I have lived close to the Wandle Trail for some time now and heard all sorts of lovely things about it being a super place to ride your bike, but until this afternoon we had never done so for some reason. What a shame it has taken me so long to get it together. Even today, as we set off on our bikes, I was a little unsure how to get to where we needed to be, but after a couple of wrong turns, we found a route about two minutes from where I live onto the banks of the Wandle. And everyone was absolutely right. What an amazing bike trail to have access to in the middle of London. We ended up riding to Dean City Farm which we have visited lots of times over the years but always by car. My youngest son said, “Wow! We rode all the way to the farm and we’re not even tired!”. My middle son was only disgruntled by the absence of his favourite drink in the enormous supermarket which he ducked into on the way there. “Disgraceful!” he grumbled. Where do they get these sayings from?
Here are a few images from our afternoon. I think I could certainly return many times and take lots of pictures along the route. The mix of nature and variously-sized signs of industry along the river’s bank, as well as a long history of documentation, is potentially really interesting. The picture with the lace curtain is for my mum who loves and collects owls. (We’re a bit sad the owl at Dean City Farm is moving soon).
Next time, I might be able to write about a seminar I photographed recently which promoted inclusion and diversity in the workplace. I was very impressed with the way the seminar was handled, especially when comparing the industry in question to my own. Until then, happy weekend everyone.
Running around, trying to fit everything in, spinning a lot of plates precariously while I do, like most of us nowadays, it’s easy to forget about updating my website. But doing so is important, and not just because it increases traffic to your site which is always a good thing. I think an online presence which gets ignored can start to have the same feel as a dusty, bleached-out shopfront on the high street. Luckily I recently photographed a seminar run by interior designers, Salvesen Graham in Wandsworth Town. Of course, their shop looks absolutely beautiful, which obviously makes a big difference when taking pictures. I’d be crazy not to take advantage of their skills and show off some of the lovely shots I managed to capture in-between talks. See some examples below, and the page I’ve added images by clicking here.
For corporate portraits, event and lifestyle photography which is suitable for blogs and web-use get in touch for a chat or visit my site for further information.
Quite a few people have recently asked me when I am going to offer phone photography sessions again, having done so in the past. I’m a big believer in the phone camera. Image quality is getting better with each new product launch and since most of us use them regularly to take pictures for social media and sharing snaps with friends and family, why not learn some basics? There are some really simple things you can do to make sure your phone pictures look good, and since I think photography is for everyone I want to share some of that with you. Sending a photograph is a wonderful way to communicate a feeling, an experience, say hi, or just remind someone you’re thinking about them. And for those of you with a bit, or a lot, of artistic flair, there are so many apps nowadays which allow you to have fun, play and create mini-masterpieces of your very own. Come and find out more!
I’m offering a series of sessions for adults and separate dates for children over the summer months starting with one on Friday 20th April at 6pm for grown-ups, meeting at a venue in Wandsworth, SW18 which will be confirmed via email after booking. The sun will be setting at about 8pm by that time of year so we’ll have some lovely light to work with.
Sessions cost £18 per adult and will last roughly an hour and a half.
Please get in touch via email at email@example.com or message me on Facebook. You can also give me a call on 07581694934. Numbers will be limited so don’t leave it too late to book.
I’ll release a date for a session geared towards younger people very soon.
I have also been taking bookings for one-to-one sessions for people with DSLR’s who want to get to get to grips with some basic photography tips, so if that’s more your thing do get in touch for further information.
Here are a handful of images I’ve taken of or with my kids on my phone in recent years.
For those of you in the SW18 area, or if this corner of London is easy enough to get to, do pop into one of my local pubs run by friend and businessman, Brendan Conway. Pictures from my project documenting the Grosvenor Arms’ refurbishment, along with a handful of images I took while covering events in the pub will be on display for the duration of half term and for a short time afterwards. The exhibition was part of a first year anniversary celebration held in the Grosvenor on Thursday evening; a successful evening attended by locals and supporters of the venture and the work.
Here is a short extract from the accompanying text that supports the images. The full text can be read in the pub or on the Grosvenor’s Facebook page.
“Brendan, who looks to the past when he narrates the touching memory he has about his father and the local pub, quotes social scientist, Gregory Bateson in his written work; “Stories are the royal road to the study of relationships. What is important in a story, what is true in it, is not the plot, the things or the people in the story, but the relationships in them.” (1972)
These images document social relations that are integral to here, this place and to now. They acknowledge multiple layers of past and make it welcome not only in the present, but in our imagined futures too.” (Field, 2017)
I’d like to say a very public thank you to the people who allowed me to photograph them, to Brendan Conway and his wife Rowan who have been extraordinary supporters of me and my work and to everyone in the community who have demonstrated their enthusiasm and continued backing. Following the exhibition, images will be be given to the people in the pictures.
Last night I met up with a group of 10-12 year olds to share some fun tips about using their phones or tablets to take and edit photographs. It was a bit of a windy, grey evening weather-wise, but even though we all had horribly cold hands by the end of it, I definitely enjoyed myself and hope the others did too. I’ve alway liked that age group. Years ago when I used to teach drama to children and young people (adults too, in fact) I remember acknowledging that I really enjoyed spending time with preteens. They’re not quite grown up yet, so mostly are still imbued with a happy childishness, however, they are without any doubt fully fledged human-beings by then. Because in actual fact, the very young ones just aren’t. Nope, not at all. I realised this fact about some four and five year olds when I offered to do an after school drama club with my oldest son’s class when he was in reception. It was then that my respect and admiration for anyone working with that particular age group soared. I tried desperately to keep those rowdy miniature hooligans in control, failed utterly, and eventually gave up, blaming my son’s obvious jealousy and discomfort over sharing his mum with 18 other children. (I’ll always be grateful to the mums who stayed behind and helped with toilet breaks and upsets). But I realised too that the uncontrollable chimp-like lunacy of those small people was not for me. Teachers who can manage it, for there are those that are brilliant at it, deserve our utmost admiration and thanks.
Last night’s workshop made me aware of some important facts as far as sharing information and knowledge goes. Perhaps a really important point was made when a lovely girl I’ve known since she was born told me she couldn’t work out whether she wanted to make her photographs look very natural and realistic, or ‘weird’. Heh, I said, join the club! I still can’t work that one out myself and keep playing with a variety choices, and maybe will forever. Just play, I advised, and maybe you’ll reach a decision or maybe you won’t. Don’t worry about it for now, though. One day, if you’re photographing for a specific reason then you can make choices based on what is required, for instance it might not be appropriate to have a ‘weird’ image illustrating something in a text book. Saying that, I recently read that if you want to make lots of money then settle on a style but if you want to explore and discover, don’t limit yourself. I think it was a great photographer called Alec Soth who said that. Do look him up if you don’t know him and are interested in photography – he’s terrific.
I’m sharing a picture here which I’ve already shared on Instagram, one which has had lots of positive feedback, although I’m torn about it. I love the mood but in the same vein as my friend’s daughter who questioned her aesthetic choices last night, I never know whether I’m entirely happy using affects and apps, or if I’ve gone too far, or if I should simply accept that those choices faithfully express something I’m playing with right now. I think I should take my own advice and stop worrying about it – although I think I am probably expected to have more than an inkling about why I make certain decisions, especially in my studies. Whatever else is true, and perhaps down to being little bit ‘naughty’, for now I think I’ll continue to approach my own work by just playing and discovering for as long as I can, and trying not to worry too much.
As we had so much fun last night, I am going to offer an ongoing phone photography club aimed at kids aged 10-13 years old. We’ll meet once a month and just hang out taking pictures and sharing them like we did last night, and generally talk about how we think we can improve our skills. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me via social media with your email address and I’ll keep you informed with updates. I may well offer a different club to a slightly younger group, 8-9 years olds, because in the end a few little monkeys can be fun and they’re certainly very close to being human beings by then, but that group will be limited to a relatively small number. Again, let me know if this interests you. Keep a look out on Twitter and FB for dates regarding both. And I’ve got a couple of places left on the adult workshop/photo walk in the 17th, so get in touch about that if you fancy it.
Enjoy the rest of half term for those of you still on it. My font room seems to have been turned permanently into a den made out of blankets and duvets. And I’m fine with that, really. Honest. No,no, no… I am!
If you’re just after photographs, please scroll down to the bottom of the page. Otherwise….
When I agreed with Nic Brown, editor of the local edition of family magazine, Raring2Go, to head out with her to the newly opened GoApe in Battersea Park, it didn’t really register that I had in fact agreed to climb to the tops of some incredibly tall trees, hang from ropes and then go careering through the sky. I wonder, if those facts had actually registered in my mind, I’d have been so eager. The thing is, just a few years ago I was too frightened to walk across a very high bridge I know well, never mind leap off tiny platforms, harnessed admittedly but still… When I say I was too frightened, what I mean is I was really bloody petrified – stuck, still and immovable about the whole tall bridge thing. But apparently, it’s all changed now.
“Sure”, I said, “I’d love to go along to that”. I wasn’t even nervous. In fact, weirdly, I had sort of forgotten that I was once so scared of heights. So, off we drove this morning. And I have to say, even as we filled in forms and read through warnings that began with the sentence, “You are about to embark on a high risk activity….” I still didn’t think anything at all about my previous terror.
The five minute ‘training’ didn’t faze me, and the first couple of stages didn’t either. It was only as I found myself having to climb up a narrow but steep, netted in – thankfully, tunnel that I had any hint of fear. Hang on a minute, I thought, wasn’t I afraid of heights at some point? Oh yeah…. anyway, I was really pleased because even though I found I was suddenly consciously aware of those past feelings, it still wasn’t bothering me. Much. Cool, I thought!
What was quite tricky, I must admit, was taking photographs. We were high up, so even though I was enjoying myself, and not in the same sort of state I certainly would have been in several years ago, it was still fairly nerve wracking at moments, and the rain didn’t help either. I managed to get some nice shots of Nic making her way across the wobbly roped bridges, but of course I always had to be very careful not to step too close to the really rather small platforms in-between each crossing as well as making sure I wasn’t holding people up, so there were things other than taking photographs to think about.
But the thing with the way GoApe is designed, is that it gets more and more challenging as you progress, and so a little scarier too as you get higher. I’m saying I wasn’t as nervous as I once might have been, which is true, but I did swear pretty much every few minutes, so I guess I was finding it somewhat terrifying in-between feeling fine about it. OK, I’m sort of playing it down; it was getting more and more ‘yikes’ as we went. And then the bars you could hold on to were no longer available. And as we made one crossing, all I could say in disbelief was, “It’s just a pole!, It’s just a pole! It’s just a pole!’
Then we came to the zip wire. Oh my god! Was I really going to let myself fly down that? Apparently I was – but only after some very nice friendly people told me that of course I could do it. And guess what it was the most fun ever. I loved it and was rather sad we’d come to the end. But, brilliant news… We were told we could go up the next level of difficulty and go on another zip wire too – whoo hoo! – not, however, before someone working there asked, “Was that you screaming all the way down the zip wire?” Uuuh, yup, that was indeed me.
So off we went again. A bit harder this time. Oh, hang on, a lot harder this time. More precarious seeming, higher and more wobbly all round. I wasn’t keen on the wobbly bits at all. But apparently I wasn’t doing it quite right, which I found out a bit later when someone told me how to get a better balance by holding on to the ropes properly, rather than clinging ignominiously to the wires. Turns out it really feels better when you hold on to the correct ropes. Note to everyone: maybe, just maybe it’s best to pay attention to the training rather than try to get great shots of the person doing the training… although who knows, perhaps they didn’t tell us about the balance thing; I wasn’t listening, obviously.
There was some more wobbly bits and a roped wall to cling to which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
And then came the second zip wire. Which was good, right? Because I loved the first one. But suddenly I had one of those ‘what if’ moments. And that’s the worst thing to have happened because somehow I didn’t quite make it all the way across, and I’m sure the ‘what if’ thought was responsible, although of course it could have been that I am just so terribly waif-like that I wasn’t quite heavy enough for gravity to do its thing and ensure I made it. Er, hang on, am I really that waif-like? Well, no, actually. I mean, I’m not large but I’m not a tiny wispy thing either. Nope – I’m not even remotely a waif.
So who knows? It was probably the ‘what if’ moment that threw me off course a bit. Anyway, my harness, with me in it, slid back to the middle after failing to make it all the way over, and there I was hanging goodness knows how many feet above the ground quite stuck. I looked down at the ground feeling suddenly sick with fear and a very sweet looking man putting rubbish out the back of the cafe below smiled at me. Or did he smirk. Who knows? I was fucking terrified! “Hello??” I called; horrible, hideous, terrifying thoughts racing through my mind, adrenalin pricking my cheeks. “Hi,” said a voice from below, “what’s your name?” I told him and he then explained he was going to give me an extra wire to grab onto. “Ok!” No one looked terribly panicked. Well, no one expect me that is. I felt really panicked. I kinda wanted to burst into tears. In fact, it was pretty bloody terrifying actually. At the time.
But of course, I grabbed the wire, pulled myself over to the next platform and then stood very quietly by a steady and sturdy tree and tried to gather myself. “Do you want to carry on?” “No!” I replied, “not really”, the thought of any more hanging mid air really too much just at that moment. “You’re nearly there,” said the kind voice. “Ok,” I reluctantly agreed. But I took my time. Staying very still and letting the fear subside. And suddenly as I stood there, everything became really clear and focused in my mind.
Shit, I thought. You have to face your fears. You have to do some weird and crazy stuff, like climbing up trees and flying down wires. You can’t just sit at your desk the whole time. Or hide under your duvet, which obviously was for many years my default position. But you can’t, especially if you’re going to take any decent photographs. Because let’s face it, any monkey can learn how to press a button on a camera. But if you want to do more than that, you have to take risks and put yourself in scary situations and push the boundaries of what you’re doing. Again and again. And for some of us, well for me, things can seem scary until they’ve been done – and I realise they weren’t that scary after all. Or even if they were, I still managed to get through it and do something positive.
When I first went out to take photographs of actors for free in order to get some experience and build a portfolio, I was shitting myself. And then when I set up and published my website, I was so frightened of what the world might say, I can’t tell you. And then when I went to do some corporate jobs when I still felt I had really no idea what I was doing (I did though, actually, just less than I know now), I was so bloody scared, I nearly burst into tears on the way.
I have to say, one of the reasons I feel I was able to put myself in any of those situations, despite my innate desire to climb under the duvet, is because after having found myself lying a pool of snot and grief on the floor three years ago, following the break up of my marriage, which was perhaps the scariest thing I have ever been through by far, I realised I can pretty much face most things. Suffice to say, it has been a catalyst for all sorts of pretty challenging changes. And definitely for the good too, I’m sure.
I must tell you though, that I still get nervous, but only because I really want to do a good job; and thankfully, no longer to the point where I can barely move, or where I spend more energy trying to quell the terror than I spend on just getting the job done. The more you get out there and do it, the easier it becomes. But the challenges you set yourself get harder, just like the levels at GoApe do. There are barriers inside me that I have to overcome and always will be. And maybe I’ll get stuck now and again but thankfully, there are people like the man who handed me the wire to help. Phew! So, on I went and when I reached the last zip wire I made the people there promise me I’d be able to get across without getting stuck again and guess what, I did!
In the end I had a fantastic time. It was so much fun and despite the slightly terrifying moment dangling from a wire between two trees in the middle of the air, I am absolutely pleased to bits I didn’t remember how bloody shit scared I used to be of heights and went along. Thanks so much to Nic from Raring2Go for the invite! My muscles are really sore so I know I got some exercise. And all in all, it feels like a very good thing that I’m off for a drink with my friends now – I think I deserve it. Here are some pics from the morning. Stay well, SJ
“You’re obsessed!”, Son No. 1 accuses me. He can talk! During the last decade I have had to endure his obsessive interests in planes, trains, Dr. Who, Lego, trains again and finally back to planes. He must be one of very few 11 year olds who knows so much about international airline liveries, who has strong and passionate opinions on the efficacy of airline corporate colours, lettering shapes and flag placement; and who regularly designs, in his opinion, improved versions of well-known airline logos.
“I’m not obsessed”, I reply. I’m just lost without it. I’m referring of course to Orange is the New Black, an award-winning American prison based drama produced by Netflix and originated by Piper Kerman who was, like the main character, indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. I watched all three series in a matter of ten days and now that I’ve finished gorging on it I don’t quite know what to do with the time I’m allowing myself to have for such activities. I say ‘allowing myself’ because for the last three years or so I’ve watched very little TV and have instead filled my free time with work, study and more work.
“You are, you’re obsessed with prison!” Son No 1 insists. Aaaah! He’s not referring to the Netflix programme but to my current interest in all things prison related, including of course, the drama. Perhaps ignoring them all, and by ‘all’ I mean the feral small ones in my charge, while I watched my new prison friends dressed in beige (yes, beige, not orange at all except for their initial few days in penitentiary – I guess Beige is the New Black is not as catchy…) and then announcing that I would be taking my lovely family to a summer fair at the local prison is what’s informing Son No 1’s diagnosis about my state of mind.
The truth is I have long been fascinated by the idea of prison and Wandsworth Prison, or thoughts of it, in particular have featured on my internal landscape for years.
My first home in London was a rented room in an artist’s flat in Southfields. I loved my landlady who was the only person advertising ‘no deposit required’ when I was looking for somewhere to live that wasn’t my friend’s floor in Kilburn. A friend whom at the time was heading for a relationship breakdown, so the floor in her flat was even more uncomfortable than it might have been and I don’t suppose my presence on her carpet was terribly helpful for her either, or the soon-to-be-dumped boyfriend.
In my new flat I had a bed which meant sleeping several inches above the floor for the first time in a while and a lovely landlady whose relationship was stable and blossoming. I felt I had truly arrived and my adventures in London could begin. I say adventures but those first couple of months felt anything but adventurous. Instead bewildering, lonely, or frightening depending on my mood and events or more accurately even, lack of events – at least to start with anyway. However, intriguingly I had a neighbour whom I was told spent much of his time in Wandsworth Prison whilst his wife and children got on with their own lives.
One day said neighbour came home. Soon I heard a man’s voice through the thin walls of that ex-council flat from next door, which at first seemed fine. Until the night I heard him beating up his wife. The sound of his fists landing on his wife’s body and face was the most sickening thing I had ever heard and I lay awake, feeling petrified and horrified but frozen, not knowing what to do. My landlady had heard it as well I discovered the next day. She too did nothing. (Many years later I read a book by an ex-probation officer called Living with the Dominator which looks at domestic abuse. Craven seems to have been a remarkable woman who worked with offenders caught up in a pattern of abuse towards their partners. She devised the Freedom Programme, a project aimed at educating, recognising and changing abusive behaviours. I hate that I didn’t do anything that night and have no idea how I’d handle things differently now, but what I can do is recommend that book to anyone who feels they might be, or know someone who might be, involved with domestic abuse in any way whatsoever. It’s a very powerful book which looks at overt and covert misogynistic trends in our society and clearly describes the sort of behaviours partners and women in particular should expect from spouses and boyfriends. There are some useful numbers to call on this link if anyone has concerns in this area.)
I didn’t hear the sound again. Instead a few days later what we heard was the sound of people banging on our door and running down the corridors. Suddenly one morning before we’d eaten breakfast there were detectives making their way through our flat and on to our balcony. I looked out the window and a long line of police in riot gear stood quietly in front of our building apparently waiting for my neighbour to appear.
After 20 minutes or so we saw the neighbour being led away to a waiting van, hands cuffed behind his back, his head pushed downwards by a plain clothed detective. I remember having such strong and palpable sensations as I watched that man who had presumably caused terror and also physical pain in his wife; and sensations such as fear, revulsion and of course shame in me for not intervening when he had hit her. This man who had warranted what looked like the entire South London police force to turn up on our Wandsworth Council estate now had all his size and force reduced. The sense of dread had dissipated and been replaced with something entirely different. He looked tiny, helpless, genuinely pathetic. I can’t find the words to describe how seeing that utter loss of liberty in a human being felt. It was sickening and devastating. Even though I was of course relieved to see him taken away. We heard he had been returned to Wandsworth Prison.
A couple of rented rooms and years later, I ended up living very near to the prison, although I have no idea if my old neighbour was still there. Actually, I almost left the borough of Wandsworth as a friend and I rented a flat in Peckham, only to be told when we arrived in SE London accompanied by a van stuffed with our belongings that the flat was not habitable. After a week of sleeping on yet another floor, this time in a house ‘lent’ to us by the estate agents which had been bought by a family who were still living abroad and so had not been able to pick up the keys, we landed back in Wandsworth. That was a stressful few days and there were times, especially when faced with the threat of not having our deposit returned, that I hoped the estate agents would be sent to prison.
Thanks to colleagues and friends we found a clean and light filled flat that was more than habitable in a tower block, overlooking Wandsworth Common and Wandsworth Prison, and where I would spend the next 10 years. Although, to begin with I have to say, I was horrified by the height – we were 7 floors up, and the entire estate was filled with what I perceived then as a deathly silence. In fact, I was convinced everyone who lived there must be dying and that I too would die there either by accidentally jumping out the building or just because I’d catch the sense of ‘deathliness’ I was convinced I sensed all around me. Mmmmm – it was a tricky time in the head of SJF.
What actually happened was that I grew to love the height, made friends with some of the people, old and young, and ended up moving from one flat to another across the corridor because I loved being there so much. And I especially appreciated the peaceful quietness of the estate.
It became my home. I found a life long friend there, lost her briefly when Mr. X moved in, got pregnant, lost a baby, got pregnant again, lost Mr. X briefly, then married him and got pregnant again. I grew up there.
And the prison was a constant presence just across the road. Where other people went through similar life journeys, only living inside that 150-year-old building.
The point for me is that the prison is part of Wandsworth. Real lives are lived in there – both staff and inmates. The building and the people inside are part of our community.
About a year or so ago I noticed some of my local friends posting photographs of themselves breeding pigs on Facebook. What I hadn’t really taken on board was that my city slicker friends were part of a small farming co-operative that was based on prison land and which had been instigated by a local reverend. I have since discovered that the Paradise Co-operative is a fascinating project with various long-term plans that connects the prison and its land to the community. And that interests me enormously. Modern communities and how they function have become one of my big interests over the years and Wandsworth community in particular, since it is where I live and have done since 1997 (despite attempts to leave), which is by far the longest I’ve ever been anywhere.
So, Son. No 1, I may seem a little obsessed with all things prison-related right now as I look at other photographers’ relevant work, watch dramas based in prison, and read pertinent articles and books around the subject. But I think I must have picked this quality up from you – having learnt about real obsessiveness by watching you devour Thomas the Tank Engine etc and all the rest of it over the years. Is that the way it works? Or does he get it from me… either way, all three sons had a great time at the Paradise Co-operative Summer Fair which was my introduction to a project that I hope to document as it continues to evolve.
The land, just across the road from the main building, had been transformed. It was kind of magical entering through coloured bunting and cloth to find lovely stalls with games, food and drink. I hope the organisers were proud of themselves because it was a great way for local people to connect with the project.
(P.S. I do really have plenty to be getting on with during that ‘free’ time I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, but if you know of any great prison dramas I couldn’t do without, please let me know! But don’t tell Son No 1 – he can be so censorious. In fact he’s made me promise only to watch two episodes a day of the next thing I’ve discovered on Netflix. Not a prison drama but it does have the occasional ex-convict popping up. Role on September when I’ll start studying again, heh, before I turn into a TV drama addict!)