Friday, 9 February 2018

MAEVE BERRY - Incandescence

Shall I go or not? I was tired and it would be easier not to but I felt I needed a dose of Maeve Berry. Shall I drive or not? I was tired and it would be easier in some ways but I felt a train ride would give me time to doze, to recharge my batteries and appreciate meeting Maeve that much more. I did doze and I alighted at St Leonards Warrior Square and remembered the way down to the sea which had become so familiar when we thought about moving to Hastings in 2010. 

When I reached the front, I crossed the road and watched the cold waves crash onto the pebbled beach and then I saw the Gallery had opened its doors and I waited for some cars to pass and skipped back on to the other side and went in. I had been to the Arts Forum Gallery before when the photograph of me by Julia Horbaschk was included in a group show and I remembered that the standard of work then was high and so it was again. Varied and rich, there is some wonderful work on display.

Maeve wasn't there when I arrived but, a few minutes later, I saw her walk in the door with her husband, Jim, and when she was surrounded immediately by well wishers, I decided to slip into the other room until the throng buzzing around her had dispersed. After a quick whisk around more great pieces of work, I looked back into the other room and caught Jim's eye. He was thrilled to see me as I was to see him and we shook hands warmly and Jim went to find Maeve and the warmth repeated itself in our embrace. Typically, she introduced me to people she knew and whose names I have now forgotten, after which we did some rapid catching up. 

Maeve's work in the show is astonishing. It looked amazing on the wall and beautifully presented. Wonderful burning gold light and strange dark shapes lurching and hunching over what looked like tongues of flame. Then I read the blurb and realised what these images were - incredible photographs of the fires in crematoria. I looked up at them again. I did not feel uncomfortable but more, an admiration for Maeve's bravery in not only taking these pictures but also displaying them. Maeve observes, with sensitivity and care, another part of our existence, the final event of our lives, when we go out in a blaze of glory and why not? 

I chatted to Jim (he chats to everyone) and to some of their friends before I took my leave and walked back to the station. I wrote a poem on the train but then fell asleep listening to the music on my ipod. I thought earlier today that I would probably never be able to dance again but, as I hopped onto the bus at Brighton Station, "Dreamer" by Supertramp came on and I thought of Shawn Sobers filming me dancing to the song and I thought "I can still dance!". That is what a dose of Maeve does - it refreshes and makes you want to dance.

Dreamer, you know you are a dreamer
Well can you put your hands in your head, oh no!....
.....I said "far out, what a day, a year, a life it is!"

Thursday, 1 February 2018

LAURA HYND - The Women of Woodcock

London at about 11 o'clock this morning felt strangely, beautifully, quiet as I walked out of Piccadilly Circus underground station on to Shaftesbury Avenue and then walked briskly up towards Cambridge Circus. I love this part of London. In the 1970s, I stayed briefly with my brother who then had a flat in Meard Street which connects Dean Street to Wardour Street. It was grubbier then but none the worst for that - how could it be with "The Intrepid Fox" pub round one corner and Bianchi's Restaurant round the other?

I reached number 45 Dean Street and pushed open the door of the Groucho Club and the receptionist directed me to the room where the launch of Laura Hynd's book,"The Women of Woodcock", was being held. It is a book of photographs taken by Laura on the set of the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, "Phantom Thread", starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the couturier, Reynolds Woodcock and co-starring Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps. I entered the room and, as Laura turned to greet me, I caught sight of four silk prints of photographs - it was difficult to tell what looked more gorgeous - Laura or the prints. Well, Laura looked absolutely blooming so she won. I had not seen her for a very long time - she had photographed me as part of "Over the Hill" in 2011 and we remained in touch by email intermittently since that time, I think it is a good 5 years since we last actually met. I imagine that she was a little nervous but she seemed much more calm and self assured than I remember. This also comes across in the astonishingly crisp and vibrant photographs in the book although the silk prints were softer and more romantic. 

Laura introduced me to Sarah Howe who had also photographed me in 2009 as part of "Over the Hill" in her days as a pupil at Westminster University in Harrow. It was great to catch up with her. She, in turn, introduced me to Laura's charming father and we chatted about recent movies we had each seen, his career in building design and Brexit. I said hello to Laura's delightful little girl, Bonnie, who giggled while gnawing on a bright green apple. I flicked through the book but it is obviously not a book through which to flick. However, it was clear in the flicking that many of the images are stunning and I have since taken the opportunity to look at more online which has confirmed this.

I took my leave of Laura and the others and, as I stepped out on to the pavement, I blinked in the bright sunlight and thought back to the day in 2010 when Laura came down to Sussex to photograph me and I smiled. She took a photograph that day that was so unique and so wonderful and she is still doing that but with a bravura and a confidence that has lifted her work on to a higher plain altogether. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

TWO OF US: Stuart Pilkington and Tim Andrews - Part Three

And so to the photographs themselves. They are clear and uncomplicated. By the sea, by the British Airways sign, in the shelter and against a wall. Stuart and I left his Mum and Dad outside the restaurant and the first shot was in the shelter. It has colour and it has cool but I realised as I sat there that it was a beginning. I have no idea how our friendship will develop but I think it will be important for both of us.

I mucked about in front of the British Airways sign. I sat on a concrete stool. Stuart wheeled around me as we searched for places to shoot but the taking of the photographs was secondary to our developing companionship on the day. I think Stuart felt the same. No, I don't - I'm sure he felt the same. This has always been of paramount importance to me during the time I have been photographed; the photographs are wonderful but it is my connection with the photographer which matters most. I don't expect all the photographers to feel that way too but I am certain that a great number of them do and that is why they have produced such brilliant images.

Stuart is a handsome man. He is well dressed. He is gentle. He is loved by so many people because he loves them and it shows. In his photography, in his bearing and in his eyes. 

I thought that I was saying goodbye to Stuart and his parents when they dropped me off after the photography. I did say goodbye. But I went inside and I huffed and I puffed and I mooched around but I felt that we hadn't finished. I wanted to understand more. So, the next morning I suggested that we meet again so that I could interview him. We had a coffee with his parents in the lobby of his hotel and then Stuart and I went up to his room and I set up the video camera. Unlike the other interviews I have conducted in the past, this time I had not prepared any questions but decided to ask whatever came into my head and immediately it became more of a conversation than an interview. When one chats with a friend, it isn't always so much what one talks about that matters but the act of chatting, the to and fro, and in Stuart's case, the yeahs and the tilt of his head forwards and backwards, the lifting of an eyebrow or two and the creasing of his face into a smile. His beautiful face. 

After about an hour, we agreed to stop and took some photographs in the room but I could see that Stuart preferred to be outside so out we went and mucked about some more. Stuart handed me his camera and I took some photographs of him. Then we filmed for few minutes and this time I did say goodbye as I had some things I had to do. I felt satisfied. I felt invigorated. I had felt ignorant too after coming home the day before - about the effect of a stroke on someone's life - but now I felt that I had begun to understand.

Stuart left for Winsford the next morning and then, after he got there, he sent me the photographs he had taken of me and a few I had taken of him. 

Just the two of us.



Thursday, 19 October 2017


This is a man who I met for the first time today. He didn't say much because he can't very easily but we understood each other. What is Stuart Pilkington like? There is a calmness about him, an acceptance of what life has taken away from him and yet one cannot help seeing his strength and his determination. All I wanted to do today was touch him; I wanted to walk with him, speak to him. 

I asked Linda, his mother, why they had come down to Brighton and she answered simply, "Stuart wanted to see you". Maybe he realised something that I did not know before we met - that we have both made a journey into another world, a world of which we had no inkling previously.  

I walked into the hotel lobby and I met Stuart and Linda and Les, his father. Stuart wrote a note on his digital message pad "Nat West. Lunch". In other words, lunch was on him. We all got into his car and Les drove us to the front where we parked in the Regency Square Car Park. We had a very pleasant lunch in Alfresco overlooking a grey, a beautiful grey, sea. We talked about our mutual friend Mirja Paljakka and her daughter Iiris who had visited both of us last year. We talked about music, especially The Beatles, about Vimeo and Rankin, about Jazz, about Over the Hill, The Swap - all subjects raised by Stuart on his message pad. We then went down in a lift to the area level with the sea and Stuart took several photographs of me. He moves around in his electric wheel chair swiftly and easily; sometimes, he moved me into position by waving his finger a little to the left or a little to the right. A man stopped his own filming to take some shots of us both together.

We spent about three hours together - long enough for taking photographs, long enough to become friends. The rain kept away. We drove back to my house where they dropped me off. I really would have liked to have invited them in for a cup of tea but it would have been impossible for Stuart because of all the steps. One day, perhaps, one day.

So I said goodbye.

Goodbye Stuart, until the next time we meet and touch and smile and raise our thumbs and understand.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

NHUNG DANG - Just the way you are


It was a dull day, so far as the weather was concerned, and yet Nhung lit up my life in this marvellous picture. The light floods in through the sash window and daubs white not only on me but on the objects which define me - the gramophone player to my right, sitting on top of the cupboard we bought years ago and which we have filled with photographs and video tapes of family. The surface of the wood underneath the sound system has been scratched and gouged by the feet of the old TV that sat there at our beloved Ravenswood but, no matter, they tell a story.

"You may not believe this" I replied, "but it is the cigarette burns and stains I am really buying. They are so incredibly far out"

The records to my left, the books, the sheet music and the scrapbooks and the chair on which I sit all evoke so many memories. So many. Nhung has her own story which she tells me as I sit there and try to think of an answer to the question - how does that jacket make you feel? "Flamboyant" I reply. It does. I am not big on clothes and I have little dress sense but the guy in the shop saw me coming and even though I asked to try on something completely different, he swerved and he swayed and I ended up walking out of the shop holding something I wasn't sure that I would ever have the nerve to wear. In fact, after that day, whenever I walked past the shop wearing another coat, I felt the salesman's eyes on me and him mouthing"what the f...." But buy it I did and wear it I have done and, when I do, I feel flamboyant.

No. It is not bird shit on my black jeans but paint. Household paint. "Casual and Fat" should be the caption here but I cannot complain. Nhung photographed me as she found me. The sheep on top of the column to my left knows nothing. I wonder if sheep have any understanding of 'casual'? I love this garden - it is tiny but manageable which is more than can be said of my stomach but, forget all that and look at the photograph. Everything around me is crisp and black and white. I am not thinking of how I shall look in the picture -  I am thinking "casual". After this shot was taken, Nhung asked me if I wanted to try a different pose so I turned about 45 degrees to my left and stood the same way.


After the effort of standing in two different poses in my garden, I had to rest. I get so tired sometimes but I find it difficult to nap in my bed and I have found that lying on the floor of the dining area off the kitchen is much more restful and, if you need any convincing of that, I can tell you that I nodded off while Nhung took these shots and woke up with a wonderful rush of refreshment when the shutter clicked. 

"Please don't wake me, 
No, don't shake me, 
Leave me where I am, 
I'm only sleeping"

I don't remember. I don't remember saying that I felt shy when this was taken but certainly my body language betrays that feeling. This was taken in our basement where there is a lovely gentle light. I have filmed a lot down there. I asked Nhung, "Do you want me to move the table?" She said "No". Everything looks perfect in this shot - the flowers, the edge of the tablecloth, my hand on my leg, Jane's painting of "Girl", the whiteness of my shirt and the little brass bolts on the shutters. 

"Is that not how good stories run?"

Formal? Smart? Or sad that the day is drawing to a close? I have absolutely no idea where this expression came from and yet it is sodden with love and gratitude and compassion. People often ask how I feel when I see so many pictures of myself. I find that, usually, I look at them objectively - that the person I see is often someone else but here, in this picture, I see my heart and my soul. I see the boy at school, the man who fell in love. I see the other side. I am astonished by this photograph. I wonder if  I am mistaken but no, it is all there. And Nhung found it and pressed the shutter at just the right moment.  

"This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing, simple - passionate- perfect-"

Sunday, 1 October 2017

NHUNG DANG - A Gentle Woman

Yesterday, I spent about five hours being photographed by Nhung Dang and it was an absolute pleasure. Nhung had visited me in Brighton in January of this year to chat about the proposed shoot and we got on really well and agreed to go ahead in the Spring but one or two problems arose and so it wasn't until yesterday that we went ahead finally. And it was fun!

I had come across Nhung's work in December 2014 and thought it was astonishing and I was taken particularly by the statement on her website that narratives in her work were often influenced by her own personal feelings of melancholy and yearning. She left Vietnam as a refugee with her parents and brother when very young but she has since achieved success as a photographic artist and has recently completed a course in Psychotherapeutic Counselling.

Our shoot was all on film although her Hasselblad jammed but she carried on with her 35 mm SLR as well as a delightful little pinhole camera - I couldn't remember ever being photographed with a pinhole camera before. Unfortunately, the light was not good enough to produce a decent image on the pinhole shots apart from those in the garden which are interesting.


Nhung likes to tell stories in her work and so she took me to various parts of our house and garden and questioned me very gently about how I felt there, wearing the clothes I wore - I changed clothes three times during the shoot. We started in the garden first where I wore my paint-splattered jeans and a  white vest and then moved into the kitchen where I lay down on the floor as I do sometimes to sleep and I slept only to be woken by the click of the shutter. I had bought a coat, a rather flamboyant coat for me, when I last saw Nhung and told her that I needed a bit of courage to wear it and so she suggested that I put it on for the shots in our sitting room - she asked how I felt wearing this coat and all I could think was... flamboyant. She then asked me to close my eyes and breathe in and out and she repeated her question and as, I sat there I felt brave and ready and, after a while, she asked me to look at her and I felt my eyes blaze with daring and derring-do as I opened them and stared down the lens. We ended the shoot in my suit (not both of us, just me) in my study (both of us) for a more formal set of photographs. 

In the middle somewhere, we had a break for lunch and I made scrambled egg on toast and we talked about families and friends and, as for the latter, I felt that I had found a new friend and this was confirmed when Nhung asked for a hug as we said goodbye at the front door.

A very interesting day with a very interesting artist - I am expecting some very interesting results.

Saturday, 30 September 2017


This is not a photograph of Jean Edwards, - it is yet another delicious photograph posted on Twitter by Daniel Brami - but it reminds me of a time when my mother (who was a dancer) took me, when I was little, to the flat in Holland Park where Jean, also a dancer, lived with Alf Edwards, the then celebrated accordionist.

At some point, in the kitchen, Jean lifted her leg like the woman in this photograph and I was amazed.

That's it - just wanted to tell you this. Oh maybe one more thing - here is a picture of my mum by Roye.

C'est beau n'est-ce pas?