After my nanna's funeral my mother and her sisters set to the task of sorting and clearing their childhood home of her personal effects. The task weighed heavy on their hearts as they dredged through the mementos, each sibling recollecting different details from their collective past.
How many of us believe that we know our loved ones completely? I would not have guessed that my nanna had secrets. Nonetheless, even she had a couple of big ones. The first was revealed on her death certificate, she was five years older than she had declared to all. It had embarrassed her that she was older than my granddad. The second secret lay hidden in a suitcase in the loft. A letter and a photograph from her first fiance Gerald who had been killed during WWII.
Relating to a close friend the story of my nanna's box of keepsakes she disclosed that she had a box of love letters that she could not part with. Another friend a similar story. Then this weekend I found myself somberly searching for the grave of a young woman whose memory had also been kept alive in a box concealed in the attic. The morning was bitter cold and emphatically in keeping with proceedings.
Which got me to thinking, how many of us have a secret past lover for whom we have mementos that we cannot throw away? Do we innocently omit from our consciousness that our hidden boxes may inadvertently cause pain to others in there discovery? Or do we instead consciously stubbornly refuse to let go at whatever cost? I afraid I think it’s the latter.
This morning at sunrise I buried my cat Castro. She has been part of my life for 19 years. Although I knew her time to pass was nearing it was still difficult to say goodbye.
It's curious how a burial highlights your personal mortality and that of those you love. It is at these junctures that you hold what is dear to you a little closer and tighter.
At a later date I will mark her grave with a plant, Her body giving sustenance back to the earth seems right and good especially now in these times of environmental climate change. I will also endeavour to make sure that I continue to appreciate and spend time with the people who are important to me. Cliché I know, but death is a reminder to forgive mistakes (for we all make them) and to not waste time. To recognise that...
“We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most.”
-Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey.
It has been too long a time since I have been out with my camera exploring. So, an invitation from my friend Mark Chalmers to investigate and take photographs of the Glenfarg Railway Tunnels was accepted enthusiastically.
The walk into an explore is as important as the explore itself for me, so I am very grateful to have companions that I can meander slowly with. Friends who are not fixated on collecting geographic trophies, they insist instead on a richer experience.
As we walked, we chatted, the landscape repairing us both. It was a mild morning and I was seduced by the aroma and taste of autumn. When trees begin to lose their leaves, they reveal landscapes and buildings that only keen explorers will discover in summertime. If you were unaware of the Tunnels then you may miss the clues of their existence along the abandoned track that leads to them, now overgrown with vegetation and trees.
There are two tunnels, each around 500 meters long. They are sound in condition but very dark. Mark had advised me to take a torch and a flashgun so that we may take long exposures and create light paintings.
I am afraid to say that I came inadequately prepared for our shoot. I forgot my flashgun and the torch I took was not bright enough. As a result, I didn’t get many good photographs. A lesson from Mark on how to use a flashgun to make exposures in an underground setting was the order of the day. With his DSLR set on BULB, Mark emitted the light from his handheld flashgun several times, taking care not to be in the shot himself. Multiple exposure were made to ensure he got the results he desired. When I got home, I consolidated my new knowledge with some internet research.
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.