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.
Keen-eyed followers of these Friday call-back posts may have noticed the number of times ‘2015’ appears in relation to images featuring long-exposure photography. That’s because, in the Summer of that year, I set myself a ’10 Day Challenge’ – or rather a ’10 Night Challenge’, in which I sought to produce long-exposure ‘light drawings’ in as many different ways as possible.
One of those variations was thinking about how I might create animated sequences, by producing long exposure photographs as part of continuous sequences. Unsurprisingly, it was a time-intensive undertaking – and a very physical one, given the fact I was ‘puppeteering’ the lights myself, out-of-shot, via a system of black elastic threads. In truth, I didn’t get very far – or rather, I took what felt like a great many photographs, only to find I only had scant seconds of animation as a result. Nonetheless, there is real potential here – to draw with light within particular spaces and animate it too. One day, I’ll walk all the way into this idea and make something happen.
Until then, here are some experiments. I added a touch of music to the second video, and manipulated the animated loops a little more by repeating them. Even these small interventions prove there is much more to be explored here.
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.
Back in September 2019, I finally finished Patience Kite – a novel I’d been fiddling about with for ten years or more. Owing much to Under Milkwood, in terms of its big cast of characters, and with nods to The Wicker Man and other examples of literary ‘folk horror’, I was very happy to complete it. I’d lived with these characters for an extended time and worked hard – off-and-on – to make the reading experience work engagingly. Sometimes, on good days, I’m certain I achieved just that, more or less. Other times, I think there is probably a very good reason why, having sent Patience Kite out to a number of literary agents and publishers upon completion, I’ve heard precisely nothing at all! I have a goodly number of rejection slips etc in my collection from my other finished works of ‘undiscovered literary greatness’, so I am largely inured to the rasp of disappointment.
That said, I sometimes think about all these lives I brought into being, these loyal phantoms of mine, and I wonder if I have a responsibility to them to go on trying. Today, I’m sufficing instead with putting the shortest of excerpts out on here, as this Friday’s archival entry. The character of Annie Crowther looks after the model village in Pengarth, the fictional setting of Patience Kite, a pretty fishing village somewhere in the wilds of North Cornwall. This short section comes very early in the novel and uses the device of the model village, and Annie’s omnipresence, to introduce readers to a few more of the book’s characters – and of course, there’s a hint of foreboding too…
I don’t know when these photographs were taken, or which particular type of euphorbia it might be, but I was inspired to share them for this week’s Throwback Friday on account of the great lime green clouds of Euphorbia characias growing in wild profusion outside some of the beach-facing houses here in Whitstable. We pass them on our routine late-afternoon loop, a bit otherworldly with their spires of acid-yellow suckers (I always think of the Zygons), and yet naturalistic and ‘just right’ too.
It took a lot of self-discipline not to entitle this 2016 photograph ‘Beam Me Up, Scotty’…
Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of devising and creatively directing an EU-funded ‘visualisation of classical music’ project in collaboration with my students, alumni and staff. Our mission was to take on Verdi’s mighty Requiem, and not attempt to animate it, or fall into any turgid, representational mode committing us to grandiose CGI. You can dive nice and deep into the development of the project here, but I’m going to offer up the short version, which goes like this: first, we plugged Arie Van Beek into some motion-detection software while he was conducting Verdi’s Requiem with his orchestra in order to capture his every movement during the performance. Next, the resulting data was translated by a computer into seven curves, one for each of the discrete movements of the Requiem, which gave us spatial representations of the conductor’s gestural energy; along these curves followed his orchestra.
The seven curves originating from Arie Van Beek’s conducting of the Requiem
My students and alumni were then given the curves as digital files, and challenged to use them to produce sculptural forms fashioned in 3D using the animation software in which they were trained. They were asked to listen to each movement of the Requiem and allow their impressions of the music to inform their creative decision-making, and a final selection to be made from their respective entries.
The final seven 3D models produced by the students.
Ultimately, we wanted to physicalise the 3D forms as real-world sculpture, so had to devise a practical means to ready the digital models for fabrication. We divided the 3D forms into planes, or slices, with the idea of laser-cutting the silhouettes out of sheet steel, before reassembling them again to produce the finished piece.
One of the sculptural forms expressed as a series of silhouettes.
A 3D simulation of how the silhouettes combine to produce the sculpture.
Maquettes of the seven sculptures were then produced so we could understand how they would sit on the ground and actually work as physical things. I need to say here what an exciting moment this was, as we first understood what it meant to have taken an epic, canonical work of classical music and converted it into tangible, tactile things.
The seven movements of Verdi’s Requiem as diminutive, laser-cut maquettes.
Finally, laser-cut from steel, welded together and painted, the seven finished sculptures were installed on the lawn of the Royal Opera House’s High House Production Park, Purfleet, to accompany a further performance of the Requiem. The unspoken truth of this highly collaborative and interdisciplinary project was that all of us wished the budget had been very much larger, meaning we could have produced the sculptures at a much bigger scale. Sized as they were, the sculptures were playful, when I think we all wanted them to loom more grandly, as befitting their origin point. Still, the business of moving them around in various transit vans, and carrying them about, proved challenging enough; any bigger, and we would have needed a fleet of articulated lorries!
The pleasure of this project was not knowing how to do something, and not knowing how something was going to turn out, but always confident in the knowledge I was working with a bunch of talented individuals committed to making something wonderful take place.
I’ve featured a few songs on here, songs accompanied by handy box chord diagrams, having had the discipline to commit their melodies and chords to paper, as well as to memory. Not so with this one, or indeed the many others like it. This song sits in a folder on my desktop as lines denuded of music. I remember writing it though, and I remember about whom I wrote it. I also remember really liking this song, which makes its silence all the more frustrating.
the old wives had it wrong
one day I flew high with a magpie
only found come the ‘morrow
he’d stolen the shine from my heart
‘cause he’d just come to borrow
first he feathered his nest
then he let me go for a song
those old wives, they sure weren’t wrong
one magpie brought me sorrow
once cursed and coerced by a gypsy
I let him woo me with all the sights that he’d seen
envy encouraged me to dance to his tune
sang the songs my gypsy would sing
but i missed who I’d been
became this man inbetween
those old wives, the light had seen
there’s just grass and it’s never more green
made hay with a stray heard him purring
and in my arms his charms basking
he had a hungering only for cream
for the salt from my warm skin
and though from house he made home
he was as happy to roam
those old wives sure knew their thing
leopards cling to their markings
played the fool with a jewel his eyes shining
two diamonds mining the whole of my soul
I burnished him bright with my breath
but my clasp this stone wouldn’t hold
I thought inside I’d seen fire
but a diamond is cold
those old wives they had it told
it may spark but it sure ain’t gold
i’ve tried, cried and died over magpies
over gypsies, over strays, over jewels
and so I say madness is love
if love, from kings, makes an old fool
what use then my heart?
is my hope something cruel?
those old wives sure change the rules
I heard them say that love, in the end, conquers all
what use then my heart?
is my hope something cruel?
those old wives sure change the rules
I heard them say that love, in the end, conquers all
Okay, so this one is going to take a bit of explaining.
How was it, back in 2001, I ended up choreographing and compèring a male strip show? How was it the participants in the said strip show were also my students at the time? It all sounds rather unsavoury, even more so for actually writing it down these twenty years later!
The short version is we were raising funds for the student degree show for the undergraduate photography course on which I was teaching film and video – an extraordinary project undertaken by an extraordinary cohort of final year students.
Not content with just finishing their respective degrees, the students decided to turn a long-abandoned secondary school in Hackney Downs, London, into an exhibition space for their photography and video work. What ensued, for them, for the photography department’s staff, and for me, was a sometimes gruelling, but deeply satisfying adventure in collaboration. The damp, derelict classrooms and corridors of the school were transformed into clean, white exhibition spaces, the old, empty swimming pool into a venue for the aftershow party. I spent a whole lot of time sitting atop scaffolding towers and shovelling pigeon poo – and likewise everyone else. It took over one hundred days, and hours of hard physical work to prepare the exhibition space – and a lot of money, which is where the male strippers come in….
You have to remember, back in 2001, I was twenty-six years old, so not much older (and in some cases younger) than the students I was teaching in my professional capacity. I was also the licensee of the student campus bar, and so found myself in this rare halfway space between different roles, expectations and responsibilities. I’m happy now, but I was very happy back then, teaching film, talking film, running a very busy bar with all the banter and sauce and boisterousness you’d expect, and working with a team of dedicated educators, who were fearless when it came to fostering extraordinary student experiences.
I don’t think it struck anyone as particularly odd or left-field, or suspect, when I first came up with the suggestion we could ‘put on a show’ to raise funds for the In-Motion degree show big-build at the derelict Secondary School. The Full Monty (1997) must still have been looming large as a pop-cultural touchstone, because the idea of a group of ordinary-shaped students taking their clothes off in support of a good cause didn’t seem problematic in the slightest. I don’t recall a single objection or raised eye-brow.
Contrary perhaps to the associations that go with the objectification of male bodies, I look back at this unlikeliest of episodes as a moment of utter sweetness. As an openly gay member of staff, you might consider how my shifting role from ‘teacher’ to ‘choreographer’ was difficult for some of the young men involved, but apparently not, considering the ebullience and gusto and trust.
One of my fondest and enduring memories will always be, not the pectorals or inguinal creases of these photographers-come-strippers, but the joyousness of that raucous, perfect night; the roar of the crowd, who were in on the joke of it, and what was so charming about the pleasure these blithe young men were taking in their riotously ramshackle show.
Video footage was taken at the night of the performance, and one of my roles, as the resident videographer of the In-Motion project, was to put the content together for posterity. You’ll see straight away how long ago all of this was, on account of the 4:3 aspect ratio and less-than-broadcast quality. I was learning my trade as a video editor at the time, playing fast and loose with copyright and music soundtracks, so interpolating entire sections from the movies A Chorus Line and Cabaret to dial-up the show business accordingly. I appear in this film too – in a fabulously shiny silver shirt, and so young-looking and sleight, I can’t help but sigh.
I’ve only recently dredged up this film from an old DVD and haven’t thought about this particular night in years. To watch it again is to return immediately to that humid bar, which was crammed beyond its capacity with art students of all stripes, all of whom had paid their money to see their friends and classmates bare their bums in a bid to buy litres of white emulsion, hire a crane and scaffolding, buy lights and wire, to make something amazing happen. The film goes someway to conveying the noise in the bar that night, but not all the way. The roof was raised, and then some, by the delightful hooting of students, who couldn’t quite believe we were actually going through with it.
It will sound strange if I admit, that about this one night in the service of one huge transformative project, I feel a genuine sense of achievement and pride. Obviously I’m not talking about the choreography (talk about murder on the dancefloor). I’m talking instead about the directness of what we did that night; I’m talking about our lack of worry and the way we just decided to do an improbable, stupid thing, and then went ahead and did it. I’m talking too about all the people who allowed us do it, about the trust and safety we all felt, and I’m proud of it too, because in this film – on this night – I’m completely confident in all my identities.
As a fitting book-end, I wanted to (re)share a past projects of which I’m very fond, not least because I got to work with a loyal team of generous creatives. If you’re familiar with Red’s Kingdom, you’ll recognise the likes of Emily Clarkson, Ethan Shilling, Deanna Crisbacher and kick-abouter, Simon Holland, all of whom worked on this short educational animated film about the provenance of some ship-wrecked Roman pottery. Let me also introduce you to production team members, Nat Urwin, Tom Smith, Charlie Serafini, Alan Postings, and Jeffrey Wang, whose time and talents this film absorbed so totally for so many weeks.
Commissioned by the trustees of the Seaside Museum Herne Bay and funded by Heritage Lottery, the film was also made with the help and support of the children and staff of the Herne Bay Junior School. I had the pleasure of meeting a whole bunch of the school’s exuberant pupils in our search for the ‘voice of Marcus’, a role that ultimately went to Lake Blumenthal, who auditioned for me so impressively – while dressed as a lion!
Though completely exhausting in only the way putting together an animation can be on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, Marcus & The Mystery of the Pudding Pans was a very happy, life-affirming collaboration. I was interviewed on local radio about the project, which you can listen to here – or rather, you can hear my answers to the interviewer’s questions about the development of the animation in this archive of my side of the interview.