Saturday, 26 February 2011

Home Tourist - Jerusalem Farm

#HomeTourist is another great idea to have found popularity on Twitter. The idea is simple; in these straightened times, why spend money travelling to far flung places when you can rediscover the exoticly familiar on your own doorstep. It is always good to stop and re-evaluate what you have, to look at things afresh, and see things with new eyes. It was just this impulse (plus a little inspiration from the twitterverse) that took the family to Jerusalem Farm.

Hidden away in one of the many secluded valleys of Calderdale, Jerusalem Farm is a small piece of heaven not far from the bustling and creative town of Hebden Bridge. We drove up the winding road from Luddenden marvelling at the scenery. The houses clinging to the hillsides, huddled together for companionship, their small gardens looking like a rumpled patchwork quilt of colour amongst the dark stone buildings. This is no journey for the faint-hearted and drivers of a nervous disposition may well baulk at the thought of hairpin bends and single lane roads. We talked of how remote this area must feel in the winter when these tiny roads must surely become impassable. However, on an early Spring day, we had no such cause to worry.

The view towards the campsite

Jerusalem Farm is a favourite spot for walkers, both with and without their dogs, and it is soon easy to see why. Once you walk down from the car park you can see the river valley stretching out in front of you. A fair proportion of the valley bottom is given over to a basic campsite (no electric hook-ups, communal shower blocks or patrons' bar here) but this doesn't open until Easter. It does get busy at weekends in the summer but we have it on good authority that it can be quieter during the week. The kids made a bee-line straight for the adventure playground before we all took a very pleasant walk along the river bank.

The crystal clear water sparkled in the bright sunshine as it ran between the rocks providing a perfect white-water slalom for the stick and twig boats that we made. The river, though barely more than a brook at this point, runs quite quickly and so smaller adventurers are best supervised, but for older children there is plenty of scope for paddling, dam-building and river walking.

The river offers lots of play potential

As we carried on up the valley we passed the man-made 'river-steps' (as our youngest christened the weir) before bearing left into the woods. Here we discovered a natural amphitheatre bounded by logs and home to some great, carved chairs. A norse-like wooden warrior guards the path, lending the clearing a vaguely Tolkein air. Our imaginative (not to say theatrical) troupe were soon recreating mythic battles with armies of goblins, stopping only to investigate some wondrous fungi growing on the logs. If nature is your thing, then this place has much to offer. We watched a pair of birds flitting about in the trees, building their nest. A kindly lady out walking her dog stopped to chat and the kids took advantage of the opportunity to make a fuss of the dog. A little way further on and we were walking up above the river again along a rather narrow footpath.

The woodland walk
Winding our way along here, the beauty and tranquility of the valley worked its magic and we slowed right down to dawdle in the sunshine. In the hour or so that we had been at Jerusalem Farm we had only seen a handful of other people. A lone walker, map in hand, passed as we played 'pooh-sticks' from the wooden bridge that marked the turning point for our walk. A man and his dog ran by but had time, as they slowed to cross the bridge, to make conversation. "Cracking day", he said. "I've got to be at work at half-four but I couldn't miss out on a day like today" and on they ran, back to their car and the everyday routine.

Nature lovers will love it here
Our own return journey took us along the valley bottom to the stone bridge that marks the end of the camping ground. We stood and watched the vapour trails criss-cross the blue sky, listening to the river sounds before strolling up the hill to the car park. If it all sounds idyllic then I'm glad to confirm that it was. A lovely, family day-out that had cost us nothing but our time. As we drove back down the narrow roads towards Luddenden, bound for Hebden Bridge and the traditional family 'teas and wees' stop, I couldn't help but steal a line fromWilliam Blake and note that Jerusalem had indeed been 'builded here in England's green and pleasant land'
Details of Jerusalem Farm can be found here.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Inspiration - A cogitation

"Who are the people who you find inspirational?" was one of several questions recently posed on twitter. It is a deceptively simple question and should have been easy to answer. It isn't simple and wasn't easy. The thread in question (if you will excuse the pun) concerned itself not with the obvious candidates; Dr Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, JFK - although they are all, undeniably, inspirational figures - but rather with those people who galvanise local communities, provoke action, 'get things done'. I know quite a few dynamic and active people from several walks of life who could be described in those terms but it was in the thinking about the question that I came to a realisation that the inspiration comes from within the communities themselves. I'm not just referring to communities of people living in a particular area but also to communities of practice; artists, business-people, thinkers.

Certainly, there are those that act as figureheads or mouthpieces for certain causes. The charismatic head-turners who might also be 'movers and shakers' and their role in communicating the messages is not to be denigrated or over-looked. However, there are many, many more people working quietly, gently and selflessly in our communities who are genuinely inspirational.

Inspiration is a brilliant example of the virtuous circle; have an idea, share it, enthuse others with it, and they too will begin the process. In their turn they will have an idea based on the first one, will share it, others will become enthused and the whole thing grows as it goes (providing it can get past the nay-sayers and the doubters - let us be realistic here) inspiring others along the way.

Here is a small example from my own recent experience. I like music and am often on the look out for new artists to listen to. I found some recommendations on my twitter timeline and followed them up. A recommendation became an investigation. I liked what I heard and left a comment to that effect on the artist's website. They replied and the investigation became a conversation. Our tweets and emails and phonecalls and, eventually, a meeting lead to an invitation which was accepted and became, in turn, a demonstration. The demonstration proved to be an inspiration. As a result of this demonstration, further conversations were had and these have produced collaborations. New work is being created as each party is inspired by the other. Last week saw a gig featuring the musician I contacted originally and one of the students who had been at the demonstration.

I think that is, generally, how things work. Small interactions leading to bigger reactions. There was no one person leading that recent collaboration. I had the initial idea of bringing the musician in to talk to the students but I claim no credit for that - I have a hundred such ideas a day - this one connected because each party was open to the inspiration.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Photo Opportunity

One of my duties at work is to carry out some of the annual teaching observations. I am sent into a class in any area of the college and asked to make a judgement on the quality of the teaching and learning that takes place.

The session that I was to observe last week was in photography - an area that I am interested in, and an activity I take part in when time allows. So already this particular observation was looking positive. When I arrived at the session I found the base room for the photo students had been set out lecture style (at least I wasn't going to be observing a session in the darkroom!) so I knew that this was a session in which I would learn something. The tutors on our photography courses are all working professionals and the head of the course is an internationally renowned photographer, so the students are very lucky to get real life, up to date, relevant information on their chosen industry. But this session was even more exciting as it was to feature a guest lecture from Donovan Wylie.

Donovan Wylie is a highly regarded photographer from Belfast. He began his professional career at the age of 16 and by 19 was a member of the prestigious Magnum photography agency. The talk he gave was about his approach to working in the creative industries; he briefly discussed his own background and early days, showed some proofs for his latest work and took questions from the floor. His relaxed and informal manner belied the seriousness of what he had to say. As I listened to him talk, feeling lucky to have had the opportunity to hear his views, I noted down some of the things he said. All of them apply to anyone working in the creative sector, from whichever discipline, and I have summarised them below.

"Photography was a wall for me to hide behind but I could speak from behind it with confidence"
The word 'photography' here could be substituted with any creative endeavour. It is a common feeling amongst artists that they hide behind their art, that they express things much more confidently and eloquently through their work than they do in real life. Donovan made the comment that being a photographer allowed him to be present but somehow removed from the moment at the same time.

"The buzz is something in me, something missing in me"
This comment intrigued me because it articulated something that I have seen my students have trouble expressing. It described the feeling of finding oneself through the portrayal of or interaction with another. Many people, when they meet someone that they know only through watching them on TV or through some other achievement, are struck by how much smaller they are in real life than they seem on the screen. This is because the person is somehow a conduit for the greater creative forces; they become, literally, greater than the sum of their parts.

"Failure is more normal than success"
This is a statement of an overlooked fact - it is much more the norm to fail that it is to succeed. We must get used to getting things wrong. The frustration and anguish of falling on our arse regularly has the benefit of teaching us about balance and the effects of gravity. The lessons learnt through failure are much more beneficial than any gleaned from success. This leads us neatly into the next comment which needs little or no elaboration.

"The more that you recognise failure and learn from it, the more successful you will be"

"Immerse yourself in the subject; look at other people's work, experiment with your own work, enjoy doing it - it is fine to copy others for a while, it allows you to engage with what you love"
I was glad to hear Donovan make this point to the students as it is something that I always go on about with my own. If you have any interest in and a desire to work in any branch of the creative industries, you need to immerse yourself in it. You have to read about it, watch it, think about it, argue about it and dream about it. Take a look at the history of what it is you want to do, learn from others, develop your skills, and keep honing them. As Donovan put it with reference to his own field, "do you love photography or do you love the idea of being a photographer?"

"Know your market, work with what people want, as there is always a commercial imperative, but don't make something without yourself in it. Once you know the market you can start to control your place in the market"
This was an important point about being self-aware in your awareness of the business side of the profession. You have to do the research, there's no point making great art for yourself; without an audience it becomes pure self-indulgence. Be mindful of the business side of things, the commercial imperative, but be true to your own voice too. If you are hired for a job, it is you that they want, your ideas, your creativity, your voice. Once you understand the context within which you work you will be much better placed to take ownership of your place within your chosen field.

"Have the ideas, go follow them, get the work done"
A simple truth but a universal one. It is fine having lots of ideas but they are useless unless you act on them. Make the work, to the best of your abilities and true to your vision, but get it done. The act of creation is a sacred one.

I was very fortunate to be present at the session and was inspired by what was said. It was a lucky opportunity I had to listen to a successful and respected artist discuss their work, their motivation, and their ideas. I am grateful to Sue Griffiths for letting me observe the session, to Trevor Griffiths for organising the talk, and especially to Donovan Wylie for giving me permission to quote him slightly out of context but, hopefully, in the spirit in which his words were intended. You can find information on Donovan and his work here The first year photography degree students are raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care by holding an exhibition of their work. Prints are for sale, all monies raised will go to the charity. Here is a gallery of their work where prints may be ordered online.