In just over a weeks time I will be back at work preparing for the new intake of students. The summer has flown in and I haven't managed to do a quarter of what I wanted. Creatively I have only managed to take photographs on one occasion at the Collodion Workshop I attended in June. My time has been dominated by parental duties - looking after my daughter as she recovers from surgery.
Today, for the first time in weeks, I felt confident to leave my teenage charge and fulfil a commitment to visit my friend the composer David Ward. David lives a couple of hours drive away from me in rural Aberdeenshire.
Finding my way to his countryside idyll would have consumed me with terror before I had a smartphone with Sat Nav. It is fair to say that technology has made my world larger and widened my skill set. Whether it be an App that can navigate me around the globe or a website that allows me to view video tutorials from practitioners of infinite specialism. Indeed even my own website has enriched me, through the cultivation of new friendships and rekindling misplaced ones.
The journey northwards was leisurely and affecting. I wondered whether I would be able to distinguish the difference between the Aberdeen, Angus or Fife countryside if abducted, blindfolded and dropped off in a country lane. I am sure there would be clues.....the colour of the soil, the construct of a farm dyke, the style and materials in which a cottage had been built, the ripeness of the crops.
I arrived late morning at Davids humble abode, a two storey cottage hidden down an unassuming single track lane. The worn signage protecting its identity.
It has been a while since we last met but there where no awkward silences. We chatted about what was going on in each of our lives and the creative projects preoccupying us. At the moment David is half way through a collaborative project writing a commissioned chamber opera on the theme of Brexit. After lunch I was treated to a private preview of what David had written so far, a synthetic computer synthesis replacing the orchestra and singers. To accompany, David turned the pages of sheet music and conducted so that I may understand where the lyrics fitted. I was moved by his kindness and sharing.
The drive homewards was equally leisurely and affecting.
For a number of years it has been my intention to make wet plate experiments. However, after much research I decided that this was a process I could not begin unaided for I feared that I may either blow myself up or be asphyxiated. Instead I chose to experiment with the more forgiving dry plate process.
It was by chance through a friend that I was given the opportunity to attend a one day workshop in Dunbar with a Master of the collodion process, Alastair Cook.
The class was intimate in size and included fellow enthusiasts of all things analogue. Each of the students in turn a Master in their own right:
Introductions aside, our workshop commenced with a brief history of the collodion process accompanied by exemplars of pioneering and contemporary practitioners. Alastair then explained how the rich intensity of a collodion print is created. Collodion is sensitive to wavelengths that are not visible to the human eye, the chemistry recording blues and purples as white and deep yellows and reds as black.
The science lesson continued with an introduction to the chemistry including health & safety precautions. This part of the workshop made me excited for I did not realise that you could fix collodion with illford chemicals. It had been the cyanide fixer that had concerned me in the past.
After demonstrating how to make and process a wet plate collodion tintype, my fellow students and I coated our plates, made portrait exposures of each other then fixed our experiments for review.
I drove home impassioned by my workshop and inspired by a group of interesting and clever people.
Thank you so much for your touching and kind letter. I am very pleased that you enjoyed the HND Contemporary Art Practice Course so much. I am both sorry and happy for you to go. Sorry because I have so much more knowledge to impart as I will be the principal lecturer for HND2. Happy because you are off to study at Art School.
As you leave, please take note that your success this year is only in part due to Sarah and myself. Your thirst for knowledge, your ability to not be distracted, your academic approach to research, practical skills and hard work are what made your portfolio and resulting acceptance to Art College a reality. I am very proud and excited for you.
In answer to your question, yes, I will continue to support your growth as an artist and be your mentor. I am very excited to follow your development. The appointment will be an osmosis of knowledge twofold, for I will learn as much from you as you will from me.
Please find enclosed with this letter a box filled with papers and other bits and pieces that I think will interest you. I have also enclosed my private contact details.
Have a fantastic summer Julia and an amazing time at Art College.
With much warmth,
It has been quite a number of months since I committed my thoughts, experiences and reflections to my blog. My life though has not been stagnant, to the contrary it has been an amalgam of shared experiences, dreams, aspirations, reflections, anxiety and chaos. I am in the throes of change, tangible and emotive: looking backwards whilst moving forwards.
As each year dispatches I feel increasingly frustrated that I am unable to dedicate my time completely to being a practicing artist. Thankfully my occupation allows me each year an extended period in which I can create and rejuvenate, and in just over a weeks’ time I will thankfully be off work for the lengthy summer vacation.
This summer however I will be relocating and creative endeavours will be suspended. The exasperation of weeks lost in creative play reconciled by the establishment of my new studio. A space in which I can comfortably generate outcomes in numerous media. A space in which I can immerse myself, disappear, conceive, experiment and construct. A space that will enable me to escape for short periods from conventions that require me to conform.
I am so eager not to waste time. I feel suffocated by the shortage of it.
The few times that I have been privileged enough to travel abroad, have been holidays gifted by my parents. However, if my life had been confined to the shores of the UK I would still be enriched by infinite exploring opportunities and touched by extreme beauty. Often we are guilty of forgetting 'the local'........the beauty on our doorstep.
Whilst in Malta I traveled in a small boat and sailed through the Blue Lagoon, an awesome experience I will never forget. Yet a few miles up the road from my home I have also kayaked through the caves of Auchmithie where the sea was an atomic glowing emerald green: an experience equal to the one in Malta. That is why I am eager to engage all opportunities to explore, never bored to revisit the ever changing 'local' and excited when I discover new inspirational environments.
It was early in the morning that I met my architect friend Mark Chalmers in Dundee on a quest for the new. Our plan was to take photographs in two locations. Firstly, at a derelict hotel that has been empty for a decade then onward up the A9 to Glen Lyon and Ben Lawers Dam.
The drive up the winding road to the Glen was eerily quiet. The scenery was breathtaking. Near to the Dam on the right hand side three quarters of the way up the hill, Mark pointed out a round building that looked like a gunning placement. It was an overflow tunnel linked to the dam.
The Dam itself was a cold intimidating, powerful structure. The volume of water it restrained, oppressive. We did not see anyone else while we explored. Though I don't doubt we where being watched on CCTV. Alone, we quietly, respectfully and reverently took our photographs. Greedy to capture as much detail as I could I set my aperture for a large depth of field. A plan that backfired as I over exposed a number of my shots.
The view on both sides of the Dam affected me. I will most certainly be returning.
Just before sunrise on Sunday morning I waited with Andrew at the side of the road for his transport to arrive. The night before he had left his tractor on site.
Having asked Andrews permission beforehand if I could explore the farmyard, I waved goodbye to him and set off eagerly with my camera and tripod. It was bitter cold and the rising sun did nothing to ease the biting chill. The sunrise did however transform the muted mid tones of my rural locale into sharp clean graphic textures.
Like yesterday, time stretched and warped making hours feel like minutes. I do not exaggerate when I state I could easily lose myself in a series for years and not be bored. There is always too much to be seen in one visit, always a beauty that you will miss. The beauty ever evolving. I am ever seduced.
In the evening I showed Andrew what I had captured. It was funny when I had to explain where one of the shots was taken even though he has lived there all his life. To be fair I suppose we are all guilty of observing the overall view and not inspecting the detail.
missionexplore abandoned building(s) and take photos
sharing of image filesdenied
In a car park of undisclosed location I met my new friend Mark Chalmers - our mutual interests being photography and disintegration. An architect to trade, in his free time Mark photographs abandoned buildings in the UK and abroad. His love of these forgotten structures is recorded sympathetically and kindly with expired analogue film. His reportage is accompanied by journalistic research and passion.
A short walk later Mark rang the door bell of the owners of the building(s) we had been given permission to photograph. After an initial tour of the site in which the owner furnished us with much local knowledge, we were trustingly left to explore for as long as we liked and take photographs. We eagerly immersed ourselves into the disintegration, greedily recording our environment. Intoxicated we lost ourselves in warped time, emerging well over a couple of hours later. I think our host was slightly perplexed by our excitement. Even so, he kindly gifted me these...........
The end of our adventure was a late lunch and the chance to find out more about each others interests. This is the second time that I have met Mark, the first time being at a pinhole camera workshop.
Since embarking on the Master Programme I have since met many kind, interesting and clever people who have been willing to share their interests, time and knowledge with me. My new friends however have made me realise how small my world has been up until now.
At lunch Mark asked me how many other buildings I had explored. 'Not many' my reply.
And the reasons?
The first is my daughter, I have devoted most of my time to enriching her life: and now that she is on the cusp of adulthood I have time to devote to myself.
The second reason?
I am afraid to explore alone.
I am a white, privileged woman living in a free country. I have a Higher Education. I have a well paid job and own my home. Surely these attributes would keep me safe. However, for near forty years I have lost count of the times I have had to deal with groping and/or sexual aggression. Ninety nine per cent of time by men who pertain to be my friend, who are equally privileged. As a result I am afraid to be alone in a semi isolated location or have to face the accusation of 'what were you doing there by yourself', if i did go alone and something did happen. Adventures with my camera are therefore undertaken with people that I trust.
I am thankful to the male friends in my life who treat me with respect.
The first rule of DOCMA Club is:
DOCMA is a five-minute collaborative documentary film
The second rule of DOCMA Club:
Its made by five filmmakers on one theme
Third rule of DOCMA:
Each film is made in a different documentary style
Films should be made in isolation from the other filmakers
DOCMA is then shown as a complete film.
Early Wednesday morning I made my way to Woodend Barn in Banchory to take part in a documentary making workshop.
The workshop was led by the filmmaker Anne Milne. Anne introduced the class to the rules of DOCMA and explained how the DOCMA Collective grew out of a collaboration with DocKlub, a monthly support group for documentary filmmakers based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In preparation for the workshop we each brought a single word theme, that may or may not be chosen. A lottery then ensued to decide our groups, theme and documentary styles.
Just over two hours later we parted company with a deadline of four days to film, edit and upload our one minute films.
The completed films will be uploaded at a future date to the DOCMA website.
Very early Sunday morning I was up and ready to navigate my way to the small East Coast fishing village of Anstruther in Fife. My close friends will understand my anxiety: I find it very difficult to follow directions. Luckily I had a guide, Google Maps. Even with my trusted guide at hand I set off early because I was worried about finding a parking space. Anstruther is a popular tourist destination.
I arrived a little past 9am and successfully found a parking space. Five minutes later my friend Donald arrived in the same car park. Not a coincidence as we had planned to meet up and take photos together.
To satisfy our analogue addictions we both obviously brought along a number of cameras.
We had a lovely day exploring, taking photographs and catching up on each others news. It is easy to take photographs with Donald. I do not have to apologise for stopping off mid conversation to immerse myself in an exposure that has presented itself to me. I understand too when he does the same to me. Meeting is an opportunity for me also to greedily furnish knowledge from this clever modest man.
The sun shone brightly, so brightly that I was unable to make pinhole exposures as my calculations were coming out at a second. I did however have success with my Canon AS-6 underwater camera. Not only did it not leak but it produced sublime effervescent dreamy prints. I cannot express how excited I am to go playing with it again soon!
I cant help it.
Every coastal visit I am compelled to search the tide line for treasure. So as not to be a boring companion I curtailed my addiction by allowing myself just one find.
The remainder of our day was spent in the Anstruther Museum followed by fish and chips for lunch, then finishing off our films.
I found my way home........