The Decade in Pictures

I’m a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. I think it’s the photographer’s curse. My memory, on its own, is pretty shit, making photographs all the more important. (As I write this, I hear this song in my head…) It often feels like they are my memories but no longer “owned” — externalized and given a life of their own.

As Twitter engaged in its own 240 character summaries of the last ten years recently, I ended up going back through my archive of photographs and having a good ol’ think.

The 2010s are the first decade I remember the entirety of because I photographed it all. Whereas 2000 to 2009 is a strange soup of events that do not seem chronological or connected by time, due to the fact that there are such huge leaps between my memories and things would change so fast, the 2010s have become a decade of settling in — settling into my own skin. It’s made for some interesting reminiscing, and the acceleration of events from 2015 to now is horrifying and real.

Rather than go through my entire family album and bore you all to tears, I thought I’d pick a couple of photos from each year for no other reason than to indulge in my own memories and share some of my favourite experiences from the last ten years.

2010 was my last year in Hull at college. I don’t remember much of it. I spent most of it an anxious wreck having frequent panic attacks and getting drunk. I took a lot of pictures of the sea and then successfully left school with mediocre results before moving to Wales to start a Bachelor’s degree in Photographic Art. This baby-faced picture got taken of me at some point. A bit Joy Division maybe? Mostly just being a baby.

This photo is from October of that year, taken in my dorm room, the wall of mementos and ticket stubs and gig posters — lots of Animal Collective, Mount Eerie and K Records stuff — copied over in its entirety from my childhood bedroom. I was evidently not yet ready to leave that space behind. But it was no longer just a space for me to rot in on my own.

Here my closest friends from university, Michael and Sara, have come over for a Friday movie night. A picture from our first hangout and of a friendship that would define the next few years.

Notably, I see that Mount Eerie pts. 6 & 7 is on my bed next to Michael. We’d talk about Elverum’s photography a lot. It was an inspiration we all shared.

2011 was my first full year at university, living in South Wales and trying to find my footing. As is often the case with a first year at university, a lot of it felt like a mistake. I drank too much, smoked too much weed, spent far too much time with the wrong people and, whilst foundations were laid down for what was to come, it is a year I have written off in my mind.

There were highlights nonetheless. That was the year we all went to All Tomorrow’s Parties festival — where the pictures above were taken — in Minehead, curated by Animal Collective. Unfortunately, I spent most of that weekend with tonsillitis. It was also the festival my love affair with that band ended, however. I’d already struggled to get over how lifeless Merriweather Post Pavilion felt after spending a couple of years seeing the songs performed lived. Their headline set at ATP was, unfortunately, atrocious and, all of a sudden, the magic was gone.

There were also workshops I did at the end of the year that blew my mind open in terms of what photography could be — a workshop with Wandering Bears and another with Fred Butler.

This photo is my favourite, though. It was taken in Tenby, southwest Wales. I’d driven down for the weekend with two people who I had falled out with by the winter time. We stayed in this tiny seaside cottage and spent the weekend getting high on the beach, ducking into caves where we could get a light, sheltered from the wind.

One evening we went to the pub to watch Wales play in the Six Nations. It was a packed pub and not all that enjoyable as a result. You couldn’t move for people and everyone had collectively drunk so much that trying to get outside for a cigarette was bound to result in a domino-like collapse of wobbly Welshmen and pints of beer.

Once outside, I decided to go for a walk down to the beach with my 35mm film camera and a tripod. Beaches at night are always magical and the beach at Tenby is huge, you feel like you’re on the verge of the void. This was a minute-long exposure and I had a much cleaner scan but it is now lost to an old hard drive. It was my blog header for the next five years.

2012 was busy. I met my girlfriend in January of that year — now of eight years and counting — and we consumed each other for most of it. I was also obsessed with fog for most of the year, inspired by Mount Eerie’s Fog Movies and Twin Peaks and lots of black metal. We spent a lot of time in our flat making “still lives” from random colourful objects. We listened to the Caretaker a lot. Oneohtrix Point Never too.

These photos were taken in France, Turkey and Whitby and they capture the two directions I was being pulled in. One dark and moody, the other vibrant and colourful, with a few instances somewhere in between.

I think this was the year that “xenogothic” was born, at least as a feeling. I was torn between black metal t-shirts and vibrant colours, joyful mysticism and goth catastrophism. Flowers and gravestones. Blurry fog and crisp sharp light. Disco and black metal.

One of the most informative experiences from this time was a weekend spent at Kagyu Samye Ling. My girlfriend’s mum used to spend a lot of time there and we returned for what was an emotional visit for her, after a few years away. She stayed in the dorms, we camped out in a cloud of midgies on the banks of the River Esk.

Something clicked there. It was so surreal to be in the middle of the Scotland, not far from Lockerbie, spending our days among these enormous structures and statues of Buddha. Then, at night, I’d walk out the front gates along the road and into the wilderness. Nothing but fog and rolling hills.

It felt like walking along the edge of two worlds. I took the two pictures below over that weekend. One was a book found in a charity shop in Derbyshire that I later gifted my Dad for Christmas, the other was the Samye Ling “healing room”, where the sick would meditate alone if they couldn’t take part in collective prayers — two different cultural zones of suffering, existing inside of each other. Gothic affirmations.

2013 was a really important year, and the year that everything changed. Fed up of lugging around my enormous D-SLR, I bought a small compact camera and relaxed my picture-taking style considerably.

I remember reading Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant Than The Sun and Valerie Wilmer’s More Serious Than Your Life and thought a lot about how to use the sights and sounds around me in a way that was more fluid and responsive. No more thinking so arduously about composition. Just looking at life — enjoying my senses rather than overly intellectualizing them. It was all a bit mall goth but only because it didn’t feel possible to be anything else in amongst the vibrancy of late capitalism.

I think I read Deleuze’s The Logic of Sensation around that time as well and barely understood it but felt a resonance with what I was trying to do. Then I picked up A Thousand Plateaus just before graduating and spent the next few months (or years, I suppose) in this weird space of mental anguish, trying to wrap my head around even the slightest bit of it, and finding thoughts expanding and firing off in new directions with each new attempt.

That summer I graduated and, for my degree show, I set up a really spacious exhibition space in Newport’s city centre university campus, hanging works and found objects and zines on A-boards, encouraging people to look around and see the images from different angles and in different combinations than the usual linear wall hang.

A mixtape was played into the space with a CD given away on the opening night. It was called Automatically Sunshine after the song by The Supremes. It was all very positive and life-affirming but I suppose I was trying to find joy in life’s noise. A xenogothic sensibility was still emerging.

That winter I moved home to Hull and my Mum had a breakdown following surgery to remove a benign tumour on her spine. The fear that she might wake up and not be able to walk broke her mentally. The operation itself was a huge success but everything fell apart nonetheless. The drugs she was on, combined with her high-functioning alcoholism, might have been to blame, according to the doctors.

I found it impossible to be at home for any extended period of time. The final months of the year were spent trying to escape Hull at any opportunity. I spent quite a bit of time in Leeds getting fucked up with friends who were still students.

Later, my now-former housemates and I went to Camber Sands for what would be the last (good) ATP festival. Watching 23 Skidoo, The Pop Group and Slint were amazing moments I’ll never forget. When not watching bands, we smoked joints on the beach.

A few weeks later still, my girlfriend and I went to Copenhagen and stayed on the campus at Danmarks Tekniske Universitet with her Dad who was teaching there for a semester. That might have been the happiest I’ve ever been anywhere.

2014 was a wilderness year, in more ways than one. I learnt to drive and spent all my time, instead of trying to escape Hull, falling back in love with it. I didn’t have a job but was finding a bit of freelance photography work around the North. Living at home, I didn’t have much money going out and just enough coming in to keep working on projects. I’m grateful for that time to gather myself, even if circumstances at home were mentally very damaging.

I’d spend a lot of time hanging out under the Humber Bridge, reading and smoking cigarettes. Lee Gamble’s KOCH came out in the winter and it soundtracked everything. The rest of the time I’d be going from gig to gig around the city and hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen properly in three years. When I first left Hull, we were a small cohort who orbited around the city’s open mic circuit. By the time I came back, most of those people had formed bands and were taking the local scene by storm. I settled into taking lots of pictures of them.

That summer, I got my name on a billboard in Leeds. Beacons Festival decided to use my photos to advertise that year’s festival. They fucked me over, financially, but it was a high point all the same.

As summer waned, we went back to Copenhagen for another stint at DTU. My girlfriend’s Dad fashioned himself as an “inverse viking” and decided to sail from Inverness to Copenhagen, living on a boat instead of on campus. We didn’t join him on the big crossing but helped move the boat across Scotland from Fort William.

Sailing across Loch Ness was a special moment but one barely remembered. I lost a hard drive the day I got back from the trip and lost almost all of my photographs, as well as all the personal projects I’d been working on to keep myself busy during the year. It broke my heart. I was miserable about it for months.

Later, I left Hull and moved back to Wales, moving in with my girlfriend in a damp flat in Cardiff. She had a year of university to finish, having taken a year out, and I was finding job prospects were null in the North. We both hoped that south Wales, where we had more connections, having studied there, would be more fruitful.

2015 was the year of Ffotogallery. I found a job as Exhibitions Officer at the Penarth-based photography gallery and loved my time there.

It was 12 months of hanging exhibitions in strange places, from Penarth’s Turner House Gallery to the disused offices in Cardiff’s rugby stadium and the abandoned buildings of Cardiff Bay.

In March, I took part in a residency in Llansteffan, and built an installation around a strange song written by Amory Kane (starts at 6.48) about this sleepy Welsh village. We had intended to work with the local psychogeographer, Osi Rhys Osmond, who unfortunately passed away barely two weeks before we were expected to start the project. I took one of my favourite photographs ever from the broken ramparts of a castle high up on the hill from the song, overlooking the bay.

The exhibition itself took the form of various found objects, research materials, maps and a mix CD of songs and field recordings that could function as a guided walk around the village. It’s one of my favourite projects I’ve ever worked on.

Most of the rest of the year was otherwise spent stuck in our flat. The rain in Cardiff was torrential and so we spent a lot of time making our moldy flat more habitable. It was full of pictures and lights and objects and lasers. I had a whole wall in the living room given over to records and books. I loved living there and I miss the view from the living room overlooking the park.

I first started to try and write in that flat, with my records on and the daily activity of the park passing by below. I listened to Arthur Russell’s World of Echo obsessively.

One of the best things about living in Cardiff was how easy it was to leave. It could be a mind-numbingly boring place to live with a pretty middle-class monoculture of young folk musicians and art events that were nonetheless interestingly politicised considering the art-loving demographic.

Our neighbours were great too. I fell in love with the dog downstairs, Ropo. He was Finnish and didn’t understand English. We had a list of Finnish commands pinned to the fridge and would try to get him to understand us. He never did.

I also grew my hair out for the first time.

My job at Ffotogallery didn’t last, unfortunately. As is often the case with art jobs, it was dependent on funding, and by the winter time the newly elected Conservative government was deemed such a threat that they couldn’t keep me on in good conscience, not knowing where the money would be coming from.

It wasn’t such a loss, in the end. I’d already applied to study at Goldsmiths and so set myself an end point within the job that everyone was already aware of anyway. However, I had immediately deferred for a year, unsure how I was going to pay for it, and so losing my job nine months earlier than planned wasn’t ideal, but in the end it all worked out okay. We left Cardiff and I was able to save money at home in Hull again for nine months.

As a final farewell, Ffotogallery flew me out to Venice to take down the exhibition in the Welsh Pavilision at the Biennale. That was a very special week. A lot of hard physical labour but a lot of fun was had to make up for it. Winter in Venice is pretty spooky too. I did a tour of all the sights from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.

In December, we flew to Lanzarote for our first holiday on our own in years. The coast there was something special, and eerily quiet out of season.

2016 was meant to be another year spent in Hull but the situation at home had not improved. It became another year in the wilderness — again, in more ways than one.

Will and I started working on his album Your Wilderness Revisited, developing the images alongside the sounds he was making in his studio in York.

Otherwise, it was a repeat of 2014. I spent my days driving around Hull, going to gigs and just trying to get through the days, weeks, months. I did more shoots with local bands. I enjoyed that but it wasn’t paying enough — if at all.

Depression hit pretty hard midway through the year and I decided to move out of Hull to Derbyshire for six months to stay with my girlfriend’s parents whilst she was working abroad in Spain. It was a lonely time. I didn’t handle things well.

By the autumn, life completely turned around. I moved to Peckham to start at Goldsmiths and felt the happiest I think I’ve ever felt. People were talking about things I’d been into for years in complete isolation. I felt like I had “found my people.”

I started writing properly. I spent the last months of the year writing “Monastic Vampirism”. I was really excited about everything.

2017 was the year of the second a day. I could not have predicted everything that would happen that year.

2018 was the year this blog took off. Photographs were no longer my focus. I began writing everything down. In the summer, hanging out with Robin helped me get my mojo back. Taking photographs in Cornwall was like getting permission to go back to another way of life and integrate it back into what I was doing now.

2019 has seen photography come back into my daily life in a way I’m really glad about. I’m working in galleries again, being hands-on, thinking about projects again and integrating pictures into writing in a way I always admired in others.

Will’s album Your Wilderness Revisited has finally seen the light of day and seeing the images from that project slowly seep out into the world has been hugely gratifying. I feel less uncomfortable walking the line between photographer and writer. I suppose I’m trained in both now — why not use them both?

We’ve been back and forth to Cornwall and Sussex in recent months, taking time out from London, a place where writing is constant, and having the opportunity to unwind and think in a different way — visually rather than theoretically — has been hugely rewarding. I’ve been thinking back to the ways in which a lot of my favourite writers use photography. W.G. Sebald especially but also, despite their differences, Mark on his k-punk blog. He too used photography in an interesting way.

As 2020 looms, I will be releasing my first book and I can’t say how excited I am to see it out in the world. I’m also really happy that it has a wealth of illustrations. At the start of this decade, if you told me I’d start the next one with the publication of a book, I’d have hoped it was a photo book… Now, I’m glad it’s not, but photography is still a huge part of it — at least in my mind.

It has one of my photographs on the cover, taken in January 2018 as we walked home from the first for k-punk night, following Kodwo Eshun’s delivery of the inaugural Mark Fisher memorial lecture. I knew I wanted a photo on the cover and my decision to use this one was almost immediate.

Nothing else captures the euphoria of that night for me. How it speaks to anyone else I cannot say, but just as Mark’s writings about music could tap into the “temporality of theory”, as Kodwo would say, I feel like photography serves a similar function for me. I only hope I can find a balance over the next few years, where I am — once again — as prolific with my camera as I am with a keyboard.

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