Signs Of Life

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PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK

I held my sister up as she waited for her final pill of the day, the eighteenth. We were alone and she looked at me and shook her head. I asked her why she was shaking her head and her reply was “What kind of life is this?”. 
This was the first time she sounded like she'd had enough and I struggled to muster an argument for the defence. But before I found one she said: “I suppose it's a life”. I nodded my head, unable to speak. But this time was not because I didn’t have an answer, but because emotion hit me in the back of the throat without warning. Emotion that chokes your words and throws out awkward silence for all present to endure.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was chatting to Steve and his wife Amanda about alternative treatments that he and my sister could/should try. We were at Photo Talks, which Steve ran with Phil Paine in St Albans. I had flown down and had the honour of being the final speaker on the final night. Photo Talks had been a great success, but due to Steve’s cancer diagnosis and Phil’s imminent move to Wales, it was coming to an end.

Shortly after that, we invited Steve to be a guest writer/photographer on our June 2017 issue. Steve’s essay was called ‘I Live To See Another Day’ and as it turns out, was published one year before his death. Steve was already writing his personal blog and telling his very private story in a very public way. He showed great bravery and courage in that blog and It’s well worth sitting down with a coffee and reading Steve’s story in his own words. 
My heart sank when I read the following words in his post titled ‘Playing To The Gallery’.

“My liver is failing. This is the end game, and this will be my last post. Nobody can quite believe it, but I know I have days not weeks.”

That indeed was Steve’s final post, but his work will live on for many years, which thankfully we will be able to consume soon. Neale James is in the final stage of editing a documentary film about Steve which will be coming really soon. Books of Steve's work are already in the pipeline too.

**UPDATE** The film by Neale James can be found at the foot of this page.

Cancer is the worst of diseases, but it brings out the best in people. I see it all around me right now. My parents and my brother in law rise to new heights each day with their compassion, strength, love and unwavering commitment. Falling apart will have to wait for another day because today is about care.

Human kindness is overflowing,
but I think it’s going to rain today
— Randy Newman

P.s.
I’m not sure this set of pictures fits with the text. My idea, as the title says, was to show signs of life without actually having any people in the pictures. I also wanted to take a walk in the streets with my camera, as Steve did in his final months and made sure to include a few bikes as Steve was a keen cyclist.

UPDATE 21st July 2018

This is the film by Neale James that I mentioned above.

Live In The Moment

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PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK

I’m a housefly called God and I don’t give a fuck...
...I’m the atomizer
I’m the vaporizer
I turn everything to crud
I like it here in your flesh and blood
I’m the elevator man don’t you see?
— Nick Cave

Live in the now. Live in the moment. That's what I'm constantly telling myself these days. But that's not always easy when you have a cloud hanging over the future as you know it. But I'm trying hard.

We tend to blame the past and put too much expectation on the future. But the past is gone and can’t be changed, and the future is uncertain and might not even exist for some of us. The present is a gift that should not be squandered. It might even be possible that the present is as good as it will ever be.

My kids are ten and twelve and in a few years they will fly the nest and start their own family. We will see them less and less as they move forward in their lives. I'm conscious that this is just a stage in my life and it's by no means a long-term thing. I can keep thinking about the good and the bad things that lie ahead, or I can open my eyes and see everything that is perfect at this moment in time.

Waypoints

Waypoints

Surry Hills, my suburb in Sydney, is a bit different to everywhere I've lived before.

The history of this area is much more visible, in the buildings and streets that surround me every day; and being so close to the centre of Sydney means I spend much more of my time walking from place to place, spotting little details that haven't changed in a hundred years or more.

So my mental map of this city, built up over the last five years of living here, is based on these markers, these waypoints - the old church, the loading dock, the grocer - that tell me how far it is home, where to turn, which block this is…

L'ÂME GRISE

BY VINCENT BALDENSPERGER

Maître de thé et artiste sensible aux multiples talents, Rizü Takahashi donne vie à la matière. Bercé depuis l'enfance par l'essence du wabi-sabi, il quitte un beau jour et par amour sa montagne de Mizunami et s’installe dans un petit village au cœur du sud-ouest de la France. Atelier, pavillon de thé et four traditionnel anagama, c’est un voyage au levant, une rencontre rare et inspirante, la découverte de l’Âme grise de la céramique japonaise…

Arthur's Seat

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PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK

If you’ve watched the movie Trainspotting 2, you might have been wondering about the hill that characters Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Spud (Ewan Bremner) ran up. You know, the one with the spectacular view.

Arthur’s Seat overlooks Edinburgh but the view stretches out far and wide. It’s steep but doesn’t take that long to walk up and the rewards are plenty. The road and rail bridges crossing the River Forth, and beyond that the mountains surrounding Loch Lomond. Turn to the right and you can see the east coast of Scotland. Keep on turning and you will be looking out over the North Sea in the direction of Norway and Denmark (Not that you can see them).

So if you happen to visit Edinburgh in the near future, take a walk up Arthur’s seat. You will find it near the Scottish parliament building and although it might take a bit of effort, you won’t be disappointed.

Direct Sunlight

Direct Sunlight

Sometimes, it's an accidental discovery.

We spent Easter with friends in the small town of Mudgee, New South Wales - a 4h drive from Sydney, over the Blue Mountains - but it was an artwork I'd stumbled across days before, down a laneway near home, that stuck in my mind while I was there.

DIRECT SUNLIGHT, it read - painted on the street, in an alley so narrow it would hardly ever actually get sun, except the way it did when I was there: bounced off the windows of a building.

But the rest of us do, in this country. You can hardly avoid it.

It defines the place.

Removing Clutter

Jane Bown is one of my principal inspirations.  Although her images were more portrait orientated, I still consider them to have great narrative and context well beyond a formal photograph.

The quote at the beginning of this article from Jane strikes a chord with me.  The camera market these days is like a fast-moving train.  Every month there seem to be new releases from all the main manufacturers; each proclaiming the newest camera will be better and faster and give you the ability to make better pictures.

And of course, from a technical standpoint, this may be true - especially for technical photography genres like Sports, Wildlife, Astro-photography etc.

Though the images that speak to me are always ones that have personality, depth, emotion and often..... no colour.

What's He Building In There

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PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK

What’s he building in there? What the hell is he building in there?
— Tom Waits

These pictures were shot with Tom Waits 'What's He building in there?' playing over and over inside my head. I've embedded the song from YouTube here so that you can listen as you look at the pictures.This selection of photographs is a sort of a metaphor I guess. The theme, the idea developed in my subconscious.

Windows are meant for seeing out more than seeing in. Sure we can walk up and peer in, but unless there is a light on inside it can be difficult to see what lies within. 

As we stand outside looking at those windows we have no idea what's going on inside. If you listen to the song it sounds like it could be something sinister. Replace windows for eyes, the room for your head. Is there something sinister in there? If you are a regular visitor to Kage you might remember a piece I wrote called IMPACT when my sister was first diagnosed with a brain tumour. Well, one tumour has become two and as I'm writing this she is back in the hospital with serious complications.

So what's being built inside our heads that we don't know about? We can look out and see so much beauty and so much shit going on around us, but we have no idea what's going on a few inches behind our own eyes. Isn't it strange how the brain gathers all this information from our many senses, right down to the tiniest hairs on our skin. Yet the stupid fucker can't tell what's growing on it's own surface.

Tom Waits - What's He Building

Empty Vessels

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PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK

You are the Potter and I am the clay.
Mold me and make me, have Thine own way
— Norman Hutchins

With more patience than I could only dream of, Loraine Robson rubs the clay with fine sandpaper. I feel a little guilt as it starts to look as though she has ruined an already finished piece to help me get the pictures I need. But Loraine knows something I don’t, and slowly a single thin line of brass starts to appear, which then takes a sharp 90o turn. This transforms into a pattern that to someone like me that loves to program synthesizers, looks an awful lot like a square wave. 

It’s a dark Scottish winter and I’m inside Ceramic artist Lorraine Robson’s studio at the bottom of her garden. We arranged this shoot a few weeks before, but now that I’m here, the light is poor. Not only that but we’ve been talking for a while and the already dim light is fading and it will be dark soon. I do a custom colour balance on my camera but the ISO is pushed so high that the colours are poor. I wish I could come back another day when the light is better, but I’ve already taken up Lorraine’s time and I’d rather work with what I have than risk no shoot at all. 

Lorraine has a series called Empty Vessels. Some of these pieces consist of two parts connected by a chain. The larger one is the empty vessel, a hollowed out container. The smaller is a spoon. Lorraine went on to tell me that the series was inspired when a close relative developed dementia (the empty vessel). The spoon represents her role as the carer.

Oh, Harbour Bridge

Oh, Harbour Bridge

One of my favourite things about Don McGlashan's songwriting (and there are many) is this - the choice he makes about the perspective, or point of view, of the characters in a song. 

Harbour Bridge is a perfect example - it's a song about parting, about breaking up with someone you love; but the person singing it manages to pin all their problems on the various failings of...the bridge they're driving across.

If only bridge weren't so grey / long / high / convenient, he'd have been able to think of, and say, everything he wanted to tell her; and, maybe, she'd have stayed...