Friday, 28 June 2013

You Crawled Out Of The Sea

                         Photos of Rosalind taken by Flo. Photos of Flo taken by Rosalind.

One of the greatest joys in formulating ideas for photography is the research. I’m someone who becomes rather puppyish at the prospect of spending an afternoon with a free mind, a stack of books and a pad of paper for note taking. It’s a time to wander through the reaches of others’ imaginations, whether in their words or images. Vague concepts can be clarified and expanded, or new ones thought up.
I'm lucky enough to live in a house where there are two things guaranteed for creativity. The first is, no matter what the shoot, theme or activity, there’ll be texts available to inspire. The second is that there will also be ample costumes to fulfill the brief. Between the books and the dressing up box, we cover all options.
Both resources were called upon in planning a seaside shoot with Flo last autumn. As our emails pinged back and forth, I reached for the shelves. There I found several books previously enjoyed aged eight. As we discussed the paradoxes of the sea: the suggestions of vulnerability or potency, safety or danger, serenity or storm, I was flicking through the Barefoot Book of Goddesses. There, I was re-acquainted with Japanese deity Benzai-Ten who lived with a dragon husband in the depths of Lake Biwa; the “first lady of the Welsh islands and sea” Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere in English mythology); and the mermaid Queen Nyai Loro Kidul from Java. Although all four elements could be found, the most frequent association among these goddesses was water. It brings with it associations arcing from birth to destruction. Gwenhyfar allegedly sang the ‘marswygafen’ (death song of “giving back to the sea mother”) as her dead husband Arthur was returned to the waves, while Nyai Loro Kidul required offerings to appease her tempers and taste for “men wearing green bathing trunks.”
Many of these goddesses were powerful, clever, sensuous, giving. Often their stories were full of strength. Their narratives reflect the ways in which cultures and communities have tried to make sense of the world. ‘Goddess’ is now a misconstrued word calling to mind the domestic goddess of the kitchen, Grecian goddess dresses made from cheap fabric, the faux-spiritual implications of “releasing your inner goddess”. All associations diminish the meaning.
Flo and I wanted to pay homage to the original intensity of these myths. We began with outlines of characters, our proposed shoot also informed by another Barefoot collection: Stories from the Sea. We talked about folk tales from the original and appropriately tragic Little Mermaid through to The Selkie Wife (a seal who metamorphosed into a woman but could not undo the change when her sealskin was hidden). I then assembled velvets, silks, long dresses, translucent fabrics and enough ballgowns to adorn a small group of debutantes.
But we felt less like women of the water and more like very cold girls as we rose at 6am for the morning light. November seas are unforgiving, welsh wind bitter. But as our minds warmed up (even if our bodies didn't follow suit) we braved the grey water and blue waves. We challenged the rising chill, thought of those sirens and selkies and waded on. Then we made faces and jumped about, shrieking - once the camera had been lowered and the sky, breeze and bloody freezing sea could be acknowledged. 

All clothes secondhand or vintage, sourced from my dressing-up box - including 50s ruched, turquoise swimming costume worn under chiffon dress and tattered 30s satin wedding dress, dyed pink. These were originally posted at the end of last year on our joint photography blog Renard et Rose, with the shoot here and an explanation here. If you click on the landscape photos you can see them larger. It felt appropriate to re-post them on the eve of our next shoot taking place tomorrow. More of Flo's photography can be seen on her flickr.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tinged with familiarity

A ‘second home’ makes one think of a villa abroad or a tumbledown cottage on the coast. It suggests something additional – a surplus property or space. But although I’ve always thought of my grandma’s flat as a second home, it does not fit those criteria. Instead it has been a well known and appreciated ‘home from home’ visited since childhood; tinged with familiarity. I’ve always known on entering exactly how the bubble lamp would peer over the table, how the paintings were arranged on the stairs, which shelves to turn to if I wanted to read a Penguin classic bound up in orange.
My dad and his late brother grew up there, and it has changed little since his younger years. The sixties' Saarinen furniture has seen out decades of growth, love, difficulties; those smooth white chairs sat on by everyone from toddlers to teenagers to grandparents. I probably used them to haul myself up when learning to walk. It is full of such stuff as memories are stored in, whether these are volumes on art from the V&A or photographs hanging in the bedrooms.
Soon the majority of items collected over the years are to be re-located. This is the last summer during which I'll be staying in the flat as it is, before everything is boxed up and my grandma moves elsewhere.
Sorting and sifting and changing and recycling are part of the human process. The Buddhist concept Anicca, roughly translated, suggests that all things are impermanent and always in flux. Accordingly, it is taught that suffering stems from desire. Probably true, but I doubt that I’ll ever detach myself from all the things I’ve coveted and acquired. My magpie instinct, inherited from my family, is too strong. However, that state of continual change described above can be true on a material level for many of us. We accumulate things then let them loose again. The contents of our houses change as we do, sometimes incrementally, sometimes drastically. I’ve been used to the interior of my grandma’s flat being a constant. But although the change will take some getting used to, it feels right.
Exploring how we deck out our personal spaces is a book-length topic, taking in history, geography, family, circumstance, culture, society, experience, class, taste and other facets. What we put in our cupboards (and indeed, how those cupboards are designed) is informed by all these factors, and consequently informs the casual observer of something about the person who owns them.
For example, my own room indicates that I read a lot and keep hold of far too many hats. But if  viewed when I was thirteen it would have been easier to glean that I loved Audrey Hepburn and was attempting to forge my identity by way of collaged canvases, fairy lights, inflatable chairs and a ridiculous quantity of gel pens. Our interests and focuses shift, clear-outs happen and the updates are ushered in. 

Photos taken by the lovely Fred Wilkinson whose other shoots and photography can be seen on his flickr. Big thanks to him. It was great to hear his reactions to my grandma's flat as I showed him around. I chose my clothes to match that late sixties/ early seventies colour scheme. Both dresses are vintage and both were very well chosen presents from my mum.

Finally, I'll be flagging this up again in my next post, but as most people already know, Google Reader is shutting down on July 1st, so I'd encourage anyone who hasn't done so already to follow me on Bloglovin'. There's a great article on IFB about how to transfer your RSS feeds over. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


What does ethical really mean? It may seem a lazy device to use, but there is no better definition of ethics than in the Oxford Dictionary:

   1 moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity
   2 the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles

Schools of ethics in Western philosophy can be divided, very roughly, into three sorts. The first, drawing on the work of Aristotle, holds that the virtues (such as justice, charity, and generosity) are dispositions to act in ways that benefit both the person possessing them and that person’s society. The second, defended particularly by Kant, makes the concept of duty central to morality: humans are bound, from a knowledge of their duty as rational beings, to obey the categorical imperative to respect other rational beings. Thirdly, utilitarianism asserts that the guiding principle of conduct should be the greatest happiness or benefit of the greatest number.

All three principles were exemplified at the Observer Ethical Awards, where those who received accolades including the National Campaigner of the Year, Ecover Green Young Champions and Lifetime Achievement Award were celebrated. Each category, whether it focused on tourism or trade, showed the importance of peering past the boundaries of our own lives. As I sat in the ceremony, tears were not far away on several occasions. The first was when Francis McCrickard received the Unsung Hero award – reminiscent of the story of ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ in his commitment to, well, doing just that. Over 8000 trees have sprung from his hands, as well as meadows yielding wildlife and a project restoring old tools for new use. The ‘unsung’ part of the award is important, for he was incredibly gracious, doing what he does not for the praise but for the practical impact on others.
The second was Malala Yousafzai. I mentioned her in my last post but one, expressing my admiration for her very vocal call for girls' education in the Swat Valley, and more widely in Pakistan. She is three years younger than me, and many decades braver. This astounding girl was the rightful winner of the International Campaigner of the Year. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt shivers at watching a video that summarized her actions. It was humbling.  
We live in unsettled times. We’re witnessing not only the effects of climate change, but also the impact of global corporations who value profit above people. Technology moves faster than our resources. Women are still deemed second-class in many countries, while the global and local gap between wealth and poverty is deplorable. When all of that is acknowledged, things can feel bleak. To be honest, some of it is.
But that’s not it. There are good people, good initiatives and good businesses at work. They are the ones who adhere to Aristotle’s ideas of justice and generosity, or Kant’s moral duty. No one person can (or should be expected to) take on the weight of the world’s problems. Yet this shouldn’t stop the individual or collective helping to add to the sum of humanity in a small way. I respect those who don’t just stumble through their own life, but actively try to improve the lives of others. I aspire to their actions. This isn’t some ‘holier than thou’ comment though; just a recognition that the world extends beyond the parameters we each mark our existence with. 

I was lucky enough to be at the awards ceremony because I had been shortlisted for the Well Dressed Award - a new category based on sustainable style which was judged by Livia Firth and Baroness Lola Young, and sponsored by Eco-Age. I was both thrilled and shocked to find that I was the winner. The adrenaline rush of this exciting news carried me through my last exam the next day (completed after a long train journey back from London), and I was featured in The Observer magazine the following weekend (wearing my beautiful handmade cape by ethical designer Asuyeta.)  It was also written up by the lovely Jessica Bumpus from here.

I wore this dress from ethical company Beautiful Soul (also shown in the top photos) paired with my paternal grandma's belt and my late maternal grandma's handmade silver rings recycled by a local silversmith/artist from old, scrap jewellery. That, and a nice layer of Chanel Lilis nail varnish. The clutch is a vintage pyjama case. 

There had been a shortlist of three, and my surprise at winning was due to my knowledge of the amazing credentials of the other two...

Zoe Robinson (pictured on the right in a vintage dress sourced from eBay, with Alice Wilby the editor of Eco-Age on the left) is a sustainable stylist, charity consultant, writer, fashion editor and founder of the brilliant ethical community hub The Good Wardrobe. In between all that she's also finding time to work on a sustainable food festival. It was a great delight to meet and talk with her.

Jane Molloy is behind the stunning business Get Clobbered. Pictured above is one of her beautiful creations (stylist: Lisa Fifer). The ethos is one of "consume less, re-use more" and Jane was the perfect figurehead for her own designs in a fabulous, fringed belt at the ceremony. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

There's a Place

Details slip by at hectic times (one more exam to go). I failed to mention that I turned eighteen in May; I'm now legally an adult. But it's less of of the legal and more of the psychological advantages that I am continuing to enjoy.
The date was ushered in with plenty of (thrifty) pomp and champagne. It involved an afternoon tea the previous weekend, a gin and tonic at the pub on the day, and an extraordinary surprise from two very dear friends that evening. I had returned from the hill up the road, sated with the beauty of the just-experienced bluebell wood. Our family had once again enacted the rite of passage marking off each year that passes, scrambling across fields and barbed wire to greet trees and flowers. All four of us became the scenery caught between the crisp green underfoot and bright canopy above. My brother disappeared along the nearest high branch while my mum sat with her back against a trunk; my dad skulking through the patches of light in search of the perfect photo. I stood and watched and listened.
When we left, I tried to snatch something of the wood’s calmness and carry it back home. I guess it could be said that our living room echoed the light and space, but only in that it was tidier than usual. As I fiddled with books and considered what to do next, I heard a knock on the door, but hardly looked up. Then I registered the clack of heels and familiar voices. It was the effervescent, ever-fantastic Flo and her boyfriend. I had a strange moment of disconnection, not quite sure how they could be in our hall when I knew they should be in Manchester. I couldn’t take it in. They later observed that my face had been priceless, recognition turning to pure shock as I squealed.
I've always wanted to be surprised. It’s one of those strange wishes that you can’t request because it is ruined in the act of asking. But those two managed it with elegance. They arrived in gorgeous outfits, bearing goodies and the prospect of great conversation. We raised glasses, talked, tilted our faces to the summer twilight and later raided the fridge for midnight cheese-and-crackers feasting. It was an evening of superlatives. Words like ‘amazing’ and ‘glorious’ and ‘unbelievable’ capture something of how it felt, but not the total joy. It was an affirmation of friendship, gratitude and the giddy delight of the good things in life.

I wore this vintage dress (bought from the Soho Bang Bang) on my birthday. I love the multitudes of flowers. Thanks to my dad for snapping the shots. 

In other news, if you haven't done so already, head over to Bella's blog Citizen Rosebud to see Part 1 and Part 2 of Bella's new blog feature: a '20 on +40' interview I did with Mel from A Bag and a Beret. It's a brilliant idea and between Bella's exuberant spirit and Mel's Cindy Sherman-esque creative escapades, it was both enlightening and huge fun to be involved. I particularly enjoyed Mel's inventive questions which saw me describing what I'd make from found materials to wear to a woodland ball. 
I've also had two articles published online recently. I discussed the inclusive Debenhams lookbook and the power of image for The Vagenda, and the impact of Jennie Runk's H&M campaign (but the lack of UK size ten models) for All Walks Beyond the Catwalk
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