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This Earthly Tent |

This piece was commissioned by Greenbelt festival. I took all the photos at the 2009 festival, and the finished work was displayed for the first time at Greenbelt 2010. It was hung on it's own in a 6'x4' shed, painted gallery white. Here a few words about the picture.

Were you at Greenbelt in 2009? What do you remember? Queuing for Rob Bell? Mountains of rice in the Christian Aid tent? Someone in the big top? Or stumbling on something entirely unexpected in the performance café when you meant to just get something to eat? I missed most of it. Instead I spent my time wandering round taking pictures of your deserted tents with my camera.

Out in curfew field 4 main stage is just a dull thump, the roar of the big top crowd little more than a gentle purr. You can get a distinct feeling that something exciting is going on, it's just not out here. There's a strange solitude, surrounded by this temporary city of tents, with virtually no one home. Of course the camping fields are never completely empty, there are always a few people sitting around chatting, washing up, or revelling in the delights of camp cuisine. Heating up tins of beans, overcooking pasta, or trying to make toast with camping grills that are eye level only to grasshoppers. There are probably people sleeping off late nights too, but unless they are snoring loudly I just don't know they're there.

So just why am I out here instead of enjoying the rest of Greenbelt? Well it's all in the name of Art. I've been asked to create one of my photographic art pieces during the festival. For me that's actually quite a tall order, usually my pictures take months to do, and here I'm attempting to do one in a long weekend. It may be possible to tear down and rebuild a temple in three days but that takes a special kind of person!

My working method is rather labour intensive; I build my images up frame by frame, using photographic film. Each frame is taken sequentially, as you see it. If I make a mistake or take a frame out of place, I re-shoot the film from the beginning! Once the film is developed, I cut the strip into shorter lengths and scan it, then assemble the scans into a large contact sheet. It's not till then that I get to see the final picture myself. If it has worked the individual frames should join up into a composite image. If it hasn’t, I cry, and usually start again! I think it's interesting the way the pictures act as records of little (sometimes not so little) journeys; each frame documenting one moment in time and space. But there’s no doubt the whole process can be a little nerve racking!

As well as looking down through my lens at the grass and tents, I spend quite a bit of time squinting at the sky. The ground is a field of green scattered with patches of colourful nylon, Saturday's sky is a field of blue scattered with patches of white cloud. A nice day by all accounts, except mine. When I'm taking pictures I prefer overcast skies. An even covering of stratus is always useful, no bright spots or distracting shadows. So I stare skyward, waiting for the clouds to cover the sun. I'm a bit anxious. I've only got three days to finish this, I’m hoping and praying that the weather is going to hold.

Before darkness falls on Saturday I'm more than half way through. Things seem to be going well. As long as I don't make any mistakes I should be ok. The Sunday skies look a little dark, I don't really want rain, like most people I don't like getting wet, but I also fear the rain would also change the look of the picture halfway through. For the most part the skies cling onto their damp, like wet washing on a cold day. A few spots of water shake themselves loose, but a little rain never hurt no-one, nor my picture, it seems. There is still a sense of rising tension, as my picture nears completion. A lapse or two in concentration, means I take a few frames upside down! When I realize I kick my self, but (relatively) patiently I start the film again. Unfortunately I only realize a few more errors when I get the film developed a couple of weeks after the festival is over. So if you look closely at frames 21 and 23 in the blue letter e you can see I've had to turn the film upside down or back to front, to correct my mistakes. In a way I think the mistakes give the piece something of the flavour of a live performance, which seems to fit with the festival atmosphere. Another slight lapse means my foot creeps into the edge of one shot. I'm not telling you which one though, see if you can spot it!

That's probably more than enough of me grumbling about how difficult my pictures are to do, I should learn to paint! Here's a little bit about why I chose tents as my subject. My title comes from 2 Corinthians 5v1. Paul uses a picture of an earthly tent and an eternal house to mirror the difference between the physical and the spiritual world. In the mirror’s reflection things are strangely flipped; The physical world which we perceive as solid and concrete is actually flimsy and fragile, it is actually the spiritual realm that has more substance.

Hopefully your tent at GB will do a fair job at protecting you from whatever sun, rain and wind we are due for, but tents are essentially temporary shelters, rarely would you call them home. It feels much more like home when you live in a house. And you know you’ve really arrived when you’re living it up in a grand mansion!

Are we a bit like the children of Israel, wandering in the desert for years living in tents, before we finally come to the promised land? On our way, but not quite home.