South London Photographer: Phone photography sessions for 8-12 year olds

Phone photography sessions for children aged 8-12, £8 per child, Tuesday 31st May, 2016, 5.30pm.  Get in touch for more details on 07581 694 934 or via photo@sarahjanefield.co.uk

Advertising over…. I have been a bit quieter than usual on social networking the last couple of weeks or so.  Several reasons and actually, a good thing for my relationship with the non-digital world, but maybe not ideal for my business.  It’s tricky to get the balance right.  You read all this stuff saying you must be Tweeting/Instagramming/Facebooking constantly to get your social media marketing statistics up, aiming always, of course, to result in bookings, and you should be regularly engaging with others too otherwise it doesn’t work – obviously, and don’t what ever you do, disappear from the digital airwaves.  Geez… so many rules! When’s a person meant to do some actual work? And when did all those terms become verbs, anyway?  Language, heh…. fluid, in flux and developing always; so interesting.

Anyway the reason I am quieter than usual is because a couple of projects I am working on are taking up a great deal of my time, energy and internal resources.  So much so, that I am often surprised by how quickly time passes; especially when I turn around and notice that it’s 6pm instead of 3pm, which is what I assumed it must be on Sunday evening, having finally remembered I needed to tell a friend I wouldn’t in fact be turning up … admittedly that was quite a large amount of time to be wrong by, and thankfully it’s not always so dramatic.  Sunday, however, utterly disappeared and before I knew it the kids hadn’t been fed properly or even put to bed, and I had a meeting online with fellow students, which to be honest proved slightly tricky, but all we got there in the end, wherever there might have been.  Bed and asleep for those small people, thankfully.

The whole creative process is incredibly fulfilling, even though it means being on a bit of an emotional roller coaster…”that’s what I mean… shit, no it isn’t,… yes, this works,…oh, my god, I’m awful, I can’t do anything right!… yes! No! Maybe! Try that … help! try this… back that way, where did I put the thing that I need now?..Aaaaargh!!!” It’s quite tiring too, actually, but most of the time I love it a lot.   And, despite the current political debate within the education sector, where it appears that some quarters are attempting to limit and thwart creativity in our schools nowadays, children are thankfully still very much up for exploring the world in a creative and artistic way. Which is a good thing.

And is probably why I’ve been asked to do some photography sessions aimed at kids.  I’ve had a think about the best way to go about this, and decided to initially offer an hour in a local park and to concentrate on using a phone/tablet or iPod, and see how that goes. All participants will need an electronic device like a phone that has a camera on it.  We’ll have a chat about taking images, how to edit, the merits of apps, whether or not to use effects, and where to share them. Get in touch and I’ll give you further details as there are a couple of apps that your child will benefit from having access to.

Right, that’s it – must get on with some admin whilst I’m taking a quick break from one of the projects that’s absorbing so much of my being.  Here are some pictures I have taken on my phone recently, which are the sort of thing we’ll be aiming to do in the kid’s session. (Mmmm… wonder if the social media gurus will be satisfied with today’s efforts…)

Have fun! SJ

(c)SJField 2016

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South London Photographer:Second exhibition of work under my belt

“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

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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.

Sarah-Jane Field

April 2016

www.sarahjanefield.co.uk

Prices:

£80 for mounted only, 8×8 or 7×10

£95 for mounted and framed, 12×12 or 11×14

All limited to 5 editions

Printed on 310gsm William Turner paper and supplied with certificate of authenticity on request

 

South London Photographer:Feeling nervous

At the end of the week I will be sharing some Prosecco with a number of friends as well as strangers when I change over the images I have hanging in local cafe, Barmouth Kitchen, where I will be hosting a viewing of some new work, most of which was made last year.  The images will be for sale and then available to see in Barmouth Kitchen for a number of months afterwards.  Do come along and take a look at some point.

It feels a bit weird to be looking at the images I’m putting up there again whilst I am in the middle of working on new projects.  Looking at them reminds me of a different time and takes me back to some of the feelings I had surrounding what informed those pictures.  Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, or even a very useful thing.  But it’s interesting for sure.  And the whole process does tell me how things have changed and progressed in the interim.

My father would frequently say to me, “You’re a bundle of nerves!” when I was acting.  How I was ever an actor I have no idea – because yes, he’s right, I can certainly get quite jittery when feeling exposed in this way.  And I feel sick with nerves this morning although I can’t quite work out whether it’s the old work about to be exhibited or the new work that I’ve shown to some colleagues which is the main source of it all.  Both no doubt.  Or perhaps it’s just the thought of all the little things I need to do before Friday to be ready. Order Prosecco being one of them!

Whatever the cause, I am, nevertheless, looking forward to catching up with people on Friday and eager to see my work on display.  It is a great feeling to see your expressive efforts framed and up on walls, and watching and hearing people respond to it.  (Incidentally, talking about putting yourelf out there, if you’re in the Wandsworth area, do pass by the Grosvenor Arms, where I’m documenting some changes, and see the words and quotes that have been graffitied on the outer walls there.  I believe the messages will only be there for a short time but they are thought-provoking and worth looking at if you’re passing.)

That’s it for me this time – there are children to wake, dress and deposit at school before heading off to a brilliant small company based in Oxford called Glanville Picture Framing that makes great frames (find them at various markets in and around Oxford), and then getting on with the rest of what needs doing to be ready in time.  Poor kids this week – think I’m going to need to do a lot cycling over the next few days to work off this jangley energy. See some of you on Friday!

Image (c) SJField 2015

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One of the images that will be available to see at Barmouth Kitchen from 15th April onwards.  Prices start at £80  – find out more by calling or emailing me, contact details here

 

 

South London Photographer: Son No 1 suggests ranting for a living

“You put dead mans in boxes,” the smallest person says.

“Pardon?”

His statement races through my mind chaotically like a confused mouse in a clinical maze, trying unsuccessfully to connect Son No 3’s belief that I ‘put dead mans in boxes’ to the conversation I’m having with No 1. He, the oldest and my resident social-networking expert, is telling me about ‘ranters’.

“So, they’re an actual thing?” I had queried.

“Yes, you just rant about stuff. It would be perfect for you, mum.”

Even so, I don’t understand why a ranter is categorised differently to a blogger or a vlogger, but I am told the woman we are discussing is neither of those things. She is most definitely a ranter and I can be one too, if I like, although I must have some extreme ideas to rant about.

That’s the whole point of a ranter. She or he must be vociferous.

Son No 1 goes on to give me an example while Son No 3 continues quietly munching on cereal, and taking it all in.

“So, you could spout extreme feminist views, for instance, but they have to be really out there!” He then does an impression of my potential ranting which is not terribly flattering about men. Or me, to be honest.

“Heh, men are ok,” I say, “so long as they go back in their boxes at the end of the day!”

It’s a joke, of course. But I do worry immediately about the message I’m transmitting to my youngest and oldest male offspring.

Which is where Son No 3’s statement about putting dead men in boxes comes in.

“No, darling, I don’t mean it …I don’t really want to put them all in boxes…” I find it too hard to fully explain because well… how do I deconstruct a slightly acerbic, not terribly funny joke to a four year old? Four year olds famously don’t really do irony. (Neither do psychopaths, they tell me, but that’s another story).

And anyway, I am more concerned about his notion that I want all men to be dead before putting them in their boxes.

“Why do you think they’d be dead?”

“Because your dead dad is in a box,” he replies.

“Ohhhh – yeah!” He’s referring to my late father’s ashes, currently residing in an urn, which is still inside the cardboard box we received it in, on the day of his funeral, and which rests at the very top of the book-shelf in my front room; reasons for which I explained in an earlier blog.

So it turns out, to all intents and purposes, that Son No 3 has listened carefully to the lesson about social networking ranters given by Son No 1 along with my interactions, and concluded that I believe all men should ultimately be turned to ashes and stored in cardboard boxes. Which, I hasten to add, isn’t true. Really. I mean, mostly, it’s not true at all.

All joking aside, in case anyone misses the irony – I’ve realised that occasionally parody doesn’t travel as well as I imagine it might – it is often challenging passing on basic feminist ideals to my three male children in a balanced, mature, and humanist way. Feminism isn’t about women or men. It’s about human beings being decent and fair to one another. Which, obviously….Silly… never equates to one gender being consigned to boxes, dead or alive, at the end of the day, or in fact any time – no matter how their sex is defined.

I am, like so many other parents, trying to ensure the boys grow up to be modern, helpful, authentic, genuinely kind, gentle but happy in their masculinity, as well as present; and who know where the washing machine and dishwasher are. And who don’t assume it’s their God-given right to be absent most of the time doing who knows what while some poor long-suffering wife/girlfriend is stuck at home, either all day or at the end of a full working day sorting his underwear into darks and lights before shoving them in the machine, which only she knows how to use. I know I don’t always get the tone right. In fact, I fail miserably every now and again.

Either I am a little too caustic; presumably generating ideas in small minds that suggest I might think men should be kept in boxes. Or I just find it easier to get on with domestic chores myself, rather than teach them how to contribute.

The challenge of bringing up those three little boys who absorb messages from the world around them, some of which lead Son No 3 to believe that I can’t be a super hero because I’m a girl, is immense. I strive constantly to counter such beliefs calmly and rationally but I’ve been bought up in the same world, and have undoubtedly, and without thinking, upheld many of the gender specific roles we still cling to in our society, by cleaning up after everyone and allowing them to get away with not learning basic white goods management. I do of course know little girls can also be happy to let mum do it all too. And I totally get that we mums love to mother our kids, to make them feel taken care of, looked after, even cosseted to various degrees. Because it’s lovely for them to feel that way, and wonderful to be able to do it. Nevertheless, I am furiously trying to back-peddle, and listen enviously to tales of how other families apportion various chores equally to all their children, regardless of gender. Instead of always doing everything for them, I am consciously trying to remember to give them space to learn how to take care of themselves in the domestic sense. Because it would be awful for them to reach their 50s and still not know how to use a washing machine like that poor deceased dad of mine, whose ashes live in a box on the shelf.

So no, I don’t think I’ll become a ranter as suggested by Son No 1. I don’t have extreme enough views. I can’t possibly bang on about men being consigned to boxes at any time and in any state because the world would be a sadder place without them. Most men are, of course, OK really. Especially when served on a nice bit of toast with a little dollop of pickle on the side. And perhaps a glass or two of a decent chianti.

Image (c)SJField 2016

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Son no 3 likes helping. Long may it last! 

 

South London Photographer: Fastest blog ever – not even remotely!

There is always a list. The great, long, never-ending, constantly updated, ‘List of things that need doing’. Whatever else goes on it, ‘mop kitchen floor’ usually gets pushed to the end because that along with all the other housework is so boring. To save time, to make the most it, to cram as much stuff into life as possible, I started this blog, one of the more enjoyable items on my list, with the intention of writing and publishing it faster than ever before. I gave myself 20 minutes prior to taking the kids to school. And I failed. Of course.

What was I thinking? Do I really not fully comprehend that the sloth I gave birth to, known affectionately here as child No 2, requires constant reminders throughout the morning to climb down from whatever mythological fantasyland he inhabits for long enough at least to put his clothes on and eat some breakfast?

And, am I not fully aware that the minute I sit down at the computer the smallest one will clamber all over me, making cute chimp -like noises, muttering how much he loves me, along with biscuits and Ninjago; and oh yes, saying, “you’re so soft, mummy, fat, fat fat!” as he grabs hold of the middle-aged-post-three-pregnancy folds that exist round my midriff. It’s hard to write with that going on.

And then there’s the fact that I can’t actually write quickly anyway. When will I accept that writing takes time, and involves, for me at any rate, several readings to identify all the horrible syntax, spelling errors and usual run of the mill typos?

So, why I thought I could possibly write something and publish it within 20 minutes, I do not know. Living alongside Son No 2 in his mythical fantasyland, no doubt.

After losing my temper, swearing needlessly, then feeling utterly horrified by my behaviour and apologising profusely to a 4 year old, I realised I was attempting the impossible. Slow down! You can only do as much as you can do – you can only go as fast as you can go. These are the messages I need to tell myself constantly. Because otherwise such mornings can result in hot tears of frustration along with a generous mix of guilt pouring down my cheeks as I drive the children to school because we’re late and walking will take too long. Which is a horrible way to start the day.

I recently spent the afternoon with a friend who reminded me that we all have these moments. Her life, to all intents and purposes, looks much, much more grown up than mine does. But she too has mornings in the car, tears streaming down her face, filled with a mix of guilt and rage. I think we all do.

We need to be kinder to ourselves. I did try this yesterday when I set off at 8.40 on my bike with the intention of dropping the kids off and heading out to an exhibition rather than going straight home to get through marketing, studies and housework. I deliberately answered clients and potential clients before breakfast in order to clear my morning and make space for my outing. So far, so good.

What actually happened was that I got the venue of the exhibition wrong – it wasn’t in Chelsea at all, (which was fine as I’d enjoyed the bike ride anyway); then cycled back to have lunch with my mum; then remembered a meeting I needed to be in Putney for, so cycled over there as I didn’t have time to go and fetch the car; then cycled back to school, before momentarily losing the Sloth, who as well as being a slow moving animal seems to have some issues with listening, which was pretty horrible; then found him (thank you lolly-pop lady, school and Mrs. M for taking care of him) but by that time it was too late to go home and fetch the car; so cycled to Clapham Junction to meet the oldest boy for his dentist’s appointment; then afterwards, a quick visit to the barbers to have them all shorn; and finally rode home. By the time I arrived back at the house I’d probably cycled about 20 miles or more. My poor legs were killing me!

I actually loved the fact I was able to spend so much time in the spring sunshine, and think I’m pretty lucky to have had the opportunity to be out on my bike all day. Even if it did result in agonising pain (hyperbole – it was sore but agonising? Maybe not.)

So, what I think happened this morning was that the cramps were over, but the guilt for having an enjoyable albeit slightly painful day had set in. And because I must head into town today for some work related activity, I tried to get too much done before breakfast. And it doesn’t help anyone at all – all that rush, rush, rush, rushing. Least of all me. Monday was world poetry day. I suggest we should start having ‘let’s be a bit kinder to ourselves and others’ days as well. And let’s have them often.

In fact, I was really touched and pleased when I arrived home to find a card from the lovely and talented photographer, Sarah Legge, who has been so supportive of me.  The card said on the front, “You Are Awesome”.  And to think, it wasn’t even “lets be kinder to ourselves and others’ day! Thank you, Sarah.

There! Blog done; not in record time, not before breakfast, not at the cost of speaking to my children. But still with more than enough time to head out for the day and get other stuff done too. (Although the kitchen floor and the mop still don’t get a look in!)

Image (c)SJField 2015

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This image along with a whole host of others to be exhibited at Barmouth Kitchen, SW18 from 15th April, 2016

 

South London Photographer: Good surprises and other nice things

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!

Image (c)SJField 2016

 

(c)SJField 2016

South London Photographer: Celebrating Mothers Day with a Special Offer!

I wasn’t quite woken up with a cup of tea in bed, since the oldest child who is capable of making such a thing happen has reached that teenaged habit of wanting to sleep in for as long as he can at the weekends.  Instead, my 4 year old ended my night’s sleep with a beautiful rendition of a song about a spring chicken and some chicks hatching – “heh! let me out!” the little chicks yelled at the end of each numbered verse.  It was a beautiful, stirring, passionate and loud performance sung right into my ear as he lay on top of me, trying to get his hands up my top.  There are worse ways to be woken, of course.

Yes – Mothers day may be a commercial celebration driven by conglomerates in order to commercialise yet another part of our lives.  But…ignore that aspect of it. Instead lets celebrate mothers, young and old; those still with us and all the many that no longer are.  We all begin our lives inside the belly of of our mum.  It’s a profound relationship.

Motherhood is at the same time both wonderful and challenging, life affirming and desperately difficult, exciting and then tedious as hell, extraordinary and dreadfully normal too.  And what other relationship entails so much bottom-wiping?

No, it’s not all an idealised fantasy by any means! And we in the West have gravitated away from communal living and instead exist in small units that support our economic social structure. Where once we had aunties, grannies, cousins and other community members all working together to bring up the children, now mothers are more isolated.  The saying ‘it takes a village to bring up a child’ really resonates with me.  Us mums need to remember this when we’re desperately furious with our little ones, and subsequently disappointed in our own failings.  It isn’t easy.  Luckily, neither is it always trying – there are times when it’s absolutely wonderful being a mum.  Sometimes I just love the simple sound of “Mum!”

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a working or stay at home mum, old or young, have single or many children; from the moment we become mothers, our lives are no longer our own.  But they are enriched and we are given the opportunity to love in a unique and important way; a love like no other.  And that is a very precious.

So mark Mothers Day in which ever way works best for you.  But make sure you do!

Yay – lucky me! I’ve just received vouchers for a massage – one of the best presents I could hope for.  I really could do with a bit of pampering.  I hope you get what you want. And a message for any husbands or people out there who haven’t bothered…. What are you thinking? It’s not too late!  Do something small or big.  But make sure you do something.  It matters and will be so appreciated.

Gotta run – been called to wipe someone’s bottom!

SPECIAL OFFER:  Mini shoot – £145 for a 1 hour session at your home or in a park local.  8 prints and edited jpgs which you can print and share online as often as you like.  Call or message me on FB/Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn for more details. Terms&Conditions apply.  Vouchers available. http://www.sarahjanefield.co.uk SHARE THIS POST FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A MINI SHOOT – WINNER ANNOUNCED 3RD APRIL 2016.  (Please let me know if you’ve shared this post by emailing/messaging as not all FB shares are registering). Offer ends 3 April 2016.

Below are a collection of images of mothers with their children or grandchildren, including one of my own mum and there’s even a sneaky picture of me and my son in hidden there!  (c)SJField 2014/15/16 (and one that’s very old – see if you can spot it!)

 

South London Photographer: Sorting out the homework situation

I do not like receiving emails telling me off because someone else hasn’t done their homework.  Son No 1 knocks on the door.  He has a key but instead of unlocking it he tends to turn the key the wrong way so has given up.  I look through the peephole.  His guilty distorted face looms at the front door.

“You told me you had done it!” I bemoan as I open the door.

“Sorry,” is all he says.  True, we have already had a long circular conversation via text message where he eventually admitted he didn’t do the homework because it was boring, as opposed to to all the other ludicrous excuses he started with.  But I feel it’s important now, in person, to give him as hard and terrifying a stare as I can muster.

That prompts him to say, “I have medical procrastination.”  From the tone in his voice, I think he’s even vaguely serious about it.

“Really?  A medical condition?  Well then,” I retort, “there is nothing to be done about it, I guess!”

But I don’t want to be emailed by the very scary, strict maths teacher who undoubtedly thinks I’m a flake who can’t be trusted to be stern enough with my over confident, cheeky 11 year old (who thinks he’s 27 at the very least).  And what does she know anyway? She doesn’t have to live  with him.  Nor argue with the stubborn, argumentative little shit on a daily basis!

And whose idea was it for him to go to debating club anyway? Medical procrastination, indeed.

Later at supper he says, “Mum, if we had to receive a classification from the British Film Classification Board they’d be very confused about where to place us….”

What is he going on about now, I wonder?

“Violence; a U in this house (good – glad he sees that), sexual content; definitely a U (hilarious!)” he smirks, “but language… well they’d be wanting to slap a 15 at least, or even an 18 on us…I don’t think you’re meant to refer to us as little shits.”  He feigns mock tears and horror…”Childline!?!” he cries.

“Just finish your homework, you little shit…

Or don’t.  And go to detention over and over again.”  You’d think that might cure him of his ailment.  But no.

I do understand.  I was 11 myself once.  And even now, I am a couple of months behind with my own studies and although doing my best to catch up, there have been any number of genuine things getting in the way.  You don’t find me resorting to medical procrastination as an excuse.  I’d like to, of course.  And then drink some medical wine to console myself.  Really good wine, because I’m too old for nasty cheap wine, which, anyway, can’t possibly be medical because instead of helping it gives me a headache.

Last night I received an email from my tutor.  I had asked if my homework was too rambling and unstructured.  He kindly replied that I was a modernist writer rather than a classical one.  I scoured his email to work out whether ‘modernist’ is in fact a euphemism for really awful.  “Modernism is good” he says… “But…” oh, there is always a but!  Apparently the overall thing to be is rigorous.

Oh, god!  I imagine the maths teacher would agree.  I need to be more rigorous with Son No 1 too.  “Do your bloody homework, you little shit!!” I think about yelling.  He’s asleep at the time though so I hold off until morning.  One can be too rigorous, surely!

The two of us are working it out.  What’s acceptable, what’s required, what we can get away with.  It’s an ongoing process.

Happy rigorous Sunday all. I’m off to plan a social thing with plenty of medical wine involved.  It won’t cure the procrastination.  But it’s reasonably decent so it will taste nice.

Images (c)Sarah-Jane Field 2016

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Son No 1 loves the computer, not only games but the whole shebang, more than than most things and he has learnt a great from it – but good reasons for finishing his maths homework is not one of them (c)SJField 2016

South London Photographer: Why we must override our ‘groupishness’

It’s the end of half term, which with three boys can be more than a little demanding. I mustn’t complain too much though because we have spent the week relaxing after a very busy few weeks moving house. And how lucky we are to have found a really lovely, spacious home near to everything we need; most importantly for all of us, we are still within the community that I love so much. Of course, most rooms still have a final cardboard box waiting patiently for me to decide whether the things inside are ever going to have a place, or else be ditched like so much other junk I managed to get rid of when I was packing up the old place. I’ve promised myself to be rid of these boxes very soon one way or another because it’s really rather nice having a home where I can put everything away in its proper place, probably for the first time in my entire adult life. Now all I have to do is pay for it. Which means my discomfort around marketing myself is going to have to be pushed aside – I really have no choice about it anymore.  Probably a good thing!

However, all of that that pales into insignificance when I am reminded of people travelling the world, having been forced to escape from villages and towns that have been bombed to smithereens.  Or where they fear for their lives for any number of impossible to imagine reasons. It might be constant bombing, the threat of starvation, brutality from governing states and other groups, in the form of senseless executions, gender based violence or mindless, heavy-handed coercive measures.

When I see footage and still photographs of people fleeing, and consider the risks and lengths people will go to to reach safety, it makes me feel incredibly grateful to have been born at a time and in a part of the world that is relatively stable.  Perhaps the fact that we haven’t had bombs dropped on us for over 70 years is what prompts some to be extraordinarily unflinching and lacking in compassion.

I am prompted to express this after reading some comments on social media, and beneath news articles yesterday, which were really quite distressing. Are people really that wrapped up in their own lives? So hardened to other people’s suffering that they simply cannot imagine what it must be like for a child or teen to be living without adult care in a tent for months. Even with adult care.  And I wonder what it must be like to have had no choice but to put your children though that kind of journey. To leave everything you know behind, and exist in transit for months on end, and to top it off, then be faced with so much enmity from people in the countries you travel to.

I was, as I always am, gobsmacked and appalled by the words “them” and “they” – the connotations of “Other”, a people separate and different in some fundamental way from the writers of these comments. “They have places to go….” was one such comment. Really?

As people who read this blog will know I visited the camp in Calais just before Christmas. As we drove towards France my companions and I discussed the shipping containers that have been put in place to house refugees and I thought to myself, well surely that must be better than the cheap nylon tents that are so woefully inadequate. And then I saw the crates.  The reality. And I discovered that the authorities were planning to bulldoze the high street, churches, mosques and school that had sprung up in the shanty-town that the Jungle has become. At that time it had been promised that the school and religious buildings would not be bulldozed, but some of them disappeared a couple of weeks ago. More of the Jungle is scheduled to be demolished on Tuesday, although a census indicating that there are many more vulnerable children living there than previously thought has delayed further destruction until a judge has seen it for himself.  Whether or not it goes ahead on Wednesday morning, the physical signs of humanity’s resourcefulness are deemed a threat; and so the innate need and ability to create a community, even under the most awful circumstances, is under attack from people who have the resources to do far, far better.

The crates, where a limited number of Jungle refugees may stay, look hard, cold and soulless. They are packed on top of each other and surrounded by a tall metal fence. In effect, a prison has been built for desperate people who have escaped the brutality of their own lands, and everyone wonders why some are reluctant to sign up for it. We shouldn’t be surprised since the UK also has a long record of holding people in ‘detention centres’, including children, where adverse effects on mental wellbeing is well documented. Just this afternoon, I read about someone recently committing suicide in an immigration detention centre in the UK [1].

Us humans have a long history of being extraordinarily cruel to people from other groups, especially when we fear that they are after our most precious resource – space in which to exist. Sociobiologist, Edward O  Wilson, has coined the term ‘groupishness’. Groups are very good at dehumanising different peoples that they fear might be a threat. We are genetically primed for it.

However, when I went to Calais, I saw human beings, who despite having suffered a great deal, greeted me with kindness, generosity, and gratitude for my interest.

We have to do better. Leading economists and international officials wrote an open letter to our prime minister at the beginning of this month critisising the UK’s response so far, calling it ‘woefully inadequate, morally unacceptable and economically wrong”. And last week another letter from celebrities and business leaders*, which can be signed by everyone, implores the UK government to consider the children and families who are being forced out of their makeshift shelters, and ensure they are taken care of properly.

No-one wants a shanty town on the shores of the English Channel.  But had the area been declared an emergency zone, making it possible for proper refugee camps to be set up, we might not now be sitting by while people are put inside packing crates.

My oldest son just came downstairs and said to me, without knowing what I was writing about, “Mum, I’ve been thinking… we are so lucky to have been born in the time and place where we are now…”

Yes, my little boy, we really are.

 

*Add your name to the letter urging our government to act positively for children who need to be taken care of properly and fairly.

[1] An extract below from an article about a detainee’s suicide, and a review into detention centres, from Politics.co.uk  17th February 2016

“The death comes a month after the long-awaited Shaw review into detention centres concluded that numbers should be reduced “for reasons of welfare”.

It found that the process of indefinite detention with heavily-restricted access to a lawyer was mentally traumatic for many detainees and that there should be a “presumption against detention” for victims of rape and sexual violence, people with learning difficulties, and those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

[Shaw] also found that the academic literature “demonstrates incontrovertibly that detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability”.”

(c)Images SJField 2016

 

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The area where the shipping containers are situated was being prepared when I visited in December. Even if these were more humane there are not nearly enough spaces.  Since the beginning of the year, several areas of The Jungle have been bulldozed, displacing people and requiring temporary wooden shacks that were built by volunteers, as well as tents, to be moved.  Larger areas are scheduled to be bulldozed later this week but a judge has postponed the eviction and will decide on Tuesday evening if it should go ahead.  The number of children, including unaccompanied minors, is significantly higher than was thought.

South London Photographer: How do you talk about sex to your kids?

My biggest ambition for these boys of mine is to see them grow up into decent human beings. Obviously feeding, clothing and keeping them clean are the urgent, pressing and more than challenging objectives on a day-to-day basis but if I can just encourage them to be essentially decent people into and throughout the majority of their adult lives…. Well, that to me will be success.

But it is so much easier said than done. And sadly, even parents with the best intentions will unwittingly fall short of achieving even a fraction of that aim. I might be one of them.

And that’s because being human is so damn hard at times. There are so many factors involved too. Genetics, environment, events, unstable and changing moral boundaries all have an impact, and many of those aspects are entirely out of our control.  How we bring our children up to think of others and themselves is fraught with potential pitfalls.

Take, for instance, the subject of sex.

My oldest son has asked me time and time again why sex is thought of as ‘bad’ by society, or at any rate something to be hidden. His question is prompted by the reaction of peers through his years in primary and now in secondary school during sex education classes. Everyone is always horribly embarrassed.  Some weren’t even allowed to be there at all.

It’s true; it’s a difficult subject to address appropriately with children and can feel awkward. I have always tried to be age appropriate but honest, to avoid cloaking sex in something mysterious, hidden or dangerous. But I don’t know how to answer his question fully. We discuss religion’s role, the need for family planning when there wasn’t any, and even touch on Lady Gaga’s new video about the prevalence of rape in American colleges.

His involvement at school on the debating club and an avid interest in current affairs and human beings in general means he doesn’t simply accept everything I say but instead counters arguments I offer which lack robust substance, questions statistics I might have read on Twitter, for instance, which are based on short-term and limited data, and offers alternative viewpoints that take various positions into account. I really hope his thoughtful responses are a good indication that he has the potential to grow up into a well-rounded, sensitive and emotionally intelligent male person.

We’re in the car at the time and I temporarily forget there are two much younger children in the back, who may or may not be listening in.   Suddenly my littlest one squeals in delight, “The Penis Movie!”, and despite everything I’ve just written I didn’t react as helpfully as I might have done.

“Pardon?” I said hesitantly. I wanted to be sure I’d heard right. I’m not concerned he’s referring to pornography although maybe that’s a failing in me. However, that does seem unlikely – the possibility of pornography I mean, as opposed to me being without failings.  I have an awful lot of those. Rather, that he’s using the word penis at all – and simply because I don’t want him to get into trouble at school.

“Where did you see a poster for The Penis Movie, darling?” I asked calmly. The older boys are laughing hysterically.

“Heh,” said No 1, showing No 3 some pictures on his phone, “is this what you mean?” I have no idea what images he has found for my little bundle of cuteness in the back and wait with slightly bated breath to find out where he’s going with this.

“Yes,” says my now acutely embarrassed three-year old who clearly has no idea why all this energy is focused on him.

Son No 1 shoves the phone in my face as I try to negotiate Sunday traffic on a busy A road. Briefly, before I shove his phone away, I see that when my son says The Penis Movie he is actually referring to Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Ohhhh!” I say, “OK!”  I suspected it might be something like that.  Rather than porn.

I tell No 3 he must be careful about using the word penis because sometimes grownups are shocked when very young children mention penises. I also explain that the little furry creatures he likes so much are actually called chipmunks. But I forget to explain what penis means. He asks. Because he’s 3. And clever and inquisitive. Which is good, isn’t it?

“It’s a…” I almost say scientific but then realise he won’t know what that means either so change to…”a grown up term for willy.”

Son No 1 helpfully reminds me that Son No 3 probably has no idea what I mean by ‘term’. Of course – a word. “It’s a word. It’s just a word.”

Then I say, “OK, which one of you told him penis was the word for chipmunks?”

Both older children categorically deny any wrong doing but are each laughing so much by now it’s difficult for me to concentrate on the traffic. But all I am really concerned about is that when I look in my rear view mirror, my little baby boy looks incredibly sad and like he’s about to burst into tears.

Damn, I think. I handled that completely wrong – now I’ve somehow communicated the world is intolerant of him and his penis and somewhere in all of that there is something to be ashamed of. Shit!

“Not that there is anything wrong with the word penis,” I start to try and unpick the damage I’ve evidently caused and well… somehow I think I just make it worse.

“In fact,” I say, “you should all be very proud of your willies. They’re all very nice indeed.”

“Mum!!!” Son No 1 is appalled by me and Son No 2 is in stitches.

But my loving, innocent, delightful little monkey child is still devastated and embarrassed. I wish the traffic would abate so we can get out the car as soon as possible and change the subject. I hate that my own awkwardness has caused him distress.

The thing is, no matter what you do, or what you say or don’t say, being human is fraught with complications whether it’s to do with language, morals, religion, or indeed sex. And there are just so many things to navigate and stumble over as you progress through life, and of course we all cock up (excuse the pun) not only from time to time, but each and every day. I read this fantastic article by Alain de Botton this weekend which is ostensibly about crushes but in actual fact his musings on what is to be human are brilliant and worth reading for that alone.

If you haven’t got time for the whole article, I do think just the following should be read by everyone; “…the facts of life have deformed all of our natures. No one among us has come through unscathed. There is too much to fear: mortality, loss, dependency, abandonment, ruin, humiliation, subjection. We are, all of us, desperately fragile, ill-equipped to meet with the challenges to our mental integrity: we lack courage, preparation, confidence, intelligence. We don’t have the right role models, we were (necessarily) imperfectly parented, we fight rather than explain, we nag rather than teach, we fret instead of analysing our worries, we have a precarious sense of security, we can’t understand either ourselves or others well enough, we don’t have an appetite for the truth and suffer a fatal weakness for flattering denials. The chances of a perfectly good human emerging from the perilous facts of life are non-existent.”[1]

I just love that! Maybe I should tattoo it across my forehead and let anyone I come across sit and stare at the point just above my eyebrows, hopefully taking it on board. Seriously, everything I think in relation to my recent growing acceptance that all human beings are undeniably complex, and sometimes or quite often really horrible to each-other, no matter how straightforward they might seem (in fact watch out for those ones), is summed up perfectly by Botton’s essay and those words in particular.  And yes, we damage our kids no matter how hard we try not to by imposing our own and the world’s  shit on them constantly.  It’s part of being a parent.

And so, even though I don’t think I navigated The Penis Movie episode as well as I might have done, what matters more is that I sensed his discomfort and shame and did my best to let him know I think he’s great – every little bit of him.

Next time, I might write something about how this relates to photography… you never know!

Image ©SJField 2016

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[1] Alain De Botton, The Book of Life, On the Madness and Charm of Crushes