The Ups and Downs of Creativity Pt I

Some weeks ago I wrote a series of articles on LinkedIn about the rules, or precepts, of creativity and how I have applied them both in my work as a facilitator but also in my photography.  These rules (as defined by the Open University during my MBA) don’t take equal billing, and indeed remembering all twelve of them can be an effort, but one of my favourites is this:

Connect, and be receptive.

It encourages me to be alert to the world around me; the things I see, read, hear and experience not just as passing sensations, but as opportunities to exploit.  In my training work this enables me to find activities and anecdotes that bring my content to life, however this post, and the one that follows it, are about the ways in which this might influence what I photograph and how.

Since being made redundant last year I have worked occasionally as a film and TV extra, or supporting artist as the industry jargon prefers.  Aside from the economic drivers for doing this, I’ve long been interested in these media, and it allows me to feed my inner diva while I’m not standing at the front of a training room.  More than that though it allows me to see how scenes are shot and lit, so developing my own knowledge as a photographer.

These productions are tightly controlled to prevent press leaks and so on set photography is not allowed (unless you’re a cast member continually taking selfies), and posting details of specific shoots on social media would soon see you dropped by the agencies who get you work.  Understandable, but such a pity when many productions have great costumes and make up.  All the same in the areas off set, you will see us all snapping away with our mobile phones to capture our latest looks.

Most of my work has been on location, but recently I was working on a set built in a studio and so the holding area where we waited was actually still in the studio but beyond the walls of the constructed set; a 1950’s nightclub.  Since the whole space is painted black a large fresnel light had been set up and pointed at a white backdrop to reflect light into the whole space.  Immediately I could see the potential of the way this soft directional light was falling across people’s faces, so I came equipped the following day and began asking my colleagues if I could photograph them.  Needless to say in this situation I had plenty of takers and so I shot a gallery of film noir type images to share with them, taking advantage of the light and the costumes to add to that style.  Someone even took one of me in return.

The images I produced weren’t about my skill with the camera.  They were about my ability to see the opportunity and act on it.  Connecting and being receptive.

Part II gives a less straightforward example!

Advertisements

Rock Follies

Some months ago I wrote a piece about Studley Royal water gardens, and how they were created by John Aislabie when he retired from government in disgrace at the end of the South Sea Bubble Affair.  As Chancellor of the Exchequer he was greatly responsible for the scheme which was intended to refinance public debt but lead to the financial ruin of many and enormous damage to the economy.  (As Britain faces Brexit we have a Chancellor who is luke warm about the process but seems powerless to prevent it – will he suffer a similar fate?)

Perhaps suffer is the wrong word to use in conjunction with Aislabie however because though his mansion no longer survives, it is clear from the expense he incurred developing the gardens at Studley that he was not financially ruined.  What I did not know was how much the reverse was true until I discovered recently that the 18th century leisure park developed by Aislabie and his son was far more extensive.

Continuing the down the watercourse from Fountains is the Seven Bridges Valley, where small stone structures criss-cross the stream running through a steep-sided gorge with more follies along the ridge.  It’s nowhere near as beautiful as Studley (which is perhaps why the National Trust don’t include it) but Aislabie’s guests would enjoy carriage rides across the little bridges as part of the whole experience.

But then I discovered Hackfall Woods, six miles away as the crow flies, but another steep valley populated by small stone structures which was also part of the Aislabie estate.

Arch Brexiter, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s father published a book describing how influential individuals might prosper in a future world of financial chaos, and his son seems bent on bringing that to fruition.  Taking the long view, I can’t help but think that there’s nothing new in this world.

My own financial situation has changed for the worse of late when I was made redundant, but all of these sites had something that is still free to me and is far more beautiful.  The natural world.

I’ve nothing against the stone follies.  I do object to the political ones.  But I managed one of my own.

Studley is a deer park home to three herds; fallow, sika and red deer.  And visiting in the autumn means the deer are in rut.  The stags are pumped with testosterone, and far more aggressive than usual.  Recommendations are that you keep at least 100 metres away.

Walking along the Seven Bridges Valley the air resonated with that growling belch that stags make at this time of year, but I thought they were all up on the ridge above me.  Until I rounded this tree and got a bit of surprise.  I stopped dead and let him move away though I didn’t take my eyes of him for a second.  I was glad of the metal cages that protect some of the trees trunks as I figured they would give me a start if I needed to climb.  Luckily he didn’t see me as a threat.

 

Kephaloídion

Cold and wet are good news for some!

Before I began my rudimentary Italian lessons online I’d never heard of Cefalù, yet it is one of the most popular holiday resorts in Sicily.  Perhaps my apathy towards beach holidays is at fault.  In any event when I arrived there in late March, the island was still at the mercy of “The Beast from the East” or one of its variants and it was cold, grey and wet.

My sunglasses and swim shorts were untroubled.

So why did I make the journey along the coast from Palermo to begin my trip here, when the rest of my intended stops were in the opposite direction?  Well naturally, because the place has history.  Now you good be forgiven for thinking that it was originally a Greek settlement.  Even had I not given you its Greek name as my title, Cefalù (pronounced Cheffaloo) still looks a lot like Kephalonia, yet there is no mention in Thucydides, the bible of my long forgotten Ancient History lessons.  Kephale meant “head” in Classical Greek, and the headland may have been home to no more than a fort or lookout post.  It’s clear to understand why this may be so when you see the enormous cliff (La Rocca) that overshadows the little town.

I was here for more modern fare.  Not quite as modern as the chemist’s shop on Corso Ruggero, though it did have a quaint appeal, nor the church of Santo Stefano whose baroque facade dominates a tiny piazza.

It wasn’t the medieval wash-house located well below street level where the basins used for the laundry remain supplied by fresh running water.

No, the clue was in the name of that main street.  Corso Ruggero.  The course of Roger.

Following the Norman invasion of 1063, King Roger II of Sicily moved the settlement down from the headland to the small harbour below and began construction of a cathedral.  Though built in the Romanesque style, this is a very different building from the great Normal cathedral in Durham that I grew up with.

Externally the twin towers at the west end provide some echo of its English contemporary, but internally there are no vast load bearing columns (though as I clumsily clattered about with my tripod they may have been glad of them).  It has something that Durham does not.  Decoration.

Like so many of the churches in Sicily the Byzantine influence is here in golden mosaics and the vast figure of Christ Pantokrator looks down on all.  This was the first example that I’d seen.  By the time I left Sicily two weeks later I’d lost count!  Between the Greeks and the arriving Normans that small town on the rock had been Roman and then Arab.  The unique mix of influences that is peculiar to Sicily was suddenly tangible.

 

Levels of Recognition

Perhaps the young amphibian martial artists of New York’s sewers are to blame, but when it comes to the artists of the Italian Renaissance and beyond, some getter a better deal than others in the public eye.  Perhaps Caravaggio was just a syllable too many to be a catchy name for a super hero, but no more so than Michelangelo who did make it to turtle status!

I’m being flippant of course and wonder how many of the public at large appreciate why Raphael and Donatello might be names that they recognise when   Giotto, Cimabue, or Brunelleschi might not.  How does one differentiate between levels of genius?

You’re probably well aware of Bernini if you’ve ever visited Rome;  the grand colonnade that fronts St Peter’s, the bronze baldacchino over the altar within are probably on a par with Michelangelo’s dome above the basilica and his Pieta inside in terms of public recognition.  Michelangelo holds the trump card with the Sistine Chapel of course, but Bernini has other works to offer.

Why is he as a sculptor and architect any less worthy of recognition?  It can’t be down to his patronage for Bernini enjoyed the favour of popes, cardinals and European royalty.  He lived in a different era of course so perhaps he lacks the glamour of being a pioneer in his field.  Bernini was a master of the Baroque rather than the Renaissance.   All the same he fares better than his contemporary Borromini.

Most visitors to the Piazza Navona stroll the length of the former arena and pause either to partake of the many caffés or to pose for the obligatory selfie by the attention grabbing Fountain of the Four Rivers; one of Bernini’s more famous works.  The fountain stands outside a fantastic baroque church, Sant’Agnese in Agone which was partly designed by Borromini.

Located elsewhere the church would have real presence, yet here it is relegated to backdrop.  (There is a popular myth that Bernini’s fountain exacerbates this by having the statues which personify the rivers turn in horror from Borromini’s facade, though the story is not consistent with the construction dates of both).

Then there is that baldacchino.  Actually a joint enterprise by both men, it has become known as “Bernini’s Baldacchino”.

St Agnes, Borromini

My visit to Sant’Agnese was curtailed by the church clearing visitors, presumably ahead of some daily service, but not before I could take in the frescoes and interior decoration which draw the eye with their bright colours, colours which Borromini’s design did not include.  His vision was one of white stucco throughout but a change of pope saw him lose favour and he resigned the commission, a decision he may have regretted when he saw the results.

Whether real or perceived, Borromini was probably a depressive for whom such slights can easily take on great significance.  He took his own life at the age of 67 which doubtless further impacted his reputation.

It’s not all about the work.

 

 

 

For a Few Shoulders More (Enna III)

The church of Santissimo Salvatore can trace its origins to 1261 (though it’s been rebuilt since then) and so its lack of size is compensated for by being one of the town’s oldest and most important churches, and in so far as many christians see the church as being the people who attend rather than the structure itself then this is certainly true, for on that Good Friday then numbers gathering in those white and yellow robes were considerable.  But then they needed to be.

Before we get to the ground level activities it’s worth noting that despite its size, the coffered ceiling is worth of comparison with that of the nearby Duomo, but you’ll have to wait to see what I mean.

Let’s go back further in time.  Sicily plays host to so much Greek mythology (Etna as Polyphemus the Cyclops, the treacherous Straits of Messina with their natural whirlpool equate to Scylla and Charybdis) and in particular the story of Demeter and Persephone, for it was from near to Enna that Hades burst out from the underworld on his chariot to abduct the beautiful Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture.  I’m sure you know the rest of the story which gave rise to the changing seasons.  Consequently spring was always celebrated here even before Easter supplanted earlier festivals.

The establishment of SS Salvatore coincides roughly with a period of Spanish control over the island and if you’ve seen the episode of Civilisations in which Mary Beard follows the procession of the “crying” Madonna of Macarena you’ll know what’s coming in Enna IV.

At the heart of that are two statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary born by the confraternities of Salvatore and Addolorata respectively.  (The weeping mother mourns her child who will bring salvation – Demeter & Persephone anyone?)

And now the need for all those men becomes apparent; they will carry the wooden corpse of Christ in his glass coffin (Urn) in the long procession to come with the load being spread across dozens of shoulders to lessen its impact.  Just one problem.  Getting the elongated structure out of the church which is hemmed in by narrow alleys and high walls.

The answer is to break it into three sections, walk these out to one of the longer “straights”, place the urn section on trestles and lock the extension arms back into place.  Easier said than done, but after a couple of false starts enough force is applied to lock the three into one and the procession begins… and then stops.  A corner on the route is too tight to turn conventionally so instead, rocking from side to side as the men keep step, the entire structure stops while individually the men turn about under their load, effectively putting the whole thing into reverse.

It’s something to behold, but it’s just the beginning…

A Fistful of Colours (Enna II)

The reason for so many to be here became apparent only gradually.  The carriage of garment bags and trundling of cases laid a trail that many would follow; though most were deterred by iron gates and returned to the duomo for easier prey.

The patient, and the knowledgable knew better.

Soon creatures of varying plumage emerged from bars, caffés and alleyways.  Many began to gather by the cathedral; consolation then for those who had given up on the main event.

The “man with no name” knew better, passing the time by smoking his last cigarette down to his tattooed fingers.  There’d be time for more tobacco later.  It wouldn’t be long now.

And then an act of athleticism heralded progress.  The gates were open and those who had kept faith surged forward to join the faithful in the tiny church of Santissimo Salvatore, a church founded in the 13th century, along with the rituals that were to follow.

The narrow streets of Enna were to be thronged with a procession of mysteriously robed representatives of a number of different churches, but two of those churches had a far more significant part to play.  My insider, Angelo, had told me to visit SS Salvatore first, and then if it was possible to head as quickly as possible to the Church of the Addolorata.  What was significant about these two?  Part III reveals all.

The Good, The Bad, and The Not So Ugly (Enna I)

It’s shortly after lunchtime in a Sicilian hill town when the predators begin to gather in the otherwise empty streets.

A stiff breeze blows eddies of dust and detritus into neat circular deposits.  A soundtrack by Morricone is required.

The common lizard that hurries in and out of the cracks in the pock-marked wall of the cathedral need have no fear however, even though many of the hunters will be focusing their intention here.  For now though the man with no name rests before the action begins.  Van Cleef strolls nonchalantly.

A smaller group breaks off, largely unnoticed by the majority and makes for richer pickings.  I am one of them, and find myself with serious company.  Some hunt in packs, whilst others operate alone but with more fearsome weaponry than I might muster.  Hired guns among them.

Some adopt a sniper’s eyrie, effective but inflexible for moving prey; others shoot from the hip.

They have come from far and wide in search of rare quarry, but what would bring so many together here?  On a Friday in March?  Though it was my birthday, this wasn’t a photographer’s party.

It was a very different celebration, but one whose nature I won’t reveal.

At least not just yet.