset Lorete). Lorete could talk for hours and was genuinely interested in her pictures. It was pleasant to be wanted and to be so close to someone.
But… she did miss Peter for being so diffident to her, for his smell and not being so ‘understanding’, she could shout at Peter and it didn’t seem like the end of the world. With Lorete one cross word and it had to be analysed for hours, on occasions, days.
She had become to look smarter with Lorete. Peter never noticed what she’d worn or what she looked like, it hadn’t mattered. Lorete noticed everything. Marianne had lost a bit of weight, got new smarter fitted clothes, had a new hair cut, and gained more confidence. And Lorete was so Lorete! A woman with burning ambition who needed a foil. Marianne fitted that role, Laurel and Hardy she joked, but only to herself.
She sat musing and then noticed the clock.
“Oh damn!” it was her turn to phone Peter. She was late.
Peter put his painting things away and sat watching as distant yellow light underlay deepening grey clouds. Clun church was etched in late sunlight and house lights stood out against deep grey green fields and woodland. Birds were almost silent and wind rustled drying leaves. He could see at the bottom of the hill that the timed outside light had come on, a beacon to guide him in the gathering gloom of the valley.
Peter felt more content than for years, which was hard to admit to Marianne. His phone ringing pierced the air. He switched on to answer.
“Hi Peter, sorry I’m late.”
“You aren’t, there are no set times, not between us I hope?”
“No… luckily there aren’t. Where are you?”
“Up on the hill, you sound so close it’s almost as if you were standing next to me…”
“It’s a new phone, Lorete got it me. You know I can hear the leaves rustling…” they were silent for a few seconds. “…I had some students in they looked at the new paintings…”
“How are they going?” Peter asked.
“Not bad… I think they are a bit ‘English’ for some tastes here, but they are working out. And you, how are the watercolours?”
“Oh, you know, I can’t get used to not being able to cover things over, but I love adding washes, working in layers…”
“Yes, I must see them one day. The piece I’ve finished is all sorts of layers of colours that mix and join together in parts, others are diffused…”
“Sounds like you’re enjoying doing them…” Peter said enthusiastically.
“No, I don’t think enjoying is right, perhaps needing.”
“By the way have you seen Rachel lately?” Marianne enquired.
“She came up only a couple of weeks ago, I think she said something about doing some work with a theatre company…”
“Well there is a two year artists placement here, you know, bit of teaching, studio, exhibition. I felt she could be just the right person, and God we need some life here, have you her number?”
He looked it up on his phone and read it out to her.
“What about Clare? How’s things going with her?”
“Oh she came up last weekend, she’s good, we’re fine. And Lorete, how’s she?”
“Fine, coming down tomorrow.”
Peter had started down the hill.
“Are you walking now?”
“Yes, I thought I better start back, it’s getting dark. How’s things with you anyway?”
“Oh you know. Lorete has all these ideas about the house, she’s a determined woman…”
“But you’re OK?”
“Yes, we’re OK, I’m OK. You seem concerned?” Marianne said very lightly.
“Well you know, being up here makes you think…”
“Oh, I’m OK. The cottage is coming on fine, they fitted out the store room last Tuesday, it’s nearly done now.”
“Bet you are glad to be out of the old caravan” Marianne intervened.
“I don’t know how he lived in it for so long, you know we wanted to build him a cottage when he was alive… I think he thought it too permanent. Yes everything’s OK…”
“How was Angela’s visit?”
“Haven’t I spoken to you since then? Well she brought up a coach load of her ‘clients’….”
“Oh yes, Ryan was there. Well they all go in for this ritual shaving the body first, then in twos and threes search for an appropriate site, somewhere where as Angela puts it ‘the spirits of the earth are touching the spirits of the air’…”
“Did you join in?”
“I certainly didn’t. But you’d have loved it. Most of them were late forties to well into their seventies, all sorts of shapes…”
“And then what?” Marianne giggled.
“Well, she found a site, luckily the sun had broken through, I thought some of them might die of the cold! It was a clearing and they stood arms outstretched, then lay on the ground chanting…then stood again”
“And you said they are going to come regularly?”
“So she says, and they pay a good fee!”
“Well… and we think our lives are empty”
“No, mine’s not….. not now” Peter said quite quietly.
“Nor’s mine, no, nor’s mine” Marianne said gently.
There was silence again for a few seconds.
Peter was in near darkness but he knew the way well, the wind was getting up and dark blue grey evening clouds threatened rain. He stopped and looked over to deep black hills winding away into Wales.
“Have you stopped again?”
“Yes… I was looking into the distance. It’s quite dark now but the sky is still a different colour to the hills, the wind’s getting up…”
“It’s still quite hot here. But heavy rain will come soon.”
“You get it all of a sudden don’t you?”
“Yes… that’s one thing I miss…”
“The seasons. Fall is beautiful, almost too beautiful, all blue sky and deep golds, but short. And spring comes and goes so quickly…”
“Oh to be in England…”
“I suppose it is, anyway, did Angela talk about Philip?” Marianne inquired.
“No, never mentioned him”
“How’s he doing at Franks’?”
“Frank rang last week, still the same, it seems he can understand people and has learnt hand communications, Frank’s set up some computer system so he can type out words, he’s been very good to the lad…”
“Especially after he tried to murder him”
“Well yes… I think he sees something of himself at that age, what could have happened to him had he not…” the words faded away from Peter “…you know?”
“I suppose so, but still…”
“The trust fund’s put in all sorts of equipment for him, Frank’s money seems endless… That’s what he rang for, wants me to take an even bigger role, he’s worried about how long he’ll last.”
“He’s been like that for years. Did you agree?” Marianne asked.
“Oh yes, it seemed appropriate, gets me away for short periods, after months on the hill it’s good to go to London.”
“Did you sort out those things in the Will?”
“No, they’re still pending, so the solicitor says, he seems to be hanging about charging even more, Mum really left things a bit of a mess, I thought it was all OK, but all those little bequests and favours, half the folks are dead… it’s funny I never really think of her as gone… still think she’s sitting there in Rhos waiting for me to visit… to paint a door or move the fridge… how’s your mother?”
“Still won’t speak, Colin does but I won’t speak to that creep. She’ll go on for ever, probably outlive me just to get her own back. So…”
“…it’s no better?”
“No, I can’t see it being either”
Silence again. They realised there was not much more to say.
They’d said most of this last time and the time before that. They both knew that soon one of them would be too busy to call one week and calls would go fortnightly, then monthly, then…
“Well I’ve got a concert to go to, a World premier”
“I will sit in front of the stove and read, I’m a bit stiff, it was hard work today”
“Look after yourself”
Peter looked up at dark clouds which were breaking up a bit and continued down the hill towards the welcoming light of the cottage.
Marianne switched off her phone. She walked over to the open studio window, deep black clouds were building to the north, hot afternoon sun had broken through. Some students saw her and they waved in recognition, the choir began rehearsing their shrill song in readiness for the evening’s concert.
Peter sat close to the warmth of the black wood burning stove, he took up his journal, something he’d started keeping in the last two years, a suggestion of his therapist ‘think of it as a sketch book of your thoughts’ he’d told him, and wrote a quote from the end of 8½ that he’d been thinking about all day, he wasn’t sure if it was correct, but he liked it:
“Any artist worthy of his calling should make one vow: to learn how to be silent”
More gates a theme running through the past year! These I have seen for 20+ years. They are entrances to the demolished tile factory which was huge and a big local employer. Don’t we still need tiles? For the past 10 years it has been a flattened area just used by fun fairs when they come. Stoke-on-Trent must be 50% derelict land, which shows its poverty, in London these spaces would be crammed with new housing no-one could afford. There has been some minor cropping on the top image, but very little else, the strong winter morning sunlight was on Friday as I walked up Brownhills Road from Middleport to Tunstall.
Click the images to enlarge.
One thing that Stoke-on-Trent is really good at is dereliction. Many of the buildings were jerry built anyway, the traditional pottery industry was well known for its chaotic buildings, just read Arnold Bennetts’ Clayhanger for a good description. The housing though has often been made of very good quality brick, though tightly packed and left by successive landlords to rot for over a century. Today’s photographs were taken on Friday in Middleport, it was a cold sunlit morning, ice on the puddles. I had noticed from the bus a few times the completely cleared area and how they had left the street lights standing and ‘houseless’ streets, I’m not sure what they plan eventually, but it has become an odd open area in what was a huddled up community near the canal and opposite the former teapot factory. The plight of communities makes for photogenic images and the boarded up streets of Middleport are no different, other people’s poverty is highly exploitable for interesting images, nice new builds not so! Middleport has been blighted by many plans and grant schemes from outside bodies, none of which ever seem to run to their fruition, it is far too complex to cover here and needs its own history, but as I said it does make for some interesting bleak images.
Click on images to enlarge.