Saturday, 8 September 2012
The Home Project
Possible seed for a new project of mine. The weather wasn't very optimistic on Friday and I found myself scanning the skies for a bright spot. As I continued my walk around town it occurred to me that town wasn't very optimistic either. Shops that have been in existence for years and years are closing down. Pubs I was thrown out of for underage drinking are going to the wall. The physical infrastructure of the town is crumbling - shops with rotted window frames, roads and pavements with badly patched potholes, scaffolding that seems to have been supporting the same buildings forever. There is talk of money being invested, of a new town centre. I wonder if it will happen the way it is supposed to. I wonder if it will have the positive effect that the town so obviously, desperately needs.
For a long time now, Helensburgh, and its environs, has been my home. I was born in Sheffield, but adopted and brought to Helensburgh as a baby. I attended Colgrain Primary School until my parents moved back down to England and began a somewhat erratic trek around the UK, settling, sort of, eventually, in the Cambridge area. Then, aged 15, we all came back to Helensburgh. I wrote several letters applying for Saturday jobs and was eventually lucky enough to secure a position with Stewarts of Helensburgh. It was with great sadness that I saw their papered window yesterday. They were a lovely family to work for and taught me a lot about responsibility, doing things you thought you weren't capable of and the value of a great cardigan.
I endured rather than enjoyed a couple of years at Lomond School and then, I escaped to Edinburgh for the College Years, which are probably best glossed over. But like a Siren, Helensburgh called me back. The Commodore Hotel became home until I tried once more to escape - to America. Again, I came back. I was married in St Columba by Fred Booth. Two of my three children were born at the Vale of Leven Hospital. I worked, initially, while I found my feet, at the Sinclair Street Tesco, in stock control. Later, at HMNB Clyde, proof-reading technical documents. Helensburgh is the nearest thing I have to a home town and yet, because my time here has been fragmented, people I've known have moved on and away, I sometimes feel like I don't know it at all. For the last twelve years I've lived in its outskirts and so it is, that visiting yesterday, I felt like I was seeing it with a stranger's eyes. And if that stranger had been a tourist, they'd have seen a tired, dirty, defeated looking place. I don't want to talk the place down. I don't want to create some self-fulfilling prophecy here but I think sometimes we walk through places that we are familiar with, and our eyes don't see what's really there. We stand back and look at the wonderful sweep of shops that form our promenade and choose to ignore the shonky paving stones, the peeling paint, the lost roof tiles, the shoddy shop signs, the litter, the graffiti, the broken windows, the wee homeless man in the station, and the ever-increasing number of boarded up windows. We glory in the view in front of us without pausing to examine what's going on behind.
I was thinking about starting a project based on the idea of Home. What is it that makes "Home" for people. It could be the actual house they live in, or the town, or the people they live with. It could be the sight of a pile of ironing, or pile of books, or pile of freshly baked scones. It could be the smell of granny's favourite bathroom cleaner. It could be pets, a photo album, one particular teacup. It could be all sorts of things and looked to me like it would make a great project, supplying myriad photographic opportunities. But the more I thought about it, the less easy I found it to define "Home" for myself.
I've always maintained that I don't have a "Home Town"; that because we moved about, and I attended more than the average number of schools, I don't have roots, or lifelong friends, or somewhere that calls me back. But patently, this isn't true. I do keep coming back here. Perhaps the time has come to recognise that this area is in fact home and to make it feel more that way, I need to start engaging with it. From the discussions I had with friends and colleagues, home is a sense of familiarity, a recognition of welcome, a feeling of security. I don't think you can have these things by sitting on the outside, looking in. You have to be involved and you have to care.
So, looking at those feelings of sadness at the sorry state of affairs in Helensburgh the only conclusion is that actually, I do care. I'm not a stranger seeing Helensburgh for the first time, shocked at the state of the place. I'm from here and it hurts that my town, is looking so shabby. It hurts that people I spent time with, whose company I enjoyed, are suffering the closure of their business. I feel a loyalty to this place and I want better things for it.
I'm ready to call myself a photographer now. I still want to go on and study for my degree but I'm making photographs, and continuing to learn as I go, and photography is what I do and how I express myself and so, if anyone asks, I'm a photographer. With that in mind, I want to turn my camera to Helensburgh. I want to make people see the things that are not so good, to stop us from blindly accepting the rot, but also to start looking for the beauty, the kindness, the good, the pride and the hope. I want to start seeing signs of improvement.