shrug it out /

31Dec:

A friend calls mild and breezy days like these, “light jacket days”. The perfect weather, bar the missing sunshine. I call it Goldilocks weather; not too hot or cold, whilst pushing thoughts of global warming to the back of my mind. It really, probably shouldn’t be this warm in December.

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I feel energised going for walks on days like these. The wind has the effect of blowing cobwebs from your mind. I do a final old year loop of the neighbourhood. The loops of the neighbourhood have been infinite this year. I’ve written about them a few times in my ‘suburbia’ posts; trying to embrace my fixed surroundings. These posts have been a sort of release from the mildly captive feeling of not being able to go anywhere much. And an excellent exercise in observation. Most recently I wrote about my winter observations.

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In the supermarket on the way back home, two guys stand in front of shelf of cheap decorations. I recognise the “как дела” from one to the other as “how are you?” (thanks Duolingo, circa 2017). It’s a question I’ve probably asked most this year (because I legitimately care), and also been asked most this year. It’s part of the usual polite exchange, but I feel last year and this year, there’s been a silent “no, really” in there. “How are you really?” It’s not always been an easy one to answer. On a few occasions I’ve replied with, “I don’t know”, and conversely didn’t mind if people replied with the “next question” meme. Because, let’s be honest, it’s been a weirdly halting kind of a year again. Not what we ordered at the end of last year.

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I generally ignore / avoid the traditional end-of-year celebrations. They often feel forced to me, and the social (interaction) tax and expectations are just so high. I do embrace the chance for reflection though. Just “taking a moment” to be quiet, and to write down and share my rambling (often overly sentimental) thoughts. I think my friends have become so used to this, it’s almost a tradition now. “Our little writer with her schmaltz.”

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Similar to last year, it’s been a year in which I’ve felt like nothing much has happened (although in the wider world a lot has), or in which I haven’t achieved or “grown” very much (it’s okay to admit to feeling like this, I think). Time slipped by and away from us like water through a grate, and it’s easy to misremember or not give yourself enough credit. Someone told me this a few months ago; that I don’t give myself enough credit for my art. So I’m trying to stop and think about it. When I think about “achievements” (not a fan of this word), it’s usually centred around creative output or personal growth. Or doing something I was previously scared of doing.

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Because you can’t force creativity, some years are bumper years, while others are sparser. All creatives know the anxiety of creative block, and of waiting for ideas to arrive. I found that overexposure to social media really compounded this anxiety for me at certain times this year. Seeing others being very busy while I was not. Logically/rationally, we all know that comparison = the death of happiness. We know the idealised versions of lives (others and our own) shared online. And yet, we still fall into that trap.

Within our own, small creative communities, a better view to have might be to think “ah, cool, the more things for me to be inspired by”, rather than “I’ve done a thing, and they’ve done ten”. It’s something I’ve had to learn to do these last months. Distance myself from this sort of overexposure/temptation to compare, and try to relax into the latent state between creative periods.

Having said all that, when I take the time to reflect on it, I realise that I did actually create a few cool things this year. Out of everything, I’m probably most proud of this video I made for a song by Dave Monks (lead singer of Canadian band Tokyo Police Club). I worked really hard on it, and I got very cool and earnest feedback from the dude himself. It meant a lot. [If you watch the video, read the caption as well. Happy to say that a few months after that, I actually made it to my first gig in two years. :]

I also shot some new types of new film this year, and did more writing than I have in a long time. There were a couple of highlights in the photography, but I’m most pleased about the writing. A highlight was a short piece I shared with only handful of friends, called “I remember learning how to dive” (plot twist, I can’t really swim). If I wrote nothing else this year, I’ll be glad I wrote that. I think it reflects how the last two years have allowed us to be more vulnerable and honest with our friends. If something good has come from the torture and challenges of the pandemic, that’d be one of it.

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Re the subject of personal growth. We do this nonsense thing to ourselves at the end of the year, trying to quantify growth somehow. I think a yearning for self-improvement is pretty natural. To say, “I want to be a better person” in this or that respect. But isn’t that a constant thing? It’s normal and good to have goals and dreams, but why to we have to crucify ourselves for not achieving X, Y, Z in a 12-month period?

We’ve been in this immensely challenging period of dreams-on-hold and day-to-day uncertainty. The constantly inability to plan / having to change plans is pretty draining/demoralising. I have friends, stronger than me (and I’m pretty strong), who have really “just got on with it”. I admire them, but I think a lot of us still feel in limbo in some way or another. We’re trying to learn to “roll with it”, or learning to take things (like the news) in whatever measures we feel can swallow at any one time. I hate that I still sometimes don’t go somewhere I actually want to, because I just can’t face the masked journey there.

Yesterday I saw these end of year words shared today by a digital artist I admire: “It has been very dark / But plants and hair kept on growing / Now that I can barely feel my head above the water / I can see a tiny jungle growing.” This resonated with me with respect to some periods of this year. In the last months, I find myself wondering; on an almost daily basis, how the plants in my living room stay alive with how little light they get at this time of year. I’m sure that they make it through in the same way we do. We’re growing, even when we feel we’re not. And as for temporarily deferred dreams; we know seeds can stay dormant for years, and spring to life again. All to say, we shouldn’t worry too much about quantifying growth/progress in random year-long measures. On the flipside, it’s also supercool if you can do this. Sincerely, “go, you!”. For myself, I think a better question to ask might be “have I tried to be a good/kind person this year?” Or, “do I need to be less of a dick?”. Probably the best thing to be, is to try be good and kind person to yourself and others.

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As for “doing something that scares me”. I did do something this year that scared me, and took some guts and humility. And I’m glad I did, even if I feel like I fumbled. Or was generally misunderstood / rolled a verbal ankle. At least I tried a thing. I think I’ve had too many occasions in the past of regretting not trying something, rather than trying at the risk of failing. 🙂 There’s still so many things that scare me, and I often cop out of things because I’m scared, but I really do try and push myself sometimes.

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Last year I wrote about ending the year with a bang and sigh of relief (it was actually cool re-reading my reflections from a year ago); drawing loud lines in the sky under a dark year. Generally being relieved that it was over. This year, I feel like there’s an almost apathetic/resigned mood. I get it, I feel it.

2021 feels like a year we just want to shrug off, like a wet coat that’s been weighing us down. On the whole, it was definitely an improvement on the year before. Especially socially. I most appreciate all the opportunities I had to see friends in person again. The one solitary gig night (which was also the most normal I felt all year). The solace and inspiration I got in nature and photography. Discovering the best beetroot dish I ever tasted (never going to stop gushing about it). I even appreciate the interesting deep dive chat with an electrician who had to spend a day re-wiring stuff in my flat a few months ago. A random meeting with a cool and kind human. I think it’s something I’ve missed from travelling. Crossing paths with people that teach you about yourself and the world.

Not having seen my family for another year was tough though. So tough. Someone sent me a postcard from Vladivostok a few months ago, and I thought, “damn, that’s far away”, and then realised my childhood home town is even further away.

The mask fatigue and “book a timed slot” fatigue was real. The feeling of mundanity a little too present. This one is probably true for every year, but the responsibilities of adulthood, just felt extra relentless. Just me? The ever present boring or stressful or tiring thing that no one’s going to come and help you with. Just all you, every day. Why do we burden ourselves even more at the end/start of a year with lists and measures? Seems a little masochistic.

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A friend sent me a postcard recently, in which she reminded me how very suddenly and unexpectedly things can change in cool and usual ways. And I’m inclined to believe her, because I’ve experienced these cool and unexpected things in my life in the past. Really cool stuff has happened to me I never expected would. But I need reminding every now and again, because these slight tendencies towards cynicism have definitely crept in.

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01Jan:

The Dutch have a word called “jaarwisseling” (year change), which I like more than “new year”. We can shrug out of the last one (see wet coat analogy above), and step into the a new one. Last night I hated having to endure the fireworks at home for a second year. Normally I’m travelling away from London. I was miserable. A friend reminded me tomorrow (ie, today) is another day. This morning the sun came out. I went for a walk with my camera. The clouds and wind were making making beautiful patterns in the sky. Total halcyon day (or morning anyway, because later it got grey). I commented on the clouds to some random people walking by. They said “more days like these, please”.

Then I went home and listened to this track called Light Jacket, and felt pretty damn happy for sec. More days like these. PLEASE.

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Another masterclass of rambling oversharing. Hope at least some of that resonated with someone. Hope no one is comparing themselves or their lives with others this year. And hope this injected a smidge of optimism. I’m sure we’re all ready for things to change for the better.

suburbia 5/

The photographer reports on winter scenes in suburbia.

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The winter days are short in suburbia.

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The sun rises in a low arc. People lift their hands to shield their eyes, saluting busy lanes of morning traffic. They squint and grimace at the stark light. Their breaths hang in front of them, and they stomp their feet as they wait to cross the road. When the light changes they move swiftly, with long shadows on their heels.

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A brief graffiti battle ensues on the high road; a duel akin to tossing rainbow markers back and forth across a fence. The strong convictions on both sides last three weeks. Then fade out in blurred lines of pink and orange. Clown bile fired from water pistols, diluted by time and rain.

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The wind turns from breezy to bracing and requires the wearing of many layers (which I like, and also hate). We are multi-layered beings in suburbia. Occasional exchanges with strangers, wrap around red ears like scarves and warm us.

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Familiar faces disappear, and new builds appear. The many-storied heights of the latter, not filling the gaps left by the former.

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A dusty stationary shop becomes a shiny supermarket overnight. A legitimate tragedy, underlined by a sliding electric door. The usual bucket for wet umbrellas by the door is erased. And two warm and earnest shop attendants with it. A long aisle of shiny 1.99 labels leading to a post office counter at the back punches holes in what once was. “For security reasons, this package contains a bleeding ink heart “.

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The rain turns itself on and off like faulty light switch. It runs in silver rivulets down dark train windows. Pelts down on skylights like handfuls of rice. Dances in a fine mist in the warm halos of streetlamps. Turns sidewalks into mirrors, reflecting pedestrians and cars. Gathers in puddles in parks. And leaves all suburbia damp and cold.

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Clouds shapeshift across the sky and distract daydreamers from their chores. Like curious Miyazaki characters, animated by the wind. The sun plays “peekaboo” between them in Morse code. And then very suddenly it’s night.

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Suburbia surrenders to electric light. 

lomochrome purple / film 2

I might have mentioned in my previous Lomochrome Purple post that it’s not a cheap film, but on a visit to the Photographer’s Gallery last week, I got a discounted roll in their bargain bin and decided (or rather, I was encouraged by my online analogue homies) to mix it up a bit. These are probably all a bit too heavy on the purple for me, but interesting results nonetheless.

suburbia 4/

The photographer reports on autumn scenes in suburbia.

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The weather is mild and breezy in suburbia.

For a while I lost interest in doing infinite loops of the same streets, but the change in season and scenery makes walks inviting again.

The breeze lends an atmospheric, soul-stirring air to things. It draws me out. Away from glaring screens and incessantly dripping taps. It’s an easy call.  

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The air is fresh. Chimneys with Lego heads are etched against the blue sky. Dogs are being walked. 

The wind makes my hair dance around my head like a crown.

On the corner, tallboy empties littering the steps outside a restaurant, give me weird flashbacks to choir practice in primary school. Remembering a day when a kid toppled face first off one of the precarious tiered benches we had to stand on, until we felt like puking or toppling over. One of my greatest (read: “very few”) acts of defiance as a kid was daring to opt out of the choir when given the rare chance one day. 

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Around a tree; FRAGILE tape, and the remnants of a poster about a LOST pet. Poetry for the many of suburbia feeling fragile, and a little lost.

A piece of lone graffiti in the underpass suggests people “love one another”. A thought.

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In the park, a guy at a picnic table, sits with two empty stubbies by his side, glowing green in the morning sun. He’s showered in dappled sunlight. It’s a painting.

Winged seeds whirr down in slow motion, accompanied by a soundtrack of a ball bouncing on a court nearby. They land softly as the ball rattles through the hoop.

Dead leaves litter the ground like crumpled notes of a suddenly redundant currency.

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Down the street, away from the park, a mattress leans against the wall outside a house, waiting for someone to roll the dice on it. It’s draped in plastic sheeting, which billows in the wind like the folds of a dress; a faded flower pattern peeking from underneath it. R.I.P. summer.

A truck with a skip on it rattles by.

Clouds roll in and over everything.

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Warm breaths condensate against cold windows as suburbia sleeps. And when they wake, it feels like forever before the sun rises red. 

lomochrome purple / film 1

You know when you see examples of something and think it’s cool or interesting, but it’s not really for you? But then you actually try it out yourself and end up digging it? That’s what my recent experience was, when I finally tried out Lomography’s Lomochrome Purple film. I’d been crying “nah, I’ll pass” for ages, and ended up swooning a bit over the results in the end. This is was I love about film; the unexpected results you get sometimes.

I knew I wanted to focus on shooting plants, because, well, I love them. I also knew I might get some interesting colour variations. I shot these mostly at ISO 400, going down to as low as 160, as the day turned from grey and rainy to progressively brighter and sunnier.

I’ll admit, together on a page these pictures might appear slightly “garish” almost, because of the loud colours. A bit like eating too much sickly sweet candy. Or like a table, sticky with spilled soda. But individually, I think they are pretty cool. They just beg to be given room to breathe on a white wall / as individual postcards or album covers. Waiting for your print requests.

cвема фото 100 / film 21

It took me a while to get round to shooting this roll of Svema 100, which I picked up from Analogue Wonderland a few months ago. If I’m honest I think the appeal was in the name; a combination of two Russian words, Светочувствительные Материалы, translated meaning Photosensitive Materials. A few years back I made an attempt at learning basic Russian prior to a visit to St Petersburg, and though most of what I learned is gone now, I’m still gassed whenever I can spell out/read anything in Cyrillic script. Aside from the name/design appeal, I generally like trying out new black and white films.

I shot this using my dad’s old Chinon CP-7M, and hesitated a little over whether to develop it myself, given how badly I scratched the last film I self-developed. I had a little practice run loading film onto the spool with an old film though, and in the end it loaded fine. FPP (the Film Photography Project) describes this film as having “a high efficiency layer on top of its emulsion to prevent scratching”, which apparently did its job.

I developed it using Rodinal, and was reasonably pleased with the results. Quite high contrast, and very smooth grain wise. A couple of the shots indoors were wholly underexposed, and as always I can never quite get shooting plants in black and white right. Maybe because I love green so much.