So here’s a thing I have now: A studio. Something that I’ve wanted to have for a long time, but could never quite convince myself was worth the expenditure. Or at least, I couldn’t convince myself that I deserved a studio of my own. Which of course is nonsense — “deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” as Clint Eastwood would say.
But as the year wore on and I found myself once again trying to resist the gentle suffocating blanket of the long winter nights, I found myself staring at the pile of photographic equipment in my home office and wondering when next I’d have to drag it out. Another location shoot? A multi-storey car park turned into a makeshift studio? Maybe it wouldn’t even get dragged out at all until 2017, if things were quieter than I wanted.
I thought about the projects that I’ve had slowly rumbling away in the background: Celtic Gods, subject|object, and I realised that though I’d shot for Celtic Gods during the summer, I felt a crushing inertia when it came to getting out and shooting again for my own purposes.
That inertia was born of the simple fact that all my equipment had to be dragged out, loaded into a car, driven somewhere, set up, shot with, torn down, packed away, loaded back into a car, driven home and stored again every single time I shot on location. That doesn’t sound like much, and perhaps my lesson here should be “travel lighter and smarter, fool,” but I realised that the inertia was helping to hold me in place. I hadn’t shot anything for subject|object for over a year, and I felt tired and uninspired.
And then I remembered something that Zack Arias said at GPP Popup Berlin in October (on which more another time). Quoting painter Chuck Close, he said:
“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
It was time to show up and get to work.
And so I contacted my friends at Manchester’s Progress Centre, a converted mill on the edge of the city centre that provides space for businesses and artists to work. Did they have a space available? It turned out that they did — 43m2 that I could turn into a small studio.
Not a lot of space by any stretch — a lot of the studios I’ve rented over the years have been over twice that size, sometimes more — but I am, at heart, a portraitist, and I don’t need oodles of space in which to work. Just enough to shoot a full-length portrait on a seamless backdrop. And that’s what I’ve got.
I’ve already shot some client work in there — my friend Nick Latham came down at the weekend to shoot some promotional material for his new project, the Nick Latham Trio — and I’ve done four or five shoots now for subject|object, to the point where I’m almost at gender parity with subjects (the next step is to photograph some people of colour; everyone at the moment is white or not far off, and I want the project to represent a cross-section of Manchester if at all possible).
In one of his last speeches, President John F. Kennedy said:
Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall–and then they had no choice but to follow them.
He was talking about the space race, of course (the next line is “This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.”), and my aims are nowhere near as grand as that (right now).
But I’ve tossed my cap over a wall, and I’m making art. And yes, I’ll have to make it pay for itself; that’s a given. But at least I’m starting to climb the wall.