Review of 2016: the year of the mansion

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2016 has been a landmark year. It marks ten years in photography. It marks ten years with Matthew. It’s the year I turned 30. Three very neat decadely round-offs, yet I wish I could come to this blog post with the fruits of certain labours we were hoping for this year. In some respects 2016 has been much of the same, yet we’ve also had new and special times, including following our hearts to live in a Georgian mansion in Devon, seeing Surreal Fashion hung next to Salon paintings in a Swedish museum, and shooting six calypso-styled models with a big group of photographers in an American Victorian mansion with Lilith strapped to my front.

2016 has also brought us commercial assignments we’ve enjoyed, including shooting a surreal wedding editorial for WedLuxe magazine, a fine-art series of academic portraits for University of Sussex, and a stills campaign for Yakult. As for the assignments we hoped would germinate this side of New Year’s, we play a waiting game for the bigger picture of our photography aspirations, but I remind myself that if it takes 20 years to make an overnight success, I’m not doing too badly 😉

As a family, we’ve been on an adventure through 2 house moves. A year ago looked very different, from the Kent bungalow we once thought we could be happy in forever, to the big houses we rattle around in, from not so much a financial change of circumstances as more a change in outlook on life. In March we went to live in a Georgian house in Exeter to chase the idea of creating a live-in photoshoot home, but later concluded it’s not quite the right time nor opportunity to build to the height we realised we really wanted to reach. Although a brief stint, our summer in Devon purged a part of us that needed to be free  – artistically, geographically, financially – and has helped us think with more clarity on our lives overall, how to choose which of the ‘dreams’ we really want to live.

At the end of 2015 I wrote I wanted to “retrain my working mind into a pre-internet state of conscientiousness” and though the end of 2016 sees me smartphone-scrolling hooked to checking Instagram, in part I achieved my goal in working on Bloom Face, a large-scale work which took half of the year in post-pro. As a new mother you might wonder how that’s possible, but by chipping away a little bit each night, I was reminded that a mountain is made from bite-sized chunks. (A wise old friend had advised that if there was something I wanted to make, work even just a little bit on it each day.) Eventually a whole digital tapestry was complete, I created the video and launched the piece online, and got the buzz of something that transcended the everyday immediacy of how I normally work and the usual quick turnaround of ‘shoot-make-release’. Instead, a satisfaction of making 20 or 30 pictures in one, of a higher ilk and worth a longer look, and to have it shared by Saatchi Art made the investment worthwhile.

I want to rollover that same vital sentiment straight into Jan 1st of 2017, and work even harder – but balancing that into learning how to relax ‘harder’ too. Continuing with the Face series and finishing up Surreal Fashion – not because I can ever have enough of fashion and surrealism but because I want to make way for a new vision of slow-cooked wow weirdness. I’ll leave the new vision as mostly a mystery for now, as it’s still in part a mystery to me… the yearning expressed mainly in feelings… to shoot lots of studio, explore SFX, and try more dynamism in certain images than my static, even stagnant, norm.

It’s strange that only a few months ago I’d salivate over art and photo books by certain modern masters in photography that somehow now don’t touch the same spot. It’s like though my mind has suddenly run into a new place and wants to make something I have not quite seen before… and I’m scared that I won’t even know how to bring it to life if I prattle on about it too much… what I do know is that I need to test and experiment more, and to reach the full potential I need to invest in incredible team members, including artists from art forms I haven’t dabbled in before.

STUDY OF FLIGHT
Details I’m carrying forward from 2016 in my mind’s sketchbook.

Last year I also wrote of my lifestyle hopes. This was the year I finally got it together in the kitchen (at least, the biggest wave of enthusiasm I’ve ever had, followed by peaks and troughs) in filleting, freezing, and fermenting my way to slow-food utopia, everything from getting over the squeamishness of pulling apart an organic chicken to freeze it in economical parts, through to squashing 3 cabbages into a jar and watching with satisfaction 3 weeks later as my notoriously picky/’quirky’-eater daughter forks the resulting strands of probiotic goodness into her mouth without coercion. Almost all year I’ve regularly bought in raw milk, raw butter, organic or naturally-reared meat, supported independent shops and farmers’ markets as much as I could, and elected certain superthings as everyday consumables: turmeric root, fresh herbs and healing spices, frozen cubes of homemade broth, cod liver oil, vitamin C, and home ferments from Jun tea to kimchi. So even at the times when I get idly lazy and nihilistic and don’t want to even enter the kitchen, the healthy habits are the lighthouse keeping us from being completely rock bottom. The beauty of freezing and fermenting is that the goods are loyally waiting after your hiatus bingeing on Thorntons chocolates and Tesco fish pies. There was even one time I spent a whole day making liver pates and various pastes and mixes from Sarah Wilson’s ‘Simplicious’, and, feeling bushed at the end, ordered in a takeaway, feeling more than an idiot but knew that balance is key. It’s not all or nothing, so don’t beat yourself up – keep goin’ and just do your best – yeah? 😉

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Forgive me if this blog post is rather laden with appearances of Lilith, more so than might be acceptable in the stakes of professionalism… I’m just a rather proud parent… 🙂 …

I’m excited seeing Lilith’s personality develop each day, and how our relationship as mother/daughter expands. I watch her turn book pages, try to carry 5 toys at once up the stairs, point and call ‘CAT!’ at everything. At playgroup I stand and watch how she stands and watches… wondering what kind of girl and woman she will be, what good or bad traits she’ll take from me. I see her get shoved off a trike by a little boy and I step in, not knowing whether it means she will be kind-hearted or shy – or both, or whether it doesn’t necessarily signal either – just all kids having their turn to learn boundaries. On her down-spirited days her whining irritates me right in my stomach’s core. I tell myself it’s ok to be angry, just not to scream or swear – leave the room instead. In the middle of me shouting she comes up and kisses me. It silences me like cradling her to my breast silences her. We practise what you might call ‘attachment parenting’ but it is a paradox: carrying her close means being happier seeing her roam free. I see her sitting at her little Ikea table (she’s done with her high chair), or contentedly organising her Playmobil characters and rapidly growing collection of big-eyed beanie babies and Hello Kitties into her little plastic supermarket trolley… her blossoming independence warms my heart just as much to hold her so so close to me under the duvet, all our hair entwined together as she suckles into snores. Just like when she was in my belly, she sleeps when I sleep. 

This year she’s seen Estonia, Belgium, New York, Sweden, and Switzerland – another year of exciting travels for her, and part of the reason I gave this year the title ‘year of the mansion’. ‘Her life is a series of mansions’ laughed a friend, and we are lucky we get to see and stay in beautiful places, this year in particular with a trail left through their dust by a crawling Lilith.

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I’m hoping my casual mention of mansions is not taken as some flippant implication we have lined pockets… I would maybe assume it if I was a reader of this post… not so, but I do believe that you need to project the lifestyle you want to attract, and I have many days where I fail in this thinking, and have to remind myself to creatively overcome the money challenges with a bigger vision, instead of uselessly wallowing or worrying. To be proactive and positive – an essential NY resolution defaulted into the list every year for most everyone.

This month has marked Evan’s third birthday, Lilith’s older brother gone before her. In November I spoke at a conference for IMUK, an organisation for independent midwives, invited by Virginia Howes who cared for me during both pregnancies with Evan and Lilith. I told the story to a roomful of many ears, laughs and tears, including my mum, and received a standing ovation. I closed the speech with a dedication to Virginia as she embarks on her imminent retirement:

Her attitude is nothing short of revolutionary, the future of all healthcare. I look for Virginias everywhere in everything, in particular in the area of wellbeing and medical choices: turning down dentists till I find one who respects the fact I simply ask questions… Independence, standing alone from big interests, it a vital concept going forward in humanity and we’ve seen glimmers of it in the world in 2016. With people like Virginia in everything, it’s no exaggeration to say, it would be a different world.

I decided to send the transcript to Milli Hill for her Positive Birth Movement blog, so for the first time, the whole story is online. Read in full – Voyage of Victory: The story of Evan.


 

My overall favourite image of 2016, GILT.

GILT _ Miss Aniela Surreal Fashion.jpg

More finished #SurrealFashion images of 2016 (all credits can be found on Instagram)

A STUDY OF FLIGHT  _ Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
THE STUDY OF FLIGHT
MADAME BUTTERFLY _ Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
MADAME BUTTERFLY
PRIDE OF HONOUR _ Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
PRIDE OF HONOUR
ORIGAMI GIRL _ Miss Aniela Surreal Fashion.jpg
ORIGAMI GIRL (Shot in 2014 but created this year)
STILL LIFE _ Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
STILL LIFE
ICE SPELL - Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
ICE SPELL (Shot in 2014 but created this year)
GOLDEN GOTHIC _ Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
GOLDEN GOTHIC
GLACIAL GATE _ Miss Aniela _ Surreal Fashion.jpg
GLACIAL GATE
brontes treasures miss aniela.jpg
BRONTE’S GIFT
AWOKEN miss aniela.jpg
AWOKEN
fuchsia miss aniela.jpg
FUCHSIA
CANDY COLONY MISS ANIELA SURREAL FASHION v3.jpg
COLONIAL CANDY

Some of my favourite moments of 2016

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Seeing our London FSE ‘family’ for Circus Circus shoot in February

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Shooting and judging on the panel for a Nikon photography festival in Tallinn

 

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Shooting a surreal editorial for Wedluxe in April

 

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Being on set for Yakult’s TV ad production whilst shooting the stills.. (no picture of Lilith here… she was asleep in the styling room… 😅)
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Creating and exhibiting a series of academic portraits for University of Sussex, which will be hung in the House of Commons in the new year!
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A week at the Pines Victorian mansion in May for our New York Fashion Shoot Experience
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Shooting Bloom Face…
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…completing and releasing Bloom Face, the next in my series of large-scale artworks combining a beauty model and classical paintings

 

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Giving speech at public opening for Salonsmaleri show at Waldermarsudde, Stockholm

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Delivering my emotional story of Evan and Lilith to IMUK conference at Eastwood Hall, Nottingham in November (no proper picture but this one will do!)
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Throwing caution to the wind and renting a mansion in Devon with a truckload of French-Belgian antique furniture (see blog posts Hello Barocco and Bye Bye Barocco)
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Shooting a portrait at the home that inspired Wuthering Heights, Ponden Hall in Bronte country, with a cough that I was freaked out was pleurisy (and still, 3 months later, hasn’t completely gone..)
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Visiting broncolour’s HQ in Basel
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And something I haven’t done before – a baby editorial! For Wildling magazine’s fashion supplement in May 

 

Some more favourite snaps / moments…

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At Pines NY

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Entering a new home… rockstar-style
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Latching on… all the time, everywhere (even on a judging panel with audience 😅)
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lilith.jpg
Getting dirty
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Downtime touring stately homes
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30th birthday at Greenwich market
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Watching Lilith learn to walk at Barocco House
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Shooting for Southwark Theatre

For all those who got down this far, happy new year, all the best for your own goals and dreams in 2017! 🙂

(Follow me on Instagram for more regular updates…)

 

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