Ride on! Things on the s i t t e r s front have been very busy recently. Arthur’s not had an easy time of it either, we’ve both been hard on the trail (and the bus) working through our locations. A gift and curse he has been. He is just a logistic nightmare in his old age. He weighs a tonne, and won’t go anywhere without the other 15kilos of equipment needed to take his photo. If anything he is probably the greatest incentive i have ever had to get my dirvers licence and buy a car. But since that’s not happening any time soon, its public transport all the way.
Together we’ve redefined my public image, so the hot burning on the back of my neck when i walk down the street carrying a toilet isn’t embarrassed indignity, its traction. But sympathy abounds and i’m not the sort to let those little gestures of help go unnoticed. Something as little as a wide-eyed stare or someone diving out of the way to avoid my unstoppable toilet procession. They go a long way.
The procession carried on to Gorgie this week for possibly the most bare faced image so far. The wonderful Gorgie Farm, the most understated gem in greater Edinburgh. It is a spirited community initiative i had the pleasure of seeing up close and it became clear as day when i slinked up to the office with my project looking for a location one rainy day and, without missing a beat, came away with not just a location but a sitter. Gorgie Farm is run on a huge level by local volunteers who are involved in about every single activity you can think of. They farm and sell their own veg and run workshops and classes galore and keep quality out-doors-in-the-muck education for children at the core. They care for a bundle of animals and have an encyclopaedia of knowledge (and a name) for everyone within their walls. It is a hive of activity around the clock. Do i sound astounded? I should, because its free. Take a 10 minute bus ride out and have a gander around for an afternoon and see exactly what i mean. If you stand around long enough you might have a paint brush landed in your hand to redecorate a wall, or just walk in off the street, stare at a turkey for 5 minutes, be on your way and no one is the worse
No turkeys today though, today its the chickens. It was Donna who braved the ordeal and believe me, i cannot stress how deliberate those two words are. Brave and Ordeal, especially when a bus of 30 schoolkids turns up just in time and, pressed to the wire, they all want to find out when the chicken was going to use the toilet. What courage. Donna, let me tell you, is certainly no chicken.
Huge thanks to all the Gorgie farm staff for their support, enthusiasm and managing to keep a straight face
Yes. At long last the undeniable is upons. It is the crystal clear, milky blue truth of spring. All around the pavements are hot, the grass is lush and brimming with lazy bodies. The coat cupboard is rightfully bulging again. The milkshakes are out, the hot chocolates away. For me unfortunately, the sweat pores are also restless, so the era of the emergency t-shirt is also…upons.
But i’m getting away from myself, it is still toilet season and s i t t e r s has been bowling along. Today, with a spring in our step myself and fellow photographer Karen H undertook the challenge: not one but two images! Her wonderful Aunt and Uncle lent us the use of their bathrooms, kept their distance and gave us free run of the kit-kats. And happily so. It can’t exactly go unsaid that there wasn’t not an absence of -ahem- human flesh, so having an undisturbed environment meant exactly that- minimal disturbance…of all parties!
Thinking back to how the project started, it was one of a few illuminating chats that ended up accidentally straying into private territory. Finding out how everyone has minute, idiosyncratic signatures on their daily toilet use started the wheels turning in my head. For Karen (sorry Karen), she told me she brushes her teeth on the toilet getting ready for bed. The multi-tasking routine, some people combine about 5 things at a time in the morning. This had to be part of her photo i thought…
And on the subject of the project’s origins, it has of course occurred to me that asking 30 people to drop trow in the most private of ways is a big ask. So, from day one, i swore the promise. That not only would i include myself in the project, but my humiliation would have to be cumulatively maximal compared to everyone else. Something eye watering. Something that would allow a sigh of relief from the mouths of all my sitters. Wellll, that something was today.
dear oh dear
Its been an empty few weeks for this poor blog, discarded in favour of bigger fish. While everything is going swimmingly over at sitters, and a project from nothing is turning into a project with a lot. Running a separate blog, one with a defined agenda , has shone a light back on to what started this site in the first place. And returning to it today, trying to make the clothes fit and power shower you with my recent work and projects, it is just not right. This little internet space is not a place of promotion (not successfully anyway) or an encompassing gallery or shop of any kind, as much as i wish it was. Its a place i come to talk, and after a year and a little bit, i feel comfortable saying that. Because i don’t talk many other places.
I took the picture above walking about one day. I took it because i thought it wasn’t enough to just see it and i kept it somewhere prominent because i knew i would see it later. That is a peculiar foresight that i don’t normally enjoy. Now the posters are gone, and i think about the foresight of the person who pasted them up. With their dampened, limp corners. The aged and rebellious glue that kept its sodden message in place. I think of what was probably a very spontaneous evening. A quick design thrown together, some old popular slogan fired up, slap, dash: message. But i never saw another of the same poster. No campaign, no revolution. Just some posters decomposing in a rank corner of edinburgh. But the message.
I have had over half a year to sit on the message. And i have watched the ravages of the subject in question on my own work. I have seen the same cardinal sin rear up and destabilise and frustrate my friends and colleagues. And i know it now too. Everywhere, in every profession, everyone encounters and suffers the same feeling. Inferiority. Where good is not enough, and best is for someone else. And the inevitable days when your work is done, and you sit back and examine your accomplishments only to tighten your lips and shake your head.
Envy is many things, a sin the least of all. It is actually the product of something else entirely. Something very hard. An inescapable thing with no prescription and no real measurements.Something that comes as standard in all of us. This is doubt. Some people would say that the best cure for doubt is hard work. But that is a prevention, and eventually your own hard work comes under question and your supports struggle to take the weight of self judgement. Its really hard to see someone caught up in doubt, and in a creative industry it is rife. A while ago i cut back on the traffic of other photographer’s work coming into my brain. Videos, portfolios, websites, galleries, slimmed it all down. The reason, because i was in too vulnerable a learning stage and i could literally watch the knots in my stomach forming as i browsed the images of the masters, the pioneers of the doubt. My own voice with a camera was being drowned out. Studying the best work is the start of creating the best work, but is is also the first point of comparison. And try as you might, you cannot take comparison out of achievement, and where there is achievement there is failure. I’ve watched first hand at people giving up because someone else had done more, done it faster, done it younger or just had a bigger mouth from the off. It sounds surreal when you stand back, Not doing what you want because someone, somewhere is doing something too. But it is the reality. Being creative for a living is hard enough without paralysis of doubting what we haven’t done yet.
Today i felt a little of this, at an impasse between a lot of different pressures that i couldn’t get a handle on any one thing. I was charging through my hard-drives when i found the most amazing thing, something i never knew existed. Not a file or an image, It was a photograph. One i took an indefinable amount of time ago. Something to me so beautiful i knew just seeing it every day wasn’t enough. I forgot all about photography and creativity and thanked myself for doing what comes naturally, just being an old fashioned human. A lifetime of worthless things that are priceless to us alone. Little inscrutable memories and actions from your own life, things so personal they are immune to comparison. Fundamental and non comparable. These are part of the building blocks and raw materials of the other lives we compare ourselves to. People made of the same non transferable stuff.
I thought of my own deep treasure trove. Things like love and family and home and childhood and good craic, but in my mind and the mind of everyone else these notions crystallise into real, precious trinkets and memories. And i fantasised at the day i would be able to add “my trust in myself” to the pot and, like a phantom in slumber, the doubt just went away.
First round out in the big world for Arthur, and where more appropriate than the landscape that inspired his name, up Arthurs Seat in Hollyrood park. This image has always destined to be no ordinary image, oh no. Not only does it remove the context of the toilet from the safety of the bathroom, not ONLY does it involve carrying a toilet and camera equipment up a cliff. It requires a sitter bold (and cold)
A real team effort last Monday, Monika proved the fearless subject. Not only did she summon all her courage to brave the wickedest wind I have felt in a while, she summoned a good crowd of onlookers too, And she did all this without the slightest blush of embarrassment!
Hamish gave some whirlwind support, helped us get all our set together, provided a personal privacy screen and, quite literally, drove home the image. Vroom Vroom!
Thanks for the help you guys
There are only so many toilets in the world. So far permissions have not always been granted, the project has been received with uncertainty, people forget appointments and others just don’t want to be part. These are all inevitable situations outside a photographer’s control, so no bad vibes. But the scope of creativity is tightened and locations begin to run thin.
WELL, the ace. Here is a man who makes things happen. A man very resourceful in finding locations, and making them work. A man who has seen the world and brought a smile to the face of many. A man of a stern upbringing and with strong morals. A man popular with the ladies. One whose polished exterior projects professionalism and crucially, a sense of humour.
The new s i t t e r s partner is perhaps more than a man, he is a
legend toilet. Please meet Arthur. The mechanics, the driving force, the face of the whole project. Down and out, abandoned and despondent, i nursed him to health and inspired within him a new purpose. Storage chest, office seat, decorative lamp, occasional accident, his future looked set for prosperity and contentment. But his purpose grows bigger still. He is the chief asset of the project, he is the ultimate problem solver.
Preoccupied with the ire of not finding unlimited accessible interesting toilets, the thought struck me that people don’t always go to the toilet… with an actual toilet. The “emergency stop” is not uncommon. Hell, if i have to look high and low for a toilet to photograph, there certainly must be someone that just can’t find one at all! And so, how do i illustrate this in a photo without tipping way over the censorship scale? Arthur. Not only can the semi-private nooks of the city streets and the rural fields be properly given their due as a source of timely relief, but the creative potential? wide open! Him and me are going to some rare places to get some rare views. We have a few interesting destinations penned in together, so expect his auteur touch in the project to come…
And adventures. Expect adventures.
Sorry for the absence, i’ve been rounding off a very healthy week of shooting! And when im not in front of the computer, i like nothing better than to be carrying 20kilos of photography equipment around town. Hello, chiropractor?
Its not been a straightforward week by any means but it has been a successful one without a doubt. Sitters has been populated by a lucky 7 enthusiastic volunteers from as far a reach as Edinburgh’s Duddingston and Leith. Shooting on a time limit means shooting with minimal equipment, which means shooting creatively and making the best of what a location has to offer. I love to see what a location can become when there is pressure to create. Plus, less gear is really good news for my spine.
Two big set backs unfortunately. The first in the form of a diabolical coup from my Mamiya RZ, which decided to jam my film and there was not much for it but to lose my temper and have to man-handle it out and fog the film. Booo. But lesson learned (or so i say)
The second catastrophe took place in the Hollyrood Salvage Yard near Duddingston. Setting up our image surrounded by mountains of old furniture when i bent down to check the camera, i unassumingly sat right down on an old sticky-outy hinge. And it totally stabbed me in the butt! It went through my trousers, through my underwear, and into my butt. Eh..hello, chiropractor?
Don’t all faint at once.
The plan though, it must be said, is on track.