Tuesday, 31 January 2017

There are angels in this world

I spent another morning in Lancing helping out in a huge warehouse, sorting, packing and loading another HUGE lorry bound for Iraq. 

I am not looking for Brownie points here, but would like any readers of my blog to look on www.samarasaidappeal.org/ 
or find Samara Levy on Facebook - read her posts and watch her videos. This extraordinary young woman has masterminded an organisation that is regularly sending lorries packed with all kinds of aid to hospitals and civilians in Syria and Iraq. 

As I drive along through the early morning winter mist and traffic, preparing myself for a few hours of pretty backbreaking work, I remind myself that I spent a night in my own bed, and woke up in my own warm house….it helps face the tasks ahead with a smile.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Different ways of growing older

Two old friends of mine died in 2016. One I had known for 15 years but saw rarely as he lived near New York, the other I saw at least once a week on a Monday - for the last half hour of The Chase, at least 3 games of Scrabble and some Cadburys milk chocolate.

I was very fond of both of them, and they could not have been more different. Makes me wonder whether we default to who we really are as we grow old…or never really change. One of these friends died at the ripe old age of 101, the other at 90. Both were ready to go, and left memories and lessons that will take a long time to fade.

Donald - I wrote about him in a much earlier blog - died aged 90. He was a true gentleman. A historian in later life, he documented the history of the small village where he had lived for at least 40 years. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. A very politically contentious and unpopular newspaper owner was active in the village. Almost nobody liked him. Donald would not hear a word said against him. "He has done or said nothing to upset me, so I can not dislike him….other people feel as they do and it is up to them." The diplomat - maybe blinkered but for sure everyone loved him!

For years we exchanged letters. His were written in increasingly spidery handwriting, often on notepaper with the Stars and Stripes on - he was a true patriot and a Republican, but somehow he could be forgiven for his political stance because he still tried to respect everyones' view - always open to differing opinions.
This photo was taken a couple of months before he died. He was in a nursing home kind of fading away, ready to go … sweet memories, Don.

In complete contrast is Vi. I first saw her at the Friday country market. She was sitting  beside a table covered in her own hand-made knitted goods of every description. Some looked as though they had been made 50 years ago (I think they were) I asked if I could photograph her. "Next week dear" she told me firmly. I would find out why. The following week there she was, in her original blue WI overall (she didn't approve of the new, green ones) and a truly magnificent hat she had made herself. She was a qualified milliner and had an impressive collection of hats. 

There was another side to this feisty old girl that endeared me to her. She was opinionated, critical, racist - "we didn't grow up with foreigners being doctors or sportsmen" she informed me unapologetically when I challenged her vehement disapproval of a Chinese snooker player and the new GP who she refused to see on the grounds that he was Indian. I always pulled her up on these offensive comments but she would  smile and sip her sherry. She would not change!

There is a lot more to them both than I am writing here - this is just a small tribute to two very different souls from whom I learned a lot - how to grow old with a vengeance from one, humility and tolerance from the other. 

Here are a few more recent photos of the indomitable Violet:
In purple on her 99th birthday; with her 2 sisters (also in their 90's) on her 100th birthday - she boasted that she was the oldest and looked the youngest; in the green and white home-made outfit and hat that she always wore with her favourite white feathery scarf, and shoes with little heels that she insisted on wearing "I won't wear old lady shoes" - despite protestations about safety from the care home where she lived ; and a glorious photo with her son taken only a moment before the heart attack that landed her in hospital and where she died soon after. These wonderful slippers were a present from her son. Apparently she kept them on in her hospital bed right until the end. You couldn't have made her up…

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Get over yourself!

I took some photos of a mother and daughter. The daughter has cerebral palsy. The first thing the mother said (and I knew she would!) when she looked at the photos was “Oh look at my chin!” “Get over yourself” I said as kindly as I could...”these photos are about you and your daughter and your relationship. Look beyond your chin and see what is happening in the photos. Look at the love and the interaction between you.

Over the years as a portrait photographer who doesn’t use flash, lights or retouching, I have had to deal with this situation quite often.

“Look beyond what you first see and what you know you don’t like about yourself”
I know I have said this for 40 years since I started doing portrait photography. 15 years ago I saw a picture of myself and hated it because in my view I looked pinched and serious and I hated my nose! It was only when a friend said she loved it and made me look at it - (this pre-digital photo of me) and said “hold ‘her’ in your hand and tell me who you see” , that I knew this was my real selfand I saw someone I liked. This moment led me to the work I have been doing since and that I call ‘photoVoyage’ - a journey of self discovery using portrait photos.

Portraiture can be hit and miss, children can misbehave, as can adults, and expectations need to be managed at times. Families often want to see their 'perfect' families - and that is not always possible…

These are photos that people have at first not liked - for various reasons. I like them all and tried to help the subjects look beyond their first critical reaction. All of them agreed to let me share their photos on my blog, so they must have got over themselves at some point!

So I hereby urge you all to do the same when you see photos of yourself that you don't initially like, maybe for reasons you aren't sure of. 
   Look beyond - at the moment, at who you are, what there is to love about you…and say
                                                HERE I AM. THIS IS ME and I'M OK

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A new kind of 'meme'

I won’t bore you with all my reasons for not being a huge fan of social media. Suffice to say my work as a photographer is all about raising self-awareness through the use of portrait photos. The majority of my clients are young people, and I am battling constantly, trying to convince them that however important it may seem to them that they look good, are ‘liked’ and fit the criteria for being the coolest or most popular person, that there really should be another way of looking at photos of ourselves that help us see beyond the superficial, to who we really are. It is our inner resources that ultimately get us through life — whatever we look like.

So 2017 is going to be the year I promote the idea of a ‘me.ME!’

I am not suggesting you (and this is not just the young, of course)stop posting pictures. What I am suggesting is that every now and then, you turn a photo into black & white, because details of clothing, skin or background will be less distracting….then LOOK, really LOOK at ‘who you see’, not merely what you look like. 
It works best if someone takes a photo of you, or a series of pictures. Choose a friend and take photos of each other. Sit facing across a table, in good natural light (NO FLASH!) and simply chat. Focus on the face, raising your camera/phone or tablet from time to time — don’t keep it held up at all times — that’s a bit intimidating. Ask questions, just simple ones like “when was the last time you were happy?” or “tell me something really fantastic about you”…or simply ask them to introduce themselves and state one talent they have. There will always be a moment when they are not actually talking, or being self-conscious — so try and take the photo at this moment. Choose 2 or 3 of these photos, turn them into black & white and look really carefully. This is who you are. No posing. Your honest self. You might not look perfect, or even attractive, but just keep looking…”Is this me?” “Am I good enough?” Maybe you can simply say “Here I am. This is me. I’m OK”

Bottom line is you don’t have to post them, but just for that moment you will have seen yourself as you really are, and this can be a significant moment. 

Believe me.

and thanks to Lucy for letting me share some of her 'photoVoyage' photos. She said of the experience of really looking at herself in a new way - "It was really interesting and empowering- and has helped inform some decisions about who I am and where I go next…and I am no longer afraid of my profile!"

Monday, 9 January 2017

"You look really well”

I am not very used to thinking about about how I look these days. I’m 67 and though I know I probably seem ok for my age, I don’t really fish for compliments, and because of the work I do - using portrait photos of people to raise their self-esteem by looking beyond the superficial and into ‘who we really are’ - I can’t allow myself to get too hung up on externals. But I am human, so I do notice with a private smile and a blush if people pay me a compliment.2017 is starting with an external improvement - a newly modified feature of me I don’t want to hide or ignore. It’s amazing how long it’s taken people to notice anything different about me in the past few weeks, but there have been a number of "you look really well" comments. “Is it that your hair is blonder.....?’ has been the most popular comment or an apologetic ... “Have you lost weight?”  “No no look again - look at the shape of my face, my smile......”Maybe they are too polite to actually say anything or even hazard a guess, until I grin at them with a maniacal smile. Gosh this is embarrassing......some have no clue  what the full truth is going to be.”...er ... teeth whitening, or straightening ?”NO. NO Look -  “I have a brand new full set of dentures!”  A slightly embarrassed discomfort from them, undisguised excitement from me. Still confused I tell them - these are entirely new teeth - whiter, straighter, healthier. Plastic. Fake. And I am thrilled!  No more ‘gurning’ as I clench my 12 year old worn down gnashers together; no more embarrassment because of the super glue holding the top one in after it fell out as I chewed open a pack of salami with my teeth and it flew off into the car; no more stained and elderly dentures that remind me of my dad’s. “Oh you didn’t know I have had dentures for over 30 years - in fact all the time you have known me ??!” well I have...and it’s ok - we can talk about it!My own teeth were always a problem. Rabbity, uneven, one deadened after a bike fall that became more and more discoloured until it fell out after being hit full-on by a frisbee. Years of teeth rocking and rolling in my mouth, undermined by a period of bulimia; years of fake teeth held in with visible metal bridges; an overwhelming feeling of bad health and insecurity in my mouth and face...until finally I announced to my dentist that I wanted a whole new set of teeth. Yes - plastic ones  - dentures - not implants or even crowns. After an initial protest from him as I was then only in my 30’s, he agreed, as I vowed to find another dentist if he wouldn’t do it. And my life was totally transformed. No more fillings, cleanings, expense. No more ‘dentist phobia’. Through the years I have managed to dispel many common myths about dentures too; no you don’t have to take them out at night; yes I can chew on chicken bones and eat apples without peeling them; no, they never just fall out unless the denture adhesive isn’t working; and... nobody knows I have false teeth - until I tell them.I left it a long time to get these latest ones. Other financial priorities jumped in until finally I knew I had to do something about the jaw-ache and a top lip that was trying to hide the superglue.So my fabulous teeth and I are ready for a new year. I know they are external on a vanity level, but I feel better - healthier and more confident. The reason I have told this story is that it might inspire others to be less afraid of the inevitability of needing false teeth. There are worse things. Our mouths are important.
So let’s hear it for false teeth and new beginnings!

2017 - a New Year, and the best of intentions to write a regular blog...

2017 - a New Year, a new look blog

I have ignored this blog for a long time, so welcome back any who were reading it way back when.
This is about what I am doing in my work - using photos to help raise self-awareness, and sometimes helping raise self-awareness and confidence simply with coaching conversations. Hopefully some of the stories I tell will inspire you - not only for what I am doing, but others too that I am happy to be volunteering with.