Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Kempton’

Goldfish and water lily under ice

July 11, 2011 4 comments

by Lucy Kempton

Goldfish and water lily under ice by Lucy Kempton
Click on image to view a larger version.


Lucy Kempton is British, living in Brittany with husband and dog, and sometimes teaching English. She blogs at box elder — subtitled “meanderings of a displaced dilettante” — and the microblog Out with Mol. She co-edited qarrtsiluni’s Water issue with Katherine Durham Oldmixon.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:

Face Recognition Collage

November 10, 2010 5 comments

by Lucy Kempton

Face Recognition Collage, by Lucy Kempton
Click on image to view at a larger size. (It will probably then require a second click at most screen resolutions.)

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Lucy Kempton is British, living in Brittany with husband and dog, and sometimes teaching English. She blogs at box elder — subtitled “meanderings of a displaced dilettante” — and the microblog Out with Mol. She is currently engaged in a call-and-response-style, online collaboration with British blogger (and qarrtsiluni author) Joe Hyam called Questions. She co-edited qarrtsiluni’s Water issue with Katherine Durham Oldmixon.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

The Seven Healing Saints

December 15, 2009 8 comments

by Lucy Kempton

These photos were taken at the Chapel of Notre Dame du Hault, in Trédaniel, Côtes d’Armor, Brittany. It is the home of “Les Sept Saints Guéurisseurs,” the Seven Healing Saints, polychrome wood sculptures of uncertain age and provenance, each invested with the power to relieve certain afflictions. (Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

The Saints are St Houarniaule (or Hervé), St Mamert, St Méen, Ste Eugenie, St Lubin, St Livertin, and St Hubert. They were called on to cure a range of common maladies, such as migraines, eye troubles, rheumatism, but also mental and psychological problems; blind St Houarniaule who traditionally kept a dog or perhaps a wolf who ate the dog and was commanded by the saint to take its place, on a leash, was invoked to help with fear and ‘angoisse,’ anxiety, to master the wolf in a more figurative sense. St Hubert helped with dog-bites and rabies, ‘la rage,’ so by extension with rage and fear, the connection between fear and anger preempting modern psychological understanding. Ste Eugenie is the only woman, but wasn’t always; she was a feminised and Catholicised development of St Tujan, or Ujan, a much older, more indigenous saint, who was possibly in turn a Christianised version of a pre-Roman Celtic sun-deity.

St Mamert looked after intestinal troubles, including colicky babies. His intestines are exposed, open, and he holds them tenderly, a rather pretty pink coil of gut, between his two hands.

For a long time people brought gifts and offerings, oblations, for the Saints’ favours, either to propitiate or to thank them. They gave money, but also things like linen, hemp, butter, honey and beeswax, even piglets. The revenues from the chapel were enormous for such a small, out-of-the-way place. But by the end of the 19th century people began to offer other kinds of votives, these little plaques, mostly marble with engraved gilded lettering. They are in thanks for services rendered, and mostly simply say ‘Merci,’ Thank you, one or two are in English, some quite recent. (Many are also to Notre Dame to whom the Chapel is dedicated) The effect of the same word in different variations over and over in the gloom and candlelight is rather hypnotic.

Things have always made their way to the chapel, been sheltered by or given to it; the Saints’ statues were not all always there, some were probably brought from another religious foundation, a leper hospital, at about the time of the Revolution. This relief carving is an enigma, was perhaps brought here in the mid-20th century during one of the chapel’s periods of restoration from another demolished church or chapel. I always think of it as the angel with the book, but elsewhere the object is described as a blank escutcheon, a heraldic support for words or symbols. Book or shield, there is a feeling that the angel is bringing something of importance that should tell us something, but it can’t be read.

Unfortunately, what drew wealth of course drew thieves, and the chapel was not infrequently robbed throughout its history. Then in the 1980s the Saints themselves were stolen. They were replaced by plaster copies, which were stolen again in the last few years. The statues in these photos are very new replicas of the originals, that have recently been installed.

They are faithful and sympathetic copies, the scale and forms and colours are all as they should be. But the idea of replacing the Saints is problematical; its difficult to grasp how practical and concrete the kind of faith they were part of was. They weren’t just representations of spiritual power, the power was the object. We see them as curious works of art, which might or might not house a spiritual reality, but that’s not quite the point. The spiritual and material reality used to be one and the same. So making new ones to replace the old shouldn’t work.

Unless the power is within the place, rather than its furniture and artifacts. This has always been a sacred place, a place of healing; the chapel and the Saints are quite recent emanations of this. If you walk west from the chapel, past some prehistoric standing stones, into a wooded ravine, you’ll come to the holy well. In mediaeval times it was dedicated to St Tujan, and has been a sacred place probably since the bronze age; Gallo-Roman remains have certainly been found there. People throw the age-old votive offerings of coins into the well. There is a stone cross and other stone artefacts from who know where set up here. A fallen tree covered in ivy forms an arch in front of it. On the ivy stems someone has inscribed the words ‘Cécile tu nous manques’ — ‘Cécile we miss you.’

Who knows who Cecile is or was and why she is missed, but someone brought their sadness, their angoisse to this particular place of power and left it as an offering in these words, a poignant counterpoint to the marble plaques of gratitude.

With thanks to Bertrand L’Hôtellier for help with the research on the chapel of Notre Dame du Hault.

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Lucy Kempton is British, living in Brittany with husband and dog, and sometimes teaching English. She blogs at box elder — subtitled “meanderings of a displaced dilettante” — and the microblog Out with Mol. She is currently engaged in a call-and-response-style, online collaboration with British blogger (and qarrtsiluni author) Joe Hyam called Questions. She co-edited qarrtsiluni’s Water issue with Katherine Durham Oldmixon.

Categories: Words of Power Tags:

Entente Cordiale: an ekphrastic exchange (Part 2)

February 9, 2009 6 comments

Link to Part 1.

Process notes

Anna Dickie writes:
Our entire collaboration took place by e-mail; we’ve never spoken face-to-face or by phone. Early on, by way of background, we had the idea to write introductory biographies/impressions of each other. These we’ve included at the end.

I selected two images, one of a place and one of a thing, for Lucy to respond to. And as Lucy writes often about the countryside, I chose a city shot for the place, as I wanted to see her take on something urban.

I like to use a Lensbaby lens for cityscape, as it provides interesting distortions of buildings and people, so my “place” image was a duo-toned shot of the Playfair steps in Edinburgh, a long set of well-worn steps that lead up to the Old Town.

Playfair steps in Edinburgh

The “thing” choice was a black-and-white shot of an old goatskin wine sack hanging from a post on a farm high up in the levadas of Madeira. (Country people there still use goatskins to store wine.)

goatskin photo

Lucy was more generous than me in choosing images for me to respond to, sending me five images: a moving carousel, a French country house and grounds, a stack of old terracotta floor tiles, a war memorial, and a bride and groom walking in a beauty spot to have photographs taken.

(Click image to view at larger size.)

I was immediately drawn to the country house shot — black and white and beautifully framed by a sinister ivy-covered gate — and the colour image of the wedding couple.

I then thought of Wendell Berry’s poem, “Country of a Marriage,” which I think is a rather smug, comfortable, male view of a marriage. And that got me wondering if I could subvert Lucy’s two photographs into a single image that had the feel of a French film still, and then write a poem in the voice of a bride that had something of the mood of the photograph. I tackled the images first, but try as I might I couldn’t get the couple at the angle I wanted on the path, until I had the idea of flipping the whole country house shot horizontally using Photoshop. This worked really well, as it put the gate pillar on the left opening up the scene, and when the couple were added in it put the bride on the groom’s right, making her seem the more powerful figure who was doing all the talking while he took on a rather hangdog expression.

After that I applied some dodging and burning to the image, to bring out the light on the trees and then applied some digital “film grain” to make the shot more atmospheric.

With the poem I borrowed some of the word choices from the original to create a completely new poem about a woman whose thoughts about being with this man, in this place only crystallise on the day of their marriage.

I’ll leave it for Lucy to say what she thought about the result.

Lucy Kempton writes:
I read Anna’s poem first, and was intrigued by how she seemed to have woven the narrative possibilities of the two photos together. Then I looked at the picture in the attachment and was astonished — it gave me a shiver like seeing a ghost! The figures sat disturbingly in the scene, but at the same time seemed to belong there. Yet I had never envisaged combining the two images in such a way. I was struck too by how the spike in the gate seemed to be about to impale the woman, like pinning a butterfly.

Then I read the Wendell Berry poem, which I didn’t know. I also thought it had a somewhat self-satisfied tone, an assumption of knowing what the woman concerned thought and felt, of the unarguable universality of his own perception, though of course my reading of it was by then coloured by Anna’s poem! But I was very taken with the “he-said-she-said” character of her response, the piquant counterpoint of the woman’s terser, diverging point of view, the sadness of the voice, and the atmosphere of place it captures, the “broody woods” and “fickle orchards.”

While I think Anna’s poem and the composite image she made can each stand alone and without reference to the Wendell Barry poem, the synthesis of the three elements makes for something more. I’m delighted with how she saw the potential in the two images together, then drew on a further outside source to make such a clever, moving piece.

My second choice was Lucy’s image from Normandy of some old terracotta floor tiles left stacked outside in some scrubby grass. I worked with this to create a text overlay on the image, a short poem in the form of sequential questions, rather in the style of the nursery rhyme ‘The house that Jack built’.

However, though pleased with what I produced, we eventually felt that both of our the secondary pieces, the “Floor Tiles” and the “Playfair Steps,” made the overall submission unwieldy, so we concentrated our efforts on the major poem and picture combinations, and decided to submit the others, both in text/image overlay form, to Postal Poetry.

Having already received Anna’s photos for me to work with, I noted she had selected one image of a place and one of a thing, so I tried to follow suit. I tended to favour black and white in my choices, though not exclusively, perhaps rather influenced by knowing that Anna has a fondness for it. Unable to narrow down to just two, I sent two “places” and three “things.”  Among these were the black and white photo of a chateau in the countryside hereabouts, which, with its heavy flaking iron gates, shady drive and general shabbiness has always epitomised for me a kind of melancholy hostility and otherness (the owner has, I learned later, something of a reputation for misanthropy and reclusiveneness).

Then I added the odd, quickly taken shot of the bride and groom in formal wedding dress, whom I’d seen being photographed in an area of quite lonely, empty coastal marshland, a place which seemed a strange, slightly surreal choice for this. I had kept the picture, feeling it had some potential I couldn’t quite identify, and threw it in at the last minute for Anna as a kind of wild card. I’m glad I did.

I’m glad that we just sent each other the images with little by way of explanation. We didn’t agree to do this, it was just how things worked out, but it meant that we were free to interpret the images any way we pleased.

I also think it’s interesting that despite trying to coax each other towards other ideas/images our strongest pieces came out of the subjects that are closest to our hearts — and maybe that is a useful lesson to learn, that you can challenge yourself with new things, but ultimately you will always come back to what truly moves/interests you.

Anna sent me the photographs of the Madeiran goatskin, an extraordinary object the like of which I hadn’t seen before, and the mysterious one of the Playfair steps in her beloved Edinburgh with a shadowy figure at the top. I printed the photographs so that I could keep them around for a time and look at them frequently, and mull over the ideas and associations they suggested. The prevalent things in my mind about goatskins were the biblical reference to not putting new wine in them, together with a curiosity as to how they were made watertight enough to hold wine at all, and, by assonance, the word “goatsong,” the translation of the Greek word tragoidia — tragedy, the origin of which remains opaque. I did a little research, and eventually a combination of ideas surrounding landscape, tragedy, wine and the life, death and final fate of a goat produced the final poem.

Unable to settle, I also attempted a more formal version in two Sicilian octaves; I thought Sicily seemed quite appropriate for the subject even though the goatskin was from Madeira! I sent them both to Anna, who chose the first version, which I was generally happier with too.

After she had read it, Anna, who knows I enjoy making double or multi-exposure collages, tentatively suggested a wine stain might add something to the goatskin image to go with the poem. She was a little apologetic about leading me, but I was cheerfully open to the suggestion, and set about sloshing some ropey old cooking Chianti onto various light coloured surfaces (no oenophile sensibilities were hurt in the making of this picture). I made the collage using Picasa’s multi-exposure collage function, then tweaked the levels somewhat, still in Picasa. However, it was still rather faint and had lost detail, so Anna, who always knows how much more can be got out of an image without ever compromising its integrity, further improved it using curves in Photoshop. She even made a funky little grid of the wine stain and the Chianti bottle photos I sent her later.

Chianti bottle photos
(Click image to view at larger size.)

The intriguingly named Playfair Steps sent me off on a trail of research on Edinburgh, which triggered some associated memories. The short poem arising from that, like Anna’s roof tiles, we removed from the final cut, and, in text-on-picture form, submitted elsewhere, as mentioned.

I was walking down from a long levada walk towards a welcome drink when I spotted this poor old goatskin hanging from one of the posts they use to support the grape vines that surround every homestead on the island. This particular homestead was almost in ruins and a passion flower had crept in and taken over the post and most of the surrounding area. I knew right away it would make a great black and white shot, particularly due to the texture in the cracked skin and the worn string. Our driver for the day picked up a new goatskin full of wine to deliver to relatives, and it was much less appealing, as it looked and felt like a large stuffed intestine.

I was touched and amazed by the rigour of Lucy’s research, and the number of ideas that my image evoked. I also liked how she tapped into the timelessness and the history of the object, which was what struck me when I saw it. And when I saw the finished pieces I was forcibly struck by just how well she’d captured the life, death and spirit of the goat.

I also liked the lovely circularity of her idea of the goatskin going back to the mountains.

I did feel guilty about suggesting the wine stain, as I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable for me to suggest a further mutation of Lucy’s initial mutation. Perhaps I suggested it because I was happily cutting up her pictures, but I think it was these words: “the final emptying; a small kind of tragedy” in the last stanza of her piece that made me feel it would be both poignant and shocking to see something in colour, suggesting both the goat’s blood and the wine, applied to the black and white image of the sack.

Drafting — how we both work

I prefer to start most writing with pen and paper. Keyboard and screen always, initially, present too many barriers: mediocre keyboard skills, a tendency to be distracted by things like e-mails and internet, guilt about being glued to a screen too long. On the whole, I simply find pen and paper more sympathetic, a safe, unjudgemental place to simply scribble and scrub out whatever comes to mind. I also like pen and paper from a sensory point of view; I have cheap, usually spiral notebooks of different sizes and carry them about, on my knee on the sofa, on the breakfast table, the kitchen counters, in bags and pockets, along with fineliner pens. I gather there are those who develop similar intimate, companionable relations with their laptops, but I can’t.

However, there comes a point when the sheer volume of dog-eared, palimpsestuous drafts becomes unmanageable:

palimsestuous drafts
(Click image to view at larger size.)

(Just kidding! This is a multi-exposure collage, a product imitating a process, but it gives an impression.)

And then it’s time to sift them all out,

drafts on a table
(Click image to view at larger size.)

attempt something approaching what I want to achieve, get it onto the computer, and then tinker around some more: punctuation, line breaks, word changes… One has to stop somewhere.

It occurs to me that with more and more writing taking place exclusively on electronic media, the process becomes increasingly fugitive and invisible, so attempts like this to record it necessarily become artificial re-creations after the fact. We have become aware in this collaboration that a blow-by-blow, unedited record of the process is neither desirable nor really possible. Probably this doesn’t matter. I see it as a little like turning over a piece of weaving to see the reverse side, with its knots and ends and rough bits; you see something of the finished process, not in linear form in the order it was achieved, but dotted about over the surface you don’t normally see.

In addition, on this project, we submitted everything we wrote to one another for editing and suggestions. I have enjoyed this process, including — perhaps most of all — the parts which we ended up leaving out.

I too usually start with a paper draft, however I’m not so organised as to have spiral notebooks or favourite pens. No, my approach is more a case of grabbing the gas bill envelope and some scuzzy pencil from the kitchen drawer to scribble down a line or phrase that’s popped into my head as I haul clothes from the washing machine or peel the spuds.

However, for this project I seemed to go straight for the computer, perhaps because I was re-reading the Wendell poem online, or perhaps because working online made me feel a little more connected to the images, the project and to Lucy.

I must admit to really enjoying working with Lucy’s images, as I felt much more detached than when I edit my own photographs, where I’m already burdened with knowing where the shot was taken, or the mood I was in on the day, or the idea I was trying to convey.

I have also enjoyed our e-mail contact. We both blog, but this project has made it quite obvious just what a presentation of self a blog is. Correspondence, even by e-mail, is much more 3-D.

We probably should have fleshed out more ground rules before we started, but from my standpoint the serendipity of this project has only added to the process.

It’s been fun working with Lucy, and I just hope that shows in our results.

Although our ideas for photos and poem responses came quite easily, it seemed to take a while for us to tune in to each other on how to go about presenting the process, so we digressed and produced quite a lot of tangential stuff not featured here, which was fun anyway. We gossiped, even though we were only communicating by e-mail, which used up time, but, again, was enjoyable. We like each other and each other’s work, which meant perhaps we were reluctant to criticise, chivvy, make alternative suggestions, or weed out anything the other produced, though we did do this eventually, and perhaps makes us slip into mutual admiration mode when talking about one another, which is sincere but I hope not too off-putting.

It’s difficult knowing when to stop adding and adjusting, more so than when working alone, because of the compulsion to keep responding.

The other problem is practical and technical, unwanted mutation arising from using different softwares, copying and pasting etc, giving rise to a ragtag array of different fonts and lost line breaks, which needed continual, time-consuming tinkering with. Should have used a Google document…

Our biographies of each other

Lucy on Anna

Anna recently noted that being lately detoxed from an aromatase inhibitor drug, used in the treatment of breast cancer, provided welcome relief from years of low spirits and insomnia following treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer. I was somewhat surprised.

This was the woman I first encountered when I read Peeling Onions, the narrative series she wrote in haiku, which related her personal experience of cancer with strength, dignity and honesty; the woman who produces beautiful, distinctive, bold photos that win prizes and a chapbook of poems that people buy; who participates in poetry readings and workshops and exhibitions; who badgers me to get my photo-editing skills up to scratch and sends me the wherewithal to do it; who undertakes what I would consider to be extreme gardening projects (she once offered to come and stay with me in exchange for cutting all our hedges and teaching me how to use Photoshop properly — I nearly took her up on it but didn’t want to be shown up); who travels to interesting places, supports other cancer sufferers, has a husband, a son, a dog, who finds and shares wonderful videos on YouTube (the Phil Collins gorilla was a memorable one)… I could go on.

So, if she’s been doing all that in a state of depressed sleep deprivation, what’s she going to be doing now she’s feeling better?

I soon found out.

“Do you want to send each other some photos and write about them for qarrtsiluni?” she asked.


Two minutes later the photos arrived.

Several days later, after much poring and indecision, I sent her some of mine.

Two minutes later…

Anna on Lucy
I’m not sure how long I’ve been dipping into Lucy’s blog to read and enjoy her photo essays on life in the French countryside and much else besides.

But I keep returning because Lucy has the rare gift of managing to look at the world afresh each day, enjoying all the small and intimate pleasures it has to offer — like seeing a friend’s new baby thrive, and a water lily bud break, and then combining these two images into one shot of a lovely little waterbaby.

Even when things get difficult and challenging, like recently when Tom, Lucy’s partner, was in hospital, she still manages to record the facts in an open, gentle and genuine way — and this is a real tonic in a world where people seem overly ready to bemoan their lot.

Lucy’s openness to life can be clearly seen and enjoyed in her recent exploration of the ancient poetic form of the ghazal; and some of her pieces have been published in The Ghazal Page, the online journal devoted to that subject.

And I know I’m not alone in liking her work; many others enjoy it too, especially the Handbook for Explorers, a cycle of 50 sonnets by Joe Hyam, matched beautifully with Lucy’s highly interpretive images.

So when the qarrtsiluni submission call for “Mutating the Signature” dropped into my inbox, I immediately thought of Lucy and wondered if she would be willing to work with me.

Entente Cordiale: An Ekphrastic Exchange (Part 1)

February 6, 2009 11 comments

After Silence

I dream of waking where neon
blooms, and nightsong is a siren
blare or the rattle of a tram.

I fear a life spent in a gloomy
house, surrounded by a broody
wood, tending a fickle orchard

and shady gardens without end.
I know forest paths like these,
and how well women come

to tread them. I don’t know
what bound me to you.
Lost in the dark I stood still,

said nothing. So forgive me,
as I set you free — of me.

(Click on image to view at larger size.)

Poem by Anna Dickie, photographs by Lucy Kempton, mutated by Anna

Download the MP3 (reading by Anna)


Goatskin, goatsong

Hung from a nail in the parching sun, a passion flower
clings and climbs around the post.  Forget scripture,
though my sides and seams, once sealed with pitch,
crack and craze, take me, fill me with new wine.

Carry me over the hills and groves, to the summer pastures,
the uplands where once I sprang on rocks and grazed,
to remember, once more, nibbling twigs of myrtle and olive,
bitter and fragrant.

Drink from me there, and I’ll show you, from out of the wine,
dark joy, and bright sorrow, pride and falling from grace,
and pity, and the final emptying; a small kind of tragedy,
a sad drunk goat song.

Poem by Lucy, photograph by Anna, mutated by Lucy, with help from Anna

Download the MP3 (reading by Lucy)

Process notes will appear in Part 2.

Satan Crushed by St. Michael

December 10, 2008 6 comments


October 31, 2008 7 comments

Ghost Riders

October 15, 2008 7 comments

Tadpoles Emerging

August 29, 2008 4 comments
Categories: Transformation Tags:

Burning Cone

August 7, 2008 10 comments
Categories: Transformation Tags:
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