Sunday, 25 May 2014

Haunting

I was thrilled to realise that we were in the right place at the right time.  The World Press Photo competition has been an exhibition I have now appreciated viewing a few years in succession.  'Enjoyed' probably isn't the right verb.  Many of the images hit home hard.  That's the point.  The journalist communicates without words.  The pictures speak for themselves.
 
And this year was no exception.
 
I was mystified by 'Signal' the winning entry and stood confronted by it, as though frozen to the spot in De Nieuwe Kerk, the imposing Church situated on Dam Square where the 2014 exhibition has begun its tour which will visit 45 cities around the globe. 
 
 
 
Signal is an image of technical ingenuity.  But, beyond this, it really is an image of our time.  It portrays African migrants on the shores of Djibouti City raising their phones in the moonlight, in an attempt to catch a signal from the neighbouring territory of Somalia.  The picture depicts their immediate vulnerability and intrinsic desire to make contact with those they have left, and those they perhaps hope to see.  These are individuals who are in transit, likely far away from the lives for which they search, but also now far from the lives seek to escape.  The phone is, in this moment, a symbol of hope. 
 
Watching video footage narrated by several of the panel who judged the contest opened my eyes more fully just as they were beginning to tire, fatigued by the images that demanded so much of their beholder. 
 
The competition serves as a vital bridge between the photojournalism profession and the general public, two million of whom will go and see the photos before they are published in the yearbook. 
 
But these pictures require more of their audience than a cursory glance.  These images request your engagement.  They remain with you, and within you.  Seeing an exhibition such as this is like a work-out for me.  The images cut deep in to the core of so many issues that I struggle to contemplate individually, let alone en masse.
 
 
 
 
There was a stunning series of pictures of Cougars - a species that, once in decline, has been making a silent comeback across the western United States over the last 4 decades.  The photographer highlighted their elusive nature and the precarious position they occupy: whilst protected in California and Florida, they remain prized game in 13 other states.  The juxtaposition of these wild cats and the Hollywood skyline poses challenging questions pertaining to their continued survival in such close proximity to their human hunters. 
 
Whilst there were a handful more photos that stood out and spoke to me in the boldest of terms, there was one photo towards the end of the exhibition that said more to me than any other...
 
As a title, 'Heptathlon and Cancer' could not have failed to grab my attention: my best friend Charlotte is rarely far from my thoughts.  And particularly just now, as she faces the prospect of more surgery. 
 
 
 
30 year old Swedish heptathlete Nadja Casadei participated in both the European and World Athletics Championships, before being diagnosed with cancer of the lymphatic system, last summer.
 
Once the shock had subsided, and the specifics of her opponent were confirmed, Nadja came to the conclusion that there was only one way approach to it: with the same approach and attitude that she has on the track and field, where winning is all that counts.
 
There was no doubt in her mind that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, beat the cancer.  Casadei was determined to continue her athletic career and, with her sights firmly set on Rio 2016, she (like Charlotte) commenced chemotherapy immediately. 
 

 
She has, since then (like Charlotte), kept up a training regime whilst fighting the disease for which she (like Charlotte) has undergone gruelling treatment.  Her consultants have advised her to let her body dictate her training programme and Casadei (like Charlotte) does whatever training she can whenever her energy levels are up.
 
Seeing these beautiful photos of Nadja before and during her treatment have prompted me to consider whether I am doing what I can when I can in the pool, or on the bike...    
 
 





Friday, 23 May 2014

Scratching the surface

There is no shortage of things to amuse the discerning visitor to Amsterdam.  Tucked between the less salubrious merchandise and experiences on offer are some truly magnificent pearls of culture which I cannot help but inhale deeply each time I come here. 
 
This trip has been no different in that respect, and high on my list was a return visit to the Stedelijk where we stumbled across an enormous exhibition charting the career of one of the Netherlands' most renown designers, Marcel Wanders.  The basement was the perfect setting in which to show off this design guru's vision-made-real. 
 
 
If poetry is about love
and art is about love
and theatre is about love
and if opera is about love...
why do we think design is about...
functionality?
Marcus Wanders
 
 


 
We are all poets, secretly engineering.
Marcel Wanders
 
 
 
And it did not stop there.  We have since been dazzled by a spontaneous street dance performance right in front of the Rijksmuseum and blown away by a (quite literally) hidden gem of a Catholic Church built 350 years ago concealed in the attic space of three conjoined townhouses in the Canal District. 
 
 
 
 
Time spent outside has featured prominently, with beautiful moments spent in several of the fantastic open spaces this city proudly offers those who live here and tourists who manage to leave the coffeeshops.  After all, there's little better than a bit of taart al fresco in the sunshine. 
 

 
 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Wisdom and Windmills

Amsterdam has, for a few years now, been a place of retreat for me.  I have frequented the city on vacation more often than any other and have loved spending time exploring the many sites, and discovering those not found in the guidebooks I once purchased and perused as I first got my bearings in Holland.
 
I was drawn to the nation of tulips and windmills by a very dear friend, herself now an English expat who has, with her husband, (and now 14 month old daughter - but more about this little snowflake later) made Amsterdam very much home.  And now, having enjoyed such wonderful times in this city, coming here has become, for me, something of a homecoming.   

We met 6 years ago this month, in the pleasant surroundings of a country house retreat centre where we were both attending/undertaking the Hoffman Process.  Our friendship was one of the several precious gifts I left with at the end of the exhausting and ultimately exhilerating week.  
 
 
 
 
Our friendship has been long-distance and yet, during the relatively short periods of time spent in one another's company, it feels to boast a depth that many will never know.  Facilitated, I think, by honesty.  We say it like it is.  There's not enough time to do anything else.  And that's refreshing. 
 
This week, my dear friend asked me to become one of three 'wise women' to her beautiful daughter who is certainly no longer a baby.  I am yet to receive the Job Description but am honoured beyond words to have been asked, and flattered beyond measure to be thought to fit the Person Specification for such a role.   

 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A breath of (really) fresh air

I breathed it in.  Slowly.  And deeply.
 
It was wonderfully restorative escaping to the coast.  I felt my shoulders drop, and my mind ease.  It wasn't as though my troubles disappeared but they certainly faded.  As though into the middle distance.  Sinking into the horizon.  The drama of late seemed less oppressive, and thus not nearly so demanding.
 
In that moment, very little mattered. 
 
I felt re-connected.  To who, or what I know not.  Maybe it doesn't matter. 
 
To myself, and to nature.  To my own true nature, perhaps.