Waves

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It comes in waves.

Name anything you like about life, it always comes in its waves.

Confidence, doubt, pain, joy, contentment, solitude, fear, strength, serenity – everything moves in a rhythm of ebbs and flows, surges and retreats, one interspersed with its opposites.

Waves, they keep on coming.

As an art student in Brighton, the flow of work and expectation on us was huge, and at the end of one particular day I was struggling to keep it together. I walked my 21 year old self down to the seafront and sat on the pebbles to breathe, watching the fresh waves coming, and coming, washing the shingle in, and out, a woosh, and rush, woosh, and rush. Something spoke to me then about the rhythms of life being wave-like. “Keep going,” they said. “Keep in time with us, we’re not ever going to stop.”

After all that graft, many of my friends and I either found great jobs in London or places at the Royal College, either option to be learning amongst legends. Surrounded by all that ambition and achievement, would we sink, or swim? I was completely terrified, struggling to discern my own confused and choppy voice in the big, blousy ambition of world-class, Soho film industry directors and producers, and at times sank like a stone.

I wish I could go back to that younger version of me, help myself with more kindness through the waters and simply say, “Hang on to the truth about waves.”

I would tell stories about being out in a gathering storm on my surfboard, figuring it was time to paddle in when the lifeboat was launched by a gun into a rioting ocean under ugly grey clouds. I would tell of the time my leash got wrapped around a fishing buoy, anchoring me to the seabed as huge breakers ripped over my small body stuck just under the surface. I might describe a time once paddling out from shore to turn around and see only fog, no land, and not another person in sight. I am not and never was an amazing surfer, but I would also tell about the many, many waves I did ride because through all of this and even when it felt utterly, utterly frightening, I learnt how to feel the rhythms, to love them, and ride with them.

The graceful, peeling arc of a wave makes life delightfully, hypnotically compelling. At times overwhelming, yet also there to explain that most moving of sensations when you’re in a trough of fear or distress, the clench of strength to paddle in and ride the next glistening peak that keeps coming with its joy as it ever promised to do.

Those big, beautiful, frothy, cresting waves – look at them coming this summer, and remember whatever happens, all of life always comes in waves.

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Dead Light – Trills}

Winter Jewels

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How are you doing through this end of a particularly strange winter? It’s felt like a long haul hasn’t it? Considering meditations and moments pressing in for warmth and rest as the new year turned these recent months, I want to pay tribute to this outgoing season for the creativity still brewing even when we didn’t realise it.

This image stayed with me all winter long, taken on a November morning at Fforest while retreating alone, coming at sunrise from another angle down in the roots one day.

Crouched and hunkered down through hibernation times, it would be natural to write these coldest and darkest weeks of the year off altogether for gaining any sense of achievement and progression.

For all its weirdness and cold though, the last little while has given us beautiful frosts, and sunrises to set the earth shimmering at dawn.

Ideas secretly growing while we stayed low and simple.

Here’s what winter can be…

…crouching so low that wet grasses tickle our noses, sun seems to stream though from another angle unexpected and turning cold earth into a tray of jewels, glinting to our eyes, easing in a smile and while that sun hits little apple cheeks, made blush and round with quiet joy, a bird might pipe up in its beak language and say something along the lines of, “Don’t worry. You’re doing better than you think you are…”

Here’s what I think. We have—unwittingly—done better than we think and almost made it to warmer days again, and when good and ready after rest, energy will flow more freely on our ideas and making and doing once more, not just preserved for staying warm now. Some brilliant, bright green shoots are on their way – just look about and see! *

Jewels have been forming all the way through winter, when I neither had energy or daylight hours to do anything with them except gaze on and be glad – to be inspired.

Thanks for your jewels, Winter. Here’s to a gleaming Spring.

 

*  This is a particularly brilliant project to be launching with the Spring – Makers4Refugees founded by Pip Wilcox. Keep an eye, there are some fabulous people making stuff in order to support refugees with your help.

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Kaki King – Skimming the Fractured Surface to a Place of Endless Light}

Thank you, NYC

 

How do you find New York?

In July, I made my first visit to the big apple, and made every effort to experience it on my own terms even (especially) in hitting some of the iconic sights. In making pictures, it’s a great challenge to capture everything we know a place is, yet bring yourself to the picture too! I really wanted to explain what it was like taking part in the NY thing, as well as being true to my personal reality which is about space, and peace, and breathing in and out.

The thing with NY is, we all know what it looks like as the backdrop to so much of our movie culture. There is a huge temptation to make something look like another picture I’ve seen, but I struggle with the point of doing that because what really needs to happen is we work on explaining experiences in our own voices. That’s how we get past the homogenous, corporate exterior of what we’re fed, and remain connected as human beings.

It was a massive challenge making a mini-portrait of my personal journey in NY—no more than one minute—and so much I had to leave out! I had a go though, without a plan, just to feel my way around with a camera, to see what would happen.

The place is frantic.

But amidst the street vendors clattering under hanging yellow traffic lights, and grubby subway rides downtown, I paid attention to quieter things too – to stay connected to moments and places where I could breathe and stop a while to digest that big, juicy bundle of apple-like life.

Thank you, New York, you and your Central Park roses were ridiculously, fragrantly lovely.

This was all shot on an iPhone SE and edited in After Effects. Music: ‘Raindrops’ by Grapes, under a CC License.

Seashore Slowdown

Here’s a little (tiny) film I made to say ‘thank you’ to those small seashore moments of summer—trying to capture something of that easy feeling when you’re sitting at the water’s edge with your toes in the shore break and breeze on your face—and bring it on home.

I’ve been trying to stretch myself to work with film as well as pure animation techniques, so these clips are just me getting used to what my iPhone can do for quick, sketchbook captures. It makes me smile – right back in the oh-so-simple escape of it all!

Hope it helps you keep your inspirations of summer flowing too.

 

{Soundtrack: ‘Woman’ by Rocovaco, under a Creative Commons License}

Finding Forward

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This little brass arrow sits in the concrete somewhere in Central Park, New York.

I was taking care of my friends’ kids for a week back in July, my first trip to the city, and we were having a lot of fun deciding where to go and what to do with our times together. So much to soak in, and maybe it’s because it all just makes you want to look up that you get a big, gulping sense of opportunity and ‘skies-the-limit’ sort of inspiration, so we ran around and ate waffles and swam and went to the zoo and ended up in A&E and rode buses and bought sacks of M&Ms and took funny pictures…

It was great. And I saw that arrow, and somewhere in the middle of signposts pointing in fifty different directions, I clung onto this photograph of a solid, anchored thing that shone out from the floor and told me which way to look.

After travelling through summer with a sense of barefoot freedom, its time to carry some of the fresh feeling forward into a new season of projects and plans back home. Bumping into friends all over the place, I get a sense that for many of us, this summer has been a time for rethinking, gaining clarity and gathering courage to act on new ideas or even close off old ones. It’s exciting – loads going on if we can settle back in carefully and figure out how to do what next.

But wait! Please! Don’t make me go inside, I’m thriving out here in the world’s wide open spaces, running around, having ideas, drawing nice pictures and playing petanque on the beach!  

When it comes to ideas, time out is a pure gift, but we all know it only really means anything if we get down to some practical reality and planning, and doing. 

Direction, that’s what we need, out the back of free-spirited imagining.

But I do find this hard, don’t you? A transition from one season to the next; moving through a sort of liminal space after leaving one state of dreaming and before fully grasping the new state of doing.

Direction. Commit to a path, and keep moving forward.

So this week back home and inside again, despite inevitable fears, I’m having a go at making it happen. I’m filtering the coffee, working through my list, braving the thought that some of this might not work, and I’m giving it a go anyway. And I know the same is true for many of us. I think it helps to keep finding time and space to be quiet, distill the options and discern next steps – like gazing up through cool trees in Central Park after scampering through grubby, hot and hectic NY streets. Taking a breather, to figure out what to choose when you’re back to it?

Seeking stillness is never an excuse for inaction, so long as it’s done with a willingness to drop the distractions and be present to the day, and what it asks for. So along with thinking about that quiet little brass arrow, these are some of the words I find helpful at the moment:

Be still; find your forward.

Here we are, back in the loop, no more freestyle for a while but plenty of plans, and all the love in the world to make them happen!

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Bob Moses – Like It Or Not}

Meeting Cartier-Bresson.

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Working with legends is a beautiful thing, but it can also screw with your head.

What can we learn from stepping in alongside the giants? So much gorgeous wisdom — work ethic, courage, stamina,  perseverance, how to have and hold an opinion, tricks of the trade, identity and empathy … shall I go on?

To work alongside a true legend and—joy of joys—discover mutual empathy will provide massive affirmation: “Ah, I’m not mad to be feeling this after all!”

BUT, it can also massively backfoot you. Damn it.

Recently I found myself in London and back down Old Street again, a number of years since working at Magnum Photos. Far, far (yet only one hundred yards) from that world of stubborn, iron-minded war photgraphers and photography heroes, this was an altogether different kind of shoot. It was a really odd moment, sitting on the steps of the tube station watching my fellow ‘photo-walk’ friends—fun, fashion conscious women—enjoying the clash of funky clothes against bright yellow walls. Happiness in the surface colour of things, new friends chasing common, simple perspectives to unite around. Why was it so hard to relax and just go with this? Issueless – what would those gnarly war-bound photographers make of it all?

My time at Magnum was an incredible couple of years. Many stories I could share, but meeting Henri Cartier-Bresson is what really threw me – I simply had nothing to say while gauping into those watery blue eyes, making contact with the legendary gaze which has discerned some of the most influential images of our time.

That gaze felt like a gun to my fragile opinions, a barrel pointed at my newly awakening sense of social justice. It was also—in the true spirit of Magnum—a cork popping loud on the helpless desire to make thoroughly beautiful images and record life as it explodes.

Cartier-Bresson’s view on, and expression of, the world is utterly compelling and irresistibly persuasive. How do you hold—or even discover—your own in the face of that?

Thankfully people like Bruce Davidson came to the rescue with long, lovely chat, swapping notes about what it feels like to do our work. (Such a sweet, crazy, and exceptionally clever man.) Here’s what it boiled down to:

Stop stalling against the opinion of other people, and just flow. No one sees through your eyes, with your heart and mind behind them. The spark exists. Just shoot.

And this is true whether your tool is a camera or pen, your voice or mind, an axe or a needle or a lathe. How do you find—and hold—your own?

“Go forth on your path, for it exists only through your walking.”

– St. Augustine

My friends, there are brilliant things up ahead. Let the legends challenge and inspire, but we have our own work to do now too.

I paused in Shoreditch that day, thinking about all this, watching those lovely women making friends over photography, opening up, shining little beams of light on each other, and wondering what sort of photograph is valid, has meaning, is true of life. And you know what? Man, woman, war, peace or disruption, I think we just have to get on with it.

Joy so simple.

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Life, Abundantly.

Hydrangea

We all know that the path of life is not a straight one. Learning how to walk it with grace, peace and style may well be the ultimate art.

Recently, I found myself sitting around tables and campfires out in the wildest of West Wales at Fforest, drinking and chatting long into the nights with some seriously impressive and beautifully real women. All (mostly) making a living through our creative work, there we were throwing logs onto the flames, sharing happiness, hopes, fears, frustrations.

The thing that has brought most of us together is—I suspect—a commitment to that wild journeying, not only of creative living, but the desire to live wholeheartedly through all of life’s twists and turns and find kindred spirits along the way.

We want to make all our opportunities count, capture the day and search for the light, beauty, joy within all the heartache and mess that life inevitably has to be. Express it, soothe it, counsel it, celebrate it.

Breathe something into nothing – give birth and nurture. And most of all, chase that insatiable urge to make gorgeous stuff!

This is Sisterhood.

Today, July 8th, is my Ma’s birthday. She was the most lively, lovely, irresistibly creative and spontaneous soul I ever knew. But she wasn’t encouraged to be that because, well as I’m sure you may have heard, creative explosions can be so inconvenient, darling, and just not the done thing. Poor love. She died when I was twelve, setting us off alone like little boats sailing over a big sea, with my hugely practical Pa skippering us through rough waters. At times like that it is very helpful to have an engineer dad who keeps the machine running smoothly. Lovely old Pa.

The three decades since then have been an almost unbelievable voyage of discovering all and more of what she gave me, that she couldn’t help me find in person. Yet because she’s here in so much spirit it was just inevitable that some of the most insanely great encounters would fill these soft sails.

All that creative adventuring, and now it seems there are safe ports to rest in, at last. Enjoy safe harbour, find fires, seek out the sparks, and allow big lights to come on for the ‘thing back then’ and how it fits with the ‘happening over here now’, not to mention graciously acknowledging the ‘bizarre detour halfway along’.  Just sitting, watching and listening, accepting, like a dawning…

Life-giving. That’s what Sisterhood has been.

So this morning, 30-odd years later, I arrive at our studio here at The Forge for a day’s work and gorgeous Silkie catches me, a little tearful and wielding a top-heavy hydrangea stem – Ma’s birthday present. It’s a celebration of her and all the creative loving she’s passed on, a ‘thank you’, and a continuing promise to keep pursuing life, practising that ‘grace and peace’ walk, and cherish each wide open moment that shouts ‘YES!’ for our million and one ideas and inspirations.

Life—all it is and all it could be—is what this flower means today.

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Luke Howard – Portrait Gallery}