Sunday, 13 September 2009

I'd Like To Thank...

As you know, I was unable to attend the opening of "Der Widergänger" last night in Innsbruck but I have given some thought to what I might have said had I been there. It is traditional -- or at least appears to be so, if one takes televised award ceremonies as a model -- to give public thanks to the people who made it all possible, starting with one's parents and ending with wails and broken sobs.

So, here's my list*. I'd like to thank:

The unknown holidaymaker on the beach at Hemsby, Norfolk in August 1959 who let me use his high-quality Zeiss binoculars all day. Looking through those silvery lenses made my heart soar, and sharpened an appetite for simple seeing that has never left me.

John Boxley: my best friend in Infants School, whose pride in my ability to draw aeroplane wings as seen from the side was such that he would get me to sketch them in front of other kids in the playground dust with a stick. "Look, look! He's drawing them FROM THE SIDE!" This early taste of celebrity convinced me this was something worth persisting with.

Miss Dorothy Hendey and Mr. Michael Davies: primary school teachers at Peartree Spring Junior school in Stevenage, who entered me for several national junior painting competitions, two of which, ahem, I won. They made me feel success was the natural consequence of working on one's talents (such as being able to draw aeroplane wings from the side! Damn, I was good).

The unknown holidaymaker in 1967 (at the Gasthof Lamm in Tarrenz, Austria -- "Warum vorbei?") who turned out to be both interested in moths and butterflies (then my main enthusiasm in life) and photography. He took the time to explain the advantages of his SLR for insect photography, but also explained how I might use supplementary lenses on my brand new Fed 3 Russian rangefinder. Such life-enhancing kindness to show to a shy 13-year old boy.

The unknown conference attendee who stole several of my drawings from my college room one vacation. Almost as big a compliment as offering to buy them. So I will also mention Dick of Dicey Corridor because he did ask to buy the original of one of the drawings I used to do for the cover of Strumpet, a radical student magazine. It revived the heady feeling I had experienced some years before when the older sister of a schoolfriend bought my ink portrait of John Lennon. However, it would be another 30 years before I sold anything else.

The difficulty of etching: For a long time I thought of myself as a printmaker. After gouging many linocuts and woodcuts -- those gateway techniques -- I finally gravitated to a course on etching: the hard stuff. One evening, after being shown how to produce a photo-etching from a negative in an enlarger in a darkroom, the penny dropped. Etching is difficult, dated, and dreary; the photographic darkroom, by contrast, looked easy, exciting and fun (well, two out of three ain't bad).

Mike Skipper: Mike laid the foundation for everything I know about photography and the black and white darkroom, on a course in 1984 at the Southampton branch of the Oxford Darkroom. Above all, he took me to one side at the exhibition that was the culmination of the course and said some kind things that convinced me I had started on a lifetime journey.

Richard R.: Richard was my drinking companion for several years when I first arrived in Southampton in 1984. A keen photographer himself who once exhibited alongside Fay Godwin, he is probably the most patient and gifted printer of black and white negatives I have ever met, truly a wizard. Sadly, Richard gave up photography for windsurfing, and we haven't had anything to talk about since. Why, Rich, why?

Peter Goldfield: I said what I have to say about Peter here. I realise hyperlinks don't really work in an Oscar speech, but there we go. For me, without Duckspool, nothing. Simple as that.

Finally, The Weather of the British Isles : I dedicated my master's dissertation to "the weather of summer 1977" because it had been such a blessed washout compared to that legendary sun-fest of 1976. I don't think I could have written the tedious thing otherwise. The weather has been a source of fascination, frustration, joy, despair, exhilaration, anger, but never indifference or boredom, ever since. Above all, it is the ever-changing British weather that gives us the ever-changing British light, and ... and ... which ... I ...[sobs incoherently]

* I could also compile an anti-list -- for example my secondary school which made me choose between continuing art lessons or studying German (noooo!) -- but we don't want to go to that bitter place on this happy occasion.


Gavin McL said...

Dear Mike,

Well I'd like to thank you for pointing out that you can take photos in your lunch hour and they can be pretty damn good (not mine yet.) It might seem obvious but it hadn't occurred to me



Mike C. said...

Thanks, Gavin -- of course,it helps if you have the kind of sociopathic tendencies that means no-one wants to eat with you, but those can be cultivated with practice...


Kent Wiley said...

More cool animal boxes. Are these really Victorian vintage?

Mike C. said...

Some are Victorian, some are Edwardian. The labels tell you precisely when and where they were caught. Most "stately homes" in Britain have a display of these somewhere: huntin', shootin' and fishin' are the traditional pastimes of the land-owning classes (as opposed to poachin' and vandalisin' ...)

These ones are at my local pile, Mottisfont Abbey, and happen to be situated opposite the wall where I had an exhibition a few years back. I think the National Trust may have brought them in for decorative purposes from its central stockpile, as they are far from local.

Kent Wiley said...

In these here parts, huntin' & fishin' are God given rights which politicians ignore at their own peril. Many companies simply close down in November during deer season due to the decimated ranks of their employees - who are in the woods trying to shoot Bambi.

Curiously, none of their specimens end up in glass boxes.

I'd like to see this National Trust Central Stockpile. Any chance you could sneak around and get some pix for us?

Mike C. said...

"I'd like to see this National Trust Central Stockpile. Any chance you could sneak around and get some pix for us?"

Now *that* is a good idea... Though to an extent it's well-trodden territory -- do you know the work of Rosamund Wolff Purcell or Richard Ross? I'm a big fan of both -- their books are not expensive and worth getting hold of, esp. Ross's "Gathering Light" and Purcell's book with Stephen Jay Gould "Finders Keepers".

Kent Wiley said...

No, don't know either. Amazon's descriptions for them is minimal, but I've got some sort of an impression. I'm sure you could find something new to do with this, even if it doesn't have to be a book. I'm not looking for a "project," simply a view of this "central stockpile."