The Gallery Shuffle.... by Joanna Furniss

I was mooching around the ground floor at Tate Britain last week as I waited for a friend who was running slightly late. It was busy in there, accents from all over the UK and beyond chattering away and echoing around the galleries. A man, I’m guessing to be in his late 70s, joined me as I gazed at a small photograph of a clenched fist. The man told me that he thought that this photograph, and not just this photograph, but in fact the entire room showing the work of a contemporary art photographer, was a load of rubbish. He asked me what he was supposed to feel when looking at these particular images. I asked him what he felt? He answered that he felt nothing.

Like me, the man was there that day to view the Don McCullin exhibition. I knew that it was a popular show. £18 for a ticket is steep, concessions aren’t generous, but it is a huge exhibition bringing to light the magnitude of McCullin’s career. My friend showed her Tate membership card (thank you Lucy) and we proceeded to increase the density of an overcrowded gallery, finding ourselves reluctantly falling into line to join in with the stop-start-stop gallery shuffle.

I didn’t know that McCullin grew up in North London. Some of his earlier photographs were taken close by to where I currently live. I extracted myself from the shuffle to look at these for a little longer. The show comes with a content warning; the world’s atrocities as witnessed throughout the career of the photographer are brought to a gallery space: War, conflict, tragedy and poverty…..and not only overseas. Becoming quietly emotional in the middle of a gallery full of strangers isn’t weird under these circumstances. It didn’t come as a surprise to me that McCullin’s later work is focused on still life and landscapes.

The show could be described as overwhelming because there’s so much to look at, but it could be that this is intentional, making it impossible for anyone to look away? It could also be described as frustrating, purely due to the excess of people in there, making it difficult to get away!

At the entrance to the show, there is a McCullin quote:


It made me think of the conversation that I had had with the man earlier when we were looking at the clenched hand photograph. I wondered what he might have said about his feelings after experiencing McCullin’s work in the gallery? I didn’t see the man again, but I confess that after the exhibition, I really needed a stiff drink.

Watching cats by Joanna Furniss

I’ve been looking for a lost camera battery for a while.  I know it’s not really lost, it’s just buried somewhere in the cupboard at the end of the hall.  This cupboard has everything carefully crammed into it. No battery - yet, but I did come across a plastic bag containing a string of fairy lights – they’re orange tropical flowers made of fake silk.  They’re not even LEDs. 

These lights were a gift from a friend to mark my move into a flat above an off- licence near the Harrow Road in North West London 18 years ago.  This followed a short spell living South of the river with 4 others - I was the only one who ever cleaned the bathroom, plus it had mushrooms growing in the shower.  I’ve moved 11 times in the past 18 years.  For the past 2.5 years, I’ve been living alone for the first time ever, so now I only have myself to blame if the bathroom is overgrown with fungi.

My Nan was born and grew up in Dalston, moving out of London during the 2nd World War.  She loved to hear about my London life although her main concern was whether or not I was making ‘proper dinners' for myself.  She could never believe it when I told her about how the place where she grew up was becoming a more desirable and consequently expensive part of the city to be…

Aside from East London becoming fancy I think about the other stuff that’s happened over the past 18 years.  If I think about the news, I want to squeeze myself into the cupboard at the end of the hall and shut the door behind me.  On a personal note, 18 London years have seen several changes in circumstances that have led from one thing to another, to new work opportunities, deciding to leave my job, throwing all of my energy at a Masters degree.  There have been high points as well as some crappy times.  There have been plenty of new friends.

…next to the red bucket….that’s the bird cage…..I think there’s a cockatiel in there…..

…next to the red bucket….that’s the bird cage…..I think there’s a cockatiel in there…..

I’ve never had a solid life plan - instead I am focusing on figuring out a new routine.  I noticed that the black and white cat that lives in a flat on the opposite side of the estate has a little routine; it purposefully walks along the path taking it to the end of the estate, and then it walks back, jumps up a fence and on to a shed roof.   There’s a man who lives in a second floor flat who has a bird in a cage that he puts out on to the balcony when it’s sunny.  That’s part of his routine.   We’re all starting to hang our washing out to dry on our balconies again now that the weather is getting a bit nicer.  I’ve been walking around Islington a lot as part of my research for a new North London focused project. So I am getting out of the flat…

I’m not spending any more time in that cupboard, so I’ve ordered a new camera battery. The fairy lights are now draped around the window in the lounge. I can’t believe that they still work, one popped bulb aside.

Meeting Michael McIntyre in a Victorian bathhouse by Joanna Furniss

When I woke up last Monday morning I didn't anticipate that I would be spending the evening with Michael McIntyre in a converted Victorian Bathhouse somewhere near Liverpool Street.

It wasn’t THAT Michael McIntyre.  This Michael McIntyre happens to be a magician sharing the same name with the comedian.   Michael, along with fellow magician Jack Lenoir accompanied by Jack’s two goldfish Charles and Darwin had been hired to entertain guests with close-up magic that evening.  A tip, they told me, is to try to capture the expressions of the guests, especially at that ‘ta dahhh’ moment.  And so I tried.  I captured.  I saw suspicion, curiosity, amazement, and befuddlement.  Often all in the same photo.

Capturing expressions….

Capturing expressions….

Occasionally I ducked out of the reception to take refuge behind a red velvet curtain where trays of champagne glasses were being refilled.  I sighed. I stuck with the water. I’m a talker like my dad, consequently striking up conversations with the friendly waiting staff tasked with refill duty responsibilities. Turns out that they are singers and dancers, other people in pursuit of their passions.   Several conversations began, yet remained unfinished because we were all so busy.   But it was fun, although they all looked a little uneasy as they watched me balance precariously on a wobbly stool behind the bar, dangerously close to meticulously arranged glassware as I attempted to take a big group shot of the guests. 

Nobody likes to be photographed with a mouthful of mangetout.  So, as the guests tuck into their meals I took a proper break.  The magicians saw this as an opportunity to exchange secrets of their magical prowess and to practice new tricks.  It didn’t matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t work out how on earth they did anything.

Charles and Darwin take a well deserved break

Charles and Darwin take a well deserved break

Later that week I am editing and my doorbell buzzes.  I am expecting a visit any time between 8 am – 12 noon by someone coming to check the safety of the electricity meter.  The guy was apologetic as I let him in – not a problem, I said.  He noticed my piano and asked if I am a musician.  I’m really not.  Wayne, as it turns out in an electricity meter safety checker by day, and a musician, a podcaster, and a radio show host night.  We chat about Prince, recalling the times when we’d seen him perform.   Wayne was scheduled to interview a member of The Revolution (the band that played with Prince in the 80s) later that day.  He scribbled down his podcast details – something else to listen to when editing.   And my electricity meter was perfectly healthy.

In the space of 48 hours, I had met a ton of people making it work to be able to do the stuff that they love.  It was energising and I'm still thinking about it.  It was that thing; never knowing where photography is going to take you and who you might meet along the way.

The day that Karl Lagerfeld died.... by Joanna Furniss

It’s only 11am.  It feels like 2pm.  I am staying with friends who have two young children and a cat called Noodle, and this requires a shift into a different time use mindset.  The household mobilises early (by my current standards) meaning that just after breakfast I had already been recruited to an air clay animal production team. I was quietly pleased with my efforts, my ad-lib whale in particular.

Noodle manoeuvered into the lounge each morning where I would be half asleep on the sofa bed.  There would be a ‘brrrrp’ as he jumped up, a ‘pad pad pad’ as he crept up the duvet, followed by a massive ‘purrrrrr’ and a wet nose in my face.  When I was little, I would often wish for one of our family pet cats to sneak into my bedroom and sleep on my bed all night.   That never happened – it wasn’t allowed, although the cats were totally spoiled and loved.  If I ever have a cat, it will be allowed to sleep on my bed. All night.

My train didn’t leave until late afternoon on my last day, meaning that there was a window for a coastal walk that morning.  Before I had left London, my friends had asked me, in the nicest possible way, if I had any practical footwear, or a coat suitable for South Devon climates…I didn’t. I felt slightly more prepared after I purchased a pair of pseudo practical boots in H&M in anticipation of the elements.  The boots survived the pouring rain and the squelchiest of muddy walks through Dartington estate, a trip to the beach where the tide came gushing in so fast that it flooded my boots and I only just about dodged trench foot. Undefeated, they conquered the ups and downs of the coastal path that last day.

Hope Cove….where I nearly became a trench foot victim….

Hope Cove….where I nearly became a trench foot victim….

We were still in the van on the way to the coast when we heard the news that Karl Lagerfeld had died.   The man with the sunglasses and the white ponytail.  We lingered over this topic for a while, wondering how we were supposed to feel.  We never really concluded that one, but instead it got us talking about the things that are important to us.  This conversation continued after we’d parked. 

It is hard to resist the feel-good factor triggered by a gloriously sunny day in winter. The sea stretched out in front of us and the spectacular jagged granite rocks loomed above. We perched carefully on the edge of the path to eat sausage rolls and cheese sandwiches, watching an excited small dog chase a frantic sheep through the gorse.  I felt lucky to be there, grateful for good friends and the breathtaking views, relieved that the sheep didn’t plummet over the cliff edge, and surprised by the durability of my boots.