Monday, 19 September 2016

Christmas Stunts and Time Travel

It's the middle of September so it must be time to start thinking about Christmas (please don't pelt me with things). Actually since I became an internationally selling publisher, I've come to realise how important Christmas is in the selling of books. Certainly summer is not great - for some reason it would seem there is some resistance to the idea of taking large format art/history books to the beach. I've still been getting a trickle of sales (just about to drop off the latest batch for posting) but I'm starting to think about how to raise awareness for the Christmas present buyers out there. Despite all the fantastic publicity and reviews, there are still a lot of people out there who have never heard of 'A Group Photograph'. I don't think I'm going to get many more of the traditional opportunities so I've decided it's time to go out into left field - I'm going to paint my bottom blue and sky-dive off the Shard trailing tinsel in the shape of Santa. Obviously there are some logistical difficulties to get over first (not least in finding enough blue paint), so in the meantime if anyone's got any better ideas (unlikely, I know), then I'd be glad to hear them. In any event, I hope that I've got enough books this time that I'm not in the position of organising a reprint in December again!

My plan earlier in the year was to get my next book (about the experience of doing this whole project) out there in time for Christmas. I've managed to get a long way with the writing but was just thinking it wouldn't do it justice to rush things just for the sake of a quick buck when I got distracted by preparations for a meeting about hosting my exhibition at the Forum in Norwich. The layout means that it won't be the same as it was in Ypres, but they have facilities there that make it possible to develop some of my ideas further and it's a fantastic opportunity to reach a different and wider audience (possibly even in terms of making it into a touring exhibition). We're talking about doing a taster in March 2017 (alongside an exhibition on making the most of old photographs for family & local history) and then a full exhibition in November 2018 for the Centenary of the Armistice.

The Forum has a very high-tech gallery space that will enable me to create something I wasn't able to do in Ypres - an animated photomontage of all the photographs I've got of these men (over 1200 of them) - something that takes that one moment in time in the original photograph and gives it depth and life. It's going to take a lot of work but will be extraordinary to look at when it's done. At the moment I'm going through cutting out and re-sizing and positioning and blending in each of the photographs - and this is what I'm going to be doing for some time yet.

I've got a few presentations coming up (1st October: Appledore Book Festival, Devon - 10th October: Herne Bay Historical Society, Kent - 13th October: The Friends of Newtown Road Cemetery, Newbury, Berkshire - see for further details) and I'm sorry I haven't followed up on other requests but I'm wanting to concentrate on creating artwork at the moment. I hadn't created anything new for a year and although what I'm doing is laborious, it is great to be so totally absorbed in something again. It seems to be a feature of so many forms of art that they force you to look at things more closely and in so doing you see things that you would not otherwise notice. Looking so concentratedly at old photographs is like a form of time travel. It is hard to imagine that the people pictured are not still alive - as I cut round a child's sandals I can imagine the wriggling as their mother helped to put them on, things that were habitual become special because the moment was captured - a cigarette smoking between fingers, a cup of coffee being drunk, a beer being poured - I can almost smell these things and hear the chatter around them - and when a pair of eyes look directly at me via someone-else's camera it is as if they are with me now. We can get so absorbed in the busyness of life that we miss the magic in the everyday.

A few things have helped me recently. Firstly there was this little video: - and that has made me realise how lucky I have been - that though I've had a lot of people not take the time to notice that I've done something original, not everyone has said "No!" - that there are people who have said "Yes!" and given me fantastic opportunities and I must make the most of them. Secondly, a friend suggested I work out what my goals for my project are. This year I've been so bound up with selling books and the difficulties that go with that and that has led to me losing focus on what's important to me. I never did this to make money, yet the times that I have had to struggle with next to no money have sometimes risen too high up in my memory and led to worry which is not helpful. I want to open people's eyes to new ways of looking at life and the world around us and so I must concentrate on getting people to see what I've created. The book tells only part of the story - my artwork shows more. And thirdly another friend responded with such enthusiasm to my animated photomontage idea that when I expressed my worries about how I was going to make a living whilst doing it, he said, "Well, you've made it this far, just get on with it and it'll work out". So that's what I'm doing (though don't be surprised if something large, blue and tinselly is reported airborne near the Shard).