Hello and thank you for calling in...

My name is Helen and I am a Photographer living in England. I started this Blog on the day that my Grandma died, three months after my Father died and several weeks before a third funeral. Initially it was a very personal way to stay connected to the people I'd lost and it helped, it really did. But writing and taking pictures everyday has opened back up a creative side that I had lost during the everyday. A big thank you to my followers, to those who take the time to comment and to new visitors, I hope we will become Blog friends too...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

keeping up with the herd

I've been watching a little boy playing in the field outside the cabin. Marching along with his little riffle, in his hunting outfit, pretending to shoot lurking animals in the leafless trees. Utterly consumed in his world as an intrepid hunter, stopping to wee in full view of anyone who happens to be watching only to retake his stance and forge into the undergrowth. It struck me thats what i'm doing today, playing, by myself.

The rest of the group are ski-ing, the last day and I have chosen not to but instead to spend the day alone playing my games. Comes from being an only child i suppose but I'm a solitary little person sometimes who likes to loose hours in my own world and all of this following the heard doesn't come naturally to me.
Yesterday i did some euphoric ski-ing, so proud of myself for how well i did down red runs, my turns feeling wonderfull, picking up my speed to new brave level, i was on top of the world loving every minute. But it all collasped around me again when my legs got tired and the snow was churned up by the hordes. I was glad for my hung over friends as they needed more rests than normal.

The afternoon was tourture, trying to get down the mountain and back to safety ski-ing, stopping, falling, struggling over huge (to me) moguls formed in the poor snow conditions. It was painfully slow and labourious, my shins splintering with pain inside the damn ski boots and my legs so jellyish and wobbly I'd have struggled to walk down, let alone slide down in agony on two out of control planks of wood.

Theres something utterly infuriating about your partner being useless in a group, so i felt terrible for mine yesterday. A stranger you would have patience and sympathy for but mix love and expectation into the equation and empathy does not sit well with irritability. My partner wears irritation on his face as one of his only two expressions and yesterday that was his expresion of choice. I've learn't over the years to ignore his unwillingness to hide it, as i've found even when in the foulest of moods and at his most unlovable nothing really bad ever happens. So I sail along in the knowledge that it'll pass, even amused now at the shocked looks of anyone unfortunate enough to be on the recieving end of one of his looks or cutting comments.

But yesterday i did take notice and take it to heart. Although I knew there was nothing I could do to get back the strength in my legs and along with it my ski-ing ability, i did feel sorry for holding him up, marring his enjoyment and generally letting 'team us' down in front of the others.

Hense my day off today, to give them all the chance to really ski without having to wait for the lame duck at the back. Shame as i'd like to be as good as them and hope to be one day but it is just a question of practice of which my partner has had much more than me.

The little boy has gone home now, incarcerated once more and no doubt scolded for muddy knees or torn sleeves. Such moments use to shock me as a child, when I would come bounding home from endless walks with my dog, full of euphoria only to be jolted back to reality with a good telling off for the lateness of my retrurn or the mess I was in or the loss of something which I was supposed to be guarding with my life (never my dog - she was my solemate, partner in crime and grime). The worst scoldings of course would come about at the lack of arrival of whatever treasure i was supposed to have brought back from the errand i was sent on. There would always be some utterly made up excuse that my father would see straight through and another roasting for telling lies would be heeped ontop of my already burdened head. Sorry Dad, even now at 42 i still get lost in the adventure and totally forget that i have responsibilities. I can waste hours like that and to me it seems an utterly cost effective use of my time. others never seem to see it that way of course.

There is a school next to our challet and i've just watched a little girl carrying her coat and skipping rope who had obviously been instructed to cross the playground to the classroom diagonally opposite. She carefully laid her coat down on the playground floor and skipped to the other side only to dash back to retrieve her coat and scurry again to the ordered location. I wonder when we decide not to take the time to have that skip. When does childhood go out of the window and we go straight from A to B grumbling at articles we have to carry with us instead of taking that moment to play with them, just for a little while.
I suspect thats what a lot of coming away with a group is all about, doing what you should do instead of wondering off and having those moments of doing just what you want. Completeing the errend whitout a risk of getting sidetracted so you dont recieve the roasting at the end. I've tried to follow the herd this week but i suspect if you asked them they'd say i don't make a very strong member of it, I'm the one at the edge nibbling the grass in the sunshine while the others have moved on, I'm the one that gets picked off by the lions.......

Thursday, 24 March 2011

the good the bad and the ugly

I'm in France, Montriond near Morzine, ski-ing. Its a gorgeous place, amazing ski-ing runs the weather is 27 degrees it couldn't be better. Chocolate box scenery although with no snow in the village or towns but lots up on the mountains. Our chalet is run by the loveliest people, so concerned that we are happy and having a great time, we've been so lucky in our choice.

The friends I'm with are old friends and one newish one and we've got on so well with non of the usual hiccups you can get when you come away as a group. We've been ski-ing together everyday and I've been pretty pleased with my performance although a little surprised at being the slowest member of the group. But hey I'm a scardy cat when it comes to speed and i know my ability is far below that needed to avoid other skiers and stop myself falling off cliffs if i loose control of my skis.

So i should be a delicate little flower of a skier, picking my way down a slope in a gentle ladylike way, not hurtling down at top speed like my adrenaline junkie friends. Ok I'm no where near as fast as them but for me I'm hurtling and it has provided some very hairy moments for me. I envy and admire them but i am at the level I'm at and trying to keep up has been daunting sometimes.

I love the lunches and apres ski of course, the jollier and louder and snow junkier the better for me. i love to watch the snowboarders in their funky bright clothes excitedly shouting at each other about their wipe outs and mega runs and i love watching the pretty people gliding along in their clompy ski boots as though they are wearing Jimmy Choos, cooly smoking their 'keep me stick thin' cigarettes chatting with the other beautiful people.

so its all been wonderful apart from today when i needed a rest. i was physically and emotionally exhausted. i didn't expect this part but the grief has hit me this week. ski-ing is tough on the body especially if your not that brave a skier like me and the people you are with are either experienced or fit and brave and I'm just not either.

I've done runs where i have been in tears, talking to my dad all the way down "come on dad we can do this" stuff like that. sounds silly now but when your in so much pain and trying so hard not to let others down your on your limit, well i am anyway. today i need a day off. i slept in till 12.30 then took my camera out and spent a few hours snapping moments. it was heaven and I've got a couple of cool shots which i will load when back. Its great to photograph in a different environment where people are doing something different than home and its inspired me to go to more interesting locations to do my people pictures at least.

taking the time to do some photography really helped, as pushed to the edge of my physical and bravery limits the tears came pouring in unstoppable and it felt like my heart was going to break. I'm away from my children , away from the other people who are going through the same grieving as me and the few moments it has come flooding into me while here its been intolerably hard. i didn't foresee it at all. but on the other hand it is the most enjoyable holiday and has helped enormously to have a break from the death that we have been living with for the last 3 months. i will be so sad when its over, as usual i go back with new resolutions which generally disappear the week or so after I'm back but i cannot hope to come out of all of this unchanged and hopefully it will be for the better.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


so what is the connection between grief and photography? for me its all connected in the moments that matter, the little glimpses of magic that you capture in a picture 'the essence of life' to be corny. in these moments, when i see something that captures me, i want to get that image that i'm seeing as it proves it was there and that i felt it. that i was alive and felt the fullest part of an emotion while i saw it and captured it on my camera. to look at the many pictures on the screen when i load my card into the laptop and see one that is perfect is thrilling and thats it too. to create something that i feel is perfect, the best it can be, doesn't get any better. i love that.

both my relatives got sick years ago when i was in my early twenties and it changed me, changed my path. suddenly having a family became so important. i felt a great need to get on with making my own children so that my dad and grandma could take part in their lives and be part of me having them and for my children to know two people that had played such a huge happy part in my childhood.

theres been the worry of them both at the back of my mind for most of my adult life and its very strange to think neither of them are here now. i'm still worrying about them, worrying about their death but time will change that and i will accept how their lives where and in tern how it affected mine.

as well as my decision to have a family and experience the magic of children, it changed me so much in other ways, in that i'm always searching for those meaningful moments of magic and the things that thrill and move me outside of my family too.

pictures/images and music are my main drug for feeding that need now. i've enjoyed searching for images i like for years and lately feel such a need to capture my own. i've tried for the last two years with paintings and drawings and have sold well but still photography gets me out of bed in the morning faster than paint and brushes do.

i feel connected to something when i'm taking photographs, like i'm living, like what i'm doing means something and i guess what i'm doing is cheating death or illness myself. heart attacks or disease aren't catching me whilst i'm creating something magic because hey look at me i've done it and you haven't stopped me.

I have a new acquaintance with a brain tumour, hes a professional man who in spare time is a life model. a strange thing for a doctor to want to do, take his clothes off in front of a group of people but he said to me that he doesn't know how long hes going to be here and he wants to leave something behind, artists images of him. you can hear him saying its not beating me too because look at all these images of me that are being produced and will still be here when i'm gone.

it occurs to me that that might be a part of what i'm doing by creating images also. a smaller part though because generally after i've produced something i often don't look at it again for some time and i don't feel a particular need to have others approval of my work so i suspect its all about the process of creating, being able to and the thrill it gives me when i do.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

knocked for six

'And So No More'
when i wrote my first blog yesterday, i knew my grandma was dying. we had been told it was the final few days and i knew that i would be soon grieving for two dear relatives. i hadn't realised it would be the same day i started my blog.
the Macmillan nurse had said it wouldn't be yesterday but finding Suzanna's blog was no coincidence and i kind of knew really in my heart that it would be a very significant and changing day.
it was the cruelest thing to have to go through it twice in 3 months, to watch loved ones waste away in the cruelest of ways, their bodies betraying them, agony to watch, shocking, desperate, awful. today i'm knocked for six.
i was brave with dad, it was parkinson's disease so it had been going on a long time but a sudden turn of events brought about a quicker end than any of us had expected, although the very end wasn't that quick, it took a month and its a heck of a thing to go through.
my grandma was in hospital 11 days with 3 months of illness beforehand and it was the same terrible wait, only this time i knew the ropes.

i not only had to wait for her to die but also had to stand by whilst our closest relatives went through the hospital end process that we had been through 3 months before.
not being able to tell them, or at least choosing not to tell them what would happen felt like a huge burden to bear because how can you cause more pain to them before it has even happened - impossible - but thats what families are for. they endured endless calls from me in dads last few weeks whilst i struggled to come to terms with symtoms and pathway programs and i hope i have been as much support to them.
this time its hit me straight away, because i haven't been so closely involved i suppose or because i've only just been through it, who knows. its better this way, i dont feel like i have to keep strong, i can cry and be sad, where i didn't before.

i was thinking about a wedding we went to last August when i had no idea this was all coming. well of course i knew it would, my father had had the disease for 20 years and my grandma was 89 and had had several heart attacks in those 20 years. so of course i knew i would loose both of them at some point but i didn't know it would be so soon and i didn't know how long, drawn out and torturous it would be for them and all of us.

its a world you don't know is there until you dip into it. normal life is going on all around and then you dip into this alternate universe of suffering, hospitals and death and right now it feels like a place your never free of again, like your touched for life by it, like i'm touched for life, changed by it for the rest of my life.
i have a friend who lost a child this way and i never understood the pain. i thought i could put myself in her shoes, how would it feel if i lost mine, i thought i knew but i hadn't even scratched the surface. its bad enough with adults but that i cannot imagine how you deal with it with a child.
i'll never look at grief or the grieving in the same way again, its far harder than i ever imagined over the last 20 years and i suspect i'm not even close to feeling the fullness of it yet.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

to begin with

Photograph : 'A Rose for a Rose'

I've been inspired to write this blog from reading 'Ink on my fingers' the blog by Susannah Conway. I'm not sure which way my blog will go yet, i suppose it will just unravel but it is based in the same place as Susannah's in that going back to photography is somehow going back to who i really am and is helping to keep me connected to my father who has recently died.

That i hope is where the similarity will end, i don't intend to copy her blog but to write my own. I hope it will document my journey back into something that captured me a long time ago but something, stupidly, i didn't choose to pursue or maybe the time just wasn't right.

Actually i think the truth is it has taken me a very long time to know myself, far too long. I wish i had realised my love of photography years ago, studied and become a photographer. It would have saved years of not knowing when, if i had have been able to read the signs, I could have been earning a living at it instead of all the different soul destroying things I've tried .

But although i was half way there something didn't keep me gripped and i think it was that i never connected with film, it was too long winded for me, the waiting for developing. Digital is much more me, definitely. I can see the image straight away, fiddle with it and done, theres the picture. I like that, an instant result. I'm the same with art, anything that takes too long and I'm no longer inspired.