Camera at the ready, eyeballs on the lookout – yet my first day in the city of Vienna yielded no palpably exciting images, despite an abundance of beauty and grandeur of aesthetic spectacle on every corner thanks to the legacy of the dominating Habsburg Empire.

There was plenty there for everyone, with unending streams of tourists lining up to snap the top tourist attractions, and photographers such as my sister (whose speciality is in photographing people) lapping up the melee of crowds surrounding said tourist spots.

As for me, I felt somewhat at sea photography-wise. My mood wasn’t brilliant, my stress levels were high, and I struggled to find that sweet spot when you just know a shot is working.

Until, that is, me and the family embarked upon an unexpected post-dinner walk down to the beautiful Danube (well, a tributary – a damn big tributary actually). The riverbank hit my sweet spot. Street art and graffiti as far as the eye could see lit by low, coloured lights and punctuated by stark streetlamps in places. This was a bit of me.

I’m finally going to visit the place I have felt instinctively drawn to since a child. A country with more vast chasms of inequality than I have ever experienced in my life. Where many children live in slums, collecting rubbish from landfill sites in order to earn enough to eat and survive. A place of extremes, where around the corner from these heartbreaking scenes bustling cities thrive and a country on its way to commanding immense international power drives forward technologically and financially. A place with a deep cultural and spiritual history comparable with nowhere else on earth. A country where colour and light and life assault the senses in the most intense and beautiful ways.

So I’ve heard.

I’ve never actually been to India, but after being accepted onto an artist residency with the Kalanirvana International Art Centre, I’m due to fly out on 1st Feb 2019 for two weeks in their shared studio/artist accommodation in Bhubaneswar. The setting looks more perfect than I could have imagined. Bhubaneswar is said to be the birthplace of Bhuddism, a belief structure I have come closer to being able to accept than any other throughout my life. The area looks inherently ‘local’, not untouched by tourism, but not its captive either. A place so steeped in history, culture and spirituality I can’t imagine I’ll want to leave at the end of it.

Aside from the amazing location, I will be allowed access to a 24hr shared studio in which to create and to explore the responses my journey illicits in me. The organisation will introduce me to local residents and guide me around the most pertinent spots to visit while I’m there. I couldn’t be more excited!

Even better is the chance to work alongside and to meet, other international artists who will be staying in the residence. Almost all of my art production until now, and particularly recently, has been very much a private practice. Undertaken in my bedroom at home, in familiar surroundings. A literal comfort blanket. I’m excited to see what effect such an extreme change in circumstances and setting has on my artwork.

I have ideas already, thinking of sketching from life when on tour and then extending delicate pencil drawings of sculptures and temples into abstract designs in pen back at the studio, perhaps adding washes of watercolour too. I will almost certainly combine my photography with my pen work, in collage styles I am already beginning to experiment with now in anticipation of the trip.

I’ve only just booked my flights and the trip is 3 months away, but I’m already feeling my imagination and creative urges bolstered by this amazing life experience. Watch this space for daily updates while I’m away…

http://www.kalanirvana.com/one-world-residency/

Mo Mowlam (for Kelly)

I’ll admit I know less about Mo Mowlam than I should. So, I suspect, do you.

A classic example of an influential woman, whose wide-reaching and astounding achievements were overshadowed by the personalities of bullish men in positions of power.

Mo, who in her younger years worked for Tony Benn, became the MP for Redcar in 1987 and appointed to the Shadow Cabinet in 1992 under then Labour Leader John Smith. Following Smith’s death, she became the principal organiser of Tony Blair’s leadership campaign, and after his successful election to PM in 1997, was given the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. At the time, this was a huge task to undertake, the Troubles were still ongoing and the devastating Omagh bombing in August ’98 illustrates just how inflammable the situation still was. Mo approached the challenge head-on and unafraid, credited by contemporaries as “the catalyst that allowed politics to move forward which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. She cut through conventions and made difficult decisions that gave momentum to political progress.” (Peter Hain 2005)

There’s no doubt that Mo’s work in Ireland during this time was key to the peace process which followed; she ensured Sinn Fein were included in the dialogue leading up to the agreement, helped to restore an IRA ceasefire and visited the notorious Maze prison to talk with loyalist prisoners (many convicted murderers) in an attempt to connect with the ordinary people whose lives her work would be affecting. By all accounts, her ability to empathise and to forge a relationship with the ordinary people involved in the situation, particularly the women, opened up an avenue of dialogue to her which remained closed to others. It was instrumental to her role of negotiator, and is why many people are convinced that the peace process would not have happened without her.

Her part in the development of the agreement began to be deliberately overshadowed by Blair as the links with Unionist parties began to sour. Around this time she remarked to then-US President Bill Clinton: “Didn’t you know? I’m the new tea lady around here”, a clear indication of how she felt to be sidelined, as the men took the glory. In 1999 she was replaced in her role by Peter Mandelson and demoted to Cabinet Office Minster, not exactly deserved recognition for a woman of such astounding achievements.

It is notable how during this process the male position gave with one hand and took away with the other, depending on how it served them best. At the time of her death, Blair rightly said “It is no exaggeration to say she transformed the politics not just of Northern Ireland itself but crucially of relations between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and it was this transformation that created the culture in which peace-making could flourish … suddenly nationalist, republican and Catholic Ireland had every preconception of the English up-ended and rendered out of date. She didn’t have to talk about equality. She exuded it, naturally and with an absence of affectation that was marvellous to behold … she bowled everyone over.” However in April this year, on the anniversary of the agreement, her name was noticeable in its  absence. Not a single mention for the woman who unlocked the door for the future of peace in Ireland?

Mo’s stepdaughter Henrietta Norton, a filmaker, wrote in an article earlier this year of how she has been trying to get a story about Mo commissioned as a film piece to “celebrate and explore her legacy for contemporary women”. Responses ranged from “no one would be interested” to, we “couldn’t see who would watch it”. Erm…yes they would, I would, and so would most other women I know. It highlights the level to which her role in history has been degraded and overshadowed by the actions of men who did less. A common theme throughout history, and one which we must continually try to combat.

My friend Kelly asked me to produce a portrait of Mo for an exhibition in Dartford celebrating the 100 year anniversary of votes for women. In wondering how to portray her, I instinctively wanted to avoid any obvious signs of the illness for which she is sadly so well remembered, but which must not define her. A number of people said they didn’t recognise her without her thinning hair. My point exactly; I wouldn’t have either. But I will now. I hope people can look closely at her face without the signs of her illness and see in her eyes the determination and bravery of a truly remarkable woman in history.

Produced for Stephen Oliver’s Votes for Women exhibition at his gallery in Dartford. Pencil on paper.

20180622_081133
I created this mixed media work using a process which combines elements of meditation and ‘stream of consciousness’ style drawing. In short, I attempt to clear my mind of all thoughts and distractions and allow my hand to do as it wishes with the pen.
In this instance I cleared my mind of all thoughts but one – Lucy – I thought about my experiences with her, her personality traits, her aura and how I perceive her, and allowed this to represent on the paper as expressed through the pen in my hand. I tried hard not to think about what might look good, I actively worked not to be influenced by learnt beliefs about what might work or not work, and aesthetic success. I am sure I wasn’t able to lose this element entirely, but my point is mainly that I did not actively ‘design’ the piece, but tried to allow expression to take precedence over formatting.
In terms of the watercolour element I assessed a few options, although I knew one of the main colours would be yellow – sunshine, happiness, positivity, strength, brightness, uplifting and mood enhancing. All qualities which came instantly to mind when envisioning Lucy. But I knew I also had to represent ‘the black’. Her dark place. Black didn’t feel right though. There’s no real blackness in Lucy, any dark places are just shadowed, less sunny elements of the yellow parts. Black implies a lack of colour, a lack of the qualities above, which isn’t right. Her dark parts are always colour underneath. Her soul, it seems to me, is made up of undulating waves, just colour and darker colour, no void, as black would suggest.
Dark blue seemed more appropriate. It captures the depth, of feeling and emotion; deep blue like a cool lake, beautiful and awe-inspiring but so deep that it retains an element of danger. It also reflects the light, rays of yellow sunshine passing through it and bouncing from it. Counteracting the darkness and revealing the depths. Without darkness there is no light, not one without the other. Both must exist in tandem. Ying and yang. Balance. The light is lighter than she thinks and the dark is not as dark as she fears.

She stood, wondering.

How did I get here?

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick

It goes on

Despite us.

Irrelevant inside our own self-obsession.

And knowing it.

Getting closer, closer, closer to God.

To understanding. To beginning,

to see our insignificance

And it hurts.

And it’s vengeful.

The opposite of appreciation, or

perhaps the essence of it.

Fulfilling our pointless lives

Living out their lack of purpose

Every sound a beautiful reminder

of why nothing matters.

_DSC0012#2

A walk in the woods for me always brings back memories of days spent with my dad exploring the local woodland and heath. Being an actor, a creative, imaginative soul and of a Peter Pan nature, he would crouch wide-eyed, cocking his head to the side and pretending to hear the stomp of Christopher Robin’s Heffalumps in the distance. Thrilled, and in that wonderfully childish state of overwhelming excitement, I would follow his racing trail through the trees, squealing with delight as we crunched over the bracken underfoot in high anticipation. In those moments and in those memories we entered another world. Removed from the everyday industrialism for a brief period, we chased into a shadowy world of tone; of light and dark, pared back sounds, silence and crackles, birdsong and sun on bark. Coming across a steep dip in the ground he would inform me conspiratorially and in hushed tones that this was the Heffalump nest and it must be nearby. We were lost in a world of myth and story, letting reality as we knew it fade away to reveal the spine-tingling hidden parts of perception.

A recent trip to Lesnes Abbey Woods resulted in the photographs in this blog, and encapsulate this sense of mystical storytelling which I now pass on to my 3 year old; pointing out to him faerie doors in the trees and drinking in his delighted astonishment like the elixir of life connecting me to the most cherished experiences of my own childhood.

I used Photoshop liberally with these images, to create and enhance the sense of uncovering the hidden reality below that which is first seen. For myself at least I have managed to capture the sense of magic and story which speaks to the deepest parts of me.

All photos copyright Kate Withstandley Photography. Taken on Nikon D5100 with 18 – 140mm lens.

_DSC0178_DSC0096B&W_DSC0046_2_DSC0106_B&W_DSC0151_B&W_DSC0174_DSC0144_DSC0086_B&W_DSC0123_DSC0078B&W_DSC0061_2_DSC0003_DSC0196