Nature Nurture

Our little lady is poorly today so I have had an unexpected day with her at home. Although I would of course not wish her unwell, it has been nice to spend the day caring for her. All of my motherly instincts have been heightened and any trace of impatience dissolved the moment I became aware that she needed me completely – at eight, this is now a much rarer occurrence.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of motherhood. In the early days when my children were new born, to wake up and remember that there was a little life next to me made my heart swell and to look into their crib and watch them sleeping peacefully would cause a little flutter which I feel even now when I check on them during the night.

In between the bickering and complaining there is still the odd moment of motherly serenity but having time to look back at some photos today, I found these images of the swallows nesting at my parents’ last year which really brought the joy of parenthood home. For me, this was a powerful experience where, over a condensed time period, I witnessed the whole journey of these beautiful birds from birth to taking flight. It was incredible to observe, within this tiny family, the instinctual drive to protect, nurture and teach the young before setting them out into the world.

My parents had been observing the swallows nesting and when we arrived for our stay they had recently hatched. Lots of patient waiting paid off and I was able to capture the wide open beaked call of the hungry chicks popping up to be fed. Over the next few days, with a constant supply of insects from mum and dad, the chicks continued to grow in strength and eventually ventured out onto the side of the nest. It was incredible to then be able to watch some of the first flights of the babies.  Watching the parents encourage their young out of their secure nesting place, calling them into clumsy flight before guiding them around their immediate surrounds, struck a huge chord with me. Their unfailing support and natural urge to see their fledglings succeed was a beautiful reminder of the journey of parenthood – one so easy to overlook with the stresses of daily life.

I hope the swallows will return this year – such a joy to observe.

 

 

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The place to be…

Southend-on-Sea is certainly the place to be on a sun filled spring day. At the weekend we walked all 2.6miles of the pier as a family. Despite some initial objections, the glistening water and fresh sea air worked its magic and managed to win over those with tired little legs. The colours, textures and lines are captivating whether for a creative eye or a game of ‘don’t touch the cracks’. A must do activity before the summer crowds arrive.

 

The weight of winter.

I was able to enjoy a peaceful, early walk in the sun this week with the impatient pup. Lots of inspiration to be found plus some welcome relief from the weight of winter.

I enjoy the essence of winter as much as every other season; however, the forthcoming extra light lifts the heavy shadows a little and fresh, green buds bring much appreciated colour to the muted greys and browns. Spring is invaluably, imminent.

Impatient pup. Nicola Parry 2018

Impatient pup. Nicola Parry 2018

Catkins, Nicola Parry 2018

Catkins, Nicola Parry 2018

Winter's end. Nicola Parry 2018

Winter’s end. Nicola Parry 2018

Food for thought…

This week is #feedingtubeawarenessweek week. Working on my project with Mr Wright (S) has meant that the realities of living life without ‘eating’ are far more affecting than most of us would even consider.

When S was 14 months old, his parents were told: “Our recommendation is you never feed your son again.” Rachel recalls: ‘These words were spoken to me as I sat along a corridor at Great Ormond Street Hospital with x-ray trolleys narrowly missing my feet.
I wasn’t sat in a quiet room for the news to be broken. A simple sentence told me that S would never enjoy a sunny-day ice-cream, eat his own birthday cake or tuck into an Easter egg.’
The Wright family made the life changing decision to give their son a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube or PEG to avoid the dangers of aspiration and I hope that my images relay the impact of this without the need for further description. However, to learn more about this and for a deeper insight into the Wright family story visit Rachel’s blog over at Born at the Right Time. Rachel has written a book, The Skies I’m Under, which tells their story of becoming parents to S. She speaks at events and provides training that brings the family perspective to professional practice.

 

My latest obsession

My most recent creative project focusses on the human hand. This has been a natural progression from my last series of work which combined the figurative human form with natural elements (Hadleigh Blue from Out in the Open, 2017).

NParry_body_hadleigh_blue_FINAL_low res

Nicola Parry, Hadleigh Blue, 2017

When we venture out into nature our hands are vital to support the visual information we absorb. We brush through, pick up, touch, hold and feel our environment to explore its textures and intricacies. It is the way we learn about what is around us; what to hold on to and what to avoid.

It was, therefore, a conscious decision to include this element in my work and so I went off in search of inspiration. I am a great fan of the work of the American Photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009). His series Heavenly Bodies was a great inspiration for my previously mentioned Out in the Open series and I have since spent a great deal of time looking at the rest of his work.

irving-penn-on-assignment-pace-gallery-miles-davis[1]

Irving Penn, The Hand of Miles Davis, New York, 1986)

He too made some beautiful hand portraits, most famously of the trumpeter Miles Davis (The Hand of Miles Davis, New York, 1986) and his general portraiture often included the sitters hands in some way (Richard Avedon, 1978).

Irving penn 1978 richard avedon

Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, 1978

The expressive element of the hand and also its ability to move organically and change form instantly, makes it the perfect subject for me. I want to not only capture the expression of interaction with nature but to emulate the ever changing, beautiful visual forms that inspire me as a photographer.  So, I have set about taking as many hand portraits as I can; my children, partner, guests and those who happen along during other work and projects.  My ideas are coming along nicely and here are a few of my favourites so far…

Neighbourhood watch

Here’s something you don’t see everyday…

My neighbour telephoned me, which I thought a bit strange (and a little lazy if I’m perfectly honest); but it turned out she couldn’t leave the house for fear of disturbing the sparrowhawk which was efficiently plucking the pigeon it had just caught in her driveway! She had very thoughtfully wanted to offer me the opportunity of a fantastic photograph before he was disturbed and I was pretty pleased with what I got!

I unfortunately missed the mid air catch which I assume took place but was able to get close enough to take some pictures as it guardedly tucked into the dinner it had dragged from the front garden to her front door. He kept an eye on me as I snapped but was unwilling to leave his prey for fear of losing out on a well earned meal.

With thanks to my (not at all lazy) neighbour for thinking of me – I doubt I will get such an opportunity again. I hope you find this as exciting as I did!

 

 

Introducing Mr Wright

I am incredibly excited about a new project I began work on at the end of last year and I am about ready to share my progress so far.

As some readers will know, I have worked within special education for about 17 years – I couldn’t believe it has been this long when I wrote it down! I love my job, and yes, as people always comment, it is ‘incredibly challenging’ at times but equally rewarding.

In my early career, the disabilities of our pupils were generally more moderate with many pupils having the option of studying for GCSEs and going on to further education. However, the dynamics of the pupils attending our school have changed over the years as inclusion strategies have been developed and the needs of the children have evolved.  Due to factors such as improved medical care and technology, babies born with severe impairments have a greater chance of survival. Therefore, the physical, medical and sensory needs of our pupils are far greater. This change has had a profound impact on our school and the changes to my own work have been quite substantial. Over time this change has continued to prompt me to reflect on the home lives of families that care for such children; as, despite the huge amount I have learnt and experienced, I still cannot imagine fully the impact of caring for a severely disabled child at home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now, the time and opportunity has come for me to explore and continue learning about the impact of disability. And having a creative outlet in my photography with which to approach this project makes it an even more fulfilling experience for me.

Through my work at the school I have been lucky enough to be in contact with many incredible parents who inspire and amaze me in equal measure. I believe that if I were in a similar situation I would embrace and fight for my child in the same way but I wonder how I would actually cope.

Mr Wright (S) and his family have been kind enough to provide me with an opportunity to begin my journey of question answering and hopefully to illuminate this subject. The young man in question (pictured below with his mother) is a bright, handsome lad of 12 diagnosed with severe brain damage after not breathing at birth. He depends upon others to fulfil all of his basic everyday wants and needs. The Wright family have been allowing me to come in and out of their home at various times to observe and document their daily life on camera; from washing to eating, socialising to shopping.

At this early stage of the project it has already been an eye-opening experience, particularly because both parents are so knowledgeable and experienced and have been able to provide me with so much information. S’s Dad is a GP and his mother Rachel, a former nurse, now author, speaker, campaigner and trainer in the area of disability and family. I couldn’t be in more capable hands.

I won’t go into any more detail at this stage but will elaborate on my ideas and observations with continued posts throughout the project.

I will begin with one of the first images I took of  and his mother, which I quickly realised projects the answer to every ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what for’ question I may ever have. The first answer and last answer is always going to be: love.

You can learn more about Wright family story by reading Rachel’s book: The Skies I’m Under. For more info on Rachel’s work and services visit her website: www.bornattherighttime.com .

NParry_wright_project_2_CR_web

 

 

Expect nothing, appreciate everything.

I have been wearing a t-shirt with the above caption on it during 2017 and I have enjoyed its regular prompt. It is simple and true.

Simplicity and truth are things I strive for with the ultimate intention of achieving balance in my life. This balance often seems impossible to attain but as my blogging probably suggests, for me, it is getting out in the open that helps me the most to achieve this. Observing the smallest natural details; colours, patterns, changes, beauty, abnormalities, life and growth brings me great pleasure. To be able to notice and enjoy such small wonders means that whatever is going on in ‘real life’ I can always find contentment from the everyday minutiae that exist outside my door.

I guess this is the essence of mindfulness. Being able to live in the moment without expectation of what needs to happen to make us happy but with a simple appreciation of everything that we have. I certainly feel incredibly lucky. As a family we have worked hard this year and achieved more than we ever thought possible. But without this grounding in real life and nature, I don’t think it has any real meaning for me..?

Strange that it is my camera – modern technology in all its glory – that has facilitated my personal progress; allowing me to record images which represent the feelings I want to hold onto; I can mould them into my work to create, express, grow, reflect and produce pieces which are a lasting reminder of all that is simple and inspiring. There is no escaping life’s ups and downs but I hugely appreciate the fulfilment my creative work brings me and wish this fulfilment and happiness for others in 2018. Happy New Year.

Expect nothing, appreciate everything.

 

 

Uniform?

With a new project on the horizon, I have been keen to share some of the photographs I have taken of the children at Kingsdown Special School. I am currently making plans to explore the lives of these children in more depth outside of the school environment and this has partly been inspired by the traditional school photographs I have taken.

Every year we sit our children down in their uniforms, straighten their ties, flatten their hair, and spit polish their faces in an attempt to create a consistent image of what a school pupil should look like. I enjoy the tradition of these photographs and it’s great to be able to look back and see how a child has changed across the years. But what does this image reveal about the child? From a personal perspective, I want to know more.

It is particularly difficult to capture the personality of a child when you have just a minute or two. The needs of the children at Kingsdown range from moderate to profound and multiple difficulties and often getting a child to be sitting and facing the camera can be deemed a success before you even think about whether or not you have captured a smile. Having said this, when it comes to a great portrait, a smile is not necessarily the be all and end all.  Yes, all our children are beautiful, funny and charming and we want images which show this but, like any other children they can also be cross, fretful, difficult; and even more than this, their additional needs can mean they may also be frightened, confused, in pain, frustrated and much more.

I am interested in exploring some of the other aspects of these often complex children in my future images but for now I hope you will enjoy these classic school photos.

With huge thanks to the wonderful parents for giving me permission to share their little treasures:

 

Back to Autumn

The last year seems to have flown by! What better way to reignite my infrequent blogging than with some splashes of Autumn colour…

I have probably said it before, but I will say it again; I just love the turn of the seasons! My latest woodland outing captured this specific point of change at its very best. The fantastic warm sunlight coming low through the trees gave a beautiful softness to the just turned leaves in the air and on the ground; and with the brilliant greens still above giving life and vibrancy, it made for a stunning backdrop for a family photo session.

And what a beautiful family! A special time for them with the milestone 1st birthday of their son just around the corner – and what better way to celebrate it than spending time together on one of the most beautiful autumn days of the year.

I don’t think I could have enjoyed a ‘job’ much more than this and I benefit in many more ways than just creating the images I enjoy. I  continue to feel a sense of privilege that strangers, (effectively), allow me to document their intimate  family time and take a piece of this away with me. Of course, this is instigated by them, but I know many families feel apprehensive about such constructed situations. However, the main reason I enjoy working outdoors so much is that this worry is so quickly overcome. There are so many wonderful distractions which naturally prompt the kind of interactions which special moments are made from, that hopefully you can’t go wrong! You can judge for yourselves…