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

Schooled By A Dragon – The Story of Awakenings

The last few days have been spent being schooled by a dragon. With a very big surprise at the end of it.
Illuminated Found Poetry piece that combines my photographs with drawing, painting and text from Brave New World, to tell stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.

Awakenings, a Found Poem Níðhöggr

The last few days have been spent being schooled by a dragon. With a very big surprise at the end of it.

CJXusS1W8AAFC47Earlier this week I woke up and turned over to find this dragon sitting on my bedside table, and he told me he has been glimpsed in Viking longboats sometimes.

And, I thought, “who am I to argue?”

This piece started weeks ago, I have known the name of it as “Awakenings”, but that is all I knew about it. I had no idea what it looked like, or how it felt, just its name; but, slowly bits of it pierced through.

An unusual obsession with the History Channel show, Vikings, became a thread that, when cast into the fascination with medieval illumination, caused the gilt to froth and surge like a molten wave; and a dragon rose on the crest. I just caught it by its tail as it surged overhead, and let it drag me out of the eruption of energy; as we rose I saw the “Tree of Life”, rising above the clouds that had formed from the steam.

As we flew higher I could feel the flank of the dragon’s form under my hand, and I just had to lean in and listen to its story.

I was so energised, inspired, and holding something that was wanting to be told, yet I was not ready to hear it just then. “Awakenings” had to settle back down under the Tree of Life to wait for me to understand.

I was distracted by the elections in the UK – or so I thought – by the feeling that they were looking at us from the Dark Ages and telling us that a simple mark on a paper would reveal us to ourselves. As a nation whose grubby indifference to the collective well-being, our health, education, water, food chain, pay scales, and our planet, was in search of a moral justification for selfishness. Revealed as influenced by profit for the few, corporate dominance over government law, infinite consumption in a finite world and, ultimately, predictable in our fear.

In that mood, I instinctively picked up my eldest son’s A-Level copy of Brave New World that was lying around, and there it was – the Found Poem for the dragon’s piece, on page 93 of the Vintage Huxley paperback…

“Pulsing with the indefatigable movement
The drums
Quickened their pace
The pulsing of the drums
Seemed to be beating
Stronger and stronger
With every step they took”

From within this the dragon was unleashed and, far from taming him, he trained me.

I sat down to work on him that morning and lost the next three days as my ideas of what he looked like were swept up in a beguiling conversation with him. I understand that I am working with my imagination here, but he had ideas of what he looked like and, at first, he was just a whisper.

Always imagining him to be gold, a shimmering light gold against the older illumination gold of the background, I was doing some tests when I first heard him gently breathing a reminder that he’d been seen in Longboats.

I was a little startled and asked – out loud – if he was brown? As I listened, he asked me to look at where he lived. He whispered he was born deep in the pulse of the earth, and his kind rose through the soil and roots of trees to become one with the sap. That’s why their spirits could be glimpsed in the prow of Longboats that could cut through sea ice, and warded off evil.

My Níðhöggr's NoseSo he became the burnt sienna of wood, and soil, and sap.

In the middle of this a friend saw the work in progress on Facebook and told me I was drawing “Fafnir” from The Saga of the Volsungs. I was too involved in conversation and challenges with my dragon to think about this, and knowing nothing of Norse dragon tales, I accepted he was Fafnir and called him so.

He rounded on me and stared; then asked me to look closely at his nose and asked if I really thought it was what it should be? Of course, as you can see, it wasn’t. As I looked properly at him I saw his lineage back to velociraptors, and redrew what I saw.

Once he had my attention he became stronger and louder. He curled round behind me and, as he began to open up, he snaked his tail to lie across the table in front of me, and asked; “do you really think I’m a 15C French kind of dragon?”

TMy Níðhöggr's Tail Tiphe thing is I’d fallen in love with the ginkgo leaves and curls before I knew him, and so this is what I had given him as a tail tip.  He sent me off to dig in his Nordic past.

Suddenly I found myself in a world of symbols, where curves and marks have significant meaning, and then I came upon a Viking Age gold-plated silver pendant of the Hammer of Thor, with trefoil knots carved in the hilt. Found at Bredsätra in Öland, Sweden, it is called Mjölnir, which means “That which marks and pulverizes to dust”, and that was something my dragon could live with.

As I designed the trefoil in his tail tip, he asked me to look up Rune marks and he bears a few warrior tattoos on him, the main one means “Awakening” I am told. As I said, who am I to argue with a dragon?

I could not rest until all this was done. Just as I finally exhaled and turned to look at him, he looked me in the eye and asked one final question; “Do I really seem like Fafnir to you?”

I had no idea. I have no knowledge of Norse Lore, dragons or otherwise. I’ve only just found out that Viking is a verb; you go viking, like a pirate. All Vikings were Norse but not all Norse were Vikings, only those that took to the sea to raid and trade far from their Scandinavian homelands.

So imagine my surprise when I looked up Norse Dragons and found mine is indeed not Fafnir. There are only three. Fafnir’s story is of cursed gold, hoarding and greed. The very people that have roused my dragon’s anger. Fafnir was in fact a man called Fanfare, who was affected by the curse of Andvari’s ring and stolen gold which would destroy anyone who possessed it,  he became an avaricious dragon, Fafnir, and was slain by Sigurd.

On the other hand there is little known about the story of Níðhǫggr, Malice Striker, but tales tell he is the dragon who gnaws at a root of the world tree, Yggdrasil. In historical Viking society, níð was a term for a social stigma implying the loss of honor and the status of a villain. Níðhǫggr would come above ground and roam the land chewing on the corpses of the níð, those guilty of the worst possible crimes.

That was what I was looking at; I had just drawn Níðhǫggr under Yggdrasil, the Norse Tree of Life, without knowing the story at all.

Here is the Medieval imagining of him

“Nidhogg”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

And then I read this poem: Völuspá

A hall I saw,
far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands,
and the doors face north,
Venom drops
through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls
do serpents wind.
I there saw wading
through rivers wild
treacherous men
and murderers too,
And workers of ill
with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked
the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men;
would you know yet more?

The most prevalent opinion is that the arrival of Níðhöggr heralds Ragnarök and thus that the poem ends on a tone of ominous warning.

Just as an aside: here are the two Runes the dragon picked out, and their meanings.

dagaz_lDAGAZ “thaw-gauze” The letter D: Day or dawn. Breakthrough, awakening, awareness. Daylight clarity as opposed to nighttime uncertainty. A time to plan or embark upon an enterprise. The power of change directed by your own will, transformation. Hope/happiness, the ideal. Security and certainty. Growth and release. Balance point, the place where opposites meet.

algiz_lAlgiz ( the letter R: Elk, protection.) Protection, a shield. The protective urge to shelter oneself or others. Defense, warding off of evil, shield, guardian. Connection with the gods, awakening, higher life.



Emotional Batesian Mimicry

We often take on an emotional Batesian mimicry to survive in a “hostile” environment, taking on a behaviour we believe helps us survive, or even progress.

Thoughts While Walking In My Back Garden

I’ve been locked to my computer screen, writing and putting together the Walking With Angels Photobook so I’ve been venturing out only into my back garden for fresh air. Which has become a fascinating journey in itself, as I take pictures I can’t help thinking about their meaning, it’s a daily exercise almost; lessons learnt while in my neglected garden, so to speak.

I found this stunning hoverfly yesterday, with the most extraordinary bronze coloured head, absolutely mesmerising. The hoverfly looks like a wasp but is in fact a less villainess fly, however its Batesian mimicry of a more dangerous insect offers it protection. English naturalist Henry Walter Bates, after his work in the rain forests of Brazil, noticed harmless species mimicked a dangerous one to avoid predation.

Which got me thinking that we often take on an emotional Batesian mimicry to survive in a “hostile” environment, taking on a behaviour we believe helps us survive, or even progress.

The metaphor can’t be taken too far, but we do become like the company we keep. However we have more choice than a garden fly…


Aureate Beauty of a Peony

The peony does not know how beautiful it is, and most of us do not know how beautiful we are either, and yet I can see the sensual, tumescent, vivid beauty of the peony easily.

Thoughts While Walking in My Garden

The peony outside my window is so beautiful sometimes when I look at it I am forced to stop and wonder at the power it has to be so beautiful.

It does not know how beautiful it is, and most of us do not know how beautiful we are either, and yet I can see the sensual, tumescent, vivid, excessively elaborate and florid beauty of the peony easily.


The Aureate Beauty of a Peony

The Immortal Eye In A Water Drop

For all its prickly, coarse-haired, common inelegance the sow thistle cradles a single drop of water so tenderly, as though it holds an immortal eye into the inner galaxies of oceans and the secrets of life itself.

Thoughts While Walking in My Back Garden

I’ve just been out in my back garden between squally showers and found this pearl. For all its prickly, coarse-haired, common inelegance, the sow thistle cradles a single drop of water so tenderly; as though it holds an immortal eye into the inner galaxies of oceans, and the secrets of life itself.

Oh to hold every moment with such wonder, and search it for the stories of the universe.

Magical Ageing of a Dandelion

When dandelions pass into old age when they become almost magical, an explosion of a hundred futures catching a wind, a playful way to tell the time, or even a wish.

Thoughts While Walking in My Back Garden

The dandelions in my neglected back garden are so intriguing and beautiful at every stage. When they are first unfurling in the warmth of the sun they do it as though every petal is feeling a ray of sunshine all of its own. Then they live in an intense full-circle of bright, yellow worship of every day.

Until they pass into old age when they become almost magical, an explosion of a hundred futures catching a wind, a playful way to tell the time, or even make a wish.

It’s such a beautiful transition, even in the rain – if you look closely – the dandelion heads are wearing a sparkling tiara of water drops. I don’t know if it’s just ageing with beauty and elegance or also an encouragement to be everything you are through the all stages of anything … we could see our ageing and the stages of our smaller challenges this way.

Wishing on a humble dandelion – in the rain.