As the days pass and see more sunshine, we are spending time in the garden. There I feel completely absorbed in the world around me. No longer an individual being but a working, playing piece of the whole. The grounding feeling of this coexistence has brought such stability as the constantly evolving crisis the world is facing has reached a point of painful uncertainty. Our reliance on supermarkets and other unsustainable modes of living has been exposed and, although we try our best already, it has given me the jolt I needed to live the ideals I believe in. On a wider scale, I live in hope that things may change for the better in the future.
I read a poster in a church this time last year that said something along the lines of: “Honour the past, treasure the present and sow seeds for the future”. That’s what I intend to live by, especially since spring is my favourite time of year and I cannot bear to let it pass without embracing it. To cope with the uncertainty, I invested in some small but certain joy; some seeds, some pretty perennial Chionodoxa and a baby Magnolia stellata tree (something I have longed for for many years). Now I can enjoy the process of sowing, planting, growing and sighing-at-loveliness.
I adore the clothes of bygone eras. The materials, the construction, the lace, the fastenings, the stitching, the mending, the character, the uniqueness. I love that they are at once, in discernible instances, something to be worn and objects of curiosity. Over the years, I have collected a small hoard but there are only so many pieces I can rightly own, only so many strong enough to be worn, only so many I can give adequate care to. It was easy to accumulate pieces that were cheap, or simply just “there”. As of last year, I have been slowly letting go. I was finally able to align my belief that things do not have to be owned to be valued or a part of our lives and begin setting them free.
As Snufkin once said:
“But that’s how it is when you start wanting to have things. Now I just look at them, and when I go away I carry them in my head. Then my hands are always free, because I don’t have to carry a suitcase.”
Tove Jansson, Comet in Moominland
These things, everything from coats to dresses to detachable collars, had been “saved”, stockpiled and hidden away. But hoarding them all in dark drawers inhibits the possibility of other curious minds getting to peek into the world of the past in such an intimate and familiar way. As vintage, and notably, antique clothing has become more popular and accessible in recent years a phenomenon has emerged in which particularly revered items, such as 1930s dresses of a certain style or anything Gunne Sax, are monopolised or stockpiled and removed from circulation. The scarcity mentality exploits the beauty that lies partly in the very fact that they are rare and halts discovery and appreciation. In a world where we can send packages to just about anywhere I think it would be wonderful to redistribute these pieces of history and give more people a chance to fall in love.
Since I sold a lot of my perhaps more practical but not so beautiful clothes to fund my collection I had very little I was able to wear day to day, fearing for even my strongest vintage. I began replacing those I had released into the wild with handmade, high quality items to achieve a happy balance; I am not the world’s most practical person after all. I bought only a few linen dresses and skirts and assured myself I would feel conformable wearing everyday without worrying about spoiling or damaging them. This, in part, is due to a severe case of fearing the “good china”. Predictably enough, as soon as they arrived I looked at them, gasped in awe, decided they were “not for a day like today” and into the wardrobe they went. After the difficulties of the past couple of years I am in a constant state of striving to take my life into my own hands and here I find myself in a position to embrace that. So, as silly as it may seem, I am forcing myself to wear these pretty and almost-practical clothes on a daily basis.
I was recently forced to cull a similar mentality when faced with something far more simple. Leone Candy Originals: Violet flavour. I have ogled these sweets with heart shaped eyes, seeing them on the counters of delis and bakeries when in Europe on several occasions and every time I have declined the opportunity to try them. Whilst in Edinburgh this January, we found a lovely deli where I met them once again. Feeling the energy of the New Year I finally made myself try them. I put them safely in my bag, carried them all the way home to Wales and they have sat on my windowsill until a week ago.
My mother told me I was “just like my grandmother”. Grandma Hunter would receive tins of sweets, jars of jam and boxes of soap as gifts and there in their containers they would stay. And there they remained until she sadly passed away last summer. I suppose in her case her enjoyment came primarily from the thoughtfulness and not from the consumption which is sweetly admirable and a quality about her I so loved. Whilst I am also sentimental to an extent, my nature is one of wanting desperately to wear the dress or taste the sweets but feeling as though I should not.
I knew I would love them, I love anything violet flavour. I thought they would be so nice I would devour them and never find any more ever again. Of course, this is a silly and false thought, but even if it were the case, I have realised it is more important to have the experience than to keep it on the shelf.
Over the course of the last few years I have done a lot of growing. The rapid flow of life changes and some difficult experiences we have had have accelerated this. A side effect has been my relationship with social media, the rabbit hole, the hypnotic, ever replenishing kaleidoscope of visual feedback, and I am ashamed to admit how much of my mental energy has gone into trying to understand it.
Years ago, I found myself creating and posting to please others and, in the case of my illustrations and art, this led me to stop creating all together. Looking though my art gallery I couldn’t relate to what I had been presenting as myself and, eventually, I deleted it. I abandoned illustration all together and, feeling an itch to share something, began sharing vintage clothing which grew alongside my blossoming interest in photography and this became something else, something confused. Now I feel as though I am teetering on that collapse again.
Creativity has been condemned to suffocation under a need for perfection I didn’t know I had. The desire to curate a concise gallery that acutely represents the absolute pinnacle of a single idea is not only exhausting but highly limiting. I felt bound to leave some sort of “legacy”, a specific image of myself in the minds of others’, recognition for recognition’s sake. This “legacy”, needless and meaningless in the first instance, may not be entirely formed of myself. I fear I have allowed myself to become too influenced by the echo chamber of Instagram’s refined visual culture.I’ve caught myself trying to establish myself in a preconceived niche, whether or not I was conscious of this I am not sure as so much of what we consume feeds our subconscious. I no longer want to strive for something that is a stretch too far to feel natural, to keep up appearances, to assign myself to cliques, to feel burning desire for what I don’t have or need. I have realised that in being authentically yourself, these needs dissolve. Pruning yourself dampens originality and creativity, and curtails variety we sorely need.
The saddest part is that I found that so many of the moments I shared were not truly lived. I did not experience them the way one might imagine I did. I no longer want to find myself outside of the present moment with a compulsive need to capture it. I deemed the most special moments those most worthy of sharing instead of allowing myself to be immersed in the gifts life was giving me. Those moments are treasures that are valuable by simply being, not by being captured and validated or used as a visual identifier for a personal “brand”.
Despite this, there will always be a photographer and curator within me eager to capture and moments in a pleasing way. I want to strike a balance between life and the documentation of it. Perhaps the answer is in less instantaneous and more personal methods such as in the form of blogs, journals, printed photo albums, sketchbooks, like the Victorians scrapbooked or like Edith Holden lovingly pieced together a view of the world around her.
So, I will share on this blog and keep any other form of documentation private and personal. I am distancing myself from all other online platforms. I don’t want to be fed; I want to consciously and intermittently go to the fountain and to be able to draw inspiration from my own inner pool. I will transfer over some things from Instagram for memories’ sake but going forward the slow style of blogging will suit me better. This will be solely for myself. No pressure, no standards to live up to. I want to know who I am without social media. I want to celebrate and connect with others in a more balanced and reciprocal way. I want to intimately experience life as I did when I was a child.
When everything is condensed into an Instagram galley it is easy to view it as a snapshot of your life. This narrow view projects back into my living world where I begin to feel restricted and lock myself into certain pathways of being. A blog separates things, moments, moods, and paints a broader picture in which you can clearly see things are omitted. There are spaces between the pictures and this is where life happens, where growth happens. I need the courage to give myself permission to change and grow and realise I am not stuck anymore. I need to stop reliving the same chapter in my life. I have to turn the page.
The last of the white roses has blossomed with the first of the sunshine. They opened when we arrived in June. Since then they have watched over us as they slowly climbed the apple tree. We’ll spend half a year without them and meet them again in summer.
Clinging to summer relics of thistle and heather and weathering the perpetual storms of January. When we are children time is elusive, at once everything and nothing. The hour it takes for our mother to cook our food and the hour we have to play are very different. The year until we are old enough to go to school is so long we can scarcely comprehend it. When we are small a year seems so unfathomably expansive, even a week or an hour can seem eternal. As we live more years, more hours, these stretches of time become proportionally smaller. A year no longer seems so long, an hour is no time at all. I suppose this is obvious to a lot of people but when I first heard this idea it really fascinated me. On one hand, precise measure of time is of no real consequence to me, my studies are self directed and there is no schedule in our rural home. On the other, I feel so painfully aware of its fleeting passage, as though it’s gone before I can reach for it. Depression, anxiety and derealisation coalesce to form a uniquely torturous feeling of stagnancy and restlessness, of feeling unable to act but with an acute awareness that time is being whittled away. It’s hard not to regret the days and weeks spent on “standby”. During these times I find myself turning to the internet in an unsettlingly automatic way, a way that fills the moments that weren’t meant to be filled. I keep following a mindless pattern scrolling, hoping to find something to spark meaningful action. I’ve realised it never comes. I’ve come to the not-so-revolutionary conclusion that life is in the in-between moments and it will not wait to be lived. I have been practicing allowing vacant moments to simply hover over me without immediately seeking to numb the itch. Eventually my mind melts into a pleasant state that’s simultaneously empty and full of freely flowing soft dreams. I’m learning what a joy it is to do nothing and how nothing quite often becomes something lovely (I’m baking more than ever). I hope my heart finds itself somewhere where time is emotionally inconsequential. I hope my mind stops it’s restless search for an unreachable destination and has a contented journey.
There has been a thick fog though every valley and over every forest for the last few days. You could scarcely see the edge of field from our gate that stands only three metres away. Just before it settled we saw the first thick frost of the year. It was the first time I had ever seen frozen fungi. The snowdrops came too; a dense carpet of them beneath the plum trees and more scattered around the garden, more than I have ever seen at once. There’s a pink or yellow primrose or two here and there, and the daffodils are slowly waking up. As Imbolc approaches I feel hope in knowing things are stirring in the earth, as within myself. Although little of note has happened this month I’ve been happy to surrender to the season and allow myself to rest without guilt.
I’m catching glimpses of myself again. I need to realise I am not where I was last year. I need to let go, begin to grow again. I have to be open to a more fruitful life. The pieces are all there, I just have to pick them up. Instead, I tether myself to the past, relive pain, follow old patterns and view the world through old eyes. I fear moving on, who I may become or may already be. I am suspicious of joy. I don’t know who I am without my heavy dark shroud. I must summon the courage to untie it from my neck and feel the breeze in my hair, to give myself to life and let it touch me. My past and future selves all exist within me, I cannot fear losing them or becoming them.
We recently returned from France where my disposition was brought to light by a woman who found it peculiar. I have always been some kind of shy. I’ve never wished to be anything else. My world is gentle and quietly wild, a walled and untamed garden. In a lilac scented reverie I realised just how much this translates into my art, particularly my photography. All is dainty, obscured, hidden. The details of a forgotten corner of a room, the light peeking through the leaves, fallen eye contact.
The quintessence of my shy spirit was appeased whilst driving through the wooded roads of Normandy. We chanced upon a brocante place in a little village where cats formed the majority of the population. It was in an old barn dusted with pink blossoms fallen with the storm. Outside sat weathered white iron lace chairs with glass jugs perched atop them slowly filling with rain water. We opened the door to a dark and silent cave. The stirring dust and all manner of treasures glinted in the ribbons of light seething through the cracks of the wood while silhouettes of statues whispered in the corners. The keeper of this magnificent hoard materialised behind us and in (very) broken French we managed a conversation about my vintage hat. After recognising our mutual appreciation for historical fashion she invited me up to the loft where the shelves, floor to ceiling, were brimming with sleeping boxes each filled with Chantilly lace and silks and beadwork. Their guardian spent an hour trifling through old suitcases telling me about the women who had worn this hat and that jabot and where she found these velvet dresses. I left with some fabric and delicate things from the nineteenth century and she gave us a beautiful doily as a late wedding gift. I wish I could have told her how happy she had made me.
p.s. When I expressed my bewilderment at the vastness of the violets outside the woman we were lodging with told me that ants carry the seeds of violets through grasses and the tangled roots of hedgerows. The shy blossoms are jewels in the shadow of their marching chains.
Sometimes I find myself too much under the influence of the cosmic: the moon, the stars, the weather. The days are blowing by in gales and storms and still I feel I am trudging through the waterlogged weeks. The path is murky but in seeking light I find myself immersed in a parallel realm fuelled by inner longings, I suppose you could say daydream. I dream, romanticise; my heart dwells in the meadow of a bygone time. Nothing brings me greater joy than weaving a story or curating a world, or an atmosphere, for the imagined entities, feelings or objects to exist in. Naturally this mindset influences many aspects of my life, my art. I am a collector of all things with a story to tell or a fantasy to impart upon. The cumulative effects of this produce works such as the following…
Initially the photographs in this series were in vivid jewel tones. This fit the opulence of the fairytale theme but the melancholic undertones I envisioned were not coming through. I didn’t want to forgo colour completely and so I arrived at a desaturated palette that hints at the former vibrancy in much the same way as a fairytale touched by tribulation or simply the hands of time.
The subjects of pre-Raphaelite photographs appear to have evanescent quality. Ghostly, as though they have appeared only to be witnessed in this moment and once the eye moves up from the lens to glimpse them they have vanished. Not tethered to this earth, their outlines blur and blossom. Light scatters through them as though they are made of frosted crystal.
The photographs below are an attempt to capture such a feeling, such a softness. The gaze towards the viewer is piercing; a sharpness that cuts through the fragile web the bird’s-breath softness of this fairy world is swathed in.
The gypsophila crown was made in the haze of the warm days preceding the expedition to the grove beyond the hill to visit the waterfall named “Spite”. The dress had a far longer journey to make however. Using moons and suns to navigate her way through treacherous war torn decades, slumbering briefly in the trunks of kind, mortal custodians, she eventually came to reach us here in a new century.
The past year has been hard. I drove straight though the blinding fog of what could be considered emotional exhaustion and right into the realm of the living dead. Though at present I am in no mind to dwell on what was as the idea of what could be presents something that stirs the embers deep in my stomach which I had long believed to be expired.
The belief that one cannot appreciate light without darkness is one I can attest to. I can especially vouch for the intensified effects of light after such a lengthy journey into the dark. Winter and I are tolerable acquaintances under the best of circumstances but when my inner world is parallel to the tenacious bleakness of the outer I find myself filled with abhorrence for the season. I become saturated in viscous darkness.
A spring-like day comes inevitably though seemingly reluctantly and the clouds conspire to break. Light falls onto my forehead like the flickering gleam of a penny falling into the depths of a wishing well. In my new found sight I r
ecall what it is to experience the soft sparkle of joy, the sensation lapping at my feet and swelling until I feel I could float away in effortless bliss.
Somewhere, simultaneously, a snowdrop unfurls. How gently it does so, the miraculous consequence of it’s existence unbeknownst to it, like a saint born into the placid stillness of a new day. The delicate deities gather in the shadow of old cottage walls and tangled hedgerows, hallowed untrodden ground, where to happen upon their radiance is a blessing.
In this I recognise the magic of stumbling upon something unexpected and enchanting and the delight with which the intimate encounter is beheld. If there is one thing I wish to convey through my art, to offer to another, if only one, it is this experience. But to capture this feeling and relay a reproduction of it is not the same. The stream must be received directly and unbroken. Perhaps such an intangible quality is inherently impossible to mould into something to present to another, such moments are precious and cannot be attained by being sought. In thrusting a creation forth into the eyes of the observer this first, pure instance of wonder is dissolved and so, I believe, whatever creation materialises must be left to be discovered. It must be allowed to unfold, as softly, as vulnerably as a snowdrop.
Cader Idris. A familiar peak above our misty horizon but far too rarely below my feet.
Yesterday we climbed the mountain; camera, victorian nightdress and gypsophila in hand. Wales has seen a very hot and dry month and the smaller mountain streams and grassy paths were bare rock and dust. Dipping into the glacial lake at the top was a long awaited revitalisation.
We follow pools and waterfalls, piercing the mountain face like a string of pearls, to their source. Above the foxglove forests a silver needle glistens in the morning light. A breeze prances to greet us and we are guided into the open arms of the shore. There emerges an ancient glacial lake. It’s heart glows turquoise somewhere far beneath, deeper than the mountain itself. Light scatters as it beats, like glass beads on a mirrored drum, blinding and morphing. The gentle waves entice me in. The water is so soft, it fills my ears with silence. I float, swathed in my cradle of towering emerald giants. The quick gleam of the Icelandic fish scales is enough to tear my reverie. Arthurian legends of the Afanc, a Welsh water dragon, flood my mind and for a moment I am uneasy. The lake laps at my ears, whispering wordless lullabies, wishing me to stay… and I wonder, is this how I’ll drown?