Stay the Same

#26 Thomas Thwaites
30 May 2012, 2:22 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

Thomas Thwaites  has visited Knoydart twice now to collect mica for his infamous Toaster Project which is now going to be part of a TV series he is working on for on Channel 4. In an equally tenacious project Thomas set out to build a household toaster from scratch using raw materials to demonstrate our relationship to industralisation.  Knoydart has Britian’s only mica mine, used during the second world war but long since been abandoned. (It is mica that makes the sand on Knoydart’s beaches sparkly). And every household toaster contains the mineral mica. Even without the mica mine Knoydart is a very good place to think about ideas of industrialisation because we are so remote and often have to do things a little differently here. The locals here are brilliant at spontaneous improvisation when it comes to any kind of technical problem.

I’ve got to know Thomas well over his visits.  On the first he was an MA student and on the second he was a presenter for channel 4 and  he has become a good friend as a result. Thomas sent me this in response to my post In Search of a Happy Ending. Very pertinent and much appreciated.

Response #25 Overtime by Claudia Firth

My older sister, Claudia Firth, is also an artist. There are many ways in which our lives our weirdly parallel despite her living in the centre of London and I in the north-west of Scotland.  A couple of years ago Claudia started a project called Overtime. From her home in the Oxo Tower, a housing co-operative of around one hundred people, she can see many central London offices. Over the years she had noticed that there was always one man working overtime. Even when the lights in the all surrounding buildings were turned off his would be on, in evenings and at weekends. So she began taking pictures of him every day.

She says of the photos:

“This project came out of my own experiences as an “incapacitated” worker. Often at home in my flat not able to work because of a chronic health condition, I spent time watching and thinking about the offices that surrounded my building. I began to notice that even very late at night the office opposite my flat would be occupied with a lone worker and I decided to photograph him. I wanted to use long exposure photography to capture some of the time this man was working particularly after the normal 9-to-5. The photographs are stolen images, taken without his knowledge, but somehow I imagined them creating a relationship between us. Being faced, myself, with a feeling of a sort of suspension of normal time through illness, I felt that there was a kind of inverse relationship with this worker who always seemed to be there, sometimes even when I went to bed and again when I got up in the morning.”

These pictures couldn’t be more different from my project, they are covert, anonymous, and within a cityscape. The man is enveloped from the seasons by the warmth and light of his office, yet my film is about being exposed to and part of the natural environment.

There is definitely a sense though, in which Claudia’s photographs and the story behind them make you connect with this anonymous worker. I used to watch him working when I visited my sister and wonder about his life and what it was that made him spend all of his time in his office, but now I’m not so sure my experience is really that different. This unknown the man and I are isolated in our own ways, constantly propelled forward  towards our own goals.

In my last post I wrote about a lack of happy endings, but I think it was as much about the lack of endings per se. I have been getting myself through this project by fixing on an end point, the date I finish filming. When in actuality this will be just the beginning of editing this film. At times it feels like continually climbing a mountain with never-ending summits and I often wonder when it is you  get to go downhill.

But maybe its just a matter of stopping every now and then to take in the view, notice what you have and how far it is you have come already.

#24 Simon Lynch who I haven’t seen in ten years

Simon saw this project in the papers and got in touch through facebook last month. I went to university with Simon. We also worked together as interns in the Labour party media unit in ’97  helping make short films about how great the new Labour government was going to be (we were young!). As a result of this all we spoke on the phone for the first time in at least ten years last week. Afterwards he wrote me an email (which he agreed I could quote here!). He said “Often, ‘life’ seems to get in the way of keeping in touch with anyone – don’t even think this is a pre/post Internet thing – there just is no time… Which is exactly what I may or may not have been able to say to you about your project [on the phone]. When I look at what you are doing, I feel an extreme jealousy of your choice. Yesterday, we were busy. Today, we have no time. For anything. Maybe the story of what you are doing is about both ‘recording’, but also ‘re-calibrating’ time? Placing a stop on the constant flow of stuff and finding another way of dealing with it. Perhaps I am just projecting my own personal desires.  Anyway, I still think the angle of other people doing the same thing could produce a great piece of work.

I like the phrase “re-calibrating time”.

Simon sent me some links. One to Noah Kalina‘s everyday project, one to Cesar Kuriyama who is editing together a second of film from each day of his life and and one to the work of Jamie Livingston.  Livingston documented his life with a polaroid photo every day between March 31st 1979 and October 25th 1997 when he died of a brain tumor. He was an artist, filmmaker and circus performer. The pictures are publishe here. They are incredibly rich and moving.

These peices also relate to Jeff Harris’ 4784 Self Portraits and Jonas Mekas As I Was Moving Ahead I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty. They are all about our relationship with time, memory, personal narrative, representation and the visual image.

Simon is convinced I should create a peice of work about people who are documenting their lives in this way. In many ways this is exactly what this website is an attempt to do.  I have always seen the site as a peice of work in itself.  Alongside documenting the process of making the film, the website documents the research and development of ideas behind the film. A film which in itself is about the desire to document.

New work will almost certainly come out of this process. But it’s good to be reminded of this as sometimes I forget.

#22 Small cat arrives in post
4 March 2012, 6:50 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project | Tags: , ,

Someone in Singapore sent me a very small handcarved wooden cat in the post with a note describing it as a “woody pal” to brighten my day, which it did immensly. It’s not strictly a response to the film but was such a nice thing to receive I thought I would share it here. As my first (and may be only) ever peice of fan mail I will treasure it accordingly! Thank you.

Thank you. Sam

#21 Calligraphy by Rufus Gerrard-Wright
24 February 2012, 7:59 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

#20 A Drawing by Rhona
20 February 2012, 8:14 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

Rhona Miller is my next door neighbour, she and her sister Isla run The Knoydart Pottery and Tearoom. It is a very special place to have here on Knoydart, like stepping into a cute french film. There is lots of bunting and pretty handmade things, not just pottery and cakes, but monkeys made from scrap fabric, bracelets from buttons and knitted things. I work on my own at home most of the time, writing proposals and workshop plans and editing films, so it feels like a vital service they provide. Good coffee, local news and friendly banter. They cheer me up on a bad day (teasing me about my messy hair, strange filmmaking habits and disastrous love life) and help to keep everything in perspective.

I asked Rhona to draw something that sums up activities in the winter months here in Knoydart, when it is cold dark and there are no visitors and she came back with this picture of me knitting. I learnt to knit not long after I arrived in Knoydart at the Knoydart Ladies Knitting Circle and for a while became obsessed. There is no TV reception here, so knitting is a good activity for the dark winter evenings (and you get jumpers out of it too). Me, Isla, and Rhona sometimes spend an evening together sitting by the fire playing scrabble and knitting. I find it quite therapeutic I like the idea of knitting as a metaphor for life. If you get caught up with the imperfections you’ll never finish anything and ultimately it is those very same mistakes it yours, but sometimes you just have to face the truth that it isn’t working, unravel the whole thing and start again, and (Isla thought of this one) if you use cheap wool no matter how well you knit you will always have a cheap jumper – unless you are really very clever.

Making this film is not unlike knitting. I can’t go back and do any of the days again and they can only be put together in sequence for the whole thing to work. I just have to accept that some days I do better than others – I am more present, the light works, the focus is there, and some days things are not so perfect. It rains and I look wet and miserable. By returning to the same spot again and again at the same time I sometimes feel like I am knitting time, creating a series of moments identical but not quite the same. See my Poem Doodle post . . .

PS. Still hoping someone will knit me a response to this film!

#19 Poem received
14 February 2012, 1:46 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

Art exists to tell the truth
about the human condition
today we are all isolated
by electronics
we are lonely
lost without human contact
here by a remote Scottish loch
on the edge of Britain’s last wilderness,
a small, lone blonde film artist reminds us
of ourselves.


#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

#17 Portraits of a South African village
12 February 2012, 1:50 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project


I received these pictures and text yesterday from Rick Rohde in South Africa. There is something compelling about Vytjie’s photographs, particularly as she has been taking them over many years and I would love to see more, particularly her self portraits. I’m also really interested in Rick’s project giving cameras to young people because of the work I do (see Mallaig film project and Kids with Cameras). Also watch Mark Cousin’s brilliant film The First Movie if you get chance, which I showed here last year.

“Sofia Klaaste’s photographs are the result of a project started in 1999, part of a long-term study into the socio-economic and environmental history of Paulshoek, a rural South African village of about one hundred households in the communal area of Leliefontein, Namaqualand.
In order to help get an insider’s view of the village (as well as to provide some entertainment to village youth), I gave disposable cameras to about a dozen young adults in Paulshoek who were asked to make a visual diary of their lives or to focus on whatever visual topic they found interesting. Sofia’s photos stood out for their freshness, sensitivity, composition and candid portrayal of village life. Known to most in the community simply as ‘Vytjie’, Sofia Klaaste was then only 16 years old, and trying desperately to find outlets for her feral imagination and vivacious nature.
Sofia is now a young woman. She left home in her late teens for a couple of years and explored the rougher side of life in the townships and squatter settlements of the Cape Flats. She returned to the village in 2003 suffering from ill health and since then has lived with her mother, stepfather and younger sister in a small shack on the edge of the village. During this time Sofia was supplied with numerous disposable cameras, several 35mm ‘instamatics’ and a high-resolution digital camera. Today, her collection of photographs consists of more than 1000 images. They record a decade of village life from the perspective of a young woman growing up in the ‘new’ South Africa and provide a poignant record of Sofia’s own passage into adulthood.
Sofia’s photographs portray a material and emotional world that is common to millions of South Africa’s rural poor. Her photographs are the product of an untutored and instinctual eye for colour, composition and subject matter. They convey insight into the personal resilience and imaginative potential of a young woman confronted by severely limited opportunities associated with rural poverty and personal hardship. Above all, they are a playful and personal record of a young South African’s vision of her world.”

Rick Rohde
Cape Town

#16 Stuart Watson
10 February 2012, 7:43 am
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project
Stuart Watson sent me the following email for inclusion in this blog.  He is right to say that this blog is like a live notebook for a work in progress, which is very much how I see it. A virtual way of discussion and exploring the ideas behind the work.
‘Describing this with words seems inadequate to me, which is why I am making the film and spending so much time doing it’
I like this in your blog. It gets to the heat of the problem of a blog or any article on an artwork that’s not literary. Your medium is film, just like mine is buildings or spaces between buildings or physical landscape. Our culture is increasingly word-based. But I wish it was more to do with communicating through looking, drawing, doodling, cartooning, seeing the signs (and the designs, or the ‘ de-signing’ that a designer does) and views in space and time, and not reading or writing (or texting, tweeting, …whatever).

Is this blog your sketchbook for the polished piece of art that will be your film? If so it should try to capture what we see more directly – lines and patterns and shapes, light and shade. Perhaps only allow contributions that are (at least partly) drawn, sketched or videoed? We’ll stop writing words and just get on with the real thing. More pictures less words please – Enough said…

Stuart Watson, Architect

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