Burnley November 27th and Storm Arwen has been blasting the North with gale force winds, icy below freezing temperatures and SNOW SNOW SNOW. The Team are off to Burnley for our second photoshoot on Lower St James Street. The coffee machine is on at the cafe 160 where we’ll set up the portrait studio today. It is all coats and hats, coffee and mince pies.
There aren’t may folks on the streets today. It is just too cold and the storm battered the hills last night, many homes lost power (and still, 7 days later, as I write this, there are 16,000 homes without power in The North and Scotland).
The cafe warms up and some folks come in and off we go. Ruby and Szilvia, art students, come in and we chat about how they feel about the lockdowns, growing up and finding their tribes in creative communities. Ruby is wearing her grandmother’s coat, black velvet with sleeves dripping in lace. It is the sharing, the passing down of bodily language, the playful wearing, made material. I wonder about the coat which looks like 1960s fashion, wild and hip, something bought from Manchester maybe. But her grandmother could be from the punk era. This coat could be worn as an expression of Goth and New Romantic; those responses to the 1970s and 80s, to repressive Thatcher politics. The language of the coat is spoken through generational lens, through culture and circumstance. Are the hills themselves around this mill town speaking through the coat? Yes I think so. They stand fast as the wind sweeps down and through the streets on this Saturday, these hills embodied in the people here, in the language and culture of this town.
The wearing of someone else’s coat, of a loved one, is to wrap yourself in something of them. This is ritual. This is magic.
I have a coat belonging to each grandmother. I wore them more when I was younger, when wearing older people’s clothing contrasted with my youth in a way that spoke something I wanted to communicate. I don’t wear them much now. When I put them on there isn’t a friction, when I put on the clothes of older people I am not in contrast anymore. What changed? I feel the same! It must be the coats!
The day continues and we head out to the shopping areas where we meet a few fashionable folks who are up for being photographed. There they are, under coat and hat, playfully visible if only to themselves. There is communication here, connection through this creative expression, here on the winter streets.
Later in the day Angel come in for a visit, for another portrait. I hope they come to each session to be photographed throughout the project. I tell them this, feeling like there is something growing here in Burnley, because there is growth in the cold of winter. It is different from the ease of Summer but it is happening nonetheless.
5 days later and I’m in Redcar with James, James and Beth and the team here. Prints out and up on walls, the exhibition taking shape. it is exciting to see the prints, to think ‘ok this is going to work’. There is always something going on at The Redcar Palace.
There is a new cohort of young folks working away, planning a seasonal window painting. This place has so much of what I think of as the calling of these times. There is an authentic conversation between the curation and the community. There is a commitment to young voices, the the climate, to the local, to history and art collaborations. There is space to meet, to explore ideas, to connect. The projects are inspiring and inspired. We work away, chatting and catching up, deciding on the layouts and exhibition plan. It is easy and comfortable.
All the while The North Sea is throwing itself over the sea walls, the wind blows salt over the gallery windows. I am so thrilled to be near it all. I wonder if you ever get used to this wild watery beast. The sea is intertwined and ingrained into the culture, economy and shared history here. it is there, beating against the buildings, the people themselves.
The storm that has so many still without power, the storm that rolled through Burnley the week before is reverberating here in the waters off the coast.
There is a sense of urgency as news of the new Covid variant, Omicron, is spreading; spreading like news, like storm, like virus. It is in Africa, it is here. The winds whip through the streets, Omnicron is in The UK, it is found in New York. There is talk of mandatory vaccinations in Germany, a terrible and backward move towards banning abortion in the USA. We are wearing masks again, but still together for now, physically here moving pictures around and making decisions, in this place, in the joy of this work.
Everything is connected.