Out of us all
That make rhymes,
Will you choose
As the winds use
A crack in the wall
Or a drain,
Their joy or their pain
To whistle through –
You English words?
Words – Edward Thomas
Words. I have a great many of them, tumbling about inside of my head; as often as I have opportunity, pouring out, through my keyboard, through the medium of spoken voice once prompted, when invited, though I’m rather fond of saying little when it’s best that I listen. Words I have aplenty. They form thoughts, link thoughts, connect things together. I have this one, here, and this one; they sound similar. And these ones over here. Combined they might conjure pictures.
In my late teens I pieced together a darkroom, in my bedroom. My father crafted a wooden frame for me that fitted the window snugly. We covered it in thick black polythene and it blacked the room out completely. Inside that room bereft of any light I would load film into a spool and lock it into a small, cylindrical, light sealed tank through the top of which the commensurate amount of chemical compound premixed with water at exactly 20 degrees centigrade would be poured, the tank swirled, for two minutes then emptied, the liquid replaced with clean water, more swirling, further emptying, further replacing with a chemical mix to fix the developed film. The tank would then be transferred to the bathroom, a narrow hose attached at one end to a tap, the open end inserted into the top of the tank, water left running and bubbling and splashing to thoroughly cleanse the film of chemical residue.
Then a long strip of celluloid was drawn out into the light of day, held up, finger and thumb gripping each of the two extremes, to a window revealing 36 frames of scenes and scenarios, people and actions and things, rendered in black and white, a tonal inverse of reality. It would be hung to dry, a pin at the top affixing it to a wooden frame (the frame of my bedroom door as it happens, pock-marked with hundreds of pinholes) and a bulldog clip at the bottom to keep it from curling. Sometimes when sheer personal enthusiasm or external deadline meant I wanted to see the printed end result sooner than natural drying of the film might allow for, I would plug in a hair dryer and run it up and down the length of celluloid, constantly gauging the distance between nozzle and film surface and the amount of heat reflected back onto my hand so as to avoid cracking the film’s surface.
Then scissors applied, the film cut in to 6 strips of 6 frames per strip for later insertion into film sleeves for storage but also for easier handling when inserted into the enlarger for printing.
Thence back into the dark room, dim red light turned on, photographic paper exposed and dipped into trays of liquid, swished back and fore, first developer (and the never diminishing fascination of that something changing, altering in the pure white tone of the paper, a subtle shift in this corner, a greying in this spot here that darkens and spreads then hits invisible fractal borders as wave upon wave of blacks and whites and shades of grey in between converge and collide and those scenes and scenarios, those people and actions and things, they take breath and form and manifest themselves with great, enthralling clarity) then water, then fixer and water some more.
I’d not come here to talk about that, my experience all those years ago, developing and printing film in the darkroom that I built with my father. That’s what happens though when I stir up my thinking with a few words that tumble around inside of my head and splash about, and give off showers of other words, same words, different words, words that are related and relate to each other. An ocean of meaningful memories.
I’ve loved making images for, well, I’ve no idea how long. The media and the medium have never been of too much concern to me, though some favour my use a great deal more than others. Words and photographs developed over time into my key allies in expressing the messages that I felt compelled to convey.
During those late teen years I started selling photographs to a local newspaper. I also sold them words that accompanied those photographs, and often-times words alone, without photographs. My editor once accused me of writing in too literary a style. My english literature teacher accused me of writing in journalese. I took my editor’s words as an unintended compliment. I took heed of those from my english literature teacher with great seriousness and took care to amend my written ways. I sold my photographs and words to that local newspaper as a freelancer. I wanted to work for them full-time when I completed my schooling but was told that in order to do so, I would have to choose between being a writer or being a photographer (aside from which they did not have the means to employ a photographer on a full-time basis). I was also told that I would be expected to secure my union accreditation first and on reviewing the diploma options offered by the National Union of Journalists found that I could study to become an accredited writer, or I could study to become an accredited photographer; there was no avenue whatsoever that would allow me to become both, other than to remain forever a speculative creator of words and photographic images (which in some sense is, perhaps, what happened). This was something of an inconvenient constriction of my planned route, though I understood fully the rationale behind the NUJ’s stance on such matters. I simply could not make that choice though, not due to uncertainty or confusion or naivety but simply because I could not. I could not set aside one or the other. I would not.
So I went to study for a degree instead.
And then a masters, in computer animation. I made pictures, pictures that moved, instructed by words, scripted codes; pictures the essence of which, in my case, stemmed from words inside.
I’d not come here to talk about my darkroom or my newspaper work or my studies. I came here, I sat down, I loaded these images and I lined up my keyboard to write about having missed writing. I mustered a few words and set them on their course, tumbling about inside my head, splashing into pools of other words many of which were assigned to memories. Memories about making images, with words, with photographs. How I could never make a choice between the two and where the first major challenge to make that choice had originally stemmed from.
I rather enjoyed reminiscing, myself, but back to the here and now.
I make photographic images for my clients to serve as an evocative reminder of their wedding day, to remind them and to tell their children and their grandchildren what that day was like. That is no saccharine tagline, it is very important to me. Photographs have spoken back to me of my childhood and encapsulated key and other stages of seven years thus far of the development of my own child. They have revealed to me my parents’ childhoods and the reality of my grandparents as parents of children themselves, long before I came into this world.
I publish many of those images that I make for my clients on this, my blog. I love sharing their stories, truly, and yes it serves a marketing function for my services.
I write around those images first and foremost because it’s a compulsion of mine. It serves a cathartic purpose. I need to encapsulate for my own benefit the essence of my experiences at each and every wedding that I attend, photograph and in doing so, immerse myself into fully because regardless of consistent patterns, of preparation, of ceremony, of celebration, eating, drinking and dance (not to forget the speaking of words) I am unwilling to allow a hundred and more weddings to blend into one form as each and every one is an individual experience. The photographic images certainly bring the experience of each one back to me but my mind is such that I need to see what was reflected in my words, too.
The ebb and flow of my wedding assignments has, in recent months, become something of a constant flow without ebb. This has been fantastic, of course; each experience has been something to embrace, to enjoy and to grow from. The lack of occasional ebb however has left me no real time to write, which I need to do. Each week I piece together a preview post with plenty in the way of photographic imagery that I’m proud to share and that speaks back to me directly of the wedding day that I experienced but each week I have written scarcely and said that I look forward to relating the story in full, soon. Those words have all been genuine and I do look forward to relating those stories in full. The soon has not been coming soon enough however and the current flow of assignments (and delivering to my clients on those assignments) looks set to continue, consistently, for some months to come yet.
So I’ve taken pause, to write.
I’ve re-opened the valve, maybe somewhat enthusiastically; it’s led to something of a dam burst, perhaps.
I’ll relate the back-story to a journey to photograph a wedding, that of Lucie & Stuart. The story of their wedding day itself is something that I will get to, soon! And then many others. For now though I’ll constrain myself to that back-story. Imagine if I broke my fast of writing on a wedding story itself and in the splish and the splash and the splosh of words tumbling around my head, amidst images of speeches and food, drink and dancing I found myself reminiscing in depth about my love of exploring rock pools as a child, my fascination with the manner in which dock leaves so often seem to grow in close proximity to nettles and how I experienced a certain epiphany regarding the nature of curriculum based examination and the truth of the adage that history is written by the victor when I discovered (through reading an at the time newly published source) that the battle of Bosworth had actually taken place a few miles away from Bosworth Field; well imagine the confusion that might ensue.
It could be fun though.
But for now, Puisseguin…
There’s something exotic to me in the locations of all of the weddings that I photograph, the broader surrounding geography as well as the specific places. As I traverse the UK mainland I see the character of the landscape change, sometimes subtly so and of course, often enormously so. Bands of deep underlying strata that might span all the way from off the coast of Africa to Arctic climes might strike a visible band across adjacent constituencies or might sink then make itself known on the surface again in some far distant place. The rolling pastural landscape of Devon echoed in its Breton counterpart, south across water, and to the north across water in the landscape of agricultural West Wales. The Atlantic tip of Cornwall again reflected in its cousins to south and to north. The landscape of Hampshire somehow distinctly different to that of its immediate neighbours yet it seems to me to have a twin, some way to the north in Cheshire. I witness changes as I cross county borders, sometimes gradual yet perceptible transitions, sometimes quite sudden, surprising and pleasing. Geology and geography have defined mankind’s usage (indeed, at times, mis-use) of these landscapes which in turn has shaped the character of the people living upon it.
And I come into this to photograph a wedding, my mind influenced by new landscape, a shift in the cultural mindset.
Then you have seismic shifts in language base and architecture, driving on a different side of the road, and I find myself in Puisseguin, a small community radiating from a curved triangular crossroads and spreading out into the vineyards of the Aquitaine region beyond.
As I travelled from Bordeaux airport and made my way an hour inland from the Atlantic seaboard, the landscape was noticeably different to any that I had crossed before but I found in the people of Aquitaine something that reminds me deeply of peoples I have met in my native country, people that farm the land and people that provide services supporting those that farm the land, communities with needs that remain constant regardless of landscape and utilisation. I found a hardy, earthy, friendly people, ones that tend vines and harvest grapes and make wine, vineyards that at times stretch as far as the eye can see, others that fill tighter pockets in between those larger operations.
Lucie & Stuart live in London. He grew up in Yorkshire. She grew up in a particular corner of Africa, then later in this particular corner of France that her family made their home. Their wedding day would take place at that family home with a ceremony atop a terrace overlooking those Aquitaine vineyards.
Lucie’s mother had booked me in to a gîte all of five minutes drive down the road where I experienced the most attentive hospitality I have encountered amongst all of the commercial accommodation I have made use of on my wedding photography related travels, at Domaine Clos l’Eglise. Monsieur Peyvel farms the land and Madame Peyvel runs the house that sits where the road borders one flank of their small vineyard. One half of their home is given over to gîtes, one large two-storey unit big enough to accommodate a sizeable family and a more intimate apartment in between the two wings of the house, perfect for one, or two.
I particularly loved my private balcony with its view over the vineyard. An old stone building sat perched atop the terrace between upper field and lower, something that I found to be a fascinating visual anchor-point throughout my stay, a motif of sorts if you will, a base for working the land and one that directly linked present with past.
As I went down to breakfast on my first morning at Domaine Clos l’Eglise, I spotted Monsieur Peyvel tending to the cherry tree adjacent to the house. As I sat for breakfast he came in to the house and presented me with a ceramic punnet filled with freshly picked cherries, the Sun barely arisen, the fruit still pleasantly chilled by the relative cold of the night. I have never particularly been here nor there when it comes to cherries, but then I had never tasted perfectly fresh ones before, hand picked and selected for their prime condition. They were simply exquisite, as was the rest of my breakfast.
On my final morning at the gîte the Peyvels presented me with a 2009 bottle of wine, from their vineyard. Back at home I went to a friend’s home for dinner, opened the bottle, left it to breathe then poured two glasses. I took a first sip and the world stopped. My friend took a first sip, paused, then in measured voice said, “Please tell me you brought back more than one bottle!” I’m just going to have to go back again.
When travelling for weddings on the UK mainland that are more than a certain distance from my home, I set off the day before to get to where I need to be in good time and to start the day of the wedding fully refreshed. I could equally travel for European mainland weddings the day before the wedding itself, be there in time and fit in a good night’s sleep but whenever I leave the UK for assignments I always build in a buffer day before the wedding, just in case there are any unforeseen issues with travel, so I have good time to make alternative arrangements. I’ll spend that buffer day ambling around, absorbing the fabric and atmosphere of the locale.
On my arrival at Domaine Clos l’Eglise, Madame Peyvel had told me that she assumed I would want to eat that evening then recommended a nearby restaurant, Le Comptoir de Genes, before telephoning them to make a reservation on my behalf. The restaurant sits on a curve in a country road, attached to a bar and a small grocery store; if travelling through, a briefly seen focal point amidst a seeming rural idyll.
It was love at first bite. No, I’m not cut out as a food writer. The meal I enjoyed (for want of a more potent superlative) on my first night brought everything flooding back about previous visits to, short stays and extended periods in France.
Lucy, a waitress at the restaurant (with an accent that suggested to me that she came from somewhere not too distant from London; I didn’t ask how she had come to live and work in this place on a curve in a country road, I rather liked the enigma of it all), asked me how my meal had been. “It made me want to cry,” I answered. “Don’t cry,” she replied, “Our napkins are too thin. Would you like dessert?”
I went again on my second night, the eve of Lucie & Stuart’s wedding. Lucy informed me that the restaurant would be closed the following night as they would be catering for a wedding, apologising if I had intended to come there to eat again. I told her that it was okay as I myself would be attending a wedding the following day, as the photographer, thus wouldn’t have been able to make it to the restaurant again anyway (much as I would have loved to come back). She asked if it was the same wedding that they would be catering for. Assuming that the restaurant was simply to be closed to the public with a wedding party taking it up for dinner, I said no, that my wedding was a few kilometres down the road. “Lucie and Stuart?” Lucy asked. “You’re doing the catering for their wedding?” I asked. “Yes, we are,” Lucy responded.
As if I hadn’t been excited enough to photograph Lucie & Stuart’s wedding.