The Greek tragedy, Medea, is being performed this week in Beer Quarry Caves by Four of Swords Theatre. It's a viscerally intense experience as the audience is lead underground by a troupe of masked actors, into dripping, candlelit caverns where this aching tale of heartbreak and betrayal plays out in eerie darkness. I took my camera for the challenge; here are some of the highlights... Definitely recommend going to see it if you can!
The Pianodrome crowdfunding campaign is underway, with people signing up, pledging and supporting in all directions to make this extraordinary project reach its potential. There are plenty of live events, performances and open door opportunities to see the first two wedges and meet the team. To find out more and pledge your support, head to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pianodrome. Before you go, here's another little video that I made to help spread the word.
I'm working with artist, writer and life coach Samantha Jenkins to develop her business. I initially went to photograph her paintings to make into prints and take some studio shots for her website, and when she discovered that I have a knack for making maps that help plan a course of action, as well as some web design skills and proofreading training, we put our heads together to plot a course through the vibrant jungle of her ideas! So first I'm helping to redesign her website and internet presence with photos that express her personality, using specific colours and techniques to create her particular sense of feminine energy.
Then we'll continue mapping out the course, to include podcasts, written downloads, online classes and more. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to bring together various skills and experience in one package.
I was recently given a Lens Baby, which is a moveable lens that tilts on camera to create unusual points of focus and blur. I think it works particularly well to create a sense of memory, a moment on the edge of forgetting: atmospheric, dreamlike and hazy round the edges as though viewed through the mists of time. I coloured the image to be reminiscent of Victorian photography. Thanks to my model and possible protege, who wishes to remain anonymous until she becomes famous in her own right...
If you'd like a portrait in this style or any other, please do get in touch.
I visited the studio of artist Dimitri Tsouris to document his work in progress – big, vibrant, expressive colour explosions across the canvas! The whole room was filled with electric energy as he worked on several paintings all at once, turning them upside down and working intuitively with large brushes and tiny cotton buds as the mood commanded...
Welcome to the construction of the prototype Pianodrome seating wedge, the first of five which will become a brilliantly unique interactive sculpture destined for the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. It's a 100-seater amphitheatre made entirely out of old pianos that will be a performance space, meeting place, creative hub, music venue and more. Every single part of the Pianodrome is a piece of history, dismantled and reformed – and I've been piecing together the documentation of the build process with my photos and videos, as well as writing blog posts for www.pianodrome.org.
The whole concept, process and intention of the Pianodrome is to redefine what is broken, reclaim the unwanted, see and celebrate the beauty in craftsmanship and to create from disparate parts a new unity that can be shared by everyone... It could be a mirror of societal, psychological and cultural up-cycling: dismantled, examined, selected, arranged and put back together in a new and dynamic way.
We found that not only did many of the pianos tell stories through various mementos left inside – old coins, address labels, torn up postcards – but each visitor to the Pianodrome build seemed to have a piano story of their own. Everyone is welcome to play the playable pianos, regardless of ability, and we are now open as a performance space! Already, there have been music events and open days, and throughout January, the Pianodrome will be hosting a series of life drawing workshops, dance and musical performances.
For updates, videos, blog posts and more, visit www.pianodrome.org and follow #pianodrome!
Together with a group of artists and musicians, I took part in the dissection of a piano. We went on a journey between twanging strings, rusty knobs and dusty hammers, finding mysterious keepsakes hidden inside, on our way to examine the anatomy of a piano and read the future in its guts... This is in preparation for the building of the Pianodrome – an amphitheatre made entirely out of old pianos, to be situated in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, in the summer of 2018...
I was invited to record a performance by Vivienne Tsouris, a classically trained professional ballet dancer and choreographer. Vivienne hadn't danced for ten years – which, at the age of 71, is fair enough – but recently she was moved to create a dance based on the plight of Syrian mothers originally from Palestine. The dance is an expression of the grief and pain of war, of being displaced and traumatised, twice-over refugees, separated from children, loved ones and home by armed conflict, death and geographical upheaval.
I took some stills of Vivienne and manipulated the photographs with fire and burning wire to express the agonising pain of loss after loss and the nerve-scorching dread and helplessness of being a refugee. We in the West can only try to imagine how it feels to be entangled in such horrific ongoing circumstances. Human beings do have an incredible capacity for pain in their own lives, yet the after effects continue for generations. I wish we could put our arms around all the hurting souls and make the pain go away. These pictures are in honour of the suffering and the strength of women in war zones.
The Numinous: the phrase itself is mysterious, suggesting a depth and breadth that cannot be measured in normal terms. It’s a word that commands your individual response to the experience it describes.
Contact with the Numinous: the spectacular and unforgettable experience of being in direct contact with the forces of both creation and destruction. A privately powerful experience, one that confirms mortality while at the same time pointing towards the infinite. Time is big and small at once; individual and collective exist within each other.
The word originates from the Latin for “divine presence”, numen, with the verb nuene, “to beckon”. The Divine beckons. It is also a word well suited to the sense of pure wonder that can be experienced by people of any culture, background and religious tradition. It describes an overwhelming sense of awe at an incoming power; it comes over and through us. Some numinous experiences can be terrifying, like sensing the enormity of the abyss, while others are ecstatic, as though the whole world is dripping with gold and light.
So I have been looking for it.
And I find it in landscapes. Not always, and definitely not reliably. But I keep on looking, specifically for a way to translate, interpret and record this ineffable, wordless experience. I find the Numinous most accessible when alone in a vast, open, natural space, with the scars of time shaping the ground and the eyeless sky glaring down upon me in my smallness. This faceless, unknowable power; it scares and thrills me so I want nothing else; it threatens to obliterate or offers to heal. It gives meaning and it takes it away.
I use strong contrasts of black and white to emphasize the extremes of the experience. Extreme because it’s so different to everyday waking life, like a light bursting through the dark, and also because of the potential for apparently opposite emotions to arise: fear or love, hope or despair.
So the exhibition at RAMM is a record of an ongoing journey, glimpses into moments that represent the fullness and the emptiness between the spaces that join us all together. Life, its wildness, and our beautiful, fragile planet Earth.
Thanks to: Carmen Marin, RAMM, Mark Carter, Margaret Dawkins, Calmar Framing, Sylvan La, Louise Page, and all the people whose contributions to the journey made it possible.
There is a small island called Soay off the southwest coast of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland, with a community of three. Two of those residents are my dad and his wife, Anne, and she has written a book about life on Soay, called Island on the Edge, published this year. If you would like to find out about the history of Soay and what it's like to live on a remote Scottish island, you can find out more about it here, and buy the book here. Oh look, there's even a little video about it...
I'm having an exhibition of photos, paintings and mixed media pieces at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, October 2016 until January 2017. It's called The Numinous, and is a series of journeys through wild landscapes both psychological and worldwide. I'd like you to come and see it! This is a behind-the-scenes timelapse video of me preparing for the exhibition.
As I get ready for The Numinous at RAMM, I'm listening to a marathon of TED talks: art, psychology, human nature, science – and most encouragingly, the beauty of being a misfit... What are your favourite TED talks?
I'm preparing for an exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, starting in early October. It's called 'The Numinous', and continues my attempt to describe through landscape what lies beyond the physical, along the knife-edge of beauty and mortality, that wild freedom of the abyss and all that we have no answers for. There will be black and white photos, prints, and some new mixed media pieces. Gosh, how exciting!
Lately, I've been busy developing new techniques involving layers of painting and video. Below are a couple of frames from an experimental painting-video.
I'm also currently working on a music video quite unlike anything you will have seen before. I'm also preparing for a trip to visit some John Muir Trust sites in Scotland to gather material for an exhibition at their visitor centre next year.
...Oh yes, and I made a promotional video for Alistair Phillips' coracle business...
...And I collaborated with Katy Hooper on a YouTube video...
...And I went on holiday to Lanzarote...
...And plenty more, but you'll have to meet me in real life to hear about the other things. :)
I'm exploring the potential of mixing several of my favourite media together in one image. I'm really excited by the possibilities and it's opened up a whole new way to make pictures! I'm staying within my usual subject area of birds and wildness but I have a head full of images that involve women, too.
Above: 'Oysters Divide', using an oil paint sketch of some oystercatchers (intended for a current commission), layered with ice bubbles – just to experiment with texture – and my first attempt at digital painting.
Below: 'Release Me', using a pen sketch of a girl, a photo of some pigeons and a background of carbon on oil paper. I'm learning so much and it's great fun.
Folk singer Katy Hooper wrote the song Woman of the Road about a sense of rootlessness. I made this video for her while travelling down the west coast of America, through Oregon and California and into the desert of Death Valley.
I never expected to find myself battling through an underworld of 20-foot reeds, scraping under willow branches with my eyeballs at water level, colliding with hawthorn bushes and inadvertently acquiring an outfit of spiders, mud and foliage – but it turns out that having an adventure by coracle is incredibly good fun!
This outing was facilitated by Alistair Phillips of WoodWorks and Coracles, as a reunion activity for a group of volunteers who’d met when building a cob roundhouse. All being of a similarly outdoorsy type, keen to learn new skills and explore the countryside, we travelled to Oxfordshire and had our first tentative wobble in a coracle on the pond in Alistair’s garden.
Traditionally, coracles are made using a willow frame with a skin of calico coated in tar. Alistair’s modern coracles use ash with strong plastic instead of calico, making them more durable and lighter to carry. We used the PVC offcuts to make pirate hats, and, sporting the height of coracling fashion, we set off for the river.
Within moments of launching our tough yet precarious crafts onto the River Thame (a tributary of the Thames), we were mastering the art of moving the paddle side to side in twisting strokes – known as sculling – to propel ourselves through the water. A gentle current nudged us downstream but not before we’d starred briefly in an improvised attempt at Swan Lake. Stay tuned for the drama of me stuck under a tree...
Forging through the first jungle of reeds, we broke out between neatly manicured private lawns and drifted steadily towards a bridge with a series of archways that presented an alarmingly swift choice for the novice not quite yet in control…
Rapids! Tiny ones! We plunged gently down a stony shelf below the bridge, one by one, popping out the other side – except our admiral, Cliff, who capsized! He emerged from the shadows bravely, hatless, and with one dry shoulder. Tipping the water from his little boat, he climbed back in and we set off once more down the peaceful, dark green tunnel between hedgerows dense and tangled with August’s bushy sprawl.
It was a privilege to paddle along the quiet river, seeing things from a perspective usually reserved for river-dwelling creatures. We saw no other humans on our one-mile, three-hour journey, only swans, ducks, and perhaps a mink below the surface of the water. We heard the call of a kingfisher, hidden from view by the English jungle. Several times, I got stuck in the thick reed beds and once under that tree, but my loyal, bedraggled companions shunted me along and we all agreed that travelling by coracle was definitely the way to explore Britain’s secret waterways.
You can make a coracle of your own with Alistair by contacting him at www.woodworksandcoracles.co.uk. We also whittled wooden spoons – well, at least a rough impression of a spoon – and turned some lovely bowls.
Here's some Alistair made earlier...