Miasma Generator

In 1979 a remarkable piece of work arising from the collaboration of an artist and a musician entitled The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony (though it has probably suffered from the identity crisis of not knowing whether it was a story, an album or a coffee table book of art) which told the story of the rise and fall of an alien civilisation who had destroyed their home planet and been forced to flee across space in search of a new one.  Sadly I no longer have a copy, but I recall that one of the factors in their ecological disaster was a device called The Miasma Generator.  After years adrift in my memory, a couple of things have brought it back to mind this week.

You may have noticed in many of my London pictures this week a degree of haziness that rendered the backgrounds dull and indistinct (thank goodness for Photoshop to rescue the image below); an effect that whilst welcome when shooting portraits is far less so when trying to capture cityscapes. At the time I attributed it to meteorology, the warm spring days creating water vapour, but in the days that followed I learned that this wasn’t strictly true.untitled-6

Sunday morning meant washing my car before I went to celebrate my birthday, and I have to say it was gleaming. Arising the following morning to head for the office I was dismayed to find the entire vehicle enrobed in a mottled patchwork of sand. I would have accepted that when I lived on the coast but in Durham it seemed less likely.

The truth was more surprising. The UK has been subject to poor air quality this week arising from a combination of local and European industrial pollution and sands which have been carried from the Sahara.  Those with pulmonary problems have been badly affected.  So dramatic was the difference that on my travels across the Pennines this week it has felt as if you were passing in and out of a wall of fog.  At least my Cutty Sark pics benefitted!

Another news item this week has been about a proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes in branded packaging.  The smoking ban in public places has changed workplaces, pubs and restaurants enormously, and the rate of smoking in the country is happily falling.  I grew up in a house with two heavy smokers and still wonder what time bomb lurks from all that passive tobacco intake.  I was astonished then at how many smokers I encountered in London.  Perhaps it was the greater proportion of overseas visitors or that I was in environments where the smokers were all forced outside and into the range of my lens but in the people pics I took you’ll see a large proportion of cigarettes being brandished.

They do bring a certain kind of cool to some people, but that will never be a good enough reason to tempt me.  All that smoke is more miasma.

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Please forgive the use of “spot colour” technique, but I’m sure you’ll understand why I did it!

 

 

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Stimulating

As my search for a soulmate continues I find myself in The Keys on Yarm High Street, staring into limpid chocolate eyes as their owner tells me about the photographers who have asked her to model over the years (and there I was without a camera!) and how she ended up taking part in a fashion show.

The tale that followed was remarkable, both in the surprising background to her appearance on the catwalk, and her inspirational response.  From birth she has been affected by dystonia, a neurological disorder producing involuntary muscle contractions.   I couldn’t begin to imagine the impact that the condition has had upon her life, but she shared how despite her popularity with those wishing to create beautiful imagery she had been told that she would never succeed as a model because of the condition.

Years later she read an article in a newspaper that seemed to mirror her experience, attended a conference on the basis of that article, caught the eye of a neurosurgeon who had been presenting, and was referred for treatment, despite his practice being at the other end of the country.  After several years of medicinal treatment she undertook the experimental therapy of DBS (deep brain stimulation), brain surgery requiring the implantation of wiring deep into the tissue of her brain (surgery which she underwent twice when the first implants were removed due to infection).  What was remarkable was the way she viewed the operation.  Naturally, having seen enormous benefits as a result, she is positive, but she described the 10 hour process during which she chatted to the surgeons as enjoyable!

Her recuperation led her to volunteer for the fashion show as a mark of defiance to the world and to raise funds to help others, but produced two areas of focus in her life; nutrition and religion; the first was a key element in taking her recovery seriously and her goal would be to achieve the qualifications to pursue this as a career, and the second reflected her belief that her life had been in the hands of a superior force and her role now was to inspire others in the same way.

Sadly as a “non-practicing atheist” (I’m not evangelical about it!) there is unlikely to be a romantic future with this beautiful woman, but I was struck by a coincidence, for in the  same 24 hours I attended another photography workshop with another beauty, Zara Watson and Andrew Appleton whose training I have previously experienced.  Zara’s home continues the religious theme, being a converted Wesleyan chapel, and she herself is a trained nutritionist.  Small world.

There wasn’t much religion in the shoot; being an erotic photography workshop I’m not entirely sure that the original owners would have approved.  I didn’t envy Andrew in trying to teach this; as everyone’s erotic stimulus is individual to them (I personally like this quote that I found on pinterest on the topic) this was potentially an impossible task.  A bit like trying to prove or disprove the existence of a god.

The consensus amongst those of us who attended was that the lines between fashion, art nude, boudoir and erotic were far from distinct.  Helmut Newton was able to produce photographs with a clear erotic message with no nudity whatsoever, and by the same token it is perfectly feasible to portray nudity without any sexual or sensual effect. Consequently Andrew deliberately produced set ups that could be taken in different directions.  I’ll let you decide how the shots that follow should be categorised, but whatever you think, I can’t help but feel that my date wouldn’t have approved.

Constitutional

 

Keeping fit is a constant challenge, and whilst the popularity of boot camps amongst those young enough to take the punishment continues unabated, there are those who prefer a more sedate approach.

My late father was born in Seaham in 1914, a world away from these health conscious times, and by the time he was 7 he was smoking.  In my formative years his weapon of choice was Capstan full strength, and to his dying day a succession of doctors and other medical professionals told him he should give up.  Their advice fell on deaf ears and he passed away at the age of 89.

That’s not to say that he was immune to some of the health effects of his habit; in his late sixties he suffered a thrombosis, which was enough to scare him into taking more care of himself; not through discarding his tobacco habit, but by taking up walking.

Everyday he would drive himself to the same stretch of coastline where I take most of my photographs and enjoy a brisk walk for a mile or two, braving whatever weather came his way and stopping to chat to the local characters.  It became an obsession for him for many years, and one to which he attributed his continued health.  His name was Arthur.

Which is also the name of today’s subject, encountered in the same locale.  Thank you Arthur for bringing back some happy memories.

 

Time Passages

My adoptive mother was 40 years older than me, and I always remember her as “old”, and even the parents of my school friends, though less mature, seemed to be both out of touch in their attitudes and physically haggard.

Now of course I’m viewing life through the other end of the telescope, yet it seems to me that my generation are very different.  People who I might once have written off with that terrible label “middle-aged” are still very active, healthier and seemingly better looking.

I’m not so pretentious as to claim to be still “down with the kids”, and I’m pleased that I haven’t a clue about We Are Scientists, the band that my youngest daughter is seeing tomorrow.  I have my own musical tastes and preferences, but I know that if I was prepared to put the time aside to listen to more of her music I would still “get it”.  Rock and roll might have differentiated us from our parents, but no longer.  Jagger, McCartney, Dylan and Mitchell are grandparents now, but deities in the pantheon of rock.

One of our friends had a significant birthday earlier this year, and whilst I offered to do a formal portrait shoot for her she was having none of it!  Unfairly then I ambushed her this evening on a girls night out with my wife.  Four women of a certain age and all looking great.  How is that possible?  Better lifestyles, better health, better cosmetics or just a different attitude, a refusal to be old before their time?  I think the latter, but whatever the reason I’m glad to be able to have the opportunity to photograph their beauty.

Thanks E – not just for the portrait, but in deciding on a title for this blog for reminding me about Al Stewart! x

Al Stewart – Time Passages