Paris and Andru have big plans for a sustainable, just and democratic future. Underpinning their life is avoiding endless consumption that harms future generations and the environment. Based in Monforté, north western Spain, in the Galician valleys, with a family of three dogs, a cat and chickens, they’re working on a sustainable future and living according to the seasonal rhythms. The hope of the near future is involving more people in the project aside from the regular stream of Woofers. Currently, they’re weathering autumn and heading into winter, whilst work stops on the building of the second storey of their small stone cottage. I’m letting the images tell the story of their life on the farm. You can find out more on their blog.
Living room with library
Andru and Paris hand milling corn for cornbread
Hel cat napping on plush cushions
A trio of boisterous free-ranging chickens
'Smiling' vegetable discard found by Andru after cutting up a pepper grown on the farm
The yurt, a very comfortable home of two weeks
Autumn equinox celebrations with discussions about Galician language
A Galician equinox tradition stemming from the 70s where alcohol is served in the clay pot
Portugese, Galician and Spanish, the melding and history of languages
The ritualistic mantra accompanying the clay pot
Mulled cider warming on the gas hob
Cider to be shared in a loving cup with three handles
Discussing the Galician language
Sharing of mead made from honey from the farm
Farm honey and honeycomb
Faltering attempts to learn Galician dance, Unnarr joins in
A spirit made from crushed grapes is set on fire with lemon, coffee beans and sugar
As the alcohol burns, a mantra is read out
The spirit of autumn
The end of the night's celebrations
Pancakes cooking on the hob
Fruit from the farm for breakfast
Melon and apple harvested from the farm for pancake breakfast
Peaches harvested from the farm for jam
Preparation of tomatoes for preserving
Paris and Andru working on the wooden roof structure in view of the tree lined valleys
Chestnut wood for house building
Andru working on beams for the second storey
Handbuilding the second floor of the cottage
View of the vegetable garden
The permaculture garden
Entrance to the vegetable garden
Quinoa grain growing in the vegetable garden
Runner beans climbing up a handmade support
Chard ripe for harvest
Sprouting brocolli amongst foilage
Strawberries growing on hand constructed raised beds
Grape vines next to the chicken hut
A day's harvest
Quinoa hung up to dry
Peach jam sitting on the kitchen table
Preserves, sauces and jams from the produce boiled up ready for the long winter.
Apple with human features avoided being cut up for jam
A spring, one of the sources of water for the farm
Separating out the quinoa grains once the plants had dried
Farm honey being decanted into bottles
Bottling the year's honey
Death of a honey bee colony
Honey bee hives on the land
Solar panels cover the majority of the farm's energy needs during the summer and spring
Chickens waiting to be let out
The small stone cottage
The green van
Paris and Andru building their home
Tent where I intially slept
Urco resting near the cottage roof
Ulmé being dried after getting wet roaming the land
Passing the time with board games
Ulmei sleeping next to work shoes
Pans set aside to catch drips from the leaky roof
Dogs Urco and Unnarr sleeping under the table
Bread from the baker in Monforté
Preparing to play the Settlers of Catan
Playing board games lit by candle light as solar energy becomes scarcer
I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while, waiting to finish it as a few health issues have cropped up; unsure about posting it as is without an illustrative night time shot. If I thumb twiddle long enough, it will never get put up, so here it is with the promise of more to come soon:
Looking up at the blanket of stars in an inky sky, with heat pillowing around me in great gasps, the twinkling expanse lifts me up with its temporary beauty. Dark, tree-lined, weaving mountainous landscapes scurry in the background past the van window.
The last time I saw the little green van, it was parked in the day-time streets of Hackney in London, crammed full of belongings about to set off on an adventure.
Today, dirtier, scratched and rough around the edges, the van climbs along on the near empty Galician highways until it finally reaches the descent of a dirt road and juts and bumps along on the track taking us closer towards our destination, the farm.
Sitting in the passenger seat watching the night skyline wiggle past, I’m next to the driver, my best friend Paris, who through circumstances and situations, I’ve not seen for over two years; Andru, his partner is sat in the back. A hurried rush of words, stories and anecdotes flit by as we catch up.
Conversations tail off as the van lurches forward on the rutted, uneven trail, with the headlights puncturing the darkness ahead of us and finally, after endless motorised lurching, the van stops at the gravel clearing at a path turning at the foothills of the mountains. We get out of the vehicle straight into the trill of crickets chorusing across the valley and are greeted by three excitable dogs. A tan coloured one un-relentlessly barks, whilst a little white dog paws at me and a shy black dog hangs back in the distance, pacing.
Tired after a day’s travelling from London to Spain, I heave my heavy backpack from the boot onto my shoulders and wearily head downhill following the moonlight spilling through shadowed trees. I can hear the dogs scampering ahead. Apprehensively, I step along the uneven, narrow dirt path and try to avoid the weight of my luggage shunting me forward, flat on my face into the unknown descending path.
Shortly, we reach a small door at the entrance of a little squat stone building and make our way in. Walking in towards the main room, I cast off my backpack and glance around at the homely surroundings. The intimate space with masses of grey stones stacked as walls, alongside more recent bricks painted white is lit with a yellowed glow from the turquoise desk lamp; clamped onto wooden shelves occupied by jars and containers of herbs, condiments and dried goods. There’s a comforting sight of shelves made from trunks and aged planks stacked to the ceiling, full of books, fronted by a camper-bed-come-sofa, dotted with cushions. There’s a simple kitchen space on the left with a dining table full of produce and belongings. A wooden coffee table furnishes the middle of the living area, a corner wicker chair and homely rugs adorn the floors. Long, olive-green velvet curtains dress an informal seating area and the rustic wooden framed window with the outside blackness for a view. An ornate door sits in the centre of the back wall.
The three of us are exhausted; Paris and Andru head for their bedroom after shooing out the dogs and barricading the un-lockable front and back doors. Unrolling my sleeping bag, I fall asleep on the couch with the steady chirping of crickets punctuating my slumber.
Woken early by warm sunlight streaming in through the window and a shrill cockerel call, I hear scratching and scrabbling at the door and see a tiny, ginger paw hooking under the ornate metal trying to get in. Removing the stack of wood blocking the entrance, I’m greeted by a sprightly, diminutive ginger cat who hops onto the window-sill eyeballing me in a bemused fashion.
Sleepy eyed Paris and Andru trudge into the living area, the barricade on the other door is removed, the dogs are ushered in and a pot of oats is put on the stove for breakfast. Michael another friend who is staying at the farm comes in and we set down for our first meal of the day.
“Hah! Hello stranger! Here is my journalist stalker!”
Those words greeted me as I arrived to see an old friend who I hadn’t seen since last summer.
Everyone, meet Paul.
He is a 55 year-old Canadian Big Issue seller, whose regular pitch is near Spitalfields Market and Aldgate East. I met him when I shot a batch of photos on film. Yesterday, I did some colour digital shots and they’re the ones that start this series.
I came across Paul mid May after trawling through the square mile and saw hidden in the recesses of his leather jacket was a little black face of a pudgy kitten. Previously, in April a year ago, my own cat, Cass had died suddenly of a heart attack before he’d even reached two years-old, so to see a tiny kitten reminiscent of the cat I was grieving over drew me in to find out more about this man’s story.
Paul lives in Mile End and I spent several summer days getting to know him and travelling together from his home to his pitch whilst I documented the goings-on.
Paul was born in the UK. His family moved to Toronto when he was eight years-old and he spent over thirty years there but didn’t think to get his Canadian citizenship. He got into trouble, was arrested and charged for burglary and imprisoned. Wanting to spend as much time as he could in Canada, so his two kids could visit him, he chose to serve his full three-year sentence instead of fourteen months. After this, Paul was deported to the UK, as he said he was “deemed a danger to society”. Shocked by how life can “suddenly change”, he found himself alone in London without his family, friends, children and partner.
His first experiences of street homelessness were in Hackney sleeping on the stairs of the church as they provided food for rough sleepers. This was a real change of fortunes from when he was working as a carpenter for his own business in Toronto. He dreams of being a carpenter here but struggles to find a way into it without money or formal qualifications. Paul is caught financially as he didn’t live in Canada for long enough for him to draw a pension and here in the UK, he has no contributions for the state pension. Naturally, he is worried about surviving once he reaches pensionable age.
Initially, his partner worked for a Canadian airline and she would bring his children over to visit but after 9/11, the airline suffered losses and she lost her job. Since then, their relationship has broken down and he has not seen them for eight years. Missing his children growing up is big regret for Paul.
Hopelessness, depression and the trap of circumstances he can’t control weighs on Paul’s shoulders daily. Survival is about getting up and selling the Big Issue magazine as it gives some structure to his days. Arriving at noon at the Bishopsgate distribution pitch where he buys a few magazines off Lee and starts his day of selling whatever the weather or occasion.
Pooky is the name of the black kitten with ginger markings that perched on Paul’s shoulder when he was on his pitch. I met her mum, Bumpy, so called as she would bump Paul’s head in the morning to wake him up, when I visited Paul at home. Bumpy had adopted him and made her home with Paul in his uncertain temporary accommodation and a few weeks later, surprised him by giving birth to kittens in a cupboard. Pooky was eventually adopted and I was told over text that a second litter of kittens were born.
Bumpy is due her third litter of kittens in six weeks time and Paul showed me a photo of his favourite kitten ‘Lord Butters’ a beautiful ginger tom from the last litter who have all now been re-homed. Paul described the last birth: “Bumpy starts snuggling up next to me on the bed, and then it’s like she’s fighting an invisible cat and then one pops out! I put it into the cupboard where she had her first lot and she carries it out onto the bed again!”
When I saw him yesterday, he was in high spirits and we chatted about Thatcher, the state of the country and the recent cold snap. It was good to see him and I plan to visit again when I have time. I held onto the original black and white images as I was waiting to see Paul face to face before I put anything up.
I realised early, with journalism and photography that it has to speak to my own heart and ethics. I have always been interested in people, their stories and narratives and long may this curiosity and genuine desire to connect with people continue to shape my work and ideas.
I met Alex Swift an actor who has been starting a new piece of work called Travesty. I was instantly struck by the piece as he was performing in drag and questioning gender constructs. The reason why this gripped me so much was for the last year and a half I have been shooting and thinking around a body of work on gender and identity. I met with Alex yesterday and hope to do a shoot with him and to tell his narrative for this piece. Not giving away too much right now but hope to share this in the coming months.
Fundamentally this work is about pushing past the demarcations and systems set up for us around our gender identity and as Alex put it yesterday, ‘dissolving those barriers’ to get people thinking and challenging their preconceptions. I am interested in discussions around these issues as this body of work will involve a person’s narrative, experiences and stories in text to go alongside the stills. I will be recording interviews as I hope to incorporate that element to produce a mutimedia piece. I am hoping to push at the boundaries/barriers and hope this work stimulates a lot of thought for those that see it.
I’m always looking for sitters who are interested in taking part in this project. Feel free to field some questions my way as it is constantly evolving and I know I have only partially explained it here – do get in touch!
This morning, I pulled on my docs and braved the drifting snow to photograph more private bedroom spaces. I simply cannot resist the temptation to be a voyeur and to have a peek into a person’s life. Walking through the powdery snow textured like cornflour underfoot; I came across the street of the flat I was to photograph and noticed the snow settled on the foliage and branches in a beautiful configuration. Give me sun any day but this was a visual marvel and made up for the miserably cold temperatures.
The rooms of CD and AG who share a flat were offered to me today- thank you.
What I noticed is a bedroom can be co-opted as a work space, a room where one can shut the door and concentrate. This space by the nature of communal living is often multi functional and often leaks outside of the demarcations of a place to sleep.
This blurring of lines extends out to the identities we see in theses photos. They paint a partial picture of the person, books, trinkets, kitchen goods and other paraphernalia are in the living room or elsewhere, other items live in auxillary nooks or are obscured from my immediate view behind doors and drawers. As a viewer it is up to us to negotiate the splits and to fill in the gaps. Lives can take on an entirely peripatetic existence. We are always more than our commodities. Our bedrooms feel very pedestrian to us that wake in them each day and they do not make us as people but the colours, moods and feel in a bedroom are fascinating for me as I come upon them for the first time.
Continuing on the theme of liminality and the occupation of spaces between boundaries, I’ve started shooting some personal work in bedrooms.
Last summer, I got talking to a couple of creatives after a photography event at The National Portrait Gallery. The idea came up about how bedrooms are private spaces and are not often seen publicly. Thank you for that conversation as it sparked this idea and project.
I normally photograph people, as they are what interest me visually. There is this on going question I have with how I relate as a photographer to my sitters and how I connect to others as a person generally. However, this is slightly leftfield for me as I have no plan to feature people in this work. Being allowed into that private, unseen bedroom space and shooting it unaltered gives many subtle clues. It embodies the person who inhabits that space and spends a lot of time sleeping and resting there. So I am addressing that question of identity from a renewed angle.
If you’re interested in taking part and don’t mind me coming into your room to document the details then email me at email@example.com. or tweet me at @GraceWongPhoto. Please don’t feel you need to make any special concessions to tidiness, keep it as it would be untouched is my preference. Anything in cupboards, wardrobes or doors that are not openly displayed won’t be photographed. You have my word, I have no desire to snoop as being let into your room is a great privilege already. I look forward to hearing from you all!
So here is the start of this body of work with DL’s room. Thank you for letting me in to shoot it.
Whilst I am reminiscing about cities; I was in Hong Kong last November working on a personal documentary project. I photographed workers and small business owners and asked them what had changed in the city recently and how their livelihoods were affected.
This was a deeply personal trip as the last time I visited was more than a decade ago when I was a young faced seventeen year old. My ancestral roots are in Hong Kong and I still have family over there. I remember a distinct feeling of having ‘arrived home’ when I set foot in the congested streets of Mong Kok which was odd, as I was born in and had grown up in the UK. The questions I was asking myself were based on identity, cultures and clashes and were things I had been working on for a long while. It was that pervasive feeling of not quite having a full foot in your home culture but also not tallying with the UK ‘English’ culture completely either. This is a theme I am drawn towards as a photographer – the idea of liminal spaces in terms of identity, emotions or physical concrete space itself:
Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
Hong Kong was one of those places that got under my skin. The incessant noise, the intense crowds, the pollution and the overarching capitalism knocking alongside extreme poverty really irritated me. Did I answer my personal questions? I guess I did. I have always held the answer even before I went to Hong Kong. I occupied a very special boundary of dual cultures that gave me a very beautiful unique perspective. In Hong Kong, I wasn’t a foreigner as I spoke Cantonese and grew up partially with a Cantonese culture at home and appeared to be Hong Kong Chinese but neither was I a native. I couldn’t be categorized but this was a very good thing. It took a flight across to the other side of world to realise this. Funny that, I’m sure there are cheaper ways to find this out!
I know there are many sides of Hong Kong I didn’t see or experience. I wasn’t there long enough to feel that I got to know it or its people well enough. I know I will return there again, it just is a question of when.
Here are a number of shots from the trip to give you an idea of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong as well as the portraits I mention above:
Leather Cordwainer, Tung Lo Wan Road- Causeway Bay: He has been making shoes for sixty years and operates in a tiny alley next to his shop front window of leather handmade shoes. He has been in this location for thirty years and has seen the increase in rents over the years. He feels Hong Kong has changed to become more mechanised, digitalised and electronic.
Mr Yip, Evergreen Printing Company- Kennedy Town: He is 70 and retiring this year (2011) as it is becoming harder to make a living. He has two sons; one is in the restaurant trade and the other works as a translator. He does not want either of them to follow in the family business as he wants them to do well financially.
Cleaner in Times Square, High End Designer Shopping Centre, Causeway Bay: She came to Hong Kong from Huishou, China twenty years ago and has worked in Times Square for nineteen years. She feels that the area has gone up market and gotten very densely built up. She feels that making a living in Hong Kong is hard but making a living is hard everywhere so she doesn't mind.
A woman who collects plastic bags to sell for recycling as there is very minimal state support. She is based in Happy Valley which is considered a very prosperous area housing the horse racing track
Fishmonger- Shepherd Street, Tai Hang, Tin Hau. He has been here for a number of years and has seen an influx of people with middle incomes moving into the area. He has noticed older buildings being torn down to make way for high rise buildings.
Taxi Seat Maker, Tai hang: He has lived in Tai Hang for about forty years and has been running his business for about twenty years. He's seen so many changes to the area and said that the rent rises began even before the boom of people moving into the area about two/three years ago. A lot of the rents have out priced the traditional car based industries that were the original mainstay of this area.
Mechanic Wong, Ah Yuen Garage, Sun Chun Street, Tau Hang, Tin Hau: Wong has lived here since he was a small boy. He's seen the rents increase in the last couple of years as there's room in the streets for parking and it's close to Causeway Bay. This is impacting on his business. He is making a trade off with being in a cheaper area which has less passing trade.
Hong Kong is densely populated with the majority of residents living in very small flats in high rise towers
Board games out on the street - Hong Kongers gather in streets and use public space communally due to the majority of flats and houses being very small
Street stall selling incense and offerings for ancestral worship.
Bird Street in Northern Hong Kong - birds are popular pets.
Fruit and veg market in Mong Kok, freshness of produce is highly important for local residents.
Street markets in Wan Chai
Shopping, a national past time taking place on a street market
Families out on the streets
Tram to Shau Kei Wan
Residents waiting for a bus in Causeway Bay
Bakery with freshly baked goods in Mong Kok
Roasted meats for sale in a food stall
Clay pots stacked outside a restaurant
Dimsum cooked and sold in a makeshift stall
A sales assistant stocking up outside a small shop in a crowded indoor shopping centre
One of the many shopping centres in Hong Kong
Arcade centre - this picture does not capture the sheer awesomeness of the wall of noise in the centre!
Young women winding down on MTR (Mass Transport Railway)
I’ve been away from London for a little while now and am missing the city like mad. Pining for the cut and thrust of London life spilling out onto the streets. Yearning for the chaos, dirt and richness of cultures melding together in that wonderful city. It takes being forced to be away from a place to eventually discover that you love it. I miss London terribly and all it’s inhabitants known and unknown. I have actually found a spiritual home even with its many imperfections.
This reminded me to put up some London specific shots I did a few months ago, which can be seen here; they’re the black and white shots based on a few days walking around The Square Mile. I did an analogue photography and dark room course through Photofusion and got to use one of their 35mm Pentax cameras over the spring and summer before I left. There was something remarkable about how it influenced the way I composed and thought about my shot. I took my time and really watched people passing by on the streets and waited for that moment. I loved the slowing of my normal photographic process and valued the reflection and deliberation that I gave to each image. It was fantastic to see the image take shape in the chemical bath and to smell and experience the milieu of the busy dark room.
My project for this City and Guilds course was about a topic very close to my heart as a photographer; my relationship with my subject and my ability to build a rapport with them as a person. I photographed Paul who I met by chance near Spitalfields Market as he had a young kitten with him perched on his shoulder. I hope to put up the shots that I did with him once I have all the negatives scanned. I’m planning to document and shoot more work with Paul and catch up with him once I get back to London but watch out for this and more on this blog.
In the meantime, here is a street shot from Brixton, near where I used to live in deepest, darkest Saarf london.