Exposing40

Friends. Photography. Adventure.

Wuthering Heights

“Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green
Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights

As I’ve said here before, I am called Catherine because my Mum was reading Wuthering Heights when she was pregnant with me. So it’s not surprising that an outdoor shot on the wiley windy Yorkshire Moors has been on my blog bucket list for years. A rainy cold Saturday in November may not seem like the best time to make it happen but Missy and I are dedicated to our art so off we went. And actually I think it strikes the perfect bleak mood.

Sinful Sunday

Bed legs

Sinful Sunday

Observations

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliot Erwitt

Usually when I pop up on Wicked Wednesday it’s to respond to the prompt with some big thinky piece about relationships or bodies or something I need to get off my chest. Not so this week! But the prompt is ‘observe’ and as I’m halfway through a six week course at the Photographer’s Gallery that a few of you have I asked about I thought I would do a bit of a diary entry…

The Possibilities of the Photographic Body is a six week course led by Tom Lovelace. In case that link gets killed at some point in the future the blurb reads: “This workshop series examines contemporary approaches to the compelling and ever-present subject of the human body and how it is represented in photography. Using the body as a starting point, participants will explore contemporary photographic practice through a range of themed sessions including the digital body, performance, architecture and gendered forms.” Reading the programme there wasn’t a single week of the schedule that left me feeling ‘meh’ so without much more than a minute’s thought I’d signed up.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that the cycle of my professional life is working like a dog for nine months of the year and flitting around during the summer enjoying photo adventures, gallery outings and lazy lunches. The summer months offer a welcome opportunity to recharge and I could never go back to 9-5 life but that doesn’t make the winter months, and in particular the slog up to Christmas when we’re churning out fundraising appeal films at a ludicrous rate, easy to cope with. As much as I hate to admit that age becomes a factor in our physical and mental resilience, I have noticed over the last couple of winters that 12 or even 15 hour days are not quite as easy to tolerate or bounce back from as they were even five years ago. Last winter I got sick and the viruses I picked up had me rundown until well into July.

This winter I resolved to take more care of myself. And taking care of myself means carving out time where I am not working. Working at home is great in numerous ways, but when you register no more than 100 or so steps in a day going bed to desk to sofa for a late night bowl of pasta and back to bed, via the kettle and bathroom a few times, it’s not so healthy. Fern’s fitness challenge where I’ve pledged to five bouts of exercise a week is one thing that’s making me break from work. This course is another. The very simple act of turning off my computer bang on 17.00 so I can be out of the house and in town by 18.30 makes me feel more in control of my ‘downing tools’ time than I have in years; it’s amazing how not needing to catch a train can make the end of the work day slide.

What a joy it is to sit and listen to an engaging and down to earth (no old school or patronising arty snootiness here!) course leader who really knows his shit talking enthusiastically about fascinating photographers. I have so many new names scribbled in my notebook that I just know that I am going to go down a rabbit hole of research during that twilight period between Christmas and New Year. In week one we visited and discussed Shot in Soho, in week two we took our own shots in the streets of Soho and this week we used the gallery as our playground.

Our group is made up of professional photographers, Masters students, a curator, a gallery agent, an academic and a drag queen from Brazil. We have an opportunity to share our work with the group and this week we saw a work in progress that is about the expression of chronic pain, a stunning series that explores a genetic flaw and political commentary through cabaret. It’s so fascinating! I can’t wait to see more of the work next week. I also talked about Exposing40 and shared some of my favourite photos from the last five years. It was particularly fun sharing this image; this friend and I have visited the Photographer’s Gallery more times than I can remember over the quarter of a century since we met at Uni and I honestly never thought I would be stood up there talking about a photo I had taken of her.

What I am loving most about this mini adventure is that it is completely without agenda or expectation. There is no set homework, there’s no exam at the end, no investment beyond the time and initial fee. I am not planning a career change. I have no intention of making Exposing40 anything more than the fun hobby project it currently is. I don’t want do anything more technical than use my iPhone or my small camera on auto setting. I am not doing it for any reason other than it’s interesting. It is just time spent with talented people and learning for the pure pleasure of it and that feels like a real luxury at this time of year.

Me in front of Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s How Do You See Me? a digital installation showing on the media wall at The Photographer’s Gallery until 30/11/19

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Countdown

“Some people are born for Halloween, and some people are just counting the days until Christmas.” Stephen Graham Jones

I don’t dislike Halloween and I’m perfectly happy getting into the spirit of things (excuse the pun!). In fact, the gaggle of primary school sized witches and ghouls who appeared at my door on Thursday evening were a delight. Also, babies dressed as pumpkins…🧡

Still, all that aside, for me Halloween has always just been that little distraction before bonfire night and once that has gone? Well it’s full throttle to Christmas. I’m definitely a counting the days until Christmas kind of girl.

As you can see, I already have my Christmas Day hairband. I may tone down the eyeliner for family Christmas lunch though; I don’t want to frighten the nieces!

Sinful Sunday

Always in Character

“I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.” Jane Eyre

I am many good things: I am fun and funny, I am generous and kind, I am thoughtful and loyal. I can also be mean and spiteful, needy and angry, I lash out at myself and others. All of these things are entirely in character.

When someone is described as behaving ‘out of character’, unless it’s a portent to a medical calamity it is usually used to describe the less pleasant aspects of their personality. I wrote at length earlier this year about a period of my own poor behaviour. Until this morning I hadn’t revisited it since writing it. It was hard to write, hard to post and while still experiencing the aftershocks of that chapter I had no desire to reread my analysis of it. I only read it again just now because I thought to myself “I wonder if I used the words out of character in that post?”

The result of that ‘get it off your chest then put it on a high shelf’ purge means I had blanked out much of what I written. Until now I hadn’t appreciated how tangibly I’d described my behaviour, the examples I had given or how much thought I had put into articulating why it happened and how we can stop it happening again. I am belatedly very proud of how well I wrote in the face of adversity!

And I was pleased to see that I hadn’t used the words ‘out of character’. Because I don’t think we behave out of character. We can’t behave out of character because our character is hardwired into us. I learnt this week that the word comes from the Greek work kharakter, an engraved mark, symbol or imprint indelibly stamped on coins. Our character is indelible.

The sides of our character we typically celebrate are the attractive aspects that make our loved ones relish our company. But the other bits are equally valid and rather than brush them off as ‘out of character’ I think our job is to understand what triggers them. In the same way we understand what brings out the best in us we must understand what brings out the worst.

I watched a talk the other evening where the speaker said: “We assume that if we have characterised someone as good they can’t be bad and vice versa but if we see character as behaviour on a continuum then when people act in ways that surprise us maybe it is not that surprising.”

For the sake of our own mental health and the health of all our relationships – familial, professional and personal – we need to understand our own continuum and take responsibility for it. That responsibility is to help others to understand how their behaviours create an emotional response and activates the different facets of our personality.

In affairs of the heart, if I feel threatened or usurped I will lash out and speak cruelly about the person who I believe to be a threat. But I shouldn’t just lash out, I should explain why I am feeling vulnerable and help my partners to understand that I need complete honesty and I need reassurance. They may not like that part of me as much as the part that’s independent and ballsy and generous, but there you go!

If a member of my family shares different political beliefs then I need to be explicit that teasing me needlessly and endlessly about Brexit is deeply upsetting. I didn’t help my Dad understand that and the pressure built and built until the valve exploded. I was angry and I said terrible things that hurt him. He called my response immature. He was right. The damage has been fixed now (although I need to work on his declaration last summer that “if this is what politics does I am never voting again”) but had I just had the difficult conversation to start with, months of family distress could have been averted.

Like everyone, I evolve with every experience and I am a work in progress but I like learning about myself and I like to understand my emotional responses and what triggers them. I like learning how to manage myself so I am as best as I can be. I enjoy enhancing the bits of me that make me fun to be around and quelling as best I can the parts of myself that can make me difficult.

IMG_0355 (2)

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Hundreds and Thousands

“The green autumnal parks conducting
All the city streets a wondrous chorus singing
All these poses oh how can you blame me
Life is a game and true love is a trophy.”

Poses, Rufus Wainwright

I’ve had the above lyrics on my ‘to write’ list for getting on for a year now. Last December there was a lyrics prompt on Wicked Wednesday and not knowing what to choose (I love too many songs for that to be an easy choice!) I asked Exhibit A to suggest some. He offered three and these were the lines that spoke to me. I didn’t make that prompt deadline and at points over the year I’ve returned to the lyrics but never found a good enough reason to get my words down. But this week’s relationship prompt ties in so closely to what I wanted to say that I find myself making time – after midnight and with a (disgusting marmalade flavoured) gin and tonic by my side.

The point I had wanted to make about the words above is that for me true love is not a trophy. At least not in the way that ‘true love’ is sold to us as the ultimate goal. I don’t want a big love, a trophy love (in the most positive meaning of the word trophy!) and I don’t feel like my life is less for not having it or wanting it. Yet, also, love is a trophy and it’s one I hold up and am very proud of. Love is so very important to me and my life is full of it. I give it freely and I take it with delight. I love my family (most of the time!), I love my friends and I love (some of) my partners. Some of them I just like but that’s ok too. For me, love is not the cherry on the cake, love is hundreds and thousands; smaller and singularly less spectacular than a big glossy fruit, but collectively so much prettier. To me.

And this is where my thoughts on love dovetail with my thoughts on relationships. The word relationship is often default taken as being a reference to the ‘one you love’, your intimate and sexual partner. But to me all my significant relationships make me who I am and I invest in them equally. If my oldest friends and I didn’t all show up for our annual gathering I’d be concerned that our cadence was out of step. If any one of Jedi Hamster, Charlotte Brown or me ceased to appear regularly in our WhatsApp chat or were unenthusiastic about our quarterly cards and Camembert meet-ups I’d worry about what was awry. If somehow mine and my business partner’s shared view that the business is both the most important thing (it funds life!) and the least important thing (it’s only work!) became unbalanced then that would be a problem. If my most important partner and I fell out of our monthly routine of good food, wine, sex, chat and music then we’d be cutting our red thread. If @19syllables and I didn’t seamlessly segue between winter coffee and summer naked adventures and back then that would be perturbing…

I could go on – there are many more to mention but I need my sleep and I’ve made the point. In short, I don’t need a big love because all my little loves colour in the lines of my life. And all the different relationships fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that has all of its pieces.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Swishy

 

Earlier this week I had my hair cut and highlighted. When it’s just been done it looks particularly sharp and swishy. Focused and Filthy suggested I should make my hair the feature of this weekend’s Sinful Sunday, specifically black and white and with dramatic lighting. I think I met the brief. The only problem was I couldn’t decide between these two photos! Which do you prefer?

Sinful Sunday

Untitled

Sinful Sunday

My Camera and Me

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange

My earliest memory of a camera is my bother’s first birthday party. I would have been three years, one month and 19 days old. My Dad was trying to take a photo of my brother blowing out his one candle. My brother just kept trying to grab the flame. I was asked to show him what to do. I’d blow out the candle, my Mum would relight it and my brother would grab the flame as my Dad clicked the shutter. And repeat. Multiple times. We have many photos of my brother grabbing the flame but not one of him blowing the candle. Reflecting on this memory I realise I may have got my tenacity (bloody mindedness) for getting just the shot I want from my Dad.

Another memory is holidaying in mid Wales when I was about eight. I wanted to take a photo. I loved the weight of my Dad’s SLR, loved waiting for my vision to focus as I looked through the viewfinder, loved seeing a portion of the world in front of me framed in a scene. And I loved the heavy ‘clunk’ of the shutter. For some reason my Dad wouldn’t let me take the photo, saying I could take one later. “But I want to take a photo now.” “Later.” I walked all the way down the hill crying and shouting more and more desperately: “I want to take a picture NOOOOOW.” Three and half decades later my Dad or brother will wind me up in the way only families can by repeating the refrain back to me when I reach for a camera.

The love of photography I inherited from my Dad has continued throughout my life. Through my earliest trip overseas (a French exchange, aged 15) where Dad coached me in advance not on language skills or settling in with my host family, but on how to use my new camera and the kind of photos I could take along the way. There are a fair few snaps of my friends of course but there are also plenty of thoughtful shots of gardens and rivers and quirky angles of the Eiffel Tower. My camera is still how I make friends with a place. I’ll notice more about a place when I’m looking through the lens and noticing details I don’t see when I’m just looking. I love reviewing the photos and spotting things I didn’t notice even through the lens. I’ll often get up early and go walking alone with my camera as a place is waking up.

And more recently my camera has been how I’ve made friends with other people and with my own body. I’ve written so much on these pages that there’s almost nothing new to say. I’ve written about the experience of being photographed, the joy of photographing others and the role photography plays in relationships. Others have written about the photography adventures we’ve had together and it always makes me a little emotional reading their words. Of course all of those posts focus on the experiences, the emotions, the enlightenment. But none of that fun and personal growth would have been possible without the camera. My camera is the tool that’s ignited friendships, been a feature of partnerships and helped me love my body more. It’s a force for good in all my relationships, with others and myself. And what I loved about framing a photo and capturing a moment when I was eight is what I still love today. I love the power the camera has to make us see things a little differently.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Bleak Midwinter (reprise)

This weekend is very exciting: for the first time since 1996 when I put on my degree show, one of my photographs will be hanging in an exhibition. Bare Men: the Group Show opens at The Living Gallery, Brooklyn on Sunday 29th September and will run until Friday 4th October.

The show is curated by Abigail Ekue whose Bare Men series “celebrates the inherent beauty, sensuality, sexuality and vulnerability of the everyday man.” As you probably know, I love photographing men and photography plays a big part in some of my relationships so when Abigail put a call out in June this year for submissions to her group show I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring.

I was delighted that a shot that Exhibit A first shared in December 2017 was selected. If you’re in the area this week please go along and enjoy the photo in all its framed glory, plus all the other stunning images that are hung along side it. To mark the opening of the show I thought I would share another perspective on the same image for this week’s Sinful Sunday.

And while I’ve got your attention, I’m sure you don’t need reminding that this weekend is Smutathon. Exhibit A and many other fabulous and talented writers are in a race against the clock to write as many stories as possible in aid of The National Network of Abortion Funds. If you can afford to give, please do!

Sinful Sunday
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