Stay the Same

10 months at 67,000 mph
21 April 2012, 11:02 am
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Having passed the 300th day it is now today exactly ten months since I started filming. It occurred to me this morning as I stood on my platform filming that even if I were to stand in exactly the same place for a whole year I would still be moving.

So I googled it and found out that I have been travelling on average at approx. 67,000 miles per hour as the earth loops its way around the sun, the sun loops its way around the centre of the galaxy and the universe expands outwards. By the end of my year I will have travelled approximately 583 million miles. (Sometimes the direction the earth is travelling around the sun is counteracted by the direction the sun is travelling around the universe). I know this isn’t really what we mean by travelling, but it is kind of fun to think about and I find it weirdly reassuring somehow that you never stay still, even if you really really want to. More soon.

The 300th Day
16 April 2012, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Diary entries

Today is my 300th day of filming.

I don’t know exactly when it happened but a shift has taken place. The project doesn’t feel like it is defining my life any more. The idea of being here for another two months without leaving doesn’t feel strange or restricting. Having spent months counting the days, it now feels as though there isn’t enough time. There are things I want to get done by the summer and a massive backlog of footage to capture.  Due to the nature of time perception, because I want things to slow down, of course, the opposite is happening. Time is flying. It is lovely here right now; wild flowers and sunshine, walks to be had on the beach, in the woods and lots and lots of visitors.

Someone suddenly and unexpectedly died on Knoydart yesterday. He was a sculptor, a difficult and lonely man. He had a heart attack in the village while helping to move a boat. Me and my sister watched the helicopter come with the paramedics. Later we watched a boat leave with his body. His death was another reminder of the randomness of life, of its frailty and the question of what you choose to leave behind. Mark made lots of enemies but he also left behind sculptures that strangers will enjoy. A fisherman holding a small child’s hand on Mallaig pier.

I have thought lots about this project over the last ten months, researched ideas about time, photography and documentation. Watched related films and had a more intense relationship with the internet than at any other time in my life.  I have spent a lot of time talking to people about how we live and die, listening to their ideas and responding back.

I have found myself listing the significant events of the year so far, two visits by sister, two by mum, one black eye, one tabloid small frenzy, one death on the peninsular. It feels like it is time to start collating my thoughts and experiences somehow. To crystalise what have I learnt as a result of all of this.

I feel quite certain I have changed as a result of this year, but I am also quite sure that fundamentally I am still the same person. Like the weather, the tides and the seasons overall we change a lot less over time than it feels like. And so the question rises itself again of what we do with the time that we are given.

A small escape at spring equinox
20 March 2012, 10:55 pm
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So here I am. I’ve been filming every day for nine months now. Less than one hundred days of filming left to go! This means I have gone outside and stood on my platform whatever the weather over two hundred sixty fifty times. So far I seem to have retained my sense of humour if not any sense of perspective.

The last few weeks of filming have been difficult though with a fine mist or drizzle always in the direction of the camera lens. Today it started raining bang on 8.30. I have also started dreaming about tunnels . . .

It was very well timed then, when serendipty gave me and my mum (who is visiting right now) the chance to escape to the Isle of Eigg for a day.  It was a fantastic day, the sunniest day we have had in months. We went to the beach drank soup from flasks and caught up with some dear friends on the island. Everyone agreed this has been the worst winter in years, not so much cold but relentlessly windy and rainy. Everyone has been struggling with this particularly on Eigg as it is even harder to leave in bad weather than Knoydart. We were all quite giddy with the one day of glorious weather.

A trip out to a beach on a different island with a very different view was just wonderful. I stood outside on the boat the whole way home. As we flew across the water I thought about the relative freedom I have had for the last nine months from any major decision making. Suddenly the idea of this project ending was nearly as anxiety making as the prospect of it continuing for another three months.

First sunshine in four months!
5 March 2012, 7:25 pm
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Yesterday for the first time in four months the sun was high enough above the mountains for it to be shining on me while I was filming at 8.30am. The light is changing really quickly now and waking up believing I have slept through both alarms only to find it is actually only 7.30am has recently become part of my daily routine. This project has made me really aware of the changes in the light and often wonder whether the accelerated change at each equinox is reflected in the rate of change our lives. That somehow signals time to step things up a gear. Several people have just announced that they are leaving Knoydart including my best friends Jim, Claire and Oren and life does seem to have quickened recently. It felt like this happened at the last equinox in October too, but I could be wrong. It might be just be that I live in a place where most peoples lives revolve around seasonal work. I recently did an interview for the artists newsletter about the project, you can read it by following this link, which made me think a lot about change and fear of it.
Paradoxically it feels as though I have experienced more profound change in this last year despite the fact, or maybe even because, I have stayed in the same place. In the past, when things haven’t worked or I’ve not been happy I have made increasingly bigger changes in my life in the hope of fixing things and often made them worse or just created different problems to focus on, rather than accepting that things happen at their own rate and that often all you need to do is hang on in there and wait and they get better. After weeks of rain the last two days here have been just beautiful here and I have been reminded again how stunning this place is.

I will take a picture of the sun rising above the hills tomorrow but in the meantime here are a couple of pictures showing how cold it got in February.

#18 Fiona McCade@The Scotsman
12 February 2012, 2:39 pm
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries, Responses to the project

This is what Fiona McCade had to say about Stay the Same in the Scotsman on Thursday 9th Feb. I am posting it here because although there is much I disagree with, I found it quite interesting as a response to the film and it got me thinking.

I particularly liked hearing about her “Fiona Through The Years Photos”. I agree with her that her pictures may not currently be of any artistic value, but the same was true of my old passport photos until I turned them into  ID. It is also true of the old photos in the Back to the Future project (pictured left) which I posted a few months ago and of the footage I am currently collecting every day when I am filming. It is what you do with these pictures or moving images, the raw materials of a film, that gives them artistic value and makes them more or less interesting.

The question of how you quantify artistic value and what should be paid for publicly is a whole other issue, which I don’t have the answers for (and thankfully don’t have to). Fiona seems to suggest that the only value of importance is current popularity, but there is a difference between what is popular in the immediate and what will stand the test of time and have lasting value. My sense is that this is about depth of meaning and I hope this is what will distinguish Stay the Same from the photo every day trend and cats with bread on their heads. (Although I also believe you could probably make an interesting film using either as raw material and am always up for a challenge if anyone would like to commission me to do so!). 

I would love to see Fiona’s Paris photos and wonder whether in the right hands, and with Fiona’s participation, they could be made into an interesting film.

If anyone has a collection of photos like Fiona’s please get in touch

PS. Surely a hammer is only a hammer because it isn’t used for anything else?

“WHEN I was seven, I went to Paris for the first time and my mum took a photo of me standing in front of a fountain in the Tuileries Gardens.  I don’t go to Paris as much as I’d like, but every time I’ve returned, I’ve got someone to take a photo of me in exactly the same place and same position, so I now have a cool little collection of Fiona Through The Ages, in all weathers, getting older and older. I was just wondering: would you like to buy this memento of me? How about I give you all the photos of me and you give me £10,000? No? Why not?
Don’t be so quick to turn up your noses. The British Film Institute and Creative Scotland have given £10,000 of your tax and lottery money to an artist called Sam Firth to spend on an art project which involves her going out every day at 8:30am and filming herself standing silently and still for ten minutes in exactly the same place – in front of a loch on the Knoydart peninsula.  She’s going to do this for a year, then edit the footage into a 20-minute film to be called Stay The Same, although I doubt that she (or the Knoydart peninsula) will manage to stay even slightly the same every single day, given the weather up there.
If Creative Scotland wants this film to showcase Scotland, they should probably ask Sam to budge over a bit, because the stills I’ve seen are all about her head and not the spectacular scenery behind it. But pure art would have no such base motives. I spent time at university learning about what constitutes art, so to spare you the student debt, and for no charge whatsoever, here is what I learned. You know something is art when it’s no use for anything else. Ergo, Ms Firth is definitely an artist. She’s not a bad one, either. I’ve seen some of her other work and I enjoyed it. She made a great little film about her intestinal fauna.
The trouble is that this new project doesn’t have quite such an original premise, since there are an awful lot of us out there filming or photographing ourselves at regular intervals.  I don’t want any artists to starve in garrets, but given the current financial situation, here’s a wild idea: maybe they could create their work and then sell it? Like artists used to?

I’m happy for Ms Firth to do her thing – even if I did have the idea first and it’s cost me a fortune in air fares – but wouldn’t it have been cheaper if she’d paid for the camera and the memory card herself, then us taxpayers could wait and see if we like what she comes up with?
My holiday snaps may not merit a payout from the public purse, but my artistic sensibilities are not dead. In fact, I’ve had a great idea.
Right now, there are millions of people online, actively searching for films and photos of cats wearing hats made of bread. “Cat breading” is HUGE. We will PAY to see cats in hats made of bread.  Cat breading counts as real art because nothing on earth is more useless for any practical purpose than cats dressed up in baked goods. So I shall decorate my two cats with slices of finest multigrain and take hundreds of photos that all look practically the same. Cat after cat, with slices of bread around their heads.
If I edit together 365 photos of my breaded cats and make a film of them, I’ll be a proper artist. I know, it’s sacrilege to suggest that art should please the masses, but at least I’m not asking the masses to subsidise me unless they want to. Fortunately, I reckon there are millions of private patrons out there who are willing to pay for my work. For an outlay of £1.20 per loaf and some cans of Whiskas, I could make a tidy profit – and even more if I use discount thin-sliced white.”

Fiona McCade, The Scotsman

The Storm
10 December 2011, 8:57 am
Filed under: Diary entries

Thursday was pretty wild. Half an hour after I wrote my last post the 100mph winds really hit and I have never experienced anything like it (it was a bit like being in the Wizard of Oz). It blew for about five hours and all you could do was sit and watch. Within half an hour the power lines had been blown down and it didn’t take long to realise it wasn’t really safe to leave the house.

It probably wasn’t that sensible going out to save my inflatable kayak at the height of the storm, but it was only on the way back from getting it into the shed that I was properly caught in a gust and literally swept off my feet so ran back inside. (I knew I should have been put it away at the end of summer!)

Here are some pictures of the trees that went down next to my house and also some pictures I took once the storm had died down a bit.  More footage to come from Jim Manthorpe.

Lots of the buildings here have lost bits of their roofs and trees landed within inches of others, but amazingly only one person was hurt  having been concussed being blown of his bicycle earlier that morning when fortunately the lifeboat was still able to make it in.

It is also something of a testimony to our power supply,  an off grid hydro electric system, small sustainable communities and those who maintain the power and help clear the line that we were back up and running by 7pm yesterday. There was applause when Jim who maintains the hydro came into the pub. Mallaig and the surrounding area are still without power and won’t be back on until Monday. As a result the phones have now stopped working because the back up batteries at the local exchange only last 24hrs. So I’m guessing it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before the phones are on again for anyone trying to get hold of me. But I do have internet and skype!

Mallaig got hit worse than us and the high school children had to be escorted from the building one by one wearing hard hats because of flying debris. Most of the houses there had some damage and caravans were picked up and landed on top of cars in the Mallaig carpark.

Yesterday everyone emerged in the village slightly shell shocked to come together and talk about who had lost what and which storm was worse this one or the one six years ago when the road got washed away (this one was windier, the sea state was worse on the last one).

Suffice to say I didn’t miss a days filming!

More wind & a small river
8 December 2011, 11:42 am
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries

Ha ha! My spirits may have lifted but the weather definitely hasn’t. This is the worst winter I have experienced since moving here! Today the winds are stronger than ever, check out the 100mph gusts in the met office forecast.  So, I literally tethered the tripod down this morning and it worked. Haven’t got as far as tying myself down yet.  I also noticed this morning that a river seemed to be developing around the platform largely due I think to the path I have made by walking there every day. So this morning I spent an hour re-directing the river and making a nice pebble path to my platform.

A Change in the Weather
6 December 2011, 6:25 pm
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries

So on Saturday, after the tripod nearly blew over (see last post),  I walked around the coast to look at the atlantic ocean. I took some music with me by a few composers I’m considering for the film and sat on a hill top watching the hail storms blow in and clear again. The island of Eigg looked particularly magical surrounded by sea mist and on my way home I ran and leapt along the road to my music, hollered into the wind and felt quite wonderful. I had the sense of  freedom I had described in my last post. When the edges of one self become blurred.

I sometimes get this in my work when things really click and make sense (not that often!). But I often get it from being in big landscapes, listening to music, dancing all night (sometimes with the help of whisky sometimes without) and in those moments when you totally connect with what another person is saying.

It fascinates me that this place can sometimes feel so oppressive  and yet at the same time I get such an intense sense of liberation from it too. But it might also be that I am just describing the general ups and downs of the creative process.

In any case, I woke up Monday morning to hear snow sliding from the roof and came outside to find everything had changed. It is still covered in bright snow here, in less than two weeks my family arrive, with more visitors coming at New Year and I am almost half way through this project.

It feels like maybe a small turning point might have been reached.

Saturday 3rd December
5 December 2011, 2:52 pm
Filed under: Diary entries

I wasn’t originally going to post moving images from my daily filming so as not to spoil the final film, but had to share this!

Trapped in time
1 December 2011, 4:30 pm
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries

The weather has been pretty wild and there is more forecast to come. I came out one morning last week and the platform was covered in seaweed and pebbles so I have taken to hanging kitchen weights off the tripod in a pair of pink socks on windy days. A very girls own way to secure ones film equipment!

It is very easy to feel trapped on Knoydart when the weather is like this. Many of the boats are cancelled even if you did have the perverse desire to leave the house let alone go out to sea.

It struck me today that this film might be an expression of feeling trapped as much as it is the cause. When I showed the test film at Glasgow short film festival last January the first response was that I appeared trapped in the frame. I didn’t think too much of it, but looking at many of the pictures now I wonder whether the whole project is an attempt to articulate a sense of being trapped that goes beyond spending five years on a remote Scottish peninsular. After all, I came here to escape.

Do most people feel trapped? It is easy to feel trapped by work, routine, commitment, lack of time, responsibility, trapped like Groundhog Day, on the London underground again and again and again.  When I lived in London the only way I coped was to image myself part of a large musical set on the London transport system – and I’m not the only person to have had this fantasy.

I was going to boil this down to a clever argument about how in the modern world we are given an idea of time, freedom and youth as a luxury to aspire to.  But that, as I am learning quite profoundly right now, the best way to feel trapped is to get an idea in your head of a freedom that you are not having. And yes it’s a pain but routine, commitment, responsibility, time management and aging are just a part of life. As many an octogenarian millionaire dabbling in cryogenics soon discovers you can’t actually buy time. So maybe this is why we all feel trapped because we are sold an idea of freedom that is really quite childlike of permanent holidays with no responsibilities that none of us can attain.

But there is more to it than that and this is the bit I struggle to articulate and maybe why I am a film maker and not a writer (if I can call myself either). Because one has to balance having a sense of perspective with the knowledge that every now and then one does experience something akin to a sensation of freedom possibly beyond time and ones self, that has nothing to do with ideas of society and modern living and what we are sold and what we are not, and that can maybe only be achieved by being fully in the moment, and even then I’m not sure how.

But once you’ve tasted it, it’s hard not to keep chasing those moments. Because we are all trapped in some ways, in ourselves, in this life, because this is the only time we are going to get.

Or maybe all of this rainy weather is just giving me the opportunity to think far too much . . .

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