Fatherhood

There are too few positive images of fathers and fatherhood; this portrait aims to shows the simple and unalloyed love of a father for his children. It is unashamedly naïve in this objective.

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Although only 24, Matt is already married with two young children and demonstrative of more poise, maturity and earnestness than most people I know twice his age. When I first met him, I was struck by how readily and openly he expressed his love for his wife and children and his sense of responsibility to them both. In the context of our meeting (Matt works as a labourer in the building trade) I was awe struck with by his honesty and candour, a fact emphasised by his willingness to be photographed in this way and for this image to be shared in such a public place.

I chose to photograph Matt in his flat, the place that he and his wife have made home for their two children. This particular image is located in their bedroom and shows the simpl3 and unadorned way in which they live. There are few material possessions, their bed is a mattress on the floor, the children are content to play with him and a simple purse rather than computer games or phones.

Matt’s lack of a top accentuates his physical and emotional bond with his children by allowing his skin to touch theirs, but it also suggesting of his vulnerability, hinting to the viewer as to the gentleness of the subject.

Jerimiah in his Flat

This portrait, like most of my work, is the result of a chance meeting and is made in the time and place of that encounter, a Sunday afternoon outside subject’s flat as he was replanting tree saplings. 

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Most of these encounters are meaningful but brief. Sometimes however they flourish, either in that same moment or subsequently. This image is the result of a flourishing relationship in the same moment as I found and talked with Jerimiah in his garden. 

It was quickly apparent to me that Jerimiah had led an interesting life but was perhaps, in that moment, in a more challenging place emotionally than he had been before. He disclosed certain information that hinted at this but rather than pry, I simply asked if I could take his picture. The conversation flowed easily, helped in part by a shared love of photography, and I wanted to see how far I might be able to take this moment and develop it further. I asked if perhaps we might take a few inside his flat, which being of Victorian build, offered huge windows and the promise of great light.  

Jerimiah agreed and invited me up. Over a cup of tea, beautifully flavoured with cardamom, we talked and mused over our respective life experiences while Shostakovich played through his ancient but wonderful hi-fi. His flat was a treasure trove of curios and ornaments that told of his interests and idiosyncrasies. He shared with me his fondness for making furniture, for Jeffery West shoes and how he likes to dress in wildly eccentric and flamboyant ways to bring a little life to his place of work. 

This frame is the last one of those we made in the 90 minutes we were together and is the one that best shows the life and interests of a true gentleman but also the openness and vulnerability of the human being. 

The sound and the Fury

April 28th 2019

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Today I am indulging in a little nostalgia. I am free of child and matrimonial obligations and, being roughly in the area while visiting my mother, have decided to visit old university haunts in and around Sheffield.

It is a beautiful spring day; the sun is shining, the birds are singing and blossom is floating gently about the hallowed grounds of the cemetery like radiant dust.  As a student in Sheffield I lived in the house immediately opposite the entrance to the grave yard, which, like most places and things in Sheffield, is situated on the side of a hill. A broad path runs up through the centre with many other smaller tributaries running of either side, leading to unseen nooks and clearings that perhaps in the past have been the secret rendezvous locations for furtive lovers. That path had provided a short cut to my friend’s house and I would regularly walk through it on my way to visit, at a pace brisk enough to betray my anxiety of being in a graveyard in the cold dead of a winter night.

Today though various people are spending time in the cemetery exploring the pathways and secret hiding places. It is a warm and almost comforting place in the sunshine. It’s also quite a substantial plot and recognised as a site of significance and historical importance. There are so many stories buried here, ranging from terrible misfortune to quirky misadventure. The macabre and the melancholy have become transformed by time into curios and curiosities to be collected by those who take the time to look and explore the stones and the temples within its grounds.

Mark and Nigel are here for just that purpose. Mark has found a book that documents some of these stories and he is looking for the graves of those he has read about. He asks me what I am doing there and so I explain about how I like to meet people and take their portrait in the hope that I can reveal something about the nature of our humanity.

Mark is Nigel’s carer; I saw them just earlier while I was parking, saw how Nigel’s condition was challenging to manage and, while harmless, still potentially distressing to others; at one point he had managed to drop both his trousers and under garments in the middle of the street and it is clear that while he is conscious and aware, there is a high degree of cognitive impairment. It takes a special kind of person to work with someone this vulnerable.

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We talk about Nigel and his condition but there isn’t much he can tell me. I’m not thinking about photographing either of them as there are clearly issues of consent abound with such activity. But as we chat, Nigel seems to bond with me. He takes hold of my arm and hand and moves closer for reassurance or comfort, I’m not sure which but it’s clearly a special moment, perhaps more special for me than him as I suddenly engage in a very tactile way with his vulnerability. My heart opens and I sense his gentleness and the idea that has been growing in my head, that the greatest sense of our humanity lies in our most vulnerable moments, bursts forth. I decide to risk taking his picture.

I take a number of frames each showing Nigel in his different manifest states of waking consciousness. I am strongly reminded of the tragic character Benjy in William Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury’ for whom waking time does not exist in a linear fashion but rather as a series of jumbled memories strung together in a stream of consciousness. And yet, just like Benjy, there is a rhythm to Nigel’s expression, a cadence that allows a glimpse into what he might be experiencing.

There is also an overwhelming sense of his innocence, his lack of malice and it strikes me that this is a rare and precious thing. Few people you will ever meet will have quite this lack of malice. We are all, mostly, capable of doing bad things, wicked things perhaps even evil things if the situation and circumstance provide us with the means, the motivation and the opportunity. But in Nigel there is no malice, there is only vulnerability and, in that vulnerability, lies all of our humanity.

Who is Guido?

He pulls two cigarettes out a crumpled pack, lights them both and, drawing heavily on one of them, passes the other to her. A thick cloud of smoke envelope them both in a cunning scheme. She checks her phone to make sure they still have time. The photographer has stopped them for some reason they cannot be sure of but they are both curious and while their English is poor it is still better than his Spanish, which is limited to please and thankyou and ordering a beer.

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She asks him where he is from.

‘London’ the photographer replies. She smiles a toothless grin exposing the substantial gaps between the otherwise crooked and discoloured teeth and tries to explain that she also has a son who lives in London and that she wants to visit him. Perhaps he can help her, perhaps he has a place she can stay.

Her partner draws heavily again on his cigarette, adjusts the thick silver chains around his neck and wrist and checks the contents of his carrier bag. He is starting to feel just a little anxious; they have to deliver their package by 10.30am otherwise Guido will not happy and you don’t want to upset Guido even on a lovely spring day such as this. His temper is notoriously short lived and his retribution tends towards the biblical. He nudges his partner to try and signal his discomfort but she is steadfastly gazing at the photographer’s lens as he raises his camera to shoot.

He reminds her of her son.

A moment later and he is handing them both a business card and explaining that if they would like a copy it would be his pleasure to send them one. They collect up their belongings and head off to meet Guido as arranged.

(National) Identity Politics

A little while ago the UK almost tore itself in two over the issue of Scottish independence. It was a universally unpopular idea south of the border and, as it turns out, not quite as popular north of it as the fishwives, Salmon and Sturgeon had hoped for. At one time I shared most of my compatriot’s view that breaking up the union would be about as bleak an outcome as could be imagined for our country, but of course that was before the clusterfuck that is Brexit. If it were possible for one cankerous bout of identity politics to be topped by another even more toxic, gout ridden, rash of vile nationalistic sentiment it wasn’t something anyone anticipated in 2015. Brexit is a carbuncle on the pustule ridden body of identity politics.

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And yet I can empathise, perhaps even sympathise, with the overwhelming sense of national sovereignty that fuelled Scottish independence. In conversation with a Scottish colleague, who was herself fiercely in favour of the union (hardly surprising since she’d made London her home for the last 30 years),  and rather scornful of those who would break it up, I found myself being rather contrary and making the argument in favour of independence. How often does history give you the opportunity to declare yourself a sovereign state, to throw of your chains and embrace liberty?

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“To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights [and duties] of humanity.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a point and I found myself realising that if I were Scottish I might well be embracing sovereignty rather than renouncing it.

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Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in Barcelona, mostly by coincidence of suddenly having several key clients with offices there that I need to visit. I learned a few years ago that life’s too short to see only the inside of airports, hotels and offices when undertaking business trips so I always make sure I schedule trips to overlap with a little time off with my camera. Being exposed to the overwhelming sense of Catalan national identity has been something of an eye opener especially in the context of our recent history with independence referenda. It is fascinating to try and understand how a nascent sense of national identity emerges into either fervent sovereignty or vile sedition, depending on your perspective. Just what are the necessary conditions, what role does language play in that identity, how far back can the loss of historical independence go before it’s reasonable to dismiss it as whimsy of a bygone era. What about culture and what the hell is that anyway?

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I don’t for one moment pretend to understand the history Catalonian identity or why the desire to reclaim their liberty has surfaced now (well apart from the fact that most of the western world seems intent on loosing itself up the rectum of identity politics and over bearing nationalism but that’s a slightly different problem), but it is interesting to meet people who feel strongly enough about who they are to spend a good part of their waking day protesting about it and trying to get their political leaders freed from jail. And it does seem like a crowning irony for a democratic and sovereign state to jail its own citizens for sedition arising from holding an otherwise democratic vote even if that vote were to break up an otherwise really good party.

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"Reality" - A story by Gwen Midwood (11) inspired by a photograph I saw

I love how photography can inspire people; how it can evoke strong emotional responses. The daughter of a friend of mine had just such an emotional response to one of the random pictures I had posted on Instagram over the summer. The image was actually just a test shot, taken outside a camera shop in Manchester with a camera I was considering buying. The subject shown isn’t actually homeless, he’s just finished his shift working on a building site, but Gwen, the daughter of my friend, didn’t see that, she saw something else and was inspired to write the following story:


Reality by Gwen Midwood

I sat there without a sound, I watched the moon cower behind the dull grey clouds. The fiery stars silenced the night abruptly creating a strange hush across the never-ending street. As I watched, my ears tensed, my muscles wept, my eyes stung.  My head spin vigorously as I rudely stared at the group of men sprinting up the street singing. How I wished to be them, to be happy and know that you were going home to a hot steaming dinner and a cotton bed to snuggle up in afterwards. I wish I had that.

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Slowly I propped my brittle back against the cold metal shelter in the rusty bus station. I thought about how many people didn’t appreciate what they had, but I did. I thought about those poor lonely kids in Africa walking five miles and back to get dirty water, making the journey multiple times in a day. I was incredibly lucky to have family and a bus shelter to cover me in the rain, to guide me with my life.

The night was as dark as a volcanic pit of ash, the moon was like a never ending, everlasting candle never put pout. The trees swayed and the clouds whispered in the still night. Suddenly my true memories came back to me; my childhood standing on a deserted street praying to be educated. Just once or maybe a few more times I dreamed of having a job, to become a doctor, to help people like me. I knew I would understand them, with loyalty.

Without warning, I fell asleep.

What I dreamed of I cannot remember. I sat up to feel the howling wind shouting in my face. Gradually I got up to search through the last scraps of food in the bin beside my freezing sleeping bag. Nothing. I crossed my fingers hoping that someone had left an aubergine or some fruit on the cobbled road. Frustrated I watched the sun rise cautiously. My tummy rumbled hungrily, clarifying that needed to eat. I hadn’t eaten for several long days.

 

 

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

A good friend who follows and appreciates my work suggested I enter this particular image into the Kendal Mountain Film Festival as they were running a photography competition as part of the event and had a category called ‘Urban Adventure’. Now much as I love this image, it’s not the kind of image that I’d like to be known for, only because if I aspire to anything it’s portraiture rather than street or sport or ‘urban’. But I thought what the heck; I was pretty happy with the image and a lot of people had been commenting that it was very good so I thought I’d enter.

And blow me I was the runner up and won a pair of socks!

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