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Gratitudes of the Season
Decorations at the Christmas Market, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

It’s been a funny old year, 2016. So many awful things — the deaths, the political uncertainty, the constant feeling that nothing is settled, that all is in flux — and so many beautiful things too. I’ll reflect more on that next week, I guess, as I talk about the year properly. But since it’s the Christmas season, and since, in the absence of Thanksgiving in the UK this is when we’re meant to express gratitude, I’m going to express gratitude for a few things.

Photography

I was a geeky kid in school. Technology, science, those were my things. I was good at English and Music, too, but when it came to visual arts I was very much discouraged by my teachers. I remember an art teacher, early on, looking at a portrait I’d made in pastels and remarking: “there’s not really much to say, is there?” It was a moment of cruel stupidity that I’ve carried with me ever since.

My mum was an artist. She worked in pastels and pencil, mostly, and I always envied her ability to make beautiful images with whatever materials she chose. For a long time I was convinced that I had no artistic talent whatsoever (I conveniently ignored the fact that I could write stories and play music; as far as I was concerned at the time that wasn’t “proper art”, and I guess I’ve still got that going on somewhere in my hindbrain.

Photography has given me a pathway to making visual art. Without it, I don’t know that I’d have ever tried the paints, charcoals and pencils that I’ve used to make art since. One of my next projects will be to do something that uses mixed media somehow — largely inspired by Sara Lando‘s work. In the meantime I’ve got evening.camera, subject|object and my Celtic Gods project to keep me going, along with shooting client work. I’m thankful for all of that.

Music

If there’s one thing that’s gotten me through the tough times in my life, it’s music. I grew up listening to my mum and dad’s record collection, so I was shaped by blues and rock ‘n roll; the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Who… Later I came to listen to Levellers, The Wonder Stuff… latterly I came to Elbow and Augustines. Give me a great riff and some soulful lyrics and I’m all yours.

My guitars are my meditation technique, I think, when there isn’t a camera in my hands. Whether I’m just noodling away — sometimes pushing myself, sometimes not — or working to learn a new song or technique, guitar-playing gives me great pleasure. Oddly, I started out as a trumpet player, and I miss being able to play well (as Yannis Panos told me, “with trumpet you gotta play every day, man”), but trumpet never really gave back to me the way that guitar has.

And it turns out that my love of music has brought me to new projects: Are We Alive?, which I’m nursing with a bit of help and which I hope to see flourish in the new year, and another thing that I’m working on with none other than Eric Sanderson of Augustines — which is frankly mind-blowing to me still.

The Italian Language

I’ve been learning Italian this year. Il mio italiano non é molto buono e il mio vocabolario é molto piccolo, ma mi sto godendo il processo di apprendimento. I got to meet Sara Lando at GPP Popup in Berlin this year, and I introduced myself and complimented her work in Italian (before switching to English) and didn’t make a complete ass of myself. Next year I’d love to find someone local to practice on. Manchester-based Italians — especially those who want to improve their English with someone whose Italian is really not very good at all — get in touch!

The English Language

This year has reignited my love affair with English. I’ve been writing for Are We Alive?, both reviews and interviews, and the process has reminded me just how much I love using words. There’s something about being able to express yourself precisely and yet amusingly, lyrically, artistically that’s absolutely joyous. I’m not claiming, here, to be Oscar Wilde or even a man who played him in a movie. Nevertheless, a well-lathed turn of phrase, lacquered with sentiment, tinkling in the air, is a delightful thing. I look forward to unearthing some in the next year.

And you?

Those are just some of the things I’m grateful for as the year draws to a close. What about you?