I thought January was meant to be a quiet month. I haven’t stopped since the year started, and am only just beginning to catch up with myself. Still have that pesky tax return to get sorted before the end of the month though and anyone in the same boat as me has my sincere sympathies. One of the things keeping me busy was sorting out some corporate photos. These were for a relaxed PR company so we went with natural light and conversational visual tone.
I like so many women I know, can do lots of different things. And often simultaneously. I can get dressed, hoover the carpet, eat toast and reply to an email on my phone, and all at the same time as yelling at a small child who can’t find his shoes because he’s hidden them in a basket for reasons only he understands. Sometimes I truly impress myself with that common mum-like ability to travel through the day successfully, surrounded by several virtual plates spinning maniacally all about my aura. And often they don’t even come crashing down before I make it to the end of the day. Instead I’m able to place them neatly in the corner ready for the next morning, when once again I’ll be getting dressed, eating toast, tidying up and yelling at a child about getting dressed before he ventures out into the street to hunt for ants to observe, because he’s decided that they are the greatest possible pet option on a growing list of exotic creatures, all of which I’ve rejected so far. Nevertheless, I’m sometimes saddened but also perfectly honest enough to admit, there are plenty of things I have yet to master, and many that I likely never will. I have not worked out how to grow an extra couple of arms, although, lord knows, I could really do with a spare set. I haven’t worked out how to be in two places at once, and I can’t even deduce that young boys in places quite far from me are disgruntled because I’m not where they think I ought to be, at exactly the time they think they need me to be.
“I exist in a reality outside your head too, young boy! I’m a person in my own right, really, I am. How can I possibly know you’ve not got your keys if you don’t call and let me know?” He replied, “I did!” I looked at my phone. And it’s true, he did, precisely three minutes earlier. But not at the very beginning of the 45 minute episode that he’d been sitting on the doorstep waiting impatiently. “Where are you????” he implores with utter indignation on my voice mail.
And no matter how hard I try I will never be able to morph into a dustbin, coat-rack, towel or snack, regardless of how much my children think I am surely any one of those objects at any given point. And I will never, ever, ever be able to control the weather. Nope, not ever. And nor do I wish to either. This comes as a shock and rather bad news to at least two of my children who make weather-dependent demands and then become infuriated when it just doesn’t work out the way they hoped.
All of which made me immensely grateful when I spoke to a client who has some weather specific aims for her photographs. We’ll need to play things by ear and see what the weather is doing for that, I said. Of course, she replied, I’m all over ‘flexible’. When you’re dealing with small people on a daily basis, flexible seems like a most precious and cherished trait to come across in someone. Mind you, my client is a yoga teacher, and not a somewhat willful and intractable 8-year-old boy, so it seems perfectly acceptable to expect that of her. And because she’s a mum, I bet she can do loads of stuff at the same time, and a sun salutation to boot too. But of course she wouldn’t even try, because we all know, that way sheer madness lies.
Whatever you feel about the current political state of collapse it would be difficult to deny how historically important it all is. I won’t say much in words. Everybody has their view and I know from past experience that asking people on either side of an argument to shift or broaden there positions can be hugely challenging. But obviously I took some photographs while out and about today and I’m sharing some of those here.
“Mum,” said the middle child on Thursday afternoon with a great deal of seriousness,”I don’t know how to live.” Good grief, I thought… what now? I was about to embark on a gentle and encouraging speech about how life is full of complex feelings, and suggest that whilst it sometimes feels confusing, I loved him, and that his current state of emotional turbulence was only normal and to be expected occasionally, etc, etc, etc, when he continued. “Yeah,” he said sorrowfully, “I’m not allowed Mortal Combat, which, you know, makes it kinda hard to fit in with my friends.” He stared at me to see if his ploy had worked. “OK! I’m actually rather busy over the next two days getting this exhibition stuff ready, so next time you want to try manipulating me into a buying a game that is way too old for you, and which incidentally I won’t ever let you have at home anyway, you might want to pick a less stressful time.” I ended with a loving and maternal smile, of course.
Despite various complaints from children, not to mention the rain, I am really pleased to say that on Friday evening I arrived at Barmouth Kitchen where my work is being exhibited, completely ready and with everything in its place. And, that lots of people turned up to take a look and also buy prints. This was the second of my exhibitions at Barmouth Kitchen, or, for that matter, ever. Just like the last time, I learned a lot from the process, and also had a brilliant evening talking to friends and strangers who had come to support me.
For those of you who weren’t able to make it, here are just a few examples along with the statements I wrote to accompany the images. They will be available to see at Barmouth Kitchen for a while yet and are for sale, so do pop along and get in get in touch if you’d like to order. I’ll make sure they’re all up on my website over the next few days too.
The child wanting Mortal Combat has just come to show me a different game which he thinks isn’t as bad, but the point of it seems to be something to do with squashing and exploding an animated man standing in a lift, which I’m not convinced is much better. Still, who am I to say? Hang on, oh yes, I’m his mother!
Have a great week! SJ x
Barmouth Kitchen, 2 Barmouth Road, Wandsworth, London SW18 2DN – Huge thanks to all their support and to Ryan who helped me hang the pictures on Thursday evening surrounded by my screaming boys.
Images (c) SJField 2016
Things I noticed
I took all of these pictures on my phone. I am not apologising or bragging about where or how they are produced. It’s an important part of their existence. We in the 21st century are increasingly connected to the digital world, especially the one that is recorded on our phones. These small objects which we take everywhere with us offer a digital record of our realities at any one time. During the last 12 to 15 months I have used my phone extensively and obsessively to record what I see as I go about my day. Editing the pictures doesn’t take long but it does keep me occupied when I perhaps could/should be doing other things, and might be viewed as therapeutic, but could also be referred to as avoidant. By mediating the world through my phone do I render the world less authentic or real? Often people can’t work out whether the pictures are paintings or photographs, and that lack of certainty about the nature of the pictures generates questions about how we relate to reality as I, and the rest of us, dive further and further into the digital sphere.
Don’t you hate it when people refer to unexpected babies as mistakes? “Was he a mistake?” they say with pity in their eyes. “No!! He most certainly was not. He was a wonderful surprise that took me a while to get my head around.” I suppose the word ‘mistake’ might be better than a comment I had from a women working at a playgroup I visited. “I had three. All grown now, ” she said sadly, “Wish I hadn’t bothered with the last one. He’s nothing but trouble!” Not an overly sensitive thing to say to a women heavily pregnant with her own third child. And actually, by the time No 3 arrived I was immensely grateful for the opportunity to experience those early precious days with an infant again. I’m not saying it was easy. A friend who also had a 3rd baby at the same time and I still talk about the enormous shock to our systems. Goodness, imagine all those poor women who had 8, 10, or more children in years gone by. I have no idea how they coped.
If you thought it was hard finding time to pee after having your first child, just wait until you try to manage three. Also remembering to feed everyone, walk the dog, pay the bills, and talk to grown-ups too. Prior to having children I had a verdant collection of house plants, a super-organised filing system and regularly hosted dinner parties where I impressed my friends with culinary delights. “Wow, Sarah-Jane! It’s like eating in a posh restaurant!” By the time Son No 3 arrived I had lost the ability to keep even a cactus alive, managed to misplace important court documents and am currently the less-than-proud owner of a cardboard box full of bank statements, randomly chucked in, in no particular order. My cooking skills have been reduced to the level of burnt baked beans and undercooked frozen pies. And I’m not pointing fingers or name shaming or anything, but I’m not sure being dumped by the now ex-husband before baby No. 3 reached his first birthday helped any… that aside, having three kids has proved challenging to say the least, and it was only when I started packing up my flat to move a couple of months ago that I started to appreciate just how immensely chaotic the last few years had been.
As I sorted through our belongings I realised that I must have barely unpacked when we’d moved in there two and half years previously. I seemingly just chucked overflowing boxes and bags in corners and cupboards, only took out what we couldn’t do without, and then did the best I could under the circumstances. Which is I think all any of us can hope for. As I packed up this time round, I began finding things that I had forgotten about, thought I’d lost, or never even realised I’d had. I came across all sorts of objects and items, but mostly what I discovered were shattered and disparate parts of me that had long ago been put aside, shoved away, hidden and misplaced, perhaps because being a mum and a wife made me think there was no room for them. I don’t think I’m unusual in this – it seems to be part of the process, and there are undoubtedly several groups of anthropologists dotted about the place looking at changing roles for modern Western women and how they cope with children, marriage, and work. (Especially interesting when you consider that nowadays so many have never even held a baby by the time their first one arrives.) As I packed up my home, I seemed to be unpacking myself. And guess what? I was pretty pleased to see all those parts of me resurface.
The last few weeks have been a bit strange though, as all the separate parts I recognised try find their way back into my existence. Will I ever have an organised filing system again? I’m not sure; I have been slowly trying to sort out the mess that several years of un-filing amount to, but there is always a floor to mop, a bottom to wipe, or a meal to cook that everyone will grumble about for some reason or other. I’ve been bought a beautiful plant as a moving-in present, and I’m very much hoping to keep it alive for longer than a few weeks. And I’ve invited some friends for dinner soon, who I know will be hoping for a little more than burnt baked beans and a pie that’s still frozen in the middle.
I guess the point is that having a family, navigating life, and just getting from one moment to another isn’t always straightforward. Perhaps it’s not easy to accept that in a world where the general consensus seems to be that we should be aiming to have it all NOW!! And be damn good at every aspect. Perfect parents who never shout, with successful happy children and blossoming careers too. I’m pretty sure that’s not how life works all the time though, despite the plethora of articles in women’s magazine telling us otherwise. So let’s recognise the good stuff, work through the difficult and just be a bit more realistic with ourselves. I’ve had some other really good surprises recently; like when I lost my phone and found it still lying in the gutter half an hour later, where it had presumably fallen out of my pocket as I yanked a sullen, sulky child out of the car so we wouldn’t be late. Or the beautiful foggy morning we had yesterday so that I was able to take photographs in some of my favourite weather conditions. Neither of those of course even come close to the best surprise of recent years, my amazingly cute and funny Son No 3 who celebrated his 4th birthday last week. He’s an absolute pain in the arse sometimes but I am so very glad I bothered. And if anyone refers to him as a mistake again I might be compelled to slap them. Hard!
It’s only just gone 11am and I’ve completed a ridiculous number of tasks already. From putting away 3 week’s worth of washing (“3 weeks!” you may well say), to cleaning the whole flat, writing some ad copy and providing images to the advertiser, as well as a bit of filing and some invoicing; and I’ve even confirmed a selection of images I’ll be displaying in the new year, which incidentally will be for sale, of course (more info soon). And now here I am again, jabbering away about life with three kids, a job and whole load of studying to get through too.
Maybe someone put some rocket fuel somewhere unmentionable because I can tell you, I’m not normally this focused and capable of achieving quite so much in so short a time. Of course, with three kids, the youngest of which is 3, you can understand why life often feels a little like I’m wading through syrup. Although I don’t think it’s the number that does it. I suspect it’s like that for anyone with small children – they’re just so demanding sometimes.
Without a doubt, I really felt very sorry for Son No 3 who kept me awake for 2 nights in a row with his truly dreadful cold and cough. Especially when I clambered out of bed at 3 in the morning to find the Calpol and he looked at me with wide open eyes and said apologetically, “I don’t know why I feel like this, Mum.” Oh, my poor little boy! “It’s not your fault, silly. You’ve got a cold!”, I assured him as I scooped him up. But the person I felt most sorry for the next day as he watched Spiderman happily while I tried to concentrate on work was me. Yes, everything feels like such hard work when you’ve not had any sleep and you have a list as long as your arm to get through looming in your mind’s eye, threatening to bash you over your tired and sleepy head at any moment. And it never ends, so just as you think you’re on top of everything you check your list and it seems to have grown even longer – not shrunk at all.
I keep my real list, as opposed to the imaginary head-bashing personified one, in the Notes section of my phone. There I scribble down what I need to do, jot down articles I might use for college work and sometimes I record stuff the kids have said which has made me laugh, and which I might include here. Such, as the other day when the sickly small person told me I didn’t look like me after I’d clipped my hair up. “Oh, and who do I look like?” I replied. “A man,” he told me! A man!? How’s that for a thank you after I’d stayed awake most of the night while he climbed all over me with his germs and snot, foot in my mouth at one moment, and then when he finally did fall asleep, his small body managed to take up the whole bed, so I clung to the edge too afraid to move in case he woke again. A man!?!
What was much cuter and seemingly less offensive was when shortly after saying I looked like a man, he kept repeating, “The greatest weapon of all is imagination”. It was really very sweet indeed, so absolutely, I wrote that one down. However, when I realised he’d heard it on YouTube in a truly irritating ten-minute advert for junk, it kind of lost its appeal. And then when he kept saying it over and over again for about half an hour I think it really died a death in the cuteness stakes. Especially as by then I’d given up trying to work and was no longer fighting my body’s desire to catch up on some of the sleep I’d lost out on the night before.
Lists are just so important. Without them I’ve forget everything I need to do and instead of starting this blog as I did, I’d have had to say, I haven’t done much today, but I’m sure there was something…. But sometimes I find things on my list I don’t understand at all and that really confuses me – such as when I found the following statement at the end of my most up to date list page: “You eat shit!”
“Kids!!!” I yelled. “Who’s been writing inappropriate things on my phone and why?” As I studied the possible culprits’ faces for signs of abject lying, I couldn’t fail to believe them when they both categorically denied it, and showed no hints of dishonesty whatsoever. And then from somewhere deep in the back storerooms of my hormone battered brain I recalled having written it down myself. But I have absolutely no idea why. Did someone say it? Did I say it? Did I think it? And if so why did I write it down? Was it a message to myself from myself, although why I would choose to be so horrible to little ol’ me, I have no idea? Or was it the imaginary personalised list that threatens to bash me over the head actually getting in on the action by beginning to write stuff down itself? “MY list! Do you hear that head-bashing list-thingymajiggy!!! MINE!”
So even though I keep a list, various lists actually – it’s far from failsafe (especially if it starts adding things itself). Having had plenty of chats with mums in similar situations I am well aware that this is what is to be a mother of small children whilst also trying to do a million other things too. You know, as well as feed, clothe, clean and house the little buggers. We are never on top of things, we are always catching up, constantly forgetting, cocking up and finding ways to make amends to children, family and friends; always running, always in a hurry. And sometimes it really does takes 3 weeks to put away the clean laundry.
So even though the beginning of the week was frustrating because I couldn’t get on with my chores and work, having had so little sleep, I really ought to thank my son for forcing me to have a break because obviously I must have needed it. Considering how much I’ve got through today before lunch, the relatively restful two days I’ve just had seems to have done me the world of good.
And who on earth knows why I wrote, “You eat shit”? But I can safely say from the self who read it to the self that jotted it down, “No, I bloody well don’t!”
Have fun! SJ x
PS. If you’re after a shoot for Christmas presents, do get it booked sooner rather than later. Time’s a marching on!
Christmas, commercialism, and consumerism. They’re all tied up together and I can’t help feeling disappointed that Christmas is more about shopping than anything else nowadays. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the mid-winter festivities, feasting, imbibing, socialising and gift-giving. Not to mention the sense of bittersweet nostalgia that these weeks bring with them. It’s lots of fun. Or it ought to be. But I’m really not keen on the intense shopping aspect to it all. So I tend to ignore it for as long as possible. However, I wouldn’t advise anyone else to follow my lead. Since I leave everything until the last minute, I quite often can’t get hold of the gifts I know people in my family would like. A few years ago my mother had to do with a promise of a Kindle on Christmas morning which wasn’t due back in stock until mid January.
This year I have told the boys I am not able to spend lots of money on presents although I’m pretty sure I say that every year and then a sense of guilt sets in and somehow I forget my intentions and still manage to get out in time and buy a whole load of ‘stuff’. But I’m going to be strong this year and try to stick to my guns. Perhaps it can be a sort of old year’s resolution and unlike a new year’s resolution, where you have a full 365 days ahead of you in which to fail, there are only a few weeks left, so surely I can do it. Not only do I want to avoid buying lots of junk, I’d really much rather give experiential presents.
Even before I mentioned this Son No 1, he totally surprised me when said for Christmas he would like a photography shoot of us all in Richmond park. He has decided he’d like a framed print to put on the wall of his room when we move. Obviously he’d also like a TV, sofa, sound system and coffee table, because at the tender age of 11 he is fantasising about turning his room into some sort of bachelor pad. But thankfully he knows there isn’t a chance in hell of getting any of that stuff from me for Christmas, so not only is he being delightfully unmaterialistic by asking for something so personal, he’s also being a realist, which is an impressive development, I must say. I was, nevertheless, quite gobsmacked.
“What?” I said, “You want a picture of your family? And you want me to take it?” Wow – all those anger-fuelled insults during the last couple of years about my photography being rubbish and how much he hates his brothers and me suddenly dissolved in a moment on uncharacteristic familial appreciation. I’m not sure it will last and I suspect he’d be rather disappointed on the morning of the 25th December if there wasn’t any junk at all to unwrap. Oh, no! I suddenly feel so full of love, awe and motherly pride, prompted by his wanting one my photographs on his wall that I’m starting to feel compelled to go out and buy him lots of expensive stuff which I can’t afford, such as a special fruitily named watch I know he’d be extraordinarily pleased with …. goodness, what a slippery slope that could so easily be. And how short my old year’s resolution nearly lasted. Yikes, it’s hard to resist the pull of commercialism.
Son No 2 has not yet learned the art of subtle manipulation so there are plenty of straightforward “I wants” coming from his direction. To be fair to him he has said he is perfectly prepared to pay for the plastic arsenal he is so keen on acquiring with his pocket money savings. Sadly for him his concept of what £20 can buy has yet to reach anything approaching reality so it’s a constant circular discussion right now. Thankfully, the youngest still doesn’t really know what any of it’s about so his needs and wants are more immediate and often easier to satisfy. I want a funny yogurt he’ll wail from time to time. By that he means the ones that are half pink and half yellow for anyone wondering how yoghurts ever get to be humorous. Easily sorted though! Although it does require actually remembering to order a shop from the supermarket occasionally. My poor kids – in fact it seems, all they might really want is a mother who can get it together to make sure there is milk for breakfast in the morning! (I’m not that bad really – all in the name of hyperbole, honest!)
I know this whole present buying conundrum is felt by most parents nowadays. Kids have so much stuff it’s often quite difficult to work out what to buy them; how much to spend; what if anything do any of them even need. I’m not sure how everyone else goes about solving it. If you have any ideas, do let me know!
This week I’m posting some images from a family shoot that was given as a Christmas gift last year. If that’s the sort of thing you might be interested in then do get in touch and I can arrange a voucher. Alternatively, there is still a little time left to organise a shoot and print photographs before Christmas. I also have framed prints of images ready to go or which can ordered in the next couple of weeks. Check out my website for details.
Have a good weekend all. I’m looking forward to a PTA organised quiz at the kids’ school!
I am certain there are more pressing things than writing this blog for me to be doing since my To Do list is as long as ever, but I also know that this part of my job has proven to be quite effective recently. The more I write the more likely my name pops up when people insert “photographer” and “South London” into their search engines. As Son No 1 pointed out to me last night though, there is also quite a lot of other people’s ‘stuff’ out there linked to me, so I guess posting more of my own things is quite pressing in the end.
Anyway, despite the many work and domestic related items on my list, not to mention the sickly 3 year old in my care today, I think I’m going to give myself a break from more serious tasks and witter on here for a moment. Truth be told I’ve not exactly had an arduous morning but it has been trying and annoying as I sat here communicating with Adobe for several hours trying to sort something out that I’d cocked up. It took a while but at least I now do have my editing software on a lovely new bigger and better Mac. And a deeply sincere thank you to Mr. & Mrs. C who kindly donated it to me after reading about my computing troubles in an earlier blog. How lucky to be surrounded by such generous friends.
Of course, ensuring everything I need going forward – minus all the crap that I don’t – was transferred to the new Mac proved challenging for me. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been so for everyone out there in my position but my brain doesn’t always lead me down the smoothest of paths so after downloading and uninstalling and attempting to re-download and then getting in a right pickle I was extremely grateful to the helpful, patient souls I spoke with this morning. I am now almost there. All that is left is my catalogue of images; a catalogue that reaches back to 2011.
Now here’s the thing. I remember reading that it’s best just to keep one catalogue and not to have a whole bunch of catalogues scattered about the place in Lightroom. So I have stuck to this. But it seems to me that I have reached a moment where it is possible to let go of all those hundreds and thousands of old RAW images. I mean why would I want to keep them at the ready going forward anyway? I have a bunch of edited JPGS safely stored and easily accessible. Surely I no longer need to scroll through all the overexposed, underexposed, unutterable genuine rubbish that exists within that relatively old catalogue. So, I’m pretty sure now, after some back and forth, upside down, inside out scratching and working out which went on inside my head, that actually it might be feel rather nice to start a new catalogue and simply archive all that’s gone before for now; a bit like in a scene from Inside Out (oh, one of the best kid’s films ever to come out of Pixar by the way – a film that brilliantly explores philosophy of the self. And, my goodness, like most of you who have seen it must have done, I balled my eyes in that memory dump scene!)
So here I am, surrounded by various wires, leads, separate drives and USB sticks, as well as a few too many Mac related bits and pieces, feeling streamlined and lightened by the decision to start afresh. And it’s not like I won’t be able to retrieve things should I ever need to. (Gosh, it is just like Inside Out! And quite frankly, a lot of those old images, deserve with a doubt, nothing more than the memory dump, for sure.)
Right, now that I’ve thought that through and written about it here, I think I might be ready to get on with the more pressing things that make up my long and never ending To Do list. Or perhaps just sit with my little boy who is burning up instead, which may well be the most pressing thing of all.
Ps! I recently did a family shoot which was a present given last Christmas. For anyone trying to think about what to give grannies and granddads this year, consider a photography shoot. I know everyone was very pleased with the results and it went down very well as a gift.
Things that do it for me: Originality, authenticity, intelligence and sheds loads of good-natured humour. Kate and Neil’s wedding, which took place at Islington Town Hall and then The Draper’s Arms, contained all those elements. And to top it off there were lots and lots of kids running around too, which I always love at a wedding. Kate and Neil stamped their personalities all over every aspect of the wedding from the moment the day started. Kate sang beautifully at the beginning of the ceremony, and Neil had written a script which friends of theirs performed. One of the absolute best moments was the wonderfully idiosyncratic and highly original way in which the speeches were made. Instead of simply standing up and talking as we might have expected they did it in the style of Just a Minute, which was hosted by the fantastically funny Bernard in Nicholas Parson’s role (seriously funny actually, a mutual composer friend of ours, whom I recently discovered won a Perrier Award at the Edinburgh festival some years ago!) and everyone involved had to say what they wanted without, of course, hesitation, repetition or deviation. As you can imagine there was plenty of buzzing, which led to masses of laughter and fun. It was such a wonderful and clever way to express themselves and I know the guests all really enjoyed it too. Thanks Kate and Neil for inviting me to be part of your day – it was terrific.
I was really lucky this week to be asked to photograph a round table event hosted by British Land, held in the amazing Leadenhall Building, colloquially known as The Cheesegrater.
In the morning as I got the boys ready for school, No 2 asked me what I was doing for work that day. When I replied, photographing a round table event, he suggested I do it at home since our own kitchen table is round. I’m pretty sure the event attendees were happier in the stunning surroundings of the Leadenhall Building, designed by architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour, than they’d have been in my cramped and cluttered kitchen. The views are a little better too – an overgrown magnolia tree vs uninterrupted views of London for miles and miles…. I know which I’d have chosen. (Not sure what Son No 2 would make of the fact they weren’t even sitting at a round table but a long rectangular one instead.)
Although I was mainly concentrating on taking photographs, I did have a listen in and was heartened to hear architects, planners and various sustainability experts discussing the enourmous benefits and importance of building communities, and how integral a strong sense of community is to general well-being. As someone who had a fairly nomadic and transitory start to life, I am deeply committed to my own community and also extremely grateful to the people in it who have supported me in all sorts of ways over the last few years. And despite the high costs of living here, which of course was also discussed at length, I do feel I’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming from my little corner of London.
In fact, without my community my own business wouldn’t be starting to flourish as it is. And I’d not have had opportunities such as the one I had this week, where I got to visit the Leadenhall Building. It really was quite spectacular.
Here are just a few of the many images I took once I was no longer needed to record the meeting – lucky me!