"This digest revels in the in-between, the transitional, the presence of absence. My camera with its dials and knobs and sharp focus has taken me into the blur of things. Because something can't be measured it doesn't mean that it isn't there."
In the late 1990's I had a breakdown that ultimately led me - through a journey that took me away from depression - to a new career in photography. What made the grit of the dark days worthwhile was a little pearl of insight that helped me move forward- a new way of seeing and interacting with things - more sensual, emotive and visual.
In 2003 a letter dropped onto the mat of my home in Rochdale that started the thread of a journey that led directly to this digest. It told me that I'd won a prize: the Harold Samuel Prize for my thesis on Genius Loci in Architecture. In the scheme of things, it wasn't anything to shout about, but to me, it felt as though I'd won an Oscar.
My tutor told me at the awards that he hadn't seen anybody approach our built environment in that way before - through the ways that it impacts us emotionally.
"I think that your work is a fresh perspective." He said.
My prize on that day? A 300mm lens, but more importantly: a feeling of affirmation - that I was on the right path.
Many years later at Stowe House I gave a photography masterclass. At the class, I reduced the usual focus on the tech elements and, instead, taught the students new ways of experiencing their environment. The photography inspiration for the students would come from, and be driven by, new perspectives.
A participant, Nick Morris, contacted me afterwards and said that he had started to see his world differently - that the mundanity of his home town was now alive with possibilities. It was a kind thing to say, and it encouraged me to continue towards this digest.
The combination of photography and architecture and new ways of seeing has been infused into this Genius Loci Digest.
It has become my centre of gravity.
This digest is a protest, a counter-narrative and an antidote to these uncertain times, and my photography is another way of telling. It says that these things matter, that they contribute to the quality of our lives, our wellbeing and our identity. It tells us that there are many nuanced layers to the past and to us, as human beings. We can learn and grow from that.
In a fast changing world this digest focuses on slow time, refinement, relevancy, and ultimately continuity.
This digest revels in the in-between, the transitional, the presence of absence. My camera with its dials and knobs and sharp focus has taken me into the blur of things. Because something can't be measured it doesn't mean that it isn't there. The spirit of things, the essence of place is as real as my shutter button.
It wasn't until my camera had taught me these things that I understood Terry Pratchett's words in Hogfather:
"Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy."
From the deft cut of a finial to the hammered arc of an iron latch - our ancestors have been remonstrating with the vagaries of their times through the flourishes that took the mundane beyond the practical. They are saying 'I am here, I am relevant'.
With my camera, I seek out their whispers captured in the material record.
Their material record is our inheritance, it is saturated with meaning, and it still has lessons to teach us.
It’s worth repeating Graham Clarke’s words from his book The Photograph:
"The act of taking a photograph fixes time, but it also steals time, establishes a hold on the past in which history is sealed, so to speak, in a continuous present."
The last 18 months has seen the digest grow with over 1000 subscribers. I get mail (both virtual and physical) from all over the world and people have told me that it has helped them through difficult times. It has also re-connected expats to their favourite places. It has led to new friendships, new discoveries and to the possibility of a new strand in my career.
I love everything about making the digest, from the trip planning, to the photography, to the writing. I hope that you get a taste and sense of the places and people I visit - and their wisdom.
The members subscriptions help keep this digest free and public facing and also help keep Woody on the road (keeping Woody on the road, I have to admit, is my greatest anxiety).
I'd like to take the opportunity to say thank you to all subscribers for making this journey worthwhile.