Connections

I had some good news yesterday.  I had entered two images into the open call for Photography On A Postcard.  I'd forgotten about it until a couple of weeks ago when I had an email to say that my image had not been successful.  It's always a blow even when you aren't pinning all your hopes and dreams on it.  Why not,  you screech?  What was WRONG with it?  And then you come to your senses, realise it's a lottery and also that in fact, they only appear to have rejected one of the two.  No word about what was happening with the second.  Until yesterday when I had an email informing me that my second image had been selected for the sale and exhibition.  This is a fundraising activity for the Hepatitis C Trust.  There are 1500 images from a variety of photographers - some invited 'celebrity' names and some who answered the open call - a mix I think of 2:1.  Tickets will go on sale from October 12, and while every ticket paid for guarantees a postcard, there's no indication of which ticket will apply to which card.  So you could get mine.  Or you could get a postcard by Martin Parr.  Or Liz Hingley.  Or Nick Turpin.  Or Wolfgang Tillmans.  Or me!  All the images will be exhibited in Shoreditch ahead of the sale - my second London exhibition this year!

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As delighted as I am, (and I am, very), I'm quite keen to be making new work and not merely re-visiting old stock, so to speak.  I hadn't seen Peter for a while.  He went away to a wedding and his schedule and mine don't seem to coincide much.  By which I mean that whenever I happen past the shop he seems to have closed it.  Someone told me a while back that he had announced his retirement but I guess he hasn't quite made that leap yet.  In the mean time it feels like he picks and chooses when he's open or not.  Seems fair enough to me.  Anyway I nipped in yesterday morning and asked when would be a good time to come back.  He didn't seem to be all that busy (although granted he could have been doing a stocktake for all I know) and I was thinking maybe 'now' would work but he asked me to come back on Thursday when Kay was there.  I haven't been introduced to Kay but I'm guessing she is the lady I photographed in the window last time.  I will have to ask her if she's up for being part of this too.  And get her story.  How do you end up working on a Thursday for Peter?  How long has she been doing it?  What else does she do?  

Peter has figured out who I am on Facebook.  It took him a little while but he was keen to revisit the last posts related to terrible parking in town and the idiots who persistently block our driveway.  He handed me some leaflets that he had made up, stating that 'laziness is not a disability' next to the familiar wheelchair logo.  I don't know that there is any designated disabled parking near us here so they may be moot but I carefully folded them into my backpack.  We also talked about the Waverley which had a bit of a bump at Rothesay last week and is currently out of commission.  I wonder if she'll mend in time for the rest of this season?  If not then I'll have to wait until October to see her again.  

I said hello to the dogs.  I don't think they belong to Peter, but are in fact his neighbour's pets.   He seems to have them in his care quite a lot though.  I regularly see him walking with them, and now I noticed that they have beds in the back of the shop too.  They're rather lovely - the black one especially is as friendly as it gets and even though they were far too well behaved to get up from their mats, they both gave me lots of wags.  I should like a dog one day I think.  

The main purpose of my walk yesterday was actually to buy a magazine.  I have pretty much given up reading magazines since Michael lost his job - just too expensive.  But a photographer I know was featured in Roger Hicks' 'Final Analysis' column in Amateur Photographer and I wanted to do a bit of quick research into another magazine which is running a competition that I'm considering entering work into.  I figured I'd walk along the seafront, see what was happening, and then get my magazine before deciding what else to do.  I noticed that the sports shop was suddenly emptying.  Only two weeks ago I was buying dance shoes for my daughter in Morrisons Sport.  Yesterday they were hauling out the last of the stock.  Tomorrow it will be gone.  The shopkeeper saw me standing there with a camera and came out to chat.  I explained my project and we discussed memories of the place going all the way back to when it had been Carousel.  It was owned by the Arcari family then.  One of the sisters was in my class at school and I still see another of them around every now and then.  In fact I was talking to her at the Summer Festival just a couple of weeks back.  Connections - you see, they are there, one way or another.

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More connections presented themselves as I progressed along the street.  I make a habit of perusing the local charity shops - usually for interesting bits of crockery or old cutlery to add into photoshoots for food items.  Most of the time I don't want anything but every now and then you come across a treasure.  Sometimes I don't buy but add to a mental list and if it's still there the next time then I will assume I was meant to get it.  Other things you snap up quickly before anyone else realises how fab it is.  The British Heart Foundation didn't have anything that grabbed me in the housewares section but as I left I glanced in the window and saw three books.  Signed by the author.   But I happen to know the very talented illustrator who did the front covers - the very lovely Ida Henrich, more of whom can be found at idahenrich.com

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In the end I didn't buy AP but scan-read the article standing in the now very cramped aisles at WH Smith.  I'm guessing they thought fewer people would stand and read the stock if they made it incredibly uncomfortable?  That clearly didn't work.  I did buy Aesthetica - it's one of my favourite reads actually but at nearly £5 it's a huge treat.  

After that I wasn't quite ready to burrow back in my cave so I carried on walking.  I'm pleased to report that 'the knee' gave no trouble although I was a bit apprehensive about potentially having to make a dash for it around the cordoned-off bit of pavement on east Clyde Street.  The building has been declared unfit, and I assume that while work is going on to prop it up, the pavement is considered too dangerous for pedestrians.  I'm not entirely sure how much safer it is being just three feet away though.  You now have to simply take your chances with the traffic.  It's an adventure of sorts I suppose.

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I continued to walk east.  Normally I go the other way but it occurred to me that there are still, even after all this time, areas of Helensburgh that I have only ever seen as we whizz by in the car.  For instance, I had been muttering before about how there was no stretch of beach where I could be alone.  Not true it turns out.

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Now, it's not a particularly pleasant bit of beach.  There are no trees.  Very little sand.  It was immensely seaweedy and stony and there was a lot of litter.  But there was nobody else there at all, and the wind drowned out the sound of the traffic and I could hear the gulls.  It's an odd sort of bliss to be ankle deep in briny trash, but for a few minutes I couldn't see another soul.  It started to rain so I left the water and headed back up to the street.  I was going to write 'busy street' but other than cars pounding along there were very few people.  I wondered how well-frequented the shops at this end of town were - a fishing tackle shop, a butcher and a cafe among others.  They have been here years so I assume they must have clientele.  

I had it in mind to find the jobcentre.  It used to be on the seafront (I think, think...it was where The Wedding Planner is now, but I might have that all wrong) but it occurred to me that I wasn't sure where to find it.  It's not that I want to 'sign on', but I do want a job and it seems a logical place to look for one, no?  It wasn't immediately obvious.  According to Google it's on Charlotte Street.  I walked up there twice and didn't see it.  I will go again today and double check but it seems to me that you'd notice a thing like that. (It occurs to me that one day, in the future, there might be people reading ancient texts and they will keep finding the phrase "According to Google."  Will they imagine that Google is some kind of god?  Oracle?  I suppose it is, really.)  Can a jobcentre disappear that quickly?  Evidence from the seafront suggests it might.  I knew Morrisons was closing but the transistion from 'closing' to 'closed' still came as a surprise to me.  The unit that used to be Acorn Art has been advertised as To Let for a while.  At one point I wondered if I could afford it for a studio - how convenient would that have been?  I couldn't.  But a tattoo parlour could and judging by the activity going on in there yesterday, I could be in getting my 50th birthday tattoo by Friday!  Things change, and quickly too, at least to outsiders that's how it seems.  It's all relative.

I wanted to carry on walking, seeing as I was not in pain, but in the end it was the weather that drove me back.  Someone apparently once said 'There's no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing choices'.  I evidently chose very badly and not having a coat, nor a means of keeping my camera dry, I took refuge in a bus shelter.

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It has been a long time since buses were a regular feature of my life.  Enclosed, shrouded if you like in the metal and plastic casing of the shelter I felt protected.  But a glance over to my left revealed a second shelter and I was aware the inhabitants of that one, like me, were pretty much in a display case; scratched and scored with the markings of previous occupants, it felt a bit like hiding behind net curtains, but revealed a whole lot more.  I remember thinking the same about friends making use of the 'smoking shelter' in a German airport; they looked like zoo exhibits.  It never ceases to intrique me how something flimsy, like a sheet of perspex, or the nylon of tent fabric can so markedly construct a boundary and define a territory.  We don't need much to define us, to define our spaces.  

I stood in from the rain for about half an hour, getting colder and colder.  Had I been properly dressed I may have been prepared to wait to get the shot I wanted but for the time that I was there, the general public were not cooperating.  There was a marvellous orange brick wall in front of me, and I couldn't believe my luck when a couple in matching blue anoraks and an umbrella featuring orange-red poppies started my way.  Alas, they jumped into a taxi before they reached the right bit of wall.  Annoying, but a common feature of life for the street photographer.  A crop nearly saves the shot but I will always look at it and remember the sharp stab of disappointment over the photograph that never was.

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Similarly, I took a photograph of the woman in the bus shelter on her own.  A few minutes later she was joined by some unphotogenic folk in black coats who were probably perfectly lovely, attractive people but they distracted from my lady in the rain hood.  At the same time a chap ran towards me with his takeaway in one hand, attempting to prevent his lunch from getting any soggier.  If only, if only he had nipped past a few seconds sooner.  If I were a painter, I'd have taken the two elements and put them together.  But that sort of thing is frowned upon in photography which is still, even now, charged with representing the real, even when in fact it does no such thing.  I cobbled them together anyway.  Although it can no longer qualify as documentary, it better represents my experience of the bus shelter.  And it occurs to me - we accept a film, a series of moving image, as a whole, as a truth.  They blend and blur and create an impression over time.  I feel then that there might be an argument for presenting several moments in one still image like this if it better tells the story of a period of time, albeit compressed.  

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With that in mind I decided that I was also prepared to concentrate two other images together.  Disappointed that my blue anoraks hadn't made it to the wall, I tracked another couple to see if they would walk beyond the taxi and appear in front of my preselected backdrop.  They did, but not before someone else hove into the frame, blurry because I was focused much farther away. Individually, none of the shots did anything for me.  But combined, they summed up the view I had and the experience I'd endured, both in terms of waiting out the weather and in the frustration of not getting the shots I wanted.  I don't often perform these kinds of edit but it could be something to play around with - not so much because I like or need that sort of manipulation but because I'm interested in the idea of portrayal and versions of truth and reality.  These two pictures are a fiction.  They didn't happen like this.  But they are a version of what happened.  They remind me of those pictures you soemtimes see where someone has taken an old photograph and partially superimposed the modern view on top so that you can see then, and now in the same image. Only these images span a time frame of mere seconds, not decades.

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