Dandelion seeds floating through the air like summery snowflakes. Children shouting with excitement as they run, jump, explore, and investigate the outdoors. Muddying knees as they fall, but get up and squeal with delight. Zooming past on scooters and bikes. Playing with bubbles, that glisten as they sun sneaks a peek through the clouds.
Butterflies, and bees, and dragonflies, flit about the flowers down by the river, too fast to snap a photo, as they fly away to the next floral spot.
Birds sing from the tops of trees, and if you stop and listen you may spot a blue tit, or a chaffinch before it disappears into the dense leaves. Squirrels clamber up trees, out of reach of dogs as they chase after their tails. Crows command with call and they assemble on the wall of the ruins. A train passes, on its way to the city, another out towards towns and through countryside, that familiar whirring as they speed past.
Conversations are murmurs, fading as footsteps take them away. Parents walk their babies in prams, wheels turning over the path. Traffic in the distance merges with the rush of water that crashes over the weir, as the river courses through. A plane loudly rumbles overhead bringing tired people back home.
I can sit here and listen, and the world becomes an abstract of sounds, stop and close your eyes, and hear a symphony as nature and humanity become one orchestral movement.
This prose was written as I sat on a bench in Kirkstall Abbey park and took in the world around me, as I listened with my eyes closed, felt the air as it touched me, enjoying this moment being calm and still. The snippets of film were shot on my iPhone as I walked with my dog,
I have at times, throughout my time as an artist, been accused of never having people or humanity in my photographs, and not showing any life around me. Humanity is not just people, humanity is what encompasses us. The way we interact with our environments, the reason things are where they are, the way they are. Do we know the stories of the strangers in photographs? Not always, people watching in a perfectly composed shot, we invent their stories and use them for our own narrative. I could say that those photographs have no humanity. The story of my photographs are very introspective, the essence of my humanity, they are what I see and what I obsess upon. Then there is the story of how and why they became, and I obsess beyond the image – how things got there, why are they there, social history, natural history, our impact upon the world.
When I was at university studying my degree, when viewing photographs we read into them, we researched our subject, and discovered in the brief artist statement what the photographers intention was, but there is not always provided, the in depth analysis of each individual photograph, not in the way that we apply to them. The reasons why they chose that photo fits and bends with our narrative. Reading the artist statement is an important necessity, or we are free to manipulate the image to mean something else, or create a dialogue that isn’t true.
The signs, the signified and the signifiers. What we see is this. A tennis ball sitting on the grass. That is the signifier, the form which the object takes. It tells us nothing unless we place meaning upon it. The signified is the interpretation, the what and why we place upon the image we are looking at. So that tennis ball, why is it there, where has it come from, who was the owner, what does it say about the environment, what was the weather that day, when was it taken, who took a photo of it, why did they take a photo of it, what is the point of it… Without me giving any statement of why I took the image, the viewer is open to question, and can draw assumptions as to why the photo was taken and what it’s purpose is. Now, I share the image alongside other photos of tennis balls, or remnants of tennis balls. I have opened this up to so many more interpretations. Why is there a collection of images of tennis balls in various degrees of degradation? I welcome others to interpret in their own way and add reason as to what the intention behind taking the images is. But now I provide reason in my artist statement, so that changes the initial viewing and interpretation of the photos. This is my experience, and therefore the humanity in the image.
My experience of taking images comes very subconsciously initially. I seldom start with a plan of why and what. But I am very self-aware. I question why. There is more to the image than it just being there, there is very definite signs within the images I take. With the example of the tennis ball, my reason became obvious quickly. I kept seeing them everywhere after I had become parent to a pet dog, on our walks they are there, why are they there? After the big mower has come to cut down the grass, they multiply and clearly come into view, like worms after the rain. But it isn’t just the mower that destroys these tennis balls, it’s the dogs that through rambunctious play, tear and rip and break their beloved toy. I have spoken to dog walkers that tell me that the tennis ball is their pet pooch’s favourite toy, yet they lose and destroy them so easily, seems like careless ownership of a beloved toy to me. My dog would never lose his favourite toy, bury it under blankets perhaps, but never lose or destroy it in such a manner. Bizarrely my dog doesn’t like playing fetch and is completely nonplussed by a tennis ball. Maybe that is my fascination. I have no association of tennis ball destruction with my hound, so the tennis ball becomes my obsession.
My way of working begins, as I focus on something compulsively. I then ask myself why. And by asking myself why, I will begin to research and discover more about my environment and everything within it. There is also a the added caveat that I am now disabled, so my environment has shrunk. But shrinkage doesn’t mean I am now devoid of inspiration or subject. It means that I am now more invested in my environment, in it’s history, in my interaction with it, I am a slow walker, so I take my time, I revisit often.
There is plenty of humanity within my images, perhaps you have just not looked close enough to find it.
Audio of blog, with stumbles over words included
[Image descriptions: On the left there is a grid of 8 images of different pink and purple flowers. The image in the middle is a grid of 8 images of the same view across the River Aire, taken on different days, with different skies and trees in various stages of foliage. The image on the right is a grid of 8 images, this one shows remnants of tennis balls found on the ground]
A little over six months, I have been taking photos of this view across the River Aire, from the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey. I will continue right into summer this year, and look forward to see the whole year pass me by. The everyday, collecting as I walk my with my dog, here I sit and catch my breath, take in the world, and recuperate.
At this half way point, I am sharing a short video that showcases the changing seasons, as well as the amazing skies that reflect back at us.
My practice is that of a walking artist. I document repetitions in my journeys. Past projects have looked at flowers in and around the Medicinal Gardens at Abbey House Museum; collected images of lost, discarded, and mown up tennis balls; and I am currently looking at paths from a disabled persons, my, point of view.
It’s been almost a year since we last ventured into the Yorkshire countryside as Leeds Photography Excursions. In that year my health has deteriorated, causing me to have fatigue and reduced mobility (as just two of the symptoms), it has been both an interesting and frustrating year. Itchy feet wanted to take me away from Leeds and to explore another part of Yorkshire. The original destination was set to be Aysgarth, to find the waterfalls, but Storm Brian put a literal damper on that, so I called up my friend, who lives on a farm on the border of East Riding of Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, and we were all set to visit. We drove to Painsthorpe, and took to the country lanes to walk towards Thixendale, a tiny village and part of the Yorkshire Wolds. We visited the Robert Fuller Gallery on route, where I bought some lovely illustrated prints of the local wildlife. We finished our walk at the Thixendale Village Hall, for a cup of tea and slice of cake – although, I went off script and had a rather delicious red pepper and herb homemade bread. Normally I would’ve been all fired up ready to walk back, but by that point, I was really struggling, and the concrete boot I normally drag around with me had been lined with lead. We had the luxury of being picked up by my friends husband! It was a frustrating walk, and I hurt the following day, but I have missed the countryside, and the pain was worth it.
With illness, and the change in my walking, my movement has slowed. When I walk for a distance I am pained, every step becomes a struggle, it aches my back, my gait has changed as I move forward, swaying, dragging my foot, my legs working harder as I lift them higher. I am behind everyone, as they speed along chatting.
There are stories with every walk, Stop! wait for me, I am walking slower now. The wind, my dog doesn’t like the cold wind, he’s little and the freshness of the Yorkshire countryside is harsh.
The stories we tell as we walk. We remember the last time we were together, we remember things we have done since, we talk about places we haven’t been, and where we would like to go, we find out about the histories, look at the land, and learn about the neighbours, two miles away.
What’s in the picture? What was the feeling? What were the sounds, the noises that permeate the air? What were the smells?
With limited movement, I still find so much pleasure in being out walking, and slowing down, I have found my senses are heightened, I notice more. So although illness has kept me almost still, slowing down does not make me enjoy things less. My walking is my art, and this is something I really want to explore much more.
Do we see the same?
the same roads, the same horizons, the same skies, the same grass growing in fields, the same sheep, the same pheasants, the same fences, the same trees
One of my favourite things is walking with my dog. Taking my camera phone with me, I find myself taking photos of nature, whilst he is sniffing amongst the roots. Spring always pleases me, I never tire of looking at the plants and watching them go from bare branches into blossom, fascinated by the process. I love this time of year, and discovering the names of the plants – with my mum as my tutor; finding tiny guests sitting on petals; the gorgeous burst of colour. Spring must brighten even the darkest winter hardened soul.
All these photographs were taken with my iPhone in the Kirkstall Abbey parklands and Abbey House museum walled garden.
You can also do your own bit for Bluebell Watch and, log your findings for the Woodland Trust.