Yellow Jack

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The plain yellow flag (“Quebec” or Q in international maritime signal flags), derives its letter symbol for its initial use in quarantine. It is also sometimes referred to as “Yellow Jack”  When flown with another flag, it indicates disease on board; when flown alone, it indicates the absence of disease and signifies a request to come ashore.

INTRODUCTION

 

Please join me, starting on July 6th and over the next ten-weeks, on a journey into the creative process. This is in conjunction with CreateSpace, which is creating opportunities for people, regardless of their arts background, to use art as the basis of self-reflection by simply taking 5 minutes out of their day to do something creative.

 

On one hand, for me at least, the coming posts are a scary attempt to explore the practicalities and pitfalls of working creatively. Via the observations of new work in development made in response to the current pandemic.  As with all journeys into creativity, what path one takes and what emerges on the other side is as yet uncharted and uncertain. But resolved or not, something will emerge, even if only the process of this journey.

 

I hope though that these posts will prove to be more than just praxis and where there is something in my journey for everyone - not just artists. 

 

Creativity has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress, and I hope by looking at my process and thoughts - and I’m not pretending to have all the answers - that you might find something in there for your own sense of creativity - in whatever way that might reveal itself. People wishing to share their own insights, work and thoughts and to create a dialogue with me about it can do so via a private CreateSpace group that you will be admitted to upon request. 

 

Join me on Facebook to share your work and thoughts. A private group page is available for group crits / peer reviews of work.

 

https://www.facebook.com/CreateSpaceAndrew/

 

I look forward to sharing with you.

 

Andrew Jackson.

 

CreateSpace is a Creative Health CIC project in partnership with Arts Council England, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Staffordshire County Council.

 

 

 

 

Post 1:

The Last Portrait

 

I don’t really know what I’m doing.  

 

But it’s OK though.

 

I’m just trying to get through, I guess? Get through to that mythical world on the other side of this, I seem so often to speak of, to people I miss back at home. Yet, for the first two weeks of the pandemic, and it may have been even longer, I sat with a strange sense of grieving, for a life lost perhaps while staring at the TV, often unshowered - and often in my pants - wondering intently on what the future foretold.

 

My flight back to the UK never materialised when I had hoped and subsequent flights came and then were cancelled. Throw in being scammed when asked to pay extra fees, by whom I had believed to be my airline carrier - it wasn’t by the way!  Then throw in countries closing their borders and now enforced quarantines not being relaxed, I find myself only now to have a date for my return in the coming weeks.

 

Then, just as it seemed that a furrow was being ploughed in the soil of this new normal, George Floyd was graphically murdered and what would take eight minutes and 46 seconds to befall, in Minneapolis, would send repercussions around the world for the next 6 weeks and counting. 

 

So, where was I, yes that’s right, I don’t really know what I’m doing.

 

In those first few weeks of the pandemic so many arts organisations, and publications for that matter, often like frenzied flies over a rotting carcass, (to the reader that carcass is used to symbolise the broken and lamentable figure of the self-employed photographer) buzzed around asking photographers for free content for their feeds, websites et al.  But, in those early days of the "Rona", the very thought of picking up a camera, to take photographs, seemed the furthest thing from my thoughts. Besides, Tiger King on Netflix wasn’t going to watch itself. 

 

My wife, my partner in crime and the person who I could never imagine going through this without, perhaps fearing that I was lapsing into a bout of depression (I remind the reader of that unshowered figure in his pants watching a man talking to tigers) suggested that I document our days together, not as a ‘considered work’ or ‘project’, whatever that means, but just for us, and just so that we could look back at this moment in time together in the years to come.

 

My wife’s words, coupled with the memory of what Vanley Burke had once told me “the good thing,” he had said, “ about being a photographer, is that when you’re in trouble, you can always shoot your way out of it...” Led me to, indeed try and shoot my way out of the funk, I found myself in.  

 

So, what am I trying to say in the images which follow in the weeks to come, that's if they do come?  Also, who is the audience for them, and all of those other ‘making work’ type questions anyone who has gone through art school has often asked of themselves or told commissioners when making new work? Well, as I started off this blog post saying, I don’t really know - and that goes for these blog posts too.

 

But again that’s OK too.  

 

Besides, as John Myers has argued, in his ‘no project’ theorising, why do we even need to have a ‘project’ anyway?

 

What I do know, however, is that the last time that I actually did think that I knew what I was doing, photographically at least, occurred a while ago now, back in the UK.  

 

I had waited patiently to be let in, looking around sheepishly, before leaning in and peering in through the horizontal panes of frosted glass in the wooden doors of the Baptist Church, on Regent Street, Smethwick.  Sighing as the flat of my hand pushed against the coldness of the door for a second time, just to make sure, to convince myself once again that it was still closed. 

 

It was. 

 

All this time furtive; my glances quickened as my eyes searched desperately for any signs of life within the frosted distance of the world inside and I tried to temper the growing frustrations of being late and stuck in the cold rain. I sighed again, catching the slipping tripod strap and pulling it up, for the 17th time, back onto my shoulder.

 

“Had I even pressed the right button on the intercom?” I wondered uneasily, drizzling rain halting my fears of shame momentarily, my head tilting back wearily and then my eyes looking upwards to confront the white sky above in an accusatory glance.

 

But still, it rained.

 

“I’ll give it another minute,” I sighed, yet again, “just one more, and then I’ll head all the way back home again,” looking down at my phone to see the time of 9.23 am revealed to me, the same phone that didn’t hold the number of the person I was meeting.  By all the way home, well, I meant all of those 234 yards or so, back to my front door. Turning behind me, as I thought of it, to see the roof of my place nudging up into the air behind the row of houses in Sketchley Close.

 

Suddenly a door opened inside, beyond the frosted glass, and an indistinct figure, in a beige sweater, walked towards me. It didn't look like whom I was expecting to see, and my growing fears of embarrassment were confirmed. “Hello?” the gaunt-faced man said. My eyes leaving base camp and rising upwards to look up to his greying hair perched atop his very high forehead and then back down to his quizzical eyes peering out at me, as his head extended out slowly, in a tortoise-like fashion, towards me beyond the propped open door.  

 

“Hello,” I replied back, stepping back slightly and then followed up with, “I’ve got a 9.20 am appointment”, oh wait, the wheels and cogs of my brain whirred momentarily, my brain launching into a data retrieval protocol while I tried to remember the name of whom I was actually visiting.  Ahh yes, “with Marianne,” I spat out.  

 

I registered the look of disappointment on his face, a tsunami of wrinkles forming on his forehead, and imagined this happening to him all of the time before he looked over to the intercom wearily, pointing a finger out towards it, while informing me that Marianne, at Friends and Neighbours, was the top button.  

 

“Come on,” he said, grudgingly, “I’ll take you to her.”

 

These were the moments before the last portrait. 

 

Moments in time, just a few months before the death of Birnham Roberts, an 82-year-old grandfather, who would become the first man to die from Covid-19 in Smethwick. A man beloved by friends, family and the community, who would find himself at the head of a deathly pilgrimage, through the UK, that would reap 60,000 other souls in the weeks that followed.

 

I’ve thought of Marianne’s portrait so many times since that moment.  Not because I think it’s a great portrait, and not because it’s of Marianne - even though Marianne is great and works so hard for the community. No, I’ve just thought about her portrait because of the indexical link it holds for me to a time and space forever fixed and still unchanged by not only the deaths of so many, but also of the erasure of the future which I had thought I was destined to find back in that time - which was still alive. 

 

In this world of the present though, where calendar entries, made in the world of the past, constantly remind me of that future lost, and of that home in the UK, that last portrait and those memories leading up to it, are a time forever free of the pandemic and all that it has wrought and removed.

 

That time is a reminder of not only what was, but what could have been, something I hope that the following posts will explore.

Marianne

 

Marianne Monroe

 

 


CreateSpace is a Creative Health CIC project in partnership with Arts Council England, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Staffordshire County Council.

 

Post 2:

Illusions

 

“I suppose therefore that all things I see are illusions; I believe that nothing has ever existed of everything my lying memory tells me. I think I have no senses. I believe that body, shape, extension, motion, location are functions. What is there then that can be taken as true? Perhaps only this one thing, that nothing at all is certain.”

 

― Rene Descartes

 

The other day, I watched Aston Villa squander a one-nil lead to Chelsea, before they eventually lost 2-1, as is the want of the Gods of relegation. *Shakes fist at the heavens* Taking my mind off my frustration I began to count the number of bricks in the building opposite, visible through the pane of glass in the white door leading from the living room out onto the metal balcony, which I always walk onto so gingerly. 

 

Maybe it was the desire of wanting to distract myself from the sight of apathetic millionaires, clad in Claret and Blue, pretending to care in the empty stadium or the seductive power of the golden hues of sunlight, filtered through the leaves of trees, shimmering up and down the terracotta brickwork, like lights on a Sunset Strip casino, calling gamblers to prayer. 

 

Not long ago, only the brown and withered remnants of plants, which had lost their grip on existence, lived on the balcony.  Fluttering limply in the wind, death having embraced them. Still rooted there to the past in their plastic flower basket homes, tied securely to the dark brown metal railings, even if they looked as if they could fall, at any minute, onto the children playing down below, like an Acme weight falling onto Wile E. Coyote.  

 

Now though, with the soil toiled, death uprooted and new seeds sown, life had returned to the balcony as the shoots of onions also shimmered in the golden light of Mile End.

 

Sometimes it is easy to forget that I’m living through a global pandemic.  

 

Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky enough not to have endured the pain of losing a loved-one to Covid-19? Or maybe it’s because I haven’t had to expose myself to the world that much, these last three months, like all of those brave essential workers on the frontlines?

 

Perhaps though, and this might be why these current times seem so surreal - seemingly happening and yet not, is that we haven’t seen the usual photojournalistic impressions of death one would have readily expected to have seen employed if this was taking place solely somewhere in Africa. 



If this was occurring in an African country, we would have seen gratuitous close-up images of grief and pain. We would have seen black bodies, as props, and as framed morsels packaged nicely in accredited World Press Photo winning compositions for Western consumption. We would have seen lifeless forms, limbs akimbo in piles or bulldozered into mass graves.

 

The one-way street of Western photo ethics states, quite clearly, that those graphic representations of white bodies in crisis must not stand. White bodies can’t be seen in crisis, as they would if they had higher levels of melanin. It is, of course, difficult to continue to centre whiteness, which photojournalism seems adept at facilitating, via images of white fragility, death, incompetence and Western political ineptness. 

 

So, instead, the pandemic in the West has been told through less potent photographic depictions of empty streets, within portraits of neighbours on porches or found behind the reflections of glass.  

 

To a great extent, no images of death or of loss have permeated the media’s narrative (though some Italian images have filtered through) to reveal the true horrors and true scale of what we are living through. And so, we live in a strange world, one where our governments coerce us, hand in hand with the media, to almost become Covid-19 deniers.  

 

In this light, the reality of the pandemic, that reality which has encompassed the loss of 500,000 souls (and growing) worldwide, goes unrecorded. It goes unregistered on the psyches of those living through this, and as such, the horrors are made unreal and people act accordingly. 

 

Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, an image of a packed British beach or a street outside pubs in Soho, on the day they reopened in the UK.

 

So, yes, it’s easy to forget that I’m living through a pandemic. 

 

The laughter of Hasidic children, running outside, down beneath my balcony, accompanied by the plants in the flower baskets, often belies the presence of an old, familiar normality. One which calls me willingly back to past times, as the childrens’ shrill notes of joy penetrate my evolving cocoon of reality, from time to time, throughout my hermit-like day.  

 

I still love to tell the story, from a previous trip this world, of the Hasidic children shouting, en masse, up at the wealthy condo dwellers in the neighbourhood I see from my balcony: “Poop on the rich! Poop on the rich! Poop on the rich!” Again and again, with great gusto, until a parent came out and rounded them all up. 

 

No, I don’t have documentary evidence of this, no audio, no stills, or video either, for that matter. Besides, I was too enthralled by the moment to record it. Too busy living it to capture it. Too busy laughing, in stunned amazement, at the audacity of these children to attempt to storm the Bastille of gentrification - which the million-dollar condo apartment dwellers had built.

 

So, now, when I tell the story, people with wry, pinched, polite smiles always ask, “Really, that actually happened?

 

But it really did.  It really happened.  Though truth, of course, is a spurious concept.

 

My mother never took a photograph in all of her 85 years of life, not one. My father neither for that matter. Not once did my parents look through a viewfinder and press a shutter release. I don’t even think that either of them ever touched a camera, in truth, and I wonder how I became a photographer, the one who would take my mother’s last photograph.   

 

I’ve thought about that photograph, about taking it and how it looked, so often since then, even though I’ve never actually looked at it since taking it. Outside of a momentary glance down at the screen on the back of the camera, that is. It wasn’t a great photograph, whatever that means; it was just a moment in time that would soon stop for my mother. Just another digital file in a folder, one to be found inside another folder. One copied multiple times and then housed on multiple harddrives and as well as in the cloud. I trust it’s still there, and have faith that it still is for some reason, but as I said, I haven’t really looked at it. This portrait of an elderly woman waiting to die. 

 

I hadn’t seen her for three months before the moment I took the photograph, and I have written about this fact before. She had forgotten who I was by that point. But before I left her, as my father sat next to her bed in his wheelchair, I took a tightly cropped photograph of them both. Making it look as if both of their heads were resting against each other, just as fate was pulling them further from each other's touch. 

 

I’ve never shown anyone that photograph, not even my dad or my sisters.  

 

I pressed the shutter release, stepping back to take another wider shot, then I put the camera down. That would be the last time I would see mom, as four days later she was gone whilst I was far away again.

What if the image doesn’t resemble my description? My perception of reality falling short? What if their heads aren’t tightly cropped and not actually looking as if they are resting against each other?  Finally, what if I’ve imagined all of this, because I said, I haven’t looked at the photograph.

 

The camera has been a shield for me at times in my life, a place to hide behind rather than a device I’ve ever believed could truly provide me with a  ‘truth’.  Besides, truths sometimes only come with distance, made via the praxis of time. They sometimes only come with self-delusion, and often they are found when we are trying to hide from that which causes us pain. 

 

Truth is often an imposition; it is also an illusion.

 

 

 

 

 

* Insert photograph here*

 

 

 

 

 

CreateSpace is a Creative Health CIC project in partnership with Arts Council England, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Staffordshire County Council.