Wrapping Up Art Classes

I’ve now finished art classes. I’m really glad I did them, I think that I’ve learnt a lot from them and they have certainly had an impact on my photography work, from taking images with the production of print plates in mind to using the acrylic sheets I’d been monoprinting with as negatives on cyanotype paper and looking at artists that I might not have discovered otherwise.

In the end, developing confidence in one area impacts on the way you approach others and this has been particularly true for me.

So here are some prints I’ve produced in the past couple of weeks. The final two are from a photograph I took in the Tate which I traced onto mount board and cut out to produce a plate for printing.

Tomorrow I will be teaching a cyanotype workshop at the studio I’ve been attending for these classes. The tutor helped and encouraged me so much that I felt able to apply to go and study photography full time at the local arts university, at which I have just accepted a place for this September. And so I think that in terms of evidencing my learning and showing that there is a link between these classes and the photography, I can’t really say more than that.

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The Girl with the Schizophrenic Mother

Yet another idea I am playing with, possibly for A5

One idea I’ve had floating around my head for ages is to go through some of my experiences growing up with a mother who was suffering from schizophrenia. The problem is that a lot of what I want to say revolves around her house. For the way those images look in my head at the moment, it wouldn’t make sense to make those images anywhere else. My mum lives in London, and I have been instructed to make images for this assignment somewhere close, somewhere I can return to again and again. I can’t do that with her house because I can’t visit her alone and I can’t go to London several times a week anyway.

Photos of my mum, taken by my dad. 

However, part of this is trying to work with this idea of being the girl with the schizophrenic mother. It’s been part of my identity for a long time. I realised this when I was thinking about the roles I have and the expectations I have of myself and that others have of me in fulfilling those roles.

Several weeks ago I’d been reading Identity Theft, the book of an exhibition curated by James Putnam. I don’t know much about the actual exhibition; I picked up the book in Oxfam Bookshop in Highgate because the title grabbed me instantly. Of particular interest to me was the work of Gonkar Gyatso. He has explored cultural identity in staged images, but in all of them he appears as an artist which seems to imply that no matter what cultural background he is exploring, that aspect of his identity is the most important for him. I thought about how I would approach such a series; how would I explore aspects of my identity? For me, I think it would be about working through the various roles I take on in my everyday life. I think that is where the confusion lies for me. In the same book I also saw work by Alice Anderson which I researched further online. Being someone with frizzy hair is also a part of my identity I suppose, so it was interesting to see her use her hair so prominently in her art. In an article in the Independent, she said, “We’ve all got memories. What’s interesting is when you start to make something with them. Anyone can just tell you their story.”  Interestingly, in Identity Theft there is a quote from her that says, “I am reinventing my childhood through the re-imagining of my own memories… creating links between myself and others”. So I think these ideas are quite useful.

I started a list of the roles I have; there are a lot of them. Among the most obvious that many people can relate to are the roles of mother, daughter, sister, partner etc. Being female feels like a role – it comes with a set of expectations and behavioural requirements. There are a lot of roles I take on by virtue of where I am – living in Dorset I become an outsider because I’m a Londoner. There are things I choose to do: I’m a violinist / musician, I’m a student.

However, the role that I can never seem to loose is that of the girl with the schizophrenic mother; it seems to override all others. I cannot stop doing it, it doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with or when you are looking at me. It is always there. When my mum dies it will be there. And like all those other roles I think it comes with expectations that I am supposed to fulfil. It’s worth me examining what those expectations are at this point, because although mental health is now supposed to be a subject we can talk openly about, we don’t talk much about the effect is has on family, beyond the impacts on the mental health of the other individuals involved.

I know that I avoided any creativity for a long time because of the expectation that I would be ultra creative because of her illness and that that would drive me mad. (Hence the study of maths and physics). There seems to be a link in the minds of many people that schizophrenia and creativity go together. There’s an expectation that I could go mad (no I won’t, it’s too late for that). That this runs in families (not this type of schizophrenia) so I must have some kind of inherent weakness perhaps? People who know me know I’m not the type to go mad, but I often wonder if during times of stress that everyone experiences, people are watching out for what they may subconsciously think is the inevitable? So the expectations that people have of me in the role of someone whose mother is schizophrenic impact the expectations that they have of me in other roles.

Anyway, it may be too late to explore these ideas for A5 now because I am still not sure what direction I would like to approach them from. But I will conduct more research into these ideas over the summer and especially into the work of Alice Anderson.

 

Exploring Photography With the Forest: Another A5 Idea

Test Images: The Forest / Materials from the Forest

I’ve been thinking; instead of using photography to explore a subject, can I use a simple subject like ferns or trees in a forest, to explore photography? They have this repeating pattern that I feel I can make use of. Does that work? Or is this just an excuse to spend the next few weeks hiding in the forest out of the heat?

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Scanned Polaroid

My tutor has said that I need to make sense of my need to experiment. I don’t want to stick to digital images, I want and need to experiment and make things to learn. In a way I feel that I can’t fully make sense of photography if there are aspects of it that I am not using. I need to make images using different techniques as a way to learn about their strengths and weaknesses as a method of communication. And I want a physical outcome.

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Emulsion lift

At the moment I’m going through a hard time emotionally and I may need to move away from the intensely personal for a while. So for me, exploring different aspects of the medium might be a good way to end the course. The assignment wants a clear progression; I suppose in this case it would be a progression of the medium through time that would reveal aspects of both photography and the plant material that seems to be the subject (although it’s not).

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Cyanotype

Throughout the course I’ve been wanting to explore and experiment more, but studying distance learning makes it hard. I don’t have a darkroom, I don’t have access to lots of equipment be that chemicals or various types of camera. There is a certain amount of frustration around that for me. So cyanotypes have been easy enough, and I am now making anthotypes and a lumen print. I’ve tried some Polaroid emulsion lifts in the past so I am adding to those now, and I am still making use of monochrome film – I’m yet to move to colour as I can’t develop it myself. I am also planning on constructing a camera obscura that I could use to make images for this assignment.

It’s not that I won’t make use of digital images. I’ve started thinking about different ways I could make and use those too and I would like to include film of the forest in the final version of the assignment.

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Scan

 

At the end of July I am attending the cross discipline Art and Environment study weekend in London, so hopefully that will give me further material to work with for this subject.

 

Acting on Tutor Feedback; Organisation, Planning and Recording

I’m coming to the end of EYV now and I am going through the feedback from my tutor and making sure I’ve understood and taken on board the points he has made. One major problem for me during this course has been organisation and time management. You can read about the frustrations of my tutor here.

Having studied at a ‘bricks and mortar’ university and having studied distance learning elsewhere, I have never, ever had a problem with this before. I think I’ve asked for a handful of extensions over time; the only time I specifically recall doing so is when I had a miscarriage. So it’s unusual. There have been personal reasons and misunderstandings on my part about the flexibility of deadlines and when to ask for extensions, but I don’t want to make a load of excuses; I need to understand why this problem has come up.

The main problem I have faced is that when I began studying photography I was just not used to working in this way; it’s (still) taking me time to learn how to approach this sort of work. It feels so fluid after coming from a maths and science background that I honestly struggle with how to approach it.

Past Strategies

I never had any problem while studying at Brunel; the assignments were usually due in quickly, I had other students to work with or at least to constantly remind me how behind they were, and I didn’t tend to get big pieces of work; I could do it immediately and then forget about it until I handed the work in.

My standard approach to studying distance learning courses in the past has been:

  • divide up the number of course text pages to be studied over each time period – always allowing at least an extra week for unforeseen events and two weeks for any assignments
  • try to make allowances of extra time for material that looks tricky
  • put post it notes into the text and materials with completion dates

Assignments, although challenging in terms of content were easy in terms of approach:

  • Before I started the textbook for the assignment I would make sure I was familiar with most of the assignment questions. I read the text with those questions in mind. If I didn’t know the questions then I tried  anticipate what they might be.
  • Carry out any practical work (astronomical observations etc) as soon as possible by booking out the period where the object would be visible and observing on the first clear night (or series of nights).
  • Answer one question at a time, preferably completing a question per day. So if it was mathematical I’d do all the easy parts first and then return to the harder questions to tackle them in stages.

This is how I have managed to get distinctions in the coursework component of every single course I have ever studied and also in the exams of all but one. But it’s not a strategy I can use for photography.

Time Management

I used to use bullet journalling, but I find it frustrating that I am having to copy out the same information again and again. I’ve tried a few apps, the most recent being Things in combination with the calendar app and Evernote to keep track of websites, references and things I want to follow up on. But the list of material I now find myself looking at and researching is huge. And I can see material that I find relevant everywhere, not just in books about photography. I use two computers, an iPad and an iPhone as well as books I own and books and journals from the library. Earlier on in the course there were phrases I’d read or ideas I’d wanted to refer to and hadn’t been able to because I couldn’t remember where I’d seen them and therefore couldn’t reference them. Aaaarrggghh. Thankfully that seems to be over!

Assignment 5

For the assignment I’m working on at the moment, I have a title “Photography Is Simple.” I have to take ten images and each has to show a different aspect of the subject (whatever that subject is). There are exercises in the lead up to this assignment and I’m supposed to use those exercises and the material in the course text as a lead-in to it. But other than that, I’m free to explore whatever I like.

How to approach this?

This is what happens: I think of ideas, I have a huge list of subjects I’d like to explore. But there are so many of them and the more I try to refine them, the more I seem to come up with. Of course, there are different ways of looking at these subjects. I think about themes, about possibilities.

I’ve looked at Making Photographs by Mike Simmons and noted the strategies laid out there – this is in note form.

  1. Generate Ideas: Books, Online, Exhibitions, Artist’s Talks, Brainstorm, Mindmap
  2. Choose Subject: Identify what is being investigated and the relationship to how it is being explored. Think about the possibilities of using photography as a mechanism to explore the subject.
  3. Shape Ideas: Question what the possibilities might be.
  4. Develop ideas through research
  5. Planning:
    • Develop goals
    • Set aims
    • Set targets
  6. Create – Make it happen ie. Action:
    • Timetable key tasks
    • Break into smaller activities
    • Action activities
  7. Assess:
    • Question
    • Explain
    • Move forward
  8. Record: the project narrative

Reflection comes after all of these steps.

I think what happens to me is that I get to number 3 in this list and then start all over again; I have real problems making decisions. I think that getting stuck at that point stops me from actually getting out and taking photographs. I just generate more and more ideas. It’s not a problem with organisation or time management, it’s just endless proliferation of ideas that freezes me. So the thing for me to do before I go back round to the start is to get out to take some photographs – any photographs at all.

Last week I was getting tangled up in ideas for assignment five and getting nowhere, so I decided to take both a polaroid camera and a film camera to the forest. These really work for me – I suppose using them is a form of mindfulness as I actually stop and think more carefully before I press the shutter. With the polaroid I think a lot more carefully just because of the expense of the medium. By the time I’d been walking in the forest for three  hours I knew exactly how I wanted to approach the assignment, had ideas for all ten images and how I could present them and had managed to tie all that in with my constant need to experiment and learn new things.

Instagram style set of Images; An idea for A5

Working on ideas for A5 – First trial set of images about disorder and my disengagement from my home environment

Part of the idea for this is to present the actual assignment on Instagram as a set of posts, complete with hashtags and bio. I’m not sure about this, but I might explore the idea at a later date.

 

Reading & Research: Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images by Richard Salkeld

My tutor had recommended this book to me during our tutorial about the work I’d done for Assignment 4, mainly because of the discussion it contains on semiotics. It’s part of the ‘Basics – Creative Photography’ series of books, some of which I already have so I was happy to buy it as I’ve found the rest of the series helpful with clear text and well designed layouts.  The chapter headings are

1. What is a photograph? Mainly talks about the origins of photography.

2. Reading the signs. “..the key principles and vocabulary of semiotics together with its practical application to photographs.”

3. Truth and Lies. “..the relationship of a photographic representation to the world it represents and, in particular, consider to what degree a photograph might be said to ‘reflect’ or ‘produce’ reality.”

4. Identity. “individual identity as represented in photographs. What is identity and where is it to be found? What is the relationship of (our) appearance to who we really are?””

5. Big Brother is watching you. “The proprieties and limits, the dangers, threats and thrills of looking, watching and being watched”.

6. Aesthetics. “debates about photography as art.”

My tutor obviously knows his stuff as this felt like right book, right time for me. In some areas I’d have liked a little more depth – it really is just an introduction to these ideas, but I will follow up with researching some of the work identified in the bibliography. I’d rather have a clear grasp of the basics; coming from a science / maths background rather than an arts one I find that I’m sometimes missing concepts that are assumed in other photographic texts. (Jumping straight into Barthes was a nightmare).

I find in a lot of the books from this series that the first chapter feels in some way so simple that I am often tempted to skip it, but What is a photograph? was helpful in terms of giving me ideas for techniques I’d like to try – I’m enthusiastic about non-digital techniques and trying new approaches.

My notes on semiotics so far – well, I had seen the concept before in another book from the same series, ‘Context and Narrative’. So the core idea is familiar enough. I’d not broken it down into arbitrary, iconic and indexical signs and I hadn’t thought much about denotation and connotation so thinking about the idea the text presents of denoting a fragrance – that you can’t do that, so you use other visual elements from certain colours and words to faces and bodies that connote glamour etc which is then associated with the product – was a helpful discussion.  I was particularly interested in the discussion of words with text as I’ve seen ideas about photographs needing to speak entirely for themselves but have experienced looking at an image and not understanding it unless it is related to text – be that a title or an actual explanation. I was using text in assignment 4 and I had real difficulty working out how to use it – a problem I still haven’t really solved.

 

 

Bollocks to Brexit: The People’s Vote March

Images and thoughts from The People’s Vote March 23rd June 2018

I was so tired when I woke up at 5.45am on Saturday.  I just wanted a morning lay-in and then the day to clean the house, make sure the boys’ school uniforms were washed and that the fridge had some food in it. But my concerns about Brexit overcame everything; I really felt I had no choice but to act and so I dragged myself out of bed, I made sure my children dragged themselves out of bed, and we all got the train to London Waterloo. Again.

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Daniel was wearing his ‘F**k Brexit’ badge on the train. I’ve always had a very positive response to mine, but someone took offence and decided to tell Daniel that he shouldn’t be wearing it. Daniel had been forewarned that he might get negative comments from wearing an EU T-shirt or this badge, but I’ve made it very clear to him that he is just as entitled to his opinion as anyone else is entitled to theirs. It’s always up to him what to wear, so he didn’t just ignore it, but throughout the day took the opportunity to add further decoration expressing his opinion on Brexit just in case he should encounter the same man on the train home. I said nothing, but as ever, I felt very proud of him and of Nathan who was wearing an EU flag T-shirt. It does say something about the reaction that some people in this country now have to the mere site of an EU flag, that he was not comfortable taking off his Batman hoodie on a hot day in London until he was in the crowd of people dressed like him.

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I’m studying photography, so obviously I took my camera with me – work and protesting combined is a great combination for me, but I found it a challenging subject. When we had reached the meeting point for the march I felt visually overwhelmed; in some way I always do when faced with people. I think it’s very difficult to pick subjects out of a crowd that say what the flavour of the moment is. Also, I have a few problems with street photography which I’ve spoken about here. However, I was here to be seen to be a part of this group and I have to assume that everyone else felt the same. I made a mistake not researching how other people make photographs in this context – crowds and protests – as I think that would have been useful. I will add this to my ever-growing research list.

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The first image taken before I’d decided a strategy 
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The slightly mad person – obligatory at any march. He clearly didn’t agree with the sentiment but no-one gave him any trouble; at most there was a slight tutting, a small amount of poorly hidden laughter and a bemused stare from a police officer. We are British after all. 

I was thinking about my fifth assignment while taking these photos. It’s really playing on my mind as I cannot narrow myself down to a topic and my brain will keep inconveniently coming up with more and more ideas and possibilities rather than less*.  But I think I want to explore something around my identity and Brexit ties in with that, as does photography and photographers. So although there were a lot of very interesting people in the crowd, the real interest I had was in capturing some of the people like me; the photographers. There is something in most of them that I recognise in myself. A certain detachment perhaps? I’m not sure… Maybe it’s a single-mindedness?

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Are the press photographers expecting to be photographed? As far as I am able, I try to make eye contact before taking shots of individuals; there is a sort of unspoken communication that says yes this is okay or no, it’s not but I know I can’t stop you. If I get that look then I won’t take the shot. Personally I find it important to try and get that communication even though I suspect that a lot of photographers may not do the same were our positions reversed. However, I have my own morals to live with and have to go with what feels right and reasonable to me.

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What do most of these photographers have in common? Hmm… Is the belly an essential? I hope not because I’m really working hard at the gym right now. 

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I want to say another mistake was not taking my telephoto lens, but I had had to be realistic about the weight of the equipment I was carrying – it was a considered choice to take a smaller, slightly lighter but wider lens. I know that the shots I took of individuals would have been better had I taken the long lens with me, but I just couldn’t carry it all.

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The youngest person I saw at the march; a perfect example of the future we want to protect

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It was interesting to watch the photography happening in the crowd as well as that of the crowd. I would make a generalisation that more women than men were using their phones to take photos and video. I did see men using phones, but it seemed to me that amongst the crowd it was women who were more active photographers and made more use of social media. I’m interested in looking into this to find out if it is the case, and if so – why? When people had an actual camera, they tended to be male – but not always. The photographers I saw that were carrying multiple cameras and/or tripods were exclusively male. In Parliament Square a woman approached a man I was sitting near and said “I’m from the BBC, can I take a picture of your dog?” He agreed, and she pulled out an iPhone to take the image.

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I’ve got an iPhone SE that I often use for photography. On multiple occasions I’ve been faced with the dreaded message informing me that I am out of memory, made all the more infuriating by the fact that I pay Apple for extra storage that I have only used a fraction of. But my reliance on my iPhone is heavy, so I have been considering upgrading to a newer model (8+) which has a better camera and a larger memory (256GB vs my current 16GB). However, the thought of spending £1000 on a phone sickens me at some level. If I had a spare £1000 (which I don’t) I would rather have a £25 phone, get a prime lens for my Fuji XT-2 and spend the rest of the money on something important and meaningful. Like a dog. I don’t care about which phone I have because IT’S JUST A PHONE. In fact, it’s only since I got the iPhone that I actually have any idea of what make or model of phone I happen to have; it’s just not important to me. But this experience has made me reconsider the benefits of a phone with a decent camera.

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A casual phone photo
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Faux Borris stops for a more formal portrait

Watching the interactions going on between photographer and subject, it’s become clear to me that the interactions between the ‘phone photographer’ and their subject, and the ‘camera photographer’ and their subject are actually quite different. I can understand that for the photographer themselves the phone camera is more spontaneous, less cumbersome and easier to use. But why is there a difference in the subject? Is this a sense of the phone photographer being less threatening? There is certainly a playfulness and spontaneity in the subject that I don’t see when that same subject is faced with a ‘real’ camera. The phone photographer is seen as part of the crowd, ‘one of us’, just a normal person. I think the camera photographer is an unknown quantity; there is a seriousness about their equipment, about their demeanour, about needing to take the event – the moment of the shot – more seriously at some level if there is a ‘real’ camera pointed at you. It’s almost like people are determined to be on their best behaviour when there is a ‘proper’ camera around. Perhaps the recording of their image is seen as more permanent at that point? I’m not sure what it is, but I would be very interested to hear the thoughts and opinions of others on this so do feel free to add them if you’ve got this far.

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For the first time ever, I also found myself taking video and live streaming on Instagram while walking through Westminster. I’m not aware of being able to do that with my XT-2. When sitting in Parliament Square it felt more appropriate to record sound. A photograph couldn’t capture the disappointment clearly felt by the crowd at the non-appearance of Jeremy Corbyn and the ensuing chants of ‘Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?’

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I also decided to pick out my favourite placards and banners from the day. I was unable to get a shot of one that said ‘Who needs Airbus when you’ve got Spitfires?’ For me that might have made the best point about the leave vote being driven by emotion rather than facts. By a misunderstanding of the needs of our current economy and the businesses that drive it. I know it’s not all about economics, but it certainly shouldn’t be about nostalgia for an imagined past. In the end people need jobs to pay the mortgage; it’s reality. Voting to support industries that no longer exist while voting against the needs of the industries that do and then saying, as the ever self-serving dangerous buffoon Boris Johnson is reported to have said, ‘F**k business’ is an act of national self harm that will see real suffering inflicted on families that have already borne the brunt of ruthless cuts by an irresponsible government that clearly do not have the national interest at heart.

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So, here is my second favourite banner; Spock. Personally I’d have gone for a photo of Zachary Quinto as I love him as Spock and I have a crush on him (there, my secret is out); but I can obviously respect the decision to use Leonard Nimoy because he was great.

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It was interesting to see the reaction of my children (aged 14 and 15) to the placards inspired by memes because they certainly had the biggest effect on them and I noticed they had been made by people who I’d guess were of a similar age. I suspect that these speak more directly to their generation than the choices of banners featured in the press coverage. I feel there is a whole set of associations that my kids picked up on that I was missing; almost like a mythology that they understand and I don’t. Much like Snapchat, I am too old to understand it.

These are some images I took on my way back to Waterloo Station.

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On the train home, I took more images. I always do when I’m on the train. When I was a child I loved looking out of the window while travelling and seeing how things change as you get closer to them at speed. I have always enjoyed the experience of seeing those disconnected elements observed through a window while travelling come together and then move apart again, and also that experience of seeing something – a tree or a plant – so beautiful in a particular light at a particular time, just for a moment and then it’s gone. It’s almost spiritual to me. But it’s something I can’t experience while driving, so the train becomes a treat for me because I can just sit and observe and see beautiful moments everywhere.

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Basingstoke
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While stuck at Basingstoke
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Self portrait

Note: The Sunday Brexit Follow Up

Well, here’s to the power of photography and social media to piss people off.

One of my relatives had obviously seen my posts from the march on Facebook, so as well as her usual racist ‘Britain First’ posts – I like to call them ‘Tales from Morrisons’, you know the sort of thing – the ones that spout the mythology that Muslims hate Britain, the armed forces and the English flag because ‘I saw a Muslim woman in Morrisons who…(fill in your anti-Muslim lies here)….’, I also had the obligatory post composed of a Union flag with the message that ‘We knew exactly what we were voting for’ appear on my feed. When I pointed out to her that she didn’t, no-one did – not even the government – I was given the arguments that the hate-filled Daily Mail are presumably now peddling: that I am not truly British, that I am anti-democracy and that I should move to Europe if I love it so much.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this from people. Funnily enough, the day after protesting for a vote when we will know what the actual deal with Europe is (for everyone to vote on, not just remoaners like me), I was at home watching the England vs Panama match while, admittedly not understanding football properly but loving the score and feeling very happy about it. Occasionally I was running out to the kitchen to check on the roast beef, and all the while I was under the impression that I already live in Europe. Strange.

 

 

 

 

*I am an INFP so coming up with ideas is my thing.

Four Days In London, Three at Home

Some images from the week 28th May – 3rd June

I had a trip to London planned during half-term and this time I’d actually booked a hotel, booked in ‘activities’, and been a proper grown-up about the entire thing instead of leaving everything ’till the last minute because it’s just a holiday and so not actually important. However, this week has been a perfect example of why it is useless to plan.

Monday

I woke up Monday morning with a migraine. So the plan to leave the house by 9am to get a train at 10.20am didn’t happen. It took several hours for the ibuprofen to kick in enough for me to drive. The day’s plans narrowed down to get train to Waterloo (tick), pop in to the British Film Institute for tea and cake and a browse in the shop (tick), walk from Waterloo to Bankside (tick), find our room and lay down on the bed trying really hard to ignore the worsening pain (tick), try to ignore the children fighting over who gets what bed, find somewhere to eat that we can all agree on and then eat to much (tick), go back to hotel and sleep (tick) while the children are forced to watch Star Trek Next Generation because of a lack of Netflix (tick, and a good thing to; STNG is easily the best Star Trek and they needed to see Patrick Stewart doing his “Tea, Earl Grey, hot,” and “Make it so,” lines so that they understand me).

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View to Shakespeare’s Globe from the river bus stop

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Tuesday

On Tuesday, thanks to the migraine of the previous day, I woke up later than I’d wanted to. Meanwhile my youngest son wanted a very leisurely breakfast so that he could eat his own weight in bacon, and despite being 15 years old my eldest son needed 25 minutes to put his shoes on. So the day’s plans to visit Camden Market before turning up for a lunchtime tour of Highgate Cemetery suffered. We went straight to Highgate. Within moments of leaving the train it became clear that the forecast of a fine, dry and pleasantly warm day had turned out to be utter nonsense; just before our tour, which I’d booked for my eldest son who wanted to go to Highgate because… I’m not sure, but something about vampires and Dungeons and Dragons and his new character, it started raining. And then we heard thunder and saw distant flashes of lightning.

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However, we are British and therefore don’t mind a bit of rain and are perfectly capable of being wet and not complaining about it. They have umbrellas you can use, you should have packed jackets, stop moaning and get on with it. Stiff upper lip chaps. Actually, to be fair they didn’t complain at all; the rain was coming down so hard that some of the group bolted, the tour guide said he’d never seen anything like it, and despite my jacket and umbrella I was still soaked through to the skin within moments. In terms of photography it really wasn’t the day for it, but I’ve put the photos on a separate post if you’re interested.

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Pre-rain; a visit to Douglas Adams’ grave. We left pens. The kids have seen two takes on Dirk Gently; the series that was cut short where Dirk is played by Stephen Mangan, and the new BBC America version written by Max Landis with Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood. So they understand something of the greatness of this man.

 

After that the plan was – go back to hotel and relax for a bit, have dinner, then go to Shakespeare’s Globe to see ‘As You Like It’. But actually it went like this; walk back to the station in the rain, one of us limping so that we had to go slowly, get back to the hotel feeling miserable and sorry for ourselves, realise no one took spare trousers – just shorts – and only one of us had taken spare shoes (me). Not great when everyone squelches when they walk. Put on shorts (and the shoes that I had taken just in case I ended up needing to look glam which didn’t work well with a buggered achilles tendon), go out to eat feeling stupid because it was a cold and wet and we were all dressed like it was a balmy summer day, eat pizza (with a student discount – hurrah!), drink Peroni (me again), and give up on ‘As You Like It’ because an evening standing in the cold with damp clothes on didn’t really appeal at that point in time. But I did get in some people watching and a few photos from the upstairs of Pizza Express.

 

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This couple in the foreground were clearly having fun at the expense of the couple in the background who had been standing like this for ages. 

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Wednesday

Something went well. I had booked to see Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art and neglected to get tickets for the children. They stayed in the hotel watching Star Trek, I walked the five minute walk to Tate Modern and spent the morning in the exhibition. It was really informative, and I will write a separate post about it very soon.

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I took this on leaving the Tate Modern. I was thinking about abstraction; this was a response to what I’d just seen.

They, being old enough to stay in the hotel on their own, were old enough to walk to the Bankside river bus stop on their own too. We got the boat to Westminster, walked to Shepherd’s bookbinding supplies in Victoria where I didn’t spend any money despite spending hundreds of pounds in my head, got a number 24 bus to Covent Garden (this is a great bus route; don’t worry about the tourist buses, just get the 24 instead) and went to Forbidden Planet (£ yeah, of course), Orcs Nest (£ no, not this time) and Fopp, a massive DVD / Bookshop (£ okay, that was mainly me). Then we walked to BFI Imax via Bow Street and Waterloo Bridge to go and see Solo: A Star Wars Story which I thought was totally brilliant (£ lots, but worth it). We then had burgers, me studiously ignoring the fact that it was my youngest son’s second burger and chips of the day and also ignoring the fact that I usually go to the gym three times a week and now can’t because of my achilles and am putting on weight as a consequence.

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From the river bus. That’s why it’s got this glow – it’s taken through the window. 
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Sometimes people call me Boudica. Yes, really. I suppose I can be quite scary and determined when I need to be. Plus, I am learning to be rather handy with a bow and a horse. However, I don’t have a chariot yet, and I promise I haven’t killed any Romans. 
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Outside Westminster. Over the past six months or so, every time I’ve walked past parliament there have been evangelical Christians on this corner. They are obsessed with hell. 

I love my family, but sharing a room and not having any time to myself take a toll on me very quickly. By Wednesday evening I was suffering introversion overload, and my eldest son was clearly feeling the same.

Thursday

Another day for my youngest to try and eat his own weight in bacon at breakfast. After that display, we packed up by throwing the still soaking wet clothes into the case, left it all at reception, and headed for Camden Market. I’d nearly ducked out of this and had been close to suggesting that we just go home, but I’m glad I didn’t. I haven’t been to Camden Market for years. It was much bigger and more interesting than I remember – and I don’t think I got to see much of it on this visit. My eldest, Nathan, didn’t enjoy this experience; he found it all too much to take in, there’s a lot going on. Daniel really enjoyed it though as it’s visually very stimulating, it’s a very creative environment.

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I think this was the boys’ favourite shop. Deadpool outside, the Hulk inside. What more do you want? 

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This man wanted everyone to know that thoughts create unhappiness, not things or events. I think this was in some way linked to milk, but I’m not sure how and I didn’t stick around to find out. 

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We ate doughnuts and drank tea, it didn’t rain (surely the definition of a positive outcome), and when we’d had enough we made our way back to the hotel via the Northern Line and via Borough Market which we were right next to. Then another walk to Waterloo, a train to Salisbury and a car journey to Blandford to be not welcomed by three rather unimpressed cats who probably hadn’t even noticed we’d been gone. Then we watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. This will act as a Misfits replacement for the next few weeks until I think of something else that we can all agree on for the post-dinner family TV slot.

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I appreciate that the person who made this is probably mentally ill, but this child was worried; and so my annoyance with religion grows ever stronger. 

 

Friday

Aarrgghh, my house is such a mess. There are piles of washing to do (not all from 3 nights away, obviously, the majority is just me not getting much done last week because I couldn’t get my arse in gear), the whole place needs cleaning, there is no food, at least not any I’m willing to spend time cooking, and I have a headache, yellow dots all over the back of my throat and stuff floating around my vision. The boys spend their day in PJs in front of their computers in their bedrooms, Nathan occasionally emerging to make himself drinks with the fruit syrups that were just delivered and to ask when I’m going to buy cheese and Pot Noodles. I hide in front of my computer writing this and this and going through images in Lightroom and feeling a bit disappointed that I didn’t get many good ones. At 1.30pm I finally manage to have a shower and get dressed. At 3.30pm I give up on tea and toast as a reliable food source, I can smell that the boys have found some alternative which probably involves noodles, and so I go to Beaton’s Tearoom and Bookshop for a coronation chicken sandwich because I need proper food before I can take painkillers. The drive home and the 20,000 paces a day over the past few days have undone all the rest I had given my leg in the past few weeks; I would say I am a walking disease, but actually I am a limping one and my jeans are too tight from not going to the gym and eating dessert and burgers and Tyrells cheese crips as a lunch. This is not like me, I don’t like it.

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One from Thursday’s train journey; I was experimenting.
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Another landscape experiment from the Waterloo to Salisbury train

I think about the fact that it’s Daniel’s 14th next week and I haven’t got him anything yet; when I ask what he’d like he says ‘an Oculus Rift’ (he understands that this is not going to happen and his computer can’t run it anyway) or ‘books and DVDs’. I know I will probably end up getting this shopping wrong.

 Saturday

I’d booked a Shibori stitching and indigo dyeing workshop for Saturday. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s the indigo I really want to learn because I love the colour. It seems amazing to me that nature can produce a blue dye of that intensity. I wake up feeling a bit ill and consider if it’s a good idea to give it a miss, but decide to just get on with it and come home early if I continue to feel like this.

As it is, I feel okay and meet an old friend in the class. I learn something new (mainly stitching, and not how to mix indigo which is a nuisance), and come home with some work that I really like.

 

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Sunday

This is a day of completion; I’m coming to the end of a few things. I start off with archery. This was the final week for my target archery classes; now I can join the club. I want to be better this session than last, but I am flustered when I arrive and it just all goes wrong. I’ve never missed the target before, but this week it feels like I miss it more than I hit it. I’m trying to adjust my stance slightly, to make sure I am drawing back to the same place, to drop my shoulders and to stop leaning backwards. But physically and mentally I am struggling and it’s like I can’t connect to my own body or what it’s doing; there are too many sensations going on. I use a lighter bow and I get one group of arrows consistent; they all bounce off the wood on the bottom of the stand the target rests on. One of them ends up bouncing off and landing vertically. I know I am under the weather today, but I think it’s also about changing from shooting bare bow to using a sight. I just find it a nuisance. My tab is a nuisance too, so I take it off and that helps. At the end the coaches give out certificates; I wish it didn’t have a photo on it.

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I don’t take photos at archery so this’ll have to do

I leave without packing up, feeling slightly guilty as I know that Mike will end up doing that for me. The club are going to have an afternoon BBQ, I’m going to miss it and it would have been a great opportunity to get to know the other members; I’ve met a few, but it’s usually been a very brief ‘Hi!’ Plus, I won’t get to pet Sheila’s beautiful dogs; I miss having a dog so much, but they are too big a tie for me at the moment so I am resisting until I feel a bit more settled.

I hurry off to Bournemouth for bookbinding class. When I arrive, I realise that the book block I had been looking for this morning, the thing I thought was missing that had seen me tearing around the house going through folders and papers, was actually in my bookbinding folder the entire time. This shows my current mental state. As usual, Susan is a model of serenity and so I soon relax. Plus, she has brought mini cupcakes as it’s our final session and mini cupcakes are a good thing. We make a small hardback journal. Marie shows me her new paper which is stunning so I feel a bit jealous and end up wishing I’d spent some money in Shepherds after all.

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My first hardback journal
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A mixture of books; mainly mine and Marie’s

When I leave I feel sad that this is over as the other people in the class are great, Susan is patient to extreme, and I really like making books. But again, I have that sense of completion and the knowledge that I’ve learnt something new. I’ve now done 20 hours of bookbinding classes in total, so I think it’s time to make a few at home.

I finish my week with more Kimmy Schmidt as the boys are really into it. Next week I’m taking a week off to sort my house out, celebrate Daniel’s birthday, recover from whatever nasty is making me feel yuk, and just relax for a while. So, in short; half term is hard work, and plans are for other people.

 

 

Highgate Cemetery in a Storm

I’ve shot some gardens in the rain before, but the day I visited Highgate Cemetery the weather was absolutely horrendous. I had an umbrella and a jacket, but still got soaked through to the skin.

Highgate Cemetery West

You have to book a tour to visit this part of Highgate Cemetery. It’s not expensive; £12 for adults, £6 for children. The price includes entrance to the East side too. It’s a fascinating place and the guides are really interesting so it’s well worth it. You can find out more about the cemetery here. 

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On my lunchtime tour there were newly formed rives of water running down the paths; all of the Americans on the tour gave up less than halfway through, and the guide said he’d never seen conditions like it.

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I was juggling an umbrella and camera, trying to keep both the camera equipment and myself as dry as I could. Add to that the thunder (which I don’t mind being out in) and lightning (which I certainly do mind being out in but at least it was just the sheet variety) and it wasn’t conducive to great photography.

I was disappointed because I got a much better set of images when I visited last May. (I can’t post those here because I wasn’t studying this course then and there are rules on this sort of thing, which I will admit I am not clear on).

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Ouroboros; I wonder if these are actually Christian burials as I think of it as a pagan symbol?

The poor guide was trying his best, but I also felt I learnt a lot more on my last visit. There was more discussion about symbolism and individual graves. This time I could hardly hear over the noises of thunder and rain beating down on umbrellas. We couldn’t linger and ask questions.

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I loved the name

Despite a disappointing set of images, I haven’t corrected them much, deciding that to keep the feel of the day it was best to just increase the exposure a little on some of them.  highgate_cem_may_18_ (24 of 26)highgate_cem_may_18_ (23 of 26)highgate_cem_may_18_ (22 of 26)

Last time I visited it was beautifully sunny and warm; the shadows were a welcome relief. This time being in the shadows was so dark that I could make out the path and the vague shapes around me, but there was no detail. I couldn’t see anyone’s face. highgate_cem_may_18_ (21 of 26)highgate_cem_may_18_ (19 of 26)highgate_cem_may_18_ (18 of 26)

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Rex

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Highgate Cemetery East

This is self guided and you get a map. I didn’t get round much of this on my last visit, so some of this was new to me.

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It’s strange finding yourself laughing in a cemetery. But I did; what a fantastic design.
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I just thought this was beautiful
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A piano gravestone. It’s actually quite large.
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There are a few graves with masks. I find those difficult; perhaps that’s the idea?
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Douglas Adams, perhaps the most understated grave in the whole place. It simply says, “Douglas Adams, Writer, 1952 – 2001”. Last time I left a pen, this time my son left one. If I’m honest, I only visit the East side to see him.

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Capturing Things That I See

Some images from the week 21st to 27th May

These first two images are my eldest son Nathan. Whenever I look at a person through a lens, it all gets so complex, from the simple questions like which eye do I focus on, to how to resolve this disconnect that appears between how the person seems to me and how they appear to the camera. I feel that when I turn the camera on myself that doesn’t matter so much, I can live with, and to some extent enjoy a certain amount of misrepresentation. These were part of a series shot for exercise 5.1, in which we are asked to use the camera as a device to measure distance.

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Nathan (1 of 1)

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This wasn’t included in the exercise, and shows another, more lighthearted, side of Nathan. Of course, it is also photographic evidence of the fact that he cannot stop eating.

I’d taken some images in Bournemouth last week, and I found myself repeating the same ideas this week. I am thinking about my fifth assignment and I took these because I have been considering asking the synagogue about the possibility of taking some photos there. I wanted to get the surroundings, get a sense of the place in which it is situated. I am also thinking about exploring Bournemouth as a subject a bit more. It seems to have this peeling veneer of splendour – a leftover from Victorian times – that I think is beginning to reveal something interesting underneath. As it’s the beginning of summer and the tourists are on the way, it also seems like the right time to think about how the town is influenced by different influxes of people – tourists who come for the beaches and countryside, and students that come for the universities and language schools. I want to get an idea of the areas that are not represented in the traditional images of the town.

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Music on the industrial estate
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Queue on the roundabout
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First view from the car park
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Second view from the car park, synagogue windows in the background
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Yellow cab and two people; a view from the churchyard

These are from St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth; I’ve taken some photos of the interior on a previous occasion and I also took images here last week. I first visited this church during art class as we came here to sketch. I will have nightmares about that forevermore. Mary Shelley is buried here so it attracts visitors. Again, a place that might be worth exploring in more detail.

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I didn’t go out to make images this week, it was more about capturing certain things that I see. This is a shot of my peace lily. The window was open and the light and leaves were moving around in beautiful patterns. The movement has made it hard to get a sharp image, but I like the light and shadow here.

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I’ll be honest, I’m not sure which cat this is; I have two black cats, Atlas and Apollo – they’re brothers. I took the opportunity to practice a few different ways of framing him while he was still.
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The first thing I see in the morning

Occasionally I take short online courses; at the moment I’m taking one on the science of happiness. I’ve read a lot about the science of happiness, but I realise that I don’t put into practice what I learn. I know that I will not feel happy all of the time, it’s impossible.  Most of the time I feel content and I feel very strong, despite the occasional panic attack when I feel hemmed in and constrained. But it’s good to be reminded of how the mind works and to reflect on these ideas occasionally. Since I’ve been on EYV I have found that I’m a lot happier even though I know that from the outside some people will say that things are going wrong; the process of change is not a smooth one, but I find that it is a process that I appreciate and need.

As far as happiness is concerned, I think my conclusion is that in photography I now have a creative outlet that I can fully utilise and that it’s also an outlet that enables me to explore new subjects all of the time. There is nothing that I cannot find an excuse to learn about now, because the subject of photography is essentially encompassing every single aspect of life for me. And I can also do this in a creative way. If you visit the Via Institute on Character you can take an online test that gives you a list of your character strengths; the idea is that you will be happiest if you use these strengths every day. These are mine.

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