A fog filled night. All quiet. Waiting for 2020 to arrive.
We live by Bushy park. Which contains deer, trees and occasional morning fog. One morning, whilst the deer were away searching for grass, I had a look at the trees and the fog with the aid of a trusty old film camera.
My mum has this memory of a train journey: of seeing a line of little grass hills beside the tracks somewhere between St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The dawn sun was lighting up these little soviet-era things. Making presents of them for her young eyes.
I cherish this memory, even though it’s not mine. I love the fact that she was looking at the left-over grass heaps and not the newly-tidy fields. And I love the fact that she told me about them years later. They just have this spontaneous significance. And they connect me to her somehow.
So this random line of sun got me thinking about that. It got me thinking about reaching out to time. Like a family does.
How often do you see yourself in your child? Leo looks just like me, so it's basically all the time. But then, he doesn't act like me. Not least because he's a two year old. But also because I'm prone to a random 'muse' whilst he prefers 'thinking-in-action'...
But then, sometimes, he does act just like me. And it's a bit weird. And a bit familiar. And it reminds me of a portrait. Not a self portrait. Just a portrait. One that's so enthralling because it's a bit weird and a bit familiar. And it reminds me of the line: 'the fictive possibilities of the self' - from an author called Amelie Nothomb. Who writes about the fictive possibilities of the self.
And I'm convinced that documentary photography isn't altogether lost on this 'fictive' stuff. Because I think this is another way of saying: 'memory-in-action'. Which is like real life. Just like it. Really, just like it. It's the special bit. The bit you can only love. I want to capture this bit. I really do. Okay, 'random muse' alert. But it's what this guy was thinking about I'm sure...
As a sculpture student, I used to visit the Cast Courts in the V&A museum. A massive den of monuments from all over the continent. Each one is made of plaster, because each one is a copy: a life-sized piece of Europe. There is something almost photographic about them – but for their ‘heaviness’. And, as facsimiles, their weight seems weirdly excessive. Almost silly. I loved these objects. I loved their ‘leftover’ nature. Like snowmen in a green field.
I made an artwork about them. And that should have been that.
But I also used to check on another object there. A massive patch of peeling paint. High up, equally big and equally heavy. ‘Astronomically’ heavy. Heavy because a gram was too heavy and would force its fragile shape, sooner or later, down to earth. And, as a future photographer, I loved this patch of paint. I’m sure it had something of the photograph about it too. The way it decided to just god-damn-happen. I loved the daring of it.
I stopped visiting the Cast Courts. I forgot about the plaster monuments, but I didn’t stop thinking about the paint. It sounds silly, but it’s been like an invisible friend. A collaborator. And I think I took some of its ambition for myself. To find the spontaneous life of things. The real moments that dare to happen. And make them last.
There is an apple in a Josef Koudelka photograph, laid out on a newspaper, laid out on a field, miles away. It’s cut in a way that I would never do, using a knife I’d never own. And it’s just kind of… different. And I can’t help wondering what the photo would look like if the food were something else. Apple pie maybe. Apple pie from inside an oven, inside a kitchen, inside a home. And not from a tree. But, that’s crazy talk right? And so, in the absence of pie, this apple just kind of has to fend for itself. It has to represent itself. And I think this is one of Koudelka’s harsher lessons you know.
We saw a film the other night called First Reformed – a challenging one. The guy in it sits inside a house, with no comfort, drinking and not eating. Everything is paired back and just ‘removed’. And he reminded me of that apple in the photograph. I was so desperate to reach him. To cross the gap between one person and another. To be a friend.
I walked about in the kitchen the next morning, unable to stop taking pictures. In here there is… well, I would say communal-food-based-messy-stuff, but what I really mean is: a whole load of inside. Leo’s just removed every petal from a flower and is thinking about how they’ll taste for breakfast. And I’m thinking he should give the dish a name. Petal pie maybe. But he has other ideas. Which he will consider over his breakfast. Because you've got to eat you know.
Everywhere is orange. The last time this happened was the summer of 2003. But I missed it. I spent that August in the green and white of the Alps. I took a photograph of a donkey, but I’m missing that now. I remember getting back to find a September of yellow. It was like something had happened everywhere to everything. But I hadn’t seen it. I hadn’t seen the change of it. This time however, the yellowy, pinky, orange has introduced itself slowly over months, and I have got to know the difference as well as the sameness of it. It’s turned me orange. It’s even turned the sky orange. This heat of 2018. Which is so different to the heat of 2003 – which, to me, will always be green and white. Even though on the last day in the Alps it snowed so much it was all white.
Deer come, from time to time, to our window. They do so unannounced and in silence. And these guys' silence is breathtaking. It's a kind of communal abundance. And very different from my own pointy, squinting sort. They stroll by my kitchen window, and I hear them: passing it between themselves like a packet of biscuits. Grazing on it along with the grass. The biscuit to their tea. It's a lovely ritual. Whenever I see them outside I try to pretend I'm just as busy with silence as they are. I pretend they've caught me at just the right time - because there's plenty going spare if they'd like me to pass them some through the window. And, of course, they always respectfully decline my offer. But, I don't mind. Like a true unfashionable parent, I think they're cool and I'll keep trying to fit in with them. In a way, I'm practicing. Leo's only 2. And he's cool. And I've always thought of our love for him as a kind of communal abundance.
My mum, thinks about her dad, Jack, not long gone. 100 years between him and Great Grandson Leo. They met each other briefly. And now, a kind of spark of love just dances around. We all have a go at describing it. Describing Jack, who fought in WW2. And watching Leo, who has imaginary 21st Century apples to offer us.