Mindful Photography Case Study : Andrew

He fell silent as the simple beauty of that sank in and he slowly nodded, as he saw he was accepted he fought back tears.

Mindful Photography Workshop, with Melanie Gow, Norden Farm, September 2015

Mindful photography is all about opening up to the experience of seeing more than focussing on what you’re looking at, and finding yourself in a moment; realising why you notice a particular moment and what it means to you.

By coming to understand the essence of the landscape consciously, and your personal relationship with it, you begin to master your inner landscape.

*Andrew opened the introductions by telling us he and his wife used to do everything together, they rode motorbikes and took a trip all down the west coast of America, and another around Vietnam.

They have been married forever and had two daughters, but she contracted Alzheimers, and then breast cancer. She beat the breast cancer, but of course she’s left with a degenerative memory and diminishing ability to function. Although he fulfils his duty to her care, Andrew described it as a living death with someone who doesn’t know who he is, and “There is nothing left of my wife.”

It was a very powerful outburst. Andrew apologised, and qualified it by saying that if he didn’t say it all then nothing would come out. He was here because he was trying to find a life again, his daughters had told him he had to be more mindful. He had tried to write down what he was grateful for at the end of every day but, he lost interest after three days as he felt; “I have nothing to be grateful for.”

Here was a man who was so closely enmeshed in relationship to someone else, someone he had built his entire adult life around, that he had no clear idea of who he was on his own.

Yet, he had a battle fury in his eyes, and a passion to his frustration that was desperately seeking a way through his darkness. He wanted to get out and feel alive again, find out who he was, but he was tethered by care and unfamiliar with the language of where he found himself.

He was in the class because he discovered his daughters would take over the supervision of their mother for something they approved of, in this case mindfulness, and he needed time for himself.

He still rode his bike, he was wearing his leather jacket covered with the emblems of adventure, the insignia of how far he had travelled with someone else. He carried his helmet, he was early and he reached out to greet me with a clear-eyed eagerness for life. All while he told me, “My old life has no worth now.”

Mixed Media and Printing Taster Day in the Barn at Norden Farm
The barn at Norden Farm taken by me at another time; when I took a multimedia art workshop with artist, Caroline Crawford.

The final exercise of the workshop was to go out and take a photograph that was meaningful right now, that spoke to you personally, and tell its story. Andrew chose a photograph of the exposed, vaulted timber ceiling structure in Norden Farm barn; and he talked of the craftsmanship of the old beam work. It was no surprise that he started out in life as an engineer, he also told us he had a shed full of useless stuff he couldn’t throw away, “but whenever my daughters need something fixing I love solving it with all the bits I’ve got lying around.”

His face burst with a real light as he went on to say he loved finding a purpose for things that seemed useless to others, or repurposing something that was no longer wanted. At this point I reflected back to him that was the same with his old life; it had worth then, and worth now in being repurposed. Just like the old beams that were now being used in the beautiful open roof structure of Norden Farm that he had just photographed.

He fell silent as the simple beauty of that sank in and he slowly nodded, as he saw he was accepted he fought back tears.

He stayed back at the end of class to tell me about a spiritual experience he and his wife had with the Navajo when they were touring America with 27 other Hells Angels. Now fancy that, a Hells Angel having the courage to gently opening himself up and be vulnerable in a teeny Mindful Photography class in Berkshire – and finding everything he was had worth, and what he had to look forward to was finding the new purpose.

* Identities have been changed to rightly protect the privacy of individuals

Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work

Based on medieval Illuminated manuscripts and icon work, I create illuminated found poetry pieces inspired by poems I find within the text of favourite books, combined with my photography, illustrative drawing and painting, to tell profound stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.

Based on medieval illuminated manuscripts and icon work, I create illuminated found poetry pieces inspired by poems I find within the text of favourite books, combined with my photography, illustrative drawing and painting

To tell profound stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.

My work can be found in the very enriching, and extraordinary, Gabriel Fine Art Galleryan oasis of peace just a few steps away from St. Thomas’ Hospital. Situated in the Victorian Old Paradise Yard, in a converted Buddhist Centre (an area frequented by William Blake), the gallery hosts art events, and displays collectable artworks all year round.

Awakenings, an Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work, by Melanie Gow, based on Brave New World, that combines my photographs with drawing and painting, inspired by poetry I find within the text of favourite books, to tell profound stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.
Awakenings, an Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work, based on Brave New World

Illuminated Found Poetry Workshops

I run workshops too, where you can create Illuminated Found Poetry pieces that combine photographs with drawing and painting, inspired by poetry you find within the text of favourite books.

Finding poetry inside the text of favourite books to create a new work, and illuminating it with pictures and art is an absorbing and fascinating art form that helps unleash your creativity – any age can achieve profound and beautiful work.

Illuminated Found Poetry for Children – the same as above with age appropriate materials and expectations.

Rapture, an Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work, by Melanie Gow, that combines my photographs with drawing and painting, inspired by poetry I find within the text of favourite books, to tell profound stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.
Rapture, an Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work, based on Brave New World

I also give teaching demonstrations: £150 for half a day (approximately 2 ½ hrs) within 15 miles of Windsor, or £200 if further afield.

Or £350 for a full day (approx. 5 hrs teaching).

Once a year, I run drop-in sessions for the Illuminated Found Poetry work – payment is by donation

These are held in my home in Windsor, during September over the Windsor Artist Open House Trail weekend. Tea and biscuits provided.

She Closed Her Eyes, an Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work, by Melanie Gow, based on The Somnambulist by Essie Fox, that combines my photographs with drawing and painting, inspired by poetry I find within the text of favourite books, to tell profound stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.
She Closed Her Eyes, an Illuminated Found Poetry Art Work, based on The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

If you require further information or if you would like to book me for a workshop or demonstration, please contact me:

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The Ultimate Sacrifice

My next door neighbour used to tell me the overwhelming memory from her childhood was the sound of mothers crying. Her mother ran the local grocery store during the First World War and the “It is my painful duty to inform you” letters to anyone in the area were delivered there. At six years old, she only remembered a village weeping.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist, Paul Cummins, and stage designer, Tom Piper, 29th October 2014

My next door neighbour used to tell me her memory of her childhood was the sound of mothers crying. Her family ran the local grocery store and during the First World War all the “It is my painful duty to inform you” letters to those left home were delivered to her mother, who had to hand them over to her friends and neighbours. At six years old, my neighbour only remembered a village weeping every day.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, 29th October 2014, Melanie Gow photography
The Headstone

This evolving art installation piece commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of World War I has brought together countless people, including my sons and I, and united their thoughts with one simple vision; opening on August the 5th 2014 to mark the day Britain joined the war, poppies were added every day right up to the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, Armistice day, to represent the people lost to war.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, 29th October 2014, Melanie Gow photography
In Memorium

Every poppy represents a person; someone who had a full life, a family, certainly a mother, maybe even their own children, and they belonged to communities. Look closely at one, just one, poppy and when you feel like you’ve understood that then step back and look at the whole.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, 29th October 2014, Melanie Gow photography
Lone Survivor

To convince that many people they need to make the ultimate sacrifice, and kill others, takes concerted force; and to then get them to act on that conviction takes a lot of forces working with a single intent.

One that uses all its resources to reach invidiously into the real lives of quiet homes, and it fires up, riles, frightens and silences where it needs until is has a consensus. Then it deploys numbers and ranks and units to the battle cry.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, 29th October 2014, Melanie Gow photography
Eternal Rest

The politics and morality, ideology, and technology, economics, histrionics and motivations all manifest themselves in the conflict. A nation acts.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, 29th October 2014, Melanie Gow photography
Pooling Ebb

War memorials, on the other hand, aren’t meant to be acted on in any way. They exist as a statement in hindsight, they are meant to be absorbed, then processed, then learned from.

A war memorial that meets art and theatre production can bring together people with little other in common besides proximity; it can aid communication wordlessly, effectively, within an ever-widening community, with needs and values as diverse as the individuals. It can even facilitate true accountability – between strangers.

Blood swept lands and seas of red, by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, 29th October 2014, Melanie Gow photography
Tide of Sorrow

Where the blood meets the wall it seems to have soaked into the time-worn stone, like memories in our conscience.  This art makes order out of chaos. It creates a reverent and sympathetic response to the passion and pain of war, it makes us feel alive, present and in the moment.. To be able to powerfully connect to people and things, with all who see it is the uncomplicated force of moral judgement.

As artists, we always dream that this could open up the ability to create a new and, perhaps, a better world.

The generation that won that war went on to create the fairest society in British history; free healthcare for all at the point of delivery, free education, welfare, affordable housing, nationalised infrastructure. There are many lessons we are asked to think about; what are we doing with the sacrifice made by so many.

Rememberance isn’t only about those who fought.

That is what I think of in the two minutes of silence.

The Confession

The Confession: any time I spend with this picture reminds me of the man who dared to be vulnerable.

The Confession, I asked the man from Barcelona if he'd had his moment? He said no. "I am dry", he said.

I met a man; a young and handsome man from Barcelona. It was the day after the singing nuns, and my public display of weeping, and he was amused by me.

He was cool and sophisticated, shaped by the cynicism of the world. Hardened by real life, doubtful of possibility, distrustful of sincerity.

He asked me to explain why I had cried.

Endearingly, when I finished telling him he simply replied that he hoped to have such a moment.

I met him again at the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross), one of The Camino’s most emblematic points. It is where you place your stone traditionally and leave all it represents behind. Many leave something meaningful at its base with their deepest wishes. People watch the sun rise, go through the rituals, and turn and hug those they know, hoping their wishes come true for them.

He was supposed to leave at León after five days, but he stayed on the road and I met him again here in the church at the top of the highest peak before the descent into Santiago.

We happened to be standing by the confessional box under a small window set in the deep, protective walls, when I asked him if he’d had his moment?

He said, “No. I am dry.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. I didn’t know how to respond and simply said, “Interesting”.

He said, “I don’t think it’s interesting, I think it’s sad.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. We caught sight of each other along the road occasionally, and I saw his face grow softer and his eyes sparkle more each day.

He arrived in Santiago the same morning we did. I came down the stairs of the pilgrim’s office and saw him below me in the line for his certificate of completion, the Compostela. I stepped up to him.

It was all there between us in that moment, unsaid.

He burst into tears.

We hugged for the longest time!

For me this very small story describes the big picture… perhaps.

Why I Want To Publish A Photobook, And Need Your Help

Watch the video on the crowdfunding site read the story, PLEASE PRESS THE PLEDGE BUTTON and join me – let’s publish a photobook together. Imagine who we could inspire.

From the first day we walked, people said: “I wish my children would walk with us.” It took me a couple of days to realise that mine weren’t walking with me, I was walking with them.

 

Yes, of course, I wanted to do the walk, and I thought it would be a great space to give my sons to decide what kind of men they wanted to be; it was my gift to them. But, they are the ones who watched a film and stood up as the credits rolled and said they wanted to do this.

That is all it took; an ordinary Tuesday night, a plate of sausage mash and gravy, and a DVD of ‘The Way’, and we set out on a walk that gently changed our lives.

A film or a book can be a life-changing inspiration, I have been asked for a book countless times, I have to publish a photobook but in order to do that I need you to trade with me; and here’s the story of why …

Within three weeks of coming back the story became an exhibition in the cafe at the back of our Town Hall, a space created by Art on The Street for artists to exhibit for free. An artist friend of mine, Gail Dorrington, insisted I tell the story on a opening view night, and so we turned it into support for a locally run food bank, Open Kitchen. Two dozen friends brought cans to donate and listened to, and looked at, our story and said: “You are going to do a book aren’t you?”

Walking with Angels Exhibition and talk, by Melanie Gow, Maidenhead Town Hall, October 2013

I was at the Windsor Contemporary Art Fair when the Gallery at Ice saw the story and wanted to showcase it, and it became a solo exhibition. The Talk became a formal event, and the place was filled. At the end everyone wanted a book, more specifically a photobook with what they had seen and heard.

You find a new understanding and trust in your body, it recalibrates what is most important in your life. It expands your vocabulary and at the same time you come to accept that there are words that there are no others for. It can not help but redefine your sense of spirituality. Thank you to all who came, your interest and support is my reason to be here. Thank you.

It all grew so much when it was invited to Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, who came up with wonderful ideas for the exhibition experience and, again, I gave a talk; and we had to add chairs as it was full to capacity. Again, I was asked for a book, a photobook, something people could take away that held the inspiration.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, full house

Then the exhibition was accepted into St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and it became mobile; and 42,000 visited the cathedral while it was there, and people asked for something they could take away with them – a photobook.

Walking With Angels, St Giles Cathedral

I finally understand; I see it in the faces in the audience as I talk, and when people stop and look at the exhibition and are drawn in by the stories and pictures. I bought a book once, ‘The Pilgrimage’, by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho back in 1987, and said I would do this one day.

It took 30 years, but a simple book was still the spark of a dream. My sons watched a film.

I finally understand; as I have been inspired by something as simple as a book, my sons by a film, it is no longer about me. I need to publish a photobook, its just the way that inspiration gets out.

But I am the one who has to figure out how to make it happen.

As a published author I know the publishing process, and the market forces in play, a coffee-table book is not on any publisher’s wish list, the cost to benefit ratio isn’t there for them. But I live in a time when it is possible to publish independently; the same, if not higher quality, product.

However, I need to find a way to raise the publishing costs, I am the starving artist you might imagine, and a lone parent, and we have a pilgrim’s means. We are fine, we have all we need, but I don’t have the extra resources to bankroll a book.

Yet, I know a book is what I have to find a way to publish. So I am turning to you. For help.

It is a beautiful book, I have run up a prototype, I have an editor to help me make sure the text sparkles and tells the story, and comes without typos. I have a designer who will make sure it is laid out beautifully, and I have a print house that will make sure the book is the highest quality. It is registered and has an ISBN, a unique numeric international book identifier, and the costs are only £5,000, not a lot if you will join me.

I didn’t want to just ask for donations;

I could have done a sponsored run or some fund-raiser, but I wanted to do something where everyone who helped got something fair in exchange and became a part of it. It is more honest.

  • The simplest trade is a pre-order of the book for £25.
  • You could pre-order 2 and give one to a friend who you know will love it, or donate it to a school or library for £50 and I will sign them.
  • But if you just want to support and just throw £10 into the pot, I am very happy and it really makes a difference. In exchange you will get The Talk but not just any talk, a TEDx Talk; a friend, Laura Lucardini, suggested it and I will stand on the legendary red circle and tell the story, with pictures. You can contribute just £10 and get the TEDx Talk in a PDF, speech and pictures.
  • If you would like one of the photographs of lessons we learned while out walking (see the collection here), and a book, that would normally cost £115, and I’ve wrapped it up as a bundle for £100
  • If you would like the mobile exhibition and a talk to come to a venue near you I can travel anywhere in the UK with it, and £500 will make that happen, including travel costs. This can also be donated and I will arrange it for you and dedicate the talk to you.
  • I have also been given a camera exactly like the one I used, a Samsung Nx1000, a brilliant 3rd-generation mirror-less DSLR. A smart camera that has literally become an extension of my eyes and hands. It is responsive, light and frees me up from worrying about its settings and technology to concentrate on the moment I am drawn to. I will teach you how to use it over Skype, and you will get a photograph and a book and a TEDx Talk PDF, all this and the Samsung NX100 for £1000.

There are places that want the exhibition and the talk, like schools, and to keep telling the story I have to create the book, in order to do that I need you to trade with me.

If I had a plan to do this all along I would have all this organised, but I’m genuinely just trying to keep up with a story that wants to be heard; and I get it, my sons responded to a story. A this is a true story; at 12 and 16 my sons were inspired to walk for 33 days and 800km across a country. And it was the best thing they could have ever done.

The surprise was the throughly transformative overhaul I went through. For the first time I feel emotionally and physically in the same place, this is something we all want isn’t it?

Help me out here, please. I can’t do this without you.

Every single pound counts.

Watch the video on the crowdfunding site, HERE, read the story and the aims, PLEASE PRESS THE PLEDGE BUTTON – on the righthand side it’s the green button that says Screenshot 2014-06-12 09.49.47

Join me – let’s publish a photobook together.

Imagine who we could inspire.

WWA Crowdfund SLIDER

Crowdfunding, Why Should You and I Be Patrons Of The Arts?

At no time in history have we had so much direct and individual influence over what gets published and created. My deepest hope is to inspire someone to create an opportunity like this in their lives.

Bumble Bee bottom up in apple blossom, by Melanie Gow, http://www.myofficetoday.co.uk

Imagine Who We Could Inspire Together

Imagine a world where you choose the music that takes you away from it all, the art that you live with, the films and TV programs that lift the end of the day. The drama you join others in the Theatres to share emotions with, and the books you give your precious hours alone to. Imagine a world where you are the creator of the world you want to live in.

Every time you or I buy a CD or book, rent a movie, turn on the TV or go to the Theatre we are donig exactly that. As a consumer. As final users of products and or services generated within our social system.

Is this the limit of our participation in our innovative potential, our social lives, our humanity?

Art shows us who we are; it is our less than rational side, it is the reflection of our humanity. It is where we live. And artists show us our world in new ways that awaken our interest, they articulate our experiences so that we understand them better, they are the soundtrack to our lives, and the dance.

It is what we use to revive us from the routine, it is the common ground that brings us together with others, it is all our secrets. Unbound by borders, or cultures, or differences, it can travel between us all, we are unified in our creative sides. By expressing our deepest feelings in poetry or watching a film, art never fails to comfort or elevate us. Art moulds our world, and expresses our greatest strengths.

We can be consumers and buy the products that enrich our lives in this way at the end of the production process, or we can be there at the beginning and bring an idea into being. We can participate in shaping the culture we consume.

We can take part in creating a world we want to live in.

Crowdfunding is the collection of finance from backers—the “crowd”—to fund an initiative, in exchange for goods or rewards of an equal value. It’s a little like pre-sales.

At the very least, for the price of a couple of bottles of supermarket wine we can step into the innovative process and make something happen. You and I don’t have to be a Rockefeller or a Branson, or have our name on a building, to be able to fund things that lead to a direct experience or product.

What is in it for us really?

It’s not “stuff” we want, it’s the experience we desire.

At the very least, at the lowest level of reward, we will have a CD, or a book, or a film, or whatever we have helped make happen, in our hands. But it’s not just stuff, it’s the resetting of the mind, the mood, through simple notes strung together, the magic of an imagination unleashed by black letters on a white page, the heart opening up as you see a work of art or film that moves you. It’s the inspiration that we really want.

When you hold a CD it is just a 1.2 millimetres thick, polycarbonate plastic disc, it’s just a storage house. It’s what it holds that we are really interested in, the music, or moving images, or story, it unlocks; the two or three hours of elevated experience it gives us, that is what we are buying.

A book is just paper and ink, but from the cover to The End it is a magic carpet that can transform neurones and lock in new synapses.

At no time in history have we had so much direct and individual influence over what gets published and created.

 

Like bees gathering nectar we can make honey together. Through us joining together, crowdfunding, never have we had the power to create the world we want to live in like we do now. There is plenty of room for mainstream books, music, films, art, but there is also the chance to be involved, really involved, in making what we like happen.

With crowdfunding we have the power to get projects made, we should absolutely get in here and do it, after all it costs the same for a far greater experience; and it is the experience that feeds our less than rational sides, our human experience.

My own book raised £8,600 in pre-sales and was 172% funded.

TAKE A LOOK AT MY CAMPAIGN ON KICKSTARTER

My deepest hope is this story inspires others to create an experience like this in their lives. Because, when that happens nothing is ever quite the same again.