This is the story of the night I first fell in love with New York, the night I took this image, 'A New Kind of First Love'. I share this story in celebration of launching this print with Lyle O. Reitzel gallery. Find out more and see other prints HERE!
I remember years ago, on a long flight to Rio, I found myself unable to sleep. So I passed the time watching random movies. Somehow all movies I chose appeared to have been filmed in New York. With only time to watch one more before landing, I selected the new Men in Black. Not only was it filmed in New York City, but it was filmed at the start of the summer of 2012, while I was there. As some scenes depicted the cityscape during the night, with the bridges in the background, I couldn't help but wonder: 'Am I in this movie, a couple of pixels somewhere on top of a bridge?'
Jumping back to 2012. My first trip to the Americas:
I handed in my Final Major Project at CCAD, the Art College I studied at, got on a train to London, and boarded a flight to New York City early the next morning!
Upon arrival in New York City, seeing Manhattan Bridge with its pretty little globes on top, I knew it warranted a closer inspection. After a river-side scouting mission, my mind was set, and my plan was made. I went back to where I was staying, napped until about midnight, and all that was left to do was to execute!
First problem! The subway. Usually I'm quite good at getting lost, but this time it was through no fault of my own. I ended up being forced to get off at a wrong stop and meander through the streets on my own. It was dark, the middle of the night, and a little intimidating. Only 23, from a small village in England, it was my first time out of Europe. I kept my wits about me and kept moving until I found my desired destination. Luckily, plenty of police officers were about to point me in the right direction. If only they'd known why I was going there.
There are several things to remember while climbing bridges. One of them is the traffic. On the comparatively minuscule (yet still adorable) bridges of Middlesbrough, UK, traffic is just a nuisance. The less there is, the better. No one likes wobbly bridge-top photographs. In New York, however, traffic is good. In the city that never sleeps, the traffic on a bridge never stops ... unless you've been seen!
Avoiding the ladders intended for climbing, I decided to climb the structure itself. To date, this is still the most enjoyable bridge climb I ever did! I squeezed through the framework into the girders. There was such little room in there, I couldn't climb like you would climb a ladder. There simply wasn't enough space the lift my leg. So I strapped my bag to my side to allow maximum room, and I used the 'X' shaped beams that enclosed me within the structure to pull myself up. One 'X' at a time.
Climbing all the way up took longer than I expected. Having slowly pulled myself up the structure, I eventually got to the top of the Manhattan Bridge! I used my last remaining strength to open the hatch. Inhaling deeply, the air was cool and refreshing. Hot and damp with sweat from the climb, I dragged myself out of the hatch, and collapsed. I lifted my head and let my eyes fall on that famous city skyline. Here, alone, on an island in the sky, it felt like the view, sparkling like stars, was just for me. Like the city was mine. And so I began to capture it.
Another thing to remember when on bridges in New York is helicopters! Being distracted by capturing the view, one of them was already almost on top of me when I heard the most disturbing noise. The traffic noise was still there. It wasn't the lack of vehicles, it was the addition of a different type of vehicle. A helicopter was fast approaching and nearly overhead. I had been warned by friends about them searching bridges as they are passing by. In what felt like one swift movement, I detached my camera from the tripod and bagged them both. I clambered down the little hatch and into the structure as far as I could. Holding myself as still as possible, with my heart beating in my eardrums, and stomach in my mouth, I watched the search lights sweep through the metal framework towards me. Shafts of light were piercing through the structure and burning strips of black and white into my eyes. I could no longer hear the noisy helicopters blades, just my heart and my lungs. I knew I had managed to remain unseen as the light stopped shining. My heart slowed, and I held my breath, so I could hear the helicopter pass by and slowly fade into the distance until there was only my increased heartbeat and road traffic below left to be heard. That was a good sign. And exhale....
I re-packed my camera bag and made the slow considered climb down, back the way I went up. Still full of adrenaline, it felt like I quickly found myself at home in New York City. Now in the early hours of the morning I started to head back towards Manhattan. Suddenly I could see the silhouette of a man loitering halfway down the path, between me and the bed that was waiting for me. He wasn't moving towards or away from me, just staying there. Has he seed me climb down? At this point I thought back to the travel advice all my friends gave me, about never being alone and not staying out too late. However, there were no other options, I needed to go that way. I had to get past this guy! So, I tucked my long hair into my hat, I adopted my best man pose and began to strut along the bridge as I imagine a man would. With this newly adopted walk, probably looking like something from Monty Python's 'Ministry of Funny Walks' sketch, I approached the silhouetted stranger. All the while I was considering the value of my camera and how stupidly vulnerable I was on my own...
What an idiot I felt! Upon getting closer, I dropped my shoulders, my hair and my silly walk. It wasn't a man, it was a young lady, also alone, with the same amount of camera equipment as I had; just hers was all out and on display as she shot landscapes of NYC from the bridge. Felling relived, I took it upon myself to make a quick introduction and talk rubbish as only I know how. Her name was Stephanie O'Connor and she was studying photography. She had been out many nights, on her own, and it was perfectly safe. Had she known how scared I was approaching her, I might have thought she was mocking me.
After the pleasantries were exchanged, we each continued on our own separate photography missions. Mine took me to the Brooklyn Bridge where I ran up the cables to stand next to the flag poles, on top of the most famous bridge in the world... but that's a different story.
I'm going to start with a little geography, if you already know West Africa, please bear with me. When I first told people I was going to Mali, I found myself hearing things like: 'You mean Bali?', 'Mali, where's that?', 'You're going to Malawi?!' ... right continent, but no. I'd have to explain to people where is it, but after climbing the Tour D'Afrique, it's easier to just show you ... THERE IT IS!
Beg, steal and bribe. The list of events leading to the access of our desired location.
I'd been told it takes two weeks to adjust to a hot climate, but having been there for longer than that already, I discovered you don't get used to the heat, you just get used to being too over-heating. I'd also discovered some more interesting, things whilst in Mali, like how to bribe..
It was the middle of a hot, dry, dusty day and I was sweating like a Brit in sub-Saharan Africa, when we first saw the Tour D'Afrique. It was standing tall in the centre on one of the busiest roundabouts in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
For a small price it was possible to go up this monument to a round room near the top. This room had windows showing a panoramic view of Bamako. Not wanting to see the view from behind glass in the room, a visible hatch on the ceiling was very inviting. We found that asking could only get us so far, after that it was down to our wallets to do the talking, and with the right wallet, the desired effect is almost a certainty. For the small sum of 50cf (66 pence/1 dollar) a ladder was soon sourced from the security guard.
It took a little adjusting to get used to being in a country where Police will pull someone over for the sole purpose of taking a bribe, earning more money in order to pay their bills. A country where giving or receiving a bribe is a normal part of the daily life.
Before closing the hatch behind us, the ladder was dragged up. Using the ladder to climb higher ... I'd like to think we weren't seen while doing so, but that would be a silly assumption.
Out of curiosity a night time visit was in order, this time no bribe was needed, we simply grabbed the ladder and ran up the stairs, although when his shift finished, the guard came up looking for us, only to find the hatch closed, no ladder and no one in sight. Not finding us there, he searched the stairs and in the lift, while we lowered the ladder then ourselves down from the top of the monument. He soon returned with a long iron rod, and with a friendly smile escorted us off site. I cant help but to wonder what he thought we were getting up to while we were up there? And more importantly, what was the iron rod for?!
Thanks to Dan for the adventure!
I finished University in the summer of 2011. I handed in my last assignment to the course leaders at CCAD, and went strait to the train station. I like to fit as much into life as I possibly can, and that summer was no different!
These were my first moments out of full time education in 17 years, and I used them to hop on a train that was heading to the airport! From here I flew to New York for the first time, after this I had a month to prepare for my first solo exhibition. Keeping my momentum, the day before the opening I packed my two bedroom apartment into storage. And the day after the opening I hit the road for four months, three of which were spent in Mali.
When I returned home a certificate was waiting for me, I'd been awarded a First Class BA with Honors, but I'd sadly missed my graduation!
Right now we're in the middle of a hot summer here in New York, where I now live. Inhaling the smell of melting tarmac, and feeling the sun beat down on me, roasting my skin, never ceases to remind me of those months I spent in Mali six years ago.
Sometimes it's not about the shining lights of the city, or the security guard that chases you. Sometimes it's about an unfamiliar environment, and what fun you can make of it.
We spent an hour on an incredibly cramped mini-bus, with goats sat on the roof with our rucksacks. Disembarking, Daniel Charles (who'd quickly become the main person I'd go on micro-adventures with), and I found ourselves in a village called Siby, a rural commune in the Cercle of Kati in the Koulikoro Region of southern Mali.
Attempting to buy supplies, we soon found ourselves distracted by the beautiful people and food on the main street that ran through Siby, Dan and I never set off for our desired destination until darkness had fallen.
With the cites lampposts being nothing more than 60 watt light bulbs on long sticks, navigating along the dirt roads that ran through the streets wasn't always easy. Once out of civilization, we resorted to moonlight, which reflected bright enough to cast shadows. Refusing to use the torches we packed, we slowly meandered through unknown paths that were flanked by plants taller than us, that cast shadows throwing us into stripes of light and dark. We took almost all the little tracks we found, hoping they'd be short cuts, possibly making us run in circles. Eventually, many hours later, we reached the natural bridge ... and we all know how fond I am of bridges!
Unlike the bridges I usually visit at after dark, this one wasn't man-made, it was a huge naturally formed stone arch. Spanning over a flat stone platform that rose up and out of the surrounding landscape, just being under this bridge gave us the most stunning panoramic views.
Setting up camp under the arch, on a cliff edge high over the rolling African landscape, we slowly drifted off to the distant sound of the traditional Malian music, the melodic drums were beating in the Friday night festivities below us in the village.
Although I did say it's not about the thrill of dodging/being caught by security, even here we were discovered and a bribe was paid to encourage forgiveness for our overnight presence.
Now, even though waking to the view from under the bridge was so spectacular, you didn't expect me to not climb this thing while I was there dod you (see the first image)!?
Having paid our way, we hiked back to Siby. With the full day ahead of us it seemed sensible to hire bikes, and cycle in sub-Sahara Africa ... through the hottest part of the day ... without cover from the sun ... for seven hours solid ... with my pale English skin out ...
Dan cycled well, and did even better at encouraging me to keep on my bike and keep up. Cycling on sand wasn't a strength of mine, and saw me eating sand on more than one occasion. We persevered until we reached the waterfall.
Due to the time of year, it wouldn't be long until the waterfall and pool below dried up, luckily we still had enough depth to swim and dive.
Missing a tent pole, lost somewhere on the journey, we somehow managed to set our tent up on a large square rock surrounded by water. After a camp fire and picnic under the tree canopy, we once again drifted off to sleep on the edge, this time lulled by the gently crashing and splashing waterfall, as well as the occasional noise from animals and birds.
Waking refreshed, the journey back was far quicker. This may also have been due to it being mostly downhill!
It's memories like these that mean the world to me. Exploring, exploiting and enjoying my environment with amazing company!
As i said, while I was in Mali, exploring Siby, I did miss something important to my family and I, my graduation! ...but I knew this was going to happen, so I planned ahead. I had managed to get hold of a gown and hat four months earlier when I set off on my journey. I carried these with me for four months. For a month on the road traveling round Europe, to Mali, then to Siby on the top of a mini-bus with goats keeping them company, all the way to the bridge by moonlight, and right there is where I shot this; my graduation photo, to go on my parents mantle piece once I got home.
It's funny how the smallest thing can bring back the fondest of memories, even something as simple as pulling on a t-shirt you've not worn for a long time. Recently I was digging through old clothes when I found a bright yellow and orange t-shirt. I remember buying it, it's child size, but I found the one that fitted me best, and go it anyway, I just loved it! I bought it at the Baltic in Newcastle, it's bright yellow, with a big orange Angel of the North on it, with the wings wrapping all the way round to the back of the t-shirt, and it makes me think of those times I climbed up and sat on those wings.
Throw back to 2012:
Team work: sometimes being selected for a team can be a bad thing, or at least not as complimentary as it sounds. Always being selected for the Maths or Engineering challenges for example, did/does that make me a geek? (Although when they served free food, it always felt good and I didn't care any more). How about being selected to be on the football team at school, I guess that depends who you get picked after, if you get chosen after the girl with a severe limp that can't run, you know there's an issue, or indeed chosen very last! Luckily, when this plan came to fruition, and Sparrow included me in her team, it wasn't like any of the above, it felt like a privilege to be part of her team and part of her artistic process.
Combining the art: Sparrow, a textile based artist, had a plan. She's spent months with a team of a different nature, slaving away over needles, creating the god of all scarves. It was to be added to the most viewed piece of art in the UK; The Angel of the North by Antony Gormly.
The angel was built in Hartlepool, a small seaside town quite close to my heart,I believe it was made at a place called the 'Erection Group' ... I not telling a lie, here's a picture to prove it exists (they've since suffered erectile disfunction and had to close shop)!
When the Angel of the North proposed, it received very mixed feelings. A monument so big and opposing on the landscape was never going to please everyone. Some even found it offensive that Gormly had based the statue as a likeness of himself, with the addition of airplane wings. There was also a great debate over the placement of the statue, as many claimed the area that it was placed in could have used the rather large amount of money for something more beneficial to the local community.
I guess this is when I first learnt about art. Unlike the maths challenges I'd attended, art isn't as simple as right or wrong. Everyone has their own opinion and they're all equally valid. Myself not even being double digits in age when the Angel was created, I remember my parents primary reaction towards the monument was of disdain, my mother being a fan of neo-classical architecture and pre-Raphaelite art, and my father much the same. Upon asking me what I thought, I simply repeated what they'd said, as any child of that age would do. My parents then told not to do so, and to think for myself, decide what my opinion of it was, and let them know after I'd decided. After giving it some thought, I came to a new conclusion, and in all honesty, I quite liked the Angel, the sheer size and simple lines appealed to me. My fondness and appreciation towards this particular statue has only increased since then. I'm immensely fond of this winged self portrait.
Less about the art, more about the mission! The team consisted of four of us, Sparrow, Brad, Witek and myself, we each had our roles and knew what to do. Sparrow obviously being the team manager, overseeing the installation, watch-out and vital extra hands. Brad working on capturing the event on still and moving image as well as helping with the rigging. While Witek and I were on the technical side of this task and were the ones that played with all the toys to set up the ropes and lines.
Working efficiently together, and taking a little more time than we hoped, we eventually had everything ready on a cold Tuesday morning. As wing-top technician, I headed up with the mother of all knitwear, with enough pearl stitch to make any grandma proud!
Climbing along the left wing to the neck of the angel, with no where to clip on once at the top, I soon realized the dream of tying this scarf traditionally round it's neck wasn't to be. With it draped over one shoulder, and wrapped around the torso of the Angel, I rappelled back down. It didn't go as we planned, and I couldn't help but feel like a failure, like the weakest member of the team. I guess not everything will or has to be one way or another, once again, no wrong, no right, this is indeed Art not Maths in the end.
Here's to team work! ...for more full accounts of the events of the evening, follow the links to Sew Your Soul, Sparrows site, and bradleygarret.com, Brads site. (Witek hates the internet.)
Sparrow is now woking on new even bigger, even better projects. This summer she will be opening a FELT 8 TILL LATE in NYC, and I simply can't wait to see it!!
The etymology of London remains unclear. The earliest mention of the city's name, describes its origin as being from King Lud, he had allegedly taken over the city and named it 'Kaerlud' after himself. As one would do, of course! This was then eventually slurred into 'Kaerludein', and finally London. Although I like to idea of a King naming a city after himself, not many support this theory. The most common belief is that it is derived from British roots corresponding to Welsh Llyn-din, meaning "city (or fortress) on a lake".
Despite London not being on a lake, this theory was all well and good, until fifteen years ago, a linguistics professor challenged these theories and proposed his own, that the name derives from the pre-Celtic 'plowonida', which roughly means "a river too wide to ford", which it most certainly in. I dont fancy rolling up my jeans and wading through that! This professor believed that this part of the Thames was given this name, and later, when a settlement was established, the suffix -on or -onjon was added to the name for the settlement. In these days, the letter 'P' was regularly lost in pronunciation, leading to it changing from 'Plowonidonjon' to 'Lundonjon'. This was then shortened to 'Lundein' or 'Lundyn', then latinized to 'Londinium', borrowed by the Anglo-Saxons as 'Lundene', and now finally, London. A city spreading long both sides of the banks of a river we now can cross (without having to roll up your jeans)!
Growing up in the North East, seeing first hand what is left of the great steel industry and the mark it left on the world, it's no wonder I have an interest in bridges! Teeside steel created international icons, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Tyne Bridge, seen world wide on Newcastle Brown ale bottles (or not seen at the end of the night depending on how many bottles have been consumed prior to attempted bottle viewing). Not only do bridges make physical connections, enabling us to do and see so much, but visually, they can make a city what it is. What would New York be without the Brooklyn Bridge? What would Sydney be without it's Harbour Bridge? What would London be without Tower Bridge?
...speaking of which... Tower Bridge is arguably the most iconic and famous of the bridges in London, but it's not the bridge that stands out to me. Something has always pulled my interest towards the understated London Bridge, and the way that 'London Bridge' is not really the London Bridge people expect!
Let me explain myself. I'll use a quote; the wonderful words of Fergie, in her song 'London Bridge'.
"How come every time you come around,
My London London Bridge wanna go down?
Like London London London wanna go down,
Like London London London be going down like..."
(Thanks to SkidVid for the video)
Firstly, I must appreciate her excitement; she's so excited about the prospect of seeing London Bridge, that her ability to construct a coherent sentence has gone, vanished! I can completely relate to this level of excitement when thinking about bridges! In her music video, we see her dancing around London, doing what I can only imagine to be a thorough search for this illusive 'London Bridge' that she sings about. But, when in the last part of the video she finds it, she is in fact circling underneath Tower Bridge on a speed boat. Oh dear! But she's not the first to make this mistake, many people believe Tower Bridge is actually called London Bridge.
London Bridge is quite misunderstood. It's a very sleek, simple and modest looking bridge, perfect in it's function and design, yet still a disappointment to the hoards of tourists that get off London Underground at the 'London Bridge' stop, and surface to see a distinct lack of towers. I can only imagine how this would be for the bridge if it had feelings. Imagine being Paris Hilton, but not the Paris Hilton; someone that shares her name. You have your name on a club's guest list, but no matter how you look, how much or how well you dance, no matter how you (mis)behave, you will still be a disappointment to the club's staff when you walk through the door, as you're not the Paris Hilton.
But please don't pity this bridge; it has it's own amazing history and has shaped transportation across the globe. The location of the current London Bridge near enough marks the oldest crossing in the history of London. In 53 AD a pontoon like crossing was the first to connect the north and south bank of the Thames. Since then, a great many bridges have risen and fallen in this exact location.
This crossing also has a dark side, being the point of the oldest crossing, London Bridge has always been at the heart of the city, with many people traveling across the bridge. In the 1300s, pedestrians would have to view the heads of traitors on the bridge as a deterrent. From the 1300-1700s 15% of London's population was wiped out by the Black Death, the bridge was right in the centre of this, and being so densely populated, it was a risky place to be... but it's not all bad, the bridge has also left it's mark in the history books in another way. In 1722 it was found that with such a large amount of people using the bridge it was difficult to enforce the toll. It was decided to split the bridge into two directions, with everyone keeping to the left, this has since spread across the entire country, and then into other countries as we colonized, so this bridge has left it's mark on the world!
But less about the topside, what about underside and inside the bridge?! The current London bridge, which opened in 1971, is a box girder bridge, constructed of concrete and steel. This means the bridge is hollow, and in fact, tunnels run along the length of it, from the north bank to south bank of the river, and at one point in time, for those with the knowledge, it was possible to get in to these tunnels, if only within a short window of opportunity.
Walking out of 'London Bridge' station that night, there was a slight breeze, yet a stillness in the city. We walked along the streets until we found the bridge (not looking for towers reaching into the sky, but looking for London Bridge). I was filled with an anxious excitement when I stepped out from the urban jungle of building upon building that lead up to the river bank of the Thames. Feeling exposed we stepped out. I watched my feet tread over what I knew was a hollow structure, and the inside of which I hoped to be my destination at the end of this short journey. We located the hatch and stood aside from it, watching traffic, people, the river below, and indeed life go by. Looking out from the bridge, along the banks, at the city, gives you perspective. To be stood back, away from and out of the labyrinth of tall buildings, and to simply enjoy the lights of the city by night. This perspective, as enjoyable as it was, wasn't what we were looking for, we waited patiently until there was a gap in road, river and pavement traffic, and this was when we went for it. We opened the hatch, scuttled down into the underbelly of this beast, and into the stillness of what can only be described as what it feels like to be underground.
Once inside, it really was easy to forget that we were in a tunnel essentially hanging from the underside of one of the busiest bridges along the Thames. It felt submerged and completely secluded. As we traveled the length of the bridge the only reminder that this was indeed a bridge was the odd gantry cutting through the tunnels, crossing the structure, inside the tunnel, then out under the bridge, then back into the next tunnel.
We were in midair, yet the foundations of London's history! There truly is nothing else in London that could feel like this..
As always, thank you to everyone involved in this incredible visit, you all made this possible. An unforgettable and beautiful location with an amazing history. Thank you.
People are not defined by what they look like. It’s true ’a book should never be judged by its cover’; I prefer to think a person is defined by their actions, what they choose to do, or not do, and leads them to do/not do what they decide to do/not do. Considering what causes people to choose to do and not to do something, I came to the conclusion that it’s all about ratios: the ratio between how much you want/do not want to do something, why you should and why you shouldn’t do something, and each person evaluates the whys with different significance, leading to everyone having different ratios, therefore making different decisions, taking different actions, being different people. This goes for every decision we make, the need to go shopping for food over the desire to sit about doing nothing, feeling hungry. The decision about where in front of the left foot the right foot should go when walking. The ever-fluctuating ratio between the desire to run off a platform, to have the adventure and experience, the need to follow the person ahead maybe (the need to get the shots and live up to expectations of others for some individuals) against the risks, the risk of being seen by the wrong person as you run down those little steps, the fear of being seen by anyone at all, fear of misplacing left foot in front of the right and touching the third rail, the chance of workers being down that dark tunnel, the desire to sleep instead due to being exhausted from the days leading to that point, sleeping rough and climbing every night..... When the ratio is right, the person will run, if it’s never right, they will never run.
On the East Coast of Brazil, there’s a beautiful island. From what I can tell, it offers everything I could ever wish for. It hosts the capital of the state – yet there’s also countryside, beaches, rivers, lagoons, forested areas, whales swimming by, friendly and kind people. I guess the only thing missing is a snow capped mountain for winter sports, although that’s not too much of an issue when the sand dunes offer sand boarding. Although none of those things were what I noticed when I first came to the island of Florianopolis; what I noticed was the huge, beautiful structure joining the mainland to this island. A large suspension bridge, the icon of the entire state, lit up like a Christmas tree by lights dotted along its cables. On the first night on the island, Pierre, my kind host for the visit there, and I crept out of the boat house, into the pickup, and headed to the bridge, shamefully stopping at McDonald’s en route. The island side of the bridge was less than encouraging, being next to both a fire station and a police station. Once at the base of the bridge on the mainland side, where the cables came as close to the ground as they ever do, we were confronted by many loud dogs, threatening to give us away, but we waited for them to calm down and continued snooping. On the foundations, the starting line, there were some loose coins, not money but coins from a fair or arcades, with the words ‘For Amusements Only’ on them. Looking up at the bridge we couldn’t help but giggle, we pocketed the coins and headed back to the boat house. The ratio wasn’t right that night. The ratio of how much I needed to empty my bowels over how much I wanted to be up there was skewed most uncomfortably towards me being close to pooping myself. After a brief stop to use some porta-potty on the island, and a brief contemplation of the ratio between the need to wipe/have warm feet, I continued back to the boathouse with Pierre – sockless. Returning the following night, with a fresh pair of socks on, I made sure I’d been to the loo before we set off. With empty bowels and full intentions of climbing, Pierre and I had that always enjoyable conversation, the one about what he thought might happen if we got caught climbing a national icon in South America. Nothing good you might guess. He suggested things much worse that I would have though; despite these new concerns we pushed on, in dark clothes, bags and equipment ready... this time the ratio was right, the climb was fun, and was done for amusement only. Once down, we went past the barking dogs, and threw our coins in the water under the bridge. I couldn't help but think about the fact that, two days earlier, I’d never met Pierre in person and never seen that bridge with my own eyes. Things change, and everything that changes affects the people involved, affecting the way they see and evaluate things and the way they act, the decisions they make, and in turn, this makes a person different, not a different hair color or eye shadow!