There are too many women in museums
tucked into corners,
these busts with sad faces and
demurely downcast eyes.
by what someone else has seen.
But where are all the names, on the
that should have been here
theirs only used for titles, leaving
whole walls blank,
as if no woman had thought
to put anything on them.
I want the women in all these paintings
to be blushing
not of humility but rage.
I demand to see in writing,
all the names that should have made me
mine could be here too.
- Lea Elm
I can’t believe it’s April already and that this is the first thing I have posted this year. The first thing in fact since November, where work in the bookshop speeded up.
After I recovered from the craziness of the shop during Christmas and everything calmed down a bit in January, I decided to focus more on getting back to writing and working on my photo projects, as well as spending more time actually reading the books I buy, rather than spending it composing photos and putting up posts of them on Instagram. So while my website and social media feeds haven’t been brimming with new updates, my life has been full in a different way and most of March went by in a blur of work, some much appreciated overtime, photography and a week’s holiday in Denmark with my family, which I have just come back from.
Most of last year was like that really. I had so many new and fantastic experiences and I wanted to write about them all and show you all the photos I took from them but I just never got around to it because one event followed the next. I preferred to savour those moments when I was in them, rather than stressing about sharing what I had just experienced in the moment that went before and while I would have liked to post a lot more, I don’t regret taking time to just be in whatever I was doing.
Even though I work in a bookshop I still love visiting other ones and I especially love going back to the bookshops I discovered when I lived in Bloomsbury.
I know in the good old days Charing Cross Road was the place for bookshops in London but I think Bloomsbury is a better area for bookshops these days because it has a large but cosy Waterstones on Gower Street and another big one on Tottenham Court Road, independent ones like the London Review Bookshop, Persephone Books and Gay’s the Word and second-hand ones like Skoob and Judd books. They are all in walking distance from each other and I love getting a chance to walk around my old neighborhood again.
As well as having celebrated my annual anniversary in September of the day I moved to London, my boyfriend Daniel and I also recently celebrated our 5th anniversary and like last year we chose to spend it browsing around bookshops together on a quiet Sunday in Bloomsbury. This is the books I found that day.
Devotion – Patti Smith
I have been eyeing Smith’s writing for a while now and been trying to decide where I should start but after seeing an interesting review of it on Instagram recently, as well as finding a pile laid out on one of the tables in Gower Street, I ended up picking this one. I had a little look at the language inside in the bookshop and it seems like an exquisite, melt-in-the-mouth kind of writing that I’m really looking forward to just let wash over me.
The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
There’s something I haven’t mentioned but which happened quietly behind the scenes this summer. Something I was too upset about to get into at the time.
When my mum was here in July, I was showing her around Holland Park when the shutter on my camera suddenly stopped working. The first few minutes I was hoping it was just a small mechanical fault I could fix myself by pressing some buttons and releasing some tension but I had an ominous feeling straight away like I knew already that my camera, my dad’s old camera, had broken for good.
The next day I took it to a camera repair shop and they were very kind and very knowledgeable and they told me that even though they could fix it, it was definitely broken and that fixing it wouldn’t be worth the cost. “The lens is good,” they told me, “get yourself a Pentax instead and use it on that”.
My mum flew back to Denmark and I took the train back home to Kent. I tried to tell myself that it was just a camera, a thing, an object that, unlike people, can be easily replaced. But because that camera had been my dad’s, so painstakingly saved up for in the 80s when him and my mum were students and because it was the camera that truly got me into film photography, I was quietly heartbroken about it even if I tried not to show it.
After a while though I was less upset about that camera and more upset about no longer having a film camera to use at all. I started looking at other cameras but nothing felt quite right. Should I get the same camera type from somewhere else even though it wouldn’t be the same? Or should I upgrade and choose a completely different camera that might have some advantages over my old one? Either way it didn’t really matter because I couldn’t afford to replace it.
But there are photographs in this post, I hear you say, where do they come from?
Yes, there are and they haven’t been taken with my old Ricoh. They are from a test roll, the very first photographs taken with my “new” Pentax K1000 that Daniel recently surprised me by buying in an online auction for me.
It feels different in my hands than my old one and I’m not going to lie, I need to get used to it, even if it technically does the same and pretty much in the same way. The one advantage it has over my old camera though is a sharper image quality that I’m almost afraid to admit was holding me back sometimes, so I’m excited about that. I’m also excited about the three rolls of film that are waiting for the new personal project I’m going to begin when I go home to Denmark next week.
And maybe this time, the camera can be just mine.
P.S. These photos were all taken around my flat and the neighbourhood where I live, on a roll of Kentmere 400.
It’s time for another round of “What has Lea been reading these last few months, which has prevented her from finding time to write something on the blog”. Joke aside, I have been reading some fantastic books this summer and I have liked them more than many other books I have read this year.
So with no further ado, here are the books that have taken up my time and captured my heart lately.
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
For some reason I had never come across Tove Janssons fiction writing for adults before I started hearing about it here in England. I think it’s weird that even as a literature student in Denmark I never heard about her work outside The Moomins and after reading The Summer Book I think her writing deserves a much bigger place in our literary history.
The novel has been inspired by Jansson’s family and her memories of the times they spent on their small island in the Gulf of Finland, particularly of her niece Sophie and her mother who died shortly before she wrote it. It’s been written in a deceptively easy and simple language that I really liked, maybe because it feels typical of the kind of Scandinavian writing I’m familiar with but also because there was so much underlying humour in it. I loved the tenderness, the playfulness and the dignity she portrays in the relationship between Sophia and her grandmother, and her descriptions of how they act together in the landscape around them.
I really felt a connection with the book and the way it writes about something remembered, especially because it doesn’t feel like a romanticised kind of nostalgia but a kind that has more to do with appreciating and preserving the memory of people and places that have once been loved. That’s definitely something I can relate to.
The Woolgrover’s Companion – Joy Rhoades*
It’s raining as I type this up. It’s actually been raining for three days now and I would be disappointed but after the long spell of drought we’ve had, it’s been kind of nice. Even if my plan had been to make some cyanotypes this week.
The first time I saw a cyanotype – the blue-tinted photographic prints made without a camera – was on the wall of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London during a tour guide training day.
I had recently started getting involved with their young people’s collective and as part of our training that day we received a tour of the photographer’s gallery, where we were shown a print by the revolutionary botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, who created cyanotypes of algae to make what would be the world’s very first photo book.
Afterwards we were shown a demonstration of how to make our own and it was there that I first tried making a cyanotype myself and fell in love with this utterly magical and simple way of creating and printing images directly from light that anyone can do.
Making cyanotypes is pretty easy and you don’t even need a camera or a lot of fancy equipment or a darkroom. All you need is a paper coated with light-sensitive chemicals, an object to print from and a bit of sunlight. In the beginning I bought pre-coated solar- or sunpaper (Silverprint has a good one) but after a while I got interested in mixing my own chemicals and learning the historical process behind it, which hasn’t changed since Atkins’ Victorian days.
The easiest way is to make a cyanotype photogram, where you place an object directly onto the paper but you can also use a negative as your object, which is a little trickier but can give very detailed images. You put it somewhere with sunlight and leave it in the sun to expose the image until the paper has changed colour. Afterwards you put the paper in a tray or tub of tap water while gently rocking it for 5-10 min to develop it, rinse it under the tap and hang it or leave it flat to dry. That’s it.
A print lying exposed in a patch of sun on the floor of my living room
The South Stairs leading up from the entrance
As you might have seen in one of my latest posts, I decided to spend my birthday this year in my favourite bookshops and at the British Museum. That’s my new thing now, photographing museums. While I spend most of last year trying to freeze fleeting everyday moments with my film camera, my new obsession this year has been to not only wander through museum galleries but to photograph them as well.
If you had asked me a few years ago if I liked the British Museum I would have said that I liked it as much as the next person. If you had asked me if I was interested in history, I would probably have given the same answer. As much as I would like to claim to be an independently minded woman, it has taken my boyfriend’s interest in history to realise how interesting both can be and it’s become a place we visit together.
Even though they always tend to be overcrowded, my favourite rooms are the galleries with the Greek sculptures. Daniel on the other hand tends to seek out the Middle Eastern galleries, particularly the ones with the huge Assyrian gates, Lamassu and friezes. Because the weather was unseasonably bad the day we went, it wasn’t as busy as normal and it was nice to be able to walk around more freely.
Whenever I write about books on the blog I tend to write about books I have already read. I thought I would do it a little different this time, as with summer now in full bloom, I have been looking forward to pick up books that I have been saving all year to read or just recently discovered.
I definitely choose what books to read not only on my mood but also on the season, so I thought I’d put a little list together of the books I am planning and looking forward to read this summer.
The Peace Machine – Özgür Mumcu*
I’m taking a bit of a chance with this one. Described as a historical “Ottoman Steampunk” adventure, it’s not the kind of thing I would normally go for but when I read an interview with the author in The Guardian a few days ago, there was something about the way the book was described that really piqued my interest. It made me think of ‘The Vanished Futurist’ that I read and enjoyed last year but Mumcu’s book also seems to be its own interesting fictional mix of mystery, travel, futuristic technology and politics. So I’m really interested to see how I will find it and whether I should take my chances on something different a bit more often.
The Woolgrower’s Companion – Joy Rhoades*
It’s been a few months since my birthday in March but last week I got the prints back from the film rolls I shot that weekend and I thought I’d write a little post to share some of the pictures I took. I have already mentioned in another post that my birthday didn’t exactly go like I had planned because of the snowstorm that decided to take over the country but looking through the photos of everything covered in snow made me realise that the memories I have of those two days have been made quite special because of the whole snowstorm affair.
Canterbury looking very Dickensian in the snow
The snow falling down over the riverbank that runs next to our flat, after we got back from Canterbury
Spring is my absolute favourite time of year. Around the time of my birthday in March I suddenly start to feel I have more energy and that usually also comes with more ideas and more inspiration to work on projects. It also happens to be the time of year, where new and emerging authors are often published, so any reading I do at this time of year always feels fresh compared to Autumn where I tend to reread a lot of my favourite classics.
While I spent most of this winter being creatively inactive, I did spend a majority of my spare time reading and looking through the publishers’ Spring catalogues for books that looked promising and ended up falling in love with the description of these four.
Monsieur Ka – Vesna Goldsworthy*
“The London winter of 1947. As cold as St Petersburg during the Revolution. The Karenins keep their vodka under the layers of snow in their suburban garden, in bottles entombed like their Russian past. But when a young Frenchwoman arrives to work as a companion to the aged ‘Monsieur Ka’ he begins to tell his story…
As she is drawn into Ka’s dramatic past, her own life is shaken to its foundations. For in this family of former princes, there are present temptations which could profoundly affect her future.”
Back in March when the Beast from the East swept over the country, I found myself having the first snow day of my life when I woke up to discover my bus wasn’t running. So I trudged back from my stop, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and started reading.
I liked Goldsworthy’s other book Gorsky when I read it a few years ago, so I was excited to read this one, too because it sounded like just my kind of thing. The novel is inspired by Anna Karenina but even though I’ve owned a copy for many years I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it, so I didn’t have anything to compare it with and don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.
I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the book at first. I was expecting the book to be very atmospheric and it did have some beautiful descriptions of London and the weather but the characters just felt like felt like actors to me, moving from one scene to the next, only there to push the plot forward. I was disappointed, if I’m being honest but then, about halfway through something happened. I’m still not sure what it was exactly but they suddenly started feeling real, so by the time I reached the end, I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to them.
The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland – Nicolai Houm*
“An American woman wakes up in a tent in the Norwegian mountains. Outside a storm rages and the fog is dense. Her phone is dead. She is completely alone. Her name is Jane Ashland, and her life has spiralled out of control.
Moving between Jane’s past and this extraordinary remote landscape, Nicolai Houm weaves a dramatic trail of suspense through one woman’s life – via love, grief, and a devastating accident that changes everything.”
For some unexplainable reason I was eyeing this book on my shelf for weeks without feeling like reading it but the minute I picked it up, I was hooked from the first page. From the very beginning you get such a strong sense of Jane’s voice and what she is like as a person and for me that is what made me like this book so much.
I loved the switches between past and present and there were times when I completely forgot I was reading a story about a fictional person. When I was reading the two chapters that trace the beginning of Jane’s relationship with Greg, I had to look up and remind myself that it was a story and not an account of someone’s actually lived life.
I’m a slow reader but I read it in just a few days because I couldn’t put it down and even though it deals with heavy questions about loss and survival, it still had this lightness about it from Jane’s morbid self-irony and a subtle humour which runs through it.
Tomorrow – Elisabeth Russell Taylor*
“Every year Elisabeth Danziger travels to the Danish island of Møn to spend one week at The Tamarisks, a lavish hotel which was once, fifteen years ago in 1945, her family’s second home. With each annual visit, Elisabeth stays in the same room and walks familiar paths. She visits the local museum to peer at artefacts that once belonged to her family; she unscrews the panel of an old bath tub to retrieve the crumbling piece of paper on which is written her name and that of Daniel Eberhardt – her beloved cousin.
Elisabeth’s annual pilgrimage is part of a long-standing family promise to meet again in Møn after their separation during the War. A promise that only she has fulfilled. And she has no reason to suspect this year will be any different from all the others.”
It’s not often I come across books about Denmark written by English writers and this post includes two!
Taylor’s novel tells the often forgotten story about the Jews living in Denmark at the time of WW2, a part of Danish history I don’t know much about, except for the few stories my dad have told me. It was interesting to see Denmark described from an “outsider’s perspective” and I felt like I could really see the landscape she is describing. Her descriptions made me want to go and see the island, especially as they reminded me that my dad grew up near there and must be familiar with those places.
The novel is heavier than the other three, both in terms of language and subject but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it and it’s beautifully written at the same time as being sad. Such a quietly heartbreaking story about the meaning of returning and what love can endure.
Meet Me at the Museum – Anne Youngson*
“When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They’re both searching for something, they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t remember choosing.
Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?”
You know how you sometimes come across a book that feels like it was written just for you? That’s exactly how I felt when I first read about Meet Me at the Museum. I mean, a book about a museum, physical objects and a correspondence between an English woman and a Danish man? It’s like Youngson has gone inside my head, picked out the things I like and decided to write a story about them.
Sometimes it’s dangerous to be so excited about a book because it can easily end up disappointing you but it definitely lived up to my expectations. I have always loved the letter writing format and I liked how the relationship between Tina and Anders slowly developed in them. I’ve been really excited to tell people about the book and sent my mum home with my copy when she was visiting last weekend because I believe it was written for someone like her too.
I still can’t quite believe this is Youngson’s first book because it’s absolutely fantastic. Read it if you have ever had a pen pal, fallen in love from a distance, had a quarter- or midlife crisis, wondered what your place in history is or questioned if you are living the life you were meant to. Like Youngson herself, it’s never too late to get started on living it.
Since I started reading the books and began working on this post, Spring has gone through a snowstorm, freezing rains, a heatwave, more rain and now another heatwave. It’s been an odd one this year and right now at the beginning of the last month of Spring it feels more like summer but after the freezing cold we’ve had for so long, I’ll happily take it.
*All four books were kindly sent to me from the publishers at my own request in exchange for an honest review.
As I’m writing this it’s exactly one month since my birthday and although it ended up a little different from what I had planned it was a pretty good day. I originally wanted to spend the day in London going to the British Museum and my favourite bookshops but when I woke up that morning the now infamous Beast from the East was still hitting all over England and they were sending out warnings telling people to avoid using trains.
So instead we ended up spending a few cold hours in Canterbury that day but the next day we did manage to get to London for the bookshops, so in the end, I did not only get the day in London I had wished for but I practically had two birthdays! And like Daniel said to me when we stood in a freezingly cold street in Canterbury during a snowstorm, at least I’ll always remember this one.
I ended up with quite a big stack of books afterwards, so I thought I’d do a “little” birthday book haul.
A Pale View of Hills
I woke up this morning to a flurry of snowflakes falling from the sky, so I thought it was the right day to publish a short piece of writing I wrote earlier this month on how I feel about winter. I was inspired to write it after I got prints back from the photo lab with photographs from my first ever roll of Foma Retropan black and white film. I took them in January when I went home to see my family and most of the roll I shot around our cabin in Sweden and on a walk in the surrounding landscape down by Järnavik, a beautiful stretch of Swedish archipelago that I’m very fond of.
I had just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World, so I had been thinking a lot about Japan and Japanese art, which, as you might be able to tell, ended up influencing the way I took some of the landscape shots. Anyway, here is what I wrote.
I might have come from the North. From the cold and the long, dark months in November, December, January. Maybe it is true that I feel most like myself, wrapped in my long, dark-red woolcoat and a big scarf, gloves covering my fingers.
But winter, like summer, is not where I’m at home. I do not like to be cold, and I am easily cold. I am more tired, more hungry and more grumpy. And even if I like the cosiness, the flickering candles reflected in the window and to sit under a duvet or the soft blankets, the surrender there is in that, to let go and say “okay, we will go into hibernation” then, it still isn’t my time.
For those months I can never really get warm and I long for the coming days of Spring with their fresh winds and a sun you can actually warm yourself on. Or I long back to the autumn and the same kind of days we had then, tempered.
But when all of that has been said, I am still fond of the way the trees stand naked in the winter, the patterns they make against the heavy, grey clouds; that you can see what they really look like without all of those leaves, without all the embellishment, everything stripped back to its essentials. Nothing taken for granted.
I live in the silence and the stillness, and in the mornings, when I withdraw the curtains from the windows to find another curtain outside in the fog that presses itself against the cold glass and in the dark silhouets of the trees that appear nearly obscured on the riverbank behind it, a receding hairline of tangled branches. The way a dried orange leaf left over from the autumn lights up over everything else.
Then I live, not just in it but for it. The winter, I mean.
Shot on my Ricoh KR5 with my 50mm lens on Foma Retropan 320 film, set at box speed.
It’s been too long since I wrote one of these posts. The software on my computer even tells me that the last time I worked on this post was back in November. November! What with my new job, Christmas and a small promotion after New Year, it already feels like a life time ago.
So why I haven’t I finished it before now? It’s not because I have fallen out of love with books, it’s more the opposite. Ever since I swapped my job at the castle for the one in the bookshop, I have had so much more time to read. And read I have. So much and so frequently that my boyfriend exclaimed the other day “Are you nearly done with that one too? I can’t keep up with you anymore, every time I turn around you are reading a new one!”
So that, ladies and gentlemen, is why this post with books that I read last autumn is only being published now. But it is here now and that’s all that matters. Good books don’t suddenly go out of fashion anyway.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
“Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…
Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.”
After I read The Handmaid’s Tale last summer I felt a bit lost about what to read next. I was looking through the unread books on my shelf, not really feeling any of them, when I found my boyfriend’s copy of Brave New World with an introduction by Atwood herself and saw it as a sign to continue reading in the dystopian genre. I have read a lot of Dystopian and Speculative fiction classics and because it’s a genre I like a lot, especially when they critique capitalist societies, I was expecting to love the book.
I don’t know if it was the timing but something just felt off to me. Maybe it felt flat after the amazing voice of the narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe it was because I didn’t warm to any of the characters, as none of them developed or changed with their (incredibly selfish) actions. I know it’s been described as shocking but to me it felt a bit outdated or maybe even too realistic. It made me feel depressed about the way the characters end up leading their lives. Its best quality was that the old copy I was reading smelled amazing, of library books and yellowed pages but even for a booklover that feels quite a sad thing to say about a book.
Bleaker Island – Nell Stevens
For a few years now I have been walking around with an idea for a photo project that I planned to someday do at home. I would photograph the places I used to inhabit, the street where I grew up, the tunnel systems I used to travel through, my old school and the lake where I used to meet my friends. The project would be about photographing all the places that have now become memories, places that I only visit rather than live in. It was also the plan that these photos would sit next to photos of the streets and neighbourhoods I used to inhabit when I lived in London. A juxtaposition of those two cities that made me as a person.
But I haven’t been quick enough. I have taken too long to mull over the idea and now I’m not sure that anything will ever become of the project. You see, the problem is that those places have changed much faster than I have been able to capture them. My street at home in Denmark no longer looks like the street I left before I moved to England. Trees have been cut down and the front yards have almost all changed. The same has happened in London but at an even quicker pace. I went there just a week or two ago to do some test shoots in Bloomsbury for the project and realised that all the places I had written down on a list to photograph that hold strong memories for me, weren’t really the same places. New buildings keep popping up, destructing views that I have been fond of and new restaurants have taken the place of the ones I used to eat in. That neighbourhood that was mine simply isn’t there anymore. Not in the form that I knew it in anyway.
So I don’t know. Maybe this was never meant to be more than an idea written down in a notebook. Or maybe I will get back to it later and find a different approach to it. For now all I have are these test shots that I took with a disposable camera in the summer of 16 when I was still trying to capture my hometown.
I have been thinking a lot about Nordic literature lately. Maybe it’s because of the season but at this time of year all I want to do is hibernate, get the knitted socks out, drink hot chocolate and cosy up with an old favourite classic or a suitably melancholic Scandi book. Maybe it’s simply because the cold and the darkness here in winter reminds me of home, so I want to read books that can take me there while I’m here in England. Either way I think that stories from the Nordic countries are just the perfect thing to read at this time of year.
For the past few years I have noticed that more literature from the Scandinavian and Nordic countries are getting translated into English and it makes me so happy that publishers dare to take a chance on books from smaller languages. Without translations those stories won’t reach very far and without English translations in particular, I can’t recommend them or share them with people here. And while my mother tongue is Danish and I can read both Swedish and Norwegian as well, they also help me to encounter books from Nordic countries whose languages I can’t read, such as Finnish and Icelandic.
Literature is known for its ability to take us away from ourselves but it wasn’t until I moved to a different country myself that I realised literature can also take us home. So here are a few Nordic reads I have enjoyed lately, because they have reminded me of home and helped soothe my always lingering homesickness but also because they have taken me on a journey.
The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat: and other stories from the North – ed. Sjon and Ted Hodgkinson*
“The North: home of epic storytelling, birthplace of the saga, where stories of human survival have long been sculpted by the region’s natural elements, from sheltering forests to islands lashed by unforgiving seas. This exquisite anthology, selected by Sjón and Ted Hodgkinson, collects fiction from across the Nordic region in all its thrilling diversity; storytelling that is often rooted in the world of folklore and fairytale, or sometimes stark realism, and typically served up with a dark and dry wit of this world on the brink.”
I don’t read a lot of short stories, so when I do I select them carefully and this is such a beautiful collection of stories. When I first heard about the collection and saw which authors had been picked, I was amazed by the diversity of the selection and excited to see some of my favourites like Kjell Askildsen in it, as well as authors from Greenland and the Faroe Islands that I wasn’t familiar with.
Rather than reading them all in one go, I have been taking my time with the collection, dipping in an out of the book and savouring each story. The experience has been a little bit like picking out a piece of chocolate from a box and letting it slowly melt in your mouth to bring all the flavours out. I even took the book with me when I recently went home to see my family and spent a weekend reading it in our wood cabin in Sweden while the woodstove burned. I thought there was a lot of variety in the stories but also something that made them feel connected to each other. There is a simplicity in both the writing and the plots, one which I think is typical of Nordic literature. There are also a lot of fantastical elements even in the stories that belong more to realism and a sense of a threat or something sinister lurking in the background of ordinary, everyday lives.
These stories really deserve to be read and what better time to do it than in the middle of winter when everything is at its darkest and bleakest. One story in particular, the Man in the Boat by the Swedish author Per Olov Enquist really got to me and has been haunting me ever since, so much that I find myself still thinking about it now many weeks later.
Secret Passages in a Hillside Town – Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen*
We know that most things in life will come and go. That things change and nothing remains the same. The leaves fall off the trees in autumn, people split up, we move to different houses or a different city, we grow up and we grow apart. It’s one of the things I struggle with most in life but it’s also one of the things that fascinates me more than anything else; the impermanence of everything and how we try to hold on to what we have and what we know.
I don’t like change, I don’t embrace it easily or elegantly. I try to hold on for as long as possible, even after it seems ridiculous and letting go would be easier. There were two stubborn, shell-shocked weeks in London after I moved from Denmark, where my suitcase remained in the middle of the room with all my clothes in it, until one by one every item in it had been used and needed to be washed. It was only then that I folded them and hung them up in the wardrobe and as the smell of fresh laundry filled the room more like a home. I let go then and let it become exactly that.
A few months ago I was scrolling through Instagram when a photograph by film photographer Chi came up on my feed. Chi takes beautiful photographs of flowers in a way I have never seen anyone else do, they are poetic and full of swirling colours and light. The caption under the photo mentioned that it was taken with Adox Color Implosion film and that sadly it was being discontinued. In the same moment I was discovering this film, a film I might like to try to use myself, it was gone. It was such a sad thing to hear, that just as film photography is having a resurgence, some films are going for good.
I bought some rolls of the film while they were still available and inspired by Chi’s photographs and my own preoccupation with nostalgia I went to the church of St Mary’s to shoot my first roll. St Mary’s is a ruined church I have been to before and which was bombed and nearly destroyed by a doodlebug during WW2. And since then it’s just been left to slowly disintegrate into the landscape on the top of a hill in the Kent countryside.
If you have been reading this blog for a while you probably already know I have a thing for ruins, both the real ones and the ones depicted in art and books. They make me think of all things Gothic, of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and the ruins often depicted in Turner’s paintings. Especially at this time of year, the slow dissolving of colour and the appearance of a more barren world in autumn and winter makes me want to seek them out.
I think there is something both romantic and wistful about these shelled-out churches and crumbling houses and castles, they are a reminder that nothing lasts but that change can be beautiful. We might lose our so carefully build constructions to wars, tragedies, natural disasters and the passing of time but they can transform into magical places of mystery and half-forgotten memories. They can live on in a different form like when nature reclaims them, letting vines grow in the cracks that have appeared and spreading the seeds of daisies over tumbled stone walls where they will begin to bloom up.
So that is where I went to try out my first roll of Adox Color Implosion and to experiment with what it could look like. Because what could be more appropriate than capturing an ever-changing, slowly disintegrating place than doing it on a film that is about to disapear. Trying in some way to appreciate and hold on to them both before they are gone. So here they are, my photographs from St Mary’s church in the countryside of Kent, an ode to nostalgia and the things that do not stay the way they are.
All photographs captured with my Ricoh KR-5 with a 50mm lens on Adox Color Implosion 100 film.
You know when something exciting is happening and all you want to do is tell everyone about it? But you can’t because what you want to tell isn’t really settled yet and you need to keep it a secret before it is? That’s what my life has been like the last few weeks and now I have some pretty exciting news that I’m finally able to share.
I quit my job. I’ve handed in my resignation at the castle and this week will be my last. It feels very weird because I’ve worked there for nearly 2 years and it’s a special place to work but I am also really excited about leaving because… I got a new job! A job in a bookshop!
From the end of this month I will be a real bookseller in a real bookshop filled with real books. A bookshop with two floors and wooden beams in the ceiling. I have wanted to work in a bookshop ever since I finished my A levels and all through university, so I am super excited and being able to finally say it out loud feels great. It’s another dream I have worked towards making true.
For a while now I haven’t been happy in my job at the castle. Despite some good colleagues and how amazing it has been to show people around the castle, working there just isn’t working for me anymore. There have been many long days, of coming home late after a long commute and being so exhausted I couldn’t stand on my feet after walking up and down the spiral staircases of the castle and the hill it stands on. Now a 5 day work week will be a 2 day one and the 15 hours I have spent travelling to and from work every week will be reduced to 4. I will have more time to rest and to write, and books won’t just be something I try to cram into my life in the time inbetween.
There are things I will miss from working at the castle; Overhearing something funny on the radio while standing in a corner of the castle stewarding a room; The way the light hits the coloured stained-glass window of the chapel and colours the stone walls with blue and red and yellow; The conversations I’ve had with visitors about history, about what we make of it and learn from it; The camaraderie of sharing jokes with my colleagues over tea and biscuits in our medieval mess room, the walls scribbled with 18th century graffiti.
I will take everything I have learned from that place and all the memories I have made there with me. So I’m just going to enjoy my last few days of working there, take it all in while I still can and wait excitedly for the next step in my life.
Sometimes all you need is a day out, a day off. To wake up and only then decide where to go, to get in a car, heading off for somewhere. What you need is a day of mid-May sunshine and heat, walking up the steps of an old, ruined castle to find the coolness waiting inside, the stonewalls crumbling under the weight of so many years.
Maybe it would be a monday and most people would be at work, so it would just be the two of you, carefully climbing the spiral staircases, watching the uneven stone steps and walking through the passageways. You would try to sneak photos of each other without the other one seeing but the slowness of adjusting the settings on your old film cameras and that loud, mechanic click of the mirror as you press the shutter in the empty, shelled out castle, would give you away.
A warm breeze would catch you from the open, barred windows, as you walk step by step all the way to the top and into the open air beneath a blue sky. The view from up there, looking over the old city; the spires of the cathedral on one side and the river with its bridge and its piers on the other. People sitting on the grass in the shade under trees on the lawn below.
That’s the kind of day it could be. Lunch eaten in the shade of a coffee house while looking at people passing by and the traffic of that particularly busy street corner. A walk down the street afterwards, finding Edwardian and Georgian coins in a small, quirky shop, the imprint and the edges worn smooth with use, and three old postcards from three different places, written and stamped by people you’ve never met from a very long time ago; that feeling of having found a treasure. At the end of that street a bookshop, first seemingly small but extending to the back and up narrow staircases with creaking floorboards, through row after row and shelf after shelf of once-used books. A whole maze of these little passages of tall bookshelves, where you would find on one of them an old book about the streets of Edinburgh as they had been walked in once in the 20s, the red clothbound cover faded and worn.
And that is how the day would end. In the car home, looking through the open windows at the fields outside the city seen from a winding country lane and the treasures of the day put down on the table in the living room once home. It would end with the light and memory of that day, of the two of you sitting next to each other on cold stonesteps on a spiral staircase. And it would end with writing about it a few days later in order not to forget. How lovely it all was.
A small creative writing piece I wrote about a day trip to Rochester Castle, along with photographs captured on 35mm film.
Today is a special day. It’s a day that will always mark a before and after for me. Because 4 years ago on this day, I woke up one morning in the bedroom of my childhood home and left it with just a suitcase and a cabin trolley. I drove to the airport together with my parents and then I got on a plane, alone. A plane that would take me to England and to a whole new life here.
Even today, I still can’t believe I really did that. That I uprooted myself like that in a way that is so shocking and was so instantaneously; to have everything in my life change with a 2 hour flight. To leave, within the span of just a few hours, the security of my hometown, my family and everything I knew and swap it for a new home, a new city and country, a new school, a new community and friends, a different language and a very different way of life.
That first year would become the best of my life, the most amazing and exciting; the most scary and challenging year of my entire life.
I did it for me, because I had dreamed for years of trying to live in England. I never realised how much I would end up sacrificing when I moved. Or how much I would gain.
In this country I have built up a life of my own, a life completely of my own making. I sometimes forget that but when I do remember it’s the most empowering feeling; it makes me feel like I can do anything I dream of. I have received and completed an international Danish and English education, I live a shared life with my boyfriend where before I was single and I have a job looking after the heritage of an English castle. I no longer have the social, culturally rich life in London where I lived with my friends and classmates and walked to Chinatown or the museums whenever I wanted. Things have calmed down a bit and while I miss living in London and my life there, now four years later, I do think that the more homely, cosy life I live now is more me.
I only meant to stay here a year and have ended up being here for four. I still say what I said from the beginning, that I will take one year at a time and then we’ll see where I’ll be.
For now I’m going to celebrate my 4th anniversary of living here with spending the day in Canterbury with my friend Claudia, who I met in that first year. And tomorrow I will spend me and the boyfriend’s anniversary in London, going to our favourite bookshops and maybe a museum.
And next year? Who knows, I might still be here.
If you didn’t read my blog from the beginning back when I first started writing when I moved to England, you can start right here and read through all 10 months or you can skip straight to the end in June 2014, when I tried to write a conclusion, as that special year was getting to a close.