4: Me and my community
For this part of the project, I took photographs with the five ways to wellbeing in mind.
Twice a week, I take my mother to her local shop, where she does all of her grocery shopping. She doesn't move well, and she suffers from anxiety, so this bi-weekly outing is one of her only connections to the outside world (the other being her neighbour who delivers her newspaper each morning). On each visit, we are served by Stuby, the man pictured here.
Stuby is American, married to an Englishwoman, but hankering for home. He is covered in tattoos of wolves - when he lived in the States, he raised wolves for many years. Rather wolf-like himself, he only really engages with people on his terms, so there are some mornings when he will barely speak to us, and others when he will tell us stories of his wolves and their characters. My mother enjoys these encounters, as she has always loved wolves herself and we also used to live in the States, so she feels a connection to him. When I asked him if I could take a picture of him, he was suspicious, wary. His acquiescence was reluctant, but he did allow me to take the picture when I explained its purpose.
My mother downplays her interest in him by affectedly mis-remembering his name and calling him 'Scooby'.
My best friend and I both use photography as part of our practice. He is an avid street photographer, so we went out on a joint street photography jaunt around Stratford Upon Avon, my hometown.
This photograph was taken by the river bank - an ancient tree had been recently cut down. I remembered this tree from my adolescence - I used to sit at its roots drinking vodka during my teenage rebellions. I hadn't realised it had been cut down, so it was quite sad to see the gap in the greenery.
We decided to investigate the stump; there is some impressive fungus on it already. I was inspired to take this particular picture from the bank, looking up at Ollie standing on top of the stump - I thought it was interesting how the roots of my past were feeding and supporting my present and the people in it.
This is my son's grandmother and great grandmother. His great grandmother is 93, and has recently moved into a nursing home.
My son's grandmother has been very involved in her mother's care, to the point that one questions what exactly the care staff are being paid for. It's not been an easy road for the family, but I wanted to capture the love between the two women as Great makes the transition into full time care, and hopefully her daughter is able to let go a bit.
I had this photo framed and gave it to my son's grandmother for Christmas. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to talk to her about it because the gift has been overshadowed by the death of my son's other great grandmother just after Christmas.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is such a feature of Stratford that locals barely notice it is there. I once acted on stage there, and I remember vividly the layout of the backstage spaces. There has recently been a refit of the space, but they've left some of the architectural features of the old theatre in the redesign. Here you can see the original wall on the left, where the topmost raked seating, steps and doors were located. It's now a mingle space underneath, and a bar area at the back. I like how the shadows of the bar patrons become a kind of ghost performance for the watchers underneath. It's a design feature that is redolent with eerie nostalgia. It was a strange experience to reconnect with such a powerful part of my past, a,so knowing that the space holds special significance for hundreds of thousands of other people over the years.
The street photography of Vivian Maier and others (please see Research Reports for further examples) makes excellent use of both studium and punctum*. We are able to read context in street photography quite quickly, which is possibly what makes it so compelling, and punctum can be used to great effect. Having studied Maier previously because of the similarity of her work to my grandfather's (even the story of the discovery of her work is similar), I felt an affinity for the kind of images she makes. Below is a selection of my street photography, some of Maier's and some of my grandfather's for comparison.
*“It is by studium that I am interested in so many photographs, whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the setting, the actions.” (26)
“The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time is it not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out f it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exist to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that is also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely these marks are so many points. This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole-and also a cast of the dice. A photograph's punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)." (26,27)
Roland Barthes, 'Camera Lucida', 1980
Bridge Street, Stratford Upon Avon, December 2014
New Street, Birmingham, November 2014
Henley Street, Stratford Upon Avon, December 2014
Church Street, Stratford Upon Avon, December 2014
Vivian Maier and Cyril Hope