Out from Behind the White Picket Fence?

Feeling Down Down by the SeasideFeeling Down Down by the Seaside

One of the great strengths of social documentary/street photography  is the genre’s ability to tell the stories of so-called ‘ordinary’ people going about their normal everyday lives. Not only that, but when the photos are of the candid persuasion of ‘unknown people’ the story read into a photograph will always depend upon what a viewer brings to it; their own lives, values and worldview as well as their experiences will determine what each individual will see in a photograph.

I saw this man walking along the shingled shoreline of the Isle of Sheppey in the south of England when I stayed there a while back. Walking alone on that beach, this man seemed to me to be lost in thought or perhaps not having his best day. But really, who can say what was actually on his mind or how he felt on that sunny Sunday morning beach walk?

We hear a lot of debate on and analysis of Social Media and its impact on communication and on the way we do that communicating. Personally, I love Social Media. I love it, not for its own sake, but for the wonderful tool that it is and the opportunities it gives us to actually connect with other people. For artists, Social Media has been, I think, a gift. It has given us access to the art and to the artists we may never have even heard of otherwise.

And then there is the explosion in artistic collaborations that have resulted from these connections and access. Now it is not even necessary to be in the same physical place with other artists in order to work on joint projects or to share ideas or to learn from each other.

One phenomena I have found rewarding is my own collaboration with other artists who work in areas other than photography. Folk singers, writers and poets have all responded to my photos in ways that have surprised me and honoured me too. Some of these collaborations have been planned from initial concept or some stage along the creative line by me and the other artist, but others have become joint projects ‘after the fact’ as it were.

One such occasion was when I was contacted by gifted poet Karen Bayley-Ewell. I’ve known Karen (in Cyberspace) for several years and have always enjoyed her poetry. Anyway, she told me that she’d seen Feeling Down Down on the Beach, and wondered if she could send me a poem she’d written. Of course I told her I didn’t mind at all; on the contrary I was thrilled.

She told me that she hadn’t written the poem as a response to the photo, but quite a while previously. But, you know, time really is only a method we have invented to place restrictions on our lives. In other words, there is no ‘time’ in the linear sense that we have grown accustomed to experiencing it. So, one possible story for the man in my photograph was written long before his life’s journey led him to this spot on this beach and long before I saw him there.

I guess most of us have heard the very mind-boggling theory that everything that has ever happened, or that will ever happen, is actually all happening right now. This concept is too hard for me to get my head around, but on the other hand it does explain a lot don’t you think? I was there, this man was there, I had my camera, I made the photo just at that oh so very ‘ordinary moment’. And, already another artist had written the story of this photo. Makes you think doesn’t it?



 Oh how your garden looks so fab

Looking like a home & garden ad

How much time have you spent

Surrounded by a white picket fence

Waiting around for the 9:08

Always wondering why it’s late

Time moves fast as you fall behind

Your watch is off by a decade you find

Oh dear what a crushing bore

You never looked behind before

There’s only the recording of your mind

If only you could just rewind

What on earth have you done

But mother is proud of you my son

Excuses, excuses have you not heard

Your unseen play is so absurd

Happy family, wife and 2 kids

Is that really all there is

2 spare rooms mortgage paid

Bare as your future I’m afraid

Gaps wide open as a patio door

Garden furniture adorns the floor

Oh what a splendidly well-kept lawn

Inside you suddenly feel forlorn

But you are the king of your castle

Trophy wife and a dog called rascal

Life is evaporating like a morning dew

And suddenly you ask where are you

The question burns deep inside

A voice taunts your life is a lie

The unanswered question inside remains

Will you answer or just go insane?


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