Assignment 1 – decision; from ballet to the Green Grosser

Produce a small essay of 10 images that demonstrates your engagement with the lives, experiences and histories of your local community and its people.

I had thought about how to fulfil this assignment, the course suggests reading the assignment brief before starting the course and making notes about how I plan to go about the work. However I was stuck on how I should approach this. The village where I live is a bit of a sleeper, the village is very quiet through the day as people either go off to work or school elsewhere. I thought about the church, or the local village shop as a couple of places where the community come together and I think both would have worked. However I was struck by the possibility of engaging with something that was slightly different, village based, but also having a much wider contextual reference.

Ann and Carl Gross have lived in the village for a long time, they have had an allotment for about thirty five years and have grown vegetables and fruit on it for their own use and were in the habit of giving away their excess. The allotments are about 150′ X 50′ and Carl, who comes from farming stock in Michigan, has always been a keen gardener, though his profession is as a teacher. In 2001 they decided to occupy a stall at the first ‘Farmer’s Market’ in nearby Deddington and sell their produce, giving away all the proceeds to a couple of charities They had previously ‘adopted’ some children in Thailand by donating cash on a regular basis and sometime after decided that they would  donate all their takings to one charity the ‘Thai Children’s Charity” (TCC). They also decided that they would go and visit the work that the charity does in Thailand, the children that they sponsor, to become more involved in activities that they were now somehow involved in. Carl has just come back from Thailand, a three week trip to Pattaya, Bangkok and then to the Burmese border region in the ‘golden triangle not far from Chiang Mai. The Gross’ do various charitable giving, most goes directly to the ‘TCC”, but they also directly sponsor some children, putting them through education, their current ‘adoptee’ is HIV positive, but is doing well and attending classes. Their work is noticed and during his last trip (Ann couldn’t go this time for domestic reasons) Carl attended a dinner with the UK Ambassador to Thailand at his residence in Bangkok (they pay all their own travel expenses as well as their direct sponsorship).

I will develop the story of the “Green Grossers” as I work with Ann and Carl leading up to the next Farmer’s Market – the fourth Saturday in every month. The work to fulfil the brief will be to situate the work in the allotment, their storage and the market itself. I also plan to make a short video which will do the same as the brief but also bring into the narrative the wider context of the work that is done in Thailand, their personal connections, the children they are involved with as well as the many projects that they been working with for many years. Carl is a prolific photographer and I will use some of his work to illustrate my piece.

They are an inspiring couple, very patient and loving. Ann though deserves a great deal of praise as not only does she get involved in the work with the ‘TCC’ she also, in her capacity as a ballet teacher (now retired) has taught this author all he knows about about dancing in pink tights and wig!

Local School Project

It never rains but it poors!

I have been approached to see if I would provide some photographs for the local village school as it is updating it’s publicity/brochures etc. The school has had difficulties recently and this is, seemingly, a way of putting the past behind them with a fresh new ‘portrait’ for the world to see. I have said of course that I will help. But I wondering about how to meld the work with the history group, which is very active , and building a document set that will serve the photo archive as well.

My most recent photograph, taken January 2013

My most recent photograph, taken January 2013

Thinking about an Echoes project

As I become more embedded with the “Echoes” group I am being asked to provide more and more input. I have been asked to provide some evidence of the permanent exhibition space at the Warneford hospital, something I am more than happy to do. I have been asked by the current project leader at ‘Echoes’ if I could provide some ‘good’ images of the group working together, video if possible and maybe some evidence when the project’s work goes on display at the Ashmolean Museum in June. All of which I am very happy to do, it will, without doubt, stretch my capability.

But the request I have had to run the next project at ‘Echoes’ has had me wondering what to do (and not least about whether I have the capabilities to develop and run a project, but that’s a different matter). I have thought about things and have discussed an idea with my tutor along the lines of:

Photography project:
  • use images from the collection of the users
  • use artefacts from the collection of the users
  • re-photograph them
  • re-frame them
  • add contemporary photographs
  • create a new document that contains the above
  • add notes/feelings
  • print
    video work
    – of selection
    – of portrait sessions
    – of hanging
 I have sent a draft outline of the project to the overall manager of ‘Artscapes’ amongst whose responsibilities is ‘Echoes’ to see what he feels about the idea. We shall wait and see. I am not sure how or whether any of this will fit into the course, but I have a feeling that something positive will do and at least inform me going forward

Who is Speaking Thus?

Who is Speaking Thus – Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘Photography at the Dock ‘ published by University of Minnesota Press – Minneapolis pp169-183

Exercise: ‘Write some notes summarizing Solomon-Godeaus’ position. Do you (I) agree with her?’

In short, the author suggests in this essay dated 1986, that documentary photography, a relatively recent genre in the canon of photography does not come innocently to be judged. The photographer – and in this the essay is slightly out of date – is always present and comes to take the picture with their own agenda, their own prejudices and concerns, which may or may not be manifest within the framed image, but are nevertheless expressed in some way.

The author goes on to say that of course, unless the photographer has complete control over the way in which the images are viewed they lose control over how they are ‘read’ and by how they are edited for further reading. By that I mean that a magazine editor may display a photograph purposely beside another to reinforce or detract from editorial dictate, or the image may rest near an advertisement that either subverts or emphasizes that dictate – once the image has been released by the photographer it will generate a life of its own. That semiotically the photograph will be read a multitude of different ways, no matter how the photographer’s intent was made. “Who is speaking thus?” requires us to consider the position of the image in the way it is presented, by whom and for what reason; that it is a document is undeniable, the “Post Modern” world that Solomon-Godeau wrote this essay would have questioned all that was in the frame, and I think rightly so, but in today’s “Post-Post Modern” world we might see that the potential for cynical views of the nature of “Documentary” “… as a faithful and unmediated transcription of physical appearances…” – pp169 was rightly justified.

At length:

I think the quotation from Martha Rosler’s essay “In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)” in “Three Works” (Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, 1981), 72. ‘Documentary photography has been more comfortable in the company of moralism than wedded to a rhetoric or program of revolutionary politics.” I haven’t read Rosler’s essay (more reading isn’t what I’m looking for at the moment!) but this could be read a number of ways, but the sense of it that I picked and made me stop for a while was the sense that the (documentary) photographer, according to the essayist, would more likely rest on the high-ground of moral sensibility than on the high ground of the battle field; which of course pricks a conscience and made me think about what I wanted to do with documentary photography, my work at the ‘Echoes Group” and other ‘Artscape” projects!

Moving on, Solomon-Godeau starts to talk about how Jacob Riis is widely regarded as the forerunner of documentary photography and she goes on to say: “In this model for documentary, the genre is defined within the framework of reformist or ameliorative intent, encompassing issues such as public address, reception, dissemination, the notion of project narrative rather than single image, etc.” (ibid pp173).  So it as all about intent, but what intent? I started to feel slightly alarmed when the work of Sally Stein was brought into the narrative quoting from her article “Making Connections with the Camera: Photography and the Social Mobility in the Career of Jacob Riis,” it is posited that “Stein makes a persuasive account of the latent, rather than manifest, meaning(s) of Riis’s photographs” (ibid pp175). It would seem that Stein’s contention was that Riis had a latent concern over the state of the American way of life, that it might be threatened if something wasn’t done about the (deserving or indeed undeserving) poor of lower Manhattan that society that he had relatively recently immigrated into, was perhaps disintegrating before his lens and that bringing it to the attention of the powers that be might ameliorate the situation. Well of course it did, it changed things, it changed perspectives; but the notion that I had – written about here – seems slightly naïve now.

Solomon-Godeau’s essay then moves to the FSA and how Stryker provided clear ideas of the images he required to back-up the political aims of the ‘New-Deal”. About how Stryker wanted images that delivered the ‘deserving poor’ and not the ‘undeserving’. That Lange and her cohorts images were the property of the FSA, and hence the Government, edited by the FSA to deliver the political message of the day was something that I was aware of. Of course the underlying political possibilities that were becoming more and more strident, than even Riis could have imagined, was the threat of communism. The potential for civil unrest was a subtext underlying the work of the FSA, but Solomon-Godeau’s essay has helped me to see it perhaps more clearly. I have written about Lange, Evans, the FSA etc here, here and here.

Towards the conclusion of this fascinating essay comes this extended quotation: “If we accept the formulation that there are ideological effects inherent in the apparatus, and that these effects typically devolve on relations of mastery, scopic command, and the confirmation of subject positions, the notion of a political documentary practice premised on subject matter alone is rendered even more problematic. For such a theorization of photography insists on the complicity of representational structures in a variety of ideological formations that will always impose a point of view independent of the personal politics of a photographer and the particular intention of the work. Furthermore, if we consider the act of looking at photographs with respect to gender or the operations of the psyche – the complex acts of projection, voyeurism, investiture, fantasy, and desire that inform our looking – we are obliged to abandon the earlier, innocent belief that the documentary camera presents us with visual facts that were simple “out there” and which we now, simply and disinterestedly, observe and register.” (ibid 181,182). Suggesting to me that veracity can only be by intent and integrity. That the documentary photographer is only ever part of a conspiracy between provider and receiver of the image, often mediated beyond the providers control, to a position of either trust or mistrust, perhaps equally valid as long as battle lines are clear. Solomon-Godeau goes on to say that “..it is incumbent upon an intelligent viewer to reject a specious universalist reading that functions to ‘innocent’ photography of it’s ideological labor, its (normative) dissemination of the doxa.” (ibid pp182). I’m somewhat troubled by this, not insomuch as she is possibly correct to elect that a reader might use their intelligence to decode the guilt in the image, but that there is a recognition that others will be disenfranchised from the debate due to their inability to recognize the ideology present in the image and thereby preventing the democratization of the image, keeping it for bourgeois consumption; but maybe that’s another debate.

This essay will prove, I think, to be a turning point for me in the recognition of the fallibility and strength of the image as document and the document as image. How the image is imbued with context and narrative beyond the control of the image maker. It’s creation, nascent with the intent of the photographer, can be subverted, amplified, twisted and turned as soon as it is out of the photographer’s clasp.

The myth of objectivity

Bengaluru

Bengaluru

Andre Bazin, from the course notes: “For the first time, between originating object and its reproduction there intervenes only the instrumentality of a non-living agent. For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man…in spite of any objections our critical spirit might offer, we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced, actually, re-presented…” (Andre Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ in What is Cinema? 1945 p.7)

And..

Allan Sekula, again from the course notes: “If we accept the fundamental premise that information is the outcome of a culturally determined relationship, then we can no longer ascribe an intrinsic or universal meaning to the photographic image.” (Allan Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’, 1997, p454)

If we ignore that Bazin’s quotation is taken perhaps out of context, I would say that even in 1945 it would be a naïve view that the camera never lies, or at least misinforms. That the camera is capable of extracting a verisimilitude is what the automatic process was designed to do; but for many years, decades even it was discussed that the photograph, taken out of context, discontinuous and artfully framed would elicit ‘a’ ‘truth’ that the photographer would desire. Interestingly the quote, coming at the end of the second war, might suggest a linkage between the aims of futurism and, maybe constructivism, which lauded the absence of the interventionism of man within the process. Leaving that aside, Bazin goes on to say ..” The personality of the photographer enters into the proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed and by way of the purpose he has in mind. Although the final result may reflect something of his personality, this does not play the same role as is played by that of the painter. All the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage from his absence.” (ibid) Completely ignoring the ‘artfulness’ in the process of printing! That the photographer may decide to absent themself from the capture of the image was, until the development of the remote control, a difficult if not impossible project. Google Street View and other contemporary developments have made the non-interventionist capture now readily available, but that was after Bazin’s time.

In a post, post-modern visual world, where the grammar of visual imagery is being mediated by countless channels of information flow in fixed, recorded video and pseudo live video, it is unlikely that many, in the consumerist societies, believe everything they see. Sekula’s point seems to be that because the reading of an image, and by inference the moving image, therefore cannot have a universal truth or decoding. That the viewer’s reading will be informed by social conditioning, gender, race and all the mediating norms of whatever society they are situated in, is I would say, common currency nowadays; though it doesn’t provide a meaningful suggestion as to why western consumer advertising is often left unedited when taken to, for example, Asian markets.

Open Eye Study visit February 9th 2013

The study visit to the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool last week to see the exhibition “A Lecture Upon The Shadow” was a suggestion I made after reading Dewald’s ‘We Are Oca’ report – here – from a similar show in Shanghai last year. I thought it might be interesting to contrast and compare, I didn’t expect to be as challenged as I was. For various reasons I have been too busy to write my feelings for the exhibition and the intervening time has had me periodically thinking about the work and in particular the notion of shadow and the work of Liang Yue, that I found stuck in my mind. The notion of the shadow has crept into my understanding, my reading of the works.

I can’t say I liked Yue’s work, I had a great deal of difficulty trying to describe what I felt about the wall of work, a kaleidoscope as one student put it, of fifteen large prints pinned in regular formation on one white wall of the gallery.

Detail, Man Yi at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Detail, Man Yi at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Man Yi’s work of monochrome images on the other hand were ‘easier’ to view. “Memories of Water” displayed ten images, again pinned (or part pinned) onto their own white wall. The references to water were in the most part explicit, but their inconsistency was their only consistency. These few images had abstract images and figurative images; images depicting details contrasting with large vistas, of seemingly new image technology and old. That Shanghai hosts China’s greatest river as it enters the East China Sea, the Yangtze, might, to this westerner impel a connection to water, but it maybe to do with the transitory nature of this vast city, of some twenty three million souls and counting, that I kept being pulled back to when looking at the work of Man Yi and Liang Yue.

Detail, Liang Yue at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Detail, Liang Yue at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Yue’s images were taken during twilight, the neither day nor night time, a period, a time, of transition. A time that is not what it was, nor is yet to be. The artist assisted occasionally with a torch… “The images are shot in twilight, just before nightfall, and are linked to an elusive time and the question of presence” – from the catalogue and exhibition notes at the gallery. The ambiguity that the images provides as regards ‘a place’ or ‘a time’, seem again, to this western viewer about the ambiguity of the place that they were taken in – Shanghai. That this city, that has more than once defied logic to grow in size when the prospects of growth appeared limited, seem to harken to the notion that this place is no longer what it was and isn’t yet what it will be. The influence of the West, for two generations under communist rule the ‘other’ in Chinese society is now becoming all-pervasive and I feel now, on reflection that the work of these two Shanghai artists were a reaction to that/this continued process of change. In many ways the work seemed ambivalent to both the encroaching ‘creep’ of consumerism as well as to it’s past, with it’s inherent darkness. Shanghai has had a cosmopolitan population for hundred’s of years and the Yangtze connects this outward looking sea port with the old capital Nanjing with its inherent historical links. The Japanese came through Shanghai less than a century ago, and about a century before that the Chinese failed to repel the British during the Opium wars. That I ‘see’ an ambiguity in these images is almost certainly part of how I see China. Again from the accompanying exhibition notes regarding Yue… “The recurring images are a partial and instant view of the city. Her scenes of distant frenzy co-mingle possibility and problem, and leave the viewer uncertain about their specific mood and theme. The contrast between familiarity and strangeness is greatly pronounced, and it is precisely this feeling of contradiction that makes her photos so fascinating and attractive.”

Parents and child in front of Fan Shi San's 'Two of Us' at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Parents and child in front of Fan Shi San’s ‘Two of Us’ at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Also on view was Fan Shi San’s project ‘Two of Us’. San explore’s Chinese experiment with population control. The use of double exposure photography brings twin instances of the same person to the frame and leaving the viewer to connate the emotional stress between them. Wondering which is which, who is who? These expressionless subjects exhibit a loneliness that immediately draws the viewer in which works very successfully, but I wonder about the ‘Chineseness’ of it all. India has a covert population control system, whereby parents are questioning the on-going pregnancy if they find they are carrying a female child. That the artist is allowed to ask questions on the policy is, in western eyes, progress, though general discussion on this one child policy is now becoming a more overt common topic for the Chinese population, questioning the legislation of the ruling body isn’t one that is done habitually even in the relatively “relaxed” climate of today’s China.

As I remarked in Dewald’s original review I was drawn to Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ about the use of clone’s to provide organs for transplant. In the book the clone’s are kept separate and are never allowed to meet their donor clone, however their sense of humanity drives some to strive to discover their ‘other half’ and it is this that I saw in this work. What though if they did meet; the one knowing they were a clone of the other and doomed to die in order that others might live, the other knowing that their clone, literally another of them in their own likeness and a part of them, would die a parentless, childless, lonely death? I saw that in these images. Ishiguro also wrote about Shanghai, curiously called “When We Were Orphans” – but that is, as they say, another story. And back to Donne, weren’t these ‘others’ in these photographs shadows of themselves or perhaps themselves as shadows?

Tabitha Jussa’s “Eldon Grove”, a shadow of it’s former self composing “fifty individual negative images composited together digitally to create an impossible view of the buildings, a ‘heightened realism’.” Exhibition Guide. This very large single image, could have provided more impact with more context I felt. The exhibition notes denoted all we needed to know, and provided no more. The image of urban decay is a trope well rehearsed in today’s culture and I’m not sure how much this individual image, set in amongst others with subtler narratives, brought to the conversation. Another of Jussa’s work “Match Day” to my mind works much better, habituating the people within ‘their place’ in pieces such as “Walton Beck Road, No 4, 2011”. To my mind the absence of people in”Eldon Grove”,  absented the ‘person’ from the place, traces of ‘them’ weren’t there, whereas the sea of Red supporters on match day foregrounds the people, the older city dwellings and the Anfield stadium which is at the heart of a lot the planning blight in this part of Liverpool and at the core of the notion of change in this part of the city.

Detail, David Penny's Dutch Painting at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

Detail, David Penny’s Dutch Painting at the Open Eye Gallery Feb 9th 2013. Image courtesy of the Open Eye Gallery

David Penny’s work had the look of Sailing Ships to me, sails in full wind, rigging and photographed as three dimensional structures. mounted under either yellow or blue perspex. Using photographs of sculptures, these become objects in themselves, though I am struggling with how these are connected to the theme of shadow, perhaps they only do so because they are in the exhibition, or perhaps the very visual shadow in the image is it. I’m not sure. They were the only ‘objectified images’ in the exhibition, framed with the use of coloured interjections between eye and object, they were like David Jaques “Corpus Mercatorium” seemingly at odds with some of the other work. Jacques work may have worked better for me with a lot more research into the characters he portrayed in the images, maybe not. I kept being drawn back to it on the day, recognising one or two of the faces; but overall that particular enigma eluded me.

A very well worthwhile visit with a lot of discussion. I travelled a good part of the way there and back with AnneD and curiously we were joined for part of the journey home by a photography graduate who tuned into our conversation and added some comments of his own – he works for his father in civil engineering, such has been his success in finding a job as a photographer.

Documents

These scanned copies of photographs have come from my personal collection. I would appreciate any thoughts – in the comments section below – that these images invoke either individually or in any collective way. Your help is much appreciated.

“Make a selection of up to five photographs from your personal or family collections. They can be as recent or as old as you wish. The only requirement is that they depict events that are relevant yo you on a personal level and couldn’t belong to anyone else (i.e. no pictures of the Eiffel Tower)….”

The exercise as written in the course notes, and ok, I chose six photographs.

I surrounded myself with a great many photo albums, random photographs that have been collected and stored in various places around the house and some family photographs that I have collected recently from my mother. The process of deciding – editing – which of these thousand or so photographs would appear was more difficult that I thought it would be. As soon as I started thinking about this photograph or another I realised I was editing. This editing was underscored quite often with different contextual narratives, some of which will become evident in the ‘histories’ that I will attach to each photograph. And because of those narratives I found myself advancing and retreating on this exercise of selecting images for presentation.

Of course the course is about documents, this exercise is from the first section ‘Introducing Documentary’ and follows on from a piece on ‘what makes a document’ on the WeAreOca site which can be found here, and comes directly after a discourse on discontinuity wherein lies this statement: “All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity. If the event is a public event, then continuity is history; if it is personal, the continuity, which has been broken, is a life story. Even a pure landscape breaks a continuity: that of light and the weather. Discontinuity always produces ambiguity.” (Berger & Mohr, 1995 p.91). I will also respond to the comments individually.

These images are all personal, some more personal than others; so, referencing the statement above, it is a life story. I could have had many different life stories from the collection of photographs that lay strewn about me. My life through my boys would be one, mostly the pictures I looked at were taken by me of my wife and our boys, so when the camera was turned on me it was usually with one or both of them, from babes in arms to adulthood, playing cricket or football, watching them act on stage or receive awards, dressed up at weddings and other formal events and through the passage of time as they became men and started on their leg on the generation relay. That these six photographs do not contain them was a difficult decision, but their lives are now their own, still very personal to me, to us, to our family. There are no work photographs, I have retired now and had always thought that people shouldn’t be defined by what they did as an occupation. “What am I?” “I am a man married to my wife for thirty six years with two sons who are both now married with their own children”. Other aspects are no more than flavourings.

These six photographs then, I realise, will tell a narrative about me and each photograph will have a description as to why they appeared in this set. A few comments have noted that the photographs have been scanned to reveal not only the image as a whole i.e. un-cropped, but purposefully as an object, almost three dimensional and with any blemishes, creases providing a clue to the materiality of the object, evidence of them being used as objects, being handed around from one person to another, one generation to another. Similarly there have been some references to death, photographs as memento mori? Well, only in as much as the narrative will describe a passing, but only of time. The couple in Photo 1 have passed on, but all other characters are still very much alive and kicking.

The edit of course revealed an auto biography as so many of the commentators remarked, they are either me or contain me (Photo 1), through a period in my life that found happiness and a sense of purpose only at the end of it (this period here). I did not expect that so many of the commentators would develop narratives, though because of the discontinuity of the images, with only speculation as a device to thread the viewers context into the images, I think I would have wanted to bring my personal experiences to bare and generate a narrative. Though I don’t think I should be surprised, given the statement from Berger & Mohr above.

GP

Photo 1

My paternal grandparents, his name was Hector Oswald, I can’t remember her name. I received this photograph from my mother relatively recently. As a family they didn’t have much to do with us, thinking my mother not quite good enough for my father. This was taken outside their house, I don’t know when; she had a penchant for rabbit fur coats and as they appear to be going out (perhaps in) I am speculating that it might have been to an engagement. My grandfather, as a pianist, used to accompany my grandmother as she sang in local venues in the Bedford area. They went out most nights leaving the nine children they had bred and this is why I think my father despised alcohol and pubs/clubs etc for most of his adult life. That I didn’t include a picture of my parents is of course part of the narrative, but this picture contains half my DNA, and the half that isn’t my favoured one.

boy

Photo 2

My first school photograph. It is interesting that, out of it’s cardboard holder that is detailed with Christmas Holly, the photograph is roughly cut, probably by the photographer’s assistant and that brings a sense of poignancy to the image to me. Someone said angelic, I see a lot of pain. My mother said I had a ‘lazy eye’ which I can see now, but the photograph is the earliest known picture of me and was used by my closest friends when they presented me a ‘This Is Your Life’ spoof almost two decades ago. I suppose I was told to look at the camera, so ‘face-on’ is how it is. I don’t really recognise myself in this photograph.

boy3

Photo 3

Yes, my first appearance on stage. I would have been around 8 years old, and it is something I remember to this day and I recognise me in the shot. That I was ‘blacked-up’ seems quite pertinent, I was portraying someone else, I knew my parents wouldn’t be in the audience and so I could ‘let-go’. I don’t know why I looked toward the camera, a photographer who I think was seconded for the Christmas show from the staff. I did a show number here and then mimed to “Little Drummer Boy” by Harry Simeone – I was told later that the miming looked ridiculous as my frame didn’t match the timbre of Simeone’s singing.

rugby

Photo 4

Second form school rugby team, I am sitting on the floor to the left of the picture. School scarves, school blazer, over the top of our rugby kit. Red brick grammar school, after I passed my eleven plus. To a great extent I was a fish out of water. My parents I think would have been happier for me to go to the local Secondary Modern, which is where most of the children went to including my twin sister and my other sisters and brother. I was the only one in my family to pass the exam. Rugby allowed me to excel in something that seemed natural to me, like all games I could compete on an equal footing; I also played cricket, basketball, athletics, cross country running and hockey for the school, until I got a Saturday job at the local Co-op, when I could no longer turn out for the school on the weekend. Some of these rugby payers became my close friends during my school time, but I left them when I left school. Most in this picture went on to become lawyers and accountants, some into the music business and I think one MP.

boy2

Photo 5

My first date. Elaine Dear had agreed to meet me one Saturday afternoon. My mother had made this roll-neck pullover of crimson red, gold and black just a few days before I was due to meet Elaine. I cannot remember why but I was asked to stand outside the front door to number twenty, our house, and have my picture taken by my father. They knew I was excited by this date and maybe they decided to mark the occasion. I can imagine my father laughing at the prospect of this ‘coming of age’ thing, wondering why anyone would want to meet me for a wander around Bedford town centre. The thing is, he was right. Apparently Elaine saw me before I saw her and deciding that my appearance resembled a bee she ducked away and I didn’t see her until Monday when she avoided me and wouldn’t talk to me. For a short time I had the nickname ‘bumble’ and I couldn’t work out from where it came from, until a friend told me that Elaine had told her best friend about me. I can’t understand why he took this picture, why Elaine never turned up.

1975

Photo 6

My father also took this photograph. On the reverse side it says ‘US. July 1975 AT John’s’. The photographer in almost the same position as image 5 but turned through ninety degrees here I am with Alison, we had been ‘going out’ for about a year and within a year we were married and in a home of our own. The references in the comments about colour seem to sum up how my life had turned ‘brighter’ here I was in love, with someone who wanted to be with me, valued me above most things and who wanted to share her life with me. Again, why my father wanted to take this picture I have no idea; I can only presume that he had spare frames to get rid of. I would never have asked him to take a picture of me, maybe Alison did.