26 August 2022
This diary entry is dedicated to the memory of David Morris, who died this week after a short illness.
David was a close friend and mentor from very early on in my career. As I struggled through the vagaries of a breakdown (without his knowing) he provided me with the philosophy and outlook to get a tentative grip on what I wanted to become.
I'm writing a book about how photography and architecture helped me out of depression called A Singular Point of Light. The singular point of light came from an image taken in the dereliction of a medieval hall, namely Hopwood Hall in Middleton, a place that was once visited by Byron. It was David (with great risk to his career) that tipped me off to the state of Hopwood Hall, and left a key in a discreet location for me to access the building with my camera.
The first chapter of my book describes the scene I met at Hopwood. David used the photographs that I took to kickstart a mothballing of the hall and ultimately the securing of its future.
And this was David's strength - he knew how to save buildings by inspiring others to take action. He knew how to get the best out of people so that they could move on and take care of the places they lived in.
I worked with David, on and off, over a 15 year period on several projects in my home town of Middleton. What I didn't realise was that David was a cathedral thinker. Each little project was part of a larger vision that David had for the town. His legacy is a town that has a spirit of place - drawn together by volunteers, photographers, academics, actors, artists and much more.
David made incoherent buildings, places, streetscapes, town-centres coherent again. He brought fractured places and people together so that they had a story to tell which ultimately contributed to a powerful sense of community and wellbeing.
There were humorous moments too. On one particular day I called him on the phone and caught him out walking his dog. A conversation ensued about the vagaries of Fin de Siècle green paint. Part way through the conversation I heard a growl and a scream and David say: "I'm so sorry, did my dog bite you?" After a brief altercation, David came back to me and said: " I think we need to mothball the green paint conversation."
And I shall never forget the time we both went a 'champing' - camping in a Churches Conservation Trust Church at Swaffham Prior. I had hastily obtained a pop up bed and I creased with laughter as I watched my mentor and inspiration falter with a few metal sticks and a piece of canvas.
David's only downfall, for me, was that he was a black hole for my books. I'd get a call from him asking to borrow a tome on Edgar Wood or The Secessionist Movement and I never saw them again. I don't begrudge him for that - they were far more useful to him than to me, because he had devoted much of his life to articulating the life of another: Edgar Wood - an Arts and Crafts architect - the architect of Long Street Methodist Church. If he had a weakness, it was his fashion style - he always wore a blue jumper, but as I'm getting older, I'm starting to recognise that as a strength, for it allowed him to blend into the background on all occasions allowing good things to come from other persons.
David was an academic with an artists soul. He was a far better photographer than I. When I needed to have some shots taken of me for a magazine article he volunteered to take them. We went to Long Street Methodist Church and he photographed me taking a photograph of the Stirling Lee Mother and Child.
The final photograph reveals a deep understanding of light and narrative within an image. For several minutes, David manoeuvred my position until he saw parity between the way the light impacted both myself and the sculpture. The edged light around my face corresponded with that on the sculpture and gave a nobility to the artist as well as the art.
David was a subscriber to this digest and he regularly contacted me to give encouragement for a particular photograph or piece of writing, or even to talk of the camper van. I know that he read them quite recently and I hope that in some small way, for brief moments, I was able to take his thoughts away with me to the places I visited. In these last few months I've certainly carried his presence with me.
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