An exhibition exploring the transition from photograph to word to painting. A collaboration of Newton Abbot Photographic Society, Newton Abbot and Chudleigh Writers Groups, and Newton Abbot Art Group.
The black and white image was powerful. The face had a hypnotic stare that penetrated into my very soul, even when the photo was slipped back into the confines of the large brown envelope. Thoughts whirled around in my head. Who was he? Why was he there? What was he doing? I needed to know his story. The only way I would get to know the truth to understand him more would be to study the photograph in greater detail.
I returned to the envelope and began to slide out the photo carefully.
The attention to detail was intense. On closer look the eyes appear to change from light- hearted emotion to become sinister and complex. They appear to move with mood and rhythm. Are they searching for a connection, possibly spiritual or philosophical reflection?
Suddenly there seems greater appreciation and understanding of meaning. I felt as though the image was taking on an identity beyond black and white. Now it was producing texture and shades of life in grades of silvery white and chalky grey. The Portrait’s eyelids were sunken under his heavy boned forehead. One eyebrow was raised in a quizzical or challenging mode, whilst the other remained still. This focussed look was capable of challenging any thought.
Could he be an Orator or Greek Orthodox Priest? I wondered. I notice his high cheek bones, aristocratic nose leading to his wild and hairy greyish moustache. His tiny mouth shelters behind all the hair. His thin lips are closed but hide the smallest smile of tight satisfaction.
His face grows on me. He appears to have weathered well during his journey through life. He seems strong, steadfast and safe in spirit.
He is confident in his own skin. There is a spirit of wellbeing about him. His hat gives him status and a sense of authority. He wears at least three outer garments which gives me the impression that he is a traveller of some kind. He is authentic. I feel as though he is willing his thoughts through the page to make contact. He has a ley line of spirituality that is timeless and tangible that connects with me.
I realise that I am witnessing something quite inconceivable. This Icon, this image is telling me his story through the power of thought. He has travelled through time. His rites of passage are his beliefs and religious doctrines. He wants to give Humanity a chance. He believes in the common good and encourages everyone to feel empowered. His eyes show the look of wisdom. His eyes watch and wait for a response. His voice remains quiet whilst listening to others, who then are ready to appreciate his words. He understands the nature of time. Time to reflect. Time to question. Time to debate. Above all, he wants to reassure belief. Belief in life.
As I looked again at the photograph and the power of the image, I suddenly realised his name. It was Methuselah.
Mother sat me on a counter
in the village corner shop.
Today’s small child, without plaits,
leaned on an outside wooden window frame…
There, out of reach, sat glass jars
glitter-filled with boiled sugars,
yellow cubes, square and coated.
Beyond reach, open shelves held plastic plates
and squat green and blue polythene bags…
Some tumbled from a wide neck,
crashed against metal,
I can hear the rattle.
Below, stood red and silver cans,
above a microwave, of sorts…
A bevel-edged scoop tipped them,
golden as jewels,
into a white triangular paper bag.
A half empty mug peered over chalk boards,
‘Harbour’ and ‘Captain’s’ fare - £4.60, £3.60…
Mine passed over a single bronze coin,
a dandelion on its back,
a brass treasure.
Her mother craned her neck…
‘All is safely gathered in’, so runs the harvest hymn; but how often are these words wishful thinking, especially to farmers whose crops lie battered and useless, victim to our increasingly unreliable British climate?
To produce ripened golden grain, in perfect condition and ready to harvest, while skies are blue, must be every farmer’s dream, in the knowledge that it will be safely stored while dry and its quality unspoilt, a task that, once completed, brings a warm sense of satisfaction and achievement to all involved.
Nowadays, many of the heavier tasks that are part of modern farming are made easy with the help of large expensive machines, such as balers and threshers, saving major amounts of time and energy. Technology has, as with so many things, changed the face of farming unrecognisably over the years.
Because of the huge cost of this farm machinery however, many farmers, especially smaller ones, are forced to share or hire. This often involves a deadline, making them work even harder to complete a job within the time allocated. Despite modern aids, there is still plenty of labouring work requiring strong, fit young farmers.
Farm machines are generally kept in immaculate condition and painted in bright striking colours, making a vivid picture, especially while harvesting golden crops under blue skies and scudding white clouds. While the thresher separates wheat from straw the men must constantly work, using their pitchforks, to keep it feeding the machine in forkfuls, while controlling the engine’s speed. Although the crop itself is light this can nevertheless be hot and thirsty work on a warm summer’s day, especially with a deadline to work to.
When the task is finished the men enjoy well-deserved mugs of tea. Later, after some equally welcome farm food, tired muscles begin to relax, laughter dominates and yarns are shared, with nostalgic tales of farming experiences past and present, while pints of ale and cider are supped around the long much scrubbed farmhouse table. If only it could talk, it too would have tales to tell!
Tales of amusement and danger, sad and happy memories, many spiced over time by imagination and re-telling, including personal and unique reminiscences of childhood adventures in the hayfields and more, gradually merge with the day’s threshing and baling reflections as pints are downed and drowsiness sets in.
Talking of haystacks…Now, wherever did I put that needle?
Sunshine, calm blue water deckchair-primed
Ocean empty ripe for daydreaming
No cloned Clipper on the horizon handsome on the eye
But a shimmering oil tanker stark outline softened
Headed for the Emirates
Imaginary pencil plucked from pocket point sharp
He traces her route on an imaginary may
Bay of Biscay, Suez Canal, Nile River, Red Sea, the Port of Fujairah
On an imaginary list he ticks off places he longs to see
One day soon
And deck-chair bound sleeps the sleep of the just
Rooms within rooms, light within light.
Infinite choice for those who dare.
All colour is contained in that pure white.
So step out where the treasure beckons bright,
With courage in your heart, and be aware-
Rooms lead to rooms and light leads on to light.
Endless potential when your thoughts take flight!
Though shadows cling still to the form you wear,
All colour is contained in that bright white.
Directionless, here is both left and right.
Step bravely, no time now to stand and stare.
Rooms lead to rooms and light leads on to light.
Eyes open now in multiversal sight,
Yours to decide – the quantum field is there.
All colour is enhanced in that clear white.
A wave? A particle? Yours to delight!
Step onwards, fearless, into that void where
Rooms contain rooms and light embraces light,
And colour comes to birth in shining white.
“Sue get Harold’s lead on quick!” Our black Labrador scratched at the door and made muffled half barks. He needed to get out! We did too!
We were happy at first to relax, read, prepare and enjoy eating good food. Going out only to replenish logs for the fire. A force ten howling gale and raging torrents of icy rain kept us inside for two days. Far too long! We hurriedly donned warm coats and hats. Our winter break at the cottage had become for us all, incarceration.
Outside the gasping dog pulled against the lead, snuffling and marking as we trotted along down the lane towards the beach. Gradually calmed, we released him to explore freely. We felt like escapee hens from a battery farm. A lull! We relished the cold wind. To the beach!
We clambered breathlessly up the steep sandy path through the dunes, with anticipation of the view across our favourite place. The wide crescent beach stretched before us. The tide was going out. The wet sand glistened in gold patches, as weak rays of sun shone down through small gaps in the steely grey bank of clouds, borne by the wind.
Large breakers rolled in, curling and collapsing in a bubbling frenzy on to the sand – creating a misty haze which hung in the air above the sea. A few plucky gulls soared above our heads on the freezing wind. Lone figures stood near the edge of the breakers staring out to sea.
We broke into spontaneous laughter as we noticed below us the unexpected hundred or more people thronging on the sands, milling about, chatting together or ambling in all directions; enjoying the fresh air and exercise; the scene reminiscent of Antarctic King Penguins; huddling for warmth or purposefully waddling along.
Couples, family groups, single people mingled uniformly swathed in large down jackets or waterproofs, hoods up, hats and gloves on. Parents and grandparents vigilantly watched over their wandering children or amused them playing tag in the limited open spaces. Errant dogs scampered around alone or in packs, to retrieve balls launched from plastic ball-throwers by their attentive owners. We watched the crowd transfixed! So many! Why here?!
Suddenly Harold slid down the dune. We followed stumbling. He shot off towards the sea and we ran after him laughing and gasping in the sea air. The wind in our faces! Freedom!