When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach was inspired by what can be disappointing about the way wet pebbles plucked from the beach may underwhelm when they’re dry again. It seemed like an apt metaphor for visualising ideas about memory and identity, and responding to Howard Sooley’s elegaic film about Derek Jarman’s home and garden on Dungeness beach for the Kick-About No.28. So it was I set about taking photographs of pebbles in their contrasting states so I could create the slow desaturations that feature in the film. I’m not suggesting the resulting images are, in themselves, very interesting conceptually, but they do make me want to head back to the beach, just in case there’s an even fancier specimen I’ve missed!
Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film, Prospect Cottage, the prompt for the Kick-About No.28, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach began with a simple enough observation. Living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.
When I was a boy, I collected pebbles from the beach, my mother shouting after me, ‘Not too far, love’. Lost to her, I run to the sea, my hands greedy as magpies, the pebbles bright as boiled sweets. This one, no, that one! I’d take them all if I could – if only I could carry them, if only there was time. Home again, turning out my pockets, I look again at my treasures and wonder why I loved them. Why this one? Why that one, my choices as drab as Sundays.
When I was a teenager, I pretended to the lads I walked beside not to see the pebbles at my feet, the ones glossed red as conkers, the ones like speckled eggs. ‘I’ve only eyes for Linda now’, I tell my mates, ‘and for Alice at the chippy, and that big girl over there with the holes in her tights’. But alone again, unseen, I return to the shore, where I take one or two more pebbles into my pockets, sneaking them like cigarettes; and in my too-small room, I look again at all my choices, unhappy at the secret they keep of their colours.
When I went down to the sea as a man, and found myself bending again by the water, the other man who walked with me said, ‘No more shingle, please! We have a beach of our own at home, thanks to you.’ Then he laughs. ‘Just one more then,’ he says, and like the perfect silver pebble I pick from the shoreline, I’m going to keep this moment in the palm of my hand.
Now I am old, I can’t seem to tell one thing from another. I look closely at this man who brings me my food and washes my hair, and I wonder why I loved him. Why this one, I think? But I go on collecting pebbles anyway, my mother saying, ‘Not too far, love’ and lost to her, I run.
When I Was Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach (2021)
Mount Ephraim is a family-owned estate set into ten acres of landscaped gardens in Faversham, Kent. We’ve visited there many times, and these photographs date from one particularly perfect late summer afternoon in 2009. The light was hazy and magical, washing out the colour and softening everything it touched. Not pictured is the tea and cake we ate on the terrace overlooking the long lawn and topiary, or the sweet melancholy of a season ending.
Not sure where or when these were taken, but who can can resist the simple charms of the marigold? Not me.
The fascinating thing about taking part in The Kick-About is the way in which it commits you to creative activities you couldn’t have predicted – as was the case recently when I ended up squeezed into my own shower, photographing a latex glove I’d inflated dangerously full with water… I was riffing on the prompt for the Kick-About No.27, de Chirico’s 1914 painting, The Song Of Love. There are certain levers you can pull to encourage uncanny effects, and dislocated body-parts is one such motif, and you can find this in The Song Of Love‘s flaccid rubber glove and disembodied head. Add to this the peculiarity of de Chirico’s emptied street scene, his faked, theatrical perspective, and the ambiguity of scale, and you’ve got a quietly unsettling tableau. I took three things from the de Chirico painting; the rubber glove, the perspective, and the uncanny, and sought to produce a worrisome little set-up of my own. My long-suffering husband barely raised an eyebrow as I waddled my flabby, moist and grossly distended friend into the corner of the shower room. I think he was more concerned by all the lights, trailing wires and the imminent threat of electrocution! The resulting images crawl away from de Chirico towards the likes of Cronenberg, and they remind me of the time I found a bloated sheep-tick hanging off my leg.
These photographs were taken in the last moments of sunset on the Isle of Sheppey all the way back in the Summer of 2009. I remember clearly the very particular atmosphere of the place as we walked back to the car; bleak, forlorn, poetic, and richly filmic.
There are a number of things I miss about my previous role working in higher education – and many things I do not.
One of the things I miss most about those days was my day-to-day proximity to other creatives, to their respective projects, and to their conversations about them. An average day would see dozens of discussions about storytelling, art direction, materials, research, conceptualisation, producton design, visual representation and promotion. Manifesting ‘something from nothing’ was always the business of the day, as we all worked together to get an idea ‘from script to screen’ or from 2D into 3D, from a dream of a thing to the thing itself. I know now how luxurious my old job was. Actually, I knew it then and never once took it for granted. It was life-affirming to be in the company of people who could first see things in their mind, and then develop those images into concrete, substantive outcomes – an act of magic and an act of faith.
Hardly surprising then I might have wanted some of that back, to work again with a diverse community of artists, to give a fair whack of my time and energy to making a space in which more of those conversations could take place. So it was I had the idea for The Kick-About, a blog-based creative challenge, in which creatives of all kinds were given the chance to make some new work in response to a fortnightly prompt – myself included. One year later, and we’ve just published Edition 26 of The Kick-About, a gathering together of participants’ favourite submissions, and one thing is clear: there is power in community, not least because the expectation of an audience for new work is an effective means of seeing off procrastination and preciousness by encouraging decisiveness and utility. There is creative freedom too in ‘short sharp snaps’ of creative activity, that ability to start something up and then close it down in a succinct period of time.
Speaking personally, I’ve found The Kick-About to be a hugely satisfying experience, and after a decade-or-more of very happily giving my best ideas away to other people, it’s been reassuring and exciting to discover there are still more ideas where all those others came from. I’ve loved the problem-solving aspect of the fortnightly prompts – resolving cogent, authentic responses to the various prompts in lots of different ways. You might also call it ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ – and yes, it’s been fun.
Gathered here are all my Kick-About responses, digital artworks, sculptures, photographs, shorts films and short stories, and collaborations with other artists. Agreed, it makes for an eclectic ensemble, but I’m reminded – happily – of being nineteen years old and studying my Art Foundation course, which was all about trying and doing everything and not worrying about what it was all for, or what you were going to do with it, or what you were going to do next.
So yes, I do feel younger for running around with my fellow kick-abouters, and if not quite nineteen, then not far off. I just want to say a very real and heartfelt thank you to everyone in the Kick-About community, whether you’ve played once, or always. Your company and creativity is, and has been, restorative, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it all again with Kick-About No.27. Onwards!
My recent trips to Fox’s Cross to photograph the splendour of the Blackthorn blossom have inspired a further entry into the Lost In Fields series of short, stills-based films. What a contrast with No.8, inspired as it was by desolate frozen wastes and luckless polar expeditions. Here, I was going for something as fleeting, delicate and ephemeral as the blossom itself, including too the songs of the robin and the skylark, both of which soundtracked our time in this, another of Kent’s ordinary/extraordinary fields.
A few unseen light-play photographs from the big stint of similar japes undertaken in the late summer of 2015. I was mucking about with simple sets and some additional lighting, and quite liked the swirly, ‘Starry Night’ vibe getting started. There was more to be done here, but I ran out of time – and of darkness.
A last hurrah of froth from Fox’s Cross.