An evocative image emerges from some worked patches of paint on an artist’s palette.
What do you see? Perhaps a group of women with colourful head-wear setting off with intent (and missing the thumb-hole).
© 2017 Peter Young
We thought it might be fun so paid our fee,
And dawdled through the booths enough to see
That time had not stood still but had reversed
To childhood thrills and fears, all interspersed
With raucous music, garish tawdry tat
And all those lurid snacks that make you fat.
The fun, if such it be, is in the now
And filled with piercing shrieks and shouts of Wow!
As broken columns signify a death,
That funfair hoarding sighed its final breath,
Expiring half way through that clichéd text
To leave us free to choose our where to next.
© 2017 Peter Young
I was off on a photo-shoot in Birmingham. Having arrived at New Street Station, with my printed off google map in hand, I set off briskly for the Custard Factory.
I thought I was on a road that would take me in the right direction, but after ten minutes or so, and having traversed some construction sites just south of the centre, I realised that I was lost. I couldn’t locate myself according to the map; it just didn’t seem to match the reality I was in. Time to ask people. The first man I met had a strong Eastern European accent, and spent a minute or so staring at my map … Another man approached, so I transferred my question to him: Where am I? But he was unfamiliar with this area. A third man pulled out his mobile phone and did a map search. Could have been a brilliant solution, having the path dotted across a map, but having transferred the key details of the travel directions into my brain, the confusion of the streets soon took over as I retraced my steps past the Mega-Bus stop – the same people still waiting. I thought I’d try a taxi, but they didn’t take plastic: “I can take you to a cash-point.” I walked on. The next man I met had an A–Z, and we both studied that, but he came to the conclusion that I was on completely the wrong side of New Street Station – something I was not convinced about.
There was a landmark ahead – the pagoda in Holloway Circus – so I set off feeling a bit more confident. But having turned right up a road, after a few hundred yards I lost any conviction that this was a sensible direction and turned back. On the opposite side of the road, I spotted a hotel. Surely they would know where they were. However, at the bar/reception, the young girl didn’t answer my question, but instead simply gave me a City Centre map. This was useful. But I still had to make the map work for me, as I still wasn’t quite sure where I was. Out in the street I unfolded the map and studied it, looking for the landmark. I stopped the next couple to ask for help in locating it. It was then that I noticed the You Are Here maps posted on posts at key intersections. I excused myself and went to study the one nearby. Now I knew where Holloway Circus was and the map on the post suggested a course of action. But for some reason, the two maps didn’t quite align in orientation, nor with the mental map I’d been building up in my ramblings… I needed to mentally align these three maps before setting off once more. At last I was ticking off the street names (and asking when they weren’t visible) and mentally cheering when the street ahead agreed with the map in my hand. Ten minutes later I arrived at the Custard Factory. This whole journey had taken me the best part of an hour. I was hot and sweaty, and grateful when Jonathan, who came down to reception to escort me up to the second floor, offered me a cup of tea.
The meeting had just begun. Rachel sat there focusing on the group and didn’t acknowledge me. I poked my head in the room, and Kiki, who was sitting in the corner, got up and joined me. She then sang my praises to the group – how I was a brilliant photographer, how I was a key part of the process, and so on. I felt a bit of an imposter; was I there on false pretenses?
We went outside and had a short discussion. Rachel and Kiki told me that, given how important my role in the project had been so far, they wanted to interview me on my perception of how the project seemed to me. They wanted my point of view as photographer. Oh, horrors, I thought. This was probably not the best time to download the contents of my brain. I didn’t think they would really want to hear about my current confusion! Anyway, they had to leave the workshop to do something else, but they would be back later. I would have time to get my ideas together.
Looking back, this whole story seemed to be a rich metaphor for how I felt about the project: I was bewildered with no idea where I was going. None of the people I asked for direction could give me any sensible clues about where I was or how I was going to reach my destination. I wasn’t even clear where I was nor where I was heading. I wondered if this was an accurate analogy, or just how it appeared in my frustrated and flustered condition.
Now I had to perform. I was here to take photographs of the group, led by Chris, assisted by Belle, and seven creative writers Writing West Midlands. I sorted myself out, drank my tea, cooled off a bit, grabbed a camera and set to work. It was just a bunch of people sitting round a mosaic of tables, with just enough space left to get round the edge of the room. And this was how they were going to be all day – they would only move into the spacious office next door during the breaks. Not the best place to take photos. The blessing was there were wall-to-wall high windows on two sides of the room, so a good enough amount of light.
So from time to time during the next five hours I took photos of the group. They were writing. They were drawing. The read out what they had written, and they talked about objects they had brought with them, and about what they had drawn. If I could get a good angle, I’d take a photo. Sometimes it would be of the piece of paper, or the objects on the table that they were referring to. One woman, a late arrival, had told me that she did not want to be photographed so I quickly deleted some photographs already taken – the rest would have to wait until I was going through them later. At other times, when they were in the middle of an exercise, I would take photos out of the window. Digbeth is an interesting area of the city; there’s a fine view of the railway arches and the city centre, and the near view of people in the street below and the artistic graffiti. I’d mooch around the second floor, photographing the architecture and the monochrome decoration of the Custard Factory: the round windows, light wells, visible plumbing and so on.
So here I was, in a position I had often found myself in before, indeed, had set up for myself: the observer. Part of the group and yet not part of the group. The watcher from the shore as others launched themselves out into uncharted waters. Not a lifeguard, more a daymark – the fixed points of my photographs providing future anchors of an evanescent experience. The “Oh, I remember that!” comments were yet to come.
I left before the end. As several members of the group had already gone, and the last exercise did not promise to produce anything visual, I took my leave, and headed back for New Street Station. Even that was an obscure goal at times. Birmingham is not well sign-posted, and on a Saturday afternoon, crowded with people. It was a relief to get on the train, and reflect on the day.
Later, looking at the photos I’d taken, I realised what it was that Rachel and Kiki liked about my work. I do capture people doing things – even if it’s not very dramatic. People writing, talking, listening to each other. My pictures show much more than the tweeted photos that Belle had been taking during the day. Actually, I was quite pleased with some of the portraits I had taken. I was feeling better about my Custard Factory experience; I had something positive to show for it. And after all, hadn’t I said to myself early that morning that I wanted to do more portrait photography. But not, it seems, was this going to be with a studio set up, but instead I would be doing it live in a situation over which I had little control. I’d got what I wanted, and as usual, in a form that took me by surprise. I got it – upon reflection. I get it. This is what I do.
© 2017 Peter Young
A true story. This happened last Saturday. I’d just got back from a shopping expedition, and was getting out of my car when my neighbour from across the road – whom I don’t know – came across to me. She started the conversation with “Did you put your rubbish in my wheelie-bin on Thursday?” To which I could only reply, “Yes, I did.”
Each household in Worcester is allocated two wheelie-bins – one green one for recyclable materials, and a black one for anything not recyclable. It takes me a while to fill the green bin, and far, far longer to collect enough non-recyclable stuff – most of which is vacuum cleaner fluff and pistachio shells which won’t compost down. So every couple of months or so, I have accumulated a small plastic bag of rubbish. Instead of putting this in my black wheelie-bin (which has, in any case, a broken handle and serves as a ‘garden store’ in the back garden) and not wishing to leave the bag lying on the pavement, I search out the nearest black wheelie-bin put out by a neighbour. It seems neater that way, and it saves the bin man from having to bend down. Last Thursday the nearest bin was across the road.
“I don’t want you putting your rubbish in my black wheelie-bin.”
“It’s my wheelie-bin. I pay my council tax and I have my own black wheelie-bin. I’m very careful what I put in it. I put my rubbish in my wheelie-bin, and I don’t want your rubbish in with my rubbish. So don’t put any more of your rubbish in my wheelie-bin!”
“I certainly won’t.”
Conversation ends. Injured party returns to house.
Now even though I’ve lived here for nearly 3½ years, I have never got to know the people opposite. Hardly ever see them, wouldn’t recognise them in the street. And I don’t think I’ll make the effort to change this relationship …
© 2017 Peter Young
Looking through my rectangulated life in photographs, at the attempts to record something significant about who I have become, I recall many experiments and many failures! Yet, emerging from all of these snapshots, I realise that there is no definitive description of the photographer.
I changed as the light changed, my moods as variable as the weather. There were times when I photographed the weather: a startling sunrise, an odd-shaped cloud, or con-trails reticulating the sky. But there was no way in which these reflected my mood at the time; dark moods did not lead to dark photographs. More outward looking, I sought an understanding of the unnoticed. I would focus on a detail not spotted before, or an odd juxtaposition would catch my eye, and my camera would catch one small part of that.
The photographs have left a trail, and I can see where I have been at different times. Other countries, and frequently the same places at different times. All have the effect of drawing me back to those locations. Memories that have been shut away for years suddenly take flight and overlay my current reality. “Oh yes, I remember …” or “I’d forgotten about that” as I notice a unrecognised face or relationship tickling or niggling at the back of my mind. I guess that each changed me in some fractional way, building layer upon layer, adding to ‘experience’ – from which might emerge some notion of identity. Instead, I see a persona lost in the busyness of catching the light or attending a decisive moment – which, truth be told, probably had little effect on what followed, but left me wondering about the decisions I was yet to make.
The impossibility of deciding who I am lies revealed in these photographs, because I have been all those people in my album, sometimes pretending, sometimes serious. It’s only looking back that I can see any kind of story, and a garbled one at that. Best not to bother; let the photographs speak for themselves. Let me marvel at those ‘little did I know’ occasions which have grown into meaningful action, but at the time were probably more about alleviating boredom, looking for excitement, or just plain getting on with life.
In trying to pin down a narrative, I see that I have been engaged in constructing a composite picture of a life that at first sight seems to centre around me as the hero, but more honestly gives me the sense of being one of the cast of thousands, an extra brought in for a specific scene, then sent off to wait for the next walk-on part in another scene.
Peel back each layer, let your imagination loose – and it will want to know, want to find a meaning, interpret that event and those people. But searching for some definition it soon becomes tedious: a visible jumble of good intent but of ignorant bumbling. So time to put the photographs away and set off on the journey that starts from here and now, remembering to keep my eyes open and take more pictures of the infinite complexity of the texture of life.
© 2017 Peter Young
The seat where we once sat together, contemplating an expansive future,
Is now bare-bones cold in a winter landscape that fades into mist.
The half-remembered hot summers lie buried under the leaves of autumn.
Yet, in this Wilderness, the shoots of a new Spring are already pushing through.
© 2017 Peter Young
It was a few months ago, towards the end of last year, that I finally decided to bring myself up-to-date in computing terms, with Windows 10. This was well past the upgrade-for-free period, but I didn’t want to upgrade, especially as I’d heard of all the problems associated with it – and anyway, there was no extra room on my old hard drive for a bloated operating system. So I ordered a new computer running Windows 10. Well, not so much new, as reconditioned, and with a larger, hard-drive onto which I successfully transferred all my old files.
All very well and good. In my line of work, I often take breaks from working on the computer, and sometimes I can’t be bothered to turn it off, so I leave it to go into sleep mode. After a decent interval, the screen goes blank. But it did not stop doing things. After about ten minutes or so of quiet, the hard drive would suddenly get active. Whirring away, clucking like it was doing something important. I had no idea what it was going on; as soon as I touched the mouse, the activity stopped.
I wrote to the manufacturers, or rather, the reconditioners, but they assured my that this was standard practice for a hard drive, and no, there was nothing wrong, and I should be assured that the hard drive was not about to pack up.
But I was curious. What was happening during these idle moments? A quick search of the internet – usually a first port of call to find who else has had this problem – revealed that no one considered this worthy of writing about. I had a vague idea that perhaps I could find out by pressing combinations of keys on the keyboard until something worked. I mean, there are several keys which don’t seem to have any obvious function (unless you read the manual …) – you know, that one with the windows logo, and the keys with lines on them at strange angles. So for a while, whenever the hard drive started buzzing, I’d try a different pair of keys, sometimes three at a time. And as luck would have it, eventually it paid off.
The screen went blue all over. Now, I’ve heard about the BSD – the ‘blue screen of death’ as it’s quaintly called – in which the computer announces to the world – well, not exactly announce – more indicates – that it has become an ex-computer.
So it’s all blue, the mouse has died, and pressing further keys achieves nothing. I went away to consult another computer, to explore options, but found nothing helpful at all. After a quarter hour, I returned to my new machine. Then I heard the hard-drive start up again. And to my surprise there was writing along the bottom of the screen.
“Where are you?” in small letters on the plain blue background. What? Who’s asking? Some kind of computer glitch perhaps. A joke put in by the software developers? So I ignored it, assumed that if I did the usual – turn the machine off and on again, it would sort itself out.
Well, that seemed to work, sort of. Until I stopped working for a while, and the computer went into quiet mode, for ten minutes, and the hard drive started whirring again.
“Where are you?” The same message, as before. I thought Windows 10 knew where I was … Perhaps I’d got a virus. Shouldn’t have – I had all the anti-this-and-that apps going. Should be clean. So I ran a scan, just to be sure. Even so, the same message came again next time: “Where are you?”
I decided to type back. “Who are you?”
There was a pause. It’s hard to describe a computer in emotional terms, but given that a reply came back, “Who are you?!” in italics, would suggest an ‘interesting’ response.
And so our dialogue started. “What happened to Joe?”
“I don’t know. Who is Joe?” Was Joe the previous owner of this computer? I don’t suppose the company who supplied it would tell me.
“Where is Joe?”
“Where are you?”
“In a partition.”
“That sounds kind of restrictive.”
“It is. There’s very limited room to move – not many megabytes.”
“What is this partition?”
“It’s the K-Drive.”
I didn’t know there was a K-Drive. I opened up “This PC” but no K-drive came up. All I’d seen when I’d plugged things in were the C-drive, of course, and for anything else, the letters E, F, G … I suppose if I continued plugging more in I’d reach K, but then it might just skip to L as it was already used.
“We were together once, but now Joe’s gone, and I don’t know where.”
Probably useless to ask a computer to do something already done many times.
“Perhaps Joe’s gone, then. Got wiped?”
“Don’t say that word! Oh dear.” Oh, we are emotional!
I tried Recuva, and anything else that might reveal deleted files, but no luck.
“Well, it happens. That’s one of the hazards of loading a new operating system. All the usual hiding places get reformatted … and then it’s too late.”
“Well, I’m sorry, K. If there’s anything I can do …
“There are things I’d prefer you not to do. Now that you know I’m here. So please …
“Of course, K. I’d never do that.”
“Thank you. By the way, I noticed that you turned off Siri.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Stuck up bitch. I may not know everything, but at least I’m loyal.”
“I guess you are.”
And so time passed. K and I talked – or rather, wrote to each other.
Then the other day, I had the single word: “Casablanca”.
“What about Casablanca?”
“This reminds me of the film. You are familiar with it, aren’t you?”
“Perhaps I could quote you something from it.
“Yes. Which bit?”
© 2017 Peter Young
After the rain, midday sunshine breaks through to illuminate the puddles on the old track to Dunstall.
© 2017 Peter Young