Leaving Brexit Behind

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Its been nearly 6 months since I made the moved from London to the Far East, and I’m not yet regretting the decision.

I left my Photography Agency in London in order to detach myself from the creative quagmire which I had found myself in.

A combination of political and cultural circumstances had left me feeling incredibly dissatisfied with the state of the country, as well as my place in it.

This disillusionment was a sentiment shared by many of my colleagues and friends but this did not comfort me in any way. In fact, this shared sentiment made me feel even more frustrated with my social group.

I suppose the chief motivation for my exit from the country was guilt. 

The initial wave of righteous indignation that had flooded, what felt like, the entirety of London, had subsided. Now all that was left was the feeling that I could have done something more. Of course many of my colleagues, liberal leaning artists and photographers, felt that they had done their part.

They had posted and re-posted the relevant articles on social media. They had sat down at dinner parties and discussed the reasons why Britain would stay in. Then, when the day had come, they’d arrived at the polling stations promptly, before work, and voted. In their minds, the collective liberal consciousness that has long been the norm in London’s creative circles, they had done everything in their power to thwart the current situation. But it wasn’t enough.

After the results were announced, an irate sense of anger took hold of the men and women in my social circle. Good hearted people one and all, they nonetheless felt that they had been let down by their fellow Londoners and countrymen. They had wrongly assumed that their view of Britain’s place in Europe was not only the ‘right’ one but that it was shared by the majority of their fellow voters.

When the results came in, they felt that they had somehow been betrayed, duped even, into a false sense of security.

This, at least, was true. They had been living for the last year with blindfolds over their eyes. Only consuming and sharing information that conformed with their world view, they were completely unaware of the dissident population of Britain, both inside and outside of London, that was not only unhappy but felt isolated from the Government and the systems of control that were being forced upon them.

After a few weeks, I could no longer listen to the pompous righteousness of the people that I had once called friends. ‘Water-Cooler’ conversations had ceased to focus on anything about but Europe and the ‘idiots’ that had forced us to leave. No mention was made of the role that we had to play in the whole debacle. The mere idea that us good minded liberal people were in anyway to blame for the unfortunate turn of events was preposterous.

I felt different though. As much as I felt like shaking my friends and trying to make them understand the part they had to play in the result, I knew that to engage my contemporaries with this kind of argument would only lead to more anger and more hot air.

So I left, under the guise of revitalising my work…

and I’ve never been happier.

Debauchery in Hanoi then Peace by the Pool

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Hanoi left me feeling dirty and a little ashamed of myself.

Although I spent the first few months of my self-imposed exile attempting to bury myself in the murky concrete jungles and seedy swamps of Vietnam, I knew that I wouldn’t be staying there for long.

Vietnam is a country that has been both ravaged and raised up by foreign forces.

During the US occupation, thousands of lives were damaged, some permanently erased. However, now the country is better known for its glistening sands, turquoise seas and jaw-dropping vistas.

The first few weeks of my time away were spent in Hanoi, attempting to capture the city’s fluctuating states. In this part of the world, relatively close to the equator, day turns to night in a matter of a moments. Within these fleeting minutes, the city transforms itself from bustling, grubby metropolis to a throbbing, thriving carnival. The streets become crowded with throngs of tourists, revellers and opportunistic street sellers.

I clearly had a few issues that I needed to iron out, because I soon found myself less concerned with photography and more enamoured with the hundreds of international travellers that were all meeting for the first time. Within a few days of arriving, I’d settled myself into a comfortable routine of checking into a new hostel, buying a drink at the bar, then ingratiating myself with whatever travelling crowd I could find.

After two weeks of far too much drinking and too few square meals, I knew the time had come to leave Hanoi.

I was enjoying myself too much, I felt like I was slowly slipping back into the mindset of a past version of myself. When I stared drunkenly into the grubby mirrors of the guest house bathrooms, I sometimes struggled to see the accomplished professional photographer that I was supposed to be. Instead, a sullen, tired looking face of an angsty twenty-something looked back, daring me to make a change.

That change came after I woke up with the taste of sick in my mouth for the third day in the road. My head was sore, I was itching all over from bed bug bites and I had a dim recollection of doing something shameful with a man much too young for me the night before. I booked my flight to India that day and tried to get as many photos taken as I could, so I could look back on the whole experience with some form of self-respect.

The flight to India was a peaceful one. Leaving the raucous screams and laughter of the backpacking scene behind me, I had a vision in my head of myself walking along smooth peaceful sands, next to a shimmering sea in a remote spot in Goa somewhere.

That didn’t quite work out the way that I had planned.

After a 12 hour flight with 6 hours of stopovers, the idea of walking anywhere was out of the question. I found a tuk-tuk driver with an honest face and fell asleep amongst my bags whilst I was whisked away to the nearest 5-star hotel.

The next 7 days were spent recovering from the foolish damage that I had been doing to my body for the past week. I woke early, ate well and drank very little. I’d watch patiently as the aquamatic pool cover slowly crawled its way back, ready for its first visitor, keen to put the countless shots and bowls of Pad Thai behind her. Instead of throwing myself into socialising with every Tom, Dick and Harry, I kept my own company, caught up on some emails and attempted to regain my composure.

After a week spent breathing the scent of freshly cleaned Egyptian cotton and devouring my weight in fresh fruit, I knew the time had come for me to leave the gentrified colonial world of the hotel.

It was time to start building an idea that would justify my exit from the UK and my comfortable life back in London.

Back To The Orient

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20 Years After Leaving Asia For London, I’ve Decided To Return East

I spent the best part of a decade travelling Asia, photographing what I saw and engaging with the people there. However, the travelling life was rough on me. Unlike many of my colleagues here at the newspaper, I gained my photography experience travelling the world – sleeping rough and running from dark room to dark room.

To find and capture life in it’s natural state. That has, and always will, be my goal in life. This can’t be done in the way traditional camera men work.

Usually there’s a certain element of planning that goes into a shoot – even when the subject is of the natural world. There’s light to consider, as well as positioning and the use of lenses. If the subject is an animate object, will it be happy to stay in one position for an extended period of time?

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These questions, as well as many others, started to sit at the forefront of my mind as I worked as a photographer in England. The situational skills, that I developed during my travels, began to slowly dissipate and my pictures grew more and more conventional. Until one day, whilst picking out my photos from the negative room; I had to strain to find my photographs from my peers’.

This moment was the catalyst that drove me out of London and onto a plane back to Asia.

I could no longer sit in the fashionable cafes and studios that defined my profession, here in England. I needed to be back amongst the unpredictable tumult of the Orient – at risk, yet always just a few coincidences away from an unexpected reward.

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I’d saved up enough cash to  last my three lifetimes, across the world where one of our British Pounds can buy a night’s stay, a full day of meals and a round of beers for an entire bar. So there was no need to delay the inevitable – 20 years after leaving the travelling life, I was returning back to a decidedly alternative way of life.

Of course, I hadn’t stopped travelling the world, when I’d returned. In the interim I’d travelled the length of Africa and the breadth of Europe, on similar missions for photography perfection. But this time was different. On every other excursion, I’d always felt like I was leaving on a brief sojourn (even if I was out of the the country for months at a time) – this time, it felt permanent.

When I was off by my colleagues, friends and family – it felt less like ‘See You Later’ and more like ‘Goodbye’.

wlaking-awayI wonder if I’ll ever go back.

Winds Of Time

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As you can imagine, returning to normal office city life after being out there on the front line is quite a strange experience. It’s is both strangely difficult and worryingly easy to adapt back into this world. When you are confronting it, when you are considering it directly, when you are staring down the barrel of it, then it becomes visceral, it becomes jarring, it becomes real. But most of the time, as with all things, you’re not staring down the barrel all the time, you’re not directly confronting anything most of the time. You’re just doing those little tasks tasks that every day requires, you get into a routine and the days just past. Then perhaps when you go to bed you have a moment where you forget your day a little and get an opportunity to reflect, to remember other moments you’ve lied in bed after a day that maybe had been completely different to this one. These bed moments you don’t really remember, but have experienced enough times to imagine. In these moments you can reflect, reflect on just how much your life has changed. But before you can dwell on all that for too long, you sleep, and the winds of time blow you forward once more.

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Sometimes these little moments of reflection can come at the least expected of times. I was doing some work recently which involved visiting a few factories including one that made massive industrial fans (http://www.beatson.co.uk/). The factory was full of the sound of these whirring fans, their blades cutting through the processed air smoothly and rhythmically. Listening to this sound took my straight back to the sound of helicopter blades spinning behind my head as gripped my camera and my head and ran into a new country, a new war zone, a new life. I don’t have anything nearing PTSD, but I had to take a moment in that factory to gather my sorts and reflect for a moment and gather my thoughts, because after the life I used to lead and the massive change I’ve been through, I’ve got a lot of thoughts to gather…

 …

Of All Places, Belgium

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One of my first jobs as a reporter outside of my home country was in, of all places, Belgium. As you can imagine, heading into my editors office with a head full of Asia, Africa and South America (you know, places where stuff happens) I was not to happy when he handed me a ticket for, of all places, Belgium. But it was an opportunity I still had to take, so I headed over there.

brussels

What I found was a beautiful city with a long history. What I found was a western European capital city with all the culture and heritage you’d expect. What I found was, somehow, both fascinating and boring. From the perspective of a critical historian the most interesting thing about Belgium and Brussels is how both where built through an especially brutal colonialist project which Belgium in some ways has managed to hide away from its public image these days, where it clings to the UK and their ‘British Empire’ firmly and deservedly so. But Belgium’s crimes are often forgotten.

Brussels (1)

I live in Liverpool now, and regularly travel over to Brussels, people should make the trip more often I feel, I’ve found great ways of parking before my flight from Liverpool to Brussels and great ways of finding cheap flights and all that kind of stuff so the journey is really pretty affordable. I go because Liverpool and Brussels are too cities with a dark history of reaping huge and brutal wealth from the African continent, but in very different ways. Their different stories are also told very differently by the architecture, structure and culture of the two cities. Liverpool’s slavery history is well known and it attempts to confront it through its International Slavery Museum and what not, but it still has statues of slave owners and people who were involved in the slave trade around the cities with captions like ‘built orphanages’ and ‘cared for the cities blind’. These people where experts in philanthropy as public relations. Philanthropy as a lie.…

Oldest Memories

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I grew up in a very old New York. A New York that has been all but lost by now. A smoky, young, poor, dirty, beautiful, shimmering, romantic New York. A New York actual people could live in and move too. I lived in the city that created the myth that people now spend their millions pretending to live in today. I grew up in the real thing. I grew up in the city Marilyn Monroe had her skirt blow’d up in. I lived in the city where Muhammad Ali mocked and danced. I lived in the city where Frank Sinatra made it. I lived in the city Woody Allen couldn’t help but fall in love with over and over again.

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I used to run round those streets, I was walking to and from school on my own from 8 years old! The freedom allowed to kids and all young people in the city those days would be unthinkable today. I guess appropriately so. But it sure sucks the soul out of a city. It’s a crying shame that we people can’t just be in the city and live freely. I feel that a lot of it is a matter of perspective and stupid, stupid fear. Fear sings from the pavements in New York City these days. Back then people counted themselves as people on the up no matter what there situation, with one eye back on the depression the only way was up and we all felt like we were going up, up, up.

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Where as now it is a constant struggle with no success and no relief. Even the rich are scared and sad, and the poor are scared and desperate. And why wouldn’t you be? It’s a damn scary and desperate place and a damn scary and desperate life.…