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Monthly Archives: January 2013

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Can you guess what Bill Nighy, One Direction and Bill Gates have in common? Actually, that’s a pretty eclectic grouping so if you don’t know already you probably won’t succeed in guessing. They are in fact all high-profile supporters of the new IF campaign, involving over 100 UK non-government organisations and civil society groups, and spearheaded by Concern Worldwide UK. Launched last Wednesday evening to a huge and dedicated crowd in the seemingly sub-zero temperatures at Somerset House Courtyard, the opening night used spectacular projections to get its message across. This puts me in the happy position of being able to talk about a fantastic charity initiative as well as show you some interesting photos from the night. Bonus.

The IF campaign seeks to get back to basics, and basic is truly what it is. Food. Nourishment. The right of each person on this planet to be able to know that they will not starve to death. A shockingly large number of people do not have this ‘ luxury’. Allow me to throw some disgraceful statistics your way: 2 million children die on this planet every year from malnutrition. One child would be criminal, but 2 million is unthinkable. And yet we must think. We must think a lot. Force yourself to confront this reality rather than to glaze over, thinking there’s nothing you can do. There is most certainly something you can do. The premise of the IF campaign is that if there is enough food on the planet to feed everyone then everyone must be fed, and we can do it. It’s do-able.

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This isn’t just wishful thinking, although that’s what many governments might have you believe, but no. The plans and ideas put forward by this campaign have been intensely researched; they’ve been lived and breathed and their results seen first hand by campaigners. 1 – Give enough aid to help the farmers help themselves and to increase agricultural infrastructure. 2 – Stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries. This in particular riles me, as we see it happen over and over again and it is the core of greed by which this planet is now in such dire straits. Big business = profit at the expense of everything else. Developing countries lose in tax avoidance 3 times what they receive in overseas aid. 3 – Stop poor farmers being forced illegally from their land and use crops to feed people, not to fuel cars for the richest. Finally, essentially; 4. Ensure that governments and large corporations are transparent and honesty about the situation and what they are (or aren’t) doing to change it. Frustratingly, at the moment the UK has a prime minister whose priorities lie in protecting business and profit. All the more reason we have to push even harder and campaign even louder, to make it clear the public won’t be fooled into believing false or minimal action. This Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be chairing the G8 Summit in Ireland in June. This is our big chance; to push Cameron to speak the obvious, to give him the courage to stand up to other world leaders who refuse to act. To do this we need to show him the whole country is in support of this and won’t be ignored about these issues.

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The irony of our western obsession with dieting leaves a bad taste in the mouth when seen in the context of 870 million people a year who go hungry. Whilst we are spending millions on books, DVDs, weight-loss programmes and gastric bands, nearly 13% of the whole human race are struggling to eat enough to stay alive. Most of this is luck. We happened to be born into a country which has little or no natural disasters, a country where the weather is mild and varied, a wealthy and influential country which (although often morally reprehensible), pledges to provide for its citizens. As with most issues of this scale, there is no quick fix; no magic wand to return us to the natural equilibrium. Saying that, although these issues are deeply complicated and bound with red tape at every turn, the heart of the issue is simple. Someone will have to lose. This is a fact which huge capitalist countries do not accept. Big businesses (who hold power over the governments) currently make money on the fact that these poor countries are losing; even Western traders profit from this in a disgraceful system of exploitation.

For them to begin to gain in prosperity, these businesses will have to pay tax; they will have to accept that bio-fuel development will slow down; they, in effect, will have to give something back. Naturally they will refuse. But if all other members, even if all Western members of the G8, would stand firm, resist the refusal of these governments, they would not be able to withstand the pressure. Rather than splintering off and playing Risk-style games of one-upmanship the G8 need to stand together, to form a true 21st Century agreement, to show that human beings have evolved; that we are better than our chequered history suggests. This is what we have to lobby to David Cameron. We have to make him see that this is not a choice, but an absolute necessity.

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The situation needs to be worked back. Rather than starting at the beginning and becoming bogged down with why it cant work, we need to make a statement, or a number of statements. Not goals but promises. Not false promises but factual, binding, legal promises. From these promises we need to see how to implement the statements. This can be done, if only the G8 leaders would truly commit to making these changes.

The launch night of this campaign was, although cold, visually stunning. A mix of speakers in the courtyard, including actor Bill Nighy and Olympic swimmer Mark Foster, combined with the beautiful impact of dazzling light-show projections to give a very clear and important message. GET INVOLVED.

You can get involved in the campaign HERE

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Brick Lane is Cool. Fact. I ventured there on Saturday, in freezing temperatures, ready to battle the elusive and excitedly exaggerated blizzard which, shockingly, failed to materialise. It’s only the second time I’ve been to Brick Lane. Sacrilege, some would say, for one claiming to be interested in photography. Perhaps. However, it’s notoriety means that frustratingly, little is left to the imagination. After excitedly spotting a graffiti artist putting down the bones of his new work on a rare area of plain wall, I stopped to take some shots. Within seconds I lifted my head and realised I was surrounded by at least 6 others doing the same. At that point I become a tourist, not a photographer.

If you live or work in London, who wants to take photos of Big Ben or the Lions at Trafalgar Square? The exploration of areas that others don’t notice or don’t know about is what interests me; creating intriguing visuals from things people wouldn’t generally even register – a splash of water on a pavement, patterns of light created by ordinary mesh fences. As I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by details. The way a close-up shot of something seemingly banal can, with the right lighting or contrast, become filled with depth and meaning.

Don’t think I’m demeaning the area’s attractions. Far from it. Like I said earlier, it’s Cool (with a capital C). Each footstep reveals yet more astounding street art, you can’t move for the vintage markets and the famous Indian restaurant touts don’t disappoint with their charmingly smarmy inducements. But it’s already there. You never feel like you’re taking an original image. How many photographs are there of the giant stork for instance? Even to photograph the defaced image of the queen meant I had to wait while someone else completed their shot. Kind of takes the magical discovery out of it, right?

Saying all this, I still managed to capture some images I was happy with, despite my frozen fingers, and the results are below – hope you enjoy!

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(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed  for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

I am a Christmas person. Always have been. In my family the Christmas traditions are set in stone. There is defensive finger-wagging if anyone is disparaging about our excessively tacky tree (with its 20 layers of rainbow tinsel and small, unidentifiable trinkets made by me at nursery, including devilish-looking angels which surely can now no longer be classed as decoration – oh, but they are) yet bemoan those who choose a fake one. “But that’s what it’s all about! The smell of pine needles on Christmas morning!”. Saying this, I do find that by around the 2nd Jan (and also intermittently throughout the period) I begin to get quite sick of the overwhelming tidal wave of food and drink. The complete and total excess. ‘But it’s Christmas‘ I hear you whine (lest the advertisers allow us to forget). Indeed. As if we save ourselves the rest of the year, living frugally for 11 months only to reward ourselves with two weeks of drinking wine like water and stuffing as many quality streets into our mouths as possible before the nephew nabs all the good ones. On the contrary, many of us do this continuously throughout the year too, which is why it’s so important to give something at Christmas that isn’t just about money, or self-indulgence.

Crisis is a UK charity which supports homeless people, helping them throughout the year at its Skylight centres and the seasonal week of one-off centres around the capital called Crisis at Christmas. I remember hearing about this as a child and subsequently being desperate to join in, the whole concept a fascination to my naive innocence.  I envisaged the scene as an outdoor soup kitchen, as in American films set in New York. Smoky breath and drunken old men hunched in long coats. Finally signing up 5 years ago as a general volunteer at a day centre, the reality was dramatically different. One particular meeting will forever stick in my mind. On my second day at the Stratford Centre (the area rather less plush before Westfield or the Olympic Village) a middle-aged, yet rather dashing, tall man in a sharp suit walked into the centre, clutching briefcase firmly in hand. Looking as if he had meant to step into a bank and had somehow been incorrectly teleported, I assumed he was a volunteer arriving straight from work in the city. Later, whilst chatting, it transpired that he was in fact a guest. Having lost his job and been left by his wife (who kept the house) he found himself with nowhere to sleep at Christmas. He told me he had access only to the clothes on his back, hence the suit, and at my query about friends or family he replied he had a son but as the relationship was strained and not close, he couldn’t face explaining his position for fear of humiliation. Sadly this is not an exceptional story. Despite our often stereotypical beliefs, the causes of homelessness are rarely as cut and dried as we may think. Most of the people I have met at Crisis are more exceptional than those I meet on a daily basis; a civil engineer, a Russian historian, a horse racer and many others. Some have introduced me to books and music I would never have known existed. They have, in fact, enriched my life in many ways.

Arts and Crafts room at Crisis Bermondsey Day Centre

Arts and Crafts room at Crisis Bermondsey Day Centre

Being very familiar with the setup of general volunteering and the running of the centre at Bermondsey, I decided that this year I would be a little braver and sign up to lead a workshop in the arts and crafts room. As is my nature, I fussed and worried for weeks in advance, researching my topic and collecting items (art made from found materials), only to arrive and realise I had yet again underestimated the guests. They knew perfectly well what they were doing, most of them a lot better than me in fact, and although they were interested in my prints and ideas, the majority tucked straight in. My first day was on the 27th so there were some pieces which had been started but were incomplete. My shift was lucky enough to see the culmination of one talented guest’s stunning existentialist collage, and to get the full commentary on the detailed narrative behind it straight from the mouth of the artist himself. The work is a series of separate comments, bound by an overarching theme and brought together in a visual climax by a biblical Steve Jobs in the foreground. The message tackles the shift from traditional media to modern technology, how it is happening and what it means. Dali takes centre-left stage amidst a cacophony of contemporary motivational words signalling the push for moving forwards at breakneck speed into the new technological era. Where surrealism isn’t just for the few but daily viewing for everyone. Where montages of household pets and human objects fill every virtual wall. Where books make the leap from one world to another, (like Alice falling down the rabbit hole) via the e-book revolution. It is an astounding piece of insightful and intelligent creativity, undoubtedly worthy of gallery space.

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

A now part-time Trotter with one hell of a life story took his beautiful t-shirt painting to its second stage and laughed incredulously when I told him it is a rare talent to be able to capture such movement in paint, particularly when taken purely from memory. Meanwhile, an elderly Italian churned out beautiful watercolors at the drop of a hat, taking around 15mins to produce each of these stunning landscapes, whilst an oil painter wowed us with colourful pieces layered so deeply you could see the time invested seeping through its surface. Perhaps my favourite though, was the middle-eastern man boldly and confidently tackling a large-scale symbolic depiction of the Syrian bloodshed. As he worked he told me, rather bitterly, how he felt patronised by many people who think they are helping. Having been to art college and gained an MA in fine art, he neither needs nor deserves any condescension. His completed piece on the 29th was both a moving and brutal work; 10 feet of stiff, glued, Syrian newspapers splashed with bloody red ink and paint and left to drip down its length. Freedom is never free, he told me. Spoken from experience.

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed  for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed  for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

(c) Artist work created at Crisis at Christmas (name not displayed for anonymity)

To find out more about Crisis and to watch the video of guest feedback from 2012 click HERE